The Best PR Moves Of 2010

This year brought well-publicized disasters, misbehaving celebrities, and corporate goofs. But, which individuals and companies communicated most skillfully during 2010? Here are our nominees.

Wikileaks. Whether Julian Assange is a hero or a “high-tech terrorist” depends on your point of view. But in 2010 Wikileaks perfected a media relations strategy for maximum impact for the release of thousands of  leaked diplomatic cables. Previously, Wikileaks had either trickled out its materials too gradually, or overwhelmed the media with an overlarge outpouring of classified information. But, in November, it seemed to get things just right. Its strategy was simple:  simultaneous publication of the leaked materials by five highly credible news organizations. The result was domination of news headlines for days.

Jon Stewart. Only Stewart could draw over 250,000 to a rally that started as a joke. Not only did his “Rally to Restore Sanity” beat Glenn Beck’s crowd by a surprising margin, but this year, Stewart showed he can do what no one else seems to be able to — bust legislative gridlock. His public shaming of the senators blocking the passage of the 9/11 first responders bill actually got the bill through. It earned him acknowledgement from the White House and a comparison to broadcast legend Edward R. Murrow in a glowing New York Times piece. Stewart still insists he’s not political, but his influence is formidable. This guy really gets things done. Jon Stewart in 2012?

The Tea Party. On the other side of the aisle, the Tea Party was able to cool some serious internal divisions to speak out with one voice. Despite some candidates who landed in hot water (“I’m not a witch” will live in PR infamy), most of the party’s key players spoke and behaved not like typical politicians, but like real people – mad as hell, and determined to do something about it. More importantly, its message was never diluted. A full-strength focus on government spending brought the party credibility and congressional seats.

The Chilean government. Its flawless handling of the rescue of 33 miners showed not just leadership on the part of  Sebastian Pinera and his government, but real storytelling genius and media relations savvy. The final rescue scenario was better than any mini-series, complete with a happy ending.

Gap. Yes, I know its logo fiasco looked like a bad fit and a PR blunder, but the company’s ultimate decision to return to the original iconic identity made it more relevant than it’s been in years, at least to a narrow slice of influentials. Not a model PR campaign, but a good example of turning bad publicity into good will.

Conan O’Brien. He started the year by walking away from one of the most coveted gigs in television, and agreeing to a seven-month exile before the premiere of his new show on…basic cable? But Team Coco made clever use of the hiatus. Their social media strategy was genius. His hilarious Twitter feed was vintage Conan, while kicking off a string of updates that kept him in front of fans. Coverage from his “Legally Prohibited” comedy tour ensured his relevance until the debut of his third act this September.

JetBlue. 2010 was a tough year for travel companies. Start with a grounded economy, add higher fares and fewer services, throw in an eruption from an unpronounceable volcano, and top it off with a security controversy. JetBlue not only came out on top again in passenger surveys, but it handled flight attendant Steven Slater‘s unexpected, and highly publicized, exit from the job with PR savvy and typical JetBlue cool.

Facebook. Despite another privacy crisis in 2010, Facebook turned the potential reputation nightmare of the unflattering film “The Social Network” into an opportunity for a charm offensive on the part of founder Mark Zuckerberg. Reaching 500 million members and Time Magazine’s Person of the Year isn’t such a bad way to close out 2010.

Next up: Worst PR Moves of 2010.

Genius PR Move Of The Year – Conan on Twitter

Before late February, the closest Conan O’Brien came to social media was making lame jokes about tweeting celebrities on his show. So, when his updates came over my Twitter stream, I thought it was a clever way to stay relevant for a guy who’s barred from going on television for six more months.

@ConanOBrien‘s bio seemed to say it all. “I had a show. Then I had a different show.  Now I have a Twitter account.” The tweets were wry, self-deprecating, and occasionally absurd – vintage Conan. Within a day, he had 300,000 followers. Today, the count is over twice that number, easily besting @JayLeno.

TeamConan then proceeded to set up spin-off Twitter streams for some of the, uh, characters in his own tweets – Squirrel, Sharpie, his freckles, even. The man’s beard is in a mock-competition with his freckles and has over 10,000 followers. I’m not kidding.

So, when news of Conan’s multi-market comedy tour hit a couple of weeks later, I realized the motive behind the Twitter madness. Promoted with only a handful of tweets, the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Comedy Tour” was sold out within the day, at least in New York. Fully in character, O’Brien was quoted in the closest thing he made to a press statement, “It was either a massive 30-city tour or start helping out around the house.” Nice use of social media…and celebrity, of course.

But what really got to me was Conan’s inspired choice to anoint someone at random as his sole, um, followee. Sarah Killen, an unassuming 19-year-old student from Michigan and Twitter novice, garnered thousands of followers after being selected as the one and only person that @ConanOBrien follows. Since then, @LovelyButton has received “a lot of stuff”,  including a custom-designed gown for her upcoming wedding, and the kind of notoriety usually reserved for reality-show fameballs. Which she is most definitely not.

Which is why the Twitter stunt worked so well. Conan fans are relishing his apparent outfoxing of the NBC brass and Jay Leno, whom no one would accuse of being a social media hipster. Yet, in bestowing Internet celebrity on the normal-to-the-point-of-boring Killen, Conan seems to be one-upping the master of the genre, David Letterman. It’s like Letterman plucking intern Stephanie Birkitt out of nowhere and making her a TV star – without the “creepy” soap opera that followed. And for social media marketers, he’s actually showing us how it’s done.