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.

PR Lessons From The 2010 Election

No matter how you feel about the results of the 2010 midterms, it’s been an interesting election season. Start with a stagnant economy, add a soured electorate, pour on the tea party activists, and it’s a bitter brew, at least for incumbents. The election also offers lessons for communicators. Here’s what marketing and PR pros can take from 2010.

Be authentic. Pollster Andy Kohut of The Pew Research Center says the voter polls point to one thing –  disillusionment. I’d say it goes even deeper, into mistrust. The emerging tea party candidates might not be my cup of…whatever, but they spoke and behaved not like typical politicians, but like real people – mad as hell, and determined to do something about it. Truth can work wonders in a marketing campaign as well. Just ask Domino’s.

Be exciting. A fresh, engaging story breaks through the noise. The shiniest new brands in politics – relative newcomers like Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio won big this season. I think that’s because a disillusioned electorate, like a jaded consumer, is quick to change the channel if they’re not engaged.

But not too exciting. Extremism gets you noticed (Sharron Angle) but it doesn’t win the middle. Likewise, Carl Paladino’s erratic behavior was ultimately too scary for New York voters, and O’Donnell was haunted by her kooky, 16-year-old TV sound bites. In troubled times, competence and stability inspire trust.

Narrative counts. Yes, all pols like to talk about their humble roots, impoverished childhoods, and sainted mothers, but Rubio’s praise of his immigrant father and self-identification as the “son of exiles” was so eloquent it melted even cynical hearts. We love a good, emotional narrative, whether about a senator, a business, or a brand.

Connect with the customer. Former C-suite dwellers Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina went down in flames. WWF cofounder Linda MacMahon landed hard, despite a roaring start. Some call sexism, but I think it’s bad branding and poor communications. These ladies came across as cold, out-of-touch, and even patronizing. And it doesn’t help that mistrust of business is at an all-time high.

Be transparent. Let’s face it, privacy is a thing of the past. Whitman should have come clean earlier about her undocumented housekeeper. O’Donnell might have anticipated her comic skeletons would come out of the closet. Maybe they did prepare, but like a big brand caught in a crisis situation, they didn’t seem to have a plan.

Don’t take your fans for granted. Most pundits agree that the Democratic challenge was to turn out the core constituencies that helped put Obama over the top in 2008 – primarily young voters and minority groups. Winning their support is like gaining the trust of a fickle or skeptical consumer. You have to earn it, every day.

Stay on message. This is where both the GOP and the tea party, with its razor focus on jobs and spending, really resonated. (Never mind that no one has articulated exactly how those jobs will be created.) In actually fulfilling his campaign promises of passing healthcare and financial reform, the President may have fallen short here.

Listen. One reason the business candidates failed is because they acted like CEOs. Candidates can’t do command and control. Politics is about the customer, and marketing communications in the digital age is the same way. It’s critical to have a relevant message, and to convey it well, but if you don’t listen, you lose.