The PR Winners And Losers Of 2021

It’s only the first week of 2022, but the PR scandals and triumphs of last year already seem distant. But before we let them fade into the rear-view mirror, I couldn’t resist one last list about 2021. Here are my  nominees for the PR Winners and Losers of the year.

The PR Winners

Britney Spears

The pop princess was a double beneficiary of a long-overdue PR redemption. First, there was revisionist history in a documentary about her early career. It highlighted the relentless tabloid scrutiny she endured at a time when she was suffering severe emotional distress. When it comes to her treatment by the press, things look very different today. Matt Lauer asking her on-air if she’s a bad mom, or Diane Sawyer making her the bad guy of her breakup with Justin Timberlake seems tacky, if not outright sexist. But Spears triumphed when she won her legal bid to end the conservatorship that mandated tight control of her life by her father. It was helped by a groundswell of social media support from fans posting to #FreeBritney, and egged on by a suddenly sympathetic mediaverse. It only took them two decades.


Most people barely knew what non-fungible tokens (NFTs) were a year ago. But by the end of 2021, at least $27 billion was spent on NFTs in the form of digital art and collectibles. Speculators spurred on the NFT craze and early adopting celebrities in music, art, and sports drove constant media coverage. Even former Melania Trump wants a piece of the action. NFTs benefited further from press attention to the metaverse, driven by Facebook’s very public commitment and rebranding as Meta. Of course, NFTs are also ideal tools for scammers, fraudsters, and even money launderers, so they could easily end up on next year’s Losers list. But for now, they’re winning.

QR Codes

The emergence of the humble and once obscure QR code as an essential digital tool is probably the most unexpected success story of 2021. QR codes have been used in Asia for years, but here in the U.S. they weren’t even integrated into the iPhone until 2017. QR code usage first soared after the COVID-related lockdowns, of course. But it was last year that they went beyond restaurant menus to became truly mainstream. Was is positive PR and resulting media coverage that drove the change? Not really, but in vertical business sectors, plenty of digital content has educated managers on QR’s uses. And QR codes are likely here to stay, as they’re increasingly being used in the U.S. and abroad for contact-free transactions and many kinds of public information campaigns. Marketers love the codes due to their tracking abilities, and consumers don’t seem to mind one bit.

Billionaire Astronauts

Jeff Bezos had a good year. He started 2021 fighting off a sleazy tabloid scandal about his love affair and divorce but emerged as the leader in a new kind of space race among billionaires. For that matter, all three of the uberrich entrepreneur astronauts — Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Bezos — reaped a payload of PR for their space joyrides. The billionaire space race is pretty self-indulgent, but it’s also entertaining and it fills a gap that government programs can’t. Presumably it has the potential for tangible benefits, like jobs, investment, and new scientific discoveries for 2022 and beyond.


Peloton was riding high just before Christmas after its speedy response to a fast-breaking PR crisis. The brand had put the problem of a TV character’s fatal heart attack after an indoor cycling workout firmly behind it. And just like that….Peloton was blindsided again. But rather than belonging on the Losers list, I think it deserves credit for smooth handling of the sudden double-whammy. It all started with the sudden demise of Mr. Big on the HBO series And Just Like That. After completing his 1000th ride on one of the cultish bikes, Mr. Big dropped dead, and Peloton’s stock suffered a drop of its own. The brand recovered quickly by featuring actor Chris Noth in a clever campaign promoting indoor cycling’s very real health benefits. Yet just as the ad gained traction, two women came out to publicly accuse Noth of sexual assault. Peloton swiftly steered its brand out of trouble by killing the campaign. I think it will emerge in fine shape despite the ups and downs.

The PR Losers


When was the last time you thought about Clubhouse? That’s the problem. The social audio platform didn’t suffer a PR crisis so much as a drop off the radar screen. After a frenzy of media attention and a peak of 9.6 million downloads in February, Clubhouse adoption started to slow. It dropped its invitation-only feature (a necessity), and suddenly the buzz faded. At the same time, a slew of competitors launched. While its downloads have risen again due to international expansion, it’s now looking like Clubhouse was the victim of its own PR – too much, too soon.


Clubhouse wasn’t the only social platform to lose momentum in 2021. Remember Gettr, the oddly named Twitter-killer helmed by former Trump advisor Jason Miller? It was launched with fanfare but instantly met technical difficulties, including signup delays, a rash of fake accounts, and security breaches. Despite Miller’s shameless public flattery and repeated invitations to the former president to join the platform and put it on the map, Trump never did get around to it. He had his own plans, of course. Don’t count out Gettr just yet; Joe Rogan has joined, so it may have a second wind. But last year most people who heard about Gettr did so on Twitter, and the tweets weren’t nice.

The online mortgage company has had better years. Its 2021 crisis was precipitated in December when founder Vishal Garg fired 900 employees on a Zoom call, just ahead of a $750 million injection by SoftBank. That was bad enough, but Garg told remaining staff that he wished he’d made the layoffs earlier and threatened them with termination if they failed to ramp productivity. When a backlash grew, he defended his decision on an anonymous networking site by accusing the laid-off staff of “stealing” from employees and customers. While Garg apologized and stepped down under pressure, there’s now worse news for The blunder has drawn attention to “multiple legal liabilities, conflicts of interest and corporate governance problems” before the company placed him on leave, according to Forbes.

Activision Blizzard

The gaming company was hit with multiple investigations into alleged sexual assaults of female employees in 2021. Like most such accusations, the alleged incidents went back years. Company emails uncovered in an extensive Wall Street Journal article suggested that CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of many incidents. Instead of sharing what he knew with the board of directors, Kotick kept quiet as Activision settled with accusers. After an investigation, the state of California filed suit against the company over the workplace harassment. Employee reaction was also fierce, culminating in a walkout to protest the situation. Kotick ultimately issued a strong statement about the company’s commitment to a fair and inclusive workplace. He also put his money where his mouth is by taking a significant pay cut and pledged to invest $250 million in gaming and technology for underserved communities. But the scandal has been a huge black eye for the brand and it remains on the defensive. Badly played.


Facebook scandals are so common they’re almost boring. But the news broken by whistleblower Frances Haugen is more serious than past PR crises. Haugen used internal company documents to show that Facebook knew its products and policies harmed the mental health of teenagers but prioritized profits over the public good. And never has a whistleblower enjoyed the kind of PR rollout of her revelations. Haugen’s team negotiated a media exclusive with The Wall Street Journal, then went wider by granting access to a hand-picked press consortium. The media blitz peaked with her primetime interview on 60 Minutes and testimony before Congress. Facebook pushed back against the allegations, but it doesn’t have a deep well of credibility to draw upon. Lawmakers are infuriated, and, in a rare show of bipartisanship, they’re united in a desire to punish the company. What’s more, Facebook’s adoption of the corporate brand Meta, while a reasonable move to acknowledge its future direction, was seen as an attempt to dodge the negative flak with a new name. Bad timing and clumsy execution. Facebook is on its way to becoming the new Big Tobacco.

3 Emerging Social Media Platforms B2B PR Pros Should Know

Remember when the only social media platforms considered significant by PR pros were Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn? For many, they continue to be the trinity of social media. But by the end of this year, an estimated 3 billion people will be using social media, and not just on those three sites. What’s more, new platforms are popping up regularly.

New platforms can work for B2B PR 

That means there’s greater potential for B2B brands to reach an engaged audience of business users. The opportunity to reach specific audiences goes beyond the social sites that currently dominate. For example, TikTok has taken the world by storm and no one wants to miss newer sites that could gain similar prominence. Here are three emerging platforms that PR pros should track. They can work particularly well for B2B visibility programs.


Clubhouse was launched in 2020 and breaks the mold of traditional social media platforms. It’s audio-only and connects the audience and speakers by letting them share information in real time. What kind of conversations take place on Clubhouse? A little bit of everything! Topics range from relationship discussions to starting a business.

Another thing that sets Clubhouse apart is its exclusivity. It’s invite-only – at least until its official release. Users act as gatekeepers for the platform’s daily ongoing conversations by holding three invitations that will allow new users to join. Those who don’t have invitations will have to join the waitlist until the official release. Having said that, it’s fairly easy to score an invitation.

Since its launch Clubhouse has become a hub for tech types, artists, and entertainers. Can B2B senior executives also find their niche here? Yes. For B2B clients Clubhouse can be another social media tool used to drive thought leadership, especially those who are subject-matter experts. Savvy business leaders are well suited to host rooms and later start their own clubs. The platform offers PR teams a new way of storytelling for organizations and gives business personalities who are talented speakers with a strong point of view about industry trends an opportunity to ride the social audio wave.

Twitter Spaces

In a bid to get in on the social audio experience, Twitter released Twitter Spaces in December 2020. It’s still in its early stage, but there are new features and updates in the works. One driving force behind the creation of Twitter Spaces seems to be the challenges Clubhouse faces regarding its community standards. Unfortunately, Clubhouse’s conversations on sensitive topics such as identity, ethnicity, gender, and racism have led to abusive behavior by some users. Twitter Spaces is seeking to offer a more inclusive environment.

So how does Twitter Spaces work? Those who want to host a conversation must have a Twitter account. They can create either impromptu Spaces or schedule them up to 14 days in advance, all within the Twitter app. Up to 10 people can be invited to speak in a created Space at any given time. Spaces are public, so anyone can join as a listener, including people who don’t follow you. To issue invitations, hosts can simply post a link by tweeting it, sending it through Twitter’s direct-messaging, or posting it elsewhere. 

Like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces is an emerging platform that can work well for thought leadership. It features live discussions, training sessions, and Q&As, among other things. The hosting capacity for Twitter Spaces is still limited, but in May Twitter announced that accounts with 600 or more followers are now able to host a Space. According to Twitter Spaces, these accounts are likely to have a good experience hosting because of their existing following. Audience quality is another thing to consider on top of having a charismatic speaker host. Though Twitter Spaces is still in a fledgling stage, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on for PR plans as it picks up steam.

Instagram Reels 

There’s no denying TikTok’s influence on the launch of Instagram Reels. This new feature is actually in competition with TikTok as it offers similar video creation capabilities.  

Instagram Reels can be used to promote brand awareness and even recruitment. The feature offers a fun, creative way to display your brand’s product releases, how-to’s, and even its workplace culture. There’s no need for a production team – all you need is a smartphone. You can also reach out to an industry influencer to create reels in your interest.

Finding which new social channel to onboard 

Being one of the first to join an up-and-coming social channel and learning the lay of the land can place you ahead of competitors who lag behind. However, time spent experimenting with new platforms must be balanced with refining strategies on already established ones. 

Determining which new platforms are worth the time and effort of watching and experimenting might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! We recommend keeping the following in mind when navigating new channels:

-Track growth. Big numbers signal that the platform is gaining momentum and that the chances for engagement with a broad swath of users are high.

-If a platform doesn’t offer specific metrics (like Clubhouse), but it has buzz, it’s probably worth a trial.

-Pick platforms that your audience can easily use and enjoy.

-While you should pay attention to the level of adaptability, you should consider how your audience wants to consume media. If you’re looking to target business decision-makers they’re more likely to sit in on a discussion of industry trends on a platform like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces.

-If you can’t come up with any interesting ways to tell your brand’s story on a niche platform, you might want to hold off on making an account. A boring or dormant account can signal that the brand isn’t ready to engage.

PR, Clubhouse, And The Coming Social Audio Wave

People in PR and media circles have been excited about Clubhouse for at least six months. That’s partly because it represents something new – an audio-only platform for real-time conversations within groups of up to 500 people. But the real appeal was Clubhouse’s exclusivity. As the name implies, it launched as an invite-only social media app and quickly became known as a hangout for venture capitalists, tech entrepreneurs and other Silicon Valley elite. The tech types were followed by artists and entertainers, including Drake, Tiffany Haddish, and Joe Budden. There was a healthy amount of  FOMO among influencers as well as marketing and PR folks. And the content is ephemeral; you have to listen in the moment, because the chat will not be repeated. Just like real life.

Clubhouse’s “drop-in” feel is also a big part of the allure; it lets you listen, participate, or just leave quietly if a particular conversation isn’t for you at a given moment. The real-time aspect offers an element of spontaneity over other audio platforms like podcasting. It’s a bit like a conference where you can choose to attend lectures from among multiple tracks, but the commitment threshold is very low.

Its pedigree, too, generated buzz. The series A funding was led by Andreessen Horowitz partner Andrew Chen, and in January Clubhouse closed a Series B round of $100 million for a valuation of $1 billion. Pretty impressive for an app that started only a year ago in March of 2020.

As Colleen O’Connor from our team puts it, “It seems like Clubhouse gained massive popularity just when everyone has major Zoom fatigue and the last thing they want to do is log onto another video meeting. But hitting ‘join conversation’ and listening while multitasking is more desirable for a busy person.” 

Clubhouse can drive PR thought leadership potential for PR

For PR agencies and their clients, Clubhouse is a new platform for promoting what we call thought leadership — a positioning as a source of leading-edge information and expertise. For B2B tech clients in particular, thought leadership drives the right kind of visibility and is a part of many successful PR campaigns.

We started watching Clubhouse late last year and studied it for a while, in listening mode, before involving clients. So far, it’s limited to opportunities for visibility that involve senior executives who have expertise to share – in the case of our clients, about securing funding, leadership, work culture, the future of workplace, and other relevant topics. The corporate presence is there, but through company executives and founders, not logos.

No metrics, no worries

As for metrics, there really aren’t any. It’s kind of like the out-of-town tryout before you get to Broadway; it’s okay if not too many are listening, since it’s still new and we need to work out the bugs. But we’re bullish on Clubhouse for clients who are subject-matter experts and therefore well suited to host rooms and later start their own clubs. Last week, a senior client executive moderated a Clubhouse discussion that exceeded all expectations. The topic was CTV, and the meeting was well attended, with 100+ listeners and even a few media dropping in. But the most important metric for us was how long the conversation ran. It started at 8:00 and went for two and a half hours, with quality discussion throughout.

Clubhouse growth spawns imitators

The Clubhouse hype has continued into the spring, but lately the buzz isn’t all positive. First, there was a natural backlash to its exclusive status and the celebrity buzz. Clubhouse has been compared unfavorably to Discord, the group-chat app originally built for gamers. Most concerning for Clubhouse, though, is that its growth has slowed. (It’s only available on iOS for now. Android is in the works, but it had better hurry.)

As investor Shaan Puri points out in a thoughtful Twitter thread, live content can be compelling, but only if it’s truly interesting. It has to capture those “magical moments” like Elon Musk interviewing the Robinhood guy. Yet it’s tough to find top-notch stuff right in the moment. There just isn’t that much of it. As Puri puts it, “multiplying ‘content is interesting’ and ‘content is live’ doesn’t just make the problem 2x makes it 200x harder.”

But maybe that’s not even Clubhouse’s biggest problem. There’s also the competition. New players are jumping into social audio, attracted by its success. Last week Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield made news by saying that Slack will be adding audio features to its business message app – and he announced it on in a Clubhouse room, naturally!

This week Spotify said it has acquired live sports audio app Locker Room. Not to be outdone, LinkedIn just confirmed it’s testing a “social audio experience” for its own app. And of course, Facebook is reportedly working on a Clubhouse killer of its own, which TechCrunch likens to “an extension of its Messenger Rooms” rather than a standalone app. It seems that rather than compete one-on-one, Facebook intends to integrate audio into many of its products. Social audio is officially the next big thing. Where that leaves Clubhouse is anyone’s guess.

I hope Clubhouse succeeds. It’s encouraging to see momentum for a new platform for PR teams to tell stories for organizations, even if – or especially if – it isn’t about brands. The Clubhouse experience plays naturally play to the strengths of business leaders and personalities who are talented speakers with a strong point of view about industry trends, but with an extra spark of spontaneity in the bargain. But the most important thing about Clubhouse is that it started something, and the social audio wave is only just beginning. It’s like podcasting and live conferences had a baby. For PR teams as well as business leaders and creators, that means an entire new social channel and lots of fresh opportunity.