Perhaps it’s my natural cynicism, but I had a difficult time coming up with a suitable list of PR winners for 2005. I stopped after two entries when it became clear that sifting through the rubble of 2005 to find deserving winners was going to lead to just more losers.
Nonetheless, I wanted to highlight the two winners, and I also wanted to take a look back at some of the year’s PR-related events.
PR Winners: President George H.W. Bush and President William J. Clinton – Time Magazine has anointed the ex-Presidents as The Partners of the Year, and for good reason. The pair of ex-Presidents rallied global support for tsunami victims and national support for Katrina victims. Like Jimmy Carter before them, Clinton and Bush Sr. have turned into global ambassadors whose biggest short-term influence may be in generating positive PR for the United States. The pair also serve to remind us that a person’s legacy is built over his or her lifetime, and not defined by just four or eight years at a job.
PR Winner: Google – When a stock goes up more than 130 percent in one year, one of two things is most likely happening: The stock is attracting traders, or the company is executing on its business plan. Google fits into category number two. Make no mistake, Google has plenty of critics, and the company does garner its share of bad press, but from Wall Street to Silicon Valley and back to Madison Avenue, everyone seems to love this company. By providing innovative consumer products, and giving marketers the outlet they’ve always wanted, Google has become one of the world’s most important companies. The question now becomes whether Google can continue to ride a positive PR wave. Williams Powers of the National Journal, for one, doesn’t think the love affair between the press and the company will continue in 2006. Regardless, by building a strong business, and giving consumers and businesses tools they need and want, Google has won a PR battle that it takes most start-ups years of frustration to accomplish.
Best PR Story of the Year: James Bamford’s article, “The Man Who Sold the War,” which appeared in Rolling Stone. Bamford tells the tale of John Rendon, a self-described “politician,” “information warrior and a perception manager,” who helped shape public opinion ahead of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Be sure to read The Rendon Group’s reaction to the story and Bamford’s reply.
Worst Quote of the Year: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” – President George W. Bush, to FEMA director Michael Brown, while touring Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Mississippi. Bush’s quote was premature, to say the least, and not exactly accurate. The President meant well; he just didn’t have all the facts.
Hollywood’s Worst Public Meltdown: Tom Cruise on The Today Show telling co-host Matt Lauer, “You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do.” Cruise spent the year devolving from a hard-working actor into a lovesick fool with too much time on his hands, and too many strange thoughts in his head.
Wall Street’s Worst Public Meltdown: Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne claiming on an August conference call that a “Sith Lord” was plotting to ruin his company’s stock. Byrne isn’t completely off his rocker, but he’s spent more time managing his stock than managing his company. If anyone feels like moving to Utah (or if you’re already there), Byrne is also in desperate need of a PR person who can explain to him the value of exercising common sense.
Sporting World’s Worst Meltdown: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens causes further damage to his career by antagonizing his coach and teammates to the point that he is suspended for the remainder of the season. In the process, he provides us with a fine example of how even the most talented people can doom themselves if they can’t find compromise in the workplace.
Best Business Book I Read This Year: Faith and Fortune: How Compassionate Capitalism Is Transforming American Business, by Marc Gunther. A writer for Fortune magazine, Gunther explores how faith – and not just the religious kind – can transform business for better. The book contains some interesting and inspiring stories of people who have helped shape companies – enormous and small – to serve employees, customers, shareholders, the general public and the planet in a more dignified fashion.
Best Temporary Image Makeover: Wal-Mart for coming to the rescue of hurricane victims in the Gulf Coast, and showing up the federal government in the process. For at least one moment in time, the company stood atop the corporate world for a reason other than sales.
Best PR-Related Conversation I Overheard: The head of PR for a Fortune 500 company telling a reporter from a major daily newspaper, “I tried to get your editor to fire you but he said you’re in the guild. Anyway, enjoy your new beat; I’m sure those school board meetings are fascinating.”
Worst Pro-PR Trend: School districts, county governments, and other local government organizations thinking that hiring a PR person will solve problems. I don’t want the government spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on public relations efforts when the money can be better spent elsewhere. Community members who work in the PR field should volunteer their services, and the government agencies should do a better of job of working with the local media to remind them that they have a public service.
Worst Anti-PR Trend: The suggestion that PR people are somehow destroying the integrity of the blogosphere. Too many people resign themselves to thinking that PR people are simply “tools” and “mouthpieces.” The vast majority of PR people believe in their cause, and they’re free to offer up their opinions on behalf of themselves and their clients/companies. If bloggers don’t want to engage in open communication, then why are they blogging?
Dumbest Email I Received From a PR Person: Here is the opening paragraph: “You need better PR for your company, right? You don’t where to turn, right? Well, your wait is over. Turn to us, because we’ll get you better PR.”
My Biggest PR Coup: Being awake and available at 3:00 AM to comment for a breaking story. The Associated Press was the only media outlet to have quotes in their story when most of America woke up, and the AP hit led to interviews with six newspapers, a television network, and two radio networks. Sometimes you just have to show up!
My Biggest PR Gaffe: Booking a television appearance for a co-worker who, as it turned out, was planning on being out of the country on the day that he was scheduled to appear on television. We never did get that hit, and the mistake cost me a bonus.
This morning, I was saddened to read about the passing of Elrod Hendricks. Most people outside of Baltimore (I grew up down the road in Rockville, Maryland) probably don’t know who Elrod is, but longtime baseball fans have surely heard the name.
“Ellie” was a player and coach for the Baltimore Orioles for 37 years. He served most of that time tucked away in the bullpen working with catchers and pitchers. As a player, he was never a star, and as a coach, only the players know his real impact. He was, however, the face of the Orioles – a constant force through almost four decades.
“In his own way, Elrod Hendricks was the most valuable Oriole every year. He was a one-man community outreach program, forever taking the time to sign autographs, chat up fans, make appearances, giggle with kids – the kind of stuff that pro athletes used to do all the time,” John Eisenberg wrote in this morning’s Baltimore Sun.
Elrod served as the public face for an organization that, more often than not, has needed someone with a brilliant smile and good heart to lead by example. Without even knowing it, Hendricks was the best PR man the Orioles ever had.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.