The PR Winners of 2006

YouTube: The little video engine that could did in 2006. YouTube grew from a cult hit to a global power and even its acquisition by Google has done little to tarnish its image. The company has taken some PR hits, but even my eighty-five-year-old grandmother sings the praises of the service, which just gives people what they want.

Jason McElwain: The Greece, NY high-school student became a national sensation early in the year when he was given a chance to play in a basketball game and promptly put on a display that would make even Michael Jordan blush (20 points in four minutes). The hook is that McElwain is autistic and that after serving as his high school team’s manager he was given a chance to play in the final game of the season. McElwain became a media darling and in the process he helped bring attention to autism. By the way, it was on YouTube where people got their first look at McElwain’s feat.

Genentech: The year is ending on a sour note for the drug-maker due to issues with a drug it markets, but Genentech had a very solid PR year thanks to its corporate culture. The company was: #1 on Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work for; named by Science magazine as “the top employer and most admired company in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries”; one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers by Working Mother magazine; #1 in the Biotech Sector on Institutional Investor Magazine’s America’s Most Shareholder-Friendly Companies list; and named to Business Ethics magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens list. You can’t make everyone happy, but Genentech employees appear to be a rather happy bunch.

Warren Buffett: The Oracle of Omaha stunned the world in July by saying he would give most of the $46 billion of wealth he’s accumulated to charity, with 85% going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett has served as a role model for investors for years and the wealthy set has long admired his shrewdness. You can’t take it with you, even if you are Warren Buffett.

Stephon Marbury: The New York Knicks point guard is having the worst season of his eleven-year career, but he’s done something that no other pro athlete has been willing to do – he’s lowered the bar, in a good way. Earlier this year, Marbury released the Starbury One, a fashionable basketball shoe that retails for just $14.98. Much maligned in the past, Marbury has a big heart (he gave more money to Hurricane Katrina victims than many big companies), and he understands how impressionable kids are.

Nintendo: I know a company has scored a PR coup when my mother, who lives in a self-imposed news vacuum, gets excited about something. My mom is excited about the Wii, so much so that we went to five stores in NYC over Christmas weekend just so she could see the gaming system in action. The innovation and success of the Wii has allowed Nintendo to steal some thunder from Microsoft and Sony, and that’s no easy feat.

Merck: I’m personally amazed that a second drug-maker has made the list, but Merck scored thanks to Gardasil. The vaccine actually prevents the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer, a disease that claims the lives of over 200,000 women each year. Big pharma companies actually do some good every blue moon.

Senator Barack Obama: The Illinois Democrat gained national recognition in 2004, but after the mid-term elections in November, he became the new face of his party. Too bad for him the election is in 2008.

Coming up with a PR Winners list was more difficult than I originally anticipated. I should have remembered, however, that good PR is fleeting, while bad PR stains. In the end, and for the most part, the people and companies who racked up the best PR in 2006 did so because their actions spoke louder than words. That is probably the most important lesson we can learn from this year’s PR winners.

I want to wish everyone a happy, safe, and fruitful 2007.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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