The Year in PR Winners

Last week, I brought out the year’s PR losers, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m bringing you the winners this week.

President George W. Bush: Unlike in 2000, Bush declared a clear election victory this year, and despite gads of negative press, he helped solidify his party’s grip on America. Bush and his campaign team, led by Karl Rove, seemed to run a masterful campaign by staying on message and targeting their strong, loyal base. Had Senator John Kerry and the Democrats run a stronger campaign, Rove & Co. still might have weathered the storm.

Martha Stewart: Going to jail normally doesn’t land someone on a PR-winners list, but Stewart’s grace under pressure (should we expect anything less from her?) and her syndicated TV show deal with NBC prove that this little jailbird still has a lot of fans and plenty of people willing to do business with her. If you need any evidence of all of this, just look at the stock price of the company that bears Martha Stewart’s name – year-over-year, as of December 19, 2004, it was up more than 300 percent.

Halliburton: No company racks up as much bad press as Halliburton, but the company epitomizes the concept of being Teflon. With its stock up more than 45 percent this year, Halliburton’s PR strategy of ignoring the bad press and going about their business has impressed the only people that matter – its customers and investors.

Pontiac: The General Motors division pulled off a major coup when Oprah “Queen of Daytime Television” Winfrey gave away a Pontiac G6 to every Oprah Show audience member during a show in September. According to GM, the promotion resulted in more than 500 print and broadcast stories in the forty-eight hours following the airing of the episode. That’s more ink than most companies rack up in three years. GM/Pontiac once again proved that you have to spend money to make money.

China: For all of its faults, China helped keep the world economy running this year with its voracious appetite for steel and raw materials. The country has a long way to go before the vast majority of people in the West can open their arms to the government, but China scores positive PR points for opening up a bit, spending money wildly, and helping keep North Korea in check.

National Football League: The NFL hasn’t done anything special this year except stay out of trouble. Yes, the Janet Jackson-Super Bowl fiasco didn’t generate the type of press a professional sports league looks for, but CBS and the other parties involved took most of the heat. The incident made the league get wise, and they’ve opted for the safer ground of Paul McCartney for the next installment of the event. What makes the NFL a winner this year is the simple fact that unlike its brethren – the NBA, NHL and MLB – the league stayed true to its plan, putting out a solid product that continues to draw millions of viewers, hundreds of advertisers, big money broadcast contracts, and thousands of fans willing to brave the cold each Sunday. An organization is usually only as good as its management, and the NFL has the best commissioner and smartest group of owners in sports.

Apple: Consider yourself lucky if you can an iPod this holiday season. Apple continued to expand its dominance over the digital music space, retaining its leadership in an industry that the record labels, retailers and consumer electronics makers let slip through their grasps. When you put out a product that is so good, you don’t need to do much to garner good ink, but Apple’s carefully-managed PR strategy enables the company to come out smelling like roses even as they become almost monopolistic. Remember the landmark Apple advertisement based on “1984”? Little did the company realize that one day its own product would take an almost Orwellian grip on one of the most important new technology sectors.

Google: Gmail and an amazingly successfully initial public offering highlighted another great year of press for Google. Yes, the company started to experience some backlash around the time of its stock offering, but critics were soon silenced by a rising stock price and new product initiatives aimed at taking on the likes of Microsoft. Even the most cynical people in the media and on Wall Street have found Google a hard nut to crack.

Satellite Radio: Rising stock prices, booming sales, the migration of big names (in front of and behind the microphone) and a determination to make its products radically different than terrestrial radio’s has put satellite radio on the tips of people’s tongues. By pushing the technological envelope, sealing product-defining deals, and running a PR strategy that involves hit-and-run tactics, Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio had great PR years. Now they’ll just need to sign up about 5 million more subscribers to put a real hurt on terrestrial radio.

Bloggers: Yes, bloggers made the losers list also, but when it was all said and done, the blogosphere scored a number of huge PR wins in 2004, and the people behind the scenes made the traditional media think twice about whether blogging is just a fad. If only more people read blogs, and if only the media could better define blogs. Worth noting: in 1847, New York had 16 daily newspapers to serve a population of approximately 400,000. Not much has changed: the printing press is just digital now.

Eliot Spitzer: New York’s Attorney General did it again in 2004, taking on the insurance industry this time – and scoring enough positive press to make any politician on Capitol Hill jealous. He’s running for Governor now, and he’s got a shot at being one of the most important Democrats since Bill Clinton. Having a lot of friends in the media hasn’t hurt Spitzer; neither has a track record of success.

Sprint: From out of nowhere Sprint came in and snatched up Nextel, and this on the heels of Cingular’s merger with AT&T Wireless. Sprint has employed a very simple PR strategy since new leadership came on board two years ago: speak softly and carry a big stick. Sprint’s big stick has been a remarkable turnaround that has seen the company go from has-been to telecom giant, and it’s done it without the same kind of pomp its rivals employ.

Independent PR People and Boutique Agencies: No offense to corporate PR folk and agency flaks, but this year I saw more and more independent PR people and boutiques taking on big projects and returning with big results. There will always be a need for the big guns, but the little guys continue to prove that they have a better grasp on the changing media landscape (blogs, RSS feeds, liberal vs. conservative media, etc.) and the attention that small and mid-sized businesses need. Congrats on a stellar year.

Greece: A year ago, the media and International Olympic Committee probably thought that the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens would be a total disaster. Instead, Greece put on a splendid event, with few hitches and spates of good press. Greece delivered the goods, and the country’s image undoubtedly improved in the world community after a few years of questions and quasi-scandals.

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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