Who were the public relations winners and sinners during 2010? I’m sure you have your thoughts, and I’d like to hear them. Here are those who come to mind for me:
- The country of Chile. Chile found itself on the international stage twice during 2010. In late February, it suffered a major earthquake but drew praise both for its handling of the communications about the quake and its strong building codes, even for low-income housing.The story that captured the attention of the world for more than two months, however, was the rescue of 33 miners who spent 69 days trapped underground. Throughout the ordeal, rescuers underpromised and overdelivered. The world was told that the miners probably wouldn’t be rescued until Christmas, but they actually emerged on Oct. 14, so expectations were managed well. President Sebastian Pinera conducted himself admirably by deflecting attention at all times to the miners and rescuers. The completed rescue became an occasion for exciting TV coverage and a worldwide celebration.
- Sarah Palin takes control of her media. I’m not a fan of Ms. Palin, but I have to give her some grudging respect on this front. Through her books, speaking engagements, TLC program, Fox News commentaries, and use of Twitter and Facebook, she has found numerous ways to connect with supporters and persuadables. She also can avoid reporters and commentators she doesn’t care for. I don’t think this is good positioning for a presidential race, which will require more interaction with a greater variety of people. But I don’t think she wants to run for president; she’s looking to have a say in the next campaign, I believe, and she’s building a powerful enough platform to do so.
- The comeback of the U.S. auto industry. GM and Ford have both made huge strides in repositioning themselves in the areas of quality and responsiveness to consumers. GM has done a good job in getting credit for paying back its government obligations and for a new stock offering. Ford has distinguished itself through performance and the use of social media to build relationships with younger consumers. Most importantly, however, is that U.S. consumers no longer turn a deaf ear to the idea of buying a car from a domestic company.
- Michael Vick. The Eagles quarterback is well on the road to rehabilitating his reputation after serving prison time for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring. Since finding renewed success in the NFL, Vick has stayed on the straight and narrow. He’s demonstrating once again that, if you do the right things, America is willing to forgive and forget even really heinous actions.
- BP and CEO Tony Hayward. Let’s get this most obvious of 2010 PR disasters out of the way. BP’s management of the Gulf oil spill will be studied for years as an example of how not to handle crisis communications. There was no contingency plan. There seemed to be nothing but improvisation in efforts to stop the flow of oil. Statements from BP seemed imperious and out of touch (“We care about the small people”). Tony Hayward’s remark about wanting his life back – after 11 people died in the oil rig explosion – was thoughtless.
- Tiger Woods. Tiger at long last seems to be finding his PR footing, or maybe time has just started to heal his wounds. But his reporterless “news conference” and his “Earl and Tiger” Nike commercial in which his late dad chews him out were major gaffes. Maybe he’ll do better with his blog.
- LeBron James. With his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, and his accompanying one-hour ESPN special to announce it, the name “LeBron” became synonymous with “mercenary” and “egotistical.” Just a bad move all around.
- The Obama White House. I voted for President Obama, and I still believe we’d be worse off under a McCain presidency. I’m totally puzzled, however, by how poorly the administration is doing in claiming credit for its achievements and countering the slings and arrows of its opponents. Let’s see how they do during the next two years.
OK, there’s my list. What can you add? Have a great 2011!