Public relations

Public relations aces and dunces of 2012: Five who shine, five who stumble

We learn from PR best practices as well as less admirable examples, so these highlights and lowlights from 2012 are summarized with constructive intent — honestly!

Companies great and small show how to finesse potential embarrassments, how to grab attention imaginatively and sometimes how to mess up their own images.


  • Bodyform maxipads: A U.K. consumer product firm capitalized on a satiric slam. A guy in the U.K.posted an attention-getting rant on Bodyform’s Facebook wall in October, humorously claiming false advertising because his girlfriend doesn’t have happy periods like those in Bodyform commercials. The company responded in eight days with a mock-serious video that went viral (3.5 million views). Adweek praises “an inspired bit of writing and performance, capped off by a hilarious ending” and adds: “It’s brave to admit, even in the context of the joke, that your ads don’t tell the whole story. . . . This is what great social engagement looks like.”
  • 2012-12-15_194308Red Bull: As the sole sponsor of daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall from 120,000 feet in October, the energy beverage reinforced its links to speedy stuff, extreme activities and living boldly. The globally watched event, branded as Red Bull Stratos, has a website, Facebook page (842,600 likes), Twitter bhandle (225,000 followers) and video (30.5 million views) on Red Bull’s YouTube channel. The firm even started a social media push nominating the “fastest man alive” for Time’s Man of the Year. “What Red Bull truly demonstrated is the power of a fully integrated marketing plan,” marvels digital marketing exec Mitch Joel in a post headlined The Perfect Marketing Strategy That fell Out of the Sky.        
  • Hasbro: The toymaker positions itself as responsive by treating a 13-year-old critic with the respect she earned from national media attention. McKenna Pope (at right below) started an online petition calling for an Easy-Bake Oven in gender-neutral colors because she wanted to buy one for her 4-year-old brother that wasn’t pink or purple, the only styles now made. Bobby Flay and other male TV chefs, no strangers to a publicizable moment, voiced support. McKenna and her family are being flown to Rhode Island to meet designers at Hasbro’s headquarters on Monday, Dec. 17.McKenna Pope of Garfield, NJ
  • Charmin: Someone involved with the Procter & Gamble division saw a quick PR opportunity and convinced management to go for it. Less than two weeks after a Detroit Free Press report that some firefighters had to buy toilet paper the dysfunctional department wasn’t providing, a truck delivered 70,440 rolls of Charmin Ultra Strong and Ultra Soft. “”We heard about the story,” the brand’s communication director told MLive. “Charmin hopes that this donation brings the city of Detroit’s firefighters a bit of comfort in knowing their bathrooms will soon be fully stocked.” An obvious play, sure. But well-earned coverage just the same.
  • Kid Rock: Media-savvy choreography racked up lots of headlines and air time in the weeks leading up to his latest album release in November. Tactics included a public service ad for Detroit aired during the World Series, free downloads, holiday gift card giveaways, reversal of his iTunes holdout stance, political rally appearances and concerts at a NASCAR race and a Detroit Lions game on Thanksgiving. It was a PR tune the media dances to, as my Nov. 19 post describes.


  • Samsung: The electronics firm shows how not to deal with a customer service problem and a national columnist asking about it. David Segal of The New York Times, who writes a Sunday business feature called “The Haggler,” repeatedly hit a stone wall when asking about a California man’s unusable printer. He was referred to the PR firm Weber Shandwick, whose representative is described as “Nixonian” in an August column headlined A Printer Freezes Up, and the Maker Does, Too. Samsung and its agency also are ridiculed because spokeswoman Rachel Quinlan asked not to be named. “Really? A spokesperson — a person who speaks for a living — who wants to be anonymous? . . .  What consumers and the Haggler want when products break is some sense that human beings are trying to fix them. Note to corporations: The anonymous spokesman is a dreadful idea.”
  • Pizza Hut: Ideas that sound good don’t always play out well. The chain offered pizza for life to any televised town hall audience member who asked President Obama and Mitt Romney if they preferred sausage or pepperoni on their pizza during an October debate. Pizza Hut soon dropped the offer amid negative coverage and a consumer backlash. “Pizza Hut quickly found out that social media can be your best friend and worst enemy,” blogged digital strategy director John Gielow of SMZ Advertising in Troy, Mich.     
  • Citigroup: A news release early this month about 11,000 layoffs was so bad it made trade media news of its own. ‘Classically bad’ press release leaves Citi vulnerable says the head above editor Michael Sebastian’s rip the next day at PR Daily. “Mention of the layoffs doesn’t occur until the bottom of the third paragraph,” he notes, and they’re described as “repositioning actions.” A jargon-filled quoted attributed to the CEO “lacks any trace of humanity.”PR FAIL Victoria Secret indian headdress
  • Victoria’s Secret: An insensitive move rebounds predictably for the fashion firm, which apologized for putting a Native American-style headdress on a scantily clad New York runway model. It vowed not to show the outfit in a December TV show or in marketing materials. “We absolutely had no intention to offend anyone,” the company says. Some who were offended pounded away at the brand’s Facebook page.
  • Bic pens: Merciless ridicule is aimed at pastel Bic For Her ballpoint pens. Hundreds of Amazon reviews mocked them. Washington Post style blogger Maura Judkis says: “Bic’s real mistake wasn’t making pink and other pastel pens, it was explicitly labeling them ‘for women.’ ” Ellen DeGeneres joined the pile-on. “Can you believe this? We’ve been using man pens all these years,” she cracked on TV. (Similar criticism hit Lego in April when the Danish toymaker  launched a new line of pink Lego bricks with patterns for a café, beauty shop and fashion design studio.)    

Your turn

Post a comment with a winner or sinner you recall.


One thought on “Public relations aces and dunces of 2012: Five who shine, five who stumble

  1. Great examples. My favorite one out of your winners is the Bodyform video response (it’s so well done!). I’m sure there will be several not-so-great PR examples awaiting us in 2013, but hopefully companies take some lessons learned from the fails of 2012.

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