Public Relations: A Year in Review

public relations in 2014

2014 was an incredible year in the world of public relations. A number of organizations and individuals made a splash on social media, while others were shaken by scandal and tragedy. From the shock of the Bill Cosby rape allegations to the glory of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, here are the PR stories that shook the world in 2014.


oscar selfie
1.) The Samsung Oscar Selfie
Samsung’s marketing team attracted the world’s attention after the release of the infamous “Oscar Selfie Seen ‘Round the World.” Samsung spent a total of $20 million on ads during the 2014 Academy Awards show. The brand, however, didn’t plan the now-famous shot entirely on its own. Some credit is owed to Oscar host Ellen Degeneres, who reportedly told ABC that she wanted to snap a number of “selfies” throughout the program.ABC suggested that she use Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 to take the shots, as the brand was already a sponsor of the awards show.Though the phone snapshot, which holds the record as the most-retweeted Twitter photo ever, may not have been planned by Samsung execs, the brand’s incredible integrated marketing techniques ultimately resulted in the most successful PR stunt of the year.


als ice bucket challenge2.) The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Few market researchers could have foreseen the explosive success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge, which required participants to dump buckets of freezing-cold water over their heads or donate a large sum of money to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association, caught fire after a number of political figures and celebrities joined the cause in June of 2014.Though the origins of the challenge are murky, the ALS Association receives credit for gaining the attention of millions of individuals worldwide. The charitable organization reported additional earnings of $100,000,000 due to the viral nature of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The movement was perhaps the most wide-spread PR success of the year and included such noteworthy participants as Barack Obama, Bradley Cooper, George R. R. Martin, and Tiger Woods. The PR success of the Ice Bucket Challenge will not soon be forgotten.

purina cat cafe
3.) Purina’s Cat Café
Renowned pet food brand Purina turned heads this year by opening one of the first “cat cafés” in the United States. The “pop-up” cat café debuted on New York City’s Lower East Side in mid-April 2014. Though the Purina ONE event lasted less than a week, it generated tremendous buzz for the brand and brought attention to a good cause – pet adoption. The brand encouraged customers to adopt the feline friends available at the café while also offering visitors pastries and complimentary “cat’acchinos.”Purina’s marketing stunt was ultimately a tremendous success, attracting customers from around the country and media attention from around the world. Thousands of others tuned into the café’s live stream to “visit” the cats from far away. Nearly all of the coffee shop’s 21 cats were adopted by the end of the weekend as well, making Purina’s cat café a truly heartwarming success.
Runner-up PR winners include: Burger King’s “Proud” Whopper, Birds Eye’s pay-by-Instagram restaurant, and President Obama’s Affordable Care Act Sketch on “Between Two Ferns.”

2014’s PR LOSERS

malaysia Airlines tragedy
1.) Malaysia Airlines’ Consecutive Plane Crashes
2014 will likely be remembered as a year of infamy for Malaysia Airlines. The tragic loss of Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370 plane on March 8 was followed by the equally catastrophic downing of Flight 17 over Ukraine on July 17. The carrier closed out the year on a dismal note, reporting third-quarter losses of over $170 million.Things continued to shift from bad to worse for Malaysia Airlines. The company shared a number of ill-phrased tweets in the months following the crashes, attempting to restore customer faith in the brand with such quotes as “If you fell down yesterday, don’t stay down.Get up as quick as you can,” triggering unfortunate reminders of the brand’s horrific plane crashes. Another poorly-worded tweet asked readers, “Want to go somewhere, but don’t know where?”It remains to be seen whether Malaysia Airlines can survive the tragic PR catastrophe caused by 2014’s tragedies. The airlines’ dual loss will likely remain in the public’s collective memory for decades to come.


sony pictures hack
2.) Sony Pictures Hack
On November 24, a group of hackers known as the Guardians of Peace released copious amounts of confidential information being held by Sony Pictures Entertainment. The scandal, which centered upon controversy over the political comedy The Interview caused ripples of uproar worldwide. The United States government originally accused the North Korean government of executing the hack, as the film’s plot focused on a fictional assassination attempt on the nation’s leader. Though this accusation was later proven incorrect, individuals across the nation grew angry and defensive over the alleged political attack.As a result of the hacking scandal, Sony cancelled the film’s release, then backtracked on their statement just days later, releasing the film in select U.S. theaters.Other confidential emails released by the hacking group painted the studio executives in a very bad light, causing tension between a number of industry professionals.Though news of the scandal has ultimately tapered off, the reputation of Sony has been significantly damaged by the incident. The company will require a lot of excellent PR in the coming years if they hope to ultimately overcome the scandals of 2014.
rape allegations bill cosby3.) The Rape Allegations Against Bill Cosby
In 1984, the pioneering sitcom The Cosby Show debuted on NBC. Bill Cosby starred as patriarch Cliff Huxtable, a wholesome and moralistic father figure.Thirty years later, Bill Cosby’s reputation was tarnished beyond repair. As of late 2014, more than 26 accusers had come forward, each stating that Bill Cosby had molested or raped them. Even more shockingly, many of the women were underage; most claimed to have been drugged by Cosby as well.Though the scandal was shocking enough, Cosby’s PR team reacted in just as shocking a manner.Attempting to mitigate the situation, Cosby’s PR pros released a “Cosby Meme Generator” on Twitter shortly after the crimes came to light. Justifiably angry individuals repeatedly created meme images mentioning the rape allegations and Cosby’s once-wholesome image. Other legal pros and PR experts attempted to discredit Cosby’s many accusers, aggressively challenging the integrity of the women who had come forward.Perhaps Bill Cosby will answer the public’s many questions in 2015. If not, it is likely that this PR catastrophe will linger for months to come.
Runner-up PR losers include: the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal, Urban Outfitters’ blood-spattered Kent State sweatshirts, Apple’s U2 album promotion and iCloud hack, the Donald Sterling racism scandal, and Facebook’s deceptive “emotion study.”
2014 was certainly a memorable year in the world of public relations. Though the year’s tragedies were tempered by a few great successes, the outrage triggered by scandal is difficult to ignore. Regardless of the long-term effects of these PR cases, it seems safe to say one thing: the PR of 2014 truly changed the world.

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