It’s not much of a stretch to think about some of this year’s major PR crises, ranging from the Sony hacking scandal to the General Motors recall debacle. However, it’s a bigger challenge to think of some of this year’s most positive PR stories. But we jogged our memories to come up with a handful of examples of effective communications and solid messaging in 2014.
> Ice Bucket Challenge. For a few weeks late last summer the country was showered with videos of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads and then passing the challenge onto their friends and families. It was all part of the Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral phenomenon that helped raise tens of millions of dollars for the ALS Association. It’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle, but brands and companies will certainly try. The biggest takeaway: You can’t create a viral campaign in a boardroom or a series of marketing meetings in which the communications team is implored to think differently. Any online content that takes off like wildfire is going to be organic in nature.
> LeBron James returns to Cleveland. In a masterful stroke of understatement, the NBA sensation used traditional media (Sports Illustrated) to let the world know that he was heading back to Cleveland and rejoining the Cleveland Cavaliers after playing for the Miami Heat for several years. The beautifully written piece helped to neutralize any critics by saying his return to Cleveland was not about having trouble with Heat management or thinking that the team had cooled off competitively, but a burning desire to go home. James’ letter demonstrates that when you have something serious to say, less is more, and low-key is the right key.
> Adam Silver’s handling of Donald Sterling Scandal. The NBA was nearly torn asunder by racist remarks made by now-ex Los Angles Clippers owner Donald Sterling during a private phone conversation. Silver, who had just taken on the helm as NBA commissioner, showed swift action and demonstrated how not to let a crisis get out of control: He banned Sterling from the NBA for life, fined him $2.5 million and persuaded the other owners to force him to sell the club. (Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in October officially acquired the Clippers for $2 billion.)
> CVS Caremark stops selling tobacco. This is a prime example of how brands can use communications to build awareness of their CSR efforts, not to mention boost goodwill with the public regarding the nation’s collective health. The move also provides a roadmap for PR pros who are eager to change the perception of their brands and organizations: Take a leadership role, be bold and, perhaps most important, be prepared to follow your decision with action.
What would you add to the list?
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1