Best and Worst PR Moves of 2011: Aflac Flies and Netflix Dives

To close out the year, we asked members of the PR News community what they thought were the best and worst PR moves of the year, and found that there was no broad consensus on what was the best PR move of 2011. The picture was much clearer when it came to the worst PR move of the year: Netflix's handling of its price increase and the rebranding of its DVD service.

Survey respondents praised Alfac for its quick and creative response to Gilbert Gottfried's tasteless tweets about the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Aflac immediately fired Gottfried as the voice of the Aflac duck and launched a nationwide search for a new voice that included live and online auditions, and earned widespread positive coverage in the process.

Among the other best PR moves cited: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's response to Hurricane Irene (as a counterpoint to his handling of the December 2010 blizzard); Christian Dior's firing of designer John Galliano; Morton's sending a steak to HARO founder and author Peter Shankman at Newark Airport after he tweeted before landing there that he'd love it if they met him at the airport with a porterhouse; PRSA making the business case for public relations; and Jennifer Aniston being named the Sexiest Woman of All Time by Men's Health.

Netflix's steep pricing boost, its attempt at spinning off its DVD service and, in particular, CEO Reed Hastings' communiques to angry customers was the clear "winner" of the worst PR move of 2011. Respondents wrote that Netflix failed in doing proper market research and in its stakeholder communications, and that Hastings' "apology" to Netflix subscribers assumed that customers were wrong and included an "irritating product launch a la New Coke."

Penn State's handling of the release of the grand jury report on the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse allegations was also cited by survey respondents as one of the worst PR moves of the year, as were Pfizer's response to criticism of a sexually suggestive ad campaign for ChapStick; Lowe's pulling its ads from the TLC show All-American Muslim; GM's response to reports that the Volt's battery caught fire in tests; Herman Cain's explanations for both his bumbling response to questions about U.S. foreign policy and allegations about sexual harassment; and the hiring of a PR agency by Facebook to plant negative stories about Google.

Political persuasion also played a part in some of the survey responses: The messaging behind the Occupy Wall Street movement was mentioned as both best and worst PR moves of the year.