The PR Success Stories of 2019
By Ted Kitterman
PR pros love to mock the missteps and misfires, but what were the campaigns that deserve our admiration? Here are a few notable moves that scored in 2019.
What are the PR tactics that worked in 2019?
Many organizations embraced their role in the cultural conversation, whether it was speaking out on gun violence and gun regulation or talking about taking steps to fight climate change. Others leaned into fights with competitors to stoke a healthy rivalry and drive online traffic.
Despite the many missteps that hurt brands in the past year, many stories were uplifting.
Here are a few winners:
Nike’s plus-size mannequin rollout
The move sparked a backlash when it launched this year, but Nike’s response has earned the respect of some communications experts.
Beck Bamberger, founder of Bam Communications, notes that Nike didn’t let the noise alter how it delivered its message.
“The approach that they took was gracious and one that stuck to their guns,” she says. “They didn’t retract. They didn’t react.”
She added that the company was wise not to play the rollout as a PR stunt to grab headlines—a move that would smelled of inauthentic grandstanding.
“There was a clear continuation of the path that they were on,” she says. “Their original plus size started two year ago. For them it was just a continuation of their strategy and what they believe, and it wasn’t going to be a big blowup. It wasn’t going to be a big stunt.”
The chicken sandwich wars
Several fast-food chains have stayed in the headlines for months with playful back-and-forth over their chicken sandwich offerings.
Brooks Wallace of the Hollywood Agency and communications director for PRSA San Francisco, says the dispute was a surprise success, particularly for Popeyes and Chick-fil-A. “Who knew fast-food chicken sandwiches could stir up such a windstorm?” she says. “Both brands capitalized on the buzz exceptionally well and serve as a prime example of rapid-response PR at its finest.”
The tactic has been a favorite for more than just the fast-food industry. Beer conglomerates Miller Coors and Anheuser-Busch have also used the tactic, sparring over claims of the use of corn syrup in the brewing process.
Pop-up brand activations on AirBnb
Several brands turned to the property rental site to advertise getaways offering singular brand experiences.
Julie Wright, president of (W)right On Communications, shares the brands that have stood out for her in 2019.
“In hospitality and tourism PR, 2019 was the year of brand collaborations and immersive experiences,” she says. “Three that come to mind are the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile on AirBnB for Lollapalooza; the Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse, also on AirBnB; and the Hotella Nutella pop-up coming soon to iconic Napa Valley.”
These immersive experiences are great opportunities to grab attention and generate buzz online.
“It’s harder and harder to win attention online or go viral on social media these days, which makes creative activations a great way for brands to memorably reach their fans online and in real life,” Wright says.
Gillette’s transgender ad
Although the brand might have misfired with its advertisement that spoke out against “toxic masculinity,” the brand scored a big win with an ad showing a transgender man’s first shave, supervised by his father.
The campaign is a reminder that positive messages that focus on affirming demographics rather than excoriating bad behavior will be more successful for brand managers.
Southwest’s employee superstars
The airline demonstrated the value of empowered and empathetic employees when a gate agent’s quick thinking turned into a public relations win. A flight delay was turned into a bit of fun when the gate attendant began playing games to entertain the waiting customers.
@SouthwestAir @MCO my flight to Washington DC has been delayed for almost 2 and a half hours and I was getting HEATED until this gate agent started playing games with everyone waiting to pass the time and now I’m like I’ll wait all damn night if you keep this up 🤣 #amazing pic.twitter.com/K0WnThxcW6
— Kristen Dundas (@kdunds13) August 23, 2019
Make sure your employees are empowered to go the extra mile for your customers, and remember that any face in your organization can become the face of your organization.
Sony’s nostalgic celebration of the Walkman
Even if your product is no longer the new kid on the block, that doesn’t mean it won’t make for a great headline.
Sony was grabbed plenty of media attention with its celebration of the Walkman’s 40th anniversary.
Many brand managers scored wins by turning to nostalgia, including Comcast’s partnership with E.T.
Wendy’s partnership with Chance the Rapper
The fast-food chain got plenty of online buzz by working with the Chicago-based rapper to promote its spicy chicken nuggets. The campaign began with a bit of social listening from the fast-food company, and then it turned into a partnership worth plenty of engagements.
Y’all keep asking, so here’s your chance.
The people in charge say if you guys can get our tweet (this one right here) to 2 Million likes, they will bring SPICY CHICKEN NUGGETS BACK.
Let’s freakin’ do this! https://t.co/qrtvWXjj9V
— Wendy's (@Wendys) May 4, 2019
Remember to listen to your fans and monitor brand mentions on social media platforms to seize every opportunity to highlight your offerings or work with high-profile social media users.
Many communicators are turning to this popular medium to share their organizations’ stories. For intrepid would-be podcasters, Toyota offers plenty of lessons on how to quickly grow an audience and align your content format with desired outcomes.
Some big takeaways from Toyota’s show:
Opt for shorter episodes rather than long episodes covering multiple topics.
Use your company’s experts.
Explore different avenues from what your organization is known for.