Top 3 Best and Worst PR Strategies of 2011

It’s that time of the year again! Each year, Time magazine writes the Top 10 of Everything lists to review the outgoing year. We thought we’d put together (an abbreviated) list of our own to sum up the best and worse of public relations in 2011.

The Worst Tactics

NetFlixNetflix- This summer, movie enthusiasts everywhere cried in despair when Netflix raised their prices 60 percent without warning. In addition to raising prices, they also split their online streaming and by-mail DVD packages requiring users to pay for them separately. Customers were outraged and nearly 800,000 cancelled their Netflix subscriptions all together.

Netflix also wanted to redub their DVD services as Qwikster and split those into two sections of the company. But that idea crashed and burned before they could ever start it, thanks to the already existing Twitter account @Qwikster.  The Twitter account’s main photo of a marijuana-smoking Elmo clearly showed how little research Netflix put into Qwikster before announcing it to the public.

Ultimately, Netflix abandoned the split idea, but kept the price hike. CEO Reed Hastings apologized for the confusion saying, “I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.”

Kenneth Cole logoKenneth Cole- At the height of the Cairo riots, designer Kenneth Cole found a way to promote his spring collection. On Feb. 3, Cole took to Twitter and sent “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at — KC.” Clearly perceived as mocking the revolution, Cole apologized, saying his tweet was “poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate. ”

Cole’s apology was too little, too late as a parody Twitter account sprung up and gained 2,500 followers in just two hours. Parody tweets included sensitive subject material to sell Kenneth Cole clothing using the hashtag #KennethColeTweets.

facebook logoFacebook- Yes, Facebook has committed one of the worst PR blunders in 2011. The popular, all-mighty Facebook apparently does have fears and being overshadowed by Google is probably at least three of them.

In May, blogger and online privacy expert Chris Soghoian received a slew of emails from John Mercurio of the notable public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, prompting him to investigate Google’s rumored violation of user privacy. Mercurio prompted the topic and even offered to help Soghoian write the article and spread it to various media outlets.

As any good journalist would be, Soghoian was skeptical and inquired which of Mercurio clients was spreading this “whisper campaign” against Google. Turns out it was none other than social media giant Facebook, who has definitely gained their fair share of privacy complaints from users.

Facebook hired Burson- Marsteller to spread rumors of Google’s use (or misuse) of users’ private information to discredit Google’s new Social Circle feature in Gmail. A spokesman for Facebook admitted to hiring the PR firm, citing two reasons for attacking Google- the most notable being “Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.”

It’s doubtful that anyone would overshadow Facebook with more than 800 million users, but they are trying to be sure they stay on top of the social media world.

The Best Tactics

Southwest AirlinesSouthwest Airlines- In April, Southwest flight 812 had their cabin remodeled midflight to include a skylight—with no glass. The unexpected tear in the fuselage caused the plane to lose pressure and forced an emergency landing. Blogger Shawna Malvini Redden whipped out her phone, captured the scene and shared it with the world.

Any other airline might have seen that as the worst possible blow to their brand, but Southwest Airlines instead proactively grounded 81 planes for complete inspection- without being told to do so to by the Federal Aviation Administration- to ensure the incident would not repeat itself on another flight.

The company demonstrated that transparency is the best policy when dealing with customers. By the end of their inspections, they found several other planes that required repairs. By this time, media outlets had already shifted their attention to the plane manufacturer and not Southwest.

The proof of a job well done is in the Google search. Many passengers praised Southwest and the pilots for handling the incident extremely well and getting them to their destinations safely.

Kentucky Fried ChickenKentucky Fried Chicken- KFC has realized in the 21st century that attention spans are short, technology is prevalent and many kids still need financial help getting into college. In 2010, KFC combined all of these things and asked high school students across the country to dump stuffy scholarship essays and instead send them a tweet to win a $20,000 scholarship.

The winning tweet from California high school senior Amanda Russell cleverly said, “#KFCScholar Hey Colonel! Your scholarship’s the secret ingredient missing from my recipe for success! Got the grades, drive, just need cash!”

This year the Colonel is thinking even more creatively about scholarship entries. KFC is urging high school seniors to tweet a photo showing “why they exemplify Colonel Sanders’ commitment to education and enriching their communities, and why they are deserving of a college scholarship.”

University of Iowa Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid Jodi Schafer told USA Today that application essays are “becoming unoriginal” and including social media in the application process will “help bring back some of that creativity.”

Kate Spade Red Tweed LogoKate Spade- Mashable recently praised Kate Spade for properly using social media to increase the social value of their brand. Their engaging use of multiple social networking sites helped them create a persona their target audience can aspire to be, known as the Kate Spade Girl. Their posts on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter are all written how a normal person would engage online—a real person with favorite things and hopes and dreams to share and errands to do.

“The Kate Spade girl aspires to lead an interesting life — to engage in the arts and literature and travel and adventure,” Craig Leavitt, CEO of Kate Spade told Mashable. “We talk about those things on social media because that’s who she is, and she wants to hear about what her peers are doing. It feels very, very natural for us.”

Their tactics have succeeded. Their online followers have grown by the thousands. Their posts are well received with numerous likes, retweets and reblogs. Each post is an eloquent reminder of how to be a lady. Their online sales have skyrocketed and overall sales have grown nearly 75 percent. Kate Spade has truly revived their brand by updating the way they communicate with their admirers.

There you have it folks, our top 6 memorable PR moves from 2011. Honorable mentions include PR moves from Charlie Sheen and Two and a Half Men, Alec Baldwin Vs. American Airlines, and Bank of America announcing a $5 fee.

What would you have included in this list?