Year in Review: Winners and losers in communications - Part One


As 2018 winds down, it’s fun — when it’s not painful — to look at the highlights and lowlights in the communications world. What were the strategies and rollouts that are the stuff of dreams for communications specialists? And what were the terrible misfires, the PR campaigns or crisis management responses that were difficult to behold?

In no particular order, here’s a collection of notable communications events over the past year that caught our attention here at Provident. Today, we’ll look at the home runs; later this week, we’ll delve into the strikeouts.

  1. Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick. High-profile politicians, including U.S. President Donald Trump, took offence when Kaepernick began protesting police brutality against black men by bending a knee during the national anthem in 2016, and even some football fans turned away from the NFL. So for Nike to sign the quarterback for the 30th anniversary of its Just Do It campaign was a gamble. And it worked. Nike's stock reached an all-time high by mid-September, and sales revenues also went through the roof. The Nike campaign also raised renewed awareness about Kaepernick's protest and the issues behind it. Nike was totally attuned to its customer base — millennial, active, urban and progressive -- and scored big.

  2. In the crisis management space, Southwest Airlines moved with lightning speed when news broke that a passenger had been sucked out of one of its planes after an engine explosion in April. The communications team put out brief, frequent statements on several social media platforms and was fully transparent in providing whatever information they had as soon as they had it. There was no attempt to hide anything, nor a hint of defensiveness. And in a video also posted to various platforms, the airline’s CEO, Gary Kelly, struck an authentic, heartfelt and respectful tone just hours after the incident that focused first and foremost on the victim’s family. It was a smart, agile, compassionate response to a tragedy that showed the airline had a comprehensive crisis management plan in place.

  3. And in a brilliant marketing ploy, Payless Shoes — remember them? — had a bit of fun at the expense of so-called fashion influencers, that tribe of social media-famous fashionistas who most of us have never heard of. The no-frills footwear giant set up a luxury pop-up boutique in Los Angeles in November and invited fashion influencers to come shop for “Palessi” shoes. People fell for it, doling out hundreds of dollars for cheap kicks (they got their money back after the gag was revealed), and Payless earned itself a sea of media coverage for the prank. It was smart — no loyal Payless customer was going to take offence at a marketing ploy that mocked snobs, and the company likely earned itself some new fans thanks to stories featuring fashionistas waxing poetic about the cute styles and superior craftsmanship of the Palessi shoes.

Check back in a couple of days, and we’ll have a rundown of some PR/communications disasters of the past year.