A Look Back at the Top 8 PR Stories of 2017

January 3, 2018

By: Irene Lo

Being an avid newshound is a must to work at Magnolia and 2017 did not disappoint with a ton of material to chat about around the proverbial watercooler. From politics to pop culture, there was never a dull moment on the Twitter feed. We’ve rounded up the biggest stories of the past year: those that sparked debate and laughter, the moments that inspired us and horrified us (amusingly so), and what we can expect to see more of this year.

Here is our look back at the top 8 PR stories of 2017:

  1. Accountability, finally

Source: http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2017-silence-breakers/

It was a watershed year for the silence breakers. From Ronan Farrow’s excellent reporting in the New Yorker on Harvey Weinstein’s silencing of his victims to Susan Fowler Rigetti’s blog post on a “strange” year at Uber, national outlets broke stories on systematic abuse across industries. Even the media put themselves under the glass with misconduct against writers at New Yorker, New York Times and Vice stirring the national discourse.

Investigative reporting of powerful figures and holding them accountable will continue in 2018, with stories in the alternative weeklies and in the mainstream media. In marketing and communications, we need to be aware of the interest in hearing from female and male leaders in their respective fields on what system of checks and balances are in place to keep their influence honest.

  1. Cashing in on social justice

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/02/05/kevin-olearys-debate-debut-was-less-than-stellar-dimanno.html

Critics and fans were able to agree on something for once, and that was how much of a miscue the Kyler Jenner Pepsi ad was. In this protest-themed short film, Kylie unites Black Lives Matter protestors together with cops by handing a cop a Pepsi. If Pepsi were hedging their bets that the backlash from a corporation using a descendant from the Kardashian clan, famous for being famous, to promote a social change message, would be bearable for the controversial provocation it would spark, they were wrong.

Universally panned, this fiasco shows that as corporations get political, there will be no margin of error for those that want to cash in on social justice. The echo chamber that is the internet and the growing social conscience of younger generations will turn all that into a joke before its 15 minutes of fame are up. One thing’s for sure. This is no “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”

  1. The voice of a generation

Moon Pie is the breakthrough voice on social media that makes its followers feel they are not just following a business, but a friend. A hilarious and delightfully nutty friend. Going beyond the online snarky replies of fast food corporations, Moon Pie is a full-blown rogue account that takes no prisoners in its clapbacks. Best of all, it works.

How do you stand apart from your competitors in a sea of content? More brands will push boundaries on social media platforms by simply being honest and having fun with it. @BrandsSayingBae has come full circle, indeed.

  1. The tech tide is turning

A New York Times article on how a start-up was re-inventing the neighbourhood corner store met with online derision, hitting a nerve that businesses should ignore at personal peril. Created by two former Google employees, Bodega made the wrong first impression as many took offence to their mission to replace mom-and-pop corner stores with vending machines accessed by phone and credit card. Individualswere incensed at how Bodega appropriated the name, Bodega, for its start up, and used the cat, often a fixture at neighbourhood stores, as its symbol.

Silicon Valley fatigue has been increasingly vocal, and will continue to grow. There is a communications lesson not just for tech companies but for innovative companies in general to flip the script and kill off buzzwords.

  1. BBC Dad for the win

One amazing clip to go viral this year? Hands down it has to be BBC Dad, a legend to go down in the annals of internet history. During a live interview on BBC World News about South Korean politics (of course), a professor’s swaggering child and baby not far behind barged into the room. It must be an interviewee’s worst nightmare yet Professor Robert Kelly handled it splendidly, with a warm smile to let everyone know he’s in on the silliness of the intrusion. You can barely tell he thought his career was kaput!

We media train corporate spokespeople for broadcast opportunities and executive situations, and we give Professor Robert Kelly an A for looking cool as a cucumber in small, defining moments such as these ones. If it were not for how he conducted himself in an unexpected situation, this clip could have gone viral for a whole host of different reasons…Let the spirit of BBC Dad inspire us all as we make mistakes and learn not to take ourselves too seriously in the end.

  1. United Airlines re-accommodates David Dao

It was pretty unsettling watching the clip of United Airlines forcibly removing passenger, David Dao, off an overbooked airplane and unsurprisingly the scandal lowered its stock by 13% in 2017. Unfortunately for the United CEO, Oscar Munoz, his first statement did not pass muster and he was forced to issue a proper apology two days afterwards. United Airlines has had a rough year and with Jim Olson, the senior vice president of corporate communications resigning his post this month, it will be interesting, to say the least, to see how United Airlines fares in the New Year.

United Airlines serves a purpose in the art of an apology. Is it so hard to say sorry? In cases where there are legal ramifications, it can be understandably tricky but in the court of public opinion, the window of opportunity to defuse a scandal from becoming a full-blown disaster closes fast. For companies who are battling missteps, speed will continue to be of the essence but assessing the situation and getting the message right is just as important in getting ahead of a potential PR crisis.

  1. Race you to the bottom


Meanwhile in Canada, we had faux populists gunning for political leadership. From Mr. Wonderful being inspired by Trump to throw his political hat in the ring and aping him with sensational slogans as a government outsider and self-made businessman, to Kellie Leitch running a Breitbart-esque campaign around Canadian values peddling anti-immigration credos.

The Trump Bump can be seen from not just an increase in newspaper subscriptions or travel outside of the States but in an increase in public displays of inflammatory and divisive dialogue for personal gain. This trend will continue to run its course with personalities and influencers manipulating provocative statements and actions for their own benefit.

  1. Canada 150

Last year, Corporate Canada celebrated our nation’s 150th anniversary and Roots Canada exemplified the spirit of our tolerant country with their Be Nice campaign.  In a brilliant short video narrated by Kim Cattrall, they  captured our hearts with historic clips and photographs that show what the Real Nice truly means. Moving beyond the surface, Roots redefined the Canadian stereotype to reveal our progressive values and our country’s enduring strength through folk heroes and trailblazers.

There were plenty of inspiring Canada 150 marketing campaigns to choose from, but Roots Canada’s commendable work was top of mind for us. Showcasing the art of inclusion, in a year shocked by world events with the power to divide, Roots delivered a message of hope and the importance of communal identity in overcoming obstacles and implementing change together.

Of course the stories don’t stop there and we could reminisce all day but we need chance to recuperate before the 2018 media storms hit.