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TODD SMITH'S SPIN CYCLE: The biggest #PRWinners of 2014

Welcome to 2015, and as we shift into high PR, marketing, advertising and branding gear, The Spin Cycle is continuing to churn on the peaks and valleys of our industry last year. Last week, we reflected on the epic PR fails of 2014. But there was plenty of positive PR to celebrate. So allow the Spin Cycle to take you on a journey to the top of the brand mountain, 2014 style! Hera are the Mount Everest brands that scaled new PR heights last year:

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Some cynics have argued that the Ice Bucket trend eventually resembled other, less noble marketing campaigns and that the money donated to the organization may have been better spent researching conditions that affect far more people around the world every day. But the movement – and it really was a movement for all time – proved that a good idea, when executed well, can unite millions behind a noble cause.

The secret ingredients in this case were simplicity, fun, and inclusiveness.

CVS Pharmacy

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to defend “Big Tobacco” today; one of the world’s largest holding companies recently refused to confirm that a cigarette company would be its newest client.

Still, CVS drew nearly universal praise for choosing to become the first pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco thanks to both the historical nature of the move and the effective execution of Edelman’s multimedia “CVS Quits for Good” campaign. The first party to embrace change will always be seen as a leader, even when the change itself feels inevitable.

Malala Yousafzai

Yet another Edelman client, Malala used her newfound position as anti-terrorism activist to become history’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner while simultaneously criticizing those who support terrorist groups around the world, advising Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan on the Boko Harem kidnapping (along with Levick), and questioning the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s ongoing drone offensive. Who else can make such a claim?

Target

The retailer provided a model for the many, many companies that will experience security breaches in the future: buckle down and take bold action. Firings, hirings, operational shifts, and a greater focus on transparency ensured that the biggest story surrounding the chain this holiday season involved a 17-year-old who turned into a meme on the strength of a single photo.

The Interview

The film got middling reviews at best and inspired the most disastrous data leak in memory; we can understand why some reports claim that its writer/star/primary spokesperson Seth Rogen is far from the most popular man in show business at the moment. But the disproportionate amount of attention paid to what critics called yet another 90-minute collection of “men acting like boys” themes and poop jokes cannot be overstated …and it did “set an all-time record for online sales.”

We’ll let others decide whether this is a good thing.

The Tower of London

If you’re going to pull a stunt meant to turn heads around the world, you’d better make it something to remember. The team behind the royal art piece ”Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” did just that by filling the famous tower’s moat with 888,246 ceramic red poppies — one for each British or colonial life lost in World War I.

Beyoncé and Taylor Swift

You may well be tired of hearing the names of two of the world’s biggest pop stars, but in 2014 they taught us the value of consistency. As Lady Gaga’s stunts provide ever-diminishing returns, Knowles and Swift simply keep doing what they’ve been doing all along. For the former, that meant getting attention for the release of a non-album; for the latter, it meant becoming the spokesperson for a city she barely knows after breaking up with her longtime publicist.

Knowles and sister Solange also showed us that social media is the new key to crisis communications, as if we didn’t already know that.

Chipotle

The phrase “branded content” (or whatever they’re calling it now) usually translates to “things the average consumer would never read or watch,” but Chipotle and AOR Edelman bucked that trend by following 2013′s master class in messaging with more installments in the ongoing “responsible fast food” campaign. The brand used the worlds of television, advertising and literature to its advantage by hewing to the most important principle in content creation: if it’s not a press release, then it should never be all about you.

Derek Jeter and LeBron James

The news was full of athletes behaving badly in 2014, but Jeter and James were both heralded as hometown heroes for keeping things (relatively) modest and avoiding their colleagues’ propensity for showing their worst faces to the world. Jeter even felt generous enough to do a bit more of the thing he seems to hate most: speaking to the media.

And yes, LeBron’s “I’m back” campaign was still bombastic – but it was less obnoxious than his “I’m going to Miami” campaign, wasn’t it?

The NFL

This one seems a little counter-intuitive, but stick with me.

Yes, the league had a terrible year, revealing itself to be a mismanaged organization in sore need of “positive role models” and anything approaching accountability. Its public face, Roger Goodell, also showed the world how not to give a press conference. But the sport remains as popular as ever, and despite the organization’s lateness in cracking down on domestic violence, all the well-deserved outrage barely touched the league’s standing among its most important, fastest-growing demographic: young women. To borrow a phrase once applied to financial institutions, the NFL is “too big to fail.”

The NBA

The NFL couldn’t seem to decide how to respond to its big scandals this year, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver acted quickly and decisively – so much so that the main criticism leveled against him held that he was TOO harsh in punishing Donald Sterling for exercising his right to free (racist) speech. The fact that most parties making that argument happened to be political contrarians and Mark Cuban only further proves that he made the right decision.

Obamacare/#GetCovered

The President’s defining healthcare initiative still faces more than its share of detractors and existential threats, and pundits will probably debate the relative effectiveness of the #GetCovered campaign and Obama’s “Between Two Ferns” appearance for years. But despite the fact that the administration suffered an embarrassment over inflated enrollment numbers in November, the website finally started working – and reports released recently indicate that the plan “is easily on track” to meet its “relatively modest” goal of ensuring 9 to 10 million Americans by 2015. Any shortcomings are certainly not due to a lack of effort.

Golden Mic | Little Jimmy Dickens gave

big voice to country music’s success

The country music industry has lost a huge voice that amplified the success of the genre over the past half century. Country Music Hall of Famer Little Jimmy Dickens, one of the Grand Ole Opry’s greatest ambassadors, died on Jan. 2 at age 94. Dickens starred for decades on the “Opry,” where he was a vital part of the scene both onstage and backstage. His dressing room was an essential stop for performers on the show, and it was there that he held court for a variety of artists, some of whom came to the Opry more than a half century after his1948 debut. He remained a vital performer throughout his life, last playing the “Opry” on Dec. 20, a day after his 94th birthday. The Spin Cycle fondly remembers working with Little Jimmy Dickens during a stint in the PR department at Gaylord Entertainment in the 1990s. He welcomed all, and treated everyone with the same uplifting and jolly style. Little Jimmy Dickens connected us all to the roots of Country Music, and icons that laid the foundation to today’s global success – Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Porter Waggoner and Willie Nelson to name a few. For forever lifting country music to new heights with his sweet voice, Little Jimmy Dickens takes the Golden Mic.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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