The Year in Review: PR Edition


This year was full of noteworthy public relations crises, stunts, campaigns, and comebacks. Here is our selection of standout moments for 2015.

Arleigh | Principal | @ArleighGV
Good vs. Bad – How to Communicate and React in a Crisis

Crisis management and communications is vitally important to corporations, governments, individuals, non-profits, celebrities… I could go on with an endless list, but you get the gist. Good crisis management is priceless. Two examples that come to mind in 2015 come from very different places, but were extremely effective.

The first is the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which until the alarming photo of a drowned Syrian boy went viral, was largely being ignored by the global community and governments. It was the shocking photo that forced the world to fully acknowledge the plight of Syrian’s fleeing their war-torn country. Many countries, including Canada and the US, were shamed for not doing more to help these vulnerable people and in response to the crisis; global leaders were forced to act. The outcome of the photo has brought more attention and action to helping the refugees.

The second example of effective crisis communications management that I want to highlight is from the exposé of the Volkswagen emission scandal that was released in September of this year. The company was exposed for “admitting that 11 million of its vehicles were equipped with software that was used to cheat on emissions tests.1” However, in a brilliant PR move the newly appointed CEO didn’t do what most multinational corporate leaders would default to, which is to blame the engineers responsible and feign accountability. Instead, he issued an apology, vowed to fix the problem for consumers, and uncover what happened to make sure it is never repeated. To further emphasize their intention the company has rolled out a massive apology campaign. What could have turned into a media and consumer bloodbath for Volkswagen, has definitely been mitigated by their fast action and willingness to admit that they made a huge and very unethical mistake.


Meghan | Senior Account Manager | @TheAgencyMeghan
Bam, Pow, Wham – PR Stunts that Work!

Whether it was closing for Black Friday, blue steel-ing down the catwalk, or releasing promotional stock images, 2015 was a great year for PR Stunts. PR Stunts are traditionally defined as a planned event or initiative that draws the public’s attention to an event’s organizers or their cause. While there have been PR stunts for as long as PR has been a discipline of business, 2015 saw an uptick, especially with regards to Hollywood movie marketing/PR.

As discussed in my post last month about branding, a PR stunt is only successful if it is a good fit with your brand and your brand goals. When I was researching PR stunts this year to use as examples in this post, I realized I completely forgot that Jose Cuervo had made margaritas in space. Though I thought it was pretty cool at the time, it wasn’t super memorable and I am not quite sure what it did for their brand. When you contrast that with one of the first examples that popped into my head – the aforementioned Zoolander 2 model strutting – you can see that stunts that have a connection to a brand’s core messaging or company ethos have more staying power.

As a final point I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite homegrown Calgary PR Stunts, the annual WestJet holiday campaign. It’s a perfect example of how PR stunts that reflect your brand and company ethos are more effective than attention grabbing attempts.

WestJet Christmas Miracle: 12,000 mini miracles

On December 9, 2015 we asked you to help us spread Christmas cheer and make 12,000 mini miracles happen in 24hrs. You sure delivered! We were overwhelmed by the response from everyone and after a heartwarming and humbling day, we surpassed our goal by a wide margin.

Heidi | Content & Editorial Manager | @TheAgencyHeidi
It’s All About Your Image – Why Reputation Management is Important in PR

As we talk about PR in 2015, we would do ourselves a disservice if we failed to mention this year in politics and in particular, the elections. I would love to talk about the U.S. presidential race, but that is its own entirely different monster. (Maybe next year.)

We went through two different election cycles this year: the Alberta provincial elections and the Canada federal elections. Both election cycles were kicked off by conservative incumbents, confident in the fact that they had been they had been in power for long periods of time (10 years for the Tories and 40 years for the PCs), and neither saw the potential for a loss. I think both elections were great examples that highlight the importance of reputation management.

In Alberta, former Premier Jim Prentice called an election a year early, after taking over from Alison Redford. Perhaps the PCs thought that there was no way that the historically conservative province would lean anywhere else on the political spectrum. They received a boost in numbers in legislature when several Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to join the PCs, including then-opposition leader Danielle Smith. As more details emerged from the scandal-filled tenure of Redford, the PCs tried to run on a campaign of keeping the status quo when Albertans were calling for change. The Wildrose, who have had their own reputation issues with their extreme social views, were not the answer for Albertans. This opened the way for a majority for Rachel Notley and the NDP.

On the Federal stage, while former Prime Minister Stephen Harper enjoyed a stable majority government, he eventually lost sight of what Canadians were asking for from their government. As the campaign endured, unrest about Conservative policies as well as their reactions to current world issues grew with the general population. They also had to fight off the Senate expense scandal and looming trial against Mike Duffy. By the time Canadians went to the polls, the Conservatives had gone from a campaign of confidence to a campaign of fear. They responded to criticism by attacking those who criticized them. Now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, ran a campaign rooted in “Sunny Ways” – which became one of the biggest stories post-election.

This year’s elections showed politicians that there are no sure wins. You cannot run a tone deaf campaign. You need to listen to your audience (in this instance, voters) and act accordingly. Most importantly, reputation management must be an integral part of any political communications strategy.


| Account Executive | @TheAgencyKelsey
Tried and True – Old School PR Campaign Tactics are Still Effective

“Hello, it’s me…”

Sound familiar? Anyone who has turned on the radio, watched television, or used the Internet over the last month can’t help but sing those three words. Adele is back – and in a big way.

The PR machine driving her album launch has made it their mission (and a successful one at that) to place Adele at the forefront of current pop-culture. I cannot help but applaud them for the way that they have strategically orchestrated her comeback, taking a more traditional approach by focusing on media relations and engaging with her audience. Adele has graced all the major talk shows and has done interviews with popular entertainment networks. As a BIG fan of her new album, I was also thrilled that she did two concerts (London and New York) which have been broadcasted on TV for everyone to watch.

It has been refreshing to see an artist/celebrity take a “throwback” approach to their PR efforts, rather than extravagant stunts and flashy public appearances. By tapping into the talk show market and re-connecting with her loyal fans (while creating many new ones), this comeback has shown that a basic campaign based on strategically renewing relationships can help catapult an artist to the top of the charts. … And an amazing album doesn’t hurt either!


What was your favourite PR moment of 2015? Let us know in the comments below!

Source 1 –
Refugee photo credit: IMG_7190 via photopin (license)
Justin Trudeau photo credit: Jim Young/Reuters 
Adele photo credit: 2 via photopin (license)
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  • Chris

    Good reading. All the best to each and all at The Agency.

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