The 10 Biggest PR Losers of 2013

Oh sure, he looks happy NOW...

Sure, he’s happy now. Just wait ’til he wakes up tomorrow.

Now that 2014 has granted us nearly 48 hours’ worth of hard-earned hindsight, we’d like to pull out our overgeneralizing caps and name the ten biggest losers of the past year.

This list isn’t about individual failures destined to be remembered for decades: it’s more about the entities that lost the public’s trust in 2013.

So check it out and feel free to disagree with us, because that’s what the Internet is all about.

 10. The Average Social Media User


Back in the hazy days of 2010, we could write a dumb tweet or Facebook status update and rest secure in the knowledge that very few people would see it (and even fewer would care).

We have two names for those who cling to this illusion in 2014: Justine Sacco and Pax Dickinson.

No matter how many times we write “RTs do not equal endorsements” and “tweets do not reflect the opinions of my employer”, they actually kind of do whether we want them to or not. The Internet Hate Machine is swift and unforgiving—and it doesn’t discriminate. On Jan 1st a teen wrote a tweet about the world being 2014 years old and received a flood of hate tweets calling her “dumb” and a number of other, less savory things. All she did was make a joke that some failed to recognize as such.

Let’s put it this way: everyone wants to be funny/edgy on Twitter, but there’s a reason darth never revealed his name and Rob Delaney is a professional comedian.

9. Sea World


We’re not sure about you guys, but we’ve never seen a single movie so effectively demolish a business.

Will Sea World recover? In the short term, probably. But if Blackfish wins the Oscar for best documentary, then it’ll be time to freak out like that rhetorical chicken without a head.

8. The Garment Industry


(Pic via Associated Press/A.M. Ahad)

Many Americans joke about buying clothes made in China for the sake of a discount, but the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh exposed the ugly inner workings of garment manufacturing for the world to see.

It’s not just China, and it’s not just uneducated 18-year-olds.

Major clothing brands will continue to come up with excuses for the practices that lead to tragedies like this one, but they can no longer hide the reality of the situation.

7. The Retail Industry


Walmart, Best Buy and JC Penney: three big names hoping against hope that 2014 turns out to be better than 2013.

If we were gamblers, we’d say only one of those three will still be around in ten years—and even the world’s leading provider of cheap crap can’t seem to score any decent publicity. What can you do when the news is all bad and you’re losing market share to Amazon because teens don’t hang out at the mall anymore?

Walmart will survive in some form, but in 2013 JC Penney proved that one can’t heal the retail model with a few “trust us, you’ll love it” tweaks.

Back to the drawing board, then…

6. The Tech Industry


If Google and Apple are really the Masters of the Universe, then why did they both have such underwhelming years in 2013? Apple lost its edge and Google went bust in the publicity department because neither created anything truly useful or innovative over the past twelve months.

We expect new tech stuff to wow us, not make us think “This new operating system is a slight improvement over the one running the phone I bought one year ago for $600, so I might need to start thinking about an upgrade”. But the big guys just gave us a series of tiny tweaks to established products while utterly failing to tell us why we should care.

And don’t even get us started on Google Glass…

5. Racists and Homophobes


Yes, it’s true that millions of Americans still say they “stand with” Paula and the old guy on Duck Dynasty. But these people are entertainers, and those who would earnestly defend the substance of their statements make up a shrinking minority.

It’s getting harder to believe that there was a time when public figures could air certain sentiments and we would be expected to dismiss them with a simple “Oh, he’s from a different time” or “Her views reflect the reality of her faith.”

Not anymore. Complain about the “PC Police” all you want, but unless you’re running for a House seat in the deep South [Ed note: I’m from South Carolina so I can write this], you can no longer retain the public’s trust after demonstrating contempt for significant parts of the population based solely on the way they look or the people they love.

4. Facebook


No, Facebook is not dying; it’s become a part of our everyday lives. That said, can you think of a single positive story that involved Mark Zuckerberg’s company this year? Did any new features or re-designs meet with anything but annoyed groans from the public?


3. Journalism


This one makes us sad because real reporting is more important now than ever. But in the realm of public opinion, the time-honored journalist is suffering. Blame it on political polarization, attention deficit disorder or the “new” clickbait media model, but studies reveal that the public now places less trust in journalists and assigns less value to the work they do.

We feel confident in saying that the discipline isn’t going anywhere, but its practitioners need to remind the public why it’s such an invaluable part of our lives.

2. Barack Obama


The President remains a celebrated thinker, writer and speaker, but his communications problem became painfully obvious this year. It wasn’t just about problems with a certain wonky website or a war that no one wanted; in 2013, we saw Obama lose the public’s attention by failing to connect.

If he wants to get anything significant accomplished over his last three years, then he should drop the “aloof professor” guise and speak directly to the people. We know you don’t like the minutiae of politics, Mr. President, but please remind us why you wanted the job in the first place.

1. The United States Government


First we discovered that our national security apparatus was “serving” us by collecting all kinds of less-than-relevant information we had no idea they wanted in the first place. Then we found out that the people we elected can barely keep the institution running because certain members of Congress still believe in the power of the “kicking and screaming” method of getting what they want.

We never thought “Vote for me, I hate the government too!” would be a good campaign slogan, because we assumed that none of our fellow Americans would want a bunch of spoiled children handling the world’s most powerful technology.

But you work with the government you have, and no single entity suffered a greater (or more greatly deserved) drubbing this year.

Had enough of the negativity? We get it—stay tuned for our list of 2013’s biggest winners.