The Biggest PR Losers of 2014


Yesterday we shared some of the biggest winners hidden amidst all of 2014’s horrible headlines.

There’s been so much bad news over the past twelve months that we had to follow up with another (completely subjective) list of “losers,” but as we reviewed the bunch we kept coming back to the same question: what’s the true cost of bad publicity in 2014?

A&E got lots of negative attention, but didn’t feel the need to cancel any of its “controversial” shows; the world’s hottest “sharing economy” company earned a mountain of bad press but saw its estimated value continue to rise; our nation’s real pastime stained its own reputation but scored higher ratings than ever before.

As the year ends, we ask ourselves: how many of these losers suffered real damage, and how much of the bad press was simply “noise” destined to be forgotten as soon as the next controversy arrives?

Here they are in no particular order…


Uber sorry

Over the summer, an Uber general manager declared PR to be “a waste of money,” and his company proceeded to prove him very wrong with 2014’s longest unbroken streak of bad publicity. Most prominently, in addition to some casual sexism and controversies regarding bad drivers, the company demonstrated the very worst possible way to approach media relations. CEO Travis Kalanick then combined “the public relations savvy of Miley Cyrus with the pugnacity of Alec Baldwin“(?!) by issuing a 14-tweet apology and calling it a day.

Our bold prediction for 2015: All signs point to the continued success of Uber and its sharing economy brethren, but unless the organization can demonstrate deep cultural change, the negative headlines will keep coming. Such is the nature of “disruption” itself.

Snapchat and Whisper:

This year we learned that “privacy” and “anonymity” are relative terms.

Problems at these two otherwise red-hot startups led many to ask how businesses should proceed when reality rudely disproves their key selling points. We think you’ll agree that both stumbled out of the gate in addressing their respective privacy controversies; The Whisper expose was not as monumental as 2013’s Edward Snowden blockbuster, but the Guardian PR team tells us it was one of the year’s biggest stories. Of course, TechCrunch reported last week that the latest “Snappening” had no effect on the former company’s growth, once again leading us to wonder whether there might be something to the “all publicity is good publicity” fallacy after all.



Satya Nadella, the CEO supposedly hired to help make Microsoft a cutting-edge company again, chose the best place to elaborate on his patronizing “lean back” strategy: a conference on women in the tech field. He said that women should trust in the “good karma” of the existing system rather than being so bold as to ask for raises, later claiming that he’d misspoken while ensuring the public that Microsoft pays men and women equally.

Here’s the evidence Nadella cited to back up that claim:

The United States Senate and House of Representatives:

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Americans are fed up with our do-nothing Congress, yet we continue re-electing the very people who promise to ensure that their opponents won’t get anything done next term. As Politifact told us in November, that viral meme that popped up all over your Facebook feeds last month was accurate:


We have absolutely no reason to believe that Americans’ opinions of these institutions — which were allegedly created to serve us as effectively as possible — will improve in coming years.

The U.S. intelligence community:

CIA tweet

The CIA got snarky on Twitter and released a very interesting grammar guide, but the real news of 2014 came in the form of the most epic Christmas Eve news dump in recent memory: the NSA admitted that the very surveillance/data collection techniques it had alternately denied and defended since Edward Snowden went public in 2013 “may have violated the law or U.S. policy over more than a decade.