Listing Slightly: First Annual PR Turkeys of the Year

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    Lists and more lists should be on every PR person’s list right now because end-of-year lists are cropping up in the media like crab grass (or whatever it is that grows) on a Chia Pet stocking stuffer. It’s List-o-mania, baby!

    Do you have a client who would quality for a Best Of list this year? Were you a frequent newsmaker? Got a product that is a must-have for the New Year?! How about some superlative feat or stat that would rank on a list for some newsworthy distinction over the past decade — the first decade of the 21st century?

    Pitch a list and check it twice because news readers, as “they” say of their news anchors in England — when they aren’t yelling to the Royals “Off with their Heads” during student tuition riots — are looking for the naughty and the nice right now. As long as it can fit on a list for 2010 or 2011 as the holidays fall upon us.

    In the spirit of the season, which really begin at Thanksgiving now it seems, or is it All Hallow’s Eve, Media Savant has compiled this short but kinda succinct list of PR Turkeys in 2010. Our judges, flown in to cast ballots on nice, donated Gulf Stream Jets belonging to bailed out Wall Street bankers and a few congresspersons not yet under indictment, landed just after the massive Twin Cities blizzard this past Sunday. They were actually airborne over the Metro Dome when the big stained bed sheet, er, fiberglass fabric panels ripped from all that snow and crashed down on that fake, malodorous turf that sports fans of all stripes have so long loathed these past 29 years.

    OK, I made that last part up about the bankster jets and the flying over the snowdome. But you can’t make up the First Annual PR Turkeys of the Year. You can’t make up reality and that’s why these feathered winners are so richly deserving of their gilded Gobbler trophies! With no further ado, here are the PR birds of prey:

    Number 5: National Catholic League: Had they heeded their mother’s advice, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it all,” the National Catholic League might have been better off in its latest role as an art critic. But no, its spokesman, William Donahue, publically denounced a controversial anti-AIDS work that the Smithsonian eventually pulled (cowards) titled “Fire in My Belly” as anti-Christian. The publicity about the piece spread faster than a naughty Brittney Spears YouTube video. One pundit at the Star Tribune actually thanked Donahue for making the comments because now millions of people would be aware of the work and the artist, who died of AIDs-related issues in 1992.

    Number 4: Target: For not seeing the tsunami of bad publicity that would come at them — much of it generated via social media, including a semi-successful boycott that even sent the stock price down a few flights of stairs — when they donated to an organization that backed the GOP candidate for Minnesota Governor Tom Emmer. What pluck! And it easily earned them the Gobbler. Emmer, who has an anti-gay, anti-abortion platform, recently conceded that race after a recount. But there’s no word on whether he’ll return or pay back the funds he’d received. Social media is an unfettered force of nature now and will play an even bigger role in our lives and the media next year (why do you think that Zuckerberg kid is “The Person of the Year”?). What were they thinking at the Bullseye?

    Number 3: The Military Flacks who Enabled Gen. Stanley McChrystal to be Fired: It’s one thing to exercise your constitutional rights as a general to criticize the Commander in Chief’s (losing) strategy in Afghanistan, now a war older than Vietnam, to a Rolling Stone reporter, however stupidly and ill-considered they were. But it’s a whole ‘nother deal for the general’s handlers to have given said scribe virtually total access to the many-starred general for days on end. Maybe they’d been hitting the local hookah pipes too hard that week. Whatever their excuse, the general got sacked, the reporter got a book deal — and lots of overexposure in the media — while Obama recently feasted on a warm turkey dinner on Air Force One returning from the war front, the sun reflecting hard off the 2010 Gobbler award mounted below in front of some bedoiun tent that doubles as a Taliban poker palace every other Friday. But not hard enough for all the PR dudes associated with this open fire-hose fiasco to lose some stripes.

    Number 2: BP: How many ways can you foul your message after your collapsed oil rig and drill has fouled the Gulf and the livelihoods of thousands along the south coast? BP made so many public relations mistakes it would take a book to discuss them all. Perhaps its most disingenuous and egregious statements were those that pleaded ignorance to how this could happen and to just how extensive the problem really was. Exacerbated, some say, by the chemicals the oil giant widely sprayed to disperse the slicks, the gulf mess is still making some news and causing more alleged damage to the ecosystem, the gulf economy and the seafood chain. BP pretty much remains in their sleeper hold strategy while petro prices creep up over 3 or 4 bucks or more for the holidays. Meanwhile, countless lawsuits flap in the wind like a parade of ripped fishing nets, stretched out from Pensacola to Grand Isle, La.

    Turkey of the Year: The Vatican: Not to pick on the Catholics this holy and wholly commercialized season (Hell, they educated me), but their truly offensive lack of a coherent strategy to deal with sexual abuse issues that arose in Wisconsin this year after it was alleged that a priest had serially abused many deaf students in his care would be downright astonishing were it not so tragically awful. Crisis Communications 101? Not even close. How about Worst PR Practices Ever? Complete with denial, downplay, defer and other damnable “d” words that the Pope’s PR pontificators piled on throughout the news cycle…. Deplorable also comes to mind.

    For its unexpected — and totally unnecessary encore — the back peddling of this powerful global organization a few months later when his Holiness recently quipped that maybe condom use might not be such a bad thing after all, was worthy of a bunch of Chinese acrobats on the high wire working without a net. As you know yourself, there were many PR blunders that came close to these death-defying feats in 2010 but the votes tipped finally in favor of the long robes with the big and tall hats. And so we on the committee scratch our heads in celebratory disbelief, another year of relating publically gone into the record books.

    Finally, as we skid into Christmas and 2011, a fond thanks for reading this and other blogs in the library. And to all, a good night and a merrier tomorrow.


    For more resources, see the Library topic Public and Media Relations.


    Martin Keller runs Media Savant Communications Co., a Public Relations and Media Communications consulting company based in the Twin Cities. Keller has helped move client stories to media that includes The New York Times, Larry King, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, plus many other magazines, newspapers, trade journals and other media outlets. Contact him at, or 612-729-8585