The Borkowski Awards—notable 2013 PR moments

I don’t usually do awards ceremonies. I’d generally rather be making a new campaign than remembering the last one. However, as the end of the year finds Borkowski towers in a reflective mood, I thought I’d put together a brief collection of 2013’s standout PR moments—the ones that made us gasp with astonishment, and the ones that made us groan in horror.

Most gloriously over the top viral stunt

I’ve actually already blogged about this one [link: http://www.markborkowski.co.uk/supernatural-pr-fear-that-fans-can-love/] but it’s stuck with me. In order to promote the remake of classic teen-angst ‘em up Carrie, the movie’s PR team set up a hidden camera stunt to end all hidden camera stunts. A new York Cafe was rigged with booby traps, and an actor was planted at a table. Following an altercation with another “customer” (actually a stuntman), the actor appears to wreak havoc with her psychic powers, terrifying several genuine customers. A video of the event went viral.

In some ways, there was nothing groundbreaking about this, well-executed as it was. Still, as I acknowledged at the time, the team deserve huge props for finding a clever way to engage with movie audiences outside of the traditional press junket snore-machine.

Most disastrous loss of control over the narrative

One organisation that did very well out of the media for most of 2013 were former cranks turned upstanding voices of Britain the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Their charismatic leader Nigel Farage, always ready with a pint in his hand and a soundbite on his lips, has taken control of right-wing sentiment in Britain. For at least the second half of the year, David Cameron was widely acknowledged to take his cues from Farage in the way he framed many of his policies, particularly on immigration.

But while UKIP conference 2013 should have been the party’s crowning achievement, the actions of one rogue agent—MEP Godfrey Bloom—meant the media narrative during and after the event was one of chaos and slapstick comedy. Bloom used the word ‘sluts’ to refer to female party members, and subsequently hit Channel 4 journalist Michael Crick on the head with a party brochure. Farage, to his credit, reacted quickly, withdrawing the whip from Bloom, but in his own words: “There is no media coverage of this conference…. it’s all about Godfrey hitting a journalist and using an unpleasant four-letter word.”

Most half-hearted celebrity attempt to go off the rails

Unfortunately for the digital entertainment media, 2013 was near-totally bereft of meltdowns, screw-ups and self-destructions. In the absence of such copy-fodder, the faceless droids that run TMZ had to improvise, and they came up with the perfect target: Justin Bieber. This year, Bieber’s wild child shenanigans include (allegedly) smoking a small amount of slightly illegal drugs [link: http://www.tmz.com/2013/10/07/justin-bieber-smoking-photo-twitter/], losing two small specialist pets [link: http://www.celebitchy.com/305814/some_freak_gave_justin_bieber_a_new_pet_monkey_hes_lost_it_already/] and offending some of the online Jewish population [http://www.heyreverb.com/blog/2013/06/28/justin-biebers-five-biggest-screw-ups-so-far-this-year/71906/3/]. We yawned. Charlie Sheen would be turning in his grave, if he weren’t still alive and richer than ever.

Significant  launch

Even as the year draws to a close, The Book of Mormon, the debut stage musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, remains hot property despite opening all the way back in March. On Friday 22nd March it broke the record for the biggest single day of West End ticket sales, taking £2,107,972 between 10am and midnight. The launch campaign was an appealing blend of the experimental and the old fashioned. Ads were simple and focused on highlighting media praise, whether traditional (the show’s enviable reviews were written on billboards across London’s underground systems) or social (other posters highlighted Twitter sentiment). At the same time (and we don’t know to this day whether collaboration between the two organisations was involved) the real life Mormon church provided the show with better publicity than any money could buy. Launching an advertising campaign to rescue its reputation from the show’s satirical attacks, the church not only piggybacked masterfully on the show’s hype but ensured people stayed flocking to the Prince of Wales theatre. A joint gong, then, for one of the world’s wackiest religious organisations and the creators of South Park. Not a sentence we ever thought we’d type.

PR move of 2013

Sally Osman, who took over as chief spinner to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April, had a tough year ahead of her. After 2012 saw public love for the Royals surging to near-unprecedented levels, there was a chance that 2013, which held no glitzy jubilees or weddings, would be a muted year. Osman took that in her stride, with a subtle style that ensured coverage of the royal birth in the summer, while frenzied, didn’t look artificially stoked, and coverage of the christening was tasteful. Osman clearly knows that less is more when you’re dealing with such a high-value property, and she’s kept the pair at the very top of the public’s affections.

2013 Master of the Dark Arts 

Larry Rudolph, longtime master of the Hollywood dark arts, has (allegedly) done it again. It is widely speculated that onetime Disney Channel starlet Miley Cyrus’s decision to hire him as her manager was the catalyst for her transformation into pansexual headline hogger. The debates about media sexism, sexualisation of the young and the virtue or otherwise of pixie bobs are for other writers. All I know is that, thanks to Rudolph, the word ‘twerking’ is now in the Oxford English Dictionary, and that’s villainous enough.