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A look back at the 2016 Public Relations Winners and Losers

Colin Kaepernick: The political and social climate and rhetoric in the US has been more divisive this past year than any other in recent memory. Utilizing social media and organizing nation-wide protests, more Americans – particularly minorities and the underserved – are waking up to, exposing, rejecting, and fighting against the structural inequalities and widespread injustices that still plague our country. From actors to athletes, celebrities across the spectrum have leveraged their platform to speak out against these injustices, but perhaps no other has raised more discussion this past year than Colin Kaepernick.

Once the 49ers star quarterback, Colin has become more known for his political activism than his prowess on the field. His national anthem protest, in which he kneels during the national anthem at the start of games to protest police brutality against black Americans and other people of color, has garnered both support and harsh criticism. Other NFL players and professional athletes have joined in Kaepernick’s protest, including the Seattle Seahawks and US women’s soccer team player Megan Rapinoe.

Verdict: Winner. His public and unbowed commitment to the cause has expanded beyond the protest. Soon after the beginning of his protest, his jerseys became the top sellers in the NFL. He has since promised (and begun) to donate $100K per month for the next ten months to community organizations focused on ending racial inequality and oppression, working towards police reform, and aiding with community engagement and growth. All donated funds can be tracked on Kaepernick’s website. He organized and hosted a “Know Your Rights” camp to educate underprivileged Bay Area children about their rights as citizens, financial literacy, health and wellness, and higher education.

Samsung: After reclaiming the number one spot as top smartphone maker in 2015, Samsung seemed poised to continue its dominance into 2016 with the new Galaxy Note 7. Water resistant, armed with an iris scanner, and bolstered by successful viral marketing campaigns featuring Oscar winner Christoph Waltz and rapper Lil Wayne, the Galaxy Note 7 looked like the It phone for 2016. Then they started exploding.

Between the unveiling of the phone in August to the suspension of production and subsequent recall in October, Samsung fielded over 90 incidents of catastrophic phone failure as a result of defective batteries overheating, exploding, and causing fires in homes, cars, hotel rooms, and even planes. While the tech giant attempted to rectify the situation through a series of recalls and exchange programs (even offering full refunds and incentives for returns on the $850 device), bans placed on the phones by government regulators and consumer protection groups forced them to recall all 2.5 million phones worldwide to the tune of a loss of $2B USD.

Verdict: Loser. Samsung’s inability to effectively fix the problem as soon as it surfaced, including issuing new phones that displayed the same faulty (and explosive) battery issues as those replaced, coupled with unfortunate timing (with the first reports of explosions appearing just days before the unveiling of Apple’s competing iPhone 7), ultimately resulted in one of the biggest financial and reputational blows to a tech company in recent memory.

Leslie Jones: Being subjected to online hate is an unfortunate side-effect of reaching any kind of celebrity status – especially if you happen to be a woman. The SNL comedian learned just how dark the online world can be when she was subjected to abhorrent abuse and a series of cyber attacks following her turn as Patty Tolan in the 2016 reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that many will stop at nothing to punish someone for having the gaul to be a successful black woman. Lack of shock aside, the level of vitriol faced by Jones reached new heights.

The announcement of an all-female reboot of the franchise – starring some of the biggest names in comedy – was quickly met with virulent misogyny and racism masquerading as the mere pushback of concerned “fans.” Hoards of angry, primarily young white men lashed out against the offense of having women star in a popular franchise reboot (the entitlement was palpable), with the trailer becoming one of the most disliked videos on Youtube (ever). Leslie, as the only black woman in the cast, bore even greater amounts of vitriol, bombarded with taunts, physical threats of violence, and abuse based on both her race and gender. Following this, Jones (understandably needing a reprieve from the abuse) briefly quit Twitter before making an applauded comeback (receiving an outpouring of love and support from celebrity friends and the general public alike) after meeting with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. Following their meeting, Dorsey took some of Twitter’s first ever serious action against the abuse that runs rampant on its platform by banning some of the microblogging site’s most notorious and vile trolls.

Verdict: Winner. Despite enduring maddening and disgusting levels of abuse and invasion, Leslie Jones managed to not only rise above, but to also utilize her platform to push forward some much-needed change. Moreover, after returning to Twitter, her comedic tweets on the 2016 Olympics were so popular that she was invited to be an NBC special commentator covering swimming, gymnastics, and beach volleyball. Since the hack, she’s been featured on each episode of Saturday Night Live, while also landing an advertising campaign with Allstate. Following the hack of her website, she stuck to her guns and addressed the trolls in a hilarious and empowering SNL Weekend Update segment. She stood up for herself, controlled the narrative, and served as an inspiration for countless others while staying funny as hell doing it (and to no surprise, she continues to be a highly successful, absolutely hilarious, and ever popular comedian and actor).

Pokemon/Nintendo: Nintendo massively cashed in on the nostalgia trend in the entertainment industry this year with the release of its mobile app, Pokemon Go, in which it brought one of its most popular franchises to phones worldwide.

The augmented reality game uses smartphone’s GPS technology to allow players to seek out, collect, and train Pokemon at locations in the real world (with the pocket monsters appearing on their screens). One of the most downloaded (over 500 million worldwide) and most profitable ($600M in revenue as of late 2016) mobile applications ever, Pokemon Go brought the franchise back to heights of ubiquity last seen in the early aughts.

An absolute cultural phenomenon since its release in July 2016, Pokemon Go managed to: catch criminals, support local businesses, bring players closer to God (whoever you praise) and one another, kickstart weight-loss goals, be featured in an MMA bout, and appear on the campaign trail. Of course, as with any craze there were a few negative stories, but certainly not enough to dissuade Nintendo from transforming another one of its legendary titles into a mobile application with the release of its latest record-breaking app.

Verdict: Winner. By capitalizing on our love of nostalgia (the trend of reboots, rehashes and revisits doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon), Pokemon Go was a perfect addition to the Pokemon franchise (and one that has certainly found itself a home in pop-culture history). Seamlessly blending new technology with a beloved franchise, Pokemon Go revitalized the Nintendo brand, bringing in a newer and younger audience while also engaging with longtime fans who had been with the series since its inception.

President Obama: With his approval rating at a four-year high, it’s fair to say that President Obama will go down as a not just a good, but a truly great president. At the end of his historic presidential run, President Obama has reached his highest approval rating since 2012, with more Americans feeling confident about his job performance as President as well as how his legacy will be remembered by history and perceived by future generations.

He dealt with a tough and tumultuous (but often promising) second term that saw the deadliest mass shooting in US history, the proliferation and spread of the Islamic State, a government shutdown, the passing of the Universal Healthcare Act, and increased diversity in the federal government. Through the highs and lows, Obama has still managed (and deservedly so) to maintain and inspire confidence in the American people as well as the world abroad. With a 57% approval rating at the end of his second term, he’s seen a massive upswing from December 2012, when his rating languished at 40% in some national polls. Perhaps it’s due to this very emotionally and mentally draining election cycle or the knowledge that the incoming President lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, but the American people are really appreciating these last few months of the Obama presidency (and mourning their passing).

Verdict: Winner. Regardless of personal political beliefs, Obama has been a truly great President, and there is no doubt that history will remember him as such. When he took office eight years ago, our nation was in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression – there were no jobs, banks were failing after running roughshod over the general population, the auto industry was failing, and the country was in disarray. We needed hope, and Obama brought that and so much more throughout his presidency. Our economy is flourishing, consumer confidence is at it’s highest level since 2001, we’re no longer at war, and despite all of the negativity and turmoil, we are still optimistic about the future.

Donald Trump: Despite winning the electoral vote, President-elect Trump lost the popular vote. The official numbers are in and nearly 3M more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton for President (giving her 48.2% of the popular vote to his 46.1%). Now he has to do one of the most strenuous jobs on Earth, with no experience that the majority didn’t actually vote for. Good luck with that. And I do mean, good luck. Politics aside, all of us who didn’t vote for Trump have to hope for the well being of the country. I’d love to be wrong. That said, Donald Trump is entering office with a favorability rating of 44% before his first official presidential tweet. Where’s that favorability rating going to go next? And I do want to be wrong here. Badly.

Since winning the election on November 8th, the President-Elect hasn’t slowed down his assault, and it’s seems difficult to fathom that it won’t fall short of expectations placed upon the Presidency. He shirks intelligence briefings and uses his Twitter as a personal diary/bulletin board to air out his middle of the night grievances, go on wild tirades, and defend his often sensitive ego. And while no one knows exactly what his policy stances are (as they seem to change with the weather), it’s probably a good bet that they’ll do little to help the poor and middle-class (which unfortunately include many of those who most-vehemently supported him).

Verdict: I’m pleading the fifth. I never thought Trump actually wanted this job. Despite winning the election, Trump did in fact lose the actual popular vote. Regardless of how much he tries to deny that, he now has to take on one of the most difficult, strenuous, and thankless jobs there is, all while knowing that the popular vote and majority of Americans didn’t actually support him. I’d bet he would have preferred to have won that popular vote but lose the election (à la Hillary) so he could continue to point out how “rigged’ the system is. Instead, he’s now facing the reality of being held to a much different standard – the President of the United States simply cannot afford to be anything but poised and adeptly diplomatic. The global-scale embarrassment the country stands to face is, well, “unpresidented.”

Donald Trump is the next President. While I’m going to be an optimist and root for a successful term, I do strongly believe that we should all be more politically vigilant and active. Inform yourself, know his policies and stances, and keep the administration accountable. Call your Senators and other elected representatives, write to Congress, and please do vote in local, state, and midterm elections.

#Onward and #Upward

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