Trump pic

Donald Trump, by far, dominated the PR agenda in 2017 through his masterful strategy of posting a barrage of tweets early each morning to set the day's national news agenda and branding stories that he doesn’t like as "fake news."

The National Press Club provided quick pushback to Trump in January. It condemned the incoming President for the continued use of the phrase fake news, saying it "undermines news outlets and endangers the trust granted journalists by the public and is antithetical to our country's values."  The NPC also took aim at Trump's refusal to answer a question from CNN's Jim Acosta because he works for a "terrible" organization. "Presidents shouldn't get to pick and choose which reporters' questions they will answer based on what news outlet for which they work. Doing so now is inappropriate and will do unprecedented damage to our democracy."

Trump tweet

Americans are worried and confused about the fake news phenomenon, according to a poll conducted in June for tech PR firm Bospar, but disagree on what constitutes fake news and how to determine whether a story is bogus. Almost half (49 percent) of the respondents claimed that trust in mainstream media will continue to erode if fake news continues at its current levels, unchecked. One-in-five Americans said they no longer consider any news source as trustworthy.

Chaos ruled the White House communications shop for most of the year. GOP operative Mike Dubke quit as communications director in May after three months on the job. He had taken over for Jason Miller, a former aide to Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Trump installed Wall Street financier and political backer Anthony Scaramucci to the CD post in July. With The Mooch in charge, hapless White House press secretary Sean Spicer called it quits. Before White House chief of staff General John Kelly got the chance to fire Scaramucci after 10 days on the job, he had appointed the steely Sarah Huckabee Sanders as Spicer's replacement. Trusted Trump aide and former fashion model Hope Hicks, 29, took the CD job in September. She's still there.

Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller

Trump's daily tweet-storm distracted attention from his failed political agenda, which was highlighted by the inability to follow-up on the No. 1 campaign promise of killing ObamaCare, and Special Counsel Bob Mueller's probe into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. It wasn't until December that Trump scored his only major legislative accomplishment, the Republican party's never-ending quest of cutting taxes. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg panned the largely corporate tax cut as a "trillion dollar blunder" made at a time when companies are sitting on a trove of $2.3T of cash. In a tough Bloomberg View op-ed piece on Dec. 15, Bloomberg blasted the tax bill as economically indefensible. "Republicans in Congress will have to take responsibility for the bill's harmful effects, but blame also falls on its cheerleader-in-chief, President Trump. A President's job is to get the two parties in Congress to work together," Bloomberg wrote. "Yet Trump is making the same mistake that Barack Obama made in his first two years in office—believing that his party's congressional majority gives him license to govern without the other side."

charlottesville

An Edelman poll found that people want CEOs to speak out against Trump's views. The survey was conducted after the President blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville that was triggered by a protest about   removing a Confederate statue. More than half (52 percent) of the respondents want CEOs to take issue with the President, while 25 percent prefer corporate chiefs to stay out of politics. Nearly four-in-ten (38 percent) say their trust in a company would drop if the CEO continues to work with the Trump Administration, while 25 percent say their trust would increase. Richard Edelman wrote in his blog that while CEOs must engage with the White House and regulators in areas such as trade, immigration, taxes and security, they must also be "visible advocates for tolerance and other social issues that affect their employees and communities.

MIchael Flynn
Michael Flynn

Mueller's investigation focused a bright spotlight on PR. The Flynn Intel Group, which was owned by former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn, got into legal hot water for failing to properly disclose work for an obscure Turkish company and for its contacts with Russian officials. FIG's campaign, designed to bolster the image of Turkey strongman Recap Tayyip Erdogan, occurred while Flynn was working on Trump's transition team. On Dec. 1, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his two conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia's ambassador to the US, and announced that he was cooperating with Mueller's probe. Mueller's investigation also reached Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was once a player at Washington PR powerhouse Black Manafort Stone and Kelly. Manafort and his business partner Richard Gates were charged with generating millions of dollars of income from Ukrainian clients and then hiding the payments by laundering the cash through scores of US and foreign companies and bank accounts. Mueller also fingered Tony Podesta, founder of Podesta Group and a Democratic bigwig, for work with Manafort's former client, European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta resigned from his firm, a move that resulted in an executive exodus including its CEO Kimberley Fritts, who launched Cogent Strategies, and loss of clients.

Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein

Sexual harassment became a hot button issue following New York Times and New Yorker bombshell stories about Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual abuse. Sitrick & Co., a top crisis firm, took on one of PR's toughest jobs, representing Weinstein. Sallie Hofmeister, who joined Sitrick after stints as New York Times business editor and Los Angeles Times reporter/editor, handles the PR defense. The Weinstein story triggered a wave of harassment stories that took down key figures in the entertainment (Louis CK), journalism (Charlie Rose) and political (Al Franken) sectors. PR firms responded by reviewing their policies on abuse and counseling clients about dealing with harassment charges. Interpublic chairman Michael Roth launched a mandatory online sexual harassment course for his 50K staffers. On Nov. 1, he released a memo slugged "A Workplace Free from Harassment" to remind staffers about the firm's "zero tolerance" policy toward harassment. The harassment story hit home for the PR community when top fashion PR pro Kelly Cutrone went public via the New York Post with her allegations that hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons tried to rape her in 1991. 

Bill O'Reilly
Bill O'Reilly

Bill O'Reilly exited Fox News under the cloud of sexual harassment allegations. 21st Century Fox announced in April that O'Reilly was not returning as Fox News anchor. It was disclosed that multiple settlements totaling $13M were paid to settle harassment charges and settlements. More than 50 advertisers had left O'Reilly's show due to the charges, which he denied.

Barri Rafferty
Barri Rafferty

Though millions of women marched in January to protest Trump's policies and inequality, the pay gender gap remains a problem for the PR business. Though women represent about two-thirds of the global PR industry, 78 percent of CEOs in the top 30 PR agencies are men, according to a study released at the Global PR Summit in Toronto. That number will be adjusted a bit on Jan. 1 when Ketchum president Barri Rafferty succeeds Rob Flaherty as CEO. She will become the first woman to lead a Top 5 global PR firm. The Toronto Summit study found that the average salary of men in PR is $61,284, while women earn an average of $55,212. The gap widens at the boardroom level as 28 percent of men earn more than $150K, compared to just 12 percent of women.

Beth Comstock
Beth Comstock

General Electric fired Beth Comstock, former corporate communications chief and its first female vice chairman, in one of the first moves made by new CEO John Flannery upon succeeding Jeff Immelt. He offered faint praise for Comstock, lauding her for changing the way we work. Comstock, 57, was once viewed as a potential successor to Immelt.

Pressure rose on PR firms to come clean on their sorry record of hiring minority talent, a problem that they had paid lip service to over the last years. Incoming PRSA/NY president Sharon Fenster called for the PR industry to release diversity data in 2018. She believes talk is cheap and only transparency and accountability will begin to deal with the inclusion problem.

Bell Pottinger

Scandal took down Bell Pottinger, which collapsed due to negative fallout from a racist campaign that it ran in South Africa. Britain's ethics watchdog PRCA booted BP from its membership for at least five years as punishment for the effort "that brought the PR and communications industry into disrepute." BP's campaign on behalf of the Gupta family's Oakbay Capital was "likely to inflame racial discord in South Africa," said the PRCA. The Financial Times reported that BP represented Oakbay as the Guptas were accused of boosting their conglomerate by cashing in on close ties with SA President Jacob Zuma while depicting opponents as agents of "white monopoly capital." BP CEO James Henderson, the firm's biggest stakeholder, resigned Sept. 3 and the firm went into administration shortly after his departure.

Al Golin
Al Golin
Pam Edstrom
Pam Edstrom

With the passing of Al Golin and Pam Edstrom, PR lost two of its top leaders. Golin, who was the original PR counsel to McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, died April 8 at the age of 87. Golin chairman Fred Cook said Golin "worked on McDonald's until the day he died." Edstrom, partner and co-founder of WE Communications, was 71 when she died on March 28. She was known as "the commanding voice behind Microsoft's story." She was Microsoft's first PR director and joined Mellissa Waggener Zorkin to form Waggener Edstrom Communications after hearing Zorkin pitch Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.

New leaders emerged at Publicis Groupe and FTI Consulting's strategic communications group. Arthur Sadoun, 45, took the CEO reins from Maurice Levy, 74, to become the third CEO of the French ad/PR conglom since its founding in 1926. Mark McCall, an alum of Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Burson-Marsteller, succeeded Ed Reilly as head of FTI's PR group.

APCO Worldwide to stay independent following a cash infusion from Citibank and Monroe Capital, said executive chairman Margery Kraus. The No. 3 independent firm had been tipped as an attractive acquisition target by one of the ad/PR holding companies. Ted Koenig, founder of MC, threw cold water on that takeover speculation, saying he expects APCO to now become an acquirer rather than an acquired firm.

Adena Friedman
Adena Friedman

NASDAQ put its $200M PR/digital operations on the auction block as CEO Adena Friedman focuses on pushing the electronic stock trading exchange into technology, data and analytics businesses. The affected businesses are GlobeNewswire (press release distribution/media contacts database), Nasdaq Media Intelligence (monitoring, analyst-curated news reporting), and webhosting, webinars and video presentation services. They chalked up a combined $25M in operating income for the fiscal year ended in June.

martin sorrell 2
Martin Sorrell

WPP chief Martin Sorrell sees tougher times ahead as the ad/PR sector is challenged by cost-reduction mandates, increased competition from digital/social platforms (Google, Facebook, Instagram), management consultants (PwC, Accenture) and activist shareholders. In releasing WPP's third-quarter financials, which were down, Sorrell warned that a period of low growth might be the "new normal" for the communications business after a good run of seven years.

Happy New Year!