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.

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