Public relations is about promoting and protecting your brand. Sometimes you speak out. Sometimes you stay quiet (I'm looking at you, drugmaker Ambien. I would have stayed mum on the Roseanne Barr controversy.) Who did a great PR job in 2018? I've compiled this short list of winners and takeaways for entrepreneurs and business owners looking to do some good PR in 2019 and beyond.

1. Crock-Pot

In late January, NBC's This Is Us finally revealed how the hit show's beloved father Jack died: in a house fire sparked by a faulty Crock-Pot. Fans, heartbroken and spooked, took to Twitter saying they were tossing their Crock-Pots. Talk about a crisis no company could have seen coming. But Newell Brands, the maker of the iconic slow cookers, responded fast by creating its first-ever Twitter account, @CrockPotCares.

The company took the concerns of consumers seriously and struck just the right tone, tweeting "...Last night's episode was [heart-breaking emoji], & we're still not over it either!..." 

It also communicated important and reassuring facts. Consider, for example, its media statement:

"For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night's episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible. ..."

All in all it was a recipe for PR success.

2. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students

An actual, unspeakable tragedy -- a school shooting -- claimed the lives of 14 students and three staffers in February in Parkland, Fla. A few Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students quickly mobilized to communicate their anti-gun message to the media.

Ever since, they've been giving compelling TV interviews and cultivating huge Twitter followings. They've lead rallies, marches, including the huge "March for Our Lives" event in DC in March, campaigns for gun reform and voter registration drives.

They showed that when the whole world is looking at you, you stand up and speak your message -- no matter your name or age. Timing and a strong message are everything.

3. Starbucks

In April, Philadelphia two black men were arrested at a local Starbucks after an employee called the police when the men hadn't placed an order. Not a good look for the ubiquitous coffee chain.

Less than a week later, the company announced it would close its 8,000 U.S. stores for a day so that it could conduct anti-bias training for its 175,000 employees. It released part of its training video that explored unconscious bias and a long history of discrimination of people of color in stores and restaurants. The CEO apologized. The employee who wrongly engaged the police was fired.

Starbucks deserves a nod for it's decision to close stores -- a venti-sized move that by at least one estimate cost the company more than $60 million. But Starbucks knows it's reputation is worth that and more.

4. Southwest Airlines

In April, a Southwest Airlines New York-to-Dallas flight made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after an engine exploded midair and damaged part of the plane, causing a passenger to be partially sucked out of the window. The passenger died. 

In the face of tragedy, the airline did everything right.

The airline issued multiple updates after the April 17 event. These updates helped the public to understand how heroic the landing was. The pilot who guided the plane to a safe altitude and swift landing was praised, with one The New York Times headline reading "Southwest Pilot of Flight 1380 Is Navy Veteran Hailed for her `Nerves of Steel.'" 

CEO Gary Kelly recorded a 40-second video apologizing and offering condolences to the victim's family. That likely had the greatest positive PR impact. You can talk about leading from the front, or you can actually do it, and he did.

As David Castelveter, a former airline communications executive who worked five different fatal airline accidents, told The Wall Street Journal, "It is hard to argue with a leader who immediately shows contrition through honest and heartfelt condolences."

No matter what anyone says, it's not about spin; it's about telling the truth. It's about having relationships with your key audiences -- customers, clients, vendors, investors, employees and more.

Published on: Dec 11, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.