Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Another PR Crisis 

Uber doesn't need any more PR crises, but it has another one.  The company's self-driving Volvo mowed down a woman in Tempe, AZ and killed her. The vehicle had an operator on standby but was driving autonomously at the time.  This sparked international news and threw a wrench into the move to driverless vehicles. The PR crisis is not only Uber's but also Waymo's and General Motors' and Ford's and every other entity working on engineering questions for self-driving vehicles.  The fundamental question is why the system didn't see her pushing her bike along the edge of the road?  Since it didn't register her, what other people and objects can it miss? Is its failure common to other systems and if so, can any of them be declared road-ready?  Authorities will be looking closely at the incident, and development of autonomous vehicles might be slowed for months, if not years.  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sometimes It Happens 

Consumer-facing businesses are always subject to a sour customer.  This is the person who rages at the staff and is unhappy no matter what one does -- like this. The workers' attempts to mollify the person go for naught.  The best one can hope is the customer leaves quickly before upsetting the rest of the people in the store.  McDonald's did the right thing by upholding its staff and calling for respect in economic transactions.  That doesn't mean it will be the case, but at least workers on the line know the company stands behind them.  It is good internal relations and too often forgotten.  Companies should remind employees that sometimes it happens and it isn't their fault.  There are angry people in the world and nothing assuages their ire.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Confronting Morality 

It is time for weapon manufacturers to account for the morality of their business.  Guns in and of themselves are neutral technology but what is done with them carries responsibility. It is telling that Smith & Wesson, the builder of semiautomatic weapons used in several massacres avoided speaking with demonstrators outside its corporate offices.  The company is not ready to talk and might be hoping the issue goes away once the hubbub of the Parkland shootings subsides.  But, even if it does, that does not change the issue.  Too many of its guns are being used to murder people.  It needs better safeguards for who purchases its weaponry.  This will not be easy to do.  The company loses control over its rifles once they leave the factory and are shipped nationwide.  What S&W can do is to take a public stance on gun control and stop selling the AR-15-like rifle.  Admittedly, it would be a hit to the company's bottom line, but like restrictions on the purchase of tobacco, it needs to be done.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Wages Of Hype 

Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO of Theranos, is earning the wages of hype.  She is paying a $500,000 fine and is barred from serving as an officer or director of a corporation for 10 years.  All this comes from overstating and lying about the efficacy of her company's product for blood testing.  She raised $700 million from investors through telling tall tales.  She deserves what she is getting and is lucky that so far, she won't be suffering jail time.  This should be a warning to publicists and PR practitioners who are tempted to bend facts to make a case.  Don't do it.  The consequences when they come are severe and one will carry a stain on reputation for the rest of a career.  I suspect Holmes did not set out to lie.  She felt pressure to perform and began to exaggerate.  The exaggeration grew until it no longer had a factual base.  She then had to lie more to show progress when her analyzers fail to perform adequately.  She felt she couldn't tell the facts because her company might collapse.  Instead, she fed the hype until the truth came out and the game was over.  Now she must bear the burden.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sending A Message 

At General Electric, you know when you haven't done well if your bonus is cut.  Imagine doing without it at all.  That is the case this year at the ailing conglomerate.  Only one of the top executives received any merit compensation.  The others are doing without.  This was a shot across the bow of GE's managers to right the ship before it sinks.  Their attention is concentrated now, and either they are working harder or they are looking for ways to get out the door.  There won't be much traction for them if they stay and manage as they have.  There is no argument any longer that Jeff Immelt left the company in a mess.  The focus now is to find a way forward even if that requires selling off divisions and shrinking the enterprise.  Can GE be great again?  Probably, but it won't look the same.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The governor of California, Jerry Brown, decided that what the high-tech state needed was a high-speed train.  So, he promotes relentlessly a proposed link between Los Angeles and San Francisco that will pass through the Central Valley.  As most boondoggles are, it was under budgeted and far too optimistic in timing.   The project is already a PR disaster. The next governor will have to decide if the state will keep funding it or will let it die a natural death.  The plan was never thought through or its boosters lied about the timing and cost at the beginning and are only now fessing up to the real numbers.  This is another feature of boondoggles.  The objective is to get shovels into the ground so a project takes on a life of its own, which is hard to stop.  Right now, the California High-speed Rail Authority is building a line to nowhere without any key links in place.  It is too early to say the project will end with the next governor, but it is on its death-bed.

Monday, March 12, 2018


Elon Musk is his own best PR practitioner.  His most recent appearance at SXSW over the weekend allowed him to talk about his vision for settling Mars.  It seems outrageous and utterly impractical, but he said he will have his Mars rocket ready by next year and he will start testing it in short flights.  He is also working on his spaceship that will be ready at the same time.  It is hard to bet against Musk.  He is the founder of Tesla and SpaceX.  His Falcon rockets are taking off regularly from earth and putting satellites in orbit.  But, colonizing Mars with a million people is a dream.  Mars is closer to Antarctica where a few dozen people winter over at the South Pole.  It has never proved practical for large-scale development.  The environment is too hostile.  Still, the man has his dream and he is willing to put his millions behind it.  One hopes he doesn't go broke pursuing it.

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