Wednesday, December 17, 2014


New York Magazine is undergoing a nightmare of its own making.  It reported a story that was false and made up by a teenager.  How did it get sucked into a tale that was too good to be true?  Probably because it was.  Stranger things have happened.  Nonetheless, the magazine how has a PR problem with its readership.  How can one trust a publication that did such poor fact checking?  The magazine has done the right thing.  It immediately posted an apology to readers and admitted it was duped.  The reporter on the story has her own troubles.  She bills herself as an investigative journalist.  One wonders how much investigation she did before running with this falsehood.  The magazine will overcome the embarrassment soon enough.  The reporter might not.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


How do you discuss a subject that is taboo but essential?  For example, the cost effectiveness of health care.  In the US, the idea that someone's life might not be worth the cost of restoring to health is anathema.  Americans consider it outrageous that they might not get care they need even though it runs into millions.  This burdens the health community, insurance companies and the rest of the public, but patients and their families do not think of that.  They are focused on getting better no matter the cost.  Ultimately, economic necessity dictates that effectiveness analysis be done, and it is a matter of the courage of physicians, hospital administrators, insurance companies and others to determine who should be treated and who made comfortable until death.  It is a difficult but mature relationship to the public, and it depends on the public's understanding as well. Avoiding the discussion helps no one iand drives up the cost of health care to a point where there is less treatment for all.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dumb Stunt 

This qualifies as a dumb publicity stunt, and Greenpeace ought to be ashamed.  The site where the ancients scratched lines in the earth to signify different plants and creatures, including a hummingbird is easily damaged.  The Peruvian government has placed the Nazca site off-limits yet Greenpeace went in anyway and laid a huge sign on the ground that was visible even from space.  Peru is now considering charges against the group, and that is the least of what Greenpeace deserves.  It is ironic that an environmental group would be prosecuted for damaging the environment, but maybe the next time someone in the organization has a brilliant idea for raising awareness, someone will check with the government first.

Friday, December 12, 2014

E-mail 101 

Two Sony executives have apologized for remarks they made in e-mails that hackers exposed to the world.  One wonders if anyone ever told them that what they write in an e-mail is sent to the world and not just another party because one loses control after hitting the send button.  It is E-mail 101.  Never write in an e-mail what you don't want to see in a headline.  This basic lesson is one that I hammer at students in business communications class.  Yet, people don't learn or easily forget.  Why?  Because they treat e-mail as a stream of consciousness, a continuation of conversation, that doesn't require the same attention as a formal letter.  E-mail is a dangerous medium for that reason.  One should treat it as a sharp tool.  Handle with care.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another Worry 

As if the internet didn't provide enough worry for PR practitioners, here is another.  Online vigilante detectives are reporting incidents faster than the news media, sometimes accurately but just as often inaccurately.  It is almost impossible for a PR practitioner to keep up with them in handling an incident.  For one, PR is bound by facts and not rumor, a constraint the vigilante is not held to.  There is no good remedy for self-proclaimed investigative reporters on the web.  The first step is to monitor them and what they are writing in their Tweets.  The second step is to rebut where possible inaccuracies.  But, that is a slow process, and the online detective can easily outpace those in the middle of a crisis.  One dare not ignore the vigilante.  The news media are paying attention to what he is writing and are reporting what he has discovered.  The vigilante detective is a feeder to the mainstream press. Speed and transparency are essential in modern media relations.  But as fast as a crisis communicator can operate is not fast enough.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wise Advice 

The public editor of The New York Times has wise advice for Rolling Stone magazine.  Rolling Stone has had to retract a rape-on-campus story because of poor and incomplete reporting.  It was a heavy blow to the publication's image.  The Times' editor is telling Rolling Stone to reveal the entire shoddy episode and how it occurred in a public mea culpa.  That is what the Times' did in the past as well as the Washington Post.  In other words, Rolling Stone should investigate itself and learn from the incident what not to do in the future.  It should rely on complete reporting and transparency with its readers and ask their forgiveness.  And, as the editor writes, it should be wary of using anonymous sources in the future who can't be cross-checked for truthfulness.  The Times' advice is what a PR practitioner would counsel the magazine to take.  It is Journalistic Disaster Response 101, as the editor writes, but it is essential and the best way to regain public confidence.  The question now is whether Rolling Stone is listening.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Before Their Time 

This is an interesting story about dot-com companies that were born before their time and failed.  Infrastructure and public understanding weren't in place yet.  Of those two, the most important was consumer appreciation for the benefits that a Pets.com provided.  It wasn't there.  People still preferred to buy pet food and accessories at stores.  Chalk many of the dot-com busts to public relations.  The start-up companies didn't know how to relate to their publics and spent wildly, hoping they would figure it out before the crunch.  Of course, they didn't.  The companies that made it through that period, such as Amazon.com, were careful to gauge what consumers were willing to pay for and have delivered.  Getting ahead of one's target audience happens often.  One spots a trend and tries to interest the media in it only to be rebuffed.  A year later, it is all a journalist wants to talk about.  This is one of the frustrations of media relations, but a reminder that one dare not leap too far into the future.

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