Monday, December 09, 2013
There are usually economic reasons for business and government to get along, but not in this instance. Tech companies are worried that government spying on customers will send them fleeing to other services. It is a legitimate concern. Who wants to know that someone could be looking into everything one does or writes online? It is Big Brother and a dystopia to be feared. The government justifies its actions on the basis of tracking terrorists who live in shadows. That too is a valid concern. Somewhere, there needs to be an accommodation and enforceable rules. The problem now with the secrecy under which the government operates is that there is no way to tell if bureaucrats follow guidelines or systematically violate them. The evidence appears to be that latter. It is interesting that two views of the public weal are clashing -- one for privacy and the other for safety. It is hard to know which is more important since both have high priority. It will be up to negotiations between the companies and the government to determine when snooping is justified and when privacy is more important. The government cannot be arrogant in this because tech companies are moving already to secure their data more tightly than before.
Friday, December 06, 2013
The CEO of Comcast, the cable-content giant, thinks complaints about the company are a matter of scale. With more than a billion consumer transactions a year, a hundredth of a percent of customer fails is still too much. He is right, and his view is instructive to PR practitioners. On the internet, a tiny minority can still project a loud presence and that presence radiating through blogs, forums, consumer complaint sites, Tweets and e-mail can portray affairs as immeasurably worse than they are. Even more challenging for Comcast is that it provides an essential service. Hence, consumers have no patience when it is disrupted for any length of time. That used to be the challenge facing phone companies, and it was the reason why the AT&T of old put so much emphasis on getting lines back up after storms and disasters. Cable companies have discovered the hard way that they are in the same position, but it is worse now because complaints are no longer localized. They are broadcast to the world, which is only too ready to believe a complaint is symptomatic of an entire company. Cable companies should be practicing six sigma (99.9999998 percent reliability) if they are not doing so already.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Detroit's bankruptcy may result in a breach of promise to present and retired workers. That promise is the retirement package that the city offered for decades. One question left unasked is whether the city should have offered it in the first place. Now, unions have to appeal the court's decision and hope for the best. Left unsaid is the bargain cities and states made with employees through most of the 20th Century. That deal was lower wages than prevailed in the commercial market but better pensions. It was a form of employee relations and a way for political entities to remain competitive. Hundreds of thousands of workers took the bargain and now, thousands see it threatened. Neither cities nor citizens can afford it, so they are breaching the promise. It is the worst form of employee relations but also necessary. Detroit can't recover until it gets debt under control. The same is true for Stockton, CA and other municipalities teetering on the edge of insolvency. Perhaps authorities have learned a lesson to avoid promises that mortgage the future, but don't bet on that.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
It is a time-honored tactic that when an institution is under public attack, it provides employees with talking points to spread the "good word" about it. The National Security Agency tried it this past Thanksgiving but not successfully. The talking points quickly leaked to the online world and scathing denunciations followed. The NSA is in a difficult position with invasion of privacy and anodyne talking points aren't going to lessen the heat it is taking. Maybe, it was trying to make employees feel better as they sat around the dinner table and were pummeled with questions from relatives and friends. If so, the same employees who spend time online were treated to point by point refutations of what the talking points claimed. In other words, it was a pathetic attempt at public relations. Organizations time and again fail to remember that PR is what you do and not what you say. The NSA is caught in a bind for what it has done. Words aren't going to help it much.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Give this much credit to North Korea. It plays the pariah of the world with panache. How else to explain a forced confession from an 85-year-old American who fought in the Korean war in the early 1950s? The country's leaders have no reputation in the world and care less. They glory in their contrariness and their oppression of their own people. One wonders how many more decades this can go on before the country collapses from its own rotten political structure. The North Koreans have no understanding of public relations. They do not recognize a public, only human cogs in a machine designed to support the state. That North Koreans have been largely passive is due to the military and enforcement services that have no compunction about arresting anyone and his family and sending them to forced labor camps. These are prisons from which they will never leave and in which their children will grow into slavery. A state like North Korea is unconscionable in the modern world, but it exists, and it is a reminder that people's rights can be torn away for generations with impunity.
Monday, December 02, 2013
Amazon is working on delivering packages by drone Octocopters. Jeff Bezos unveiled the machines on 60 Minutes last night, but was careful to say it might take five years for the service to start and deliveries would be limited to a 10-mile radius of its distribution centers. In other words, there is as much hype in the revelation as innovation because a large percentage of Amazon's customers live beyond the delivery distance. Still, the publicity highlights the company's commitment to innovation that has changed the way the world shops. Retailing history will be pre-Amazon and post-Amazon. Bezos merits the gentle treatment that 60 Minutes gave him with mostly "puffball" questions that Bezos answered well. Bezos made clear that companies come and go in time and his objective in thinking long-term -- five to seven years out -- was to ensure that Amazon remained competitive. He had no apologies for low return on investment to shareholders. The bulk of Amazon's earnings go back into growing the company and R&D. He made clear that Amazon remained customer-centric in everything it does, and other inside stories about Amazon emphasize that customers are his focus. So, Octocopters are hype. The company can get away with it for the good it has done.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
News photographers at the White House are steamed because the Obama administration is taking photos of events and serving the images to the news. Meanwhile, photojournalists are barred. Commentators are claiming that it is propaganda, but is it? It might be the wounded pride and exaggerated self-importance of the media. The potential for propaganda is there because in-house photographers will send out only pictures approved by the White House staff. On the other hand, most of the images are for record purposes only and are hardly revealing -- grip and grins, people in meetings, state dinners. If there is a real news event in any of these, it is bound to be small. Maybe it is just as well that the White House has cut down on the phalanx of photographers clicking shutters madly for no apparent reason. Yes, there might be propaganda, but it hardly matters since most people won't be paying attention to the pictures anyway. Meanwhile it has created a PR flap for administration's staffers. Something tells me they won't have much trouble controlling it.