Thursday, February 26, 2015


The silly season for Presidential campaigning has begun and journalists are playing "gotcha" with candidates.  Consider this case.  The question was irrelevant to any campaign, and the candidate, Gov. Scott Walker, parried it a bit clumsily.  This gave the reporters an opportunity to write an article disparaging Walker.  Whether or not one approves of such media misbehavior, it is an integral part of campaigning, and it is justified on the basis that Presidents have to be able to think on their feet.  CEOs are largely spared such press needling but it can happen, if they aren't careful.  There is nothing under the First Amendment that prohibits such baiting.  Hence, it continues and the media wrap themselves in righteousness as they do it.  What this means for candidates is that they have to prepare themselves for the odd-ball question that can detonate in their faces.  One wonders why anyone wants to be President.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fading Away 

What kind of communications program do you need to keep from fading away when everything is against you?  This is the difficult position that the governor of New Jersey is in.  Chris Christie wants to run for President, is running for President, but he has an enormous budget deficit to close at the state level, and voters are restive.  His poll numbers are negative, and he has a reputation for being a bully.  He has spent much time out of the state giving speeches in early primary venues like Iowa, but his problems in New Jersey keep following him.  He has promised to close the budget gap without raising taxes, but a judge already has shot him down in his efforts to produce pension reform.  If he is serious about his desire to be President, he has to make major changes in a hurry and somehow pull off a miracle that he can talk about nationally.  That is a tall order and it is even more difficult by happening next to the nation's largest media market -- New York -- where the news media report every peccadillo.  Were I the governor, I would concentrate on the task at hand and worry about a Presidential campaign another year.  But, I'm not the governor nor do I have his ego.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ad Hominem 

What can you say about the truthfulness of a person who uses ad hominem attacks against anyone who contradicts him?  Consider this fellow, for instance.  Rather than answer charges that he was not in combat, Bill O’Reilly spews at the person who made them.  Unfortunately, that person was with him at the time the event occurred and has credibility.  Further, he has been backed up by others who were in Argentina as well during the riots.  One must question why it took them so long to speak out but even so, if there was no pitched battle, O'Reilly ought to admit it.  Instead he uses words like "guttersnipe" to characterize his former colleague.  PR practitioners ought to eschew ad hominem attacks whenever possible.  They demean the person who makes them as well as the person who is the subject of abuse.  O'Reilly might save his job by being combative but at the cost of his credibility.  (On the other hand, his credibility has been at issue for some time.)  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Key Messages 

In PR, we constantly remind clients to stick to and get back to key messages when they are presenting.  It seems the Democratic party is just realizing this.  Their after-election report on the state of the party bemoans the fact that voters can't figure out who they are because of a 

"lack of a “cohesive narrative,” according to the tack (sic) force, which in turn “impedes the party’s ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.”

No kidding.  Candidates know to stay with their themes, but apparently the party as a whole cannot find a single thread to unite its voices before voters.  There is only one way for the party to be successful in building that story -- start from the bottom and work up.  It is a slow process but there is really no other way to get the job done.  Imposing views from the top neglects the centrality of local issues that drive voter interest.  Good luck to the party in getting the job done.  It is a task measured in years, not months.  

Friday, February 20, 2015


Sometimes, even though you think you have done everything right, something goes terribly wrong.  Consider this case. A total of 179 patients at a Los Angeles medical center have been exposed to deadly bacteria because an endoscope wasn't properly sterilized.  The hospital insists that it followed manufacturer's guidelines.  Still, patients were infected.  There isn't much one can do in a situation like this except to communicate quickly to those who have been exposed so they can take available measures to detect the bacteria and get treatment.  Both the hospital, the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, and the manufacturer are facing a probability of lawsuits over the error and loss of reputation.  What patient will willingly undergo an endoscopy at the hospital now?  Other facilities can do the procedure.  The hospital has taken pains to explain to the media that it had done everything it was supposed to do, but that isn't nearly enough to alleviate concerns.  There is no tolerance for error in matters like this.  It has to be right each and every time.  Saying one is sorry isn't enough either.  The hospital's communications are going to be difficult for some time to come.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Failing Communication? 

When is a sanction not a sanction?  When the penalized party ignores it and keeps doing what others want to stop.  Think, for example, of sanctions on Russia over its involvement in the Ukraine.  Countries keep tightening the screws but Putin is moving ahead to supply troops and armaments to the rebels.  At some point, the US believes, Russia has to give in, but it is not there yet and might never be.  It is an example of failing communication, and there is little the world can do about it.  A next step would be to supply arms to the Ukrainians but no one believes this will solve the problem.  Russia has depots of weapons that it can pour into the turbulent eastern zone for the foreseeable future.  The challenge, then, is how to communicate to one who isn't listening and is defiant.  There isn't a good answer.  If Putin were to wreck his country in order to get his way, his citizens would rebel, but that doesn't seem close and Putin can stamp out unrest with force for some time.  Hence, a communications conundrum for world leaders.  There isn't much else to do so they keep adding sanctions and hoping at some point, Putin will quit.  It is likely that they have under-estimated the man and how far he is willing to go.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Reporters are burning out while reviewing brutal footage from the battlefields of Syria and the actions of ISIS.  Some say it has become a mental health challenge in the newsroom.  One wonders about this.  There was a period in the news business when the more graphic a picture was the better.  Think of Weegee in the mid 20th Century or Matthew Brady's photos of dead soldiers on Civil War battlefields or of the many photos from World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam.  Perhaps it is that people are becoming more sensitive to death in all of its forms and no longer want to see it in its rawest presentations.  There is an argument, however, that they should.  Why disguise evil when people are beheaded on camera?  The counter-argument is that such pictures and video become death porn and needlessly upset people, especially those related to the victim.  There is no good answer for what a newsroom should do nor for that matter any organization.  PR tends to hide the ugly but should it? Perhaps there are times when truth, as foul as it is, should be displayed.  There might be no better way to communicate.  There will never be a formula for what to do.  It is an issue beyond computers and calculation.

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