Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I Can't Help It 

I've tried to behave myself. I really have. But, what the heck, this one is too good to let go.

Jack O'Dwyer in his Nov. 24 Newsletter writes about Google rankings and how they "are as credible a source of the attention being garnered by various companies and subjects as anything these days." He had written a story on page 7 about the top 100 rankings for the term "public relations." He spotlights PRSA, which is number one and Institute of PR, UK, which is number three, Edelman, which is number 4 and the PR Museum of New York, which is number five. Notice a number missing there? He then goes on to give rankings of a number of other firms, including O'Dwyer's Newsletter, which is number 13.

I read the story and idly wondered if my site online-pr.com might be represented in the top 100. The site has been in existence since 1997 as a resource to the industry, and I have tried to update it daily. I figured I would be in the 90s somewhere. So, I went to Google and entered "public relations." Online-pr.com comes up as number two!

Well, I thought Jack must be using a different ranking for "public relations," because why would he see fit to deliberately ignore my site when he mentions all the other top five and sites as low as 96? Then, I thought that maybe he did so because I'm not important enough to mention in the same paragraphs with Edelman and other PR firms. Nah, Jack wouldn't do that, would he? Not when he is careful to note he is no. 13, some 11 positions below online-pr.com.

So, I am befuddled. Why would Jack O'Dwyer ignore online-pr.com, if indeed it is number two, as Google appears to show? Maybe Jack could let me know. I'm just wondering.

Monday, November 29, 2004

A Classic PR Campaign 

This posting offers something I haven't done before. It provides a case study of a successful political campaign in Northern California for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). I am posting it because against opposition, BART passed a measure that funds earthquake retrofit on the system. The measure had failed once before, and citizens are notorious for defeating tax measures. Molly McArthur, Manager, Community Relations, penned the case at my request. It is presented below. In case you wonder how I know about this, my brother is the project engineer for the billion-dollar job. It's a great story and a classic PR campaign.

On November 2, voters in the three Bay Area Counties that comprise the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) passed Measure AA with a 68% vote. Measure AA is a property tax measure to fund needed earthquake safety upgrades to the BART system. This was the second time around for BART putting forward a bond measure to fund the earthquake work, and passage of Measure AA was far from certain.

The first attempt was in 2002, and the measure failed by just under two percentage points. Voters in Eastern Contra Costa County, across the bay from San Francisco, were the significant opposition to the measure. Many Contra Costans objected to paying for transit system upgrades via a property tax. Their 2002 yes vote at 54.9% diluted the needed two-thirds and sank the measure.

Other residents were unsure upgrades were needed or were unaware that safety problems had been identified. BART had survived the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake nearly perfectly intact. Within 24 hours of that 6.9 Richter shaker, BART was up and running a full schedule, while the San Francisco Bay Bridge was out of service for two months. BART became the Bay Area’s transportation lifeline. The common wisdom in the Bay Area was that the safest place to be in a major earthquake was in BART’s underwater Transbay Tube. BART was the victim of its success.

The problem was how to communicate the nature of the structural vulnerabilities without frightening people away from the trains. The worst-case scenario for the underwater Tube is structural damage that could lead to failure, and flooding of underground stations in downtown San Francisco. BART Leadership was concerned about the financial impact of possible ridership losses, as well as the impact of public mistrust.

It was clear that BART needed an education plan for the Earthquake Program to address issues and create messages that would:

1. Convey enough information about the vulnerabilities of the system to provide the reason to vote yes, without frightening people off trains;
2. Provide reassurance that engineers in charge of the program know how to fix the problems and stand ready to move quickly;
3. Persuade the region that a property tax is an appropriate funding source;
4. Overcome deep public mistrust, based in part on the recent quadrupling of the budget for re-building the Bay Bridge; and
5. Educate the media about the program to ensure accurate reporting.

In addition, because of significant California state budget deficits, multiple competing tax measures were expected on every county ballot. Finally, BART had to accomplish the education plan on a shoestring budget.

BART started by creating an aggressive grassroots public education effort. The Agency created an informative 15-minute presentation. It then contacted groups from the Rotary and Lion’s clubs, homeowners associations and neighborhood groups to schools and PTAs, merchant and business associations and scheduled presentations. Every week, project staff members were speaking somewhere, including the Project Manager, Community Relations and engineering staff. One of the secondary benefits of these presentations was as a gauge of public sentiment. BART recorded comments made during Q&A. Between March and September, 2004, BART detected a discernible shift in understanding of issues, from initial resistance to soft resistance to what we felt was -- and hoped would be -- acceptance. Public feedback confirmed that people wanted to know the information. They wanted BART to level with them.

In addition, members of BART’s elected Board of Directors made presentations to City Councils and policy groups to secure their support for the bond. Cities, especially those with BART stations, signed on as supporters. Significantly, efforts by Board members to reach the Contra Costa Tax Payers Association yielded support as well.

BART knew that media would be critical to gain the widest possible reach for its message. The agency developed a plan guided by several principles: First, news events had to have genuine project news value. Second, the events had to provide something reporters could not get on their own. Third, outside experts willing to participate in our events would lend additional credibility. Finally, each event would build upon the previous one and amplify the effect.

BART planned four events. In April, a midnight tour of the underwater Transbay Tube would take journalists directly to the seismic joints – the site of great potential damage. Few outsiders ever gain access to the Tube, let alone 50 journalists and photographers. Led by the project manager, and joined by outside experts from the United States Geological Survey, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) and several highly regarded engineering firms, the event would bring together a veritable scientific conference of expertise. Journalists would see the problem for themselves and question highly regarded authorities. This event would announce to the Bay Area that BART has vulnerabilities that must be addressed.

Executive managers were concerned about negative repercussions on ridership, as well as setting a precedent for taking outsiders into a sensitive secure area. Some, in fact, were dead set against the idea. The communications team and the project management team had to persuade the executives, weighing the risk of riders avoiding the trains against the benefits of successfully educating the public through the media. After long discussions, the event was green-lighted.

The event went off flawlessly and the story ran on every broadcast station and every major newspaper in the Bay Area. Value of the airtime came in at $302,029, with 4,551,281 impressions. Not one negative angle appeared in the entire run. The journalists listened carefully, read the fact sheets, materials and graphics; interviewed the experts and the project leadership -- and got the story right. That set the stage for the rest of the plan.

In August, BART invited journalists to a BART station to witness activation of a newly installed sensor to measure ground motion. In September, on the 30th Anniversary of the Transbay Tube, journalists were invited to take a ride out on San Francisco Bay to see work begin on a drilling platform where tests will yield data necessary to prepare for work on the Transbay Tube. And in October, on the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, journalists were invited to a BART station to hear from EERI and researchers at U.C. Berkeley, from whom a study was commissioned to show traffic impacts in the event BART were not running for any reason. (The impacts were catastrophic).

The traffic study brought the effort home with messages that were personal for each commuter. Study results showed that most commutes would at least double and some would triple without BART. Even people who do not ride BART had a reason to care if trains were not running. BART placed the results on its website on an interactive map. Commuters could click on their commute corridor and compare commutes with and without BART running. The story led the news that day, and data was used in follow-up stories days and weeks later.

Over time, attitudes changed. In presentations during March and April, audience members were surprised to learn about the vulnerabilities in the BART system. By September, most people knew about the problems and were more concerned about the timeline for fixing the problems and how to pay for the work.

As October wound down, the only opposition came from a small, local taxpayers group that felt riders should pay for the upgrades – a plan that would require decades to amass sufficient funds from ticket prices.

Editorial Board meetings yielded endorsements that ran at the end of October in the
San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune – all the major area papers, except for the Contra Costa Times, which opposed Measure AA. BART sought Letters to the Editor from EERI and the USGS, and sent them to the same papers. The papers printed the pro-Measure AA letters, and in the case of the Contra Costa Times, the letter ran side by side with an anti-Measure AA editorial.

Although the newspaper of record in Contra Costa County opposed Measure AA, and the taxpayer anti-Measure AA group was quoted in most stories, the education effort reached enough of the public that the yes vote in Contra Costa County increased by nearly six percentage points – from 54.9% in 2002 to 60.4% in 2004. The 68% yes on Measure AA was among the few tax measures to pass on November 2nd.

From the start, it was clear if we were going to make it over the top with Measure AA, we had to give citizens reasons to vote yes. We said Measure AA would increase public safety on BART, return the system to operation quickly, avoid gridlocked traffic and support economic recovery following a major earthquake. A knowledgeable Bay Area agreed and voted yes on Measure AA.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

I Hear You  

Trudy Schuett got after me for my last posting on the lack of broadband in the U.S. I agree with some of her post. My intention, poorly stated, was to note how badly telephone, satellite and cable companies have operated in getting broadband rolled out. I wasn't reflecting on those who have a broadband option but don't use it. That's a different issue.

As I mentioned, my father lives in a rural area, and the service isn't there. On the other hand, service also appears to be missing from thousands of suburbs and other semi-urban areas of the US. It's not just a rural problem. Lack of availability comes from reluctance of telephone companies to promote broadband until recently. They were stuck in a POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) mentality. Until they lost service to cell phones, broadband wasn't a priority. (Those who read my work know I have a "thing" about phone companies. They were regional monopolies that tried to stop progress, but progress won.)

The issue of individuals not using broadband is one of education and personal preference. However, every newspaper, TV channel and radio station refers regularly to the internet and promotes involvement in it. The American public knows about the information riches online and it is a small step to understand the benefits of accessing online quickly rather than slowly. If people elect not to use broadband, there is something more than education involved. That's why I believe it's a question of availability more than preference.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Hard to Believe 

I know I wrote that I wasn't going to post for a few days but this is hard to believe. A good 75% of Americans are still depending on slow dial-up connections for the internet, assuming that broadband gained a few percentage points in the last year. It is difficult to imagine life in the slow lane. We changed over to broadband about six years ago now, and in that time, we have forgotten the madness of modems that worked sometimes and not others.

I can understand the difficulty of rural broadband service because my father lives in a farm district where it is not available but I cannot believe that 75% of America lives in similar circumstances. There aren't that many people in the Red States.

Happy Thanksgiving 

I'm taking a few days off to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family. I'll post again by next Monday. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2004


I'm always impressed by what we don't know. Living on the edge of knowledge is more interesting than cramming facts. In the December Scientific American, an article asks a simple question, "Are Viruses Alive?" It turns out this question has no answer because one must first define living versus dead at a biological level then determine if the parasitical nature of a virus qualifies it as living or mechanical process. No one can agree on either fact set yet.

I thought this fascinating and mentioned it to an acquaintance who is an immunologist and an executive editor of a science publication. Her response? "Who cares?" Her view is that it isn't necessary to know whether a virus is living or dead to work with it. That same attitude arose when quantum mathematics were developed in the early 20th Century. Einstein fought against quantum concepts but scientists used them because they explained things.

Pragmatism also should be the view communicators take. We shouldn't care what medium we use as long as we achieve results we want. Dividing media into disciplines is interesting, but who cares other than those doing the dividing. CEOs want results. They don't care if communicators use media placement, advertising, direct, web or something else. That's why when we counsel clients we should be careful not to bias advice toward what we know best. We should know the attributes of media and recommend what is best for a client whether we do it or not. It is honest and builds credibility. How many of us actually do that?

Sunday, November 21, 2004


PR practitioners should be worried about the Federal Communications Commission crackdown on foul language and sex and violence on the airwaves. There may well be a First Amendment issue. On the other hand, being a parent of a 9-year-old, I don't want her exposed to some of the language and visuals that pass for free speech on television. It seems to me there should be some middle-ground solution. We don't need censors crawling over the 500-channel universe. We also don't need to worry about what our children will see when they turn on the TV. Solutions have been proposed in the past like the V-chip. They haven't worked. It is an issue in which PR should be involved. Has anyone been saying anything?

NIMBY Forever 

There are communications issues for which there is no solution. This is one. Anybody who has paid the least bit of attention to nuclear power has been worried about waste more than meltdown. All the PR in the world is not going to get anyone to agree to a Yucca Mountain near them. Now, scientists are saying just let it sit in cooling pools around the nation. It's like letting the garbage build up in your home under the assumption that science will figure out a better way to pick it up some day.

Wages of Hype 

This story is old, but it should be noted anyway. The CEO of Segway is leaving -- Segway, the marvel machine that was supposed to change the world. If there is a case study for hype and not true PR, Segway is it. The two-wheel, self-balancing machine is a solution looking for a problem. It is finding a few applications but none of the world-changing uses that were forecast.

Segway deserves the bad press it gets.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


There are some actions that set one up, even if there are good reasons to take them. The House Republicans just did that by changing its rules and letting Tom DeLay, the House Majority Leader, keep his job although he is facing an indictment. The howls have begun. No matter what Republicans say to justify it, nothing can make it look better.

Similarly, John Kerry just landed in hot water because he reported he still had $15 million in the bank after his election campaign. His own party members are angry with him and said he should have spent the money or given it to candidates in tight races. That amount of money makes it seem that Kerry didn't give the race his all. There are good reasons for Kerry to have that much on hand, but nothing Kerry can say will calm angry Democrats.

Sometimes politicians' sensitivity to perceptions fail them.


Google has done innovative things, but what they just released -- Google Scholar -- is impressive. Try it at http://scholar.google.com/. Here is why I am amazed. I went in and typed "Public Relations" and got 27,500 hits led by books and articles on PR. Not bad at all. I then tried the name of one of my books, and it came back with hits and a box for my zip code. Upon entering my zip code, Google Scholar told me which libraries have my book near my house and the distance to each. Wow!

This is a useful tool.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What You Say 

I have been helping my 9-year-old with Spanish. It reminds me as we tangle with conjugating verbs - hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos, hablais, hablan -- that how one says something affects how one thinks about it.

Verb conjugation is not something English speakers know. It has been difficult to get her mind to expand to a concept of a verb ending that signifies an actor. I kept telling her that once it clicked, she would never have trouble with it again. It's a different way of thinking in Romance languages.

That's easy to say but not easy to understand. The notion of a familiar "you" versus a formal "you" doesn't exist in English. One has to put on the culture of the speaker to grasp the distinction. I warned her that when she starts Latin in a few years she will also have to know noun declensions as well as verb conjugations. This was too much to bear. But, in my long ago and exceedingly vague memories of translating Cicero, there was grace in the formation of a Latin sentence that English cannot equal. There also was emphasis that escapes English linearity. Only one great English writer I can think of matched Latin expression -- John Henry Cardinal Newman. It is said he rewrote his sentences up to 90 times before they achieved the finish he sought.

It is easy for us with simple journalistic sentences to think we are universal communicators. We aren't. We miss the subtleties that are second nature to native speakers.

I wish language instruction in the US were better than it is. We need cross-cultural training to be true citizens of the earth. Instead, we tend to assume everyone will learn English. So far, we've gotten away with that arrogance.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Trust, Reason and Relations 

The failure of exit polls during the presidential election got me to thinking about trust. We trusted the polls because they are -- well -- polls and they are done right, of course, and they have been accurate in the past. But the exit polls were wrong for a variety of technical reasons, and we should not have trusted them. This incident led to a chain of reasoning about what we trust when we don't have the evidence for belief. This chain led through vast reaches of society. We operate all day long every day on secular faith, and we rarely test beliefs. We don't have time. This paper discusses the nature of trust and its deep impact on communications. As usual, I am happy to know what you think about it.

The new paper also marks a milestone of sorts. There are now 45 white papers and essays on online-pr.com. They are here, and they cover a broad range of interests. All of them are free for the taking. I only request that if you use any of them that you credit online-pr.com as the source.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Popcorn Economics 

For years now, I have witnessed curious economics at the Pennsylvania train station in New York. For those who have never visited the station, about 100,000 people a day pass through: They enter it from outdoors and from subways underground.

The economics has to do with popcorn pricing, and it says something about communications and people -- topics PR practitioners are concerned with. Here is the situation. Near the station's entrances, popcorn vendors sell their product for $1.50 per bag. They use the same bag and the same popcorn. There is no difference. Yet, just 50 steps into the station along the same corridor, there is a popcorn stand that sells its product for $1.00 -- again, using the same bag and the same popcorn. For some reason, vendors at doors sell for higher prices than the vendor in the middle of the station. It isn't a case of foot traffic. Tens of thousands of people pass the stands. Yet, $1.50 stands always seem more crowded than the dollar one.

I have never figured out the reason for such price disparity. All stands have clearly marked signs and use the same machinery. People know of two prices, but it doesn't make a difference. Moreover, when the dollar stand lifted its price to $1.50, it lasted but a day or two and the price fell back. It's not branding because all stands work the same way. It's illogical.

What does that tell me? Logical argument is a fraction of economics and communications. Preferences override rationality for no good reason. We have always known this to be the case, but to see it in action just 50 steps apart is eyeopening.

Before you ask, I buy popcorn at the dollar stand. That is how I stumbled on the disparity in the first place.

Sunday, November 14, 2004


I have never been one to celebrate military service and trumpet that I am a veteran. I served in the Army and left with a wish that the Defense Department bury my records at the St. Louis, MO depot where such files are stored. (They may have too because years ago that depot had a major fire and a million or so records were lost.)

However, I am proud of my nephew serving in Iraq, in spite of my cynical attitude. He claims he isn't busy and he could be doing more, but he also notes that mortar rounds and rockets have been dropping about 200 meters from his position. That he doesn't seem too worried speaks of professionalism born of training. The Armed Services don't have to worry about their PR, as far as I am concerned. They got a black eye at Abu Ghraib earlier this year when untrained MPs tortured prisoners, but for the most part, troops are doing a difficult job well.

Back when I was in the military -- so long ago that Santa Claus had black hair -- there was little discipline and less success. We had potheads lighting up in front of NCOs and no one said a word. The reputation of the service was at rock bottom, and it wasn't for another 10 years that people started to look up to the services again.

Reputation counts in military services as it does anywhere else. The pride my nephew shows, even with criticisms about the stupidity of some situations, comes through clearly. I don't know whether he will stay in the service, but if the rest of the men and women about him are as good as he is, this country doesn't have a problem.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Black Eye? 

Like others yesterday, I tried Microsoft's new search engine. I got a message, "temporarily unavailable." This story explains that the service crashed a few times the first day. In Microsoft's defense, the company released the engine as a beta, but on the other hand, it seemed like a repeat of an old Microsoft public relations failure. The firm has time and again allowed customers to shake down software for it. That is, Microsoft software, despite testing, is usually buggy and requires an update to fix what should have been repaired in the first place.

That a beta version of its search engine should go down immediately was symptomatic. I'm sure the folks at Google and Yahoo! didn't mind a bit.

In defense of Microsoft, their code is millions of lines and testing cannot cover every permutation of peripheral and software usage. However, Microsoft's code, critics say, is just too complicated. If the company simplified it, there would be less chance of failure. I am not a programmer nor software expert, so I cannot tell if that contention is true. I do know I have had my share of Microsoft glitches, some nearly fatal. Nor have I forgotten the Microsoft employee from years ago who said the company did not make errors and blamed me for a bug that was clearly theirs.

Microsoft often is accused of arrogance. That's why when it fails, competitors and long-suffering customers take satisfaction in seeing the company humbled. It might be better public relations if the company were less driven -- but then, it might not be Microsoft.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Culture or Killed 

This paper on the Russian experience during the battles of Grozny in Chechnya has interesting PR advice. Although the paper is old, it is chilling when one considers the task of American soldiers in Iraq. Lesson number one is something every PR practitioner knows but maybe not every soldier.

You need to culturally orient your forces so that you don't end up being your own worst enemy simply out of cultural ignorance. Many times Russian soldiers made serious cultural errors in dealing with the Chechen civilians. Once insulted or mistreated, they became active fighters or supported the active fighters. Russians admit they underestimated the affect of religion and culture on the conflict.

Doesn't this read like what happened and continues to happen in Iraq where Sunnis and Shiites battle for supremacy? There were news stories today that Sunni mullahs might call for a national boycott of elections as a result of the invasion of Fallujah. This would weaken the new Iraqi government from the outset.

In fairness to the US military, there was understanding of the cultural divisions in Iraq before they entered the country. That didn't make the invasion and subsequent guerilla warfare any easier. There are situations in which cultural divisions are too deep. We saw that in Bosnia. We see it in Iraq.

Long-time hatreds don't go away in a year or even 10 years. Communicators must learn to step gingerly about them and avoid setting off one group or another.


I'm blogging today over at http://www.iaocblog.com along with Sally Falkow, Steve Rubel, Kevin O'Keefe and B.L. Ochman. Stop by for an interesting discussion.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Flexibility is not a criterion of the young. I have learned this bitter truth while teaching a 9-year-old to sing and play the flute. The young memorize and spit back what they think they hear. They read melody from memory and memories play tricks. The worst part is that once the young learn something wrong, it is almost impossible to correct it. Their brains read out the same mistake over and over and over. An instructor has to play tricks with their minds to get them to hear a mistake and present melody accurately.

What has any of this to do with PR? It should be a lesson to look at a target audience closely and to understand limitations before sending a message. With the young, one should choose familiar patterns their conservative minds can grasp easily. Asking them to stretch too far is asking the impossible. A few might do it: Most cannot.

I suppose that is why most of us should not write for the young. We are past the point of understanding the barriers, and we cannot grasp why children have difficulty with obvious ideas. But then adult populations have trouble as well. Perhaps then, if we can communicate to the young effectively, we should be able to communicate to adults powerfully too. An interesting idea.

Monday, November 08, 2004


PR practitioners are not in the job of dictating values, but they should be sensitive to them. Values are an essential element to communications.

Thus, it is interesting to read of the conflict about values -- the contention that the Democratic party doesn't understand the values of Red states. I'm no expert, nor do I want to be, but it seems there has been a divergence from a value system built around Judaeo-Christian ethics -- the 10 commandments, if you please. Certainly, the original Constitution was written by men who held the values of the Decalogue. That value system ruled for the better part of 200 years in the US with bitter differences, such as the right to own another human as property.

As the 20th Century progressed and diversity in the national population increased, it appears the values system for many became what the Supreme Court decides more than what 10 commandments stipulate. Hence in the 21st Century, we seem to have one-half of the country with a sharply different values system than the other half. I have no idea whether this interpretation is correct but it is useful -- for me anyway.

As a PR practitioner, I know I should not enter Kansas with the mindset of a liberal New Yorker. No one would understand the message I bring. We use the same words but have fundamentally different meanings. To me, a civil union rather than marriage for gays might be acceptable. To someone else, that is an unforgivable breach of a line that should be hard and fast in the history of Western ethics.

We are sensitive to differences in value systems the world over, and it is ironic that we seem to have overlooked our own country. This election is a reminder that we need to monitor differences and make sure they don't get in the way of client objectives.

But what about our own value systems? Should we make them known? For the most part, I don't think so. However, if a client is doing something that contradicts our beliefs, we have a decision to make as PR practitioners -- whether to bend principles or to leave. This is the challenge all whistleblowers have. It's never simple and never easy.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Blogger Beware 

This article should be obligatory reading for every blogger who thinks he or she can say whatever comes to mind. You can't -- not yet, at least. International libel law is unclear when it comes to the internet and several court cases have only spotlighted how confused it is.

What this tells me is that the vaunted right of free expression in the blogging universe is fiction. If someone takes offense, whether in the US or Russia or outer Mongolia, that person can come after you -- if not the person, the company or the government. That should send a chill down any blogger's spine. The cases cited in the article are old but the effects of the cases are not.

Read the article carefully. You'll be glad that you did.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


The wild talk the day after the election hints at the lack of trust many Americans have for the President. Since trust is at the root of communications, there is no way the President can reach these individuals with an effective message. He will have haters for the next four years.

This will be a public relations problem for the president. He needs to seek reasonable individuals in Congress who are willing to negotiate, or he will have to try to force bills through, if he can. It would be better for him and for the country if there were a center.

It is hard to be in opposition and trust, but it can be done. One can dislike another and everything the other stands for but work with that person for the betterment of all. It is a matter of both parties taming their egos and moving forward. Regrettably, this has been forgotten by many, and it makes relationships difficult, if not impossible.

Like it or not, we pursue public relations in an era when relationships are not a primary goal of many citizens' groups. They want power: They won't compromise. Fortunately, our Democracy was set up with divided power, so the strong could not overcome the weak. That was Madison's insight, and weak government has been America's salvation for more than 200 years. It forces relationships to get anything done. But it also means government can remain static and nothing happen -- a real possibility in a divided country. Perhaps we need Rodney King again. "Can't we all just get along?"

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Whenever a new media tool like blogging appears, it is a matter of time before ham-handed marketers try to exploit it. Inevitably, they don't know what they are doing, and they mess it up. Thus, this story that I found on Marketing Vox. The ad agency probably sold the client on the idea of starting a blog, then didn't know what to do with it. "I know," someone said. "We'll stick ads on it." I can just see a creative director saying that was a great idea without the least understanding of what the agency was getting into.

There will be a lot more of this foolishness before there is a better understanding of how one should blog for marketing. The advertising agency involved should have known better. That it didn't is in itself a story. I expect PR people to be behind the media curve. I don't expect advertising types to be so backward.

Now, PR bloggers don't send me nastygrams. You aren't behind the curve. It is those hundreds of folks on either side of you who ask what a blog is when you mention that you are writing one.

I have been working with new technology in PR since the early 1980s, and it has always been the case that PR practitioners are slow to adapt anything new. I had thought marketers were better. I guess not.


As a blogger, it is only fair to let you know about the accuracy of my powers of observation. I made two predictions about the election that is still going on at this hour -- both apparently wrong. I had also made a prediction about the World Series -- also wrong. All this goes to prove that in some areas I should give prognostication a rest. Fortunately, I did not burden you with either prediction, but I did tell my friends and family who will mock me as they should.

There were two predictions I made that turn out right, but they are small consolation for a seemingly major error. (It's still not decided yet.) Since I made all predictions in ignorance, I am not so unhappy about the outcome -- 50%. But then, as my friends' said, so did eveyone else.

This election was pure noise in which facts and accuracy did not survive. How the electorate could make a decision through that noise should be a matter of deep study in PR. There are times when truth cannot survive allegations and spin. I say this referring to both sides, because both were indulging in invective that was distressing to witness.

Regrettably, PR is not a useful tool for every occasion. When opponents spend hundreds of millions of dollars to scream at one another, the volume alone does not allow one to think or to make a considered decision. Campaigners have known this for millenia, however, so why am I surprised? I'm not. I'm sad that appealing to base instincts continues to be so effective.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Day 

This blog will remain silent on the election. Too much has been said already. Go vote.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Reputation Systems 

Reputation systems are used all through the internet, especially on ecommerce sites, such as eBay where anonymous buyers and sellers exchange goods and services. But they are also used to evaluate products, teachers, movies and a host of other things. They work through user-submitted ratings accumulated to scores.

PR practitioners need to be sensitive to them because maintaining and enhancing the reputations of individuals and organizations is a fundamental part of their mission. That is why a new essay describing these systems, their benefits and shortcomings is now on online-pr.com.

I wish I could report that the systems have significantly enhanced reputation management, but they haven't. They are an aid to users but they are not a panacea. There is still plenty of hard work for PR practitioners to do in monitoring the internet and remediating slanders or other comments about clients.

Take a few minutes to read the essay, and let me know what you think. It summarizes extant information about these systems and shows where they work and where they go wrong.

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