Thursday, December 30, 2004

New Year 

It's easy to say, "Happy New Year." It's a polite fiction, a wish we know won't be true, but it would be nice if it were. What is a year anyway but a societal construct superimposed on the continuous flow of time? The problems that we have this year will be around next year, and new challenges will arise. So will new opportunities. If we are lucky, we will get one more opportunity than challenge. I suppose that makes for a happy year.

May your New Year be one of health and peace. That is as close to happiness as we dare wish.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Crisis PR 

The disaster in Southeast Asia has stimulated brilliant crisis PR. One of the best is a blog, the South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami, that was set up by an Indian student and now has 46 contributors including Constantin Basturea, our own US PR blogger.

The blog has become a clearinghouse for worldwide information on the disaster with reports flooding into it from many countries. The site meter at the time of writing already had 125,044 hits though the disaster occurred on Sunday morning.

Amazon.com switched its opening page to a plea for donations to the Red Cross for disaster relief. It had collected more than $3.2 million through more than 55,000 donations at the time of writing.

BBC News set aside pages for those seeking news of friends and relatives. The pleas are segregated by country and make for harrowing reading.

The internet has been well-established as a source for disaster news, but the scale of the Southeast Asian tsunami has made possible new and innovative uses that PR practitioners will want to study.

Make a donation too, please.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The New PR 

This article from Fortune makes the strongest case yet for PR's involvement in blogging. Read it through, even though the subhead makes the point.

Freewheeling bloggers can boost your product—or destroy it. Either way, they've become a force business can't afford to ignore

If PR's job is to protect the reputation of organizations and their products and services, then Fortune is saying we had better be involved in blogging and with bloggers now, not later. Unfortunately, I don't detect that strong an interest among PR practitioners. It seems as if the blogging crowd talks to itself more than to the PR marketplace.

I find it interesting that in the 2+ years I have been blogging, I have been approached only a few times by someone who is not a blogger. There is a tendency for people to read and not comment, but it would be nice if there were more conversations about PR and its role on the internet. Meanwhile, this paragraph from the article should be a warning.

The blog—short for weblog—can indeed be, as Scoble and Gates say, fabulous for relationships. But it can also be much more: a company's worst PR nightmare, its best chance to talk with new and old customers, an ideal way to send out information, and the hardest way to control it. Blogs are challenging the media and changing how people in advertising, marketing, and public relations do their jobs. A few companies like Microsoft are finding ways to work with the blogging world—even as they're getting hammered by it. So far, most others are simply ignoring it.

Is PR going to fail again to be a leader?

Some Things Never Change 

Auto publicity hasn't changed much since the beginning of autos.

What do you do to prove the mettle of your vehicle? Why you take it racing. That is what Henry Ford did a 100 years ago when he was proving the technology of his early vehicles. That is what Toyota is doing today to prove the power of its hybrid vehicle -- the Prius. Ford did it on the ice of Lake St. Clair. Toyota did it on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Ford used racing to sell cars. Toyota is using its record-setting Prius to sell cars.

This is not a slam on auto publicists. There are natural actions one takes to prove the performance of an auto. Racing is one of them. That is why manufacturers since the beginning have entered auto sports for a time. Few endure, because it is so expensive, but there is a cliche that defines the sport and business, "Race on Sunday. Sell on Monday."

There is also a Latin phrase to describe the tactic, "nihil novum sub sole." There is nothing new under the sun.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


I have played Sim City off and on for 10 years -- mostly off. The simulation game is wonderful. The process of building a city's infrastructure -- power, water, roads, schools, hospitals, etc. is involving. It teaches the tradeoffs one must make to keep a population happy and productive.

This year, my daughter got the new Sim City 2004 for Christmas. It's not an easy game, and she is nine, but we started working on the city of "Maples." We are already up to 1200 people with a high mayoral rating. Most importantly, my daughter is engrossed and discussing where to put roads, power, fire and police stations. She checks the mayor's popularity rating more often than I do, but then, she is the mayor. She cycles through graphs checking crime and population and pollution with the sophistication of an urban planner.

In the middle of this, it occurred to me again that such simulations are outstanding PR vehicles. One can show target audiences relationships between everything in a complex system.

I'm not sure how one would simulate a typical PR campaign, however. How about the client who is never satisfied no matter what one does? Score a major placement, and the client is angry because of something in the piece. Fail to score a major placement, and the client is furious. Watch your main event go sour when suddenly a news event takes over the media. Scramble to adapt the program. Grab a sudden opportunity and look like a hero. Random disaster and random success in spite of the best planning.

Few would play the game for long.

Friday, December 24, 2004


If true, this is the reason why corporations must maintain control of blogs and bloggers in the the ranks. There is always a group that doesn't get the self-imposed limits one should keep when blogging. This story is a good summary of recent actions taken against indiscreet bloggers.

Note that the blogger at the Post-Dispatch was writing about work issues and stories that he was reporting. That's a no-no that should apply to anyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Winging It 

There is an old medieval saying, "Qui cantat, bis orat." That means, "the one who sings, prays twice." The saying came from monks apparently, but it has universal application.

Music is apart and above other communications because of its universality and meaning. Every communicator should have acquaintance with music of some kind -- the more kinds the better.

Why do I bring this up? Because I am supposed to sing with a choir about two nights from now, and I am not ready. I studied music years ago, and I dabble, but I don't sight read well. I'm like a writer learning the alphabet while writing a novel. It is hard to appreciate music when one is struggling through it and crossing other bassos in a chorus.

I've got one more day to practice, and then I am going to wing it. There isn't much else I can do. But it is humbling for a professional communicator to have trouble because he doesn't know his basics. It is one more thing to add to the list of communications skills I have yet to learn. Maybe, by time I'm 70 I will be the complete communicator. Then, I can retire.

Two Days Before... 

Two days before what? Christmas, The Holidays, Xmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus?

Stories this year about "winning Christmas back" from those who want to get rid of the name appear to be a trend. Articles every year focus on the difference between consumerism and the original intent of the season, but, unless selective perception is at work, this year is different.

I have read more discussions about "Christmas" than I recall in past years. There is even an embarrassing story about the high school in my town -- Maplewoood, NJ -- forbidding use of holiday music with religious connotations. Apparently, Here Comes Santa Claus is a mandatory substitute for Handel's Messiah.

The only reason for bringing this up is that PR practitioners need to be sensitive to mood changes among target audiences. "Happy Holidays," an ambiguous term, may not be enough for some people.

It could be that post-election, the media are scrambling to listen to a majority voice. I don't know, but the conservative tone bears watching. If true, it could presage a sea-change in opinion we shouldn't miss. It could also be backlash against overdone political correctness. Either way, we need to be sensitive to what we write and say.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Out of Date 

There is a new way of knowing whether you are out of date these days. It is to look at the most searched terms for a year and to realize you looked for none of them, or at most one or two out of a hundred. This list is from AOL.

The Intelliseek list of terms is no better although it is closer to what I would search for. Perhaps I am not out of date so much as I am out of touch with pop culture. If that is the case, I shouldn't be worried. I haven't been in touch with the People Magazine view of the world for most of my life.

True confession. Every six months or so, I pick up a copy of People and flip through it to see what millions read. It is a dispiriting commentary on the taste and intelligence of Americans. But, many PR practitioners make their livings by following hot trends and celebrities. One must not be too critical.

I don't think celebrities are of much use. Indeed, they are offensive when working as political hacks, as they were during the last presidential campaign. Nothing makes a celebrity an authority on American values and beliefs. To have them yammer about issues is lousy PR, it seems to me.

Do your own test. How many of the terms did you search for during 2004?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Old Made New 

I have been wandering through classical rhetoric texts I haven't considered in decades. Some parts of Greek and Roman rhetoric I never did study closely, and I should have. Putting students through rigorous training along classical lines went out with the beginning of the 20th Century. But there is a wonderful site that summarizes rhetoric and its parts.

If you study the site, it is clear the ancients were practical psychologists and master persuaders. What they learned over hundreds of years, we relearn every generation -- even those of us working in media that didn't exist when Greeks and Romans declaimed in the fora.

Studying is one thing but doing is another. I gave myself a task of writing a speech along classical lines and then parsing it for readers as a way of encouraging them to look again at the subject. This is the result. I've had a couple of colleagues read it: Both encouraged me to place it online. It is interesting that one colleague told me he hated the speech the first time he read it. I had tried "hokey" effects that didn't work. Overall, however, it appears that imitating ancient styles has merit. When you have nothing better to do, give it a try. You should find it an instructive writing exercise at least.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Bad Science 

This story spotlights the fact that faux experts do not fool the media that much. A "Bad Science" award went to a so-called doctor marketing cures and remedies who beat out two so-called doctors with disputed credentials. The article goes on to cite other dubious science claims and projects.

The subject of inaccurate data has arisen many times in this blog and will come up again. Unfortunately, too many PR people fail to resist when data are not clear, and they should. We are the last line of defense against groupthink and marketing enthusiasm. It is our job to ask questions that no one wants to answer and then, to insist on answers that make sense. When we duck the job because we say we are not scientists or experts, we avoid one of the fundamental things we do -- ensuring accuracy of claims and contentions.

PR practitioners who practice "Yazzuh Boss" publicity deserve to be relegated to the lowest rung of management. They condemn themselves. Practitioners who give into marketers deserve equal criticism.

One thing I've learned over years of working with marketers is that few, if any, understand PR. Regrettably too many marketers run PR programs these days as part of integrated communications. They insist on unrealistic messages and worse goals, and PR practitioners feel they must do what they are told. When they do, they give up any professionalism they might have had and become another vendor, a replaceable commodity.

Obviously, this is a subject about which I am heated, so I'll put away the soapbox. But, when I hear PR practitioners moan that they don't get respect, I think to myself that they have earned the disrespect they receive.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Tin Ear 

I wrote something yesterday that had ring and rhythm. It flowed from thought to thought far better than much of my writing. I was happy. I seemed to have reached a higher plane.

As a precaution, I took it to a colleague who graciously edits my work. He thought it was terrible but could be rescued. I laughed. Once again, my tin ear had gotten me into trouble. I remembered a movie in which a Chinese chef had no sense of taste so he kept an old cook at his side who told him when the food was right or not.

Some write word music, but most don't. I'm one of the latter who picks out one-fingered tunes on a keyboard. Fortunately, most PR writing is one-fingered and doesn't need the harmonics of poetry or fiction. And, all of it needs editing. I have never understood those who believe their writing doesn't need a second look. It's a peculiar sense of arrogance. Even Mark Twain read his work daily to his family to get their reactions.

But I still meet people in this business who don't want their work to be touched. Unfortunately, they are usually bad writers.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


This story comes from a college campus, but it shows a bone-headed lack of common sense that happens when political correctness runs amok. I'm noting it here for your amusement.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Be Careful 

Everyone knows man-made global warming is melting the arctic ice packs, right? Then what caused warming 70 million years ago before man was around? Scientists from Oxford University and the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research have determined from mud samples taken in the arctic that the surface temperature of the arctic sea was about 59 degrees Fahrenheit 70 million years ago. Scientists don't know why the sea was so warm, but they suspect global warming.

Before you think something else, I believe man-made carbon dioxide has accelerated global warming, even if earth is entering a natural warming cycle. The White House is wrong in its denials. But, we cannot dispatch current global warming as strictly man-made. The earth has warmed and cooled for hundreds of millions of years. We don't know which cycle we are in. That is why I believe that PR practitioners should be careful when mouthing conventional wisdom about science and nature.

The effects of global warming are alarming. The year 2004 will be the fourth hottest on record since recordkeeping started 150 years ago. Natural disasters partly attributed to global warming will cost insurers $35 billion this year. Scientists have warned that "a long-term increase in global temperature of 3.5 degrees could threaten Latin American water supplies, reduce food yields in Asia and result in a rise in extreme weather conditions in the Caribbean."

But when you stop and think about it, huge shifts have swept the world constantly. The Sahara Desert was once fertile grasslands filled with animals, which we know from rock drawings scientists have discovered in the heart of it. When and why it became dry sand is not clear, but it happened in the last 12,000 years.

Even if we controlled carbon dioxide emissions today, could we prevent some disasters that will unfold over the next 50 years? It may be too late. That doesn't mean we should give up, but we should be realistic in how we talk about these things and how we advise clients. The fact is that man will deal with climate changes as they arise. Some peoples will move. Some lands will go out of production and some into it. There will be destruction, and there will be growth. In the end, man will adapt as man always has.

But, it would be nice if humans would use more foresight than hindsight this time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


I find this site interesting. It is part of counterwarfare on the Web. The site tells you who is clicking on your pay-per-click advertisements and driving up your costs unfairly. It was started by a gentleman who discovered a competitor was having click-fests at the gentleman's expense.

What does this have to do with PR? Not much. But it struck me because it shows again how the semi-anonymity of the internet can bring out the worst in people. That is a topic about which PR practitioners should be deeply familiar. The web has its share of goodness. In fact, it started with a grandly ideal concept of people helping people. I remember those days: They didn't last. The creeps found the web as quickly as the idealists, and the creeps have been abusing it ever since.

It would be nice if there were a site for PR practitioners to tell who is throwing insults at their organizations so one could confront them but I am not aware of one. So while advertisers can tell who is clicking whom with a simple program, we have to work harder.

The internet because of its massive coverage is an analog of human nature. Sometimes, human nature isn't nice.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Integrated Marketing 

A hat tip to PR Machine for this catch. It is a discussion in PR week about integrated marketing and how PR firms are adapting to changes. There isn't much new in the article, but it is good to see there is movement toward cooperation among marketing communications arms to serve clients. One would expect that integration might be farther along than it is. The problem still seems to be yielding of control. Each marketing communications arm has to be willing to give a little for the greater good. That is hard to do. It is usually up to a company's marketers to enforce discipline. I suspect PR often takes a back seat in marketing discussions because it is not considered strategic, and it doesn't have the biggest budget. Of course, the only way PR will become strategic is when PR practitioners think and act that way. As long as practitioners are order-takers, there will marketers willing to give orders rather than to listen.

They Don't Get It 

A hat tip to the Ad Freak site for this one. The McCann Worldgroup site is easily the worst flash and motion site that I have encountered in a communications company. Far from proving how good McCann is, the site shows that McCann simply doesn't get the internet or the web. Check it for yourself.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Worth Checking 

This blog doesn't recommend products or services, but the following site might be worth checking if you need public affairs monitoring. Customscoop originally contacted me because the firm thought I might be interested in news monitoring, but the site doesn't find news any faster than Google or Yahoo news searches. What I do like, however, is the number of government and policy sources it covers. This area, I believe, is overlooked.

The site claims it examines 7,000 government sources including the European Union as well as 1,200 policy sources including state and regional associations, think tanks and advocacy groups. Because so much of what PR deals with these days comes from political sources, it might be worth watching these areas.

We had a big-name monitoring service at our agency, and we gave it up a few months ago. It didn't work well, and it was slow. Further, it was mindless in what it filtered. When a colleague surveyed the agency to find out who was using the service, he found only one person. Monitoring services seem to work best when one has several keywords and clients to track or large volumes of electronic clips daily. Otherwise, it seems better and faster to do it by hand. What has been your experience?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Trust, cont. 

There have been reports in the last couple of days about whom people trust. Car salesmen were at the bottom of the ranking. I bring this up because I have just purchased a vehicle for the family. I couldn't face a gauntlet of salesmen hustling me. They have to make a living, but please...

The internet was salvation. I found the vehicle online that I wanted with features I was looking for. I checked the manufacturer's invoice price, the suggested retail price (MSRP), and location of dealers. I wrote the internet salesperson at each dealer and asked for a bid. After two rounds of bidding where each could improve the offer, I selected one and am completing the deal. As a precaution, we did visit each dealership surreptitiously but did not talk to a single salesperson in the process. We also saw the vehicle we are going to buy without a single person bothering us.

It's sad when an institution has such a low reputation that you don't want to work with it, but that's the case with car dealers. I don't plan to buy a car again anytime soon, but I will use the internet when I do. Anything to avoid a pushy salesman.

Trust and Brand 

This study might seem obvious but it verifies what I was writing in the paper, "Trust, Reason and Relations." It was an examination at MIT of 10,000 internet shoppers over a year searching for books. MIT learned that 51% of the shoppers were willing to pay more to purchase the same book from a better-known vendor whom they can trust. Price was not the determining factor.

The study affirmed that there is something to brands after all -- at least in the online world. The issue of trust is obvious. In an environment of uncertainty, shoppers prefer to deal with sellers who have established a reputation for fair dealing.

Does this mean that where there is certainty or a perception that all are the same, branding breaks down and price rules? This would be a neat corollary but humans are not rational economic creatures, so I'm not sure the opposite is true. If it is, then many companies are wasting money trying to project brand images in marketplaces where consumers don't distinguish one from another all that much. Perhaps that is why Wal-Mart is doing so well with its focus on low prices. Consumers have come to expect that much of modern living is a staple to be purchased rationally and if it is this toothpaste rather than that one and this mouthwash instead of that, who cares?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

IT Relations 

If you read this blog regularly, you know healthcare is an issue that recurs. Healthcare is a bankrupt field with a lousy PR image because hospitals and healthcare institutions need to reform but can't afford it. They look to the government for handouts, and the government hasn't money to give. Better yet, it won't give it because money won't be spent wisely in changing bad management practices.

That is why it was wonderful to read this story. Two doctors set out to found a medical practice that actually builds relationships with patients through use of information technology rather than making them numbers in a soulless machine. And, by early accounts, they have succeeded. The doctors spent a lot of time looking at what works and what doesn't before they acted, and then, they found a vendor that most closely matches what they want to do. Notice something about this. IT is not used for cost cutting but for better service. The cost cutting is inherent in a better system. In other words, good PR is more efficient.

If two doctors can achieve this, what about the rest of healthcare? There are reasons why doctors no longer have the perceived authority they once had. They may be smart, but they don't know how to treat people under the present system. Maybe other doctors should do what these two did and find their own paths to better patient relationships.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Try Again 

I posted an essay recently called, "Trust, Reason and Relations," and invited comment. One of my friends did just that. His comments convinced me that I had to go back and revise the document. The revised version is now posted for your consideration.

Again, I solicit your comments about the piece. It has been difficult to write. The problem is that I looked at a topic that we all know but maybe we don't. This is the issue of secular trust or belief. We learn from the first day in communications that spokespersons must be credible. But what does credible mean? Does it mean any celebrity that you can pay to give a speech as former president Bill Clinton just did for the launch of a search engine? Does it mean hiring a smashing model to promote McDonald's hamburgers as just happened? I don't think so. The public sees too many spokespersons. Any educated individual looks upon them as hired flacks and doesn't trust them that much.

So what is trust? The answer is that we don't know from a scientific point of view. No one has successfully traced the pathways in the brain that lead to belief in another or in the outcome of circumstances and events. So, why bother? A good question but failure to understand trust leads to worrisome situations mentioned in the paper. In matters of law, for example, can one trust an eyewitness? Can one trust five eyewitnesses? Well, no. Eyewitnesses are notorious for making things up even when they think they are telling exactly what they saw. Can one trust a detective who thinks he or she has a built-in "bullshit" detector and knows when a suspect is lying? No again. Can one trust anyone who is a message bearer? Yes, but it is not always clear why.

The outcome of this maundering is that it struck me forcefully that we should be spending far more time than we do gauging the trustworthiness of spokespersons we use. I don't know about you, but that is not something I have done much of.

Where Have I Been 

I missed this story earlier, and I wonder why. It's about a PR agency that keeps an open bar while holding brainstorming sessions. Apparently a little snifter of this and that helps the creative processes, or so says one of the agency's owners. I have read writer's advice that says one should keep authors well-stocked with booze, but this is the first time I have read about a PR agency doing it.

Just think of the creative excuses one would have for reeling home after work. "It was a brilliant brainstorming." Now, in defense of the agency owner, she maintains no one has overindulged so far and the bar bill has helped the agency conduct better business. Still, without being a prude on the matter, I don't think it is a good idea, and I won't drink while on duty. The issue is staying awake for the rest of the day. Alcohol relaxes me to the point of wandering in a sleepy fog if I tipple during work hours.

Maybe you don't relax as much. If not, here's a great new benefit to suggest to your employer. (Don't be surprised if you get turned down.)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Not a Great Idea 

The folks that brought us the wikipedia are now trying out wiki reporting of the news. The link is here. I don't think much of this effort. I don't think much of the wikipedia effort either. It is hard enough to get good fact checking and a democratic approach to it is not a sufficient safeguard to get the story accurately. I know. I know. I've heard all the arguments to the contrary. I'm from Missouri. Show me.

Google Do You Do 

This is an interesting story. It seems that 23% of us have used Google to check up on friends, potential employers, present employers and others. We have written here often that attempting to hide one's past or bad news is silly in the internet age, and this is one more example of why it is so foolhardy.

On the other hand, one should be careful when googling others. I learned that I was a Civil War soldier and there is a statue of me in Iowa. I also found that I was a judge in the Scottsboro case and a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission -- if you change my middle initial. O, I won a Medal of Honor too aboard a Navy ship in 1865.

Yes, I am represented heavily on the internet but I'm not a doctor who also has my middle initial in Ionia, Michigan.


I'm indebted to my colleague, Mike Cargill, for this link, which is one of the hippest viral marketing ideas I've seen in recent days. It also is a great PR idea. The giftmixer allows you to match personalities to books with the help of a computer voice that specializes in a bit of insult humor along the way. Think about it. The idea could be used for any number of things including courses in school, career choices, entertainment options, places to visit, etc.

I'd like to know who developed the concept.

Friday, December 03, 2004


Apropos of the posting below, the Los Angeles Times just announced that it will quit printing a national edition of the paper. The lead on the article makes the point of the earlier post:

The Los Angeles Times is killing its printed daily national edition at the end of the year, saying the Internet and other electronic distribution channels have made the paper copy irrelevant.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Tomorrow, Who Knows? 

The newspaper industry is in trouble -- not because publishers have cheated on circulation numbers, which several have done. The trouble lies with young professionals who are not reading newspapers and see no need to do so. It's not that the young are illiterate, or that they depend on TV news. They read online because it is quicker, and they flit from site to site and pick up as much or more information than they would get by turning newspaper pages. There is angst among publishers about how to respond to this change in media preference. No one, it seems, has figured out a workable economic model.

I have angst of a different sort, however. What is the PR industry doing?

A dirty secret we live with is that clients don't value online publishing as much as readers do. They want to see a clip on newsprint. It's real that way. An online page of HTML formatting isn't the same. But since readers value HTML above newsprint, we dare not ignore them out of responsibility for clients, as well as our own professionalism.

The time is here for some and coming soon for others when most placements will be online. The newspaper or magazine clip will be an oddity. The transition is rough, and we are not yet at a tipping point.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Great PR 

The best PR is still persuasive presentation of facts. That makes this presentation a fine piece of public relations work. It is a detailed report of weapons caches, explosives and violations of human rights that the US military discovered in Fallujah. There had been controversy about what insurgents are doing, and it is clear the aim of this report was to end questions about who was at fault. In a nearly dry manner, the report steps through every mosque that had weapons and/or was used as a fighting position, every armament found in a mosque and every violation. One can see through the photos and minimal text that the investigators wanted to leave no doubt. By time they are done, the evidence is damning. The one false note is the section on humanitarian assistance, which strains to make its point.

This is PR at its best -- evidence presented clearly and convincingly such that anyone can grasp its meaning. Even the media didn't argue with it, especially not those embedded with the troops.

Does this mean Iraqis will now befriend Americans because they have seen the light? Not in the least. It does mean international criticism of the US will be, and has so far been, muted with regard to Fallujah. There is not much one can say about torture and slaughter. The insurgents hardly showed themselves as humanitarians.

It is rare that one gets an opportunity to disclose abundant evidence like this and to build a case so convincingly. Most of the time, PR work is like Colin Powell at the UN -- delivering suppositions based on suspect evidence. In Fallujah, weapons and violence were documented beyond doubt.

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