Friday, April 29, 2005

Two Ways 

I was in another part of the country through yesterday in a meeting with a Chief Technical Officer. I kept pressing him for detailed information about his product, and he looked at me for awhile quizzically. Finally, he said he had worked with a lot of PR firms, and most told him that they didn't want to know about his product. All they said they had to do was to get him an interview. It was his job to explain his product.

This was an interesting statement because other agenices had been successful in getting him interviews, with at least one major medium anyway. So, I should have asked myself then and there whether I was making too much of the issue of knowing about his product. I didn't. I told him instead that there are two ways of approaching publicity. One is access -- getting an interview for the client. The other is product knowledge -- knowing everything there is to know about the product -- AND getting the interview for the client. Both are legitimate.

We prefer knowing everything there is to know about a product because our experience has been that national level media dislike PR practitioners who don't know what it is they are pitching. I described a situation to him of getting one phone call through to reporters who are harassed with hundreds of PR calls a week. I had better be prepared, or I've lost my one and only opportunity. I also described our role to him as that of an attorney in a courtroom. The attorney prepares for hundreds of responses from witnesses even though the attorney knows most of them won't arise. What the attorney knows is that they could come up, and one should not be caught flatfooted in front of a jury. (This apparently happened in front of the Michael Jackson jury two days ago according to news reports. But that's a story for the tabloids.)

The Chief Technical Officer appeared to accept my explanation, and he generously spent his time explaining details of the product that had been left out when we had studied it earlier.

But I have to ask: Does it make any difference whether one knows a story well or not? If I can pick up the phone and get hold of a reporter at The Wall Street Journal and persuade the reporter to do a story, do I really have to understand the story? The answer is I don't, but the risk of not knowing is one I won't take personally. If I'm going to put my reputation on the line with a reporter and the reputation of the agency, I want to know the story in detail.

Reputation with the media is a fragile thing. They don't like to be misled, and they don't like to have their time wasted by people who don't know what they are talking about. So, why take the chance?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Don't Bother 

I admire Richard Edelman and his blog, but he and other commentators in the last day are tilting at windmills. He expressed an urgent need for strong ethical rules in PR and for a better image of the business.

I wish I could support him, but I've been around this block too many times. Long ago after yet another failure of the industry to discipline itself, I concluded there is no chance of it ever happening. The reasoning is simple. PR is a Free Speech business. Anyone can hang a shingle and call himself a PR person. That means the field will always harbor scoundrels as well as professionals. But isn't that true of the law and of accounting? Ethics in PR are what you bring to the table and not what the industry brings. If you act ethically, people will know that you do over time. If you don't, they will know that too. How you counsel clients also will type you over time. If you are a propagandist, you will be treated like one. If you are an objective counselor concerned with reputational issues, you will be treated that way too.

Forget the industry. It can't get itself organized, and it doesn't want to. There are too many opportunities to make money on the edge of of the business. So, sorry fellas. Count me out.

This industry is what individuals make of it.

Out of Town 

I won't be in town tomorrow and Thursday. Blogging will be sparse.

Smart PR 

If you are not familiar with this site, take time to learn about it. It checks on political advertising and points out errors when they occur. Annenberg is providing a smart public relations service to journalists and concerned citizens. More organizations ought to do the same.

Selective Relations 

There are some issues PR practitioners cannot talk about. Only a few selective spokespersons can touch them and when they do, even they risk damaging their reputations with the audience they are trying to reach.

This story (Subscription required) about American Black Culture and its bankruptcy is one of those. The author, Thomas Sowell, is African-American and a conservative, which makes him controversial in the black community. His linking of inner city culture with Redneck Southern culture won't make him any friends. But, Sowell can risk writing something like this. Anyone else would be condemned as a racist. Sowell is practicing what I call selective relations.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Civil Disobedience 

This story is no eyeopener if you have followed the health care field. It was clear as long ago as 2000 that hospitals and health care providers would not meet HIPAA standards for security. Their attitude then and now is "you can't make me." It is a PR conundrum that such open civil disobedience is ignored by the country at large. If I were a citizen, I'd be mad as hell. But, when everyone decides to ignore a law, there is nothing a government can do.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


This is one of the best appreciations of PR that I have read. A client wrote it, and his insight is spot-on. Some of what he has to say is embarrassing to him and to the business. Overall, he is appreciative of what PR can do.

End of a PR Disaster 

Microsoft has fought against Linux from the beginning and called it the spawn of an evil empire. It didn't do the company much good. In fact, you can call its resistance a PR disaster. Give Microsoft credit. It learns from its mistakes. Now, let's hope the company doesn't try to corrupt Linux with proprietary code.

Marketers v. Counselors 

I have posted a new essay for those who might be interested. It is Marketers v. Counselors: Never-ending Misunderstanding. The essay examines a difference in view that causes friction between PR practitioners and marketers. The idea is not new, but I have tried to look at the elements methodically to examine why the two groups end in such different places. For the record, the essay states that the marketers will do better in the long run than counselors, but there is place for both.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Dead Tree Society 

This is a direct cause of this, and newspaper publishers have at last discovered they are members of a Dead Tree Society. There is nothing sacred about a press. It is technology, just as the internet is. News consumers have preferences. They have chosen a newer technology for news consumption -- the internet. To say there will always be a printed edition of a newspaper is an error. Many trade magazines years ago became largely online editions. It's cheaper and faster.

Newspaper editors have been depending on consumer inertia, but the consumer is no longer stuck in a habit of opening a printed broadsheet or tabloid in the morning.

Here is what I see from a PR perspective. Wire service news already is delivered through the internet and few bother to look at it in a newspaper. I know I don't, and I still scan seven newspapers a day. I know my fellow news-junky colleagues in the PR business don't. When it comes to national and international news, newspapers are like the former target market for Cadillacs -- between 65 and dead. It seems to me this will continue. We will use newspapers for enterprise content -- information newspapers have generated themselves that is not available generally online. This also means with falling circulation for print editions of newspapers that publishers will charge a premium for content they generate -- largely local news.

I had written earlier about the closing of the internet with publishers beginning to charge for news. I see no out for this trend. It's that or close the doors over time for more newspapers. As PR practitioners, we go where our news outlets take us and our outlets are leading inexorably to online.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Perfect PR Site 

Hand crafts in Japan are honored and individuals who master them are often called living treasures. This site is a wonderful example of a public relations vehicle for Japanese crafts. It is filled with information and examples that will knock your eyes out for quality and creativity. It is a perfect PR web site. You can't look through it without gaining an immense appreciation for the talent of Japanese artists. And even more amazing, there is no effort to sell anything on the site. It calls itself a "web resource."


This is an astute critique of marketing and advertising. What companies forgot, of course, is audience relationships, public relationships... PR.

PR Blogging 

NBC said it is thinking about creating blogs for its anchors and celebrity interviewers. Hmmm. I wonder if they will actually blog or if some intern will get the task of telling the "adoring" public about the day the "front-seater" had. I hope NBC learns that if you are going to do something like this, it has to be real and not just an empty marketing exercise.

Blogs are good PR tools if they are used as PR tools.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Media Meshing 

If you aren't "media meshing," start to think about it soon. It is a new technique for advertisers and PR. I can think of a number of ways that it might be put to use right now for PR purposes.

Closing, Part 2 

I wrote a few days ago about AP trying to get license fees from Google. AP has gone farther than that now and wants fees from everyone who uses its content online.

It Happened 

Yesterday, I wrote about a reporter who so blew a story that he should be fired. It happened.

Monday, April 18, 2005


The best revenge against stupid reporting is to show a reporter and most importantly, the reporter's editors every instance in which the reporter went wrong. That is why this is a particularly satisfying story. The reporter should lose his job over it. And, the worst part is the article was printed in the Los Angeles Times.

PR practitioners don't often get a chance to defend their clients chapter and verse. It takes an exceptionally dumb piece of work to offer that kind of opening. But even the best newspapers nod once in awhile. Just ask The New York Times.

Are Newspapers Finally Getting the Internet 

It is too soon to raise hopes, but this story seems to show that newspaper publishers in the US finally understand that they have to do something about the internet. We PR practitioners should be cheering them on.


This story sounds suspiciously like much of PR, and it's depressing.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Closing of the Internet 

If AP gets its way and Google pays for using its news, that will be a second wire service to remove its content from the free internet. There is nothing wrong with AP doing that, of course. It owns the copyrighted material. But, wouldn't you expect other news organizations to follow the example? I would, since newspaper circulation is falling and ad revenue from print sources is declining as well. In fact, in the last quarter, The Wall Street Journal's online subscription edition outearned its print edition. We may be looking at a transition point between print and online news. That means to me that online news will be more expensive going forward. News publishers have to find a way to pay for content they produce. If they can't pay for it in print, they will demand payment online. And, they will get it.

PR Disaster 

This is a typical disaster when installing a new IT system. For some reason, they rarely go in right, and the company doing the installation has to make amends over and over. In fact, in one of the rare instances where a major overhaul did occur successfully, the CEO boasted that no one heard anything about it.

IT project managers check and recheck everything before plunging ahead, but for some reason -- client changes, poor usability, bad structure -- what seemed to be a simple operation turns into a nightmare. And IT nightmares seem to duplicate themselves. They are never one thing that goes wrong, but one domino that topples another and another.

Being a PR practitioner in an IT company means preparing for disaster as a normal course of operations.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Sleazy PR? 

It sure looks like it. http://www.internetnews.com/dev-news/article.php/3497776

A Case for Standards 

This is proof of the need for objective standards in all that we do and communicate. Hey, I've got old book notes lying about. I think I'll call them word painting. Who's willing to bid $25,000.

Online Destruction of Reputation 

When is this and this and many other instances like it going to stop? Each organization has suffered a major blow to its reputation for poor information control. It is online destruction of reputation.

Tough PR 

This story is interesting and a case when a company has to make an example of a customer. Although it isn't clear yet, it is beginning to look as if the woman dropped the finger into the chili to blackmail the company. Wendy's didn't buy her story and even though the woman is withdrawing her suit, Wendy's isn't backing off.

The restaurant chain is going to make an example of this woman and probably prosecute her if she is found to have contaminated her meal. That's as it should be. No company can tolerate the destruction of its reputation that such an instance can cause. Pepsi proved that a claim of needles in its cola was a case of deliberate contamination and the individual was jailed. Other companies have proved similar cases to be false and attempts to make easy money.

Public relations is a two-way street. The customer owes honesty in the relationship as much as the company does, but when a customer violates trust, the company should show no mercy. Why? Because lawyers will show no mercy to the company.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Wages of Bad PR 

These statistics tell as much about the future of auto dealers as they about the bad PR dealers have reaped over the years through shady sales practices.

PR the Right Way 


Better Never Than Not Enough? 


Dying Business 

Recently, we wrote about PR in a dying business, so it is interesting to note that the current issue of CFO magazine has a discussion of the same thing with a real example -- Blockbuster, the movie rental stores. The magazine states the PR challenge for CFOs succintly:

...finance executives in challenged industries are in a precarious position. Publicly, they must tout their companies' commitment to innovation and long-term goals. Yet instead of investing in new technology, they can become enamored of their current business model—especially if it is successful. And their unrelenting focus on shareholder value can blind them to the fact that they may be facing a Waterloo moment.

The article also examines the collapse of the typewriter business and the imminent demise of the check printing business. The article stresses that no one knows the outcomes of business choices to avoid death.

So how does one do PR in circumstances like this? Every one of these companies had or has PR help. In Blockbuster's case, the CEO and CFO made a decision to let the firm be featured in the story. That was a gutsy move, but the point of the company's presence is to tell shareholders that Blockbuster is aware of its challenges and not sitting back.

I would like to think that PR counsel helped shape their decision. It was a risk to participate but a considered one, and it faces squarely the future of the firm.

That's good PR, it seems to me.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Losing the PR War 

I will deliver no opinions on the case of Maurice Greenberg, former CEO of AIG, except to say he is losing a PR war with Eliot Spitzer, attorney general of New York. Stories like this and this have convicted Greenberg even before he takes the Fifth Amendment. It hurts even more that Warren Buffett is testifying without apparent difficulty.

I want to scream, "Where is the PR counselor?" The answer is there doesn't appear to be one involved here. The confrontation is attorney-driven, so Greenberg is ducking behind his lawyer. He doesn't seem to understand he is against a canny PR practitioner in the person of Spitzer who knows how to manipulate media better than a professional publicist.

I wish in cases like this that CEOs would be smart enough to get PR advice before they put themselves in a bullseye, but it hasn't happened here -- or least, it appears that way. If there is a counselor, that person must be in the deep background. Meanwhile, Spitzer has Greenberg twisting in a noose before the public.

Spitzer can go for a settlement now. He'll get a big one to make all this go away. That is the way he usually works. He doesn't go to court when he can avoid it. He uses the power of the media and destruction of reputation to get what he wants.

It may not be fair, but it sure is effective.


This report was in the morning media news. I can just imagine what these kits are like:

Why am I skeptical when ad agencies get involved in such things as blogging? Chalk it up to experience.

It may well be that Carat Interactive is different. I don't know, but I would like to see one of these kits before I say I'm wrong.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Perception is Pay 

Do you wonder what economists do when they don't have anything better to do? They write articles like this.

But there is an important point here. People buy perception whether they should or not.

Thus, it is always possible to have a featherbrained but handsome individual promoted to his or her level of incompetence while a competent but plain person is left in the background to run things. That's the way of the world.

Honest PR can to some extent balance misperception, but most PR practitioners buy into the "perception-is-reality" mantra. In other words, we're just as bad as everyone else.

The Backside of Publicity 

Publicity can go too far.

Friday, April 08, 2005

I Can't Believe It 

Last night I wrote a note on the number of crashes and glitches that Blogger has suffered in recent weeks. I cited a Wired Magazine column where complaints are listed in detail along with howls of rage from frustrated bloggers. I then wrote a conciliatory note about Google and said I hoped the company would get the system fixed soon and finally.

I hit the publish button -- and the system crashed. It took everything with it. I couldn't get back in last night nor early this morning.

Now, I'm not gentle.

Dear Google, fix the damn system.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

No Kiddin' 

I've complained a lot in recent months about Blogger. There were times when it was so slow that it was unusable. There were times when it crashed completely and other times when I couldn't get in for a day or more.

It seems I wasn't alone. Here is a litany of complaints against Blogger and the parent company -- Google. It turns out the problem isn't entirely the fault of Blogger but for us poor lads and lasses trying to do entries late at night and early in the morning, it doesn't help to know that the ***** program has gone down AGAIN.

I second all the complaints in this article. Nearly every one has happened to me and on this site.

What this tells me is that the medium isn't the message but the medium can stop the message at any time without support. Google says it is trying hard to get control of the system, and I believe them.

I just hope that we don't have too many failures going forward.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Money Speaks Louder? 

Does money speak louder than reputation?


MCI says it is staying with Verizon although the bid is smaller, which would seem to indicate that reputation counts for more. But then, Qwest might not have given up in raising the bid. At what point does the equation change?

Better Late Than Never 


Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Sometimes in PR you encounter an implacable enemy who is out to destroy you. Nothing will mollify this opposition. It is you or them: Only one will remain standing. This is what is happening right now to the CEO of Morgan Stanley, Philip Purcell. His enemies are wealthy former executives of Morgan Stanley who want to destroy him as CEO. They are spending their own money to run ads, generate news coverage and stir opposition to Purcell in every way they can.

With enemies like this, if you throw them a sop, they don't go away. They become stronger because they know they caused you to crack a little. And, that is what happened with Morgan Stanley's sudden decision to spin off its Discover Card unit that Purcell said he would not sell. The opposition howled all the louder.

With implacable enemies, there is no niceness, no middle ground, no way to make peace. One must be prepared to conduct a scorched-earth campaign and have the courage to see it through.

Thankfully, few of us will have ever have to engage in such warfare but, as this affair shows, it can happen. What will Purcell do? News reports say he has kept his board on his side for the time being, and he has placed two more supporters on it as well. That doesn't mean his enemies are defeated. They will continue to undermine him: The worst way they can hurt him is to lure away Morgan Stanley's talent to competitors. Thus, even if Purcell wins the battle, he loses the war.

What is the PR department doing at Morgan Stanley? I'd like to know. I can hardly believe the department is on the sidelines watching the battle, unless lawyers have taken over and are running tactics. In any event, living through a situation like this matures one quickly as a counselor.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Reputation Destruction - QED 

To understand how quickly reputation can be destroyed read this year's Pulitzer Prize winners. Specifically, read the citations for breaking news and investigative reporting. A governor and former governor ruined their reputations through misdeeds. The newspapers documented each in such detail that they couldn't run for dogcatcher, even if they wanted to.

This year in the first quarter a number of prominent CEOs bit the dust and lost their reputations as well.

Reputation is easily ruined. That alone should be justification for PR. It is nice to talk about PR as cheap advertising, and it seems that more and more of the business is going to promotion and product publicity. But, we should never forget that reputation is more important than publicity. Just ask the former governors and CEOs.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Good Speech for a CEO 

I've listened to enough CEOs speak and have written for enough of them to be opinionated on the topic. Hence, this essay. I'm not saying any or all of the ideas are right, but I hope you find they spark a thought or two.

As always, I'm eager to read what you have to say for or against.

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