Tuesday, January 31, 2006

When 35 Equals 55 

This story is hilarious and says just about all that needs to be said about the advertising world. We...just...can't...bring...ourselves to tell the truth.

Avoiding a Trap 

Oil executives have good memories and are not fools. That is why they have decided to decline a Senate invitation to testify. More power to them. Senate hearings are stacked against anyone who testifies. Hearings are an opportunity for Senators to play to the folks at home with the worst kind of populist politics. And, it's fun to make CEOs squirm.

By not appearing, the CEOs are violating one tenet of good PR, but in this case, it is worse PR to show up. They can't win, and they know it, so why bother?

There are no hard and fast rules in PR. Good judgment is essential. The executives' failure to appear has taken the wind out of the hearings, and I won't be surprised if the hearings get little play in the media.

Just Hope This Never Happens to Your Company 

This is a frightening story and one I hope would never happens to a company trying to protect its reputation. But e-mail has become the paper trail in court cases so prosecutors are hauling it in by the millions of messages. There is nothing to prevent them from posting it like they did with Enron.

Community Journalism 

So much for one community journalism site. As poster Tom Grubisich notes, it wasn't the idea of citizen journalists that failed but the content the citizens gathered. I wonder how many PR practitioners were part of the experiment. It seemed an ideal feed point when Gillmor launched it.

Interesting PR Problem 

We're sorry. We earned too much money. It wasn't really all that much, though.

Monday, January 30, 2006


The spreadsheet model I built over the weekend was knocked into a cocked hat by a colleague who walked into the office on Monday and said something was wrong with the numbers. I spotted the problem immediately. I had inadvertently used a monthly factor for total hours worked that was 600% too high. When I corrected for that, all other hourly entries were suddenly wrong. It didn't make any difference that everything was crossfooted and correct internally.

Garbage in: Garbage out. It took three attempts to get the numbers back into the correct proportions.

What's the lesson here? Ah yes, crossfooting wrong numbers makes for internally consistent error. Good to know.


Over the weekend I had the task of building a spreadsheet model of several hundred numbers and math functions for a potential PR client. It wasn't complicated, just tedious. But, there is a truism about such models that is worth reminding practitioners about, especially those who don't build models often.

Always crossfoot numbers.

For those who don't do such things, crossfooting numbers calculates them in two directions where possible -- down and across. It's a maddening fact that spreadsheets with user-friendly functions can insert formulae in strange ways when one isn't looking closely enough. It happened at least twice on Saturday, and errors did not show until crossfooted totals did not match. That meant plowing through three worksheets to find where the SUM function had added a row when I wasn't looking and had failed to complete a row when I was.

The nice part of models is that one can play with them. In this case, it is important because it looks at a 3-year time expenditure of a CEO in several communications duties. The CEO can vary monthly hours up and down to get an idea of how much communications tasks will impact everything else he does.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Playing to Your Constituency 

From a PR perspective, the argument among Democrats whether to filibuster the nomination of Supreme Court candidate Samuel Alito is interesting. It is a question of publics. What publics are Democrats addressing? There seem to be two groups. One is a liberal constituency that abhors the idea of Alito getting on the court. The other appears to be a broader mass of citizens who vote in nearing elections. And, as happens in such cases, the interests of the two publics might not coincide.

Does one automatically take the interest of the majority over that of the minority? In the opinion of Senators Kennedy, Kerry and Clinton, one does not. Does one go along, even though the outcome is unhappy? In the opinion of Senators Harry Reid and Charles Schumer, one does. Regrettably for the Democrat party, the outcome of the argument will make both sides look silly should Republicans have the votes to put Alito in office -- and by all accounts, they do.

There is a time for argumentation. There is a time to stand even when one knows the outcome is ordained. But, one must choose those times with care. The Democrats had painted themselves into a corner with this nomination through overly aggressive questioning (that some liberals said wasn't aggressive enough). Continued opposition looks futile and out of touch with reality. On the other hand, the Democrats' fear is understandable.

Where is the line between good and bad PR? There is no certainty in situations like this. One has to use judgment and a feel for public perception. Sometimes one is right in the long run, and sometimes embarrassingly wrong.

It's an interesting PR case to observe.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Oops. Let's Backtrack. 

What happens when you make a stupid PR error in public? If you are a celebrity, you apologize in public and you take all the offenders with you.

Generals and Politics 

While generals of US military forces are not supposed to play politics in public, they do. They always have. It makes for interesting variations on messages, and PR problems for the commander in chief.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Good Old Days 

Young folks are often irritated when elders talk about the good old days. The good old days were seldom better than the present -- except. There is one area in which the good old days were better by far than the present -- airline travel. We were on the road today from the Midwest. Our team went out on Wednesday night for a meeting today. Air travel in the past was SO much better than it is now. The people of smaller Midwestern towns have it worse than we do on the East Coast. The airlines use small jets in which one is so close to the seat in front that knees are jammed against its back. The seats are uncomfortable too, and one's bum is aching long before a one-hour flight is over.

The worst, though, is the food -- or lack of it. Tonight we paid a dollar for a bag of trail mix on a flight from Minneapolis to New York, or we were invited to pay three dollars for a mingy piece of cheese and some crackers. I chose the trail mix.

I don't want to go back to the days of government-regulated airlines but can't we have something more than trail mix for a dollar? Airlines have no idea what this rotten service is doing to their reputations. Even bus lines are better.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Seems About Right 

This finding about the emotional investment political partisans have in candidates and issues seems about right. It fits with the inability of either side to talk to the other.

While passion is wonderful, invoking it should be done with care. People who lose sight of another side of an issue are difficult to deal with, especially if one should compromise for the betterment of all. True, passionate people are more likely to get things done, but they are also more likely to run amok.

PR practitioners too should be cautious about falling in love with issues or clients to the point where they can no longer see other sides. The core of PR is relationships, and passionate people only want to relate to those who agree with them. They like the niches they live in: They don't want a larger world to intrude. Unfortunately, most of PR deals with a larger world.

Relationships are often pragmatic. A husband might not like the dress a wife is wearing but he'll compliment her anyway. A wife might think her husband is lazy for watching football all weekend, but she'll look the other way. Or, to use the old political cliche, "To get along, go along."
Maybe this article should be reprinted and sent to everyone in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Talking to the Future 

As long-time readers of this blog know, I host a community television show that interviews authors and writers. (This was not by choice, by the way. I was dragged into it.) I just completed two shows that give me hope for the future of journalism in the US, as well as a wake-up call for PR practitioners who think they can avoid technology.

The first interview was with teenage editors of the local highschool newspaper. They were articulate, deeply serious about what they do, and they already have the computer skills needed to work in real jobs. The second interview was with a reporter from The New York Times who specializes in computer-based news gathering. He envisions a time when reporters will do everything including video because it is so much easier now. The skills sets he has are extraordinary. For seven years prior to working for the Times, he worked for NBC as an investigative producer and for 12 years before that, he developed the computer skills he uses to find data and create groundbreaking stories. (He was won several prestigious awards in his career.)

When I witness such capabilities, I wonder about those of us who try to avoid web page programming, database building and other technological competencies. It seems to me our futures are dim. We can't all be counselors and press release writers.

Monday, January 23, 2006

How Long? 

How long can the RIM Blackberry patent suits go on before the company wrecks its reputation and others move in? This is a calculus I hope the company is making. At some point, a settlement will be less expensive than a lost market. I suppose there is principle involved, but principles in business sometimes bend to reality. Perhaps it is time for RIM to move on. One thing is for sure, RIM is endangering relations with customers.

Numbers in the News 

Here's an excellent column and test for you to take about numbers. I'll bet nearly all of us have written one of these errors into a press release.

Payola Scams 

Nothing will ruin PR faster than payola scams with reporters, and there have been a few lately.

Just in Case 

Just in case you haven't read the following about PR, here it is. I think the case is a bit overstated.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Doing Versus Saying 

Reading opinion pages this weekend and listening to debates, it occurred to me there is too much discussion and too little action in today's political and social environment. We would rather fight than act, but the premise of good public relations is acting first and talking later. Good PR does and sometimes talks about it.

It is tiresome to see Republicans and Democrats throwing charges at one another. It is wearying to listen to fights between Red States and Blue. Thinking back on American history, there have been other periods in which there were cultural standoffs. It struck me that the practical action of the Underground Railroad transporting slaves from South to North was more important in many respects than hours of rhetoric in Northern pulpits. On the other hand, the Underground Railroad might not have been started without Northern rhetoric. Words motivated action.

Perhaps what should be happening now is action that somehow seems delayed in pursuit of cultural visions. In this regard, corporations that work hard at getting things done in communities provide an alternative to infarction that clogs governments. We may well be in a period of cultural stalemate where reasonable legislative action on many issues is not possible.

Corporations cannot replace government. They are too self-interested in pursuit of wealth, as they should be. That is their primary purpose. However, they can out of self-interest provide services and amenities that ensure their own long-term viability and by extension, some parts of society. Hence in the 19th Century, companies built factory towns and stores when they needed to house and feed workers. Some of these were unjust, but others did lend to the betterment of those who dwelled in them.

But, maybe it's just me. I'm tired of reading and hearing arguments that neither change nor advance.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dumb Author-Publicist 

This story speaks for itself.

Discovering the Wheel 

Here's a modern discovery of the wheel. PR has been saying this for decades. We didn't need to do a research study to discover it either. No one likes to be lied to. That's been true for tens of thousands of years.

From This Corner 

I normally don't comment on others' blog entries, but this one deserves explanation. I am not arguing with the point of the blog. Young PR practitioners don't read enough. But, it is not just young PR practitioners today. It is young PR practitioners since I can remember. Becoming a news junkie is a learned habit that most don't acquire in college or even in early publicist jobs. It's something they pick up over time.

How do I know this to be true? I taught in a university at one point. The students had little idea of what was going on in the world. I would refer to major business or political event, and they would stare at me. This was years ago. I've received many reasons for why students don't read news. The most common is they don't have the time. But no one has time. You MAKE the time, and that is the point of the blog entry, it seems to me. One disciplines oneself to find out what is happening in the world for how can you operate in PR without knowing the news?

I differ with the blog entry on one point. I don't care if one reads news online or in a newspaper or magazine as long as the person knows what is going on. The younger generation doesn't like newspapers much. That's OK. But, go online and check Google, Yahoo, AP, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, two or three news aggregation sites, news sites related to your clients' businesses and offbeat news that might give you good ideas.

I'm a news junkie and proud of it. I hope never to break the addiction. I find myself reading a great deal more news online and skipping over it in the newspaper -- and I still read seven newspapers a day. I agree that many of my best ideas have come from off-topic stories that leapt off a page. But that can and does happen online as well. It's just a different way of reading.

Young PR practitioners have to train themselves to read and read and read more until they are swimming, saturated and drowning in news. Their awareness of the world will skyrocket along with their usefulness to clients.

The Price of Reputation, Cont. 

This is the web site for Alexander Strategy Group, the $8 million lobbying and public affairs group, that is shutting down because of the misdeeds of Jack Abramoff.

What Little People Can Do 

This story caught my attention for several reasons. The feat was the product of one person working alone in a relatively small newspaper chain in Illinois. The paper gained national attention by placing all of its data on a web site for everyone to review. There are huge media in Illinois, notably the Chicago Tribune, but the story didn't come from big media.

Expect more stories from improbable places. The Smoking Gun and bloggers, of course, have shown their power, but they are only the beginning. The big problem is time. One has to be patient to pursue elusive facts and with traditional media shrinking, there is less time for established media to dig. Hence, they are yielding subjects like this to those willing to take on the burden. The task is more than citizen journalism. It requires the persistent skill of a good researcher who knows how to wend through a system to get a result. Not many people know how to do that.

The story is a reminder to PR practitioners to look everywhere when monitoring.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Back to Barnstorming 

In the early days of flying, it was practical as well as good publicity to paint the name of a town or business in large letters on the roof of a building for flyers in their wood-and-cloth craft. Now with satellite photography and Google mapping, the idea is back again. It's great publicity and useful too even if pilots sit in chairs before screens.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

'Bout Time 

This is long overdue.

Another PR Mistake? 

It seemed last week the Democrats had made a PR error when intense questioning caused the wife of Judge Samuel Alito to break down in tears. At least some commentators opined so. Now the Democrats seem to be on the verge of another by intentionally delaying the vote on his nomination to the Supreme Court. Sadly, it appears the party is in a snit because it was unable to block him during the hearings. Whether this is true or not, in Washington it is perception that counts.

On the other hand, there isn't one side to the story. The Democrats also appear to be assuring their base they are doing everything they can to stop the nomination, even if they can't. It smacks of "don't blame us." Would it have been better had they accepted defeat and gone on with the vote?

When there is spin within spin, nothing is what it seems to be. And that's sad. The essence of good PR is to build trustworthy relationships with key publics. But it seems when one reaches Washington, relationships are replaced by cant on both sides of the aisle and in the White House. It reminds me of a story I once heard about a lobbyist whom everyone respected and trusted because he told the truth and kept his word. Legislators found that to be a rare and useful quality. Yet, that is exactly the way we are supposed to be in PR.

Curious, isn't it?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Woeful Tale of a Weekend 

If high-tech PR people want to know why some consumers hate technology, call me. I just spent 12 hours this past weekend trying to accomplish two seemingly simple tasks -- transfer data from one laptop to another and upgrade a wireless network. It was a travesty.

My wife runs her PR business from an office in the house, and her Dell laptop was getting old. She bought a new laptop and asked me to transfer her data from the old one to the new one. At the same time, the wireless Linksys network in the house has been in need of an upgrade. It didn't reach every room because the signal wasn't strong enough. So, I decided to upgrade the router to a new Linksys model that extends range and speed and to install security since it would be seen around the neighborhood. So far so good. The last mistake I made was to try and please my wife who wants a remote printing feature that would allow her to send documents from anywhere in the house to her HP 882c Deskjet. I purchased a Linksys print server because I didn't want to mix gear. Compatibility is an issue with network gear.

The first thing that went wrong was the software program used to transfer files and software from one computer to another. The copy of Alohabob I had from three years ago failed to work. It needed an upgrade, but the company doesn't sell downloadable upgrades, and the company had been sold recently to another firm. I ran to the computer store where I was told they didn't have Alohabob, but the salesperson waved me in the general direction of software aisles on the other side of the store. On a hunch I went over there and found both Alohabob and Laplink. I purchased Laplink because it used a faster USB cable. I loaded Laplink and tried to register it, so I could use it. I couldn't. The web page wasn't working and the web page provides a key that unlocks the program. I checked every web page I could think of related to Laplink: They were all down. This cost a couple of hours. How the heck can a company run a business that forces one to use its web page, then not keep the page up 24 hours a day? Worse, how can a company offer phone service only five days a week with a web page that goes down. Laplink does. I took Laplink back to the store, told the clerk the tale and swapped for a copy of Alohabob with USB cable, which had appeared on the shelf. (The clerk later checked the site himself and told me it was still down.)

I took Alohabob home and tried to swap data. (I have done this before.) It didn't work. In Alohabob's favor, there was a mild warning that there could be compatibility problems if one transferred data from say "jhorton" to "horton." The program stated the possibility: It didn't say it would happen. It happened to me. I lost another two hours trying to get the damn program to work before in one last desperate attempt, I changed the names to make them identical. Data began to pour from one laptop to the other.

While Alohabob was idling, I turned to the router upgrade. Linksys has tried to make router installation idiot-proof with a CD-ROM that details step-by-step what one should do. There was one problem. The instructions assume one is putting in a router for the first time and not upgrading a router. The instructions didn't work: There were no other instructions. Fortunately, Cisco, which owns Linksys, has 24-hour, 7-day-a-week service, so I called -- to Chenai, India, it turns out. Accents weren't a problem, but the solution to router incompatibility was. The tech and I spent an hour and a half on the phone picking through problems. The tech dismissed the CD-ROM immediately and worked a backdoor route. Even setting up WPA security was a headache. The system wouldn't work at first. We had to take it out, set up WEP security, which did work, remove WEP, return to WPA and for some reason, it worked the second time. Don't ask why.

By 11:45 Saturday night the transfer finished between the two laptops. I buttoned them up and went to bed thinking the print server couldn't be a headache in the morning. Little did I know. The print server didn't work. Again, it came with a step-by-step CD-ROM that I followed six or seven times in a row. Nothing. Getting a tech in Chenai this time was a headache. They were all busy. It took an hour. Finally, a tech took me through several resets of the system and several checks then said the print server was defective, and I should take it back. It was 11 am when I packed everything up, got the receipts and returned to the computer store to the same clerk who looked at me skeptically. Another broken piece of technology? I told him what the tech told me. He took the printserver back, but I had enough. My wife isn't going to get remote printing, partially because the tech told me some printers are still incompatible with Linksys printservers, but Linksys hadn't tested all printers yet, so it wasn't clear if my printer is an incompatible machine. O goody.

So there you have it. Twelve hours of fun and profit for a simple technical upgrade. High-tech PR publicists, spin your way out of this one.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Pending Change in Status 

Fraudulent authors are a problem and embarrassment for book publishers. Usually the issue is plagiarism, but there is also creative invention -- lying, that is. This might be the case with an author of a best seller who was outed by The Smoking Gun a few days ago. It turns out the fellow's turbulent life might not have been so exciting.

What interests me about the incident is what the publisher, Doubleday and Anchor Books, is doing about it from a PR perspective. It is offering refunds to readers. This step has created a PR case study because on the one hand, the publisher stands publicly behind the author and on the other, it is giving your money back, if you think the book is telling tall tales. So, if I understand the situation, it goes something like this. Read the book and if you don't like it return it. Doesn't that strike you of similar return policies for retailers, such as department stores? Take the dress home, try it on and if you don't like it, return it. The difficulty with publishing, of course, is that once you've read a book, there is less reason to keep it unless you like to stack it in your library.

There is a second and more serious issue for the publisher, and it is reputational. Doubleday and Anchor books cannot afford to have this happen too many times, but in an internet age when just about anything can be looked up online, there is greater demand for accuracy. The Smoking Gun performs a useful service in cross-checking claims, but it is by no means the only online entity that does so. Bloggers by the thousands do the same. This means publishers may have to return to a skill that has largely been lost -- editing. Having written two books, I can tell you authors don't get much help from editors nor any cross-checking. I could have made up sections of my texts, and none would have been the wiser. I didn't, but it concerns me that publishers would take such reputational risks.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

PR Mistake? 

The tough questioning of Judge Samuel Alito during day three of his nomination hearings apparently caused his wife to break down and cry. That could have been a serious mistake for the Democrats for it left them open to charges of being bullies -- charges made immediately by Alito's Republican supporters. On the other hand, had the Democratic senators not grilled Alito as sharply as they did, they would been left open to criticism from supporters who want to keep Alito out of office. In an odd sort of way, the tears of Martha-Ann Alito might serve as cover for the Democrats should Alito be approved, as is still expected. They can claim they did everything they could.

Public relations on Capitol Hill are normally weird, but this case is unusually so. It will be interesting to see the outcome and at this point, I wouldn't guess what the result will be.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Modest Proposal 

The first "A Modest Proposal" of note was a savage satire from Jonathan Swift that proposed eating Irish babies rather than feeding them. Mine is not satirical nor, I hope, savage. I am making this modest proposal because for the second time in two days, I have been spammed by a PR firm with stupid press release. Once again, the sender of the release never bothered to look at what I write about nor to consider that I don't give a fig for anything to do with supermodels and fashion magazines.

Here then is the modest proposal: Whenever a PR firm spams any PR blogger, we out the firm in our blogs and brand them with a Scarlet S for spammer. I propose that this first S go to the firm that sent the nonsensical release to me today. I am happy to name them -- KMR Communications, Inc. Maybe if they are shamed enough in public, offenders will change their ways.

If PR cannot discipline its own, who can? Reporters have bitched for years about misdirected releases and pitches they get by the pound every day. It's time then for PR bloggers to stand together and to stop this stupidity before it overwhelms our own mailboxes.

End of Another Fad 

This is the end of another financial fad. I've seen the cycle of consolidation and spinning off several times in my career, and I'm sure you have too. The only people who get rich out of fads like this are investment bankers and management. It is hard to defend from a PR perspective. I feel sorry for corporate PR practitioners who have to do it.

Interesting Crisis 

An interesting crisis for a company, if true.

The Meaning of a Word 

This is a wonderful article on the meaning of the word, "convergence." It seems every tech manufacturer wants to spin the essence of the word its way. It also seems to be a trade-off between publicity and public relations. Defining the word solely out of self-interest is publicity. Defining the word out of concern for what consumers need in the future of technology is public relations. It will be interesting to see who wins.

One point is certain. The winner won't necessarily be the right solution for consumers. The winner will be the one with market power to ram its meaning onto shelves and into equipment. There will be accommodation only if none of the main players can achieve market dominance alone.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Why Me? 

I shouldn't whine, but I am tempted to ask, "Why me?" I got a press release in the mail late last week from a California PR firm about a California issue. The issue has nothing to do with communications and nothing whatsoever to do with this blog. Yet, here I am on a list of reporters and bloggers to be spammed. I should be honored, I guess, but I'm not. I am beginning to understand why reporters get snippy and sometimes, angry, with publicists. Don't they ever read what I write? The answer in the case of this PR firm is that it couldn't have. I won't mention the issue, but I will point to the offending PR firm. Beware. It has a tacky flash animation opening to its web page and badly produced photos to go with it.

I hope that Mayo PR reads this blog entry and desists in sending me any more releases on the subject. That said, if Mayo PR has a good program that it thinks deserves notice, I am happy to take a look as I will do for any PR firm. I enjoy well done PR campaigns, and I like to write about them.

But puh-leeze, read the blog before sending me releases.

Friday, January 06, 2006

PR Blogging in the Vanguard 

If this story is true, a PR blogger could be the leader in determining US legal standards for liability in online expression. On the other hand, PR would once again earn the dubious distinction of being a business of liers and spinmeisters.

Everything You Didn't Want to Know 

This is everything you didn't want to know about direct spam. Still, it's worth reading.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Groundhog Games 

I got this pitch in my email a short time ago. I'm not sure why it struck my fancy, but it did. I guess I never considered that one could make groundhogs a feature of state tourism. (If I had, I would have invited Pennsylvania to come pick up the groundhog living in my backyard.)

I'm writing again on behalf of the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, and thought you might find its winter campaign worthy of coverage on your blog.

Last year, the state tried to liven up an already quirky holiday, Groundhog Day, with some funny videos about the Groundhog chasing his Shadow (www.groundhogchase.com). This year, Pennsylvania's trying to generate some excitement around the holiday again with a film about the Groundhog suffering from Cabin Fever, a la "The Shining."

We've posted online the film's trailer, and invite you to check it out at
www.groundhog202.com. Beginning on January 9, installments of the film will be posted on the site weekly, leading up to Groundhog Day itself. The site will also offer an RSS feed so that viewers can be updated when a new video is posted. The campaign runs alongside the state's Cabin Fever promotion (buy one night, get the second free), as detailed on www.visitPA.com.

Thanks for the tip. Now, tell me how to get one to move from New Jersey across the state line.

Spin Games 

Whether or not you agree with placing Judge Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court, it is interesting to watch the spin games being played by both sides. None of this is public relations. It is propaganda, much of it of the lowest sort.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Another Culture 

I had an experience last night of attending a concert of contemporary music written over the last 50 years by a well-known composer whom my family had met while vacationing in Rome. It was humbling. I had never heard the squawks and yawps emanating from clarinet, flute and oboe nor the amazing leaps and microtones of a soprano and mezzo. It was as if I had blundered into a new land and was hearing the language of a strange people for the first time. I needed a guide, a cultural expert, someone to lead me through the intent and structure of the sound. Others in the small audience seemed to know and appreciate his work while I sat helplessly and watched.

It was a good lesson for me in communication. There are many areas of human experience and creativity that need translators who can explain one world to another. Even those who have sought to cross borders of culture and thought can run into barriers.

The composer made no attempt to explain what he was doing but based on thousands of hours of listening to music, his compositions, some more than 50 years old, are not readily grasped by average listeners. The composer could pity me for not rising to his level of hearing, or I could condemn him for being too academic. Neither reaction would help much. Rather, I need to research what the composer writes to see if I can hear somewhat in the way he does. Perhaps then I can decide whether I like his music or not.

I would have been more comfortable at a convention of quantum physicists, but I wouldn't have learned as much as I did last night about my limitations as a communicator.

Monday, January 02, 2006

!$*& Technology 

I was about to start a blog entry when my wife came upstairs and asked about the sound on the DVD player in the family room. The problem. There is no sound. Strange. They were playing DVDs earlier in the day and the system worked perfectly. Suddenly, no sound. I went downstairs and fiddled with knobs and dials and there is no sound. Perfect picture but no sound. The TV works well and has sound. The DVDs don't. I am now going to mess with the system for a number of hours/days/weeks to find out what the hell happened in a few minutes between DVDs. Did someone hit a wrong button? Did something disconnect? It's a complicated theater system with an amplifier so there are many places to look before a solution presents itself.

We who work in PR don't have to mess with technology that much. We have technicians for that. We tend to forget that things break. When they do, it's infuriating. It's also normal, unfortunately.

Update: Tuesday, 4:30 am. Later last evening, someone popped a DVD into the system on a lark and suddenly it worked. Don't ask why. If anything, that's more frustrating. Technology has a mind of its own. I like to know why things work or not. Now, I have no idea until it happens again, if it happens again.

PR Gamble 

This is a true PR gamble, and one has to worry about what Putin is thinking.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Crisis Madness 

An individual I know is part of emergency protection forces responding to California flooding that occurred over the weekend and might be happening again. This person told me a story that is an example of why PR practitioners should plan and rehearse well in advance of anything that might go wrong.

This person was ordered to compile a list of phone numbers for emergency responders and to deliver the list to bosses in overall charge of response. This person went to the HR department and requested phone numbers on individuals' personnel records. The HR department refused to give out the numbers or to let the individual see the records to gather them. Why? Personnel records are private. But there is an emergency, this person said. Makes no difference, the HR department replied. So, on the last day before the New Year holiday when nearly everyone had already left the department, this individual had to scramble about and find phone numbers by asking people directly. Some objected to the query because they said they had their phone numbers in their personnel records, and they could be gathered there. This individual had to respond that phone numbers couldn't be gathered there because the HR department wouldn't allow it. Needless to say, the individual did not get all phone numbers on the emergency call list.

Aside from the insanity of the HR department, this kind of glitch can sink a crisis response. Something simple and seemingly easy to do turns out to be slow or nearly impossible to get done. This is why crisis response experts order clients to rehearse regularly. It is the only way one finds little things that sink big efforts.

If you are in charge of a crisis response plan, when did you last rehearse it? If it has been more than a year, schedule a run-through soon. You'll be surprised by what you find. Cell phone numbers will have changed, and you weren't told. People will have moved from one position to another, and you weren't told. The objective of the crisis response might have changed, and you weren't told. Find out before a holiday weekend when a disaster is unfolding, and you are left without a plan.

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