Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Interesting article and interesting insights for PR. Read it.

Cool It 

One reason why I find contemporary politics distasteful is this kind of rhetoric. No one gains from howls on the right and left. That kind of preaching is only to a minority of faithful anyway. The rest of us stand back in dismay and wonder what has happened to our country. (Those of us who study history know we have gone back to the future.)

It is past time to get to a middle ground where disagreement is argued more on reason than emotion. It's long past time to end finger-pointing. I would like to think PR could lead the way in this, but communicators have been some of the foremost bawlers. It is up to each of us to lower the rhetoric and get to the point.

Monday, October 30, 2006

What People Talk About 

It is too easy for PR practitioners to forget what others talk about. We're media junkies -- or at least, we should be. We consume far more than the average daily news viewer or reader. Thus, what seems important to us may have no significance to others. That's why this story is interesting and also, why I keep tabs on this site. It's as if I am watching the news interests of an alien population. Often, I haven't even seen stories people are clipping and sending to one another. I have to ask where I've been in my travels through news sites.

It's surprising how much silly material gets passed around. These are usually the Associated Press or Reuters brighteners or odd news that reveal little of significance other than how wacky things can be. It is possible that these stories are not truly what people are concerned about but what they think others will respond to with a groan or guffaw.

Still, it is good to maintain a watch because it tells one what the viral interests of others are. It also shows how difficult it is to develop viral stories to spread through the internet.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Know Thy Client 

If there is one task I have not done well in PR, it is knowing clients. I don't mean the facts of businesses. I do that. What I mean is knowing clients' personal histories -- where they come from, what they have done, what their interests are, members in their families, their names.

These details seem insignificant, but they are important to help understand why clients think and act the way they do. The same is true for the media, of course. It is important to know who they are and where they come from. I have shortfalls here too. I'll look up stories a reporter has written over the last few months. I'll look up the person's bio. I won't find out much else about the individual. That's a mistake. Good publicists hang out with the media and find out their detailed likes and dislikes.

I've never really done that in my career. My practice has always been to shape stories tightly against the interests of individuals based on research.

Hanging out is better.

Yes, people have work and private lives and sometimes, the two don't cross. More often than not, however, they do. Good PR practitioners put together facts to explain events and individuals. They aren't conspiracy theorists -- or they shouldn't be. They are careful observers and listeners. Knowing a client in detail is just good observation.

I've still got things to work on to learn this business, but one never really learns it. That's the fun of PR

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Political Spam 

This post was depressing. (See the part about Demspam.) I'm not going to give my e-mail address to any political party as a result. Political communicators adopt new technologies more quickly than most PR practitioners, but they abuse them too.

PR Nightmare for US Hospitals 

It is now safer to stay out of US hospitals than to go into them for healthcare. This is a crisis that has been building for years. It seems everyone knows someone who has been infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. I certainly do. Yet, US hospitals seem to be ignoring the issue publicly. Unfortunately, that won't make it go away, and as more bacteria become drug-resistant, the problem is going to get worse. Where is PR in sensitizing the public and health care community to this problem?

Slow Learner? 

I suppose there are a few PR practitioners who are still not convinced about the importance of the internet as a news medium. At least this fellow learned.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

PC Run Amok 

Stories like this about education are frequent enough in the US. In this case, a student newspaper wasn't allowed to discuss test scores that had already been published in the local newspapers. The principle of the school didn't want to hurt the feelings of minority students. It's political correctness that seeks to deny facts out of dubious respect for others. And, it's sad because that same blindness to evidence pervades society.

Such behavior, it seems to me, is not public relations. It is the antithesis of it. Good PR starts with facts and goes from there. That is, one publicly accepts that minority students are behind and works with parents and the community to figure out what to do. Nothing is gained by kowtowing to feelings when the problem is not fixed. It simply continues the problem.

Few like to be confrontational, but there are times when it is proper. We have these arguments at work about clients. When does one tell a client that the client is heading in the wrong direction? What is our obligation, if any, to do so? It is easy to collect fees: It's harder to let a client know a program is in jeopardy because the client isn't delivering what is needed. Clients, of course, tend to accuse agencies of whining and failing to deliver, so there is an art to "telling it like it is." My policy has been to accomplish something positive, then tell clients the facts. They tend to listen better. However, that's not always possible. There are clients from hell who, consciously or not, throw every possible barrier before you when you try to get something accomplished. One wonders why they ever hired you in the first place.

There is no real answer for situations like this but ignoring facts doesn't solve problems.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Celebrity NIMBY 

It seems to be a tenet of PR in California that every protest requires a celebrity or two to show up. One wonders when average citizens will tire of actors and actresses proclaiming opinions.

Where Was PR? 

Here is a blatant case of fraud from the Bubble era that has just been settled. One has to ask where PR and IR were when a CFO was booking bad revenue with the encouragement, apparently, of the CEO and president? Either they went along or didn't know. Neither outcome says much for the influence of PR and IR on the course of business. The blogwriter says such booking of bad revenue doesn't happen anymore. He may be right for the moment, but it will happen again. Greed is a human condition.

Friday Night Follies 

It's the old story. You have a public disclosure that you want no one to read, so you file it late Friday afternoon. The problem is that in the internet age, someone is always watching.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dumb, If True 

There are some stories one can't believe because they are incredible. This is one, if it's true, and I don't believe yet that it is. Apparently, a change in the law now prohibits DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, from handing out cash prizes for winners of its robot car contests. If true, the idiocy of such a decision is hard to overstate. DARPA gained tens of millions of positive publicity for the agency, the Pentagon and most importantly, robotic technology it seeks to develop with the prize program. Taking that away for the next and more complicated challenge of program development is dumb.

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist but it looks to me as if there was a cock-up in writing the law -- an oversight in the rush to complete a bill. My guess is funding will be restored soon enough, and the Associated Press story was designed to do just that. Leak it to the media, and watch the fur fly. Washington bureaucrats are masters of this sort of thing. They are better at PR, in their own ways, than PR practitioners.

Friday, October 20, 2006


I missed this earlier this week but it has wise insights into how the internet forces transparency into hidebound institutions.

There is nothing more hidebound than academia. Once one graduates, calls that come in are for money. One has no other influence.

It is no secret that US colleges and universities run badly. Their tuitions skyrocket beyond the inflation rate. There is little effort to rein in costs. So far, parents continue to empty their bank accounts, but how much longer can it go on? It appears to be a PR crisis in the making.

Stop the World 

Sometimes conventional wisdom ends up in curious places, but there isn't much a PR practitioner can do. This is one such instance of environmentalism in California. The state is trying to save a body of water that was created in 1905 when the Colorado River burst its banks. One reason? It's a major flyway. One wonders if anyone has considered that before 1905, birds could not stop at the Salton Sea, and they managed.

Lakes dry all over the earth constantly. Most of the time it is through natural causes. Animals adjust or perish, and it has been that way for millions of years. Why suddenly do we feel an obligation to stop a natural occurrence, as if it is unnatural? I suppose because we can, but, on the other hand, it is not clear human intervention into nature is always wise -- as we learned in forest fire control.

Humans have a curious position toward nature. We are part of it, we say, but we have to control it to preserve it -- as if nature wasn't controlling itself before man walked the earth.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

News Flash! The World Is Round. 

This is certainly a bottom story of the day. Of course, people have trouble with passwords. It is a headache no one has figured out, and it makes working online deeply annoying. There is a fortune to be made for the first individual or company that develops a better and simpler way for maintaining security online.

Passwords are a relationship issue, especially when one uses news sources and each demands its own sign-in procedure and password. We have at work a long sheet of passwords for media to which the firm subscribes. I'm forced to use it daily, and each time I do, the thought recurs, "There must be a better way." So far, there isn't.

Accidental PR 

Google has mastered accidental PR, which also is purely intentional. By this, I mean that it provides for open use of its online tools that leads to happy discoveries and closer relationships with the company. Here is a wonderful example of how Google Earth is being applied in archaeology. Google may not have been thinking of this when it developed Google Earth but on the other hand, the firm knew that by placing space photography online, good things would happen.

There is a degree of romanticism in this approach. It trusts that humans will figure things out for themselves and their own interests. So far, that has happened. What it neglects, however, is that self-interest can sometimes be evil as well. When practicing PR in this way, one should be aware of the negatives and make sure positives outweigh them. Even so, one particularly ill use of a tool can cost a company its reputation or the use of the tool for everyone.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Second Act 

Sometimes it is said there is no second act in American business. Once one has been pushed off the stage, that's it. As with most cliches, it's not always true. This is a case where it isn't. The author of the Wired story is a fellow with an interesting career and prison time to boot. He has shown that one can return, although in a different capacity, and use one's skills for the service of society. He is becoming his own public relations success.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Edelman is showing leadership in PR that is sorely needed. Congratulations to the firm for stepping out to fund the tracking of blogs in French, German, Italian, Korean and Chinese.

Update: This makes up for a lack of leadership in creating faux blogs.

The Penalty for Lost Reputation 

This was to be expected, and Sony has little choice but to pay for its exploding batteries. Dell bore the brunt of the bad news because it was Dell that was originally accused of making faulty laptops.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Out of Time 

The power failed last night for an unknown length of time. I didn't think much about it until a few minutes ago when the horrible thought occurred that the clock had stopped too. Sure enough, I'm late.

We don't think much about electricity until it is missing. That's a dubious PR success that power companies have created. Their best relationship is invisibility. They remind us constantly that they are here to serve our interests. We don't acknowledge that service until the power goes out. It strikes me that we use power in the same way families once used servants. They are there -- until they aren't.

Friday, October 13, 2006

It Isn't Going Away 

Recently we had a company call us about a problem related to CEO compensation. A reporter was relentlessly pursuing "excessive CEO compensation." The company saw the issue as a spot crisis -- i.e., how do we make the reporter go away? The problem is the reporter isn't going away, nor is the issue of CEO compensation. It's a continuing crisis. Like it or not, major publishers of financial news in the US have concluded CEOs are over-compensated. They are going to crusade against CEO compensation until something is done at the board level or by Congress.

I'm not writing to take a position one way or the other. I am alerting practitioners who think the issue will go away sooner or later. It isn't going away. Pressure on boards and on CEOs has been building for years. No answer a CEO can give will satisfy critics other than slashing pay.

This has created an odd illogic in American culture. On the one hand, athletes, entrepreneurs and entertainers can take down huge salaries, but on the other, CEOs of public companies cannot. Arguments comparing the groups are useless because reporters aren't interested. There appears to be a belief that a number of individuals can run a public company, and boards only need to negotiate for a less expensive one.

It is unclear how this crusade is going to turn out. There have been abuses and those are coming to light -- especially backdating of stock options. Each incident fuels further anger and convinces reporters they are on the right track.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Some news one knows already, but it is still good to see it verified. The concern here is the same as the concern in the previous posting -- lack of diversity. While most journalists do a good job of keeping personal leanings out of reporting, there is still a tendency to see things in one way and to ask questions along familiar lines.

This critique is applicable to PR practitioners as much as it is to the media.


This critique of recent business reporting by The New York Times is on the mark but narrow. Business reporters are forever working on assumptions of what is there rather than looking for themselves. One of the hardest tasks in working with financial media is to get them to look objectively at a story. They tend to fall into whatever camp stock analysts are in because they call analysts for their opinions. Sometimes analysts are wrong. Actually, analysts are wrong frequently, as any investor relations practitioner will tell you.

There is a reason for reliance on the assumptions of others. The business reporter rarely has time to do an analysis of a company. Rather the reporter relies on the "he said-she said" approach to surface facts and opinions. When there isn't diversity of opinion, conventional wisdom sets in, and reporters examine company news through a single distorting lens. It's a continuing frustration of working in corporate PR.

Hope This Isn't True 

There are some stories so disturbing that one can only hope they aren't true. This is one. There is no recovery of reputation for the individuals or hospitals involved. The serious of the situation is conveyed in the last paragraph of the article:

Committees to control experimentation with human subjects were established in hospitals in accordance with Health Ministry protocol implementing the Helsinki Accord signed in 1964, which came in response to human experiments conducted by the Germans in World War II. The comptroller found that experiments approved by the Helsinki committee included genetic experiments and research studies involving drugs not yet certified for use in Western nations. The comptroller's report features a laundry list of grave oversights and continuous negligence on the part of the Health Ministry and public hospital management regarding their supervisory role in the experiments.

Of all physicians, you would think these doctors would have known better.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Buzzword 2.0 

What is Web 2.0? We all know the meaning of the buzzword, right?

Say and Do 

This story is part of continuous training in the difference between what people say and what they do. It's disheartening to read that although most know not to open unknown files, many do it anyway. It's like walking across the road without looking both ways or driving a car without wearing a seatbelt. But, PR practitioners shouldn't be surprised. We know behavior often lags concept. But, like everyone else, we sometimes forget.

Can It Be? 

This is most interesting. It is a newspaper editor from the Washington Post praising everything about the web, including blogs. And, it is clear that Mr. Downie understands how the web fits into and integrates with the "dead tree product."

The Washington Post is impressive in how it uses the web to relate better to readers. That has been clear for some time. PR practitioners should look more closely into what the paper has been doing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

An Interesting Blast 

The alleged rape of a black stripper by Duke athletes has largely passed out of the headlines, but the apparent injustice of it hasn't. This is an interesting discussion of reportage about the case by The New York Times and a blast from a former Timesman who usually isn't so angry. The young men involved have lost their reputations for life, almost certainly unfairly, but the newspaper isn't ready to say that. And, who is going to argue with the Times or its archives?

The columnist makes a strong case for a blogger who is addressing the unfairness of the situation. It's an insight into how new media can work to redress imbalanced media coverage. PR practitioners take note.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Atomic PR 

Forms of public persuasion can be many. North Korea is practicing one of the more worrisome ways of relating to the world -- atomic PR. According to experts, North Korea is trying to force the US to deal with it one-on-one, an approach the US is resisting. The US wants North Korea to work with the countries surrounding it as well, to include China, South Korea and Japan.

Trumpeting "I've got the bomb" is not a way to make friends, but it is a way to gain attention. In the eyes of many observers, North Korea today is more dangerous than Iraq because its leadership is isolated, radical and desperate. But, that doesn't mean its leadership is unable to project its presence. Saddam Hussein, when in power, was able to command attention because of his position astride energy supplies and the huge military forces he had built. One shudders to think what we would be dealing with had Saddam built a nuclear bomb.

Dangerous people can practice PR as well as good, and their persuasiveness can be powerful. We must not forget that Hitler persuaded Charles Lindbergh of his overwhelming might based on the military machine he had built. Lindbergh was a voice against entry into the war in Europe before Pearl Harbor.

Before anyone comments, by the way, I have never supported what is happening in Iraq or the current administration's view of Saddam Hussein. It would be foolish, however, to deny that dictators practice public relations too.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Blame The Messenger 

Here's an interesting case of "blame the messenger." It's as if ABC News was wrong to report that a Congressman was engaged in risque conversation with a page.

Unfortunately, "blame the messenger" is such an old tactic in publicity spin that most people see through it. That appears to be what is happening here. Mr. Hastert is frustrated, no doubt, because he believes he acted quickly when the facts were exposed. The criticism is that he didn't act quickly enough before the media got onto the story, but then, the question is how much he really knew. That's where Democrats, as Mr. Hastert has correctly stated, are having a field day. Ah yes, the Washington follies continue with each side spinning madly and truth beside the point.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Truth and the Internet 

No doubt you read this story in the last day or so about Google's CEO predicting a way on the internet for anyone to check the accuracy of a politician's statements. To some degree, that exists, but one has to dig. Schmidt is predicting in five years there will be an easy way for any citizen to do it and for a service like Google to render a probability of truthfulness.

What he failed to say is that similar truth-telling approaches will be applied to companies as well, such as this blog posting comparing the cost of car services for two chief executives in New York. Once facts are available somewhere, they are potentially available everywhere on the internet. It's a matter of building search and database functions. The SEC has already announced it will convert its EDGAR company information database into XML, which will make access of company records easy for the entire world.

Those of us who work in corporate PR can shake our heads at the follies of the political world, but with the Sarbanes-Oxley law and increasingly activist boards, we have our own problems. The problems, however, make our jobs more important in the eyes of CEOs, even CEOs who want to duck reporters.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

This Is A Test 

It looks as if the progenitor of the idea of "pay for post" blogging has gotten funding to try it out. It will be an interesting test of the credibility of blogging. If blog readers want impartiality, the idea will fail miserably. If they don't care, there is a chance the idea might work. It will depend of the willingness of each blogger to maintain a sense of credibility. Many won't: Human nature is too easily bent in the direction of mammon.

I wouldn't want to read posts full of publicity flacking for products and services. Others might. After all, informational TV programs that push miracle potato peelers and exercise machines manage to survive on cable -- and sell too.

Still, it seems to me educated readers will want some sense of credibility from a poster, even if a poster is raving about the latest political sins of Republicans or Democrats. My guess is this fellow, if he succeeds, will create a sub-genre of blogging like QVC that will appeal to some folks. The rest of us will continue as we are.

It will be an interesting experiment from a PR perspective because we make so much of independent third-party assessments of companies, products and services through the media. We need the journalist's credibility for much of the work we do. Should credibility be sacrificed in blogging and the power of the medium still work, it would be humbling for those of us who work to maintain credibility.

Right now, I'm not worried that will happen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Playing with PR Fire 

Wal-Mart has made progress against those who contend that it pays poor wages and benefits to its workforce. This news is playing with PR fire. Workers complain now that they don't have enough time on the job to make a living and moving to more part-time work isn't going to help. It looks like a set-up for unions to make inroads. On the other hand, if Wal-Mart isn't doing what news reports say, the company needs to explain itself better.

Why Do We Do It? 

This blast from a media critic against stories about the Dow Jones average is timely, correct and useless. Even though most stock trading indicators have little meaning, we look at them, worry about them and wonder if they are going to make a record. It is one more example of a lack of rationality, especially when it comes to money. Reporters continue to write that the Dow is up, the Dow is down, the Dow marked time. They continue to phone traders or analysts who give them a quick quote as to why the market acted the way it did. We continue to read the stories.

Why? There is a PR value in the Dow that is greater than the underlying content. Perhaps some day investors will move on. They haven't yet.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Engineers Are Better Visual Communicators 

Engineers are better visual communicators if you go by this.

Good 'Ol Blogger 

Good Ol' Blogger crashed on me a short time ago, just after I finished an entry. I won't attempt to write it again, but I will register my complaint that Blogger has been erratic since last week -- at least in this household.

Now, let's see if it will post this entry.

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