Friday, June 29, 2007

Word Power 

The force of one word - amnesty. Opponents of immigration reform were able to summarize the bill simply and negatively and send it to defeat. That is a lesson for us who work in communications. Slogans work for good and ill. The key is finding the right concept and word. In this case, they did it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Chest-beating Race 

There is a form of publicity as old as man. That form is chest beating. You have a rock. Well, I have a spear. You have a spear. Well, I have a bow and arrow. And so on. It's happening right now in the supercomputer business where IBM and Sun Microsystems are busily claiming that each is leapfrogging the other in computer speed. You have 500 teraflops. Well, I have a petaflop.

It's fun to see this kind of race when it benefits the human race. Unfortunately, some of these machines will be used to design nuclear weapons. Still, the amazing advance of computer power is a public relations plus for both companies.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Morning After 

One reason why PR practitioners should be careful about hype is the morning after when reality sets in. It is better to be understated rather than having to deal with issues such as this. The slump in the housing market parallels the slump in the stock market a few years ago. In both cases there was giddiness and excessive speculation, aided and abetted by shouts that there was a fortune to be made. Some did make fortunes: Most didn't. Many today are strapped with debt they can't pay. Those of us flogging the theme that owning a house is a superior form of investment are now forced to back peddle. Housing prices rise and fall like anything else.

This, of course, raises an issue for PR practitioners. What are we paid to do? Provide short-term advantage to clients or long-term positioning? The answer to that is yes and yes. In the political realm, there is only short-term advantage. One wins an election or goes home. In the corporate world, there is long-term positioning, but it too often is subverted by demands to sell today. That's unfortunate. "Business is a long time," as the saying goes. One should be looking at the horizon at the same time one is looking for the short-term opportunity for a client. When we fail to do this, we compromise the client and ourselves.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Free Speech Limits? 

Where does free speech end and speech control begin? The Supreme Court has been busy on both ends of this question, notably here and here. However, society has been busier in controlling speech, notably this case out of Oakland, Calif. The question is when does speech harm members of society and cannot be permitted. There is little argument in such things as advocacy of slavery and racism. There is plenty of argument over lifestyle choices, whether or not biologically determined. At issue is where to draw a line, if there is to be a line. Eventually the Supreme Court will step in, but it is a useful reminder that in multicultural societies, self-imposed limits on speech are prerequisites for getting along.

Birds of a Feather? 

If accurate, this research on social networking sites, MySpace and Facebook, reveals that teenagers self-select themselves by class and education. In other words, birds of a feather, flock together. This demographic information should be part of decision trees in selecting target audiences. It also reveals what we already knew. On the internet, people type themselves by interests and groupings. They are what they are in life. Of course, there are those who want to be something else. Sites like Second Life exist for them, but even here one wonders if characters created reflect the backgrounds of their makers. Perhaps that should be the next step in research.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hardly New 

This fellow seems to think he has found a new way to be an activist by blogging on the same topic several times until he rises in Google rankings. He must know something I don't. It seems to me his "trickle blogging" is hardly new. It is simply persistence on the same topic. That persistence makes him more visible to PR practitioners who monitor blogs. In other words, what he gains in visibility, he loses in anonymity. Practitioners know to watch for him and his views.

If there is something new about what he is advocating, please let me know. I'm missing his point.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Writing an essay on the next generation of the internet is a bit silly, but Internet Protocol version 6 will arrive next year in the US government to replace IPv4. IPv4 has been around since the early 1980s when no one envisioned today's internet. The requirements for IPv6 were completed 11 years ago but there was -- and is --no urgency to change from version 4. Pressure is mounting as the internet continues to explode in growth.

The problem is simple. The world is running out of internet numerical address numbers. These are the numbers computers use to identify a machine connected to the system. Think of a telephone number and you have the idea. IPv6 is a solution for that problem that will last for generations, but it also provides advantages to internet users. Unfortunately, full implementation of IPv6 is likely to take decades because the new system co-exists alongside the old. When IT managers get around to it, they'll shift from version 4 to version 6. Since it has taken 11 years already and few use IPv6 now, no one is looking for a rapid shift in the next five years. The only reason the US government is changing is that it was mandated.

However, given all that, for the few of you who will enjoy IPv6 starting next year, there are things you will be able to do with it that we can't do easily or as well today. Enjoy the advantages, and take it easy on the rest of us who are stuck in the past.

This, by the way, is the 65th essay posted on online-pr.com.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Great PR, cont. 

Two examples of great PR. The first focuses on the immigration question and produces evidence of the importance of immigrants to entrepreneurial tech companies. The second is a lengthy interview with the Stanford engineering team that is preparing a robot car for the latest DARPA competition.

Immigration reform is such a volatile issue that what is needed is a greater foundation of fact. The research from UC Berkeley and Duke provides it. DARPA initiated the robot car challenge several years ago not only to advance science but to have some fun and generate interest while doing it. DARPA's challenges have generated tens of millions of free publicity for the government agency and for organizations that have participated.

Great PR moves issues forward. It doesn't obfuscate or "spin." One hopes that PR practitioners might have been behind either one of these examples.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hype and Reality 

Three years ago, many cities were talking about their own municipal WiFi systems and the great advantages of putting them in. Look at the reality of what happened. The cities were victims of their own hype. Now that the fad is passing, they realize it costs money that they don't have or won't appropriate. They might have spun their ideas less in public had they thought about that in the first place.


Since face-to-face communication is still the strongest medium, what this lab is doing is interesting. Be sure to try the face averaging demo. The results are almost always appealing.

Lawyers Will Never Learn 

Another reason why practicing lawyers never make good PR practitioners. The advice, by the way, is worth reading and not damaging to Dell.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Going Too Far 

Here is an example of publicity agencies for actors and actresses going too far. It's dumb to attempt to restrict media discussions with a contract, and it's arrogant. The media rightly rejected the effort but not before embarrassing the actress. Some Hollywood publicity agencies have been overbearing for too long. They need a comeuppance.


This article demonstrates how potential embarrassments linger for nearly any organization in its documents. I'm sure Arabs are not happy with the Pentagon's depiction of them, nor is the Pentagon happy that an old guidebook made it into the media.

Monday, June 18, 2007


There is a reason why I've found military public affairs officers to be skilled. The reason is in incidents like this. They deal with more tragedy than the rest of us. Military life is inherently dangerous, and there are more occasions for failures as happened here. Military PAOs learn crisis communications early, and the skill stays with them throughout their careers.

I've worked with ex-military officers several times in my career. Only once was I leery of the decisions one made and that was long ago. The rest of the time I've marvelled at the efficiency and ability of the individuals with whom I've worked. I've also admired the kinds of backgrounds they've brought to their jobs. Not one I knew had been lost in the Pentagon. All had spent time in the field handling plane accidents, working with major commands and dealing with major news.

There is little that one can say when a bomb kills children. It was an accident, but tell that to the parents and the community. One matures quickly in communications jobs like this. It's tough training, but it makes a difference.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Washington Gets It 

Washington politicians understand who is a journalist. Members of the traditional media might not like it, but the politicians get it.


I missed this earlier this month. It's a memo from the Associated Press about checking back on what governments and others say they are going to do. Internet aside, where one's words live forever, news organizations are looking at what was done and not what was said.

Those who believe in spin, take note. One task of bloggers has been to dredge words from the past and compare them to the present. Now, large news organizations are doing it. From a PR perspective, this is positive. PR has always been about what one does.

There is no need to pity politicians. They deserve to be checked: They spend too much time spinning.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bloggers Can Be Brutal 

This fellow has learned that lesson. One might say he deserves what he is getting.

It is a warning to the rest of us. Vigilantism is alive and well on the internet.

Let This Be A Lesson To Me 

This report is a lesson to me -- one I knew but forgot out of laziness. It reports that "only 3.6 percent of the No. 1 ranked non-sponsored search results were the same across all search engines for a given query, down from 7.0 percent in the July 2005 overlap study." In other words, use two search engines and get two results. In the early days of the internet, I used to pound this lesson home to readers, but along came Google and I got lazy. Google was good enough for much of what I was doing, so I began to use one search engine more often and then, always. Well, I'm back to using two search engines again with a red-tinged face.

It's not that I didn't have access to multiple search engines. Online-pr.com has 94 of them listed because I knew when I started the site 10 years ago that one had to look in multiple locations. I've always had the right solution. I chose the convenient path. So, it's back to what I was doing and should have kept doing all along.

I hope no one followed my bad example.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Looking Stupid 

It is a tenet of political campaigning to tailor messages for audience segments. A candidate was usually safe in saying things to one group that the candidate might not wish to have heard by another. The internet put an end to that some time ago. Now, anything a candidate says can be used against that candidate on YouTube or in a blog. Here are a couple of examples just from the past week. This is from an e-mail in which the Edwards campaign misspelled the names of famous Americans. This is an appeal from Rudy Giuliani to conservative Jewish voters. There will be more such discoveries before the campaign season is over.

The internet has enforced a degree of transparency in campaigning that had not been there before. That's good and bad. Candidates cannot afford slip-ups now. Someone from the opposition will pounce. That means they need to be conservative about what they say to discrete audiences. On the other hand, it also means candidates are now so pre-packaged one can rarely get a real insight into who they are. The result is that candidates appear to be phony when their intent is to protect themselves from themselves.

It is a rare candidate who can make multiple slip-ups and not lose momentum. Obama recently did it with erroneous statements he acknowledged were wrong. But, it was early and few voters were listening. Later, it will deadly.

Part of the trial of campaigning is to catch candidates in off-the-cuff moments where voters can get a sense of individuals beneath their shells. But, transparency oddly has made the shell thicker. With obsessively controlled communications, we know less about candidates than before. In that sense, transparency is not always a benefit.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Howling Chorus 

The impact of bloggers is the point of this story. Letter writers supporting Scooter Libby didn't want the judge to release their letters publicly because they were afraid of mockery from bloggers. Sure enough, their letters were published, and they were mocked. That's the First Amendment in action and the power of the written word. Free Speech stings. Get used to it.

Not This Time Either 

The idea of videoconferencing has been around for nearly 50 years. Despite promises, it has never replaced business travel -- being there face to face with other people. Once again, video conferencing is promising to replace travel with its new High Definition "telepresence." Maybe this time it will. I'm skeptical. There is more to business travel than meetings. Much of what is important doesn't take place in a formal meeting. It takes place in hallways outside of the meeting. Also, meetings don't provide a sense of place and environment that give one clues to the context from which others are speaking.

So, there is an illusion with "telepresence" that one is in the room with others. That illusion fulfills only partly the need all parties have to get a sense of the other. "Telepresence" will substitute for some meetings but not all of them. Business travel will continue.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More Stuff 

I complained last week about PR agencies sending trinkets to reporters. Look at what doctors get.

Cost of Campaigns 

Here and here are the costs of campaigning for Democratic runners for the presidency. Anyone who is not a dedicated fund raiser need not apply. Note that communications are less than half of the totals for the first quarter. Salaries, supplies and travel ate the rest. Considering that there is still a year and a half to go before the election and communications will become a major expense later, the cost of campaigning is stunning. One would like to believe anyone can become president. The reality is different. There is a vast and expensive public relations challenge for any candidate to make messages heard across 50 states. It is little wonder then that political campaigners are willing to try anything to reach constituencies and are among the first to adopt new media.

One has to wonder, given the rigors of the presidency, whether it is worth the effort.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Past Time to Stop 

This article is annoying. The writer points to the longstanding habit of PR firms of sending stuff to newsrooms to get reporters to notice their stories. One would think PR practitioners had stopped such behavior long ago. They haven't. Trinkets and swag hardly make a difference between coverage and lack of it. Reporters aren't swayed. So, why do practitioners continue such boneheaded practice? It's beyond me.

I understand inclusion of an illustrative item that explains a story. I don't understand the kinds of things mentioned in this article. Yet, practitioners feel compelled to send crap. I can only surmise that: 1. They don't have confidence in stories they are publicizing. 2. They don't understand their information enough to find news angles in their "news." 3. There isn't any news, but they feel compelled to keep a client happy. Whatever the reason, it shows PR hasn't grown up.

We can demand respect for PR, but when we continue to act like hucksters we get the respect we deserve. The hard work of our business is understanding stories that we merchandise and finding news angles in them. The harder work is counseling clients forthrightly when there isn't a story and working with the client to find one. Instead, too many of us rely on stuff and hype. No wonder reporters are cynical about PR. They have a right to be.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


One of the great gifts of the internet to the earth is openness -- or was, rather. If Amnesty International is reporting the case correctly, more governments are placing restrictions on the internet and free speech. It is no longer China attempting to regulate the voice of its people.

Public relations thrives in a free speech environment, and it is worrisome that governments are beginning to rein in the medium. We used to think it was impossible to control the internet. Various governments are proving this view to be naive. They are arresting internet users and shutting down nodes. It won't get any better as the next generation of the internet is installed -- IPv6. That version will provide a unique address to every device on earth that exists today or will exist for decades to come. Governments will be able to trace the exact source of speech they don't like. Some contend this is why China is building an IPv6 network now for the country.

PR has always had a role in defending free speech. We should be concerned about the Amnesty International report, and we should be alert.

Ah, Hypocrisy 

One gets a "warm, fuzzy feeling" about a company when reading about incidents like this. If true, Microsoft gives an award to a fellow for his improvements to Microsoft software then turns around and threatens to sue him for doing it. "We love you but don't do it again." Something like that. It's a recipe for PR disaster and low credibility. And, it looks like Microsoft is getting both in online media.

How do these things happen? Microsoft knows better -- or should.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


As a PR practitioner, I'm supposed to be interested in trends, but things like this baffle me. There doesn't seem to be much in Google's hot trends based on search volume.

So there was a spike in a certain term at a certain hour? What does that mean, if anything, other than potential coincidence? Even if there is a manifest explanation for the surge, what significance does it have to the larger world? Look through the top 100 search terms, and there doesn't appear to be much reason for most of them. Counting search terms appears to be an interesting but pointless exercise. The underlying information that Google supplies for each term is as pointless as the search ranking itself. PR practitioners need more than this to understand what is happening in society. Google Trends is a start, but not a good one, toward a potential solution. Part of the problem is that with billions of searches a day, there isn't much likelihood that a majority of them will concentrate about any topic.

Perhaps that is the lesson. There aren't that many trends. Individual interests are too disparate. If so, that is valuable enough for those who continue to think about audiences rather than individuals.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


For its 10th anniversary, online-pr.com is getting a scrubbing. I am clicking through every link on the site to evaluate what to keep. So far, 200 to 300 links have disappeared and less than 50 new links have been added. Outdated information has been removed.

There is a question in my mind whether online-pr.com has a purpose as a collection of research and reference links with search engines like Google. So far, it appears to have daily utility but that will decline as search engines get even better in years to come. There will be a day when the site has no further merit and deserves to be retired. Whether that is before its 15th or 20th anniversary or earlier, I don't know.

One thing running the site has taught me is how dynamic the web is and the need for constant updating. Reference sites blink into and out of existence or move with great speed. Even though I have used a software-based link checker since the beginning, it is inadequate to tell how content on a site has changed. For that, the only expedient is looking. With 2000+ links that is not a task one undertakes regularly.

Right now, I'm comfortable that most of the links on the site are useful information resources for PR practitioners. There are probably another 100 or so that should disappear. I'll get to them soon, I hope, then it will be a matter of starting again. Running a web site is like painting a bridge. One is never finished. Those who think of web sites as brochures where one deposits information for years at a time use but a fraction of the web's capabilities.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Would you believe the assurances of this man to the Wall Street Journal? Should Rupert Murdoch buy the company from the founding family, everyone believes there will be changes. The question is how much he will change editorial content to his own vision of what a newspaper should be. There is evidence that his view of the world and the Journal's don't coincide in some areas, particularly in reporting on China.

But, it is important to remember that the history of journalism in the US is one of individual voices more than "objective" reporting. That was true of Horace Greeley, Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, Colonel Robert McCormick and others. The difference today is that individual voices are counterbalanced by an enormous news flow from around the world on the internet. So, even if Murdoch decides the Journal will change, readers have alternatives. Murdoch knows that. My guess is changes would come slowly with a focus first on profitability. This, however, may impact directly Dow Jones' coverage of business around the globe. News bureaus have been shrinking in US newspapers. There is little reason to believe they wouldn't shrink at the Journal.

What does this mean to PR? The editorial independence that we rely on is becoming more difficult to access. There are already companies of a billion dollars or less that rarely get news coverage. While this isn't new, it is becoming more of a challenge to PR practitioners. We have been driven to alternate -- and perhaps, less desirable -- media because that is the best we can achieve. There are many good stories that aren't being told to a general business readership through traditional media already. There will be more.

Friday, June 01, 2007


PR practitioners learn early that one can never assume. Just because someone is smart intellectually, there is no guarantee they are equally smart about communications. In fact, they can be dumb beyond belief. Here is a case where a doctor compromised his trial because he was blogging about it. The plaintiff's attorney figured that out and the case came to a crashing close. Common sense would tell one not to do something like that, but there are those at all levels of organizations who lack common sense.

Whether we like it or not, vigilance is part of PR's mission. The idea that every organization can be transparent is not correct. There are those for whom transparency becomes a significant danger to corporate reputation. They may be earnest people but they don't understand the limits under which they write. They cannot discipline themselves. It is PR's role to let such persons know that if they blog, they should avoid work-related topics, and if they violate the rule, they risk their jobs.

Admittedly the case of the doctor is extreme but so was the outcome. There are some issues one shouldn't blog. Maybe the doctor understands that now.

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