Tuesday, July 31, 2007


One of the peculiarities of modern life is that we shield ourselves from unpleasantness that makes life possible. We don't want to know what goes into the making of products we buy shrink-wrapped in stores. Perhaps the least pleasant case of ignorance is what happens in a slaughterhouse. That is the subject of this documentary from the BBC. Even the opening is sickening to anyone who would rather not think about where bacon comes from. On the other hand, those few of us who grew up on farms are not particularly surprised by what is filmed here. We saw it ourselves, although it was usually one cow or hog at a time rather than an assembly line of carcasses. Large meat packers have rarely, if ever, talked about their processes. One wonders if they could without loss of reputation and business. PR cannot help much by relaying the facts. They are too raw and elemental.


How do you do PR for a family-dominated company when the family is feuding? The PR practitioners at Viacom are finding out. It is an interesting case, and one that someday should be written. It is clear that the father is hanging on well past his prime and eliminating anyone who might be a threat to his dominance. It can't be much fun drafting press releases for the latest twist and turn in this case.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pay for Play 

An amusing bash of pay-for-play on airlines. This is why I don't like these seedy attempts to pass off interviews as journalism or near-journalism. There are PR practitioners who defend such approaches and use them. We try to avoid them.

There might special occasions in which a practitioner would look to paid interviews, but I can't think of one at the moment. Using paid interviews regularly is laziness or lack of creativity.

Note too that the producer spammed dozens of people to find one who was willing to pay for the privilege of appearing on the show. If it were an honor, there wouldn't be such hard work to get someone to pay for it. As for the conclusion that there will be more pay-for-play in the future, PR practitioners especially should oppose it. We should be against it not because it will cost clients more but because it destroys credibility, the impartial editorial vetting of concepts, products and services. We're not in the infomercial business. Or, if we are, someone failed to tell me that when I entered this business decades ago. We're in the unpaid persuasion business.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Power of the Mind 

PR cannot persuade a convinced mind. If someone holds a concept absolutely, no evidence will change the individual's belief. Interestingly, that was the conclusion of this study on the effects of cell phone microwaves on health. Even though the study showed that individuals could not tell when the tower was actually transmitting versus when it was not, there were those who suffered "real symptoms" from non-existing microwaves. The power of their belief made them sick.

There are other cases in modern life where belief causes symptoms. There is a belief that power lines cause tumors. There are those who react badly to smells, even though there is an infinitesimal presence of organic chemicals in them. These individuals have banded together in the past to stop services such as electrical delivery or to halt the use of perfume because of its effect on them. They have symptoms but they reject outright that it might be in their heads. When the science on the topic is ambiguous, they can gain powerful political support and change or make law that in retrospect should have been left alone. We aren't Spocks. Persuasion deals with the whole man -- emotion and reason. There are times when emotion triumphs reason, and persuasion must answer in kind.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Self Destruction 

It's interesting and instructive to watch an individual destroy his reputation in public. This fellow became the hero of the "little guy" through his heavy-handed investigations of Wall Street. He then rode his reputation to the Governor's job in New York. His same take-no-prisoners approach has nearly ruined his administration in just the short time he has been in office. Now, he and his aides are being investigated for using the state police to smear an opponent. For what it is worth, the financial community howled about the unfair methods he used when he was the state attorney general, but no one paid attention then. They are now.

Bad News and Reputation 

How much bad news can a sport handle and still remain a popular event? The Tour de France is finding out. Its reputation and the reputations of its riders are deeply scarred. One has to wonder if its athletes were cheating all the way along in order to endure the rigors of the race.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


There are business events that are so predictable anyone can see them coming. This is one. The housing bubble was like the stock market bubble in the late 90's. It took no skill to see it was happening but there was a great deal of denial of the obvious. I have to wonder how many PR practitioners were out there flacking home ownership in the subprime market when they should have known better. There had to be more than a few, and they will hide behind the excuse that they were following orders. But, it seems to me in PR following orders is not enough. One needs to survey the environment constantly and to feed back what one sees to internal audiences. The housing frenzy was there for anyone to view. Flippers were running amok. Mortgage money was flowing like flood water without dams of proper credit analysis. Greed was everywhere. Did PR practitioners put blinders on? I'm sure more than a few did. Their employers were supposed to make credit decisions. The practitioners were just there to communicate.

10-Year Overnight Success 

Our agency worked on announcing this product 10 years ago. The Federal Aviation Administration is now getting around to putting it in. I wonder if that qualifies as a publicity success.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Popular Art and Publicity 

I was going to refrain on commenting on the new and final Harry Potter novel because the publicity for it was so obvious and widespread. It struck me, however, since I had just finished a biography of Charles Dickens, of how close a parallel there is between Harry Potter and Dicken's first novel -- Pickwick Papers. Both authors touched a popular feeling that resulted in an upwelling of publicity worldwide -- J.K. Rowling even more so than Dickens.

I happen to think that Rowling has created popular art just as Dickens did, and children and adults will be reading Harry Potter for decades to come. It is not often this happens. Rowling is correct when she says it is unlikely she will ever write another book as popular as the series she just finished. Dickens, on the other hand, wrote several books that were as popular, or more so, than Pickwick Papers. He mastered the craft of popular fiction and enduring stories.

Because it is a rare event to see literature generate so much excitement, it is worth noting that it is the content of the novel that creates the excitement more than the publicity behind it. Children like Harry, Hermione and Ron. They turn pages rapidly to learn of their adventures. They sit for hours lost in muggles, owls and wizards. My daughter, for example, has barely let the latest book go since she picked it up last Friday. She's just about done with it (then I get to read it.)

Art doesn't have to be aloof from the public. That is a fiction of artists who fail to command popularity for their work. It is pleasant to think that in future years, one of the take-home reading assignments for young readers will be a Harry Potter novel.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Dubai is touting that it is building the tallest building on earth. It was Taiwan a short time ago that claimed the tallest building and before that, Kuala Lumpur. It's all pretty silly, but lest we forget, the US engaged in that race for years with the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower and former World Trade Towers. There is publicity value in making such claims, if not much practicality. We know now in the US that the higher one resides in a building, the less chance of getting out of the building.

What is it that drives men to build tall towers? It is hubris but also a visible demonstration of power. It states that "I CAN do this." Countries like this kind of statement because it says to the world that they have arrived as commercial powers. A country has to have stability and commercial potential to keep such towers occupied and profitable.

It is interesting that there doesn't seem to be a desire in the US to engage in the edifice race any longer. The destruction of the World Trade Towers is still too raw in memory. Besides, Americans seemed to have matured enough to realize that maintaining tall towers is a huge task in itself, and there isn't much need for them. The new publicity tool now appears to be the "green" building that powers, heats and cools itself. That is a record worth pursuing.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Global Warming? 

News like this makes one wonder about the effects of man-made global warming. There weren't many humans around when this occurred.

Good PR 

It might be that this politician was angry. It might be that this politician was playing to his constituents. It is likely there was a bit of both motives in his intemperate letter sent to someone arrested for selling drugs in his ward. Whatever his basis for ill temper, there is a question of the PR value of what he did. Should one in power send missives like this?

Long ago, President Harry Truman made national headlines when he wrote a letter that scalded a music critic who had mocked his daughter's singing. A proud Papa wasn't about to let anyone criticize his child.

There is a time to express anger, but it seems to me even anger should be controlled in writing. One never knows where a letter will show up, especially in the age of the internet. The Cleveland Councilman doesn't come off well on The Smoking Gun. Truman didn't come off well in newspaper columns.

Express unhappiness carefully.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Normally I dislike meetings. I detest long meetings where everyone sits and listens to one then another person bloviating. But, there is a meeting where this is essential -- and tolerable. That is when an entity is coalition building. There is a reason to listen to each person because one is trying to gain his or her participation in a venture. The Constitutional Congress, for example, was such a meeting. Issue after issue was raised then hammered until a document was written that expressed the consensus that was reached.

I experienced such a meeting yesterday -- seven hours of it. It was interesting to watch the parties in the room meld differences into a unified view of how a project should go forward. Yes, discussions would derail for awhile and get off the point, but slowly and surely participants worked to a unified view of what needed to be done. It was worth the hours spent to see the outcome. That written, I'm going to avoid meetings for a few days to decompress. One long meeting every few months is about all I can handle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Jeopardizing An Annuity 

When a company has a monopoly, its worst enemy is itself. This might be the case with Microsoft and its operating systems -- or, at least its newest operating system, Vista. The start-up problems with the software are such that people are going out of their way to avoid it until the first "fix" is issued.

It is to Microsoft's advantage that operating systems are annuities for the company -- guaranteed cash flow -- once the system is introduced because everybody, except a minority of Apple and Linux users, are stuck with what Microsoft provides. One wonders, however, how long a company can get away with this. No competitor has proved viable so far, but nevertheless, Microsoft has subtracted from its reputation with this bloated code that doesn't do what the company wanted it to do. The situation says something about Microsoft and its competitors -- none of it good.

The Perils of Old Media 

This is interesting. Old media in Silicon Valley are gasping for air. New media and bloggers are enjoying fast growth. While I don't think this will be the case for all industries and business media, it is a warning to the few who might think that magazines and newspapers like Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal will never disappear in printed format.

Digital Biographer 

A new form of PR -- the digital biographer?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


There has been so much written about Twitter lately as a new social networking paradigm that I looked into it. This is the result. The verdict is mixed. There is something to Twitter but not under its present guise.

As usual, I look forward to any comments you have about the essay.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Old Tech 

I had the opportunity this past weekend to visit the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD. It is an amazing place and testimony to what happens to old technology. The museum, of course, is filled with steam engines of every kind imaginable -- old (150 years) and relatively new (50 years ago). All are silent and many are rusting. The companies that made these machines are long gone. This site was the birth of American railroads and now is the tomb of much of it. Walking among the silent engines and old cars, one is reminded that the ability to adapt is essential to everything we do. Even though we have developed a body of skills, that is not enough of a reason for companies to employ us or citizens to use us.

Friday, July 13, 2007

An Entrepreneur's Mistake 

This story is all over the news, but it is worth citing here as a example of dumb communications. In all the years I've worked in PR, I've witnessed only one other case in which a CEO got onto a bulletin board to talk to stock traders. That CEO did it, however, under his own name. Interestingly, he was an entrepreneur too.

Because of this mistake, there is a good chance this CEO won't get the merger that he is looking to achieve, and his board might relieve him of his duties. Corporate governance experts and activists are calling for him to resign or be kicked out.

It's not worth commenting on the PR disaster this CEO has caused for his company. It's obvious. Even if the company had not been public, revelation of what the CEO was doing would not be good for the business.

Doesn't Help 

The PR business isn't helped much with stories like this.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A PR Failure 

As many readers know, the mayor of New York City has proposed a tariff for vehicles during the day to lower congestion on Manhattan Island. The plan is nearly identical to the one London put in to achieve the same effect. It is a plan that economists say makes sense. It generates revenue for maintenance and other transportation projects. There is plenty that is good about the plan except for one small item. It is dead on arrival in the state capital, Albany. There, legislators have run away from the plan and there is no mystery why. Drivers are howling.

So, the mayor is touting the plan as a rational solution to a chronic problem -- a good PR approach. The legislators, however, were hearing directly from citizens -- a fundamental public relations task. In the resulting collision, citizen drivers won.

What is the mayor going to do now? The legislature is going to throw him a sop -- a committee to study the problem. In political terms, that is a death sentence, but from a publicity point of view, it sounds good. The mayor says he will go do Albany to negotiate a deal. It's hard to think what a deal might be.

The mayor's idea was good, if not original, but it is a PR failure. As PR practitioners know, rational approaches are not always the answer.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

YouTube PR 

Mainstream media have written at length about the use of YouTube videos in the current presidential campaign. This article looks at the claims and comes up with a different conclusion. That conclusion is use of YouTube for PR is overrated in most campaigns to date. Most video clips are talking heads and boring. Viewership is low. The article speculates that use of YouTube will improve as the election cycle continues, but it has a long way to go today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Not Listening? 

President Bush has placed himself in a precarious position with his commitment to the war in Iraq. He steadfastly supports pacification of the country in spite of a growing chorus of critics at home, especially critics in his own party. This raises questions for communicators and politicians. When does one listen and when does one march forward and ignore criticism? There are examples of leadership in both instances in which leaders have emerged brilliantly and failed spectacularly. There was no way to know in advance which outcome would prevail. It is leadership in a time of great risk.

One great danger that Bush faces is that he listens only to himself because of his conviction about what he is doing. Some leaders have been successful by isolating themselves but as many --and perhaps, more -- have failed. Bush has at least this much going for him. He doesn't have to worry about public support. He has lost most of the support he once had. He is acting now with the power of the Presidency and largely on his own.

It will take years to learn whether the course Bush is taking is the right one or flawed. Bush, however, doesn't have years, nor does his party. If I were a Republican communicator, I would be deeply worried.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Google PR for PR 

Here is a lovely way to be nice to a Senator while boosting your company at the same time. Write about a US Senator's use of Google mapping to publicize his state. Everybody wins.

Big Plane, Big PR 

You can do this for a product as large and as expensive as a new commercial airliner. Most of us will rarely experience PR events on such a scale.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Response to the Paper 

My colleague, Peter Shinbach, had this response to the paper on Internet Mobs that was posted here earlier this week.

I don't think you went far enough after stating, "Thus, practitioners have little choice but to stop a mob fast,-..." Specifically, I'm thinking of the bike lock issue ... An ad hoc Internet mob sprung up to castigate the lock's maker which, not unexpectedly, was mute on the issue. Eventually, one of the PR bloggers thought to contact the lock maker's PR person who said they were aware of the criticism being heaped on them but, as a corporation, it took a while for them to assess the problem, determine the options to address the problem, select the best option to implement, announce their decision and finally to implement the solution. All of this took time..... time during which the mob continued to run amuck and during which the bike lock maker lost business. Yes, this isn't a situation limited to PR. It's germain to the corporate mindset of conservative evaluation, study and execution: a mindset that is anathema to Internet mobs.

Pete is right, of course. It is a corporate issue of the highest priority, but it is also one in which PR should take the lead in spotting the formation of a mob and responding to the mob quickly before it gets out of control as it did in the Kryptonite lock case.

Update: Peter responded again with a comment on the posting above:

Taking the lead in spotting the formation of a mob smacks of
traditional, reactive PR (i.e., it won't get you to the proverbial
"table."). Furthermore, identifying the existence of the newly
formed mob still leaves the corporation with all those steps
Kryptonite went through before belatedly responding to the situation.
Wouldn't it be better for PR to take the lead in developing a means
to (1) identify the formation of the mob as it's forming, (2)
determining the potential threat that mob poses and (most
importantly) swiftly respond to the threatening mob? Just as PR
doesn't wait until the crisis to figure out how to respond, it
shouldn't wait until an Internet mob is pounding down the gates
before calling an interdepartmental meeting to figure out what to
do. It should already have the plan in place and be ready to execute
that plan.

I agree with these points but, it seems to me, they are implied in the paper. On the other hand, they should have been explicit.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Internet Mobs 

Barely a day goes by without mob action on the internet. By that, I mean a group of individuals unite online to discuss, criticize, champion, investigate or otherwise work together. Some mobs are evanescent. They form, act, then disappear. Some mobs are enduring with a structure and mission. This paper looks at the group behavior of internet mobs and suggests how one might approach communicating to them.

As usual, let me know if there is anything amiss with the paper, which is the 66th on online-pr.com.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy 4th 

Happy 4th of July to those of you who celebrate it. Of course, the Declaration of Independence was used for publicity after its signing, having been read from the pulpits of churches throughout the Colonies. The founders of the US knew a great deal about public relations. They also knew that once they started what they said they were going to do, they had to do it. There, they fell down with a weak Continental Congress that could not supply nor feed troops well and left Washington in difficult positions more often than not. It was that experience that taught Alexander Hamilton, among others, the need for Federalism and the Constitution we have today. With the bitter debate and charges and counter-charges in Washington, DC these days, it is worth standing back to remember how we got here and where we should be going.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

CEO Suckers 

This has little to do with PR but it is interesting nonetheless. Spammers have figured out that a prime target for their misdeeds are executives of companies. They are targeting them with exactly addressed and plausible e-mails that contain code, which allows the spammer to take over the executive's computer. There is one lesson in what they are doing. They are tailoring their e-mails carefully to the occupation and interests of the executive. Of course, that is exactly what we are supposed to do when we approach media. It hurts when the "bad guys" know our jobs better than we do.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Something to Watch For 

This article on "negative search engine optimization" is another warning that anything used positively can also be used negatively. In this case, there is a move to use search terms to sabotage web sites. Note that the article says it is sometimes used for reputation management.

My colleague, Peter Shinbach, sent me this last night in relation to the new movie "Sicko." An account planner at Google is suggesting that health companies buy keywords to offset the impact of the movie.

This isn't new, but it is evolving. It is unclear how effective it is at the moment. I suspect that effectiveness varies by topic. For example, if one looks on Google for "Clinton," an advertisement for "McCain" pops up. (I just tried it and it did.)

Reputation management is getting more complex than ever.

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