Monday, December 31, 2007

Old Year, New Year 

The notion of a new year has long puzzled me. Time is continuous and demarcations are nothing more than conventions imposed by humans. We could as easily mark time from The Big Bang as we could from the Jewish, Chinese or Aztec calendars. But, we celebrate a New Year based on a calendar decreed by a Pope in 1582. Yet, more than ever there is no point in the change of year. Business is global, moving around the earth without ceasing. Communications are instantaneous, and presence within multiple time zones around the earth is an accepted part of daily living. Our concept of time has moved more closely to what it has been from the beginning -- unceasing movement of physical change in one direction.

Yet, we take days off. We have celebrations. We greet everyone with a hope for a good year coming. We don't question our assumptions: It is too much trouble to do so. So much of communication is bound by convention that we forget how irrational it is. But, so be it. May your coming year be peaceful and prosperous. Don't party too hard. It's back to work on Wednesday.

Friday, December 28, 2007

In Memoriam 

My father died early this morning. We got the phone call that had been coming for several days. Such calls come, it seems, at times like 12:30am, and one knows what it is before answering.

He lived a long life. Born in 1912, just six years after the first public plane flights, he was barely old enough to remember the end of World War I. He lived near Racine, Wisconsin until he was 11 and enjoyed the cold winters there. His father was bitten by the California bug that promised riches in the West, and the family moved to the Bay Area when Dad was 12.

Life was hardscrabble in California. There was no gold on the ground nor available jobs. His father bounced from one menial occupation to the next, scratching out a living for a growing family. When the Depression hit, life got worse. There wasn't much to eat or wear. My grandmother barely kept the family together. Dad won a football scholarship to college, the first of his family to go. He attended the University of Santa Clara, a Jesuit school, then in a rural location surrounded by orchards near San Jose. Today, it is in the heart of Silicon Valley. He gave up his football scholarship to take on another as the editor of the school paper. That came to an abrupt end when he wrote editorials in support of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Key Jesuits at the time where opposed to Roosevelt. Dad was dismissed from school and finished his education at University of California Berkeley. He worked at a steel mill shoveling scrap at night to pay his way through. He was rail-thin and strong then and unrecognizable from what he became decades later -- a portly fellow who greatly enjoyed eating. When Dad graduated in 1939, there will still no jobs in California. The state of California offered to hire these new university graduates into the bureaucratic corp. It was work. Dad took it and moved to Sacramento with my mother. He would stay with the state until 1970. My mother recalled their first house was a converted chicken coop. Dad went to work as a bookkeeper in the basement of a house in downtown Sacramento.

No one today would believe his stories about the California State bureaucracy in those days. The state was small and rural, and business was personal. If Dad had to deal with an Assemblyman, he walked from his office to the floor of the Capitol, transacted business and walked back. He told of Gov. Earl Warren playing with us children in the Capitol building. Sacramento was a sleepy town of canneries, railroads and state buildings.

When World War II came, Dad and Mom witnessed the internment of their Japanese friends in relocation camps away from the West Coast. He was angry and vocally opposed to this miscarriage of justice, and he never lost touch with victims of this episode. Dad was drafted into the Army and was scheduled to be sent to the Pacific theater when in training, a rifle blew up in his face. He never could see well, but he insisted this event, which earned him a discharge, actually improved his vision. That might have been one of his "taller stories." So, he stayed at home during the war and watched his family grow. Eventually, there would be 11 ragamuffins scurrying about and causing my mother no end of headaches. There were so many of us that the usual question in California back then was, "Catholic or Mormon?" For the record, we are Catholic.

Dad lived through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, the Iraq wars One and Two, the Afghanistan conflict. He saw the beginnings of air travel, the nuclear age, the Space Age, the computer age, the internet age. For the most part, he kept up with it all. He never did master e-mail, but he was quite old at the time. On the other hand, he enjoyed getting it, and he tried for awhile to respond until his hands would no longer work. He was a dedicated newspaper reader and wise about the ways of the world. Generally his predictions were accurate about what government would do. He was well-versed in the Constitutional documents and history of the United States. As a professor in later years (post-retirement from the state), he co-authored a book on government accounting. About all I remember from it is the definition of the term "Encumbrance."

Little that we do is remembered in the end. The broom of history sweeps memory clean in time but for a few stray facts that end up in textbooks to bedevil students.

Let this be my remembrance of him.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Country Reputation 

Companies have reputations: Countries do as well. How would you handle this kind of reputation? Being known as the capital of EBay fraud is not what a country would prefer. EBay to protect its own reputation has had to become involved with the country's police force.

With online, crooks can live anywhere and reach anywhere. Companies have no choice but to think globally about protecting themselves. Countries have little choice but to join in the fight lest they become political pariahs. That doesn't mean enforcement is or will be effective. Chances are that it will never be, and companies will need alternative means to protect themselves and customers. As in all matters of internet security, protection will evolve as crooks develop new techniques and approaches. The best that a company -- or country -- can hope for is a stalemate and eventual diminishment of activity because it becomes too expensive to pursue. Meanwhile, a company has to learn how to keep customers who have been defrauded and don't want it to happen again.

An interesting PR problem, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Best Laid Plans 

This is supposed to be the "happy season," but life intrudes on the best plans and intentions. The day before Christmas, a friend buried his mother. Last night, I was informed that a close relation could pass on anytime from five hours to five days. A few weeks ago, a colleague at work dropped dead on the way to the office one morning. These are useful reminders, especially to those caught up in planning and execution. There are events for which there are no answers. Implacable bosses may not accept excuses, but that doesn't change facts. The ability of good managers is to accept what comes and to move forward, but sometimes there is no possibility of movement.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas 

There was probably PR for some of this. I wonder how much of it found a place under a Christmas tree.

I won't be posting much this week -- or at all.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.

Friday, December 21, 2007

What Now? 

If accurate, this article raises an interesting problem . What does a candidate do when he or she becomes an issue for the wrong reasons? There are two candidates now in the race for president who have become media fodder because of backgrounds or affiliations. Both are dropping in the polls. In the ruthless spotlight of political campaigning, it is hard to influence journalists once they have turned on a person. This is true as well away from the campaign trail. Note the number of CEOs who haven't recovered once critical stories about them appear.

I had written earlier that it seemed a poor step to try to "humanize" a candidate who had already spent many hours meeting voters. It seemed then and now that the candidate had been over-programmed. On the other hand, maybe the candidate is at heart an overly controlled personality who distances people. Some candidates like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan had attractive personalities. Others like Jimmy Carter or the current president were less so. They all reached the highest office.

There is a luck in campaigning that goes beyond PR tactics. One can do everything right and lose or bumble and win. There is no particular reason for it although commentators work hard to find one. It is a useful reminder to PR practitioners that message and media control only extend so far. After that, individuals decide for themselves, and there is little one can do.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Obligatory Reading? 

If someone finds the full article for this, I would like to read it. The Sony disaster was more than a legal failure. It had a huge reputational fallout that took months for Sony to repair.

PR practitioners should analyze failures as well as successes to see what can be learned.

Transparency, Again 

This story reveals a number of truths about the internet age. Those who try to sway online dialogue can be found out, and when they are, the reputational damage is greater than the initial effort to bias discussion. The story also reveals a lack of sophistication on the part of campaign staffers who attempted to "game the system." Whatever one does, it shouldn't be from a known IP address.

The Clinton camp once again blamed "overeager" staffers. Perhaps so, but there is a question of how many overly enthusiastic volunteers one can tolerate before they wreck a campaign.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Consider that every one of these products and services were "exciting," "breakthroughs," "destined to change the way people live and work" -- and flops. It is past time to get rid of marketing speak in publicity. This occurred to me again yesterday when I read a press release that used "exciting" one time too often. What would happen if the word were banned from publicists' lexicons? Could they still complete a sentence?


This story is an example of why it is so difficult to bring any industry to a standard. The question is, "What's in it for me?" The answer has to be compelling to get anyone to move, and even if it is compelling, sometimes one can't people to change. There are several instances of inaction on standards occurring now. Take, for example, a consensus on measurement for online advertising. Or, take the high-density DVD disk war that has no end in sight and is holding back purchase of consumer products. Or, consider the now century-old effort to change America to the metric standard.

Think of the PR needed to effect a new standard. It would have to be multimedia, multi-message, multi-faceted communications in depth for years. Few are willing to take the challenge, so old ways continue until a time is reached, if ever, when there is no choice but to change. In the meantime, society lives with the inefficiency. It is maddening for rationalists.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Successful PR Campaign 

It is hard, really hard to get people to stop using water. But, here is a PR campaign that is apparently working. There are lessons in it for PR practitioners. Sometimes embarrassment works. Note that the other cities in the Los Angeles basin are trying to ration water as well and are not succeeding. Perhaps they should be emulating Long Beach.


This abstract points to an interesting time in American history when newspapers were opinionated, partisan rags without any semblance of objectivity. We forget today that the concept of a modern newspaper is little more than 100 years old. We talk about third-party credibility from journalists, but it didn't exist when they were paid off by publicity flacks, as they were when the modern PR business began. Persuasion was a few bucks in an envelope. The PR business "got religion" late and cannot hold its standards too high for others to admire.

The venality of the news business was such that I get impatient when I see people misinterpret the past. There was an editorial cartoon yesterday in the newspaper that showed the Federalist Papers and Thomas Paine as "Then" and a TV set with Oprah Winfrey as "Now." Nothing could be farther from the truth. The newspapers of "Then" were far worse than the most partisan press of "Now."

We may talk about unpaid persuasion in PR, but we should remember where we came from and never get too proud of our past.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lost the Battle? 

Hasn't one already lost a battle when that person has to prove he or she is likeable after meeting voters for months? What has that candidate been doing on the campaign trail? This seems to be another example of over-control on the political circuit. In an effort to apply messages exactly, a candidate turns into a robot who falls back on approved points for every question asked. One of the roles of good PR is to show the person beneath the shell. Political managers seem to forget that with messages of the week, themes of the day, quotes of the hour.

I've known CEOs who could never bring themselves to get off message, and they turned off the media over time. Every question brought the same message points again and again. The media went from annoyance to saying there was nothing new. Think how poorly this works on the campaign trail where a candidate is in front of the media 15 or more hours a day.

Make time for people to breathe and be themselves. Some will be clumsy, some polished, but all will be more human than the quote machines that modern campaigning has produced.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Try Again 

Last night at 6 pm, American Airlines cancelled our flight for this morning due to weather. I'm not so sure weather had much to do with it. The airlines cancel quickly these days for many reasons, including loads that are not big enough. So, a series of meetings that took weeks to put together will need to be rescheduled in the New Year.

It is useless to get upset about the inability of the US airline system to leave and arrive on time. The sad part of the broken system is there are technological solutions for most of the problems. Neither the airlines nor the Federal Aviation Administration have implemented them. We are now told that maybe by 2015 technologies that are ready today will be installed. In the meantime, US airlines will have earned their bad reputations many times over. I don't fly much anymore, and I try to avoid it. Each time I queue in a line at security, I'm tempted to moo like a cattle in a chute.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No Blogging Tomorrow 

Tomorrow is a long day on the road. There won't be much time for blogging.

Spam, Again 

This is a sad affirmation of Gresham's Law in communications, nor has legislation helped to stop the flow of spam. The amount of bad e-mail far exceeds the ability of any one person or even, group, to do much about it. What kind of PR campaign would it take to mobilize forces against spammers and to put an end to their abuse of the system? The cure would have to be both technological and cultural, especially since spammers hide within the system.


This is why one should always check the spelling of a name, even when sure of its spelling. I've made the mistake more than a few times, but I'm getting better as I get older.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Business Journalist 

This fellow's career traces the path of business journalism over the last 30 years from the back of the sports page to a major part of what media do. It has been an amazing change, but it also highlights how little reporters knew about business principles at the beginning. Note that he spends most of his time with his blog now.

Great PR Coup, Cont. 

Although it has been mentioned here before, this continues to be a great PR coup for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The rovers are working on Mars years beyond their planned life while NASA continues to struggle with manned space programs it prefers. In fact, the rovers have been in action for so long that they have largely fallen out of the news stream. There will be a memorial when they are finally shut down, but it looks as if they still have time to run. Other than the Hubble, which is approaching the end of its life, NASA must wish that its other deep space programs were as successful as this one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Overdoing a Gimmick 

A reminder that one can overdo a publicity gimmick as the dictionary business has done. It's time to think again about what to do to gain recognition.

Blogging From The Bottom Side 

This blog is dedicated to highlighting hypocrisy among celebrities, politicians and other well known individuals. It will probably do well because it digs for dirt. Just hope that any client of yours doesn't get into it. It's one more reminder that the internet is the most transparent medium invented by man. Someone is always watching somewhere.

Speaks For Itself 

No need to comment on this article.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Having spent a good part of yesterday making music (that is, when I was playing and singing on key), it reminded me again of how perfect a communications medium it is. The message is carried in form and sound and pitch and rhythm and the way a performer delivers it. We had the chance to hear a harpist who proved again that it is an angelic instrument. The rest of the instruments and even the percussionist (who dropped his triangle on the floor during a pianissimo section of singing) were wonderful to hear.

It is hard for me to decide whether making or listening to music is more fun. The older I get, the more I lean to performing. It teaches me the skill of musicians I've heard all my life. They are indeed people who live another language and understand its components. I'm amazed by organists who play with two hands on multiple keyboards and two feet at the same time. There cannot be a more difficult instrument to master, and they make it look easy. Sometimes I wish I could master writing as well as good musicians master their instruments.

Music is a reminder to PR practitioners that there are many ways to communicate, and we should use them all.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Bonehead Mistake 

How to sabotage your PR people and damage your reputation at the same time. And, this from a firm that should know better.

Good News 

This is good news and a first step to controlling spammers in the US. On the other hand, there is a long way to go to stop those who would badger the public with billions of useless or fraudulent e-mails. Spammers are the antithesis of what public relations should be. They don't relate to the public: They fool individuals. Their economic model is built on finding enough dupes each time they send millions of e-mails. They are counting on the unfortunate fact that there are always some who are desperate or dumb enough to believe their promises. In that regard, PR practitioners should study spammers as a negative example.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Security And Privacy 

An insightful but long blog entry on issues of security and privacy. Read the whole thing.


An interesting post on the nature of objectivity and trained judgement. It always seemed there was more than one definition of objectivity. "I am a camera" is too pat. However, anything more than recording what one experiences is considered trained judgement. Whatever happened to "the more one knows the more one sees?" It always seemed this too was a definition of objectivity, which is why PR practitioners should know issues thoroughly.

The challenge still remains to consider issues with as little bias as possible in order to understand them. From that, one builds a defense of clients because the foundation for argument is built on fact rather than opinion or spin. It is hard work, especially for clients who don't have a good story or may have engaged in unethical activity. Because PR practitioners work in the court of public opinion and not a court of law, they don't have an obligation to provide the best defense for a client, even if the client is lying. It is a moral and ethical decision whether to represent a client whom one knows is in the wrong but who won't admit it. I know I haven't had that choice yet in my career: I hope I never have it. Such clients tend to pay well because they know their position is desperate, but money isn't everything. To get a reputation as a "hired gun" who will say or do anything is a good way to wreck a career.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Privacy? People Control It 

To a privacy advocate, this is deeply intrusive into citizen's lives. To a student, it is a protection while walking late at night. The difference is the control that the student has over the GPS phone. The individual can choose to turn it on or not. Control is the central issue of privacy and not intrusive technology. It is a challenge for public relations going forward because privacy advocates won't stop their attacks on developing technology -- nor should they. They remind us that technology can be misused as easily as it is used properly for commercial and other purposes. That is why, for example, that Facebook stumbled so badly, and advertisers are abandoning its Beacon platform. Facebook chose to use an opt-out strategy to benefit its advertisers rather than an opt-in option to benefit its users. As a result, it lost both. Privacy starts with respect for the consumer's power of choice. We shouldn't forget that.

Web Site v. Web Site 

Have politics entered the silly season early? The leading candidates are now opening web site versus web site to counter each other on the campaign trail. One wonders if this is effective communication or done solely for the sake of the press announcement. Whatever the answer, it says something about the fundamental importance of the internet to campaigning.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Church Considers State 

It is always interesting when the church of journalism looks at itself on the publishing side where business decisions are made. Here is one example. It seems the "state" of publishing is as guilty of prevarication as PR practitioners are supposed to be. However, it is rare that journalism looks at itself. In the last two years, there were a number of circulation scandals involving US newspapers fudging their numbers. Newspapers dutifully reported it when it came to light, but there didn't seem to be an exposes of the dirty secrets of the newspaper industry.

It's natural not to talk about oneself. On the other hand, if one sets oneself up as a seeker of truth, it should be unavoidable.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Another Way To Anger Voters 

Here's another way to anger voters by hammering a message too hard.

How Not To Treat The Press 

Whether political candidates like journalists or not, they have to deal with them. They are the ones who follow a campaign from day to day, and they are the ones who set the tone for a campaign through their reporting. So, when a candidate treats reporters like this, one has to wonder what is going to happen to that candidate eventually in news stories. It seems Clinton's people are determined to control their message, so determined that they are ruining their candidate's spontaneity. On the other hand, the candidate herself may not understand that people want to see a person, not a quote machine.

Political handlers have been infected with the idea of controlling everything, and, as a result, have turned candidates into something less than human. Yes, it's important not to make mistakes on the campaign trail, but it is also important for voters to see and understand the person. Too much control is as dangerous as too little. The candidate herself should understand where the balance lies. If she doesn't, that in itself tells voters the kind of president she might make.

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