Thursday, January 31, 2008

Good Idea 

The ad-supported and word-of-mouth strategy these sites are using to distribute music is one of the few good ideas I've seen in the music business. The industry has been unable to adapt to the internet. It has been using a stick rather than a carrot to force listeners to obey rules, and, of course, they won't. PR practitioners can learn a lot from examining this case of how not to treat your public. On the other hand, music swapping grew so quickly that the industry never had a chance to adapt even if it had wanted to, which it didn't.

Cautionary Tale 

From the first day in journalism or PR, one is told to check facts always. This story is a cautionary tale of why it is important to check repeatedly. The newspaper was embarrassed, and it should have been for forgetting a basic rule. On the other hand, I'm not sure I would have handled the story differently. I tend to pull client information from the computer and send it to reporters. I know in back of my mind that something could have changed since the last time I sent the material, but I'm in a hurry. I suspect the editor on the San Antonio Express-News was thinking the same way. Let this be a reminder to take the time to check again.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Friends In The Right Places 

It is good to have friends in the right places. Most countries give certain businesses a favored status, whether or not it helps the businesses in the long run. There is a question whether governments should interfere with the economy in this way, but they do and they aren't likely to change. Try to take a subsidy from a farmer. The net result, unfortunately, is that some sectors of the economy become dependent on government help and feel unable to continue without it. From an economic and PR perspective, that is not a good result. It is hard to justify that "the government owes me a living."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sorry About That 

I just learned that my entry today was posted three times. (I've deleted the other two.) It explains a curious situation this morning. Blogger kept giving me an error notice when I went to publish. I tried three times and got three error notices. Apparently it published the entry each time. I'm hoping this glitch has gone away, but if not, please be patient.

Missing An Opportunity? 

This is a curious article about Senator Obama's neglect of journalists on the campaign trail. His campaign leader insists that by ignoring journalists, he is trying to avoid "spinning" them. On the other hand, Senator McCain, whom the candidate wants to emulate, talks to the media constantly both on and off the record and insists that he wants "a politics that's not based on PR and spin but is based on straight talk." Let's see. Talking to the media is to spin the media and engage in PR. Not talking to the media is to be forthright and honest unless one is Senator McCain who can talk to the media at any time.

As a PR practitioner, I should be insulted that even Senator McCain has dispatched what I do as twisting truth. On the other hand, PR as practiced in Washington, DC is too often just that. It seems to me Senator McCain is using PR in the way it should be done, but he doesn't see it that way.

I'm glad I don't work in Washington.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Interesting Idea -- If It Works 

This site is an interesting idea in localizing news online. It is one PR practitioners should watch as it develops. The concept is to collect all news about a location down to the zip code and block level and make it available online. One can see possibilities immediately. Unfortunately, when I tested it, the information wasn't complete or valuable. Perhaps it will improve in time.

Online allows such global localization, but it requires a broad range of underlying data resources in order to pull off. That seems to where the site is still building out.

How To Ruin Credibility 

This story is from last week, but it is a classic in how to ruin one's credibility in argument. The method is simple and powerful: Give Congress incorrect data. Legislators are "highly amused" when they have been misled. In this case, the one who made the error is an ex-Congressman himself who knows better. He was sandbagged by a research agency retained by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). There isn't much one can do when this happens except to admit the error which the MPAA did. But, one can easily imagine how MPAA president and chairman Dan Glickman felt -- and reacted.

If there is a lesson here, it would be that such mistakes can happen even to the best lobbyists. But, they had better happen only once.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

On the Road 

I'll be out tomorrow and won't be posting.

Pet Peeve 

This article is interesting because it discusses a pet peeve -- actors who fail to make themselves heard on stage. While the author says it is as much our fault for failing to listen, I beg to differ. My hearing isn't the best, but time and again, I have witnessed actors swallow words. The beauty of Shakespeare's verse is lost in a muddled rumble or rushed through such that one cannot grasp it.

The first rule of speaking is to be heard. That is true for everyone. With amplification we have lost the art of projecting from the diaphragm, of enunciating correctly and focusing sound so that it carries. Yet, there is still a need to know this. It is interesting that in colleges and universities, professors focus on the craft of writing but rarely on the art of delivery. They go together as the Greeks and Romans knew. It is time to go back to the future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Over at Last? 

This story marks what might be the end of a PR battle among electronic companies over which new DVD format to choose. It was an interesting fight to watch. Essentially, it stopped development of DVD players for more than two years while each side dug in its heels. Consumers did the right thing. They waited until the industry participants could sort themselves out. From a PR perspective, it did no one any good, but at least it looks as if the war is finally over.

Should Have Used This Example 

When I wrote about executives who lie yesterday, I should have used this example, since it is happening right now. Where were the PR people? Surely they knew. Or, if they didn't, what does that say about PR at the two pharmaceutical companies?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Calling Out A Liar 

It is not for me to agree or disagree with this fellow's viewpoint about presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It is his point that struck me. How much should PR persons intervene when CEOs or other executives deliver inaccurate messages? Sometimes, executives feel it is in their, or the their companies', best interests to bend truth. There is little a PR person can do. Does the PR person resign or stay in the fight?

I suppose it depends on the degree of misinformation. If executives are clearly in an illegal position, resignation is self-protection. On the other hand, if they aren't, a PR person is in a delicate situation of trying to get facts out without compromising himself or his bosses. Here is a practical example. Early in the days of Microsoft when it became evident that a graphical user interface was the future --i.e. Windows --, the company claimed that it had a usable version ready to go. It didn't. In fact, it didn't develop a truly workable version for another eight years. How did the PR people at Microsoft handle that?

Linux Journal 

Don't be put off by the magazine or the title of this piece. Read the whole thing. My only argument with Doc Searls is that he is calling for what PR should have been doing all the way along. It is not a "new" discovery that companies should talk about what they do rather than influencing. Arthur Page had much to say about that back in the 1930s. Most of my work is increasing understanding of what companies do and how they contribute to business and society.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Corporate Web Sites - A Survey 

Here is a recently completed survey of 99 randomly picked corporate web sites from the S&P 500. It is a look at both the use of new media and of expanded information about companies themselves. It probably won't surprise you to learn that corporations have a way to go in the use of new media. Few blog, for example -- only eight percent. But, surprisingly, few use video of executives as well -- again, only eight percent. (This calculation included any video of executives, whether files of speeches stored on the web site or videos created expressly for the web.) While 83 percent used either an e-mail alert to investors or RSS, the truth of the matter is that e-mail alerts overwhelm the use of RSS.

Read the rest of the survey. It points to opportunities for corporate communications in terms of telling company stories better and in greater detail. It is good to remember there is no better tool for telling a company's story than a web site, which is both global and available 24 hours a day. Companies should be taking every opportunity for making them as informative and as engaging as possible.

As always, I look forward to your comments -- or arguments with what you read.

Friday, January 18, 2008

One More Time... 

This mockery of PR practitioners is not so much about the claptrap they write to hype products but the crappy products themselves. Still, the reporter has a point. Get rid of marketing language and look at products for what they are. If they aren't much, don't play them up. Marketers will insist on sales-driven language. Push back.


I wasn't going to comment on this but will anyway. We were telling this story four years ago, and no one - NO ONE - would listen in the media. Reporters were entranced by WiFi then and its possibilities. They liked the idea one could get connectivity free. They didn't want to hear about hacking and identity theft or the need for greater security in public places. One reporter of a major national paper even told us it wasn't his job to tell his readers about the dangers of grabbing a WiFi signal for free. He was only interested in telling them not to pay for WiFi in hotels. His take was that the rest was technology, and he wasn't a tech columnist.

There is an old lesson here. Every story has its time, and we were ahead of the curve. Reading the story today, one has an urge to fling open a window and scream, "I TOLD you so." It wouldn't change anything, but it might feel better. On the other hand, think of those who spent decades telling smokers about the dangers of cigarettes. Their frustration must have boiled over many times before society caught on. On some things, all one can do is to keep plugging.

Good Point 

This article makes a good point about blogging that PR practitioners need to remember. When there isn't much to talk about, bloggers and reporters often talk among themselves to little effect and growing error. The author of the article was writing about the New Hampshire primary, but his point is accurate. With traditional reporters picking up material from bloggers and vice versa, political pundits created a self-enclosed loop of selective facts and opinions that missed what was happening. These kinds of loops exist elsewhere as well. They are hard to break, and they become "conventional wisdom" in which facts to the contrary don't count. The best way to stop such navel gazing is to prevent it in the first place, but that isn't always possible. Often, one has to let events play out until bloggers and reporters see the error of their assumptions.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Need For Editors 

In this article, an old newsman spotlights the need for editors. He's right. We need editors, especially in PR. Someone should challenge the accuracy, clarity and meaning of everything we say and write.

That typed, why do I write a blog without one? I trust readers will jump on me, if I'm wrong. However, that doesn't happen enough.

Schorr is correct in saying too much misinformation and ill-informed opinion finds its way into blogs. Freshness of expression is not a substitute for error. Blogwriters, because they work without editors, should be more circumspect and careful to check their work. However, that is the opposite of what most do.

Blogging has bred an unfortunate ignorance and/or disrespect for the editorial process. I am lucky in my PR work to have several colleagues who are good editors willing to argue concept and comma. I learn from them daily. I hope it shows in my blogging, but I still need an editor for these daily comments. I wish I had one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Poor Use Of PR? 

Even though this is written from a liberal bent, it is hard not to question the use of PR against this man's point of view. Admittedly, we didn't quite know then what we know now, and it was open to debate, but how much science was done by the opposition contradicting him?

There are still those who question the direct connection between CO2 and global warming. They ask how we know this isn't a periodic warming trend as has happened for millions of years. As far as I know, we don't know absolutely that it isn't, but after years of librating on the issue, it seems settled that CO2 enhances warming, if it isn't the sole cause of it.

So, how should PR treat issues such as this? With respect for evidence. The preponderance of evidence and effects in nature clearly show warming. The next question, however, is still unknown and open to debate: Is warming bad? The earth has been as warm or warmer before. Warming will dislocate hundreds of millions of people away from seashores and land masses that go dry over the next century, but will it open new lands for dwelling and growing? Greenland got its name because Vikings settled there and had farms in the early Medieval era before cold and ice returned.

Whatever the outcome, the debate should be turning now to the effects of warming rather than the question of it. Perhaps, PR can help do a better job of debating this issue.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Safe Behavior 

How do you teach safe behavior to a population that traditionally acts in an unsafe manner? This story reminded me of that. But, there are other stories as well -- for example, getting people to wear seatbelts. Some consider seatbelts an annoyance or something worse and only a threat of ticketing will get them to put one on while driving. They never think of the potential harm to themselves of not wearing one.

There are members of the population who accept what most of us would call unacceptable risk -- say, smokers. There is only so much one can do to persuade them to stop. The final step has to be their own. Unfortunately, the population has to bear the weight of the medical costs from their smoking.

Society can place only so much pressure in terms of laws and peer disapproval on those acting irresponsibly. After that, they must choose to get help, if they can't help themselves, or to change if they can. Persuasion has limits. Even jail terms are not enough to stop some behavior, such as drinking and driving.

Being a member of a democratic society means accepting the risks of other members in the society. Still, it is frustrating that there is no way to convince people to stop unsafe behaviors.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Because of the business I'm in, I tend to think about communications most of the time. It struck me as interesting that yesterday I didn't. I was fully clothed, lying on the sofa and shivering under three blankets. Some bug decided to take up residency for awhile. All I could think of was a stomach that felt like a bowl full of acid, and what it was going to do next. This condition lasted for hours and even this morning, I'm still queasy. So, in the natural order of things, health comes well before persuasion. That's the way it should be. I'm still undecided whether I should go back to bed or try to stay up. (I'm leaning toward bed.)

Government Hype 

It is typical for the media to condemn hype from companies. Would that they did the same for government as often. Here is a case. It is one more pie-in-the-sky plan that California spawns with regularity. Usually such bits of hype end with an article that reports millions were spent to no effect. Less attention is paid to over-blown rhetoric that went into the launching of the project in the first place. Perhaps it is time for the media to write "truth" columns about such endeavors, as they do with campaign ads. "Here is what the politician claimed. Here is the result." It won't stop such projects but at least citizens will get a better idea of what happened.

Friday, January 11, 2008

After The Party Is Over 

It is interesting to examine how companies communicate when in freefall. In this case, there is a new CEO who is free to tell bad news, and he is doing so. Without saying it, he is placing the failures of the firm on previous management. One wonders, however, if previous management was so bad, or was it partially a victim of events beyond control? The answer to that lies in the one investment banking firm on Wall Street that called it right -- Goldman Sachs. It wasn't that long ago Merrill Lynch was a powerhouse of Wall Street, but how quickly business turned. Today, it is a wounded elephant dragging itself to safety. If there is a lesson about the need for conservatism in communicating company successes, this is it. It is better to say less and do more.

Good Move 

The White House is releasing its proposed budget for the first time entirely on line. This tree-killer of up to 3,000 pages should have been online a long time ago. It is not that internet delivery is a better environmental practice. It is more transparent. There is an opportunity now for tens of thousands of citizens who have never seen a budget to plow through its pages and gain a better understanding of what government does. You can be sure that bloggers will do that and what they find will enter online discussion. Citizens will be better informed about where tax dollars are going. Whether intended or not, an online budget is a huge public relations move.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

100 Mbps 

The news that Comcast will launch a 100 mbps service in 2008 makes one think. What can one do with that speed in PR ? For one, it would be easy to serve YouTube like videos directly to people by e-mail, for example. This might not work with reporters, but it could certainly appeal to consumers depending on the creativity of the video. It will be easy to transmit high-density photos and art, although computers may not load them quickly on the recipient's end.

The wrong use of such speed, it seems to me, is to dump ever-larger text files into other's machines. Greater speed does not mean more time to read. The temptation to send the whole press kit in a huge Adobe pdf will be more than some PR practitioners can bear. For that reason and to avoid viruses, many news media and other organizations will maintain file size limitations on their networks.

The problem with such transmission speed is storing data it transports. It's nice to download a multi-gigabyte movie in four minutes. What does one do after looking at the movie? Higher speed means more memory. More memory means more backup.

Personal computers are moving toward the storage capacity of the Library of Congress. They will also be more cluttered. It will be like rooting through a refrigerator one hasn't cleaned in months and finding out-of-date milk and dried-out meat. They got lost in the back of the compartment. There will be thousands of files lost in the "back of the computer" and a greater need for effective search and indexing. Every part of the chain will change, and we will adapt. It should be fun.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Why Bother? 

This writer provides three reasons for why he dislikes the huge Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that is winding up in Las Vegas. It strikes me as the same reasons why so many disliked Comdex when it was the huge computer show in the same locale. Comdex disappeared. Is it CES' turn next? From a PR perspective, these shows are a huge waste of money and time. Sure, one gets to meet most of the trade and consumer media in one place at the same time but the conditions of meeting them are anything but optimal. There is noise, stress, pressure for the reporter to make that next appointment and see a 100 more booths. Yes, one gets to see what competitors are offering and how one stands within the industry, but that requires hours of walking and searching, time a PR practitioner doesn't get while working the floor.

Large trade shows do allow companies to meet customers and sign contracts, but are the huge displays and dancers and magicians and two-bit comedians necessary to achieve that goal? It has never made much sense to me. It is peer pressure. "I'm going because you're going and he's going too." Eventually someone wakes up, totes the cost of these shows and pulls out. It may be past time for that at CES.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Birds of a Feather 

A useful reminder to PR practitioners about the habits of self-identified groups.

Forcing an Issue 

Microsoft seems to have learned the art of forcing the issue when the public balks at one of its operating systems. It doesn't help the company's reputation: It is the action of a monopolist. In a competitive environment, the company couldn't get away with ending support for a prior system in the face of customer opposition. It is interesting that the company can treat the public shabbily and get away with it.

Candidates and the Internet 

As this story demonstrates, it takes more than success on the internet to be a viable presidential candidate. Campaigning is a multi-media, deeply organized effort. Paul may be successful with the self-organized approach, but that isn't nearly enough.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Adventures in Travel 

The reputations of US airlines rest on basics -- leaving on time, arriving on time and giving passengers comfortable seats. Forget food and other amenities. These went away a long time ago. Given weather and increased traffic, it is hard to achieve basics regularly, but some airlines do better than others. So, how does one evaluate this adventure in travel?

I made the mistake of booking a flight to California on US Airways. (I won't do it again.) The adventure started when I arrived at the airport in Newark, NJ to find that US Airways had pushed me onto a Continental flight. There was no reason given. The Continental flight left an hour late but still arrived in San Francisco an hour earlier than expected. That was a benefit, but it was curious that US Airways wasn't flying to San Francisco last Wednesday night.

The return trip on US Airways was different. We left 45 minutes late from San Francisco because there was no crew. There was no explanation given why the crew wasn't there. As we were leaving, the plane began to make loud metallic sawing noises, as if it were cutting away the wheel well. We took off anyway for an interim stop in Phoenix, AZ before flying to Newark. In Phoenix, US Airways did a fast turnaround. We were told the pilot would make up the lost time in the air. But, the plane began making loud sawing noises again. The pilot came on the intercom and informed us he couldn't start an engine. So, we waited 45 minutes for maintenance to come and test the "starter." Then, we were deplaned for "45 minutes" while maintenance worked on the starter. We were told by the gate agents that since this was the last flight to Newark, it would almost certainly take off, even though late.

Two hours later, of course, the flight was cancelled, stranding all passengers in Phoenix. The gate agents instructed everyone to go to the booking desk to find other flights to Newark. But, there weren't any that night unless one booked to Las Vegas and tried to reach a "red-eye" before it left. By this time, it was clear US Airways wasn't prepared to handle stranded flights, so I hustled as fast as I could out of security to the booking desks. My hunch was that the booking desks would be understaffed, and there would be 60 people stacked for an hour or two trying to find a flight. The hunch was correct, but I was eighth in line. It was still taking 10 to 15 minutes to re-book each passenger and during the time I was there, US Airways opened only one more station, leaving seven stations empty.

I wasn't about to go to Las Vegas to try again for Newark. I asked them to book me on a Continental flight leaving at 6:45 am Sunday morning from Phoenix to Newark. They did, and they provided the mandated room and meal for the night. As I was leaving, I overheard one agent telling another that the Continental flight I was just booked on was now sold out. How were the others in line going to get home? I didn't know at that point, but I didn't ask either.

The Continental flight was uneventful but for its seats, which are not made for anyone over six feet. My knees were jammed into the seat in front of me. The seat bars dug into my hips. I was in the middle seat between two gentleman, who fortunately were not large. By the end of the flight, I ached in every joint and was exhausted. But, we arrived on time.

So, there you have it. US Airways doesn't fly at all, and Continental flies but lacks comfort. My experience was by no means the worst that people suffered during this last holiday season. The question is when, if ever, passenger abuse will end. It is to the point where passengers expect to be mistreated, and airline employees acquiesce to the abuse they deliver. The employees know they can't fix it, so they do the best they can, but their best only makes the psychological discomfort worse. They promise announcements that don't come. They make statements that are manifestly untrue. When the inevitable happens, they disappear because it is as hard on them as it is on the steaming passengers. The failure is one of leadership. Airline CEOs should be banding together to fix the system. They, instead, point to the government to "to do something." Thus, the situation continues.

I'm old. I remember when it was pleasant to fly. That was a long time ago.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On the Road 

I will be on the road for the rest of the week. There will be no posting.

Getting Ready to Kick Off 

There is something about the day before a project launch. All the little things one needs to take care of come due. There is a frantic rush to complete what should have been done the week before. The client becomes amenable after days of pondering. Things fall into place. It is satisfying but frustrating.

The ideal is to plan and implement in a rational and well timed manner. Somehow, the ideal is never quite reached. Today, for example, we have a decision whether to issue a press release or wait until after a project launch. We're not sure the press release is approved, but the project launches tomorrow. The human need to procrastinate is not often in management textbooks except as a failing. But, maybe it isn't. It takes time for decisions to mature and deadlines and pressure are elements in the process. Availability is another. We are coming out of a holiday season, but even without that, businesspeople live frantic lives. Our emails live in their Blackberries along with 100 others.

It should be a busy day at work, but that is better than regaling colleagues about what one did on New Year's Eve.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


There isn't much value in New Year resolutions. Perhaps one in a thousand keeps them. Most of us continue as we are with good points and bad. That's OK. Changing behavior is slow even with the best intentions. As Benjamin Franklin wrote more than 200 years ago, it is amazing what one discovers when attempting to refashion personal habits. It seems our behaviors are more deeply rooted than we suspected, even if we are introspective. For communicators that is a valuable lesson. We can't expect individuals to change much, even with compelling reasons for doing so. Metanoia is rare. The best we can hope for is to insinuate messages into behaviors people possess. But, to achieve that requires profound understanding of individuals. We've known this for decades in PR, but we're still bad at doing it. We rely too much on surveys, not enough on anthropological research. We plead the legitimate excuse that there is little money in PR for finding out before we send messages. We do seat-of-the-pants guessing, or we learn the interests of gatekeepers -- reporters -- and appeal to those rather than to an end audience. The problem with this is that "ink" becomes a justification in itself, and many clients are pleased with that. It keeps us in business. On the other hand, does it really change minds? There is little proof it does. We stop one step before the final audience and declare victory. Perhaps that is the best PR can do, but it would be good if the industry formed a resolution to change -- and did it.

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