Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday 

This is the day that retailers wait for all year. However, it is hard to believe Black Friday will be much of an event. Consumers' views of the economy have been battered without pause. There isn't a bright spot anywhere. Unemployment is soaring. Stocks are sitting nearly 6000 points below their peak. Government is pledging trillions for bail-outs and hundreds of billions to get the economy started again. With such bad publicity, why would consumers suddenly open their wallets? This period is shaping up to be a case study of the power of perception.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tips On Crafting A Corporate Positioning 

The first time one needs to construct a corporate positioning for a company can be daunting. What does one say that is both true and compelling from a public relations point of view? This challenge is especially difficult for conglomerates with disparate businesses that seemingly have no central connection other than financial. This essay provides tips for how to do it. It is not a perfect road map but it is one that I've used dozens of times and it does work.

As usual, I would like to hear any tips or revisions that you may have. This is the 90th essay posted on online-pr.com.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it. I may take tomorrow off, so if there is no post, I plan to be back on Monday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Politicians have a habit of damaging their credibility when they make promises. Here is one that is hardly believeable. Obama has already said he is looking for a $700 billion bill to get the economy moving again. Is there any larger Christmas tree on which to hang goodies for Congressional constituents? So, he might cut a million here and a million there, but it will hardly offset. From a credibility standpoint, it would have been better had he said nothing at all after getting elected. The economic environment has changed and so should his promise. But, politicians feel compelled to live up to their words and in so doing, sometimes they look ridiculous.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Calm Before Another Storm? 

When confidence is low and panic is the rule, good feeling is evanescent. Citigroup might be the cause of a rally on Wall Street today, but tomorrow something else could scare investors again. It takes a long time to rebuild trust. This entire period is a case study for why public relations are essential. All the mathematical equations in tens of thousands of portfolios cannot replace a sense of confidence that counter-parties are in good financial condition.

No Safety 

There used to be a time when an actor could go to another country and appear in advertisements without worrying about his image back home. Not anymore. Here is proof that the world has shrunk, and image cannot be isolated from one continent to another.

The Best PR 

The best PR is still serving customers well.

Monday, November 24, 2008


This is an interesting study in that it overturns conventional wisdom. We assume everyone wants broadband, but that is not true. Some are happy to be left alone with dial-up -- or nothing at all.

So, how do we reach these people, if there is a need to talk to them? It would not surprise me if they don't read a newspaper or magazine and do not watch TV news. Perhaps the answer is that we don't reach them, and they are a minority that elects to remain uninformed.

The pressure on the government is to provide universal broadband, but that apparently is incorrect. What the government would be providing is an opportunity for universal broadband with the understanding that some don't want it. If it were only an issue of personal budgets, that could be solved today with subsidies for satellite broadband, for example. Perhaps it is time for the US to stop worrying that it is behind other countries in access to broadband.

Friday, November 21, 2008

College Newspapers 

This is an interesting and informative discussion of how college newspapers have moved online. It is noteworthy that they have been slow in their recognition and use of the internet. The conservatism of student editors flies in the face of the theory that the young adapt new technologies first. Still, what leading schools are doing is something PR practitioners should know, especially if they are trying to reach this demographic.

I particularly like the concept of uniting all campus media through one web site. This makes the web the essential tool of the student -- and professor. Maybe the graduates of these programs will show mainstream newspapers what to do.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PR Black Eye 

Here is a black eye for the CEOs of the Big Three auto companies. The irony is that a corporate jet is the best transportation tool for them because their time is valuable. But, the public doesn't see it that way. They want the CEOs to stand in long lines along with everyone else and get packed into commercial airliners.

It is not upsetting to know that they flew to Washington in private aircraft. They were probably working the way there and back. And, they got to DC in a decent amount of time and returned as quickly. When a company is in peril, one doesn't want the leader lost in an airport because the commercial airliner is late again.

However, the image of privilege is associated with corporate jets, and people can't shake the idea that anyone who uses them is different from the rest of us. Sometimes that is true, but just as often, it isn't. I can think of a manufacturer with plants scattered in small communities throughout the US. The manufacturer uses corporate jets because it can't get to its plants otherwise. The jet is filled with middle managers as often as company executives. To outsiders, the jet smacks of excess. To the manufacturer, it saves tens of thousands of hours of managerial time per year.

It is unlikely, however, that a PR campaign for a corporate jet would work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Here is an unusual situation. A CEO who realizes he is not up to the job and steps down. Usually it is the other way around. The board fires the CEO. This might, in fact, be the case with Jerry Yang, but if so, the news has been presented to look like a voluntary action and one in which Yang realizes he doesn't have the skills to save the company.

The real reason for a CEO's departure rarely makes it to a press release. One hears rumors but the board is careful to protect a departing CEO's name. There is little to be gained in besmirching a departing CEO unless there has been illegal activity associated with the CEO's tenure. An incoming CEO will be wary of a board that has handled a departure badly, and it damages the trust relationship needed between a CEO and board. So, press releases tend to be vague and use terms like "stepped down" rather than "fired." This is a case in which "PR speak" is a benefit. Starting a war with a departed CEO, as is happening with AIG, distracts a board from governing and the sitting CEO from work needed to be done.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Culture Shock 

Stories like this are reminders of how far the US needs to go to build and sell fuel-efficient vehicles. The problem is not one of manufacturing but of culture shock. Cars this size would sit on lots gathering dust, if a GM or Ford offered them. The American public likes bigger-size vehicles.

So, how does one convince the public that "smaller is better?" There isn't a PR program that can do that. Fuel prices alone drive fuel efficiency. Now that fuel prices are again low, drivers have forgotten summer and $4/gallon gasoline. Americans may be toying with the idea of moving to smaller cars, but they are not there yet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rethinking a Model 

With the rise of the internet and alternative media, it might be time to rethink the classic communications model. The model has always been simplistic because it fails to show the diminution of message strength as it is encoded, transmitted and decoded. Secondly, it fails to show the difference between direct communications and secondary. This is a beginning step to outline what a more precise model might be.

As usual, I am interested to hear any comments about the paper.

It is the 89th essay posted on online-pr.com.


Give General Motors credit for using new media. It is using YouTube to make its case for a bailout and had 25,000 views by early this morning.

Friday, November 14, 2008

No Way To Handle Bad News 

Suing a researcher over a bad review is not the way to handle bad news, especially not in the medical marketplace. This one should be classified under "What are they thinking?" Yes, their product is at risk because of the researcher's meta-analysis, but the answer to that is to do their own study to check the researcher's results. The lawsuit is not only bad PR for the company, it is wrong-headed. Perhaps the company doesn't deserve to survive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

PR Challenge 

Here is a PR challenge that would test the abilities of even the best professionals. The CEO appears to be going about it in the best way possible, but there is a long road before the company is permitted to move forward or forced to retreat. PR for unpopular causes is a niche unto itself. One cannot depend on the environment to support actions one wishes to take. Building coalitions takes time and patience. Opponents know that, and they attempt to wear one down through delaying tactics.

I'm not sure whether a mine is good for the area or not, but the situation is a classic case for a PR textbook.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Getting The Message 

There is always a minority of people who don't get a message. That is what keeps spammers in business. This experiment, however, appears to show that some progress is being made in educating people about spam. It is not enough yet, because spamming is still a game with a payout, but it might be moving in the right direction. If so, it will be a case worth studying because it will be an instance in which tens of millions of people act in the right way. That is almost unheard of. For instance, there are still smokers in spite of the hundreds of millions of messages urging them to quit. What happened here is that even the gullible have been harmed enough that the supply of "marks" is running low. However, they will never reach zero. Spammers depend on that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Learning On The Job 

There may come a time in a leader's reign when the leader admits he was wrong. This apparently has happened to the governor of California who is calling for tax hikes after years of resisting them. The hard part of turning from one's past promises is bringing the populace with you. Almost certainly, his supporters feel betrayed. The question is how is he going to persuade them that higher taxes are the only solution. Or can he? This is a particularly difficult communications challenge. It takes scene setting before one introduces the theme. One has to paint a dire picture and a lack of solutions and eventually concede the point he has resisted. The governor has done that, but it may not be enough.

Perhaps the best position is to avoid taking a hardened one from the beginning. But, politicians don't always get that option. They are forced to make promises that they cannot always keep. Given that, it is hard to understand why anyone would want a top political job.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Too Late 

It is too late to reform campaign spending, although groups are going to try. The cost of multimedia communications is large, and candidates are going to continue to use them. Most importantly, Obama pioneered fund raising through small donations. How can one restrict that? It was democracy at work. It would be best, it seems, if reform groups would leave campaign financing alone. The current system is not ideal and doesn't work well, and a new system won't work that much better. Candidates need to communicate to persuade. They will do what it takes.

Friday, November 07, 2008


It seems Barack Obama's biggest challenge now is not so much accepting the praise of the world as it is controlling the world's expectations. He is a nominee upon whom millions have fastened their hopes, which means millions are bound to be disappointed. There appears to be a lack of realism among his supporters, which Obama needs to correct quickly lest it impede his actions as President. Obama's campaign was short on specifics, which allowed listeners to fill in the blanks in their own ways. The problem with that, of course, is that each interest group has its own idea of what he has been saying. When it comes time to legislate in 2009, opposing views will collide, and it may get ugly quickly. Then Obama's real leadership will be tested as well as his ability to communicate and persuade. It will be interesting to watch.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Someone Has To Pay 

News of more traffic caps for internet access is not surprising. ISPs are facing a predicament. As bandwidth rises, so does the cost of providing it. Someone has to pay for the infrastructure. However, this may turn into a PR problem for companies that are charging and/or capping monthly usage. People are conditioned to think that the internet is nearly free. It isn't and never has been. They resist metering, even if it doesn't kick in until they start downloading two to three feature-length movies a month. The new administration believes in net neutrality -- that is, anyone can use the internet at any time for multiple purposes. There will be a collision between reality and political will. PR practitioners in telecommunications should be preparing for it now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

He Didn't 

I'd been saying for months that the presidential campaign was Obama's to lose. He didn't. His message discipline, evident campaign organizational skills, an unpopular president and the lousy economy were in his favor. McCain never seemed to focus his message. He was one candidate one day and another the day after. He pandered to elements of his party that were rapidly falling out of favor with the larger electorate. News accounts seemed to indicate that he relaxed and became himself only in the final days. By then it was too late.

The lesson for communicators? Work with the person you have. Don't try to change the qualities that set an individual apart. Don't let the person do it to himself either. I'm sure that McCain's campaign handlers knew that, but something forced their hand. It may be that McCain's message was wrong from the beginning and nothing could refocus it. There will be plenty of "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" in the days to come.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


This story is funny but it demonstrates the need for common understanding between message-sender and message-receiver. In this case, the message-sender clearly doesn't know the first thing about translating English into Welsh. To the Welsh speaker, it means English speakers don't care to find out either. One would think that at least two Welsh speakers would check every road sign before it was put up, but apparently that isn't the case. The lesson here for communicators is obvious.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Shrinking Audience 

This report raises an interesting question for newspapers. Do you change to attract younger readers who aren't likely to subscribe anyway, or do you stay with your aging audience of Baby Boomers who are steadily shrinking along with your circulation? There are no easy answers. Angering core readership is clearly not a way to go, but at the same time, inability to attract a younger demographic is not ideal either. Newspaper editors are justified if they feel are in a "buggy whip" industry. There are no clear answers for what to do except one -- readers want news content even if they don't want the medium that delivers the content. Were I an editor of a newspaper, I would spend more time figuring out how to boost my online audience profitably.

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