Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Taking Time Off 

Posting may be light for the next few days. I'm planning to take time off.

Half Communicator 

Here is an example of a person trying to communicate just enough to be appointed Senator of New York but not too much. The result has not been pleasant for her or for her chances of being appointed. She is hoping her famous name of Kennedy will carry her through, but if the media have a say, it won't. She is learning that lack of transparency and preparation are fatal on the campaign trail, even if it isn't formally a campaign. The governor has said that he won't decide right away, but it looks as if she might self-destruct before the governor has to make a choice. That would simplify matters for him.

One wonders what Caroline's advisers are telling her.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Response Vs. Risk 

Every nation has a right to protect its citizens, but there is a question of the dimensions of protection one can use before a nation loses credibility in the world community. This is the fine line Israel is treading with its all-out offensive against the Gaza strip. The question is how much reaction is too much, or has the reaction to date been too little? Muslim countries are outraged, but one would expect them to be. Israel will have problems if the world community turns against it.

There are no easy answers to proportionate reaction. What would it take to get Hamas to stop firing rockets and mortars? The answer appears to be that nothing will make them stop. So does one live with the danger of rockets or smash Gaza until there is nothing left while creating bitterness that will live for generations? Is there a communication by force that could be sufficient? These are issues Israel's leaders are attempting to answer now.

Friday, December 26, 2008

What's Important 

In the middle of a wonderful Christmas party yesterday, I took ill. Suddenly, the merriment wasn't as important as it was to that point. By late evening, I realized I had a 24-hour bug that is violent in how it works its way through one then goes away. While it was great to have guests in the house, some of whom stayed over, health was more important. So too in PR. We sometimes forget what is important to communicate and chase after peripheral issues. Reputation is at the heart of any business. That is what needs to be protected. The rest is peripheral to the ability to continue economic transactions with buyers trusting what they are going to receive is what they expect.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Publicity Ploy 

Here is a neat publicity ploy that has people talking about a forthcoming movie. The only downside to such buzz is the movie itself. If it should prove to be a clinker, the hard work of the publicists will go for nothing. Still, give the publicists credit for creativity.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Government Money 

US corporations are about to find out the perils of taking government money. Citizens want transparency in how it is used. Banks appear unprepared for the accounting they will be forced to give. Will auto companies be the same? From a PR standpoint, it should be obvious that taking public funds requires a public statement of the use of them. If companies are uncomfortable with government intrusion into their businesses, then they should not line up for loans. The new Congress will almost certainly hold regular hearings into how corporations are spending Federal money -- or not -- and will almost certainly tell CEOs what they should be doing, whether CEOs like it or not. If there is one spur to paying off these loans and getting the government out their businesses, constant Congressional kibitzing is it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

PR Budget 

I've been working on an essay related to PR budgeting, so I searched the internet for sample budgets and detailed line items. The only acceptable one I found was 12 years old. Either I put in the wrong search terms, or there are few examples of comprehensive PR budgets posted. That seems odd since there is nothing proprietary about budgeting. Could it be that practitioners don't consider budgets of interest? Or, are budgets so different from company to company that it makes little sense to develop a template? This article requires detailed line items, so I'm constructing one that will be posted to online-pr.com when finished. I hope you find it useful, and if there are missing categories, please let me know.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Auto companies are stopping manufacturing. The White House is talking about "pre-packaged bankruptcy." One side is waiting for the other to blink on the issue of government help for the industry. This is about as high as the stakes get. I wrote yesterday about the need for the industry to find a way to better public relations with Americans. Today the same issue holds true for relations with the government.

There is an irony here as well. Republicans are supposed to be friends of big business, Democrats friends of the working man. The roles appear to be reversed although Democrats will claim they are worried about jobs in Detroit more than CEOs of auto companies. There is a chance the White House won't act and one or more of the Big Three files for Chapter 11 in the next couple of weeks. If that happens, the industry and American manufacturing will enter a new and uncharted course that will affect millions. What will be the messages to the American public then?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Industry PR 

How does an industry overcome bad public relations? The American auto makers are facing just this problem. As far as the public is concerned, the companies can go into Chapter 11 because "they deserve it." But, it's not that simple. Should the industry collapse, thousands will be thrown out of work and parts suppliers may go with them. On the other hand, bankruptcy may be what some automakers need to get financials under control.

The public is not in the mood to make fine distinctions. It wants to punish automakers for arrogance and CEOs for using corporate jets. Democracy is messy and often simplistic. While opinion polls provide a gauge of crowd sentiment, one dare not rely on them for every decision. They do show, however, how far the industry must travel to get back into good standing.

The question is what an effective PR program would be to help automakers recover? Making good and consumer-pleasing products is a first step, but what are the second and third tactics?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When Business Stops 

Lately, freelancers have been calling and looking for work. It is getting hard in this environment for solo practitioners. That is the reason for this essay. The problem is not so much finding work when the economy is down but preparing oneself during good times for the next business cycle. When a recession hits, there is an inevitable slide in assignments but the challenge is to keep the doors open, lights on and rent paid. The essence of the piece is that marketing is a continuous activity and not a cyclical one to be undertaken only when backlog has shrunk.

As usual, I look forward to any additions or revisions you may have.

It is the 92d essay posted to online-pr.com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Clever Branding 

Companies are branding themselves on the web through the use of mini narratives -- some of which are going viral, such as this one from J.C. Penney. It is a clever and funny story about husbands who buy wives inappropriate gifts. Watch the whole thing. There is no mention of the sponsor until the end, and it is done briefly. The professional level of the piece indicates that it was done by an ad agency, but one wonders why PR is not doing the same thing. The production is better than any press release and more memorable.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It Only Takes One 

It only takes one person to create a reputational crisis for a company as banks and money managers are learning. In this case, it wasn't their doing but they are still facing the wrath of investors who have lost billions. There isn't guaranteed protection against such fraud. There isn't a PR plan that protects an institution when fraud like this occurs. Investors will now have to stand in line to learn if there is anything left of the funds that Bernard Madoff controlled. Everyone is embarrassed for having trusted the man, but then, he apparently ran a clever fraud that even his sons didn't know about. Given the recession and hard times, there is likely to be more bad news along this line.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Risk of Predictions 

It is always risky to predict the future. No one really knows what is going to happen. So these predictions serve as a cautionary lesson from people who should have known better. They were certain about a future that did not occur, and in some cases they harmed those who believed them. If one must predict the future, it is always best to hedge what one says. For example, given conditions now, it appears that the next six months will be as follows..." There is no credibility in being bold and wrong.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hard PR 

This is one of the most difficult PR and political tasks -- building a coalition of the unwilling. Legislators don't like to cut budgets. They especially don't like to slash billions and/or to raise taxes. California legislators are facing both possibilities, and the governor has to convince them to pass a viable plan for the fiscal health of the state. This is where politics and PR come down to brass knuckles and meat grinding. It won't be a pretty sight, and everyone will lose. There will be doomsday scenarios and stalling and infighting, but sooner or later, there will be a coalition to pass a bill of some kind. California isn't the only state going through this trauma, but its debt is about the largest. It's instructive to watch and to know that even in lose-lose situations, one must be an effective communicator.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Video Internet 

This is a breathtaking view of the future of the internet as primarily a video carrier. It's an interesting idea and technologically feasible with an increase in broadband speeds. One question we should be asking now is how PR should respond. Should PR move from a word-driven to picture-driven business? If so, should we be training ourselves today for the video internet of tomorrow?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

That Was Quick 

The Tribune Company files chapter 11.

Had to Happen 

Already liberals in the Democratic party are expressing unhappiness with Barack Obama, and his inauguration is still more than a month away. It had to happen. When a candidate remains vague in order to present himself as all things to all men, he builds perceptions that are going to be shattered from the outset. In order to unite the party behind him, Obama had to remain less than specific about what he would do in the job. In fairness to Obama, he has worked to dampen expectations ever since he was elected. He sees that people are placing too much hope in him. But, as he makes each new decision, he will define himself in ways that will upset constituencies. They will continue to support him, however, for what else can they do?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Not The Last 

This is surprising for the newspaper industry, but it won't be the last newspaper to teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. The Chicago Tribune got into trouble with its sale last year to investor Samuel Zell. He doesn't know how to run the newspaper business but then, neither did the people from whom he bought the chain.

The decline of the newspaper business has been a long time coming. They were trickling blood for years but able to continue. They are gushing red ink now. Most don't have profitable internet models in place that would allow them to offset the decline in ad lineage. In fairness to newspaper publishers, they knew this day would come, and they have been struggling for answers. There are no clear paths for them. Should any of these major papers go down, it will affect the PR business. Any loss of an impartial, third-party voice will harm the kind of work we do.

Friday, December 05, 2008


This is a decision of questionable credibility. A man who resigned his political office in disgrace is now writing columns for an online magazine. Despite the editor's justification that Spitzer was known as "the Sheriff of Wall Street," Spitzer's heavy-handed tactics were often unfair and his methods an abuse of power. Slate.com has a right to give Spitzer a bully pulpit, but the credibility of the publication has dropped significantly, it seems to me.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Needs A Verbal Editor 

Here is a politician who needs a verbal editor but sadly, doesn't have one. Text for him is a starting point on which to blather and eventually make a fool of himself. His staff almost certainly has told him time and again to watch what he says, but he apparently cannot help himself. As a Senator, it might not have been such a problem. As vice-president, it is different.


Another case in which scientific assumptions have been proven wrong and another reminder that scientists are human. When using science as a proof point, be sure to include variability. Rather than "science says," it should be "science appears to show." Leaving an element of doubt is closer to how science works.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Useful Reminder 

This is a useful reminder to the few people who may have forgotten it. There is at least one Belgian Minister of Defense who now remembers.

Great PR 

This is great PR for a company that has been criticized for poor employee relations. Computerized medical records are long past due, and it is a shame that a private company has to do something medicine should have accomplished long ago. That Wal-Mart is saving money is a good example of a win-win policy -- good for employees and good for the company. Because Wal-Mart is so large, it is also good for the country.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What Messages Now? 

Here is an interesting PR problem. What messages do you send to a society that has moved from consumption to saving? We assume consumers will spend again when the recession eases, but what if they don't? There have been such losses in housing value that many consumers will be in homes with underwater mortgages. Will they spend again or put discretionary money in the bank?

Some cultures are savings-oriented like China and Japan. The US hasn't been that way for decades. It would disrupt the economic engine of the country, if US society begins to save rather than spend. The irony is that the savings rate for the US has been too low for far too long, so pulling back on spending is what citizens should do, but the recovery of the country is dependent on spending. In PR, we will keep urging people to buy, buy, buy, but shouldn't we be thinking of a new scenario?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tough Jobs 

Hilary Clinton will have two jobs as Secretary of State. One is the job she will do and the other is fitting into a team. After months of setting herself apart, she now has to lower her profile and not outshine the President elect. That may be harder for her than handling Russia, North Korea and Iran. It will certainly be difficult for her husband who works at staying in the public arena. On the other hand, if Hilary can pull it off, she will enhance her worth as a public servant and make her next run at the presidency easier.

One of her first tasks will be to control her own people who will be busy trying to set her apart from the rest of the cabinet. She may have to be hard on her staff to keep them in line. If she isn't, look for conflict that will shorten her term in the role. It wouldn't be surprising if she spends a great deal of time out of the country away from the Washington DC press corp. It would be one way to control rumors and bad feelings.

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