Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Here is a fellow in the media whom PR practitioners should avoid. A populist who incites the emotions of crowds is someone who can and will turn against you, if it suits his purposes. There is a tradition of fiery speakers in the US, especially in hard times. They are preachers to those who see simple solutions for why things have gone wrong. Unfortunately, life and business are not simple. The failures we are experiencing have multiple causes that require a range of fixes, none of them easy or fast. Anger is a release but not a solution. It destroys order and incites mobs. The sad part of a fellow like this is the number of viewers he is gaining.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Symbolic Head Hunting 

The White House wants to show movement in the auto industry so it asks for and gets the resignation of the CEO of General Motors. That is as much a symbol of change to come in the industry as anything. The unions, middle management, everyone in GM knows now that there will be radical restructuring as a price for the Federal government's help. It's a bold move, especially since there doesn't appear to be a successor waiting to take over. That is a risk in itself since GM needs to move quickly to stop the bleeding and any new person will have to learn the levers of power before they are pulled. Still, as a symbol, it is dramatic. It is not clear yet whether it is wise.

Friday, March 27, 2009

When Little Is New 

This opinion piece about new technology is on the mark. There isn't much new in terms of software programs we need to do work. Yet, software companies are driven to do upgrades in order to sell new versions of their programs. PR practitioners and marketers stretch to find attributes that users "must have" when users hardly use them. The era of software invention is largely complete.

So, how does one market when this has happened? It is a challenge, especially when a software company has a dominant share, such as Microsoft. The goal, it would seem, is to pay close attention to customers and to add features that might arise over time without coming up with entirely new versions. That goal isn't as profitable as selling a new package, but it is more honest, and it doesn't earn one the reputation of being a "black-mask" company extracting revenues from helpless customers.

Note to PR Practitioners 

Note to PR practitioners: If you are going to ghostwrite for someone, tell the person you are doing it first. Otherwise, this happens.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

We Need You, Dammit 

The Obama administration has been sending mixed signals to the financial houses on Wall Street. On the one hand, it is excoriating them for the economic meltdown. On the other, it is trying to persuade them to step up and help implement Treasury's plan to get credit flowing again. No wonder there is anger among financial executives. It is a dubious way to build trust. Perhaps the administration is hoping the finance houses won't turn down a good deal. In other words, it might be depending on the greed it is condemning publicly. Whatever the motive, it is not a recommended approach to achieve good relationships with people you need.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lousy Business 

There are businesses that are so difficult that one wonders why anyone would want to be in them, much less publicize them. This is one. Airlines seem to fly from one disaster to another. High fuel prices, bad economy, price wars. They rarely get a break. The "glories" of flying have long ago disappeared to be replaced by tight seating and charges for everything including leg room. Still, they aren't making it.

How do you raise awareness for business like this? There is little one can say that doesn't have a hint of self-mockery. My hat is off to those who work in PR in the airlines. They know how difficult persuasion is.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good PR 

This is an unusual move by a German sports car company. One doesn't buy a Porsche to save fuel. On the other hand, if it helps the company build an image of sustainability, all the better. Porsche is an R&D company at its heart. It will master the art of the sustainable, fuel-efficient auto eventually, and that auto will go fast. The company has long worked on reducing emissions and decades ago pioneered the long life car. But still, who would think of a sports car as anything but a luxury for the few who can afford it? If there is a car company other than Tesla that will develop a low carbon footprint auto with high performance, Porsche will be the one. A solar facility, then, is good public relations for Porsche to remind its stakeholders that it has long cared for the environment.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What is enough? 

It is interesting that even Obama's supporters are starting to ask if he is over-exposed with his multiple TV appearances. This raises a question of what is enough. Some think Obama is still running a campaign rather than focusing on managing the government. Others are put off that he is choosing popular TV venues to get his message out. They think he is acting in an "unpresidential" manner. Still others see him as a populist who needs to stimulate his crowds to achieve his goals.

It is early yet. He still has time to act, but in popular perception time is running short to get the country moving again. His popularity polls will signal his success soon enough. Then he may have to change his relationship with the public.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On The Road 

I will be on the road for the rest of the week and unable to post.

Deferred Disaster 

Here is a disaster that the US keeps pushing into the future. Nuclear waste has long been the weakness of the atom industry, and nothing has been done to resolve it. Rather, every attempt to resolve it has been defeated by citizen groups and states that don't want a nuclear dump near them. So now, the waste is not only near centers of population, it is stored in sub-optimal conditions that will become a problem again in dozens of years.

From a PR perspective, power companies with nuclear plants will be the focus of citizen ire sooner or later. It takes only one accident, spill or other event that causes a release, however minor, to touch off angst. It is not the fault of the power companies. They have wanted to get rid of their waste long ago, but they can't. There is nowhere to ship it, and the US won't engage in waste reprocessing to condense the material into safer and shorter-lived isotopes. Our children, grandchildren or great grandchildren are facing a disaster that we are producing for them today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The journalism professor's reaction to new media in this article shows a curious blindness to the skill sets needed to work in any medium. He apparently believes that reporting and writing are transferable to any outlet anywhere at anytime. He forgets that each medium has its demands and one needs to know them to present stories cogently. One can only hope there aren't too many journalism and PR professors out there like this one.

On The Future Of Newspapers 

This article on the future of newspapers is worth your attention. It argues that we don't know what will happen to them, nor do we know what the future of the media will be like. It is too soon, and experiments are just beginning online to find economic models for gathering and reporting news. Whatever the future may be, PR needs to follow the developments closely. Our future is linked to the editorial process wherever and however it occurs.

Monday, March 16, 2009


The sputtering rage against AIG for paying bonuses is predictable, and paying them is hard to defend. But, the CEO of AIG knows talent can walk to the door at any moment and probably will, now that the government is telling the company what to do. In financial services businesses, talent is the key element of productivity. So, the CEO risked and accepted the rage against him. It was a brave thing to do, but a PR disaster.

His reasoning is that he wants to sell units with star players rather than shells without them. The counter-argument is that stars will probably leave anyway before the units are sold, if they can find a place to go. They probably will because poaching is underway in the financial services firms that remain. It was a dilemma for the CEO with no good outcome. Now, he had better get the units sold quickly, or he will have another problem in Washington DC.

AIG is demonstrating why CEOs are loathe to accept government bailout money.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Q.E.D. again 

Earlier this week, I had pointed to a study on Facebook and its effects on privacy. This situation demonstrates why one should keep opinions and bravado to oneself. However, in this case, it wasn't a matter of no one wanting to know what one thinks. A defendant used an arresting officer's thoughts to get acquitted. There is an issue of commonsense and judgment here that sadly, many people lack. The officer might have been doing his job well but he destroyed his own reputation. When enough people injure themselves with their own words, maybe we will all learn. However, I wouldn't bet on it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Poor PR 

An honest PR practitioner wouldn't have let this study go out in the first place. It appears to be one more example of a shoddy use of survey technique and suspect math.


While Congressmen were excoriating CEOs for using corporate jets, they might have asked about the Speaker of the House's use of military aircraft. Bet there won't be a hearing on the issue... Congress has a way of making privilege for itself seem normal.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cassandra Redux 

It seems after every major disaster, such as the present, there is recognition of a study, report or other forecast that predicted it. Of course, it is nearly always a document to which no one paid much attention at the time it was released. This is the case with the collapse of derivatives. There was a government study from 1994 that warned of the dangers accruing to the misuse of derivative instruments.

Cassandra was the mythical figure of ancient Greece who foresaw the future correctly but was condemned by Apollo never to be believed. The Greeks were explaining a fundamental flaw of human nature -- the herd instinct that proceeds thoughtlessly into danger.

There will always be Cassandras -- frustrated forecasters who watch disasters form and strike an ignorant public. As PR practitioners, we should learn to consider risks and to account for them in counsel and communications. We often don't because we're part of the herd.

Publicity Of Deadly Kind 

Here is publicity guaranteed to be fatal. Boast of your terrorist act and your commitment to destroy the nation that has you under arrest. It might be good for recruiting back home but it is sure to get a noose in America.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Benefits Of Privacy 

This discussion of Facebook is disturbing, not because Facebook is invading one's privacy but because individuals willingly give it away. There is an exhibitionist tendency among users who tell too much about themselves. There should be self-imposed limits on what one says about oneself, especially with regard to co-workers and clients. They don't need to know and frankly, don't want to know personal details. Their concern is whether you are credible and productive. They are not particularly interested in your dating habits, favorite band or choice of food. One should distinguish between private and public self. There can be too much transparency, and Facebook is proving that. It seems to me that there will be a reaction against Facebook at some point when users realize how much of their personal privacy they have sacrificed.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Ugly Image For A Country 

This is an ugly image for a country. I hear people say they would not go to Mexico for any reason. I feel the same. One never knows whether or when crossfire from a drug battle might spill over. Mexican authorities have been struggling to control the gangs and have shown some success but are apparently still scratching the surface. Why would anyone want to visit a country where kidnappings and shootings are so common?

The single most important PR move Mexico could make is to control the violence. Its image as a sovereign country won't improve until it does. This may mean putting the military in charge of law enforcement in all towns along the border. But, it also means keeping the military clean from corruption, something local law enforcement could not do. It is upsetting that a country which seemed to be improving has been thrust back so badly by drug wars. What these battles are showing is that the country's progress might have been illusory.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Still Important 

It's good to learn that PR practitioners are still important to editors and reporters. So says a survey of nearly 750 reporters and editors completed by Professor Don Bates of George Washington University. Don is a long-time friend and PR practitioner who knows both the theory and practice of the business.

Take some time to review the study's conclusions. The heavy use of web sites is a caution to keep them up to date. There are still a few companies out there that are laggards in this regard.

Note that social networking and podcasts are not used much at all. Mark too that editors want just the facts in e-mail pitches and less promotion. When will we in the PR business ever learn?

Thursday, March 05, 2009


Here is a futile effort on the part of doctors. They are trying to stop patients from rating them on the internet. That won't happen and their efforts won't work. For good and ill, the internet has brought transparency to the medical profession. Even though some ratings may be ill-informed and others bogus, patients will keep putting them up. There is good reason for this. The medical profession protected itself for too long against outsiders. Doctors wouldn't rate other doctors even when they knew there was incompetence or something worse. So, patients are doing it for them. It is a growing PR problem, and one doctors will need to address sooner or later with a better controlled rating system. The longer they are reluctant to make that move, the more patients will take ratings into their own hands. There will be a point of no return after which physicians will lose any control over who rates them and how.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


This is an interesting discussion of the cultural clues President Obama sends to the African-American community in speech and action. As the article points out, the clues are so subtle that anyone outside of the community is likely to miss them. The article also notes that the words he uses and his mannerisms are a part of him and unforced. This is a lesson for those who would put on an act to win over audiences. Make it real or don't do it. One can't fool audiences for long.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Here is a guaranteed way to destroy your reputation before you are charged or convicted of a crime. Refuse to cooperate with inquiring authorities. It looks now like Stanford Financial Group's CFO is worried more about going to jail than his image. Actually, he is putting himself in jeopardy both of spending time in an enforced vacation and becoming a symbol of one more financial racketeer.

There are some actions that destroy one's image just by taking them. Asserting one's Fifth Amendment rights is equivalent to saying, "I'm guilty." Stanford's CFO is well within his legal rights, but beyond the mark in terms of his public reputation.

Monday, March 02, 2009


Why is it that of all the thousands of shareholder letters CEOs write every year only one continues to get regular news coverage for its honesty and wit? What does that say for the openness and transparency of thousands of CEOs? What does it say about their writing ability, or more accurately, the ability of their ghost-writers? It seems to me business would be more a part of civic conversation, if CEOs were more like Warren Buffett, but few have chosen that route. Is it a lack of courage, of foresight? Or, is it that Buffett is unique and unable to be duplicated?

PR practitioners and CEOs can learn a lot from Buffett's annual letters. It's a pity that they haven't tried.

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