Friday, May 29, 2009

The Rewards of Hubris 

Time Warner has finally affirmed that it is spinning off what remains of AOL. The nine-year merger was a disaster from the beginning and cost Time Warner tens of billions of dollars with no return. It was trumpeted as a merger of new and old media and an unbeatable combination when first announced. Spin was in the air and business columns of every paper in America and many outside as well. Then it collapsed. AOL's dial-up dominance eroded quickly with the rise of broadband connections. It fell behind Google in online advertising and never caught up. It delayed too long in moving with developments on the internet. It became, as it is now, a textbook example of what not to do and a symbol of the hubris of CEOs. What is left of the company will now be given to the public with no great expectations for its future. The question is who would want to invest in it?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Damn Lies And Statistics 

Here is an example of using statistics to avoid looking at the truth. And, it happened at a newspaper publisher's conference. Perhaps the speaker was right that millions continue to read a newspaper daily, but the millions are not necessarily located in the US. It does little good for the New York Times to know that newspaper readership is growing in India. One would think that a publisher would know better. The lesson for PR practitioners is to use statistics carefully.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Political Symbol 

The President's choice for a Supreme Court Justice had a number of political symbols. Woman? Check. Minority? Check. Judge? Check. Appealing biography? Check. High probability of confirmation? Check. It was a shrewd move that cut down opposition before it had a chance to coalesce. There will be hard questioning, of course, because Republicans will make sure of it in confirmation hearings. It will be difficult for Republicans, however, to pursue scorched earth tactics. From a PR perspective, one must appreciate how carefully Obama built bases of support in his choice. He sent a message to voters and Republicans that he will take a popular course. There is as well an implied threat in his action. Don't underestimate him as a politician and leader.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Setting off a nuclear bomb while firing missiles is a near-perfect message of hostility and anti-PR. North Korea seems to have mastered the craft of making the rest of the world angry, including the few supporters it had left -- i.e., China. One wonders why a nation-state would risk becoming a pariah and perhaps, glory in it. North Korea, a family-run country, doesn't feel the need to explain its actions. Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan are alarmed and on a high state of readiness should North Korea attempt to poke them in the eyes again. It's interesting to observe and also, to wonder when the country will fail and fall.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 

Memorial Day is a public communication and remembrance, but it is a strange day in its own way. We remember soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who were on the front lines. We tend to forget that most military personnel were not fighting. The support-to-warrior ratio was something like 15:1 when I served. I had a cushy job in the Army and saw no action. I spent time in a war zone but there were no battles. As a result, Memorial Day doesn't apply to the likes of me. My only satisfaction in retrospect is that I entered the military and did my job when hundreds of thousands like me did not. They got deferments. It is amusing to see as we get older that some people wish today that they had served their country. Others are more confirmed than ever in their anti-war opinions. Choices of 40 years past still have a way of informing character. From a communications perspective, past action or inaction cannot be divorced from present. Biography informs the message. I hope your Memorial Day is pleasant.

Friday, May 22, 2009


The role of a political opposition is interesting to observe, especially when it is trying to bring down the majority. This is what is happening to the Speaker of the House in Washington DC. Republicans are using the Speaker's contention that the CIA lied to her as a wedge to pry her from office. It is unlikely to work but the process of partisanship will run its course and maybe, weaken her authority and credibility. If the Republicans don't get her this time, there is always a chance they will succeed in the future. They are hoping to build a case against her and to damage her credibility to the point at which she can no longer lead. This is rough-and-tumble PR, which has little application outside of politics, and it is distasteful.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Blogger Regulation? 

This is interesting news, if true. The Federal Trade Commission is considering whether to regulate bloggers who write about products and services. The FTC's thinking is that people have a right to know whether a blogger is being paid by a manufacturer to publicize a product or service. While the commentator is skeptical, I think it is a good idea. It protects credibility and people have a right to know. The commentator is correct in stating that traditional media reporters were often paid off in the past. Payola didn't end until Watergate when publishers and editors became concerned about gifts PR people were giving to reporters. There is little of that being done today. Of course, should the FTC make the regulation, the next question is how it would enforce it. There are millions of blogs and not nearly enough regulators.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Partially Accurate 

Here is an interesting view of PR at a time when journalists are being fired and are entering other fields. The writer's view of what PR does most often is correct.

Flackery requires putting together credible narratives from pools of verifiable data. This activity is not categorically different from journalism. Nor is the teaching value that flackery provides entirely different from that of journalism: Most of the content you hear senators and congressmen reading on C-SPAN is stuff flacks provided to staffers.

It is highly unlikely, however, that PR practitioners will substitute for investigative journalism. That's pipe-dreaming. PR done right will substitute for some mainstream news that reporters no longer have time to report. The important part of substitution, however, will be credibility. Practitioners must insist on accuracy and reduce spin -- in other words, act like journalists. Most do, but there will always be 10 percent who jeopardize PR by lying, and there will be no way to get them out of the business. PR's image regrettably will continue to be defined by a minority.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When Behavioral Tracking Is Good 

There is a great deal of concern among privacy advocates about behavioral tracking online. They call it an invasion of privacy to follow a person. However, there are good outcomes from such tracking and this is one. It can help catch spammers. This happens because there are distinct patterns in how people e-mail. Some e-mail at all hours of the day and others only during certain periods. Spammers do not exhibit the same behavioral patterns.

From a PR perspective, anything that can reduce spam online is a help to practitioners. I am willing to give up some privacy in order to ward off useless messages. My guess is that most people feel this way.

Monday, May 18, 2009


This may be the newest and best search engine on the market, but only time will tell. What is known is that it has been flacked for the last three months with ever-increasing expectations about its abilities. The introduction smacks of Segway's build-up but for the fact that Wolfram Alpha was touted as a search engine from the start while Segway remained a mystery.

I look forward to using the engine to see if it is all that it is said to be, but I'm wary because of the amount of advanced publicity. On the other hand, Stephen Wolfram has long been acknowledged as brilliant, and he has a record of making groundbreaking products.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Government And PR 

Here is a good reason why one doesn't want government in the auto business. GM is facing a PR nightmare should it import low-cost autos from China. The unions will pressure the White House, which will turn the screws on the CEO of GM. The company, however, needs to find a way to make a small car profitably, but given its overhead, it hasn't been able to do it in years. The unions don't want to give up any more in terms of wages and benefits, but in order to build small cars and make money, they will have to bend. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is looking inevitable for GM, if only to get out of the predicament the company is in. It will be sad if that happens, but a reminder that no company is safe -- ever. Only a few years ago, GM was the example of America's manufacturing might. The husk of a company that remains has potential but not the power.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bad PR Tactic 

It is a measure of how far out of the mainstream the Republican party has washed that it seeks to brand Democrats as "socialists." Other than its shrunken conservative base, few know or care what a socialist might be. The tactic is delusional, especially since the President's popularity has not fallen that much. Were the Republicans in tune with most voters, they would be focusing on legislation to get the country moving again. They would be serving as a loyal opposition to some of the wrong-headed approaches the President is proposing with rational, but common-sense alternatives. Instead, they are trying to brand Democrats. It is poor PR at best and a guaranteed way for the party to wander in political wilderness for years to come.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Perils Of Bad Press 

Here is an instance in which a company blames bad press for poor financial performance. The company happens to be AIG and yes, it has been the subject of hundreds of news stories. This is a rare instance, however, in which a company officially acknowledges that media attention has hampered its operations. AIG is a case study in the effects of bad public relations.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pushing For A Stalemate 

This is an interesting if corrupted use of PR. In order to avoid a Congressional investigation into the previous administration's approval of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, the Republicans are pushing for an investigation of the Democratic Speaker of the House who had been briefed on the methods. The implied threat is if Democrats investigate, Republicans will force Democrats to investigate themselves. The result is not likely to be pretty because the Republicans will make sure that it isn't.

Tit-for-tat is fair in politics, but it is unlikely that any other sector of society would get away with it. Can you imagine a corporation telling a prosecutor that it will force an investigation into the judicial system, if the prosecutor comes after the company? It certainly wouldn't do that publicly, and it is unlikely it would dare do it at all. Washington DC is a world with a different set of rules, not all of them admirable.

Monday, May 11, 2009


This statistic that has been bouncing about the internet the last few days may be significant when it comes to future use of Twitter. Do people really want to know what you are having for lunch? Not really. Twitter is more useful for news -- headlines but little else. Look for the Twitter fad to diminish over time.

Friday, May 08, 2009

An End 

Duke Nukem is a computer game that had become a laughingstock in the gaming world. The once popular game had its new series under development since 1997. Year after year since then, there was a promise that the new version, Duke Nukem Forever, was going to appear. It never did, and now, according to reports, the company has shut down.

There was never any good reason for why the new version failed to appear. For several years, the game won a mock "vaporware" award given to companies that promised but failed to deliver software. The company and game are a case study in loss of reputation and credibility. Maybe someday, an enterprising journalist will write it and let the world know why the company was unable to produce a second version.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Great Publicity 

Here is a case where a publicity stunt worked and went viral. It might not be the best job in the world but it is close and something many people would want to try. So, it was natural to let news of the job spread online where it took fire. I'm not sure how Tourism Queensland calculated the equivalent of an estimated $110 million in global publicity, but the agency is convinced enough to think about making the stunt an annual event. However, whenever anything like this works well, imitators rise like weeds to sap the originality of the idea. It might not work as well the second time or the third.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Can't Win 

Here is another case in which a well-meaning corporation has stumbled into a "can't win" situation. Google is placing tens of thousands of books and maps online as a reference source for users, a highly laudable action. Unfortunately, it also placed online old Japanese maps that showed the location of outcast villages from the time when Japan was a rigid caste society. This raised the hackles of Japanese who apparently still discriminate against "burakumin" but don't want to be known for doing so. Google tried to respond by removing the names of outcast villages but that too generated criticism. So, it is stuck by having stumbled into a cultural quagmire. It is hard to believe that even with a strong level of cultural sensitivity, Google would have known the level of animosity surrounding older Japanese maps.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What Were They Thinking? 

Here is a guaranteed way to lose trust and credibility -- start a phony peer-reviewed medical journal. That is the charge against Merck, of all companies. It is hard to imagine how this idea made it through an integrity committee or was even considered within a marketing department. But apparently, it was. It is another case in which one hopes no PR practitioners were involved. If any were, they deserve to be fired. Someone forgot, or never knew, how easy it is to destroy the reputation of a company.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Media Hype 

There is nothing like a pending disaster to get the media in a tizzy. The Swine Flu story has them breathless with anticipation. Unfortunately, it is not much of a story. Medical experts say it is a normal flu, unpleasant to be sure, but hardly deadly. So, why do we have continuous photos of people wearing masks and case counts around the world? The media will follow the story for a few more days and then when it is obvious to everyone that H1N1 is not all that dangerous, they will drop the story. Meanwhile, they will have scared millions.

And reporters accuse PR practitioners of hype...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Past Time 

"A survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies found that in addition to the lack of metrics, the biggest impediment to effectively adopting digital media was that key people at a company, including senior management, simply don’t have a deep understanding of digital media. They also are reluctant to move marketing dollars away from techniques that have worked in the past."

Aaargh. Isn't it past time to have an understanding of digital media?

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