Monday, November 30, 2009

Hard Task 

One of the most difficult tasks facing America overseas is helping persuade the Taliban to switch sides in the Afghan war. A promise of jobs and a better life will have to be demonstrated before many Taliban will think about discussing the issue. Then, there is the danger of abandoning the units they serve in and making it to the other side alive. The argument will have to be powerful and enticements more so. From a communicator's perspective, the task looks nearly impossible, but it is an assignment that the U.S. military has undertaken. It won't be surprising if the army fails. The tactic that the military most likely will need is punishing power combined with an open hand for those who lay down their weapons. This and time. It won't happen overnight, and the US won't leave Afghanistan for years.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fallout Of Image 

It wasn't that many months ago that Dubai was the place to be in the Middle East. It was growing, money was flowing, trends were nothing but up. That was before the debt crisis, and now Dubai has been exposed. It is one more bubble that has burst, and the fallout of image over reality will be harsh and long. One wonders what it is about humans that they fall again and again for appearance. Many smart individuals were caught in Dubai's downfall. They apparently didn't see it coming. It is a warning to PR practitioners who value perception over reality that reality catches up eventually. When it does, the outcome is usually ugly.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


This is a day to be thankful for the good things one has -- family, friends, health, peace. There is a group to be thankful for that one might forget -- colleagues. I've seen good and bad working conditions in my non-career career. For many years now, I've been blessed to work with outstanding practitioners whom I can trust to stick to facts and more importantly, seek truth. The idea that one says anything as long as one can win an argument is foreign to them. It is a pleasure to work with them for that and also for the ability to argue strenuously until an answer is discovered that frames the facts at hand. I'm wrong as many times as I'm right when confronting client challenges. There is deep satisfaction in knowing the people around you will keep you from going off the edge and vice versa. Impromptu bull sessions tear about issues and examine them from multiple viewpoints until an answer surfaces that none of us might have imagined. Yes, we have fallen into "groupthink" on occasion with disastrous results, but for the most part, collective minds have been better than individual smarts. That only comes from dedicated practitioners who avoid cynicism and are dedicated to their jobs. It makes going to work a pleasure.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Economic Perception 

This article falls under the category of perception is reality. If you believe that you are in a recession, then you are in it. If you believe the recession is ending, it will. It's an interesting notion built on mass confidence or lack of it. From a PR perspective, it makes sense. We see and deal with crowd reactions constantly. What remains unclear (to me, at any rate) is the mechanism that translates individual perception into mass expectation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Bout Time 

The news that President Obama is about to announce his decision on troop levels in Afghanistan highlights a weakness -- indecisiveness. He has maundered about the decision for months while forces in the Afghanistan have been strained and waiting and his commanders left in the air not knowing how they are to proceed in handling the conflict.

From a PR perspective, the president may have placed himself in a position where he can't win. No matter what he decides -- whether to maintain, decrease or expand forces -- he has built contrary expectations across the country. The anti-war activists will be angry. The support-our-troops faction are already unhappy. Citizens who don't care for either side are wondering what took him so long.

Presidents should make decisions carefully. We know what happens when they "shoot from the hip." But, there is care, and there is paralysis. A perception that a President is unable to choose is ruinous to his image and his administration.

Monday, November 23, 2009

When Success Is Failure 

The medical establishment spent decades beseeching women to get mammograms in order to detect incipient cancer. Their education program was a success. Now, after in-depth study, a scientific panel says there is no need for a mammogram until the age of 50. Women have rebelled and demand that they be allowed to have the test beginning at age 40 as they have all along. This is a case of a PR campaign that succeeded too well and failed. No one left room for a possible change in message, and now women do not want to hear the new evidence. It is a cautionary tale for practitioners who send simple messages. Sometimes that is not the best approach. As for mammograms, for the time being women will continue to get exams as they always have, whether or not the procedure helps them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Culture Change 

The Air Force is learning to transition from fighter jocks to remotely controlled drones. Predictably, the culture change is painful. The service, which has had a technological flair since the beginning, is not adapting easily to technology that "dumbs down" the role of the pilot. In essence, the aeronautical science the Air Force depended on since the beginning has turned on it. From a citizen's point of view, it was about time. Budgets for fighter planes had soared out of sight, and it is increasingly difficult to keep a Cold War air force competitive. The cost overruns of the latest fighter jet are symptomatic. The Air Force has always set itself apart from the Army with its boots on the ground. It can't be easy to find itself subordinate to Grunts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Leak Strategy 

President Obama says he is angry with the leaks detailing discussions of troops for Afghanistan. But is he, really? Frequently in Washington, proposals are leaked to determine how they play with Congress and the public. The issue of troop levels appears to be one such case. Obama might be angry but he sure is watching the reaction of his party and the country to various troop levels that have been considered for the conflict. This is an odd way to do PR that seems to work only in the political realm. If Obama really is angry, then he knows where to go to stop the leaking -- to his own staff.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Airlines Lose Customers 

This tale of woe damages months of reputation building by United Airlines. A few more examples like it, and the airline might as well go out of business. United apparently doesn't understand that customers can strike back at its tactics -- and do.

Census PR 

An interesting example of Census PR.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Smart PR 

General Motors' announcement that it is going to pay back part of a Government loan that it doesn't need is smart PR. It telegraphs that the company isn't as badly off as people think. It shows GM is being a good citizen by returning funds to the citizenry. It validates progress toward the goal of leaving government protection altogether in the future. It is positive news for a company that hasn't had any for a long time. The news offsets the company's loss during the last quarter. One hopes that more good news comes from the company in the near future.

Monday, November 16, 2009

High Risk 

This is a high-risk decision and dangerous on more than one front. There is a risk of safety for the 9/11 defendants. There is a risk that they turn the trial into a political show for the benefit of radicals in the Arab world. There is a risk that with the press hyping every moment of the trial, the defendants won't get anything close to a fair hearing. So why is the administration doing it? The PR gain from having a 9/11 trial in New York is far outweighed by negatives, it would seem. The president and his advisers know far more than I. One can only hope that they have applied common sense to deliberations.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How To Hurt PR 

A company can work hard to tell its customers how much it appreciates them and their business but this kind of episode can turn a company's efforts at PR upside down. It's the little things that count and not the big messages.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Noisy CEO 

So the word leaks yesterday that the new CEO of AIG is threatening to quit because of government interference with his job. Now what? As a PR person, it is never easy to handle a noisy CEO. Fortunately, there aren't many of them. In this case, the CEO's threats can seriously damage an already endangered company, which has turned over CEOs too frequently. You can be sure that reporters are calling AIG to ask to speak to the CEO. You can be just as sure that the CEO isn't talking to the media. But the news is on the street and a quiet countdown has begun on his tenure internally and externally. It is a tough position to be in, and it damages already sagging company morale.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Public Embarrassment 

Here is an interesting PR challenge. How do you recover credibility after publicly going back on your word? General Motors had announced that it was going to sell Opel, its European subsidiary. Everything was set for the sale. Then, GM announced it had changed its mind and is not going to peddle the brand. Predictably, everyone in Germany is angry with the company, especially politicians and unions. GM's CEO acknowledges the embarrassment the company has caused and has promised more freedom for Opel to operate. Still, that might not be enough to salve German feelings. It also looks like GM is unable to figure out what to do in its weakened state. That doesn't help the company. From a PR perspective, GM has hurt itself in this episode.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Unintended Perception 

Is Congress a body run by the wealthy for the wealthy? It would seem that way. Given the number of millionaires, one would be pardoned for thinking that many of these individuals have little feel for the common man. Of course, this isn't true, but the perception that only the rich can afford government service is a danger to those in power. Citizens might think legislators do not have the best interests of the public at heart. Historically, Congress has been a body that has had a disproportionate number of wealthy. The first Congress was composed of wealthy men, for example. Unintended perceptions can become stumbling blocks, and it is hard to know where they will rise and how they will affect one's communications objectives.

Monday, November 09, 2009

PR Lesson 

The family just spent two and half days in Washington DC visiting museums and taking tours. Washington is one great civics and PR lesson. Over and over you are taught that the country in which you live has a constitution and government that allowed the development of inventions and industry and a political history of growing freedom. Even museums that concentrate on art have a story to tell of how American citizens were at the root of how they were conceived and built. It is all overwhelming and one soon becomes foot-sore and weary. But, there are lifetimes of learning packed just into the Mall, not including museums away from the Mall, of which there are many. Washington is the great museum town of the earth today and should be the destination of every citizen. It is an example of PR at its best.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

No Post Tomorrow 

I will be on the road Friday.

Playing At The Margins 

Companies like this that play at the margins of respectability risk their credibility. There are, unfortunately, many companies that take that chance where there is money to be made. The question is how these firms maintain their relationships with the public such that they continue to do business? That they do is a given or they would be out of business. This company would argue that it is providing a valuable service, but the service is on the edge of legality. There are plenty of organizations that provide illegal products and services and operate in the shadows but maintain their businesses. The bargains they make with their publics is enough to keep them profitable. Public relations can be corrupted like anything else.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Interesting PR Challenge 

Here is an interesting PR challenge. Writer pens bio of willing subject. Subject blasts the bio as a poor job before the book appears. How then do you gain awareness for the book when it does go on the shelf for sale? One can merchandise the book against the subject, I suppose -- "Learn the spicy details about X." But if there are none, it is doubtful readers will pick up the work for long. There is always a risk when writing about a person who is still alive and active, or a company, for that matter. I've had the task of publicizing books about standout companies that were in trouble by time the book was in print. That is not fun either.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Power Of Credibility 

Congress is livid with Wall Street. Wall Street says it is sorry. Congress doesn't believe it and is readying regulation to hem financial houses in. The financial houses oppose any further regulation. This only make Senators and Representatives all the more angry. There comes a time when all the PR and lobbying that one deploys is not enough because credibility is irretrievably lost. This appears to be one of those times. The best that bankers and investment houses can do is to soften pending regulations.

There isn't much of a platform that Wall Street can stand on to defend itself. It has taken billions of US funds to prop up weakened banks and insurance companies. Some of that money has been paid back. Much of it might be lost forever. Wall Street cannot argue that it regulates itself in a free market. It has proven once again that it can't.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Buy Now, Pay Later 

It is instructive to watch a government official trying to avoid a reality by not answering a question. Here is a case. It would be poor "spin" for the Treasury Secretary to admit to the truth that taxes will have to rise to bring down the deficit, so he avoids answering. What happens, of course, is that it is worse public relations. The public knows that high deficits cannot continue forever into the future. Why not tell them the facts? Well, for one thing, it is just before elections, and the administration doesn't want to upset voters, not yet anyway. I'm not picking on the Obama administration. Every administration in my experience has shaded reality when it is in its benefit to do so. It's a wonder that citizens stand for it, but they do, perhaps because most are not paying attention.

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