Tuesday, December 29, 2009


There will be no posting for the next few days. Happy New Year.

Old Model, New Model 

The practice of broadcasting TV signals over the air is passe in most urban areas of the US. Households get cable or fiber optic signals now and hundreds more channels than over-the-air TV can provide. Thus, it is not surprising that "free" TV channels are now trying to extract greater payments from cable operators. This is a change that did not happen overnight. It was slow erosion over decades until over-the-air broadcasters realized they had lost their airwave audiences and now have to fight for revenues from cable operators. It is instructive from business strategy perspective. One can never get comfortable with the marketplace. There is always something threatening it and the greatest threat of all is prolonged stability that causes one to lose focus.

Monday, December 28, 2009

How To Ruin Your Reputation 

AT&T already has trouble with cell phone users who are heavy downloaders. Now it apparently has run out of space on its towers in New York City. This not only angers those who use the service but also those who want to buy the iPhone. AT&T's principal competitor, Verizon, has been mocking AT&T lately for its cell phone coverage nationwide. It struck a nerve for AT&T is now advertising how much coverage it has. Will Verizon next attack AT&T's capacity?

The cell phone business is a blood sport, and it is easy to lose one's reputation for failing to keep up with technological advances. AT&T might be on the edge of doing just that.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dirty Laundry 

This is a difficult PR challenge -- airing poor morale in public. The way that AT&T chose to handle the issue is suspect as well. It is as if management didn't care enough to address the topic personally with employees but sent a substitute. Now that internal issues are in the open, it is doubly hard for internal PR and HR to handle the tension. They know that whatever they do will get an airing in blogs, Twitter and elsewhere. This is one more reason why it is better to handle issues promptly and not to let them fester.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Choice 

There are some acts and some individuals for whom the only persuasion is force. They respect power and sometimes not even power. They have no respect for life and no consciences. Their actions are without moral or ethical feelings. Death is a business. Sometimes I wonder how they sleep knowing sooner or later, they will be targeted. It is difficult to visualize a life in which every moment must be lived with caution because someone is out to get you, and you must get them first. These are individuals who are beyond civilization as we know it, and because they are part of modern life, they are proof that communications are limited in what they can achieve.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

About Time 

News that the government will fine airlines for leaving passengers on the tarmac is past due. What took them so long? It says something about airlines and their consideration for passengers that such a ruling has been found necessary. It also says something about the reputation of airlines and their public relations. One would think that carriers would have used common sense long ago not to keep passengers penned without food, water or a chance to deplane for hours at a time. But apparently not. That is partially why flying has become the bus lines of the air. Airlines will plead the complications they have from crew changes and schedule disruptions but none of it makes sense in the end. It is one more reason why government is necessary in the regulation of business because sometimes business cannot help itself.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just a Thought 

This is just a thought about how we write in PR. It seems that PR practitioners should be closer to Gradgrinds in exposition than Sissy Jupes but not dull. There is a balance between fact and example that is hard to keep but necessary. However, fact has the primary place in how we write because of the audiences that we have. We're not novelists and puffery only makes our image worse with the media we serve.

It is the 108th essay posted to online-pr.com.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Blow To Reputation 

News that the Federal Trade Commission is suing Intel for anti-competitive behavior is a blow to Intel's reputation. The case raises a question about innovative companies such as the chipmaker. Is there a time when innovation becomes anti-competitive simply because others cannot keep up? If so, what is the problem with that? At issue here is behavior that smacks more of arrogance than of innovation. But that too raises a question. How does a company that has been a long-time leader prevent itself from becoming a corporate bully? When one is used to being No. 1, there is a tendency to protect one's position with heavy-handed means. Perhaps it is better for companies to undergo stress regularly in order to remind employees of their mortality and need to remain focused on customers and communities in which they operate. Could it be that Intel has been on top for too long?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fact-checking Trend 

The blogger at "Regret the Error," Craig Silverman, says he sees a new trend in the media and online -- fact checking. That should have been a trend all along but here is a hope that it is true. The internet allows for more crowd-source verification of facts and picks up on "howlers" that get into the media, such as the "Correction of the Year" which is farther down the blog column. As for PR practitioners, checking facts should be an integral part of what they do. Mistakes happen, but they should be rare and when they occur, embarrassment is in order. Most arise because of inattention or someone making an assumption without challenging it. I've erred often enough to know that it is dangerous to trust memory or conventional wisdom. The internet is a blessing in that it allows one to check facts that in the past were lost in the recesses of libraries. But, the internet isn't perfect so multi-source fact-checking is in order online as well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Good Is Its Media Relations 

This is an interesting story on the lobbying capabilities of Comcast and its impact in Washington DC. A question left unanswered is whether Comcast's media relations abilities are as good as its lobbying. Recent stories about the company have been positive, but I'll bet it doesn't have anywhere near the same apparatus for media relations that it has for lobbying.

Interesting Campaign (If It Works) 

LG, the cell phone maker, discovered that teenagers were misusing their texting on phones. So, it decided to do something about it with this campaign. It's an interesting idea, but the proof will be in whether teenagers change their risky behavior when it comes to texting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Doing Well By Doing Good 

This is an interesting story and unusual way to do business. A company gives away efficient light bulbs so it can earn the carbon credits from the energy saved. The size of the effort is impressive -- 30 million compact fluorescents to Mexican households. That should make a significant dent in the country's energy demands while enhancing the company's reputation. It's a good example of doing well by doing good.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wasn't Going To Comment 

This blog was going to avoid the subject of Tiger Woods. Everyone else has piled on him. Why add to media titillation and howls of outrage? But, we're going to break our self-imposed silence just once to comment on sponsors, one of whom has dropped Woods already.

There is little to gain and lot to lose to remain identified with Woods at this point. There was a pattern of behavior that showed not one or two failings but a continuous flouting of standards and convention. Why have an individual like that standing for your company? Now that Woods has decided to stay away from golf for a time, why continue to identify him with the sport? Woods' behavior has damaged the game, fellow golfers and fans. Except for one or two notable "bad-boy" personalities, most golfers were known as clean athletes who lent golf and their sponsors a good image and platform on which to offer products and services. Tiger has single-handedly damaged that, if not destroyed it. One wonders if Woods understands how much hurt he has caused. If more sponsors leave, perhaps he will.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Great Idea 

Sometimes Google comes up with great ideas and sometimes not. That's how R&D works. The most recent experiment, however, is a great idea, and I hope it becomes a regular part of Google's offering. It's called Living Stories, and it puts together all the news about a world event in chronological order for easy reference. From a PR practitioner's point of view, this is ideal. One can track events in depth and easily and swiflty get a more accurate understanding of how the news has unfolded. It would be nice if all of Google were that way, but for now, it is good to know that a new and useful research tool is at hand.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


If this is a coincidence, I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. The Obama administration has been working to make a case for CO2 control and the announcement just prior to the Copenhagen meeting on the environment could not have been better timed. So, it is hard to believe or accept the EPA administrator's claim that it just happened that way. From one PR perspective, it was a good move. It showed commitment to reduction. From another PR perspective, it was a disaster that invoked howls of fury from American business under severe pressure from competition. It is too early to tell whether the CO2 announcement will be a plus or negative for the administration in the long run. But if the EPA begins to enforce reductions before Congress acts on the issue, be prepared for more public opposition.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

From Mass To Niche 

This is interesting. Newspapers have finally recognized that they are no longer mass media and are cutting back to a core of readers willing to pay for the paper daily. In other words, newspapers are fast becoming a niche medium, no longer powerful but catering to what is probably an older crowd. This means, of course, that newsrooms will continue to shrink and coverage as well until a balance between cost and revenue is achieved. The hard task for newspapers is not to cut too much. The New York Times, for example, is in the middle of newsroom buyouts and lost some of its well-known business reporters in the last few days. Who will replace them? No one.

In PR, we have seen this coming for a couple of years and as practitioners we have been shifting away from newspapers for some time. The problem is that in some areas like business news, there is nowhere else to go. There are no independent blog sites for business news that have become prominent like Politico for political news. Business news blog sites are associated with the same mainstream media that are cutting back. It is a challenge for corporate PR that will only become larger.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Easy Targets 

For the Copenhagen meeting on CO2 emissions, thousands are coming and how are they being transported? In private planes, limousines and other carbon dioxide emitters. Participants are easy targets for the media because they exhibit the behavior that needs to be changed. If they were truly concerned about CO2, they might have met using videoconferencing. That, however, ignores the importance of face-to-face, backroom chats where different parties feel one another out.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Cost of PR 

PR has always been a low-barrier business. That is, it never took a great deal of machinery and overhead to get into it. Today, however, overhead is even lower. One can practice the business for less than $1000, which includes a computer, software, phone, internet connection, etc. This essay looks into the cost of entry. It raises a question of whether PR practitioners are working as efficiently as they can in a time of downsizing and slow business. The question of overhead and margins is critical at a time when there is less work. The essay also concludes that the cost of practicing will continue to drop, although it will never reach zero.

The essay is the 107th posted on online-pr.com.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Great PR, cont. 

Some of the finest PR in recent years has come from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It has sponsored contests to develop the robot car, for example, which resulted in vehicles that can negotiate both rural and urban environments without input from humans. Now, the agency is sponsoring a contest that will test crowd sourcing on the internet. The way it is doing it is novel and designed to touch off feverish searching. The agency will float 10 red balloons near roadways across the nation. The first group that spots all 10 will win a cash prize. You can foresee already that the news media will join in the game along with impromptu teams connected by e-mail, texting, phone and anything else that will speed tracking. It should be great fun but it will also tell DARPA how crowd-sourcing works best. In other words, it is not just promotion but serious science. What can be better than that?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Yesterday's Hero 

An investment portfolio for a university might seem obscure, but Harvard's investment strategies for its endowment were the talk of academia for a long time -- and the envy. That was yesterday. Today, the question is how Harvard managed to lose so much cash -- nearly $2 billion -- in the downturn. The loss has forced the famously insulated school to cut back in nearly every department. Harvard's reputation for smarts also took a beating. It will be years before the university becomes the envy of investment managers again, if it ever does, and it is one more reminder that reputation and public perception are delicate, subject to cracking and ruin.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Back To The Future 

This kind of mournful reflection on the fate of journalism ignores history. Reporters were an ill-paid lot well into the 20th Century and many were anything but trustworthy in how they gathered facts. The Front Page was written from personal experience in Chicago's newspaper wars. Even great journalists like Walter Lippmann didn't think much of reporters. He felt that editors were high priests of the craft. All this is a preface to the point that journalism will continue in some manner going forward. It might not be the business that we have come to expect. It might regress for a time to its dubious past, but there will be those who will practice it. Some will succeed. Many will not. From a PR perspective, we need to adapt to what journalism becomes rather than bemoaning what is happening to it.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Avoiding Perceptions 

This is interesting. It lists seven perceptions about President Obama that he and his team of communicators must work hard to avoid. So far, it appears that the president has been successful in holding down the whispering, but for how long? Tension with the media will grow in time and any unhappiness between the White House and Congress will filter out. Sooner or later, one or more of these story lines will gain currency. Then the real communications challenge begins.

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