Friday, February 26, 2010


Here is a case of too much hype and not enough detail behind a new product. The unveiling of the fuel cell was done on 60 Minutes in a breathless presentation then a press conference later in California where a senator and the governor showed up. The only problem with the scenario is that few performance statistics have been published about the system and already skeptics are saying it isn't as good as it is supposed to be. The only way to stop the boo-birds would be to reveal the facts of the system, especially its cost-benefit.

I've seen this scenario before. It comes from letting an inventor-entrepreneur and venture capitalist become too enthusiastic. Remember the Segway debut? That too was touted as a new form of transportation destined to change the world. It hasn't yet.

There are times when the best PR counsel is to tell entrepreneurs and moneymen to lower their voices. This is one.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tall Order 

How do you recapture the reputation of a state? California, which is teetering on the edge of receivership, used to be known as the forward-thinking state of the nation. It was also known for many years as a state with good government and efficient bureaucracy. Today, those attributes seem a joke on citizens and the rest of the nation. Part of the problem arose from Californians themselves through the initiative process that hamstrung the legislature. Another part is the legislature that has gerrymandered itself into power. A third part of the problem has been the governors who have been unable to persuade the legislature to make hard choices. The mixture has been lethal and it will take many years, if ever, for California to stand out again. It has been a long fall for the state's reputation. It will be an equally long recovery.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Black Eye 

Here is a PR black eye for hospitals. Half of infection deaths are traced to hospitals. Part of that comes from the new strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant. Part comes from the soup of infectious diseases that concentrate in hospitals. That isn't much of a defense for hospitals, however. One goes to a hospital to get well, not to die from another affliction. The only proper response for hospitals is to put in the equipment and procedures to cut down on infections, as expensive as the new technologies and policies may be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No Smiley Face 

There is no spin for these numbers, no smiley faces, no suggestion of progress. Hard-core joblessness in the US will be a political liability for both parties for years to come. At the heart of the problem is that no one knows where new jobs will come from. If from emerging industries, it will take time for these to establish themselves. If from existing industries, there has to be a prospect of profitable growth before they start hiring. The White House is doing the best it can to show it has saved a couple of million of jobs with the stimulus package, but the public knows that is not enough. This article paints a black picture for generations attempting to enter the workforce. Those that start behind will remain behind with their earning potential unfulfilled over a career. The real PR challenge for this administration and any other is job creation -- whatever that may be. If that fails, the public will conclude their political leaders have broken faith with them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Worse And Worse 

Just when one thinks it could not get any worse for Toyota, it does. The company has had a PR meltdown of epic proportions. It will be a case study for years on how not to handle reputation and relationships with government and customers.

One could blame Toyota's American managers for the failures but that would be too easy. The problem apparently stems from headquarters in Japan. For some reason, Toyota's Japanese managers never learned how to handle incidents of engineering failure. They have examples of other Japanese companies that have handled crises well, but some how it appears Toyota's leaders never considered that it applied to them. Toyota will survive this period of crisis but there is a good chance that its insensitivity won't. Look for a much humbler company in the future.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Getting Even 

How is this for media relations? You badger a reporter until he gets angry and sends an abusive e-mail to his editor that accidentally comes to you. You then put out a press release quoting the e-mail, and you get the reporter fired. Nice, huh? That is what apparently happened here. With media rapport like that, one could be out of PR in no time.

Certainly the reporter should have controlled himself, and he was a fool to write an expletive in an e-mail, but there is rarely a reason to hound a reporter to the point of anger. In media relations, one has to learn to take no for an answer and to preserve access to reporters for the next time. I hope the PR person involved in this incident learns how to deal with the journalists better in the future. On the other hand, issuing a press release as he did indicates there is not much learning underway.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How Embarrassing 

This story is humiliating for one of the world's largest wine companies. It seems that some Frenchmen passed off inferior wine as Pinot Noir to E&J Gallo wine company and got away with it for two years. The question is how did Gallo not know? Were the sophisticated palates of its wine tasters fooled by common Malbec and Shiraz? If so, what does that say about one's ability to distinguish one wine from another? This is a PR disaster for the brand and Gallo will have to work hard to rebuild its image, if it chooses to do so. At least, the old jibes against Gallo as a "cheap wine" company will return in force. The irony of the story is that Gallo apparently never did figure out the scam. It was inspectors who realized that there could not have been that much acerage of Pinot Noir under production.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Even The Good Err 

Google is famous for its motto, "Do no evil." That is why its present cock-up with its new Facebook-like software called Buzz is interesting. One wonders how the company could have committed such a PR blunder. Privacy advocates are hammering Google for making Buzz too powerful. Buzz works with G Mail and Google had built it so it would automatically expose everyone in a person's address book to everyone else. I'm sure that a Google engineer thought it was a neat feature without thinking how embarrassing this might be. It is to Google's credit that it backpedaled from the feature almost immediately once the criticism started, and it is making inclusion selective. But how did the mistake happen in the first place? Developers and company executives were clearly not sensitive to privacy issues when they built and introduced the product. That should be a warning. Their definition of "Do no evil" is too internally focused.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Interesting Crisis 

It seems that climate change experts are combating a crisis. The record snowstorms on the East Coast and across the US have given support to those who say there is no global warming. Experts are now trying to differentiate between local weather and overall earth temperature. They will need powerful reasoning to regain public opinion, partly because global warming proponents pointed to local weather in the past as evidence of warming. It is difficult to separate present weather from long-term trends. There is a subtlety that escapes the public, especially when it has been shown that the global warming experts have used suspect data in some of their reporting. It's an interesting PR challenge and a compelling one, especially as sea levels continue to rise. Few countries are ready for the real effects of a warmer earth.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Great Publicity 

Google has an extraordinary ability to garner great publicity for itself. It has done it again with its broadband announcement. Note that I have written publicity. The public relations aspect will come into play once the high-speed internet is installed and working. Then, communities served by Google and the public at large will begin to understand what one can do with a gigabyte per second internet service. Today the benefits are conceptual.

From a business perspective, Google's effort is bound to put the major internet service providers under pressure to upgrade their systems. However, what Google has left unanswered is the cost of doing so. It is vastly different to wire a few communities and to wire the entire United States. Nor has Google answered the inevitable question of what one is going to do with the vast increase of data demands and storage on a high-speed system. However, neither of these challenges subtracted from the story. Kudos to Google once again.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another Crisis Concern 

This story points to another crisis concern for prominent organizations and individuals. A tendency for news organizations to run with unconfirmed online rumors and to treat those rumors as real news. There is little one can do to combat such misbehavior on the part of news organizations other than to catch errors immediately and correct them. If the governor of New York can be faulted for anything, it is that his staff did not react quickly enough to squelch the viral rumors. One wonders if they monitor Twitter and blogs closely. If they do, they did not treat the rumor with sufficient concern. No matter, it is certain now they will monitor to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Did It Get This Far? 

How did it get this far that car recalls have risen to a diplomatic issue between countries? Simply put, Toyota has botched nearly every step of its recalls underway, and various actors, including the US Secretary of Transportation, have needlessly scared owners. There has been too much silence throughout the process. The CEO of Toyota stayed out of the issue until two days ago when he finally promised a fix for all defects -- now three and counting.

There are two important tasks for Toyota now -- fix the problems quickly and review its engineering process to figure out why so many errors were missed. The latter is a task of months and not weeks. The company's reputation for quality is ruined. It won't get it back for years to come, and it will come only after several new models have been proven to meet the highest engineering standards. It is a sad come-down for the company, but the wounds were self-inflicted.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Never Say "Never" 

If there is one dangerous word to use, especially in turbulent times, it is the word "never" as in "will never happen." The Secretary of the Treasury said that the US will never lose its high credit rating, but really, how does he know, especially with deficits facing the country for years to come? His statement is filled with hubris, as if he can personally guarantee that the country will remain a strong credit. Of course, he can't. It is understandable that he wants to project a sense of calm and control to a reeling country, but there are ways of doing that without making promises one cannot keep. "Never" is a word that should be banished in a recession. It wasn't that long ago we thought General Motors would never fail, that Toyota would never come under pressure, that banks would never become wards of the government, that housing prices would never plunge to where they are today. We know when a financial system is under strain, the impossible becomes possible and the unthinkable happens.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Weather Hysteria 

The snowstorm that hit the East Coast over the weekend provoked the usual crowd reactions. People loaded shopping carts with food and other necessities so they wouldn't run out if they couldn't get out of the house for days. The storm, which was bad in southern New Jersey and below, failed to reach northern New Jersey, New York and New England. So while Washington DC had more than a foot, New Yorkers had nothing at all or at most, a dusting. However, that didn't stop crowd behavior in the unaffected areas. TV meteorologists fueled the hysteria with dire predictions. News crews scrambled to report from empty, snow-packed roadways. It was the weather story of the young year. From a communications perspective, it was interesting to watch, but those of us in the North felt cheated.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Familiarity Breeds Trust 

The old saying that "Familiarity breeds contempt" has apparently been turned on its head in online marketing -- at least if this forecast is accurate. What it highlights is that marketers demands for exact measurement were largely excuses to avoid using a new medium that they didn't understand. If this forecast is correct, it is another blow to traditional media, especially to print, and 2010 will be as bad as 2009. Look for more magazines and newspapers to disappear.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Proper Use of Populism 

TO: Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood

FROM: Spinmeister

SUBJ: Proper Use of Populism

Mr. Secretary, it has come to our attention that your comments yesterday advising drivers of Toyota autos to "stop driving" their cars was an improper use of populist rhetoric. The object of populism is to incite citizens against an evil, such as a large corporation, a bank or other force and in so doing to win votes for your side. The object is not to panic citizens and turn them against you, thereby costing your party votes in the next election. Of course, we know populism doesn't have to be true or accurate but it must achieve its designated end -- painting the opposition black and gaining support. We know you regret that you "misspoke" but the damage has been done. We urge you, Mr. Secretary, in the future to follow advice we offered to the Vice President of the United States: Think twice. Speak Once. We wish you the best of success in your next populist attack on evil corporations and their leaders, and we will gladly help you as we prepare for midterm elections.



Wednesday, February 03, 2010


The developing practice of neuromarketing is still at a stage when one wonders whether it is an aid to marketers or hokum. Marketers and PR practitioners should approach it with a sense of skepticism. The claim that it helps marketers know what to avoid more than what to choose appears to be reasonable. On the other hand, what marketers and PR practitioners need most are directions rather than stop signs. There is a chance that neuromarketing will become a more precise discipline over time. Until then, proceed with caution.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Not The First Time 

Toyota's struggle with unintended acceleration of its vehicles is not the first time that such a major recall has threatened an auto company. Audi was accused of the same defect in the 1980s, and it lost more than a billion dollars and its US business for several years as a result of a "60 Minutes" expose. The unfortunate outcome of Audi's near-death experience was that it was found faultless in the end. No matter. Customers left the company and its products on the lot. Toyota admits it is in error in two ways -- floor carpets that jam accelerator pedals and sticking pedals. While it is too early to now whether Toyota will lose its US business as a result of these engineering mistakes, it will be costly to fix several million vehicles and to fight lawsuits already being filed. Toyota's reputation has taken a blow that will require years of good products to regain. The ultimate question is why did this happen in the first place? The company will be working on that answer for some time to come.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Moving Spotlight 

It wasn't that many weeks ago that health care reform dominated the headlines, airwaves and online discussion. The suspense was incredible. Would the Senate pass a bill or not and what would be in it? What a difference a new year makes. The publicity emphasis now is jobs, jobs, and jobs -- no mention of healthcare in the Senate although the Speaker of the House continues to insist that a bill will pass. It is hard to recall any other recent shift in emphasis that has been as extreme as this, and it seems hollow. The result is that Congress seems feckless because it could not do what it said that it was determined to do. The Speaker of the House is correct that there needs to be a bill of some kind for the public to have any trust in Congress at all. It seems, however, that Congress isn't worried about that. It's on to the next thing. Perhaps Congress is hoping that the public will forget. What Congress should remember is that at the heart of public relations, it is what you do and not what you say.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?