Monday, May 31, 2010

Losing the Perception Battle 

Whether Israel is in the right or not, it is losing the perception battle on the international front.  This has been happening over years and the latest incident doesn't help.  Perhaps it is inevitable given the opposed views of the two cultures.  But, Israel apparently hasn't been sensitive to the support that underdogs claim in the face of superior power.  Israel, right or wrong, looks like a bully.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Is Transparency Always Good? 

In PR we contend that transparency is better.  Bankers beg to differ -- at least with the proposal from the Financial Accounting Standards Board to increase transparency in loan valuation.   FASB wants the banks to mark loans to market value.  Banks say this would create huge swings in value on their balance sheets and add uncertainty to the market.  Bank analysts, for their part, don't appreciate such swings either when they are looking for a smooth progression of revenues and earnings and valuations.  So who is right?  The theorists at FASB or the marketplace?  The answer is political and lies with the body that has the most persuasive power in making an argument for or against the FASB proposal.  Oddly enough, it is a PR question in the dress of financial discussion.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Depressing Publicity 

Here is depressing but good publicity.  All the essential figures related to US and State revenue and debt placed on one page as a debt clock with changing figures.  Each has a source reference in case you want to check where the number is from.  Just mouse-over a box and the source appears at the top of the page.   It's depressing because it highlights how out of control Federal and State debt is.  It keeps your attention because numbers are changing throughout the page constantly.  If there is one criticism -- and it is a serious one -- the organization that has compiled this debt clock has not identified itself anywhere on the site.  That jeopardizes the credibility of the numbers and of the clock.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Growth Of A Simile 

Poor Greece.  It has become the new negative simile for the world.  The latest is New Jersey.  But, I've seen Spain compared to Greece, Portugal, California and the US Government.  No one has asked Greece how it feels about being the pariah of the world.  The simile is not exact, of course, because Greece's circumstances are unusual.  About the closest real comparison to the country are other countries in the Euro-zone,  But, that doesn't stop politicians and journalists from using Greece anyway.  One wonders if it is laziness.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Long Haul 

Yesterday I attended my niece's graduation from medical school.  She spent four years gaining a basic knowledge of medicine to get an MD after her name.  She will spend four more years in residency learning how to become a doctor.  She will spend years after that learning to become a surgeon.  Sometime in her mid-30s, she will be ready to join a practice and begin her career work. 

It is tempting to consider whether training in communications should be as long.  The communications practitioner would be competent in all basic disciplines of the field -- speech, audio, video, text, data and online.  Client solutions would be better integrated because the practitioner would know how to implement them.  Creativity would be enhanced because the practitioner would have more tools to draw upon.  But, this is dreaming.  Ours is a field of on-the-job training more than formal discipline.  As such, it is hit and miss.  One gains good experience in some disciplines and little or none in others.  Still, it should be possible for better OJT than what exists now.  That, however, would require the larger PR agencies to implement a formal training program with rotations among disciplines. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Off Monday 

I will be off Monday and back Tuesday. 

Everybody Does It 

Why is it that those who are caught in illegal activity use the "everybody-does-it" defense?  Consider, for example, this fellow.  At first he said he didn't dope, even after he was stripped of his Tour De France victory.  Now, he says he wants to come clean and admit he was doping but what do you know?  He claims that all of the other riders were doing the same thing.  Maybe so.  Maybe not.  Landis' credibility is in tatters for having taken all sides on the issue of whether he used drugs.  It is hard to believe him now.  From a PR perspective, anyone who claims that everybody-does-it is a warning to a practitioner who would defend him.   That is the scoundrel's excuse.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


This is interesting.  One-in-three regret posting personal information on social networking sites.  What this means is that one-in-three failed to think about the consequences of their free speech.  That would seem about right.  They failed to realize that just because one has a publishing tool, it doesn't mean one should always use -- or abuse -- it.  PR practitioners especially should understand discretion in writing.  We should always be thinking about the intended and unintended consequences.  If this makes for guarded speech, so much the better.  We represent clients whom we are to protect, sometimes from themselves.  If we cannot discipline ourselves, why should a client trust in us?  It is no surprise that the most regretful are the young who in their self-absorption fail to realize the impact they have on others. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


"Misspoke" is a weasel word, and it should be banned from a politician's lexicon, especially this one who misspoke frequently about his past military service.  There is a better word for telling the same untruth time and again.  That word is "lied."  It is a good Old English derivative.  It is short and truthful and unlike "misspoke" which implies lack of intention and attention.  Too many claim to have "misspoken."  It is to a point where none have ever lied.  Somehow their mouths weren't connected to their brains when they were speaking.  They were on some malevolent auto-pilot that took over their lips, teeth and tongue.  Voters weary of this semantic obfuscation.  They know what an individual has done even though the individual can't bring himself to admit it.  It would be far better if a politician said, "I lied.  I won't do it again." 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I've started a background paper for a client and am in the midst of tedium -- organization.  Any paper of length needs to be structured logically so facts and ideas flow naturally.  But, this requires marshalling facts then fitting them together.  It isn't a pleasant task.  It's the hard work of writing.  I went through source documents yesterday and highlighted what is needed.  Today, I need to lift the facts and put them into a detailed outline.  Once that is done, I'll be over the hump.  Writing the initial draft of the background paper will be easier.  I can concentrate on making the story flow rather than looking up a fact here and another one there.  Today, however, is another grinding session.  I can appreciate the perseverance of book writers, especially historians.  I'm not sure how they do it when they are confronted with thousands of source documents and tens of thousands of facts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Needs Mastery 

You Tube has now hit two billion (with a b) daily downloads.  That is far more than TV even in its golden age.  What this means to PR practitioners is that they had better master the craft of developing effective YouTube videos.  They have little choice.  Thus far, the You Tube videos I've seen from most companies are re-purposed from other activities.  There doesn't appear to be much video for YouTube alone.  That should change with video being developed for YouTube first and other purposes second.  One of the criteria for a YouTube video will be length.  Shorter is better.  But, the most important requirement will be the content itself.  Talking heads don't work. People want to see something that captures their attention.  With YouTube, there is no limit on creativity.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Overdoing It 

Is there a time when one can do too much, offer customers too much and confuse rather than help?  It seems that Microsoft might be testing this limit with its new Office package.  The reviewer says Office already had more tools than most people would ever use but now in the 2010 version, there are even more.  Microsoft may have run too far ahead of its customers who want simple word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software and databases.  Of course, Microsoft is publicizing all the things one can do with the new package, but from a PR point of view, how many care?  It is difficult for companies to find new ways to refresh products in order for people to buy them again.  The temptation is to do what Microsoft has done -- too much with too little real value.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What Now? 

What do you do when your primary business is your weakness?  AT&T is about to find out.  It leads the pack in dropped cellular calls.  There is little publicity that can help this situation, and the proper PR response is spending hundreds of millions to upgrade the network.  The question is whether AT&T has the will to do it.  Part of the problem AT&T is having is its greatest selling point.  It is the sole purveyor of Apple's iPhone, but the iPhone sops spectrum like a sponge.  AT&T was unprepared for the iPhone and doesn't seem to have made up the shortfall.  One wonders how much longer its customers will put up with poor service before going somewhere else?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Some technologies, despite all the publicity one could wish, never seem to make it to market.  Magnetic levitation (Maglev) train travel is one.  Yet, here it is again being publicized as the travel mode of the future.  It has been the travel mode of the future for decades, and it is fated to stay that way, it seems.  There are other technologies that have had similar waiting periods -- the videophone, for example and the fuel cell car.  There is a lesson here for PR practitioners.  Maintain a healthy sense of skepticism about technologies of the future that never quite arrives.  It is always interesting to look back to predictions of the future 20 years later.  Few are correct.  The future turned out to be much different than the prediction, and technologies that weren't thought of at the time of the prediction appeared and took hold.  I dabbled when I was young with futurism.  I learned quickly to stay away.  The present is challenge enough.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Under The Radar 

Some companies are lucky or have friends in the right places.  They can make mistakes and not be called down for it in the media.  Here is one.  Fannie Mae has not been generating headlines with its continuous requests for aid.  There is a story here and there but nothing like the avalanche that companies like Goldman Sachs have reaped.  How does Fannie Mae manage to fly under the radar?  It is a question that deserves an answer.  Other troubled companies would like to do the same. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

No Easy Out 

BP's reputation has taken a thorough beating with the massive Gulf oil spill and now it looks as if there will be no easy way to stop the leaks, if one can call a custom-built containment system an easy fix.  The company is faced with weeks of oil leaking as it tries to drill a relief well to plug the erupting hole.  There is no guarantee the relief well will work the first time.  This blowout is teaching the oil industry and the world a lesson about ultra-deep-water drilling and its risks.  The industry will respond with safeguards because it doesn't want to be in the position that BP is in now -- facing hundreds of millions, if not billions, in clean-up costs and penalties and damage to its reputation that may take decades to overcome.  It would be unfortunate if other oil companies forsake deep drilling because of this.  America needs oil.  On the other hand, one could hardly blame them if they take that decision.

Friday, May 07, 2010

"Rational" Markets 

If you are of a certain age and went to business school, you learned about the efficient market hypothesis -- what is known in the market about a stock is reflected in its price.  It makes some sense until events like yesterday when suddenly nothing did.  It is established now that markets are not totally efficient or rational because humans aren't either.  This is something any PR practitioner could tell a trader or theorist.  We deal with the irrational regularly.  Yet, we should not be mastered by it or crassly employ it in our work through false argument.  PR at its best stands by facts and uses them to make its points.  Those who play to the crowd get swallowed by the crowd sooner or later.  It is better to avoid emotion and to act in the best interests of all.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Another One Down 

The Washington Post has put Newsweek magazine up for sale.  It is difficult to believe that anyone will want to buy it.  Newsweek is one more example of a traditional medium that has outlived its mission.  It was always no. 2 to Time Magazine, which has been scrambling to reinvent itself as well.  It is easier to believe now that the weekly news magazine will disappear from the US with the exception of the Economist. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Image Protection 

This is an interesting story about the lengths a company will go to protect its image.  Disneyland is nearing its 55th year in business and seems as fresh and new today as it was when it opened.  That is because the company dispatches a huge corp of cleaners, painters, gum-scrapers and other technicians to the property every night who work until dawn preparing the facility for the next day.  Few notice or even think about the 600 workers behind the scenes making a "squeaky clean" park experience possible.  It's great PR and whoever suggested the story to the Los Angeles Times business section deserves kudos.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lawyers And Social Media 

This fellow vents often enough but he has a point.  Using lawyers to police social media is a foolhardy way to go.  All it does is to upset the individual and to provoke more negative remarks. In this instance, the offending company was USAA, an insurance firm that is highly rated in customer service.  It should have known better.  PR practitioners have a difficult task in convincing senior executives to take a lighter hand in responding to social media, but it is essential to protect the reputation of the organization.  One may respond to negative remarks, especially when they are false and harmful, but it should be done without the heavy hand of the law.  One should engage and remain approachable, even if it is to warn someone against the misuse of trademarks.  This is something lawyers fail to understand with cease and desist missives. 

Monday, May 03, 2010

How Do You Do It? 

How do you handle a seemingly unending crisis?  This is the problem BP is facing as it tries to stop the leaks from its well in the Gulf of Mexico.  From what I can tell, BP did most things right when it realized it had a crisis.  It communicated openly and frequently.  It did not hide from the news media.  It requested help from anyone who could bring knowledge to bear on shutting down the spewing well and protecting the coastline.  Yet, the well continues to gush thousands of barrels of crude a day into the sea.  There is no simple fix for the problems the company is facing.  Leaking might go on for weeks.  Meanwhile, its reputation is taking a beating day after day, hour after hour.  There is little the company can do except to forge ahead and try to find ways to shut the well down.   How would you lilke to be a PR spokesperson for BP now?

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