Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How To Ruin Your Reputation, Cont. 

This story, if true, is a case study in how to ruin a company's reputation.  The allegations are that Dell Computer manufactured faulty computers, sold them to the public then hid the truth about bad components in them.  Of course, the story is from one side of a court battle.  Dell has yet to weigh in.  Still, if internal memos accurately portray what was happening behind the scenes at the company, the culture had gone wrong and senior management hadn't recognized it.  In an effort to drive costs down, Dell was sourcing suspect parts then trying to avoid the problems they caused when they failed.  This story is a reminder that it is not what you say that counts in PR but what you do.  Dell's employees might have forgotten that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


This story is a reminder -- as if PR practitioners needed one -- that trivial questions can consume the public's attention.  What the people are interested in may not be important but the practitioner in order to communicate effectively cannot ignore their concerns.  The  inconsequential often rules daily discussion and ignorance of issues is willed.  Many people prefer to discuss the contents of People magazine rather than the stories in the Economist.  Nothing a communicator can do will change that. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Interesting Week 

Sometimes it doesn't pay to take time off.  In the past week, a general committed career suicide by interview and a president bolstered his polls with a financial reform bill.  About the general, Stanley McChrystal, one wonders if he paid attention to the PR training he had during his rise to the top.  His blunder was so basic that one has to believe there was intent.  That is, he was looking to get out, and he chose a ham-handed way to do it.  Whatever the real reason, there must have been a feeling of despair among Public Affairs Officers in the army.  

The financial reform bill is a law Obama wants, but if one can trust newspaper reports about it, Congress "kicked the can down the road" by assigning the task of real regulation to agencies where lobbying already is underway.  No matter.  Obama can point to a success and a PR coup.  Based on his popularity ratings, it is a success he needs.

I wonder if this week will be as interesting as last.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Time Off 

I'm taking time away from the blog.  I'll return toward the end of the month. 


Here is an example of BP's PR that is being mocked mercilessly and justifiably so.  It is incomprehensible that BP is trying to spin a positive side out of a disaster of its own making, but that is apparently what the company is attempting.  This is a time for straight reporting -- just the facts, just the raw video and audio.  Let the public decide for itself how BP is doing.  Instead, we get feature stories on how out-of-work boat captains are learning to place oil booms.  If anyone is going to write a story like that, it should be a member of the media but not BP, which has no credibility.  No one can blame the company for defending itself.  But one can blame the company for defending itself badly.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dumb Fad 

Here is a dumb fad built around youthful drinking.  There is little wonder that the company disavows all knowledge of the game.  It will be interesting to see what happens if someone drinks, drives and causes injury.  There is a question here of how much responsibility a company has to stop abuse of its products when it knows that it is occurring.  It would seem to be good PR to advise players to stop:  It is also a protection against liability.  Just to say the company does not foster or agree with such games might not be enough.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Seemed Like A Good Idea 

Here is a bit of a surprise.  The plastic horn used by South African fans during World Cup soccer games is hard on one's hearing.  There seems to be no escape from it.  During the entire England v. US game, there was a din in the stadium that never let up.  It was hard for players to make themselves heard.  I can only imagine what it was like in the stands with horns blowing all about one. 

The idea of a cheap plastic horn was a good one.  It gives fans a way to express their feelings.  What the horn designers forgot is that the horns are loud.  So, a public relations gesture to the fans has backfired and become a sonic hurricane.  It is hard to imagine that officials can take the horns from the fans now, so it looks like this World Cup might go down as the noisiest ever.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Evolve Or Be Damned 

This is an interesting story on a proposal to impose taxes in order to save the newspaper industry.  Print publications of all kinds, not just newspapers, are facing extinction, as you well know.  The fear is that nothing will replace them as unbiased purveyors of information about society and government.  That fear is mostly, but not entirely, wrong.  There are media on the internet that are reporting difficult stories and producing prize-winning journalism.  Unfortunately, most of these media are not self-supporting, and there doesn't appear to be an economic model on the horizon that is practical.  So, there is a likelihood there will be a return to a period in America when news reporting is opinionated, biased and barely credible.  This strikes at the heart of media relations in PR.  We may move from placing stories to defending against attacks while the facts of an organization, product or event are merchandised directly online.  We see this happening now.  As newspapers disappear, the question is how much more will occur.  From my perspective, it is more likely than not.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Happens To The Best of 'Em 

This YouTube video is a reminder that even the most carefully rehearsed event can go wrong, that one should always be prepared for failure, that backups are essential.  Steve Jobs is legendary for practicing demonstrations before giving them. Everything is checked and rechecked and changed where necessary.  But, even Jobs could not have guessed that so many people in the audience were on WiFi at the time he was trying to use it.  So, the demonstration failed and there was snickering.  Later when he discovered the problem, he told people to get off WiFi so he could get enough bandwidth for the demonstration, and it succeeded the second time.  One must demonstrate the benefits and advantages of equipment but always be aware there is risk involved.  Have backups to backups.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

What's Wrong With This? 

There is a current of criticism against BP and its PR efforts because it has bought search terms around "oil spill" to direct people to its web site.  I've tried but I can't figure out what is wrong or unethical with doing that.  It is legitimate to get one's message out and there is no issue of right, wrong or perception with buying a search term.  It seems to me that this is not only unfair criticism of BP but of every company that has done, is doing and will do it.  These purists would have BP stand there and take rivers of abuse in silence.  BP, like it or not, is the only one with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) at the well head 5000 feet down.  BP is the only one providing live television feeds of the leaking well.  BP is leading and executing the engineering to stop the flow.  If there were an independent source of information , one would go to it.  There isn't at the well site, although the Coast Guard provides daily briefings of cleanup efforts.  The purists can spin conspiracy theories and blast the company for its actions but they are getting their facts from the same source.  Give the source credit for broadcasting them.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

No Way To Win 

When it comes to paying money for claims, there is almost no way for a company to win.  Someone will always be dissatisfied and feel entitled to more.  BP is experiencing this already in the Gulf.  Certainly Gulf residents, fisherman and families of workers on the oil platform are entitled to hundreds of millions to compensate for the loss of life and livelihood, but no matter what BP pays, it will never be enough.  Payments will be a source of bitterness for many and an enduring reputational black mark against the company.  It is one more reason why with the eventual costs of lawsuits, penalties and fines that close attention to safety is ultimately a less expensive alternative.  It appears now that BP's on-site managers were more concerned about over-running the budget for drilling the well and might have made some poor judgment calls.  If that proves true, the company will regret cost-consciousness for decades to come.  BP has entered the case books along with Exxon at Valdez and Union Carbide at Bhopal as an example of how to destroy a company's reputation.

Monday, June 07, 2010

How The Online World Has Changed 

Five years ago, who would have predicted that the two dominant online media would be Facebook and Twitter?  I wouldn't and I didn't.  But they are here and have their own advantages.  Twitter is an excellent headline news medium, much like the wire service headline feeds of yore.  Facebook is a source of relationship and expression that dwarfs blogging. I wish that I used both heavily but I don't.  As it is, I'm buried in news throughout the day using other online media.  Secondly, I don't feel a need to expand a circle of "friends" to tens then hundreds. 

This raises an interesting question.  Because of the prevalence of media on the Internet, fragmentation will grow rather than decrease even with the dominance of a few services.  Even though one might be present on Facebook, for example, that doesn't mean that uses it heavily.  Presence might be more of an obligation than an interest. So, finding what one really uses will become harder than ever. 

Friday, June 04, 2010

One Gift To Campaign, Another To Govern 

This story is among several criticizing the Obama administration and its governing abilities.  It spotlights again that there is a profound difference between the communications of campaigning and the powers of governing.  Obama is a good speaker -- clear, precise and unfortunately, too eager to shift blame to the previous administration.   He has appeared to be a diffident leader at times, especially during the prolonged health care fight.  And, the moves by his political team to bolster Congress seem inept.  There is no way of knowing yet whether these were early errors and whether he can learn his way into an impossible job.  Unfortunately, Presidents don't get much time to change government.  Usually after four years, opposition has become effective and the second four years pass without major legislation being passed.  This means great campaigners must be ready to be great presidents from the first day and switch both communications gears and processes.  It is a mystery why anyone wants the job.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Stand By Your Man 

Warren Buffet is a shrewd investor, but he is also a leader with the right instincts.  He understands that it is good internal PR to support your employees when they are targets for criticism and sacrificial lambs.  It would have been easy for Buffet to say the CEO of Moody's deserved to be fired for the ratings service's failures.  It would have been easy for Buffet to press for the firing.  He didn't take either step.  One can criticize this as protecting your own at the expense of others, but Buffet acknowledged that the ratings agency had made mistakes.  He didn't avoid the facts but he did try to put them in perspective -- a view that was too facile, perhaps.  Moody's won't make the mistake again.  It was disastrous enough the first time, and the managers who are there will guard against over-optimism in the future.  Good internal PR has positive outcomes.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

It Won't Last 

This news is interesting.  Magazine publishers are charging more for e-book subscriptions rather than less.  They are jacking the price in spite of the fact that there are no paper, ink, printing or transport costs with e-books.  One would expect an e-book subscription to be half of the printed edition.  This kind of blatant rip-off will hurt them in the long run and is poor public relations besides.  But, they will get away with it for awhile until customer pressure forces them to match price to process.   The sooner it happens, the better.  Publishers still haven't figured out suitable economic models for electronic publishing.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Facing Extinction 

There must be an awful feeling in a CEO who knows that his company might face extinction because of a crisis.  That feeling may well be present in the CEO of BP today.  The market has given up on the company until it plugs the wild well.  Then, it will be wary as billions in lawsuits work through the courts.  About the only message that BP can send now is one of survival.  That is, the company will grind through this and remain independent.  The rest of the world is skeptical -- and should be.  BP has become the negative example for the rest of the industry and its reputation is in ruins for decades to come.  Perhaps it would be best if the company disappears -- or perhaps, changes its name.

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