Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Crowd size is an argument that flares in Washington DC constantly. Here it is again. The argument is a function of spin. Supporters want the crowd to be larger. Opponents want it to be smaller. Both sides guess because neither side has a quick way to determine how many people were actually present. There is a way of estimating but it takes days and tedious work. No one wants to wait for that. Rather, they want to trumpet their points of view to the media right away. It would be good if the media just dropped crowd-size estimates completely from their stories, but there is little hope of that happening. So, supporters and opponents continue to wrangle over a silly argument. PR practitioners ought to know better.
Monday, August 30, 2010
I may not agree with President Obama on everything but his comments about a network of misinformation on the internet are accurate. The web is a major source of misperception and inaccurate statements, especially about Obama's birth and religion. In spite of evidence to the contrary, conspiracy theorists continue to boil new allegations and commentary. It won't stop even after Obama leaves the White House years hence. And, it isn't worth fighting because the people who push the theories are committed in their beliefs. One can't persuade them that they are wrong. They are beyond public relations. Obama has to work with the majority who accept facts or ignore error. Persistent rumor is a condition of the internet era, and it is an issue that PR practitioners must learn to monitor and deal with when it begins to threaten companies and clients. There is no stopping it, however. Credulous people are everywhere.
Friday, August 27, 2010
This is interesting. Amazon has boasted about its Kindle sales for a long time but it has never revealed the number of units sold. From a PR point of view that is an unpardonable lapse in transparency. From Amazon's point of view, it appears to be a competitive strategy. Amazon doesn't want Apple or anyone else to know what its real market share is. Still, to leave media and analysts guessing about the success of one of your principal products is not the best way to operate. One wonders if sooner or later Amazon will be forced to disclose the number of Kindles in consumers hands and if that happens, what the reaction will be.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Attorneys General are pushing Craigslist to drop prostitution ads from its service. The head of Craigslist resisted at first but is sounding more conciliatory now. It is an interesting PR problem whether to tolerate an activity that almost always has criminality associated with it or to exclude it. What would you do?
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
How partisan have issues become between Democrats and Republicans? Before a ranking Republican House member gave a speech, he was attacked for what he might say in it -- what the Christian Science Monitor called a prebuttal. That is, the Democrats didn't wait for what the man was going to say but tried to spin his speech even before he delivered it. Such fast reaction has little parallel in the corporate world, but maybe it should. There are times when one knows that a criticism is coming and what the gist of the criticism will be. Perhaps getting out in front of it before it is delivered is better than waiting to respond. It is down-and-dirty PR but in the cut and thrust of debate there is room for many kinds of tactics.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Kenneth Feinberg, the US Government appointee to run the Gulf Coast Claims facility to pay for BP's pollution damage, is a man caught in the middle and running his own PR campaign. He is trying to get claimants to settle for direct cash disbursements rather than sue BP. Already a state attorney has called him a "corporate shill." He is bound to make no one happy. Those who get money will think it not enough. Attorneys who lose potential lawsuits will be angry. However, what he is doing is likely to get more cash into claimants hands than lawsuits, and it will take a much shorter time. What is best? Both state and private attorneys see a huge payday down the road if they can get to the courtroom. Feinberg, who handled the 9/11 compensation, knows the years litigation can take. Still, he is in a difficult position, and he will need to communicate constantly to persuade claimants to settle rather than sue. It is a difficult PR task and one that perhaps only Feinberg is cut out to do.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Our family has just finished a week camping, biking through a national park and visiting towns and villages on an island off Maine. There was something disturbing about it when one heard a 6-year-old ask his father if there was WiFi at the camp site. (There was but it didn't work well.) It was bothersome too to see a family sitting around a campfire at night next to their tent with laptops glowing on their knees. Or, in the middle of the forest in the national park to see a hiker checking his Blackberry. Is it possible to get away any longer? Apparently not on the East Coast of the United States. One wonders if this is healthy. The idea of vacation is to change settings and refocus but people are no longer away. They are linked umbilically to work, family and friends. From a PR perspective, it highlights the omnipresent power of communications, but it also shows how much cultural values have changed. We have to learn to isolate ourselves when we choose to because there is longer a way to break the link.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Here is one high-risk PR strategy -- bold defiance. It is a dare to the public and authorities to attempt to punish. Only a few public figures have chosen to use it, and Charlie Rangel, the long-time Congressman from New York is the current practitioner. The problem with the tactic is that it more often causes opposition to stiffen rather than dissipate. Charlie Rangel's friends might be rallying around him but there are plenty of his colleagues who are not. Chances are that he will get reprimanded, and he has already lost his power. On the other hand, if he is successful with his tactic, he will leave Congress some day on his own terms and not those of the Congressional ethics committee. That in itself will be success. Defiance is rarely a tactic that a PR person would counsel a public figure to use. It depends on having the weight of evidence on one's side. It seems in this case, however, that Rangel doesn't have the facts working for him, yet he is combative anyway. It will be interesting to see how his pugnacity turns out. It doesn't look good from this perspective.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
This man is practicing one of the long-standing businesses under the PR umbrella and one that few acknowledge -- the press agent. These are the people who flacked stars, starlets and wannabes on Broadway and in Hollywood. They were always looking for a gimmick to get their clients in print. The only difference here is that this fellow is serving tabloid TV and its constant need for the grotesque as entertainment. Lest we get too proud in PR and too lofty about what we do, it is always good to remember that in our background are fellows like this. We don't come from noble stock.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, has blasted the HP board for firing Mark Hurd. There is a question whether Hurd would want Ellison as a defender. Ellison himself is an imperial CEO who appears to dominate his board. Even if Ellison is right in his criticism, it doesn't help Hurd that Ellison is making it. As noted here, we are no longer in an era when CEOs are kings of companies. They are hired hands reporting to boards. Ellison is a throw-back, and there won't be many more like him except in founder-dominated companies. I suspect Ellison gives his PR department more than a few challenges with his behavior.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
As this article indicates, there are new sweat shops in the world with low pay and no benefits and they are online. The companies involved probably don't see themselves as hard-edged businesses, but they haven't been called down in public. What the companies are doing is creating a PR crisis for themselves that will erupt sooner or later. They could avoid this crisis by taking action now to raise pay and provide some minimum level of protection for their contract workers. They probably won't as long as there is no organized opposition to the way they are operating. One wonders if their public relations staffs accept how they operate without an internal protest. But then, who listens to PR?
Monday, August 09, 2010
One wonders how dumb a smart CEO can be. We know the answer with Mark Hurd's resignation from HP. It is not so much what he did -- fudging his expense accounts -- but that he did it at all given the high ethical standard he had set for the company. It appears he was a CEO who believed rules applied to everyone but him. It is difficult to believe there are still CEOs in the US who do not understand that today's governance does not allow for variance. CEOs today are hired hands in the employ of boards. They are no longer temporal kings. From a PR perspective, they should understand that they are no different than the lowest employee when it comes to conduct. Flame-outs like Hurd's make the PR task both easier and more difficult. It is easier because everyone understands where the board's standards are. It is more difficult because PR now must help introduce a new CEO to a company that has reeled in recent years through several leaders. HP is too good an organization to suffer like this.
Friday, August 06, 2010
This story on the use of trackers in political campaigns should be a warning to PR practitioners everywhere. There is no privacy left in public life. One can't play in Peoria before going to the Big Time, as we used to do with spokespersons and messages. There is no journalistic filter either. One can record another on a cell phone, put it on YouTube and make a case against a person or a company. Look for trackers in high-profile corporate events such as just occurred with BP. What this means, as the former CEO of BP learned, is that there is no room for mistakes now. One must be perfect from the beginning and learn to stay on message. This is something that is hard to do for politicians. It is doubly hard for CEOs who aren't trained to handle the limelight. So, be warned. What is happening today on the political campaign trail may happen tomorrow in pursuit of Big Business.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of Blackberry phones has dropped into second place behind Android phones in the US. If I were RIM, I would be worried about this. I've seen this scenario before in high-tech. A strong market leader is overtaken, passed and then falls into oblivion because it could not react quickly enough. Meanwhile, the failing market leader is communicating an "all's well" message that is increasingly out of sync with what is happening. What is needed is an "all-hands to the wheel" call and an emphasis on innovation and perhaps, opening the Blackberry operating system to other phone makers, which is what Android has done. The tech marketplace is merciless and driven by consumer desire. One cannot force the consumer to buy a Blackberry. RIM may have good distribution now but should it slide into third place, it will be in serious trouble. The message inside the company should be one of urgency.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
News that Goldman Sachs will not spend heavily in the upcoming elections was greeted with relief. However, even though a corporation is self-regulating in the matter of political advertising, there is always a chance that a time will come when it is not. It is a matter of the business interests of the company. I'm strongly in favor of Free Speech for corporations, but I'm also in favor or transparency in the matter of campaign donations. The Supreme Court has opened the microphone for business to speak out, but it left the matter of transparency untouched. It is up to Congress to regulate that, and Congress has been unable to act with Republicans in opposition. One wonders what it will take for reason to return to politicians.
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
This is an interesting article of use to PR practitioners. It discusses the kinds of data that the White House and Congress track in order to determine the health of the economy. The data is not the usual fare reported in the news -- GDP, unemployment rate, retail sales, etc. These numbers reflect where the economy has been. What politicians look for is data that tells them where the economy is going. So they look at Google searches for new cars, at electrical output, at lumber production, at stock prices and weekly jobless claims because these give a real-time feel for the near future. I particularly like the Google search metric for how it reveals more than what was originally intended.
Monday, August 02, 2010
The United Arab Emirates is moving to ban Blackberry e-mail and phone devices unless the company provides a way for the country to monitor them. Research in Motion (RIM) , the Canadian company that makes Blackberries, is faced with a decision that it would never worry about in the First World. What is a company to do? The article predicts RIM will comply because most western companies do. Only Google made an issue of standing up to the Chinese government over search results, and even Google caved in the end. What this does, however, is open these companies to long-term risks of criticism from activists and others for bowing to governments rather than hewing to principles of Free Speech.. The response to that is a company is in business first and human rights second, but few companies will make that statement. It is too controversial. Rather, RIM will hope no one says anything, and it can move forward with its business. This may work with the UAE but not in other countries.