Thursday, June 30, 2011

When Is Late Too Late? 

The announcement that Google is launching a competitor to Facebook put me in mind of this company.  Both are trying to catch up to a market that has passed them by.  The question that Google and Kodak should be asking is whether they have a chance of catching up and maybe, passing competitors.  The likelihood is slim, but both companies will be in a poor market position if they don't try.  So they fly in the face of conventional wisdom and keep innovating.  What choice do they have?  From a PR perspective, both companies have to gain the attention of audiences whose focus is elsewhere.  That is never easy to do and it is rarely an overnight success.  So they labor looking for that magic service or product that will launch them from the back of the pack to the front.  Don't be surprised if they don't find it.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When Do You Stop Listening? 

When do you stop listening to your publics and act?  This is the dilemma facing Greek politicians who are trying to get the country's debt under control.  Anything they do short of telling the rest of Europe to go away is unacceptable to citizens demonstrating in the streets.  Yet, if Greece is to remain a member of the European Union or even a country with standing outside of the Union, Greece's politicians have to act in ways that enrage their citizens.  This is a time when communications principles break down.  What Greece's politicians are being forced to do is hard and miserable and their voters will get revenge at the ballot box, but the politicians have little choice.   About all they can hope is that things will get better in the short run, but there is little chance of that.  Some times taking a stand means one can only lose even if it is the right thing to do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What Now? 

Citigroup announced that hackers stole millions from customer accounts in May.  The bank said that customers would be made whole, but that doesn't solve the reputational issue.  If a bank isn't secure, then what is?  A mattress might be safer.  Citigroup can't let this happen again if it wants to maintain its reputation as a consumer bank.  It is not as if a gunman walked into a local branch and held up the tellers.  Citigroup left an open and unguarded door into its vault.  Customers can ask justifiably how many other doors has Citigroup left unsecured.  It's a PR issue that will only go away in time, if there are no other incursions like the one in May.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Invisible Enemy 

Lulzsec has signed off and departed from the internet -- or so it says.  This is after exposing the private information of millions of users and embarrassing governments and corporations with security breaches.  One thing we know for certain.  Someone will take Lulzsec's place and the internet will remain a place of invisible attackers.  Everything that resides or crosses the internet is vulnerable, and there is no crisis plan that can encompass all possible variations of data leaks.  That means companies, governments and other organizations will need to endure assaults on their reputations as a part of operations.  This might be a good thing in that it will keep all organizations on their toes.  It is bad to the extent that the so-called reservoir of goodwill will never quite fill and will become depleted quickly.  We are living in a world where at any time and in many ways an invisible enemy can attack and score a victory.

Friday, June 24, 2011

When Persuasion Fails... 

There is a point in communication when no amount of persuasion, bartering and arm-twisting works.  This is one.  So, what do the Vice President and President do now?  There is a hard August deadline that the Secretary of the Treasury says the United States must meet to maintain its full faith and credit with the rest of the world.  The Republicans, however, will have their way or they will flirt with breaking the deadline.  The President can demonize the Republicans but will that make them any more willing to compromise?  He can invite them to the White House and use his prestige to gain an agreement of some kind, but will it be enough?  There is a point when communication ends and movement must begin.  Democrats and Republicans are in a stand-off and waiting for the other side to bend.  So far, neither will and words fail.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Trillion Here, A Trillion There 

This article tries to explain the national debt -- the trillions the US owes to the world.  But, who knows what the debt really is, and how does one communicate the actual burden?  These are two major problems with talking about the deficit.  It all depends on how you count and counting can be done in a number of ways.  Secondly, it is well-nigh impossible for the human mind to grasp the concept of a "trillion."  Piling stacks of 100 dollar bills to the moon and back is as unreal as a table full of stacked pennies -- another image that has been tried.  There is a point where numbers have no meaning to most people.  The national debt is well beyond comprehension.  But, it is essential for government to communicate about it and for reporters and others to explain it.  Just don't expect citizens to relate to the debt until the day when services disappear.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Why do people fall into bubble thinking and how does one communicate to them when they do?  Here is a case.  Law schools are turning out tens of thousands of young lawyers for whom there is no work or jobs at low wages.  Yet, young men and women continue to go to law schools as if the employment picture doesn't affect them. There is magical thinking in a bubble -- for example, the belief that real estate values will continue to rise and property prices will never retreat.  Americans are subject to bubbles time and again, and they never seem to learn.  Logic doesn't apply even to the most sophisticated thinkers and analysts as we learned in the last financial meltdown.  So, how does one talk to people who won't listen -- perhaps, can't hear you because of their psychology?  The answer is most likely that you don't.  They have to learn for themselves what folly is, which says a great deal about the limits of communication.  Remember when we didn't listen to our parents and had to find out for ourselves?  Bubbles are like that.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Would that all CEOs were like this.  Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, doesn't change his vision but will change the ways that he tries to implement it until he finds a method that works.  He projects a consistency of purpose that many CEOs neglect in their pursuit of shareholder value.  For some CEOs, anything that provides a kick to the bottom line is something they will try, even if it means obscuring the mission of the organization.  Thus, you have companies entering businesses that they do not understand, cannot grow and eventually sell at a loss.  Most mergers and acquisitions fail because they never should be have been done in the first place.  Bezos, on the other hand, is looking for the ways to the end that he has clearly established for the organization.  He understands that it might not be easy, and he might have to try more than once but his senior team and their subordinates understand where he is going.  Admirable. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Social Media and Strategy 

This is a discussion of basic business strategy and where social media fit into it.    From an economic viewpoint, social media are communications tools that are no more or less valuable than any other medium.  The key is what works with the intended audience.  One can say "of course."  But, it is easy to forget their purpose in the frenzy of developing social media platforms.  

This is the 119th essay posted on online-pr.com 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Interesting Argument 

Here is an interesting argument -- the Democrats own the economy and should be proud of its success.  It is doubtful that too many citizens and politicians would be so forward about the state of the nation.  In fact, President Obama's vulnerability in next year's election is precisely because he hasn't been able to create jobs.  So, one would be justified in asking what the Democratic party chairwoman has been smoking.  On the other hand, if the economy does turn around in the next year, her view will be powerful.  It is premature now and a lesson that there is timing in delivering messages, something the chairwoman might need to learn.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011


This is dumb and the PR practitioner should have known better.    It also highlights a problem with social media.  It is too easy to share one's thoughts and too easy to be sloppy.  I'm sure that every PR practitioner who works with the media has thought at one point or another that a certain reporter belonged on a "do-not-call" list.  And, I'm sure that most practitioners have done it. But, if so, act quietly.  Obstreperous reporters do not take kindly to discipline, and they will make a case out of any effort to guide their stories.  Secondly, a practitioner should know better than to blacklist every reporter who fails to agree with an organization's point of view.  That is being overly sensitive, and it is a misunderstanding of Free Speech.  Any way you consider this Tweet, it was a foolish threat.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Bad News 

How do you communicate a positive message when news is continuously bad?  This is the challenge facing the Obama administration on the issue of jobs.  Job creation remains stubbornly flat, but jobs are what Americans want.  To the President's credit, he is focused on the issue and moving to create training programs, but there is no certainty that once an unemployed person is retrained there will be a job waiting.  Several commentators have pointed out that the US is undergoing a major and slow transition, and it is uncertain where the jobs will be in the future and when they will appear.  This, of course, is of no use to the President who needs to create jobs now.    It is a difficult communications issue.  One can't ignore the facts.  Certainly, America's unemployed aren't.  Hope lasts only a little while then citizens what to see action.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


After you publicly chastise individuals, how do you get them to donate money to you?  This is the conundrum that President Obama is facing with the Wall Street financial community.  He wants their money to help in his re-election campaign, but at the same time, he is showing little mercy toward them in his rhetoric.  One might venture that it is hypocritical for the President to take money from those he vilifies, but politics produces odd pairings.  One might guess that the quid pro quo that Wall Streeters are looking for is a softening of the language that Democrats use against them.  They are also looking for delays in the proposed new regulations to hem them in.  Whatever the outcome, the President's effort to collect money from financiers is bound to be controversial in his own party as well as among the financial community.  From a PR perspective, it makes little sense.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Destruction of Confidence 

If stock markets are a barometer of confidence, then the world is in for months more of economic pain.  On the other hand, market makers, for all of their models and math, are uncertain when it comes to predicting the future.  They don't know anymore than anyone else.  So, why are the markets given so much credibility?  Because there isn't anything to replace them in terms of reflecting the mood of the moment.  They are good indicators of the present.  Unfortunately, when it comes to investing, one is less interested in the present than in what is to come.  This presents a dilemma with every tick of trading that has no alternative but hope -- hope that a stock will rise if one is long and will fall if one is short.  So, national confidence at the moment is sour.  By the end of the week or the month, it might return to a more normal level, but then again, it might not.  The markets have no way of telling us.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Walking Dead 

What happens when you lose your reputation in Congress?  You become part of the walking dead, shunned, without influence and not even acknowledged.  It's an object lesson in the loss of personal integrity.  Certainly, this Congressman engaged in heinous, if not illegal, behavior.  He deserves whatever his fellow legislators mete out to him.  One hopes that he would use his head and resign, but he wouldn't have gotten into trouble in the first place if he had been.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, has become the de facto spokesperson for the US banking industry.  It's a dubious position.  The banking industry is under a cloud that won't dissipate for years.  Every time Dimon criticizes a Federal official publicly, he looks less of a statesman and more of a self-interested whiner.  Neither Dimon nor the industry can afford that.  The task that Dimon has is to make the industry's positions clear without seeming to be too much of a special interest.  He needs to reconnect big banking to main street America -- a seemingly impossible task.  As long as millions of houses remain in foreclosure, small businesses can't get loans and homeowners are underwater, there isn't much the banking industry can say to get into the grace of the public again.  Dimon might enjoy his position of leadership but one wonders why.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

No Guilt? 

HSBC bank has agreed to pay $62.5 million to bilked investors in Bernie Madoff's fund, but it does so without any admission of wrongdoing or liability.  That is for the lawyers.  Unfortunately, it doesn't help HSBC's reputation that is not subject to the letter of the law.  People will think that with such a large settlement that HSBC must have known something, or it certainly would have fought the issue through the courts.  On the other hand, fighting might have made the bank look worse -- big and unfeeling, the large bank out to crush the little investor.  So, there is no good outcome other than what the bank is doing -- getting the issue behind it as quickly as possible.  HSBC will need to rebuild its reputation over the coming years and hope that it never again meets another persuasive liar like Bernie Madoff.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

What Next? 

The German health authority is in need of a remedial lesson in crisis communications.  The first rule of a crisis is to get the facts straight.  They haven't been doing that.  The authority is now on its third candidate for the lethal e coli outbreak, and it is not clear that bean sprouts, the latest culprit, are the cause.  As the owner of the bean sprout farm said, it is unlikely since there is no organic material used in growing them, and thus far, 23 of 40 samples taken from the farm have proven negative.  Perhaps it is time for the authority to stop talking until it has the facts.  This is one case in which silence is golden.  Certainly the authority should be telling the public what it is doing to find the bacteria, but it should not be assigning causes until it has proof.  The authority already has caused tens of millions of losses to farmers whose crops were unfairly accused of the outbreak, and it has needlessly panicked the public.  There was no good reason for either outcome.

Monday, June 06, 2011

What Can You Say? 

What can you say when your company is involved in an historic disaster, is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and whose stock price has crashed?  This is the conundrum facing Tokyo Electric Power Company for whom the costs of the nuclear plant disasters is coming due.  Talk of delisting the stock has further spooked the markets.  The CEO of TEPCO needs to say something, but he must choose his words carefully.  It is hard to say that tomorrow will be brighter.  The plant meltdown will take years to clean up.  Compensation payments to householders and farmers also may extend for many months.  Even if the government steps in and creates a compensation fund, TEPCO  must pay it back.  This is a situation in which the attitude and courage of top leadership is the only public relations approach that works.  Using spokespersons and hiding helps no one internally nor consumers and investors.  It's a situation that few companies face in their histories.  Is TEPCO leadership up to it?

Friday, June 03, 2011


It doesn't take much to destroy a carefully crafted image.  One helicopter ride will do it, as the governor of New Jersey has discovered.  The governor portrays himself as a cost cutter.  He has fought with one group, especially teachers, after another to bring the budget in control.  He hasn't been nice about it either.  The governor is known for a tongue that cuts and crushes at the same time.  Then he was videotaped taking a state helicopter to his son's high school baseball game.  The firestorm was predictable and the use of the word "hypocrite"  frequent.  Yesterday, he reluctantly agreed to reimburse the state for part of the cost of his flight but he won't apologize.  Opponents will use the incident gleefully from now on, and the governor has lost much of the credibility that he had built.  He should have known better.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Does a symbol mean anything if people laugh at it?  That is what the Democrats were doing to the Republicans during and after the House vote on raising the debt limit ceiling.  Democrats called the vote a "charade" and even Republicans were careful to alert Wall Street that it wasn't to be taken seriously.  So, what was the value of the vote?  Did it communicate any more earnestness about the national debt that the President didn't already know?  Hardly.  The White House is deep in negotiations with Vice President Biden leading the way on finding ways to cut the debt while raising the ceiling.  Perhaps the symbolic act of the vote was more for the Republicans themselves, to remind themselves of the need for solidarity on the issue.  It certainly seems lost on anyone else.  The lesson is that if you are going to use a symbol, make sure your intended audience accepts its intent.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sudden Death 

How delicate is reputation?  A company can lose its entire business with one false accusation.  Just ask Spanish farmers who were accused of shipping to Germany cucumbers tainted with e coli bacteria.   Germany now admits that it was wrong but there are hundreds of tons of Spanish produce piling up weekly and rotting.   There is nothing the farmers can do to get other countries to accept it until those countries believe Spain has been wrongly accused.   Germany is in a difficult position itself.  People have taken sick and died from a virulent e coli infection but as of late yesterday, the country still hadn't identified the source of the problem.  It has become a credibility issue with the country's health system.  It is urgent that Germany find the cause because farming throughout Europe is on tenterhooks until it does.  There is no easy answer for a situation like this.

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