Wednesday, February 29, 2012


The hallmark of this presidential campaign season has been bitter warfare among Republicans.  It is the worst kind of PR -- fratricide.  Rather than aiming at the President, candidates are stabbing each other and delivering low blows whenever they can.  What does the public think of such cage matches?  It would not be an overstatement to say that the mass of voters are disgusted with all of them.  Of course, that helps the incumbent's chances for re-election.  Maybe this year will teach candidates to refrain from pummeling one another and focus again on issues, but don't bet on it. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Magic And Mind 

This is an interesting discussion of how magicians take advantage of the human mind.  Why should PR practitioners care?  Because it tells us about our own brains and what we need to be aware of when we work with clients.  In magic, we fool ourselves and a magician helps us do it. In every day client work, we make assumptions that more or less make us gullible.  The hard part is knowing enough to ask the hard question of clients before the media or the public do it.  The second hardest part is knowing enough to challenge the answer before others do.  Every practitioner will encounter a client who is willfully deceptive or has "drunk the kool-aid" of an idea.  Confronting this client before others do is essential but difficult.  One doesn't want to push too hard because after all the client is paying us, but on the other hand, one doesn't want to put the client in harm's way.  The unwritten lesson of the article is never to be too certain about what one knows.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What Now? 

If your value depends on secrecy and someone exposes you to the world, what then?  This is the challenge that a global security analysis firm is facing.  Called Strator, the company is brazening through the leak of an estimated five million emails from its employees.  What else can it do?  It may be too soon to know if the future of the firm has been compromised by such a massive security breach.  It is safe to say that something went wrong in the firm's protective shield, and it has much to explain to clients.  The public relations headache is huge and ongoing for it will take weeks, if not months, for people to wade through the e-mails and find embarrassing nuggets.  Each new disclosure will be another fire for the firm to put out.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Enforced PR 

The online advertising industry is now backing an approach that would put "Do Not Track" buttons on web browsers.  It is safe to say that advertisers would not have agreed to this had not regulators threatened enforcement.  It is called "lifted eyebrow" regulation.  Regulators show concern and an industry acts on its own before laws are passed.  No matter, it looks good for advertisers to take this approach to privacy.  It is going to change the internet in profound ways if millions insist on not being followed.  How that will work out for advertising is an unknown.  The industry may have to develop new metrics to understand interests and desires of users.  While one might not gain a full measure of credibility for enforced PR, it is better than fighting a losing battle.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

PR Disaster 

What if you purchased an electric vehicle and inadvertently allowed the battery to run down completely?  Worse, once the battery is discharged, there is no way to recharge it, and you have to pay $40,000 to get a new one?  This is the PR nightmare facing Tesla Motors, which apparently overlooked the possibility when it designed its sports car and sedan.  And, it has happened to customers already although Tesla has sold only a few thousand vehicles.  There is no easy recovery from a mistake like this.  Tesla has and will build more safeguards into its cars, but the possibility of complete discharge will remain.  It is understatement to say owners will be upset to know they have to pay more than the price of a new car just to replace a battery.  Tesla could face demise as a result of mistake like this.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Money's Worth? 

Does money buy elections?  We'll see this year.  Already tens of millions have been spent in communications and organization just to win the Republican nomination -- and the result is far from clear.  Money buys speech, but it doesn't purchase votes in an honest election.  If it did, Romney would be the nominee for the Republican party, and Newt Gingrich would be running a close second.  There are too many elements involved in campaigning to assign winners and losers on the basis of money alone.  The candidate ultimately is the most important factor.  If voters don't like the candidate, no matter how much money the candidate spends won't be enough. There is much braying about money in politics.  Perhaps it is too loud, and the Supreme Court is right.  Let each side have as many megaphones as are affordable and concentrate on keeping elections honest.  Like jurors at a trial, the people will decide no matter how brilliant the lawyer's pleading.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Safety and Communication 

The auto industry's emphasis on linking drivers to the world via cell phone and internet has produced safety concerns.  On the other hand, the manufacturers' research into vehicle-to-vehicle communication has reaped praise even from a frequent critic.   In other words, there is desirable and undesirable communication in cars.  It seems today that most work is being done on the undesirable side because it is easier to achieve.  One wonders if the auto industry has its priorities backwards and if this will become a PR problem.  The industry and the public are moving slowly but inexorably to the self-driving car when both types of communication -- personal and vehicle-to-vehicle -- will be safe and acceptable, but there are years before we get there,.  Meanwhile, the issue of distracted drivers won't go away.  Although more difficult from a coordination and transition standpoint, wouldn't it be better and smarter PR if the industry paid more attention to the safer driving car that talks to other cars around it?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Whistleblowers Rarely Win 

This is a painful story.  The man who blew the whistle on Olympus and its financial chicanery has to fear for his life.  It is one more example of a hard truth.  Whistleblowers rarely win.  Doing the right thing, taking the proper action, standing against the system means one is targeted now and for a long time to come.  We can talk about transparency in PR, but the fact is that acting in a transparent manner is not always best for one's career.  No one argues that Michael Woodford acted improperly.  He put himself and his career at risk.  He lost his career and needs personal protection, but executives at Olympus have been arrested, the ugly story about overpayments has come out and auditors are searching for missing millions.  Woodford is a model for integrity, but emulating him is risky at best.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How Did This Happen? 

How did this happen?  An investor spends billions to build a digital network only to discover that his radio spectrum overpowers GPS and the Federal Communications Commission axes the network.   The size of the failure is so stunning that one wonders who was talking to whom throughout the development.  Predictably, LightSquared says it will slog on.  It probably won't for long.  A massive write-off and closed shop are imminent.  From a PR perspective, it appears that LightSquared ignored or denied that a large part of the public would be inconvenienced by its proposed service.  The company took a "not-my-problem" stance to the GPS issue until the FCC forced its hand.  Call that arrogance or willful ignorance.  Either way, it is a classic example of a company that wasn't listening to those with the real power.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Results Of A Bad Reputation 

This is what a bad reputation reaps.  Rupert Murdoch can do no right these days as the noose of the law pulls tighter about him and his son.  News Corp is a battleground on which its executives are in retreat and trying to save themselves.  It is almost quaint now to remember that not so long ago Murdoch had enormous power in the UK.  Politicians feared him.  He could make or break careers.  Today he is the butt of everyone's anger and the Fleet Street journalism his editors and reporters practiced is falling by the wayside.  Murdoch is apparently directing the defense of the company and of his son, but his efforts are comical.  The missing e-mail is almost certainly a smoking gun and the authorities will not let him get away with its absence.  The situation at the company has gone far beyond communications.  There is no spin or publicity that can offset the damage.  News Corp may survive but it will be a shadow of what it was in the UK.  Perhaps that is all for the good.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Better Late Than Never 

This is better late than never but it leaves open a question of why it wasn't done before.  Apple should have had some inkling of how Chinese subcontractor factories are run and how employees were being treated.  With that understanding, it should have been aware that it had a potentially explosive situation on its hands.  But, when the news came out of working conditions, Apple appeared unprepared and defenseless.  Chances are that the company won't let that happen again, but it shouldn't have happened the first time.  Globally, companies can no longer take a position that whatever their subcontractors do is "not my problem."   That might have worked 15 years or so ago, but not now.  The internet is a force for social and cultural change.  The third world is no longer isolated from the first and that is all for the good of oppressed workers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Smart PR 

General Electric is engaged in smart public relations with this announcement.  It is investing in US plants and hiring 5,000 veterans, and thereby, addressing two issues with one stroke.  GE is an international company that doesn't invest in any country unless it sees profitable opportunities for doing so.  This announcement, then, is GE's vote of confidence in the US as a location for manufacturing of jet engines.  Its intent to hire veterans is a recognition that these men and women have a depth of maturity that is valuable and dedication to getting things done that is both productive and profitable.  GE is a tough competitor and doesn't act lightly.  Its decisions have a solid basis for increased revenues and earnings, but it also knows how to wield good PR at the same time.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Waving The Warning Flag 

The US Postal Service has been waving a warning flag for years.  Congress hasn't listened.  Now the service is running out of cash and is warning that it might need to shut its doors by October.  Maybe this time politicians will let the service shrink to meet its reduced need.  But, don't bet on it.  The service is trapped in a culture of the 18th and 19th Centuries when a post office was an integral part of a town.  In some cases, the post office was the town.  The tiny place where I grew up in California had a post office in the general store.  Other than a feed store and machine shop, there wasn't anything to distinguish the town from a wide spot in the road.  There are still towns like that in the US, but that doesn't mean they should have a post office at a time when e-mail and the internet take care of the bulk of communication.  The postal service needs a new relationship with the public, one that the service has yet to determine although it has tried hard.  It can't afford to be a medium of last resort, or if Congress determines that it must be, it needs the latitude to shrink where it can.  If nothing else happens in Washington DC this year, setting the US Postal Service free will recognize that we are in a new century.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Credibility Gap 

Groupon, unlike Facebook, is a company with a credibility gap.  Its report of a fourth quarter loss yesterday didn't help its case.  Analysts have been skeptical for some time about its business premise, citing a number of potential competitors and low barrier to entry.  Groupon has apparently decided to grow big quickly in order to outdistance the pack and that has pushed it into the red.  Amazon.com did the same thing when it launched.  Groupon's challenge is much the same as Amazon's.  It must show a consistent profit to regain support from financial markets.  The longer it remains in a deficit, the harder it will be for the company to build support for its business model.  There isn't much that publicity can do for the company now.  Its best PR is performance.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What Not To Write 

This is a leaked memo providing background on a reporter.  Note the highlighted section.  Even if what the memo writer penned is true, he shouldn't have typed it in a document.  That is an opinion that should have been expressed only in words to the client.  You can imagine what the reporter is thinking as a result of the accusation that she is biased.  She will look all the harder to prove that she isn't.  The memo might have been safe had personal opinion not been injected into it, and there was no reason for doing so.  The facts speak for themselves.  One's opinions should have been delivered separately, perhaps in a phone call.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Everybody's Talking 

Everybody's talking at me. I don't hear word they're saying....  The opening of the Harry Nilsson song is a fit description for the use of social media during the Super Bowl.  Here are statistics on the noise.  Imagine if you were the communications director of an organization and your job was to penetrate this raucous buzz with your own message.  Your success would be slim at best.  The compelling need to express oneself has become indulgence.  It is now time for listening, or silence, getting away from ruckus and listening to oneself.  Unfortunately, that won't happen.  People are encouraged to speak out, as if their every word has value.  They don't, even cumulatively.  So we're stuck in an environment of loudspeakers bawling incomprehensible noise 24 hours a day.  We'll get used to it, of course, but it isn't ideal.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Delay And Pain 

When an organization or country faces painful choices, delay is often the response.  This is the tactic Greece is using in responding to terms for an EU/IMF bailout.  Greece's politicians are worried about internal public relations rather than what the world thinks.  Citizens are fed up with austerity and don't want to live with even less, as the bailout terms demand.  One can't blame Greeks for anger.  On the other hand, Greece lived beyond its means far too long and is now trying to avoid paying the bill.  It is easy to blame the country's leaders for this mess, but the onus is on everyone for overspending.  Delay will not make the pain go away, but it is a short-term effort at control in a time of chaos.  

Friday, February 03, 2012

PR Gaffe 

A non-profit foundation can fund any organization it wishes and also not fund it, if it chooses.  But, this was a PR gaffe of the first order.  Although I won't go as far as this commentator, it is clear that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation could have handled its decision in a far better manner.  For example, it could have shifted its funding to another organization and publicly said so.  It could have cut funding over a period of years to give Planned Parenthood time to find other funding sources.  It could have announced publicly a change of direction a year in advance to give everyone time to adjust.  What it shouldn't have done is what it did -- cut funding suddenly with little explanation using an apparent pretext.  The regrettable outcome of this flap is that the Komen foundation almost certainly will see its fund raising harmed and its work diminished.  While it has every right to choose the recipients of its monies, it was ham-handed in its management of public perception, and it lost the PR battle at the beginning.  What were they thinking?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Embedded Culture 

How do you break down a culture that doesn't want to change?  This is the challenge facing Sony's new CEO.  Sony's silos of technology and engineering, which once propelled the company to the top of the electronics industry, have become the enemy of the company in today's markets.  Sony's CEOs have known that, but they have been defeated in trying to break down the narrowly focused divisions and make them cooperate closely with one another.  Now comes a new CEO with the same challenge.  Will he do any better, or will he accept the culture for what it is and try to reignite the company's technical prowess?  Sony is running out of time.  It is becoming irrelevant in the electronic marketplace, and competitors will push it aside as has happened to companies before it.  The situation could not be more urgent, but does the culture see it that way?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Cheating And Reputation 

Colleges are supposed to help students develop their minds in an environment of open discussion and honesty.  That is why this cheating incident mars the reputation of a good school.  If  Claremont McKenna fibbed about SAT scores, where else has the school bent rules.  Administrators have taken the right action.  They confessed to the dishonesty and fired the admissions official who was responsible.  The incident is not the only case of lying among colleges, and it raises the question of just how desperate higher education has become to compete for students.  Is anyone surprised that students cheat as well and think little of it?  

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