Monday, April 30, 2012

Smart Business, Poor PR 

The New York Times published an article yesterday on Apple's payment of taxes -- non-payment, that is.  It is summarized here.    From a business perspective, what Apple is doing is smart.  No business should pay one dollar more of taxes than it must.  Its fiduciary duty to shareholders is to earn income, not pay taxes that reduce it.  So, Apple's accountants have found a number of legitimate ways to avoid taxation.  Bully for them.  On the other hand, at a time of constrained Federal and state revenues, avoiding taxation looks bad.  Citizens who are not shareholders, employees or vendors of Apple demand that Apple pay its fair share.  There is no middle ground between these views.  Corporations as economic entities are not patriotic.  They don't owe allegiance to any country or political system.  They go where they can conduct economic exchanges and produce revenue.  From a PR perspective, they look selfish.  And, they are, but that is what they are supposed to be.  They just have to get used to articles like that in yesterday's Times.

Friday, April 27, 2012

We Have Rules 

There is nothing quite as humorless and off-putting than a bureaucracy that lives strictly by its rules.  Consider this outrageous case that has been rocketing about the internet for the last week.  The Transportation Security Administration is defending its agents for their pat-down of a hysterical four-year-old child.  Technically, they did the right thing by the rules.  From a public relations perspective, they were dumb.  Making matters worse is the inability of the TSA to understand that what it did was inhumane.  There aren't many four-year-olds who are terrorists.  There might not be any.  The child was acting like a child and the TSA like petty bureaucrats.  One can only hope that TSA agents will be trained in how to go about their jobs in a more civil manner.  It is understandable that they live by the book.  They have difficult jobs, and they are the spear point for defending American airways.  But there is no need to be Teutonic.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pay And Perception 

What is the ratio between the pay of the lowest and highest paid employees in a company?  No one really knows because pay scales and benefits packages vary from country to country and region to region.  Yet, unions are pushing for a ratio to be included in annual proxy statements.  Compensation experts say that it will be difficult to arrive at any result that is accurate and meaningful.  No matter.  It is the perception that counts.  The unions want a ratio that they can use to embarrass CEOs annually.  they just might get it.  Should one feel sorry for CEOs?  Not really.  By any calculation, they are paid well.  But it is questionable whether one should be pilloried over a number that is meaningless.  Should the regulation pass, it will increase pressure on the executive suite and on boards.  Maybe that is good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


PR practitioners like to talk about transparency, the need for a company to be authentic with its stakeholders.  But, how can it be when the people who make up a company are not?  It is difficult for someone who is managing impressions of himself to avoid managing the image of the company in which he works.  On the one hand, I will not be transparent.  On the other, I will.  Don't be surprised then if transparency is more an ideal than reality.  The perception of an organization is made up of engagements with it whether direct or indirect.  If employees are managing their images to one another, they are doing the same to the constituents of the organization.  Perhaps it is time to stop talking about transparency and to accept that perceptions of companies will always be distorted in some way whether deliberately or not.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Perceptual Gap 

The University of Florida may have good reasons for closing its computer science department at the same time it is increasing the budget for its football team.  Whatever those reasons are, it isn't convincing its students.  Universities face a perceptual and real gap in funding football to the detriment of education.  They do so because alumni give money for football programs, less so for computer science.  Who is to blame them for going where the money is?  Their students and parents, actually.  Schools that forget their purpose is first and foremost education have lost their way.  They have become soulless factories stamping out BA's and BS' who may or may not be ready for the world.  Given the unemployment rate among college graduates, more are not ready than are.  The scandal of over-funded football programs is well understood, but no one has moved to do much about it.  There is a cabal of coaches, administrations and the NCAA that guards it.  They are not evil, just misdirected.  It is past time for university presidents to take charge and to return to the primacy of education.

Monday, April 23, 2012

New Standard 

The media have set a new standard of transparency for presidential candidates and apparently Mitt Romney is not meeting it.  This might be part of Romney's so-called "tin ear" when it comes to public relations and campaigning, but it also might be Romney's personal decision not to disclose details.  Either way, it is not settling well with the proxies of the public.  The question that Romney has to ask is whether this is costing him votes.  Disclosure is not a matter of ethics but of meeting public expectations.  If the public is going to withhold approval because of a lack of disclosure then a candidate has no choice but to make private business public -- that is, if he wants to get elected.  Romney by all accounts is a methodical candidate, and he is surveying voters constantly about his approval rating.  What do you want to bet that he will disclose in time?

Friday, April 20, 2012


Lawyers have had a poor image for a long time, and now they are billing themselves out of business.  They have upset the one audience they need to sustain $800 a hour rates -- clients.  Corporations now find other ways to get basic legal work done that doesn't require sending it to their outside law firms.  One wonders how a situation like this came to be.  One answer is greed, pure and simple.  Making partner in a major law firm was a ticket to becoming a multi-millionaire. The multi-millionaires over time forgot that clients pay the bills and clients have choices, which they took.   So now major law firms, which were an oligopoly, have to compete along with everyone else.  As the article notes, many are not doing well, and several have ceased to exist.  Star lawyers are moving about like free agent ball players.  Lesser lawyers are looking for work.  Law firms are in need of better PR.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sea Change? 

According to this article, there is a sea change underway in healthcare.  Information technology is finally permeating the industry and computers are being used to optimize patient care.  In so doing, the health insurance industry may go away.  If so, it won't happen quickly or cheaply, and it will depend on every layer of medicine adopting to screens rather than paper charts.  Behavioral modification will be prolonged and arduous and will require PR in the trenches for years to come.  I've written before of the need for information technology to standardize patient treatment, but over years of waiting, it has become apparent that everyone from doctors through insurers has been waiting for "the other guy" to spend the money need to automate.  Moreover, numerous articles on related how doctors reject any tool that requires them to change greatly how they deliver service.  The problem has been nearly intractable and requires slow chipping year after year to make headway.  But like anti-smoking campaigns, there is a tipping point, and experts are saying that healthcare has finally reached it.  We'll see over the next couple of years whether that is correct but it cannot come too soon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Recourse 

How do you trust a country that does not respect property rights?  Argentina is only the latest nation to seize control of a company, and Spain is huffing about it.  But what can Spain do on behalf of the victimized company -- Repsol YPF?  It is hardly in a position to go to war or even to mount an effective embargo.  So, Argentina is likely to get away with its theft.  However, what the country gains in the short run, it will lose in almost every other way.  What companies or countries will trust its leadership?  While Argentina panders to its citizens, the publics of other countries will turn their backs.  And, Argentinians will lose.  Why government leaders can be so foolhardy is hard to fathom.  They do not understand relationships between nations and commerce, and in their naivete, they see only short-term advantage.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A PR Program I'd Like To See 

Canada is in the middle of giving up small coins in favor of electronic transactions.  I would like to see the PR program the nation is using to get citizens to change their behavior.  As the article notes, coinage is one of the oldest technologies still in use other than the wheel.  Canada is asking people to change a pattern that stems back 5,000 or more years.  Who knows?  They might, but the chances are greater that they will resist the "MintChip."  The Royal Canadian Mint needs an intensive, prolonged communications program that demonstrates repeatedly why the electronic way is better and faster.  And, it will need to maintain this program for several years until habits change.  It will be interesting to watch the progress -- or lack of it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Good Publicity 

When you have two shrewd players generating publicity, you get stories like this.  The Smithsonian and NASA are adept at sparking articles and with the retirement of the space shuttle, they are milking media interest.  One could ask if the space shuttle rode on top of a 747 in the past, and of course, it did.  No one thought to make a media story out of it then.  But, this is the last time, so there is an opportunity to spotlight a routine action.  That is both smart publicity and good PR for the Smithsonian and the space agency.  Of course, interest will build as the shuttle makes its way to permanent exhibition with a media frenzy on the day of unveiling.  NASA will have achieved recognition for the much-pressed manned space program.  Smithsonian will again solidify its position as the leading aeronautical museum of the earth.  Two for one.  

Friday, April 13, 2012


This extended rant about the number of social media users of Google+ reveals the difficulties of counting on the web.   Google continues to show gains for Google+ but no one believes the company because Google apparently counts users differently than Facebook.  As the article makes clear, it is hard to say how many real, active users of Google+ there are.  It has turned into a transparency issue for Google.  Critics will bay at the company until it provides a number that the critics can believe.  At this point, there might not be one since Google has apparently changed the way it counts more than once.  The feeling is that Google is hiding the real number of users because they are pitiful by comparison to Facebook.  That may be true.  Facebook had a head start, and there is little need for two social media that imitate each other.  Google can keep up the charade a while longer but it has become an issue for the company -- one it has to address.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Facing The Future 

Whatever happens to the government's case against book publishers, it is likely to change the future of the industry and that of e-books.  From a PR perspective, publishers put themselves on the wrong side of consumers through rejecting Amazon's low-price approach.  The Department of Justice is saying Amazon is right and Apple in the wrong.  It will be an interesting trial if it gets to that point, and the PR departments of the companies being sued will have their hands full.  The book publishing industry is facing a future that it considers to be bleak, but other publishers, notably newspapers, have experienced the same loss of market power.  Both need new economic models.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


 Consider this example of Twitter.  How many journalists are going to believe this fellow again?  Social media users are going to learn soon enough that credibility and reputation are an essential element in communicating.  The idea that one can make things up because Free Speech allows one to do so only goes so far.   Readers have the option of going elsewhere and they will.  From a PR perspective, however, it is a step toward fuller employment.  Some good comes out of dumb things others do.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A New PR Challenge 

According to this story, with the ubiquity of cell phone cameras bosses are afraid that employees will film them then post the results to the internet.  That is possible but it seems overstated.  If a boss is out of control, there is a good chance someone will record him and post it.  From the employee's perspective, it is protection.  From the boss' perspective, it should be an inducement to avoid unsettling behavior.  Overall, transparency should benefit both sides.  This means, however, there is never a period when the boss can let go in the presence of employees -- even at a holiday party.  There is something to say for that, but it could have a distancing effect in employee relations.  From the PR practitioner's point of view, it offers one more challenge when a boss calls in anger and orders an incriminating YouTube to be taken down.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Launched PR Careers 

Fear of this man launched more than a few PR careers.  Now he is gone, but the lessons of dealing with his kind of aggressive interview have entered communications casebooks.  Trainers regularly talk about the Mike Wallace style interview, about 60 Minutes at the door.  Wallace was a showman and he wasn't always right but he thought he was.  His questioning could make even an innocent man nervous, and the twitching of his victims made for great television.  In retrospect, 60 Minutes has done brilliant reporting but it has also made errors.  Its story on Audi sudden acceleration in 1986 was at best unfair, at worst a lie because the program had jiggered the transmission to demonstrate sudden acceleration.  Wallace's spirit of take-no-prisoners was behind that kind of zealous indictment.  Wallace changed television, and he changed the PR practitioner's job.  That is a testament of a kind.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Second Tier 

Some brands are also-rans.  No matter how hard they try, the public doesn't give them respect.  Here's one.  Burger King has been in turnaround for decades.  It never gets there.  It is always behind McDonald's and now is behind Wendy's.  Franchisees are angry.  Marketers come and go.  Ad campaigns start and stop.  Burger King goes nowhere.  From a PR perspective, there isn't much one can do for a company with endemic problems.  The beginning of change is to recognize them but understanding is not enough to cure the ills.  For years Avis used the "we try harder" approach in recognition of its no.2 place behind Hertz.  Avis never caught up and operators like Budget remained well behind.  Is it so bad to be second tier?  One can still make money if careful but it is necessary to control ambitions.  It is also good to remember that most companies are no. 2, 3 or 4 or lower, and they survive.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Reality Bites 

There has been a current of disenchantment with the President because his administration hasn't lived up to his campaign promise of "hope and change."  This is just the latest article expressing dismay.  From a PR perspective, disappointment was to be expected.  There was no way that anyone could get into office and make sweeping changes without support from both houses of Congress.  Obama never had it, but his campaign speech was uplifting.  He was seen as the coming of another great communicator like Ronald Reagan.  Even that hope has died, especially with gaffes like this one.  It is rare that any President can live up to campaign speeches.  Reality chews expectations, and implementation proves difficult, if not impossible.  And yet, would anyone vote for a candidate who talked honestly?

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


The Murdoch communications empire is caught in a scandal that seems to be never-ending.  Another blow struck yesterday with the resignation of James Murdoch from BSkyB.  From a PR perspective, this is the worst of all possible outcomes.  The company hasn't had time to catch its breath, to find a point of stability before it is knocked again.  While it is hard to feel sorry for the Murdochs, the way they have handled the phone-hacking scandal is instructive.  It is a case study in how not to confront a crisis.  They have retreated slowly from one defensive line to another, each time suffering embarrassment.  The family has gone from power to a laughingstock.  Some day investigations will end because there will be no one left to indict, but when that time comes, the company will be a shell of its former self.  Some might say that is a sad ending, but maybe not.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Edge Of Credibility 

When science becomes this refined, it is hard to grasp what researchers are doing.  One has to accept on faith that what is claimed is possible and true.  It is potentially a PR challenge for the scientific community as it moves farther away from a common understanding of the universe.  As with global warming, there are those who will reject what they don't comprehend.  This has always been the case but as discovery reaches farther into outer and inner space, more people will feel alienated.  It is as if new worlds have opened that they cannot hope to experience and the logical question is why do we need to know about them.  Certainly from a government's point of view, funding basic research like the world's most sensitive scale might seem unneeded at a time of budget deficits.  Scientists need to explain their work and its importance frequently in order to find the money to continue research.  This is as it should be, but it can't be getting any easier, the deeper they go into the subatomic world and infinite cosmos.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Compared To What? 

Analysts are saying flying is better now.  Compared to what?  Compared to one of the worst periods in airline history.  That isn't much of an honor, if one at all.  Put another way, the airline industry could not have sunk much lower and survived.  From a PR perspective, airlines are a disaster.  They seem to have little care for passengers.  They are, except for Business and First Class, cattle cars.  Coach passengers are put in the equivalent of steerage in the old days of sailing.  The only difference is that in steamship days, passengers suffered a week of discomfort to get from Europe to the US.  Now it is six hours. Can the industry ever return to a period when passengers delighted in flying?  It is unlikely given the cost of running a plane.  Passengers will have to get used to cramped conditions and hope they can tolerate them.  When one has little choice, chances are they will.  But, that is a poor way to relate to the public.

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