Thursday, May 31, 2012


If there is one lesson a PR practitioner should learn early in the business, it is that basics count, such as correct spelling and choice of words.  The two gaffes on the part of Mitt Romney and President Obama should not have occurred.  Someone forgot to use a spell checker and a speechwriter neglected to get an attribution right.  Were they in a hurry?  It doesn't matter.  The damage is done.  Mockery of the Romney campaign might not be as serious as a diplomatic transgression with Poland, but in both cases, it was a bone-headed neglect of fundamentals, and communicators are rightly feeling the heat.   Meanwhile, their bosses are forging ahead in the hope that eventually people will forget.  Some will and some won't.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Big Mouth 

Some times a person is so arrogant that he doesn't realize his big mouth makes him sound like an idiot.  Here is one such individual.  Typical of his total self-belief, he traded insult for insult with George Will, the political commentator.  There are times when one's self-confidence is enough to sweep others along with one.  That doesn't appear to be the case with Donald Trump.  There is a question of why the media pay any attention to him at all, other than the fact that he is good for wild comments and allegations on a slow news day.  Trump is proof that all publicity is not publicity.  He might have a magical name in the real estate business, but that doesn't qualify him for the political sphere.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sad Ending 

The inevitable has arrived for the once-major law firm of Dewey & Leboeuf  LLP.  It has filed for Chapter 11 liquidation as the last of its partners have fled the firm.  The demise of the legal giant holds several lessons, not the least of which is that uncontrolled growth and over-promising in a partnership are dangerous.  Perhaps another lesson to the now former managers of the firm is the need to communicate constantly and in depth with people who can take their business elsewhere at any time -- and did.  It is not accurate to speak of employee communications when dealing with partners but the principles apply.  There should be no surprises.  The job of the managing partner is to keep lines open at all times with partners.  Dewey's managing partner promised what he couldn't deliver.  He didn't have the loyalty of his partners to see the difficult times through.  The firm might have bled some of its producers and still survived but once the flight began, management was powerless to stop it.  There was no loyalty.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Good Luck With That 

The ex-CEO of Olympus is now suing the company for $60 million for fraudulent accounting.   He is the fellow who found the discrepancy,  notified the board and was fired for the impertinence of telling the truth.  He tried to return to the company as CEO but was rebuffed by the Japanese directors.   Now he is trying to earn recompense.  The lesson here is an old one.  If you are going to be a whistle blower, prepare yourself to be thrown into the darkness and smeared.  Organizational culture does not stand for public acts of disloyalty, no matter how correct the individual is.  There is still -- and always will be -- an expectation in employee relations that such communication be done internally and confidentially.  Of course, the irony is that when the individual tries to make a wrongdoing known internally, he is told to shut up.  He ends in a nether world either way.  The world needs whistle blowers, but it doesn't value them.  Some times it is perilous to communicate facts.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Battlefield Publicity 

This is an interesting story of cyber warfare and an unusual way to do publicity.  Attack the enemy's web sites with truth.  Let the Muslim public know the facts rather than the promises of terrorists.  Al Qaida in Yemen must be unhappy with the exposure of the number of Muslim civilian deaths from its activities.  

Bravo to the cyber warriors who infiltrated the Al Qaida sites and pulled this off.  It took a number of technological and language skills working together.  While this is not an example of anything that could be done in the civilian world, it uses the same principles of PR. Expose the facts to the public as a way of persuading them.  Al Qaida might be changing passwords and securing their sites more heavily now, but each time cyber warriors penetrate them is a victory on the online battlefield.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Day After 

One of the more irritating aspects of human nature is to pile on when there is failure.  Critics come from everywhere -- Monday-morning quarterbacks; knowing pundits; prognosticators; sapient, gray-haired fools who tell you that you should have known before you took that step.  Here is an example.   The fellow might be right, but who knows?  Was he of the same opinion before the Facebook IPO and did he speak out?  If he did, I missed it.  The problem with these individuals is that they make a PR practitioner's life more difficult.  They are the hounds baying outside the house who drown out conversation within.  And, there is no way to get rid of them.  One learns to ignore the chorus until it impacts the economics or business objective of the organization.  Having critics is good to a point.  One is forced to consider that what he is doing might be wrong, but listening to critics too closely is deadly because they will reduce one to impotence.  I'm not a Mark Zuckerberg fan nor do I think much of Facebook, but he did create something that has been spectacularly successful so far.  He deserves credit for that even while he tries to determine how to keep it going.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dumb -- Again 

Only a few days ago, Skechers paid the government $40 million in reparations for making misleading claims about its shoes.  Now it is the turn of Pom Wonderful, the packager of pomegranate juice.  There is no need to go into the bad PR from this kind of deceptive advertising, but note that the judge forbade the company from using it for the next 20 years.  Maybe in that time, Pom Wonderful will see fit to do scientific studies that prove or disprove its claims.  Once again, one has to ask whether the purveyors of this product believed their claims or were using them just to sell.  Either way, they look dumb.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Mockery as a form of publicity can be profitable -- especially if you are a comedian like Stephen Colbert.  As a rhetorical technique, it is not one used that often by PR practitioners.  Maybe it should be.  Colbert's target, of course, is the Citizen's United decision that allows unions and corporations speech rights in elections.  His audacious success in starting his own political action committee set the political world on its ear.  While he can't do much with $808,000 in cash, the publicity he reaps from the advertising he does will extend his funds and incidentally, bolster his career as a comedian.  An interesting outcome for ridiculing election laws.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Danger Zone 

Facebook is in a danger zone as a newly floated public company.  Its shares barely rose above offering price on Friday, and they were briefly below offering price in European trading.  What this means is a large corp of disappointed shareholders who now will be staring at Facebook to see if it can monetize its site to reach its initial valuation.  It is a public relations pickle for the company and a morning-after hangover for the investment community.  There will be recrimination if the stock stays flat or drops below offering price in the US.  The investment banks will be accused of pricing the stock wrongly.  Critics will point to yet another tech bubble that has burst.  Smart investors will stay away until Facebook has several operating quarters under its belt.  Those of us who felt that hysteria was driving the market will be smug.  On the other hand, if the stock takes off today and climbs into the low 50s, all will be well.  No wonder that going public is emotionally draining.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Here is an interesting Q&A with an executive who led his company through tumultuous times.  Robert Shapiro was the CEO of Monsanto when the company transformed from a chemical concern to a leader in agricultural biotechnology.  He lived through wars in the US and especially in Europe against genetically modified seeds.  He says in retrospect he wishes Monsanto had been more transparent about what it was doing.  He attributes the company's seeming arrogance to a conviction that it was right.  He says Monsanto might have listened more and had "somewhat more humility."  Monsanto was indeed correct in what it was and is doing to increase crop yields.  Society understands that now -- for the most part.  There is still opposition in Europe that may take years to overcome.  Would the company have made faster progress had it been more open?  There is no way of knowing, but it is good to see a former CEO suggesting that it might have.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Why do smart people do dumb things?  Take this case.  Any half-aware executive should know that when making dubious claims, sooner or later regulators will come after you.  One is justified in asking what the Skechers' executives were thinking.  Maybe they believe what they are promoting and indeed, the company is standing by its product.  But, that isn't enough in the face of other evidence.  Settling and paying a fine is more than business decision.  Perceptually, it is an admission of defeat.  Perhaps, the public will forget in a few months that the company paid out $40 million, and it will be back to making millions.  From a PR perspective, this isn't a way to do business. The company should substantiate its claims with independent studies not funded by Skechers and not performed by anyone connected to the business.  But, if its executives have chosen to skate close to the edge of legality, they aren't likely to do so.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Power Of Perception 

Is the power of perception worth $86 billion+.  Some commentators think so.  Of course, the perception surrounds Facebook and its IPO value.  A chorus of critics think the site is vastly overrated and advertisers won't find the value in it that is forecast.  But, who knows?  It is unclear at this juncture.  Rather, people are buying on the basis of unsupported belief, a poor basis for investing as experts will tell you.  Chances are they will be disappointed, but if like a miner, they strike gold in the creek, their risk-taking will be handsomely rewarded.  There is as much faith on Wall Street as in a church.  From a PR perspective, it pays to be cautious, and perhaps, cynical.  We've seen hysteria before and for the most part, it never ends well.  It is best not to let perception overrule reason.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Well, Duh 

Colleges and universities are starting to realize they cannot keep raising tuition.  That's a blinding insight.  Academics have lived in a bubble for so long that they have difficulty understanding  they have priced themselves out of their market.  They expected parents to pony up year after year, decade after decade, and parents did, but they can't any longer.  Their children are buried in debt from which they will not escape well into their working careers, if they have careers.  

No one can accuse academia of listening to its publics.  In fact, it was the reverse. The attitude was more put-up-and-shut-up.  A come-down for education has been too long in arriving.  Maybe now universities and colleges will practice elementary public relations.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Falling On Swords 

The fallout at JP Morgan continues with three executives falling on their swords and resigning over a loss that can now reach $3 billion.  Jamie Dimon, the CEO, is busily acknowledging that the trade was stupid, ill-managed, etc.  It probably won't help him offset the call to impose the Volcker Rule and stop such proprietary trading, even though it supposed to be a hedge against risk.  Dimon's crisis management may be a valiant attempt, but time and tide are against him.  It might be better now for Dimon to prepare the bank for a new era.  The larger question is whether risk management is adequate in major banks, and this incident would seem to indicate that it isn't.  Many more executives may resign before it is. It is a major PR challenge for banking.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Moral Authority 

Some organizations possess moral authority unless they squander it.  That is why stories like this are instructive.  Roman Catholic bishops the world over continue to struggle with the sexual abuse scandals that have riven the ranks and caused many believers to walk away.  It is hard for them to discipline nuns in light of this, since nuns weren't involved in sins of the past.  Observers are asking what right bishops have to talk about doctrine when they themselves failed so glaringly at keeping it.  It is a hard question for the episcopate, yet Church law and belief endow bishops with the responsibility for guarding faith and morals whether or not they fail personally.  Bishops, in other words, should be humble in light of their faults but not back away from making decisions.  I don't know the details of their concern with the leadership organization for nuns, but their letter was unpopular, which will make guidance all the more difficult to give.  From a PR perspective, bishops are on the wrong foot.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fertile Field For PR 

This journalist's complaint against a New York Times reporter is interesting.  What it tells me is that the field of chemistry is fertile for PR.  Of course, there are good chemicals and bad.  The human body is made up of chemicals and everything we eat, drink and breathe has chemical compounds.  To damn chemistry is narrow-minded and ignorant, but a supposedly sophisticated reporter at The New York Times appears to be doing just that.  Perhaps it is the word itself that causes him to shrink.  If so, that is a huge change from the early to middle part of the 20th Century when the miracles of chemistry brought better living.  Maybe it is too much to expect that the industry can be returned to those days, but it shouldn't be criticized unfairly by those who don't know what they are writing about.  That is an invitation for PR to provide an education.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Poor PR 

A story like this is poor PR for a bank.  However, there have been hundreds of them in the last two years.  Banking as an industry has a long way to climb back to public respect.  Wells Fargo almost certainly isn't the worst institution out there.  The cumbersome process of buying, selling and foreclosing homes has built enormous friction into the system, and when banks tried to speed it up, they were damned for robo-signing.  Mortgages are paper-ridden -- piles of lengthy documents for just one home.  When one is dealing with refinancing tens of thousands of homes about to be foreclosed, the process spirals easily out of control.  But, a home owner might legitimately ask what banks are supposed to do.  It is their job to have the system figured out.  That they don't is the source of their bad reputations.  The mortgage mess is an example of PR being what you do and not what you say.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Everybody Does It 

One of the common excuses heard from felons is "everybody does it."  That is why this defense of a CEO who lied on his resume rings hollow.  He may be a competent executive, and he might be doing the right things for Yahoo but fabrication of academic credentials is indefensible.  A PR practitioner would be unwise to go to bat for the CEO in the matter.  Rather, any expression should be apology and a promise never to do it again.  That is, if the CEO survives the media drubbing he is getting.   The "everybody-does-it defense" is lousy for a number of reasons.  First of all, everybody doesn't do it.  Secondly, it is a feeble excuse for misbehavior.  Third, it attempts to incriminate everyone else with a negative spin of "we're all in this together."  It is unlikely that a PR practitioner will be called upon to use "everybody does it," but if a client should ask, the answer is no.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Austerity No 

Voters don't like austerity and they've said so in the French and Greek elections.  No matter that they are threatening the Euro, monetary union and common market.  What they are saying is, "What has the Euro-zone done for me lately?"  The answer is not much.  Voting is the purest form of public relations.  The public is telling government what it wants and as importantly, what it doesn't want.  French and Greek voters want jobs: They don't want to repay the huge debts that they owe.  Or, at least they don't want to repay them now.  Maybe later when the economy is back to health.  The irony is that their countries may not get back to health without cutting back on government-subsidized labor.  Greece especially has little industry that can help it bootstrap out of its predicament.  But, the public has spoken.  It is up to new leadership to find avenues to make the countries work.  No one said that democracy is easy.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Still Fighting 

One doesn't know whether to admire the persistence of a CEO or to tell him "Enough already."  But, the CEO of AT&T is still waging a PR war over the failed merger with T-Mobile.  It is dead and gone and the outcomes will happen whether or not he ever mentions the merger again.  Maybe he is positioning the company to try again in a few years.  If so, it is early to start such a campaign after the bruising of the last one.  Or, he could be indulging in "Told you so," which is more likely.  The FCC and the Department of Justice aren't going to change their minds quickly, if ever on the issue of monopoly.  If T-Mobile should go out of business and free its spectrum for others to buy, that might be acceptable.  Otherwise, AT&T and Verizon will make do with the spectrum they have -- and raise prices, if they can get away with it.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Publicity Stunt 

This is a dumb publicity stunt -- getting protesters to picket an Apple store.  It's dumb because it won't change anything.  RIM is far behind Apple in the production of leading-edge cell phones.  There is no immediate chance that the company will catch up.  So, you make news and you get an evanescent headline.  So what?  Consumers still won't buy your product.  Publicity stunts should tie to a core message and strategy that are credible.  Right now, RIM is not in the running with its Blackberry products.  It could pull off several more protests in front of Apple stores while watching its market share plunge.  That doesn't smack of power or positioning but of desperation.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Presidential Privilege 

Critics are complaining that President Obama's secret visit to Afghanistan is nothing but playing politics.  Of course it is.  But, it is a president's privilege to make use of his office in order to influence elections.  Nearly every president has done it (except, perhaps, Washington).   The fact of the matter is that critics' complaints are politics.  It's envy in its lowest form.  They don't want to give a President his due.  So, Republicans complain that the President is "spiking the ball" in celebration of his victory over Osama Bin Laden and his agreement to get out of Afghanistan.  A citizen's response should be "so what?"  We vote for Presidents to make tough decisions and we shouldn't complain about it when they do.  Obama's secret trip is good PR, and it should be recognized as such.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Interesting Strategy 

This article discusses the Associated Press' social media strategy.  The first point that comes through is that one size doesn't fit all.  The AP uses several distinct strategies depending on the audience it is addressing, and it narrows those even further.  Because the AP is a breaking news service, it doesn't let Tweets get ahead of wire copy.  On the other hand, Tweets are seconds behind the moving story.  It is understandable that AP considers Tweeting as a 140-character headline medium.  The AP has had headline wire delivery for decades.  Tweeting is nothing more than an internet-adapted alert.  Note that Tweeting is a one-way medium for the AP.  Facebook is the place where the AP relates to readers.  Some might object, but it make sense.  Facebook is designed for interaction in ways Tweeting isn't.  What the AP is doing might be useful for PR practitioners to examine more closely.  It could change the way you use social media.

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