Friday, June 29, 2012

Bigger And Bigger Blow To Reputation 

Nearly lost among the hoopla of the Supreme Court health care decision yesterday was the news that JP Morgan's trading loss had doubled, possibly tripled.  Apparently, unwinding the bad trades is taking longer than expected.  So now, CEO Jamie Dimon has more explaining to do to shareholders and possibly, Congress again.  It is humbling for him and for the reputation of the bank, which had come through the economic meltdown strongly.  It also undercuts the bank's opposition to pending regulations on trading.  I'm sure Dimon's fellow bank CEOs are supportive, but what must they be thinking?  Dimon had served as the spokesperson for the industry during the bad times, and now he is the subject of headlines. One's reputation is never safe.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

When Culture Outweighs Law 

Here is an example of culture confounding law enforcement -- Title IX and women's athletics.  The hard truth is that a few athletic programs in universities get attention and funding and others don't.  Football followed by basketball are the main focus, and they are predominantly male.  Women's sports programs are not as well funded even after 40 years of anti-sex discrimination becoming national law.  Administrators are not going to touch a culture that glorifies football and basketball because a good deal of alumni contributions come from it.  What would happen if the Federal government moved against schools with the largest football programs?  There would be a firestorm of protest.  So, as long as universities nod in the direction of equality, it appears everyone has proclaimed satisfaction.  Culture impedes progress time and again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

PR At The Highest Level 

It's always nice when one can get a group of senators siding with one's industry.  Cranberry growers of the US now have a caucus in Congress that is dedicated to the ongoing health of the berry business.   Look for cranberry juice to be exempted from restrictions on sugary drinks.  Also look for the cranberry industry to bolster its contention that cranberries are a health potion. The carbonated beverage industry can only watch in envy and fight a losing war against a concern about obesity.  The PR people at Ocean Spray shouldn't get too comfortable, however.  There is a chance that federal regulations might go against them.  Until cranberries are written into the rules and nutrition guidelines they will need to keep fighting, but it is a little easier when one has senators at one's back.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Hidden Danger In Plain Sight 

This opinion piece is eye-opening.    It points to the concentration of technology manufacturing in Asia and the danger to the supply chain of having it there.  What if, for example, China fell into political turmoil and manufacturing ceased suddenly.  Companies like Apple would shut down.  From a communications perspective, there isn't much one can say.  The potential for disaster is large and ultimately, manufacturers must diversify supply chains.  Today, they apparently don't feel the need for it, and one should ask whether that is short-sighted.  How does one publicly defend dependence on a few contract manufacturers located in Taiwan and mainland China?  One assumes stability, but that is risky given the constant tension between the two countries.  One hopes technology manufacturers are constantly monitoring risk and are ready to move if they must. The question is, "To where?" 

Monday, June 25, 2012

One Little Slip Is All It Takes 

One lesson PR practitioners learn early is that a small mistake can transform into a large error and  a headache for a company.  Here is a case in which less than a barrel of a caustic chemical will cost a refinery hundreds of millions of dollars of repair work as well as months of lost time.  Try explaining that to restive shareholders and to distributors waiting for fuel.  There isn't much room in some industries for mistakes, no matter how little.  One wouldn't want to fly in a plane that has a tiny manufacturing error in the control systems.  Nor would one want to go to a surgeon who forgets a staple or two inside the wound where he is operating.  There are industries and services in which the cliche, "Everybody makes mistakes," is not acceptable as an excuse or a communication.  Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco now have to fix an error they didn't cause and take a blow to their reputations with it.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Advertisers Happy, Viewers Not 

News that Time-Warner cable has patented a function to disable fast forwarding on digital video recorders makes for an interesting PR challenge.  Time-Warner invented the technology for advertisers so viewers won't skip over ads.  However, that is precisely what viewers want to do.  Who wins?  Viewers won't, but the cable company has put itself in a position of pleasing one stakeholder group at the expense of another.  From a bottom-line perspective, it us unlikely Time-Warner will lose many viewers if it rolls out this technology, and that is almost certainly what the company is counting on.  If it does, the company might need to think again.  However, the economics of cable depend on keeping both eyeballs and advertising, so there is no easy solution.  One job of public relations will be to balance the tensions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Even Rationalists Fall For Hype 

The physics community is abuzz over expectations that the Higgs Boson has been discovered.  Rumors and speculation are flooding the internet.  Those responsible for analysis of collider data are counseling caution but that isn't stopping tongues from wagging.  The scientific community might like to think of itself as bound by reason but researchers are as emotional as anyone else.  Despite their training, they are not  Spocks.  The world has seen enough of scientists to know there are researchers who are good at promoting themselves and their views -- and in getting grants to continue their work.  Others just as good go about their business quietly and never make a splash.  Scientific hype is disappointing because of the trust the public places in science.  One would hope there would be one place in the world where the public could always believe what it hears, but that isn't true -- and never will be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

PR Takes A Lesson From Advertising 

This news might depress PR practitioners who know they do good work.  According to judges at Cannes, advertising agencies are doing better PR work than PR agencies.  No PR agency won one of 20 Gold Lions for PR.  One could pooh-pooh the judging or feel depressed, but it is interesting that arbiters are finding advertising agencies to be more skilled at what we are supposed to do.  Does this mean PR agencies should change the way they work, or perhaps, enter projects more frequently in contests?  Many agencies don't want to be bothered with the task of preparing entries and one can hardly blame them.  Winning awards doesn't necessarily translate into business.   On the other hand, awards mean a lot to internal audiences, the employees who make an agency great.  Any way one considers it, it is embarrassing for an industry not to dominate the category it represents.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Is this an anachronism?  The first graduating class of an advertising high school is ready to greet the world just at a time when social media and public relations have come to the fore.  One wonders whether there should be a PR and New Media high school instead.  Of course, that would raise the question whether there is need for advanced education.  Is it possible for high school students to learn enough to practice PR and new media successfully?  

Monday, June 18, 2012


Syria is proving the fecklessness of words.  The United Nations is warning the Syrian government that is committing crimes against humanity.  The US says President Bashar al-Assad should go.  One country after another condemns the slaughter in the country.  But, no one is doing anything.  Words go only so far, and with dictators they never go far enough.  As the world learns time and again, strongmen are resistant to persuasion and laugh at jawboning.  They might put up a semblance of listening but their actions betray their attitude.  

It is hard to blame the US and the Europeans for staying out of the fray.  Syrian opposition, by all accounts, is weak.  They protest but they can't coordinate action against the government.  How then can they run a country if the president is removed?  Yet, it is possible that the US will be indicted in time for not acting.  Think of the genocide in Cambodia and Africa.  The US can continue to aim useless volleys of words or it can muster coordinated opposition.  It is a hard choice while people die.  Meanwhile, it is a lesson to communicators of the limits of their skill.

Friday, June 15, 2012


How many mistakes does a company get before customers hold it to account?  If you are Apple, probably more than one.  This is an example of not-ready-for-prime time software that shouldn't have been released, even in test form for evaluation.  The mistakes are glaring and deeply embarrassing, especially since there are numerous mapping programs available.  Granted that the demonstration software is a beta and will be tweaked, but errors of putting oceans in the wrong part of the globe are large.  One wonders why Apple didn't stay with Google instead of trumpeting its own program.  Already, some Apple enthusiasts are saying, "If Steve Jobs were here, this wouldn't have happened."  Apple's CEO can't afford too many errors in light of that.  Perception can change quickly.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Not My Doing 

Google engineers are hiding behind their code in the matter of data collection while taking street-view photos for the mapping service.  No one wants responsibility although they all had some hand in the recording of WiFi signals.  The lack of credibility is a parable of four artisans before the king explaining away the killing of the king's favorite deer.  Each takes a tiny responsibility for the deed and no blame.

"I made the arrow but I didn't shoot it," said the first.

"I strung the bow but I didn't notch the arrow into it," said the second.

"I notched the arrow but I didn't aim it," said the third.

"I aimed the arrow, but I didn't fire it," said the fourth.

Someone among the group must have realized the intent of the work.  Perhaps they all did, but "you can't blame me."   No one would be surprised that the king had them all tortured.  Similarly, Google's engineers will have a hard time explaining away responsibility, and their lack of credibility hurts the company's image.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


How important is credibility?  Countries depend on it.  The worry in Europe that started with Greece then swept across the southern nations is not going away. Investors are avoiding debt sold by Italy, Spain and Portugal.  There is nothing that will bring them back except a belief that the countries have better news about their economies.  And how will that belief be sparked?  Not only do the countries have to get budgets under control, but they have to show improvement in jobless numbers, industrial output and other factors.  Credibility, in other words, is not in what one says but in what one does.  This is a lesson forgotten too often in communications.  There are those who believe in the "spin factor."  But, "spinning" won't do much good in the ongoing European crisis.  Investors are looking for facts, and too many numbers are negative.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Long-term Problem 

This is a long-term problem for the President, the next President and perhaps, the President after that.  The middle-class of America was crushed by the burst housing bubble.  Retirement funds are gone and any notion of passing wealth to the next generation is a mirage.  The decline will change the way politicians talk about the American Dream.  The land of possibility has become the territory of limited aspirations.   Should housing not recover its value, millions will pay more in mortgages than what their homes are worth.  In response to that, they are reducing debt.  Look for American consumers to buy less and make-do for years to come.  That in turn will be a drag on the economy.  

While this might be good for a country that was out-of-control during the heady days of the bubble, it  only makes the job of the President harder.  How do you convince people to live happily with less?  It might be possible if Americans can start working again and if unemployment falls back to a more normal range.  But that isn't happening quickly either. It is a deep-rooted PR challenge.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Another Headache 

The president of the United States is constantly under pressure.  He doesn't need headaches like this, but they come whether he wants them or not.  So, Obama now has a PR problem with his Secretary of Commerce.  Does he keep him?  Does he ask him to resign?  Of all the cabinet secretaries Obama needs, the one in charge of restarting the economy -- a key to his re-election -- ranks high.  And, of course, it is that one who was involved in a hit-and-run accident.  

Managing public perception is a 24/7 job in the White House.  There are staff members working this issue and providing recommendations to the President for action.  If Mr. Bryson is let go, who will take his place?  How should the President handle his absence just five months before the election?  How should the President deal with news media questions?  One must remember that all this is being handled before the public.  It is nearly impossible to ignore or bury such issues.  If the President handles it badly, it will hurt him in November.  If he handles it well, it will become just another blip in the presidency -- a two-day media story that the public forgets.  

Friday, June 08, 2012


Politics make for interesting communications challenges.  Take this one.  A former president who fails to hew to the party line during campaign season and whom no one can stop.  President Obama can plea with Clinton to stay out of sight, but Clinton has no intention of doing so -- and won't.  So the campaign has to learn to live with him.  It is just one more headache on the road to re-election.  Of ex-presidents, I admire Bush more because once he left the White House, he also left the national scene.  He made no effort to stay in the public eye, and in fact, he made a deliberate choice to disappear, so Obama could get about his business.  Clinton, like Jimmy Carter, has taken the opposite tack.  He has plenty to say, and he is doing so whether or not the President likes it.  Bush seems to have greater respect for the office.  I'm sure Romney's communications staff are happier than Obama's when it comes to dealing with ex-Presidents.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Long Time Coming 

So, IPv6, the next internet, has launched.  It has been a long time in the making -- nearly 20 years, and it wouldn't have come at all but for the fact that the world is running out of internet addresses.  Most people won't notice its arrival.  The internet will continue to operate the same way on the surface.  However, below the user level, there will be a major change.  The new version creates so many internet addresses that every internet-enabled device on the earth today and for decades to come will have its own unique identifier.  That's not true today.  Think of the possibilities for marketing and public relations if one knows the exact machine to which a message is going.  One can choose to reach another at work, at home or on the road -- wherever a message has the most impact.  While that is possible today, it will be easier under IPv6.  It is too early to tell just how the expanded address system will be used but long after I have retired, new applications will be coming out.  Young practitioners will face a different world than the one we know.  And, that's exciting.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Here is a publicity target that might be going away.   AOL's Patch, the hyperlocal news source, has been a money-loser from the day it started, and it hasn't turned around.  Now, the question is whether it will survive.  The can't-miss business model has proven to be wrong, as so many business models have in the internet age.  It seemed to make sense.  The idea was to cover the news of neighborhoods, areas of vital interest to homeowners.  Local businesses would be eager to advertise on an online source that their customers read.  Why didn't it work?  Advertisers didn't come.  The need for local news hasn't gone away but there needs to be another means to fund it and make it profitable.  It is unclear that anyone has figured that out yet.  That is, unless one is satisfied with low revenues and earnings and scraping by, the way many local newspapers have survived over the decades.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


This is interesting.  It discusses illusions that military pilots suffer while flying and the need for simple communications from their instruments to keep them from crashing.  From a communicator's point of view, it is an example of everyday life.  Much of what we see around us, especially within organizations, has manifest and ulterior motives.  We don't know the whole story.  Just like the aviator who sees a false horizon and loses a sense of up and down, we can get lost in speculation and adjusting for what we think is there. The aviator must train himself to rely on instruments and not his overwhelming sense of where he thinks he is. The communicator must train himself to rely on facts and the basic message and not to get lost in who is doing what to whom.  Read the whole article and wonder how pilots flew at night through dense clouds of burning oil and yet, found their way to the ground safely in spite of what their bodies were telling them.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Tough Choice 

The online advertising industry is facing a tough choice after Microsoft's announcement that the newest edition of its browser will implement "Do Not Track" by default.  What does the industry do? Fight it and look like an ogre invading privacy?  Go along with the decision and watch analytics go out the window?  The future of the industry is teetering on the decision.  From a PR perspective, there is no good choice.  Regulators and consumers favor increased privacy.  About the best the industry can do is to appeal to consumers that it is in the their best interests for tracking to occur and to explain why forcefully .  That might work in the US.  It won't in Europe where privacy concerns are much stronger.  If Microsoft's newest browser edition is successful, other browser developers such as Google might be forced to go along.  And what would that do to Google?  Damage its business.  This is a time when PR may be the difference between success or failure of companies.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Good Advice 

Associated Press has new guidelines out on social media.  Much of it appears to be good advice and of practical use to PR practitioners.  Among points is the need to make clear that one's personal opinions do not reflect the opinions of the organization.   AP has several suggestions and cautions for reporters on the matter, including instructions for how to retweet.  There are aspects that are not applicable to PR such as the delicacy of "friending" or "liking" a politician on Facebook.  However, some practitioners might want to follow that advice anyway in order to avoid complications that could involve their organizations.  The counsel on "trash talking" about sports teams is amusing.  

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