Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On The Road 

I am out of the office for the next two days.  I will return on Monday.  

Not The Way To Do It 

This story is an example of how not to conduct media relations.  In an escalating war of words, a spokesperson for Mrs. Clinton told a reporter to "Fuck off."   The media can be maddening.  I can name individuals who cause me to shudder each time they call and whose relentless questioning  is more than off-putting.   These are the type of journalists who never take "no" for an answer nor do they believe you when you tell them the facts.  You are always hiding something whether you are or not.  Or, you are too stupid to know what is going on.  Or, you are incapable of getting and giving the facts.  Whatever the reporter's motivation, it grinds against you day after day and tempers eventually flare.  However, the media relations person still has to control himself and to tell off the journalist politely.  This is where Clinton's spokesperson failed.  The net result is a story about gathering the story and a lack of honesty from the State Department.  In other words, after the exchange, matters were worse than they were before.  That is not the way to do it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Religion, Taxation And Perception 

This story supports the American principle of separation of Church and State.  Can you imagine the outcry in the US if a local, state or the Federal government collected a tax for a religion?   As it is, German bishops appear greedy and unprincipled for insisting that Catholics pay their annual Church tax.  However, it is important to remember that what has worked in one culture might not apply to any other.  Until recently, religion-affiliated taxation appeared to be working in Germany.  No one complained until the specter of child abuse among Catholic clergy became an issue.  German Catholics are now apparently voting with their pocketbooks.  From a PR perspective, religious taxation was never a good idea although it provided a steady source of income to denominations.  German bishops now might have to look to other means for supporting the Church's work.  From a US point of view, that might be better.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Trying To Tell You Something 

When your workers riot, they are trying to tell you something and chances are you haven't been listening.  That should be the starting point for Foxconn in China where it just shut a factory because 2000 of its workers engaged in a melee.  It shouldn't have come to this if management were listening closely to workers' concerns and complaints.  That it did is a clear message to the company to increase employee communications bidirectionally.   Foxconn is a large corporation, and it has been criticized globally for ill treatment of workers.  One wonders if this time the company will learn or whether it will shut down the plant, fire everyone and go elsewhere.  China is not yet at the point where work forces can demand and get better treatment.  It won't be long, though, and when it happens, the country will become a higher cost manufacturer.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Need For Caution 

This experiment is a warning to anyone who runs surveys of public opinion.  It is possible consciously or not to change minds through how a survey is conducted.  This is not a new finding.  Politicians have used "push polls" for years as a way to change voters' minds.  But, the experiment shows that in matters of morality it is possible to have subjects argue both sides of an issue without realizing they are doing it.  There is a question whether this holds true in matters they hold deeply but certainly in areas they do not think about often, minds are changeable based on how questions are phrased.  In any poll, there are more things that can go wrong than right.  Unfortunately, naive poll-takers fail to understand the process and its delicacy.  They go to Survey Monkey, ask a few questions and assume they have a valid understanding of a target audience.  They don't for many reasons, too many to go into here.  Before you conduct your next assessment of public opinion, think about the difficulties first.  Better yet, consult with someone who does it for a living and knows the traps.  There are far too many junk surveys that are Garbage-in Garbage-Out.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Frisson Of Fear 

So the heir-apparent to China's leadership is back in the public eye after a two-week, unexplained absence.  The state's failure to say why Xi Jinping was gone touched off enormous speculation and fears about the political situation in China.  Apparently, the worries were needless, but who knew?  Authorities weren't speaking and the opaque nature of the communist bureaucracy allows only for uninformed guessing.  Were the situation in the US or Europe, there would have been lengthy stories from the beginning explaining the situation, whatever it was -- a vacation, a hospital stay, a political tussle, a decision to leave the public arena for a few days.  The Chinese government, however, creates its own public relations problems by resolute silence. Maybe that serves the interests of its leaders but it doesn't help the citizens.  China could learn something from the West when it comes to communications.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dead Man Walking? 

Mitt Romney has learned a hard lesson of modern politics.  Watch what you say at all times -- especially among friends.  There is no telling who will turn on you and expose your thoughts to the public.  It that smacks of paranoia, the disarray in the Romney camp today is proof that it isn't.  From the video that recorded him, it looks like someone put a cell phone on a table and let it run.  Romney, thinking he was talking only to a room full of conservatives, proceeded to hang himself publicly when the video came to light.  There is a possibility he might recover, but it is late in the campaign and his words, even though they are mostly factual, have insulted a large part of the electorate.  That is not a way to win independents to your side.  The pity of it is that it was so unnecessary.   He could have said, "There is an economic study of taxpayers that states 47 percent pay no Federal Tax."  At least he would have quoted authority. However, he left himself no out but to take the abuse being hurled at him from every quarter.  Even communicators get lax about monitoring their leaders' remarks.  This should be a warning.  Stay vigilant -- always.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Neat Anniversary Publicity 

Roomba has a neat way of publicizing its 10th anniversary.  (Pun intended.)  The robo-vacuum cleaner company has illustrated the dimensions of dirt that its machines have sucked up as well as miles driven, all without intervention of a harried householder.  One can learn a lesson or two from the way the company has gone about it.  An anniversary alone might not be sufficient to gain much attention.  It is important to the company but hardly anyone else.  One has to work hard to make an anniversary significant.  With its illustrations, Roomba has taken a mundane object and elevated it.  This also helps frame the size of the company.  The statement of "eight million robots sold worldwide" is a jolt to one who might think of a Roomba as a cute but inconsequential item.  If eight million households are using the machine, maybe it is time I did too.  I've done plenty of anniversary publicity, but this tops it.

Monday, September 17, 2012


There is a category of marketers for whom public relations is of no consequence.  These are telemarketers who disrupt dinner hours, male potency pitchers on the internet, spammers for low mortgage rates and more, much more.  They pay little or no attention to regulations.  They don't care if they anger 99.9 percent of the population.  They are happy with the remainder.  From a public relations perspective, they don't make sense.  They ought not to exist but they do.  They have bad reputations but they stay in business.  There is no solution for them but to track them down and to put them out of business through legal means.  However, there are too many of them to stop them all.  There will always be a contingent who mock the principles of PR and get away with it time and again.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Keeping Scientists Honest 

Is it the job of the PR practitioner to keep scientists honest?  This study would make it seem so in medical reporting.  The research discovered that news stories containing unacceptable spin about research results most often came from press releases and scientific abstracts that were exaggerating claims.  The following quote is alarming:

"The press releases often built off of the spin in the studies. Of the press releases that contained spin, 93% were from studies that had spin in their abstracts. In fact, spin present in the study was the only significant factor associated with spin in the press release. A whopping 31% of press releases misinterpreted the scientists’ findings, with the vast majority conflating the benefits of the study’s tested treatment."

In other words, as we have often written in this space, one cannot trust a scientist to stick to facts, especially if he or she is in love with the work and/or bucking for gain.  What this tells me is that PR practitioners need to be as skeptical with researchers as with anyone else.  Spin is ultimately harmful to the researcher, to the institution and to the practitioner who allows such "dreck" to get into public circulation.  This means, however, that PR practitioners have to know enough about the research to evaluate it properly.  That is a tall order that almost certainly calls for practitioners with medical studies in their backgrounds.  Parroting what the scientist says is no longer enough.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Destroying Reputation 

Libyans have come close to destroying any reputation they might have had after liberating the country.  The unprovoked attack on the American ambassador was heinous, and the "just cause" flimsy. The ambassador had nothing to do with a film that might insult the memory of the prophet Muhammad.  It is doubtful that any rioters have seen it and almost certainly they haven't a clear idea what is in it.  The film might indeed be blasphemous and the filmmaker at fault, but that is no reason to attack others for its existence.  Hotheads are part of every religion and intolerance is a sad fact.  It is up to civil and religious authorities to control those who would get out of bounds.  Islam has had difficulty doing so, and it s no wonder that public perception is slanted against it.  Islam needs better PR and that starts with its own worshipers who need to demonstrate their peacefulness.  As citizens of Libya and other Muslim states, the onus is on them to show they are part of a civilized world.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Two Points Of View 

From a PR perspective, what Apple and Amazon are doing to compete in the tablet market is right even though they are taking opposite strategies.  Apple is charging high prices for its iPad.  Amazon is giving away the Kindle at or slightly below cost.   Apple's philosophy is that a better-designed product is worth more, and people are willing to pay for it -- which they are.  Amazon's concept is that profit comes from material put on the tablet such as e-books.  It appears that both companies are doing well pursuing their objectives.  If I were forced to bet on one or the other business, history would tell me to bet on Amazon because the price of electronics sooner or later fall to a commodity, but as long as Apple can balance on a high wire and make billions, who can argue?  Of course, the PR strategies for the two companies also are opposed.  Apple communicates better design.  Amazon communicates technology for the masses.  It would be fun to work for either company right now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Time For Caution 

When a company wins a major victory in the courts, there is a desire to press advantage.  Sometimes, however, one should be careful about moving too quickly.  This appears to be one of them.  A Federal judge handed Amazon.com a major victory in the pricing of e-books last week, and Amazon could move to squeeze just about everyone out of e-book merchandising.  It would be foolish to do so.  The specter of monopoly would rise swiftly, and judges might not be as favorable a second time around.  While Amazon has a court decision and public perception on its side for the moment, it could be seen as a bully.  Amazon can sell e-books for whatever price it sets -- even at a loss, it would seem.  Book publishers and authors have a right to worry.  The judge, however, understood the paradigm shift that the internet has caused and that publishers can no longer rely on the traditional paper-based economic model. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Strange Fad 

The public can fall for strange fads, and this is one that has been going on for several years.  The government also has decided to get into the zombie act to promote disaster preparedness.  No one believes -- or at least, one hopes -- that zombies exist.  Yet, arms manufacturers are building and selling zombie weapons and references to zombies have popped up throughout American society.  Why do people fall for such lunacy?  The answer might be that it is fun, and no one takes it seriously.  A zombie is like having Halloween all year long.  Sooner or later, the zombie craze will disappear along with the merchandise.  Marketers have to profit while the dead walk.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Specious Reasoning 

There comes a time when justification falls into the realm of specious reasoning -- such as calling the student loan debt load "good debt."  When a former college student waiting tables is $100,000 or more in the hole, there is no such thing as positive debt, and the fact that lifetime earnings exceed those of high school students means little.  But there are plenty of former students who carry more than $100,000 on the ledger, especially medical students.  How will they ever become members of the middle class who buy homes, raise families and send children to college?  Everyone acknowledges the student debt problem now that it has passed a trillion dollars, but there doesn't seem to be much original thinking about what to do.  This is, of course, an entrepreneurial opportunity for educators to reinvent learning and some are moving in that direction with online courses and academies.  The sad part is that universities and colleges continue to construct new buildings  and increase tuition without much thought to the numbering of their days.  If they get into trouble for failing to control overhead, it will be their own fault.  Meanwhile, students suffer.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Bankruptcy Conundrum 

When a company reorganizes under bankruptcy, workers are losers.  Here is a typical case.   This raises the question of employee relations going forward.  If you were an AMR pilot and your pay contract has been put on the block, would you be happy?  Or, would you accept that the environment has changed and get on with your job?  Either way, there is an employee relations challenge.  How does management win back key workers, and how will it restrain them from asking for a wage package in the future that makes up for what they have lost in the present?  Bankruptcy is a financial reset.  It is a chance for a company to begin again.  Employees, however, don't always grasp what that means.  Over time they realize they may never return to the wage level they had and that realization almost always leads to cynicism and bitterness.  Imagine communicating to them that the company values their labor.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Making The Media Angry 

According to this article, the media are fed up with the 2012 campaign.  That raises a question.  If you anger those who are supposed to cover you, what kind of coverage can you expect from them?   Or, do political reporters not matter anymore because candidates have so many other media outlets to exploit?  One wonders if newspapers and magazines will continue to send journalists on the road in future campaigns.  It seems campaigns are structured to ignore them and candidates' hope traditional media would disappear.  Is that dangerous for democracy?  Hardly.   But it reflects a shift in reaching the electorate and traditional media will have to account for that if they want to remain relevant.  If they hate the 2012 campaign, what about 2016?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Cutting The Cable 

Technology change transforming the cable TV industry is underway.  Cable companies are faced with keeping customers who would rather watch TV shows on the internet.  It would seem to be both a commercial and public relations disaster for the corporations.  It isn't that -- not yet anyway.  For one, even cable cutters are still getting internet connections from cable companies. So, they don't subscribe to HBO or ESPN or Discovery, but they still watch these channels on their WiFi-ed laptops at home connected to a router and a cable modem.  The cable company we use has done a good job of providing the internet.  We have no plans to change from it although we get minimal TV service.  One wonders if cable companies should change PR to emphasize internet capabilities more than TV channel delivery.  It would recognize the shift transforming the industry.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Democrats' Turn 

Political conventions have turned into the worst kind of publicity flacking.  They have little value anymore except to rally the faithful and to present the candidates to the few people who are watching on TV.   The Republicans had their chance last week, the Democrats this week and a collective yawn could be heard from the electorate.  There must be a better way in the internet age.  Thus far, no one has found it or, perhaps, looked for it.  Meetings in person have value and a crowd effect provides energy to its individuals, but is there any need for a roll call of states?  Is there a need for one boring speech after another?  Does it help the candidate to spend hours flinging insults at opponents?  When it comes to publicity, politicians are a mixture of the old and new.  They will try just about anything to scrounge a vote, but they won't touch the convention, which no longer has meaning and hasn't had since the early 1960s.  Perhaps when the media totally ignore conventions, the parties will change.  It is not too soon for that to happen.

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