Monday, December 31, 2012

Year End 

The last day of another year...  I won't do a review because you have seen too many already from the news media. Once again it was a time when organizations and individuals practiced and breached principles of public relations with consequent results.  It has always been that way and always will be.  At the heart of PR is ethical conscientiousness,  a concern for others that is often forgotten or lost.  Some times in the act of caring for one group, another is slighted, and an organization is put into a can't-win situation.  The best one can do is to work constantly for the betterment of the public and to demonstrate good intentions.  As we know, that may not be enough, but it provides a defense that otherwise would be missing.  The marketplace will never get less complicated and with the rise of social media, the power of one has never been stronger.  2013 will be interesting.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Compounding Embarrassment 

Wasn't it enough to admit that one overpaid for a company and perhaps, fraudulently?  Hewlett-Packard has now announced that the Department of Justice is looking into the Autonomy acquisition for evidence of cooked books.  This threatens to embed a stain on the company and its board, already widely criticized.   H-P forced the investigation through its public charges  and is cooperating in the DOJ action.  The net result, however, is that it prolongs public attention on a sorry episode that might be better left behind.  It is understandable that H-P wants justice, but sometimes justice doesn't serve everyone well.  It is too late now.  The firm will have to see the investigation through and live with any embarrassing information that is revealed.  It might get some of its billions back, but in the end, will it be worth the humiliation?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Double Ding To Reputation 

Amazon had troubles with its cloud storage on Christmas day and fouled Netflix's movie delivery.  That damaged not only Amazon but also Netflix.  Consumers don't care who is at fault.  They want movies.  That Netflix couldn't provide them until late that evening wasn't good enough.  It has been a hard lesson for high-tech companies that they cannot afford down time when providing services perceived to be essential.  The phone companies understood that long ago when they built universal service.  They became accustomed to engineering redundancies into systems so down time was reduced.  The disaster wrought by Hurricane Sandy was a reminder of this.  I saw the repair trucks for Verizon, the local phone company, on the street before those of the power company.  High-tech companies are getting better at 24/7 service, but they still have a distance to go.  I'm sure Amazon is working to make sure that it doesn't happen again, and Netflix is looking for backup.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Does Anybody Care? 

This is an interesting story.  Senators are returning tomorrow to Washington DC to make a last-ditch effort to avoid the "fiscal cliff" but there is no sense of urgency.  What?  After all the publicity about the Armageddon that will occur, if on Jan. 2 something hasn't been done?  It appears everyone knows the seriousness of the situation, but no one can do much about it, so "Let's not worry."   One is justified in asking if there is a crisis.  Did the White House and others trump the problem beyond reality?  Come Jan. 2 the drums of disaster will starting beating again, but might there be a small credibility problem?  There will be no immediate effects for most of the nation, but if one believes the experts, the longer term damage may be severe.  Look for charge and counter-charges to start again, and every politician to play a role of attacker or defender.  It's an interesting if destructive publicity game.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve 

No one seems to know the exact reason Christmas was placed on December 25.  The day of Christ's birth was celebrated in different months depending on the local Church.  It took until the 4th Century AD for the date to settle where it remains.  It wasn't considered a major celebration for a time, and pagan rites were practiced jointly with it.  However, once a day was fixed, the many ways of conducting Christmas grew over centuries.  The modern Christmas -- a season of economic activity and gaiety -- isn't that far from early times.  The trend to excise Christmas for alternatives of "Holidays", "Season" , "Winter Solstice" or other generic word is a recognition that it has different meanings in a secular society.  There are those who get upset with this, but from a communications perspective, it makes sense.  In America, there is no primacy of one religion over another.  Those who do recognize Christmas as a special day in the Christian tradition can continue to celebrate it.  Others can fete the day as they wish.  For those who look back on history, this might be a disappointment.  For those who look forward, it means they can reinvent tradition, as many have done.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cute Publicity With A Purpose 

You've got to believe Boeing's PR department jumped on this bit of information when it heard about it.  What a funny but perfect way to tell how Boeing is readying its planes for WiFi. The idea that potatoes substitute for people in absorbing radio signals is not one that anyone but a scientist or engineer would think of.  And, it offers angles.  Couch potato, microwaved potato, potato chump...  The puns could go on, but I'll spare you.  Unlike many publicity releases that are creative but forgotten quickly, this one pushes forward the story of getting internet to aircraft, something travelers desire.  So, a few potatoes have to give their skins (sorry) for the cause.  It is better than people sipping cold coffee and waiting while engineers monitor a cabin.  And who knows, the more potatoes, the quicker WiFi service is perfected?  Kudos to Boeing PR.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sad Come-Down 

Kodak finally sold its patent portfolio yesterday for $525 million.  The patents had been estimated to be worth $2.6 billion.  Those two numbers summarize the sorrowful state of the bankrupt company and reinforce the Darwinian nature of business, the "creative destruction" of Joseph Schumpeter. No business is immune.  There is a headline in The Wall Street Journal this morning that the New York Stock Exchange is up for sale.  If the deal goes through, that will end 200 years of independence.  It is easy to forget that companies are balanced on a needle point and work constantly to stay there.  One gust of wind from a wrong direction, and they can tumble.  Kodak's story is an often-told object lesson, but there are plenty who repeat it with the silent thought that "this can't happen to me."  No one likes to accept mortality, but it is a fact of life for humans and enterprises.  The great Silicon Valley companies of today might not be around tomorrow as other companies usurp their place.  That is why companies should monitor the marketplace always and be flexible enough to move quickly.   Kodak rested for too long on its film stock even though it invented the future that would kill it.  It is not the first nor last time this has happened.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


One of the most dangerous positions to be in as a PR practitioner is ignorance -- not knowing the facts of a case.  I was reminded of this during discussions of the Newtown shootings and the slaughter of women and children.   My strong feelings and opinions are shallow and at best, incomplete.  I had let emotion carry the day instead of examining issues.  Whenever one speaks from feeling before thinking, he puts himself in a situation where he might have to backtrack or hew to ideas that are increasingly untenable.  

Many are venting grief and rage over the deaths and calling for something to be done.  The problem is what.  How does one thread law and interest groups to arrive at a satisfactory solution?  How does one stake a public stance that has a viable chance of happening?  It's easy to garner headlines through outrageous propositions.  It is harder to engage issues with the intent of meaningful action.  There are several factors in Newtown that need to be examined -- the type of weapon, the mental condition of the shooter, the realistic ability of government and law enforcement to restrict the flow of certain arms, ammunition and magazines, the capability of the health community to identify and isolate those likely to engage in slaughter, the attitude of communities and citizens about weapons and their use for protection, recreation and hunting.  There is more, and mastery of the issues takes time and discipline.  We are likely to get a law but chances are the legislation will be a band-aid on a problem that requires a multidisciplinary solution.  That will happen because lawmakers also are acting on emotion.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Limits To Social Media 

This is an amusing tale from an individual at the heart of modern technology.  After a quip on Twitter that went viral, Vic Gundotra, Senior VP of Engineering at Google, was asked to stop using the medium by his boss, CEO Larry Page.  There was nothing wrong with the witticism.  In fact, it was brilliant and intelligible only to insiders.  But, that was the problem.  The insiders howled with laughter and explained the joke to everyone else who passed it on.  An obscure Tweet became an embarrassment.  So, Gundotra ceased commenting. 

There are limits to what leaders of an organization can and should say.  Social media have made it too easy for judgment to slip.  Recently, I made an error in a blog entry that unintentionally cast aspersion on a business in which a client is engaged.  I hadn't remembered that a client owned a company in the business.  It wasn't until my boss pointed to the error that I learned of my transgression. Not good.  In 10 years of blogging, I had been careful to avoid mix-ups such as this, but it happened.  Fortunately, my boss did not ask me to stop commenting, but I am more cautious than ever about topics I engage.  Social media do not confer the right of uncontrolled speech, and practitioners should never forget that.

Monday, December 17, 2012


It is one of the duties of a leader to console those who are grieving.  That was the task President Obama undertook last night in Newtown, CT.    There is no perfect way to help people who are suffering.  Words are a temporary balm for ache that continues day and night.  Yet, words have a role to help lift minds from personal suffering to a wider community of sorrow, and in community, there is strength.  President Obama's remarks last night were good and to the point.  They didn't rise to the heights of oratory, but they didn't need to.  His presence was enough to demonstrate to the people of Newtown that the nation cared.  It was visible leadership, the same presence that was important recently during the hurricane that savaged the New York-New Jersey area.  People want to know their leaders care, have taken charge and will act on their behalf.  Obama accomplished that even with vague statements that something must be done.  There was a good reason for him to keep his remarks general.  It might be too early for him to know what he can do by executive order, and there is a powerful lobby arrayed against anything he might consider.  Consoler-in-chief is a difficult public role, but no leader is exempt from the horrors of life.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Can't Buy This Kind Of PR 

Apple's disaster with mapping for its iPhones has been addressed by... Google, the company whose mapping software Apple dropped earlier this year.  Critics are raving about Google's app to the point of embarrassment for Google's engineers and cartographers.  Although Apple is working hard to correct its mistakes, the massive acceptance of Google's solution makes one wonder why Apple is bothering.  The tech industry is Darwinian.  Only in a few cases do companies get second or third chances to get something right.  The most notable is Microsoft, which struggled for years with its Windows operating system.  However, Microsoft had a monopolistic death-grip on PC operating systems that other companies didn't.  Apple will continue to correct its mapping software, but by the time it returns to market, Google will have the advantage.  With the PR Google is getting, there is a better than even chance Google will win.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Great PR, Cont. 

Here are two instances of great PR that serve both company and consumer. The first is from Netflix.  It is now publishing monthly speed ratings for Internet Service Providers.  The ratings are self-serving in that Netflix needs higher speeds to deliver its movies efficiently, but the ratings also serve consumers looking for unbiased information in an area subject to chicanery.  You can be certain ISPs will watch the rankings lest they fall too far behind the leaders.  The second is from Facebook.  Its engineers helped the FBI smash an 11-million machine botnet that robbed companies and consumers of an estimated $850 million.   Facebook's engineers have the programming "chops" to accomplish this difficult feat and their willingness to help the government was in the best spirit of cooperation.  It also served Facebook because the social medium was as much a victim as anyone else.   The best PR serves both company and public in positive and measurable ways.  Both of these examples meet that standard.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Unloved But Profitable 

Patent trolls who buy up patents then sue companies are among the least loved of businesses.  Yet, they are profitable, or no one would be doing it.  They are now in the ascendancy as well.  That demonstrates the point that a company needn't have good public relations to survive.  Patent trolls are bottom-scrapers and impediments to the progress of technology, but as long as the law is on their side, they won't disappear.  Some say the law should be changed , and perhaps it should, but until then, their patent infringement suits are full employment for lawyers.  Companies that make things have to reserve licensing revenue to pay trolls who don't.  It's a backward system but the way the world works

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stupidity Begets... 

Over-reaction.  That is why this complaint from a radio station is specious at best.  From a PR point of view, the Australian radio station that allowed its hosts to do dumb things on the air deserves the "witch hunt" that it is getting. It does little good to cry about how it is being treated. People aren't sympathetic.  Other radio stations have been caught in similar traps over the years and one wonders why they continue to press the boundaries of good taste.  The answer, of course, is ratings.  People like low and cruel forms of entertainment and will go out of their way to listen to or watch it.  The Roman Colosseum has never gone out of style, although we don't pitch people to ravenous lions any longer.  Still, the rise of cage fighting moves citizenry a step closer to the brutality of old.  Pandering to the lowest form of taste means one will always skirt the edge of acceptability.  If you go over, don't complain.  Take your punishment.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Google is celebrating the birth of Ada Lovelace today, often called the first programmer in history.  The curious part of the celebration is that Ada was a woman, which flies in the face of a popular perception that boys are better at math, and girls don't like anything about arithmetic logic.  Celebration of Lovelace's birthday is a good way to confront perception with history.  Admittedly, Lovelace came from wealth and had private tutoring, but that served to amplify a talent with numbers.  One might ask why more women are not held up as famous mathematicians and the answer to that is unclear.  There has been a long-standing bias that the province of logic belongs to men.  It might only be that, or there might be other reasons as well.  Whatever the case, women today have the opportunity to shine in the handling of numbers, and they do.  Ada Lovelace is great PR.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Great PR 

Now that Boeing's new 787 has entered fleet service, the company is demonstrating why the plane is better with great PR.  That comes in the form of a web site that puts one into the cockpit and allows one both to fly with the pilots and look around with a 360-degree view.  It almost makes one forget the prolonged and troubled development of the plane, which is certainly part of Boeing's intent.  One gets to experience a take-off, a landing and examine the fuselage, engines and wings, all in 360-degree views.  It is a great site for aviation enthusiasts and anyone interested in the first composite passenger jet.  It helps to build anticipation and excitement  among passengers waiting to get their first trip on the plane.  Finally, it demonstrates that Boeing has made the huge development and manufacturing leap from traditional aluminum structure to new materials and will be a formidable competitor for decades to come.  

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Can't Win 

Global accounting firms working in China are in a can't-win standoff with the US Securities And Exchange Commission.  The SEC wants the work papers from audits of Chinese companies  trading on US exchanges.  The Chinese government prohibits the turnover.  Accounting firms are caught in the middle.  The SEC says accounting firms are breaking the law.  The accounting firms say they will break Chinese law if they comply with the SEC.  No matter what happens, accounting firms will fare poorly in the perception war.  Chinese companies have a history of dodgy bookkeeping, and the Chinese government hasn't moved vigorously to control them.  The SEC is most likely right in wanting the work papers because those documents might well reveal decisions far removed from generally accepted accounting principles.  So what are accounting firms to do?  They must fight an expensive legal battle until their lawyers forge some kind of agreement between the US and Chinese governments.  Either that, or the SEC will ban Chinese companies from trading on US exchanges, an outcome that benefits no one.  Meanwhile, the SEC can publicly flog the auditors and make them look bad.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Long-term PR 

This 35-year-old satellite is long-term PR for robotic space exploration.  This mission is another successful example of machines going where man cannot yet reach.  Both are ripostes to those who want the footsteps of humans everywhere in the solar system and someday beyond.  Never mind that manned missions are more expensive and dangerous.  Voyager and Curiosity are demonstrating that exploration is being done at the limits of human endurance and well before humans venture that far away from earth.  Landing on the moon was a technological triumph but it also was a publicity stunt that cost billions.  Only a government with the wealth of the US could afford to do it and it hasn't had the wherewithal since.  There is a good chance that someday man will colonize the moon, but given what we know about it, the facilities are more likely to be like Antarctica than anywhere else on earth.  The environment will be unrelentingly hostile and visitors will be scientists and workers to keep the bases open.  Despite the science fiction fantasies of dreamers, Mars isn't likely to be much different.  Machines have shown the way and more will follow.   Isn't that enough?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Future Isn't Here 

The future isn't here for the Murdoch iPad newspaper, the Daily.  It's shutting down. The Daily is joining other news models on the scrap heap and is a reminder that most new media ideas don't work.  It is easy to forget that in an era of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.  Our focus narrows to successful efforts while failures disappear.  Some might argue that the news model didn't fail, but the man, Rupert Murdoch, did.  That might be true but the only way to find out is for another person to launch an iPad newspaper and see if that individual is successful.  Meanwhile, traditional news media, such as The New York Times, continue to shrink while flailing about for something to grab onto that can get the company back into a growth mode.  Give Murdoch credit.  He tried, but the market for news is Darwinian.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Fiscal Posturing 

The current imbroglio over the "fiscal cliff" is not the first time Democrats and Republicans have descended into wrangling nor will it be the last.  It is hard to remember that the Constitution structured governmental powers such that the status quo would be more prevalent than change lest the strong overpower the weak.  What was not envisioned in the Constitution was the foghorn of the media blaring every twitch of a Senator or Congressman to the nation and every aside from a President.  Washington is the cynosure of public posturing and self publicity.  Somewhere in the self-interest, the public might be served.  From a public relations perspective, politicians are poor practitioners for the most part.  They say they serve their constituencies but most of the time, they listen to interest groups who are instrumental in their re-election.  Hasn't it always been this way?  For the most part, yes. But, the citizen's hope is that legislators can rise above parochialism.  That they rarely do should be no surprise.  A legislator voted out of office has no chance to influence policy except as a lobbyist.  Will the US go over the "cliff.?"  Who knows?  There are deals being struck across Washington and maybe one will point to a path of reconciliation.  If not, Congress will miss the deadline, and the country will survive in spite of them.

Update:  Corrected.  

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