Friday, March 29, 2013

Poke In The Eye 

Some people only understand force.  There is no reasoning with them, no persuasion, no accommodation except the blunt end of a hammer.  Here is a case.  The North Koreans are spitting angry because the US has chosen to project power near their border.  Let them be.  If they are intelligent or cunning, they know they haven't the power to attack the South and survive.  All they can do is to use the "perfidy" of opposing powers as a way to further repress their own citizens.  It is easy to be enraged by leaders like this, and one wants to invade the North to end once for all the evil that exists there.  But, wiser minds have known for decades that what is best is to bottle the scorpion until it starves to death, which it will do.  The horrible part of the slow killing is that it has taken millions of innocents with it.  We know from history the damage dictators can do -- the predations of Hitler, Stalin and Mao in the 20th Century alone.  We also know that one country cannot be the world's cop, as much as we would like to be.  There will always be injustice.  One can only hope that it doesn't happen here.  But, it does.  We are fortunate that it hasn't happened often on a societal scale but the US cannot live down slavery, systematic slaughter of native peoples, imprisonment of American citizens because they were of a particular nationality and false incarceration of individuals who hadn't done anything wrong.  We can only strive to be more fair, recognizing we will never achieve perfection.  Leaders of countries like North Korea do not believe in justice.  What matters is only that which benefits them.  They deserve a poke in the eye.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Different Perspectives 

The Indiana Supreme Court upheld a school voucher law over the objection of a group of parents, teachers and teachers' unions.  They maintained that vouchers would fund religious schools, which is against the law.   The justices said vouchers would allow poor parents to find decent educations for their children.  The unions are right that most primary schools in Indiana that are not public are affiliated with a religion.  The justices are right in saying that giving vouchers to parents is not direct funding of religious schools.  This is an old argument that has been going on for decades, and it is a matter of perspective.  For the longest time, teachers' unions and public school advocates held sway.  They did a better job of publicity.  Then, public schools fell behind, especially in poor districts, and they could not find a way to reform their embedded inefficiencies.  That reignited efforts to develop vouchers, and public opinion changed.  It could change back again if public schools are able to show substantial improvement.  The best PR for teachers' unions are smart kids who meet testing standards.  If they achieve that, they can minimize the impact of vouchers.  But, classroom success takes hard work.  It is no wonder that unions wanted to maintain a lock on the education system.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Passing Celebrity 

Polls show that the governor of New Jersey has a 70 percent approval rating and a 2-1 lead over his opponent.   If the governor is honest with himself, he will expect that to decline before election day, which is months away.  Citizens are fickle.  They want to know what you have done for me lately.  Moreover, in the celebrity-driven, tell-all environment in which politicians work, one need only make a mistake to lose the popularity that he had.  In New Jersey, we're keenly aware of the toppling of governors, senators and mayors because of corruption.  So, the governor should enjoy his status for the time being then forget about it.  Publicity will turn against him as the campaign heats up. Critics will come from every point of the compass.  He may still cruise to victory but his popularity won't be at 70 percent.  That's the way it should be.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How Not To Do It 

One would think a politician who gives interviews regularly would avoid wrecks like this.  Apparently not.  The interview is painful to watch.  The host is deadly in boring in and relentlessly focused on the character of the London Mayor.  Yet, the interviewer doesn't shout or posture.  He softly asks one killing question after another and the mayor is reduced to a helpless, rambling blob.  The interview is a highlight film for media training.  "This can happen to you."   The mystery of the interview is why the Mayor agreed to it.  Was it hubris?  Did he think the interviewer was going to be easy?  Or, did he even bother to research the fellow before he appeared on-air with him?  The mayor will remember him now, and probably never appear with him again -- that is, if he remains in politics.  Meanwhile, trainers the world over are copying the interview to show their students.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Faux Pas 

Sometimes advertising creatives lack judgment and need to be reined in.  Here is a case that comes under the heading of "What were they thinking?"  Almost certainly, the ad agency was using far-out, edgy imagery to make a point viewers would not soon forget.  The creatives did not realize they had gone too far.  Perhaps they thought the former Italian premier was a distant figure so it would make little difference if he was mocked in India.  They ignored the fact that issues like treatment of women is above national discourse.  They also paid little attention to how close the internet has made the world.  What happens several countries away is still pertinent.  Finally, they misjudged their client, Ford Motor, which has apologized for the mistake.  From a PR perspective, it was dumb, and it will almost certainly happen again.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Life Threatening 

On rare occasions, a threat will emerge that jeopardizes the existence of a business.  The threat might not be the kind that anyone considered and yet, it is suddenly there.  Here is a case -- concussions in football.  It is not the kind of issue that league presidents would have worried about, but medical evidence now points to long-term damage that ringing blows can do to the brain.  Retired players are suing to compensate for the onset of memory loss and other brain defects.  Parents are holding their children out of football for fear of what might happen to them.  Players, coaches and managers can no longer ignore the effects of head injuries.  From a PR perspective, it is a crisis and the future of the sport will depend on how industry participants handle it.  Downplaying head injuries or attempting to ignore them won't make the issue go away, and it may require more than a few rules changes to guarantee the long-term health of players.  There needs to be close study of every aspect of the game and its impact on the brain.  The football played next year should not be the same as that of the year just finished.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Odd But Charming 

Jeff Bezos' search for Apollo rocket engines under 14,000 feet of seawater has nothing to do with his company, Amazon.com, but it is offbeat and interesting nonetheless.  Bezos is a space enthusiast, and he is using his personal fortune for a good cause -- retrieving items used in an historic event -- flying to and landing on the surface of the moon.  As every passing year makes clear, the moon landings were a feat of incredible technological skill and organization that have been rarely equaled.  They made space real for the first time for earthlings and changed the way we think about the world.  No matter what Bezos does with the items fished from the ocean bottom, he is doing a service for history.  One would expect the engines and components to end up in a museum somewhere -- perhaps Smithsonian National Air and Space?  Even if they don't, Bezos has added a positive glow to his reputation.  It is good personal PR.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hype Versus Reality - Ancient Edition 

The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were masters of personal publicity -- magnificent temples, pyramid tombs, walls awash with paintings and hieroglyphs proclaiming their greatness.  Modern dictators have emulated them.  The exalted view of themselves has come through the milennia but it is being counterbalanced increasingly by studies into how average Egyptians lived.  The answer to that is apparently not well.  Ancient Egypt was a land of haves and have-nots and the wealthy were the tip of a sprawling society.  The hype of greatness obscured the reality of hand-to-mouth living.  It is not surprising that it was this way.  One would hardly expect much else.  From a PR perspective, pharaohs of old were poor practitioners.  They ignored their citizenry more than listened to them.  People were disposable tools in the factory building the ruler's legacy.  Why didn't the people rebel?  Perhaps they didn't know better or they didn't know how.  The result was that the arrogance of leadership was unbridled.  It produced magnificent ruins but no enduring social betterment.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A First Step 

So, Republicans are self-critical over why they have lost the last two presidential elections.  They have written a lengthy and trenchant report on what they need to do.  From a PR perspective, that is a first step.  The hard part is getting their own members to accept it, and that is the problem.  Some elements of the Party have rejected the report outright and have called for more conservative candidates who fit the mold they have defined.  Others have accepted the report but might not be enthusiastic.  About the only people who are happy are Democrats who see the Republican Party tearing itself apart.  They shouldn't be.  Democrats lived in the wilderness for a long while when their own liberal wing tried to capture the Party for its beliefs.  When Parties are bent on suicide, there is little to stop them until more pragmatic minds take control, and that doesn't happen until a Party is weary of losing elections.  The Republican Report might be what the Party needs, but the Republican Party doesn't know that yet.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Religious Politician 

Pope Francis is a religious politician in the best sense.  He sees himself as a servant of the people, and he doesn't want to remove himself too far from them.  Hence, hand-shaking, baby-kissing and working the line as all politicians do.  This is refreshing.  The papacy has too long been encrusted with the pageantry of  milennia.  The pope understands that and is out to change it in the way that he deals with the faithful.  Unlike cynical politicians, however, this is apparently the style he used as a cardinal in Argentina.  He appears determined not to change now that the highest authority has been thrust upon him.  From a PR perspective, what he is doing is much needed.  There is a chasm between secular societies and Catholic Church teachings.  If the Pope is to make headway in getting Catholic doctrine understood, he will need to work in the trenches.  Sitting above the populace and commanding worked in the medieval era but we are a thousand years on.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hard To Overcome 

When you upset the government, it is hard to overcome the damage to your reputation and business.  That is the position Shell is in after its unsuccessful attempts to drill in Arctic waters.    Government's unhappiness stems from an apparent lack of preparation for working in such a harsh environment.  In Shell's defense, however, few have ever tried to find petroleum that far north.  No one quite knew what to expect.  Now, the company knows, and it has both engineering and political challenges.  Shell almost certainly was hoping for a different outcome.  It ventured north with an understanding that it must be careful not to disrupt the environment or pollute it in any way.  The company was confident it had mastered the sea and the weather.  It didn't turn out that way, and now Shell must modify heavily, if not start over in its approach.  Is it worth it?  The company needs to make that calculation.  Either way -- writing off the venture as a loss or continuing on -- are bound to be expensive in monetary and reputation terms.  It is not a pleasant position to be in.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Future Forever? 

A future of all-electric vehicles might not have come -- and it may never.  Electric vehicle makers are having troubles, and there is no guarantee they will survive.  How does one do effective PR for an industry that the public never quite accepts?  Electric vehicle makers are not alone.  Inventors and scientists have, for example, tried for decades to market a flying car.  No one has succeeded yet.  AT&T tried for decades to sell a picture phone.  There was little public acceptance and videophone technologies of today did not come from that corporation.  Magnetic levitation  trains have been the near future for 40 years.   It is open at the moment whether self-driving cars will become a major mode of transportation in the next 50 years.  The problem with future technologies is that they assume too much, perhaps because they must.  From a PR perspective, one should be conservative about predictions, the opposite of "true believers" who know in their hearts that their technologies are destined to change the world.  Don't drink the magic potion.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Getting Ahead Of Facts 

PR practitioners know from their first days in the business never to get ahead of facts, particularly in a crisis.  Scientists learn the same lesson when announcing discoveries.  That is why this come-down for Russian biologists is so embarrassing.  Some one jumped the gun, ignored peer review and leaked the news.  Now the Russian team has a major challenge -- how to substantiate that anything was in Lake Vostok below the massive ice shield.  Since their first report was discredited, their subsequent reports will be combed for discrepancies.  They won't get a break.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Perils of Self-Protection 

Dentists are engaged in the same self-protection that physicians have used.  The tooth-tuners are resisting the introduction of dental therapists in states.  The reason is economics.  Dentists don't want to sacrifice the income potential.  They are objecting on the basis of their superior training.  It is the same argument that doctors used to stall the introduction of physicians' assistants.  Sooner or later, however, dental therapists will become the norm because as the article points out, dentists concentrate in urban areas where there are more patients and leave farms and hill country uncovered.  From a PR perspective, dentists look greedy and heartless.  It makes no difference that they provide more health services than therapists.  When it is a choice of help or none at all, professionalism takes a back seat.  If universal health care is to become the US standard, there must be more primary care that semi-professionals can provide.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How To Wreck A Franchise 

Electronic Arts has failed in a huge way with its launch of multiplayer Sim City.  By now, everyone has heard of the blackouts the company has suffered because of inadequate server capacity.  The mind-boggling mistake is elemental.  The first thing any launch manager should do is to plan for extra capacity, to have resources in reserve in case demand is greater than expected.  EA apparently didn't do that, and it is a question whether it stress tested the software before inviting millions of players to download it.  In one monumental error, the company has cashiered its reputation.  The worst part is that the game industry has little forgiveness.  Lose a player today, and there is a good chance you won't get him back tomorrow.  This error comes under the header, "What were they thinking?"  EA now has serious public relations work ahead of it to get the game working and to apologize to Sim City fans.  Someone should be looking for work.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Great PR, Great Publicity 

This almost certainly has been around the internet.  I'm late tipping to it.  It's an example of great publicity and PR joined in a single action -- making water from the air on a signboard in a desert.  One wonders who came up with the idea and who made it real.  The design was a challenge enough but it was genius to hide it behind a billboard that trumpets what it is doing and advertises upcoming examinations for entrance into an engineering school.  Add to this that it produced water for poor Peruvians for whom finding potable water is a daily chore.  There is always room in the world for great ideas like this. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Better Than Advertising 

Here is an example of employee relations done at its best. Starbucks spends $35 million to infuse its front-line workforce with a proper understanding and feeling for the brand and coffee.  In a huge conference center filled with exhibits on every step of coffee production, Starbucks produces a "Leadership Lab" for 9,600 store managers.  Plenty of companies have annual sales conferences to charge up the troops, but the Starbucks experience is education and motivation with no expense spared.  The company understands that customers can buy a cup of coffee anywhere, so the experience of purchasing coffee at Starbucks has to be differentiated.  That can only done through motivated store managers who guard the brand and reproduce the Starbucks mission day after day in the stores.  The front line is the company.  Hence, the all-out effort.  It would be interesting if more companies did this -- e.g.,  chain-store retailers of clothing and other goods.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Finger Pointing 

It seems Republicans can't enough of blaming one another for an electoral defeat last November.  Fingers continue to point at culprits, real or imagined, in the Party.  "If only" is the operative phrase.  While there is benefit from analyzing failure, it is dangerous to wallow in it.  Other elections will be coming soon enough, and one should be positioning for them.  Of course, the argument is how can one plan for the next election if you don't know what went wrong with this one?  From a PR perspective, the voice of voters in several races was clear.  The candidates did not represent the views of a majority of citizens.  It wasn't a popularity contest but a rejection of attitudes and positions that candidates expressed in their campaigns.  Were I a Republican and planning communications for the next go-around, I would revise messaging then find candidates who embody it.  But, I'm not in politics -- and glad of it.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Won't Do Much Good 

Monster Beverage has issued a report absolving itself of the death of a teenager who imbibed two of its energy drinks.  The company hired a group of doctors who reported no link to the high-caffeine drink and the teen's heart failure.  That conclusion flies in the face of the Maryland medical examiner's report and of course, the lawyer representing the family.  Whether Monster is right or not, it won't do much good.  The case will be fought in the courts, and Monster already has lost a good bit of its reputation as a safe alternative for those wanting to stay alert.  The company had to prepare a medical report for the court case, and it will throw its experts at their experts in front of a jury -- then probably settle.  Meanwhile, what does the company do to regain its reputation?  Has it done serious investigation into potential dangers of its product or is it justifying it to continue to make a buck?  These are choices CEOs have to make and in these decisions, their moral and ethical character surface.  Perhaps Monster's CEO has done soul searching and has concluded with evidence that his drink is safe.  If he has, he now has the task of convincing everyone else.

Monday, March 04, 2013

As Switzerland Goes, So Goes...? 

Swiss citizens have voted to curb executive pay with a stringent new law.  Will anyone follow them in the EU and the US?  Pay for performance is secure under the new provision but high salaries are now subject to binding shareholder vote and golden parachutes and signing bonuses are out.  Swiss CEOs have a new public relations chore added to their list of things to do -- justifying their compensation to shareholders.  Activists would like to see a similar law everywhere.  The Swiss vote gives them reasons to hope.  Pay is not an issue in which PR practitioners normally get involved but it is, as the Swiss vote attests, subject to public opinion.  There were numerous PR efforts before the vote to convince Swiss citizens not to pass the law.  There will now be ongoing efforts from corporation to corporation to protect executive pay. 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Need For Symbolism? 

The sequester starts today but as news media have reported, it isn't going to affect the paychecks of the President or of Congress.  Should it?  From a perspective of putting pressure on Congress and the White House to agree to some plan, perhaps it should.  On the other hand, these are relatively wealthy men and women.  Missing a paycheck or two or three is not going to bankrupt them.  The only reason to take a pay deferral would be to show that legislators are in this together with the people being put on furlough.  From that point of view, it might insulate Congress and the White House from some criticism.  It won't do much, however, because voters know the source of the problem is bickering between the parties and President.  No one likes austerity, but the nation is experiencing lean times.  It would be better in the long run if politicians and citizens would get on with their lives with leaner budgets.  That won't happen.  There is no urgency in the country to get debt under control, and it would take a concerted communications campaign on the part of the President and Congress to convince citizens that something must be done.  The President and the Democrats, however, are pressing to spend more.  Clashing economic theories are at the root of the dispute, and there doesn't appear to be a third way that all could agree upon.  So what good would symbolism do? 

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