Thursday, July 31, 2014


Goldman Sachs is predicting a slow decline for Walmart and Target as customers look elsewhere for convenience.  The two companies are fighting erosion but haven't been successful in stemming their declines so far.  They are facing one of the toughest business and PR/marketing conundrums -- how to win back customers.  There is no easy answer once a shopper has changed habits.  There are multiple considerations including price, quality of goods and service.  Falling down in any of these three categories is a death sentence. In other words, convenience is only the beginning of the sales equation.  A Big Box store may have everything one wants but one must able to navigate it to find an item -- a constant problem, especially when store personnel don't know themselves.  It is easier to go to a place where there are fewer choices that are easier to find in the aisles.  This is a secret that some food retailers have discovered -- i.e., Trader Joe's. Target and Walmart are filled with experienced merchants so there is a good chance that they might turn around, but the longer it takes, the less likely that will happen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The Israeli shelling of a UN school in the Gaza Strip was a misstep for the country and its military.  It was most likely an accident but tell that to the Palestinian families who are grieving at this hour.  Relations between the two peoples could hardly get lower at a time when they should be improving.  As an outsider, it is hard to blame Israel.  Shelling suspected sites is part of the "fog of war."  As much as one tries to protect civilians, they inevitably get into the line of battle.  And, Hamas' random firing of rockets into Israel is an open attempt to terrify Israeli citizens.  Violence begets violence unless one side is utterly defeated and will broken.  There doesn't seem to be any move yet on either side in the conflict to give up warfare, so more civilians will be killed.  One can only hope that both sides come to their senses sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Back Tomorrow 

I'm winding up two days off for vacation.  I'll be back tomorrow.  

Friday, July 25, 2014


One wonders why anyone would feel it necessary to copy another's work verbatim and claim it as his own.  But that is what this fellow did, and it could cost him his Senate race.  He is claiming Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as the reason for doing it.  That seems to be a stretch. Other classmates at the US Army War College had been in battle as he was.  Granted that he has a history of depression and is still taking medication for it, but how does that contribute to copying without attribution?  Senator Walsh has created a PR problem for his campaign and reputation.  It will be interesting to see how he handles it.  It would be best if he comes clean, confesses to plagiarism and takes the consequences early on.  The more he tries to quash questions, the worse it will get for him, especially since the War College is investigating his 14-page paper and thesis.  He should be convicted of laziness.  It takes little time to footnote and only a little more time to write in one's own words.  What he has done, unfortunately, is open a question about his character that will be hard to dismiss.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Not PR... 

And not good publicity either...  Say, you have a client, a mayor of a city, and you fake a press release for the client.  A reporter picks it up and calls the client who knows nothing about it.  That is what happened here.  It comes under the category of "What was the PR person thinking?"  There is a rule in the agency business.  Clients approve all releases that go out on their behalf.  There is never a time when that rule is violated, especially for flackery.   I don't know what has happened to the publicist who sent then tried to justify the release.  In agencies I have worked in, it would be a firing offense, one that would also have the client leaving for another firm.  The Raleigh mayor might not be so upset, but he should be.  If you can't trust your agency to do the right thing, who can you trust?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


So, you short a company's stock and set out to destroy it.  You give public presentations explaining why the company is fraudulent.  If people believe you and sell the stock, you will win big.  If they don't, you will lose billions.  That's the position that Bill Ackman, a hedge fund manager is in in his quest to destroy nutritional supplement company, Herbalife.  Yesterday, after his detailed presentation on the company, its stock rose rather than fell.  The feeling was that he didn't produce a smoking gun that proves the company is a culprit rather than besieged.  There is something about Ackman's anti-PR that makes one want to see him fail.  On the other hand, if Herbalife is shady, he will have done a public service.  Time and stock trading will tell soon enough whether his shorting the stock was a good or bad idea.  And the government has yet to weigh in based on its investigation into the company.  Should the FTC sue the company, Ackman will be a winner.  If it decides against penalties, Ackman will have to start over to rebuild his fortune.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Perception Vs. Reality 

Russian citizens are being given a broad range of excuses and conspiracy theories over the downing of Flight MH 17 in rebel-controlled Eastern Ukraine.  The reasoning is preposterous and outrageous and one wonders how any citizen could swallow such drivel.  But then, during the previous disappearance of a Malaysia Air flight this year, CNN explored the possibility that aliens had taken the plane.  Fortunately, there were many news agencies covering the event so one could get a variety of views on what happened.  However, in Russia's case now, there doesn't appear to be reporting that alleges the plane was shot down by a missile.  In other words, Russian citizens are being given an altered perception.  How many of them believe their government?  Putin has vested interest in keeping the spotlight away from him and so far, he seems successful at home, if not in the rest of the world.  Sooner or later, however, the reality of the tragedy will reach Russian citizens and will create a public relations problem for Putin and his autocracy.  Will it be enough to cripple his power?  Probably not, but his strong man image will be dented, and that is a first step in eventual downfall.

Monday, July 21, 2014


A food retailer like McDonald's depends on suppliers for its fare.  The fast-food chain sets standards for quality and cleanliness and suppliers pledge to abide by them.  To make sure, restaurant companies audit suppliers regularly.  Still, it is possible for suppliers to cheat when not watched.   That is why this incident is maddening for McDonald's and Yum brands.  It is expensive to stand over a vendor's employees to make sure they are following rules.  Yet, that is what the fast-fooders might have to do.  They cannot continue to grow in China if they are compromised regularly by their supply chains.  It seems part of the problem is cultural.  Chinese employees might not be concerned about picking something off the floor and throwing it back onto a conveyor belt or mixing old meat with new.  The vendor, OSI Group LLC, works around the world, and it is unlikely that it tolerated what its workers were doing.  Almost certainly, it didn't know.  This means management at the Chinese plant was lax and should be changed.  Now, McDonald's and Yum have to rebuild their reputations in China.  It won't be easy, but one can be certain they will watch their suppliers closely.

Friday, July 18, 2014


The death of 298 passengers and crew from a missile is a tragedy not only for the families affected but also for the company -- Malaysia Airlines.  The company must feel it is snakebit to have two major accidents just a few months apart and both mysterious.  We may never know what happened to the first plane but one theory is that it was flying on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.  If it was on auto-pilot, something dreadful happened to the pilot and co-pilot.  As for the present situation, it is unlikely anyone is going to "fess up" to having fired a missile.  Rather each side will blame the other, and only a careful examination of the wreckage might lead to a conclusion.  Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines must calm the nerves of potential passengers who might be leery of flying in its aircraft.  An airline can go years without an accident then suddenly, something happens.  It is a blow to the reputation of the company and there is nothing one can do but carry on and make adjustments, such as no longer flying over Ukraine.  There are times when business is crappy, and this is one.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

One Bad Egg 

You've probably seen a news story and heard the recorded customer call to Comcast that has gone viral.  Comcast has apologized for the rudeness of its service rep who wouldn't accept that a customer wanted to cancel.  The company is already one of the lowest rated for customer service and this incident only confirms the view of many.  It is one more example of a bad egg supporting the public's perception of a company's reputation.   One would think Comcast would be working overtime to win favor, and employees like this one would be reassigned or rooted from the ranks.  But, apparently not.  Hence the company continues with the poor reputation for service it has had for years -- and that is too bad.  When our family was a Comcast customer, its service was prompt and their techs easy to work with.  We left Comcast, not because of outages,  but because we could get faster line speeds.  Our present vendor has proven stable and easy to work with as well.  Comcast has lost us, probably forever, as it has lost millions of others.  Had it a better reputation that needn't have been the case.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Great PR 

The best PR is a melding of self-interest with the interests of the public.  Under that definition, what Google is doing to fix the internet is PR at its finest.   With the name, Project Zero, the company is hiring the best programmers it can find to roam the internet and close off vulnerabilities wherever it finds them,  whether or not the software is Google's.  This is the kind of big project that only the largest of companies can afford to undertake.  One might have expected Microsoft to handle the project since it has worked hard to identify and isolate hackers, but Google acted first.  The internet, in spite of Google's efforts, will never be perfect.  There are too many holes that brilliant programmers can exploit.  However, it can make it more difficult for rogue hackers and that alone will be a benefit to the world.  Some fear Google because it is a large and pervasive company, but if it keeps acting like this, there is little to worry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Eyes Of The Beholder 

The attorney general of the US says opposition to the president is racism.  A Caucasian Senator and Republican says not so.  Who is right and does it matter?  Slavery and discrimination against blacks has lasted for more than 300 years in the US.  The attorney general can be forgiven for seeing any opposition as more of the same.  Republicans in turn have committed themselves to a smaller government in opposition to the President's Big Government solution to chronic problems of unemployment and sluggish growth.  It would seem on the surface that the senator is more right than the attorney general, but the senator should have realized the sensitivities of African Americans to opposition.  It wasn't long ago that dogs were sicced on to civil rights protesters in the South and governors denied integrated schooling to black children.   It will take time -- decades -- for African Americans to put history into perspective.  That will come as more of them enter the middle and upper classes and feel welcomed.  Meanwhile,  some African Americans will see every disagreement as racism whether it is or not.  The eyes of the beholder have a fixed lens.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Long-term PR Headache 

The sunken cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, is back in the news, having been lifted from the rocks that ripped its hull apart.  Carnival Cruise lines, the owner of the ship must be breathing better, but the long-term PR headache has time to go before it is relieved.  The next task is towing the crippled ship to the port of Genoa where it will be scrapped.  The sorry episode is testimony to the power of one employee on the future of a company -- in this case, an errant captain.   Carnival will remember the captain, ship and sinking long after it falls from the headlines.  How do you screen captains to make sure that they will always follow orders?  That is the challenge for Carnival.  It might never happen again in the history of the company, but it happened once.  It is costing nearly a billion dollars to get the wreck off the rocks and to the scrap yard.  If nothing else, that will be a reminder.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Negative Publicity 

No company, especially a start-up, needs negative publicity like this.  It shows a lack of command and training and most importantly, common sense.  Uber's ride sharing service can fail quickly if there are more high-speed chases like this one. The company already is under pressure from Yellow cab drivers, Taxi and Limousine Commissions and other car services.  If there are more stories about poor service and unsafe driving, the company will lose passengers and its reason for being.  Uber should understand the power of social media and the ability of individuals to howl when they have been mistreated.  Its response to the incident was bureaucratic and hardly what a passenger should expect for an 8-10 minute hellish ride.  The suggestion at the end of the article that the company needs better screening of its drivers is an idea that the company should have had in place from the beginning.  Uber is walking a fine line, and it can fall at any moment.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Spies V. Diplomats 

The US finds itself in a pickle after Germany caught yet another spy who was working for America within the German defense ministry.   The Germans are angry and well they should be.  If a government can't trust an ally then who can it trust?  For the United States, it is a blow to reputation and an example of poor international relationships.  The breach is a matter of trust.  There is the cliche that President Reagan used often, "Trust but verify."  The question is whether verification should be in the form of spying or more transparent methods.  Based on the anger of the German government, the latter is what the US should have been doing.  The result of the exposure is that diplomacy will be made more difficult for the two countries.  US diplomats most likely won't know whether there are American spies in German ranks, and German politicians can assume there are.  In other words, trust has been damaged with the leader of the European Union.  

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Calling Him Out 

The White House offered the governor of Texas an opportunity to shake the President's hand when the President lands in Austin.  The governor, Rick Perry, declined and countered that he wanted a meeting to discuss border issues with the President.  Perry got his meeting.   Ordinarily, when one is lower in the power structure, making demands on someone above you is out of protocol and rude.  Perry, however, was playing politics over an issue of deep concern to Texas and the rest of the US.  The President has request nearly $3 billion to handle the problem of children crossing the border in droves, some as young as eight years old, out of a mistaken belief that they will be allowed to stay in the US.  In other words, there is good reason for Perry to have turned down a handshake.  On the other hand, what can Obama tell him in a meeting that hasn't already been reported in the media?  The real reason, it would appear, is that it gives Perry a chance to sit with someone whose job he wants and to communicate to his base that he is no pushover.   If this were a ball game, it would be Perry 1, President 0.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Fads Come And Go 

Apparently the cupcake fad is over.  The bakery that was riding the wave has shut down all of its stores and laid off employees.  As with many fads, it was hard to understand why so many people decided to eat cupcakes at the same time, but they did.  Then, they didn't.  Was the company aware that it was riding a swiftly vanishing wave of sentiment?  Probably not.  There is a tendency to believe that trends will last.  Every industry has gone through growth spurts that insiders have maintained will continue into infinity.  Of course, they never do.  In that regard, cyclical businesses have an advantage.  They know that a sine wave describes their economic activity, and they try during healthy periods to prepare for the next downturn.   With a fad, once the growth is over, it stops altogether.  The plunge is a free-fall to the bottom.  There is little that a company can say or do with marketing and PR to reignite interest.  Those who ride fads should keep their resumes up to date.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Dumb Poll But Useful 

Asking anyone to rank a President while the President remains in office is a dumb idea.  That is why this ranking which thrusts Obama to the bottom of Presidents in office since World War II is spurious.  Most voters weren't alive or cognizant when Truman and Eisenhower were in office.  Most don't remember Kennedy that well either.  Someone once said it takes 20 years before one can judge a President historically.  The long wait is needed to allow partisanship to wither and the individual be considered objectively.  But why is such a poll useful?  Because it is a gauge of current voter perception.  It tells a President how well the public thinks the President is doing today.  In light of that, Obama needs to choose well and execute better until he leaves office.  There is still plenty of opportunity for him to show his mettle given the upheavals that roil the globe and turbulence at home.  If he fails, it won't be for lack of trying.  How historians will rate him in 2034 is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A Blow To Reputation 

You're the number four cell phone service provider, well behind the leaders.  You have dedicated your company to better customer service in order to catch up.  Suddenly the Federal Trade Commission hits you with the first-ever lawsuit for bogus phone charges.  That is what happened to T-Mobile, and it has knocked the wind out of the company for the moment.  The lawsuit vitiates all that the company has done and makes it look like a scammer when it is in reality a victim of scammers.  There isn't much the company can say to regain its reputation until the lawsuit is resolved.  It should -- and  did -- protest the action, but that is hollow when a government regulator is involved.  T-Mobile's PR department must be working overtime without much hope of making headway.  

Tuesday, July 01, 2014


This is an interesting article.  The e-mail newsletter is not dead.  In fact, it is thriving as a medium.  There are constraints, however, that every PR practitioner knows.  It is not the newsletter format itself but the content that counts and keeps readers coming back.  Marketers have a bad habit of taking a medium like the newsletter and destroying it with sales-driven material.  Instead of informing the reader, the marketer is hammering on him to buy, buy, buy.  Effective newsletters bring needed information to targeted audiences.  As the author of the article notes, readers don't have time to digest the effluvia of the internet.  They want someone to do it for them, and that is the traditional role of an editor.  They vest their trust in a proxy who knows their concerns and strives to address them.  So, the newsletter is dead.  Long live the newsletter as long as users employ common sense in how to use it.

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