Friday, May 30, 2014

Not PR 

Misinformation like this is not PR.  There is no body of scientific fact that links autism with milk.  Other than protecting free speech, there is no excuse for publishing what clearly is not true.  PR is based first and foremost on facts and persuasive presentation of them.  Accuracy is the first rule because the media expect PR practitioners to shade the truth.  By not doing so, we earn credibility and a hearing time and again.  The in-your-face statement of something that has no basis in fact is propaganda.  The theory here is that if one says something loud enough and long enough, he will gain followers.  That worked for some of history's worst dictators, but the falseness of their position caught up with them.  PR is focused on building relationships through an honest presentation of organizations and individuals.  One wonders if PETA understands that.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Publicity Goes Wrong 

Sometimes creative media ideas go wrong.  When they do, you get an incident like this.  The publicist for a computer gaming company went to great time and expense to assemble a package that could pass for a safe -- or a bomb.  How was a newsroom to know?  After the building had been evacuated, the device was pried open to reveal "a copy of Watch Dogs, a baseball cap and a beanie."  There are those who say that any publicity is good no matter how you get it.  That theory is disproved in a case like this.  Imagine the reception that the company is going to get in the newsroom going forward.  Reporters and editors will remember the stunt gone awry and the first task of the company will be to overcome hostility.  File this case under "it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Brick Thrower 

This is an example of a brick thrower, a person trying to influence events by making things up, fomenting trouble and twisting facts.   There are brick throwers on both ends of the political spectrum and they have existed since the beginning of the country.  They are lamentable and anti-PR, which concentrates on fostering relationships.  That  so many brick throwers have filtered from Washington DC into the corporate world is sad.  It indicates that company executives still don't understand the communications function.  Noise isn't PR and never has been.  That is publicity, but even in publicity, brick throwers are a special class and not much appreciated.  One could wish these people would disappear but that will never happen.  Partisanship births new brick throwers every day.  They last a while, perhaps make a few headlines then disappear as others take their places.  Mostly they talk to those of their own persuasion.  The rest of us know better.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Poor PR 

One might not expect a Third World country to be adept in communications, but this is poor PR.  The military should not have been speaking without the approval of the President.  Announcing that it has found the girls also is unwise because the rebels will now move them again.  One can understand a need to tell the people that the government is working to rescue their children, but not at the peril of the ones being rescued.  Instead, the military should be working behind closed doors to figure out ways to reach the girls and the probabilities of getting them alive.  Nigeria is a focus of international attention over the abduction.  Every day that goes by without a solution increases the burden and tension on government officials.  Letting it be known that the country is helpless to get the young women out of bondage is a testimony to the weakness of the central authority.  No good can come from this.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 

Have a memorable Memorial Day and think of those still serving.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What's In A Name? 

Fifty US Senators have signed a petition calling for the Washington Redskins football team to change its name. They consider the moniker a slur against Native Americans.  The owner of the team thinks otherwise.  He sees it as a positive image honoring Indians.  One name, two views. An observer can interpret this either way -- as racial bias or political correctness run amok.  What should the team do?  Bend to the will of politicians and activists or stay the course and keep a name that the team has had for decades without incident?  It is a tough call but other sports teams have changed their names, considering it the proper approach or a route of least resistance.  It is hard to provide PR advice in a situation like this, especially if fans love the team's name.  It is not a matter of expense but of principle.  Ordinarily one would go with the political correctness of the moment, but names are not easily changed or branded.  The controversy will continue, but sooner or later it will either fade or overpower.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

You're The Boss 

President Obama didn't create the secret waiting lists at the Veterans Administration hospitals.  Most of the misbehavior didn't occur on his watch.  No matter.  The boss takes the heat for failures below him and is responsible for cleaning it up.  Much like Mary Barra at General Motors, the crisis was handed on to him.  In fact, Obama has even less responsibility for the failure than Barra, a GM lifer.  Yet, Obama gets to deal with the scalding rage of both sides of the aisle.  He has tried to tamp down the ire but it is taking time to do so, and he hasn't stopped the waves of criticism so far.  He could be forgiven for saying, "Don't blame me", but a leader stands in and takes the abuse while turning a situation around.  The demand of Congress and the public is loud and clear.  "You're the boss.  Fix it."  There are many perks for being President.  This isn't one of them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Image War 

The power of images in persuasion is amusingly demonstrated in this story.  It is a face-off between Apple and Microsoft over the future of tablets.  Apple believes a tablet is its own device and is unrelated to other technology.  Microsoft sees the tablet as an extension of its operating system for PCs and laptops.   Apple took a visual shot at Microsoft with a street sign image showing a tangled road.  Microsoft returned the blow with another street sign showing one road branching in two directions.  The image war wasn't lost on the audience, and it was good publicity for Microsoft, whether or not one agrees with its product direction.  Microsoft used Apple's imagery against it.  Now Apple will have to find something else to make its point.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Non-Answer 

This is what Sen. Marco Rubio is saying about whether he smoked pot earlier in his life.  It is a carefully worded non-answer.  One can assume that it is a well trained media response, rehearsed and play back on camera.  Rubio never answers the question with a yes or no.  He provides a reason for his failure to respond and repeats his opposition to pot smoking.  Non-answers are more common than "no comment" but they are just as unsatisfactory to the questioner.  Sometimes, however, one must use them.  There are situations in which the facts should not come out, especially as Rubio suggests, when no one would believe them anyway.  Instead, he falls back on his key message.  He doesn't want anyone smoking marijuana.  He is clear about that.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Foreign Peril 

New York University is learning the peril of starting operations in a different culture.  Although the University set guidelines for how workers should be treated at its Abu Dhabi campus, The New York Times has found that laborers were exploited and mistreated.  That is a blow to NYU's reputation even though it had no direct control over the contractors who hired and sometimes paid the East Asian workforce.  How could NYU have let this happen?  The University's answer is that it didn't know.  A tort lawyer would charge that the University should have known, given the history of poor treatment of foreign workers in Arab countries.  If there was a mistake in building the campus, it might have been in oversight that NYU neglected.  If the Times' reporters could document abuse, one would think that NYU could have done the same.  There also could have been naivete -- assuming contractors would abide by the University's principles but failing to check if they were.  Either way, the Abu Dhabi campus has become a sore point and PR headache for the University and a cautionary tale for other academic institutions who might wish to move into different cultures.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Culture Change 

One of the hardest communications tasks is to facilitate culture change -- getting people to think and act differently.  It is the challenge facing The New York Times and an internal call to action has been leaked to the media.  How do you get reporters and editors to think beyond the printed page?  That is what they were trained for, what they report for and what they write.  The study notes that reporters still evaluate themselves on whether they make the front page or not. This is an internal PR challenge that the news organization has to surmount.  It is going to take a prolonged effort and the Times doesn't have much time left.  Were I PR counsel to the company, I would advise a massive training program, strong incentives for online work and personnel changes where needed to shake the newsroom to its core.  It will be interesting to see if something like this happens now that a new Executive Editor is in place.  The Times has a deep well of talent, but it needs equally strong leadership.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Classic PR 

Google held a press day to demonstrate its self-driving cars.  The day was a PR success in terms of media generated.  One reporter after another described the sensation of sitting in the back seat and watching the steering wheel turn by itself.  Google wanted them to say, and they did, that the experience was find of boring.  The cars went through their paces on city streets, stopped at stoplights and signs, paused at railroad tracks and avoided bicyclists and pedestrians much as a human driver would do.  Reports that the experience was not exciting is a triumph for Google, which aims to commercialize the technology.  Once again, Google has pushed technology limits successfully and enhanced the image of the company.  Detroit, are you listening?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bursting Bubble 

China's real estate bubble has popped and air has gone out of the market.  This is a PR headache for the government.  Many Chinese invested in apartments as their principal form of savings and wealth.  Now it is in danger of disappearing.  Bureaucrats can attempt to re-inflate prices, but it will only prolong the time until they plummet again.  The problem is that China is over-built for the population it has.  The poor can't afford to live in new high rises.  The middle class has purchased tens of thousands of them on the expectation that someone will live there someday.  I asked a friend who recently traveled to China whether news reports of empty cities are true.  He assured me they are.  How can the technocratic government ease the burden and still maintain GDP growth?  It has put in draconian measures but they might not be enough.  Developers meanwhile have sparked protests because they are discounting to attract more buyers, and banks are holding millions of mortgages that could be underwater.  This is a dangerous time for the central government and how it communicates to citizens who are watching their hard-earned money disappear.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Slow Motion Disaster 

How do you convince the public of a slow motion disaster?  By this, I mean global warming, which is raising sea levels by a millimeter a year.  An Antarctic ice sheet is giving way, but the average citizen's response is, "So what?  My house is safe for decades to come."  There is a PR campaign around atmospheric warming, but it doesn't seem to have had much impact yet -- maybe  because it consists of many little efforts rather than an integrated series of communications.  Global warming has to be brought down to the pocketbook of each and every person on the planet.  That is nearly impossible to do, especially for those billions who do not live by the sea and have no fear of flooding, violent weather or drought.  Scientists have sounded the warning trumpet again, but few are hearing it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Trial Balloon 

Washington DC politicians and bureaucrats have an advantage over corporations with the trial balloon.  This is an indefinite proposal that seems to address an issue but is not yet formally announced.  Like this one.  It is safe to say that if reaction was severe yesterday to the proposed change, it will be tweaked before it appears today.  Corporations rarely have such luxury.  Wouldn't it be interesting if a consumer products manufacturer publicly proposed a new toothpaste to see what kind of demand it might have?  Yes, companies use surveys, focus groups and statistical methods to assess consumer needs but it is different.  In Washington, a politician or official says that he might do something then waits for reaction before dropping the idea, modifying it or proposing it formally.  In the corporate world, that would be seen as poor PR because it would confuse customers.  Just one more way that political and corporate PR differ.

Friday, May 09, 2014

I'm Almost Sorry 

When a law firm expresses regret that it became involved in a case, that is the closest one will get to an apology.  Patton Boggs took a blow to its reputation and credibility for taking on the Chevron case, which according to the court was riddled with fraud.  Predictably, the attorney who brought them the suit in the first place is saying that Big Oil has won the day again.  But the circumstances behind the original court judgment in Ecuador were so seamy that an American jurist could not let it pass.  Chevron had the duty to defend itself against a $9.5 billion penalty in Ecuador.  Its defense was to show convincingly that justice is a travesty in the country.  The $15 million settlement with Patton Boggs is but a drop in the bucket of what the company spent to fight back, but even if the company spent $100 million, that is nothing by comparison to the billions it would have paid.  Chevron has regained its reputation from the court decision.  Patton Boggs almost certainly will think deeply before it takes another case like this one again.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Needs Change In Attitude 

America's farmers are aging out and the young aren't or can't follow them.  Land and equipment are too expensive or worse, few want to work as hard as their parents.  If America is to eat, there needs to be a change in attitudes.  Farming today is as much mental work as it is physical.  There is so much a farmer needs to know to be successful that few can master the detail.  Farming should be held up as a desirable occupation, and farmers as stewards of the land.  But, it is unlikely either will happen.  Urban dwellers and suburbanites don't ask and don't know where food comes from -- other than in packages in a supermarket.  They assume food will be there in affordable quantities when they want it.  Given the success of America's graying farmers, it has been.  But, what about the future as the old retire and die?  It seems that we have taken the position that we will deal with that issue when we come to it.  Unfortunately, farmers aren't made overnight.  It takes experience, discipline and heavy work.  Will we learn soon enough to prevent food shortages?  Don't bet on it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Something To Think About 

Wearable computing is nearly here.  Is PR ready for it?  How will we change strategy and communications to account for Google Glass and body sensors?  Individualized communication will come to the fore as it has already done with social media.  However, wearable computing is a step beyond.  It is instantaneous and in many cases will not require input from the wearer.  Of course, a concern that has arisen already is loss of privacy.  That will happen to anyone who decides to wear a computer in some capacity.  But, implicitly, the wearer is giving electronics the right to record, to transmit and communicate.  It is not too early to consider how PR should use the computerized body to send messages and build support.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

A Global Problem 

Around the world, bacteria are becoming immune to antibiotics.  This has happened for a two reasons -- people misusing them and doctors over-prescribing them.  Bacteria are evolving naturally and building resistance rather than dying and disappearing.  The problem is not new.  Early developers of antibiotics foresaw a day when new strains of hardier "bugs" would appear.  That time is here.  What's to be done?  The world needs new antibiotics and it needs a global PR campaign to teach doctors and patients how to use them correctly.  There are two lessons.  Doctors shouldn't dole out antibiotics for every symptom that they encounter.  Patients should take the full course of antibiotics given to them to prevent surviving bacteria from developing resistance.  It sounds simple, but when one is dealing with billions of people of all socioeconomic levels and learning, it isn't.  It is hard to decide where to start -- in developed countries or Third World lands.  People are better educated in developed countries, but the Third World has a greater need. It is not clear who should be teaching these lessons -- governments, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies, doctors, all of the above?  Nature doesn't change to accommodate humans, and man has only limited control.  Already going to a hospital is a risk for the "super-bugs" that lurk there.  The longer we wait, the worse it will be.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Smart Investor Relations 

Warren Buffett's annual "Woodstock for Capitalists" is an example of smart investor relations.  He puts on an exhibition of Berkshire Hathaway's companies for the shareholder meeting.  He and his long-time partner, Charlie Munger, sit for hours answering questions and addressing criticism.  Other corporations should be envious of the participation Buffett has achieved over the decades.  Shareholders view the company as their own and not as a quick trade.  There are dangers, of course, in catering to investors as he does.  If the company should run into trouble, they will be disappointed and angry, but they will also be slow to sell off their holdings because they trust Buffett to pull a rabbit from the hat as he has done many times before.  What will happen when Buffett and Munger are gone?  That is an open issue, but the credibility of the two men will not easily transfer to a successor.  That person, whoever he or she may be, will need to build credibility all over again.

Friday, May 02, 2014

When Silence Fails 

There is a company that makes license plate tracking software for the police that doesn't want the law to talk about it.  Hence, it has sworn patrolmen to silence.  So, what happened?  A story is written about the company anyway and its effort to control the press.  The company should have known that media stipulations written into contracts would guarantee that reporters would look into the business.  Some things are better left unstated, and this is one.  It would have been better for the company to state that journalist questions must be referred to the company's PR department to get answered.  It is a positive approach and understandable.  A policeman on the beat probably doesn't understand the software or database beyond using it.  Prohibitions have a way of highlighting the thing one wants to avoid.  Companies should understand that by now.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

New Isolationism 

Americans want their military forces to stay home.  The globe may be small today with international flights and worldwide manufacturing, but that doesn't matter.  The public is tired of engaging terrorists and Taliban.  Well they should be.  It has been more than a decade that the US has been fighting against terrorism.  Unfortunately, the world is marginally safer now than it was.  This means that the current and next president have a PR job to do to convince the public that the US must stayed engaged with other nations whether we like it or not.  It might not be easy, especially with the pull-back of forces from the Middle East.  One might question who appointed America to be the police force for the world.  The country took on that role post World War II in the face of communism.  Now the exchequer is exhausted, the debts piling and the cost of armaments skyrocketing.  It's time for others to take over, but that doesn't mean the US should seal itself off.  It is a member of coalitions and not the driver.  Maybe America's citizens will accept that.

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