Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Here is an example of a memo to PR practitioners that shouldn't be needed. By now, one would expect that a PR person understands the differences in a free press. That the editor felt compelled to write an advisory is another indicator that there are still practitioners who don't get the rules of working with reporters and editors. Why? It is probably because so many of them were never working reporters themselves. They don't know because they were never there themselves. The larger that PR grows as an industry, the fewer former news reporters and editors there will be to work in PR departments and agencies. That is a shame because media relations are still an essential part of the PR business.
Monday, March 30, 2015
There isn't much recourse when a reporter gets a story wrong. One can protest to the journalist and hope he makes a correction. But, if the reporter insists that he has multiple sources for his article, one is at a disadvantage in arguing. In a case we're handling now, we don't know the facts beyond a client's firm statement that it had nothing to do with an event reported upon. Two reporters who wrote the article, on the other hand, insist they have multiple sources who said the client was involved. Fortunately, another publication wrote about the same event and got the details right. We were able to send this article to the errant reporters and their editors with hope that they will be more careful in the future. It is too much to expect a retraction, especially since they are certain of their position. But, we have done something rather than let the matter lie.
Friday, March 27, 2015
McDonald's restaurants have a problem. People don't think the chain's burgers and fries are healthy. This is a PR opportunity for the company to show where its ingredients originate and how they are handled from farm to store. And, McDonald's is doing that but it might not be enough. Nutritionists have condemned a burger-fry diet as unhealthy, so no matter how carefully the company handles potatoes and beef, it might be fighting a losing battle. What is McDonald's to do? It has floundered looking for answers. It might be that there are no solutions to the public's health awareness. The chain is identified as junk food forever more. If so, McDonald's will have to make do and manage decline in its stores, an unhappy prospect for franchisees. But one shouldn't count the company out. It has changed before and will again.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
When one does a publicity stunt for a product, it should in some way highlight the features and functions of the thing. That is why this stunt is dubious at best. No one is going to attempt a cable crossing by car. It is insane and dangerous. Besides, how is one to get the car on the cable in the first place? And, what features of the car were highlighted as it rolled down the cables? This comes under the classification of trying too hard to make one's product stand out. One can envision the marketing meeting in which the idea was conjured. Someone had a brilliant idea and convinced the client to do it. "Think of the social media value of such a stunt. We'll get tens of thousands of hits." They might have received that many and more, but what are they worth other than individuals gawking at a car straddling two wires?
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Savvy observers are worried that Silicon Valley is in yet another bubble that threatens to burst. How after the last wrenching shake-out is this possible? Didn't anybody learn? It shows again that so-called savvy investors are gullible and buy into hype. Where is PR? There is plenty of flacking from company founders who are in love with their products and starry-eyed about the revenue possibilities. Communications professionals should be a brake on the enthusiasm and point to economic reality. First of all, are these companies making money and if so, how much? Are they justified having billion-dollar valuations? It is hard for PR to slow investors because PR is typically the rump-end of the process. But they do have influence in the tone of press releases and what companies say about themselves. They should be careful to hold tightly to facts and moderate speculation. They should remind founders that unreal estimates of worth can damage them badly in the future and it is the tortoise that wins the race ultimately. Practitioners won't be thanked for their caution but they can live with themselves for having done it.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
NASA's glory days in space are decades gone, but it manages to maintain a public presence with experiments like this. Strapping 18 electric motors to the wings of a plane is a come down from mighty rockets and shuttles, but it shows that the agency's aeronautical engineers have never stopped thinking or challenging the rules of flight. Publicizing novel ideas is part of the agency's efforts to get its budget renewed annually. It has to show that it is producing valuable intellectual capital that can be spun off to industry for the betterment of citizens. While the idea of 18 motors is far out and probably will never be used, it does demonstrate that agency engineers are willing to stretch their thinking beyond conventional wisdom. So, kudos to NASA for staying on the leading edge (and renew the budget.)
Monday, March 23, 2015
Even a committed opponent of climate change should accept that arctic ice is thinning at a record pace. The opponent needs to find an explanation for the event that discounts human involvement, which is difficult to do. It would be better to accept scientific studies that show global warming to be man-made since the industrial revolution. The dedicated opponent can't do that, and as a result, he becomes a spinmeister for his untenable position and the opposite of what good PR should be. The first rule of PR is accuracy, accepting facts and merchandising them persuasively. The spinmeister who can't accept arctic ice thinning lest it erode his position is equivalent to a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Sow doubt and confusion in place of evidence and keep the public uncommitted. While that is one's privilege under the First Amendment., it is also craven. No wonder PR gets a bad name.
Friday, March 20, 2015
Range anxiety is a primary barrier to purchasing an electric auto. Anything that can ease the mind of a buyer is a help. That is why this is essential PR. Tesla is sending a software upgrade to every one of its autos on the road to alleviate concerns about the car running out of juice. It doesn't increase the range of the cars but it offers a detailed look at the car's energy levels and drain on the battery, whether that is in the mountains or on a freeway doing 80 mph. This allows one to plan ahead for recharging the car without the unexpected occurring and the car slowing to a dead stop. It is smart PR from an innovative company. Now, if Tesla would only be profitable.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Any native-born citizen is entitled to run for President, but that doesn't mean he should. That is why one should ask if this man is serious about running. His PR negatives are far greater than his positives, and many consider him a preening font of vanity. But, he can run if he wishes. He will be spending his own money and that of citizens who might believe in what he does. However, since he is starting an exploratory committee, he might be shrewd. He reaps the publicity value of a potential candidate but he doesn't actually run in the end. Trump has always been a savvy self-publicist with his name on one tower after another and his frequent TV appearances. He has worked hard to shape his image and he has been successful. The problem is that his image is not to the liking of many. Be that as it may, he has a right to run. He would need to change his image radically before many would consider voting for him, and it is hard to believe he has the capability of doing that.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Starbucks has announced that its baristas will now start discussing the state of race relations in America. This could be a foolhardy thing to do, especially if some employees do not hold the same views as that of the corporation or of the milieu. Tackling touchy subjects is not new to the coffee chain. It came out in favor of same-sex marriage, and it urged an end to the government shutdown when it occurred. Normally, businesses do not get so visibly involved in controversy and with good reason. They have no way of knowing exactly what their front-line employees think nor what they will say when confronted with a sensitive topic. Starbucks is apparently confident that its employees will represent the company's thinking well. One can call that hubris, especially if the discussion backfires on the business. It takes courage or stupidity to put oneself in a position where for reasons not related to the business of serving coffee that one loses customers. One hopes that Starbucks knows what it is doing.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
A new study is out discussing Millennials and news consumption. It turns out for pop culture and other less urgent forms of media reporting that Facebook is the more important source for them. Not that they are seeking it there. They read what Facebook has to offer. And what about other media sources? They find news on Instagram,YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter and other social media sites. What does this say to the PR practitioner? We already knew traditional media forms were in peril. The study verifies it and is a valuable pointer for where to concentrate publicity activity. Perhaps more importantly the survey reveals that Millennials don't want to pay for news. They see it as their right to know what is going on. This might prove to be a long-term challenge for traditional news media. How do you get someone who is used to free to pay for a product?
Monday, March 16, 2015
Kraft foods is the first to earn a nutrition seal of approval from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Its Kraft singles, individually wrapped squares of processed cheese can now sport the "Kids Eat Right" logo from the Academy. It is important for the company to have that kind of recognition because Kraft has been a target for overly processed foods that contain too much of the wrong kinds of ingredients. The company now can claim legitimately that it is producing a consumer packaged product that is healthy for children. The PR value of that recognition is priceless precisely because it can't be purchased. The product itself has to have the nutrition characteristics meeting Academy standards. Now, Kraft has ammunition to deploy against those who would censor its foods. No wonder the company is working in collaboration with the Academy.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Two Secret Service guards were in a car that crashed outside the White House. One was driving. It is one more embarrassment for the agency, which has had a string of high-profile faux pas. How does one put a stop to the stupidity and regain a reputation for competence and professionalism? PR won't do it. It takes revision of policies and practices within the agency itself to make a difference. Then, and only then, can the agency begin to turn itself around in the public's estimation. The list of mistakes and bad behavior at the agency is long enough that one can conclude there is something wrong in how it is guarding the President and his family. This is a come-down from the quiet but important role that the agency has had for decades in which there was no question that a Secret Service agent would lay down his life for the one he was to protect. Every organization needs renewal some time. It would seem the Secret Service is at that point.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
There is a private effort to build a lunar lander and use it as a test to mine the moon. Investors should keep a distance from the project and PR should as well. The value of the minerals extracted on the moon -- whatever they may be -- would have to be astronomical (pun intended) to make the project economical. The problem with space in general is that costs of operating there escalate as soon as one leaves earth's atmosphere. While it is fun to think about what one might do elsewhere than the earth, no one yet has developed a method to escape earth's orbit efficiently other than by use of a rocket, which is expensive and prone to glitches. In addition, one would have to process minerals on the moon to justify the cost of sending it back to earth. This would require some type of plant to segregate and melt minerals into bars or something else easily transported. There would have to be a desperate need for the substance on earth to make that practical. Thus far, there has been no evidence that such a demand is there. People are always allowed to have their dreams, but this one is pie-in-the-sky and hardly worth publicizing.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
As this shows, even the best analysts have trouble predicting the future. There is no guideline for wearable technology. Apple is not the first to market with a software watch, but it is the first to put the heft of a major brand behind the product. Even so, analysts can't figure out how many people will want to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars to put one of these multi-function timepieces on their wrists. It is a reminder again of how little we know about the future.and the need to stay humble when confronting what might come. Apple hopes the watch will be a stunning success and remake the marketplace as prior products have done. All it can do now is wait and stay alert as users discuss their experience with the product and their likes and dislikes. Several naysayers have speculated that the the watch will be a flop because no one will want to fiddle with a tiny screen and short-term battery life, but they don't know either what will happen until months from now. Apple's PR department can work hard to get the features, functions and design of the watch before the public but it can't guarantee either what will happen. It is a white-knuckle ride into the unknown -- potentially exhilarating, hopeful, and with a chance of failure.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
There is excitement in the tech community over the rapidly developing Internet of Things, but it could turn into a PR nightmare. The Internet of Things refers to online sensors and devices that one can put nearly anywhere from homes to cars to refrigerators to one's own wrist. There is only one major problem with doing so -- lack of security. Tens of thousands of these connected devices were installed without basic protection, and using a readily available search engine, they were discovered. Fortunately, the searchers weren't interested in hacking the sensors, but someone will be -- and soon. That so many devices could remain open to hackers reveals the naivete of the original users. It is part of a romantic notion still prevalent in parts of the internet that the network is built for good and not evil. The thought process goes like this. Who would want to hack this device and besides, how would they find it? The answer was no one would want to do it and they couldn't find it anyway. Neither of those answers are true any longer. We know now that hackers will go anywhere and penetrate anything for fun, for profit, for reasons that are inimical to the owner of the device. Before the Internet of Things becomes ubiquitous, there needs to be a better sense and practice of security.
Monday, March 09, 2015
A Dalai Lama is believed to be reincarnated in a young child upon his death. The current Dalai Lama is saying that may no longer be true. Why? Because the Chinese who have subjugated Tibet claim the right to appoint the next religious leader. Many Tibetans consider that fraud as does the current Dalai Lama. And, it is. The Chinese have taken over the religion for political purposes and now claim that the Dalai Lama "profanes" Buddhism by suggesting that reincarnation comes to an end with him. The turnabout is irony, but the current Dalai Lama has been living in exile for decades because the Chinese pushed him out of Tibet. The Chinese hope to use the appointment of the next Dalai Lama as a PR victory for the government in winning the hearts and minds of Tibetans. The current Dalai Lama is trying to forestall that. It is a curious situation but not unique. The Chinese government also has tried to appoint the bishops of Roman Catholics in China in order to maintain state control. Roman Catholics have protested that too but the government continues its effort. It is a PR black eye for China and for religious freedom, but the Chinese do not care.
Friday, March 06, 2015
Scientists measured record levels of CO2 in the atmosphere during the month of February, and they expect to break that record in March. The public either didn't know or yawned. Who cares about atmospheric warming when there are record levels of snow and cold in the Midwest and Northeast. It has been obvious for some time that there is a disconnect between the scientific community and average citizens. The missing link is the impact of global warming on the individual. There is no good way to show the personal effect of melting glaciers and the receding arctic ice packs. Scientists talk of impacts in 50 to 100 years, but most of today's citizens except the youngest will never see these changes. So, researchers continue to sound the klaxon in frustration. It will take a catastrophic event or series of them to bring the public around. That is a poor communication but there is little else that might work.
Thursday, March 05, 2015
There is something about the human psyche that disdains moderation. When a good deal arises, people go all-in and forget that it will end someday. Consider the New York hotel market. It is in the middle of a bust with thousands of rooms under construction. Apparently developers decided that one can't go wrong by building new hotels in Manhattan. That might be true in the long run, but today, occupancy is down and the market is weak. The hotel boom and bust is a reminder to communications practitioners to moderate their language. One never knows when opportunity has passed and one will look like a fool to continue touting yesterday's fad. The energy market is in a similar situation. The oil boom brought thousands of wells on line and stimulated the growth of reserves. Now, tanks are full and the price has plummeted. Tens of thousands face layoffs in the oil fields and upstream. Apparently, no one considered the effects of abundant supply. Good times come to an end. Only a few niche players can take advantage of opportunity for decades. Chances are your company is not one of them.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Hillary Clinton did not use State Department e-mail during her time leading it. This was a clear breach of regulations done with intent. The questions now are what the government will do about it, if anything, and how it might affect her candidacy for the White House. Chances are that nothing will happen in either arena, since she doesn't have a visible opponent in the Democratic Party for the nomination. One wonders why she would risk her reputation by doing what she did. She must have had strong personal reasons for staying invisible in government e-mail servers. If so, she might need to air them now to put the controversy at rest. What it does show is that Clinton has no reluctance in bending or breaking rules if it serves her purposes. Whether that is good or bad depends on the circumstances. It will cost her some votes, probably not many, and it is an opening for an opponent's attack in the race to the Presidency.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Once upon a time, nearly every media training session included a reference to CBS' "60 Minutes" news magazine. It was a boogeyman that spurred corporate executives to work hard and understand how to handle hostile TV interviews. Today, it isn't what it once was, but it can still pack a punch. Consider this case. An airtight "60 Minutes": expose of Lumber Liquidators has crushed the flooring company's stock. It makes no difference that the company claims the program used the wrong testing method. The damage is done and the company faces hundreds of millions in fines and settlements. The harm to its reputation could destroy its business. Why? Because the company failed to keep a close check on its Chinese suppliers. It is a fundamental principle of PR and marketing that one deliver a product that is what it claims to be. Caveat Emptor is a poor way to do business and an invitation to "60 Minutes" to visit.
Monday, March 02, 2015
Who would have thought a fitness tracker on one's wrist could kill a diet business? But apparently it is doing just that. Sales and earnings of Weight Watchers International are down as people move to direct measurement of physical activity. It is hard to know whether Weight Watchers saw this coming. Marketplace disruption can happen from anywhere at any time and is a reason why CEOs should have a bit of paranoia. There are competitors, known and unknown, who can make a company irrelevant quickly through a better business model, technology and access to capital markets. This should engender a sense of humility in how companies communicate to shareholders and customers. A large part of that communication should be listening to detect early the trends that will affect a business in two to three years. Companies that get into trouble have an attitude that they know best what customers need. The corporate graveyard is populated with them. I have witnessed the decline and fall of a number of businesses that couldn't adapt in time to new rules of the marketplace. One in particular was so blind that the CEO refused to believe his own market research department that was tracking declining market share. He kept pumping out machines that no one wanted. The implosion of the company was rapid and complete. The CEO had forgotten or failed to believe that disruption is real and constant. Communications practitioners should know better.