Thursday, April 30, 2015


Twitter's numbers came in well below expectations yesterday and the stock took a beating.  The way it happened is embarrassing to the company and CEO.  Apparently, its investor relations vendor posted the earnings release too early.  A spider crawling web pages discovered it and posted the results on... Twitter.  Wall Street took notice and the run from the stock was on.  More embarrassing was the earnings miss after promises and forecasts from the CEO.  Analysts are now suggesting that the CEO has compromised his leadership and should depart.  Others are questioning the long-term viability of the company.  That is about as bad as it can get.  One more quarter of poor numbers and the CEO can pack his bags.  PR gaffes can be fatal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Religion And PR 

The Roman Catholic pope is holding a climate change meeting to call attention to the issue.  The PR value from the event will be international since for many, the pope's actions carry moral weight.  Adding to this meeting, he will issue a formal encyclical discussing stewardship of the earth, and he is making sure that the contents of the document are discussed down to the local level and from pulpits in churches.  This will carry the weight of authority for Catholics, some of whom do not believe in or are conflicted by climate change.  The communications tactics are basic but effective.  Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, will hear his message then it is up to them to accept or reject it. But, the pope will have done his duty by getting his views before them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Polls show that Americans aren't concerned about the decline of unions.  That's a pity.  Unions should be for the lowest-paid workforces in the country like fast food or farm workers.  These people have basic skills and need economic protection but frequently don't get it.  Unions for major craftsmen are good but their workers are paid well now and have benefits.  These unions have to some degree outlived their usefulness, especially with the decline in manufacturing and rise in robotics.  The thrust of a union should be to elevate the defenseless and provide protection through organization.  There are millions of unskilled jobs in the US, all of which should be covered by unions.  It would seem that unions need to do a better job of PR.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Perfect E-mail 

There is a site that purports to guide one in writing the perfect e-mail.  It assembles data from the internet and builds a profile of the person to whom you want to communicate with instructions for how to do it.  Has it come to this?  Having taught e-mail writing to business school students, there is a need to change habits.  Many have difficulty getting to the point or lose the point completely.  That said, PR practitioners are often no better.  The essence of e-mail is the short message that states what one wants to say in as few words as possible.  There are exceptions -- i.e. pitch letters to reporters, although these are questionable.  There are reports but the key message should be in the first line.  E-mail was never meant to be a lengthy communication.  It got that way because people have trouble getting to the point.  If the site helps one condense messages, more power to it.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Limits of PR 

Sometimes, in spite of all information given to the public, some citizens persist in their beliefs and actions.  When their actions are harmful to others, PR ends and the law steps in.  Consider this case.  There are a significant number of well-educated people in California who refuse to vaccinate their children because they believe vaccines cause autism.  Their children are endangering others who for health reasons can't be vaccinated.  No amount of evidence and reasoning has been successful in getting these parents to protect their children.  Hence, a bill is pending in the California legislature to ban unvaccinated children from school populations.  Parents protest:  They cannot see the harm in their actions.  Everyone else understands.  PR can't eliminate such blind spots.  It assumes that reasonable people are willing to engage with a message.  When citizens are unreasonable, communication ends and compulsion begins.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reputation And A Merger 

The Comcast Time Warner Cable merger has been hung up for over a year.  Now, Comcast's reputation for compliance with FCC requests is at issue and is being used as a reason why the merger shouldn't go forward.  For leaders who don't think reputation matters, it is a lesson.  Comcast is determined to see the merger through or it would have given up by now.  The government is pecking it until the company sees the light.  Had Comcast's reputation been sterling, consummation of the combination might not have been blocked for so long and might be done by now.  As it is, the company is looking at months more of government examination of the deal and millions more in lawyers and lobbying.  Reputation counts in cash and time.  It is not some ethereal ideal.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


In a case of closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, a Sony lawyer sent a warning letter to the media not to use any of the material that was hacked from the company in late 2014.  Predictably the media were not impressed.  The lawyer forgot or didn't know that once information is public, people can and will use it, especially in the Internet age.  The solution to Sony's problem was not to get hacked in the first place.  Its cyber security was deficient, and the embarrassment the company suffered cannot be masked by a lawyer's missive.  Sony will be struggling for months with the fallout from the hacking incident.  The lesson is not to let it happen again.  A company's reputation can take only so much damage. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

PR Challenge 

Here is a PR challenge. Norway is going to shut down its FM radio stations and move completely to digital transmission, but 50 percent of the listeners aren't prepared for the shift.  They are happy listening to FM.  Norway has given itself two years to make the shift and that should be enough time for its citizens to purchase digital radios for homes and cars, but, of course, it won't be. People procrastinate, and many won't understand what has happened until the day they switch on their radios and nothing comes out.  Norway has two years to saturate the public with messages about the coming of digital radio.  If it fails, look to its D-day to move.  Officials also should be prepared for long and loud complaints from people who want to be compensated for buying new radios.  However, it is better that a relatively small country is making the change first.  Imagine the protests in the US.

Monday, April 20, 2015

No Repeat 

Google's social media platform, Google+, has been a failure.  Some are declaring it dead.  The question that has not been answered is why a company that is so successful in search is unable to launch a popular social media site?  There have been plenty of reasons given for it, but it is likely that it is a case of too little too late.  Facebook got there first and won the market share.  Google had missteps along the way from which it has never recovered.  Given that, what kind of PR campaign would Google need to be competitive again?  Or, as with many technology products, is it too late and the company should just shut down the whole operation?  It must be painful for the firm to see its hard work go for naught, but it is the Darwinian nature of high tech for this to happen.  Google might have to content itself with being the largest search company.

Friday, April 17, 2015


It is not often that one witnesses true humility in a public figure.  Here is a rare case.  The Chief Justice could have made known to the court and his fellow citizens who he is, or he might not have shown up at all, claiming privilege of his high office.  He did neither of those things.  Instead, he took his place in the queue and he was questioned like any other juror.  The only sign that he might be someone special were two security officers accompanying him.  That was almost certainly a requirement.   In PR, we spend too much time burnishing the clay feet of clients and trying to make digits look like metal.  It's nice to have a leader who doesn't need it.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

High Stakes 

When the stakes are high, companies spend millions in PR and lobbying to win.  That is the case over the competition to build the new stealth bomber for the Air Force.  The face-off is between Boeing-Lockheed Martin teamed together and Northrop Grumman.  Both sides are using retired generals to make their cases, and they are fighting for a budget of at least $55 billion. The odd part of the competition is that no matter who wins, the victory will be short-lived because the other side will appeal and the bid might be run again.  Winning the right to build the bomber is a long-term campaign with as many twists and turns as a mystery novel.  It should be simpler than it is but that is the way of contracting to the Pentagon.  It will be many months yet before a final decision is made.  Meanwhile, the largesse of campaign contributions will run freely to Congressmen and Senators who are in a position to influence the outcome.  It's not a pretty sight. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Good Stunt 

A dry lake bed, 11 cars and as many drivers produced a good publicity stunt -- a message to an astronaut in space.  This is the kind of creative idea that PR has long been known for, although it is not clear that PR had anything to do with coordinating and making of the message.  The stunt was designed and filmed to go viral, and it has.  Hyundai also has submitted its message to the Guinness Book of Records as the largest message ever made using car tire tracks.  It's a feel-good stunt that works because it is the daughter of an astronaut signalling him in space.  Hyundai has done well by doing good.  Kudos to the company. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Google has announced that it is going to install high-speed fiber to the home in Charlotte, NC.  Suddenly, Time Warner Cable announces it is going to provide six times faster speeds to Charlotte subscribers at no extra charge.  How come TWC didn't offer it before?  This kind of action opens a credibility gap for the incumbent.  If TWC really cared about its users, it would have boosted speed all along.  It won't be surprising if Google takes major market share in Charlotte once it has fiber installed.  It might cost a little more but it is so much faster than what cable has to offer, even after TWC boosts speed, that it is worth it. Monopoly continues to give cable providers a PR black eye.  Perhaps, they should welcome competition to keep themselves in better touch with their markets.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pay Transparency 

The Federal Government and corporate CEOs are in a stand-off over pay transparency -- i.e. the use of a ratio to determine how much more a CEO is paid than the median income of employees.  The government wants to highlight how much more CEOs earn than workers.  Its reasoning is that inequity in pay will  regulate itself eventually for CEOs whose compensation packages are too rich.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to measure a CEO's annual compensation, especially when much of it is incentive pay with multi-year vesting.  Proxy numbers mix together short- and long-term CEO pay.  Further, it is hard to determine the median income of employees, especially when a company has international operations where pay scales might be much lower than domestic earnings.  So while the PR intentions of the government are noble, they are flawed, and in need of revision.  However, that won't happen unless companies show a willingness to work with the government to determine how best to develop a pay ratio.  That won't happen soon, if ever.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cyber Attack 

Although not stated in this article about a cyber attack drill, there is a role for PR in the event of an invasion.  That comes in for development and transmission of messages about the incursion to the media, customers, suppliers and employees.  The writer states the case implicitly by saying that the company must prepare a media message and train employees in the use of social media.  It is not clear that Deloitte has a PR person in the room with other top corporate executives during the drill, but if she isn't, it is an oversight.  Lawyers and marketers are unqualified to frame an accurate message without hype that is also easily digestible.  The lawyer will come with caveats, the marketer with adjectives.  The PR person should come with an understanding of what the media and public want to know and be willing to fight for it at the conference room table.  It is this connection with the external world that is important once an attack has begun because cyber-criminals take down the connection to the public or steal information of importance to external audiences.  If PR practitioners haven't run drills for what to do in the event of a cyber attack, they should start.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Want And Need 

Apple Watch reviews are out and they vary from superlative to so-so.  Unanswered by the reviewers I read is why one would need one with all of the other hand-held devices on the market.  This ultimately may be the PR challenge to the company -- how to make the watch indispensable.  After the "fan-boys" have purchased one, there is still a huge market to address that is satisfied with conventional watches and use of mobile devices to tell time.  If Apple can't solve the problem of need, the watch will ultimately be a flop.  The question now is what else should Apple build into it to increase functionality without complicating user experience. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Also Ran 

How does an Also-Ran candidate become a contender?  For example, Rand Paul.  He is a self-described outsider who wants to win the Republican nomination for President.  One person knows what it is to be an outsider and win -- President Obama.  He was an undistinguished senator from Illinois when he launched his bid.  Obama used every communications technique imaginable.  He was a ground breaker in his deployment of social media.  Paul will have to do the same, and because some of Paul's positions are controversial, he will need to overcome popular objections to his agenda.  Obama shows it can be done, but that doesn't make it any easier on Paul.  There might be an advantage to starting back in the pack.  One doesn't have as much pressure as a front-runner, but at some point, one has to move up and maintain the top spot.  Then public examination of one's character and promises becomes ruthless.  Paul may have to adjust his message as he campaigns, but by being out of the spotlight, it is easier to do.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


How do you stop people from using one of life's essential resources -- water?  This is the problem facing not only California but also Brazil.  Every sector is affected.  In California, farmers are drilling ever-deeper wells.  In Sao Paulo, water is being delivered in tank trucks to some neighborhoods.  Cutting water usage is a matter of persuasion, and the most powerful tool is price.  Any PR campaign should begin with a market-rate set for water that induces greater care in its use.  That won't convert everyone, but water bills will restrain the majority from over-use.  As for groundwater, there is legislation needed to protect it.  Farmers can be forgiven for drilling.  They are feeding the nation.  They have already taken 500,000 acres out of production, but they too must be persuaded that there are times when they can't afford to grow because of long-term damage to the land.  This affects their livelihood and some might go out of business as a result, but drought shows no favorites.  When an essential resource is threatened, governments must take strong measures.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Getting It Wrong, cont. 

Sometimes, though rarely, a reporter will fess up and admit that a story was wrong.  Here is a spectacular case.  It took an impartial investigation to determine that Rolling Stone's writer was duped and the publication with it.  One should not expect this to happen often.  A reporter will fight tenaciously to vet and protect sources.  Editors who have checked and rechecked an article will not readily pronounce it wrong.  In this sensational case, it was, and the reputational fall-out will be felt for months, if not years, to come. 

Friday, April 03, 2015

Worse And Worse 

The news about the Germanwings airliner crash grows worse by the day.  What was already a major crisis for the company is larger by the hour.  It is fair to say there was a systemic breakdown on the part of the airline and German privacy law.  The airline overlooked the report of depression.  German doctors who told the young man to stop flying couldn't report their opinions to authorities.  The resulting reputational damage to Lufthansa, the parent company, will take months to repair.  It is easy to say that it shouldn't have happened, but it did, and now the company has to deal with the aftermath.  There will be rule changes and extra protections built into the systems, and maybe privacy law will be amended.  However, when one is intent on taking his own life, there might not be enough barriers in place to prevent it now or later.  

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Why Be Appalled? 

Commentators are bashing Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada for his lies about Mitt Romney's tax situation during the last election.  They are calling it cynicism that has changed the nature of Washington politics.  But, why be appalled?  Politics were down and dirty from the beginning.  Consider the stand-off between Jeffersonians and Federalists.  John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were tarred in every way possible for their belief that a strong central government was needed.  Jefferson was slandered in return.  There have always been operatives to do the dirty work of campaigning.  The difference with Harry Reid is that he is a sitting senator who was lying rather than a  hack.  It is probably good  that most citizens pay little attention to the political process because they miss the madness of campaigning and make up their minds in their own ways.  

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Mighty Fall 

When I worked briefly in an investment bank decades ago, bankers talked to God, if God made an appointment.  They were name-droppers of the powerful and up-and-comers.  Staff had to show the proper obeisance and tolerate their whims.  Arrogance was oxygen.  How the mighty have fallen.  It is a never-ending lesson that power comes and goes.  And, who is up today is also-ran tomorrow.  Just because one has made it to the top, there is no need to walk on those beneath.  I have no idea what the inside of an investment bank is like today, but it wouldn't be surprising if there is more humility -- and fear.  An investment banker, for all of his financial skill, was at heart a salesman, selling ideas for deals, mergers and refinancings.  Since the regulators have stepped in, it is less fun than it used to be and paychecks are smaller.  No wonder bankers are leaving.

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