Monday, August 31, 2015

Post-gaffe PR 

Hillary Clinton is trying to do a better job of explaining her use of a private e-mail server during her time as Secretary of State.  It is a PR gaffe that is haunting her campaign and holding her approval rating down.  The mystery is why she thought she could use a private server anyway when she knew she would be handling classified material.  Be that as it may, she must now deal with the fall-out with federal investigations into her activity.  It is not a comfortable spot to be in, and she must be asking herself why she thought she could get away with it.  It might have been a decision that she barely thought about at the time.  The lesson here is that actions have PR ramifications, especially in the political realm where the press is like a pack of snapping canines worrying a prey.  Clinton will get through this as she has in the past when her actions have raised questions, but the election will tell the final story.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Maybe Now 

European governments haven't been ignoring the refugee crisis, but they haven't come up with solutions for the tens of thousands seeking better lives in the Eurozone.  Maybe now the negative publicity from this tragedy will spur them to action.  It was bound to happen given smugglers who are operating with impunity.  As long as there were no headlines like this, governments could express alarm and try to seal their borders, but a truck filled with dead bodies brings the tragedy home.  The solution is not to barricade countries but to find ways for refugees to stay home.  That is easily written but difficult to do with wars underway that Europe wants no part of.  Yet, the continuing refugee flow may force the Eurozone's reluctance to engage and get them involved in Syria and Africa.  More incidents like the present one will make neutrality hollow.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hiding In Public 

If you read the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, there is no crisis in the stock markets there.  There is no denial in print.  Rather, there is nothing at all.  This is hiding in public.  A few dictatorships and oligarchies can get away with this kind of sham but it is impossible in democratic countries with press freedom.  The cost of silence is damage to reputation.  Incidents line this can turn the public against the government and create long-term problems from strikes to rioting to a fall in leadership.  The Chinese government understands this.  The mystery is why it persists in silence.  It might be that it doesn't know what to say, and it is trying to fix the problem before speaking.  The problem with this approach is that it might take a long time for the equities markets to stabilize.  Meanwhile, millions are watching their life savings disappear.  It would be better if the government made some public gesture other than an interest rate cut.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Left To Die 

How do you do PR for a business left to die?  This is the conundrum facing Quicken, the personal finance software, that Intuit is selling off.  Quicken was once the face of the company, but with the rise of cloud-based software, it no longer belongs in Intuit's portfolio.  The question is whether it belongs to anyone else, and if so, how should it be marketed?  Apparently as a declining brand, there isn't much in the way of income to be derived from selling the software.  PR might be along the lines of "We're not dead yet."  But that, of course, is a hollow statement for a tool that people rely on for years.  Whoever buys the software, if a buyer is found, will need to ponder next moves carefully.

Monday, August 24, 2015


I'll be away tomorrow and won't post until Wednesday.


Resurrecting a by-gone brand is a tough PR job and none is more difficult than this effort.  Cadillac was long known as the car for the demographic of 65 to dead, and it has had a tough time shaking that reputation.  Today's models compare well to BMW and Mercedes but younger, affluent buyers would rather have the foreign mark.  It is unclear whether moving the head offices of Cadillac to New York City is going to make much difference, especially with design and manufacturing remaining in Detroit.  GM is willing to give anything a try to save the brand, and it has a proven leader in place who insists on Manhattan.  So, it is off to the East Coast.  One wonders why he didn't choose Los Angeles, which is the mecca for auto brands, but he has his reasons and time will prove him right or wrong.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Nightmare Scenario 

What could be a worse scenario for a struggling restaurant chain than to lose its principal spokesperson over child pornography charges?  That is what happen to Subway, the sandwich shop franchiser.  Subway had used Jared for 15 years in every part of its marketing.  He was the face of Subway and its home-grown celebrity.  It is a lesson not to depend on any one individual too much because one can never know what might happen. It should be axiomatic in publicity and marketing that if something can go wrong, it will.  With spokespersons, one should always have a backup or a plan for proceeding without the individual in case a nightmare scenario happens.  Think, for example, if Jared had died young from heart disease or clogged arteries.  That would belie Subway's health claims for its sandwiches.  Subway is not alone.  Other brands have suffered similar meltdowns, some more serious.  Marlboro cigarettes used a cowboy for its image for decades until one dying of cancer came out against smoking.  Nike uses Tiger Woods as its face in golf, but Woods went through a period of scandal, a high-profile divorce and an injury that has left him a back-marker in the game.  One who lives by celebrity can die by it.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Drone PR 

How do you rein in a wildly popular consumer machine?  For example, a drone.  Irresponsible operators have been flying them at airports near landing aircraft.  Other users have flown them over private homes and back yards where they spy on the activity of neighbors.  Still others have flown them over popular venues like Times Square.  The Federal Aviation Administration by law can't control their use, so they must find ways to stop illegal activity without direct regulation.  One way to proceed is to mount a PR campaign on proper and improper drone use.  That will reach users who are unaware of the limitations.  It won't stop those who flagrantly violate the law, but it might reduce incidents of casual users violating air space.  The FAA will still have to find anti-drone systems to catch deliberate misuse of quadro-copters.  Better communications will help and at this point, PR appears to be the only way to control drone use.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


This article is worth reading.  It analyzes the editing and entry-building process at Wikipedia. PR practitioners should have an idea of the iterative procedure used to develop then expand an entry, especially if a practitioner wants to influence the progress of the piece.  There is a growing concern at Wikipedia over the "intrusions" of PR people in the editing process.  Even slight word changes can influence the accuracy of an article.  Having developed an entry myself, I can say that editors want primary sources for nearly everything in an entry.  This means print publications, such as newspapers and magazines. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Adequate Defense? 

So, The New York Times does an expose on your company after interviewing more than 100 current and former employees.  The article is brutal and a take-down of everything you say you stand for.  What is your adequate defense?  If you are Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, it is a letter to employees saying it isn't so.  That is hardly enough.  So far, there have been no employee groups rising in defense of their boss, no internal stirring of support.  The silence is deafening and should be a warning to Bezos that his managerial methods need examination.  Perhaps the intense nature of the work at Amazon has gone overboard.  One way to find out is to look at employee turnover.  If it is high, something is wrong.  Either initial recruiting was defective or there is too much pressure in the jobs themselves.  Bezos doesn't have to run a company in which everyone is kept happy all of the time, but he needs a company that functions with a minimum amount of friction.  Grinding work day and night is not the way to achieve that.  

Monday, August 17, 2015


Donald Trump is off the campaign trail for a day serving jury duty.  He has proclaimed himself ready to participate.  I'm sure Republicans are hoping he gets a 6-month trial, but, of course, he won't.  Republican candidates are gasping for air after the first debate with Trump bloviating to his advantage.  He is a demagogue but it is easy to forget that demagogues are successful at attracting a following, especially when people are not faring well.  The demagogue promises easy answers and a vision that will lift the burden on the populace.  They are easy to spot.  History is full of them.  There isn't much to be done about them other than to make sure they don't get power.  In other words, the thinking citizen will understand what he sees and will vote against him.  The Republican party understands Trump only too well but despite its frantic efforts, Trump is making headway in the polls.  Hillary Clinton couldn't be happier, even with her ongoing troubles.  Trump makes her look good.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Zip Code Tattletail 

Hillary Clinton has been running as a woman of the people, a friend of common citizens standing up against nabobs of Wall Street.  While this is good spin, it isn't true according to a zip code analysis of her campaign contributions.  It shows that she is raising funds from the 30 wealthiest zip codes in the country.  There is nothing wrong with that.  One goes where the money is, but it belies her campaign themes.  Imagine if her fund raising was spread more widely with smaller donations coming in from across the 50 states.  She would have plenty to boast about.  Instead, the fund raising effort appears to be kept apart from the campaign trail. In not so bygone days before election laws, a few wealthy sponsors would put up the cash a candidate needed.  Money was not an issue because few knew or talked about where it came from.  Now with financial reporting, there is opportunity for public interest and opposition research to delve into campaign funding and to parse contributions.  And, that is exactly what they are doing.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bomb Speech 

The explosion of a truck bomb in Baghdad's central market is a form of speech -- an ugly taunt at the government and proclamation that no one is safe in Iraq from the Islamic State. There is no reasoning with people who use such message transmission.  The only safe outcome is use of force to capture and end the explosions.  Some communication is beyond the pale of humanity and this is an instance of that.  Bombings are so frequent that one wonders why the Iraqi government hasn't cracked down hard on those suspected of doing it and also why security failed to spot the vehicle.  Baghdad's citizens have a right to be enraged, but the issue is what is to be done about it.  If the Islamic State can bomb at will, the Iraqi government has lost the country.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wages And Internal PR 

This is dismal news for hourly and salary workers.  Not only has the buying power of money declined but there is the prospect of less of it for employees across industries.  It points to an internal PR challenge -- to keep restive workers happy.  One way to handle the situation is through transparent and abundant communications.  Talk to employees with the same in-depth analysis that one uses for Wall Street but with simpler language and analogy to make points clear.  The days of "happy talk" employee publications that say little to nothing about the company are past.  They should be given over to discussions of the business and prospects for the future with the understanding that employees may not be told anything that the Street and investors have not heard.  Companies have done this with great success and there are plentiful examples of how to involve employees more deeply in a business and its marketplace.  By not keeping employees in the dark, there is a greater chance of increased productivity as employees pitch in to find  better, faster and less expensive ways to get things done.  Achieving that leads to higher wages.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Finger Pointing 

Everyone knows the twin train tunnels under the Hudson River are a vital link of the eastern corridor.  Everyone knows the 100-year-old tunnels are in need of repair.  However, fixing them has become an exercise in finger pointing between the States of New Jersey and New York and the federal government.  The states are ready to start digging with a federal grant of several billion.  The federal government says it has no money to give but it could make a loan.  Not good enough says the governor of New York.  The governor of New Jersey long ago pulled out of the tunnel project because the state hasn't the money.  But, that doesn't solve the issue -- digging replacement tunnels, so the old ones can be repaired and brought back into service.  Finger-pointing is an exercise in negative PR.  It's a "not-my-problem" statement.  The new tunnels are being held hostage to the treasury, and everyone is waiting for the other to blink.  Usually this goes on until one or the other party gives in or more likely, one or the other existing tunnels have a major problem that forces a  shutdown.  If and when that happens, hundreds of thousands of commuters and travelers on the East Coast will be inconvenienced.  Angry citizens become hostile voters.  Then the governors of New York and New Jersey will have something to worry about.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Tit For Tat 

South Korea said it will restart propaganda broadcasts to North Korea in reprisal for North Korea planting two mines that injured South Korean soldiers on patrol.  This tit for tat is part of the ongoing truce between the two countries.  The war between the north and south has never been concluded -- only stalled with each side warily watching the other and building armed forces.  The propaganda blaring from huge banks of speakers is unlikely to change any minds, but it will serve as a sonic annoyance that can carry as far as 15 miles into North Korea.  The broadcasts won't help anyone trying to escape because the DMZ is sealed with barb wire, mines and constant patrols.  Successful breakouts take place along the northern boundary of North Korea with people crossing the Yalu River.  And, few make it.  One almost wishes that fighting between the two countries would erupt again with the North losing badly and suing for peace with a discontinuance of the communist regime. North Koreans have suffered enough.

Friday, August 07, 2015


What does it say about politicians that this fellow had more credibility than most of them?  He dared to satirize those in power and he became a media force for the years he held the desk.  Yesterday was his last show and he will be missed although spinoffs will continue.  Jon Stewart educated a generation on the ways and wiles of politics and that group will look askance at any politician who tries to spin his way to credibility.  Maybe his legacy will be politicos who dare to say what they mean no matter the consequence and act in concert with their words.  That won't keep them from facing opposition but it might be refreshing for us poor citizens.  

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Pay Spin 

The SEC has adopted a rule that forces companies to disclose the ratio of the CEO's pay to that of the median employee.  Get ready for spin.  Some companies will pursue pretzel logic to reduce the ratio.  Others will state what it is and do little more unless there is shareholder activism. In fairness to CEOs, it is difficult to know what a median employee's pay is in an international company with facilities in low-wage countries as well as high-pay locations.  The rule apparently allows a snapshot of worker pay in a three-month window before the end of a year.  You can be sure CEOs will game the system as much as possible to their advantage.  Spin will enter the equation once ratios have been published.  In the face of questions whether the CEO is worth that much more than the median employee, there will be plenty of justification.  Much of this will happen outside of the purview of corporate communications and will lodge with corporate counsel, investor relations and HR.  Look for tortured rationales beginning in 2017.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Government V. Corporations 

There is a truism in organizational behavior.  Government tolerates situations that it won't stand for in corporations.  Consider this case.  Government did not cause the initial pollution in the lake, but once it nationalized the petroleum companies, it didn't begin to clean the water.  Today, it appears to be tolerating the mess as long as it can continue to extract oil. Citizens have learned to live with it, but the drifting oil slicks and bubbling gas are not healthful to them or their environment.  Long ago as a journalist reporting on environmental issues it quickly became clear that the federal government was attacking corporate polluters before it brought municipalities and counties to heel, even when local towns were dumping sewage into the river.  Since then, government has forced cities, counties and states to clean up, but corporations faced the sting first.  PR practitioners gain nothing by pointing out government hypocrisy because bureaucrats believe they are on the side of the angels. Rather, it is best to adapt quickly and go along with the regulators.  

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Everybody Does It 

One of the standard defenses of the criminal element is "Everybody does it."  The pleader is trying to hive off punishment by claiming he was not alone.  The answer to that is "Everybody doesn't do it."  Some are honest and perhaps are in the majority.  Anyway, even if everybody did it, then everybody should stand trial when the time comes. There is an allure to the everybody-does-it defense as if plurality makes right.  There is a temptation to use it when protecting a corporation or individual's reputation.  From a PR perspective, the defense is empty and has no moral authority.  If an organization or individual has done wrong, they should own up to it. It is harder to do, especially if there is prison time to consider.  Still, honesty is the best policy.  And if everybody the defendant knows was doing it, he can become a witness for the prosecution and perhaps earn time off from his sentence.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Smart PR 

This is an example of smart PR on the part of a chicken producer.  Knowing the public has turned against antibiotics in the growth of animals, Perdue has taken the lead in producing meat that is free of human antibiotics.  The step has taken a prolonged effort and changes in the way chickens are raised, but it has given the company the lead in the industry and a differentiation that is difficult to get with a commodity product, such as poultry.  It is one more example of the statement, "PR is what you do, not what you say."  

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