Monday, November 30, 2015
The eyes of the world are on Paris for the start of COP21 -- Conference of Parties 21-- the climate control meeting among nations. It hasn't been successful until now but the rapid warming of the earth has changed many minds and there appears to be a new willingness to cooperate. There are a number of publicity elements and opportunities and they will be exploited, but the most important outcome is an agreement to lower emission levels. This is an agreement that the US will follow along with the rest of the world. To date, the US has absented itself from treaties to cut emissions, but it now appears ready to slash the amount it spews into the air. If it does, President Obama can portray it as a PR triumph for his legacy. If for some reason, the agreement runs into trouble, it will be painted as a failure in his administration.
Friday, November 27, 2015
It is embarrassing when a company sets out to benefit customers but inadvertently makes things worse. It's a PR black eye. That is what happened to Dell computer recently when it tried to increase security for its customers but ended by creating a security hole in its system. The lapse is more than an annoyance to its customers, it is a danger that has to be fixed soon or else. One can ask how Dell made the mistake. Surely it had engineers who had reviewed the change and gave their approval for it to be made, but somehow they didn't see the problem and let the modification go forward. It took a programmer in the field to spot the error and inform the company about it. So far, no one appears to have been compromised, but it was and is a near miss. Dell will be more careful next time: It won't soon forget. One backfire was more than enough.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Happy and memorable Thanksgiving to all. It is a beautiful day on the East Coast and the Macy's parade is taking place in sunshine and with no wind. The temperature is in the 60s, and a more perfect day could not be asked for. May your meal be tasty and filling and the football games exciting.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
What happens when the people on whom you rely to sell your product know little about it? They won't sell it or they will represent the product badly. This is the dilemma facing manufacturers of electric cars and their relations with dealers. Car salespersons have been steering consumers away from electric vehicles and back to gas engine autos. There are reasons for this. The salespersons know little about electric vehicles, and they can't sell follow-on service because EVs need little maintenance. There is, in other words, not as much incentive to sell a battery auto. There is one way auto manufacturers can attack this problem -- educational PR. That is, getting dealership sales staff into electric vehicles and showing them the advantages. It is interesting if auto manufacturers haven't done this already. One wonders about their commitment to the EV. Then again, it is a new world for builders as it is for sellers and the transition takes time. Autos have relied on internal combustion engines for more than 100 years, and the engines are not going away soon.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
This article condemns the payment of journalists in China to run one's news. It's old style publicity. Modern publicity started at the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 20th Century with agents who paid local editors to run news stories about the wonderful new invention, the telephone. Editors and reporters were given gifts and money during the holidays right up to the 1970s when post-Watergate news organizations put an end to such remuneration. It smacks of the immaturity of the Chinese news organizations that they tolerate such behavior and perhaps, even encourage it because of the low wages they pay reporters. There is no way of knowing when Chinese media will walk away from the red envelope and meanwhile corporations have to get their news out in some way. So, they pay. Earned media becomes bought and paid for news coverage, an ethical dilemma.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Hundreds if not thousands of individuals and organizations have been victimized because of their name -- ISIS. ISIS belongs both to an Egyptian goddess and the terror group in Syria and Iraq. The name association between a divinity and the killers is coincidental, but that doesn't make it any easier for those who are not linked in any way to the Islamic State. Some companies are changing their name. As for individuals, they might have to do the same. Part of the problem is ignorance. Many in the modern day do not know that ISIS was a goddess in Egypt. Hence, they are incensed whenever they come across the name in modern usage. Still, that is a small justification for their acts.
Friday, November 20, 2015
It is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain positive public relations when a CEO is rumored to be leaving a sinking ship. This is the situation that Marissa Mayer of Yahoo finds herself in. Key executives have already departed, morale is low and Mayer seems to be out of ideas for turning the ailing company around. If she does leave voluntarily or not, the future of Yahoo will be in peril. Mayer was billed as the last, best hope of the company, which never made the transition post Google to a mature but growing business. This is the fate of many internet companies, so Mayer needn't be embarrassed by the failure, but if she is to continue trying to stabilize the franchise, she will need to work on morale. Now is not a time to be trumpeting the company publicly. It is the hour when she has to mobilize the troops to storm the hill one more time and see if they can hold it.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
The tally is out and the most deadly terror group in the world is not ISIS but West Africa's Boko Haram. Why then has the group not received the same news coverage and headlines as ISIS? The answer appears to be that they are exploiting their own in Africa and not working outside of the continent to spread terror. In other words, it is not our problem. That's sad because the people of Nigeria are suffering terribly from the group's raids and indiscriminate murder. Let Boko Haram attack in France, Spain or somewhere else in Europe and the headlines will be there plus the attention of the governments to wipe them out. But, as long as they stay in West Africa, diplomats can express horror but armies remain idle. The power of news media coverage is on Paris now, but it could have easily been on Nigeria. We express sympathy for the citizens of Paris but do we think about Africans?
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
A celebrity tries to hide something in the internet age. It costs him $10 million in extortion, and he still can't keep it a secret. That is the predicament in which Charlie Sheen finds himself. He finally told the world that he is HIV positive in an interview on national television. That is what he should have done in the first place. It would have saved him a pile of cash. Instead, he is much poorer and one hopes, wiser. His experience should be a lesson to all that transparency is the better route and outcome. PR practitioners have long known this, but they are dismissed as often as they are heard when they push for openness. Charlie Sheen must have a publicist and one wonders whether he told that person of his condition. I suspect not. Otherwise, his publicist should have urged him to make an announcement as he ended up doing anyway. New articles paint Sheen as a troubled person with dissolute behavior. One wonders if this $10 million lesson will change his trajectory in life.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
A prerequisite of public relations is freedom of speech, the ability to take popular and unpopular positions and argue for them persuasively. That is why this trend on college campuses is disturbing. One can no longer voice one's opinion, wear a costume or publish anything that might offend a student's view of what is correct. The prohibition has reached the level of absurdity and has created a generation of students for whom the First Amendment is only acceptable if it fits their values. What is worse is that campus administrators are bowing to their demands rather than affirming the need for many types of opinions. College is a time to study a broad range of ideas -- some innocuous, some dangerous and some dated. Students should finish their studies with a well rounded view of the world. The sad part is that is no longer happening on many campuses. We're creating a generation for whom freedom from speech is the ideal.
Monday, November 16, 2015
The attacks in Paris were an example of negative publicity. ISIS wanted to let the world know it can strike wherever and whenever it wants. And, it was successful in that effort, killing 129 people and injuring hundreds more. ISIS leaders may be basking in their glory for what was achieved, but the rest of the world was horrified. The problem with negative publicity is that it motivates people and organizations against one. The tit for tat of the French attacks was bombing in Syria against ISIS strongholds. In other words, the rebel leaders are worse off today than they were on Friday night when the attacks took place. That is often the outcome of negative publicity.
Friday, November 13, 2015
It has long been said that the best management tool is a good pair of shoes. This notion has been turned into an acronym -- MBWA -- Management By Walking About. Here is an example of a CEO who works as an Uber driver to learn how people feel about travel. It makes no difference to him that he is a multi-millionaire and founder of a successful company. He is aware that he can't know what customers are thinking unless he rubs shoulders with them. He is not alone. Retail CEOs conduct store visitations to see how they are working and to hobnob with customers. CEOs of fast food franchises spend time each year behind the counter to remind themselves what is important. It is smart management and PR to stay in close touch with the bottom, customer-facing side of a business. It grounds one again in what is important to the success of an enterprise and closes the gap between customers and the top of an organization.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
This might be a poor PR decision and practice of the auto manufacturers. While run-flat tires can take one a distance and puncture kits might work, that might not be enough for the individual whose auto is stuck by the side of the road and no way to replace a tire. Granted that car makers are looking for anything to save weight and increase mileage, but there ought to be a limit of common sense. It is easy to envision a scenario in which a driver is out of luck -- for example a tear in the sidewall of a tire. No run-flat kit is going to fix that. So, in order to reach regulatory mileage per gallon, the spare tire is sacrificed. I'll try not to purchase a vehicle without a spare.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Sometimes there are no good answers to an event. Whatever one says or does carries severe penalties. There isn't even a way to weigh the lesser of two evils. This is one case. Slovenia is building a border fence to bar migrants from the country. Slovenia already has tens of thousands and is struggling to care for them. With winter coming, the country feels helpless to handle thousands more. If it had left its border open, it would have had a humanitarian crisis. But, by closing its border, it is sparking a humanitarian crisis. There is no good way to handle this situation. Political principles fail. Migrants are desperate, cold and ill-fed and they will be that way whether or not the fence had gone up. The citizens of Slovenia cannot bear the responsibility of handling all the refugees. The resources aren't there. Only time will tell what happens to the asylum seekers and chances are it won't be good. It is a tragedy.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has been going for so long that no one quite remembers it was originally and still is a publicity event for the store. The parade has taken on a life of its own. Macy's to its credit has allowed the parade to expand and include a little of everything from bands to balloons to dancers and pop and Broadway stars. The publicity is immeasurable and defines Macy's as an essential part of Christmas cheer. It is not often that an entity can create something that at its heart is commerce but in its presentation is community relations. As such, the Thanksgiving Day Parade deserves a close examination for how it got started and how it grew. The first couple of years it was a publicity stunt on the part of the store, but then it turned into something else and over time as the balloons were added it became a parade like none other. Today, tens of millions line the parade route or watch the parade on television. Children who don't know Macy's from K-Mart stare wide-eyed at the passing characters they know from cartoons. Their parents know and that is enough for Macy's.
Monday, November 09, 2015
The University of Missouri is feeling the power of protest with its football team stopping practice and a call for the president of the university to step down. The situation that sparked this was a swastika drawn on a residence hall. African-American students rose up united to descry the incident and to call for action. What they are doing shows the force of mass persuasion. Organizations cannot run when their participants refuse to cooperate. It is the same for strikes and all other crowd uprisings. From a PR perspective, leaders have to realize that they are only in control through the power of positive persuasion and while people have a tendency to go along, there is always a chance they will not. When that happens, organizations break down and societies rupture. At this juncture, it would probably be best if the President of the school did step aside. It is too late for him to react and calm the crowd.
Friday, November 06, 2015
We are often told to think outside the box, be creative, smash old paradigms and find new ones. But there are times when a box fosters creativity and is essential to artists, entrepreneurs and business persons. Here is an example. The Pantone color system put an end to the headache of identifying colors and using them consistently in one's work. It is an essential tool everywhere and assists creative solutions in all forms of media and decoration. One wonders why an inventor failed to come up with such a solution long before it was discovered in 1963. The beauty of the Pantone system is its exactness. It specifies the blend of paints and inks to make the same color time after time. As any colorist can tell you, that is hard to achieve. So, while Pantone is a standardized tool, it facilitates out of the box thinking and imagination. Communicators should consider this. Some things are best when they are routine.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Bob Lutz is a long-time car guy who has served in the top ranks of multiple auto manufacturers. When he speaks about cars, he talks from experience. That is why this opinion piece focused on Tesla is a serious PR problem for the electric vehicle company. Lutz picks apart the economic and technology model of Tesla and predicts imminent doom for the business unless it cuts costs now. That is contrary to the vision of Elon Musk who believes in invest, invest, invest and someday profits will show. This approach depends on the forbearance of banks and investors whom Musk must charm as long as he can. To be fair, Musk doesn't see Tesla as a typical car company. He is out to save the world with an electric auto, but the world will ask who is paying the piper. There is no doubt the Tesla is the ultimate performance vehicle run only on electricity, but Lutz points out in a time of two dollar gasoline, there isn't much call for it. Tesla is teetering on a cliff and had better be prepared to respond before it pitches over.
Tuesday, November 03, 2015
I'll be away tomorrow, so there will be no post.
This story outlines a PR opportunity. It is about consumers' inability to figure out health plans. The opportunity, of course, is to devise and explain a plan that they can easily grasp. The first company that achieves this will take market share from competitors. Why hasn't it been done already? Because health coverage is complicated and its myriad of options can only confuse customers who are trying to pick what is best for them. Hence, the problem and opportunity. PR practitioners alone cannot devise easier plans to comprehend. It will take a coordinated effort on the part of actuaries, marketers, lawyers and others to work through the complexities and simplify them. Almost certainly, the impetus for change will have to come from a CEO who is customer oriented. The PR department is usually too low in the power structure. But, the practitioner can always pitch the idea.
Monday, November 02, 2015
One doesn't value Generally Accepted Accounting Principles until they are ignored and a major failure results. Consider this company. Valeant sticks to the letter of the law by giving GAAP numbers in its press releases but it also presents and emphasizes non-GAAP earnings in which certain expenses have been deleted from the bottom line. Hence, Valeant can show a higher earnings per share than it would under GAAP. Now that Valeant is in trouble, its non-GAAP earnings are being held up as an example of what not to do. The company's financial reporting has cost it credibility and its stock price, which has plummeted. So, why do companies continue to report scrubbed numbers? Because they can get away with it. They honor the letter of the law but fracture its spirit. It is poor investor relations, but look for it to continue as long as management can make itself look better.