Friday, January 29, 2016

Terrible PR 

Since PR is what you do and not what you say, this counts for terrible PR.  Not only is Theranos losing its biggest customer, it has been sanctioned by the FDA for dangerous laboratory practices in its California facility.  Not long ago, Theranos and its CEO were darlings of the media with a story of entrepreneurial pluck and luck.  Then, the Wall Street Journal revealed that its basic technology, which uses only a drop of blood, was flawed and gave misreadings.  That started a cascade of negative stories and investigations that have resulted in the FDA action and Walgreen's departure.  There is only one solution to the bad news.  Fix the problems fast, whether or not one uses the micro technology, and report accurate results.  Either that, or watch the company disappear in a short time.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Lack of transparency in a business breeds rumors and misperception.  Consider this case.  Apple is hiding the results of its watch sales.  There is no good reason for the company to do so unless expectations have not been met.  Hence, the obvious conclusion is that its watches are not selling well and might be a commercial flop.  If they are a success, why should Apple hide?  Citing competitive reasons is not enough to convince anyone for long.  If they aren't successful, Apple owes it to its shareholders to let them know.  As it was, the news for the company yesterday was not wildly good as it has been for quite some time.  News that its iPhone sales may have levelled off hit the market hard, but the company still performed well overall.  It still doesn't excuse Apple for failing to report its watch sales.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Difficulty Of Listening 

This survey is discouraging.  It reveals that nearly half of companies that gather competitive intelligence rarely act upon it.  They have the tools to learn about the marketplace but they aren't using them.  One shouldn't be too surprised.  It is difficult to listen when one is convinced that he is ahead of the competition.  I saw this long ago in a high-tech company that was losing market share rapidly.  No one in top management paid attention to the marketing department's reports, so when the company went off the cliff, management was caught unaware of what had happened.  Listening is humbling.  One is rarely as good as one thinks, and areas of perceived strength can be shown up as weaknesses.  Yet, honest CEOs find out what is happening in the marketplace.  They listen and decide on what to do with a picture of the whole field of competition.  They are inevitably practitioners of public relations in the best sense whether or not they have a PR department.   

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


One difficult PR problem is uncertainty, particularly when it deals with management.  Consider this case.  The CEO is out ill and there is no time scheduled for him to return to work.  Yes, there are interim leaders but they can't make major decisions.  Valeant hasn't helped itself by staying silent on the CEO's condition.  This only heightens uncertainty and fosters rumors.  It doesn't help investors either who don't know whether to stay with the company or to dump the stock.  PR at least should indicate publicly the progress of the CEO in returning to health, but the company sent a two-paragraph note to employees, which was leaked to the media.  This may be the way the CEO wants it, but it only heightens uncertainty. 

Monday, January 25, 2016


PR practitioners are used to the irrational in daily affairs.  Commodity traders aren't, but that is what is happening to them in the oil market.  Irrational price declines have entered a territory in which no one is sure where the bottom might be.  The interesting part of the fall is that it isn't retail investors who are panicking in the market but hedge funds and experienced traders.  Supposedly the homo economicus would see price and demand and act rationally, but that isn't the case.  Markets are moved by raw fear.  As experienced hands in dealing with irrational events, we can say to oil traders, "Welcome to the club."  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Who Will Believe Them? 

Volkswagen is saying that it cheated on exhaust emission tests in the US but not in Europe.  Who will believe them?  The company is about to learn the painful lesson of credibility.  Once lost, there is little one can do to win it back other than transparency and time.  Volkswagen will have to be extra diligent in the future in reducing emissions and may need a government presence in its engineering department to assure regulators that it is developing power trains that meet standards.  The company has so compromised itself that anything it does voluntarily may be met with skepticism.  It is a hard position to be in but Volkswagen did it to itself and has no one else to blame.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Smart PR 

Microsoft is engaged in smart public relations with this announcement.  Donating a billion dollars in cloud services is a major step for the company and the thousands of not-for-profit organizations and academic institutions which will use it.  Make no mistake.  Microsoft isn't doing this solely out of a philanthropic impulse.  It is trying to gain market share for its software and this is a way to do it -- by reaching a market that hitherto couldn't afford it. Once these organizations understand what the cloud can do for them, they will make it part of their operating budgets.  What could be better than that?  Microsoft gains kudos for its gift in the beginning and wins in the end.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Influential Pessimism 

When a large group of CEOs are dour about the future, it is worth paying attention.  That is the subject of this survey.  Top leaders don't see a way forward this year.  Call it influential pessimism and negative PR.  It is hard for an optimist to overcome the negatives from those who make spending and buying decisions.  In truth, the sour feelings on the part of CEOs might be self-fulfilling.  They will cut back in the face of headwinds and thereby insure the storm will be all the stronger.  There isn't much else they can do if their companies' sales are sluggish and earnings flat.  They have to manage to make it through and not push forward to growth that isn't there.  So, the globe starts the year under a cloud.  That doesn't mean the CEOs are right.  Something could change in the next 11 months to shift their opinion, and if it does, it will prove that CEOs don't have any better vision than anyone else.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Try, Try Again 

Elon Musk of SpaceX has had bad luck with his rockets re-entries into earth's atmosphere and touchdowns.  The latest missile fell over on an anchored barge.  Musk blamed condensation ice from the heavy fog in which the rocket was fired.  No matter what happened, Musk is facing a PR problem until he can get his stage ones to settle gently in an upright position upon re-entry,  No one argues that it is easy to do.  It is probably the hardest part of a launch likened to a juggler doing magic tricks while keeping balls in the air.  Musk, however, boasted that his company would master the technology.  He put himself in a position of peril by making the statement before showing the proof.  Thus far, one of his rockets has landed safely back on earth.  The others have crashed in one way or another.  That's not a good record.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Still Don't Get It 

A situation like this shows that corporate leaders still don't understand transparency in the internet age. Why is it they still cannot grasp that bad news will come out in one way or another?  Why is it that they still believe that they can hide?  It's frustrating and must be the bane of PR practitioners worldwide.  Corporate CEOs need to understand that swift and full disclosure is the best medicine for a festering wound.  They need to tell their corporate counsel, worried about lawsuits, that the suits will come anyway and it only looks worse if a company tries a cover-up.  It seems simple enough but ego gets in the way.  One doesn't want to look weak in front of the public, so he lies.  Dumb and dumber.  

Friday, January 15, 2016


Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, and once again, blacks were shut out of the awards.  The fault, however, is not that of the Oscar nominators but of the type of movie being made.  The problem is systemic and goes back to writers and producers who develop and fund scripts as well as directors who cast them.  Oscars are symptoms of the underlying problem and not racist in themselves.  It is a challenge that will be dealt with over time and with pressure from minority groups to be included in filmmaking.  Still, the Oscars are taking a PR nick because of the situation, and there is nothing to be done to make it better.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reality Bites 

There is a drumbeat of publicity and PR for settling worlds outside of our own -- e.g., Mars, the moon and eventually, a planet in another solar system.  This article discusses just how difficult it would be.  It would take many years to assemble the materials, technology and individuals and many more to complete a  mission, barring new physics or scientific breakthroughs. Essentially, we are stuck with earth, and we had better take care of it.  There is no place else to go.  Even a much-touted Mars mission has difficulties beyond imagining.  How do you sustain individuals for the six-month travel time to get there and how do you get them back?  There are issues of air, food, sanitation, psychology, physical health, shielding from cosmic rays, fuel to get there and fuel to get back.  There is nothing on Mars that we know of today that can help with any of these needs.  It takes 10 minutes for a radio transmission to transit from Mars to Earth.  Imagine the time it would take for communication to another solar system. Space enthusiasts dream of possibilities but reality bites.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Scientific Rumor 

Why is this scientist tweeting rumors of the discovery of gravitational waves?  He certainly knows the protocol that one's work needs to be vetted before it is considered sound.  However, even respected physicists can breach the process in an attempt to be first to report a discovery.  In this case, the scientist is not the discoverer but the rumor-monger who must be creating tension and anger among the physicists conducting the experiment.  If waves have been detected, it will be the physics triumph of the year, if not the decade.  Scientists have been trying to detect them since Einstein postulated their existence, but the waves are so weak they have evaded discovery.  There is no guarantee that this time physicists were successful in spotting them and the experimenters are not talking.  It is poor form and mendacious for an outsider to speculate on another's work, but one must deal with it even in science.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sic Transit 

Once upon a time not long ago, a mall was the gathering place for teenagers and adults.  It was the happening scene in many a town.  That has changed and malls today are facing extinction.  There is no mystery why.  Americans have changed their shopping habits.  They buy online.  They look for bargains that can't be found in a typical anchor store such as Sears or Macys.  No amount of PR or publicity is going to change the new habits of Americans.  They have been taught a better way to shop and they like it.  So, retrenchment is what the retail chains must do and in the process, they are killing malls that depended on their presence.  This is another reminder to business persons that nothing is guaranteed and change occurs constantly.  Mall developers now need to look into alternative uses for their empty buildings. 

Monday, January 11, 2016


Even before beginning his presidency, Obama said he would close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Entering his final year in office, he is still making that pledge.  His chief of staff says Obama will present a plan to Congress, and if Congress objects, he will use executive action to do something -- whatever that might be. No one should be faulted for failing to believe the President at this point.  The problem has been intractable.  No one wants the prisoners.  So, they remain in limbo -- men without a country.  There is no doubt their rights have been violated.  They merited at least a speedy trial and sentencing, but they got neither. Look for Guantanamo Bay to be open this time next year and don't be surprised if Obama hands the problem to his successor.

Friday, January 08, 2016


The world knows you have a contamination problem with your food, but you can't learn where it is coming from.  Every scientific test comes up empty.  There is no one ingredient that caused the problem.  There is no one supplier of foodstuffs.  The outbreak occurs across the country in a seemingly random fashion.  What do you do?  If your Chipotle you investigate and install new procedures, then you pray the outbreaks of e coli and Noroviruses stop.  The damage to the brand has been deep and might be long-lasting.  Without the "Aha" moment that reveals the cause(s) of the contamination, the company must tread carefully.  It doesn't know when the next attack might happen or where.  It is a PR nightmare.  Newspaper ads expressing apologies, which Chipotle ran, are a small sop and will have little effect if the outbreaks continue. The only effective PR is to find the problem and fix it, which is why the CEO must be having sleepless nights.

Thursday, January 07, 2016


It is a CEO's nightmare to have his company singled out for a product defect that isn't true.  That is what happened to pharmaceutical manufacturer Regeneron.  Because of faulty reporting in a Federal database of side effects from its new drug, Praluent, investors rushed to dump the stock.  It turns out that a suicide related to its medication was reported over and over again providing the impression that the drug's side effects could be lethal.  The Food and Drug Administration tried to clear the situation up but the damage was done.  There is no way to sue the FDA for the misreporting nor, for that matter, those who noted the incident in good faith.  Now the CEO has to rebuild credibility for his drug and boost sales.  It is a tough PR challenge made worse by the way that it happened.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Evolutionary PR 

People have predicted for years that cities will be wired with sensors to make management and living easier.  The challenge is that it is expensive and the technology was never quite there.  Now, AT&T says it is, and it has designated cities to wire as test projects.  This is one more step in the evolution of the Internet of Things and in cities' services to citizens. It is smart PR.  Note that AT&T did not put a deadline on the project, and that is both good and bad.  It provides the company leeway to speed or slow installation depending on local conditions.  It is bad in that AT&T might stop the project at any time because it is too expensive and without expected returns.  Several services mentioned in the article do not provide immediate benefits.  Still, the evolution continues and sooner or later, cities will be wired and they will learn how to use the new technology.  That will open ways to build relationships with the public that few can guess today.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Fear And PR 

Some organizations work best when they inculcate fear in individuals.  This is one.  Public relations works for the IRS when citizens are afraid they will be caught and forced to pay penalties.  Appeals to one's moral duty rarely work because no one likes to pay taxes.  It is a distasteful civic duty.  So, the taxman does what he has practiced for millenia. He instills a sense of dread to get people to pay up.  In countries like Italy and Greece where tax collection is handled badly, there is general evasion and loss to the governments' exchequers.  The threat of an audit in the US is enough to gain compliance from all but the wealthy who have options with the help of accountants and lawyers.  It is difficult for the IRS to be liked nor should it work too hard at changing public perception from negative to positive.  It has a tough job that must be done if government is to provide services to citizenry.  

Monday, January 04, 2016

Smart PR 

Since public relations is what one does, this qualifies as smart PR.  Google is putting its data and analytical engines at the service of people thinking of installing solar panels.  One need only plug in the required constraints and the calculator does the rest.  One can figure out how many years it will take to pay back the installation, whether purchased or leased.  And, if installation makes sense for a home, Google will refer the user to a solar company that can do the job.  It is hard to criticize a company that makes the lives of consumers easier.  Google does so much that is positive, it is a wonder that it has continuous trouble with the European Union.  

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year 

At this artificial demarcation of time, it is customary to remember and speculate.  What was good about last year? What was boneheaded and banal?  Was there brilliance? Idiocy?  Of course, the answer is all of the above.  And that will be the same for 2016.  Some will shine, some burnout.  We don't know at this juncture who will be feted and who mocked.  Will we have another Volkswagen moment when a corporation is revealed as a liar?  That's hard to say and not something that occurs at such a scale with much frequency, but it is possible.  Will we have an instance in which a corporation shines magnificently as a good citizen and practitioner of public relations?  Again, hard to say.  Companies are people working together for a common mission.  All the flaws of humanity are represented in them.  It takes good leadership to guide business on the right path and a degree of humility to listen to consumers and buyers.  It is easy to forget what a company is for and to work for one's self-interest.  In 2016, we should see examples of good PR and marketing and awful attempts that have one shaking his head.  It should be an interesting year.

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