Thursday, March 31, 2016

PR Crisis In The Making 

Washington DC metro officials have announced that they might have to shut down the subway for a month to make repairs.  Should this happen, it will be a PR crisis of major proportions.  Washingtonians rely on the subway to get them to and from work and play.  It is an artery below clogged streets and creeping traffic.  Forcing tens of thousands of them to rely on buses and driving is nearly untenable.  Why must the subway be shut down in the first place?  Because it hasn't been maintained over decades. Deferred maintenance has now reached a level where the system cannot go on like it is.  One can spread blame for this but what good would it do?  The system needs repair or it will fall apart.  The best advice one can give is to stay away from Washington during the shutdown.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Perfect Is Not Good Enough 

There are times when perfection in the business world is not good enough.  Here is a case.  In the dicey world of rocket launches, United Launch Alliance has had 106 perfect missions in a row.  But, that is not enough.  Newer, cheaper rockets are on the scene and they are starting to make headway against the incumbent.  There is only one thing ULA can do -- cut costs while not sacrificing safety measures.  That is hard enough, but for the long-term future of the space launch business, it must be done.  The lesson here is that good PR might not be sufficient if consumers have options.  Although one can have a wonderful track record, the consumer might ask for more, and the only option for a company is to up the ante or to get out of that line of work.  It must be stressful for employees who work so hard to do well only to discover that a customer is looking around for something else.  There is a tendency to slack off when one is not appreciated.  In this case, internal relations and leadership are essential to maintaining focus.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

As Expected 

One would not expect an aging revolutionary to suddenly change his beliefs, especially when he thinks of enemies.  So that is why Fidel Castro's reaction to President Obama's visit to Cuba is as expected -- negative.  Castro has spent most of his life bashing America, especially after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.  He is a dedicated communist and convinced of his position.  It must irk him that Cubans who left the country and moved to America have largely done well by comparison to those who stayed behind.  Castro lived on the largesse of Russia for many years until the communist empire fell apart.  He hasn't had an answer for the economy in decades and his brother moves cautiously lest he upset Fidel and his stalwart supporters.  President Obama's visit was a thumb in the eye of the old man, and he predictably didn't like it.  One can only hope that a leader with courage will act to open the country economically to the rest of the world.  Cubans have suffered enough.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Suspect PR 

An Israeli soldier shot a Palestinian who was lying on the ground incapacitated.  The Israeli government is investigating the incident but many Israelis feel he was justified.  Whether or not the soldier had the right to do what he did, it is suspect PR and a cause for inflaming already ferocious feelings between the two countries.  And, it won't stop the killing. This is a case where there is no good PR response to the tensions between the countries.  Israel is slowly taking over Palestinian lands and pushing the people into smaller and smaller spaces.  That is poor PR and guaranteed to create more violence.  Israel is powerful and the Palestinians are weak.  That doesn't help Israel's cause.  The image is one of a bully, which Israel does not need.  There are no easy answers.  Each side is stabbing or shooting the other and claiming justification for doing so.  It is a mess destined to last for decades.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Potent Symbol 

The day after the Brussels bombing, the pope washed the feet of Christian, Hindu and Muslim refugees and called them brothers.  The symbolic act is part of a Roman Catholic religious ceremony re-enacting the last Passover supper Jesus celebrated with his disciples.  The pope's choice of people from multiple religions was unusual and was a potent symbol for his vision of how the world should be getting along.  The contrast between the bombings in which dozens died and dozens more were wounded and a spiritual leader bending to wash the feet of strangers could not be more stark.  This pope is given to actions that promote unity even to the discomfort of some of his fellow believers.  He has broadened the meaning of religious action through his inclusiveness and in so doing, has earned even the plaudits of cynics.  It would be interesting if more world leaders followed his example.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Smart PR 

Food waste is a problem in the US.  Billions of pounds of edible products are buried in landfills annually because they had reached their "sale-by" dates although they remain nutritious.  That is why this announcement by Starbucks is important and smart PR.  The company will use refrigerated trucks to pick up unsold food from its stores and redistribute it to the needy.  It is a major commitment to fighting hunger and will provide 50 million meals annually when the program is fully implemented by 2021.  This came about through suggestions by employees who saw a way for good food from being thrown out.  If more corporations did the same thing, hunger in America might be an affliction of the past and landfills would have more space for garbage.  There are other services that pick up food from restaurants such as City Harvest, but the Starbucks commitment is an important step for a retail chain.

Friday, March 18, 2016


I'm going to be away for a few days on client assignment.  I will return Wednesday.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Negative Publicity 

Say what you want about ISIS, the muslim terrorist group, but they are masters of generating negative publicity.  A book burning is guaranteed to get the media's attention and a Christian book burning demonstrates the group's hostility to religions other than its own. This kind of publicity is self-defeating, however, because it convinces the world that ISIS is a dangerous entity that needs to be stamped out.  One wonders why such radicalism is so blind to the consequences of its actions.  One explanation is the terrorists have convinced themselves that they are in the right and the rest of the world is wrong.  In other words, they are the antithesis of public relations where one listens closely to people before acting.  ISIS imposes its rigid view of life on everyone under its power and cannot allow deviance of any sort.  It's a power ploy and not religion, at least not muslim beliefs.  Each negative act like a book burning brings the group one day closer to extinction.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Cord Cutting And PR 

Cable companies are fighting a loss of subscribers who are cutting the cord and relying on the internet for programming.  For the most part, cable has only itself to blame.  Their service was bad and charges for bundled channels, most of which few watched, are high.  One wonders why cable kings let things fester as long as they have and the answer is that they were the only outlet in many towns.  One had to deal with them or rely on rabbit ears for the few over-the-air channels left.  When one is a monopoly, there is a greater temptation to let service slide.  The attitude is to whom can one complain except the local municipality.  Cable companies are now relying more on delivering broadband than channels.  They won't go away but their importance has diminished.  One wonders if they had practiced good public relations from the outset whether they would be in the same fix today.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Employee Sabotage 

A video making the rounds shows a stomach-churning scene of an employee peeing onto a food assembly line.  Kellogg is investigating the incident but the damage is done.  An employee has sabotaged the company and added a yuck factor to its food products.  There is little any company can do to avert worker sabotage.  It can happen in an instant.  A business has to hope it has enough of a relationship with employees that they will not stoop to such things.  But there is always a dissident, the disaffected whom one can't reach.  This kind of person needs to be weeded out before he causes real damage.  Kellogg is faced with delving into a two-year-old incident, which is not easy because the worker might have since moved on to another part of the plant or out of the company all together.  Meanwhile, Kellogg is left with the task of assuring everyone its food products are safe, but really, how would the company know?

Monday, March 14, 2016

More Trouble 

Volkswagen is not only facing billions in fines for its deception but now it is toying with the idea of leaving the mass market in the US.  That is causing its 600 dealers to fume.  The  brand has been so damaged, however, that its national aspirations are long gone.  The company is a case example of what happens when one practices poor public relations.  Pulling the wool over the eyes of regulators and customers has savaged the company's image, and it will take years for it to come back, especially in the US where the company has had problems selling its vehicles.  VW has only itself to blame, and its new management team has many apologies to make before the public forgives and perhaps, forgets.  The company  is on probation.  It can't deceive the public or regulators again and expect to survive as a brand.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Spoke Too Soon 

Here is a case in which a hospital spoke too soon about its pioneering surgery.  The Cleveland Clinic knows an uterine transplant is risky and should not have bruited in the press that it was trying to do the first in the US.  Now the hospital has to deal with the failure of the first transplant and increased risk for the 10 others it plans to try.  And, it is doing so under the scrutiny of the media and the public.  It would have been far better had the hospital kept the transplant under wraps until it was certain that it took. A successful surgery would have given the institution credibility that it lacks now.  Perhaps in the second attempt it will succeed.  Perhaps not, but if it fails again the pressure on the hospital and its surgeons will be immense.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Next Big Thing 

Amazon couldn't buy publicity as good as this.  The column is a mash note to Amazon's Echo device that understands human speech and can perform a myriad of functions at one's command.  The positive article comes from experience with using Echo and Alexa, its voice.  The author found that it became more useful as days passed until it was part of the fabric of the family.  Whether or not Amazon loaned the machine to the writer, the result was a highly positive time with it and an adoring article.  This is the kind of publicity coup that can make the career of a practitioner.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Go PR 

A Google computer has defeated one of the top Go players in the world in the first game of five to be played for a million dollar purse.  Go is harder to learn than chess with a nearly infinite number of moves possible on a 19 x 19 square board.  Google's challenge was a PR move to demonstrate advancements in artificial intelligence.  Even if Google doesn't win in the end, it will have shown the world that it has a machine to be reckoned with that can defeat human intuition.  The feeling one has for a discipline is born of repeated trials that build experience.  Google's machine has taken that course of learning to the extreme by playing millions of games and from them choosing likely courses of action.  What the professional Go player cannot rely upon is the machine breaking down once it makes a mistake as a human opponent might do.  There is little left that a machine can't do in games, but it is still not human.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Great PR 

PR is what you do and not only what you say.  This is great PR.  Doctors Without Borders has been travelling to the trouble spots of the world for decades in order to provide basic medical care.  It makes sense that it would provide medical help and better living conditions for migrants in France.  The not-for-profit concern understands what needs to be done in the most desperate of situations and is not afraid to go into harm's way.  Several of its medical staff have been killed in recent months from bombing of its hospitals in war zones.  The French situation is easy by comparison.  Doctors Without Borders is a wonderful institution with worldwide impact and it deserves all the support it can get.  

Monday, March 07, 2016


North Korea knows how to bluff the rest of the world.  Invoking the nuclear option, the country has placed South Korea and other nations on edge.  It is known that the North has a plenitude of missiles aimed at Seoul and the leadership of the North is enough off kilter that one has to worry it will use them.  The cruelty of the North's regime is one reason why the rest of the world has to take the country seriously.  It is amazing in this day and age that a Marxist dictatorship can survive as the North has done.  One asks why the populace has failed to rise up but the paranoia of the leadership is such that it will jail anyone on a pretext of disloyalty.  There is no good way to communicate to the country except through sanctions, which makes the populace's life even more miserable.  Somehow, the leadership continues to get all that it wants and more from fine whiskey to banquets and available women.  It doesn't acknowledge the hell that it has the rest of its citizens living in.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Guilt By Association 

When an industry leader admits to fraud, it can reflect on others whether or not they had anything to do with the crime.  That is the case with Volkswagen and its deceptive diesel emissions software.  The entire auto industry in Europe is in a quandary over what to do about the diesel engine.  The problem is not easily fixed.  Automakers will have to strap more equipment to the diesel to remove nitrogen oxide, which is damaging to the lungs.  The diesel, which had been a key to control air pollution, is under a cloud, thanks to Volkswagen's lie.  Predictably, automakers are furious with the company, as they should be, but anger doesn't help them.  There is no guarantee now that drivers will continue to choose diesels with expensive air cleaning machinery, but the automakers are forced to try because they have to meet emission standards.  The article notes that Volkswagen took a low-key approach this year to the Geneva auto show.  It needed a dose of humility.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Co Opting An Opponent  

The Pentagon is getting with the times when it comes to sponsoring hackathons of its networks.  The military has recognized that it is better to co-opt hackers rather than clean up the mess after they have invaded its systems.  Corporations have been offering "bug bounties" for some time but the Pentagon's invitation to hackers is the first time the Federal government is trying it.  Other Federal agencies are watching and could sponsor the same style of hackathon in the future.  It's smart thinking.  Hackers have already stolen government records, tax documents and other sensitive information.  It is better to close doors they have discovered than to fight them every step of the way.  Hackers are doing the government a favor by breaking in with the government's blessing.  It's good PR to work with them rather than against them.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Standards And PR 

Finally after decades of using different cables to connect computing equipment, there is now one cable for everything.  This is the result of the work of a standards group trying to simplify computing for the public. One wonders why it wasn't done years ago in an effort to serve consumers who have drawers full of cables from past machines.  Standards work is slow and tedious and requires agreement from competitors for anything to happen.  It is PR at its most basic.  We might not think of standards in the US since we are so used to them.  Our three-prong wall plugs, for example, are an example of standards that Europe still doesn't have with its multiple voltages and connectors.  Computer users were facing the same fate until the present cable was approved.  It might not seem like much but little things like this make the public's life easier and in the end that is what much of PR is all about.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Earned Media 

Earned media in PR parlance is getting one's name or message quoted in the press without paying for it.  It turns out in this campaign season there is a genius at doing this and his name is Donald Trump.  In spite of his many inaccuracies and outright fabrications, Trump has kept his name in front of TV and newspapers and social media.  One asks how he has done it, and it seems he makes one outrageous statement after another that begs to be quoted and disproved, but in the process, he goes on to make more before the truth can catch up.  He is a loudmouth of the worst kind and impervious to what the media have to say about him and for that, people are saying he is authentic and "telling it like it is."  Trump proves that one can fool some of the people all of the time -- enough to win the nomination of the Republican party for the White House.  Republicans are deeply frightened of him -- and they should be.

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