Friday, September 30, 2016


Elon Musk is a publicist's dream with bold announcements and big ideas.  He must be a PR practitioner's nightmare with his auto company still not making money and with the pending merger with the solar panel company.  Musk's galactic ambitions threaten to get in the way of his earth-bound duties.  Yes, he has a successful rocket company, but one of his boosters blew up recently on the launching pad, and he is bogged down building a battery factory in Nevada.  Yet, here he is speculating on the way to get to Mars and predicting a Martian population of one million in a hundred years.  He would be far better off if he narrowed his vision and focused on businesses he has started.  He wouldn't be as exciting, but he would prove to the business community that he is one of them and to the public that he can make and sell mass market products.  Today, he is a juggler keeping multiple balls in the air.  If he slips and lets any one of them fall, his act will be ruined.  That's high risk, too high it would seem.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The New Publicity 

This is an example of the new publicity tools using Instagram.  The New York restaurant posts images of its food on influencer sites and reaps the reward of traffic through its doors.  The process is simple and clever, but it requires planning and segmenting the sites one uses.  Note that the restaurant refuses to pay for postings.  It depends on the image and offering free food to influential Instagrammers.  One could say it isn't the best publicity to buy positive opinions through giving away strawberry rhubarb ice cream, but it works.The only constraint on this technique is that the product/service has to be visual, but most are, or can be made so through creative photography.  Chalk this up to an ingenious use of social media.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It Gets Worse 

Wells Fargo bank already lost its reputation over consumer fraud in its community banking division.  Now it is looking ugly with the news that it punished whistleblowers who would not establish fake accounts.  Clawbacks of unvested equity won't repair the bank's reputation, much less the CEO's.  It is clear now that the bank was running an old-fashioned boiler room, flogging sales at the expense of consumers.  Many years will pass before the bank lives this incident down, and it might never.  The question remains of how the division got so far out of control.  Clearly its managers were in on the scheme and executives above the division weren't asking questions.  Pro forma attempts to stop manufacturing fraudulent accounts weren't followed up by discipline that made the bank's point clear and firm.  High goals weren't relaxed to remove excessive pressure from employees.  It was a text book management disaster for which Wells Fargo will be paying for years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Billion Here, A Billion There 

Google's engineers are readying YouTube to go after another billion viewers in Asia.  That might not sound like much but from a marketing perspective, it is breathtaking.  Companies that serve a billion or more people are but a handful, yet Silicon Valley thinks in these huge numbers regularly.  It is no accident that media, such as YouTube and Facebook, are the vehicles reaching such large numbers.  Communications are at the core of human experience.  And, both media make room for individual contributions to the conversation whether it is cat videos or celebrations of someone's birthday.  They encompass a universe of interests from which marketers and PR practitioners can segment those they want to reach.  Social media have become the well from which the rest of the world draws.  

Monday, September 26, 2016


The media are hyping tonight's debate between the two presidential candidates.  It is unlikely to be the greatest political show on earth.  Some media are predicting a viewership that will rival the Superbowl.  Maybe so, but it is unlikely that most will last through to the end of the talk-fest.  Both sides are going to spin victory out of the affair no matter who emerges as a front-runner.  That is the nature of political debates.  They are free publicity for the candidates whether or not they influence voting.  That the media are flacking the debates is amusing.  Usually that is a role left for the candidates' publicists.  The real impact will be afterward in the polls, and we will have several days before those settle down.  Meanwhile, get used to the heavy breathing from the pundits.              

Friday, September 23, 2016

Death Sentence? 

Yahoo has revealed that it was the subject of what is said to be the largest security breach ever -- loss of data on 500 million customers.  Unfortunately for the teetering company, the break-in occurred in 2014, two years ago, and the public is learning about it now.  Will that queer the deal of selling itself to Verizon?  It is too early to say, but already, politicians are weighing in on the failure.  Yahoo claims that the invader was "state sponsored", which means China or Russia.  But that doesn't assuage the pain of the 500 million people who now must change passwords and hope their data is not used against them in some way.  The incident raises a legitimate question about the quality of Yahoo's security and what Verizon is supposedly buying.  The breach might be a death sentence to the deal and to Yahoo.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Needs A New Narrative 

It is hard to prevent this when incidents like this occur.  The narrative of blacks being shot by police officers is deep and bitter for the African-American community.  Even when it is justified, the black community is suspicious and will rise in anger.  Who knows the exact circumstances in Charlotte?  Was the victim carrying a book or a gun?  The police maintain it was a weapon.  His family says it was a book that he was reading while waiting for a family member.  A full-scale investigation by a neutral third-party is in order.  Even then, it is unlikely to be accepted as the truth.  What is obvious is that police are using their guns too quickly in these confrontations. The pistol should be the last resort and not the first.  One can understand the fear that an officer feels when caught in a situation that could spin out of control, but they should be trained to control that emotion and to act more reasonably.  In fact, they are but the schooling might not have taken as it should.  Blue on black is a major PR crisis that needs swift resolution for the good of the country.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Algorithms And PR 

As this story discusses, algorithms are becoming a public relations issue.  It seems Amazon is favoring products it distributes rather than giving customers the lowest possible price for products available through another store selling through Amazon.  There is no good reason for the company to do that except revenue maximization at the expense of customers.  The company ought to know better than to gouge, but it looks as if it is playing games with consumers over the hundreds of thousands of products it sells.  The consumer, not knowing better, pays and moves on until an enterprising journalist reveals the duplicity.  Amazon got its start as the lowest cost provider of books then other merchandise.  If it has now changed its algorithms to favor itself at the expense of consumers, it should say so. The worst thing that can happen to the company is abandonment by consumers because they perceive the firm as dishonest.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Balancing Act 

The Federal government has announced guidelines for self-driving cars.  The rules are voluntary but auto and tech companies are expected to follow them.  This has created a balancing act -- how to spur development of safe self-driving cars while protecting passengers and others.  There is no rulebook for doing this. Autonomous autos are a new phenomenon although they have been tested for years.  The guidelines are an implicit recognition that the technology is here to stay and developers are near the final stages of building mass market offerings of vehicles that will steer, accelerate and brake themselves.  This could be a public relations triumph or disaster depending on the quality of technology.  We have seen already that Tesla's self-driving software is faulty.  At the same time, Google's self-driving machines have traveled millions of miles with only a fender-bender or two when humans in other cars disobeyed rules and common sense.   Self-driving autos not only have to look out for themselves but also for the other person be that individual a pedestrian or drunk driver.  It is a huge technology challenge and a public relations question mark.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Making Up The Facts 

If there is one salient feature of Trump's campaign for president, it is his and his people's tendency to make up facts.  We're used to politicians lying.  It comes with the occupation, but Trump's claims are breathtaking.  In the face of hundreds of reports, he will assert that he didn't do or believe something.  That is the case with Obama's birth certificate, an issue he rode for five years up to and including the present presidential campaign.  Kudos to the media for not letting him or his people to get away with it.  This has been a rough time for the media because they are not trusted to report well, but they can and should state the facts.  The facts are that Donald Trump gave interviews, press conferences and statements pushing the issue and now he denies that he ever did and he blames Clinton for the start of the questioning.  Failure to own up to one's error is disgraceful, but nothing seems to bother Trump when it comes to truth. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Self-inflicted Wound 

Samsung is trying to recall 2.5 million Note 7 phones because of exploding batteries, but the way the company is going about it is a self-inflicted wound to its reputation and brand.  The problem is confusing and missing information in instructions to the public for replacing their phones.  What Samsung needs to do is to make the exchange as simple as possible. Turn off your phone, hand it to Samsung, and we will give you a replacement.  Instead, Samsung is hedging its recall pending an official decision by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  It has also issued a software fix that limits the Note 7 to a 60 percent charge, but it hasn't made that generally available.  Finally, Samsung says it needs more time to study the cause of the explosions.  Leaving the device in the hands of consumers while one tries to figure out the problem is equivalent to pulling a pin on a grenade and handing it to a customer.  There is no doubt Samsung's recall is massive and complex, but it needs to protect consumers first and by so doing, guard its brand.  It doesn't work the other way around.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

No One Is Safe 

One urgent concern for PR practitioners is computer security.  It seems anyone with a tad of recognition is being hacked.  Colin Powell, Olympic athletes, the Democratic Party and on have all been invaded and their jewels of information released to the public.  A question PR practitioners should be asking clients is whether they have anything in e-mail or on their computers that could compromise them.  If so, PR needs to put into place a crisis plan against the day that the data is released by a hacker.  The practitioner also needs to get the information off of the system if possible.  There is little security in changing passwords, even if the words are difficult to decipher.  Hackers use human engineering to trick people into giving away their protection.  Look for more information releases in the future and more PR crises.  It will take time to get ahead of hackers and the only way to do so is through strict computer discipline.  Never write what you don't want the world to see.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


It is easy sport to dump on North Korea and its leader, but sometimes the country's propaganda is too ludicrous to let slip.  Consider this. It is likely the supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, can barely tell corn from beans.   To say he is providing field guidance is a cruel joke on North Korea's hungry citizens.  Note too that each ear of corn, including the one in his hand is perfect and without normal variation.  Either the farmers hand-selected ears or there is a good deal of Photoshop in the frame.  The hard-to-believe propaganda continues for two more photos and captions, neither of which has a shred of credibility.  Also note that the Supreme Leader is surrounded by military men.  Even in an innocuous exercise such as this, he has to project power, for that is all that keeps him in his rotten office.  Propaganda has an effect when it is close to reality, which these photos and captions are not.  One wonders how many more decades North Korea's citizens will tolerate such evil.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What Have You Done For Me Lately? 

Apple computer is facing a consumer trust issue.  Its product purchasers are asking, "What have you done for me lately?"  They are looking for another breakthrough Apple product or service and so far, they haven't seen one.  Call it post-Jobs letdown or the way things work, but the truth is that innovation is not a constant in any company.  There are times when a firm can fundamentally change the course of industries as Apple has done, but they tend to be few and far between incremental improvements.  Tim Cook surely must be aware of this, but the pressure is on him to amaze Apple's customers once again.  That it isn't happening fast enough has Apple fans worrying that the era of radical innovation is over.  It is a PR issue for the company and one that is becoming urgent to solve.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bad PR 

What does it say about a bank that it cannot control its employees better than this?  Wells Fargo, one of the leading and some say the leading, bank in the US has fired more than 5,000 employees for fraudulent credit card dealings.  The bank is paying a steep fine, and that is the least of its bad PR.  It needs to redo its incentive compensation plan, the source of the fraud, and it needs better supervision over its credit card operations.  One wonders how more than two million phony debit and credit card accounts could have been opened without that bank being aware of it.  Clearly, there was a management breakdown of major proportions.  Wells Fargo had a good reputation before this incident.  Now it has to work hard to get back to where it was.  

Friday, September 09, 2016

Silence As A Tactic 

One PR tactic practitioners often condemn  is silence -- making no effort to address an issue or to explain oneself.  But, silence can and has worked, especially when the public supports individuals and organizations.  Consider the National Football League.  Concussions, child abuse, domestic scandals have all rolled off the back of the commissioner who has maintained a steadfast policy of non-engagement.  He can get away with this because football is still the most watched game in America.  Soccer pales by comparison as does baseball, basketball and hockey.  Will it always be this way?  No, but for the time being, the NFL is in a privileged  position.  It can do no wrong in the public's eyes.  Come the day that the public tires of two teams competing on stripes, the NFL will have to be more transparent than it is today, but that might be years away.  Meanwhile, it can exploit its popularity by refusing to comment on issues affecting the league.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Will It Work? 

Google has a plan for disrupting ISIS online recruiting efforts.  The question is, will it work?  The idea is that any time someone searches for ISIS propaganda online, Google will automatically serve advertising and links to sites that are contra ISIS.  On the surface, that might not seem like much, but it is better than letting the terrorist sites stand as is.  It is good PR on the part of Google to make the effort.  Even if only one individual changes his mind as a result of the counter-information, that is far better than the lives at risk from the person's actions of suicide bombing or warfare.  Google is of the size and power to be able to pull this kind of action off.   Kudos to the company for being a responsible citizen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016


ITT vocational schools closed suddenly and left 45,000 students in limbo.  The closure came after the government barred federal financial aid and Pell Grants to its attendees.  That happened because the for-profit institution had a bad reputation for poorly educating students and preparing them for real jobs once they are done.  This is yet another example of how one's actions in the marketplace are viewed positively or negatively by consumers and the government.  The only question is why ITT wasn't penalized sooner.   Its former students are now left to scramble to complete their educations and in some cases to pay off their loans.  Neither will be easy.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Doing The Right Thing 

Samsung has taken the right action by recalling all of its latest cell phones even though the cost to the company will likely be between $1 billion to $5 billion.  The company has lost its momentary advantage over Apple, but it doesn't want to take chances of exploding  batteries in its phones.  One asks how this could have happened and a partial answer is that the company was rushing to beat Apple to market.  There also is the possibility of an unknown defect in the batteries it is using that has caused the meltdowns.  Either way, the company has acted responsibly by getting the phone off the market until the problem is solved.  It is good PR and it saves the company millions in possible tort costs from victims of the exploding phones.  Tesla can learn a lesson here with its refusal to turn off autopilot in its cars even though it has caused at least one death.

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