Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Cold fusion is the laughingstock of the scientific world. Researchers who pursue studies into the mystery need strong hides to deflect criticism. Yet, some continue because there is something that causes excess heat to be created in electrolysis. Why do scientists risk their careers by pursuing such an out-of-favor technology? Some think they are delusional and see what isn't there. Others are dispatched as charlatans like those who propose so-called perpetual motion machines. I've witnessed this kind of science. Years ago, I was introduced to a researcher who believed nickel was the future of fuel cells. He would brook no opposition to his thinking or questions for that matter. The fellow was an established scientist who had convinced himself of the validity of his approach. Thus far, his view has not gained universal favor and his company continues to putter. Nickel-based fuel cells do work, but the technology hasn't broken through. Cold fusion is steps below the nickel fuel cell. Anyone attempting to do PR for Cold fusion is instantly branded as a crackpot, and perhaps, that is as it should be until there is hard evidence backed by theory for the process.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
This is both smart PR and smart publicity. Domino's Pizza is using reindeer and sleighs in Japan when the snow is too deep for other types of delivery. It is smart PR because the company has figured out how to serve customers during adverse weather. It is smart publicity because the idea has sparked reporting and stories worldwide. One wonders if the idea can be replicated elsewhere and off hand, it seems possible in Northern Europe. The challenge of the idea is getting the reindeer to cooperate. How does one steer a reindeer and get it to stop?
Monday, November 28, 2016
Lies like this are sad, and it is hard to take them from the President-elect. Trump is a PR practitioners nightmare. Using lies to make a point is not what PR does. It bases persuasion on facts rather than falsehoods. There is little worse in PR than an untruth because the media will inevitably discover it and will attack the individual or organization that has promulgated it. It is fatal to correct inaccuracies by spreading more. The result is a lack of credibility for the message sender that renders him useless to PR. There are only three rules to the PR business - accuracy, client service and deadlines. Accuracy is essential because the media believe we lie, and we need to guard our credibility at all times. Client service is of two kinds -- service to the paying client and service to the media that needs correct information. Deadlines are essential to meet the demand for accurate information in a timely fashion. Trump has failed on two out of three of these rules. He is timely but he lies and has no credibility with the media.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
This news story shows that anyone can be a victim of fake news circulating the internet. PR practitioners should be concerned. What they need is comprehensive monitoring of both legitimate and fake news sites. Much of this can be done through search engines, but the goal is to stop fake news before it goes viral. Once it transports to the larger internet, there is little one can do to block it. Like a weed, it is best to uproot it before it propagates. There isn't much that victims of fake news can do other than to sue, but that costs money and time and a business has to keep running to pay for litigation. Corporate targets can strike back, and should. It is unlikely that a progenitor of fake news has resources to pay a judgement against him, but the publicity will help alleviate the fraud. The First Amendment doesn't protect deliberate lies.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
The media are biased against president-elect Trump. They don't like him and the feeling is mutual. This is affecting their reporting about him, especially when it comes to the transition. There have been stories that the transition team is in disarray and unable to announce cabinet picks on time. A look at history shows this to be false. Trump brought this kind of reporting onto himself with his ongoing attacks on journalists. He has motivated them to look for mistakes, whether true or not. This has created a pattern for the next four years. The media will hunt for peccadillos and blow them out of proportion in a game of gotcha. Had Trump shown the least sympathy and understanding of how the press works, they might have cut him some slack. Since he hasn't, it is open warfare. Pity his press secretary.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Those who would deny global warming need to explain facts like these. How is it that the Northern arctic and pole are running 36 degrees above normal? One can indulge in spin to push away the reality for a time, but hard truths keep returning. Eventually, the public will accept facts and spinmeisters are abandoned. We saw this turn happen with smoking. The tobacco industry sowed fear, uncertainty and doubt for decades until the hard fact that smoking can cause cancer was accepted by most citizens. Then government turned against tobacco and the industry has had a hard road since. Global warming is a broader issue and will take more time but the evidence of a public shift is there, politicians notwithstanding. The next administration will deny global warming and will take restraints off the coal industry. Look for intense criticism when that happens and not just from environmental advocates.
Friday, November 18, 2016
An aspect of public relations for Miami Beach is white sand. The problem is the sand is disappearing as rising seas erode the beach. Without dredging, Miami Beach won't have one and sucking up sands offshore to sluice to the beach is a temporary fix at best. The town isn't the only place having this problem. Up and down the coastlines of America the challenge is the same. Those living at the shore are faced with beach erosion and potential flooding from storm systems, and it will only get worse as the century progresses. Eventually, people will have to abandon stretches of coastline or build seawalls that will cut off ocean access. There is no good solution. Global warming has progressed to the point where stopping the ice melt in the arctic and antarctic is probably impossible for decades to come. There is no one to blame but ourselves, but millions don't see it that way. They depend on the Army Corp of Engineers to replace missing sand with dredged material and they continue to live in denial. The outcome will not be good.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
The media were upset that president-elect Trump went out for a steak dinner without telling them. Now they are worried and complaining about press access in the new administration. As much as I defend the media, this situation strikes me as whining. There is no need for reporters to hover over every minute of a president's day, and if a president wishes to have time for himself, then let it be. There is concern that Trump will stiff-arm reporters during his tenure, and that is quite possible. He has made no effort to cultivate journalists, and he has made attacking them a sport. Hence, the elevated sensitivity to the man and his actions. It will be interesting to see whether Trump attempts to mend his negative relationship with the media. Both sides have flung abuse at each other, and it is no secret that reporters can't stand him. Given that, Trump might attempt to end-run journalists using social media tools -- Twitter especially. If he does, it would open a new era in communications.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
If the most sophisticated pollsters missed a key group of citizens in the election, how can PR practitioners remain comfortable using surveys to drive and assess their work? The fact is that most polling has been and will continue to be broken. The problem is with getting a universal sample. Phone and online polling both lack representative samples and are largely junk. Pollsters can no longer depend on home phone numbers for reaching the populace. Most people are on cell phones. Online polling is inherently biased toward those who take the time to fill out questionnaires. While the author of the article expresses optimism that polling companies will figure out how to tap into universal samples, the last three elections have shown that polling has gone awry and no one has found a way yet to fix the problem. Right now, surveys are caveat emptor.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
PR has a challenge if it wishes to take it on -- apathy when it comes to voting. Tens of millions of Americans didn't bother to vote in the most recent election. Most had reasons for staying away from the polls but whatever the excuse, it is hardly good enough. What is a democracy when citizens neglect it? Apathy is not new. Elections have suffered for the lack of participation for decades. One can only assume those who fail to vote are satisfied with the way things are and have no interest in the future of the country as long as they are left alone. Candidates strive to overcome lack of participation with GOTV operations, but that still isn't enough to dent the ennui of the apathetic citizen. How could PR help? By structuring communications and machinery to reach these citizens and convince them their vote counts. Many won't listen but some will and perhaps in the next general election the vote tally will be higher.
Monday, November 14, 2016
How potent are protests to those who aren't listening? Such is the predicament of crowds demonstrating against Trump's election to the presidency. They are five days into their rage against the poll results, and Trump has paid them little, if any, attention. He called them professional protesters. It will be interesting to see if the demonstrations continue or whether they peter out as people adjust to the president-elect and his style. Trump and his family were on 60 Minutes last night answering questions from Lesley Stahl, and for the most part, Trump handled himself well and reasonably. It is not a side of him we are used to seeing. If he backslides into his vicious campaign rhetoric, demonstrations might take on real meaning to Congress and his opponents there, and he will get nothing done. People voted for him because they are tired of seeing inaction in Washington. Trump promised change, and voters will hold him to it.
Friday, November 11, 2016
Facebook has a problem with fake news. False stories keep appearing on its web site news and Trend feeds. Since a majority of Americans now get their news from social media, there is a premium on authenticity. Facebook understands its PR problem but it hasn't yet defined algorithms that capture fake news before it is reported. It might never achieve this. Humans are creative in finding ways around systems. What Facebook ultimately might have to do is to warn readers of the presence of phony news and counsel them to use judgment before accepting a story at face value. That would be a poor substitute for software, but it would be honest.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
When an unexpected event happens, a large component of reaction to it is fear -- fear of the unknown and what changes it holds. That is the response to the Trump election. It shows in media stories like this, this and this. Dread consumes those whose wishes were not granted. But, the important point to remember is that surprises do not necessarily portend negative action. One has to wait to find out, and in the waiting there is time to adjust and influence. Paralysis helps no one, least of all the individual who is too frozen to respond. The proper PR approach is action, forming coalitions, communications to supporters and friends, movement that will hinder or block negative outcomes. If public affairs practitioners and lobbyists in D.C. aren't motivated yet, they should be. They've got slightly more than two months before Trump takes the oath of office. Fear should motivate action and not stasis.
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
The unthinkable happened early this morning with the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton for president of the United States. Individuals, organizations and companies have to come to terms now with a president-elect whom they did not support. But, that is true every four years. Trump is different in that he made few promises other than to build a wall on the border of Mexico and to make America great again -- (whatever that means.) Trump is helped by low expectations for his governance. Anything positive he does will have a significant upside for his image. Anything negative will affirm the poor reputation he has already. From a PR perspective, the Republican party must accommodate him whether it wants to or not. Congress can put the brakes on him by refusing to pass legislation it considers inimical to the public. It is hard to accept such an untested leader, but we must remind ourselves that the current president was a novice as well when he stepped into the role. He hasn't done badly over eight years but last night's election was a repudiation of him, which must hurt deeply.
Tuesday, November 08, 2016
Rumors are the hardest communications to control, especially with consumer products. A falsehood will get started and nothing a company can do will batten it down. Consider this case. Corona, a Mexican beer, was gaining market share rapidly in the United States when someone, perhaps Heineken, started a rumor that the golden lager had urine in it. Sales plummeted. Corona sued a distributor of Heineken for starting the false statement and settled with it to include a public admission that the rumor was not true. But Corona's sales continued down. Even today, there are some who believe Corona has urine in it. It is maddening for the company because there is little one can do or say to stop people from repeating evil tattle. Well-meaning, gullible people repeat such trash and give rumors a continuing life. It is a never-ending PR nightmare.
Friday, November 04, 2016
Sometimes a store is more than a store. It is a symbol of the health of a community and a point of pride. So when the store closes, it sparks anger and disbelief. That is what is happening with a book store in the Bronx. It is the last general interest book purveyor in the borough and residents are taking its loss hard. Never mind that its departure is the result of a rent increase. The business decision to close stings residents who are underserved by government and commerce. The same has happened in thousands of communities around the nation when Walmart opened its giant stores on the outskirts of small towns and bled local merchants to death. There is still a deep bitterness against the company as a result. When a store becomes a symbol, management should treat it differently. That doesn't mean it should be carried when loss ridden but it shouldn't be closed immediately, as this Barnes & Noble wasn't. It took two rent increases to drive the book dealer out. The landlord is determined to get a better yield on his property and he has already lined up a clothing chain to take it over. If anyone, residents should be outraged with the landlord, but it is easier for them to focus their ire on management. The result is an undeserved PR debacle for the book chain.
Thursday, November 03, 2016
Sometimes PR takes courage in the face of intense criticism. Consider Chobani Yogurt. The founder-owner, an immigrant from Turkey, is making it his mission to hire immigrants to work in his factories. Right-wing commentators accuse him of employing muslim terrorists and endangering the security of the US. He could bend to their wishes and fire the immigrants he has on staff, but instead, he has doubled down and is working to make the plight of the newly arrived less onerous. This could cause him a loss of business and put the company into a bind. He clearly understands the potential difficulties he faces, but he continues to work on behalf of immigrants. He trusts that the larger body of the public will support him, and so far, it seems to be doing so. Still, that doesn't take way from the fortitude he has shown in the face of ugly nativism. For that, he is a true American.
Wednesday, November 02, 2016
Here is a case where careful PR and abiding by rules and regulations hasn't worked. A determined group of activists has stopped the thirty meter telescope (TMT) from being built on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. There is no appeasing the protesters who believe the mountain is sacred to their religion and scientists are defiling it. It makes no difference that other telescopes have already been built at the peak of the mountain. For some reason, the TMT has sparked anger. No amount of rational discussion, fact finding, persuasion has dented the implacable opposition. So, the leaders of the project are now talking about moving the instrument to the Canary Islands, even though the peak there is not as desirable as Mauna Kea for stellar observation. The project heads could try to bull their way through objections, but they will need the backing of Hawaiian courts to do so, and so far, they haven't had it. It would be a pity for the US to lose the TMT for religious reasons, but determined opposition can still win the day.
Tuesday, November 01, 2016
The FBI director, James Comey, is in a bind of his own making. He has started another investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mail server just days before the election. Democrats were quick to say it was a political move. Comey said that he doesn't "give a hoot" about the election implications of his decision and he is just doing his job. The media are piling on and taking the Democrats point of view. But what if Comey is telling the truth and he really doesn't care about polls? Could he have kept the investigation secret? Had he done so, he would have shown an interest in the election. And, sooner or later, it would have leaked and caused a greater scandal. The argument that he should have followed established rules is harder to rebut. If any statements were to be made, it would be by the Justice department and not the FBI. But the problem there is that the Justice department is politicized and is watching out for Hillary. That, however, was not Comey's concern. This is a case in which transparency served no one, and Comey would have been far better off remaining silent even at the risk of Republicans calling the decision corrupt. Instead, he has put himself and his agency in a bad light that will take time to change, probably starting with Comey's firing.