Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bottom Feeding 

Americans were supposed to be freed of intrusions on their privacy from unwanted and unsolicited phone calls.  It turns out that the DO NOT CALL list doesn't work well. An operator can get a fine but no one has gone to prison.  Why do companies persist in making these calls when most recipients are angry about getting them?  It is poor PR.  But, consider what they are doing.  They send out tens of thousands of calls for dollars and they get  a dozen or so live customers whose patronage pays for the effort.  It is bottom-feeding, plowing the mud for clams.  These kinds of companies care less whether one is upset over an unsolicited call.  That person isn't a customer anyway.  So, the individual hangs up with a few choice words to go with it.  That is no loss to the companies.  Meanwhile, they skate on the edge of the law and pay their fine when the FCC acts.  The government needs to jail robo-callers to get them to stop, but it doesn't seem willing to act.  

Monday, January 30, 2017


How careful would you be in working with a company whose chairman is a convicted felon and who has with him two other convicted felons?  Yes, everyone deserves a second, even a third chance, but one should still take care to verify business dealings with the firm.  This is the situation with the Kushner Companies, whose CEO, the son of the felon, is now advising the Trump administration.  Reputation matters in a case like this.  How has the former convict acted in the past and how might he operate in the future?  The case that sent him to prison was particularly noxious and indicated an individual who would stop at nothing to get his way.  Has he mellowed and found a new sense of morality or is he skating close to the limits of the law?  Only time will tell, but meanwhile he is conducting the business of his companies while his son counsels President Trump.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Limits of PR 

After 50 years and billions spent to wean Americans from tobacco, a recent study shows that 1 in 4 citizens still use some form of the plant.  Cigarette smoking has declined but the use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed.  This shows the limits of PR.  People can be persuaded to go only so far before they confront addiction and behavior -- a most difficult thing to do.  Persuasion can't change habits.  It can provide strong reasons for doing so, but it cannot substitute for willpower.  That comes from the individual.  I can recall many years ago while working on a psychiatric ward an incident that proved the case.  A man dying of emphysema, caused by smoking, was placed in the locked section, so he could not get access to cigarettes.  Although he was wheezing and barely alive, he still wanted another one.  He was content with smoking himself to death.  No amount of persuasion can change a situation like this.  Ultimately, PR belongs to the individual and whether he or she chooses to believe an argument and then act on it.  PR can never force a conclusion.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tough Challenge 

How do you build an audience in America for a sport  loved the world over but not in the US.  No, we are not writing about soccer but Formula 1 racing.  So far, the only successful motorsport circuit has been NASCAR.  There are single races that rise to national attention -- e.g., the Indianapolis 500 -- but sustained awareness for any other auto race is lacking.  This makes for a tough PR challenge for the owners of the Formula 1 franchise.  So far, there is one circuit in Austin, TX, but they want to expand it to several US cities.  That will take time, millions in preparation and hundreds of permits to put the open-wheel machines on city streets.  It will also require cultivation of a fan base to ensure turnout and a healthy TV audience.  The prospect for that to happen is not bright.  Soccer is still not a mainstream sport in the US after decades of trying.  The rarified world of Formula 1 has strikes against it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Civility And Trump 

Here is an opinion piece that PR practitioners should read.  It posits a fact that one cannot outdo President Trump with invective without lowering oneself to his standards and giving him fodder for reprisal.  Rather, critics should remain civil and rebut his assertions with reasonable discourse.  There is no satisfaction in calling him a liar, but one should point out his lies and rebut them as they arise.  Invective is a distraction from the reality at hand.  One should be reporting closely on what Trump is doing in order to educate the public that sent him to the White House.  Name-calling does no one any good.  Even though one feels rage about the situation, it is better to contain it and with icy calm to bore in on his errors and make them public.  Is it hard to do when one is foaming with anger?  Yes.  But it is necessary.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Staying The Course 

California is having a wet year after five years of drought.  Reservoirs are full. The snow pack in the high Sierras is 10 feet deep.  Rivers are flowing again.  There is a temptation among its citizens to go back to watering their lawns, taking long showers and otherwise wasting the resource.  Now is the time for-PR to remind people that the drought is not over and perhaps, never will be over with climate change.  One good year out of five is not enough to replenish aquifers nor is it enough to satisfy the water demands of farmers and urban dwellers.  State and local governments need to train citizens in water conservation for the long haul, and it will be difficult after a year of flooding and relentless rain.  Staying the course is never easy, especially when it looks like one has reached the goal.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Too Big To Succeed? 

In the finance world, banks might be "too big to fail."  In the electronics market, the opposite might be the case.  At least that might be the situation in which Samsung finds itself.  Its top-down and harsh culture was part of the spectacular failure of its mobile phone, the Galaxy Note 7.  Its mobile chief detailed the problems with the battery that caused fires and explosions and took the responsibility for the defect, but that doesn't change the driven environment in which its employees work.  Samsung might be setting itself up for more failures in the future unless it overhauls internal relations with employees.  It is one thing for the CEO to demonstrate inclusiveness.  It is another to change the behavior of managers below the CEO who were raised in a rigid top-down culture and don't know any other style of management.  Retraining might take years and Samsung doesn't have that kind of time in the cutthroat marketplace for consumer electronics.  One failure might be all that it takes to throw a company behind.  The Galaxy Note 7 fiasco could spell the end of competitiveness for Samsung phones.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Power Corrupts Perspective 

Those who are hoping Donald Trump will become a different, more inclusive President are likely to be disappointed, according to behavioral research..  The article states the situation clearly: 

"Power reveals individuals' true intentions and leads to them being less willing to take others’ perspectives."

If Trump is close minded now, he is likely to remain that way for his four years?  His combativeness is likely to remain and become worse.  His self-referential ego is unlikely to change.  It will be interesting to hear his inauguration speech.  What can he say to wipe out the negative feelings of almost half of America?  Can he control himself in the face of protesters?  Trump is shaping up to be a PR case study in disastrous communications and action.  The ironic part is that he isn't aware of it, as far as anyone can tell.  He knows he is right and that is all that matters.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Shareholder Value 

This is worth reading in its entirety.  The author defines six modes of shareholder value that a company can take.  The first, corporate fundamentalists want to boost profits and share price immediately.  Nothing can sway them from the goal.  The second are corporate toilers who want to boost share price but are more patient about it.  The third group, corporate oracles want to boost share price but do so in light of societal/legal changes that will be coming down the road.  The example is becoming a green company before it is mandated.  The fourth, corporate kings, are so successful in creating shareholder value that they can ignore it for awhile and still succeed.  The fifth are corporate socialists who believe shareholder value is not as important as the needs of society.  The sixth and final group are corporate apostates who ignore shareholder value completely and use the money they make for other purposes.  Companies can move from one category to another based on their leadership's views.  The article is a nice summary and worth noting because it shows how communications should shift based on a company's concern for shareholder value.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Future Technology? 

Three D movies and broadcasting always seems to be a future technology.  The industry tried again last year to sell 3D TV sets but once again failed in the attempt.  Although some movies are coming out in 3D, the movie industry has not adopted it on a major scale.  There are reasons why.  People don't like to wear glasses when watching a movie.  3D is often used gratuitously rather than advancing a plot.  Some movies don't lend themselves to 3D.  The technology is not new.  It has been around in various forms since the 1950s, but it failed to sell then too.  It seems 3D is a medium of a future that never quite comes.  The same thing happened to the picture phone.  AT&T introduced the concept in the early 1960s, but it didn't sell then or anytime in the next 30 years.  It wasn't until the internet was firmly established that people began "face-timing" one another and then they weren't using a landline phone but their computers and later, mobile phones.  It is a mystery that some technologies fail to impress even when they have proven benefits.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New Industry, New PR 

The stodgy auto industry is becoming new with the advent of driverless vehicles.  Old habits are being shucked for collaborations with tech companies that have the software and hardware for autonomous cars and trucks.  This will necessitate a change in PR for  manufacturers and marketers who have for more than 100 years touted the pleasures of steering a machine in all sorts of environments.  It is likely that driverless vehicles will be promoted as a safety feature to begin with.  That is how current technologies are being  featured -- backup camera, auto braking, self-parking, steerable headlights, lane keeping.  From safety the PR will eventually move to convenience -- working in a car while it is driving, watching video without distraction of lane changing and turning.  The old-line manufacturers will test autonomous vehicles for a million miles or more and will proceed cautiously with a roll-out.  In the meantime, they will study the consumer base to see how driverless machines will be accepted.

Monday, January 16, 2017


To attack a much-honored civil rights leader because you don't like what he said about you is incorrigible.  Yet, that is what President-elect Trump did on Twitter.  He has no shame nor any sense of PR.  He thrives on publicity, which he demands to be positive about him.  Anyone who would dare criticized him for his behavior is anathema.  It is sad that we are looking to four years of this kind of vituperation.  (I can't believe that Trump will serve a second term.)  The best we can do is to ignore him rather than let rage get the best of us.  If we can achieve a point of balance and simply acknowledge that he is a buffoon, then we might be able to move forward.  It is too early to know the damage he might cause to the economy and foreign relations.  We will need to take that step by step.  It is too much to hope for an impeachment.  Trump is a fool who skates on the edge of the law, but he seems to have an instinct for where soft spots are and he barely misses them.  The Republicans in Congress are going to have to discipline him by refusing to go along with the worst parts of his behavior.  Meanwhile, ordinary citizens like us have to learn to live with him.

Friday, January 13, 2017


The San Diego Chargers are now the Los Angeles Chargers.  Leaving San Diego after 50 years has produced a psychic wound among fans of the football team.  Many will say, "Good riddance."  Some will follow the team north and continue rooting.  The move is not unprecedented.  The Oakland Raiders moved twice and returned to the East Bay.  The Indianapolis Colts left Baltimore in the dark of night to the rage of forsaken fans who have never forgotten the slight.  The PR challenge for the Charger's owner is now to build a new fan base, and that won't be easy with another franchise in town, the Los Angeles Rams who also have moved twice.  The two teams are getting a new stadium. This was the friction for the Chargers in San Diego where a vote for a new structure was defeated.  The question now is whether Los Angeles can support two franchises.  That will not be known for years to come.  Thus far, only New York has been able to support two teams -- the Jets and the Giants.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Out Front 

Nearly all big box retailers are cutting back, laying off retail workers and closing stores due to poor sales.  Wal-Mart is different.  It is cutting back on corporate staff but keeping store employees untouched.  The company realizes its PR is at the store level and between floor employees and consumers.  Stores with fewer retail staff tend to be dirtier, have inconsistent inventory and are harder to find items in.  Keeping retail staff boosts morale in its aisles.  Wal-Mart has been a target for unionization for years.  So far, the company has beaten back activists, but it recognized that it couldn't go on paying the minimum wage and win the reputation war.  Now that it is keeping its retail workers and cutting corporate staff, it is showing good faith to consumers and its own workers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The White House Press 

This is a discussion of why the White House press corp is no longer needed nor valuable to the media or citizens.  The problem is that it is an anachronism, and it never worked well anyway in terms of covering the President objectively.  President-elect Trump has successfully end-run the mainstream media with his twitter and social media presence.  He has stiffed reporters for months at a time because he doesn't like them -- and the feeling is mutual.  The White House press office is a medium and it is no longer as effective as it once was.  Good PR dictates that one change a medium when it no longer works well.  Will the reporters and journalists now scatter across Washington to report on how the President is doing?  Don't bet on it.  There is a magnetic pull toward the locus of power even if one is shut out of its considerations.  Look for more junior reporters to staff the room now even though it is a dead-end, and there might no longer be daily press briefings

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


A tech company creates a new product.  It takes the market by storm and the company scrambles to keep up with demand.  Meanwhile, its other products mark time or wither and R&D struggles to develop the next big thing that equals the curve of the current product.  When skyrocketing growth stops, the company finds itself in trouble because it doesn't have a replacement for the maturing device.  This, more or less, is the transition Apple is experiencing.  The iPhone drove the company for 10 years but sales are slumping because everyone who wants a phone has one, and the replacement market is a fraction of previous demand.  It is a tough position to be in from a public relations perspective.  Company fans are asking, "What's next?"  Apple has answers but none yet are as appealing as the iPhone.  It might not find the next big thing, if history is a guide.  I've seen this scenario 30 years ago when a company rose and fell on the creation of word processing.  The business wasn't ready for a technological shift in the marketplace and it went bankrupt when it could no longer sell dedicated word processors.  Apple is in no danger of going broke, but it does face a struggle to create new marketplaces that cumulatively are the same size as the iPhone.  Meanwhile, it has to keep its fans happy and customers coming back.  Messaging will be important during this period..

Monday, January 09, 2017

Political Theater 

This week is the beginning of an extended run of political theater.  The President makes his farewell address.  The incoming President meets with the media, but most of all, the Senate takes up a pile of confirmation hearings for Trump's cabinet.  The predictable will happen.  Republicans will praise the nominees and Democrats will throw stones, ask hard questions and otherwise try to derail picks they don't like.  The media, attuned to good theater, will run stories about the controversial picks and barely mention those that skate through the process.  If the incoming President were a Democrat, reverse the roles and play the script exactly the same way again.  One wonders why both the politicians and the media don't get tired of the theater, but they don't. Since the cast of characters are new, each occasion is presented as a different play, one never seen before in Washington and not to be seen again. But, voters are suffused with boredom.  They've seen the drama too many times.  

Friday, January 06, 2017

Hard Task 

The new governor of Puerto Rico says he will push hard to achieve statehood for the island.  That is a tough PR challenge from several points of view.  Puerto Rico is a financial disaster at the moment, and people have been leaving the island for the US.  Previous governors of the island have wanted statehood and never succeeded.  Congress isn't of a mind to grant statehood.  The governor has to convince not only his citizens but the populace of the US that his island is worthy of joining the ranks of 50 states. If he should succeed, the island will be the first with a native language that is different -- Spanish -- and it will be the first Caribbean country to link to the mainland.  A positive note for the governor's efforts is the close relationship between Puerto Rico and cities like Miami and New York where tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans dwell.  But still, it won't be easy.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Slow Death 

Watching a brand die is an ugly, disheartening experience, especially when that brand once dominated the marketplace.  That is what is happening to Sears.  People of a certain age remember when the retail chain dominated America's malls.  It was an anchor store. Tens of thousands moved through its aisles monthly.  Then it was bought out by a financial engineer who thought he knew how to run retail.  He wrecked the chain and along with it the struggling K-Mart stores.  Now he is doing the only thing he knows how to do -- closing stores and retrenching in a process of slow strangulation.  The problem with Sears is that consumers don't need it.  They have plenty of shopping options whether online or on the floor of other stores.  Sears has not kept up and the harder it struggles, the worse it gets.  There is no compelling story behind the brand, no sense of flair, nothing to entice consumers into its space.  It needs lessons from Target, which has a sense of style that Sears is missing with its stodgy approach.  Sears should be a reminder to marketers and communicators that nothing is safe in the marketplace.  One needs to work each day to advance a brand or watch it slip quickly into irrelevance.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Hype Machine 

It is good that a medium can call Silicon Valley publicity what it is -- hype.  In a review of 2016, Wired reports that the "hype machine sputtered."  All the promises of forthcoming and groundbreaking technologies failed to produce a major breakthrough.  That, however, didn't stop the drum beating and flacking.  The Valley has over-promoted itself for decades and still gets listeners in the media who write about the next big thing before it is fully developed and tested in the marketplace.  PR practitioners have been willing accomplices in this hype machine since the beginning.  It is profitable business for them, but they stretch the truth daily to please their clients, which is not good.  How many times can one proclaim the next revolution before members of the media become cynical?  It hasn't happened yet, but articles from media like Wired are a harbinger of tougher reporting.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2017 - A Tough Year? 

Many were glad 2016  ended.  It was a difficult year with notable deaths and a shocking result of the presidential elections.  2017 isn't offering much in the way of promise.  For one, the presidential inauguration is days away, and we will have a new leader who must choose between acting the buffoon or behaving responsibly.  For another. terrorism hasn't slowed, and although the economy is better, it still might slow again.  There is no way of knowing at this point.  While it is traditional to look at a New Year with a sense of hope, this year instills a sense of danger.  PR practitioners should unfold their programs with caution, being prepared to change or pull back their messages.  If all goes well, come next December one can breathe easily.  If not, one can rest on being ready.

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