Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Google made international headlines last year when its artificial intelligence computer beat a Korean Go master in a series of games. It was a publicity coup. Google is at it again with a series of three games between the AI machine and the top-ranked Go player of the world. It has already won the first game with a much-improved system. This kind of publicity has a serious purpose -- to show the capabilities of the computer and to add credibility to claims of what the computer can do. Even if the machine should lose a close game the fact that it can play against a human master and acquit itself worthily is a mark in its favor. These kinds of demonstrations are not new. They have been done for hundreds of years but they work so they are used again and again. They show the confidence humans have in an invention such that they are willing to risk public failure. The chance of flaming out is what captures public interest and keeps it, if the event is successful.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
My daughter graduated from college on Sunday and all the ancient symbols and ceremony were in full display from the grand marshall who led the celebrants in to commencement speeches and awarding of honorary doctorates. The occasion was meant to mark a milestone in a young person's life -- the end of formal education unless one is going on to a postgraduate experience -- and the beginning of work life. Monday was reality day -- packing up to go home and incipient worries about work. The lofty communications of the commencement ceremony were gone but for the memory. Call graduation ceremonies an academic public relations exercise and you will be on the mark. But, it is a wonderful and moving affirmation of education.
Friday, May 19, 2017
Robot makers who are using the streets of San Francisco to deliver meals have a PR challenge. The city wants to ban them. There is a fear that the machines will run over people rather than avoiding them. What Marble, the maker, must do now is to defuse the concerns of a city supervisor. The company has an audience target of one, and that person is convinced robots will go rogue eventually and smash into people rather than deliver the food they are carrying. One way to ease the supervisor's fears is to show him how the robot works on crowded sidewalks with adults and children. Even that might not be enough. The company might need to mount a campaign of citizens who want to be served by robots. Write-ins, calls, appearances at city council, public pressure can eventually wear an opponent down. The question is whether the company has the money and time to get this done. A robot for food delivery is hardly a household necessity.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
English railroads in the 1800s had a PR challenge -- railroad madness. Victorians thought the sound and motion of a train caused men to become lunatics. There were several reported incidents to back their thinking. There wasn't much a railroad company could do about it. Modern psychology and psychiatry had yet to be discovered. So, they accepted the idea of railroad madness and tried to devise means of safety for the passengers on board. Nothing worked well. We in the 21st century can look back and think how ignorant our forefathers were, but were we tasked at the time to combat the idea of railroad madness, the PR challenge would have been nearly insurmountable. The only evidence we would have would be the presence of psychotics on trains. In other words, we would have nothing to work with.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This article is a cautionary argument that Apple won't stay on top of the electronics market forever. The thesis is that no company has done it before, and there is no reason to believe Apple can break the pattern. Apple has passed $800 billion in market value, a dizzying height from which a fall would be extraordinary. But, the company is only as good as its next products and there is no guarantee, even with its fan base, that Apple can continue to hit home runs. At some point, the company will put out a clunker, or a series of them, and consumers will start asking questions and more importantly, start buying other companies' phones and computers. When Apple's income stagnates, the market will take action and the result won't be pretty. Meanwhile, Apple's employees are moving into its new multi- billion-dollar campus, Steve Jobs' legacy to his company. There is no guarantee the building will help Apple be any more successful than it already is. And, if the company meets stiff headwinds in the marketplace, there is a good chance part of the property will be empty and unused.
Monday, May 15, 2017
A tidal wave rolls onto land then recedes leaving wreckage. This tidal wave is surging again and again and the retail industry is helpless to stop it. The public has been well trained by Amazon and other online vendors to look first to the internet. As a result, store owners are looking at their market shrink by the month. It is a perilous time to be in physical retail. One has to offer goods that are not widely available on the internet or must be ready with pricing and service that are unobtainable online. That is hard to do. The public's relationship with retailers has fundamentally changed, and it is unlikely to be restored to what it was before. Something dramatic will need to happen to slow the public from using online. This could be a pervasive malware the likes of which is plaguing Europe at the moment. But even that might not be enough to halt the wave of store closures.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Dictators don't listen to citizens. Rather, they tell their publics what to think and do. In an era of democracy, it is harder to be a sole power but not impossible. There is Erdogan of Turkey, Maduro of Venezuela, Kim Jong un of North Korea and several more authoritarians on the world scene. They have stifled opposition in their countries and have kept their troops under control to protect their positions. Public protest is put down savagely. They might masquerade under a concept of democracy, but there is no free choice and the public learns to control its thoughts to survive. Those who cannot endure a dictatorship flee and look for a better life elsewhere. This causes dictators to close their borders to keep their people in. Dictators survive in an era of global communications by cutting off or regulating the internet The concept of public relations is laughable to them. The public is just a thing to be crushed.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
This is an example of great PR and community relations. The problem of homelessness in Seattle is acute, but Amazon could have decided to build its new building for itself. Instead, it acted nobly by letting a homeless shelter stay and be part of new construction. It is hard to think of another example of something like this. The article notes that Amazon is the largest employer in the Seattle area, and it has a ravenous need for room. To willingly give up some of the space it will build for itself is especially an act above and beyond self-interest. Kudos to the company.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
A gate agent is the point of contact between an airline and customers, and it seems that an open season has been declared to rough them up. It makes little difference that agents might merit some pushback for unreasonable behavior. When pilots strike, agents take the brunt of protest. When there is an altercation over ticketing, agents are in the middle of it. They aren't prepared for the customer nastiness that results, so they fall back on procedure which isn't adequate. An airline's public relations takes a hit each time a set-to occurs. Would you book a flight on Spirit Airlines after the melee in Florida? At least, you would think twice before taking the risk. The problem is that agents have limited power. They can't conjure a plane and a crew and if neither are there, no one is flying. Disappointed customers vent their wrath on the agent as the representative of the company. That agents haven't handle anger well is understandable. Airlines are falling down on the job.
Tuesday, May 09, 2017
A story like this should make a CEO shudder. A Teflon reputation can disappear in a second. It only takes one article that captures the public interest and one's credibility can be threatened. CEOs should resist reporters who want to write about a company's enduring esteem in the eyes of the public. They should emphasize to employees that reputation is delicate and easily lost. Hence, one should work constantly to uphold it and avoid flaunting it lest one become too satisfied. Amazon has had some difficult stories to overcome -- mainly, the way it treats employees -- but it has not hit a downdraft like Uber. For that, it can be thankful, but it should not feel righteous.
Monday, May 08, 2017
Here is a fellow who has cried, "Wolf" too many times. Even if the US would like to remove him (and it certainly does), who is going to believe South Korea and the CIA have assassination squads in the North? Kim Jong-un is paranoid and self-inflated. He is also brutal and has had several of his top executives murdered because he suspected them of disloyalty. In such a bubbling stew of intrigue, anything is possible and the only survivor is he who rules with an iron hand. Comparisons to Stalin are appropriate, but the country is tiny and insignificant but for its weapon and missile programs. Kim has progressively cut himself off from the outside world. He has rebuffed China, his only ally and he is an active threat to South Korea and Japan. As his weapons technology improves, he becomes more dangerous by the year and his fear of assassination is entering the realm of reason.
Friday, May 05, 2017
Silicon Valley technologists are trying to help California's farmers save water. Eighty percent of the liquid goes to farming, so more efficient use is essential. Already, more than 500,000 acres have gone fallow in Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley because of a lack of irrigation. With an inevitable return of drought conditions, the problem of keeping plants and trees alive and growing will once again be critical. But, farmers aren't welcoming technologists with open arms. Agriculture is a conservative business. It is hard to change routines and processes that work for something unproven. This is why technologists have to go to farms and listen to farmers first. It is ground-pounding PR one farmer at a time until thinking changes and everyone starts to use a new way of producing food. And that is as it should be. One bad crop can wipe a farmer out. There is a fundamental need to test technologies thoroughly before introducing them.
Thursday, May 04, 2017
If there is one failure that annoys citizens no end it is the spam robocall. They come at all hours of the day and their pre-recorded messages are maddening. The Federal Communications Commission has admitted defeat in stopping them, so it is writing new rules and procedures to slow if not stop them. Will they work? It is much too early to know, but its appeal for help from the private sector indicates that the government body is none too confident it has the answer. Robocalls are not just poor PR. They are anti-PR. Senders have no interest in relating to the public. They just want its money and they are willing to do just about anything to get it. It is telephonic theft.
Wednesday, May 03, 2017
One way to look like a fool is failure to know history. President Trump is learning that lesson -- or maybe not. He doesn't know much or anything about those who came before him in the office, and it is creating a PR problem for him. A schoolboy would know that Andrew Jackson had nothing to do with the Civil War and that Lincoln was a Republican, but not Trump. It demonstrates yet again how ill-prepared he was. Add to the mix that he doesn't read but watches television instead, and there is little hope for educating him. If he were half-smart, he would avoid topics about which he knows little, but he sails in with confidence of the ignorant. Those about him cringe, but there is little they can do while he controls the Oval Office. At this juncture, it is hard to believe he can be more than a one-term president.
Tuesday, May 02, 2017
New documentaries mark the 25th anniversary of the LA riots that occurred after the police beating of Rodney King. It was a watershed event because a civilian with a video camera recorded police brutality. Since then, with miniaturization and the rise of cell phones, video of events has exploded. Police are not the only ones being watched. So too are criminals. It is hard to think of an incident now in which there is no video. Police departments are handing out body cameras to patrolmen and analyzing their actions. It is part of community PR to have video to defend oneself or to prosecute cops for bad behavior. Still it doesn't prove or disprove absolutely what has occurred. Actions are often obscured during stops. A policeman can claim a person was reaching for a gun, and it is hard to prove that didn't happen even if no gun is found. Video, however, gives a new set of eyes on police behavior and that is welcome.
Monday, May 01, 2017
Google has a PR challenge in how it uses raters. These are contracted staff who perform daily tasks on Google, including making sure advertising is not placed opposite inappropriate content. The challenge is making these 10,000 people feel like they are part of the search giant. They aren't. They are outsourced employees of separate companies and as such, they enjoy none of the benefits of Google's hires. Because they are not part of Google but still a vital part of the search giant's work, they should be treated better than they are, but they aren't. Google has taken a hands-off approach, which is what clothing and shoe companies did in Asia. It took activist pressure to change the ill-handling of employees there. Google could be facing the same kind of force to revise relations with raters and setting standards for its contracting companies. If Google were canny, it would move now before its brand is smudged by more sad stories of a rater's life.