Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Modern Slavery 

A perfect PR challenge for the world's companies is to combat slavery.  More than 40 million people are held in bondage, most of them women and children.  Companies can make headway in stamping out this crime by ensuring that none of their vendors use enslaved workers.  From there, they can lobby for change in countries where slavery is present. Since money talks, threatening to abandon nations that do not proscribe and enforce anti-slavery laws is one way to approach the situation.  There is no justification for modern slavery except greed.  Workers held in bondage are paid a pittance so owners can reap profits.  There are as well household slaves in many Asian countries -- women held with little or no pay to perform chores around homes.  Companies should make sure that none of their employees practise domestic slavery.  Intrusion into personal affairs is merited.  In any legal way possible, slavery should be annihilated.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Protector Needs Protection 

It is a blow to reputation when a security company needs protection because malware has compromised its software.  That is what happened to Avast.  Its CC CLeaner for Windows software was harmed when hackers installed a backdoor in it.  More than two million users downloaded the affected program before Avast caught on. The company patched the hole but now it needs to reach the users with the update.  The lesson here is that no one is safe and one must stay on alert all of the time.  Hackers are a fact of life on the internet and they will never go away.  Companies can make it harder for them to succeed but they cannot guarantee a program is tamper-proof.  Security companies, especially, need vigilance because they have set themselves up as protectors.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

Credibility Is Everything 

Credibility is everything to an auditing firm, and that is why KPMG cleaned house in South Africa as a result of a scandal.  An auditing firm cannot afford to fight regulators or to work through one with headlines detailing progress or lack of it.  Is it unfair to partners if they were not involved?  Yes, it is. KPMG  could have reassigned them pending the outcome of an investigation, but that might look like it was hiding something. It was good for the senior partner to take responsibility since he was in charge, but that doesn't assuage the cost to reputation from the misdeeds themselves.  There is no merciful way to handle a situation like this.  Public perception demands action even if the blade cuts deeply.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Tone Deaf 

If there is one commonalty of the Trump administration, it would be tone deafness.  Here is one more case of failure to understand the perceptions of what one is doing.  The result is another ding to the reputation of Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.  What makes it worse is that he is independently wealthy, and he could easily afford first class travel on the airline of his choosing.  An airplane is a perk of the President and no one below him.  Even the President is criticized for using Air Force 1 when he is clearly campaigning and not attending to official business.  Mnuchin might have brought the attitude with him from the business world that CEOs and the wealthy deserve their own private jets.  One hopes he and his wife are quick studies and don't put themselves into the spotlight again.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Absence of Credibility 

Philip Morris International has pledged nearly $1 billion to fight smoking, but its critics don't believe it.  After all, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes spent billions fighting anti-tobacco activists for decades.  Why should anyone believe them now?  The company has a strong economic interest in non-smoking tobacco, also known as vaping, which is growing rapidly.  It isn't getting out of business but changing focus.  Still, it bears watching as it pushes smoke-free alternatives.  The company has little or no credibility when it comes to tobacco.  One way or another, PMI comes off as self-interested.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rigor Mortis 

It is not often a PR firm closes because of its misdeeds.  This UK firm has just shut down after being kicked out of the UK PR association for running a racist campaign in South Africa.  Aside from the standard question, "What were they thinking?", it is a reminder that all a PR firm has is its credibility.  Once it sacrifices that, it is useless.  That is what Bell Pottinger did in undertaking a job it should have avoided at all costs.  The firm was greedy and amoral, a dangerous combination, and its stance caught up with it.  It will not be late and lamented.  It stands as an object lesson to other PR firms.  There is only so far one should go before turning down a client.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Positive Publicity 

This shows the power of positive publicity.  So far as I know, Amazon did not advertise its price cuts at Whole Foods the day it took over.  It simply made them and let the media discover with their market basket approach the slashes to the price of food.  The company has garnered miles of free ink and video and store traffic has climbed.  In addition, it has shipped more groceries than before to Amazon customers.  The question facing Amazon now is whether it can keep prices low in its Whole Food stores and make up for the smaller margin on traffic.  The company is a formidable competitor so it is likely that it will.  Jeff Bezos is out to conquer the retail world and he just might do it.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Equifax, the credit rating bureau, has a besmirched reputation, and it deserves it.  The company lost 143 million names, social security numbers, credit card numbers and personal data through a breach of its system, and it delayed in announcing the hack for five weeks.  Privacy advocates exploded in rage over the incident.  It didn't help that company executives sold stock prior to the announcement of the loss.  Equifax has put up a web site to deal with the problem but it is poorly designed and hard to use.  The CEO has released a video in which he apologizes for the intrusion, but it is hardly enough.  It is up to consumers to protect themselves as best they can, and that isn't easy.  It is a PR disaster and the company will need many months to restore its reputation, if it can.  

Friday, September 08, 2017

Too Little Too Late 

Hillary Clinton is out with a new book that explains how she lost the election.  It is too little too late for such an after-action report.  It is also too early for the judgment of history in which scholars will sift much, if not all,.of the events that lay beneath the defeat.  From a PR perspective, Hillary can come off as a sore loser by having done this.  One asks what her objective is by writing so soon after her loss.  The general feeling is that she is washed out as a politician.  Her time in the national spotlight is over and her ambition to sit behind the desk in the Oval Oval office sunk.  Perhaps she feels like justifying her defeat to a person who, so far, is unqualified to hold the Presidency.  She is not above settling scores with other candidates -- Bernie Sanders -- who rejects her description of him.  Whatever her motivation, it is odd such a book would come out now.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

PR Before Performance 

IBM seems to have committed a PR mistake by making a hoopla before it has performance to match it.  The situation is this.  IBM advertised and marketed its Watson AI software as an essential aid in cancer detection and treatment.  But, recent studies have shown that the system has a long way to go before it can be generally useful to physicians. This is a basic error in the conduct of public relations and marketing.  One should publicize the things one has done and not about to do.  Now, Watson and its creators have to work hard to make up for lost reputation as a result of making news too early.  No one is saying Watson is a failure in treating cancer, but they are making clear that it isn't a useful tool yet.  That is a small consolation, but it doesn't help the business.  

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Batter Up 

There are times when use of new technology is not good.  It is cheating.  The Boston Red Sox are finding that out after using Apple watches to steal signs from Yankee catchers.   It was a clever scheme, but now Major League Baseball will weigh in to determine the punishment the Red Sox will receive for doing it.  Sign stealing is a long practiced craft in baseball, and it is allowable as long as one doesn't use a technical means for doing it.  The Red Sox now have a reputational issue for going high-tech.  Their fans might laugh it off, but the rest of the league won't.  Opponents will scrutinize their actions at every game and call foul should the least bit of on-field play seem wrong.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017


Police have an aura of upholders of the law. When they violate that perception, it is inexcusable.  Here is a case of stupidity in which a police detective acted highhandedly and against the law.  As a result, he destroyed the trust of the nurse involved, of those observing the incident and of the public at large.  He deserves to be fired from the force because he no longer communicates the message of protector to the public.  Rather, he is an example of arrogance that comes with power, of exerting one's will over others for no good reason.  The law and law enforcement are dangerous in that regard.  Police and prosecutors wrap themselves in righteousness and trample the rights of others.  They forget to balance liberty with justice.  This does not happen to every member of law enforcement, but incidents like this are a reminder that police can go out of control.

Friday, September 01, 2017

When Will It End? 

Wells Fargo has determined that its employees had created an additional 1.4 million fraudulent accounts.  It has been a year since the scandal broke and there is seemingly no end to it.  The bank's reputation lies in ruins and its recent disclosures are like kicking a dog while it is down.  One must ask how the bank was running so amuck and the only possible answer is inattention by its leaders and a breakdown in operations.  Wells Fargo was not close to the bank people thought it was.  It now has to live down its image for years to come.  Every new slip-up at the institution will garner headlines and another assault on its reputation.  Banking runs on trust and Wells Fargo violated it fundamentally.  Should the company lose customers as a result of this prolonged scandal, that is as it should be.  It is too big to go out of business as a result of these disclosures, but it could well shrink, which would be the least punishment it deserves.

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