Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Riding A Whirlwind 

Politicians often balance opposing forces, but so do popes.  This article details a precarious balance the current pope is taking.  He is riding a whirlwind of criticism from within his own ranks -- conservatives who believe he is committing heresy and liberals who are pushing him to clean up the Vatican.  It is a daunting task for an 80-year-old man and one wonders if he is up to it.  No amount of internal relations will placate his right-wing critics.  They want the Church to do it their way.  Pope Francis doesn't agree.  They are out to destroy his papacy and recapture the seat of Peter.  It doesn't matter that the public at large has been supportive of the pope's view and his dedication to the poor and homeless.  His humility doesn't offset a perception that he has gone soft on principle.  That, in the conservatives' view, is unforgivable.  There is little in public relations to soften the anger.  He has to live with it.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

Assigning Blame 

The Taliban are holding captive an American teacher whom they kidnapped.  His health is poor and the Taliban are blaming the US for his condition because the US has failed to negotiate his release.  It's a lame publicity attempt to influence world opinion.  The US has a rule that it won't bargain with terrorists or pay ransom because if it does even once, the kidnappings will never end.  The situation is hell for the captive and his family.  It seems like his government has abandoned him.  Yet, in principle and practice, the US is right in withholding money.  It just looks bad.  There are times when perception goes against one who is doing the right thing.  There is little one can do except to hope for a better understanding later on -- eventual redemption.  Meanwhile, the Taliban grab the headlines.  

Friday, October 27, 2017

Publicity Stunt 

How do you tell the world your country is open and eager to exploit innovation?  Well, you can grant citizenship to a robot as Saudi Arabia has done.  This publicity stunt garnered worldwide headlines and reporting on the Future Investment Initiative, a conference in Riyadh, sponsored by Saudi rulers.   They had Sophia, the name of the robot, speak and answer questions.  It was a disembodied presentation and hardly lifelike, but the robot showed some facial expressions and human qualities.  One problem was around her eyes, which are lifeless and fixed.  The bulk of her expressions were around her mouth where she smiled and seemed to chew her lip.  She was fixed in place and could not move, which also contributed to the artificial nature of the presentation.  Still, as a new citizen of Saudi Arabia, she acquitted herself with her answers to questions from the moderator.  One wonders how she will be counted on a census form.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

PR Challenge 

The NAACP has advised African-American travelers to avoid American Airlines.  The rights organization has cited several incidents in which the airline's personnel have acted badly when dealing with black passengers.  American Airlines is upset over the advisory and publicly noted its disappointment.  It is now a PR challenge for the carrier to show the African-American community that it has no bias against any of its passengers.  This is more than messages to the media.  It extends to gate personnel and airplane staff who need to be sensitized to the situation.  One outcome is that airline personnel will "walk on eggshells": to avoid upsetting African-Americans. That is not desirable either.  All passengers should be treated equally without bias to any group.  What this calls for is training.  One hopes American Airlines is doing it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Power Vanishes 

It is a truism that companies with great power in the marketplace might not stay there long.  We have two examples now - Nike and General Electric.  It is no overstatement to say both were fearsome competitors and unbeatable for decades.  Now, they are trying to find their way.  This happens because the world doesn't stay the same. As events evolve, companies must react and change with them or fall behind.  Nike's competitors have caught up with it.  General Electric, which was a bank under Jack Welch, ran into trouble in the 2008 financial meltdown and hasn't recovered since.  PR practitioners should keep these examples in mind when promoting their organizations.  It is dangerous to be too effusive.  Boasting is a ticket to humiliation eventually. Marketplace power vanishes as quickly as it came.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Classic Marketing 

The family that sold OxyContin to the American public used classic pharmaceutical marketing techniques -- medical spokespersons, giveaways, detail men, studies, etc. There was nothing novel about the methods.  That the pills were addictive was de-emphasized in favor of pain management.  In fact, the drug was marketed as non-addictive for some time.  Purdue was able to get away with this fraudulent behavior because it is a private company with little public oversight other than the FDA.  The Food and Drug Administration failed to understand the dangers of the drug and let Purdue have free rein in selling the pills.  Now the US is in the middle of an addiction epidemic brought on by abuse of OxyContin.  It is serious and people are dying from overdoses across the US.  The lesson here is that pharmaceutical marketing in itself isn't bad, but the misuse of it can be devastating.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Clever PR 

This is cute and clever PR.  KFC planted the references on Twitter and waited until someone would find it.  When they did, it provoked an explosion of media reporting, all positive and tickled by the genius behind 11 herbs and spices. There is plenty of room in social and traditional media for creative presentation, but it is not frequently used and many times it is me-too, following the lead of someone else.  Give KFC credit for developing the idea and acting on it.  It will be interesting to see what they try next.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Credible Source 

Who is better to caution a leader than another one who has been in the same position and knows the strains of it?  That is why George W. Bush's comments are credible in his veiled criticism of the current occupant of the White House.  Calling bigotry and white supremacy "blasphemy" against the American creed, Bush left no doubt about where he stands.  He all but invited a counter-attack from President Trump.  So far, Bush hasn't gotten one.  Bush's speech served to isolate Trump who has alienated himself from all sides in his first year as commander in chief.  All that remains is for Republicans to disavow him formally as some are doing individually.  Some politicians hope to impeach Trump, but that remains a distant prospect.  Right now, it looks like we will have 3+ years of the man before the public can get rid of him.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Power Of PR 

When one has nothing, it is still difficult to band together with others in order to be treated fairly.  It takes an organizer to persuade the downtrodden they can do better.  That is the reason this person has won the MacArthur "genius" grant. Working in Florida he organized poor field laborers who were often cheated of their wages and treated like slaves.  They then approached large retailers in the US who bought produce from farms around Immokalee, FL and convinced them to take part in its Fair Food Program.  Since then, conditions have improved for field hands and the brutal laboring conditions ameliorated.  The power of PR came in highlighting the plight of laborers to companies like Walmart, McDonald's and other major food retailers.  It is much needed.  Decades ago, I worked as a farm laborer and conditions were primitive.  That hasn't changed much in the ensuing years.  Farm hands are at the bottom of the logistic chain and the most vulnerable.  Many are undocumented workers and fearful for what might happen to them if they stand up for their rights.  It takes a powerful voice to gain a hearing.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


PR can fail.  Authorities, companies and other organizations can plead with the public to no avail.  For example, this case.  Governments and not-for-profits harangue citizens to put away cell phones while driving.  But, they haven't.  They continue to talk and text (!) while steering vehicles down the road. There is little wonder accidents have increased.  The logical solution to this dilemma is enforcement -- tickets and steep fines for people caught using phones while driving.  It is difficult to do but not impossible.  Police are trained to be sensitive to how people drive, and they can spot egregious infractions -- people with cell phones to their ear, drivers looking down rather than at the traffic around them with only one (or no) hands on the steering wheel, citizens slow to take off after a light changes because they are distracted by texting.  There should be no quarter given for mistakes like these.  Distraction is worse than speeding. When automated cars become standard, this will change, but for now PR needs the backing of strict enforcement.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Beauty Pageant 

Yet another city has entered the beauty pageant to win Amazon's second headquarters prize.  The promise of 50,000 jobs eventually and the prestige of having such a large e-commerce firm in one's town has sent mayors and governors into a frenzy.  One town and state after another has proclaimed it is best for the second domain.  States have already promised billions in tax breaks should the company choose them.  Jeff Bezos must be enjoying every moment of the competition because Amazon will get buildings and operations tax free for years.  Is such pandering to a corporation unseemly?  It is but the promise of jobs is driving the competition.  Every mayor and ever governor wants to flaunt success in bringing increased employment and high-paying wages to his locale.  It is a huge bonus come election time.  So, the madness continues as one city after another dances to Amazon's tune in an all-out public relations war.

Monday, October 16, 2017

In Control 

There are times when proper public relations is to maintain an atmosphere of calm control.  This is one.  Cabin staff on airlines are supposed to be heavily trained for what to do in an emergency.  It is a sign of professionalism to maintain certitude in the face of massive uncertainty.  The steward's and stewardess' job is to prepare passengers for the unknown be that a chance at life if the plane is brought down safely on land or water.  In an environment of fear, people look for an authority figure to guide them.  This has been true since the dawn of the human race.  People are frightened by a loss of control.  They seek divine help.  They look for leaders to guide them to safety.  Only a few are brave enough to stand up and take charge.  Airline staff are supposed to be those beacons of aid and losing control is a fundamental failure in doing their jobs.

Monday, October 09, 2017


I will take time off from blogging from Oct. 10 through Oct. 15.  I'll be back on Oct. 16.

Rebuilding A Brand 

Samsung is a case study in how to rebuild a brand after a disaster.  The firm was on its back after its Galaxy Note 7 phones began to explode and melt down.  The company was forced to recall millions it had already sold and go back to the drawing board.  Samsung did it by holding itself accountable for the mistake, by tracing the defect to its root cause and through communicating effectively to internal and external audiences.  The company had a war room through which it processed all traditional and social media references to it.  It used its agencies to transmit updates and corrections as quickly as possible.  It defined a new strategy summed in the line, "Do what you can't."  When it launched the Galaxy Note 8, it came full circle and returned to its prior reputation and market position.  Moreover, the Note 8 is selling well.  What it did to succeed was the essentials of crisis PR.  Kudos to the company for turning around its fortunes so quickly.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Bump Stocks 

For once, the National Rifle Association is not opposing a gun control measure.  It has announced it won't fight a law banning bump stocks.  The devices are not weapons in themselves but they turn semi-automatic rifles requiring a finger pull on the trigger each time to an automatic where with one pull of a trigger, the gun fires all the rounds in its magazine.  The Las Vegas shooter was using a bump stock when he killed 58 people and wounded scores of others.  While the NRA did not give a reason for supporting a ban, it has barred use of bump stocks on its firing ranges because they are hard to control and reduce marksmanship.  Predictably, gun owners flooded shops selling bump stocks and bought them out.  Congress needs to act quickly to prevent manufacturers from overloading the market place with the devices.  There is no good reason for the existence of a bump stock.  They are not useful in hunting or in target practice. Their only practicality is to spray bullets in a general direction.  

Thursday, October 05, 2017


Total Addressable Market (TAM) is a standard bit of hype included in venture capital presentations.  It is usually a big number to indicate to funders that the company is working in a large sector of the economy and even capturing a small percentage of market share will sustain and grow the business.  Everyone knows it is phony, but they all use it anyway.  The exaggeration comes in estimating the total market.  The calculation might be more than a SWAG (Silly wild ass guess), but it is not much more than that.  One should expect venture capitalists to discount it by an order of magnitude.  And what of the companies themselves?  They know they are exaggerating and one wonders whether they are doing it in the rest of their numbers as well.  A hyped TAM is a credibility issue.  Entrepreneurs who believe it are drinking their own kool-aid.  That is not a good basis for starting and building a company.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

No Editors 

The Las Vegas massacre proved again that news distribution requires human editors.  Both Google's and Facebook's algorithms picked up and sent out phony stories from suspect sources that news people would have caught. Eventually real news came out but in the interim, there was wild speculation and biased opinions that served as filler for anxious readers desperate to know more about the incident and people who were killed or injured.  One should not be surprised that some people took the fake news as real and continue to believe falsehoods.  Both Google and Facebook need experienced news persons at the gate of their services to catch lies before they are disseminated.  If neither service wants to do that, they should prominently publish on their sites warnings to readers that their information is raw and unvetted.  That way they can partially offset unscrupulous manipulators who use news as a means of gaining leverage or to sow chaos.  

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

What Now? 

In PR we preach listening to your publics, but what if your publics want something that will rupture the organization permanently?  This is conundrum facing Spain in light of the Catalonian vote for independence.  The public wants to break away from the country much as southern states did during the American Civil War  Do you let them go or do you insist as Lincoln did on the sanctity of the union?  Spain's prime minister has called the vote unconstitutional and his police force worked to disrupt the vote creating a PR crisis for Madrid.  He has also called for all-party talks to find a path forward.  There is little chance Spain will give Catalonia independence.  There is a good possibility it will give Catalonia greater autonomy.  Such a solution might also apply to another part of the world where a people are looking to break free of a current government -- the Kurds in Iraq.  Punishment won't change the minds of either group.  

Monday, October 02, 2017

It Just Might Work 

Toys R Us, which put itself into bankruptcy, has ambitious plans for a turnaround and it just might work.  The firm is going interactive with the public and engaging children in its aisles and in playrooms it will set up.  The interactive thrust is Augmented Reality in which through a smart phone app, kids and parents will be able to see animations and have experiences throughout the stores.  The firm was working on the technology before it went broke, and it will roll it out once it gets its debt under control.  It's a smart and creative idea, but the public will ultimately decide if it is enough to boost sales and earnings of the company.  One point will be important in the rollout and that is changing content regularly.  Kids will become bored if each time they visit a store they see the same things. Surprise is an element of success.

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