Friday, August 31, 2018
This article on the Harvard Business Review web site is something PR practitioners have said all along. Public relations is what you do and not what you say about yourself. Good PR might not have a media component at all. There is less need to defend oneself publicly if one is doing the right things for employees, customers and investors. The challenge is structuring and implementing an organization that achieves the purpose it is proclaiming. Intents go off the rails over time. Business gets in the way. The profit motive supersedes a desire to do good. CEOs gauge themselves against share price rather than customer and employee satisfaction. It is a normal course of events but one that distorts the published goals and mission of a company. PR in its best implementation should be a constant reminder of what an organization wishes to be and of its progress in achieving that.
Thursday, August 30, 2018
There are code words to denigrate individuals and groups. One is the word "monkey" applied to African-Americans. That is why this statement from a white political candidate about his black opponent was objectionable. If he used the phrase without thought, it was serious enough. If he used it deliberately, he is a racist. The word isn't common as a verb, so it is not a situation in which he used slang from everyday speech. His communications people must have winced when he used it. If they didn't, they are as insensitive as the candidate who claimed he was taken out of context. Any way one looks at it, the candidate lost votes with one word. He deserves it.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
You have a PR problem when the White House comes after you. Just ask Google. Trump accuses the company of biasing the news in its search engine. Google has responded and denied that its algorithms are bent. Given the credibility of the current occupant of the White House, one would side with Google. That, however, doesn't change the seriousness of the allegation. Google's search engine and business is under pressure from all sides. The company has upset its own employees by deciding to work with China's censors in developing and offering a search engine there. The EU has come after the company for monopoly power. Because it is big, it is a target. The company needs continued good PR and strong lobbyists. Chances are it will work through the latest accusations without having to change, but it means more work on top of all that it is doing already.
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
It is little things that define character in a person. This story highlights the sense of selfless duty that Senator John McCain brought to the office. McCain had cajoled airlines for years to get a direct flight from Washington DC to Phoenix AZ. When airlines finally followed his wishes, critics charged that McCain only wanted a direct flight home. When McCain heard this, he decided he would not use the direct flight lest he be accused of self-interest. Instead, he continued to book connecting flights back to Phoenix for years. It is that sense of duty that is missing in many Senators and Congressmen. They are in the political game for self-gain and the process is all about me. A perfect example of that is this reaction to his death announcement. No wonder citizens are cynical about behavior in Washington.
Monday, August 27, 2018
A Tesla semi truck is making its way across country alone without escorts or backup chargers. This is welcome news for the company, which has been receiving blows lately, especially for its ill-starred production of the Model 3 sedan. Elon Musk has been on the edge of losing control. He has been doing too much for too long, starting companies and attempting to run them while perfecting a highly complex manufacturing process. Bad news has come in spates, and he is in debt in the billions. Tesla is upright but it is on the thinnest of ice. Any more bad news and it can plunge into bankruptcy. Musk is well aware of his position, and he is in dire want of good news. The journey of the semi might be what he needs to fight another day.
Friday, August 24, 2018
As PR practitioners we depend on newswires such as PR Newswire and Business Wire to be secure. To learn they were not and hackers walked away with at least $100 million through front running press release information is shocking. But apparently that is the case, as this story reports. It means releases held until after the market closed or before the market opened were being read and acted upon minutes to hours before investors could react. It is not that the newswires were unaware or negligent. They were busily plugging security holes, but they could not keep up with hackers. The Securities and Exchange Commission is well aware of the problem, but the SEC also was compromised. It seems there is no good way to stop intrusions, especially since they come from outside the US. This might mean practitioners need to revamp the way they handle news releases, such as sending them with instructions for immediate publishing to cut down on the time hackers have to react to them. It also might mean practitioners need to find other ways of information dissemination that are less vulnerable. Newswires owe it to their subscribers to tell them what they are doing to enhance security.
Thursday, August 23, 2018
Lowe's, the home improvement retailer, isn't doing well these days, but it is engaged in some smart PR. It is testing an exoskeleton with its employees. These devices support the back and legs while one is picking up and moving things. The type the retailer is testing comes from Virginia Tech, and it is not elaborate. It consists of carbon fiber rods that bend when one stoops to pick up something then snap back into place as the person straightens up. Lowe's is well aware that employees are paying attention to its test. Many combat sore backs and legs as they spend 90% of their time in the store bending, grabbing and lifting. Should the company decide to provide these exoskeletons to everyone, it will become a recruiting tool for the company. The message is "Why work for the competition when we watch out for you and your health."
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Who would think that culture change would affect something as ubiquitous and lowly as the straw? Yet, that is what is happening. The plastic straw is disappearing and the paper straw is making a comeback. The reason? To reduce the amount of trash in the world and plastic pollution. It is a little move yet significant since billions of straws are made and used each year. They are finding their way to landfills and oceans where gyres of plastic cover thousands of square miles. Banning plastic straws is a first step. Next should be plastic food boxes used by restaurants for take-out meals and leftovers. We are going back to the future, and that is good. It is also smart PR.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Few things turn off the public more quickly than a fake. It's bad PR to attempt to deceive consumers. That is why this is so wrong. Huawei clearly didn't trust the images from its own mobile phone camera for use in advertising. So it faked an image using a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera to take the picture. The company should have known that it wouldn't get away with the switch. It became news in the tech community as soon as the secret leaked. Huawei looks bad and the company deserves it. Maybe next time it will trust its own technology.
Monday, August 20, 2018
T-Mobile is running an old-fashioned PR campaign to gain support for its proposed merger with Sprint. It is writing pleas to smaller competitors to pen letters and op-eds. The company is offering to supply talking points to help the process along. One wonders in an age of e-mail and internet whether such techniques still work. We're about to find out. The Federal Communications Commission is collecting comments and will rule on the combination in the weeks to come. The argument against the merger has been too much power in the hands of the top three mobile vendors if T-Mobile and Sprint combine. The counter has been that the merged companies can roll out 5G networks more quickly. A question to ask is if the FCC will discount letters of support in light of the PR campaign.
Friday, August 17, 2018
Hundreds of newspapers this week published editorials on the same day (Thursday) asserting that they are not "the enemy of the people" or "Fake News" as President Trump would have it. While it was a good and noteworthy effort, one would be remiss if he didn't think the clarion call was self-interested. No one likes to be called out, especially when it is unfair, as is happening now, but rhetoricians emphasize that repeating allegations in one's defense is not the best approach. "I am not a scoundrel" emphasizes the initial charge. What is better is an appeal to a higher principle -- the First Amendment. Trump wraps his insulting words in free speech and the newspapers he is attacking have a right to do the same. If there must be a pitched battle between "Fake News" and the administration, so be it. Trump will not be around forever and the media can and will outlast him. It is safe to say, even at this early time, that Trump will go down as one of the worst presidents, making Harding seem desirable. The news media shouldn't bother to stoop to his level.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
The Italian company responsible for the bridge that collapsed in Genoa has already been blamed for failing its job. However, as any accident investigator can tell you, it is too early to know the causes of the tragedy and whether maintenance was at the heart of the problem. No matter. The company stands convicted in the eyes of the government and the media. It will take months, if not years, for the business to restore its reputation, and it might never live the accident down. There will be hearings and an investigation but the outcome is preordained. The company might point to the original construction of the span and claim it was faulty, but who is going to listen? It is a life and death scenario for the corporation, and it already knows it will be on the hook for millions if not billions for the failure. Look for the case to be tied up in the courts for the next decade.
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
What moral authority can a church claim with stories like this? The Roman Catholic hierarchy is in crisis not only in the US but worldwide for failing to control and dismiss priests who abuse children. The hypocrisy screams for justice to be done, for bishops and cardinals to be cashiered, for apologies from the pope himself. The Church has been hit time and again in the last few years with sexual abuse allegations, but the Pennsylvania grand jury report is the the first comprehensive look at what priestly predators have done over 70 years. It's ugly and hard to believe, especially since bishops passed the abusers from parish to parish rather than dismissing them from the ministry. What can the Church say credibly now about moral issues? It is just like the rest of men, only worse.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Anyone who has worked in the dairy business -- and I have -- know that it is a brutally hard occupation. Cows produce milk everyday and must be milked everyday in addition to feeding them, mucking manure, cleaning pipes, administering medicine and driving them to and from the barn. Milk workers often get up at 3am to start their day seven days a week and don't get to bed before 8pm. That is why this is great PR. Ben & Jerry's "Milk with Dignity"pact is finally recognizing that dairy workers have suffered too long, and it is a start to normalizing their existence. They now work 6-day weeks under the agreement and they get an annual vacation of five days, scarcely enough for anyone else, but a breakthrough for the milk industry. Ben & Jerry's can do it because it makes a premium product for which it can charge more. Most dairymen don't have that option. They supply a commodity product and are at the mercy of processors who have been cutting the price for milk to an unsustainable level. So, kudos to Ben & Jerry's and its parent company, Unilever, for seeing a chronic problem in the dairy industry and moving to correct it.
Monday, August 13, 2018
PG&E, the giant west coast power utility, is wrapping itself in climate change. Its CEO is saying the company can't be held to strict liability for fires resulting from its power lines because the climate has become drier and hotter. If the utility were to pay claims from recent fires, which destroyed structures and took lives, it would be on the hook for $75 billion, far more than the balance sheet can handle. One could be cynical about this outlook, but California's firefighting officials have made the same point. We are entering an era when a company's messages will have to reconcile a changed world with economic transactions. PG&E is in the vanguard despite denial from the government that climate change is occurring.
Friday, August 10, 2018
One bane of a software developer's existence is an upgrade. Companies and users don't do them and the result is there are many versions of an operating system in the marketplace. This is a problem Google faces with Android. It has just released its latest version, called Pie, but Samsung, which just introduced its newest phone, isn't using it. This is a PR problem for Google. How do you persuade reluctant companies to go along with change? It costs the companies time and money to shift to a new system and understandably, they are reluctant. The question they have is "What's in it for them?" Google has to persuade them that it is better for their customers and they risk being left behind as other companies adapt the new software. That isn't easy, just ask Microsoft when it introduced Windows 10. There was no stampede to it and the company had to wait patiently while customers bought new computers with the upgraded version of Windows installed. Google faces the same delay. It must convince manufacturers of mobile phones that Pie is better and should be adapted immediately.
Thursday, August 09, 2018
When a product in development has been over-hyped and at its debut is just OK, there is media disappointment. Such is the case with the "mixed reality device," Magic Leap One. Reporters were eager to try it on and were not transported by the results. Add to the less-than-stellar reviews the cost of the product -- $2300. The reaction is "After all the publicity, this is what we get?" The company would have been far better off if it had worked to dampen expectations rather than let speculation run wild. The product was developed in secrecy so journalists relied on over-hyped rumors. Magic Leap is now faced with mediocre reviews and its first new product that might not go anywhere in the market. It's a bad position to be in. One hopes they have the cash to develop a second generation that is better. If not, they will go the way of most start-up tech companies. They will cease to exist or they will be bought out.
Wednesday, August 08, 2018
Few companies have to withstand a crisis that lasts five years, but that is what Seaworld has experienced. Its visitor count collapsed when the company was under siege from activists who wanted Orca shows stopped. Seaworld did end them and the Orca breeding program. But, activists were not mollified and the public stopped coming. It has taken five years to increase the flow of park attendees and the company is just now showing signs of health. The previous CEO was fired and it is up to the present CEO to keep park attendance increasing while cutting expenses and boosting the bottom line. The lesson from all this is never to ignore activists, especially when they have the public's ear. It is better to co-opt them if at all possible.
Tuesday, August 07, 2018
This is great PR for a basketball player who could use his millions for living a swank personal lifestyle. He has given students and their parents hope of a better future with all the amenities they need to succeed. Lets hope the affected families take advantage of everything offered to them and put their children through college. There will be drop-outs along the way, which is unfortunate, but there is a good chance that many of these children will break the poverty cycle that keeps so many down in America. James is leaving northern Ohio for Los Angeles to continue his hall of fame career, but his action shows he has not forgotten his home. Kudos to him.
Monday, August 06, 2018
Liars have a perennial problem -- getting tangled in fabrications. They lie then lie again to cover the first lie and so forth. The problem comes when someone documents their words and shows the inconsistencies. Consider this example. President Trump lied about his son's meeting with the Russians. Then, when caught out, he lied again by dictating a note to explain it while denying knowledge of it. Now, he is saying that yes, there was a promise of dirt on Hillary but it was entirely legal to do so, which isn't true either. Eventually, with continuous pressure from investigators and the media, the truth might come out, but at this juncture, Trump is making Nixon look good. There is no percentage in telling a lie, particularly in high-profile events. People are taking notes. The liars hope that no one remembers the first prevarication is futile. That is why PR practitioners should insist on the facts every time, even at the cost of their jobs. The risk to reputation is too great.
Friday, August 03, 2018
It takes a great deal for one's mind to begin to comprehend a trillion. The number is so large it is unimaginable. The figure belongs to government debt or to data stored on computers. The news that Apple is now valued at a trillion dollars is mind-boggling. Its size and wealth are beyond any other corporation in US and probably, world history. The company needs to understand, however, that its exalted position is tenuous. It can fall back at any time should it misstep in product innovation and marketing. Previous behemoths in technology, such as IBM and Hewlett Packard, are still growing and profitable but nowhere near Apple's multiple. Apple will hit a maturity at some point when its technology is ubiquitous and widely imitated. It will need to find another breakout product and that will be difficult. Meanwhile, competitors will keep nipping at its lead in a chance that they can bring the company down. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
Thursday, August 02, 2018
One nightmare for executives is to be trapped by crises not of their own making and that come out of seeming nowhere. For example, like this one. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican's family and laity office, once served under a formal cardinal in Washington DC who stands accused of sexual abuse of young men. He says he is angry and would have done something about it had he known. His problem is that critics say he should have known because he lived in the same rectory as now-disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. There isn't much Farrell can do to convince the public that he didn't have an inkling of the case. He is going to have to live with the suspicion that he is covering up. There are PR problems for which there is no good answer. This is one.
Wednesday, August 01, 2018
Chipotle Mexican Grill is snakebit. Yet another restaurant has had to go offline from food-borne illness. This time under the chain's new CEO. For some reason, Chipotles nationwide have suffered from poisoning outbreaks. The firm has changed its sourcing, logistics and cleanliness practices but to little avail. It just can't get it right and the public has responded by staying away from its burritos. This is a chronic PR crisis for the company and one it must solve sooner rather than later. There are many ways viruses and bacteria can enter a food chain, and a restaurant company needs to guard against all of them. It doesn't have the leeway of occasional lapses. The CEO will have to bear down on procedures to make sure it doesn't happen again.