Thursday, January 31, 2019
Diesel sales nearly died after the Volkswagen emission-rigging scandal, but some technologies are hard to kill. The company says sales of diesel cars have nearly returned to normal. They still have a way to go but Volkswagen seemingly has overcome its blackened reputation. PR apparently had little to do with it. Diesel cars are less expensive to run in Europe and the fuel is widely available. Moreover, the infrastructure for electric vehicles is not yet in place. So, even though it is a dirtier engine, it has years more to run. Volkswagen is making efforts in building battery-powered cars but it has a long way to go. Tesla doesn't have competition yet.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
To foster competition among hospitals the Federal government mandated that they post their prices online where patients can compare procedures. Hospitals haven't done that, however. They've put up interminable spreadsheets of individual charges that are so complex no one can understand them. Some put up their "chargemaster" files which give everything a hospital can possibly bill for but no explanation for any of it. It is false transparency and poor PR. There is an opportunity, however, for entrepreneurs to wade through these messes and construct packages for typical care that consumers can use. Hospitals won't like it but they could have done it themselves. They just don't want to. The government will need something more to level the playing field.
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
What do you do when your founder considers a run for President over loud opposition? This is the position Starbucks finds itself in. Howard Schultz is publicly noodling whether to run as an independent for the White House, and Democrats are terrified he will split the ranks and give another four years to Trump. They are threatening a boycott of Starbuck stores if Schultz decides to go ahead. What is Starbucks to do? It can't easily divorce itself from its founder and long-time CEO. Schultz is branded with the stores. He had been the face of the company for decades. The company will probably maintain silence. What else can it do other than note that Schultz no longer works there, and it is his right to do as he pleases as a private citizen? It would be dangerous for the company to publicly support him. Meanwhile, media monitoring at the company must be a challenge.
Monday, January 28, 2019
Over the decades auto manufacturers have tried a number of times to form direct connections with customers. But auto dealers have blocked them. They are a powerful lobby in statehouses and have used their influence to strengthen their position. What happens, then, when an auto maker who never has had dealers comes to market? This is the situation in which Tesla has found itself. It has always sold direct and is not going to change its position. The electric auto builder must use the power of persuasion in the face of firm opposition, and it is not easy. Bills to allow direct sales have failed a number of times. Tesla needs public pressure to back its position and that means a public relations campaign. Most people don't know or care that they cannot buy direct. They need to understand the benefits of doing so and be ready to support Tesla when the time comes. Lobbyist against lobbyist is not enough.
Friday, January 25, 2019
Carlos Ghosn, residing in a Japanese jail, has resigned from Renault. He was an all-powerful globe-trotting CEO until the Japanese accused him of under-reporting his income. Now he is fighting to stay out of prison. It is a spectacular come-down for the man and the companies he headed. It proves again that few are above the law for long. There is no proof yet that Ghosn is guilty of what he is charged, but that makes no difference. He is finished and is unlikely ever again to rise to a position of power. It is a reminder to communicators to avoid exalting leaders and setting them apart. Media positioning should emphasize closeness to the common man. The imperial CEO is dead. There is a broad movement to bring the powerful down closer to the rest of us. Society doesn't like oligarchs even if they have fairly won positions and wealth.
Thursday, January 24, 2019
He says he was upgraded to first class based on the thousands of miles he has flown and he had every right to be there. It didn't work out that way for GOP Congressman Rodney Davis. He was confronted by a passenger who demanded to know why he was sitting there when the government was shut down. It was a matter of appearances. It looked bad and hence, someone took offence. This is a perennial bugbear in public relations. Even though organizations and individuals have leeway to engage in an activity, they might be prevented by how it looks. It takes courage to proceed and a willingness to combat criticism. Perception is an enemy of action.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
It is the lowest form of PR to game ratings, such as this case. Companies that want to make themselves look good have been placing positive comments about themselves on Glassdoor. It is an endemic problem that all ratings services have. There is a lack of honesty on both sides -- negative and positive reviewers. Some bear grudges and want to get even. Some have hubris and try to offset valid criticism. There is a valid question whether any public rating service can ever be indicative. As much as companies like Amazon try to get rid of bad actors, they find ways in. The only result of such gaming is that it vitiates the entire system. Who can trust any rating when one knows that some are phony? It is a headache for ratings services and for users.
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Some people refuse to change their minds in the face of mounting evidence. Nothing will persuade them their position might be wrong. When it comes to climate change, facts are piling up but there is still a large contingent of Americans who say it is bogus. Scientists warn on a monthly basis with new sets of indicators but deniers pooh-pooh it all and go about their way. It is hard for PR to change this. We must wait until one-by-one citizens swing over to a different view. The situation is like that of anti-smoking efforts, which took decades to succeed in the face of strenuous opposition from tobacco companies. In the climate case, we have a President who doesn't accept it and is a strong supporter of coal interests. There will be little headway until he is gone. The issue will become all the more urgent as years pass and the globe continues to warm. At some point, a majority will accept the shifting temperatures and something will be done. Just not yet.
Monday, January 21, 2019
But for the racism of the 19th Century, we might be celebrating Frederick Douglass Day. He was the foremost orator and abolitionist of his time who rose from slavery to celebrity before he died 25 years after the end of the Civil War. He spoke with Lincoln. He traveled across the North and the Midwest delivering hundreds of speeches calling for the destruction of America's original sin. He was a fearsome writer and intellect who saw and foresaw the pre- and post-Emancipation challenges of Black Americans. He had a brief moment of triumph when slavery was abolished but then saw the post-Reconstruction South descend into lynch mobs and Jim Crow. He never gave up until the day he died in his 77th year. He believed in the power of the spoken and written word and he was an inspiration to both blacks and whites. The country owes him much and is still reaching for the ideals that he called for 150 years ago.
Friday, January 18, 2019
Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, is making bold pronouncements about his company. One wonders if he has gone too far in consigning competitors like Disney to the margins. There is confidence and there is hubris. It might be hard to tell the two apart. Overall, it is smarter to maintain a sense of caution when communicating about the future. No one knows what will happen and the best plans get derailed. That is not to say Netflix is in a weak position. It isn't, but even the strongest companies can run into walls they didn't anticipate. Think of General Electric. Think of Sears. Think of Enron. It is best to remember that human planning and foresight are limited. We can't anticipate everything, and even if we did, there isn't much we can do about most of it. A CEO can be full of himself and make the work of communicators difficult. They know, or should know, the vagaries of life, and they should proceed with respect. When their boss ignores the future, there is a heightened chance of disaster.
Thursday, January 17, 2019
TV commentators, especially, should be accurate about what they say. Otherwise, this might happen. An African-American analyst for CNN accused her radio host of having white privilege when her unseen interrogator is black himself. It was an embarrassing moment, and there was nothing she could do to backtrack. The host took the opportunity to scold her for making assumptions and then emphasized his point about the need for qualifications to rise in the business. That doesn't mean the CNN analyst was completely wrong about the point she was making but she destroyed its impact and looked stupid as a result. The situation would not have happened if someone had just looked up the host before going on the air with him. No one did. In PR, someone could get fired for a mistake like that.
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
PG&E Corp, a California utility, will shortly file for bankruptcy and might be trapped by global warming. Long-running drought in the state has dried brush and trees along its power lines to the point of tinder. Any sparking from its poles ignites vegetation immediately and causes a wildfire. The company already is being sued for the Camp Fire that burned an entire town and caused a loss of life even though authorities have not yet assigned a cause for the blaze. The CEO has stepped down, and the state has said it won't indemnify the company, which is facing $30 billion in penalties. There is little PG&E can do to get out from under its burden. Clearing trees and brush from around its lines would take years and is an expensive never-ending job. Investors have already largely abandoned the company. There are no messages of comfort for them. It is like a butterfly pierced with a pin pushed into a cork board. It can flap its wings but it isn't going anywhere. Its only salvation is that customers need electricity and gas and someone needs to deliver them.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Android cell phone users sometimes wonder why they can't have right away the most recent version of the software. The reason is that it must be matched and tested in multiple steps before it can be released in new phones. This graphic explains the process in a creative and fun way. It makes a technical process transparent and understandable. It also burnishes the reputation of Nokia by showing the care the company takes to get things right. It is smart PR and one hopes we can see more of it in the future.
Monday, January 14, 2019
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island has reacted in the only way it can to an embarrassment. It stripped Nobelist James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, of all of his titles. Watson continues to believe and speak out on a non-scientific relationship between DNA and IQ. He says Africans are inferior as a result. It is a racist opinion coming from a person who ought to know better. The faulty logic is not comprehensible in a person of such stature, but he is definite about his thinking. From a PR perspective, Cold Spring Harbor has done all that it can do by disavowing the ideas and taking punitive measures. The distance between the organization and the individual should be enough in time to preserve its reputation. One is left to wonder how an eminent scientist can take such a wrong turn and persist in it.
Friday, January 11, 2019
Tiffany is practicing smart PR with its pledge to be transparent about the source and preparation of its diamonds. The company understands that its customers don't want to be associated with mines where workers are exploited or from countries where there is strife. So, it is telling everything it can about them and in the process, it is burnishing its image. One wonders why more purveyors of the precious stone haven't done the same. Perhaps they will now that Tiffany has shown leadership. In retrospect, it seems an obvious move, but many good marketing/PR actions seem that way. If it was so apparent, why didn't anyone else think of it a long time ago?
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cattlemen are upset by a new wave of vegetable substitutes for meat, and well they should be. The plant-based food is getting better all of the time and now is nearly indistinguishable from meat. Ranchers are banding together to lobby state legislatures to require labeling laws. They want meat from cattle clearly marked and vegetable-based products assigned a status that is something else. They don't like the competition. It is inevitable, however, that foods like the Impossible Burger 2.0 will cut into red meat consumption. It is better for you. Stock-growers aren't taking the challenge lying down. They have mounted marketing campaigns to tout the quality and taste of red meat, and they are trying to persuade American consumers to put more of it on the table. It used to be their foe was chicken and to some degree pork. They are hemmed in on all sides now. It will be interesting to see what they do to survive.
Wednesday, January 09, 2019
AT&T's rivals are blistering the company for its claim that it has a 5G network. AT&T apparently decided to rebrand its 4G system as 5G without installing the equipment needed for true 5G. To say that is disingenuous is understatement. The phone carrier ought to be ashamed. From a PR perspective, it could be a disaster. It confuses customers and ultimately when real 5G is installed, they will have to upgrade their phones to take advantage of it. In AT&T's defense, there is no industry-wide standard for 5G yet, so claiming it now might not seem so weasel-worded. On the other hand, AT&T is a brand long associated with innovation and pulling such a marketing ploy is out of character. One hopes the company will reconsider what it is doing and back away from the claim until it has the equipment to make it.
Tuesday, January 08, 2019
The US Army fell short of enlistment goals and is now moving into social media and community relations to fill its ranks. There is no guarantee in a full-employment economy that it will work but the service is emphasizing it has many job categories that do not require time on a front line. It is stressing that military service can pay for a good bit of college. The Army is upbeat about its prospects but reality has a way of crashing through. It will know by mid-year whether it can reach its enlistment goals or not. That is the continuing challenge of an all-volunteer service. In the days of the draft, the Army wasn't as professional as it is now, but it could fill its ranks. No one wants the old days to return but if the military continues to fall short of the manpower it needs, there is a chance they might.
Monday, January 07, 2019
President Trump has committed a faux pas by demanding a wall be built across the southern border of the US and leaving no out for himself to preserve his credibility. If he attempts to declare a national emergency, his move will be tested in the courts immediately, and there is little chance of him succeeding. He needs to concede he doesn't have the votes for wall funding and to move on, but he seems unable to do that. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Federal workers are suffering without paychecks and ways to meet rent and mortgages. The affair is a PR nightmare. While Trump is intent on solidifying his conservative base, he is losing moderates, and his chances for reelection in 2020 diminish by the hour. His administration will someday be a case study in how not to manage relations with branches of government and the public.
Friday, January 04, 2019
Ajit Pai, FCC chairman, has thanked Congress for helping him kill net neutrality rules. He might be celebrating too soon. The movement for net neutrality is far from finished and Congress has changed, at least in the House. There are major players lobbying for net neutrality and they have vowed to continue. Pai may have put himself in a box by publicly thanking Congress. Under the Democrats, he could soon find himself hemmed in on all sides. It wasn't a wise PR move. Rather, he would have been better off acknowledging that battles are yet to come and the agency is geared to wage them.
Thursday, January 03, 2019
Apple cut its earnings guidance for the first time in 15 years and Wall Street is reacting harshly, dumping its stock and driving down its price. As of last night, Apple has lost more than $300 billion in market value. There is little love in financial markets. It is all in how one performs quarter to quarter, year after year. Investor relations cannot soften the blow of a bad financial report. The company has to take its medicine and hope some will not abandon it. Apple had been riding high for a long time. It was a can't-miss tech stock. Now it has joined the ranks of mature companies that struggle each quarter to make their numbers and have less upside potential. It is possible Tim Cook can turn the ship around but high growth might be out of his hands. Wall Street isn't hanging in and waiting.
Wednesday, January 02, 2019
Cathay Pacific Airways blundered on the sale of business and first class tickets. It charged $675 for tickets that should have sold for $16,000. The airline fessed up to the mistake but kept its original price and let buyers go for the cheaper fare. It could easily have cancelled the errors and charged the actual price. Even though the airline is struggling, it decided not to do so. It welcomed its travelers. So, some lucky persons will fly royally for little and the airline will reap the benefit in positive word of mouth. The short-term loss of revenue hurts, but the long-term gain in credibility outweighs it. It is smart PR.
Tuesday, January 01, 2019
The New Year promises to be like any other in PR. Some will demonstrate it brilliantly and others will fail spectacularly. There seems to be a growing consciousness among corporations that what you do is more important than what you say -- the essence of PR. There will still be a body that associates the field with spin and some practitioners, notably those in political sectors, will again express cynicism about about the public and how it can be manipulated. It is too early to know at this juncture whether we will have a new president or not, but the current occupant of the White House is a practitioner of the Big Lie and a man without credibility, government shutdown notwithstanding. Experts will make predictions but they don't know. Events upstage expectations. Here is a hope your New Year is a good one and not stressful.