Thursday, April 30, 2020
There will be no swift turnaround once the pandemic is under control. People will not go back to normal. Rather, until a vaccine is developed and tested, they will wear masks, practice social distancing and refuse to shake hands without gloves on. That is why economists see a steep climb out of the hole in which the country has fallen. That is also why a key message of communicators for months to come is patience. Patience to see the end of furloughs. Patience to see the end of joblessness. Patience to feel relief from debt and looming bills that cannot be paid. But, Americans are not by nature patient. There will be turmoil and anger that things are not moving fast enough. CEOs and politicians will feel the heat and some will lose their jobs. There is only so much persuasive messaging can do. When it rubs against raw feelings of frustration, it is not heard and can be turned back on itself. It is only when circumstances have changed that people look back and reflect. That doesn't help now.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
King's Day in the Netherlands is a national holiday with many celebrations and an occasion to wave the country's flag. Imagine, then, the embarrassment of a Dutch marketing company that sent out an email blast for the special day with the wrong flag in it. To be fair, the Netherlands flag and banner of Luxembourg, which was in the email, are nearly identical. They are both red, white and blue horizontal stripes. The difference between the two is the blue stripe. It is light-colored for Luxembourg and dark for the Netherlands. There wasn't much an excuse for making the mistake. It was bone-head and a failure of the company to check before hitting the send button. Now, the marketer has to live with the impression that it doesn't know its own country's flag. As the story says, "Awkward."
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
The scam artist who bought kids' ways into name universities now says he knew what he did was wrong but he didn't think it illegal. That is situational ethics and a departure from moral standards. It should be a lesson to all that skating to the edge of legality is dangerous. There are PR practitioners who believe that what one can get away with is OK. They cover their tracks and spin their way through tough situations. President Trump's press secretaries are notable for that, and Trump himself is a man without ethical standards other than what benefits him. That is a gauge of a sociopath and is dangerous to society at large. Trump is not alone in that stance. Many CEOs, politicians and other leaders are out just for themselves. They are impossible to serve without compromising oneself, and when they fall, they take their followers with them. It is a dangerous game to communicate and act without a moral compass.
Monday, April 27, 2020
South Korea has taken to downplaying rumors about the health of North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. Because of the secrecy in which the North is wrapped, there is no way of knowing what the condition of the dictator is. South Korea says he is alive and well and that is probably the best messaging position to take. Should Kim Jong Un reappear as the head of the country, he can't accuse the South of fomenting rebellion. Should he be replaced the South can start anew with diplomacy without prior rumors getting in the way. The fact is that no one outside of the North knows what is happening, if anything. The South has taken the wise course of avoiding speculation.
Friday, April 24, 2020
Anderson Cooper of CNN interviewed the mayor of Las Vegas, and it turned into a giant "gotcha." The mayor looked silly and uninformed. Cooper kept firing questions, and she got in deeper and deeper into a morass she made for herself. One wonders if she has ever had media training. She seemed to be rambling and off-message from the beginning. She wants casinos open and the town back to its conventions and mass visitor visits. She wants hotels full again and life to return to a pre-corona normal. Cooper eviscerated her. I'm sure her staff was cringing as she spoke but there was nothing to be done short of ending the interview early and taking the hit for doing that. The one-on-one ended on a friendly note but Cooper was anything but. Las Vegas is a big city. Surely its politicians can do better.
Thursday, April 23, 2020
ATT and IBM are just two of numerous companies withdrawing their earnings forecasts for 2020 because of the impacts of COVID-19. It is as it should be. There is a good chance public companies will end the year with negative earnings the longer the crisis goes on. Even if governors re-open their states for business, damage has been done. It would be noble if companies took this action of their own accord, but they haven't. They are subject to regulations and lawsuits if they maintain earnings estimates then miss by a large amount. They would be guilty of failing to maintain transparency. One never wants to surprise the market with ugly results. The market's punishment is swift with the value of equity plummeting instantly. Constant communications with investors is a necessity, and nothing can be said to institutions that is not also sent to all stockholders. ATT and IBM's stock will sag, but it will be orderly, and they will return to good health when their business picks up. By communicating early, they have maintained trust and credibility.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Huawei has been caught again using images from DSLRs as examples of photographs its smartphones can take. Since it is not the first time the company has done this -- and been caught -- one wonders if Huawei will ever learn that in the internet age, few secrets remain for long. It is dumb for the company to continue using the photos, and its apology rings hollow because of the number of times Huawei has done it. Who is going to believe that a negligent editor made the mistake after it had used DSLR images twice before? And Huawei is not alone. Samsung has done it as well to advertise its phones. In other words, there is little honesty in the way they are marketing. Caveat Emptor.
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
An economy cannot remain closed forever and remain an economy. That is the conundrum facing the nation's governors and CEOs. They have to take necessary risks to open again and hope they don't err in the face of an insurgent coronavirus. Without adequate testing, they cannot know whether they are aiding or harming their states and companies. They have to guess and the pressure to make correct decisions is enormous. These are times when leaders show their value. They risk disaster but also can achieve success, if they have chosen correctly. They will analyze data, talk to experts, do everything they can to educate themselves, but a clear answer won't be there. At some point, they will have to leap into the unknown. It won't be easy for workers to return to their jobs without knowing if the person next to them is a carrier of the disease. Leaders will have to recognize and plan for that. Precautions are in order, but the initial decisions to open their states and companies will still be difficult and fraught.
Monday, April 20, 2020
The President is an expert in blaming someone else for his failures. He knows the art of scapegoating. If there is success, it is because he is brilliant. If failure, it is because someone else is responsible. The public isn't fooled for long, and Trump's popularity numbers have declined since the eruption of COVID-19. That doesn't stop Trump from holding daily press conferences where he rambles on about what he is doing to slow the spread of the disease. He makes statements then contradicts them the same or next day. He gets facts wrong and stands by the errors. He is an example of what leadership shouldn't be. The question in the minds of voters is whether his scapegoating disqualifies him for another four years in office. One can only hope.
Friday, April 17, 2020
Cruise lines have come under intense scrutiny since the COVID-19 pandemic started. It seems their confined spaces are petri dishes for the growth of the virus. But, as this article notes, at least one major line, Carnival, didn't handle the outbreak well. It delayed in informing passengers of the incidence of the disease until its ships became floating wards of cases. The cruise line's reputation has been deeply damaged, and it is unlikely it will be able to conduct profitable business until the novel coronavirus is under control. That could take months, if not years. Meanwhile, its ships must continue to travel or the company can't pay its bills. Tying them up at a dock would mean taking multi-billion dollar assets out of service. The only way Carnival can continue now is to be hyper-vigilant -- testing passengers before they embark, quarantining passengers swiftly should they become ill, getting the sick off a ship quickly and into medical care, cutting down on large gatherings onboard and making passengers aware of prophylactics underway. Even this might not be enough. Carnival has much to do to overcome poor PR and to restore its reputation that it destroyed all by itself.
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Reese Witherspoon's clothing company had a great idea for benefitting teachers who are furloughed during this time of COVID-19. Give them a dress. There was only one large problem with the idea. Her business, Draper James, did not have nearly enough clothing on hand to give each teacher an item. They went ahead anyway and announced the idea only to discover they have disappointed hundreds of thousands of teachers. It is a disaster. The company is dealing with it and most likely won't get caught again with such an embarrassment. It is a lesson to plan ahead rationally and to avoid thinking only with one's heart.
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Sometimes one can forget there is evil in the world. In an effort to see another's side of things, we tolerate what is deeply wrong. Consider this and this. There is no moral code that would allow either. The progenitors of such actions are evil -- pure and simple -- and they will most likely get away with their deeds. Moral relativism cannot excuse them, even if one tries. They should be excoriated, tracked down and made to pay in time served and fines for the consequences of their scams. That they misuse communications is a warning. Every message-carrying vehicle is vulnerable to evil. The good and well-intentioned cannot outweigh the bad. There must be warfare against malefactors until they are too scared to operate. It is not just a job of police and prosecutors but of everyone. We cannot stamp out evil permanently but we can make life a hell for them.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
Amid wretched news of millions out of work, there has been one bright spot. Amazon.com is hiring -- a lot. The company is looking for an additional 75,000 workers. It is a drop of positive PR in a raging sea of bad news. The President is fighting with state governors over when to declare the economy open again. Stories of COVID-19 survivors emphasize the horrible attack on the lungs. Food producers have shut down as their workers become ill. But, Amazon is still recruiting workers to handle urgent needs of millions of citizens. The company has been criticized by employees for poor protection in its warehouses and it is addressing that, but most of all, it is open for business when the vast economy of the US is on pause. Some day, the company will look back at this time and celebrate its accomplishment. Meanwhile, it is sending tens of millions of packages to customers so they can survive.
Monday, April 13, 2020
World political leaders want citizens to return to work soon so economies can be restarted. World health officers want companies to remain shut down until there is certainty that COVID-19 is under control. What has resulted is a tough call with crisis implications. If an economy starts too soon and the virus surges again, the country's leaders will be damned by public opinion. If an economy starts too late and its workers fall into unsustainable debt, bankruptcy, homelessness and hunger, the country's leaders will be damned for too much caution. The middle road is a delicate, highwire act. Proceed with care and be ready to order more quarantines as events unfold. This is not what Presidents like Trump want. The American economy has been devastated by the lock-down, and it is an election year. Trump desperately wants the country back to normal and growing again. Who knows if he will get it? Who knows if Merkel of Germany will get it? Or, Johnson of the UK? Each country's leader has a choice to make, and there are no good answers.
Friday, April 10, 2020
Disney has announced it has signed 50 million subscribers to its new streaming channel -- Disney+. It did this in just five months, a time span the company didn't envision. It was planning for a year and to reach 60 to 90 million subscribers by 2024. Even if its growth slows, it will beat the 2024 goal by a year or two. This is the power of the Disney brand, built step by step over 80 years through family-friendly movies and entertainment. By comparison, a new streaming service, Quibi, which was just launched, has 300,000 subscribers and a chorus of negative criticism for its 10-minute movies. There is no fallback for Quibi. It will depend on developing compelling content in order for people to remain subscribers and for more to sign. Disney doesn't have to worry about that. Its catalog of content is deep and powerful and covers a broad demographic from toddlers to adults. One can watch Disney productions for many days and not exhaust what is there. Disney's brand power is its content, and it is hardly surprising that it is succeeding.
Thursday, April 09, 2020
Cruise lines are in need of PR in these times of COVID-19. They have been Petri dishes of disease in spite of thorough cleanings and attempts to isolate sick crew and passengers. The real question now is whether they can hang on until the novel coronavirus is controlled. That will be months in the making with predictions for a vaccine being a year and a half from now. The lines themselves are looking for a slightly shorter period of crisis -- 15 months. They are drawing down credit lines and shoring up cash reserves to wait the pandemic out. That is small comfort for the operators. What they need to do is to make cruising desirable again, and there is no telling what the public will think once the disease has run its course. There will be a reluctance to be crowded onto a ship with thousands of strangers, and the cruise lines will have to overcome that. The message will have to stress safety and fun. It's a theme that needs to start now.
Wednesday, April 08, 2020
The acting secretary of the Navy has resigned after his ill-tempered speech to sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. His words did not go down well and alienated the people he was addressing. What he could have done was to explain calmly the reasons why the captain of the aircraft carrier was relieved of command. He didn't. He said the captain "was too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this." That was gratuitous and flew in the face of the leadership the captain had shown to his men. His profanity-laden speech over the ship's public address system was dumb. The acting secretary might have been within his rights to dismiss the captain for going outside of the chain of command, but he proved himself "too naive or too stupid" to understand that in the internet age, whatever you say will be broadcast to the world.
Tuesday, April 07, 2020
In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a prophetess who predicted the future. The trouble was the gods had arranged it so that no one would believe her. She was right but frustrated by a lack of acceptance. This is a common problem in PR when practitioners and companies foresee a future but cannot get the media and market interested in discussing it. Here is an example from Texas. The owner of the company predicted loudly and clearly for years that the US needed a home-based source for personal protection equipment in the case of a pandemic. No one paid any attention to him and kept ordering cheap masks from the Far East. Now that he is proven right, he refuses to accelerate his production because he knows hospitals and healthcare providers will go again to the lowest bidder once the pandemic is over, and he will be stuck with equipment and personnel he must discontinue. People might be upset with him but no one can blame him. He is looking at the long-term market, and it doesn't favor him. There is no good answer to the Cassandra problem. It requires long, hard, ground-pounding work, and an organization can run out of time without succeeding. One can celebrate the Texas business owner for his perspicacity, but he would rather get a contract.
Monday, April 06, 2020
This fellow is saying he is competent to discuss COVID-19 treatments because he is a "social scientist." He has been criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert, who has become the credible voice of the Trump administration. Maybe Navarro can read statistical studies and interpret them correctly, but that doesn't make him qualified to opinionate on the progress of the disease. He has put himself into a difficult position and he could go down if his views prove to be wrong. Meanwhile, the public and the media have a right to take his words skeptically. Since when has a social scientist been deemed qualified to discuss medical issues?
Friday, April 03, 2020
A host of US companies are pitching in to combat COVID-19, such as here and here. They are doing the right kind of PR -- using their skills and products rather than giving money. Their work will benefit them in the end, which is perfectly OK. They are answering public needs with tools at their disposal. Every company that survives and prospers has a unique product and sales combination. Putting that to public use in times of need demonstrates empathy and humanizes the corporation. They are no longer faceless fonts of market power but real people working for the community. They recognize that their own employees are part of a society in need, and they don't stand apart.
Thursday, April 02, 2020
The Getty Museum in Los Angeles is engaged in clever publicity that is relieving the boredom of those forced to stay home during this time of COVID-19. The museum posted a challenge with three simple steps. Choose your favorite piece of art. Find three things around your house. Recreate the artwork with these objects. The results have been cute and downright funny. People are sending in photos to pair with the original artwork that are sometimes close to the original and creative in their depictions. The museum gains recognition from the public's efforts, and we all have a chance to smile or laugh. It is a well done big idea with legs.
Wednesday, April 01, 2020
In PR, we spend a good deal of time instructing clients how to present themselves on TV. CEOs and politicians know the one-word answer is not enough to get a message out. That is why this exchange is so hilarious. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sandbagged his brother, Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor when his brother asked about Andrew's desire to run for President. His repetitious "Nos" without explanation answered Chris' questions but left Chris hanging. His jibe at Chris at the end that he was a good interviewer rubbed in the lack of success Chris had in talking to him. Those who know Andrew and Chris say they are the best of brothers and friends but they tease one another. This was a merciless joke on national TV and Chris will know better next time to avoid the question of whether Andrew might run for the highest office. The interview will go into media training for what not to do, but it is funny nevertheless.