Thursday, June 30, 2005

Government Relations 

We have a fascinating client who is an expert on China and has spent many months there since the 1980s. He knows people at every level of the government, and he has produced two books and a documentary on the country, all of which are essential for anyone who wants to understand China and its differences from Western Democracies.

What has come through in reading his work is relationship differences that divided China and Western Democracies for a long time and continue to isolate China in areas such as human rights, Tibet and Taiwan. The West sees issues of freedom that anyone should understand. The Chinese see issues of stability and culture.

If there is one thing the Chinese fear, it is chaos. The country suffered decades of turmoil during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Every leader in the country suffered during the Cultural Revolution, a terrible time for China. The one benefit of that disaster is that no one wants it to happen again.

But the West has never seen it that way and no matter how much Chinese leaders have tried to explain their position, the West hasn't listened. Talk about a government relations problem on a world level. There have been accommodations in recent years -- mostly from Chinese and Western leaders bending a bit toward one another. But, tens of thousands of citizens of Western Democracies, including expatriate Chinese, are not mollified.

The Chinese have a fascinating relationship challenge that they have been handling better in recent years. But, it took a long time for China's leaders to learn that they could no longer look only within and expect the rest of the world to understand.

China is moving rapidly to the forefront of world diplomacy. China's leaders understand their role and are trying hard to live up to it. It will be fascinating to watch how relationships between China and the West work out in the decades to come.

It's Happening 

Only yesterday I mentioned that the Scrushy verdict of innocence could become a PR embarrassment for his former company, HealthSouth. It's happening.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

What Kind of PR Is This? 

You break into someone's computer and plant disruptive software in it. Then, to compensate for your misdeed, you bug the person with pop-ups telling them that you have placed the software on the computer and he or she could get rid of it by following all the right steps. What the hell kind of PR is that? 180 Solutions is doing it.


Your husband is accused of bribery so you kick him out of the country. That's a rather extreme PR move for the president of a nation to take. But it just happened in the Philippines.

We Know That 

Newspapers are learning something that we PR people have known for decades -- changing culture is difficult. Newspapers must change to survive, and they are finding the process is not easy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What Now? 

In what some might call an amazing outcome, Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth, was found not guilty on all 38 charges of fraud against him. The company lost a mere $2.7 billion -- chump change (ahem).

HealthSouth took the only PR step it could in light of the verdict. It put lots of daylight between the firm and the man.

"The new board and new management team remain appalled by the multibillion-dollar fraud that took place under Mr. Scrushy's management and the environment under which such fraud could occur," HealthSouth Chairman Bob May said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Under no circumstances will Mr. Scrushy be offered any position within the company by this management team or by this board of directors," May added.

Not only was the verdict an embarrassment for the prosecutors, it is a potential embarrassment for current company management. There is nothing to prevent Scrushy from commenting on their efforts to bring him down. Only civil suits remain, and there is a good chance that Scrushy will pay much of his net worth to the government and wronged shareholders. But, he has verdicts to support his contentions that he didn't know what happened, and he appears to be an adept player in the PR game. He may slip through yet while other former CEOs learn about jail.

Bridge PR 

Here is a novel example of public relations. I am calling it "Bridge PR" for want of a better term. As those of you know who have visited San Francisco, there are two key bridges that cross the bay to the City -- the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is world famous. The Bay Bridge? What is there to say? It has always been an ugly but functional structure that performed a yeoman's job since it was completed in 1939.

The Bay Bridge must be replaced because it is no longer safe in earthquakes, and that touched off a long-running furor in San Francisco. San Francisco politicians did not want just any old bridge to cross to the city. They want a cable suspension bridge as beautiful as Golden Gate to make the crossing from the island in the Center of the Bay to the City itself.

Problem. The cost of a suspension bridge is a billion dollars more than the cost of a functional deck-type bridge that is -- well -- ugly. This would never do for San Francisco's image. Wrangling went on for years until last week the state announced that to fund the pretty suspension bridge, drivers would pay a dollar more for each toll to cross it. It seems no one asked the drivers but there hasn't been any outraged response -- not as of this hour anyway.

So, San Francisco gets to maintain its image as a sophisticated city with a lovely new bridge. Seems kind of expensive for a public relations exercise, though.

Monday, June 27, 2005


I've been wandering Northern California for the last 10 days with the family. It was instructive from a number of points of view, not the least of PR.

The governor of the state, former movie star that he is, has popularity ratings that are now at the same level of the governor he replaced. It seems that political fan support doesn't last long. Just ask the Bush administration. Anyway, now that the governor is down to a 35% approval rating, he is finding his enemies are rising openly against him. It was eyeopening to see billboards in Sacramento that attacked the governor personally. He is learning a bitter truth. People don't have to like you, but they have to respect you and what you can do. That is a truism for PR as well. There are times when PR is a rough game and involves tough political plays. But, when a company's survival is at stake, there may be no choice. This is a situation that the accounting firm, KPMG, is in right now.

I will have more to write about California, but right now, it is a state in which PR wars are at full tilt between the governor on one side and the legislature and unions on the other. There doesn't appear to be any willingness to seek a middle ground. One or the other will be crippled in the months to come. That's a lousy situation, but it also might be a necessary one. It is a time when PR counselors earn their fees.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

In A Week Or So 

It's time to let this blog rest for a week or so, while I'm off doing other things. That used to concern me when there were two or three of us blogging about three years ago. Today, if you look at a blog list, there are so many PR bloggers that it is impossible to track them all. I hope you are taking time to read what others are writing. My blog list is not complete, but it probably has more than 90 percent of PR bloggers that have made themselves known. There is plenty worth reading.


When counseling clients, I sometimes get an eerie feeling that nothing I am telling them is new or different. They have already thought of everything I am going to say. That experience happened to me recently, and it was humbling. I was with a brilliant client, and we were discussing communications strategy with large implications for the future of his business. I gave him an analysis off the top of my head, then realized I was repeating what he had known for some time. At the end, I said, "You know all this anyway." He agreed.

I get another strange feeling when this happens that the client is invisibly guiding me to where the client wants to be. I am being manipulated. I don't like that, but I have to admire anyone who can do it and make your thoughts look like his. It is then I begin to wonder what I am there for. If the client knows where to go, it is a matter of execution, not of discussion.

In years of counseling, I have learned one truth, which others have confirmed time and again. In any organization, no matter how dysfunctional, there is someone who knows the answer to the organization's challenge. The problem is the person can never get a hearing except through a consultant.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother counseling, but then, there are times when I do make a difference, even though I never really know when those times occur.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Pack Rats 

When did our lifestyles become terabytes? The idea that every one of us might be saving terabytes of data is absurd. Don't we ever throw anything away? Still, there is a human psychology at work here, and it shouldn't be overlooked when thinking about public relations. People do like to save things whether or not they ever use them again. I still have floppies with my work from 20 years ago, and the floppies are unreadable on current machines. Why? I haven't the least idea. I'm not going to root through the data again, and I might be embarrassed if I did. (Was I really that naive? Could I have written that?)

While I believe in history, there is a time to obliterate the past. I suppose one of these days, I'll get around to dumping old files that I will never view again. Meanwhile, they are stacked in my desk drawers. Terabyte lifestyle, indeed.


Our firm was part of a client event last night, and I noticed something about myself. I can never stand still in an event and network. I'm always fussing about the room and checking things, talking to the workers, introducing people, doing something. It's an outward manifestation of my inner conviction that Murphy's Law applies to every event. Put a crowd in a room with an assigned series of tasks, and something is bound to go wrong. In fact, nothing went wrong last night, and the affair went off smoothly. But, Nature got into the act with a boiling day in the northeast US that kept down some attendance. The previous time we held an event in the same room, there was a fierce rainstorm that also harmed attendance.

There are some things no one can control, but the fussing makes me feel better.

New/Old Media 

Here is an example of the new media discussed in the paper mounted yesterday. Frankly, I wasn't aware of it, but then I'm not a teenager. It's internet-based TV, or more accurately, MTV. It apparently went from nothing to 1.5 million page views in less than nine months.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Media Indifference 

Here is the essay that was discussed a couple of times recently in this blog. I had originally called it "media agnosticism," but that was too precious and inaccurate besides. The current title carries implications that one could care less about media, but that is not the meaning of the word here. I am using the original meaning that denotes "without bias."

The argument is that media consumption is changing rapidly, and old assumptions about what people see, hear and read are no longer accurate. That is why P&G, for example, is cutting back on network television buys. What PR practitioners need to do is what every company needs to do -- document what individuals are consuming in terms of media and readjust communications approaches accordingly. That is, no medium is sacred. All are considered, but just those that are the most efficient are used. Sometimes that includes publicity and sometimes, it might not. What is important is understanding what the target individual does in terms of learning about products, services and issues.

The article may be simplistic, but it does touch upon a continuing problem in all communications departments. We are captives of media that we know. We think in terms of media we represent. We can't get outside of media bias and consider communications challenges objectively.

I don't expect you to be happy with the article. I do hope to hear your counter-arguments.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Meant To Tell You This 

Readers of this blog know that I post essays irregularly on topics of interest. I have been meaning to tell everyone that all of my essays are placed in online-pr.com on a single page that is here. I have collaborated with a colleague on one of them, and he remains a critic of my work. I also get good -- and sometimes, stinging -- advice from another colleague in the business whose insights are usually better than mine. His blog is here. Others of you have weighed in too and for that, I thank all of you. The business only gets better when there is discussion of its fundamentals and dissection of what works and what doesn't.

What I write is not definitive. My essays are one person's ideas based on experience in the business and some theory. Neither are necessarily correct, and there as many opinions as there are critics on some issues. But, unless someone puts something up to discuss, there is less chance of debate. That is why the essays are posted.

There will be another one soon, I hope, that is an unhappy critique of the PR business. It is now called "Media Indifference," a title my colleague at work dislikes.

O, and one other point I forgot to mention. At the end of this week, this blog will fall into a seven-day hiatus while I'm off to do other things.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Price of Secrecy 

What does secrecy cost? How about a billion dollars in round numbers? That's the price that the Catholic Church in the US has paid so far for covering up child abuse. The point here is not to bash religion but to highlight what poor PR decisions can cost. A billion dollars is more than the Catholic Church can afford. Dioceses throughout the US have been selling assets to make settlements, and they won't get the assets back.

It's no different with public companies, or any other organization. Keep secrets about misdeeds, and it will catch up to the organization some day. It is ALWAYS better to get these things out of the way as soon as possible.

Several companies, like Boeing, recently did the right thing. They caught CEOs engaged in improper activity. They fired the CEOs on the spot and others who knew or should have known. Companies are doing that more often now, primarily because they are afraid of prosecution and of lawsuits, but it is better PR. Cover-ups have never been smart, but now they are not only dumb decisions, they're expensive.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Limits of Metrics 

This is an interesting story because in its short space, it raises and disabuses the notion that everything can be measured in communications. How does one measure word of mouth accurately? You don't, at least not yet, and you may never be able to measure all permutations of the strongest way to raise credibility.

So, while we work hard at measuring what we do, let's not forget we are tackling a job that will never be completed.

Anything for Publicity 

I have often said that if all one wants is publicity, I would put a gun into the person's hand and send him to a crowded street corner. The person would get publicity, but it might not be what he wants. Those who will do anything for publicity place themselves in jeopardy concerning their credibility. That is what happened to this fellow, and in the process he sacrificed the credibility of the NGO he represents. It was a stupid move, and the press have rightly lambasted him.

I know you know this, but your boss or your client might not. It's not just publicity but the RIGHT publicity that counts.

Standing Up 

Citigroup Inc. has a heck of a PR problem with the loss of customer backup tapes, but UPS has done the right thing from a PR perspective by taking the blame for losing the package. This is one more ugly incident for data security, but give credit to UPS for understanding its responsibility.

Mumbo Jumbo 

Of all the industries that I have worked in, telecommunications has been the one that loves to be esoteric and confuse people with acronym's. You would think marketers in the industry would know better, but apparently, they don't.

The Peril of Hiding Facts 

This is a non-story but for the fact that Kerry hid his academic record and presented himself as an intellectual to the public. We know that one's college record means little later on. Kerry might be an intellectual, but he set himself up for a "revelation." He should have known better: He does know better.

Monday, June 06, 2005


What would PR be like if we objectively recommended the medium that best fits any target audience, whether or not we got to do the work? It would be quite different, especially in the agency world where we work to sell our time. Yet, if we were honest counselors, we would tell clients that this problem would be better solved using advertising, or direct mail or a web page or an event, or something other than publicity. We would think in integrated marketing terms, rather than in PR terms.

I'm afraid that few of us do that and those of us in agencies would lose our jobs if we offered too much objective counseling. We say it is up to the client to tell us what the client needs. We assume if the client comes to us, the client has determined that the communications challenge needs PR. That's not a right assumption, of course, because clients don't always know what they need. They depend on communications experts to advise them. But rather than being media agnostics, an advertising creative will come up with an ad solution, a direct mail creative with a drop, a PR person with publicity or an event. In other words, we all sell what we know and not necessarily what a client needs. This is why I am scratching through yet another article examining media agnosticism (a mouthful). It is an old issue. Communications combines have been confronting it for years, but from what little I know, it doesn't seem as if many of them have made much progress.

What I would like to know is whether PR practitioners have made any progress. I think I have an answer, but I would like to hear from you.

A Pitch That Worked 

I'm sure several bloggers have received a pitch for the Pennsylvania Tourism web site. I have, and I'm certainly not alone. Well, unlike most such pitches, I'm going to write about it because I think the company involved launched a natural and effective idea for publicity and blogging. The idea was to take a number of people and have them blog as they tour Pennsylvania. They were careful to get individuals with a range of interests that were slugged as follows: thrill-seeking family, history buff, culture vultures, open roader (a motorcyclist), hipster roadtrippers and outdoor adventurer. Each is finding a part of Pennsylvania that appeals to the person's interests and of course, to you. One deliberate oversight, it appears, is choosing anyone who is clearly middle-aged or old. Pennsylvania must be for the young. Here is a press release that goes into greater detail.

Any way you look at this, it is an effective use of blogging and publicity. Of course, one is left to wonder what would happen if someone blogged about poor service, insufferable people or an ugly landscape. (And Pennsylvania has all these things.) I haven't read all of the blogs, but they seem suspiciously cheery to me. I hope Pennsylvania Tourism knows to let people write what they really find. If not, they'll ruin a good idea.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Good Idea = Good PR Tool 

Every since Google Maps came out, people have been finding novel uses for it. I had written about one earlier but there are a number of new ways to look at information now. Here is a listing that may or may not be complete. It is apparent that with a little work, one could use the maps to plot history tours of town, for example with satellite photos that pick out structures where one should stop. This in a crude way is what Google sightseeing is doing except that individual satellite photos of interesting objects have been picked out and assembled in one place. One could develop a treasure hunt using Google maps and imagery as a publicity event. One could show company facilities in various cities around the US by plotting them on the maps and satellite imagery. There is no end of information that can be plotted onto the map and simultaneously on the satellite photo that accompanies it. Take a few minutes to wander through the sites on the "cool uses" page then let your imagination wander.

Google Maps should be a good PR tool with a little development.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Another Positive Development for PR 

The idea of citizen journalists is a positive for PR practitioners because it will give more entree into the news media. How to operate a citizen journalist site is the discussion of this column. It doesn't take any imagination to see where publicity will become a large part of local reporting.

Watch This Site 

Keep an eye on this site. If it proves as innovative as its developers promise, it will give PR practitioners a glimpse into online news of the future and what practitioners will need to do to assist the press in telling stories. Be assured that multimedia press releases are part of this future. I'm sure some practitioners are putting together these integrated packages today, but I'll bet it is not that common. By multimedia, I mean a news package in which the release is hyperlinked to sound, imagery, video and slide programs to explain a story.

I'm looking forward to the launch date.

The Next PR Tool? 


A Blogger Who Made A Difference 


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