Sunday, July 31, 2005

Worth Remembering 

This story isn't new. It's rediscovery of a management wheel, but it's worth remembering. Any CEO with operational experience knows he or she doesn't know what is happening in the ranks. All the reports that CEOs get obscure what is happening. Most business is personal interaction that results in numbers that go into reports. The numbers don't tell the tale of relationships until too late, if at all.

This is why operational CEOs spend an enormous part of their time doing customer visits, plant tours and store drop-ins. They know that they don't know and to maintain a feel for the ongoing health of a the company, they want fingertip sensitivity to what is happening at the bottom where company meets customer. But, even there, humans will work to sanitize what a CEO sees. It is the Potemkin Village phenomenon.

"The CEO is coming. Quick! Police the parking lot! Check the front of the store. Clean up the endcaps."

By time the CEO arrives, all employees are on their best behavior. I heard a CEO say one day that his store managers throughout the US keep watch on tail numbers of private jets landing at local airports. They know the tail number of the CEO's jet, and surreptitious phone chains alert store managers that the CEO is in the area if they spot his plane. The CEO chuckled about it. He wasn't a fool, but he had tricks as well.

This is a long way of getting to an old point that PR practitioners forget too often. We are contacts with the outside world, and we see things that are covered up in the bureaucracy of organizations. It is our job to make sure they are revealed and that the CEO knows what is happening. Honest CEOs are grateful for the information and depend on the eyes and ears at their service. Arrogant CEOs deny or are offended when brought bad news. It doesn't take long to determine into which camp a CEO falls.

But, even if a CEO doesn't want to hear bad news, it is a PR practitioner's duty to deliver it. This requires tact and timing. One may have to wait days or weeks to catch the CEO at the right time, and one may have to phrase the news in a way that the CEO can choose to see what is being said or let it pass by without comment, such as packaging bad news with good news to temper the effect. Unless a CEO is involved in illegal activity, there is no great merit in getting oneself fired.

Delivering objective observations of the outside world requires personal courage and a relationship with a CEO that endures through rough spots. It's a privileged position to be in but a precarious one.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Here's How to Keep Employees Happy 

Here's how to keep employees happy and eager to come to work. Time their potty breaks. Who said a company needs employee relations when you can treat them like slaves?

The Results of Poor PR 

'Nuff said.


While we debate the merits of blogs and e-mail, teens have already moved on. I'm not sure how you use instant messaging for PR purposes.

Another Transformation 

I saw this story a couple of days ago, but I didn't want to let it slide. Hollywood is yet another industry undergoing transformation. It is of concern to PR practitioners because Hollywood has always been -- and still is -- a heavy user of publicity. If theaters shrink in favor of in-home entertainment, will publicity change?

The first response is that it probably won't. Talent will still go on tours to flack pictures, and media will lap up the pompous things actors and actresses have to say. There is still need for press material and for other publicity activities.

But, on the other hand, if the economic picture changes to one of extreme localization, will the revenue from each film be as high, or will earnings be greater without distribution costs that film cans and film stock incur? That is, will it still be as effective to conduct publicity tours?

The move to convert theaters to digital projection is advancing precisely because the studios want to cut distribution costs, but who knows? There is also a mass effect of an audience in one place and sharing the emotions of a film. That could go away if groups of two and three see movies in the home and news interest in Hollywood declines. Of course, Hollywood would need the media more than ever should movies be made primarily for home viewing.

Somehow, I guess Hollywood publicity will change over time if theaters decline to a minor revenue source for the studios. Publicity might be done more online and with less personal media contact. If I were working in Hollywood, I would be watching developments closely, very closely.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

It Still Happens 

For those old enough to remember, before Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon, reporters were lax about gifts and "gimmes." In fact, they were so lax, that many made up for slim salaries with holiday and other gifts that poured in from PR types. Some reporters were so efficient about their taking that they specified to PR practitioners exactly what they wanted -- and demanded that they get it.

After Watergate, American media put an end to much of this. The appearance of payoff was too much for reporters who were coming under the same scrutiny as legislators. The supposed words of a great California legislator, Jesse M. Unruh, made no difference anymore: "You have to be able to take their money, drink their booze, screw their women and then go out and vote against them the next day."

Good reporters had, in fact, divorced boodling from reporting, but not all did. That is why it is surprising that some reporters continue to grasp for gimmes. This story from the Boston Herald is an eyeopener. It is interesting that PR practitioners supplied the fellow with so much. Many years ago, we backed off on such gift-giving, and we advised clients to do so as well.

There will always be room for some freebies from PR practitioners to journalists, but it should be small amounts and highly controlled. It is an expense and risk that PR doesn' t need.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Plastic PR 

Over decades of working in PR, I have had occasion to meet practitioners who are obsessed about staying on message. They have a set of bullet points on a sheet or PowerPoint slides, and they repeat the points over and over. Ask any question that expands the points, and their response is the points. Try to get them off the points, and they come back to the points. The points are everything and if they say them often enough, they believe they will beat you down until you too believe the points.

I call this plastic PR because it is a facsimile of relationship building that PR espouses and not real relationship building at all. In real PR, one listens to the other side and explains a message in as many ways as it takes to get the other party to understand. That, by the way, is staying on message too but in a more human way.

Perhaps the most plastic of PR practitioners are those trained in political campaigns. They are reluctant to use any words but the approved ones because they fear -- and rightly -- that the media will confuse the message. And, the function of the media is to carry the message to the electorate. The media are mules in the politico's eyes and not humans. Needless to say, the media get impatient with slavish adherence to message -- and I don't blame them. Plastic PR practitioners are robots. You could replace them with a tape recorder and get as much relationship building.

Plastic PR practitioners don't help PR because they are too busy selling. Real practitioners listen as much as they speak.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Whenever I think that I have done something in PR, I step back and wonder what is real accomplishment. To me, physical change is more important than conceptual change. The fact is that PR people rarely resolve debates. We represent positions, and we hope to influence the course of events a little, but we don't derive the equivalent of a theory like evolution or the mathematics of subatomic structure. So, it is important to accomplish something physical once in a while.

That is why I have a feeling of satisfaction that a room we have been working on for weeks is nearly finished. All the carpentry, patching, scraping, priming, taping and painting is largely over. The canvas has been cleared from the floor. Everything is swept and mopped and the windows have been scraped clean. Now, it is a matter of fixing peccadilloes that lurk here and there and putting furniture back.

There are times in the middle of projects that one knows they will continue forever. It is an earthly version of hell. The end seems just in front but something goes wrong. Something always goes wrong, of course, as happened in this room as well. Two times in a row, paint peeled from the ceiling for no good reason other than it failed. We are in the middle of a third attempt, and that is the biggest task remaining. If it doesn't want to stay up there, I don't know what I'll do, but I'm not going to let it interrupt a momentary feeling of accomplishment.

It feels even better than working in PR.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


There have been stories in recent weeks about a new technology called Slingbox. While this blog is not about new technologies, it is concerned with how technologies affect communications and PR. Slingbox does both. Essentially, it takes TV signals from any location and routes them to any other through the internet. It has removed geographical barriers of television just as TIVO removed time barriers. We know TIVO threatens the economic model of commercial television because it allows viewers to skip commercials. Slingbox takes away targeted promotion. On the other hand, it allows local messages to reach across geography, which might be a benefit.

The importance of Slingbox is that it is a final step in the complete transformation of electronic media as we know them. That means it is a final step in how we deal with electronic media as well. While it is too early to know how PR will have to adapt in years to come, we know that it will change its approach. My guess is that the change will be evolutionary and will coincide with the growth of Digital Video Recorders and forwarding technology like Slingbox. But it's fun to think about the possibility of getting a spokesperson on air in Wichita with the intent of getting the message to Kansas City and beyond because people are forwarding it automatically. (I'm not sure I understand what this means yet.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Smart PR 

I can be accused of dredging up odd examples of public relations, and the accusation would be true. Oddities surface that I can't resist mentioning and here is one. The story is about poker- playing robots that have just completed the World Poker Robot Championship. The first thing that strikes one is that this is a wonderful publicity gimmick along the lines of IBM's chess-playing computer, but it is more than that.

A spokesman for the casino where the competition took place said that people would use the robots eventually, so rather than fight them, the company was allowing them into the casino where it could study how well they work. (Poker playing robots are illegal in human games.)

That's smart PR, a heck of lot smarter than the music industry fighting online technology because people can swap music. The casino is embracing the future and learning how to adapt to it. The music industry has finally done the same, but not until it fought a losing battle.

In spite of talk about the need to change and to keep up with competition, most industry leaders don't like change. They want to freeze competition around a set of rules and play by those rules far into the future. The telephone industry worked exactly like until deregulation.

Rapid technological change upsets economic models and injects mortal risk into the game of business. No wonder most industries would rather fight than switch. Poker robots, however, are a technology that at least Las Vegas casino has welcomed. That's smart PR.


This blog is not meant for weather commentary, but the heat and humidity on the East Coast of the US this year have been bothersome, to say the least. The East Coast is just one global hot spot. The West Coast of the US has sustained high temperatures. France, Spain and Italy are baking. The Alps continue to melt and the Arctic to lose its icepack.

There might have been argument about global warming in years past, but not now. And, here is where we get to public relations. The weather itself has been the best proof of the contention that the world's average temperature is rising. When we had cool summers, you didn't hear as much discussion of global warming as you do now. Granted that this is a passing phenomenon and next year might be OK, but I have noticed even the president of the US said recently that manmade sources have helped boost the temperature of the earth.

The point here is that some issues must play out over time before people accept them. Communications are water on rock. They help change attitudes but only a tiny amount at a time.

We have two other controversies in the US in which this is true -- social security and health care. Both are broken, but everyone would rather fight over a solution than come to a consensus. When both crises reach fever pitch, the public will demand that legislators "do something." Something eventually will be done, but there are only competing interests now.

Big issues often develop at their own pace. No matter how much PR you do, you can't rush them.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Just a couple of posts after praising someone for approaching a blogger correctly, there's this piece of tripe that hit my e-mail box today. I'm masking the name of the company because I won't help it with the publicity it seeks.

Big fan of your blog and as a PR pro myself wanted to share with you this amazing new service that's going to make all of our jobs as publicists a zillion times easier and less labor intensive. We all dream of getting TV coverage for our clients but sometimes it's a hassle to deal with getting our clients the info they want. I'm talking about eliminating having to screen every electronic hit we get for clients, figure out the metrics such as placement and value and whether a story is positive or negative and the hellish process of creating intricate presentations for clients, boards of directors etc. XXXX just came out with YYY that lets us for the first time do all this online instantly - check it out for yourself on _________! I think if you mention you're a PR blogger, you'll get a free trial.

If this person actually read my blog, he or she would know that I dislike breathy publicity and exclamation points. The person would also know that using adjectives like "amazing" and "zillion" turns me off. If this is the way this person approaches the media, I suspect he or she has trouble gaining the attention of sophisticated journalists as well.

Spare me. Tell me about the product or service and cut the hype, puh-leeze.

I don't suppose this individual will contact me again because the e-mail looked like a mass mailing sent to dozens of PR bloggers. But, if the individual wants to try again, that's OK with me. I might even review the product with a decent approach.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

No Matter What You Do 

Dell computers has been taking hits lately for its customer service. You may recall that I linked to a blog here a short while ago in which the blogger seethed publicly about his customer service difficulties with the company then bought a Mac.

Dell is catching flak again because it has dropped some customer care message boards. Customers accuse the company of not giving a "damn" about service. Dell in riposte said that it shut the message boards down precisely because it cares about customer service. It seems some questions on the boards required divulging personal information, and the company doesn't want that done in public.

So who's right and who's wrong? It doesn't make a difference. When things go bad, anything you do appears to be wrong whether it is or not. Dell might be in the wrong for failing to explain clearly enough why it is shutting the boards down. On the other hand, the message board moderators might be blamed for complaining loudly when Dell has a proper case.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. In some cases, no matter what you do, you can't win from a PR perspective. You have to do the right thing and take the heat. Maybe someday, people will understand, but that is cold comfort when you are under attack.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Interesting Promotion 

A friend from a firm called CustomScoop sent me an e-mail yesterday to let me know about a free beta service it is offering. It's a quick-check graphing tool that lets you know how many mentions one keyword has had in 21,000 sources against another keyword over the last 14 days. The firm provides a range of samples to check and encourages you to play with it.

While the tool is fun, it doesn't mean much unless a user knows that all things are equal between the two comparisons and the only variant is the amount of publicity each is getting. For example, it is of no use if a company has had a disaster, which generated thousands of mentions.

Anyway, it is there and worth checking. I compared one of our clients with its nearest competitor and noted that the competitor was way below in mentions. It would be nice to keep that ratio going forward.

I also want to thank Chip Griffin who told me about the tool for not pressuring me to write about it. Chip knew if I liked it, I would mention it here. It is a lesson to others who approach bloggers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Sucker Born Every Minute 

P.T. Barnum never did say, "There's a sucker born every minute." But, there is a sucker born every minute as this story proves. What responsibility do companies have to people who are easily duped? That's a question of public relations for which I don't have a ready answer. There are obvious statements that companies shouldn't set out to bilk others, but on the other hand, some people blunder into harm.

Are companies responsible for harm that individuals have caused themselves? For example, I had a relative who severely cut his leg when he picked up a running lawnmower that he was trying to carry across a concrete walk. Was the lawnmower manufacturer responsible for that dumb move? I don't think so, but you will find lawnmowers today have clutches on them that disengage the blade, and the clutches must be engaged constantly by hand while one is mowing.

Manufacturers claim there are far too many torts in the US from people who should know better. This is partially, or even largely true, but it doesn't help a company's reputation with consumers to remind them that they have responsibilities too. Consumers don't want to hear that. Should PR take the consumer's point of view? I don't think so. The 11% of computer users who buy from spammers deserve to be cheated. They know better, or they ought to know better by now. And, they make the internet worse for the rest of us who have to clean out hundreds of spams weekly -- or in my case, daily. The suckers born every minute harm all of us, but they blame us for their failures.

When PR Counts 

Microsoft has been the target of much criticism when it was learned that the company was negotiating to buy a spyware firm, called Claria. Well, the deal is apparently dead because Microsoft was afraid of the PR consequences of completing it. At least that is what this story alleges. If true, it is a case study of how PR and reputation make a difference in a company's business decisions.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Think Twice 

Always think twice before taking advantage of a disaster. You might find yourself in a spot like this. I don't know Mayo Communications, but they took a chance by using the London bombings as background for publicity. At least in the eyes of one blogger, they lost.

This issue strikes home to me because I was in New York City the day of 9/11 when the two towers plummeted and hundreds died. We had a meeting that day and the question was what to advise clients. The decision was to do nothing. I felt then and now that our clients should have placed their resources at the disposal of New York City -- quietly. In fact, a client we gained later did just that. The Home Depot started fleets of trucks toward Washington, DC after the airliner smashed into the Pentagon and on those trucks was tons of equipment to start clearing the rubble.

But this kind of service is vastly different than writing press releases touting a company's products for security or homeland defense. It is service based on good citizenship that gains a company far more reputation than outright selling. People remember good deeds, and there are times when organizations need that memory.

By the way, here is a link to Mayo Communications that regrettably has a hideous flash opening.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Why Worry? 

Why should PR people worry about the rise of fake search results? It's not just because such chicanery creates headaches for clients. Rather, it is symptomatic of a general abuse of research in which PR practitioners too often aid and abet misbehavior. If you question that last statement, check out the number of internet polls we see today. Anyone who has examined the validity of an internet poll can tell you that few, if any of them, have statistical grounding. They're fake, but practitioners blithely write releases about poll results, as if they are definitive.

That is just a small part of what PR practitioners do to merchandise data that has no meaning. Unfortunately, I have to admit that in my career, I have done some of this too. But, I have tried to be more intelligent in recent years, and I resist client efforts to make meaningless data into a news.

If we as PR practitioners want to preserve our credibility and the credibility of our clients, we will be ruthless about research we use. Check everything two and three times. Make sure that quotes and quotations are accurate. Avoid conventional wisdom and find a right answer. Sure, some editors and reporters swallow anything, but our job is not to feed them pablum. Our job is to make them look smart, so they return to us time and again and become resources for a client.

Let others fake research. PR practitioners should be known for getting facts right.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I Get It, I Think 

We have been helping a client for several months to publicize a new technology. The technology on the surface is simple, and it works well. Moreover, the beta test of the technology is succeeding, even with normal gear-up glitches.

Imagine my surprise then, when I began to examine data from the test and started to ask questions about it. For some reason, the data didn't make sense. Several of us in the office looked it over and couldn't begin to understand why it was the way it was and what the data was actually saying. That's not a good sign because, although we are not engineers, we are also not known to be ignorant. The challenge facing us is that the data had to be easily understandable to reporters who are also not engineers but not stupid. This sparked late last week a series of questions and discussions that showed me that I hadn't understood at all what the client has been trying to do. In fact, I am not sure that the client fully understood either until we began to raise questions without answers.

One fact we learned is that the client's instructions for reading the data could be misinterpreted -- and were. This means the instructions need rewriting. A second fact we learned is that the client at this juncture is not trying to achieve a statistical validity that we would consider normal and moreover, the client sees no reason for doing so. That is still an open issue, it seems to me, but we had not been qualifying the data in the right way when we talked about it. We'll fix that.

But, again, I am humbled by my own lack of understanding. All this time researching the technology, and I still didn't get what the client is doing. I do now, I think.

Friday, July 08, 2005

One Small Mistake, One Giant PR Problem 

This examination of how UPS lost millions of customer records is a case study of how each employee in an organization makes a difference to its reputation. The driver who logged the boxes during a pickup at Citifinancial took a shortcut. The shortcut usually doesn't make much difference, but this time it caused a massive PR problem for the company.

You can bet that UPS will be using this incident in its employee training for years to come.


This is a neat way to see daily headlines across the country.


The bombings in London yesterday were a tragedy, but they also were the cause of an amazing display of communications that you should know about. Look at the Wikipedia digest of events written in real time as news flowed in from everywhere -- wire services, e-mail, blogs, newspapers, TV, etc. It was an extraordinary group effort to capture and make sense of rapidly changing facts, and from what I can tell, it is accurate.

I have been and remain skeptical about the Wikipedia concept for many PR uses, but this was a powerful demonstration of what collaborative writing can do.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

More Bad PR for Airlines 

As if airlines did not have enough bad PR for lousy food, cramped seats and poor service, there is now this.

Dumb PR 

This story showed first in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, but it is easier to read here. It's a good example of dumb PR and stupid way to run a contest.


Reporters have been asking why Google hasn't publicized this news more than it has. Is this a failure to use PR? Google has said repeatedly that Click Fraud is one of the biggest threats the firm has.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Dirty Trick 

This is getting to be more common in the online world. Fortunately, Reed scrambled and got out an e-mail that prevented subscribers from going away. But imagine if Reed did not know about the initial e-mail for a day or two and started to see hundreds of cancellations. It is one more reason why real-time monitoring is essential in the online world. You have enemies, and they are out to get you. It is not paranoia to think that way. It is common sense. Expect more dirty tricks. Some will be annoyances and some costly. None are jokes if they injure the reputation of the organization and its employees. The online world is still the Wild West, and no sheriffs have ridden into town to clean it up. You are still on your own and protecting the reputation of yourself and your organization is a first order of business.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Lots of Stories Like This Now 

There are lots of stories like this now. As publishing rethinks its future, PR needs to rethink what to do as well.

The Future Newspaper Format? 

I had overlooked this, but it is worth reading if you haven't already.

Why Bloggers Matter 

If you want to read scathing copy and examine a PR headache for Dell Computers, go to this site and read from July 3 backwards. He has been angry at the company for some time about its customer service, and he has been public about it too. At one point, he asked where PR is. He didn't get an answer.

Happy Fourth 

Happy Fourth of July if you are in the US. Ever stop to consider how much of a PR document that the Declaration of Independence was?

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