Thursday, September 29, 2005

Don't You Get It? 

For all the wonderful notions we have in PR about building relationships with publics, we try to forget the times when a public doesn't want a relationship. There are times when a group doesn't want to listen, to be reasonable or to relate in any constructive way. This story is a prime example of that. Senator McCain was reduced to asking the baseball union chief, "Don't you get it?"

This is not a commentary on baseball or its issues. It's a simple reflection that there are occasions when begging, pleading and discussion are futile. One must resort to strong tactics like laws to compel parties to obey. That is just what the Senators are doing.

PR practitioners must never forget that force is a medium of communications. It should be a last resort, but it should never be ruled out.

Take That, Romantics. 

There has been much whining in the US among professors of journalism about the future of the newspaper business. Many have had simple answers for how newspapers can become energetic again. This fellow is having none of it, and he is in a position to know.

When PR Goes Too Far? 

This writer from FAST Company Magazine is having fun at Gillette's expense, but he also raises a question of whether the marketing PR department was trying too hard to promote a new razor. In the end, he doesn't seem enthused about the product. The lesson here is that pizzazz goes only so far. Good reporters see through it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

PR Has Its Limits 

It's fine to say we will help our brethren in need down south in Mississippi and Louisiana, but not when it comes to giving up Federal money for a new parking garage. PR has its limits, you know. Let the good folks live in shelters and trailers for awhile. We'll send a truckload of something or other to salve our consciences...


It's never good to crow over the mistakes of another, but sometimes, one just can't help noticing -- especially when it happens to an august institution like The New York Times. This was an exceptionally large error that incorporates a lesson for PR practitioners. Always check, even when you know the answer.

It is perfectly understandable how the mistake occurred. The offending document was found in John Roberts' papers, and it was unsigned. Everyone assumed Roberts wrote it. He didn't, nor did he write the draft of novel that also was found in cartons from his White House career.

It's easy to say someone at the Times should have double-checked, but I'm not sure that I would have. Still...


Anyone hauled before a testy Congress knows he or she is marked before testimony begins. Sometimes one can nurture friends on the committee before opening remarks. At other times, one sits there and takes abuse. What Michael Brown did yesterday might make him feel better, but it didn't help his case from a PR perspective. He was doomed, and he knew it. He flung one last challenge as he sank to political hell.

Congressional testimony is theater, not fact-telling. In Brown's case, the script for the play had been written and rehearsed. It remained only to be delivered in the hearing room.

I don't know enough to determine who was right, wrong or indifferent in events leading to the post-hurricane crisis. It seems from facts gathered so far that many people made errors of judgment and action from highest offices to the lowest. That made no difference for Brown. He might have thrown himself on the mercy of the Congressional court and apologized. He might have eschewed blame and detailed a chronology of facts. He could point fingers, as he did, and fight back. None of it would have helped.

My instincts would be, if faced with this situation, to document closely what happened and enter it into the record for others to pursue over time. There would be little hope of presenting the facts in an orderly fashion before hostile interrogators, but there would be the record. The defense, it seems to me, would be "that what I know of the situation is in the record for Congress to examine." That approach doesn't save one, but it invites the media to check the record.

Brown was done before the hearing He couldn't get a job as a dogcatcher in Washington, D.C. It was a question of how much dignity he preserved.

UPDATE: It pays to read more closely. One claim is that yesterday's hearings were a sham designed to help Brown save face and that he had friends on the dais. If so, it didn't seemed to work.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Joys of Travel 

I don't travel a lot anymore so there isn't much excuse for this post. Others have it far more difficult than I. But, it was curious that twice at Chicago's O'Hare airport we were sent from one terminal to another -- several hundred yards -- in order to change planes with less than 30 minutes on the schedule. Fortunately, we made it both times, but we were exhausted on the first jaunt only to find that the departing plane had been delayed 30 minutes, and we could have walked.

Then, when we arrived back in New York 20 minutes early, the ground crew couldn't find the towbar to haul the plane into the terminal. We sat the entire 20 minutes just off the gate. That was frustrating for the pilot who apologized to everyone. He had done well only to be foiled by his company.

In the town where we were working, our Blackberries suddenly went on the fritz. We had a strong signal but no message delivery. Finally, after hours, messages arrived in bursts for no particular reason. We haven't figured out this one yet.

It's frustrating when one is trying to run an account in the office at the same time one is working on the road. Others do it well: I'm still learning.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Focus Groups 

There are some handy tips here. Worth reading.

Living on Past PR 

America's NASA has become addicted to its past glories and unable to adjust to the present. It forgets that the first journey to the moon was a giant PR exercise (perhaps of the wrong kind) to show the Soviet Union that the US is dominant in space. Long after establishing that dominance, NASA still yearns to return to the moon, a hostile place by any standard, when machines can do nearly all of the work safely.

NASA has been blinded by its press clippings. That's sad. Outer space is not like exploration in the time of Columbus. The universe beyond earth is truly hostile to carbon-based life, and we have yet to find compelling economic or other reasons for placing feet on extraterrestrial surfaces. The idea of colonizing the moon moves further from reality the more we know about the moon. It's like colonizing Antarctica. You don't see many people wintering over at the South Pole. PR can be a trap, as we know, but sometimes, it is a trap we don't know we're in.

Enough Said 

This is a bit hyperbolic, but it makes the point. PR has to adapt as well.

Movie Publicity 

Just in case you haven't seen the following entry in Instapundit, here it is in full:

MOVIE SEEKS BLOG REVIEWERS: The PR folks for the forthcoming Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, etc.) science fiction movie Serenity are inviting bloggers to advance screenings. (List of cities here via an Excel document that didn't quite format right, but it's legible). It's free, and all they ask is that you blog something, good or bad, about it.
If you're interested, email 'em at rsvp@gracehillmedia.com and they'll put you on the list. I'll be going to a screening in Knoxville.
UPDATE: More legible list of screenings
here. And here's a Daniel Drezner post about the trailer.
UPDATE: They're full now (Friday p.m.) so if you haven't emailed 'em you've missed your chance. Apparently the blog-response was phenomenal.

Someone had a bright idea. Kudos to the PR folks handling Serenity.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hard to Believe 

It is hard to believe that growth of broadband internet service is slowing in the U.S., but that is what this study says. And, the part that is baffling is that only 53% of Americans have broadband capability. You would think that everyone would have broadband if they could get it.

Perhaps this is a lesson. Don't assume what people would and wouldn't have. It may well be that many Americans find that dial-up is enough for them or do not use the internet because they simply don't like it all that much. This appears to be what the study concludes:

The dial-up users of 2005 are often older, less educated and have lower incomes than their 2002 counterparts, (the) report said.

Still, I find it shocking that other countries around the world have a far greater percentage of citizens using broadband than we do. The future never arrives as quickly as we want it to.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

eBay as Publicity Stunt 

This is an interesting discussion that points out a publicity ploy I should have noted sooner. Go to eBay and sell something wacky or of high interest then reap the mentions from it. The original article noting this came from USA Today. Either way, it slipped by me until a couple of days ago.

It seems to me it is one more technique that will wear out sooner rather than later as marketers pile on. It's like runs for charity. One charity started it then suddenly everyone had a run for something. One has to wonder if marketers are deficient in imagination.

Dying Without Oxygen 

I have written before that I serve as a host on a local community television program dedicated to books and reading. Hosting is a way to maintain TV skills, which, in my case, are rusty. Last night, I learned how professional a host must be to survive a half-hour under hot lights in a studio without air conditioning and without enough material.

I was a fish on land gasping for oxygen.

My three guests were pleasant and tried hard, but there just wasn't much to say about a literacy event being sponsored by a company. We were sitting there with sweat trickling down our cheeks and a look of panic. They were hoping I would find good questions to ask: I was silently praying they would talk on and on.

Sure enough, discussion about the event ended nine minutes into the taping. All questions were used up, and there was no avenue for escape. But we had five minutes to go in the first segment and another 14 in the second segment. We couldn't stop taping, and there was no second chance. In the control room, the director knew exactly what was happening. According to my daughter who was there, he commented to no one in particular that "we have 19 minutes to go." Nineteen minutes can seem an eternity.

I flailed with off-target questions and limped through the end of the first segment. During the break, the guest from the company suggested that she could talk more about the company's work in literacy. I could have kissed her. We started the second segment with her reeling off everything the company does to support reading. It was pure publicity, but I didn't care. I had 10 minutes to go.

I asked the other two guests to comment on points the company spokesperson had made. They chimed in with short responses for another minute. I had nine minutes to go. Fortunately, one of the guests made a passing comment that sparked an idea. Is literacy gender-based? That carried us for another four minutes. Five minutes to go. The conversation wasn't desperate at this point but there wasn't a clear path either. Another couple of questions. Three minutes to go. One more question. Another minute. I spotted the floor director's sign for two minutes, and I knew what I had to do. The wrap-up question. "Let's go over again what the event is about before the show ends." We retreaded the opening material. I thanked the guests for their participation and stopped -- 30 seconds early. We froze in place for another three minutes while the director scrambled to get us out of the credits. It was done.

I was exhausted. Normally, a program like this takes off with its own energy and sails along with short gaps to fill. This one was a cliffhanger from start to finish. But it was a good PR lesson. Always provide a TV host with plenty of material. Always. There can never be too much.

I think back on guests I have trained for TV interviews, and I know I haven't paid much attention to this rule. Most interview segments are five minutes, not 28. I spend most of my time helping guests edit remarks to fit small time slots. But, a long show is different. One has to depend on a guest carrying the conversation, and guests who are not talkative make a host work overtime. That's an uncomfortable feeling -- like suffocation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Take Time 

Just in case you are the last person to read about this. Take time to visit Global PR Blog Week 2.0 that is running right now at http://globalprblogweek.com/. There is plenty of solid material on the site already and more to come.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Attack, Attack 

Over years of sitting in brainstorm sessions, I have come to dislike them. One can get as many ideas sitting around with a beer in hand than in a formal brainstorming.

There are several reasons for my distaste. Few brainstormings are focused. They ramble from hither to yon but fail to deal with the issue at hand. This is the fault of the brainstorming leader who should work to keep a group on topic but frequently doesn't. Then, there is gamesmanship. Like it or not, one strives to have an original idea at least as much to uphold one's image among peers as to help the topic at hand. But, one person's idea frequently comes at the expense of another's. Or, at least, it seems that way. Here too leaders are supposed to keep egos in check, but too often, they don't. Then, there is pecking order. If a boss sits in on a brainstorming, the boss' idea is always better, even if it is worthless. The rest of the participants are minions yapping like puppies in a kennel. Finally, there are the ideas themselves. It is a truism to say that few good ideas come out of brainstorms. Most of what one hears could have been done sitting at one's desk for an hour and thinking.

Having written all this, I must also write that I have been in brainstorms that were useful, exciting and respectful of everyone in the room. There just hasn't been many of them. Perhaps it is time to give brainstorming a rest in PR.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

PR and Precise Writing 

This is one of several stories I have read recently that condemn sloppy science writing in the media. Unfortunately, PR people are often involved in writing initial press releases for scientific announcements, and they muddle clarity and add to misunderstanding. A primary job of a PR practitioner is to be an accurate translator between specialties and laypersons. We take the jargon and make sense of it without imposing inaccurate interpretation of what it is and spin as to what it means. When we fail, reporters who are not trained in science are sure to fail. Our job is to help them, and it looks as if we aren't doing our jobs that well.

Sun and Blogging 

Here is a creative use of corporate PR and blogging

PR 101 

Here is an example of PR 101 on the government level. The web unlocked vast archives of information and service to citizens. It is only the reluctance of legislators that keeps the process from moving faster than it does. The reluctance comes from targeting budgets to projects other than the web. Sooner or later, all interactive relationships with government will be done online. The sooner the better.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


This is a tirade, so those of you who like dispassionate opinion may skip today's entry.

The tirade concerns a conversation I had recently with a young college student attending a well known university. I asked her what she is studying, and she told me broadcast journalism. I asked her what that consisted of, and she said newswriting and anchoring. Anchoring? I stared at her.

"Do you mean," I said "you are training to be an anchor? There aren't many jobs for anchors. What about street reporting?" "I don't think I would like that very much," the young lass said. The conversation continued, but I began to seethe. The fraud that journalism professors are perpetrating on impressionable young people is almost too much to bear. She will be lucky to find a one-man-band street reporting job in Fort Wayne, IN and get paid the miserly sum that drove me out of the business decades ago. Moreover, what kind of academic learning is it to sit and look at a camera with a pleasant expression on one's face? What she should be doing is studying history, political science, economics and physics, so she can be a good reporter at some point in her career. But no, she's studying anchoring.

I am an honors journalism graduate, so I feel I am qualified to write that most journalism and PR curricula fall woefully short of the education that a reporter and PR practitioner needs. Learning how to write leads and press releases is not enough to report accurately the complex world in which we live. I am not alone in writing this. Many in journalism have said the same thing -- and in PR too. The best journalists and PR people bring well-developed and rigorous minds to their work. They are curious. They dig. They are not satisfied until they understand.

In the old days, one trained under an editor who made you or broke you. We need that kind of OJT back in journalism and PR. We should insist that college students come prepared in solid disciplines and then train them in the techniques of each business. This could be done easily with a fifth year cram course rather than four years of learning how to write and do events or anchoring.

I feel sorry for the parents of the young lass. They are forking over tens of thousands of dollars to a university for little or nothing. They might as well bet on horses or the lottery for all the return they and their daughter are getting.

Yes, I taught in a university communications department, and yes, my feelings were the same there as well, which is why I wasn't well liked by the revenue-driven professors. They were more concerned with keeping the number of students up in order to collect tuition than they were with a good education of those entrusted to them. It sickened me and finally, I quit. (They were happy I did.) What has happened to education?

I wish the young woman well in her pursuit of anchoring. I am sorry she was led to believe that she has to attend a four-year college to learn how to do it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Writing by Committee 

It is the fate of every PR practitioner to engage in writing by committee. This unseemly and inefficient method of developing communications comes from a known fact that every CEO, general counsel, executive vice president, CFO, CMO and dogcatcher writes better than you do and perhaps, better than Shakespeare.

Writing by committee is a deep annoyance that one endures from the first day in business until the last. I was lucky by comparison to other practitioners. I started by writing annual reports, and there is no more of a committee-scripted product in the world. Early on, I got used to bashings that CEOs, EVPs and VPs gave to copy, sometimes for the sole reason that they could. I, wretched scribe, collected revisions and ground out change 32 in route to a 50-draft report. This is exaggerated in that I never reached that high a number in my recollection, but I did have a heck of a lot of drafts piled in the file drawer.

Perhaps the worst feature of committee writers is that many never weigh in until the document is considered complete. Suddenly, there are grave gaps that should have been caught earlier or extensive rewrites that just have to be done. Excuse me, but where the hell were these writers earlier in the process?

One learns to bite deeply into one's tongue when writing by committee. There is always a rising desire to say something to somebody that will be taken ill -- and was meant. As I get older, I have learned to turn off my hearing for much of the discussion. On teleconferences, I play with the computer. In meetings, I try to doodle as well as my boss. This process of disengagement is solely intended to preserve sanity until conversation gutters out, and one can get a sentence.

Writing by committee is an incredible waste of time, and the only compensation for it is that we bill by the hour.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Right Move 

No matter what you think of President Bush, his public acceptance for Federal blunders after Hurricane Katrina was right. It was a proper public relations move. The boss stands up for underlings for good and ill, then makes sure failures never happen again. It looks as if Bush is taking this course, and if he is, more power to him. Criticism will continue to be withering, as it should be. But, he ran for the job.

To me, this is the test of his leadership. If he handles the recovery well, he is a better president than I have given him credit for. If he doesn't, I won't be surprised. I've never liked him that much. The true test of a leader is crisis and not times of good feeling. Bush handled 9/11 well, but his handling of Iraq is suspect to any objective observer. It's as if he has his good days and bad.

From a PR perspective, this administration has been puzzling from the outset. Bush has been effective in getting legislation through Congress, but he is a person people love to hate. It makes one wonder, especially since he said after the second election that he had gained a lot of political capital, and he was going to spend it. Circumstances in Iraq and the South spent it for him, and he is scrambling to get out of debt. Perhaps the PR lesson is that one should never look too far ahead. You never know what is coming next.

Monday, September 12, 2005

30-year Overnight Success 

Everyone is aware that the internet wasn't much of a success until the web was invented to make it more usable. I wasn't aware that the same thing happened with the digital camera as well. The issue in both cases was usability. The internet was a university tool for geeks willing to put up with its text-driven eccentricities. The digital camera needed to reach a point where it was easier to shoot in pixels than on film. Usability is at the heart of technology and communications.


There are similar cliches for PR, but these are so true for advertising. Why is it that so few people are honest about daily life?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Concepts Count 

It sometimes hard to make the connection between ideas and people's lives, but three examples in the past week demonstrate it -- one little and two large. (I am writing this on the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Towers, a wing of the Pentagon and aircrafts filled with passengers, all because of a clash of ideas.)

The Sunday New York Times reported that a difference in understanding between local and state government and FEMA contributed to the delay in getting people out of New Orleans. FEMA saw itself in a support role to local authorities, but local authorities were overwhelmed and couldn't handle the situation. The simple difference between supporting and taking charge caused vast misery. In addition, the article pointed out that when the state went to get busses to evacuate people, local parishes (counties) refused to lend them because of reported violence and the fact that most bus drivers are women. Fear kept them from acting, and busses stayed idle until FEMA stepped in.

The small case is a report of a hangup at PayPal where efforts to collect money for hurricane victims was stopped because PayPal was afraid of frauds. In this case, PayPal was acting responsibly, but it made no difference. It earned a black eye for its intransigence.

It doesn't look to me that anyone in these examples acted in a heinous manner. They acted without information and the courage to change concepts that weren't workable.

There are times to break rules, to change concepts, to look at what is happening and to suggest new ways to proceed. One doesn't always get advance warning of when such times might occur. It requires sensitivity and experience, and even then, it is possible to make large mistakes. Therein lies a choice that faces every one of us at times -- the desire to be right versus the will to act. We can look foolish either way. The question is what is right at this time, and there can be no answer until after one has chosen.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Woodwork Companies 

This is a topic on which I have written before, but it is time to mention it again. I was wondering yesterday about a former client that decided to disappear from the national scene. The company had never been comfortable in the media spotlight, and it had been trapped in a horrible crisis not of its own making. The crisis scarred the firm, and it stopped working with the media. It went silent, and I suspect it shall remain so for years but for earnings announcements and press releases on contracts and personnel changes.

When I first started in PR, this attitude was looked upon as wrong, and we would predict disasters for companies that failed to engage with reporters. Over the years, however, I have bumped into companies that preferred to remain silent, and they were just as successful out of the public eye as they were in it. Their CEOs asked why they should deal with the press. I used to give them standard PR arguments, but it occurred to me that I was being dogmatic. The answer is that as long as everything went well, they didn't have to deal with reporters. They could remain woodwork companies and enjoy anonymity. I recall this wasn't an answer that my bosses wanted to hear when I first began giving it. I was supposed to be SELLING business and not walking away.

But, there are hundreds of unknown public companies in America and tens of thousands of private ones. They know their customers: Their customers know them. That's all the PR they need or want. Only a few companies by the nature of their business must deal with the media constantly -- and they do. This means, of course, that media relations, the core of most PR activity, is a niche business. That's not a comfortable thought for many practitioners, but it is one they should remember.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Perception, Perception 

Watching the events of recent days is a study in perception. We don't really know what happened to delay help to New Orleans and the South. There was some foul-up that prevented positioning of troops and supplies. But, it is not clear now what the failure was. It will become clearer when commissions pick apart the sequence of the days leading to the disaster. It will never be fully resolved because each side is busily spinning its version of what happened. No one wants to take the blame for this one. It will cost political careers. So, we are in the middle of a perception war, a mighty effort to point fingers and pin blame so responsibility is firmly fixed well before official reports appear. It's an ugly scene, in some ways uglier than the mess the hurricane left. One loses respect for humans quickly in episodes like this, and no depth of cynicism is unwarranted.

There are choruses calling for the head of FEMA , and he may have to go. This is the kind of decision a President has to make. Survival counts more than loyalty at times, and Michael Brown should understand that. It's lonely when one is on the wrong side of a perception war. Meanwhile, sit back and watch the charges fly about the political ring. Politics are the nastiest kind of pugilistics, and there are no rules against hitting below the belt.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's Usability, Stupid 

This story was inevitable. By packing so many features and functions into cellphones, manufacturers have turned them into undesirable tools. When will engineers remember the KISS principle -- Keep It Simple, Stupid. People don't like to fight with machines. They want to use machines. PR practitioners should be reminding engineers of the public constantly. It looks like they didn't where cell phones are concerned.

Huge Task 

One of the many giant tasks that Southern Louisiana and Mississippi have is a public relations campaign. That campaign will keep those in place who are determined to move and lure those back who have gone. It will also invite those back who visited New Orleans for a culture that has been nearly ruined. Settlement outside of affected areas has begun. Once completed, it will be difficult to get people to uproot and return. In fact, many won't, and others will take their place.

A second part of that public relations campaign should be to convince people never to settle so close to the water again. This is time to put in -- finally -- rules that prevent people from building on barrier islands and close to shores that are vulnerable to major storms. Inexcusable building on unstable coastlines, such as North Carolina's Outer Banks, has been occurring for the last 50 years. It should be stopped once and for all with the example of Katrina.

Here's a bet that it won't be. The power of public preference overwhelms wisdom time and again.


I find this interesting because of the many junk studies of all kinds that exist in every field. PR practitioners are responsible for merchandising many of them, and I am sure I have merchandised more than a few myself in spite of best efforts. We need to take extreme care, especially with medical research to make sure that findings are what scientists say they are.

Scientists are people too. Many are ambitious, vain and bucking for advancement, and their human qualities can affect their work. PR needs good statistical resources at hand to vet studies before merchandising them. It is not enough to say we are simply conveyors of other's messages.

No Kidding 

You would think that wine publicists have enough to worry about without this. I wonder if the smog comes in red or white.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Perceptions about Labor 

Today is Labor Day in the US -- the last official day of summer vacation. Tomorrow, it is back to work and to school for children who have not returned already.

Labor Day is an ironic holiday on which many work. All stores are open, as well as fast food outlets and gas stations, etc. In other words, the people for whom the holiday was meant are the ones who can't take time off. But, it is the perception that we honor labor that counts. So often in the US, perception means more than fact.

As a public relations person, it is important to distinguish as much as possible the differences and to highlight facts. It is fact that importance of labor does not equate with pay. The most important jobs of all -- mother and father -- are unpaid. There is no money that can compensate parents for what they do well. Among the least important jobs are overpaid -- finance and investing -- where money is made by handling money and not by producing anything. Workers in textiles and food have historically, and even now, been underpaid yet where would we be without clothes and food?

There are some signs that pay inequity in America is changing. Among the most disturbing for those of us who have degrees is that the pay for college graduates has dropped five years in a row in the US. Postgraduates have apparently been able to maintain their standard of living but one wonders how long it will be before that changes too. (What can one do with a masters degree in English literature? I have one, and I have never figured it out.) It is also a fact that labor in manufacturing has declined in America and will never recover because in order to remain competitive, surviving manufacturers have had to replace people with machines. (This is true worldwide except in developing countries like China and India.)

I have worried for some time about what people will do in a post-industrial, wired society. People are working but it looks artificial to have millions laboring in low-paid retail to sell to others serving in equally low-paid fast food jobs. That is why discount stores have done so well and why American society looks again like a society divided between wealthy and working poor with a middle class shrinking in between. Of course, my perceptions may well be wrong, but there is one fact that isn't. The internet has created a global economy that everyone senses, but few understand. America is not yet competitive in that economy, and there is no guarantee it ever will be. Government can encourage change, but it can not force people to act differently. The economy itself has to find a path out of the conundrum in the form of millions of entrepreneurs, managers and laborers who adjust day by day to what they sense is happening around them. Labor Day should be celebrating this change and not the last day at the beach.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bush and New Orleans 

I had no intention of commenting on Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath in New Orleans. Everyone else is writing about it, and many are more qualified than I. But then, this e-mail came to me yesterday.

I am interested to see your thoughts on how President Bush's somewhat "lack of presence" in New Orleans, or the South for that matter, could turn into a PR fiasco in the remaining years of his term. There's a strong presence of local and state politicians in the South, even our own Texas Governor on Larry King last night. But just a "fly over" in Air Force One? His father was criticized for not reacting fast enough to Hurricane Andrew, and later lost the election. Seems fishy. I'd be interested to read your thoughts.

With that kind of invitation, how could one resist?

So here's what I think strictly from a communications and perception point of view. Bush shot himself badly by going to San Diego and being photographed with gift guitar in hand. Perceptually it looked like he didn't care or wasn't informed. Neither position is acceptable for a President to take. However, Bush didn't kill himself. He can recover if he's careful -- and he and his people have had a history of being careful about public perception. Time will tell whether he can make up for lost ground. After all, he was criticized for failing to return to Washington immediately after 9/11, and he survived that.

Bush has several challenges now that he didn't have during 9/11. He has an unpopular war on his hands that already cost him popularity. He has high gas prices that upset drivers before Hurricane Katrina and has them screaming now. He had Hurricane Katrina in Florida before it reached the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. He has most major newspapers against him and eager to score points. Finally, he has had four years in office and is working on a fifth. That is plenty of time for people to dislike him for one reason or another.

Given these challenges, there is little chance his popularity will ever again approach the levels that he had post 9/11. But, it doesn't have to, and he can still be effective. It's a question of when and how he acts to seize the initiative. He doesn't have much time left before the whole affair gets away from him. Some would say that he has lost his chance already. However, he hasn't been a "White House President," who stays in the Oval Office. He did travel to New York to talk to the firefighters. He is going to the Gulf Coast to survey the damage.

There is still a chance that he can win the perception war, but he needs to move quickly -- and he knows it. (Now, pardon me if I don't comment on this topic again.)

40 Markets - Part 2 

I need to correct one opinion from yesterday. MediaMap is not just slow in the afternoon. It stops dead. Won't run. Can't make it run. Come back later. This happened yesterday to two of us, and we're under a tight deadline. (Cue gnashing of teeth.) What infuriates me is that the company is aware of the problem but is making customers live with it.

I suspect I know the reason for the slowdown. It isn't hard to build a hypothesis. The system starts to seize at noon when the entire US comes online from New York to California. It is OK in the morning before California work hours and after 6 pm when the East Coast goes home. It is underpowered. Some IT person built it for average performance and not for peak usage, which may be OK for other applications but is lousy for people working under deadline. The system needs to be built for reasonable response under peak loads. It isn't there now.

If anyone has a suggestion for a better system, I'd like to know it. I've looked at a lot of them over the years. They promise a great deal but their databases are indifferent at best.

The keys to a good media database system are simple but difficult: It must be accurate and easy to use 24 hours a day.

By accurate, I don't just mean the name of the reporter or editor but also the person's beat, interests and other pertinent information that helps one target the right individual rather than spamming. Easy-to-use speaks for itself. MediaMap is not easy to use. It tries to do too much and, as a result, it confuses people who can't take the time to learn all of its tricks.

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