Thursday, May 31, 2007

Irony, Indeed 

This BusinessWeek writer notes the irony of the governor of New York establishing a commission to find ways to make doing business on Wall Street easier. It was the governor's high-handed and populist demonizing of business that created much of the problem in the first place when he was attorney general. Admittedly, he stopped bad practices but the way he went about his work was high in publicity value and sometimes, low in law. He was a media darling, but he is learning in his present job that the media can turn against one too.

Reputation Wrecker 

Here is a quick way to ruin a company's reputation. Even though the CEO who was responsible for the lie is no longer there, the company continues to deal with the consequences of his action. Worse, it convinces people all the more that big pharmaceutical companies are not trustworthy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

YouTube Advocacy 

It never takes long for Washington, DC political consultants to adopt a new medium. YouTube advocacy is fully developed, all the way to arguments over clean underwear. Corporations have awakened to the power and efficiency of YouTube but not as quickly as political communicators.

It is easy to be cynical about Washington communicators' regard for truth but their willingness to try new media is impressive. PR practitioners can learn from them.

Getting Even, cont 

We've written extensively about online and exposes. Here is a perfect example of getting even. An image like this can bounce around the internet quickly and create reputational problems for a company.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Power of PR 

It has been interesting to follow the story about two whales -- mother and calf -- that got lost, swam up a river and ended up in my hometown, Sacramento, CA. They are now slowly heading out to sea with a Coast Guard craft in attendance and herding them gently in the right direction. The cost of the whale driving operation is by now tens of thousands of dollars, when one includes personnel and equipment time spent on coaxing the beasts.

It is hard not think that in some parts of the world, including in Alaska, the presence of whales would mean food and their misdirection a fortunate way to get it without going to sea. It was PR campaigns that changed the world's attitude about whales. PR concentrated on the disappearance of the creatures, their magnificence and their importance to humans. PR drove the laws that prohibited whaling and PR is behind such things as whale watching tours.

The change in attitude about whales has occurred in my lifetime -- and I'm not that old yet. It is such an accepted part of cultural thinking that we no longer understand why the Japanese prize whale meat, although we can accept that Alaskan natives need whales for subsistence living.

I've never seen a study on the PR that went into saving whales, but it would make a great case for practitioners to know. Meanwhile, the world continues to get daily reports on the health of the mother and calf and their progress back to the ocean.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Navy PR 

I know little about the US Navy. I was in the army. However, I was impressed by the Navy's PR during its recent "Fleet Week" in New York Harbor. "Fleet Week" is an annual visitation by Navy ships and sailors to New York City. The event always garners headlines, and ship tours draw tens of thousands of old and young.

I had never gone on a ship tour before this past weekend, but I have now seen two destroyers and a cruiser. The sailors, men and women alike, were polite, enthusiastic about their duties and knowledgeable about the complex machines aboard a modern fighting craft. My daughter commented on how nice they were, and she was right. Their all-white uniforms are designed to impress as well -- and they do. It was easy to conclude that the safety of America on the seas is in good hands. I know that it was all a well-oiled PR and recruiting machine, but that made little difference. Even a cynic would be interested.

There was one downside to the tours that no amount of PR could overcome. Living on shipboard is not for the claustrophobic. Every inch of the vessels stored something. Hatches are small and ducking is common. We were escorted on one of the tours by a 6' 7" sailor whose head was perpetually bowed, and he still scraped lights and cable runs. It was a relief to get back to the pier and know someone else has decided to spend seven months at a time living in these steel containers.

Friday, May 25, 2007

PR Black Eye 

We have written before about the prevalence of exposes in the internet age. Here is one, and there is not much credit card companies can say about protection of cardholders from identity theft. They clearly aren't doing the job.

It is interesting that the author of this essay calls for transparency at the end. Rather than stiffing those who point out insecurities and stolen cards, credit card companies should be welcoming and thanking them for their efforts.

Mainstream media can -- and have -- picked up articles like this and caused an even bigger headache. The moral of the story is the one must monitor every part of the internet today and take seriously what bloggers and others find. More than that, one must engage. The security departments of the credit card companies should have contacted this individual immediately. It doesn't appear to have been done, and there didn't appear to be action with one exception. That is the PR black eye.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Worthy of Strong PR Effort 

Here is a development that is worthy of strong PR support. Anything that slows the tide of spam gets my vote. Industry participants are well aware that there needs to be a sustained publicity and educational effort to gain general adoption of the new standard. Let's hope one starts soon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Charles Munger is one of the most successful investors of the modern era. If the name doesn't ring a bell, he is a partner with Warren Buffet, and between the two of them, they have built billions in value. This speech by Munger is a few years old but relevant. Don't let the title put you off. He's down to earth and pointed in his remarks about the inability of academic economists to look at the world correctly. In fact, his critique applies as well to PR where academics tend to get lost in theories of communications rather than the practicalities of it. Munger pounds key points -- the need to look at things they way they are and the need to be multidisciplinary. One has to put on and take off points of view to understand the environment.

If there is one damning critique of communications and PR training, it is an inability of academics and their students to be multidisciplinary. They focus on message and medium but fail to understand what they are observing first.

For example, there is one truth PR practitioners should learn once they leave school. It is that there are never audiences but individuals who make up audiences. While individuals may share in a common activity, they bring different sets of beliefs and cultural understandings to a common endeavor that may complicate communications. With the internet, we should stop talking about audiences and start talking about people. But it is hard to give up the notion of groups so most of us continue to think of mass audiences. It may take years for PR to change to where it should be. This is the kind of self-entrapment that Munger criticizes. As he would say, we ought to know better.

Take the time to read the whole speech. It is enlightening.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Print Interview 

This is an interesting discussion of a growing trend -- interviews done by e-mail. I have to agree with the columnist who wrote this piece, Howard Kurtz, that such interviews sacrifice personality for accuracy. However, they do something else as well. They sacrifice serendipity, the chance for a journalist to spot and explore an idea that had not arisen before the interview.

There is no easy answer for the trade-off. We use e-mail interviews if there are specific questions from a reporter, and it is easier for a client to write answers to them. On the other hand, with complex topics that require explanation, we tend to avoid e-mail. Reporters need time to grasp a topic, to ask questions in different ways until an idea becomes clear and to push for examples that illustrate what a client is talking about. This can be done by e-mail but it takes longer, and there is a frequent disconnection between what a reporter is asking and what a client understands a question to be. Use e-mail interviews judiciously. If there is a chance of being misquoted, e-mail is the way to go. If there is a need to explain, conduct interviews by phone or face to face.

Works For Her 

This is an interesting profile of Silicon Valley PR expert Sylvia Paull. Her method of throwing parties for up-and-comers and influentials is unfortunately what most people think that PR people do. However, the method works for her, and she has apparently become a vital connection point among entrepreneurs and inventors in the Bay Area. One hopes that Silicon Valley businesspeople realize PR does more than that.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bleeding Talent 

There is nothing more disturbing to a company than to lose talent. This appears to be the case with Yahoo!, which is in decline. There is little PR can do to hold people in place. It is the job of top management to keep key people by showing them a convincing view of the future. When that isn't possible and there are better alternatives, the drain starts. Transparency isn't necessarily the answer. Perhaps the future is dark, and there aren't solutions. The leadership qualities of the CEO are tested to the full. The CEO has to know whom to let go and whom to fight for.

I've been caught in a case like this where I was thrown in at the last moment to save an account as account staffers were leaving. It was dirty work and unrewarding. In the end, the client already had made up his mind to leave. I didn't blame the people who decided to go. They had been abandoned in an untenable situation for too long. The only reward for my pain was learning what not to do in the future -- namely, take assignments like this. On the other hand, I met a good friend who subsequently has gone on to do well at another company.

The lesson for me and for the CEO of Yahoo! is that personal appeals sometimes are not good enough. People have labored too long to accept the challenges they are facing. When that happens, it is time to let them go and to start over -- even with the risks of putting new people in their places at a critical time.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Hidden-camera investigations, documents placed on the internet, videoclips taken with a mobile phone, audio recordings placed online are all part of a growing trend to "out" individuals and organizations. Increasingly, companies find themselves trapped with little they can say because the evidence is overpowering that something went wrong. This article is a primer on how to handle PR when the news media and others come after you. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the article focuses on operations and not communications. PR is what you do and not what you say. Too many individuals and organizations in the world believe just the opposite. They cut corners and in so doing, leave themselves open to inquiring reporters and angry consumers. Once the mess is made, they look to PR to clean it up with communications magic. Alas, there is no magic.

Having worked with organizations that have been trapped, I can tell you that the humiliation is uncomfortable and the impact on business severe. It's always best to get operations right from the beginning than to be forced to deal with fallout.

"Trapped" is the 64th essay on PR and communications posted on online-pr.com.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Streisand Effect 

The Streisand Effect is a phenomenon everyone knows about the internet, but it has gained an amusing name. Essentially, it points to the attempt to prohibit information from showing on the internet, only to find that the verboten item is handed about and viewed far more than it would have been otherwise. In the case of Barbara Streisand, she attempted to keep an aerial photo of her house off of an internet database. That meant everyone was eager to see the photo -- and did. Attempts to regulate information on the internet fail time and again, but individuals, corporations and governments never seem to get the message. The best tactic is to ignore information once it is there and the chances of it sinking from sight are greater.

Cultural Grammar 

There is a tendency to forget culture's affect on communications, even something as basic as how one talks to another. This discussion of differences between Japanese and American speakers is interesting, particularly because the variations extend to the internet and how the two cultures create emoticons. The Japanese emoticon is as difficult to read for the American as the American is for the Japanese. One might think emoticons were a near-universal set of symbols. That they aren't shows the subtleties one should be aware of when communicating between cultures. Even simple expressions carry different cues and generate misunderstandings. This is why it will be a long time before there is reliable machine translation of text from one language to another.

As PR practitioners, we may not know the details of cultural differences but we must be aware of them and make sure they are accounted for in communications. Sometimes, it is too easy to hand copy off to a translator and to assume the translator has rendered it correctly. It is important to have a native speaker read the translated text and communicate back its meaning to see how understanding has changed. One will find it has. The question is how serious the loss of meaning has been and whether one can accept the result.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Twitter is a communication technology that baffles. There doesn't seem to be much use for it, but clones are rising everywhere. As communications professionals we need to pay attention to it, even if we don't understand its purpose other than self-referential blogging. The temptation is to say it is a fad that will pass in time, but there is a chance that real business uses will develop for it, especially for coordination. However, there are so many other tools that work just as well, it is not clear how Twitter fits into the picture. That written, technology enthusiasts are abuzz about it and charting its rocket growth. At some point as PR practitioners, we will need to experiment with the tool, if we haven't done so already.

Perception Change in Action 

What are the clues that lead to a change in perception about a person? Whatever they are, it is apparently happening to Barack Obama who is now being perceived as a candidate not quite ready for primetime. Obama has made gaffes that have turned the pundits against him. It wasn't long ago that he was a darling among many commentators, particularly those who were nervous about the Clintons.

It's interesting to watch how quickly this happens in politics. There are no second chances. One or two missteps and an individual is ushered to the door. That is why Hilary Clinton seems scripted and cautious. She's not about to step into a mess from which she cannot extricate herself. But, it also says something about campaigning in general. There is no room for mistakes in the present era of the internet. A gaffe anywhere on the campaign trail is picked up in blogs, replayed in YouTube, thrown back at the candidate quickly and often. Candidates of old didn't have to worry about that. They were even protected by the press on occasion, something one would rarely see today.

It is harder to win public office now, especially the presidency. There is greater risk, more cost and swifter ends. If you don't like what you see, get used to it. There will only be more.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Good Thinking 

This person's experience of losing a Blackberry and finding time to think and experience is instructive. There is far too little time set aside now for reflection. The bias for action is too often activity without sufficient consideration. PR practitioners, especially, should take time to think about the business and how it might be done differently. That is hard to do when one is thumbing a device or talking on the telephone. There is psychological distortion in wanting to be connected to events all of the time. It is avoidance of the harder task of asking why we do what we do. That task sometimes brings unpleasant conclusions we would rather not reach.

Leadership Versus PR? 

This article seems to be a false choice -- or at least the headline is. What the crisis expert calls for is also what the PR person asks. Citing the Jet Blue incident is ironic because it was a public relations action on the part of Neeleman, and it didn't save his job either.

One has to ask how the media think of PR practitioners when there are mistakes like this. It is obvious they know little about what we do after all these decades of working with them. Whose fault is that but our own?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Replacing a Popular CEO 

This kind of situation is a PR challenge. The new CEO is automatically judged against the departed leader. Everyone is waiting for change and the bias is against it.

Jet Blue made a smart move by promoting someone from within who is a known quantity. Bringing a CEO in from the outside in situations like this sets employees on edge. The new leader has to work overtime to gain acceptance before making any changes. When there is pressure to do things differently, it makes the process all the more difficult. In the case of Jet Blue, there is an apparent need for a different mode of operations as the carrier matures and becomes like competitors it is seeking to displace.

Smart CEOs, even ones appointed from within, will take the first few weeks to introduce themselves to all levels of employees so the employees can have a sense of who they are dealing with. The CEO is no longer a cipher but real flesh and blood who listens and is personable. Command-and-control CEOs haven't done well in recent years and the feeling now with diminished authority in relation to boards of directors is they aren't the kind of leader needed at the top of US corporations. It's too early to tell, but the PR challenges will remain no matter what style a CEO adopts.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Interesting Challenge 

Here is an interesting challenge, if true. Most new computer games fail in the marketplace and good reviews make no difference in their commercial success. What does it take to succeed? That would require advanced PR creativity to discover and my guess is that it would differ from game to game. It may well be that there is no method to achieve success. It might be like the movie industry where one can never really tell if a film will work at the box office until one puts the film into the market. By then, it's too late to change course.


Leave it to a competitor to pick up on a bit of hypocrisy at The New York Times. It is interesting when a publisher decides that it isn't OK for you to do something but it's fine for the publisher. In this case, data mining is a technology the Times sees as a weapon against citizens in government hands but perfectly acceptable in the corporate world. The Times doesn't deign to give a reason why there is a difference.

Of course, technology itself is neutral. It is what one does with it that is ethical or not. I'm sure the Times believes it will be on the side of right while one can never trust the government. Perhaps. That will be difficult to prove. I would consider it an invasion of privacy if the Times uses data mining to attempt to sell me stuff. I'm sure that is exactly what the newspaper is going to do with it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Telling It Like It Is 

The newspaper industry may never have heard speeches like these. It must have been depressing to be in the room. From a PR perspective, we too should be in the bleachers cheering on the industry in its effort to turn around. Newspapering continues to be the single largest new content provider. We need that content generation to get impartial evaluation of messages and to get these messages distributed.

I agree with the view of Macy's Chief Marketing Officer. Newspapers need to play to their strength -- local news generation -- and to get away from running Associated Press and Reuters wire stories that everyone has read 12 hours before online. While this will make the job of the PR practitioner more difficult, it is still the way to go. The value of newspapers is content generation and not content redistribution. That is why downsizing of newsrooms is wrong but regrettably the way the industry seems to be going.

Reporters are asked to do so much more now there is a danger of a decline in quality in both reporting and editing. There have been alarms about this already but no one in newspaper management seems to be listening yet. They are still scrambling to find a model that works and to return to former levels of profitability. Reporters and editors are taking the brunt of the transition. This means to me that PR should assist reporters in doing their work with greater alacrity and precision. We have a valuable opportunity to become partners to the media rather than adversaries. Let's hope we don't blow it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


I found this commentary interesting . It reflects on an internet that is blurring truth with fiction so often one can no longer know what is real and what isn't. The commentary is an unintentional paean to transparency, something PR knows about, or should know about.

The way to triumph over lies is with truth each and every time. One's credibility rises whether or not the other party agrees with a position. Too many PR practitioners and agencies have skirted the edges of transparency or driven right over without the least thought for its value. They get lost in a hall of mirrors and never know it. This is why many Washington DC practitioners scare me. They score points but ignore underlying facts. Winning is everything, even if eventual success leaves one so mired in conflict that the possibility of progress is elusive. In their defense, they have a history of presidents who have done the same thing, most notably Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man who rarely told the truth to anyone. Their excuse is that keeping truth wrapped in riddles allows one room to maneuver. Well, yes, but it also compromises the individual in the public's eyes over time. Roosevelt was an exception.

On the web, transparency should be fundamental for the PR practitioner. You are who you say you are. You represent a client or a position. You make no effort to masquerade as someone else. Your credibility is a straightforward presentation of your position. Imagine how refreshing that is.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hear The People Speak 

This is an interesting story of public relations in product development. Software designers start out to improve a popular product only to find that the public doesn't want the improvements. The designers bowed to the public's will, changed course and gave users what they want. It's interesting because the company is Microsoft, not always known for its skills in customer listening.

It is not unusual to get ahead of the public. The key is knowing when one is doing it. It is true especially in PR that new concepts have right times and wrong. On several occasions in my career, I've taken ideas to reporters who dismissed them. A year or two later, the ideas were news. What happened in between was a shift in the marketplace that made the ideas more compelling. The sad part was that the clients involved had seen where the market was going and were ahead of it themselves.

There is no easy solution for this. One can pound away until people listen or give up and adapt. From a business perspective, it is better to adapt with an understanding that one may get to where one wishes to go eventually. The hard part is to know which course to take. Looking at the history of business, one can find plenty of individuals who pounded away and as many who adapted. Both were successful, and both were failures too. In PR, sometimes it takes just one reporter to look at things differently. The key is finding that reporter when mainstream media are looking another way. It may take months of fruitless searching until someone surfaces who doesn't accept the common understanding. And, there are times when there just isn't anyone who is willing to look at a story. Those are the accounts that go away after a year.

Monday, May 07, 2007

More of Them Than You 

It didn't seem necessary to post comments on the online revolt that posted the encryption key for HD DVDs last week. However, an absurdity occurred from the episode that was too much to ignore. The industry is threatening to sue bloggers who posted the key.

The industry is forgetting PR basics in that threat. There are more of them than you. When a revolt becomes as large as it has, there is no way to retrieve the information or to punish those who have used it. The legal system is not equipped to handle the action needed. Secondly, the threat of a suit only shows how far out of touch and helpless the industry is. As expensive as it would be, the solution for the industry is to change the key or the entire digital rights management system -- or, to live with copying of HD DVDs. There is no good choice, but there is no recall of the key that is going to work.

The public has spoken whether one likes the result or not.

Bad PR 

Here is an excellent example of crappy PR -- declaring the media an enemy. Yet, that seems to be the way that the US Army is looking at reporters. The military has long had a love-hate relationship with the press. It looks like the hate side is in ascendancy.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Corporations Are Next, cont. 

The US military has effectively killed blogging among soldiers with new regulations that require permission for each entry. The military's concern for security is overblown, but the idea behind restricting speech will be adapted by corporations in various forms, if it hasn't been already. The reasoning is simple. Corporations don't want their affairs aired to the world any more than the military does. They too are concerned about what bloggers might say. It seems to me that policies will run along the following line. One may blog as long as one doesn't talk about the company, its activities, its people or its policies. Blogging becomes a personal hobby outside of work, even if one discusses work-related issues.

That is the practice followed in this blog. I rarely refer to anything related to work because of the confidential nature of much of what we do and because of client relationships. It's too risky. On the other hand, lessons from client counseling do find their way into this blog. The military's rules are so restrictive that a soldier isn't even allowed to comment on what he or she has learned on the battlefield. That is extreme. On the other hand, there are businesses where that policy makes sense because of the sensitive nature of what they do.

Second Life 

I don't understand Second Life as an experience, game or anything else. Obviously, some companies do and here is a review of eight firms that have gone heavily into the environment. The companies believe there is marketing and PR value for their presence, or they wouldn't be there. My ignorance comes from the time it takes to move through these worlds. I don't have the hours in real life much less a second life. Perhaps that is a comment on my ability to organize my affairs and to get things done.

The article is worth reading for the PR ideas that various companies are bringing to this imaginary world.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mr. Magazine 

This is a thoughtful interview on the role of magazines and newspapers in an internet and blogging era. Although I disagree with his dislike of putting magazine and newspaper content online, he is correct overall that print and online should complement one another rather than compete. He is on target when he says publishers and journalists look at each other more than at their readers. There is a tendency in every industry to do that. With a continued decline in newspaper and magazine circulation, it is clear that the industry has a whole hasn't found a formula that works.

As PR practitioners, we should be concerned. We still rely on the media to get messages out and to vet impartially statements made on behalf of clients. Although the reliance isn't as strong as it once was, PR would suffer if publishers begin to disappear.

I'm amused by his distinction between blogging and journalism. There are journalist bloggers who are every bit impartial reporters, and they have a following such as this site and this one. It is easy to predict that blogging will divide into two camps -- journalism and opinion, with personal diaries part of opinion. It has done so already. Journalism is still a small part of blogging but it is growing because the medium costs virtually nothing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Slow Emergence of Truth 

It is interesting to watch the continuous drop in circulation among US newspapers. What is happening is a slow emergence of truth about the actual number of readers that papers have. There was a great deal of outright lying about circulation to advertisers that is now going away. It is ironic that these temples of truth and defenders of freedom were hypocritical about their size.


Whoever thought this up as a promotional idea was short-sighted and without concern for a company's reputation. It's an example of marketing run amok. Sony's PR department now has the job of clean-up.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Transparency, Again 

I have written before about the value of mashups to explain political campaign contributions. This article looks at the topic in greater depth. Mashups demonstrate to citizens how politicians run on money, the "mother's milk of politics." The transparency has long been needed.

Google PR 

It is odd to think of Google as an essential component of good PR but it is. The company's dedication to making information transparent is at the heart of developing better relationships between citizens and governments. Google is a model of what practitioners should be striving for in their own organizations.

False Correlation 

This is a funny take on false correlations. PR practitioners take note. We make the same mistake often enough.

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