Monday, June 30, 2008

The Second Look 

Give the US Army credit in that it authorizes and releases reports on its past actions -- like this one. From a PR perspective, it demonstrates an organization that is willing to examine itself publicly for what needs improvement. How many corporations could say the same thing?

On the other hand, looking back too much imperils future action. The future is never like the past, and there is a truth to the saying that armies always fight the last war. Still, there are lessons from the past that do apply to the future. There are guideposts for organizational leaders. For one, in any future war US commanders should learn the history of the countries in which they are fighting. Had they known the intolerance between Islamic groups in Iraq, they would have been less satisfied with toppling Saddam Hussein and feeling their mission was accomplished. There was plenty of knowledge about and understanding of the Middle East available. Neither the White House nor the command structure paid attention to it.

There is no guarantee in the next military action that they will again.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Stopping A Bank Run 

This is a modern version of sparking a bank run. The question for Citigroup is how to stop it. The bank no longer has the credibility to argue with the Street. There is little it can do in the way of PR because it has stumbled for months. With its stock beaten down, it is a target for takeover.

Bank runs are ugly affairs. We've seen two so far this year at Bear Stearns and at Lehman. There is a brilliant cinematic version of an old-fashioned run in this film. Today, institutional investors simply pull their billions and a bank no longer has the capital it needs to operate.

In the financial services industry, credibility is everything. It is clear that Citigroup no longer has it and the CEO must be having sleepless nights.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Delayed Reaction 

It is hard to believe that this case is still churning through the courts of New York State. It is less difficult to believe that the former attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, over-stepped his authority when he brought the case against Richard Grasso. Spitzer used the lowest form of publicity and class warfare to justify illegal action. This was his modus operandi. He wrapped himself and his office in the mantle of "fighting for the little guy" and proceeded to play a media game against the financial services industry. Few of his cases went to trial. He went for big headlines followed by settlement with the individual or company. Grasso is notable because he called Spitzer's bluff and challenged his tactics.

Whether Grasso deserves his large payday or not is another question. The issue here is abuse of authority. Spitzer showed his true colors as a short-term governor forced to resign for personal misbehavior. It is sad that the media for the most part went along with Spitzer during his time in the spotlight. It is also a warning to any organization or individual who would fight the government. It is hard to win against bureaucrats who are skilled "media spinners."

The Grasso case is not over. In the end, he may be forced to return some of his compensation, but one hopes that it is done legally this time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Urban Legends 

Some Urban Legends won't go away -- like this one. Fortunately, it is not serious, and it has hardly dented Bill Gates' reputation. Others, however, have cost companies and individuals. With the internet, it is easier to spot who is passing on erroneus information, but, on the other hand, the speed of dissemination is faster and farther. Urban Legends are one more reason why monitoring the internet is essential and rapid response to wrong information a key part to defending reputations. One needn't go as far as Barack Obama, but it is important to get web pages such as Snopes alerted to rumors and innuendo. It is also important in forums and discussion pages to intervene with correct information. Some companies do this well. Others don't. Those who don't fail to understand the economic and reputational cost of allowing rumors to run wild.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How To Compromise Your Reputation 

Claim something that you aren't. Comcast may have fiber optic cable leading to its distribution points but not to the home itself. I have Comcast cable in my house and Verizon FIOS optical cable hanging on a pole outside. There is a difference. One wonders why a company would make statements like this. It strikes one as a note of desperation. Could Comcast be losing that many customers to Verizon?

While Comcast may sow short-term confusion, it is setting itself up for a rap against its reputation, something it doesn't need. Customers have long been frustated with cable companies. Actions like this only serve to confirm their worst feelings.

What were they thinking?

Early Promotion 

This posting about Lucy the Margate Elephant proves that good publicity ideas are enduring -- in this case since 1881. The giant statue was a promotion gimmick to sell real estate on the New Jersey shore. Crowds came to see it and coincidentally, buy land. I've been to see Lucy two or three times, and the edifice is extraordinary in a late Victorian way. Perhaps the salvation of Lucy was the weirdness of a 6-story elephant statue where it had no business being. In any event, Lucy is the last of her kind, not that there were many of her kind.

The kind of publicity stunts that spawned Lucy still exist, but they are usually not as elaborate or as long lasting. Lucy has lasted long past her first economic purpose but still hasn't lost her role as a tourist attraction.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Different View 

This editorial on the energy crisis summarizes how far many Americans have traveled on the matter of energy. Even 50 years ago the answer would have been to expand the search for oil. Now that the rest of the world is competing for crude, this editorial writer has concluded the opposite.

The writer is correct in assessing the President as a spokesperson for the oil industry, but it is more than that. Extraction industries grew with the expansion of the US and were responsible for much of the country's ability to expand. These were iron, coal, oil, copper and other minerals. Environmentalists never favored them because of what mining does to the earth. However, modern society would not be possible without mining. Shutting down oil exploration in the US guarantees that the society Americans enjoy today will change fundamentally.

Perhaps it is time for this to happen. The question is whether the rest of American society is of the same opinion. The debate over energy is just starting and will be a major theme for the next administration. There already are major PR efforts by the energy industry to influence public opinion. It would be dangerous not to listen to what the industry has to say. The energy industry is at the heart of society. If Americans choose to reduce energy, it will be good for the country in the long term and painful in the short term. Citizens need to understand that. So does the next president.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Solve This One 

Here is a PR challenge that could improve the social fabric of the United States -- getting doctors to use electronic medical records. There is no argument that computer-based records are better, but doctors still aren't using them. They plead cost as the reason for not switching from paper files.

Were I a teacher of PR students, I would challenge them to develop a program that would persuade doctors to take the step. There would be several parts to the assignment. One would be a subsidy to change over. Another would be spokespersons whom doctors' trust -- i.e., other doctors who have made the change. A third would be technical help to hand-hold a doctor through the change. Finally, there would be a matter of time to get the change done, especially if one is converting paper-based medical records. The challenge would be to find the right mix that would get doctors willing to take the step.

It would be a triumphant cap to a career to help solve this problem. One question that is bothersome is why a coalition of pharmaceutical companies and other health-related agencies haven't stepped forward to take on the task. My guess is that they are pleading lack of budget as well, but until the switch-over is made, US healthcare will continue to suffer. Is the Federal Government the only entity big enough to take on the task?

Thursday, June 19, 2008


There are times when communications professionals go too far in protecting the image of a client. Is this one of them?


What kind of PR does it take to foster and maintain this kind of dedication? None of the 1,076 developers were paid to write code and the project lasted 15 years.

There are questions here that should be answered. How come the effort didn't fall apart after a year or two? Who sustained it? Who kept the code writers organized over that period and the code itself? What was the underlying cause that pushed these people to keep going on the project even if it might have passed its time?

Actions like this are reminders that money and self-interest aren't the only motivators in the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The First Rule Of Publicity Stunts 

The first rule of publicity stunts is to make sure you can do the stunt. Mozilla apparently forgot that rule yesterday when it tried for a record number of downloads for its upgraded Firefox browser. Instead, its servers froze under a flood of requests for the new program. It seems clear what happened. Technicians at Mozilla calculated the number of servers they needed for the number of requests per hour that they thought they would get and had those ready to go. They miscalculated and didn't have enough power in reserve. So, Mozilla ends up with egg on its face.

This reminds me of a story told to me long ago by one of the old hands in PR. He said it happened to him. He was doing a press event introducing a new dog food. After an initial presentation about the food and how much dogs like it, he was to put some in a bowl before the media and a waiting dog would run over to eat it. He did just that but the dog wandered over, sniffed the food and ambled away. Someone had fed the dog before the press conference.

Publicity stunts can go awry easily enough. It has happened to me when the weather suddenly turned, for example, and the event fell apart. Never try one without plenty of backup and lots of rehearsal. Even then, keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How Far PR Has To Go 

This article is a perfect example of how far PR has to go to gain some measure of credibility. The quote from Barack Obama's new press spokesperson summarizes what reporters think of PR practitioners.

The thing that really made me feel at peace with the decision is this conversation we had about telling the truth. He (Obama) wants me to tell the truth. Coming from a background in journalism as opposed to PR, that was really the thing I wanted to hear.

The assumption that one has to lie in PR is embedded in the media's thinking, but then in Washington DC, there is good reason for that. It is a town filled with spinners out for short-term advantage rather than long-term gain.

Good PR 

It is not often that a blogger praises another person for good PR. Here is an example worth reading. The blogger notes that his victim had every right to be angry for being misquoted but instead handled the correction in a gentlemanly fashion. There is a lesson for the rest of us.

Monday, June 16, 2008


If there are two questions PR practitioners should ask, they are, "What do we know and how do we know it?" The reason we should raise those questions is that PR practitioners are accused of bias in representation of clients. That accusation is often correct. But, bias is as much unintentional as deliberate. It comes from practices that narrow one's search for information into grooves and lull one into accepting rather than challenging accuracy of information. This essay discusses sources of bias and what responsble PR practitioners do to minimize it. If you have respect for accuracy, chances are you take the steps outlined in the essay. If you simply take the information given to you, the essay will show you why you shouldn't.

As usual, any comments, complaints or proposed revisions are welcome.

This is the 77th essay posted to online-pr.com

Friday, June 13, 2008


Here is a good example of why it is dangerous to use slang, especially when you don't know all of its meanings.

Perils of Celebrity 

Here today, gone tomorrow. Lehman's CFO was feted only three months ago as the saviour of the firm. Now she has been deposed as Lehman struggles to raise capital and to remain independent. As turnabouts go, this was faster than usual, but it was by no means unprecedented. She probably could not have kept her head down given the environment of bank meltdowns, but it would have been better, if she could have remained low-keyed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tough Decision 

The CEO of brewer, Anheuser-Busch, faces a tough decision. The company has always been dominated by one family, even though it is publicly held. The family has over many decades reinforced the perception that it is a family company. Now comes an all-cash bid to shareholders that will be hard for the family to turn down. It will be interesting if the family goes quietly or if it decides to mount a communications defense. Either way, the CEO is under pressure. Do what is best for shareholders or do what is best for the family?

There is always a risk in maintaining dated perceptions. If the Busch family were the dominant shareholder with voting control, then carrying on family tradition makes sense. It is my understanding, however, that the family no longer holds a majority of the shares. The question arises, then, whether the family should have changed perceptions and communicated a more accurate picture of what the company is. It will become clear as this merger offers unfolds. Either way, the perception of the company will never be the same again.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kudos To Comcast 

My cable service is back up. It went back on line yesterday morning after complaining again to the company and writing the blog post. The reason for kudos to the company was a phone call I received yesterday afternoon from a Comcast service person. He had read my blog and was calling to inquire what had happened. That was fast reaction. When I queried him, he said the company uses Google alerts to track mentions of its name. That was good, but the quick call was better. It shows that Comcast understands the power of online and is organized for rapid reaction. It would have been better had Comcast come up a day or two before, but nonetheless, the company went out of its way to address a customer complaint.

Every company should be handling customer complaints this way. It's just good PR.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Comcast Is... 

...losing my loyalty. Our cable has been going in and out since last Friday. Comcast says there is a service issue and that cable would be restored by morning. Morning came but cable service didn't. The first rule of public relations is to do what you say you are going to do. Comcast is failing Rule One.

The challenge that a broadband-telephone-TV-service supplier has is uptime. Uptime of 99 percent is not good enough during a year. It needs to be closer to something like 99.9999 percent. Why? People depend on the service in the same way they depend on electric power (which went out at our house yesterday in the middle of a heat wave). I have to live with the electric utility. There is no other service available. I don't have to live with Comcast. There are alternatives. This means that Comcast cannot afford to have long-term outages and maintain public confidence in it as a service provider. It is a difficult position for a cable company to be in, but that is the marketplace. Press releases and soothing words don't substitute for service.

If you have noticed that my web page, online-pr.com, has not been updated since last week, the reason is Comcast. I'll call Comcast again this morning, but Verizon's FIOS service is looking better all the time.

Monday, June 09, 2008

No Good Message 

The news of $4/gallon gas has few upsides other than enforced conservation. I drove to Baltimore and Washington DC over the weekend and back to New Jersey. I can attest to shock at the pump. What is painful is watching auto manufacturers trying to make their cars high mileage vehicles. I saw one ad over the weekend in which the manufacturer trumpeted the 23-mile-per-gallon rating for a vehicle as high-mileage. That's not only poor PR. It's absurd. But, the sudden change in fuel prices has forced the entire industry into absurdity. There is no good message and for the first time, overall miles driven are declining. There have been numerous stories that mass transit was equally unprepared for the rise in prices. Bus lines are squeezed by diesel prices well over $4/gallon. Trains have seen a rise in ridership, but trains don't go everywhere, especially in the US.

So we have entered a period of pain in which there will be a temporary, or perhaps long-term, diminution in lifestyle. What is the message that makes that palatable?

Friday, June 06, 2008

A Piece Of Cloth 

Humans are odd. A piece of cloth can cause a national crisis as is happening in Turkey. We attach incredible importance to symbols such that governments can rise and fall. One would think man would be more rational. On the other hand, man has an ability to attach meaning to symbols that sets our species apart from other animals. Virtually everything we do uses a symbol of some kind to transfer meaning -- from the letters forming this blog entry to the symbols of arithmetic.

It is the misuse of symbols that is baffling. A head scarf has a religious meaning, but is it all that important in a larger context? A follower of Islam would say it is. The rest of the world wouldn't grasp the meaning. What is happening in Turkey is a reminder that symbols and meaning can extend beyond common sense. Raising flaps over whether presidential candidates should wear flag lapel pins, for example, is absurdity. Yet, it happened this year. It seems that symbols related to religion and nationalism provoke the most reactions and least understanding.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Some Things Never Change 

Some things never change. This is another reason why being in political communications is a tough and often, unrewarding job. If reporters can't find conflict, they make it up.


Here is why it is not nice to fool the media. Microsoft's PR agency puts out a release about a product extension without mentioning the version of Windows on which it is offered. The blogger has to go to Microsoft's agency to find out and learns that it is Windows XP and not Vista on which it is offered. He uses this bit of duplicity as the subject for a column.

What was Microsoft thinking? The blogger thinks he knows, and he might be right, but the result is damage to the reputation of Microsoft and its Vista product.

One hopes Microsoft's agency wasn't involved in this cheap trick.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Great PR 

This is the best kind of PR for a car company.

Missed This 

I missed this earlier in the week. It speaks directly to the essay I posted last week on online-pr.com. It also shows how far PR practitioners have to go to gain the trust of the media. This fellow, however, is so biased that it is unlikely a practitioner would get him to change his mind.


This blog post speaks for itself.

PR And Paleontology 

Congratulations to this museum PR coordinator. I'd ask for a raise with a discovery like this.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Where To Now? 

The airline industry has now stated it is in collapse and sees no future under present circumstances. The industry will have to shrink, change its economic model -- i.e. higher airfares and fewer routes -- and make the public suffer more. It may turn into an industry that average families cannot afford and only the wealthy and businesspeople use.

How does one communicate this sour news to the public? Or, does one just let it happen because there is nothing else one can do? What is a PR strategy in this situation? Some airlines like American have come out and said they have no option but to charge more, charge for everything and raise ticket prices too. That is understandable, if not acceptable. However, the dilemma airlines face is this. Business won't accept higher fares either. There are now better videoconferencing systems that become affordable given airfares. Companies are using them.

PR strategy follows business strategy, but it is not clear, given the present situation, that there is a business strategy other than survival or merger. Should PR be communicating that?

Shame On PR 

Who let this through?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Can't Win 

Here is a story in which an organization can't win. If FEMA lets people stay in trailers, it is wrong. However, expelling them from trailers to uncertain living conditions is equally wrong in the eyes of the public. There is no way to put a "smiley face" on action or lack of it.

Sometimes organizations face these conundrums. Leaders know they are going to take a hit sooner or later. Acting without explanation or letting the problem fester are wrong choices. However, explaining the situation to those affected is guaranteed to raise resistance. There must have been a number of meetings at FEMA before it took the action of closing the camp. It would have been interesting to listen in on the discussion. There is no good PR advice in situations like this. One acts or not and takes the consequences.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?