Thursday, July 31, 2008

Essential PR 

What this person is doing to get medical reform is PR at its best. He probably wouldn't call it that if asked, but he is exposing problems of medical quality and helping support efforts to cure them. PR is action more than words. In this case, it is both. The reporter highlights the efforts of those trying to measure quality and quality improvement in hospitals -- a slow and thankless job with resistance from the medical establishment. In order to do that, doctors and hospital administrators have to admit they have a problem. That is hard enough. But, as hospitals begin to feature quality ratings, the reluctant will follow because they must. It won't be long before everyone can go to a database and get a quality rating on every hospital and doctor in the country. When ratings are generally known, medical quality will become self-sufficient. No hospital or doctor with any self-respect will want a poor rating. The few that won't care will deserve to go out of business.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


One is tempted to hum, "When will they ever learn" with the announcement that both the chairman and CEO of Alcatel-Lucent are stepping down. Most mergers don't work, and this cross-cultural one was in the crosshairs of danger from the beginning. By all accounts, CEO Patricia Russo is an excellent boss. That she couldn't make it go is unhappy indeed.

Mergers start with people and getting people to work together. Cooperation is communication. It appears that people weren't communicating enough between the two countries. One wonders how the HR and PR departments were operating across borders. The next boss is faced with tough decisions, including the possibility of declaring the merger a failure and starting over by spinning off divisions. Look for more pain before things get better, if they ever do.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Great Publicity, Poor PR 

This site got a lot of publicity when it debuted yesterday. Unfortunately, it melted down when thousands tried to use it. If one wants to be a Google-killer, the site needs to work every time. What should have been a great opening day turned into an embarrassment.

I was able to complete one search, and it came up empty. Google found what I was looking for.

Good Idea, But.... 

Here is an example of a good PR idea that is sunk by poor use of technology. There really wasn't a need to have such a large flash introduction. Yesterday when I tried to open the page for the first time, it took three minutes to load and the rest of the web site was equally slow. I finally gave up. It is loading faster this morning, but I still don't want to fight the graphics. Simple is better.

The Future of Newspapers? 

Is the future of newspapers online TV? That appears to be what our local newspaper is doing. The paper launched a daily online newscast with video stories that emanates directly from its newsroom. Watch the whole newscast. There is a human interest story in it that will make you cheer.

Presentation leaves a bit to be desired but that will improve. From a public relations point of view, the newspaper has taken a giant step in moving itself closer to its audiences,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Social Network Analysis 

With the rise of formal and informal networks online, it is getting harder to determine how to contact audiences. Linkedin is a perfect example. The home page claims that more than 25 million professionals now use its service to stay in contact with others.

There are networks upon networks. There is a branch of sociology and mathematics that looks at networking. It is called social network analysis, and it applies a rigor to determining formal and informal connections that doesn't exist in PR. Social network analysis has grown in importance as the internet becomes central to communications. I know little about it, but this essay introduces basic concepts for those unfamiliar with the field. The ideas behind social network analysis are strikingly close to public relations.

The problem with social network analysis is that it is difficult to do. Even simple examples turn complex quickly. However, that is the nature of formal and informal networks. They are complicated, and that is something that is too easly forgotten in PR as we look up media names or consider organizational charts.

This is the 81st essay posted to online-pr.com. As usual, comments are welcome.

Friday, July 25, 2008

PR At The Limit 

This story raises an interesting question. How does one do PR at the edge of public tolerance? Should ISPs begin to serve ads based on deep packet inspection of every online move you make, activists and the government may get involved to require opt-in permission from consumers. How will ISPs prevent that or live with it? And how will they explain privacy?

These are PR and practical challenges. Thus far, it appears that most ISPs have gone about their business quietly. That may not last long. There is a dedicated group of activists who are watching every move online businesses take. They are looking for one vulnerable step, and they are attacking already.

One hopes that ISPs have strong PR programs prepared and ready to launch. They are going to need it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Good PR? 

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac live charmed lives. Most other corporations in the US would be allowed to stew in their failures, but not these two quasi-governmental businesses. They have the politicians where they want them -- in their corporate pockets. This is ultimately harmful to the two companies because they now believe that they can't fail no matter what they do. The government will bail them out. There is no punishment for risky behavior, and there is no regulation in the marketplace. Politicans may regret this bail-out eventually. Right now, one can admire the public relations power that these two companies have over Congress. Other corporations, such as General Motors, must be envious.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Price of Pride 

The price of showing off one's country through the Olympics can be stiff. Just ask Athens. One wonders why a country would spend the money for such an expensive public relations gesture. China may ask the same question once the Olympics are completed in Beijing, especially if the games do not come off to the satisfaction of the government.

The summer and winter Olympics are wonderful events, and I have enjoyed watching them, especially the opening ceremonies. On the other hand, they have long been out of control in terms of the money spent to prepare for the athletes and the games. Still, countries and cities line up for the privelege of spending billions to host the events. That is powerful PR. I just don't want to be the taxpayer left with the bill and empty stadiums.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Playing With Fire 

Steve Jobs of Apple is playing with fire if his health is in jeopardy. Because he is so important to the company and he has no succession plan, investors have a right to know the state of his health. Jobs could literally wreck the company, if he is incapacitated or dies. There are some communications that one must make. It appears that Jobs believes he is above the law in this matter. On the other hand, he might be in good health but still losing weight. Either way, Apple owes its investors an explanation or a succession plan. The day that Jobs steps down from the top job will be the day that Apple's shares plunge in value. Generally it is not healthy for a CEO to so dominate a company that the CEO is the company. Apple has a perilous future.

The End Run 

Here is a PR technique that one can't do often but when it works, it is highly successful. The New York Times turned down an editorial by Senator John McCain, so the McCain camp leaked it to the Drudge Report, which not only published the editorial but made a news event out of the turndown. The result is that more people are seeing the editorial than readers of The New York Times -- and the Times looks bad. The negative to this, of course, is that the Times will get even, but the McCain camp apparently feels that the Times won't be fair in any event. The McCain camp has burned its bridge to the Times with style.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Future Is Here 

This is the future of the US newspaper. Smaller staffs, emphasis on local news coverage, less foreign and national news. There are positive and negatives to the "go-local approach." The positive is that newspapers will generate content that doesn't have competition. The negative is that newspapers are becoming isolated from larger news trends. Another negative is that newspapers are more reliant on wire services for news outside their market areas.

Even as newspapers go local, with smaller staffs they are not covering the news well in their markets. I have personal experience to confirm this. We have a client in a major metro -- a billion dollar company in annual revenues. We can't get the local newspaper to pay attention to it. The reporter on the county beat is too busy. The reporter on the industry beat only wants to cover larger companies. The business editor hasn't straightened out the complications. Meanwhile, the company, which is growing in a down market, is neglected. At the financial wire service level, the company is being covered as a small company, but at least it is noticed. This will get worse as newsrooms shrink.

A billion dollar company has substantial impact on a local economy but apparently not enough. What about smaller companies? What do they do to get their news out to a larger investor audience?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Be Careful 

When a presidential candidate becomes this popular, it is time to watch out. Even one tiny slip will be magnified many times over. Barack Obama thus far has been media magic. He has escaped serious criticism, although he continues to fight rumors about his religion and political leanings. This trip abroad is largely a photo opportunity for Obama to establish his credentials as a candidate who knows something about international affairs. Obama will be in the safest position if he says little and listens closely, because anything he says will be reported heavily.

Obama has proven to be a smart candidate and well-organized. His every move outside the US has been carefully plotted. Each TV anchor will get time with him in a foreign setting, and Obama will deliver a honed message for voters. The only possibility of seeing the real man will be in the few unscripted moments that are bound to occur while he is on the road.

Still, there is as much risk of allowing the anchors to follow one on the road as there is gain. If I were Obama's media coordinator, I would be nervous until Obama is firmly back on American soil.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not A Great Way To Find Another PR Job 

This is not a great way to find another job in PR. Suing a former employer makes one toxic, even if the former employer deserves the suit, as this story seems to indicate. It is better to go quietly and to gather support from those who know what happened. In this case, the PR person could point to an article in Fortune that explains the turmoil in the company.

I've been fired in my career. It wasn't pleasant, but in both cases, the companies were failing and subsequently disappeared. There wasn't much to be done. One could fault me for joining shaky firms, but the businesses seemed to be thriving. It didn't take long once I was on the inside to see how dysfunctional they were. In one case, the joint owners of the business were at each other's throats. In the second case, the business was straining to go public and failed. And, it deserved to go under. Management was spending more time wooing potential investors than running the business, which was wildly out of control. Both failures were educational in a grim way. They taught me caution and provided experience that I've since used in counseling clients.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Rewriting the past is harder to pull off with bloggers watching one's moves. When Barack Obama changed his web page copy on Iraq, it was caught immediately. The internet has largely alleviated George Orwell's fears, but politicians have yet to learn that the world is watching what they do every minute of the day.

It is a reminder to the rest of us as well. Out of the millions using the internet, someone is keeping track. The more prominent an organization or individual is, the more tracking is done. Changes should be made carefully and consistently. Otherwise, you have a "gotcha" event.


A scientific take on the nature of trust. Worth reading. Might PR someday have a biological component? "Take your oxytocin before I deliver my message."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The End of Straight Reporting? 

This article on the Associated Press is interesting because it reveals that the AP is moving away from just-the-facts reporting. The AP has reasons for what it is doing, but the question arises whether PR should follow. The answer, it seems to me, is no. PR should hew to just-the-facts presentations of story ideas to the media.

PR works in a different context. Reporters assume that practitioners lie. Hence, practitioners have to make extra efforts to present story ideas buttressed with facts. We don't get the latitude that journalism can take. There is an irony here, however, in that PR could become the protector of accuracy in ways that journalism no longer does. Although that is highly unlikely, it is still good to think about.

There is one thing that the AP is doing that is helpful -- accountability journalism. The wire service is going back to check on what politicians promised and whether they kept those promises. That is in the best tradition of just-the-facts reporting.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What PR Should Be Doing -- But Doesn't 

This is what PR should be doing but doesn't. Why? Clients don't want to spend the money. The author of this article apparently did not know that early PR did engage in changing habits. Unfortunately, it was for tobacco, which had the resources to pay for such things.

The Dangers of Names on Buildings, Cont. 

We had commented on this embarrassment for universities before. It is happening again. The time before occurred at a college near where I live. It had two buildings with the names of convicted felons on them. The names have since been changed. The real issue is accepting money from individuals who skirt the edge of the law. It is easy to say that the universities involved did not know, but my guess is that they didn't check closely either. Money talks in university circles.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Here is another case of panic in the financial markets, sparked by comments of a former regulator. Note that the public relations statement sounds hollow by comparison to what is happening to the companies' shares. Just speaking to the media is not nearly enough to stop the run at this point. The two companies have to get into the trenches with traders and show them numbers that support the contention of their solvency going forward. Raw fear is the driver now, and it is like trying to stop a herd of cattle that have been spooked. The cowboys had to get to the head of the herd and turn it. That's just about what the companies have to do. Get ahead of rumors and rebut them. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in for some rough days.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Even experienced public figures can make dumb mistakes in front of "dead" microphones.


Words can be come traps. For Barack Obama, the trap word is "refine." It may mean just that to Obama, but to worried supporters and Republicans, it increasingly means "flip-flop." If Obama is smart (and he is that), he will drop "refine" from his vocabulary until after the election.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

It's All Semantics 

If you read about technology trends, you will have heard about the Semantic web and the effort the web's inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is making to create it. It turns out that the Semantic web has potential applications in PR because of its ability to link data across web pages and databases. While the name sounds formidable, the ideas underlying it are not so hard when you get into them. This article describes the concepts in the Semantic web, provides examples of where it is in use and suggests why it is important for practitioners to know about it.

It is the 80th essay posted on online-pr.com. As usual, I look forward to any comments you may have about it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Ten Percent 

In every communications program, there are at least 10 percent who don't get the message even when the message has been hammered for months on end. That is what is happening here. Of course, there are always "sob" stories of those who are going to be injured when a change is made because they didn't know or they can't afford it.

It would be a mistake to slow or stop the change to digital TV because of the 10 percent. One should plow forward. The laggards will catch up when they realize there is no alternative.

Change based on the least common denominator is change that never happens.

Fomenting A Revolt 

Here is an oddity. Microsoft, the suitor who failed to take over Yahoo, is publicly supporting a third-party revolt against Yahoo's board. Question: What communications strategy should Yahoo's CEO Jerry Yang use? "Stay the course" is weak when shareholders know they can get more money by selling out. Yang and the board have been criticized publicly for failing to take Microsoft's original bid. The danger now is that both Yang and the board will look like they are working for themselves and not for shareholders.

This will be an interesting fight to watch.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Waste Not 

One of the more difficult messages to send to citizens of prosperous countries is to avoid waste -- especially food waste. So, this message is doomed to fail. The message is correct, but the populace isn't listening. The only way that people will conserve food is when food becomes expensive, as it is in Third World countries. Where there is little food and high prices, it is never wasted.

Citizens of prosperous countries are reckless with resources. That in itself is a reason for raising prices to make necessities a greater part of total family budgets. On the other hand, it is a testimony to the success of the nearly invisible agribusiness that supermarkets offer as much food as they do at such low prices. Most citizens don't know where food comes from. It is just there in neat piles of tomatoes, cans of tuna and freezer cases of ice cream. Agribusiness' success has encouraged waste.

Perhaps it is time for citizens to learn more about food production and in the process to waste less.

Friday, July 04, 2008

It's the Boss 

When you read stories like this, the first person one should suspect for a failing communications campaign is the boss. The boss approves the strategy and the boss is responsible for being the face implementing it. McCain has not proven adept at large campaigns in the past. His record of mediocrity appears to be continuing. By all accounts, McCain is effective in small group situations where he can give and take with audiences and the media. Maybe that approach doesn't work on the national level. I'm not a political campaigner, so I wouldn't know. However, it doesn't take a career in politics to see where the source of confusion in a campaign comes from. The same happened with Hillary Clinton and was a sign of her eventual demise.

McCain doesn't have much time to get back on track. At this point, he is looking like the Republicans' sacrificial lamb in an overall bad year for the party.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Old Media 

Network television is old media in demographics too, according to this report. It seems that the young do not have the viewing habits of Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers watch network TV because that is what they grew up with long before the entertainment options of today. Overall, viewership of network TV continues to drop as well.

It is hard to believe that major networks continue to charge high prices for smaller and older audiences, but they do and they are getting it. From a PR practitioners point of view, it is much less important to be seen on network TV today. Eons ago, when I started in the business, getting someone on a morning show was a big win. Today, getting someone on the business news channel, CNBC, is more important.

And, daytime TV? Who watches that except the retired?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Legacy Punishment 

This was almost another example of legacy punishment -- penalties for acts long ago. The court, however, stopped it with a common sense ruling. Lead paint, asbestos and other toxics were used in innocence. They were accepted products of their time, and no one gave a second thought about them. Today we know better, but does that mean we get to reach back in time and ruin the reputations of those who made and sold these products? In the case of asbestos, it seems that it does. Paint is different. Still, any manufacturer who has been in business for decades has to worry about the past reappearing in the present and creating reputational problems. While this is well understood, legacy punishment never has been fair. It is a cost of doing business.

Building Personal Reputation 

I missed this when it was posted last week but it is worth reading. It is a post that discusses how to build a personal reputation. It is a useful study for PR practitioners.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Future Living 

Oil has topped $140 a barrel and now analysts are beginning to predict what life would be like with oil at $200 a barrel. It will be different in numerous ways -- some obvious and some subtle. From a PR perspective, many messages will change. For example, what will the travel industry say to the public? Airlines are already cutting back. Cruise ships will raise fares. Locales dependent on tourism such as Hawaii and Florida will have a drop in visitors. Destination locations such as Disney World will fight for traffic.

Consider the cost of food that will rise because of transport charges. What will food publicists do for menu suggestions? Or, think of the cost of products from outside the US. Clothing, shoes, toys all will rise in price. How then will a Walmart react in its messaging?

PR professionals should be thinking through the implications now, if they have not started. It seems likely that oil will pass $150 a barrel soon. From there, who knows, but even at $150 a barrel, as the article points out, lifestyles are changing fast.

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