Friday, January 30, 2009

Two Terabytes 

This kind of news is hard to believe. I'm old enough to remember when a 10 megabytes were considered to be all the storage one needed. The real question is how one organizes data in a two terabyte drive in order to find it again.

On The Road 

I'll be on the road today at a client's annual sales meeting. It is hard to believe that forecasts will be anything other than grim. Still, it will be interesting to see how the company communicates its message to employees. What kind of hope can one offer when the economy has gone off the rails?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


This is a step-by-step description of how one reporter swept online databases for information about himself and what he found. It makes the point that privacy, especially with respect to government records, has vanished. From a communications point of view, it is a warning to practitioners to sweep these databases first before others do, if the practitioner is serving a high-profile client. There is no excuse for ugly surprises.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Citigroup has proven again that it is hard to make a public case for a corporate airplane. If I were a plane manufacturer, I would be launching a communications campaign to explain why these planes are productivity tools. Perhaps they have done so, but if so, I haven't seen anything in the major media. The manufacturers need to show for senior executives the cost of travel by commercial with its delays and multiple connections against the cost of travel in a private plane. It needs to be done in simple and graphic terms such that even a Congressman can understand it. That won't turn the tide but it might soften some of the criticism that corporate aircraft are nothing but perquisites.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Country Credibility 

This kind of situation is an indication that India is not ready to join more advanced nations, even though it is industrializing. It suffers from a credibility problem. How can a country that cannot control the chemicals entering its streams be developed? Rather than a Third World Country, however, it is more like a 2.5 World Country. It is growing but doesn't know what to do with the industry it has. Until it invests to clean its air, water and vast slums, it will remain in a transition that could go either way. One can only hope it will become a responsible citizen. It just isn't there yet.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Messages For A New Era 

With the recession, reduced consumer spending and higher unemployment, it may be time for PR practitioners to rethink assumptions and messages sent to target audiences. We might be in a prolonged era of lower expectations. A college degree may no longer insure one of work. Employment that one gets may not be to the intellectual level one expects. A job of any kind may be the object rather than of a particular kind.

That is the reason for this essay, the 96th on online-pr.com. PR practitioners need to reflect the world as it is in communications in order to maintain credibility with message recipients.

This essay is by no means complete. Other messages can and should be added. It's a start to get you thinking. I would like to read your additions and/or revisions. Let me hear from you.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tar Baby 

Sometimes, no matter what a CEO does, an action he has undertaken goes bad. This appears to be the case with the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch acquisition. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Bank of America got the leading brokerage in the nation: Merrill Lynch got a bailout it needed just in time. Since then, it has been downhill. The resignation of John Thain yesterday was a sign of just how bad things have gotten. What does Bank of America tell its shareholders now? What does it tell the thousands of Merrill Lynch employees who would like to leave if they could only find some place to go? How does the bank rebuild morale, especially if Thain was relieved for paying bonuses to Merrill employees early in order to circumvent the bank's permission? Bank of America's CEO, Kenneth Lewis, has a tricky leadership and communications task during the next few months. I hope he is up to it because the merger has become toxic and is teetering on the edge of failure. If it does fail, it will become a tar baby that drags the bank down and could affect all of its operations.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


There are situations where nothing one does has an impact and only time can resolve the issue. That is the case here. California has been sinking for years into budget shortfalls combined with an inability to do anything about them because each political faction blamed the other. Now the state is on the edge of collapse, and the governor is calling for action. There is no guarantee he will get it.

These kinds of situations are interesting to study, especially if they eventually resolve themselves. What dynamics caused gridlock in the first place, and what finally forced the issue? What can statemates tell communicators about their own work? California could be looked upon as unique, but it isn't. Similar standoffs have occured elsewhere, notably Japan during the 1990s when there was no political will to resolve the banking crisis that had overwhelmed the country. One can argue that American auto companies have been unable to change their embedded culture until reaching the edge of failure where they are now. So too, large pharmaceutical firms, which today are reeling. In each case, there are a different set of circumstances but underlying them all is an inability to take the right action. Leadership either could not see a way out, or there wasn't one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Another Dumb Marketing Stunt 

Yet another marketer has been caught trying to manipulate customers on the internet. This time it was through buying fake product reviews. The president of the firm has had to apologize in writing to customers for the action of his sales representative to Amazon. All this comes from a desire to control messages in an environment where that is not possible. Will marketers ever learn?

Blame The Viewer 

Here is an example where public relations fails. Viewers who say that HDTV is not as good as it ought to be might have bad eyesight. One never wins by blaming customers even if customers are the problem.


Why do marketers keep trying to bamboozle the public with fake viral ads like this one? When will they learn that eventually they will be discovered and the "outing" will harm their reputation? Why does such "bush league" marketing continue when marketers know, or should know, the internet is transparent?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It Always Happens 

People have had years to prepare for digital TV. But, many didn't and some weren't even aware of the coming change-over from analog. So now, a legislator is introducing a bill to delay the switch-over to digital for three months. That won't help much. There will still be consumers who will react angrily when the change is made because their TVs are suddenly nothing but snow. Their complaint will be that no one told them, and they can't afford the new technology. Of course, there will be sob stories of the poor and the elderly who cannot afford the $40 converter box. Unfortunately, that is the price of progress.

The current situation is a reminder to PR practitioners that there are always a percentage of an audience who never get a message no matter how intensively the communications have been done. One hopes to get a majority and if lucky, as many as 75 to 80 percent. The rest one deals with after a change is made and protests begin.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Too Much? 

The number of symbols, images and references that Barack Obama is using in and during his inauguration are worrisome. One can increase an audience's expectations to the point where it is all downhill after taking the office.

I found the train from Philadelphia to Washington DC disturbing. If he was recreating Lincoln's trip, then he should have sneaked into Washington DC with the windows curtained in the dead of night rather than giving a speech at each stop to adoring crowds. Lincoln's protectors feared he would be harmed before he even arrived in DC.

This inauguration is an occasion to celebrate the first African-American to serve as President, but it is important to remember that he hasn't done anything yet. His reputation will come with action and not symbols.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Culture Change 

Here is an example of a profound culture change in an organization. When the unmanned aerial drone program began, no self-respecting Air Force pilot wanted to be caught handling its joystick. Now the Air Force is purchasing more drones than any other aircraft. How the attitude change came about would make a good PR study. What did the Air Force do? Who was in charge? What kind of pilots first signed on to the program, and are they the same type of individuals today? What kind of communications were used to help lower the fears of pilots that they would be trapped in the drone program and unable to leave?

Security Breaches 

Each one a reputational disaster for the company involved.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Message Is Needed 

This is not the first person who has commented that the age of consumption may be drawing to a close in the US. The economic dislocation it is causing is profound since business depends heavily on consumer expenditures. But if true, there is a need for new messages built on savings rather than purchasing, on exports rather than imports and on building products rather than buying them.

It is hard to remember now, but there was a long period in US history when we were manufacturers for the world. We lost that distinction decades ago and have willingly allowed factories to leave this country by the thousands. The worry now is that if consumers fail to start purchasing again, the US will not be able to work its way out of the recession. That is understandable. Economic patterns cannot change overnight. But, if consumer habits have changed fundamentally, we will need new ways to communicate to them, and it is not too early to start researching what we need to say.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good PR 

PR is action-oriented, which is what makes this program an example of a good campaign. There is a goal of getting rid of 25 errors and a broad coalition of government and private organizations behind the effort. The idea of certifying that code is free of the 25 mistakes is particularly effective. Participants know exactly what they need to do. There is no confusion or vagueness about the objective.

It is unclear whether any PR practitioners worked on development of this program, but it is excellent nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


What is a way to shake up key audiences and damage the reputation of your organization? Fire the two top leaders without explanation or warning. That is exactly what Seagate did. It is also what the supervisor of my daughter's school did yesterday in the middle of the school year. Taking precipitous action such as this ignites rumors. Failing to provide an explanation opens a void that supporters and critics fill with speculation. It is understandable given employment law that one dare not say much to avoid lawsuits, but to say nothing is worse. Seagate's board will now have to deal with the aftermath of its action as will the supervisor of my daughter's school. The outcomes are predictable, and they won't be good.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Budget Cut 

Budget cuts are painful, particularly if one has to fire employees. With reductions in budgets and personnel sweeping through business, it seemed to be the right time for a discussion of a typical cutback in a communications department. The discussion is in two parts. The second part is a detailed budget template that shows how a department should be accounting for its activities. The template has been placed on the online-pr.com web site under PR processes and budgeting for use by anyone who is developing departmental budgets in a corporate environment.

Special thanks for contributions to this article go to Don Bates, Instructor and Founding Director, Master's Degree in Strategic Public Relations, George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management and Rick Gould CPA, J.D. managing partner, StevensGouldPincus, merger and management consultants to the communications industry.

As usual, I welcome any comments or suggested revisions to the article.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Cross Cultural Mistakes 

An interesting discussion of cross-cultural mistakes that companies have made, including a washing machine that shredded Indian saris. In the cases cited here, companies failed to look closely at the societies in which they were competing. Had they done so, they would have discovered their errors before they were made. These are failures of communication at the most basic level.

Growing PR Problem 

Here is a growing PR problem for which there is little excuse. Companies should be protecting data carefully by now. Those that don't take a hit to their reputations each time they reveal a breach.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Reality Intrudes 

We wrote here some weeks ago that President-elect Obama would have to work hard to readjust expectations about what he can do in office. Reality is intruding now and narrowing his options. Lawmakers and lobbyists are waking to the massive deficit that will be created if he goes ahead with his stimulus plan. It will mean years of high taxes and higher interest rates to pay off and to keep inflation from spinning out of control. It will take discipline to turn away businesses asking for money and painting a dire picture of what will happen to the country if they don't get Federal funds.

A President's job is never easy. Obama's task is shaping up to be unusually difficult. He will have to communicate constantly to keep his party and the country behind him. Opposition will form quickly. The question is whether he can keep it at bay. From a communicator's standpoint, it will be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Interesting Perspective 

This is an informative history about newspapers and online. Its contention is that newspapers were aware of the promises and threats of online media from their inception, and they tried repeatedly to take advantage of online. They failed because they tried to place a newspaper online rather than reinvent content for the new medium. It's a convincing argument and a caution to communicators. Each medium has its own rules that one needs to learn and exploit.

Winning Battles, Losing a War 

Incidents like this are turning public opinion against the Israelis. It doesn't help to state that war is ugly and collateral death and damage are inevitable. Nor does it help to emphasize that Hamas fighters are blending in with the population and making it difficult for the Israeli soldiers to fight them without killing innocent civilians. It seems clear that Israel may get Hamas to stop firing rockets today, but tomorrow? There is no possible win here for Israel in the court of public opinion as unfair as that may be. Even if Israel should withdraw its forces now, the reputational damage is done.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle called yesterday to ask about Steve Jobs and Apple Computer.

His question: What if anything should Apple be doing to stop rumors about Job's health? My answer was that Apple at this point should release Job's medical records, so people can see for themselves that it is a hormonal imbalance and not something more serious. The reporter asked about privacy. I responded that the situation has moved beyond privacy into the realm of material disclosure. Apple is Jobs, and if there is a succession plan in place at the company, shareholders are not aware of it. Shareholders are concerned. The reporter asked who is at fault for the situation as it stands now. My answer: No one in particular. Jobs has a history of a life-threatening disease, and circumstances have placed both the board and Jobs into a corner. There are no easy answers for situations like this. People will pass rumors even if Jobs' medical records are disclosed. Should Jobs look healthy and regain weight in the next few months, there will be a residue of worry, and the smallest sign of another weight loss or lack of health will reignite concerns. With transparency, however, neither the board nor Jobs can be accused of a cover-up.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Discrimination By Definition 

This kind of discussion is unfortunate, and it hurts the African-American community. The idea that one has to be "black enough" to qualify for political office is as narrow-minded as an ethnic group wanting someone to be "Irish-enough" or "Polish-enough." From a communications standpoint, there is no gain in pushing for someone who passes a skin-color and culture test. It is also un-American. While it is understandable that African-Americans want one of their own, what they should be looking for is a person who knows the community's issues and is willing to fight on their behalf. That makes the difference and doesn't hold back or stereotype the community. Communication is action more than image.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Same Old Song 

George Orwell's views of communications in totalitarian societies has long been demonstrated in Cuba where the government continues its struggle against a "great enemy" -- the US. The losers, of course, are Cubans who are wretchedly poor. The Castro brothers have a death grip on power and constantly speak of their need to keep it. One wonders how long Cubans will tolerate what has been and continues to be a lie. For decades, Cubans relied on money from exiles in the US to meet basic needs. For decades, Cubans have sought to leave the country and go elsewhere. While many Cubans profess to be happy with what the government has given them -- good medical care and basic education --, they cannot avoid what the government hasn't provided -- basic and affordable consumer goods and decent jobs. One wonders how long this lack of transparency can last before the society collapses. It was 80 years for Soviet Russia. It is hard to believe that Cuba's government could last much longer.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


If the present holds for the next months, 2009 will be anything but happy. Part of the communications challenges facing practitioners will be holding a job. Companies are either communicating because of crisis or ducking out of sight and trying to hold business together. The idea that CEOs should remain visible during hard times is not one that most CEOs accept. They are busy fighting fires. Who has time for communications? The practitioner moves from counsel to nag with insistence that the CEO should talk to employees, shareholders and customers. This is a period in which a practitioner must think like a businessperson and with adroitness suggest areas in which the CEO should get involved for the health of the business. In other words, parroting the concepts of PR is not enough. Concepts need to be joined convincingly to the problems at hand.

If we are lucky, 2009 will be the bottom of hard times and 2010 will see a slow but steady turn. Still, a year is a long time to be fighting for one's existence in the workforce. My wish for all of us is that we survive.

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