Thursday, April 30, 2009


At a time when the world is panicked about a flu pandemic, when recession has millions searching for jobs, it is nice to be reminded that there are ways to work together and speak a universal language. I went to a concert last night which was composed of the brass sections of two orchestras from two countries and two languages. They played as one although they couldn't have had a great deal of rehearsal time. Music crosses barriers in ways no other form of expression can. It makes one wonder, then, why it isn't a central tool of PR practitioners. We concentrate on writing and persuasion but ignore most of the time the one form that can persuade everyone. Would a well-trained musician be a better PR practitioner?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What Were They Thinking? 

Apparently, the White House military office knew that the flyover of the President's plane in New York airspace might cause panic. Yet, it demanded secrecy anyway. One can only guess what they were thinking. There were so many wrongfooted steps in the decision process that a PR person couldn't have been involved, or if there was, that individual should be benched -- permanently. There was no great need for a photo of Air Force One with the Statue of Liberty in the background, especially at $60,000 an hour to fly the plane. If a corporation had pulled this stunt with a company airplane, the CEO would be handed his walking papers. In the government, it looks as if an apology will suffice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Great Computer Science, Terrific Publicity 

You have almost certainly read, or seen the YouTube video, of IBM's computer being readied to take on the game show, Jeopardy. It was all over the news yesterday. The feat is not only great computer science but terrific publicity for IBM's computer prowess. Even if the computer fails the first time out, or the second, the news media will carry reports about the machine, the software and how IBM is developing it. At the heart of the story is IBM's goal of producing a machine that can understand natural language queries better than any other in the world today. In other words, the publicity tactic is tied directly to the business objective. What can be better PR than that? Kudos to IBM.

Monday, April 27, 2009

100 Days 

There is an unreal expectation about what a President does in his first 100 days in office. The realization is settling in that no matter what Obama accomplishes, it won't be enough to get the country moving again. To Obama's credit, he has told his supporters as much, but they might not have been listening. Enthusiasm was the order of the day, chanting and large bubbling crowds. That is gone now and nothing much has changed that voters can see around them. Hope hasn't quite turned to disillusionment but there is a larger chance that it could.

The question is why. There was never any chance a President could fix the recession in 100 days. Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed bills and started many activities in his first 100 days but the Depression hung on for another nine years. Why do the media and the President himself set expectations when both know that there is little to be gained by it?

There are irrational aspects to public relations, and this is one more example.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Drowning Man's Plea 

This is an odd communication to the world. We made a mistake but you have to help us correct it. In other words, we jumped into the deep water without knowing how to swim and now want bystanders on the beach to rescue us. There is little wonder that the rest of the world isn't thrilled with the idea that it needs to take coordinated action to help the United States. Secretary Geithner may be correct in his assessment, but the way he presents the message isn't likely to win friends. On the other hand, what else can he say? The US is in a funk and has carried the rest of the world with it. There is no easy solution for this recession.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Good Solution 

There are times when a leader is caught between opposing camps, and there is no good solution to appease both. Here is one. No matter what Obama says or does about the CIA's previous involvement in torture, he is going to lose part of the electorate. There are those who justify it on the basis that the US learned critical information about terrorists. There are others who condemn it as morally wrong. Obama is caught in the middle. He condemns the prior behavior, but he doesn't want to punish CIA operatives who did it with the approval of White House lawyers in the Bush administration. Hearings at this point would distract from his most pressing issue of getting the country moving again. So, he appears to be twisting in the wind, an unenviable position in itself. It would be good for him if the issue withered and went away, but it isn't likely to do that. He has to deal with a PR conundrum. How he resolves the issue will be a measure of his skill as a politician.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Things Have Changed 

This is a reminder of how things have changed in the office and in PR. Although the advertisement is probably from the 1980s, ignorance of e-mail extended into the early 1990s as well. I started using e-mail in the 1980s, but it was a dedicated service called Compuserve that was not hooked to the internet. Many early pioneers of technology in PR were on Compuserve, and we would discuss technology on a dedicated forum. We saw changes coming, but it was unlikely we understood how profoundly the business would shift. Resistance to change then was enormous. The PR industry was dragged into the modern era. Today, few remember that period, and it is probably just as well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


After passing bills that hand out nearly a trillion dollars to get the economy started again, President Obama is ordering cuts in the federal budget of $100 million. Not a billion, not a $100 billion but $100 million. The token nibbles are so small as to be laughable. As a result, his vow to control federal spending seems absurd. One could not even call the amount a start to control the budget deficit. It probably would have been better had nothing been said at all. Rather than shooting an elephant, he has trapped a mouse and is posing for pictures.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Banking on Reputation 

News that Microsoft will offer a limited version of Windows 7 for low-cost netbooks is an interesting take on reputation. The firm is betting that people will continue to choose Microsoft over Linux because of Microsoft's long-term lead in operating systems. Microsoft is probably right in taking this bet. Netbook users are unlikely to stray from the authority, but they will have to make a choice. Do I want this operating system that will run only three applications at a time or for the same price, get one that runs as many apps as my machine memory can handle? Objectively, every user would take Linux but people are not always rational about these things. They just want something that works, and that they don't have to think about. Microsoft, in spite of its troubles with Vista, still has the reputation of a trustworthy systems builder. But how much longer will that reputation last?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Great PR And Publicity 

This is an example of great action-oriented PR and this is a terrific publicity stunt. Both earned deserved recognition. In the first case, the X prize is taking on the seemingly intractable problem of affordable health care. In the second, YouTube found a way to elevate its image with a symphony at Carnegie Hall composed of players selected from YouTube submissions. Both come under the heading of "I wish I had thought of that."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Price of Reputation 

Here are three stories in which reputation is the main player -- the inability of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to retain and hire good managers and Amazon's decision to block an ad targeting company. In the first case, the damage has been done to reputation and two organizations are struggling with the result. In the second case, Amazon is wisely preventing a problem. Sadly, a third case appeared this morning in which a company did not act quickly enough -- Domino's Pizza. The brand has been damaged by the stupidity of two employees.

The price of reputation is steep. Guard it carefully.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Playing With Fire 

Charging for the amount of bandwidth used on the internet is despised in the US. People believe they should be able to consume as much as they need whether one or two gigabytes per month for normal activities or 75 to 100 gigabytes to download movies. That is why Time Warner is risking its reputation in its effort to control broadband usage through metering downloads. Time Warner's position is that it has to pay for equipment to handle escalating traffic -- a reasonable explanation. No one, however, wants to hear it. There are claims that Time Warner is profiting from metering -- a shame in capitalist America.

The fact is that the internet has become an essential utility that users believe they should get for a modest fee at best. No one wants to consider the cost of maintaining the utility. Time Warner is bucking that belief and might get away with it, but it is doubtful. Look for eventual internet commissions like public utility commissions that will dictate rates that bandwidth providers can set. As for now, it is a major public relations issue for the company.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where Reputation Counts 

Reputation is everything when a foreign country holds massive amounts of your debt. The US should be worried that it has gained a reputation for being a profligate spender. Few are thinking about a scenario in which other countries stop buying our bills while US money has been inflated to the breaking point. One wonders what kind of issues management is underway at Treasury.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Succession Plan? 

The long-term reputation of a company rests partly on a succession plan for its CEO. That is, no CEO should be so important to the life of a business that it collapses without him. That is why this report is disturbing. Some day, Steve Jobs will leave Apple. What then? He doesn't seem to be worried about it at the moment. From a PR perspective, this story is not a winner. It seeks to assure investors and customers that Jobs is in control and making key decisions. It would have been better had the story been the opposite. Apple would then be seen as a mature company ready to move on with a different CEO, if necessary.

Friday, April 10, 2009


This rant about the newspaper industry and its effort to close off aggregators like Google is a good indication of how much the battle between internet users and traditional media has flamed. It is an open question about which side will win, but I won't place my bets on newspapers. They still haven't found a strategy for survival and trying to close the door at this late date seems awkward at best. Once you have set something free, it is nearly impossible to get it back. Newspapers and wire services will shout but they are likely to give in.


There is a particular embarrassment when employees of an organization don't know the services it provides. That is what apparently happened here, and critics are gleefully repeating the story across the internet. It doesn't make Associated Press look good at a time when the AP's reputation is under attack.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Some People Never Learn 

Some people never learn, even when sanctioned for what they are doing. It is the case here. The important point for PR practitioners is never to be sucked in by cranks like this. It can happen. In my career, I've been introduced to a few oddballs who apparently believed in their products and ideas and wanted to retain our services to tell the world about it. Sometimes it takes internal persuasion to resist the urge to sell new business, and on occasion one can be trapped by a well-meaning wingnut. Just because an individual is willing to pay doesn't mean one should take an account. A PR practitioner has a reputation too.

The Power Of Reputation 

Law firms know they have been paying too much to new associates but no one wants to go first in cutting associates starting pay. They are afraid of the reputation they will get in the marketplace and among the law schools where they recruit their new talent. It would be nice if it were the same in PR...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Still A Pipedream 

Eight million people may be using Twitter, but it is still a pipedream. The question is whether all those millions will tire eventually of a stream of short messages reaching them at all hours of the day. It seems to me they will. There is usefulness in news headlines and other information that can be boiled into a short statement, but seeing a stream of snippets about other peoples' lives is eventually boring. I've been wrong before about new technology and with millions using the service, there is a good chance that I'm wrong again. But, it seems to me from a PR perspective, there are better things to do, especially since there are now ghost-twitterers sending messages on behalf of celebrity clients. How ersatz is that?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It Only Takes One 

This is an amazing story of greed and criminality on the part of a lawyer. The sad part of the tale is the number of reputations he ruined of honest lawyers who worked in his firm. It only takes one individual to drag down the good name of many others. In Dreier's case, he took the image of the profession with him as well. One wonders how an individual as brazenly criminal as Dreier got away with his theft as long as he did, especially since he was selling phony securities openly in his clients' offices. It was probably hard at first to associate such dishonest action with a man who seemed to have it all. His image protected him for awhile, but his actions caught up with him.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Wishful Thinking? 

Rupert Murdoch says newspapers need to charge for online access. He may be correct, but practically speaking, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to take away free access. Some people will pay but most will not. Online page views will drop, and there is no guarantee paying subscribers will offset missing ad revenue. Still, it is worth trying to charge, if only to prove that it is unlikely to work.

Finding a new economic model for news is going to be prolonged and painful. From a PR perspective, we need to track experiments closely because the future of unpaid persuasion is changing as we write. It is indeed possible that most newspapers will shrink to online skeletons like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and only a few wire services will survive to fill in the gaps for national and international news. It seems to be trending that way. Already a good deal of media relations is online. It won't take much for all of it to go there.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Too Much PR? 

According to one anonymous source, Facebook is suffering from too much PR. That's an interesting explanation for the departure of senior management.

PR War 

AIG is finding out what it is like to be in a protracted PR war with its vengeful ex-CEO. It's not pretty, and it is distracting at a time when AIG's CEO needs to focus his full attention on turning the company around. The war is also telling. Greenberg was a much-feared CEO when he was in charge of the company whose power turned to fury when he was turned out.

There are no rulebooks for this situation. Meeting some of Greenberg's demands will not make him any happier. Returning him to power is politically impossible because some of the company's failures began on his watch, and now, the company is in the middle of a break-up anyway. The current CEO must focus on his work and let Greenberg say and do what Greenberg will. Meanwhile, the media will cover the battle because it makes good headlines.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Acquifer PR 

How do you develop a PR program to protect an acquifer? This is a real problem with deep implications for American farming. The program would need to convince farmers to stop using so much water so there is a chance for replenishment. Thus far, farmers appear to be pumping it dry.

No Confidence 

The news that four small banks are opting out of the TARP program is a vote of no-confidence in the government. They are apparently doing so because they fear meddling in their businesses. However, lack of participation defeats the government's intent to get banks lending again. From a PR perspective, the decision to walk away is a failure, and if more banks opt out, the worse it will be for restarting lending. The power to say no is the one decision left, and the government has to worry that more financial institutions will say it.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


This is a short but notable news piece. Microsoft had once put much marketing effort and ad dollars behind Encarta in order to establish it as the leading online encyclopedia. Now it is going away, destroyed by Wikipedia and other free online information services. The announcement is a recognition that the market has changed irrevocably. From a PR point of view, there wasn't much Microsoft could do to sustain the business. It is the same conundrum facing Encyclopedia Britannica, which continues to push forward in the face of enormous headwinds.

Products have lifespans, especially online. There may be a time not too distant when low-cost or free online software breaks through and takes over the office software market -- word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database programs -- that Microsoft now dominates. It is hard to fight against free. From a PR and marketer's point of view, one needs strong and persuasive reasoning to survive.

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