Monday, August 31, 2009

Tough Sell 

How do you get Americans to buy something they don't want -- namely, a small car? This is the challenge that the Big Three American automakers are confronting and none too successfully. Part of the problem comes from too much success in making large cars, SUVs and trucks where size is part of the status symbol. What kind of PR program and what messages are needed to convince Americans that size doesn't matter? Thus far, it looks as if there isn't a good approach other than the price of gasoline, and American auto manufacturers do not control the price of fuel. It would seem this is an issue in which the government needs to act if it wants to raise the average miles per gallon of auto fleets. That would come through increased gas taxes on a level with those of Europe where small cars are a norm. But, there is no political will to do that. So, automakers are caught in a trap between government demands to increase fleet mileage and consumer preference for gas guzzlers -- an interesting PR dilemma.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Good News? 

Here is an interesting discussion of the young and their propensity to write -- texting, Facebook entries, e-mail, etc. Research apparently shows that they are expressing themselves in print more than previous generations and have gained a facility for addressing themselves to an audience. The only concern I have is that they are not necessarily using standard American grammar and spelling, which is what is needed in public relations and business later on. Also, they are not necessarily editing their work. All writing for the public should be rewriting and not spur of the moment expression that leaves ambiguities unexplained and poor word choices in place. While the young are writing more, it might be difficult to teach them to edit their work.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


There is one message that needs to be retired in politics and elsewhere. This is the complaint that one is being criticized because of race. Obama supporters are making that charge as well as the governor of New York, who is African-American. The problem with the message is that it is too easy and too all encompassing to be true. Criticism of both men is based on competence and not the color of their skin. Thus far, President Obama has handled the situation better than his supporters who are overly sensitive. The governor of New York is a different story. His behavior has been close to bizarre, which has cost him support even in his own party. There have been plenty of African-American public figures who have suffered because of their race, notably the great baseball player, Jackie Robinson who was taunted on and off the field. Robinson, however, handled the ugliness in the best way through brilliant play. We aren't in the era of Robinson, which was 60 years ago. Times have changed. So should the message.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tough News 

There are times when everything seems to conspire against a message you are sending. The President is in one of those moments. The Congressional Budget Office and the White House both predict massive deficits at the very time the President wants to get an expensive healthcare bill through Congress. To top that, Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the most powerful voices for healthcare reform has died without anyone to take his place immediately. Add to this the continuing turmoil Congressmen are facing in town halls throughout the US, and you have a perfect storm of opposition against healthcare reform. The challenge for Obama is to get heard through overwhelming noise in the political landscape. Even with the President's bully pulpit, he is having a hard time. The Democrats have proposed 500 rallies to support the healthcare bill across the country, but those may be too little and too late. Communications in the face of such resistance is a matter of persistence, search for arguments and countering charges. That is what the President is doing, but is it enough? We'll know soon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chief Spammer 

The White House has become a spammer of unwanted e-mail messages in order to build support for the healthcare reform bill. Why am I not surprised? In the political world, any opportunity to communicate is perceived as an advantage whether or not citizens want to hear a message. Also, political communicators often do not see the rules applying to themselves. There is arrogance at work. Were marketers to e-mail in the same way, there would be complaints to the FTC and other repercussions, such as ill will toward the company and its products and services. But, the White House believes it is different. Maybe so, but I wouldn't want to be the one sending the e-mail.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Facebook Follies 

There is pressure now for clients to be on Facebook and Twitter. The question practitioners should ask is why. Just dumping information on a Facebook page is not enough to use the medium well. Tweeting requires a daily -- and some would contend, hourly --presence with something to say. An unplanned presence is good for learning but poor for long-term persuasion. At some point, using both media requires planning and daily execution.

I plead guilty for failing to use Facebook well. I haven't had the time or inclination to Tweet, although I monitor headlines daily on Twitter. There are too many media to use well and not enough time. I cannot argue with clients who say that each medium is one more way to reach a segment of the audience, but both Facebook and Twitter are dynamic and not static. Their benefit is active conversation. If one has no inclination to converse, then why use them? If no members of an audience are interested in conversation, then they are the wrong media. What good is it to establish a presence only to watch it wither? Doing so consumes time and energy that should be put into the media key audience segments do follow. Just because a medium is there doesn't mean one has to use it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Credibility Gap 

The "Cash for Clunkers" law has turned into such a mess that conservatives are using it as a reason for why government should not be delivering health care. It might be unfair, but it is an example of government bureaucracy at its worst. The problem was that government wasn't prepared for the overwhelming response to the law. That could happen to anyone whether a public or private entity. Unfortunately, it provided ammunition for the critics of health care reform at the wrong time and has created a credibility gap that the Obama administration will now have to overcome.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stressing Credibility 

As everyone knows, the bombs that are wracking Baghdad are a carefully designed effort on the part of terrorists to destroy the government's credibility. There is no persuasion that can stop this other than force that meets and overwhelms the opposition. Security is a fundamental requirement for functioning government and for societal cohesion. Some times credibility requires the barrel of a gun. This is one.

Friday, August 14, 2009


I will be away from the computer for three days next week. There will be no posting until Thursday.

Linguistic Analysis 

Here is an interesting way to determine what a leader is emphasizing -- linguistic analysis of speeches and public appearances. President Obama has spoken more than 500,000 words in public since his inauguration. Politico computerized and counted them to determine the key concepts he has been using. Not surprisingly the site determined that the President has been downplaying the war and military in favor of domestic issues. If a similar analysis were done of a CEO's public appearances throughout a year, what might you find? You should find that the key message the CEO wants to communicate is leading the word count. If not, something is wrong.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dying Business 

How do you publicize a dying business that is not in control of its fate? That is what is happening to the US Post Office. Mail volumes have plummeted. Losses have skyrocketed. Congress refuses to allow the USPO to cut service. So it bleeds. There is no good message at the moment or strategy for the organization. Time and the internet have caught up with it. Federal Express and UPS have cut deeply into its package delivery. It is hedged in on all sides by better, faster and cheaper alternatives. The USPO has become an expensive carrier of last resort delivering mail to far away places. If you were the head of communications for the USPO, what would you tell the postmaster general?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Blogger was misbehaving this morning and prevented prompt posting. My apologies. I will try to make it up tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Good Crisis Communications 

The White House has made a smart move to fight online rumors that are hurting the pending healthcare bill -- an instant viral response mechanism. While the idea is not new, it is an effective way to combat the misinformation threading the web and one that more prominent organizations should use.


This kind of customer treatment is guaranteed to enhance the reputation of an airline (sarcasm intended.) There is no good excuse for handling passengers this way. It's the worst kind of service and PR.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Online Blitz 

Coca-Cola is learning what life is like online -- and it isn't always comfortable. This time there is a move to get the company to provide on its label the source of its bottled water, Dasani. It appears the company did not react well at first to a storm of comments on its Facebook page, then it posted a reply that was not satisfactory. Finally, it took control of the page and changed the landing site so it could stop visitors from seeing the flow of comments. There is no secret that Coca-Cola uses water straight from the tap rather than from a spring or other natural source. The firm just doesn't want to say that on its label and that upsets corporate activists who apparently were behind the bombardment.

My thanks to Don Bates for pointing this out.

Friday, August 07, 2009

A Third Rail 

It has often been said that Social Security is the "Third Rail of US Politics" -- the electrified metal that kills any politician unwise enough to touch it. Now it appears that another third rail has appeared and it is health care. it has turned into a PR battle royale with Congressmen hearing screams of angst in all parts of America. The irony is that few like the health care system we have today, but they don't want to change it. It takes a brave politician to enter the fray -- or a foolish one. President Obama might be a bit of both. It is unclear whether he expected the uprising, although he was pushing for passage of a bill before the August vacation. He might well have foreseen opposition forming and was trying to circumvent it. Now, he will have to use all of his persuasive skills to get the health care bill back on track, and he probably will, but the final plan might not look like the one he envisioned a few months ago. The power of public opinion is strong indeed.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Worth Watching 

Here is an interesting PR and marketing battle worth watching. It is the fight between Sony and Amazon over e-book readers. Amazon has a head start, but Sony is aiming for worldwide distribution. No matter who wins the race, it is likely that the two companies will change reading as we know it. The book in parchment or paper has been in use for nearly 2000 years. As it is replaced, publishers will need to determine how to charge for electronic reading as well as how to modify publishing cycles. An instant book that goes from keyboard to reader is now possible to publish in a matter of hours. The paper-based book won't go away completely, but I wouldn't be surprised if in five years time that a majority of commuters are using an electronic reader rather than carrying a volume with them.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

When Will They Ever Learn 

Here is an example of a political campaign hoping that no one would look at the meta-tags on its site for search engine optimization. So it tried to slip a slur against an opponent into the search words. Of course, a newspaper discovered it. Do people believe yet that the internet is transparent? The spokesperson's explanation for the goof was lame at best: The software did it.

Everlasting Hope -- And Spin 

Rail enthusiasts have been pushing for high-speed trains in the US for decades. So far, it hasn't happened because it is too expensive to build the tracks and government would need to subsidize the trains. (Think Amtrak.) But, that doesn't mean they have stopped spinning the dream of 200-mile-hour rides between major cities. Some ideas never die.

The Black Eye 

Here is an example of how one person can ding a company's reputation. All it takes is an enraged mother and a blog entry. It is unlikely that Walmart is going after the Girl Scouts, but now it has to defend itself against the charge.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Why PR Has To Work Harder 

What is happening to science reporters also is affecting business and general beat reporters. It means PR practitioners have to work harder to sharpen stories and to provide the facts journalists need to write. A positive view of the diminishing number of reporters is that they need PR more than ever to help gather information and find stories. However, that only makes sense if PR practitioners see themselves as a resource to the media, willing to put themselves into a reporter's position and to anticipate questions the reporter needs to answer in a story and avoiding "spin."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Viral Video 

This list of best and worst viral videos is hardly definitive but it is worth examining to learn how difficult it is to do viral video well. As a PR tool, it should be considered a hit-and-miss technique at best.

Social Media Burnout 

There are so many social media that it is easy for users and participants to burn out. This essay discusses ways to prevent that.

It is the 103rd essay posted on online-pr.com.

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