Friday, January 29, 2010

A Difficult Task 

Whether or not you side with bankers who are under attack by the White House, you must admit that it is a difficult PR environment. How do you handle populist anger from the President himself? Banks have apparently decided not to respond publicly but to lobby aggressively. Still, there are media and public questions that must be answered. Lobbying isn't enough. The heads of corporate communication at the large banks must be working overtime trying to figure out practical avenues and credible messages. The President could be accused of taking cheap shots but that is unlikely to gain much of a hearing. Citizens want blood. There is no easy way to get out of the coliseum alive and the lions are hungry.

An Interesting Perception Study 

This is an interesting study. It seems that one's political affiliation is part of one's facial expression. Perception is reality.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dumb Or Smart? 

When the government is holding a hearing discussing the actions of your company, should you at least show up? Or, given the nature of the hearing is there nothing you can do to defend yourself, so why bother? This appears to be the dilemma that cable broadband provider Comcast is facing. Comcast is electing to stay away from Federal Communications Commission hearings into net neutrality. The knee-jerk PR reaction is that it is a dumb move. One should be there. A more considered reaction is that the battle will be fought in Washington DC and not in California where the hearing is taking place, and there is nothing that will be said in the hearing that Comcast doesn't already know. It is a forum for the opposition to be heard. Still, if it were my job to counsel Comcast, I would strongly suggest participation. Why give a forum over completely to the other side?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Death Spiral 

This story reminds me of a marketing game played in business school in which some players are given companies that cannot catch up to market leaders no matter what the players do. The marketing task is to operate as best as one can as the company falls into irrelevance.

What is the task of PR in situations like this? About all I can determine is that PR is a stopgap measure to help retard decline while company managers look for strategic solutions such as leaving the field or selling out. It isn't much of a role but then the company isn't much of an economic entity. Hundreds of technology businesses have been in the same position since the start of the high-tech revolution. Most of them are gone and the rest will disappear in time. There isn't much one can do about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Too Coordinated 

The virtue of a "Free Press" is that it allows diversity of opinions. The weakness of a controlled press is that it doesn't. This is where China's latest self-protection attempts have failed. Coordinated propaganda lacks credibility. From a tactical point of view, the Chinese government would have been better off had it left one or two newspapers alone to say what their editors were thinking. The more China tries to keep a united front, the harder it gets for government to control its citizenry. It is understandable that China wants stability. The country went through horrors in the 20th Century that killed tens of millions. No one in China's leadership wants to see that evil again. But, there is such a thing as trying too hard.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Too Late 

This is interesting. AIG has restricted the use of corporate aircraft among its top executives. Isn't it a little late for a symbolic gesture such as this? In fact, it is a year past due. It has long been the case that when companies get in trouble, they put their corporate aircraft up for sale or for sale-leaseback so they don't have them on the books. Almost always, they end up using corporate aircraft again because airlines don't go to where executives need to go nor at times executives need to fly. AIG's well publicized troubles aren't helped much by this notice. Critics will ask why it wasn't done sooner.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Brave New World 

The Supreme Court's decision yesterday that struck down campaign laws regulating participation of unions and corporations has opened a new field for public affairs and PR. Corporations are now guaranteed the same First Amendment rights as any citizen. The question is how to use them responsibly and effectively, especially in an era of the internet when an individual citizen has as much power to speak as anyone else. The fear is that corporations will dominate the airwaves, but if the recent Senatorial election in Massachusetts is of significance, the important battle will be as much online as over the air. One thing is certain -- a diversity of views will increase in elections, and there is a chance that citizens may be more confused than ever about who to vote for. On the other hand, that might make them think and discuss more too -- and that's good.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Community Relations 

The new community relations during disasters are high-tech. Note in this story the application of databases to help people find others. Then there is geo-tagging text messaging and data mapping to help people locate where things are. A PR practitioner might not think of an IT department as a first place to contact when things go awry, but there is good reason to do so, especially in large-scale disasters such as Haiti. Start by taking an inventory of applications that could be used and add these to your crisis planning. Understand that IT will scramble to make sure its systems are up before it can launch aid to the community, but once it is secure, it can contribute time and talent to help sort things out and establish control.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How Much Did It Help? 

News this morning that the Democrats lost the senatorial election in Massachusetts raises an interesting question. How much did social media help? Just before the election, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Republican, Scott Brown, had a more successful implementation of social media than Martha Coakely, the Democrat. However, when one looks at the numbers, the only one that stood out was the number of YouTube views. There, Brown sunk Coakely. He also outdistanced her in the number of Facebook fans although the numbers weren't as large. In an election, every vote counts, so it is tempting to use the social media numbers as a proxy for what happened in the election itself. It might be too soon to do so, but you can bet politicians everywhere have taken notice.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Perception of Terror 

This is an old trick of warfare, but it works time and again. Strike into the heart of enemy territory to establish a perception of weakness in enemy forces and to terrorize the population. Even though authorities claimed success, the Taliban have won the image war through attacking Kabul in a coordinated fashion. The target here is not so much those in power but the people in order to raise their distrust of government's ability to protect them. The terrorists also were looking for headlines. The sooner they communicate to the world that they can strike where they want and when they want, the more likely they are to win the ultimate war and get foreign powers to leave. The only response to such tactics is stiffer resolve. That appears to be the approach the Afghan government and foreign officials are taking.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Overplaying the Compassion Card 

I don't know why it is but when a charitable agency uses a disaster to hammer me with appeals, I resist. I'll give money to any number of other charitable agencies but not the one that is pestering me. There is something about "overplaying the compassion card" that lacks in credibility, especially when monies collected go into an organization's general fund and not necessarily to the disaster. There are many agencies contacting Americans now for funds to assist Haitians, and if you have not, choose one or more and donate. But, don't feel badly if you resist those who protest too much. There is such a thing as too much communication.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Billion Dollar Publicity Stunt 

Building the world's tallest structure is equal to a billion dollar publicity stunt. There is little reason to do it, especially in the sands of Dubai. There were few reasons to build them elsewhere either, including in New York, which started the craze with the Empire State Building.

Now that the latest tall building has been completed, Dubai's authorities have to figure out how to fill it. That's the hard part. And, they need to fill it for decades to come as well as keeping the power on, water in its pipes, cool air coming from its refrigeration plants, repairs and maintenance, etc. In other words, it is an expensive way to project an image, especially when the country is in financial trouble.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Question Mark 

Google's announcement that it might leave China because of Chinese spying is a PR coup for the company. However, it might be bad business in the short and long run. To abandon China would be to walk away from what will be the largest internet population on earth. The question Google has to answer is whether it can afford to sacrifice that much business. One would like to think Google can find an accommodation with the Chinese government. On the other hand, if the sophisticated hacking has been coming from government-sponsored teams, it would be dangerous for the entire company and for Google's customers to remain. There is no good answer to this situation. Google should stick to principle, but that means admitting defeat. Sometimes in business one can't win, and that seems to be the case here. On the other hand, should Google walk out of China, it will be a warning to every other software and hardware company to tread carefully. There is good chance one will lose far more in the country than what one might gain.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Wages of Spinmeistering 

When you are done spinning the facts in every way but accurately, what's left? Who is left to stand beside you? If you believe this, not many. Power comes and goes regularly. Few can hold the top position for long. Those who assume it is theirs for the taking may be disappointed. Had the Clintons won their way back to the White House, chances are that no one would be taking potshots at them. But they didn't, and in the poisonous environment that is Washington DC, they are now targets for what they have done in the past. This is the way the political world works, but it shouldn't be the way that a PR professional operates.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Taking The Lead 

Here is a way to take a perceptual lead over competitors. Demonstrate that your company is healthier. JP Morgan Chase never fell as far as other banks during the financial meltdown, and now it appears to be moving from strength to strength. By restoring dividends before anyone else, the company is saying it is back to normal at a time when competitors such as Citicorp are still struggling. This kind of move can differentiate a company for a long time, and there is good reason to believe that is precisely why the CEO, Jamie Dimon, is doing it. It fosters good relations with shareholders and it is a strong signal to financial analysts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Optics and Grumbling 

It is hard to sympathize with workers on Wall Street who are getting bonuses in stock rather than cash. They are still getting a full measure of compensation although it is deferred and they can't spend it right away. The move to stock is a charade to cover up what is generally known -- that compensation for 2009 will be unusually high for the few banks that did well at a time when unemployment is running at 10 percent. The unemployed and under-employed envy the success of the few, and they should since a part of the blame for the economic meltdown can go to banks' dumb lending and derivative packaging policies.

From a long-term view with optics in mind, it would be good if banks moved away from cash bonuses to more stock vested for the long-term. The move would remind employees that one good year does not a long-term institution make. One has to perform well year after year. There is an old cliche about Wall Street that long-term planning is lunch. Maybe now, they will think of supper too.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Where Reputation Counts 

For decades, every idea about and attempt to build a practical flying car has failed. That is why this proposal from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is an eyeopener. Only DARPA could call for a flying vehicle and have scientists and engineers take it seriously. After all, it was DARPA that sponsored the contests that created the robotic car. So many far out ideas have become reality under DARPA's guidance that it has the credibility anyone else would lack. That is, if DARPA says the technology is in place to build a practical flying car, then it is time to get serious about building one. It takes a long record of success and carefully tended relationships with the technical world to have credibility such as this. DARPA's proposal is a lesson to PR practitioners. It is what you do that makes the difference, not what you say.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


This is an odd bit of publicity. Exploding cheese. Rather, an implosion of an old sports stadium officially sponsored by Kraft Foods. (How does one implode cheese?) Kraft will certainly gain awareness through a contest to select the person to press the button, but how this relates to cheese is beyond me. From a PR perspective, there isn't a good fit between the stunt and the company's positioning. Someone thought it would be a neat idea for a publicity event and that appears to be as far as it goes in terms of matching the company to the explosion. I'm sure Kraft is depending on YouTube videos of the explosion to reach tens of thousands of viewers worldwide, but it still doesn't make much sense, even with Kraft's rationalization.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Culture Change 

Here is an example where a high-profile sport and organization is being forced into a culture change. It isn't easy, and there is resistance, but the National Football League is at least giving a nod toward concern about head injuries. What the NFL will do about it in the long run is another story. It means better helmets, prompt medical attention and pulling players from games when they have been hurt. The players don't like the idea. They want to stay in the game even when injured. Moreover, the NFL doesn't yet appear to be convinced that the long-term effects of concussions are significant. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next five years. If the NFL takes positive steps, football will change in how it is played.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Great PR 

Here is an example of an excellent PR program that tackles a problem with teen drivers -- the inexperience to control a car. Kudos to Ford Motor for providing it and for showing teenagers how to handle vehicles in stressful situations. Great PR solves problems at the same time it positions an individual or company. Of course, Ford is going to benefit by having teenagers drive in its cars, but why not? It is a PR program that is a win-win for everyone.

Monday, January 04, 2010

No Predictions 

This is not a year for predictions. Rather, it is one for wariness. Will the economy continue a turnaround or not? Will the media freefall slow or will more traditional media disappear? Will PR jobs return or will the drought continue. It is too early to guess, and there isn't much indication that changes are in store. The optimism of a new year is guarded. Still there is work to be done and clients to serve. For that, I am thankful. What happens after that may or may not affect how we do business. We'll adjust when the time comes.

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