Friday, April 30, 2010

An Award You Don't Want 

How does a company overcome a reputation for poor service?  Comcast must be asking that question, especially since it was given the "Worst Company in America" award.  The firm can't communicate itself out of this mess.  It needs to show clear service improvement and then point to success.  It may also be that Comcast is in a business that makes good customer service hard to achieve.  People expect their cable television and internet link to work all the time without interruption of any kind.  This is difficult to achieve, especially when cable lines are strung on poles and are subject to tree falls, accidents and other normal outages.  No matter.  The more important a company's service becomes, the higher the standard to which it is held.


How Tweeting can harm a reputation.  It doesn't take much, especially when a reporter apparently violates a confidence. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How Much Is Too Much 

How much regulation of social media is too much?  Major League Baseball is apparently grappling with this question and might have gone too far.  There are those who say any attempt to regulate social media is foolhardy.  There are others who believe it can and should be held tightly.  The answer appears to be closer to the former than the latter.  There is little one can do to set and enforce guidelines for blogs, tweets, Facebook and other media.  An appeal to common sense and the Golden Rule is about the best one can achieve.  On the other hand, there should be rules to control rogues and those with little judgment.  However, telling baseball writers they may only tweet about baseball is dumb.

More organizations will need to confront the issue of regulation for social media, if they have not done so.  Uncontrolled speech in organizational ranks can be deeply harmful to other individuals and the organization itself, especially if a writer's intent is to hurt.  Organizations do not have to allow employees who would destroy them to remain uncontested.  It is a gray area, though, especially if an employee points to dangers an organization is unwilling to confront.  Look for more conflict.  It will come.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Great PR, cont. 

Here is a story that is great PR for Intel. These girls labored under disadvantages that other high school students don't have. They had to scrounge parts and cob solutions but they made a breakthrough anyway and won a trip to California from the West Bank. It is a story that sells itself.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Note the changes in PR that YouTube has wrought in just five years.  YouTube has brought video expression to everyone.  It was too expensive to display personal videos before YouTube other than in one's own home or one's own computer screen.  Now it has become a medium of choice for every level of society from individuals with mobile phone cameras through corporations launching marketing campaigns to political candidates expressing their views or attacking opponents.  The revolution happened so quickly and naturally that it is hard to believe YouTube has been around only five years.  There is no guarantee YouTube will last as a medium.  Other services might take its place someday, but video will remain an anchor medium on the web because of YouTube and a feature of PR plans. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Country Reputation 

What does a country do to maintain its reputation?  Pay its bills, for one thing, but it is more than that.  A country must want to be a member of the international community meeting expectations of other countries, such as heeding the rules for the European Union.  But, it is more than that as well.  Citizenry needs to understand it has obligations both to the state and other nations.  Greece's challenge is that it has overspent its budgets to the point of ruin, but the Greek-on-the-street is protesting cuts in government spending.  So, Greece is going to get yet another loan to roll debt it can't pay now.  It is a difficult job for its politicians, and probably one they didn't feel they were elected to do.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Questionable Cloud 

This is interesting.  The public distrusts cloud computing -- one of the so-called newer technologies.  Cloud computing reaches back to when software and files resided on a large mainframe computer and the terminal one used was "dumb."  That is, it didn't need and didn't have much processing power.  It seems consumers want to know they have control of their data, and no one else will get it.  From an economic point of view, cloud computing makes sense, however. It is less expensive than storing and processing data on one's own machine and with higher internet speeds, it is just as fast.  So how does one persuade the consumer to change?  That is a PR challenge.  Behavior change is never easy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

When To Hold, When To Fold 

Wall Street is in a giant poker game with Congress.  It is a game bankers and traders will lose, but they are playing to the bitter end anyway.  They are upping the stakes with more and more lobbying while the reputations of banks and investment houses are dragged through the mud in the media and on the Hill.   This is a time to fold and try for a regulatory bill that does the least damage to their interests.  However, it appears that some of Wall Street is taking the stance that it will oppose any new regulation.  What is interesting is the silence in the media about what they are trying to do.  Banks and investment houses are making no effort to persuade the public.  Perhaps it is because the public won't understand the arcane rules.  On the other hand, Wall Street means jobs and a threat to move jobs out of the country would be a powerful argument.  It is a fascinating battle to watch, even if one knows the outcome.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Some marketers just don't know how to pull off a publicity stunt.  At least this one didn't.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hanging By A Word 

It is an interesting dilemma when a company's reputation is hanging on the meaning of a word.  That may be what is happening to Goldman Sachs.  It comes down to the obligation the company had -- or didn't have -- to tell clients that a third party was involved in helping to structure a portfolio of toxic mortgages.  The hard part for Goldman is that its publics are looking in retrospect at what happened.  Today it appears outrageous that someone who was betting against the market was allowed to help construct the bet.  In 2006, when the bettor was unknown, few gave it a second thought because everyone knew housing prices would keep rising.  At best, Goldman looks foolhardy, a serious dent to its reputation, even if it wins its court case.  Predictably, the SEC sued Goldman just in time to help build support for laws to control such behavior in the future.  Even if Goldman wins, it may take years for it to recover the power that it had.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Risky Business 

This story, if true, is a risky position for an airline company to take.  Let there be one jet that loses its engines because of volcanic ash and the airlines will be put into an untenable position.  Yes, the airline companies have said security is "non-negotiable", and they won't fly if there is a risk, but it won't make a difference if they do fly, and there is an incident.  From a PR perspective, airlines are in a can't-win position.  They are losing hundreds of millions of dollars daily with their planes on the tarmac.  Passengers are worn-out waiting and anxious to get moving again.  The volcano continues to spew.  Authorities watch ash-bands spread over Europe.  There isn't a crisis plan for this: It is an act of nature beyond management.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Free Will 

Persuasion, the kind that PR uses anyway, depends on free will, the deliberate choice of the listener to accept and act upon a message.  That is why a prevailing attitude in neuroscience is disturbing.  That attitude is determinism.  That is, man is a captive to his neurons.  There are scientists who fight that notion but it is an uphill battle as the scientific community delves more deeply into how the brain operates.  The concern, of course, is how society will react to the determinists, if their views begin to enter broader culture.  "My brain made me do it" will upset the entire web of responsibility that makes society run.  This is an issue PR practitioners should track.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Entrepreneurs And Lying 

This is an interesting article asking if entrepreneurs should lie while establishing their companies.  The author provides several examples of when they have done so.  I have said many times that in PR one cannot afford to lie because journalists think we have a slippery hold on the truth.  On the other hand, I've witnessed PR entrepreneurs lying and getting away with it time and again.  So who is right?  I don't know, but I don't want to be caught fabricating, so I won't do it.  Maybe it is because I'm no good at it.  Whatever the reason, lying and relationships with the media don't go together comfortably.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010


This story raises a point that is difficult for PR. How do you deal with uncertainty?  PR's messages should convey a direction, a stance toward the world, but when the environment shifts constantly, it becomes difficult to say anything.  It is as if one is in a football game that suddenly becomes basketball.  There is dislocation, inability to know what to do, difficulty adapting.  The military might be right about the shortage of oil, or it could be wrong.  There is no way of knowing at this point, so how does one plan for that?  How does one message for that?  If we are honest with ourselves, we should admit that a great deal of communications occurs in an elusive world, one in which temporal messaging may become inoperative too quickly and in which meta-messaging may not be enough.  The art of managing is to find a course through conflicting courses.  The art of communications is to express management's view persuasively.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Renewing Life 

What kind of PR is needed to turn around a city sliding into oblivion? This is an urgent question for Detroit. There needs to be a new relationship between the city and its citizens and the city and business, which has fled the decaying town. That relationship needs to be action-oriented with specific tasks implemented under reasonable deadlines. Detroit today is the symbol of everything that has gone wrong in America. It is a city that relied on heavy manufacturing, most of which is gone. It relied on one major industry, which has shrunk and moved away. It ignored problems for too long until they became overwhelming. Detroit will not turn into a ghost town. It is still a large city, but there is a strong possibility that it will never again be as powerful as it once was. Detroit needs an action-oriented mayor who refuses to take no for an answer and who injects life into listless administration. That would be a good start to renewing relationships between citizens and government.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Not Again 

When a press release riles a reporter rather than being thrown away, it has something special. At least, this one does. It may not be the "worst release ever." There are many contenders, but it is an example of ill-use of acronyms. One wonders what the writer was thinking -- or whether he or she was thinking. It might have been a throwaway to keep someone happy with no intention of getting it published, but still, why bother if there is no effort to communicate? There is basic rule in press release writing that would have helped here. Explain every acronym the first time you use it.


Friday, April 09, 2010


Here is a PR flap that could have been avoided. The governor of Virginia puts out a proclamation honoring Confederate History month and forgets to mention slavery, the failure that doomed the Confederacy. It is as if the Confederacy was a golden ante-bellum era of ladies with parasols and gents with cutaway coats. Of course, he should have known better, especially since the seat of the Confederacy was in Richmond. So, he issued an addendum to the proclamation condemning slavery but the damage was done. Maybe he will get it right the next time.


Thursday, April 08, 2010

Colliding Assumptions 

The US Federal Court's ruling against the FCC over control of the internet exposed two colliding assumptions about the internet that will become a PR battle for the next year or so. The first assumption is that the internet is a utility to be used by all in any way they wish to employ it. This is similar to the electrical plug in your house. You don't think about the wall socket and electricity it brings. You plug the vacuum, food processor or TV into it and it works with standard power at standard cycles. The second assumption is that delivery of the internet is the property of companies that have built the cables and connected homes. Each company can decide how and how much to provide in speed and capacity. The government favors the first assumption. Internet providers favor the second. It is too early to know who will win but given the make-up of Congress, the leaning is toward Net Neutrality and a utility. No matter which idea wins, there will be full employment for many PR and public affairs practitioners until it is finally decided. It will be an interesting battle to watch.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Testing The Limit 

Airlines seemed determined to test the limit of customers' patience. Consider this story, for example, in which a low-cost carrier is charging people for carry-on bags. I've just spent time in regional jets in which overhead bins are so small that it is difficult to take anything on board. I've had to learn how to pack in a gym bag and squeeze it into the space allowed. (It is a trick to do without wrinkling shirts and suit.) One wonders how much more injury customers will take before they stop flying an airline. Apparently, Spirit Airlines is intending to find out. Airlines long ago abandoned the idea of public relations.


Friday, April 02, 2010


I will be away the first part of next week. The blog will resume on Wednesday.


PR Optics 

This is amusing. The Pentagon wants to extend the bid period for the much-fought-over aerial tanker contract that the Air Force has tried to conclude for years. Why? It doesn't want the contract to be a sole-source bid. The brass can see already the Congressional hearings and news headlines they will have to handle if Boeing, the current bidder, walks away with the deal. What is going on here is optics. The Pentagon wants the bid to look right and be able to claim that it was fairly awarded. If I were Airbus, I would refuse the offer. There is little chance that Airbus can win at this point, and it would spend millions for an exercise to make the Pentagon look good.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

NIMBY At Work 

Notice in this announcement about offshore oil drilling that California's coast is missing. That is because California voters have a strong NIMBY attitude -- Not in My Backyard. California, however, has proven oil and gas reserves in offshore waters. If the President wants to reduce reliance on foreign oil, he should drill there. But, he won't. Public relations works both for and against you. Some day, some President will have the nerve to allow drilling on the West Coast again, but it most likely won't be this one.


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