Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pie In The Sky 

When you don't have much else to talk about, hatch grand plans.  They might carry you for awhile until people wake up to the emptiness.  That at least is what Amtrak appears to be doing with this.  There are some gaps in the plans like where Amtrak is going to find $117 billion, how it is going to negotiate right of way and eminent domain, how it is going to support public rail transportation -- a perennial loser even in Europe.  It would be wonderful to have high-speed rail in the US, but there are strong reasons for why it hasn't been built.  Those reasons haven't changed.  Maybe Amtrak is trying to use its plans as a way to stimulate change.  If so, they have a way to go.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ah, Hypocrisy 

When a Congresswoman sets a higher standard, the media gleefully holds her to it.  What is it about the use of private aircraft that catches members of Congress repeatedly?  From a PR perspective, it is better not stand out unless one is ready to live the higher standard.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hype and Death 

News that the owner of the Segway company has died from a fall off a Segway has been touted as an irony.  From a PR perspective, it is a sad end to a machine that was wildly overhyped from the beginning.  The Segway at best has provided a small contribution to the world's transportation needs.  It is an oddity that has never become a familiar sight on city streets.   There was no excuse for the original overblown promises made about the machine.  It will be interesting now to see if manufacture of the transporter continues or whether the company will be shut down.  The Segway is a case study in how to do PR badly.

Monday, September 27, 2010

One Public 

Dictatorships are easy by comparison to democracies.  There is one public to satisfy -- the military.  The strongman who keeps the generals happy maintains control.  At least that is the way it appears to be happening in North Korea.  On the other hand, the day that generals decide upon a coup, a dictator can fall quickly.  It is not too hard to guess that the senior brass of the North Korean military are well cared for with goods and services that are denied to the rest of the populace.  One wonders what will happen to the country when it inevitably fails and falls, when the wealth runs out for the few on top and they become unsettled.  North Korea appears to be in much worse condition than East Germany before reunification.  It would be a massive job for South Korea to absorb the country and to educate its people into the responsibilities of democracy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Buggy Whip Business 

No PR in the world can save a buggy whip business.  Blockbuster is going the way of horses and carriages.

Dumb, cont. 

How stupid is this?  Hiring extras for your press conference and allowing them to give interviews to the press under the guise of average citizens. 

Netflix should be embarrassed and ashamed.  To claim it was a publicity stunt that went awry is not enough of an excuse to make up for trying to fool the media.  If there was a PR agency involved, it should be cashiered.  If Netflix's PR staff were behind the event, they should find a new line of work.  It is hard to believe that in an age of transparency anyone would try a stunt like this. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Here is an interesting article on how to do your own publicity as an entrepreneur.  The piece is well written and accurate.  There is only one problem with it.  What entrepreneur has the time to take all the steps that the author recommends?  Obviously, this fellow did but most are too busy building their businesses.  There is a reason why PR agencies offer to do it for one.  Still, as advice goes, the column is good.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I've been pitched by scam artists like this as recently as the last couple of years.  They tend to go after smaller companies with a plausible sounding proposition until one learns you have to pay for the privelege.  It is surprising that any PR practitioner would fall for their pitch, but since the companies have been around for a number of years, someone is using them.  Why is it that Florida seems to spawn so many scam artists?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reality And Perception 

India is eager for the rest of the world to see it as a rapidly developing country.  But, as long as practices such as this remain , it is hard to accept that it has joined the first world or even left the Third World.  In this case, reality is perception.  The reality is that India condones labor practices that much of the world condemns and hasn't been part of more developed countries for 100 years or more.  There is no "PR" in the worst sense of the term that can offset the use of child labor in coal mines.  The only solution is to put a stop to it, which may be politically difficult, and to increase protections for miners generally.  Even China is being forced to upgrade its safety measures for miners after a number of accidents and deaths.  India eventually will have to do the same.  When reality and perception meet, India will have made real progress.

Monday, September 20, 2010


This is an interesting communications technique -- using an opponent's advantage against the opponent.  It could blow up on Obama if he has misestimated the public.   That is, if the Tea Party represents a majority of the voting public rather than a vocal minority, the appeal to extremism won't work.  It will backfire. One has to believe that there is a great deal of polling going on in the White House right now and late-night sessions interpreting numbers.  It will be interesting to see if the White House has the conviction and courage to launch such a communications campaign.  It will be enlightening to see the result.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Great PR, cont. 

This is an example of great PR, of highlighting the means to achieve technical progress and showing a way there.  As I have written before, I am in favor of prizes for achieving technical progress. It is not a new tactic but it remains a good way to stimulate attention and foster creative thinking.  It is interesting that an insurance company put up the $10 million for the prize from its advertising budgets.  It easily received $10 million worth of publicity.  it is also interesting that the winner used a time-tested technology -- the reciprocating gasoline engine.  There is still life in traditional technologies.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lag In Perception 

This article is interesting.  It spotlights a lag in public perception about company directors.  A CEO fails and isn't able to move to another company to start over.  A director on the board of a failing company can and does move to another without penalty.  While this is happening today, it is unlikely that it will happen much longer.  Directors are coming under an increasingly harsh assessment for their activities on boards.  Serving as a director now is a hard job.  Fewer candidates today want the position.  This may be partly why directors of failed companies are able to find board positions elsewhere.  If directors of failed companies are ruled out of serving on other boards, it will be all the more difficult to find people to serve.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Slow Conversion 

Some public relations efforts are measured in decades and not in months or years. This is one.  The internet community has known since the 1990s that the system was running out of internet numbers.  No one was about to change from IPv4, however, because of the costs for equipment.  Now we are near the end of the IPv4 cycle and ISPs are being forced to go to the more robust IPv6.  They are only doing so because they have to.  The role of PR in a situation like this is to keep awareness of the situation before the targeted publics -- the ISPs -- with the understanding that change will be forced eventually.  When the time comes, the public will know what it needs to do.  There are other programs that have been measured in decades -- the effort to stop smoking, for example, heart disease and diabetes awareness, wearing of seat belts.  PR practitioners involved in these efforts measure gains in tiny fractions and learn patience.  They are reconciled to spending their careers on one issue when most of us would give up and move on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Is the press release dead and replaced by the Tweet?  Some say it is because it is a faster way to get news out and "everybody is doing it."  Once again, however, it is a matter of new media overstatement.  The press release might decline but it isn't going away.  There is a simple reason for its continued existence.  It is not hampered by character limits.  One can put more facts into it and tell a story more completely.  Twitter is a headline service and good at conveying bytes of information quickly.  A press release is a story service, good at conveying the facts and nuances of what is being reported.  Twitter is an excellent complement to the press release but it is not a replacement. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Complete Disaster 

The California gas pipe blowout was a complete disaster with an unknown number of deaths, nearly 50 homes destroyed and many more damaged, some beyond repair.  Pacific Gas and Electric has taken responsibility for the accident, but how could it not?  There had been sewer repair work done at the point of the blowout that was the responsibility of the city, but no one knows if it had any effect on the high-pressure pipe.  PG&E will be measured now on the basis of its response to the victims and their needs for food, shelter, medical attention and transportation.  The public's perception of the company will be based for a long time on the caring or lack thereof that PG&E shows in the coming weeks.  Though PG&E is at fault, its public relations in response to the disaster can go far in mitigating anger toward the company.  It is a question of how fast and effectively PG&E can move to implement crisis plans. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Reputational Nightmare 

This is a reputational nightmare for the companies involved, and there is little companies can do about cyber criminals creating 57,000 fake web sites a week.  Banks, eBay, online retailers all suffer from fake sites that rip off would-be customers.  One would expect that these businesses are actively protecting themselves, but the sheer volume of counterfeit activity is more than any one, or group, of companies can handle.  My guess is that the companies have had to decide that it is a penalty for doing business online.  That is not much comfort for victimized consumers. 

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Great PR, cont. 

Here is an example of great PR -- designing basic solutions for people in Third World countries.  In this case, engineering students from Dartmouth are trying to design and build a better stove for natives of Tanzania.  They are doing so by going to the villagers and observing how they prepare food and testing stove designs directly with them.  It turns out that a simple stove using firewood is more difficult to build than one might think.  The experience is good for the students and potentially better for the villagers if they get a better cooking tool from the students' work.  There ought to be more programs such as this.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Nobody Wins 

Nobody wins the perception battle in cases like this.  Hewlett-Packard looks churlish for trying to deny an ex-executive employment.  Oracle looks foolish for hiring the executive in the first place when it was aware of the confidentiality agreements.  HP may have felt that it had to sue Mark Hurd before he entered his new job because he knows too much.  Hurd, on the other hand, should have consulted with counsel before saying yes to Oracle.  No matter what happens, it looks like a cat fight that doesn't help anyone's image.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

When Publicity Can Hurt 

Widely touted opinion polls show Republicans far ahead of the Democrats in the final two months of the midterm elections.  If I were a Republican, I would pay no attention to them and, in fact, I would be concerned.  Polls these days are notoriously inaccurate,and there is always a chance of a shift in opinion right up to the moment when citizens cast ballots.  Republicans might be tempted to take a victory lap before they are voted into office, and of course, Democrats will do what they can to thwart an "inevitable" outcome.  That is what the President is doing with a proposal for a new tax cut.  This is a time to ignore publicity and to work harder than ever in campaigning.  The voters' mood is angry and volatile.  They want action and they will go with the party that will produce it.  There is no guarantee Congress will change.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Interesting Ploy 

Craigslist started to block adult content from its site over the weekend with the word "censored" in place of the word "adult."  Some are interpreting this as a protest against attorneys general who were pushing the site to get rid of ads for prostitution, among other X-rated services.  From a Free Speech point of view, this is a good PR move.  From a moral behavior point of view, it is suspect.  The attorneys general have a point that adult services rarely occur without some criminality associated with them, so why allow them to advertise?  It is a hard call for an organization like Craigslist, especially since it is costing them tens of millions in revenue.  It might not be so hard a call, if Craigslist realized that scoundrels of all sorts abuse Free Speech regularly to their advantage and to the cost of society at large.  From a broader PR perspective, Craigslist should not have allowed the services in the first place.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Great PR, cont. 

Here is an example of good public relations from NASA.  The space agency had to get rid of a satellite that lived past its time by crashing it into the ocean.  What better way to get that done than to give the job to a class of college students as a problem in orbital mechanics?  The students had to calculate the satellite's position, when to fire the rockets on the craft and meet all the other safety measures that go into bringing a satellite down without injury to life or property.  Then they did it.  NASA could have done this work itself -- and in fact, it did the last time it decommissioned a satellite in 2002 -- but it used a necessary task as a way to interest students in the agency and in space.  That's smart PR and a great educational tool.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Lifted Brow 

Private companies are meeting to hammer out an agreement over net neutrality. There is only one reason they are meeting -- the government.  The FCC eventually will mandate net neutrality if the companies don't reach a satisfactory solution.  Private industry would prefer the Federal government to stay out of the regulatory business.  What is happening here is a long-standing PR tactic used by government -- the lifted eyebrow.  That is, government's expression of concern is enough to get private industry to do something before government acts.  It is usually effective.   Whether the companies in this case reach agreement over net neutrality or not, there is a good chance that the most contentious issues will be defined and the basis for regulation hammered out.  This will make government's job easier if it has to step in.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Wall Street, which supported President Obama with millions to get him elected is now turning against him.  They shouldn't be surprised by Obama's opposition to their interests.  Politicians change with the wind if it suits them to do so.  Just because one has supported a politician with money, as Wall Street did, does not mean one has purchased a politician's favor.  I'm tempted to feel sorry for the Wall Street crowd, but the temptation will pass.  Yes, Wall Street money men have been treated shabbily since President Obama took office, but their focus is on making money over how to fashion society for the benefit of all.  An activist president, as Obama is, was bound to step on their interests.  From a PR perspective, Obama appealed to the society as a whole and demonized Wall Streeters in order to do so.  It was demagoguery.  What politician hasn't used that tactic?

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