Friday, October 29, 2010

Who Is Responsible? 

This is an interesting rant by a journalist on the subject of Google and privacy.  The reporter blames consumers and not Google for inadvertent gathering of open WiFi channels as Google's cars drove by photographing street views, taking GPS locations and sniffing WiFi.  The reporter's opinion?  Consumers are idiots for failing to password their WiFi channels.  Of course, he is right.  Locking a WiFi channel against outsiders is a basic step in security -- one everyone should take the instant WiFi is installed. 

But, being right doesn't matter.  Google's reputation still took a major hit from consumer and privacy activists, and Google was forced into providing apologies to all concerned.  This raises a PR and legal question.  How much liability should companies have for the behavior of users?  There should be a point at which companies are no longer held responsible because the user lacked common sense.  This is not a new issue.  Think of ladders and the many warnings pasted onto them.  Those warnings came from lawsuits ladder companies lost because of ill-considered use of their products.  In Google's case, if anyone should be held responsible, it should be makers of WiFi equipment.  But, it is too late now for that discussion.  Google has been held responsible.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Death Sentence 

Mexico is living under a death sentence -- literally.   Who would go there now with daily stories like this?  The country's reputation is in tatters.  There is war in its streets.  Mexican police seem unable to do anything about well armed drug dealers.  From a public relations point of view, Mexico is an extreme case.  Declaration of martial law in the north of the country might not be beyond the pale.  Mexico's president sparked this latest upsurge in murder by trying to bring the drug mobs under control.  What he did was right, but the outcome has been deadly and demonstrated how entrenched the drug lords are. One can only hope that the Mexican president keeps the pressure on until he breaks the back of the crime lords.  The Mexican people deserve to live in peace and safety, and those who visit the country seek the same.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Useful Advice 

This article is advice on how to report on anythingIt is written for reporters but it applies as well to PR practitioners, especially the first guideline -- "Don't go in cold."  There is an old saying attributed to Louis Pasteur, "Chance favors the prepared mind."  Understanding a topic in depth before reporting it is essential to grasping subtle details.  The second and third rules are equally important -- find a guide and go in with a guiding question.  A guide knows where to look.  A guiding question integrates one's investigation. 

There is no excuse for failing to be prepared when learning a client's business -- especially in the internet age.  We have a policy in our offices when starting a new account of asking the client for all available documents about their business -- brochures, PowerPoint presentations, white papers, etc.  We ask clients for everything -- whether material seems relevant or not.  It is only after digesting this information and searching the internet that we interview the client.  By then we know what we don't know and we know what to ask and we're ready to work with a guide through the organization.

Packer's rules are worth memorizing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hardly Credible 

BP's new CEO has taken after the media and the company's competitors for overblowing the leak in the Gulf of Mexico.  While the CEO might be accurate in his statements, he is hardly credible.  BP's reputation is in tatters and attempts to blame others smack of self-interest.  BP's best tactic is to keep such thoughts to itself and to work to restore its reputation.  That the CEO has spoken out is not a good sign, and BP's internal audiences may take the cue that the spill wasn't so bad after all.  That is exactly the position the CEO should want to avoid.  BP needs to concentrate on safety in its operations.  It can't afford another disaster, such as a refinery blowout or deep well leak.  Authorities will step in a put the company out of business if that happens.  So, it is disappointing that the CEO said what he did.  It was poor PR.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Too Little, Too Late? 

Bank of America is resubmitting mortgages for foreclosure with an admission that a few hundred were handled improperly.  But, is that confession too little and too late?  The damage to the reputation of financial institutions has been done, and both government and the public are skeptical.  The feeling is that not only did financial institutions make the original loans poorly, but they are now botching the job of taking over foreclosed properties.  There are plenty of stories about "robo-signers,"  people who were supposed to have reviewed documents for foreclosure who didn't or failed to examine them as required.  The marketplace is in chaos with missing documentation, improper handling and some banks unable to determine who actually owns a home because the loan was sold off years ago and original documentation destroyed.  Against that background, anything Bank of America claims is suspect.  It is difficult to win back trust once one has lost it -- especially among financial institutions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Anger and Ignorance 

There are commentators who say that much of the Tea Party's anger is built on ignorance -- a failure to understand Democracy and the way things are. That may be true, but it also may not matter. If voters cast ballots out of frustration, politicians will suffer whether they are at fault or not.

This raises an interesting question for PR practitioners. What is that we should be doing when dealing with a hostile public?

Assuaging anger is a good first step but it is not necessarily a feasible one. No politician today can turn around the economy. The Senate, the House, the White House, state legislatures, counties, cities, towns and suburbs all face the same debt hangover and lack of production. It will take time to alleviate them but voters are unwilling to give politicians the time.

Many elected officials and first-time candidates are running against Washington -- their cry, "I'm not one of them." (It is interesting how a Congressman can say that he is not one of them.) That is a poor solution. Washington is symptomatic but not the problem. Indeed, the Federal government should be downsized and many regulations deferred or cut back, but on the other hand what parts should be downsized and what regulations repealed? There is the nub of the problem. No one quite knows nor will cuts and lack of regulation necessarily stimulate an economy.

From a PR perspective it appears to be a no-win situation. Slogans don't put people back to work. Turns of phrase don't get companies to invest. What is needed is fundamental reform, whatever that is, but it is hard to understand where to begin. There are too many competing interests and too many pressures on Congress for much action in any direction.  So, perhaps in their simplistic way the angry and ignorant have more leverage than we might think.  They might force action that otherwise wouldn't happen.  One hopes, however, that they pick the right direction.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Second Thought 

This is an interesting tidbit.   A Broadway actor is suing to find out who is accusing him of infecting another person.  The accuser, of course, is anonymous and using Twitter.  The point the blogger makes is common-sense PR.  The actor should not have sued because now the New York newspapers have picked up the story and are running with it.  On the other hand, what if the anonymous accuser claimed something worse -- i.e., rape or murder or theft?  Would it have been smart to leave such accusations unanswered?  There is a point at which one must respond to protect reputation and to prevent legal consequences.  Perhaps an accusation of infection doesn't rise to the level of response, but who is to say where the cut-off is?  

This example is a reason why anonymity on the internet is harmful.  One can make a case that there are times when anonymity is essential to protect publishers from harm, but for the most part, it is better for people to be identified. However, it doesn't look like there will be a time when posters are required to let people know who they are, so victims of anonymous Tweets and other postings will remain in a perilous position. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Tip For PR Practitioners 

Here is a tip for PR practitioners who write for CEOs.  Keep the language real.  Have the CEO answer questions instead of dancing around them. Make the CEO take responsibility in answers rather than invoking the team.  Tell the CEO to avoid visionary speech that is too positive about the company's future. 

I'm not sure I agree with all of these points but they are interesting.  Some of it flies in the face of what we tend to do as speechwriters.  Still, the research is worth thinking about.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Do You Do? 

When the tide of public opinion appears to be overwhelmingly against you, what do you do, especially with time running out?  Do you cede gracefully, fight to the last minute, change your message, hew to your positions, hope for the best?  There are plenty of candidate and campaign managers asking those questions right now.

Smart PR, cont. 

NASCAR is engaged in smart PR through following EPA guidelines for an ethanol fuel mix.   However, what the organization is doing is not new.  At the beginning of auto racing more than 100 years ago, many improvements to chassis, power trains and tires were debuted on race cars first then made their way to the street.  Decades ago, however, racing moved beyond the consumer auto.  Using a consumer fuel mixture is bringing it back and not a moment too soon.  NASCAR race cars may look like street machines but they have moved far beyond them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Difference 

Here is the difference in how mining accidents are covered from one country to another.    China keeps its accidents quiet but for brief media announcements.  There is good reason with hundreds of miners dying annually and mine safety apparently of low importance.  Still, enough news comes out to damage severely China's reputation.  China needs to do much more than shut mines in order to turn around its poor image.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dumb, cont. 

By time an individual has reach an executive position, one would think the person would be careful with e-mail.  But, apparently not.  This fellow is the chief innovation officer of the Tribune company.  Surely he was aware of how to handle e-mail correctly.  But, the article mentions that he sent a rambling e-mail.  Apparently he had trouble making his points as well.   Should proper use of e-mail be a part of PR's internal service offerings?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Perils Of A High Profile 

Michelle Rhee was a media darling in her time at the head of the Washingtron DC schools.  She was vocal, high profile and active.  She also made enemies, and when the mayor lost re-election Rhee suddenly found herself with a new boss with whom she had battled before.  The outcome was inevitable.  Rhee is out of a job.  That is one of the perils of being in the press too often.  Had Rhee been lower profile, there is a chance she might have survived.  On the other hand, Rhee won't lack for offers to take over other school disricts and turn them around.

Government Irony 

It is an irony that government can demand fiscal transparency from corporations when government itself is not transparent in matters such as health costs.  It is a case of "Do what I say and not what I do." 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Media Circus 

The rescue of the miners in Chile is underway and the media circus is reaching a frenzy.  It will continue for days more as the story of the trapped miners is told and retold from the captives' perspectives.  The Chilean government has done what it can to protect the miners from the glare of publicity but it is unlikely that it has -- or can -- do enough.  Some of the men will be destroyed by the publicity.  Some will get on with their lives.  It is a sad fact that media attention bends one's self-recognition.  It is hard to maintain a balance, especially if one isn't used to people asking repeatedly for one's story.  The miners need personal shields from the media until they can find their ways in life again.  They probably won't get them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Editorial Process 

This is an interesting reflection on the editorial process from a reporter who works both in traditional and new media.  There is something to having multiple eyes view copy.  The chance for accuracy, overall style and presentation arises.  I've written this blog for years, but there are times when I wish an editor was looking over my shoulder making suggestions.  I enjoy the hours spent with colleagues poring over copy and answering questions I should have asked but didn't.  Just last week I completed a column for a client and was pleased with the result until my colleague showed me data that changed the argument.  It had escaped my attention.  The value of editors is their ability to look at ideas and words differently than you do.  New media misses that and eventually will need to develop it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Non-stop Mouth 

It's an offbeat campaign strategy to talk constantly, say one outrageous thing after another and anger constituencies.  New York's Republican gubernatorial candidate seems to think this is an effective approach.  He is a fool, of course, who is far behind in the polls and falling further every time he opens his mouth.  One wonders who, if anyone, advises individuals like this.  It is a greater wonder that he got as far as he did in the electoral process.  He makes it is easy for his opponent.  The Democratic candidate quotes the Republican's statements back to the public and tut-tuts a little.  The race is a reminder that money alone is not an effective PR strategy.  That's a lesson that the Republican candidate for California's governorship also is learning.  She has spent more than $140 million to get elected and is still in trouble in the polls. 

Friday, October 08, 2010

PR Problem 

Here is an interesting PR problem for the White House.  It is granting waivers to companies from the health care reform law to keep them offering health insurance to employees.  This goes along with large write-downs earlier in the year that corporations took because of the law.  It reinforces the perception that health care reform isn't working and is going to cost more than the administration said it would.  It also supports the cynics' view that no one knew what was in the law when they passed it and only now as companies work through the bill is anyone finding out. 

The White House can't afford to back away from the law too much because that will feed those who seek to repeal or unfund it.  On the other hand, it can't insist on strict application of the law when it will result in worse effects -- cancellation of health insurance for tens of thousands of employees.  One would think the White House would have seen this coming and would have prepared the public for it.  It doesn't appear to be the case.  Instead, news of the waivers are leaking out and making the President look bad.  It is not a comfortable position to be in.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


This study is interesting.  It looks at how one can overstay one's welcome in Facebook.  The conclusion is that too many useless posts will get one unfriended.  That should be a warning to PR practitioners who have Facebook as part of their communications tactics.  There is an annoyance factor one must respect.  And, there are topics one should avoid.  It is a matter of good judgment.  Perhaps the cliche, "Less is More," applies to postings.  On the other hand, there is need for frequency so people remember you.  This means there is a need for different kinds of content in which one's messages are incorporated. 

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Opt-out Strategy 

Here is something unusual -- an opt-out strategy in political campaigning.  One doesn't meet the press, takes no questions, avoids publicizing public events, turns down opportunities to be on national TV and radio talk shows.  The idea is to avoid gaffes that the opposition can use against the candidate.  It's an interesting approach but self-defeating -- that is, unless one of the candidates wins using this tactic.  It is the opposite of transparency, a principle of public relations.  In the olden days of political campaigning, candidates did not go on the trail pumping hands and kissing babies.  They delivered campaign speeches from the porches of their homes.  On the other hand, they relied on newspapers to carry their messages to the people.  Today's stealth candidate avoids the media.  I'm skeptical it can work, but perhaps it is worth trying once.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Before Their Time 

Some products and services arrive before their time and no amount of PR and marketing is enough to gain acceptance.  Here is oneHere is another.

The electronic medical record is more than a decade overdue, but a combination of economics and resistance from doctors has prevented its adoption.  In-store TV has seemed to be a natural from the time it was conceived but for a combination of reasons, it has never taken off. 

How does one promote products and services with such a dismal record of success?  Every argument has been used.  None have worked.  In the case of the medical record, vendors are betting Federal regulation will give them the breakthrough they need.  In the case of in-store TV, hope is the driver.  Maybe this time it will succeed.  From a PR point of view, there is little a practitioner can do.  It is a matter of slogging and chipping away at attitudes a bit at a time without a guarantee of gaining the objective. 

There are more of such products and services in the marketplace.  They dwell in a shadow world largely beyond the help of persuasive communications.  They remind us yet again that PR and marketing have limits.

Monday, October 04, 2010

When Words Are Hollow 

There is a quote from Verizon in this article that seems misplaced and hollow.  After agreeing to pay customers $90 million in refunds for charges that it should not have made to their cell phones, the Verizon spokesperon says, "Verizon Wireless values our customer relationships, and we always want to do the right thing for our customers."  Well, no you don't, not after hundreds of complaints about unauthorized and inappropriate data charges.  The statement is a PR faux pas.  It would have been better simply to say "sorry" and to get on with paying the refund.  That at least is more honest than trying to backfill after mistakes, especially since the issue has been dragging on for months. 

Friday, October 01, 2010

Long-Term Damage 

After an incident like this, what is a university to do but turn over the students for prosecution and mourn the dead?  But there is more that needs to be done -- repair of the school's reputation.  There is little a university can do to control its students, but the actions of its students can brand the school.  That is what happened to Rutgers.  It will take the school a long time to live down stupidity the two students who broadcasted another student's private moments.  Parents are right to ask about the kind of student accepted to the school and whether they risk sending their young men and women there.  Rutgers will need to overcome this, and it will take time to undo the damage.

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