Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays 

May you have a Happy Holiday and restful New Year.  This blog will be taking the next week off and will be back on Jan. 3.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Too Bad 

This is an amusing complaint.  Tort lawyers trying to file suits in the BP spill case are complaining about the messages the administrator for the $20 billion compensation fund has been giving to victims of the spill.  Kenneth Feinberg, the administrator, has been telling people they will get a better deal faster if they settle through the fund than if they sue.  Tort lawyers don't want to hear that.  Their payday comes from suing and hundreds of them have lined up to take BP through the court.  From a PR perspective, the administrator has pre-empted the tort lawyers who don't like being treated like this.  Too bad.  It is hard to feel sorry for them.  They were already planning to buy houses, limousines and personal jets from BP's treasury.  However, if administrator treats the public fairly, that won't happen, and it will be a result of good PR.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Old Fogey 

My reaction to this article makes me an old fogey.  It is about the change in habit among the young from using e-mail to texting.  The young want instant, conversational communications and not the irritation of addressing, subject lines and body copy.  PR practitioners should be careful about this trend.  We are communicators first and well-formed messages are what we offer.  Instant messaging is instant gratification but may not be good communication.  There should be thinking behind a message and not just response.  And, both grammar and spelling should be correct.  Time will show instant messaging needs standards to be a good business tool.  It is excellent for friends who know you and can fill in gaps.  It is not good for communicating to clients and others who need context and rationale.   One can make a strong case that to reach the young, one needs to use media adapted by the young.  It is a good argument but it doesn't justify empty and incomprehensible messaging. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

PR Gaffe 

Google has decided to delay its internet TV so it can work on the software more.    This news comes just before the large Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where most manufacturers and marketers of the world show up with their products.  It also comes after electronics companies were prepared to introduce their versions of the Google TV.  Apparently Google doesn't understand that one should not leave partners high and dry like this.  Google is used to releasing beta versions of its software that it improves over time.  That may work on the internet, but it is a poor solution in the consumer electronics market where a company may get one chance to do a product right.  Google is asking for a mulligan.  One can only hope the companies are patient, and consumer demand remains until Google gets it right.  Meanwhile, it is a case of how not to get into the market.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reputation Killer 

This is an event every accounting firm has to worry about -- getting sued when a client fails.  In this case, the accounting firm Ernst & Young is about to be taken to court as a result of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings.  The challenge for the accounting firm is to prove that its audit was correct, but the reality is that even if it does, its reputation will take a hammering.   It is no different for any professional occupation -- doctors, engineers, and yes, even lawyers when they become defendants.  One option is to settle without admitting fault, but the perception of a settlement is that one did something wrong.  Fighting, on the other hand, drags the affair out and might be risky.  There is no good outcome, and there is no way to avoid such lawsuits.  Businesses will continue to fail whether or not an audit was properly done because audits do not  negate economic risk.

Friday, December 17, 2010


The 2010 Pew Internet study shows that online use has generational differences.  The young access the internet with mobile devices and use it for entertainment and communications.  The middle aged use the internet for visiting government web sites and getting financial information.  The old surprisingly are becoming involved in social networking.  There are commonalities.  All ages use the internet for health information, shopping , travel reservations, and downloading podcasts.  What does this tell the PR practitioner?  Communications should vary by group as well.  Thus messages for the young are better couched in entertainment and games, for the middle-aged in pocket-book terms and for the old in terms of social relationships.  Of course, we have known this, but the study highlights it and is a reminder.  The idea of the web page as a one-size-fits-all brochure of an organization's mission, purpose and activity is passe.  It needs to be targeted by age group but it doesn't appear many organizations are doing it. It is time for practitioners to make their voices heard.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Need For Skepticism 

This article about a scientist who apparently saw what he wanted to see in his data is part of a number of recent reports.  For a lengthy discussion of the phenomenon look here  and for an example of what faulty data can do look here.  These three articles are a reminder that science is not the final arbiter of discussions about nature.  There is need for skepticism at all times.  As the New Yorker article points out, once experiments are done, it is still a matter of what you believe.  Scientists are not immune from seeing what they want to see.  They are human and the scientific method is flawed for that reason.  However, it is hard to argue with a preponderance of evidence over time.  Science that replicates experiments over a number of years is easier to believe, such as detection of global warming.  Where PR goes wrong too often is hailing the latest cure for cancer, for example, that proves to be a marginal advance but not a cure.   It is hard to stand back and look upon a scientist's enthusiastic claims with skepticism, but it is important to do that always.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Great PR, cont. 

PR is what a company does.  That is what makes this story an example of great PR.  IBM is once again pitting one of its most advanced computers against the most advanced humans of the "Jeopardy" kind.  Should the computer win or even draw, IBM will have demonstrated to the world the technological leaps it has accomplished.  Even if the computer loses the first time, as Big Blue did when it first played chess against a Grand Master, IBM will show progress that most humans haven't imagined.  The PR value of this is hard to measure.  IBM has set itself apart from other technology companies with feats like this and proven its leading edge research and engineering at a time when many of its original competitors have disappeared.  There is no better PR.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Technology And Communications 

This is an interesting retrospective on change in technology and how it has affected communications.  The topic is camera phones.  Just a few years ago, technology gurus thought they were a dumb idea and could never replace point-and-shoot cameras.  Today, of course, there isn't an event without people holding their camera phones aloft to record pictures of it.  And, many prefer the camera phone because they can send an image immediately to others by e-mail.  The camera phone has changed the way we think about visual communications.  From a PR perspective, one should expect the presence of a camera phone.  That is both positive and negative.  As politicians have learned, there isn't a gaffe that goes unrecorded now.  On the other hand, the speed in which visual imagery is delivered to others has increased and is more distributed than depending on a wire service.  One wonders what future technologies will do to the PR business that once depended on third-party media.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Continuing PR Disaster 

BP's PR disaster in the Gulf has not ended.  It's just beginning.  There will be stories like this for months to come as citizens quarrel with payments for losses due to the oil spill.  There is no way to reasonably compensate for damage due to the accident.  Those who have suffered harm are not entirely reasonable about it.  It was harm done to them, and there is both a real and perceptual element to the incident.  Further, it is not possible for one company to understand all the permutations of loss it has caused, even with a neutral outsider running the compensation system.  Anger will last for years, and BP may never be tolerated back in the Gulf again.  Disasters have long-term PR effects that BP is only just beginning to experience.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Common Sense PR 

This article from Inc. magazine defines the new rules for handling customer complaints.  It strikes me, however, that the rules are common sense PR.  There isn't much that practitioners don't do on a daily basis.  How is it that business keeps discovering the obvious?   What this tells me is that pursuit of profit can warp common sense.  Owners and managers think too much about the bottom line and not enough about serving the public.  Those who concentrate on serving customers first understand that profit will come from the satisfied individual if not today then tomorrow and the years following. 

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Reports that hackers are attacking web sites of companies deemed hostile to Wikileaks are not news.  Hackers have attacked organizations repeatedly on the web.  From a PR perspective, news would be what companies are doing to protect themselves from this kind of assault.  My bet is that most companies, even high profile corporations, are unprepared and have few backups ready.  There are technology defenses but the PR practitioner should be concerned about how to switch communications channels in the event that one or more are shut down.  Hackers are a good reason for maintaining multiple media.  And, there is no reason to believe that hackers will ever go away.  These kinds of online protests will increase as more protesters figure out how to do them.  They might not disrupt business but they are a headache and an embarrassment, and it is nearly impossible to deal with shadowy groups such as Anonymous. 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Limits of PR 

I wrote about the end of IPv4 and the need to move to IPv6 more than two years ago, and engineers have been predicting the need to make the move for 20 years.  Now it is here.  There are no IPv4 addresses available in reserve.  Meanwhile, the number of internet devices -- computers, phones, tablets, etc. -- continues to grow wildly and the demand for internet addresses rises unabated.  So why with all the PR about the need to move to a newer system hasn't it been done?  The answer says something about the limits of PR.  It requires too much of a change for internet service providers to make the shift before they are forced to do so.  The shift is somewhat like moving from 120 volts in the US to 220 volts for household wiring.  Everything from lamps to dishwashers would have to be modified.  Who wants to do that?  So, even though everyone knows the era of IPv4 has ended, they are still not ready for the move to IPv6.  Communications can do only so much.  It will take years before we enter the IPv6 era, but when we do, we will wonder why we held on to IPv4 for so long.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Viral PR Problem 

Here is a viral PR problem for Walt Disney World.  Employees are speaking out online about low wages and the need for better compensation.  There is nothing Disney can do about it except to monitor what is being said and perhaps increase the pay of its cast members.  This is the future for all companies that have disputes with their employees.  The better the company is known, the easier it will be for negative videos about it to spread online.  One wonders what Disney is doing to combat such negative PR.

Monday, December 06, 2010

In Need Of Credibility 

A year ago, one would not have thought that the Euro was in trouble as a monetary system.  What a difference a market meltdown makes.  The Euro today needs the highest level of PR to hold the market together and to continue as a viable currency.   That, of course, includes austerity programs in debt-ridden countries and bail-outs, but that may not be enough.  Once a currency has lost credibility, an avalanche begins that is difficult to stop. 

Friday, December 03, 2010

What Next? 

This proposal by the Federal Trade Commission is a blow to e-commerce.  The challenge now is the kind of PR and public affairs campaign that e-commerce will undertake to soften the decision or make it easier to tolerate.  E-commerce depends on tracking to make it easier to serve the right kind advertisement to consumers.  It is more efficient for the company and for that consumer, for that matter.  Unfortunately, this message has not resonated with the FTC thus far and probably never will.  The question, then, is what is next for the multi-billion online advertising industry?  I'm sure there are multiple strategy meetings underway to figure that out.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Label Game 

This is interesting -- marketers playing the label game.  That is, they are all calling their mobile networks 4G even though the effective speed of their networks is nowhere near the engineering definition of 4G.  Marketers can sometimes get away with such mislabeling.  PR practitioners need to be more careful because the media can call them on it as is happening in this article.  What the marketers appear to be saying is they have deployed 4G technology, but does the public care about the technical improvement if the technology doesn't perform as advertised?  People want speed.  They don't care how it is labeled.  Eventually the mobile network marketers will figure that out.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Back Again 

An internet serviced provider -- Comcast -- is fighting again with a broadband network over fees for carriage of high volume material -- streaming movies.  Both sides are crying unfair.  One, Level 3, is invoking the principles of net neutrality and saying Comcast is violating them.  Comcast in turn is saying Level 3 is pouring data onto Comcast's network with no reciprocity.  The real issue is who is going to pay for network upgrades to allow such data carriage?  Sides are lining up on the issue, and it already looks like a PR nightmare for Comcast, a firm that hasn't yet told its side of the issue convincingly.  One wonders what it will take for Comcast to make the point that high-volume data delivery requires faster servers, better throughput and more network management.  So far, it hasn't, but this issue isn't going away.  It is just starting.

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