Monday, February 28, 2011


This column on some somewhat dated research is a bit depressing.  It seems university students made no distinction between anonymous blogs and those in which the writer was identified. They gave about the same credibility rating to both.  The conclusion of the columnist, based on additional evidence, is that people don't check for the background of writers.  They accept content if it seems plausible and may not remember where they found it.  The author notes that it is essential for companies to be ethical in giving blogging platforms to employees.  In other words, blogging should reside with those who are careful to avoid overt advertising and are committed to giving accurate information to the public.  From a PR perspective, this is a "no-brainer,"  but it is good to see strong evidence for the need. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Micro-messaging: A Possible Future 

This article is a return to a topic, emerging on the internet, that has implications for how PR practitioners and marketers operate.  That issue is the rise of a new internet addressing system called Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).  Few paid attention to IPv6 until the last internet addresses under the old system (IPv4) were handed out this year.  Eventually, many of us will move to the new system and when we do, it will change the way we communicate.  The new addressing system will restore the internet to the way it used to operate. Each device -- cell phone, tablet, desktop computer, laptop, etc. -- will have its own unique address shared with no other device on earth.  This means we can start tracking devices and their internet addresses, associating them with people and beginning tailoring "personal" relations messages rather than "public" relations.  Don't panic, though.  The ability to do that is years away in the US and most countries, except for China.  

Why read the article?  It provides a view of a future that young practitioners and marketers might see by time they are in mid-career.  The time to start understanding the implications is now.  

This is the 115th essay posted to online-pr.com.  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Global PR Failure 

Here is an interesting story describing the failure of scientists to convince Americans about global warming.  The description of the challenge reads like a case study in how not to do media relations.  Included in the discussion is the typical "blame-the-media" excuse.  The article would seem laughable, if the situation were not so serious.  Global warming is a fact that has been confused, denied, obscured and otherwise garbled.  Left out of the scientists' discussion was the self-interested component of those who deny facts.  Global warming implies the need for a personal change in habits, a change few want to undertake.  Science must realize that it is engaged in a long-term PR campaign without overnight success.  It was no different with anti-smoking campaigns.  It took nearly 40 years to convince the American public that people were killing themselves by lighting up, and the frustration of anti-smoking campaigners during the fight was similar to what scientists face now over global warming.  Rather than blaming the media, science must keep adding to the evidence and explaining until it wears down resistance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


This is a portrait of the person for whom power is everything and people nothing.   One can only hope that he falls and is driven from Libya.  From one perspective, he has been honest throughout the people's revolt against him.  He has said he will crush his citizens and let rivers of blood flow through the streets.  There is no pretense of relating to the public.  The people are serfs or slaves of the system that he has created over 40 years, and he intends to keep it that way, the army notwithstanding.  Tinpot dictators are not as common as they once were.  Qaddafi provides a case study of who they are and how they operate.  Such people will never disappear entirely from the world.  There will always be those who thirst for power over others.  They are a reminder that relationships with others are fragile and easily broken, especially by those who have no intention of maintaining personal connection. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Talking Might Have Helped 

The stand-off between the unions and the governor of Wisconsin is troublesome.  The governor is spoiling for a fight -- and he got it. He has made the state the point of the spear in attempts to control public servant unions.  But, in the process of trying to jam a bill through the statehouse, he has caused an uproar that has been broadcast worldwide and even involved the White House.  Talking might have helped, but it seems clear the governor was in no mood to discuss the issue.  Whether the governor is right or wrong, it is an example of how not to conduct public relations.  Even if the unions were so against proposals to rein them in that they would not talk, the governor should have made the attempt in order to highlight their stubbornness.  It would have made framed his next efforts to pass a bill and garnered voter support.  Now he faces the possibility of losing the citizens of the state, which could make his tenure in office one term.

Monday, February 21, 2011

President's Day 

Washington was a man of few words. Lincoln could speak at length and did during the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and in the courtroom as a lawyer, but when it counted at Gettysburg, he was economy itself.  We remember his Gettysburg speech.  The lesson has often been lost on speechwriters who fall repeatedly into high-flown rhetoric, cliches and blather rather than getting to the point and getting their executives off the stage.  This failure is often seen in marketing speeches where executives talk about the "leading-edge uniqueness and excellence" of their products or services.  One wishes for a mime.  I did witness one good presentation in recent months during a press conference where a new electronic product was introduced.  The speeches were short and to the point.  The conference was swift, and members of the press were invited to use the product right away.  It turns out that a friend had been behind the conference and had written the speeches.  I congratulated him.  Now if only others could follow his example...

Friday, February 18, 2011

End Of A PR War -- Or The Beginning? 

Here is a PR and lobbying war that has been going on for five years between two determined parties, neither of whom will concede defeat.  One only needs to read the Washington Post to see full-page advertisements from Pratt & Whitney and General Electric, condemning waste or calling for a fair bid between two different jet engines for the Joint Strike Fighter.  This battle has raged through the halls of Washington, in local offices of Congressional districts and on campaign trails.  There have been so many claims and counter-claims that it is hard to parse a right or wrong position.  The House has now made a decision to cancel the second engine, but that doesn't mean the end of the battle.  General Electric will almost certainly escalate to the Senate to continue the fight and will try to find a way to get funds into final appropriations legislation.   And, if GE is defeated this year, there is always next year.  A lobbyist can make a career out of battles like this.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tacky Stunt But Successful 

Here is a tacky publicity stunt that works.  The Public Broadcasting System is being threatened with loss of federal monies.  Republicans are behind the move to take the funds away.  Democrats want to score points against the House Republican leadership.  What to do?  Of course, they haul out the characters from Sesame Street for a press conference.  And, of course, the media cover the conference.  The objective?  To have every toddler in the country send in scrawled notes in support of PBS.  One wouldn't dare harm the children.  The Democrats could have asked any of a thousand different people who work for PBS to show up in support of retaining their funding.  None would have been as powerful as Big Bird.  Score one for the Democrats.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Twitter And The Media 

I missed this earlier but the conclusions are not surprising.  If you want to start a Twitter trend, post a comment about an article from the mainstream media.  In other words, credibility and content matter more than personality and number of followers one is able to attract.  Content, credibility and reputation are verities communicators forget continually in striving to leap on  the next new thing or to push products and brands.  Part of it comes from an inability to distinguish a good story from fluff.  Marketers and publicists too often fall in love with their products and lose objectivity.  It is hard to stand apart and evaluate a story on the basis of its newsworthiness, but that is what PR practitioners should be able to do, no matter what marketers say.  And, this is still a key reason why former news people make good PR practitioners.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Most Positive Message 

General Motors is awarding profit-sharing checks to its workers of up to $4,000 apiece.  There is no more positive message that the company has turned around and is back to making money.  Nice words mean little to a workforce that has seen the tough times autoworkers have.  They watched GM go into bankruptcy.  They experienced a government take-over.  They saw thousands of their compatriots fired.  They saw brands disappear.  No wonder the union is happy and calling the profit-sharing "great stuff."   All the public relations communications one could send don't equal the message of a check in hand.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Noise And Messages 

How much data is available in the world?  Here is one estimate.  It was about 61 CD-ROMS for every person living on the planet in 2007.  It will be more now.  What this says is that the noise of competing information is not only intense but overwhelming.  It is in this noise that PR practitioners and communicators must transmit their messages and make them heard.  There should be no surprise that it is getting more difficult every day.  Cleverness and clarity take one only so far.  Segmentation of audiences is not enough.  Appeals to individuals are being lost.  So what are communicators to do?  It is not clear.  People are hearing messages but not necessarily those that one is sending.  Shifting transmission to new media is helping but those channels too are already noisy and becoming more so.  We have entered an era of cacophony, and there is little that anyone can do about it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

PR And Hacking, cont. 

Apropos of yesterday's post about PR and hackers, here is a chilling incident in which PR was involved.  The article is long and complex but worth reading for the ease with which a hacker's collective called "Anonymous" pierced the security of a company's computers.

PR And Hospitals 

Here is a plea for better PR at hospitals without mention of the words "public relations."  What is he asking for?  Transparency and better communications, admission of error when it happens, honesty with patients who have been injured, an attitude of openness from the board of directors all the way down to doctors and staff.  Note that he acknowledges it is difficult to do, especially with the ever-present threat of lawsuits, but he also says that some hospitals have achieved transparency and are doing better as a result of it.  He makes a powerful argument, but it is unlikely many hospitals will follow his advice.  Fear is a barrier to transparency.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hackers And PR 

Worrying about hackers is not a PR task, but notice the fifth type in this listing of malicious intruders.  These are people "motivated by political, religious, environmental, or other personal beliefs."  Or, to put it simply,  these are people PR practitioners should be monitoring on a regular basis, if they have grievances against the organization or individuals in it.  So, although computer security is not PR's job, PR cannot escape being concerned about it.  What this means is that PR and the IT department should be in communications with each other regularly about what PR is finding through online monitoring.  If you are not doing this, now is the time to start.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Better, But Not Free Yet 

This story reminds me of another than took place in the 1980s.  In 1986, Audi was accused of building faulty transmissions that caused cars to bolt forward suddenly.  It wasn't true just as the government has concluded that Toyotas do not have faulty electronic accelerators.  However, the outcomes were different.  Audi was hounded out of the US for several years and lost hundreds of millions.  Toyota is still facing lawsuits from eager tort lawyers.  Yesterday's news, however, will force tort attorneys to go back and revise contentions about what happened, including the possibility of operator failure.  That is, the driver stepped on the accelerator rather than the brake, which the government has concluded to be some of the incidents.  The government and the news media have been better behaved this time.  One would hope they have learned their lesson from the poor handling of the Audi incident, which was precipitated by 60 Minutes.   Either way, Toyota has suffered a huge blow to its reputation with nearly continuous recalls.  It has been a sad downfall for a company that for a long time seemed to do no wrong in building and marketing its cars.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Watson's PR Value 

Here is a good explanation of Watson's PR value to IBM.  Watson is the computer that will shortly compete on Jeopardy against the two top-rated players in the history of that game show.  What intrigued me about this discussion is Watson's recruiting value for IBM. The firm is in constant competition for the best minds in information technology, and Watson is the kind of fascinating breakthrough engineers like to work on.  Secondly, Watson is technology that IBM wants to sell to clients in its service business.   So there is immense PR value, even if Watson should lose the game, which has already been played, but has not yet been aired.  Millions will tune in to find out what happens, and it is unlikely that IBM will embarrass itself.  Then, Watson will become a calling card for the firm in academia and client visits.  

Monday, February 07, 2011

Smart PR 

Google is a company that continues to practice smart PR.  Here is another example.  It is offering a $20,000 reward to anyone who can hack into its Chrome browser.  The idea, of course, is to tout the safety of its browser at the same time that it tests for vulnerabilities.  So Google gains in two ways.  If vulnerabilities are found, Google can eliminate them quickly.  If not, Google can tout the safety of its software.  In the end, consumers win either way, and Google harvests a large share of good publicity.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The New Newspaper Format 

Much has been written about The Daily, the new newspaper for tablet computers.   For example, articles here, here and here -- a partial listing of the newspaper's staff.  It will be interesting to see if The Daily is successful, since it is a subscription product.  But, the ideas that have been combined into the new tablet newspaper provide a glimpse of the newspaper format of the future.

The Daily changes the job description of reporters from writer to writer-producer.  There is much emphasis on graphics, on video and digital formatting.  If this is true, then it outlines an approach for PR practitioners as well.  News releases, for example, should have a stronger leaning to graphics, as some already do.  Emphasis on writing won't change but emphasis on the visual is added to messages we send.  Are we ready?

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Here is an embarrassing story.  The agency responsible for proper financial reporting in US public companies is unable to keep its own books straight.  It is not surprising given the nature of government accounting, which is different from public company accounting.  On the other hand, it is harder for the Securities and Exchange Commission to haul companies into court for failures of accounting when it can't do any better itself.  The SEC is in a position of saying, "Do as I say and not as I do."  The problem for the agency will come in the governmental budgeting process.  Senators and Congressmen will tell the SEC to clean up its books before it gets more monies that the SEC says it desperately needs.  The SEC has damaged its reputation on the Hill, and it will take time to regain the respect it needs.  An interesting PR issue that press releases won't help...

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Cheating As A Strategy 

Can one cheat and get away with it with consumers?  Microsoft may be doing so.  This story relates a complex tale of a sting Google pulled on Microsoft to determine whether Microsoft's search engine, Bing, was copying some Google search results and claiming them as Bing's own.  Google has apparently proven that this was what Bing was doing.  Nor have the engineers at Bing publicly denied it.  It seems Microsoft was -- or still is -- cheating on search results as a strategy to catch up to Google.  Google is steamed about it, but what Microsoft is doing isn't necessarily illegal or immoral.  One wonders whether consumers will care.  It seems unlikely.  A consumer goes to a search engine to get answers and doesn't ask how they are derived.  Microsoft's reputation may take a beating in the technology community but in the marketplace where it counts, there is a good chance the company will get away with bending the rules.  

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Scientific Religion 

PR practitioners should know to be skeptical of claims unsupported by fact but there is a discipline that often gets a pass -- science.  There is a tendency to give credence to claims of respected scientists because they base hypotheses on hard evidence.  Well, not always.  Scientists are as fallible as any other human in leaping to unsupported conclusions then claiming them as fact.  This fellow's contention, though overstated, has a point.  When it comes to multiverses and other speculation about the origin of the universe, the scientific community has entered a realm of belief that cannot be tested.  Having faith is good, of course.  We could not survive without it, but it should be labeled as such and not passed off as truth.  That is what is happening here.  We have little evidence for the origin of the universe beyond the Big Bang and current theories are untestable.  Perhaps, it is time for the scientific community to admit that it is lost in speculation.

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