Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Effects Of Poor PR 

Google is finding out that the long-term effects of a PR mistake can be expensive.  Google launched its social networking service called Buzz last year and in the process, it crossed the line in protecting user privacy.  The FTC has struck back and demanded that Google conduct  independent privacy audits on its policies for up to 20 years.  That was in lieu of a stiff fine.  Google will remember its breach for decades.  The irony of the situation is that Google's mistake seemed innocent enough, and the company back-pedaled after protests. That wasn't enough, however, to keep the FTC from making an example of it.  It is a reminder that poor PR has economic consequences.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stopping A Freefall 

Here is a PR and marketing challenge -- stopping a freefall of users leaving a web site.  It is the predicament that MySpace is facing with the loss of 10 million users in one month.  This is a situation in which there is little that one can do except to hope the site reaches a base of users from which to build again.  Clearly something is wrong with the offering and whatever that is needs to be changed.  The irony is that MySpace was hugely popular for a time, but it apparently cannot stand up to new competition.  Imitating competitors might not be enough.  Who needs duplicated content?   Imagine that you are the CEO of the site.  What would you do?  If you were the head of communications, what advice would you give to the CEO?  This is a case that shows the limits of communication.  It is too soon to give up the fight, but options narrow as more users leave and advertisers go with them.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interesting PR Battle 

What happens when you are wealthy and give to political causes?  The opposite side will attack you.  That is what is happening to the billionaire Koch brothers.  They are in the midst of an interesting PR battle.  As conservatives, they are the targets of liberals who are trying to define the Koch's as manipulative right-wingers.  In turn, the Koch's are trying to maintain a picture of themselves as conservatives who care about the future of the country.  There doesn't appear to be a middle ground.  Each side is accusing the other of hypocrisy and distortion.  Each side is painting the other black.  This battle has been going on for months, and it will continue.  Great wealth generates large opposition.  If the Koch brothers think they can return to the background, they are mistaken.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Already Lost? 

A major case is pending before the Supreme Court this week -- whether women can file a class action suit against Walmart for sex discrimination.  Walmart is trying to fend off the class action because it would cost it billions in foregone wages.  Many companies are supporting Walmart's contention because they could be held liable as well for similar suits.  However, left unsaid in the case is whether Walmart already has lost in public opinion.  There is more than a little evidence that it has.  It is conventional wisdom that women have not done well in Walmart stores, that their careers have been put on hold, that they have been held back.  Even if Walmart should win, it has a long road to prove to its women employees and the public that it treats women with fairness.  There may be more suits in the company's future.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Media And Politicians 

Politicians already have switched to new media.  Note the use of Facebook in this candidate's announcement of his race for President.  Also note there is still some disagreement as to how one should go about using new media.  Some observers thought it was well done.  Others were not so sure.  As written here in the past, campaigners tend to be fast adopters of communications techniques.  They are pragmatic when it comes to winning elections and will use anything that gives them an advantage.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A PR Challenge 

Here is a PR challenge that will take the careers of managers and practitioners -- make Detroit an attractive place to live.  There is no way words alone will do it.  Detroit has to take many steps from getting rid of abandoned housing through improving schools, improving its tax base and finding industry to replace the auto business.  It will take a determined mayor who chips away at the problems for years at a time.  It will take coalitions of businesspeople and the city to improve districts and to make them livable again.  There is no lack of ideas of what to do but there is lack of resources.  Detroit is a poor city financially.  However, it is possible to turn the city around.  Other cities have done it, but it will take decades-long dedication to get the job done.  The alternative is an urban area of permanent decay and shrunken population that becomes a sore spot of America.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Permanent Loss of Trust? 

With continuing problems at the Japanese nuclear power plants, one wonders if the Japanese will ever trust nuclear power again.  And, if not, what will the country do to generate electricity?  It is a difficult situation for a land that lacks coal or natural gas.  Citizens may have to swallow hard and continue to live with the repaired plants -- the same situation that happened at Three Mile Island in the US.  From the power company's point of view, there is little or nothing it can say to restore credibility.  The ongoing accident has released radioactivity from a partial meltdown of new and spent rods.  People have been evacuated, and workers put at risk to stop fires and explosions.  Local foodstuffs -- spinach and milk -- have been irradiated.  Even if the plants go back online, local residents will live with fear in the back of their minds every day.  It is hard to believe that any more nuclear plants will be built in Japan.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

PR Battle 

The announcement that AT&T is planning to buy T-Mobile is also the opening of a major PR battle for AT&T.  AT&T has to convince the Justice department and regulators that the merger passes anti-trust hurdles and that AT&T won't raise cell phone rates unreasonably once the merger is done.  None of this will be easy.  However, the cell phone market is consolidating into fewer players whether or not this merger goes through.  That may be at the heart of AT&T's argument.  Whatever approach AT&T takes to convince the Justice department and regulators, it will be months of full employment for both lobbying and PR staff.  Look for major concessions from AT&T to get the deal done.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Threading A Needle 

President Obama is threading a needle of public opinion with the attacks on Libya.  On the one hand, he is trying to satisfy conservatives who want Qaddafi gone.  On the other, he needs to mollify liberals who are enraged that America has entered yet another conflict.  When the Speaker of the House tells him that he has to communicate better to the American people, the President should probably listen.  The President is in a tough situation.  He has ruled out ground troops but he hasn't ruled out air power.  However, Qaddafi has said he will grind the rebels into the dust, air power or not. The rebels are in disarray, and there is a good chance they cannot dislodge Qaddafi even with the support of allied bombs.  So what is the point of American involvement?  That is what Obama has tried to explain by saying he is trying to stop a dictator from slaughtering his own people.  However, there are other African dictators who are doing just that, and America has not intervened.  There are times when a President can't win unanimous public support, no matter what he does -- or doesn't do.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Even The Wise Are Foolish 

This story is evidence that even the wise are foolish when it comes to money.  It is possible that Groupon's growth rate is such that it will easily achieve $25 billion, but it is more likely that it is being overvalued by a market that is once again believing in bubble economics.  As the bubbles of the last 15 years have taught us, even so-called wise men of money are suckers for a good story.  They fall in love with perception and forget reality.  No wonder that smart investors like Warren Buffet stay far away from buying into the next hot IPO.  The prospect of riches distorts thinking.  It is like the unfortunate fools who buy tickets in a lottery.  Their chances of winning are less than getting struck by lightning on a clear day but they hope it happens.  It is hard not to fall in love with an enticing tale.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

PR Bungle With Consequences 

Here is a public relations gaffe that is leading to a nightmare for a CEO and his company.  Accuse managers in the company of corporate espionage.  Hold them up for all the world to see then watch your case against them crumble to the point where you issue an apology to the men.  Now, watch a major shareholder, the French government, demand retribution against you for your mistake.  This is a story that reads like fiction.  How could a modern corporation can act so precipitously without regard for the rights of employees and scrutiny of the facts?  The bungling now threatens the CEO's job and has cost the head of security his freedom.  That is the least that should happen.  The case belongs in text books for how not to handle employee and public relations.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Twitter is celebrating its fifth birthday with statistics about its growth.  Among facts about the service was the announcement that users now send a billion tweets a week.  That is the definition of noise.  Even when one considers that the billion tweets are broken into millions of separate audiences, there is still too much information flowing through the channel for anyone to comprehend.  Given that, one should ask what the value of Twitter is as a communications medium.  Are there media that are less crowded in which one faces less noise?  Or, does one accept Twitter's noise level and join it on the assumption that Twitter is where audiences are even if they are splintered into micro-groups?  One wonders whether Twitter will continue to grow given the noise level and whether people will give up Tweeting at some point, as many have left blogging.  Media have a saturation point and maturity.  My guess is that Twitter is approaching it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Reminder 

This article is a reminder that one is never in private any longer, and anything one says or writes can be made public.  While the piece focuses on recent "stings" perpetrated on the Governor of Wisconsin and a senior executive of National Public Radio, it could have been much longer and more comprehensive.  For example, it could have included, the data dumped by Wikileaks or even the resignation of the State Department spokesman for remarks made at a university or the wiretapping and e-mails produced in evidence at the trial of the hedge fund manager Raj  Rajaratnam.  The demise of privacy increases pressure on individuals to watch what they think, say and do.  There is no room for slips, and one doesn't get a second chance.  That is why one should cultivate personal habits of self censorship.  Freedom of Speech is ironically no longer free unless one is willing to suffer the consequences to reputation and livelihood.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Stress Test 

In a disaster of the magnitude that Japan has suffered, every communication system is stressed to the breaking point.  It should surprise no one that some have failed when towns have disappeared and tens of thousands are waiting for rescue and relief.   The government has a brief time in which to get systems operating again.  Survivors are in shock but soon that will pass, and they will face the necessity of daily survival and rebuilding their lives.  Impatience, anger and expectations will soar.  Japan's national and local governments, businesses and other agencies all will feel the force of citizens who want to find a normal after one of the largest disasters in the country's history.  It will be difficult, and communications will be at the heart of getting through it -- that and action to clean up the destruction and rebuild.  Japan is known for its emergency preparations, but one wonders if it was prepared for an earthquake and tsunami this large.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A PR Gesture 

The announcement that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with the Libyan opposition is good news but not enough.  It is a PR gesture at a time when the American intelligence community has already concluded that Col. Qaddafi will win a protracted civil war.  Indeed, he retook a town yesterday and apparently has seized the momentum.  What the rebels need is a long list of items starting with organization, training, strategic and tactical plans and logistics.  They underestimated Qaddafi and his grip on power and now Qaddafi's sons are pledging to retake the country.  A meeting, while good for photographs, does not provide the force needed to dislodge a determined dictator.  Real PR in this case is getting involved on the ground and in the air -- something that the US and European powers are reluctant to do. Should the rebels fail, there will be a bloodbath in the country and a black mark on the leadership of western powers.

How To Lose A Client 

How to lose a client in one tweet...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Future of Publishing? 

This is an interesting interview.  It is with an author who has discovered the secret to e-books is a price of 99 cents.  The author, John Locke, is a marketer who understands price barriers better than most writers.  He might not be the best author,  ( I haven't read his work.)  but he has something to show publishing houses that insist on keeping the price of e-books high.  One wonders if trade books would sell as well for the same price.  That is an hypothesis that has yet to be tested, as far as I know.  But, from a PR perspective, it has an appeal.  A client could self-publish a non-fiction work for 99 cents and get it into the hands of tens of thousands of readers.  The e-book would then become a valuable PR tool.  It would certainly be a change from typical hardcover trade books today that cost about $25 per copy.  It would also dismantle much of the infrastructure of publishing houses.  If I were a publisher, I would be worried.  

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Rogue Employee 

One nightmare for organizations is the rogue employee who talks out of turn.  This is what happened recently to National Public Radio (NPR).  An employee who was about to leave the non-profit had lunch with two people who claimed they were from the Muslim Brotherhood and wanted to contribute money to NPR.  Actually, they were plants who taped the employee's remarks throughout the lunch.  The NPR employee made a number of inflammatory remarks that were immediately published.   The employee should have kept his opinions to himself even in private.  That he didn't is an embarrassment for NPR and put the radio network into a difficult position of having to disavow the now ex-employee and all that he said.  Perhaps the most critical of the employee's statements is that NPR would be better off without federal funding.  This opinion came at a time when Congress is trying to cut NPR's funding, and NPR has started a campaign to keep it.  There isn't much organizations can do to rein in employees, but this incident is another warning that in the internet age, one is always public, even in private.  NPR is now scrambling to fix this PR faux pas.

Update:  The first victim of the rogue employee was the NPR CEO.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Suspect Premise 

Would you want your brand represented by this fellow?  It was announced in the news yesterday that he now has two million followers for his Tweets and also that he was fired from his popular sitcom.  It seems to me that any company that would take him as a spokesperson is the kind that believes all publicity is good -- a foolhardy premise.  Sheen is notorious for being a "bad boy."  There is little to gain from his acknowledged abuse of drugs and other destructive behavior.  Yet, there might be a willing company somewhere.  However, I doubt I would be swayed to use the products of the firm because Charlie Sheen is plugging them.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Feckless Words 

The UN Secretary General has called for the end of indiscriminate attacks on Libyan citizens.    I'm sure Col. Qaddafi is listening.  That's irony, of course.  Qaddafi has already vowed to make the streets run with blood in his effort to maintain hold on the country.  One wonders why the UN Secretary General bothers to speak at all when he knows the key target for his persuasion is not listening.  The Secretary General's remarks are more for the rest of the world than for anyone in Libya.  Or, he could be fooling himself that the UN has sway over the dictator.  For some, the only persuasive tool is force:  Words are feckless.  Col Qaddafi fits the description.  He has already said he will die on Libyan soil, and he is giving every indication that he won't go easily.  The tools of persuasion are bombs, rockets and bullets.  The UN has none of these things in reserve.  

Friday, March 04, 2011

Think Before You Inflate 

My wife spotted this story yesterday.  It is an example of how a publicity stunt can go wrong.  Intentions were innocent.  Inflate 10,000 red balloons with helium and set them free with a promotional offer attached.  The balloons would fly over city and suburbs and settle where potential customers could grab them and get the offer.  There was only one glitch in the stunt.  It was held in San Francisco, and hundreds of the balloons settled into the bay.  Environmentalists were enraged at the pollution falling balloons caused.  The company handled the situation well, but the damage was done.  

I've worked with balloons on one occasion, and it wasn't successful.  We floated a Styrofoam key on the end of a cluster of balloons with an an offer for a free stay at a hotel during its grand opening.  High winds popped some of the balloons before the key was released, and the key barely took flight down the avenue.  I have avoided balloons since.  The problem, of course, is that one never knows where a balloon will go and what will happen to it.  The uncertainty should be enough to make one think before inflating. Still, balloons make for a grand spectacle -- if one knows what to do.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Drive-By Ding To Reputation 

Here is a case in which a company did nothing to have its reputation impugned, but it still ended up in headlines and it still hurts.  The problem is that a director had to leave Procter & Gamble's  board for actions taken while a director on Goldman Sach's board.  The headlines, however, all announced that "P&G director leaves board."  P&G is a victim of a drive-by ding to its reputation.  There isn't much the company can do about it.  But, it should be a warning to communicators  that reputation can be compromised in many ways even when a company is innocent.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Gasoline And Perception 

If there is any one product priced by perception, it is gasoline.  In the US, drivers howl when fuel approaches $4 a gallon.  In Europe, the cost of gas is twice that and drivers bear the burden.  Why the disparity?  Gasoline from the beginning in the US has been a commodity that was taxed less to promote driving.  Only in a few states like California are taxes higher.  Where I live, gas is still in the $3.80 range per gallon.  European drivers envy my lot.  Yet, if the US is ever to curb fuel consumption, it will need to get the price of gasoline closer to that of Europe -- and perhaps, higher.  Pity the politicians who propose this, however.  It would be a public relations disaster for them and their futures in office.  So, Americans go on year after year guzzling more fuel than any other country in the world.  We talk about conservation, but we are not ready to do it -- at least not if it requires paying more at the pump.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Cautionary Tale 

Here is a cautionary tale for PR practitioners.  A blogger passes along gossip he hears in an airport, and the gossip swiftly becomes fact.  It takes an enterprising reporter to track the story to its roots, but meanwhile, the damage is done.  The offhand way in which the blogger dismisses his report is offensive.  It might not be a big deal to the blogger but it is to the person who is indicted publicly.  Bloggers aren't held to the same standards as reporters in the general media, but even they should use common sense.  That some don't is a warning to PR practitioners in working with them.  

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