Friday, September 30, 2011

Smart PR 

The news that a college is giving steep tuition reductions to students with strong academic backgrounds is smart PR.  College costs have spiraled well beyond inflation and middle class parents have been strapped for years to pay for them.  With the recession, matters have become only worse.  Seton Hall has gained national recognition for its move, and it has a chance of lifting the academic level of its student body at the same time.  More colleges and universities ought to be thinking this way.  Unfortunately, many are not.  They are reaching out to foreign students who pay full tuition to help fund operating expenses and denying entrance to gifted students from the middle class who need some monetary help.  When it comes to academics, a two-class society is emerging -- the wealthy who can pay the outrageous costs and the gifted but poor who are carried by scholarship. Those in the middle are left to suffer.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fading Hype? 

If this story is true, a lot of people won't get hurt in the IPO market.  The relentless hype in the technology industry has been harmful to the economy and pocketbooks of millions of gullible investors. It is nearly impossible to value a young company and its capacity for growth.  Most companies flame out in time: A few survive to become great industries.  There is no telling today whether Groupon will generate profits or Facebook will face a serious competitor.  High-tech hype has a history.  In the 19th Century, railroads were the marvel of the age and railroad scams were abundant.  Starry-eyed investors then bought shares in roads that went from somewhere to nowhere with no chance of profitability.  But, they were railroads, that was all that mattered.  So too, the tech hype of today.  PR practitioners are guilty of going along with it, and we should be ashamed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Medical Relations 

This story is proof of a fact long known in medical administration.  You can't tell doctors what to do.  You have to persuade them, frequently one by one, to change the ways they work.  Britain's failure to establish a comprehensive health information technology system is a warning to similar efforts in the US.  Here, however, many hospitals have already learned the hard way, and they appoint a doctor to the technology effort.  The doctor's job is to convince peers to try the new system and to show them how to use it.  The US needs a comprehensive health information system.  This country wastes billions through redundant and inefficient record-keeping, but we won't get it unless each doctor willingly participates.  It is a challenge for medical relations.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


One wonders how editors get away with this -- recycling articles in their magazines.  When you own the barrel of ink, you have privileges.  Imagine, if you will, if a PR practitioner recycled his pitches to the same reporters year after year.  It might work until the reporters catch on, then there would be little chance the practitioner would sell a story again.  There is such a thing as recycling an idea whose time has come.  I've done that a lot.  One brings an idea to a reporter who turns it down.  As events develop, one resurrects the idea and presents it again.  The reporter accepts it.  

There are evergreen ideas that never get old, such as how to save energy around the house, but reporters and editors understand the need to circulate these ideas repeatedly for readers who didn't get them or need them the first time.  One assumes, however, that they write a new article each time.  Picking up copy and running it again seems tacky, but how can one accuse Martha Stewart of being tacky?

Monday, September 26, 2011


Scenarios, or mini-cases, are useful to work through how one might handle communications challenges.  They present problems that may not be in textbooks but are a part of counseling.  There will be several presented here for your consideration.  None are long but each is designed to get you to think about how you might have done something differently.   

Read through:

The interview

New product


I look forward to your comments.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is This A Business? 

Reports have come out that Microsoft has spent $5.5 billion to date in an effort to establish its search engine, Bing.  From an economic perspective, one must ask if Bing is a business.  Thus far, it is a money pit.  Microsoft has enough cash to continue losing a billion a quarter for some time to come, but eventually someone has to make a decision to keep or chuck the search engine.  If Microsoft elects to keep it, the firm needs to put Bing on a more economic basis.  That will mean shrinking it or acquiring other search engines and migrating their users to Bing.  Either way, there is a communications issue that Microsoft needs to confront -- proving that Bing is not a loser in the war against Google.  There isn't much that Microsoft can say today.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Smart PR 

The US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon has been a fixture in Washington DC for years.  It is an example of what smart PR can and should be -- a targeted message wrapped into a recurring event that draws public attention.  The beauty of this competition is that it teaches as well as publicizes the need for more energy efficient homes.  Students who work on the project return to their campuses smarter than before about design and experienced in achieving it.  It might be fashionable to criticize the government these days, but there are government activities that are models of their kind.  This is one.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


This is a fictional case of a brainstorming session and the dynamics that occur in a typical one.  It has questions for discussions at the end.  In my experience, this brainstorm runs more smoothly than most.  Regrettably, many PR practitioners don't know how to conduct them well.  It takes persuasion and subtle direction to get people talking and throwing out ideas.  

This is the 123rd essay posted to online-pr.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This is a candid apology from Netflix to its customers.  When Netflix announced its change to separate streaming and DVD-delivery services, I wrote then that it was engaged in a risky experiment.  The experiment didn't go well.  So, the CEO of Netflix is trying again to explain what the company is doing.  The change in name of the DVD service to "Qwikster" is interesting.  It is clear that Netflix would prefer the DVD-delivery service to disappear, the sooner the better.  The company earns far more revenue from streaming.  How will customers take the renaming?  A guess is that they won't like it but they will tolerate the change.  Customers are still steamed but more about pricing than the name.  It is good that the CEO acknowledged the company's public relations efforts were short-sighted.  

From an objective perspective, what Netflix is doing is smart.  It knows the DVD-delivery service has a limited life-span, and if it doesn't change with technology, Netflix will become obsolescent.  Now if it can only get its customers to understand that.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The New Crisis 

This fictional case describes the new crisis -- a sudden explosion that is covered instantly by cell phone photos, Tweets, blogs, TV interviews and Facebook entries.  There is no chance for a company to control the flow of information.  It starts out behind the communications curve and scrambles to catch up.  It never does although it follows the protocol for a crisis.  One point the case tries to make is that there is only so much a practitioner can do to anticipate a crisis.  The actual event may throw all plans to the wind, as it does here.  One must expect a breakdown and the need to improvise.  In spite of that, one needs to plan and rehearse.  The elements of fact-finding and communication remain the same.  It is just more difficult.

This is the 122nd  communications/ PR essay posted on online-pr.com.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Interesting Excuse 

Clothing chain Esprit has given a novel excuse for poor financial performance.  The chain says that "it lost its soul."  In other words, it expanded too fast and started to neglect customers.  Now it is retrenching and trying to become trendy again.  Good luck.  It is hard for a clothing retailer to recover its customers once they have departed.  There are too many competitors and new ones constantly.  At least Esprit understands what happened to it.  It concentrated on short-term growth rather than long-term gain.  However, knowing what happened and doing something about it are different.  The company has a long road back, and its positioning may not be clear in getting there.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


This kind of self-glorifying publicity is tacky and dishonest.  Sooner or later, one gets found out, as in this case.  When it happens there is little one can say in self-defense.  One wonders what the water district and consultant were thinking.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bad Dream 

Among nightmares the White House is suffering with the economy, add this one.  The White House tried to make solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra a centerpiece of its green jobs push, but Solyndra went belly up taking $535 million in government loans with it.  That is embarrassing enough but there is evidence that the White House pushed the Federal bureaucracy to approve the loan so Solyndra could serve as a model, and in the rush, there might not have been enough auditing of Solyndra's books.   In other words, a complete botch of a PR program.  Why is it when an organization is down, it can't seem to get anything right?  This appears to be the affliction the  Obama administration is living with at the moment.  However, if the President can put a few wins on the board, it is possible to turn the perception around with headlines like "White House regains its footing."  All is not lost, but the President can't be sleeping well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Burning The Bridge 

In an earlier post I commented on the board's "tacky" decision to fire the former CEO of Yahoo by phone.  Today, it is time to comment on the "tacky" way that Carol Bartz has handled her firing.  She didn't go quietly and her use of foul language has cost her support she might have had.  Further her vacillation about staying on the board then leaving didn't help matters.  Woman CEOs don't get breaks any more than male heads of companies.  Both should understand that a CEO serves at the pleasure of the board.  If Bartz grasped that, she isn't letting on.  Instead, she took a messy PR situation and made it worse.  It actually looks now like the board was smart to get rid of her.  Whatever Bartz does next in life, I'll wager it won't be a CEO position.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Yesterday the 9/11 ceremonies were a study in communications and symbols -- bagpipes and drummers, reading of the names, ringing of the bell, the memorial itself with its falling waters into a void.  It was deeply affecting.  Even though I was in Midtown Manhattan on the day of the attacks and experienced none of the terror that thousands downtown suffered, I was dabbing away tears while watching the ceremonies on TV.  Others might not feel the same way, and probably don't.  They can't forget their own terrors, which in many cases were greater than ours -- the Dresden firebombing, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Stalingrad, the London Blitz, village torching during Vietnam, civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet, yesterday's ceremonies were a reminder that individuals die and not masses of unnamed bodies.  The symbolism of the services served to drive home that the innocent who lost their lives were precious as all people are.   That in itself is a reminder that is needed constantly, a communication that shouldn't be forgotten. 

Friday, September 09, 2011

Interesting Decision 

This is interesting.  A National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled that employees cannot be fired if they use off duty time to gripe about their jobs on Facebook.  This poses an interesting PR challenge.  Envision dozens of employees bashing a firm where millions can read about it.  In other words, internal communications and listening are more important than ever, not that they weren't necessary in the past.  This decision should cause one to review internal communications and listening programs in place.  Are they adequate?  Are they used well?  To they need to be expanded, reinvigorated?   Online monitoring will will provide a baseline for how happy -- or not -- employees are.  Keeping the baseline low and under control is the goal.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Fired By Phone 

What can one say about a board that fires the CEO by phone call?  It opens the directors to accusations of insensitivity and ham-handed PR.  Yes, there was urgency to relay the decision to the now-departed CEO of Yahoo, but couldn't someone have arranged a face-to-face meeting in the nearest airport?  There is never a good way to tell someone she is fired, but it reflects on the person who does the dismissal by how it is done.  Even if the board was deeply unhappy with her lack of effectiveness and wanted to act immediately, a few extra hours to travel to see her personally would have been a more personal touch that reflected better on the directors.  The next CEO of Yahoo, if there is one, will know that the board can act precipitously.  Maybe that is for the best, but no one would blame a new CEO for looking over his shoulder.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


How do you protect the reputation of a bankrupt institution?  That is the challenge that the US Postal Service is facing.  USPS is losing its mission as the deliverer of first class mail.  It is overburdened with labor and offices.  It needs to slim down quickly but it can't do so unless Congress permits it -- and Congress isn't focusing on the Service's issues right now.  So it watches its endpoint approaching with no way to stop it.  The USPS is a 19th and 20th Century institution that has been prevented from changing.  To many it is irrelevant.  To the Service's credit, it has tried to join the internet revolution that is killing it.  Thus far, it has failed with too little, too late.  The Service is a laggard by comparison to its competitors -- United Parcel and Federal Express.  -- and even with restructuring, it is unlikely to match their much smaller overhead.  So, envision yourself as a PR person for the Postal Service.  What do you say?  What do you advise its leadership?  Tough situation, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Stark Message 

Memories and memorials of 9/11 are crowding into the media now in preparation for the 10th anniversary services and dedication of the World Trade Center site.  Behind the message of "We won't forget" is another.  That message is stark.  "America is vulnerable."   The country has spent 10 years chasing down and punishing the perpetrators.  It has killed Osama Bin Laden and several leaders of Al Qaeda.  It is chasing the Taliban.  It brought down Saddam Hussein.  Domestic security has been investigated and tightened.  Still, the sense of vulnerability is there.  One day changed the nation's perception of itself and it may be decades, if ever, before 9/11 recedes in memory.  From a communications perspective, Al Qaeda succeeded that day, but they have been losing ever since.  That is America's message to them.

Monday, September 05, 2011


It is ironic that on the day the US celebrates labor, the challenge for the economy is that there is not enough of it.  Economists disagree whether the lack of jobs is cyclical or structural -- that is, the temporary result of economic distress or a change in industry such that jobs are lost permanently.  I'm no economist, but it certainly seems that much of the problem is structural.  Go into any store and look at goods on the shelves.  They are made elsewhere than the US.  We can inveigh against cheap foreign labor or we can learn to compete in industries we can defend.   Business has made the decision that US policy hasn't.  American industry has moved out of the US into faster-growing, lower-cost economies -- and well they should.  What US jobs remain are in support of factories in Mexico, India, Vietnam and China.  But where does that leave the US worker?  It is a wrenching question.  If the US could communicate a consistent policy position that business could accept, there might be hope.  But, so far there have been fits and starts leading to nothing.  The President's speech on jobs already is being discounted by commentators as too little and too late.  Those of us who have jobs empathize with those who don't but we are powerless to help them.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Live With It 

Groupon is a company with a problem of its own making.  When it first tried to file to go public, it used such non-standard accounting that the Securities and Exchange Commission balked.  Groupon refiled its financials that showed a much greater loss than previously claimed.  At that point, it had the hallmarks of a bubble stock, and journalists pounced.  Defending the company hasn't been easy.  It's head of PR left and the agency representing the company is now trying to staunch the bad news with actions like this.  The PR firm's efforts are understandable, but Groupon  put itself in a bad position that only time will resolve.  It has to show a record of smaller losses leading to profit or small profits leading to larger ones.  The firm doesn't appear to be near that yet.  Meanwhile, its proposed valuation seems grossly inflated.  This is a time for the firm to live with the mess it made and to focus on getting its business right.  If it can't find a workable model, no amount of media hawking is going to help it.  

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Reputation Is Not Enough 

AT&T is learning that reputation is not enough to sway the government when it comes to a merger. The Justice Department sued yesterday to block its takeover of T-Mobile.  This happened in spite of the promise by AT&T to repatriate call center jobs to the US and its argument that competition in the field will prevent price increases.  The merger has been criticized since its announcement with legislators and competitors lined up against it.  AT&T has a long road now and a perilous one to see the merger through if there is any chance of doing so.  Look for concessions, plenty of them, and binding promises, and even they might not be enough.  The lesson here is that corporate reputation goes only so far.  There comes a time when regulators and others consider corporate action beyond the pale.  CEOs balance this equation regularly in their decision making.  AT&T thought it was on the right side of it.  Events may prove the company wrong.

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