Monday, October 31, 2011


It is interesting that a Scottish-Irish celebration the night before All Saints Day has become a secular event in the American calendar.  There doesn't seem to be much meaning left in Halloween other than dressing in costumes and trick or treating with emphasis on treats and not tricks.   It is a symptom of the American mind that few know what Halloween is about.  Cultural diversity is at the heart of the nation, and we have adopted traditions from around the globe usually without their meaning.  From a communicator's perspective, it is one more instance of the irrational that pervades life and that one must take into account when sending messages.  However, it is easier to communicate when there is no prior meaning left in an event.  One can insert content without worry, and that is just what commercial interests have done.  Still, the antiquarian in me wishes there was some recollection left of what Halloween once stood for.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Population Publicity 

The UN and other organizations are making much of the seven billionth person born into the world.  This article points out that it is impossible to know or to pick which baby is actually number seven billion.   Any attempt to do so is fallacious and an act of Disestimation --  "taking a number too literally, understating or ignoring the uncertainties that surround it. "  That won't stop the publicity hoopla, however.  Authorities will simply ignore mathematical imprecision.  As the author points out, however, this error is dangerous because it provides an aura of authenticity that isn't there.  PR practitioners have been guilt of Disestimation, and it is a mistake to guard against.  There is too much junk data in the world as it is.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Danger Zone 

This is a danger signal to anyone in politics, especially Republicans.  Citizens are convinced there is inequity in wealth distribution, and they believe Republicans favor the wealthy.   Class warfare has begun, and if I were a Republican Congressman, I would be worried.  Lack of movement on jobs has frustrated citizens, and there is anger in the ranks.  The usual action around such ire is to "throw the bums out."  That happened in the last election.  It can happen again  in 2012.  What is puzzling is that Congressmen read these polls.  They are not ignorant of the breach of relationship with the public.  Why they cannot move forward on job creation seems to be a combination of ideology and arrogance.  Republicans may dislike what Democrats are doing to produce jobs, but they don't seem to have a plan of their own to communicate to the public.  Instead, Republicans seem to be the party of "no."  From a PR perspective, that's a perilous position to be in with the electorate.  

On the other hand, citizens are misdirected in thinking that Washington can fix an employment problem that has been developing for a long time and is structural.  Of course, a politician can't do that, but that is not what people want to hear.  Thus, an appearance of movement is better than the status quo.  Republicans don't seem to get that either.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Not A Loss 

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, says the website may have to close because it is starved for cash.  Assange sees the financial blockade of the site as an assault on democracy and no doubt, free speech.  I cannot think of a communicator who would agree with him.  What WikiLeaks proved is that there is and needs to be protected speech.  Transparency only goes so far.  While we in PR call for openness, none of us would hold that proprietary secrets be blabbed to the world.  But, that is what WikiLeaks was doing.  Assange believes that one pushes all information into the public domain and then let events take their course.  It is a romantic notion and out of touch with the reality of business and governmental dealings.  For those who paid little attention to WikiLeaks, it was only a matter of time before the site spilled industry secrets, and it had already taken records from banking.  As a communicator, I defend the First Amendment, but I won't be sad if WikiLeaks disappears.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Souring Relations 

It is often difficult in a corporation to see interconnections with the world, but in politics, links are stark -- such as this case.  In an effort to protect its borders, the US deports migrants to Mexico where crime is worse.  Predictably, Mexico is unhappy about it because it is fighting its own war with drug gangs.  So, what makes for good relations with US citizens creates bad relations between countries.  There is no easy answer to situations like this.  One can't choose citizens over neighboring countries without creating greater long-term relationship problems.  After all, Mexico points out, much of the drug violence it is fighting comes from drugs being manufactured and  transported through Mexico to the US.  The US is more at fault than Mexico.  Hence, the US should be more willing to incarcerate criminals within its own borders.  No wonder Mexico is frustrated.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Endangering Reputation 

This kind of situation, even for an international company, is dangerous to its reputation.  Excessive payments to advisers smacks of something illegal or, at least, out of bounds.  Firing the CEO because he questioned the payments only looks worse.  Now the FBI is involved, which means that  Olympus will be under a cloud for weeks to come, if not months.  One wonders whether the acquisition was worth the plummet in the company's stock value and the trouble that it has caused.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Long-Term Challenge 

Here is a long-term challenge for the country -- students who can't repay education loans.  The challenge has created a divide between the college-trained young and the government, and it is destroying the middle class.  The irony is that to do well in the US, one needs a college education, but the cost of that education has risen so far above inflation that students are in debt until their 30s or 40s.  The deeper irony is that even with a college education, many students cannot find work.   Citizens are angry -- and they should be.  Part of the Occupy Wall Street movement is young people without jobs who feel they have been lied to. How does one communicate to them?  The answer is simple but difficult.  Give them a job and get them started on the road to the middle class.  But, when there are no jobs available?  This country risks losing a generation of workers who become an educated underclass.  It is a problem that even activist government can't solve.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ad Hominem 

Does anyone win with personal attacks like this?  The two of them are like schoolyard bullies, talking loudly and throwing verbal punches.  One could argue that such taunting and reactions show voters what the two presidential candidates are like, so they have value.  On the other hand, what voters see is not pleasing.   The two of them are losing reputation by engaging in such lowbrow rhetorical tactics.  It would be good if one or the other decided to rise above the name-calling in order to put the other down.  Meanwhile, we have political theater, and one is left wondering what happened to the Republican party.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Suspect Strategy 

This is a suspect strategy -- deny your customer goods because you don't like what a competitor has done.  It communicates pique and arrogance.  The only winner is the competitor who has the product the consumer wants.  Barnes & Noble  and Books-a-Million would have been better off if they kept the books on their shelves while protesting Amazon's move.  The approach of "You can't have it," drives customers from the store into the arms of Amazon anyway.  From a PR point of view, the move was dumb.  Maybe DC Comics was hurt temporarily for making the exclusive agreement with Amazon, but it is unlikely.  People can order the paper copy from Amazon too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Inarticulate Anger 

It is hard to make changes when one cannot express a set of demands.  That is the difficulty in which the Occupy Wall Street protesters face at the moment.  They have struck a proper note for thousands of citizens to join them, but other than anger, they don't yet know what to do.  Sooner or later, they will need to list the changes they want.  When they do, they risk splintering into sub-groups that battle among themselves.  OWS thus far is a lesson for communications practitioners.  One can start a movement easily enough using social media, but directing it to an effective end is more difficult.  OWS needs a voice to clarify itself.  It doesn't have one today.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Name That Observatory 

Here is an interesting bit of science PR -- bestowing a new name on an old observatory that has  been modernized.  It seems the old name -- Very Large Array -- no longer befits the facility with its new electronics and upgraded antennae.  So, now the operation is looking for something jazzier.  One could have fun with it, I suppose, but in the end Very Large Array is still probably the best description of white dishes spread across the desert.  There is even an entry form -- right here, if you are interested.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reputation Killer, Cont. 

Actions like this can destroy the reputation of a newspaper.  It is good that the Wall Street Journal covered in detail what happened and that the executive stepped down.  However, the Journal earns plenty of demerits for not discovering this itself and stopping it.  It took a whistleblower to bring the seamy affair to light.  Newspapers cannot afford to have this happen in an era of heightened scrutiny and criticism.  One wonders what drove the Journal to do this in the first place.  If it was a need for increased circulation to keep advertisers happy, then the Journal was cheating everyone.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Research in Motion (RIM) has placed itself in jeopardy with its Blackberry outages in Europe and North America.  There are some things consumers rarely forgive or forget.  Loss of an essential service is one.  RIM already is in a dogfight against Smartphones that are eroding its market share.  It can't afford to gain a reputation for unreliability.  That would be a death blow.  If Blackberry can restore service quickly and fix its backup systems, users might give it a grudging pass this time.  Should a blackout happen again within a year, all bets are off.  One wonders how the Blackberry system is set up such that a breakdown disrupted both Europe and North America.  It would seem there was deficient engineering at some point.  RIM will need to fix that too.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Adapt Or Die 

What is the positioning message of an industry that must either adapt painfully or die?  That is the conundrum facing the publishing business where best-selling authors are going directly to readers or working  through Amazon.com.  The authors earn more, have less bureaucracy to deal with and get greater speed to market.  So, what can the publishers say?  Certainly they are still better for building authors who are not well known and who are a greater risk.  But, because they are a greater risk, there are lower returns through sponsoring start-up brands.  Publishers need big names to pay for unknowns, but the big names no longer need them.  If I were representing a publishing house, I'm not sure what I'd say -- or advise.  It seems certain that the industry will be much smaller soon as e-books take over and there is nothing the publishing industry can do to stop it.  Nor, for that matter, should they attempt to stop it.  They should be asking themselves how they can ride the tsunami.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good Or Bad PR? 

Did Netflix practice good or bad public relations by cancelling the split between its DVD and streaming services?  One could argue either way.  The first argument is that Netflix should have known better than to split them in the first place.  Had it done market research, its customers would have told them it was a bad idea.  The second argument is that Netflix listened and reacted quickly when it discovered it had blundered.  Take your pick.  The first argument seems more reasonable.  The bad reaction the company received when it announced the split should have been foreseen.  There was no mystery to what Netflix wanted to do, and customers could understand readily the change.  Netflix's blunder has hurt the company's brand and damaged the perception that it knows what it is doing as it navigates the changing video market.  if you look at the company's stock, you will see a high-flyer that has crashed to earth.  Netflix's mistake has already cost it dearly.  It will take time to come back.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Case Section 

Online-pr.com has a new section devoted to communications cases.  It is here.    Many of the cases are modeled after events reported in the news media.  To use a cliche, they are "ripped from the headlines."  The cases are designed to make you think.   There are no answers to several of them, so any solution might be correct.  The idea is to show that PR and communications are not  formulaic disciplines.  There are times when pitching transparency might be the best thing to do.  But, that can be argued.  

Read through them and let me know what you think.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Silly Publicity 

The idea that New Hampshire should be the first state to hold a primary for the presidential nomination has long been silly, but the state makes it a point of pride to be the leader.  This has set up constant jockeying among other states who move their primaries up as well.  It is all sophomoric and should have been done away with many elections ago.  New Hampshire is intent on getting this publicity because there isn't much else for the state to crow about on the national political scene.  If primaries were held according to population, California, Texas, New York and Florida would be the first ones to vote.  The nomination process would be more equitable because the greatest proportion of voters in the US would have their say.  But no, instead we have New Hampshire.  There are times when publicity doesn't make sense.  This is one of them.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Tough Challenge 

The news of Steve Jobs death presents a huge challenge to Apple.  It now has little time to re-position the company in order to show that Apple can continue and thrive without its visionary founder.  It is as much a communications task as it is a job to continue the breakthrough innovation that Jobs created time and again.  Although the company needs a mourning period, it is not too soon to start the perceptual transition.  How might Apple accomplish it?  For one, it needs to show bench strength.  Jobs didn't create Apple products on his own.  He might have had the guiding vision, but there are thousands of engineers, product planners, logistics experts, marketers and others who made that vision come true.  It is time to feature them in order to show that Apple has the skills to continue.  If Apple can march on, it will be a legacy of his vision.  The next two or three product introductions will be crucial.  They will show whether the company is able to continue breakthrough design and to function at a high level.  

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Leak As Publicity 

Here is a case where a leak was used for publicity purposes.   As the article notes, Amazon has always been careful not to divulge the sales figures for its Kindle e-book.  Suddenly, the advance orders for its new tablet, the Kindle Fire, reach the blog world.  And, wouldn't you know it but the numbers indicate a faster sales pace than the competing Apple iPad?  This type of leaking is so patent that it is hilarious, but the media jump eagerly to cover the news.  There is nothing wrong with it.  It's a publicity tactic that is hoary with age but always good.  Still, one wonders if Amazon might have been a little more creative in getting the news out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Hard-hitting Story 

This story about the private conglomerate, Koch Industries, is hard-hitting and potentially devastating to the company's reputation.  Note that the Koch brothers used their director of corporate communications as cover.  The article spotlights a fact of the internet age.  It is almost impossible for even private companies to remain so.  There is too much information available in court documents, witness testimony and other sources that can be collected and distilled.  

The Koch brothers haven't been hidden in their political activities.  They are well known financiers of conservative causes, and for that, opposition activists have been determined to smoke them out.  If the brothers want to retreat to greater privacy, they will need to disguise what they are doing in a better fashion, but even that will be difficult to achieve.  The government is gunning for them as well.  Charles Koch has written of the importance of reputation and the need to guard it.  Stories like this blow holes in a company's image that are hard to patch.

Monday, October 03, 2011

More Scenarios 

Here are three more scenarios to help you think through PR and communications challenges.  Let me know your opinions about them and if they should be changed.


Breach of Faith

General Counsel

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?