Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Status Seeking 

This is an interesting article on status seekers.   They will pay more to get luxury goods that set them apart but in the end they might not achieve the status they are seeking.  It is something that merchants and marketers have known intuitively.  The studies reinforce their insights.  From  PR perspective, status is something we work with constantly.  There is a powerful urge to belong to groups and to avoid the label of outsider.  One communications technique is to form groups that are set apart through their knowledge and/or economic circumstances.  The self-esteem of members of the group makes message-sending easier.  But, as the article explains, there are downsides for doing so.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Embarrassing, cont. -- And Potentially Deadly 

When you stake your future on a product and suddenly the product appears unsafe, one is left more than red-faced.   That is the position General Motors finds itself in with its Chevrolet Volt.  The auto's lithium batteries are undergoing a Federal investigation because they have either caught fire or begun to smoke in two out of three crash tests.  GM will need to rectify the problem then conduct a PR campaign around the safety of the vehicle to explain what it has done.  Otherwise, it risks the future of the Volt.  To state the obvious, this is not a good position to be in.  One wonders why the company didn't see the problem in its own testing.  It is much harder to fix a mistake in public and more difficult to convince the public that an error has been corrected.

Monday, November 28, 2011


As if AT&T didn't have enough troubles already trying to save its proposed merger with T-Mobile USA, this is embarrassing.  Allowing your accounts to be hacked is bad enough but hacking that funds terrorist groups is worse.  One wonders what level of security the phone company has and whether it is making sufficient effort to stop intruders.  The hacking wasn't an overnight affair.  It went on for two years and variations of it date back 12 years.  One could make a defensible claim that AT&T hasn't been serious enough about security and if not, what about the privacy of millions who use its network?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday 

The mass hysteria of Black Friday is instructive for PR practitioners.  There is little reason for it especially since studies have shown that lower prices on goods such as toys and electronics come later in December.  Yet, millions line up to crowd stores and fight one another for "bargains" on racks and shelves.  Merchants are happy but the irrationality of it defies economic logic.  If one were to consider the situation objectively, he would stay home and buy most goods online and have them delivered to the door, thereby saving hours of searching, exhaustion and waiting in line for harried clerks to swipe the credit card.  Perhaps there are good deals to be had, but are they worth the effort?

Thursday, November 24, 2011


What would you call a service that fewer use every year but raises prices to compensate for lost revenue?  The US Postal Service.  There is nothing the USPO can say to lure users back to "snail mail."  The service is locked into a cycle of erosion with no recovery expected.  Congress has finally taken notice of the dire conditions but has yet to act on a bill that will allow the USPO to shrink to an economic size.  So the service keeps a death watch.  Imagine how this plays with the tens of thousands of postal employees who are not sure if they will have jobs in less than a year.  From a communicator's perspective, it is a disaster and not much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Take It Easy 

It is an interesting PR strategy to ask the media to take it easy on you and to appeal for patience.  That apparently is what the new Hewlett Packard CEO, Meg Whitman, is doing.  Her appeal is understandable.  HP has had too much drama associated with it for the last six years -- and too many CEOs.  Whitman wants to lower the company's profile and focus on the work of serving customers.  Will the media let it -- or more importantly, will those employees who have gossiped to the media over the years hold their tongues?   HP has leaks from the board, from executive ranks and from everywhere else.  Whitman must know that, and she also must know that it won't be long before tongues will wag about her.  She is asking for a few months grace.  Let's hope she gets it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Great PR 

This is great PR.  Google proves time and again that it is not what one says about oneself so much as what one does.  The company makes mistakes but on balance it has led the way in providing needed but unfunded service to internet users.  It must be wonderful to work in the corporate communications department of the company.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Clashing Assumptions 

The U.S. debt panel will conclude today in failure, an end observers have seen coming for a couple of weeks.  It is a lesson in clashing assumptions.  Neither side could see the other's point of view.  In other words, the debt panel was a futile exercise from the beginning.  It is also one more example of the limits of persuasion.  One can only reach consensus if the another is willing to listen.  Debt panel members apparently spent their time talking past one another.  There was no environment fostering agreement and no change in the minds of members of Congress.  Even if they had lashed together a compromise, it was unclear that it could have passed.  So now, Congress has "kicked the can down the road" until 2013 after the elections when they will try again.  If the make-up of the Senate and House do not change greatly, they will be no better off then.  Democracy is messy.

Friday, November 18, 2011


It is hard to watch Eastman Kodak liquidate itself in a losing fight to stay out of bankruptcy.   What must employees of the company feel?  Maintaining morale has to be a losing effort, and gallows humor the order of the day.  The irony, of course, is that Kodak invented the technology that is killing it.  That more than anything must grind at the heart of its surviving workforce.  There is only one other company in the modern day that has had the same experience -- Xerox.  But Xerox through inspired leadership was able to turn itself around.  Kodak's failure is partially that of leadership but more that its fundamental technology, film and chemicals, is obsolete, and the company has yet to find an economic replacement for them.  Kodak is staking its future on printers, but it is running out of time.  Meanwhile, its longtime fans feel depressed watching its dying throes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Speed Of News 

Is the speed of news too slow?  This story is interesting.  Associated Press disciplined one of its reporters for tweeting a scoop before the wire service had a chance to run it.  The reporter's reason for tweeting was the need to get the news out fast.  The AP's answer to that is prior right to the reporter's output.  The lesson for the PR practitioner is that news is reported now as fast as one's fingers can type on a cell phone.  It is no longer possible to stay ahead of a story, if it ever really was.  The best one can hope for is to stay even with reports of breaking events, and that is unlikely as well.  Crisis communications planning and rehearsals should take this change in speed into account.  It is still wrong to react publicly without having facts at hand, but the pressure to get facts is greater than ever.  If AP's wire service is too slow for the news, it is too fast for the PR practitioner.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hard To Accept 

After hundreds of millions spent to develop and test a new drug, it is hard to accept that the drug is no better than a generic medication that has been around for years.  Yet, that is the fix that AstraZeneca is in.   From  a public relations perspective, AstraZeneca should accept the results and go on.  That means it reports to physicians that the drug brings no greater benefits to patients than what they are already using.  It will be interesting to learn if the company does that or if it conducts more studies trying to establish a differentiation.  My bet is that it will because of the huge investment the company has made.  I also would not be surprised if the company no longer conducts head-to-head comparisons to avoid being embarrassed like this again.  It would be dishonest but understandable.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Not Surprising 

This focused study of news organizations and their use of Twitter is hardly surprising.  They employ Twitter as a news feed and not to foster conversation and engagement.   In other words, news organizations use Twitter as a publicity tool.  Yet, these same reporters and editors find PR people objectionable.  The irony is amusing. It also is instructive.  A social medium does not need to be used in one way.  Like any other tool, it can be adapted for other purposes.  A purist might say a screwdriver may only be used for turning screws, but a practical mechanic wields it for opening paint cans as well.   Pushing content through Twitter turns the medium into a headline service, which readers find useful.  I suspect a broad-scale study will find most Twitter feeds are not designed for engagement but simply to inform others of events.

Monday, November 14, 2011

College Blahs 

I spent two days last week visiting colleges with my daughter.  It was an exercise in how not to do PR.  College tours are all the same.  During the information session, an admissions director provides a few words to warm up the parents and teenagers.  Students take center stage to tell of their experiences at the institution.  The admissions director returns at the end to talk about test scores and admission criteria.  Then, a peppy young thing takes parents and aspiring high school juniors on a walking tour of the campus.  They point out buildings, the cafeteria, the student union, the library and in a rare case, a college tradition such as a painted cannon, a gateway, a plaque on a sidewalk that is not to be stepped on.  Then, it is over and on to the next university where the same lethargy repeats.  The conclusion one reaches quickly is that most colleges and universities have little differentiation other than their sports teams.  That's not much of a commentary on education. There is need for creativity in communications that is sadly lacking.  Parents and students should expect and get a better understanding of what they are getting for their investment.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Out Two Days 

This blog is taking a two-day rest, beginning tomorrow.  

Buried Alive 

Here is a no-win PR crisis -- a public announcement of your firing before it is official.  What is happening to coach Joe Paterno also occurred earlier this year to HP's former CEO Leo Apotheker.  The news broke that Apotheker was going to be ousted at the next board meeting without Apotheker being told about it directly.  

Paterno knows he is on the edge of a precipice, and there is little he can do except to step off of it with as much grace as he can muster given the horrid situation.  It is an ugly way to end a long and successful career, but the future is no longer in his control.  He must wait now for the plunge while trying to keep his team motivated to win games.  One could hardly blame him if he no longer feels motivated.  

The person(s) who leaked the news of his firing should feel ashamed, but almost certainly they don't.  They have their own agenda, and Paterno was in the way.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


How long can one stand against a river of accusation before popular support is eroded?  Presidential candidate Herman Cain is finding out.  He has made blanket denials and is on the record saying that he has never engaged in sexual harassment.  A total of four women -- three anonymous and one public --- disagree with him.  It is possible that the women are mistaken or lying but it is less likely every day.  Meanwhile, Cain has handled his protestation of innocence badly and put himself in a PR pickle.  He is trying to move forward and ignore the news.  However, the news media won't let him.  There is a good chance that the air will come out of his campaign, and he will plummet.  If so, he will go on the record as one more candidate who wasn't ready for the scrutiny of a presidential campaign.

Monday, November 07, 2011


Sometimes statements from organizations and individuals are not credible whether or not they are true.  Here is one.  Google may not feel dominant among search engines, but there is no one else in the world that agrees with the company.  These kinds of claims do not serve Google well and play into the hands of critics.  Google does not have a 100 percent market share, but it is 60+ percent, more than enough to be called a monopoly.  The argument that does play well, it seems to me, is that Google is free.  It is hard to call a free service injurious to the public. Chairman Eric Schmidt has made that case, and from a PR point of view, it should be the one that he sticks with.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Cloud Credibility 

"Cloud"  is the hot information technology.  This is storing data and software off-premises with a vendor such as Amazon.com.  However, there is a credibility problem with "Cloud" computing -- security.  Predictably, in-house information technologists don't believe that storing data elsewhere is as secure as they can do themselves.  This is to be expected.  Unless one has his hands on the hard drive, there is always a fear that someone else will take it.  

Security is a communications issue for PR practitioners working in high-tech.  There is nothing they can say to alleviate the worry.  It is a matter of time and continuous safety until IT executives are converted.  This means, however, that any embarrassing failure in "Cloud" security can be a fatal blow to the concept. Security is a fundamental issue and not peripheral to Infrastructure as a Service.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Even Scientists... 

News that a Dutch social scientist faked several research papers is a reminder to communicators to be skeptical.  Even scientists can be bamboozled.  There is no refuge in willful ignorance.  This is a stance some practitioners take of communicating what they are told without question.  They see themselves as mouthpieces without neurons attached.  It is the client's job to be accurate, they say.  

This is not and has never been true.  The PR practitioner serves as an editor as well as communicator.  The practitioner's job is to make sure that whatever goes to the media is accurate, so both the client and practitioner maintain credibility.  Those who don't earn the reputation of flacks and the ill will of reporters and editors.  Of course, even with best efforts a scientist and communicator can err, especially if another is skillful in lying.  When that happens, one should admit it immediately upon discovery and take steps to remedy the mistake, as is happening with the Dutch social scientist.  Scientists abhor those who violate principles:  practitioners should do the same.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Future Is Past? 

This is an interesting discussion of the Fortune 500's adoption of social media.  It seems usage has leveled off and the author wonders if corporations are giving up.  Based on my own studies, corporations have not adopted social media as much as one might think.  It appears to be a question of effectiveness.  Corporate communications departments may not yet know how to use social media and aren't convinced of its impact.  It takes time for the benefits to be clear from any new technology or medium.  Usually by time one is convinced of its merit, the person is late in learning how to adopt it.  The Fortune 500 will catch up:  It takes time.  But, practitioners should be using and understanding the media, so they are ready when their corporations are.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Useful Reminder 

Perhaps no other season other than November/December has generated so many cliches.  This column is a useful reminder to writers, including PR practitioners, to avoid them.  In other words,"Tis the season" to avoid such usage, to stop yourself from writing "Jolly Old Elf", "Yes Virginia", "Jack Frost" and "ringing out the old year".  Holidays are overloaded with false sentimentality already.  They don't need cliches piled onto them.  Besides, it should be a test of one's creativity to come up with new descriptions that appeal to editors and reporters.  For those who would argue that cliches are expected during the holidays, the answer is to do the unexpected.  Be fresh where so much is stale.  It might surprise the curmudgeons on the editing desks to give a second look at your release.  

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