Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pity As A Weapon 

There is nothing quite as demeaning as an opponent feeling sorry for you.  Mitt Romney is using pity as a rhetorical weapon against Newt Gingrich.  It's working.  Gingrich brought it on himself and deserves humiliation.  Romney is helping the process.  There is a good reason for the tit-for-tat.  Gingrich proved himself a bully in South Carolina -- and a liar.  He won the state with his performance, and Romney couldn't afford to let him do it again.  If Gingrich was going to bash him, Romney was going to bash back -- and hard.  Expressions of pity for the failings of Gingrich were one more example of rubbing it in.  Maybe Gingrich will be less divisive as the campaign unfolds, but don't bet on it.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Wrong Message? Cont. 

One wonders what the message of the just-completed Davos forum really is.  The elite of the world get together to talk, play and sup.  At a time when the rest of the world is struggling with austerity?  The perception is that the wealthy are untouched by the miseries of others and maybe, uncaring. On the other hand, there is a benefit in information leveling, which is what Davos is all about -- leaders sharing cumulative insights.  The long-term health of companies and countries comes from the shared understanding that CEOs and politicians take from meetings like Davos.  Still, one questions if it needs to be done in a Swiss village with opulence.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Price Of Certainty 

This is the price of certainty.  AT&T was so sure that it could complete its merger with T-Mobile that it put itself at substantial risk.  The loss it suffered last quarter was the result.  AT&T is an example of arrogance.  It would be easy to blame the CEO for the error, but almost certainly the CEO was told by his subordinates and investment bankers that the merger would be accomplished with enough lobbying and working with regulators.  The merger never had a chance.  It went from bad on Day 1 to worse then finally to a miserable end.  AT&T is a  case example of assuming what the future will hold.  It should stand as a reminder to communicators never to be certain about what is to come.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


For those of a certain age, the memory of Japan as a manufacturing colossus is fresh.  That was then.  This is now.  How the country has fallen.  It is a lesson in the dynamics of global business.  No one is safe for long, and those on top today have to work hard to stay there. Fears focus now on China with its millions of low-wage workers and enormous production capacity.  This century may well belong to that country, but then again, it might not.  China's political structure could ossify, and its growing middle class become restless.  

The United States is slowly becoming use to the idea that it can no longer boss the world.  Our time of manufacturing might has passed -- at least for now.  There is a chance the US can make a comeback but it won't be tomorrow or in 10 years.  Careers will be spent in rebuilding, if that should happen.

Why bring any of this up?  Because it is a reminder to avoid boasting in communications.  A healthy perspective is a humble one.  Yes, you might be the market leader today, but what about tomorrow?  Those companies that remain focused and moving forward are the long-term winners.  Those that celebrate their status need to watch out.  Think Kodak.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


This is useful communications advice but impractical when noise overpowers everything.  Look around and watch people talking on cell phones, listening to music on headphones, watching movies or playing games on their iPhones, tapping messages into their laptops or iPads and occasionally chatting with someone else.  One has to work hard now to achieve silence, to get time to think.  Modern life thrives on noise and seeks to get louder.  While this provides more avenues for communicators to send messages, it also means the chance of messages getting through has declined.  This is the reason why messages need to be clear and compelling and why communicators need to work on message formulation harder than ever.  Perhaps people will come to realize that they need silence and will voluntarily cut back on media, but that is unlikely to happen soon.  Meanwhile, we have a job to do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Baffle 'Em With Bulls**t 

Newt Gingrich has used his considerable debating skills to cover up weaknesses in his life story and campaign strategy.  He is like the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross who push worthless swamp land on unsuspecting homeowners.  He relies on the brio of words, words, words to give a shine to his personality that doesn't belong there.  As such, he is an example of anti-PR and lack of transparency, but it worked for him in South Carolina and it might work for him in Florida as well.   That is not surprising.  Richard Nixon convinced Americans that he was the right President for the time -- and he did good things until he self-destructed.  So, it is possible that Gingrich can sell his way to the nomination of the Republican party, but is it likely that he can sell himself all the way to the Presidency?  One hopes not, but never underestimate the ability of great salesmen to baffle 'em with bulls**t.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Long Time Coming 

Research in Motion (RIM) has been teetering on the edge of irrelevance since the debut of the Smart Phone.  A Blackberry is no longer the leading edge of business communications.  That is why this action is occurring too late in the company's life.  As co-CEOs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, stayed too long with their approach to telecommunications and e-mail.  They thought, as CEOs of forgotten companies before them, that they could fight off the marketplace and enforce their views.  They forgot about the implacable obsolescence of electronics.  It is an industry in which one dare not look back, because competitors are gaining on you.  In this case, the combination of the iPhone and Android operating system represented advances that RIM wasn't ready for.  From a communications perspective, it is a reminder to maintain humility and watchfulness.  Assuming technical leadership is a serious mistake and failing to monitor the market sets one up for a fall.

Friday, January 20, 2012


The effects of the one-day internet protest and blackout of sites like Wikipedia are still being tallied.  Congressmen and Senators are now backing away from SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), but the bill is not dead.  There is still pressure from content creators in Hollywood and elsewhere to do something about theft of intellectual property.  So, while grassroots PR and protest stopped SOPA today, something else will be introduced in Congress tomorrow.  Perhaps the next time Congressmen will proceed more cautiously.  If so, that will be a victory for companies like Google and sites like Wikipedia.  There are no easy answers for piracy, so whatever solutions are proposed, there is likely to be more controversy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


When you have a "fanboy" following, you can afford to be a cult like Apple with its intense secrecy.  Apple disproves the idea of transparency and flies in the face of management theory.  It also contradicts assumptions held dearly by communicators.  All this can be summarized into a sentence:  There are many ways to do succeed.  Apple's approach might not work for other high-tech companies such as Dell or Hewlett-Packard or IBM or Oracle.  But, it worked for its founder, Steve Jobs, and it appears that it will continue with this management style.  As long as Apple can continue to turn out amazing products that keep its base wanting more, there is no need to change.  The day that its secrecy will prove a burden is when the magic goes away and its devices and services are not much different than competitors.  In other words, Apple has set an extraordinarily high standard in order to succeed.  It has had a great run in the last 10 years.  There is no guarantee that it will continue that run for the next 10.  If it doesn't, it will be interesting to observe whether its culture helps or burdens the company.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


No one is good at predicting the future and stories like this make for amusement later.  Extrapolating from the present to a distant time fails to take into account human creativity and events -- adverse and opportunistic.  It is hard to say where we will be by the end of 2012, much less 100 years from now.  Few could have predicted the breakthroughs scientifically and medically of the last few years. And, there are too many variables in getting technologies to markets, not the least of which is consumer acceptance of them. That is why communicators should avoid scenarios of what might be, a temptation that occurs frequently when talking about scientific advances.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Class Warfare 

President Obama is pandering to voters in excoriating millionaires and billionaires.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dispatches that talk as the "politics of envy."  From a PR perspective, the president has the more forceful message.  He is appealing to the largest block of voters who are only too ready to engage in class warfare.  Forgotten in the sturm und drang is that most of today's wealthy were once part of the middle class.  Through luck and hard work, they rose to the one percent.  Most did not go to Ivy League colleges nor did they have a trust fund to fall back on.  But no matter.  At a time when lower class citizens are hurting, it is only too easy to be envious of those who are not.  While Romney might be right in his characterization of what is happening, he is wrong in terms of the message he is sending.  Every instance of a millionaire or billionaire behaving badly from now to election day will only heighten Obama's message that the one percent owe the 99 percent more.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

PR Disaster 

The Russian government is reacting with outrage over the failure of its Mars probe.  Officials are vowing to name those responsible for the errant rocket, and they have turned the crash into a PR disaster for the nation and the space program.  Their reactions smack of the old Soviet Union.  Yes, it is necessary to find out what went wrong and to fix it.  And, it might be necessary to dismiss some people from the program who are not competent to be there, but to pillory them publicly helps no one.  It is likely to motivate talented scientists to avoid working for the space program.  Who wants to be mocked?  The real PR disaster is the Russian government shooting itself in the foot.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Instant Destruction 

The video of Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters instantly destroyed any credibility the US had in Afghanistan.  One vile action cost millions of man-hours of meetings with elders, working with the populace and reputation building.  It doesn't make a difference that thousands of soldiers have done their duty in the country and treated the people well.  The Taliban will use the video to convince the populace that Americans are devils.  What possessed these Marines to do what they did?  Surely their commander didn't know their actions.  This incident is a lesson to every organization that one thick-skulled employee can ruin the efforts of hundreds or thousands.  When you have a screw-up in the ranks, get rid of him.  Your reputation and the reputations of your other employees aren't worth sacrificing because of one malcontent.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Only In Politics? 

Is it only in politics that humans can make contradictory arguments such as this?  We as a Congress are in recess but we're not.  Therefore, you can't act as if we are in recess because even though we aren't present, we are.  Corporations can get caught in such circular irrationality but they don't seem to do it as often as politicians.  From a PR perspective, Congressional Republicans look like idiots, which doesn't help their re-election chances in the Fall.  One wonders if many of them are going to return after November's ballot.  Polls indicate that the American public is fed up, and there is a good chance that citizens will sweep incumbents out.  The president's decision to run against Congress this year will only highlight its lack of action.  I wouldn't want to be a communications or campaign director on the Hill this year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Curious Culture 

It is a mark of Japanese culture that a company can sue its executives, yet let them continue to run it.  At least that is what Olympus is doing.  One would think after all the bad PR that Olympus has suffered in recent months that the board of directors would want to make a clean sweep.  But, no.  Japanese must remain in charge, even if they were part of a long-term conspiracy to cover up losses.  Predictably, the company has reaped more bad PR for this action, but it defends its position by saying that business continuity is more important.  Maybe so in Japan, but Olympus is an international company and its decisions are playing out on a global stage.  One wonders how the company can continue with such decision-making.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wrong Message 

As this article points out, Mitt Romney is delivering the wrong message about his time at private equity firm, Bain Capital.   Romney talks about the jobs that Bain created but he avoids mentioning jobs lost and companies that failed to thrive.  The point is that Romney wasn't in the business of job creation but wealth enhancement for private investors.  If he could have increased wealth without a single employee to compensate, he would have done so.  And, that's not wrong.  Business is supposed to enrich its owners.  Politicians, on the other hand, have a populist view.  To them, business is supposed to create jobs for the masses whether or not it enriches the ownership.  Romney has adopted this view in an effort to win the Republican nomination.  His opponents are calling him on it and pointing out his hypocrisy.  That is a shame because Romney has proved that he knows how to run a business.  He may not have figured out how to be a politician.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Up And Down, Up And Down 

Stock market volatility has been going on for months now with no letup.  Worries include the Euro, the viability of European banks, debt talks and more.  One day the market is up because everyone thinks a resolution is on the way.  The next day the market is down because no one believes the fix will work.  And so it goes.  From a PR perspective, it is a testament to the power of perception and credibility.  Trillions are traded up and down based on the collective view of money men.  Since they have no clue to the outcome of the Euro crisis, they hold their positions for shorter periods and are ready to run in an instant.  If they did believe that the Euro crisis has been resolved, they would be holding their positions longer.  The uncertainty of the future has spooked them, and they are trading on emotion.  There isn't much that European governments can do for them.  The route to a fix is slow and tedious with a great deal of uncertainty.  Business doesn't like surprises and until the markets are more credible and perceived to be safer, the ying and yang of trading will continue.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Business Decision - PR Problem 

There are times when a corporation can't win.  This is one.  Boeing in response to pending cutbacks in military budgets has elected to close its 80-year-old plant in Wichita, KS.  Everyone is crying foul.  Kansas politicians had gone to bat for the company in its long and much-disputed win of an Air Force aerial tanker contract.  Some of those tankers were to be built in Wichita.  Now, Wichita is facing even more unemployment as plane manufacturers continue cutbacks.  This has created a PR problem for Boeing but it looks like the company is going to take its losses and go.  It didn't seek to negotiate anything.  It made the announcement suddenly and without warning.  Perhaps there was no better way to do it, but one wonders.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Practicing What It Preaches 

News that Google had put itself in the penalty box was refreshing.  It practices what it preaches.  It seems that someone in Google violated webmaster guidelines, so Google has de-linked its Chrome browser download page for 60 days from key words that would lead to it.  In taking this action, Google is showing that it doesn't play favorites when it comes to managing its search site.  It would be heartwarming if other companies did that, but most are likely to do just the opposite.  They overtly favor their products to the detriment of everyone else.  Granted that Google is under pressure for perceived unfairness, but an action like this is an effective answer.  It is good PR, and Google once again is showing leadership.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Do The Math 

Wikipedia is trumpeting that it raised $20 million from one million donors for the service yet it serves 470 million people a month.  Do the math.  That isn't a great show of support.  One wonders how an encyclopedia that has become an internet utility can have such a low monetary base.  Perhaps the answer is that on the internet, people have come to expect everything for free.  From a PR perspective, Wikipedia needs to do more work to build its base of monetary support.  Imagine if  470 million gave just a dollar apiece.  Wikipedia could expand its service for years to come.  An optimist would conclude there is upside potential.  A pessimist would wonder what happened.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Culture Shift? 

Could it be that movie theater attendance and box office revenue will never grow again?  Is the theater industry in a culture shift it cannot prevent?  From a PR perspective, there isn't much one can do when the public decides to take another direction.  With abundant entertainment alternatives available in the home, going out to the movies may be less compelling.  If so, a theater industry that has flourished for more than 100 years may be in a permanent swoon.  Movie theaters  won't go away completely, but it will not be surprising if the number of screens shrinks throughout the US.  It appears that 3D wasn't the savior of the movie house that experts hoped for.  And, the prices of 3D movies are outrageous for a mass entertainment medium.  

Should movie producers even concern themselves with increasing theater attendance?  They are looking beyond the box office already and they will abandon movie houses if their revenues are elsewhere.  If I were a theater owner, I would be concerned.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Same Old Same Old 

It is illusion to think that a new year brings change.  Clients problems remain the same.  The political environment doesn't shift.  Nations continue on the same paths they had the year before.  So, why do we persist in seeing a new year as a beginning?  It is a quirk of psychology to think we can divide life into periods when time is a continuum.  Most of us have today off in celebration of the new year.  Tomorrow we will go back to work, and it will look as it did when we left for the holidays.  That is good, actually.  If things did change, we would have to scramble to catch up.  Instead, we pick up assignments and move forward.  So too with resolutions.  Chances are that those we keep we had been holding before the new year began.  So, it is a new year but a same old year.  May it be happy and healthy.

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