Friday, March 30, 2012

Ill Use Of Publicity 

Here is a case in which a PR practitioner and/or marketer should have checked first before flaunting an "award."  The person who gave the so-called award is citing the company for "The most dumb-ass drug promotion of 2012."  It seems there was no real judging behind the original award, and there was no intent that it be used by marketers to flaunt product.  The drug company did it anyway.  That is a sure way to upset a member of the media.   The pharmaceutical firm made a pardonable mistake.  It is natural to use a good-news clip to promote oneself and who would have thought that the reporter would object.  It is one more lesson in the vagaries of PR.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Pope In Cuba 

The pope's visit to Cuba is instructive for PR practitioners.  The Castro's don't like him and what he stands for. The pope is trying ever so gently to tell the communist regime that its days are numbered.  As one analysis said, they talked past each other.  There is a larger issue, however, that has embroiled the church in Cuba.  Does one cooperate with the regime and try bit by bit to gain freedoms for Christians.  Or, does one openly resist the regime and call for its end, as one priest is doing in Cuba today.  There is no good answer.  Both ways have merits and demerits.  Both are subject to criticism.  One is bound to lose credibility with one group or another no matter which course he chooses.  The pope and the cardinal on Cuba have elected to talk to the regime and push for the betterment of Catholics.  One could as easily have condemned the Castro's for what they have done to their country and their people.  Cuba is opening up slowly but it might not be fast enough for its poor citizens.  I'm sure the pope is hoping to avoid bloodshed, but to radicals, it just might look like he is caving to Fidel. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cool It 

Cool it.  It is time for Congress, the President and demonstrators to step back and let the law take its course in the case of the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.  Anger in the black community and the grief of his parents are understandable, but there has been a rush to judgment, a mob action that has tried, convicted and is ready to hang George Zimmerman.  A few less passionate voices have warned the raging crowd to calm down.  So far, they haven't been heard.  Others have pointed to the Duke Rape Case and Atlanta Olympic Bombing as examples of where the crowd and authorities initially targeted the wrong people.  While it certainly seems there was no justification for the shooting, the facts have yet to come out.  The mob doesn't know what happened.  It has jumped to a conclusion and disgracefully, politicians and others have followed them.  Incidents like this should be a lesson to PR practitioners to hold fire, to counsel caution, to push for resolution but avoid baying like hounds on the hunt.  Unfortunately, the mob never learns.  Citizens will rage again, and it will be up to calmer minds to hold them back.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Better Left Unsaid 

There are times when one should hold his temper and not say what he is thinking.   This is one.  AT&T, whether it likes it or not, has to work with the same regulators in the future who denied its merger with T-Mobile. Bad-mouthing them in public is a great way to destroy any working relationship left between the company and the FCC.  Assuming AT&T will want to merge with another company in the future, what then?  Will AT&T's Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs send candy and flowers and say he really didn't mean it?  Bureaucrats can have long memories, and they know their power to say no.  There was no need for AT&T to pop off as it did.  It was not going to bring the failed merger back -- and even if it did, AT&T is not the company that will effect it.  AT&T's lobbyist should have done what President Harry Truman used to do.  Truman would write scathing letters to people he disliked then not send them.  He put them in his files where they were found years later after he had long left office.  

Monday, March 26, 2012


What could be more humiliating than to be a stock exchange whose system fails on the day it is going public?  This is the PR nightmare facing the CEO of BATS Global Markets who issued a public apology yesterday for a system breakdown and for being forced to unwind the company's IPO.  What else could he do?  When cock-ups are so spectacular, there is little one can say or propose but to take the blame and move on.  It is like a baseball player striking out in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series with a man on third.  People don't forget it.  BATS may come again to the public markets, but one can be sure that it will sweat every detail when it does.  No exchange could withstand another blowup like this one.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tough Job 

How would you like to be the PR director for this boondoggle?  Building high-speed rail in California's agricultural valley without connections to major cities makes no economic or political sense.  But, the governor is for it and refuses to acknowledge that it is foolhardy under its present plan.  What could you say to defend the proposal?  That it might make sense some day far into the the future?  That even though it will never pay for itself, it is needed in a state with an expanding population?  Any argument is bound to sound weak because it is.  Yet, the governor and the project's defenders continue to plow forward and waste both Federal and State money as they go. This is a situation in which a PR practitioner should ask hard questions of himself and of the job.  Is it worth compromising one's personal reputation defending such a knuckle-headed proposal?  Some will say yes, but those with common sense will steer clear.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yesterday's Celebrity 

Oprah Winfrey is learning what it is to be yesterday's celebrity.  She just laid off 30 people at her cable network.  It is a reminder to communications practitioners that once out of mind, one is gone from public attention.   Viewers move on to the next thing that keeps them entertained.  That was the ironic ending of The Truman Show, the 1998 film that dissected television mercilessly.  Absence from public attention is an issue for corporations as well.  There is such a thing as too little publicity when multi-billion dollar businesses fade into the background and their stock prices suffer.  There are CEOs who like that.  I met one recently.  He is perfectly content to serve customers and to be missing from the national scene. If his stock muddles, that's OK.  Sooner or later, it will catch up, and anyway, he isn't interested in small investors but only institutions.  One can argue that his vision is too narrow, but there are quite a few CEOs who see public relations that way.  They don't want to get on the treadmill of communications.  If their companies do well, they believe that they will be found.  It would be good if that were true.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Slow-motion Training 

The New York Times couldn't bridge the distance to pay per view of its content, so it started slow-motion training of its readers a year ago.  It was 20 articles per month free.  Now it is 10.  What do you want to bet that in a year or two it will be five then each time?  From a PR point of view, this phase-in makes sense.  It lowers consumer resistance and it slowly builds subscription readership.  The Times has 454,000 subscribers now for its online product.  It won't be long before the Times is primarily an online medium.  The question still facing the company is whether a paid online model will bring in enough revenue to offset loss of advertising from the print product.  The company isn't out of the woods yet.  From a PR perspective, a healthy online subscription base is a positive.  It provides greater reach and the same editorial credibility.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Takes Time 

So, Apple's electronics supplier, Foxconn, is partially cleared after an actor admitted he lied about it.   While that is good for Foxconn, unfortunately it does not absolve the company completely.  Residues of uncertainty and suspicion will last.  A perception once rooted is hard to remove.  What should Foxconn do to rebuild its reputation?  Invite the media to see for themselves how the company works.  This is apparently what the corporation is offering in its statement that it wants people to come to the company.  And, if the media are honest, they will do that rather than making charges against the company yesterday's story.   However, given the staffing and deadline mentality of major media, it is unlikely for Foxconn to get a multi-page take on how it treats its workers.  Rather the company may need to be satisfied with a small story here and there.  Injustice like this is painful, but in the minds of the media, it appears that false charges aren't as bad if they are leveled against a company.  An individual?  That's another matter.

Monday, March 19, 2012

iPad News 

More people are getting news on iPads and Kindles.  That should be good for the news industry but it is too soon to tell.  One reason is that the public has been conditioned to get news for free online.  That is the result of sites like Google News.  For the PR practitioner, increased use of tablets is a good sign.  Potentially it increases outlets and reduces the time to reach the public.  However, if the news industry is unable to adjust quickly enough, it could mean that total news is reduced to key players such as wire services and a few national newspapers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  That would be the worst of all outcomes.  There has been at least one prediction that most newspapers will disappear in the US in the next five years.  It certainly looks that way given the permanent decline in revenue throughout the industry.  The question is whether these publishing entities can find a new life on a tablet.  They don't have much time to find out.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Too Much Too Soon 

Even CEOs can speak too soon and promise too much only to find they are left exposed and humiliated.  Here is a case.  Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit promised investors a return of capital until the Federal Reserve gave the bank a failing mark in a stress test of capital adequacy.  Citigroup's stock took a beating as a result.  What possessed him to speak before he should have?  Perhaps he felt pressure from investors.  Perhaps he really did think he could restore the dividend and repurchase shares.  If so, he was out of touch with regulators, which raises questions about his command of his job.  Now he has to submit another plan and wait for the Federal Reserve again.  He won't make the same mistake twice, but once was quite enough.  One wonders whether his IR chief and/or corporate communications executive cautioned him before he made his promise the first time.  If not, they have learned a lesson as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How Did It Last This Long? 

Now that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is no longer going to be printed, one asks how it lasted this long in the internet age?  Old technologies have inertia.  They don't disappear right away.  Like tops at the end of their spins, they wobble on their axes for a while before they tilt.  The next candidates for a fall are newspapers and magazines.  Unlike encyclopedias, however, some of them will survive.  While it is hard to believe that Newsweek will be around much longer, The Economist is unlikely to go anywhere.  While many smaller newspapers will vanish, The New York Times and Washington Post are likely to remain.  Still, the environment has changed so much that few traditional media have the clout they once did.  Like the Encyclopaedia Britannica, they have gone from the authority to just one more source of information.  That on the whole is good, but it diminishes the credibility PR seeks from editorial placement.  PR has to go broader and deeper for clients now.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Back To The Future 

Before the collapse of magazine publishing in the mid 20th Century, there was plenty of space for long-form journalism and short-form fiction -- stories and novellas.  That space is returning now in the form of Kindle Singles, an Amazon program dedicated to the shorter form.  Amazon states it as "compelling ideas expressed at their natural length."  As with other media outlets, it is a growing forum for potential publicity.  One can envision a time when longer profiles of companies, people and products find a place in Kindle Singles.  The authors who write, however, will need to be among the best in order to build an audience for their work.  They cannot depend on the presence of major magazines of yore.  Still, a cumulative sale of two million e-books across 165 works is something to capture attention.  Amazon has become a major publisher.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


A President can't forget that the public is fickle and asks always, "What have you done for me lately?"  Here is a case.  The President is getting grief over the price of gasoline as if the executive of the country has magical power to set tariffs at refineries.  There is no good reason to blame the President for the price at the pump but in a spirit of democracy, he is taking it in the ear anyway.  It would be easy for one to become angry over such lack of gratitude, but in public relations and politics one can't afford that.  One accepts the condition and moves forward, which is what Obama is doing.   A mistake would be to respond to every complaint that arises for then, he could get nothing done.  It's a balancing act.  If gas prices move into the stratosphere, Obama may have to dip into the oil reserve.  Otherwise, he needs to make sympathetic noises and hope prices will fall again soon.  It is one more headache on the plate of the country's chief executive.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Down The Toilet 

Eleven years of sweat and death in Afghanistan have been flushed down the toilet by one soldier.  US credibility has never been so low with the citizens there, especially after the accidental burning of Korans a few weeks ago.  As I've written here before, the credibility of organizations depends on the lowest ranked employees where the organization meets the public.  This sergeant might have been crazed but tell the Afghans that.  He shot babies along with adults.  The sergeant will be court-martialed but that offers little solace to the parents and grandparents of dead children.  This is the kind of incident that gives generals and diplomats blinding headaches, and the president must be feeling sick to his stomach.  All that effort for naught. 

Friday, March 09, 2012

Tectonic Shift 

It isn't news that the publishing industry is going the way of the spinning wheel.  The industry has been thrashing like music recording companies and trying to protect the value of its content.  That is why this potential lawsuit is important.  The DoJ is warning the industry that it cannot collude to maintain pricing.  Sooner or later, prices will collapse and enter a free-market fall.  The old economic model won't work.  There will be too few bookstores through which to distribute and too many e-books in the hands of consumers only willing to pay a fraction of a printed text.  What will the industry say then?  How will it communicate its value?  In fact, what value will it bring to authors and readers, especially when one can self-publish easily today?  Doing PR for a publisher is a risky job now.  It always is when one is on the wrong side of history.  

Update:  Typo corrected in the text.  Thanks to an alert reader.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Good Enough? 

Microsoft is coming out with Office 15 that has significant improvements in features, functions and benefits.  This might be a time to ask whether one really needs it and to wonder what Microsoft can say to get people to trade in their older models of Office.  There comes a time when additions to software outstrip users' needs.  Companies feel forced to make them because they want to sell more software.  Some users buy the software because they want the latest edition.  More potential customers, however, see no need to trade in a serviceable package for something new and shiny.  It is a communications challenge for Microsoft, and I'm curious how the company is handling it.  One guess is that Microsoft depends on the computer replacement market for sales.  That is, when people trade in old machines for new ones, they upgrade both the operating system and office software at the same time.  Even so, it is a challenging communications problem.  Microsoft's Office software is expensive, and there are freeware packages available that do just about anything that one needs done who is not a power user.  One wonders whether at some point Microsoft will give up improving Office.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

PR And Business 

Here is a perfect example of how smart PR can lead directly to increased business.  IBM's Watson Computer is going to Wall Street after its successful run on Jeopardy! last year.  Admittedly, appearing on a quiz show was a stunt but it was a brilliant way to show off the capabilities of the machine and to get an advantage over competitors.  Now Watson will do more mundane stuff for which it was built -- analysis, processing data and relating to customers.  The machine might not have reached this point in the sales cycle had it not shown what it could do against human competitors.  IBM's penchant for taking on Big Ideas and making them work from computer chess to quiz shows has set the company apart.  No one else has done what IBM can do.  That's differentiation.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Same Old Same Old 

Here is a recent study that discovers an idea nearly 3,000 years old.  That idea?  People aren't smart enough for democracy.  They can't recognize the best political candidates when they see them.  Incompetent people can't judge competence.  Greek philosophers called for an educated elite to rule the mob, which presumably could not rule itself because the common citizen wasn't capable  The problem with the idea is that the elite can't recognize competence either.  Their arrogance becomes self-selecting and narrowly focused.  They  end by choosing people just like themselves even though the dynamic of the world changes constantly.  Mandarins in China kept the political system running for a long time but eventually it imploded because it was out of touch.  Democracy is an ugly and frequently stupid process, but it muddles through.  It recognizes that life isn't a series of neatly rationalized boxes.  Idiots will get into office and intelligent people too.  They rub against one another in the process of legislating and maintain a sense of reality.  The research is a reminder to PR practitioners to remain skeptical of science as much as anything else.

Monday, March 05, 2012


This is a useful reminder to intemperate bloviators.  As Rush Limbaugh is learning, harsh words backfire.  He is now working to keep advertisers for his show after his blast at the Georgetown law student.  Perhaps there should be more lessons of this kind from the clergy rather than the clergy leading the way in damning opponents.  Hellfire and brimstone work only for a few.  Others, the majority, turn away.  The most powerful, long-term persuasion is reasoned argument.  This, of course, flies in the face of down-and-dirty politics that many use today.  Sooner or later, however, citizens grow sick of accusation and counter-accusation.  There are times for strong words but those are rare.  They should always be balanced by civility to heighten their effect.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Housing and PR 

Young adults are becoming renters and not homeowners.  The story is here in data.  They can't afford to own a home with debts from education, an uncertain economy and single status.  This almost certainly changes the way PR practitioners speak to them.  Certainly anyone in a housing-related business has had to change messages already.  But, there are other areas affected as well.  A renter cannot own as many things as someone with a house.  There isn't as much room for them.  So, this may well slow the sales of large consumer items like furniture and appliances.  It might also slow the sale of clothes, for there is only so much closet space in an apartment.  How will it affect leisure?  That is an unknown, but if one is paying down debt, it is likely to cut into ski trips, sun-soaking in the Caribbean and snorkeling in Hawaii.  In other words, the lifestyle of a nation of renters is different than a nation of homeowners.  We can't assume their aspirations are the same.  This means we need to educate ourselves as practitioners in how to speak to renters -- an education that should start now.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Politics And Perception 

Now that Mitt Romney is "restored as a front runner" and it is on to the next election cycle, it is time for a question.  Was he ever behind?  Politics is the craft of perception, and the media saw Romney in a death-struggle in Michigan.  The polls seemed to show that, so news stories heightened the race.  Michigan's election results, of course, were not a dead heat, not like Iowa, which was a squeaker.  The whole nomination race is one of spin -- up spin, down spin, cross spin.  No wonder voters are confused.  The media love the horse race and live for it.  Every four years post-election, editors take an oath to concentrate on issues the next time and not the race, but every four years they fall off the wagon in drunken pursuit of who's in and who's out.   No wonder campaign jockeys feel they can manipulate reporters because reporters want that next story.  It is futile to call for change.  It won't happen.  Rather one does the best one can to size up a candidate amid the phony furor.  It is an atmosphere in which true PR is impossible to achieve.

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