Thursday, February 28, 2013

How To Kill A Brand Quickly 

These kinds of allegations can destroy a brand in weeks.  That is why Anheuser-Busch InBev needs to defend itself -- and quickly.  If there is a legitimate reason for adding water to beer, it should explain what it is doing and why.  If it hasn't done so, it should pursue a vigorous information campaign that not only denies the allegations but details how AB beers are bottled.  A simple statement of denial is not going to be enough if the law firm starts a communications campaign with evidence that AB's beer has been watered.  The company should be monitoring every communications outlet to see how far the story has spread and is radiating.  If it is gaining force, then allowing reporters to visit AB's bottling plants might be in order along with video of the bottling process. If the law firm is wrong, a counter-suit might be in order for damage to the brand with a huge dollar figure attached.  That has a tendency to scare "ambulance chasers."  It will be interesting to watch what happens over the next month or two.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Following The Herd 

You are a popular governor with aspirations for higher office.  You are Republican.  Your supporters expect you to be against Obamacare and an expansion of Medicaid.  But, the Federal enticement to expand Medicaid is too good.  What do you do?  Follow the herd of Republican governors who have already signed up.  That's exactly what the Governor of New Jersey did.  From a PR perspective, it was smart.  He allowed seven other Republican governors to go first.  He can't be accused by his supporters of going it alone.  On the other hand, by signing up for expansion of health care benefits, he looks caring to tens of thousands of voters.  The story would have been different had he inked the agreement on his own in the face of united opposition.  Politicians play with perceptions like this constantly, and it is instructive for the corporate world.  There is a time to lead and a time to follow.  Smart CEOs know which course to take.  Like a politician, they learn to count support carefully, especially now when shareholders are restless and have more power.  In many ways, CEOs have become politicians whether they accept the fact or not.  They can learn by watching the better practitioners in the political realm.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Would You Do? 

Here is a case for a PR practitioner with extra time and a propensity for hopeless causes.  How would you do PR for a hated government service that everyone thinks has disappeared, yet hangs on and spends millions a year?  Of course, I'm writing about the Selective Service, the draft.  Few remember it unless of a certain age -- old.  All-volunteer military services have been defending America for decades now.  No high school senior has any understanding of the tension and fear when registering for the draft.  No college graduate knows that one could leave the halls of academia and be marching shortly with a rifle and pack.  Two lawmakers are trying to put an end to the forgotten system.  It is understandable why it is there.  What if the US were thrust into a war that was larger than its volunteer services could handle?  The draft would return.  But, is there a need to keep machinery in place just in case?  An interesting question.  How would you defend the existence of the service to the public, that is, without getting laughed out of the room?

Monday, February 25, 2013


The White House's publicity blitz isn't working.  The President himself said so.  Of course, the full-court press is over the next "fiscal cliff", the sequester that kicks in this week.  The White House released fact sheets for how the sequester will affect every state in the Union and the District of Columbia.  Thus far, they have been treated with a collective yawn.  Has the President cried wolf too many times?  Is the public ready for budget cuts?  Do citizens not understand what is going to happen?  At this point, it is unclear, but the American public is not motivated and not solidly behind the President.  If the austerity budgets of Europe can be used as a model, they will be once the pain kicks in.  Voters don't like anything taken from them, even when the structure of a country is threatened as it is in Greece.  So, while Republicans might be pursuing a fiscally responsible course, they are risking loss of public support.  Thus far, the party and its leadership has done a poor job of defending itself against a charge of recklessness.  They don't have the bully pulpit of the White House, but they do have opportunities to make their case.  They haven't done it.  From a PR perspective, we are entering an interesting time.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A PR Problem Either Way 

Wal-Mart announced that it is sold out of some guns because of surging demand.  That is an interesting PR problem.  On the one hand, Wal-Mart needs to please customers, many of whom are gun-owners.  On the other, the company is coming under pressure, as are all gun sales outlets, to stop arms sales.  Wal-Mart carries guns in about 2,000 of its US stores, and there is apparently no limit on how many a customer can buy.  From an activist's point of view, that makes the company an easy target.  After all, Wal-Mart has had its share of controversies in recent years, and this would be one more to blacken its name. This is a case begging to have intensive monitoring in force and crisis communications plans ready to implement. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is It Enough? 

Along with management changes, Yahoo debuted a new web page design.  It is cleaner and more inviting but is it enough?  Among the challenges of public relations is loss of attention.  Yahoo's day has come and maybe, gone forever.  It is hard to get consumers to look again once they have moved on.  In that regard, the web might seem to be like fads and fashion -- out with the old and in with the new.  However, unlike either of those, consumers seem to settle eventually on a solution for their needs and then, stick with it.  Right now, that solution is Google, which maintains overwhelming leadership in the search space, a healthy chunk of the news space and map environment and significant shares of other segments.  Moreover, Google's leaders are not fools.  They know they cannot afford to fall behind, not for an instant.  Others are vying for their market share -- notably Bing.  Where does that leave Yahoo?  The company has an enormous PR and marketing challenge to get back into the race.  What it lacks is time.  The longer the company is not competitive, the less chance it ever will be.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Modern Message Control 

This article, critical of President Obama, is a good description of modern message control.  Far from being the puppet master that the article alleges, Obama is a disciplined communicator who chooses a broad range of channels to get his message out.  The authors of the article are unhappy that he ignores and bypasses print journalists who can ask him tough questions.  They also look down upon the extensive content generation from the White House that is fed to alternative channels.  The article speaks more to the reporters' discomfort with modern media than anything the President might be doing wrong.  It reveals that the President is a sophisticated practitioner and his time in office might prove to be a case study used years hence.  One might not like the President for his policies but one should admire him for his media abilities.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Adulterated food is a consumer packaged goods nightmare.  Europe is living the bad dream now with horse meat passed off as beef.   One can ask if manufacturers are to blame for foreign protein getting into the hamburger supply.  At the initial processing point, they are but the downstream purveyors are victims along with the public.  They had reasons to assume that inspections had occurred all along the line and the ground meat they were using was as it was claimed.  Now they can no longer make that assumption.  It will be up to each level of processing to check at added expense.  Public reaction has been interesting.  The British were  upset, the French not so much, but the French eat horse meat regularly.  The real question that authorities have to answer is what is in the protein stream.  If no one detected horse, what else could be ground up and passed off.  We might think that it can't happen in America, but we would be fools.  There is a chain of trust in the food supply and sleazy operators can violate that trust at any time.  Meanwhile, companies like Nestle have a major PR crisis on their hands that will call for stringent in-house testing in the future.

Monday, February 18, 2013

President's Day 

One of the positive developments in the 20th and now 21st Centuries is the stripping away of myth from Presidents.  The 19th Century turned them into caricatures.  One fable after another was larded onto their biographies, and it took time and lengthy investigation to find real individuals beneath.  Washington depend on Martha to keep his plantations running.  Lincoln wasn't above using hard-ball politics to get his way.  Jefferson was a spendthrift and hypocrite.  Adams was a hard worker but difficult in temperament.  We begin today to see these people closer to the way they were and that makes their accomplishments all the greater.  Myth-making is a human tendency, and one to be resisted.  Public relations fails in this aspect constantly.  Practitioners want to portray leaders as men above men, women exalted.  It is as if facts would destroy them and their aura.  It needn't.  Steve Jobs, for example, was a famously difficult character who understood how to create  technologies.  One can accept his brilliance and detest his arrogance.  So too, our Presidents. We can accept their failings and honor their accomplishments.  There is no need to turn them into haloed saints.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Risking The Business 

The disabled Carnival Cruise Lines ship is back in port.  The CEO is making personal apologies.  The company is offering refunds to passengers and inducements to return for another cruise some time in the future.  For some passengers, that is not enough.  The idea of going on another vacation with any line is out of the question.  Carnival was caught in a media vise.  The ship went dead far out to sea and for days, there were reports of horrid conditions on the vessel before it reached land.  Passengers vented by cell phone.  Helicopters hovered over the craft and took video of stranded people below.  There was no clear explanation of how an engine room fire could knock out so many essential services.  Perhaps the company doesn't know, but the government is going to find out, and there is a good chance that negative headlines will bash the company in the months to come.  In terms of a PR disaster, the incident could hardly be more complete, other than the sinking of the ship.  Carnival has enormous work to do on its reputation in the months to come.  It recognizes that, but will it be enough?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

That Didn't Take Long 

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, knew he had a tough job following Steve Jobs.  The challenge is getting tougher with sniping already beginning about his views and performance.  Famously, Jobs warned Cook not to think about what "Steve would do."  That was good advice from a dying man.  What he couldn't tell Cook and Cook alone can determine is what Cook should do.  Apple depends on innovation for which it charges premiums.  It has to release a stream of ground-breaking products to stay ahead of the industry's relentless quest to turn every product into a commodity.  Any perceived slowdown in Apple's new releases drags the company toward other manufacturers hemmed in by price.  Cook knows that.  The question is whether he can keep the channel filled with exciting innovations.  Thus far he hasn't, and so the sniping.  The quickest way for him to put the second-guessing in its place is to launch a market-bending "something."  He is working on it but he won't have forever to get it out of the company's doors.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Attacking The Barrel Of Ink 

There is a cliche in newspapers and PR:  Never attack the fellow who buys ink by the barrel.  This is precisely what Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, did.  It was dumb.  Rather than testing his electric car to see if it drained energy as fast as a New York Times journalist reported, Musk said the Times article was a fake.  The burden of proof lies on Musk, and thus far, he hasn't shown evidence the reporter's experience was made up.  While attacking the media might make him a hero in some corners, it more likely damaged his credibility and that of his vehicle in the eyes of potential buyers on the East Coast.  The Tesla has been a successful car in warm weather.  There is a question now whether it is equally good in ice and snow.  If not, the car has limited distribution in the US and elsewhere.  This could sink the company, which hasn't been making money.  No wonder Musk went on the offensive.  He needs a PR counselor -- and he needs to listen to that adviser.  The first thing he should be told is to get his facts straight before mouthing off.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

PR Ground War 

There is a new war between states.  This time it is over jobs and business. One of the more diligent battlers is Rick Perry,  the governor of Texas.  He has aimed his focus on California, the most populous state in the nation but also one of the highest in taxation.  He is tireless in pointing out that business can do more with less in Texas and employees have a lower cost of living.  Thus far, the numbers are on his side and other governors are not amused -- particularly Jerry Brown, the governor of California.  California has location going for it and a history of innovation.  It is also the entertainment capital of the US, if not the world.   Unfortunately for the Golden state, business is mobile.  So, while Brown can pretend not to be concerned, he still has to take Texas' PR campaign seriously.  Brown is well aware that in the history of the US, business has moved often and left states teetering.  Most recently, the auto industry's abandonment of Michigan has that state grasping for jobs.  The rise of southern States, particularly Georgia, has been at the expense of northern climes.  While California has location and beauty, people need to eat, and they will move for work.  The battle between Texas and California is going to last for a while.  Enjoy the feud.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fighting For Its Life 

It is not overstatement to say that Standard & Poor's is fighting for its life against government allegations of false ratings.  The service might well deserve the negative attention it is getting, but from a PR perspective, the task of leadership is to keep the company alive.  Much of that work will be legal but it will also involve communications -- proving to clients, the public and eventually the courts that how it evaluated debt securities before the bubble burst was proper.   The government is no fool in the PR war.  It has already made public e-mails from the time in which S&P employees questioned the ratings.  As the article points out, Federal lawyers have a difficult path to achieve a conviction, but that doesn't mean they won't smear S&P throughout the process.  They will. S&P should be on a war footing, if it isn't already.  If it was wrong, it would be best to admit it now and get on with business.  If it is convinced that it is innocent, it faces a long and draining battle.

Friday, February 08, 2013


It is hard to accept but there are impossible situations that trap organizations.  There is no exit and little hope.  This is one.  The article might be a little overstated but it is mostly correct.  The US Postal Service has long been a hostage of Congress that won't let it run like a business but demands that it show profits like an economic enterprise.  The situation is loony but there isn't much postal executives can do.  Their decision to stop Saturday delivery is unpopular but more acceptable than what they wanted to do and should have done -- close post offices and shrink the system.  Congress wouldn't allow that.  From a PR perspective, there is almost nothing one can say to position a service that is out of touch with an e-mail/internet world and hopelessly inept in modernizing, not through its own fault.  One can only shake one's head and wish the tens of thousands of employees and managers the best in struggling through their relentless decline.  Yes, one can publicize new stamps and ballyhoo the history of the letter carrier, but that isn't going to change reality.  The Postal Service is a spinning wheel

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Cute Publicity 

This is a case of cute publicity that positions a brand.  Voting on Monopoly tokens is a way for Hasbro to get its legion of Park Place fans involved with the company and closer to the board game.  That it went viral and other companies got involved is only a plus.  Hasbro reaped enormous publicity from the contest and reminded the public at the same time that Monopoly is a vital game at a time when everything seems to be digitized shoot-em-ups.  Well done, Hasbro, and if there is an agency behind it, kudos to it too.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Getting Away With It 

Sometimes buffoons survive -- and prosper.  They find a place in society where citizens tolerate them, if they don't exactly approve of their behavior and gaffes.  The Vice President is one of the more misspoken individuals in politics.  He erred again this week in Europe during a major speech.  But he gets a bye time and again, and the President seems to trust him.  Others are not so fortunate, particularly candidates for high offices.  The media and opponents will seize on a badly stated remark and beat the individual verbally for making it.  From Biden, errors are expected, and for some reason, that is OK.  Were Biden to run for President, however, my guess is that it would no longer be acceptable to make mistakes.  We should know in less than four years.  Meanwhile, Biden's PR staff can only shake their heads and wonder.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Tough Call 

Either Bayer spent $2.5 billion developing a cancer drug -- or it didn't, and the company is using fraudulent accounting to protect itself.  Who do you believe?  Bayer or the Indian government that wants to force the drug to be licensed in the country at a far lower cost than the $70,000 annual charge for it.  Once upon a time, one might believe a pharmaceutical company implicitly because of the discoveries it was making.  No longer.  There has been enough chicanery in the drug business to smear the industry.  On the other hand, India hasn't clean hands either.  Corruption is rife in the country, and one could allege that a compulsory license is one way of soliciting bribes from Bayer.  So, who do you believe?  Here is where credibility is worth billions in revenue to Bayer and in savings to India.  The deck seems stacked against Bayer at this point and from a PR perspective, Bayer will need to justify its numbers in detail to turn the situation around.  If it doesn't, it is likely to lose pricing power.  From the perspective of other drug manufacturers, if Bayer is telling the truth, then there is little incentive to develop new drugs only to lose the revenue from them.  It's a tough call.

Monday, February 04, 2013

An Important Step? 

Although things are never quite the same as they appear, this might be an important step in Chinese labor relations.  Asian countries for too long have exploited workers and as a result, have become the workshop of the world.  Workers have long realized their condition and are doing something about it.  It is fair to say, however, that a union at Foxconn would not have come about without outside pressure from customers and activist groups.  Foxconn's answer to suicides at its plants was to string netting around its buildings to catch falling bodies, a solution but not an effective response to long hours and tedious work.  If a union is effective in representing workers at Foxconn's plants, the cost of manufacturing will rise, and Foxconn will have an incentive to reduce body count in favor of robots.  Union pressure, in other words, has to be calibrated.  It can't push the company too far but it is important that it serve as a line monitor for Foxconn's mammoth workforce.  If the union is successful and Foxconn adjusts, it could serve as a human resource model for the rest of China, an extraordinary example of smart PR.

Friday, February 01, 2013

How Would You Do PR? 

Law schools are in the dumps.  Enrollments are down, and there are few jobs for graduates.  Some schools have started to cut back. Put simply, there are too many lawyers, and there will be for some time to come.  So, practitioner, how would you do PR for a law school, particularly a second- or third-tier institution that hasn't the name recognition of Ivy League universities?  This is typical of challenges practitioners get.  It is easy to publicize a school at the top of its game.  It is hard and next to impossible to help a university without a strongly positive perception already.  The first instinct of academic departments is to trumpet themselves.  "We're great! Look at our graduates!  Look at our wonderful students!"  But, every university does this.  Every university is better than anyone around them and everybody is above average.  The hard part is to understand where the university stands out, if at all, and to position it in that area.  This, of course, means making decisions about professors, courses and kinds of students the university will accept.  It means shutting some doors and widening others.  But, who wants to do that?  It is hard and miserable work.  But that is where PR should be -- finding a differentiated position that helps a school to stand out in the marketplace.  

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