Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Why in the face of overwhelming evidence do people continue to believe the opposite?  Take, for instance, evolution.  It is distressing that 33 percent still don't accept it, but it is also a reminder to communications practitioners.  Change is hard and slow and sometimes, miserable.  A public is not an entity but an abstract definition imposed on individuals with different belief sets.  In an age of social media, atomization is coming to the fore but breaking old habits is difficult even for one-to-one practitioners.  The problem is that even with individualized media, there is still no good way to fashion messages to the peculiarities of each person.  Of necessity, we abstract even in micro-segments.  We have to realize that for some groups, there is little change in certain beliefs, and we have to accept that as a condition for effective communications.  Still, it is disappointing.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Future Is Here 

PR practitioners have a new set of challenges for 2014 -- the practical use of wearable computers.  As this article indicates, the future is here.  More people will start wearing computer-based watches, eyeglasses and other accessories during the coming year.  What does this portend for communications?  It is not clear now other than we know that Google Glass allows one to take photos or video with a touch to the temple.  This is concerning for corporate security, privacy and the fear of a recorded faux pas, but it is not enough to stop the use of such gadgets.  As the writer of the article indicates, there are good reasons for using Google Glass, particularly in getting directions and location awareness.  One can easily imagine a person in an unfamiliar location using the eyeglasses as a guide.  There will be other applications soon.  How does one integrate a wearable into PR?  This is an issue the industry will need to confront.  Right now, there are so few users that it is not urgent but it is time to start experimenting to be ready.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Visual Reminder And Good PR 

NASA releases images of space and of the earth throughout the year as a constant reminder of its activities and of the value they bring to the world.  Some of these images are stunning and are works of art in themselves, but they are also educational.  One can learn from every one of them more about the earth on which we live and the universe in which we exist.  Images are one way of NASA saying to the public that it has value and space needs further exploration.  There is no secret that the agency has been starved for cash and it needs to fend for itself and its mission.  The continuous appearance of stunning photography is smart PR.  It feeds fans and critics alike with beauty that is above the fray of budget cutting and questioning about its future.  NASA has been transmitting images for decades.  Here is a hope that it will continue to do so.  Each one teaches us how precious the earth is and how alone we are.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

PR Crisis For UPS 

UPS didn't make the Christmas delivery deadline because of bad weather.    Customers are furious.  It was not for want of planning.  A few days ago, a major news story detailed the thousands of hours of strategy and equipment pre-positioning that goes into the final holiday rush.  All this was upset by massive ice storms that prevented planes from flying and/or landing.  What is one to do?  UPS apologized immediately to its customers and is making sure that it delivers every delayed package as quickly as possible.  That more than anything else will resolve the disappointment.  Perhaps, customers will shop earlier in years to come to avoid delays, but don't bet on it.  Most people don't want to know how something happens.  They only want to know that it does.  They aren't interested in details until something goes wrong, then they want someone to examine the system and find out how to fix it.  UPS had troubles this year.  Next year, who knows?  That the service can be as successful as it is, is a triumph of corporate organization.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Limits Of Tolerance 

Airlines are cramming seats on planes through shrinking space and seats themselves.  Passengers are becoming surly as a result.  The airlines' excuse is that the public wants low fares and to keep them low, they have to pack more people into each plane.  It's public relations.  Not really.  It's cash flow optimization. One can appreciate the dilemma that carriers have.  As a group they have been marginally profitable for years.  The only way they can make their revenue is to fly more people or charge higher fares to fly fewer.  Most passengers elect lower fares and the discomfort of tight seating.  But, there is a limit, and airlines are approaching it.  When passengers become abusive in cabins, it stresses others and the airline employees serving them.  One wonders when an airline will call a public halt to shrinking seats and leg room.  They are not there yet. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

PR Stunt? 

Two members of a Russian punk rock band were released from prison over the weekend just after a former oil tycoon was let go.  The band members called their freedom a PR stunt before the Winter Olympics to make Russia's human rights record look better.  There would be one correction in that.  It would be a publicity stunt and not PR, which is based on what one does rather than what one says.  The world is watching Vladimir Putin and is not easily swayed by the recent news.  Putin has time and again portrayed himself as a Russian strong man, a political czar who brooks no opposition to what he wants done.  He is not democratic nor is he comfortable with citizens criticizing him.  One could argue that Russians need that, that they were not ready for the dissolution of the Soviet empire, and freedom has been difficult in a country riddled with corruption, self-dealing and drunkenness.  Perhaps so, but oligarchic rule is dangerous to the rest of the world.  It is better that Russia is weak militarily and shrunken from its previous size.  Maybe that will give it time to understand what real PR is.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Crisis For A Retailer 

Target has a major crisis just at the time of its highest yearly sales.  That 40 million credit and debit card numbers have been stolen is bad enough, but now the corporation has to figure out how to help people who have been victimized.  There isn't much that it can do except for consumers to change pin numbers or get new cards.  The aggravation of doing this is enough to unsettle the public, but imagine the anger if, as will happen, a customer finds out that someone has raided her accounts.  The only safety consumers have for the moment is that 40 million card numbers are so large it will take time for criminals to sort through them, but that is small comfort.  One of the 2014 public relations resolutions for Target had better be enhanced computer security.  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Smart PR? 

The CEO of Delta Airlines has decided  the airline won't allow phone calls during flights.  He bases his decision on market research and listening to crews and passengers.  Ordinarily one would say that is smart PR but what about harried businesspersons who need to make calls now?  Are they out of luck on Delta or will they fly a more accommodating airline?  In other words, there is no solution that everyone will back and it will cause some loss of traffic.  On the other hand, passengers who are deeply annoyed by others' yakking in the air will seek Delta out, so the decision might be a wash.  It is good, however, to see a CEO take a stand for customers and be willing to back his decision publicly.  That is smart PR.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Scientific Challenge And PR Nightmare 

The supplements industry, the folks that make vitamins, is facing a scientific challenge.  One study after another reveals that vitamins have no effect on chronic diseases and heart attacks.  The industry has always skated on the edge of medical acceptance, but now researchers are against it and calling multivitamins a waste of money.  Thus far, the manufacturers continue to grow and prosper, but for how long?  Once people begin to question the pill-popping they do, will they see the light and stop?  There doesn't seem to be an alternative for the industry other than to claim that people say they feel better when taking a vitamin.  That, however, isn't science.  It is selective perception and a placebo effect.  Now, there is something to be said for placebos but their efficacy is based on belief and not chemistry.  That is hardly enough to impress statisticians.  So, the supplements industry has a nascent PR challenge to its existence.  How will it handle it?  Simply wish it away?  Or perform its own studies to determine what works and what doesn't?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


North Korea is in the process of erasing the past of a former high-ranking official.  The uncle of the present thug, Kim Jong-un, the so-called Supreme Leader, is now a non-person and a non-entity.  Tens of thousands of references to him have disappeared from the news archives.  His image has been erased from photos.  It is as if he never was, which suits the Supreme Leader's paranoid mind.   North Korea's citizens can hardly forget the widely publicized video of the uncle being dragged publicly from congressional chambers nor the fact that he was put to death a few days later.  But, obedient to authority, they will act as if there was no such person.  This is the same trick that Stalin pulled during his reign in Russia.  High-ranking officials would be erased from both the visual and verbal record.  The only keeper of history were countries out of his reach.  It is hard to believe that the public falls for such manipulation.  Rather, it makes citizens more cynical and ready to revolt should the time come.  North Korea is teetering, but it may take decades to fall.  When it does, the ghosts of people lost will return and they will condemn those who were once in power.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Tacky Business 

Some businesses are harmed by publicity rather than helped.  Here is one of them that is apparently legal yet works best by staying in shadows.  Ever wonder how lawyers got those names for mass-tort lawsuits?   Personal injury lawyers and their ilk are an unfortunate necessity.  Few like them but there is at times no other way to redress a wrong.  The idea that these lawyers buy names to add to their litigation is tacky, but on the other hand, there are few good alternatives to finding victims.  Tort lawyers are skilled in using publicity to highlight cases and sufferings of victims.  They are less forthcoming about the bargains they make to put together suits, and it is there where a number of them bend rules past the breaking point.  It is the same with their television advertisements promising cash compensation "if you call now."   Some aspects of law marketing are not savory and never will be.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lottery Publicity 

It is hard to argue for a state lottery.  It is self-taxation that the poor and less educated inflict on themselves in pursuit of an empty dream.  Yes, they should know their odds are slim, but as advertising says, "You never know."  So they buy tickets and governments raise funds rather than imposing new tax revenues.  Everybody should be happy.  The poor have an outlet for their dreams of entering high society.  The state can pay bills.  But, not so fast.  States feed the dream to the poor and amplify it time and again to boost ticket sales.  That runs on the edge of ethics.  If a state were honest, it would publicize the chances of winning -- e.g. 1 in 300 million, or the population of the United States.  But, they aren't honest, and they clothe games in cash, jewelry, houses and expensive cars.  All this could be yours if you hit the jackpot.  One would hope governments would be more honest with citizens than commercial entities with customers, but that isn't the case.  States hype and they are proud of it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Curious Kind of PR 

As a restaurant owner, what would you say to someone who offers to blog about you if you feed her family for free?  That's not much of deal but a blogger is trying it in Philadelphia.  She is claiming that the PR value of what she will write will offset the cost of feeding five family members.  PR has always been difficult to measure, and this offer is no different.  Is that with wine or not? Does it include the priciest items on the menu?  How about appetizers?  One can envision of contract for services that stipulates foodstuffs offset by number of words in praise of the establishment.  People like this give PR a worse name than it already had.  One hopes that Philadelphia restaurateurs are smarter than the woman who is publicizing the offer.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Car Gal 

In Detroit, observers have long made a distinction when talking about CEOs of auto companies.  There were "car guys" and "finance guys."  Now, the distinction will have to include "car gals" with the announcement of General Motors new CEO.  This is a PR coup for the company, but it is more than that. Mary Barra is an engineer who ran worldwide auto development for GM.  She understands the inner workings of vehicles along with the skin, and she has been in a position of turning out cars that people want to buy.  While it is too early to know what kind of CEO she will be, she brings the right tools to the job of developing and selling transportation.  One wishes that several previous GM CEOs had been so equipped rather than coming from an accounting background.  Barra is in an exposed position in a traditionally male-dominated industry.  She will be watched closely, and she knows it.  Here is a hope that she succeeds beyond everyone's expectations, including her own.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A PR Case Study 

The botched roll-out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges has at least one positive.  It has become an instant study for PR firms who are using the mess to educate clients and prospects.  The administration did nearly everything wrong from beta testing through keeping the boss, Obama, informed.  It is understandable how this might have happened given the controversy surrounding the program but it is not forgivable.  When a system is under stress, that is not the time to rush, but it takes courage to tell higher-ups to delay. That appeared to be lacking.  So, the administration ignored warnings from consultants and others that the site was not ready and plunged ahead off a cliff.  Depending on who you believe, it may take weeks to months to get the entire health exchange system operational from the front end to back linkages. Meanwhile, it is held together with band-aids and tape and "sorta" works.  The best that can happen now is for the ACA to fall from front pages and the immediate concerns of commentators and citizens.  Site managers can work with less pressure to get operations turned around.  As for a case study of the cock-up, look for it in the immediate future.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Business Vs. Government 

There are usually economic reasons for business and government to get along, but not in this instance.  Tech companies are worried that government spying on customers will send them fleeing to other services.  It is a legitimate concern.  Who wants to know that someone could be looking into everything one does or writes online?  It is Big Brother and a dystopia to be feared.  The government justifies its actions on the basis of tracking terrorists who live in shadows.  That too is a valid concern.  Somewhere, there needs to be an accommodation and enforceable rules.  The problem now with the secrecy under which the government operates is that there is no way to tell if bureaucrats follow guidelines or systematically violate them.  The evidence appears to be that latter.  It is interesting that two views of the public weal are clashing -- one for privacy and the other for safety.  It is hard to know which is more important since both have high priority.  It will be up to negotiations between the companies and the government to determine when snooping is justified and when privacy is more important.  The government cannot be arrogant in this because tech companies are moving already to secure their data more tightly than before.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Scale And The Minority 

The CEO of Comcast, the cable-content giant, thinks complaints about the company are a matter of scale.  With more than a billion consumer transactions a year, a hundredth of a percent of customer fails is still too much.  He is right, and his view is instructive to PR practitioners.  On the internet, a tiny minority can still project a loud presence and that presence radiating through blogs, forums, consumer complaint sites, Tweets and e-mail can portray affairs as immeasurably worse than they are.  Even more challenging for Comcast is that it provides an essential service.  Hence, consumers have no patience when it is disrupted for any length of time. That used to be the challenge facing phone companies, and it was the reason why the AT&T of old put so much emphasis on getting lines back up after storms and disasters.  Cable companies have discovered the hard way that they are in the same position, but it is worse now because complaints are no longer localized. They are broadcast to the world, which is only too ready to believe a complaint is symptomatic of an entire company. Cable companies should be practicing six sigma (99.9999998 percent reliability) if they are not doing so already.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Breach Of Promise 

Detroit's bankruptcy may result in a breach of promise to present and retired workers.  That promise is the retirement package that the city offered for decades.   One question left unasked is whether the city should have offered it in the first place.  Now, unions have to appeal the court's decision and hope for the best.  Left unsaid is the bargain cities and states made with employees through most of the 20th Century.  That deal was lower wages than prevailed in the commercial market but better pensions.  It was a form of employee relations and a way for political entities to remain competitive.  Hundreds of thousands of workers took the bargain and now, thousands see it threatened.  Neither cities nor citizens can afford it, so they are breaching the promise.  It is the worst form of employee relations but also necessary.  Detroit can't recover until it gets debt under control.  The same is true for Stockton, CA and other municipalities teetering on the edge of insolvency.  Perhaps authorities have learned a lesson to avoid promises that mortgage the future, but don't bet on that.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Pathetic Attempt At PR? 

It is a time-honored tactic that when an institution is under public attack, it provides employees with talking points to spread the "good word" about it.  The National Security Agency tried it this past Thanksgiving but not successfully.  The talking points quickly leaked to the online world and scathing denunciations followed.  The NSA is in a difficult position with invasion of privacy and anodyne talking points aren't going to lessen the heat it is taking.  Maybe, it was trying to make employees feel better as they sat around the dinner table and were pummeled with questions from relatives and friends.  If so, the same employees who spend time online were treated to point by point refutations of what the talking points claimed.  In other words, it was a pathetic attempt at public relations.  Organizations time and again fail to remember that PR is what you do and not what you say.  The NSA is caught in a bind for what it has done.  Words aren't going to help it much.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Playing The Pariah 

Give this much credit to North Korea.  It plays the pariah of the world with panache.  How else to explain a forced confession from an 85-year-old American who fought in the Korean war in the early 1950s?  The country's leaders have no reputation in the world and care less.  They glory in their contrariness and their oppression of their own people.  One wonders how many more decades this can go on before the country collapses from its own rotten political structure.  The North Koreans have no understanding of public relations.  They do not recognize a public, only human cogs in a machine designed to support the state.  That North Koreans have been largely passive is due to the military and enforcement services that have no compunction about arresting anyone and his family and sending them to forced labor camps.  These are prisons from which they will never leave and in which their children will grow into slavery.  A state like North Korea is unconscionable in the modern world, but it exists, and it is a reminder that people's rights can be torn away for generations with impunity.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Innovation And Publicity 

Amazon is working on delivering packages by drone Octocopters.  Jeff Bezos unveiled the machines on 60 Minutes last night, but was careful to say it might take five years for the service to start and deliveries would be limited to a 10-mile radius of its distribution centers.  In other words, there is as much hype in the revelation as innovation because a large percentage of Amazon's customers live beyond the delivery distance.  Still, the publicity highlights the company's commitment to innovation that has changed the way the world shops.  Retailing history will be pre-Amazon and post-Amazon.  Bezos merits the gentle treatment that 60 Minutes gave him with mostly "puffball" questions that Bezos answered well.  Bezos made clear that companies come and go in time and his objective in thinking long-term -- five to seven years out -- was to ensure that Amazon remained competitive.  He had no apologies for low return on investment to shareholders.  The bulk of Amazon's earnings go back into growing the company and R&D.  He made clear that Amazon remained customer-centric in everything it does, and other inside stories about Amazon emphasize that customers are his focus.  So, Octocopters are hype.  The company can get away with it for the good it has done.

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