Friday, January 31, 2014

Great PR 

Johnson & Johnson has committed to releasing once secret clinical trial data to the public.  This is a significant step toward open research and enhancement of health. J&J will make the data available through The Yale School of Medicine‚Äôs Open Data Access Project (YODA).This will help bring a third-party objectiveness to the handling of requests from physicians and other researchers.  There are challenges to work out, including sufficient anonymization of data, but the big step has been made.  Time and again, we have written in this blog that PR is not what you say but what you do.  J&J has shown once again its commitments to patients and healthcare.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Is Important? 

President Obama might have wanted the nation to focus on his State of the Union speech but for at least 100,000 Americans it wasn't important.   They are more concerned about the immigration status of a Canadian-born pop singer.  It is a lesson to communicators and others that what we consider urgent may have no significance to the people we address.  Admittedly, 100,000 citizens are a tiny fraction of the American population, but these individuals had to be concerned enough to go to the White House web site and to sign a petition calling for the singer's ouster.  Most people probably didn't spend even that much energy in ignoring the President's speech.  They pressed a button on a TV remote.  The matters that motivate them are close to home and their individual needs be it jobs, schooling or paying a mortgage.  It is one more example of how difficult it is to communicate to a mass audience.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Medium For Our Time? 

Global smart phone shipments have reached a billion, according to research firm IDC.  That is a significant fraction of the world's population.  It makes smart phones as common as PC's or any other computer-based medium.  From the point of view of communicators, smart phone capabilities make them the medium of choice and perhaps the medium of our time.  It is an individualized and personalized delivery vehicle, the opposite of mass media.  This means that communications need to be atomized to reach those one wants to influence.  The smart phone puts a premium on e-mail, texting and delivery of internet information to small screens.  It offers possibilities for creative visual communications through the phone's resident camera.  It provides instant directions and information access through GPS and the internet.  Those of us trained in the idea of mass information dissemination might not be prepared for PR through the smart phone.  We don't have much time left to learn.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Multiple Threats 

Companies can face multiple threats at the same time, any one of which can put them out of business.  If they are to survive, they have to deal with them promptly, but it is not always possible to do so.  Consider the start-up Uber, which makes an application for calling a taxi from your mobile phone.  Its drivers are unhappy.  Its passengers are complaining. There is a lawsuit against the company for wrongful death because one of its drivers plowed into a family and killed a six-year-old girl.  The CEO is combative, but one wonders if that is enough to overcome the challenges the company faces.  Or, is the act of being in-your-face accelerating the business to destruction?  The CEO needs time but he doesn't have much of it to turn the business around.  It is a painful position to be in.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why Bother? 

There are some customs in Washington DC that are empty PR exercises and one wonders why anyone bothers to continue them.  Consider, for instance, the State of the Union address. The union is always strong.  There are a bunch of programs that the President wants Congress to pass and few ever are. There is some philosophy. There are people to highlight sitting with the First Lady. There is applause from the supporting party and silence from the other. Dignitaries are arranged carefully around the podium and clap politely.  As theater goes, it isn't compelling and as for practical politics, it is useless.  Yet, every year we get a State of the Union.  One wonders when a president is going to summon the courage to change, perhaps go back to the 19th Century when a report was sent to Congress as a written document.  It seems the sole reason for the speech now is a time for the President to preen on national TV.  One wonders how many people bother to watch it anymore or switch to reruns of Law and Order.

Friday, January 24, 2014

When Is A Crisis Not A Crisis? 

When nearly everyone agrees that it isn't whether or not it is.  What do I mean by this?  Take, for example, the rolling disaster of the new F-35 fighter that is supposed to serve three arms of the military -- the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corp.  The fighter is faulty, over budget, behind time and protected by Pentagon interests who declare it a success.  It is also guarded by Congressmen in whose districts it is being built.  Crisis?  What crisis?  If any other corporation other than a Defense company were so scandalously behind in development of a new product, customers and shareholders would demand a new CEO.  The military-industrial complex is different.  It has always been this way and generals are used to the drill in the media and halls of Congress that protects a new military machine from being put on the shelf.  Just remember.  It's only a crisis if we say it is.  An odd bit of PR.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Guaranteed Publicity 

How do you guarantee publicity for a client?  Offer a billion dollar prize.  That is what Quicken Loans is doing with the backing of Warren Buffett.   Of course, the chance that anyone will win it is vanishingly small.  One would stand a better chance of getting hit by lightning many times over at the same time in the same spot .  That doesn't make a difference to the news media, however.  It's a billion dollars.  The price of guaranteed publicity seems to have gone up as a result.  Who would be interested in a mere $10 million or $100 million now that one can win a prize with a "b"?  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wrecking PR 

Here is a way to destroy the name of your company.  How the fate of a man's daughter ended up on an envelope is hard to understand or to believe.  One wants to posit that it is a fake.  But what if it isn't?  The company that sent the junk mail has explaining to do.  Almost certainly, OfficeMax bought a list and used it.  It vetted the list using computer filters to get rid of junk, but it missed this curious line in an address block.  The company can say, "Not our fault" but that doesn't help it with the affected family, and as happens in the internet age, the error is exposed to the world.  But what if the address line has been falsified?  That doesn't free OfficeMax from exposing a lie to guard its reputation.  Companies cannot be too careful now to prevent wrecking their positive image.  Everyone now has the power to strike publicly and loudly against any organization and to gain a hearing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

PR And Terrorism 

It is hard to make a good impression when your event is threatened by terror.  This, however, is the case facing Russia at the Sochi Olympic site.   Security has been a concern for some time, and Russia has isolated the venues to prevent bombings, shootings or other acts of violence.  But, the need to do that has only heightened concern, not alleviated it.  Americans, particularly are worried about the safety of their athletes and visitors.  There is no way for the Russians to assure the world that fears are unfounded.  The only proof will be an Olympics without incident other than thrilling victories and disappointing defeats.  The PR of the games will be in retrospect and not during the event itself.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Perils of PR 

What if your PR agency was hired to promote the stability of a country?  You send a film crew there to get shots of order and progress only to have the crew arrested within hours of starting work.   That is exactly what happened to a PR agency hired to promote Egypt.  It is a lesson to those who would work in countries where democracy, law and order are not well established.  Any job that one would do under these circumstances comes close to propaganda because conditions are hardly what a resulting film would claim them to be.  A truthful look at a country like Egypt would observe the turmoil of a too powerful military, changing regimes, rioting sects, huge demonstrations and political drift.  It is a land still trying to find its way after long repression and division among Christians and Muslims.  Initiating a PR program celebrating stability is too early and untruthful.  The world knows better as well as Egypt's citizens.  One wonders what the film crew did once it was freed.  It would have been mockery to continue.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Changed Environment 

What does a company do when its environment changes so radically that it can no longer compete?  This is the quandary facing gambling casinos in Atlantic City, NJ.  Even online gambling is not enough to stabilize their revenues and profits.  And, anyone who has gone to Atlantic City will tell you that it is not the best destination along the Jersey Shore.  It was so different when the casinos were about the only legitimate gambling spot near the Tri-state area.  People would drive down for a weekend, spend their money then go home.  Now, with pervasive gambling, there is no need to do that.  The casinos' relationship to the public has changed -- perhaps forever.  Not all of them will survive and perhaps, none of them.  The exclusivity on which they depended is gone.  Were I a casino marketer or PR practitioner for Atlantic City, I would think of changing careers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Great PR 

What better PR can a school ask for than to be cited for helping the community through its learning?  This is what is happening for Stanford University at its "D" school where students tackle real world problems and invent affordable ways to solve them.  Two students developed this brace for club foot babies.  It is cheaper, better and faster than previous braces used to correct the condition, and there is a need for it in Third World countries.  The resulting stories about the success of the brace highlight the school's message and the students who developed it.  That in turn has increased applications to the department and Stanford.  It is a win-win for everyone and it demonstrates what public relations should be.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Political PR 

One way to get into trouble as a politician is to ignore the media -- like this governor is doing.  Rightly or wrongly, reporters consider themselves proxies for citizens and ready to ask questions that the populace would if they had access to the top.  More than that, statehouse reporters delve into issues that the public doesn't yet know about and alerts them.  For a governor to ignore the media or stiff-arm them with canned message points is guaranteed to annoy them and for them to look harder at the governor's administration.  Some politicians are uncomfortable with the media, but they steel themselves to talk to them.  Others play reporters with a mastery of a musician.  Only a few shun them and not for long.  The repercussions are too great.  Florida's governor has apparently mastered the craft of not answering questions.  That won't serve him well in getting his agenda into law.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mountain Cliff 

Baseball star Alex Rodriguez has a mountain-size cliff to climb to regain his reputation.  As the latest perpetrator of a doping scandal and the recipient of outsized punishment, he is under scrutiny like never before.  He might be too old by time he returns to the field and his place in the Hall of Fame is jeopardized.  It is little wonder that he is fighting accusations against him and has obstructed investigations into his behavior.  He maintains his innocence in the face of evidence to the contrary.  It might be that he truly believes he has done nothing wrong.  There is a chance that none of the allegations are true, but thus far, he has been unable to produce facts that his version of events is the correct.  Major League Baseball feels it has no choice but to make an example of him in order to protect the integrity of the game.  That is probably why MLB elected to go on to "60 Minutes" last night to present its case.  Rodriguez did not.  He sent his lawyer to speak for him.  That alone did not help his PR or his reputation.

Friday, January 10, 2014

I'm SO Sorry 

The media in the New Jersey and New York have been waiting for New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, to make a mistake.  They now have it -- and it was a doozy.  Christie has a confrontational style of governing.  He will call you an "idiot."  He will tell you to shut up. He will and has often bulldozed reporters who ask him questions.  Now he is the focus of questioning over lane closures on the busiest bridge in the world.  It became clear -- and he admits -- that it was a punishment for a mayor who failed to support his re-election to governor.  The PR disaster is particularly stinging because he had just overpowered his Democratic opponent for the office.  What does he do now?  Gleeful reporters are writing that his presidential ambitions are dead.  They might be.  One thing he could do is to soften his tone and treat people more respectfully.  He has a lot to learn in a year or so.  It will be interesting to see if he does.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Changing Auto Publicity 

The auto industry is undergoing major change in messages and themes.  It is less power and styling and more technological, presaging the debut of the self-aware transportation machine.  This will require a shift in thinking among auto publicists trained in the time-honored news pegs of the business.  Technology has been slowly weaving its way into vehicles through computer-controlled engines and GPS dashboards, but the idea that the auto will become an entertainment and information center for the family is still new.  The idea that the auto will largely drive and park itself also is new.  The pleasures of holding the wheel will subside in favor of what can be done during transportation.  Warnings against texting, phoning and driving will go away when the car is alert to conditions around it and maintaining both its place and speed on the road.  This technology has been a long time coming.  In decades past, there were numerous futuristic attempts to take drivers out of driving.  None worked well, but we are on the cusp today.  Driverless vehicles roam the streets and highways of California, Nevada and other states.  There are moves afoot to figure out the legalities of driverless cars and elements of the technologies are being installed into vehicles year by year.  The auto publicist is becoming an extension of Silicon Valley and mature practitioners might not recognize the industry in which they spent their careers.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The King Has No Clothes 

If you believe this study, most Super Bowl ads don't work in terms of selling more goods and services.  Why?  Because creatives push entertainment value more than brand.  They are emphasizing engagement to stand out amid the welter of pitches run on the Super Bowl telecast.  In other words, on Monday morning, someone will say, "I saw a great ad last night.  I don't know who it was for but here is what happened."  If I were a CEO of a company spending $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, this would not sit well.  Not at all.  I might even drop out of advertising during the Super Bowl and tell the head of marketing to use the budget elsewhere.  The justification for advertising during the Super Bowl is that it is the largest mass audience left on TV.  One can reach more people in a few seconds than dozens of ads run on network and cable shows.  However, what good is that if no one remembers your brand?  What is irksome is that the amounts spent for a minutes would fund a major PR campaign and gain as much or more awareness than the ad.  How long will it be before CEOs and marketers realize that the king has no clothes?

Monday, January 06, 2014


The annual Consumer Electronics Show is underway and already reporters are writing about sensory overload.  Major companies have abandoned the show because it is too much for too long, but hundreds of exhibitors continue to show up and present wares, which might or might not see production depending on the buzz they generate.  One wonders from PR and marketing points of view whether size makes sense.  Companies go because other companies are there and yes, because thousands of buyers are there looking for the next hit.  In reality, however, the successful products of any year are often buried in the mass of offerings that go nowhere.   There doesn't seem to be an alternative for CES on the horizon, but one wonders how it survives in its present state.

Friday, January 03, 2014

What Now? 

How do you overcome publicity that is this bad?  Phantom courses with real grades to preserve the eligibility of football players is a stain on any academic institution, but especially a state school.  University of North Carolina is taking a coward's way out.  It is blaming the professor and saying it didn't know.  However, it is hard to believe that so many athletes took classes that didn't exist without someone being aware of it.  Perhaps the university is trying to maintain its NCAA eligibility.  If so, that is more craven than the fact that it allowed students to pass through the school with marginal educations who are now facing a world that doesn't need linemen, backs and ends.  The university shirked its responsibility and is ducking for cover.  It deserves the negative publicity it is getting and its punishment should be proportionate.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Weather Hysteria 

Drums are beating along the Eastern seaboard -- major winter storm.  It might even drop eight inches, an easily shoveled amount.  The media use the weather story as an alternative to reporting serious news.  Reporters stand in the snow and breathe heavily about conditions.  There are the inevitable pictures of cars with tires spinning and stuck, of heavily layered people talking about how awful it is, of children sliding down hills.  While these stories have human interest, they are hardly news.  One wonders what a real winter would be like on the East Coast.  We might get no news at all.  It is a measure of press laziness that so much emphasis is placed on storm reporting when the event is hardly worth mentioning.  Millions of dollars of forecasting and tracking equipment are thrown at the clouds with computer-generated weather maps and radar.  What could the media do if the money was repurposed into serious stories?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year 

What motivates tens of thousands to stand in the cold to watch a crystal ball drop on a pole?  What possesses millions to tune in to the ceremony on TV?  New Year celebrations as much as anything else prove the irrationality of much of human action.  A calendar date is artificial, a construct put on the flow of time.  The hour also is an abstraction as is the time zone.  Yet, millions choose to believe that all are significant.   We aren't Spocks and never will be unless evolution takes an unforeseen turn.  Attempting to persuade through rational appeals alone reaches a minority of people, and even that small segment is not insulated from emotion.  In PR, we lay out facts and convince through use of evidence that a position has merit, but we would be fools if we ignored the use of appeals to the irrational side of humans.  It is a question of balance.  Those who ignore reason are as inept as those who rely on it too much.  

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