Friday, February 28, 2014

When The Dam Breaks 

One principle PR holds is never to get too high and mighty because there will come a time when things change.  Then, arrogance is rewarded with revenge from those who have suffered under the overbearing presence of the haughty.  Take this person.  He dominated politics in New Jersey for several years with his bullying, take-no-prisoners style.  Then, he slipped with a scandal now called "Bridgegate" when his people shut two lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor of a town.  Since then, the governor has been on a down-slope, doing damage control, trying to hold back flood waters of bile roaring his way.  Had he been more accommodating in the first place, there is less likelihood the political position he is in today would be as severe.  Of course, this isn't always true.  The President started by trying to get along with Republicans, and it got him nowhere.  Still, had New Jersey's governor been more persuasive than blunt, citizens would have been more supportive.   Now voters wish he would go away, but there are four more years.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Great Publicity 

A medical marvel is always great publicity for the institution that produces it.  Take, for example, this case.  A surgeon at the Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville Kentucky used a 3D printer to build a model of a child's defective heart so he could determine how to operate on it safely.  It was a novel use of the printer and creative medicine.  The hospital can justifiably take pride in the breakthrough and the publicity puts it near the forefront of medicine where researchers are building body parts out of human tissue.  Moreover, it is good PR because it demonstrates what the hospital and its surgeons can do -- a plus for worried patients and parents.  Hospitals have never been slow to take marketing advantage of the breakthroughs produced in their wards.  It is tried and true technique and still best.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Impostors And Reputation 

For three years, Goldman Sachs has been embarrassed by a person who was posting comments heard in its elevators.  Except, the person wasn't in Goldman's elevators nor was the person in Goldman.  He is an impostor.  Goldman was victimized not by a rogue employee but by someone who has never worked for the firm. While this might seem trivial, it is nonetheless a reputational problem.  On the internet, anyone can pose as anyone else and vilify, mock or otherwise compromise the image of an organization or an individual.  If the impostor is clever enough in covering his tracks, there is no reason for readers to believe that he is anything other than what he says he is.  And, how is anyone to prove that he is not?  There have been impostors through history.  There is nothing new about them.  The difference now is that they have a vast audience.  This fellow had 600,000 followers.  It seems that PR needs more than monitoring to protect clients.  It needs good online tracking skills as well.  Nothing would have stopped this impostor except exposure.  Goldman was successful this time, but what about the next?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If We Ignore It, Will It Go Away? 

Human psychology has a habit of ignoring unpleasant things.  The hope is that somehow unpleasantness will correct itself without effort on the part of the person.  This is especially true in politics where burning issues are snuffed, put aside and buried for a time in the public's memory.  For example, public pensions.  Something needs to be done about their growing excess, but no one wants to tackle the issue, so push it off.  It takes a courageous -- and some might say, foolhardy -- politician to communicate to the public the urgency of resolving the issue.  Citizens don't want to hear it -- not yet anyway.  When a town or state goes bankrupt, we will deal with it then.  Of course, then will come with a cascade of citizen complaints that the government never did anything to fix the problem.  It takes a leader with extraordinary and persistent communications skills to make unpleasant issues real to those who don't want to listen.  And, it takes time to get people's attention.  In many ways, it is much easier in a corporation to be a leader than in the political realm where the ballot box waits as a guillotine for those who get too far ahead of the electorate.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Perception, Perception 

President Obama has talked with the Dalai Lama.  China is incensed.  After all, China owns Tibet fair and square after invading it.  The only ones who have protested this perception are Tibetans who foolishly think they have a right to their country.  The Chinese government, if it wanted to make the point, could say the US appointment of a special coordinator for Tibetan affairs is as silly as if the British had appointed a special coordinator for American Indian tribes in the 19th Century.  Based on its history, America should say little about Tibet's situation, but our perception was that of manifest destiny.  The United States had to extend from East to West to become the nation it is.  Native tribes and  Mexicans were impediments.  The Han people of China base their perception on kingdoms that existed for thousands of years.  Their right is that of ancient conquest.  Who is right and who is wrong?  History belongs to victors.  As China continues to move its people into Tibet, the former nation will become a memory.  Tibetans will become a minority.  Eventually China hopes we will forget the present and the perception will change.

Friday, February 21, 2014

They Must Be Kidding 

So, you're drilling a gas well, and it explodes with a roaring jet of flame that jeopardizes the local community, kills a well worker and injures another.  What do you do for homeowners living in fear of the fire?  Offer them free pizza, of course.  Seriously, that is what Chevron has done in Pennsylvania along with a form apology letter.  This falls under the classification of "they must be kidding."  Apparently they weren't.  The effort only served to reinforce the attitude that Chevron doesn't care and was going through the motions.  One wonders who is in charge of community relations at Chevron and whether this person was thinking clearly when the letter was drafted and the coupons printed.  At the least, a Chevron spokesperson might have visited a few families and carried the company's apology personally for the accident.  Maybe someone did, but the letter and coupon overrode any effort along that line.  Chevron needs a refresher course in community outreach.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


One wonders how a PR firm can get away with this -- telling journalists that they have to write about a client.   One should question the independence and integrity of any reporter who would agree to the terms.  Entertainment media are different in that they kowtow to celebrities more than other journalists might in order to get stories.  However, the arrogance of the PR firm to demand that an event sponsor get front-and-center billing is beyond the pale.  One hopes the reporters rebelled.  PR is rarely in a position to demand anything.  It persuades and that is its source of credibility.  PR respects and expects the media to come to their own conclusions based on the story and facts presented.  Yes, there is a good deal of salesmanship involved in trying to make dull subjects interesting and to guide stories benignly, but to demand that a story be written in a certain way is rare because reporters won't tolerate it.  It would be interesting to know how many journalists complied.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A PR Challenge 

Some new technologies face the challenge of familiarity.  People don't know what they do so they are afraid of them.  This is an issue for Google with its Glass invention.  Many people don't like it because it "invades their privacy."  Invasion of privacy can only come if one is recording with the device but how does one know that?  There is no indicator on the Glass to tell one when another is filming.  There is something about a device that is wearable on the head that spooks people.  As the author indicates, when there are more head-mounted wearables available, people might stop worrying about Glass -- but they might not.  Google's PR challenge is to lower anxiety about Glass while promoting its utility, features, functions and benefits.  To the company's credit, it is moving slowly on the introduction of the product, and it is not even calling it a finished device.  If the public's mood about Glass doesn't change, Google hasn't gone all-in.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Long-term Crisis 

Coca-Cola's sales are falling in the US as people cut back on sugar and fructose in drinks.  Coke can fight the trend or find other avenues to grow.  Either way, it faces a long-term challenge to grow revenues to replace what it is losing in soft drinks.  The company's problem is a long-term crisis, one that it can watch unfold slowly from year to year.  One could say that is a benefit because Coke isn't losing most of its market at once.  On the other hand, there will be a temptation to ride down the curve as long as most of its revenue comes from colas.  That could put it in the same bind that Kodak faced as the film business went away.  Kodak had no major revenue streams to rely on.  Coke could be facing the same result.  From a PR perspective, it is not a pleasant position to be in.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Empty Threat 

This is an empty threat unless the United Nations is prepared to back it with force.  North Korea is resistant to assaults on its action and reputation.  It is proof, as if any were needed, that some people and organizations exist outside the morality and ethics of nations.  There is no control on them except to destroy them.  Since there is no collective will to do so, their people suffer.  It does no good to ask how this can be in our day and age.  It does, and it will.  The world has abandoned North Koreans to their fate and a report from the UN is just a publicity document.  It is meant for the rest of the world.  (The North Koreans have already laughed it off.)  But the rest of the world doesn't want to listen -- not yet anyway.  So the current regime may endure decades more and the regime after that?  Who knows?  At some point, the country will collapse but millions will live and die without freedom before it does.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Not Sure Of This 

Would you be annoyed if in every store you entered, your smart phone started flashing adds for the store, for each department and for every aisle?  That is the way marketing is going.  I would find it bothersome and poor PR on the part of the retailer.  The first impulse is to shout, "Leave me alone!"  Marketing's obtrusiveness at the individual level is destined to arrive sooner rather than later.  The question for retailers is how to use it well. The store owner might conclude that even one more sale makes the effort worth it.   For most consumers, it will be spam and the success of any one promotion or ad will be minimal.  So, where is the balance?  It will up to experimentation to find out what shoppers tolerate.  I suspect, however, that most will reject a constant flow of meaningless ads and promotions.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It Only Takes One 

The mobile payments provider, Square, is learning a lesson that too many companies have had to absorb in the internet age.  It only takes just one unhappy customer to create a crisis.  In this case, a small merchant has detailed date, time and place of his mistreatment at the hands of the company.  It is now the company's turn to respond or ignore.  If Square is savvy, it has already called the fellow and apologized for the mixup.  This is not a new insight, but it bears repeating.  Today, power is in the hands of the consumer.  The cavalier treatment that many companies used to deliver to customers is no longer acceptable.  PR practitioners understand this.  Customer relations departments get it.  So, how do incidents like this keep happening?  It might be due to the inherent variability of customer service.  Someone always slips through the cracks.  But, it also might be that Square has not paid enough attention and now is paying the price of a complaint that is making its way around the internet.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


PR practitioners should never engage in satire.  Here's why.  People will believe them.  In an effort to be funny, a practitioner can make things worse for those he or she is representing.  It is hard enough for satirists to write without someone accepting it at face value.  It is nearly impossible for someone fronting an organization to make sure everyone understands that what is written isn't true.  Even if satire reaches the height of absurdity and is outrageous, someone will fall for it.  People are too trusting of the written word.  And, if some people are global jokes, such as the North Korean ruling elite, there are those who wouldn't put anything past them.  Satire is a wonderful weapon but leave it to the humorists.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When Publicity Is Too Much 

The creator of a popular game, "Flappy Bird", has called it quits and taken down the game from distribution.  It seems he is upset by the amount of publicity for the game and for himself.  He just wants to get back to creating new challenges and being his own man.  His decision flies in the face of all that publicity stands for and is a "Man bites dog" story.  But, kudos to him for flying in the face of conventional wisdom and doing his own thing.  There are hundreds of game coders who wish they were in the same position, but their creations have never become popular.  It is always interesting to see someone walk away from fame, but the result of his withdrawal is that he has generated more publicity for himself.  The story became national news.  It seems one can't avoid publicity even when one tries to.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Faux Pas 

When a CEO comes out and blames employees for the rising cost of health insurance, that's enough of a mistake.  When that CEO blames the cost on two premature babies, that's a whopper.  But AOL CEO Tim Armstrong did just that.  He has apologized to one of the enraged mothers who went public with her complaint.  Maybe next time he will think twice about what he says to the world.  It is poor PR to blame employees publicly in most cases.  As the CEO, one is supposed to lead employees to get work done and to turn them over if they are not suited for the job.  There is something querulous about a CEO who bashes the work force in the open.  There are exceptions.  In some companies, employees have seized power from management, and management has to fight to get it back, but the $2 million cost for medical care for premature babies doesn't fit into that category.  Chalk up this one to a learning experience for a CEO.  

Friday, February 07, 2014


The winter games in Sochi are supposed to highlight modern Russia, Putin's leadership and the area around the Black Sea where warmth and snow blend.  But, there is mounting evidence that it might be a PR debacle.  It comes from trying to do too much too quickly at what appears to be an outrageous overrun in costs.  In other words, Russia has leapt into the same trap in which Greece and other venues have been snared -- spending too much on Olympic games.  There is ample evidence that the games -- whether summer or winter -- are not economic for the cities that hold them.  They are undertaken with a misplaced sense of pride, and it is only after when moldering sports palaces sit unused in weed-grown lots that citizenry awaken to the debt and reality.  One wonders why cities push for them.  It is one more example of irrationality at work, something that doesn't fit into an equation, but which PR practitioners know well.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

About Time 

A major drug store chain has announced that it will stop selling cigarettes.  CVS is taking a $2 billion annual revenue hit to get out of the business of "cancer sticks."  It is a great example of PR -- doing the right thing even though it costs.  Give credit to the company that it finally recognized the contradiction of prescribing medicines to combat the ravages of smoking at one end of the store and selling cigarettes at the other.  One could say that it was about time, but sacrificing that much revenue is no easy decision to make.  It took courage on the part of the CEO.  On the one hand, shareholders want earnings and probably did not care whether the company sold "smokes" or not as long as the return was there.  On the other hand, CVS could not really claim that it had the best interests of its customers at heart by continuing to sell tobacco.  CVS won't replace the $2 billion right away nor the earnings per share, but it is willing to take on that task.  Good for the company.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Is Sorry Enough? 

Target's CFO told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Target was deeply sorry so many of its customers were hacked.  Is that enough?  Not nearly.  Target along with every other retailer must take steps to make sure such a massive breach doesn't happen again.  Consumers barely tolerate invasion of their personal financial data, and they don't want to live in fear that every time they use their credit or debit card its number and pin are stolen.  Public relations in this instance is fixing the problem through adopting technologies that will make it much harder for hackers to invade.  There won't be a permanent solution because society is caught in an arm's race with hackers.  For every defensive measure installed, a new offensive measure is developed.  The best retailers can do is to stay at the leading edge of security.  It is costly but do they have a choice?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Hype With A Purpose 

True PR features what a company does and not just spin.  This then is true PR.  Tesla has just completed a cross-country trip with its electric vehicles using the lowest charge time recorded to date.  The firm is pushing to get into Guinness World Records.  Is it hype?  Yes, it is that, but it has a serious purpose.  Tesla is attacking the fundamental barrier many have to owning an electric vehicle -- range anxiety.  It does no good for the company to talk about total miles per charge if the public can't translate that into everyday terms.  Crossing the US is more than most of us will do, so Tesla is saying if we can accomplish this, you can get 20 miles a day from home to work and back.  It will take time to win people over to electric cars, and many might never make the leap, but Tesla doesn't need everyone.  It needs just enough to keep its assembly lines working and profits coming through the door.

Monday, February 03, 2014

It's A Game 

It didn't take long last night before I abandoned the TV and went to my room and read.  For all the hype, the Super Bowl is a game, and it wasn't a good one.  From the first snap until I walked out shortly after the end of the first quarter, it was clear that the Broncos were over-matched and being humiliated.  The final score, which I just read, was a rout.  The hype might have been worth the wait had the contest been more evenly matched.  There is too much emphasis on the Super Bowl and the NFL is facing a hard road if the games can't be more even in quality.  The announcers had made the point before the game started that great defensive teams have historically had the advantage of great offensive teams, and that is what happened here.  Maybe with less hype and more football I'll start watching the entire game again, but don't bet on either happening.

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