Monday, March 31, 2014

No Kidding 

A UN panel has concluded that the world is unprepared for global warming.  And, the sky is blue...  One wonders why there is a need  to state the obvious, but, on the other hand, no one is listening.  O yes, we hear the words, "global warming", but we don't change behaviors to accommodate it.  We still want beach houses along the edge of the shrinking shore.  We want to water lawns and golf courses when there isn't enough for agriculture and food production.  We expect government to bail us out despite our increasingly risky way of life.  In other words, the problems we face with global warming are beyond persuasion.  At some point, governments must step in and put a stop to activities we consider personal rights.  That day won't come soon, and it is likely it will take multiple disasters for us to come to our senses.  Then, we will blame government for not protecting us.  Meanwhile, organizations such as the UN will continue to issue reports.  The studies will go on a shelf and gather dust, forgotten by all except those who wrote them and perhaps, an historian or two.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Source Credibility 

A public official is charged with committing a misdeed.  The official hires a law firm and tells it to investigate.  The law firm's report exonerates the official and puts the blame elsewhere.  Would you believe the report?  This is the position that New Jersey's governor is in now that the state has spent a million dollars investigating whether the governor ordered or knew about improper lane closings on the George Washington Bridge that snarled traffic for days.  Not surprisingly, two other investigations continue and the governor's opponents have declared the report to be a whitewash and not worth the paper it is printed on.  They say the state has wasted the money it spent to investigate the governor.  In terms of credibility, it has.  The governor knows -- or should know -- that source credibility is at issue.  Anyone who investigates himself is more than likely to find himself innocent.  Few will believe that the governor is exonerated until the two other investigations are done.  Even then, there will be lingering suspicion.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shredding Credibility 

There is little worse for credibility than making a decision only to unmake it.  The Affordable Care Act has seen a number of deadlines, requirements and other elements of the health care law changed to accommodate a flawed rollout.  The result is to feed the opposition's schadenfreude and to make the President look like a bungler.  It also has fanned efforts to change or get rid of the law altogether.  What should the President have done?  First, he should have been sufficiently aware that some parts of the rollout weren't coming together.  That might be due to poor staff work but the boss takes the blame for what his staff fails to do.  Second, he should have been cautious about promoting the law when he knew there were troubles ahead.  Third, he should have moderated his remarks to allow for shifting requirements and deadlines.  What Obama did instead, to use a cliche, was to lead with his chin, and he got decked time and again.  It is hard to believe that his communications counselors didn't warn him.  I'm sure they did, but the boss was too set on flacking his historic law.  It is a case study of poor communication.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wedding Social Media 

W Hotels has found a way to set itself apart with a social media wedding concierge service.  For $3,000 the hotel will live tweet the ceremony and reception, blog the wedding, post pictures, curate social media and provide a book at the end with all included.  Call it a publicity stunt, but it works, and it is tune with the times.  Look for more instances of this kind of service as the social media environment integrates with everyday life.  "We'll blog and tweet your event.  Leave the work to us."  What this means, however, is that these services will need communicators on call who know how to write and photograph.  Could it be that freelance PR practitioners will find a new outlet for their work?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Myth Busting 

Google is trying to change several  mistaken beliefs about its Glass product.  Hence, a list of 10 myths about the eyewear.  It is not unusual that a radically new invention spawns odd thinking.  The challenge for the inventor is to clarify what a new product can and cannot do.  Glass gives people the willies about invasion of privacy.  Google is careful to point out that nothing in the technology can record or perform face recognition.  People think Glass is a toy of techno-geeks.  Google notes that a broad band of consumers are using it.  Some think Glass is a surveillance device.  Google says there are better technologies for that.  Google needs to lower barriers that imperil Glass' commercial viability. If it can't do that, Glass is doomed in Beta.  It would not be the first or last time that has happened. Many inventors over the years saw their bright ideas smashed by consumer opposition.  Buckminster Fuller is a classic case.  Perhaps Google just needs to give the public time to adapt while it works on improving the device.   However, it can't take that chance

Monday, March 24, 2014

Great Stunt 

Everyone knows by now that no one won the NCAA basketball bracket contest for a billion dollars.  That doesn't make the contest a failure.  It gained huge publicity for the company putting up the prize -- Quicken Loans -- and for the company insuring the reward, headed by Warren Buffett.  It was clear from the beginning that the odds were prohibitively long -- 9.2 quintillion to one -- but there was hope that a few might survive the round of 64.  No one did.  Meanwhile, millions participated in the contest and Quicken Loans inserted its name into local, national and international news.  That qualifies as a great publicity stunt.  The question now  is whether Quicken Loans and Buffett will do it again next year.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Black Eye 

The US Army has a black eye as one of its generals got off lightly for sexual harassment.  The much-publicized case was supposed to be a demonstration of the army's ability to police its ranks.  It didn't turn out that way.  The army has a  problem with women throughout its ranks.  It has to protect them from its own soldiers and show that it means business.  The general's "slap on the wrist" demonstrates that it can't achieve its goal easily, especially for the top brass.  One of the things it can't do is to make an example of its generals through stage managing the process.  The verdict lends fuel to the effort of removing sexual harassment cases from the court martial system of justice.  The army -- and all the military services -- have a short time in which to show that they can discipline the ranks when sexual misconduct occurs.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Words, Words, Words 

Global events have a way of showing how little words mean unless backed with action.  Take the current situation with Russia.  The White House says it will stand with its allies should Putin decide to expand the country's territory again.  Maybe it will.  Maybe not.  The Baltic countries are so small that Russia could be over their borders and in control in a matter of hours, much as it has done in Crimea.  NATO would scarcely have time to react.  This is not a criticism of the administration but a reminder to PR practitioners that spin is limited, especially when dealing with hardened opposition.  Putin could take advantage of other Russian-speaking territories under the excuse that he is protecting  his people.  That, of course, is spin, but when he puts 60,000 men and armor on the border, it becomes reality.  Only when NATO does the same can allies breath more easily.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Embedded Interests 

Tesla is finding out the hard way about the embedded interests of auto dealers.  The electric car maker wants to sell autos directly to customers.  Dealers object, and they have the law on their side -- a law they largely wrote over the decades.  Tesla says it can work with its customers closely if it sells and services directly.  Dealers say Tesla could become a monopoly charging what it will, and customers won't be able to negotiate the best price.  So far, dealers are winning.  They contribute heavily to state campaigns, and they know legislators at the local level.  So, how does one change that?  Lobbying is essential but not enough.  Tesla needs a grass-roots approach that can override the influence dealers have.  So far, the auto company doesn't appear to have gone that far with its communications.  But, if it is shut out of the most populous states, its sales will be constricted, something a young company cannot afford.  Does the company make peace with dealers and market the traditional way or does it continue to fight.  Elon Musk is used to getting his way, but this might be a battle that even defeats him.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When The Media Get It Wrong 

Increasingly it looks like Newsweek's outing of the creator of Bitcoin was wrong.  The fingered person, Dorian Nakamoto, has hired a lawyer to clear his name.  Newsweek has explaining to do.  Nakamoto is upset that the media have invaded his life.  The publication is standing by its story, but it looks shaky as the days progress. How could this happen, and how could the editors have allowed the report to go through?  The reporter insists she did her homework and has evidence to back every allegation.  It will be interesting to see if this ends in a libel suit.  Sadly, Nakamoto will need to bare his life if he files because lawyers will hunt for any evidence that might prove the publication correct.  No one wins with stories like this.  Newsweek's credibility is shattered.  Nakamoto and his personal troubles are exposed.  One wonders how these things happen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Key Departure 

The public relations and reputation damage from a key departure can be considerable.  Consider this case.  The two top leaders of Pimco had a falling out.  One is now gone.  The fund they managed is in a nose-dive.  Headlines focusing on the clash of the two men have sapped morale within the firm.  The role of the communicator is difficult.  The practitioner must serve the one in charge and help that person calm the storm, whether or not the PR person likes the surviving CEO. There is little room for sentiment.  The king is dead.  Long live the new king.  The CEO must re-focus employees on the job at hand.  There is little time and less room for praising the fallen.  Those who showed loyalty to the previous CEO must adjust to the new one or leave. It is up to the new CEO, supported by communications, to capture their loyalty or to move swiftly to replace them.  At some point, one might pause to reflect on what happened but that time is not now.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

How Do You Say Reputation? 

It is less of a problem in the US but in other countries, there are businesses that are corrupt through and through.  The idea that one must guard the reputation of the corporation is foreign to its managers and leaders.  The company is there for boodling and personal aggrandizement.  What customers think is not the issue.  What the government might expect is ignored because the individuals who make up the government have been paid off.  This used to be the case in the US in the 19th Century when legislators were purchased wholesale.  There are claims that the same is true today with lobbying money sloshing through campaign coffers.  But, it is not the same as suitcases of cash handed off to legislators in hotel rooms.  When companies and governments believe they are above the law, reputation doesn't apply -- until a day that it does.  But, that day might be decades hence and meanwhile, the corrupt business drains cash from its customers with abandon.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Lingering Crisis 

There is a special stress for communicators in a crisis that won't resolve.  It drags on from day to day without resolution, without facts to explain what happened, without information for those affected.  This is the case with Malaysia Airlines.  It is no closer to finding its missing plane today than it was six days ago, and conflicting statements made to relatives of the 239 passengers have made things worse.  There is little or nothing one can say other than to rebut rumor and to iterate what little one knows.  As of last night, authorities weren't even sure which way the plane was traveling.  They are searching a vast area for something less than a needle in a haystack.  There is a good chance they will never find wreckage nor bodies nor anything else to bring closure to affected families.  The communicator is reduced to saying, "We don't know" in as many ways as possible and accepting the anger of those demanding answers.  The worst part of ignorance is that one cannot learn if what happened will occur again.  Will other Boeing 777s suddenly fall from the sky?  Everyone has an urgent interest in finding the facts, but there aren't any.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spin Sucks 

I don't usually review unsolicited books in the mail, but this one is worth comment.   In spite of its unfortunate title, Spin Sucks, the 146-page volume is filled with useful information for the digital communicator.  Every practitioner should have a copy of it on the desk until its lessons are memorized.  The author, Gini Dietrich, runs her own integrated marketing agency in Chicago and is a speaker and lecturer.  The book in 10 chapters has many examples of what to do and more importantly what not to do to tell a company's story, generate content and handle the dark side of the internet.  Most books are rehashes of the same ideas.  This one is different.  Chances are you will find yourself taking notes from page to page and wondering why you didn't know that fact or idea.  Dietrich is on the leading edge of where communications is going and where practitioners must be soon enough if they are to have careers while the older generation of media relations specialists shuffle off the scene.  If there is one lesson she makes again and again, communications without spin is a marathon.  It takes time, dedication and hard work.  Those looking for a quick fix won't find the book useful.  The rest of us will.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Would You Do? 

What would you do as the PR leader of Herbalife?  An activist hedge fund manager has bet a billion dollars that you will fail then launched lobbying campaigns to make sure that happens.  There isn't much precedent for such an overwhelming assault on the reputation of a company.  The New York Times article yesterday might alleviate the pressure on the business, and it might break the stranglehold William Ackman has used to get his way.  Even so, Herbalife can't rest.  The company's mission has been compromised.  It will have to work its way back to the graces of consumers if it can.  And, who knows but Ackman might be right that the company is a pyramid scheme.  However, his heavy-handed way of attacking Herbalife solely for the purpose of making money has made him look worse than the company.  I'm sure the PR department already has reprints of yesterday's article and is sending them out to influentials.  It must seem like cool water after days in the desert.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Unreal Numbers 

It is no insight that people do not understand large numbers.  Many can't grasp a million, fewer still a billion and at best, a handful, a trillion.   So, what is the import of $100 trillion of indebtedness?   Journalists and communicators would strain almost any analogy to explain that.  Using deep space distances would be as unreal to the average individual as the number of times dollar bills would stretch around the earth.  The size strains imagination.  Yet, that is what the world owes in debt.  Perhaps the question should be, "How is the globe going to pay for it?"  What does $100 trillion mean in terms of individual indebtedness and where is the money going to come from unless governments print it?  The implications for inflation are there as well as economic collapse for some countries.  To make the number real, it should be expressed in terms of "What it means to me?"  Even then, an individual can't quite understand a debt of $14,000 for every one of seven billion people on earth.  

Friday, March 07, 2014

Legacy Of Fear 

The cultural fear of nuclear waste is so deep that even a minor incident can spark calls for removing a storage facility from an area.  The nuclear industry has a public relations problem that it never has really solved and probably won't.  It is a NIMBY business in which there are no safe places to store waste because it is always too close to someone's backyard.  Yet, it has fission products with half-lives of hundreds of thousands of years.  It has to store this material somewhere, and even if no more nukes are built, there is enough spent uranium in ponds through the US and elsewhere to create a disposal nightmare.  It seems that most of society would prefer not to think about it -- as long as it doesn't come here.  Sooner or later, the government must confront the problem head-on and by time that happens, there is a good chance of leakage into soils and more serious problems.  The legacy of fear is buried deeply in the psyche of citizens and there is no answer for it.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Emerging Crisis 

The regional airline industry has an emerging crisis and reputational issue.  It's called crappy pay for pilots.  The carriers pay so little that pilots won't or can't afford to work for them.  This, of course, means those who do are flying either out of love for the craft or out of desperation.  Let one plane plunge to the ground as a result of inept pilot error and the industry is going to be held accountable.  The airlines plead poverty for themselves.  They say they can't afford to pay better because they need to hold down costs in order to win contracts from major carriers.  Something is fundamentally wrong with the business if that is the case.  A pilot's skill and responsibility demands better pay than that of a janitor.  Local airlines are gambling with the lives of passengers.  One wonders why pilots and passengers haven't rebelled yet.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Innocent But Guilty? 

Chevron won a long-standing fight with Ecuador's native peoples by proving a court judgment against it for polluting was obtained through fraud.  The case was egregious, but that doesn't help the company much in the court of public opinion.  There it stands convicted of fouling the Amazon rainforest.  The public case against the company has run on for so long that those who are aware of it assume Chevron was at fault because it took on the liabilities of Texaco, which it acquired.  It will take a prolonged effort on the part of the company to prove that it wasn't, and even then, activists won't accept the court's ruling.  This is one of those cases in which the company can't win.  Granted Chevron might be satisfied to avoid paying a $9.5 billion judgment and could live with the reputation of a polluter.  Still, no company wants a black mark against it that it doesn't deserve.  Look for the company to play up its environmental consciousness in months to come.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Customer Migration 

One tough task for a software company is to migrate customers to newer software, especially if they are happy with what they have.  This is the problem that Microsoft has with its 13-year-old Windows XP operating system.  It is ending support for the software and wants everyone to move to Windows 8.  The way it is going about it has sparked criticism.  It has asked its customers to help persuade those still using XP to change over.  Its customers not only don't want to do that, they are unhappy Microsoft asked.  This has created a PR and customer relations problem for the company.  Is there a better way?  It is hard to say.  Probably the company would have been better off to end support and let customers move gradually as they change machines, but that takes time, and Microsoft is impatient to get on with the shift.  However, the company has lost its dominance in operating systems and can no longer tell customers what to do.  It must be a humbling experience.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Don't Care 

One can accomplish a lot when he doesn't care what others think.  Like take over part of a country.  The world is condemning Vladimir Putin but he isn't worried.  There is little chance anyone will force him out of Crimea.  He will find his dealings with other leaders to be more difficult as a result of his adventurism, but he doesn't seem worried about that either.  And the people of Ukraine? Who cares what they think?  Putin has set Russia on a course of dictatorship and returned the country to a status near that of the Cold War era.  The invasion might make for good publicity within Russia but nowhere else.  Europe must again be concerned about its Eastern neighbor and cannot rest on the expectation that Russia will continue to ship its gas if it doesn't get its way.  Relations have returned to caution and watchfulness, and any semblance of harmony has been lost.

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