Friday, August 29, 2014

Two-faced PR 

Vladimir Putin is trying to master a two-faced appearance to the world and his country.  On the one hand he is sending soldiers and armor into the Ukraine.  On the other, he is calling for a corridor of safety for Ukrainian troops trapped in the fighting. Each day, however, it is becoming clearer that he wishes to annex at least the Eastern part of the Ukraine, and there is little that the Ukrainian government can do about it unless it gets armaments from the West to fight back.  It seems that Putin wants to be seen in Russia as a compassionate leader while he cares little for feelings of leaders in Europe and the US.  He just might pull off this coup de main because the West is dithering.  The more the West worries and doesn't act, the easier it is for Putin to move forward.  So Putin earns a bad reputation in Europe and the US.  What does he care?  As long as he controls the gas lines to Europe and can shut them at will, he can undercut any actions against him.  His idea of PR is a mailed fist.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Too Fast 

Sometimes, a company can run too fast in its effort to stay ahead of the market.  Here is a case.  Had Zara spent an extra moment considering the design of the shirt with its large yellow star, it might have realized that it was too near the concentration camp clothing that millions of Jews wore during World War II.  So too, with a bag that had swastikas worked into its design.  The two incidents do not prove that the company is anti-Semitic but there is a case for carelessness.  What is needed in the high-speed fashion merchandiser is a steady presence that evaluates designs against world events and sensitivities.  It seems that in its mad rush to be first, it has overlooked customers' concerns.  Rescinding and taking back clothing is not enough to allay suspicions about its intent.  Maybe, just maybe, if the company was a fraction slower, it could evaluate designs from a PR point of view.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

He Said, He Said 

This is a good example of conflicting witness reports.  Who do you believe?  It's important because one view is that of homicide.  The second view is that of self-defense.  That eyewitness testimony is suspect is also a part of this case.  Maybe one or the other or both are stretching the truth or unclear in what they saw and are filling in mental lacunae.  That doesn't mean they are lying.  The brain does funny things when encountering sudden and threatening events.  It doesn't act as an impartial observer and it is hampered by the perspective the witness has -- whether close or further apart or at an angle.  The case will most likely be made for or against on the forensic evidence, which is extensive and alarming.  The officer hit the victim with six shots.  What is needed to bring a suspect down?   I feel sorry for the jurors who will take this case.  They will be under pressure of public expectations to convict the officer, and maybe they should -- or maybe not.  The courtroom is where this incident must be decided and not in the public arena language and agitation muddy opinion.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Making The Case 

Military and political experts are making a public case for the need to destroy the Islamic group ISIS.  It is similar to the public opinion effort President Bush made against Saddam Hussein and his control of Iraq.  Much the same circumstances apply.  ISIS has performed outrageous acts of brutality.  The group is steeped in blood and trumpets its cruelty.  Call it an anti-PR campaign.  That has made the Western Powers' work easier.  The more ISIS talks about blood, the faster the West will work to de-fang the group through bombing and perhaps, boots on the ground.  Meanwhile, the government of Iraq is a mess of conflicting loyalties that can barely manage to operate.  Whatever is done to ISIS will be in spite of Iraqis rather than with them.  The result is that the US remains stuck to the tar baby of the Middle East.  It is not a pleasant thought for Americans who want the US out.  Will public opinion in the US force disengagement?

Friday, August 22, 2014

No Win 

One position a company does not want to be in is a political pawn.  That is where McDonald's is in Russia.  There is nothing the company can do as long as Putin plays tit for tat with America.  There is no communication that can make the situation better.  The company has to wait until one side or the other blinks and backs off.  It is likely this gamesmanship will continue in countries with powerful political centers that don't respect the rule of law.  Companies have to be prepared to lose their businesses at a moment's notice.  It is a risky situation and corporations might choose not to invest in unstable nations.  Meanwhile, competitors can enter and solidify brand positioning.  Neither McDonald's nor any other corporation deserves this kind of treatment, but who said governments are fair?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

End Of The Road 

How do you communicate on behalf of a company that has reached the end of the road?   The marketplace has turned against it and efforts to find new products to merchandise have failed.  Its stock is pennies per share.  This is the unlucky position that Radio Shack finds itself in.  Consider what the company can say about itself publicly.  "We haven't gone bankrupt yet.  We're attempting yet another turnaround."  Hardly positive news to the public and to shareholders.  The communications practitioners at Radio Shack have little material to work with and less as the days go by.  Radio Shack needs a savior and the rescuer needs time -- just what the chain doesn't have.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Is it possible to outsmart a search engine and hijack a company's name?  Yes.  It has been done.  Consider this example. Activists faked-out Google and directed searches to a web page with an insult.  Google was apologetic, but there was little it could do except change its algorithm to block the page.  Gregg's was good about the situation and Google responded in kind.  But, the episode raises a question for PR practitioners -- how to protect web pages from re-direction.  The only way to know for sure whether one has been subverted is to check the web page daily and to respond quickly if something strange has happened.  For most practitioners, this is not a problem, because they are on the web page everyday.  For those who aren't, it should become a habit.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reputation And Business 

How much does a government sanction hurt a company's reputation and business?  PricewaterhouseCoopers is about to find out.   The auditing and consulting firm is barred for 24 months from doing any work that requires a sign-off from the New York Department of Financial Services, and it is paying a $25 million fine.  The government unit accused PwC of watering down a report on foreign transactions at the Bank of Tokyo.  News of the penalty and punishment has been broadcast widely.  PwC is in damage-control mode, but it might not be enough given that it cannot work for two years for the top banks in New York.  While it is too early to predict that the consulting unit will implode because of the punishment, it is almost a certainty it will suffer financially.  Then, once the two year sidelining is up, how will the unit win back business lost in the interim?  PwC is officially standing by its work in the case, but unofficially there must be terrible morale in the unit and a fear for jobs.  One of the first steps the company should take is to boost internal morale, then it needs to figure out what its consultants will do while sitting on the bench.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Yesterday's News 

One might have to think twice to remember who Julian Assange is and the role of Wikileaks in spilling government secrets.  But, that was only two years ago.  Since then, Edward Snowden has seized the headlines with his disclosure about NSA operations.  But, here again is Assange who might be reporting that he will leave the Ecuadorian embassy, but then again, he might not.  There is a good chance he will disappear from the headlines again and return to his room, forgotten.  The lesson here is that in the internet age, notoriety, both good and bad, comes and goes quickly.  Andy Warhol was more right than he knew when he said everyone will get 15 minutes of fame.  It requires unceasing work to maintain one's image in the media, whether social or traditional.  This is something publicists have always known, but have a hard time convincing clients about.  If recognition is what they want, they have to spend time each day in generating it.  To senior executives, publicity is often a "waste of time."  Then, they wonder why their messages aren't getting through to the world and more importantly, to employees. The frustration of the publicist is the constant repetition of the need to be out there.  When a publicist does get a hearing and more important, action, there is a good chance one can score media success regularly.

Friday, August 15, 2014

It All Starts With Me 

It is fun to pick on Donald Trump because he is everything PR shouldn't be.  His belief that the world starts with him is symptomatic of a towering ego.  His explanation for the failure of Atlantic City casinos because he stopped investing in them is funny.  There were, according to the Donald, no problems until he left town  One wonders how Trump survives, and one explanation is that he is a court jester of business -- an ignorant fool who provides the public with a laugh at his own expense.  The worse outcome for him is to be ignored.   Trump understands this and is a master of self-indulgent publicity.  He has long played the media, which can't seem to tear itself from his ludicrous statements.  He is a quote-generation machine, a loud-mouth who pushes himself into one situation after another and claims that if HE were allowed to operate, everything would have worked out.  Time will eventually catch up with him, and he will fall from favor, but meanwhile the public suffers his proclamations.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Gut Wound 

Activists have gone after SeaWorld for its treatment of marine mammals.  SeaWorld is admitting for the first time that media attention to the issue has hurt attendance and earnings.  This is the equivalent of a gut wound.  SeaWorld depends on its orcas to draw spectators in.  If it should lose their services or the public boycott its shows, there isn't much the company can do but shut down.  SeaWorld isn't at that point yet but it is in need of a major PR campaign to explain to the public just how it treats its animals.  The company can't win by hunkering or even by political lobbying.  It needs to go all out to counter activists' charges by opening its venues for scientific and public inspection.  It needs to prove that its mammals are at least in the same shape as they would be in the wild -- or even better off.  Simply countering charges that its animals are suffering by denying the allegations won't be enough.  It's a tough time for the company but not yet fatal.  It is up to SeaWorld to turn around public opinion.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Road To Excess 

Another Atlantic City casino is closing its doors and massive hotel/gaming complexes are gathering dust.  Atlantic City, NJ, was supposed to be Las Vegas East.  At least that is what the governor and developers hoped for.  So, they piled in and built and built until there was more capacity than needed, given the rise of American Indian casinos and racetrack slots.  Failures like this should be a lesson to managers and communications practitioners.  Entering a marketplace after it has developed is often a bad idea.  Others have captured the brand positioning and a new entrant can't say much more than, "me too."  In gaming, there isn't much room for innovation.  This is true for many industries.  To bull one's way into a developed segment with something better, faster and less expensive is hard.  Usually a product or service has a few bells and whistles to make it look different when it isn't.  Consumers are rarely fooled, however, even with advertising, PR and  social media shouting, "Look at me!"  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


An insurance company showed its displeasure over making a $20,000 settlement by sending an individual 11 buckets filled with coins.  How dumb is that?  It became an instant news story and a ding to the company's reputation.  How many people will want to insure with an organization that has such snits?  It might have felt good to send pails filled with change, but that feeling will pass quickly enough as existing customers ask why the company did it.  It smacks of immaturity.  It is poor client service.  It is the kind of protest that individuals make over paying taxes.  Taking revenge on a customer, even if the customer has been obnoxious is stupid.  The best approach is to refuse service to the individual quietly,  Cancel his policies and suggest another insurance company that might cover him -- i.e., be nice even when dropping someone.  That is so obvious and yet, employees forget.  Good client service requires constant monitoring and management.  Even then, it takes only one employee who is unhappy to wreck relationships with customers and a company's reputation.

Monday, August 11, 2014

PR War With No Winners? 

Amazon and book publishers need each other.  It is sad that one of the largest publishers has entered a pitched battle with the largest bookstore on earth.  It is equally unhappy that Amazon sparked this war because it wants to get its way with marketing e-books.  As the PR war continues, the real loser is the public, which can't get easy access to books it wants to buy.  Amazon might be right in pushing its pricing policies, but it was foolish to ban books from its site that come from Hachette.  The only result was to rile authors who publicly blamed Amazon for its practices in a huge two-page advertisement in yesterday's New York Times.  Were I Jeff Bezos, I would publicly proclaim victory and leave the field with what remains of a shredded reputation.  But then, Bezos didn't get where he is today by giving in easily.  This might be his flaw or a secret to his success.  In any event the longer that Amazon fights with Hachette, the worse it gets for Amazon.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Only A Dictator... 

...can get away with punishing his own people in an effort to strike at other nations.  Call it reverse PR.  I'm cutting off my nose to spite you, and it is going to hurt.  No wonder President Obama is not impressed with Putin's latest move.  One wonders, however, how long the Russian people will put up with such a leader.  There is little doubt that Putin wants power for the long-run, and he is likely to get it, given his hardball tactics, but Russian citizens will grow restive.  It is like a return to the failed Soviet state.  This time, however, the country is weaker.  Sanctions are hurting its economy and Putin doesn't care.  He is determined.  If only he were thinking about the welfare of Russia rather than his own power-base, he might be remembered in history as a great statesman.  Now, however, he is seen as a bully, an image that is likely to remain.  Putin proves that public relations principles do not work in every society.  

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Good PR 

The hysteria about Ebola patients coming to America for treatment presents an opportunity for public relations.  That is what the chief nurse at Emory University is doing with this article.  She not only counters the concern about the virus getting loose but she skillfully positions Emory on the leading edge of medical centers for such a rare and life-threatening disease.  I would be surprised if she didn't have help with writing this essay, but even so, her position is strong and her reasons stronger.  Of course, this won't salve unreasoning fear, but it will alleviate some of the concern that most citizens have.  Perhaps the strongest reasons are the humanitarian ones.  We need to treat these people who were caring for Ebola victims in Africa.  It isn't right ethically to abandon them in their hour of need.  And, in stabilizing them, the medical profession is learning what works and what doesn't.  There is always a doomsday scenario but this essay is pointing out that in this case, it is unlikely.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


This article focusing on spin-offs of newspapers and magazines into separate companies is wrong-headed.  Media companies were public servants as long as they made money, and since they were often in monopoly positions, they could afford to be high-minded.  As the internet took over, so did the economic imperative driving newspapers and magazines.  They live on ads and circulation revenue.  When both of these declined, so too did the Church, the newsroom, because media owners couldn't afford to keep them staffed.  Corporate PR practitioners must not forget that behind all they do is business.  Yes, their companies can perform public service but they have to make money too or shareholders will act and throw management out.  Wall Street might be winning the media battle through spin-offs of the print business, but that is as it should be.  The medium isn't sacred.  News reporting online is as effective as turning the pages of The New York Times or USA Today.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Church And State 

Watch this.  It is comedian John Oliver's attack on sponsored content online, and the satire is devastating.  He first defines the difference between Church and State as it has existed in the media for much of the 20th Century then he shows how the line has blurred between the two since the rise of the internet.  The humor is scatological, but the points he makes aren't.  PR practitioners, especially, should be worried about the blending of advertisement and editorial.  The power of PR depends on impartial media who confer credibility by independent reporting.  If online news gathering becomes pay-for-play, there isn't much reason for media relations.  Simply fork over the money and watch them write.  That can be done by any media buyer.  Aside from a threat to PR, the increasingly foggy distinction between Church and State in the media takes a hammer to the credibility of the media as well.  Newsrooms know that if publishers do not.  There is room for more satire on this subject, but it would be better if publishers restored the bright line sooner rather than later.

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Right Way 

This fellow has been mocked enough for his blatant appeal to reporters to follow him and his boss on social media.  The question is how should he have approached the media, if at all.  For one, the idea of a "bribe' should never be considered.  No wonder he was held up as an oaf.  Rather, one should remain as factual as possible.  "My boss is tweeting.  Here are some things he has covered and more he will address in the future."  If the information is of use to the media, they will follow the tweets.  If not, they won't.  One learns quickly who the journalists are following the company.  The jocular manner in which he wrote the pitch also is a no-no, especially the winking emoticon.  I don't know what this fellow's boss is saying to him now, but it can't be good.  

Hat Tip to Michael Cargill for finding this.  

Friday, August 01, 2014

Satirical But True 

This is funny satire on the online way of gathering and reporting information.  It's all in clicks and clicks determine both copy and especially, the headline.  News is watered down to titillation.  Important information is banished.  If a reader fails to open a story, all is lost. The trend hearkens back to the era of Yellow Journalism when circulation was everything and facts beside the point.  This trend will pass in time as readers demand more information to help them understand the world and make decisions.  It won't go away completely but it will moderate.  Serious news consumers will gravitate to media that serve them best.  Lowest common denominator readers will seek excitement.  From a PR perspective, both kinds of media are important to getting information out.  PR practitioners need to learn multiple styles of writing to appeal to click-bait readers and to serious consumers.  PR can't afford to cut off one or the other if it is to get information widely disseminated.  

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