Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 

I'll be back Jan. 5.


When the public revolts, what then?  This is what Greece is about to find out.  The ballot box will be the communication that tells whether its citizens have had enough of austerity or are willing to stay the harsh course.  There is little that the politicians in power can do except to point to the outcome if the country rejects restraints on its budget and control over its deficit.  The party in power doesn't like the budget measures itself but was forced into it because Greece's economy tanked and it became a ward of the European Union.  Now, the country can decide again whether it wishes to remain in the Union or find its own way.  There isn't much public relations and communications can do to change minds.  People are hungry for work that isn't there and tired of standing in bread lines.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Algorithms And PR 

PR without people can run amok.  Consider this example from Facebook.  An algorithm reprising the year continuously reminds a person of his dead daughter.  Humans are fallible, more so than machines, and they can be unthinking and cruel, but a mistake like this might have been caught if there were human review instead of machine decision.  Many steps in PR can be automated, but there still needs to be a human in the mix.  The human's job is to catch the improbable before it is published and an organization like Facebook looks silly or worse, uncaring.  There is no doubt that Facebook put in the year in review as a way to serve customers.  The intent was good PR:  The outcome was not.  Facebook owes the person an apology.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

Steep Mountain 

Iraq is climbing a steep mountain to re-establish public relations with its own citizenry.  PR is what one does and not what one says, and Iraq can do little now that it is a tri-partite country with ethnic factions warring against one another.  The central government is weak and vacillating.  Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi  has little leeway to forge a coalition government that doesn't descend to chaos.  However, should he succeed against the odds, he will be the father  of the country. There is no way of knowing at this juncture, and 2015 might be a turning point toward a dissolution of Iraq as we know it.  One wonders if the country wasn't better under its dictator, tin pot that he was.  Hindsight is 20-20 vision.  Foresight is blurry.  Who could have predicted the state the country is in today?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Must Have An Enemy 

It has long been known that dictators to legitimize their control must have an enemy.  There needs to be an external force that threatens the country, even if the dictator has to invent one -- such as here.  It is an irony that to sustain public relations one must find a public with whom there can be no relations.  Keeping that public before citizens becomes the object of communications and message control.  Propaganda creates cartoonish descriptions of the enemy and its threat to the good order of the country and its citizens.  The West is still a threat in the mind of Putin and the US especially so.  One might ask why anyone should be surprised by this aging Cold Warrior, but the outcome is damage to his own citizens.  He ought to know better.  He doesn't, or he is cynical enough about his intentions that he employs tools from past.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pictures And Prosecution 

Prosecutors have learned a powerful way to gain convictions -- PowerPoint visuals.  They are using -- and abusing -- PowerPoint in courtrooms across the US and in the process have set judges' teeth on edge.  Convictions are getting thrown out because prosecutors have been too enthusiastic in reaching for verdicts.  Slapping guilty in red across a person's face is leading juries in ways that are unfair to defendants who are presumed innocent until proven in error.  One can't blame prosecutors for using all forms of technology to make their cases, but as PR practitioners know, one can go too far.  One wonders if Bill Gates imagined the use of PowerPoint in the courtroom when it was developed.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Avoiding a PR Debacle 

UPS knows what happens when it fails to deliver packages on time for Christmas.  It is a PR debacle, such as happened last year with the bad weather.  This year the company has spent hundreds of millions to redo its package sorting systems so workers can go faster without having to memorize zip codes.  Yesterday, the company delivered an estimated 34 million packages, a stupendous amount equivalent to the entire populations of several states combined, or nearly the population of California.  UPS understands the need to maintain its reputation for on-time delivery and is a case study for what PR should be.

Monday, December 22, 2014


The mayor of New York is facing a PR challenge -- getting along with his police force.  It isn't happening now.  There is no guarantee of accommodation in the future.  The head of the policeman's union is openly criticizing the mayor and shows no sign of backing off.  The death of two policemen, ambushed in their vehicle, only intensified the dislike of the union for the mayor.  One side or the other has to give in and try to get along.  So far, neither shows signs of movement, and both have good reasons for their positions.  The union believes policemen deserve the backing of the mayor because they are engaged in dangerous work.  The mayor believes policemen have too often abused their power in dealing with the community, especially the poor.  There are examples to support both contentions.  At some point, however, the two sides need to talk.  Thus far, they are not doing it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Stomach-Churning Publicity 

This doctor thinks stomach-churning images of lower limb amputations should be placed on prepared foods that lend to Type 2 diabetes.  He points to anti-smoking campaigns as a model.  The problem is that no one knows whether it would work.  The doctor is right about Type 2 diabetes.  It is at epidemic levels in the US and little is being done about prevention.  It is a disease of a wealthy, sedentary nation. As he notes, it affects an estimate 29.1 million Americans and costs the nation up to $69 billion a year.   Why can't something be done about it?  It would require a change in the habits of tens of millions and that is not only hard, it is near impossible.  Any PR campaign directed to the problem would cost millions and take years to show an effect.  So, doctors live with it and treat patients the best they can,  Pictures of amputated limbs on soda cans are not going to make much difference.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Long-Term Crisis 

One of the hardest crises to handle is the long-term disaster -- the slowly evolving event that is hard to motivate companies and the public to address.  For example, this one.  Antimicrobial resistance already is a serious problem in the nation's hospitals and it will continue to worsen in the decades to come.  Tens of thousands have died and millions more will follow.  One would think governments and drug companies would be fully committed to battle resistant microbes with new treatments, but apparently not.  How does one mobilize public attention before it is too late?  That is the challenge that doctors, bureaucrats and communicators have, and like anti-smoking efforts, it may take decades to convince everyone the danger is real and growing daily.  Meanwhile, try to stay out of a hospital.   

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


New York Magazine is undergoing a nightmare of its own making.  It reported a story that was false and made up by a teenager.  How did it get sucked into a tale that was too good to be true?  Probably because it was.  Stranger things have happened.  Nonetheless, the magazine how has a PR problem with its readership.  How can one trust a publication that did such poor fact checking?  The magazine has done the right thing.  It immediately posted an apology to readers and admitted it was duped.  The reporter on the story has her own troubles.  She bills herself as an investigative journalist.  One wonders how much investigation she did before running with this falsehood.  The magazine will overcome the embarrassment soon enough.  The reporter might not.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


How do you discuss a subject that is taboo but essential?  For example, the cost effectiveness of health care.  In the US, the idea that someone's life might not be worth the cost of restoring to health is anathema.  Americans consider it outrageous that they might not get care they need even though it runs into millions.  This burdens the health community, insurance companies and the rest of the public, but patients and their families do not think of that.  They are focused on getting better no matter the cost.  Ultimately, economic necessity dictates that effectiveness analysis be done, and it is a matter of the courage of physicians, hospital administrators, insurance companies and others to determine who should be treated and who made comfortable until death.  It is a difficult but mature relationship to the public, and it depends on the public's understanding as well. Avoiding the discussion helps no one iand drives up the cost of health care to a point where there is less treatment for all.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dumb Stunt 

This qualifies as a dumb publicity stunt, and Greenpeace ought to be ashamed.  The site where the ancients scratched lines in the earth to signify different plants and creatures, including a hummingbird is easily damaged.  The Peruvian government has placed the Nazca site off-limits yet Greenpeace went in anyway and laid a huge sign on the ground that was visible even from space.  Peru is now considering charges against the group, and that is the least of what Greenpeace deserves.  It is ironic that an environmental group would be prosecuted for damaging the environment, but maybe the next time someone in the organization has a brilliant idea for raising awareness, someone will check with the government first.

Friday, December 12, 2014

E-mail 101 

Two Sony executives have apologized for remarks they made in e-mails that hackers exposed to the world.  One wonders if anyone ever told them that what they write in an e-mail is sent to the world and not just another party because one loses control after hitting the send button.  It is E-mail 101.  Never write in an e-mail what you don't want to see in a headline.  This basic lesson is one that I hammer at students in business communications class.  Yet, people don't learn or easily forget.  Why?  Because they treat e-mail as a stream of consciousness, a continuation of conversation, that doesn't require the same attention as a formal letter.  E-mail is a dangerous medium for that reason.  One should treat it as a sharp tool.  Handle with care.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another Worry 

As if the internet didn't provide enough worry for PR practitioners, here is another.  Online vigilante detectives are reporting incidents faster than the news media, sometimes accurately but just as often inaccurately.  It is almost impossible for a PR practitioner to keep up with them in handling an incident.  For one, PR is bound by facts and not rumor, a constraint the vigilante is not held to.  There is no good remedy for self-proclaimed investigative reporters on the web.  The first step is to monitor them and what they are writing in their Tweets.  The second step is to rebut where possible inaccuracies.  But, that is a slow process, and the online detective can easily outpace those in the middle of a crisis.  One dare not ignore the vigilante.  The news media are paying attention to what he is writing and are reporting what he has discovered.  The vigilante detective is a feeder to the mainstream press. Speed and transparency are essential in modern media relations.  But as fast as a crisis communicator can operate is not fast enough.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wise Advice 

The public editor of The New York Times has wise advice for Rolling Stone magazine.  Rolling Stone has had to retract a rape-on-campus story because of poor and incomplete reporting.  It was a heavy blow to the publication's image.  The Times' editor is telling Rolling Stone to reveal the entire shoddy episode and how it occurred in a public mea culpa.  That is what the Times' did in the past as well as the Washington Post.  In other words, Rolling Stone should investigate itself and learn from the incident what not to do in the future.  It should rely on complete reporting and transparency with its readers and ask their forgiveness.  And, as the editor writes, it should be wary of using anonymous sources in the future who can't be cross-checked for truthfulness.  The Times' advice is what a PR practitioner would counsel the magazine to take.  It is Journalistic Disaster Response 101, as the editor writes, but it is essential and the best way to regain public confidence.  The question now is whether Rolling Stone is listening.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Before Their Time 

This is an interesting story about dot-com companies that were born before their time and failed.  Infrastructure and public understanding weren't in place yet.  Of those two, the most important was consumer appreciation for the benefits that a Pets.com provided.  It wasn't there.  People still preferred to buy pet food and accessories at stores.  Chalk many of the dot-com busts to public relations.  The start-up companies didn't know how to relate to their publics and spent wildly, hoping they would figure it out before the crunch.  Of course, they didn't.  The companies that made it through that period, such as Amazon.com, were careful to gauge what consumers were willing to pay for and have delivered.  Getting ahead of one's target audience happens often.  One spots a trend and tries to interest the media in it only to be rebuffed.  A year later, it is all a journalist wants to talk about.  This is one of the frustrations of media relations, but a reminder that one dare not leap too far into the future.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Fatal Flaw? 

Uber, the ride-sharing service, might have a fatal flaw -- the drivers themselves.  Consider this case.  It might be a one-time crime perpetrated by a driver, but once is enough in cities where Uber is under attack anyway for taking business away from regulated taxi companies. Secondly, Uber had the perception of being a safer way to travel than regulated taxis.  This incident destroyed that image.  Delhi is just one city among many in which Uber offers its service, but the company can't afford tragedies like this and the statement from Uber, while conciliatory is not enough.  Proper PR demands that Uber do better driver checks and have the correct permits for its drivers to work.  This might mean that the company has months to get back into the good graces of the Delhi Transport Department -- or it can be excluded forever if regulated taxi drivers complain too loudly.  Either way, it should be a warning shot to the company to do a better job.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Weakening The Brand 

When does sloppy editing weaken a brand?  When you get mistakes like this and this.  News organizations build their credibility and public relations on accuracy.  They do make errors, but they should be assiduous in correcting them promptly.  The question is how many goofs over the millions of words they deliver yearly.  There is a feeling that errors have risen as news organizations cut back on editing in their efforts to stay solvent.  It seems that way,and if true, news organizations ought to worry.  They will lose even more of their shrinking audiences at a time when they can ill afford it.  The challenge is daunting.  How can one reduce costs while maintaining an historical standard of accurate reporting?  No one appears to have figured that out yet.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Past Time 

It is past time for US debit and credit card issuers to convert to chip and pin technology.   which is the way Europeans pay for purchases.  Why did it take so long?  US issuers thought their cards were secure enough from hackers.  Tens of millions of stolen card information have proven them wrong.  Since PR is what one does and not what one says, card companies are guilty of bad PR for taking so long to protect consumers.  It is not that they didn't know.  They were well aware of the increased security in the chip and pin process.  They didn't act because they said it was too expensive to convert hundreds of millions of US cards.  They are doing it now, no matter the expense.  Information thefts at Target, The Home Depot, Michael's and other stores were disastrous. They needn't have happened if credit and debit information had been better secured.  Inertia is a poor PR and business strategy.  

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Habitual Evil 

No one knows yet whether North Korea launched a cyber attack on Sony Pictures and gutted its infrastructure.  However, there are strong suspicions that the country had a hand in the act.  It had declared Sony's pending release of a comedy portraying the attempted assassination of North Korea's leader was an act of war against the country.  North Korea is a state that practices habitual evil.  What seems normal to it is shunned in other countries.  Its public relations is built on fear.  Its citizens never know when the knock on the door will come and they are dragged away to one of the country's gulags.  One wonders how long a state can exist like this, and the answer is a long time, as long as the army continues to back the "Dear Leader."  However, should the head of state lose control of the military forces, he will be cashiered and another will take his place for better or worse.  The system is rotten, but not yet ready to fall.  One wishes for the citizens of North Korea a day of freedom, a time of democracy while knowing it is a dream deferred for yet another generation.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


Most tech entrepreneurs want to build "buzz" for their products and services.  It sparks marketing and sales and investment.  But, this woman has been different.  She has kept her head down and worked on her product out of the limelight for years, and she prefers it that way.  It helps that her product is revolutionary and can change medicine as we know it.  However, it is unusual for someone in Silicon Valley to remain silent.  She is apparently stepping away from her monastic vow with recent interviews, but not too far.  To someone in PR, it is difficult to understand why anyone would reject favorable publicity.  Perhaps she didn't want the pressure to perform while developing her product.  Perhaps, she has no use for the media.  Perhaps she feared competitors seizing her idea and running with it.  Whatever the reason, she has refused to talk until now, so she is largely unknown by comparison to other Silicon Valley billionaires.  She has been the despair of publicists.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Public Education 

The Federal Aviation Commission has set a huge PR task for itself in its announcement that it would educate the public about the use of drones.  Most drones are the size of model airplanes.  The difference is that they can hover and move in ways a model airplane can't.  The FAA is likely to face huge resistance from drone users who see the utility of the aircraft and are not afraid of the risks.  Drone use has mushroomed and projected use, including aerial delivery, are making the craft part of everyday living.  It will be hard for the FAA to regulate them, since they can be used anywhere anytime.  That is what commercial users of drones are hoping for.  They can loft the aircraft, perform a mission and be gone before anyone knows.  The FAA is correct that there needs to be some kind of drone rules. Otherwise the sky will become a freeway of aircraft crashing into one another.  However, the FAA has cast itself as the heavy in regulation, so it might need to proceed with a gentle hand.

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