Friday, January 30, 2015

Tough Challenge 

The web site company, GoDaddy, is trying to turn around its sexist image.  For years the company used scantily clad women in suggestive ads to heighten awareness of its offerings.  It has moved away from that toward more family friendly advertising.  (However, it might not be friendly enough.  A recent ad that it withdrew for the Super Bowl dealt with a lost puppy that finds its way back home only to be shipped out to a new owner.)  Fortunately, the CEO understands that it is going to take years to live down its past and he is prepared to spend the time and money doing it.  It won't take much for the company to slip up and recapture the past in ways that it doesn't want.  That means it will need to be hyper-vigilant about its public persona for a long time.  The "lost puppy" ad is an example of the kind of image that it doesn't want -- brash and in-your-face.  It is hard to find a balance that doesn't descend to pablum and generates awareness.  Its PR program should be interesting.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Tragic Typo 

PR practitioners learn early that no company or individual is safe and even the smallest mistake can lead to tragedy.  Take this case.   A one-letter typo in a UK government report put a company out of business.  Two companies had virtually the same name.  One of those companies was in liquidation and the other was a 124-year-old family business.  The typo converted the healthy business into the liquidated one.  Suppliers stopped delivering to the family business.  It could get no credit and it went under.  How dumb is that?  The government is paying compensation to the owner four years later, but that is hardly adequate to the loss.  It pays to have a healthy paranoia, to be aware that even small things can damage you and to protect reputation zealously

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


The mathematical models and weather predictions were wrong.  The historic storm that was supposed to wallop the Tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut missed.  It side slipped 75 miles to the east and hit the far tip of Long Island and New England.  Government officials and citizens are angry.  The communications lead-up to the storm had built expectations to an hysterical level only to have a modest snow fall with a measly five inches or so.  (At least that is what it was at our house in New Jersey.)  Now forecasters have a credibility gap.  Predictions that they brilliantly made for the devastating storm, Hurricane Sandy, now look inept as if they held thumbs to the sky.  Perhaps they trusted their models too much, or they were caught in an act of hubris.  The outcome is a public relations problem.  Who is going to believe them the next time?  And there will be a next time.  With something as variable as weather, it would seem the best stance is caution.  One reminds citizens that predictions are rarely 100 percent accurate and unforeseen consequences are the rule rather than the exception.  At least it will give them some cover.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gone Stale 

How do you refresh an icon gone stale?  That's the challenge facing Mattel whose Barbie doll cash generator is no longer the ideal play toy for young girls.  The company had relied so long on the once best-selling toy that it has trouble migrating to new toy lines.  The CEO has just resigned and there is no guarantee a new occupant of the chair will divine what little girls want.  There isn't much a PR practitioner can do in a situation like this.  Barbie needs something to make the doll relevant again to young girls and a PR campaign is unlikely to generate the buzz needed.  It is interesting that Disney stole a march on Barbie with its Frozen movie and line of merchandise.  It thrust a franchise that was beginning to fade into also-ran.  Was Mattel ready for that?  Perhaps it should have been, but after so many years of success, who would have thought a crisis would come so quickly?  

Monday, January 26, 2015


School superintendents, county executives, commuting authorities, mayors, governors and weather forecasters all have warned the public about a blizzard about to hit the northeast.  There are predictions ranging from one to three feet depending on where one lives. Supermarkets are mobbed and shelves stripped bare.  People are stocking up on gas for generators and snow blowers.  Snow shovels are stacked at the door.  While one can thank the media and authorities for alerting the public, one wonders, based on past faulty predictions, whether this one is going to be the "Big One" or not.  One almost hopes that it is after the misses of the past.  At least it would be a storm one could talk about.  The PR effort is designed to keep people off the roads so plows can do their work.  If the storm is as big as predicted, there won't be much worry of that.  Cars will be buried in their driveways.  If the storm is a bust, it will be another PR effort wasted.  One can't predict storms accurately in advance, but the public can grow tired of warnings that rarely prove true.

Friday, January 23, 2015


How much PR and investor relations do you really need?  If you were this company and this executive, the answer is little to none.  Gordon was able to get away with decades of running a public company as a personal fiefdom.  He talked to no one.  His SEC filings were minimal.  He kept the public far away from his business although he made a consumer product.  Gordon's silent treatment was at the limits of what a company can do to remain out of the public eye.  There are a number of what-ifs that should be asked about its stonewalling.  What if, for example, there had been contamination of Tootsie Rolls and there had been a nationwide recall?  What if there had been a labor action?  What if his wife had died before he did?  What would have been his succession plan?  None of these things happened while he was leading the company,  so he had no need to communicate -- and he didn't.  When PR and IR practitioners swell with their sense of importance, it is important to remember that there are other Tootsie Roll Industries in the marketplace who have faded into the background and are intent on remaining there.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A PR challenge 

Airbnb, the room sharing service based out of San Francisco, has a PR challenge in New York City. Hundreds of tenants are angry over other tenants renting out their rooms through the service.  The angry tenants claim that Airbnb is reducing the amount of affordable housing in New York City because landlords would rather let apartments for a night at a higher price than they can get for monthly rental income.  Irate tenants also claim that many of the Airbnb rooms are rented in violation of New York City law.  This is a problem for the company because New York is a desirable market for its room-sharing service.  The cost of hotel rooms is high and a traveler can get an Airbnb room for much less.  Meeting the PR challenge will require ground-pounding work -- getting out into the buildings where tenants are letting rooms and finding out just how serious the problem might be.  It also might require lobbying to get the law changed or modified.  It will require working closely with city authorities to make sure that it remains on the right side of regulations.  Press releases and presentations are not nearly enough.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Great Marketing PR 

Wal-Mart has won multiple marketing objectives with one stroke of genius.  For the under-banked in our society, many of whom are Wal-mart customers, the chain is offering tax refunds in cash at its stores.  One can go to the store, get taxes done and receive refund without a check or direct deposit, neither of which are convenient for the under-banked.  Wal-Mart hopes that some of the cash refund will remain in the store as customers shop with their refund money.  But, even if they don't, the chain has demonstrated a close understanding of customers needs and has taken a step to meet them.  That alone makes this a great idea.  It's public relations at its best.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


The Islamic terrorist group, Isis, is blackmailing the Japanese government by threatening to decapitate two Japanese citizens unless the country pays $200 million for their ransom.  Japan would be foolhardy to give in.  By so doing, it would put a ransom on the head of every one of its citizens.  No Japanese would be safe in any part of the world where there are kidnappings,  As ugly as it is, the country for the larger protection of its citizens must risk seeing the two men beheaded on camera.  This will pose an immediate public relations problem for the government, but one that can be handled.  The government will need to explain that by giving in once, it encourages criminals to do it again without an end to the nightmare.  It is a difficult position for the prime minister to be in and he requires a stiff back to withstand the pressure, but leadership is never easy.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Drones are coming to the news gathering business, and to the crisis communicator it means a loss of control.  There will be no keeping back the news media from the scene of an accident while first responders handle the dead and dying.  Overhead cameras will record every grisly detail.  For PR practitioners, there will be less control at events with cameras hovering overhead.  Drones might prove to be a nuisance, or ultimately, they could be woven into an evolving tragedy or event.  Chances are it will be the latter because once the news media start using them, they won't stop.  Drones are much cheaper than helicopters and can get closer to events on the ground.  It might seem premature to say what a PR practitioner should do, if anything, about drones, but it isn't too early to ask.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Piling On? 

The CEO of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, is accusing federal regulators of piling on his bank.  Rather than one regulator, he says, he now has five or six to deal with.  While that might be true, his complaint smacks of special pleading.  Large banks were in the thick of the financial meltdown, and they are still cleaning up the mess seven years later.  JP Morgan avoided some of the mire early on but was caught later. Dimon might have a case, but he lacks the credibility to make it, and he might not gain credence for years to come.  It is a tough position to be in.  The public perceives regulators to be on the side of the angels and reining in irresponsible banks.  Dimon can complain but he is fighting an embedded perception and distrust of large financial institutions.  Perhaps his best course of action is to remain silent.  Speaking out doesn't appear to be working, and it makes him seem like a petulant whiner.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Disneyland and Medical PR 

Disneyland has a medical and PR problem.  A measles outbreak has been traced to the theme park.  Disneyland wouldn't have the issue if parents vaccinated their children, but many aren't.  What is the company to do?  It would risk its business if it demanded that parents bring vaccination papers from their doctors before they are allowed into the park.  On the other hand, it is risking its business with the measles outbreak -- a disease that was supposed to have been eradicated through vaccination.  This is an example of an unintended consequence.  What company would think about childhood diseases being a major PR issue?  Yet, challenges like this arise regularly in business.  There is little that Disney can do other than to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.  Parents who fear vaccination won't, but others who have overlooked the issue might..  Meanwhile, the park has to do the best it can to minimize instances of this highly contagious disease and its spread.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When Media Attention Wanes 

Five years ago the most devastating earthquake in Haiti's history killed 200,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more homeless.  The media covered the quake and its aftermath intensively then moved on.  Today there are still more than 85,000 homeless in the country and little is being done for them.  The media's attention is elsewhere, such as in France where terrorism is an issue.  What would it take to get Haiti back into the headlines?  Would there need to be a coup or other political upheaval?  Would homeless Haitians need to riot?  Reporters and editors are always chasing the next big story.  There is less attention to circling back and seeing what has happened after a major event.  Here is where publicists and PR practitioners can prove their worth by digging up stories that capture media attention and keeping an issue before the press.  Haitians are too poor to afford a massive media campaign as are most Third World countries.  They depend on outside help that is focused more on necessities -- food, clothing and shelter -- and less on telling the story of a people's plight, or the aid agencies don't have the skills to build a narrative that captures the media's attention.  Haiti is just one example of the media's attention moving on.  There are many more.  No wonder that Walter Lippman compared the press to a searchlight that moves randomly in the darkness.  Where it shines, it illuminates intensely but then it moves on and darkness falls again.  It is up to PR practitioners and publicists to get the searchlight to return.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What Is The Best PR? 

Google has a program to wipe out bugs in software.  It is called Project Zero.  The policy of the internet giant is to give companies 90 days to fix a vulnerability and if the company has not done so, Google publicizes the flaw.  Microsoft ran afoul of Project Zero with a Windows 8.1 bug that it failed to fix in the 90-day window.  In fact, Microsoft was set to release a patch for the flaw just two days after the 90-day window shut,  Microsoft is peeved at Google and faulting it for a lack of cooperation.  From a PR point of view, the clash comes from differing policies in how best to serve users.  Google could have waited and Microsoft could have sped up distribution of the fix, but their approaches preclude that.  Microsoft does corrections in batches.  Google wants to push software companies to repair promptly code that can allow hackers to penetrate user systems.  The two companies need to talk and come up with a joint communications policy.  If they don't, it will happen again.

Friday, January 09, 2015

A $70 Million Hit To Reputation 

Honda Motor Co. has just taken a $70 million hit to its reputation for safety in the form of fines imposed by the Federal government.  The fine, actually two separate penalties, comes from a failure to report defects to the government so it could act if recalls were needed.  Honda has a reputation for well built vehicles but one must stop and ask questions given the size of the fines.  Or, in other words, would you buy a car from a company that has had such a large penalty?  It is too early to know whether the fines will affect sales of Honda's autos and vans, but it shouldn't take long to learn.  Meanwhile, salesmen are left with the burden of handling questions with no good answers.  It is safe to say that Honda will be in compliance in the future. If it isn't, it deserves to go out of business.

Thursday, January 08, 2015


How do you protect your product when competitors give away competing offers free?  This is the latest challenge for the database industry, but it isn't new to software. Operating systems, such as Linux, open source office software, applications of all kinds are offered for nothing.  It is a marketing and communications conundrum that software developers fight through feature-rich offerings, but many businesses don't need all of the functionality. Simple is enough and they can develop the tweaks they need.  So there is erosion that software developers are helpless  to stop.  One needn't worry about companies like Oracle today, but five years from now might be a different story if free software catches on among more businesses.  Oracle should be concerned.  I would like to know their marketing/PR plans for handling the issue.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

PR And The Police 

Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York City is learning the hard way about maintaining proper public relations with his police force.  The mayor's remarks about the way police handle arrests and deal with minority communities enraged the force.  Police officers turned their backs on him when he spoke at the funerals of two officers who were murdered recently. Ticketing for infractions has plummeted throughout the city.  Arrests are down.  There is a war of words between the head of the policeman's union and the mayor's office.  It is clear that the mayor blundered even if his comments were accurate.  He now has to win back the force, which he is trying to do, but a climate of suspicion and impaired credibility will be his legacy going forward.  The job of mayor of a major city is difficult enough without mistakes like this.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Skating On The Edge 

News that Israeli settlers stoned a US consul's car and vandalized 5,000 Palestinian olive saplings raises an interesting question.  How far can dissidents go before they lose public sympathy?  They are skating on the edge of losing support internally in Israel and externally with nations sympathetic to the country.  One wonders why Israel can't control them or at least better protect those trying to find a solution that is amenable both to Palestinians and Israelis.  Zealous Israelis claim the land by birthright and treat Palestinians as interlopers who must be moved out.  Palestinians who have lived there for hundreds of years object. Violence on one side sparks violence on the other.  Outrage begets anger.  Attempts to make peace swirl down the sewer.  There is no relationship among the publics on both sides and little chance of developing one.  Ultimately one side or the other has to be vanquished before there is any chance of peace and that might take decades.  It is a dangerous way to live.

Monday, January 05, 2015


It is a new calendar year but the same problems and opportunities exist for individuals and companies and the same PR challenges remain.  Days off don't shift the cast of them and probably do not revise the personal view of what one needs to do.  We forget with the hoopla of a New Year that life and business are continuums.  What we did in December, we will do in January and forward.  So, while it was fun to toast the turning of the clock, it didn't mean much.  Here is a hope that the days off did provide relaxation and boosted determination to meet the challenges.  The New Year Holiday should be good for something.  As for 2015, it takes no forecasting ability to say that new problems and opportunities will arise that will take one into 2016.  

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