Thursday, June 25, 2015

Taking Off 

I'm taking time off.  There will be no blogging until July 6.

Too Little, Too Late 

The press is speculating that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey will announce soon his candidacy for the GOP Presidential nomination.  One hopes he thinks it better to let others run.  New Jersey is in a fiscal crisis.  The governor's popularity has plunged and citizens are angry about his frequent absences doing speaking tours.  While working on his relationship with the public outside of New Jersey, he has lost the public inside. However, all politicians running for higher office face the same dilemma -- how to keep those who know you best on your side while courting those who don't.  They have to attend to daily business while spending most of their time campaigning.  It is no secret that the mundane tasks of leading get slighted.  If Christie is honest with himself and his publics, he would announce that he is not running, and he will spend his remaining time in office tackling New Jersey's pressing problems.  But, don't bet on that.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Smart PR 

Wal-Mart has accomplished some smart PR in its decision to stop selling products with the Confederate flag.  It read the national mood correctly and acted swiftly before anyone else could make the same announcement -- notably, Sears.  No doubt that some of Wal-Mart's customers will be unhappy, but more will support the move.  It is also likely that products with the Confederate flag did not make up many of the SKUs of an average store, so it isn't hurting the company's bottom line.  This is one more example of what good PR should be -- actions not words.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Death Of A Leader 

This is a case study of what to do when a CEO dies unexpectedly at a young age.  Employees need time to mourn but they also need to be refocused on their jobs.   HR has to parry calls from companies seeking to recruit away staff. Senior executives need mentoring for how to carry on in the absence of the leader.  A caretaker chairman or CEO needs to step in to keep operations running.  The board needs to launch a search for a successor and review its succession plans.  The company's strategy needs emphasis so the business doesn't drift.  PR should show the world how the company is doing and how it is getting back to normal.  There should be a focus on positive messages and rebuttal of negative ones.  The fundamental theme is that no company should be dependent on one man.   There are such companies, but they tend not to rise above proprietorships, and SurveyMonkey is well beyond that stage.  The company might struggle for a while but that is to be expected.  A new CEO can jump-start the business and help employees put grief in the past.  No one will forget the former CEO but they will carry on.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Making It Up? 

Politicians are already on the low side of the honesty scale, but one wonders if they are allowed to make up quotations that people never said.  Consider this case.  Apparently our founding fathers never wrote some of things attributed to them by book author and politician, Rand Paul.  Or, at least, quotes are misinterpretations of what the Founders said.  This kind of sloppiness earns historians poor marks and public shaming.  It is interesting that, other than this one story, not much has been said to point out Paul's errors.  Are voters uninterested or do they expect inaccuracies from pols?  In public relations, making up or bending quotes is a ticket to aspersion.  Reporters have little time for those who aren't accurate in their dealings with them. Politicians can sometimes get away with such truth-bending, but PR professionals can't.  Does that place us above elected officials?  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Moral Authority 

How far does the moral authority of a religious leader extend to the public?  The Roman Catholic pope is about to find out with his encyclical on the environment.  Already he is getting blowback from politicians, Catholics and others who do not agree with his point of view.  That is to be expected.  There are many who believe the pope has no right nor duty to comment on issues of the day.  This pope disputes that and has been active in pushing European governments on the refugee crisis as well as poverty.  There is a chance that he might go too far and earn the enmity of those he is trying to persuade, but so far, he has worked with care to highlight issues and point to humanitarian needs.  As long as he does that and avoids meddling in political issues, he should be a positive irritant and reminder to the world that there are issues we must address whether we like it or not.  What better definition of moral authority than that?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Boorish Clown 

What can one say about this fellow that is positive PR?   Comedians use him as the butt of jokes.  He has been a long-standing embarrassment to society, a self-regarding egotist, and a man filled with a sense of self-importance.  In nearly every way, he is anti-PR yet he continues to get publicity for himself and his projects and he explains away his failures as the other guy's fault.  There must be a businessman in the puffed shell of a celebrity.  He is worth billions, or so he says.  Unfortunately, he gives business a bad name and is a cartoon of what a CEO should be.  There is room for negative examples in the PR business.  He is one but he is so extreme that it is insulting to a CEO to be warned not act like him.  One wonders how many more years the public has to suffer with him on the scene bloviating to everyone, even those who aren't listening.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Slow-motion Crisis 

The Greek debt default negotiations have been interesting to watch.  Greek politicians have taken the position of "Save me or I'll cut my throat."  They are demanding debt relief without any more changes to the country's budget structure.  As European negotiators have tired of  telling them, that is not possible because the country cannot turn around with the ongoing deficits that it has.  Greece has been at the 12th hour for days now, and it is only a matter of someone pulling the trigger.  The country has until this weekend or it will commit fiscal suicide.  This opens a public relations question.  What publics is a country beholden to? Its citizens or the citizenry of other countries?  The answer would seem to be both but Greece's radical government is stalling on behalf of its suffering people.  That might seem heroic within Greece, but it looks like unrealistic stubbornness elsewhere.  No matter what happens, the country has a reputational issue for years to come.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Not Enough 

Twitter's CEO is looking for a job after failing to turn the social medium into a profitable communications service.  The wonder is why.  Twitter has hundreds of millions of users and visitors.  It is a darling of traditional media who tweet daily about what they are reporting and carry on discussions with readers.  It is used by celebrities, by politicians, by company executives, by marketers, by PR practitioners, by tens of millions of ordinary citizens.  Yet, it is struggling.  Could it be that the service has run its course and will disappear like so many other technologies that couldn't keep up?  The internet as a disruptive medium can shatter its own offerings as much as traditional media.  It is Darwinian, high-speed evolution.  Only a few media will survive for the long-term -- some traditional media that have successfully changed course, some social media that have adapted.  There is no guarantee for any medium that it will be successful and growing in 10 years, or even, five.  That means PR practitioners, marketers and other communicators should never show too much preference for one medium over another.  One never knows when it will disappear.

Monday, June 15, 2015

For Sale - Cheap 

It is little wonder that the public doesn't trust politicians when hacks seek to monetize everything.  Consider this instance.  Sit with Hillary for $2700.  That's cheap, but the image it projects is of a candidate for sale when a politician should be demonstrating integrity to the public.  Instead, it is bucks here and there and everywhere.  Candidates protest that it is costly to run a campaign and they have to subject themselves to the grind of fund-raising constantly to pay off debts.  Indeed, Hillary had a huge IOU from her first campaign for president.   One hopes there is a better way for candidates to reach the public with a message, and maybe the internet is a solution -- social media and web sites and news aggregators.  They are far less expensive than TV advertising, the huge nut for candidates to crack.  Until then, look for more ways for candidates to market themselves to the public and hold your nose.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Hitting The Wall 

How do you handle PR when your idea has smashed into an impenetrable wall?  This is a problem for Republican governors who rose to their elected offices with a pledge of "no new taxes."   They are facing budget deficits without revenue to offset them.  So, they are taking pragmatic action.  They are selectively raising taxes and fees to fill gaps.  Will voters remember at election time that they broke their promises?  The problem with the pledge is that government is often the provider of last resort.  It takes on jobs and issues that no one else wants to tackle, such as feeding the poor and providing the destitute medical services.  These segments of society are reliant on government to watch out for them.  The money for serving these groups comes from taxing wealthier citizens.  Republican governors who have cut state services to the bone are learning the lesson that unlike corporations that can fire people, government often can't do that.  Societal ills do not disappear when funds are taken away. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Big Data Fail 

Someone tampered with the data in Google's search and posited this as an explanation for the disappearance of dinosaurs.  Google had no explanation for how it happened.  Data tampering happens constantly, and Google is put in the position of catching up rather than being proactive and correcting misinformation.  The problem is endemic to Big Data.  When one is dealing in terabytes and larger of information, there is no way to police it all.  One has to rely on data users to alert information technologists of the corruption.  It can and will become a public relations issue when controversial information is slipped into the data stream.  Just ask Wikipedia.  Public relations practitioners need to be aware that in an era of Big Data there will be mistakes and they are likely to be frequent.  The public will judge a company by how fast it corrects errors and the measures it puts into place to prevent mistakes from happening again.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Big Number 

Facebook is celebrating the one-billionth download of its messenger app.  It is not the only company to have reached that number but it is extraordinary nevertheless.  It is hard to conceptualize big numbers and a billion is beyond the imagination of most people.  That is the population of the US nearly three times over -- every man, woman and child.  It is a greater number than the population of Europe.  From a PR perspective, it is a wonderful accomplishment and one that the company should boast about.  From a business view, advertisers have a vast audience to reach.  A billion of anything is huge.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015


The federal government is caught in a mess of its own making.  It has been hacked twice --  in the Office of Personnel Management and most recently, the Army's web site.  Millions of records have been compromised, and it makes agencies and departments look stupid, especially since they are worried about hacking outside of the government, such as the public utility power grid.  One would think that the feds would get their own house in order before worrying about the rest of the nation, but that is often not the way.  Bureaucracy is often "Do as I say not as I do."  Such hacking incidents scar the reputation of the government and open it to deserved mockery.  The proper public relations approach would be to seal its systems first and then to use itself as a model for others to follow.  It won't be perfect because hackers look for new ways of entry constantly, but prevention of most incidents should be enough.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Facts And PR 

Apple has been trumpeting the success of its "Apple Pay" application and calling 2015 as the year it will take off.  Reuters is not convinced and did its own study of the system.  It turns out that Apple has been exaggerating.  The result is embarrassment because someone checked the facts versus the contention.  Apple ought to know better.  It is a warning to PR practitioners as well to be conservative in claims.  Talk about what you have done and not what you plan to accomplish.  Or, at least, caveat your claims.  "We hope to make 2015 the year of Apple Pay."  We're striving to make 2015 the year of Apple Pay."  The flat statement that "2015 is the year of Apple Pay"  begs the attention of fact checkers.  Apple may yet make 2015 the year of a breakthrough in mobile payments, but now it has to overcome negative perceptions of its own making.  It is a needless distraction. 

Friday, June 05, 2015

Sea Change? 

There are too many lawyers seeking too few jobs.  Are MBA's next?  There is a rising concern that Wall Street doesn't value the MBA as it once did.  The certification now is the Chartered Financial Analyst for which one doesn't have to spend enormous sums for tuition.  It requires hands-on experience, however.  The question facing universities is what to do.  Career offices can help only so much and then the newly minted MBA is on her own.  It is hard for business schools to develop PR programs that differentiate them.  Essentially in the public's view and in the view of industry, other than a few top schools, one MBA program is like another.  The annual rankings are as much a curse as a benefit.  Who wants to trumpet that "we're no. 15."  Still, there is merit in getting professors interviewed and mentioned in the media.  It can provide an aura of relevance that might otherwise be lacking.  There are no easy ways to negotiate a sea change.  One must be flexible and prepared to tack to another course.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Polls And Perception 

It was news yesterday that Hillary Clinton's polling numbers had dropped. There were fretting and warnings about her future as a presidential candidate.  Some had the good sense to note that early polls don't mean much.  The electorate hasn't focused on the 2016 elections.  The fear is that the perception of weakness with voters might be enough for Republicans to attack and for other Democrats to start running.  Both of these outcomes have happened but they haven't made much difference yet.  The perception of Hillary and her husband has to turn more sour than it is now for there to be real danger to her candidacy.  So far, that is missing.  If poll numbers remain low during the months to come, there will be worries.  Today, there is no need to overhaul her campaign strategy.  

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


Even though one has a title, there is no guarantee power goes with it.  That is what Sepp Blatter realized after being re-elected as president of FIFA.  Rather than running the organization, he was going to be spending his time defending his reputation and answering questions from prosecutors.  He also would be under the gun to reform FIFA in order to purge it of corruption.  This would mean sacking more officials and turning others over to authorities for charges.  The loss of reputation has been so great that Blatter realized he couldn't recover. He did the right thing by resigning, but his reputation already has taken a mortal blow and he himself might be in a legal pickle, resignation or not.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


One of the first lessons a PR practitioner learns is that people aren't rational.  This fact took decades for economists to learn.  The burgeoning field of behavioral economics is a testament to the truth that people often work against their best interests because of risk aversion. What to make then of men who work long hours to compete with peers for no good reason?  They gain little from doing so except bragging rights and an early grave.  Yet, they continue to stay at their desks long after normal work hours have ended.  I've never been a believer in doing that. In fact, it seems to me that those who work late often work inefficiently.  If they organized their day and workload, chances are they would get out on time more frequently and learn to enjoy life.  Work should not be the sole reason for existence.  Unfortunately, in some cultures it was -- such as Japan -- where salarymen barely made it home by 11pm to fall into bed drunk and exhausted.  Eventually, Japan's managers came to their senses, and there is less of that workaholic tendency in the country today.  The rational position is to maintain balance in one's work-life.  That many don't is one more sign that reason is not the sole driving force of human endeavor.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Free Speech 

The Supreme Court voided the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who posted violent remarks on his Facebook page.  The court said federal law had set the bar too low for the charge to be upheld.  The ruling was apparently narrow but it poses a question of how threatening messages can be before authorities can act.  In this case, the man had stated he was expressing himself based on free speech principles.  That was discounted by lower courts.  Does this mean that anyone who says I'm simply saying what I feel can get off free?  The court didn't answer that.  Although it is unlikely PR practitioners will ever send violent messages to the public, it is possible they will be the recipients of screeds from unhappy consumers, investors and others.  The practitioners need to be aware that one can express himself strongly and be within the law.  They still need to hand over the messages to authorities and to track the situation, but they can't stop threatening words from coming.

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