Friday, July 31, 2015

Pot And Kettle 

This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  China is actively building its military presence on islands in the South China sea.  It is trying for a coup de main -- expanding its forces enough that it won't be opposed when it takes over the sea.  So why is China accusing the US of militarizing the area?  One explanation is that China is playing to its citizens.  Its accusations are designed to increase and inflame public awareness of the military exercises and patrols the US is doing in what the US maintains are international waters.  This tactic can and does work when the public is on the side of the government.  And, the indications are that Chinese citizens do support their military forces.  The danger of this kind of thinking, however, is that it can tilt over into hostile action and escalate tensions, something that no one wants.  So, it is best if both China and the US sail carefully in the South China sea and diminish the war of words.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Death Spiral 

How do you do PR for a company in a death spiral?  This is the situation facing Yelp, the user-driven review site.  Its stock has crashed and its chairman has stepped down.  There is little that looks good for the future of the company.  Still, it is an entity that is in business, and it needs to build users, if it is to continue.  The CEO needs to be present for the troops and keep them believing.  Yelp has to continue marketing as well.  The theme should be that Yelp doesn't know what tomorrow will be but it is continuing nonetheless.  That is a hard sell to engineers and others in demand in Silicon Valley.  Yelp may have to give retention bonuses to its key people in order for them to stay put.  Public relations should focus on real progress rather than the ephemeral.  Blizzards of releases won't help now.  It would look desperate.  Yelp isn't the last company whose valuation will crash.  There are plenty of others teetering on the edge.  It's painful to be first.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hearing The Public At Last 

The US Olympic Committee (USOC) had hoped to steamroll Boston's bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.  Bostonians had other ideas and USOC heard the public at last.  Boston has now been dropped as the official bid for the games.  Call this public relations in reverse.  The public made known its opposition to the games and USOC listened.  Now the committee has to find another city that will welcome the games, and it has little time to do it. In retrospect, Boston's citizens were correct in repudiating the games.  They are wildly expensive to host and every city that has done so has been left with huge deficits.  The games in Athens nearly bankrupted the country. Why, then, should Bostonians open their arms to the games?  Boston's revolt might be the start of a general questioning of the expense of the games and what might be done to restrain costs.  Olympics on a budget is a good idea and it is time to try it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not Nearly Enough 

Google is finally giving up on force-feeding Google+ to users of its search and YouTube services.  It is facing the fact that it has not nearly enough members and probably never will.  For a company that has been wildly successful with its search engine and algorithms, it might be embarrassing to admit it doesn't know how to engage people.   Facebook has led the way in person-to-person connection and has both scale and ease of use.  The best Google+ can do is to chip away at Facebook's leadership in the hope that its modest service can appeal to segments of the market.  Google+ should be a case study.  The problem with it seems to be that it never offered enough differentiation in service that users wanted and couldn't do without.  It was a resounding me-too.  Facebook had the advantage and took it, never looking back.  It should be a lesson to PR practitioners.  Fast and flexible movers can stave off competition just as Google has done in the search business.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Too Little, Too Late 

While I was away, this story appeared in the New York Times.  It's a case of too little too late to rescue an individual's reputation.  When the court document leaked that Bill Cosby had sex with numerous women and drugs were involved in some of these cases, he lost his reputation as America's Dad.  The lawyers should have spoken then.  Instead, they let the allegations fester and the wound to bleed.  Today, Cosby is a tarred man who has lost endorsements and whose career is finished.  That might not be so bad because he is older now and already had a stellar time in the public spotlight, but his legacy is lost.  He is no longer the wholesome comedian we thought he was.  So, he beat the lawsuits thus far, but that isn't saying much.  Using a female attorney to plead his case is spin that doesn't cover what he admitted doing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I will be away tomorrow and Friday.  There will be no posting for the next two days.  


One outcome of automated cars has been little talked about -- the fate of car insurance.  With a driverless car, the number of times one is in a wreck will plummet -- at least if you can take Google's driverless cars as evidence.  Who needs insurance when a vehicle with a never-tired computer traverses the roads?  Auto insurance companies are assuredly paying attention to the growth and maturation of telematics and vehicle guidance.  Look for them to start giving breaks to vehicle owners who have back-up cameras, self-parking systems, lane watch controls and automatic distance keepers that are already in showrooms.  The final step of getting rid of the driver will be the big disruption.  Will auto insurance companies go away?  Not right away and perhaps, never, but their offerings will have to change along with their actuarial estimates of how often a driver is in an accident.  Look for mergers among car insurers in the coming years as fleets turn more and more to automation.  Although I am happy with my insurer, USAA, I would be even more content if I didn't have to shell out hundreds of dollars a year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dirty Laundry 

It is painful when an institution supposedly built on love and religion erupts into a public fight over worldly matters.  One would hope there are still places left on earth where spiritual practices are foremost, and perhaps, there are, but in this case, there aren't.  It is hard to say or know who might be at fault here for open warfare between aging nuns and the diocese of Los Angeles.  It is knee-jerk a reaction to support the nuns over the bureaucrats, but the nuns haven't been quiet. The net result is scandal, an unseemly fight between two forces that leave the laity to fend for themselves.  The newspaper reports the situation with a sense of reality.  See these people aren't that much different than you and I.  They might have dedicated themselves to God but they haven't let go of their worldly selves.  In this case, the newspaper might be right.  This case will work its way through the courts and eventually be settled, but in the meantime, the faithful in Los Angeles and elsewhere are being treated to a display of dirty laundry.

Monday, July 20, 2015

State Relations 

Opening an embassy is an act of mutual trust between two nations.  That is why this act has significance and is a PR step for both the US and Cuba. Rather than choosing the decades-long standoff, they are now warily relating again.  Progress will be slow. The Castro brothers will continue to be communists and their philosophy will continue to dominate the island's view of the world.  The US has a decades-long task of rebuilding relationships with the Cuban people, many of whose relatives dwell in the US after leaving the island more than 50 years ago.  Generations have grown and passed on since the barrier went up between the two nations.  It will take years for the fence to come down and for the two countries to reach normalcy.  But the embassy is a first step and a good one.

Friday, July 17, 2015

State Reputation 

Puerto Rico is Greece -- a bankrupt nation unable to pay its bills.  Unlike Greece, Puerto Rico potentially can rely on the US government to help restructure debt and get out of a hole dug deeply into the earth.  Like Greece, however, and Argentina, Puerto Rico has damaged its reputation as a fiscally conservative country.  This will make its debt more expensive, and will have investors and rating agencies looking carefully at its financial health.  Puerto Rico's mismanagement of its affairs has been known for some time.  Now it faces the penalty for it.  The question is whether the Puerto Rican citizens are ready to accept restrictions on the country.  They can revolt like Greek citizenry but ultimately, they, like the Greeks, may need to accept an onerous bailout -- bitter medicine.  This might start an exodus to the US which wouldn't be the first time many have left the island.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Is it good PR to disappoint your customers?  Amazon.com is about to find out.  It is conducting its first off-season sale for its Prime customers, and some are unhappy with what is being offered at discount.  Does it make sense to have done it, or should Amazon like Wal-Mart strive for low prices every day?  Other merchants run sales until supply lasts and shoppers queue for a chance to grab something from a rack and run to a dressing room.  Perhaps the experience is not the same online where customers expect a nearly infinite supply of goods.  Amazon will judge the effectiveness of its strategy and adapt in years to come, but it doesn't need any more headlines about unhappy customers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The Mexican President is fighting charges of corruption in the ranks over the improbable escape of Drug Lord Joaquin Guzman from a maximum security prison  And he should.  What the escape engineers did to free Guzman is incredible.  Think of it.  Boring a hole thirty feet below ground and arrow straight for a mile to Guzman's cell would test any miner's skills, and one can only conclude that Guzman's people had help.  It wouldn't have taken much to miss the prison altogether without laser sighting, but once one dug below the facility, how would he know precisely where to come up?  Guzman's people bought off guards almost certainly or somehow compromised their integrity.  It is an embarrassment for Mexico and its political structure and rightfully the President has lost credibility.  One must now ask what kind of PR is needed to regain the confidence of Mexican citizens.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Danger 

According to a recent study, most local news sites make less than $50,000 a year in display advertising sales, and they are dependent on ill-paid staff or volunteers to generate and publish content. What this means is that publishers are leaning on the personal ethics of the reporters and volunteers to produce accurate and objective copy.  It also means that reporters and volunteers are open to manipulation by unscrupulous operators who see local news as "pay-for-play."  It is fair to say that local news jobs have never paid well.  One had to scrape for a living, but the wage level of online almost certainly is lower and will remain that way until publishers make a decent level of ad dollars.  It is likely that many of them never will.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

At It Again 

Donald Trump can't keep his mouth shut, and every time he opens it, he looks a greater fool.  Consider this.  Not only does he inflate a specific case into a general statement, he is now demanding that those who mocked him apologize for their statements.  His position that all Mexican immigrants are law-breakers and a blight on the US is not nor ever has been true.  This country could hardly function without the labor of the immigrant, legal or otherwise.  Who would harvest our produce, care for our lawns, paint our houses, perform the dirty manual labor Americans don't like to do?  I worked with Mexican illegals long ago as a teenager. They could and did out-produce me in the fields.  They were uneducated, scabrous in speech and often, unbathed, but where it counted they came through time and again.  They were on the lowest rung of society and knew it, but that didn't prevent them from putting out and delivering an honest day's labor.  They were wonderful, earthy people whom I recall fondly.  Maybe if Trump were to get his hands dirty while working with them for a few hours, he might figure that out himself.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Never Say Never 

It is hubris to declare that something will never happen in business.   Consider this statement.  Sony Mobile's leader has no way of knowing whether the company can last in the phone market or not.  Sony has been bleeding for years after losing its no.1 status as a consumer electronics company.  It is an open question whether the firm will survive, much less catch up in mobile.  Sony will need to break the hammerlock that Apple and Android systems have on the market.  It is understandable that a new leader show confidence and some bravado to bolster employees, but there is such a thing as going too far.  In the internet age, business is topsy turvy, constantly disrupted, ahead today and behind tomorrow.  If that is what Hiroki Totoki is saying, he might have some justification for his belief, but he will need an extraordinary product to break through and Sony doesn't have much time on its side.  There is a time for caution in public remarks.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Network Credibility 

The failure of two major networks yesterday points to the fragility of the digital economy.  Although there was no evidence of hacking, it is uncomfortable to know that a broken switch or burned-out router or other malfunction can bring down both a stock exchange and a separate airline booking network at the same time.  What is worrisome is the two systems are not related.  What kind of fail-safe backup systems do the two networks have?  What are the elements that went down and what is needed to make them secure in the future?  Uptime is the hallmark of network credibility.  These are systems that have to work 24x7x365.  They can't afford an occasional crash.  The CIOs of United Airlines and the NYSE are facing hard questioning and well they should.  Their reputations and the credibility of their networks are at stake.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Trust And Chinese Stocks 

The Chinese stock market continues its sell-off, and novice investors have been burned badly.  One could have predicted the fall.  Many Chinese companies have obscure accounting and earnings that are not credible.  Many are carrying huge debt loads, which they will have difficult paying off.  Some are keeping two sets of books -- one for the outside world and one internally, which is more accurate.  The Chinese are still learning the need for fiscal transparency.  The reputation of the stock market is at risk because of that.  If the US with its regulatory oversight of the markets can still have a major meltdown, how much more can the Chinese suffer through sharp falls in the value of equities.  It is a public relations problem at its core.  The Chinese markets need to capture and maintain the trust of investors for the long term.  If that doesn't happen, investors will stay away and the funding needs of exchange companies will need to be procured in other ways.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Greece And Credibility 

The head of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers is warning Greece to come up with a credible debt restructuring package.  Needless to say, the European Union will define credibility and not Greece.  The country may have its citizens behind it, but they are bit players in the drama taking place.  Greece's prime minister is scrambling to come up with a new proposal that he can take to Brussels, but there isn't much he can do if the rest of the European Union decides that it is too little too late.  The EU's dilemma is that it doesn't want to set a precedent of being too easy on a debtor nation lest others follow the same path of resistance.  The EU's own credibility is at stake.  So the negotiations will wind on for weeks more and each side will strive for something it can take home.  The reputations of both bodies are at stake.  It is not a good position for either side to be in.

Monday, July 06, 2015


Last week I was in Alaska on a cruise from Juneau to Glacier Bay to Sitka.  The cruise line advertised itself as UnCruise because it claimed to be an active vacation with plenty of off-boat experiences.  The claim was more than true.  In fact, it was a high form of public relations because everything promised was more than delivered.  The ship held but 80 guests and they were grouped by those who did shore hikes, bushwhacking and nature strolls, those who kayaked and those who did skiff tours in zodiac boats.  Weather was no barrier.  The tour company told everyone to bring rubber boots, waterproof jackets and pants and hats. We used them on a day with 20 to 30 knot winds and driving rain.  Our naturalist guides advised us that this was true Alaska and bad conditions wouldn't stop us.  They didn't and we felt good enduring the weather even if rainproof pants leaked (and mine did).  There was good food, plenty of time to speak to other guests and bonding.  If you want to take an active tour, this is the way to do it.  I recommend the company and its people.  

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