Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Boob Factor 

Sometimes no matter what one does to run a business safely, someone deliberately breaks the rules and gets hurt.  Consider this.  The two men had no right to be present in the area nor any business that would grant them access.  Yet, they were there and the hotel has a PR problem on its hands.  It's frustrating for management to have to deal with the Boob Factor, and it is a burden on industry in general.  Look at warning signs attached to a ladder, for example.  One wonders when and where personal responsibility takes over in accidents.  Chances are that no lawsuit will be filed for negligence against the hotel, but the hotel can't be sure.  Hence, it has to deal with the incident as if it will become an issue.  There are many PR challenges a hotel has to consider in the ordinary course of business.  It doesn't need this.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jump Start 

Samsung is making a play for publicity by revealing in advance of the giant CES its futuristic concept products.  It is a smart move.  Hundreds of gadgets debut annually at the show and it taxes the stamina of reporters and editors to cover them all. It is easier to let them know before the show begins when there is time to highlight features and functions.  Samsung is not the only company doing this, of course.  Others are as well.  The outcome of too many marketers looking for advance scoops is that few will get them because once again reporters and editors will be over burdened.  Probably the best approach is to ignore CES and to reveal concepts and products later in the year when there is less competition.  There is no easy answer to brain-clutter that such a show produces.  For many, it is a matter of luck to be covered by the media.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Try, Try Again 

Often when a new electronic device fails in the marketplace, there is no second chance for it.  People scarcely remember the product and what it was supposed to do.  That is why this story is interesting.  Google is reluctant to give up on its Glass series of eye wear in spite of withering criticism it faced when it first came out and fears of invasion of privacy.  The company says it has fixed the previous problems and is now going to offer Glass to companies rather than consumers.  One wishes Google good luck but the chances of Glass becoming a frequently used product are slimmer than they were when it first appeared.  That is because few people who bought Glass the first time around found a must-have use for it.  The product seemed more like a gimmick than an essential tool.  Google needs to market Glass with time-saving activities and practical tips for employing it -- much like other electronic products have done.  Public relations will be an important part of the roll-out.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Unbridled Capitalism 

What is happening to drug pricing is an example of why government cannot allow unbridled capitalism.  Some pharmaceutical companies are beginning to charge what the market must bear for medicine, and since there are no other places for consumers to go, they have to fork over bank accounts for life-saving drugs.  This is wrong.  The companies know it.  It is monopoly, and it shouldn't be allowed to force patients to determine whether they can function or not.  It is bad public relations, and there is hardly a message that can be constructed to defend sudden, massive price increases.  Drug companies will say it is to pay for R&D, but that is a hollow claim. It is greed.  These companies are spurring the government to act, and if they dislike intrusion into their affairs now, wait until there are price controls.  A few bad actors can and will disadvantage an entire industry.  If ethical pharmaceutical companies are smart, they will band together soon to isolate unethical firms and pressure them to moderate their pricing before the government takes action.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Reminder 

This roster of tech companies that were losers in 2015 is a reminder to PR practitioners, as if they needed one.  Nothing is permanent.  Few companies last 50 years.  Fewer still remain in business for 100 or more.  When one thinks about old-line industries -- autos, industrial equipment, chemicals -- the number of survivors is miniscule by comparison to the beginning of their businesses.  For example, at one time there were 300 auto companies in the US, all vying to be the permanent replacement of the horse-drawn carriage.  The same consolidation is taking place among tech firms and in 25 years there will be fewer of them once the Internet of Things is fully developed.  There will be a few giants who have the prospects of remaining for the long run and tiny firms hoping to sell out to them.  There is no guarantee that Amazon, Apple or Google will still be in business or Hewlett-Packard or IBM.  All these companies face renewal when they have to shift their businesses dramatically to survive -- as HP already has done and IBM is attempting.  If nothing is permanent, how does one position a company for the long term?  The only solution is in-depth listening to and observation of customers -- what they need -- and rapid fulfillment of their desires.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Old Medium: New Management 

Jeff  Bezos of Amazon is making his mark at the Washington Post.  Rather than tinkering with the editorial product, he is spending most of his time focused on the customer experience and technology. These are areas in which he has few equals and his attention is paying off.  He is a benign owner of one of America's great newspapers and soon to be great digital product.  From a PR perspective, Bezos is doing well.  He is keeping the faith for readership and delivering news consumers want.  Rather than directing editorial to reflect his views, he is letting the independence of journalists to remain.  He can serve as a model for news media owners who see their product as a bully pulpit and sacrifice their credibility as a result.  If Bezos can successfully transform the Post for the digital age, that will be as remarkable a feat as building his online emporium.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

No Credibility 

How can a security company continue to operate when it admits it lied about protecting customers?  This is the situation in which Lifelock, the so-called security firm, finds itself.  Lifelock has paid a $100 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission for deceiving customers.  Yet the business continues.  It lacks credibility.  It doesn't do that job it claims.  About the only thing in its favor is a fear that one's identity will be stolen.  I would not be surprised if the business goes bankrupt in a matter of months.  On the other hand, if Lifelock can continue to play on people's angst, it might squeak through.  Would you trust a security company that cannot protect your personal data?  Lifelock is a cruel joke played on a naive public, and it is next to impossible to do public relations for a business like that.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Public Relations Or Spin 

Thirty four Muslim nations have formed a coalition to fight ISIS.  The question remains open whether it is a serious effort or spin.  It will be public relations if the coalition acts to destroy ISIS.  It will be spin if it doesn't.  PR is what one does and not what one says.  Action needn't be dropping bombs on ISIS targets, but it could be strong coordination in rooting out cells of the terrorist group and giving them no place to go. It also could be committing ground troops to the fight in Iraq and Syria. The potential for action is broad but the will to act is the question.   Time will tell how successful the coalition is. Banding together is just a start.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Smart Marketing 

It takes marketing insight and creativity to solve long-standing consumer headaches.  Here is a successful example.  Every householder has a need for maintenance services demanding capabilities beyond the householder's skill level.  And, therein is the headache.  One doesn't know who to call except by asking neighbors or clicking through web sites.  The problem with web sites is that they don't tell one whether the service provider is prompt, knows what he or she is doing and charges a fair price.  The Happy Home Company solves those issues.  Rather than 10 or 20 calls, there is just one call to make, saving time and angst, and a case manager is assigned to the issue to make sure it is resolved.  That is smart marketing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Counter Intuitive 

Often, facts fly in the face of conventional belief.  Consider this case.  It is hard to believe that lettuce produces more greenhouse gas than a pig.  But, if the scientists have calculated correctly, vegetarians contribute as much or more to global warming as carnivores.  Try explaining that to a skeptical reporter.  Sometimes PR requires persuasion against popularly held notions and the task is doubly hard.  One needs to find a journalist who is open-minded and willing to take facts as they are.  Not surprisingly, members of the media have biases whether they accept it or not.  They are convinced that a CEO of a company is a crook and all the evidence in hand won't change their minds until the CEO is tried and found innocent.  Even then, many, if not most, will say the CEO got away with it.  One things is certain. In a counter intuitive circumstance, one must have powerful facts in hand to shake the worldview of the party being persuaded.  Opinions won't change minds.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


What is a definition of publicity?  This is one -- the lavish opening of a new Star Wars film.  Disney is known for its show business skill, and it put it to work for the grand opening of a film that cost it $4.3 billion to make -- if you count the purchase of Lucasfilm into the production cost.  Disney expects to make $2 billion of that back with just this film.  The economics of Hollywood are boggling.  The publicity for the film had been going on for months leading to the premiere.  Disney left no opportunity on the table to make sure that Star Wars fans are panting to see the movie.  Disney's public relations is the film itself -- does it equal or better previous Star Wars features? Initial whispers are that it does.  That means the fan frenzy that Disney has whipped up will be satiated and primed for more.  What else could a movie studio want?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tough Task 

How do you regain your credibility once you have lost it?  It is harder than one might think, particularly if you were in the public's eye as CEO of a standout company.  This is the tough task that the CEO of Theranos has taken on.  She was the toast of the media until stories appeared that claimed her technology for blood testing doesn't work well, or in some cases, at all.  Since then, she has been under siege.  Her task is to prove her blood testing units do what they are supposed to achieve and at the low price point claimed for them.  This is the only way she can re-establish her vision for her company.  The extravagant claims before the negative publicity set the company up for failure, which is what occurred.  now she needs a humbler approach based on results.  That might be impossible to reach and her multibillion valuation of the company could dissipate instantly.  A CEO in this kind of crisis earns her pay, but then she should not have allowed it to blow up in the first place.  Realistic claims based on facts from the beginning would have served her well.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Smart PR 

SAP, the German software company is doing well by doing good.  It is hiring 650 workers suffering from autism to become specialist technicians. It turns out that people with the brain malady are exceedingly logical and attentive to detail.  This is just the kind of worker SAP needs to debug software among other things.  The company wins by taking on a group that hitherto was considered unemployable and by gaining important skill sets.  One suspects that the company also is paying less for an autistic technician than for a software engineer.  If the company's experiment proves successful, it will set a standard for other software companies to follow and the mentally handicapped will find themselves in demand.  Smart PR is good business.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Worst Kind Of Crisis 

A restaurateur's nightmare is poisoning people who eat his food.  Even worse is the inability to find out what caused it.  Add to that a failure of the logistics chain that delivers ingredients to make sure foodstuffs are not contaminated.  All three crises are underway at the restaurant chain, Chipotle.  It can't get a break.  The poison is E. coli bacteria that somehow has worked its way into its food from the West Coast to the East.  A headache for the chain is its dedication to using fresh, locally sourced, organic ingredients, so it can't go to one or two suppliers and trace the contamination to its roots.  It is dealing with dozens if not hundreds.  This has compromised the firm's strategy and marketing appeal.  There is little for the company to do now than to work as quickly as it can to pinpoint the source or sources of the bacteria and to get the restaurants operating again.  Almost certainly, Chipotle will have to modify policies and procedures to prevent future outbreaks and this might compromise its marketing message, but better that than a collapse of the entire business. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Crisis In The Making? 

Just as liberalization laws are passing to allow people to smoke marijuana, scientific studies are indicating that some types might be harmful to the brain.  They are cannabis crossbred to produce higher levels of THC, the chemical that causes euphoric effects.  However, science is a step behind the law.  There is no clear link yet between THC and mental health. This raises an interesting dilemma.  Are we repeating the history of cigarettes in which science did not catch up with marketing of tobacco for decades, and when it did, it took decades more to reduce smoking.  From a PR perspective, it makes more sense to complete the scientific studies before opening the door further to smoking cannabis.  The public should know what it is getting into rather than manufacturing another health crisis. However, it looks now like society is ready to repeat past mistakes with another crisis in the making.

Monday, December 07, 2015


Consumers fall for illusions regularly.  They know better but the perception that they are getting a good deal, for example, is stronger than the actual value of the offering.  Consider outlet stores.  There is no way they can offer discount prices on excess merchandise from mainline emporiums.  For one, there isn't that much of it.  Secondly, there are too many discount outlets.  In fact, discounters offer cheaper merchandise whose value is reflected in the price, but shoppers come anyway.  It might be that consumers are not fooled at all by the discount store label and are price-sensitive.  If so, both the retailer and buyer accept the perception that the shopper is getting a good deal when they know they aren't.  Humans are far from fully rational creatures.  

Friday, December 04, 2015


It's a PR and marketing gaffe to have authorities seize your product because it is deemed unsafe.  But that is what happened in the UK to the makers of hoverboards.  Fifteen thousand were impounded for various electrical and other problems.  That is pretty much all of the inventory for the holiday sales season.  The inevitable question arises.  What were they thinking?  Surely, the manufacturers knew of the safety questions.  Did they plan to overwhelm the authorities and thereby get some through? Did they ignore warnings? Did they stand behind their product as safe and dared the authorities to take action.  Whatever it was, they are in a bind now.  The hoverboard has been effectively excluded from the UK for failing to meet European safety standards.   

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Innovative PR 

This is an example of innovative PR that if successful will change the way we travel.  The idea that cars can race by themselves without a driver at speeds approaching 200 mph is revolutionary.  As the article points out, racing will entail passing, strategy and pit stops.  If the vehicles can do all of those things without human intervention, it is a small step to transplanting the technology to the street.  Formula racing already is integrated with sensor technology and engineers gauge hundreds of metrics during competitions.  Replacing the driver is a logical next step but a huge one.  Drivers keep their cars on the edge while circling a track and know where the danger spots are.  A robo-car might not have the same intelligence and could spin out or wreck.  Still, it will be useful and groundbreaking if a field of driverless cars were to line up on a grid and compete.  It will prove that self-driving cars are ready for everyday use.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Not Our Problem 

Sometimes a company must publicly disavow use or abuse of its product.  Here is a case.  SAP, the software company, stated that its software wasn't the cause of problems that  forced DHL,the German mail and courier company, to take a huge write-off.  SAP supplied its software to a contractor who was tasked with installing it.  The contractor ran into problems and the system has been delayed.  The media had already fingered SAP as a party to the problems, and thus it was forced to clarify its position.  It is an uncomfortable position.  SAP almost certainly wants to remain a supplier to the contractor, but it needs to protect itself against a worse public relations fall-out should the entire project collapse.  There will almost certainly be lawsuits and SAP needs to sidestep those as well.  The best it can do is to divorce itself from a messy situation.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Spin Or Real? 

Uber, the much criticized ride-sharing service, has formed a safety board with notable names on it.  The question one asks is whether this is spin or a serious attempt by the company to insure security for passengers.  Uber hasn't made much of an effort since its founding to play by the rules.  It barges into towns and has squads of lobbyists to fend off complaints.  It seems to believe that it would rather be forgiven than ask for permission.  Thus far, its strategy has worked, but it has built enormous opposition to its tactics.  The safety board looks like a band-aid in light of its past behavior and only time will tell if the company is serious.  

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