Thursday, June 30, 2016

Merger Gone Bad 

Most mergers fail, studies have shown.  This one started with high hopes, in-depth planning and crashed against the reality of combining two airline companies.  It is symptomatic of a merger gone bad that flight attendants have spent nearly six years working under two contracts -- one from United and the other from Continental.  The chaos of the reservation systems being combined cost the company tens of millions and customers.  Did it have to be this way?  Where was communications?  Did United over-communicate to employees to make sure they heard the company's messages?  One wonders.  It was not for lack of advanced planning that the merger went off track.  I recall reading an article before the process began in which United boasted of its work to make the combination smooth and without troubles for employees and passengers.  It never happened.  Now  management is getting around to unifying the workforce six years late.  Maybe this time, the process will flow smoothly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

IoT And Communications 

Everyone in the tech world is talking about the Internet of Things -- how it is going to simplify life, expand control of the home and make daily living easier.  The key is convenience.  Consumers will adopt IoT if it is easy to start and maintain. That is what it isn't at the present time.  Every manufacturer and marketer has a standard that isn't compatible with everyone else.  Installing systems and getting them to talk to one another is a nightmare.  For IoT to be successful, it will need to become as standardized as an electric utility.  In the world of power in the US, everything is the same -- voltage, amps, electrical sockets, light switches, etc.  One doesn't have to check the electrical requirements for a lamp before plugging it in nor for that matter, a toaster, microwave oven, sound amplifier, TV, hair dryer, clock or electric tooth brush.  They work because US utilities standardized long ago unlike Europe, for example.  The communications task facing the world of IoT is one of rapprochement -- listening to one another and going along even when it is not in the best interests of individual companies.  It is too early to tell whether the industry will ever get to this stage but the IoT will be delayed for as long as companies fail to talk to one another.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

PR And No Future 

How do you motivate employees when your company has no future?  This is the task facing Takata, the manufacturer of millions of faulty air bags.  Takata is now working for consumers who need replacement parts.  It is not selling many air bags for new installs.  There is a strong possibility that the company will go out of business or will shrink to a fraction of its former size.  It has already lost contracts with major Japanese auto makers, and it is not likely to get them back.  Every time another death is reported because of faulty propellent, another nail is driven into the company's coffin.  So, how do you keep employees focused on the task of replacement when there are better job opportunities elsewhere with a future?  There isn't much one can say other than "we owe it to our customers."  Most employees, however, were not part of the decision to use one explosive over another.  It was an engineering specification. Chances are most employees were not aware of the danger.  That makes it harder to motivate a workforce that had nothing to do with the decision.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dealing With The Fallout 

Communications are essential when dealing with the fallout of a crisis.  That is why the British government is appealing for calm.  There is little that can be done physically while the country breaks away from the EU, so the best thing to do is to carry on as normally as possible.  The exit will not happen in days or even in weeks.  There are too many regulations, agreements and understandings to unwind.  Keeping British citizens up to the moment as each one of these breakaways and their implications is effected will be essential.  There will still be confusion and a goodly number of individuals will not get the message, but the government must try in order to prevent a worse crisis.  The rule here is to over-communicate, to be in the citizen's face with the message, to make sure that every rumor is addressed with facts and every outburst handled calmly.  The government should project a sense of control even though it doesn't have it and of the ability to deal with each situation as it arises.  Beneath the surface and among bureaucrats there will be a sense of panic that also must be handled for they are the ones who will formalize the rupture and they have to be kept at the task as it unfolds.  There will be plenty for communicators to do in the weeks and months ahead.  Little of it will be pleasant.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Where To Begin 

On rare occasions the news is so startling that one is at a loss on where to begin comments.  This morning is one of those.  There is the Supreme Court decision on immigration yesterday that struck down President Obama's executive order and at the same time, there is Britain voting itself out of the European Union last night leading to the Prime Minister stepping down this morning.  Both actions have implications for the public and communications.  The Court's decision places millions of immigrants in jeopardy of being deported.  The British decision upsets the relationship of the country with hundreds of millions.  It will take time to see how both decisions play out and the messages they send.  The financial markets have already reacted negatively to the British vote.  It is too early to determine how the political sphere will respond to the Court.  In any event, yesterday was an historic day and one hopes not soon repeated.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Costco, the wholesale retailer, has a disaster on its hands.  The company ended its credit card agreement with American Express and moved to Visa.  The problem is that Citibank, which is issuing the Visa cards, has bungled the job.  Rather than just blaming Citi, irate shoppers are haranguing Costco about the mess.  Some have vowed to stop shopping at Costco stores because of the botched transition.  The problem is that there isn't much Costco can do to straighten out its vendor.  It has to wait until all cards are issued then try to rebuild good will with customers.  One can ask how it came to this in the first place.  Was Citi too confident that it could handle the job?  What are the fallbacks Citi should have had in place, or did they fail as well?  One can imagine the pressure both companies are under, especially knowing that it didn't have to happen this way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ad hominem 

What does one do when it is hard to attack a message?  Attack the sender.  This is a rhetorical tactic in which Donald Trump is an expert.  An economic study shows Trump's plans for the economy would damage it and cause a recession.  Attack the author of the study for being in bed with Hillary Clinton.  Don't bother with the study itself.  Assume it is worthless and anyway, who but the "sleazy" media are going to read it.  The average voter is cynical enough with the ways of Washington that he is only to ready to believe that such a study is shilling for the Democratic nominee.  Ad hominem attacks are misdirection.  Rather than arguing the merits, they argue the person behind the contention.  Sometimes that is all one can do because his armory of argument is bare.  This appears to be the case with Trump.  He has no study to make a counter-argument. He is likely not to get one before the serious campaigning begins.  His only argument is "Trust me.  We'll make America great again."  That seems to be a weak proposal from someone who has an inflated ego and is a narcissist.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Employee Damage 

This is an example of the immense damage a single employee can do to a company. One disaffected worker ruined 27 tons of chicken.  The size of the damage is understandable when one considers what one chicken weighs -- about five pounds.  This person ruined the product of several giant chicken houses.  The article doesn't state what the grievance was that caused the individual to go over the line, but it is a reminder that a company is only as good as every employee in it.  One wonders about the state of employee relations at the processor and whether workers understand the absolute need for cleanliness in the lines.  If they do, then this worker's action was especially egregious and he or she deserves dismissal and legal punishment.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Peter Thiel was a darling of Silicon Valley until the Gawker case.  Now he faces being voted off the board of Facebook.  His reputation as a savvy investor is intact.  His reputation as a balanced participant in the media is in tatters.  It is a reminder, should anyone need one, that business and news do not have to get along, and indeed are in some ways opposed.  The profit motive can and does stand in the way of higher principles promulgated by the media,  such as a fair and decent wage, healthcare and fundamental benefits.  When a company owner gives these, he is acting above and beyond the economic transaction.  Even when a business owner says he is acting out of self interest to keep valuable employees, he is stretching the meaning of an exchange of goods and services for money.  So Peter Thiel is acting like a normal businessman.  The question now is whether that is acceptable to Mark Zuckerberg who has aspirations of being a media baron.

Friday, June 17, 2016


A major tech company -- 105 years old -- is seeking to reinvent itself.  What else can the company be but IBM?  IBM has changed constantly since the days of the mechanical tabulating machine.  It has been in and out of numerous businesses, and it is in the process again of changing the corporate DNA.  The company is a competitor whose dominant days are behind it, but there is always a chance, particularly with its artificial intelligence called Watson, that it will emerge at the head of markets again.  The internet age has not been kind to IBM and Silicon Valley tech companies are  not afraid of the company or its size.  That is a huge turnabout since the days of the FUD factor (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that kept IT people in the IBM camp.  We are in an era when it will be difficult for any one company to dominate for long.  Alphabet holds the title of Big Dog temporarily, but it is uncertain it will last.  Apple dominates with consumer devices, but already there are complaints that the company no longer innovates as it has.  IBM is a huge company that will require major new businesses to turn around.  Can it reinvent itself again and tell its story credibly?  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Unusual Crisis 

The communications director for the Disney Grand Floridian Resort and Spa must have been shocked by the news that a two-year-old boy was attacked by an alligator on the property and dragged to his death in a lagoon.  How does one prepare for an unusual crisis such as this?  The family assumed, as they should have, that vacationing at a Disney property would be safe.  That they lost their son is devastating.  Disney had posted alligator signs around the lake but there is no indication the family saw them.  Disney also routinely removed alligators from the lake but it clearly had missed at least one.  There is no indication that the company acted irresponsibly, but it now must comfort the family, rebuild the reputation of the resort and address any lawsuit stemming from the incident.  None of these steps are going to be easy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Smart PR 

This is a public service and smart PR.  Offering tools on Facebook to combat suicide is a logical extension of the social medium.  It is a creative use of the pages that depends on the friends and acquaintances of an individual to report their concerns.  This might be seen as a weakness, but who knows a person best?  Some see it as an invasion of privacy as well, but there comes a time when interference with one's intent is good, especially if one is planning to take one's life.  Kudos to Facebook for inserting itself into the well-being of its users.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Taxes and tax payments are topics rife with political cant and popular mythology.  As such, they are issues that are ideal for public relations -- i.e. getting the facts out about taxation.  That is what this study from the Congressional Budget Office tries to do.  It clears the air about who is paying more for government and who less.  It presents facts about tax rates and their change, or lack of it, over the years.  It puts a stake in the ground to counter misinformation about taxes that has grown into a political and cultural battle.  There is one fact about the report that isn't stated but is certain.  Those with axes to grind will ignore it and continue to inveigh about tax unfairness.  This will happen because taxes are an easy target for criticism and wrong-headed argument.  Because they touch almost everyone, there is personal interest in the topic and an opening for demagoguery.  It would be helpful if the CBO mounted a PR campaign to explain taxation but it isn't likely.  The report will stand on its own.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

Perverse PR 

The slaughter in Orlando was the occasion of perverse PR when the shooter claimed to be in sympathy with ISIS.  Whether or not he had ever been in touch with the terrorist group, his statement was a pledge of allegiance to savages who use any method of pain and killing to get their way.  One can imagine the communications person for ISIS walking taller this morning and commenting to his fellow terrorists that ISIS needs more such demonstrations of power.  Sunday morning is the reason why the Islamic State must be exterminated before its influence spreads to more lone wolves.  There is no negotiation, communication or other non-violent approach that will work.  In this world, there are people who are not amenable to persuasion of any kind other than violence..  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Negative Publicity 

Here is an example of negative publicity for the common good.  Yellowstone Park rangers want the public to have a safe engagement with nature and natural wonders, but individuals persist in bending the rules.  They stray from boardwalks into unsafe territory.  They pick up animals that should be left alone.  They feed animals that shouldn't be fed.  All these activities increase the danger to themselves and to the animals.  By highlighting the negatives, rangers are warning the public to behave.  They know there will be a percentage of visitors who will ignore safety warnings, and these will become the exhibits for those who are inclined to follow rules.  It shouldn't be that way, but there is no way to exercise total control of humans.  Even if the Park was flooded with rangers, there would still be some who try to get away with breaking instructions.  They are often winners of the Darwin Award.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Taking Responsibility 

Japan has an executive culture in which CEOs take responsibility for bad things that happen on their watch.  A CEO will step down when a negative event occurs unlike most CEOs in the West.  In this case, the company was falsifying fuel economy tests.  Did the CEO know?  It's hard to say, but if he did, in the US he would be fighting civil and criminal charges.  In this case, he vacated an office he held for decades and retreated to the chairmanship of the company.  In other instances, Japanese CEOs have left their companies altogether.  The recent deck-clearing at Volkswagen in Germany was unusual, but then so was the scandal that caused it.  There, like most Western CEOs, the executive was embedded and it took an enormous failure to get him to leave.  Meanwhile the board cleared itself of any responsibility for "diesel-gate."  Maybe the West should learn a thing or two from the East when it comes to taking responsibility.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Rebuking The Boss 

Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Republicans, but that hasn't spared him from criticism by members of his own party.  Here is House Speaker Paul Ryan's take on Trump's verbal jab at the judge handling the civil lawsuit against Trump University, a failed school.  It should be clear to Trump now, if it hasn't been already that his own party is holding its nose while backing him and will rebuke him openly.  Trump's shoot-from-the-lip style has cost him the support of a number of prominent politicians and the more he doubles down on his statements, the more back-peddling is happening in the Republican Party.  To attack a judge for his ethnicity is bad enough, but Trump as yet refuses to disavow his comment, even when it is pointed out that it is racist.  It is enough to wonder how Trump came to be the presumptive nominee.  Millions voted for him and he attracts crowds to his rallies.  He is selling himself as the anti-politician successfully so far, but he is living on the edge and might have fallen already.  

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Smart Marketing 

Cancer survivors need of special nutrition in order to regain their health.  Since there are millions of them in the United States, they form a niche segment which a food company can serve.  Kudos to Hormel for doing it.  It is smart PR as well because the company is nearly half-owned by a nonprofit institute that researches cancer.  Hormel didn't just relabel a number of products and go out with them.  It researched in detail how cancer patients eat and what they eat in order to find out what they need in terms of calories.  Its first effort flunked because the taste wasn't there.  Its second effort is on the shelf for cancer survivors to try.  Hormel isn't going to get rich with this special line of foods but it should do OK, and it has set itself apart as a caring company.  

Monday, June 06, 2016

Long-term Dysfunction 

Citizens of Okinawa, Japan, have long wanted the US military off the island.  Every mistake by a US soldier, sailor or marine is cause for renewed anger and demonstrations.  Issues have become so sensitive that the US Navy has ordered its 18,600 sailors on the island to stop drinking off-base, and it has cancelled liberty for them as well.  This came after a drunk sailor caused a traffic accident in which two people were hurt.  American military bases have been part of Okinawa since the island was taken in a bloody battle 70 years ago.  Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force bases on the island are essential to the US military defense strategy for the Far East.  If the US were to lose its foothold on Okinawa, it would back up its reaction force to Guam,.thousands of miles away in the center of the Pacific Ocean.  How did PR become so bad for the US on Okinawa?  For a long time, American occupiers acted without consulting Okinawans and lied to them about critical issues, such as the presence of chemical weapons on the island.  In other words, Americans acted like the conquerors they were.  Now, the US has to watch its footing lest it be kicked off the island.  Activists have stirred up the population to a fever pitch.  It's not a good position to be in, but it is one of America's own making.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Military Publicity 

This article makes clear that the Naval installation where the reporter witnessed a rail gun in action is a top secret facility.  If it is top secret, how come it was being used to demonstrate a new weapon?  The Navy is lifting the veil on a revolutionary technology that someday might replace artillery.  There is no secret here.  The service wants to continue funding for development of the cannon and to keep its political critics at bay.  So, it chooses one of its most high profile weapons in development and it lets a reporter in on the secret.  It is an old trick used by the military services since nearly forever.  And, it works.  The article is a long take on rail guns and their utility in war.  The Navy could not have written a better story itself, and the credibility of the Wall Street Journal is without equal.  Make no mistake. Naval information officers are forwarding the article to the House and Senate armed services committees with notes attached highlighting the success of the project.  Will they sustain funding for the gun?  You betcha.

Thursday, June 02, 2016


When something is well known and has a body of fans, the creator of that thing can use publicity sparingly as a tease.  This is what author J.K. Rowling is doing with her Harry Potter franchise.  She lets her fans know now and again some interesting point or facts not in the book series.  She builds dimensions of her characters on her web site and in public speeches.  She has a play coming out that examines the grown Harry and his family.  Each action is designed to keep her fans wanting more, which they unfailingly do.  There are not many products or creations that have the fan base and marketplace pull to make the tease successful.  Movie production companies use it with film trailers that sometimes work.  Companies will use the "coming soon" announcement to gain interest.  But, for the most part, there is too much noise in the marketplace for people to care.  Rowling is in a privileged position, and she is using it well.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

All Too Common 

Journalists falling for fake news is all too common and growing more so by the day.  Reporters are suckers for what appears to be a good story and they run with it before making a phone call to verify the facts.  It is the job of PR practitioners to save members of the media from themselves by correcting false reports as soon as possible and preventing the spread of error.  The challenge is that PR practitioners cannot watch all of the news and fake news sites at the same time.  There is a time lag, albeit small, between spotting an error and responding.  In that gap, reports can circle the world.  One wishes that journalists do the basic job of reporting.  But, the human desire to be first with a scoop is too much for some of them.  They become transmitters, not reporters and as a result, add to the noise of the marketplace.  With the internet and the proliferation of news and news sites, the job of the PR practitioner is more important than ever.

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