Tuesday, February 28, 2017

One Small Mistake 

It is amazing that one small mistake of handing the wrong envelope to another can create a global crisis. That is what happened to PwC, the accounting firm, at the Oscars.  The US chairman of the firm who was in the audience understood that something was wrong when he saw his partners on stage. The company has been scrambling in crisis mode ever since.  PwC did the right thing and took responsibility for the error immediately.  The question now is whether the firm will retain the 83-year-old account.  If it doesn't, it will be a blow to the company's brand and reputation.  The mistake might seem small but not to a business whose job is to get it right each and every time.  The partner involved might find himself in another line of work as a result.  From some crises, there is no recovery.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Dark Transparency 

In bygone days of tobacco litigation, lawyers for the companies would dump a million records onto plaintiff lawyers doing discovery.  The tactic worked for a long time because law firms had neither the time nor the money to plow through hundreds of boxes of paper.  Call the tactic dark transparency.  One could claim to the public that he was being honest and open but the opposite was the case.  It's interesting, then, the mayor of Atlanta is trying the same tactic to blunt investigation of city contracting.  This time the mayor dumped 1.47 million documents on the media in hundreds of boxes and invited them to go through them.  The mayor insists he is on the up and up but it doesn't look or feel like it.  The media began trawling through the records and were quickly exhausted.  It is a bad PR tactic. No one should expect the media to be given a story but there is a limit on what one can claim to be transparency.  Atlanta clearly exceeded it.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

Transparency And Science 

The core of scientific understanding is the ability to reproduce an experiment.  If it can be done again and arrive at the same result, then the hypothesis is correct.  The problem with modern science is that many reproduced experiments aren't coming up with the same results.  In fact, two-thirds fail.  This lack of transparency is a body blow for who can believe a person whose work cannot be validated?  Yet, tens of thousands of studies pour out of labs annually, most of which are never checked.  Science could be building a body of lies that will hamper its usefulness and misdirect research.  That would harm society fundamentally.  A question to ask is why this is happening?  One answer is the pressure to get funding.  One is forced to show significant results in order to get money for further research.  Scientists are human and subject to the same failings as everyone else.  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ads And PR 

Google is using a PR tactic to verify the efficacy of its placement of online advertising.  The firm is allowing an outside auditor to analyze the process by which it places ads on behalf of companies and whether they are going to the right web sites to guarantee optimum consumer exposure.  This is important for the company since it dominates the market along with Facebook.  Transparency is ideal.  Advertisers should be able to drill down and see exactly how their ads are being placed and who reads them.  A lack of credibility will kill the business for Google and damage the company deeply.  No wonder the Google spokesperson was open to auditing and is "all for it."  An offshoot of increased credibility is that Google is raising the bar for other ad placement firms.  Soon advertisers will demand the same transparency from them.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Moment's Change 

Vladimir Putin who only yesterday was condemned by Republicans is suddenly gaining popularity among them.  Credit the Trump presidency for the change of heart.  Politics makes for strange bedfellows, the old saw states, and none is odder than this. Putin took Crimea from Ukraine, teamed with the President of Syria to bomb Syrian citizens, hacked Democratic e-mail and generally has been hostile to the West in pursuit of his own ends.  Nothing in communications says one should remain true to another, but in this case, there is little to prompt a shift in message.  Political PR practitioners are masters of technique but one wonders if they acknowledge the moral primacy of content.  Some clearly do, but others sway with the political wind and that is concerning.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Words Too Far 

In the internet era, words that go out of the boundary of common decency tend to resurface at inopportune times.  At least, that was the case for this fellow.  He has been an arch-conservative flamethrower for awhile and supported on Breitbart news, but his quasi-endorsement of pedophilia was too much for the news site and for his image.  It should be a warning, as if anyone needs one, to watch out for what you say even in private meetings or on podcasts.  How is it in these times one needs to say that one's words come back to haunt?  It is obvious, yet people still feel secure enough to make inadvisable remarks.  It is a lack of common sense, a feeling of invulnerability, an insensitivity to the dictates of the culture in which one lives.  So, yet another commentator drops from the scene and is hardly lamented.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Poking The Barrel 

There is an old saw in journalism that one should never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.  President Trump has either never heard the bromide or has his own theory.  Cow the media until they do what you tell them to do.  If he believes he can override journalists, he has never heard about Freedom of the Press.  He is doomed to fail sooner rather than later.  Reporters are going to press conferences loaded with sharp questions and ready to take on power.  Meanwhile, Trump keeps poking the barrel and at some point, he is going to turn it over and find himself awash in ink.  It won't be pretty.  It never is, but eventually facts will out and Trump will find himself in an untenable position.  He acts like one who is daring Congress to impeach him.  Congress might give him that favor.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Small Things 

PR can be small and seemingly insignificant things, such as this.  Consistent labeling standards for perishables has been long in coming, and it wasn't until the big players got involved that it happened.  Walmart is looking after its customers.  Ten label warnings have been reduced to two - "Best if used by" and "Use by."  One wonders why this wasn't done before.  An answer is that the food industry saw no compelling reason for standardization.  It took a major player and two food retailing associations to overcome the inertia.  And the change won't be instantaneous.  Some food producers will hang on to their labeling for awhile until the pressure from retailers becomes too large.  Most consumers will not notice the change.  But, it is a little thing that makes a difference.  Kudos to Walmart and the two associations.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Deja Vu 

This lament about the state of journalism in a "post-truth" era is deja vu, although the author doesn't realize it.  Fact-based journalism is relatively modern in its conception and practice.  Before the New York TImes much reporting was opinion-based and delved into fantasy.  Partisanship was high and charges against the opposition frequent.  H.L. Mencken proudly related that at the time of the Russo-Japanese war in the Far East, he and a colleague made up a story about a sea battle between the two countries that had Japan winning.  Months later, he learned he was right.  The point is that post-truth journalism is nothing new. The difference now is that virtually anyone can engage in it and that should worry PR practitioners.  There is no substitute for rigorous monitoring of social media and news sites of all flavors and persuasion.  One must be ready to move quickly to get the facts out in the face of falsehood.  In the old days, falsehoods traveled short distances, the reach of a newspaper.  Today, they travel the world.  That is worrisome.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Medical PR 

Here is a medical PR challenge.  How do you convince doctors that a medical procedure isn't effective and to stop doing it?  It turns out some physicians and surgeons don't get the message or reject it because they feel they are being effective.  Thus, you have areas of the country where certain medical procedures are performed more than anywhere else. This drives up the cost of medicine and doesn't help patients in the long run.  There needs to be a mechanism through which such situations are spotted and remedied.  And, of course, there needs to be in-depth communications with doctors through ongoing training, conferences and medical literature.  Still, some won't get the message or will ignore it.  It is these who should be open to some form of discipline.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Road Riddle 

Self-driving cars are on the way but one feature of their computerized systems still doesn't work.  That is handling road construction.  Lane change signs and traffic cones confuse the systems set up for straight-through driving.  It presents a major marketing and PR challenge for auto manufacturers as well.  How do you sell a feature that works some of the time?  What kind of PR must one do to teach people that construction zones require hands-on driving?  Vehicle manufacturers have a major step to make before they put autonomous systems into cars and trucks.  Somehow they will need to teach their software to guide around barriers or to slow or stop until someone puts a hand to the wheel.  One can imagine the dangers lurking in this hand-off from automatic to gray-cell driving, especially if the human has been distracted.  The manufacturers will find a solution but it might delay the debut of autonomous driving, which would be a pity.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Conflict Of Interest 

This event was a conflict of interest.  You are not supposed to shill for private business while serving in the White House.  Why Kellyanne Conway did it is a question in itself.  Ivanka Trump's fashion line has been taking hits as one department store after another has dropped the line.  President Trump weighed in about it with a tweet.  Conway might have felt she was pleasing the boss by making the statement she said.  Conflict of interest was probably nowhere in her thinking at the time.  It should have been. Now, she has upset even the Republicans in Congress, and made the separation between Donald Trump's businesses and role as President narrower.  Conway should have been fired.  She was counseled instead.  That in itself makes the charge of a conflict of interest between President Trump and his businesses more real.  From a PR perspective, it smells -- and not sweetly.  

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Fake News 

A lie repeated often enough becomes fact.  That is the tactic of the White House administration.  Calling the traditional media "fake news" will convince some of the public that reporters lie regularly and should be discredited. The White House wants the media to report positively on its actions and will attack anyone who doesn't. Journalists should be on guard for false stories because their reputations are being questioned.  It is the lowest form of relationship with the media -- an adversarial set-to that the White House can't win in the end.  The media will be still here in four or eight years when the Trump White House is history and it will continue to report on falsehoods of the administration.  Eventually, most of the public will come around and view fake news for what it is -- a way to sell advertising or to impugn a foe.  Today, there is a credibility issue.  People don't know what to believe, so they are as apt to accept the White House with its charge of "fake news" as they are to read and believe media reports.  Trump's people are exploiting that confusion, but it won't last forever.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A Shame On Both Sides 

The media are blasting the Trump administration for relying on "alternative facts."  But what makes this any different?  Buzzfeed rushed to publish unconfirmed documents alleging misbehavior on the part of Trump.  Buzzfeed went on to defend its actions but was roundly criticized by members of the traditional media.  Publications of alt-facts from either side don't make sources accurate or right.  Buzzfeed is now in court over its actions and well it should be.  Some of Trump's supporters belong there with it for spreading scurrilous and untrue stories about Hillary Clinton.  PR practitioners should be horrified by what journalism has become with traditional sources overwhelmed by social media that brays constantly in the background.  It means our work is harder and vigilance is the order of the day.  One never knows when charges of some kind are going to appear and where.  If Buzzfeed escapes judicial punishment for its behavior, it will only justify the medium in its own mind.  That would be sad.  Fact checking still counts, or should anyway.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Rookie Error 

84 Lumber, a materials business, ran a spot during the Super Bowl that invited viewers to its online site for the conclusion of the ad.  The site was overwhelmed with a deluge of viewers.  Within one minute of the ad's appearance, the company received 300,000 hits to its web site,  twice the site's capacity to handle the flow.  Predictably, the site seized and tens of thousands were turned away.  This was a rookie error.  When dealing with online, especially after an ad viewed by millions, one should set up for a surge that is many times the size of one's normal viewership.  It is a costly mistake to be caught short as 84 Lumber was.  The company will know the next time it tries a multimedia approach like this, but that doesn't make up for the error this time.  

Monday, February 06, 2017

"Jess Bidness" 

Nordstrom cancelled Ivanka Trump's fashion brand from its lineup and said it was purely a business decision.  Maybe so, but it also spared the retailing chain from boycotts and agitators opposed to the Trumps.  One is hard put to believe that this thought was not part of the consideration when the decision was made.  There is no rule that says a retailer must carry a brand. Yes, a store can carry merchandise that breaks even or even loses money for the prestige value of having it, but the Trump name doesn't carry that cachet.  So, Nordstrom avoided potential controversy and embarrassment of handling Ivanka's designs and it can breathe a sigh of relief that her pieces weren't selling that well anyway.  

Friday, February 03, 2017

Great PR, cont. 

IBM is masterful in marketing its artificial intelligence program called Watson.  Now Watson is assisting in completing returns for H&R Block.  Watson has already been put to work on helping doctors identify and treat cancer, sell auto insurance, and assist customers in stores among dozens of applications for its silicon brainpower.  Watson's initial success was built on its winning Jeopardy several years ago.  It was a brilliant publicity stunt that proved the power of the software.  Since then, IBM's marketers and engineers have tailored the program for numerous uses.  It helps IBM that Watson is anthropomorphic and named after a previous CEO of the corporation.  The male voice answering questions during the game show seemed real.  It wasn't hard to visualize a brain working in the background.  It will be interesting to learn how H&R Block's 70,000 tax preparers use the machine.  It is one more example of great PR for the technology.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Great PR 

PR is what you do more than what you say, and that makes this great PR.  Google's Waymo subsidiary has mastered the craft of autonomous driving through developing and tweaking both hardware and software for its test vehicles.  The cars drive hundreds of thousands of miles now with only a few disengagements where a driver has to take control of the machine. That means the vehicles are as road ready as any driverless car being developed.  I would much like to have the experience of riding in one just to get the feeling of how a driverless car operates, especially over long distances.  Waymo is working with  manufacturers already to equip vehicles with the technology and that means it won't be long before they are sold in showrooms.  Perhaps in the next two to three years we will see them advertised and sold as consumer products.  

Wednesday, February 01, 2017


Now is a time for moral courage among America's CEOs.  Do they have the will to speak out against the White House travel ban or will they duck the issue?  It is not a simple case for them.  They are beholden to boards and shareholders who might not like to see them taking a public position.  The issue might not affect them and their companies directly.  They might fear an impact on their customer base if they put a stake in the ground.  One can't blame those who remain silent because they don't see it as part of their job to call out President Trump.  On the other hand, one should admire those who have made a case for getting rid of the travel ban whether it directly affects them or not.  It is easier to remain silent.  But, silence is not what is needed at this time.

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