Friday, March 31, 2017

Space War 

Among scientists there is a war of ideas.  Should man return and colonize the moon or reach for astronauts on Mars?  There are arguments for both sides and it has become a PR battle -- who can be the most persuasive to target audiences.  In this case the message recipients are Congress and the White House, both of whom would have to appropriate the billions to get either job done.  The scientific community isn't helping itself by its division.  What is needed is a concerted and unified effort to get government to move.  Arguments for the moon are that we have been there although it was 50 years ago and the technology exists to return -- this time to stay.  Arguments for Mars are that it is a living planet although unfit for human habitation.  Science on Mars promises greater rewards than science on the moon.  While the scientific community debates, years pass and nothing gets done.  Man is stuck in low earth orbit in the international space station.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cool Toys 

NASA has a built-in publicity advantage over other government agencies or commercial businesses.  It has the cool toys every journalist wants to play with.  The systems and training devices the space agency has developed for its astronauts are fun to experience, and reporters line up for a chance to try them out.  NASA is only too willing to oblige their requests.  These then become positive stories that naturally promote the idea of space travel and NASA's role in it.  Credit NASA for knowing how to use its machinery to good effect.  The agency has had dark moments in past years with astronauts dying from fire, explosions and disintegration of space vehicles, but it is hard to remember that when one is playing with the training equipment.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

More Bad News 

Wells Fargo Bank can't escape a cycle of bad news.  It was hit again by regulators for discriminatory community lending.   The bank's reputation had already taken a blow for its mortgage lending practices and for unauthorized customer account origination.  One wonders how many more strikes against it the bank can endure.  It is hard to believe Wells Fargo is so badly run.  It sailed through 2008 when other large lenders were humbled.  It was looked upon as a conservative and savvy institution.  Then bad news began slamming the bank and it hasn't ceased.  One wonders what the morale of its employees must be.  The familiar red stage coach and horses of its brand have become a mockery.  Wells Fargo executives have a tall order to turn the bank's reputation around.  It will take years, but it can be done, and it needs to start with better controls

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

PR And Online Retailing 

This fast-growing internet store has discovered a secret to online retailing -- deep customer involvement.  It goes beyond feedback and ratings in Amazon.com and rewards customers for participation. The site has online contests, comments on items the company is considering selling and online photos of customers with the distinctive company bag in hand.  The site makes shopping fun and personal and as a result has reached $30 million in revenue in three years.  A lesson for PR practitioners is to let the public have a say.  Yes, that opens a site to trolls as well as customers, but input should be curated.  Most web sites today are little more than brochures that get updated occasionally.  For some companies that have no b-to-c involvement that might be OK, but for consumer-facing businesses, it is missing an opportunity to build closer relationships.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fighting Propaganda 

Little Estonia is giving a lesson to the world on how to fight propaganda.-- fake news coming from Russia.  The country quickly checks Russian news stories then debunks them if they are untrue.  Estonia's media will not interview Russian politicos because they know that a story is already written.  The country maintains vigilance and acts fast.  The same ought to be true with fake news in the US and Europe.  The longer it survives in the marketplace unchallenged, the greater damage it can do.  People start to believe stories if they see them coming from two or three sources or if they see support in the form of "likes", even though the "likes" are from robo software.  Educational institutions are trying to combat propaganda by training students to be skeptical of news they read, but that only goes half-way.  The rest of the lesson is vigorous exposure to facts -- transparency, as Estonia is doing.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Science Crisis 

There is a PR crisis in science.  It has to do with publishing.  There is now an abundance of fraudulent science journals on the market.  They are pay-to-play, charging scientists for getting their papers printed.  They are not peer-reviewed.  They have no credibility to the knowledgeable, and they are a trap for the less aware.  Scientists caught in the publish-or-perish cycle are using them to buff their resumes, and there is no way to know whether their data has been vetted.  There is a reason for examination of one's experiments by other scientists.  Science is hard, and there are many ways for experiments to go wrong.  There are also unscrupulous scientists who make up experiments and invent data solely for the purpose of getting published.  The cure for phony journals is transparency.  The scientific community should unmask them and expose them to ridicule.  Papers published in them should be discounted, and authors put on notice.  There is no excuse for letting this kind of dishonesty continue. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Essential PR 

Facebook is rolling out its fact checker to protect its members from fake news.  Among the first debunkings is a false story of Irish being brought to America as slaves. What Facebook is doing is essential PR.  It is deepening its relationship with its members through watching out for them.  It is not acting like a scolding nanny but simply informing its members that independent third party fact checkers have reason to believe that a story is false.  It then leaves it up to the member to accept the story or not.  Some might wish Facebook to go a step farther and remove the story from its site.  That might come some day but for now a warning should be enough for most readers.  Conspiracy theorists will accept a story as true and reject warnings, but there is little that can be done about them.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Apologies And Technology 

Google is apologizing to advertisers for placing ads next to hate speech and other offensive material on the web.  It is important for the company to get ad placement right because most of its income and earnings comes from advertising.  Saying I'm sorry will not be enough, however.  Google has to police the web and to remove the material to protect advertisers.  This will take people and technology.  However, there is no way Google can watch every web site all of the time using humans.  It will require artificial intelligence to scan myriads of web sites where Google places advertising and a computer-based ability to recognize offensive speech.  This will be a test of the company's technical capabilities and of its PR. Apologies in the future will not be enough.  It has to fix the problem.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It Takes A Pope 

Sometimes it takes a pope to say, "I'm sorry."  That is the case with the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  Some Roman Catholic priests took part in the murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus during an ethnic uprising that claimed 800,000 lives in three months.  It was a savage bloodletting for which the bishops of the country have already apologized, but that wasn't enough.  Pope Francis has asked the Rwandan president for forgiveness for the actions of church members and from a PR perspective that is the least he can do.  There was no justification for the violence and even if there were a bonafide reason, a Catholic priest should have had no part in it.  These were men who had forgotten their position as religious.  The Roman Catholic Church will take many years to live down the slaughter and well it should even though it was the actions of a few rather than the majority of priests who killed Rwandan citizens.  Even one priest gone rogue was one too many. 

Monday, March 20, 2017


Sometimes the best of intentions are misguided.  One overlooks a critical part of a program and it bites.  Consider this case of a philanthropic PR campaign.  Cheerios is giving away packets of wildflower seeds to help sustain the bee population, which has been decimated by Colony Collapse Disorder.  There are problems with that, however.  In some regions, part of the wildflower seeds are considered noxious or invasive pests.  And the bees that wildflowers support are not hive creatures but other species.  Other than that, the idea is a good and should have a positive effect.  One wonders if the program director at Cheerios looked into all of the permutations of the campaign before launching it.  It appears this wasn't done.  The result is a campaign that is a half-success at best.  That's a pity.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Wink And Nod 

One government lie of the modern era involves flood insurance. Federal bureaucrats are using outdated flood zone maps that give a break to homeowners who otherwise would be forced to get flood coverage.  This puts the program on rickety legs because inevitably massive flooding will hit zones where homeowners are under-insured.  It happened already in New Orleans where the government spent billions to help recovery.  Why don't Federal officials update the maps, especially in light of global warming and sea level rise?  Because they don't want to put up with outraged cries of homeowners and politicians who serve them when insurance bills arrive in the mail.  If actuaries properly calculated the risk of future flooding, hundreds, or even thousands, of homeowners would have to give up their seaside or lakeside or riverside dwellings and move to higher ground.  It has happened along the Mississippi river where rural communities have been forced to move to protect themselves from breaking dikes. Sooner or later, flood maps will need to be updated or the flood insurance program will go bankrupt.  Who needs that? 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Positive Employee Publicity 

Recognizing employees for their work is always good publicity and smart PR.  Consider this case.  A McDonald's restaurant worker went above and beyond the call of duty and saved a disabled passenger in her SUV.  The company is proud of him and the standard of customer care he delivered.  So, it publicized his action, and the employee is a hero for a day. He will be the envy of fellow crew members, but they can stand taller too that one of their own has done so well.  What he did was positive for the brand and a community service.  You can bet his parents and those who know him are collecting news clips and mentions of his valor.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Snow Day 

Yesterday was supposed to be a record snow day in the Northeast.  It didn't quite turn out that way.  There was snow -- lots of it north and west of New York City.  But, the urban centers got only eight to 10 inches.  The snow was wet cement and it froze overnight, so one walking on it this morning didn't sink in.  The panic was caused by weather forecasters trying to figure out the collision of two low pressure systems from Washington DC through Massachusetts.  Weather models couldn't predict where the Nor'easter's center would be and that would dictate the amount of snow cities would get.  So, they sounded an alarm days in advance and governors and mayors of the affected states shut transportation down and readied their plows.  The blizzard wasn't a bust, but it also wasn't the end of the world.  The forecasters did their job as well as they could and publicized the potential danger.  As a result, tens of thousands stayed home and off the streets.  It was good they did.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Dirty Secret 

A dirty secret of agriculture is labor exploitation.  Worldwide, field and ag factory workers have been abused, enslaved and paid ill wages.  Much of this has happened because urban and suburban citizens won't pay what food should cost if these hands were treated fairly.  Bringing transparency to commodities is a giant PR task that isn't being done because no one cares as long as they don't have to pay more.  Groceries are big budget items for families and no one will pay a dime extra for that avocado or peach, much less a cut of meat or fillet of fish.  So, we tolerate less than Third World conditions for agricultural workers unless they have been able to organize and demand better lives.  That happened in California with the United Farm Workers Union, but poverty is still the basic condition of the agricultural laborer.  It isn't fair or just but it is the way society operates and few are out to change it.

Monday, March 13, 2017


This opinion piece argues that it is time for journalists to encrypt all of their communications given hacking.  Left unsaid is anything about PR.  One can contend that PR practitioners should be protecting e-mails and writing with similar ciphers.  There is need for confidentiality before publishing of earnings releases, some product publicity, some HR announcements, delicate corporate matters such as a change of executives and more.  Given that anyone can be hacked at any time, PR practitioners should expect their organizations will be embarrassed sooner rather than later.  It is better to anticipate rather than clean up after a document dump.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Against All Reason 

It takes a committed mind to fly in the face of science, to ignore evidence and to hold fast to a position even the public at large has rejected.  There is little PR can do for such a person without resorting to propaganda.  This is the situation at the Environmental Protection Agency where a new leader doesn't believe in global warming.  One wonders what rock he has been living under.  PR practitioners at the agency have a difficult task. How do they keep the boss happy while simultaneously rejecting his key belief?  They may find there is no way to square the circle, especially if the boss is fanatical.  A "lifer" will take the position that it is but four years under the man and with Trump losing the next election, reason will return.  An idealist will look for other work and will leave the agency until the current boss steps down.  This is a choice being made up and down the ranks.  There is no good answer for handling a fantasist.  

Thursday, March 09, 2017


Some situations and companies are helpless.  There is nothing PR can do to save them or even to elevate them a little.  Consider Radio Shack.  It is bankrupt again.  The retail concept has no present or future.  Yet, there are still hundreds of the stores across the US.  Radio Shack used to be the source for parts and media like ham and CB radio.  There are few Americans left who use either.  The chain did not keep up with the rapid evolution of electronics or their availability from larger chain stores that themselves are in trouble.  It would be best for Radio Shack to stop trying and to close down for good.  Yet one more brand that ended in the dust bin of marketing..  

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Progress Publicity 

One of the oldest tactics in communications is to report the progress of products and organizations.  It results in stories like this.  Some companies don't believe in progress reporting -- notably, Apple, which presents fully developed products to its customers. Progress publicity, however, serves a function.  It keeps stakeholders apprised of a company's actions and timelines.  It shows proof of performance.  It builds interest and excitement.  It allays fears that an organization might have gone off track.  Such publicity is so taken for a given that few practitioners think about it until a client says no.  Then it becomes an exercise in justification for letting stakeholders know where an organization is in development. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Fighting Fake News 

This is a skill PR practitioners might need in months to come.  Exposing fake news is more urgent than ever.  One can't simply go to Google and check because Google itself is subject to inaccurate reports.   Fake news already damaged a presidential candidate, and there is nothing to stop it from maligning individuals and organizations.  It is one more reason why monitoring is essential.  Trolls will continue to make things up and insert them into seemingly good web pages.  There is no way to stop it because if one site is shut down, they will create another.  Whether they are writing stories to sell advertising or to injure another, it is vital to guard against fake news.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Another Bubble 

Why do PR practitioners persist in communicating the same message repeatedly?  Because people don't learn. Consider, for example, tech bubbles.  We've been through a number of them, but investors still queue for the "hot" stock, the one that is going to make them a bundle in a short time.  Like this one.  A rational person would know to avoid tech bubbles or bubbles of any kind because what soars also falls.  But, investors aren't rational.  They're greedy, and no matter how many times they are told to control themselves, they can't do it.  PR deals with this kind of situation constantly and the best we can do is to tell people again and again in new and more creative ways to listen.  A percentage will, but usually only after they have been burned a time or two.  The rest keep chasing dreams like the lottery.  

Friday, March 03, 2017

All But The Reputation 

Hyundai has tackled one of the most difficult tasks in the auto market - establishing a new luxury brand.  It is called Genesis, and it has most if not all the features of vehicles costing $15,000 more.  In other words, the vehicle is a good deal for someone looking for ride comfort.  The difficulty is that one cannot drive it yet and expect neighbors and strangers to stare in appreciation.  It is a car without a reputation and in need of cachet.  Hyundai understands that it is going to take time for the car to find its buyers, but the question for the manufacturer is how long.  It will take years and more models for the American consumer to readily recognize the brand.  Hyundai has to be patient and take it step by step.  That is how other luxury sedans found their niches. Throwing money at the brand would be a waste.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Self Destruction 

It is not pleasant to witness the destruction of an organization through the behavior of its managers.  Yet, that is what is happening to Uber.  The latest blows to the company come from its CEO arguing with a driver and an accusation of sexism in the ranks.  Uber has a history of aggressive behavior, daring cities to stop it from entering and competing with cab services.  The company's attitude has been belligerent from the beginning, and it is catching up with it.  The CEO is now on record saying he needs help in changing his leadership style.  It might be too late. Uber's drivers are angry with the company and competitors like Lyft are recruiting them away.  Uber's reputation is in danger, and it doesn't have much time to get its house in order.  

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Blame The Other Guy 

Blaming others for failure is a time-honored and lousy PR tactic. We have a former President and current occupant of the White House who is making a practice of it.  Obama took every opportunity to blame former President Bush for the economy.  President Trump is now blaming the generals for a SEAL's death in the recent Yemen raid.  It doesn't matter that the incursion was planned before Trump was in office.  He is in charge, so he is responsible.  What is needed on the political front is an acceptance of whatever happens and apologies if merited.  A politician doesn't gain reputation by ducking whenever a bad thing happens.  Citizens become cynical and wonder who is in charge.  Trump should stand up, shoulder the blame and accept the burden.  But then, that may be asking too much.

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