Monday, July 31, 2017

Smart PR 

A company can react to online trolls in a number of ways.  They can pretend to ignore them.  They can respond in kind.  They can threaten to sue.  Or, they can laugh them off their critical game.  Arby's, the sandwich chain, took the last course and made a PR success of it..  First, they did their homework and kept an eye on the twitter account until its author was unmasked.  Then, they flew an executive to Chicago to meet with the troll at his place of work unannounced.  When the troll came out to greet them, he found several Arby staffers, a bag full of sandwiches and a black labrador puppy.  The message, ""Cheer up, buddy. You live in a world with puppies...and sandwiches."  The PR tactic predictably made a splash in the marketing/advertising community and well it should.  Arby's had fun with the troll and the troll appreciated it.  He told his 300,000 followers about it thereby adding more impact to smart PR.  It is a lesson other companies should follow.  

Friday, July 28, 2017


The Senate Republicans effort to get rid of Obamacare has foundered and sunk.  There is no guarantee any kind of compromise will be developed and enacted.  The problem was the Republicans had no plan, just the effort to repeal, and the American public was not fooled.  Here was a classic case of the need for powerful persuasion.  It was missing for nearly all of the push-and-pull over repeal.  The Republicans came off as "aginners" who wanted to replace the law simply because it came from Obama's administration and not because of manifestly clear faults with its regulations.  Nearly everyone was against them from doctors through health agencies to common citizens.  Yet, the House and Senate persisted.  This kind of coup de main might have worked in a company dominated by a CEO who has also cowed the board, but it is much more difficult in the political realm, as it should be.  So, now it is on to tax reform where chances of comprehensive change are slim at best.  Maybe this time the Republicans will use the tools of persuasion rather than once again attempting to ram through new legislation. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Great Story: No Product 

This article is proof that PR is what you do and not what you say.  The company had a great story about making a drone that anyone could use.  It collected millions in advance orders.  It wasn't able to make the product so it shut down and left tens of thousands of potential customers in a lurch.  It bamboozled everyone, including the media who were only too willing to believe the hype.  Publicity is what you say about yourself.  PR is what you do and then say.  The distinction is lost to most of the world.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


When a technology disrupts a market, the fall-out is usually anything but pretty. Vendors, lenders and others are caught in the same whirlwind of change.  That is what is happening to the taxicab industry in New York City.  Uber and Lyft have cut the value of taxi medallions and left drivers and credit unions under water with no chance of surfacing.  The metal badges once valued in the millions are now worth a few hundred thousands, but lenders allowed taxi drivers to take out loans against the previous imputed value.  There is no way for drivers to pay these debts back.  The taxi industry can communicate with the city council and try to rein in the disrupters, but the damage is done,  The monopoly that the taxi industry had over local transportation is destroyed, and a new era has begun.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Poor PR 

So, a young, concern citizen finds a major bug in a public transportation authority's web site that could cost it millions in lost revenue.  He reports it.  What does the organization do?  It swears out a warrant for the citizen's arrest.  How dumb is that?  Were the authority any other entity, it would have at least thanked the young man for uncovering it and maybe, even compensated him for discovering it.  But no.  The organization trumpeted the capture of a hacker at a press conference and declared its system to be secure.  Outraged hackers have now attacked the authority's web site for real and discovered holes, which they are publishing on the internet.  It didn't have to be this way, but for a stupid decision in the first place.  The transportation authority must be filled with bureaucrats who have little familiarity with the web.  They are learning the hard way.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Intent Vs. Reality 

Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law, will tell a Congressional investigative committee that the meeting he took before the election with a Russian lawyer was a waste of time.  That may be so, but the perception is that he was ready and willing to cooperate if the meeting produced damaging information about Hilary Clinton.  The reality was nothing but the intent verged on criminality.  Powers smarter than I will determine if intent was enough to transgress the law, but in the court of public opinion, Kushner is damaged.  He is a symbol of those who will do anything to win, including walking on the dark side.  It is the ultimate in pragmatism and gives no quarter to ethics.  It will be interesting to see if Kushner is driven out of the Trump administration.  Chances are good that he won't be.  Trump is defending him at the moment, but Trump is mercurial.  If Kushner becomes too much of a liability, he will be gone.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Another Worry 

As if PR practitioners did not have enough to worry about, science has come up with a way to make convincing fake videos of people talking.  They used AI to create a video of former President Obama speaking in a new context.  While the researchers see positive uses for the breakthrough, others are concerned that it can and will be used to create fake news.  What could be more devastating to candidates or office-holders than a video of them making racist or other derogatory comments.  They can claim rightly that they never said the words ascribed to them, but meanwhile the public has video to prove them wrong.  It is the ultimate of dirty tricks.  One hopes the researchers use their new technology wisely and do not make it available to the world readily.  It can distort elections, compromise CEOS and play havoc with one's reputation.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Crisis Advice 

Experienced PR practitioners will know intuitively the guidelines set down in this article, but it is worth reviewing them before the next crisis occurs.  The problem with crises is they rarely come at anticipated times.  They tend to blow up suddenly in unexpected places and circumstances.  In the frantic first hours, PR is trying to find out what happened while responding swiftly to media inquiries.  There is no good way to do it even with machinery in place and rehearsed.  Crisis manuals tend to sit on shelves unread and not consulted when an actual event occurs.  The best advice in a crisis is to keep the machinery simple and effective.  A war room should have the powers to override protocol and bureaucratic barriers to get data it needs.  A public or employee response should not be picked clean by nervous attorneys.  The CEO should be engaged and not distant.  These are simple steps but they are often not followed.  It is up to the crisis manager to make sure that basic rules are honored and no audience is left in the dark.  It sounds easy but it isn't.

Hat tip to Peter Shinbach for making me aware of this article.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Sometimes it is hard to believe the endurance of myths.  Here is one that has been disproven by science but still people believe it.  At best there might be microbial life buried beneath the radiation-blasted surface of the red planet.  The proof of that is still wanting, but there is no evidence of any kind for an advanced civilization having resided there.  Still, people want to hold on to the myth.  They don't want to accept that in this solar system we are alone.  They speculate about the existence of rational beings on other planets in distant solar systems.  So far, nothing has come of it, but it is early in the investigation of exo-planets.  And, even if there is a discovery of some life form light years away, there is no practical way of getting there.  We haven't the rockets or the physics to propel humans at 186,000 miles per second and there is no good way to provision humans for years at a time.  Reaching Mars now is testing the limits of engineering, psychology and logistics.  And, once we get there, there is no good way to get back.  Yet, myths persist because people refuse to face reality.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Firing Back 

Does it ever pay to fire back at a vocal and dissatisfied customer?  Delta Airlines is finding out.  It is in a public tiff with conservative commentator Ann Coulter who is upset that the airline gave her seat assignment away on a flight from La Guardia airport, NY to West Palm Beach, FL  Coulter was given another spot on the flight but she took to Twitter after landing and began bashing the airline.  Delta was not amused.  It refunded her $30 seat charge, but it also called for civility.  That is not what it was getting as Coulter let loose a barrage of criticism through a succession of Twitter posts.  Chances are Coulter will fly Delta again, but the airline probably would be happy if it has seen the last of her.  Who needs a disgruntled passenger anyway?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Unusual PR Challnege 

Amazon.com has an unusual PR problem.  It has become the delivery service to rural America, and when it no longer provides Prime to distant locales, it leaves them in a lurch. It seems people who live on the edge of the grid have become dependent on  Amazon because local retailers either do not provide goods they need or charge more than Amazon, even with Amazon's annual membership.  This says a lot for Amazon's near-ubiquity.  Amazon.com has become a retailer of last resort.  But, rural users apparently have been abusing the system by ordering large amounts of bulky products.  One can't blame the company for backing off.  It seems that there is no replacement for local retailers in remote locations and for the high prices they charge.  One can't blame Amazon but the company has a reputation problem in rural districts.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Wearing Out One's Welcome 

Cities around the world are turning down the opportunity to host the summer Olympics.  They have good reason to do so.  The games are over budget, hugely expensive and they leave cities with purpose-built venues they cannot use in the future.  For the short duration of the event, the expenditures are a colossal waste.  The International Olympic Committee has worn out its welcome globally.  What is needed is a succession of the games in which the programs break even or even make a little money.  The prestige of the Olympics might return and cities start competing for them again.  The IOC needs to exercise stern budget control and if the magic of the games slips a bit, so be it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Marketing Strength 

Amazon is showing off its marketing strength with Prime Day.  Judging by the results, the company has formidable power.  Few other retailers could pull off the success that Amazon had.  Right now, it stands alone in retail for its ability to create a shopping day that millions take advantage of.  It is Christmas in July, Black Friday four months early.  Amazon and its vendors raked in $2.5 to $2.9 billion.  That is a lot of Echo dots (the best selling product).  In addition, Amazon induced millions more to sign up as Prime customers.  Conventional and online retailers must be quaking in their shoes with Amazon's success.  What does it mean for them?  The answer to that question can't be good for most of them.  They can join in with their own sales on Prime Day but that is hardly going to help if they are not on Amazon.  They can attempt to create their own Prime Day, but most don't have the marketing power to do it.  They can watch their sales erode in July, but that is defeatist.  Eventually they will have to respond in some fashion.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Correcting The Record 

Amazon made national news when one of its Echo devices supposedly called 911 during a domestic argument.  The company rushed to correct the record.  It explained that Echo was not set up for dialing the emergency number despite what local law enforcement said.  Kudos to Amazon for getting out front of a story that reverberated around the country.  The company rightly understood that if people got the wrong idea about Echo, they might try to use it during a real emergency only to learn that it doesn't work that way.  Correcting the record is something nearly all companies do at one time or another.  It is part of transparency.  Companies that fail to do so set themselves up for trouble down the road.  Letting falsehoods linger only makes matters worse.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hollow Victory 

The Iraqis have retaken Mosul from ISIS.  The town is a wreck. Its citizens are either in resettlement camps or picking through ruins for anything to eat.  It is already well understood that the military victory will be hollow unless the town is rebuilt and its citizens resettled within. Public relations is a bulldozer and backhoe.  It will take years to clear away the debris and rebuild, but the Iraqi government doesn't have that kind of time.  Sectarian tensions have not gone away and the potential for renewed clashes between Sunnis and Shiites is large.  Mosul might never recover if the two religious groups cannot work together.  What is needed is a unified focus on rebuilding.  Failing that, ISIS could make a comeback in the town by promising to run its utilities and provide governance, as brutal as it is.  The US can help the rebuilding effort but it cannot do it alone.  The future of the city and its people is unclear at best.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Drip, Drip 

Nothing is worse from a publicity perspective than a negative story that keeps expanding drip by drip.  Just when one thinks he has gotten ahead of the news curve, another story appears that adds new, damning facts and reignites the media.  This is the position that the President is in with the claims of Russian meddling with the elections. His son has now admitted to meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.  Trump is now faced with distancing himself from his own flesh and blood, and his spokesperson has already stated that he didn't know what his son was doing.  Critics, and there are many of them, won't be satisfied.  There will be a new round of "What did Trump know and when did he know it?"   The closer it gets to the oval office, the more damning it will be.  It is too early to say that we're in a Nixon scenario, but Trump needs to be careful going forward.

Friday, July 07, 2017


The fashion world has a secret.  It often pays for the trips and hospitality shown to editors who attend runway shows in exotic locales.  The US Federal Trade Commission wants the practice to be disclosed, and it has sent letters to major brands to gain compliance.  It seems that neither editors nor fashion houses are eager to see the practice in print.  The New York Times checked a number of publications as it reported this story, and it found minimal compliance.  Fashion is not the only industry where reporters get freebies.  Travel has historically paid for "Fam"  trips for editors and reporters to familiarize themselves with exotic locales..  Medical PR has quietly supported conferences and medical spokespersons for diseases and their pharmaceutical cures.  If one industry discloses by regulation, why not all? The news industry places great value on independence.  It should be willing to tell its public that it is accepting gratuities from the subjects of coverage and the reason why.  Declining budgets for editorial. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017


Wolfram, the software company that makes the powerful equation solver, Mathematica, has a potential PR crisis on its hands.  The company has an AI-enabled web site called Alpha.  The site solves mathematical problems step by step.  Students have been using the site to do their homework.  Because they are copying symbol for symbol onto their sheets, there is no way for teachers to know whether they solved problems for themselves or through Alpha.  Academics are crying foul.  Wolfram is responding that it is a scholarly tool to show students exactly how problems are solved.  There is a stand-off between the two sides.  Wolfram is looking to the future when computers all will be smart enough to solve equations.  Academics are looking at the present and wondering if they are turning out smart students or cheaters.  There is no good answer to the locked heads.  They are both right.  Eventually one view will predominate and the two sides will adjust.  Meanwhile, it is a case in which two goods are in conflict.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

In Your Face 

North Korea knows how to be belligerent.  Its diplomatic relations is "in your face."  The government there already has South Korea and the US in a press from which there are few good options for escape. Negotiations don't work.  Sanctions have failed. The Chinese are not helping. Military activity threatens an all-out war on the peninsula, which would be good for no one.  The North now has an ICBM and is almost capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Alaska.  At its rate of progress, it will soon be able to reach cities on the West Coast.  What the North apparently wants is for the US to abandon South Korea and leave it to its fate.  This the US has sworn it will not do.  There appears to be no good way to foster relations between the North and the rest of the world.  Its leadership has isolated itself from outside influence and it glories in being a rogue state.  There are times when persuasion fails, and this is one.

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