Thursday, August 31, 2017

Publicity Stunt 

Ford Motor and Domino's pizza have teamed to deliver pizza with a driverless car.  It's a publicity stunt with a purpose.  Both companies are trying to learn how consumers will relate to robotic vehicles.  In this case, the car will come to the curb and the customer must leave the house, enter digits from one's phone number and retrieve the pizza from a box in the rear window.  At issue is whether customers will accept the added burden rather than having a human deliver the box to the door.  The two companies will find out soon enough.  Meanwhile the stunt part of the project is garnering Ford and Domino headlines and positioning them at the forefront of driverless technologies.  A smart move. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Moral Responsibility? 

Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, says American CEOs have a moral responsibility to speak out on issues and to support society's needs.  Economic conservatives would counter by stating that the sole role of the CEO is to make money for shareholders.  Which is correct, or do the two approaches exist side by side in an uncomfortable alliance?  Even a conservative would admit that if a societal issue threatens a company's bottom line, the CEO should address it.  For the most part, though, CEOs stay out of politics and hot button issues, and that is OK.  They have enough to do to keep their companies profitable and growing.  But, there is good reason for them to address societal issues within the boundaries of their companies.  Issues such as diversity and promotion of women and minorities affect operations and company progress.  Local community services surrounding hiring and retention are also well within the strict boundaries of corporate profitability.  Thus, for example, a CEO should focus on the quality of schools in a plant town so she can be assured of having enough qualified candidates to keep it running.  A company can rarely divorce itself from society completely if it wants to succeed.  Tim Cook is right about that.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Price Change Reputation Change? 

Whole Foods supermarkets, also known as Whole Paycheck because of their high prices, are cutting consumer costs under new ownership.  Amazon, the owner, is seeking an image change for the chain and based on wide news reporting, it just might succeed.  Amazon can afford to cut prices and go for market share.  It can also cross sell in stores, which it is already doing.  It will take time for consumers to shift shopping habits but if Whole Foods' new image of cost consciousness spreads, there is a good chance the chain can change its reputation into a low-cost alternative to regular supermarkets.  It might never reach the level of discounters like Trader Joe's, but it could become a destination for many more weekly grocery shoppers.  The PR move of a price change could lead to a positive reputation change.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Weather Story 

Houston is drowned and headlines in the media are weather stories and tales of disaster.  It is times like this that the public forms enduring impressions of politicians, the police and rescue personnel.  What they do and how they respond is burned into memory.  It took years for FEMA to regain its reputation after Hurricane Katrina and the botch of the New Orleans response.  How FEMA handles Houston and surrounding communities will be under a media and public microscope.  Perception will rule more than fact.  That is why President Trump will visit the Houston area tomorrow to show the administration's concern. One hopes he doesn't mess up this critical engagement as he did recently in Arizona.  Because of the volume of water falling on Texas, recovery will be slow and impressions of the effectiveness or lack of it of government will be imprinted on those who have suffered loss.  They won't forget.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Amateur Psychology 

Democrats are engaging in amateur psychology to explain President Trump's behavior and hopefully, impeach him.  This is a move that could backfire.  Obsession with Trump might well dilute messages Democrats should be sending to voters.  It is hard in the present situation to stay on topic.  The President's erratic behavior and speech are tempting targets.  He is anything but presidential and he has succeeded in isolating himself from the electorate and his own party.  One still wonders how he was elected in the first place.  But, he is not the issue for Democrats.  There are plenty of topics the party can coalesce around including fixing the ACA, updating immigration law and re-establishing good relations with nations now estranged from the President.  Democrats needn't spend their time analyzing and consulting the manual of psychiatric diseases.  Rather, they should be working on the midterm elections and trying to regain their power in Congress. Trump is self-destructing without their help.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Operation Reputation 

The US Navy is working fast to regain its reputation after accidents in the 7th fleet.  It removed the admiral in charge who was destined to retire anyway. The act forcing a step down is a symbolic gesture.  It would be hard to know whether a commander at that level is indeed responsible for lapses in seamanship that has occurred four times in the last few months.  But the Navy's tradition is the commander is in charge in all cases and responsible.  Although the leaders of the two frigates were not on deck when cargo ships plowed into them, they lost their posts anyway and were in effect drummed out of the Navy.  Now the Navy is doing a rare stand-down of the worldwide fleets to retrain its personnel and insure that deck officers know what to do.  It wants to get rid of the perception that it is the military arm that can't sail straight and it needs to do that quickly.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Smart Food PR 

Panera restaurants are engaging in a practice of smart food PR.  The chain is listing the calories for each soft drink it offers on the side of the cup.  That way consumers can know just how much sugar they are ingesting.  The practice might hurt the company's business in the short run.  Margins on drinks are high, but the CEO is determined to offer healthy choices for Panera's customers.  Some consumers will stop imbibing the highest calorie drinks and others might forgo soft drinks completely.  The chain is saying that is OK.  Transparency is the better choice for a company like Panera which offers sandwiches and salads.  The company believes in the long run its openness will add to the bottom line.  Here is a hope that it does.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Not Much To Do 

The company that makes the ubiquitous Tiki Torch is embarrassed.  Without its knowledge, neo-nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA used the flambeaus in their parade that ended in violence.  The company has publicly disavowed the alt-right groups but that doesn't solve the problem of thousands of photos and dozens of videos showing the protestors carrying Tiki Torches.  There is not much to do in a case like this.  The torches meant for outdoor parties and fun have taken on an insidious new meaning.  Lamplight Farms, the owner of the Tiki Brand, has to hope that the alt-right will stop using its flambeaus in future parades, but there is no way to be certain of that.  There is a good chance that if they do use them, the brand will be killed by popular revulsion. "I don't want that thing in my yard."  It is a PR nightmare.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Out Of Touch 

Jerry Lewis, who just died, was as famous for his telethons as his slapstick comedy.  But, his telethons were controversial and some said revealed a man out of touch with the disabled.  It mattered little to the ones afflicted with muscular dystrophy that he was soliciting money for them.  They were unhappy with the way Lewis described them as damaged individuals deserving of pity.  Lewis could be faulted for failing to communicate in a way that respected his audience.  It is a matter of perception and of reality.  The disabled didn't want to be type-cast, and they perceived Lewis' pleas as insulting.  It mattered little to them that he raised $2.5 billion in his 44 years on the air.  It is sad that one who started out to do good gained a reputation for talking down.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dumb, cont. 

How can a politician make this mistake -- talking openly to a reporter without going on background or off the record?  Steve Bannon did it and now will suffer the consequences.  He directly contradicted his boss, President Trump.  He openly acknowledged his internal fights with other White House staff.  He talked as he were the President and able to change the White House team at will.  Bannon has enemies, plenty of them, and they will use the interview against him.  Of course, Bannon might well have known what he was doing and wanted the interview to be on record.  There is always that possibility, but it doesn't look that way and perception counts.  Will Bannon avoid the media from here on out or will he continue to lobby publicly for his views?  That is a question for Trump and Bannon.  Certainly, if the interview was in error, someone needs to explain off-the-record and on-background to him quickly.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


It is a tough PR and leadership position to be in when one is isolated from his constituencies. It is especially difficult when the isolation is self-induced.  This is the position President Trump has thrust himself  with the disbanding of two business councils advising him.  Trump has progressively cut himself off from one citizen demographic after another.  All that remains for him is his base -- small as it is.  The fewer defenders he has the greater the danger to him and his position.  No one has found anything illegal in his operations -- at least not yet -- but there is a grand jury probing the Russia meddling and his staff's complicity in in it.  At this point, one can almost sense the Republican party begging for a good reason to impeach him and move on.  One needs supporters to accomplish anything in the corporate and political world.  Trump has yet to learn that as president.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


One wonders how a sophisticated company like Costco can make a dumb mistake like this.  Surely the company knew it was misappropriating Tiffany's name and brand for the diamond rings it was selling.  Its defense in court was lame, and the judge imposed a fine of  more than $19 million on the company.  The fine hurts but not as much as the ding to Costco's reputation.  One can ask what other products has Costco mislabeled.  If it was "cavalier" with Tiffany, why not with others as well?  Surely this wasn't the only instance of brand theft.  Costco has a task now of auditing its products and making sure its marketing of them is honest.  If not, look for more lawsuits against the company, which it will have trouble defending.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Communicating To The Unknown 

It has been 40 years since two gold-plated copper records were affixed to two spacecrafts and blasted into the universe.  Voyagers I and II are now far away in interstellar vacuum.  It will be hundreds of years before they reach another solar system and by then, who knows what the earth will be like and if it will even be here.  The chances of another civilization retrieving one or both of the craft is exceedingly slim.  Yet, NASA tried to communicate to the unknown.  What was put on the disks was instructive.  The scientists tried to summarize life in sound and pictures.  There was hubris in the attempt, but idealism as well.  We may never know if there is life on the exo-planets being discovered weekly now.  We do know there are thousands of them, but learning whether they have a solid surface and water is a slow and sometimes impossible process.  The challenges of communicating to the unknown are nearly insuperable.  Even if another civilization were to intercept a Voyager, would it know what the disk is for and would it be able to decipher the instructions for playing it? Scientists took their best guess.  NASA has not tried to communicate to the unknown again, but it should be honored for making the attempt at least once.

Monday, August 14, 2017


Cooler heads are speaking out over the standoff with North Korea.  The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said military options are ready but the preferential course is diplomacy.  Strong words are useful only to get the other party to the table.  The ball is now in North Korea's court.  Will it conduct another ICBM test and will it aim at the vicinity of Guam?  That was the threat last week.  Words wound but they also can heal.  The tragedy would be a total loss of communications between the rest of the world and North Korea.  Then any chance of diplomacy would go off the rails and war would be inevitable. As long as each side is threatening, there is still an open line and a chance one or both will back off.  North Korea isn't going to stop developing its nuclear capability and long range missiles, but there is a chance of making them a potential rather than real threat to the world.  There is a rationale behind mutually assured destruction.  The North has to understand, however, that it might never reach the number of missiles and bombs that the US possesses, and it is a much smaller country where a nuclear conflagration would have more serious consequences.  Continuous communications are a key to peace.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bombast But Dangerous 

President Trump, apparently without telling his advisers, delivered a bombastic warning to North Korea that hinted of nuclear war.  He has talked this way before but now he is in charge, and he should be watching his words more carefully.  He doesn't seem to realize that words are dangerous if they provoke another to action.  Certainly North Korea is violating limits set by the rest of the world, but bombast is not a guarantee they will step back.  Rather, it serves as a spur to build more rockets and nuclear devices.  It also gives the North more excuses to repress its people in the name of security.  It is a hopeless dream that the country will liberalize its policies and set its citizens free.  The top echelon is living too well for that.  Trump's words implied the destruction of the command chain that controls the country, but that would result in the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women and children.  There is no good way to free North Korea from its communist overseers, and bombast is definitely not one of them.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Another Scandal 

Wells Fargo bank can't avoid scandals these days.  Here is another one.  The bank was clearly out of control in its consumer insurance and lending departments and only now is the dysfunction coming to light. How the bank has fallen in reputation.  It came out of the 2008 financial meltdown on a high and with operations that seemed to be working well.  Since then, little has gone right.  Responsibility for the scandals rest with the CEO whether he likes it or not and even though he wasn't in the chair when the misdeeds occurred.  He now has to investigate every department and root out marginal managers and errant employees.  It will take years for the bank to hold its head high again, and that's as it should be. One scandal was enough.  Three is well out of bounds.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Class Warfare 

The mayor of New York wants to impose a tax on the wealthy ($500,000 and up in annual income) in order to pay for subway improvements and to subsidize low-income riders.  There are an estimated 32,000 individuals who would fall into this category,  Predictably, lower and middle class riders favor such an approach.  It isn't money out of their pockets.  The wealthy have yet to be heard from but they have options, including leaving the city.  This crude kind of class warfare is part of a liberal approach to legislation.  Income redistribution is at the heart of the message.  It is dangerous for the mayor to play with this kind of fire.  He is up for re-election and he needs the money of the wealthy to pay for campaigning.  The mayor is right that the rich should pay more, but they already are.  It is a question of balance.  How much more should they give?  There is no right answer.  It is what voters permit ultimately. The mayor is playing to the masses, and he just might win.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Empty Words? 

North Korea has said the US would "pay dearly" for new sanctions imposed on it by the UN Security Council.  In reality there isn't much the North can do and its threat is largely empty words.  Yes, the country could launch hacking attacks against the US, but security personnel are ready now for such interruptions.  The North, if it has lost reason, could launch a missile toward US shores, but were it to do so, it would ignite a war it could not win.  So too if the North directed force against the South.  So, what is left? The North will have to get creative to punish blockaders and restore its trade with China.  One shouldn't put it past the leadership to find a new way to strike back, but it is likely to be petty.  The lesson here is that one shouldn't use threats unless he is prepared to back them up.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Lie For Me 

Too much has been written already on the rise and swift fall of Anthony Scaramucci.  There is one aspect that hasn't been covered much and is worth a note.  That is Mooch's demand that a communications person or PR firm "go to the mat and lie for him" if necessary.  That would make him ineligible to be a client at many PR firms who insist on facts and persuasion.  Certainly there are practitioners for whom facts are fiction, and they give the industry a bad name, especially when it finally comes out, as if often does, that they failed to tell the truth.  The first rule of PR should be "accuracy, accuracy, accuracy."  One accepts a body of facts and tries to present them favorably for a client.  Sometimes this can't be done, but often there are multiple sides to an issue and there are interpretations that highlight positives.  Insisting that a PR firm lie for him compromises the business as much as it focused a negative light on him.  When I entered the business decades ago, I was told I didn't have to lie for anyone.  That has remained true in my career.  I am thankful that I've never had a client that expected me to tell falsehoods.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Wrong Horse? 

What happens when one places investment, R&D and manufacturing on the wrong technology?   German automakers are about to find out.  They are all-in for diesel engines at a time when the rest of the world is looking into electric.  They have staked their reputations on diesel and come up short.  Now they are facing a catch-up game in Europe and elsewhere as one country after another places the motor in the polluting column.  It didn't have to be this way.  German car builders cheated to make the diesel meet air pollution standards, and they were caught.  Now, they have to further refine the engine's technology to pass muster or they will have to give it up for good.  That is a tough choice, but their place in the market and their sales depend on it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

An $8 Billion Lesson 

Two South Carolina utilities have abandoned two nuclear reactors they were working on in the state.  The construction project has cost them $8 billion so far, and it was nowhere near completion.  Estimates were as high as $25 billion to bring the reactors online, and given the dropping cost of power, it no longer made sense for the utilities to continue.  The episode is a blow to the reputation of the nuclear industry, an impact from which it might not recover.  Nuclear generation has been on its heels for some time.  After a burst of reactor building, construction largely stopped for decades and those projects that were tackled were often problematic. Now the industry can add two more reactor shells to projects around the US that have never been completed.  One should ask why any utility would consider splitting atoms given the headaches that result.  It is still early to call the nuclear industry dead, but it is on life support.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

When PR Fails 

Airlines with any kind of customer listening know customers are complaining about space. The incredible shrinking seat. But the carriers have done nothing but skinny the chairs some more.  It is a failure of PR and the courts are now involved.  "Judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday directed the F.A.A. to “adequately address” a petition that raised safety concerns about the increasingly cramped conditions on airplanes."  It didn't have to be this way.  The airlines could have controlled their greed and allowed adequate seat room for all customers, even those in economy, but they continued to press their luck.  Now the government is involved, the power has been taken from their hands and there will be regulation.  The F.A.A.,which had ducked the issue, is under orders to examine the situation and act.  The agency is examining the ruling and determining what it is going to do.  Maybe next time passengers have complaints there will be a sympathetic ear.

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