Thursday, November 30, 2017

Handling A Crisis 

This is a good case study for handling a crisis.  When brush fires bore down on the households of Keysight Technologies' employees, the company sprang into action.  It's first job was the safety and care of employees, many of whom were burned out of their homes.  The company set up care centers and systems to reach affected workers and ensure their safety.  This was in the face of incinerated land lines and cell service.  The second action was customers who were concerned they could not get technologies they had on order with the company.  Senior executives visited their offices and assured them they would get delivery on time and in full.  The third action was to forestall competitors who were swift to take advantage of the company's misery.  Keysight had to knock down rumors and outright falsehoods about its ability to service customers.  Communications was at the heart of much of what the company did.  It went all out to reach those affected and to learn what their challenges were.  Although no companies could be prepared for the scale of the disaster that Keysight encountered, they could take a lesson from how Keysight prioritized its response and moved forward.  

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mea Minima Culpa 

After 11 years of court battles, denials and evasions, cigarette companies are now being forced to run ads that tell the truth about smoking.  They are not putting much effort into it.  I saw one of them recently and it referenced the government requiring that the ad be run.  It was inartfully large black type run on a plain background.  There was no hint of design nor of the marketing prowess used to sell cigarettes in the first place.  It is clear that the companies are taking minimal responsibility for their actions.  When questioned about it, one company executive said they are working to develop less risky tobacco products, barely an admission that the "coffin nails" they still sell are dangerous.  They also wrangled with the regulators to avoid showing photos of the effects of smoking.   This after paying billions to victims and states for their bad behavior in the past.  They haven't reformed, just changed their tactics.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Amazon and Walmart are in a battle for supremacy online.  The winner will have consistently lower prices than the other and will win market share as a result.  It is a tooth and tong war with each shaving prices to upend the other. The winners will be consumers. The losers are retailers who don't have the marketing muscle of these two heavyweights.  It is hard to stay out of the way because both companies carry a broad and deep inventory of consumer goods.  Chances are virtually everything a store will sell is featured on Amazon and/or Walmart.  The only upside for the smaller retailer is that some customers like to touch goods before buying them.  The rest -- and soon the majority -- prefer the ease of shopping online and delivery of goods to their doors.  It is uncertain at this juncture who will win the battle between the two, but it is interesting to watch as it changes the retail landscape.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Fool 

A fool for a leader puts a strain on everyone who works for and is associated with him.  One is constantly covering for the boss and bending ethical guidelines to explain that he did not mean what was said or he did mean it but in a selective way or he was right in a sense.  One is left twisting mentally trying to make a wrong a right.  The consequences of stupid statements and positions is that one is forced to justify what isn't justifiable.  It is a lousy place to be in for a PR practitioner, especially when the boss gets facts wrong and persists in flogging them.  Fortunately, there aren't too many fools left in leadership positions at American corporations.  In fact, they are a rarity because they have been vetted on their way up the career ladder.  Errant missiles are usually founders of corporations who never have been reined in by their boards, but even these are getting their comeuppance, as was demonstrated at Uber.  Donald Trump is painful because he never acknowledged defeat in his business career and he never left off self-aggrandizing. He could twist any disaster into victory and expected those around him to support his position.  As President his behavior has continued and he has put the country under strain.  He is a fool who gives both business and politics a bad name.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Annual Publicity Stunt 

The annual turkey pardoning at the White House is a long-time publicity stunt that has endured under Republican and Democratic Presidents.  It hangs on because it is cute and is a reminder that millions of turkeys give their lives on Thanksgiving so humans can celebrate.  Citizens line up at the White House to watch the ceremony and the media faithfully cover it.  One would think the stunt would get old and at some point a President will give it up.  That time hasn't come yet, and each year the pardoning reinforces prospects for the event in the following year.  It's an automatic renewal, as silly as it is.  It is also a reminder that the Commander-in Chief can have fun along with the rest of the country, and of course, it gives social media something to talk about.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Macy's, according to this article, is entering a make-or-break Christmas selling season.  The store has been discounting to compete with Amazon, but it would like to reposition itself as a taste-maker, a leading-edge retailer that has gifts and clothing people want and are willing to pay full price to buy.  It's a tough road for a retailer to take.  Department stores as a class have faded in the American consumer's mind and habits.  Getting them excited to return to a store and brave crowds is a tall task.  It is too early to predict whether Macy's strategy will work.  But, once one has learned to shop online and compare goods and prices, it becomes harder to pick through racks and shelves.  Macy's is not attempting to compete with Amazon, which has everything, but to feature the one or two best products of a type and the right clothing at the proper price point.  It will take savvy buyers to pull this off and creative merchandising.  One wishes the chain good luck.  

Monday, November 20, 2017

Narrow Focus 

It has always been true that the media have a narrow focus. Reporters and editors will ignore an issue then suddenly illuminate it with a deluge of stories only to drop it again after a time.  This has been a headache for media relations practitioners since the beginning of modern PR.  An example of this is the media's concentration on proposed tax reform in Congress while overlooking an even more important issue of funding the government to avoid a shutdown.  CNBC has made an issue of it but few others have.  Turning the media's attention to the funding vote will come as the deadline looms.  Meanwhile it takes a back seat.  Media relations requires a sense of timing -- knowing when to push an issue and when to let it rest.  Practitioners need to maintain close attention to the arguments of the hour in order to hook their news to them if possible.  It is a dicey business and often unsuccessful.  

Friday, November 17, 2017

Intrinsic Value 

What is a painting worth?  The materials that go into one cost a few dollars.  The labor cost of the painter is gauged by demand for his work. Most do poorly or barely make a living.  But in the secondary market, long after they are gone, hype can increase a canvas' value many thousands of times.. Thus the Leonardo Da Vinci Salvator Mundi sold for $450 million.  The art world has been shaken by the extraordinary amount.  It was achieved through clever marketing by Christie, the auction house.  Will the buyer ever recover his money if he goes to resell the painting someday?  There is no way of knowing, but one should not be surprised if he doesn't.  Values rise and fall with market sentiment.  There are times not to put a work up for bid and other moments when the fever is at a new high.  There is no way to program a machine to forecast accurately what a painting might bring.  The same is true for other markets like real estate.  Value is what one is willing to pay.  Time will tell whether the buyer of the Leonardo paid too much.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Conspiracy Theory 

Sean Hannity has been cited as the top conspiracy theorist on TV.  He is not one whom a PR practitioner would want to approach.  Those who see deceit under every rug are not given to sticking with facts. They have to spin them into a web of insinuation and outright falsehood.  One's client is at great risk of being caught in a warp of opinion presented as truth.  It makes no difference whether conspiracy theories come from the political right or left.  Both are bad.  The media we should approach have a respect for facts and for the most part, avoid opinion. They go where facts lead them, and if facts delineate wrongdoing, they report it.  They don't exaggerate.  They are willing to listen and to report both sides.  What should one do for a client caught in a web of conspiracy theory?  Assemble the facts and communicate them fiercely.  Fight fire with fire.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Why Regulators Are Needed 

The argument that markets should be free and unregulated has never been true.  Human behavior is not always honest.  Consider cryptocurrency.  It still is an open and wild marketplace where scams and schemes are prevalent.  For digital coinage to be of general use, it will need to be regulated and cheaters controlled. So too with every other marketplace.  That is why when companies call for free markets, they really do not intend for the them to become Darwinian and capitalist.  They want fairness and equal competition.  This government provides.  Communicators who profess to be free marketers need to be honest with themselves.  Rather than calling for less regulation, they should opt for effective rulemaking that guides behavior but doesn't squelch it. And, there should be penalties for the dishonest.  Free markets have never been free of bad operators.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lost Reputation 

When one loses his reputation, people abandon him -- even if he is on the cusp of victory.  That is the case here.  Five women have now come forward and claimed that Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, had molested them as teenagers.  Moore is refusing to leave the race even though Republican senators in Congress have already disavowed him.  He is a man twisting in the wind.  Even if his contention that he is the victim of "fake news" proves correct, there is little to no time for him to recover before election day.  If he should be elected, Senators have already said they will move to deny him his seat by expelling him.  If he did molest these women, that is the least he deserves. Sexual harassment has become the new social sin. There is a confluence of power and sex that many have gotten away with it until now.  More reputations will be lost in the coming months.  

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Mighty Fall 

Not so many years ago, General Electric was a colossus striding the land.  Its management techniques were imitated widely.  Its former executives went on to run large companies. Now the corporation is struggling to survive, and it has lost $100 billion in market value.  The downfall was relatively swift.  After 2008, its financial arm was disassembled and largely sold off.  It was the former engine of earnings outstripping the industrial arms of the business. Now, GE looks mortal, and there is speculation it might not survive as a conglomerate.   If so, it will be an epic flameout equivalent to the demise of ITT decades ago.  It is a reminder that there is no safety in size or in balance sheet.  Market power can erode stealthily or of a sudden.  A CEO needs a healthy paranoia and to remain on alert for trouble.  Communications should retain a sense of humility and a clear recognition that what goes up can come down -- sometimes hard.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Cue The Lawyers 

AT&T"s CEO has publicity stated he will fight the Justice Department if it tries to get him to spin off CNN before merging with Time Warner.  This sounds like a legal, lobbyist and PR full employment move.  AT&T needs to gain high ground in public and legal opinion and do so quickly.  Thus, President Trump's allegations of CNN producing "fake news" have already become an issue.  It is hard to say at this point who is favored to win the war, but it is unusual.  Normally, when the Justice Department indicates it is not pleased with a merger, there are negotiations and agreements to do spin-offs or the combination is called off by the two parties. AT&T wants content to flesh out its huge distribution platform.  Hence its will to fight to the bitter end.  It might be a long road.  These issues can take months if not years to settle.  

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Acid Test 

Waymo, the Google company, is putting its reputation on the line with the announcement that it will send out driverless vans in Arizona as an acid test of its technology. The company has been working toward this day for more than 10 years.  Now that it is here, there are still unanswered questions beyond the robustness of the technology.  Who will insure a driverless vehicle if it is in an accident or suddenly goes rogue?  Are customers ready for driverless technology or will they freak and attempt to steer the vans themselves?  Can the vans find their customers on busy streets where GPS might not be as accurate as needed?
Waymo will be confronting these challenges as well as others that have not been foreseen.  If it is able to conquer fears and to run without drivers, it will be the first in the world to have achieved it and to open a pathway to commercialization.  That's a huge step, which its competitors have yet to come near.  

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Dumb PR 

The Walt Disney Cos. are masters of marketing PR.  That is why this is so dumb.  No one wins when an organization tries to blackball the press. Certainly, Disney did not in this case, and it is unlikely to do so in the future.  File this one under "What were they thinking."  If the company is upset with reporting on it, it should meet directly with the reporters and editors and work out a solution. In this case, Disney was angry with the LA Times for reporting on its relationship with the city of Anaheim where Disneyland is located. See "Company Town" below.  The first rule of media relations is never to pick a public fight with the media.  It is only on the rarest occasions where someone might try to punish a reporter for gross inaccuracies. That should be done quietly with an appeal to the journalist's editors along with the accurate information that the reporter ignored.  A company has every right to set the record straight, but for its own sake, it should not shut out the media.  

Tuesday, November 07, 2017


The leak of a trove of papers from a law firm is revealing the extent of finagling that corporations do to avoid taxation.  Apple, it turns out, is a skilled practitioner in avoiding taxes.  It shielded hundreds of billions of dollars from its overseas accounts through domiciling on an island with 0 corporate taxation.  Apple has every right to do what it did, but it still leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.  The perception is one of a rogue corporate citizen.  There is no guarantee with the pending tax reform act that Apple will repatriate any of its mountain of cash to the US.  The money it made overseas is out of reach of the US taxman.  US citizens have a right to inveigh against such corporate sleight of hand.  It places a heavier tax burden on individuals, and it appears unfair although it is legal.  Apple's reputation may take a ding as a result of these revelations and well it should.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Company Town 

When a business is the largest in a city and employs a significant number of its citizens, it becomes a company town.  Anaheim, CA is one such instance with the presence in its borders of Disneyland.  Anaheim has extended tax breaks for Disneyland in the millions and built a vast parking garage for visitors.  Now, after 50+ years, The city is starting to take a harder look at its relationship with The Walt Disney Cos. There is a growing sentiment that it ought to be paying more into city coffers, especially since the Anaheim has some significant budget shortfalls.  Disney has responded that it has done a lot for the community and will continue its open-handed ways.  There is a beginning of a stand-off.  From a PR perspective, Disney ought to be paying more, especially for the parking garage.  The company can't move its operation easily to any other place.  It needs continuing good relations with the town. At some point, Anaheim will ask too much from the company, and then, Disney will have to consider a battle with the community.  The situation doesn't appear to be at that point yet, but as long as the company can ward off a fight, the better for it and Anaheim.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Continuous Crisis 

The large social media and tech firms are facing a continuous crisis with Russia meddling in US elections.  If they shut one door to interference, hackers will find another to penetrate.  Added to these problems is the role model Russia has become.  That is, if Russia can intrude, why not another country or political entity?  Google, Facebook and Twitter have a long and difficult journey ahead of them to shut off spigots of fake news and propaganda.  They can tweak their algorithms, but that will only go so far.  They can hire editors and researchers, but that is expensive.  Chances are they will settle on a solution that is a bit of both, but they will have difficulty with experts gaming their systems.  They are now in a protracted war to provide truthful information to users, and it is possible they will be hailed before House and Senate committees after the next election for the same meddling.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Airline Ranking 

A ranking of the top 10 world airlines has come out and there is not a single American carrier on it.  That isn't good for reputation or for PR.  The reason for their absence is well known.  They cram customers into their planes like cattle into a car.  They have done away with amenities that make flying more comfortable.  They charge for nearly everything including leg room.  They do all this without apology.  Part of their behavior is understandable. It is difficult to make a profit as an air carrier.  Everything is shaved to the penny, but in the drive for cost accounting the customer has been lost.  There doesn't seem to be any change in the future.   Airlines in America will continue to treat customers shabbily and for the most part customers will have to suffer because they have few other options.   

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Technology And Marketing 

Waymo, the Google subsidiary, is proving it has developed a completely self-driving car.  The company has just held a journalist's field day at its test facility in Central California.  What Waymo hasn't proven yet is that it can sell the software and hardware necessary for an autonomous vehicle.  Its technology is ahead of the marketing.  When asked about potential customers, Waymo's response is nebulous.  It might be the company has customers ready to buy when it has declared the technology fully mature.  However, two out of three of the major American auto manufacturers have decided to go it alone and develop their own self-driving machines.  Waymo could be left with a mature technology and no market.  That would be a blow to the engineers who have labored for eight years and tested vehicles for millions of miles.  What good is a better mousetrap if no one wants it?

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