Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Taking The Leap 

California is taking a technological leap of faith.  It is now allowing self-driving cars to go on the roads without an attendant behind the wheel.  This could be a PR/Marketing triumph or a disaster.  It depends whether the autonomous autos negotiate the roads without accidents or other run-ins.  The engineering companies, such as Waymo, have been working toward this day for years.  They are eager to start sending vehicles on the road by themselves.  One unknown in all this is the sentiment of the passengers.  Will they be tempted to seize the wheel if they get nervous?  Can they sit quietly in the passenger seat and let the car proceed as it wishes?  The issue is not so much the automated vehicle but drivers around it who weave in and out and cut off others then panic stop.  Humans are the problem, not machines.  

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Newer Technology 

Telephone equipment suppliers are on the verge of a massive roll-out of 5G cellular systems, which will deliver data faster than ever to phones.  One CEO is estimating 5 billion 5G subscriptions worldwide by 2023.  It is not too early for marketers and PR practitioners to begin to strategize how to use the increased speed to advantage.  It might take some creative thinking but those who arrive first with the most effective ways to use content will be the winners.  One thought is that it will be useful for individual targeting.  A person passing by a retailer's store will receive an instant message to drop in for special savings.  This can be done now but it will be faster with 5G.  It will take time to create services that can take advantage of faster speeds.  There is no profit in waiting.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Words Matter 

The US Citizen and Immigration Service has changed its mission statement.  It has eliminated reference to immigrants being customers and it now stresses protection of America.  Words matter.  It is clear that the agency has pushed the immigrant to the background while focusing on security.  There wasn't anything wrong with the old mission statement other than it was too long, as the present one is as well.  Making immigrants secondary to security and preservation of American values implies that migrants infect rather than build our society.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  One hopes that once Trump is out of office and nativist leanings are reined in that the Service can return to its original spirit and recognize once again a nation of immigrants.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Best Defense 

There is an old saying, "The best defense is a good offense."  The National Rifle Association apparently believes it and is striking back hard at gun control advocates.  Wayne LaPierre, the face of the NRA, delivered a forceful speech in defense of the Second Amendment and the right to own guns.  He trotted out the old trope, "The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  He called for hardening schools by arming guards and teachers.  He gave not an inch.  There is a feeling, however, that this time might be different.  Even the President is calling for outlawing Bump Stocks, which turn a semi-automatic into a machine gun.  At least four governors have agreed to work together to increase control over flows of weapons to their states.  If the Federal Government will do nothing, states might have to move for themselves.  Expert opinion believes it will be a long, slow slog to gain a more effective grip on stopping arms reaching mass murderers, and the NRA  isn't about to help.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

In The Pit 

A politician must feel comfortable about his re-election to speak before a hostile audience.  Senator Marco Rubio of Florida endured a town hall during which he was booed and lectured by angry participants.  It was a PR disaster for him, especially since he upheld his support for the National Rifle Association and would not agree to a ban on assault weapons.  Time will tell if it erodes his support in Florida.  One wonders why a pol would willingly go into the pit at a time of heightened emotions and furious anger.  If he thought he would gain from doing so, his judgment is suspect.  If he was there out of concern for the public, then sticking to his positions showed he wasn't listening. Either way, he lost the audience and probably many observers as well.  The Democrats need a credible candidate in Florida for Senator, and Rubio could see his political career at an end.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

PR/Marketing Problem 

Kentucky Fried Chicken has run out of chicken in the UK.  It has had to close 2/3 of its 900 restaurants in the country because of the shortage.  The chain is making light of it but the situation is serious.  There is no faster way to lose customers for the long-term.  Once they get out of the habit of going to a KFC because it isn't open, they won't come back easily.  The real question for the company is how the logistics failure occurred.  It is more than a simple mistake.  Somehow their suppliers weren't communicating to the company.  KFC will fix the gaffe but the ongoing problem is what needs to be addressed.  It shouldn't happen again for any reason. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Not Invented Here is a frequent slam used by entities facing unpleasant competition. They cannot take seriously a product or service, which they did not discover and develop.  NASA is facing the NIH syndrome with SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket.  Rather than welcoming the new propulsion system, NASA is doubling down on its Space Launch System, which will cost more to build and fire off than SpaceX's machine.  It seems the agency is living in the past and unable to accept that a commercial entity has beaten it to the finish line with a better and cheaper product.  The Falcon Heavy will now go about its business of launching satellites and retrieving boosters for reconditioning and reuse.  Meanwhile, Boeing, which is building the SLS, has much to prove that its giant candle will actually be better than the Falcon Heavy, which is here and working today.  SpaceX has won the PR war and NASA is scrambling to catch up.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Can We Learn? 

The NRA is once again defending ownership of guns while relatives prepare to bury 17 murdered students and teachers. An unanswered question is: "Can we learn from other countries what to do?"  Notably, Australia.  The Land Down Under banned rapid fire firearms in 1996 after a fatal mass shooting in Tasmania. It hasn't had a fatal mass shooting in which five or more people have died since then.There is no good reason for semi-automatic weapons in the hands of civilians. They fire with each pull of the trigger without needing to reload because they have a magazine of bullets.  Even though they are the most popular long gun sold in America, they deserve to be banned as Australia has done.  One can remain secure, have fun on a rifle range and still hunt with breech-loading weapons.  The NRA's publicity has gone too far for too long.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Tough Sledding 

If you are Huawei, how do you persuade the US government to use your telecommunications equipment?  The FBI, NSA and CIA have all cautioned Americans not to use its phones because of a chance of espionage.  Huawei is successful throughout the world but not in America because of security fears.  It has tried time and again to rebut charges that the Chinese government can use its equipment for intelligence gathering.  So far, nothing has worked.  The company is in a PR black hole from which it seemingly cannot get out.  Persuasion for Huawei starts with the government.  If it can't convince the intelligence agencies that it does not work for the Chinese government, then there is no place else to go.  America's cellular companies aren't about to work with it and risk the wrath of the Feds.  It's a tough position to be in and one for which there are few answers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

He Knows 

If there is one tech leader who knows about corporate hubris, it is Bill Gates.  Microsoft battled with the Federal Government for years over its monopolistic approach to marketing.  That is why his warning to the tech community should be taken seriously.  He sees companies on direct paths to regulation if they don't control themselves.  He tells companies they have to cooperate with the government more than they are doing.   He cautions that tech leaders should not hold to their views over that of the Feds.  Gates skated around the Free Speech argument some companies are making.   Regulators will transgress the First Amendment when they feel justified to do so, and tech giants should resist when that happens, but otherwise, Gates words should be taken to heart in Silicon Valley. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

10 years? 

The CEO of The New York Times is predicting that the print version of the paper has only 10 years before it is gone.  That may be optimistic.  Older technologies have a way of hanging on long after their expiration date.  Still, it is a surprising statement that paper might not be around that much longer.  The Times has a thriving digital presence, and it is pouring resources into it to improve it constantly.  In 10 years time, it is likely the web site will be driving all of the news, culture and arts reporting. What the Times' needs is advertising on the web site that supplants the full-page spreads in the paper.  I, for one, am not ready for the day the paper edition goes away, but I'll adjust when it comes, if it does.   

Monday, February 12, 2018

Black Eye 

Aetna Insurance has given a blow to its reputation.  This comes from the admission of a former medical director that he never reviewed patients' records before turning them down for procedures.  Rather, he let nurses on staff make the decisions and he validated them.  California's insurance commissioner expressed outrage over the disclosure and has launched an investigation into the company.  Aetna's black eye was self-inflicted.  It should have known that allowing someone other than a doctor to deny medical procedures was not going to work for the long term.  Now the company has to defend itself in court and before the commissioner and try to regain its footing.  It might not be easy.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Reputation At Risk 

Amtrak has put its reputation at risk based on the number of accidents it has had recently.  Some were not its fault -- hitting a garbage truck on the tracks that didn't belong there.  Others are due to maintenance and human failure.  At least one was egregious.  Train travel is supposed to be safe.  The rail company is falling down on keeping passengers secure.  There are reasons for its failures but most stem from a lack of money to keep the system from deteriorating. Amtrak has been on the edge of bankruptcy for years and it shows in the state of its equipment, which is old and poorly kept.  The railroad needs to cut back to profitable routes, but Congress won't consider it.  As long as the impasse continues, Amtrak will be a sick system limping instead of running.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018


The idea seemed good. An online tailor would use artificial intelligence to measure the size of a customer's shirt.  All the customer had to do was send in a photo of one his shirts and the computer would do the rest.  There was only one glitch. The AI program didn't work.  Shirts came back too long or too short and ill-fitting.  The company, Original Stitch, a start-up, was forced to stop using the software.  One wonders how rigorously the system was tested before it was introduced to the marketplace.  This kind of unforced error is enough to sink a company and there is no good reason for it to happen.  It's a PR blackeye and marketing faux pas.  Particularly for a new business trying to gain its footing a failure like this can be devastating.  It's one more reminder that a rush to market before one is ready is a rookie mistake.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

High Risk, High Reward 

SpaceX is set to launch its new heavy rocket today.  It is a $90 million event and if the rocket blows up, it will cost the company five years of work.  It is a high risk, high reward exercise and in one 5-minute period it can burnish the company's reputation or ruin it.  The company has tested and retested components and conducted a static firing of the engines, but it won't know if everything is working until the launch.  It is then in mission control that nerves will be taut and breathing difficult.  Should it succeed, there will be high-fives, cheering and smiles.  Should something go wrong, there will be silence.  There are other happenings in the world that are high-risk like this one, but none so public and witnessed by millions as a rocket lighting off and arcing into the sky.  Here's a wish for a good flight and problem-free journey.  

Monday, February 05, 2018


Philly fans have no sense of decorum in their celebration.  Yes, the Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time but that provided no excuse to shatter windows, take down light poles and leap from awnings.  Last night's revelry wasn't quite a riot but it could have turned into one quickly.  The out-of-control crowd was poor PR for the city and its citizens.  Fans should be happy, delirious that their team finally broke through, but there is a step between unbounded joy and destruction of property.  Some Philadelphia citizens crossed the line and gave the city a bad name.  

Friday, February 02, 2018

Day Zero 

Cape Town, South Africa, is facing a major challenge -- a lack of water.  The town is literally running out and has assigned a Day Zero, April 16, when taps of the city go dry.  Cape Town's PR smacks of desperation.  Curtail your water use or else. The problem is that the "or else" is going to happen whether one conserves water now or not.  For the most part, citizens are aware of the problem and are taking action, but there are always a 10 percent who don't know or don't care.  They will be objects of peer group action, which could get ugly.  City managers have to prepare for trucking in water for Cape Town's four million residents.  That will be a major logistical nightmare on its own.  What it does will be studied.  No other major urban area has run out of water, but with climate change, it might happen again.

Thursday, February 01, 2018


How can you continue to head a major health agency if you trade in stocks of tobacco companies?  The answer is you can't.  The director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has left her job for doing just that.  The perception of hypocrisy was too great.  How can you lead the charge to get people to stop smoking if you are profiting from ownership in companies that promote it?  Brenda Fitzgerald, the now former director, was either clueless or brazen.  Either position was deadly for her continued presence as director.  She is not the only one caught by perception.  Her predecessor resigned after it was discovered he was using government jets rather than commercial aviation.  One wonders what these people were thinking.  

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