Wednesday, April 18, 2018


I'm taking time off from posting until May 1.  

Black Eye 

The Internal Revenue Service has a PR black eye.  Its payment system went down yesterday at the height of tax filing.  The IRS said it didn't know what the problem was but it gave taxpayers an extra day. That was the least it could do.  There are systems that have to work 24/7 such as electricity, water and sewer.  The tax system is one of those utilities.  Government can't function without a flow of dollars through its bureaucracies, even if some of those greenbacks are the creation of the Federal Reserve. The IRS is working again at this hour, but it is an embarrassment that it glitched in the first place.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Coffee Crisis 

Starbucks' CEO should be commended for handling a crisis swiftly and sensitively.  He responded to an incident in Philadelphia where a store manager called the police to remove two African-American men who were waiting for a person in the store.  There was no justification for an intervention, and the men were not arrested or charged although one was led from the store in handcuffs.  Kevin Johnson, the CEO, went on national TV and apologized for the incident.  He asserted that Starbucks would review its policies and training, and he offered to apologize directly to the two men.  There were demonstrators yesterday at the Philadelphia store, but there was no push for a larger boycott of the chain's venues.  It could have gotten ugly.  It didn't.  Credit the CEO's fast action.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Getting Even 

James Comey, former FBI director, is getting even with the White House for his sudden and embarrassing firing while he was in a field office in Los Angeles.  He is calling President Trump out with his new book, and Trump's reaction has been understandably negative.  Trump has called Comey a "slimeball."  From a publicity perspective, Comey has to avoid overplaying his contentions so he can maintain a perception of honesty rather than a personally hurt former office holder.  It is extremely important that he hew to facts and avoids interpretations open to criticism.  A sense of detachment and modesty will help his case, and the fact that Trump is unpopular and chaotic will bolster Comey's views.  It is hard for the testimony of one man to overcome the power of the White House, but Comey has a chance to do so.  It doesn't help that Comey is roundly disliked by both Republicans and Democrats for his actions at the FBI, but Comey insists his loyalty is not to any one party or view but to the American people.  His book will sell, which is good for him, and Trump haters will purchase it.  Comey, meanwhile, needs to remain cool and dispassionate.  

Friday, April 13, 2018

Blaming The Victim 

It's a risky PR tactic to blame a victim who was using a company's product.  Sometimes it is necessary, especially when lawsuits are pending.  Tesla finds itself in this predicament: It is blaming the driver of one of its cars for a fatal accident.  This has put a strain on its relationship with the accident investigator, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Board tossed Tesla from the analysis of what happened.  At issue is the semi-autonomous driving mode in the vehicle.  It has been behind several accidents when drivers took their attention off the road and the system failed to note another vehicle or a barrier.  Tesla already has problems reaching production goals for its mid-priced sedan.  It doesn't need more pressure, but it is getting it.  The company and Elon Musk are teetering on the edge of failure.  Any more bad news like this can push them over the edge.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Abandoning Ship? 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress.  There are bets being taken already that this presages a defeat for Republicans in the next election.  If so, the Party is in crisis due in no small part to the President.  Ryan is putting a positive spin on the future, but it seems hollow.  As for his reasons for leaving, he says he wants to spend more time with his family and stop being a "weekend Dad."  That might be true but it is one of the oft-used excuses in the book.  Republicans have little time to find viable candidates and gear up for looming elections.  They are in a bind and they know it.  Democrats are gleeful, but they too have work to do.  It will be a publicity battle from now to November.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Experts say we all lie.  Some lies are big and some small to protect ourselves and others. However, when we get the chance to be honest, we tend to be.  In PR, as I have preached since the beginning of my career, lying is deadly.  The reason is the media believe we lie and the only way to overcome their distrust is through relentless honesty.  PR practitioners have to be scrupulous about facts, and guide the media with regard to them.  We are allowed interpretation of data, which the media dismiss as "spin," but here too we must be careful.  Always taking the positive side can destroy credibility.  We serve clients through transparency and not through cover-up.  It is difficult to do, especially when clients are demanding that we prevaricate.  We have to remind and convince them that in the age of the internet, there is no keeping of secrets for long. It is better to take one's lumps up front rather than later after a search for truth grinds on.  Every one might lie, but in PR we can't afford it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Ag Relations 

The Bayer-Monsanto merger has put a spotlight on relations with their principal customers -- farmers.  They are concerned and fearful that the combination will increase prices of seed and fertilizer.  Only time will tell if they are right, but in the meantime, the merged companies will need to cultivate good relationships with the agricultural base.  Almost certainly there will be price increases for genetically modified seeds as there should be.  That would have happened whether or not there was a combination, but farmers might not see it that way.  This might provide an opening for competitors but there is only one that can take advantage. An oligopoly is no comfort for farmers and would only make their fears worse.  

Monday, April 09, 2018

Plane Publicity 

NASA has always been adept in generating publicity for itself and its activities.  Ever since the beginning of the space age, it has found ways to generate headlines.  Here is the most recent example.  Should its new plane prove to be as quiet as planned, it still won't guarantee that plane manufacturers will build the craft and airlines will buy it.  The promise of supersonic air travel has been short-circuited by inadequate technology and physics for decades.  There is no guarantee this test vehicle will dampen sonic booms as planned.  Still, the contract to build an X-model is news, and NASA has once again proven its worth to the American public.  Smart publicity.  

Friday, April 06, 2018

Internal Crisis 

Google is facing an internal crisis with more than 3,000 employees objecting to its work with the Pentagon.  The workers signed an open letter to top management calling for cessation of applying artificial intelligence to the Defense Department's drone imagery program.  The activity is not designed to help identify targets on the battlefield, but it could be, and that is what distresses employees.  Google's management now has a choice.  It can back out of the contract and preserve its employee base or it can move forward and risk losing valuable engineers to competitors who will be happy to recruit them.  There isn't a good outcome in all this.  Either way, Google stands to lose revenue or much-needed talent.  How they respond will determine the PR of the company.  It will be interesting to see what Google decides.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Bad Idea 

It is a bad idea and poor PR to ignore a regulator.  This is what happens.  The company, Triangle Pharmaceuticals, blew off the FDA's requests for a recall of their kratom herbal supplement.  The FDA wasn't worried about kratom, itself a controversial remedy, but about salmonella food poisoning, which had contaminated the ingredients.  Who knows why Triangle refused to cooperate?  They are now the subject of an unprecedented mandatory recall and the weight of the government is on their shoulders. They are also a case study in poor PR.  They put customers at risk by not complying and they have given themselves a bad name.  If the company survives, and that is questionable, they had better not do it again.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Not Worried 

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, is being verbally assaulted these days but he hardly should be worried.  The attacker is President Trump, and as usual, the President has his facts wrong.  The criticism has hit the price of the stock, but that should be passing as the financial community, the public and politicians understand how wrong Trump is.  Most companies have been put into a penalty box unjustly at some point in their history.  This is where PR comes to the fore -- defense using facts to counter rumor, error and misstatements.  Bezos has yet to publicly rebuke the President, and he might not need to.  The media are doing a credible job for him.  It is a tremendous help when the press supports one's contentions.  It is even better when the attacker has no credibility.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Hearst Redux 

Sinclair Broadcast Group is receiving criticism for having its approximately 200 local TV stations read "a message about bias and fake stories in news outlets."   It is seen as a pro-Trump move since Trump inveighs frequently about fake news.  Sinclair, the critics say, is flexing its conservative political muscle and there is a general alarm.  Critics forget that in his day, William Randolph Hearst, a media mogul, reached one in four Americans with his newspapers, syndicates, magazines and newsreels.  Hearst took every opportunity to promote his agenda and to blast opponents such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Hearst didn't succeed, and eventually his empire shrank.  Give the public some credit for an ability to see through what a medium is doing, especially when other reporters point it out as they did this time. Sinclair has produced a PR faux pas, and it has put journalists on alert to examine its pronouncements and actions.  Not a good way to operate.

Monday, April 02, 2018


Tim Cook of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg aren't getting along.  The two are sniping at one another through the news media.  Cook says Apple wouldn't have been put in the position of losing customer data since it doesn't monetize users' information.  Cook is calling for increased regulation.  Zuckerberg is defending Facebook's advertising model and merchandising of personal data.  There doesn't seem to be a way to get the two of them on the same side.  There is an increased chance the government will regulate corporations now that privacy has come to the fore, and a company was using customer information to sway the last election.  It is a major PR issue for Facebook and Google and the advertising model on the internet.  Tech industry executives need a unified front, but they are unlikely to get it.  Look for regulators to have their way.

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