Thursday, May 31, 2018

Proper Response 

Pharmaceutical company, Sanofi, ducked a controversy with a proper response.  Comedian Roseanne Barr blamed Ambien, a Sanofi medication, for the racist tweet she let fly at a former counselor to President Obama. Sanofi responded with a bit of snark, "While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication."  One can envision the writer of that phrase chuckling while he or she composed it.  The statement is not an expression of outrage, merely a statement of fact.  And, it is the fact that is so damning.  One doesn't get the opportunity often to defend a product so well.  Kudos to Sanofi for a proper response.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Odd PR 

A Swedish brewery is making and selling a beer that uses processed sewage water.  It is its way of making a statement about the need to conserve and protect water.  One wonders if Swedes can overcome the gag factor to try it, and if it is any good.  The name of the brew is PU:REST to connote the safety of the liquid within.  Still, can you envision someone coming home with a six-pack and serving it to guests?  There are many ways to position a company in relation to natural resources.  This doesn't seem to be a good one although the company is earnest.  Sometimes PR gestures should remain on the brainstorming white board rather than being effected.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Self-induced Crisis 

President Trump is claiming a Democratic law is forcing the administration to break up families engaged in illegal immigration.  He and his attorney general say there is nothing they can do to prevent it.  Unfortunately, that is not true and the media have widely reported the falsehood.  It is one thing to arrest a migrant for crossing the border without papers.  It is quite another to take the children from the migrant and put them into a foster care system that has lost track of nearly 1500 of them.  Trump is looking like an unfeeling demagogue as a result of this move and has created a crisis for his administration whether he sees it that way or not.  Few parents,no matter how ideological they are, can imagine their children being torn from them and held in mass incarceration.  Come November they will have a chance to express their concern, or even outrage, over the move.  With waves of Republicans retiring from the House and key Senators stepping down, Trump may be facing a hostile Congress for the first time.  If he does, he will have only himself to blame.

Monday, May 28, 2018


A number of high tech entrepreneurs and scientists are sounding an alarm about artificial intelligence (AI).  They are afraid machines will take over and move against humans who will be defenseless.  Notable naysayers include Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking.  Those who work in AI, however, know both its limitations and advantages.  It is a long step from AI of today to the rogue computer of "2001: A  Space Odyssey."  Today's AI machines are giant data crunchers using algorithms and tens of thousands of examples to perform visual recognition and find patterns. Those who fear them do not understand the massive power AI needs to do the simplest tasks that even children can perform.  AI needs better PR, a truthful statement of its merits without hype about what it should be able to do, but can't -- not yet, anyway.  With better appreciation of the systems, AI can prove to be a boon to humanity rather than demon technology.

Friday, May 25, 2018

A Liar 

Trump's spokesperson says it bothers her to be called a liar because one's reputation is all one has.  She is right about that, but her words belie her. The article cites four instances in which she lied about facts and says there are more examples as well.  Perhaps Sarah Sanders doesn't know the facts or, as her boss does, makes them up as she goes along.  This administration has a peculiar relationship to the truth.  It is whatever someone says in the moment, facts be damned.  Unfortunately, the media keeps track of facts and is only too eager to point out when there is a discrepancy between what one says and what is right.  Sanders can be hurt by words about her, but she had better get used to it, or best of all, resign her position.  She can let someone else who doesn't worry about reputation take her place and lie constantly.  

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bucking A Trend 

It is deeply satisfying to be proven right when everyone says one is wrong.  Target, the brick-and-mortar retailer, finds itself in that enviable position.  Contrary to conventional wisdom that retail is on the way out in an era of e-commerce, Target's CEO spent "$7 billion to remodel 600 stores, open new small-format stores and grow its private label brands." Wall Street hated the idea.  Target's same-store sales grew by a hefty 3 percent compared to a 1.3 percent decline in the previous year.  The retailer is back and healthy compared to struggling companies such as Sears and JC Penney.  Doubling down is a risky strategy but it is working for Target.  From an investor relations perspective, there wasn't much to say until the company proved its approach.  Stock analysts are tough to persuade without numerical evidence.  It must be interesting to listen in to the quarterly analyst calls.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


One sure way to destroy good employee relations is to chisel on wages.  But companies are doing that with their time clocks constantly. It is a nickel-and-dime ploy but it adds to real money over a year that workers don't get.  There is no excuse for it either.  The days when pay was calculated by hand are gone and the onerous addition of minutes is taken care of by software.  So why do employers keep doing it?  Every penny saved in wages drops to the bottom line.  Inevitably, a worker will sue for missing income, and the company will have to defend itself in court.  That is expensive for employee and employer.  It would be far easier if a company compensated people for work done, but the real fear is that it would lead to abuse by employees chiseling the company.  Good employee relations should lead to a solution that doesn't compromise the time clock.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Strategic Move 

Sony is the ultimate hardware company -- TVs, cameras, phones, PlayStations.  But, it is becoming a software company by design.  It is a risky move for its image and long-time strategy.  The company embarked on the new course in 2012 with its incoming CEO who was tired of earning pennies on the dollar for its gadgets.  He is now heading a company that makes a record operating profit, primarily from software and intellectual property.  Sony has been guiding investors toward its new strategy but they are still uncertain it will work in the long run.  Left unsaid is the PR for consumers the company needs to do.  Will they be confused about the Sony's new path?  Will they forget Sony's hardware and move easily to its software?  This is a situation in which only time will tell.  Sony ruled home electronics for decades with high-quality and innovative equipment.  It is sad to see them give that up, but the market has shifted and they must change or die.   

Monday, May 21, 2018


Nicholas Maduro has won-re-election in Venezuela, but how he did it verges on fraud, if not outright illegality.  He jailed likely opponents.  He bribed the poor with boxes of food at a time when there is none available for anyone in the stores.  He set up tents near polling places to distribute prizes for those who did vote for him.  He ran the election in the face of a boycott at the polls.  The negatives about him are abundant.  He is presiding over a country whose economy has collapsed despite having the largest oil reserves of any nation on earth.  He doesn't know how to handle hyperinflation, which has rendered Venezuela's currency worthless.  He has done nothing to slow the outflow of citizens who can no longer deal with the country's chaos.  Maduro positions himself as a strong man, but he is weak in administration and governance.  His relations with his countrymen are at a low, and if he had run without giving himself overwhelming advantages, he would have lost.  Even so, there are accusations that he had to jigger the voting.  The only thing that keeps him in power is the military with whom he had better maintain good PR.

Friday, May 18, 2018


Google at its recent developers' conference demonstrated an artificial intelligence voice that was so real people were saying it could past the Turing test.  But now, doubt has been raised about the demo because no one outside the company can say whether it was staged or real.  Google won't reveal which salon it contacted, if it did, and a news organization has taken to calling salons in the Silicon Valley area to determine if they answer the phone the same way as heard in the demo.  So far, they haven't.  The medium claims Google's demo was fake.  This has sparked a discussion.  How much artifice is too much?  If Google did construct a false demo, it would be a gaffe in this instance.  Google was trying to show it has mastered the human voice and response to some human queries.  If it hasn't, it deserves to be held to scorn.  If it has, its technological feat is amazing.  Only the company knows, and it is not talking. This is a time for transparency.  

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Taking The Fall 

This fellow is taking the fall for an error in contracting with Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer.  He could have pointed to the former CEO who was a co-signatory on the agreement, but he didn't.  He took full responsibility.  That is old-fashioned, stand-up obligation to the role he served in the company.  He should be commended.  PR would be easier if more executives admitted errors instead of ducking and/or covering.  it is not often one sees a senior manager who publicly admits to being at fault and takes action to correct it.  Novartis should do what it can to keep its general counsel involved with the company as a consultant or something else.  He deserves it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Addressing A Challenge 

Kaspersky Lab has been dogged with the suspicion that it is in cahoots with the Russian government and helping implant malware throughout the internet.  Denials have done no good.  Now the company is taking steps to move some of its core processes to Switzerland, far away from Moscow.  That, plus a new transparency institute funded by the Lab, are intended to lower fears that Kaspersky is compromised.  While the move addresses the issue of proximity to Russia, it still doesn't answer the question whether the company has secret alliances with Putin's agents.  Only time can resolve that, and it may take years.  There is little a company can do when it is cast in the position that Kaspersky finds itself.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


Harley-Davidson is involved in a dumb tactic.  It is about to rehash bad results at its annual meeting so it has barred the media from attending.  This is a change from its practice in previous years when it threw its function open to all.  Predictably, governance commentators were not impressed.  As one said, "They can run but they can't hide."  Now the local media, especially, will make an effort to report what was said and questions shareholders asked.  The company would have been far better off if it had just opened its doors.  Chances are that its meeting would have been reported in a few paragraphs at most.  One wonders if some companies ever learn transparency or whether it is a lesson that has to be repeated year after year.  

Monday, May 14, 2018


Xerox, the once powerful and now forlorn, office equipment powerhouse is dangling with an uncertain future.  It just called off its merger with Fujifilm under pressure from activist investors.  It is replacing its CEO and making changes to the board of directors.  Xerox's customers and employees are facing fear of the future.  There is little PR can do in a time like this.  The CEO can hardly calm the waters because he isn't going to be there for much longer.  The investors are outsiders and might not know the morale of the company.  Statements from HR might mean little if there are cuts in the future.  Xerox will do well if it holds on to its key talent, but no one should be surprised if they are looking elsewhere for employment.  It is a public and employee relations crisis.  

Friday, May 11, 2018

One Step Forward, One Backward 

Google is contending with a PR problem surrounding its artificial intelligence voice.  It is so good critics are condemning it as a violation of ethics and trust.  The company unveiled the "voice" at its annual I/O conference and the audience cheered.  Those who fear AI immediately criticized the natural delivery as too good. There is no way people can tell they are talking to a machine and not a human.  This for AI critics is the worst nightmare and a sign machines are taking the place of humans.  Google needs to address the fear before it becomes a reason for regulation and prevention of further AI development.  This is not the first nor last time new technologies have ignited opposition, but as in the past, there needs to be a clear presentation to the public that technologies are a benefit to mankind and not a harm.  This might in the form of a "killer app" everyone wants to use or a winning demonstration of progress.  For every step forward, there needs to be one backward to appease critics and educate the public.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tough Customer Relations 

What could be worse than to be on the receiving end of a customer Twitter stream in a faltering organization?  That is the fate of customer relations representatives who serve the New York City subways and its decrepit system.  They are in a no-win situation.  The subways are decades past upgrading their signals.  Stations are dirty.  Ticket machines are on-again-off-again.  Delays are constant.  Riders feel and are helpless to make things better.  So they spew, and representatives try to answer calmly and with empathy.  They can't promise a fix because most likely there isn't one. They can reply, "We hear you," but that is empty.  Nothing can be done once a complaint is logged.  This is the worst position for customer relations to be in -- powerless.  The transit authority would probably be better off if it didn't respond at all to riders' venting, but it is making the effort anyway.  Now, if it would only fix the system.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Transparency - Sooner Or Later 

One wonders whether government officials understand transparency.  They try to hide intents only to have them discovered through the Freedom of Information Act.  That is what happened to EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.  He tried to bamboozle the media by restricting public appearances and orchestrating events for the reason of security.  Some 10,000 e-mails disgorged through FOIA show the real reason was to avoid exposure to unfriendly audiences.  He has created a PR crisis for himself because he didn't tell the truth in the first place.  It would have been far easier if he had been up front.  Yes, he would have had to deal with hostile questions but his actions have been inimical to the environment.  He deserved to get them.  Now, he looks dumb and his enemies are using his lack of transparency against him.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Rat Poison 

With this kind of negative publicity for Bitcoin, how can it survive?  Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have been negative about cryptocurrency for a long time.  Calling it names is the latest in their barrage of blunt remarks.  Despite enthusiasts who defend Bitcoin, the two men have a point.  There is no intrinsic value to the computer coin.  It is whatever people agree it to be at any given moment.  It rises and falls with no apparent reason and no underlying guarantee of worth.  Buying and selling rest on the greater fool theory.  Speculation is faddish.  People get excited and want to try it out.  Some make money.  Most don't.  Bitcoin might not go away but over time it should recede in public consciousness, especially if it proves to be as bad an investment as it is now.  Negative publicity will not stop foolish investors, but it should cause most to pause.  

Monday, May 07, 2018

Good PR 

This is an example of what public relations is all about.  SpaceX pioneered reusable rocket boosters and cargo carriers, which have cut down the cost of spaceflights dramatically. Each time one returns to earth safely, it is another feather in the company's cap.  This was the "third round-trip flight with a reused Dragon capsule."  The company can confidently say that it is a world leader in multiple use of spacecraft.  Since that is the future of the industry, SpaceX can claim legitimately that it is ahead of its competitors and even of NASA.  It is not spin if one is doing it.  It is public relations.at its best.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Wearing Out His Welcome 

Elon Musk is wearing out his stature with investment analysts and the public.  He insulted them on an earnings call and generated numerous stories about it.  For example, here and here.  He has been living a charmed life.  Few entrepreneurs have been given the slack that he has to lose billions while pursuing an electric vehicle.  There have been solo voices in recent months that questioned why the company's stock remains so high and now, it appears they are being heard.  Musk himself seems to want to remain a visionary.  The investment community is understandably concerned that he will have to tap capital markets yet again for a billion or two.  Musk is skating on thin ice.  One hopes he understands that perception can and has changed, and it is time for him to focus on the car business rather than boring holes in the ground and populating Mars.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Bad PR 

Here is what can happen when a firm has bad PR.  It can go out of business.Cambridge Analytica acted shabbily by taking profiles of millions of Facebook users and developing specific pitches to sway their votes for Trump.  It would have gotten away with it too except that it was caught.  Clients abandoned the company and it was forced out of existence.  There will be other Cambridge Analyticas because politics has few ethics.  Winning is everything. Once an effective technique for persuasion has been developed, politicians will use it unless public perception is negative and bad PR catches up with them as it did with CA.  Practitioners raised in the campaign mode are more likely to be spinmeisters.  They will use tools of persuasion without a sense of right or wrong.  As such, they give PR a bad name.  

Wednesday, May 02, 2018


Kim Jong Un, North Korea's dictator, has promised to shut its nuclear testing site in May.  Do you believe him?  This is a man who has acted bellicosely for years and is the son of a leader who broke his promises more than he kept them.  It is hard to think of another world leader with lower credibility.  Yet, South Korea is choosing to believe him for the moment.  Each side has been making overtures -- the North with the Olympics and the South with K-Pop.  It is easy to spin scenarios for Kim's long-term goals.  The man is a cipher.  He has acted brutally in getting rid of rivals.  He continues to repress his citizens.  He continues to enjoy the products of the free world while denying them to his own poverty-stricken country.  If he has had a change of heart, it is impossible to know what caused it.  He might be trying to lift sanctions.  He might be pursuing a long-term goal to reunite the North and the South under his rule.  It will be up to the South and Trump to determine whether they can trust him.  That will be difficult.  

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Image Problem 

Vancouver, Seattle and Portland have an image problem.  The three cities are overrun with homeless men and women who reside on the streets because the weather tends to be mild.  The three towns want to project a forward-moving economy, but it is hard when people congregate on sidewalks,in alleyways, under bridges and in parks.  Portland has emphasized services to the homeless but the result has been to attract more of them.  Seattle and Vancouver seem to tolerate them but have no particular solutions to finding them shelter.  Part of the challenge is that it isn't just people with no place to live but drinking and drug problems and mental derangement that drive them out of doors.  The homeless are an achilles heel.  No matter how innovative they are, the three cities will always be held back by the appearance of dirty people in filthy clothes lying on sidewalks.  It is a reminder that they have not done enough to feed, clothe and shelter all of their citizens.

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