Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Mighty Fall 

How the mighty GE has fallen.  The legendary company under Jack Welch who turned out world-class managers, the envy of CEOs, is now a shadow.  It can't seem to do anything right, even under its first leader from the outside who is a noted turnaround manager.  The tide has gone out and GE has been revealed as naked.  The company still has a deep reservoir of talent and technology, but it is struggling in the marketplace, particularly in its power division.  The CEO is having the division report directly to him and he is splitting it into two parts for simpler management.  If the company can turn the corner, it might be able to rebuild its reputation, but it is unlikely it will never again reach the exalted heights it once had.  GE is a reminder that no company is ever safe.  There are always circumstances that can drag it down and success today does not mean success tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Too Quick 

Sometimes one is too quick to make a decision and creates PR and management problems as a result.  In this case, the CEO of Snap promoted an individual, informed the person's direct reports of his decision then changed his mind two days later and hired someone else.  The whipsaw has demoralized employees, and it has made the CEO look capricious.  If he wasn't certain about the first person, he should have delayed the decision. Instead he spoke first then acted later.  There is little he can do to mitigate the damage.  He created the problem and now he has to live with it.  Quick decision making is a hallmark of high tech companies, but there is a limit to how often one can change his mind before it impacts an organization negatively.  This is a case in which the line was crossed.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Great PR 

Muslim groups in the US are raising tens of thousands of dollars for Jewish victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.  That alone is a statement that Middle East standoffs between Jews and Muslims are not a barrier here.  The US is neutral ground between the two groups.  There are still hotheads who want to see Israel destroyed but it appears the dominant view is to live and let live. That alone should be a statement to the Trump administration, which has barred people from Muslim countries from entering America.  It is an effective act of relating to a public that has historically been condemned by Muslims. They should be congratulated for their action and Jews thankful they are so valued by an historic enemy.   

Friday, October 26, 2018


Conventional wisdom is insufficient.  We think we know a topic but when closely examined, it turns out we don't.  Consider this case.  For a long time, scientists thought the cerebellum was only there to make sensory motor functions work.  It was the "lizard brain," making sure we can walk upright, grasp objects, sit and stand.  Now, science is revising its views.  "...what they found was that just 20 percent of the cerebellum was dedicated to areas involved in physical motion, while 80 percent was dedicated to areas involved in functions such as abstract thinking, planning, emotion, memory and language."  The more we know the less we know.  That is why conventional understandings should be accepted with caution. It is what we grasp now but might not be the case in the future.  PR practitioners work with facts and stress accuracy, but there is always a chance facts might change.  Hence, one should hedge statements rather than proclaim them with certainty.  As far as we know, this is the case, but our understanding might be limited.  This leaves room for deeper knowledge.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Smart Marketing 

Target is an ingenious marketer.  As this video shows, creativity comes in big things and small.  Its stores are planned effectively, well orchestrated with signage, neatly kept, bright and welcoming.  There is none of the shelf messes one finds in a Walmart, for example.  Presentation is the result of close management and constant aisle patrols to face goods, pick up fallen items and place them back on a rack and neaten displays. One always feels like the first customer in the store rather than the thousandth.  This is why the company can boast of the "Target effect", the impulse to buy more than what one came for in the first place.  Merchandising requires constant tinkering to optimize product placement and sales. Customers rarely see the effort but they buy, and that is why Target remains a leading retailer in the era of online shopping.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Publicity Annuity 

The best publicity stunts can be renewed year after year and reliably spark press coverage. That is why this annual stunt is in a class by itself.  Neiman Marcus decades ago sought to set itself apart as the retailer to the wealthy so it dreamed up an annual gift list for those with unlimited disposable income.  That list became news year after year. The media reliably report the sometimes outrageous offerings, sometimes with commentary, sometimes without.  Does Neiman Marcus expect to sell these gifts?  I doubt it, but just in case, I suspect the retailer keeps one or two of the presents on hand with the option of returning them to the vendors. This year's gifts spotlight over-the-top experiences for the super-rich along with a $7.1 million yacht.  Everyone needs one of those.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


The Saudis have shifted versions of the death of the Washington Post journalist several times.  Now they say he died in a fight in their consulate in Turkey.  The world is skeptical and should be.  Left unexplained is why the country sent 15 men to capture one.  If the Turkish story is correct, one of the men is a medical doctor who was carrying a bone saw, presumably to cut up the corpse.  Why too did one of the men change into the journalist's clothes and depart from the consulate?  The Saudis are learning the downside of murderous control of the press and a lack of transparency.  The world is repulsed by what happened.  It was the action of a dictator  Where Saudi Arabia goes now as a country is unclear.  It is stifling dissent internally and closing itself off from the world.  

Monday, October 22, 2018

End Of A Run? 

Even the hottest, fastest-growing companies cool into a slower growth maturity.  Apple has experienced years of blistering sales of its iPhones,.which sold out in hours after their introduction.  But now, it suddenly seems its latest line of phones might not be selling as well.  Availability of the XR model has remained steady, and there doesn't appear to be a run on it.  If that is the case, it might be a rare miss for Apple or at last, the public is exhausted and not as eager to buy.  Apple has depended on phone sales for superior margins over the last decade.  Should its popularity be over, it is a serious concern for the company.  There are things marketing and PR can do to reignite interest when it wanes. One hopes those plans and tactics are ready to implement.  Apple has an enormous cash cushion on which it can run for years, but financial analysts will discount that if iPhone sales are down and they will hammer the stock.

Friday, October 19, 2018

No Make-good 

When you make a mistake this egregious, there is no make-good -- even a public apology isn't sufficient.  How the campaign made such an error is still unknown and the candidate, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, says she wasn't the one at fault.  From a PR perspective, it is an indication of sloppiness in communications operations and materials.  The first rule is accuracy and it is obvious someone violated it.  In an era of "fake news" when people make up facts as they go along, there is a premium on getting it right the first time.  Heitkamp should know that, and now she has to struggle with an unforced error.  Campaigns are difficult enough without making obvious goofs.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dirty Laundry 

In the internet age, nothing prevents an employee or ex-employee from exposing to the world the dirty laundry of an organization.  Consider this case.  An ex-employee, six years removed from a Google job, spills his anger at the company and the top manager of his group, Google+.  His series of Tweets are ugly and there is nothing the company can do about them.  Pointing out that the designer worked there only eight months and is hashing over old times doesn't help.  Neither does the fact that Google is shutting down Google+.  The Tweets were inflammatory enough that Business Insider took notice and gave them wide currency.  Organizations everywhere need to be prepared for online tell-alls.  There will be many more, and they can spark a crisis quickly.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


The Trump administration is about to rule that pharmaceutical companies have to list the price of their drugs in TV ads if the medicines cost more than $35 a month.  The industry, of course, is opposed.  It wants to direct consumers to web sites where the cost is enumerated.  Critics of the proposal say it is unclear how exposing drug prices would do anything to control their rise.  Also, the proposal would be voluntary and the government would rely on shaming companies that fail to follow the rule.  The idea is interesting and might have a chance of working.  Transparency is missing in the drug industry.  (Few people hear or read contraindications mandated with advertising.)  Would it be the same with pricing?  The only way to find out is to do it, but pharma companies are threatening to tie the rule up in court for years to come.  The public might never get a chance to make up its own mind.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


This article asks a good question.  If humility is so important in a leader, why are so many arrogant?  It goes on to define three kinds of humility, including one dubbed "humbition" -- humility combined with ambition. Arrogant managers like being in charge and telling people what to do.  They don't listen: They glory in power.  There are too many to name who fall in this category, including the current President. PR practitioners know too well the kind of leaders they serve.  They can tell stories of humility and arrogance. They will relate to you privately that X is a good person or they will whisper one or another outrage a CEO has committed.  PR is often a receptacle of CEO demands, whether reasonable or not.  

Monday, October 15, 2018

Native American? 

Elizabeth Warren has released a DNA test that reports she had a Native American in her past at least 6 to 10 generations ago.  This makes her a tiny bit indigenous and refutes the mockery of President Trump.  However, it is scarcely enough for her to point to her heritage and proudly proclaim her lineage.  No matter, it will remain a talking point in her campaigns and Trump will continue his jibes.  The two of them have a bitter relationship and it is not destined to get better as time passes.  It is likely Warren will be on the national scene longer than Trump.  She is a senator with a relatively safe seat.  From a PR perspective, it would probably be better if she downplayed her heritage.  It is so distant as to be insignificant.  Who among us doesn't have some odd mixture as one traces genealogy generations back?   

Friday, October 12, 2018

Search And Reputation 

One might not think search results from an online engine would be injurious to reputation.  Microsoft's Bing has proved that wrong.  The software produced racist answers for words like "Jew", "Muslim", and "black people."   Microsoft acknowledged that it needs to work on the responses and refine its algorithms but the damage was done. It seems the no. 2 search engine is that way for a reason.  It doesn't produce as satisfying answers as Google.  Microsoft has spent billions on Bing and gotten virtually nowhere.  It might be past time to give up on it and accept that Google owns the field both now and in the future.  Even if it doesn't, it has to work on its programming to prevent ugly results from showing in the future.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Smart PR 

It's smart PR to take something destined for a landfill and to recycle it into an environmental substance.  That is what students and teachers in New York City are doing in the Billion Oyster Project.  They are rescuing oyster half-shells from restaurants, cleaning them and using them as substrates for new oyster spat that is planted on the sea bed in reefs that clean the water and break the force of ocean waves.  It is a win-win for everybody.  The restaurants are glad to do it because it is less expensive than putting the shells into the trash. Teachers and students are happy to have a guaranteed source for shells.  Environmentalists support the project because it is cleaning the harbor.  Students are learning hands-on ecology and some of them will go on to become scientists studying the effects of pollution and how to prevent it.  One wonders whether other educational systems are emulating the program.  It's a brilliant idea.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


This proves once again that people are gullible.  They don't think and yet, try to please their interviewer.  One wonders if they were envisioning Brett Kavanaugh while answering the Christopher Columbus question.  It is a concern for PR practitioners because there is always a percentage of any audience that will believe anything they are told.  It calls for a premium on accuracy and clarity.  One should spell out a message and not assume people will get it.  Of course, if one is trying to be snarky as Jimmy Kimmel was, then anything and everything goes.  There is a danger in mocking people, however.  It can lose an organization friends and reputation.  

Tuesday, October 09, 2018


Google pulled a dumb maneuver in an effort to protect its reputation and avoid regulatory scrutiny.  To protect itself after a data breach that affected 500,000 of its Google Plus users, it hid the exposure and didn't tell anyone.  Now that the news is out, Google's reputation is not only tarnished but the company also looks deceitful.  Someone should have told the corporation that its approach was a lousy idea and it would have been far better off taking a hit early on and moving forward.  Now, Google will have to answer to regulators and work hard to repair relations with customers.  Google, of all companies, should understand that in the internet age there is no hiding.  The company should apologize and swear never to make this mistake again.  

Monday, October 08, 2018

Practical Joke 

This was an international practical joke that still has people scratching their heads.   Moments after a contemporary artist's painting was sold for $1.4 million, it was partially shredded as it dropped from its frame.  Call it Banksy's nose-thumbing at the art world and over-priced paintings.  From a PR perspective, it was a statement that couldn't be missed, and it generated publicity around the globe.  No other artists have tried anything so provocative and chances are they wouldn't.  It is hard enough to get sales at any price.  That Banksy could destroy one of his own works to make a point is breathtaking.  The odd outcome of the mockery is that his work may even become more valuable as a result. 

Friday, October 05, 2018


One good work of PR is to turn a spotlight onto deserving individuals who work in shadows.  This is what the MacArthur Grants do, and here is this year's group of winners.  They are a eclectic mix of science, arts and social activism, but all do important work that distinguishes them in their fields if not in society at large.  The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has defined a niche for itself with its constant search for "geniuses" who show creativity and "potential for future achievements."  No other organization can make that claim.  It is a wonderful gift to society and one that burnishes the reputations of not only the winners but of the foundation itself.  The annual publicity for the awards is not as large as that for Nobel winners but the Nobels have been around for many decades and the MacArthur Grants have not.  In time, MacArthur should catch up.

Thursday, October 04, 2018


We know people lie, sometimes intentionally and at other times through a quirk in personal psychology.  Here is a case in which the American public is lying about its preference for fast food.  It is not that they are intentionally try to mislead. They really believe they are paying attention to healthier options for eating when they aren't.  It is a quandary for communicators who need to address issues when the public at large has a misperception of what they are.  One must start first by correcting the record.  "You say you do X, but you really don't."  This is a hard task because people don't like to be told they are wrong.  But, if a communicator doesn't take on the job, the fiction continues and reality and lie stand side by side. The public has blinded itself to the truth and is perfectly happy to live in a world of its own making.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Clay Feet 

President Trump built his reputation on his entrepreneurial savvy, but now it seems he got his money from his father after all.  A New York Times investigation into the Trump family's finances shows tax finagling writ large and avoidance of inheritance tax a major concern.  This is not surprising.  Rich men don't like to pay taxes any more than the rest of us.  What is notable is that the Trump fiction lasted for so long in the public eye. Were he not President, no newspaper would have dedicated a year's worth of investigative reporting to find out his fund sources.  Now, Trump has to live down his tale of personal success and his overweening self-praise for his business prowess.Trump is furious, and why shouldn't he be?  He has been shown to have clay feet.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Another Blow 

NASA, SpaceX and numerous other companies are flogging the possibility of deep space travel to Mars.  But, problems in doing so keep cropping up and here is another one.  Sending astronauts on long journeys is likely to destroy their intestines and give them cancers.  There is no effective shielding today from injurious rays that would affect them.  This is not surprising.  The human body is not made for space, and traveling off this planet means carrying everything with one to survive.  The barriers so far do not appear to be insuperable, but the question arises again why NASA and others are so anxious to launch man into space when robots are so effective in doing the job.  Nevertheless, the publicity continues.

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