Thursday, February 28, 2019


PR and publicity can go only so far.  At some point recipients of messages accept or ignore them.  One can persuade but not compel. Consider this example.  Railroad authorities have repeated ad nauseum a warning to respect gates at crossings and to never, never go around them when they are down.  Yet, a driver did.  Three people died in the car, a train derailed and passengers suffered minor injuries.  We may never know what the driver was thinking but surely there must have been some cognition of the risk that was about to be taken.  As a reporter decades ago, I covered a number of vehicle-train accidents.  The railroad wasn't at fault in any of them. Some people don't listen.  They don't believe warnings apply to them. They will do what they want until tragedy overtakes them. Three people died needlessly and once again a railroad's best efforts in PR and publicity were wasted. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Passed By? 

Major brewers and packaged good marketers in the US are facing a conundrum.  Consumers are passing them by and buying other products off grocery shelves and from liquor stores. Sales of Budweiser, particularly, have stalled.  Anheuser-Busch is working frantically to turn around.  The company is being assaulted by thousands of craft breweries whose production is a fraction of what the A-B produces, but each one is a small slice into its sales and combined, a large cut.  It's facing "brutal facts" and developing beverages that might meet the demand of today's millennials.    The American consumer's tastes have changed, maybe for good, but A-B is configured to produce millions of gallons of high-quality beer a year.  It can't easily switch off bottling lines without sustaining huge losses.  The company is not nimble after decades of dominating beer sales.  The same problem is facing Kraft-Heinz.  Both companies have entered a marketing/PR hell, and it might take them years before they leave it, or like many retailers savaged by Amazon, they might just fade away.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Empty Words? 

Survivors of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy are angry at the pope. They were expecting a specific plan of action to come from a conference of bishops at the Vatican.  They didn't get it.  Rather, the pope delivered a speech that did not convince those who have been hurt so deeply.  They are railing at the pontiff.  "He's the boss.  Why won't he do something?"  Church commentators with an understanding of how the Vatican bureaucracy works say specific rules and regulations will come.  It takes time. Survivors want to see cardinals and bishops sacked right now.  Today.  Immediately.  One American cardinal has been cashiered and several bishops have resigned worldwide, but that is not nearly enough to quiet the protest.  The hierarchy will remain under fire, and it may take decades for the Church to win back its reputation.  Words alone are never enough: It takes doing.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Great PR 

NASA has always been adept in sparking publicity and PR for its mission and for space.  This is another example.  Naming a facility after a female African-American mathematician who was vital to the early manned space flights is a recognition both of its past and its progress in race relations.  NASA started out segregated with black female computers separated from white female calculators.  As the movie "Hidden Figures"  revealed, it took changes within the agency for black women to be recognized.  But, to the agency's credit, they were over time even though NASA remained a bastion of white male engineers.  It is great PR for the agency to recognize one of its own this way, but it needs along with the rest of the government to continue working on diversity.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Evil Wins 

YouTube is learning that, despite its efforts, evil is winning and destroying the video channel's reputation.  Major advertisers have left because child pornographers have found a way to penetrate YouTube's algorithms.  The company has reacted by "terminating more than 400 channels, deleting accounts, and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos."   But, it is not enough.  YouTube needs to do more, much more and it has to establish that it is a safe place to do business.  The challenge is that those with bad intent will find other ways to get in, and YouTube will need to root them out as soon as they do.  That is a huge challenge.  Humans are ingenious in inventing new means to get around barriers, and they won't stop trying.  YouTube's problem is the web's headache.  It is a reminder that evil exists, and one can never stop fighting it online and elsewhere.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sorry 'Bout That 

Google committed a technology faux pas by failing to tell customers that its Net Secure Smart Home hub has a microphone built in. People concerned about privacy were unhappy. How could the company forget to mention it in technical specifications?  The company says it was a mistake and was never intended to be a secret.  When it compiled specs, somehow the microphone was not included.  Skeptics are not accepting that explanation.  They are chalking it up to one more intrusion into consumers' lives.  Congress is on the edge of stepping in with new regulations to protect privacy, and this error doesn't help.  Google says the microphone is for home security when enabled, which it isn't.  It could capture the sound of broken glass and movement through rooms.  However, it could also record conversations and intimate details of people's lives.  Google lost its chance of explaining the presence of a microphone by failing to mention it at the outset.  Now it has a PR problem to resolve.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Sometimes transparency is a curse.  One is naked to the public and criticized constantly for everything.  It would be better to make decisions behind closed doors and to reveal them later.  Consider the Oscars and their ongoing mess.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been fiddling with the ceremony in a futile effort to keep it three hours in length since it is losing its TV audience.  Every change it has made has provoked roars of outrage.  Even naming an emcee has been a will-he-or-won't-he exercise.  The Academy has damaged its reputation in the process and there is no guarantee the show will be shorter.  It might have been better off if the ceremony and its categories were left alone.  It has turned into a PR disaster.  But, the show will go on and award recipients will talk too long as usual.  Some will watch: Others will find better things to do.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Know How They Feel 

I know how the media feel about PR practitioners who flood them with irrelevant pitches and releases.  Every day I get a dozen or so emails from PR newswire.  I use none of them.  There is one agency that importunes me to interview authors.  I don't do book reviews or author sit-downs.  Just once, recently, a blogger contacted me about something I had written and suggested a page that makes sense for my blog.  It is here.   Practitioners have been warned ad nauseum to tailor their approaches, to read what the target has written, to make sure the reporter, even if he or she doesn't do the story, still welcomes the information.  They know better yet they still spam.  I've concluded that it will never change.  It is easier to send 500 emails through a distribution service than 10 requiring work.  Practitioners take the easy way out and they give PR a bad name.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Fake Facts 

As this article discusses, fake facts are a growing crisis in the digital age, there are more ways than ever to broadcast them.  With the low cost of publishing online, lies spread quickly.  As PR practitioners know, there needs to be fast-twitch response to combat falsehoods, but even that might not be enough.  Who is to say your version is correct and not spin?  How do you verify your own facts to skeptics?  There are few good ways to do it and clever liars vitiate the truth easily.  That is why PR should always put a premium on accuracy.  If one has a reputation for telling the truth without fear, there is credibility with key audiences.  On the other hand, those who don't know you are still open to believing lies, especially if they have the ring of truth.  Patrolling online media is harder than ever, especially for companies and individuals with a broad consumer recognition.  

Friday, February 15, 2019

Conspiracy Theory 

Among challenges the internet presents are wide dispersion of wacko conspiracy theories.  Like this one.  Chuck E. Cheese would no more reconstitute leftover pizza than an auto manufacturer would build cars from wrecks.  Yet, a viral video made the claim and the company found itself in a crisis.  PR practitioners must get weary of constantly monitoring the web for such stupidity, but it has to be done.  There is no way to know when an allegation is going to surface nor where.  The web requires vigilance and rapid response.  The near immediate spread of false information worldwide is a downside to online communication.  On the other hand, good news can travel as fast.  There is no perfect communication system nor will there ever be.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

15-Year PR Success 

Opportunity, the Mars rover, was a PR feather in NASA's cap for 15 years.  Now, it is dead.  It was designed to last three months but it kept going and going and going for 28 miles and dozens of discoveries.  Opportunity proved that a mobile instrument package could survive the harsh environment of another planet.  It is a tribute to scientific engineering and NASA's leadership in outer space exploration.  It answered the question of how one should build a robot that has to operate far from human control. It takes 10 minutes for messages to reach Mars from earth and the Martian day is not the same length.  The scientists and engineers who monitored its progress for the 15 years were privileged to work with Opportunity.  Now they will move onto other projects, but the history-making robot won't be forgotten. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Here is just another recall.  There doesn't seem to be many PR implications to hauling vehicles back to the repair shop.  Every car company does them: It is a cost of doing business.  But, it makes one wonder what a company could say if it has few to no recalls for an extended period, say 10 years.  One could boast of quality but not too loudly, and it would be dangerous.  There is always a chance of a defect creeping into a truck or car in spite of rigorous testing and vetting.  And, one cannot depend completely on suppliers.  The Takata air bag recall was one of the largest in US history and was responsible for several deaths.  Still, reducing recalls is good business for companies and consumers.  However, It is not something one dare say much about.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Odd PR 

Microsoft is engaged in a bit of odd PR.  It is slamming one of its own new products in favor of another.  In this case, it is the software package Office 2019 compared to subscription service Office 365.  Both have word processing, spreadsheet, slide making and publishing offerings, but Office 365 is regularly updated and Office 2019 is not.  Microsoft used to update its packaged products, but it isn't anymore because it wants you to move to the subscription service, which provides the company with a consistent revenue stream.  So, it is making fun of its own software.  Moreover, it has crippled Office 2019 by withholding some features it has incorporated into Office 365.  It might be smart marketing but it is dumb PR.  It is telling customers that if you buy Office 2019, you're a second class citizen in the company's eyes.  "Go ahead and buy it but we won't help you if you do."  It would have been better had Microsoft done away with the packaged product altogether.

Monday, February 11, 2019


This HBR article gives advice on what to do when one makes a mistake.  It reads like a PR text.  One should take responsibility without ducking or blaming, address what needs to be done right now and share what you will do differently next time.  It is transparency and an admission that no one is perfect.  The fear an errant manager has is loss of respect from bosses and subordinates.  There is a chance that one loses the capacity to lead if the mistake was bone-headed enough.  On the other hand, acting with arrogance and denial only makes things worse and will compromise one's authority.  The best practice is transparency, owning up and moving forward the best one can.  

Friday, February 08, 2019

PR Disaster 

Google is winding up its broadband operations in Louisville and leaving town.  The fast-fiber installation there was faulty from the beginning and to repair it would cost too much.  The company had shallow-trenched cabling two inches below ground but it wasn't enough.  The wire kept getting exposed requiring more fixes.  So, the company is pulling out while stating it has learned its lesson.  Louisville is stuck, and it won't see recompense for legal bills it had spent to support Google's entrance.  It's a humiliating defeat for the company which had bruited its efforts when it started.  Currently, Google remains in 16 cities and it says it has no intention of abandoning them.  One wonders if that is true.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

End Game 

The end game in bankruptcy is rarely pretty.  Reputations have been ruined and the PR is bad, but when there is a chance to salvage a business, it might be worth trying.  This is the position that Sears finds itself in at the moment.  It is still teetering on the edge of liquidation.  A judge will decide whether to take a bid to keep the stores open or to shut the company down.  Employees are unhappy.  Creditors want Sears to end.  It's a question of who gets pennies on a dollar of debt owed.  There isn't much communications can do in a situation like this.  It is in the courts and phalanxes of lawyers represent dozens of interests.  Sears is a shadow of what it was and may never be again.  If it survives, it will take years to rebuild its reputation as a retailer.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019


What happens when you strike a high profile partnership with a maker of counterfeit goods?  Embarrassment and a PR gaffe.  That's the position that Samsung finds itself in.  It struck a deal in December with Supreme Italia, a Chinese maker of counterfeit Supreme skateboard fashion items.  The internet exploded with ridicule and name calling.  Samsung defended the transaction but saw it was getting nowhere.  Now, two months later, it is walking away.  This comes under the heading of "should have known."  Did anyone check before signing?  If so, what did they think they were getting away with?  One hopes Samsung's PR department had nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

PR And Gouging 

Senator Bernie Sanders is demanding to know why a drug that was once free is now costing patients $375,000 a year.  He has put the pharmaceutical company, Catalyst, on the spot.  The implication is that it is gouging patients for unmerited profit.  There might be good reasons for the stunning increase in price, but Catalyst is in a bad PR position.  Whatever it says will be measured against other drug makers who have relentlessly jacked prices of their medicines.  None are looking good.  Catalyst, to avoid a charge of gouging, needs strong proofs that the cost of making the Firdapse has escalated and the company can no longer afford to make it for free. That is a tall order.  If the senator pursues the case, there will be more bad news.  One wonders if the cost of the drug is worth it.

Monday, February 04, 2019

The Past Rises Up 

In the internet era, there is no burying of the past, even if an event occured long before the web.  Witness the governor of Virginia who is battling to stay in office after racist photos showed up from a 1984 medical school year book.  The media have now confirmed that other racist pictures are in the book although none show the governor.  It reflects a period when offensive dress was considered in a spirit of fun and no one thought of the consequences.  That attitude has changed dramatically.  One wonders where the yearbook was stored that it did not surface until decades later, but no matter, it was discovered and its ugly photos have received international play.  The governor says he is sorry and that is not him today, but his PR crisis is deep and likely to be long-lasting.  He says he has no memory of the past incident and the only time he was in blackface was during an impersonation of Michael Jackson.  That is bad enough.  Time will tell whether the governor can survive.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Read Closely 

There is little more embarrassing than endorsing something you shouldn't have because you didn't read closely enough.  This is the case of a Virginia lawmaker who has had to apologize to her constituents.  She co-sponsored an abortion bill that she now says she shouldn't have backed.  Her claim is that she failed to examine it and she didn't know some of the provisions that make it objectionable.  It's egg on her face and a gift to her opponents.  One can ask what kind of legislator she is that she co-sponsors legislation that she hasn't analyzed.  In time she might overcome this PR disaster but some of her voters will remember and candidates for her job will remind them.  

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