Tuesday, April 30, 2019

What's In A Word? 

If you Juul, are you not vaping nicotine?  Many teenagers think so in spite of the company's prominent messages in its advertisements that its products contain the addictive chemical.  Apparently, teenagers do not equate Juuling with vaping.  That is why this year, pollsters will ask teens if they Jull to make sure they are getting the right information about their behaviors.  Who would have thought that Juul would enter the lexicon as a verb?  It is there, however, and public health authorities have to contend with it.  It is a good reminder that in communications, we have to be sensitive to slang and street talk.  We dare not assume everyone knows the meaning of a word.  

Monday, April 29, 2019


This article upholds the First Amendment privilege of comedians to roast the President of the United States.  It has long been a tradition at the White house correspondents' dinner to launch jibes at the Chief in a spirit of fun and truth-telling.  Presidents have gamely put up with it until the current occupant of the White House who decided not to attend.  This was the second year of his boycott and the second time a comedian has hosted a dinner in which Trump was lambasted in the harshest of words.  While supporting the First Amendment is essential, one might still question whether the language was appropriate.  Comedians have lacked the basic tenets of civility with this President as have many others.  One can contend that he earned the verbal beating and that would be right, but the outcome is mutual hostility that serves no one. Maybe with a little less invective, there might be a chance of rapprochement.  

Friday, April 26, 2019

Robots And Humans 

Amazon in its warehouses seems to have blended robots and humans and is holding people to machine standards.  If so, it is poor PR and is likely to end in union organizing.  Timing employees at their tasks is not new.  It was an essential part of scientific management at the turn of the 20th Century and involved names like Taylor and Gilbreth.  What these innovators left out of their stop-watched procedures was the thinking and creative power of the brain.  It is easy to train a machine to produce the same motions time and again.  It is mind-numbing to expect a human to do the same.  Amazon is a throw-back and it is likely to end badly for the corporation.  Already there are horror stories circulating in the media of exhausted people falling asleep at their stations, of no time to go to the bathroom, of a relentless line of boxes swamping package points and defying anyone to keep up.  At some point, Amazon might automate its warehouse procedures, but that might not be soon enough for its stressed workers.  

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Crisis Communications 

The CEO of Boeing is engaged in crisis communications these days.  The money-maker for the company, the 737 Max, has turned into a dead loss.  He has little choice but to stand by the plane while investigations into its software continue and the company rolls out fixes.  It's a tough position to be in.  Negative stories about the company and its practices are piling up.  There are accusations of sloppiness in manufacturing, of a rush to get the plane into production to compete with Airbus, of poor engineering that relied on a single sensor rather than several.  This is a time when a CEO must stand up and defend his people and the company while seeing that errors are corrected.  It's a hard job filled with stress, especially the unknowns that might rise to make matters worse.  If the CEO were to hide, Boeing could be hurt irreparably.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

In Search Of A Mission 

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the first drone delivery service to work as an airline.  The company will now start testing in Virginia and elsewhere.  It strikes one as a technology in search of a mission. There is little to show so far that drones will add enough marketing power to a business that they are worth the expense.  In rural Africa they have been useful in delivering medicines that are hard to distribute in any other way, but the US has the infrastructure needed to get from place to place quickly.  In any event, drones are unlikely to be useful in urban environments among apartment buildings and skyscrapers where delivery to a specific location is hard to achieve.  Delivery drones are a gleam in the eyes of technologists who are convinced the aerial vehicles can be better, faster and cheaper than other methods.  They haven't proven to be that yet. In fact, they are still a little more than expensive toys in the last mile of delivery.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Companies sometimes try to get away with things in marketing that PR can't abide.  Consider AT&T.  It has branded its 4G mobile network 5G E in an effort to make the public believe it is already offering 5G speeds.  It isn't even though sophisticated users have been fooled.  The media are bashing the company for its fraud, and well they should.  It's blatant deception.  What causes companies to engage in such risky behavior?  AT&T is feeling the breath of competition and is trying to stay ahead of Verizon, which already has rolled out true 5G in a number of cities.  It's hard to steal a march by lying, especially with the media watching.  AT&T is doing it anyway, and one wonders why regulators haven't descended on them with fines and orders to stop. There is no excuse for such behavior.

Monday, April 22, 2019


A 19th Democratic candidate for President has made his intentions known and the field has turned into a cattle call.  There is no way that most will be able to rise above anonymity with voters, and the field will shrink as candidates run out of money and time.  From a PR perspective, it is an exercise in democracy.  From a marketing perspective, it is a disaster for both front-runners and followers alike.  It would be better if there were but two or three candidates who were able to raise funds for serious campaigning and pay attention to voters' issues.  Now it is a babble drowning each other and confusing the electorate.  The crowded conditions cannot last and won't, but the longer they are an issue, the harder it will be for a strong candidate to emerge before the next election.

Friday, April 19, 2019


Once an organization gets on the wrong side of an issue, it often takes a long time to correct course.  Consider Facebook and privacy.  The company has been under public censure for more than a year over the issue and now it seems to have botched its path forward again.  The repeated mistakes give the impression of an outfit that is bumbling, unable to "walk and chew gum at the same time."  This is surely not the case but perception seems to make it so.  Facebook is not the only corporation that can't seem to make things right.  Wells Fargo, the major bank, is beleaguered by continuous revelations of wrongdoing on the part of its employees.   Bumbling is humiliating for CEOs.  It shows the limits of their influence.  They may direct but their messages might not reach every level where employees continue to do things the wrong way.  Eventually, both companies will find their ways out of the wilderness but for now, they have serious reputational challenges.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

PR Disaster 

Samsung is trumpeting a foldable phone, but the device handed out only to journalists for testing have been failing.  Some of the faults are due to removal of an essential layer covering the screen, but others were outright crashes.  This is a PR disaster for Samsung.  If the company puts the phone into production, it will have to fight the perception that it is buggy and its screens go blank. One wonders how much the company tested the phone before sending it to the media.  Whatever the time length, it was not enough.  Samsung can come back from this disaster, but it will do so if its foldable phones rarely fail for anyone at any time in the future.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Not Good 

It has been more than 300 days since the Pentagon has given a press briefing.  That is not smart PR. The public should know what the military is thinking, not the least because it is such a large part of taxpayer funds.  Press briefings also humanize the military -- put faces to names and provide a better understanding of strategy, allies and foes.  In a time of terrorists, unfriendly countries with nuclear weapons and rising dictatorships, the public depends more than ever on a properly functioning military.  Citing security risks of being seen in public is not enough of a reason to duck the media.  Yes, reporters ask tough questions but the Pentagon should be ready to answer them.  If the Brass are taking their cue from President Trump, that is yet another harm he causing to public discourse.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Way It Is Now 

The internet has made celebrity a peril. It opens a sluice for trolls, haters and the disgruntled to vent at a notable person.  It doesn't matter whether the individual deserves recognition or not.  Consider the case of Katie Bouman, a young computer scientist from MIT who led a  team that developed software to develop the first picture of a black hole.  MIT tweeted about her contributions then a storm of praise and blame ignited.  Her name was exalted and dragged through the mud at the same time.  She asked for none of this and had made abundantly clear she was part of a team that developed the algorithm. No matter.  It became ugly, and she had to turn off her phone to stop the barrage of messages.  Bouman almost certainly wishes MIT had never tweeted in the first place.  She didn't need to be a symbol of successful women in STEM disciplines.  But she was targeted with celebrity anyway.  In time, people will forget and she will settle back into anonymity, but the bitter experience will remain.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Too Soon 

Israelis made the mistake of celebrating a moon landing too soon.  The spacecraft, Beresheet, crashed onto its surface while the world watched.  The vehicle carried the hopes and dreams of the nation, but it was not to be.  There was probably little that could have been done to tamp down expectations. The best that can be done in situations like this is to emphasize the difficulty of the achievement beforehand.  That way, no one is surprised if it doesn't come to pass.  That has been the history of landing on Mars.  There have been so many failures to settle safely on the red planet that mission control is wired with tension in the final minutes of a descent.  The moon is considered easier to do, but to date, only a few countries have achieved it.  Israelis will get another chance, but the next time, they will be more cautious.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Reality Sets In 

There has been enormous hype and publicity surrounding self-driving cars, and companies around the world are pursuing the technology.  But one corporation, Ford, has come clean and is now saying we won't see them anytime soon.  The reality of the complexity of self-driving vehicles has set in.  Even Waymo, which has spent billions pursuing the autonomous car, hasn't rolled out its self-driving machines except in isolated spots in Arizona.  The hype got ahead of itself.  Now, companies must do the hard work of making self-driving practical.  That may be impossible.  There are too many conditions on roadways from the elements -- fog, rain, snow, brilliant sunshine -- to unaccountable maneuvers of other drivers.  It would be OK if everyone drove safely to begin with, but they don't.  Technology has to anticipate the unknowable and be ready to respond.  That is a tall order.  Ford should be commended for being open about the difficulties -- a first step in finding solutions.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Smart PR 

This is smart PR.  Chipotle allowed a reporter to go behind the scenes and see how its restaurants operate day to day.  One of the highlights was cleanliness.  Chipotle has had several setbacks related to food contamination.  Its food handling procedure is now, perhaps, overdone to ensure its lettuce and other ingredients are free of microbes that can cause gastrointestinal illness.  The reporter's take on the process is upbeat and laudatory, and she follows it from start to finish at the serving line.  She highlights the company's precision in making dishes from just 51 ingredients in the building.  What Chipotle did by allowing a reporter in is not unusual, but more companies ought to be engaging the media this way.  It is great publicity as well as smart PR.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Still Don't Get It? 

There is a question whether Google understands the nature of hate speech on its YouTube platform, even as the company says it is controlling it.  It is a reputational issue that surfaced again during testimony before Congress titled, "Hate Crimes and the Rise of White Nationalism."  Google live streamed the testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and unaccountably opened a live chat feed.  The chat feed was swiftly overrun with hate speech, anti-semitic jibes and slurs.  Google moved to cut it off but the damage was done.  The contention is that even a casual observer could have predicted the outcome.  Why couldn't Google?  Is it possible that Google's penchant for openness is working against it?  Or is the company afraid it will be accused of censorship?  Whatever the answer, it was clear that Google has yet to control hate speech on YouTube, even though that was the point of its testimony.  

Tuesday, April 09, 2019


One tenet of good management and employee relations is to listen to what subordinates have to suggest in getting work done.  But, few managers do it.  Why?  There are a number of reasons including arrogance, but this one seems to make the most sense.  Managers feel trapped between dictates from the top and pressure from below.  They don't listen to employees because they don't feel they have the power to make changes and emphasis on short-term results prevents experimentation.  The authors of the article performed extensive research to come to the conclusion.  So, employee relations can stress all it wants that managers need to listen but if the system is against it, it won't happen.  Change comes from the top and radiates through the ranks.  If the CEO is a micro-manager, managers won't listen to subordinates, but if the CEO gives a loose rein, managers can refine processes for which they are accountable.  It takes a courageous manager to buck the boss and do things in another way, and it can shorten one's career.  

Monday, April 08, 2019

A Long Fall 

NASCAR used to be America's premier motor racing sport.  It isn't anymore.  The series has taken a long fall in popularity. Fans have stopped coming to its giant ovals and TV viewership is off.  From a marketing perspective, what can NASCAR do to win customers back or is it doomed to be a niche entertainment?  There are plenty of heads focused on these two questions.  NASCAR won't go without a fight to get its audience back, which is proper.  But, it might be in an era of electric cars and sensitivity to green issues that motor racing has met its match.  It's too early to know.  The sport is missing dominating personalities who used to be fans' favorite drivers.  Even if marketers are able to separate some from the pack, will that be enough to attract eyeballs?  It's hard after a long fall to return to a peak.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Gutting It Out 

Sometimes the best way to handle a PR disaster is simply to gut it out, to continue on course and wait for the uproar to settle.  That is what politicians in Virginia are doing.  Two were insensitive in their youths by using blackface.  One has been accused by two women of sexual harassment.  There were weeks of headlines locally and nationally.  The three men said they weren't going anywhere -- and they haven't.  Recent polling shows support for them among Virginia's citizens. They are banking on the public to forget and for the media to move on.  It is working.  This might be a paradigm for other pols faced with PR problems, such as Joe Biden.  If one can hang on long enough, there is a chance of a turnaround.  It is a difficult strategy, and it depends on the individual having the steel to see it through.  But, it can and does succeed.

Thursday, April 04, 2019


Journalists are trying to understand why President Trump lies so much and seems to get away with it.  He even fibbed this week on the birthplace of his father.  The reasons are not comforting.  One is that his supporters know he lies but accept it in favor of other qualities they value more.  A second is that supporters say all politicians lie so what is different about Trump?  A third blames the media, which many of Trump's supporters don't trust and dismiss.  None of these reasons are strong enough to overcome what is a pathological problem with the President.  He either doesn't know the facts and makes them up or he has become so used to lying, he can no longer distinguish between truth and falsehood.  From a PR perspective, either answer is devastating.  We expect leaders to have a moral center, even if they shade the truth once in a while.  Trump is amoral.  He seems to have no guideposts internally other than what is good for me right now.  It's no wonder that his staff makes no effort to explain away all of his lies.  There are too many and the embarrassment would harm his already diminished reelection chances.  

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Balancing Act 

YouTube has been engaged in a balancing act -- increasing engagement while at the same time trying to control injurious and malevolent videos.  According to this article, it hasn't succeeded in getting rid of toxic material, and it has been slow to understand the injury it has caused.  It is a PR crisis for the company. YouTube can't afford a bad reputation if it is to continue to be a repository. Google says it understands the problem and is doing something about it.  However, the article questions whether it is enough given the dimensions of the challenge.  It also notes that makers of objectionable material are creative about finding ways around company rules.  The ugly fact is they always will.  The best YouTube can do is to lessen bad material without exterminating it.  It is a fight without end.  YouTube has learned the hard way that there is evil in the world, and technology can't make it disappear.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Marketing Challenge 

This photo-story demonstrates the marketing challenge Amtrak faces with long distance trains.  A trip by plane from Orlando to New York City would have been four hours at most.  By train, it was 23.  Even with fast engines and good tracks, the time would have still been more than twice as long than with a plane.  Amtrak loses money on every long distance train it runs.  It should have given up the routes decades ago but Congress won't let it.  So, it staggers along year after year, an unprofitable business that barely makes its way and hardly covers maintenance.  There are profitable routes for Amtrak but they are short to middle distance in which the cumulative time riding on rails is close to that of sitting cramped in a plane seat.  One wonders when the company and Congress will wake up to reality and cut the service back to its money-making core.  It has been since May 1,1971 that Amtrak has been in existence.  The marketing challenge was the same then as now.  No one seems to realize that unlike Japan and Europe, the United States is a vast land mass best crossed in the air.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Not Helpful 

It is a sad time when both left- and right-wing politicians lie or get facts wrong.  We have a President for whom facts are malleable.  Now it seems we have a celebrity Congresswoman who fails to look things up before she speaks.  There is little to no excuse for errors when there are ample ways to check data, especially in the Internet age.  The first rule should be accuracy because anything else one says will be judged against it.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is young and outspoken in her beliefs.  She has set her peers in Congress on edge.  Her youth and visibility have made her a darling of the media, but she has much to learn about governing.  It won't help her if she continues to misstate facts and make contentions that aren't true. She should take a step back soon and concentrate on the work of her office.  Her reputation ultimately will come from what she gets done.  

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