Monday, September 30, 2019

Another One 

The retail chain, Forever 21, is bankrupt.  It joins more than 5,000 sites that have shut down in 2019.  Forever 21 is a victim of online commerce, but it is more than that.  The chain made basic mistakes and they caught up with the company.  Marketing for retail establishments is more difficult than ever.  One has to give a reason to lure shoppers from their homes into a store where selection is never as broad nor deep as it is online.  The experience has to be fun and involving.  It is hard to design an immersive retail environment.  Details count.  Hanging merchandise on a rack and cutting prices is not nearly enough.  Retail marketers need creativity, an an ever-changing show.  More stores will fall into oblivion because they are no longer relevant.  At some point the decimation will slow but not before deep pain is inflicted on the retail landscape.

Friday, September 27, 2019


It is humiliating to be the subject of a gaffe that isn't your fault.  You've planned everything:  You've overlooked nothing.  Something happens, however, that sets people to talking -- and not in a good way.  This is the situation in which Amazon found itself during a reveal for its new products.  Among them is an earphone called "Echo Buds."  However, Amazon's senior vice president of devices and services was interviewed while wearing a competitive product, the Apple AirPod.  How the hell could that happen?  The internet was abuzz over the error.  It wasn't anyone's error at Amazon.  It turns out the film crew from Bloomberg news had asked the executive to wear them so he could hear questions coming to him remotely.  No one at Bloomberg had tipped to the irony of the situation.  Perhaps the executive could have refused to go on air with the AirPod, but then he would have missed a valuable opportunity for publicity.  He did what he could but the damage was done.   Murphy's Law proved once again.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


Pope Francis would make a good editor.  He recently spoke to the communications arm of the Vatican and told listeners to get rid of adjectives. Use nouns and communicate simply and directly.  His advice would go well in PR where overuse of adjectives and adverbs is chronic.  It is part of flackery that has hurt the efforts of the field since its rise in the modern era.  The best way to communicate to reporters and editors is through accuracy, an emphasis on facts -- nouns, verbs and objects without gilding or shading.  This leaves little room for skepticism.  Pope Francis is concerned about communications to Christians, but he might as well be speaking to PR practitioners.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Nice Story 

This is a heartwarming story of how a child of immigrants found a communications job with Tyson Foods.  Her parents came to the US from Laos and from the Hmong people.  They are poultry farmers for Tyson and know farming well.  She interned with the company and fell in love with agricultural communications.  When Tyson opened a position, she applied and got it.  It is the quintessential tale of moving up in America and a proof point that immigrants are essential to the growth of the country as they always have been.  It is a rebuff to the actions at the border with Mexico where children are separated from parents, families are incarcerated and men, women and children are sent back to their countries to the danger they thought they had escaped.  It is also great PR for Tyson, and the company can use it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Faux Pas 

Mackinac Island, off the coast of Michigan has been car-free since 1898.  Residents and visitors avail themselves of horse-drawn carriages or bicycles.  It fits the throw-back spirit of the place to an earlier, less hectic time.  Imagine then the reaction of bystanders when the Vice President of the US descended on the island with an eight-SUV motorcade.  It was a faux pas of the first order.  Did anyone in the White House bother to look up the customs of the island?  Did they bother to ask before sending the vehicles across the water?  The PR gaffe is going to cost Trump votes in Michigan, a state he needs.  It is a reminder again that one should keep close contact with the customs of the public.  That's part of what an advance team is for.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Fun Competition 

Tesla and Porsche have started a fun competition over whose electric sports car is fastest on the famed Nurburgring road course in Germany. Porsche tested its new Taycan at a blistering fast speed then let the world know it. Tesla, not to be outdone, took two prototype Model S to the track and handily passed Porsche's times.  The war for bragging rights has begun. In time, Porsche will respond. Then it will be Tesla's turn.  For the everyday driver, these records mean little but they add an aura to the vehicles that set them.  Porsche is determined to have the ultimate electric sports car, and journalists who have driven the Taycan rave about it.  Soon enough, Tesla will put reporters in the seats of the prototypes, and we will hear opinions from them.  It is good PR for both brands, and the auto world will be watching.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Missing The Market 

Airbus, the European passenger plane manufacturer, has a fault of missing the market.  It did so with the Concorde, a supersonic aircraft that never found a profitable place to operate, and it is doing so again with the largest passenger plane ever built, the A380.  The company has announced that it is retiring the plane and will build no more.  It was only successful in selling the plane to Middle Eastern airlines that use it for the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.  Airbus has been successful with smaller aircraft but its signature designs have led to failure.  One wonders why it has happened.  Guessing the commercial air market five to 10 years in advance is risky.  One can't know the status of economies, the desire of the public to travel, the price of fuel.  It's a crapshoot even though one has an ear fixed to the needs of world airlines.  Boeing has also missed the market for smaller planes.  Its rush to get the 737 Max 8 into production led to tragedy and a loss of reputation that will take years for the company to overcome.  The passenger airline business is only for the strong of heart and always will be. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019


It is common for those who transgress to justify their actions with the phrase, "Everybody does it."  The response, of course, is that "Everybody doesn't. Only some do."  That is why this fellow's testimony to Congress is reprehensible.  He told them that he lied on national television because the media are "as dishonest as everyone else."  Not only was he wrong, but he was outrageous.  Editors and reporters will target him  in retribution for a comment like that.  They will be accurate and fact-driven but will seek to destroy him. And, well they should.  There is little to be gained and much to lose for lying to the media.  This is not to assume that journalists are standards of truth.  There are venal operators who make up and bend facts to their self-interest in reporting.  They are human and subject to the same faults as everyone else.  But, for the most part, the media respect facts and evidence as standards by which they live.  PR professionals know that, and it is why accuracy is so important when dealing with reporters.  It is misery to work with or for someone who lies pathologically.  The best solution is to resign.  Those who hang on in the Trump administration have made a bargain with the devil, one they can't win.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Not PR 

A so-called Ukrainian PR agency has been booted off Facebook for creating fake accounts, groups and pages.  The firm was not doing PR but spreading propaganda.  There is a clear difference between the two.  The first rule of PR is accuracy, which includes transparency and respect for facts.  Setting up false accounts, groups and pages is anything but an accurate rendition. One shouldn't be blind to the opportunities the internet offers to dissemble.  I'm sure a good number of PR agencies are doing it.  But, if they are, they are wrong, and they are dragging down the industry.  Modern PR has had an image problem since the beginning when publicists recruited women to promote smoking.  Many reporters don't trust PR people because of a lack of respect for facts.  The public has been taught to be wary of them also.  Yet, the best practitioners are as scrupulous as editors in making sure what is said is verifiable. They gain respect through deeds and not spin.  The Ukrainian agency has chosen the dark side. It deserves to be stopped.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

What's The Problem? 

Amazon is accused of featuring its private label products above those of branded goods.  People are upset.  What's the problem?  Retailers do this all of the time, particularly in grocery stores.  It's a margin play, and it is perfectly acceptable.  However, maybe it isn't online. The rules might be different with a mammoth business that dwarfs all but Walmart.  The regulatory and consumer worlds are still trying to figure out online shopping -- what is allowed and what isn't.  Sooner or later, there will be rules for online vendors to follow.  Right now, there are few, and reputations hang in the balance of accusations whether justified or not.  Amazon only has to fear a perception that it is pulling one over consumers with cheaper, lower quality goods.  It has a defense if its private-label products are as good as or better than competitors.  Maybe that' s the PR strategy it should follow.

Monday, September 16, 2019


Purdue Pharma has declared bankruptcy in the face of billions of dollars of suits over its marketing of Oxycontin.  That won't help the company's or the owners' reputations.  They are stained forever with wanton distribution of the addictive pills.  The Sackler family has been enormously dedicated to giving money to not-for-profits.  Institutions nationwide bear their name.  Now, some of the charities are removing the names or giving the money back.  It will take many years and concentrated PR for the company and the Sacklers to regain a semblance of a good reputation.  And, it doesn't look like the family is concerned about that with recent allegations by the New York State attorney general that they have wired a billion dollars to Swiss bank accounts.  It is a terrible downfall for the company and its employees.  They will now be a trust held by the government, and their profits on the sale of Oxycontin will go to victims and local and state governments to repair the damage done.  

Friday, September 13, 2019

Still Alone 

Astronomers have been publicizing the first exoplanet to have water molecules and the potential for life.  It is exciting news but it is tempered by the fact that the "super earth" is 110 light years away.  Even if we were able to detect carbon forms on its surface, there is no way to communicate at a distance of 110 trillion miles.  Science fiction fans like to dream of a way to rocket through space faster than the speed of light.  Of course, there is no way of doing that.  Such news is actually a reminder that we are alone.  We have one earth to protect and one atmosphere, and there is no place else to go if we wreck it.  Self-sufficient colonies on the moon and Mars are pipe dreams well outside of the technology and logistics of any one nation.  Colonization of space is totally unlike the discovery and settling of new lands on earth.  The vastness of space should be a constant reminder that we need to overcome nationalistic tendencies and the ravaging of the earth, air and water.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

About Time 

News that California will force the NCAA to pay college athletes is long past due.  Exploitation, particularly of basketball and football players, has gone on for decades.  It fostered corruption when alumni paid players under the table or gave them expensive gifts. It distorted the educational system with coaches receiving million-dollar salaries, many times more than professors.  All for the figment of amateur sports.  It was and is a PR scandal, blatant hypocrisy and a constant irritant to young men and women who competed under the amateur rules.  The NCAA will retaliate and might exclude college-age athletes in California from competing.  That would be a burden on the jocks, but it might also be a blessing by forcing them to pay attention to academics rather than grids.  If other states follow suit, as some are trying to do, the NCAA will eventually have to capitulate.  Meanwhile, California is taking the lead and hoping other states will follow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Not  long ago this blog commented on a Business Round Table declaration of 200 CEOs that they would serve all stakeholders and not just shareholders.  My opinion stated that the principles were good until an activist shareholder (an institution) took offense.  AT&T is about to find out.  A large institution has taken a position in its stock and is pressing the company to spin off some of its businesses.  It isn't happy with management and would like to replace them too.  Now AT&T's CEO has a choice he might not have envisioned when he inked the principles a few weeks ago.  Does he kowtow to the shareholder or bluff his way through?  His board will be a factor as well.  Are directors eager to pay down the company's huge debt burden or to continue the course?  The CEOs one safety is that the activist institution only has a 1% stake in the corporation and will have difficulties replacing directors, but its call for change is a warning shot, and other stakeholders might have to take a back seat. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Didn't Work 

When is a do-good deed a failure in PR?  When you talk too much about yourself.  Like this.  The Carolina Panthers football team and the Lowe's home improvement retailer combined to provide a 12-year-old a lawn mower so the boy can cut lawns to raise money for college.  Heartwarming, sure, but in a 90-second video about the gift, the focus was all on the Panthers and Lowes.  And, it backfired.  There were critics on the web who said the team and the company could have and should have done more.  Others counted the boy's words and noted that he had the least to say while the Panthers and Lowes hogged the limelight.  There is an old cliche that states "no good deed goes unpunished."  It is relevant here but it didn't need to be.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Reporting A Horror 

This story about CNN reporters on Grand Bahama during Hurricane Dorian is compelling.  It is factual testimony that supports the Bahamian government's statements about the wreckage on the islands.  It also is an explanation of the slow pace of supplying food, water and medicine to the populace.  Destruction of parts of the islands was complete.  Nothing was left standing.  Roads were torn up, runways flooded, ports washed out, power lines downed.  CNN is a news organization but its reporting is an effective defense of the government's deliberate pace.  It is third-party validation, the best kind of PR.  That written, Bahama's leaders have little time to find ways to reach the public.  Something needs to be done now, even if coordinated action is not possible given the conditions.  It is a terrible bind for leaders to be in, but their response will make or break their reputations.  Meanwhile, Dorian has blown itself out over Eastern Canada and the public along the Atlantic coast in the US are sighing with relief over a near miss.

Friday, September 06, 2019

What Happened? 

When Google was founded, one of its dictates to employees was "Don't be evil."  That admonishment disappeared, and today, Google is being hammered for activities that fall outside of the law and good sense.  Like this.  Small business can't afford to fight the giant's ad placement of competitors directly over one's listing.  They call it a shakedown -- and it is.  Google almost certainly doesn't see it that way, and it probably hasn't biased its algorithm against any companies.  But, the effect is the same.  If the company were more aware of its power and the need to use it fairly, would it be getting into these situations as often as it does?  "Don't be evil" was a good motto.  It should return.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Reputation Threat 

Tesla's autopilot feature lulled a driver into inattention according to the National Transportation Safety Board.  The fellow crashed his vehicle into the back of a fire engine.  This is a reputation crisis for Tesla and for autopilot technology.  The software and hardware packages aren't ready for general use.  Alphabet's Waymo subsidiary has barely allowed its vans to go driverless after years of development. There is always something the system can't anticipate, which humans can handle.  People who use autopilot want to take their hands from the wheel and do something else.  Autopilot should allow inattention, but it doesn't -- not yet, anyway.  As long as that is the case, using autopilot is a safety risk and the systems will have a negative reputation.  

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Serial Offenders 

Agribusiness for the longest time has been an abuser of workers and their rights.  The reason is clear.  Consumers don't want to pay much for food, so processors squeeze expenses and take cost cuts out on workers.  This lawsuit claims a conspiracy among 18 companies running 200 chicken plants to set wages for line workers and maintenance personnel.  While complicity has yet to be proven, one shouldn't be shocked if it proves true.  Cold-pack hens are among the least costly of protein to buy.  That doesn't happen without industrial methods being applied to farming from the egg through parts wrapped in plastic. Agricompanies know if they don't do it, they will be out of business.  We could pay more as consumers, but food already is a large expense for a family, so we tend to ignore how meat gets to the freezer.  If agribusinesses have a reputation problem, they can look at us as much as we stare at them.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Absurd But Great Publicity 

The Bugatti Chiron has just smashed the 300 mph barrier.  The engineers who built the prototype have something to boast about but the project was absurd.  Not even Formula One racers go that fast.  The company can claim that its multi-million dollar vehicle is a true sports car, but who can afford one except those with the deepest of pockets?  The speed is dangerous in every way.  The front of the auto could lift off the ground with the force of the air passing under it.  Even the slightest bump could make the vehicle airborne. Tires would wear quickly.  A crash at that speed would be fatal.  Still, the video of the record-breaking run is compelling viewing.  So, they reaped the publicity they were after but it's like competitive hot dog eaters at Nathans on Coney Island.  We marvel at what they ingest, but we would never do it ourselves.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Smart PR 

Industry standards are nearly always smart PR.  Consumers are not left in a lurch when it comes to using a product and tied to just one manufacturer's specifications.  That is why this makes sense for the next generation of 8K TVs. Technologists complain that standards can penalize users because they limit innovation, which is true, but their specifications allow breakthroughs in other aspects of a product.  Think, for example, of the plug that goes into the wall, the wire from the plug and the connector to the TV itself.  If every manufacturer had a different way of providing electricity to their electronics, it would be chaos.  The challenge for standards, then, is to know what to make common to all elements of a product and what to leave to manufacturers to customize.  Such decisions are never perfect, but advances made in products are huge because of them.

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