Thursday, October 31, 2019

50 Years 

Fifty years ago this week the internet was born.  It was called ARPANET then, but it contained the technology that drives the worldwide system today.  For the first 25 years of its life, it was a backbone of science and engineering then with development of the web, it exploded into the commercial and individual entity it is today to the dismay of its founder.  We in PR who were there for the beginning remember a hostile environment.  Practitioners did not want to be bothered by new technology.  It got in the way of doing things in the traditional way.  Eventually, PR came around and agencies worldwide are deeply involved in social media.  The disdain for new technology to transmit messages was a shock to those of us promoting it.  Practitioners were followers and not leaders.  It is not clear if that is still the case.  PR is a global business and the era of "mom-n-pop" entrepreneurs is diminished.  It is safe to say that most practitioners now do not remember a time when the internet was just an academic resource, and that is good.  The field should never again retreat from new media.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Internal Relations 

First, it was the employees of Google expressing their opinions publicly.  Now it is the workers of Facebook.  They are objecting to Facebook's policy of allowing politicians' ads to lie and spread false information.  And, there is a good chance they will be heard.  With the advent of social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, there are more opportunities for employees to speak out -- and they are.  Internal relations are blending with public relations.  The old media of employee newsletters, email and town halls are being replaced or augmented with social platforms.  The question is whether employee communications practitioners have moved with the changes.  Some undoubtedly have, particularly those in large corporations with far-flung operations.  But, even small companies can suffer the embarrassment of having their soiled laundry discussed in public. There is no inside-outside any longer.  It is all outside and should be treated that way.  I 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

When Publicity Hurts 

Since ancient times, publicizing the names of mass murderers and other evil-doers has been a problem.  It stimulates others to do dark deeds.  The phenomenon is called social contagion by the scientific community, and it has been a work in America.  Mass shooters have become more common.  They are aping one another in seeing their names in print and photos on television.  Even if they take their own lives in the process of killing others, they know they will live on in infamy.  What's the solution?  Do what New Zealand recently has done after the mass shooting there.  Refuse to publicize the miscreant's name.  Let him (It is almost always a male.)  plunge into ignominy and anonymity.  That removes the temptation to be a star in one's own twisted universe.  It might be hard for US media to give up naming mass shooters, but if they understand their motivations, it should be feasible.  Why glorify darkness?  

Monday, October 28, 2019

On and On 

Britain's reputation has been taking a beating over Brexit and the inability of parliament to resolve the issue of leaving the EU.  Now the EU has granted another extension until Jan. 31 with the hope that the UK can decide by then what to do.  Brexit has never made sense economically.  The country is tied to mainland Europe with millions of mercantile interests.  It will compromise those upon departure and will need to rebuild connections.  PM Boris Johnson's desire to leave without a deal is reckless, and parliament is not letting him get away with it.  So, the country is stuck in a netherworld and all parliament can do is to wrangle over departure terms or call for another referendum on leaving, which Johnson opposes.  Sometimes democracy doesn't work well.  This is one of them.  There must be a conclusion one way or the other.  The EU won't wait forever.

Monday, October 21, 2019

On The Other Hand 

President Trump has reversed himself over selecting his Florida resort and golf resort for an upcoming G7 meeting.  He blamed Democrats for the decision but he was also facing a revolt from Republicans who saw the selection as corrupt.  Whether he went forward with his plan or not, it is one more nail into the coffin of his public relations and campaign strategies.  He has no moral sense, other than what is best for him.  He is a challenge to the country, which expects a President to speak for all and not just for oneself.  All Presidents are ego-driven.  No one with a realistic view of the job would want it.  But, the public expects a President's self-esteem to be subordinated to the position and a representation of the nation.  That Trump shows no awareness of issues beyond his own is a disappointment to liberals, independents and the media and a cause for anger.  That he cannot even reverse himself without causing upset is a bad position to be in.  One hopes in 2020 the national nightmare will be over.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Bush League 

Amazon has descended to bush-league marketing with its "curated" toy collection for the holidays.  It turns out you can get your toy selected for the guide if you are willing to pay a ton of money to have it there.   Editorial space for pay is hardly a third-party endorsement that carries the weight of credibility.  That Amazon has stooped to such tactics is disappointing.  One would have thought better of the company.  That written, Amazon could hardly have chosen the toys itself without upsetting thousands of vendors who weren't picked.  The company should not have engaged in selecting toys for consumers.  Period.  It doesn't make a difference that other vendors do.  It should understand the power of third-party credibility, especially since it pioneered consumer ratings for books and other products on its site.  Perhaps next year it will know better.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Tough Calls 

Social media platforms like Facebook are trying to determine what content to take down from their sites because it is injurious and what content to leave although it skates to the edge of truth. This is a tough call under any scenario.  The First Amendment, which might not apply in the social media world, is host to myriads of voices from the extreme right to the extreme left.  Conspiracy theories, facts and opinions are jumbled together.  It is next to impossible to know what is fake and what is true.  The editorial function falls to people who are not superhuman in their ability to determine right from fiction.  They will make mistakes, especially with marginal content, and the platforms will suffer negative publicity as a result.  It's no place to be exposed, yet the services tried to allow members to run free and people took advantage both domestically and internationally.   The internet is a mixture of good and evil, and there is rarely an easy way to tell them apart, especially when they masquerade under the guise of good.  Tough calls are a part of social media now, and we can only hope that editors are successful most of the time.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

What Can Go Wrong 

This is an old story but it is a reminder of what can go wrong even in publicity stunts.  After six months of planning and anchoring a giant net over a downtown block, the United Way of Cleveland had thousands of volunteers fill 1.5 million balloons with helium and launch them to the underside of the bulging net.  When the time came to launch, it was a glorious sight for a while then bad things started happening.  Drivers looking at the mass rising skyward had accidents.  The Coast Guard looking for two missing fishermen could not find them amid thousands of semi-deflated balloons in the water.  An airport runway had to be shut down.  A race horse spooked by the balloons was injured.  The United Way was sued.  The balloons were not biodegradable, as was thought, and littered the landscape and waters of Lake Erie.  The only good part of the story was the launch.  It made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.  A small comfort for a disaster.  The lesson is when planning publicity stunts, consider consequences.  A good idea might not be practical or safe.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


It takes a Nobel prize winner to inject realism into fantasies of living on planets outside the solar system.  Science fiction has been a form of flackery for too long.  As the Nobelist says, exoplanets are a long way away even within our galaxy.  It will take light-years of travel and considering that man has no way of approaching the speed of light, the chances of reaching an exoplanet, even if that planet might hold life, are vanishingly small. So, why do people persist in spinning tales about the cosmos?  They are imaginative exercises that for some have become too real. They contend that they might be true if only we could travel to exoplanets and see for ourselves.  But, that's precisely what we can't do.  We are fated to live on this blue marble in spite of deep space explorations by robots doing flybys or landing on alien surfaces.  Even if we should start colonies on the moon and Mars, they will be dependent on the earth for some of their vital supplies.  For all practical purposes, we are alone in this universe, and dreams of space colonies are just that.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Tin Ear 

Whoever produced this has a tin ear and no sensitivity to the mass shootings that have occurred throughout the US.  Trump and his administration claim not to know about it, but the negative atmosphere the President has spun about the media is at the root of the video.  Predictably, the media have reacted in horror and called for the administration to denounce it.  Trump probably will, but who knows?  His disdain for the press is deep and he has made it known time and again.  His mantra is "fake news."  He is furious when journalists call him out for lying, and the White House has frozen them out as much as possible.  Should someone act on the suggestions of the video to assault the media, it will be one more nail in the coffin of Trump's 2020 election campaign.  

Friday, October 11, 2019

Tough Decision 

Some communications decisions are no-win.  Either way you send a message, you are going to be criticized.  This is the position Apple found itself in with an app being used by Hong Kong protestors.  The mapping software was live-tracking police movements in the territory.  Apple succumbed to pressure from Beijing and pulled the app from circulation.  Apple justified its decision by claiming that "this app violates our guidelines and local laws."  This will ring hollow to hundreds of thousands protesting the Chinese government's interference with local affairs.  But, what was Apple to do?  China is its third-largest market.  It was risking a significant loss if it didn't kowtow.  One could call the decision craven but from an economic point of view, it made sense.  There was no way to wriggle out of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't decision.  Apple chose to protect its business.  It will live with that.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Different Mindset 

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has a different mindset from other auto executives.  He places technology in his vehicles early on and lets the public try it out, whether it is dangerous or not.  At least, that is what he has done with his autopilot feature that has been the cause of a number of deaths.  No car company today, other than Tesla, would dare put a self-driving feature into their trucks and automobiles because it is still a hit-and-miss function.  The system cannot see dangers ordinary drivers would spot in a second.  Tesla advises drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, but, of course, they don't.  Musk has the mentality of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. If it is good enough, get it out.  Don't wait.  But, of course, apps for a phone or computer aren't life-and-death tools while self-driving is.  He is being sued for the failure of his autopilot feature to prevent wrecks, and well he should be.  The public shouldn't have a defective function that might be a marketing success but a failure in reality.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


With any advance, there comes backlash -- people who don't like an improvement and rail against it.  That is happening now to the new meatless burgers.  Critics are calling them over-processed, full of genetically modified organisms and fake meat.  Of course, they are but they are as good for you as a regular hamburger and one could argue, even better.  The ultimate deciders on the issue of "impossible burgers" will be consumers.  Will they keep buying them and liking them?  So far, the news has been good for the meatless meat companies.  They can't supply their products fast enough. That hasn't stopped naysayers, however.  They might come around in time but for now, they are against the innovation and cautioning consumers not be taken in.  The meatless meat companies have to be concerned, even as they ramp up production.  Demand might disappear as quickly as it rose, if the public tries the vegetable-based food and rejects it.  It is a heady but risky time for meatless meat.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

It Drags On 

The General Motors strike has entered another week with no progress on either side.  The strike has hardly entered the consumer's consciousness beyond initial reports, and it shows how little impact the UAW has on the economy.  Unions deserve a place in the market as a check on corporate behavior that seeks to maximize shareholder returns, frequently at the expense of workers.  The UAW's beef with GM is that GM's workforce suffered greatly during the chapter 11 of the company in 2009.  Now that the auto company is healthy again, workers deserve a larger share of the profits.  GM's position is that the auto world is undergoing transition from gas-powered to electric autos and its resources need to be husbanded for an inevitable future.  Besides, auto workers are paid well by comparison to other labor classes. So, it drags on costing tens of millions a day for the company and for the striking workforce.  It is hard to say who will blink first.

Monday, October 07, 2019


Glenlivet is releasing whiskey in a lozenge form, presumably for those who want to drink on the go.  Already it is being called a dumb idea and marketing stunt.  It certainly is a different way to imbibe, and it isn't clear who would buy them, except for alcoholics.  It also is an example that not every marketing idea is a good one.  Sometimes, creative output is out of sync with consumers.  Glenlivet is going to find out soon whether it has achieved a masterstroke or one more addition to the hall of failed products.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Getting Even 

When an accountant, famous for spotting frauds, comes after your company, there isn't much you can do except to say he got it wrong.  Then who is going to believe you?  That is why this story must give General Electric deep satisfaction.  The accountant, Harry Markopolos, famous for outing Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme, charged that GE was hiding even bigger losses in its Long Term Care business.  The Fortune reporter, Shawn Tully, without help from GE or Markopolos, teased details from the numbers and concluded that GE is not in trouble and Markopolos is wrong.  If so, Markopolos and the hedge fund backing him in a short of GE stock are both going to lose gobs of money.  While the story doesn't restore GE's reputation as a management mecca, it offers a third-party endorsement of GE's board and management.  That is the best PR, and GE must be smiling quietly right now.  

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Tough Call 

What do you do when your candidate suddenly becomes ill?  It's a tough PR call.  Do you try to calm the waters?  Do you reassess the campaign?  What messages are credible?  This is the conundrum that Senator Bernie Sanders' candidacy for president is facing.  Sanders suffered chest pains and had two stents inserted into his veins overnight.  Since he is not a young candidate, health has always been a lurking issue.  Now the perilous state of his robustness has come to the fore.  Will voters abandon him for one of the other Democratic candidates?  It is too early to know, but there is plenty of worry already.  The top three candidates are in their 70s and health is an issue for all of them.  This makes for a volatile race if one or more should take ill.  Democrats have one over-riding goal -- unseat Trump who also is in his 70s.  It is a geriatric contest in which vigor is a closely watched element. Sanders now has a hill to climb and it won't be easy.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

A Huge Job 

The government of the Bahamas has a huge multi-level communications challenge for years to come.  The first is maintaining a spotlight on the destruction of Hurricane Dorian.  The second is to lure tourists back to the islands with their money that is an essential part of the country's budget.  The two challenges are contradictory. Tourists don't want to go to a place where the basic necessities of life have been obliterated.  So while it pleas for funds to rebuild, it also needs to show the world that some things have returned to normal.  It will be some time yet before it can reach this stage.  Airports must be repaired, beaches cleaned, hotels reopened, some shopping re-established.  It must communicate progress in repairing infrastructure while highlighting the distance it needs to go in order to get aid from other governments.  It's a ticklish task and not for the fainthearted.  It will require endurance and persistence, and it will test the government's effectiveness in helping its people.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019


Wells Fargo has found a CEO.  Now he has to rebuild the bank's reputation.  Wells Fargo had descended into sleazy and illegal tactics to sustain growth.  It went from the best bank in the nation to the worst, and it has the lawsuits against it to prove the demise of its image.  How could that have happened?.  It seems internal growth targets put unbearable pressure on managers so they made up accounts and they gypped customers.  They didn't do this once or twice but tens of thousands of times.  The bank is still dealing with the fallout. What the fraud revealed is that Wells' control systems were entirely inadequate and need rebuilding.  The bank had no clear view of what was happening at the retail level.  It was out of control and didn't know it.  The basis for a better reputation will be better systems -- and time.  A bank doesn't live down failures like this quickly.

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