Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Happy Thanksgiving and Black Friday to all.  I'm taking three days off this week.

Ripe For Disruption 

This is a product ripe for disruption.  Texas Instruments has sold the same graphing calculator to high school students and their teachers for more than 15 years.  It has a lock on the market and lesson plans of math instructors throughout the US.  Essentially it has no competition, and it can afford to charge what it wants -- around $100 for an instrument that might cost $20 to make.  One wonders why no technology company has taken TI on.  Maybe because the niche is small and there isn't enough revenue for everyone.  Still, that shouldn't be a barrier for a hungry manufacturer to introduce a better product for the same price.  TI isn't dependent on the calculator business for its annual revenue and earnings, but it is a nice fillip to its bottom line.  It is getting away with gouging students and teachers and will continue to do so until a competitor emerges. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Embarrassment Explained 

By now, the world knows that during the Tesla presentation of a new pickup truck, the armored windows, which weren't supposed to smash when hit by an iron ball, did break.  Elon Musk gamely went on with the presentation and the company has counted 200,000 preorders for the vehicle.  It wasn't enough for Musk, however.  He had to know why the windows caved when they weren't supposed to.  It turns out that a sledgehammer blow to the door of the truck to show its durability had cracked the base of the glass.  When the iron ball hit the window, the crack became shattered glass.  Musk tweeted the explanation to his millions of followers and moved on. Tesla's challenge now is not broken windows but whether it can produce the truck profitably.  That has been an unmet challenge for the company since its beginning.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Future Crisis 

How do you know there is going to be a crisis that hasn't yet occurred?  When everybody sees a problem but no one is ready to do anything about it.  This is the case with electronic health records.  For years now, medical information technologists and the government have foreseen problems with how medical records are handled without centralized reporting of glitches and errors. Yet, no one has done anything about it.  They have rushed pell-mell into databases without consideration for what could go wrong. And health decisions have erred but not so much that it has arisen to national attention yet.  It will soon enough but patients might have to needlessly suffer and die before anything is done.  In other words, there is no need for this potential crisis to get out of hand if only the government and health industry were willing to act.  They're not -- not yet.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

RICO Suit 

In an extraordinary move, automaker GM has targeted a competitor, FCA, with a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) suit.  GM alleges that FCA bribed the United Auto Workers union officials and union members to keep its labor costs down while forcing GM to pay more.  It's a crisis for FCA and potentially a reputation problem for both companies.  If GM loses the suit, it will sustain a black eye as a corporation.  If FCA loses, it will be a blow to a struggling company.  One cannot believe that GM undertook this suit lightly.  It must have sufficient evidence to make the claim.  The question now is whether it can prove it in court. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Great PR 

Golf is frustrating.  Even the greatest of the club swingers have bad days when a course defeats them.  Imagine, then, the anger of a golfer who shanked a putt because a spectator yelled just as the golfer was tapping the ball toward the hole.  This happened to Brandon Matthews at the Argentine Open, and it cost him the tournament.  Matthews was upset, as any normal human would be, until he was told what happened.  It turns out the fan has Down Syndrome and yelled because he was excited.  Matthews asked to speak to the fan and he gave him a "signed golf ball and glove, and gave him a hug."  Matthews explained that he had been around disabled persons and he wanted the fan to know he wasn't furious with him.  That is great PR for the man and the game.  Well done.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Cynicism Allowed 

President Trump has said he might be willing to testify to the Congressional committee.  Democrats are skeptical and well they should be.  Trump is a president who lies constantly, whenever it benefits him.  He prevaricates so frequently that he has trouble remembering what his last lie was.  The Democrats' cynicism is justified.  Trump fancies himself as a powerful communicator, but his egotism defeats him again and again.  He comes off as a spoiled child who wants what he wants when he wants it.  He has no understanding of how to work with Congress, never did and never will.  He appeals to a small base of disaffected Americans for whom nothing he does is wrong.  Independents are largely abandoning him, and he needs their votes to get re-elected.  He is a case study of what proper behavior and communications aren't.  History will not be kind.

Monday, November 18, 2019


UK papers and commentators are declaring this interview to be a disaster.  Prince Andrew failed to redeem himself and his soiled image from his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.  The only thing the prince regretted was seeing Epstein in 2010.  The interview failed to put out the firestorm around the prince, and it perhaps drew him in more deeply.  The question now is what the royal family will do about it, other than nothing.   Queen Elizabeth's brood has not been scandal-free over the decades, beginning with her sister, Margaret.  They are fodder for the UK news media.  Knowing that, one might expect the children to be extra careful with whom they associate.  That doesn't appear to be the case.  The scandal will be kept flaming for weeks to come and the queen will have to suffer the indignity.  At her age, she doesn't need this, but that makes no difference.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Self-made Crisis 

Google has a crisis on its hands that it alone has created.  It has gone into partnership with Ascension healthcare to codify and store the large medical chain's records and the information of millions of patients.  It has apparently failed to tell its own people or the public what it plans to do with all this private information.  Now, there is a whistleblower who raises serious issues that the company has yet to explain.  It didn't need to be this way.  Google could have prepared the ground for the partnership with abundant internal and external communication.  Why it chose not to do so is unknown at this time.  Perhaps it feared it would be barred from operating if the word got out too early.  Now the company is being forced to defend itself and is the target of a HIPAA investigation.  Maybe next time it will know better.  

Thursday, November 14, 2019


The nation's largest milk processor has gone bankrupt.  Dairy consumption continues to drop and the company couldn't hold on.  Clearly advertising and PR haven't worked.  The question is what to do now?  There are still millions of milk drinkers, and they expect to find the product on supermarket cold cases.  The market might need to devolve into regional co-ops that can handle reduced volume and still make a go of it.  Creativity might not be able to overcome a shift in consumer opinion. The milk mustache might be on its way out as a symbol.  One wonders what farmers will do.  They have been consolidating herds for decades under the idea that bigger is better, but if there is a smaller market, it isn't.  The milk industry is living in turbulent and uncertain times.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


When Apple launched its credit card with Goldman Sachs, they didn't foresee this.  Should they have known that their credit algorithm scores men and women differently?  If not, they do now and they have a black eye, which will take time to heal.  It's a public relations debacle for the companies and the only answer for it is to get into the system and repair its flaws.  Even that might not be enough.  Consumers are sensitized to the inequity of the black box and they are looking for any hint of unfairness in credit limits.  If Apple and Goldman Sachs fix the software, in time people might forget the initial insult, but it won't be soon.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Free Speech 

YouTube now says it has no obligation to host anyone's video.  Defenders of the First Amendment are criticizing the company.  What they forget is that newspapers, the essence of Free Speech, have never had an obligation to run anyone's copy or photo. Editorial decisions remain with the periodical.  Always have and always will under the law.  YouTube is acting more like a newspaper.  The conditions are different, of course.  YouTube is a service for those who want to post video and for channels that make their money from availability.  YouTube is not a manufacturer of content.  Still, newspapers have the decision to run opinion pieces or not.  So does YouTube.  Look for more pullback as the company complies with privacy regulations, as it fights porn and as it tries to control lies and misinformation.  For most people, the new terms won't mean much, but for those who skate close to or over the lines YouTube has set, it could be the end of their involvement with the service..

Monday, November 11, 2019

Military Burial 

I was out of the office for two days last week to attend a funeral and military burial.  The flag ceremony at the gravesite is deeply affecting and full of symbolism as is the playing of taps that precedes it.  The country is communicating its thanks to the family and friends of the deceased.  In the precise and rigid movements of the soldiers, there is a message of reverence and dignity.  In the formal presentation of the flag to the family, there is restrained grief in words spoken and left unsaid.  The whole ceremony is formulaic, drilled down to the fraction of an inch, but it is precision that communicates so loudly.  It doesn't take away pain, but salves it somewhat and I am thankful to have witnessed it.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Smart PR 

Hilton DoubleTree hotels have scored a PR coup -- the first fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in space.  NASA is performing an experiment with a tiny stove on the space station.  The question to be answered is if anything can be baked in zero gravity.  No one knows what form the cookie dough will take or whether the astronauts can get it locked into an armature designed to hold it.  It might float around in the stove bouncing lightly off the walls.  It might swell into a cone or a ball.  The astronauts will know soon enough.  Meanwhile, Hilton can take credit for supplying the ingredients for the test.  "The first cookies in outer space."  The company has an opportunity to explain what happened and to highlight its participation.  It is smart PR.  

Monday, November 04, 2019

Et Tu, McDonald's? 

Who would think the CEO of McDonald's would be fired for a relationship with an employee?  It happened, and he is gone, waiting for severance.  It shows a healthy concern for public relations and perception on the part of the board.  It also forestalls power plays and favoritism on the part of the CEO.  The board took the right action, even though Easterbrook was successful in turning the company around.  There is no room anymore for skirt-chasing from a position of power.  There never should have been.  But, the intoxication of the rank turns heads. It is sad for McDonald's, but someone else will take over soon and the company will move on.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Brand Crisis 

Boeing is trying to turn around its image as it works to regain an airworthiness certificate for its 737 Max.  The going hasn't been smooth and its CEO has been publicly chastised in Congress.  European and American regulators are taking their own time to re-certify the plane.  Boeing is working feverishly to get it back into route rotation and is hoping it will be permitted to fly by the end of the year, just two months away.  The company has taken out full-page ads in the last week to apologize to families of victims of two air crashes because of a defect in the plane's control software.  It is months too late and observers have said the company has bungled its public relations.  Commentators have even gone on record saying they believe Boeing's lawyers have been handling PR, a dangerous process in itself.  It is too late to discuss what the company should have done.  The question is what it should do.  Getting the plane back in the air is the first step, and demonstrating through millions of miles of safe travel that it has been fixed.  The public might not return to the Max willingly.  No one can blame them.  Meanwhile, the company has to show its regard for safety in every airframe it produces.

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