Friday, January 31, 2020


Corona Beer has a PR problem.  It is being confused with the coronavirus sweeping China and filtering into the rest of the world.  There is even a search term "corona beer virus" rising in Google.  The company has said it is confident its customers will not link the disease with the drink, but one can never aver that for sure.  Customers have gone wrong many times in the past and caused angst in corporate quarters.  For example, there was the infamous linkage of the P&G man-in-the-moon logo with devil worship.  On the surface, it is a hilarious instance of consumer ignorance or lack of close attention.  Under the surface, Corona has to watch sales closely while the virus rages.  If they begin to fall, it will need to act.  So far, that apparently hasn't been the case.  Speaking out now might draw attention to the confusion, which might resolve itself in good time.  Still...

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Cutting Them Off At The Knees 

This decision from the FDA cuts Purell's marketing off at the knees.  The hand sanitizer's claim to existence is that it kills germs and protects the user.  The FDA is saying prove it.  There have been no studies to show the effectiveness of the product and its ability to fend off "Ebola virus, norovirus, and influenza" among other diseases.  The letter from the FDA is devastating and options for Purell are bleak.  It can withdraw the product from the market.  It can conduct the expensive double-blind statistical tests used to prove a drug's efficacy.  It can try to write around the prohibition while keeping the product on the shelves.  Finally, it can get lawyers involved to dispute the FDA's conclusion.  Whatever the company decides, it must at this time acknowledge there is no evidence the product works.  As the article notes, wash your hands. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Where Were The Managers? 

Chipotle took a reputation blow in Massachusetts for failing to follow child labor laws.  It was hit with more than 13,000 alleged violations.  Either restaurant managers didn't know or didn't care to follow the rules, and no one had headquarters was checking as well.  There might be an excuse for one or two mistakes.  There is little one can say about 13,000 except that it was a pattern of misbehavior.  The fine was large enough to make the company pay attention in the future -- $1.3 million.  As the author of the article notes, it is not up to employees to know labor laws.  It is a manager's job, and clearly, the managers weren't doing it.  Now, Chipotle will have to be vigilant about scheduling teenagers, but it should have been doing that all along.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Marketing Misery 

This airline offers no-frills, rock-bottom seat pricing and all the discomfort that implies.  For all that, it is making money.  There is a market for misery as long as it is cheap, and Spirit knows that.  The commentator praises its honesty and purity of positioning.  There is none of the multiple tiers of comfort and cost that one finds in competitive airlines.  There is one class and that's all.  It smacks of the Southwest Airlines strategy that drove that company's success.  For short to middling hops, passengers put up with the cramming because they know in a couple of hours they will be free.  That's enticing to the budget-minded and it proves that customer treatment can be shabby as long as one prices for it.

Monday, January 27, 2020

What Robots Can't Do 

NASA likes manned space flight and wants to put astronauts back on the moon then go on to Mars.  So far, robots have explored the planets and have done a good job.  What is the reason for putting humans at risk in the vacuum?  This is one.  Humans can repair and maintain instruments once they break, even if the machines aren't designed for it.  If NASA returns to the moon for good with a station, there will be a demand for equipment servicing that will require human intellect and skills.  Sometimes when an instrument goes down, there is no way to fix it from earth.  And when a detector is not built for in-space servicing, repairing it is even harder.  But, humans can do it and are the last line of defense against failure.  This, then, is a reason for expending billions to put astronauts on the moon and Mars.  It might not seem like much, but it is better than pushing for humans in space with little justification for having them there.

Friday, January 24, 2020


Hate is a peculiar thing.  One can destroy oneself in the act of harming others and glory in the negative outcome.  Consider the white nationalists apprehended before they could disrupt a Virginia pro-gun rally.  They set out to kill marchers and police and thereby sow division and start a civil war.  What they ignored was their intended action would turn everyone against them, including pro-gun protesters.  They would have gained nothing except a visceral satisfaction that they did something and almost certainly would have died for their cause.  General George Patton probably said it best when he counseled his troops as follows, " The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."  Haters are beyond reason and persuasion.  They hew to their twisted beliefs without doubt or an ability to consider another side.  They are beyond what communication can possibly do.  The only way to handle them is to stop them by force, if necessary, and to separate them from society for good.

Thursday, January 23, 2020


An accounting firm's currency is integrity.  That is why this is a crisis for PWC, and the partner in charge is gone.  He should have said something, even dropped the client under suspicion of wrongdoing.  Once again, the story broke with a release of documents, 700,000 of them and they detail the theft of funds from the poverty-stricken African country, Angola.  PWC is investigating but the damage is done.  It will take time, perhaps a lot of it, for the firm to regain credibility among African clients. While there is no suggestion yet of wrongdoing by the partner, there is indication he looked away from the thievery that was occurring.  It is an age-old conundrum.  Should one dump a lucrative customer whom one knows is breaking the law?  Most companies won't.  Accounting firms cannot afford not to.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

End Run 

Uber is so upset with California's new law making Uber drivers employees that it is experimenting with an end-run to get around the legislation.  It is telling some of its drivers to set their own fares for passengers.  While this might survive a legal challenge, it could well be a PR and marketing nightmare.  What will passengers say when a driver jacks the usual fare by 25 percent because he thinks he can get away with it?  Not only will there be an upset customer but it will lower chances the rider will ever use Uber again.  Uber can give a suggested fare and leave it up to the driver to determine if that is what he wants to charge, but inevitably pricing will go awry.  Taking an Uber will be rolling dice in a casino.  It's not a great idea and there is a good chance Uber will not roll it out to all of its California drivers because of an administrative nightmare and consumer agita.  Maybe Uber will have to give in after all and treat its drivers like employees.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Short Sellers 

Short sellers of a company's stock are acid in CEOs' stomachs.  The shorts are betting a company will fail and its equity will fall.  That's why this is an interesting case.  A short is betting against Tesla based on unintended acceleration claims.  Tesla says it has proof that drivers who experienced the phenomenon had accidentally hit the accelerator pedal.  Not only that, but the vehicle is engineered to go only when the accelerator is pushed.  There are no gears in which a defect of the transmission can cause the cars to lurch forward.  Lastly, a Tesla critic has offered money if anyone can prove the vehicles have the defect.  So far, it is not looking good for the short, but it is still a serious PR issue that must be addressed.  Shorts are a seamier side of stock trading.  They won't go away so one has to be aware of them.  There is a sense of satisfaction when one is proved wrong and a company's stock price is not affected.

Monday, January 20, 2020


This smacks of George Orwell's "1984" and the memory hole in which facts are changed to suit the whims of a dictatorial state.  The National Archives of all agencies should know better.  It is tasked with faithfully preserving the nation's historical documents without change so citizens and historians can consult them to understand the times and their impacts on the democracy.  That the agency saw fit to obscure criticism of President Trump in a photo was foolish, and predictably, it didn't get away with it.  The Archives acknowledged a "mistake" without elaborating, which it should have done.  Maybe the next time it will handle its historical images better.

Friday, January 17, 2020

A Challenge 

Porsche's new electric vehicle, the Taycan, already has a PR and marketing headache, courtesy of the Environmental Protection Administration.  The EPA-rated mileage for the vehicle is half that of a Tesla.  Porsche has hired a "real-world" testing company to check the distance the two car models will actually go.  The company's conclusion is that the mileage is higher than the EPA estimate but still well below Tesla.  Porsche can trumpet Taycan's performance but it does little to solve a fundamental problem -- range anxiety.  Engineering at Weissach will have to go back to the lab to find a way to get longer-lasting batteries, and that will be a challenge.  Researchers the world over are focused on developing better batteries but the problem is hard to crack.  It has been that way since Thomas Edison spent years and millions trying to develop a replacement product for the lead-acid device.  Porsche devotees have faith in the company, but only time will tell if they are right.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Great PR, Cont. 

One may disagree with the fast-food chain, Chick-Fil-A, over its stance on moral issues, but when its employees go out of their way to help others, that's great PR.  It reveals an ethical core to the business that is missing in many others where a job is a job to earn money, and there is no impetus to go out of one's way.  What this employee did went viral because the thankful customer made sure to post her gratitude on Facebook.  This should be yet another warning to companies everywhere.  Customers have ways to make their pleasure or anger known widely, and they are using them.  Social media are an equalizer between the top and bottom of society.  And, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Great PR 

The NSA, National Security Agency, discovered a flaw in the code for Windows 10, the Microsoft operating system for PCs.  Rather than use it to hack foreign systems for intelligence, the NSA decided to alert Microsoft about it and to give the company time to issue a patch,  Security experts are praising the agency for its civic-mindedness, and it is an example of great public relations.  There is no telling what the agency could do by exploiting the mistake, but given that the NSA is a collection of world-class hackers and code jockeys, the software error would have reaped enormous amounts of data.  Why, then, did the agency choose to go public?  It is trying to repair its reputation from the loss of a powerful program to nefarious hackers who have used it to penetrate thousands of companies and individuals PCs.  The agency is becoming more open to the public without compromising secret work.  That's a good thing.  It is too large to be a Bletchley Park, and the enemies of the US already know it is working to break their codes.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Branding A Nation 

Holland isn't Holland anymore.  Forget that.  It's the Netherlands, or so Dutch officials would have it.  They are doing it for tourism and international relations and to acknowledge that the name, "Holland", consists of only two of 12 provinces.  It will take years for the world to make the shift, so the Netherlands shouldn't be in a hurry.  Of course, one can change signs, logos, correspondence and run advertising, but that won't shift habits for a long while to come.  Essentially, the Dutch will lean on a new generation of citizens raised under the banner of the Netherlands to make the name change stick.  Then, it can work on the rest of the world.  Over time, they might succeed in getting everyone to say the Netherlands rather than Holland.  But, it will take time measured in decades. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Can't Win 

Burger King set off an unintentional spate of criticism for allowing the word "damn" into one of its ads for its "impossible burger."  "Damn" is as mild as one might get for an expression of emotion.  Burger King probably wasn't thinking twice by allowing it into ad copy.  Nor should it.  There are four-letter words that are beyond the pale.  "Damn" isn't one.  Still, it has to consider the criticism from the "Moms" group in the future.  The company can't afford to alienate any segment of the public.  The burger wars are too intense for that.  It's an interesting PR issue, especially because video drama uses all kinds of swear words, many of them highly offensive.  Consider "Breaking Bad."  There are scenes in it that will curl the hair of a conservative woman.  It would lead one to believe that  "One Million Moms" is seeking cheap publicity.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Piss Poor 

This is the worst kind of flackery, and it is good it was caught as quickly as it was.  One wonders what Facebook employees think about it and the ham-handed way it was handled.  There is little excuse for running paid editorial that looks like real copy.  There is far less excuse for the chief operating officer to spotlight the article and react as if it was actually an editorial product.  Clearly, Sheryl Sandberg knew, or, if she didn't, she should have known.  Facebook had the humiliation of admitting the copy was paid-for, then it took it down but not before social media mavens began to chatter.  How dumb can one be?  It's not PR and it's not even good publicity.  One hopes Facebook doesn't try something like this again.

Thursday, January 09, 2020


This article is hype.  The product is not out yet, and already it is being touted as revolutionary.  One wonders when Silicon Valley will get over such gratuitous publicity.  It isn't good for products that come with overly inflated expectations.  It is bad for investors who will run if the product doesn't rocket when it is finally introduced.  It is bad for the company's employees who have high expectations and dreams of rewards for riding a "sure-thing." Only a few brands can over-promote before introduction and get away with it.  That's because they are proven in other ways.  Think of Disney+.  It soared to 10 million subscribers instantly because it is making its content available online, and its content is choice.  One hopes a PR firm wasn't behind the flackery of this article, but chances are it was

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Now What? 

Johnson & Johnson has been fighting lawsuits claiming its baby powder causes ovarian cancer in women.  A new study raises questions about that claim.  The problem is that the research involving 250,000 women fails to distinguish what kind of powder the women used -- whether talc or corn starch.  The study only states that eight percent of the women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, within the margin of error.  It is up to judges to determine whether a class action suit can proceed against the company.  J&J has successfully defended itself in several suits, and this latest study might bolster its position.  Plaintiffs' lawyers, however, will pick apart the details of the research and attempt to invalidate it.  The legal issue has been a PR nightmare for J&J, but if it is in the right, it should fight the suits to the end.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Try, Try Again 

The Segway self-balancing transporter was over-hyped even before it was introduced.  It swiftly fell from favor and today is most likely to be seen in tourist havens like the Mall in Washington DC.  This version of it is an attempt to appeal to the medical market.  It is hard to believe it will have much success, but the maker is ready to try, try again.  Self-balancing technology is no longer on the bleeding edge.  It is engineering looking for a successful application.  Maybe the company will break through someday, but this iteration doesn't appear to be an answer.  The Segway continues as a case study of publicity that ran out of control and set a new product up for failure.

Monday, January 06, 2020


The Hubble Space Telescope is celebrating the start of its 30th year with an image of a gigantic galaxy.  This is amazing for an instrument that was defective at the start and needed several astronaut visits over its lifetime.  It is a PR success, the like of which NASA scientists did not think possible.  Hubble has been so successful that the astrological community howls in protest whenever NASA tries to shut it down.  Its life has been extended several times as a result.  But Hubble hasn't many more years to go if the new James Webb observatory launches successfully in 2021.  Eventually, its machinery will break and there will be no more space visits to get it running again.  Hubble will become a piece of space junk, but its history will live on, a monument to man's search for answers to the universe.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Maybe This Time 

President Trump has signed a new anti-robocall bill, which sets a fine of $10,000 per spam call.  Maybe this time it will work.  Robocalls are the antithesis of good PR.  They are intrusive, annoying and frequently fraudulent.  Companies do it because it is so inexpensive and if they get a few hits out of 10,000 calls, it pays off.  Make no mistake.  Robocallers will try to end-run around the new protection systems, and some will succeed.  But, if billions of calls per year shrink to a few hundred million, that will be positive.  I, for one, am eager to learn how the new law works.  Like millions of others, I'm tired of receiving greetings in Chinese, and I'm angry when the same call comes in several times a month.  Robocalls are a scourge and deserve to be stopped.  Now, if politicians would abide by their own law, that would be good too.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Mea Culpa 

Pope Francis has done the right thing with his apology for slapping a women's hand when she grabbed his.  He might be saintly but he has limits, and he transgressed one when he became impatient with the tourist.  One could defend his action because the woman was over the line, but the Pope's reaction was out of order as well.  It was a human moment that defines a person, and the Pope didn't handle it well.  So, he has said he is sorry.  That was important too.  He understands he needs forgiveness as much as anyone.  Chances are he won't lose his temper again, but if he does, that will be telling.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Publicity And Facts 

Christina Koch has just set a record for the longest time a woman has spent in space.  NASA is using it for publicity.  But should it?  We know now that lack of gravity has effects on the body, not all of them good.  Koch surely will have trouble when she returns to earth.  Her muscles will have atrophied some in spite of regular exercising in the space lab.  She will have trouble walking at first.  Her heart may be enlarged.  Her vision might be affected. Gravity will feel like a weight and not a welcome one.  We know this because everyone who has spent time orbiting the earth has had similar changes in physiology.  Koch will be extensively tested when she is on the ground, and NASA will learn how space affects the female body.  One can only hope it won't be too serious. Humans did not evolve in zero gravity, and we are learning what that means for interplanetary travel.

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