Thursday, February 27, 2020

Great PR 

The Smithsonian Institution has just released 2.8 million free digital images of its collections.  One can search through them online.  The collection of museums will add another 200,000 by year-end and has a goal of digitizing 155 million objects under its care.  That is great PR and outreach to scholars, the curious and those who cannot enter the museums themselves.  The Smithsonian has been called "the nation's attic"  and it is, if one is describing a diverse gathering of nearly every kind of animal, mineral, art, craft and invention.  The institution's challenge for years has been a lack of physical space to show what it preserves. It has grown beyond the National Mall and still doesn't have the room it needs.  The pictures of its collection open its deep resources to everyone and bolsters its position as the greatest museum complex on earth. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A CEO Challenge 

This is a challenge to CEOs in general and those who are clearly overpaid.  Activists are targeting these executives, their boards and their companies.  The SEC-mandated rule that the pay ratio between top and bottom workers be published annually has served to spotlight the discrepancy in remuneration.  The problem is chronic.  CEOs don't want to give up the money and boards don't want to rock the boat.  That leaves the shareholders to act, if they can.  Look for pressure to increase as the years pass and for pay to become a PR problem.  It already is in corporations that aren't performing well and it will be in every business sooner or later.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Never-ending PR Challenge 

Amazon has a never-ending PR challenge -- fake goods.  Among its tens of thousands of vendors are scammers who manufacture inferior knock-offs of products and offer them on the Amazon site.  Amazon is aware of the problem and working to get rid of cheats, but it might be too large for the company to do much about it. It's Whack-a-mole.  For every one knocked down, another begins.  From a public perspective, this is a major failing of the firm.  One would expect a retailer to certify the goods it is selling, to know where they came from and who made them.  With the hundreds of thousands of products Amazon offers, it has yet to develop a system to vet them.  The company needs to do better.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Week Off 

President's Day was a chance to extend a holiday into a week off.  The vacation days were spent away from the media but for a newspaper on one day.  There was no intrusion of politics, caucuses, Trumpisms, fires, robberies, homicides and anything else that contorts the mind.  It was splendid with a pile of reading to be riffled through, hikes in the mountains, late to bed, late to rise and plenty of good food.  The weather held and outdoor activities were encouraged.  It was hard to come back but time. Client work calls and the harness needs to be filled.  There is much to say for time off and a chance to clear one's head..

Monday, February 17, 2020


Japan is headed into another recession.  The country has never recovered from the crash of the early 90s.  Banks never took write-downs for bad loans and the government never faced the truth about over-leveraged positions.  It is instructive to remember the PR that Japan had in the late 1970s and 1980s.  At that time, Japan Inc. was formidable and unstoppable.  There were books written about Japanese methods of management and how the West could learn from them.  There were consultants flitting about and promising to show American manufacturers how to catch up with Japanese quality.  We were taught to dread the "Made in Japan" logo because it would someday take over the American economy.  It never happened and there is a good chance it never will.  Today, China is the boogeyman but it too has a giant debt overhang that it isn't acknowledging.  The government concentrates on stimulus to keep the country moving forward.  China is much larger than Japan and less likely to fail, but it must be wary of what could happen if it doesn't maintain a balanced economy.  That doesn't mean the US should be sanguine about the future but it is a reminder that what goes up will come down.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Crises Come From Anywhere 

Who would plan for a public health crisis to damage a movie's box office?  Disney didn't and the Wuhan coronavirus has delayed its showing of Mulan, a movie about a Chinese princess, in 70,000 theaters throughout China.  It is one more lesson that upsets can come from anywhere and one must be prepared to handle them in the best way one can.  Disney's marketing plans for China did not include illness nor should they.  One has to expect some sense of normal conditions or planning becomes useless.  The movie will show in China someday but not right away and its freshness might be gone by the time it does.  Disney can only chalk up its results to an unprecedented event and move on. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Prototype 

One way to generate publicity is to design a prototype -- what an object will look like in the future.  Every manufacturer does it, and this is just a recent example of what a future airliner might be. Will it ever be built?  Probably not.  It is a researcher's and designer's fantasy.  There are all sorts of problems with it, not the least is how would it fit into gates at airports?  But it is fun to think about a flying wing as a passenger plane, and perhaps, maybe someday there could be one, if economics and logistics line up.  Until then, the idea will go on the scrap heap of thousands of other visions of the future that never come to fruition.  However, if the prototype sparks publicity that positions the corporation on the leading edge of R&D, it will have done its job.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

How Not To Win Friends 

Presidential candidate Joe Biden is sinking and is in dire need of a boost.  One wonders if he can get it when he uses phrases like this to accuse citizens of lying.  Biden says it is a line from a movie, a John Wayne western, and he has used it before.  It makes no difference.  He is being called out for it and given his low ranking in the race, he can't afford to lose votes. Biden, like President Trump, must be a handful for his advisers. He is a gaffe-prone politician who also has an on-again, off-again respect for facts.  The difference for Biden is that his legislative record is out there for all to see, so he can't get away with claiming a position he has not held in the past.  Name-calling lowers himself to the level of Trump who has offensive monikers for every one of his opponents.  The Democratic party doesn't need a candidate who seeks to out-Trump Trump. Biden needs to retool his campaign and PR strategy quickly -- or else.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Lame Duck 

A challenge to politicians is the period when they are lame ducks.  They have either been voted out of office, voluntarily stepped down or are near the end of their final term.  They can propose changes but legislators can wait them out or vote them down without repercussion.  The bureaucracy has turned against them in their final days, and there is nothing they can do about it. About the best they can accomplish is publicity events designed to enhance their legacy.  It is a humiliating time for pols but one they cannot avoid unless they die in office. 

Monday, February 10, 2020


The coronavirus raging in China has been the source of panic buying of masks, of mass quarantines, of hoarding, of business closures throughout China and cruise ship embargos in the US.  There is a real question whether the public has been consumed by hysteria or whether the virus is as dangerous as it seems to be.  Hundreds have died but to put that in perspective, China's population is 1.386 billion.  Another way to look at it is the incidence of flu.  The CDC estimates that 12,000 Americans will die from it in any given year, not counting its impact on the rest of the world.  The coronavirus is deadly, but is it as dangerous as the Spanish flue of 1918?  That outbreak carried off "an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans."  We are nowhere near that record and are unlikely to reach it with the prophylactic steps being taken.  There is a worry, but it should be put into context.  Authorities should be over-communicating now and hammering a message of sensible precautions.  It is a time to calm the public and not frighten citizens more.

Friday, February 07, 2020


This is what social media have become They are a cesspool of propaganda, disinformation, innuendo and outright lies.  We could cry woe, but we must remember that all those negatives existed long before online became a reality.  They were purveyed on paper, radio and television.  Some of the ugliest untruths were in print during the time of George Washington. The difference today is reach and focus.  Falsehoods now are fed to individuals the world over, and cunningly, they are sent just to those who want to believe them. PR practitioners should be at the forefront of accuracy to combat them.  Sadly, too many are flacks, concerned with selling and not for a truthful picture of clients' products and services.  Those who uphold the principles of public relations and communicating honestly to audiences are needed more than ever.

Thursday, February 06, 2020


President Trump was acquitted last evening but not before theatrics at the State of the Union the night before.  The SOTU ended with Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripping a copy to Trump's speech in half on national TV.  Yesterday in a closed-door Democratic meeting, she vented her bile against the President.  Social media went into a frenzy over Pelosi's public act -- some damning her and some praising.  It is hard not to take the tearing as a symbol of the opposition Trump will face the rest of the time he is President.  It might have been done without forethought, but the Speaker is known to control her emotions.  Yet, her anger expressed against Trump yesterday makes it plausible that her act was spontaneous.  Either way, she has stated her anger publicly and is more than likely never to cooperate with Trump again. The problem for Trump is that he needs her to get legislation passed.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

PR Disaster 

One wonders if anyone ran tests before using a new app in the Iowa Caucuses, which are still not fully reported at this hour.  It is a PR disaster for the Democratic party in the state.  Any IT person with experience can tell you that launching a critical new system requires careful testing and staged rollouts.  Even then, as United Airlines can attest with its botched reservation system, things can go awry.  The problem for the Democrats in Iowa was the nation and a good part of the world was watching and waiting for results.  None came and even yesterday, there were only partial tallies reported.  In elections, one rarely gets multiple chances to get the vote right.  The public expects a system to work.  The Democratic Party in Iowa now has four years to fix the system.  Let's hope the next time it works.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

More Responsibility? 

Amazon.com is facing lawsuits for selling poor quality and unsafe products on its site.  The company has so far escaped liability by claiming it is simply an intermediary between sellers and buyers and not responsible for the quality or safety of the products sold.  That might be a good legal position but it is poor PR and it will come back to haunt the company sooner or later.  Amazon needs to guarantee customers that the products on its site are safe and of acceptable quality.  How does it do that?  By establishing a laboratory dedicated to testing products before they are allowed on its web page.  This is not something the company needs to build itself.  It can fund a qualified third party to do the testing for it, such as Underwriters Laboratories.  Amazon won't get away with a hands-off approach for much longer.  It would be far better if it acted now rather than wait for a major tort.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Faux Pas 

President Trump leaped to Twitter last night to congratulate the "Great State of Kansas" for the Super Bowl win.  It took only moments before it was pointed out to him that Kansas City is in Missouri.  There is a Kansas City, Kansas but it is smaller and less known.  One might knick the President for stupidity, which a former senator did, but it was a pardonable mistake.  Geography is not necessarily a strong point for a New Yorker.  Trump took down the tweet quickly, but not soon enough.  It only adds to his lack of accuracy and outright lying to the American public.  One wonders if the fellow checks anything before he expresses it.

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