Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Word Of Mouth 

Rumor and word of mouth can be deadly.  It is in this case where people are drinking methanol to ward off COVID-19.  Methanol is poison, but some Iranians seem to think it is a cure-all.  The government is warning its citizens of the mistake but so far, some are not complying and they are ending up in hospitals.  The rumor apparently pairs alcohol and honey as a curative medicine, and Iranians who are not supposed to drink liquor haven't distinguished between whiskey and methanol.  The error makes for a study of the origin and spread of rumor.  Who started it?  To whom did they talk?  Were they open about what they were doing?  How come so many believed them in spite of governmental warnings?  What persuasive messages are needed to counteract such error?  How should they be transmitted to individual citizens?  Iran's marketers and PR practitioners should consider researching the mistake.

Monday, March 30, 2020

No Win 

Sometimes, no matter what decision is made, there will be angry people.  The question facing a CEO or bureaucratic executive is who has the power to derail it or unseat one.  It is less a question of doing the right thing and more of pragmatism because all sides have valid and cogent points.  Consider this example.  When the dams were built they provided irrigation water for farmers and hydro-power for consumers.  They are still doing that.   But if Indian tribes have their way and the dams are removed, the river will once again become a spawning ground for salmon.  Both sides have a valid claim to the river and both are using persuasion, PR and voting to make their cases.  Only one side will win.  In the political realm, arguments like these are common.  If executives are lucky, they find a third option that satisfies neither side but is grudgingly accepted.  When it comes to dam removal, there are few good options. Look for a prolonged fight before a judgment is rendered and appeals up to the Supreme Court.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Blunt But Credible 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is known as a bully.  He talks and acts the tough guy, and he picks fights with fellow politicians.  That is why this is so remarkable.  He has emerged as a leading voice in the fight against COVID-19 with his no-nonsense daily press conferences.  He gives the numbers of affected in the state.  He discusses the demand for more respirators and ventilators.  He lights into the Federal Government for failing to assist to the degree that the state needs.  There is no sweet talk or bloviating, the politicians' disease.  He scores points for honesty and telling it like it is.  When this crisis is over, he will be in a stronger position than ever before.  Citizens trust him in a time of need.  At some point, he will need to moderate his remarks as the virus subsides, and medical professionals gain control.  But, that time isn't yet.  So, he remains front and center to the benefit of all.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


The governor of Florida wants the Federal government to declare his state a disaster area because of the COVID-19 infection. It is ironic because he is one of the few politicians in the US who has refused to lock down his state to prevent the virus from spreading.  He wants to focus on just those counties where the coronavirus is out of control.  This, of course, ignores the fact that citizens travel in and out of those regions and can carry the virus with them.  It takes 14 days for symptoms to show, so there is a good chance carriers have already spread throughout the state.  From a PR perspective, the governor hasn't a leg to stand on.  He refuses to take the action necessary to halt the outbreak, yet he wants aid to handle it.  It wouldn't be surprising if the Federal government forces him to declare all counties exclusion zones in return for aid.  It is something he should have done all along.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tough Challenge 

Joe Biden has a tough challenge these days.  How does he gain awareness among Democratic voters when all the news is focused on COVID-19 and the White House, which is sopping up the news budget?  There isn't much he can do.  He is a candidate and not a member of government.  Right now, the public's attention is fixed on the doctors and nurses combatting the disease and politicians responsible for the $2 trillion bill to bolster the economy.  The longer the shutdown goes on, the harder it will be for Biden to break through.  One positive point he has going for him is the President, who has handled the response to the disease poorly, but citizens forget quickly.  There is still a good chance that Trump will gain the upper hand in November if Biden can't get back on the campaign trail soon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Mixed Messages 

It is no secret that President Trump and Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert, don't see eye-to-eye.  Trump will make an optimistic statement and Fauci will roll it back.  The rumor is that Trump is frustrated with Fauci and would like to get rid of him.  That would eliminate the mixed messages coming from the White House, but it also would subvert facts in political spin, something American's don't want now.  Citizens crave straight talk from the President.  They aren't getting it.  Rather, it is coming from Fauci whose credibility is higher than Trump's.  As long as the two of them share a podium, there will be tension.  Trump would be better off letting Fauci take command of communications, but that is not the President's way of working.  So they remain at loggerheads and the nation is worse off for it.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Smart PR 

Jeff Bezos call for laid-off restaurant and bar workers to come to Amazon for temporary employment is smart PR.  He needs the people to handle emergency orders combatting COVID-19.  He is stating publicly that Amazon is open for business and thriving.  He is placing himself in a sweet spot at a time when panic rules the streets.  Of course, Bezos will have to protect temporaries as much or more than he is doing for his full-time employees.  The worst thing that could happen to the company would be for one of his fulfillment centers to become a hot spot for the virus.  He also needs to protect his delivery people who are working in fear that they might contract the disease while running their routes.  If he can solve these challenges and keep his workforce relatively free of illness, he will have achieved a huge success about which he can legitimately boast.  But that is still a big "if".  

Friday, March 20, 2020

New Norm 

Great events can shift popular opinion and habits almost instantaneously.  That is the case with COVID-19.  There is now "quarantine shaming" directed at those who are not taking care to stay away from gatherings.  Two weeks ago, no one would have thought much about it, if at all.  To have such an overwhelming change of public opinion in such a short time usually happens only when the US is attacked, such as on 9/11.  To have the nation turn on a dime because of a disease probably hasn't happened since the 1918 flu when millions were affected and hundreds of thousands died.  To those who have worked in the grinding process of PR where years are needed to change minds (think of smoking), experiencing such a sudden shift is remarkable.  People do pay attention when a serious issue directly affects them.  

Thursday, March 19, 2020


Abuse of power is a constant in civic life, especially by police and prosecutors eager to make convictions.  That is why transparency, such as this, is important.  There is no telling how many times officers had planted drugs on suspects before the bystander shot a video of it.  Police departments operate under the assumption that they protect the community.  It is good PR, but when it is obvious that discipline has broken down in the ranks, they sow distrust and anger.  Minority communities, especially, know and understand bad policing.  They experience it every day.  That is why there are frequent demonstrations against police activity across the US, and African-American demonstrators come out in force.  Honest officers are tarred with the bad actions of the corrupt among them.  It is a situation that needs remedial treatment.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


If a CEO is thinking of bending or breaking regulatory rules, he should think about this.  Volkswagen has already paid out $34.69 billion as a result of its diesel cheating.  That's billions that didn't go to R&D, to maintenance , to shareholders, to development of new models.  The company won't soon forget what it had done, and it will continue paying out cash until 2021 as if to remind its executives of the mistake they made.  Volkswagen is a big company but not so large that billions fail to dent its armor and competitiveness.  The company is now moving away from diesels and toward electrical powertrains.  This is the exact opposite of what it had done, which was "bet-the-farm" on diesel technology.  It will take decades for people to forget what the company had done. It should take much longer than that for its managers to move past the scandal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


What happens when your engineering team is shafted by the President?  Google is finding out.  President Trump announced nationally that Google's subsidiary, Verily, had built a web site through which COVID-19 patients could find out where to get tested.  There is only one problem.  There is no public web site -- not yet anyway -- and the small test site that Verily was shaking down was quickly overwhelmed by concerned citizens.  Fortunately for Google, the bad PR from this cock-up was quickly focused on the President rather than on Google.  It was a typical shoot-from-the-lip Trump announcement -- unchecked, gratuitous, designed to look like he was in control.  It was a sadly typical outcome -- a disaster.  One wonders when President Trump will learn to check facts before speaking.  It might be too late for him in this election year.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Hunkering Down 

Today is the first day of working from home with no end in sight -- not yet anyway.  Dozens of new cases of COVID-19 have been reported and schools, restaurants, theaters and other places where crowds gather have been shut down.  Major cities have seen their central districts abandoned.  People are afraid.  As one medical authority said, now is the time for straight, factual communications to the nation that explains what is happening and steps being taken to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.  This is to counteract rumors, misinformation and outright lies spreading from mouth-to-mouth and on social media.  It is also necessary to stop panic buying of food, paper products and sanitizers.  Especially for those now working at improvised desks in apartments and houses, it is needed to know when it is safe to return to work.  We will learn during this time the practicality of mass telecommuting and whether it works as well as being in an office.  It's a difficult time to experiment, but there isn't much choice.

Friday, March 13, 2020

What Were They Thinking? 

Sometimes a company action can be so bone-headed one asks, "What were they thinking?"  Here is a case.  To have a migrant worker dressed up as a hand sanitizer to combat the novel coronavirus is insulting on many levels -- to the worker, to migrants in general who are demeaned, to users of the sanitizer who are reminded rudely to use it, to employees and finally to the company, which has been taking abuse on social media.  Someone must have thought it was a good idea.  Did no one disabuse the person or did they agree?  Did no one caution that the worker could be infected while standing there like a machine?  The action was a classic revelation of the low repute in which migrant workers are held in Saudi Arabia and yet, it is those migrants who built the country that is there today.  Before one says it couldn't happen in the United States, think of how South Americans are treated at the Mexican border.  If a boss had stood there, he would have looked ridiculous but his message would have been clear.  Still, it was a lousy idea and Aramco deserved the outrage visited upon it.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Old But New 

Hormel, the maker of Spam, has had an 80-year challenge marketing its product.  It seems that troops in World War II were fed spiced canned meat that they mistook for Spam, and they hated it.  They brought the distaste home with them.  Hormel, meanwhile, recognizing the problem created a national publicity stunt with 80 World War II female veterans who toured the country promoting Spam.  That worked until a famous Monte Python sketch used the word, "Spam" endlessly, and it became the denominator of trash online messaging.  Spam went into the world computer language and stayed.  Hormel tried to sue tech companies using Spam in their names but eventually gave up.  It accepted the misuse of its name and learned to market with it.  Today, Spam is a growing food product and has universal name recognition.  What could be better than that?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ad Hominem, Cont. 

I've written here before about President Trump's use of ad hominem invective against opponents.  He gives derogatory nicknames to them and implies or says outright that they aren't effective. He's at it again with the suggestion that Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden is senile.  There is just enough possible truth to the charge to make it effective.  Bien hasn't helped himself by being a life-long gaffe-o-matic who can't seem to keep from misstating things or making dubious claims.  Trump with his feral sense of survival is boring in on that fault.  Is it civil?  No.  Is it fair?  Hardly.  Will Trump use the charge to turn concern about his own intelligence against his likely opponent? Yes.  It's "I might be bad but he is worse."  Biden has no choice.  He needs to get out ahead of such charges and defeat them by being a good candidate. To the extent he can, he will do well.  If he can't, Trump is looking at a second term.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Marketing Fraud 

Cell phone carriers are engaged in marketing fraud as an industry.  Every company says it offers 5G speeds when they clearly don't or are barely adequate.  Regulators so far are letting them get away with it.  Is it any wonder that consumers are wary of the claims?  It is caveat emptor for the next few years while the infrastructure is being built out.  And,.there is little question why the buyer should beware.  The 5G technology requires many more antennas spaced closely together to work.  This means many more buildings to park them on, many more towers to build, many more dead spots to reduce. Carriers are working flat out, but they are nowhere near reaching national coverage.  Still, they are making raucous claims and confusing consumers.  It's bad marketing and lousy PR.  The government should step in.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Pandemic And Panic 

CNN has decided to call the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus a pandemic.  The World Health Organization has yet to dub it that.  There is panic buying of masks and paper products, and some are stocking up on canned goods in case there is a quarantine.  In Manhattan, the streets are full of people and there is nary a masked individual in sight.  That is probably as it should be.  One hundred thousand cases worldwide of the disease is a tiny percentage of the population.  A total of 3,000 deaths is a fraction of a fraction.  We are nowhere near the 1918 flu outbreak that killed an estimated 50 million people.  Part of the reason for that is health authorities are treating the coronavirus seriously and quarantining populations where it has arisen.  What is needed is straightforward, factual communication of its spread and containment.  Health agencies and the media have been publicizing prevention measures (handwashing being the most important) and symptoms so potential victims can recognize what is happening to them and can seek medical help.  There is no need for hysteria, not yet anyway as long as health authorities continue to do their job.

Friday, March 06, 2020


Trader Joe's, the lifestyle grocery chain, has long been known for its smart employee policies and this is another one.  It is paying for additional sick leave time for employees in order to prevent Covid-19 from entering its stores.  A worker with a fever and shortness of breath need only check with the store manager then depart until 24 hours after being symptom-free.  This ensures that employees will come forward rather than working through their illness and infecting others.  Other companies have told their workers to stay home but have not extended sick leave with pay.  The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated.  One ill employee on the retail floor can infect dozens of customers and turn into a hot spot.  Trader Joe's understands that and is making an extra effort to prevent it from happening.  It is intelligent employee relations and PR. 

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Bragging Rights 

In the refined world of supercomputers, if you've got it, flaunt it.  That's what Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is doing by announcing El Capitan, a supercomputer that can process two quintillion calculations per second.  That's two exaflops or better yet, 2,000,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second, an unimaginable number.  It will cost $600 million to build and will take enough electricity to power a town of 12,000 homes.  The machine will do classified work -- simulating nuclear explosions -- needed to test the power of the nation's aging arsenal.  Lawrence Livermore is publicizing the machine, due to come online in 2023, as a way of showing that it remains on the leading edge of the world of supercomputers.  It has thrown the gauntlet down for China and Japan to pick up, if they can.  And chances are, they will.  It's a never-ending race.  Lawrence Livermore might not hold on to bragging rights for more than a year or two, but for now, it is the El Capitan of the industry.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020


Less than a week ago Presidential Candidate Joe Biden was considered gone from the Democratic race.  This morning he is a front runner.  The speed of change was breathtaking, but that is the way it can be in politics.  Communicators slog on and try not to let prevailing opinion demoralize them.  They know, however, that their candidate might not make it to the convention, but they have to stay as long as possible.  Only if their candidate publicly gives up do they know their future.  It's a long, hard road with twists and turns and tens of thousands of door-knocks.  One must have confidence in the candidate and be willing to suffer lost sleep, disappointments and occasional highs.  With a crowded field, such as the Democrats had this year, breaking through to voters is hard, particularly if one doesn't have money to advertise -- as Biden didn't.  Biden's strategists are on a high today, but they know it is too soon to celebrate.  There is still a tenuous road to walk.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020


Is the struggling General Electric of today a legacy of recently departed Jack Welch?  Welch's hand-picked successor, Jeff Immelt, never could take the reins firmly enough.  He was the wrong choice.  Welch was described by skeptics as the CEO of a finance company that had a sideline in manufacturing.  He depended on the stellar growth of the finance arm to make up for the slower expanding manufacturing businesses.   As finance got into trouble in 2008-2009, Immelt couldn't recover and the company went into a downward spiral where it is worth a fraction of what it was in Welch's day.  It's a lesson for PR practitioners to avoid hyping a CEO until time proves worth.  Yes, recite accomplishments because that is what a CEO has done.  But, do it with care.  The media hyped Welch relentlessly and he lapped it up.  He needed a counter-balance, which he didn't get until after he left the CEO suite.  That was a pity.  His legacy going forward will now always be mixed.

Monday, March 02, 2020

The Future 

It is hard to believe a Harvard graduate student said this to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon when the company was young and unproven.  The point of the article is that people judge businesses from the perspective of the present and not with an eye to the future.  They don't have the vision and foresight of a founder.  But then, most people who start businesses lack the insight of a Jeff Bezos.  He is one of a kind, so the Harvard student can be forgiven.  The point for PR practitioners who communicate the strategies of clients and companies is to suspend skepticism long enough for founders to make a dream a reality but not to buy ideas without reservations.  No one wins if you drink the potion and flack without second-thoughts. But, you should respect founders' ideas as much as possible until the future reveals the truth.  

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