Friday, May 29, 2020

Can't Win. 

The CEO of Twitter is in a can't-win position, and there is little he can do about it.  On the one hand, he is responding to public pressure to fact-check suspect tweets.  On the other, President Trump is siccing the FCC on him for doing just that.  Fact-checking is what he should be doing, and Trump should not be investigating him, but that makes no difference.  He now has to unleash a phalanx of lawyers and lobbyists to protect Twitter's position in the social media marketplace, and it will be costly.  At issue is whether he should be considered a publisher or a distributor of information.  As a publisher, Twitter is liable for erroneous and libelous communications, which means Twitter would have to go to enormous expense to check every one of thousands of tweets per hour.  As a distributor, he can't be sued for content moderation, but he can be placed under a microscope for actions taken to distribute the facts of an issue.  There is no answer to this except to elect another President who is not so wroth about his opinions, and, of course, victory in the courts.

Thursday, May 28, 2020


The publicity video is a long-time tool of public relations.  That is why this story is laughable.  Hundreds of segments a year are sent out by PR departments and agencies.  Each has a goal of being picked up and run in full or in part by local and national TV news organizations.  So, to pick on Amazon for a publicity video and to trumpet that the company has been outed is looney.  If anything, the publicity team that created the segment was too promotional.  It might have been better had they done a piece on the measures companies have been taking to guard against the virus, a part of which focused on Amazon.  That would have greater news credibility.  The video has come out at a time when Amazon is facing criticism from employees for unsafe workplace conditions.  The audiovisual press release is professional in appearance and production values, so it is interesting that only a few stations picked it up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Excuses, Excuses. 

President Trump is trying to be clever -- and he might get away with it.  He is claiming today that the election in November will be rigged if states allow mail-in voting.  If the election is close, he can challenge it in court.  If the gap is wide, he can say he was defeated by fraud.  In any event, he can push the blame on others while holding himself guiltless.  Excuses, excuses.  Trump conducts his management by excusing himself and blaming others "who are out to get him."  It is as if he doesn't know Harry Truman's famous quote, "The buck stops here."  Truman understood that Presidents make hard decisions and must stand by them.  For Trump, there is little or nothing of negative outcomes that he will own up to.  He boasts of good outcomes and calls himself a genius.  Anything bad is the other guy.  It's a lousy way to conduct public relations and Trump's poor polling numbers show it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Wasn't Missed 

The New York Stock Exchange has insisted for years that traders on the exchange floor are necessary for improved pricing of stocks in up and down markets.  Well, the market maker has just announced the re-opening of the Big Board after a two-month shutdown.  It wasn't missed. Maintaining traders on the floor is a leftover of 200 years of open outcry auctions.  Digital trading made them obsolete more than 20 years ago, but the NYSE lumbers on.  Some day, the NYSE's owner is going to shut down the floor and it will be a memory of what it once was.  Then it will be torn down or become a sight for tourists to look upon the technology of the 20th Century and how it changed.  The NYSE based its PR for decades on the vital function of the trader. No more.  No longer.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Hard to Justify 

There might be good reasons for a CEO of a bankrupt company to get compensation of more than $9 million, but it is hard to justify.  Yet, that's what the CEO of Hertz gained after laying off thousands of employees.  Taking the company into Chapter 11 will allow it to restructure and pare down debt, but that is little consolation for those thrown out of work.  On the other hand, there was a story today in The New York Times business page that discussed bosses and their executives who have taken pay cuts to avoid laying off workers.  At some point, they might have to furlough their workforces, but employees are thankful today that they still have jobs.  Who would you rather work for?  

Friday, May 22, 2020

How Does This Happen? 

Volkswagen is apologizing for a racist ad posted online.  The commercial showed a black man looking at one of its cars and a giant white hand flicking the black man away and into a restaurant called the "Little Colonist" in French.  It is an insensitive production at its core and someone in the ad agency or in Volkswagen's management should have caught it from the pencil stage.  They didn't, which speaks volumes about the company and its vendors.  The apology rings hollow.  Someone in the creative crew should take a fall, if management doesn't want to own up to the ugliness of it.  It's well past the time that such advertisements should be produced.

Thursday, May 21, 2020


Is it only in politics that an opposition can try to co-opt an opponent into voting for them?  That is what President Trump is doing by holding teleconference calls with Hispanics, a cultural class he has demonized since his election.  One might call it chutzpah but he is doing it anyway to shore his eroding support.  In PR, the practitioner tries to avoid making enemies in the first place.  When it is necessary because an opponent threatens the existence of the individual or organization, the savvy practitioner bases a reaction on facts and persuasion.  "You are wrong because of A,B, and C."  The propagandist goes ad hominem: the smart practitioner doesn't.  Maybe Trump will gain votes by reaching out, but it is hard to believe he will get many after what he has said and done to the Hispanic community.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Giving In. 

Johnson & Johnson is taking its talc-based baby powder off the US market.  It is due to falling sales and a public perception that asbestos in the product causes cancer.  The company fiercely defends its product but it cannot fight the marketplace, so it is giving in.  This is a case in which litigation was the cause of the cave-in.  The company has lost one court battle after another over the asbestos claim, and even if it is in the right, which we will only know in the future, there is nothing it can do.  From a PR and marketing perspective, the US public has made its choice and it is not for talc-based baby powder.  The company can gnash its teeth over the "unfairness" of it all but that won't change public opinion.  It is one more instance of tort lawyers winning the day, whether or not they are scientifically right.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Smart Advice 

This column offers smart advice for PR practitioners who might be thinking of going out on their own.  Avoid debt and acquisitions that don't directly increase your revenue from clients.  One doesn't need a fancy desk, an office suite and a receptionist until big enough to need them for client service.  I recall a practitioner who told me he had gone out on his own, rented a plush office suite and promptly ran out of money.  He went broke and bankrupt.  He understood with hindsight that he shouldn't have done what he did, but it was too late.  This was a man who had demonstrated skill to build accounts and keep clients happy.  It was sad to see him working in an office as just one more "hired hand."  It is hard to give up the amenities of an established organization, but those who want to make it on their own understand quickly that they must.  There is always a temptation to buy "stuff" that will make one's life easier, but don't do it unless it directly helps in generating revenue.  

Monday, May 18, 2020


It is hard to believe this is not a conflict of interest.  Even if he put his stock options in a blind trust, there is not much he can do to change the perception that he favors his own company.  This is a longstanding problem in government service and the reason why capable executives turn down high Federal and State offices.  It is a PR problem because citizens believe the worst of someone who is in a position to profit from his service, even if he is scrupulous about decisions he makes.  The current administration is not attuned to conflicts of interest, and even the President has them but has been getting a pass by the media and voters.  We shall have to see how the next holder of the office acts and whether he or she can re-establish a sense of morality and justice.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Leak 

Manufacturers have two views of leaks of their products' features and functions.  They like them or detest their appearance.  Consider this example.  The author of the column is advising shoppers to wait for the appearance of the next generation of a smartphone because it has superior qualities.  That may be well and good, but what about the overhang of tens of thousands of the earlier version still in the marketplace?  It has orphaned them.  From a marketing perspective, it could be a disaster.  On the other hand, if Samsung has had trouble selling the current model, the positive word of mouth for the next generation is valuable.  From the media's perspective, the sooner the word gets out the better.  Journalists live for the scoop, whether phones, autos, computers or something else.  If Samsung divulged the features and functions of its new generation of phones to a select group of the media, it was trying for maximum attention -- and it got it.  If not, it now has a problem of what to do next.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What Now? 

The new short-content video service targeted to mobile phones is off to a rough start.  Quibi has high-profile founders and money.  That makes little difference to the public, which hasn't signed on.  The co-founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg, is blaming the pandemic for its slow approval.  But, that doesn't explain the soaring start of Disney+, which launched just before Quibi.  The challenge is content.  There doesn't appear to be a narrative on the short-time service that is compelling viewing -- not yet anyway.  Having big names among content producers doesn't insure the service from failing.  There is a matter of reputation as well.  No one knows Quibi: Everyone knows Disney, which has a deep catalog of hit movies for the family.  Quibi might survive, but it will take time to build its audience.  The question is whether it can succeed before its money runs out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Bucking The System 

Elon Musk has reopened his Tesla car factory in violation of a shutdown order from the California county in which he is operating.  Musk has said if anyone is to be arrested, it should be him.  His workers are upset and angry that he is risking their health by restarting the assembly lines.  Musk has long believed that he knows better.  In a sense, he sees himself above the law.  If he can get away with this, he can challenge nearly anything.  At this hour, it is unclear what the county will do to address Musk's intransigence, but it is poor PR for him and his company.  It is understandable that Musk is moving forward.  He is losing millions a day with his factory shut down.  He cannot afford not to work.  But, that written, he shouldn't be allowed to set rules unilaterally.  It is a message with an affront.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Good Publicity 

This is good publicity for small towns.  PC, the tech news site, has sifted hundreds of potential places to live that are affordable and have high-speed internet.  Some of these 15 towns are so tiny and out of the way that it is likely you have never heard of them.  Still, they are havens in a time of COVID-19, and with gigabit connections, easy for someone to work from home.  It is interesting that before the novel coronavirus, people were moving back to cities for community, arts and ease of commuting.  Since the disease, the opposite is true.  We will be living with the virus for some time to come -- until an effective vaccine is developed and millions of doses manufactured and distributed.  Several estimates come down to 18 months to two years before that can happen.  Hence, small towns seem to be a good choice for minimizing exposure.  

Monday, May 11, 2020


There are glimmers of the economy coming back to life and a V-shaped rather than U-shaped recovery.  What it might be is simple exhaustion with sheltering at home for so long.  The public is making up its own mind about the risk for coming down with COVID-19 in spite of scientists and medical cautions.  People want to go to the beach, to the park, to the mall and live life as it was again.  That is a vain delusion, of course.  The disease has not gone away and is still infecting thousands and killing hundreds.  What kind of persuasion is needed to get people to stay at home longer?  It seems it might have to be an infection of someone close to them making the novel coronavirus real again.  For so many, particularly those in low-case states, sickness hasn't been realized, and citizens are tired of following rules.  This is a difficult time for governors and health executives.  How do you convince the public that the disease can flare again if they stop quarantining too soon?  No one wants to hear that.    

Friday, May 08, 2020


By a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court threw out the convictions of the Bridgegate Two.  They were the pair who decided to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, NJ by closing a lane of the George Washington Bridge and rerouting traffic through the town.  The justices decided that the misbehavior didn't rise to the level of a Federal crime.  Now the two must find their way back to a better reputation.  There is no doubt about what they did.  It was a crass use of power and wrong -- but not illegal.  An employer who considers them for hire should account for that.  It is not a case in which one loses a reputation from being indicted amid lurid headlines but is not convicted because he didn't do the crime.  That is an unjust loss.  These two were eager to please their boss, the governor.  They went overboard in their toadyism, and they deserved the bad headlines they received.  Now, they need to get on with their lives and make the best of the outcome.  

Thursday, May 07, 2020

The Right Way 

There is no perfect way to lay off employees that doesn't strike at their core of self-worth. Airbnb's CEO, however, has chosen a better path.  He told his employees the situation the company is in during the pandemic in clear and straightforward language.  He told them he is laying off 25 percent of the workforce.  He told them he wasn't sure when, or if, he could rehire them.  He told them the size of their severance plan and the length of their medical coverage -- one year.  Finally, he told them the reduction in force is not their fault but the result of business conditions turned upside down.  It is a simple, complete statement without ambiguity.  Many an executive might wish to write as well.  There are times when leaders need to stand, take responsibility for their organizations and deliver bad news.  Sometimes it is in the cost of lives -- as generals do.  Other times, it is the cost of jobs -- as CEOs face.  There shouldn't be qualing, obfuscatory language, anything but straight talk.  Once delivered, action should follow swiftly.  There is little good in letting employees hang and hope the knife is not meant for them.  Layoffs are ugly -- always.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Backhanded Promotion 

A group of Republicans opposed to President Trump created an online video ad named "Mourning in America."  It was destined to go the way of most ads, overlooked and quickly irrelevant.  But, then, President Trump attacked it.  Suddenly, it went from a "couple of thousands views" to hundreds of thousands.  Trump's backhanded swipe was just the promotion it needed.  The creators of the ad must be gleeful.  Trump himself probably doesn't understand what he did.  His bent to attack, attack, attack has rendered him impervious to his shortcomings.  It should be a lesson to communications practitioners, however.  Sometimes it is best to leave criticism alone and let it die.  A bias toward response at all times is not a good idea.  Ask if negative comments are gaining traction.  If not, leave them alone.  Every leader has opponents.  That is part of being in charge.  Only when the opposition is gaining the power to stop action should one become engaged.  

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Historic Change 

As this article notes, candidates for public office did not always glad-hand voters and mix with the masses.  In the 19th Century and early 20th, they stayed home and their parties did outreach for them.  This year, in an historic shift, neither parties nor candidates are knocking on doors, passing out flyers, assembling rallies.  COVID-19 has done away with that.  Rather, they have taken to the internet to gain name recognition and have discovered it is a discipline requiring new communications methods.  Reaching citizens through the internet is hard, as time-consuming as knocking on doors and gathering supporters to events.  Candidates are having a tough time using the medium well because they are not used to it.  In the past, it was a supplement to person-to-person communication and not the main course.  This year, it has taken over.  Some candidates will master it.  Many will not and will return to old-fashioned retail campaigning once the pandemic is over.  For that reason, 2020 will become a case study in what to do and what to avoid online.  Candidates and communications practitioners will learn the hard way and those who follow them will build on their successful tactics.

Monday, May 04, 2020


SpaceX has an enormous PR opportunity this month with the launch of NASA astronauts in one of its crew Dragon modules -- the first manned flight from the US in 10 years.  If the journey goes off without a hitch, SpaceX can rightly crow about its technology and engineering.  It will also position the company to be a regular provider of human space flight to NASA and do away with a long-term dependence on Russian rockets and capsules to maintain the space station.  There is much riding on this mission for the US and for SpaceX.  Both are anxious for it to come off splendidly and with checks, rechecks and checks again, there is good chance it will.  However, neither NASA nor SpaceX can rest easy.  The shuttle disasters are still fresh in mind.  Space flight is a risk and always will be.

Friday, May 01, 2020


Nothing can bollix a marketing program more quickly than indecision.  One starts, stops, redirects, starts again, gets lost in a sea of choices, flails again, renames, relaunches and on and on.  This is a perfect example of a company that can't make up its mind.  Google has renamed, relaunched, pulled back and started again and again with its messaging services.  And, it appears that it is still not done fiddling with it.  Meanwhile, competitors have streaked ahead and left the company in their dust.  At this point, Google would be better off if it just gave up as it has done with other software products that never took off.  Google's challenge is internal more than external.  It can't get its messaging teams on the same page with the same functionality. The task now is for Google's CEO to crack the whip and clarify what the company is trying to do.  Google might never compete forcefully at this late date, but it could still be a factor.

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