Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bad PR 

With virus cases spiking around the US, now is not the time to fly planes full with middle seats occupied.  But, that is what American Airlines said it is going to do.  The company is letting economics get in the way of passenger safety, and that is bad PR.  One wonders if its executives have been following the news and are aware of the surge in cases, or if they are overly confident that they can fly safely.  It will take only one asymptomatic passenger to spread the disease in a cabin and American will be facing worse PR and the possibility of torts.  There is time for the airline to change its mind, but it feels it is playing safe with waiving change fees and other passenger accommodations.  That might not be enough.

Monday, June 29, 2020


President Trump is proving to be a stubborn candidate for re-election.  Rather than listening to the public at large as any good practitioner of PR would do, he is cementing himself with a minority in the Republican party.  This is a small group that trumpets "white power."  Trump has admitted already that he might lose the election, but he doesn't seem to care.  He will have his way or no way.  This was demonstrated also by his filing with the Supreme Court to gut the Affordable Care Act at a time when millions are out of work and unable to get insurance.  Polls have shown that he has lost suburban women with college degrees, Blacks and Latinos, independents and an overwhelming majority of the electorate.  It is still early, however, and he could turn things around if he would just listen.  His campaign strategists are trying to get through to him.  So far, they have failed.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Not His Fault 

There are many things that are detestable about the Trump administration, but this isn't one of them.   The Treasury Department has no way of knowing who has died within the year and who hasn't.  I write this as an executor of an estate belonging to a friend who died in 2019.  We received a check meant for him and sent it back.  Maybe now, the department has on record his death.  Should we receive another check in his name, I will conclude that the agency is doing a bad job of list cleaning.  I, along with many others, want to see the Trump reign ended once and for all, but I'm not willing to blame him for things he hasn't done.

Thursday, June 25, 2020


Internet giants have worked strenuously to avoid being regulated as utilities.  Their argument is that utilities provide essential human services such as electricity, water, sewer.  There is no equivalency on the internet.  I beg to differ.  We lost our internet for a day and a half and it shut down remote work, email, research, shopping, streaming and every other thing we needed or wanted to do.  The internet has become a utility on which hundreds of millions of Americans rely.  It needs some regulation going forward to ensure citizens can accomplish daily tasks.  That doesn't mean internet providers should be denominated as publishers, a responsibility and potential liability they shun.  It does mean that states and the Federal government should provide for internet for all, particularly for those in rural areas.  The essential value of the service can no longer be denied.  The internet is essential.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Words Vs. Actions 

PR is what you do first and foremost.  Words come later when there is little chance of accusing one of hypocrisy.  That is why this is a cautionary tale.  The Roman Catholic Church for centuries stood on the side of freedom in its words.  It was less so in its actions.  Church institutions kept slaves and were openly discriminatory.  The bishops of America have spoken out strongly for diversity, yet their ranks of Blacks are thin.  This is not only a Church problem.  Large corporations of America have sided strongly with diversity yet there are only three Black CEOs out of 500.  The hard part is always the action, making an ideal practical.  Decades pass with little progress and an impartial observer can conclude that words were never meant in spite of the passion in which they were spoken.  It's sad that PR is too often spin, buffing the bones of a corpse.  

Monday, June 22, 2020

PR And The Pandemic 

What kind of PR is needed for the public that is starting to deny the pandemic?  The World Health Organization is documenting a rise in cases yet in the US and elsewhere people are refusing to wear masks and have stopped social distancing.  They are tired of the disease and fatalistic.  "If I get it, I'll deal with it."  Numerous stories of how dangerous the virus is has not stopped them from going out in public unprotected.  Somehow, the nations affected by this silent rebellion need to change minds, which are made up.  The few who are taking precautions are disgusted with those who are not.  In the US, it has even become politicized.  Liberals wear masks:  Conservatives don't.  It is a time for the brightest minds in PR to offer solutions.  They are needed.  

Friday, June 19, 2020

Smart PR 

Apple has introduced a free app that allows one to record interactions with the police with a simple voice command.  It is smart PR.  Most police are good citizens and level-headed, but there are a few who like their power trip and are discriminatory in their actions.  Video recording protects against them.   It might be uncomfortable for a patrol officer to know he or she is being documented, but many police departments today use body cameras for the protection of citizens and law enforcers.  One more camera during an interaction should not be a burden but for the fact that an officer has no control over the recording.  African-Americans, especially, will want to use this app since they have experienced too often being pulled over for "driving while black."

Thursday, June 18, 2020

What Took So Long? 

Quaker Oats the parent company of the Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mix has announced it will change the name and image of the brand.  The question that should be asked is what took so long?  The brand was modeled after a racial characterization of 131 years ago.  Aunt Jemima was a roly-poly cook with a headband for much of that time, clearly an image of a servant in the Old South.  The company updated the portrait but didn't change the name.  Now it will go the distance to reposition the syrup and mix.  It is a fraught mission because the brand is identified with the name and supermarket shelf space is at a premium.  That is partially why the company didn't move earlier.  Money spoke louder than sensitivity.  But, it is now started -- at last.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Math Nonsense 

This is a load of assumptions, algorithms and opinions dolled up in scientific formulae.  It is speculation with little to back it up.  Hence the number of exoplanets with intelligent life could be 36 or more or less or none.  We simply don't know at this point in human history whether or where there might be planets in habitable zones that support carbon-based life.  While the study is interesting, it is not definitive nor can any similar research be.  We have to find a people on an orb rotating around another star and only then can we harden speculation into fact.  What are the chances of doing that?  Slim, at best.  We would have to work through billions of stars in our galaxy alone and classify them then try to find signs of life on their planetary systems.  While science fiction fans would like to believe that such discovery is possible with earth-bound astronomy, the resolution is not there even with the massive telescopes now being built.  Call this study "science hype."  It doesn't serve the public's craving for knowledge and desire to know if we are alone in the universe.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Bragging Rights 

A Tesla Model 3 bested a Porsche Taycan Turbo in a 500km endurance race.  It wasn't that the Tesla was faster.  It didn't need as many charges of electricity as the Porsche.  When it comes to EV's, that's bragging rights.  Tesla has proven repeatedly that it is a more efficient electric vehicle and it is managing to stay ahead of the world's engineers who are designing and building electric cars.  It is good PR for the brand to get into competitions like this.  It proves in head-to-head competition that it is better.  Tesla had better keep innovating, however.  The rest of the world will catch up sooner or later.  

Monday, June 15, 2020

Black Lives Matter 

"Buildings matter." "Arts and culture matter." "All lives matter."  These and similar obtuse riffs on "Black Lives Matter" have cost people their reputations and jobs.  They failed to understand that the nation's raw emotions over the unjust deaths of black men and women did not allow for me-too variations.  It was an error of insensitivity when tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of hundreds of cities and towns.  One might ask what they were thinking, and the answer might sting.  They were focused more on their own issues to the exclusion of the concerns of the public.  This happens too frequently in PR and communications.  Sometimes it is best to remain silent and to accept that this hour is not yours.  That can be hard to do, but if your reputation and job depends on it, that should be motivation enough.   

Friday, June 12, 2020

Too Late? 

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley now says he shouldn't have participated in President Trump's photo op in front of St. John's Church, a short walk from the White House across Lafayette Park.  It might be too late to restore his reputation for having done that.  He has been subject to scathing criticism from retired generals for politicizing the military.  Milley says he didn't know what the walk was about, but he also hasn't apologized for having done it.  It is a mark of this administration that it has corrupted everything it has touched, and the military is only the latest victim.  Come November, will the troops remember the incident and Milley's response to it?  It is too early to know, but it might not be too soon to find out if there has been a loss of trust in Milley.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

When Customers Are Wrong 

Jeff Bezos has said he is happy to lose customers who criticize Amazon for supporting Black Lives Matter.  He said their position is racist and he doesn't want his company to have anything to do with them.  This is positive PR for Amazon, which is still suffering from negative comments over how it has handled COVID-19 in its warehouses.  Amazon can afford to drop some customers.  It has an overwhelming market share of online retail and it grows ever-larger each year.  Bezos, who is legendary for his attention to customer service, could have ducked the issue in order to keep his shoppers, but he didn't.  For that, he deserves credit, no matter how you feel about him and his company.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Smart Move, Smart PR 

IBM announced it is getting out of the business of facial recognition technology  It is a smart move and smart PR.  Facial recognition software is not perfect and has both gender and race biases built.  That was part of IBM's concern but the remainder was the corporation doesn't want to enable increased surveillance of the public and racial profiling.  Skeptics might say the company made its announcement because it isn't a real factor in the business anyway.  That might be true, but the PR is the action -- stopping development.  This is putting pressure on other companies offering the software.  How are they protecting civil rights?  What agreements have they made with police forces for use of the software?  Are they fully aware of the deficiencies in their technology?  IBM with this announcement positioned itself firmly on the side of individual rights.  Kudos to the company. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2020


One might not understand the importance of employee relations until they revolt.  That's what happened at The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.  It is also occurring at Facebook and Bon Appetit where the editor-in-chief just resigned over a "Brown-face" incident.  The days when a newsroom was under the iron control of its editors is past, but so too for most of the corporations in America.  The pandemic appears to have handed control back to the employers who are laying off and furloughing workers by the millions, but in reality, the opposite has happened.  Executives have never been more aware of the essential functions of employees than now as they struggle to get their businesses back to health again. They need cooperation and not resistance and that requires extensive communications and demonstrations of respect.  

Monday, June 08, 2020

Positive PR 

With the partial success of its recent Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule that took astronauts to the international space station, SpaceX has earned the credibility to continue developing its enormous Starship rocket designed to launch as many as 100 people into orbit.  With the return to earth of two astronauts in the Crew Dragon capsule, SpaceX and Elon Musk will complete a triumphant NASA return to hauling crews into and out of space but this time using a commercial supplier.  It had been 10 years since NASA was forced to use Russian rockets after retiring the shuttle.  Positive PR for SpaceX and NASA is much needed after years of budget cuts and make-do.  That SpaceX is less expensive to use is a salient point for the agency and increased credibility for SpaceX.  It is one more reminder that PR is what you do and less what you say.  

Friday, June 05, 2020

PR Headache 

A franchisor cannot control the political leanings of franchisees, and this is a case that is giving Wendy's a headache.  A major franchisee of the burger chain has donated $500,000 to Trump's re-election campaign.  This sparked online hate focused on Wendy's.  The company has made it clear it is not to blame.  In addition, it is giving a $500,000 donation to social justice organizations.  That might not be enough to prevent the ill-informed from boycotting the chain.  The company will need to work diligently on social media and in the press to knockdown negative statements and opinions with facts.  Some activists will stay away from its restaurants, but it could mollify the majority.  Wendy's will know soon enough when sales reports come in.  Meanwhile, it must be wishing that its franchisees would be apolitical.  

Thursday, June 04, 2020

How Not To Make Friends 

During a protest in Manhattan, the police roughed up an Associated Press reporting team, only to be caught on camera by a videojournalist.  The police surely knew who the AP staffers were.  Their equipment was clearly marked and couldn't be mistaken. But, the cops did it anyway and in the process betrayed their sense of power as they worked to control the protestors.  There is an old cliche about the media that the police violated.  "Never pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrel."  The AP got even right away by publishing a story on its wire, which cast the police in a harsh light.  There was no need for hyperbole.  Just the facts were enough to show the law was out of control.  New York's finest have created a PR problem for themselves and there was no need to do it.  They know well that reporters should be left alone to do their jobs.  There is no excuse.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Smart Communication 

Apple has taken a smart approach to looted cellphones during the ongoing protests.  It is letting thieves know their phones are disabled and being tracked by the company with authorities notified.  This is a fitting response to a minority of protesters who are on the streets for opportunities to rob retailers.  News reports have detailed how criminals have ignored protesters and smashed windows in order to grab goods.  This has lent credence to the "Law and Order" theme that President Trump has taken while overriding the fundamental message that racist police have no place in America.  It is a pity that an element is out only for itself and takes advantage of demonstrations to loot.  At least Apple has an answer for that.  It would be good if other retailers could do the same.  

Tuesday, June 02, 2020


Read the beautiful letter to employees from America's wealthiest African-American.  His call for love to offset racism is in marked contrast to thugs looting stores and burning buildings.  A criminal element has tainted tens of thousands of law-abiding protestors who have gathered around the country to decry police brutality.  One might point out that the billionaire is in a privileged position to call for love.  He isn't out of work and watching the larder at home become bare.  That's true, but he could well have called for agitation and pressure against police departments to offset discrimination he has known his entire life.  That he didn't is a tribute to character and to a deeper appeal to staff.  There is need for both demonstrations and love in the US until the day an African-American can feel safe when leaving the house and meeting police on the street.  There should be no tolerance for looting, no matter the frustration.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Employee Relations 

Facebook employees are angry with their boss, Mark Zuckerberg, for failing to take down President Trump's quote, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”  Zuckerberg says he is appalled by it but the First Amendment protects the words.  It was a tough call, especially after Twitter hid the inflammatory message with the approbation of its CEO.  Zuckerberg now must mend fences in his own company.  It might not be easy to do and there will be other instances in which he will need to oppose his employees.  Google in 2019 faced the same internal unrest and hasn't put out the flames yet.  There are no easy answers for internet information distributors.  Any call they make about language will be criticized by someone.  It comes down to the personal choice of the CEOs, their commitment to speech and their judgment about its effect on others.  There are few guidelines to follow, and First Amendment lawyers can be divided as well.  Listening to employees might be a start but it is not a panacea.  Employees can be wrong as anyone else.   

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