Monday, August 31, 2020


CVS, the pharmacy chain, sent an email to employees telling them not to disclose to customers when a prescription was filled by an employee with COVID-19.  The company's statement on the contents of the email was that it was looking out for its customers.  How is that?  It sounds like a lame excuse for a dumb maneuver.  At least, CVS could have apologized, taken action to notify customers and publicly vowed never to do it again.  Instead, it used an off-the-shelf empty statement that didn't go far enough.  There might be good reasons for what CVS did.  If so, it hasn't disclosed them.  It assumes the public is too stupid to understand.  

Friday, August 28, 2020


Sometimes successful publicity and PR is satire.  It is difficult to do well but it scores large communications points and reaches receptive audiences.  Among leading satirists of the present day is this fellow.  Stephen Colbert has a way to cut to the truth with a line or two and to show the absurdity of political or corporate claims.  He is not alone on the public stage.  John Oliver is another dead-on comedian, and both owe their present places to Jon Stewart, now retired.  It is a pity more organizations don't use it, but few communications executives have mastered the skills of satire, and organizations are rightfully afraid of it blowing up in their faces.  So, they leave it to witty repartee on TV.  At least we have that.  

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Smart Move 

Kentucky Fried Chicken is suspending its slogan, "Finger Lickin' Good" until after the pandemic is over.  Smart marketing and PR move.  The restaurant chain rightly recognizes that during the time of Covid-19, people shouldn't be putting tongues to digits.  It is an unintended bad suggestion that couldn't have been understood 64 years ago when it was first used.  It is not the first time companies have run afoul of events through no fault of their own.  It won't be the last and the issue is how to respond.  KFC has taken a right step given its situation.  Will it hurt company sales for the period the slogan is missing.  Consumers should have internalized the words by now.  Rather, it will be a test of long-term memory.  How soon do people forget?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Does Anyone Care?  

CNN fact-checked the first night of the Republican Convention and reported there was more dishonesty than in all four nights of the Democratic Convention.  Does anyone care?  Those opposed to Trump will nod their heads in agreement.  Those favoring him will say it is fake news.  One would hope it would have an impact on reputation and public relations but citizens are so used to politicians lying that they seem to take misstatements in stride.  It would be good for democracy if voters took into account the claims of their leaders, but it is not reality.  Instead, they look at their own circumstances and evaluate statements on how it affects them.  "If it doesn't hurt my pocketbook, why should I care?"   There is mistrust of politicians for promising more than they can deliver, and voters act when a President, Senator or Congressman don't produce what citizens want, but that is narrow interest and legislators balance tens of thousands of competing needs.  Some win, most lose, and voters are left with asking, "What have you done for me lately?"

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Ask First 

Sometimes it is better to seek permission rather than ask for forgiveness.  Consider this example.  Rio Tinto, the mining giant, blew up ancient aboriginal caves in Australia while expanding an iron ore mine.  It was a black mark on the company's reputation and earned much-deserved criticism from the government and archaeologists.  What is worse is that the executives in charge received a slap on the wrist from the company -- a cut of $5 million in their bonuses.  They knew better.  The issue had been around for some time.  It smacks of management that should be removed.  It is clear Rio Tinto has no respect for native peoples.  Maybe this will generate enough heat that no one will ever attempt such an act again in Australia.  

Monday, August 24, 2020


Sometimes successful publicity timing -- such as this.  More than two dozen former Republican lawmakers have come out for Joe Biden on the first day of the Republican convention.  It is obvious they are intent on destroying the impact of the virtual gathering and looking for media interviews in the middle of the event to condemn President Trump.  They will get them too.  Trump has done himself no favors in attacking reporters and editors over his years in the oval office.  They have searched for dissension among Republicans and the announcement from the rebellious former politicians is made for TV.  There is little Trump can do except to savage them verbally, which he will as he does to anyone who doesn't bow to him.  Democratic strategists might have wished the former politicians would have endorsed Biden closer to the election when voters are less likely to forget but they will take it anyway.

Friday, August 21, 2020


Adobe has committed a major marketing and PR gaffe with a recent Lightroom app update.  The update wiped away users' photos and presets if they were not already synced to the cloud.  Worse, all Adobe can say is that it is sorry and the photos and presets are not recoverable.  They are gone.  For good.  One can only speculate what was lost but users' are predictably angry.  One reported two years of work destroyed.  How could this happen?  Someone failed to fully vet the update before shipping it out.  Now, Adobe has a marketing problem.  Competitors will take advantage of the mistake to chip away at its share.  It needn't have happened, but it did.

Thursday, August 20, 2020


There is always room for a good publicity stunt, even in the midst of a political convention.  Rhode Island figured out a way to highlight its seafood in the midst of a roll call for the Presidential nominee.  It was a cute exposure for the official state appetizer, for restaurants and for tourism.  It didn't cost much -- the expense of a plate of calamari -- but it gained millions of views and a social media storm of wit and appreciation.  Rhode Island might be the smallest state of the Union but it punches far above its weight.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Try, Try again. 

Uber and Lyft are dead set against California's new law classifying their drivers as employees.  They've gone to court and lost, and they are appealing.  Meanwhile, they have come up with Plan B to handle the fundamental marketing challenge, and they will put it into effect if the judges shoot them down.  They will franchise their drivers rather than use them as freelance contractors.  A franchise arrangement means each driver is running his or her own business, subject to rules spelled out in the agreement.  It would be no different than a fast-food store -- say, McDonald's.  Franchise agreements spell out in niggling detail how to operate and deal with customers.  If history is a guide, franchisees will put multiple cars on the street and build fleets over time with drivers being contractors.  The law, then, will need to determine if the franchisees are in breach.  Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft can go back to the business as they originally defined it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Too Soon 

A forecaster has predicted that Trump has only a 12 percent chance of winning the election and a three percent chance of getting a majority of voters.  It is too soon for Democrats to gloat and rest on their oars.  Rather, they should be spurred to pull harder and maintain the distance between Biden and Trump.  As one commentator put it last night, Biden has the lead of an incumbent and not one of a challenger.  But leads can disappear before election day, even if one wins a majority of voters.  This is what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Democrats are still smarting over that loss because they were convinced they had the election in the bag.  Trump could win another four years again if he takes battleground states.  Right now, it seems inconceivable that he could do it, but candidates have been in the same position before and come out on top.  Think Harry Truman.  In this strange COVID-19 season, anything could happen and maybe will.  

Monday, August 17, 2020

In The Crosshairs 

The US Postal Service is in the crosshairs of political and economic debate.  Everyone agrees the giant agency is a budgetary disaster and isn't competing well with Federal Express or United Parcel Service.  That's where unanimity stops.  Postal unions insist it is not a business but an essential service for citizens.  Congress should regularly pony up the money to keep it going.  The Trump administration's Postmaster General wants to run it like an enterprise and stop the bleeding.  The USPS should at least break even.  Both sides have meritorious arguments but they are lost in an election year fraught with COVID-19 worries.  The USPS has been retiring letter sorting machines because first-class mail has plummeted in the internet age.  Unfortunately, those machines are needed to process voting by mail, which more states are doing in response to the pandemic.  Republicans are on the back foot PR-wise in this debate.  The Donkeys are charging the Elephants are sabotaging the upcoming presidential election, and they might be if the Postmaster General gets his way.  Would the heat have been the same in a non-election year?  Probably not.  The USPS is slowly moving toward a package service as its market shifts, but it must continue to deliver first-class mail unlike its competitors.  There are no good answers to its dilemma but in this election, it should concentrate on ballot delivery.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Serial Lies 

Some people are pathological liars.  They cannot recognize facts nor want to, and they make up stories as they go along.  Sometimes they keep them straight, sometimes not.  This fellow is a pathological liar.  He has spent years in office lying whenever it suits him.  Strangely, there is a minority of the American public who believe him and condemn attacks on his lack of truthfulness.  It is a curious position to be in.  The majority of citizens have caught on to his prevarications and are infuriated.  Those who continue to support him are equally stalwart.  From a PR perspective, Trump is toast and should go down to defeat come November, but it is too early to make a projection.  He might lie his way out of harm once again.  Historians 20 years from now will have their hands full sorting truth from fiction.  The biggest question of all for them will be how a pathological liar became President.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Sound Of Silence 

When Presidential candidate Joe Biden formally introduced his VP-candidate Kamala Harris yesterday afternoon, the room was deathly silent as they spoke.  The energy of an audience was missing and the media, the only ones there, couldn't applaud.  This is a severe penalty of the COVID era and a marketing challenge.  How do you project the excitement of the party faithful and the electorate when they are watching from home?  In spite of the lockdown, Biden and Harris might be forced into some crowded venues to give their campaign speeches.  The internet is good but the two of them need visceral feedback.  They need to know their views are going over with the electorate.  They need to build a body of believers and volunteers who will bring voters along with them.  Trump has few inhibitions, and he will attend rallies if he can get away with it.  By doing the right thing, Biden and Harris might be disadvantaging themselves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Uncounted, Unmourned 

There is an estimate that tens of thousands of small businesses are closing their doors without going bankrupt.  Nobody knows how many because there is no record of them in the courts.  One can only guess.  They are uncounted and unmourned.  It is a reminder that data drives the economy and much of what we do.  In marketing and PR, numbers are at the heart of decisions and messages.  If we can't count, we have a weak communication that will fail more often than it succeeds.  The nation will learn slowly, if at all, how damaging the pandemic has been.  That will come from samples of empty storefronts that will be surveyed eventually by either the government or research entities.  No one will ever know an exact number, and that's a pity.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Sometimes to preserve reputation, a company needs to get tough and make a spectacle out of an employee.  That is what McDonald's is doing by suing its ex-CEO for sexual indiscretions and employee relationships.  Ousting him was not enough.  Now, McDonald's wants back severance payments and millions in other compensation.  That's the least it can do.  The current CEO made clear to the company that sexual harassment and misconduct has no place in its ranks, whether at the bottom or at the top.  Making an example of the ex-CEO is a way of communicating internally and externally that the company is serious and protective of its image.  It is a hard part of PR but essential.

Monday, August 10, 2020


This story is a prime example of culture and why it takes time to reconcile opposed ways of working.  NASA, cautious and bureaucratic, and SpaceX, entrepreneurial and bold, required years of working together in the trenches to iron out their differences.  The first commercial passenger flight to the International Space Station wouldn't have happened had not Boeing, NASA's preferred contractor, not run into trouble.  Employee communications, newsletters, town halls and meetings meant little in the end.  It took teams of engineers meeting, hashing out disagreements, giving a little, taking a little, finding a path forward.  SpaceX today is a mature manufacturer and launcher of powerful rockets that take man into space and soon, to the moon with an eye toward Mars.  It has won its spurs and is a vital part of America's space program, but it wouldn't have gotten there had not two cultures found ways to work effectively.

Friday, August 07, 2020


If true, the National Rifle Association is rife with arrogance. A lawsuit has to go to court but it describes an organization that has lost touch and engaged in boodle for the enrichment of its executives.  As a not-for-profit, the NRA has a responsibility to spend money for the benefit of its members.  If it doesn't, it is corrupt, which is what the New York attorney general alleges.  The NRA has countersued already claiming the AG is assaulting Second Amendment rights.  It has wrapped itself in the Constitution.  The battle between the two is bound to be pugnacious. The NRA is ferocious and takes no prisoners.  Whatever the outcome, it is bound to be prolonged and bad PR for the organization.  Its dirty laundry will be aired in the media, which is only too ready to expose the organization and its longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre.  Sit back and enjoy the show.  

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Grim Remembrance 

It has been 75 years since Hiroshima was obliterated by a single atomic bomb.  In spite of the COVID-19 threat, city authorities held ceremonies to remember.  The use of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a permanent stain on America's reputation.  In defense of President Truman, he did not understand the power or after-effects of fission.  He probably did not know what it was.  What he did grasp was the enormity of the predicted casualties if the US invaded Japan.  He didn't want that.  America was tired of war on fronts around the globe.  So he gave the go-ahead to drop them.  We know now in retrospect how tragic that decision was.  Today nuclear weapons are deterrents -- threats but not to be used except in the worst of circumstances.  Armageddon.  We don't need the stockpile of nukes we have.  It can destroy a country and its people several times over. But we face nuclear proliferation among nations that are less restricted than the US.  We can't get rid of this scourge.  We're stuck with it.  

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Political Marketing 

The Trump campaign is relying on traditional door-knocking to get out the vote in November.  The Biden campaign isn't.  Biden's people are relying on phone banks, email and social media.  If Biden wins, he might change the course of political marketing.  If he doesn't, campaigners may well return to tried-and-true methods.  It's a risk for Biden not to have a robust field staff, but then, he doesn't have the money Trump has collected.  Biden is hoping Trump's mishandling of the pandemic will make the difference, but he can't count on that.  The disease might well be under control by the time voters go to the polls or mark their mail-in ballots.  It's hard for a challenger to go against an incumbent, even if the incumbent has handled the job poorly.   Biden needs all the help he can get.                  

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Good PR 

Delta Airlines means it when it says all passengers must wear masks.  It will turn a plane around when customers refuse to comply and kick them off of the plane.  While this might not seem to be a PR move, it is.  Delta is watching out for the other people on the plane who comply with its rules.  Its rigor is keeping a bargain with customers that they will fly safely without having to worry about COVID-19.  The company also is protecting itself and its flight crews.  It could get sued if it lets passengers get away without wearing a mask, and someone comes down with the virus.  Its standard is for the public and for itself. That is good PR.  

Monday, August 03, 2020

Historic PR 

Since PR is what you do, this is an historic example of it.  SpaceX completed safely the first commercial flight of astronauts to the space station and to a splashdown off the Florida coast.  SpaceX can now say with authority it is in the manned space business, and it will undertake operations on behalf of NASA into the future.  Many things could have gone wrong in the fiery travel back to earth.  None did.  Reentry was by the book except for an audience of small civilian craft gathered at the splashdown site.  The astronauts were comfortable throughout and all smiles when they exited the hatch.  Elon Musk, the owner of SpaceX, could breathe again, which he had trouble doing throughout the operation.  He of all people was intensely aware of why might go bad.  Musk is a high-profile entrepreneur and he has plenty to boast about now.  No one can begrudge him that.

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