Friday, October 30, 2020

Conflicting Messages 

 It is hard for  public health leaders in the US.  They repeat warnings about surviving COVID-19 while the President mocks the prophylactics of washing hands, wearing a mask and watching out for distancing from others.  Conflicting messages confuse citizens, especially those leaning toward ignoring the pandemic.  They point to Trump for support in going "naked."  Others who listen to the medical community are horrified.  Who is right?  Evidence points to the physicians.  COVID cases are up again across the US (as well as across Europe).  The severity of the disease doesn't appear as strong as it was.  Fewer are dying but more are coming down with it.  It is morally wrong for the White House to play down COVID publicly, but it is doing it anyway.  Such is propaganda in the 2020 campaign.

Thursday, October 29, 2020


 Three health officials in the Trump administration say anonymously that the President is pushing for herd immunity from COVID-19 even though it would increase illness and death.  If true, it would be the height of irresponsible leadership and an action that turns relations with the public against the public.  There is no way of knowing whether the statements are accurate, but given present and prior actions on the part of the White House, it is more likely than not.  As COVID cases rise, the President continues to say the country has turned the corner.  He holds rallies with hundreds who refuse to wear masks and socially distance.  He is an example of self-delusion.  One should not turn the public against itself.  Servant leadership takes the public's concerns into account and finds solutions for them.  In this case, the prophylactics are well known -- masks, distance and hand washing -- but the administration refuses to call for any of them.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Section 230 

 Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects Internet-based companies from claims they are throttling speech -- a common complaint from conservatives.  The heads of Google, Facebook and Twitter are now in front of Congress and defending the law.  There is a move to rescind it and to place web-based content creators under the aegis of regulation.  If so, it will be nearly the same move that happened to radio and TV decades ago when they were considered too big and influential in American conversation.  The CEOs need to make powerful statements to offset the prevailing mood they are out of control.  From a marketing perspective, they would be insane to tip the balance of speech one way or another.  It is too risky.  Still, they have a duty to monitor speech on their networks for false and defamatory content.  A complete hands-off position has not worked with the rise of propagandists and hate-mongers.  It's a tough position to be in and it reflects the universal reach of the internet.  There may well be new laws needed but what principles they should follow are still under discussion.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

PR Disaster 

 Southern California Edison has informed authorities that one of its high-voltage lines may have sparked a huge wildfire.  This comes after the utility in the northern part of the state, Pacific Gas and Electric shut off power to tens of thousands to prevent any further chances of igniting fast-moving blazes.  For both companies, fire has been a PR disaster and there seems to be few ways to prevent it.  Even with brush and tree cutting, there is no way to guarantee a line won't sag into combustible material or detach from an insulator and plummet to the ground.  It is costly to pay for hundreds of lost homes and businesses.  Shareholders are losers but so too are consumers who might have to rebuild, pay increased rates, experience power shutoffs and undergo evacuation when a fire rages.  Utilities used to be "widows and orphans" stocks -- safe dividend payers.  Not anymore and with climate change in full swing, their power generation and distribution are becoming liabilities.  

Monday, October 26, 2020

Coming Closer 

 A new report shows a vaccine in development provides yearly protection against COVID-19 in both younger and older adults.  It raises hopes for a guard against the disease sooner rather than later.  And yet, it is still not quick enough for billions of people under threat.  The proper PR move for AstraZeneca is to state clearly what is happening and what remains.  Beating the drums of promotion at this point is wrong.  There will be months before hundreds of millions of doses are ready and distributed internationally.  In that time, citizens will need to obey safety protocol -- wear masks, wash hands, socially distance -- and it will continue to be an irritant.  People want everyday life to return to a previous normal.  That it can't and won't for a long time is depressing.  But, that is reality, and there is no way to whitewash it.  

Friday, October 23, 2020


 Tesla is allowing its car owners to beta test its Full Self Driving automation software/hardware.  It's doing so with a warning that the package might fail at the worst time in the worst way.  This strikes one as inappropriate because drivers will ignore the caution and put their vehicles into harm's way.  Automakers generally do not introduce a new feature into their autos before relentless testing.  It is the path chosen by Waymo with its advanced driverless technologies.  Tesla is acting more like a software company -- putting the feature out there and seeing what happens.  Someone should tell Elon Musk that software might lock up a PC or laptop but faulty driverless automation might cost a life.  It is a dangerous marketing move and close to irresponsible.  Should Tesla reap bad PR, it will have deserved it.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Death Sentence 

 The price of public transgression for a corporation is death.  That, at least, is true for Purdue Pharma.  The company was a criminal enterprise addicting millions with its pill, OxyContin, before legal authorities brought it to justice.  The company is paying a multi-billion dollar fine, but the real penalty comes with its closure as a business and takeover by an entity that is not the Sackler family.  Why did it have to come to this?  Purdue ignored the public for far too long and asked no questions when it provided millions of pills to drug mills across the US.  It looked to the bottom line and not to the ethics of addiction.  It is a PR and marketing failure, destined to be a case study for years to come.  It is also a reminder that there is little need for drug gangs when the company itself is an evil-doer.  Justice caught up with Purdue.  How many other companies are next?  

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Et Tu, Papa?  

 The pope is setting a bad example by not wearing his mask when dealing with bishops and others.  His critics have pounced.  It is poor leadership they say, and a sin.  The pope has given no reason for why he dispensed with a mask after using one earlier in liturgical services and after applying Italy's COVID rules to the Vatican.  Without getting into religion, it is a bad example.  One wonders why a man who has taken great care to lead by his actions would suddenly abandon the basics of disease prophylactics, especially since he is working with one lung.  There is no good answer and it is bad PR.  One hopes the pontiff hears his critics and takes to mask wearing again.  He has scandalized his flock long enough.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020


Coca Cola is killing off a "zombie" brand -- the diet drink Tab.  Suddenly, fans have erupted from seeming nowhere and are bemoaning the coming death of the beverage on Dec. 31.  The company could ask where they were while Tab slid into obscurity.  One needs to be aware of nostalgia when making a product shift.  There will always be a crowd who wants things the way they were.  Coca Cola knows this better than just about any other corporation with its disaster of trying to change classic Coke.  Then, there was a nationwide eruption of protests and the company had to stumble back.  It is too early to know if Tab will face the same nostalgic support.  The company should be ready to act if protests become too great. What Coke is doing is basic strategy -- focusing on winners and getting rid of losers that suck money without adequate return. But, the nostalgic could care less.  There is the possibility of a PR crisis.

Monday, October 19, 2020

How Many Times?  

 How many times does a public health expert have to repeat the same message before the public listens and obeys?  Dr. Anthony Fauci is finding out.  He has preached about masking, social distancing and hand washing for months and still, millions of Americans refuse to do it.  Hence, the return of COVID-19 with new ferocity.  It should be a lesson to communicators that words themselves do not coerce action.  One can plead, cajole, persuade and get nowhere.  This was the case with smoking.  It required decades to turn the American public around and there are still millions addicted to nicotine.  The virus is new, not quite a year old, but its damage has been more visible in the economy than lighting up.  One would think citizens out of self-interest alone would abide by CDC guidelines.  There needs to be a national mandate enforced locally, but no such thing will come from the present administration.  A pity.  So many people did not have to die and businesses fail.  

Friday, October 16, 2020

Maybe Not. 

 The World Health Organization has released a study that concludes Remdesivir and anti-malarial drugs are ineffective in treatment of COVID-19.  That comes after politicians and others hailed them as potential cures.  Science can be disappointing but it is better than faux treatments given to suffering patients.  Quackery has never disappeared, and there are even legitimate physicians spouting about medicines that have never been tested.  Credibility for science is hard because there is a history of getting conclusions wrong before further study found a right path.  Science is evolutionary, but denying it without evidence is poor behavior.  The WHO study covered 11,000 patients.  To deny its conclusions would require another 11,000 or more who react positively to Remdesivir and anti-malarial medicines.  That, of course, takes time and suspension of one's conclusions until evidence is in. Charlatans refuse to do the work required.  They drum-beat their opinions and exploit the desperate sick.  One wishes it weren't so, but that is reality and there are fools taken in every moment.

Thursday, October 15, 2020


 NBC is being filleted by flack from journalists and others for putting President Trump's town hall at the same time as Biden's on ABC.  The network is defending its decision by claiming it wanted to give Trump equal time with Biden.  Critics are saying all NBC has done is ensure that fewer people will watch either candidate and it is diluting the impact of both events.  It is hard not to agree with the offended in this case.  Fairness doesn't dictate that one should upstage another but that both voices be heard.  NBC could well have chosen a different night or another time slot.  It decided not to do so.  The head of NBC's news division has some 'splaining to do.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Bad News, Good News 

 The seemingly bad news that two COVID vaccine trials have been put on hold is actually good news, or so say medical experts who do drug development.  They say no trial runs completely smoothly.  There is always a glitch that might be due to a new drug and might not, but a pharma company needs to investigate it before continuing a test.  Another good sign is that corporations are apparently not being influenced by political considerations.  The unfortunate outcome for politicians is that a vaccine will not be ready before election day and a general availability of the medication is months, if not years, away.   Pressure on big pharma is intense.  The public wants a cure or preventative NOW, and they want it to be safe.  However, there is distrust in the current political environment that a vaccine will be rushed and its downsides overlooked.  Stopping the trials temporarily assuages concern and provides greater credibility to the potency of any new drug.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Too Late? 

 Leon Black, the Apollo Global Management co-founder, is now telling investors he is deeply remorseful in having worked closely with convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein.  Epstein died in jail, apparently by his own hand, in August 2019.  One can reasonably ask why Black waited a year to express his sorrow, especially since he had extensive dealings with Epstein.   His letter to investors does not remove the black mark of close association.  It might have helped had he sent it months earlier, but he didn't.  Black professes to know nothing about Epstein's legacy of procurement of young women for prostitution, and there is a chance he didn't.   But, it is hard to believe he didn't sense something amiss.  It is a question that might never be answered even though Black says he will work closely with authorities investigating Epstein's actions.  Black's delay amounts to a stain on his reputation that might never come out.

Monday, October 12, 2020

I Didn't Say It 

 Nothing hurts a contention more than one of its supposed proponents disavowing it.  Consider, for example, Dr. Anthony Fauci going public with a statement that his words in a Trump-for-President TV ad were taken out of context.  Fauci has more credibility in matters of the coronavirus than Trump, and Fauci says he never supported the administration's statements about COVID-19.  In fact, Fauci says he has remained studiously apolitical over his decades of dealing with infectious diseases.  Where does that leave the administration?  They can try to bull through and claim Fauci did support them.  They can take down the ad.  They can apologize for misappropriating his remarks.  They almost certainly won't fess up to taking his words out of context and express sorrow for doing it.  This is no time for weakness, not with the President running behind.  But, it creates a credibility gap that is hard to cross, and it is bad PR.  That isn't the first time this administration has created its own trouble.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Too Little, Too Late? 

Waymo has announced it has launched its public, driver-less taxi service in Phoenix suburbs.  Is it too little, too late?  The company had first scheduled a launch for 2018 when interest in driver-less technologies were still at a high.  But, then reality set in and one company after another delayed or backed out.  The truth is no technology yet is completely without a human driver or monitor -- not even Waymo.  There are too many variables for software and hardware.  Waymo, to its credit, has been more cautious about touting the technology as it labored to solve glitches in the system.  Other companies have made a publicity splash but have not produced.  Tesla's system has been proven faulty in a series of high-profile crashes.  Waymo has giant leaps yet to make -- for example, how to make the technology work in snow and fog.  Staying in the desert has let the company get rid of pesky variables but the vast territory of the US is not sand and cactus.  Driver-less technology appears to be 10 years away, and perhaps forever.

Thursday, October 08, 2020


 When computer cloud services become essential, any failure is a sensitive PR issue for the providers.  Consider Microsoft's cloud service outages for the past week.  Those dependent on the software company can't do something else while it wrangles its wide area network over changes that have gone bad.  The internet has become central to the workings of business and individuals.  It is no longer a good thing but a necessary and fundamental tool.  Hence, cloud-service companies like Microsoft and Amazon have the onus of maintaining uptime close to 100 percent.  It would not be surprising if regulators place rules on cloud providers that stipulate service terms.  As the Microsoft outages reveal, it is difficult to know what changes to software and hardware will go bad.  It is far more complicated than an electrical distribution system, but that is no excuse, or won't be before long.  

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Fight Is On 

 Congress is after the big four of tech -- Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.  A new report of 450 pages proposes to break them up because they have monopoly power.  This means the quartet has no time to lose in explaining to the public and Congress how they are beneficial and a service to society as they are.  It might be a futile quest but the companies could well block action against them for years.  It will take millions in lobbying, PR and publicity, and even that might not be enough.  The four-some might have to willingly cede some market power to preserve the bulk of it -- e.g., abstaining from acquisitions, opening their systems more to outsiders, protecting the public better from predators and conspiracy theorists.  The battle will be epic in scale and will certainly involve the courts at multiple levels.  Not since the prolonged Microsoft battle of the 1980s will technology see more angling for advantage and ground-pounding efforts to build public support.  It will be fascinating to watch.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Telling It Like It is 

 Boeing released a dour and downbeat report for the sale of new airplanes over the next decade, and it attributes the shortfall to COVID.  The company is telling it like it is to the best of its ability at this juncture of the disease and plummeting passenger travel.  Would that the White House were so honest with the American people.  Boeing has a regulatory obligation to warn the public of risks and changes in its growth outlook.  The Presidency has no such duty, other than moral, and ethics aren't his strong suit.  Boeing's employees are forewarned about the next ten years.  Investors are prepared to treat Boeing's stock appropriately.  The public at large understands what will happen in the airline business.  It is better to know than not:  One can adjust.  Public relations depends on telling the truth, even when facts are horrible.  One wishes politicians would learn that lesson.

Monday, October 05, 2020


 A Walter Reed physician has accused President Trump of an insane act for taking a car ride while still positive for COVID.  Others have cited "toxic masculinity" for the reason Trump did it.  It is clear the President is going to boast of beating the virus when he is released from the hospital.  There won't be much mention of treatments he received or the special care leaders of the country get.  Trump must have thought that exposing himself to supporters was a worthy publicity stunt.  It was for the minority who have stayed with him through thick and thin, but they aren't enough to get him back to the White House.  Still, Trump has an innate sense of how to manage his popularity with his base and he is using it.  Even after the elections, if he should lose, he will appeal to supporters for help in staying in the oval office.  The man has no sense of propriety and no shame, but he does know how to use power to his advantage.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Hard Core 

 Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, has denied responsibility for the poisoning of dissident Alexei Navalny.  Putin can get away with that because there is no free press in the country to call him to account.  And, as a dictator with the army under his control, he squelches protestors at will.  China is doing the same in Hong Kong and Maduro in Venezuela.  Dictators don't worry about PR as long as they are ruthless enough to use their armies to put down critics.  Democracy is easily broken.  Hard core rulers ignore it and get their way.  It is only when a state has descended into chaos that the will of the people can be heard.  There is little evidence of that happening around the world now.  Even the US is teetering with the President refusing to abide by election results if they don't go his way.  Voting is essential but is not absolute.  Dictators manipulate ballot boxes to their advantage.  Democracy requires honest listening to the public and willingness to abide by its decisions.  We need more of it.  

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Putting The Money Out 

 Google is salving its relations with news publishers by announcing it will pay $1 billion over the next three years for content.  Putting money on the table is a marketing and PR gesture that commands attention.  It is a public statement that the search giant is not trying to take away business from content publishers.  Still, there are skeptics.  Google is so massive it commands attention for whatever it does.  There are Google "haters" in key regulatory positions the world over who want to break up the near monopoly.  Google can't afford to be arrogant, not if it wants to preserve its business for the long-term.  Maybe this billion-dollar deal will quiet the critics for a time.  Maybe it won't.  But it is a better position from which to defend oneself than before.  

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