Friday, January 29, 2021
Scientists are well aware of human psychology bending results to fit beliefs. It is subtle and unconscious twisting of perception. So, they go to extreme lengths to keep data clean until the end of an experiment. This is why a muon experiment at Fermilab in Illinois has taken on a "cloak and dagger" aura with a secret about results vested in only a few people. If scientists must be so strict, what about the rest of us? Do we reach conclusions too easily based on assumptions and prejudices? Certainly, we do, which should be a call for humility in communications. We don't know all the facts in daily events of our lives, so writing and speaking about them should use hedging. "We think this is so. It appears to be..." Some communicators prefer to be absolute and without doubt. They are often wrong and their credibility suffers. We just had a president who bent facts to suit his views and was daily enmeshed in misinformation and lies. He carried millions with him in his certitude, but he has been impeached twice, and the majority of voters want nothing more to do with him. A dose of humility would have done him good.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Retail investors worldwide have pushed the stock price of Gamestop to frothy heights, which can't be sustained in the long run. Hedge funds that shorted the stock are taking huge losses. Little guys are bleeding Wall Street insiders. This is going to end badly, however, and plenty of investors are going to be hurt. The real questions are how such fads get started and how they are sustained in the face of reality. This is a case study for communicators who want to reach media targets but do not want to spark a craze of stupid action. The frenzy apparently started on a Reddit community, r/WallStreetBets, and branched out from there. Gamestop, if it has any ethical sense, should try to stop the wild speculation before too many get hurt. It is a time for the company to speak out. Will it?
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Senate Republicans backed a failed effort to stop the Trump impeachment trial. Will voters remember that in 2022, or will it be one more action in Congress they forget? Much of politics has the mantra, "What have you done for me lately?" Voters care less about political maneuvers and more about their pocketbooks. Barring Trump from ever again holding office is an issue that can recede from awareness quickly -- or so Republicans hope. The vote did reveal an answer to a potential conviction. It won't happen. Too many Republican Senators aren't willing to cross the aisle and vote against the ex-President. They are worried about their constituencies rebelling against them. Their votes, in other words, are pragmatic and not ethical. Power trumps morals any day. (Pun intended.)
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Predictions for ice melting around the globe have been too conservative according to recent studies. This is directly affecting sea-level rise and putting coastal areas of the globe in danger. The question one should ask is how to convince the billions of inhabitants on this earth that ice melting is a problem that requires immediate action. In the US, there are still tens of millions of citizens who deny global warming or think it is of little merit in their everyday lives. The Biden administration is making it a priority but that is still a feeble attempt to move forward compared to the massive size of the problem. There needs to be a major and continuous publicity campaign to alert Americans and lobby for change in energy consumption from a carbon-based economy to wind, solar and other forms. It is unlikely we will get anything like it, and that is unfortunate.
Monday, January 25, 2021
Trump supporters among the media are now faced with regaining access to the White House briefing room. The shoe is on the other foot. They had all the access they wanted a week ago. The White House Correspondent's Association and Biden's press secretary are now the filters for media passes. While they say they will honor the requests of MAGA media, they are insistent they will not host reporters who spout conspiracy theories and misinformation. It is a tricky situation because so many of the Trump-oriented media regularly spouted falsehoods and lies, including questioning whether Biden had won the election. From a public relations perspective, Biden's communications efforts will not gain credence with correspondents badgering and baiting the spokeswoman at daily press briefings. There needs to be respect on both sides, and Trump media rarely showed it. Still, freezing them out won't work either because it will open the Biden White House to charges of favoritism. So, the White House will need to let some reporters in and hope they behave -- a risky situation -- but there is little else they can do.
Friday, January 22, 2021
The power of publicity has been demonstrated with Senator Bernie Sanders' mittens. The woman who knitted them has been deluged with requests for a pair. That's because Sanders has been wearing them publicly in high-profile places, such as the inauguration of President Biden. People like what they saw on his hands and want to be associated with the person wearing them. Sadly, the Vermont school teacher who made them has none to sell. The mittens were a one-off gift to the Senator two years ago.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Radical extremists who saw former President Trump as their leader are casting about for what to do next. He left office without any of their violent predictions coming true. They are starting to turn on themselves. If one can't support every jot and tittle of their beliefs, he is cast out. That Trump proved somewhat gracious in the end is more than they can bear. He was to be their savior of the world and of the democracy. They are not conservatives. They are domestic terrorists who had their four-hour moment in public consciousness and now will recede in citizen concern unless they provoke violence against the President and Vice President. They are not members of our society. They are destructors of it with conspiracy theories and falsehoods. They are beyond the reach of persuasion and messages of fact and truth. They are an ugly sore, filled with pus, that needs to be expunged. There is no reasoning with them and they are a threat to unity.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
This video sums Trump's accomplishments during four years in the White House. It's a dismal record but the reporting is biased. Trump did do some positive things, although it is difficult to remember what they are. It is safe to say at this time that Trump will go down as our worst President. That is something since America has had a number of lousy leaders. Trump failed to wreck completely the US' standing in the world, but he went a good distance in harming it and Biden will have to work hard to restore trust. To succeed, Biden will need to be himself -- a down-to-earth politician with his fingers on the pulse of citizens. He can't afford to get swept up in intrigue and backstabbing that runs below the surface of DC. He must be above all that and be a figure of unity to all -- his stated intention. Commentators are at odds over whether he can do it. Only time will tell if his message convinces disaffected citizens.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Few expect a grandiloquent speech from President-elect Biden tomorrow. He is not that kind of person. But, this opinion piece argues that words mean little anyway. It's what Biden does that will make the difference. And, what he focuses on in his first days needs to be COVID vaccinations and the economy. This is as it should be. PR is what you do and less what you say. If Biden takes action quickly and moves laws through Congress, he will burnish his image with even disaffected voters. Others can then praise him. Others with more credibility than Biden alone has. It was grating to listen to President Trump boasting that he was one of the finest leaders to occupy the White House. His self-praise highlighted his shortcomings. If Biden is a doer, then even modest claims for himself will have force. We need a humble President after four years of turmoil.
Monday, January 18, 2021
There has been a COVID super-spreader event in a San Jose, CA hospital belonging to the healthcare chain, Kaiser Permanente. Ninety people were infected and one died. The cause was apparently an employee who wore an inflatable costume to cheer up patients. A fan in the costume blew micro-droplets around the wards. To make matters worse, the virus is a mutated form of the disease, which is highly contagious. It is a PR gaffe for the hospital and for Kaiser Permanente overall. Healthcare providers want to cure disease and not cause it. The hospital can claim it didn't know the variant was in the building, but that is too little, too late. It should have known and the employee who wore the costume should have been tested before getting access to patients and others. There are more questions now than answers, and there is need for an in-depth investigation into how it happened.
Friday, January 15, 2021
Investors in social media companies have asked for greater content control in light of the Capitol riot and to reduce the threat of violence during Biden's inauguration. This is pressure that can move corporations to take action. Twitter and Facebook have already banned the President from commenting but investors want to see more prohibitions such as blocking hashtags like #stopthesteal. Ordinarily such control would be suspect in light of First Amendment rights, but this is no ordinary time. There was violence that directly resulted from speech, and there is "clear and present danger." The Capitol has become an isolated island surrounded by fencing and guarded by thousands of soldiers to prevent another insurrection. This supports the call from investors for a deeper screening of content. The danger will pass eventually and social media might relax their standards, but for the foreseeable future, close vetting is warranted.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
President Trump is largely alone in the Oval Office. Subordinates and friends have abandoned him after the Capitol Hill assault. They are looking out for themselves or are morally convinced that what happened was sparked by the President and was insurrection. Trump, like King Lear, is left with anger and rage and no one to voice it to. The debacle that he instigated will go down in the country's history as will his double impeachment. There is little he can do once he leaves office to turn around the public's dismissal of him. Yes, he does have millions of supporters left, but those opposed to him are larger in number and voting power. And, there has been some erosion of allegiance since the riot. He depended on the big lie to communicate to his supporters, and it blew up. He deserves his isolation, but he doesn't understand that. Fortunately for him, there are only a few days left of his Presidency, and he can sink out of sight for awhile and ponder what he needs to do. Contrition might be a good place to start but he appears to be beyond that.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Auto manufacturers try to predict the future with concept cars, no matter how rarely they come to production. It is a silly exercise but for the fact it reaps publicity. Here is one that is outlandish -- a VTOL Cadillac. It ignores the practicality of transportation, dismisses the need for air regulation to prevent collision and proves no need for such a system. Yet, here I am writing about it, so General Motors must know something in the publicity realm. Futurists are rarely correct. They extrapolate from the present and from developing technologies but they don't know the path of society and commerce. That is why futurism is so often wrong. We don't know what will happen tomorrow, much less five years from now. Like some automakers, GM would reap more credible attention if it concentrated on technologies to be introduced in a year or two. "This feature will be standard in model year X." At least it would be believable.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Disneyland in Anaheim, CA has stepped up to offer its site for mass COVID-19 vaccinations. That's smart PR. The company has gained kudos for acting on behalf of the public and eventually, its business will return as vaccinated adults and children come again to its entertainment and rides. The company knows its self-interest is also in the public's interest. This is a norm for consumer-oriented companies, but too often, some forget and act against customers they serve. Disney is a role model in standing by principles and worth imitating.
Monday, January 11, 2021
As hard as Facebook and Twitter have tried to remain something other than publishers with liability for content, regulation is coming. The European Union took notice of their ending of Trump's privileges since inciting mob action in Washington DC. To the EU, that was the action of publishers and hence, the two services should remain responsible for what appears on their sites. What this means to Facebook and Twitter is an editorial process to vet every statement that appears -- tens of thousands a day. It would be a ruinous expense requiring a combination of technology and human intervention. The two services have some of that already, but the imposition of liability could put the editing function on steroids. It would also reduce competition since other online services could hardly afford to do it. However, it is near certain that Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act is on its way and along with it, their protection for free speech.
Friday, January 08, 2021
Elon Musk has just passed Jeff Bezos to become the richest person with a net worth of $185 billion. That is unimaginable wealth and puts to shame the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Rockefellers and Astors of the 19th Century. The question now is what is he going to do with it. There is a tradition in America of giving back after one builds wealth. It is what Bill and Melinda Gates are doing along with others who have pledged to donate their money to good causes. Philanthropy is a good PR strategy to dampen criticism. It helps people forget how the .5% made their dollars. Gates, for one, was known for a fierce competitiveness that lashed his employees forward. Musk has his own quirks as does Bezos. The gulf between the super-rich and the poor is so wide it is nearly incalculable. Look for the Federal government to get involved with taxation to reduce inequity, but even with that, the richest face a question of how they want to be best remembered.
Thursday, January 07, 2021
That is the message Mick Mulvaney delivered after a mob stormed the capitol yesterday. Mulvaney, Trump's former chief of staff, resigned his post as special U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland. He was not alone. Other Trump staffers quit at the same time. Sometimes situations call for extreme action -- removing oneself from a position of power because leaders and events have crossed the pale from injurious to evil. Mulvaney said Trump was a different person from eight months ago. But was he? Historians will examine that for decades to come. His incitement to riot yesterday morning and his lame attempt to call it off later in the day revealed a man out of touch with reality and consumed with self-regard. He never should have been voted into office. But millions heard his message and believed him and millions still support his spurious claim that he won the election. President-elect Biden will have to deal with this during his term and it won't be easy. Trump supporters reject facts and reason. They are beyond calm persuasion and the only barrier is the law executed firmly and rigorously. Trump deserves jail or an insane asylum for what he sparked. He is not likely to get either. That sends a message in itself.
Wednesday, January 06, 2021
It looks like both Democrats in Georgia have won Senate seats. That balances the chamber and gives Democrats effective control of both houses. It is also a slap in the face to President Trump whose coattails proved shorter than he estimated. The question is what now for President-elect Biden? He prides himself with working closely with legislators and across the aisle. Will his brand of communications work if Republicans remain obstinate in opposition? Only time will tell, but he has a golden period of cooperation for two years until the midterms, and he will need to make the most of it. One interpretation of the Georgia results is that citizens are sick of conspiracy theories and whining from the President. They want to move forward. If that is the case, they won't be patient for long and Biden knows that. First up will be addressing COVID vaccinations and $2000 checks to those out of work or earning modest incomes. The economy won't turn around overnight, but with careful messaging, Biden and Harris can raise the spirits of Americans again.
Tuesday, January 05, 2021
PR uses facts persuasively and avoids spin that bends facts to the point of lies. That is why this is a great PR for SpaceX in an otherwise devastating year of 2020. The company is firing on all cylinders with a proven business strategy that undercuts the industry's cost profile by millions of dollars with each launch. Few thought there could be a reusable booster to lift men and material into space before Elon Musk proved it could be done. The president and chief operating officer of the company called 2020 a "year of highlights" with one successful launch and return after another. She is also enthusiastic about the newest rocket, the Starship, which has only reached the upper atmosphere in testing to date. Her optimism is based on the company's continuing record of success and solid performance. It is easy to believe her with the record the company has. That's what PR should always be.
Monday, January 04, 2021
The Lieutenant Governor of Georgia has called Trump's plea to find votes to overturn the election results "inappropriate." Criminal is the more likely term. The President has no scruples and is self-interested to the point of insanity. Unluckily for him, the call was taped and appeared online and in newspapers. Democrats erupted in rage. Republicans are trying to ignore it. One wonders how Trump can keep millions of supporters with behavior like this. It should be a fatal mistake, but somehow he keeps millions in tow with his tweets on Twitter. From a PR perspective, it is a case study of how power can bamboozle the public and communications of falsehoods take on a patina of credibility. The Trump presidency will be studied in depth to understand how one man could bend so many rules of democracy and get away with it. It should be a warning to all not to take democracy for granted.
Friday, January 01, 2021
The Trump administration is in the midst of another PR debacle over the shortfall in vaccinations for COVID-19. It is millions of doses below its goal of 20 million jabs by the end of 2020. Its health officials should have known that a difficult logistics problem gears up slowly. Their plans could not account for a shortfall in medical personnel to give shots, for inadequate resources at the state level, for confusion and some corruption in prioritizing vaccinations. All these are real life intruding on even the best-made plans. Good leaders understand friction in implementing strategy and account for it. They do not over-promise, especially when a job is critical, because they do not want to instigate a PR letdown and compromise of their reputations. The communications strategy of the administration was flawed from the outset. Any neutral observer would have predicted the problems the nation is having.