Friday, April 30, 2021


Elon Musk in a tweet has admitted that autopilot driving isn't ready for the world even though it is built into Teslas.  His statement, needlessly complex, places blame on highway and road constructors, but as the article points out, autopilot needs to adapt to the world that is and not the world Musk wants.  The admission is a PR blow to his technology and one wonders why he continues to include it in his vehicles, since it is so dangerous. He should have been as cautious as Waymo, which has spent more than a decade hammering down driving glitches one by one.  He wasn't and people have died while using his system.  The reputation for AutoPilot has suffered greatly and Musk is to blame with his not-ready-for-prime-time technology.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Gutting It Out 

Highly visible persons have a choice when charged with scandal  -- recede from view or gut it out.  Damage to reputation is done already.  The question is whether to risk more as ugly news plays out.  Some politicians have decided to stay in place despite allegations -- e.g., Boris Johnson, prime minister of Britain,  Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York and Gavin Newsom, Governor of California.  There are many more that can be added. They reason that bad times will blow over, and they just might.  On the other hand, they might not and their time in the public eye will come crashing down.  There is no rule for how to handle this kind of crisis.  Each is unique.  It is a measure of the person's ambition whether he stays the course or not.  There isn't much a communicator can do except to dig for facts and to emphasize them if they are favorable.  However, it is typical in such situations that the truth is murky.  Hence, the scandal feeds on itself and there is little one can do.  

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Serving The Customer? 

Netflix is rolling out a new app that is supposed to help one find entertainment when the person doesn't know what to watch.  It is called "Play Something."  One hopes it will be successful but personal experience warns it is likely not to be useful.  Such affinity software is based on prior viewing, but it doesn't take into account that people cherry-pick what to watch based on reviews and recommendations.  They might pick up a highly rated show but never return to the genre again.  "Play Something" would then bombard them with suggestions about series in which they have no interest.  It becomes an irritant rather than customer service.  One wants the Netflix algorithm to take that into account, but don't bet on it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Ratings Disaster 

 Hollywood's reputation for putting on a show took a drubbing at this year's Oscars when less than 10 million tuned in compared to last year's 23.6 million.  Critics pointed to a lack of popular movies which heighten interest.  Those who watched the show were stultified by  nattering presenters and interminable thank-yous from recipients.  There wasn't much to get excited about.  The disaster was expected because theaters were closed for the year and films were streamed on TV.  Many viewers had not seen any of the works up for awards.  Still, boredom set in from self-congratulatory drivel that emanated from the screen.  I watched for an hour then went to bed.  The 60 minutes was a waste.  Maybe it is time for the show to recede into has-been status.  It was for its time the biggest publicity event coming from Hollywood and a giant PR exercise. It no longer works.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Beating A Dead Horse 

The Arizona election "audit" is beating a dead horse and a stain on the reputation of the state's GOP.  Republicans have turned over the recount to a propagator of conspiracy theories with no experience in toting ballots.  He is going to find that Biden lost the election in the state but it won't make a difference.  He has no credibility, and it is too late to overturn the results.  Biden is president and will remain.  One wonders why a political party can be so dumb about PR and reputation.  It has lost touch with reality and is continuing to fight after losing the battle and the war.  There isn't much one can do about the GOP pols other than to vote them out of office.  Meanwhile, citizens of Arizona have to watch the daily mocking of democracy until the "audit" is finished.  They have become a laughingstock among states and an embarrassment.  Arizona's statehouse needs cleaning.  

Friday, April 23, 2021

Killing Reputation  

 JP Morgan says it misjudged the appeal of the proposed European Super League -- an idea that collapsed in two days after its announcement.  Football fans, politicians and even royalty were outraged and bombarded the media.  Eight of the 12 teams bolted for the exit and the marketing plan went into the toilet.  JP Morgan has learned how to kill one's reputation. It was the only bank that had agreed to fund the new venture and it found itself the target of anger and calls for boycott.  The bank has said it will learn from this but will it?  The article plunges the knife deeper into the company by quoting its CEO, Jamie Dimon, who has called for banks to consider a wide swathe of society in their endeavors.  Apparently, no one took the temperature of soccer fans before giving a $4.2 billion grant to the 12 clubs.  It was a dumb move in retrospect and the bank will have to live with it.  

Thursday, April 22, 2021

We're Doing Great, but for... 

Credit Suisse has issued a report on its earnings that invites whiplash. The bank has lost hundreds of millions due to the collapse of the Archegos' hedge fund.  Yet the CEO said this was "one of our best quarters in the history of Credit Suisse. Definitely the best quarter in the last 10 years.  He was trying to offset the catastrophic loss by pointing to the success of other divisions.  It didn't work: The stock dropped anyway.  It would have been better communications had he focused on the issue -- unacceptable risk that the investment banking took on.  His words were whistling in the dark, and Wall Street wasn't fooled.  It is poor PR to try to avoid facts.  Yes, the CEO talked about the loss and the change in management because of it, but he should have stopped there.  The bank's strength will show eventually but not before it chokes down the huge losses it incurred.  PR isn't putting lipstick on a pig.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Self Defense 

 Auto driving data, such as that used by Tesla, is proving powerful in self defense.  After a crash in Houston that killed two occupants of a Model S, neither according to authorities in the driver's seat, Elon Musk has tweeted that data logs for the vehicle showed the autopilot wasn't turned on.  If so, Houston authorities have a puzzle to piece together of how a vehicle was driving at high speed with no one behind the wheel.  Tesla, on the other hand, has a strong position as long as the cellular connection to the vehicle was operating properly.  This is important to the company because it has staked itself deeply into self-driving technology, and each failure opens the door for regulators to investigate and impose sanctions.  Tesla's data logs on each of its vehicles are strong facts for PR and government relations.  The company can legitimately help recreate the cause of an accident by knowing what a driver and car were doing up to a collision. The logs can save Tesla hundreds of millions in punitive damages.  

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Do Over?  

 The union that tried to organize an Amazon facility in Alabama is asking for a do-over of the failed vote.  It alleges that Amazon pressured workers to say no. Whether the National Labor Relations Board decides in the union's favor will partially depend on Amazon's reputation for managing employees.  If horror stories about the company are true or have a ring of validity, there is a good chance the NLRB will call for another election.  If not, the negative vote for the union, widely watched in the US, will go down as the major defeat it was.  In Amazon's defense, it pays more than minimum wage and it provides medical benefits.  In return, it expects its labor force to work hard to keep up with package flow -- perhaps, too hard.  It won't be the last of labor organizing at the company, and Amazon will need to manage carefully to prevent employee uprisings.  The company has been warned.  

Monday, April 19, 2021

Another PR Coup 

 NASA's Mars helicopter has just completed its first flight on the planet.  It is a breakthrough moment for exploration and similar to the Wright brother's first flight in their wood and canvas plane.  It is also a PR coup.  PR is what you do and are rather than what you say about yourself.  NASA and JPL have smashed one record after another in Mar's exploration and the flight just adds to the lengthy list of firsts.  At this rate, there is no hurry to get man to the planet, especially since it will be so difficult to do.  Someday, earthlings will walk on Mars but perhaps not in my lifetime.  Meanwhile, robotic rovers and helicopters can return terabytes of information about the planet.  We will get to know Mars as well as we know the moon, and if all works right, we will have Martian soil on earth in a few years when another rover will pick up vials of dirt from the surface and return them to earth.  Kudos to NASA and JPL once again.  

Friday, April 16, 2021

Split Message 

The Republican party is split between pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions.  So far, the pro-Trump wing is winning the money race, but the split message can't be good for the 2022 elections.  Parties win when they have a unified voice that appeals to the American public.  Fracturing their message puts them in electoral limbo.  The challenge for Republicans is that Trump is not going away anytime soon, unless he is convicted of fraud for tax evasion.  That means rank and file politicos do obeisance to him at Mar-a-Lago and wrap themselves in conspiracy messages, such as the election being stolen from Trump.  The question is whether the majority of citizen voters in the US buy those messages or whether time and the actions of the Biden administration have convinced them otherwise.  Whatever the outcome of the midterms, it will be interesting to see how Republicans fare.   

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Altogether Now 

Big business is seeking a unified, market-based strategy on climate control. It is turning to government to get the job done.  CEOs realize some actions are beyond the scope of individual corporations.  When that happens, they plead for regulation.  It is a rebuke of capitalism that would see government out of markets altogether.  As much as corporate leaders bridle against the regulatory control, they recognize that markets are unfair.  It takes a guiding hand of bureaucrats to even the playing surface.  Communicators should remember that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Psychological Warfare 

China is conducting psychological warfare against Taiwan.  It is sending fighters and ships into Taiwan's security zone and calling their intrusions "combat drills."   China has made it clear that Taiwan is Chinese and not an independent country.  Short of invading the island, China is doing everything it can to ratchet pressure on Taiwan's government and citizens.  It is regrettable but there is nothing Taiwan's allies can or will do.  China is simply too strong to fight against on an island close to its shores.  So, China acts with impunity and without regrets.  It cares not at all that it is becoming a pariah in the eyes of the world.  It justifies its actions and moves on.  There is no communication that can bridge the gap between China and the West.  The country has become a manufacturing empire and the US relies on it whether it likes it or not.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Caught In The Middle 

 Michigan's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, is in an uncomfortable public position of being caught in the middle between the White House and her citizens.  COVID is raging in her state but she isn't willing to shut it down again after earlier closures.  She is begging the White House to send her more vaccine so the state can inoculate citizens faster.  The White House and CDC have said no.  There is no favoritism in vaccine distribution and anyway, it takes two weeks and more for the medicine to take effect.  Meanwhile, Republicans in Michigan are hammering her over the whole issue.  The irony of the situation is that President Biden is/was a friend who had considered her for a running mate in the 2020 election.  It is a PR disaster for the governor and potentially one for Biden as well.  Should Biden relent and ship her more jabs, the other 49 states will demand an additional share.  Should the governor shut down again, she risks alienating her citizens at a critical time.  No one wins in this situation, and one can only hope time will rectify the situation.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Interesting Media Strategy 

White House communications strategists have hit upon an interesting media strategy.  Use the President sparsely.  He is trotted out now and again for media questions but for the most part, he is away from the press.  He is relying on cabinet members to meet and talk to journalists.  This is the exact opposite of President Trump's all media all the time approach, which caused outrage regularly.  Why keep Biden in the Oval Office?  It shows the American public he is working, and silence is golden.  This is a risky approach admittedly.  Citizens want to hear from their leaders.  Biden's media advisers are also protecting him from himself.  Biden is a noted gaffe-machine who misspeaks regularly.  It saves time in walking back his remarks by not letting him make them in the first place.  The nation doesn't need another liar-in-chief.  The question remains whether the absence of the President will work.  Time will tell.  

Friday, April 09, 2021

Idle Boast 

 A partner of Elon Musk has tweeted that he could create modern dinosaurs if he wished in 10 or 15 years.  The fellow is a neuroscientist and not a biologist.  Maybe he could but it is far from clear that technology has progressed to that point.  Rather his communication strikes one as an idle boast and a bit of hubris.  "Science can do anything it wants."  Working with living organisms still has unknowns, and some of those might be beyond the reach of a laboratory.  The challenge is that we don't know without trying, and there are social and ethical limits to what a scientist should do.  We learned from building the atom bomb that some technologies are not a benefit to the world but once leashed cannot be put back in the bottle again.  The only prospect is containment and mutual agreement not unleash its power.  Constructing a dinosaur might not harm humanity but how would we know?  At best it would be a sideshow curiosity and there are other urgent problems to tackle in the world.  

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Down The Middle 

The Augusta National Golf Club chairman has hit an issue straight down the fairway, bending neither right nor left.  This was the result of his comments on the new Georgia voting law.  He affirmed the right to vote but he did not comment on the law.  He also rejected calls for moving the Masters tournament out of Georgia.  Predictably, both liberals and conservatives are unhappy with him.  But, what could he do?  The Masters is linked inextricably with the Augusta golf course. There is no way to move it.  Stepping into the middle of the controversy with vocal opposition to the Georgia law could upset members of the club whose annual dues keep it going.  So, he chose a high-level position and expressed optimism that there are ways to work out difficulties.  One can read his words either way -- in support of or against the new law.  It's an example of Delphic communications, and probably the best he can do at this time.   

Wednesday, April 07, 2021


 As this amusing compilation of interviews demonstrates, tech startups aren't free from clichés.  They are all doing the same things for employees but boasting about them as if they are unique.  They are aping one another and conforming to unwritten rules for launching companies.  Yet, they want to be one-of-a-kind and to succeed.  One wonders what would happen if a start-up didn't supply collaborative workspace, open offices, beer on tap, a pingpong table, a game room.  Would the fledgling company have recruitment problems, or would it find talented engineers anyway?  The clichés are checkbox items and one wonders if they make a difference.  Perhaps these companies think it sets them apart as "with-it" enterprises.  Maybe it does, probably not.  Their marketing and communications need more creativity.  

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Firing A Shot 

Republican senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, fire a shot at US corporations yesterday by telling them to stay out of politics.  He was reacting to the CEO's who criticized the new Georgia voter law.  From a communicator's perspective, this might not have been the best warning.  Corporations have been loyal supporters of the Republican party, and should they change allegiance to Democrats, the GOP will lose a vital source of funding for election campaigns.  It is one more sign that the party is well out of the mainstream of public opinion, and as long as it holds tightly to conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods, it will continue to lose support.  What should Republicans be communicating?  There are responsible positions in opposition that look out for the welfare of citizens.  The voter law is not one of them.  

Monday, April 05, 2021

Propaganda Works 

Why do individuals and governments engage in propaganda?  Because it works.  Some people believe lies even if evidence is strongly against them.  Consider Republicans and the January 6 riot at the Capitol.  Half of Republicans believe the lie that it was a peaceful protest or the work of left-wing liberals.  And, they will go on believing the falsehoods because it plays into their mind sets.  They are sheep following false shepherds and traveling a path to destruction of democracy.  There have other instances of propaganda which have survived through generations -- notably, the post-Civil-War canard that the clash was about states' rights and not slavery.  The problem with propaganda is lies can shape history by turning the public against the facts and truth.  Authoritarians depend on that, and they succeed often enough.  Propaganda will always be a part of communications.  It is up to communicators to respect facts and to avoid it.

Friday, April 02, 2021

If You've Got It, Flaunt it. 

The essence of good PR is to communicate about what an organization or individual has done that positions them favorably with target audiences.  It is not making up facts and stories.  That publicity and propaganda.  NASA and JPL are practicing superlative PR with the Perseverance rover on Mars.  They already have 16,000 images of the vehicle landing and operating on the surface.  They are releasing these photos to an eager public wanting to see how the robot got there and what the surface of the Red Planet is like.  The two organizations could withhold these pictures if they wanted to, but they are sensitive to public demand to give the photos wide distribution.  The result is that it has positioned them as two planets' experts in complex rover technology -- earth and Mars.  From a scientific perspective, there is no better spot to be in.  JPL, especially, has its pick of world-class engineers and scientists to construct, launch and land these robots and a budget to make it happen again. 

Thursday, April 01, 2021


Johnson & Johnson has had to scrap 15 million doses of its COVID vaccine because of manufacturing errors at its production partner.  This comes after J&J trumpeted its linkup with the company, Emergent BioSolutions.  Now, dirty laundry is being aired with reports of Food and Drug Administration citations against Emergent for ill training, mold and other manufacturing errors.  J&J is insisting it will meet its goals of delivering 100 million doses by the end of May, but trust has been strained because of the mistake and the company has had to bolster its presence in Emergent's plant.  The public will decide next whether to take the J&J vaccine or wait for another.  There is hesitancy, and this mistake doesn't help.  The only marketing solution for J&J is to make sure it never happens again.  

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