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Online Public Relations Thoughts



Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends



Updated: 2017-05-26T08:54:48.349-04:00

 



Time Off

2017-05-26T08:54:48.383-04:00

I'm taking time off until June 14.  There will be no blogging till then.



Evil Influence

2017-05-26T08:52:37.481-04:00

If true, this is an evil way to influence public opinion.  There is no way of knowing at this juncture whether the investigation into the air strike is accurate. The evidence points to intentional murder of 100 civilians at the hands of ISIS through luring an airstrike on a booby-trapped building.  There is no reasoning with an organization that plans and conducts warfare at its ugliest.  ISIS believes in scorched earth, winning at all costs and never letting moral scruples get in the way.  Warfare might be diplomacy in another means but in this case, diplomatic solutions have been replaced by an urgent need to crush the terror organization out of existence.  It won't be easy and a final resolution might never be achieved. ISIS might well continue to exist, but at a lower level of influence and with many fewer attacks on civilians and soldiers.  



Outpacing The Customer

2017-05-25T08:49:18.206-04:00

Customers have a direct way of managing their relationships with a company.  If they don't like it, they stop coming.  The business in turn must modify its behavior or fail.  Here is an example of a vendor taking a wrong turn and suffering the result.  J.Crew raised prices just at a time when customers were looking for bargains.  Predictably, its sales plummeted and now the company is backtracking and trying to win them back.  It might not be as easy as losing them in the first place.  It is refreshing that the CEO takes the blame for the wrong move.  One wonders how he misread his base in the first place.  It indicates something fundamentally wrong in J.Crew's marketing intelligence.  Did the company survey its customers?  Conduct focus groups? Examine social media?  If it had done one or more of these tests, it should have picked up its customers' mood.  One suspects the company won't make the same mistake again.



Publicity Coup Again

2017-05-24T09:13:31.367-04:00

Google made international headlines last year when its artificial intelligence computer beat a Korean Go master in a series of games.  It was a publicity coup.  Google is at it again with a series of three games between the AI machine and the top-ranked Go player of the world.  It has already won the first game with a much-improved system.  This kind of publicity has a serious purpose -- to show the capabilities of the computer and to add credibility to claims of what the computer can do.  Even if the machine should lose a close game the fact that it can play against a human master and acquit itself worthily is a mark in its favor.  These kinds of demonstrations are not new.  They have been done for hundreds of years but they work so they are used again and again.  They show the confidence humans have in an invention such that they are willing to risk public failure.  The chance of flaming out is what captures public interest and keeps it, if the event is successful.



Graduation

2017-05-23T09:36:33.211-04:00

My daughter graduated from college on Sunday and all the ancient symbols and ceremony were in full display from the grand marshall who led the celebrants in to commencement speeches and awarding of honorary doctorates.  The occasion was meant to mark a milestone in a young person's life -- the end of formal education unless one is going on to a postgraduate experience -- and the beginning of work life.  Monday was reality day -- packing up to go home and incipient worries about work.  The lofty communications of the commencement ceremony were gone but for the memory.  Call graduation ceremonies an academic public relations exercise and you will be on the mark.  But, it is a wonderful and moving affirmation of education.



Robots And PR

2017-05-19T08:37:59.674-04:00

Robot makers who are using the streets of San Francisco to deliver meals have a PR challenge.  The city wants to ban them.  There is a fear that the machines will run over people rather than avoiding them.  What Marble, the maker, must do now is to defuse the concerns of a city supervisor.  The company has an audience target of one, and that person is convinced robots will go rogue eventually and smash into people rather than deliver the food they are carrying.  One way to ease the supervisor's fears is to show him how the robot works on crowded sidewalks with adults and children.  Even that might not be enough.  The company might need to mount a campaign of citizens who want to be served by robots.  Write-ins, calls, appearances at city council, public pressure can eventually wear an opponent down. The question is whether the company has the money and time to get this done.  A robot for food delivery is hardly a household necessity.  



Poor PR - 19th Century

2017-05-17T09:02:47.504-04:00

English railroads in the 1800s had a PR challenge -- railroad madness.  Victorians thought the sound and motion of a train caused men to become lunatics.  There were several reported incidents to back their thinking.  There wasn't much a railroad company could do about it.  Modern psychology and psychiatry had yet to be discovered.  So, they accepted the idea of railroad madness and tried to devise means of safety for the passengers on board.  Nothing worked well.  We in the 21st century can look back and think how ignorant our forefathers were, but were we tasked at the time to combat the idea of railroad madness, the PR challenge would have been nearly insurmountable. The only evidence we would have would be the presence of psychotics on trains.  In other words, we would have nothing to work with.  



Realism

2017-05-16T08:38:33.172-04:00

This article is a cautionary argument that Apple won't stay on top of the electronics market forever.  The thesis is that no company has done it before, and there is no reason to believe  Apple can break the pattern.  Apple has passed $800 billion in market value, a dizzying height from which a fall would be extraordinary.  But, the company is only as good as its next products and there is no guarantee, even with its fan base, that Apple can continue to hit home runs.  At some point, the company will put out a clunker, or a series of them, and consumers will start asking questions and more importantly, start buying other companies' phones and computers.  When Apple's income stagnates, the market will take action and  the result won't be pretty.  Meanwhile, Apple's employees are moving into its new multi- billion-dollar campus, Steve Jobs' legacy to his company.  There is no guarantee the building will help Apple be any more successful than it already is.  And, if the company meets stiff headwinds in the marketplace, there is a good chance part of the property will be empty and unused.



Tidal Wave

2017-05-15T08:30:08.329-04:00

A tidal wave rolls onto land then recedes leaving wreckage.  This tidal wave is surging again and again and the retail industry is helpless to stop it.  The public has been well trained by Amazon and other online vendors to look first to the internet.  As a result, store owners are looking at their market shrink by the month.  It is a perilous time to be in physical retail.  One has to offer goods that are not widely available on the internet or must be ready with pricing and service that are unobtainable online. That is hard to do.  The public's relationship with retailers has fundamentally changed, and it is unlikely to be restored to what it was before.  Something dramatic will need to happen to slow the public from using online.  This could be a pervasive malware the likes of which is plaguing Europe at the moment.  But even that might not be enough to halt the wave of store closures.



PR And Dictatorships

2017-05-12T08:48:08.659-04:00

Dictators don't listen to citizens.  Rather, they tell their publics what to think and do.  In an era of democracy, it is harder to be a sole power but not impossible.  There is Erdogan of TurkeyMaduro of Venezuela, Kim Jong un of North Korea and several more authoritarians on the world scene.  They have stifled opposition in their countries and have kept their troops under control to protect their positions. Public protest is put down savagely.  They might masquerade under a concept of democracy, but there is no free choice and the public learns to control its thoughts to survive.  Those who cannot endure a dictatorship flee and look for a better life elsewhere.  This causes dictators to close their borders to keep their people in. Dictators survive in an era of global communications by cutting off or regulating the internet   The concept of public relations is laughable to them.  The public is just a thing to be crushed.



Great PR

2017-05-11T08:47:33.748-04:00

This is an example of great PR and community relations.  The problem of homelessness in Seattle is acute, but Amazon could have decided to build its new building for itself.  Instead, it acted nobly by letting a homeless shelter stay and be part of new construction.  It is hard to think of another example of something like this.  The article notes that Amazon is the largest employer in the Seattle area, and it has a ravenous need for room.  To willingly give up some of the space it will build for itself is especially an act above and beyond self-interest.  Kudos to the company.  



Open Season

2017-05-10T08:54:24.863-04:00

A gate agent is the point of contact between an airline and customers, and it seems that an open season has been declared to rough them up.  It makes little difference that agents might merit some pushback for unreasonable behavior. When pilots strike, agents take the brunt of protest.  When there is an altercation over ticketing, agents are in the middle of it.  They aren't prepared for the customer nastiness that results, so they fall back on procedure which isn't adequate.  An airline's public relations takes a hit each time a set-to occurs.  Would you book a flight on Spirit Airlines after the melee in Florida?  At least, you would think twice before taking the risk.  The problem is that agents have limited power.  They can't conjure a plane and a crew and if neither are there, no one is flying.  Disappointed customers vent their wrath on the agent as the representative of the company.  That agents haven't handle anger well is understandable. Airlines are falling down on the job.



Bad Good News

2017-05-09T08:30:15.959-04:00

A story like this should make a CEO shudder.  A Teflon reputation can disappear in a second.  It only takes one article that captures the public interest and one's credibility can be threatened.  CEOs should resist reporters who want to write about a company's enduring esteem in the eyes of the public.  They should emphasize to employees that reputation is delicate and easily lost.  Hence, one should work constantly to uphold it and avoid flaunting it lest one become too satisfied.  Amazon has had some difficult stories to overcome -- mainly, the way it treats employees -- but it has not hit a downdraft like Uber.  For that, it can be thankful, but it should not feel righteous.



Crying Wolf

2017-05-08T08:41:37.637-04:00

Here is a fellow who has cried, "Wolf" too many times.  Even if the US would like to remove him (and it certainly does), who is going to believe South Korea and the CIA have assassination squads in the North?  Kim Jong-un is paranoid and self-inflated.  He is also brutal and has had several of his top executives murdered because he suspected them of disloyalty.  In such a bubbling stew of intrigue, anything is possible and the only survivor is he who rules with an iron hand.  Comparisons to Stalin are appropriate, but the country is tiny and insignificant but for its weapon and missile programs.  Kim has progressively cut himself off from the outside world.  He has rebuffed China, his only ally and he is an active threat to South Korea and Japan.  As his weapons technology improves, he becomes more dangerous by the year and his fear of assassination is entering the realm of reason.



Ground-pounding PR

2017-05-05T09:34:14.856-04:00

Silicon Valley technologists are trying to help California's farmers save water.  Eighty percent of the liquid goes to farming, so more efficient use is essential.  Already, more than 500,000 acres have gone fallow in Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley because of a lack of irrigation.  With an inevitable return of drought conditions, the problem of keeping plants and trees alive and growing will once again be critical.  But, farmers aren't welcoming technologists with open arms.  Agriculture is a conservative business.  It is hard to change routines and processes that work for something unproven.  This is why technologists have to go to farms and listen to farmers first.  It is ground-pounding PR one farmer at a time until thinking changes and everyone starts to use a new way of producing food.  And that is as it should be.  One bad crop can wipe a farmer out.  There is a fundamental need to test technologies thoroughly before introducing them. 



Maybe This Time

2017-05-04T08:41:37.707-04:00

If there is one failure that annoys citizens no end it is the spam robocall.  They come at all hours of the day and their pre-recorded messages are maddening.  The Federal Communications Commission has admitted defeat in stopping them, so it is writing new rules and procedures to slow if not stop them.  Will they work?  It is much too early to know, but its appeal for help from the private sector indicates that the government body is none too confident it has the answer.  Robocalls are not just poor PR.  They are anti-PR.  Senders have no interest in relating to the public.  They just want its money and they are willing to do just about anything to get it.  It is telephonic theft.



History And PR

2017-05-03T09:13:48.948-04:00

One way to look like a fool is failure to know history. President Trump is learning that lesson -- or maybe not.   He doesn't know much or anything about those who came before him in the office, and it is creating a PR problem for him.  A schoolboy would know that Andrew Jackson had nothing to do with the Civil War and that Lincoln was a Republican, but not Trump.  It demonstrates yet again how ill-prepared he was.  Add to the mix that he doesn't read but watches television instead, and there is little hope for educating him.  If he were half-smart, he would avoid topics about which he knows little, but he sails in with confidence of the ignorant.  Those about him cringe, but there is little they can do while he controls the Oval Office.  At this juncture, it is hard to believe he can be more than a one-term president. 



Police And Video

2017-05-02T08:41:41.982-04:00

New documentaries mark the 25th anniversary of the LA riots that occurred after the police beating of  Rodney King.  It was a watershed event because a civilian with a video camera recorded police brutality.  Since then, with miniaturization and the rise of cell phones, video of events has exploded.  Police are not the only ones being watched. So too are criminals.  It is hard to think of an incident now in which there is no video.  Police departments are handing out body cameras to patrolmen and analyzing their actions.  It is part of community PR to have video to defend oneself or to prosecute cops for bad behavior. Still it doesn't prove or disprove absolutely what has occurred. Actions are often obscured during stops.  A policeman can claim a person was reaching for a gun, and it is hard to prove that didn't happen even if no gun is found.  Video, however, gives a new set of eyes on police behavior and that is welcome.



A PR Challenge

2017-05-01T08:41:10.702-04:00

Google has a PR challenge in how it uses raters.  These are contracted staff who perform daily tasks on Google, including making sure advertising is not placed opposite inappropriate content.  The challenge is making these 10,000 people feel like they are part of the search giant.  They aren't.  They are outsourced employees of separate companies and as such, they enjoy none of the benefits of Google's hires.  Because they are not part of Google but still a vital part of the search giant's work, they should be treated better than they are, but they aren't.  Google has taken a hands-off approach, which is what clothing and shoe companies did in Asia.  It took activist pressure to change the ill-handling of employees there. Google could be facing the same kind of force to revise relations with raters and setting standards for its contracting companies.  If Google were canny, it would move now before its brand is smudged by more sad stories of a rater's life.  



When It All Goes Bad, cont.

2017-04-28T08:50:37.903-04:00

When an organization has bad luck, it sometimes can't get away from negative reports.  United, still reeling from pulling a passenger off one of its planes, now has to deal with killing a giant rabbit on one of its flights.  Ordinarily a story like that would barely get a mention, but United is in the penalty box and subject to scrutiny.  And, it's not just United, the airline industry as a whole is being looked at.  Delta just got pilloried for removing a passenger from one of its planes for going to the bathroom.  Airlines have been struggling with poor PR and a bad reputation for some time.  They treat economy customers like cattle and squeeze them into the back of planes with no amenities and charges for everything.  In defense of the airlines, one has to realize the industry made no money for decades, and it has at last reached stable profitability.  Still, ticking off customers is a hard way to run an organization.  They can do so because they have an oligopoly and there is nowhere else for customers to go.



A PR Test

2017-04-27T08:35:15.518-04:00

Google's Waymo is finally offering test rides in a real world environment -- Phoenix, AZ.  It is taking applications from citizens now for travel in its self-driving vans (that will still have an attendant sitting by the steering wheel.)  The experiment is both a final step before the technology hits the road for everyday  use and a PR exercise to demonstrate the validity of the system.  If there is any one company that deserves to be successful in its endeavor to invent the future, Google would seem to be it.  The company has put three million miles into test driving its technology and thus far, it has passed every goal with few hiccups.  Other companies are in hot pursuit of the same objective as Google so Waymo dare not stand still.  With 600 minivans on the roads of the Valley of the Sun, millions will get the chance to see self-driving vehicles and more importantly, drive along side them..  



Wages Of Failure

2017-04-26T09:09:27.072-04:00

CEOs have a PR problem and it stems from their compensation. Even if they fail in their jobs, they are rewarded, sometimes excessively.  Consider these wages of failure.  For being unable to turn a company around, the CEO walks away with $186 million.  Compensation consultants will argue that the amount includes her stock holdings, but how did she own so much equity?  The board endowed her with huge holdings on the premise that she would make good and save the company.  Instead, she sold it for a tidy amount.  There are reasons why average citizens are cynical when it comes to executive pay.  It seems to be a heads-I-win, tails-I-win game.  Boards have been struggling with the compensation issue for decades and they seem no nearer to a solution.  In defense of Yahoo's CEO, one can state that shareholders were served by the sale and that is all that matters.  Is it though?




Cute Science Publicity

2017-04-25T08:39:31.541-04:00

This is a cute event -- racing nano-vehicles under the gaze of a scanning tunneling microscope.  Who says science can't be fun and educational?  The molecular "cars" will be pushed along a gold track by pulses of electricity and eventually, one molecule will win.  That the size of the things is less than one thousandth of the width of a human hair and the chamber for the race has to be cooled to -450 degrees fahrenheit only makes the contest more interesting.  What is amazing is that humans can build machines at an atomic scale that actually work.  There is no known practical use for them yet, but it is early in their development.  This publicity event is designed to make the work better known -- and have fun in the process.  I'm sure there will be betting on the outcome.  



What People Don't See

2017-04-24T08:32:56.121-04:00

It has been a long-standing truism that what people don't see, they don't care about.  That is especially true of most of the features of first-world culture.  One of those is the cell phone that comes from mammoth factories in China where workers are treated like mindless robots.  One can only imagine the boredom of the worker who puts in one screw in hundreds of cell phones daily while bosses shout at them to move faster.  It would justify a strike in the US, which is one reason why those factories aren't here.  Adding to the demeaning labor is the small wage factory workers receive.  The average citizen goes to the store, buys a phone and gives not the least thought to the human machinery behind it.  Yet if he did, would he be any less motivated to own one?  We assume others are there to answer our beck and call.  We get upset only when an item is not available.  Then we ask why.



With Press Like This...

2017-04-21T10:05:19.751-04:00

No one wants a review like this one.  The reporter goes out of her way to reach for the most toxic terms she can find to damn Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino.  There is nothing PR can do in a case like this.  It is hunker and let it pass.  Starbucks' revenge will be to sell out of the product before it takes it off the market, since it is only a short-time offering.  There is something titillating about reviews like this.  One continues to read to see what she will say next.  And, say she does.  The company is cut down in every possible way for daring to offer a drink "made with 'rainbows.'"  If other reviews are as bad as this one, Starbucks might think twice before it attempts another sugar-filled drink.