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Online Public Relations Thoughts



Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends



Updated: 2017-02-24T08:20:38.329-05:00

 



Transparency And Science

2017-02-24T08:20:38.336-05:00

The core of scientific understanding is the ability to reproduce an experiment.  If it can be done again and arrive at the same result, then the hypothesis is correct.  The problem with modern science is that many reproduced experiments aren't coming up with the same results.  In fact, two-thirds fail.  This lack of transparency is a body blow for who can believe a person whose work cannot be validated?  Yet, tens of thousands of studies pour out of labs annually, most of which are never checked.  Science could be building a body of lies that will hamper its usefulness and misdirect research.  That would harm society fundamentally.  A question to ask is why this is happening?  One answer is the pressure to get funding.  One is forced to show significant results in order to get money for further research.  Scientists are human and subject to the same failings as everyone else.  



Ads And PR

2017-02-23T08:39:04.567-05:00

Google is using a PR tactic to verify the efficacy of its placement of online advertising.  The firm is allowing an outside auditor to analyze the process by which it places ads on behalf of companies and whether they are going to the right web sites to guarantee optimum consumer exposure.  This is important for the company since it dominates the market along with Facebook.  Transparency is ideal.  Advertisers should be able to drill down and see exactly how their ads are being placed and who reads them.  A lack of credibility will kill the business for Google and damage the company deeply.  No wonder the Google spokesperson was open to auditing and is "all for it."  An offshoot of increased credibility is that Google is raising the bar for other ad placement firms.  Soon advertisers will demand the same transparency from them.  



A Moment's Change

2017-02-22T09:20:47.693-05:00

Vladimir Putin who only yesterday was condemned by Republicans is suddenly gaining popularity among them.  Credit the Trump presidency for the change of heart.  Politics makes for strange bedfellows, the old saw states, and none is odder than this. Putin took Crimea from Ukraine, teamed with the President of Syria to bomb Syrian citizens, hacked Democratic e-mail and generally has been hostile to the West in pursuit of his own ends.  Nothing in communications says one should remain true to another, but in this case, there is little to prompt a shift in message.  Political PR practitioners are masters of technique but one wonders if they acknowledge the moral primacy of content.  Some clearly do, but others sway with the political wind and that is concerning.  



Words Too Far

2017-02-21T16:14:12.292-05:00

In the internet era, words that go out of the boundary of common decency tend to resurface at inopportune times.  At least, that was the case for this fellow.  He has been an arch-conservative flamethrower for awhile and supported on Breitbart news, but his quasi-endorsement of pedophilia was too much for the news site and for his image.  It should be a warning, as if anyone needs one, to watch out for what you say even in private meetings or on podcasts.  How is it in these times one needs to say that one's words come back to haunt?  It is obvious, yet people still feel secure enough to make inadvisable remarks.  It is a lack of common sense, a feeling of invulnerability, an insensitivity to the dictates of the culture in which one lives.  So, yet another commentator drops from the scene and is hardly lamented.



Poking The Barrel

2017-02-17T12:00:08.153-05:00

There is an old saw in journalism that one should never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.  President Trump has either never heard the bromide or has his own theory.  Cow the media until they do what you tell them to do.  If he believes he can override journalists, he has never heard about Freedom of the Press.  He is doomed to fail sooner rather than later.  Reporters are going to press conferences loaded with sharp questions and ready to take on power.  Meanwhile, Trump keeps poking the barrel and at some point, he is going to turn it over and find himself awash in ink.  It won't be pretty.  It never is, but eventually facts will out and Trump will find himself in an untenable position.  He acts like one who is daring Congress to impeach him.  Congress might give him that favor.



Small Things

2017-02-16T08:34:45.730-05:00

PR can be small and seemingly insignificant things, such as this.  Consistent labeling standards for perishables has been long in coming, and it wasn't until the big players got involved that it happened.  Walmart is looking after its customers.  Ten label warnings have been reduced to two - "Best if used by" and "Use by."  One wonders why this wasn't done before.  An answer is that the food industry saw no compelling reason for standardization.  It took a major player and two food retailing associations to overcome the inertia.  And the change won't be instantaneous.  Some food producers will hang on to their labeling for awhile until the pressure from retailers becomes too large.  Most consumers will not notice the change.  But, it is a little thing that makes a difference.  Kudos to Walmart and the two associations.



Deja Vu

2017-02-15T09:15:10.852-05:00

This lament about the state of journalism in a "post-truth" era is deja vu, although the author doesn't realize it.  Fact-based journalism is relatively modern in its conception and practice.  Before the New York TImes much reporting was opinion-based and delved into fantasy.  Partisanship was high and charges against the opposition frequent.  H.L. Mencken proudly related that at the time of the Russo-Japanese war in the Far East, he and a colleague made up a story about a sea battle between the two countries that had Japan winning.  Months later, he learned he was right.  The point is that post-truth journalism is nothing new. The difference now is that virtually anyone can engage in it and that should worry PR practitioners.  There is no substitute for rigorous monitoring of social media and news sites of all flavors and persuasion.  One must be ready to move quickly to get the facts out in the face of falsehood.  In the old days, falsehoods traveled short distances, the reach of a newspaper.  Today, they travel the world.  That is worrisome.  



Medical PR

2017-02-14T08:50:53.721-05:00

Here is a medical PR challenge.  How do you convince doctors that a medical procedure isn't effective and to stop doing it?  It turns out some physicians and surgeons don't get the message or reject it because they feel they are being effective.  Thus, you have areas of the country where certain medical procedures are performed more than anywhere else. This drives up the cost of medicine and doesn't help patients in the long run.  There needs to be a mechanism through which such situations are spotted and remedied.  And, of course, there needs to be in-depth communications with doctors through ongoing training, conferences and medical literature.  Still, some won't get the message or will ignore it.  It is these who should be open to some form of discipline.



Road Riddle

2017-02-13T08:41:13.512-05:00

Self-driving cars are on the way but one feature of their computerized systems still doesn't work.  That is handling road construction.  Lane change signs and traffic cones confuse the systems set up for straight-through driving.  It presents a major marketing and PR challenge for auto manufacturers as well.  How do you sell a feature that works some of the time?  What kind of PR must one do to teach people that construction zones require hands-on driving?  Vehicle manufacturers have a major step to make before they put autonomous systems into cars and trucks.  Somehow they will need to teach their software to guide around barriers or to slow or stop until someone puts a hand to the wheel.  One can imagine the dangers lurking in this hand-off from automatic to gray-cell driving, especially if the human has been distracted.  The manufacturers will find a solution but it might delay the debut of autonomous driving, which would be a pity.



Conflict Of Interest

2017-02-10T08:34:03.997-05:00

This event was a conflict of interest.  You are not supposed to shill for private business while serving in the White House.  Why Kellyanne Conway did it is a question in itself.  Ivanka Trump's fashion line has been taking hits as one department store after another has dropped the line.  President Trump weighed in about it with a tweet.  Conway might have felt she was pleasing the boss by making the statement she said.  Conflict of interest was probably nowhere in her thinking at the time.  It should have been. Now, she has upset even the Republicans in Congress, and made the separation between Donald Trump's businesses and role as President narrower.  Conway should have been fired.  She was counseled instead.  That in itself makes the charge of a conflict of interest between President Trump and his businesses more real.  From a PR perspective, it smells -- and not sweetly.  



Fake News

2017-02-09T09:58:22.148-05:00

A lie repeated often enough becomes fact.  That is the tactic of the White House administration.  Calling the traditional media "fake news" will convince some of the public that reporters lie regularly and should be discredited. The White House wants the media to report positively on its actions and will attack anyone who doesn't. Journalists should be on guard for false stories because their reputations are being questioned.  It is the lowest form of relationship with the media -- an adversarial set-to that the White House can't win in the end.  The media will be still here in four or eight years when the Trump White House is history and it will continue to report on falsehoods of the administration.  Eventually, most of the public will come around and view fake news for what it is -- a way to sell advertising or to impugn a foe.  Today, there is a credibility issue.  People don't know what to believe, so they are as apt to accept the White House with its charge of "fake news" as they are to read and believe media reports.  Trump's people are exploiting that confusion, but it won't last forever.



A Shame On Both Sides

2017-02-08T09:01:44.320-05:00

The media are blasting the Trump administration for relying on "alternative facts."  But what makes this any different?  Buzzfeed rushed to publish unconfirmed documents alleging misbehavior on the part of Trump.  Buzzfeed went on to defend its actions but was roundly criticized by members of the traditional media.  Publications of alt-facts from either side don't make sources accurate or right.  Buzzfeed is now in court over its actions and well it should be.  Some of Trump's supporters belong there with it for spreading scurrilous and untrue stories about Hillary Clinton.  PR practitioners should be horrified by what journalism has become with traditional sources overwhelmed by social media that brays constantly in the background.  It means our work is harder and vigilance is the order of the day.  One never knows when charges of some kind are going to appear and where.  If Buzzfeed escapes judicial punishment for its behavior, it will only justify the medium in its own mind.  That would be sad.  Fact checking still counts, or should anyway.



Rookie Error

2017-02-07T08:14:22.003-05:00

84 Lumber, a materials business, ran a spot during the Super Bowl that invited viewers to its online site for the conclusion of the ad.  The site was overwhelmed with a deluge of viewers.  Within one minute of the ad's appearance, the company received 300,000 hits to its web site,  twice the site's capacity to handle the flow.  Predictably, the site seized and tens of thousands were turned away.  This was a rookie error.  When dealing with online, especially after an ad viewed by millions, one should set up for a surge that is many times the size of one's normal viewership.  It is a costly mistake to be caught short as 84 Lumber was.  The company will know the next time it tries a multimedia approach like this, but that doesn't make up for the error this time.  



"Jess Bidness"

2017-02-06T08:31:45.560-05:00

Nordstrom cancelled Ivanka Trump's fashion brand from its lineup and said it was purely a business decision.  Maybe so, but it also spared the retailing chain from boycotts and agitators opposed to the Trumps.  One is hard put to believe that this thought was not part of the consideration when the decision was made.  There is no rule that says a retailer must carry a brand. Yes, a store can carry merchandise that breaks even or even loses money for the prestige value of having it, but the Trump name doesn't carry that cachet.  So, Nordstrom avoided potential controversy and embarrassment of handling Ivanka's designs and it can breathe a sigh of relief that her pieces weren't selling that well anyway.  





Great PR, cont.

2017-02-03T08:25:53.157-05:00

IBM is masterful in marketing its artificial intelligence program called Watson.  Now Watson is assisting in completing returns for H&R Block.  Watson has already been put to work on helping doctors identify and treat cancer, sell auto insurance, and assist customers in stores among dozens of applications for its silicon brainpower.  Watson's initial success was built on its winning Jeopardy several years ago.  It was a brilliant publicity stunt that proved the power of the software.  Since then, IBM's marketers and engineers have tailored the program for numerous uses.  It helps IBM that Watson is anthropomorphic and named after a previous CEO of the corporation.  The male voice answering questions during the game show seemed real.  It wasn't hard to visualize a brain working in the background.  It will be interesting to learn how H&R Block's 70,000 tax preparers use the machine.  It is one more example of great PR for the technology.



Great PR

2017-02-02T08:31:51.791-05:00

PR is what you do more than what you say, and that makes this great PR.  Google's Waymo subsidiary has mastered the craft of autonomous driving through developing and tweaking both hardware and software for its test vehicles.  The cars drive hundreds of thousands of miles now with only a few disengagements where a driver has to take control of the machine. That means the vehicles are as road ready as any driverless car being developed.  I would much like to have the experience of riding in one just to get the feeling of how a driverless car operates, especially over long distances.  Waymo is working with  manufacturers already to equip vehicles with the technology and that means it won't be long before they are sold in showrooms.  Perhaps in the next two to three years we will see them advertised and sold as consumer products.  



Courage

2017-02-01T09:39:41.660-05:00

Now is a time for moral courage among America's CEOs.  Do they have the will to speak out against the White House travel ban or will they duck the issue?  It is not a simple case for them.  They are beholden to boards and shareholders who might not like to see them taking a public position.  The issue might not affect them and their companies directly.  They might fear an impact on their customer base if they put a stake in the ground.  One can't blame those who remain silent because they don't see it as part of their job to call out President Trump.  On the other hand, one should admire those who have made a case for getting rid of the travel ban whether it directly affects them or not.  It is easier to remain silent.  But, silence is not what is needed at this time.



Bottom Feeding

2017-01-31T08:34:59.715-05:00

Americans were supposed to be freed of intrusions on their privacy from unwanted and unsolicited phone calls.  It turns out that the DO NOT CALL list doesn't work well. An operator can get a fine but no one has gone to prison.  Why do companies persist in making these calls when most recipients are angry about getting them?  It is poor PR.  But, consider what they are doing.  They send out tens of thousands of calls for dollars and they get  a dozen or so live customers whose patronage pays for the effort.  It is bottom-feeding, plowing the mud for clams.  These kinds of companies care less whether one is upset over an unsolicited call.  That person isn't a customer anyway.  So, the individual hangs up with a few choice words to go with it.  That is no loss to the companies.  Meanwhile, they skate on the edge of the law and pay their fine when the FCC acts.  The government needs to jail robo-callers to get them to stop, but it doesn't seem willing to act.  




Reputation?

2017-01-30T08:54:30.647-05:00

How careful would you be in working with a company whose chairman is a convicted felon and who has with him two other convicted felons?  Yes, everyone deserves a second, even a third chance, but one should still take care to verify business dealings with the firm.  This is the situation with the Kushner Companies, whose CEO, the son of the felon, is now advising the Trump administration.  Reputation matters in a case like this.  How has the former convict acted in the past and how might he operate in the future?  The case that sent him to prison was particularly noxious and indicated an individual who would stop at nothing to get his way.  Has he mellowed and found a new sense of morality or is he skating close to the limits of the law?  Only time will tell, but meanwhile he is conducting the business of his companies while his son counsels President Trump.



The Limits of PR

2017-01-27T08:26:48.067-05:00

After 50 years and billions spent to wean Americans from tobacco, a recent study shows that 1 in 4 citizens still use some form of the plant.  Cigarette smoking has declined but the use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed.  This shows the limits of PR.  People can be persuaded to go only so far before they confront addiction and behavior -- a most difficult thing to do.  Persuasion can't change habits.  It can provide strong reasons for doing so, but it cannot substitute for willpower.  That comes from the individual.  I can recall many years ago while working on a psychiatric ward an incident that proved the case.  A man dying of emphysema, caused by smoking, was placed in the locked section, so he could not get access to cigarettes.  Although he was wheezing and barely alive, he still wanted another one.  He was content with smoking himself to death.  No amount of persuasion can change a situation like this.  Ultimately, PR belongs to the individual and whether he or she chooses to believe an argument and then act on it.  PR can never force a conclusion.



Tough Challenge

2017-01-26T08:24:07.326-05:00

How do you build an audience in America for a sport  loved the world over but not in the US.  No, we are not writing about soccer but Formula 1 racing.  So far, the only successful motorsport circuit has been NASCAR.  There are single races that rise to national attention -- e.g., the Indianapolis 500 -- but sustained awareness for any other auto race is lacking.  This makes for a tough PR challenge for the owners of the Formula 1 franchise.  So far, there is one circuit in Austin, TX, but they want to expand it to several US cities.  That will take time, millions in preparation and hundreds of permits to put the open-wheel machines on city streets.  It will also require cultivation of a fan base to ensure turnout and a healthy TV audience.  The prospect for that to happen is not bright.  Soccer is still not a mainstream sport in the US after decades of trying.  The rarified world of Formula 1 has strikes against it.



Civility And Trump

2017-01-25T09:02:00.814-05:00

Here is an opinion piece that PR practitioners should read.  It posits a fact that one cannot outdo President Trump with invective without lowering oneself to his standards and giving him fodder for reprisal.  Rather, critics should remain civil and rebut his assertions with reasonable discourse.  There is no satisfaction in calling him a liar, but one should point out his lies and rebut them as they arise.  Invective is a distraction from the reality at hand.  One should be reporting closely on what Trump is doing in order to educate the public that sent him to the White House.  Name-calling does no one any good.  Even though one feels rage about the situation, it is better to contain it and with icy calm to bore in on his errors and make them public.  Is it hard to do when one is foaming with anger?  Yes.  But it is necessary.



Staying The Course

2017-01-24T08:34:59.961-05:00

California is having a wet year after five years of drought.  Reservoirs are full. The snow pack in the high Sierras is 10 feet deep.  Rivers are flowing again.  There is a temptation among its citizens to go back to watering their lawns, taking long showers and otherwise wasting the resource.  Now is the time for-PR to remind people that the drought is not over and perhaps, never will be over with climate change.  One good year out of five is not enough to replenish aquifers nor is it enough to satisfy the water demands of farmers and urban dwellers.  State and local governments need to train citizens in water conservation for the long haul, and it will be difficult after a year of flooding and relentless rain.  Staying the course is never easy, especially when it looks like one has reached the goal.



Too Big To Succeed?

2017-01-23T08:27:42.555-05:00

In the finance world, banks might be "too big to fail."  In the electronics market, the opposite might be the case.  At least that might be the situation in which Samsung finds itself.  Its top-down and harsh culture was part of the spectacular failure of its mobile phone, the Galaxy Note 7.  Its mobile chief detailed the problems with the battery that caused fires and explosions and took the responsibility for the defect, but that doesn't change the driven environment in which its employees work.  Samsung might be setting itself up for more failures in the future unless it overhauls internal relations with employees.  It is one thing for the CEO to demonstrate inclusiveness.  It is another to change the behavior of managers below the CEO who were raised in a rigid top-down culture and don't know any other style of management.  Retraining might take years and Samsung doesn't have that kind of time in the cutthroat marketplace for consumer electronics.  One failure might be all that it takes to throw a company behind.  The Galaxy Note 7 fiasco could spell the end of competitiveness for Samsung phones.



Power Corrupts Perspective

2017-01-20T08:24:16.393-05:00

Those who are hoping Donald Trump will become a different, more inclusive President are likely to be disappointed, according to behavioral research..  The article states the situation clearly: 

"Power reveals individuals' true intentions and leads to them being less willing to take others’ perspectives."

If Trump is close minded now, he is likely to remain that way for his four years?  His combativeness is likely to remain and become worse.  His self-referential ego is unlikely to change.  It will be interesting to hear his inauguration speech.  What can he say to wipe out the negative feelings of almost half of America?  Can he control himself in the face of protesters?  Trump is shaping up to be a PR case study in disastrous communications and action.  The ironic part is that he isn't aware of it, as far as anyone can tell.  He knows he is right and that is all that matters.