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Online Public Relations Thoughts

Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends

Updated: 2017-07-20T11:57:06.148-04:00


Crisis Advice


Experienced PR practitioners will know intuitively the guidelines set down in this article, but it is worth reviewing them before the next crisis occurs.  The problem with crises is they rarely come at anticipated times.  They tend to blow up suddenly in unexpected places and circumstances.  In the frantic first hours, PR is trying to find out what happened while responding swiftly to media inquiries.  There is no good way to do it even with machinery in place and rehearsed.  Crisis manuals tend to sit on shelves unread and not consulted when an actual event occurs.  The best advice in a crisis is to keep the machinery simple and effective.  A war room should have the powers to override protocol and bureaucratic barriers to get data it needs.  A public or employee response should not be picked clean by nervous attorneys.  The CEO should be engaged and not distant.  These are simple steps but they are often not followed.  It is up to the crisis manager to make sure that basic rules are honored and no audience is left in the dark.  It sounds easy but it isn't.

Hat tip to Peter Shinbach for making me aware of this article.



Sometimes it is hard to believe the endurance of myths.  Here is one that has been disproven by science but still people believe it.  At best there might be microbial life buried beneath the radiation-blasted surface of the red planet.  The proof of that is still wanting, but there is no evidence of any kind for an advanced civilization having resided there.  Still, people want to hold on to the myth.  They don't want to accept that in this solar system we are alone.  They speculate about the existence of rational beings on other planets in distant solar systems.  So far, nothing has come of it, but it is early in the investigation of exo-planets.  And, even if there is a discovery of some life form light years away, there is no practical way of getting there.  We haven't the rockets or the physics to propel humans at 186,000 miles per second and there is no good way to provision humans for years at a time.  Reaching Mars now is testing the limits of engineering, psychology and logistics.  And, once we get there, there is no good way to get back.  Yet, myths persist because people refuse to face reality.

Firing Back


Does it ever pay to fire back at a vocal and dissatisfied customer?  Delta Airlines is finding out.  It is in a public tiff with conservative commentator Ann Coulter who is upset that the airline gave her seat assignment away on a flight from La Guardia airport, NY to West Palm Beach, FL  Coulter was given another spot on the flight but she took to Twitter after landing and began bashing the airline.  Delta was not amused.  It refunded her $30 seat charge, but it also called for civility.  That is not what it was getting as Coulter let loose a barrage of criticism through a succession of Twitter posts.  Chances are Coulter will fly Delta again, but the airline probably would be happy if it has seen the last of her.  Who needs a disgruntled passenger anyway?

Unusual PR Challnege

2017-07-17T09:11:48.603-04:00 has an unusual PR problem.  It has become the delivery service to rural America, and when it no longer provides Prime to distant locales, it leaves them in a lurch. It seems people who live on the edge of the grid have become dependent on  Amazon because local retailers either do not provide goods they need or charge more than Amazon, even with Amazon's annual membership.  This says a lot for Amazon's near-ubiquity. has become a retailer of last resort.  But, rural users apparently have been abusing the system by ordering large amounts of bulky products.  One can't blame the company for backing off.  It seems that there is no replacement for local retailers in remote locations and for the high prices they charge.  One can't blame Amazon but the company has a reputation problem in rural districts.

Wearing Out One's Welcome


Cities around the world are turning down the opportunity to host the summer Olympics.  They have good reason to do so.  The games are over budget, hugely expensive and they leave cities with purpose-built venues they cannot use in the future.  For the short duration of the event, the expenditures are a colossal waste.  The International Olympic Committee has worn out its welcome globally.  What is needed is a succession of the games in which the programs break even or even make a little money.  The prestige of the Olympics might return and cities start competing for them again.  The IOC needs to exercise stern budget control and if the magic of the games slips a bit, so be it.

Marketing Strength


Amazon is showing off its marketing strength with Prime Day.  Judging by the results, the company has formidable power.  Few other retailers could pull off the success that Amazon had.  Right now, it stands alone in retail for its ability to create a shopping day that millions take advantage of.  It is Christmas in July, Black Friday four months early.  Amazon and its vendors raked in $2.5 to $2.9 billion.  That is a lot of Echo dots (the best selling product).  In addition, Amazon induced millions more to sign up as Prime customers.  Conventional and online retailers must be quaking in their shoes with Amazon's success.  What does it mean for them?  The answer to that question can't be good for most of them.  They can join in with their own sales on Prime Day but that is hardly going to help if they are not on Amazon.  They can attempt to create their own Prime Day, but most don't have the marketing power to do it.  They can watch their sales erode in July, but that is defeatist.  Eventually they will have to respond in some fashion.

Correcting The Record


Amazon made national news when one of its Echo devices supposedly called 911 during a domestic argument.  The company rushed to correct the record.  It explained that Echo was not set up for dialing the emergency number despite what local law enforcement said.  Kudos to Amazon for getting out front of a story that reverberated around the country.  The company rightly understood that if people got the wrong idea about Echo, they might try to use it during a real emergency only to learn that it doesn't work that way.  Correcting the record is something nearly all companies do at one time or another.  It is part of transparency.  Companies that fail to do so set themselves up for trouble down the road.  Letting falsehoods linger only makes matters worse.

Hollow Victory


The Iraqis have retaken Mosul from ISIS.  The town is a wreck. Its citizens are either in resettlement camps or picking through ruins for anything to eat.  It is already well understood that the military victory will be hollow unless the town is rebuilt and its citizens resettled within. Public relations is a bulldozer and backhoe.  It will take years to clear away the debris and rebuild, but the Iraqi government doesn't have that kind of time.  Sectarian tensions have not gone away and the potential for renewed clashes between Sunnis and Shiites is large.  Mosul might never recover if the two religious groups cannot work together.  What is needed is a unified focus on rebuilding.  Failing that, ISIS could make a comeback in the town by promising to run its utilities and provide governance, as brutal as it is.  The US can help the rebuilding effort but it cannot do it alone.  The future of the city and its people is unclear at best.  

Drip, Drip


Nothing is worse from a publicity perspective than a negative story that keeps expanding drip by drip.  Just when one thinks he has gotten ahead of the news curve, another story appears that adds new, damning facts and reignites the media.  This is the position that the President is in with the claims of Russian meddling with the elections. His son has now admitted to meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.  Trump is now faced with distancing himself from his own flesh and blood, and his spokesperson has already stated that he didn't know what his son was doing.  Critics, and there are many of them, won't be satisfied.  There will be a new round of "What did Trump know and when did he know it?"   The closer it gets to the oval office, the more damning it will be.  It is too early to say that we're in a Nixon scenario, but Trump needs to be careful going forward.



The fashion world has a secret.  It often pays for the trips and hospitality shown to editors who attend runway shows in exotic locales.  The US Federal Trade Commission wants the practice to be disclosed, and it has sent letters to major brands to gain compliance.  It seems that neither editors nor fashion houses are eager to see the practice in print.  The New York Times checked a number of publications as it reported this story, and it found minimal compliance.  Fashion is not the only industry where reporters get freebies.  Travel has historically paid for "Fam"  trips for editors and reporters to familiarize themselves with exotic locales..  Medical PR has quietly supported conferences and medical spokespersons for diseases and their pharmaceutical cures.  If one industry discloses by regulation, why not all? The news industry places great value on independence.  It should be willing to tell its public that it is accepting gratuities from the subjects of coverage and the reason why.  Declining budgets for editorial. 



Wolfram, the software company that makes the powerful equation solver, Mathematica, has a potential PR crisis on its hands.  The company has an AI-enabled web site called Alpha.  The site solves mathematical problems step by step.  Students have been using the site to do their homework.  Because they are copying symbol for symbol onto their sheets, there is no way for teachers to know whether they solved problems for themselves or through Alpha.  Academics are crying foul.  Wolfram is responding that it is a scholarly tool to show students exactly how problems are solved.  There is a stand-off between the two sides.  Wolfram is looking to the future when computers all will be smart enough to solve equations.  Academics are looking at the present and wondering if they are turning out smart students or cheaters.  There is no good answer to the locked heads.  They are both right.  Eventually one view will predominate and the two sides will adjust.  Meanwhile, it is a case in which two goods are in conflict.

In Your Face


North Korea knows how to be belligerent.  Its diplomatic relations is "in your face."  The government there already has South Korea and the US in a press from which there are few good options for escape. Negotiations don't work.  Sanctions have failed. The Chinese are not helping. Military activity threatens an all-out war on the peninsula, which would be good for no one.  The North now has an ICBM and is almost capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Alaska.  At its rate of progress, it will soon be able to reach cities on the West Coast.  What the North apparently wants is for the US to abandon South Korea and leave it to its fate.  This the US has sworn it will not do.  There appears to be no good way to foster relations between the North and the rest of the world.  Its leadership has isolated itself from outside influence and it glories in being a rogue state.  There are times when persuasion fails, and this is one.

Fit Response?


How does one respond to a tasteless bully?  Maybe this is enough.  I've written here recently that President Trump ought to be barred from using Twitter, and his most recent tweets prove the case.  He has divided his own party with his motormouth and his stooping to the lowest of insults.  It doesn't pay to get into a shouting contest with him.  He is the President after all and he has a large pulpit from which to speak.  On the other hand, silence might mean acquiescence.  Perhaps the best response might be an expression of sorrow about his behavior and for the country.  Here is the hope that after four years of his tart tongue we get a President who is civil in tone.  We need it.

Quiet PR


Sometimes it is best to remain quiet and go about one's business. Here is a case in which a company could have spoken out but decided against it.  Lyft has been given a valuable opening with the troubles that have beset Uber.  The company could mock Uber and openly invite Uber's drivers to defect, but it hasn't.  The CEO has decided to remain out of the fray and to continue to pursue his business.  It is refreshing that a company can act this way and it is better PR in every respect.  There is no need to taunt competitors when they fail.  Rather, one should consider that it could be my company next.  Lyft has a dedication to values and ethics that Uber missed in its rapacious effort to grow.  It might be that Uber now fades away, and Lyft will be the benefactor.  If so, the company won't be seen kicking the carcass of a dead company.

Cleaner Than Clean


If you go after a President or one of his people, you need to be cleaner than clean. Otherwise, you are out.  The media might tolerate mistakes when they involve a CEO, but not the leader of the United States.  CNN has no love for Trump and probably would like to see him impeached, but it can't be caught publishing "fake news" about the President, his cabinet or his advisers.  So, it took the resignations of three of its journalists.  PR practitioners might wish that to happen more often but most errors in the media are not as prominent on the national scene.  Still, there are reporters who raise hackles when they call and put companies on edge.  They don't go away or get any easier to deal with over time.  One must deal with them and correct their errors.  Call them the media relations practitioner's guarantee of employment.

Too Little Too Late


The manufacturer of the cladding that burned on Grenfell Tower in London has now discontinued sales of the material.  This is an example of too little too late.  A number of news reports have discussed a prolonged argument against the cladding because of its lack of fire proofing.  Yet, it was used anyway to deadly effect.  Arconic, the maker, has a PR crisis on its hands of its own making.  The company knew the product was flammable, and it recommended that it not be used beyond the range of fire ladders.  It must have known that it was installed on towers in London.  Why didn't Arconic speak up?  This is a crisis for which there is no good solution.  An apology for the death of 79 people is hardly enough.  There is a chance the company will go bankrupt as the matter is hauled through the courts, and that is as it should be.



Some people should be kept away from social media for their own protection.  The President is one of those and so is this fellow.  Their postings are egocentric, frequently false and just plain dumb.  Rather than building a following, they appeal to a narrow class of readers, and they are mocked by the majority.  Already, Trump's tweets have been used against his position on Syrian immigrants in court.  True to form, neither Trump nor Shkreli seem to be aware of the damage they are doing to themselves.  They persist.  If they were to listen to communications counsel, they would be told to hang up their twitter handles and stay quiet.  But, they don't hear.  Their over-confidence gets in the way.  So, we watch them sink themselves day by day and we wonder how they will respond to their ultimate fates.



Search engine optimization has become a specialty within marketing and PR.  There are good and bad ways of doing it and techniques need to change constantly to keep up with Google's immense algorithms.  The article discusses a number of methods, both black hat and white hat means of guiding the search engine.  What is significant in the story, however, is the comment that it takes at least six months now to optimize a link in Google. This is a long time, especially for companies looking to push down bad news about themselves.  Read the whole piece.  It is a good summation of the field.  



Travis Kalanick has been dumped from scandal-ridden Uber, and it is an act of CEO accountability.  Board members and investors determined the rot in the company's culture extended from the top and came from an atmosphere of growth at all costs.  It made no difference whether executives made suggestive remarks to women and bent rules as long as the company continued to expand at a breakneck pace.  Kalanik still has board defenders but investors are opposed to him returning as a CEO after his leave of absence.  He will retain a board seat but that is all. Uber now has to find a path to profitability while it continues to grow worldwide.  It also needs to stop bleeding in the US where Lyft is taking market share.  It's a hard task for any CEO, especially one who will need to replace executives who have already left the company.  There is no guarantee Uber will be successful, but at least there is a chance that turmoil in its ranks will end.

The Personal Touch


A good deal of public relations is still the personal touch, the effort to meet people face to face and to hear them out.  Politicians understand that and they make every effort to get down to where people live and work.  I witnessed that recently when Congressman Jimmy Panetta presented World War II medals to my 100-year-old aunt who had served in England and France.  He talked with my aunt for 20 minutes although he was on a tight schedule.  His focus was on her and not the photographers in the room, of whom I was one.  He related his own service in the Army to her and she to him.  My aunt was a nurse who cared for soldiers wounded in battle as well as POW's.  Panetta served as an intelligence office in Afghanistan. The time Panetta spent with her solidified a relationship with others in the room who are voters as well.  He didn't have to show up.  My aunt could have received her medals in the mail or through one of his staff, but he took the time and the personal touch.  It was great public relations.

Clear And Present Danger


Britain is cracking down on militant speech in an effort to slow terrorist attacks.  It is considering regulating the internet.  In the US, the Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law banning sex offenders from social media.  It cited the First Amendment.  This is the difference in speech between the two countries.  It will be interesting to see what happens when a US militant web site is banned and it sues to the Supreme Court.  Will the body of nine men and women take the British point of view, especially if the site calls for violence against the US and its citizens?  The Court's view of the First Amendment is broad and deep. We hear from radicals on both sides of the political spectrum.  This hasn't prevented calls for self-censorship at Google and Facebook who are moving against hate speech on their systems.  They are dealing with worldwide views of speech that are less broad than the US.  However, what is happening in China with government censorship won't happen here.

Suspect Publlicity


President Trump is meeting with high-tech executives to get ideas for how to reduce government expenditures.  It will be a photo-op, but the practical results of the meeting are likely to be slim.  The principle reason for this is that that tech executives have little knowledge of the functions and operations of government.  It is easy to throw around concepts and bright thoughts, but the actual doing is much harder and in some cases, impossible.  It takes money -- lots of it -- to put in systems that reduce the number of employees in a service delivery vehicle.  The government doesn't have available cash to spend on such automated operations.  Secondly, it takes time to train employees in how to use new systems.  That will take months, if not years.  The Trump administration doesn't have that kind of time.  So, let the photographers snap their shots of the tech leaders but understand that it is suspect publicity.



When Jack Welch ran GE, he was hailed as the CEO of the Century. Now that his successor is stepping down, there are questions about how Welch ran the company and whether he accidentally set up Jeff Immelt to have troubles.  The truth is that when Jack ran the business, it was a finance company with manufacturing.  When Immelt took over and after the financial markets crashed, he had to turn it back to a manufacturing company that also did financing.  It was back to the future for Immelt and GE's stock suffered.  Now the new CEO coming in has said he is going to evaluate all of GE's units to see which will stay and which will be dumped.  It seems he will make GE into a sharply focused manufacturing conglomerate to better compete.  Welch was accurate when he said his success would be determined by how Immelt would grow the company in the next 20 years.  He couldn't have foreseen the effects of 9/11 and 2008 and how those events slammed GE.  He was realistic enough to know that the future was tenuous.  His legacy years later is not what it once was.

Charity Marketing


This is an interesting take on philanthropic marketing.  It seems photos of poor and starving children and adults are not as effective as pictures of success.  Expressions of hope are more powerful than images of hopelessness.  It seems counterintuitive but data apparently show that people are motivated by the application of money.  There seems to be a bit of Missouri in the average giver -- "Show me."   People want to see their gifts used for charitable purposes rather than just collected.  This is a lesson for nonprofit marketers and one they should be testing.  Does it hold true for every charity?  Are there exceptions? Should one retool entire marketing campaigns?  There is a need to move cautiously because there are thousands of charities in need of help, and they are all competing for the same dollar.  If a campaign turns off one's base of givers, that could be fatal. Nevertheless, ignoring a potentially better way to market is dangerous as well.

No Safety


When violence descends into an orgy of killing, communication fails.  Consider this example.  Mexican citizens were slaughtered at the hands of a drug cartel and authorities felt powerless to stop it.  When government does nothing and allows renegades to roam, leaving is the only safety -- if one can do that.  In this case, few could get away.  The article pins the blame for the terror on the US Drug Enforcement Agency.  The DEA gave the telephone pin numbers of the leaders of the drug cartel to Mexican authorities.  Predictably, the action was leaked, because Mexican authorities at that time were corrupt from top to bottom.  There was no reasonable or persuasive means to get around gang members with weapons.  The jackals were rapacious and bloodthirsty.  Force is the only means of communication in instances like this and power was lacking.