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Online Public Relations Thoughts



Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends



Updated: 2017-06-27T08:31:02.401-04:00

 



Too Little Too Late

2017-06-27T08:31:02.417-04:00

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.



Prohibited

2017-06-26T10:03:10.645-04:00

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.



SEO

2017-06-23T09:09:33.554-04:00

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.  



Accountability

2017-06-22T08:39:31.047-04:00

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

2017-06-21T09:22:22.073-04:00

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

2017-06-20T08:51:07.051-04:00

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

2017-06-19T08:31:04.611-04:00

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.



Legacy

2017-06-16T08:22:44.354-04:00

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

2017-06-15T08:35:13.147-04:00

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

2017-06-14T09:16:52.233-04:00

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.



Consensus?

2017-06-13T08:42:23.314-04:00

Can you have consensus when only 23 percent of an electorate has voted?  This is the conundrum Puerto Rico faces after a plebiscite on the question of statehood.  Although the final tally was greater than 90 percent in favor, anti-statehood voters had boycotted the ballot box.  From a communications perspective, the vote was a failure.  It hardly shows agreement among Puerto Ricans that they should change their status from a territory to a state.  That is only the beginning of the issue.  Puerto Rico is broke and swamped with debt.  A half-million citizens have fled the island already to the US and those left behind are subject to ruinous taxes to make up for the budget shortfall.  Why would Congress accept the territory as a state at this time?  The governor of Puerto Rico needs to do some serious PR both in his homeland and in Washington DC in order to make his case.  



Back

2017-06-12T09:08:53.863-04:00

I just returned from two weeks in California visiting relatives.  What struck me during the sojourn is how jejune the newspapers are there.  Even the mighty Los Angeles Times is a shadow of what it was.  One wonders how much longer the print medium can sustain itself in the face of the internet.  Based on what I read, it can't be much further into the future.  The newspaper industry is in a death spiral.   It cuts staff to slow expenses, but in doing so, it cuts news and by slicing content, it continues to lose frustrated readers, and by doing that, major advertisers abandon print.  The missing columns of news are an incentive for readers to look elsewhere online and once they have adjusted to reading that way, they don't come back to "bird-cage" liner.  Publishers understand this but they are hamstrung by their big presses and complex distribution.  Despite brave pronouncements, such as the Sacramento Bee's slogan of "160 years of independent journalism," the newspaper industry is too sick to defend itself.  Look for more to abandon daily editions and to move online.



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.