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Online Public Relations Thoughts



Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends



Updated: 2017-11-17T09:07:13.240-05:00

 



Intrinsic Value

2017-11-17T09:07:13.252-05:00

What is a painting worth?  The materials that go into one cost a few dollars.  The labor cost of the painter is gauged by demand for his work. Most do poorly or barely make a living.  But in the secondary market, long after they are gone, hype can increase a canvas' value many thousands of times.. Thus the Leonardo Da Vinci Salvator Mundi sold for $450 million.  The art world has been shaken by the extraordinary amount.  It was achieved through clever marketing by Christie, the auction house.  Will the buyer ever recover his money if he goes to resell the painting someday?  There is no way of knowing, but one should not be surprised if he doesn't.  Values rise and fall with market sentiment.  There are times not to put a work up for bid and other moments when the fever is at a new high.  There is no way to program a machine to forecast accurately what a painting might bring.  The same is true for other markets like real estate.  Value is what one is willing to pay.  Time will tell whether the buyer of the Leonardo paid too much.



Conspiracy Theory

2017-11-16T08:41:39.702-05:00

Sean Hannity has been cited as the top conspiracy theorist on TV.  He is not one whom a PR practitioner would want to approach.  Those who see deceit under every rug are not given to sticking with facts. They have to spin them into a web of insinuation and outright falsehood.  One's client is at great risk of being caught in a warp of opinion presented as truth.  It makes no difference whether conspiracy theories come from the political right or left.  Both are bad.  The media we should approach have a respect for facts and for the most part, avoid opinion. They go where facts lead them, and if facts delineate wrongdoing, they report it.  They don't exaggerate.  They are willing to listen and to report both sides.  What should one do for a client caught in a web of conspiracy theory?  Assemble the facts and communicate them fiercely.  Fight fire with fire.  



Why Regulators Are Needed

2017-11-15T08:57:54.018-05:00

The argument that markets should be free and unregulated has never been true.  Human behavior is not always honest.  Consider cryptocurrency.  It still is an open and wild marketplace where scams and schemes are prevalent.  For digital coinage to be of general use, it will need to be regulated and cheaters controlled. So too with every other marketplace.  That is why when companies call for free markets, they really do not intend for the them to become Darwinian and capitalist.  They want fairness and equal competition.  This government provides.  Communicators who profess to be free marketers need to be honest with themselves.  Rather than calling for less regulation, they should opt for effective rulemaking that guides behavior but doesn't squelch it. And, there should be penalties for the dishonest.  Free markets have never been free of bad operators.



Lost Reputation

2017-11-14T08:52:41.089-05:00

When one loses his reputation, people abandon him -- even if he is on the cusp of victory.  That is the case here.  Five women have now come forward and claimed that Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, had molested them as teenagers.  Moore is refusing to leave the race even though Republican senators in Congress have already disavowed him.  He is a man twisting in the wind.  Even if his contention that he is the victim of "fake news" proves correct, there is little to no time for him to recover before election day.  If he should be elected, Senators have already said they will move to deny him his seat by expelling him.  If he did molest these women, that is the least he deserves. Sexual harassment has become the new social sin. There is a confluence of power and sex that many have gotten away with it until now.  More reputations will be lost in the coming months.  



The Mighty Fall

2017-11-13T09:23:15.808-05:00

Not so many years ago, General Electric was a colossus striding the land.  Its management techniques were imitated widely.  Its former executives went on to run large companies. Now the corporation is struggling to survive, and it has lost $100 billion in market value.  The downfall was relatively swift.  After 2008, its financial arm was disassembled and largely sold off.  It was the former engine of earnings outstripping the industrial arms of the business. Now, GE looks mortal, and there is speculation it might not survive as a conglomerate.   If so, it will be an epic flameout equivalent to the demise of ITT decades ago.  It is a reminder that there is no safety in size or in balance sheet.  Market power can erode stealthily or of a sudden.  A CEO needs a healthy paranoia and to remain on alert for trouble.  Communications should retain a sense of humility and a clear recognition that what goes up can come down -- sometimes hard.



Cue The Lawyers

2017-11-10T08:58:13.411-05:00

AT&T"s CEO has publicity stated he will fight the Justice Department if it tries to get him to spin off CNN before merging with Time Warner.  This sounds like a legal, lobbyist and PR full employment move.  AT&T needs to gain high ground in public and legal opinion and do so quickly.  Thus, President Trump's allegations of CNN producing "fake news" have already become an issue.  It is hard to say at this point who is favored to win the war, but it is unusual.  Normally, when the Justice Department indicates it is not pleased with a merger, there are negotiations and agreements to do spin-offs or the combination is called off by the two parties. AT&T wants content to flesh out its huge distribution platform.  Hence its will to fight to the bitter end.  It might be a long road.  These issues can take months if not years to settle.  



Acid Test

2017-11-09T08:39:07.007-05:00

Waymo, the Google company, is putting its reputation on the line with the announcement that it will send out driverless vans in Arizona as an acid test of its technology. The company has been working toward this day for more than 10 years.  Now that it is here, there are still unanswered questions beyond the robustness of the technology.  Who will insure a driverless vehicle if it is in an accident or suddenly goes rogue?  Are customers ready for driverless technology or will they freak and attempt to steer the vans themselves?  Can the vans find their customers on busy streets where GPS might not be as accurate as needed?
Waymo will be confronting these challenges as well as others that have not been foreseen.  If it is able to conquer fears and to run without drivers, it will be the first in the world to have achieved it and to open a pathway to commercialization.  That's a huge step, which its competitors have yet to come near.  



Dumb PR

2017-11-08T09:12:17.417-05:00

The Walt Disney Cos. are masters of marketing PR.  That is why this is so dumb.  No one wins when an organization tries to blackball the press. Certainly, Disney did not in this case, and it is unlikely to do so in the future.  File this one under "What were they thinking."  If the company is upset with reporting on it, it should meet directly with the reporters and editors and work out a solution. In this case, Disney was angry with the LA Times for reporting on its relationship with the city of Anaheim where Disneyland is located. See "Company Town" below.  The first rule of media relations is never to pick a public fight with the media.  It is only on the rarest occasions where someone might try to punish a reporter for gross inaccuracies. That should be done quietly with an appeal to the journalist's editors along with the accurate information that the reporter ignored.  A company has every right to set the record straight, but for its own sake, it should not shut out the media.  



Finagling

2017-11-07T08:29:14.551-05:00

The leak of a trove of papers from a law firm is revealing the extent of finagling that corporations do to avoid taxation.  Apple, it turns out, is a skilled practitioner in avoiding taxes.  It shielded hundreds of billions of dollars from its overseas accounts through domiciling on an island with 0 corporate taxation.  Apple has every right to do what it did, but it still leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.  The perception is one of a rogue corporate citizen.  There is no guarantee with the pending tax reform act that Apple will repatriate any of its mountain of cash to the US.  The money it made overseas is out of reach of the US taxman.  US citizens have a right to inveigh against such corporate sleight of hand.  It places a heavier tax burden on individuals, and it appears unfair although it is legal.  Apple's reputation may take a ding as a result of these revelations and well it should.



Company Town

2017-11-06T09:27:53.993-05:00

When a business is the largest in a city and employs a significant number of its citizens, it becomes a company town.  Anaheim, CA is one such instance with the presence in its borders of Disneyland.  Anaheim has extended tax breaks for Disneyland in the millions and built a vast parking garage for visitors.  Now, after 50+ years, The city is starting to take a harder look at its relationship with The Walt Disney Cos. There is a growing sentiment that it ought to be paying more into city coffers, especially since the Anaheim has some significant budget shortfalls.  Disney has responded that it has done a lot for the community and will continue its open-handed ways.  There is a beginning of a stand-off.  From a PR perspective, Disney ought to be paying more, especially for the parking garage.  The company can't move its operation easily to any other place.  It needs continuing good relations with the town. At some point, Anaheim will ask too much from the company, and then, Disney will have to consider a battle with the community.  The situation doesn't appear to be at that point yet, but as long as the company can ward off a fight, the better for it and Anaheim.



Continuous Crisis

2017-11-03T08:31:21.610-04:00

The large social media and tech firms are facing a continuous crisis with Russia meddling in US elections.  If they shut one door to interference, hackers will find another to penetrate.  Added to these problems is the role model Russia has become.  That is, if Russia can intrude, why not another country or political entity?  Google, Facebook and Twitter have a long and difficult journey ahead of them to shut off spigots of fake news and propaganda.  They can tweak their algorithms, but that will only go so far.  They can hire editors and researchers, but that is expensive.  Chances are they will settle on a solution that is a bit of both, but they will have difficulty with experts gaming their systems.  They are now in a protracted war to provide truthful information to users, and it is possible they will be hailed before House and Senate committees after the next election for the same meddling.



Airline Ranking

2017-11-02T09:19:32.025-04:00

A ranking of the top 10 world airlines has come out and there is not a single American carrier on it.  That isn't good for reputation or for PR.  The reason for their absence is well known.  They cram customers into their planes like cattle into a car.  They have done away with amenities that make flying more comfortable.  They charge for nearly everything including leg room.  They do all this without apology.  Part of their behavior is understandable. It is difficult to make a profit as an air carrier.  Everything is shaved to the penny, but in the drive for cost accounting the customer has been lost.  There doesn't seem to be any change in the future.   Airlines in America will continue to treat customers shabbily and for the most part customers will have to suffer because they have few other options.   



Technology And Marketing

2017-11-01T09:37:29.254-04:00

Waymo, the Google subsidiary, is proving it has developed a completely self-driving car.  The company has just held a journalist's field day at its test facility in Central California.  What Waymo hasn't proven yet is that it can sell the software and hardware necessary for an autonomous vehicle.  Its technology is ahead of the marketing.  When asked about potential customers, Waymo's response is nebulous.  It might be the company has customers ready to buy when it has declared the technology fully mature.  However, two out of three of the major American auto manufacturers have decided to go it alone and develop their own self-driving machines.  Waymo could be left with a mature technology and no market.  That would be a blow to the engineers who have labored for eight years and tested vehicles for millions of miles.  What good is a better mousetrap if no one wants it?



Riding A Whirlwind

2017-10-31T10:53:06.723-04:00

Politicians often balance opposing forces, but so do popes.  This article details a precarious balance the current pope is taking.  He is riding a whirlwind of criticism from within his own ranks -- conservatives who believe he is committing heresy and liberals who are pushing him to clean up the Vatican.  It is a daunting task for an 80-year-old man and one wonders if he is up to it.  No amount of internal relations will placate his right-wing critics.  They want the Church to do it their way.  Pope Francis doesn't agree.  They are out to destroy his papacy and recapture the seat of Peter.  It doesn't matter that the public at large has been supportive of the pope's view and his dedication to the poor and homeless.  His humility doesn't offset a perception that he has gone soft on principle.  That, in the conservatives' view, is unforgivable.  There is little in public relations to soften the anger.  He has to live with it.  



Assigning Blame

2017-10-30T09:24:03.156-04:00

The Taliban are holding captive an American teacher whom they kidnapped.  His health is poor and the Taliban are blaming the US for his condition because the US has failed to negotiate his release.  It's a lame publicity attempt to influence world opinion.  The US has a rule that it won't bargain with terrorists or pay ransom because if it does even once, the kidnappings will never end.  The situation is hell for the captive and his family.  It seems like his government has abandoned him.  Yet, in principle and practice, the US is right in withholding money.  It just looks bad.  There are times when perception goes against one who is doing the right thing.  There is little one can do except to hope for a better understanding later on -- eventual redemption.  Meanwhile, the Taliban grab the headlines.  



Publicity Stunt

2017-10-27T09:00:26.324-04:00

How do you tell the world your country is open and eager to exploit innovation?  Well, you can grant citizenship to a robot as Saudi Arabia has done.  This publicity stunt garnered worldwide headlines and reporting on the Future Investment Initiative, a conference in Riyadh, sponsored by Saudi rulers.   They had Sophia, the name of the robot, speak and answer questions.  It was a disembodied presentation and hardly lifelike, but the robot showed some facial expressions and human qualities.  One problem was around her eyes, which are lifeless and fixed.  The bulk of her expressions were around her mouth where she smiled and seemed to chew her lip.  She was fixed in place and could not move, which also contributed to the artificial nature of the presentation.  Still, as a new citizen of Saudi Arabia, she acquitted herself with her answers to questions from the moderator.  One wonders how she will be counted on a census form.



PR Challenge

2017-10-26T08:30:27.060-04:00

The NAACP has advised African-American travelers to avoid American Airlines.  The rights organization has cited several incidents in which the airline's personnel have acted badly when dealing with black passengers.  American Airlines is upset over the advisory and publicly noted its disappointment.  It is now a PR challenge for the carrier to show the African-American community that it has no bias against any of its passengers.  This is more than messages to the media.  It extends to gate personnel and airplane staff who need to be sensitized to the situation.  One outcome is that airline personnel will "walk on eggshells": to avoid upsetting African-Americans. That is not desirable either.  All passengers should be treated equally without bias to any group.  What this calls for is training.  One hopes American Airlines is doing it.



Power Vanishes

2017-10-25T09:29:12.276-04:00

It is a truism that companies with great power in the marketplace might not stay there long.  We have two examples now - Nike and General Electric.  It is no overstatement to say both were fearsome competitors and unbeatable for decades.  Now, they are trying to find their way.  This happens because the world doesn't stay the same. As events evolve, companies must react and change with them or fall behind.  Nike's competitors have caught up with it.  General Electric, which was a bank under Jack Welch, ran into trouble in the 2008 financial meltdown and hasn't recovered since.  PR practitioners should keep these examples in mind when promoting their organizations.  It is dangerous to be too effusive.  Boasting is a ticket to humiliation eventually. Marketplace power vanishes as quickly as it came.



Classic Marketing

2017-10-24T08:31:10.384-04:00

The family that sold OxyContin to the American public used classic pharmaceutical marketing techniques -- medical spokespersons, giveaways, detail men, studies, etc. There was nothing novel about the methods.  That the pills were addictive was de-emphasized in favor of pain management.  In fact, the drug was marketed as non-addictive for some time.  Purdue was able to get away with this fraudulent behavior because it is a private company with little public oversight other than the FDA.  The Food and Drug Administration failed to understand the dangers of the drug and let Purdue have free rein in selling the pills.  Now the US is in the middle of an addiction epidemic brought on by abuse of OxyContin.  It is serious and people are dying from overdoses across the US.  The lesson here is that pharmaceutical marketing in itself isn't bad, but the misuse of it can be devastating.



Clever PR

2017-10-23T08:53:10.035-04:00

This is cute and clever PR.  KFC planted the references on Twitter and waited until someone would find it.  When they did, it provoked an explosion of media reporting, all positive and tickled by the genius behind 11 herbs and spices. There is plenty of room in social and traditional media for creative presentation, but it is not frequently used and many times it is me-too, following the lead of someone else.  Give KFC credit for developing the idea and acting on it.  It will be interesting to see what they try next.



Credible Source

2017-10-20T08:26:19.895-04:00

Who is better to caution a leader than another one who has been in the same position and knows the strains of it?  That is why George W. Bush's comments are credible in his veiled criticism of the current occupant of the White House.  Calling bigotry and white supremacy "blasphemy" against the American creed, Bush left no doubt about where he stands.  He all but invited a counter-attack from President Trump.  So far, Bush hasn't gotten one.  Bush's speech served to isolate Trump who has alienated himself from all sides in his first year as commander in chief.  All that remains is for Republicans to disavow him formally as some are doing individually.  Some politicians hope to impeach Trump, but that remains a distant prospect.  Right now, it looks like we will have 3+ years of the man before the public can get rid of him.



The Power Of PR

2017-10-19T09:23:58.239-04:00

When one has nothing, it is still difficult to band together with others in order to be treated fairly.  It takes an organizer to persuade the downtrodden they can do better.  That is the reason this person has won the MacArthur "genius" grant. Working in Florida he organized poor field laborers who were often cheated of their wages and treated like slaves.  They then approached large retailers in the US who bought produce from farms around Immokalee, FL and convinced them to take part in its Fair Food Program.  Since then, conditions have improved for field hands and the brutal laboring conditions ameliorated.  The power of PR came in highlighting the plight of laborers to companies like Walmart, McDonald's and other major food retailers.  It is much needed.  Decades ago, I worked as a farm laborer and conditions were primitive.  That hasn't changed much in the ensuing years.  Farm hands are at the bottom of the logistic chain and the most vulnerable.  Many are undocumented workers and fearful for what might happen to them if they stand up for their rights.  It takes a powerful voice to gain a hearing.  



Enforcement

2017-10-18T08:40:35.608-04:00

PR can fail.  Authorities, companies and other organizations can plead with the public to no avail.  For example, this case.  Governments and not-for-profits harangue citizens to put away cell phones while driving.  But, they haven't.  They continue to talk and text (!) while steering vehicles down the road. There is little wonder accidents have increased.  The logical solution to this dilemma is enforcement -- tickets and steep fines for people caught using phones while driving.  It is difficult to do but not impossible.  Police are trained to be sensitive to how people drive, and they can spot egregious infractions -- people with cell phones to their ear, drivers looking down rather than at the traffic around them with only one (or no) hands on the steering wheel, citizens slow to take off after a light changes because they are distracted by texting.  There should be no quarter given for mistakes like these.  Distraction is worse than speeding. When automated cars become standard, this will change, but for now PR needs the backing of strict enforcement.




Beauty Pageant

2017-10-17T08:35:20.823-04:00

Yet another city has entered the beauty pageant to win Amazon's second headquarters prize.  The promise of 50,000 jobs eventually and the prestige of having such a large e-commerce firm in one's town has sent mayors and governors into a frenzy.  One town and state after another has proclaimed it is best for the second domain.  States have already promised billions in tax breaks should the company choose them.  Jeff Bezos must be enjoying every moment of the competition because Amazon will get buildings and operations tax free for years.  Is such pandering to a corporation unseemly?  It is but the promise of jobs is driving the competition.  Every mayor and ever governor wants to flaunt success in bringing increased employment and high-paying wages to his locale.  It is a huge bonus come election time.  So, the madness continues as one city after another dances to Amazon's tune in an all-out public relations war.



In Control

2017-10-16T09:15:36.186-04:00

There are times when proper public relations is to maintain an atmosphere of calm control.  This is one.  Cabin staff on airlines are supposed to be heavily trained for what to do in an emergency.  It is a sign of professionalism to maintain certitude in the face of massive uncertainty.  The steward's and stewardess' job is to prepare passengers for the unknown be that a chance at life if the plane is brought down safely on land or water.  In an environment of fear, people look for an authority figure to guide them.  This has been true since the dawn of the human race.  People are frightened by a loss of control.  They seek divine help.  They look for leaders to guide them to safety.  Only a few are brave enough to stand up and take charge.  Airline staff are supposed to be those beacons of aid and losing control is a fundamental failure in doing their jobs.