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Online Public Relations Thoughts

Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends

Updated: 2017-01-20T08:24:16.357-05:00


Power Corrupts Perspective


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.  

Shareholder Value


This is worth reading in its entirety.  The author defines six modes of shareholder value that a company can take.  The first, corporate fundamentalists want to boost profits and share price immediately.  Nothing can sway them from the goal.  The second are corporate toilers who want to boost share price but are more patient about it.  The third group, corporate oracles want to boost share price but do so in light of societal/legal changes that will be coming down the road.  The example is becoming a green company before it is mandated.  The fourth, corporate kings, are so successful in creating shareholder value that they can ignore it for awhile and still succeed.  The fifth are corporate socialists who believe shareholder value is not as important as the needs of society.  The sixth and final group are corporate apostates who ignore shareholder value completely and use the money they make for other purposes.  Companies can move from one category to another based on their leadership's views.  The article is a nice summary and worth noting because it shows how communications should shift based on a company's concern for shareholder value.

A Future Technology?


Three D movies and broadcasting always seems to be a future technology.  The industry tried again last year to sell 3D TV sets but once again failed in the attempt.  Although some movies are coming out in 3D, the movie industry has not adopted it on a major scale.  There are reasons why.  People don't like to wear glasses when watching a movie.  3D is often used gratuitously rather than advancing a plot.  Some movies don't lend themselves to 3D.  The technology is not new.  It has been around in various forms since the 1950s, but it failed to sell then too.  It seems 3D is a medium of a future that never quite comes.  The same thing happened to the picture phone.  AT&T introduced the concept in the early 1960s, but it didn't sell then or anytime in the next 30 years.  It wasn't until the internet was firmly established that people began "face-timing" one another and then they weren't using a landline phone but their computers and later, mobile phones.  It is a mystery that some technologies fail to impress even when they have proven benefits.  

New Industry, New PR


The stodgy auto industry is becoming new with the advent of driverless vehicles.  Old habits are being shucked for collaborations with tech companies that have the software and hardware for autonomous cars and trucks.  This will necessitate a change in PR for  manufacturers and marketers who have for more than 100 years touted the pleasures of steering a machine in all sorts of environments.  It is likely that driverless vehicles will be promoted as a safety feature to begin with.  That is how current technologies are being  featured -- backup camera, auto braking, self-parking, steerable headlights, lane keeping.  From safety the PR will eventually move to convenience -- working in a car while it is driving, watching video without distraction of lane changing and turning.  The old-line manufacturers will test autonomous vehicles for a million miles or more and will proceed cautiously with a roll-out.  In the meantime, they will study the consumer base to see how driverless machines will be accepted.



To attack a much-honored civil rights leader because you don't like what he said about you is incorrigible.  Yet, that is what President-elect Trump did on Twitter.  He has no shame nor any sense of PR.  He thrives on publicity, which he demands to be positive about him.  Anyone who would dare criticized him for his behavior is anathema.  It is sad that we are looking to four years of this kind of vituperation.  (I can't believe that Trump will serve a second term.)  The best we can do is to ignore him rather than let rage get the best of us.  If we can achieve a point of balance and simply acknowledge that he is a buffoon, then we might be able to move forward.  It is too early to know the damage he might cause to the economy and foreign relations.  We will need to take that step by step.  It is too much to hope for an impeachment.  Trump is a fool who skates on the edge of the law, but he seems to have an instinct for where soft spots are and he barely misses them.  The Republicans in Congress are going to have to discipline him by refusing to go along with the worst parts of his behavior.  Meanwhile, ordinary citizens like us have to learn to live with him.



The San Diego Chargers are now the Los Angeles Chargers.  Leaving San Diego after 50 years has produced a psychic wound among fans of the football team.  Many will say, "Good riddance."  Some will follow the team north and continue rooting.  The move is not unprecedented.  The Oakland Raiders moved twice and returned to the East Bay.  The Indianapolis Colts left Baltimore in the dark of night to the rage of forsaken fans who have never forgotten the slight.  The PR challenge for the Charger's owner is now to build a new fan base, and that won't be easy with another franchise in town, the Los Angeles Rams who also have moved twice.  The two teams are getting a new stadium. This was the friction for the Chargers in San Diego where a vote for a new structure was defeated.  The question now is whether Los Angeles can support two franchises.  That will not be known for years to come.  Thus far, only New York has been able to support two teams -- the Jets and the Giants.

Out Front


Nearly all big box retailers are cutting back, laying off retail workers and closing stores due to poor sales.  Wal-Mart is different.  It is cutting back on corporate staff but keeping store employees untouched.  The company realizes its PR is at the store level and between floor employees and consumers.  Stores with fewer retail staff tend to be dirtier, have inconsistent inventory and are harder to find items in.  Keeping retail staff boosts morale in its aisles.  Wal-Mart has been a target for unionization for years.  So far, the company has beaten back activists, but it recognized that it couldn't go on paying the minimum wage and win the reputation war.  Now that it is keeping its retail workers and cutting corporate staff, it is showing good faith to consumers and its own workers.

The White House Press


This is a discussion of why the White House press corp is no longer needed nor valuable to the media or citizens.  The problem is that it is an anachronism, and it never worked well anyway in terms of covering the President objectively.  President-elect Trump has successfully end-run the mainstream media with his twitter and social media presence.  He has stiffed reporters for months at a time because he doesn't like them -- and the feeling is mutual.  The White House press office is a medium and it is no longer as effective as it once was.  Good PR dictates that one change a medium when it no longer works well.  Will the reporters and journalists now scatter across Washington to report on how the President is doing?  Don't bet on it.  There is a magnetic pull toward the locus of power even if one is shut out of its considerations.  Look for more junior reporters to staff the room now even though it is a dead-end, and there might no longer be daily press briefings



A tech company creates a new product.  It takes the market by storm and the company scrambles to keep up with demand.  Meanwhile, its other products mark time or wither and R&D struggles to develop the next big thing that equals the curve of the current product.  When skyrocketing growth stops, the company finds itself in trouble because it doesn't have a replacement for the maturing device.  This, more or less, is the transition Apple is experiencing.  The iPhone drove the company for 10 years but sales are slumping because everyone who wants a phone has one, and the replacement market is a fraction of previous demand.  It is a tough position to be in from a public relations perspective.  Company fans are asking, "What's next?"  Apple has answers but none yet are as appealing as the iPhone.  It might not find the next big thing, if history is a guide.  I've seen this scenario 30 years ago when a company rose and fell on the creation of word processing.  The business wasn't ready for a technological shift in the marketplace and it went bankrupt when it could no longer sell dedicated word processors.  Apple is in no danger of going broke, but it does face a struggle to create new marketplaces that cumulatively are the same size as the iPhone.  Meanwhile, it has to keep its fans happy and customers coming back.  Messaging will be important during this period..

Political Theater


This week is the beginning of an extended run of political theater.  The President makes his farewell address.  The incoming President meets with the media, but most of all, the Senate takes up a pile of confirmation hearings for Trump's cabinet.  The predictable will happen.  Republicans will praise the nominees and Democrats will throw stones, ask hard questions and otherwise try to derail picks they don't like.  The media, attuned to good theater, will run stories about the controversial picks and barely mention those that skate through the process.  If the incoming President were a Democrat, reverse the roles and play the script exactly the same way again.  One wonders why both the politicians and the media don't get tired of the theater, but they don't. Since the cast of characters are new, each occasion is presented as a different play, one never seen before in Washington and not to be seen again. But, voters are suffused with boredom.  They've seen the drama too many times.  

Hard Task


The new governor of Puerto Rico says he will push hard to achieve statehood for the island.  That is a tough PR challenge from several points of view.  Puerto Rico is a financial disaster at the moment, and people have been leaving the island for the US.  Previous governors of the island have wanted statehood and never succeeded.  Congress isn't of a mind to grant statehood.  The governor has to convince not only his citizens but the populace of the US that his island is worthy of joining the ranks of 50 states. If he should succeed, the island will be the first with a native language that is different -- Spanish -- and it will be the first Caribbean country to link to the mainland.  A positive note for the governor's efforts is the close relationship between Puerto Rico and cities like Miami and New York where tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans dwell.  But still, it won't be easy.

Slow Death


Watching a brand die is an ugly, disheartening experience, especially when that brand once dominated the marketplace.  That is what is happening to Sears.  People of a certain age remember when the retail chain dominated America's malls.  It was an anchor store. Tens of thousands moved through its aisles monthly.  Then it was bought out by a financial engineer who thought he knew how to run retail.  He wrecked the chain and along with it the struggling K-Mart stores.  Now he is doing the only thing he knows how to do -- closing stores and retrenching in a process of slow strangulation.  The problem with Sears is that consumers don't need it.  They have plenty of shopping options whether online or on the floor of other stores.  Sears has not kept up and the harder it struggles, the worse it gets.  There is no compelling story behind the brand, no sense of flair, nothing to entice consumers into its space.  It needs lessons from Target, which has a sense of style that Sears is missing with its stodgy approach.  Sears should be a reminder to marketers and communicators that nothing is safe in the marketplace.  One needs to work each day to advance a brand or watch it slip quickly into irrelevance.

Hype Machine


It is good that a medium can call Silicon Valley publicity what it is -- hype.  In a review of 2016, Wired reports that the "hype machine sputtered."  All the promises of forthcoming and groundbreaking technologies failed to produce a major breakthrough.  That, however, didn't stop the drum beating and flacking.  The Valley has over-promoted itself for decades and still gets listeners in the media who write about the next big thing before it is fully developed and tested in the marketplace.  PR practitioners have been willing accomplices in this hype machine since the beginning.  It is profitable business for them, but they stretch the truth daily to please their clients, which is not good.  How many times can one proclaim the next revolution before members of the media become cynical?  It hasn't happened yet, but articles from media like Wired are a harbinger of tougher reporting.

2017 - A Tough Year?


Many were glad 2016  ended.  It was a difficult year with notable deaths and a shocking result of the presidential elections.  2017 isn't offering much in the way of promise.  For one, the presidential inauguration is days away, and we will have a new leader who must choose between acting the buffoon or behaving responsibly.  For another. terrorism hasn't slowed, and although the economy is better, it still might slow again.  There is no way of knowing at this point.  While it is traditional to look at a New Year with a sense of hope, this year instills a sense of danger.  PR practitioners should unfold their programs with caution, being prepared to change or pull back their messages.  If all goes well, come next December one can breathe easily.  If not, one can rest on being ready.

Until Jan. 3


I'm taking a vacation until Jan. 3.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.  

An Odd PR Crisis


It is safe to say that Ikea, the furniture and home furnishing store, is the only chain in the world having this problem.  Teenagers infiltrating its stores and conducting overnight sleepovers is an odd PR crisis.  Any number of things can happen and none are good.  The chain is right in trying to end the trend before it gets too far along.  So far, 10 of its stores have had illegal sleepovers and more teens will try.  They are motivated by a YouTube video, which shows two teenagers prowling the store at night when the store is closed.  An Ikea spokesperson said it was no fun being in a store with its sensors activated, but that is unlikely to stop daring teenagers.  Ikea might have to expand security until the urge to sleep overnight in it stores passes away.

PR And The Past


New York Life, Georgetown University, Volkswagen are but three of several institutions grappling with their history.  New York Life revealed that it wrote insurance policies on slaves as property.  Georgetown learned that its founding fathers had slaves that they sold to keep the young college afloat.  Volkswagen dealt with the use of slave labor in its factories during World War II.  Each instance is a public relations challenge.  How are the institutions going to handle it?  How will they atone today for deeds of long ago.  There is no easy answer.  Whatever one does is hardly enough for the descendants of those enslaved.  All three have taken the first step and researched the past to reveal the truth.  It is not clear in every instance what the second step should be.  Georgetown has initiated several programs.  It is unclear what New York Life might do.  Volkswagen seems content with a thorough research and making findings public.  There are no rules or protocols.  Hence, each institution can respond in its own way.  Whatever they elect to do, the past is present in PR programming.



Do people pay attention to what a CEO posts on a blog?  Yes, they do.  Tim Cook's blog entry for employees at Apple sparked media discussion.  The journalist's story projected the messages farther than the original target.  And, it lent additional credibility to the posting by affirming what the CEO wrote.  Often, CEOs feel they don't have time or interest in feeding back to employees through blogging or tweeting.  They would rather do a town hall or other live session, but it is difficult to arrange those on a regular basis.  Social media can serve well in the interim.  Why don't more CEOs blog or tweet?  It was not built into their routines as they rose in management.  They are not used to it and don't see the value.  The more that immediate communication moves into social media, the greater the need for CEOs to adapt.  Secondary communication will never take precedence over primary but it has a power of its own that savvy CEOs should be exploiting.

An Act Of War


Islamic terrorists are daring the Russian government to get into a pitched battle with them -- and they have succeeded by killing its ambassador to Turkey.  The shooting was an act of war -- a public statement of enmity, a challenge.  Putin will almost certainly not back down from the punch in the gut.  The terrorists are foolhardy in their belligerence.  They blow themselves up in an effort to kill others.  They kill indiscriminately.  They rape and pillage and justify all of their actions in the Koran.  Peace-loving Muslims are horrified, but there is little they can do other than to cooperate with authorities in isolating radicals and turning them in.  The more that acts like this happen, the greater the burden on Islamists to prove they belong in the 21st Century and are not throwbacks to AD 700.  The communications gap is growing by day, and there is an urgency to stop its growth and close it.

PR And Fake News


Facebook is undertaking a campaign to combat fake news.  It is a belated recognition that false stories on its web site were influencing people in negative ways.  Some commentators accused Facebook of throwing the election to Donald Trump because it had not policed fake news to that point.  Facebook understandably rejected that claim but it accepted that phony stories are a public relations issue for the company.  So, it has put in place machinery and human judgement to root out the trash and keep bonafide stories.  Is it perfect?  No. Nothing can catch fake news 100 percent of the time.  But, if Facebook can reduce false stories by a high percentage, it will make a stride toward protecting its users.  That in itself would be good PR. 

Nurture V. Management


This is an interesting essay about women in management.  Essentially, the author says that most women choose the "Mommy TracK" rather than the corporate management ladder. Professional women are beating the publicity drums for more women to stay in the company environment, but they are having a tough time getting colleagues to listen.  What the activists have missed is that Motherhood is a profession as great as anything that a corporation could confer on an individual.   Many women choose not to divide their time between the office and home.  To them, the home is more important.  Kudos to them.  That, however, leaves professional women gnashing their teeth because the upper ranks of management are dominated by men. There is no easy answer for this.  Some women can split their time successfully.  Some can't.  There should be no shaming of those who choose not to remain in the corporate ranks.  

Public Insulation


President-elect Donald Trump wants to slash the F-35 fighter program because its cost over-runs were out of control.  Chances are he won't succeed even though the fighters cost $100 million each.  Why?  Because Lockheed Martin, the builder of the aircraft, has carefully spread work across many Congressional districts and insulated itself from public criticism.  No matter that the fighter is 11 years overdo and the lifetime cost of the fleet will exceed a trillion dollars.  The program is pork, especially at a time when much cheaper drones are taking over tasks such as picket duty and air-ground attacks.  Although the F-35 build has been a scandal for more than a decade, Congress keeps pumping money into it.  Fortunately, it is likely the last manned fighter that will ever be built and given its cost that is a good outcome.  The military-industrial complex has been out of control for decades and it is time to rein it in.  If Trump can cut the cost of the F-35, more power to him.



How does an organization fight anonymous complaints about it?  Consider this case of attempted suicide at Amazon.  The company said nothing about it and that upset anonymous commenters in its workforce.  Even if Amazon had done so, it was open to criticism over its Performance Improvement Plan, which puts stress on its employees.  Amazon ignored the situation and the commenters, which only made things worse.  There are gripers for whom nothing is good enough, but to dispatch anonymous complaints without investigation is dangerous to reputation.  One should take negative feedback seriously.  If Amazon gains an aura of a worker's hell-hole, it will have troubles in years to come fleshing out its workforce for high-volume periods such as the Christmas holidays.  That will damage its drive to reduce delivery times.  

Bending Facts


It is rarely good for a start-up company to bend facts about its technology.  That, however, is the case with Magic Leap, an augmented reality business that purports to have artificial images blend with real-life.  Think of a tiny elephant being held in the palm of one's hand.  Magic Leap is apparently behind in developing its technology for either business or consumer use.  It is getting by with a huge venture capital investment and with spin -- telling everybody how disruptive the technology will be when perfected.  Meanwhile, it continues to make YouTube videos that use its technology, except in one case a fabrication that it used for recruiting engineers.  Part of the company's problem is that it chose a fiber optic system that it can't get to work.  That is always a peril of a start-up.  Magic Leap is apparently secretive about its work, but putting out videos of its success without backup is not a good sign.  Maybe venture capitalists are used to this approach, but it ought to give potential investors the willies.

Abusing Customers


Airlines today are in a curious marketing position.  They are seeing how far they can abuse their customers and get away with it.  How else can one explain United Airline's decision to charge for overhead bin space on its planes?  Flying has become an exercise in discomfort unless one is willing to pony up extra dollars for leg room, for example.  Having flown United recently, I can testify to the absurdly cramped spaces that the airline packs people into.  Anything to increase revenue.  This is opening an opportunity for other airlines to steal traffic from the majors through providing a better flight experience.  Several have tried and failed to date, but that doesn't mean it is impossible.  The major carriers are alienating their customers and acting as if they are the only option available.  That is bad PR and sooner or later, it will haunt them.