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Online Public Relations Thoughts



Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends



Updated: 2017-09-19T09:23:51.217-04:00

 



Protector Needs Protection

2017-09-19T09:23:51.226-04:00

It is a blow to reputation when a security company needs protection because malware has compromised its software.  That is what happened to Avast.  Its CC CLeaner for Windows software was harmed when hackers installed a backdoor in it.  More than two million users downloaded the affected program before Avast caught on. The company patched the hole but now it needs to reach the users with the update.  The lesson here is that no one is safe and one must stay on alert all of the time.  Hackers are a fact of life on the internet and they will never go away.  Companies can make it harder for them to succeed but they cannot guarantee a program is tamper-proof.  Security companies, especially, need vigilance because they have set themselves up as protectors.  



Credibility Is Everything

2017-09-18T11:39:18.545-04:00

Credibility is everything to an auditing firm, and that is why KPMG cleaned house in South Africa as a result of a scandal.  An auditing firm cannot afford to fight regulators or to work through one with headlines detailing progress or lack of it.  Is it unfair to partners if they were not involved?  Yes, it is. KPMG  could have reassigned them pending the outcome of an investigation, but that might look like it was hiding something. It was good for the senior partner to take responsibility since he was in charge, but that doesn't assuage the cost to reputation from the misdeeds themselves.  There is no merciful way to handle a situation like this.  Public perception demands action even if the blade cuts deeply.  



Tone Deaf

2017-09-15T08:30:55.972-04:00

If there is one commonalty of the Trump administration, it would be tone deafness.  Here is one more case of failure to understand the perceptions of what one is doing.  The result is another ding to the reputation of Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.  What makes it worse is that he is independently wealthy, and he could easily afford first class travel on the airline of his choosing.  An airplane is a perk of the President and no one below him.  Even the President is criticized for using Air Force 1 when he is clearly campaigning and not attending to official business.  Mnuchin might have brought the attitude with him from the business world that CEOs and the wealthy deserve their own private jets.  One hopes he and his wife are quick studies and don't put themselves into the spotlight again.



Absence of Credibility

2017-09-14T09:55:07.127-04:00

Philip Morris International has pledged nearly $1 billion to fight smoking, but its critics don't believe it.  After all, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes spent billions fighting anti-tobacco activists for decades.  Why should anyone believe them now?  The company has a strong economic interest in non-smoking tobacco, also known as vaping, which is growing rapidly.  It isn't getting out of business but changing focus.  Still, it bears watching as it pushes smoke-free alternatives.  The company has little or no credibility when it comes to tobacco.  One way or another, PMI comes off as self-interested.



Rigor Mortis

2017-09-13T10:48:33.828-04:00

It is not often a PR firm closes because of its misdeeds.  This UK firm has just shut down after being kicked out of the UK PR association for running a racist campaign in South Africa.  Aside from the standard question, "What were they thinking?", it is a reminder that all a PR firm has is its credibility.  Once it sacrifices that, it is useless.  That is what Bell Pottinger did in undertaking a job it should have avoided at all costs.  The firm was greedy and amoral, a dangerous combination, and its stance caught up with it.  It will not be late and lamented.  It stands as an object lesson to other PR firms.  There is only so far one should go before turning down a client.  



Positive Publicity

2017-09-12T11:22:15.403-04:00

This shows the power of positive publicity.  So far as I know, Amazon did not advertise its price cuts at Whole Foods the day it took over.  It simply made them and let the media discover with their market basket approach the slashes to the price of food.  The company has garnered miles of free ink and video and store traffic has climbed.  In addition, it has shipped more groceries than before to Amazon customers.  The question facing Amazon now is whether it can keep prices low in its Whole Food stores and make up for the smaller margin on traffic.  The company is a formidable competitor so it is likely that it will.  Jeff Bezos is out to conquer the retail world and he just might do it.



Reputation

2017-09-11T08:43:44.748-04:00

Equifax, the credit rating bureau, has a besmirched reputation, and it deserves it.  The company lost 143 million names, social security numbers, credit card numbers and personal data through a breach of its system, and it delayed in announcing the hack for five weeks.  Privacy advocates exploded in rage over the incident.  It didn't help that company executives sold stock prior to the announcement of the loss.  Equifax has put up a web site to deal with the problem but it is poorly designed and hard to use.  The CEO has released a video in which he apologizes for the intrusion, but it is hardly enough.  It is up to consumers to protect themselves as best they can, and that isn't easy.  It is a PR disaster and the company will need many months to restore its reputation, if it can.  



Too Little Too Late

2017-09-08T08:27:33.389-04:00

Hillary Clinton is out with a new book that explains how she lost the election.  It is too little too late for such an after-action report.  It is also too early for the judgment of history in which scholars will sift much, if not all,.of the events that lay beneath the defeat.  From a PR perspective, Hillary can come off as a sore loser by having done this.  One asks what her objective is by writing so soon after her loss.  The general feeling is that she is washed out as a politician.  Her time in the national spotlight is over and her ambition to sit behind the desk in the Oval Oval office sunk.  Perhaps she feels like justifying her defeat to a person who, so far, is unqualified to hold the Presidency.  She is not above settling scores with other candidates -- Bernie Sanders -- who rejects her description of him.  Whatever her motivation, it is odd such a book would come out now.



PR Before Performance

2017-09-07T08:23:09.392-04:00

IBM seems to have committed a PR mistake by making a hoopla before it has performance to match it.  The situation is this.  IBM advertised and marketed its Watson AI software as an essential aid in cancer detection and treatment.  But, recent studies have shown that the system has a long way to go before it can be generally useful to physicians. This is a basic error in the conduct of public relations and marketing.  One should publicize the things one has done and not about to do.  Now, Watson and its creators have to work hard to make up for lost reputation as a result of making news too early.  No one is saying Watson is a failure in treating cancer, but they are making clear that it isn't a useful tool yet.  That is a small consolation, but it doesn't help the business.  



Batter Up

2017-09-06T09:25:11.459-04:00

There are times when use of new technology is not good.  It is cheating.  The Boston Red Sox are finding that out after using Apple watches to steal signs from Yankee catchers.   It was a clever scheme, but now Major League Baseball will weigh in to determine the punishment the Red Sox will receive for doing it.  Sign stealing is a long practiced craft in baseball, and it is allowable as long as one doesn't use a technical means for doing it.  The Red Sox now have a reputational issue for going high-tech.  Their fans might laugh it off, but the rest of the league won't.  Opponents will scrutinize their actions at every game and call foul should the least bit of on-field play seem wrong.



Inexcusable

2017-09-05T08:42:12.138-04:00

Police have an aura of upholders of the law. When they violate that perception, it is inexcusable.  Here is a case of stupidity in which a police detective acted highhandedly and against the law.  As a result, he destroyed the trust of the nurse involved, of those observing the incident and of the public at large.  He deserves to be fired from the force because he no longer communicates the message of protector to the public.  Rather, he is an example of arrogance that comes with power, of exerting one's will over others for no good reason.  The law and law enforcement are dangerous in that regard.  Police and prosecutors wrap themselves in righteousness and trample the rights of others.  They forget to balance liberty with justice.  This does not happen to every member of law enforcement, but incidents like this are a reminder that police can go out of control.



When Will It End?

2017-09-01T09:11:11.103-04:00

Wells Fargo has determined that its employees had created an additional 1.4 million fraudulent accounts.  It has been a year since the scandal broke and there is seemingly no end to it.  The bank's reputation lies in ruins and its recent disclosures are like kicking a dog while it is down.  One must ask how the bank was running so amuck and the only possible answer is inattention by its leaders and a breakdown in operations.  Wells Fargo was not close to the bank people thought it was.  It now has to live down its image for years to come.  Every new slip-up at the institution will garner headlines and another assault on its reputation.  Banking runs on trust and Wells Fargo violated it fundamentally.  Should the company lose customers as a result of this prolonged scandal, that is as it should be.  It is too big to go out of business as a result of these disclosures, but it could well shrink, which would be the least punishment it deserves.



Publicity Stunt

2017-08-31T11:31:00.390-04:00

Ford Motor and Domino's pizza have teamed to deliver pizza with a driverless car.  It's a publicity stunt with a purpose.  Both companies are trying to learn how consumers will relate to robotic vehicles.  In this case, the car will come to the curb and the customer must leave the house, enter digits from one's phone number and retrieve the pizza from a box in the rear window.  At issue is whether customers will accept the added burden rather than having a human deliver the box to the door.  The two companies will find out soon enough.  Meanwhile the stunt part of the project is garnering Ford and Domino headlines and positioning them at the forefront of driverless technologies.  A smart move. 



Moral Responsibility?

2017-08-30T09:05:15.565-04:00

Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, says American CEOs have a moral responsibility to speak out on issues and to support society's needs.  Economic conservatives would counter by stating that the sole role of the CEO is to make money for shareholders.  Which is correct, or do the two approaches exist side by side in an uncomfortable alliance?  Even a conservative would admit that if a societal issue threatens a company's bottom line, the CEO should address it.  For the most part, though, CEOs stay out of politics and hot button issues, and that is OK.  They have enough to do to keep their companies profitable and growing.  But, there is good reason for them to address societal issues within the boundaries of their companies.  Issues such as diversity and promotion of women and minorities affect operations and company progress.  Local community services surrounding hiring and retention are also well within the strict boundaries of corporate profitability.  Thus, for example, a CEO should focus on the quality of schools in a plant town so she can be assured of having enough qualified candidates to keep it running.  A company can rarely divorce itself from society completely if it wants to succeed.  Tim Cook is right about that.



Price Change Reputation Change?

2017-08-29T08:24:52.483-04:00

Whole Foods supermarkets, also known as Whole Paycheck because of their high prices, are cutting consumer costs under new ownership.  Amazon, the owner, is seeking an image change for the chain and based on wide news reporting, it just might succeed.  Amazon can afford to cut prices and go for market share.  It can also cross sell in stores, which it is already doing.  It will take time for consumers to shift shopping habits but if Whole Foods' new image of cost consciousness spreads, there is a good chance the chain can change its reputation into a low-cost alternative to regular supermarkets.  It might never reach the level of discounters like Trader Joe's, but it could become a destination for many more weekly grocery shoppers.  The PR move of a price change could lead to a positive reputation change.



The Weather Story

2017-08-28T09:09:17.024-04:00

Houston is drowned and headlines in the media are weather stories and tales of disaster.  It is times like this that the public forms enduring impressions of politicians, the police and rescue personnel.  What they do and how they respond is burned into memory.  It took years for FEMA to regain its reputation after Hurricane Katrina and the botch of the New Orleans response.  How FEMA handles Houston and surrounding communities will be under a media and public microscope.  Perception will rule more than fact.  That is why President Trump will visit the Houston area tomorrow to show the administration's concern. One hopes he doesn't mess up this critical engagement as he did recently in Arizona.  Because of the volume of water falling on Texas, recovery will be slow and impressions of the effectiveness or lack of it of government will be imprinted on those who have suffered loss.  They won't forget.



Amateur Psychology

2017-08-25T09:13:49.668-04:00

Democrats are engaging in amateur psychology to explain President Trump's behavior and hopefully, impeach him.  This is a move that could backfire.  Obsession with Trump might well dilute messages Democrats should be sending to voters.  It is hard in the present situation to stay on topic.  The President's erratic behavior and speech are tempting targets.  He is anything but presidential and he has succeeded in isolating himself from the electorate and his own party.  One still wonders how he was elected in the first place.  But, he is not the issue for Democrats.  There are plenty of topics the party can coalesce around including fixing the ACA, updating immigration law and re-establishing good relations with nations now estranged from the President.  Democrats needn't spend their time analyzing and consulting the manual of psychiatric diseases.  Rather, they should be working on the midterm elections and trying to regain their power in Congress. Trump is self-destructing without their help.



Operation Reputation

2017-08-24T08:29:44.982-04:00

The US Navy is working fast to regain its reputation after accidents in the 7th fleet.  It removed the admiral in charge who was destined to retire anyway. The act forcing a step down is a symbolic gesture.  It would be hard to know whether a commander at that level is indeed responsible for lapses in seamanship that has occurred four times in the last few months.  But the Navy's tradition is the commander is in charge in all cases and responsible.  Although the leaders of the two frigates were not on deck when cargo ships plowed into them, they lost their posts anyway and were in effect drummed out of the Navy.  Now the Navy is doing a rare stand-down of the worldwide fleets to retrain its personnel and insure that deck officers know what to do.  It wants to get rid of the perception that it is the military arm that can't sail straight and it needs to do that quickly.



Smart Food PR

2017-08-23T09:16:32.622-04:00

Panera restaurants are engaging in a practice of smart food PR.  The chain is listing the calories for each soft drink it offers on the side of the cup.  That way consumers can know just how much sugar they are ingesting.  The practice might hurt the company's business in the short run.  Margins on drinks are high, but the CEO is determined to offer healthy choices for Panera's customers.  Some consumers will stop imbibing the highest calorie drinks and others might forgo soft drinks completely.  The chain is saying that is OK.  Transparency is the better choice for a company like Panera which offers sandwiches and salads.  The company believes in the long run its openness will add to the bottom line.  Here is a hope that it does.



Not Much To Do

2017-08-22T08:45:45.330-04:00

The company that makes the ubiquitous Tiki Torch is embarrassed.  Without its knowledge, neo-nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA used the flambeaus in their parade that ended in violence.  The company has publicly disavowed the alt-right groups but that doesn't solve the problem of thousands of photos and dozens of videos showing the protestors carrying Tiki Torches.  There is not much to do in a case like this.  The torches meant for outdoor parties and fun have taken on an insidious new meaning.  Lamplight Farms, the owner of the Tiki Brand, has to hope that the alt-right will stop using its flambeaus in future parades, but there is no way to be certain of that.  There is a good chance that if they do use them, the brand will be killed by popular revulsion. "I don't want that thing in my yard."  It is a PR nightmare.  



Out Of Touch

2017-08-21T09:22:04.187-04:00

Jerry Lewis, who just died, was as famous for his telethons as his slapstick comedy.  But, his telethons were controversial and some said revealed a man out of touch with the disabled.  It mattered little to the ones afflicted with muscular dystrophy that he was soliciting money for them.  They were unhappy with the way Lewis described them as damaged individuals deserving of pity.  Lewis could be faulted for failing to communicate in a way that respected his audience.  It is a matter of perception and of reality.  The disabled didn't want to be type-cast, and they perceived Lewis' pleas as insulting.  It mattered little to them that he raised $2.5 billion in his 44 years on the air.  It is sad that one who started out to do good gained a reputation for talking down.  



Dumb, cont.

2017-08-18T08:58:27.496-04:00

How can a politician make this mistake -- talking openly to a reporter without going on background or off the record?  Steve Bannon did it and now will suffer the consequences.  He directly contradicted his boss, President Trump.  He openly acknowledged his internal fights with other White House staff.  He talked as he were the President and able to change the White House team at will.  Bannon has enemies, plenty of them, and they will use the interview against him.  Of course, Bannon might well have known what he was doing and wanted the interview to be on record.  There is always that possibility, but it doesn't look that way and perception counts.  Will Bannon avoid the media from here on out or will he continue to lobby publicly for his views?  That is a question for Trump and Bannon.  Certainly, if the interview was in error, someone needs to explain off-the-record and on-background to him quickly.



Isolation

2017-08-17T08:30:32.483-04:00

It is a tough PR and leadership position to be in when one is isolated from his constituencies. It is especially difficult when the isolation is self-induced.  This is the position President Trump has thrust himself  with the disbanding of two business councils advising him.  Trump has progressively cut himself off from one citizen demographic after another.  All that remains for him is his base -- small as it is.  The fewer defenders he has the greater the danger to him and his position.  No one has found anything illegal in his operations -- at least not yet -- but there is a grand jury probing the Russia meddling and his staff's complicity in in it.  At this point, one can almost sense the Republican party begging for a good reason to impeach him and move on.  One needs supporters to accomplish anything in the corporate and political world.  Trump has yet to learn that as president.  



Dumb

2017-08-16T09:04:37.415-04:00

One wonders how a sophisticated company like Costco can make a dumb mistake like this.  Surely the company knew it was misappropriating Tiffany's name and brand for the diamond rings it was selling.  Its defense in court was lame, and the judge imposed a fine of  more than $19 million on the company.  The fine hurts but not as much as the ding to Costco's reputation.  One can ask what other products has Costco mislabeled.  If it was "cavalier" with Tiffany, why not with others as well?  Surely this wasn't the only instance of brand theft.  Costco has a task now of auditing its products and making sure its marketing of them is honest.  If not, look for more lawsuits against the company, which it will have trouble defending.



Communicating To The Unknown

2017-08-15T08:46:20.599-04:00

It has been 40 years since two gold-plated copper records were affixed to two spacecrafts and blasted into the universe.  Voyagers I and II are now far away in interstellar vacuum.  It will be hundreds of years before they reach another solar system and by then, who knows what the earth will be like and if it will even be here.  The chances of another civilization retrieving one or both of the craft is exceedingly slim.  Yet, NASA tried to communicate to the unknown.  What was put on the disks was instructive.  The scientists tried to summarize life in sound and pictures.  There was hubris in the attempt, but idealism as well.  We may never know if there is life on the exo-planets being discovered weekly now.  We do know there are thousands of them, but learning whether they have a solid surface and water is a slow and sometimes impossible process.  The challenges of communicating to the unknown are nearly insuperable.  Even if another civilization were to intercept a Voyager, would it know what the disk is for and would it be able to decipher the instructions for playing it? Scientists took their best guess.  NASA has not tried to communicate to the unknown again, but it should be honored for making the attempt at least once.