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Preview: Online Public Relations Thoughts

Online Public Relations Thoughts

Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends

Updated: 2018-02-22T06:50:35.111-05:00


PR/Marketing Problem


Kentucky Fried Chicken has run out of chicken in the UK.  It has had to close 2/3 of its 900 restaurants in the country because of the shortage.  The chain is making light of it but the situation is serious.  There is no faster way to lose customers for the long-term.  Once they get out of the habit of going to a KFC because it isn't open, they won't come back easily.  The real question for the company is how the logistics failure occurred.  It is more than a simple mistake.  Somehow their suppliers weren't communicating to the company.  KFC will fix the gaffe but the ongoing problem is what needs to be addressed.  It shouldn't happen again for any reason. 



Not Invented Here is a frequent slam used by entities facing unpleasant competition. They cannot take seriously a product or service, which they did not discover and develop.  NASA is facing the NIH syndrome with SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket.  Rather than welcoming the new propulsion system, NASA is doubling down on its Space Launch System, which will cost more to build and fire off than SpaceX's machine.  It seems the agency is living in the past and unable to accept that a commercial entity has beaten it to the finish line with a better and cheaper product.  The Falcon Heavy will now go about its business of launching satellites and retrieving boosters for reconditioning and reuse.  Meanwhile, Boeing, which is building the SLS, has much to prove that its giant candle will actually be better than the Falcon Heavy, which is here and working today.  SpaceX has won the PR war and NASA is scrambling to catch up.

Can We Learn?


The NRA is once again defending ownership of guns while relatives prepare to bury 17 murdered students and teachers. An unanswered question is: "Can we learn from other countries what to do?"  Notably, Australia.  The Land Down Under banned rapid fire firearms in 1996 after a fatal mass shooting in Tasmania. It hasn't had a fatal mass shooting in which five or more people have died since then.There is no good reason for semi-automatic weapons in the hands of civilians. They fire with each pull of the trigger without needing to reload because they have a magazine of bullets.  Even though they are the most popular long gun sold in America, they deserve to be banned as Australia has done.  One can remain secure, have fun on a rifle range and still hunt with breech-loading weapons.  The NRA's publicity has gone too far for too long.

Tough Sledding


If you are Huawei, how do you persuade the US government to use your telecommunications equipment?  The FBI, NSA and CIA have all cautioned Americans not to use its phones because of a chance of espionage.  Huawei is successful throughout the world but not in America because of security fears.  It has tried time and again to rebut charges that the Chinese government can use its equipment for intelligence gathering.  So far, nothing has worked.  The company is in a PR black hole from which it seemingly cannot get out.  Persuasion for Huawei starts with the government.  If it can't convince the intelligence agencies that it does not work for the Chinese government, then there is no place else to go.  America's cellular companies aren't about to work with it and risk the wrath of the Feds.  It's a tough position to be in and one for which there are few answers.

He Knows


If there is one tech leader who knows about corporate hubris, it is Bill Gates.  Microsoft battled with the Federal Government for years over its monopolistic approach to marketing.  That is why his warning to the tech community should be taken seriously.  He sees companies on direct paths to regulation if they don't control themselves.  He tells companies they have to cooperate with the government more than they are doing.   He cautions that tech leaders should not hold to their views over that of the Feds.  Gates skated around the Free Speech argument some companies are making.   Regulators will transgress the First Amendment when they feel justified to do so, and tech giants should resist when that happens, but otherwise, Gates words should be taken to heart in Silicon Valley. 

10 years?


The CEO of The New York Times is predicting that the print version of the paper has only 10 years before it is gone.  That may be optimistic.  Older technologies have a way of hanging on long after their expiration date.  Still, it is a surprising statement that paper might not be around that much longer.  The Times has a thriving digital presence, and it is pouring resources into it to improve it constantly.  In 10 years time, it is likely the web site will be driving all of the news, culture and arts reporting. What the Times' needs is advertising on the web site that supplants the full-page spreads in the paper.  I, for one, am not ready for the day the paper edition goes away, but I'll adjust when it comes, if it does.   

Black Eye


Aetna Insurance has given a blow to its reputation.  This comes from the admission of a former medical director that he never reviewed patients' records before turning them down for procedures.  Rather, he let nurses on staff make the decisions and he validated them.  California's insurance commissioner expressed outrage over the disclosure and has launched an investigation into the company.  Aetna's black eye was self-inflicted.  It should have known that allowing someone other than a doctor to deny medical procedures was not going to work for the long term.  Now the company has to defend itself in court and before the commissioner and try to regain its footing.  It might not be easy.

Reputation At Risk


Amtrak has put its reputation at risk based on the number of accidents it has had recently.  Some were not its fault -- hitting a garbage truck on the tracks that didn't belong there.  Others are due to maintenance and human failure.  At least one was egregious.  Train travel is supposed to be safe.  The rail company is falling down on keeping passengers secure.  There are reasons for its failures but most stem from a lack of money to keep the system from deteriorating. Amtrak has been on the edge of bankruptcy for years and it shows in the state of its equipment, which is old and poorly kept.  The railroad needs to cut back to profitable routes, but Congress won't consider it.  As long as the impasse continues, Amtrak will be a sick system limping instead of running.



The idea seemed good. An online tailor would use artificial intelligence to measure the size of a customer's shirt.  All the customer had to do was send in a photo of one his shirts and the computer would do the rest.  There was only one glitch. The AI program didn't work.  Shirts came back too long or too short and ill-fitting.  The company, Original Stitch, a start-up, was forced to stop using the software.  One wonders how rigorously the system was tested before it was introduced to the marketplace.  This kind of unforced error is enough to sink a company and there is no good reason for it to happen.  It's a PR blackeye and marketing faux pas.  Particularly for a new business trying to gain its footing a failure like this can be devastating.  It's one more reminder that a rush to market before one is ready is a rookie mistake.

High Risk, High Reward


SpaceX is set to launch its new heavy rocket today.  It is a $90 million event and if the rocket blows up, it will cost the company five years of work.  It is a high risk, high reward exercise and in one 5-minute period it can burnish the company's reputation or ruin it.  The company has tested and retested components and conducted a static firing of the engines, but it won't know if everything is working until the launch.  It is then in mission control that nerves will be taut and breathing difficult.  Should it succeed, there will be high-fives, cheering and smiles.  Should something go wrong, there will be silence.  There are other happenings in the world that are high-risk like this one, but none so public and witnessed by millions as a rocket lighting off and arcing into the sky.  Here's a wish for a good flight and problem-free journey.  



Philly fans have no sense of decorum in their celebration.  Yes, the Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time but that provided no excuse to shatter windows, take down light poles and leap from awnings.  Last night's revelry wasn't quite a riot but it could have turned into one quickly.  The out-of-control crowd was poor PR for the city and its citizens.  Fans should be happy, delirious that their team finally broke through, but there is a step between unbounded joy and destruction of property.  Some Philadelphia citizens crossed the line and gave the city a bad name.  

Day Zero


Cape Town, South Africa, is facing a major challenge -- a lack of water.  The town is literally running out and has assigned a Day Zero, April 16, when taps of the city go dry.  Cape Town's PR smacks of desperation.  Curtail your water use or else. The problem is that the "or else" is going to happen whether one conserves water now or not.  For the most part, citizens are aware of the problem and are taking action, but there are always a 10 percent who don't know or don't care.  They will be objects of peer group action, which could get ugly.  City managers have to prepare for trucking in water for Cape Town's four million residents.  That will be a major logistical nightmare on its own.  What it does will be studied.  No other major urban area has run out of water, but with climate change, it might happen again.



How can you continue to head a major health agency if you trade in stocks of tobacco companies?  The answer is you can't.  The director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has left her job for doing just that.  The perception of hypocrisy was too great.  How can you lead the charge to get people to stop smoking if you are profiting from ownership in companies that promote it?  Brenda Fitzgerald, the now former director, was either clueless or brazen.  Either position was deadly for her continued presence as director.  She is not the only one caught by perception.  Her predecessor resigned after it was discovered he was using government jets rather than commercial aviation.  One wonders what these people were thinking.  

Making A Statement


This is one way to make a statement about the environment. has spent millions building three spheres in which hundreds of plants are growing.  Spread throughout the jungle are meeting venues for employees and work pods.  The company is demonstrating through its investment both its concern for employees and nature.  A cynic might say Amazon would show better judgment by finding ways to reduce the size and use of its shipping boxes.  Amazon has an answer for that too.  It has instituted analytics to gauge better the size of box or envelope used to package items.  The company isn't perfect, but then it sends tens of millions of boxes and envelopes annually.  The spheres might be expensive PR, but they are effective in making the case for Amazon's concern for nature.

Tough PR Challenge


Republicans are facing a difficult 2018 election given President Trump's low poll numbers.  Their task is even tougher given the number of Congressmen leaving office.  Thus far, nine chairs of House committees have said they are not going to run again.  It is expected that Republicans will lose the Senate where their margin is one vote.  Now they have to contend with losing the House as well.  It's a difficult PR challenge for the Elephant Party to turn the tide of opinion in just eight months.  It is impossible to show a unified face.  Division within the ranks is too deep.  Democrats can scarcely contain their glee over troubles facing their opponent.  They are hustling candidates to take on swing districts, and they are counting potential votes.  Republicans, meanwhile, as the party in power are struggling to produce legislation they can point to in their districts.  There has been little except the tax law.  What will Congressmen say to constituents to convince them to vote Republican again.  It will be interesting to watch. 

Mob Marketing


A French grocery chain learned the hard way about marketing to a mob.  It started a mad rush for Nutella, the chocolate and hazelnut spread.  The riots were caused by a deep discount for the product. Frenchmen lined up at the doors of the grocer then rushed for the bottles.  There was fighting.  There was damage.  There were futile efforts for crowd control.  The promotion can be deemed a success, but not one the grocer would try again anytime soon.  It clearly had no intimation of demand for the product when it slashed prices.  It does now.

Net Neutrality


Burger King has come up  with an imaginative way to explain net neutrality.  People ordering a Whopper get served based on how much they have paid for the sandwich.  Those served right away pay $26 for their meal.  Those made to wait pay the regular price.  It's funny but descriptive of what might happen when net neutrality is rescinded.  The scenario is not exactly accurate.  In order to reach higher speeds on the Internet, ISP's have to install new equipment and in some cases, new wires to the home.  There is an expense that is left out of Burger King's argument.  Still, it is amusing to see the growing annoyance on the part of burger customers as they are told to wait while others go before them.  It's a powerful, but flawed, argument, for net neutrality.

Media Hype


Reporters are usually sensitive to anything that smacks of hype -- overselling and exaggeration.  Yet they do it themselves and a prime example is the Super Bowl.  Every conceivable angle is analyzed and beaten to death in the two weeks before the game.  One would think we were about to experience an earth-shaking event rather than football.  It is odd to see journalists lose their sense of proportion like this.  One would expect a more restrained and dispassionate approach.  The National Football League aids and abets the mania leading up to the event, and players and coaches go along with it.  At some point, one wants to say it is just a game -- nothing more, nothing less.  There will be a winner and loser, and morning will come and life will continue.

Who Would Buy It?


The governor of Puerto Rico says he is going to sell the power authority to private interests.  Given its reputation, who would buy it?  The electrical grid on the island was a disaster before the hurricanes.  The generation plants are old and inefficient.  Power delivery was chaotic and episodic.  It will need a deep-pocket investor to take on the problems and make money.  The governor will find someone eventually, but he shouldn't expect to get top dollar for selling it.  It is more likely a giveaway.  The result of a poor reputation is a lower price.  One positive point for the power authority.  It is getting new poles and wires from the reconstruction after the storm.  That won't help the power plant which needs to be modernized or replaced.  

Odd PR Crisis


Procter & Gamble has an odd PR crisis.  Adolescents are eating the brightly colored packets of its Tide laundry soap.  They are poisoning themselves in the process.  The company has no way of stopping them but for sanitizing social media where teens boast of their exploits.  There are no good ways to seal the tubs holding the packets such that teenagers can't get into them.  The company stopped babies from playing with the soap by doing just that.  Teenagers are too smart to be foiled, but they aren't intelligent enough yet to understand the dangers.  Designers didn't think about this when they developed the packet, and why would they?  Who would have guessed that youths would ingest cleaning products as a way of showing off?  Nonetheless, it is now a crisis for the company.  It is as odd as a previous crisis the company suffered when Born Again preachers claimed that its "Man in the Moon" logo was the sign of the devil.

PR Nightmare


This year for the first time, CEOs have to report the pay ratio of their salaries by comparison to that of the median worker's income in their companies.  It is shaping up to be a PR nightmare.  For one, the media will widely report the numbers.  Secondly, although the ratio is squishy and hardly factual, it will provoke protests from unions and some investors.  There is little doubt that executive compensation is out of control although it has moderated somewhat in recent years.  The ratio will do little to compress the distance between CEOs and their employees, but it will be a source of embarrassment.  Maybe that, if nothing else, will help to narrow the gap.  PR practitioners should expect to defend the ratios in the coming proxy season.  It might be difficult to do. 

Tough Position


The Pope has not ducked controversy, and in his current visit to South America, he was a target again.  This time it was for appointment of a bishop whom lay Catholics claim shielded a clerical child abuser.  Rather than back down, Pope Francis called for proof that the bishop was negligent.  That was daring in that the practice now is to act first then look for evidence later.  The hierarchy has been thinned as a result of child abuse, and well it should be.  There is no excuse for putting pedophiles back to work even if there is a shortage of priests.  The crime is too great and recidivism too frequent.  The Pope stands with the victims, but he also has a sense of fairness, which isn't appreciated.  Victims want vengeance, and they criticize him if they don't get it.  The Pope is in a tough position, but it doesn't seem to bother him.  He takes the blows to reputation and keeps moving forward.



It is not too early to discuss how the Internet of Things will change messaging.  Practitioners should be thinking and researching about how to use the connected house and person in persuasive ways.  Linked appliances, operations and people will become singular with their own set of data that will define a demography of one.  It will require sharp focus on individuals and a deeper understanding of what motivates them. Connection will include invasion of privacy, which needs to be minimized as much as possible.  Companies will be required to protect the information of their users in ways they never have before.  There will be fertile ground for use of artificial intelligence to determine the best ways and times to communicate to individual householders.  Message-sending will become the province of technicians.  Are we ready? 

Nails In Reputation


This and this have led to this.  President Trump's unfeeling deportation of long-time Americans and his flagrant ignoring of the meaning of special days have among too-numerous-to-tell other outrages led to a slumping reputation.  One would think he would be worried about it, but he doesn't seem to be.  He basks in the love of a minority of supporters.  He feeds on applause and attacks instantly when there is criticism.  He has proclaimed himself a genius when those around him call him a moron and an idiot.  He is lost in love of himself, a narcissist of the worst kind.  Other presidents have been clueless but not for want of trying.  Trump glories in his ignorance and makes no effort to understand issues and the responsibilities of his office.  If the first year is any indication, he will continue this way until he is voted out at the end of his first term.  The next president will have the task of restoring America's reputation with the rest of the world.



General Electric is taking a $6.2 billion charge against earnings to cover shortfalls in its long-term care insurance portfolio.  It is not the only company that has done that.  One insurer after another has had to increase premiums to cover unanticipated costs.  As a result, long-term care insurance has a bad reputation for being expensive and unreliable.  One wonders why anyone would buy it except that aging can impoverish one with charges for home, medical and other care.  It isn't much consolation for GE to know that it has joined the club, especially since the company is doing poorly in its other businesses as well.  Maybe at some point, insurers will get their actuarial assumptions right, but that day hasn't arrived yet.