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Online Public Relations Thoughts

Daily entries on Public Relations and communications ideas and trends

Updated: 2018-01-20T08:02:32.648-05:00


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.

PR For Tax Law


Walmart has delivered some good PR for the new tax law by raising salaries and giving bonuses to its million-plus workers.  It almost offsets the announcement that it is closing up to 65 Sam's Club stores that no longer fit its strategic direction.  Walmart's decision to reward its employees puts pressure on other US companies that have yet to act under the new law.  As of last night, Walmart was the only one of the top 10 employers in the US to boost employee wages.  That is good PR for the company.  Added to that are more liberal benefits for paternal and maternal leave.  The company realizes that getting workers is more difficult in a time of low unemployment, and it is acting in its best interests by being more generous.  Kudos to the company.

High Risk, High Reward


On rare occasions, a company has a chance to take a high risk with the prospect of a high reward.  This is one.  No one yet has found traces of the Malaysian airliner that vanished in March 2014.  Theories abound.  Ships crisscrossed thousands of square miles of open ocean looking for wreckage.  So far, they have come up with nothing.  Ocean Infinity, a Houston company, is betting that its eight unmanned submarines can find the elusive pieces of the plane.  It can gain up to $70 million if it discovers it and nothing if it doesn't.  While the potential payout is enormous, the PR for its technologies would be greater.  The story would be, "This is the company that can do the impossible in ocean search."  Even if it doesn't uncover the plane, there is little risk of a downside.  After all, no one else has done it after lengthy searches.  Trying is respectable enough and positive PR for the company and its submersibles.  .  



How does one fight a rumor when information is classified?  This is the case that SpaceX is in.    There is a belief that its rocket failed with a secret load called Zuma on board.  SpaceX has said its rocket did everything it was supposed to do, but it can't answer whether the mission succeeded or whether something else went wrong.  This is a predicament for the company, which wants to show a sterling record of good launches.  So speculation swirls and SpaceX can say little to combat it. Meanwhile if the launch did fail in some fashion that did not involve the SpaceX rocket, the government needs to go back to the drawing board and build another satellite, an expensive proposition.  In cases where there is a necessary lack of transparency, there is no good way to rebut rumors.  One has to live with them.



How can a mistake like this slip though a marketer's control?  It is hard to believe the error was intentional.  What this says is that H&M needs a person with an understanding of diversity to review its images before they are made public.  Apparently no one thought too much about it -- not the photographer, the stylist or the on-set company representative.  It doesn't look as if the model thought much of it either.  Yet, comparing African-Americans to monkeys has been a decades-long slur against them.  Somebody in the marketing chain should have known that.  It's the kind of goof that can give a company a bad name.  



Blockchain has become a buzzword in the world of finance and mercantilism.  One company even changed its name to include blockchain in a cynical move to boost its stock price.  (It worked.)  The problem with the technology is that no one really knows what it is.  They are caught up in the mania of Bitcoin, which operates under a permission-less form of distributed ledger.  Corporations entering the field use a different type of blockchain in which all parties agree to a protocol.  The distinction is critical to understanding the theory and practice of the software.  Now, there is mania, which doesn't understand algorithms, but is only too ready to invest.  As usual, early entrants will get burned when the buzzword is no longer fashionable and the market settles into a few practical technologies.  Communicators should be wary of using the buzzword until they understand its complexities.  There is no need to add to the hype.

Doesn't Get It


This is proof that President Trump doesn't understand the First Amendment and the publisher of a critical work about him does.  Kudos to the publisher for advancing the publishing date.  Trump has only guaranteed more sales of the volume with his blast at the author.  Trump's threat to sue would be laughed out of court.  He is going to live with the book's statements and descriptions whether he likes it or not.  I have no way of knowing whether the work is accurate, but that scarcely matters.  Trump himself has disdain for facts and in his first year alone, the media have counted more than a thousand misstatements coming from his mouth.  There is an irony that he says the book is filled with lies.  Whether or not the work is truthful, Trump has already made it a candidate for best seller lists.



There is nothing so dangerous as crowd action when it comes to investing.  If everyone says it is time to get into a financial instrument, be it a mortgage or Bitcoin, it is then one should examine the premise on which the mania is built.  Do housing prices always rise?  Is Bitcoin guaranteed to appreciate in value?  Should one go all-in or diversify to moderate risk?  Communications practitioners, especially, are subject to the buzz of new, hot trends.  They live in a world of information.  They, however, should be the foremost skeptics  because they have seen it and fallen into a trap more than once.  It is hard to resist the crowd but one should be ready.  The masses aren't always right and more often than not, they are dead wrong.  When it comes to wealth creation, one should ask questions and be independent.



This is the latest panacea gullible citizens have taken up.  One wonders how credulous people can be, but then it has always been that way long before medicine men toured towns and villages selling quack remedies.  The mystifying part of the craze is that well educated people are engaging in it.  It seems their university degrees did not produce critical thinking.  They live in a semi-state of paranoia, convinced that nothing society offers is pure enough for their bodies.  Thus, they eschew vaccinations, genetically modified foods and other conveniences modern society has developed.  As PR practitioners we must acknowledge them, but we shouldn't be held back by their beliefs. Companies like Monsanto, the producer of GM seeds, live with the protests of activists who say the corporations are poisoning the world.  It makes no difference that their organisms have been tested thoroughly and found safe.  There is a lack of trust that no amount of persuasion will cure.



While legal marijuana is earning some respect after decades of prosecution, it is also changing the way the plant is grown and harvested. Small producers are being squeezed out and large ones are consolidating the market.  There is a wide variety of products offered for sale, more than a small farm can create. It wasn't supposed to be this way.  Pot growing was the ultimate small business.  One could with a few plants and grow lights make a living. That is no longer true and small producers are being forced to specialize to survive.  While legal weed is gaining a positive reputation, fewer producers are successful.  It is the iron law of economics.

Time Off


I'm taking the week between Christmas and New Years off.  Happy holidays to everyone.  

They All Had PR


It is good for PR practitioners to remember that PR and marketing do not guarantee survival.  All these technologies had PR and marketing plans.  They didn't live.  There are numerous reasons for their failure. They did not adapt to the marketplace no matter how good they were.  It is a sobering thought.  In my career, I've seen a number of products introduced with enthusiasm only to gutter out in time.  Some happened through lack of resources.  Others tanked because their creators and managers fell in love with their handiwork and could not be flexible.  Still others were the wrong product for the market. Business is risk.  One gambles each time he moves in the marketplace.  Strategy and planning reduce chance, but they are not enough because they deal with unknowns.  At some point, one makes a decision and plows ahead or fails through analysis paralysis.  There will be more technologies that fail in 2018, and someone will write an obit at the end of the year.  It is a poor way to be remembered.

Chronic Crisis


Chipotle is fighting yet another case of foodborne illness.  This time it occurred in one of its Los Angeles restaurants.  The firm is in a chronic crisis caused by some kind of failure in its logistics.  There should be no way that contaminated products slip through its system, but they are.  The chain will need to investigate again what went wrong.  Was it restaurant specific or food delivered to the restaurant?  If it was restricted to one building, how were edibles being handled?  Was there a storage problem, an employee foul-up such as failing to wash one's hands?  If the fresh vegetables were carrying a bacteria, how did it get there?  Did it happen in the field, at the time it was being picked, in transportation?  Ideally Chipotle will discover a root cause and fix it once and for all time.  But, so far that isn't happening and the chain has had a loss of reputation as a result.  There is no worse PR than for a restaurant to poison its customers.

Poor PR


Homeopathic medicine, a quack approach to health, has poor PR.  The FDA is now set to start regulating it.  The administration pulled no punches with its decision. 

“In many cases, people may be placing their trust and money in therapies that may bring little to no benefit in combating serious ailments, or worse—that may cause significant and even irreparable harm because the products are poorly manufactured, or contain active ingredients that aren’t adequately tested or disclosed to patients.”  

Why is it that segments of the public continue to trust so-called therapies that have no basis in scientific fact?  There is a lack of logic in many people's minds.  They posit their trust in modern day medicine men who prey on their credulity.  They need to be protected from themselves.

Failed Campaign


In spite of best efforts of authorities, people continue to text and drive.  Or, they are reading their e-mail with their heads down.  Or, they are yammering on the phone while steering through traffic.  Nothing transportation agencies and law enforcement have done has stopped people from using cell phones while in control of a vehicle.  There is no doubt it is dangerous.  Accident statistics prove that.  But, people continue to divide their attention between the road and screen.  Authorities are left asking what kind of PR campaign combined with enforcement is necessary to get drivers to stop.  There is no easy answer.  It's an issue as stubborn as smoking.  It is essential, however, for the message and behavior change to get through. While campaigns till now have failed, they can't stop.  At some point, texting and driving should be as serious a negative as running a red light.

Perception Turns


Robert Mueller has been a relentless investigator of Russian meddling in US elections and held in high respect.  Now, with one act, the perception has turned to that of a man out of control.  This stems from the seizure of thousands of transition team e-mails from the GSA.  Such correspondence is not considered part of a government agency and was supposed to be destroyed.  Mueller discovered that it was still intact and hauled it in.  There now is a worry that any potentially prosecutable offenses might be thrown out due to tainted evidence.  Mueller would defend himself by saying he was just doing his job.  But, one can over-reach, especially in the law.  There is great danger in the power of prosecutors.  They can wreck lives in their zeal and have.  Mueller is close to being reckless, as the author of the article says.  He has maintained positive PR until now.  It would be unfortunate if he loses it through his own actions.

Who knows?


Omarosa Manigault Newman is leaving the Trump administration.  Was she fired or did she choose to go voluntarily?  The first reports were she was escorted from the building and left shouting in anger.  Her version is the opposite.  The answer is who knows?  This administration is riddled with falsehood and lies.  One can't believe what anyone says.  The absence of truth starts at the top and radiates through the staff.  There is no effort to stick by facts or to tell the truth.  It is a sink of the worst kind of communications and PR.  It is a say-anything, do-anything organization without ethics.The executive branch is a moral vacuum. While it might have worked for a short time, the American public has caught on, and Trump's popularity ratings are the lowest of any president at this point in office. 



Some Silicon Valley heavyweights are now admitting that its denizens were starry-eyed optimists when it came to creating and introducing new technology.  They saw only the good side of humanity and failed to think about those who would do evil.  They were rudely surprised by Russians meddling in US elections, by neo-Nazi declarations, by pornographers, by others who choose to live outside the boundaries of society.  One could almost forgive them for their naivete.  Technologists from the beginning have only seen the good side of their labors.  They had to learn the hard way that humans are flawed and will misuse hardware and software to their own benefit even if it hurts others.  They know now and they are working diligently to edit out inflammatory material from their social media.  They still aren't comfortable with their new role, but they recognize the responsibility they have assumed with the success of their systems.  It has been a hard-won maturation.  

Without End


Google has a PR nightmare without end.  It is its war against scammers who continually find new ways to rank high in search engine results.  When the company closes one door with its algorithm, the shysters find another and pile in until Google gets wise and shuts it.  They are then off to other tricks as they find them.  There is no point where Google's search engine is perfect and stops scammers permanently.  There is always a crack somewhere and the fly-by-nighters will find it.  The company's reputation depends on producing good search results to queries and if it doesn't, people will stop using it.  Hence, Google can't ignore con artists.  It must do its utmost to smoke them out and get rid of them.  It is an onerous task but essential.

Long Time Coming


President Trump has signed a directive to NASA to send men back to the moon and  eventually, Mars.  It has been a long time coming.  Man hasn't been to the moon since 1972, and Mars is a gleam in the eye of space adventurers.  The directive will mean little without money.  Sans funds, the document is little more than a publicity stunt. It will take multi-billions to return to the moon and many more billions to reach Mars and return safely.  NASA hasn't had that kind of cash in decades.  It has been reduced to unmanned probes.  That hasn't been bad.  We have learned more about the solar system from instrument packages than we could have known with humans.  But, it is time to have a presence on the moon as a place to understand the deep complexities of space and its effects on the human body.  What we learn on the moon might get us to Mars but to little after that.  The solar system is hostile to life but for earth.

Well Handled


A budding but incompetent terrorist set off a pipe bomb in a New York subway this morning.  Authorities handled the incident well and over-communicated, as they should have, the particulars of the event to ease public concern.  Only three people were hurt, apparently none seriously except the perpetrator who was burned and is in the hospital.  Fortunately, New York emergency respondents had recently rehearsed what to do in the case of a terrorist attack so they were ready.  The lesson here is that crisis handling and communication don't work well on the page.  One needs to run through everything that needs to be done from securing a scene through transporting victims, communicating to the public and collecting forensic evidence.  It won't be the last time this happens.  The next incident might  be serious.  It is good to know that New York is ready.



The greater fools are bidding up the price of Bitcoin by the hour.  It is not going to stay that high and might even be breaking as I write. Some are going to get hurt badly, but that is the outcome of all mania.  The Dutch Tulip Bulb bubble ruined thousands of investors.  Bitcoin is no different and wise Wall Streeters have been counseling people to stay away.  Yet, many are not.  They see instant riches and they crave wealth.  it is crowd psychology and there is no communication other than supportive that the audience will listen to now.  Criticism is rejected out of hand.  Anyone who isn't on board with the mania doesn't understand or is a hidebound conservative.  When the price fever does break, and "I told you so" is ringing in their ears, they still won't listen but will go on to the next surefire way to riches.  Some people are gamblers always on the hunt for the next big thing.  They rarely win.