No Make-good

When you make a mistake this egregious, there is no make-good -- even a public apology isn't sufficient.  How the campaign made such an error is still unknown and the candidate, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, says she wasn't the one at fault.  From a PR perspective, it is an indication of sloppiness in communications operations and materials.  The first rule is accuracy and it is obvious someone violated it.  In an era of "fake news" when people make up facts as they go along, there is a premium on getting it right the first time.  Heitkamp should know that, and now she has to struggle with an unforced error.  Campaigns are difficult enough without making obvious goofs.

Dirty Laundry

In the internet age, nothing prevents an employee or ex-employee from exposing to the world the dirty laundry of an organization.  Consider this case.  An ex-employee, six years removed from a Google job, spills his anger at the company and the top manager of his group, Google+.  His series of Tweets are ugly and there is nothing the company can do about them.  Pointing out that the designer worked there only eight months and is hashing over old times doesn't help.  Neither does the fact that Google is shutting down Google+.  The Tweets were inflammatory enough that Business Insider took notice and gave them wide currency.  Organizations everywhere need to be prepared for online tell-alls.  There will be many more, and they can spark a crisis quickly.


The Trump administration is about to rule that pharmaceutical companies have to list the price of their drugs in TV ads if the medicines cost more than $35 a month.  The industry, of course, is opposed.  It wants to direct consumers to web sites where the cost is enumerated.  Critics of the proposal say it is unclear how exposing drug prices would do anything to control their rise.  Also, the proposal would be voluntary and the government would rely on shaming companies that fail to follow the rule.  The idea is interesting and might have a chance of working.  Transparency is missing in the drug industry.  (Few people hear or read contraindications mandated with advertising.)  Would it be the same with pricing?  The only way to find out is to do it, but pharma companies are threatening to tie the rule Continue reading "Transparency?"


This article asks a good question.  If humility is so important in a leader, why are so many arrogant?  It goes on to define three kinds of humility, including one dubbed "humbition" -- humility combined with ambition. Arrogant managers like being in charge and telling people what to do.  They don't listen: They glory in power.  There are too many to name who fall in this category, including the current President. PR practitioners know too well the kind of leaders they serve.  They can tell stories of humility and arrogance. They will relate to you privately that X is a good person or they will whisper one or another outrage a CEO has committed.  PR is often a receptacle of CEO demands, whether reasonable or not.  

Native American?

Elizabeth Warren has released a DNA test that reports she had a Native American in her past at least 6 to 10 generations ago.  This makes her a tiny bit indigenous and refutes the mockery of President Trump.  However, it is scarcely enough for her to point to her heritage and proudly proclaim her lineage.  No matter, it will remain a talking point in her campaigns and Trump will continue his jibes.  The two of them have a bitter relationship and it is not destined to get better as time passes.  It is likely Warren will be on the national scene longer than Trump.  She is a senator with a relatively safe seat.  From a PR perspective, it would probably be better if she downplayed her heritage.  It is so distant as to be insignificant.  Who among us doesn't have some odd mixture as one traces genealogy generations back?   

Search And Reputation

One might not think search results from an online engine would be injurious to reputation.  Microsoft's Bing has proved that wrong.  The software produced racist answers for words like "Jew", "Muslim", and "black people."   Microsoft acknowledged that it needs to work on the responses and refine its algorithms but the damage was done. It seems the no. 2 search engine is that way for a reason.  It doesn't produce as satisfying answers as Google.  Microsoft has spent billions on Bing and gotten virtually nowhere.  It might be past time to give up on it and accept that Google owns the field both now and in the future.  Even if it doesn't, it has to work on its programming to prevent ugly results from showing in the future.

Smart PR

It's smart PR to take something destined for a landfill and to recycle it into an environmental substance.  That is what students and teachers in New York City are doing in the Billion Oyster Project.  They are rescuing oyster half-shells from restaurants, cleaning them and using them as substrates for new oyster spat that is planted on the sea bed in reefs that clean the water and break the force of ocean waves.  It is a win-win for everybody.  The restaurants are glad to do it because it is less expensive than putting the shells into the trash. Teachers and students are happy to have a guaranteed source for shells.  Environmentalists support the project because it is cleaning the harbor.  Students are learning hands-on ecology and some of them will go on to become scientists studying the effects of pollution and how to prevent Continue reading "Smart PR"


This proves once again that people are gullible.  They don't think and yet, try to please their interviewer.  One wonders if they were envisioning Brett Kavanaugh while answering the Christopher Columbus question.  It is a concern for PR practitioners because there is always a percentage of any audience that will believe anything they are told.  It calls for a premium on accuracy and clarity.  One should spell out a message and not assume people will get it.  Of course, if one is trying to be snarky as Jimmy Kimmel was, then anything and everything goes.  There is a danger in mocking people, however.  It can lose an organization friends and reputation.  


Google pulled a dumb maneuver in an effort to protect its reputation and avoid regulatory scrutiny.  To protect itself after a data breach that affected 500,000 of its Google Plus users, it hid the exposure and didn't tell anyone.  Now that the news is out, Google's reputation is not only tarnished but the company also looks deceitful.  Someone should have told the corporation that its approach was a lousy idea and it would have been far better off taking a hit early on and moving forward.  Now, Google will have to answer to regulators and work hard to repair relations with customers.  Google, of all companies, should understand that in the internet age there is no hiding.  The company should apologize and swear never to make this mistake again.  

Practical Joke

This was an international practical joke that still has people scratching their heads.   Moments after a contemporary artist's painting was sold for $1.4 million, it was partially shredded as it dropped from its frame.  Call it Banksy's nose-thumbing at the art world and over-priced paintings.  From a PR perspective, it was a statement that couldn't be missed, and it generated publicity around the globe.  No other artists have tried anything so provocative and chances are they wouldn't.  It is hard enough to get sales at any price.  That Banksy could destroy one of his own works to make a point is breathtaking.  The odd outcome of the mockery is that his work may even become more valuable as a result. 


One good work of PR is to turn a spotlight onto deserving individuals who work in shadows.  This is what the MacArthur Grants do, and here is this year's group of winners.  They are a eclectic mix of science, arts and social activism, but all do important work that distinguishes them in their fields if not in society at large.  The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has defined a niche for itself with its constant search for "geniuses" who show creativity and "potential for future achievements."  No other organization can make that claim.  It is a wonderful gift to society and one that burnishes the reputations of not only the winners but of the foundation itself.  The annual publicity for the awards is not as large as that for Nobel winners but the Nobels have been around for many decades and the Continue reading "Spotlight"


We know people lie, sometimes intentionally and at other times through a quirk in personal psychology.  Here is a case in which the American public is lying about its preference for fast food.  It is not that they are intentionally try to mislead. They really believe they are paying attention to healthier options for eating when they aren't.  It is a quandary for communicators who need to address issues when the public at large has a misperception of what they are.  One must start first by correcting the record.  "You say you do X, but you really don't."  This is a hard task because people don't like to be told they are wrong.  But, if a communicator doesn't take on the job, the fiction continues and reality and lie stand side by side. The public has blinded itself to the truth and is Continue reading "Self-Deception"

Clay Feet

President Trump built his reputation on his entrepreneurial savvy, but now it seems he got his money from his father after all.  A New York Times investigation into the Trump family's finances shows tax finagling writ large and avoidance of inheritance tax a major concern.  This is not surprising.  Rich men don't like to pay taxes any more than the rest of us.  What is notable is that the Trump fiction lasted for so long in the public eye. Were he not President, no newspaper would have dedicated a year's worth of investigative reporting to find out his fund sources.  Now, Trump has to live down his tale of personal success and his overweening self-praise for his business prowess.Trump is furious, and why shouldn't he be?  He has been shown to have clay feet.

Another Blow

NASA, SpaceX and numerous other companies are flogging the possibility of deep space travel to Mars.  But, problems in doing so keep cropping up and here is another one.  Sending astronauts on long journeys is likely to destroy their intestines and give them cancers.  There is no effective shielding today from injurious rays that would affect them.  This is not surprising.  The human body is not made for space, and traveling off this planet means carrying everything with one to survive.  The barriers so far do not appear to be insuperable, but the question arises again why NASA and others are so anxious to launch man into space when robots are so effective in doing the job.  Nevertheless, the publicity continues.

Crisis Aid

Walmart and other major fresh food suppliers are taking a major step to alleviate a perennial crisis - contaminated food.  They are implementing a blockchain network that tracks fruits and vegetables from farm to store.  The software has reduced the time it takes to find the origin of injurious product from seven days to 2.2 seconds.  Moreover, it cuts down on the wastage of food that has been the answer to contamination up to the present.  If romaine lettuce caused illness, stores would remove all romaine from their shelves even though most of it was OK.  Now, they will only trash that which has been identified as the source of illness.  This will save time, injury and money.  It will also make PR practitioners' lives easier in managing communications for recalls. The new system is easier all the way around.  Kudos to all the companies that have made this possible.

Limits Of Publicity

Bump stocks, devices that turn semi-automatic rifles into machine guns, gained a horrid name in the Las Vegas massacre a year ago.  There is no excuse for them and they should have been federally banned.  A year later, they are still being sold in 40 states and there doesn't appear to be a movement to get rid of them.  If nothing else, this shows the limits of publicity.  The shooting in Las Vegas was international news and covered for days.  The bump stock was featured prominently in the stories.  Revulsion was universal.  Calls for regulation blared once again.  Nothing happened except in 10 states that saw fit to ban them.  One can call Congress feckless but that would be too simple.  There is no national will expressed in voting and activism.  That takes hard work of building coalitions, grassroots organizing, Continue reading "Limits Of Publicity"

Small Step has been blistered in reporting and on social media for its pay scale for warehouse workers.  It has just announced a raise for its employees.  The increase of two to four percent was at best a small step and will hardly dent Amazon's profits.  Most certainly it will not stop criticism of its wages.  Bezos has long been known as frugal when it comes to remuneration, and it might over time be a differentiation between a successful company and a struggling retailer.  Should Amazon's workers decide to unionize and strike, they can quickly shut the company down.  Poor pay is a prime reason for adverse action. Look for pay scales to continue as a weak point for the company in terms of reputation and credibility.


One painful crisis for a company is when an employee sabotages its product and services.  That is why this instance hurts.  The worker was clearly trying to get fired by spitting into food while being filmed, but that makes no difference to appalled customers and the company itself. What motivates a person to take such awful action.  If he was unhappy, he should have quit without making a case of it.  Business can't protect itself from every erroneous action by employees.  It has to trust they will carry out their tasks according to established procedures.  If that trust is missing. a business is forced to shut down.  It can't guarantee customers they will get a product or service as promised.  The ball park ex-employee is going to be prosecuted according to the law but that is small comfort to fans who are Continue reading "Sabotage"

Interesting Proposal

The UK's Labour Party is proposing that as much as 10 percent of companies' shares be set aside for employee ownership and as many as a third of board seats be reserved for employee directors.  The British chambers of commerce predictably opposed the plan.  The idea, however, is interesting.  It has been widely discussed that workers have not seen the fruits of fat earnings from companies in this expansion.  Wages have barely risen although stocks and dividends have.  Companies are rewarding owners over labor, so why not make labor owners as well?  It would serve to deflect much of the criticism that corporations are experiencing.  Labour's idea should be studied further.


If one is going to make a dumb spelling mistake, it is probably better to do it where all can see.  That way, it can be laughed off.  Still, it is an embarrassment for Cathay Pacific, and it raises questions about the day-to-day management of the airline.  Someone should have seen the error before the plane took to the air and landed in Hong Kong.  The company handled the incident as well as could be done.  It publicly acknowledged the error and fixed the spelling on the aircraft right away.  Meanwhile, the internet had a field day spinning jokes from the mistake.