Tuesday November 12, 2019
 

Military Burial

I was out of the office for two days last week to attend a funeral and military burial.  The flag ceremony at the gravesite is deeply affecting and full of symbolism as is the playing of taps that precedes it.  The country is communicating its thanks to the family and friends of the deceased.  In the precise and rigid movements of the soldiers, there is a message of reverence and dignity.  In the formal presentation of the flag to the family, there is restrained grief in words spoken and left unsaid.  The whole ceremony is formulaic, drilled down to the fraction of an inch, but it is precision that communicates so loudly.  It doesn’t take away pain, but salves it somewhat and I am thankful to have witnessed it.

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Et Tu, McDonald’s?

Who would think the CEO of McDonald’s would be fired for a relationship with an employee?  It happened, and he is gone, waiting for severance.  It shows a healthy concern for public relations and perception on the part of the board.  It also forestalls power plays and favoritism on the part of the CEO.  The board took the right action, even though Easterbrook was successful in turning the company around.  There is no room anymore for skirt-chasing from a position of power.  There never should have been.  But, the intoxication of the rank turns heads. It is sad for McDonald’s, but someone else will take over soon and the company will move on.

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50 Years

Fifty years ago this week the internet was born.  It was called ARPANET then, but it contained the technology that drives the worldwide system today.  For the first 25 years of its life, it was a backbone of science and engineering then with development of the web, it exploded into the commercial and individual entity it is today to the dismay of its founder.  We in PR who were there for the beginning remember a hostile environment.  Practitioners did not want to be bothered by new technology.  It got in the way of doing things in the traditional way.  Eventually, PR came around and agencies worldwide are deeply involved in social media.  The disdain for new technology to transmit messages was a shock to those of us promoting it.  Practitioners were followers and not leaders.  It is not clear if that is still the case.  PR is a global business and the era of “mom-n-pop” entrepreneurs is diminished.  It is safe to say that most practitioners now do not remember a time when the internet was just an academic resource, and that is good.  The field should never again retreat from new media.

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Internal Relations

First, it was the employees of Google expressing their opinions publicly.  Now it is the workers of Facebook.  They are objecting to Facebook’s policy of allowing politicians’ ads to lie and spread false information.  And, there is a good chance they will be heard.  With the advent of social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, there are more opportunities for employees to speak out — and they are.  Internal relations are blending with public relations.  The old media of employee newsletters, email and town halls are being replaced or augmented with social platforms.  The question is whether employee communications practitioners have moved with the changes.  Some undoubtedly have, particularly those in large corporations with far-flung operations.  But, even small companies can suffer the embarrassment of having their soiled laundry discussed in public. There is no inside-outside any longer.  It is all outside and should be treated that way.  I 

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When Publicity Hurts

Since ancient times, publicizing the names of mass murderers and other evil-doers has been a problem.  It stimulates others to do dark deeds.  The phenomenon is called social contagion by the scientific community, and it has been a work in America.  Mass shooters have become more common.  They are aping one another in seeing their names in print and photos on television.  Even if they take their own lives in the process of killing others, they know they will live on in infamy.  What’s the solution?  Do what New Zealand recently has done after the mass shooting there.  Refuse to publicize the miscreant’s name.  Let him (It is almost always a male.)  plunge into ignominy and anonymity.  That removes the temptation to be a star in one’s own twisted universe.  It might be hard for US media to give up naming mass shooters, but if they understand their motivations, it should be feasible.  Why glorify darkness?  

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On and On

Britain’s reputation has been taking a beating over Brexit and the inability of parliament to resolve the issue of leaving the EU.  Now the EU has granted another extension until Jan. 31 with the hope that the UK can decide by then what to do.  Brexit has never made sense economically.  The country is tied to mainland Europe with millions of mercantile interests.  It will compromise those upon departure and will need to rebuild connections.  PM Boris Johnson’s desire to leave without a deal is reckless, and parliament is not letting him get away with it.  So, the country is stuck in a netherworld and all parliament can do is to wrangle over departure terms or call for another referendum on leaving, which Johnson opposes.  Sometimes democracy doesn’t work well.  This is one of them.  There must be a conclusion one way or the other.  The EU won’t wait forever.

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Bush League

Amazon has descended to bush-league marketing with its “curated” toy collection for the holidays.  It turns out you can get your toy selected for the guide if you are willing to pay a ton of money to have it there.   Editorial space for pay is hardly a third-party endorsement that carries the weight of credibility.  That Amazon has stooped to such tactics is disappointing.  One would have thought better of the company.  That written, Amazon could hardly have chosen the toys itself without upsetting thousands of vendors who weren’t picked.  The company should not have engaged in selecting toys for consumers.  Period.  It doesn’t make a difference that other vendors do.  It should understand the power of third-party credibility, especially since it pioneered consumer ratings for books and other products on its site.  Perhaps next year it will know better.

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On The Other Hand

President Trump has reversed himself over selecting his Florida resort and golf resort for an upcoming G7 meeting.  He blamed Democrats for the decision but he was also facing a revolt from Republicans who saw the selection as corrupt.  Whether he went forward with his plan or not, it is one more nail into the coffin of his public relations and campaign strategies.  He has no moral sense, other than what is best for him.  He is a challenge to the country, which expects a President to speak for all and not just for oneself.  All Presidents are ego-driven.  No one with a realistic view of the job would want it.  But, the public expects a President’s self-esteem to be subordinated to the position and a representation of the nation.  That Trump shows no awareness of issues beyond his own is a disappointment to liberals, independents and the media and a cause for anger.  That he cannot even reverse himself without causing upset is a bad position to be in.  One hopes in 2020 the national nightmare will be over.

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Tough Calls

Social media platforms like Facebook are trying to determine what content to take down from their sites because it is injurious and what content to leave although it skates to the edge of truth. This is a tough call under any scenario.  The First Amendment, which might not apply in the social media world, is host to myriads of voices from the extreme right to the extreme left.  Conspiracy theories, facts and opinions are jumbled together.  It is next to impossible to know what is fake and what is true.  The editorial function falls to people who are not superhuman in their ability to determine right from fiction.  They will make mistakes, especially with marginal content, and the platforms will suffer negative publicity as a result.  It’s no place to be exposed, yet the services tried to allow members to run free and people took advantage both domestically and internationally.   The internet is a mixture of good and evil, and there is rarely an easy way to tell them apart, especially when they masquerade under the guise of good.  Tough calls are a part of social media now, and we can only hope that editors are successful most of the time.

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What Can Go Wrong

This is an old story but it is a reminder of what can go wrong even in publicity stunts.  After six months of planning and anchoring a giant net over a downtown block, the United Way of Cleveland had thousands of volunteers fill 1.5 million balloons with helium and launch them to the underside of the bulging net.  When the time came to launch, it was a glorious sight for a while then bad things started happening.  Drivers looking at the mass rising skyward had accidents.  The Coast Guard looking for two missing fishermen could not find them amid thousands of semi-deflated balloons in the water.  An airport runway had to be shut down.  A race horse spooked by the balloons was injured.  The United Way was sued.  The balloons were not biodegradable, as was thought, and littered the landscape and waters of Lake Erie.  The only good part of the story was the launch.  It made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.  A small comfort for a disaster.  The lesson is when planning publicity stunts, consider consequences.  A good idea might not be practical or safe.

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