Wednesday March 20, 2019
 

Can’t Go Back?

Walmart is ending a popular price-matching program and customers are furious.  The company’s explanation is that it already offers the lowest price on most items so there is no longer a need for the comparison check.  That is not what its customers say.  They claim Walmart is greedy and trying to hide price increases.  They have presented online their savings from the program as proof that the company doesn’t always offer the lowest price.  Walmart might wish now that it had never started the service.  It can’t go back without losing some shoppers or at least ruining its reputation with them.  It’s a lesson that not all customer aids are desirable.  Some can box a company in like the price-matching program.  Walmart is big enough that it can tough its way through this contretemp, but it might be asking why it had started price matching in the first place.

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It Starts

There are still months before full-throated campaigning begins for the Presidency.  That, however, hasn’t stopped sniping, which is coming early and often.  Consider this.  Joe Biden hasn’t officially declared he is running for the White House, and already he is being criticized for new-found wealth.  It is a PR challenge he has to meet sooner rather than later.  He has cashed in on his long political  career during which he was avowedly and actually middle class struggling to make ends meet.  Now he is wealthy from speaking tours and a best-selling book.  His likely opponents for the Democratic nomination are holding that against him.  Can he overcome the charge?  Only time will tell on the campaign trail, which is long, strenuous and exhausting.  It isn’t for the weak.  Reputations are torn down,  insinuations made, lies told.  Campaigners will use any trick or technique to win, dishonest or not.  Biden understands this, but can he survive it?  

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No Shame

What can be said about a company that is caught multiple times doing wrong yet persists?  It has no shame.  This is the situation with Huawei and its advertising of its cell phones.  Huawei persists in using DSLR images to hype the quality of its cell phone camera.  It’s as if the company doesn’t trust its own product.  The problem with that is that Huawei has been caught each time it has tried to trick the public.  One would think that if you can’t away with something the first time, you wouldn’t want to try it again.  Not so.  This leads one to wonder how the rest of the company operates.  Is it an amoral, win-at-all-costs organization?  If so, why would anyone want to deal with them?  If a company can’t be honest in little things, what can be said for its stance in the marketplace?  This, perhaps more than its affiliation with the Chinese government, might be what to worry about.  

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Scandal And Reputation

The Roman Catholic Church is learning the impact of scandal on the tolerance of believers.  A recent Gallup poll in the US  “found that 37 percent of respondents said ‘recent news about sexual abuse of young people by priests’ has them personally questioning whether to remain Catholic — a 15 point increase since 2002.”  The results were predictable.  The issue affecting every level of male clergy from Cardinal to parish priest has struck at the heart of an image of dedication and holiness.  It makes no difference whether a minority of malefactors caused the problem. The entire body of the Church is smeared.  It will take decades to dig out of this crisis and regain a semblance of moral stature.  It might take generations.  Meanwhile, the faithful who remain must endure questioning, suspicion and mockery.  Perhaps Church authorities have learned that transparency is best.  Secrecy has caused a meltdown of historic proportions.  Surely, the pope, cardinals and bishops understand that?

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Changed PR Forever

Yesterday’s Google Doodle celebrating the birth of the World Wide Web was a reminder of how radically it has changed PR.  Those of us ancient enough to remember the days before the Web will recall how difficult it was to convince CEOs of reputation issues, of persuasion that did not include advertising and the power of third party credibility.  Today, especially with social media, reputation protection and advancement is a major thrust of corporate communications. Response times have moved from hours to minutes.  The Web has given voice to millions of individuals who were unable to express themselves in the media because it was not available or was too expensive.  We use to worry about letters to the editor.  Today we are on alert for Tweets, for Facebook messages, for blogs, for complaints on consumer sites such as Yelp.  Youngsters in the business look at the past as a time of leisurely response by comparison to today. It wasn’t laid back.  Pressure was intense to communicate but we lacked the media we have now.  The old days are gone, and that’s a good thing.  The Web has thrust PR to the fore in the battle for reputation, perception and persuasion.  It’s a relief not to have to justify oneself day after day.  We should thank Tim Berners-Lee for doing that for us.  

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Regrettable

Political operatives are opening fake local news websites.  They are attempting to mislead voters into thinking stories on them are objective when they are nothing more than partisan propaganda.  It is regrettable and dishonest.  There is nothing wrong with taking sides.  Newspapers in America started that way, and some still survive with a political bent.  What is wrong is a pretense of objectivity when there is nothing of the sort in online columns.  The publishers have no scruples, but that’s not unusual in politics.  The lowest forms of persuasion and publicity have all found their way into campaigns.  There is no dignity in doing anything to win, which is the way many campaign operators act on both sides of the political spectrum.  The malefactors this time are Republicans. Look for Democrats to follow suit.  

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Empty Gesture?

Eli Lilly has announced it will make a generic version of its diabetes drug, Humalog. that will sell for half the price of its branded product.  It seems like a good PR move until one examines the price — $137.35 a vial.  That’s still too steep for diabetics who must pay for the treatment out of their pockets and need more than one vial a month.  It also overlooks the fact that Humalog’s list price has risen more than 1200 percent since it was approved for use in 1996. While patients will be happy to get a price break, they won’t be satisfied for long, knowing that the generic version could and should be much less expensive.  Lilly’s move is close to an empty gesture.  It looks good but there is little to it.  It is also unlikely to appease Congress and the White House who are both pushing for pharmaceutical manufacturers to lower the cost of their drugs.

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Man Bites Dog

Google said it discovered it was paying some women more than men for similar jobs.  This is a man-bites-dog story.  It is so unusual that it garnered headlines nationally.  While it is never good to have pay inequities, it is a sign of company concern for women that it inadvertently got itself into this position.  This comes in spite of multiple claims against it for discriminating against women.  From a PR perspective, the company needs to do a better job of policing its compensation policies. It shouldn’t be caught on either side of the pay question. Software engineers with the same responsibilities should be getting equal remuneration.  It is good PR that the company is examining wage scales at all levels and trying to balance them, but one can ask why it wasn’t done before now.

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Limits

PR and publicity can go only so far.  At some point recipients of messages accept or ignore them.  One can persuade but not compel. Consider this example.  Railroad authorities have repeated ad nauseum a warning to respect gates at crossings and to never, never go around them when they are down.  Yet, a driver did.  Three people died in the car, a train derailed and passengers suffered minor injuries.  We may never know what the driver was thinking but surely there must have been some cognition of the risk that was about to be taken.  As a reporter decades ago, I covered a number of vehicle-train accidents.  The railroad wasn’t at fault in any of them. Some people don’t listen.  They don’t believe warnings apply to them. They will do what they want until tragedy overtakes them. Three people died needlessly and once again a railroad’s best efforts in PR and publicity were wasted. 

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Passed By?

Major brewers and packaged good marketers in the US are facing a conundrum.  Consumers are passing them by and buying other products off grocery shelves and from liquor stores. Sales of Budweiser, particularly, have stalled.  Anheuser-Busch is working frantically to turn around.  The company is being assaulted by thousands of craft breweries whose production is a fraction of what the A-B produces, but each one is a small slice into its sales and combined, a large cut.  It’s facing “brutal facts” and developing beverages that might meet the demand of today’s millennials.    The American consumer’s tastes have changed, maybe for good, but A-B is configured to produce millions of gallons of high-quality beer a year.  It can’t easily switch off bottling lines without sustaining huge losses.  The company is not nimble after decades of dominating beer sales.  The same problem is facing Kraft-Heinz.  Both companies have entered a marketing/PR hell, and it might take them years before they leave it, or like many retailers savaged by Amazon, they might just fade away.

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