Monday September 16, 2019
 

Still Alone

Astronomers have been publicizing the first exoplanet to have water molecules and the potential for life.  It is exciting news but it is tempered by the fact that the “super earth” is 110 light years away.  Even if we were able to detect carbon forms on its surface, there is no way to communicate at a distance of 110 trillion miles.  Science fiction fans like to dream of a way to rocket through space faster than the speed of light.  Of course, there is no way of doing that.  Such news is actually a reminder that we are alone.  We have one earth to protect and one atmosphere, and there is no place else to go if we wreck it.  Self-sufficient colonies on the moon and Mars are pipe dreams well outside of the technology and logistics of any one nation.  Colonization of space is totally unlike the discovery and settling of new lands on earth.  The vastness of space should be a constant reminder that we need to overcome nationalistic tendencies and the ravaging of the earth, air and water.

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QED

Not  long ago this blog commented on a Business Round Table declaration of 200 CEOs that they would serve all stakeholders and not just shareholders.  My opinion stated that the principles were good until an activist shareholder (an institution) took offense.  AT&T is about to find out.  A large institution has taken a position in its stock and is pressing the company to spin off some of its businesses.  It isn’t happy with management and would like to replace them too.  Now AT&T’s CEO has a choice he might not have envisioned when he inked the principles a few weeks ago.  Does he kowtow to the shareholder or bluff his way through?  His board will be a factor as well.  Are directors eager to pay down the company’s huge debt burden or to continue the course?  The CEOs one safety is that the activist institution only has a 1% stake in the corporation and will have difficulties replacing directors, but its call for change is a warning shot, and other stakeholders might have to take a back seat. 

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Didn’t Work

When is a do-good deed a failure in PR?  When you talk too much about yourself.  Like this.  The Carolina Panthers football team and the Lowe’s home improvement retailer combined to provide a 12-year-old a lawn mower so the boy can cut lawns to raise money for college.  Heartwarming, sure, but in a 90-second video about the gift, the focus was all on the Panthers and Lowes.  And, it backfired.  There were critics on the web who said the team and the company could have and should have done more.  Others counted the boy’s words and noted that he had the least to say while the Panthers and Lowes hogged the limelight.  There is an old cliche that states “no good deed goes unpunished.”  It is relevant here but it didn’t need to be.

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Reporting A Horror

This story about CNN reporters on Grand Bahama during Hurricane Dorian is compelling.  It is factual testimony that supports the Bahamian government’s statements about the wreckage on the islands.  It also is an explanation of the slow pace of supplying food, water and medicine to the populace.  Destruction of parts of the islands was complete.  Nothing was left standing.  Roads were torn up, runways flooded, ports washed out, power lines downed.  CNN is a news organization but its reporting is an effective defense of the government’s deliberate pace.  It is third-party validation, the best kind of PR.  That written, Bahama’s leaders have little time to find ways to reach the public.  Something needs to be done now, even if coordinated action is not possible given the conditions.  It is a terrible bind for leaders to be in, but their response will make or break their reputations.  Meanwhile, Dorian has blown itself out over Eastern Canada and the public along the Atlantic coast in the US are sighing with relief over a near miss.

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What Happened?

When Google was founded, one of its dictates to employees was “Don’t be evil.”  That admonishment disappeared, and today, Google is being hammered for activities that fall outside of the law and good sense.  Like this.  Small business can’t afford to fight the giant’s ad placement of competitors directly over one’s listing.  They call it a shakedown — and it is.  Google almost certainly doesn’t see it that way, and it probably hasn’t biased its algorithm against any companies.  But, the effect is the same.  If the company were more aware of its power and the need to use it fairly, would it be getting into these situations as often as it does?  “Don’t be evil” was a good motto.  It should return.

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Reputation Threat

Tesla’s autopilot feature lulled a driver into inattention according to the National Transportation Safety Board.  The fellow crashed his vehicle into the back of a fire engine.  This is a reputation crisis for Tesla and for autopilot technology.  The software and hardware packages aren’t ready for general use.  Alphabet’s Waymo subsidiary has barely allowed its vans to go driverless after years of development. There is always something the system can’t anticipate, which humans can handle.  People who use autopilot want to take their hands from the wheel and do something else.  Autopilot should allow inattention, but it doesn’t — not yet, anyway.  As long as that is the case, using autopilot is a safety risk and the systems will have a negative reputation.  

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Serial Offenders

Agribusiness for the longest time has been an abuser of workers and their rights.  The reason is clear.  Consumers don’t want to pay much for food, so processors squeeze expenses and take cost cuts out on workers.  This lawsuit claims a conspiracy among 18 companies running 200 chicken plants to set wages for line workers and maintenance personnel.  While complicity has yet to be proven, one shouldn’t be shocked if it proves true.  Cold-pack hens are among the least costly of protein to buy.  That doesn’t happen without industrial methods being applied to farming from the egg through parts wrapped in plastic. Agricompanies know if they don’t do it, they will be out of business.  We could pay more as consumers, but food already is a large expense for a family, so we tend to ignore how meat gets to the freezer.  If agribusinesses have a reputation problem, they can look at us as much as we stare at them.

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Absurd But Great Publicity

The Bugatti Chiron has just smashed the 300 mph barrier.  The engineers who built the prototype have something to boast about but the project was absurd.  Not even Formula One racers go that fast.  The company can claim that its multi-million dollar vehicle is a true sports car, but who can afford one except those with the deepest of pockets?  The speed is dangerous in every way.  The front of the auto could lift off the ground with the force of the air passing under it.  Even the slightest bump could make the vehicle airborne. Tires would wear quickly.  A crash at that speed would be fatal.  Still, the video of the record-breaking run is compelling viewing.  So, they reaped the publicity they were after but it’s like competitive hot dog eaters at Nathans on Coney Island.  We marvel at what they ingest, but we would never do it ourselves.

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Honesty

A Monmouth University poll showed Biden plunging in voter estimation.  It made headlines.  Now the university is backing off.  It calls its poll an outlier.  In other words, it was wrong.  These things happen in the survey industry, especially since people are more difficult to contact randomly than ever.  Kudos to the university’s director of the polling unit for coming clean.  However, the Biden camp has reason to be unhappy.  It was a blow to the campaign’s effort to keep the candidate above the fray.  Even with an admission, the mistake is a reputation hit to the university.  It might need to change its procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

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The Future Hurts

Who would think that speech to text software would run afoul of copyright law?  This is a legal battle Amazon is facing.  Its new Captions feature translates audio to text and lets readers follow the written word while hearing it.  The software is intended for students in public school settings.  Publishers will have none of it.  They are saying in legal filings that it transgresses the distinction between audio and text, and Amazon’s approach is giving away textual copies of books.  What’s to prevent one from listening to War and Peace then filing it away on a Kindle without paying for it?   Or worse yet, selling a printed copy?  This not the first time the publishing industry has defied the future.  Amazon unveiled text to speech some years ago that publishers nixed because it crossed the bright line between audio and print.  There are bets that Captions won’t last either.  

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