Sunday June 7, 2020
 

How Not To Make Friends

During a protest in Manhattan, the police roughed up an Associated Press reporting team, only to be caught on camera by a videojournalist.  The police surely knew who the AP staffers were.  Their equipment was clearly marked and couldn’t be mistaken. But, the cops did it anyway and in the process betrayed their sense of power as they worked to control the protestors.  There is an old cliche about the media that the police violated.  “Never pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrel.”  The AP got even right away by publishing a story on its wire, which cast the police in a harsh light.  There was no need for hyperbole.  Just the facts were enough to show the law was out of control.  New York’s finest have created a PR problem for themselves and there was no need to do it.  They know well that reporters should be left alone to do their jobs.  There is no excuse.

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Smart Communication

Apple has taken a smart approach to looted cellphones during the ongoing protests.  It is letting thieves know their phones are disabled and being tracked by the company with authorities notified.  This is a fitting response to a minority of protesters who are on the streets for opportunities to rob retailers.  News reports have detailed how criminals have ignored protesters and smashed windows in order to grab goods.  This has lent credence to the “Law and Order” theme that President Trump has taken while overriding the fundamental message that racist police have no place in America.  It is a pity that an element is out only for itself and takes advantage of demonstrations to loot.  At least Apple has an answer for that.  It would be good if other retailers could do the same.  

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Beautiful

Read the beautiful letter to employees from America’s wealthiest African-American.  His call for love to offset racism is in marked contrast to thugs looting stores and burning buildings.  A criminal element has tainted tens of thousands of law-abiding protestors who have gathered around the country to decry police brutality.  One might point out that the billionaire is in a privileged position to call for love.  He isn’t out of work and watching the larder at home become bare.  That’s true, but he could well have called for agitation and pressure against police departments to offset discrimination he has known his entire life.  That he didn’t is a tribute to character and to a deeper appeal to staff.  There is need for both demonstrations and love in the US until the day an African-American can feel safe when leaving the house and meeting police on the street.  There should be no tolerance for looting, no matter the frustration.

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Employee Relations

Facebook employees are angry with their boss, Mark Zuckerberg, for failing to take down President Trump’s quote, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”  Zuckerberg says he is appalled by it but the First Amendment protects the words.  It was a tough call, especially after Twitter hid the inflammatory message with the approbation of its CEO.  Zuckerberg now must mend fences in his own company.  It might not be easy to do and there will be other instances in which he will need to oppose his employees.  Google in 2019 faced the same internal unrest and hasn’t put out the flames yet.  There are no easy answers for internet information distributors.  Any call they make about language will be criticized by someone.  It comes down to the personal choice of the CEOs, their commitment to speech and their judgment about its effect on others.  There are few guidelines to follow, and First Amendment lawyers can be divided as well.  Listening to employees might be a start but it is not a panacea.  Employees can be wrong as anyone else.   

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Outed

The publicity video is a long-time tool of public relations.  That is why this story is laughable.  Hundreds of segments a year are sent out by PR departments and agencies.  Each has a goal of being picked up and run in full or in part by local and national TV news organizations.  So, to pick on Amazon for a publicity video and to trumpet that the company has been outed is looney.  If anything, the publicity team that created the segment was too promotional.  It might have been better had they done a piece on the measures companies have been taking to guard against the virus, a part of which focused on Amazon.  That would have greater news credibility.  The video has come out at a time when Amazon is facing criticism from employees for unsafe workplace conditions.  The audiovisual press release is professional in appearance and production values, so it is interesting that only a few stations picked it up.

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Excuses, Excuses.

President Trump is trying to be clever — and he might get away with it.  He is claiming today that the election in November will be rigged if states allow mail-in voting.  If the election is close, he can challenge it in court.  If the gap is wide, he can say he was defeated by fraud.  In any event, he can push the blame on others while holding himself guiltless.  Excuses, excuses.  Trump conducts his management by excusing himself and blaming others “who are out to get him.”  It is as if he doesn’t know Harry Truman’s famous quote, “The buck stops here.”  Truman understood that Presidents make hard decisions and must stand by them.  For Trump, there is little or nothing of negative outcomes that he will own up to.  He boasts of good outcomes and calls himself a genius.  Anything bad is the other guy.  It’s a lousy way to conduct public relations and Trump’s poor polling numbers show it.

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Wasn’t Missed

The New York Stock Exchange has insisted for years that traders on the exchange floor are necessary for improved pricing of stocks in up and down markets.  Well, the market maker has just announced the re-opening of the Big Board after a two-month shutdown.  It wasn’t missed. Maintaining traders on the floor is a leftover of 200 years of open outcry auctions.  Digital trading made them obsolete more than 20 years ago, but the NYSE lumbers on.  Some day, the NYSE’s owner is going to shut down the floor and it will be a memory of what it once was.  Then it will be torn down or become a sight for tourists to look upon the technology of the 20th Century and how it changed.  The NYSE based its PR for decades on the vital function of the trader. No more.  No longer.

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Hard to Justify

There might be good reasons for a CEO of a bankrupt company to get compensation of more than $9 million, but it is hard to justify.  Yet, that’s what the CEO of Hertz gained after laying off thousands of employees.  Taking the company into Chapter 11 will allow it to restructure and pare down debt, but that is little consolation for those thrown out of work.  On the other hand, there was a story today in The New York Times business page that discussed bosses and their executives who have taken pay cuts to avoid laying off workers.  At some point, they might have to furlough their workforces, but employees are thankful today that they still have jobs.  Who would you rather work for?  

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How Does This Happen?

Volkswagen is apologizing for a racist ad posted online.  The commercial showed a black man looking at one of its cars and a giant white hand flicking the black man away and into a restaurant called the “Little Colonist” in French.  It is an insensitive production at its core and someone in the ad agency or in Volkswagen’s management should have caught it from the pencil stage.  They didn’t, which speaks volumes about the company and its vendors.  The apology rings hollow.  Someone in the creative crew should take a fall, if management doesn’t want to own up to the ugliness of it.  It’s well past the time that such advertisements should be produced.

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Giving In.

Johnson & Johnson is taking its talc-based baby powder off the US market.  It is due to falling sales and a public perception that asbestos in the product causes cancer.  The company fiercely defends its product but it cannot fight the marketplace, so it is giving in.  This is a case in which litigation was the cause of the cave-in.  The company has lost one court battle after another over the asbestos claim, and even if it is in the right, which we will only know in the future, there is nothing it can do.  From a PR and marketing perspective, the US public has made its choice and it is not for talc-based baby powder.  The company can gnash its teeth over the “unfairness” of it all but that won’t change public opinion.  It is one more instance of tort lawyers winning the day, whether or not they are scientifically right.

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