Tuesday October 22, 2019
 

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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Tin Ear

Whoever produced this has a tin ear and no sensitivity to the mass shootings that have occurred throughout the US.  Trump and his administration claim not to know about it, but the negative atmosphere the President has spun about the media is at the root of the video.  Predictably, the media have reacted in horror and called for the administration to denounce it.  Trump probably will, but who knows?  His disdain for the press is deep and he has made it known time and again.  His mantra is “fake news.”  He is furious when journalists call him out for lying, and the White House has frozen them out as much as possible.  Should someone act on the suggestions of the video to assault the media, it will be one more nail in the coffin of Trump’s 2020 election campaign.  

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Tough Decision

Some communications decisions are no-win.  Either way you send a message, you are going to be criticized.  This is the position Apple found itself in with an app being used by Hong Kong protestors.  The mapping software was live-tracking police movements in the territory.  Apple succumbed to pressure from Beijing and pulled the app from circulation.  Apple justified its decision by claiming that “this app violates our guidelines and local laws.”  This will ring hollow to hundreds of thousands protesting the Chinese government’s interference with local affairs.  But, what was Apple to do?  China is its third-largest market.  It was risking a significant loss if it didn’t kowtow.  One could call the decision craven but from an economic point of view, it made sense.  There was no way to wriggle out of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t decision.  Apple chose to protect its business.  It will live with that.

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Different Mindset

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has a different mindset from other auto executives.  He places technology in his vehicles early on and lets the public try it out, whether it is dangerous or not.  At least, that is what he has done with his autopilot feature that has been the cause of a number of deaths.  No car company today, other than Tesla, would dare put a self-driving feature into their trucks and automobiles because it is still a hit-and-miss function.  The system cannot see dangers ordinary drivers would spot in a second.  Tesla advises drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, but, of course, they don’t.  Musk has the mentality of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. If it is good enough, get it out.  Don’t wait.  But, of course, apps for a phone or computer aren’t life-and-death tools while self-driving is.  He is being sued for the failure of his autopilot feature to prevent wrecks, and well he should be.  The public shouldn’t have a defective function that might be a marketing success but a failure in reality.

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Backlash

With any advance, there comes backlash — people who don’t like an improvement and rail against it.  That is happening now to the new meatless burgers.  Critics are calling them over-processed, full of genetically modified organisms and fake meat.  Of course, they are but they are as good for you as a regular hamburger and one could argue, even better.  The ultimate deciders on the issue of “impossible burgers” will be consumers.  Will they keep buying them and liking them?  So far, the news has been good for the meatless meat companies.  They can’t supply their products fast enough. That hasn’t stopped naysayers, however.  They might come around in time but for now, they are against the innovation and cautioning consumers not be taken in.  The meatless meat companies have to be concerned, even as they ramp up production.  Demand might disappear as quickly as it rose, if the public tries the vegetable-based food and rejects it.  It is a heady but risky time for meatless meat.

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It Drags On

The General Motors strike has entered another week with no progress on either side.  The strike has hardly entered the consumer’s consciousness beyond initial reports, and it shows how little impact the UAW has on the economy.  Unions deserve a place in the market as a check on corporate behavior that seeks to maximize shareholder returns, frequently at the expense of workers.  The UAW’s beef with GM is that GM’s workforce suffered greatly during the chapter 11 of the company in 2009.  Now that the auto company is healthy again, workers deserve a larger share of the profits.  GM’s position is that the auto world is undergoing transition from gas-powered to electric autos and its resources need to be husbanded for an inevitable future.  Besides, auto workers are paid well by comparison to other labor classes. So, it drags on costing tens of millions a day for the company and for the striking workforce.  It is hard to say who will blink first.

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A Huge Job

The government of the Bahamas has a huge multi-level communications challenge for years to come.  The first is maintaining a spotlight on the destruction of Hurricane Dorian.  The second is to lure tourists back to the islands with their money that is an essential part of the country’s budget.  The two challenges are contradictory. Tourists don’t want to go to a place where the basic necessities of life have been obliterated.  So while it pleas for funds to rebuild, it also needs to show the world that some things have returned to normal.  It will be some time yet before it can reach this stage.  Airports must be repaired, beaches cleaned, hotels reopened, some shopping re-established.  It must communicate progress in repairing infrastructure while highlighting the distance it needs to go in order to get aid from other governments.  It’s a ticklish task and not for the fainthearted.  It will require endurance and persistence, and it will test the government’s effectiveness in helping its people.

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Another One

The retail chain, Forever 21, is bankrupt.  It joins more than 5,000 sites that have shut down in 2019.  Forever 21 is a victim of online commerce, but it is more than that.  The chain made basic mistakes and they caught up with the company.  Marketing for retail establishments is more difficult than ever.  One has to give a reason to lure shoppers from their homes into a store where selection is never as broad nor deep as it is online.  The experience has to be fun and involving.  It is hard to design an immersive retail environment.  Details count.  Hanging merchandise on a rack and cutting prices is not nearly enough.  Retail marketers need creativity, an an ever-changing show.  More stores will fall into oblivion because they are no longer relevant.  At some point the decimation will slow but not before deep pain is inflicted on the retail landscape.

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Editor

Pope Francis would make a good editor.  He recently spoke to the communications arm of the Vatican and told listeners to get rid of adjectives. Use nouns and communicate simply and directly.  His advice would go well in PR where overuse of adjectives and adverbs is chronic.  It is part of flackery that has hurt the efforts of the field since its rise in the modern era.  The best way to communicate to reporters and editors is through accuracy, an emphasis on facts — nouns, verbs and objects without gilding or shading.  This leaves little room for skepticism.  Pope Francis is concerned about communications to Christians, but he might as well be speaking to PR practitioners.

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