Tuesday February 18, 2020
 

Muddling

Japan is headed into another recession.  The country has never recovered from the crash of the early 90s.  Banks never took write-downs for bad loans and the government never faced the truth about over-leveraged positions.  It is instructive to remember the PR that Japan had in the late 1970s and 1980s.  At that time, Japan Inc. was formidable and unstoppable.  There were books written about Japanese methods of management and how the West could learn from them.  There were consultants flitting about and promising to show American manufacturers how to catch up with Japanese quality.  We were taught to dread the “Made in Japan” logo because it would someday take over the American economy.  It never happened and there is a good chance it never will.  Today, China is the boogeyman but it too has a giant debt overhang that it isn’t acknowledging.  The government concentrates on stimulus to keep the country moving forward.  China is much larger than Japan and less likely to fail, but it must be wary of what could happen if it doesn’t maintain a balanced economy.  That doesn’t mean the US should be sanguine about the future but it is a reminder that what goes up will come down.

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The Prototype

One way to generate publicity is to design a prototype — what an object will look like in the future.  Every manufacturer does it, and this is just a recent example of what a future airliner might be. Will it ever be built?  Probably not.  It is a researcher’s and designer’s fantasy.  There are all sorts of problems with it, not the least is how would it fit into gates at airports?  But it is fun to think about a flying wing as a passenger plane, and perhaps, maybe someday there could be one, if economics and logistics line up.  Until then, the idea will go on the scrap heap of thousands of other visions of the future that never come to fruition.  However, if the prototype sparks publicity that positions the corporation on the leading edge of R&D, it will have done its job.

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How Not To Win Friends

Presidential candidate Joe Biden is sinking and is in dire need of a boost.  One wonders if he can get it when he uses phrases like this to accuse citizens of lying.  Biden says it is a line from a movie, a John Wayne western, and he has used it before.  It makes no difference.  He is being called out for it and given his low ranking in the race, he can’t afford to lose votes. Biden, like President Trump, must be a handful for his advisers. He is a gaffe-prone politician who also has an on-again, off-again respect for facts.  The difference for Biden is that his legislative record is out there for all to see, so he can’t get away with claiming a position he has not held in the past.  Name-calling lowers himself to the level of Trump who has offensive monikers for every one of his opponents.  The Democratic party doesn’t need a candidate who seeks to out-Trump Trump. Biden needs to retool his campaign and PR strategy quickly — or else.

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Lame Duck

A challenge to politicians is the period when they are lame ducks.  They have either been voted out of office, voluntarily stepped down or are near the end of their final term.  They can propose changes but legislators can wait them out or vote them down without repercussion.  The bureaucracy has turned against them in their final days, and there is nothing they can do about it. About the best they can accomplish is publicity events designed to enhance their legacy.  It is a humiliating time for pols but one they cannot avoid unless they die in office. 

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Hysteria?

The coronavirus raging in China has been the source of panic buying of masks, of mass quarantines, of hoarding, of business closures throughout China and cruise ship embargos in the US.  There is a real question whether the public has been consumed by hysteria or whether the virus is as dangerous as it seems to be.  Hundreds have died but to put that in perspective, China’s population is 1.386 billion.  Another way to look at it is the incidence of flu.  The CDC estimates that 12,000 Americans will die from it in any given year, not counting its impact on the rest of the world.  The coronavirus is deadly, but is it as dangerous as the Spanish flue of 1918?  That outbreak carried off “an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.”  We are nowhere near that record and are unlikely to reach it with the prophylactic steps being taken.  There is a worry, but it should be put into context.  Authorities should be over-communicating now and hammering a message of sensible precautions.  It is a time to calm the public and not frighten citizens more.

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Disinformation

This is what social media have become They are a cesspool of propaganda, disinformation, innuendo and outright lies.  We could cry woe, but we must remember that all those negatives existed long before online became a reality.  They were purveyed on paper, radio and television.  Some of the ugliest untruths were in print during the time of George Washington. The difference today is reach and focus.  Falsehoods now are fed to individuals the world over, and cunningly, they are sent just to those who want to believe them. PR practitioners should be at the forefront of accuracy to combat them.  Sadly, too many are flacks, concerned with selling and not for a truthful picture of clients’ products and services.  Those who uphold the principles of public relations and communicating honestly to audiences are needed more than ever.

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Symbolic?

President Trump was acquitted last evening but not before theatrics at the State of the Union the night before.  The SOTU ended with Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripping a copy to Trump’s speech in half on national TV.  Yesterday in a closed-door Democratic meeting, she vented her bile against the President.  Social media went into a frenzy over Pelosi’s public act — some damning her and some praising.  It is hard not to take the tearing as a symbol of the opposition Trump will face the rest of the time he is President.  It might have been done without forethought, but the Speaker is known to control her emotions.  Yet, her anger expressed against Trump yesterday makes it plausible that her act was spontaneous.  Either way, she has stated her anger publicly and is more than likely never to cooperate with Trump again. The problem for Trump is that he needs her to get legislation passed.

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More Responsibility?

Amazon.com is facing lawsuits for selling poor quality and unsafe products on its site.  The company has so far escaped liability by claiming it is simply an intermediary between sellers and buyers and not responsible for the quality or safety of the products sold.  That might be a good legal position but it is poor PR and it will come back to haunt the company sooner or later.  Amazon needs to guarantee customers that the products on its site are safe and of acceptable quality.  How does it do that?  By establishing a laboratory dedicated to testing products before they are allowed on its web page.  This is not something the company needs to build itself.  It can fund a qualified third party to do the testing for it, such as Underwriters Laboratories.  Amazon won’t get away with a hands-off approach for much longer.  It would be far better if it acted now rather than wait for a major tort.

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Confusion

Corona Beer has a PR problem.  It is being confused with the coronavirus sweeping China and filtering into the rest of the world.  There is even a search term “corona beer virus” rising in Google.  The company has said it is confident its customers will not link the disease with the drink, but one can never aver that for sure.  Customers have gone wrong many times in the past and caused angst in corporate quarters.  For example, there was the infamous linkage of the P&G man-in-the-moon logo with devil worship.  On the surface, it is a hilarious instance of consumer ignorance or lack of close attention.  Under the surface, Corona has to watch sales closely while the virus rages.  If they begin to fall, it will need to act.  So far, that apparently hasn’t been the case.  Speaking out now might draw attention to the confusion, which might resolve itself in good time.  Still…

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Cutting Them Off At The Knees

This decision from the FDA cuts Purell’s marketing off at the knees.  The hand sanitizer’s claim to existence is that it kills germs and protects the user.  The FDA is saying prove it.  There have been no studies to show the effectiveness of the product and its ability to fend off “Ebola virus, norovirus, and influenza” among other diseases.  The letter from the FDA is devastating and options for Purell are bleak.  It can withdraw the product from the market.  It can conduct the expensive double-blind statistical tests used to prove a drug’s efficacy.  It can try to write around the prohibition while keeping the product on the shelves.  Finally, it can get lawyers involved to dispute the FDA’s conclusion.  Whatever the company decides, it must at this time acknowledge there is no evidence the product works.  As the article notes, wash your hands. 

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