Saturday May 25, 2019
 

What’s In A Word?

If you Juul, are you not vaping nicotine?  Many teenagers think so in spite of the company’s prominent messages in its advertisements that its products contain the addictive chemical.  Apparently, teenagers do not equate Juuling with vaping.  That is why this year, pollsters will ask teens if they Jull to make sure they are getting the right information about their behaviors.  Who would have thought that Juul would enter the lexicon as a verb?  It is there, however, and public health authorities have to contend with it.  It is a good reminder that in communications, we have to be sensitive to slang and street talk.  We dare not assume everyone knows the meaning of a word.  

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Taunting

This article upholds the First Amendment privilege of comedians to roast the President of the United States.  It has long been a tradition at the White house correspondents’ dinner to launch jibes at the Chief in a spirit of fun and truth-telling.  Presidents have gamely put up with it until the current occupant of the White House who decided not to attend.  This was the second year of his boycott and the second time a comedian has hosted a dinner in which Trump was lambasted in the harshest of words.  While supporting the First Amendment is essential, one might still question whether the language was appropriate.  Comedians have lacked the basic tenets of civility with this President as have many others.  One can contend that he earned the verbal beating and that would be right, but the outcome is mutual hostility that serves no one. Maybe with a little less invective, there might be a chance of rapprochement.  

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Robots And Humans

Amazon in its warehouses seems to have blended robots and humans and is holding people to machine standards.  If so, it is poor PR and is likely to end in union organizing.  Timing employees at their tasks is not new.  It was an essential part of scientific management at the turn of the 20th Century and involved names like Taylor and Gilbreth.  What these innovators left out of their stop-watched procedures was the thinking and creative power of the brain.  It is easy to train a machine to produce the same motions time and again.  It is mind-numbing to expect a human to do the same.  Amazon is a throw-back and it is likely to end badly for the corporation.  Already there are horror stories circulating in the media of exhausted people falling asleep at their stations, of no time to go to the bathroom, of a relentless line of boxes swamping package points and defying anyone to keep up.  At some point, Amazon might automate its warehouse procedures, but that might not be soon enough for its stressed workers.  

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Crisis Communications

The CEO of Boeing is engaged in crisis communications these days.  The money-maker for the company, the 737 Max, has turned into a dead loss.  He has little choice but to stand by the plane while investigations into its software continue and the company rolls out fixes.  It’s a tough position to be in.  Negative stories about the company and its practices are piling up.  There are accusations of sloppiness in manufacturing, of a rush to get the plane into production to compete with Airbus, of poor engineering that relied on a single sensor rather than several.  This is a time when a CEO must stand up and defend his people and the company while seeing that errors are corrected.  It’s a hard job filled with stress, especially the unknowns that might rise to make matters worse.  If the CEO were to hide, Boeing could be hurt irreparably.  

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In Search Of A Mission

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the first drone delivery service to work as an airline.  The company will now start testing in Virginia and elsewhere.  It strikes one as a technology in search of a mission. There is little to show so far that drones will add enough marketing power to a business that they are worth the expense.  In rural Africa they have been useful in delivering medicines that are hard to distribute in any other way, but the US has the infrastructure needed to get from place to place quickly.  In any event, drones are unlikely to be useful in urban environments among apartment buildings and skyscrapers where delivery to a specific location is hard to achieve.  Delivery drones are a gleam in the eyes of technologists who are convinced the aerial vehicles can be better, faster and cheaper than other methods.  They haven’t proven to be that yet. In fact, they are still a little more than expensive toys in the last mile of delivery.

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Phony

Companies sometimes try to get away with things in marketing that PR can’t abide.  Consider AT&T.  It has branded its 4G mobile network 5G E in an effort to make the public believe it is already offering 5G speeds.  It isn’t even though sophisticated users have been fooled.  The media are bashing the company for its fraud, and well they should.  It’s blatant deception.  What causes companies to engage in such risky behavior?  AT&T is feeling the breath of competition and is trying to stay ahead of Verizon, which already has rolled out true 5G in a number of cities.  It’s hard to steal a march by lying, especially with the media watching.  AT&T is doing it anyway, and one wonders why regulators haven’t descended on them with fines and orders to stop. There is no excuse for such behavior.

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Crowded

A 19th Democratic candidate for President has made his intentions known and the field has turned into a cattle call.  There is no way that most will be able to rise above anonymity with voters, and the field will shrink as candidates run out of money and time.  From a PR perspective, it is an exercise in democracy.  From a marketing perspective, it is a disaster for both front-runners and followers alike.  It would be better if there were but two or three candidates who were able to raise funds for serious campaigning and pay attention to voters’ issues.  Now it is a babble drowning each other and confusing the electorate.  The crowded conditions cannot last and won’t, but the longer they are an issue, the harder it will be for a strong candidate to emerge before the next election.

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Bumbling

Once an organization gets on the wrong side of an issue, it often takes a long time to correct course.  Consider Facebook and privacy.  The company has been under public censure for more than a year over the issue and now it seems to have botched its path forward again.  The repeated mistakes give the impression of an outfit that is bumbling, unable to “walk and chew gum at the same time.”  This is surely not the case but perception seems to make it so.  Facebook is not the only corporation that can’t seem to make things right.  Wells Fargo, the major bank, is beleaguered by continuous revelations of wrongdoing on the part of its employees.   Bumbling is humiliating for CEOs.  It shows the limits of their influence.  They may direct but their messages might not reach every level where employees continue to do things the wrong way.  Eventually, both companies will find their ways out of the wilderness but for now, they have serious reputational challenges.

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Not Good

It has been more than 300 days since the Pentagon has given a press briefing.  That is not smart PR. The public should know what the military is thinking, not the least because it is such a large part of taxpayer funds.  Press briefings also humanize the military — put faces to names and provide a better understanding of strategy, allies and foes.  In a time of terrorists, unfriendly countries with nuclear weapons and rising dictatorships, the public depends more than ever on a properly functioning military.  Citing security risks of being seen in public is not enough of a reason to duck the media.  Yes, reporters ask tough questions but the Pentagon should be ready to answer them.  If the Brass are taking their cue from President Trump, that is yet another harm he causing to public discourse.  

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The Way It Is Now

The internet has made celebrity a peril. It opens a sluice for trolls, haters and the disgruntled to vent at a notable person.  It doesn’t matter whether the individual deserves recognition or not.  Consider the case of Katie Bouman, a young computer scientist from MIT who led a  team that developed software to develop the first picture of a black hole.  MIT tweeted about her contributions then a storm of praise and blame ignited.  Her name was exalted and dragged through the mud at the same time.  She asked for none of this and had made abundantly clear she was part of a team that developed the algorithm. No matter.  It became ugly, and she had to turn off her phone to stop the barrage of messages.  Bouman almost certainly wishes MIT had never tweeted in the first place.  She didn’t need to be a symbol of successful women in STEM disciplines.  But she was targeted with celebrity anyway.  In time, people will forget and she will settle back into anonymity, but the bitter experience will remain.

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