Friday June 5, 2020
 

Smart Advice

This column offers smart advice for PR practitioners who might be thinking of going out on their own.  Avoid debt and acquisitions that don’t directly increase your revenue from clients.  One doesn’t need a fancy desk, an office suite and a receptionist until big enough to need them for client service.  I recall a practitioner who told me he had gone out on his own, rented a plush office suite and promptly ran out of money.  He went broke and bankrupt.  He understood with hindsight that he shouldn’t have done what he did, but it was too late.  This was a man who had demonstrated skill to build accounts and keep clients happy.  It was sad to see him working in an office as just one more “hired hand.”  It is hard to give up the amenities of an established organization, but those who want to make it on their own understand quickly that they must.  There is always a temptation to buy “stuff” that will make one’s life easier, but don’t do it unless it directly helps in generating revenue.  

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Conflict?

It is hard to believe this is not a conflict of interest.  Even if he put his stock options in a blind trust, there is not much he can do to change the perception that he favors his own company.  This is a longstanding problem in government service and the reason why capable executives turn down high Federal and State offices.  It is a PR problem because citizens believe the worst of someone who is in a position to profit from his service, even if he is scrupulous about decisions he makes.  The current administration is not attuned to conflicts of interest, and even the President has them but has been getting a pass by the media and voters.  We shall have to see how the next holder of the office acts and whether he or she can re-establish a sense of morality and justice.

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The Leak

Manufacturers have two views of leaks of their products’ features and functions.  They like them or detest their appearance.  Consider this example.  The author of the column is advising shoppers to wait for the appearance of the next generation of a smartphone because it has superior qualities.  That may be well and good, but what about the overhang of tens of thousands of the earlier version still in the marketplace?  It has orphaned them.  From a marketing perspective, it could be a disaster.  On the other hand, if Samsung has had trouble selling the current model, the positive word of mouth for the next generation is valuable.  From the media’s perspective, the sooner the word gets out the better.  Journalists live for the scoop, whether phones, autos, computers or something else.  If Samsung divulged the features and functions of its new generation of phones to a select group of the media, it was trying for maximum attention — and it got it.  If not, it now has a problem of what to do next.

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Bucking The System

Elon Musk has reopened his Tesla car factory in violation of a shutdown order from the California county in which he is operating.  Musk has said if anyone is to be arrested, it should be him.  His workers are upset and angry that he is risking their health by restarting the assembly lines.  Musk has long believed that he knows better.  In a sense, he sees himself above the law.  If he can get away with this, he can challenge nearly anything.  At this hour, it is unclear what the county will do to address Musk’s intransigence, but it is poor PR for him and his company.  It is understandable that Musk is moving forward.  He is losing millions a day with his factory shut down.  He cannot afford not to work.  But, that written, he shouldn’t be allowed to set rules unilaterally.  It is a message with an affront.

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Exhaustion

There are glimmers of the economy coming back to life and a V-shaped rather than U-shaped recovery.  What it might be is simple exhaustion with sheltering at home for so long.  The public is making up its own mind about the risk for coming down with COVID-19 in spite of scientists and medical cautions.  People want to go to the beach, to the park, to the mall and live life as it was again.  That is a vain delusion, of course.  The disease has not gone away and is still infecting thousands and killing hundreds.  What kind of persuasion is needed to get people to stay at home longer?  It seems it might have to be an infection of someone close to them making the novel coronavirus real again.  For so many, particularly those in low-case states, sickness hasn’t been realized, and citizens are tired of following rules.  This is a difficult time for governors and health executives.  How do you convince the public that the disease can flare again if they stop quarantining too soon?  No one wants to hear that.    

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Backhanded Promotion

A group of Republicans opposed to President Trump created an online video ad named “Mourning in America.”  It was destined to go the way of most ads, overlooked and quickly irrelevant.  But, then, President Trump attacked it.  Suddenly, it went from a “couple of thousands views” to hundreds of thousands.  Trump’s backhanded swipe was just the promotion it needed.  The creators of the ad must be gleeful.  Trump himself probably doesn’t understand what he did.  His bent to attack, attack, attack has rendered him impervious to his shortcomings.  It should be a lesson to communications practitioners, however.  Sometimes it is best to leave criticism alone and let it die.  A bias toward response at all times is not a good idea.  Ask if negative comments are gaining traction.  If not, leave them alone.  Every leader has opponents.  That is part of being in charge.  Only when the opposition is gaining the power to stop action should one become engaged.  

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Historic Change

As this article notes, candidates for public office did not always glad-hand voters and mix with the masses.  In the 19th Century and early 20th, they stayed home and their parties did outreach for them.  This year, in an historic shift, neither parties nor candidates are knocking on doors, passing out flyers, assembling rallies.  COVID-19 has done away with that.  Rather, they have taken to the internet to gain name recognition and have discovered it is a discipline requiring new communications methods.  Reaching citizens through the internet is hard, as time-consuming as knocking on doors and gathering supporters to events.  Candidates are having a tough time using the medium well because they are not used to it.  In the past, it was a supplement to person-to-person communication and not the main course.  This year, it has taken over.  Some candidates will master it.  Many will not and will return to old-fashioned retail campaigning once the pandemic is over.  For that reason, 2020 will become a case study in what to do and what to avoid online.  Candidates and communications practitioners will learn the hard way and those who follow them will build on their successful tactics.

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Indecision

Nothing can bollix a marketing program more quickly than indecision.  One starts, stops, redirects, starts again, gets lost in a sea of choices, flails again, renames, relaunches and on and on.  This is a perfect example of a company that can’t make up its mind.  Google has renamed, relaunched, pulled back and started again and again with its messaging services.  And, it appears that it is still not done fiddling with it.  Meanwhile, competitors have streaked ahead and left the company in their dust.  At this point, Google would be better off if it just gave up as it has done with other software products that never took off.  Google’s challenge is internal more than external.  It can’t get its messaging teams on the same page with the same functionality. The task now is for Google’s CEO to crack the whip and clarify what the company is trying to do.  Google might never compete forcefully at this late date, but it could still be a factor.

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Patience

There will be no swift turnaround once the pandemic is under control.  People will not go back to normal.  Rather, until a vaccine is developed and tested, they will wear masks, practice social distancing and refuse to shake hands without gloves on.  That is why economists see a steep climb out of the hole in which the country has fallen.  That is also why a key message of communicators for months to come is patience.  Patience to see the end of furloughs.  Patience to see the end of joblessness.  Patience to feel relief from debt and looming bills that cannot be paid.  But, Americans are not by nature patient.  There will be turmoil and anger that things are not moving fast enough. CEOs and politicians will feel the heat and some will lose their jobs.  There is only so much persuasive messaging can do.  When it rubs against raw feelings of frustration, it is not heard and can be turned back on itself.  It is only when circumstances have changed that people look back and reflect.  That doesn’t help now.

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Curious Distinction

The scam artist who bought kids’ ways into name universities now says he knew what he did was wrong but he didn’t think it illegal.  That is situational ethics and a departure from moral standards. It should be a lesson to all that skating to the edge of legality is dangerous.  There are PR practitioners who believe that what one can get away with is OK.  They cover their tracks and spin their way through tough situations.  President Trump’s press secretaries are notable for that, and Trump himself is a man without ethical standards other than what benefits him.  That is a gauge of a sociopath and is dangerous to society at large.  Trump is not alone in that stance.  Many CEOs, politicians and other leaders are out just for themselves.  They are impossible to serve without compromising oneself, and when they fall, they take their followers with them.  It is a dangerous game to communicate and act without a moral compass.

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