Wednesday April 1, 2020
 

Pandemic And Panic

CNN has decided to call the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus a pandemic.  The World Health Organization has yet to dub it that.  There is panic buying of masks and paper products, and some are stocking up on canned goods in case there is a quarantine.  In Manhattan, the streets are full of people and there is nary a masked individual in sight.  That is probably as it should be.  One hundred thousand cases worldwide of the disease is a tiny percentage of the population.  A total of 3,000 deaths is a fraction of a fraction.  We are nowhere near the 1918 flu outbreak that killed an estimated 50 million people.  Part of the reason for that is health authorities are treating the coronavirus seriously and quarantining populations where it has arisen.  What is needed is straightforward, factual communication of its spread and containment.  Health agencies and the media have been publicizing prevention measures (handwashing being the most important) and symptoms so potential victims can recognize what is happening to them and can seek medical help.  There is no need for hysteria, not yet anyway as long as health authorities continue to do their job.

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Bragging Rights

In the refined world of supercomputers, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.  That’s what Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is doing by announcing El Capitan, a supercomputer that can process two quintillion calculations per second.  That’s two exaflops or better yet, 2,000,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second, an unimaginable number.  It will cost $600 million to build and will take enough electricity to power a town of 12,000 homes.  The machine will do classified work — simulating nuclear explosions — needed to test the power of the nation’s aging arsenal.  Lawrence Livermore is publicizing the machine, due to come online in 2023, as a way of showing that it remains on the leading edge of the world of supercomputers.  It has thrown the gauntlet down for China and Japan to pick up, if they can.  And chances are, they will.  It’s a never-ending race.  Lawrence Livermore might not hold on to bragging rights for more than a year or two, but for now, it is the El Capitan of the industry.

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The Future

It is hard to believe a Harvard graduate student said this to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon when the company was young and unproven.  The point of the article is that people judge businesses from the perspective of the present and not with an eye to the future.  They don’t have the vision and foresight of a founder.  But then, most people who start businesses lack the insight of a Jeff Bezos.  He is one of a kind, so the Harvard student can be forgiven.  The point for PR practitioners who communicate the strategies of clients and companies is to suspend skepticism long enough for founders to make a dream a reality but not to buy ideas without reservations.  No one wins if you drink the potion and flack without second-thoughts. But, you should respect founders’ ideas as much as possible until the future reveals the truth.  

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A CEO Challenge

This is a challenge to CEOs in general and those who are clearly overpaid.  Activists are targeting these executives, their boards and their companies.  The SEC-mandated rule that the pay ratio between top and bottom workers be published annually has served to spotlight the discrepancy in remuneration.  The problem is chronic.  CEOs don’t want to give up the money and boards don’t want to rock the boat.  That leaves the shareholders to act, if they can.  Look for pressure to increase as the years pass and for pay to become a PR problem.  It already is in corporations that aren’t performing well and it will be in every business sooner or later.

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Never-ending PR Challenge

Amazon has a never-ending PR challenge — fake goods.  Among its tens of thousands of vendors are scammers who manufacture inferior knock-offs of products and offer them on the Amazon site.  Amazon is aware of the problem and working to get rid of cheats, but it might be too large for the company to do much about it. It’s Whack-a-mole.  For every one knocked down, another begins.  From a public perspective, this is a major failing of the firm.  One would expect a retailer to certify the goods it is selling, to know where they came from and who made them.  With the hundreds of thousands of products Amazon offers, it has yet to develop a system to vet them.  The company needs to do better.

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A Week Off

President’s Day was a chance to extend a holiday into a week off.  The vacation days were spent away from the media but for a newspaper on one day.  There was no intrusion of politics, caucuses, Trumpisms, fires, robberies, homicides and anything else that contorts the mind.  It was splendid with a pile of reading to be riffled through, hikes in the mountains, late to bed, late to rise and plenty of good food.  The weather held and outdoor activities were encouraged.  It was hard to come back but time. Client work calls and the harness needs to be filled.  There is much to say for time off and a chance to clear one’s head..

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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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