Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How Do You Handle This? 

Airbnb, the apartment sharing startup, has a problem with prostitution.  It seems Ladies of the Night are using its services for tricks.  The service doesn't seem worried about it, but one wonders if it should be.  What if people stop renting out apartments and rooms because they are afraid of the type of person who might take up residence?  Airbnb's source of revenue will dry and its growth wither.  It seems the company needs to do a better job of screening, but there will always be some who slip through.  The questions are how many and how dangerous they might be to apartment owners and room renters. Airbnb might need to do more than it has already done.

In the case of one Airbnb apartment used for prostitution, the startup took immediate action to ensure the apartment owner had a safe place to stay, reimbursed her for property damage, and kicked the Airbnb guest off the service for good. "Like other leaders in global hospitality, we are constantly evaluating security measures and working on even more tools to give our users even more ways to build trust," a spokesperson told Fortune.

Airbnb must provide hosts with a sense of confidence that strangers won't abuse them or their property -- a headache for the hotel industry.  Hoteliers have security guards and 24-hour desk service.  The sharing service has a $1,000,000 guarantee for hosts, a way for them to correspond with guests and check their backgrounds before they arrive and the option to decline any guest.  But, is it enough?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

General Mills Gets It 

Unlike Porsche Cars, whose error we discussed yesterday, General Mills understands how to react quickly to what internet users say.  The company had published a new policy last week that stated if someone "Liked" any of its brands online, that person agreed to give up the right to sue the company in favor of binding arbitration.  The uproar was immediate, and General Mills quickly went back to its old policy with an explanation that it had been misunderstood.  The company understands that brand power resides with the consumer and not with the corporation.  Reputation is how the public regards you and not what you say.  How might have General Mills introduced a new policy?  By asking the public what it thinks.  It is a slower procedure but a more certain one.  If there are objections, the company can defend its change on the opinion of the majority.  This is nothing more than a recognition of what always has been true.  A company exists because of a customer and not vice versa.

Monday, April 21, 2014


This story is shocking because Porsche, the luxury sports car maker, has been so good in customer service and public relations.  Porsche is a master of building and fitting its vehicles to the aspirations of a select group of owner-drivers.  The rest of the world gapes in awe at the machines built for comfort and speed.  Now, with one million views of a series of videos castigating the company, Porsche has a PR headache.  How could the company have slipped so badly?  It might be that Porsche has yet to understand the power of social media and its effect upon brands.  If so, the company has a case study for what not to do -- its own.  One would like to believe that Porsche has learned from this affair, and it won't happen again.  Time will tell.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Scientists have discovered a planet similar to earth and in the right  zone for habitation.  It is 500 light years away.  Or, to put it in context, if earth had sent a message to the planet during the time of Henry VIII of England, it would just be arriving.  For all practical purposes, man is alone in the universe, and earth is the only sustenance.  This, more than any other reason, should be the driving force for maintaining the environment and creating harmony among nations.  The argument that there is nowhere else to go is powerful persuasion.  Yes, it is interesting to get lost in science fiction, but the facts of our existence intrude the more we know about space and its vast emptiness.  One can't fight physics and win.  It might seem irrelevant  to invoke the isolation of humanity as a reason for peace, but the sooner that nations realize there is no place else to go, the faster they will overlook their grudges.  Scientists have discussed colonizing the moon and Mars but there is little chance that self-sustaining populations can arise in either of the dead environments.  We are alone.  Understand what that means.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

PR Today 

Isn't the PR that you learned in school or practiced for much of your career.  Now it is data-driven communications.  The traditional model of earned media that couldn't be measured is being swiftly replaced by social media that can be counted and tracked.  Agencies that do not have access to the data are being left behind and might shrink to a niche of the industry.  There will be room for smaller clients and  B-to-B where there is less data, but the large consumer packaged goods, electronics and transportation accounts will gravitate to where they can get answers to their ROI questions.  In other words, the legacy challenge of the PR business -- that measurement was difficult -- has largely been solved.  Practitioners need to adapt  or be left behind. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


The IRS has proposed an experiment in which millions of Americans can submit simple, pre-filled tax returns.  One would hope the IRS finds the test positive and saves filers an annual headache.  But, one company sees it as a threat to its business and is lobbying against it -- Intuit, the maker of TurboTax.  Rather than opposing it in the open, it has been using lobbying shills who are doing its work for it without attribution.  They have sparked a faux grassroots campaign to protest the IRS action.  Apparently Intuit doesn't want to be seen as against a program that might benefit Americans, but it does want to kill it.   There is a cliche that describes this -- trying to be half-pregnant.  If one is opposed, it is better to say so publicly and make the argument even if the rationale is self-serving.  Sneaking around is bound to be outed, as it was in this case.  Not only does Intuit come off as self-interested, which it has a right to be, but it seems craven.  The campaign has backfired on the company, as it should have.  Maybe now, it will present its case to the public transparently.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Live By The Fad. Die By The Fad. 

A failing cupcake chain is trying to get its products into supermarkets.  Cupcakes were a fad not that long ago, and there were cupcake wars on reality TV cooking shows.   Now, pffft.  The chain went public at the height of the fad and today is closing stores.  It is hard enough to run a business.  Hopping on a flash trend and trying to ride it is worse.  One must be ready to cut and run instantly when consumers turn their attention elsewhere.  The problem with fads is recognizing they are just that.  There are no guidelines to tell one that 14 to 24 months hence, consumers will be on to something new.  It is easy to do publicity while a fad rages.  It is nearly impossible once it passes.  It's yesterday's news like pet rocks, wall crawlers and other gizmos that have come and gone.  PR practitioners would do well to avoid momentary trends, but they don't always have a choice.  However, they should be wary enough to treat fads for what they are -- momentary crowd behavior -- and not enduring changes in culture.

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