Friday, December 19, 2014

Stomach-Churning Publicity 

This doctor thinks stomach-churning images of lower limb amputations should be placed on prepared foods that lend to Type 2 diabetes.  He points to anti-smoking campaigns as a model.  The problem is that no one knows whether it would work.  The doctor is right about Type 2 diabetes.  It is at epidemic levels in the US and little is being done about prevention.  It is a disease of a wealthy, sedentary nation. As he notes, it affects an estimate 29.1 million Americans and costs the nation up to $69 billion a year.   Why can't something be done about it?  It would require a change in the habits of tens of millions and that is not only hard, it is near impossible.  Any PR campaign directed to the problem would cost millions and take years to show an effect.  So, doctors live with it and treat patients the best they can,  Pictures of amputated limbs on soda cans are not going to make much difference.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Long-Term Crisis 

One of the hardest crises to handle is the long-term disaster -- the slowly evolving event that is hard to motivate companies and the public to address.  For example, this one.  Antimicrobial resistance already is a serious problem in the nation's hospitals and it will continue to worsen in the decades to come.  Tens of thousands have died and millions more will follow.  One would think governments and drug companies would be fully committed to battle resistant microbes with new treatments, but apparently not.  How does one mobilize public attention before it is too late?  That is the challenge that doctors, bureaucrats and communicators have, and like anti-smoking efforts, it may take decades to convince everyone the danger is real and growing daily.  Meanwhile, try to stay out of a hospital.   

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


New York Magazine is undergoing a nightmare of its own making.  It reported a story that was false and made up by a teenager.  How did it get sucked into a tale that was too good to be true?  Probably because it was.  Stranger things have happened.  Nonetheless, the magazine how has a PR problem with its readership.  How can one trust a publication that did such poor fact checking?  The magazine has done the right thing.  It immediately posted an apology to readers and admitted it was duped.  The reporter on the story has her own troubles.  She bills herself as an investigative journalist.  One wonders how much investigation she did before running with this falsehood.  The magazine will overcome the embarrassment soon enough.  The reporter might not.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


How do you discuss a subject that is taboo but essential?  For example, the cost effectiveness of health care.  In the US, the idea that someone's life might not be worth the cost of restoring to health is anathema.  Americans consider it outrageous that they might not get care they need even though it runs into millions.  This burdens the health community, insurance companies and the rest of the public, but patients and their families do not think of that.  They are focused on getting better no matter the cost.  Ultimately, economic necessity dictates that effectiveness analysis be done, and it is a matter of the courage of physicians, hospital administrators, insurance companies and others to determine who should be treated and who made comfortable until death.  It is a difficult but mature relationship to the public, and it depends on the public's understanding as well. Avoiding the discussion helps no one iand drives up the cost of health care to a point where there is less treatment for all.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dumb Stunt 

This qualifies as a dumb publicity stunt, and Greenpeace ought to be ashamed.  The site where the ancients scratched lines in the earth to signify different plants and creatures, including a hummingbird is easily damaged.  The Peruvian government has placed the Nazca site off-limits yet Greenpeace went in anyway and laid a huge sign on the ground that was visible even from space.  Peru is now considering charges against the group, and that is the least of what Greenpeace deserves.  It is ironic that an environmental group would be prosecuted for damaging the environment, but maybe the next time someone in the organization has a brilliant idea for raising awareness, someone will check with the government first.

Friday, December 12, 2014

E-mail 101 

Two Sony executives have apologized for remarks they made in e-mails that hackers exposed to the world.  One wonders if anyone ever told them that what they write in an e-mail is sent to the world and not just another party because one loses control after hitting the send button.  It is E-mail 101.  Never write in an e-mail what you don't want to see in a headline.  This basic lesson is one that I hammer at students in business communications class.  Yet, people don't learn or easily forget.  Why?  Because they treat e-mail as a stream of consciousness, a continuation of conversation, that doesn't require the same attention as a formal letter.  E-mail is a dangerous medium for that reason.  One should treat it as a sharp tool.  Handle with care.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another Worry 

As if the internet didn't provide enough worry for PR practitioners, here is another.  Online vigilante detectives are reporting incidents faster than the news media, sometimes accurately but just as often inaccurately.  It is almost impossible for a PR practitioner to keep up with them in handling an incident.  For one, PR is bound by facts and not rumor, a constraint the vigilante is not held to.  There is no good remedy for self-proclaimed investigative reporters on the web.  The first step is to monitor them and what they are writing in their Tweets.  The second step is to rebut where possible inaccuracies.  But, that is a slow process, and the online detective can easily outpace those in the middle of a crisis.  One dare not ignore the vigilante.  The news media are paying attention to what he is writing and are reporting what he has discovered.  The vigilante detective is a feeder to the mainstream press. Speed and transparency are essential in modern media relations.  But as fast as a crisis communicator can operate is not fast enough.

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