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Archive for the ‘PR’ Category

Bad PR for United

Posted by prof e on April 11, 2017

United Airline has experienced some self-inflicted wounds recently and the latest PR pratfall shows little sign of easing. The forcible removal of a man from a plane at the Chicago airport was video recorded and shared far and wide on social media, including in Asia where David Dao lived before immigrating to the USA.

Bumping passengers from over-booked flights is pretty standard practice. Nearly half a million passengers voluntarily gave up their seat last year, including 63,000 on United. My son took a bump this weekend and got a nice meal and a $500 voucher for his trouble. When not enough passengers volunteer their seats, airlines are allowed to bump passengers. However, they must give them compensation in the form of vouchers, gift cards or cash.

But the execution of the bump in this instance was anything but routine. Not only was the passenger forcibly removed but he was injured in the process. Adding insult to injury, the airline responded with
the kind of statement that gives PR a bad name. Social media lit up when the procedure was referred to as “having to ‘re-accommodate’ these customers” …customers who, we might add, were ejected to make room for United employees traveling to Louisville. That led to this meme by NFL player Joe Thomas………


And this tweet…










The story is complicated by the passenger’s troubled history including the suspension of his license to practice medicine. But that doesn’t excuse United’s behavior and public outrage has been pronounced. According to USA Today, at its low point on April 11, United’s stock lost nearly $1 billion.



Posted in ethics, PR, social media | Leave a Comment »

Political PR and Symbolic Gestures

Posted by prof e on November 9, 2015

Last week you read a blog post about the public relations difficulties facing the nuclear power industry…an industry that could be an alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and oil. We also looked at the issue of climate change and the PR war that is being waged by big oil, the environmental movement, and those who stand to gain when alternatives such as solar and wind are put into service.

Last Thursday President Obama vetoed the Keystone pipeline, a project that has been in the works for seven years. The pipeline would transport tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the gulf coast of the US. The environmental opposition to the project is grounded in a belief that oil is bad, and that tar sands oil is one of the worst forms of oil when it comes to negative environmental impact. According to the New York Times, “The process of extracting that oil produces about 17 percent more planet-warming greenhouse gases than the process of extracting conventional oil.”

But the debate had come to be more symbolic than real. The oil will likely make it to market regardless of the fate of the Keystone pipeline and the pro-jobs and pro-economy arguments were largely overstated.

But the New York Times report suggests that Obama’s decision is mostly about cementing his legacy as a friend of environmentalists. It even makes the point that the decision is about sending a message to the international community.

But advocates of the agreement said that the Keystone decision, even though it is largely symbolic, could show other countries that Mr. Obama is willing to make tough choices about climate change.

Perhaps Obama’s decision is a chess move in a global PR strategy designed to affect the outcome of UN’s Conference on Climate Change when they meet in Paris later this month.

Posted in politics, PR | Leave a Comment »

Planned Parenthood’s PR Problem

Posted by prof e on July 28, 2015

You may have noticed that Planned Parenthood is in hot water. Now that a third undercover video has been released…this one featuring a PP official from Colorado discussing the selling of fetal organs…the crisis is moving from social media to front page news. But that is exactly what Planned Parenthood is trying to prevent by hiring a Public Relations firm. The firm is, according to Politico‘s website, attempting to keep media outlets from covering the story by claiming that the videos are a violation of patients’ privacy. That was the same tactic used to prevent the distribution of the Frederick Wiseman’s ground-breaking documentary Titicut Follies. That documentary was effectively banned for 24 years. Produced in 1967, the film eventually aired on PBS in 1992.

Another tactic being employed is to discredit the source of the leaked videos. According to a PR website,

Ferrero blasted the video publishers, the Center for Medical Progress, as a “well-funded group established for the purpose of damaging [PP’s] mission and services.” He said the video was heavily edited and falsely portrays the group’s participation in tissue donation programs.

This incident raises ethical questions about undercover reporting and agenda-driven journalism. Gotcha sound bites and crafty editing can be used to manipulate unsuspecting, or already convinced, audience members that this is an open and shut case. Perhaps it is…and time will tell if we can just sustain our focus and attention on the legitimate concerns.

Social media thrives on polarizing stories such as this one. With a catchy hashtag calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, i.e. #SToPP, social media will keep the debate front and center for at least a short time.

Posted in ethics, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, PR, social media | Leave a Comment »

Marketing Missteps Turn Into PR Pratfalls

Posted by prof e on April 2, 2015

Companies take risks and try new things. Sometimes they work, and other times…well, let’s just say they sometimes fail to produce the intended result. Starbuck’s “Race Together” campaign is just one of the most recent examples of a well-intended effort that backfired when consumers used social media to push back. Interactivity is one of the things that makes social media so incredibly powerful and valuable. But like any powerful force, if it gets out of control (which it so frequently does) it can wreak havoc.

Mae Anderson, of the Associated Press, makes the point that this is not unique to the coffee giant. Plenty of other marketing blunders have mushroomed into PR blunders when corporations lose control of their message in social media spaces. Coke, the Gap, Lululemon, and even J.P. Morgan have felt the wrath of consumers who didn’t like the: new taste, new logo, new transparency, or lack thereof.

In another AP news article the Starbucks campaign was defended as simply a failed attempt to try to do the right thing.

At its annual meeting, Schultz said he didn’t think Starbucks would solve the country’s “centuries old problems of racism” but that he thinks it can make a difference. He said workers don’t have to participate, and that stores will make customers another drink or cover up cups if they don’t like the message. “This is not a marketing or P.R. exercise,” Schultz said.

Even if we take their word for it and accept that they did not intend for this to be a marketing or PR exercise…it is clear that it has become exactly that.

Posted in advertising, PR | Leave a Comment »

Hacking, Journalism, and Moral Treason

Posted by prof e on December 16, 2014

The hack of Sony Pictures and subsequent release of salacious emails and other confidential information has been the talk of the town (read Hollywood) in recent days. Much of the information obtained by the hackers (aka Guardians of Peace) is very personal and potentially damaging to careers and reputations of employees, executives, and celebrities connected to Sony. Medical records, compensation packages and their private negotiations…even jokes about President Obama that have a racial component…are on display for all to see.

But the hackers alone cannot do serious damage to Sony without the willing participation of journalists. What the hackers have stolen, journalists are now distributing with the protection of the first amendment and the claim that these are important and relevant issues to be discussed in a public forum.

But not every one is willing to give the news media a pass when it comes to reporting this story. Appearing on Howard Stern’s radio show, Seth Rogen (co-star of The Interview) claimed that journalists are profiting from doing exactly what the criminals/hackers want.

Television writer Aaron Sorkin has been another outspoken critic saying, “Every news outlet that did the bidding of the Guardians of Peace is morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable.” Sorkin acknowledges, in his op-ed piece in the New York Times, the importance and role of the media when it comes to whistle-blowing and exposing wrong-doing, e.g. the Pentagon Papers. But he makes a clear distinction between that and these gossipy morsels that have little or no value for the preservation of democratic ideals.

As demented and criminal as it is, at least the hackers are doing it for a cause. The press is doing it for a nickel. ~Aaron Sorkin

I suppose one could argue that this hack reveals facts relevant to issues of importance: gender disparity for celebrity compensation, race-tinged jokes about the President by Sony execs who support him and gave to his political causes, and allegations of journalistic malpractice by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. But these exceptions are not what’s generating all the buzz on blogs and social media.

Not too long ago when nude celebrity pictures were hacked from the cloud “real” journalists were careful to keep their distance for fear of being seen as accomplices to the crime. But this time the “gift that keeps on giving” has fewer detractors and the benefit of readers’ fascination with celebrity culture. The hackers have promised a “Christmas gift” of new information while Sony’s lawyers are sending threatening letters to news organizations in an attempt to discourage further dissemination. But if there’s one thing on which we can be fairly certain, it’s that attacking journalists won’t go over well.

Posted in 1st amendment, copyright, film, global media, journalism, media industry, new media, PR | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Uber’s Image Problem

Posted by prof e on November 29, 2014

UberPerhaps you’ve heard of Uber, the smartphone-enabled ride-sharing alternative to traditional taxis. Uber, along with Lyft and Sidecar, work on the premise that a person with a car can offer a service to someone who need a ride, and make a few bucks in the process for both the driver and the company. Now that most everyone has a smartphone–and with real-time location services knowing your every move–connecting drivers and riders is really pretty simple.

But Uber, like the other start-ups, has a few natural enemies. Taxi cab companies don’t like having their business syphoned off by competitors who are not licensed and have little to no overhead.

But it is Uber’s CEO and a senior VP who may become the company’s greatest liability. CEO Travis Kalanick, whose aggressive leadership has been credited with the quick rise of the company, has ruffled more than a few feathers with his aggressive business practices. Uber has been accused of violating its own privacy policy and tracking users for suspect reasons. (You can read more about that on the ACLU blog.) And recently, Uber VP Emil Michael has suggested that Uber should investigate journalists who have been investigating Uber.

Specifically Michael targeted Sarah Lacy, co-editor of the Pando Daily website. Lacy has been critical of Uber’s treatment of women and has been leading the call for Uber to clean up its act. And for that, according to The Tech Bulletin, “A top executive of Uber explained a Nixonian plan to dig up dirt on the journalists who are critical towards Uber and sully their reputations.”

One doesn’t have to be a PR pro to see that this is not a smart move by Uber. Picking a fight with journalists is seldom a good idea. As Bill Greener, press aide to Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld in the 1970’s once said, “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” (Lewis).

Posted in advertising, interactive media, journalism, new media, PR, regulation, social media | 7 Comments »

Protecting the Brand

Posted by prof e on September 21, 2014

NFLShieldThe Broncos and Seahawks gave us a great game this afternoon. Millions tuned in to see the rematch of last year’s Superbowl, and this time it was a much more interesting affair. But if you’ve been paying attention to the news the past few weeks you know that the NFL is in the spot light…but not for the right reasons.

The PR debacle that has the media in an uproar didn’t start with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, nor will it end there. But eventually the media attention focused on NFL players behaving badly will come to an end because the NFL is first and foremost about money…and these momentary distractions, if left unchecked, will get in the way of making money and that would be (according to owners and league officials) an even greater problem than this current mess.

Anheuser-Busch spends upwards of $200M a year advertising on NFL broadcasts and have publicly said that they are “disappointed” in the NFL. That kind of money talks, and Commissioner Goodell is listening. That’s why Goodell made a public apology…or at least I think that’s what the press conference a few days ago was supposed to be. The top three rated TV programs last week were…you guessed it…Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, and Thursday Night Football. As long as American continue to watch NFL broadcasts, and as long as advertisers pay big bucks to reach those viewers, the NFL will continue. Sure they’ll make a few changes and get rid of a few bad actors. But when the average “career” of a pro player lasts only four years, losing a player or two over bad behavior off the field will not change the game or the bottom line.

I realize this perspective comes across as cynical and jaded. I wish it were different. I wish that the institutions surrounding professional sports, including the media empires that have learned to monetize and merchandize athletic achievement, were more sensitive to the long-term cultural implications of their choices. I wish the NFL brand stood for something more.


Posted in advertising, media industry, PR, tv | Tagged: , | 16 Comments »

Facebook’s Social Experiment

Posted by prof e on July 6, 2014

BigBroYou may have heard by now that Facebook cooperated with researchers from two universities to study emotional contagion. The question that they wanted to answer was, does the emotional tone of others’ posts on your Facebook wall affect the tone of your posts? To find the answer they conducted an experiment…on nearly 700,000 Facebook users. The methodology was fairly straightforward; they began by using software to analyze posts in order to categorize them as either negative or positive. Then, they manipulated which posts were more likely to show up on the wall of certain Facebook users. By analyzing those users’ posts they were able to determine if they became more positive or negative as a result. Sounds like an interesting experiment for those of us interested in social science and the effect that mediated interactions may have on our personal disposition or behavior.

Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:

Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. [snip] In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.

Unfortunately for Facebook, this little experiment (conducted in 2012 and published last month) will likely become a PR case study of what NOT to do to your social media subscribers. The issue here is one of “informed consent.” In a nutshell that means that human participants in any study must be given sufficient information about the potential risk/harm/benefits of a study before being asked to give their consent to participate. Only after giving consent are human participants subjected to the experimental procedures. In this case the researchers said that Facebook users had already given consent for their data to be used by Facebook in a variety of ways–including research. Facebook’s TOS (Terms of Service) do make reference to using users’ data for research purposes, but according to some sources that clause was added AFTER the experiment was conducted.

While all the negative attention is certainly a problem for Facebook, it is noteworthy that this little scandal has drawn attention to a much larger issue with much more sinister implications. Social media users need to be aware that their data are being used for a variety of purposes…the most obvious being marketing, advertising, and research. Personal privacy is but a mirage and signing up for any of these services constitutes selling oneself on the open market. I hate to be too pessimistic, but short of complete disconnection any hope of control of one’s digital destiny is mere wishful thinking.

You can read the study at


Posted in interactive media, media effects, new media, PR, research, social media | 3 Comments »

Social Media & Breaking News

Posted by prof e on February 24, 2014

If you’ve been paying attention to international news you’ve probably noticed that while the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia were winding down, a geo-political revolution was heating up in the neighboring state of Ukraine. Demonstrators battled riot police and security forces in the capital city of Kiev and, as the saying goes, the whole world was watching.

Over the weekend the tide appears to have shifted in favor of the demonstrators. Charged with mass murder, former president Yanukovych fled leaving behind a palatial estate complete with zoo and  golf course. Corruption has been a problem for this democratic state for many years, and it is still too soon to tell if this latest revolution will put them on the road to political stability.

But this is a blog primarily about media, not politics. Conveniently social media was an important component in the Kiev uprising of 2014, and one viral video in particular helped to focus attention on the plight of the Ukrainians. In case you didn’t see it…

Social media is being used increasingly as a source of news for teens and young adults. A recent survey of >5,000 adults by the Pew Research Journalism Project found that Reddit, Twitter and Facebook lead other social media for users reporting that they get news online. Of those who report using social media sites for news, most use only one site for news, while 26% get news from two sites, and 9% get news from 3 or more sites. It is also worth noting that the study found that social media news consumers also seek out news from traditional legacy media outlets such as cable TV and radio.

But social media as a source of news has some interesting strengths and weaknesses. One obvious strength is the speed of social news. A twitter feed from the front lines can literally provide a play-by-play account in near-real-time. Another strength is the democratization of sources. Citizen journalists and eyewitnesses can now transmit to a global audience. The barrier to entry has never been lower. As Mathew Ingram asserted in GigaOm, “social media is the only media that matters” in these contexts.

Of course these strengths are also weaknesses. Speed is frequently the enemy of accuracy. And the lack of gate-keepers and editors to vet content means that a lot of half-truths and out-right lies also make it into the mix. As Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” And these criticisms don’t even begin to raise questions about overt and covert propaganda. Who is behind the I am a Ukrainian video on YouTube and what should we believe about their efforts to elicit support? Remember, if you get your news from social media, you need to be prepared to be your own filter and fact-checker.

Posted in global media, interactive media, journalism, new media, politics, PR, social media, video | 16 Comments »

Keg-Stands, Casual Sex and Scare Tactics: The Selling of Obamacare

Posted by prof e on November 20, 2013

got_insuranceA new set of advertisements intended to get young people to sign up for Obamacare have been released online. Produced by  The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado, these ads are designed to be an antidote to conservative ads designed to scare young people away.

Rather than pay airtime or insertion rates, these ads are designed to generate social media buzz which, they hope, will drive traffic to the website. One way to create buzz is to push the envelope. The tactic has been used many times before. You might remember the Superbowl ads that were “too hot” for broadcast TV. Recently Kmart has been raising some eyebrows with a series of TV spots for the retailer. One recently played on the phrase “ship my pants” and another features an unusual performance of Jingle Bells.

What the Obamacare ads are attempting to do is to attract young healthy customers…the very demographic that is needed to fund medical care for the poor and elderly. Here’s a link to a video from HuffPo that provides running commentary on whether the approach will work with Millennials. What do you think? Are these ads effective and will they convince young people to sign up?

Posted in advertising, interactive media, new media, politics, PR, social media, websites | 43 Comments »