Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

As you may already have figured out, this blog is closed.

I am now blogging at: http://www.holmesreport.com/blog/

You can also follow me on Twitter (@sabreawards) and become a fanof The Holmes Report or SABRE Awards on Facebook.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Gay-Bashing SuperBowl Ads, An American Tradition: I don’t know why the gay community is so upset about this Snickers SuperBowl ad and accompanying website. It doesn’t actively promote violence against homosexuals; it merely suggests that (a) revulsion is a natural reaction to anything gay; (b) violence is an appropriate response; and (c) that the revulsion and the violence are both highly amusing. What’s the problem?

UPDATE: The site is now down, and Masterfoods says the ads won’t run again. But for those unsure what all the fuss is about, the ad showed two mechanics eating the same Snickers bar until their lips accidentally touch, whereupon--in one of the alternate endings features on the Snickers site--they proceed to beat each other senseless with wrenches and other profoundly masculine objects.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Guerrilla Marketers Mistaken for Real Guerrillas: Doubtless, many column inches will be devoted to the foolishness of the Turner Broadcasting System “public relations” people whose guerrilla marketing campaign on behalf of the Adult Swim cartoon show Aqua Teen Hunger Force led to bomb scares in Boston on Wednesday. And doubtless there will be those who take some satisfaction in the brief arrest of two men. Certainly, Turner was quick to issue an apology.

But I’m inclined to agree with Time’s James Poniewozik, author of the best television blog on the Internet, when he writes that the marketers’ real mistake was “what's the nice way of saying this?--overestimating the intelligence of the homeland-security apparatus.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What's Fair?: One of the posters responding to my Disney Disgrace item questions whether the use of clips from Disney Radio Station KSFO are really “fair use.” Under the circumstances, a definition might be handy.

From the U.S. copyright office: “Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered ‘fair,’ such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

“Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair: 1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; 2. the nature of the copyrighted work; 3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and 4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

Spocko was clearly using the Disney segment for the purposes of criticsm, comment, and news reporting.

The use was clearly not for commercial purposes, and equally clearly was for educational purposes.

He used only excerpts, and did not post “the copyrighted work as a whole.”

The use had no effect upon the potential market value of the copyrighted work. Indeed, the nature of the news business is such that the market value of the work was non-existent by the time Spocko made his post. (It may have had an effect on the market value of KSFO's future output, but that's a separate issue.)

In other words, it is difficult to imagine a more clear-cut case of fair use.
Meatpuppet Alert: If you were still wondering why wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has it in for public relations people, Ben Goldacre provides an example of the kind of inept and unethical activity that tars the whole profession with the same brush.

Goldacre is the author of the excellent “Bad Science” column in The Guardian, which is dedicated to exposing the most egregious examples of junk science. (That’s junk science as in science that is deeply, fatally flawed. Or non-existent. Not junk science in the Steven Milloy sense, which is to say science wll-supported by the facts but in conflict with the short-term interests of big corporations.)

Anyway, at his blog Goldacre discusses the editing of a wikipedia article about self-styled nutritionist Patrick Holford. (In the U.K., anyone can call him or herself a nutritionist; Holford’s only relevant qualification appears to be a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy, awarded by his own Institute of Optimum Nutrition.

Goldacre had written critically of Holford’s credentials and his tendency to make claims unsupported by science. A reference to those criticisms made it into wikipedia, but was later edited out. Some solid—but not especially brilliant—detective work by Goldacre traces the editing to a user calling himself Clarkeola, who turns out to be an employee of Holford’s public relations firm, Fuel PR.

Clarkeola has been banned under wikipedia’s “meatpuppets” policy, and once again the public relations industry as a whole is made to look sleazy, deceptive and—most worrying of all—completely out of tune with emerging digital media.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Disney Disgrace: It’s always unedifying to see giant corporations use legal bullying against their critics in the media, but there’s an extra irony when the giant corporation involved is in the media business itself.

Disney has filed a copyright infringement suit against blogger Spocko, who has been waging a campaign against radio station KSFO and right-wing talk show host ?????. Over the past few years, it has become commonplace for leading supporters of the Bush administration to call for the imprisonment or even the execution of the administration’s critics, and Disney’s Melanie Morgan joined the parade earlier this year, calling for the death of New York Times editor Bill Keller.

Spocko posted audio clips from KSFO programming, triggering a letter-writing campaign that prompted advertisers including Visa and MasterCard to reconsider their support for the station. Disney responded by sending a cease-and-desist letter to Spocko’s ISP, claiming the use of the audio clips was an infringement of copyright and Spocko’s site was shut down.

The truth is that the use of audio clips was almost certainly within the “fair use” provision, which allows news sites to use selected material to illustrate stories. If Spocko was a vast news organization with large resources, Disney would never have considered using such a spurious lawsuit. But Spocko is a lone blogger, and his ISP apparently has no interest in defending the right of free speech on the Internet, so Disney has been able to shut down the site, for now.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Paying a Premium: The Wall Street Journal seeks to defend Robert Nardelli’s $210 million severance from Home Depot by pointing out that most of the money he received in exchange for his departure wasn’t severance money at all, since it was guaranteed in the contract he signed when he joined the company—a distinction without any appreciable difference.

The Journal’s broader objective is to defend the extraordinary amounts paid to CEOs, which it does by claiming: “Top executive talent is hard to find, and boards are willing to pay a premium to get it. Their hiring decisions don't always work out—whose do?—but they'll pay a lot to reduce that risk.”

Spend a moment thinking about that and the argument boils down to this: CEOs are paid so much because they’re expensive.

What the Journal doesn’t claim is that CEOs who cost a lot are better than CEOs that cost only a fraction as much. It doesn’t claim that because it can’t. It can’t, because there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest it’s true.

The reality is that no one knows how much a good CEO is worth: it’s impossible to isolate the impact of the CEO from other factors—the quality of the management team, changes in the competitive landscape, global economic conditions—that affect corporate performance. It’s also pretty much impossible to predict whether a CEO who appeared to perform well in one job (perhaps because of some innate skill, perhaps because he was in the right place at the right time) will perform well in another.

Boards of directors are spending massive amounts of money based on nothing more than guesswork. It’s not even particularly educated guesswork. Top executive talent, as the Journal says, is hard to find. It’s even harder to identify with any certainty. So perhaps companies should avoid spending hundreds of millions of dollars until they know exactly what they’ve bought—any CEO confident of his own ability ought to be happy to accept a genuine pay-for-performance arrangement.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ticket Masters: Washington Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Washington Wizards basketball franchise and Verizon Center, has taken a bold stand against Democratic plans for ethics reform in Washington, D.C.

The company claims that any benefit to the public interest likely to result from curtailing the use of bribes by lobbyists eager to curry favor with lawmakers is far outweighed by its own need to profit from those bribes. Thus it will oppose efforts to close a loophole that allows lobbyists to furnish lawmakers with the best tickets. (The current law says lawmakers must pay face value for sports tickets, but stadium owners have circumvented the law by declining to put a value on individual luxury box tickets.)

“We support the concept of full and open disclosure on the part of lobbyists and lawmakers to comply with ethics standards,” says Matt Williams, senior vice president at WS&E. “However… this ban of tickets to sporting events as gifts will cause a negative impact on our business. Probably more than any other franchises in professional sports, Washington, D.C.-area teams count business from lobbyists as a contributing factor to our bottom line.”
Sound-Bite Science: There’s a lot of nonsense in the world, and a good amount is spouted by celebrities (not as much as by politicians, activists, corporations or journalists, but still…) so a new initiative by the U.K.-based Sense About Science is to be applauded.

The group has listed statements made by stars on topics such as organic food, pesticides and ways to avoid cancer, and supplemented the celebrity advice with actual scientific information. It says it will offer a helpline for celebrities so they can check their facts before going public—something that should prevent both embarrassment and misinformation.

“There is a real problem when people present things as though they are scientifically grounded,” says the group’s director. “There is always going to be a fair bit of nonsense around, and particularly with the big interest in lifestyle. We are saying, ‘Before you go public, check your facts.’ All it takes is a phone call to us.”

It would be nice to see something similar in the States.
Unjust Rewards: Last year, Home Depot gave Robert Nardelli $30 million in pay and stock option for serving as its chairman and chief executive. This year, the company will pay him $210 million for doing nothing… unless you count his decision to step down as a major contribution to the company’s fortunes, which shareholders apparently do: Home Depot stock was up 2.3 percent yesterday following news of his departure.

It is obvious that executive pay in America is distorted, grotesque and out of control. This is only the latest, and probably not the most extreme, example. Nardelli will receive almost twice as much for leaving the company as he received over the course of his six year tenure ($125 million) during which Home Depot’s share price went from $40.75 to $40.16. And that’s to say nothing about the company’s reputation: once a leader in employee engagement, social and environmental responsibility, the company is now just another big box retailer.

The outrage over Nardelli’s rewards is likely to add fuel to incoming House Financial Service Committee chair Barney Frank’s interest in investigating executive compensation, but it’s hard to envisage a cure that is not worse than the disease. The only solution likely to work involves boards acting responsibly of their own volition.

It would be nice to believe that those who have contributed to this sorry state of affairs would feel a little discomfort, but how do you embarrass people who have no shame?