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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Scottie's Successor: This article suggests Torie Clarke (formerly of the Pentagon, Comcast and Hill & Knowlton); Dan Senor (military spokesman in Iraq); and Tony Snow (Fox radio host) as potential replacements for the escaping White House mouthpiece. Clarke is the blue-chip name on that list, smart and personable, and a superior strategist, though why she would want to swim through shark-infested waters to get onboard the Titanic is the obvious question.
Advertising is Dead: The definitive proof that advertising as a medium has no future can be found in this story (assuming it's not a parody), which suggests that Philips has developed a device that would prevent people from changing the channel during commercial breaks.

We are officially one small step away from strapping people into their chairs and forcing their eyelids open, Clockwork Orange style, in a last desperate attempt to keep advertising relevant.
Heckuva Job, Scottie: Scott McClellan has been put out of his misery at last, having "resigned" this morning ahead of a White House staff purge. The President praised the former spokesman's "class and integrity" and said it would be "hard to replace" him. What does the private sector hold for Scottie? VP, corporate communications at Halliburton? Chief spokesman for The Carlyle Group? Too bad Jack Abramoff isn't in a position to hire anyone right now.
Food Fight: Anyone who works in public relations for a food and/or beverage company needs to take a look at Bill Saletan’s recent article at Slate: Junk-Food Jihad. (My favorite line: “It’s not our dependence on foreign oil that’s killing us. It’s our dependence on vegetable oil.”)

The first lawsuits against fast-food companies drew howls of derision from even liberal commentators, but Saletan makes a pretty convincing case that any complacency on the part of companies responsible for “unhealthy” foods would be a mistake, and lays out a pretty convincing scenario under which such companies could see their marketing activities and their sales pretty seriously constrained.

Saletan says the junk food police should make three arguments: “First, we should protect kids. Second, fat people are burdening the rest of us. Third, junk food isn't really food.”

The first stage of the war on unhealthy food will be “a rout,” he says. “Targeting kids is a familiar way to impose morals without threatening liberties. You can have a beer or an abortion, but your daughter can’t. The conservative aspect of this argument is that you’re entitled, as a parent, to decide what your kids can do or buy…. The liberal half of the argument is that kids are too young to make informed choices. In this case, it’s true.”

The next stage of the argument will be tougher for the industry’s critics, but success is not unthinkable. “To keep junk food away from adults, fat-fighters will have to explain why obesity is the government’s business…. Their main argument is that obesity inflates health-care costs and hurts the economy through disability and lost productivity.”

And finally: “If the fat-fighters win that argument, they'll reach the final obstacle: the sanctity of food. Food is a basic need and a human right. Marlboros won’t keep you alive on a desert island, but Fritos will. To lower junk food to the level of cigarettes, its opponents must persuade you that it isn’t really food. They’re certainly trying. Soda isn't sustenance, they argue; it's “liquid candy.” Crackers aren't baked; they're “engineered,” like illegal drugs, to addict people.”

If health advocates can convince people that some products as unnatural chemical compounds rather than natural foods, all bets are off.
The Nuclear Option: Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, comes out in a Washington Post op-ed in favor of nuclear power.

He’s not the first leader of the green movement to do so—James Lovelock has been making the case for a decade or so—but this piece provides yet more evidence that the time is right for a resurgence of nuclear power. That has to happen, because weighed against fossil fuels and continued global warming nuclear is clearly the lesser of two evils. But it won’t happen without a massive public education campaign--and so far the industry doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of public concern about climate change to make its case more vocally.
Scare Mongering: The U.K. (and Australian) media are full of stories about “disease-mongering” by pharmaceutical company, the notion being that drug makers are essentially inventing new diseases in order to market the cure.

The Public Library of Science Medicine Journal editors David Henry and Ray Moynihan have produced research that “provides examples of specific disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, which are exaggerated in order to attract public attention. It is also describes aspects of ordinary life, such as menopause, being medicalized and risk factors, such as high cholesterol and osteoporosis, being framed as diseases.”

The pharmaceutical industry has some real reputation problems and there are issues on which the industry’s ethics can be justifiably criticized, but this seems to me to be a case of “crisis-mongering” by the media.

Let’s take the claim that menopause, an “aspect of ordinary life” is being “medicalized.” I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether menopause is a medical condition, because I don’t see how that’s relevant. What seems to me to be beyond question is that many women find menopause and its side-effects less than pleasant and that modern medicine has come up with treatments that alleviate that unpleasantness. Women take these treatments and feel better. If that means that menopause has been medicalized, I say medicalize away.

In other cases, the Journal’s report seems to rely on a contempt for ordinary people who are—in the view of Henry and Moynihan—so gullible and suggestible that they will take medications for problems that don’t even exist. (This is a view that sounds eerily similar to the Scientologist view on psychiatric treatments, articulated so entertainingly by Tom Cruise.) Hypochondria is a real phenomenon—and a cynic might ask how come the endless inventive pharmaceutical industry has not come up with a cure—but I’m not sure it is so widespread that it can subsidize the development of new drugs and the cost of marketing them to the general public.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Holy Swoosh, Batman: The Wall Street Journal reports that product placement--now commonplace in movies and on TV--is coming to comic books, with brands like Nike, Pontiac and Dodge paying to have their products or logos included in the artwork. The hero of one DC Comics series will drive a Pontiac Solstice, and a character in the X Men has been shown wearing a Nike T-shirt.

According to the Journal article: "The industry's two giants, DC and Marvel, are promoting some of their titles as places to reach one of Madison Avenue's most elusive audiences: guys in their 20s. Notoriously hard to reach, young adult males are known to be wary of traditional sales pitches, especially ones that get in the way of their entertainment."

It remains to be seen how comic fans will respond.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Burson and Golin Podcasts: Available here. Harold Burson discusses the challenges facing the public relations business. Al Golin talks about managing client expectations.
How to Be a Less Ugly American: The U.S. government, in partnership with Keith Reinhard’s Business for Diplomatic Action, has developed guidelines for American executives living and working abroad, in an attempt to eliminate the “ugly American” stereotype.

I had the great pleasure of sharing a speaking platform with Keith in Athens a few months ago, and he’s a tremendous ambassador for the advertising business—an entertaining presentation almost had me convinced that advertising was worth saving. And his BDA initiative has an important role to play in improving the image of American companies—and of America—overseas.

The advice being offered to executives makes sense:
· Save the lectures for your kids. (Whatever your subject of discussion, let it be a discussion not a lecture. Justified or not, the US is seen as imposing its will on the world.)
· Think a little locally. (Remember, most people in the world have little or no interest in the World Series or the Super Bowl. What we call “soccer” is football everywhere else. And it’s the most popular sport on the planet.)
· Your religion is your religion and not necessarily theirs. (Religion is usually considered deeply personal, not a subject for public discussions.)

Personally, though, the best way to connect with overseas audiences is to explain that you didn’t vote for the current U.S. administration and that you agree that it current policies are, to be as diplomatic as possible about it, misguided.
Exec's Excellent Expensive Exxon Exit: In two more or less simultaneous announcements, ExxonMobil revealed that it would be paying outgoing chairman Lee Raymond an impressive $400 million in retirement benefits and that it was donating $30 million to educational institutions.

I’m not going to comment on the obvious contradiction of a company that denies global warming funding science education—it’s like a Holocaust denies sponsoring a World War II museum—but I do wonder what would have happened had the two sums been reversed: I can’t imagine that Mr. Raymond’s post-Exxon life would have been appreciably less comfortable with a $30 million retirement, but I’m pretty sure $400 million could make a massive difference to schools in poorer communities across the United States.

I can’t help thinking that taken together, these two stories tell you everything you need to know about the value system of corporate America. (Steve Cody is equally unimpressed.)
Starwood Ventures Into the Blogosphere: B.L. Ochman is unimpressed with The Lobby, a new corporate blog from the Starwood Hotel chain: “The Lobby is mostly full of thinly veiled ads for Starwood Hotels. And comments are not enabled. Blogs are conversations. Conversations are two way, The Lobby, at least so far, is a dud.”

Her point about comments is well taken, but I found a couple of items pretty useful, particularly this tip on iPod accessories for those traveling outside the U.S. So I’m not going to write it off just yet.
Something Wild: Like David Henderson, I was puzzled by the White House response to Seymour Hirsh’s revelation that the Bush administration is actively considering a nuclear strike against Iran. I assumed it was designed to sound like a denial while being nothing of the sort. According to David: “When you use such non-message, meaningless words repeatedly, it erodes credibility in anything you might have to say. In fact, it feels slightly desperate and exposes the spokesperson to criticism.”