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.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Great Moments in Employee Communications: The Asbury Park Press reports that retailer RadioShack recently notified 400 employees that they were being laid off… via e-mail.

That’s pure class.

A company spokesperson told the newspaper that employees had been told at an earlier meeting that they would be notified electronically. So that’s all right then.
Benefit of the Doubt: I don’t know whether BP is guilty of a disregard for safety or merely over-promising. But this piece in the FT, by the legislative affairs director of an Oregon environmental group, does show the value of effective public relations. Every now and then, all the deposits a company makes in the trust bank pay a dividend like this.

It’s hard to imagine anyone in the environmental movement rushing to author the same kind of column asking for the benefit of the doubt for ExxonMobil.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Water Torture: Anxious not to be left in the dust by the Bush administration when it comes to demonstrating utter contempt for science, the British government—via the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency—is to allow the makers of homeopathic “remedies” to make medical claims about their products.

There will, of course, be no process of clinical trials, or indeed any requirement of scientific evidence, before these claims can be made. That’s because there is no way to distinguish, using any kind of scientific test, between a homeopathic “remedy” and a bottle of Evian—or indeed, the stuff that comes out of your tap. In short, there is no scientific evidence.

The question now is why anyone in the U.K. would bother to market ordinary bottled water as water. Presumably, under the new regulations, you could take your Evian and re-label it a homeopathic cure for cancer and be entirely within the law.

I suppose proponents of homeopathy could argue that since they are giving their customers a harmless placebo—something they drink every day without even thinking about it—there’s no risk, and so no need for clinical trials, etc. But medical professionals are not so sure. Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London tells The Guardian: “This is like licensing a witches’ brew as a medicine so long as the bat wings are sterile.”

Others worry that the gullible will be less likely to seek medical treatment for health problems if they believe homeopathic remedies are working—although why we would want those people to continue to pollute the gene pool is unclear.

The Guardian’s excellent Ben Goldacre, who writes the paper’s Bad Science column, has a wonderful take on the whole subject here and here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Sorry Tale, Part II: Peter Sandman’s attempts to persuade the Australian Wheat Board to issue an apology, outlined below, stand in stark contrast to the position taken by Northeast Utilities chief executive Michael Morris back in 1997.

I know it’s not exactly a timely case, but I was reminded of the story while reading a new book, The Triple Bottom Line, by PricewaterhouseCoopers exec Andrew Savitz., which recounts what happened after Morris arrived at the company while it was under federal criminal investigation for violating EPA and Nuclear Regulatory Agency rules.

As Savitz tells it: “Morris’s first internal meeting, four days after he arrived at the company, took place in the main auditorium. A group of four hundred employees came expecting to get a routine update on the legal proceedings. The new CEO was the surprise opening speaker.

“‘I’ve just come from a meeting with the Connecticut attorney general,’ said Morris. ‘He told me some of his lawyers were trying to obtain documents from us related to the environmental investigation. When asked for those documents, one of our in-house lawyers told the deputy attorney general that he had no intention of doing her work for her….’

“There were a few sarcastic chuckles in the room, but Morris didn’t smile. Instead, he paused and looked directly at his audience. They went stone silent. Finally, Morris continued: ‘The next time one of our people is disrespectful or makes it more difficult for an employee of any public agency to his or her job, that person is no longer with our company.’”

A year later, the company pleaded guilty to 25 felonies and paid $10 million in fines. Morris entered the guilty plea personally, appearing in federal court to face the judge along with 20 longtime NU executives.

The guilty plea was embarrassing but the press coverage was surprising supportive of the company, praising it for taking the high road. Soon after, the Millstone power plant that had been at the center of the controversy sold for $1.3 billion—nearly twice what analysts had predicted it would fetch during the crisis.

That’s leadership—still a commodity in short supply.

On another note, Peter Sandman points out an error in the original post, below. Our last paragraph mentions “the mealy-mouthed pseudo apology [AWB] eventually issued.” Says Sandman: “Actually it never issued any apology. It wrote one I thought was pretty mealy-mouthed—though a lot better than nothing—and then decided to go with nothing.”

We also wrote, based on the original source, that the AWB “was recently forced to acknowledge that it paid $290 million in kickbacks to the corrupt Saddam Hussein regime.” Says Sandman: “That’s certainly what most of the media have said, and I think it’s approximately true. I don’t think it’s exactly true. AWB has acknowledged that it negotiated payment to a Jordanian company for ground transportation of the wheat inside Iraq, and that the Alia payments were passed through and paid/reimbursed by the U.N. as part of the Oil For Food program. It has also acknowledged that there is now considerable evidence of a connection between Alia and the Saddam Hussein regime, and considerable evidence that the Iraqi Government, not Alia, was handling at least some of the ground transportation effort.

“It hasn’t acknowledged (in fact, I believe it explicitly denies) that top management knew at the time that Alia was tied to Saddam or that Alia wasn't actually handling the ground transportation itself.”