Why Not Autonomous Everything Else First?

A fully autonomous kitchen would be far more interesting to me than a self-driving car. We are told stories about the, er, drive to autonomous vehicles as if it were our generation’s Manhattan Project or Moon shot. Car companies and their suppliers are pouring money into development and spending on PR, as tech companies large and small are doing the same. Why not autonomous everything else first? I mean, kitchens function much as they did 50 years ago. Even considering ...

Tesla Isn’t Worth More Than GM Or Ford

Sometime last week, Tesla's equity share price topped $300, which means the company is worth more than GM or Ford. Only it isn't. I see at least three lessons for communicators: First, forget telling your stakeholders (or worrying) that stock valuation has any connection to reality. There is no objectively reliable math that supports Tesla's price; it's what James B. Stewart in the New York Times calls a "story stock," which means that investors have bought into a narrative of ...

United Shows That Social Starts In Reality

As United goes going through the kabuki drama of ugly social media post, corporate apology, and the opining of marketing experts, it’s showing every brand a deeper truth: All business is social now. I know that might sound like announcing water is wet, but I’m not talking about the role social media played in revealing United's recent clothing and overbooking policy snafus. I wasn’t on either plane, but it sure seems like the passengers were treated like bystanders, at best. ...

Kendall Gives The World A Pepsi

You’ve already heard about Pepsi’s ad in which Kendall Jenner leaves a fashion shoot to hand a can of soda pop to a cop at a street protest. It’s demeaning to real protests. It draws on imagery from the 1960s. It’s whitewashing. No, it’s just a really bad ad. You don’t even need to see it to know why, since Pepsi explained that it was "trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding." I would have ...

Uber Should Run On An App

Uber has reported a number of issues recently, from its CEO Travis Kalanick berating one of its drivers and another exec resigning due to differences in "beliefs and approaches to leadership," to accusations of what appears to be institutional sexism. Yesterday, it released a report on its workforce entitled "Measuring What Matters: Diversity at Uber," which revealed that there's no diversity at the company. Liane Hornsey, its HR chief, has been promised unlimited resources to fix a culture variously described ...

Snapchat and the Rise of Fake Value

The stock of Snap Inc, parent company of smartphone chat app Snapchat, traded down almost 2% yesterday. It briefly popped 44% after its debut on March 2, but has generally trended lower ever since. Nothing obvious happened in the days prior that would account for the latest drop. Facebook announced the expansion of some copycat service, Vice Media said it had expanded its plans to create exclusive shows for Snapchat, and a big ad agency warned its clients that ads ...

3 Things You Should Know About Storytelling

My agency has helped dozens of large, multinational companies frame and then deliver narratives about innovation and technology, and those experiences have taught us how to best tell stories. Interestingly, it has nothing to do with creativity. A story is good or bad depending on its structure, first and foremost. You don’t need a literature professor to tell you that good stories share common qualities: protagonists, conflict and uncertainty, human drama, internal consistency and, most of all, they describe things ...

3 Things You Should Know About Relevance

Brands need to be “relevant” these days, though there’s never been a time when communications succeeded any other way. But, like ideas about authenticity and engagement, it has many marketers running around as if they’ve discovered some magic elixir that requires the invention of new ideas, platforms, and measurement. Er, no. Merriam-Webster defines relevance (noun) as a relation to the matter at hand, and something that is practical and especially socially applicable. That’s a pretty straightforward meaning, as far as ...

3 Things You Should Know About Protests

There’s a large group of people holding angry placards in front of your headquarters. An accusatory tweet has garnered sympathetic shares. Protests seem easier and more frequent these days, so what should companies do about them? Nothing. Well, at least not initially. The rules for communicating during such crises have changed since they were first written back in the days of 3 broadcast TV networks, 24-hour print news cycles, and a consumer audience who, generally, bought into the same facts ...

Elite Condescension

Deutsche Bank ran full-page ads today in Germany's largest newspapers. If the statement in English posted on its site the day prior is the same text, the gesture makes two things perfectly clear: The bank got really bad PR advice, and its leadership was arrogant enough to follow it. Deutsche Bank is in crisis mode these days, in large part because it helped kickoff the global financial meltdown in the mid-2000s, enabled Russian oligarchs to launder $10 billion, and barely ...

Why Robots Won’t Replace Us

Artificial intelligence, if headlines are anything to go by, promises to herald either a wonderful new age of possibility or harkens the beginning of the machine world —and once set in motion, one eventuality will happen, either with or without us. Let’s be clear right from the start: At best AI can amplify the ability of humans, but I don’t see it replacing us. Much about AI has been hyped, oversold, misunderstood, mislabeled and wrongly feared. There isn’t enough discussion ...

Are Social Media Soma?

"If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant…” Aldous Huxley Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World follows a character named John who tries to navigate a world defined by endless and silly routines of social behavior, and in which ...

3 Things You Should Know About Video

"Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VTR..." Video has been the future of communications since the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” was first recorded in 1977 (this is a video of the Buggles’ version from 1979, when nascent home video tape recorders were still called “VTRs”). Much has changed since it was the first music video broadcast by MTV in 1981, starting with the fact that MTV doesn’t really play music videos anymore. Radio ...

Advertising’s Silly Season

With Super Bowl LI just under a month away, it’s time once again for advertising’s annual exercise in self-immolation. We’ll hear about companies that have bought time on the program. Various aspects of ad creative will get doled out, and social media campaigns launched in hopes of increasing or extending awareness. The entertainment value of the spots will get reviewed in real time during the show, and ranked immediately thereafter. Winners and losers will be decided. And then nobody will ...

Iterating Locks & Keys

Considering there are iron skeleton keys that still turn door locks in medieval castles, you’d think the technology was more than ready for disruption with the swipe of a digital app. Turns out it’s more complicated than that. “Mechanical key systems have always had limitations in solving the problem of access control, especially for large systems,” explained Peter Siklosi, a product manager at Assa Abloy. "Keys can be lost without a reliable way of blocking access for those in locks, ...

Catechism and Cheeseburgers

McDonald’s has opened a restaurant “within eyeshot” of St. Peter’s Square, and a cardinal has called it a “disgrace” that serves food “I would never eat.” A committee of local residents thinks it clashes with the architecture and traditions of the area. The Vatican owns the building, and will collect $30,000 in rent every month from McDonald’s, which further complicates the issue. I’ll admit that when I visited Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in Berlin for the first time a few ...

Inventing The Future

Xerox founded its PARC research center during the sales heyday of its eponymous paper copiers, and tasked it with inventing “the office of the future.” Its location in Palo Alto, far away from corporate headquarters in an Internet-less era of expensive toll calls, is often cited as a mistake that kept it from commercializing every discovery. “No, we went where the people were,” answered Steve Hoover, PARC’s CEO, noting that physical and psychological distance meant its innovators weren’t bound ...

The Night AFTER Christmas

[Note: This poem originally appeared in Advertising Age on December 15, 2011. It has been edited because the author can't resist tinkering] 'Twas the night after Christmas, when all through the store/every employee was working their annual chore: The sale signs were hung by the windows aplenty/Hoping tomorrow the store wouldn't be empty. The merchandise piled high on every surface/Arrayed and displayed for solely one purpose: Since, by the branding consumers weren't enticed/The market required the products get repriced. When, ...

Learning From Hackers

Do-it-yourself types fly under most corporate radars, or at least they’re mischaracterized as tinkerers, post-end users or, worse, hackers. Epson has demonstrated that they can be a fruitful source for innovation, as long as a company knows what to look for, and how to apply it. The proof came in its Indonesian market late last decade, where sales staff reported numerous instances when its popular ink jet printers were being hacked by folks who filled large containers with ink, then rigged ...

3 Things You Should Know About Special Events

With a new year just around the corner comes the inevitability of a barrage of company events at the Consumer Electronics Show. I don’t go to them expecting to be surprised; rather, it’s habit, mostly, followed somewhat distantly by the nagging fear (or is it hope?) that a host will actually make an event something that I shouldn’t miss. It’s an opportunity that too many businesses don’t exploit, mostly out of habit, too. When you think of the time ...

Apology Theater

You’ve probably noticed that lots of companies have apologized lately: Wells Fargo, Facebook, Samsung, Ivanka Trump’s company and, most recently, Evernote. It’s simply not convincing, and usually makes matters worse. It also helps erode our trust in businesses overall. The Evernote incident is a good guide to why apologies don’t work; it got vocal pushback on announced changes to its privacy policy that would have allowed its human employees to read user content so that they could keep tab on the ...

A New Platform For Vehicle Intelligence

Autonomous driving development is focused on shifting human control to computers, in hopes of doing it more effectively and consistently. Auto supplier ZF is looking to build a platform that brings new intelligence to those systems, starting with a prototype that literally sees pedestrians before they’re visible to a human or camera eye. The technology, called X2Safe, detects pedestrians that aren’t visible to drivers, cameras, or radar, and then communicates with vehicles, smart phones and smart watches. Reimagining the Platform ...

3 Things You Should Know About Employee Communications

I’ve been working with employers and clients to deliver employee communications ever since I started in the PR business. I still don’t think any of us have cracked the code on it. Lots of factors conspire to inhibit or misdirect otherwise talented and principled people from delivering what's needed. It's not for lack of valid and important information that needs sharing. Yet the impact of the results extend past the disregard of uninterested employees: I'd say its shortcomings are directly ...

Job Site Choreography

Fluor “designs and builds the world’s toughest projects,” according to its website, which means things like remote petrochemical plants and complex infrastructure systems that require tasks with risks commensurate with their importance. “Lots of safety planning goes into our critical field activities,” said Ashly Coggins, project engineer, noting that there can be thousands of people working on a larger project at any given time. Each work day begins with crews planning their work and identifying ways to avoid potential hazards. ...

Dating A Scientist

After reading one of the regularly excellent issues of New Scientist magazine, I caught an ad near the back cover that offered a dating service. “Look for your hero,” it said, promising to help readers “meet like-minded people who share similar interests.” The picture featured a blonde woman wearing goggles, a bad cape, and carrying a briefcase. Geek matchmaking. It struck me as a brilliant idea. Big data have made dating a far more predictable, if not a somewhat ...

3 Things You Should Know About Technology

“Every company is a technology company,” declared Gartner’s research chief in 2013. The premise has since become accepted wisdom for learned academics and business reporters. So how can you communicate effectively about it? Things are especially challenging if you’re at an established business, which means you have to navigate a complex dance between marcom’s routines for communicating product details with customers, and a need to note the themes and popular buzzwords that matter to everyone else. Working within the constraints ...

Innovating For The ‘Next’ Customer

Though utilities in America’s Midwest can rely on battling the spiking demand and storm outages that come with every summer, Ameren is also exploring the disruptive innovations that may influence its customers’ future expectations. “As part of our long-term planning process, we did an analysis looking out to 2030 and saw the potential for a disruptive step change in the way consumers get and use energy,” said Steve Kidwell, VP Corporate Planning at Ameren. The company also recognized it possessed ...

Making Good On Promises

In the flurry of stories about the election’s immediate aftermath, I’m looking for how many ad creatives will move to Sweden. It might seem like an inconsequential side note, but a small Swedish agency staged a brilliant stunt, offering job interviews in the case of a Trump victory. It was called The Great Trump Escape. The firm, called Round & Round (not to be confused with the equally, though differently brilliant Ratt hair ode of the same name), used a ...

3 Things You Should Know About Executive Quotes

If you’re a senior PR person, chances are you spend far too much time crafting quotes or interview language for senior executives. It was the bane of my existence when I ran corp comm at big public companies. It wasn’t just the nature of the businesses in which I worked; we could have been announcing the invention of time travel, but drafting the quotes attributed to our CEOs always got the most attention. Everyone had an opinion, so a committee ...

How A Utility Dared To Work With A Startup

A large utility and tech startup couldn’t be more different, to the point of being opposites, yet American Water dared not only to work with Smart Earth Technologies (“SET”), but eventually entrust it with collecting and aggregating meter data used to collect its $3 billion in revenues. “It was our first major engagement with a startup, and it was big,” said Paul Gagliardo, Innovation Manager at American Water, which operates as a regulated utility in 16 states. "For a good ...