Friday, June 24, 2011

Delta, Delta, Delta Needs Some Helpa, Helpa, Helpa: Code Share w/ Saudi Arabia Airlines is Indefensible

Delta Air Lines recently announced that Jews and Israelis (or passengers carrying any non-Islamic article of faith) will not be able to fly code-share flights from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia under the airline's new partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines that is set to begin in 2012.

The bone-headed move is generating a firestorm of negative PR for Delta (which will probably force the airline to rescind the policy) and a stream of correspondence to the U.S. State Department from concerned citizens--regardless of religious affiliation.

I am opposed to the U.S. entering an "open skies" agreement with Saudi Arabia so long as that government maintains its policy of not allowing entry into Saudi Arabia of any American citizen who is either:
1) of the Jewish faith; or
2) has an Israeli exit or entrance stamp in his/her passport.
Saudi Arabia currently maintains both of these patently discriminatory prohibitions.

If Saudi Arabia or some other country had a visa policy that prohibited the entry of, say, Black American citizens, the State Department would never countenance entering a "open skies" agreement with a country that maintained such a patently discriminatory policy. Indeed, I would think the U.S. Government would not even allow the airline of that country to operate at all the United States, much less to do so with all the advantages of a "open skies" agreement.

Perhaps certain people in the U.S. State Department who administer such affairs believe that Jewish American citizens can be treated differently and that discrimination against them by a country like Saudi Arabia is acceptable merely because it is part of the Saudi "visa policy."

The U.S. State Department must act immediately to insist that Saudi Arabia abandon its two discriminatory prohibitions as a condition of enjoying all the advantages of a "open skies" agreement with the U.S. Now that the dispute has become public, it is up to Secretary Hillary Clinton to take the lead on pressuring Saudi Arabia to reverse these offensive discriminatory prohibitions.

In a statement to Religion News Service on Thursday (June 23), Delta said it "does not discriminate, nor do we condone discrimination against any protected class of passenger in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender."

Cowering behind the statement that it is adhering to the visa policies of Saudi Arabia, Delta's stance is hypocritical, feckless and indefensible. With the airline now publicly accused of implementing a "no-Jew fly policy", it's only a matter of time until the U.S. public forces the airline to do what the U.S. State Department should have done as soon as it learned of the proposed Sky Team Alliance agreement.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Big Oil Will ALWAYS Lose the High Profits-High Gas Prices PR Battle

Pity poor Exxon, "demonized" in the media for earning a record of almost $11 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011.

Pity Ken Cohen, Exxon's embattled Vice President of of Public and Government Affairs, whose pugnacious response sought to decouple Exxon's profit from increasing gas prices at the pump.

Pity them, because no matter how logical, reasonable or well-parsed Cohen's statement was, the American public will always equate rising fuel prices with higher profits for Big Oil.

From a public relations perspective, it's easy to understand why Cohen sought to explain how the two issues (Big Oil profits and high gas prices) are separate: By providing a coherent, rational explanation, he wanted to get ahead of the story.

The problem for Cohen--indeed, Big Oil overall--is that when gas hits $4 or $5 a gallon, the American public isn't coherent or rational. It's angry. And trying to defuse raw anger with rational thought is like trying to douse a fire with... gasoline. It makes it worse.

And this, friends, is precisely what Cohen's statement has done.

Here's what he said in the lengthy statement sent to reporters: "We understand that it's simply too irresistable for many politicians in times of high oil prices and high earnings-they feel they have to demonize our industry."

He lashed out at the task force recently created by the Obama administration to crack down on speculation in the oil market, adding the fact that federal and state taxes make up 40 to 60 cents of the price for a gallon of gas, versus the 7 cents per gallon that Exxon Mobil earns.

He further argued that most of Exxon's profit comes from its overseas operations, and that earnings in its refining business, which converts crude into oil and diesel, make up only 6% of its earnings.

What did the public hear? "We made $11 billion in profit this past quarter, and as gas prices continue to increase, we're going to make even more money next quarter."

Better he had endured the momentary media excoriation, saying nothing until tomorrow, when the media's (and the American public's) attention will be focused on the Royal Wedding.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Attention! A Brief Post About a Little Blue Pill

Today in history marked a momentous step in male-female relations: In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the little blue pill Viagra. As we all know by now, "Vitamin V" is a oral medication that treats impotence. Viagra took sex in a completely new... direction (I'll spare you the obvious applicable rhyming word for 'direction').

Anyway, Sildenafil (Viagra's chemical name) was originally synthesized and studied to treat high blood pressure. This little fact makes me wonder about the testing protocols scientists applied to the development of Sildenafil: I'd like to know exactly how chemists at Pfizer discovered that while Viagra had little effect on high blood pressure, it could induce penile erections.

Seeing the economic opportunity in the effect of Viagra, Pfizer elected (again dispensing with the obvious rhyme) to market the drug for impotence. Sildenafil was patented in 1996, and just two years later the FDA approved it for use in treating "erectile dysfunction," a fancy new clinical name for impotence.

The "little blue pill that could" was immediately successful: It flew off the shelves into the medicine cabinets of middle-aged men and of course the scripts of late night comics.

In just its first year, the $8-$10 pills yielded about a billion dollars in sales. Even the distinguished almost-octogenarian Senator Bob Dole marketed Viagra on TV, confessing to ED (one imagines, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering but suddenly happy spouse). This kind of direct-to-consumer marketing was new to the prescription drug industry and changed forever the sales and marketing of pharmaceuticals: Today, sales and marketing account for approximately 30% of the pharmaceutical industry's costs, in some cases more than research and development.

Viagra's success stimulated (come on, there's no other word for it) a wave of competitors (and equally embarrassing commercials for) Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil).

As with many drugs, Viagra's long-term effects on men's health remain unclear ironically, Viagra warns those who suffer from heart trouble), but its popularity is unabated: The latest data says that more than 20 million Americans have tried it, a number which will no doubt get bigger (it's just too easy) as the baby boomer population ages... and they want to relive the Summer of Love (again and again and again).

Cheers, Little Blue Pill.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Definitive Post on Social Media: My Two Cents

Any conversation about marketing and communications strategy these days involves social media. This is as it should be; social media is an important component of any marketing (big M) and communications (capital C) strategy. In this blog post you'll discover why I (and many savvy marcomm pros) believe social media is way overhyped and overrated.

When you've finished reading this post, please add your comment.

This blog entry is inspired by a truly insightful article at TECHi.

To be done engagingly, effectively, and consistently, social media marketing must be a full-time job. Small business owners can't do it full time; they haven't the resources. The best they can do is hire someone, generally a self-described "Social Media Expert", who claims to know how to establish a small business' social media footprint but doesn't take the time to know the business. PR Agencies and Ad Agencies are falling over themselves to hire "social media managers", usually fresh-out-of-college graduates who've never planned or managed a comprehensive marketing communications strategy.

What small business owners need to do is FIRST, carefully consider their target audiences and available resources and SECOND, determine the social media platforms that give your business the most visibility. Don't rush to be on Facebook if you're not updating your status daily. Don't fly to Twitter if you're not Tweeting several times a day. Don't be on YouTube if you've got no compelling videos. Don't be on LinkedIn if you're not answering questions, participating in discussions, or completing your profile. Not all platforms are relevant or appropriate for every business.

Choose wisely, because if you seek to be everywhere in social media you'll get nowhere.

One social media approach doesn't fit all, and if some self-proclaimed expert suggests you need to be everywhere, she or he has just indicated to you their fundamental misunderstanding of the marketing and communications purpose of social media. It's one component of a carefully considered and thoughtfully implemented marketing and communications strategy: Not a panacea.

Small business owners, marketers, social media experts: What do you think?