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The PR Cassandra is Ill – Check out this article on H-P September 29, 2006

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H-P CEO Mark Hurd to Testify Before Congress re Pretexting Scandal September 25, 2006

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Looks like H-P’s relatively new CEO, Mark Hurd, will be testifying before Congress this Thursday, according to Reuters, about the pretexting scandal.

In my opinion, this is the only reasonable communications strategy to take:

1.  Accept it was a mess and wrong.

2.  Note new internal corporate governance processes in place to never let this happen again.

3.  The investigation was an over-reaction – don’t try to justify it.

4.  Choose board members more carefully.  Place the blame properly.

5.  Take responsibility for a lack of management over the investigation.

6.  Apologize for the use of pretexting and do not try to justify it – even though pretexting may not specially yet be illegal in California – it should be, IMHO. 

7.  Use this as an opportunity to leave with this as a caution for other companies.  Just because a company CAN do something like this technically or even legally, doesn’t mean it SHOULD.

8.  Stop treating companies like city-states.  Have a policy to deal with rumor, innuendo or leaked information.  It’s really been an issue, it seems to me, about corporate politics.

H-P CEO Mark Hurd to Testify Before Congress re Pretexting Scandal September 25, 2006

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Looks like H-P’s relatively new CEO, Mark Hurd, will be testifying before Congress this Thursday, according to Reuters, about the pretexting scandal.

H-P Pretexting Scandal Grows – Really Discouraging September 23, 2006

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The H-P pretexting story has now turned into a spying scandal – with watched homes, phony personas and spyware that fortunately didn’t work (gosh – I guess they couldn’t find a 16-year old to write the program for them). 

More details are coming out, and Congress has called H-P’s CEO, Mark Hurd, and its lead counsel, Larry Sonsini, to testify.  I guess I’ll have to get a TV for this show down. 

Of course, it doesn’t make me feel better that a bunch of Congress people will get to act all holier than thou, when political shenanagins to me are on the same level as a company’s spying on employees, reporters and even attempting to infiltrate their computers with spyware written specifically to trick a Cnet report into revealing sources — see the story by a Forbes reporter whose family was targeted (“H-P spied on me…and my family”).

Elizabeth Corcoran Elizabeth Corcoran of Forbes – photo by Christain Peacock, Forbes.com

Here are a few excerpts from her article:

“…For us, the story has gone from weirdly funny to downright creepy as more details have emerged. Ultimately, there are going to be quite a few casualties from this hit-and-run demolition of HP’s ethical standards…”

“…As it turns out, the techniques the investigators considered seem unbounded by decency, common sense or even by a budget. Along with scrutinizing phone records, they watched people’s homes and even thought about planting spies disguised as janitors in the offices of The Wall Street Journal and CNET to look for clues…”

According to the Washington Post, and what Elizabeth Corcoran reported in Forbes.com (see link above), this whole affair wold be laughable if it weren’t such an indictment of the lack of any kind of reasonable trust, privacy or, common sense within one of the most respected high tech companies ever. 

Here is a brief excerpt from The Washington Post – you’ve got to read the whole piece:

“HP’s leak investigation involved planting false documents, following HP board members and journalists, watching their homes, and obtaining calling records for hundreds of phone numbers belonging to HP directors, journalists and their spouses, according to a consultant’s report and the e-mails.”

Not to mention, that in my opinion, PR-wise, it has been badly bungled since the first story broke. 

What were some of the errors?  Letting details and decisions trickle out without any kind of seeming outrage from anyone at H-P (maybe too many are compromised).  Spying on journalists and on one’s own PR professionals. 

What have we come to and who the heck do companies think they are?  The Keystone Kops?  Don’t these executives have things they need to do – like go acquire someone or reduce their huge compensation and stop laying off thousands who believed in “The H-P Way?”

Or, is it just about arrogance, power and control?  The new despots and tyrants.  For the parts of Marie Antoinette we have chairwoman, Patricia Dunn, who was finally sacrificed today — and for Robespierre?  Well, that is not yet certain. 

I hope Congress does more than grandstand.  The excesses and greed of Enron, et al, has led to onerous financial reporting, and with the clear message that corporate leaders are on the hook.

Perhaps this scandal – by turns ridiculous and discouraging – will lead to legislation that curbs companies’ abilities to play “I, Spy” and “Mission Impossible” with their own employess and the press who give them the coverage and visibility that leads to great wealth for those at the top.  Although, this seems more to me lke “Get Smart” than “I, Spy.”

I can understand investigating internally when there is a case of theft – but to stop leaks?  Goodness – is this the Watergate scandal for corporate America?  And – NEWS FLASH – WHEN THEY WANT TO, COMPANIES LEAK TO THE PRESS!  Just get over it!  Let your bottom line do the talking for once.

Companies need to really get this – just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.  And, if you don’t like the press you’re getting, this sure as heck isn’t the way to fix that.  The day when companies can control a free press is the day of the end of freedom of expression in America.

If you want your message unadulterated and out there – it’s called advertising.  If you want the benefits that an article from a truly independent and well-respected business or technology journalist can give, then play fair – and learn to take a few hits.

No PR can fix a situation like this.  People have to take responsibility and resign or be fired.  Very strong condemnation is needed.  And, corporate governance that won’t let it happen again.

Wake up, corporate America – continue to act like this and the peasants may actually revolt.

Oops – Localization can be a tricky business, if like Jerusalem, the translation says it’s not there! September 21, 2006

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I love BBC News.  As even “mainstream” broadcast and print news in the US becomes ever more celebrity and commercially-oriented, one can still find news in independent blogs and foreign news services such as the BBC.

Even for the “Beeb,” some stories have a wry angle.  We often hear of gaffes by US translations of brochures or news releases – here’s one from the Middle East.  I liked this news piece (having once lived in Jerusalem/Al Quds):

Jerusalem is lost in translation The al-Aqsa complex in Jerusalem


Officials had hoped to attract tourists to the city

Tourism officials in Israel did little to sell the city of Jerusalem as a must-see for visitors when a brochure suggested it did not exist.

The sightseeing pamphlet was translated from Hebrew and should have read: “Jerusalem – there’s no city like it!”.

But instead the slogan in English read: “Jerusalem – there’s no such city!”, reported the Israeli newspaper Maariv.

Tens of thousands of the leaflets were distributed before the Jerusalem municipality realised its mistake.

The flyers were promoting a musical and arts festival held in the city in August.


The Latest on the H-P Pretexting Scandal: Verizon September 18, 2006

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Looks like Verizon is now ensnared in the H-P pretexting scandal – see BusinessWeek.  And, excuse me, but why haven’t those board members responsible resigned?  Not changed titles – but resigned? The PR is bound to expand.  When H-P turned on the media, it could add to the “legs” of the story.  Good grief – where is Crisis Management?

And, I am tired of hearing people in authority say that they did something “because they could.”  I am trying to raise my family to steer away from allowed practices, if those practices are harmful to others.  Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.  Any role models left in the world???

Responding to al-Qaeda’s PR: The Speech I Wish had been Given September 18, 2006

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As I listened to US president, George W. Bush, give his address to the Nation on the anniversary of Sept. 11th, I thought what a missed opportunity.  Click here to see the video address – type in “Bush address 2006” and the BBC video player should come up.

My father, a doctor during WWII in North Africa & Sicily, and who was awarded the purple heart and the silver star for saving the wounded and becoming wounded himself, probably would have felt the talk was a correct attack on America’s current “enemies.”  However, I have a different view.  The war my father fought was by nations.  What we face today is a global crisis of violence, around competing ideologies fueled by proxies on all sides.  And what makes me both angry and sad is not only the senseless slaughter, but that so much of the suffering affects the poor, women and children.

Unfortunately, al Qaeda has managed to position itself as equal to the US in its PR campaigns.  This was our chance to de-position them and talk about the real “enemies’ of freedom – poverty, hopelessness, injustice and disrespect.

In our increasingly monetizing everything age, it is difficult to get major news organizations to give up time from revenue-producing programs (especially as most of them are owned by major corporations).  Thus, here was an opportunity to speak not only to America, but to the world.

I was asked what I would have said, and a lively (to say the least) conversation ensued.  Here is the speech I would have given (I hope the White House and Karen Hughes read this):

Good evening.  Tonight, as the United States mourns its 3,000 dead from the unprovoked attacks on helpless civilians, many of whom were immigrants, we also mourn the continued loss of life from the pursuit of a war that we didn’t ask for.  All life is precious.  The world is full of grieving families tonight.  We want to end the grief and suffering, yet we cannot allow our country, our citizens and our allies to continue to suffer from useless attacks by a few people whose harm greatly outweighs their numbers.

America is a religious country, but with a separation of church and state that ensures freedom of worship and tolerance for all.  Some may see this as licentiousness – we do not. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hundus and New Agers, live side-by-side because we are a nation of tolerance, built by men and women fleeing religious oppression.  Has America always acted justly?  No, has any nation or civilization?  No.  But, in an age of instant communication, when the Internet and low-cost phone calls can bring us ever closer – what can we do to close the cultural divide that has all sides screaming across it?

For the West and the Middle East to demonize one another gets us nowhere.  Yet demonizing is the first step toward murder.  Jesus, who is revered by Muslims, worshipped by Christians and considered a rabbi, or teacher, by Jews, said, “Any one who hates his brother is a murderer.”  Why?  Because hate is the first step toward killing.  Islam, like all the great religion, teaches that the loss of one life is like losing a universe.  Our planet is losing too many universes.  Too many poets who will never write.  Too many teachers who will never instruct.  And too many children who will grow up as orphans, if they grow up.

Tonight our country is at war.  Brave men and women are risking their lives every moment.  And we all want them to come home.  But, it is not only our troops and civilians in the fields of war who suffer.

Thus, tonight, I am asking the American people to reach out here at home and across the globe, with a hand of friendship to Muslims in countries everywhere.  It is time we visited local mosques, had exchange students in our homes and developed conferences between academics and conferences for businessmen and women.  It is time for the children of the world to do what their parents can not and begin to unite us. Time for the poets, singers, musicians, artists of all kinds to come together.  For women and students to cross the chasm.

Yes, many things divide us – but many things also unite us.  We share values of family, education and aspiration. 

That is why tomorrow, I will be presenting before Congress a plan for reopening communication with The Islamic Republic of Iran.  It is time not to forget, but to forgive.  It is time to heal and not to hurt.  I will also be proposing positive measures – scholarships and grants for those with a vision of peace.

While we remain vigilent against those who wish us harm – tonight I say to the people of the world: In the Name of God, the Merciful and the Compassionate, the time has come to plant seeds of hope and trust to replace the bitter dregs of hate and fear.

My fellow Americans, and citizens of the world, reaching out in friendship is a sign of strength and not of weakness.  our hand is being outstretched – the generosity of the American people is boundless – who there in the Islamic world will meet us?

Good night and God bless you all.

Responding to al-Qaeda PR – Sept 11 Memories September 11, 2006

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Even though I was just a young girl, to this day I remember where I was when President Kennedy was shot.  The same is true for the Loma Prieta earthquake.  And, for September 11

A gilfriend called, sobbing so hard I could barely understand her.  When I finally could understand and turned on the TV, it was so unbelievable – we were just in horror for all those poor people. 

What I found so detestable, was that this wide-scale murder was being  “promoted” as our “just desserts” for US policy in the Middle East by various and sundry, and those who carried out the massacre of innocents were being hailed (in some quarters) as “martyrs” for God (Allah) on a Jihad – or “struggle” on behalf of Islam

I’ll also never forget the incredible outpouring of patriotism – there were signs and flags everywhere. I brought our local fire department cookies (in addition to donations) – just to reach out and let them know how much we appreciated what they do for others every day and to leave condolences for the brave men and women who gave their lives in an attempt to save others. 

One of our favorite Mexican restaurants, Casa Lupe, in downtown Mountain View, insisted on giving free lunches that day.  I spoke with the young owner who said to me, “This country has been good to us, it is our way of paying a little back.”  That brought tears to our eyes.

It was a day of shock and tears.  And disbelief that anyone could be so evil.  The act was condemned worldwide and the US was the recipient of unprecedented sympathy and love.

I was pretty sure the US would go to war – how could it not respond to this act of war against ordinary people just going to work?  So, I understood clearing al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but I was not so sure about Iraq.

In my opinion, the US and its allies had contained Saddam Hussein.  I remember some prety heated arguments, but from what I knew of contemporary Islam, the only outcome that I saw was civil war and expansion by Iran.  History will judge, but the suffering of the Iraqi people, and those Westerners who have been kidnapped and brutally killed, is also a horror and shocking.

The US is now being assailed by critics on all sides.  Against our policies in the Middle East.  Against the Iraq war.  Against our secularism, which is seen by the religious in the Middle East as immoral, wicked and ungodly. 

Yet, America is one of the most religious countries in the world.  While Europeans have become more secular in their personal lives, Americans have become more religious and observant

Thus, we should be able to find common ground with Muslims. We hold many similar values: family, education, helping those in need and taking our faith seriously. 

So, here we are, five years later, and what has the US accomplished in the PR wars against this enemy?  Myself and others feel that the US has not done a good job of countering al-Qaeda’s media campaign.

Web sites, cassette tapes, videos and using the new 24-hour Arab news channels, such as Al-Arabiya and Al-Jezeera, are the ways that “jihadis” communicate with their base, as well as with the US. 

They send their messages direct – no chance for reporters to ask pesky questions (in fact, they’ve been killing both Western and Muslim reporters at an alarming rate).  And, they and their allies have managed to make the Middle East so unsafe for non-Mulsims, that charities cannot work there and thus show people a different face to the one they imagine we all have.

This is not an easy problem.  But, what could US PR experts do?  Following are some recommendations:

1.  Cultivate al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera – offer academics (no politicians) and other Americans looking to establish good relations with Muslims for business, education or other opportunities.

2.  Send ordinary, religious Americans to mosques throughout the US, to take courses and also to hold talks on the values we share, and, let’s be honest, where we differ.

3.  Muslim women, despite much silly reporting, are well-educated, professional and have a great deal of influence.  Connect professional non-Muslim women with Muslim women on shared issues of concern.

4.  Let the Muslim world see a different face of America – not the “usual suspects.”

So, how can this be done?

1.  A soap opera series whose characters reflect religious values from different faiths, and where we can showcase our values of tolerance, religious freedom and why separation of church and state is a good thing.  This can be shown over satellite TV and distributed through tapes and videos.

2.  Celebrate achievements of American Muslims in the professions, charities and arts and sciences through awards and interviews and school curriculum.

3.  Develop a centralized site of milblogs and other blogs so those in the Middle East can get another perspective from ordinary people caught up in all this.  Must be moderated, so hate-mongers can’t participate.

4.  Develop a chat show where issues can be discussed.

5.  Develop a web site where ordinary Americans can post photos and videos about life in the USA (has to be family-safe).

6.  Develop conferences that bring together business women from the Middle East with those from America & the West.

7.  Work with and support legitimate Muslim charities.

8.  Get to know the Arab and Persian press, as PR people typically do for the US press.  Send them news and stories that are true – do NOT try and plant false stories.  Support the papers with ads.

9.  Own up when America acts in contradiction to its values.  Promote through various media why secular democracies are guardians of religious freedom, and why pluralism is good for all.

10.  Establish US home famillies for Muslim students who want to study in the US for a year or two – high school, perhaps.

And, of course, ask American Muslims to participate on a PR advisory council.

God bless everyone, on a day that is a sad one for America.  Let us also remember that we have no lock on suffering.  Islam is a religion of justice, let’s demonstrate our better qualities – tolerance, charity, love of family & faith and sacrifice.

Pretexting to Gain Reporters’ Phone Records – Scandal at H-P September 8, 2006

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This has been breaking for a few days.  It appears that in order to track a purported leak to news media by someone on Hewlett-Packard Co.’s board, the chairwomen initiated an investigation, without the board’s knowledge. 

As embarrassing and bad as that is, apparently in the investigation process, outside investigators used “pretexting” to gain access to board members’ private phone numbers.  Even worse, this was done to a number of journalists, who were so informed today.

Pretexing is so new, there are various comments about how to prosecute for it in the articles on the H-P situation.  Here is an explanation from the Federal Trade Commission:

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act prohibits “pretexting,” the use of false pretenses, including fraudulent statements and impersonation, to obtain consumers’ personal financial information, such as bank balances. This law also prohibits the knowing solicitation of others to engage in pretexting. The Commission has been active in bringing cases to halt the operations of companies and individuals that allegedly practice pretexting and sell consumers’ financial information.

For a fuller explanation of pretexting, how to protect yourself against it, and what to do if you suspect you are a victim, please click here.

To see the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act: Subtitle B – Fraudulent Access to Financial Information, the law that prohibits pretexting, click here.

You may find additional information about the Commission’s efforts to stop pretexting by reading our press releases, or reviewing our reports & testimony.

With the media as victims, here’s hoping that heads will roll.  We cannot lose confidentiality of journalist sources and to see this at one of most revered tech companies, is disappointing to say the least.  Not good business.  And not good PR.  It will be interesting to see how H-P responds and what it communicates.  Currently, it is communicating that it finds this distressful – but what actions will be taken?  And, where is the moral compass for those in high positions?  Think, people!!

Responding to al-Qaeda’s PR to America September 7, 2006

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As discussed in the previous post, al-Qaeda’s latest PR salvo appeared to be aimed at Americans.  What would be a useful, true and effective PR response?

First of all, we, like them, have multiple audiences to address.  In my humble opinion (IMHO), the US government has not been sufficiently sophisticated in its responses.  Looking at this from a PR challenge perspective, here are some of the issues that I see.

1.  al-Qaeda uses a direct-to viewer approach – its communications do not go through a sceptical and educated press that we (thankfully!) have in the US.

2.  They use religious formulae that position them as pious – our press is generally hostile to fundamentalism in religion and wouldn’t respond well to our government using evangelical Christian terminology (thank goodness!).

3.  They clearly are following our media and blogs – our responses appear to come without any understanding of their world.  (BTW, the $20 million PR contract that the adminsitration has put out for bid for a PR firm to track Arab and Persian press seems like pork and I doubt will be worth tax payer dollars – let our intelligence services hire some savvy PR people to analyze what I hope they are already doing – heck, just get a clipping service, it’s a lot less than $20M!)

4.  Our responses sound like a broken record – they seem to come up with new ways of saying what they’ve said before, which makes it appear new or different, while we seem stuck in platitudes that opinion polls show aren’t working domestically, not to mention having any effect on America’s sinking reputation abroad.

PR cannot fix what isn’t so.  America had the high ground after September 11th, which the war in Iraq and the Israeli incursions into Gaza and Lebanon have sunk.  America is also a secular (thank goodness!) democracy – with a belief in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and not becoming martyrs for God (Allah) – which I say in all seriousness.  (BTW, the Greek word “martyr” known from its use in the New Testament, actually means a “witness.”  Because the early Christians were so terribly persecuted by the Romans, the word for “witness” became associated with suffering or death cause by the demonstration of one’s faith in The Way, or, as it became known, Christianity.)

Next entry, I’ll propose some PR responses that America could make that I believe are both true and would be effective.