PR Agencies Keep Trying “Stealth.” Why? (*Updated)

By now, you’d think the major PR firms, the ones staffed by the crème de la crème, that snag the biggest, most prestigious accounts, would have learned that you can’t get away with a campaign premised on hiding the identity of the client.

Doing so is regarded as unethical by everyone you’re trying to persuade. Disclosure–which is almost inevitable–has a disproportionately negative effect, and the client risks being left in a worse position than if they’d done nothing.

But “nothing” of course means “no fees for you.” So instead of giving clients a real-world expectation of the dangers of a super-secret stealth campaign in an era of relentless transparency, agencies push bad ideas that get them paid.

Burson-Marsteller has apparently spent the past few years paying no attention to their own industry. And Microsoft’s amnesia is truly incredible for a company that sells “memory.” Get a load of this from the UK Observer:

Microsoft is at the centre of an embarrassing row over an attempt by a lobby firm strongly linked with the Seattle computer giant to rally opposition against rival Google’s proposed acqusition of internet marketing firm DoubleClick.

The Observer has seen an email sent by a director at leading lobby firm Burson-Marsteller to a number of top UK businesses. The email urges board members to raise the issue of Google’s dominance of search engines with politicians, regulators and the media.

The email asks companies to join a new organisation – Initiative for Competitive Online Marketplaces – which in the next few weeks will make a series of announcements on Google, internet privacy and copyright.

The email’s author is Jonathan Dinkeldein, a director of B-M. He admitted the firm was working with Microsoft on the initiative. A spokeswoman for Microsoft agreed that the firm has an ‘ongoing relationship with Burson-Marsteller’ but said it is not lobbying for Microsoft.

Relations between Microsoft and Google are fraught and the development comes at a sensitive time. Concern over Google’s dominance in online advertising prompted the US federal trade commission to probe its £1.56bn takeover of DoubleClick. Google itself asked the European Commision to investigate the takeover.

Microsoft has objected to the tie-up on the grounds that it will combine the two largest advertising distributors on the internet.

It lost in the auction for DoubleClick.

When asked about the email, Dinkeldein admited the organisation was formed by Microsoft. Dinkeldein added that his initiative attracted several orgnanisations to join it.

But executives contacted by The Observer told of their disquiet at being ‘cold-called’ in this manner. The emails included newspaper articles from the Financial Times and the Economist which some executives were concerned broke copyright rules. Others suggested that by not disclosing who Burson-Marsteller was representing, the firm was breaking the spirit of political lobby firms’ code of conduct. Continue reading

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Trying to Beat Somebody with Nobody

Matt Bai’s excellent reporting on the netroots — a term he scrupulously avoids in a story that is meant to show the growing influence of the West Coast on the Democratic Party — contains the kernel of what I predict will be the movement’s ultimate frustration:

That these new progressives don’t have a West Coast politician to represent them in the Iowa caucuses is in keeping with the point of their entire movement. The progressive uprising inside the Democratic Party isn’t about trading in one group of politicians for another; it is about building a party in which politicians in general matter less. In their view, the 20th century may have been all about candidates dispersing their messages to the populace through the bullhorn of paid media ads, but the 21st century is about the populace sending its message to the politicians, thanks to the democratization of the online world. Who leads the charge at the top of the ticket hardly matters, as long as he (or she) says what the progressives want to hear.

“A party in which politicians in general matter less” is not the kind of party that can succeed in America.  We do not have a parliamentary system.  As of now, we pick our candidates, Democrat and Republican, through primaries.  There is no effective mechanism of party discipline, particularly on presidential candidates. 

If the movement Bai describes is so powerful, how is it that the Internet-based progressives’ favored candidate, John Edwards, is running a distant third to the candidate the progressives dislike most, Hillary Clinton?  (The Republicans are facing a similar quandary:  Their most popular candidate, Rudy Guiliani, only agrees with some of the GOP’s bedrock principles.  Liberal northeastern Republicanism was supposedly dying, but Guiliani might wind up as the most liberal Republican presidential candidate since Theodore Roosevelt.) 

Bai tries to demonstrate the progressive movement’s power this way: Continue reading

Patriotism So Phony, It Even Makes A Right-Wing Blogger Gag

Via Memeorandum, I came across this negative review of a Mitt Romney speech. It struck me because it seems like the only support Romney gets is from the right-wing blogosphere. He doesn’t do well in the polls. But if you ask Hugh Hewitt and his ilk, Romney’s just fabulous, the pick of the litter.

Here’s an exception.

In covering a Romney speech in Michigan, David Freddoso, one of the 50 or so bloggers at National Review’s The Corner, has just bucked the conservative bloggery tide, and for a reason that surprised me: Too much patriotism.

Romney hit some of the themes he needs to — he spoke on being a “Change Republican” and emphasized family values in particular. He also pointed out his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which, with Thompson’s rejection of it, makes him unique among the major Republican candidates.

But then he says he’s going to move “In God We Trust” to the front of the new dollar coins instead of the side. Hmmm. I guess I’m all for it, but the crowd took a few seconds to applaud, and I think most people were as confused as I was. Is that a new campaign promise?

Plus, I haven’t seen his delivery this bad in quite a while. (I have seen it this bad before.) He was very slow winding up, and the speech has a lot of really, really lame applause lines. I couldn’t take much more after this one:

“I’ll make sure that our future is defined not by the letters ACLU, but by the letters USA.”

Yes —as previewed earlier — he actually did say that. I wish they’d given Huckabee his seat on the plane.

Barf! This is like something out of the movie “Nashville.” Continue reading

The Last Great Rock Band Performs

If you’ve seen the commercials for the University of Phoenix, you might have noticed the background music is this odd, distinctive clip of what sounds like a Phil Spectorish choir singing “hey-la, hey-la” over a fierce rock beat complete with flailing, Keith Moon-style drums. You’re hearing The New Pornographers. This is the most exciting moment from the most exciting song on the most exciting pop/rock album of the 2000s, in my opinion, Twin Cinema (2005).

As befits the waning power of formal structures that characterizes this era, the New Pornographers are more of a “project” than a band, although onstage Wednesday night at Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, they fit snugly in the pocket as if they’d been playing together nonstop for 10 years.  But looking at their history and personnel, you get the feeling they could vanish at any time, without rancor, just because the key members found something else to do.

So that’s one reason I made sure to go to their show this week promoting the new album Challengers. Neko Case’s solo career, which preceded her joining the NPs, has now achieved a level of esteem and is showing inklings of commercial viability, so she might not stick around. They already are forced to tour without her sometimes. In fact, her replacement, Kathleen Calder, is already a member of the band and on Wednesday night she helped fill out the big co-ed vocal sound that is the hallmark of this band.

Continue reading

“Science Suffers From an Excess of Significance”

Want to win a political argument? Want to get your spouse to change a health habit? Want to get your story on page one? Flash a scientific study. Except

We all make mistakes and, if you believe medical scholar John Ioannidis, scientists make more than their fair share. By his calculations, most published research findings are wrong.

Dr. Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who studies research methods at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. In a series of influential analytical reports, he has documented how, in thousands of peer-reviewed research papers published every year, there may be so much less than meets the eye.

This column is by Wall Street Journal science writer Robert Lee Hotz.  The link is for WSJ subscribers.   Here’s a little more:

These flawed findings, for the most part, stem not from fraud or formal misconduct, but from more mundane misbehavior: miscalculation, poor study design or self-serving data analysis. “There is an increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims,” Dr. Ioannidis said. “A new claim about a research finding is more likely to be false than true.”

The hotter the field of research the more likely its published findings should be viewed skeptically, he determined.

A universal truth as applied to the discovery of information, one that applies to journalists, auditors, investigators.  If the spotlight is on, you want your performance to be memorable.

Take the discovery that the risk of disease may vary between men and women, depending on their genes. Studies have prominently reported such sex differences for hypertension, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, as well as lung cancer and heart attacks. In research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Ioannidis and his colleagues analyzed 432 published research claims concerning gender and genes.

Upon closer scrutiny, almost none of them held up. Only one was replicated.

Statistically speaking, science suffers from an excess of significance. Overeager researchers often tinker too much with the statistical variables of their analysis to coax any meaningful insight from their data sets. “People are messing around with the data to find anything that seems significant, to show they have found something that is new and unusual,” Dr. Ioannidis said.

Money is at the root of bad science… Continue reading

Gentlemen, Start Your Lobbyists

cheeseburger.jpgI’m sure the City Council is sincere about wanting to improve the diets and health of the residents of South Los Angeles. But they also have to know what will come of the proposal to impose a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in that area of the city: A gig for every major lobbyist in town.

McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Jack-in-the-Box and all their franchisee organizations will all want to strangle this idea in the cradle. They will pay whatever it takes. From a legal standpoint, I don’t know how you distinguish a fast-food chain restaurant from an ordinary restaurant, or what careful balance between unhealthy and healthy menu items would qualify a restaurant for the moratorium, but they will be talking about it at City Hall for months if not years. For the lobbyists, all that talk will be billable.

When was the last time the Council tried to take on so many international corporations at one time? Start looking for a new rush of donations from franchise operators’ associations and restaurant-industry PACs.

Amid worries of an obesity epidemic and its related illnesses, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, Los Angeles officials, among others around the country, are proposing to limit new fast-food restaurants — a tactic that could be called health zoning.

The City Council will be asked this fall to consider an up to two-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in South L.A., a part of the city where fast food is at least as much a practicality as a preference.

“The people don’t want them, but when they don’t have any other options, they may gravitate to what’s there,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who proposed the ordinance in June, and whose district includes portions of South L.A. that would be affected by the plan.

In just one-quarter of a mile near USC on Figueroa Street, from Adams Boulevard and south, there are about 20 fast-food outlets.

That particular cluster probably has much more to do with USC kids’ late-night study/beer munchies than with any other part of the neighborhood. They might want to choose another area to make an example of.

“While limiting fast-food restaurants isn’t a solution in itself, it’s an important piece of the puzzle,” said Mark Vallianatos, director of the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College.

This is “bringing health policy and environmental policy together with land-use planning,” he said. “I think that’s smart, and it’s the wave of the future.”

I think he’s right about the future. I’ve noticed lately the increasing link environmentalists are making between food choices and the health of the planet. I know I read recently something to the effect that one cannot consider themselves an environmentalist and still eat meat. Global warming is as much cow- as car-driven.

The dietary paternalism inherent in this proposal — the claim that City officials know what you should eat — hasn’t registered yet. Maybe it never will. Maybe we all see ourselves as the sheer victims of corporations, and believe it is corporations that are limiting our choices, not government. I’d be curious to see the results of an approval poll comparing the Los Angeles City Council with McDonald’s.

Perhaps the council would win. Maybe all the popularity that fast-food brands have paid so dearly for over the past 40 years will now crash around their deep fryers. But they will not go down without a fight, and in Los Angeles, that means writing a lot of checks.