Friday, December 31, 2004

The Tsunami didn't touch me, thanks for your concern

A big 'thank you' for those who wrote to me, asking if I was safe from the Tsunami that wrecked many towns in South India and the rest of Asia. I was on vacation in Kerala, and back from there just now.

When the Tsunami hit, I was in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the state of Kerala in India where I hail from. The city was untouched thankfully, though Kollam, a town just two hours from there, saw a 100 deaths. Many of you may know Kovalam, the most famous beach in South India

Kerala has one of the best healthcare systems in India and its living conditions and education levels are said to be on par with the US and European countries (though average incomes are 1/100th), and probably that saved the situation from getting worse.

The full fury of the Tsunami hit the state of Tamil Nadu which faces the Bay of Bengal sea which lost thousands, on the other hand.

Will update you once I land up back in Bombay (Mumbai) in a day or two.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

PR India on vacation

Yours truly will be leaving town for Christmas and New Year. Therefore, you may not see much happening on this blog till January 5, 2005.

One reason is that this blogger will be in his hometown located in the greenest state in India, also known as God's own country, Kerala. (They are a great tourism success story, BTW)

Internet connectivity is no great shakes in Kerala once you move out of the city - and I would much rather take in the greenery than battle it out with dial-up connections.

So here I travel into deliberate, willing cluelessness. Away from blogs, software, feeds and my blogroll.

Catch you guys in 2005! Merry X'Mas and Happy New Year!


Sex clip on auction portal nets unwitting CEO

India still has quite a way to go before our laws will be in tune with the times. The recent example of illustrates this.

The backgrounder: A schoolboy shot his girlfriend in an act of oral sex on his cellphone camera. He sent the MMS clip to his friends, who sent it to theirs... and soon, the video clip was available for s small price with every roadside vendor. A enterprising IIT student put the clip up for auction on India's top auction website Baazee (which is now owned by ebay). Baazee pulled the clip as soon as they realized its nature, but police arrested the CEO, Avnish Bajaj. More on the story here

No one in their senses believe that baazee is to be blamed. However, try telling that to the police - who acted well within the law which states that the CEO would be responsible for all content on the website.

Ebay has expectedly reacted with outrage, and even Condoleeza Rice seems to have put in a word with the Indian government. eBay said Bajaj was voluntarily helping in the probe of a seller who advertised a pornographic video, which was not shown on the site. The Indo Asian News Service said Bajaj was arrested under the Information Technology Act, which bans online trading of porn, and he faces five years in jail and a fine of 100,000 rupees ($2,279).

In Express Newsline, Pawan Duggal, a cyber laws expert said that "This case is going to be a landmark in the way Internet businesses are conducted in the country."

Public sympathies seem to be with as everyone seems to understand that it is not possible for an auction website to verify everything offered by all sellers for any possible violation of law.

But if Avnish Bajaj does not manage to extricate himself and the portal from this case, this case could turn out a blow to many online businesses. Discussion boards, blogs, chat rooms - all could end up being the responsibility of their respective CEOs.

Now that would be a real-word as well as PR disaster for online businesses in India.

Only hope - the courts generally know a bad law when they see a case like this. That's the only hope for now. Our sympathies, meanwhile, lie with the CEO.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Talespin's PR mis-steps

Came across this press release on commondreams.

Some greatest PR mis-steps out of the list are:

  • Ford and Firestone initially tried to stone-wall media by saying there was no problem with the Ford Explorers, even though the SUVs were turning over and drivers’ deaths were mounting.
  • Starbucks pressed 9/11 rescue workers to pay $130.00 for water to help bring those injured out of shock. When workers thought they were overcharged, Starbucks fought back.
  • Coca-Cola and Pepsi took the Indian Government to court when they were accused of using pesticides in their drinks rather than hiring an independent testing company to challenge the accusation. (Boy, didn't that get them into more trouble!)
  • Dow Corning had already been found guilty of fraud for hiding the dangers of silicone breast implants when they hired a PR company to promote “a woman’s choice” as a counter to the negative publicity created by the verdict.
  • Volkswagen refused to halt their direct mailing campaign with an envelope labeled, “Suspicious Package” even though a recent terrorist bombing had put the UK on alert and potential customers were fearful.

DIY PR, journalism.. now ads?

Through wired, numerous blogs... here's DIY advertising courtesy George Masters - The IPOD mini ad


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Professors' opinions paid for by PR firms?

I came across this article on Team India which says that the Wall Street Journal recently wrote that "Some companies have been paying professors to promote their points of view on TV shows, in newspaper and magazine articles and letters to the editor. In many cases, the arrangement between the professor and the company is not disclosed."

According to the Team India story, one example is Nicor Corporation which hired Prof. Peter Morici of Maryland University to argue in favour of steel tariffs.

This is definitely not shocking information, but the more stories of this sort that appear in the media, the better it is for the profession.

I haven't seen the original WSJ article - I hope someone can verify that this article actually appeared. The Team India article does not carry any responses of Nucor or Peter Morici.

Updated: Located this article on Professorbrainbridge which has an extract of the original WSJ story. The site says: "I understand the argument made in defense of this practice: that it is not unethical to take money for expressing one's views. It is the argument I use to justify serving as an expert witness. But there is a big difference between an academic being paid to serve as an expert witness in litigation and a professor who is being paid to serve as a PR flack. For one thing, expert witness service is disclosed to all the relevant parties; the PR flack arrangements are rarely disclosed. Hence, the Professor's claim of expertise may receive undue deference from reporters and readers. In addition, unlike expert witness work, in which I express my opinion and let the chips fall where they may, the PR flack Profs often don't even write the material that goes out over their names." Read more here

Friday, December 10, 2004

PR Grants Available for Non-Profit Organizations: Cyber Alert

Excerpt from press release:

CyberAlert, Inc., an online media monitoring company, today announced its 2005 PR Grants Program. For the second consecutive year, the company will award at least 10 PR grants to not-for-profit organizations. The grants range in value from $2,400 to $4,800 each and consist of one full year of free news monitoring / press clipping services. The value of the grants is expected to total in excess of $25,000.

Read the full press release here

Monday, December 06, 2004

Pepsi and Coke India take legal (and PR) hit

In August 2003, a study was published in India which claimed that Pepsi and Coke manufactured and distributed in India contained pesticides.

The companies reacted aggressively, and even led the government to examine the issue. It was seriously damaging for the companies, and the newspapers and television debated the topic endlessly. The topic slowly faded away, but now it seems that it did not quite die. (Heard about Coke and Pepsi as real pesticides? Read about it here.)

Today, the Supreme Court directed both Pepsi and Coke to print the exact amount of pesticide content on their products. Not only has the court order brought the topic back to public memory, that it came while the Court dismissed petitions by the two companies against a lower court order asking them to do the same.

After surviving last year's controversies on the same, this is another disaster for Coke and Pepsi. Even the suggestion that their colas contain minimal (and legal) amounts of pesticide can damage marketing efforts, and having to print it on the bottles and cans is nothing less than a royal mess.

A tough battle for their PR agencies is on the cards. That deafening sound we just heard was a freight train ploughing through the Cola executives Christmas vacation plans.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Lakshmi Mittal's PR disaster

For those of you who don't know him, Lakhsmi Mittal is the world's wealthiest Indian. He is known as a turnaround specialist who buys gone-to-rust steel plants and turns them around, and makes his billions thus. Now for the first time, he is at the end of some seriously bad PR in Europe.

One of his latest acquisitions - the Omarska Iron mine in Bosnia - turned out to be a formerly notorious concentration camp. Now after his acquisition, former inmates of the Omarska detention camp and the families of those brutalised there in 1992 launched a massive public campaign for the mine to be turned into a memorial to suffering rather than a commercial success.

While Mr. Mittal knew about the history of the place, one does not know if he was aware of the precise sensibilities of the people. Mittal is in a tough situation right now, as he has already invested $40 million for Omarska and another mine, and backtracking now would be damaging financially.

The PR battle is being waged right now, but I believe at some point, the entrepreneur has to back out. Even the local government now is moving to a position of opposing Mittal's move.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Madan Bahal of Adfactors PR, India starts blogging

Brand new PR blog from India - India PR musings. Madan Bahal, director and partner in Adfactors PR, has started a new blog.

Will keep an eye out for anything interesting from Mr. Bahal.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ogilvy PR wins bronze at PR Week Asia Pacific Awards

Ogilvy PR India has recently won the bronze at the PR Week Asia Pacific Award ceremony held in Hong Kong for its CSR campaign 'Amaron Amaragaon' for Amara Raja Batteries Ltd. (ARBL).

Ogilvy PR has been awarded in the Corporate Communications category for the tangible benefits it brought to the community for its Amaron Amaragaon campaign.

From Indiantelevision