Tag Archive: Astroturfing


Quick question: To benefit society is it better to donate $1,000 to the United Way or buy about five shares in Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) for the same amount of money?

Earns Tesla MotorsUnitedWay

Before you answer, please be reminded this question is not about pure, unmitigated, unadulterated altruism of the giver or investor.

Those who contribute to non-profits (e.g., United Way is one of literally thousands) in many cases are doing so to generate a personal tax deduction, which not inconsequentially adds to the federal deficit approaching $18 trillion.

Conversely, those who invest in corporate shares are doing so in hopes that the stock increases in value, something along the lines of buy low, sell high. This action does not sound charitable in the least … but in some cases it may be just that.

To top it off, a successful buy-low, sell high-action triggers a profit and with it tax liability (either capital gains or personal income tax depending on the timing of the transaction). These transactions lead to greater tax revenues for the feds, states, counties and municipalities.

Back to the basic question: Is it for the betterment of society to donate to a non-profit rather than to invest in visionary companies?

The answer may be surprising.

Non-Profit vs. For-Profit

Certainly, the United Way is not the only non-profit doing good on Planet Earth.

And just as certain, Elon Musk’s battery-powered automobile innovator/manufacturer, Tesla, is not the only global company with a spiffy idea or two.

The Alexandria, VA-based United Way with 1,200 local offices with a reported $103.2 million in assets and $94.2 million in net income provides essential support services to the less fortunate nationwide…and that is as Martha would say, “A good thing.”

Keep in mind when these big numbers are being thrown around, some in power may try to dip into the till. That is exactly what happened in the 1990s when United Way CEO William Aramory defrauded the charity according to a 53-count federal indictment to the tune of $1.2 million. He spent six years in the slam.

The United Way appears to have fully recovered from the PR debacle, and has partnered with the National Football League and others to assist those who need help the most.

Many multi-national corporations have earned near universal disdain for excessive CEO compensation, selling sinful products (e.g., NYSE: MO or Philip Morris), practicing “Green-Washing,” “Pink Washing” or “Astroturfing.” No wonder there were protests/reactions from “Occupy Wall Street,” to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and many, many others.

And yet, there are companies that are sincere about maintaining both their fiduciary responsibility for shareholders and employees, and corporate social responsibility for workers, communities, regions and yes, the planet.

Companies on a Mission

“If you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.” — Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie in her novel, Mrs. Dymond (1885)

University of Oregon business professor Michael V. Russo wrote Companies on a Mission about more than a handful of enlightened corporations that have demonstrated they can be good citizens, while pursuing a profit as mandated by fiduciary responsibility.

lohas

In writing his book, he said these companies doing good for communities and the planet were drawing interest from at least a portion of the LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) consumer market segment, estimated at 43 million Americans in the economic downturn year of 2009. Conceivably that number has grown as the economy continues its stubbornly slow recovery.

Are we daring to think differently in suggesting that investing in shares and/or buying the products of these forward-looking companies is the equivalent of teaching a man how to catch a fish?

And are we merely giving a man a fish, if we donate in a well-meaning non-profit. That’s exactly what Almost DailyBrett is pondering in writing this epistle.

Please send the slings and arrows my way.

NUMMI Comes Back to Life

In a recent 60 Minutes piece on Musk’s battery car builder, Tesla, and privately held rocket-ship innovator, SpaceX, CBS included footage of the once-shuddered/2010 reopened NUMMI plant in industrial Fremont, California. There are now than 1,000 workers building non-polluting Tesla battery-operated cars at NUMMI.

teslanummi1

 

Palo Alto-based Tesla employs nearly 6,000 (and this figure does not include in-direct jobs in the form of suppliers, partners, distributors, resellers, butchers, bakers and candle stick makers).

The $2 billion top-line and $456 million bottom-line company has attracted more than $26.7 billion in market capitalization or market value (based on the present stock price).

The key to building more of these vehicles, which do NOT contribute to climate change, are the availability of ion-batteries with acceptable ranges and reasonable price points. Tesla will soon announce the location(s) for its ion-battery “Gigafactory.” We can rest assured the Gigafactory or Gigafactories will directly employ hundreds and indirectly employ thousands more, using the tried-true indirect-to-direct employee ratios.

Bill O’Reilly once called Tesla a “game-changer” as the way we think of automobiles is changing. And naturally, Tesla is attracting competitors into this space (z.B. Bayerische Motoren Werke oder BMW).

Back to the basic premise of this exercise: Are there instances in which the purchase of stock shares in (gasp) a corporation do more for the economy and the planet than making the traditional charitable contribution?

That seems to be the case in at least one instance, if we dare think out of the proverbial box.

Almost DailyBrett Note: The author of this blog owns slightly more than 100 shares of Tesla. Readers considering investing in Tesla would be well advised to review Tesla’s financials, stock performance, analyst reports and maybe even consult a financial advisor. My knowledge of Tesla is based upon published reports, publicly available information/data and of course, the 60 Minutes piece.

http://www.unitedway.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Way_of_America

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/fiduciary-responsibility-vs-corporate-social-responsibility/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/only-in-america/

http://www.teslamotors.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_Factory

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tesla-and-spacex-elon-musks-industrial-empire/

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/give_a_man_a_fish_and_you_feed_him_for_a_day;_teach_a_man_to_fish_and_you_feed_him_for_a_lifetime

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NUMMI

http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/07/17/tesla-motors-inc-california-is-back-in-the-race-fo.aspx

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Is Ghost Blogging Kosher?

Is undisclosed ghost blogging ethical even in cases in which the stated executive author concurs with the content and approves the posting of the blog in her or his name?

What’s the problem? Barack Obama doesn’t write his speeches? Everyone knows this.

ghost

More than 70 percent agree that ghost writing an executive blog is no big deal.

And yet there is a sizeable minority with qualms.

Isn’t blogging the development of personal relationships by means of digital two-way symmetrical conversation?

You can ghost write speeches. Ditto for op-eds and commentaries. But can you effectively “outsource” your conversations?

Isn’t undisclosed ghost blogging the antithesis of the public relations industry movement toward “radical transparency?”

Maybe this question isn’t so easy?

Arriving on the University of Oregon campus in fall 2010 after my nearly four-year tenure at Edelman Public Relations, I remember discussing the Edelman/Wal-Mart debacle with School of Journalism and Communication Assistant Professor Tiffany Gallicano.

edelman

The 2006 Wal-Mart/Edelman controversy revolved around the use of non-Wal-Mart employees “Jim and Laura” to blog about the pleasant working conditions at the retail giant. This “astroturfing” deception resulted in banner headlines and embarrassment for both Edelman Public Relations and its client Wal-Mart.

Essentially, Edelman hired “ringers,” one a Washington Post photographer and the other a U.S. Department of Treasury employee, to play for the Wal-Mart management team and everything was fine until they were caught. What made this caper all the more embarrassing is that Edelman participated in the formulation of disclosure standards for the blogging industry Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

To Richard Edelman’s credit, he visited virtually all Edelman offices to apologize and all Edelman employees were mandated to take training in online disclosure. Richard is a major proponent of “radical transparency” and one can surmise the Wal-Mart experience plays into his evangelizing on this issue.

mackey

Similar headlines and rebukes were directed in 2007 against Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, who blogged incessantly under the alias “Rahodeb” (an anagram on his wife’s name, Deborah). His posts found a litany of faults with rival Wild Oats, a company that Whole Foods was trying to acquire. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was none-too-pleased.

As Tiffany and I discussed the Edelman/Wal-Mart and Whole Foods cases, we realized that while the issue of undisclosed ghost blogging was not new, it was far from settled. The question: Is there a consensus among the public relations community about the ethics of this issue? We quickly became indebted to Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for allowing us to circulate a quantitative survey of its membership on this subject. Nearly 300 (agency, corporate, public sector and NGO) practitioners responded.

PRSA has adopted an ethics code that all of its members should be “honest and accurate in all communications” and to “avoid deceptive practices.” The trade organization makes no distinction between communications that are traditional in nature, such as newspapers, or digital, such as blogging and podcasting.

Soon it was time to analyze the results and we were glad to have the assistance of quantitative Wunderkind and Ph.D candidate, Toby Hopp, to assist us. The study was declared valid, but the results were not clean-cut. This point was magnified when Tiffany and yours truly presented our results at the International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC) in Miami in spring of 2012.

We made several presentations, each starting first with the professorial types nodding their heads, but quickly arguing with each other. Tastes great! Less filling! No Disclosure! Disclosure? It was a sight to behold.

First, the easy part. Is it okay for an organization to list executives as blog authors even though they were written by others (e.g., PR types) as long as the ideas come from the listed executives and they approve the message: 71.1 percent, agreed; 20.7 percent disagreed.

Seems easy.

Next we asked is it okay for an organization to NOT disclose a PR agency’s assistance in writing blog posts under a client’s name? This is where the Radical Transparency movement first exhibited its influence: 44.7 percent concurred; 37.9 percent did not. Interesting.

The third question: “As a standard practice any ghostwriting of employer executive or client executive blogs should be publicly disclosed?” 37.1 percent, affirmative; 40.9 percent, negative. This was getting too close for comfort.

When it comes to staffers writing executive responses to reader comments (provided the ideas come from the executive and she or he gives approval), 56.3 percent believed this practice was acceptable, while 35.4 percent disagreed.

Finally, there is the question of a PR staffer writing an executive’s comment on subjects posted on some other blog, even with the ideas coming from that exec and she or he giving approval. The results revealed a reversal in sentiments: 42.6 percent approved; 44.0 percent disapproved.

We were pleased to receive the Jackson-Sharpe Award from the IPRRC in March 2012, and our research was published earlier this month by the PRSA’s Public Relations Journal. The Institute for Public Relations has created a Social Science of Social Media Research Center (SSSMRC). Our study will be available there as well.

Looking back at our research, a strong majority of industry practitioners see ghost blogging as essentially the equivalent of ghost writing a speech or op-ed. Everyone knows that Obama tinkers with his speeches, approves them but does not have the time to write them. That is largely true for CEOs as their time is precious.

speech

Isn’t it the job of PR practitioners (e.g., in-house corporate, agency) to assist executives in telling an organization’s story? Sure.

But is a blog the same as a speech or an op-ed/commentary? Speeches are two-way asymmetrical. Blogs are two-way symmetrical. Blogs invite conversation. Blogs benefit from comments.

Can you effectively outsource your digital conversations and still lead torch-light parades behind the banner of Radical Transparency?

The question of undisclosed ghost blogging does not lend itself to easy answers or quick consensus. Let the arguments continue into the night.

http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/

http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/Documents/2013_Gallicano.pdf

http://www.instituteforpr.org/scienceofsocialmedia/

http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2006-10-17/wal-mart-vs-dot-the-blogospherebusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/12/business/12foods.html?_r=0

%d bloggers like this: