Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hey, ExxonMobil--Need an Ethics Lesson?

Weekly Spin reports that ExxonMobil has hired Philip A. Cooney, who resigned as White House Council on Environmental Quality chief of staff after we found he was editing government scientists' reports to deflate warnings about global warming. Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Dana Perino told the New York Times "Phil Cooney did a great job and we appreciate his public service and the work that he did, and we wish him well in the private sector."

This was widely reported; CNN's version is at

Earth to ExxonMobil: this is not the way to get good PR. Coverup is not fixing the problem--as you might remember form Exxon Valdez. I predict this appointment will come back to bite you. IF anyone's paying attention out there, anyhow.

PR Can't "Greenwash" Nuclear Power--It's Still a Dirty Business

Nuclear power is a dirty and dangerous way to generate electricity, and no amount of PR-industry hype is going to change that. But they're sure trying!

Back in 1974--31 years ago--as a student at Antioch College, I had a class assignment to do an independent research project on the plusses and minuses of nuclear power generation. I came into this with a relatively open mind--and I came away scared. Keep in mind, this was before Seabrook, before Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and before there was any kind of world-wide anti-nuclear movement.

But there was plenty of research out there. The more I read, the more I became convinced that nuclear power is dangerous, unhealthful, and even uneconomical, out of all proportion to the supposed "benefits." In 1979, I even wrote my first book on the subject (a long-out-of-print volume called Nuclear Lessons, co-authored with Richard Curtis and Elizabeth Hogan, who had written Perils of the Peaceful Atom back in 1969).

A few among many issues:

  • Accidents. We didn't hear about them, probably because the national movement for safe energy had not yet coalesced--but there were serious accidents at the Enrico Fermi reactor in Michigan in 1966, and Browns Ferry, Alabama, in 1975--and a deeply disturbing record of thousands of minor incidents at plants all over the country, many of which could have become severe had one or two factors gone differently.
  • Insurance. The only reason there is a nuclear power industry in the US is because of a heavily subsidized limited-liability insurance program called the Price-Anderson Act. When the utilities would have been held responsible for full damage in the event of an accident, they simply refused to build, even when the government threatened to get into the power business and do it without industry cooperation.
  • Health and Environment. The radioactivity associated with nuclear power generation is known to cause cancer. Workers in the industry have had much higher incidences of problems. And it's not even true that there are no global warming issues associated with nukes. The plants use bodies of water for cooling, and that water is re-released into the environment at a much hotter temperature, disrupting fish lifecycles and warming the water.
  • Waste Disposal. Highly toxic, carcinogenic nuclear wastes have to be kept safe and isolated from the environment--and from terrorists--for up to 250,000 years. To put that in perspective, there was essentially zero human civilization until about 30,000 years ago, and no urban culture until about 10,000 years ago.
  • Economics. Believe it or not, looking at the entire mining-milling-transportation-consumption-disposal cycle, nuclear energy consumes more power than it produces! So all this risk is for no benefit. And because it's extremely capital-intensive, nuclear power produces relatively few jobs. How stupid can we be?
This societal stupidity is even more bizarre in light of the easy, environmentally benign alternatives: solar, small-scale wind and hydro, etc. We've had these technologies for years. We could be entirely energy self-sufficient without using any nuclear or fossil fuels, had we made a society-wide commitment to that goal back in 1974 when I was doing my research. And oh yes, I don't think we'd be at war in Iraq now if oil were a non-issue.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What do Michael Jackson and Arthur Andersen Have in Common?

On the surface, a flamboyant pop star has little to do with an accounting firm: the epitome of corporate conservatism.

But the accounting firm we're talking about is Arthur Andersen, and the way its auditors let Enron's top execs bring down both companies hardly fits my standard of fiscal conservatism.

Anyway, the comparison isn't about lifestyle or philosophy. It's about the notion that being cleared in a court of law doesn't necessarily mean you're actually innocent.

Michael Jackson was not found guilty. He may or may not have molested children--I don't have the knowledge to say, one way or the other. He certainly used bad judgment to share his bed with them--but the jury's decision rested not on whether or not he committed the act, but whether the government had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt. Given the lack of credibility of one of the prosecution's chief witnesses, the jury found that the government had not put forth an ironclad case.

And the Supreme Court, late last month, found not that Arthur Andersen wasn't culpable for its destruction of documents, but that the judge had given faulty instructions to the jury, and thus the guilty verdict was thrown out.

Lawyers for both Michael Jackson and Arthur Andersen were quick to hail the court decisions as clearing their clients' names, and Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling's lawyer quickly made the claim that his client's case was strengthened. But the Andersen jury foreman, Oscar Criner, called the Supreme Court's ruling "a grave error" (as reported in Enron's hometown paper, the Houston Chronicle: )

But in fact, neither decision addressed the defendant's guilt or innocence. All that has happened is that a jury in one case and a panel of judges in the other found that the government did not make a strong enough case for wrongful intent.

Arthur Andersen first allowed Enron's highly questionable accounting practices and then, as the SEC was preparing to investigate, destroyed the documents about the case. Michael Jackson shared his bed with teenage boys. While they were not guilty in the eyes of the law, the ethical questions remain in both cases. Failing to find that an action is criminal is not the same thing as finding that a defendant acted with ethics, with honor, and with good intent. It merely shows that the standard of proof was not met.

Legality and ethics are not always the same. Let's keep that in mind as the Enron trials proceed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Blandness from the Biggies, Innovative Indies: Book-Industry Trends at BEA 2005

Tsunami Publishing's Bob Bellin is a small publisher who thinks big. "We take abandoned brands, former bestsellers that we can bring back to bestsellers through aggressive and offbeat marketing and promotion."

New York Times bestseller Steve Alten feels Bellin is treating him "a lot better than my last two publishers." Bellin sent out 1500 galleys of his first title, Alten's The Loch; he spent $100,000 on PR, satellite TV and radio tours, bought ad time and a banner on a coast-to-coast radio show, and is testing a radio ad campaign involving a bookstore coop.

"Our goal is to sell books. Ideally, a book that's likely to be made into a movie; it will sell more books." And apparently, it's working, so far. "We popped in the first week at number 9 on Ingram's bestseller list. We've already sold more than his last publisher. We printed five figures and we're about to go to print again," one month after the May 1 publication date. Bellin bought the rights to another abandoned Alten book, Meg, from Bantam. New Line Cinema is making the movie.

The trend of smaller publishers picking up larger authors was evident elsewhere at the show. Two among several examples: Small publisher Quill Driver Press has picked up Dr. Ruth, and Chelsea Green, publisher of the mega-hit Don't Think of an Elephant (see related story), is in negotiation with some successful authors (but declined to name names).

On the other side of the fence, large publishers continue to pick up titles that have proven themselves in an independently published, self-published, or even subsidy-published run. John Wiley, for instance has picked up Internet marketing gurus Joe Vitale and Mark Joyner (in separate books, although the two have often collaborated).

Several categories seem to be drying up. You'd expect some reduction in political books now that last year's hotly contested election is in the past, but their near-total absence from the major houses and obscurity even among the smaller houses was surprising.

Also, unless I simply missed the whole section somehow, there were amazingly few glitzy new cookbooks. The cookbooks I saw were mostly of the down-home variety, rather than the big coffee-table volumes that have dominated for several years. Combined with the greatly reduced presence of large four-color art titles, the shortage made me wonder if there's been a huge increase in the cost of printing and/or shipping in Asia--though I wouldn't expect the impact of the weak dollar and high fuel prices to show up until next year, given the publishing industry's long lead times.

I noted last year how bland the largest houses have become, and this year that was even more true. Cookie-cutter, formulaic books dominated the largest booths--but independent publishers continue to focus on titles that one can take pride in.

One category where the largest houses do seem to still have some verve: history. Lots of solid-looking titles on wars, presidents, and fashions over the decades and centuries.

And perhaps 2005 is the Year of the Ordinary Mortal. From both small and large publishers, I saw a number of books celebrating the achievements of average Joes and Janes. One of my favorites in the category was Damn! I Wish I'd Written That!: chronicling the publishing successes of ordinary folks who didn't necessarily even have big credentials. (However, it was rather odd to see Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese on the cover along with several more appropriate books. Johnson, after all, was already the best-selling co-author of The One-Minute Manager.)

Faith and religion were much evident this year, and not just in the religion aisles. WJK Books, whose The Gospel According to the Simpsons I picked up a couple of years ago, has now expanded to a whole line of Gospel According to titles: Harry Potter, Tolkein, and even (forthcoming) Oprah, among others. Wonder if the Potter book will shift the discourse among those elements of the Christian Right that have attacked and tried to censor the series.

And speaking of Hogwarts's celebrated wizard, spin-off were everywhere: not just books trying to position themselves as the Next HP, but also literary criticism and scholarship on Potter and other fantasy series--looking, for instance at the mythology that influenced JK Rowling (this is a trend at least a few years old--my 2001 show report mentions The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: A Treasury of Myths, Legends, and Fascinating Facts, but more titles are appearing, including Fact, Fiction, and Folklore in Harry Potter's World from midsize publisher Hampton Roads.

As I look over my notes, I do notice that a lot of what I've found worth mentioning is from midsize publishers who put out, say, 10 to 50 titles per year. As the big boys swallow each other up and increasingly concentrate on celebrity tell-alls and blockbuster novels from famous authors, perhaps it is these publishers who will become the Keepers of the Culture: the ones who can release books that actually advance our thinking as a society, who take a chance on a first-timer's literary gem--and who have enough marketing muscle to actually move the books out of the warehouse, into the bookstore, and out to the consumer (unlike the vast majority of self-publishers, tiny independents with fewer than five titles a year, or authors publishing with subsidy presses).

Maybe it's time to start reading publisher labels as we select our bookstore purchases. While an imprint like Chelsea Green, Berrett-Koehler, or New Society Publishers--and there are a couple of dozen others--doesn't guarantee a great book, in my experience, it definitely increases the odds.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

PR, Nixon's nemesis, and the Latest from Washington

An interesting week in the news, for sure.

This from Jack O'Dwyer's PR-industry newsletter, which I hadn't seen before but picked up at a PRSA event in New York. (I'm actually writing this from New York, in fact--where Book Expo America starts tomorrow.) O'Dwyer reports that the White House press corps, tired of their role as "props," boycotted a May 23 press conference with President Bush and Afghani President Hamid Karzai--because the events are so tightly controlled that they're only allowed two questions. I imagine they mean two questions total, rather than two apiece.

So as usual, the Bush administration appears to be afraid of an open and free press, and for once the 5th Estate is showing a little muscle. More power to them! The charade that has passed for Washington journalism the last few years is badly in need of a shakeup.

This is a particularly nice nugget considering that after 33 years, we've learned the identity of Deep Throat--the most vivid case study for the idea that undisclosed sources have a place in legitimate mainstream journalism, and that journalism has a responsibility to investigate the powers-that-be. To my knowledge, no one has ever challenged the authenticity of Mark Felt's reports back then, and for 33 years, his identity was unknown. He helped to bring down a crooked government, and it wouldn't have happened if journalists Woodward and Bernstein had been forced to disclose their sources.

Newsweek, are you listening? (See my two previous blog entries, May 18 and 25)

The same newsletter also bore an item about the PR industry, trust, and the bill that was passed forcing media to identify government video news releases (VNRs, a/k/a/ propaganda) when they use them: A little spat between the president of PRSA and a former PRSA/NY board member, in which the latter said that the former's contention that PR has a high level of trust (and didn't need regulation of VNRs) was ridiculous.