Emergency Brake Disabled in Fatal Uber Crash

Thanks to a new report by a federal investigative agency, more facts have come out about the incident in which a pedestrian was killed by a “self-driving” Uber car this past March. The report, by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said the Uber vehicle’s self-driving mode did in fact “see” the pedestrian, but Uber had disabled the car’s automatic emergency brake, so the vehicle did not try to stop before striking Elaine Herzberg.

The report says the computer labeled the woman as an “unknown object” before pegging her as a “vehicle” then a “bicycle.” Herzberg had been pushing her bike across the road at the time. About a second before the impact, the computer noted the emergency brake needed to be applied, but was unable to do so, because that aspect of the system had been disabled.

According to the report, the vehicle “recognized” the woman about six seconds before the impact, but had no way to alert the “driver” of the car to apply the manual brake. These findings seem to point the finger of blame directly at Uber for the fatal crash. Now, many industry experts are weighing in, and what they have to say is making it look worse and worse for Uber, a company still struggling to move past last year’s PR issues.

Speaking to CNN, Bryan Reimer, research scientist at MIT and associate director of the New England University Transportation Center, said the point of the “self-driving” option was to keep the driver from having to do the driving. In this, it appears, Uber missed the mark: “The most shocking portion of the report is emergency braking maneuvers were not enabled… Is the driver expected to look at the outside world continually? It’s impossible when you’re providing tasks that interfere with that.”

That statement may appear nonsensical at first. Of course, drivers are supposed to keep an eye on the road… even when testing this tech. At least, that’s what people might assume.

As it turns out, Uber requires human “operators” in “self-driving” cars to pay attention to diagnostic messages on the vehicle dashboard, so they’re not always paying attention to the road. That’s supposed to be the car’s job… And, in this case, the vehicle did see the “object” that turned out to be a human being. It just couldn’t stop, because that function had been turned off. So far, Uber has yet to respond to this latest report.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations.

FIFA Bans Brazilian Official Accused of Bribery

Yet another big name on the international soccer scene has seen their reputation destroyed. The Associated Press is reporting that Brazilian soccer official Marco Polo del Nero has been banned for life after being accused of “bribery and corruption” by a FIFA ethics committee. According to a FIFA statement, Del Nero, who has been both a FIFA executive committee member and a Brazilian Football Confederation president, was fined about $1 million, even as the US Department of Justice handed down an indictment alleging Del Nero played a key role in a massive bribery scandal that rocked FIFA. It’s not expected that Del Nero will be extradited to the United States to face trial on the bribery and racketeering charges, but he had other serious issues to deal with at home.

After other Brazilian colleagues were arrested on similar charges in Zurich during an international FIFA meeting, Del Nero fled in order to avoid arrest. One of those colleagues, Jose Maria Marin, has already been adjudicated guilty.

Del Nero had resigned from the FIFA ruling committee, hoping to avoid further consequences. He was initially suspended by the ethics committee pending an investigation, even as a growing number of fellow officials faced convictions and now await sentencing.

The lifetime ban handed down to Del Nero came after the ethics committed completed its investigation and found credible evidence that he had engaged in “bribery and corruption” by “offering and accepting gifts and other benefits…” in conjunction with several major tournaments including the Copa America and Brazil Cup. Meanwhile, even though Del Nero would not come to the United States, several witnesses were testifying to his deeds in open court. One such witness, Brazilian sports marketing leader, Jose Hawilla, said Del Nero was one of several top soccer officials who expected bribes to allow media to cover tournaments.

Meanwhile, Marin’s attorneys had classified their client as a figurehead, putting all the blame for the bribes and other illegal activity squarely on Del Nero’s shoulders. Del Nero’s attorneys allege there is absolutely no evidence against him, and they are considering filing a challenge appeal related to the FIFA ban. Regardless of what happens from a legal standpoint, Del Nero’s reputation in both Brazil and in the international soccer community has taken a huge hit. While it may be possible for him to extricate himself from this multi-layered PR crisis, it will take time, as well as excellent messaging to walk back the sting of the investigation and the subsequent ban.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations

Netflix Tops 125 Million Fans

The first time Netflix tried a price hike, its customers revolted, causing the company to rethink the idea. Recently, Netflix announced a rate increase, and tens of millions of fans barely blinked. Check that… more than 125 million subscribers shrugged. The streaming media company recently crested that milestone, and it looks to be climbing faster than ever.

According to recent reports, Netflix added more than 7 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2018, 50 percent more than they added in the first quarter of 2017. The increase has investors excited and other streaming companies scrambling to find a way to compete. Where once Netflix was vulnerable, depending almost entirely on content from other providers, some of the most popular Netflix properties these days are original programs. In that successful first quarter, Netflix released 18 original series, 11 new seasons of existing content, as well as 14 new movies. And that has CEO David Wells excited. CNN reports Wells telling analysts, “The business has grown faster than we expected… We outperformed in a way we didn’t expect…”

One of the reasons the success is “unexpected” comes from faster than expected growth overseas. Of the 7.4 million new subscribers, more than 5 million signed up outside the U.S., a smashing success for the company, especially in markets that had been considered big risks. So, what’s next for Netflix? More entertainment. The company has no interest, at least for now, in moving into the news sector. Likely a smart decision. The market is flooded, and the competition in that market is fierce, especially when so many traditional news outlets are struggling to find ways to stay profitable in an internet world. With all those complications, there’s no need for Netflix to move beyond what’s currently making it so successful, at least for now.

That’s not to say Netflix will only focus on original content. The company is still investing heavily in streaming content from other creators. In fact, news reports put that number somewhere around $18 billion in content deals, nearly 3 billion more than the previous year. And that brings us back to the rate hike. Netflix had to cover the cost of increased licensing fees and higher production costs. That necessitated more cash from subscribers. Prices went up about ten percent, an amount most subscribers hardly noticed, because Netflix is still offering much more than about ten bucks a month in value.

As long as Netflix continues to offer that kind of value for their money, customers will continue to pay… and they will continue to wonder if cutting the cord to cable makes more sense.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations

NBA Stars Angling for Olympic Gold

When the first USA Olympic “Dream Team” of basketball superstars competed on the world stage, the other nations’ players were in awe… and the fans were equally enthused. Basketball fever spread quickly across the globe, prompting kids who had never before been interested to pick up a basketball. Some of those kids are now part of a strong contingent of foreign players competing in the NBA. Continue reading →

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Cosmo Yanked from Walmart Checkout Lines  

If you’re one who likes to browse the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine while waiting in line at the supermarket, you’ll need to look somewhere other than Walmart. America’s largest retailer recently announced it will be pulling Cosmo off the shelves of its checkout lines as a show of support for the #MeToo movement.

According to multiple media reports, the move came as a result of the company working with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which is working to remove Cosmo from thousands of store checkout lines due to the “sexually explicit nature of the magazine.”

Walmart senior director of corporate affairs, Meggan Kring, was quick to add that the magazine will be available in the store, just not at the checkout lane. Meanwhile, Dawn Hawkins, executive director at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, likened Cosmo to Playboy, saying the change was a big step in the right direction, both for Walmart and for the country:

“This is what real change looks like in our #MeToo culture, and NCOSE is proud to work with a major corporation like Walmart to combat sexually exploitative influences in our society… Walmart’s removal of Cosmo from checkout lines is an incremental but significant step toward creating a culture where women and girls are valued as whole persons, rather than as sexual objects”

Cosmo responded through a brief media statement, saying the brand is “proud of all (Cosmopolitan) has achieved for women around the world…”

Women’s magazines like Cosmo, with their “sex and dating tips” articles and airbrushed cover models have long been a primary target for groups like NCOSE. However, those criticisms have largely been relegated to the sidelines in the cultural battles being fought in consumer America. Not anymore. The #MeToo movement began by calling out some of the most powerful men in Hollywood, then spread to other industries. Now, many groups are trying to get some light shed on the work they’ve been doing for decades.

Hawkins and the NCOSE is only one such group hoping to bring about cultural change by leveraging the attention being give the #MeToo in the media. That’s not to say these groups are jumping on any bandwagons. Instead, they are making the smart PR decision to be seen and heard while people are paying attention to an issue they’ve been speaking out about for decades.

The nonprofit PR lesson here is to be prepared to escalate your message and your activity when the opportunity arises. There are many groups who have missed out on their chance to make a difference because they weren’t ready when the time came.

 Ronn Torossian is the CEO  and Founder of 5W Public Relations.

social media ronn torossian

Using Social Media to Support Global Initiatives


Social media campaigns that launch on a global basis require a significant amount of experience and skill to succeed. While brands and agents might have wonderful ideas to creatively connect with their customers, if they don’t have a solid system to deliver the same voice and marketing strategies worldwide, then global campaigns can quickly turn into an inconsistent mess. Managing your global campaign means adapting the right framework and strategy. For instance, the “hub and spoke” model for social media delivery is often one of the best options, as it allows large companies to take a central approach to global communications, while adapting each arm to suit the needs of individual regions and countries.

The “Hub” of a Global Campaign

The “hub” component of a global social media campaign is the command centre of the whole experience, where a brand and their agencies come together to define strategic goals for implementation and management. The central team will create the overarching strategy for the campaign, along with social media guidelines and creative concepts. This ensures consistent quality throughout each channel.

A global hub can also ensure that each part of a company’s social media team knows which metrics they should be gathering for long-term success.

The Spokes of Global Campaigns

While the hub is the heart of a global social media campaign, the spokes are the local teams that exist in diverse geographical locations. These spokes are responsible for implementing the overarching strategy created by the hub, but they also need to provide consistent feedback so that the organisation can continue to evolve.

Spokes in a global social media campaign need to check the content they’re sharing against local guidelines and expectations. These professionals must judge how their specific audience will respond to and engage with a campaign. What’s more, the spokes of a global social campaign will also need to be ready to ensure the consistent success of the campaign or project.

In a worldwide initiative, each team must know the escalation process involved in addressing issues with their central hub, and who they can contact at certain times of the day. The spoke teams are responsible for measuring success in a campaign against the objectives that are set by the overarching hub team.

Localizing and Optimizing Global Campaigns

While companies launching a global initiative need to maintain a consistent personality throughout all their dispersed social channels, they also need to customize each spoke in the campaign to ensure that local audience respond as well as possible. After all, local legislation and different cultural attitudes can come into play when brands need to make important decisions on how to communicate with their customers.

Importantly, once a campaign is up and running, companies need to make sure that they’re ready to listen to local teams around the world and respond accordingly. From this point onwards, the hub team can give customized responses on how to structure regional content. If the central hub doesn’t know enough about regional content, they won’t be able to offer new ideas for business growth.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations.

Zuckerberg Sounds Off on Scandal

The recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica turned out to be a big bucket of ice water over the heads of millions of social media users. While they understood, somewhat, about how Facebook and other social networks used their data, many people apparently didn’t realize what that really meant…or exactly how much latitude some data mining companies were allowed. Now, that cat is out of the bag in a big way after Cambridge Analytica was accused of “illegally accessing” up to 50 million Facebook user profiles. For some time after the news broke, Facebook was relatively silent about the issue. Then, Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat down with CNN for an interview about the scandal. Continue reading →