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Cam MacMurchy

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Hi! My name is Cam MacMurchy. I was born and raised in Canada and worked as a journalist before moving to China in 2004.

Today I work in Hong Kong as the Vice President of Corporate Communications of a listed company. I write about marketing, communications, and journalism, as well as technology and productivity, and anything else on my mind! I also occasionally contribute to 9to5Mac, one of the top Apple websites in the world, and run Executive Productivity. Contact me anytime.


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China’s President speaks to the UN

Chinese President Xi Jinping blasting the United States and calling for solidarity in the fight against COVID-19 at the United Nations on September 22 (emphasis added by me):

All countries are closely connected and we share a common future. No country can gain from others’ difficulties or maintain stability by taking advantage of others’ troubles. To pursue a beggar-thy-neighbor policy or just watch from a safe distance when others are in danger will eventually land one in the same trouble faced by others. This is why we should embrace the vision of a community with a shared future in which everyone is bound together. We should reject attempts to build blocs to keep others out and oppose a zero-sum approach. We should see each other as members of the same big family, pursue win-win cooperation, and rise above ideological disputes and do not fall into the trap of “clash of civilizations”. More importantly, we should respect a country’s independent choice of development path and model.

So who in China made an ‘independent choice’ about any of those things?

This ain’t your dad’s flight simulator

You can now listen to blog posts on CamMacMurchy.com by using the player below, or subscribing to the “CamMacMurchy.com… with Sound” podcast in your favorite podcast app.

Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, flight simulators were a cool way to show off the potential of personal computers. I remember fiddling with the Microsoft Flight Simulator sometime in the 1990s and thinking it was great. My dad, who spent his entire career working for an airline (not as a pilot, though) was so impressed he wanted to give it a shot, too.

How quaint we were.

McDonald’s public pursuit of its former CEO a fascinating case study

Ewan and I had a great discussion last night on the PR & Law Podcast about the case of Steve Easterbrook, who was ousted as the CEO of McDonald’s in November of 2019 for having a consensual relationship with a McDonald’s employee. Consensual or not, he found himself in trouble because McDonald’s internal policies prohibited relationships with a large power dynamic at play. Easterbrook admitted that he made a mistake, apologized to staff, accepted a roughly $40 million dollar golden parachute, and went away. Case closed.

Easterbrook isn’t the first powerful male CEO to end up in scandal — it’s happened enough times that there’s already a PR playbook for it: oust the CEO, pay him to go away, and make announcements about moving on and doing better. That trusty playbook has long encouraged companies to get the embarrassing CEO out of the headlines as soon as possible, and thus limit any reputational damage to the company.

McDonald’s, though, is going a different direction. Earlier this month McDonald’s management was tipped off that Easterbrook didn’t just have one consensual relationship with a staffer — he possibly had as many as four within the span of a year. McDonald’s, which has been trying to clean up the office culture following several allegations of sexual harassment in recent years, has taken the unusual step of re-opening the case and demanding its money back.

I could write a lengthy post here about why this case is fascinating, what kind of signal this sends to future leaders and employees, and why it’s so risky for McDonald’s, but it’s much easier to listen to the discussion below.

If you’re into this kind of corporate drama, with its implication on both employment law and public relations, this is an episode you won’t want to miss.

Listen to the show below, or subscribe for free in your favorite podcast app.

PR guru Edward Segal joins the PR & Law Podcast to talk COVID-19, Facebook, and how to prepare for speeches under intense media scrutiny

I mentioned earlier that I’ve launched a podcast with a good friend of mine, Ewan Christie, an employment lawyer in Toronto, Canada. We had worked on The Nanfang together many years ago, and have kept in touch regularly since we shuttered the site at the end of 2016. Earlier this year, we decided to launch a podcast that features a lot of the material we discussed during regular weekend conversations.

The podcast is a work-in-progress, but as we record more shows they’re slowly improving. We had a blast this week because PR veteran Edward Segal joined to talk about a number of PR issues facing companies today. Segal just released a new book called Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies, and dispensed some pretty practical advice for communications people as they wrestle with a global pandemic, a tech backlash, Black Lives Matter, and economic calamity. Ewan, who addresses legal issues each week, also talked about how COVID-19 is already changing how employment contracts are written up and what people should look for before signing on the dotted line.

The world quietly inches closer to war

There have been rumblings from Beijing ever since Xi Jinping became President in 2012 that a long-desired reunification with Taiwan is gaining urgency.

Ever since Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Communist Party has sought to recover what it believes is lost territory and re-establish the country’s prominence following a century of humiliation at the hands of foreigners.

We’re also getting a clearer sense of how Xi’s administration operates. If the experience in Tibet, Xinjiang, and now Hong Kong is any indication, the leadership has not shown a penchant for restraint, nor is it concerned about its international reputation. Under Xi, China has become more aggressive in diplomacy, in territory, and in growth of the country’s military.

The last big territorial task, in Beijing’s eyes, is to reunite with Taiwan. That won’t be easy, because the island has developed over the past 70 years outside of China’s direct control, having built a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech and the press, and its own colorful civil society. Beijing cracking down in Hong Kong, which is indisputably part of China’s current territory, is one thing, but a military invasion is quite another. It used to be almost unthinkable, but not any more.

From Bloomberg:

Joseph Wu, the foreign minister of the island’s democratic government, warned on July 22 that China “may look for excuses to start a war or conflict” after it suddenly stepped up incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, raising the risk of a collision that could escalate. “What China is doing now is continuing to ramp up preparedness to solve the Taiwan issue,” Wu said. “We are very concerned that China will target Taiwan now that the Hong Kong security law’s been passed.”

China hasn’t exactly been coy about its plans, either:

In a speech in Beijing last year about the party’s policy toward Taiwan, Xi said, “We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means.” He declared that “China must and will be united, which is an inevitable requirement for the historical rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in the new era.”

How we got to this point is long and complicated, fraught with misplaced trust, poor judgment, and wishful thinking. It’s also too late to point fingers — we’re in a situation that is getting worse, quickly. We urgently need leadership that is up to the challenge, that can find common ground, and that can de-escalate tensions. The alternative is almost too dire to imagine.  

If you’re trying to tackle some problem, don’t overthink it — the solution might be hiding in plain sight

Ewan and I just published the 15th episode of the PR & Law Podcast. We’ve had a ton of fun putting it together, especially as we watch our audience grow week after week.

Make no mistake, though, we are a long way away from any kind of ‘success’, at least in terms of revenue. We do take the podcast seriously and intend on growing it over many years, so our goals are modest we find our voice and experiment with ideas and formats.

I’m pretty sure my love of listening to podcasts stems from my childhood. I would often stay up late to listen to hockey games, clutching my clock radio under the sheets to stifle any noise that could alert my parents. Those formative experiences led me to enroll in one of Canada’s top schools for broadcast journalism, which was followed by a (short) career in the industry. Even now, looking back, I’ve never had as much fun at work as I did in radio.

Podcasts have been revolutionary to radio folks because it enables them to record a premium quality show at a very low cost. The barrier to entry almost disappeared overnight, creating room for anybody to launch a show, regardless of their experience or funding. So while it’s easier than ever to start a show, it’s more difficult than ever to stand out from the 800,000 other podcasts on the market. Amid this competition, I’ve been educating myself on some creative ways to market the show and continue growing our audience.

I had my mind set on finding some secret or hack, or some app that magically draws crowds of people to the show. In looking for some sophisticated way to boost the audience I missed a fairly obvious step that could make a big difference: drop the word “subscribe” from marketing materials.  

From How to Combine Your Podcast Subscription Links into a Single Button:

Tom, who has a history of linguistic quibbles with the podcast space, pointed out that podcasters usually ask people to “subscribe” to their podcasts. But for most people, the word “subscribe” implies that payment is required. After all, we when subscribe to Netflix, Spotify, or The New York Times, we have to pay for it. So uninitiated listeners may steer clear of podcasting because they falsely believe that it costs money.

Tom’s solution? Ask listeners to “listen” to your podcast instead of “subscribing.”

Last Friday, as I was getting set to leave the office, a colleague asked me about the podcast. I told her a bit about the show, and left it at that. Then she asked, “So how can I listen to it?” I said, “Oh, just open your Podcast app, do a search for PR and Law, and tap ‘subscribe’.” Her eyes widened and she said, “Subscribe? You charge money?” (Not exactly a vote of confidence… 😂)

I put her at ease, and assured her she wouldn’t have to listen to me all day at work, then pay to listen to me in the evenings or on the weekends.

I didn’t think much about her reaction at the time, but seeing this article definitely drove the message home.

The lesson? In searching far and wide for answers to your problems, they may be right under your nose. You just need to look.

Carrie Lam’s Legacy

As we await details of Hong Kong’s national security law and its implications for the city, The Atlantic has published a look at its despised Chief Executive, Carrie Lam:

Lam is already the most unpopular and calamitous leader in Hong Kong’s modern history, her decisions and failures of governance having borne consequences that are global in reach. Though yet to fully come into focus, even a truncated list of the repercussions of her leadership is staggering for its breadth and the speed at which they have unfolded.

Well said — and terribly, terribly sad.

Is this connected to WordPress yet?

Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon sounds the alarm on China, warns of “armed conflict”

Steve Bannon, of Breitbart fame and former advisor to US President Donald Trump, has some strong views on China’s decision to introduce a controversial national security law in Hong Kong. He says the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, passed last year by the US senate to put sanctions on anyone in Mainland China or Hong Kong that participate in the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

From The Wire China:

Obviously, [the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act] can’t be certified now. This breaks all potential for certification. My strong recommendation is [for the U.S.] to go as hard-core as possible. You pull that immediately. Pull all the underlying trade arrangements we have. Also we stop and limit any activity with the [state-owned] Bank of China, or any mainland Chinese banks. The Bank of China is right there [in Hong Kong]. You restrict all activity with their money centered banks and the United States. Additionally, you go to immediate sanctions; you sanction the individuals, including the Foreign Ministry guys. And if the Politburo passes this, you go to immediate sanctions on those individuals too.

We should call a [UN] Security Council meeting immediately and dare China, as a permanent member, to block it. The world community ought to do this. On Monday morning, a holiday, the President’s got to call a Security Council meeting and dare China to fight it. This is exactly like [what happened to] Czechoslovakia and Austria. We’re in 1938. For Hong Kong, this is that moment. If we blink, we’re heading on a path to war, to a kinetic war, if we don’t stop it right now. The elites are going the wrong way. This is not a cold war. This is a hot information and economic war, and we’re sliding rapidly. We are inexorably going to be drawn into an armed conflict if we don’t stop this now. Now, I’m all for using multilateral institutions.  But the United States has to stand up here. Yesterday, the Canadians, British and Australians put out a joint statement. It’s now time to take it to the UN Security Council. This is an abrogation of a treaty that was signed, and essentially ratified by the United States Senate.

It’s remarkable the speed at which the US-China relationship is deteriorating.

It’s heartbreaking that Hong Kong will suffer the most.

An excellent discussion on how journalists got COVID-19 so wrong and what to do about it

One of the best podcasts out there right now is the Ezra Klein Show, particularly if you love getting lost in a deep, thought-provoking discussion on issues like political polarization or social media-driven anxiety. He’s even had some episodes on things like loneliness and how to be persuasive that are excellent. 

One of Klein’s most recent episodes fits that bill, too. He welcomed New York Times reporter Charlie Warzel to talk about how the media has covered the coronavirus, which is widely seen as problematic. Particularly in the US, reporters wrote articles in January that downplayed the risk of the virus, and then published countless stories pushing the foolish belief that wearing masks doesn’t offer any protection (which, if true, raises questions over why doctors and nurses wear them in emergency wards and the ICU).

The big question is why? How did journalists get it so wrong, what role do healthcare “experts” play, and what can be done about it?

From Vox:

The questions raised in this interview are hard, and go to one of the trickiest issues in journalism: How does a profession that prides itself on reporting truth cover the world probabilistically? What do we do when we simply can’t know what’s true, and when some of what we think we know might become untrue?

This is one of the most open and honest critiques of news coverage I’ve heard, particularly as any admission of failure by journalists is often construed by conspiracy theorists as proof the media should never be trusted, ever. (An idea addressed directly on the show). 

The discussion doesn’t provide too many answers, but talking about these thorny and uncomfortable issues is important and the first step towards trying to fix them.

You can listen to the show below, or by visiting the Ezra Klein Show.

The news media have failed us

David Roth is critical of Donald Trump, to be sure, but saves his most scathing critique for the journalists tasked with covering him, a view I share completely.

From The Cancer in the Camera Lens | The New Republic:

This is especially troubling because confusing and frightening things really are happening, every day. Thousands of Americans are dying, every day, from a disease that, as a quadruple-bylined survey in Science concluded, “acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen.” For more than a month, state and federal leaders have edged up to suggesting that this is something the country might just play through, shedding thousands of lives every day in the name of the American Way and various industries’ bottom lines; states are already gearing up for this kamikaze response to an unreasoning virus. Trump is fixated on various numbers that he can watch go up or down and on not losing his reelection campaign; he fights to win the day because it’s all he knows and how he lives, and he’ll govern that way until he isn’t governing anymore. There is no leadership of any kind coming from the top of the government, and while it’s hard to say what the Democrats are doing, exactly, “leadership” surely isn’t the word for it. All of it, quite literally, is a matter of life and death. Right now, either out of instinct or inertia, the culture is tipping toward the latter.

And yet, as with the broken system that perpetually elevates what Trump says over what he does—the treacherous spectacle that puts him back in those presidential close-ups day after day—the obvious failure of it all has somehow not led to a change in course. The institutions that might help people understand a uniquely terrifying world instead turn, daily, back toward the uncomprehending pursuit of an idiot king’s vinegary whims. When a reporter from The Washington Post stammered out a question last week about Trump’s stance on disinfectant/sunlight injections, Trump was already leaning in, manifestly out over his skis and yet comfortably in his element. “I’m the president,” he said, “and you’re fake news.” Here is what he said after that: “It’s just a suggestion. From a brilliant lab, from a very very smart, perhaps brilliant man. He’s talking about sun, he’s talking about heat. And you see the numbers. That’s it, that’s all I have. I’m just here to present talent. I’m here to present ideas.” It’s not an answer, but it was enough to get him to the next question. Trump didn’t know the answer to that one, either, but someone was still waiting to ask it.

The media’s failure in this era is only matched by the President’s.

PR & Law Podcast looks at current events through a PR and legal lens

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I’ve teamed up with a good friend of mine to launch a new podcast that focuses on PR and law named, naturally, the PR & Law Podcast.

I’m still not entirely comfortable with the result; it has been more than a decade since I’ve done any kind of radio, which remains my first love. I am having an absolute blast working on the podcast, but we still have plenty of kinks to work out and refinements to add.

US accuses China of secretly testing nuclear weapons

From Possible Chinese Nuclear Testing Stirs U.S. Concern – WSJ:

The Trump administration’s allegation is included in an unclassified summary of an annual review of international compliance with arms-control accords. The review has been in preparation for some time and is likely to add to existing strains over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, its militarization of the South China Sea and trade disputes.

It also comes as President Trump is seeking to open nuclear-arms talks with Beijing in the hope of negotiating a new nuclear deal that also includes Russia and covers all nuclear weapons.

Some former arms-control officials said that the Trump administration appeared to be more concerned with scoring points against China than resolving potential disputes through diplomacy.

This is explosive news (no pun intended). There are the concerns over nuclear testing in China, of course, but also over the State Department’s decision to call out China so publicly when relations between the two nations is already riven with mistrust.

Thailand and China go toe-to-toe in an online war with wonderfully creative memes

A Twitter war between two countries isn’t very common, and even less so in Asia where open confrontation is often downplayed. But when people have the chance to be anonymous, the insults can fly — no matter where they are. That was the case recently when Mainland China and Thailand went after each other in a war of foul language, funny creative memes, and even self-deprecating humor.

America turns ‘shelter in place’ into an opportunity for entertainment… featuring the Backstreet Boys

You can always count on the United States to find ways to entertain — not even Covid-19, with millions of people under lockdown, can stop America’s cultural juggernaut. When the outbreak of the novel coronavirus led to the cancellation of the iHeart Radio Music Awards, music execs decided to replace it with an ingenious idea: having musical artists perform from home, together.

The iHeart Living Room Concert for America helped raise US$8 million for coronavirus relief on Sunday night. It was a hit, drawing nine million viewers to watch acts like Dave Grohl, Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish, Billie Joe Armstrong, and many more perform from home — kind of like the rest of us are doing, minus the singing.

One of the bigger hits of the night was, surprisingly, the Backstreet Boys. So if you miss the late 90s and early 00s, fill yer boots.

WHO’s latest PR disaster raises serious questions about how the organization operates

The video of a representative of the World Health Organization hanging up on a reporter for asking questions about Taiwan’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak quickly spread around the world on Saturday. The Hong Kong reporter, Yvonne Tong, was asking questions of Bruce Aylward, a Canadian doctor. From The Guardian:

Asked by the RTHK reporter, Yvonne Tong, if the WHO would reconsider Taiwan’s membership, Aylward didn’t respond for several seconds, before saying he couldn’t hear the question.

Tong offered to repeat it but he cut in: “no, that’s OK, let’ move to another one then.”

“I’m actually curious to talk about Taiwan as well,” Tong said.

Aylward then appeared to either hang up the call, or get disconnected.

This is truly one of the most embarrassing, self-inflicted PR disasters in recent memory (and not just because he hung an oversized WHO bath towel behind him).

Get into the heads of Chinese leaders and see the world as they do

I am a huge fan of The Ezra Klein Show, a Vox Media podcast that goes deep into some random but fascinating issues like loneliness, identity politics, atheism, poetry, veganism, “political hobbyism”, class conflict, I could go on. Klein is the best kind of journalist: struggling to make sense of the world, genuinely curious, and open to having his mind changed. 

Another of my favorite journalists is Evan Osnos, an award-winning staff writer for The New Yorker. Evan was based in China for a long time, overlapping with a few years that I lived in Beijing. I didn’t know him well at all, but occasionally ran into him at Luga’s, a dive burrito shack pouring fake booze for just over $1 in a seedy bar district. Osnos is arguably the best writer on China today; he speaks Putonghua well and has taken the time to dive deep into the culture. Not only does he “get” China in a way that few other journalists and pundits do, he’s able to articulate the many nuances and contradictions in both society on the ground and in the highest levels of government in a way that helps the rest of us understand the country better. (One of the best recent books on China is Osnos’ Age of Ambition, which is a fascinating look into how the country’s growing political and economic power is shaping society on the ground.)

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