This past weekend I watched SIXTY MINUTES which included an interview with Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos announced plans to utilize unmanned drones that would pick up small packages from Amazon’s ‘fulfillment centers’ and fly them to customers in less than 30 minutes. They didn’t say if the drone was late would the item be free, but my guess is the “Domino’s model” isn’t what Amazon is going for here. This concept struck me as an example of why public relations people spend a lot of time banging their heads against walls.On the one hand, this sounds really cool. Provided you live within about 10 miles of an Amazon fulfillment center, which is essentially a high-tech warehouse on steroids, you can go online, purchase your item (about 5 pounds or so; forget about having the drone deliver that Viking gas range) and thanks to the marvels of GPS and mini-helicopterish technologies, have the thing delivered to your doorstep…and since it’s a drone, you don’t have to tip.But once we were passed the “that’s cool” phase, Amazon’s project left myself and a fellow PR maven a bit puzzled. Okay, the drone uses GPS to find you. But how does it know where to land exactly? What if you’re in an apartment? What if your house has multiple entrances? What if you live on a boat? And given that GPS isn’t always, well, RELIABLE, how can you be sure the drone didn’t deliver it to R. Walden of Park Avenue versus R. Park of Walden Street?And, um, what about other things in the sky? Hot air balloons, kites, airplanes, birds—do these drones know to get out of the way? Even if this contingency has been taken into account, there’s the inevitable malfunction that always, ALWAYS occurs with anything mechanical. These things are electrical so they have a limited flight range…but say the thing encounters high winds, rain, something that slows it down so that maybe it runs out of power earlier than anticipated…and then crash lands on somebody’s head.Yes, we must consider the intangible.Like the gun-lovin’ guy who sees one of these things zipping along and goes, “Wow, free skeet shooting” and starts blasting away at it with a 12-gauge. Or the guy who says, “That thing is flying over my property so I have the right to blast away at it with a 12-gauge.” Then, there’s the technology. If Amazon doesn’t own the patent or control it in some legal way, what’s to stop other companies from adopting the same idea…so now we envision a scene somewhat reminiscent of the film, METROPOLIS, though instead of a sky filled with airplanes, it will be a buzz with drones, delivering books, medication, Big Macs, porn, Ravens tickets, whatever.Which leads me to the title of today’s blog entry. Ready, shoot, aim. Sometimes in the midst of the excitement of a new project, there’s a desire to “skip steps,” to “get to the chase,” and questions like, “might this new project result in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the client?” go unanswered.I’m not saying that’s the case with the Amazon drone project. Perhaps the Amazon gurus have done all their due diligence, have foreseen every contingency and, “it’s all good.” If so, more power to them. But for the vast majority of us taking on new projects, this doesn’t happen. We are dealing with human beings, afterall; something invariably goes wrong; we're even more fallible than the machines we invent. And that’s a good thing I suppose as it keeps PR people like myself gainfully employed when the fertilizer hits the three-propped drone.As I have said ad nauseum, when you’re in PR, you’re the designated old lady, the Debbie Downer, the official “drag” of the company, the one who has to put his or her neck on the block by saying, “Um, excuse me, but has anyone stopped to consider (thing nobody in upper management wants to hear)?”It’s not an easy job. But it is our job. We offer counsel. We make recommendations. We say it is better to Ready, AIM then fire, versus fire first and let God sort it all out. Of course, sometimes the pendulum swings the other way, and you have “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim…” and so much time goes by, by the time you’re ready to fire, you discovered you’ve missed the window of opportunity, your competitor has Robby the Robot hand delivering packages, and have to start planning all over again. Like most things in life, you want a happy balance. Yes, opportunity knocks but once. But a stitch in time saves nine. I wish Amazon all the luck in the world with this project because it does have a definite “wow” factor going for it; I mean, SIXTY MINUTES was impressed. That’s not easy to do. Though I have to admit, I think this would work even better with delivering pizza than say a copy of THE KITE RUNNER.
December 2, 2013