Friday, September 29

E-mailing Is Never Private

The first e-mail rule I tell every client or public relations professional is: don't send it unless you would be proud to see it on CNN.

Unfortunately for Rep. Mark Foley, he was never a client or a student. CNN reports he resigned today after a former congressional page questioned e-mails Foley had sent to him.

Foley apparently sent the e-mails in August 2005, when the male page was 16 years old.

"Today I have delivered a letter to the speaker of the House informing him of my decision to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives, effective today. I thank the people of Florida's 16th Congressional District for giving me the opportunity to serve them for the last twelve years; it has been an honor," said Foley. "I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent."

In the e-mails, which were obtained by Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Foley discussed a second page, saying "I just emailed [him]... hes such a nice guy... acts much older than his age... hes in great shape... i am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym... whats school like for you this year?"

Foley then asked the page for a picture.

The young man, who forwarded the e-mails to another congressional staffer, called the e-mails "sick, sick, sick."

"Maybe it is just me being paranoid, but seriously. This freaks me out," the page wrote in the e-mails obtained by CREW.

A spokesman for Foley told CNN the congressman acknowledged he had an e-mail exchange with the former page but flatly denied that it was anything inappropriate.

Of course, if there was nothing inappropriate, one has to wonder how he let his family and the people of Florida down.

I'm not going to add any speculation on the implications, but limit this to the aforementioned lesson. There is no such thing as private communication anymore, especially in e-mail or on voice mail (as State Sen. Dina Titus recently learned in Nevada).

Thursday, September 28

Advertising For Heaven

Most people know Orbit gum will not get you into heaven, but it still made the Mouse Print blog list (Mouse Print still praises Wrigley for its tongue in cheek sense of humor). Less flattering is a post that unlocks Scott toilet tissue's claim to give you more sheets per roll (1,000) when they actually cut back the per sheet size (leaving each roll 300 inches shorter).

So what is Mouse Print? Mouse Print turns advertising on its head by focusing on an ad’s asterisked fine print footnote rather than the headline. Some posts point out the harmlessness of advertising's entertainment value. Others point out product flaws (Aquafresh for Kids contains peanut oil but does not disclose it). A few cover borderline bait-and-switch tactics like a bank that promises a 10.38 percent return (but limits the rate to a $500 deposit).

Mouse Print does make it a point to mention that it is not illegal for companies to downsize or draw attention away from less desirable attributes, in many cases. Some ads do indeed explain themselves despite any hype or attention grabbing headlines.

The lesson that advertisers can learn by visiting the blog can be found in the comments on each post. People are generally unhappy with questionable product claims or unjustifiable footnotes (some advertisers have to use them for legal purposes). Statistically, one unhappy consumer will generate at least eight more.

The irony is that, in most cases, the more overzealous claims are largely unnecessary in selling products. Most products have at least one unique selling point (or a few contrast points) to rely on. But then again, knowing that too much hype is not worth creating unhappy consumers is one of several reasons developing a successful ad campaign is simply about being clever. It's challenging in that every clever idea is based upon strategy, something consumers appreciate without hype.

Wednesday, September 27

Increasing PDA Security


GFI, a international developer of network security, content security, and messaging software, recently launched a new white paper about the new and increasing threat of "Pod Slurping."

The paper explores the threat posed by portable storage devices and considers security measures that should be implemented in addition to perimeter solutions such as firewalls and anti-virus software. Easy connectivity and high speed data transfer means that by simply plugging a device into a USB or FireWire port, a data thief can get away with more information than ever before. This increasing leakage, ciphering and disclosure of corporate data have been coined the term "pod slurping."

There is no denying that these devices are increasingly popular -- by 2009 it is expected that shipments of iPods and other MP3 players will surge to nearly 124 million units.

"Data slurping is a very simple and automated process. It doesn't require any special technical expertise to steal a company's data using a portable storage device," said Simon Azzopardi, MD EMEA, GFI. "A company needs to protect its network by introducing technological barriers that enable control over data transfers throughout the network."

To download a copy of the White Paper, visit Pod Slurping White Paper.

Tuesday, September 26

Attacking Allen's Past

Recent headlines have created a buzz about Sen. George Allen after three former college football teammates say he repeatedly used an inflammatory racial epithet and demonstrated racist attitudes toward blacks during the early 1970's.

Perhaps it's because one of my favorite made-for-TV movies in the 70s was Brian's Song, which recalls the details of Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan), a football player stricken with terminal cancer, and his friendship with Chicago Bears teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), who helps him through the difficult struggle, but the so-called Allen controversy is none too surprising to me. Allen, like many people, grew up in an era known for racial tension and played in a sport that struggled with the question of desegregation. Many people were confused about race at the time, black and white equally.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, racial tension is created after team coach George Halas decides that the pair should room together during training camp and road games because they are both rookie fullbacks. Given the fact that Piccolo is white and Sayers is African-American during a time when blacks were still fighting for civil rights in America, it was viewed as a progressive and controversial decision. At the time, no black player had ever been the roommate of a white player in the history of the NFL. Eventually, the racial tension gives way to understanding.

It seems that Allen took a somewhat similar journey in that he once embraced some shortcomings of 70s-era Southern culture, but then later concluded the Confederate flag was a symbol of violence for black Americans (as opposed to thinking it a symbol for the Dukes of Hazzard) and expressed some regret. "There are a lot of things that I wish I had learned earlier in life," Allen said in an appearance this month on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I grew up in a football family, as you well know, and my parents and those teams taught me a lot," Allen said on the program. "And one of the things that you learn in football is that you don't care about someone's race or ethnicity or religion."

At present, this does not seem all that dissimilar from the made-up brand damage recently experienced by Tiger Woods' wife, where false allegations created some temporary brand damage. In truth, of 19 former teammates and college friends, two said they do not remember Allen acting in an overtly racist manner. Seven others said they did not know Allen well outside the football team, but do not remember him demonstrating any racist feelings. Seven more teammates and friends said they knew Allen well and did not believe he held racist views.

The seemingly lone, non-anonymous vocal attacker is a radiologist in North Carolina who played tight end on the team when Allen was quarterback. He claims Allen came to Virginia because he wanted to play football in a place where 'blacks knew their place' and used the N-word on a regular basis. Ironically, it was the radiologist who sported the nickname 'wizard.'

I'm unconvinced that Allen was an active racist as this former teammate claims, but Allen's team has to do a better job addressing it in a timely manner. Unresponsiveness gives credibility to even the most baseless charges.

Friday, September 22

Suing Over Myspace

Last year, I wrote a post about the growing popularity of blogs and the pressure being created to define a 'legitimate' journalist in (Blogging To Journalism), citing that neither the First nor Fourteenth amendment defines the press or 'journalists' as people who are affiliated with big media conglomerates or whose work is distributed on paper. In short, bloggers deserve the same protections afforded to journalists.

However, in the same post, I also suggested the real question people should be asking is not whether bloggers should be protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments, but whether they should be held to the same standards as mainstream journalists in regard to accuracy and libel. Maybe it's time they were, I said, especially those that unjustly libel individuals and coworkers whenever they like.

Sixteen months later, that question is being asked as a high school assistant principal sues two students and their parents, alleging the teens set up a Web page on MySpace.com in her name and posted obscene comments and pictures.

Anna Draker, an assistant principal at Clark High School, is claiming defamation, libel, negligence and negligent supervision over the page on the popular free-access Web site. She claims two 16-year-olds, a junior and a sophomore, created the page using her name and picture and wrote it as through Draker herself had posted the information, according to Draker's attorney, Murphy Klasing.

The site falsely identified Draker as a lesbian. Klasing said Draker, who is married and has small children, was "devastated." MySpace.com removed the page when Draker told them it wasn't hers. Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Jill Mata would not release information about the case, but confirmed that juvenile charges are pending against a local high school student involving retaliation and fraudulent use of identifying information. Both are third-degree felonies.

As I said before, with freedom comes responsibility. Unfortunately, no one seems to have told these teenagers that once you publish a blog, you become a publisher, bound by the same libel laws as the rest of us. Be bold, but be honest.

Thursday, September 21

Adding Residential Experience


From Cabo to Lancaster and Hokulia to South Hampton, we've worked with the best of the best home builders in North America, helping them increase home sales by as much as 300 percent within 3-6 months.

In competitive markets, it's all about content. Working with agencies and sometimes direct, we've developed messages that match specific products to the right home buyers, ranging from those who prefer small town tradition to those hoping to find modern designs. You can download our residential work overview by visiting Copywrite, Ink.

For account experience in other industries, download our account experience lists prior to the release of these industry specific pages. In the weeks ahead, we will release new portfolio pages that focus on education, entertainment, financial, industrial (distribution/manufacturing), gaming, government, hospitality (tourism), medical, technology, publishing, real estate, recreation (and golf), retail, and utilities/telecommunications.

If your industry is not listed, ask if we've included it elsewhere. The pdf portfolio pages are part of our Web site redevelopment, which coincides with our 15-year anniversary.

Wednesday, September 20

Making Perception Reality


Without considering the philosophical questions, perception and reality are the same in the marketing world. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes it's not.

As such, the old adage that ''any publicity is good publicity'' is dead wrong and the primary reason has to do with brand value.

The Brand Channel recently asked if a brand hopes to cash in on the allure of a star athlete, does it also suffer when that athlete is caught in a misadventure off the playing field? While several comments offer up answers on both sides of the argument, Tiger Woods provides the best answer of all.

Recently, he lashed out at an Irish magazine for falsely linking his Swedish wife Elin, a former model, to pornographic websites.

"It's unacceptable and I don't want it to detract from the beauty of this event," he told a news conference on Wednesday in the build-up to this week's Ryder Cup at the K Club in County Kildare, according to Reuters. "I am very disappointed in how the article was written. Yes, my wife has been a model and she did do some bikini photos but to link her to porn websites and such is unacceptable. I do not accept it and neither does our team."

The latest edition of the Dubliner, a listings magazine, carries bogus nude pictures of Elin, as well as a story on some of the U.S. Ryder Cup wives headlined 'Ryder Cup filth for Ireland'.

Part of the article read: "Most American golfers are married to women who cannot keep their clothes on in public. Is it too much to ask that they leave them at home for the Ryder Cup?"

"My wife is an extension of me. We're in it together, we're a team and I care about her with all my heart," Tiger said.

While any brand damage will be short lived and I suspect Tiger Woods will easily overcome the bogus charges, the perception generated by the publication did cause temporary brand damage in that it disparaged his image (even though the false charges were directed as his wife, because as he said, she is an extension of him).

Fortunately, his excellent handling of the negative publicity will help him in the long term, despite the fact that it distracted from his upcoming play and personal brand.

But what if he didn't handle the situation well? Then what?

His image, or personal brand, would have been damaged whether or not the charges were not true. Nice upstanding athletes do not marry porn stars, and if they do, they're not good role models. Nice upstanding athletes are also expected to keep their cool, even when their wives are falsely linked to porn sites. (Unless, of course, their brand is to fly off the handle. Then, that's what we would expect.)

All this is pretty unfair, but that's the way it goes when it comes to public perception. True or not, all publicity can have a positive or negative effect on the personal brand of the athlete and the products they endorse (or vice versa).

But that is what a brand really is: the collective sum of all positive or negative impressions shared by all people, whether or not those impressions were made by fiction or reality.

Tuesday, September 19

Writing A Style Guide

Sue Khodarahmi means well in her article ''You're stylin' now,'' published in the September-October 2006 edition of Communication World by the International Association of Business Communicators. I really believe she does.

Khodarahmi even gives credit where credit is due, offering up a little on the importance The Associated Press Style Book (AP Style) and/or The Chicago Manual of Style. But then, unfortunately, she suggests that there's really ''no right or wrong as long as you're consistent,'' suggesting companies and organizations can feel free to create their own style guides to cover a myriad of exceptions.

The trouble with this philosophy is two-fold. First and foremost, implementing deviations from AP Style (or other style guides) means your company is really implementing two style guides: one for public relations that follows AP Style and another for a few or all other audiences. In short, her explanation ''as long as you're consistent'' is already in jeopardy.

The second problem is that this negates why AP Style was adopted in the first place. Originally, AP Style was adopted by national and international publications to improve consistently on questions not covered by English grammar rules. In short, they recognized the need to standardize the written language as opposed to having each publication write its own rules. AP Style, which I require in any class I teach, is the foremost guide to newspaper style in the United States and is consistently recognized as such worldwide. It is also updated annually, allowing it to keep up with English as a living language.

Certainly there are some exceptions. The Chicago Manual of Style prescribes a writing style that is widely used in the publishing industry (as opposed to newspapers). The differences between it and AP Style are generally insignificant. However, the Chicago Manual of Style is only updated every decade or so and is considered by some much less relevant than in the past. (We use it to arbitrate any style questions not addressed by the AP.)

So, again, we run into the same problem. Endless exceptions or, worse, a company's self-imposed style guide does the exact opposite of what Khodarahmi means to say. A company-wide style guide would be nothing more than a license to be inconsistent and fall prey to 'because i said so' editors when all everyone else is trying to do is enhance communication with consistency.

Does this mean that there should never be any exceptions? No, but good writers (and hopefully good executives) will continue to minimize those exceptions for those instances when there really is a good reason to break from the AP.

Sure, we're not going to refuse to cap all titles if a company really wants to capitalize job titles that occur after the name in an employee publication. But we will remind our clients that they are showing their ignorance in doing so, and even take our name off a news release if we're instructed to do what the newspapers will promptly correct anyway. You should too, no matter what editors are running around today trying to tell people it's all just 'pot luck' because they're tired of receiving correction letters.

After all, if communication is really about effectively communicating ideas, then it seems to make little sense to make up your own language style guide (that no one else will have) in order to do so. Sorry. We're still too young to be old fashioned and we're not biting on this one.

Friday, September 15

Killing Brands With Rules


When I provide copywriting overviews to public relations professionals at UNLV, I always enjoy walking them through the ad classic "Nine Ways To Improve A Volkswagen Ad," which covers nine ways to 'improve' (destroy) the classic "Think Small" ad designed years ago.

That might change. I recently saw a brilliant brand parody on Google Video that takes viewers on a funny (but disturbing) redesign of proven iPod packaging to make it look like a Microsoft product. Similar to the Volkswagen parody, this one tosses in a dozen alleged Microsoft marketing rules that ultimately destroy any sense of brand appeal.

If you work in advertising, you really need to see this (and then promise not to do it) ... Microsoft Branding Parody.

The timing is relevent as Apple releases its new iPod Nano packaging that smartly takes minimalism to the extreme. Meanwhile, Microsoft launches its MP3 player knockoff, tentatively named Zune. The product certainly looks like an obvious iPod copy, but we're still wondering if the packaging, which even some Microsoft execs make fun of, will have any appeal before holiday shopping season starts.

Sure, when it comes to writing and designing great ads, there are a few suggestions that hold true more often than not. I won't list them here, but instead will say that all of them are superceded by one rule: there are NO RULES in advertising (unlike public relations, which has many).

Too many rules in advertising, as some people like to spout out about, and you'll end up just like the video parody above. One big mess.

Thursday, September 14

Skipping Technology All Together

Seth Godin delivered a great glimpse into what he calls a never-ending adoption curve:

31.4% of Americans don't have internet access.
90% of the people in France have not created a blog.
88% of all users have never heard of RSS.
59% of American households have zero iPods in them.
30% of internet users in the US use a modem.
Detroit (one million people) has six Starbucks.
1% of internet users use Digg on an average day.
Marley and Me outsells Small is the New Big 200:1. On a good day.
.37% read the paper version of the New York Times daily.
Brazil consumes 11% of the world's coffee.
20% of the world speaks English.
98.2% of the households in the US have a TV; virtually all have cable.

My take on all this is a little different from his. To me, all this means is that the more we think we know, the less we really do know. Research often reveals fewer people are like we like to think they are.

Adding Development Experience


One hundred hard hat tours later and we're still not tired of urban development. Lofts. Condos. Retail centers. Office buildings. Mixed-use masterplans. Having offices in one of the fastest growing cities in the United States has always been a boon for working for the best.

Our communication experience for the area's most significant urban developments, ranging Boca Park and East Village, has spilled over into work with architects, contractors, and developers nationwide. You can catch a few samplings of our urban development work at Copywrite, Ink.

For account experience in other industries, download our select account experience lists. Our next pdf portfolio page, which will focus on residential development, will be released on or before Sept. 25.

Wednesday, September 13

Getting Web Design Right

"In the future, smart studios, advertisers and marketers will set up a team that's about the concept first. They'll nail a concept and they'll understand how technology has really changed fundamentally the way people are interacting with television, with film, with music, with social interaction. It's a very exciting time for designers, because it's a whole new set of areas to communicate and to think about the two-way dialogue." - Susan Easton, founder, New York City-based Easton Design, offering her take on the future of Web design to Communication Arts.

Tuesday, September 12

Designing A Free Future

We didn't post on 9/11 yesterday, perhaps it is because we remember it all too well. Five years ago, we developed and implemented a crisis communication plan for the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association (SNHCA) within a half hour as the crisis began to unfold.

To assist these dedicated professionals in their struggle to answer thousands of questions and help people find alternative transportation home from Las Vegas, we transformed our commercial writing services company into a fax broadcast news center, collecting information from news sources, internal airport contacts, and transportation sources. Then, every fifteen minutes on the first day, every hour on subsequent days, we would send a blast fax to about 30 hotel concierge desks throughout the city.

While the system seemed archaic, it proved very effective. Not all concierges had access to a television or computer so we had to adapt. Since all of them had a fax machine, it was the most logical form of media distribution.

The consolidated information, for weeks, became their alternative breaking news source. We had information many major networks did not have, mostly out of necessity. We had to think beyond covering the crisis and focus on finding solutions for visitors. From the concierge desks, the blast faxes filtered up to hotel management.

In the weeks and months that followed, for our company, 9/11 had a tremendous impact. We lost a few clients, irritated by our decision to be part of the solution (first with the fax broadcasts and then with a Liberty Las Vegas campaign, which was backed by Mayor Oscar Goodman and designed to stimulate the local economy) rather than catering to commercial deadlines. We had to abandon an online literary project, called GroundZero, because its brand became symbolic for New York. And, it marked the beginning of the end for Key News * Las Vegas, a publication we managed for the SNHCA after several advertisers cancelled their contracts. (It took a few years, but we did successfully salvage the publication and sold it.)

So all in all, I don't talk about it much, especially because as much as we were involved, the impact seemed to me somewhat insignificant when compared to other stories I came across as a business person and as a journalist. I made that decision weeks after the tragedy when I was interviewing someone from Aon and 9/11 came up. She mentioned she lost her office ... along with 20 some co-workers.

Instead, while we'll never forget, we prefer to focus on the future. And that is what I would like to leave you with today.

The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum is the first Web site in the U.S. that is dedicated exclusively to the topic of freedom and the First Amendment. Its doors opened in April 2006.

Communication Arts magazine wrote it up best: Not only does it (The Freedom Museum) do a great job of defining the role that the First Amendment plays in the basic freedoms of Americans, it does it in a way that makes the historical content palatable to teenagers (its primary audience). I guess I'm young at heart. I loved it anyway.

Sometimes, in the face of tragedy, it's worthwhile to consider the benefits. Freedom, not security, is both the cause and the reward. And when it comes to freedom, the First Amendment is always a great place to start. God bless.

Monday, September 11

Sacrificing The First Celebrity


So the team behind the lonelygirl15 YouTube mystery has come forward, claiming that lonelygirl15 is part of their “show” and thanking their fans effusively for tuning in to “the birth of a new art form.”

New? Not really.

In 1938, H. G. Wells led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading wide death and destruction in New Jersey and New York. The broadcast disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams, clogged communications systems, and, in one Newark neighborhood, prompted more than twenty families to rush out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid.

Naturally, Orson Wells did provide ample announcements during the broadcast that emphasized the story was fictional. But in 1990, pop artists Milli Vanilli, who virtually had a similar effect on the public, did not warn the public.

It was during a live performance at the Lake Compounce theme park in Connecticut that their song "Girl You Know It's True" jammed and began to skip, repeating the line "Girl, you know it's-" over and over. Later, it was confirmed to reporters on Nov. 15, 1990 that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing on the records, causing a class action lawsuit that resulted in a multi-million dollar refund for anyone who wanted to return the record for any reason.

Just a few years earlier, in 1988, the public had chastised front-running presidential candidate Gary Hart for having an extramarital affair. Hart dared the press to "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored." Unfortunately for him, two reporters from the Miami Herald took up his challenge and observed an attractive young woman coming out of Hart's Washington, D.C., townhouse on the evening of May 2. By the end of the New Hampshire primary, it was clear that Gary Hart's White House hopes were over.

Orson Wells. Milli Vanilli. Gary Hart. While all three were ridiculed for the outcomes, all three also softened public expectations, opening the doors for the others to do virtually the same thing without any public backlash.

Ashlee Simpson received widespread derision, but survived, using a pre-recorded vocal track for a performance on Saturday Night Live in 2004. Bill Clinton was impeached, but largely survived his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a young female White House intern. And countless radio shows and movies have borrowed Wells' concept to create faux reality entertainment without any impact whatsoever.

Lonelygirl15 is nothing much more than the first 'vlogger' caught presenting fiction as fact, opening the doors wide open for similar Web programming in the future, where storytelling is sometimes difficult to discern from the real thing in what sometimes seems like a 'War of the Words' not 'War of the Worlds.'

Ironically, Loneygirl15 will not be the one who really benefits. I think documentary filmmaker Brian Flemming is right. The lonelygirl15 phenomenon has "jumped the shark."

Personally, whether the public will be softened to faux reality Web shows after ceremonially sacrificing their first 'Web celebrity' or not —open, honest, and candid communication remains the best policy for entertainers, marketing gurus, politicians, corporate executives, and anyone else who wants to survive longer than the fifteen minutes of hype. And that's advice you can take to the bank.

Sunday, September 10

Adding Broadcast Experience

Broadcast
After returning from a successful strategic communication development session in Chico, Calif., we took a few minutes this weekend to release Copywrite, Ink.'s third pdf portfolio page at copywriteink.com. The Broadcast page presents a glimpse into our direct and indirect work with broadcasters that include ABC, FOX, and PBS.

From assisting in the development of startup networks and providing local support services to major broadcasters to working on cross-over promotions for shows like American Idol (with Madame Tussaud's) and Extreme Makeover Home Edition (with Acme Home Elevator), we have a unique understanding of the industry from the inside out. Such knowledge also proves useful when we script (and sometimes produce) radio and television commercials for a variety of clients.

For account experience in other industries, download our select account experience lists. Our next pdf portfolio page, featuring property development experience, will be released on or before Sept. 18.

Wednesday, September 6

Trending Toward Entertainment

There are hundreds of comments critiquing Katie Couric and her debut on Tuesday as a “CBS Evening News” anchor and the first woman to solo anchor for a major broadcast network newscast. Whether you think she seemed to struggle to keep a lid on her trademark perkiness or not, public relations professionals should take note.

National news, much like local news, has been and continues to trend toward interactive entertainment. From asking viewers to send in potential Couric sign-off lines to including a new regular feature called "Free Speech," a segment of opinion and commentary from a wide range of Americans, it's clear that the network has a new formula in mind for the future of news.

As Greg Kandra, CBS editor, wrote on one of several CBS blog strings: "Katie intends for this blog to be a dialogue, not a monologue. Don't be bashful. Most postings will have a comment section, so feel free to post and comment and tell us what you really think."

Why? News commentary and controversy have become the norm and CBS is struggling to emerge with something fresh for television by borrowing something old from radio: active participation. It's an interesting concept that means public relations professionals should prep clients as if they are attending a public forum as well as a media interview.

For the public, as the trend solidifies, it means even more difficulty in discerning fact from opinion, especially as more and more reporters seem eager to polarize what once was their common ground to find the truth. In today's world, the only common ground seems to be that criticism delivered Olberman-style means stealing tomorrow's headlines and public interest or that presenting to extremely polar opposite guests always makes for interesting, if nonsensical, controversy.

Nowadays, the truth is often, not always, somewhere in the ever-expanding middle. Personally, I hope the public knows it.

Tuesday, September 5

Remembering Dana Plato


After watching NBC's Behind The Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes yesterday and then reading a review on TV Squad, which points out that the actors never seemed to be held accountable for their failures as young adults, I thought I'd offer up a personal perspective because, frankly, I think TV Squad is wrong.

But then again, I saw a different side of Dana Plato, one that did not make the show.

Sure, I'll agree that the movie drifted far too often into melodrama, but I'm not convinced the view was all that unbalanced. While I cannot speak for Todd Bridges or Gary Coleman, because I never met them, I did meet and speak with Dana for several hours in March 1992, shortly after her arrest for forging prescriptions for Valium in Las Vegas.

I was given the assignment by ShowBiz Weekly, which has recently transformed into LVM (Las Vegas Magazine). At the time, ShowBiz Weekly was also Las Vegas' local cable listing guide similar to TV Guide, which included articles that went beyond typical production show write-ups and reviews.

Shortly after Dana's arrest, Dennis Levinson had given her an opportunity to star in the production 'Tropical Heat,' which played at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. It was her first stage role.

''When I was sitting in the Clark County Jail, I thought it was all over,'' she told me. ''Now, I thank Dennis Levinson for an opportunity most wouldn't have gotten.''

In the show, she played sidekick to Tom Walleck. Her character, Pricilla, was an attorney's associate who must pass a test for a second chance at life. Not unlike Dana herself.

In fact, after speaking with her for nearly two hours, it seemed to me that her life was about to imitate art. Dana was ready for a second chance: she was in a drug and alcohol dependency program, attended regular group sessions, and had recently met her biological mother. She was even ready to become an anti-drug advocate.

''What I was trying to do for a long time was ask for help, but I didn't know how,'' she told me. ''When you have a dependency program, you don't know how to ask for help, even when you know you need to.''

When I asked about her daily counseling sessions, the interview turned more personal than professional. She spoke about it candidly, honestly, and in surprising detail.

''Can I tell you something?'' she frowned. ''Everybody is really nice, but I don't feel like have any friends. Maybe we could be friends.''

I told her I would welcome it. You see, Bridges and Coleman are spot on. Dana was a free spirit, someone who was incredibly at ease sharing herself as a person. In fact, we may have even become better friends than a single follow-up after I saw the stage show (she was curious what I thought) had it not been for an overly protective public relations specialist, rightfully distrusting of a young 20-something reporter hoping to get another assignment.

When I asked about her upcoming sentencing, the public relations specialist breezed back into the dressing room, ears perked, and said: "My, my, you two seem to be becoming fast friends. Now, Dana, we don't want you to talk about your upcoming sentencing with a reporter. I think you have enough for an article on the show. Don't you?''

"See what I mean," Dana had whispered.

As a public relations specialist, I would have said the same thing. Journalists, even friendly ones who spend most of their time on the other side of the fence, cannot be trusted. After all, it's their job to tell the truth, especially little known truths about people in the public eye. In fact, it's for that very reason I tend to gravitate more to the other side ... I enjoy looking for the best in people, even when the worst is being laid out in vivid detail.

Looking back, I can safely say it was a shame we did not become better friends nor that the show, which was 'all right' by any standards except those of glitzy Las Vegas, did not last long. Within a few months, Dana's second chance evaporated. And so did our brief semi-professional acquaintance.

I went on to string for ShowBiz Weekly for several years, including ongoing coverage of Siegfried & Roy. She left Las Vegas and moved on to Florida, until apparently committing suicide on her way to back to California to revive her career.

Coleman and Bridges always say they doubt she intended to commit suicide. I have to admit, though I hardly knew her for a minute by comparison, I tend to agree with them. There was something about Dana, despite some life choices and bad luck, that made the people who let her be herself feel like anything was possible even if she didn't have as much faith in herself.

That's the way I'll always remember her, one little piece of personal history as we celebrate 15 years of professional service. Enjoy.

Monday, September 4

Self-fulfilling Prophesies

Some insiders within the Las Vegas tourism industry remain concerned that Americans might stay closer to home when they travel as flight restrictions continue to tighten. Enough so that they may reallocate national and international marketing dollars to regional drive-in markets. If they're not careful, they just might prove themselves right.

The truth is, despite industry concerns, a poll released by Harris Interactive on Sept. 1 indicates only one-third of U.S. adults said their attitude toward flying changed because of the uncovered terrorist plot and recent increase in carry-on restrictions.

Further, only one in ten U.S. adults say they made changes to their travel plans to avoid flying while three-quarters (76%) did not make any changes. Seven in ten (70%) say that they are anticipating flying the same amount in the next twelve months as they did in the previous twelve and 6 percent will be flying more.

Add to this domestic insight: international visitors spent a record-breaking $104.8 billion on travel-related goods and services in the United States in 2005. And according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international visitation to the United States increased 7 percent to 49.9 million visitors in 2005, representing a 12 percent increase over 2004.

So despite ample research that demonstrates fly-in traffic will NOT be significantly impacted, the most likely cause of any in-bound Las Vegas travel dips may very well coincide with the reallocation of marketing dollars. Even more ironic, those who suggested the change might even pat themselves on the back for accurately forecasting the future.

Sometimes marketing is like that.

Saturday, September 2

Adding B2B Experience


We've added Copywrite, Ink.'s second pdf portfolio page at copywriteink.com. The B2B page presents a glimpse of our work for companies that provide a diverse array of business services.

While we do not list everyone we're working with or have worked with during the last 15 years, the experience overviews and mini-histories highlight accounts that many advertising agencies, public relations firms, and other communication-related businesses entrust us with to provide words, concepts, and strategies.

For account experience in other industries, download our select account experience lists. Our next pdf portfolio page, featuring broadcast experience, will be released on or before Sept. 12.

Friday, September 1

Stripping Away Private Conversations

In early 2005, the Las Vegas chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), recognizing that blogs represented the next evolution of communication, asked me to speak on transforming blogs into business strategy. Copywrite, Ink. had already conducted several years of research in the area and actively tracked blogs' exponential growth rate.

While the presentation included the characteristics, demographics, and growing influence of blogs, we also offered up the impact that blogs could have on communication. We cautioned our audience, and still do today, that blogs (and similar outlets such a YouTube) mark a diminished ability to control a message while increasing the need for accountability, transparency, and rapid response.

And above all, we warned, there is no such thing as a private conversation.

Under all circumstances, the golden rule for public relations practitioners, public figures, and corporate executives is if you would not want your statement to be quoted in the Wall Street Journal or on CNN, then DO NOT SAY IT AT ALL. And now it seems to me, as news reporters have evolved from covering public figures to becoming public figures, there is a growing need in the media industry to learn the very public relations skills they once criticized.

Kyra Phillips certainly could have benefited. When her wireless microphone picked up her muffled conversation about her husband, brother, and sister-in-law in the bathroom — "I've got to be protective of him. He's married, three kids and his wife is just a control freak" — she learned the hard way that members of the media are no longer exempt from public scrutiny.

CNN later apologized to the White House, but, citing corporate policy, said it wouldn't comment on whether anyone would be disciplined. It seems to me it is unlikely anyone will be disciplined. No one is sure whether it was a technical or human malfunction. Other than appearing on Letterman, however, Phillips has not personally offered any comment on the conversation.

This is precisely where bloggers demonstrate public influence. As much as CNN would prefer the story die a quiet death, Phillips remains the top searched name on the Internet. Why?

Silence after a mini communication crisis is like adding lighter fluid to a fire.

We saw the same thing in Las Vegas a few months ago. Congressman Jim Gibbons, Republican candidate for governor, bragged to a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter about using his state legislative position to be rehired at Delta Air Lines years ago. After his opponents and political bloggers labeled his story a case study in extortion and ethics, his campaign quietly prayed the mistake would simply go away. After several weeks, the tiny flame began to rage into a 4-alarm fire on the Internet. The campaign had no choice but to put it out by calling the Gibbons' account nothing more than a misstatement.

The cost was phenomenal. While the story eventually shifted, the campaign was forced to spend nearly $1 million to retain Gibbons' lead in the primary. Certainly, the 'extortion' story wasn't the only reason, but it certainly lent traction to his opposition. Gibbons is not the only one out there. There seems to be a surge of misstatements — from accidental insensitive slurs to poorly planned racial jokes — and almost every one of them has been largely mishandled. Enough so that political pundits are more inclined to discuss whether misstatements are covered fairly instead of asking why it was said in the first place.

The bottom line is that the advent of new alternative media, blogs and webcasts, means there is no longer any such thing as a private conversation. The person you are talking to today could very easily be blogging about what you said tomorrow. And, if what you said happens to be blogged about enough, it will very likely make CNN and the Wall Street Journal. Fail to respond, even for a second, and if the major media outlets do not ratchet it up, several million bloggers probably will.
 

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