Monday, November 27

E-mailing History

The most convenient and abused communication method, e-mail, turned 35 years old today. The very first text message was forgettable, QWERTYUIOP or something similar, IT programmer Ray Tomlinson told The Sun reporter Josh Burt.

But it didn't take long before people became more inventive, writing e-mails they would never pen on paper. Burt includes five of the most famous cases in his commentary: Cringe! Worst e-mails ever.

• In 2000, Claire Swires sent a saucy note to her boyfriend while working at the London law firm Norton Rose. Her boyfriend forwarded it to a few of his closest friends, which turned Swires into a global talking point.

• Lucy Gao, who worked for Citigroup, demanded via e-mail that her 39 guests adhere to numerous ridiculous demands, including what time she would accept gifts and cards for her birthday.

• Joseph Dobbie spilled his heart out to a pretty girl over e-mail, blissfully unaware that his warm words to Kate Winsall would be forwarded to the entire world.

• Richard Phillips left his job as a senior associate with the world's biggest law firm, Baker & McKenzie, after he demanded a secretary, Jenny Amner, pay £4 to dry clean his ketchup stained pants. Amner replied to his e-mail, which she cc'ed to all 250 members of their staff: "I must apologize for not getting back to you straight away but due to my mother's sudden illness, death and funeral I have more pressing issues than your £4."

• Trevor Luxton, a clerk at Credit Lyonnais, made a big mistake when he thought he'd boast about his cheating ways over e-mail, calling himself the worst boyfriend in the world. Presumably his friends agreed, forwarding his e-mail until the entire world knew too.

Burt left off a similar story, where an executive stationed overseas boasted about using his expense account to rob the company blind. His e-mail's final destination was The Wall Street Journal, which underpins the point I always share with public relations students — never write an electronic message that you wouldn't be proud to see published in The Wall Street Journal. One day, it just might be, even if you wrote it years ago.

Wednesday, November 22

Mattel Measures Up


Despite the fact that Mattel is entering its biggest season, the toy manufacturer took the high road and issued a recall of Polly Pocket Assortments after the Consumer Product Safety Commission deemed tiny magnets inside the dolls and accessories were unsafe because they could fall out and potentially be swallowed by children.

Given that there have only been a handful of incidents that resulted in injury — three, in fact — Mattel could have skirted the issue through the holidays. Instead, it has pulled 4.4 million play sets from the shelves, worked closely with the Commission, and taken extra steps to ensure consumers who have already purchased the Polly Pocket products are informed.

On the Polly Pocket product Website, Mattel prompts parents to compare assortment product numbers (with product pictures) to help identify which toys are being recalled. It offers a prepaid mailing label for the return of the necessary pieces as directed for each affected play set. Once returned, value vouchers will be delivered in 8-12 weeks. Mattel also includes the exact Consumer Product Safety Commission advisory as well as customer contact information. There is also a link to its customer relations site.

From a public relations and customer relations standpoint, Mattel once again demonstrates the safety of its consumers is more important than its cash flow. Obviously, the company appreciates its brand value is worth more than the price of the products.

Compare this to the Firestone tire nightmare three years ago, when 17,000 trucks and SUVs were implicated (much fewer than Mattel's recall) in at least 62 deaths and numerous injuries in the United States (much greater than those related to the toy). Firestone demonstrated a slow response, lack of preparedness for the media onslaught, and a failure to demonstrate concern for consumers. It proved catastrophic for the company despite the fact that it eventually recalled 6 million tires.

There is a lot to be said for honesty, transparency, and urgency in responding to consumer safety. Mattel will be selling Barbies and Hot Wheels in 50 years and no one will remember the recall. Firestone, on the other hand, still has brand damage, which is why the name has all but been eclipsed by either its Bridgestone parent or new product names like Firehawk, Affinity, Destination, and others (which are all Firestone tires).

Tuesday, November 21

Confusing Comedy


The ancient Greeks knew it best. Tragedy is the essence of all comedy.

The pratfall is a fine example. Someone falling is tragic. Yet, the pratfall, staged or not, remains a comic classic.

Unfortunately for Michael Richards, best known as Kramer from Seinfeld, he opted to forgo the pratfall and chose tragic racial material for his comedic routine, which spiraled out of control when he let an obnoxious heckler get under his skin.

From the video, Richards at the TMZ, it is difficult to discern whether or not Richards was heckled for racial material in his routine to begin with or chose racial epithets simply to attack the heckler. What is clear is that his digs were directed at an individual and not an underlying racial agenda aimed at demoralizing people based on their heritage.

Comedians frequently attack hecklers with generalizations: weight, appearance, fashion, and yes, race. Chris Rock does, though his characterizations are generally aimed at Caucasians, which is largely accepted and tolerated in America. (Personally, I find Chris Rock funny most of the time.)

What Richards did wrong that Rock has never done wrong is apologize. Rock would have looked you straight in the eye and said “Hello, it's comedy ... commmm ... eeeee ... dddeyyy. Comedy."

Richards publicly apologized on "The Tonight Show" to the people who took "the brunt" of his abuse, saying he was "really busted up," but then went on a strange tangent on race relations, saying he was "concerned about hate and rage" and about a "great deal of disturbance between blacks and whites" after Hurricane Katrina.

What he probably meant to say was: race relations after Katrina have been a travesty, and he was shining a comedic light on the tragedy of the situation as comedians do. By in large, that is what comedians are supposed to do, release the tension created by tragic events in the forum of a comedy club.

Certainly, not for a minute, can I condone what Richards said, but neither do I think he should be burned at the stake. I can also say, with certainty, that he needs a new publicist.

As I have often posted, the downward spiral of public perception is never in the action, but in how one handles the action after the fact. As noted, Rock is a master at handling his own racial material after the fact. He never gives an inch.

In this instance, Richards would have been better off simply apologizing for losing his cool with the heckler (which is not the mark of a leading comedian), perhaps noting that hecklers, regardless of heritage, aim only to steal the spotlight at the expense of other audience members and it is the fundamental job of a comedian to shut them down and get on with the routine.

Now was not the time to discuss the truth, no matter how painfully obvious, that there are some racial tensions still being stirred in New Orleans or that there exists, sometimes, a double standard in defining racism.

As someone who writes comedy on occasion, I generally avoid all subject matter revolving around race or heritage because I don't really find racial stereotypes all that funny. But I can also be somewhat sympathetic to comedy clubs that will soon be forced to put signs on their doors that "some content might offend some audience members.”
Censoring comedic routines, good or bad. Not funny.

Monday, November 20

Sacrificing Privacy For Exposure

Like it or not, there are different rules for public figures than private individuals in regard to privacy. The more public your position or actions in society, the less privacy you retain because the public has a legitimate and substantial interest in public figures and public conduct.

That's why NBC affiliate WSLS-TV fired meteorologist Jamey Singleton on Thursday after a frontal nude shot of him getting out of the shower was posted on someone else's MySpace site; and why he will likely not be able to pursue charges against the poster despite the fact he was fired. It's also why MySpace pulled the pictures, because it has positioned itself as a distribution channel, not a publisher (protecting it from what people post, but pulling such content only if it is determined the subject did not consent).

According to the station, Singleton was fired because the photo broke the morals code in his contract. The moral code in the contract is indicative of his position as a public figure. Singleton told the Roanoke Times that he cannot blame them if the photo was the straw that broke the camel's back (he was retained earlier this year after admitting he was a recovering heroin addict).

It's an interesting commentary on how definitions are being changed today as becoming a public figure is easier than ever. Blogging, for instance, comes with the risk of sacrificing privacy rights. The greater your readership, the greater your potential to become a public figure with fewer privacy rights. It's something to think about while you share your commentary because, sometimes, there are unforeseen consequences to moving into the public eye.

Tuesday, November 14

Bungling Business Cards

Valleywag, self-described as a tech gossip rag, recently wrote a post about ''how to make business cards that people keep''. It had some interesting ideas. Among them:

• Rely on your Google rank (to minimize information)
• Hire a real designer (to make it ''slick'')
• Say something clever (to be more creative)
• Round the corners (to make it feel nice)
• Leave some white space (design 101)

Will following any of these tips ensure you have a business card that people want to keep? While there are some good ideas here, the answer is nope (with the exception of white space).

Sure, some of these tips certainly work for the examples they highlighted. Bradley Spitzer has a great card (you can catch a link to it on the Valleywag post). But that doesn't mean applying any of these tactical tips will better communicate your company's message.

Designing a business card is much like any communication device. It requires strategic communication on the front end to ensure you're not making decisions based on trends, slickness, or any other measure. The real question is: how do we best communicate our company on this medium, which happens to be a business card?

For example, Spitzer, who is a creative photographer, has a line on his card that says "If you let me take your photo, thanks! If not, here you go anyway." That works.

Contrary, if my doctor handed me a card that said "If you let me treat your illness, thanks! If not, here you go anyway." I'm not so sure that would work.

I do agree that hiring a designer is a good idea (assuming you're not hiring a consultant like us or an agency like most of our clients), but not just to make it slick. Slick is relative to the type of company you have and the brand you are trying to establish.

Some brands deserve to be hip and cool. Others deserve to be straightforward and conservative. There is no formula, but there is a process or two that can help you create a strategy that works for you.

Sure, some people might wonder why on earth they want to invest so much time, energy, etc. into a business card. Easy. Research shows that for the average service-providing company, the business card is the most common, widely distributed first impression medium they use to communicate.

Until recently, no other communication medium has even come close to unseating the business card as a prominent communication tool. And that medium is a Website (or blog in lieu of a Website).

Friday, November 10

Labeling The World

The dictionary defines a label as something functioning as a means of identification. It's also how we learn to process cognitive information. But labels can also be tricky as the definition of any specific identification is a matter of perception.

In communication, we generally use the term ''message'' over ''label'' because when the terms are applied to people and companies, "label" tends to have a negative connotation. "Message" does not.

The interesting thing about messages is that they come from a variety of sources, not just the individual or company. Generally, messages about individuals and companies come from everything they communicate about themselves (written or spoken), everything they communicate about others (comparisons or contrasts), everything others say about them (real or perceived, right or wrong), and everything others say about themselves (comparisons or contrasts).

Given that it requires about 80 impressions (the amount of times you're exposed to a message), the message that prevails most often is usually the one repeated most frequently from multiple sources with differing degrees of credibility, including the individual or company.

Wee Shu Min, who continues to be a topic of choice in the blogsphere, learned this the hard way. She defined herself as elite, without recognizing that most people do not know that ''elite'' and ''elitism'' are not necessarily the same things as pointed out by one blogger. A member of the 'elite' could be a philanthropist (a person who donates money, goods, time, or effort to support a charitable cause) as much as they might be a snob (a person who adopts the world view that other people are inherently inferior). Ironically, the label she chose stuck, along with its worst possible meaning. When in reality, what she meant was that she had little sympathy for people who do not empower themselves (a view that is contrary to the view of a snob).

Derek Wee, on the other hand, defined himself as a solitary voice speaking out for underprivileged masses against an uncaring government, which is a rather noble message whether it was, in fact, true or not. (Mr. Wee is a very well-educated professional working for a multinational corporation, which may or may not qualify him as underprivileged). Ironically, the label he chose stuck too, along with its best possible meaning. Enough so that I've seen graphic representations of Derek Wee as someone who could only afford to eat a meager bowl of rice, alone, in the dark (just before he turns on his computer to blog).

Both employed messages or ''labeled'' themselves, creating a ''perception'' of themselves in the blogsphere, which is what shaped the entire story. In reality, both could be very different from their blog posts, but for millions of people one is a snob and one is a hero. (I've posted my observations on the story in two earlier posts: Correcting For Politics and Sanitizing Personal Opinion. Unless, more people come to realize both were right in that one voice is a statement while two voices is discussion.

I'm not sure they will. Most people seem more interested in discussing the labels, which is why we must always take care in defining ourselves through both actions and words, else we allow others define us.

It is one of the things we do here. Help people or groups of people (or companies, which are made up of groups of people) define and communicate their message while they avoid being mislabeled by others. Seems simple, until you pick up the newspaper, see a competitor's advertisement, hear another's sales pitch, or, in the case of Wee Shu Min or Derek Wee, read someone else's blog.

However, outisde of communication, individuals and businesses hoping to share a message or children learning to process information for the first time, we don't need labels. But what the bleep do we know.

Wednesday, November 8

Winning A State Seat


I've posted before about the last minute, unfounded scandal that nearly cost Jim Gibbons an election. Fortunately, Gibbons won 48 percent of the vote to Dina Titus' 44 percent and will be Nevada's next governor.

As the numbers came in, you could see the true impact of the Gibbons-Mazzeo 'scandal.' Early voting numbers (early voting took place while the scandal was unfolding) were skewed toward Titus while the general election numbers skewed toward Gibbons. The difference? Conspiracy theories aside, surveillance tapes showed Gibbons was never in the parking garage where Mazzeo said he assaulted her.

The numbers also show perception's impact on reality. Fortunately for Gibbons, his message, combined with the truth, corrected what could have been a disastrous evening for him and his team.

For our small part, we were thrilled to work with some great people within the Nevada Republican party on a few Victory 2006 pieces. We're glad they assisted Gibbons and Brian Krolicki in turning in wins, not because of politics, but because they will be great assets to the state of Nevada.

Friday, November 3

Recognizing Political Spin

Thomas Friedman demonstrated a classic example of political spin with his op-ed column in The New York Times on Nov. 3, “Insulting Our Troops, and Our Intelligence" by turning John Kerry's mangled quote into a George Bush administration criticism.

For those that missed it, John Kerry said “You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Many people, especially those in uniform, were offended by the statement because it basically implies our troops represent a less educated portion of the population (which is why they join the military). Nothing could be further than the truth. In fact, we very likely have the best educated military today than we have had in the entire history of the United States. These are smart men and women, many of whom graduated at or near the top of their high school classes, many of whom have advanced degrees, and many of whom will go on to earn advanced degrees once their enlistment ends. Several of them are my friends.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration, with Republicans facing a heated election year, were quick to correct Kerry's misstatement, defending our troops, regardless of where they may be stationed, and shifting the topic of the day from select Republican missteps into select Democrat missteps. Today, Friedman managed to eke out a full reversal with his op-ed piece, somehow making Kerry's political gaffe a Bush administration responsibility. Sadly, because the op-ed piece appears in The New York Times, some people will give it more credit than what it is: an opinion piece.

Politics aside, and not considering my own feelings about Iraq, this is what is known as a political spin: shifting a political flashpoint to another topic, preferably one that puts your opponent in a bad light. Some people are good at it. Friedman is very good at it. And at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: doesn't anyone want to discuss what's best for America anymore, without polarizing everything from political issues to personal assessments?

Wednesday, November 1

Changing Las Vegas


The Stardust Hotel and Casino, which has been in business since 1958, will close today. It will be torn down to make way for a $4 billion casino resort center called Echelon Place. It's one of many changes that have been sweeping southern Nevada for decades, nothing new for a city that preserves few historic properties, preferring to erase the past to make way for progress.

The less reported but perhaps equally compelling prospects can be seen in the community. In 1994, I wrote the first cover story for Las Vegas Magazine, which predicted many of the residential development changes that southern Nevadans are now seeing come to fruition.

At the time, then vice president in charge of market analysis for PriMerit, Patrick Egger, forecasted steady growth until the Las Vegas metropolitan area reached a population of 1.8 million, when increased land costs, interest rates, taxes, infrastructure, and cost of construction would dampen the market. Currently, Clark County is projected to have 1.9 million people (2 million by Sept. of next year) and, as predicted, while growth continues, it has slowed.

Eggers wasn't the only one to make reasonably accurate predictions. Lot shrinkage, Z lots (angled lots), 3-story homes, townhomes, condos, and mini master plans (as opposed to the major developments such as Summerlin and Green Valley, which broke ground in the 1990's) were all discussed in that article. And all of them have become common among newer developments in Las Vegas, leaving some people to wonder what might be next.

Perhaps because Copywrite, Ink. works with so many companies in diverse industries (in market and out of market), we often see a mixed bag of snapshots for the future of southern Nevada. While not all of it is as good as some people like to think, there are some promising prospects for this once tony dusty tourist town. Some of them aren't even found in the valley.

On Monday, I was in Kingman, Arizona, working with one of our agency clients and a home developer. In the future, it is very possible Kingman, much like Pahrump to the west and Mesquite to the north, will eventually be considered an acceptable commute community for the Las Vegas metropolitan area. Perhaps even more so with the growing number of private pilots cutting commute times from 2-3 hours to 20-30 minutes, which mirrors a forecast report on aviation's role in the economic development of small communities that we did for Carter Burgess just five years ago.

If commute communities (with aviation support or not) take hold in the next decade, Las Vegas could very well shrug off its largest, though seldom talked about, disadvantage. It is an island (surrounded by desert instead of water) with limited resources. Commute communities could begin to ease the burden of infrastructure and land scarcity. If not, then growth challenges will simply become more severe (education, traffic, water, crime), tax burdens like those imposed in 2003 will likely increase (they've already dampened what was once a very positive economic outlook), and the quality of life will not improve as investors continue to dismiss cultural assets in favor of other ventures (cultural assets are usually driven by neighboring cities).

All this might all seem off topic from communication, but as a company that has operated in the area for 15 years, I thought it was fitting to consider the future of Las Vegas as another chapter closes with the doors of the Stardust.
 

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