Showing posts with label Richard Becker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Becker. Show all posts

Monday, December 24

Sharing Stories: Happy Holidays From Rich Becker

The Christmas Angel 
by Richard Becker

On the day after Christmas, old Joseph sauntered down the stairs as quick as his creaky knees would carry him. His heart was full of wonderment, his laughter-lined face alight with a glow he hadn’t felt since he was a child. 

Maybe today would be different, he thought. Something had to be different.

It wasn’t until he rounded the corner to see the twinkling Christmas tree that his heart began to sink. The scene was the same as he left it Christmas Day.

The white and green bulbs were ablaze, miniature twinkles dancing across the ornaments; tin soldiers and tiny dancers, glass balls, and nutcrackers. The presents, wrapped up in silk ribbons and sashes, were just as he left them. The paper was still snug to its seams, delicately creased and pulled tight like his late wife had taught him. 

Everything on Christmas Day had to be perfect, she had said. It’s too important to neglect. We don’t get many. We best not squander them.

“How many Christmas Days do we get?” he whispered. “How many?”

His wife had managed 68, but her last Christmas was expected. Cancer had taken some of the best of them and spared her the worst of them. The worst of them was yesterday. How many Christmas Days do we get?

“Six,” he said, frightening himself with the conviction in which he said it. 

His granddaughter had six. Yesterday would have made seven, but she never saw more than the anticipation of it. She had opened 14 windows on the advent calendar and he had punched the rest on his own. His tired hands always shook as they did it.

His eyes traced the silhouette of the tree, pausing briefly on the rocking horse before finding its center. She was there, slightly higher, an angel ballerina in the fourth position. His granddaughter had told him it was called a quatrième, one arm in and one over the head, her wings catching hints of green like a veil of illuminated effervescence.


“You can open it, Grandpa,” she beamed at him, hands outstretched and holding up the tiny box. “Open it!”

“Open it? Why, it isn’t even Christmas yet,” he feigned his protest. 

“It’s okay, Grandpa. It’s not a Christmas gift, really,” she smiled. “It’s for Christmas.”

“Oh, it’s for Christmas? Then maybe we better save it,” he teased. 

“That’s not what I mean,” she frowned at him. “And if you don’t open it, I will.”

“Oh, indeed you will,” he said. ”Let me at least see the wrapping first.”

“I did it myself,” she smiled. “Everything and all of it.”

“Everything and all of it, did you? You cut the paper?”

“Everything and all of it. I am 6 years old, you know.”

The attention to detail was uncanny. The reflective blue and silver wrapping with its fleur de lis pattern was pulled tight, edges creased by her tiny hands. The silk ribbon was carefully entwined at the bottom so it could be pulled over the sides and tied on top. And then, as a finishing touch, a silver bow hid away where the two ends had been tied together. 

He had opened a hundred presents just like this one. His wife’s meticulous touch was written all over it even if Emily had done this one herself. His daughter never had the same patience, but this precious skill seemed to have skipped a generation and survived. It made him miss his wife all the more.

His big frame swayed at the thought of her, springing up like a wave. The dizziness was so unexpected he barely caught himself. Emily was so much like her grandmother.

“You okay, Grandpa?” 

“Yes, yes. I better sit down at the kitchen table to open it.”


Joseph found himself retracing the footsteps he had taken just a few days before, from the living room to the kitchen with his hands clutching the memory of the package. He pulled out one of the vinyl-backed chairs, but didn’t sit down.

“A spot of coffee might do me good,” he had said to her.

He said the same thing again, but there was no one to hear him this time.

“One, two, three, four, and five,” they had counted out the leveled scoops together as he dropped them into the brown cone filter. As soon as he shut the top of the machine, she would push the button in a giggle of delight. She would always push it quick, she reminded him, in case he would have a flash of absentmindedness and follow through with his morning routine as if she wasn’t standing there. 

Once she even made him turn it off it again, right after he had accidentally gone through the motions. But it didn’t matter this time. There was no one waiting to push any button. There never would be again.


“Okay then,” he said, sitting down in the kitchen table. “It’s too pretty to be ripped open so I’m going to do this slow.”

As he took hold of the bow, Emily squealed. He stopped long enough to smile at her before resuming his practiced look of concentration, a medical doctor performing a gentle surgery on the world’s smallest patient. 

Clutching each of the loose ribbons, he pulled. They fell away in a cascade, leaving only the fleur de lis wrapping behind. He ran his fingers over the seams looking for tape that held it together and pulled it away. 

“Hey,” he exclaimed. “Now that isn’t that wonderful. You got me a box.”

“Grandpa! That’s not the surprise. Open it.”

“Oh, I thought it might be,” he said. “Silly me.”

The gift paper inside chaffed against the sides as he pulled it up. And there she was — an angel ballerina with her soft white dress fanning outward and her wings outstretched behind. She was perfectly cast, porcelain dressed in fine lace. He was immediately dazzled by every inch of it. 

Her legs were crossed, one in front of the other. Her arms caught in a motion, one tucked inside and the other reaching out to her right.

“This is called a troisième,” she said, mimicking the gesture before starting from the first position and gracefully following through to the fifth. “It is the third position. One, two ... three ... four, five.”

 “A troisième?” he said, looking up again for the first time. “I thought this was an angel.” 

“Grandpa!” she soured.


“A troisième,” he recalled, taking in too much coffee with a choke. 

Is that what she had said? Troisième? Or did she say it was a quatrième? It was hard to remember. 

Coffee in hand, he moved back toward the living room. He might not be able to remember, but the angel would. They had placed it slightly above center on the tree together, a position of prominence so it could greet him at eye level every morning and he would think of her.

“Troisième or quatrième?” he asked the emptiness. 

The angel’s hands were held high this time, both over her head, bent to make a graceful soft oval. Cinquième. The final position.


“So why do all the positions have fancy names, except the second?” He had asked her. “Premiere, troisième, quatrième, cinquième. But the second is just called the second?”

“I don’t know, Grandpa,” she laughed. “I’m only six.”

“Ah, and so you are. A premiere with your whole life ahead of you.”


He winced at the memory. He was wrong. One, two, three, four, five. It was a troisième when they placed it, but a quatrième by Christmas. He squinted at the impossibility of it. He had never seen a cinquième before.

“I’m not crazy,” he frowned. “Not yet. Not yet. It’s just a bad patch.”

He peered in for a closer look. But before he could take the angel in and find any previously unnoticed moving parts, his inspection was interrupted by a knock. His eyes strayed to the windows that framed the front door.

“Expecting someone?” said a whisper as clear as the last day he saw her.

“No, she’s not coming,” he said in time with the second knock. 

“Open it. Open it,” said the angel.

He took a step toward the door, toward the faintest of outlines as he saw it through the glass and curtains that framed it. The sight of it made his heart quicken and each subsequent step faster. There was a girl at his door. 

He was running by the time he reached it and pulled it open.


“Oh, Joseph,” she said. “You startled me.” 

He looked at her for a full minute, an awkwardness growing between them before she broke the silence and the spell. The neighbor’s girl stood before him and all the cold raced in on either side of her.

“My mom thought you would like some cookies,” Mary said. “They are not fresh. She made them a few days ago, but we couldn’t possibly eat them all. You know my mother. She likes to overshoot.”

“How nice of her,” he said, pulling at his robe and momentarily embarrassed at the mess. 

“Yes, bring them on in and you along with them,” he said. 

“I’ll put them in the kitchen for you,” she said, walking in slowly, hugging the doorframe with her back to get by him. 

“Or I could just take them,” he said before shaking it off. “Right. Your mom sent you to check on me.”

“Busted,” she shrugged.

“Never do something yourself if you can send a 9-year-old instead.”

“Something like that,” she said. “By hey, I’m turning 10 next month.”

“Yes, I know. Your birthdays were always so close.”

The reference made her pause, stop halfway to the kitchen and set the cookies down on an end table. As she turned back toward him to say something, the tree caught her eye.

“I miss her too, Joseph,” she said, hushing herself and quickly looking to change the subject. “Look here, you didn’t even open your presents.”

He looked at the tree, seeing a ghost of himself lift Emily so she could place the angel. It had only taken a beat before Emily had cut to the punch line. The angel was the opening to his heart.

“There, perfect. Now, about my Christmas list,” Emily had said, pulling a tattered list from her pocket while still in midair. 

He had spun her around as soon as she said it and hugged her, almost falling over in the process. Yes indeed, Christmas Day is too important to neglect. How many Christmas days do we get? One, two, three, four, five ... six. He had filled her list, every last wish. He did it early too, not wanting to waste a minute on procrastination but rather give it all up to anticipation. He could have never guessed he did it too early.

“They’re not mine,” he said. 

“Oh,” Mary said, her face sullen. 

“You open them,” he said. “She never liked anything her age anyway. She always liked what you liked.” 

“I don’t know,” she said. “I should probably ask my mom.” 

“I know,” he said. “Go on, then.”

But instead of leaving on the command, she ran up and hugged him, burying her head in his robe. It was soft, warm, and for the first time in her life she understood why Emily had gone on and on about it. There was something about Joseph that made you feel safe like a cub nestled to some ancient bear.

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “ I can do this. We can do this.”

The two of them sat together for the next hour, Joseph watching as the girl unwrapped the gifts as carefully as he had wrapped them. If the magic of wrapping and unwrapping skips generations than maybe it can skip households too, he thought as he watched her.

As she continued, he shared something about each gift and why Emily had asked for it. Every one of them had a story. One, two, three, four, five of them. There weren’t many, but his granddaughter was never one for long lists. It was always about the giving and gratefulness, much like her grandmother.

“I should probably get back,” she said. “I’ll come back later for everything if my mom says its okay and if you don’t change your mind.”

“She would have wanted you to have these things,” he said. “And this ...”

He held the angel out to her, its delicate features captivating them both in the passing. Even off the tree, the jewels on her dress shimmered and her wings captured the light. She was smiling, something Joseph had never noticed before. Her arms were bent in a soft circle below her shoulders. Premiere. The first position.

“She’s beautiful,” she said. “You should keep her for next year.”

“No, she needs someone with their whole life ahead of them,” said Joseph. “But thank you, Mary. Thank you for making my Christmas wish come true.”

“Merry Christmas, Joseph,” she said, taking the angel from him and giving him a small but comically dramatic bow before turning away.

As she walked down the path, Joseph gave her a final unseen wave, hand up, and shut the door. He slowly walked over to the tree, meaning to bend down and pick up the carefully folded but discarded paper. But then he thought better of it.

He sat down instead and took in the scene. It was another important Christmas, one day late but no less significant. It might have even been the most important Christmas of all. 

He scanned every inch one last time, from the wrapping paper to the tree before settling on the space where he had taken the angel from the tree. It was still there, animated and moving through the positions. One, two, three, four, five. Premiere, second, troisième, quatrième, cinquième. The final position.

“Emily,” he smiled and closed his eyes as she reached out for him. 

She had come home, after all. And now, Joseph could go home too. When Mary and her mother returned a few hours later, there was no one left to welcome them.


This first draft short story was inspired by my daughter and her favorite Christmas ornament. There wasn't any other reason to write it, other than to put something down that reminds us all how lucky we are, no matter what.

Happy holidays. May every Christmas be your most important. All of them. Until after Jan. 1 then. God bless.

Monday, June 18

Retiring A Deck: Social For Strategic Communication

Since my first presentation on social media in 2005 (not counting blogs), I've always considered it a moving target. The average deck lasts six months (or a year with ongoing updates).

The deck I am retiring today served as the framework for two classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and five presentations (each customized for a specific industry). The intent of the deck was to get students with diverse and varied backgrounds (some with social experience and some without) to rethink social media.

Rather than simply focus on tips, tricks, and tactics, the 3-hour class is meant to inspire students and working professionals to ask better questions before developing their programs. Personally, I don't think the future of social media lies in social software as much as it lies in understanding people, which ought to be the goal of any social media program attached to strategic communication. In other words, understand what people want you to communicate and then find the right tool to help you do it.

Anyone who has seen other social media presentations that I've made in the past will recognize a few items that never seem to change such as defining social media as an environment where people use social technologies to communicate. For me, that is what it has always been about.

Some people can make great cases that social media is about sales, impressions, influence, or whatever. But sooner or later the ones that have the greatest successes change their thinking. It doesn't make any sense to teach people how to adapt a social network without considering the organization's purpose or needs.

Instead, communicators and related professionals need to ask what do the people they serve really need as it relates to their product and then deliver it. While a restaurant might share some cooking tips or their latest culinary creation, a motorcycle dealer might feature customization tips, rider profiles, and area club events.

Or, as you will see at the end of the deck, a youth sports program might offer real-time score updates via text messaging and Twitter, team stories, coach tips, game photos, and any number content ideas across any number of social networks. All the while, everything needs to be developed with the organization's purpose in mind. And with that in mind, I hope you can find something useful in the deck too.

Wednesday, January 4

Flipping Forward: 2012 Ahead

I've never been a proponent of sharing firm news here unless it's relevant. But this year, it's relevant.

There are plenty of changes ahead for me and my firm, and some of them will inevitably land here (but not all at once). After writing and sharing more than 1,400 posts related to communication, this space is starting to feel overdue for more diversity, especially as it applies commentary, curiosity, and creativity.

I don't necessarily have a direction per se, but I did invest most of last year on projects leading up to this year. The direction fits right in with some of the advice I shared last year — less talking and more doing. Doing pays dividends.

Copywrite, Ink. will undoubtedly remain the hub of my business activity (and I don't mean this blog, but the company behind it). After building this company for more than 20 years, it makes good sense to keep evolving it. However, what we do and how we do it has been changing for some time.

Since the beginning, communication and writing services has been at the core of the company. And while much of that will remain, the company also increased its investments in several incubator projects, both proprietary and partnered. With some of these projects maturing this year, we're shifting toward an invitation-only structure: We will decline more prospective accounts than we accept.

While some people might think this is counterintuitive given the economy, I am confident the new model is a better fit with a new economy. It will be a better fit with a company vested in creation as much as communication. And, it will be a better fit for me, because too much of the communication industry is settling on client servitude — over-concentrating on things like reach, frequency, and clicks rather than the hard work that makes those things tick.

Don't fool yourself. If those are measures, you have the wrong objectives. Carry on without them.

Liquid [Hip] is one of our creation projects. What began as little more than a whim 18 months ago has grown steadily from a few hundred visitors a month to tens of thousands. I still consider it a hobby of sorts, but only because it's fun to be immersed in creative works. It also gives me a venue to experiment with social media without any of the constraints that are sometimes imposed by clients.

If you've never visited, Liquid [Hip] is an online review site, which only reviews things the reviewers actually like. There is a heavy emphasis on music and books, but our editorial rotation allows us to pick up apps, film, fashion, gadgets, games, and good will. It's not for everyone. We cover cool, not popular.

Currently, we're busy corralling all the reviews, but there are some other exciting prospects for Liquid [Hip] in the months ahead. I'll share some of these developments as they mature in actualities.

Celebrating Legacy. Last May, I had the good fortune to meet one of the most highly decorated police officers in the history of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Retired law enforcement professional Randy Sutton envisioned an online legacy archival system after several deeply personal experiences made him reassess life and invest two years into developing something that could add value to other people's lives. Celebrating Legacy was the outcome.

While there are several other great people involved (to be introduced in the future), what originally started as a communication project quickly evolved into a creation project. Borrowing from years of behind-the-scenes experience with several social networks, I became a lead project architect.

Currently, Celebrating Legacy is pre-alpha with internal program testing slated for January. We'll immediately follow this up with an invitation alpha phase. There is still some dust on the site itself, but you are more than welcome to visit the front porch or submit an application to become an alpha tester. At its earliest stages, I anticipate alpha testers will have access to 80 percent of 'year one' services.

Yorganic Chef is a hybrid creation-communication project for our firm, which is also maturing this month. The site will sport a placeholder page until about mid to late January. Once launched, Yorganic Chef will provide people a place to order ready-made gourmet meals in the Los Angeles area. The meals will then be delivered to the customer's front door on a schedule convenient for them.

The venture is the brainstorm of Nick Diakantonis, who has 25 years of culinary and entrepreneurial experience. Years ago, he was one of the founders of Pasta Ditoni's (a wholesale pasta distribution company) as well as Piazza Market, which is located in Ohio.

Los Angeles will be the first of many markets where Yorganic Chef will open. Initially, Diakantonis planned to make Las Vegas his test market until an angel investor of sorts lobbied for his company to start in Los Angeles. Having seen the menu, this is the right project at the right time and in the right market.

Odds & Ends. The projects above represent the forefront. Personally, I have a book to finish this year (sigh, maybe), a children's book to illustrate, and two concepts for board games that were the direct result of hanging out too much on Kickstarter last year. This creates a nice array of options, and some of it has even prompted me to invest some holiday downtime into rekindling dusty skill sets in fine arts.

At the same time, I will stay on with UNLV and have accepted an invitation to speak at the Nevada Parks & Recreation Society conference in April. The topic will likely be social media, perhaps a parsed version of last year's social media class (the deck almost refined enough to share online).

And, although I am extremely reluctant to come out of retirement from politics, I have been asked to work on a Nevada State Senate race, two State Assembly races, and one Congressional race (as campaign manager on any of them, if I want it). We'll see. These aren't decisions to make lightly.

A Conclusion Or Perhaps An Opening...

I've had some wonderful opportunities to meet hundreds and thousands of people in the seven years since I started this blog. Not all of them are in communication, but it's the communicators who need to hear this the most. Unless your company is doing, social media is an exercise in spinning wheels.

Sure, there are a few communication blogs that become popular enough. But most of them eventually fade away. From my original 2005 blog list, not one remains. From my Fresh Content Project list last year, maybe 20 percent are viable today. And if I added all the communication blogs up, maybe one in 1,000 monetize social media into speaking, authoring, or consulting.

Keep that mind, especially when you ask yourself what you are going to write about this year. It's the wrong question to ask. Unless you teach social media, you really need to be doing something else. And then you can write about that. Care to join me? I know 2012 will be great year. I hope it is for you too.

The first social media story (Friday) this year runs down a few social networks you've forgotten about and whether or not their recent changes are enough. And then, on Monday, I'll follow it up on why politics cannot be measured by social media or media relations as much as grass roots.

Friday, December 23

Wishing You Happy Holidays: And Merry Christmas

Every once in awhile, I'm asked if I really believe in social media. The question is the outcome of occasional sarcasm and satire.

The answer isn't all that much a mystery. I don't believe in social media beyond the tools that make it possible, namely anything that detracts from the people who make it work. And that means you.

As much as I appreciate the talent of social network architects, engineers, innovators, content creators, and investors, it's the participants who ultimately build them. Try to remember that before allowing any service to make you a slave to standards, scores, or whatnot, especially at the expense of your closest connections.

When you really stop long enough to think about it, we aren't given many holidays. We might see 100 of each, and even that is on the outside and against the odds. Make every one of them count, holding your family and friends a little tighter or longer this year. Those are outcomes you can count on.

The Box by Richard Becker

T'was the night before Christmas
and all seemed a loss.
There are not presents to wrap,
just a big empty box.

Their mum had tried hard
to save a pound and sixpence.
But the landlord had told her,
"You must pay the rent."

And not with her children,
all snug in their best,
Christmas was ruined,
her heart heavy with dread.

But when the dawn broke,
she heard not a tear.
Her children were shouting,
"Come see what's down here!"

The big empty box,
was all festive and wrapped.
"Let's open it together,"
they smiled and clapped.

So they undid the bow,
and then opened the lid.
The box held no surprise,
yet her kids squealed like it did.

"I don't understand,"
she looked down, bewildered.
"There is nothing inside,
not a stitch, not a sliver."

But her children were smiling
with toothy grins.
"They're the best gifts we have:
faith, family, and love, from within."

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from my family to yours. May every moment of this season be filled with what's most important in your life. I'll have something up next week, but not on Monday. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, November 23

Thanksgiving: How Social Media Is Like A Turkey

Sometimes social media is real time communication, which means the timing of the message is just as important as the message itself. I was reminded of that yesterday as I was finishing up a 1,200-word column that I was going to title Occupy Thanksgiving.

The piece is decent, and perhaps more personal than I usually post on this blog. The topic was just a little reminder that keeping your focus on scarcity can be detrimental whereas being grateful for the little things in life can help you wake up happy every day, even in the face of tragedy. I know. Despite many tragedies and near tragedies, I have a lot to be grateful for. And I hope you do too.

I still think it's an important topic, but the timing isn't right. Nobody needs too much food for thought before a long weekend. So I shelved the column for another day and set to work on something light — a slow burn satire of sorts for all those claims that social media is like one thing or another.

So, in honor of Thanksgiving in America, why not make social media like a turkey? It's not all that different when you really think about it. And in some ways, it's even better because I can chuckle at the absurdity of it and you won't leave feeling bloated.

How Social Media Is Like A Turkey. 

• Decide On A Recipe. There are hundreds of different recipes to make a successful turkey, ranging from maple roast with gravy to honey-brined smoked. It doesn't really matter which one you decide to make, but it's always a good idea to know what else you plan to serve and if your guests have any preferences. Right. Your turkey is part of a bigger plan.

• Defrost Before Cooking. Even if you know what kind of turkey you want to cook, part of your plan requires a defrost period. If you start too cold, your turkey will never be fit for consumption. Slow down, put the bird in the refrigerator, and let it thaw, about 24 hours for every five pounds. For social media, this phase is listening.

• Stuff With Contents. Start combining some of the ingredients you plan to stuff your turkey with, whatever it might be. Maybe you like onions, mushrooms, celery, green pepper, and bread crumbs. Some people like vegetable stuffing, other people like cornbread stuffing. The important part is to pick the contents that complement your turkey.

• Roast Your Turkey. Roasting a turkey takes time. You cannot expect a 20-pound turkey to cook in half an hour, not even if you try to rush it. It takes time and constant care, basting so that neither the turkey nor the contents dry out or, worse, are served undercooked. It's true. Undercooked turkey makes people sick.

• Prep The Meal. It used to be easy because all anyone had to do was take care of the turkey. But nowadays, people want a little bit more. You have to cook the rest of the meal. When the turkey is roasting and just starting to attract attention it is the best time to add corn, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and dinner rolls. You don't have to serve everything. Focus on what other social sides they really enjoy (e.g., if nobody eats cranberry sauce, don't serve it).

• Serve It Hot. Serve everything at precisely the right temperature, usually warm and steamy. In cold weather climates, people will look forward to the meal all the more. Just don't expect everyone to come to the table at the same time. Even though everyone will eat the turkey, it really is the least important part of Thanksgiving. Family members are busy catching up and many people enjoy watching the game.

• Say Grace. When many people hear the word "grace," they immediately think it implies faith. For many people, it does. For other people, not so much. You make the call as appropriate to you and your guests, but the general idea is still valid. If you are lucky enough to have people interested in your turkey dinner (as opposed to all those other turkey dinners out there), be grateful not expectant.

• Enjoy The Company. The bigger the party, the more distractions. There are bound to be tiffs, spills, splatters, and complaints at some Thanksgiving dinners. Take it all in stride. For the moment, these are your people — your family, friends, and acquaintances — and they deserve your respect. Despite the way some experts feel, it's not polite to have people show up for dinner but exclude them from pie.

• Reward The Heroes. While every host takes the time to treat every guest as equals, there are always those times when there just isn't enough of something to go around. Do the best you can. One drumstick might go to grandpa because it's the only part he eats, but giving one to someone under ten can make an impression for life. There are lots of these moments, right down to breaking the wishbone.

• Cleanup And Feedback. Ask your guests how they liked the meal and take notes for next time while cleaning up the mess and pushing a few leftovers out the door. Thanksgiving is just like that. There are always some links to be fixed, comments to approve, and people to thank. You have to love every minute of it because you invited them, remember?

Oh, and one more thing. Measure success based on how well you served everyone who attended and not by the number of footprints you have to vacuum off the carpet. Social media is about quality more than quantity, and some days it's hard enough to just keep up with everyone.

But more important than measurement, smile and be thankful. If you can't remember that, then sooner or later, you're likely to be the only turkey left. Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the long weekend. We'll have something up on Monday.

Wednesday, November 16

Standing Up: Communication Stops Bullies And Abusers

The knock at the door was fierce, followed by an aggressive sequence of door bell rings. It's not unexpected when you have a preteen in the house, even if most of his friends show more respect.

It wasn't a friend.

I may have never known it, but my son came bounding up the stairs a moment later.

"Can I go outside?" he said. "Some kid wants to fight me."

"Um, no you may not," I said, still in disbelief over what I heard.

"What should I tell them?"

"I don't know," I said. "Tell them to piss off before they piss me off."

So that is what he did, but not exactly. He told the kid to come over tomorrow at high noon, a nearly subconscious nod to the diminishing reruns of westerns that some of us grew up with three decades ago. I was amused, but still not pleased.

As three kids loitered in front of the house, the primary antagonist still stung by my son's matter-of-fact response and the promise of a new fight time the next day, I asked my son what it was all about.

Turns out, the principal aggressor, who had a head or two of height on my son but no martial arts sparring medals to speak of, was nothing more than a bully. My son explained it all on the quick.

The bully had been harassing a girl at school, a friend of my son's. A few weeks ago, she would have considered herself an online friend of the bully. But his social network conversations with her had recently turned from banter to advances. She wasn't interested. He couldn't take no for an answer.

Apparently, it wasn't enough to keep the rejection to himself. Every time the bully would pass her in the school hallway, he call her a bitch. Every time he gathered with a few friends at lunch, he would whine away about how she was no good. And every time he had a chance, with a glance or sometimes more physical stance, he would squeeze in on her space and make her feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and afraid.

My son put a stop to it. He called him out. And while he wasn't looking for a fight, he was looking to stop the harassment.

"I think you should leave her alone," he had said. And the bully left her alone, almost immediately.

But like many troubled and tormented youths today, stories tend to spread. Eyewitness accounts are sometimes embellished. And the bully knew that if he let the shutdown stand, his reputation for toughness, despite being propped up by nothing more than fragile fakery, would be at an end.

"There isn't going to be fight tomorrow," I told my son. "There isn't going to be a fight at all."

Since the bully and his friends were still loitering in front of our driveway, I took the opportunity to have a chat with them. I did because I already knew something about bullies that the bullies never count on.

Most of them are cowards, crushed out easily any time you hold a mirror to their faces, exposing them for what they really are under their puffed chests and furrowed brows. I had something to tell him.

Only fearless communication can crush a bully and end abuse.

Bullies, child molesters, and domestic abusers have one thing in common. They hate open and honest communication. It makes them powerless, especially because they draw their strength from secrets.

They, people allegedly like Arthur "Jerry" Sandusky from the Penn State scandal, count on any victims and occasional witnesses to cover up the destruction in a shroud of silence, leaving their misdeeds to be shared with the unfortunate few who empower them out of fear, ignorance, or lack of character.

I'm not the only one who knows it too. Half a world away in Australia, Kristin Brumm is organizing a global online event to bring awareness to domestic violence. It's called Speak Out, named after her decision to come forward and put an end to her own abusive relationship. She was lucky.

She didn't have a champion like my son. She didn't even have a witness like the one that Mike McQueary could have been. She only had herself; and frankly, she is remarkably fortunate to have found such courage even if she was unfortunate enough to find it too late and at a price too high.

Today, Brumm struggles each day to make up for her silence. She does it in a way that requires an equal measure of courage. She is helping others by asking bloggers to speak out about abuse on November 18. I'm ahead of the curve, only because I would like you to consider speaking out too.

They way I see it, the whole lot of them fall in together: teenage bullies, child molesters, and domestic abusers. All of them prey on people, trying to make themselves feel big by trying to make others feel helpless. But the truth is that none of them, whether they use physical or psychological abuse, has any more power than they are afforded. Take away their secrets and they crumble when someone calls them out.

What I told the neighborhood bully, suspending his reign. 

I didn't have to say much when I went outside, commanding him and his friends to stay off my property. I told them that there wasn't going to be a fight, not because my son wasn't ready but because I wasn't going to allow it. (Given my son possesses a second degree black belt, it would have hardly been fair.)

"My son isn't afraid to fight you, but I won't allow it," I said. "But you need to know that he would whip the shit out of you if I did allow it. So you might want to move along before I change my mind."

The kid shrugged, so I pressed.

"There isn't going to be a fight today, or tomorrow. And I'll call the cops the next time I see you here," I said, as they finally turned and started to walk away. "Am I clear? Because I can't hear you."

The kid paused for a second before burping out a timid and barely audible "Yes, sir."

But then something else happened. Much like the apparent pain caused by the initial shutdown a few days before, he recoiled as he faced is own embarrassment.

"Tell your son to mind his own business next time," he spat.

"What? No, I will not," I said. "He did the right thing. So maybe what you need to do is go home, wipe your nose, and learn how to be a man, without bullying girls. Yeah, he told me what you did. You're a punk. And I'm glad he stopped you."

He shoulders sank as he sulked away. But even more telling was how his friends reacted. When I had wandered outside, they looked to be as tight as thieves. As they turned the corner, they were frayed. His friends were obviously unaware that they had turned out to support someone who bullies girls.

The bully, I'm told, gives both the girl and my son a fairly wide berth at school. We can only hope the lessons go further than protecting the pair of them. I think it will, as long as people shut bullying down.

And therein lies the lesson. As one of my friends said when I mentioned it on Facebook a few days ago: Teaching our kids to be bully proof isn't enough. We have to teach them to stand up to it. He's right. All too often, bullies will grow up to be tomorrow's domestic abusers or child predators.

There is only one remedy. Speak out. Stand up. And shut them down. Do it today.

Monday, December 27

Looking Back: Top Ten Communication Stories In 2010

Good Bye 2010This past year has been an interesting one for Copywrite, Ink., especially as it relates to this collection of communication observations. In addition to adopting a different design in early 2010, adding the Disquis comment system, we also changed to a dedicated address.

The dedicated address change, specifically, led to some interesting behind-the-scenes changes. While both addresses lead to the same destination (and there was no interruption for subscribers), traffic is counted separately on some external measurement systems and many well-read posts appear as if they were never read at all (because of the tweet share button).

I only mention it because it fits with some of the content themes written about in 2010. Looks can be deceiving. What isn't deceiving, however, is which stories seemed to resonate with readers. And to close out 2010, I thought I'd share this with you.

Top Ten Communication Stories 2010.

1. TSA Policies Are Not A Privacy Issue.

Some things are not a simple matter of semantics, liberty among them. So while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department Of Homeland Security continually make the case that current and future security measures are a choice between security and privacy, liberty remains the real issue we ought to be talking about. This was the most read story of 2010 and probably the most important, given the far reaching consequences of those who will choose the illusion of security over liberty.

2. Unteaching Social Media: Communication First, With A Deck.

While some people were surprised to learn that I spend more time teaching communication as opposed to social media in social media classes, the deck attached to this post generated more than its fair share of interest among communicators, hailing from public relations, marketing, and advertising. I tend to keep social media simple. It's a singular environment where broadcasters and receivers cannot be distinguished and communicators must learn to simultaneously communicate on a scale of one to one, one to niche, and one to many. This post included a link to the deck I used in class.

3. Fresh Content Providers, Quarterly Updates.

What began as a relatively simple question became a year-long experiment of sorts. The Fresh Content Project tasked Copywrite, Ink. with picking a single post per day from a growing field of 250 communication-related bloggers. The intent was to discover whether or not popularity could be an indication of quality content. The experiment will conclude on December 31, with some reveals and loose ends to tie up in 2011. At its close, we'll begin working on the next experiment — the anti-influence project (for lack of a better name).

Interestingly enough, it wasn't the weekly content recaps that attracted the most attention. It was the quarterly rankings, which featured every author chosen during any given quarter. You can also find every post chosen on Facebook.

4. Managing Crisis: Bad PR Is Only A Symptom.

Without question, one of the most captivating live crisis communication case studies that took place in 2010 was the BP oil spill. Of all the posts related to the case study across multiple companies, the initial story that recognized that the BP oil spill was not a single crisis communication event, but rather several across the weeks and months, resonated the most with communicators. I'm glad it did because if there is one thing public relations professionals need to learn about crisis management it's that almost all crises have independent events within them that must be handled on a situational case-by-case basis.

5. Saving Wildlife: Dawn Responds To Oil Spill Crisis.

While there were many stories written around the Gulf Coast oil spill, there was a related/unrelated story that also captured some interest. What made this story important, in terms of reader interest, is that it proves people aren't always keen on simply gravitating to bad news. There was good news to be found in the field of bad news stories. One of them came from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and its product, Dawn, which gently removes oil and helps save wildlife affected by oil spills. Although Dawn has been used for more than 30 years in the field, P&G doesn't push public relations related to saving wildlife. Rather, like most good public relations stories, it allows people to discover it on their own.

6. Pushing Pies: Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's.

While pizza doesn't seem like a captivating communication topic, there is a lot to learn about big companies marketing virtually the same product. The comparison between the marketing efforts of the big three — Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's — pinpointed how important it can be to find a product contrast that resonates and then stick with it. For Pizza Hut that meant unbeatable value and quick order convenience. Contrast that with Domino's and Papa John's. The former took to attempting to punish the Pizza Hut and Papa John's brands while failing to deliver on its own promise. The latter celebrated everyone's love for pizza, but failed to communicate the distinction that made it one of the big three to begin with.

7. Integrating Communication: PR-Driven Social Media.

Throughout 2010, we offered up several communication models for consideration, the most popular of which was the PR-Driven Social Media model. I'm not surprised. While we believe that social media is a cross-discipline activity that requires an integrated approach that involves marketing, advertising, public relations, and other fields of expertise, public relations professionals remain the most interested in taking the online communication helm. As long as they continue to embrace social media at a faster pace than other fields, it seems likely social media will increasingly be viewed as a public relations discipline, for better or worse.

8. Understanding Bloggers: Why PR Doesn't Get Them.

Having worked with bloggers for multiple social networks and outreach campaigns over the course of five years, it seemed relatively easy for me to break out a list of considerations related to the predominant types of bloggers. While it's an oversimplification to assign "motivations" behind various bloggers, the lesson to be learned was not to categorize bloggers as much as it was to open up the eyes of public relations professionals, helping them to realize that not all bloggers are motivated by cash incentives or the "privilege" of getting the inside scoop of a company. Contrary, bloggers are as diverse as people, which makes sense as most of them are people. Treat them as such.

9. Changing PR: Customers Are Media; Complaints Are News.

Not all crisis communication scenarios happen to big companies. Once of the most interesting mini-crisis communication challenges that occurred this year happened to a relatively small theater operator in St. Croix Falls, Wis. What started out as a private complaint made by a customer, quickly turned public after the theater's manager sent the complainer an email response without a bit of empathy or remorse for the theater's failings, basically telling the customer to "f*ck off." This runaway email became the subject of scorn as a Facebook boycott page took off and mainstream media started covering the story. Sadly, all the manager had to do was apologize and offer a free popcorn on the next visit.

10. Branding: Personal Branding And Reputation Are Illusions.

Despite the growing number of communicators who are joining the fray to question the validity of personal branding, it remains a controversial topic in that people are generally divided between the two schools of thought (with the third group that attempts to find some middle ground). I contributed several posts to the topic in 2010, but the one that resonated with readers was one that included some cognitive psychology into the mix. People who enjoy discussing this topic might be happy to know that I anticipate the personal branding topic will reoccur several times in 2011. It is also the subject of the book I've been writing, which I limp along with from time to time.

And that brings about some of the changes ahead in 2011. Copywrite, Ink. will be turning 20 years old next year and this educational extension will be turning seven with more than 1,200 posts under its belt. It's time to scale it to three times a week as opposed to five, allowing me more time to focus on additional projects.

Those include working with our growing stable of clientele, finishing the aforementioned book that lands on the back burner too often, accepting the occasional guest post on other blogs (usually declined as I hadn't the time), and nurturing our side project Liquid [Hip], which continues to see some exceptional traction.

Thanks so much for finding time to make the Copywrite, Ink. blog part of your busy week. I'll work even harder to keep the content fresh in 2011. But this post closes out 2010. With the exception of one of the last fresh content recaps landing next Sunday, look for the first post of 2011 on January 3. Happy New Year! Good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

Friday, December 24

Wishing Everyone: Happy Holidays

Holiday Card

Dear Santa,

A pint of hope,
a pound of love,
an ounce of faith,
a pinch of wisdom,
a dash of perseverance,
and a lifetime of gratitude.

Please deliver generously to our friends and family; clients and colleagues. It's all anyone needs this year.

All my best,

What else can be said? Thank you for allowing me to be part of your day and you a part of mine. Happy holidays and merry Christmas. Until next week ... good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

Thursday, November 25

Being Thankful: Happy Thanksgiving

Hand Turkey“Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I used this quote a couple years ago as the lead in lesson for my son around Thanksgiving. And in some small way, it made an impact on his life.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. We're both still thankful for many of the items that made that list and those that came after. But this year is different. Rather than be grateful for the abundance of things, I'm happy with one.

The hand turkey.

The first hand turkey on record supposedly dates back to 13,000 B.C. It was included among the paintings discovered in Lascaux. Of course, North American turkeys are not the same as the turkey fowl in Europe, but it's still interesting to think ancient people used the same artistic technique employed primarily by artists, ages 4-6, today. (The above hand turkey was made by my daughter, age 4.)

Hers reminds me how much hand turkeys are like people. We're basically the same, with subtle differences that make us unique and interesting and worth getting to know. Some hand turkeys are fat and others thin. Some are plain and others fancy. Some are embellished like my daughter's creation, breaking away from tradition. And others are familiar, resembling something we might have drawn years ago. See for yourself.

They are all different, but we can't really say one is better than the others. They are all equally creative within the confines of their sameness. And it kind of makes me wonder sometimes why we can't see people much the same way. All those differences of opinion are nothing more than embellishments on the same design. We might celebrate them instead of fretting about them.

You know, like hand turkeys. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, June 10

Being Creative: Five Tips To Find Inspiration

I might be teaching "Editing and Proofreading Your Work" at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, this weekend, but past experience tells me to expect one off-topic question. It makes sense, I suppose.

Despite my adopted style for blogging, which leans more on journalism, students tend to notice how much acrylic I've accumulated for creative work. (That was before I grew tired of dusting symbols of affirmation and stopped entering.)

"How do you find inspiration?"

I never really liked the question. Or, more accurately, maybe I never liked my answer. Since I have hundreds of techniques that work for me, but not necessarily for you, the best answer always seemed to be that it becomes part of your nature. And chances are, if you are going to be any good at it, it's already in your nature. Yeah, I know. Sounds like a cop out.

So this year, I decided to craft an answer and share it here first. Hope it helps. Or, if you're so inspired, offer something better.

Five Tips To Find Inspiration.

Embrace Pop Culture. Advertising can be, but doesn't have to be, like original literature. It often blends in pop culture or builds upon what is already resonating with people. Keep tabs on the top ten everything: books, movies, television shows, recording artists, plays, fashion, trends, politics, etc., etc. It's the single best way to gain insight into millions of people.

Trust me. The movie The Blind Side (2009) was a hit for a reason. It's a story of hope, honesty, and perseverance. We need some of that nowadays. It's also quite the contrast with Apocalypse Now (1979).

Find The Fringe. You can't always rely on what is popular. You have to pay attention to what is bubbling below the surface. Stuff that never quite makes it to the mainstream, but has an undiscovered quality that is unmistakably refreshing or long since forgotten.

More importantly, you have to consume content well beyond your personal preferences. I usually have a long list of things on my future reading list. Some are are recommended by friends. Others are just shots in the dark. Books aren't the only tool. The fringe can be found anywhere. You know, stop ordering the same sandwich at your favorite restaurant for once.

Listen Everywhere. If you want to know what people are thinking, take some time to listen. I touched on the difference between hearing and listening yesterday. Don't limit yourself to online conversations. Listen to how people interact: in a grocery store checkout line or in a restaurant.

The real advantage to the skill is that most people don't even hear other people, let alone listen. They are too busy talking. Trust me on this. If you're always talking, you'll never learn anything.

Experience Life. Go out and do things. I tend to adhere to a rather rigid schedule. There have probably been too many weeks in my life that blurred together. Even so, I try to sneak in some random stuff every now and again. For example, I'm not a ballet buff by a long shot, but I was happy to go when my wife suggested our kids could use some culture in a city not known for it.

But there are plenty other things out there if ballet doesn't strike your fancy. I've done a lot of different things, ranging from rafting to horseback riding (in search of wild mustangs no less). My family tends to plan vacations the same way. We take at least two small vacations every year. At least one of them is someplace we've never been. And even if we have been someplace before, we load up on sights and experiences we've never done before.

Become An Insider. This has practically become pat in my Writing for Public Relations course. Stop hanging out with communicators all the time and hook up with the people in your industry. You'll often learn more from them anyway.

I once met a communicator who worked at a utility. He always told me that he had a hard time relating to the non-corporate side of the company. (Utilities are cool. They have two very different cultures in one company.) It was fair, I suppose. The non-corporate guys had a hard time relating to him too. Me, on the other hand, I toured every power generation plant in southern Nevada. And when I needed to interview anyone, I did it in person. (It was a great excuse to get out of the cubicles and hang with dynamic and sometimes salty people).

Maybe my initial answer wasn't a cop out.

Looking back over the list, I suppose my answer wasn't such a cop out. If you do those five things, creativity will likely become part of your nature. If you follow some of the more popular advice, on the other hand, you'll likely kill it.

At least, that was my conclusion on those the heaviest hit by inspirational advice posts. One suggests stealing ideas outright. Another pointed toward finding purpose in life. And yet another was just a big long list of my first tip, expanded to include blogs, quotes, and all that.

Those tips are so far away from the truth, I couldn't bring myself to link to them.

Real creativity isn't an exercise in transposing things on top of one another. It's much harder than that. You have to see beyond the surface and focus in on what really makes things tick. Simply seeing an abundance of floral patterns and deciding floral patterns are "in" is not enough. You have figure out why floral patterns are in and then work from there.

Or better yet, try those five tips on for size. Like I said, if you do them enough, you probably won't have to look for inspiration. It will already be bottled up inside you, waiting for the right moment. At least, I think so.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, March 27

Writing For Public Relations: Seven Decks For PR

With next week marking the conclusion to my nine-week course in Writing for Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, it seemed only fitting to recap seven decks that were included as in-class presentations and after-class supplements. While the decks only represent a small portion of what is covered in class, the entire set helps define some of the finer points related to public relations and the spirit of the instruction.

What's next? While the class ends next Thursday, there was plenty of content that was only covered in passing. So while the frequency won't be at a pace of one deck a week, there are more weekend presentations planned in the near future.

Seven Decks For Public Relations

Introduction: Writing For Public Relations
Originally meant as an introduction to writing for public relations, this deck provides an overview of almost everything that goes into public relations beyond pitching stories and writing news releases.

On Writing And Editing
In addition to 18 key elements for great writing, this deck draws parallels to my five most cited techniques and five amazingly masterful writers: Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Andy Warhol.

What Makes News?
With the help of a little fish with a big story, this deck presents the ten most common traits of news stories that editors tend to love. I learned them as a journalist.

On Spreading Messages
After a brief overview of communication, this deck covers modern communication challenges that are produced as a result of shrinking newspapers and an over-reliance of word-of-mouth marketing.

The Importance Of Planning
By overlaying a Toyota case study on top of a strategic communication outline, the importance of planned communication becomes all the more apparent while introducing various elements within any plan.

Simplifying Messages
Beyond a simplified approach to understanding the strategic planning process of SWOT and a CORE message system, this deck reveals why not all unique selling points are unique at all.

On Advertising
The concept that copy is a direct conversation with consumers didn't originate with social media is the final thought after ten lessons from some of the greatest advertising minds that impacted the industry.

Aside from Writing For Public Relations, I have signed on to teach a half-day Writing and Proofreading class in the summer and a full-day social media class late next fall. Until then, I would like to thank everyone, online and off, who helped get my tenth year as an instructor off to a very memorable start. Thank you.

Bookmark and Share

Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template