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.

Thursday, October 26

Controlling The Questions

Someone recently pointed out that “when you control the questions, you control the issue.” Nothing could be more true.

A few days ago, I offered comment about the Gibbons-Mazzeo 'scandal' as some people call it in a post titled Going for Gibbons. Until proven otherwise, I remain unwavering in my decision to dismiss the so-called incident even as Mazzeo, after days of coaching, emerged to hold her own press conference.

But for the purposes of communication study as it applies to the above quote, I propose flipping the issue by subjecting Mazzeo to an aggressive line of questioning that Congressman Jim Gibbons has endured over the last several days.

Why did she flirt with the congressman or, at minimum, why didn't she verbally reject such comments in the company of her friends? Why didn't she leave if she felt uncomfortable because of the unsubstantiated claim he played footies with her under the table? Why did she engage him again when she exited the establishment? Why did she allow her friends to leave her alone, if she was already uncomfortable with the congressman? Why did she agree to walk to her car with him, alone? Why didn't she re-enter the establishment and seek assistance? If she was as intoxicated as reported, why was she going to her car anyway? Would she have driven drunk? Why wasn't she given a blood test to determine her level of intoxication? Why did she refute her own testimony (that it was a misunderstanding) after being contacted by an attorney?

Suddenly, her allegations begin to evaporate. Unfortunately, those questions are not being asked enough. But as mentioned, when you control the questions, you control the issue. And right now, the questions are being controlled by the media and one of her attorneys, who happens to be active supporter of Gibbons' opponent.

Correcting For Politics

I seldom write about the same subject two posts in a row, but the Wee Shu Min story (after her father, Wee Siew Kim, apologized for his apology) continues to develop as a topical case study about political correctness. Specially, he apologized for saying "I should not have said what I did about people's inability to take the brutal truth and strong language" and reinforced that he counseled his daughter Shu Min.

In the United States, it's called political correctness (PC), though the concept is not exclusive to the English language. The term is commonly used to describe language, or behavior, which is claimed to be calculated to provide a minimum of offense, particularly to the racial, cultural, or other identity groups being described.

The "earliest cited usage of the term" is said to come from a U.S. Supreme Court decision — Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) — where it clearly means that the statement it referred to is not ''literally'' correct. However, for most Americans, the real PC movement began in late 1980's and early 1990's. By the end of the 1990's, the term was equally loathed by political conservatives and liberals alike because more often than not it hindered communication rather than enhanced it.

Part of the reason Americans began abandoning PC usage came after the push to use "gender-neutral" job titles ("lineworker" instead of "lineman," "chairperson" or "chair" instead of "chairman," etc.). Some stuck. Some did not ("maintenance hole" never really replaced "manhole"). Some, it depends on who you talk to (many female executives have insisted on being identified as chairman vs. chairperson.) And some characterizations are moving targets, most notably among people over age 55, who have been reclassified from "elder" to "elderly" to "senior" to "older adult" to "active adult" in the last few decades. In addition, ''handicapped'' became ''disabled'' became ''people with disabilities.''

Besides renaming specific groups and objects, particularly around issues of race and gender, the real movement was aimed at watering down heated political speak about social issues, as if social issues can somehow be discussed without emotion or passion. And that is the real trap Wee Siew Kim is putting himself in. As I've written before, public figures and companies are seldom judged on a crisis, but rather on how well they manage the crisis (even if it really wasn't a crisis to begin with).

In Singapore, many bloggers seem to feel that the issue, not the words, deserve discussion. But unfortunately, they are learning just as Americans (or should I say people of the United States?) continue to learn, that too much focus on semantics will always overshadow the real issues, paralyzing entire communities and countries. Analyzing the apology and demanding an apology will serve as nothing more than a distraction over the real issue. Meanwhile, nothing is done.

Certainly, this is not a popular view, not even among some fellow citizens, but a solution for Singapore borders on the obvious. As long as a society prefers capitalism over communism, which has proven ineffective as the great equalizer it was claimed to be (communistic leaders often assume exclusive privileges over the people anyway), then there will always be people who covet what other people have, even if what they have or do not have was their own choice. Anyway, all that is missing, or seems to be missing, is opportunity.

Ergo, Derek Wee was possibly right in his assessment of a problem. However, Wee Shu Min was perhaps equally right to say the solution was not for the government to create jobs to meet the skill sets of the workers (which despite her colorful quips is really what she meant, I think). However, that is not to say that the government could not invest in a worker rehabilitation program that provides these unemployed workers with the skill sets they need to meet the demand of the job market. Then, those who choose to pursue marketable skills will be qualified to fill those jobs, currently being taken by foreigners.

The concept is simple enough. Give a man a fish and he has a meal. Teach a man to fish and he eats for life. And if too many people are fishing, then teach him another trade that is underserved. And if progress replaces that need, teach him something else. (Historically speaking, governments did not subsidize corrals when the automobile made them obsolete.)

But alas, all this is lost in the focus of whether calling something the brutal truth is appropriate or not. And meanwhile, the real effort to communicate is spiraling out of control because rather than propose a solution to the problem, Wee Siew Kim has to provide apology after apology because his daughter posted it rather than some other 18-year-old, who would have been largely ignored for making the same statements.

This basically means that 18-year-olds who happen to have parents in prominent positions are held to a different standard, are required to censor their ideas, and are not entitled to the same liberty and freedom of thought as other people. And if that is not discrimination on its face, then I do not know what is.

Tuesday, October 24

Sanitizing Personal Opinion

There seems to be much ado about Wee Shu Min, a teenage blogger whose online journal was criticized as insensitive and elitist. The story has escalated to the point of absurdity with her father, MP Wee Siew Kim, and the principal of Raffles Junior College telling The Straits Times that Miss Wee had received counseling for using insensitive language.

She has since shut down her blog and apologized for her comments, though not directly to Mr. Derek Wee, a Singaporean who works for a multinational corporation. He had written in his blog on Oct 12 that he was concerned about competition from foreign talent and the lack of job opportunities for older workers. Miss Wee had responded to him on her blog, calling him old and unmotivated and said he was overly reliant on the government.

She specifically wrote: 'Derek, Derek, Derek darling, how can you expect to have an iron rice bowl or a solid future if you cannot spell? There's no point in lambasting the Government for making our society one that is, I quote, 'far too survival of the fittest.' If uncertainty of success offends you so much, you will certainly be poor and miserable.' She concluded by telling Mr. Wee to 'get out of my elite uncaring face.'

In the apology, Wee Siew Kim went further to say that in "In our current desire to encourage more debate, especially through the Internet, our comments must be tempered with sensitivity. I will not gag her, since she's 18 and should be able to stand by what she says. ... Nonetheless, I have counselled her to learn from it. Some people cannot take the brutal truth and that sort of language, so she ought to learn from it."

Before writing an unpopular opinion, I will offer up that as an accredited business communicator, I adhere to the International Association of Business Communicators' Code of Ethics, which encourages members to "engage in communication that is not only legal, but also ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs; and engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding; among other things." I wish more bloggers would consider such ethical guidelines before posting various rants on the Web.

However, Wee Shu Min has obviously not bonded herself to such a code, and therefore, must be respected for her opinion, no matter how insensitive or elitist it may have come across. If anything, I have personally welcomed people to state their minds, no matter how insensitive, ignorant, or bigoted they may be, because it is the very language they use that may reveal their own lack of credibility or character. In fact, Wee Shu Min self-describes herself as elitist and insensitive, which seems to me to make any criticisms of her for being that rather redundant.

In sum, both Derek Wee and Wee Shu Min have a right to their respective opinions. It seems to me that Derek Wee probably made the stronger case, given that Wee Shu Min did resort to name-calling and colorful insults as one might suspect from an 18-year-old college student. However, the equally aggressive rebuttals and public outcry, and then public apology by her father and the principal of her college, seems largely disproportionate.

If anything, her post did succeed in revealing the country's growing disconnect, perhaps, between younger and older adults, skilled and unskilled workers, and/or affluent and less affluent citizens. Until that is addressed, with open dialogue, there is little chance any measures could be taken to address Derek Wee's concerns and grievances.

But then again, I live in a country that, despite occasional pressure to be 'politically correct' in stating opinions, allows for unpopular language under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Although frequently tested, one simple truth remains: the abuse of free speech will die in a day, but the censorship of free speech, including rants from those like Wee Shu Min, will span generations.

Monday, October 23

Editing Your Work

On Nov. 18, I will be teaching a new one session class, Editing and Proofreading Your Work, for UNLV's Division of Educational Outreach. In addition to providing an emphasis on improving written communication for writers, office managers, and business professionals (whether you are the writer or editing someone else's work), it will give students taking my 10-session Writing for Public Relations class a leg up next Spring. (I deduct two points for every grammar, usage, and spelling mistake on written assignments in that class.)

While this class is primarily structured for editing business, commercial, and public relations writing, I intend to provide enough instruction to benefit anyone hoping to improve the clarity, consistency, and correct usage for any communication, ranging from fictional work to personal blogs. Specifically, the half-day program, from 9 a.m. to noon, will focus on editing essentials such as language skills, mechanics of style, and the importance of correct spelling and punctuation.

For more information, e-mail Michelle Baker at michelle.baker@unlv.edu. The class catalog number is C063WR1150 and registration is $95, which will include a variety of handouts. If I can pull one together in the next couple weeks, a portion of the class will be taught using a powerpoint presentation.

Friday, October 20

Going For Gibbons

It seems almost too coincidental that just as Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) is being hit with rumors that he was somehow involved in the page scandal, gubernatorial candidate Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) is also being accused of assaulting a woman outside a restaurant (just days ago).

The allegations against Gibbons are being made by Chrissy Mazzeo, a 32-year-old cocktail waitress at Wynn Las Vegas, who called 911 three times, charging that Gibbons grabbed her, shoved her against the wall, and threatened her in a parking garage outside a local restaurant. Apparently intoxicated, her story seems to have changed with each call, including one call when she actually laughed while talking to the dispatcher.

While I'm not big on conspiracy theories, some folks have obviously noted that sexual conduct is the Achilles heel of the Republican Party and they're all too happy to exploit it, whether that means making false allegations or not. They know all too well that false allegations can distract a campaign, taking a candidate off issue-oriented messages by forcing them to address such charges as Jim Gibbons had to do yesterday.

Despite rumors, neither the Weller connections nor the Gibbons allegations appear credible. In fact, the only reason either story has the potential to become a brush fire, fanned by bloggers and major news media, is because of our public's insatiable appetite for scandals and media's willingness to feed it.

In the case of Jim Gibbons, the entire sordid story makes me inclined to support him all the more, a decision I made shortly after weighing who would make the best governor in Nevada after the primary (most know I have a long-standing friendship with State Sen. Bob Beers, who has also come to support Gibbons). In fact, it was also this decision that made me all too happy to assist the Nevada Republican Party with GOTV efforts.

In working on GOTV projects that include Gibbons and lieutenant governor candidate Brian Krolicki, whom I have always admired, I learned a few things about Gibbons' character that, in my opinion, has not received enough attention. As a Vietnam veteran and elected official, Gibbons did not have to serve in the Gulf War. Yet, he was compelled to serve again because he recognized he was one of only a handful of pilots with previous combat experience.

To me, this provides an accurate measure of Jim Gibbons' character, above and beyond any misstatements he may have made in the past. It also demonstrates exactly how unlikely Mazzeo's story really is (which at one point she herself called a misunderstanding because she was drunk).

In deciphering communication today, particularly in political communication, I urge voters and members of the media to remember that many off-issue rumors are often personally motivated for attention at best or political trickery at worst. Somewhere along the line someone has to remember the real role of the media is to get at the truth rather than fan the fires of an attention-grabbing rumor for the benefit of a headline.

Tuesday, October 17

Questioning Ethics

If you want to shake up people's definition of ethics, go no further than the Internet.

Some of the same folks who easily chastise Rep. Mark Foley e-mails and private messages, laughed as they discovered Augusten Burroughs frequently amused himself by placing fake personal ads, and smirked when Jude Law's character pretends to be Julia Roberts and sucks in Clive Owen (Closer), are now defending married men and women seeking extramarital affairs on Craig's List personal ads.

The controversial practice, which has been around for some time, has been brought to center stage after after Michael Crook, a 28-year-old Liverpool, N.Y., man posed as 19-year-old Melissa and coaxed personal information from Kevin Murphy, who answered a personal advertisement on Craig's List. Crook then shared the information about the extramatarial affair with Murphy's wife, bosses, co-workers, several of his company's corporate accounts, and on his Website, which is dedicated to exposing Internet infidelity.

According to Abigail Goldman's story in the Las Vegas Sun, ethics experts say the stunt is immoral. Legal experts say it encroaches upon the gray territory of online liberties. Internet rights experts say it raises questions about privacy in cyberspace.

Does it? While two wrongs might not make a right, the question of the First Amendment still hangs over the entire argument. We cannot censor people from sharing any portion of a conversation, online or otherwise, if they choose to publish it. Can we?

Sure, some might argue that Crook and similar publishers are defrauding these men, but aren't they themselves attempting to defraud single women as available, only offering up their marital status when it suits them (to say nothing of what they are doing to their spouses)? Are people so naive to believe that personal ad exchanges are honest, despite years and years of articles that point out they are generally rife with fraud as those who post and respond frequently shave 10 years, 20 pounds, change jobs, and even their own names along the way? Where is the outrage in this seemingly accepted practice?

Ergo, there is only one answer here. If we are talking about ethics, they are all wrong. But if we are talking about stupidity, then those seeking online affairs retain all the honors. Maybe not today nor even tomorrow, but someone somewhere has stored all that personal informational shared over the Internet, innocently or not, possibly with the receiving party totally unaware (given that traces of pictures and e-mails remain on hard drives long after they are 'erased' and Google archives Website pages so they can be viewed long after you've taken them down).

As I've posted before, there is no such thing as a private conversation. So unless you would be proud to see what you say or do on the cover of the Wall Street Journal (Crook, I might point out, is proud of what he is doing), don't say or do it. It's about that simple. This holds to be especially true on the Internet because the information you put out there is much more permanent than anyone ever imagined, and the risk of it resurfacing is far greater than you ever considered.

Friday, October 13

Communicating Effectively With Less

Every now and again, in between all the clutter, someone publishes something that very clearly, concisely, and effectively communicates a point. This week, that distinct credit easily goes to the Times Online (UK) for publishing a stunning timeline that effectively illustrates the impact of human existence on our planet.

In what could be called a post human extinction timeline, you can quickly scan what would happen if humans ceased to exist on Earth. Whether or not you agree with the message, the communication of it brilliantly conveys its point without relying on statistics or polarized quotes, stopping you to think about environmental responsibility. For a few seconds, at the very least. Bravo.

Thursday, October 12

Manipulating The Numbers


The media seems to have embraced 655,000 as the number of deaths since Lancet published a Johns Hopkins University study of mortality in Iraq. They've settled on this number despite the fact that the researchers themselves, reflecting the inherent uncertainties in such extrapolations, said they were 95 percent certain that the real number lay somewhere between 392,979 and 942,636 deaths.

Usually insightful Daniel Davis, Guardian Unlimited, and Tim Lambert, an Australian science blogger, have also weighed in on the matter, calling any attempts to refute the report devious hack-work, especially because the administration seems content with a number far lower, about 50,000. Davis and Lambert analyze the data using their own brand of statistical posturing based on survey samplings before Davis goes on to say that “there has to be some accountability here.”

I agree. There does have to be some accountability here. And while I'll stop short of saying the researchers lied or are frauds, I will point out that their excessively broad range (1/2 million +/- 5%) speaks volumes: they have no idea. In fact, I am equally or perhaps even more accurate in saying that there were between one and 1 million deaths.

In covering the original study, the media seems to have settled on the middle ground, coming up with the 600,000 to 655,000 range. While I have no idea whether or not the number is accurate (the method, considering it's from Johns Hopkins, seems less credible than usual), I do know that some members of the media have become more sloppy at accepting statical reports as newsworthy because they seem credible (no matter what the method) and always create a buzz of controversy.

That is how this topic ties into communication. All communicators, or editors, will be tempted from time to time to publish a statistical report that will generate a buzz (they always do), but they should consider that 'buzz' publishing is getting away from the intent of reporting, which is, simply put, to get at the truth. It seems to me that publishing this one, given the method and given that people lie when taking such surveys, did little to do that.

What do I mean? Well, if you asked the same number of citizens if they had a loved one, or if someone they knew had a loved one, who died in 9/11, and applied the same statiscial theory that Davis applied in his post to defend the study, then I'd wager the death toll would exceed 1 million. Thank goodness it did not.

Wednesday, October 11

Faking The Net

Benjamin Edelman does a fine job with his blog report False and Deceptive Pay-Per-Click Ads, identifying several Internet advertising scams that range from not-so-free ringtones to discounted rates on software that can be downloaded for free. False advertising, to be sure, is a growing problem, one with roots that can be traced back to traditional print publishers, those often specifically found in the classified section of such publications (and can be easily found today).

As much as I would like to see the world as black and white as Edelman and say that the responsibility falls exclusively on Google to police its advertisers, it seems to me this subject has more shades of gray. Should Google and similar ad programs refuse or cancel known advertising scams? Absolutely. Should they be responsible for policing advertisers, placing the burden of proof on the ad program client before allowing them to advertise? Maybe, but it doesn't seem realistic. Should they be held liable for advertisers that turn out to be scammers? Probably not.

Given that we live in a world where it is sometimes difficult to discern reputable companies (that occasionally slip with an overabundance of disclaimers to mask a catchy headline) from tried-and-true scam artists, one has to wonder where responsibility begins and ends. At Copywrite, Ink., we never accept an assignment from scam artists, but I have to admit that sometimes, they're not easily identifiable. PurchasePro (which was once partnered with AOL) comes to mind. So does Enron.

We never worked with Enron, but I imagine that if it had contacted us in the beginning before being unmasked as one of the biggest scams in the history of the utility industry, we might have been excited by the prospect of working on the account. Had we done so, should we have been responsible for the fallout? I hope not. What about Firestone tires? Several public relations firms tried to turn the company's PR around (only to resign after being asked to lie). But before being asked to lie, were they unknowingly responsible?

Certainly, I believe that publishers, vendors, and even employees have a responsibility to back away from any advertisers who they know to be ethically challenged or engaged in misleading or fraudulent activities. We've backed away from several over the years and even reported one or two that were clearly violating the law. There were also a few accounts we declined not because they were engaged in anything illegal, but because we were philosophically opposed to the product (Bum Fights, for example).

In short, as much as I would like to hold a black and white view of the world, maybe a better answer is strengthening sentencing for those who purposely and willfully mislead the public rather than asking Google to police scammers by canceling their advertising contract (only to have the same people pop up with yet another brand next week). But that's just me.

Tuesday, October 10

Adding Education Experience


From software training to post-secondary education, our work in education has expanded from enrollment and recruitment to influencing public policy. One of several success stories includes the opening of the Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain in Las Vegas.

In addition to positioning the school as the best private school in the West before its first class, we succeeded in beating enrollment feasibility by 21 percent. In other words, we beat their best expectations despite offering a K-8 education almost three times the amount of the next highest private school in Nevada.

You can download our education work overview by visiting Copywrite, Ink.

For experience in other industries, download our account experience lists prior to the release of these industry specific pages. Our next scheduled portfolio overview will focus on financial.

Monday, October 9

Raising Communication Stakes


After taking a week off from posting in order to attend to some tight deadlines and to our daughter's health (she's doing great at home, btw), it was no surprise to find that the hot topic of the day is North Korea and nuclear testing.

Beyond global diplomacy and potential implications, which appear obvious to us, North Korea has challenged the world in the ultimate high stakes game of communication. From the North Korean government's perspective, it has obviously decided to wager its survival as a closed, tyrannical state against its desire to become an independent and autonamous world player, answerable to no one, much like it perceives China, Russia, and the United States as answerable to no one. Its communication in the last 24 hours was unmistakably premeditated, deviously calculated, and a grave mistake that will have consequences well beyond its borders.

Announcing the test, void of any details, was strategically designed to keep the world guessing whether North Korea is scientifically capable of producing weapon-grade nuclear armaments while stating, unequivocally, that it would no longer answer to anyone, not even the Chinese, who have until recently remained sympathetic to North Korea's direction as a communist country.

President's Bush's response was equally and purposefully vague with ample foreshadow. He said “This was confirmed this morning in conversations I had with leaders of China and South Korea, Russia and Japan. We reaffirmed our commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. And all of us agreed that the proclaimed actions taken by North Korea are unacceptable and deserve an immediate response by the United Nations Security Council."

Message: We are not alone in this, which explains why US Ambassador John Bolton presented 13 elements of a punitive resolution condemning N. Korea’s nuclear weapons test to the UN Security Council. The resolution includes inspections of all inbound and outbound cargo from North Korea.

"The North Korean regime remains one of the world's leading proliferators of missile technology, including transfers to Iran and Syria."

Message: We know Syria and Iran seem to be moving closer to what they perceive as a justified a preemptive strike against Israel. Any aid in such a strike, in particular nuclear weapons, could potentially move them to the front of the list.

"The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action. The United States remains committed to diplomacy. And we will continue to protect ourselves and our interests."

Message: We prefer to delay action at the moment, but if you continue to cross every line we have drawn, which further aggravates more pressing interests, we will aggressively pursue de-nuclearization of North Korea by any means necessary.

In the days and weeks and months ahead, it will often be the communication of the message, and not always the action, that will ultimately determine the outcome not just in North Korea, but also the rest of the world. If any US action appears weak, it will only encourage countries like Iran and Syria to step up their own nuclear proliferation programs as such rougue states continue to establish loose alliances out of paranoia, desperation, or perceived opportunity.

Why else would a South American leader choose now to suddenly have a strong opinion of Bush, if not to suggest he sees the potential for or even actively seeks common ground with the Middle East?

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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