Saturday, May 30

Reviewing Reviewers: What Goes Up


It’s been interesting to watch the mix of reviews popping up for the indie film that we’ve helped release during the last few weeks. And, I might underscore interesting because I have better than a decade in as a professional entertainment reviewer and editor.

The very worst of them mixed up Olivia Thirlby and Molly Shannon, but the rest claiming this film was "seeking some raw truth" weren’t all that either. It made me think for a moment, after missing a few posts in favor of doing work on the premiere in Los Angeles, that it might be fun to review some of these reviewers, while correcting the most glaring inaccuracies along the way…

For example, New York-based film critic Ethan Alter, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, complains about a student caught by his mother while having anal sex with a crippled classmate. Except, we can’t be sure what fantasy he was having during the film. There is no sodomy to speak of. The best guess around the office is that he doesn’t know more positions than missionary, which means his claim that he spends “way too much time in movie theaters” might be right. Add to the misfortune that he only sees the movie being played out in one formulaic way or another, and we think it's probably best that he take a break from living through the lens of others. Reviewer Grade: F

Next time around, we suggest Alter look over the shoulder of Janelle Tipton with Back Stage. She said the same scene Alter loathes is the one she found a little bit of sweetness in, writing that the “development of these two characters and their relationship turns out to be something we wish had been the whole point of this otherwise frustrating film.” She may not have liked the film, but at least she paid attention for her readers. Reviewer Grade: B-

Brian Lowery, writing for Variety, on the other hand, skews more to Alter's angle as he never seems to recover from bemoaning that somehow this was a film that makes a statement against journalists, opening with “As if journalism hasn't suffered enough of late…” Have they suffered? Then there seems to be plenty of suffering to go around as Lowery pens a review that won’t help him ever make the leap from a small screen reviewer to a big screen stringer. Better luck next time. Reviewer Grade C

Ken Miller, writing for Las Vegas Weekly, criticized the film for “the 11th-hour suggestion that the teacher was murdered.” He calls that ludicrous, which can also be said about his claim. There is no suggestion of murder beyond a not-to-be-taken-literally drawing by teenagers that places the blame on the self-righteousness of a flawed small-minded teacher. If accuracy matters, then Miller is destined to stay with the local weeklies. Reviewer grade: D

A much better Las Vegas-based review comes from Carol Cling with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and then picked up by the California Chronicle. Cling is critical that the movie doesn’t provide filmgoers with any answers (despite other reviewers who claim it pretentiously does), but goes on to share that “there's also something endearing -- and, occasionally, achingly poignant -- about "What Goes Up" and its gallery of valiant misfits.” Her review runs straight down the middle. And even though it’s not glowing, it’s everything you expect a review to be. Reviewer Grade: A

Tom O’Neil, writing for a Los Angeles Times blog (not the paper, mind you) shows us everything a review ought not be. He strikes up predetermined chatter by claiming Hilary Duff could land a Razzie for this performance, which is untrue. And then, for fear of standing up for his opinion, he goes on to find the harshest quotes in three of the harder reviews to prove his position. While some didn’t care for Duff in the film, others like Lowery did. No matter. We couldn’t read his review in full because a Kentucky Grilled Chicken ad kept popping up in front of his skewed prose. As much as I hate pop-up ads with dancing people, I realize now that the ad that earned an F was a step up from what he wrote. Heck, O’Neil didn’t even get the DVD release date right. Reviewer Grade: F-

The contrast is made even more clear when you compare O’Neil’s review to another on the opposite coast. Manohla Dargis, writing for The New York Times, was critical, but rightly so. She points out that director Glatzer “seems to be trying to say something critical about America and heroism (the cartoonish musical suggests as much); at other times he appears to be embracing the very values he previously lampooned.” Is it any wonder Dargis is writing for The New York Times and some others are not? And I'm not just saying that over Dargis' lead line that starts ... “There’s some nice filmmaking tucked inside “What Goes Up” a muddle of moods and intentions.” Reviewer grade: B+

All in all, the reviews for What Goes Up have been mixed, which ought to be a sign how bad algorithm sites like Metacritic lack. While it attempts to consolidate reviews, its point system is more of a mess than Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips' pointlessness and writing style. Metacritic gave The Onion review 30 points despite a fair lead line that starts “Jonathan Glatzer’s directorial debut What Goes Up is a quirky-small-town dramedy that just barely avoids the “overly cutesy” and “self-indulgently melancholy” traps that snare so many indies.” Seems more like a 60 or better to me.

ONTD does much of the same. Not only was it the only other site to rip O’Neil (go figure), but it also trumped up all the negative reviews while bypassing any positive ones found on Gordon and the Whale, Salon, and UGO.

Speaking of UGO.com, Alex Dorn nails my thoughts about this film perfectly as he concludes — “If … you like your comedies pitch black, as I do, you will enjoy this dark little jewel.”

Add it all up and What Goes Up gets a healthy mix of good, bad, and in the middle. That’s not bad for a film that was destined for a DVD release only a few months ago. But even more important than what the reviewers said or didn’t say is the obvious — the only reviews that count are from patrons. So far, most people that we’ve talked to either liked it or loved it.

Suffice to say that my take is simple. If you want a different film than the usual done-to-death releases, What Goes Up is it. If you prefer pretty, perfect, or packaged films, then you probably won’t enjoy it. It’s not that kind of film, which is why I did like the theatrical release and wish more people could see it because the DVD release will be different by a few critical minutes.

In closing, I have one final thought for critics who continually attack studio films for being formula and then attack the indies for not being formula: you're not a critic at all. Somewhere along the way, you've given in to becoming a cynic taken in by your own cleverness. And maybe, just maybe, more folks ought to review your reviews more often.

Tuesday, May 26

Dunking Public Relations: Raymond Ridder


Last Thursday, Raymond Ridder, media relations director for the Warriors, was caught posting pro-Warriors points of view as "The Flunkster Dude" on a non-franchise fan site. Once caught, his antics eventually drew a scathing response from James Venes aptly titled "The Art of Deception" on WarriorsWorld.net.

"Immediately, expectedly, the site went into an uproar over someone caught with his hand in the cookie jar, someone from the team coming in to push a pro-Warriors point of view, likely an intern too dumb to find one of the dozen Starbucks in Oakland with wifi access (trust me, I checked) to at least post without it tracing back to HQ. Oops. Big time oops," wrote Venes, before sharing how disappointed the fans were to learn the truth.

Today, it was Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle leading with the headline "Warriors brass are all Flunkster Dudes" and advising management to throw themselves on the mercy of public opinion. And so, the social media debacle has apparently moved mainstream.

"It was a laughably bad idea, with the deserved result. Then again, what good ideas are there in selling a team run as the Warriors are? How do you make a team that has missed the playoffs 14 of 15 times seem progressive and clever?" asked Ratto.

Ratto goes on to highlight just how bad public perception of the team has become, including the owner's last appearance when he was booed at the Oakland All-Star Game while standing next to his young son and giving an award to Michael Jordan; a club president who apparently wants to come across as humorless, stiff, aggressive and power hungry; and a head coach who chants "I'm not in charge" while being in charge. Ouch.

Managers Have Less To Be Concerned About Employees Than Themselves.

On the same day Ridder was masquerading as an All-Star fan, we were posting a Deloitte survey that revealed as much as 60 percent of managers believe that businesses have a right to know how employees portray themselves or their companies on sites like Facebook and MySpace. It seems apparent that managers have more to be concerned about their own behavior; public relations professionals too.

If we accept that Phil Dusenberry, former chairman of BBDO Worldwide, was right — that the "brand is the relationship between a product and its customer” — than faking posts and comments seems like an awful way to treat that relationship. Very little can be gained, even in the case of Ridder's apparent granny throw from midcourt.

Attempting to insert exclusively "pro" fake comments (or any fake comments) into an online crowd generally strengthens the resolve of the opposing viewpoint if no one finds out. And, if they do find out (and they often do), it is almost always disastrous, much more so than any unhappy fans can dream up.

So the fear factor for companies worried about what employees might say online may have nothing to do with what they say as themselves and everything to do with the great lengths some will go to remain anonymous for good, bad, or any other reason.

Fans are surprisingly forgiving, but nobody likes to be lied to. Tell them the truth. If you don't, you're likely to become the poster child for posers. And today, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, that honor seems to belong to Ridder and the Warriors' brass in the NBA. They might as well wear it proudly; it can only get better from there.

Monday, May 25

Sharing Silence: Memorial Day


Sailor and girl at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington, D.C. Memorial Day, 1943. (Credit: John Collier)

Friday, May 22

Misunderstanding Intent: Communication Today


There is a fascinating post over at The Notorious R.O.B. that discusses some initial reservations with Todd Carpenter becoming the social media manager for the National Association of REALTORS. In the post, Rob Hahn describes those early reservations as associated with what he believed would be an impending shift from open communication to message control.

For the controversy over the MLS data and Google, I highly recommend the read. It's one of the most pressing issues in real estate today. However, this time around, I was reading the post for another reason all together. Hahn goes into some detail regarding message control and openness that seems to be a reoccurring conversation in social media.

"The overwhelming temptation for any company or organization that suddenly finds itself in the middle of a brewing (or full-blown) controversy is to lockdown message control. One person, typically the person in charge of Corporate Communication, speaks for the organization, and all inquiries are referred to that person. Behind the scenes, PR consultants, staff, lawyers, and other executives get into meeting after meeting to work out what will be said, how it will be said, and by whom. Once the message has been polished to a high gloss, it is put out to the world with extreme care."

Message control? Not really.

One of stories I like to share in my public relations class recounts how a local homebuilder initially reacted when a news station called after a handicapped woman complained that the homebuilder had violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA) after removing a ramp near a community mailbox near her home. The owners, who were on vacation, gave very clear instructions to their marketing manager.

"If the media calls, say no comment. If they come by, lock the doors."

Fortunately, the manager asked for support instead. Within a few minutes, all the details of what seemed like a pending news story were laid out on the table. The homebuilder hadn't done anything more than temporarily remove the makeshift ramp at the request of the city to meet municipal codes. The builder had notified the homeowner on three occasions. The homeowner would still be able to get her mail, with an access point just a little further away.

When the marketing manager followed up with the reporter, they agreed there wasn't a story.

"We ran an ADA story the other day, which typically invites call-ins. Most them aren't stories," said the reporter.

There seems to be a lot of confusion these days about what constitutes message control and message management and open communication. The reality is that open communication can be managed. It's just the simple matter of everyone having access to the facts, as they eventually did in the story above. And yes, that did require various professionals to lend their insight.

The point being that open communication can often be successfully managed without control or spin. It doesn't require manipulation as much as it requires all communicating parties have the same facts. In fact, if they did, I doubt management would be so worried about employee communication online.

The reality is that there is no message control and there never really was. Lately, it seems, social media is frequently blamed when otherwise good brands get put in a negative light. But brands were being put in a negative light long before social media. The only difference was that the writers were journalists (and sometimes they still are).

If there is any takeaway today, it's simply that message control almost always consists of hiding the truth or deflecting from the facts. Message management, on the other hand, is a form of open communication that works to ensure the facts are considered in lieu of erroneous opinions. In other words, intent helps sort out the difference between authenticity (which Seth Godin mistakes as consistency) and transparency.

In fact, if more people understood the basic tenets of public relations and communication, there would probably be far fewer social media fails. Well, maybe.

Thursday, May 21

Policing Employees: Not Today; Tomorrow


According to a new Deloitte survey recently featured on The Wall Street Journal blogs, 60 percent of managers believe that businesses have a right to know how employees portray themselves or their companies on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

“While the decision to post videos, pictures, thoughts, experiences and observations is personal, a single act can create far reaching ethical consequences for individuals as well as employers," said Sharon Allen, chairman of the board, Deloitte LLP. "Therefore, it is important for executives to be mindful of the implications of this connected world and to elevate the discussion about the risks associated with it to the highest levels of leadership.”

The percentage is lower among employees but still significant. Forty-seven percent believed those managers might be right. However, that number dropped to 37 percent among workers ages 18-34.

It still raises an interesting question. Where does employer representation end and personal privacy end online? And can policing employee behavior backfire when breaches in ethical behavior or common sense are still dependent on titles? After all, the Domino's employees were fired. Yet John Mackey still helms Whole Foods.

Employees are currently left alone to figure it out

• 27% of employees said their companies talk about leveraging social media.
• 22% of employees said their companies have formal guidelines for their use.
• 22% of employees said their leadership team uses social networking to communicate.
• 17% of employees said their company has a program to monitor and mitigate risks.

Still, employees are aware their behavior can damage their companies. Seventy-four percent said it's easy online. For the full report, visit here. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 20

Sharing New Wisdom: Fr Federico Lombardi SJ


"One of the biggest challenges facing us at present is that of interactivity, and, I would say, of 'positive interactivity'... In recent years the Internet has been for us an important tool that has made it possible for us to deliver content to countless users of all kinds. Now, however, the reality of the situation that is emerging is one in which the great thing is not simply content distribution, but greater and greater interactivity." — Fr Federico Lombardi SJ

While sometimes dismissed by business, government, and nonprofit organizations, the Catholic Communications Network issued a release yesterday that speaks volumes about the viability of new communication. In fact, Fr Lombardi, rather than considering the Internet a means to spread a message across the Internet, suggests something that has long been held true by the best participants.

It's about engagement.

The release includes Fr Lombardi's entire lecture to an audience of media professionals at Allen Hall at the Diocese of Westminster’s seminary and a PDF that outlines dozens of key points. Of note, Fr Lombardi offers how the press office had shown him how there is a need to establish a more organic and constructive dialogue and exchange "between the communications organs of the Holy See and today’s world of social communications — for today’s world is rapidly becoming something vastly different from what it was when my generation first experienced it."

He is exactly right. And while his message may be a message of communicating faith, there is a secondary message that resonates with anyone interested in online communication. One of several standout sections includes the six faces of its abuse. Paraphrased here:

• The face of falsehood, more or less explicit, and often mixed with half-truths.
• The face of pride, of self-referencing and self-centeredness that refuses to listen to other positions.
• The face of oppression and injustice, which denies others the freedom to gather information and give expression.
• The face of debauched sensuality that seeks to use and possess, respecting neither the body nor the image of the other.
• The face of escapism, which seeks refuge in imaginary or virtual worlds, completely subverts the purpose of social media.
• The face of division, which seeks to demolish dialogue, to undermine all efforts at mutual understanding among people.

However, despite the obvious shortcomings, which resemble those long noted by several communicators who employ social media, Fr Lombardi tempers his observations by conveying that new communication requires that we look for those roads [using social media] which will be beneficial for everyone. And, in conclusion, he finds the perfect statement to sum up his thoughts.

"The changes that have taken place in social communications during recent years and decades are obvious to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see." — Fr Federico Lombardi SJ
 

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