Thursday, June 25

Flirting With Brand Damage: Mark Sanford

"When we do these kinds of things like what happened with Ensign and now with Sanford it hurts our credibility as a party of good governing and of values.” — Ron Kaufman, lobbyist

If anyone is wondering (and some people still are) why marital affairs seem to roll off some politicians and not others, look no further than the Fragile Brand Theory. It has much less to do with the personal lives of political candidates and much more to do with the personal brands they adopt.

Never mind that 90 percent of Americans believe affairs are morally wrong. Conservative estimates suggest affairs are commonplace, with estimates that 60 percent of all men and and women will have an affair. Quantified, that would mean infidelity impacts approximately 80 percent of all marriages with varying degrees.

As for politics, marital affairs became fair game in 1828, with Andrew Jackson's opposition wondering if his wife was legally divorced by the time they married. Since, Wendell Wilkie, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy all had affairs. And along with Bill Clinton in 1998, MSNBC reports there have been 23 high profile scandals in the last decade alone, which seems to coincide with increased public scrutiny over personal choices as well as the global trend to place less value on the definition of marriage.

Understanding marriage and extramarital affairs as a definition

While researchers generally break down extramarital affairs into physical and emotional attraction with the root cause being dissatisfaction with their partners, the real reasons are generally much more individualized. They could stem from any number of reasons, including low self-esteem, physical fantasy, geographical distance, pressure escapism, random encounter, intoxication, dissatisfaction in a marital role (with no bearing on the partner), and so on and so forth.

However, regardless of the reasons, extramarital affairs provide a stark contrast to the value most modern civilized societies place on a family to provide an intimate environment, mutual support, emotional security, and personal commitment. In simplest terms, and from a brand perspective, marriage is among the most prized of all partnerships.

Affairs, on the other hand, are generally regarded as the polar opposite, much more so than any other factor that could potentially estrange a relationship (e.g., poor financial management, the assumption a marital contract exempts poor personal choices, etc.). In simplest terms, and from a brand perspective, affairs represent selfishness and betrayal.

Understanding the public figure's ability to survive one

Why was John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton able to mostly survive extramarital affairs whereas John Ensign and Mark Sanford cannot (beyond the apparent hypocrisy)? They did for very different reasons.

Kennedy carried forth a suave and youthful image during an era well suited to ignore it. And Clinton's emphasis was on being human for nearly ten years, and thus more apt to make a human mistake. (Ergo, a man with a weakness for a Big Mac might very well have other weaknesses.)

Of course, there are other factors too. Any infraction made by a public figure is dependent on the company they keep and on how they handle the crisis once it surfaces.

In Nevada, the feeling toward John Ensign is one of disappointment after a somber but articulate press conference. In South Carolina, Sanford's bumbled press conference seems to be facing more backlash for breaking trust and betraying not only his wife but those he governed.

Multiple messages and brands dictate public figure outcomes

While predicting outcomes might be simple, any public consequence is a complex combination of personal branding, organizational (party) branding, definition (marriage) branding, current public sentiment, personal cause, and the ability to appropriately handle the crisis. Case in point, the public tends to see celebrity infidelity as vastly different — with more concern over who the celebrity has an affair with rather than the fact they had an affair.

In contrast, Republicans normally embrace certain core values, which generally reside too far away from the core of being human. And while I'd be the last to suggest Republicans sacrifice the concept of these values in order to curry the favor of more exceptions, they might consider whether it's time to reconsider the construct.

While striving (sometimes unsuccessively) for higher purpose is always admirable, current cultural trends seem to suggest that being human is all too common for any public figure to allow themselves to be placed on pedestal made of clay. In fact, the very dynamic of doing so might make one party seem overly selective (with greater failures), leaving the other to represent everyone else who is willing to admit they sometimes make mistakes.

After all, no one can really place so much emphasis on higher principles or moral ground at the risk of overriding the most admirable of all. Forgiveness.

Tuesday, June 23

Going Green: Free Iran

While most people have heard that social media has played a role in the post-election results in Iran, the consequences of immediate communication and online conversation have an impact that is equally compelling to on-the-ground coverage.

While Valeria Maltoni sees the potential for crowdsourcing to surpass CNN news (it can), we also see it as an interesting division. Whereas traditional media has been tending to cover the sentiment of the elected, social media tends to reveal the sentiment of those who elect. And that is making the elected take notice.

Mass Influence Over Influencers

Even in the United States, President Obama has been compelled to step up his stance on Iran. Originally, he hoped to avoid commenting about the democratic process of Iran over concern for future diplomacy with a country known to be developing a nuclear program and backing militant organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. However, his initial hands-off stance had been largely viewed as timid and unrepresentative.

Yesterday, that changed. President Obama, who now says he was moved by the protest images, has called for an end to the violence while advising those who govern that they ought to lead by consent over coercion.

It's equally likely he wasn't moved on his own. Overwhelmingly, Americans have helped make the Iranian elections two of the top ten stories on the Internet — the election itself and the State Department asking Twitter to hold off on scheduled maintenance in order to ensure real-time citizen reporting.

News that used to die in a day isn't so easily forgotten. People all over the world want resolution.

BloggersUnite Hosts Spontaneous Event, which is a nonprofit platform that encourages bloggers to do good and raise social awareness, has launched an initiative that asks bloggers and network participants to use their blogs and accounts to do exactly that. They are asking bloggers and network members to continue their efforts, drawing even more awareness to the Iranian election and related atrocities in Iran through June 29.

“When we host organized campaigns, they are usually 90 days in the making,” said Antony Berkman, president of and founder of “This time, the crisis is now, the need for action is now, the initiative is now.”

The event has already received praise by Amnesty International USA, which has its own action page condemning the violence and repression over the elections. Amnesty International says it is important for people to keep Iran in the public spotlight until it ends restrictions on freedom of expression and association, which includes the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas.

Bloggers and members of the media are asked to contribute to the Bloggers Unite for a Free Iran campaign by making it a dominant social media issue once again on June 29. Others are asked to participate by leaving supportive comments on participating blogs, sharing links to posts about this important effort, and/or by turning all avatars green in honor of the campaign. Bloggers who have already posted on the subject are asked to add their links to the event page and post again on June 29.

Monday, June 22

Serving Bert: Lessons In Customer Service

"Always remember that what might seem like an annoying inconvenience can often be the platform for a long-term positive experience." — Richard Becker

When my daughter requested that Bert, from the long-running television show Sesame Street, join us for breakfast, I had a choice. I could grumble away the request with all sorts of "good" excuses. Or, I could accommodate by setting the table for three instead of two.

I chose the latter, propping up the miniature Bert on a chair twenty times his size. And why not? Bert didn't need much more than a place setting, silverware, and a paper napkin.

As strange as it may sound, minimal effort can produce maximum results. Instead of reinforcing proper table manners, imposing some meaningless rule like "no stuffed toys at the table," or working to hurry my daughter along without "distractions," the novelty of having Bert join us for breakfast set a positive day in motion. It changes the conversation.

It made her happy, and happy children are much more likely to finish breakfast quickly, easily, and neatly. More than that, her happiness was infectious.

It's also a lesson in customer service. Consider the Kinkos employee who invested his time in telling us how couldn't help while my team member and I stood waiting in line or the OfficeDepot employee who seemed put out after he had brought out an office chair. While neither incident is really worth going into detail, it does provide a subtle and all-too-common contrast.

Neither employee risked losing anything, other than a few seconds to service. The first could have looked behind the counter to see if the order was in rather than take an equal amount of time to explain why he couldn't help. The second could have been less concerned about whether I had chosen the wrong retrieval card (it turned out that another employee had mixed two sets together). Instead, their inconvenience was infectious.

Not so much for me, as much as other customers, especially at OfficeDepot. One of the other customers waiting in line chimed up that "he might need to sit in a chair for as long as he has been waiting for one." Then another customer was also quick to express how she felt pushed off while the employee finished with me. And with each passing comment, the employee seemed less happy to be there.

As for me, I had no complaints. Bert, earlier, had finished his pretend breakfast. And my daughter ate all her Honey Nut Cheerios. It goes to show you, customer service is like that. We often have an opportunity to decide which moments in life are annoying inconveniences or opportunities for a long-term positive experience.

Thursday, June 18

Making Sense For Media: PriceWaterhouseCoopers

PriceWaterhouseCoopers released its Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2009-2013 yesterday, and the findings will set the stage for some companies to excel while others will be forgotten. Not surprisingly, the migration to digital entertainment platforms and convergence will accelerate as companies seek advertising distribution efficiencies while consumers want more value and more control over their content streams.

The future is bright, but not for everyone.

While the report shows declines in consumer ad spending through 2011, PriceWaterhouseCoopers sees industry growth returning in 2012-2013. Specifically, global spending on entertainment and media will reach $1.6 trillion in 2013 and then grow by 2.7 percent in digital content, which will eventually offset declines in traditional media revenue models. In the United States, the entertainment and media market will ultimately grow at a 1.2 percent average annual rate to $495 billion in 2013.

The primary challenge, it says, will be that some media companies will struggle to attract revenue from fragmented and mobile audiences. On that one point, we couldn't disagree more. The emphasis on mobile audiences is leaning toward more convergence, not less, with audiences being able to import and make portable their favorite content from their desktops to their laptops and mobile phones.

If any fragmentation is occurring, it's a direct result of consumers finding a continually increasing amount of content that would otherwise be unavailable. More choices simply means not all people will pick from the most popular three, but rather any number of options from a list of 3 million.

The decision that media companies have to make is whether their product is strong enough to capture any audience at all. For example, as one large publishing company reported months ago, its greatest challenge on the Web is competition. Rather than compete with the only other daily in a major market, they have to compete with several more migrating print sources, broadcast news sites, radio news sites, and the seemingly endless supply of amateur op ed blogs and network content.

They're asking the wrong questions. They're searching for the wrong conclusions.

Digital demand is increasing, but not everyone sees it.

"The current decline in revenues is not because of declining demand," Bill Cobourn of PriceWaterhouseCoopers' media and entertainment practice said. "In fact, demand for (entertainment and media) appears to be increasing."

The struggle that some media companies are facing is where that demand is increasing and their own ability to be able to meet that demand. Rather than continuing to find ever-narrowing niches where no competition occurs, they ought to be asking what do they have to do different to demonstrate a clear product contrast.

The right content mix would ensure that the publisher would never compete with other migration print sources, broadcast news sites, radio news sites, and the greater content sources that make up social media, including former advertisers who are finding it easier to develop direct-to-public online programs.

Ergo, today's news doesn't have to be the same on every station. If anything, that is the model that died when consumer choice began to grow exponentially. Consumers no longer have to choose which newscaster or print reporter they enjoy more as much as they choose which stories interest them the most. It changes, daily.

Coupled with the media's focus on preserving old distribution models, e.g., print and broadcast, they miss the bigger picture. While there will always be room for some print (assuming it is not duplicated online), distribution stands to sort itself out.

Even PriceWaterhouseCoopers sees it. It projects mobile and digital platforms expanding at the highest average growth rate of 12.2 percent through 2013 in contrast to a non-digital growth rate of 1.2 percent. So traditional-minded media might ask itself: which growth sector makes more sense to pursue?

Tomorrow's media model will be everywhere or nowhere.

When migrating media learns how to deliver valued content over the same old coverage and shift its one-way communication model into two-way community development, then advertisers will have a real reason to invest advertising dollars in order to capture those communities. However, and in the meantime, right now it makes more sense for companies to develop their own online communities while media struggles to sort it all out.

After all, digital spending is projected to rise to 25 percent of total industry revenues in 2013, up from 17 percent in 2008. And advertisers will continue to shift toward new media, boosting Internet advertising to 19 percent of U.S. advertising by 2013, from 13 percent in 2008. In other words, the hard choice media needs to make today is whether they want to be everywhere or nowhere at all. And that choice will not be made by media alone.

Content Related To The PriceWaterhouseCoopers Report

Digital spending to fuel slower media growth-PwC by James Pethokoukis

Pricewaterhouse Coopers Notices We're Going Digital by Catharine P. Taylor

PricewaterhouseCoopers Study Finds A Positive Outlook For Digital Media Growth by Stuart Elliot

Wednesday, June 17

Retooling Spin: MySpace Layoffs

"Simply put, our staffing levels were bloated and hindered our ability to be an efficient and nimble team-oriented company. I understand that these changes are painful for many. They are also necessary for the long-term health and culture of MySpace." — Owen Van Natta, chief executive for MySpace

That is the message being floated by MySpace in the face of layoffs that will leave 420 employees jobless. But one wonders if that is what has really happened to MySpace or whether some observers are right in saying that the portal approach cost the company its lead position in the United States.

Or, perhaps others are right in saying that MySpace was overshadowed by the fast-paced migration of Internet nomads to Facebook, which doubled its membership to 70 million users while MySpace was losing 3.4 million. Worse, lost members only tell part of the story. Tracking MySpace over the last year reveals a steady drop in activity by the people who have stayed.

The trend began late last year after a long period of flatness. Indicators such as reach, page views, and page views per user have all declined by 50 to 80 percent in the last 360 days. It was one of many reasons while some social media tacticians were setting up MySpace pages at a premium, we needed a compelling reason to recommend the platform.

The real issue is probably platform simple over staff nimble; ease-of-use over innovation.

Simplicity continues to be the number one attracter in a country of voyeurs over content creators. So while MySpace was developing MySpace Music, which did less than impress, Facebook focused on simplifying everything from its message service to friend connections. Simply put, it's easy to join Facebook; MySpace takes some work.

While Facebook has also had its share of missteps, usually centered around sweeping changes that prompt members to remind Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook is more their network than his, MySpace is now faced with a communication mess that will be not be cleared up by uttering "whoops." Layoffs, after a year-long lingering decline, are an admission that something ought to have been fixed some time ago and now employees and investors will be left to pay the price.

Assuming MySpace can reinvent itself after what it calls a complete reset, the next question it will have to address is how to overcome the communication damage. It will likely take some time to overhaul the network without alienating its members, which can only mean more trouble ahead while people wait and wonder what's next.

So what's next? Here are a few ideas...

MySpace: After the Layoffs, Here’s What’s What and What’s Next by Kara Swisher

What Will MySpace Become After A 30% Headcount Reduction? by Scott M. Fulton

MySpace Isn’t Done Yet: Big International Layoffs Come Next by Michael Arrington

Monday, June 15

Spotting Talent: Copywrite, Ink.

While there are many personality and assessment sets that claim to know when someone might show promise as a leader, there is no substitute for spotting top talent than seeing their work. This holds true inside and outside of the organization.

What To Look For In Talent

• Performance. When you're an outcome-based communication company, the numbers don't matter as much as meeting the specified objectives. We look for people who do what they say they can do. It's surprisingly rare to find such people because so many have been coached to tell you what they think you want to hear as opposed to what they can actually do.

• Initiative. Some large firms have positions that are easily taught with turnkey systems, but communication is mostly situational. It requires initiative at every turn, with everyone looking for solutions that have yet to be considered by anyone. The best of them are seldom found in compilations of best practices that litter the net.

• Relationships. Some people mistake the concept of relationships as those who have the largest networks. The irony is that most communication firms benefit from the strength of the established relationships and not the number of contacts in today's electronic Rolodex.

• Problem Solving. Since every communication program is unique, it often requires the best practitioners to find new solutions. With the current state of change within communication, there are plenty of challenges to overcome.

• Work Under Pressure. Some things never change. Communication remains an industry that is built upon increasingly rapid response and a steady stream of deadlines. However, even with shrinking production windows, those who stand to excel are the people who can do it but never show it. As G.K. Chesterton once said "The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly."

Welcoming Hadley Thom

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting someone who exhibited all of these characteristics, first in class and then as a point person for our not-for-profit account. So when she met with me over coffee a few weeks back and said she was looking for a fun and challenging position with our company, it only seemed natural to find ways to make it work.

As an events manager for Aid for AIDS of Nevada, Thom was responsible for fundraising and event planning, including the AIDS Walk Las Vegas and the Black & White Ball. She was also responsible for the organization's marketing and public relations efforts, which included the development of its first social media program. During her time with AFAN, the AIDS Walk Las Vegas set records in total fundraising and individual donations. In 2009, more than 8,000 participants raised over $401,000.

She is now joining Copywrite, Ink. as a communication manager, and will be responsible for communication program development and client services for a diverse range of clients. Over the long term, we envision her taking a lead position for our growing team of communication analysts and specialists.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about what it takes to be a leader during an economic downturn. However, the lessons applied there aren't really confined to management or financial outlooks. They are meant for everyone.

After all, as much as companies can easily energize new employees, new employees can sometimes energize a company. And if you haven't found anyone like that lately, there is a good chance you haven't been looking. You can find our newest addition here (LinkedIn) or here (Twitter).

Blog Archive

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