Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's So Wrong With Being Personal, Anyway?

His excuse was, "It wasn't personal."
Which made her react by demanding, "What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me. It's "PERSONAL" to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway?"
"Uh...nothing," he timidly backs down.

In triumph and in spite, she concludes, "Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal!"

The dialogue may be from the 1998 hit movie, "You've Got Mail," but it applies most anywhere where business and personal issues struggle to co-exist. Of course, with the dawning of the digital age and the onslaught of virtual technologies that virtually and literally keep millions of addicted users in their bathrobes while blending both their personal lives with their business pursuits every day, there is hardly a difference anymore.


Just what is personal and not business? And what is business-only and not at all personal?

A few months ago, ESPN faced this issue after Ric Bucher, an ESPN NBA analyst, tweeted about how his company was treating Twitter (and all other social media interactions for all ESPN employees). The company's policy was overwhelmingly restrictive, he claimed, especially since he had difficult separating his personal brand from that of the company. And who can blame him for that? Was he a sports expert before they hired him to be a sports expert or did the company make him into the sports expert he claimed to be? At the end of the day, who really cares? The company may have hired a sports expert, but what they got was a person. A whole person.

Aside from the act of giving birth or gently succumbing to a natural death, I can think of nothing that doesn't at least hint at one while appearing altogether entirely the other. And vice versa.
 
Which is both a dream and a nightmare for folks concerned with branding. Personal or otherwise, nothing is more engaging that an attractive brand. In the world of public relations, it's easy to find examples of this. Unfortunately, in the rest of the world, it's disturbingly easy to find good examples of bad branding just by reading the headline news.

And in these times of overlapping personal brand with business ideals, it's important to start looking at the bundle. Because if you are a potential partner or a potential customer, you will likely want a sneak peek at the entire package before committing to anything worth keeping.

The good news is that there is a simple solution to overcome the obstacle of getting too personal. In business, in uneasy social settings, in life; the key is to remain authentic.

William Shakespeare said it best when he penned, "This above all: to thine own self be true."

That said, here are a few rules for branding yourself in a world that doesn't have a backspace.

1. Don't lie.
2. Don't be mean.
3. Don't wear or say anything uncomfortable because you'll regret it halfway through the evening and the discomfort will outweigh the benefit of putting on such a front.
4. Realize that you are human. Act human. Act humane. Make business personal.
5. When - not if - you screw up, admit it and move on. With a smile. Because even a half-assed smile is better than no smile at all.

Just ask Tiger Woods.

I originally wrote this article for Green Buzz Agency; a social media strategy consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Learn more about them here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Running From Good to Great


Here is a real advertisement for a job at The Evening Sun.

"Reporter: The Evening Sun in Hanover, Pa., a 21,000-circulation award-winning newspaper in southcentral Pennsylvania, seeks a general assignment reporter. The ideal candidate should have excellent reporting and writing skills to cover local government and local issues. We are looking for a reporter with the tenacity to push official sources and the skill to write compelling stories on matters of local concern. Entry-level journalists who report with skill and write with flair are encouraged to apply. We offer good benefits and a great working environment for people passionate about journalism. Send resume and clips to Editor Marc Charisse, 135 Baltimore St., Hanover, Pa. 17331, or e-mail mcharisse@eveningsun.com."

Which of course, reminds me of a little run-in with the law I had during the infancy of my own journalistic career. I call it the story of how easy it is to go from "Good to Great."

A small private plane emergency landed/crashed/illegally plummeted out of the sky, as told through another local radio's "breaking news" outlet. As the major newspaper in town, my own weekend reporting gig was quickly changed from covering the cops and court beat to tracking down the numbers of survivors/details of the crash/photos of the dead bodies. Whatever. I was pumped! My editor told me not to come back without the story.

So I approached the delivery truck entrance to the Central Illinois Regional Airport with a bit of trepidation once the airport authority told me (the media) to take a hike at the main entrance gates. After parking (hiding) my newspaper car, I traveled on foot across the grassy knoll to what appeared to be long skid marks in the rolling meadow and a far-off two or four seated piper on it's head in the middle of where some rather nice Illinois natural prairie was being restored. (Illinois Prairie is code for tall, unruly weeds and bad things that hurt you if you are forced to walk through it.) That's when I felt a large hand fall solidly on my right shoulder. I turned to face a gigantic man wearing an official bright orange safety vest, a strange hat and boots that traveled well past a permissable fashion or function requirement for this job.

"Exactly how much money do you make sweetheart?" said the gruff voice.

I actually had been thinking (cursing) just that as stickers and weed seeds had begun creeping up my legs and into my socks as I trekked through the prairie plantings. I did some quick math in my head. I choked back a few real tears.

"If there is a story out here, sir, we intend to grab all the facts and get out of your way," I said.

"Well, here are the facts, " he started to say and we both turned to go, "You will not feel so good after a night in jail for obstruction and your little newspaper is not going to help you out. I am, though. See?"

And I did see. No fatalities. No big story. No nothing. Just a stupid piper plane and a few disoriented folks standing around scratching their bums. I put my reporter notebook away and walked off.

I ran back into the newsroom later that day to spend nearly an hour removing little sticker things and seed pods from my jeans. My editor laughed his ass off. I had about four lines from a police docket that I used to explain what happened that afternoon and you know what he said? "It's all good."

I cashed the check for my $10 an hour job in order to order a pizza and drink a case of beer with the neighbors that weekend. I think we also played horseshoes or something like that. But we all laughed. It was great.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Recalling Fashion, Religion and O'Reilly


Someone recently asked me why I write. I said because without stories we have nothing.

So here are a few stories floating around the internet that have landed inside my head and I'm piecing together exactly how I feel about them as I write.

A recent poll named Fox News as the most trusted news source. The flip side of that is that frankly, no one trusts anyone anymore, so it's statistically irrelevant that anything gets named "most trusted."

Following a similar path of controversial thought, last year a study came out that showed a steady deterioration in the faith-based industry otherwise known as organized religion. Probably most interesting is the following excerpt:

"More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself,' " says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author. (Not that anyone would attest that it is bad to believe in yourself...)

And finally, the most disguisting slice of trendy cultural news that apparently is upsetting to social media outlets and fashionistas everywhere is trailblazing a path of indigestion across the www:

It's a story that appeared in Fashionista.com that published a six-page dress code requirement for Pi Phi’s Cornell chapter. If it wasn't serious, it would be hilarious. Okay, it's still a bit hilarious in a sad, pathetic, how-on-earth-do-you-function-on-your-own-you-little-twit-mole-of-a-person way.

Here is a link to the actual sorority site if you are interested in putting a few pretty faces to this ugly prose. Ugh. Looks to me like all the ladies are breaking the clothing basics that state,"


"— No satin dresses. No one looks good in satin dresses unless it’s from Betsey Johnson or Dolce & Gabbana, you weigh less than 130 pounds, have three pairs of Spanx on and it’s New Years Eve."

"— Yes to nice flats: Tory Burch, etc. More evening-ish, understated, patent leather good. I’m thinking mid-height Mary Jane heels, or mid-height chunky Kate Spade."

I don't care what The Plastics say about wearing track pants and pony tails. I'm not so sure what I care about trending topics in religion and current events either. But I know fashion. And this is where it's at, bitches: trendy cutout booties.

Maybe if these girls believed in themselves a little more, watched Fox News for entertainment and not so much religion and practiced Wicca or holistic medicine or yoga, they would realize they have the right to have thier own individual style and personality.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What is today's Zeitgeist?


Defined as the general moral, intellectual, and cultural climate of an era, the Zeitgeist of today may be a belief (or an addiction, in some cases) to the power of connectivity.

Being constantly available via blackberry, internet, messaging, texting, phoning, tweeting, blogging, pinging, singing, whatever...we never leave home without it, it seems. It's like a virtual diaper bag and the baby? It's the ability to be ever connected. Totally plugged into our email accounts and our clients whims, our bosses beckonings and our spouses complaints, our kids' requests for cash and our parents calls for assistance...boy oh boy it's nice to be wanted. Needed. Loved?

That's the question, I guess. Just because we are pinged to death, does that mean we are more loved than the guy who parks himself at his local Panera, plops down with a bestseller paperback and sips decaffeinated coffee while zoning in and out of various states of consciousness all the while, I bother with my laptop and reply to texts and instant message my dog, 82% more often than I did last year. Who is better off and who is more loved? I'm so busy but he is so alone. From the relaxed look on his face and the harried expression I know I don, onlookers would best guess that he is better off and I? I may be Better Off Dead!

In the very least, I am finding that I may be able to be more connected to my connections when I take a moment or two or a day or three to TOTALLY DISCONNECT. Imagine that! Unplug the phone. Turn off the terminal. Lock up the iPhone, Blackberry and headset. And just breathe. And Not Say Anything.

Then, of course, dawns a new day...



Sunday, January 24, 2010

Postman Doesn't Ring Twice on Sunday


Yesterday was National Handwriting Day. Last week I wrote an article on the importance of being yourself. And more than two hundred years ago John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence. 

How do these three seemingly unrelated events go together?

Well, first...the obvious...

John Hancock's birthday is January 23, 1737. So yesterday was the anniversary of his birthday. Kinda funny that we celebrate (or overlook, whatever the case may be) the birthday of the man with the most famous signature on the same day that we celebrate (or overlook, whatever the case may be) the most infamous holiday called National Handwriting Day.

Second, and maybe not as obvious...

The fact is that my own birthday is a mere day or so away. But even more interesting is the fact that only last week I penned a little diddy about personal branding. As in, I wrote an essay about how it's virtually impossible to totally separate our personal lives from that of our business ventures. Mostly thanks to the ubiquitous use of media and telecommunications (mobile phones, texting, internet, facebook, etc.) but also because it's never been something that folks have ever truely compartmentalized.

Look at politics. Has that environment EVER allowed it's members to hold a personal life as just that: personal? Or celebrities? Or your neighbors down the street who purchased a new SUV after the mom got her second promotion in three months? (Exactly why do we care about crap like that when we only see each other approximately 7 times a year?!?!) It doesn't matter. We are human. We are interested in the whole person, not just a persona and not just a signature.

Observing the day's relevant celebrities, I promise that all the letters I place in my mailslot today will be handwritten ones.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Smile More

Some people are just born smilers.

Which is good, because what the world needs most is love sweet love. (Valentine's Day is coming folks...) Really, though, because think about it...you are what you are. If you are always smiling, then you are one giant smile. And who doesn't like to be on the receiving end of a smile?



Because life is not, in fact, like a box of chocolates, in my humble opinion. (Thanks Derek Featherstone...for inspiration on the digital highway and beyond...check out his triathlete training blog here.) As much as we may want to we are not able to lift up every piece of life out there; smell it, lick it, prick a tiny piece off to take a peak inside and taste it only to replace it with a more desirable flavor and start another a mere minute later. Instead, life is really all about customer service.

Whether it's your neighbor, mail carrier, newspaper deliverer, doctor, hairdresser, grocery store clerk or librarian, it's all a delicate balance of appropriate customer service interactions. We all dance around the necessary informal greetings and whatnot - or worse, automated telephone applications - and in the end all we want is to have a decent exchange and leave with a smile. 

The mantra has always been to have customers "hear you smile through the phone," right? With the digital age, it's asking for more. Smiling via social media - over the internet - in email - in teleconference - during a Webex presentation - and more...but the mantra is the same...keep smiling.

It's important to stay aware of the fact that, in fact, a smile is something so very simple that can help out even the most difficult situation. I have recently been reminded that a person can catch more bees with honey, so to speak. Unfortunately it was just after I got stung.  So I obvioucly have  along way to go, baby. But I know I am not alone. Here's to miles of smiles and a little boo boo goo for all the rest!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Funny News For Hump Day

Oh Conan, you are one funny guy. Listed yourself as "available?" on Craigs List, did you? That's funny shit. (Conan is the guy who got royally humped.)

In other news, Tiger is no longer out on the prowl. (Tiger is the guy who has a major problem with humping.) Apparently he has been captured and admitted to a sex addiction clinic. Is that funny? Is that news? 



And then, of course, is the Republican claim of the Massachusetts seat left empty by Ted Kennedy. Mind you, it was a seat not filled by a Republican-panted person since before I was born. More than 36 years at least, if I am to celebrate another natal day next week or so. Some people blame the White House administration for trying to overcorrect a problem of right-wingedness  (by blaming it on Obama) while others say it had more to do with choosing a man to fill the old man's old pants than anything else. Which really is funny considering that Scott Brown is famous for being naked probably more than anything else.(Apparently Scott is the guy who likes to portray himself as someone who is hump-able. Remember, he is Republican. See above.)

Click here to hear Coakley's concession speech.


(Yes...Martha...you and the rest of the free world has been left to scratch their heads...)



Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wandering Minds Beware

Being social means everything. Being socially active, socially aware, socially connected, socially educated...the list goes on and on.


It's really very much rather like dating. Really. I'm not joking.


The dating scene is pretty much the same as the social media scene.

The same basic rules apply. "Don't be stupid." "Be interesting." "Remain authentic." "Don't get yourself into - or stay in - a dangerous situation." "Be careful." "Pay attention." "Stay focused on the task at hand." "If you screw up, own it, but please, try not to screw up." "Yadda yadda yadda."

Sure there are some addendums...like "Don't get naked the first date," can be translated into, "Don't post naked pics of you on Facebook."  And the same idea can be evident when trying to understand how to engage in proper social media relationships as much as how to best understand the complications of the dating scene.

For instance, in trying to analyze an evening spent at a bar mingling with new faces, one can never quite estimate how the experience turned out for others in the mix. At the same pace, one can never quite determine for sure how others will take a particular online experience; whether it's a chat session, blog post, Linkedin message, Tweet, mobile status update or other. So that's why the rules are so important. Not just to uphold, but also to understand. Both the dating scene and the online environment are fraught with error and potential disaster, let's face it. The better your filter to decipher through all the nonsense and facts, the better off you will be.


Here is a good read from the New York Times when it comes to understanding pitfalls and pleasures of having so much opportunity in a world that seemingly gets smaller and smaller each passing day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google's Just Gotta Have Conan's Cahonies


Ohhhh, China. What were you thinking? Were you thinking that you could pass through the pearly gates of heaven (or, rather, Google) and intercept private email conversations and delete other noteworthy content just because you wanted to? Were you thinking that just because you are so big (third largest geographic standing behind Russia and Canada) with so many people (1.3 billion and counting) that has existed for so long (one of the oldest civilizations dating back more than 5,000 years) that you could do anything you wanted?

Well, you may have met your match. Google is putting up a fight. In what history books may record as Google vs China, Google may not be sure exactly how to handle this delicate situation just yet, but rest assured, they won't settle for removing free access and free speech one brick at a time. They are Google, after all. If they allow good ole' fashioned communist parties (that can't quite decide whether they are, in fact, People or not - People's Republic of China or simply the Republic of China - WHO THE HELL ARE YOU ANYWAY, CHINA?) to increase their censorship practices on Google's platform, then surely Google will be admonished to something wholly unlike Google.



In a carefully-crafted, well-written letter explaining the current situation of Google considering to exit from the business of China altogether, David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, wrote, "These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."

Read about how Google originally agreed to add special censorship clauses to it's Chinese contract back in 2006. And then read what CNN says about a possible pullout now that China seems to be taking advantage of that initial generosity (let's call it). Check out what others are reporting about the ongoing incident at Wired or Yahoo! or the Huffington Post.


Let's see if Google has cahonies like Conan.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Feed A Fever, Feed A Cold

It's cold outside. It's cold season. Suffering inside a stuffy head and a small townhouse and one big dog, I've decided to put my kleenex down and publish a brief post of how not to suffer by stuffing yourself.
Here is a healthy article that offers 6 surefire ways to avoid falling victim to seasonal colds and flu. In a nutshell, it tells folks to:

1. Eat
2. Eat protein
3. Eat fruits and veggies
4. Eat flavinoids
5. Eat vitamins
6. Drink, but not alcohol


(That sound of a bottle bottoming out on a counter-top? That was me. That was my "medicinal" reisling of choice. Darn the luck. Hand me the cashews before I ahhh-chew again...)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Question Of the Day

What's wrong with Jay?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Here. I'll say it again.

Jay Leno has no skeletons in his closet, does not have a rap sheet, has not been seen in public drunk, nude or snorting cocaine off someone's belly. Jay apparently has not cheated on his wife, held his baby over a railing, got arrested for drunk driving, picked up a transvestite hooker, called Brooke Shields a bad mother, punched a photographer in the face, married his adopted daughter, checked into a rehab clinic or anything else that would require him to talk to Dr. Drew about anything other than good wholesome family fun, collecting funny cars and trying to save the planet one feminist at a time.

Yet his show ain't doing so good.

The problem with Jay is that he leads a life that many think should be "glamorous," yet comparatively speaking he can easily be seen as "boring." And who wants to throw their evening away by being bored? When we sit down in front of the boob tube, we want to see boobs, right? In this day and age, if someone won't show 'em, we have the simple option of changing the channel and with a quick flick of the wrist, we are in boob heaven. Take a look at the top 25 celebrity scandals since 1982. Rob Lowe - star of a homemade porno that involved a minor back in 1988 - sums it up when he flaunts that, "At the height of my downfall, I made a million dollars a picture." Maybe it was the peak and not the valley, dear boy. Ever consider that?


From a public relations platform, this is really a question of whether or not no press is indeed, bad press. 




To answer that, all we have to do is ask Dave Letterman or any of the alleged female employees he slept with during his climb to television reign. Or perhaps Tiger Woods will weigh in on how his tumultuous affairs affected his sponsorship dollars and golfing habit. Maybe bad boy Charlie Sheen has something to say though no one really cares anymore what the playboy did or didn't do. Or Chris Brown for that matter. Lindsey Lohan has made a career out of displays of offensive and often illegal behavior that knows no limits while Whitney Houston can't decide whether it's trendy to admit to casual cocaine use or not. Don't talk to Cocaine Kate Moss about that, she's a mom now...as I'm sure Tom Brady and soon enough I predict, LeAnn Rimes will attest.



From a public relations standpoint, it's all about understanding your audience, your key stakeholders and your playing field. Not that I am suggesting that Jay do something scandalous to keep getting invited to the cool kids parties, but he does need to maintain his 'A' game in order to not get benched. Very similar to how many organizations work - including the office, school, church, neighborhood associations, social clubs and more - it's about carving out a niche and continually sharpening your sword as you enter the battlefield. And if you find yourself with a dull weapon in hand, maybe consider falling upon it in order to get some immediate attention. Can't hurt, can it?

Oh...I don't know...maybe I'll ask Conde Nast on their thoughts about boob-showings as rating bolsters...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Resolutions. Same Old Tricks.


"Wag more, eat less, find peace."

Sounds simple enough. But is it maybe more difficult than it seems?Why does it seem like all New Year's resolutions are really more like trying to teach an old dog new tricks? Doomed to fail, that is.

We are smart people, after all. We know when our goals are unattainable the likely result is abandonment. As in, you will likely have as much luck sticking to your New Year's resolutions as wholeheartedly deciding on winning the lottery. (My personal goal.) That's why we set ridiculous yet almost realistic expectations for ourselves this time of year. For those among us that don't have a membership at a local gym, we set out to take an exercise class a day. Yikes. For those who may enjoy a daily double cheeseburger, we feel empowered to change our evil ways and cut out all fast food entirely from our diet. No way. If you don't go to church now, don't make it your New Year's resolution to go every week. If you have more than a dozen credit cards maxed out, please don't decide that your natal day resolution will be to promptly pay them off and never again use credit as a financial solution to all your money problems.

It seems the secret is to do something you've always done but to simply do it better. Or more carefully. Or more often. Or with more vigor. Whatever works for you.

And like most things in life, it's always best if you don't have to go it alone. 

Here is my list of New Year's resolutions I stole from a cool running site called gotrainyourdog.blogspot.com

1. Wag More.
2. Get Fit.
3. Loose Those Extra Pounds.
4. Find Peace of Mind.


Happy 2010!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome 2010. Goodbye Texting While Driving.

Studies show a pretty horrific correlation between driving and texting. BusinessWeek says drivers are six times more likely to be involved in accidents when they engage in texting behavior.

This "daily epidemic of distracted driving," led President Obama and transportation secretary Ray LaHood to ban federal employee use of cell phones and such while operating governmental vehicles back in October 2009.

Some state governments are following suit and starting Jan. 1, all texting, twittering, typing and surfing will be banned in Illinois, Oregon, New Hampshire and more.  

Why, it was just last night that I downloaded a pretty cheesy public service announcement that featured LaHood telling me not to text-n-drive. I would have paid more attention but I was busy trying to input the address to the next bar on my New Years Eve pub crawl and really only had time to briefly check my iPhone inbox before the light changed to green...


Seems to me that these stuffy legislators have nothing to do but police well-intentioned citizens.




I'm teasing, of course. Happy New Year and to all a good night!