Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dear Younger Self

Dear younger self, 

You. Will. Never. Be. An Expert. In. Anything. 

And that's okay. 

Technology will forever evolve. As soon as you think you have a handle, Snapchat will bite you in the ass. The week after you get a new iPhone, a newer iPhone will be released. As soon as you spend every last marketing dollar on the Google exchange, they will announce that more than half of all their ads go totally unimpressioned. Don't think too much about it or you will lose your mind. 

Fashion will come in and out of fashion like last years ombre color palette. Clothes may make the man, but it can make a slave out of an ordinary girl in two New York minutes. Which really is another way of saying that once a year, you should always make an attempt to get rid of the clothes and shoes and bags that you didn't wear or have no plans of wearing again. That's good advice. 

Family will always be as challenging as it's rewarding. One can not happen without the other and the other won't ever get easier. Deal with it. 

Friends are more important than anything, really. Family is fickle and painful and real life but don't make excuses for enduring rather than enjoying. Work is hardly more than a paycheck at it's very core. For both family and work, find something that contributes to your overall happiness and if it doesn't, find your way out of it. Your body -- oh sweet jesus your body-- will betray you. Trust me. These things I know all too well. Life is both sweet and savory, sometimes even a little acidic. Take care of yourself; take your vitamins and get more sleep. When in doubt, try getting more sleep. That's solid advice. 

My best advice is to make peace your present. Make peace with your past, your feelings and those people closest to you that you can't bear to witness the day without. 

Think of life as a marathon and think of a marathon as a journey. Don't focus on the finish until it's the only thing in focus. Your body -- with your expensive shoes, wearable devices and hipster headset -- will get you most of the way there, but at the end of the race, it's your's your heart...that carries you to accomplishment. 

Above all else, remember to breathe through it all. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Forget wonder, seek serendipity, says FourSquare Founder Dennis Crowley

I believe that Google removed wonder from the world. But I also fear that social media is ultimately teaching us to be less social. And as much as I adore social media (and Google), I'm going to fight it.

Back before Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare or Pinterest, I was shopping at a little boutique in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. 

As I explored the store for the first time, the lady working behind the cash register said hello & made small talk. I mentioned to her that I was looking for a gift for a friend who was under the weather; in serious need of cheering up. "Something sweet and upbeat, like the soundtrack you have playing," I said. She said she would check to see what she was playing and disappeared to the back only to emerge with a handful of "get well and raise hell" gifts that were ultimately perfect for my sick friend. I completed the purchase and left delighted. Surprised and delighted. 

But not as surprised nor as delighted as when a week later, a CD showed up in my mail box. The message was simple, "Said I would, then didn't.  Sorry about that! Share with your friend. Enjoy!" 

Talk about engagement. Surprise. Delight. Emotional connection. Building experiences, not just ringing the cash register. Wow. 

That was 15 years ago. Today, people no longer get to experience the wonder of it all. No more anxiety with waiting to find an answer; no more anticipation of a guess or exhilaration of figuring it out yourself. In some cases, shrinking the wait time is wonderful. Have a sick kid? WebMD. Need anything else? Amazon. But in other ways, removing the act of anticipation is devastating. Kids are looking less at story books and more at more screen time. Museum memberships are down and libraries are all but extinct. Why, even walking lanes need to be labeled for mobile phone users who don't have the time to stop and smell the roses. 

People don't seem to have time to investigate real life as much as they used to. People don't seem to want to be as connected to other people as they used to because it's too darn easy to connect virtually. We click and request a friend, post a random rant, purchase a product, ping someone somewhere or text to enter and then we move on. We publish, like, share or pin, but do we really care? If we don't have an answer, we don't need to wonder.

Nope. We simply Google it and move on. 

Dennis Crowley has been working to exploit that. 

Crowley is the founder of Dodgeball and FourSquare, and now Swarm. Dodgeball was sold to Google in 2005 and FourSquare was estimated at somewhere around $1b valuation a while back. Then more recently, FourSquare introduced it's new little check-in app, Swarm, in an attempt to further gain on hitting critical mass. Critics called it a wrong move, but they can't deny it's solid business strategy. In a Mashable article titled, "Why Killing the Check-In Was the Wrong Move for FourSquare," author Karissa Bell talked to a consumer technologist at Gartner, Brian Blau, who said this new technology is already a crowded space and that it's going to be an uphill battle for success. I would argue that the want for a business to connect to a customer has ALWAYS been a crowded space and it should always be part of the battle. It's not a characteristic of an app company; it's a characteristic of a human.

It's true, though, that FourSquare-like technology hasn't enjoyed the same popularity as other social networks. Try as it might, FourSquare hasn't seen the same general usage as Facebook and Twitter. And it's not because the app doesn't work. The whole theory behind optimizing toward serendipity is a REALLY GOOD THING in a world full of predictive behaviors and always-on techno-addicts. In my opinion, FourSquare is not competing with Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Pinterest, etc. Serendipitous marketing competes with far more important things than other social media networks or marketing messages from other retailers. Serendipitous experiences compete with life; the very details that make us so incredibly busy in the first place.

We are so busy, in fact, that it's challenging to find time to schedule a little surprise and delight. (That's why Pinterest is so lovely, btw.) There is hardly time to enjoy something as simple as running into a friend you haven't seen in a long time or giving (or getting) a surprise gift out of the blue. Talking to a store clerk or asking a human a question before making a buying decision? Hell no, people don't want that, do they? Technology doesn't allow for that kind of spontaneity and thus, people stop aching for it. When it happens, it's almost creepy. 

Crowley wants to change that and for that, I applaud him. And others are copying him, so he must be onto something. If you've been tracking what his companies have been able to accomplish over the last 5 years or so, you've been impressed but not blown away by the level of innovation that's occurred. And I think that's okay. Predictive personalized technology can only be so innovative before it loses it's real utility; it's ability to make money. Because let's face it; at the end of the day, it's all about adding value. Incremental value. Snippets of value that when tied together make for a warm quilt of happiness to lay over our weary souls at the close of a day or the start of a new adventure. 

It's not about reinventing how a good life is lived; it's about making your own little life a little bit sweeter.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Spotted at #NYFW2014: My Grandma!

Another New York Fashion Week has come and gone. 

We saw leather dresses, mixed-media and cobalt blue take the runway by storm. We saw more less made-up make-upless models and non-models than ever before and still, what we saw was nothing to write home about, really. 

Maybe I'm late to adopting the trends this year more than usual, but there was one particular fashion that made me feel right at home. 

Imagine my delight when I saw my dear ole' grandma's doll toilet tissue covers in my fashion Twitter feed. Oh, grandma, how I miss your blue-grey eyes and smeary magenta stained lip, your constant smoking and your attitude so dreary and negative that even the most pessimistic around would ask you to lighten up.

HOLY SHIT. I think that gal in the grey is my Dorothy reincarnated. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Disruptive innovation means doing the same thing in a different way. Or a new thing for the same reason. Or #vodka.

Being disruptive is pretty trendy right now. 

Wearing funky colored socks, designing business cards that contain only a single word, using Yo before you really know what Yo is, eating Phu, growing pubic hair on your face like real hipsters did, buying anything that Elon Musk tells you to buy and munching on cronuts instead of Dunkin Donuts is all so very disruptive, if not totally on-trend. 

But let's face it, it's not really in line with the definition of being disruptive, is it? I mean, disruption occurs when something groundbreaking happens; when a fundamental shift occurs and makes it impossible to go back to what it was like before the disruption. Parenting. Lottery. Death. Those are my top three examples of what causes true disruption. And the key to success is when disruption results in added value. 

Disruptive innovation happens when there is a catalyst for change, a fundamental shift occurs and as a result, a new market is created and an existing market essentially dies. Think eight-track tapes, sanitary napkin belts, land line rotary dial phones, Gutenberg's printing press, tube televisions, etc. 

Therefore, to navigate and optimize disruption as an element in your personal, professional and investment strategy, you must hold a diversified portfolio of interests among innovative industries. As in, be aware. Engage on social media channels. Try new apps. Read the news. Talk to your parents. Ask questions. Also, be friends with people like Mark Cuban. He may not be altogether disruptive, but he certainly attracts high net worth chaos; the fourth and wild card characteristic of disruptive innovation. 

One industry that seems particularly interesting for disruptive innovation is transportation. Not because of my earlier comment about Tesla's Elon Musk but more along the lines of his passion for SpaceX. Transportation as a solution, not an industry, seems to have more promise than finding the next new clear engine or a greener automobile. Instead, I'm talking about looking at the problem from a different angle and seeing a solution that may already exist; then using innovation to build something awesome. 

Wearable technology is, of course, a trendy thing to watch right now. There are smartphones, smarter watches, Google Glass(es) and so much more. Brands are literally racing ahead of each other with each new open source (or not) push of the envelope. But don't stop at the watch. One of my favorite little projects to track is the Samsung's Smart Bike. An article in Slashgear details that the bike will offer "Italian craftsmanship in the digital age," thanks in part to the Maestro Academy and Samsung's own corporate commitment to innovation. It's not yet for sale, but I'm sold. It may not be truly "disruptive" in transforming how humans actually ride bicycles today compared to how we will pedal into the future, but it's certainly setting a tone for the proper marriage of transportation + safety + technology + convenience for what's to come.

And then there are those reports of hover cars. In Israel. For real. BBC News penned an article about a program to offer magnetic hover cars as public transportation on the Israel Aerospace Industries campus in Tel Aviv by the end of 2015. In keeping with the theme of being totally disruptive, passengers will be able to order their ride from their smartphone. Hover cars travel up to nearly 50 mph with commercial vehicles being able to go even faster. (Listen up Amazon!)  Before we know it, the company behind the innovative technology, skyTran, has said that it has plans to move into the US and India once the Israel pilot is deemed a success. 

Once we get self-riding bicycles and driver-less automobiles, then I can start working on developing Vodka powder to add to water bottles, just like Crystal Light except totally better. And extremely disruptive to those concert venues and theme parks who charge $25 per adult drink. Wa-hoo!

What type of disruption are you attracted to? What do you think could be improved through innovation? 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Have You Tweeted Your Kids Today?

People often ask me why I tweet. 

I assume it's partly because I am not a kid, sports team, celebrity or soft drink. It's also partly because Twitter has not yet hit mass relevance. As in, not everyone uses it or cares to. Not everyone sees the value in the product. I get it. I really do. I understand why they are asking; it's because they haven't yet figured out what they could be using it for. They think it's all about tweeting nonsense and being ridiculous. They don't fully understand that it's the easiest way to get caught up in all the world's trending news and stories -- quite literally -- in a matter of seconds. So instead, the ney-sayers may say through pursed lips and squinched foreheads "why oh why would you ever dooooooo such a thing..." but guess what?

Everyone seems to have heard of it. 

So the point is that critical mass is not the same as mass relevance. In Twitter, in business and in life. 

You can be everywhere, but are you being relevant?

Everyone has a brand. From a global level, a brand can be almost omnipotent. But that doesn't mean that it's relevance is permanent. If a brand does not grow and innovate, it doesn't matter that they've got brand awareness from ocean to ocean. If an audience refuses to adapt, adopt and grow to embrace changes as they occur, the same thing happens to them. They become obsolete. They grow old and tired and less valuable to the growth engines that push our society ahead. Like a neglected child, hope for the future can diminish and dim until darkness is all that's left. 

And that, friends, is the reason I tweet. 

The next time you feel the urge to ask someone why they tweet, instead ask them what it feels like to smile at stranger or why they hug their kids. It's the right thing to do. It adds value. It feels good.

In Twitter, in business and in life, that's about as good as it gets. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A life lesson learned on the train: Don't judge a book by its cover. Oh, and avoid regret.

Inside my neighborhood metra train station, there is a little cafe stand of sorts. A man, probably the owner, works there every morning. Offering weary, not-yet-awake daily transit passengers a cup of coffee,  a bagel or a banana for not much more than what it costs him. I often buy a bagel and a banana for just about $1; sometimes because I am hungry and other times because it's just too cheap to pass up and makes for a lunch better than nothing. So today, when I pulled out my cash, I accidently grabbed two dollars. Too lazy to reopen my wallet, I told him I would buy two bagels instead of one. I'm not sure what I intended to do with the extra bagel, but something inside me told me to grab it and go. 

So I did. Upon exiting the train, I leaned down, smiled and made eye contact with a less fortunate person holding a sign that read, "Hungry. Need food. Please help." 

The hungry, needing food please help person promptly threw the bagel back at me, screaming something nasty and making a horribly angry face. How's that for a humble brag?

The day came and the day went. 

On my way home, I kept my head down and shoved my way past hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of other transit passengers as we packed back into the metra train and headed back to our boring lives in the suburbs. As I traipsed from car to crowded car, I got elbowed, tripped, bumped into and backed up against. 

So I sojourned on. 

Finally spotting a half of a half of a seat up near the front car, I whispered an "excuse me," as I poured myself into the crevice and adjusted my belongings so they weren't touching the other seat inhabitant, or more importantly, the floor. In doing so, I bumped my new neighbor, so obviously I apologized. For the second time of the day, I offered up as genuine of a smile as I could muster, only to be met with a side-eye glance that which can only be described as unadulterated hatred. Ouch. 

And for the second time that day, I regretted my actions. I let a pinge of hopelessness sweep across me before I gave myself permission to not care. 

Then my train squeezed down to a stop, I stood up and started to trudge backward to the exit car. 

That's when I heard her voice. 

She didn't smile. But she did stand up and call out to me. The whole train seemed to stop for her. 

And all the ants marching stopped, looked up and watched as the short-haired blonde lady handed me my train pass that I had left on my seat...quietly restoring a bit of my faith in humanity. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Problem With Perception

Have you ever watched The View? It's a daytime talk show starring four ladies of television, varying in age and experience and let's face it; intellect. I don't need to go on, but suffice it to say that I love a world with color. 

And being an art major for the first two years of college, I'll confess that I also love light. Together, light and hue paint the world with more beauty than most minds can comprehend. The lack of light, however, produces nothing visually appealing because as humans, we need to see it to believe it. 

Back to the original question. Have you ever watched The View? If you have, you've seen the magic of light dance across Barbara Walters face, leaving her appearing at least 30 years younger than her 84. Why? Because life is all about perception. 

So don't look too close at the lines on Barbara Walter's face and certainly don't check out her wikipedia entry. If you are a fan of hers, it will not take too much to knock her off a pedestal. That's also what makes her great, I think, and it makes her oh-so-human; more than a few divorces, family strife and turmoil, sickness and heartache. It can all be found in her story because she has lived a life well lead and a life well-documented now in social media. And sometimes the story - and the reality- is not so pretty. Hence the bright lights that flatter; creating a perception that we all crave. 

Katherine Heigl has a similar story as of late, but she is taking it a step further. Seems Heigl is suing CVS because they posted a "unauthorized paparazzi" image of her carrying two shopping bags from CVS. The perception is that Heigl endorses the brand. The reality is she probably had to buy some acne cream or Tampons (like the rest of the world) and was caught off guard. The real reality is that celebrities don't do anything without being "highly compensated." 

And if they do do something and they are not "highly compensated," they reserve the right to deny reality. That's why Kim Kardashian is so pissed about the spa in Thailand that allegedly provided her with 6 hours of luxury spa treatments a day. The reality was probably something closer to how the Kardashian clan took advantage of the spa in what they hoped would be free services and when the bill came, they were offended. The reality is the more money you have, the less you expect to pay. It's sad, really, but it's not a life of rich experiences and authentic friendships, it's a a life of endorsements and perception, in part thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Google. 

The biggest problem with perception is that reality ruins it for us all. We want to believe that movie stars, television reporters and reality celebrities are better than us. But they are not. They are, in fact, just like us. It's not far from the man behind the curtain scene straight out of Wizard of Oz. Just imagine if the reality was that everyone had a team of writers, publicists, lawyers and staff to man our Twitter accounts, update our Facebook pages, negotiate branded deals and raise our babies for us. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Be The Change

Cara sent this to me a while back and I feel it's a good time to pass it along. 

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagan:

Everything in our experience -- our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, our wants and needs, our relationships -- is fleeting. Changing. Subject to death. We die in each moment and again, in each moment, we are born. The process of birth and death goes on endlessly, moment after moment, right before our eyes. Everything we look at, including ourselves and every aspect of our lives, is nothing but change. Vitality consists of this very birth and death. This impermanence, this constant arising and fading away, are the very things that make our lives vibrant, wonderful, and alive. Yet we usually want to keep things from changing. We want to preserve things, to hold onto them. This desire to hold on, to somehow stop change in its tracks, is the greatest source of woe and horror and trouble in our lives.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Being Social

Forget John Malkovich. 

Being social is the new black. 

But what does being social mean to you? 

Answer my quick and easy 5 question quiz and find out. 

1. Do you provide timely and jovial Facebook updates once a week or so, just to show your followers that you are 1. still alive 2. doing cool shit or 3. need something from them (validation, support, comfort, advice, sympathy, envy, etc.) ? 

2. Do you tweet? Like, at all? Not just have an account, but have Tweeted (not a RT) something original in the last 12 months? 

3. Do you like other people's Instagrams? What about Pinterest? Do you?

4. Have you ever used Vine, Snapchat, Tinder, Whisper, Yelp? If not, have you ever posted something original on Linkedin or Google+? They are essentially the same <insert sarcasm>.

5. Finally, have you ever Googled someone or Facebook-stalked them after you read a stupid-a$$ comment on another friends feed or overheard a terribly delicious rumor at a neighborhood gathering or witnessed something horribly attractive in the parking lot of the grocery store or the work cafeteria that made you TAKE ONLINE ACTION to learn more about someone, somewhere, so you could then go and TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS

Okay, now the fun part; the results!! 

If you answered YES to ANY of the above, then you are alive. You are a human who is not dead. Therefore, you have a propensity to be social. 

Embrace it. Better yet, go out and dig deep. Find those people that make you smile, shine, think, do, feel, act and friend them. Whatever multi-channel-omni-channel-meet-at-the-Starbucks-channel strategy you feel comfortable with...get out there. Life is too short not to. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

World Economic Forum 2014: Sharing is Caring

I can remember sitting at the dinner table as a small child, crying, because there was a small pile of lima beans placed in front of me. 
"It's what's for dinner, so you will eat it if you are hungry," my mom would tell me, "There are starving children in this world that have real reasons to cry about food."

"But mom," I would argue through very real tears, "I am not that starving child. All I am is me and I KNOW I hate lima beans, so that's why I am crying. It's all I know."

Of course, it hardly ever worked, but my point was there. And continued to be there through other life events that presented themselves to me; events and situations where I KNEW I shouldn't be upset because my level of suffering was literally and figuratively NOTHING compared to the global injustices and harm and pain that others felt every day. At the end of the day, though, all I have is me. My way of understanding the world is all formed from my personal experiences. I knew that at a very young age and I continue to believe it with each passing day. 

Enter the idea of globalization. (A timely topic, no doubt, because the World Economic Forum is taking place this week in Switzerland.)

Globalization is defined as 
"processes of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture. Advances in transportation and telecommunications infrastructure, including the rise of the telegraph and its posterity the Internet, are major factors in globalization, generating further interdependence of economic and cultural activities."

On the same day of the first day of the summit, Branko Milanovic, lead economist of the World Bank's Research Department and Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins University, wrote an interesting -- if not difficult to decipher if you are a word and not a numbers type of person -- article that appeared on HuffPo. Milanovic named the winners of globalization as the rich and the Chinese middle class while the losers are the American Middle Class. 
So it's no real surprise that the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Reports basically says the same thing. The Risks Report was published before the forum so that folks could have something to talk about. A recap of the results as well as ongoing content coming out of the forum appeared in the special section of the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The results of the risk report indicate a dangerous trend where the richest 1% will continue to grow at a rate that will diminish the global income growth of the middle class; a class that compared to the majority of humanity has it pretty good, but as the disparity continues, will fall farther and father behind. This "squeezed middle," as the WSJ writer Stephen Fidler calls it, will ultimately oppose globalization and will someday -- sooner than later if the trend continues -- refuse to aid global economic progress and will instead focus more on doing whatever possible to attain capital (mostly real estate.) Which is another way of saying, "I understand that kids are starving in the world, but it really sucks that I've worked my ass off and all I have to eat is lima beans. Screw it, I'm not eating the beans and I'm not going to continue to work my ass off for beans I won't eat." 
Which, of course, makes me look at the digital and social landscape that act as the backdrop to all our happy -- and tragic -- experiences. I mean, if there is one place to really examine the socioeconomic indifferences in American culture, you need not look farther than American-made media.

Let's start at the bottom; we've got the Kardashians. 'Nough said. Then we've got the Rich Kids of Instagram, Honey Boo-Boo, Justin Beiber and Teen Mom 2 battling for air-time and branded dollar paychecks against the likes of Kate Plus 8, a van full of drunk housewives, or some poor little teenage boy swinging on a wrecking ball. That's not good. In the middle of the masses is the technology options (necessities to some) that act as equalizers. Having the same iPhone as Beyonce signals something alright. Following her on Facebook means something too. Making your own Twitter handle that says "LoveBeyonce" or "Beyoncesgirl" or whatever else means something even more. It means we are desperately clinging to the idea that one day we can be part of the ultimately popular and ultimately successful 1%. Of course, near the top we celebrate those who are not afraid to celebrate themselves in all their lux galore. I'm talking about celebrities. I'm talking about the world's billionaires. The more time spent in the middle, the more we care about these people. Why? Because we are stuck in the middle and can't find a way out. Watching star-studded televised award ceremonies and political shenanigans may not place us in the throws of such extravagant lifestyles, but it reminds us of the possibility. 
It reminds us that we are actually a lot closer than the majority of people on this planet, so for that we should be happy. But at the same time, we should be sad that we are not doing more to help those who can't help themselves and who wouldn't know Michelle Obama from Beyonce if they were to meet on the street. 

Which is a perfect time to tell you that after thinking long and hard about those starving children who didn't have any lima beans of their own, I remember gobbling up every last one in my tiny hand, placing them carefully in my pocket so later I could send them across the world to where they would be loved. Because I was lucky enough to know that sharing is caring. 

How do think American media affects globalization? What role does technology play in creating a more balanced playing field for world economies?

And finally, who really likes the taste of lima beans? I mean, really. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ditch being disruptive, collaboration is the new black

Fast Company design recently reported on how smartwatches will never disrupt as much as smart phones. The article makes a case for how wearable devices will never see the amount of popularity as mobile phones, because the technology and the appetite isn't there. 

In a rebuttal of sorts, WSJ reported on what it looks like when a handful of Olympic hopefuls wore a Fitbit for a week. Fascinating.

Regardless of whether or not you think all wearables are for "fitness freaks" alone, you have to agree with two things; the weeklong trial had some pretty cool results PLUS let's face it; disruption is dead. Corporate speak may come and go, but lets face it, the very idea of being disruptive has enjoyed newfound fame in the digital and social realm. It's all over Linkedin as a primary profile descriptor. It's embedded on job boards as a requirement for out-of-the-box thinkers who know the industry capabilities enough to push forward into new chartered territory. It's especially popular among middle grade CMO-level executives who are surprised and delighted that they made it that far in a career built mostly on going with the flow. So, really, we are not talking about disruptions the way disruption really happens.

Martin Luther King was a disruptor. Gloria Steinem was a disruptor. Agree with him or not, Edward Snowden is a disruptor. Aaron Swartz was a disruptor. Mark Cuban and Richard Branson are a couple of disruptors. For reasons I'm sure he is somewhat ashamed to admit, Mike Tyson is a disruptor. Good or bad, disruption occurs when everyone takes notice of how things were not done according to the norm. So this pesky little trend to label a person, place or thing as authentically 'disruptive' is really more about damaging the definition of being truly disruptive. 

You know who else endures their unfair share amount of disruptions? The average parent. Try taking an unruly kid to the doctor, the grocery store or hell, even to school on time while you ready for your own day. Dare, if you may, packing up a bag full of snacks, toys, books, prizes for a short car trip or a meal at a friendly local restaurant. There is a good chance you will witness the same kind of disruption as when baby Jesus himself parted the Red Sea. 

Taste that kind of disruption and you will agree; collaboration is the new black. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Google Hangouts Could Lead to More Justice For All

I used to work the cops and court beat of a medium-sized newspaper. It was all glamour, baby. One time, upon visiting the circuit court jail, an incarcerated person threw their own feces at the glass wall that divided us. It was horrific, but not nearly as upsetting as the meth-lab dad of four who blew up his kitchen (and his face) and then forgot to go back inside to rescue his kids from his burning house. The kids were saved by the local firemen, but the arresting officer had difficulty containing the rest of the family members who appeared in court. 

I worked odd hours when I first started; mostly nights and weekends. Friday and Saturday were particularly busy for offenders; especially for alcohol-related, domestic battery and misdemeanors. It was also incrementally busier because our judicial system was on a circuit, thus district courts that were closed for the weekend relied on our circuit court house for their initial appearance or arraignment. People picked up for various crimes around the region were transported by police escort to our local courthouse for arraignment because their own small-town local courthouse was closed. After the short trip, they were escorted back to their original jurisdiction, again with adequate police escort. And I drove my company car back to the newspaper to write up my nightly report. 

So imagine now that this process could be carried out via Skype or Google Hangout. That's exactly what is supposed to be happening in Mumbai, according to an article that first appeared in Press Trust of India. Late last year, mainstream press in the UK reported that Skype and Facetime may start to play a cost-cutting role in their legal proceedings as well. Now there are hints that this may become a more common legal occurrence, as introduced in a recent article that was published by the New York Law Journal.

Thanks to televised panels of legal gawkers across the networks, consumers and professionals alike are growing more comfortable with the idea that stories are better told in a video diary style than piles of manilla folders or printed word. (See images from CNN and Fox News that showcase video teleconferencing as a mainstream media tactic). We are used to this format, so why not take advantage of the technology and save some tax payers dollars from paying for the transportation and lodging of all our weekend circuit court offenders? 

What's more is the potential to really affect global policy and policing issues that are to blame for injustice when it comes to swift action in identifying, arresting and arraigning possible offenders. And moreso, protecting victims that need the protection of time and space that Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts can afford. My visits to the courthouse never really put me in danger, but the stories I've read about other reporters or worse, victims getting shamed, threatened and not getting even the slightest chance of justice makes me think that social teleconference may be a solution to build upon. Follow Nicholas Kristof, a prolific New York Times writer and one of my favorite crusaders for peace on the planet, for a little more understanding into the culture of rape we are dealing with on a global basis. (Be sure to check out his bio, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+).  I challenge you to think about how using social forms of communication, like Skype and Hangouts and others, would help victims tell their stories and make court procedures more accessible for the masses and affect change at the ground level, where it so desperately needs to happen. It's not always about just telling a story, but there is always a story to tell. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Recent Celebrity Rants and PR Stunts Leave a Chill in the Air

Hurry up and get in like a lion, 2014. It's too damn cold to stand here holding the door open. Just yesterday it was -15 degrees and this weekend it doesn't look much better. I mean, the forecast is calling for much higher temps and a chance of rain, so there is that. But all in all, when the rest of the world starts labeling your area as "Polar Vortex," you know you are in some serious shit.

In other fun news, there is no time like this time (cabin fever) to read up on all the colorful news. Not the regular local news, weather and sports, mind you. The good stuff that gets stuck between your teeth like a tiny piece of gristle. You find it later and are so glad you did but could not believe you waited so long. That type. 

Like, the new story about Meryl Streep. Her rant about Walt Disney and his "alleged sexist and anti-Semitic views," said Oliver Gettell of the  Apparently, Streep attended the National Board of Review awards gala to present an award to Emma Thompson for her performance of the creator of Mary Poppins in "Saving Mr. Banks," a particular drama about how Walt Disney persuaded her to make the story into the classic it is today. 

Not one to stand down for the fight for equality, but come on Streep. Have you SEEN any of the stories that make up the Disney Empire? The mom never lives. The damsel in distress always gets saved by her hero. It's a formula Walt himself invented and one that never fails. So your rant is a dollar short and a day late. Not to mention the noticeable bad-timing for delivery of a message, when another rising female actress is receiving an award that did not go to you. 

And then there was Michael Bay at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. Big time show, big time stuff, big time people. You know the drill. Expensive setups, performance powerpoints set to music and incredible lighting displays and even more expensive celebrity endorsers of products but also brands and messages. Katie Couric, Sarah Silverman, Macklemore, John Legend and others made appearances next to products that won't hit the shelves much before Christmas 2014 if at all. Fancy costumes, pranks, branding jobs and jabs...all in a battle of escalating marketing and public relations costs to one up the next. 

One particularly clever point was made by Jean-Louis Carrara, a VP at SK C&C USA, who said in an interview with Olga Kharif of Bloomberg about CES, "It's so big, if you want to be noticed, you have to be out there." 

That's what Michael had to do. He had to be way the hell out there or he ran the very real risk of getting overlooked. He wasn't hired to produce the next mini-Transformer ala CES, though. He was hired to set up a brilliant introduction of a product so that everyone would talk about it when it actually becomes available on the market. Wa-Wah. His task was daunting...or was it? He needed to dream up something spectacular and deliver it without a flaw, leaving people with a story worth sharing. Hmmmm...makes me think that's exactly what he did. 

And then, there is Dennis Rodman. It's less of a story, really, that some of us are following, and more of a desire to understand the legality of it all. And then, of course, there is the continued drama that which makes this human cartoon character so alluring. Is he joking? Is he for real? Is he really that stupid? Is he ever sober? The fact that he could be committing treason or acting illegally is less a piece of the story as is the fact that his life continues to be interesting well after his 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol promised. How is that possible? 

Just today, Rodman's camp issued an apology for his latest rant, with him admitting that he had been drinking. My personal favorite part about this story is two-fold...that Chivas is the advertising partner to this piece of content (see image below) and that we are expected to believe that Rodman had been drinking. Alcohol should not be blamed for the level of incoherence and ignorance displayed. It had to be drugs, and really serious drugs at that. Rodman was as high as a kite when he flipped his lid with CNN's Chris Cuomo after being questioned about his friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, a rather unsavory individual, even compared to the likes of Walt Disney. 

And don't even get me started on Kraft Food's recent press release on a shortage of Velveeta. It's NOT EVEN CHEESE PEOPLE. I can't. I just can't.

So, the question is, how effective were these rants and raves or were they really much ado about nothing? 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Top Ten Lists of "Top" Lists for 2013

Everyone looks back. Some of us dwell, but rest assured, all of us look back. The start of a new year and the end of the old means one thing that we can all agree on; the making of a top ten list. Or two.

The Top Brands of 2013, as published by Interbrands back in September, reported that Apple had bumped Coca-Cola from the first place position after 10 years of holding the top place as the #1 brand. Google, IBM, Microsoft, McDonald's and Samsung round out the top ranked companies for 2013.

The Top 50 Facebook brand pages for 2013, according to Ignite Social Media, include Facebook, Coca-Cola, YouTube, MTV, Disney, Red Bull, Converse, and to a different degree for increased growth over the past year Adidas Football, Pepsi, National Geographic. 

If the past is a true indication in the direction of the future, it's important to look back to see what will move ahead. In such a case, be sure to read up on the list of People To Watch in 2014, according to Advertising Age.  Leaders at JcPenney, Snapchat, General Motors, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Draft and FTC will have a year that is sure to be scrutinized and analyzed by stakeholders and indistry-watchers alike.

Techland's Top Ten Games of 2013 saw Grand Theft Auto V listed as number 1, if that is your sort of thing. 

And now, for the good stuff, I present to you, a few more noteable top ten lists to ponder as we set into the new year with a new song on our minds. Good luck, y'all.

  • Top Ten Slept-on R&B songs of 2013, according to Robert Carter of NPR, whom we can all agree has rocking good musical taste. 
  • Who doesn't need to read the "best and worst bacon brands of 2013," right? Head over to HuffPo to check out what makes a grocery store bacon product yummy or glummy. 
  • David Letterman's Top Ten Christmas Songs by Josh Groban 2013 is a total bore, but I dare you not to at least pretend to be interested. 
  • Not to be outdone, Fortune Magazine published the Top 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2013. Impressive list, lucky employees, right? Here's to another year of good fortune to those who have tasted it, and passing the plate to those who need it now. 
  • Okay, so maybe the Fortune list can be outdone as Time released it's annual Top 10 of Everything list for 2013.  There are lists of best movies, best tweets, worst apologies, best memes, highest paid CEOs, biggest IPOs, coolest cars, best apps, and more, more, more. Just like America likes it. 
  • And now, the very most important list of anything, anywhere...the Top Searches for 2013, according to God, er, Google. Enter Google Zeitgeist: 2013. Enjoy! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Take 2014 Personal. And other things we learned from ad winners in 2013.

A fun part of closing the door on a year passed is taking one last glimpse at what was so great, or in some cases, ghastly. 

Thank goodness the media agrees. Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a quick wrap up of the Best and Worst Ads of 2013, by Suzanne Vranica. 

My favorite part is, of course, the ad by Goldie Blox. Goldie Blox is a company whose mission is to make sure more girls get the chance to experience science as a gateway to the amazing world of engineering, as opposed to playing with Barbie's until they turn into one. Founded by a female Stanford engineer, the inaugural commercial rocks. I only wish the Beastie Boys would have allowed their song to go along with the idea, but I guess some boys are intimidated by strong females. Too bad for them.

Other things that are too bad are the losers; namely Samsung, Kmart, Chipolte and Mazda. But let's not focus on boogers. That's not the proper way to attack a #NewYear. Instead, let's focus on winners: Chrysler with it's poignant To the Farmer in All of Us commercial, Unilever with it's heart-breakingly honest and beautiful Dove ads, Goldie Blox's pledge to innovative girls everywhere and Google's story about how a product can make the most humane connections possible. 

In looking back and learning from what has passed, it's important to try and glean facts from the experience. Keep in mind that ad buying is more of a science than an art, and that anyone can purchase YouTube views, so that's not a real indication of success. Instead, the actual art of a good story and the act of actual connecting is what these winners do. When the stock price goes up, when the media writes stories for free, and when social content gets shared and when people buy more widgets, then we can measure just how much of an impact a brand story had on an intended audience. Or go ahead and take it personal. Ads that worked in the past were ads that made a simple human connection seem like a brilliant thing. For 2014, let's look for that in ads and real life. My hunch is that the data will prove this theory is a good thing for all parties.