Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Three Easy and Affordable Ways to Position Your Marketing and Communications for 2009

The turning calendar year inevitably brings with it a tidal wave of retrospectives, guides, and lists about how you can do better—or differently—in the coming year. Every source purports to be expert; every “how-to” article authoritative.

Well, friends, as you’ve read in my blog, that ain’t me. I don’t pretend that what you’re about to read is the authoritative article on how to plan your marketing and communications efforts so they’ll generate measurable and quantifiable results in 2009. You can get that guesswork elsewhere; I won’t waste your precious time with it here.

What you will get are three simple ways to position your marketing and communications efforts to meet—and hopefully overcome—the challenges of 2009. Taking these three steps won’t cost a lot of money, either: Odds are some whiz-kid on your staff knows all about website coding and social networking; he or she will embrace the opportunity to implement some of “your” ideas.

Start with the assumption that the first six months of the year will remain economically moribund. We’re looking at a U-shaped bottom; the economy should start to rebound in the third quarter. Consumers will probably not regain much confidence until late in the fourth quarter—hopefully around the time the holiday spending binge kicks in.

So what do you need to do in the first 6-9 months of 2009 to prepare marketing and communications strategies and tactics that match the economy’s projected path?

Here are three simple and cost-conscious steps you can take now—-and build on in the coming months—-to position your marketing and communications for 2009:

1) PASS your web-based communications:
According to a new survey from Larstan Business Reports, the online communications market is growing at nearly 100% a year. Your web-based communications plays an increasingly critical role in marketing, communications and especially in sales.
Your website is your public face; it’s the first place potential customers interact with you and your product. Of course you know the KISS method; when it comes to websites, I advise my clients to use what I call the PASS method:

Perfection is your goal: Make sure your content is perfectly aligned with your messaging. Use short sentences and clear, compelling grammar. Make it easy to navigate. Make key information easily accessible (no more than two clicks drilling down). Eliminate spelling errors. Feature concise calls to action.

Analytics, Adhesivity, Accuracy, Attractiveness: Use Google Analytics (it’s free!) to track traffic to each page of your site. Determine what’s popular and what isn’t. Keep the popular and fix (or jettison) the unpopular. Focus not on website hits but unique visitors and time on site. Check your competitors’ numbers at sites like Compete.com, Quantcast.com, or Popuri.us. Make your site adhesive, accurate and attractive.

Simplicity is king: The more complex your site, the harder to convey your unique sales proposition. Look at your site critically: Do you have too many pages for the message(s) you’re trying to convey? If so, downsize your website. After all, you don’t spend time clicking through your favorite sites—why should you require your customers to?!

Separate your site from your competition: Yes, I know, you’re doing this already. Your content is better, your navigability simpler, your product better, blah blah blah. Well, how about doing a low- or no-cost thing like putting your company logo in the web browser’s URL window box? Or featuring your logo on every page, rather than just the home page? Leverage every opportunity to separate and distinguish your company and your product from your competition.

2) Social networking:
This one’s easy, cheap and highly effective. Remember, it doesn’t matter how great you say you are; far more meaningful are comments from others about how great you are.
Use Flickr to post photos of your customers interacting with your product; of your staff at work; etc. Use Facebook, MySpace, or Bebo to create an interest group around your product or company. Use LinkedIn to generate professional interest in your company or product. Expand your personal and professional network through Plaxo, Naymz, Brightfuse, or others. Generate content exclusively for your “friends” and “groupies”. Use social networking sites to generate loyalty and business.

3) Customer contact:
In challenging times, surveys show that nothing is more important than empathy and the quality of your communications efforts to build trust and long-term loyalty between your business and your customers. Here are just two of many suggestions to increase your contact with customers.
Make your newsletter shorter and send it more often—at least twice a month. Fill it with discounts for loyal customers—make these soft sell offers to reflect your empathy for the tough economic times. Every issue, feature a photo and Q&A with a loyal customer; repurpose that content for your website, Facebook site, LinkedIn group, etc. If your customer has a Facebook site, post the feature on his or her wall. Show your customers you care.
Advertise carefully: Revisit your advertising plan. You don’t need a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal (Bob Nardelli and Chrysler, note!) to underscore your company’s value. Advertising in niche publications is cheaper and more effective—plus more likely to reach your target audience. Online, invest in a long-term Google Adwords campaign.

Do these three things right, integrate them, and your marketing and communications efforts can generate positive results as we navigate next year’s uncharted and murky water.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Death of Even One Law Enforcement Officer is Too Many

If you know anything about me, you know that I have extensive experience working in and among law enforcement officials. As Director of Communications for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which produces an annual report on law enforcement fatalities, I followed very closely data and statistics pertaining to how many officers made the ultimate sacrifice.

Yes, we have heroes in our armed forces who in combat zones face considerable violence and risks. Sadly, as the NLEOMF report below indicates, our heroes in blue who "ensure domestic tranquility" also face considerable violence and risks. Whenever the media interviewed me about a fallen law enforcement colleague, I said "the death of even one law enforcement officer is too many."

We've got a long way to go to reduce to zero the number of law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty, but the NLEOMF's report below is promising.

* * *

2008 is ending as one of the safest years for U.S. law enforcement in decades. The number of officers killed in the line of duty fell sharply this year when compared with 2007, and officers killed by gunfire reached a 50-year low.

Based on analysis of preliminary data, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) and Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) found that 140 officers have died in the line of duty so far this year. That is 23 percent lower than the 2007 figure of 181, and represents one of the lowest years for officer fatalities since the mid-1960s.

This year's reduction includes a steep, 40 percent drop in the number of officers who were shot and killed, from 68 in 2007 to 41 in 2008. The last time firearms-related fatalities were this low was 1956, when there were 35 such deaths. The 2008 figure is 74 percent lower than the total for 1973, when a near-record high 156 law enforcement officers were shot and killed.

"2007 was a wake-up call for law enforcement in our country, and law enforcement executives, officers, associations and trainers clearly heeded the call, with a renewed emphasis on officer safety training, equipment and procedures," said NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd. "The reduction in firearms-related deaths is especially stunning, given the tremendous firepower possessed by so many criminals today. The fact that law enforcement has been able to drive down the crime rate, and do so with increased efficiency and safety, is a testament to the hard work and professionalism of our officers," Mr. Floyd added.

"Concerns of Police Survivors is pleased to see the reduction in officer deaths for 2008 and hope this is a trend we will see year after year. But we also know that for each of the surviving families and co-workers, their one officer is one too many," said C.O.P.S. National President Jennifer Thacker. "These families, co-workers and agencies are struggling to cope with life without their officer and will need support from C.O.P.S. before, during and long after National Police Week. C.O.P.S. will continue its efforts to provide life rebuilding support and resources for 2008 surviving families and affected co-workers, as well as past year survivors to help them rebuild their shattered lives. We will embrace these families and affected co-workers and assure them there is no fee to join C.O.P.S., for the price paid is already too high," she said.

In 2008, for the 11th year in a row, more law enforcement officers, 71, died in traffic-related incidents than from gunfire or any other single cause of death. Mirroring the nationwide drop in traffic fatalities among the general public this year, the number of officers killed in traffic incidents was down 14 percent from 2007. Last year, a record high 83 officers died on our roadways. Of this year's traffic-related fatalities, 44 officers died in automobile crashes, 10 died in motorcycles crashes and 17 were struck and killed by other vehicles.

Among other causes of death, 17 officers succumbed to job-related physical illnesses, three died in aircraft accidents, two were fatally stabbed, two died in bomb-related incidents, and one each was beaten to death, drowned, accidentally electrocuted and died in a train accident.

Fifteen of the officers killed this year were women, equaling the all-time high set in 2002. 2008 marked the first time that more than 10 percent of the officers who died in a year were female. Among all officers killed in 2008, the average age was 40 and the officers had served an average of 12 years in law enforcement.

Texas, for the second year in a row, experienced the most law enforcement officer fatalities, although the state's 2008 total of 14 was down from 22 in 2007. California had 12 officer fatalities, followed by Florida and Pennsylvania, with eight each. Four of the eight Pennsylvania officers to die this year were members of the Philadelphia Police Department, which experienced the most deaths of any agency. Thirty-five states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands lost officers in 2008. Eight officers serving with federal law enforcement agencies also died this year, down from 17 in 2007.

Mr. Floyd cited a number of reasons for the sharp decline in officer fatalities this year: 1) better training and equipment, plus a realization among officers that "every assignment is potentially life-threatening, no matter how routine or benign it might seem;" 2) increased use of less-lethal weaponry, including TASER stun guns, which allow officers to apprehend resisting violent offenders with less chance of assault or injury; 3) more officers wearing bullet-resistant vests-over the past 20 years, vests have saved more than 3,000 law enforcement lives; 4) a downturn in violent crime-the Department of Justice reported that violent crime is at its lowest level since 1973; and 5) a tougher criminal justice system, with a record 2.3 million offenders in correctional facilities nationwide.

The statistics released by the NLEOMF and C.O.P.S. are preliminary and do not represent a final or complete list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2009. The report, "Law Enforcement Officer Deaths, Preliminary 2008 Report," is available at www.nleomf.org. For information on the programs that Concerns of Police Survivors offers to the surviving families of America's fallen law enforcement officers, visit www.nationalcops.org.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Sorry my flawed ideology resulted in our plummeting economy"

Imagine if you made a mistake on the order of magnitude to which the venerable Alan Greenspan admitted in his testimony earlier this week.

Imagine if you had the power (just for a day, even, to say nothing of the decades which Greenspan had) to lead our nation--our entire nation--down the primrose path to economic uncertainty (for all), economic turmoil (for many), and outright economic disaster (for a pitiable few).

For Keynesians like me, I'm glad Alan Greenspan lived long enough to get his comeuppance, and I'm happy I'm around to see it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Words You Use Matter... Use Them Judiciously.

In the age of texting, IM'ing and rushed emailing, it seems vaguely contrarian to reiterate the sheer importance of the words we use in speaking and writing. The power of words and the subtle nuances they convey are extremely powerful. Both the words we use and the way we structure vocabulary within our spoken and written conversations reflect our intelligence, our depth of thought, our intellectual capacity, and our understanding of dialogue.

Words create impressions, images and expectations. They build psychological connections. They influence how we think. Since thoughts determine actions, there's a powerful connection between the words we use and the results we get.

Poorly chosen words can kill enthusiasm, impact self-esteem, lower expectations and hold people back. Well chosen ones can motivate, offer hope, create vision, impact thinking and alter results.

One of my bosses at MIT recently referred me to a study that sought to determine what
successful corporate leaders had in common in terms of education, life experiences,
family background, etc. The result seemed to indicate that there was no common
denominator except for an above-average vocabulary.

If you want to be respected and esteemed both in your profesional and personal lives, learn to harness your word power to work for, not against you. Learn and incorporate in your spoken and written dialogue words that create a compelling visual of your desired outcome.

Choose every word as if it matters, because every word you use reflects back on you.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thoughts Before Yom Kippur 5769

For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the LORD. - Leviticus 16:30

For those of you who don't know, Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish faith. From the time the Kol Nidre prayer is recited this evening until the Shofar is sounded tomorrow night, Jews around the world will draw nearer to God through acts of atonement, fasting, and prayer.

Jewish tradition teaches that on Yom Kippur, God remembers every name, listens to every petition, and offers forgiveness to the repentant.

Jews are stubbornly optimistic (we have to be to have survived for so long!); we have faith that God will hear our collective pleas for forgiveness--punctuated by individual petitions--and respond favorably. We believe there's a plan and we're confident that God is good, His actions are good, His intentions positive.

That's an increasingly tenuous position to hold, given the world's precarious current financial and geo-political position. But still Jews around the world flock to synagogue, listen to the timeless Kol Nidre prayer, and beseech God to "inscribe us in the book of Life."

As a child growing up in an Orthodox synagogue, I looked at Yom Kippur with dread: An interminable day in temple, unfamiliar prayers, no candy from the candy guy, Harry Meyers.

Time and experience has thawed my dread of Yom Kippur to the point where I now look forward to it: I eagerly anticipate communing with my fellow Jews around the world, "meeting" with God, and the comforting liturgy that accompanies the expiation of sins. The fasting seems a small sacrifice indeed. The once-unfamiliar liturgy no longer intimidates; rather, it comforts and sustains me as the sun traces its inexorable path across the sky.

For one day I am truly detached from the world around me: No email, no voice mail, no meetings, no exercise. A "Sabbath of Sabbaths", set aside to take stock of my life and resolve to do better, be better, act better.

Tomorrow night as the gates of repentance close and the sun sets on another Yom Kippur, I hope that through the repentance, prayer and charity of Jews across the world, God chooses to make all our lives better. Tonight and tomorrow I'm not just praying for me and for my family, I'm praying for all of us.

On its own, mine is a small voice. But in chorus with Jews across the world, I hope our collective voices make a positive difference for all humanity.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Working With Smart People Makes a Big Difference

We see this phenomenon all the time: In athletics, in business, in any competitive endeavor. Working with people who are more talented than you always motivates you to raise your performance. Conversely, working with people who are less talented than you allows you to be complacent, lazy, to not perform at your highest level.

Now that I've worked at MIT for just one week, this notion has become crystal clear. Comparing the business acumen, management skills, intellectual ability and integrity of the managers with whom I worked in several of my previous positions against those of my current supervisors, it's obvious why some organizations succeed and others founder.

Good leadership, intelligence and integrity always lead to success. Poor leaders and managers focus on their own egos and seek to aggrandize themselves at the cost of the success of the organizations they lead.

They fool themselves into believing that the choices they make are the best for their respective organizations. They may listen to others but believe so fervently in their infallibility that they callously dismiss opinions from staff that may very well help their organizations.

When you work with talented leaders who motivate and inspire you to raise your performance, you know your opinions will at least be considered seriously, if not adopted--for the good of the organization. That's the type of environment in which I currently work, and boy, did I miss it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Guest Submission to Pinkribbonreview.com: If You Like Wine and You Want to Contribute to Breast Cancer Research, Read On!

A few weeks ago I responded to a query on Profnet from Karen Lynch, who writes the blog, Pinkribbonreview.com. Karen's blog is devoted to raising breast cancer awareness; she covers a range of topics in this regard.

I offered to contribute a submission on a product available through Riedel, the famous wine glass maker. She graciously accepted.

If you're interested in wine and want to help raise awareness of breast cancer, please read the submission.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Avis Tries Harder: To Get Your Money!

As a marketing communications pro, I'm rarely surprised by some of the ingenious and insidious ploys my fellow marketers adopt to separate you from your money. Many marketers I know conceive and implement elaborate and often successful schemes to do so, disparagingly viewing their "target audiences" as "marks" and propagating the old saying, "a fool and his money are easily parted."

This weekend--courtesy of Avis Rent a Car--I was exposed to a clever new ploy. I know it's effective because I saw it work on three of the four people in line ahead of me. Rather than rely solely on personal observations, I called Avis to corroborate the anecdotal "evidence." Probably on the advice of counsel, Avis neither confirmed nor denied that they've instructed their agents to act in accordance with this aggressive up-selling scheme.

Here's how it works:

Avis (and other rental car companies) are losing market share to name-your-own-price clearinghouses like Priceline. Instead of cutting their prices to meet the threat, however, they're adapting their sales techniques.

The agents at the desk know when you've reserved your car on Priceline. They offer you an upgraded car for "just $4 or $8 or $10 a day." If you're on business, they blithely inform you that you can expense it. If you're on vacation, they say, "you deserve it."

Smartly, they aggressively pitch you an upgrade from which they--not Priceline--get the full amount. They don't have to share it with Priceline because the amount gets charged directly to your credit card. By quoting a small amount per day, they distract your attention from the bottom line and appeal to your perceived needs. For really effective agents--like the one I encountered at the Palm Beach Airport--it's an easy sell.

I'm not against Avis--or anyone, for that matter--trying to make an extra buck or two. From a purely professional standpoint, I admire and appreciate the way Avis has adapted to the Priceline 'threat'.

Personally, however, it seems a bit slimey.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When It Comes to Your Life, "Think Inside the Box"

Mass layoffs on Wall Street... Hurricanes pounding Florida, Louisiana and Texas... Earthquakes in China and Iran... In all the coverage--still photography and video--we see haggard and harried people toting boxes with their most prized possessions inside. They've managed to place in a box the items most important to them.

They've thought "inside the box."

We all know the popularity of the phrase to "think outside the box." In business this cliche is meant to exhort people to adopt innovative, creative and unorthodox approaches to overcoming challenges. Like many sayings borne in business, the phrase has migrated into our personal lives with the same definition.

What if we have it wrong? What if the best solutions to professional and/or personal problems are those items which during a genuine crisis we put "inside the box"?

When we leave a place--whether by choice or circumstances--we put our stuff in a box and depart. The stuff in this case are material goods--photos of loved ones, diplomas, certificates, prized books, items of sentimental value. In a microcosmic way, the stuff we take tells the story of who we are, where we've been, what we do, whom we love. The stuff we take inside our box defines us.

"Thinking inside the box" allows us to tap the deep wellspring of our personal and professional experiences and skills. Rather than "think outside the box", we look inside ourselves for creative, innovative and unorthodox solutions to challenges. The items in our box help us overcome these challenges.

As we've seen from what refugees of natural and man-made crises carry, "thinking inside the box" forces us to prioritize those items (tangible or not) that are most important and meaningful to us.

So next time you're confronted with a professional or personal challenge, disregard the ubiquitous calls to "think outside the box." Instead, think inside the box.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Little Doggerel About My Job Search

I subscribe to a service called ProfNet, which throughout the day sends feeds of media inquiries from reporters who require sources for their stories. Today an inquiry came through from a reporter asking about PR pros who've been in job search mode.

That describes me--along with probably a lot of other PR pros. To distinguish my response to the inquiry from the myriad others that the reporter most likely received, I parsed my response in the form of a rough doggerel. You see, in my experience, creativity tends to stand out. It's memorable and shows I've devoted time to thinking about and crafting a response.

And it's fun. So I hope you enjoy my little poem.

There once was a PR pro named Bruce,
Whose earned media was on Nexis, Google and Luce.
He moved from D.C. to Mass
Where his career ran temporarily out of gas.

Despite great paper and recommendations
his job search has been 20 months of frustrations.
While working freelance as The Hired Pen,
he got rejected again and again.

From networking to recruiters,
He turned up few potential suitors.
So for Bruce the PR pro,
the prospects continue, sadly, to be slow.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blog Today, Gone Tomorrow

I've been on a blogabbatical because I truly believe there are so many blogs out there, who'd want to read mine? Instead, I've been researching where I've been quoted in others' blogs.

One of my favorite references is from Pete Johnson's "The Nerd Guru" blog. A few months ago on LinkedIn I responded to a question about what I felt was the most overused business phrase. I took a few moments to compose my response (see below). It apparently tickled Pete's fancy, because he quoted it in his blog: http://blog.nerdguru.net/2008/05/most-annoying-business-phrase.html

I truly believe words are precious. With so many communications vehicles available to us, we no longer take the time to choose our words carefully. While Pete's question provoked a lot of hilarious responses, the underlying theme is alarming: People just arbitrarily and capriciously vomit words without saying anything.

Which is why more than ever business leaders and owners need savvy communicators to carefully and concisely convey their key points.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

D'Ohlympics: Placating China is Not The Right Course of Action!

It is deplorable to witness the depths to which the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) will descend to please the Chinese government and its Olympic organizers.

One day after China revoked former Olympic speedskater Joey Cheek's visa, obviously for his role in founding Team Darfur, an organization which seeks to call attention to China's role in the conflict in Darfur, the USOC forced four Olympic cyclists to beg China for forgiveness for embarrassing the Chinese by wearing pollution-cutting masks when they arrived in Beijing... A city that by any measure ranks among the world's worst for clean air.

The USOC, the Bush Administration, and corporate America's tacit complicity in China's repression of human rights at home and abroad as well as its blatant disregard for the environment will make it difficult for this patriotic sports fan to watch these Olympic Games.

The true shame is not on the four cyclists who were merely trying to protect their health prior to competing for Olympic fame and fortune, but rather on those who have tarnished the Olympic ideal by kowtowing to the malevolent Chinese Olympic organizers and the country's duplicitous government leadership.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

If You're Down on America, Visit Gettysburg

Gettysburg: Where 165,000 soldiers fought for their beliefs... Where Abraham Lincoln helped to mend a torn nation with his powerfully concise Gettysburg Address... Where millions have stood to reflect on the national and international importance of the events that happened on this hallowed ground. Since the smoke cleared from the battlefield in 1863, Gettysburg has been a must-see for all Americans.

If you're feeling down on America--thinking we've lost our purpose, that the world no longer respects us--a visit to Gettysburg will replenish your faith in our country and refresh your patriotism. Standing at the summit of Little Round Top, you cannot appreciating the sacrifices our fellow citizens made to preserve the Union.

Touring the battlefield at Gettysburg is a moving experience. Most people visit for a day, but the three-day battle requires more time. To grasp fully the strategic and tactical implications of Gettysburg, which took place July 1, 2 and 3, 1863, you'll want to devote almost as much time (2.5 - 3 days) to touring the battlefield and the town.

If you're planning a visit to Gettysburg, your best bet is to prepare ahead. Watch the movie Gettysburg based on the book by Michael Shaara. To place the battle within the political tempest of the Civil War, read James M. McPherson's seminal work, Battle Cry of Freedom. A little preparation will enhance your visit to Gettysburg.

Once you arrive in town, start your visit at the new Museum and Visitors Center at Gettysburg National Battlefield. This premier facility opened just two months ago and has thankfully replaced the old "Cyclorama". Watch the 22-minute film, "A New Birth of Freedom," narrated by Morgan Freeman. Devote three hours to tour the Museum and Visitors Center, which leads you through the battlefield and its aftermath.

Grab lunch at Olivia's--it's a little out of the way but the food is great and the service excellent.

In the afternoon, take a battlefield bus tour (take advantage of the discount available at the Visitors Center: Buy your movie ticket and bus tour at the same time). Make sure you get on a tour with a real, live guide. Some tours are canned audio; the licensed battlefield guides are highly knowledgeable and engaging. The tour takes about two hours; you'll begin and end at the Battlefield Bus Tour center in the middle of town.

Pass on the "Package Plans": After you've toured the Visitors Center the side attractions seem hokey and old-fashioned. Invest the money you save in either a ghost tour of town or a horseback ride tour of the battlefield (more on those below).

Return to your hotel for a rest--it's expensive to stay in town but there are a lot of options. Choose a hotel with a pool so you can have a quick and refreshing dip before your evening activities. I recommend dinner at the Appalachian Brewing Company on Buford Avenue. This restaurant is right near Lee's HQ and across from Seminary Ridge. After dinner, as the sun sets, walk through the Seminary--look to the West and you'll see the fields the Confederates crossed on days one and two.

In the evening, if you're not too worn out, sign up for a ghost tour of Gettysburg. Many people aren't aware that the town of Gettysburg was the scene of fierce urban combat, as the routed Union forces retreated on day one through the town to a defensive position on Cemetery Ridge.

The ghost tours recount brutal house-to-house fighting, along with grisly stories of civilian houses turned into makeshift hospitals where Confederate and Union wounded lay side by side. The town is apparently pretty haunted but the only ghosts I encountered were those left in my wallet. Nevertheless, the ghost tours provide an excellent perspective on the fighting in town, as well as the rudimentary and brutal medical care given to the wounded.

In my next entry, I'll share with you what you should do on Day Two of your trip to Gettysburg.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Don't Let the Naysayers Deter You: Smart Business Owners Know that NOW is the Time to Strike!

Because I have a few clients who have taken to heart my advice that challenging business conditions actually present economic opportunity, I've become a bit of an expert on how savvy businesses can actually gain market share during these dynamic times.

See below for excerpts from the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Chicago Daily Herald in which I have been quoted for my expertise in this particular area.

Rather than choose the traditional (and cowardly) path of cutting their marketing, communications and sales staff and budgets, some of my savvier clients are working with me on campaigns that simultaneously expand their market share and strengthen relationships with their current clients.

One of our campaigns involves distributing gas and "food" bonus credit cards (or gift certificates) when customers make certain purchases, achieve certain spending (or visitation) benchmarks, and/or refer new customers.

These initiatives have been extraordinarily successful because they're what marketing guru Seth Godin refers to as "genuine". These initiatives convey the sense that "I feel your pain" and I am going to help you during these tough times. These initiatives afford businesses a rare and unique opportunity to connect emotionally with consumers when consumers are looking for emotional connections from increasingly distant (and seemingly contracting) businesses.

Businesses that lay off their marketing and communications staff and cut their advertising and promotional budgets are cutting their proverbial noses in spite of their faces. NOW is the time to be aggressive. Your aggression today will establish and strengthen enduring relationships with customers who will stay with you when the economy improves.

Overlook the power of the emotional connection and you will continue to lose market share. Now more than ever you need to find ways to connect with your customers. When you do, you'll set yourself up for success when the economy bounces back.

Worcester Telegram & Gazette (July 20)
... Such is the power of gas promotions. As average gas prices in Massachusetts hover above $4 a gallon, an array of stores, employers and charitable organizations are offering free or discounted gasoline to attract consumers. Grocery shoppers are building up points on store loyalty cards and then redeeming the points for discounts at gas stations. Those who take certain jobs or donate blood are winning gas gift cards. Some churches are even holding drawings among parishioners for gas gift cards.

The promotions aim to attract new consumers, reward existing consumers and shine a bit of light on entities that want to be seen as sympathetic and compassionate, according to marketing experts.

It can seem counterintuitive to step up promotions when times are tough, but those who do so can capture consumers who remain loyal when things improve, said Bruce R. Mendelsohn, principal of The Hired Pen, a marketing communications firm in Worcester.

“You have an opportunity to steal customers from your competitors by offering them an incentive that shows you care about the issues that are affecting them,” said Mr. Mendelsohn, who has clients that are offering gas promotions.

Chicago Daily Herald (June 16)

Bruce Mendelsohn, Principal of The Hired Pen, a communications consultancy in Worcester, MA, notes that "substantial anecdotal evidence" indicates the more scarce the resource, the more likely companies are to use it in marketing and promotional campaigns. This is especially evident when the resource ties into the company's line of business, Mendelsohn said.

"We think it's another example of the incredibly creative ways some businesses are adapting to challenging economic circumstances," he said. "As market researchers, we're always studying and evaluating consumer behavior; we're curious to discover how successful businesses will be by using gasoline as a marketing and/or promotional tool."

Using gasoline in a contest or promotion isn't unique. Similar contests, although not as sophisticated, happened during the oil embargo in the 1970s.

On alternate rationing days, some companies conducted "Are you odd?" or "Are you even?" campaigns, seeking to draw consumers to their respective stores, Mendelsohn said.

"While there's no doubt the exponentially increasing gas prices are depleting consumers' wallets, businesses that find ways to relieve the pressure on consumers are certain to be viewed favorably by consumers and generate some media attention," Mendelsohn said.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Finding Friends... and Hope in Sad Cities Like Scranton, PA and Worcester, MA

While on a week-long roadtrip through Pennsylvania, the wife and I stopped in Scranton for a night to visit friends. The parallels between Scranton and Worcester are unmistakable: Both are once prominent and wealthy towns that have over the past 100 years fallen upon hard times. Now they struggle to regain relevance in an economy that has over time made each town and their respective and once vital industries obsolete and irrelevant.

Worcester's heyday was more than a century ago, when the mills generated millions of dollars for industrialists and the town attracted world-class cultural institutions and world-famous visitors. Scranton's history--built on turn of the century coal, textile mills and railroad profits--is similar.

Driving into towns like Scranton and Worcester is depressing: The roads are generally in poor shape; the once-proud houses are uniformly dilapidated; the formerly bustling downtown shopping districts are filled with boarded-up stores and populated by vagrants or aimlessly wandering people.

But yet... Peel back the shabby veneer of these depressing and depressed towns and you find underneath neighborhoods filled with families and professionals who refute the reports of the demise of their respective towns. They believe fervently in the vitality of their hometowns and preach it to visiting skeptics.

They point to the reconstruction of Victorian houses, the influx of businesses, the new grocery store down the street, the infusion of Federal, state and local grant monies that will restore "their" hometown to its previous glory days. Their enthusiasm is infectious; their loyalty impressive; their civic pride remarkable.

Being from D.C., I used to malign dirty old towns like Worcester and Scranton. Like others from more prominent and wealthy cities, including members of my own family, I looked down on these towns.

But as I've gotten to know people from towns like Worcester, and during my brief time in Scranton, I've come to realize that their civic allegiance represents hope for the future. Hope is one of the most motivating emotions we have; with hope much is possible.

So I'd say despite the socio-economic challenges these once-prominent cities now confront, the hopes of their respective citizenry bodes well for their futures.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

EP D'oh: The Tour de France Suffers from Cheaters and Abysmal PR

In spite of an aggressive television advertising campaign by Versus... In spite of erudite and entertaining commentary from Paul Sherwin, Phil Liggett and Bob Roll... In spite of the absolutely breathtaking scenery as the peloton pedals its way through the beautiful French countryside... In spite of the legions of fans who line narrow, twisting mountain passes to catch a fleeting glimpse of their favorite rider...

... The Tour de France continues to suffer from cheaters and horrible public relations.

As it is, the only time most Americans pay attention to the Tour is when either an American dominates the event (see: Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong) or when the news reports that an American is suspected of taking performance enhancing drugs to dominate the event (see: Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis).

Given our winner-take-all culture, it's understandable that most Americans don't comprehend how, as my former father-in-law succinctly stated, "a guy can finish dead last in a stage and still win the whole race. It doesn't make any sense."

Besides, most Americans don't have the patience to watch a drama like the Tour de France unfold over three weeks. We want quick and decisive outcomes for the sports we follow.

But for those of us who appreciate the supreme level of fitness required to ride some 2,400 miles over varying terrain, in all types of weather, and to those of us familiar with bike racing, the Tour de France remains an irresistible event.

For many of the racers who compete in the Tour, the lure of winning (either a stage or the whole race) has since the inception of the Tour spurred ever-increasing sophistication in taking performance enhancing drugs that speed recovery, boost aerobic capacity, and stimulate muscle production. Blood doping has throughout the Tour's history for many riders proven irresistible (for an excellent description on blood doping in bike racing, check out http://bicycling.about.com/od/drugsdopinginprocycling/.htm)

When blood dopers get caught at the Tour de France, the PR fallout is toxic: Sirens, flashing lights, humiliated riders, photos of used syringes and obligatory comments from former pro riders lamenting the demise of purity in sport (as if when they were riding the Tour was clean).

Every time, the Tour organizers issue a predictably similar statement: "[Name of rider] from [name of team] tested positive for [name of performance enhancing drug]. He has been expelled from the Tour and the matter is now being handled by law enforcement authorities."

That's a typical lawyer's statement. And while there's nothing fundamentally wrong with a statement from a lawyer, these statements are generally formulaic. They lack emotion. They address facts and facts alone. The problem with these predictably formulaic statements is that they don't address the raw emotions surrounding the tour.

TdF fans are incredibly passionate about the riders they follow: Whether it's exhorting the Basque riders up the Pyrenees, cheering for breakaway French riders on Bastille Day, or waving an American flag in one of the four American riders, the Tour is an emotionally draining experience for fans.

For riders--both past and present--the Tour is physically and emotionally debilitating. The clean riders--and there are some, notably led by Slipstream Chipotle, an American team with a rigorous, self-imposed drug testing regimen--are justifiably furious at the dopers. The dopers must ride in constant fear of getting "randomly" tested. The sponsors--many of whom dropped their team sponsorships after last year's debacle--are angry that their brands are associated with cheaters. The commentators are upset at having to report yet another drug-related expulsion when the real action takes place on the roads.

There's a lot of emotion when a doping story breaks, and the lawyer's statements don't address the sense of betrayal, the anger, the frustration, shared by fans, clean riders, sponsors, commentators and cycling afficionados.

If I were handling PR for the Tour de France, I would formulate and distribute to team sponsors, managers, mechanics, riders, bus drivers, commentators--anyone who is even remotely affiliated with the Tour--the messages below. I would instruct them to repeat these messages to anyone who asks them about the Tour's policies regarding performance enhancing drugs.

1) "We fully oppose the use by anyone associated with professional cycling of performance enhancing drugs before, during and after the Tour de France. We will swiftly and to the full extent of French law prosecute any violations of this policy. Further, we will ban for life participation in the Tour de France by any professional cyclist proven to have taken performance enhancing drugs during the Tour de France."

2) "As part of our continuous efforts to eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs during the Tour de France, we have adopted a rigorous drug testing regimen and policy (as follows). By riding in the Tour, all riders agree to participate in the efforts to keep the Tour clean."

3) "We apologize to fans and supporters of professional cycling for any violations of the Tour de France's drug testing policy. The lure of Tour de France fame and fortune is not sufficient motivation to violate the principles of sportsmanship upon which the Tour de France is based. We are embarrassed and our sport is ashamed when we find dopers--and we will find you. You and your team will be humiliated on the international stage."

4) "We understand professional cycling is both physically and emotionally draining--both for riders and for fans--and we appreciate the support of fans who, like us, want only to witness a clean race among drug-free riders. We strongly encourage followers of professional cycling--be they fans, team sponsors, event sponsors, former riders or amateur cyclists--to support those teams and athletes who ride drug-free."

Messages like these address the emotion surrounding the use of performance enhancing drugs and send an unmistakable message to those riders who risk getting caught with that crap in their systems. They also placate fans by telling them in no uncertain terms where Tour de France organizers stand on the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Who Let the Cat Out (Who, Who, Who)... Or, More Adventures with Pumpkin Pie.

--A tale of Pumpkin Pie's attempt to regain her position as the only animal that sleeps with mommy.

As my loyal readers know, the wife is in California for two weeks, returning Monday night. During her absence I have been responsible for the proper care and feeding of the wife's cat, Pumpkin Pie. I have often stated my belief that Pumpkin Pie has a pea brain and is incapable of cognitive ability--certainly not sufficient intelligence to carry out the following nefarious plot.

Or... does she?

Today's adventure with Pumpkin Pie has compelled me to reexamine my analysis of the cat's brain. I think she wants to make me look like a terrible cat-sitter, and after you read this entry I'm confident you'll share my belief.

During the wife's absence, Pumpkin Pie and I have observed an uneasy truce: As long as I feed her, give her fresh cold water twice daily and occasionally change her litter box (see previous blog post to discover my feelings for that term), she has behaved herself moderately well: Only one hairball/throw-up and several litter box near-misses.

We've occupied the same space with a minimum of hostilities: Think North and South Korea and you'll have an accurate grasp on our relationship the past two weeks.

But to carry the North/South analogy one step further, today she crossed the DMZ in force. Quite honestly it's my own fault. I believe she saw an opportunity to make me look bad in the all-important eyes of mommy; thankfully her attempt was unsuccessful. If it had been, I might now be writing about my frantic search for a replacement cat.

Did I mention that Pumpkin Pie is not an outdoor cat? That's right, loyal readers: Pumpkin Pie is sans claws, sans shots, and sans any idea of how to survive in the big world beyond our deck.

This morning Pie shed the comforting confines of our humble abode and went off on a adventure. I left the house in a hurry at around 0730 to get to the Worcester JCC to teach spinning. After teaching from 0800 - 0900, I went to play soccer in Northboro for two hours. After that I went to West Boylston where I hooked up with my brother-in-law and his daughter to go swimming at the Holden Pool. I finally returned home at about 1500 (that's 3 p.m. to those of you unfamiliar with military time--it's easy, after noon just subtract 12).

I got out of the car and heard plaintive meowing. I looked up to the bathroom window--Pumpkin Pie's usual throne from which she surveys her kingdom. Not there. I looked at the kitchen window, where she perches when she wants to see the commoners at their level. Not there either.

I looked on the deck and saw a cat. I thought, "what's that stray cat doing on our deck? I've never seen that cat before." I looked closer and lo and behold it was Pumpkin Pie. She must have snuck out right behind me when I left this morning, darting between the closing screen door. And she must have stayed outside for seven hours: No food, no water, no shots, no clue.

Naturally I let her back in and she went immediately to the feed dish--but not after I swear she looked at me with utter and complete disdain: Like, "you're supposed to take care of me?! Hell, I snuck out for seven hours and you didn't even know. Wait 'til mommy finds out; she'll never feed you or clean out your litter box again. And then I shall reign supreme once more."

My first inclination was to thank God that Pie hadn't been eaten, run over, or any of the various misfortunes that can befall an unsuspecting animal (either two-legged or four-legged) in our cruel and unpredictable world.

But then I thought: Why did she come back? I mean, if she has a pea-sized brain, how did she know that this is her house? Was it actually smart of me to have in the past let her out to wander the deck?

And then I thought: What if this was a ploy to have the neighbors find her roaming outside? What if Pumpkin Pie planned her escape all along; waiting until the opportune moment struck in her bid to assert her eternal dominion over mommy's heart and affection? What if she's really not stupid, but calculating, shrewd, clever and incredibly vindictive?

Such are the musings of a misguided non cat person.

I wasn't going to tell the wife about how the cat got out and who let her out, but I know somehow if I didn't spill the beans Pumpkin Pie would. So for a change I demonstrated my superior human brain power and immediately called the wife. I told her the story because I didn't want Pumpkin Pie to seize the all-important public relations initiative.

The cat may have outsmarted me in escaping, but I'll be damned if she beats me at my own game.

Mommy comes home tomorrow night and I don't know who will be happier: Pumpkin Pie or me. Suffice it to say that given Pumpkin's recent walkabout, my adventures in cat-sitting are not soon to be repeated.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Five Ways You Can Discern Organizational Culture: Before You Take Your Next Job!

For the thousands of you who read my blog (ok, maybe not thousands), you're aware of my interest in organizational culture. I've blogged about it several times. Because organizational culture is still looked at as the red-headed stepchild of the "harder" and generally more quantifiable aspects of management and leadership, most senior leaders overlook it in the hiring process.

In this blog you'll discover five ways you can discern organizational culture both as a employer and as a potential employee. If you're the former, your unbiased assessment of the following questions may reveal characteristics of your organization that you never knew; if you're the latter, getting concrete responses to these five issues will prevent you from taking a job in which you will clash with the prevailing organizational culture.

I've done it twice and the inevitable results are painful, both professionally and personally. By the time you're in an organization and you realize your professional attributes and personality clash with the prevailing culture, your bosses likely have arrived at that point long before you... And they'll sacrifice you at the altar of their organizational culture rather than change the culture.

It takes great courage and a long time to change organizational culture; most CEOs and COOs lack that courage (and the knowledge); in this challenging economic climate they certainly do not have the luxury of time. After all, it's far more convenient to get rid of the individual who doesn't fit the culture rather than change the culture.

And yet, with resources so precious, and so many resources devoted to finding, hiring and training employees who will positively contribute to the organization from day one, both employers and potential employees would be wise to take into account the following five ways to determine whether or not a potential employee is a "good fit" for the organization.

My academic background (I have a Master's in Systems Management [Organizational Behavior]) and practical experience dealing with the repercussions of not accurately reading organizational culture during interviews and in the early stages of new jobs (or projects), makes me I believe uniquely qualified to blog authoritatively about the importance of recognizing organizational culture.

1) “Bull in a China Shop”: A job seeker concerned with determining whether or not (and to what extent) he or she will fit into the target company’s organizational culture should understand two things: His/her personality (are they a “bull”?) and the decision making structure/system of the target organization (is it a "China shop"?).

Questions that may help determine this include:

a. What structure/system does the organization have in which I am supposed to do my job? Is the organizational hierarchy flat or steep?

b. How are internal conflicts handled? Ask for specific and recent examples. Note facial expressions, body language and the words used to describe those conflicts. Conflict resolution reveals much about organizational culture.

2) Pre-evaluate your prospective boss: You're going to spend a lot of time working with and answering to your boss. Just as professional sports teams intensively evaluate their top draft choices, so must you carefully evaluate your prospective boss. What can you find out in a one or two hour interview?

Here are some questions you should ask. Be sure to ask these of both your boss and your boss’ superiors and subordinates.

a. Is the boss passionate/motivated about the work/the organization? How is that passion/motivation reflected?

b. Does the boss bring an infectious sense of energy and teamwork to the department/team? How responsive is the boss (by email, in person, voicemail, etc.)?

c. Does the boss motivate, inspire and educate? Is he/she affable or aloof? Does he/she micromanage? What is his/her management style, and what specific examples can you use to describe how the boss manifests that style?

3) The organization's decision making process: How an organization makes decisions reveals much about the character of relationships and flow of work in the organization. To understand how the target organization makes decisions, ask the following questions:

a. How many levels does one have to go through to get decisions?

b. How are decisions made on a new initiative? Is it death by committee, "ready-fire-aim" or something in between? Before you get the answers, you should know the decision making process that best suits your personality. Conflicting decision making styles are a leading reason why employer-employee relationships turn bad.

c. How does the organization green light new initiatives? Ask for specific and recent examples.

4) Organizational responsiveness: When opportunities present themselves, is the target organization quick to seize opportunities or slow to react? Is it a slow-footed or a fast-footed culture? Most non-profit organizations and associations are the former; most newer companies and start-ups are the latter.

If you thrive in a dynamic, unpredictable environment; if you make decisions based on 60% fact and 40% instinct; if the machinations of Boards of Directors and Committees cause you to grind your teeth, save yourself a lot of professional and personal angst: Don't take a job at a non-profit or an association.

5) Notice little indicators of organizational behavior: It's true that the devil is in the details. An important part of organizational culture is organizational behavior. As you walk through the hallways for your next interview, note how most staff dress. At the most senior levels, note especially how your boss dresses: Is he/she fastidious, vain, slovenly, well-groomed?

Always ask to go to the bathroom. Is it clean? Besides giving you a little break from your interview schedule, use the time you're unescorted to look subtly at the common areas of the organization. Are they clean? Do they appear used? Do people congregate in the common areas? Are voices subdued or excited? Lots of movement generally indicates lots of activity and interaction.

a. Is it a cube world or an office world? If the former, are the cubes personalized? Are there pictures of family/pets/etc.? If the latter, are doors open? Is there a lot of traffic in the hallways, break rooms, etc. Do people appear to like each other, or do they pass in the hallways without saying hello?

As a potential employee, ask these questions and you'll get concrete answers upon which to base your decision. As an employer, try to see these issues from the perspective of your potential new employee. Set aside your ego and truly examine your organizational culture. You may find the results of your examination reveal flaws--or strengths--about which you were not previously aware.

Employers, don't make the mistake of trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. The candidate you love on paper may not fit your organizational culture, and everyone will suffer when the inevitable clash comes.

Employees, carefully and diligently seek answers to the five aforementioned issues. Ask the tough questions in your interviews. Do your career and your ego a favor: Understand the organization's culture and assess whether or not you'll fit.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I Am Living in a Dali Painting

Suffice it to say, the recent heat wave that has hit New England reminds me of those halcyon DC summers, when it gets so hot that people simply start melting: They melt into air conditioned offices, air conditioned cars, theatres, restaurants, even the metro, whose mostly underground stations offer shelter from the relentless sun and suffocating humidity.

When it gets this hot, your personal thermostat loses its frame of reference. It's so hot outside, it's like we're in Indonesia. I keep on waiting for Sukarno to come walking down the street, clad in flip-flops with a towel around his head.

In weather like this I particularly enjoy when people ask by way of making conversation, "hot enough for you?"

To which I respond: "Hot? I didn't notice that it is hot." They look at me like I wouldn't notice if my hair were on fire.

I mean, it's so hot the clocks are melting off the wall. I feel like I'm living in a Dali painting.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Put Your Life in Perspective: Skydive

To celebrate my recent birthday, I bought myself the present of a tandem skydive. Adverse weather conditions prevented me from going on my birthday, so I rescheduled for yesterday. Rescheduling actually proved fortuitous, since I have been enduring a bit of a rough spot professionally (it seems my former employer did not value my marketing and communications prowess as much as my previous employers)...

Ironically, the remedy for my professional malaise was jumping out of a perfectly good plane and free fall plummeting for 30 seconds to the big green rock. When falling from great heights, I was thankful simply that the chute opened and I landed on two feet. My job, my financial situation, my worldly concerns seemed by comparison petty and insignificant.

Truth be told, I liked that feeling. It reminded me of the last three or four miles of a marathon, when I'm focused relentlessly and solely on finishing the run: Everything else seems at the time unimportant. I like being focused completely on one thing: In this case, it was reaching earth without a splat.

From Airborne School, I remembered that the merest hesitation is standing in the door, looking at the clouds and the earth below and wondering--for that split second--at the insanity of it all. My instructor also played a little trick on me; he said we were going to exit on three but we actually went on two. I remember that, and I remember the back flip we did before he deployed the drogue chute to slow us down during free fall.

Free falling was a unparalleled adrenaline rush. The only comparisons from my life I can draw are the feeling of jumping off a 30 foot cliff while skiing in the Dolomites or descending a Cat-5 rapid. Being in a tandem afforded me the luxury of looking around and taking it all in--that is, while I was trying to catch my breath.

After my instructor--Muppet (a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and full-time skydiver with more than 5,600 falls)--deployed the main chute, we enjoyed about five minutes of gracefully gliding to the big green rock below. Nothing like feeling terra firma under my feet to provide perspective on my life's situation. Given how many things can go wrong during a skydive, landing successfully made me thankful for my many blessings.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Feline Frisson... Or, Adventures with a Mischievous and Misanthropic Maine Coon

This entry opens with a statement that may alienate the world's passionate cat lovers: I am not a cat person. I know this because my wife has left me for two weeks with her Maine Coon cat, Pumpkin Pie. Deliberate emphasis on her.

Pumpkin Pie is my wife's cat, pure and simple. She is not my cat. I don't like cats. In general, I find cats haughty, fickle, calculating and maddeningly ego-centric. I understand this ascribes human personality traits to an animal whose mental capacities are incapable of manifesting such behavior, but having no other frame of reference I must rely on my observations.

My wife--God bless her--rescued Pumpkin Pie from a shelter, days before she (that is, the cat) was to be euthanized. I suspect the shelter people say that to every sad sack who wanders in, oohing and aahing over a sweet little kitty cat.

So in the beginning there was Pumpkin Pie. She lived with my wife well before I entered the picture, and I swear she (that is, the cat) has resented my presence ever since.

I inherited Pumpkin Pie in the marriage deal--which is pretty fair, since my wife inherited my daughter. The wife loves the cat and the cat--when it suits her (generally during mealtime) loves the wife right back. I have photos of the cat sleeping on my wife's head. It's really cute. The cat never sleeps on my head--I suspect she's an anti-baldite.

Since the wife left for two weeks in California, Pumpkin Pie has not been at all cute. After four days alone together, I'm willing to bet that Pumpkin Pie--if she could form a coherent thought in her pea-sized brain--is saying to herself, "I am not a man person."

I think she is deliberately trying to sabotage my relationship with my wife, who instructed me in no uncertain terms to in her absence value the cat's needs over my own.

In just four days, Pumpkin Pie has:
* Left hairballs in my chair
* Defecated alongside her litter box--right after I cleaned it!
* Scampered on the kitchen table, knocking over candles and other fragile objects
* Overturned her water bowl
* Scampered (for reasons unknown) across my bed at 2 a.m. for three consecutive nights (always at 2 a.m., like she knows what time it is--I tell you, it's eerie)

I spoke with a few cat people I know (one must befriend the enemy to gain insight regarding the enemy's behavior)and they said it's because Pumpkin Pie misses her mommy. She knows something isn't right in her world so she's acting out.

Acting out?! Let me get this straight: Cats have pea-sized brains, it's unfair to ascribe human behaviors to them because of their pea-sized brains, yet the cat is acting out? Maybe I should send the cat to intensive therapy for the next 10 days.

Pumpkin Pie and I have a truce going, though: When I am upstairs, she is downstairs. When I venture downstairs, she moves upstairs. We pass on the stairs, eyeing each other warily. The stairs have become our DMZ.

As long as I feed and hydrate her, as long as I clean out her litter box (Aside: litter? It's not litter. It's defecation and urination. I mean, I'm in PR but really, calling it "litter" is too much), and as long as I give her some treats I think she will not claw out my eyes while I sleep.

Here's the irony, though: This afternoon while I was watching TV, Pumpkin Pie jumped into my lap (she NEVER does this with the wife) and sat there for about 20 minutes while I scratched her behind her ears and rubbed her tummy. I understand from cat people that when a cat allows you to rub her tummy that means she's comfortable around you.

I suspect Pumpkin Pie is trying to lull me into a false sense of security and resolve to remain vigilant--especially at night when she has the run of the house...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

More on Generation 'I': Are They Getting the Message to Succeed at Any Cost?

Here are some facts that will set the background for this blog entry, which deals with "Generation I" and the message we as a society may be sending them:

Last week the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia awarded the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) $2.3 million damages in a copyright infringement case GMAC brought against Lei Shi and other operators of the U.S.-based web site known as Scoretop.com.

Scoretop.com sold VIP access for $30 a month and gave users previews of questions on the latest GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)--including some answers posted by users after taking the exam. In the award, GMAC got access to the hard drives listing Scoretop.com's clients; a GMAC spokesperson said that prospective and current graduate students who may have used Scoretop.com to cheat on about 6,000 entrance examinations over the past five years could have their scores thrown out.

When it comes to getting into "the best" schools, standardized test scores make the most difference. The competition to get into "the best" schools obviously spurred a small group of test takers to gain a competitive advantage by cheating.

What possessed the cheaters to believe that cheating was acceptable? Perhaps in cheating they merely reflected the lessons we've taught them. In a era when success--defined as degrees from "the best" schools, living in the biggest house, driving the flashiest car, etc.--is prized above all else, traditionally accepted morals and ethics seem sadly obsolete.

To support this theory, I turned to a book I read several years ago, A Tribe Apart, written by Patricia Hersch.

Hersch writes: "In times when society lacks clear ethical guidelines, when parents neither spend the time to educate their children about time-honored values such as honesty, integrity, and personal responsibility nor necessarily model consistent values in their own lives, kids are responding to the one message they hear loud and strong from the adult world: Succeed. Do well. Do whatever you need to do."

If success means knowingly cheating on a standardized test or if it means deliberately cutting corners, are today's kids learning these lessons from us? To what extent are we to blame for the relentless pursuit of success that would prompt adult children (the average age of GMAT test takers is 21) to cheat on the exam?

If we are (as I believe) partially to blame for the astounding erosion in the time-honored values to which Hersch refers above, what can we do to reverse this alarming sense of entitlement and moral turpitude?

For a possible answer, I turned to another book I read a few years ago, For Shame: The Loss of Decency in American Culture, by James B. Twitchell.

Twitchell writes: "We've got to restore a sense of shame to our society. Nothing seems to shame us or outrage us anymore. We look at our television sets and see all kinds of trash, and we allow it to come into our homes. We're not ashamed of it anymore."

General Colin Powell--an erudite, well spoken and highly experienced soldier and stateman--would advise the cheaters thusly: "There are no secrets to success: Don't waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence."

There's no doubt that cheating conveys a competitive advantage which could very well lead to fiduciary benefits. But in the final analysis, there is a spiritual cost to that fleeting fiduciary benefit.

Twitchell comments on that spiritual cost and its influence on society: "A society that ignores or opposes a set of core standards that motivates people to work, stay married, exercise self control, and be honest exhibits a poverty of the spirit that no amount of money can enrich."

The message we may be sending Generation I--to succeed at any cost--could well be eroding the fabric of our very society.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Leave the Marketing and Communications Work to the Professionals

Both as a freelance communications consultant and as a full-time Communications Director, I've worked with and for people who believe they can market and communicate as well as I can. The further up the leadership food chain I progress, the more ingrained I have found this belief to be.

This is particularly true with non-profit organizations and associations (such as the one I just left): The leaders shortsightedly think they'll save money by cutting marketing and communications staff and "doing it themselves."

While it is generally true that most senior leaders understand the basic fundamentals of marketing and communications, they don't understand the subtle nuances that often make the difference between successful marketing and communications efforts and those that merely cause the organization to run in place.

Even worse, the often prodigious egos possessed by leaders in smaller organizations or associations as well as entrepreneurs convince them that they can, in fact, plan, implement, manage and analyze effective marketing and communications initiatives.

In my experience, their attempts fail miserably: They do a disservice to their organization or their association and, when they end up hiring a new communications professional, the new arrival has to work even harder to make up the communications deficit.

CEOs and COOs don't involve themselves every day in the subtle nuances of marketing and communications. They don't grasp how dynamic marketing and communications are; they don't understand how traditional and nontraditional approaches work together to create the vital synergy necessary to achieve marketing and communications goals with limited resources. In most cases they fall back on their old, obsolete knowledge.

I see it happening now with my former employer. It's a shame because it squanders the progress we made over the past seven months to create a immediately recognizable brand for the association, to formulate and communicate compelling collateral which conveys the association's unique value, and to establish a strong foundation upon which to conduct effective and long-term public relations.

Effective marketing and communications demands constant attention and nurturing by marketing and communications pros, not by neophytes who regard these vital activities as merely another additional duty among many additional duties.

Sure, they'll put their best efforts into the activities but their efforts will fall short because they simply lack the skills and knowledge to do so effectively.

Smart leaders leave the marketing and communications work to the professionals.

Monday, June 23, 2008

They're Calling it Generation I: But Does The 'I' Stand for "Internet" or "Id"?!

Last you heard from me I was happily typing away at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, awaiting my flight to Providence. We finally boarded the plane three hours late, and by that point the young kids who'd been waiting in the terminal for more than four hours were either fast asleep or in the beginning stages of Category Five meltdowns (those of you who are parents are familiar with Cat V meltdowns; those of you who are not, I'd advise witnessing one in real time as the most effective form of birth control).

We board without problems; everyone finds a seat. In my general vicinity is apparently a family of seven: Two sets of grandparents, a mother, a father, and what appears to be a four or five year old boy. Everyone's attention is focused on the boy: What he's doing (bouncing up and down in his seat--which thankfully is not in front of mine); what he's eating (cheerios, apparently, as one lands in my lap from his flinging them about the cabin); and what he's saying (as far as I can tell--and I am conversant in toddler talk--he's screeching about Elmo).

The grandparents and the parents are doing nothing to stop the kid from bouncing, flinging O's and screeching about Elmo. In fact, they're doting on him, which serves to encourage him to bigger bounces, more vigorous O-throwing, and louder screeches. Of course, the bouncing stops when he hits his head on the bulkhead and starts wailing at the top of his lungs.

This, my friends, is a classic Cat V Meltdown. The mother--seated by the window in my row--calms him down a bit by plugging him into a DVD. But the DVD was merely the eye of the storm. The brat isn't done--no, not by a long shot. He refuses to wear the headphones. The grandparents and the parents transfer the kid from lap to lap, trying without success to get him to put on the earphones.

They give up and decide that rather than insist the child put on the earphones or not watch the DVD, they'll subject the entire area to the Elmo DVD. Mind you, this is after a three+ hour delay and on a full plane flying through turbulence.

My questions:
* Since when is a four-year-old brat in charge of SIX ADULTS?
* Since when does a four-year-old brat have the ability to hold a plane hostage?
* Since when has it become acceptable for adults to subsume the needs and desires of a community to the needs of a spoiled child?

While I understand it may be easier to rely on the indulgence and understanding of strangers rather than risk another catastrophic meltdown, the scenario perfectly explains why the kids of Generation I are growing up to believe that everything centers around their needs and desires.

Rather than describe them as Generation I (as in Internet--that is, the first generation that has grown up fully integrated with the web), perhaps we may want to call them Generation Id--as in, the generation reared to believe that it's ok to be ruled by your id.

The id, you'll recall, is responsible for basic drives such as food, sex, and aggressive impulses. It is amoral and egocentric, ruled by the pleasure–pain principle; it is without a sense of time, completely illogical, primarily sexual, infantile in its emotional development, and will not take "no" for an answer.

I am not a perfect parent. I'm probably average. But I can damn for sure tell you that my daughter would either have worn the earphones or not listened to the DVD. Discovering that the world does not revolve around him or her is one of the earliest and most profound lessons a child learns--withhold the lesson and you render the child a disservice. You foster the Id and indulge the I.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Overheard at Fort Lauderdale Airport...

It's absolutely amazing what you hear when the weather halts airline flights. I'm sitting alongside the status boards at Fort Lauderdale airport, awaiting my flight to Providence. The flight is already three hours late, but a command performance moments ago by a Southwest gate attendant put everything in perspective for me. Too bad the irate flyers didn't hear it.

She gets on the gate microphone and says, "Well folks, I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first?"

Thereupon in gate-land a collective grown arose, audible throughout the packed hallway. After the groan, the gate attendant said, "Here's the bad news: In addition to the weather delay, the plane at the gate is broken. So we won't be taking off for a long while."

The groan grew to a growl. From the crowd, the question is fired like a bullet: "What's the good news?!"

To which she responds, brightly, "The good news is, we're on the ground."

And that, my dear friends, has put this entire delay in perfect perspective for me.

Still, I have to wonder: Why is it that we can put a man on the moon, we can fly unmanned drones from thousands of miles away, and we can't fly in bad weather?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

As Quoted in the Chicago Daily Herald:

Yesterday I received an email inquiry from Anna Marie Kukec; she asked me to comment on a "free gas" promotion going on in a Chicago suburb. Her query was interesting from two perspectives:

1) Generally the Market Research Association doesn't field these types of queries (we respond mostly to "pure" market research or polling/surveying questions)
2) It conveyed to me the simple point that inasmuch as PR folks are encouraged to research and become familiar with the "beat" of the reporters to whom we pitch stories, so should the latter take a moment or two to discover a little more about the organizations to whom they turn for professional insights/remarks.

Regardless, I enjoyed parsing responses to her questions, and as you'll note from the article below, she found my responses sufficiently compelling as to devote significant space to them--and generate a nice unexpected media hit for the MRA.

Gas giveaways hottest new promotion for businesses
By Anna Marie Kukec (Daily Herald staff)

Forget the free toaster or $50 added to a newly opened checking account.

Gasoline has become the hot new promotional must-have.

As that prized commodity exceeded $4 a gallon, it has taken on celebrity status in corporate contests and giveaways. Automobile manufacturers, travel firms, even a politician and a candy company are using gasoline as part of their marketing and promotional events.

The Holy Grail of such promotions came Tuesday as hundreds of cars lined up for free gasoline at a filling station in Romeoville -- sponsored by a candy bar. One Hummer driver reportedly saved about $130 with the gimmick, sponsored by The Hershey Co.'s PayDay and Skor candy bars.

The national kickoff for the Hershey contest aimed to help fuel your appetite and your tank. But the use of gasoline as a marketing or promotional tool has been fueling a new spin on getting your attention -- and ultimately more of your dollars.

Bruce Mendelsohn, spokesman for Glastonbury, Conn.-based Marketing Research Association, notes that "substantial anecdotal evidence" indicates the more scarce the resource, the more likely companies are to use it in marketing and promotional campaigns. This is especially evident when the resource ties into the company's line of business, Mendelsohn said.

"We think it's another example of the incredibly creative ways some businesses are adapting to challenging economic circumstances," he said. "As market researchers, we're always studying and evaluating consumer behavior; we're curious to discover how successful businesses will be by using gasoline as a marketing and/or promotional tool."

Using gasoline in a contest or promotion isn't unique. Similar contests, although not as sophisticated, happened during the oil embargo in the 1970s.

On alternate rationing days, some companies conducted "Are you odd?" or "Are you even?" campaigns, seeking to draw consumers to their respective stores, Mendelsohn said.

"While there's no doubt the exponentially increasing gas prices are depleting consumers' wallets, businesses that find ways to relieve the pressure on consumers are certain to be viewed favorably by consumers and generate some media attention," Mendelsohn said.

The Hershey promotion, for example, hinged on its new "Cash 4 Gas" instant-win game, which will give away cash for more than 100,000 gallons of gasoline through December. The Romeoville kickoff offered more than 5,000 gallons of free gas to roughly 380 customers, the company said.

"High gas prices continue to be a concern for everyone and The Hershey Company is excited to offer a fun and delicious way to save on gas costs," Hersey Product Publicity Director Jody Cook said in a statement.

Another such attention-getter was Democrat congressional candidate Dan Seals' campaign event to help passing motorists fill up their tanks at cut-rate -- $1.85 a gallon -- at a Lincolnshire station last May. That was the price of gasoline when his opponent Mark Kirk as well as President George W. Bush came into office in 2001. The political ploy, like the Hershey giveaway, also jammed traffic and was a boost to about 50 drivers.

More promotions are expected to continue, including Chrysler car dealerships nationwide offering $2.99 a gallon with the purchase of a vehicle as well as Meijer grocery stores with gas stations trimming 10 cents a gallon when its Meijer credit card is used through Labor Day.

Some industry experts said more companies are likely to use gasoline as a carrot, needing to entice consumers to look at their products or service. After all, companies need such incentives to stand up to competition. So, don't expect these promotions to end anytime soon, especially as the price of gasoline climbs even higher.

Also, such enticements create a psychological impression on consumers, said D. Joel Whalen, associate professor of marketing at DePaul University in Chicago.

"When you have a shortage of gasoline and an increase in price, it creates scarcity," said Whalen. "And that creates an unmediated response in consumers. It's something they don't think about, but they then attach an increase in value to that scarce item."

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Voice of Reason (At Least in This Case) from Islam

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently called the Rachael Ray Keffiyeh kontroversy an "incredibly silly situation."

A move by Dunkin' Donuts to pull an online ad featuring Rachael Ray after columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin said it was "hate couture," was an "incredibly silly situation," said CAIR spokesman Ahmed Rehab. The ad (see entry, below) showed TV host Ray wearing a black and white scarf that some critics likened to a keffiyeh, a traditional Arab headdress.

"It's sad that Dunkin' Donuts pandered to that kind of fear–mongering. They have businesses in the Middle East, in the Arab world. It's interesting to see how that will affect business there," said Rehab.

Dunkin' Donuts said in a statement Ray had been wearing a silk scarf with a "paisley design" selected by a stylist with no intended symbolism. It pulled the ad due to the possibility of misperception, the company said.

When asked about the ad's removal, Ray's spokesman Charlie Dougiello told Reuters: "Our comment is no comment whatsoever."

In fairness, let's give CAIR the last word: "It seems like anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bigoted expression is the last frontier of accepted bigotry," said Rehab. "There is still racism against African Americans, Latinos and other ethnicities, but the average person would think twice about making their racist feelings public. Not so with Muslims and Arabs. We need to move beyond that."

A voice of reason from a most unexpected source.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The "Incriminating" Photo

Love Dunkin', overlookin' the so-called Kaffiyeh.

Rachael Ray in a Kaffiyeh?!

Recently in the news... Dunkin' Donuts pulled an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray after complaints that a fringed black-and-white scarf that the celebrity chef wore in the ad offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism.

First, some background for those who may not be familiar with this issue. Then, an opinion.

The coffee and baked goods chain said the ad that began appearing online May 7 was pulled because "the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."

Critics, including conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, complained that the scarf wrapped around her looked like a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress. Critics who fueled online complaints about the ad in blogs say such scarves symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism.

The kaffiyeh, Malkin wrote in a online column, "has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

A statement issued by Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Brands Inc., said the scarf had a paisley design and that a stylist chose it for the advertising shoot. "Absolutely no symbolism was intended," the company said.

Malkin, in a posting following up her initial column, said of Dunkin's decision to pull the ad: "It's refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists."

Now, an opinion.

While I certainly have no sympathy for Muslim (or Arab) extremism, it's clear that complaints about the scarf's use in the ad demonstrate misunderstandings of Arab culture and the multiple meanings that symbols can take on depending on someone's perspective.

While some extremists and terrorists may wear kaffiyehs, to reduce their meaning to support for terrorism both has a tacit racist tone and demonstrates a highly simplistic view regarding a exceedingly complex issue.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Now is NOT the Time to Reduce Your Marketing and Advertising Investments

If you think the economic slowdown or recession (yes, the dreaded ‘r’ word) forces you to reduce your investment in advertising and marketing, you’ve adopted a flawed line of reasoning.

I say this because it’s a proven fact that the best time to pick up market share is in a recession, when—as budgets tighten—your competitors become more vulnerable.

According to a 2005 report from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, certain prescient firms see the downturn as an opportunity and increase their marketing spending. Consider these examples: Proctor & Gamble pushed Ivory soap during the Great Depression, Intel launched "Intel Inside" during the 1990-1991 recession and from 2000-2001, Wal-Mart check-mated its competitors with their “Every Day Low Prices” campaign. You may recall those campaigns because, oh, their messages stood out in a less competitive climate.

Just recently, Kraft Foods and Kellogg Co. told analysts they will boost their ad outlays despite drops in net income. According to Advertising Age, they instituted broad-based price increases in 2007, responding to higher commodity costs. Kellogg CEO David MacKay was quoted as saying that the company is sufficiently strong to withstand some consumers migrating to private label brands.

If you’re among the trend followers who are considering reducing your investment in advertising and marketing, take a moment to consider or measure what you’re really cutting out of your budget. Are you just cutting costs? Or, are you cutting audience share, slashing your messaging and slowing your hard-earned momentum? Marketing and advertising budgets seem like an easy place to eliminate costs, but in the end, the only thing you’re cutting is your business.

A slowdown or recession doesn’t necessarily equate to long term economic disability. We know the economy will rebound. It always does. The aggressive positioning you take today will pay off tomorrow.

Those who maintain marketing and advertising spending will be positioned as leaders when the bust goes boom again. Don’t plan to survive. Plan to thrive.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Oil-Industrial Complex Strikes Again

In hearings on Capitol Hill today, oil executives said:

1) "We cannot change the world market. Today's high prices are linked to the failure both here and abroad to increase supplies, renewables and conservation." (Robert Malone, chairman and president of BP America Inc.)

2) "The fundamental laws of supply and demand are at work. The market is squeezed by exporting nations managing demand for their own interest and other nations subsidizing prices to encourage economic growth." (John Hofmeister, president of Shell)

This is the same old song and dance. During the past year or two, the "Oil-Industrial Complex" has reaped unprecedented profits. When the public asks why, BO representatives like those quoted above say it's the nature of the business: severe weather, wars, terrorist attacks, supply and demand. Many reasons and variables affect the bottom line.

Unlike most businesses, BO has figured out how to profit EVERY TIME from adversity, whether man-made or natural. In fact, the worse the adversity, the higher their profits.

Big Oil conglomerates like Exxon-Mobil claim they neither set prices nor control the market. That's laughable. Exxon-Mobil operates in nearly 200 countries or territories, exploring for and producing oil and gas. Exxon-Mobil's oil and gas fields, both domestic and abroad, produce more than four million oil-equivalent barrels per day in 24 countries including but not limited to the U.S., West Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

Exxon-Mobil has interest in 46 refineries in 26 countries, more than 25,000 miles of pipelines and 45,000 gas stations, under the well-known brands of Esso, Mobil and Exxon in more than 100 countries. Exxon-Mobil is simply the world's foremost manufacturer and marketer of petroleum products. From that lofty perch they cannot help but wield considerable price setting influence.

Here's a hypothetical. Pretend for a moment that with all these oil wells, refineries and pipelines around the world, Exxon-Mobil really doesn't have any significant influence. Let's look specifically at the domestic oil market.

Forty percent of the oil consumed in America comes from America. In the 1970s it was profitable for the oil companies to produce and market oil in the range of $22 per barrel. So why is it that the major oil companies were recently charging more than FOUR TIMES THAT AMOUNT per barrel for domestic oil?

America has for years been subsidizing oil wells. We pay for this up front and at the pump but the government claims this is a free enterprise and it cannot interfere.

I am as much a Capitalist as the next guy, but Big Oil is lying when they say they don't have price setting influence. Big Oil should stop hiding behind catastrophes, crises and the threat of crises, and simply say: "This is a business. America was built on business. Shareholders want more profits so we're going to give them what they want. If you don't like it, don't drive."

Monday, May 19, 2008

THe PR Holy Grail: A Wall Street Journal Hit

These days in PR everyone is a-twitter about twitter, manic over microblogging, nuts over social networking and ya-ya over YouTube... but there remains no substitute for a placement in the venerable Wall Street Journal. While the venerable New York Times is adulated as the Grey Lady, serious PR pros know that getting the attention--and the incredibly valuable print or electronic real estate--of a Wall Street Journal reporter represents a jewel in the crown of a PR career.

In my career I've earned placements across all media--print, radio, TV, online--but a Journal placement had until this weekend eluded me. That changed this Sunday, when--after months of courting Carl Bialik (aka "The Number Guy") about cellphone research, polling, and other matters relating to Market Research--he covered one of my clients (the Council for Marketing and Opinion Research, CMOR) in his blog.

Here's the link: http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/cellphone-surveys-get-a-boost-339/?mod=WSJBlog

Yes, PR is about knowing your media target, tenaciously pursuing him/her and following through frequently but not annoyingly. There's also a healthy dose of luck involved--in many cases a news issue will come up at the same time your voice mail or email hits the reporters' in-box. You can't predict that, but you can position your client so that the reporter knows he/she is available as an expert source. That's what I did with Mr. Bialik and CMOR, and it got CMOR a nice one-paragraph mention in Mr. Bialik's blog.

Back in January, responding to a column in which he covered the polling industry’s debate over dialing cellphones, I sent The Numbers Guy an MRA press release on polling and pollsters. When polling or surveying issues arose in the ensuing months, I followed up with several voice mails in which I referred him to CMOR’s work in this area. My PR savvy paid off on Sunday with the blog entry.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy 15th Birthday, Internet!

Last month, the Internet turned 15 years old. To refresh your memory, it was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (NOT Al Gore), who invented the "web" idea. The Internet as we know it today (from the mid-1990s) has its roots in a Defense Department project in 1969. The subject of the project was wartime digital communications.

The decision to make the code underlying the web free and available to all was perhaps one of the most momentous in recent business and social history.

As much as the Internet progressed technically in the 1990s, it revolutionized human communication and interaction. In just 15 years, the Internet has become part of the international vocabulary and is clearly destined for even greater prominence. It has been accepted by the business community, with a resulting explosion of service providers, consultants, books, and TV coverage.

Here are 20 “facts” that demonstrate the growing power and pervasiveness of the WWW. Caveat emptor: Each “fact” is subject to a great deal of discussion and argument so I welcome your research-based corrections.

1. Twenty percent of the world’s population, 1.17 to 1.33 billion people, use the Internet. North America (72%) has the highest penetration; Africa (5%) the lowest.

2. Only 30% (380 million) of Internet users are English-speaking, 14% (180 million) speak Chinese, 9% (113 million) speak Spanish. 46 million Internet users speak Arabic.

3. China’s Internet population increased by a third in 2006. According to state news agency Xinhua, the total number of Internet users in China has reached 132 million, of which 52 million have broadband connections. [Source: Guardian, December 2006]

4. Google’s market capitalization is around $180 billion, nearly three times the size of News Corporation. Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon are all in the Fortune 150 list.

5. According to Zenith Optimedia, between 2007 and 2010, Internet ad spending will increase by 69% and raise its market share from 8.1% to 11.5%. About $36 billion will be spent on Internet advertising globally in 2008, an increase of 24%.

6. YouTube is the world’s third largest site, behind Google and Yahoo. One in five of the world’s Internet users visit YouTube each day. Nearly half of US Internet users report visiting a video-sharing site like YouTube at least once.

7. Britney Spears was the most sought after celebrity on Google in 2007 and pilates was the most popular search in the fitness category. The most popular who, what and how queries were ‘Who is God’, ‘What is Love’ and ‘How to Kiss’.

8. Social networking is the fastest growing part of the Internet. There are 70 million active users on Facebook (the 8th most popular site in the world), more than 14 million photos are uploaded daily. The fourth most popular country for Facebook is Turkey with 3.3% of users. Australia is 6th with 2.7%. A Sophos poll of 600 workers found that 43% were unable to access Facebook at work, while an additional 7% reported that use of the site was restricted.

9. In 2007, global digital music sales rose 40% to $2.9 billion, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Downloaded music now makes up 15% of the recording industry’s sales.

10. Movie downloads could grow tenfold by 2012 and reach $6.3 billion worldwide during that period, according to a 2007 report by British market research firm Informa Telecoms & Media.

11. The iTunes store was launched on 28 April 2003; it has since sold more than four billion tracks and over 125 million TV episodes worldwide. It now rivals Wal-mart to be the biggest music retailer in the US. 150 million iPods have been sold worldwide since the device first appeared in October 2001. Nearly 40% of Americans now own an iPod or other mp3 player.

12. Wikipedia is the world’s 7th most popular Web site. The English version of Wikipedia has more than 2.3 million articles. Over a third of online US adults consult Wikipedia.

13. There are over 100 million Web sites, of which 74% are in the commercial or .com domain.

14. Total e-commerce sales in the US for 2007 were estimated at $136.4 billion, an increase of 19% from 2006. Total retail sales in 2007 increased 4% from 2006. E-commerce sales in 2007 accounted for 3.4% of total sales. E-commerce sales in 2006 accounted for 2.9% of total sales.

15. Core search engines Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, and Ask.com collectively increased 15% in December 2007 in searches performed, compared to a year earlier, serving 9.6 billion searches in December 2007.

16. Since the beginning of 2007, Sen. Obama has raised more than $100 million online from Americans contributing $200 or less at a time, according to data compiled by the Campaign Finance Institute (Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2008)

17. In 2006, the average corporate email user received 126 messages a day, up 55% from 2003, according to the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto market research firm. By 2009, workers can expect to spend 41% of their time just managing emails. (Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2007)

18. More books are sold on the Internet than any other product and the number is increasing, research suggests. Polling company Nielsen Online surveyed 26,312 people in 48 countries. 41% of internet users had bought books online, it said. The largest percentage of people buying books in any country was South Korea at 58%. Twenty percent of US book sales and 17 percent of UK book sales are now made online.

19. Nielsen says more than eight out of ten Internet users purchased something in the last three months. That is a 40% increase on two years ago, to about 875 million shoppers. (BBC, January 21, 2008)

20. Newspapers’ online audiences are rising at twice the rate of the general Internet audience. Newspaper Web sites attracted more than 66.4 million unique visitors on average (40.7% of all Internet users) in the first quarter of 2008, a record number that represents a 12.3% increase over the same period a year ago, according to a custom analysis provided by Nielsen Online for the Newspaper Association of America.