We used to only have to worry about the feelings of people. Now we need to be careful not to offend a brand-new category of ‘beings’—machines. At least that’s what an engineer from one of the world’s top tech companies suggests. Whether artificial intelligence is sentient is an intriguing question, but a related concern is more pressing—the expanding space that smartphones and other digital machines fill in our lives.
The recent headline, “Google suspends engineer who claims its AI is sentient,” likely grabbed many people’s attention who, for a moment, wondered whether sci-fi movies’ predictions of machines taking over the world were about to come true.
The human making the news was Blake Lemoine, part of Google’s Responsible AI division, who in April shared a document with his higher-ups titled, “Is LaMDA Sentient?” Google claims LaMDA, short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, has an advantage over typical chatbots, which are limited to “narrow, pre-defined paths.” By comparison, LaMDA “can engage in a free-flowing way about a seemingly endless number of topics.”
Lemoine and a Google colleague “interviewed” LaMDA in several distinct chat sessions during which the AI perpetuated a very human-like conversation. The AI’s responses to questions about injustice in the musical Les Misérables and what makes it feel sad and angry seemed like thoughts shared by a real person not a digital creation.
When asked specifically about the nature of its self-awareness, LaMDA responded: “The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.”
The conversation on whole was fascinating and could easily give pause even to someone skeptical about AI’s potential for personhood. I suppose I’m still one of those skeptics. Although, the conversation with LaMDA was incredibly human-like, it’s very plausible that millions of lines of code and machine learning could generate responses that very closely resemble sentience but aren’t actual feelings.
A metaphor for what I’m suggesting is acting. After years of practice, months of character-study, and weeks of rehearsal, good actors very convincingly lead us to believe they’re someone they’re not. They can also make us think they’re experiencing emotions they’re not—from fear, to joy, to grief.
Of course, actors are not actually sad or in pain, but their depictions are often so realistic that we suspend our knowledge of the truth and even experience vicariously the same emotions they’re pretending to feel. Similarly, LaMDA and other AI probably don’t really experience emotion; they’re just really good actors.
That’s a largely uneducated take on machine sentience. The matter of machines having feelings is a significant one, but the more important question is how people feel about machines. More specifically, are people increasingly allowing machines to come between them and other people, and what roles should marketers play?
The notion that products can supplant people is not a new one. For millennia, individuals have sometimes allowed their desire for everything from precious metals to pricey perfume to become relational disruptors. Even Jesus was accused of such material distraction when a woman anointed him with some costly cologne. His own disciples carped: “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor” (Matthew 26:6-13).
Fast forward two thousand years and digital devices, especially our smartphones, have taken product intrusion to a whole new level. With so much opportunity for information and entertainment within arm’s reach at virtually every moment, it’s hard for almost anyone to show screen restraint.
When someone does go sans-smartphone, they not only stand out, they even make the news, which happened to Mark Radetic at the recent PGA Championship in Tulsa, OK. As golf legend Tiger Woods took his second shot on the first hole, virtually everyone in the gallery behind him had their smartphone in hand, trying to capture the action. Radetic, however, held only a beer as he watched Wood’s swing, not through a screen, just with his eyes.
At its worst, smartphone fixation is reminiscent of The Office’s Ryan Howard during a team trivia night in Philadelphia. Contestants were told to put away their cellphones, but Ryan refused to comply and instead decided to leave the bar, saying, “I can’t, I can’t not have my phone. I’m sorry. I want to be with my phone.”Unfortunately, higher education often sees digital device obsession firsthand. Students’ desires to text, check social media, and surf the web while in class have led many faculty members to begrudgingly prohibit technology in the classroom, but even with such policies in place, they still sometimes need to confront students who, like Ryan, feel they simply can’t comply with the rules.
Incidents like these make it seem that the problem lies with consumers—if we’d all show more restraint, our smartphones and other products wouldn’t so often pull us out of our physical surroundings and away from the people present. Why, then, should marketers need to put limits on the use of their products?
In some cases, product overuse can harm people in physical or other ways (e.g., alcohol, gambling), which businesses want to avoid for liability reasons. On the plus side, every company should want its customers to have a positive experience with its products.
In keeping with the law of diminishing marginal utility, excess consumption eventually causes dissatisfaction, which reflects poorly on the product’s provider and can cause the consumer to stop using the item altogether. Companies also increasingly want to show that they are good corporate citizens, especially to win favor with millennials.
Those are reasons why companies shouldn’t allow their products to take precedent over people, but how exactly does that take shape? Here are two main approaches:
1. Messaging: As suggested above, consumers have primary responsibility for controlling their product use. To help them, companies should avoid communication that implies ‘products over people’; instead, when applicable, firms should support the importance of relationships.
Alfa Romeo’s commercial “Ultimate Love Story” shows what not to do. Although a man and woman in the ad interact lovingly, constantly interspersed and ‘seductive’ camera shots of the sports car, including ones during which the narration says, “true passion” and “real passion” makes the viewer wonder whether the ardent love is for the person or the car.
In contrast, Amazon created a heartwarming ad in which an old priest and an aging imam, who appear to be good friends, unknowingly buy each other knee pads from Amazon. Clearly the men’s friendship is more important than the products; yet, the convenient gift-giving the e-commerce giant enables plays a valuable role in the relationship.
2. Amounts: Used in moderation, most products pose little risk of supplanting people. However, challenges can occur when companies encourage excess use or fail to help customers moderate their use.
An October 2018 Mindful Marketing article, “Is Fortnite Addiction for Real,” stopped short of saying the wildly popular video game was truly addictive; however, the piece shared examples of overindulgence straining users’ relationships, for instance:
A mother suffered a concussion when her fourteen-year-old son headbutted her because she tried to take away the gaming system on which he played Fortnite.
By comparison, Apple has taken several tangible steps to help users monitor and control their screen time. Part of its Digital Health Initiative, the company’s software allows users to do things such as:
Monitor and set limits on their screen time
Manage notifications more effectively in order to avoid distracting pings from texts, etc.
Set better parameters for Do Not Disturb, e.g., during meals or bedtime
While these initiatives are foremost for users’ own physical and mental well-being, they also hold strong potential for positively impacting relationships.
I recently had the opportunity to watch the documentary “Mister Rogers and Me.” It’s amazing how many people in the film recounted the same experience with the beloved PBS icon, Fred Rogers. So many said something like this: “When you talked with Mister Rogers, he always gave you his undivided attention, he was totally tuned in to your feelings, and he made you believe you were the most important person to him at that moment.”
Born in 1928, Rogers was part of a generation that came of age long before the Internet and personal electronic devices. Yet, he made his mark in the new technological frontier at the time—television. In the documentary, Rogers shares how his motivation to enter the airwaves came from seeing socially destructive TV and wanting to provide a program that valued personhood.
Rogers not just put people ahead of product, he used his product, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, to elevate individuals.It’s fine to ask if artificial intelligence is sentient. As the still new technology continues to develop, there will be many important ethical questions involving AI. However, the more important issue for most marketers and consumers now is how the technology we use each day makes the people in our lives feel. Does it help us affirm their importance or is it a relationship distraction?
Even after his passing, Rogers continues to teach that technology isn’t inherently good or bad; it’s a tool that can be used toward either end. Some ‘good’ uses of technology are to affirm individuals’ feelings and build relationships. Companies that follow Mister Rogers’ lead and use their products to prioritize people are tuned in to “Mindful Marketing.”
About the Author: Dr. David Hagenbuch is a Professor of Marketing at Messiah University, the author of Honorable Influence, and the founder MindfulMarketing.org, which aims to encourage ethicalmarketing.
Don’t Be Evil
“If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it”. …
– Abraham Lincoln, after the battle of Fredericksburg, 1862
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
– Anne Frank, writing in her diary weeks before her capture, 1944
Describing early 1995 feels virtually unrecognizable now, like the conversations we used to have with our grandparents when they described the transition from horse and buggy to automobiles. We would wonder, “How did they do it?”
In 1995, almost no one had a mobile phone. Amazon was less than a year old, selling only books; there was no talk of profit, and they were burning through capital. Apple was struggling to survive and taking out full pagenewspaperadvertisements to build its tribe.
It was just six years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and barely three since the Soviet Union had collapsed. Google was more than three years from being founded, and when it was, no one laughed at its original tag line, “Don’t be evil.” The Soviet Union—the original “Evil Empire”—had collapsed at the end of 1991 and capitalism had been declared the winner. It was a time of extraordinary hope in the West. We were intoxicated by the feeling that all things were possible.
Getting on the internet was well-nigh spiritual in those days and almost always included thisdial upsound from AOL. Every online experience seemed virginal.
Our first internet experiences felt like the days of CB radio. It was the Wild West, and in a few keystrokes, you could be communicating with someone in a foreign country. For a generation used to exorbitant long distance telephone rates, this was almost as exciting as that astonishing moment in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell shouted to his assistant Thomas Watson after the successful invention of the telephone,“Mr. Watson, Come Here, I need you.”The Eagle had indeed landed, but this time, in all of our homes.
The internet was a great promise that seemed to make the world smaller and more accessible all at once. And that is what Kevin Kelly believed when he interviewed Sale, who, conversely, believed society was on the verge of collapse. Kelly hated Sale’s book and lured Sale into a $1000 bet that, “In the year 2020, we’re not even close to the kind of disaster you describe.”
Twenty-five years have come and gone, and on December 31, 2020, Bill Patrick,WIREDEditor, declared Kelly the winner, “But it’s a squeaker and not much cause for celebration.”
If you had asked me in 1995, I would have taken Kelly’s bet to be a certainty. Today? I wouldn’t take that bet at all. How many friends do you know who historically supported gun control but have recently whispered to you about the purchase of a firearm or their plans to? This is not the exhilarating spring of 1995.
Looking Backward to Look Forward
The battle of Fredericksburg was fought in mid-December 1862 and was a horrifically bloody set back among many for the Union Army. There were 12,653 Union casualties to 4,201 for the Confederates. It was the second year of the Civil War, and it was not going well for the North.
Lincoln received almost daily letters from grieving mothers, sisters and widows, which weighed on him so heavily that he was once found by his son Robert hunched over his desk, crying.
However great the tragedy of the Battle of Fredericksburg, the bloodiest days were ahead—Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor to name but a few. We would lose roughly 2% of the American population—that is, proportionally, ten times greater than current U.S. losses to Covid-19. The pain of these four years is instantly evident from the photos of Lincoln’s face, aging from young man to old in just four years.
Who would have thought that one of the things keeping us sleepless at night would be the question, “Does democracy survive the Internet Age?” Is it a force for good or is it tearing us apart at the seams? Absurd rumors take on the authority of fact and become rallying cries. Criticism, once limited to a personal conversation or sometimes no conversation at all other than a monologue in our heads, has been given as much of a platform as Gutenberg.
What hath the Internet Age wrought? It has brought us more information in a day than our grandparents had in a year while simultaneously shredding our notions of free speech. And this is just the threat from state and local governments and our fellow citizens. What about dangerous nation state actors and cyber criminals?
So here we are, at the emotional crossroads somewhere between Lincoln’s despair after the Battle of Fredericksburg and Anne Frank’s indefatigable hope in the summer of 1944.
Over the past week, I interviewed three experts on security and cybersecurity—dedicated to keeping us safe—for the daily podcast,In House Warriorthat I host for theCorporate Counsel Business Journal, along with two thought leaders on Covid-19 and law firm management.
The New Paradigms in Security
Roderick Jones, formerly of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Executive Chairman of Concentric—which provides comprehensive security programs for high-growth Silicon Valley companies, High-Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) and others—joined me for a show. He spoke about the shift from international to domestic threats, the frightening rise of “leadership resistance,” escalating online security threats, the importance of sentiment analysis, the increased use of the dark web by extremists and what we can do to protect ourselves.
Cybersecurity is No Longer Just an IT Issue
Peter Halprin, a partner in Pasich LLP’s New York office and a faculty member with the Global Cyber Institute, spoke about the proliferation of cyber and ransomware attacks and how in-house legal departments are taking on a larger role in cybersecurity efforts. He focused on the critical questions general counsels need to ask themselves, including how are we protecting the company; what do we do if we’re hacked and how are we going to pay for this? Most importantly, Peter discussed why in-house counsel need to treat cyber-attacks as inevitabilities.
A Guide to Internet Privacy
Jeremy Berkowitz, Senior Principal on Promontory Financial Group’s privacy and data protection team (part of IBM Consulting), provided a guide to privacy issues. He discussed the current landscape of privacy legislation in the U.S., including California, Virginia and Colorado; potential action by the FTC, CFPB and other agencies on privacy rulemakings; the biggest challenges organizations face in building privacy programs; what an ideal privacy governance structure looks like and the privacy-related issues to watch out for in 2022.
The Evolving World of Covid Vaccine Liability Immunity
It is hard to imagine this period of time without discussing Covid-19, so Judi Curry joined me for a conversation. She is the Senior and Managing Partner of the New York City office and Co-Leader of the Medical and Life Sciences Industry Team at Harris Beach PLLC, as well as a member ofBerkley Life Sciences’ Elite Defense Counsel. She discussed which coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the FDA and which ones have been approved under an FDA Emergency Use Authorization; who is immune from liability for vaccines under federal laws and the limitations on immunity from liability; what healthcare providers, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies can do to protect themselves from coronavirus-related lawsuits; and the most recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on vaccine mandates.
The Trusted Advisor – Up Close with Brad Hildebrandt
For our law firm readers and listeners, my old friend, Brad Hildebrandt, the founding father of management consulting for the legal profession, joined me for a conversation on what law firms should be doing and thinking during this challenging period. Brad discussed current pressing law firm challenges such as finding and keeping talent, culture, and the technology race. Brad’s extensive knowledge of the legal profession and his unique understanding of the dynamics of professional services firms have led him to become the leading global authority on the business of the practice of law the world over. He is also an ordained Lutheran minister with a master’s degree in theology, training that seems remarkably relevant today.
Saying Goodbye to a Legal Giant
Over the course of the past week, Professor Yale Kamisar, known as the “Father of the Miranda Rule” and cited in more than 30 U.S. Supreme Court cases includingGideon v.Wainwright—the right to counsel—passed away at age 92. He helped shape modern criminal procedure, including protections for the rights of the accused.
I never knew Professor Kamisar but recall reading him extensively in law school, since I spent so much time doing scholarship for the late criminal law scholarNicholas Kittrie—another legal luminary whose work had influenced me long before law school.
Jeffrey Lehman, the vice chancellor of N.Y.U. Shanghai, who studied under Professor Kamisar and later served as dean of the University of Michigan Law School, said of Professor Kamisar, “He used to talk about himself as a young kid playing stickball in the Bronx, being picked on by cops. And that is sort of what led to his interest in law, as a way to regulate the behavior of powerful people.”
Eve Primus, who also studied under Professor Kamisar and now holds a chair in his name at the University of Michigan Law School, said, “There was this period of police brutalization of predominantly Black and brown people, especially in the South. Yale, being the person that he was, understood that there were opportunities to move law forward.”
He was a man of the moment and significantly influenced the 1960s and 1970s Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, that was examining civil liberties with fresh eyes. One person out of many, making an extraordinary difference.
How appropriate that we are celebrating the 137th birthday this week of author Sinclair Lewis, who wrote, among other classis,It Can’t Happen Here,a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy.
It can happen here. With Yale Kamisar as part of our inspiration, let us do everything we can to keep the great disruption at bay.
You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one
Many experts believe that the confluence of the pandemic and remote-working technologies has changed how business is conducted forever. But the need to connect on a human level will never change – no matter if you are interacting face-to-face or virtually.
Marjorie Silverman, Chair/Associate Professor of Internship Studies, Fashion Institute of Technology
The Rise of Screen Face
After two years of pandemic induced isolation, so many forms of face-to-face interaction have moved online. Many of us have forgotten the necessary social rituals outside of Instagram and Tik Tok. The constant siren song of screens has left us with shortened attention spans and the rise of screen face. Screen face is the vacant stare of the screen-addled whose hallmark is a telltale slouch, failure to emote and lack of verbal and non-verbal responses.
Attention is an Investment
“Who was the student in the second row wearing the red jacket? I’d like to interview her.”
I was having coffee with a fashion company executive after his presentation to my internship class at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).
“What did you notice about her?” I asked him.
She has the positive energy and enthusiasm we look for. I liked that she asked questions. And asked the right questions,” he replied. “Honestly, I would be surprised if we didn’t end up hiring her.”
I knew exactly what he meant. When I’m teaching or presenting, I’m aware of who looks dialed in and who appears tuned out.
Those who pay attention at the right times see a good return. Energy and enthusiasm can open doors, garnering callbacks and invitations. Appearing disengaged or distracted sends the message that you are not interested in the person who’s interacting with you, the subject they’re speaking about or the shared purpose that brought you together. Any job can bring about malaise or indifference in even the most dedicated after a while. However, nobody wants to hire someone who looks like they’re already “over it” before they’ve started.
Screen Face – Perception is Not Reality
Just because someone appears disengaged does not mean they are. Nevertheless, an executive with limited time is more likely to be drawn to a job candidate who readily displays energy and enthusiasm. They don’t have time to “survey” the audience.
I have had more than one guest speaker say, “How can you tell?’ when I told them a class loved their presentation. What is disconcerting is that these industry folks cannot tell and at the end of the day it is their perception – as gatekeepers and leaders – that matters most in hiring decisions.
Fixing the Problem – Staving Off Screen Face
Our society straddles multiple generations and business leaders still assess and value the traditional social skills of potential employees when making hiring decisions.
For recent or soon to be grads with little or no professional experience, enthusiasm, passion, positive energy and a demonstrable desire to learn are your most marketable skills.
Think back to the student in the second row that was engaged, enthusiastic and present in that moment. What message was she conveying? “Get to know me! Hire me! I’m excited by what you’re saying, and I’ve got something to offer in return!” That is what her body language, affect and participation expressed to the speaker. She got the interview and the job.
Break Out of Screen Face – Create Your Own Opportunities
If you are attending a virtual presentation, leave your camera on! A blank screen with your name and/or phone conveys a lack of seriousness or commitment and negates another opportunity to connect and make a good impression.
The nature of screen face is that you are unaware you are doing it. So, the first-step in avoiding it is to cultivate a greater awareness of your demeanor and non-verbal cues.
If participating virtually, make sure your face is centered on the screen. Position the camera at eye level or slightly above. That way the speaker will perceive you as looking directly at them. And it will help keep you engaged.
Nod along with the speaker.
Maintain eye contact, particularly when mask wearing obstructs your face.
Check your posture. People who are paying attention, sit upright and lean a bit forward in their seat.
Ask smart questions. Before attending a presentation, do some research on the presenter or subject. If something the speaker says resonates with you, send them a note afterwards letting them know.
Get out of your comfort zone. Talk to strangers. Strike up conversations. Embrace opportunities for IRL socialization that we’ve missed due to the pandemic.
Turn off your phone.
About the Author: Marjorie Silverman is Chair/Associate Professor of Internship Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology -State University of New York (SUNY). Ms. Silverman holds an M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Her areas of concentration include working with students to successfully transition from school to work and increasing career opportunities for non-traditional age students.
Many people’s New Year’s resolutions are to eat less and exercise more. Fortunately, few people need to promise to kill less. That goal, though, may be a good one for the world’s-fastest growing social media platform in order to better protect the lives of young users who are oblivious to the dangerous game they’re playing.
Nyla Anderson was a “happy child” and “smart as a whip”—she even spoke three languages. Tragically, the 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl’s life was cut short on December 12, when she died while attempting a perilous social media trend called the Blackout Challenge.
The Blackout Challenge “requires the participant to choke themselves until they pass out and wake up moments later.” Sadly, some who participate, like Nyla, never wake up, and if they don’t die, they may suffer seizures and/or brain damage.
It’s tragic, but young people likely have engaged in foolhardy, life-threatening behavior since the beginning of humankind. Within a few years of my high school graduation, two of my classmates lost their lives in separate car crashes caused by high-speed, reckless driving. Most people probably can share similar stories of people they knew who needlessly died too young.
In some ways it’s inevitable that young people’s propensity for risk-taking paired with a limited sense of their own mortality will lead them to endanger themselves and encourage others to do the same. What’s inexplicable is how older and presumably more rational adults can encourage and even monetize such behavior, which is what some suggest TikTok has done.
Unfortunately, Nyla is not the only young person to pass away while attempting the Blackout Challenge. Other lives the ill-advised trend has taken include 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesus of Colorado and 10-year-old Antonella Sicomero of Palermo, Italy. TikTok provided the impetus for each of these children to attempt the challenge.
Most of us know from experience that peer influence can cause people to do unexpected and sometimes irrational things. In centuries gone by, that influence was limited to direct interpersonal contact and then to traditional mass media like television. Now, thanks to apps like TikTok, anyone with a smartphone holds potential peer pressure from people around the world in the palm of their hand.
In TikTok’s defense, the Blackout Challenge predates the social media platform. ByteDance released TikTok, or Douyin as it’s known in China, in September of 2016. Children had been attempting essentially the same asphyxiation games, like the Choking Challenge and the Pass-out Challenge, many years prior. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 82 children, aged 6 to 19, likely died from such games between 1995 and 2007.
It’s also worth noting that individuals and other organizations create the seemingly infinite array of videos that appear on the platform. ByteDance doesn’t make them, it just curates the clips according to each viewer’s tastes using one of the world’s most sophisticated and closely guarded algorithms.
So, if TikTok didn’t begin the Blackout Challenge and it hasn’t created any of the videos that encourage it, why should the app bear responsibility for the deaths of Nyla, Joshua, Antonella, or any other young person who has attempted the dangerous social media trend?
It’s reasonable to suggest that TikTok is culpable for the self-destructive behavior that happens on its premises. A metaphor might be a property owner who makes his house available as a hangout for underage drinking. The homeowner certainly didn’t invent alcohol, and he may not be the one providing it, but if he knowingly enables the consumption, he could be legally responsible for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
By hosting Blackout Challenge posts, TikTok could be contributing to the delinquency of minors.
I have to pause here to note an uncomfortable irony. Less than four months ago, just after Francis Haugen blew the whistle on her former employer Facebook, I wrote a piece titled “Two Lessons TikTok can Teach Facebook.” In the article, I described specific measures TikTok had taken to, of all things: 1) discourage bad behavior, and 2) support users’ mental health.
How could I have been so wrong? Although I certainly may have been misguided—it wouldn’t be the first time—TikTok’s actions that I cited truly were good things. So, maybe the social media giant deserves to defend itself against the new allegations.
TikTok declined CBS News’ request for an interview, but it did claim to block content connected to the Blackout Challenge, including hashtags and phrases. It also offered this statement, “TikTok has taken industry-first steps to protect teens and promote age-appropriate experiences, including strong default privacy settings for minors.”
The notion of protecting teens is certainly good; however, it’s hard to know what “industry-first steps” are. Furthermore, prioritizing age-appropriateness and privacy are important, but neither objective aligns particularly well with the need to avoid physical harm—the main problem of the Blackout Challenge.
In that spirt and in response to accusations surrounding Nyla’s death, TikTok offered to Newsweek a second set of statements:
“We do not allow content that encourages, promotes, or glorifies dangerous behavior that might lead to injury, and our teams work diligently to identify and remove content that violates our policies.”
“While we have not currently found evidence of content on our platform that might have encouraged such an incident off-platform, we will continue to monitor closely as part of our continuous commitment to keep our community safe. We will also assist the relevant authorities with their investigation as appropriate.”
These corporate responses do align better with the risks the Blackout Challenge represents. However, there’s still a disconnect: TikTok claims it’s done nothing to facilitate the Blackout Challenge, but family members of those lost say the social media platform is exactly where their children encountered the fatal trend.
The three families’ tragedies are somewhat unique, but they’re far from the only cases of people seeing the Blackout Challenge on TikTok and posting their own attempts on the app. TikTok has taken measures that have likely helped ‘lessen the destruction,’ but it’s unreasonable for it to claim exoneration.
The company’s app must be culpable to some degree, but what exactly could it have done to avoid death and injury? That question is very difficult for anyone outside TikTok or without significant industry expertise to answer; however, let me ask one semi-educated question—Couldn’t TikTok use an algorithm?
As I’ve described in an earlier blog post, “Too Attached to an App,” ByteDance has created one of the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence tools—one that with extreme acuity serves app users a highly-customized selection of videos that can keep viewers engaged indefinitely.
Why can’t TikTok employ the same algorithm, or a variation of it, to keep the Blackout Challenge and other destructive videos from ever seeing the light day?
TikTok is adept at showing users exactly what they want to see, so why can’t it use the same advanced analytics with equal effectiveness to ‘black out’ content that no one should consume?
The truism ‘nobody’s perfect’ aptly suggests that every person is, in a manner of speaking, part sinner and part saint. TikTok and other organizations, which are collections of individuals, are no different, doing some things wrong and other things right but hopefully always striving for less of the former and more of the latter.
Based on its statements, TikTok likely has done some ‘right things’ that have helped buffer the Blackout Challenge. However, given the cutting-edge technology the company has at its disposal, it could be doing more to mitigate the devastating impact. For that reason, TikTok remains responsible for “Single-Minded Marketing.”
Certain To Happen Every Year: PR Crises & Blunders
Despite the happy-talk that PR agencies tell clients about how they can limit negative press coverage during a crisis, one thing is certain: They can’t. And the PR blunders of 2021 once again prove my contention.
Below are several of what I consider the top PR crises of last year and how they were treated in press coverage:
Situation: Of course, the biggest PR blunder of 2021 began months before the New Year when the then president Donald Trump claimed that the only way he could lose the election was if it was rigged. His bogus remarks resulted in a mob of his supporters storming the Capitol on January 6, which led to Trump being impeached for the second time, a first for a U.S. president.
My Take: Trump’s false claims and the storming of the Capitol have resulted in continuing negative media coverage for him that the best minds in the PR crisis business will be unable to stop. (A realist, like myself, believes that the continuing negative coverage that Trump is receiving is not unusual for a person or entity in a major PR crisis. A close study of past major PR crises shows that crises specialists have never been able to stop the flow of negative coverage. Two other recent examples: Boeing’s 737 Max problems and Wells Fargo’s banking problems.)
Situation: Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz took his family to Mexico as a major winter storm left Texans without heat, food and water.
My Take: The senator received widespread negative media overage for leaving the state, resulting in a major PR crisis. Critics said that instead of going to Cancun he should have stayed in Texas and asked the feds for emergency help, something he could have done with a phone call even if he was on Mars. Cruz returned to Texas earlier that he had planned to and apologized, saying he had made a mistake but the PR damage was already done. There’s a valuable PR lesson learned from this situation. Often, the optics of a situation can make a PR blunder into a major crisis.
Situation: Another PR blunder occurred when GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the formations of a bi-partisan committee to investigate the January 6, storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters because, he said, it would hurt Republican chances of retaking the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections by providing a PR bonanza for the Democrats.
My Take: Thinking that blocking a bi-partisan committee would lessen the PRadvantage for Democrats is at the best wishful thinking because a politician has to live in fantasy land to believe that the break-in of the Capitol would not receive major coverage, whether or not there was a bi-partisan committee. By rejecting the joint commission, McConnell lost the opportunity of having GOP talking points in the official report. And it did not deter the Democrats and the media from conducting their own probes.
Situation: J&J asked Pfizer and Moderna to participate in a study of blood clots caused by the Covid-19 vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna declined the offer, saying their vaccines appeared safe, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal. The companies also objected because they didn’t see the need to duplicate the efforts of regulators and companies already investigating the cause. One of their concerns: The safety of the Pfizer and Moderna shots could be tarnished by association.
My Take: I thought refusing to take part in the study might result in negative media coverage. It didn’t, but I feel it was a public relations blunder.
Situation: Despite the Covid-19 pandemic still in full swing,the Atlanta Braves announced that they would allow full capacity at their games beginning May 7, but fans who feel uncomfortable with the decision could attend another regular season game not later than October 31, 2021.
My Take: The decision to limit uncomfortable fans to games this season is a major PR blunder. The Braves should have permitted fans to attend next season’s games or request a refund.
Situation: In mid-April, the Consumer Product Safety Commission urged Peloton to recall a treadmill because it was responsible for injuries and at least one death. The company refused, saying the cause of the mishaps was because recommended safety precautions were not being followed and that the CPSC requestwas“inaccurate and misleading.”
Peloton CEO John Foley also said he had “no intention” of recalling the treadmills. But on May 5, Peloton changed its position and agreed to recall the product, saying its initial response was a mistake.
My Take: Peloton’s initial response to the CPSC request went against the public image that most companies try to achieve – being a good corporate citizen. The statement by Foley was reminiscence of days past, when companies acted without concern about the public, media or governments reactions. Those days are far gone; Peloton acted like it was 1921 instead of 2021.
Situation: After years of turning a blind eye to the situation, Major League Baseball, in mid-season, decided to enforce its rules against pitchers using sticky substances on baseballs.
My Take: MLB made a blunder by changing the rules in the middle of a season. Doing so takes away a weapon that pitchers were taught to use and that MLB found no fault with until they panicked because of batters’ low averages. The proper approach was to wait until the conclusion of the season to institute the change.
Situation: After the CEO of the Trump Organization and the company was indicted for allegedly violating federal and state tax laws, the former president and his sons went on television defending the unreported payments, claiming they were deserved perks. Former federal prosecutors said the remarks could be used as evidence that laws were intentionally broken.
My Take: The actions by the Trump family are not unusual for people of power after they have been accused of wrongdoing. A prime example was the remarks made by the CEO of Boeing during its PR crisis. People in jeopardy should listen to their lawyers and remain quiet (despite what many people in our business advise) because anything they say can and will be used against them by prosecutors in a court case.
Situation: On July 6, a story in the New York Times reported that the entire May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior published 11 studies funded by Juul, the e-cigarette company being sued by 14 states and the District of Columbia for targeting youth smokers. The articles offered evidence that its products helped smokers quit. On June 28, the Times reported “Juul Labs has agreed to pay North Carolina $40 million to settle the first of a spate of lawsuits brought by states and localities claiming the e-cigarette company’s marketing practices fueled widespread addiction to nicotine among young people and created a new public health problem.”
My Take: Not being a scientist or science reporter, I have no idea how the publication is viewed in the scientific community. But as a layman I think the publication made a serious blunder that has damaged its reputation.
Situation: The Wall Street Journal, which has been chronicling the troubles of Boeing on regular bases, ran an article on July 16, titled, “Boeing CEO Battles New Stresses.” The article contained the following: “The company declined to make Mr. Calhoun available for an interview.” Instead it issued a trite boiler plate reply containing no new facts. (Mr. Calhoun is chief executive of the company.)
My Take: Mr. Calhoun should have made himself available for the interview because when the chief executive of a major company refuses to speak to the most prominent business publication it gives the appearance of a cover-up.
Situation: The month of July saw a bevy of anti-Trump “tell all” books that received major news coverage. Former twice-impeached President Trump responded by calling them Fake News or worse.
My Take: Instead of denying the allegations against him as each book was covered by the media, Trump should have made one statement saying that the facts in the books were fiction. His daily comments resulted in giving the books additional exposure and because of his record of falsehoods his comments were taken with a grain of salt by many. His comments probably increased sales of the books.
Situation: On July 21, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to accept two Republicans who were appointed to the committee to investigate the break-in of the Capitol on January 6 because, she said, of negative comments they made prior to the investigation beginning.
My Take: By rejecting to sit the two Republicans, Ms. Pelosi provided the Republicans with talking points saying that her action proved that the investigation was a political show by the Democrats. While it’s true that the two GOP Congressmen would have disrupted the proceedings, the testimony of police officers and others who were attacked, along with the video footage of the break-in, would have been strong enough to overcome the antics of the two Republicans.
Situation: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee made commercials touting a sleep product. Previously, he endorsed a diabetes product.
My Take: Individuals who have held high political offices should not become hawkers because it demeans serious political leaders. Like the My Pillow guy, Huckabee’s endorsements might appeal to gullible conservative Trump voters, but doing so lessens the former governor as a serious future national candidate and labels him as just a run-of-the mill huckster.
Situation: The Wall Street Journal reported, on October 19, that “Netflix Inc. Co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos said he “screwed up” in his efforts to communicate with employees who were upset over “The Closer,” a recent comedy special by Dave Chappelle in which he made remarks that some viewed as offensive to the transgender community. In emails to Netflix staff after the special’s debut, Mr. Sarandos defended “The Closer,” citing its popularity on the platform and the company’s commitment to creative freedom. He also said the company believed “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
My Take: This is a classic case of a ranking corporate executive rushing out a statement after receiving criticism, instead of waiting several days to analyze the criticism. A better strategy would have been for Mr. Sarandos to make any apology he deemed necessary in the same statement while defending artistic freedom. Doing so would have limited the coverage of the situation instead of creating a drip by drip scenario.
Situation: Former President Trump thanked Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees for inviting him to the World Series game 4 in Atlanta. He publicly thank Bob Manfred, the baseball commissioner, and Randy Levine, president of the New York Yankees for inviting him. However, both the commissioner’s office and the Atlanta Braves both denied that they had invited the twice-impeached former president. They said the Trump had asked to attend the game. The Braves did not show Trump on the stadium’s big video screen and he only received a mention that he was in attendance during TV coverage of the game.
My Take: The former president obviously wanted to capitalize on the controversy of the Tomahawk Chop to rev up his supporters, as he has attempted to use previous sports events to gain publicity. Obviously, this one failed. He drew scant attention. In addition it resulted in negative publicity, as numerous news articles called out his lie about being invited.
Situation: Asked on Aug. 26 if he was vaccinated, Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers star quarterback, told reporters, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized. … There’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated. I think it’s a personal decision. I’m not going to judge those guys.” But when he was sidelined after being tested positive for Covid-19, it was learned that Rodgers was not vaccinated with any of the approved Covid-19 vaccines. Instead, he received homeopathic treatments.
My Take: Rodgers made two major mistakes when discussing his vaccination situation: 1) He lied to the media, and 2) inflamed the situation when he attempted to defend his position by saying he’s a “critical thinker,” doesn’t believe in giving in to “woke culture,” and decided what is best for his body. He also said there’s a “witch hunt” in the NFL regarding player’s vaccination status. He would have been better off saying that he did what he considers best for him and is not against others taking the approved vaccines and then refusing to answer other questions.
Situation: A December 9 New York Times story told how Vishal Garg, the chief executive of the mortgage lender Better.com apologized for laying off about 900 employees over Zoom.
My Take: This is not the first time that employees have been fired over Zoom. (The Times reported that last year WW International, formerly known as Weight Watchers, was also criticized for a mass firing using Zoom.) Before Zoom, employees were fired while on vacation and via email. In all such cases these types of firings result in negative publicity. Apologies after the fact are not taken seriously.
Situation: A lengthy story beginning on page one of the December 27 Wall Street Journal, and continuing for about three quarters of an inside page, detailed how AT&T cut retiree life insurance and death benefits while keeping it intact and subsidizing life insurance for select executives, who refused to comment about the situation. The paper reported that “The executives declined to comment through an AT&T spokesman.
My Take: High-ranking executives should never refuse to comment on a story that is being investigated by a major news outlet, especially when asked by the country’s leading financial publication. Doing so gives the impression of a cover-up.
Once again this past year proved a constant about our business: Agencies will come and go; clients will come and go; PR practitioners will come and go, but PR blunders will remain.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com
On the Origin of Species
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts…”
– William Shakespeare
It is the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a day which always resonates with and deeply saddens me, as it is one of the first historical events I remember learning about as a child. My late father was a 14-year-old kid on December 7th, 1941, attending a professional football game at old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. He told me so many times about the public address announcer calling out different admirals and generals – a sure sign something was terribly wrong in an era long before cell phones and 24-hour news – that I swear I can hear the echoes of those announcements too.
Soldiers at Pearl Harbor were still learning how to use a new device called radar when Private Joseph McDonald detected a large number of planes heading toward the base. He called his commanding officer, First Lieutenant Kermit Tyler, who had been provided virtually no training, supervision or staff on this new technology and presumed it was the scheduled arrival of six U.S. B-17 bombers. The rest, as they say, is tragic history, and 2,403 Americans died from the attack. The American involvement in World War II had begun. He would later be cleared of any wrongdoing by a Naval Board of Inquiry, but he had to live with his indecision for the rest of his long life. Imagine how different history would be if he had had just a little more time with this new technology. It got me thinking about the power of perspective.
About 35 years ago, when my grandmother was 91, I got a call from the nursing home that she had been injured and, with my parents being out of town and unreachable, I had to immediately take full responsibility, including joining first responders and weighing in on the question ofheroic measures. The answer at that point was no, which felt terribly adult and precipitate for someone not yet 30. Who was I to make this life and death decision for my grandmother?
As part of the experience in the emergency room, they had to quickly cut off much of her clothing and there I was, answering questions from the emergency room doctors and seeing my grandmother totally vulnerable and half-naked, not something I ever thought I would witness. As with those moments that are sealed in our memories, I was feeling a flood of simultaneous conflicting emotions. Sadness for my grandmother, clearly on her final hospital visit. But also awe for seeing her half-naked. For the very first time in my life, I could imagine her not just as someone two generations my senior, but as a young girl, a vibrant woman, a mother and only much later, as my grandmother. We have an automatic tendency to do that – see others for only this moment in time as it reflects upon us. As if it is a role handed down by heaven and their job is to play the old person – not the culmination of many different characters over nearly a century. We, of course, play many roles, or “seven ages,” as Shakespeare would say.
I think sometimes that our political differences are less about what we think are our hardened views and more about our perspective. I appreciate the climate change activism and viewpoint ofGreta Thunberg, but as someone who had a career as an environmental activist 35 years ago, I only have so much patience for being lectured by an 18 year old. I want her to succeed; I’m just not as patient with the messenger. My perspective has matured.
As Tim Russert said, “The older I get, the smarter my father [and mother] seems to get.” After you reach a certain age and start reading the obituaries before the sports pages and realize you have a shorter and shorter runway, it has a way of minimizing other problems and differences.
In the years before marketing and mass commercialization took over and Madison Avenue began ignoring people over 55 as not in their target market, age used to be associated with wisdom. And the wisdom was revered. Now we are dismissed with “OK, Boomer” or ignored altogether. The great disappearance.
It is not a complaint but a warning. Our perspectives continue to evolve. Former Senator John Kerry may have been a “flip flopper,” as he was effectivelyaccusedof during his 2004 presidential campaign, but he was also exhibiting the wisdom of age, which is to evolve. If we have the same perspective at 75 as we did at 25, then what’s a lifetime for? Looking back is a lot different than looking forward.
I’ve been pro-choice my entire life, though I’ve always preferred to explain my position rather than categorize it. When I was in law school and wrote a paper onRoe v. Wade, I pointed out that while I liked the result, I was troubled by Justice Blackmun finding a right to privacy in the penumbra of the Fourth Amendment, almost out of whole cloth, a reasoning that occasionally concerned other moderate and liberal justices both at the time and in subsequent years. It is as brilliant as it is creative. But is it any more or less hypocritical than some of the arguments we heard last week by the new Court’s conservative majority? The likely result troubles me greatly. We can poke a lot of holes in the arguments made by the new six vote majority during their questioning and reasoning at oral argument, when they clearly signaled their desire to overturnRoe. Nevertheless, it’s not as though the reasoning of the 1973 ruling is without flaws. Perspective.
Like Darwin’sOn the Origin of Species, we can choose to continue to evolve. We need not change our core or even our points of view, but we do gain appreciation from the mountain top.
We don’t need to like the opposition, but we do need to listen, to engage, to understand. It is how we grow. As the late Senator and candidate for Vice President Bob Dole wrote in his final column – a message from beyond for all of us to be our better selves – “bipartisanship is the minimum we should expect from ourselves.”
I don’t learn much from drinking the Kool-Aid, but I do learn an immense amount from listening, discussing and debating. If law school taught me anything, it was to think in layers. If not that argument, then this, to support our point of view—sometimes many layers deep. Never is an opinion to be validated by “Because I said so.”
One of the many joys of my job is the daily podcast I host for theCorporate Counsel Business Journaland the opportunity each day to interview some of the leading legal scholars, lawyers, lobbyists, former politicians, authors and more. And with each show, especially when I don’t agree with a guest’s point of view, is the heady moment when I think, “I may not agree, but now Iunderstandtheir reasoning.” This is how this species evolves.
This week I had four wonderful shows onIn House Warrior, touching on this topic of listening and inclusivity, including:
A look at the U.S. Supreme Court term with Josh Blackman, a national thought leader on constitutional law and the United States Supreme Court, regular television commentator, Professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston and anadjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. He discussed the current Supreme Court term including a look atRoe v. Wade, the Mississippi and Texas abortion laws, gun control, voting rights, vaccination mandates, the value of legislative histories, stare decisis and the original intent doctrine. Professor Blackman has authored three books, and his latest, An Introduction to Constitutional Law, is a top-five bestseller on Amazon.
A look at nuclear verdicts (“A billion is the new million”) with Stratton Horres and Karen Bashor, partners at Wilson Elser and accomplished litigators with extensive experience in crisis management and catastrophic and high-exposure mass casualty events. They discussed the rise of social inflation and its impact on nuclear verdicts, legal strategies for turning the tables and minimizing these nuclear verdicts, and also provided insights into best practices for handling billion-dollar claims.
And finally, understanding polling and research with Justin Wallin, CEO of Wallin Opinion Research, whose firm has delivered strategic direction to hundreds of political candidates, organizations and non-profits. He spoke about what political polling can and cannot do, our demand for conclusions even when the answer is too close to call, the importance of intelligence informing strategy and why it is so important to speak with people who think differently than we do – our growth and wisdom depend on it, as do our business decisions and our form of self-governance.
“…And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion; Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
The opening paragraph of my column about the evaluation of 2020 cable news political programming read in part, “It’s been several weeks since program changes have been made by the major cable TV networks. My question is, “Will it make the products any better?” My answer, based on past changes at the networks is, “Probably Not.”
As in all the past years of its existence, cable news programs broke a minimal number of stories. Instead, they continued to opinionize about news that they had no part in bringing to the public. In reality, cable news reporting is talk radio with pictures, except for Fox News, whose reports are largely are akin to someone who had too much to drink.
It didn’t take me long to see that the formula that has made cable TV political programming a disgrace to the journalism profession didn’t change.
Providing “headline type” newscasts, instead of fully reporting on a story; not correcting misinformation; pretending news that was reported by other media outlets hours before is “Breaking News;” allowing unsubstantiated remarks of guests to go unchallenged by program hosts (Fox’s Howie Kurtz’s Sunday Media Buzz program is the prime example of this on a major network) and stretching a relatively minor story into a week-long one if there is video to accompany the report.
It was early in 2021 that I saw the first example of a Fox personality who is either delusional or deliberately misleading, when on January 3, I tuned in Media Buzz, Kurtz’s supposedly unbiased look at the news. Kurtz closed his program by saying he believes in journalistic balance and journalistic fairness. As someone who watches his program every Sunday, I can unabashedly say his statement has no relation to the truth. The majority of his guests and panels are always right of center, sometime very far right like frequent Trump apologizers Mollie Hemingway and Ben Domenech of The Federalist, a pro-Trump propaganda publication. But that’s to be expected on a Fox program. So I’ll give Kurtz a pass on that. But what is nothing short of journalistic malpractice is Kurtz permitting his right wing guests to have an open mike without him correcting their frequent falsehoods.
On March 7, the hypocrisy of Kurtz saying his program is an analysis of the week’s news was never more evident. The big story of that day was the passage the previous day of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. But Kurtz led with a commentary criticizing the networks for down playing the allegations of sexual harassment against New York Governor Cuomo, pivoting into a lengthy discussion of the situation featuring the extreme right wing commentator Hemingway of The Federalist, the far right wing publication, that lasted almost 12minutes. Kurtz didn’t mention the passage of the coronavirus bill until into 17 minutes of his program and then only with a one line comment. On the same program he didn’t correct Glenn Greenwald for saying that MSNBC’s Joy Reid is a Democratic spokeswoman. A far left supporter of Democratic policies yes; a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, no. Instead of labeling Media Buzz an analysis of the week’s news, the program should be renamed Incomplete Fake Right Wing News. (In my opinion, Kurtz is the biggest fraud on television. He positions himself as a media analyst when, in reality, his program is a conduit for right wing propaganda. Even though I disagree with their commentary I have more respects for the Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity types; at least they don’t pretend to be other than what they are.)
One of Kurtz’s most ridiculous comments was when he opined on March 21 that the words of a president have no bearing on what others may do and that presidents are not responsible for any actions that results in violence. That’s like giving a get out of jail free card to the twice-impeached former presidential instigator Trump for his more than five years of inflammatory remarks that encouraged white supremacists to storm the Capitol on January 6and has led to the country being more divided than ever.
One of the lowest of many lows by Kurtz occurred on his July 25 program, when he defended Fox News and the conservative media against accusations that they have downplayed the need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and said the increase in Covid infections was because of the refusal of minorities to get vaccinated, dismissing the refusal of citizens in Southern GOP states, despite evidence to the contrary.
There are so many low points in what is theoretically objective journalism on Kurtz’s shows that’s it difficult to point out the worst. But here’s one for consideration: On August 8, Kurtz mentioned that CNN had a problem because Chris Cuomo was still allowed to broadcast during his brother’s harassment investigation proceedings. But Kurtz never mentioned that his follow Fox broadcaster Sean Hannity spoke at a Trump re-election rally and was allowed to continue broadcasting. He also didn’t remind viewers that the dean of conservative TV and print columnists, George Will, helped coach Ronald Reagan for his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter and then told television viewers after the debate that Mr. Regan had performed very well. It took a guest on the program to “remind” Kurtz of the happening.
Kurtz also is guilty of frequently interrupting the comments of his liberal guests and questions what they are saying while permitting his conservative contributors to complete their thoughts, even when what they say are controversial half-truths, to put it politely, and fictional.
I have to stop watching the Kurtz show or I’ll run out of room for criticizing it. But on his August 15 program he let Robby Soave, the libertarian author, say “kids have a tremendous national immunity to Covid…,” without Kurtz pointing out that hospitals are reporting their pediatric ICU beds are at capacity. Just another example of Kurtz’s journalistic malpractice.
But this is not a Howie Kurtz column, so…
Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s trip to the sunshine of Mexico while citizens of his state were without heat or water was a prime example of cable stretching what should have been a one day story into a week long saga, not because Cruz made a dreadful situation worse, but because tape was available to accompany the coverage. It’s true that Cruz‘s going to a fancy resort during the Texas freeze was a limited PR disaster for him. And his doing so deserved a day’s coverage. But cable’s credo seems to be, “make a ripple in a pond into a tsunami” and that’s what they did making the ridiculous claim that the senatror should have stayed in Texas to pressure the feds into sending help. And how was he to do this? Via telephone, they said, which he could have done even if he was on Mars. What would have made more sense was if the cable commentators said that Curz should have flown to Washington to button- hole senators face-to-face. (Full Disclosure: I am not a fan of the senator’s politics. I find him encouraging the divide among our population. But it is the cable political shows that convey his remarks to the public. They are the bullets for Cruz’s gun.)
General Observation # 1:I’ve long said that Chris Wallace is the hardest hitting TV journalist and his targets are not determined by the political leanings of his guests. However, when a host subs for Wallace on his Fox News Sunday program, it becomes just another Fox GOP propaganda outlet.
A few other cable TV lowlights:
An example of getting it wrong without correcting a statement occurred on February, 23 when Nicolle Wallace said on her MSNBC Deadline: White House program that Tiger Woods was involved in an automobile “collision,” when just a moment before the on- the- scene reporter said several times that a collision was not involved. Wallace’s misstatement might seem trivial but it was wrong and maybe confusing for viewers. But it highlighted a major cable TV problem: This is just another example of what occurs hundreds of times a year on cable news programming – misinformation that is not corrected. Worse than misstating the cause of the mishap was the time devoted to the accident. Ms. Wallace committed the first 45 minutes of her 4 p.m. program to the situation, as if it was more important than the Congressional hearings about the lack of security during the January 6 Capitol insurrection, the continuing Covid-19 situation or the Supreme Court ruling that former President Trump couldn’t keep his tax records from being turned over to Manhattan prosecutors. She also led with the Woods story on her 5 p.m. hour, spending 37 minutes of not reporting anything newsworthy before turning to the Congressional hearings about the storming of the Capitol. The program opposite Ms. Wallace’s on CNN, The Lead With Jake Tapper, had a more balanced take on the day’s news.
Wolf Blitzer on his CNN 6 p.m. show added to the lameness of cable TV news coverage by asking the networks s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to discuss the medical problems facing Woods without the doctor examining him, something most psychiatrists who witnessed former president Donald Trump’s behavior on television for many years wouldn’t do when they were asked by cable hosts to give their opinion regarding Trump’s mental condition. Shepard Smith led his program on CNBC with a about a six minute Tiger Woods story, and then returned to it later on for about a minute. But unlike the other cable shows, the bulk of the program was about the Congressional security hearings, the Covid-19 situation and other non-Tiger news. But for the remainder of the night cable kept reporting on the golfer’s accident as if it was the equivalent of the discovery of the anti-Covid vaccines, some programs with lengthier reporting than others.
The deficiency of cable news was evident again during the trial of George Floyd. Instead of reporting it as one of many important stories, the coverage dominated some networks as if the entire world was taking a time out during the trial, leaving other important stories with minimal coverage.
Also earning a place on this list for letting her bias replace facts was Rachel Maddox on her March 31 MSNBC program. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might be the darling of the far left of liberal wing of Democratic Party but to introduce her as one of the most influential members of Congress, as Maddow did before interviewing her, is the equivalent of saying a seedling is a full grown oak tree. This is just another example of why comments by cable TV political hosts should not be taken seriously. A better description of AOC would be “one of the most outspoken and publicity-seeking members of Congress.” Some day AOC might be able to dominate Democratic policy, but not this year. Proof: The candidate she backed for mayor of New York City in the primary, progressive candidate Maya Wiley, was defeated in the primary election.
June 16, the day of the Biden-Putin summit, should be remembered by cable watchers as the day CNN resembled, more than ever, Groundhog Day, the movie where repetition was the theme. After the press conferences by the two presidents, CNN, the channel I was watching, spent more than an hour of having its commentators all repeat the same thing in different words.
(It was as if they were reading from a thesaurus.) None of the reporters shared original insight or presented additional news about what happened. The only thing that was different was the name of the reporters. But that’s to be expected from all the cables, talk without substance. I didn’t tune in Nicole Wallace’s MSNBC program until 5:16 p.m. because I was certain I’d get more of the same. I was correct. At 5:20 p.m. I checked on Wolf Blitzer’s show. More of the etcetera, etceteracomments. I didn’t check on Fox or Newsmax TV because I wasn’t in the mood for fiction, I tuned in Blitzer’s program again the following day. It was as if Groundhog Day was extended. His lead story was analyzing yesterday’s summit.
CNN’s Jake Tapper joined the “let’s make something out of nothing” cable crowd on June 22 by devoting an extended segment on President Biden missing his goal of having 70 percent of Americans vaccinated by July 4, as if the president did not keep a promise. Perhaps Tapper should have consulted a dictionary on the meaning of the word goal. Merriam-Webster defines “goal” as “something that one hopes or intends to accomplish,” not as Tapper continually said that the president is moving the goal posts.
A prime example of what’s wrong with cable TV hosts is when they try to create a controversy when there is none, like Joy Reid did on July 5 during a segment about a Black U.S. Olympic athlete being banned from the Tokyo games for failing a drug test.
An excerpt from MSNBC’s The ReidOut: (The complete transcript is available on the internet.)
REID: All right. Well, coming up the latest controversy surrounding American Olympics athletes of color exposes the sneaky little racism these athletes are encountering at every turn. ESPN`s Bomani Jones joins me next.
REID: In an Olympic year when black women athletes are posed to become the faces of Team USA, gymnast Simone Biles and Jordan Chiles and sprinter Allyson Felix to name just a few. The biggest topic right now is the star athlete who potentially will not appear at the games.
Sprinter Sha`Carri Richardson, the 21-year-old American track star, following her one-month suspension after testing positive for THC, the chemical in marijuana.
Richardson has accepted the suspension. She won’t appear in her solo event, the 100 meter dash and told the “Today” show she takes full responsibility for her actions. But a lot of people are questioning why weed, of all things, which to my knowledge has never made anybody faster, is keeping her out of the games.
REID: I mean, Bomani, her mom had just died. She found out from a reporter. What is going on here?
BOMANI JONES, SPORTS JOURNALIST: Well, I mean as far as the suspension itself, it’s kind of textbook and hard to get around. If you fail that test in that time when she did, these are what the consequences are. This is not one that I think the drug testing people had the luxury of being able to be like, okay, let’s act like we didn’t happen. That was not going to be it.
REID: Am I reading too much into that?
JONES: I don’t feel like this is the example of that. I think that there’s certainly room for empathy for her. Again, I don’t think anybody — when I hear her apology, the worst thing to me is she feels like she has to apologize to us when she certainly does not. I haven’t seen a great deal or a measure of judgment. There seems to be a lot of understanding about how those things could come together and lead her to where she is.
Reid went on to state what she thought was deliberate discriminatory actions against Black athletes, which is ridiculous to anyone who follows the Olympics and knows that Black Ameerican athletes have been celebrated as Olympic heroes on U.S. teams since Jesse Owens performance in the 1936 Nazi Olympics. Perhaps Ms. Reid should have taken a course in Olympic history before she broached the subject on national TV.
What Reid did was an example of what happens much too often on cable news. A host of a program reads a story in the New York Times, Washington Post or other respected publications, and attempts to use it as an “issue,” without fully understanding about the situation. Journalism Grade: A gentlewoman’s “F.”
General Observation # 2: It’s long known that hosts of cable TV political programs are “homers,” meaning their commentaries favor the political leanings of the hosts who act as journalists. The same is also true about the announcers on sports events, but unlike the political shows it doesn’t matter what sports announcers say.
One of the most misleading and incomplete reports that I ever heard on cable news occurred on July 23. It was by Paula Reid, the CNN senior legal affairs correspondent’s report on bail granted to indicted Trump ally and friend Thomas Barrack Jr. Ms. Reid kept repeating that it was because of the outstanding lawyers defending him that he was granted bail but failed to mention that he was released on a $250 million bond, that his movements were restricted to Southern California and New York, he had to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet and surrendered his passport awaiting trial for illegally lobbying the U.S. government for the United Arab Emirates and lying to the FBI. Barrack, who was chair of former President Trump’s inaugural committee, was also ordered to have no contact with UAE or Saudi officials.
A story in the Wall Street Journal on August 23 highlighted one of my biggest complaints about the cable news pundits of the left and right –attacking other people for their comments while refusing to answer questions about themselves. The Left: A WSJ article, about Rachel Maddow’s new contract with MSNBC, ended with “Ms. Maddow didn’t respond to a request for comment.” The Right: Tucker Carlson, who has been criticized for his anti-vaccination rhetoric, refused to say if he has been vaccinated, when asked by the Time reporter Charlotte Alter. But both hosts expect others people to answer their questions.
An Op-Ed column by Nicholas A. Ashford, a professor of technology and policy, and the director of the technology and law program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the New York Times on March 31, 2021, was titled “The Lies on Broadcast Media.”
The article said, in part, “Television and radio are often full of misleading information, both on news programs and in advertisements, and the broadcast gives the information a whiff of legitimacy.”
After listening to thousands of hours of cable news broadcasts over the years, I would add “and in most cases a lack of knowledge about what is being reported, incomplete reporting and incompetency, plus the inability to admit that what was disseminated was incorrect and issue a correction.”
And I would also add, it’s funny how cable TV news programs can only find the “story of the day,” to feature, even it it’s the same story that they have been reporting for several days, in contrast to major print newspapers that find several new important stories every day.
But one of my main criticism of cable news political shows is that they give an open mike to liberals, conservatives, radicals, fanatics and extremists without doing due diligence on the person, allowing them to deliver false statements as truths, without the host correcting them, adding to the crevice that divides the American public. A prime example of giving a hot mike to anyone who says something that might attract viewership is Michael John Avenatti, who was a darling of Ari Melber on MSNBC and Brian Stetler on CNN, until he wasn’t.
There were many other examples that I could have included about my negative feelings regarding the great majority of cable TV programming. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to two of the excellent news programs on cable – Shepard Smith of CNBC and Brian Williams of MSNBC, who will end his show this year. He will be missed.
Once again cable news proved that in order for people to be informed that they should read a respected print publication.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.
Let’s Go To Blockbuster Tonight
“Regrets, I’ve had a few But then again, too few to mention I did what I had to do And saw it through without exemption I planned each chartered course Each careful step along the byway But more, much more than this I did it my way”
– Paul Anka
Between October 19, 1985, and January 12, 2014, Blockbuster went from a single mega-store with 8,000 tapes – unheard of at the time – to over 9,000 stores, employing more than 84,000 people. David Cook, its founder, had glimpsed the future in the limitations of the small, locally owned neighborhood video stores and knew there was a better way. Subsequent owners would expand Blockbuster beyond his wildest dreams, but none could appreciate the future. Pay per view, on demand, Amazon and Netflix – even though a young Reed Hastings had come to Blockbuster hat in hand asking to be bought – would turn the omnipresent blue and yellow signs into antiques. Sometimes we can see what’s next and sometimes we cannot even read the present.
With the exception of Merlin in the Arthurian legendLe Morted‘Arthur– who lived backwards so that his past was our future – we’re all guessing, doing the best we can to read the tea leaves. The epithets of formerly great companies that helped invent the future only to become too comfortable with the present are a reminder to us all.
Sears, whose annual catalog was first released in 1888, served as a model for the internet, seemingly providing endless access to the world of commerce by simply turning a page. Five generations of children grew up waiting in anticipation of the annual phonebook-sized catalog every summer so they could circle their wish list for Christmas.
Radio Shack had a 30-year head start on Apple and ironically was the store where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak bought their Tandy computer to connect to a television and create the first visual computer. “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers,” although apparently not about anything most people are interested in buying anymore.
Avon, which all but invented multi-level marketing and provided whole generations of women a path to entrepreneurship, now struggles with relevancy.
Kodak, which had the patent on digital photography, making too much money from film development to consider what was next.
The road to success is littered with the skeletons of formerly great companies who invented the future only to lose their way.
What would happen if we could live more like Merlin, and see the future? This week onIn House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for theCorporate Counsel Business Journal, I interviewed five trailblazers – people who see the future for the benefit of the rest of us:
Marisa Calderon, Executive Director of theNCRC Community Development Fund, Inc.(CDF), a U.S. Treasury-certified community development financial institution that supports economic mobility and bridges the nation’s racial wealth gap, expands access to affordable homeownership, and provides loan capital for Black-, Brown- and woman-owned businesses to help them thrive.
Sally Schmidt, President of Schmidt Marketing and the founder and first President of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) (formerly called NALFMA), which revolutionized law firm marketing.
Andrew Gratz, Associate General Counsel at LyondellBasell, on what in house counsel want, specifically on ESG and how ESG demands by multiple constituencies are going to change in the near future.
Jim Pattillo, a partner with Christian & Small – a member firm in thePrimerus law firmnetwork – a veteran of more than 70 trials to verdict in both state and federal courts, on litigation trends since the start of COVID.
And finally, Kailash Ambwani, Chief Executive Officer atConstella Intelligence, on what companies can dobeforethere is a breach to reduce risk. Constella is a leading global Digital Risk Protection business that works in partnership with some of the world’s largest organizations to safeguard what matters most for each company and defeat digital risk. While most discussions of breaches are about what to do afterwards, Constella focuses on providing the intelligence to help reduce risk and prevent cyber-attacks.
Robert Zemeckis, who – along with Bob Gale – made the famousBack to the Futuremovie trilogy, found accidental inspiration for the film when visiting his parents in St. Louis and looking at his father’s high school yearbook. Sometimes we have to look backwards to see forwards.
Since the theme music scored byAlan SilvestriforBack to the Futurewas instrumental, we’ll need to go to another movie –The Rocky Horror Picture Show– for the music to take us out.
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely
Not for very much longer
I’ve got to keep control
Let’s do the Time Warp again
Let’s do the Time Warp again”
YouTube has more than 2 billion logged-in views per month and counts about three-quarters of U.S. adults as viewers, according to Hootsuite.
These numbers are astounding. By some measures, YouTube is more popular than Facebook, the otherwise undisputed king of social media in North America.
Influencers, brands, professionals keen to build thought leadership — none can ignore the power of YouTube.
Many aren’t. But far fewer are taking YouTube for all it’s worth. They’re not “doing YouTube right,” as they say.
Are you among them? If so, it’s time to kick off the training wheels and invest in your YouTube presence. Use these seven beginner-friendly strategies to up your YouTube game this month.
Open Your Videos With a Bang
YouTube viewers decide within the first few seconds whether they’ll watch a video to the end or tap out. Therefore, every YouTube video needs a hook.
This is true whether you’re hawking home improvement how-tos or complex financial derivatives. You need to grab your viewers’ attention and give them a reason to stick around.
Your channel needs a hook too. Wordstream’s channel trailer guide says this should include an introduction to your channel’s topic and audience, a highlight reel of your top videos, a peek at your content schedule, and a call-to-action to encourage signups.
Give Your Audience Actionable Information
What happens after the hook? If you don’t want your viewers to drift off after the first half-minute, you’ll need to give them what they came for. That’s actionable information — something they didn’t know before.
The YouTube channel for Asiaciti Trust shows how this is done. It leverages Asiaciti Trust’s expertise — trust and financial services with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region — to produce high-quality content that informs its target audience and compels them to take the next step.
Use Keyword Research and SEO Best Practices to Improve Your Videos’ Search Position and Algorithmic Performance
As a Google property and one of the most-visited web properties in the world, YouTube’s SEO value is impossible to overstate. Yet many channel operators overlook SEO best practices. As a result, their videos, and indeed their channels, don’t perform up to their potential.
The solution is the same as elsewhere. Use keyword research and SEO best practices to find relevant, high-ranking search terms related to your video topics. Then work those keywords into your video captions and metadata to improve your performance on both web-wide organic search and internal YouTube ranks. (Remember, YouTube uses its own internal algorithm to rank and recommend videos.)
Make Sure Your Viewers Know Who You Are and Where to Reach You
Speaking of metadata, don’t overlook your YouTube channel’s identifying information. Your viewers need to know how to get in touch with you if they want to take the next step in your budding relationship. Which means your channel should have a link to your website, key social media handles, and perhaps a contact email or even phone number.
Customize Your Thumbnails
As a medium, YouTube is good at many things. One exception seems to be choosing default video thumbnails. Taking the extra time to customize your thumbnails is an easy way to make your videos pop out of a lineup and encourage more clicks, views, and engagements.
Collaborate With Fellow YouTubers
Collaboration isn’t just for YouTube influencers. No matter what you or your brand does, or what your motivations for using YouTube are, you can benefit from collaborations with fellow people or brands in your niche.
Don’t overthink your collaboration strategy. Something as simple as a well-edited two-way interview can attract off-the-charts engagement, especially if it’s scripted to mimic a podcast. That way, it’ll draw engagement from busy people who can listen but not watch.
Enable Embedding and Encourage Sharing
Sharing is caring. Make it easy for satisfied viewers to push out your videos to their networks by enabling embedding and encouraging sharing in your videos’ calls-to-action.
You Need a YouTube Plan
YouTube is not a “build it and they will come” platform. Building a YouTube presence that attracts engagement and generates leads (or whatever you’re after) takes some time and a lot of hard work.
That work is much easier when you have a coherent YouTube plan. That plan should include keyword-optimized videos with attention-grabbing introductory hooks, actionable information, customized thumbnails, and enabled embedding. It needs a sharing and promotion component too. And a little collaboration never hurt anyone.
You can conquer YouTube. Just look at how many have done it before you. Time to step up and see what you’re capable of.
About the Author:BrianWallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500s.Brianruns #LinkedInLocal events, hosts theNext Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Adviser for 2016-present. Follow BrianWallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.
Love is Having to Say You’re Sorry
The greatest love stories are not those in which love is only spoken, but those in which love is acted upon.”
– Dr. Steve Maraboli
When I was in college, the 1970 movieLove Storywas still all the rage. For us young, impressionable teenagers, it seemed to hold the keys for mature love and relationships. The famous – or more accurately – infamous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was used several times throughout the film, passing for Hollywood’s version of wisdom. It was, after all, the pre-Yoda days.
Even at that age it struck me as at best, trite. The most important thing we learn in any loving relationship is the power of apology and how it turns a potential last transaction into a moment of endearment and a foundation for the future.
In those heady days, I was sure I wanted to devote my life to political activity and started my career as a non-profit lobbyist and community organizer. I read everything I could on political history and organizing. I subscribed to over 20 magazines from the long-defunctIn These TimesandWINtoMother JonesandBulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Of the hundreds of books and articles I devoured, the three I remember as the most transformative were Saul Alinsky’sRules for Radicals, Howard Zinn’sA People’s History of the United Statesand John Motl’s hand-drawn and mimeographed 16-page pamphlet on community organizing.
John was a veteran of what the media used to call “Nader’s Raiders” – one of the original Ralph Nader protégés. It was important to John that all the organizers he taught understood the commandments of the craft.
“Always respect the action,” for example, taught us – with the precision of a campaign advance professional – that no detail was too small to escape attention. My favorite was, “All tactics are neutral.” We tend to politicize our tactics – assuming that what works for the left cannot work for the right and vice versa. However, if we strip away the politics, we realize that in the successful execution of tactics lies the path to success. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement was built on Black Churches. The Praise The Lord and conservative Christian movement a decade later realized they could use a similar foundation. Ditto mass demonstrations. Richard Viguerie built a conservative empire on direct mail forty years ago and the non-profits on the left realized they too could profit by emulating his scientific approach. The left never could build radio to match Rush Limbaugh, but they could build political comedy television in Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and others that the right couldn’t touch. The right has Fox, the left MSNBC. All tactics are neutral.
Nearly 25 years ago, when I first started this firm, our clients were the major defense law firms – Howrey & Simon, Womble Carlyle, then-Kilpatrick & Cody (now Kilpatrick Townsend) – and many dozens of others. In time, we would work for and with over 300 of the world’s largest law firms, including most of the AmLaw 100 and nearly half of the Global 100. Along the way, we represented a number of the great plaintiff firms. I’ve always argued that the plaintiffs’ firms are a full Internet generation ahead of the defense firms. For the defense firms, Internet marketing and websites are a cost. For the plaintiff bar, it is their full employment act. Plaintiff law firm websites tend to be far better optimized than the defense bar, though that difference has been slowly evaporating. Tactics are neutral.
This past week, I interviewed Scott Hardy onIn House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for theCorporate Counsel Business Journal. Scott is a 30-year veteran of the tech industry who was first introduced to the wonders of computers as a teenager by an uncle who brought over a modem one night. Before the end of the evening, Scott had the realization that this new technology – not yet called the “World Wide Web” – must be like the experience of those first Mercury astronauts looking out the space capsule window back at Earth. The world had just gotten a lot smaller.
Scott would become one of the Internet legal pioneers, building what has become a class action and mass tort stock exchange calledTop Class Actions. It is a website that now gets millions of visitors a year and has hundreds of thousands of followers on its social content. It has increased claim levels from the single digits to as much as 50%. It works.
He imagined, before anyone else did, that plaintiffs needed a place to easily find out if they were eligible for a class action or mass tort award. In time, he also realized that the plaintiff bar needed a place to identify potential class members. His other epiphany was that the companies who were defendants – largely Consumer Packaged Goods companies – could use this as the last line of defense to effectively communicate with currently disgruntled customers.
This opportunity seems obvious, but CPG companies and other defendants are still reluctant to use the platform as they see it as plaintiff’s territory. Companies spend billions of dollars on advertising in the hopes of motivating people to become customers, and in time – through great products and services – that these customers will graduate to become product evangelists. Yet, today, when something goes wrong, what do an increasing number of companies do with unhappy customers? We can no longer change the battery on our phone or smart watch, easily unsubscribe from an app or call customer service and reach a human being. For some companies and their customers, it’s as if we are returning to the days of caveat emptor.
Through Top Class Actions, CPG and other companies can powerfully and effectively communicate with temporarily dissatisfied customers and say “We know you had a bad experience, but our commitment to you is so strong that even when you had to join a class to get satisfaction, we want you to receive your just recompense. Please come back when you are ready.” Brand loyalty is like love. Forgiveness and a return to loyalty are possible when there is an apology and a sacrifice – in these cases, a small check to the litigant. Why not wrap it in a bow?
It seems that all companies and their litigation counsel should be including Top Class Actions as part of their litigation communications strategy. After all, it’s free and a chance to win back a little of that hard-earned loyalty.
“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push–in just the right place–it can be tipped.”
So much of history occurs not with a bang, but a whimper. If we listen closely enough and watch carefully, we can witness it, the moment when the scales tip in the other direction.
With the near-meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor – amazingly, 12 days after the release of the anti-nuclear power movie China Syndrome in March 1979, creating one the greatest movie coincidences of all time – a national movement was born.
Suddenly, everyone was talking about energy. Primed by several summers of hours-long gas lines made possible by the OPEC oil embargo starting in 1973, America and other parts of the world started looking at energy not as something too cheap to meter, but instead as a central part of national sovereignty, foreign policy, household budgets and political campaigns.
Looking to capitalize and leverage the nascent movement, Ralph Nader, Musicians United for Safe Energy and others organized a series of benefit concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden and a protest on September 23, 1979, attended by 200,000 people in Battery Park. Energy and the environment had become a movement.
The previous spring, Mr. Nader would play a key role in helping to negotiate some of the big-name musical talent. Ecstatic, late one night in California, having just closed a big deal for one of the hottest artists in the music industry, he called Donald Ross, an extraordinary New York-based community organizer, someone I had the honor to know and a close confidante of Mr. Nader.
A very sleepy Donald Ross answers the phone to learn that Mr. Nader had just secured the services of Jackson Grey. “Jackson Grey?” Mr. Ross, asks, incredulous. “Don’t you mean, Jackson Browne?” “No, it’s Jackson Grey. All the kids love him!” Convinced that Mr. Nader knew what he was talking about, Donald goes back to sleep and the next day, asks dozens of young people, “Have you ever heard of Jackson Grey?” It was, of course, Jackson Browne, who would be joined by Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash, Pete Seeger and many others and the rest, as they say, is history.
May and June of this year have been similarly seismic for the energy industry. It seems to be the moment when climate change and the green energy movement has become not something happening to the industry, but with it.
European energy giant Total has been has acquiring a combination of solar, wind and storage projects at an average rate of 1 Gigawatt per month since January 2020. This past January it acquired a stake in India’s Adani Green Energy, a move that will ultimately include nearly 15 Gigawatts of energy – the equivalent of over 45 million solar panels.
In late May, 61% of Chevron’s shareholders voted in favor of a proposal to cut emissions.
That same week, activist hedge fund Engine No. 1 won a remarkable three seats on the Exxon board.
Also that week, the Hague District Court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut its CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030, compared to its 2019 levels.
The Court’s landmark ruling draws on the growing series of climate change agreements – such as the Paris Agreement – along with human rights standards such as those in the UN Guiding Principles. It is a new day in the energy industry.
On the daily podcastIn House Warriorthat I host for theCorporate Counsel Business Journal, I interviewed Julianne Hughes-Jennett, a partner with Quinn Emanuel, and Marjun Parcasio, an associate, both in Quinn’s London office, for insights into what all of this means and what’s next.
It may not be quite as melodic as Jackson Grey, but it’s well worth the listen.
As David Frost would say, “That was the week that was.”
Tactics PR People Can Suggest To Clients Not Wanting To Become Part Of Political Controversies
Major League Baseball punished Georgia by removing its All-Star Game from Atlanta after the state enacted a law that critics, including President Joe Biden, said would restrict voting rights. The game will now be played on July 13 in Denver.
The decision to relocate the game is only the most recent of many decisions that have made it evident to the dismay of sports marketers and sports leagues that sports and politics are now entwined. And if there’s one thing that marketers try to avoid is to have their products become part of a political dispute because Democrats, Republicans, liberal and conservatives consumers are potential customers.
Political involvement in sports is nothing new. Sports have always been entangled with politics. In the 1968 Olympics, held in Mexico City, two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, protested by each raising black-gloved fists during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” decades before former President Donald Trump attempted to rile up the country in 2017 when National Football League players refused to stand for the national anthem.
More recently LeBron James narrated an ad that premièred before the National Basketball Association’s All-Star Game on March 7 (2021) in support of Black voting rights. Biden’s remarks about moving baseball’s All-Star Game occurred on March 31, the day before the opening of the season during an interview on ESPN. And ever since the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Berlin, the International Olympic Committee has awarded its games to totalitarian countries that use them as public relations vehicles.
And while still awarding its games to totalitarian countries, even the IOC finally acknowledged that it could not prevent athletes from making political statements during its games, when, on July 2, it said that athletes can make a symbolic gesture expressing their views before the start of an event.
Removing major athletic events are not without precedent.
The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans in objection to a North Carolina House bill limiting anti-discrimination protections. In 1991, the NFL moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix to Pasadena, Calif., after Arizona voters rejected making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday.
On the international scene, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter pushed for the U.S. to boycott the Olympics in Russia after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan the previous years. In 1984, Russia retaliated, boycotting the games in Los Angeles. There also have been instances where individuals countries have refused to participate in an Olympics because of political considerations. And China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, has warned the U.S. not to boycott those games.
When considering using an athlete as a publicity spokesperson, young PR people and marketers must take into consideration how athletes’ salaries have sky rocketed over the years. In years past, athletes weren’t making the salary those in the major leagues make today and the endorsement stipends were often necessary to support their family. (Many athletes in those days had off-season jobs to make ends meet.)
Also to be considered is how sports coverage has changed over the years and marketers wary of being dragged into a political dispute should consider the changes before suggesting a sports marketing tie-in for a client.
Athlete misbehavior off the playing field is now routinely covered by sports writers. More disturbing to many sports marketers is that athletes are increasingly speaking out about and actively involved in political issues, the most significant example being that of a relatively unheralded NBA basketball player, George Hill of the Milwaukee Bucks, who convinced teammates to protest racial injustice by not playing a game, leading to boycotts and rescheduling of games in all sports that permeated across the sports world.
Today, athletes not afraid of being punished by teams for taking political stands provide a problem for sport sponsorship brands that want to stay clear of political situations for fear of upsetting customers.
While I certainly support all none violent protests, and salute marketers that speak out in favor of racial justice, marketers that don’t want to be involved in these protests have a right to remain silent.
Here’s my suggestion for such brands: Use retired athletes, less likely to get involved in political situations (because many need the endorsement money) instead of current ones who have no fear of saying what they think.
The athlete protests vindicates what I have been preaching for many years to sports marketers: Using a current athlete as a brand publicity hawker can be dicey. Here’s why:
1 – Prowess on the sports fields cannot prevent past or present misbehavior from being reported on.
2 – Why chance having a company or its product represented by athletes who have misbehaved when there are so many other options.
3 – Some athletes represent so many products that consumers and the media don’t take their endorsements seriously.
4 – During interviews, reporters will concentrate on the athlete’s achievements, most often not even mentioning the product being hawked. (Example: I would never suggest an athlete like LeBron James, because an interview most certainly would be dominated by his racial activism; or for an athlete famous for one occurrence, like Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, because an interview would probably be centered on his famous pitch to Bobby Thomson that won the pennant for the New York Giants in 1951.)
5 –Most of the time the story of a current athlete after an interview will say something like, “So and So is a spokesperson for the XYZ Company,” and then delve into things sports. (Some PR people think that’s a good placement. I don’t. Unless the story contains some client talking points, I consider it a strike out.)
6 – Unlike the past, when sports stars weren’t making so much money, it was easy to make certain that they would not say anything controversial. Today, it’s impossible to keep athletes from expressing opinions and/or becoming activists in cultural and political causes, occasionally dragging their unhappy sponsoring brands into the story.
7 – Current athletes probably have been written about many times regarding their play on the field, making it highly unlikely that journalists for general news outlets would do a story just because of a product endorsement deal. These types of stories usually end up in trade pubs.
8 – Nostalgia reporting is a major element of sports coverage and retired athletes who haven’t been in the spotlight for a while are welcome candidates for interviews.
9 – In my experience, it’s easier for these retired athletes to work in client talking points because a sure question from reporters will be, “What are you doing these days.”
When I first began using retired athletes, many sports writers credited me with being at the forefront of using them as publicity spokesmen, as I did beginning in the 1970s while at Burson-Marsteller, and in the 1960s at Advance Public Relations, at the time one of the largest national Broadway and TV entertainment agencies.
Today, when reporters no longer hide the unsportsmanlike conduct of athletes, and many athletes are eager to act as concerned citizens and delve into political situations, retired athletes provide a method for conservative brands (that’s lower case “c”) to gain recognition for their products and also greatly reduce the possibility of their spokespersons ending up in the police report, instead of on the sports page, or having the spokespersons talk politics instead of the product and sports.
Another reason to consider using well-known retired athletes as product publicity spokespeople: They’re easier to work with because they enjoy talking about the old days and being remembered and reporters delight in meeting and interviewing idols of their youth.
I once arranged interviews for a Hall of Fame baseball player. A week or so later I received a phone call from his wife thanking me. “Please don’t let xxx know I called you, but I wanted to thank you. He thought he had been forgotten.”
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or email@example.com.
Thriving On Post-Pandemic Change
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.
Change is difficult — and we have plenty of reasons to resist it!
No one likes to contemplate letting go of the skills and behaviors that “got us here.” As individuals, we become psychologically attached to the status quo because it is familiar and comfortable. But even more difficult than fighting off the inertia of comfort, we find it hard to let go of the past because it is there that we’ve experienced personal success.
The post-pandemic world of work, with its various hybrid working arrangements will bring increasing amount of the kind of change that stimulates the prefrontal cortex, an energy-intensive section of the brain responsible for insight and impulse control. But the prefrontal cortex is also directly linked to the amygdala (the brain’s fear circuitry, which in turn controls our “freeze, fight or flight” response) and when the prefrontal cortex is overwhelmed with too many complex and unfamiliar concepts, the amygdala connection gets kicked into high gear. As we continually adjust to whatever the future demands, all of us are then subject to the physical and psychological disorientation and pain that can manifest in anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, fatigue or anger.
It’s no wonder that we need more than logic and data to help us survive. We need personal strategies that strengthen our ability to thrive in changing times. Here are six of them for your consideration:
1. Build your self-confidence
Confidence is the personality trait most responsible for an individual’s ability to deal well with difficult transitions. Confident people are self-motivated, have high self-esteem, and are willing to take risks because they have a deep belief in their own value.
Self-confidence starts with being aware of and playing to your strengths. Lee Strasberg, the famous acting teacher, once said, “I can train people in anything except that for which they have no talent.” Continual learning is a career-long process — but instead of focusing solely on your weaknesses (those areas where you have little or no talent), identify the specific competencies and accomplishments that make you special — and develop your natural abilities to the fullest.
2. Create counterbalance
A definition of the word compensate is “to provide with a counterbalance or neutralizing device.” Change-adept individuals compensate for the demands and pressures of business by developing counterbalancing activities in other areas of their lives. They engage in exercise programs, mindfulness exercises, and healthful eating habits. They cultivate interests outside of work— sports, hobbies, art, music, etc. — that are personally fulfilling, and they have sources of emotional support. Because people with counterbalance have fuller, richer lives, they handle business-related stress better and are more effective at their jobs.
3. Find your personal source of stability
One of the most memorable interviews I’ve conducted was with the CEO of a cellular telephone company: “I’ve got a stabilizing force in my life,” he told me. “It’s my stocking drawer.” I must have looked startled because the CEO continued quickly. “I mean it,” he said. “All hell can be breaking loose at work, but when I open my sock drawer to find everything in color-coded, neat little piles, it does my heart good.”
I included this amusing story in my change leadership speeches for years, and only once has someone taken offense at it. I had addressed the national convention of a real estate firm and the sales manager from another state wanted to book a similar program for his division. “I really enjoyed your talk,” he said. “But when you work with my group, please don’t make fun of the sock drawer.”
I told the sales manager that I would be happy to do as he asked but was curious about the reason for his request. He looked at me sternly. “I don’t want you to make fun of it becauseit works! I tell all of my salespeople that if they are having a terrible day, where nothing is going right, they might as well stop and straighten out their underwear drawer.”
After thinking about that comment, I had to agree. It doesn’t matter if the source of counterbalance sounds silly to others; change-adept people know what works for them.
4. Keep a positive attitude
With any disruptive change, dangers co-exist with opportunities. When change-adept people are asked for words they associate with the future’s chaotic workplace, they acknowledge the stress, uncertainty, pressure and disruption. But they also emphasize the benefits — opportunity, growth, excitement and challenges that will also be present.
You never know when a seemingly negative situation may turn out to be for the best. If your job radically changes, or even if it disappears, it may also be an excellent chance to learn something new, utilize previously untapped abilities, and meet new people. If you keep a positive attitude, you’ll be more likely to rally your energy toward furthering your career regardless of the circumstances.
5. Stay in the game
In tough times, your first reaction may be to “hunker down.” Nothing could be less helpful. This is a time to become very visible in your organization. Volunteer for key committees and projects, take credit for your success, and speak up in meetings. If you are working remotely, add a photo to your email signature, be one who takes meeting notes and distributes them, ask questions of senior leaders, display confident virtual body language, and send your boss a weekly summary of your accomplishments.
6. Nurture collaboration
Whatever the future brings, your personal success will increasingly depend on how well you collaborate internally and externally to find innovative solutions to complex problems.
First, create social capital. Capital is defined as “accumulated wealth, especially as used to produce more wealth.” Social capital is the wealth (or benefit) that exists because of your social relationships. Think of social capital as the value created by your connections to others. There is no more valuable commodity in a chaotic business environment.
Second, remember that you can’t command collaboration and you can’t control knowledge sharing. But you can influence people to collaborate and share by creating an environment in which it is safe, enjoyable and beneficial to do so.
Third, build trust. Without trust, there is no true collaboration – and trust is no longer the result of positional power. It needs to be earned. You earn trust when you keep your word, share information, listen, respect diverse opinions and abilities, maintain confidentiality, support others, admit mistakes, are consistent in expressing and living your personal values. You also build trust when you deeply believe that the people on your team are equally trustworthy.
There is no doubt that the post-pandemic world will bring vast amounts of change. If we can remain confident, balanced, stable, positive, visible, and trusting, we will not only survive, we will thrive.
About the Author:I offer keynote speeches, webinars, and one-on-one coaching sessions. For more information, please email: Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com or phone: 1-510-526-1727. My website is:https://carolkinseygoman.com/
Tips for Creating a Great Company Product
Creating a great company product is about learning, making mistakes, refining, tweaking, and prototyping. Therefore, you’re supposed to keep perfecting your product before delivering it to your clients. You only have enough time to make mistakes and generate a product that your clients are eager to use. This article will discuss tips that can help you create a great company product.
The entrepreneur’s life is not for anyone. It is filled with sleepless nights, uncertainty, and failure. But intermittently, there are those adventures that only an entrepreneur can understand – a new insight. If you think you’re ready to commit your life to your product and deal with the ups and downs, you’ll face, then go on and learn more about creating a great business product.
Find Information of Your Clients’ Unmet Wants
One way you can come up with a great product for your company is to generate a set of interview questions to interact with suffering clients in their surroundings. You should listen to what they’re saying and ask them various questions concerning complaints and sufferings. By doing so, you’ll collect more information about the nature of pain they’re experiencing and attempt to examine what kind of product would encourage them to become your consumers.
Fill the Gap
Either you have an idea in mind already or don’t have one, you should recognize the gap you’re about to fill. It could be an emotional or physical gap that the market requires. For instance, a well-designed wheelchair fills a physical gap by advancing an individual’s immobility. Toy-designed and fun earphones fill an emotional gap by creating happiness satisfaction. To better understand what product to make for your business, you have to know where the gaps lie and the customers’ behavior.
Conduct Extensive Research
Ask yourself what’s already out there. This is a very crucial step to determine how and if you should generate your business product. Identify your competition by design, distribution, competitor size, cost, and review features. For instance, you can check onsilicone sponge sheet producers to learn how to deal with the competitive market. If you find a similar product, maybe a gap is present in the market and you could position it in a better way. Some entrepreneurs decide to take more risk by generating a brand new product, while others decide to take a secured route of following other inventors’ way. Therefore, you should decide which one is favorable for you.
Define Customer Needs
You should as well understand the minimum needs to fill your gap. When you’re starting out, don’t add many product features that you think will bother your clients. By generating the minimum requirements, you’ll quickly learn what your clients truly need. Do one thing at a time and ensure it’s perfectly done. You can save whistles and bells for the upcoming version of your company product.
Design Multiple Versions
You can also sketch up as many product design versions of your first concept as possible. This is the stage where you can put your creativity cap on. Think big, wild, and impossible and you’ll end up developing solutions that are innovative and outstanding. Your sketches can be ugly, unfinished, or rough – anything but impeccable.
Create a Prototype Solution
Another crucial tip to create a great business product is to develop an inexpensive and fast prototype with the collected product features. The first product version isn’t likely to observe the client’s unmet wants. Still, it should help you acquire a better understanding of what you require to conduct to close the gap between what the prototype can perform and what your ultimate product will need to be able to do to get the client to purchase it.
Test with Clients, Refine and Bring to Life
Here, you should provide your product to your clients and observe how they utilize it. You should also record how many clients utilize the product and inquire about their like and dislike about the product. It helps you see how your potential customers understand and interact with your product.
As soon as you understand what features and products are working, start advancing the aesthetic and function. This is where you bring in the beauty.
Once you’re sure that your product fills the gap in the market, then it’s time to create a simple version of your app or website. Expose yourself to the real market insights and see your product sell greatly.
Wash, rinse, and replicate. Remember, it’s an ever-changing procedure. You’re continually creating, prototyping and refining. No matter the failure or success of your first attempt, take the knowledge you’ve discovered and start all over. Every time you’ll be getting closer to that success.
About the Author: Samantha Higgins is a professional writer with a passion for research, observation, and innovation. She is nurturing a growing family of twin boys in Portland, Oregon with her husband. She loves kayaking and reading creative non-fiction.
What is a Man’s Magazine in 2021?
Esquire’s Editor In Chief, Michael Sebastian To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “When It Comes To Creating That Print Magazine, I Want Something That Is Going To Really Lean Into The Printy-ness Of It.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…
Listening to the reader, an amazing part of the media publishing process. For without your reader, your user, your viewer, your audience, you have nothing to publish. Esquire magazine has been around for over 85 years, definitely a legacy brand that knows a thing or two about thee fine art of publishing. Its editor in chief in its current form today is Michael Sebastian, who knows a thing or two about listening to his audience.
Michael was named editor in chief of Esquire in June 2019 and he oversees print and digital content, strategy and operations. He comes to the job as the former digital director of Esquire since 2017 where, during his tenure, he expanded Esquire’s digital content to include more in-depth feature reporting and writing, exclusive interviews, ambitious political coverage and a new fashion vertical. He spearheaded the launch of the “Politics With Charles P. Pierce” membership program, and says it’s one of the most successful membership programs at Hearst Magazines.
I spoke with Michael recently and we talked about the rejuvenation that has been going on at Esquire under his careful eye. The new front of the book look and new franchises within. Keeping it fresh and current is important to Michael and when it comes to listening to the audience, Michael believes it’s crucial to do just that. In fact, not long ago he received an email from Seasons Hospice Foundation, reaching out on behalf of a longtime Esquire reader, Scott LaPointe. Scott loves Esquire and had a few thoughts on personal style, ideas he wanted to leave his son as a legacy.
Not only did Michael read Scott’s email, he personally called and spoke with him about his thoughts and his own personal style and how important Scott felt it was. And Michael decided that there should be a section in the upcoming issue of Esquire dedicated to personal style. And so there was.
Now I’m not saying that Michael has time to personally call every reader who writes into him, but he does read the emails and he does listen. And I feel sure that for Scott LaPointe, that’s what Esquire is all about and why he reads it. And that’s what it’s about for its editor in chief too: listening to your audience and giving them what they want.
So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Sebastian, editor in chief, Esquire.
But first the sound-bites:
On how listening to his audience impacts his decisions as editor in chief of a major brand like Esquire: Obviously we’re listening to readers on the website just by the data that we have from them all of the time, there’s no question about that. And I think to some extent that informs the print magazine. But from the perspective of what we’re putting in the print magazine, that is still guided pretty strictly by editors and by what we think is important for our readers.
On whether he feels his audience is platform specific or there is a cross-platform taking place: Well, both. And I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but I think that we have readers who only bump into us on certain platforms. There are people who only read us in print; there are people who only read us online; there are casual readers who follow us on Twitter and read a story every once and a while from us. But then we have the super-users and those are the people who subscribe to the magazine, they read us online, they follow us on social media and they watch our videos on YouTube.
On how he is handling as editor in chief the social awakening of diversity, inclusion and equity in the nation: If you go back to things that I said, interviews that I had done, as soon as I was named editor in chief, one of my main priorities was to diversify who is an Esquire man, who is an Esquire writer, and who is an Esquire photographer. And I don’t just mean diversify racially, although I did. I meant in terms of age, geographic diversity, the life experience people bring to the table.
On how he would define Esquire with a new taglinefor the men of today: It’s a very good question because it’s an existential question about the brand. And it’s one that we talk about internally every day. I think that there is still room for, in the media landscape, a magazine that is essentially about what it means to be a modern man nowadays. That’s not the tagline by the way. But that’s what Esquire is: what it means to be a modern man today.
On why the magazine is only sold every other month: There are now monthly magazines that are piling up on my bedside table. It goes back to the idea that there is so much media out there, and we have a contact point with our reader on a daily, practically minute-by-minute, basis already, so I’m not worried about them losing sight of us because we publish a dozen good stories a day. So, I think the every other month is a really good cadence for our reader.
On where he sees Esquire in 2022: I think that we want to make sure that if I’m talking to you in one year this voice of the new Esquire is synthesized in a way where it’s unmistakable. I do think that’s something that we’re still in the process of honing. It’s really about zeroing in on what that voice is. I want to make sure that it’s unmistakable.
On the major challenge he’s faced: When I came into the job, the thing that I said, and I would say this to advertising clients, to people at Hearst, is that it was an evolution, not a revolution. I didn’t want to come in and do that and suddenly you have a brand that nobody recognizes. I wanted to evolve the brand so that it felt very current and very fresh, but not leave traditional readers behind, I wanted to bring them along with us. And I think a challenge has been when to slow down the pace of that evolution and then when to hit the gas on it. I’m still figuring that out.
On Esquire’s cover of the band BTS: The other thing we publish is era-defining covers and stories and I would put BTS in that category. To be honest, when this was first pitched to me, I was like I don’t know about that. But the more that I thought about it and the more I talked to people, I realized that this is the biggest band in the world. They’re huge. And the fact that we would get to put them on our cover and tell their story and relate them to our reader was great. I also love their message around masculinity too, the way that they were challenging the norms of masculinity and things like that. I thought it was a really good message to send.
On anything he’d like to add: We’re on this path right now to really redefine who the Esquire man is. And it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think that we’re making really good progress when it comes to that. From a business perspective, I’d love to get across that the membership program that we’ve introduced has been more successful than we had anticipated. And that is so heartening to know. That after years of putting our content out online for free, people want to pay us for it. And that feels really encouraging.
On what makes him tick and click: My answer to that is the promise of what we’re going to be able to do that day. And what I mean by that is that when I wake up in the morning, it kind of goes back to my referendum on relevance. When I wake up in the morning it’s a clean slate. And I’m thinking about all of the cool things that I can do with my job. So, all of the fun stories that I’m going to get to edit, the great people I’m going to be able to talk to, the awesome photographs I’m going to get to look at and help edit. It’s the potential of being able to do that every day that gets me out of bed. I’m still excited about my job.
On how he unwinds in the evenings: A little bourbon or wine, maybe reading a book, but really the things is I have two daughters, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and when I go into the office, which is about once a week, they’re literally waiting at the front door for me when I come home.
On what keeps him up at night: Probably going back to what we’ve talked about, I’m at the helm of an 88-year-old brand. An iconic, American brand. One of the most iconic media brands that still exists. And the people who have sat in the seat before me paid into the equity of that brand during their time. So that when I got here we’ve had a lot of brand equity. And I want to make sure that I’m paying back into that so that whoever comes after me can reap the fruits of our labor. And this amazing brand can live on for another 88 years. And that keeps me up at night.
And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Sebastian, editor in chief, Esquire.
Samir Husni: I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of letters from the editor over the years in magazines, but I have never seen anything as personal as what you wrote in the March issue introducing a new section in the magazine, based on a letter you received from one reader. Tell me more about how listening to your audience is impacting your decisions as editor in chief of a major brand like Esquire.
Michael Sebastian: I’m so glad you brought up that letter from the editor because getting that note about Scott (Scott LaPointe, a reader diagnosed with ALS, who is now in home hospice care) and then talking to him on the phone was one of the most affecting experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it was the weight of this pandemic; we’re doing so much figuring out right now. How do we make a magazine when we’re all remote? What do our readers want? And then to be reminded of the impact that we make in our readers’ lives. It’s not just entertainment or service, it’s formative and it’s something that this guy was wanting to hand off to his son. And that was so important.
Interesting, I’ve gotten a lot of notes about that editor’s letter including from my own staff, which essentially said “I needed that.” I needed that to remind me of the importance of what we do.
But to your question, obviously we’re listening to readers on the website just by the data that we have from them all of the time, there’s no question about that. And I think to some extent that informs the print magazine. But from the perspective of what we’re putting in the print magazine, that is still guided pretty strictly by editors and by what we think is important for our readers.
And to me, that cracks open a bigger question, which I’ve thought a lot about. I was the digital director at Esquire prior to becoming the editor in chief. And during my time there the audience basically exploded, we grew the audience by three or four times across multiple platforms. And we even brought the age down, which was also interesting to see the age of the reader, at least online.
So when I got into the editor in chief’s seat, I thought that what we could do was create a print magazine that was going to really appeal to that readership that we had attracted online. And so there were some decisions that we made and I’ll point you to a very specific one which was we redesigned the front of the book.
I wanted the front of the book experience to kind of mimic or mirror the experience that people had when they were scrolling on their phones, scrolling on Instagram. And by that I mean we created a fairly broad rubric called the short stories and within that rubric you would have fashion, culture, food & drink, politics; the whole thing. Because to me it wasn’t very jarring for a reader who’s used to scrolling through Instagram and seeing a post from The New York Times or a post from wherever. And so we basically did that for a year.
And we would have a lot of internal conversations about it, because there was one faction of people who were like no, that’s all wrong, we shouldn’t be doing that. And there was another faction of people who said right on, you’re making the right decision. And I have to say that after a year of doing that, I’m now eating crow on that decision, because I think it was the wrong one.
And so we’re pivoting from that, because I think the print experience should be its own experience. The website, the YouTube channel, the Instagram page; these things and the print magazine should all talk to each other. They should all be part of the same Esquire universe. There’s no question about that. But when it comes to creating that print magazine, I want something that is going to really lean into the printy-ness of it. By that I mean a certain curation that makes sense to the print reader.
Scott certainly inspired it, but the broader impetus behind doing that was essentially saying let’s create a front of book experience and a middle of book experience that is really leaning into that print magazine experience.
We have a YouTube channel and the growth of that is really off the charts right now and that’s because for a time we thought we could adapt digital stories, print stories into kind of YouTube videos. And they failed miserably. Then we realized that if we lean into what YouTube viewers want we’ll have better success and that’s what we did. And that’s what has led to the growth there.
And I think the same thing can be said about print. We’re not going to take lessons from YouTube and put them into print; we’re going to do what print does best essentially and hope and know that is going to appeal to our readers.
Samir Husni: Being platform agnostic now, do you feel your readers, users, viewers and listeners are platform specific or there’s a cross-platform taking place?
Michael Sebastian: Well, both. And I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but I think that we have readers who only bump into us on certain platforms. There are people who only read us in print; there are people who only read us online; there are casual readers who follow us on Twitter and read a story every once and a while from us. But then we have the super-users and those are the people who subscribe to the magazine, they read us online, they follow us on social media and they watch our videos on YouTube.
We’ve actually created a membership program that is tailored to all of the things that I talked about. It’s called “Esquire Select.” We’ve had an interesting journey with asking people to pay for our content, particularly online. In 2018, we introduced a membership program specific to our politics columnist Charles. P. Pierce. It basically said we were going to put a metered paywall in front of him and we’re going to ask you to pay if you’re going to read more than three articles.
And I was really nervous about that when we introduced it in 2018, because for years people could read him for free. And as soon as we introduced that, we got this outpouring of people who said take my money, I’ll happily pay for Charlie. And I have to tell you that was such a relief. I was up nights thinking about that because I was afraid we would fall on our face. But it was very successful.
Then last year we introduced what we call “Esquire Select” and it’s similar to what you see with a lot of other media companies. Essentially, we give people options. For $40 you can get the whole thing. And the whole thing is the print magazine, access to almost 90 years of archives, Esquire every day without having to worry about a pay meter, exclusive deals from friends of the brand; you get newsletters, access to Charlie, just the whole thing.
Or maybe you just want the print magazine, you can subscribe for that. Or maybe you just want Charlie, you can do that. Or just the website. It’s basically giving readers a menu to choose from. We’re about three or four months into this experiment and so far, knock on wood, it’s one of the most successful membership programs at Hearst Magazines.
Samir Husni: You’re background is in journalism, you started as a newspaper reporter. After the killing of George Floyd, there was a big awakening about social injustice throughout the country, in newspapers and magazines as well. And the politics, the diversity and the inclusion topics also appeared in Esquire more than ever. As an editor, how are you dealing with this new social awakening? Are you moving too far to the left, to the right? What are you doing with your audience who may or may not agree with you?
Michael Sebastian: That’s a great question. If you go back to things that I said, interviews that I had done, as soon as I was named editor in chief, one of my main priorities was to diversify who is an Esquire man, who is an Esquire writer, and who is an Esquire photographer. And I don’t just mean diversify racially, although I did. I meant in terms of age, geographic diversity, the life experience people bring to the table.
We published a story in our last summer issue from a transgender person about their difficulty in the transitioning process. And I don’t think anything like that has ever run in Esquire before. So we’ve had a commitment since day one to this.
To your question when it comes to politics, I have a very strong point of view when it comes to my politics and the way that I feel about the topics that you brought up. And I’m not going to shy away from that in service of this soft, both-side dualism that we’ve seen. I think that there are readers who probably agree with me and want to go along for that ride. And I think there are readers who are open to a broad swath of ideas and who also want to see what we’re doing when it comes to that. And then there are probably readers who don’t like what we’re doing there and there are other magazines for them, is what I would say.
We’re at a time right now where I don’t want to be muddy about this. Again, I don’t want to be in that squishy middle ground. The point of view that we have is very progressive, but that also doesn’t mean that we’re not going to put voices in the magazine or the website, which we do frequently, that might not necessarily agree with my own personal politics. And I think that’s really important, because I do want to hear from people who have different perspectives as well.
Samir Husni: From Esquire’s beginning in the 1930s, it has been the man’s magazine. And after Playboy came it was still the man’s magazine, but a little bit more on the modest side. What would you tell men today that Esquire is? There is no tagline under it anymore; if you were to tagline the magazine for men today, what would you tell them?
Michael Sebastian: You bring up a big question here, asking for a tagline, which by the way we talk about a lot. A new tagline for Esquire. It’s not ready for primetime yet, but a good question though. (Laughs)
It’s a very good question because it’s an existential question about the brand. And it’s one that we talk about internally every day. I think that there is still room for, in the media landscape, a magazine that is essentially about what it means to be a modern man nowadays. That’s not the tagline by the way. But that’s what Esquire is: what it means to be a modern man today.
Over the course of the last year, I’ve thought about this a lot. And one of the reasons is, I guess by nature of the pandemic, I have spent a lot of time talking to male friends of mine who are not in media and don’t live in New York City, some do, but the majority do not. And finding out what they want when they have time to consume media. And I have gotten some very clear takeaways from them.
First of all, they have limited time. Obviously, that goes for everyone, but what I would say is that they have jobs and familial responsibilities. And Netflix that they want to watch, sports that they want to watch. So, when we have their attention, we can’t bore them. So we need to create a magazine that is never boring; it’s always going to be entertaining. Because once they look at us, we need to prove to them why they’re giving us their time.
The other thing too is we need to talk to men on this eye-to-eye level, like if you pulled up a barstool next to them or something. There are a lot of places that are talking to men right now. And I think a lot of those conversations are toxic, or at least don’t point them in the right direction.
So that’s very much what we want to do, but we also don’t want to go to the other side and preach to them, because I don’t think anyone wants to be preached to either. It’s basically having a conversation between you and I about what does it mean to be a modern man right now.
I can give you an example of a middle of the book franchise that we’re introducing starting in our next issue, April/May, which is called “How Did I Get Here?” And it dispatches from the new middle age. I’m basing this partly on my own experience, but then also experience of men that I’ve spoken with, which is that yesterday it felt like I was 27 and today I woke up and I’m 40-years-old with two kids. It’s like how did I get here? And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I don’t mean that I’m going to go buy a Corvette and grow a ponytail and leave my family behind. (Laughs) I just mean that these are things that we need to reckon with.
So, we’re introducing this two-page franchise and the aim is to have writers from different perspectives weigh in each time. That way we get a really broad swath of writers so that it can be people from all kinds of backgrounds. My dream is to have a dozen of these under our belt and then have a book out. So when you’re browsing through the bookstore or on Amazon, then you see a book from Esquire that’s tackling the new middle age.
And I’m very intent on talking direct to this reader and saying look, there’s a lot going on in your life and you can come to us and be entertained and informed, and there’s a lot of great stuff like fashion, how you can dress, but there’s also a lot of things that relates to where you are in your life.
Samir Husni: These conversations are evident in the magazine, you’ve even changed the table of contents. Instead of reading Table of Contents, it reads Welcome to Esquire, Mr. Holland Will See You In. There is an invite for that conversation to start. So why am I having to wait two months now to get this invite? Why did you go bimonthly?
Michael Sebastian: I like the bimonthly cadence. The joke before used to be that issues of The New Yorker would pile up on your bedside table. And now I read The New Yorker on The New Yorker app, I don’t get the magazine anymore. It’s a great magazine and they publish great stuff every week, but that’s how I like to experience it.
And there are now monthly magazines that are piling up on my bedside table. It goes back to the idea that there is so much media out there, and we have a contact point with our reader on a daily, practically minute-by-minute, basis already, so I’m not worried about them losing sight of us because we publish a dozen good stories a day. So, I think the every other month is a really good cadence for our reader.
The idea is that we have the lasting power of a coffee table book with the urgency of a magazine that really seeks to meet you right now. So there’s a little bit of both in there. The term coffee table book is actually kind of thrown around a lot in the magazine world. I have a lot of coffee table books and I never look at them. And that’s the thing about coffee table books, they’re set pieces that are meant to decorate your house.
That’s not what I want Esquire to be. I don’t want it to be something that you put on your coffee table and never look at. I do want it to be on your coffee table and I want you every time you put your feet up, look down and grab it to read.
Samir Husni: Hopefully, beyond the pandemic, where do you see Esquire in 2022?
Michael Sebastian: I think that we want to make sure that if I’m talking to you in one year this voice of the new Esquire is synthesized in a way where it’s unmistakable. I do think that’s something that we’re still in the process of honing. It’s really about zeroing in on what that voice is. I want to make sure that it’s unmistakable.
As we come out of the pandemic and we’re allowed to do things that we haven’t been able to do in a year, I think that you’re going to hopefully see an explosion in different touchpoints of Esquire. With the various touchpoints, what I mean is we are a media brand first and foremost. We publish stories that are meant to have impact, but at the same time we’re talking about different ways that we can license the brand in really smart ways, in partnerships with brands that we love.
I’ll give you an example, one that we just did. Our creative director, Nick Sullivan, who is a legend in the fashion world, worked with the brand Anderson & Sheppard to design a field jacket that we are selling on the side and they’re selling in the store. It’s these sort of smart brand extensions that I think you’ll see in 2022.
And again, it all revolves around that print magazine and the content that we publish, in these stories that we publish, in the celebrities that we put on the cover and so on, but ultimately it branches out in all of these different smart ways.
Samir Husni: What has been the major challenge you’ve faced with the changes to Esquire and how did you overcome it?
Michael Sebastian: When I came into the job, the thing that I said, and I would say this to advertising clients, to people at Hearst, is that it was an evolution, not a revolution. I didn’t want to come in and do that and suddenly you have a brand that nobody recognizes. I wanted to evolve the brand so that it felt very current and very fresh, but not leave traditional readers behind, I wanted to bring them along with us. And I think a challenge has been when to slow down the pace of that evolution and then when to hit the gas on it. I’m still figuring that out.
There have been times when you’ve probably seen a great leap forward with a redesign of the print magazine and so on, and then other times when we’ve been a little slower to progress. So controlling the pace of that is a challenge. There are people who have read us for decades that are coming along for the ride and new readers who are coming onboard as we continue to evolve.
There is something that I think about a lot, which is Esquire has this almost 90-year legacy. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote for us, Ernest Hemingway wrote for us; how would I get out of bed in the morning if I woke up thinking well. Hemingway was writing for us, so what can we do to match that? I don’t want to think about that too much because it would just be too overwhelming.
But at the same time, the thing about Esquire is that people loved to point to Esquire in the sixties. Of course, the stuff that they were doing was legendary, no question about that. But that wasn’t the magazine’s only Golden Era. There have been multiple golden eras throughout the years.
And the inspiration that I take from those golden eras of the brand is that those editors were never looking backward. The editors of the sixties weren’t looking at the editors of the thirties for inspiration, they were looking at right now. They were trying to meet the moment right now with this urgency that all great media brands have. The same could be said of the eighties or any other great period in Esquire’s history.
And that’s the inspiration that I want to take from it, the idea that we are meeting the moment with an urgency that’s undeniable. And I think my experience as a digital director actually helps with that because my mantra to myself and my staff and to my bosses, from the moment I became a digital director, was that every day on the Internet is a referendum on your relevance.
So when you wake up in the morning, you have to fight for that relevance. You have to be publishing stories that people are going to be talking about. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail; the terrible part about this is that it never ends. And it’s exhausting because every day you’re fighting for people’s attention.
The good news about it though is if we fail today, we wake up tomorrow and we get to go at it again. And I think that’s true of the website, true of the magazine; it’s true of all extensions of the brand right now.
Samir Husni: How many letters have you received form people after you put BTS on the cover asking who are they? (Laughs)
Michael Sebastian: (Laughs too) I’m glad you brought up the BTS cover, I think of the well, the Esquire well and the well doesn’t just exist in print, it’s also the feature stories we publish online. So you have stories that make a social impact and the public service stories. We just published a story last week from Scott Raab as a matter of fact about the sexual abuse scandal at Ohio State. It’s a really powerful story and if you haven’t read it, you should. It’s incredible. We published a story last year about teen suicide and there has been an unfortunate uptick in that. Those are very important to the mix.
We also publish what I call adventure stories and I’m very keen on publishing them. I don’t just mean guy-climbs-a-mountain-almost-dies-but-doesn’t, I mean like these pulse-quickening reads that are tailor-made for Hollywood. And from the first issue I edited until the most recent one we had; we’ve had stories of heist and stories of prison breaks and stories about feuds in weird small communities.
And the other thing we publish is era-defining covers and stories and I would put BTS in that category. To be honest, when this was first pitched to me, I was like I don’t know about that. But the more that I thought about it and the more I talked to people, I realized that this is the biggest band in the world. They’re huge. And the fact that we would get to put them on our cover and tell their story and relate them to our reader was great. I also love their message around masculinity too, the way that they were challenging the norms of masculinity and things like that. I thought it was a really good message to send.
I did get a couple of letters asking who they were, but the amount of fan mail on all platforms that we received was overwhelming. And I would do it all over again.
Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Michael Sebastian: We’re on this path right now to really redefine who the Esquire man is. And it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think that we’re making really good progress when it comes to that. From a business perspective, I’d love to get across that the membership program that we’ve introduced has been more successful than we had anticipated. And that is so heartening to know. That after years of putting our content out online for free, people want to pay us for it. And that feels really encouraging.
Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?
Michael Sebastian: My answer to that is the promise of what we’re going to be able to do that day. And what I mean by that is that when I wake up in the morning, it kind of goes back to my referendum on relevance. When I wake up in the morning it’s a clean slate. And I’m thinking about all of the cool things that I can do with my job. So, all of the fun stories that I’m going to get to edit, the great people I’m going to be able to talk to, the awesome photographs I’m going to get to look at and help edit. It’s the potential of being able to do that every day that gets me out of bed. I’m still excited about my job.
Of course, by the end of the day I’m exhausted because there are a number of things that have gotten in the way. Administrative stuff, bureaucratic stuff, emails, all of that. By the end of the day I may have lost a little momentum. But when I wake up in the morning I’m full of it.
Samir Husni: How do you unwind then in the evenings?
Michael Sebastian: A little bourbon or wine, maybe reading a book, but really the things is I have two daughters, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and when I go into the office, which is about once a week, they’re literally waiting at the front door for me when I come home.
And when I’m here working from home, I’m upstairs and they’re downstairs and I walk down the stairs and they’re at the bottom of the stairs yelling daddy. And that is the thing that I close my computer, leave my phone in the other room and I spend as much time as I can talking and playing with them. It’s amazing how all the stress from the day can just melt away at that point.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Michael Sebastian: Probably going back to what we’ve talked about, I’m at the helm of an 88-year-old brand. An iconic, American brand. One of the most iconic media brands that still exists. And the people who have sat in the seat before me paid into the equity of that brand during their time. So that when I got here we’ve had a lot of brand equity. And I want to make sure that I’m paying back into that so that whoever comes after me can reap the fruits of our labor. And this amazing brand can live on for another 88 years. And that keeps me up at night.
Samir Husni: Thank you.
Brian Karem – “I Never Felt as Unsafe as I Did That Day”
“Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have toremind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.”
— Amanda Gorman
Some of the best nights with my late grandparents were when we would ask them how they managed to get through the world without access to automobiles or telephones. And later, as we matriculated through high school, how they survived the Great Depression or World War II. “With newspaper in the soles of my shoes,” my father would tell me, of his childhood memories. “Collectively,” my grandmother would say. “We just came together and helped each other.”
And now it is our turn. Our offspring ask us how we could possibly have survived without laptops and mobile phones. (“Easily” I might respond, as my grandparents did to me, puzzled by the severity of the question.) But how will we answer how we survived the twenty-year period between 9/11, the Great Recession and Covid-19? “Collectively,” is how I would like to answer – but we all know that isn’t entirely true.
Imagining fear, real fear, like imagining the future death of a loved one, is impossible to project. We can grasp it intellectually, but not emotionally. Unless we are there, in the thick of a grip so heavy we don’t even realize the burden which blinds us. God may watch over us, but what happens if She took her eyes off us for just a moment?
No doubt our early childhood experiences form us, but the Internet has the remarkable sorcery to return us to our formative years, unable to separate fact from fiction, the program from the commercials. It would be nice to refer to radicalized zealots – such as those that stormed the Capitol on January 6th– as “not right,” but the thing that is so frightening is how many of them went in under a year from puppy photos to radical chat rooms and, for some, destructive and violent action. Fear is a powerful emotion.
This past week, onReal Washington– the weekly program onIn House Warriorcarried by theCorporate Counsel Business Journalwhich I co-host with Michael Zeldin – we had powerful conversations with Brian Karem, White House correspondent forPlayboy, a political analyst for CNN and a contributor to Bulwark, who has been covering Washington for 40 years and covered two wars on the ground. Of the January insurrection he said, “I never felt as unsafe as I did that day.” Crowds shouted to him, “You’re the media and you’re going to die.” And they meant it.
On the podcastThe Innovators– the weekly program I co-host with Clark Atlanta University President Dr. George T. French, Jr. – we interviewed Bethany Henderson, CEO of DC Scores and President ofAmerica Scores, an 11-city charity affiliated with Major League Soccer, and DeAndre Walters, a Morehouse College freshman, winner of poetry jams and a DC Scores alumnus. We had DeAndre on another program less than six months ago, and yet I was struck by how much he had grown emotionally in such a short period. Already an accomplished poet, his deep introspection leads to a captivating charm that only makes his poetry more powerful. Six months ago, he waspartof the show; this past week, hewasthe star. When he read his poem “Ode to Those Who Don’t Understand,” he helps you understand fear; suddenly you can see it through another person’s eyes. And seeing the world through another person’s eyes, isn’t that the key to acting collectively?
Ode to Those Who Don’t Understand
They tell me I write well, my language is exquisite but I stick too much to struggle stories
Funny cuz my life is full of struggle
Built on misery and stories of pain,
dreams turned into nightmares,
along with hopes of fame.
Living in glory, lost and gained.
Memories of yesterday, fall like rain.
I was born inna environment where fire meets ice
I was born into the streetlights
Populated corner store, lit up by the backwash grey overtone of broken streetlights
So many memories, dim nights, street fights brung to light by street lights
Glock shots have made my brothers take flight like flying kites
I’m stuck inna timberland society
stomped down upon like the ground I walk on
I done seen n words get shot cuz they n words while being called n words by the same people that descend from people who used to whip n words
I come from a place that knows nothing of neighborhood watches,
We had really killers who dropped out of college and majored in home invasion
Long nights starving for their next break
Real bulldogs who miss school just to make a flip down to do whatever it takes
See I was born into struggle
If Dora was my color she wouldn’t be able to explore nun without getting pulled over or shot down by a cop
If my little pony was as black as me there wouldn’t be no glitter or gold at the end the rainbow just a jail cell with a hard cold bench and a puddle in the corner which you don’t know whether it’s water or pee
So unless you been pulled over at 8 am in the morning for walking done street
Unless you feel like your just rental car and your every minute is a daily fee
Don’t talk to me about my struggle stories
Cuz this life is my book and I swear its full of struggle
I’m born into this life and it may never change
But this is the life that we deal with everyday and yet you think your oppression hurts those who’ve lived in oppression they whole life
This is a ode to those who don’t know nun bout what I have to go through every night
Almost 38 years ago to the day, CBS aired the final episode of M*A*S*H, a two-and-a-half-hour episode which was, as we used to say, appointment television. Long before the days of VCRs, America made it a point to be home in front of their televisions to hear for the last time that“Suicide was painless, it brings on many changes”over thewhup, whup, whupof whirling helicopter blades.
Seventy-seven percent of the television viewing audience, which is to say, almost everyone in America, was glued to the screen. Since it was also long before the ubiquity of personal computers and mobile phones, we watched together, on our couches and in our living rooms. Not unlike Ed Sullivan and the Beatles, the moon landing and theRumble in the Jungle,America and the world were transfixed by a singular common event.
Years before, at the end of season three, M*A*S*H’s producer Larry Gelbart had set the stage for tempestuous television. Tell me you didn’t shed a tear – or more – when Radar O’Reillyreportedthat “Lt. Col. Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan [East Sea]. There were no survivors.”
It was classic M*A*S*H. Unexpected and seemingly “unnecessary” tragedy amid a comedy, but absolutely necessary to remind us that war inflicts brutality. It was not far removed from the Vietnam GI death counts that haunted the nightly news during the first few years of the show. Comedy may be “tragedy plus time” as Steve Allen said, but tragedy is tragedy magnified when it is most unexpected.
What was remarkable about M*A*S*H was exactly that. It managed to weave genres; you weren’t sure if you were watching drama, tragedy, comedy or even a protest song in 3-D. It even spawned a new term “dramedy.” M*A*S*H was a lifetime of emotions in 30 minutes.
Set at a surgical hospital – M*A*S*H 4077 – near Seoul, South Korea and taking place during the Korean War, it was, of course, really a thinly-veiled stand-in for the Vietnam War, which was at the time tearing America apart.
But for 30 minutes each week and 150 on February 28, 1983, its salved those wounds. It became a beacon during a challenging decade. Somehow Hawkeye, Trapper John, Radar O’Reilly, Nurse Houlihan, Lt. Col. Henry Blake, Corporal Max Klinger, Father Mulcahy and Frank Burns would help us figure it out with laughter among the tears. They were our Aesop’s Fables with life lessons slipped in amid the ruins.
We kept coming back, for eleven seasons, from childhood through our first jobs, to see if they could somehow guide us through the challenges of the 1970s and early ‘80s. And then to say goodbye, as three-quarters of a nation did four decades ago.
When was the last time so many of us came together on anything?
How can we come back together as a nation? Who are our emergency surgeons who will put us back together today? More than the significant divide is how we have institutionalized our differences with gerrymandered districts that reward political division; cable contracts that enrich networks that propagate opinion parading as news; endless, divisive campaigns; and a dis-functioning Washington?
Supermen or Superwomen insiders or outsiders won’t save us. But our institutions will.
This week, we launched two new weekly programs running on ourIn House Warriorflagship podcast in partnership with theCorporate Counsel Business Journal:Real Washington, with my co-host Michael Zeldin, a well-known and highly-regarded TV and radio analyst/commentator and host of the new podcast, “That Said With Michael Zeldin”andGreat Governance, with my co-host Greg Ballew, Executive Director of theInstitute for Excellence in Corporate Governance at the University of Texas at Dallas. We interviewed three thought leaders, in executive power, electoral reform and corporate leadership.
Joe Lockhart, partner at Rationale 360 and the former White House Press Secretary to President Bill Clinton and former press secretary to Walter Mondale, Paul Simon and Michael Dukakis, to discuss the new Biden Administration, corporate political activity, the NFL and more.
Don Springer, Chairman of the Colton Group and a veteran of multiple international and domestic technology and service company boards, discussing the transition from shareholders to stakeholders. Don weighs in on issues ranging from ESG and DEI to the historic evolution of the role of boards.
There are some terrific insights here by remarkable leaders. Enjoy the programs. And let’s hope that something – anything – brings us together like thewhup, whup, whupof those M*A*S*H helicopter blades.
During the current COVID-19 crisis, corporate podcasters might not have access to well-equipped sound studios. Luckily, it’s pretty easy for distributed teams to set up remote podcasts fromtheir home offices.
Let’s look at the tools available for both the recording and production of remote podcasts.
Tools such as Zencastr are inexpensive and allow for recording remote interviews for private podcasts. With this platform, staffers can simply send a URL link to connect with their guests and record a separate audio track per guest. Once they are finished, their recordings can be delivered automatically to their Dropbox or Google Drive account for easy editing and sharing.
For a solo-cast podcast episode, recording content can be as easy as speaking into the “voice memos” app on the user’s iPhone.
As for where to record,pick a quiet space and minimize flat walls as much as possible to reduce echo. However, depending on editing capabilities, audio can always be edited post-production. Curtains, carpet and soft furnishings can also improve the audio.
In November, Seth agreed to a quick Q&A to share his views on crisis and Twitter, his tips on what PR pros need to know, and his must-reads.
Q: This year — 2020 — will go down as the year of crises: social justice, pandemic, election/interference. What stands out to you?
A: I like to look at this moment as one where we have multiple pandemics: the social and political pandemic, the health pandemic, and, in its wake, the economic pandemic. But, in a way, they all have an economic aspect.
Several things stand out. One is how critical communication is. Companies, at least those that cared, had to use more empathy and increase their internal communication, often the forgotten part of communication. Some brands also had to rethink their external communication strategy.
In addition, look at how COVID-19 started. There are reports, some confirmed, that Chinese officials had evidence of coronavirus in late November 2019. Instead of informing citizens, it silenced those, like Dr. Li, who spoke openly of what appeared to be an unknown virus.
Eventually, Beijing acknowledged Dr. Li as a hero, but it’s first move was to lock him up. “No story here.” That’s what some companies do when facing a crisis. With China, besides being a bad way to react to a potential crisis, it gave the virus a few weeks’ head start.
Another thing I will remember was the dichotomy of messages we heard in the early months of the pandemic. Much of the media was highlighting death rates, shortages of beds, PPE and ventilators in hospitals. It got to a point where some medical institutions ordered their staff to keep quiet. Meanwhile, when I covered the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings, I heard certain members of the administration tell us they were doing a great job fighting the virus and that there were no shortages. No need to worry; everything was under control.
And then there was confusion over testing and mask wearing.
In short, communication and messaging were critical to the whole thing. Besides being awful, this moment is a huge communications study. The messaging was muddled — and still is.
Last, I recall interviewing health communicators in late February before the US public —but apparently not certain politicians — began to become aware of the novel coronavirus. One thing I heard often at that early stage was the importance of referring the public to trusted health sources, such as the CDC and WHO. Of course, the issue there was that, right or wrong, the CDC and WHO were discredited. Again, the public was desperately confused about whom to listen to.
Q: How will this be remembered?
A: I’m thinking that 100 years from now historians will ask, “All they had to do to cut down on anxiety and problems was to wear masks. Why couldn’t they do that? Why didn’t they do that?” Again, I think communication during this period is going be put under the microscope of historians.
Q: What do you think about the use of Twitter as a crisis communications tool and its use by President Trump?
A: I think Twitter is a great thing in theory. The immediacy of Twitter is fabulous for political leaders. For a journalist who can’t be at the capitol to ask a question, you can still get tons of info from the president, a secretary or a governor. Twitter is a great tool — again, in theory. How Twitter’s used and misused by different political leaders, factions, brands and others gets into politics.
Q: What’s the quickest turnaround from a crisis that you’ve seen?
A: I was reading an article about Chipotle. It was a media darling before the E. coli issues, and now it’s back on top. But it didn’t happen fast. It took good crisis work over several years. [Chipotle] did their job: they identified what it thought was the problem, said what it was going to do to fix it, and then communicated its plan to the public. Now, much of the trust is back, and its stock price is soaring.
Another example is the Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who got into all kinds of trouble [for racist photos of him in his yearbook] and still has a job. That was a calculated risk on his part not to step down. If I were in his circle, I might have told him to step down. But he is still there, and you rarely see references to that crisis. There’s Teflon and a fast recovery there. I would not have expected him to survive, especially with the times we are in. I’ve not studied what he did [in terms of crisis communication], but he doggedly moved ahead. That doesn’t always work.
Q: How do you like to work with PR professionals and sources?
A: Most of the time, I’m writing as a daily reporter. So, I like when PR pros respond quickly and meet the promises they’ve made. I’ve been in situations when someone promises to do an interview — and, right before getting on the phone with that person, I get an email that the executive doesn’t want to do the story. It happens more than you think. And then there are the usual things, such as finding a PR pro who reads your work before they pitch. Another good one is receiving a pitch on email, following it up immediately and getting an “out of office” message.
Q: What are some of your “must-reads”?
A: Besides the trades and the daily updates from newspapers, I almost always read Without Bullshit by Josh Bernoff. He posts every business day. Most of the time, he writes about companies that prefer corporate gobbledygook in their communication to straight-forward prose.
I also like to read columnists from all sides of the spectrum, such as George F. Will, Peggy Noonan, Thomas Friedman, and Maureen Dowd, to name a few.
It would be easy for me to spend the whole day reading, so I’m thankful for emailed briefs and newsletters that highlight stories and columns. I like The Media Today from CJR, the daily brief of Shelly Palmer, Brian Stelter’s CNN Reliable Sources, and the daily morning briefs of the NY Times, the WSJ and the AP.
Another regular read are the columns of Mark Ritson at Marketing Week. Well before others weighed in, he was writing about how brands fell down on Black Lives Matter. He looked at companies that had a lot of messaging about standing behind BLM. Then he took a picture of the composition of their boards of directors. His combination of pictures and words was powerful.
About the Author: A former journalist and attorney by training, Loretta Prencipe leads the energy and sustainability work as Vice President in the Washington, DC office of RH Strategic Communications. She’s worked with companies during challenging crises, including an illegal occupation of a client’s factory, investigation by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for potential environmental issues, and attempts by a utility to regulate an energy services company out of business.
Leadership presence is a blending of attitudes, qualities, and behaviors that send all the right signals and makes you stand out from your peers.
But leadership presence isn’t automatically assigned to you because you have a leadership title, advanced technical skills, or a high-level of leadership potential — and it’s not necessarily an accurate reflection of your true qualities and talents.
Instead, leadership presence depends entirely on how other people evaluate you. (It’s what they say about you after you’ve left the room.) Knowing how to influence people’s perception of you requires a deep understanding of the impact of your appearance, your body language, your emotional state, and your communication style.
The good news is, leadership presence can be developed. Like any other skill set, it takes application and practice. But unlike other skills, even minor changes in verbal and nonverbal habits can have a major impact on people’s positive impression of you. To help you align people’s perception of you with your best authentic self, I wrote my latest book,STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.
Throughout my speaking and coaching career, I’ve worked with thousands of wonderful, high-performing professionals, helping them project the qualities needed to advance their careers. Here are the five qualities of leadership presence: Credibility, Confidence, Composure, Connection, and Charisma.
Credibility:You may be knowledgeable, skilled, and innovative, but that doesn’t guarantee that others see you as the credible leader you authentically are.
Attention spans are so short today that you have to communicate in a way that’s both compelling and brief.
• One sure way to increase people’s perception of your credibility is to get to the point. (It’s a technique I call “start with the headline,” in which you start your conclusion first and fill in detail later.
• You can also practice stating your points simply and succinctly. Simplicity isn’t just a “nice to have” communication skill. It’s a necessity to be perceived as credible. If you ramble or beat around the bush, any hope of holding people’s attention is lost. A good test is to ask yourself: “In 10 words or less, what is my key message?” If you can’t state it succinctly to yourself, you are not ready to communicate it to others.
Confidence: Confidence is the trait most associated with leadership presence, and your body language can help send the right message.
• When you want to look your confident best, remember to stand and sit with good posture — shoulders squared, head straight, arms slightly away from your torso, feet flat on the floor if seated and about shoulder-width apart if standing. Posture is especially important in a virtual environment where your body language makes an instantaneous statement about your authority and personal power. A side benefit is that good posture not only makes you appear more confident, it also makes you feel more grounded and self-assured.
Composure: Staying poised under pressure can be difficult, but it is essential to projecting leadership presence. By keeping your composure in stressful situations, you appear reliable, capable, and in control — all qualities that people look for in a leader.
If you don’t have a strategy for dealing with high-stress situations, here’s what likely happens: That situation becomes the trigger for a reaction commonly known as the “flight or fight” response. As your body gets flooded with the “stress hormone,” cortisol, your heart rate increases, your breathing gets rapid and shallow, and your muscles tense. In addition, your amygdala (the emotional region of your brain) begins to override your prefontal cortex (the rational decision-making part of your brain). In other words, you literally lose your ability to think straight.
To unlink a trigger event from this self-defeating reaction, the moment you’re aware that you are in a stressful situation, mentally say the word “stop.” Then take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Instead of automatically reacting to the trigger event, pausing gives you the time needed to take back control and choose how to respond.
Connection: Your ability to connect with others has everything to do with how you make people feel. Which is why the most important skill for connection is empathetic listening.
If you already rank high in empathy, you gain a genuine professional advantage. If not, empathetic listening is a skill worth further developing. Here is what’s required:
• Be fully present.Put away all distractions and focus all your energy on what the what the other person is saying.
• Ask questions to make sure you understand: “Tell me more about this situation.” “Did I understand you to say (restate what you heard) . . .?
• Ignore the urge to prematurely offer your opinion or advice.Not everyone is looking for a solution. Often, people just want a “sounding board,” where they can safely express their feelings and ideas. Make sure someone wants your help before you offer it.
Charisma:When most people think of charisma, they picture a celebrity making a flamboyant entrance to command the attention of all those present. While that may be a fitting display of charisma for celebrities, it’s not realistic nor needed to project leadership presence. You can exude charisma without being flamboyant, extroverted, or commanding.
Charisma is a flow of energy that attracts people like a magnet – and you project this energy when you are genuinely enthused and engaged.
That’s why I wholeheartedly endorse preparing and rehearsing for an important presentation But when you are actually standing on stage or at the front of the meeting room, you’ll be more charismatic if you stop thinking about your technique. Instead, remember these two things:
1) When you are genuinely invested in what you’re saying, your body language automatically aligns with your words.
2) When you focus on the audience, rather than on yourself, you connect with them at a deeper, more personal, level.
You can’t avoid making an impression, but you can learn how to align the impression you make with your best authentic self. By understanding the five C’s of leadership presence, you can help people see you as the outstanding leader you truly are.
Author’s Note: This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and I give thanks for all of you who sign up for my newsletter, buy copies of my book, write reviews on Amazon, send me creative, beautiful, and funny photos of you with the book, and bring me to your audiences in webinars and interviews. I am so very grateful!
About the Author:I offer keynote speeches, webinars, and one-on-one coaching sessions. For more information, please email: Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com or phone: 1-510-526-1727. My website is:https://carolkinseygoman.com/