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GOP Debate: How Did They Do?

August 7, 2015

Last night’s first Republican debate of the 2016 Presidential election campaign season left no clear “winner” — but Donald Trump unquestionably stole the show.  From a public relations perspective, he did a brilliant job not only of staying on message, but even turning the tables on moderating “journalist” Megyn Kelly when he felt her line of questioning was out of line.  However, despite hitting several balls out of the park — including finally calling out the elephant in the room over the oppressive blanket of political correctness that’s been stifling real debate now for decades — Trump still didn’t offer voters any specifics on his policies.

Still, none of the other nine candidates — with stronger political track records, longer public service resumes, and detailed policy positions (misguided as some of them may be) — managed to change the dynamics of a race that Trump continues to dominate.

So how did the other candidates do?

The only other real high point of the night (indeed, the only actual “debating” that happened) was the heated exchange between privacy rights advocate Rand Paul and national security hawk Chris Christie, over Paul’s objection to the NSA’s collection of phone records of innocent Americans.  It was arguably difficult for Paul — indeed, anyone – to mount a serious debate against someone like Christie, who wrapped himself in the flag and shamelessly climbed on the backs of 9/11 victims, seizing the opportunity to highlight his work as a federal prosecutor who has “prosecuted, investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11th.”

Still, Paul could have been a bit more prepared.  He weakly shot back, reminding votes of the fact that Christie hugged President Obama after Super Storm Sandy.  But Christie held onto that flag even tighter, retorting that the hugs he remembers are the ones he gave to the family members of 9/11 victims.  Christie was clearly locked and loaded for bear.  Paul looked like he just showed up expecting he could wing it.  Epic fail.

What about the others?

Jeb Bush appeared wishy-washy, looking particularly weak when he tried to align himself with the struggles of the Middle Class (yes, that really happened last night).  Remind us again, Jeb, how many millions is Mummy and Daddy’s estate worth?

John Kasich managed to hold his own — until he opened his mouth — saying in not so many words that while he loves homosexuals (even if his own daughter turned out to be one), he would still prefer to discriminate against them because he’s just an “old-fashioned guy”, so that presumably makes it all OK.  And judging from the applause, that appeared to play well for the home team.  (Have we really come a long way, Huffington Post?)

Senator Marco Rubio also gave a strong showing (particularly according to political writers at Bloomberg who apparently didn’t actually WATCH the debate), staying on message, even if that message is getting a bit dog-eared and tired.  Yes, we know you come from poor Cuban parents, Marco.  But seriously, you need new material.  Clinging to the accomplishments of your PARENTS may have landed you in the Senate, but it won’t get you into the White House.  (Oh wait — maybe it can.  George W. Bush.  Never mind.)

And then there was Scott Walker.  I expected a lot more from the anti-woman, anti-labor governor who managed to put the screws to his own public workers, while spinning the accomplishment to make it sound to voters like he eviscerated their collective bargaining agreements for their own good.  As it turns out, apparently, he’s more of a one-trick pony (OK, maybe two tricks) who appears to be a bit light between the ears (Memo to Governor Walker: Egypt is not part of Israel).

The candidate who did particularly well in articulating his message was Mike Huckabee.  It’s just too bad that his message is so darned … scary.  (Read more here about the weird legal theory on abortion that he shares with Marco Rubio.)

And speaking of scary — let’s not forget Ted Cruz.  Does he like anybody??  Is he angry because he’s really a Canadian?   (Aren’t Canadians supposed to be nice, anyway??)  It’s no wonder why his campaign logo is in the shape of a flaming red teardrop.

Finally, last but not least (or maybe he IS the least) — there’s Dr. Ben Carson.  He made some very thoughtful points (not to mention some strange ones), but damned if I can remember a single thing he said (without resorting to Google) because none of his responses appeared to make any real sense.

And frankly I was still distracted by Rand Paul’s hair.

 

 

 

Chris Christie’s “Punch in the Face”

August 3, 2015

 

It’s almost like the Republicans are purposely making every public relations mistake they possibly can.

Today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told CNN that one of the largest national teachers unions deserves a “punch in the face”, calling the union the “single most destructive force in public education”.

Christie made those comments on CNN’s “State of the Union”, in response to host Jake Tapper noting that Christie in the past said that he confronts bullies by punching them in the face.  “At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?”  Christie responded, “Oh the national teachers union, which has already endorsed Hillary Clinton 16, 17 months before the election.”

Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post picks up the story from there:

Christie was referring to the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union, which became the first national labor union to make an endorsement in the 2016 race when it gave its backing to Clinton on July 11. The largest union, the National Education Association, has not yet made an endorsement.

Christie said the AFT was “not for education for our children. They’re for greater membership, greater benefits, greater pay for their members. And they are the single most destructive force in public education in America. I have been saying that since 2009. I have got the scars to show it. But I’m never going to stop saying it, because they never change their stripes.”

Christie has said the union cares only about higher wages and benefits and not about children.

It appears to me, however, that Christie himself doesn’t care about getting getting voted into the Oval Office.  If he did, he would be more careful about choosing his words.  Shooting from the hip, Donald Trump-style, may work in New Jersey and within the Greater New York metropolitan area, but nationally he comes off as himself looking like a bully and a buffoon.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  if you aspire to a national office, you have to have a NATIONAL appeal.  Just because you’re a big deal in New York or New Jersey doesn’t mean your style will resonate with the rest of the country.

Yet ANOTHER Example of Why Celebrities Need Press Agents

July 30, 2015

They can’t always be trusted to speak for themselves.

Case in point: Mia Farrow.

From the New York Daily News:

Mia Farrow faces Twitter backlash after posting business address of lion killer

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Wednesday, July 29, 2015, 11:56 PM

Actress Mia Farrow speaks during ‘We Day California’ at SAP Center on February 25.

Mia Farrow took some Twitter heat Wednesday for joining other angry social media posters and blasting out the business address of the dentist who killed the beloved lion Cecil in Zimbabwe.

Some apparently thought the actress had listed Walter Palmer’s home address in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, calling for her verified Twitter account to be suspended under the site’s terms of service.

A Twitter spokesman said the company does not comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons. He directed The Associated Press to official Twitter rules and policies that allow wiggle room on disciplinary action when information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter.

Cecil the lion’s killer, Walter Palmer, has slayed a range of animals – and is now the most hated hunter in America

The Farrow account deleted the original missive amid the outrage questioning whether the intent was to ensure Palmer is physically tracked down by haters. But the deletion did little to calm Twitter nerves.

Mia Farrow posted address of dentist who killed beloved lion.

One tweeter clucked back at Farrow, “Maybe Donald Trump should give out your phone number,” referring to Trump doing just that for a GOP rival, Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Walter Palmer settles sex harassment suit six years before killing Cecil the lion

Another tweeted: “I hate what he did, but giving out his address isn’t the way to go.”

Farrow’s manager did not immediately return an email Wednesday seeking comment.

The Top 10 Things You Should Know on the USPS’ 240th Birthday

July 26, 2015

It passed without fanfare, and barely a mention (if any) on the network news today: The United States Postal Service turned 240 years old. The Post Office (later renamed the “U.S. Postal Service”) was officially established at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on July 26th, 1775. As you may already know, Benjamin Franklin was named the first Postmaster General, holding that position until the Declaration of Independence was signed almost a year later. That makes the Post Office older than the United States itself.

In recent years, the Post Office has been reviled by conservatives (with an agenda, of course) as one of the premier poster children of Big Government bureaucratic waste. They point to what they call the USPS’ financial “crisis” — often (mis)reported in the media: in fiscal year 2014, the agency reported a net loss of $5.5 billion.

Critics — and the media itself — are quick to offer drastic (and predictable) solutions: massive layoffs and service cutbacks. Conservatives also gleefully (and inaccurately) point out the “waste” of all those “bloated” union salaries (and health care and pensions) paid by the post office to its employees. And Post Office employees have long been the target of national derision; the “lazy” postal worker has become a societal caricature (and let’s not forget the phrase that has found its way into our colloquial lexicon, “going postal”).

But let’s take a closer look at what’s really going on at the Post Office, and as we also take a closer look at the Post Office’s most vocal critics, let’s engage one of MY favorite phrases in my investigative journalistic truth-seeking endeavors: FOLLOW THE MONEY.

FOLLOW THE MONEY!

First, let’s take the heat off of the postal employees themselves. No one is getting rich there, even with union contracts. USPS mail carriers average just over $51,000 a year, or an hourly wage of $24.71. Most mail carriers — 80% — earn between $19.46 and $27.27 per hour, with reported annual salaries ranging from just over $40,000 to just under $57,000. And when they retire, most of those workers can expect the princely annual pension income of about $15,000, plus whatever they get in Social Security. And that’s WITH union contracts. I shudder to think what these workers would get paid without the protections of collective bargaining.

So in other words, Mitt Romney can relax — there will be no run on any of his country clubs by cash-engorged postal workers anytime soon.

WHAT’S REALLY BEHIND THE “CRISIS”?

Now let’s get down to USPS’ finances. Since the passing of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (which I’ll explain in a moment), the USPS has reported a net loss of nearly $50 billion. And again, critics are quick to point the finger of blame at — along with those “bloated” union salaries — what they call the USPS’ inefficient and outmoded business model, thanks to the rise of the use of email and electronic bill paying.

While those factors may have contributed, nearly all of the USPS’ losses can be traced back to that single artificial accounting restriction forced onto it by the Republican-led Congress in 2006: the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) – passed and signed quietly by President Bush just days before Christmas, when virtually no one was looking. The PAEA forces the USPS to prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in an unprecedented ten-year time span. In other words, the Post Office is being forced to put aside billions of dollars to pay for the health and pension benefits not only of employees it hasn’t hired yet, but employees who haven’t even been BORN yet.

This is something that no other government or private corporation is, or has ever been, required to do.

This is akin to the government forcing a five-year-old child to pre-fund his entire retirement package — a retirement that would begin at age 65 and last until his ultimate death at the ripe old age of 140 — mandating he sock away at least $4 million before his 15th birthday.

If not for the 2006 PAEA, and if the USPS were allowed to operate just like any other government or private corporation, it would actually consistently show a nearly $200 million PROFIT annually.

In fact, a recent report by the Postmaster Inspector General says that taking those insane health and pension prefunding requirements out of the equation, the USPS has earned a total of $1.7 billion in cumulative operating income since fiscal 2006. The IG states: “This notable, yet rarely mentioned, financial performance is surprising given the period 2006-2014 encompasses the Great Recession of 2008, the post-recession economic slump, and the continued electronic diversion of First-Class Mail.”

AGAIN – FOLLOW THE MONEY!

What was the reason for the 2006 PAEA? FOLLOW THE MONEY. This toxic Act was sponsored by conservatives who have long cried out for “privatizing” the post office and busting its unions. Who would benefit from this move? Follow the money. UPS. Federal Express. DHL. Who would suffer? Everybody else. Have you ever tried to send a birthday card, a letter, or your phone bill via FedEx for 49 cents?  (Or for that matter, have you tried to do ANYTHING at FedEx for 49 cents??)  You’d get laughed out of the office. And let’s not forget the disastrous blow the closing of post offices would have on those Americans at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, many of whom, disenfranchised by banks, conduct all their financial transactions with postal money orders (not to mention those who prefer using money orders just to avoid a paper trail). The ramifications would be society-wide, striking at the heart of every community in America.

According to one postal executive, it would be hard for even the biggest private company to profit by serving rural areas of the United States; closing unprofitable rural offices would undermine the original equality-minded mission of the Postal Service to keep the country connected through the mail and to enable efficient communication to the most remote corners of the nation.

HELLO MEDIA?  WHERE’S THE STORY?

So why is this not reported in the media? Well, given the fact that it just took me ten paragraphs to explain it myself, don’t expect this kind of detail in a 12-second news story on “Good Morning America” (which also prefers to focus only on “happy” news, anyway). Also, most journalists themselves don’t know all the details.

TOP TEN LIST!

In the meantime, at long last, let’s get to that Top Ten list!

Here are the Top Ten Things You Need to Know about the United States Postal Service (from USPS.com):

10. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum is dedicated to the preservation, study and presentation of postal history and philately. The Museum, located in Washington, DC, was created by an agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Postal Service in 1990 and opened to the public in 1993. In 2013, the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery — the world’s largest gallery dedicated to philately — opened its doors. The gallery provides an experience available nowhere else and offers something for everyone, from casual visitors to experienced collectors.

9. The phrase by Herodotus etched atop the James A. Farley Building in Manhattan — “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” — is not the official Postal Service motto. The Postal Service does not have a motto.

8. The Postal Service is environmentally-friendly and is a respected sustainability leader. It promoted sustainable practices long before doing so was encouraged, mandated or governed.

7. The Postal Service is the only organization in the country that has the resources, network infrastructure and logistical capability to deliver to every residential and business address in the nation.

6. The Postal Service has the country’s largest retail network — larger than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Walmart combined, domestically.

5. The Postal Service can and does compete with the private sector — and it collaborates with it, too. UPS and FedEx pay the Postal Service to deliver hundreds of millions of their ground packages to residences, taking advantage of the Postal Service’s expansive delivery network. The Postal Service pays UPS and FedEx for air transportation, taking advantage of their comprehensive air networks.

4. Mail is a great communication tool. No monthly plans. No signal outages. No roaming charges. Regardless of geographic location, anyone can send a letter for just 49¢ to anywhere in the United States, its territories and U.S. military and diplomatic installations worldwide. And no worries about hacking!

3. Mail is reliable, trusted and secure — more than 200 federal laws protect the sanctity of the U.S. Mail. These laws are enforced by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. U.S. Postal Inspectors are federal agents, mandated to safeguard the nation’s mail — including the people who move it and the customers who use it.

2. The Postal Service continues to improve customer service by increasing access to postal services online, on smart-phones and in the places people visit every day: grocery stores, drug stores, ATMs and local retailers.

And most importantly…

1. The Postal Service receives NO tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

Why not give your mailman (or woman, of course) a hug today?

Why Celebrities Need Press Agents

July 25, 2015

Seriously, celebs.  For your own good, put down the smartphone and hand over your social media to the professionals.

From dlisted.com:

Nicki Minaj Accidentally Started A Twitter Fight With Joe Biden

July 6, 2015 / Posted by:

Well, this is random. Nicki Minaj and her maybe-fiancé of three months Meek Mill recently got into an online fight that ended with Nicki pointing her pitchfork in Joe Biden’s direction. Why? Because she can’t tell the difference between the names Budden and Biden. If you’re looking for a creative wedding present for Nicki, might I suggest registering her for a couple of beginner reading classes at The Learning Annex.

E! says it all started shortly after rapper Joe Budden verbally shat on Meek Mill during a recent episode of his podcast, I’ll Name This Podcast Later. Joe claimed Meek’s music is “too hard” for him to be serving up “fucking sappy fuck shit” realness when he’s around Nicki. Joe Budden must have been one of those dudes who was dumped at the prom or something, because he goes in hard on Nicki and Meek Mill’s romance:

“Be the hardcore guy that I’m sure [Nicki] was attracted to at some point. It’s nasty. I hate everything about it. [Meek’s] all like this bitch just stepped off of fucking Mars and is like the only girl. I hate it all. But I do appreciate them for keeping the hope of love alive.”

When Nicki and Meek Mill found out that the dude responsible for “Fire” was talking shit about them, they stretched their fingers and prepared for a marathon Twitter beat down. Nicki first called out Joe Budden by tweeting: “Why would you be bothered by another man showing love to his girl? Let’s celebrate black love. All the best w/ur podcast. All jokes aside.” Meek Mill followed by tweeting: “I don’t want ya opinion of you don’t got shit!” Meek also called Joe an “old hating noodle” before posting a Vine of a dude falling down an escalator with the caption: “Joe tripping!” But that wasn’t the end of it.

According to Hip Hop Vibe, Nicki then decided to rub salt in the already very salty wound by hitting the favorite button on a tasteless tweet about Joe Budden’s son. The only problem was, the tweet she favorited wasn’t about Joe Budden – it was about Vice President Joe Biden. To make things worse, it was a tweet about Joe Biden’s recently deceased son Beau. Nicki quickly yanked back her favorite, but plenty of people on the internet saw what she did and swatted at her for being so rude.

I’m leaning toward giving Nicki the benefit of the doubt on this one. People make mistakes! For example, I accidentally bought a bottle of Nicki’s Myx Fusions Moscato. Once I realized my mistake, I made another by drinking it. Eventually my stomach forgave me for filling it with peach-flavored piss. If my stomach can forgive me for making such a regretful mistake, then I can forgive Nicki for hers.

 

Perdue Gets Ahead of the Story

September 4, 2014

Perdue Foods CEO Jim Perdue employed a classic media strategy in announcing that his company was halting the use of human antibiotics in 95% of its chickens and 100% of its egg hatcheries:  He simply changed the conversation.

No one is more familiar than Jim Perdue with the raging debate over how the use of antibiotics in livestock is not only making all of us sicker, it’s spawning so-called “superbugs” that are increasingly drug-resistant.  He’s no doubt still smarting from that 2008 documentary “Food Inc.” in which rogue Perdue contractors pulled back the veil of secrecy that for so long has hidden the ugly truth about how our chickens are really raised.

Couple this with a growing grassroots (pardon the pun) movement of informed consumers increasingly eschewing corporate food labels in favor of small, local, and natural, and you can understand how he could see the writing was on the wall for the future of his $6 billion a year empire.

So, as he proudly crowed this week to USA Today, Jim Perdue said “We listen to consumers.”

Listen, yes.  Do what they ask, not necessarily.  Actually raising chickens humanely would have been way too big of a financial hit.

So what did he do?  He tweaked his operating procedures slightly, and CHANGED THE CONVERSATION.

How?

The conversation was about the use of antibiotics in livestock.  Perdue, however, made it about human antibiotics versus animal antibiotics.  What’s the difference?  Scientifically, there really is no difference at all.  But Perdue’s message to the media is that in switching away from “human” antibiotics, this will solve the crisis of not enough antibiotics to treat diseases in humans.

Is there such an antibiotic shortage crisis?  Actually, no.  The crisis is that the use of antibiotics in farm animals is creating superbugs and making us all sicker.  But that didn’t stop Perdue from pointing us away from the real problem (his inhumane factory farms are making animals so sick that they need to be drugged up from cradle to grave to prevent their meat from being diseased) to his “solution” to a non-existent crisis.

And it worked beautifully.  A distracted media has largely missed the distinction that Perdue will still be using animal antibiotics (which are essentially the same thing), and an even more distracted public will think they’re making a healthy choice when they pull a Purdue chicken out of the supermarket cooler with the words “no human antibiotics used” plastered across the label.

It’s a brilliant use of strategic messaging and crisis communications.

Unfortunately, it’s being used against consumers.

In the Spirit of Back to School …

September 2, 2014

It’s the day after Labor Day, and I wanted to share with you all a blog entry that for this Generation X kid hits the nail right on the head!  Kudos to the writer for taking us all back, and giving today’s parents a serious reality check!

Back to School: The 70s vs. Today, A Lot has Changed

12:31 PM | Posted by Wide Lawns |

Back to School in the 70s

1. Take the kids downtown to go shopping at Sears for back to school clothes the last week of August. Get everyone a new pair of corduroys and a striped tee shirt. Buy the boys a pair of dungarees and the girls a pair of culottes. No, Jennifer, you can’t have that orange and red poncho. Promise you will crochet her a better one with much more fringe. Get the girls a package of that rainbow, fuzzy yarn they like in their hair. You are done. You have spent a total of $43.00. Now take everyone to the Woolworth’s lunch counter for grilled cheeses and chocolate milk.

2. On the night before the first day of school (that would be the Sunday night after Labor Day, of course, you know, mid-September) throw the kids in the way back of the station wagon and drag them downtown to Eckerds, K-Mart, Ames, Dollar General, Drug Fair or the like and hurry them over to the back-to-school area to pick out a lunchbox. Make sure to tell them get a move on because you don’t have all night for them to make a damn decision. They need to get in bed by eight and yes, they’re going to miss the Wonderful World of Disney if they can’t decide between The Fonz and Dukes of Hazzard. Good Lord, why is it so hard for them to pick? Tell Kimberly if she can’t make up her mind between Holly Hobbie and The Bionic Woman then you’re going to pick Pigs in Space and you don’t want to hear another word about it until June. Grab a composition book for each of them and a pack of pencils too. That’s all they need. Remember to save some grocery bags so they can cover their textbooks with them after the first day of school.

3. Buy yourself a pack of Virginia Slims on the way out and smoke three of them on the way home.

4. Get up in the morning and make yourself a cup of Sanka with Sweet ‘n’ Low. Line up all the lunchboxes on the formica counter top in your kitchen. Open up a bag of Wonder Bread and do this assembly line style.

5. Spread yellow mustard on bread. Slap baloney on bread. Unwrap American cheese slices and put on top of baloney. Put top on the sandwich and wrap sandwich in tin foil or wax paper. Put it in the lunchbox. Every kid gets the same exact lunch. Period.

6. Alternate sandwich choices could include: peanut butter and grape jelly, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, the end of last night’s leftover roast beef or the ever popular with children tuna fish with large chunks of onions and celery and Miracle Whip.

7. Put some Planter’s Cheese Balls into a baggie and close with a twist tie.

8. Take Twinkies out of the box. Put one in each child’s lunch box.

9. Fill Thermoses with either Kool-Aid or whole milk.

10. Include a red delicious apple even though you know that damned apple is just going to come home uneaten again, which is fine because you can keep adding the same one until it practically rots.

11. Close the lunchboxes. You’re done. Go put some Barry Manilow on the record player and celebrate that your kids are out of the house until dinner time. They’ll grab them, along with a frosted, dutch apple Pop-Tart on the way out the door as they walk a half mile down the road to get to the bus stop.

Back to School 2014
1. Take five deep breaths and say a positive affirmation. School begins in two weeks. It is the middle of July. Don’t worry, you still have time to order BPA-free bento boxes and authentic Indian tiffins made with special stainless steel that did not involve any child-labor, sweat shops or animal cruelty. Remember, you have Amazon Prime. You can get the free two day shipping and you will have plenty of time to read reviews and make this very important decision because your kids are in summer “camp” which is actually just another word for school in the summer because OH MY GOD you were so tired that day you had to have them home all day with you and you couldn’t go to your restorative flow class at yoga. And that was also the day something went terribly wrong with the homemade glitter cloud dough recipe that was supposed to go in their sensory bin and the very same day that they were out of soy milk at Starbucks and you had to immediately email corporate to let them know that duh, they should actually be selling almond milk and/ or coconut milk. Get with it Starbucks. Soy is so 90s.  Ugh, but you digress. The tiffin. The bento boxes…
2. One Week Later: The bento boxes and tiffins have arrived. So has your childrens’ school’s annual list of school supplies that you must purchase and deliver. It is three and a half pages long.  It includes a ten pound bag of flour and several cleaning products and also requests a Costco-sized package of toilet paper.3. Begin frantic online search for backpacks and school bags made from all natural materials yet still “cool.” Have them monogrammed.

4. Take kids shopping at the mall for new school clothes. Buy them each a completely new wardrobe from Gymboree and Crew Cuts. Spend $2,387.07 on your credit card.

5. Take children to the child psychologist to prepare them mentally for the difficult transition to a new grade, new teacher and new classroom.

6. Intently study the allergy list the school has sent you which lists all the items that other children in your children’s classes are allergic to and thus cannot be sent in your child’s lunch either. This is extremely stressful because the last thing you (or anyone) wants to be responsible for is sending a second grader into anaphylactic shock. Make notes on your phone so you can remember what not to buy when you go to Whole Foods.

7.  Purchase school supplies for your children. Not to be confused with the 3 1/2 page list of classroom supplies you are also responsible for. They will need paper, pens, folders, notebooks, a calligraphy set, fifteen new apps for their tablets, a graphing calculator, a scalpel, an electron microscope and a centrifuge.

8. Go to Whole Foods to shop for school lunch items. This will take 4 hours and 15 minutes because you have to read every single label to make sure you are purchasing organic, locally sourced, non-GMO, gluten-free, allergy friendly products. You come home with tahini, bananas and a package of brown rice cakes. You somehow spent $76.19.

10. The night before the first day of school prepare the bento boxes. Fill containers with organic, local strawberries intricately cut into the shapes of  sea creatures. Include homemade, nut free granola made with certified gluten-free oats. Make a sandwich on vegan hemp bread out of tahini, kale and jicama. Form it into the shape of your child’s favorite Disney character. Make flowers out of non-dairy cheese slices, olives and seaweed. Photograph the finished Bento Box and post it to Instagram.

11. Write your child an encouraging note which includes an inspirational quote.

12. Include a sheet of stickers for good measure.

13. Fill a Siig bottle with filtered water and also include a box of chilled coconut water in the Bento Box because children can never be too hydrated. Ever.

14. Blog about this experience. Pray it goes viral and is picked up by HuffPo.

15. Get up at four in the morning on the first day of school. Make first day of school signs for each child to hold as you photograph them on the front step. Make a bunting to hang above the front door. Blow up balloons. Actually, go ahead and make a full on back to school photo booth.

16. Make pancakes in the shape of the letters of the alphabet.

17. Dress kids in coordinated outfits and spend 35 minutes posing and photographing them (with your phone).

18. Load everyone into the car to drive them to school.

19. When they are safely in their new classrooms, return to your car to cry for the next 20 minutes. But it’s okay, really. You’ll be back in six hours to pick them up and drive them to Synchronized Swimming, Cello and Urdu classes this afternoon.

Avoiding Overkill: Don’t Beat the Dead Horse!

October 24, 2012

We’re all familiar now with President Obama’s infamous line in this week’s final presidential debate with Mitt Romney, responding to Romney’s charge about the nation’s shrinking armed forces:

“You mention the Navy, for example, that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916.  Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”

Very clever in use of facts and execution.  Mr. Obama’s mistake, however, was in his following sentence:

“We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Not so clever.  Mr. Obama made a mistake that’s all too common these days (including on late-night comedy shows, “Saturday Night Live” in particular):  beating the dead horse.  It’s when you use a particularly good turn of phrase, punctuate an argument with a powerful word or two, or even tell a punch line — and then expound upon it.  Worse, Mr. Obama took a winning line and in his very next sentence not only neutralized its impact, actually reversed its impact, coming off as sounding condescending and losing points for appearing decidedly very un-Presidential.

As a writer, speaker, and media trainer, I encourage my clients to use language powerfully, but also to use powerful language sparingly, almost like a spice or seasoning:  less is more.

Don’t beat the dead horse.  Particularly with an obsolete bayonet.

 

On Media Training and Presidential Debates

October 5, 2012

Public Speaking Rules of Engagement

One of the highest-stakes applications of media training is in public speaking – for both the speaker and the audience.  It’s not like a taped broadcast interview that can be corrected and polished with re-takes and fancy editing.  It’s live.  And you get only once chance to do it right.

Unfortunately for President Obama, his was apparently the prime example of poor media training.  Mitt Romney, in the meantime, was obviously well-prepped, well-trained, and focused like a laser.  So what went wrong for Mr. Obama?

As a media insider, I know what President Obama’s message is.  I know what Mitt Romney’s message is.  And I know the real facts underpinning both messages.  But as a viewer watching the televised face-off from home Wednesday evening, I came away from this debate with a stronger sense of Mitt Romney’s message, and a cloudy sense of what Mr. Obama was trying to say.  Avoiding partisan politics here, I’d like to address a few mistakes that both candidates made, and how proper media training could have enhanced both of their profiles in Wednesday’s crucial debate.

First of all, in a live debate, you need to tailor your message to the parameters you’re given.  When the moderator says “two minutes”, he’s not kidding — it really is just two minutes.  And as a broadcaster, I can tell you that depending on how much or how little you have to say, two minutes can feel like the blink of an eye, or an agonizing eternity.  President Obama has done well in adopting Bill Clinton’s anecdotal style.  Nothing drives a point home more impactfully than a good story supporting the point you’re trying to make.  It really can be the stuff of great campaign speeches.

But this isn’t a campaign speech.  You don’t have an unlimited amount of time to make your point; in fact, you have two minutes.  More often than not, Mr. Obama’s first words were “I’d like to make a few points here.”  BIG MISTAKE.  You don’t have time for four points.  And you certainly don’t have time to start each point with a mini novella about the small businessman you met on the campaign trail in Topeka who has an elderly mother in a nursing home, yadda yadda yadda.  By the time Mr. Obama’s two minutes was up, he hadn’t yet made any point, leaving the viewer confused about what Mr. Obama was trying to say.  Romney, on the other hand, was well-versed in his talking points, and drove each of them home repeatedly and successfully.

Second of all, in a live debate, you have to be ready to think on your feet, and revise your message on the fly to adapt to the organic nature of a constantly changing direction of the discourse.  Both candidates failed here, so anxious to spell out their points, regardless of the question asked or the counter-point they really needed to make.  What this leaves you with is a confused and frustrated viewer, who’s trying to watch what’s supposed to be an organically unfolding and flowing conversation and exchange of ideas between two sides, instead being subjected to a jarring back-and-forth staccato of disparate bullet points.

And speaking of bullet points … use them.  But use them properly.   Two minutes is not enough time for an entire narrative; its only enough time to make a quick counter-point, and quickly spell out, in broad strokes, the points you are trying to make in that particular response.  Think sound bites.  When outlining your arguments, isolate the most salient points and try to boil them down into single short, easily digestible sentences:  “Obamacare will cost America’s seniors their life savings.”  “Mitt Romey’s only experience with jobs has been cutting and offshoring them, not creating them.”  Short, powerful sentences like this will not only get your point across quickly and effectively, they will stay with the viewer long after the debate has ended.

Finally, body language.  Keep a close eye on your posture, movements, and even facial expressions.  Don’t be so self-conscious that you end up paralyzed, a la Al Gore, but don’t give the viewer the unspoken message that you’d rather be somewhere else by glancing at your watch, popping your hip, or crossing your legs.  And as far as your facial expression — at least try to look engaged in what your opponent is saying.  Don’t look down and take notes (Mr. Obama), and don’t stand through every of your opponent’s responses with a condescending smirk (Mitt Romney).

Keeping these points in mind should give you the tools and the confidence to leave the viewers with the message you want to leave them with, regardless of who the pollsters say actually “won” the debate.

Twitter + Diplomacy = “Twiplomacy” But Who Tweets for Thee?

July 26, 2012

While we’re on the subject of Twitter …

A new “Twiplomacy” study just released today by PR giant Burson-Marsteller (yes, my competition) finds that almost two-thirds of world leaders now have a Twitter account.  The company says 16 of the so-called “Group of 20″ leaders actively use Twitter for public diplomacy.  Who’s not using it:  China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Italy.

What the study doesn’t say, however, is how many of them personally use that Twitter account.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, who Tweets for you is often even more important than what you’re Tweeting.

Some interesting figures from the Burson-Marsteller release include:

  • President Obama is the most-followed world leader, with 17,115,177 followers, including 76 of his peers and other governments.  {Globally he’s in fifth place just behind Britney Spears.)
  • Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is in second place, with 3,152,608 followers.
  • The most popular tweet:  “Same-sex couples should be able to get married.” – President Obama, re-Tweeted 62,047 times on May 9, 2012.

Unfortunately, the study found that many of these world leaders who are tech-savvy enough to use Twitter are breaking a cardinal rule of media relations:  they aren’t bothering to follow each other.  Media relations and organizational communications are a two-way street; the old axiom of two ears/one mouth certainly applies: you need to listen twice as much as you say.

For more on the survey: www.twiplomacy.com.

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