Archive for the ‘Mixed Messages’ Category

Service of Mixed Messages: Where A Spot Of Bother May Be a Catastrophe

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Mixed Messages. Photo: likoma.com

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reminded me of a song my father introduced me to when I was a kid: “Tout Va Très Bien Madame La Marquise,” by Ray Ventura which in English is “Everything’s very fine my lady.”

That’s the refrain too–which we’d sing at the top of our lungs along with Les Compagnons de la Chanson, a mid 20th century French vocal group.

In fact, in this song’s story, nothing is fine.

Les Compagnons de la Chanson Photo: compagnonsdelachanson.eklablog.com

The song begins when Madame M calls her employee, James, to ask what she’ll find on her return home. James tells her that a little something happened, a bit of bother, and he admits that her gray mare is dead.

The chorus returns with all’s well and she learns next that the mare died when the stables burned down. Again the chorus with assurances and “a little nothing” after she asks how that happened and we learn in subsequent verses that the stable caught fire after the chateau collapsed in flames started when the Marquis committed suicide and in doing so he knocked over the candelabra that started the fire. The song ends: “Mais, à part ça, [but apart from that] Madame la Marquise, Tout va très bien, tout va très bien.”

Back to Sarah Nassauer’s article, “Retailer Group Predicts Robust Holidays, but Sounds Warning.”

That’s putting it lightly. What else would you expect the National Retail Federation [that reps stores such as Macy’s and Wal-Mart] to predict? And what might these potential flies in the ointment be?

Photo: nrf.com

Nassaueur wrote “global political and economic uncertainty could erode consumer confidence and spending.” Under normal circumstances we might shrug and move on. Trouble is nothing is normal. From one to another day the administration threatens or causes a war somewhere and sprinkles trade tariffs around like spots on a Dalmatian.

The retail federation’s president Matthew Shay ID’d consumer confidence, rising wages and low unemployment on the plus side for holiday sales and on the minus: economy growing slower than in 2018 and “considerable uncertainty around issues including trade, interest rates, global risk factors and political rhetoric.” A potential spot of bother, right?

A financial advisory firm’s research report also anticipates higher holiday retail sales and at the same time admits “the buzz of an oncoming recession is getting louder.”

Nassauer reported “The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on the majority of goods imported from China, with some to take effect later in the holiday season on consumer goods including toys and apparel.” The administration expects to impose tariffs on food and “other goods” from the European Union.

Altogether now: What do people give or buy most during the holidays? Toys, apparel and food.

“‘None of these retailers want to pass on cost to consumers if they can avoid it,’ said the retail federation’s Mr. Shay. But if cost increases because of tariffs spread to more categories of goods in the coming weeks and months, he said, ‘tariffs certainly could make an impact.’ ”

Do you see the similarity to the approach to these predictions and the Tout Va Très Bien song?  Nassauer bent over backwards to present a balanced article but the warnings are too many and too loud and I wouldn’t count any holiday retail dollar chickens just yet–would you?

Photo: observerbd.com

Service of Hidden Agendas

Friday, February 10th, 2012

peekaboo2

Pundits were discussing why NJ Governor Christie wants a referendum on gay marriage rather than a senate/house vote [that’s happening now]. The Governor says a referendum is the best way to learn what the citizens want. One political analyst noted that the Governor really has a different reason: To bring out the conservative vote in the 2012 election as it’s likely these voters would choose Republican candidates.

floridaAnother example of a potentially hidden agenda involves adding the option for voters in the New York metro area to place their votes well ahead of an election as Florida does. Why doesn’t this happen here?

I thought setting up voting systems ahead of the one day might be costly but according to the political fat-chewers, the real reason might be that both political party leaders are concerned that if too many people vote, it will affect the outcome in a way none can predict. That makes them nervous. Isn’t democracy about everyone voting so as to be heard? Don’t politicians pay lip service to the concept and urge us to vote? 

Can you name some hidden agendas of a political, business or personal nature? How do you tease out the motivation, line of thought and accurate rationale of the canny dissimulator so as to make the right decision yourself?

 paylipservice

Service of Do as I Say….

Monday, August 1st, 2011

snake-in-the-grass

….Not as I do.

You’ve heard of the parent who yells at the children on a Sunday morning, ordering them to hurry up and get dressed and off to church on time and then turns over and falls back to sleep. I thought of the do as I say, not as I do man I knew when listening to pro-business New York morning talk radio host John Gambling discuss two events relating to General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt last week.

Note: Gambling is not a President Obama fan and Immelt heads the President’s panel of outside economic advisors–more about this shortly.

I went to Google to make sure I heard correctly and confirmed the instances Gambling mentioned:  That in less than half a month, Immelt coolly contradicted himself.

us-chamber-of-commerce**At CNNMoney on July 11 Chris Isidore wrote: “The head of General Electric told a jobs summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Monday that businesses needed to take the lead on job creation.”

**On July 26, Vittorio Hernandez wrote on allheadlinenews.com: “General Electric announced on Monday that it will move its healthcare x-ray division headquarters from the U.S. to Beijing, China in August.”

counting-moneyBack to Immelt being the head of outside economic advisors. In Service of Pet Peeves II and previously, a reader has corrected me about my criticism of Immelt for his profitable corporation paying no taxes at a time of economic crisis and for moving the light bulb operation to China to save manufacturing costs-and now x-ray headquarters for the same reason.  I understand that his job as the head of a corporation is to make money for his stockholders and for this he gets an A+.

But is this the person to be addressing job creation here? Is this the fellow to lead economic advisors to the President right now? I pray that I am connecting all the wrong dots to come to this conclusion, but as a PR person sensitive to superficial things like consistency, symbolism, and practicing what you preach, Immelt is sending out all the wrong messages in the economic advisory role. Only if the plan is for all of us who want to work to move to China is he our man. Your thoughts?

 what

Service of Board Service

Monday, May 16th, 2011

board-of-directors

My friend Erica Martell urged me to read about the City University of New York’s board of trustees and its reversal about giving playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree. First the board voted no. Subsequently the executive committee voted yes.

I read the coverage in The New York Times that Erica sent and The Wall Street Journal and finally a New York Sun editorial. The short story: Kushner was being proposed for a doctor of letters at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Right before the vote, a member of the 17-member board, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, objected to his receiving the honor based on what he described as Kushner’s attacks on Israel.

counterpunchAfter the 6-member executive committee reversed the board’s decision, Winnie Hu in The New York Times wrote: “After the vote to approve the degree, Dr. [Matthew] Goldstein, CUNY’s chancellor, said ‘the basic misstep was there wasn’t a counterpunch’ to Mr. Wiesenfeld’s remarks.

“I’m not sure why the appropriate people didn’t chime in at that time,” he said. Dr. Goldstein, who was present at that meeting, said the presidents of the various colleges are generally expected to address specific questions.”

Translation: Somebody put Kushner on the list. Why didn’t he/she speak up?

Hu noted: “Mr. Kushner later disputed Mr. Wiesenfeld’s characterization of his views and said he is a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist.”

In The Wall Street Journal Ruth King quoted Benno Schmidt, the president of the board of trustees: “‘I would not ordinarily ask for reconsideration of a decision so recently taken,’ said Mr. Schmidt, who was once president of Yale. ‘But when the board has made a mistake of principle and not merely of policy, review is appropriate and, indeed, mandatory. As it happens, Chairperson Schmidt was on hand when this ‘mistake of principle’ was made but didn’t raise a voice at the time.”

An excerpt from a New York Sun editorial: “But if principles are the issue here, what is the logic of the decision of a full board of trustees being overturned a few days later by a subset of the trustees?

“So far it looks as if the only person who has acted on principle in the CUNY affair is Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the trustee who first objected to the idea of giving an honorary degree to Mr. Kushner. He came to a meeting, and he stated his objection forthrightly. It had to do with Mr. Kushner’s views in respect of Israel. Mr. Kushner is entitled to his views and Mr. Wiesenfeld is entitled to dissent from a proposal to give him an honorary degree. The whole thing was filmed and is available at a CUNY Web site. Mr. Wiesenfeld comprehended he was making a dissident statement. Our guess is that he was as surprised as anyone when the trustees acted on his objection.”

decisionmakingI think that what happened is not as much about whether a person accused of speaking out against a foreign country should be given or denied an award by a New York City university as it is about how boards work. It’s typical of what I’ve observed as a board member. I’ve been on many–industry, charity and co-op apartment boards. Many board members sit like lumps. Are they afraid to speak out? I have not always been popular as a result but feel that my job is to point out hurdles or issues for the board’s consideration. For that reason, I commend Mr. Wiesenfeld for stating his view and wonder about the other board members. Not all of them agreed with him, as it turns out. They didn’t want to face him with their argument.

Who are the villains here? Did anyone do anything right?  Why do people take the time to sit on boards if they don’t plan to participate? Do those who bring up touchy subjects risk being treated like whistleblowers? What is it about a board that seems to stifle discussion?

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Service of Miscommunication

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

miscommunicate2

We communicate through actions and words and yet I don’t think that some comprehend their impact or the impressions they make when they are misleading, inaccurate or unclear.

A beggar on the sidewalk with a sign on a cardboard box asking for money was puffing a cigarette. He may have picked a butt off the sidewalk or perhaps someone gave him the cigarette. When I give a gift to a friend or relative it comes with no strings, yet I thought: He might have money to buy food if he didn’t smoke. You can argue that $9 or whatever a pack of cigarettes costs won’t buy much, so what the heck, but still. Perception was doing the talking and my wallet stayed shut.

radiowavesThe Saturday before this year’s Oscars an international news source played the same radio segment at least twice: I heard that it sure was going to be cold at the Oscars because a very rare thing happened: It snowed in San Francisco. And here I thought that Hollywood was in LA. Would I cancel a picnic in New York City if I heard an unsavory Boston weather report? Wonder if the person who wrote and/or read this has a map.

There’s an ad on a morning radio show where the owner of the business, an articulate fellow with a pleasant voice, tells you why you should bring your car to his shop for checkups and repairs. I’ve heard it a few times. He gives his phone number-I don’t recognize the area code. But he doesn’t state what town he’s in. I can’t understand why the station’s ad staff doesn’t advise him and let him record his message again. I’ve never heard of his business so doubt it’s a chain.

gastankOn March 4, here was the breaking news report that popped in my email box from a major network: “Dow Tumbles Over 150 Points Amid Rising Oil a day after the markets posted its best one-day rise in three months in the wake of a robust report on jobless claims and falling oil prices.” Hmmm. So what’s going on? Are fuel prices rising or falling? I can tell you what I think is happening if my local gas stations are any proof. And how did that s get into the word market?

The New York Post and LA Times were two of zillions to report this news: “Charlie Sheen to pitch products on Twitter, sets Guinness world record.” In the first place, I can’t imagine recommending to a client that he/she have Charlie Sheen go near their product. But it shows you what I know. According to the LA Times, “Just a day after starting up a Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, Sheen had amassed more than 910,000 followers [sic] the micro-blogging site, landing his user account among the fastest-growing the website has ever had.” I think his followers enjoy watching train wrecks and are not necessarily the folks who will buy Naked Juice smoothie [one of the products he’s promoting with one of his mistresses].

What examples of miscommunication–inadvertent or deliberate–have you observed lately?

miscommunication

Service of the Pulse of Christmas 2010

Monday, December 20th, 2010

christmasscene

Here are some observations of this holiday season:

**I passed by a silent Salvation Army bell ringer yesterday and looked to see why he was quiet and if he was OK. He was texting.

inline**An officemate, Bambe Levine, told me about her happy experience at J. Crew. She went to return some boots last week and had 20 minutes to spend before her lunch date. Her heart sank when she saw a line that, in spite of a generous number of cashiers, promised to take at least 40. She asked a manager if she might leave the boots and return to wait in line after lunch. The manager said to her, “Let me take care of it,” and did so immediately.

**Meanwhile, I tried for several days to buy a gift at a boutique in Grand Central Station. Can’t go into too much detail as 1) the recipient reads these posts and 2) I don’t bash brands here. The staff was pleasant yet clueless. I hung around for over half an hour waiting for one to bring the size I requested from basement storage. Nobody seemed to realize that people have other things to do. Eventually, I told the cashier that I had to get back to the office and she suggested I return after work, which I did. The item wasn’t upstairs yet. She promised the basement retrieval man would call me. He never did. I gave it another try on Friday and this cashier couldn’t have been nicer, more apologetic, and she repeated how responsible the man is both before and after she found the gift in the back room. To sweeten my mood [my face wasn’t happy when I had to wait at the back of the line to pay], she gave me her employee discount.

**Unforgiving sticky price labels continue to plague gifts I buy. The hairdryer trick to dry the adhesive so I can scrape off the price works although it takes forever; burns my fingers and gets glue on the appliance. This year, the heat melted some of the packaging which is annoying. Simple solutions: Barcodes on sticky labels combined with prices clearly marked on store shelves just as they are in grocery stores.

**Garish, tasteless trees are the style in office lobbies this year-minus gifts for children that have been there for as long as I can remember. What a sad turn of events. Some tinsel is better than nothing. It could be June in the lobby of my office building where there’s not the tiniest nod to the season. Menorah lights and a simple wreath–I know just the place–would cheer.

xmas2010wreathsmall2**An anemone greenhouse/tree farm outside Rhinebeck, NY has traditionally sold beautifully decorated wreaths. Normally, if you don’t go early in the season, they sell out. We dropped by yesterday on a whim. They still had quite a selection, and the wreaths were slightly discounted.

**ABC TV covered the Santa letters program in “Sad Santa Letters Tell of Economic Woes, USPS Says. New York’s Operation Santa Chief Says More Letters This Year Asking for Coats, Food.” Pete Fontana, who directs the USPS New York Operation Santa, said: “Though many considered last year to be the toughest financially since the economic downturn, it appears that more people are struggling this year, both from the letters and the decreased amount of volunteers who sign up to fulfill some of the writers’ wishes.” There’s a website of participating post offices if you want to pick up a letter and fulfill the wishes of some of the neediest writers. Wouldn’t it be great to win the lottery in time to pick up all those letters and fulfill the wishes?

 Any changes–good and bad–or observations to share about this holiday season?

santaletter

Service of Restrictions

Monday, November 8th, 2010

restrictions

As you read it, you’ll notice that this post could also be called, “Service of Mixed Messages.”

I get the restrictions on liquor and cigarettes for children under a certain age but I wonder, no doubt due to my love of Crackerjacks and happy memories of tiny tops and other surprises hiding in those boxes of toothsome caramel popcorn, whether a city or state should also protect children from high calorie food with toys.

The Board of Supervisors will be protecting the children of San Francisco in this way, which you no doubt heard or read about on TV, radio, on the Internet–everywhere last week. As of a year from next month, a restaurant meal and drink can’t include a toy if its calorie count is more than 600. And less than 35 percent of those calories can be from fat.

Maybe we should ban bubblegum too. Family lore has it that I picked up some chewed bubblegum from a NYC sidewalk and popped it into my then two year old mouth which no doubt happened to thousands of others. Think of the potential choking and disease!

school-lunchroomWhile San Francisco is banning Happy Meals and their equivalent, did you know that 23.5 percent of high schools offered fast food from chains? Lesley Alderman, in “Putting Nutrition at the Front of the School Lunch Line” shared this statistic from the Centers for Disease Control, identifying Taco Bell and Pizza Hut as examples.

While too much food is going on, Alderman notes in The New York Times, that “School lunches must meet a minimum calorie limit set by the government, but it’s up to individual schools to decide how the calories are apportioned. If a meal has not reached the limit, the cook can toss on extra slices of bread to bring up the count.” So some kids aren’t getting enough calories? Shouldn’t we focus on them too?

pizza2And since I’ve digressed to the secondary theme of mixed messages, what about the front page story in the same paper, “While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the same place that warns people about eating high calorie foods laced with saturated fats, helped Domino Pizza revitalize its recipe by adding both calories and fat in the form of additional cheese. The result, a dramatic sales spurt. Along with the formula makeover, Dairy Management [part of the Department] “proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign” according to the writer Michael Moss.

Do you think that the government should influence what we buy to put into our mouths unrelated to cleanliness and safety? Does the increasing government involvement in health care give the government the right to interfere–in a “He who funds, runs” sort of way?

 unclesameating

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