Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category

Service of Shouting

Monday, July 21st, 2014

shouting 1

Americans—or maybe people in general–seem to think that if they raise their voices, they’ll get the reaction they hope for.

One of the comedians at an event I attended recently wasn’t getting the laughs she’d hoped for. Seeking to make the phrase witty she raised her voice, expecting that the volume, in addition to the repetition, would resuscitate a tired, overused expression. The audience was neither deaf nor stupid nor did most react to the ear-splitting noise: I looked around and saw straight lips and glazed eyes.

PatientI noticed a similar attempt to inspire a reaction at an in-law’s bedside. The patient couldn’t move or speak so visitors thought yelling at her would help. They’d lean over and shriek, even after her son assured them she could hear perfectly well and asked them to please lower their voices. Soon they were shouting again because she still wasn’t responding.

Ever hear Americans communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English? They slow their words and speak as loudly as their lungs will allow expecting the volume to perform the trick of translation.

Are there other instances in which people feel volume enhances communication? In a brief Google search I wasn’t able to learn the reason. Your guess?

 Shouting 2

Service of Negative Marketing

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

elephant donkey fighting

I missed the class on the effectiveness of negative advertising which serves politicians so well even though these ads are counterintuitive. Given 30 or 60 seconds to state your case–at major cost–you’d think you’d want to tout a candidate’s great ideas, victories and accomplishments. Positive messages these days would  no doubt result in negative polling figures and goodness knows what outcome on election day.

Politicians aren’t alone.

They lived commercialHave you seen the “They Lived” automotive TV commercial? It shows a series of cars so smooshed and flattened in car accidents that they look as though they were made of the cheapest tin can material. Someone yells “They Lived” at the worker, in hardhat, who is motioning the crane holding a metal heap that once was a car into a big pile of the same, referring to the passengers. Brrrrr—gives me the shivers.

I just got off the phone with a stranger who said, “Hiya Jeanne, this is Mike Morrow from Merrill Lynch.” I thanked Mike for calling, told him I was on deadline and someone was waiting for me with which he slammed down the phone or clicked off the connection, racing to the next patsy. Result: Bad taste in my mouth. Too bad he spoke so clearly. I can hardly understand most telemarketers. A “sorry,” would have been nice.

wold cup logo USWhat about the US World Cup team coach Jurgen Klinsmann who announced, before the games, that his team wasn’t ready to win?

And then there’s CheapOair. The name makes me want to avoid everything to do with the online Internet travel agency. I’d anticipate shoddy service from them and goodness knows what from their travel partners. They might be the most responsible travel agency on the Internet and many might consider the name of this company a hoot but travel is serious business. I’m a fan of discounts and great prices, but cheap? Not so much.

Do you respond in a positive way to negative marketing? Why is it so effective? Have you noticed other examples?


puzzled look



Service of Being Untethered Communications-Wise

Monday, June 16th, 2014

lots of devices

At a panel on the future of communications, Sarah DaVanzo shared a spark of hope for those who feel “enough already” about being reachable by mobile and other devices and expected to respond 24/7. The chief cultural strategy officer at Sparks & Honey noted that “JOMO is beginning to replace FOMO.” Translation: The joy of missing out is replacing the fear of missing out which originally inspired the unnatural relationship between people and the gizmos that connect them.  She mentioned an increase and popularity of vacation spots that tout zero connectivity and of restaurants that ask patrons to “check your phone at the door.”

emoji smiling facesBefore releasing balloons in celebration, if you are on tech communications overload, another panelist at the New York Women in Communications [NYWICI] program last week reported that she communicates with her children via snapchat when they are both at home and it seems this may be the norm. Dana Points, editor in chief of Parents and American Baby and content director of the Meredith Parents Network underscored that she also has frequent heart-to-hearts with her children because face-to-face communication is crucial. She said that experts notice lack of emotion as a side effect on young children who are in touch almost exclusively via technology and social media. They depend on emojis [smiley or sad face icons as examples] to speak for them. They also don’t see the impact of their words on recipients of virtual messages.

mom spk with childOn the other hand, a third panelist’s shy teenage son benefits from being able to express himself and be heard via these tools. She is Lisa Stone who cofounded and is CEO of BlogHer, Inc. She reported on preliminary results of a survey she is conducting of NYWICI members in which while they felt they could multitask–communicate and listen simultaneously. Yet a majority didn’t think that someone else was listening to them under similar circumstances. I’ll be interested to learn the final results of what respondents said in the survey about the expectations of their employer–which I chose to extrapolate to include clients–as to whether or not they are free to be connected when and where they choose and if free, if they liked having the choice be theirs.

In the intro to coverage of the event on the NYWICI website, Tekla Szymanski linked to a video, “Look Up,” that I recommend you watch and forward to friends and relatives who are missing out on life because they are so busy reporting on what they are doing and checking up on their “friends’” activities.

Are you tethered to your communications devices? Do you welcome a time in which you feel secure enough to cut the virtual cord for long stretches of time? Would you dare vacation in a spot without wifi or mobile phone connectivity? Would you sit through a meal with your phone parked at a restaurant door?

no wifi



Service of Limiting Communications

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

no emails

The French got the recent headlines but German companies such as Volkswagen already had email policies in place to curb the enthusiasm of people in management who send emails at all hours and expect employees to respond.

The alert employee who gets the worm–i.e. the promotion–must be on the job at dawn, at night and on weekends with eyes riveted on smartphone screens should a business-related email pop up. A friend’s former boss has a sleeping disorder which kept him up at night. My friend had a hard time fitting life in after 8 pm or 9 pm, when he left work, as there was no after work: He was expected to respond with charts, figures and explanations into the night.

early bird gets wormWrote Adam Auriemma and David Gauthier-Villars in “French Pact Could Give Workers an Email Break” in The Wall Street Journal:  ”The French pact between companies and workers, settled last week and awaiting government approval, amounts to a declaration of principle more than law. It gives certain technology-sector workers the right to stop using work tools such as email and smartphones after logging France’s state-mandated maximum 13-hour day.”

What had Volkswagen done in 2011? It cut off email to 3,500 non managers at headquarters in Germany between 6:15 pm and 7 am. The authors reported Pew Research findings that email frenzies “start at the top,” as they increase with salaries, and they quote others who note the obvious: For the behavior to stop, the brakes must also come from the top. They wrote: “But as long as promotions go to the workers willing to do company bidding at any hour, policies intended to limit the workday are unlikely to matter, managers and scholars say.”

What do you think of email curbing policies? Are they realistic in a world where bosses and clients demand and expect immediate attention? Do you know of managers who overtax and burn out employees by expecting their full attention and immediate response 24/7? Are you one of those?

 Urgent stamp

Service of No II

Monday, March 31st, 2014


I previously covered the subject of no from the point of view of how to bounce back after hearing the word.

It takes equal skill for some to say it. I’m one of those who often fail. For one, because I so rarely do, nobody believes me. I also think that being in a service business I find ways to compromise when a client over-demands [with no intention of paying more], negotiating a plan that works for both.

But this spirit of cooperation doesn’t serve me well when I pile on obligations I could live without because I’ve not said “no.”  Because I’m an efficient juggler, someone with energy and a workaholic, I’ve been weak too often. Yet there are times I must disappoint.

Thumbs downSome of the tips Elizabeth Bernstein covered in her Wall Street Journal article “The Right Answer is ‘No’” is a start to reformation. She suggests rehearsing; having at hand a generic “I’ll think about it” statement if surprised; delaying response and being mindful of your tone when saying the dreaded word–keep it pleasant.

In a sidebar “Set Boundaries” she suggests “Blame outside circumstances or a prior commitment.” She warns that you should “avoid implying your obligations are superior to the other person’s request.” Unless the other appointment was to go window shopping with a local friend or something as frivolous, I disagree with this rationale. You have already said “yes” to a prior business or personal appointment so why set yourself up to disappoint and having to say “no” to the first person? Why even get into the specifics with Number 2?

Bernstein adds that you should repeat the refusal “so the other person gets the message,” and “resist the temptation to add ‘Maybe next time’–unless you mean it.”

What works for you?

Yes no

Service of Updating Information

Thursday, March 27th, 2014


Checklist 2“Beadwildered” in New Jersey wrote me to share her recent experience at a small store – an incident that gives major clues to why, apart from the major changes in retail and the stress of having to close a business–this one hit the skids.

Central to this tale is the lackadaisical way in which some update business information on websites, which ends up frustrating potential customers and wasting their time. Reminds me of the NYC hotel at which a friend booked a room over the Internet. Only by luck did I call the place before she arrived to learn that it was no longer in midtown, [which was essential to her stay].  I can’t blame it on the web either. The days of print-only weren’t much better. Arriving at movie houses in NYC only to learn that the movie was no longer playing or the showtime hours were incorrect taught me: Call before going.

This is what Beadwildered wrote:

Beads on black dressI needed to buy some small jet beads to replace beading that has fallen off a cocktail dress.  Once upon a time, they were easy to find at a fabric or craft store.  But try finding a fabric store in the suburbs anymore. And the craft stores are all big-box stores out on the highways.  As it happens, I do have a local fabric store, but the owner said he can no longer get small packets of beads. He recommended a bead store three towns away. 

I looked at the website and the photos showed packets of beads.  While I drove the 20 minutes to the store it began to pour. When I got to the store, it was partially dismantled. 

A woman inside came to the door to find out what I wanted.  “I hope you’re not closed after I drove all this way,” I said. 

“We’re closed for good,” was her reply.  But she reluctantly let me in out of the rain. 

“Hadn’t you seen the sign? It was up for 19 weeks,” she said in a very disdainful manner.

“I live three towns away and rarely get over this way,” was my defense.  I drive out this way once in a while, but this is not the kind of store that stands out and catches your eye. 

Bead storeI told her what I was looking for, mentioning that I’d seen packets of beads on the website and didn’t think to call as a result.  “We haven’t had those in years,” she snorted.

She reluctantly let me poke around but kept saying I wouldn’t find what I needed.  As I looked, I commented that it must be hard to run a bead store in today’s world.  She indignantly said she’d been in business for 19 years but it was done now. 

Finally, she asked if I had a sample and I showed her one of the beads I was trying to match.  She snorted more loudly that they had nothing of the kind.  

As I went back out into the downpour, I reflected that if she’d always been this nasty and arrogant, she did everyone a service in going out of business. Granted, since she was no longer selling I no longer qualified as a potential customer.  But how hard would it have been to be nice?

Store closing signThe bead store owner had 19 weeks to note on her website that she was closing the store. Depending on one vehicle of communication–a sign–is never enough. And she obviously didn’t update the information on the web if she hadn’t carried the featured bags of beads for years.  In addition, the advantage of a small business is service. Granted closing a business that’s been in your blood for almost two decades is tragic. Beadwildered might not have thought twice about the inconvenience of her fruitless trek had the owner broken down to lament the loss or apologized that she’d gone out of her way for nothing. 

Retail is grueling, even when a business thrives. Retailers have nerves of steel to survive the whining and bilking that some customers depend on to chisel and defraud businesses big and small.

Are you acquainted with small retail businesses that flourish or any that have closed in large part for reasons they cause? What are some businesses that do a remarkable job of updating their communications with customers? 

Communication skills

Service of Someone at the Other End of the Line

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Vintage telephone operator

In the middle of Tuesday’s snowstorm, while we were crawling in traffic, I listened to a friend call a hotel restaurant–our destination. She wanted to say we might be late. She also wanted to ask which entrance we should take as there were several. [One of us had recently recovered from a broken ankle which sported a pin. She wasn’t in the mood for a hospital reprise from a misstep in slush/ice/snow.] After as many as 25 rings she ended in voicemail, left the message and asked that someone return the call to inform her about the entrance. Nobody called.

On phone in snowShe next tried the hotel switchboard—where the operator answered the entrance question—and after many more rings, still nobody picked up. On our arrival–the room was almost empty due to the weather–my friend asked the hostess if there was a phone at her station and recounted her experience. “Someone picks up downstairs,” the hostess replied, noting that yes, there also was a phone at her station.

After this the service was perfect.

Delta takeoffMy friend was due to leave the city Tuesday evening but her flight was cancelled. This well-travelled Elite Service member called me the next morning to tell me of an astonishing thing that just happened when she called Delta Airlines to gauge her chances for her Wednesday afternoon flight. A computer voice welcomed her by name, apologized that the airline had to cancel her Tuesday flight and asked her to push a letter on her phone if she wanted to speak with someone. She did, expecting to wait ages when almost immediately a live person asked her, again by name, how she might help her.

Even though when we spoke** she still didn’t know whether or not the afternoon flight would go—all Wednesday morning and night flights had already been cancelled—this 30 year Elite Service member was brimming with delight that it had been so easy for her to reach a live voice, at an airline no less, under these stressful [for them after a storm with so many cancelled flights] circumstances! “It was a first,” she said. **She was scheduled to depart on the afternoon flight when we spoke again just before takeoff.

Hooray for Delta! What a difference an easily accessible caring voice can make. Wonder why more businesses don’t realize this [especially one, like the hotel restaurant, that's already paying for two people to answer a phone and nobody does]?

Children playing telephone 1

Service of Boring Academicians

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Professor 2

Wall Street Journal columnist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely answered the query of reader Rachel who among her questions asked: “How can experts be so bad at explaining ideas to others? Is this a requirement of academia?”

Professor 3Ariely’s reply was a bit longer than this, but the crux: “…..when we know something and know it well, it is hard for us to appreciate what other people understand. This problem is sometimes called ‘the curse of knowledge.’ We all suffer from this affliction, but it is particularly severe for my fellow academics. We study things until they seem entirely natural to us and then assume that everyone else easily understands them too. So maybe the type of clumsiness you heard is indeed something of a professional requirement.”

What happened to “know your audience and speak/write accordingly?” Letting academics off the hook like this smacks of condoning laziness with a dash of arrogance and a pinch of smugness. Either that or it translates to “don’t invite academics to speak with anyone outside their specialty,” which would be a shame.

Sometimes it’s the listener’s fault, not the speaker’s. Perhaps they don’t relate. I wasn’t in college long before I discovered what’s obvious: A professor who is dry as burnt toast to some is a fascinating lecturer to others. We all have our Dr. Blackwell. He was a typical absent minded professor who walked into walls, was awkward and long-winded and drove most of my classmates nuts. I found his words riveting and his clumsy ways charming.

Leon Botstein 2You can fill a thimble with what I know about music and yet I understand what the president of Bard College, Dr. Leon Botstein—also a conductor and scholar—says when he lectures an audience at one of his concerts. No doubt he covers different ground in a class of musicians. Botstein, [photo left], an academician if ever there was one, was president of a now-defunct college at 23 and joined Bard in this role before he was 30. He’s now 68.

Do you think that Ariely lets academics off too easily or do you agree with him—that they are what they are, live with it, amen. Do academicians feel pride in not being understood?

Professor 1

Service of Where There’s a Will

Monday, October 28th, 2013


Huguette Clark

Huguette Clark

Huguette Clark was a recluse copper heiress who died two years ago at 104. She wrote two wills within months of one another. In the first one she left money to distant family members–she had no surviving close relatives and hardly saw or heard from most in any case. One sent Christmas cards from 2007-2010.

In the second will she left them not a cent and made it clear that it was her intention “having had minimal contact with them over the years,” according to Anemona Hartocollis in “Two Wills, One Private Heiress” in The New York Times. [Photo below, right, is David Wilkie's painting "Reading the Will," courtesy Wikipedia.]

"Reading the Will" by David Wilkie, Photo WikipediaThe bulk of the second will consisted of the California mansion, Bellosguardo, its contents–art and music collections–which she formed into an art foundation and there were gifts to “her goddaughter; her primary doctor, Henry Singman; her accountant, Irving Kamsler; her lawyer, Wallace Bock; and Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, where she lived for the last 20 years of her life. Mrs. Clark’s longtime nurse, Hadassah Peri, would receive her rare doll collection and 60 percent of whatever was left — potentially millions — after the other bequests were made. (Mrs. Peri also received more than $31 million in property, cash and gifts outside the will, according to court papers.)”

Surprise: The “family” has contested the will.

Cemetary 2Survivors are descendants of her father and his first wife. There are 19 trying to establish whether they ever met or spoke with Mrs. Clark. Some claim to have seen her in the 1940s or 1950s.

She chose to live in neither the California mansion nor a huge NYC apartment. She preferred Beth Israel hospital, where she set up house from 1991 to her death because there she felt cared for.  

Hartocollis points to key questions brought on by this will: “How is wealth transferred in later generations? What does an elderly person owe relatives who hardly knew her and did not take care for her in her dotage, as opposed to the hired help who did? Do family ties still bind between people who have never even met?”

Do you agree that these questions are at the heart of the matter? Do you believe half blood is thicker than water?

genealogy tree

Service of Art as Communication: Wall Street Journal Reporter Ralph Gardner Translates

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Installation artist Taezoo Park's "Digital Being"

Installation artist Taezoo Park’s “Digital Being”

It’s hard to write coherently about art if you’re not sure what you’re looking at. I wonder about some well regarded writers in the field with star quality bylines in prestigious venues because I can’t make out what they–or the art they are writing about–are trying to say.

On the other hand Ralph Gardner did a great job describing installation art in “Composed Chaos” in his Wall Street Journal Urban Gardner column. I was particularly interested as this weekend–October 25-27–my clients, Joanna and Richard Rothbard, have invited installation artists to the Contemporary Art Fair NYC they founded and produce along with the concurrent American Fine Craft Show NYC at Javits Center North.

"Purple Lights" by Vito Bonanno

“Purple Lights” by Vito Bonanno

Like Gardner installation art puzzles me but so did the Impressionists’ now well-loved paintings confound and bewilder their contemporaries.Next weekend you can query two installation artists [Ms.] Noa Leshem-Gradus and Taezoo Park whose 2,500 square foot “Plato’s Cave” and “Digital Being” [photo at top] will be there. Other exhibitors at the art fair such as Vito Bonanno [photo above] also love to do such work.

Gardner focused on installation artist Sarah Sze. Here are excerpts of his clear, unpretentious descriptions of the work of the Columbia University professor, this year’s US representative at the Venice Biennale, MacArthur fellowship winner and subject of a new book:

“Her work is challenging to describe. It typically involves large installations of hundreds of objects; part sculpture, part architecture and all about the artist’s often head-scratching selection process. Think of a little kid who took her junk and put it on the sidewalk for passersby to buy. Now imagine if the junk somehow started to cohere, that you detected relationships among the objects, touches of beauty, even a philosophical framework.

“Nonetheless, chaos—or at least the tension between order and chaos, with chaos gaining the upper hand—seems to be at her art’s center. In other words, if Ms. Sze’s parents got home and found her latest installation all over the sidewalk, or the kitchen floor, I doubt they’d be pleased.”

Gardner continues “And similar to a Pollock, one feels under sneak attack by Ms. Sze’s work. It’s more than anyone can reasonably be expected to wrap one’s mind around. Apparently, that’s the point. In a video on the Biennale’s website, she discusses her desire to re-create nature and the way we’re daily confronted, no matter how adept we are at going through life with blinders on, with ‘information beyond our capacity ever to understand, like the cosmos.’” 

View of some exhibits from the 2012 Contemporary Art Fair NYC

View of some exhibits from the 2012 Contemporary Art Fair NYC

Gardner plays a game when he visits galleries or museums. He asks himself “How would this look over my fireplace?” I play a similar game: Were money no object and/or if these works were for sale, which one would I take home? Describing her Biennale exhibit–an assemblage of lamps, light bulbs, rocks, bones and more–he admits that Sze’s work doesn’t fit that formula and later on in the article concludes: “It’s less about the objects, in this case armies of them, than the intellectual system behind them.” 

"Regal Earrings" by Shana Kroiz

“Regal Earrings” by Shana Kroiz

There’s plenty of more traditional work at the art fair and craft show that would fit over your fireplace, on a wall or look well on you. I could fill ten posts with a sampling.

I make a living introducing clients’ new products to the public via media. Americans thrive on what’s new. Why should the art industry be any different?

Do you feel frustrated when you can’t “get” recognized artworks? Do you think it’s a question of time and getting used to risk-taking work? How is it that today most take in stride sculpture and art of previous eras that drove most period viewers nuts?


4 Stones Dreidel by Javier Nujimovich

4 Stones Dreidel by Javier Nujimovich


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