Archive for March, 2018

Service of Too Big and Too Powerful

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

In my line of work, I’m thrilled by the stories I bring to media that they embrace. I’m critical of some I read, see or hear when I think of a few appropriate leads I’ve proposed that were rejected by key players. The most glaring example of “how did this get past the editor/producer?” is the constant coverage by legitimate media that gave credibility to the shenanigans of the current chief of state when he started his campaign.

Photo: boldomatic.com

But PR, with its constraints, is the game I’m in and when I hit pay dirt I still get a thrill; when I don’t I try harder.

Richard Whitman’s commentary on Mediapost.com struck a nerve because he wrote about the advertising world that unlike PR pays for its communications and if what it sells is legitimate, gets in. The commentary dealt with an uncooperative gatekeeper setting up a roadblock for dissemination of essential information that could save young lives.

In “Cancer Awareness Campaign Supported by Google, But Apple Won’t Play Ball,” he wrote about an advertising campaign for the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation to “raise money and awareness to fight the disease via a set of testicle emojis that consumers can download for $3.99.”

Photo: emel.com

Whitman reports the foundation’s findings: There’s a 95 percent survival rate when the disease is detected early. Also, it is the leading cancer for boys/men 15 to 24.

The ad agency, Oberland, prepared the sticker packs to launch with April, Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. Oberland reported that Apple’s reason for declining was: “Your sticker pack is not in compliance with the App Store Review guidelines.” Whitman commented: “Whatever that means.”

Photo: emojiisland.com

He wrote: “Oberland appealed, even sharing a note from the founder of the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation — Kim Jones — which included a personal story of the passing of her son Jordan from the disease at the tragically early age of 22. But the appeal was denied.”

He concluded: “And Apple seems to be going out of its way to prevent that message from being heard by more people than it otherwise might. That’s a head scratcher.  What gives, Apple?”

Photo: psychmechanics.com

I once reported to an editor who would wrinkle her nose, hand copy back to me and say, “I don’t like it.” I’d ask what she didn’t like—the topic? the headline? the lead? It was my first magazine job and I was flummoxed when her only response was the look of disgust. Apple acted just the same. Someone could have said to Oberland, “this is what you must do for the app to be accepted.” Nobody did.

Advertising is a different game than PR. It’s more costly and those doing it have control of the message and where/when it plays. Or do they these days—when the gatekeeper to a crucial target audience is a giant corporation that carries a lot of weight? Is this a healthy precedent?

Photo: everydayinterviewtips.com

Service of the Last Straw, Bar None

Monday, March 26th, 2018

Photo: the nibble.com

I love sipping from a straw: Always have. Straws are associated with happy drinks and times. On hot summer nights my mother made scrumptious ice cream sodas for dessert which we’d sip through straws. A whiskey sour with a straw makes a celebration of an ordinary Saturday night.

To read they may be an endangered species because they are considered a “‘gateway plastic’ in understanding the pollution problem,” makes me sad. They come in cheery colors. The paper ones, in mostly stripes, cost a fortune and disintegrate. Bars that use metal straws claim customers take them. One company makes biodegradable plastic straws. Wonder how much they cost.

Photo: hanfordsentinel.com

The gateway plastic quote above, by actor Adrian Grenier, was in Cara Lombardo’s Wall Street Journal article, “The War on Straws Is Coming to a Bar Near You.” Given the years since I first heard plastic bags were to be banned in NYC and still they are not, I may not have to say “bye-bye” to straws anytime soon.

Grenier started a #stopsucking social media campaign and “The Scotch Whisky Association and the makers of Absolut vodka and Tanqueray gin have announced plans to ban plastic straws and stirrers from their events.” Bacardi also nixes swizzle sticks. Pernod has deleted them from images, according to Lombardo.

She also reports that they are banned in some cities and in some bars you have to ask to get one like during the NYC water shortage when wait staff would confirm that you wanted a glass before automatically bringing one.

Photo: pinterest.com

One source estimated that we use 20 billion plastic straws annually. “Mia Freis Quinn, a spokeswoman for the [Plastics Industry] association, says the plastic straw’s detractors should focus on finding ways to recycle and recover them. Plastic straws, she says, play vital roles in everything from her children’s class projects to personal hygiene. ‘My dentist says if you’re not drinking water, you better be using a straw.’ The American Dental Association suggests using straws to prevent tooth erosion, recommending using a straw ‘palatally,’ placing the end behind the teeth.”

One straw proponent, fearing all the communicable diseases around, won’t drink from a glass in a restaurant if he’s not given a straw because he doesn’t want to touch a rim “other mouths have touched.” Another wondered how we’d drink milkshakes [a favorite food group] without them. To be able to drink a strawless frozen margarita a third “learned to tilt the glass to prevent blended ice from spilling on her face.”

Straws are nothing new. Lombardo wrote that the Sumerians used metal ones as early as 2,500 B.C. When I was a kid I was puzzled by the ones you’d get in bars in Europe that were actually made of straw. They were so thin and delicate you had to concentrate to extricate liquid from them.

Would you miss plastic straws if they were prohibited? Considering the huge amount of plastic used in packaging and bottles alone, do you think that barring straws is little more than a symbolic gesture in the face of the gigantic pollution issues we face? What do you like—or dislike—about them?

Paper straws. Photo: ebay.com

Service of Being Painted By the Same Brush

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Photo: brushesandmore.com

There are some companies set up so you can’t reach them and others you can contact but that don’t listen to sense: They see all customers as offenders. A grouchy or nutty customer or employee writes a terrible online review and the words glare back from the top of every Google search about you or your business. Just try to get rid of it even if insane and untrue. Same if a competitor trashes your restaurant or business on Yelp. Nightmare.

And now, a company you can reach but can’t reason with—Retail Equation—can forbid you from returning purchases or exchanging them to a particular store for a year according to its calculations, even if you’re innocent.

Khadeeja Safdar wrote “Retailers Crack Down on Serial Returners,” in The Wall Street Journal. I’m all for that: Cheaters and unreasonable customers are not my favorites. I recently wrote about 106 year old L.L. Bean’s tightening its generous return policy after too many abuses hurt their bottom line in “Service of Going Too Far: L.L. Bean Puts its Boot Down.” But with Retail Equation keeping track of returns and more for retailers, reasonable shoppers can be swept up in the fray and painted by the same brush as serial returners.

One Best Buy customer bought a bunch of cellphone cases as gifts for his kids, let his sons choose among the colors, planning to return the three they didn’t select. When he did his salesperson warned him that the returns would jeopardize future ones–and even exchanges–for a year even though he was well within the designated 15 day after purchase period.

Photo: videoblocks.com

He contacted Retail Equation that tracks returns for large corporations. His entire record showed returns of the three cellphone cases worth, in all, less than $90. The company refused to change its decision. According to Safdar the customer said: “I’m being made to feel like I committed a crime. When you say habitual returner, I’m thinking 27 videogames and 14 TVs.”

Safdar reported: “Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else.”

WARNING: You could be on the Retail Equation’s black list if you return in store or online:

  • an expensive item
  • a significant percentage of purchases
  • something without a receipt
  • after the accepted period
  • things that are often stolen at that store
  • just as the store closes or
  • too many items at once

Photo: cartoonstock.com

In addition to Best Buy, other stores that use Retail Equation to track returns are Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria’s Secret. If you want to protest your ban, you can call Best Buy at 1-866-764-6979 the Journal discovered when researching the story.

“It isn’t easy for shoppers to learn their standing before receiving a warning. Retailers typically don’t publicize their relationship with Retail Equation. And even if a customer tracks down his or her return report, it doesn’t include purchase history or other information used to generate a score. The report also doesn’t disclose the actual score or the thresholds for getting barred.”

I understand the reason for such a policy, but think it should be used judiciously and not be directed by a company that seems to treat every customer like a sleazy thief. Safdar didn’t say if the policy referred to gifts. What if you give your Aunt Millie a portable heater from Home Depot and her son had already bought her one? Who will be dunned and subsequently penalized for the return? Are customers supposed to keep unwanted items instead?  Have you been confronted with such a punishment? Does it make you think twice about using a vendor that resorts to such measures?

Service of Belonging: New Places to Meet

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Photo: turkishtravelblog.com

Every country, except ours, seemed to have unofficial local gathering spots for some citizens—usually men. In Turkey there were chi shops where men dropped in for tea and gossip; in France, the local bistro was a place to grab a quick glass of wine even in the morning and learn the latest and English and Irish pubs were places in towns and neighborhoods for a cup of Guinness and small talk.

Years ago in NYC, Saturday was the day for singles to meet at Bloomingdale’s, not to buy clothing, furniture or housewares but to meet the next love interest.

New gathering space at Adams in Poughkeepsie

Now supermarkets are filling the bill as a place to meet and greet the neighbors and hang out. In order to distinguish themselves from the burgeoning food delivery businesses–Wal*Mart has joined Amazon.com in home delivery–and meal kits, some have installed tables for special interest groups to meet weekly. Anne Marie Chaker in “Finding Love in the Frozen Food Aisle,” wrote: “grocery stores are making a calculation that customers will stay, shop longer and come back more often.”

An Oregon chain added sofas, fireplaces, seating areas and food services. One in North Carolina created a village concept adding shops around the perimeter and a communal table in the middle where every Friday a group of crafters meets and bingo games take place at other times.

“ ‘There is little money to be made directly from people using a store as a place to hang out,’ says Deborah Weinswig, chief executive of Coresight Research, a retail think tank, who says the benefit may be in a ‘halo effect,’ where shoppers develop a warm perception of a brand.” Chaker reported that one shopper increased his visits from twice a week to daily. Retired, he works two hours on his novel in his supermarket’s seating area, sipping their coffee and munching a muffin. Meanwhile he’s met people from other parts of town.

Photo: groupon.com

A Colorado market owner “says about 25% of his stores are devoted to nonretail space, whether that’s tables in a cafe, performance areas for local musicians, or a designated community room where neighborhood groups meet. Fostering a sense of community, he says, ultimately helps drive traffic. ‘Sure, we could put more aisles in and could pack more product, but then you lose the social hub of community,’ he says.

Tastings with enthusiastic attendees who clog aisles make it tough for hardcore shoppers in a rush to get their chore done and get out. For others, according to Chaker, they’ve found love in those very aisles. Now married, one couple danced in the lunch area when they heard a favorite song.

Do you see a future for supermarkets as America’s answer to chi houses, bistros and pubs? Do you think it’s a concept that might really catch on for those who dislike the bar scene? Will it save supermarkets? What are the best gathering spots in your life?

Photo: alamy.com

Service of Irritating and Charming Commercials: Phony and Legitimate Laughs

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Photo: tripsavvy.com

It was less than a year ago that I wrote about the commercials that drove me nuts. Clearly I’ve been listening to the radio and watching TV too much as there are two more to add to the “I immediately change stations or channels as soon as I hear them” list.

This time I’ll also share some adverts I like.

Photo: davekraft.org

Fake giggles over unfunny circumstances are the worst. The prize goes to 1-800-I-Got-Junk for radio commercials in which business or homeowners laugh hysterically when the junk crew tosses out a piece of rubbish. My hands can be wet or sticky but off goes the station at the first sign of this shrill irritation and sometimes I don’t return. In looking for a link to it, which I didn’t find you’ll be relieved to know, I noticed a similar reaction to it on a website “Commercials I Hate!

 

DJ Nana. Photo: twitter.com

Speaking of laughter, I can envision the room of 30-something creative types cracking up as they developed and produced the E*Trade commercial to scare people into saving money so they have funds for their retirement. Sung to the tune of “Banana Boat Song” that Harry Belafonte made famous, it consists of 85 year olds still working and looking foolish as they drop packages they’re trying to deliver, are dragged around by a heavy fire hose, are compared to model-perfect lifeguards and “DJ Nana” spinning records while hideously dolled up. Subconsciously, it could be this ad that inspired my post earlier in the week, “Service of Aging Gracefully.” The commercial isn’t aimed at me but at 30-somethings whose Nana’s and grandpas are, I hope, spending their time making money under more appropriate, dignified circumstances.

And I love “Banana Boat Song.”

“Triathlete” Photo: NYU Langone

I also enjoy the catchy tune that NYU Langone, a well-regarded NYC hospital, uses in some of its TV commercials which make me smile. There’s a series of which “Winter” and “Athletes on their Feet” are only two. Kudos NYU Langone! [And please take good care of my friend who has not been well.]

I wish there were more State Farm “Hall of Claims” commercials as this series is clever. My first favorite is the Mer-Mutts scene where the family pooch turns on the water in the kitchen and floods the living room transformed into a swimming pool. The woof and his pals perform a water ballet while their human mom and pop look on horrified. Actor J.K. Simmons is terrific. Some other good ones are The Truck-Cicle; Frightning-bolt and Vengeful Vermin.

My bet is that the ads that aggravate sell their products like crazy and the ones I like don’t—but I’m not in advertising so what do I know? Are there ads that motivate you to change channel or station in an instant and others you don’t mind hearing and even enjoy?

Vengeful Vermin Photo: Youtube

Service of Aging Gracefully

Monday, March 12th, 2018

Rita Moreno receiving Oscar in 1962. Photo: amazon.com

My Aunt Dickie had a needlepoint pillow which read: “Old age is not for sissies.” How right was her pillow, though you’d never know it on the surface of things in some cases.

At the Oscars Eva Marie Saint took my breath away as did Rita Moreno and Jane Fonda. They are 93, 86 and 80 years old respectively but you could have fooled me. Ask Google about Fonda and among her list of accomplishments is “fitness guru.” I’ll say! Moreno wore a 56 year old dress—the one she had on when she received the Oscar for her role in “West Side Story” and she looked magnificent. As for Ms. Saint, she was elegant and sounded fabulous and closer to sixty than 100.

Doris Kearns Goodwin. Photo: biography.com

Hearing writer-historians such as David McCollough, 84, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, 75, rattle off dates and events dotted with fascinating facts and anecdotes without peering at a note is a thrill. Few can remember half as much and in such vivid detail at any age.

Here’s another example closer to home. To counter the ravages of Parkinson’s my husband, with a lifelong almost terminal allergy to any and all things exercise, has completed a grueling four weeks of practically daily physical therapy with stretches and sit/standing homework on top of it. Many days he can hardly get out of bed yet no matter how weak and queasy he feels off he goes to Sutton Place Physical Therapy returning exhausted and often cheerful. He’s cancelled only once—on one of the snowstorm days. He says that his head has felt clearer than it has in years making it easier for him to do tax prep, write—already gifted he works on improving—and preparing dinners restaurant chefs would admire.

Some Medicare-eligible citizens are blessed with genes that help keep them feeling and appearing youthful and are relatively disease-free; others have great facelift and fitness support teams and still others have the belly to fight. Will increasing numbers of high profile older folks who hit life out of the park positively impact prejudice against workers 45+ especially in some industries as film–for women in particular–advertising and PR to name a few? Do you know of any remarkable seniors you’d like to call out?

 

Homer Byington

 

Service of Gratitude II

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Photo: spineuniverse.com

I’m gratified when an article in a legitimate source such as The Wall Street Journal confirms one of my observations. In this case, it’s about gratitude and how it has been lost among a large swath of people, young and old alike.

For years I’ve been part of a committed group of association members who vet applications for college and grad school scholarships—as much as $10,000 plus generous fringe benefits. I’ve often written here about the scholarships or the winners. They pass three reviews: Every application is read by two members. Those recommended for the second level are interviewed on the phone and if that conversation goes well, the student meets a committee in person where final decisions are made. The competition is stiff. Some of the high school senior through grad school students are remarkable.

Photo: ncci1914.com

This year I interviewed college seniors attending grad school and only one sent me a thank you. Last year none of the students I spoke with thanked. “So what?” say you? “Nobody thanks these days. Where have you been?” you may think. So this: If two students receive equally high recommendations to move to the third and last review and one has written a thank you as short as “tx,” and the other has not, the grateful one gets the opportunity to be interviewed in person; the other loses her chance.

But the ramifications of not expressing gratitude are far greater than missing out on a scholarship.

In “An Attitude of Gratitude,” in the Journal Jennifer Breheny Wallace wrote: “As Dr. [Richard] Weissbourd sees it, parents were fed a myth that if children feel better about themselves—if parents praise them, cater to their every need and make them feel happy—it will help them to develop character. ‘But what we’re seeing in many cases is the opposite: When parents organize their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to as well, and that leads to entitlement,’ he says. And when children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.” Weissbourd, a psychologist, is faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

Photo: thebalance.com

“Researchers find that people with a grateful disposition are more thankful for a wider variety of things in their lives, such as their friends, their health, nature, their jobs or a higher power—and that they experience feelings of gratitude more intensely. For them, gratitude isn’t a one-off ‘thank you.’ It’s a mind-set, a way of seeing the world.”

John Wyeth

This approach reminds me of the award for niceness instituted at the Harlem Link Charter School named to honor the memory of John Wyeth who had worked there for a decade and who was the epitome of the award. I wrote about it a year ago.

Wallace also included observations of David Rosmarin, director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He mentioned how gratitude takes a place in most world religions.

I attended a memorable Bar Mitzvah service many years ago in which our friend’s son Julian told the congregation about his good deed that was part of his Bar Mitzvah preparation. He described making sandwiches to offer homeless men and women in Newark, N.J. and how hard it was to get out of his father’s car when they arrived in the city and what it was like to approach and speak with the destitute people he met.

Helping less fortunate people became a turning point for one family in the article. The floors in a house that one of the children helped to restore as a volunteer were in such bad shape you could stand in the home and see through to the ground. When this child returned home “she got down and hugged the floor and said, ‘I’ve never been grateful for a floor, but now I am.’”

Wrote Wallace: “The researchers found, in keeping with past studies, that general gratitude was associated with less anxiety, less depression and greater well-being. They also found that religious gratitude—toward God—was associated with additional reductions in anxiety and depression and increases in well-being.”

Photo: theodysseyonline.com

It’s never too late to teach gratitude to a child and Wallace noted the obvious: The most effective way is for parents to practice what they want a child to do such as thanking when junior takes out the garbage or holds open a door.

Wallace wrote that parents can “spur their children to appreciate and reflect on the time and thought behind the gifts and kindness they receive, as in: ‘Jack really knows how much you love football. How thoughtful that he gave you a jersey of your favorite team’ or ‘Wow, Grandma just took a five-hour train ride to come and see you perform in that play.’”

Do you think expressing gratitude eventually leads to feeling it and that it really has positive effects? Does a person—parent, boss or client–appear to be weak if they thank which is why they don’t do it? Do you know anyone who never thanked and then suddenly began to? Do you have examples of someone who expressed gratitude to you that bowled you over?

Photo: hubpages.com

Service of Everyone Has a Price

Monday, March 5th, 2018

Photo: pinterest

I recently heard someone say “Everyone has a price.” He was speaking about an acquaintance of his who was making a chunk of change as one of the masterminds behind the campaign of the current president.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures” could be one reason for some to ride roughshod over common sense and decency [though I doubt this was the excuse for the person just mentioned]. I took a job in an industry that appealed to me even though it had warning signs flashing all over it. The business owner was not my cup of tea but I needed to pay the rent and didn’t have the luxury to wait for the right job in the perfect place. There was nothing dishonest about what I was doing: The culture didn’t jive. I stayed the obligatory year. 

Photo: saic.edu

Mind you, I don’t begrudge wealthy people whose bank accounts burst with cash as a result of sweat and smarts, choosing a lucrative industry, willing to take risks, folks who may also have benefitted from good timing and a dollop of luck.

Yet countless books and movies describe what happens to those who arrive by selling out. Once they get over the thrill of being rich no matter what I wonder if some regret what it took, especially if  their life falls apart as a result.

I posit that with crucial basics taken care of—enough to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their families—no amount of money would twist the arms of the people I admire to take a job involving dodgy business. Do you have a price? Do you know folks who turned their backs on their principles, made a bundle and have no regrets?

Photo: chronologicalbibleblog.com

 

Service of Empty Promises: Staples, J. Press & Stylewe.com

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

Photo: pinterest

Staples advertises that if you place an online order by 5 pm you’ll get the product[s] next day. That didn’t happen this week when we ordered a printer. Irritating: If you can’t do it, don’t say you can. I feel that they stole the order from the competition.

Photo: surfdome.com

But that works only once: Expectations dashed and we’re off to Amazon or Best Buy next time. You’re not refunded the wasted time in tracing the package and coordinating/jiggering an IT service appointment if required.

Another business that bloats its online promotions is J. Press. It keeps sending emails about its amazing sales boasting, for example, “Sale up to 40% off select styles.” Don’t even bother looking at these. The actual discount on anything you want that is on sale may not even cover the shipping charge.

Photo: londonmultiples.com

And then there’s an online website, Stylewe.com, from which I once bought a dress. It offers good looking things at fair prices. I saw a sweater I liked, missed buying it when my yen for it was strong at the beginning of winter and it was offered at a good sale. Next time I looked, the price was back to the original. Because the site remarkets, the sweater or other Stylewe fashions follow me all over the Internet from Facebook to weather forecast pages. Out of curiosity, I’ve opened the links when headlined by a “hot sale,” “flash sale” or similar language. Often, they shave off a few dollars but never as much as that first time, even though the sale language explodes. Just today I saw it on sale at the first, deepest discount price but I’ve lost interest. I’m thinking spring.

Do you fall for promises of prompt delivery or sales offers that are consistently misleading to the point that you don’t look at those from the deceiving source anymore? What are some companies that consistently keep their delivery promises or don’t fiddle with customers when it comes to sales?

Photo: colourbox.com

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