Feb 15

I’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too. Oh, and throw in some NYC-branded condoms to go

Just when one thinks he’s seen and heard everything comes news that the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is "…currently developing the first NYC-branded condom."

The department spokesperson says the branding effort was created so they "…can later track the effectiveness of our distribution."

The announcement obviously ticked off the more conservative elements of New York society such as religious institutions and social conservatives because, they say, it promotes "certain lifestyles."

As far I’m concerned, though, this is an absolutely brilliant branding strategy by the City, and fits in beautifully with the way in which they’ve merchandised NYC police and fire department merchandise.

I have no doubt the condoms will become incredibly popular and generate significant revenue for the City’s coffers.

I have to believe the hoards of tourists visiting the City will snap up the branded condoms in bushel loads. And, I can just imagine the conversation. "C’mon Fred. We have to buy a six pack for the gang back home in Omaha. Just imagine Marge’s reaction when I give her a NYC-branded condom."

Beautiful. Just beautiful. And, it could only happen in New York….

Feb 14

Talk about strange bedfellows

There’s no doubt that truth can be stranger than fiction. Take this example. An Italian company called Edizioni Musicali Terzo Millennio has purchased the rights to 23 prayers written by the late pontiff, Pope John Paul II.

According to a company spokesman, the Rev. Guiseppe Moscali, the goal is to have international artists set the prayers to music. So far, so good. But, here’s where the tale takes a bizarre twist.

Among the artists interested in recording the prayers is Michael Jackson. Talk about a moth being attracted by the flame that kills it. What must Jacko be thinking? Having barely escaped being convicted on pedophilia charges, he now decides to sing songs from the erstwhile leader of the Roman Catholic Church, an institution staggered by countless charges of pedophile priests running rampant in their ranks?Mj

And what must the Church be thinking? One wonders if the Vatican spinmeisters had Jacko riffs in mind as they began carefully nurturing John Paul II’s legacy? (i.e."Say, Fabrizio, can’t you just picture Michael Jackson moon dancing his way through the pope’s prayer to the Blessed Mother?").

Either way, this has to be one of the most bizarre partnerships in recent memory. And a very questioinnable image and reputation move on the part of both Mr. Jackson and Rev. Moscali.

Feb 12

Me thinks the media doth protest too much

There’s nothing like a good old snowstorm to whip the media into a heightened state of frenzy. Each local channel seems bent on outdoing the other with “live team coverage” from Route 17 in Ramsey, the Saw Mill Parkway in Westchester County or Jericho Turnpike on Long Island.

In each instance, we see the intrepid reporters bravely battling the elements to let us know that, yes indeed, it is snowing. And, yes indeed, it’s probably a good idea to stay inside and ride out the storm. They use words and phrases like “the blizzard of ’06,” and “it’s bearing down on us like an out-of-control freight train” and “we should all just hunker down and ride it out as best we can” to heighten the gravitas of the moment. At the same time, the daring field correspondents seek out local residents and sanitation roadcrews in every area and seem genuinely depressed when the interviewees say things like, “It’s really not that bad,” or “I’m able to get around pretty easily.”

When the wind-and snow-whipped reporters turn things over to their peers inside the warm studios, the latter make sure to express their concern and admiration for their daring counterparts braving the raging snowstorm.

What must “real” journalists covering “real” crises like the war in Iraq, mass genocide in Africa and the ever-more scary bird flu think of these local yokels?

It’s one thing to accurately and responsibly report weather as a news story and then move on to other, more pressing matters of the day. It’s quite another to “blanket” the airwaves with 24×7 hype and hyperbole aimed at heightening ratings and scaring the bejesus out of viewers. One wonders how these same local “journalists” will respond if, and when, a truly calamitous event besets the tri-state area? Back to you in the studio, Maurice..

Feb 03

The mother of all media gaffes?

The recent controversy thrown up by the decision of several European newspapers to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed gives us an interesting insight into the editorial policies of many media outlets.

The row originated in Denmark when the Jyllands-Posten newspaper commissioned and published a series of cartoons, one of which shows Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse and another portraying him holding a sword and his eyes covered by a black rectangle. Islam forbids the Prophet to be depicted in any way, let alone in such a degrading manner. The illustrations, published on the front page, were republished in newspapers in Norway, France, Germany, Spain and Italy and have created uproar in the Middle East where Danish products have been boycotted, bomb threats have been made and Syria and Libya have taken diplomatic action.

In covering the story, most European media outlets seem to have adopted one of two strategies. First, front page reprints of the cartoons with accompanying editorial declarations about freedom of speech. This was the the path taken by French newspaper France Soir – and it led to the sacking of the editor. On the other hand, outlets such as the BBC resorted to blurry shots of the cartoons and descriptions of what they show. This, for once, seems to be an example of responsible and tasteful reporting by the media. Whereas some publications have chosen to become part of the story, many have chosen to confine themselves to their primary role, reporting the news.

Hat tip to Carl Foster in Peppercom’s London office for his thoughts.

Jan 04

Crisis demands swift, but accurate, communication

The unfolding West Virginia mine disaster is a textbook example of poor crisis management. As we now know, the victims’ families were originally told by officials that 12 miners had survived. Three hours later, they corrected themselves and said only one person was still alive. The effect on the families can only be imagined.

As I was getting off my train this morning, I was horrified at the sight of several newspaper headlines. "Miracle!" was featured in large print on the front page of the NY Daily News and USA Today shouted "Alive!" when in fact all but one of the miners had died. From what I’ve read today Usatoday (who knows what to believe at this point), it looks like the majority of these reports were based off rumors that were spread at the scene from one person who obviously didn’t know what he was talking about. The media, who should know better, were so caught up in the hysteria and meeting print deadlines that they were willing to trust on-site chatter instead of waiting for an official confirmation.

Although the press jumped the gun, the WV state officials are even more at fault. According to several reports, WV Governor Joe Manchin visited a church where the families of the men were gathered, and declared "miracles do happen!" As the church bells rang, family members embraced one another and ran out with tears of happiness in their eyes. This premature announcement certainly generated a wave of excitement and false sense of hope amongst the local community and the entire nation. It will be interesting to see how the governor responds to the surge of criticism heading his way.

Regardless of who made the incorrect decision on the miscommunication, today’s incident is a painful example of the need for all organizations to prepare for different types of crises by doing advance simulations and to be sure the correct policies and procedures are in place BEFORE "the next big one" hits.

Dec 15

All I Want for Christmas is a… Massive Transit Worker Strike!

Like most New Yorkers who rely on mass transit to get to and from work, I’ve been closely following the story of the looming strike of all NYC transit workers, which would essentially halt all subway traffic and many of the commuter trains in and around NYC. Transit_strike_1

While I’m sympathetic to the workers’ desire for higher wages, increased pension benefits and more healthcare coverage, I’m appalled at the Union’s position of being hell-bent on striking and holding the City of New York as their hostage. Unions, in general, have not done well keeping pace with the changing face of business and the role they play in it. They claim to protect the rights of workers, and attempt to do so by threatening strikes and work slowdowns, in an effort to disrupt the businesses that employ their members.

However, I wonder how many MTA workers, aside from the people at the staged rallies, really want to strike, especially in light of a contract offer that does bring them considerable pay increases over the next two years. Are they really looking to be out of work with no income right before Christmas? Do they think the hundreds of dollars they pay each year in union dues are worth all of this? Furthermore, do they realize that a strike will cost small and medium-sized businesses in NYC hundreds of millions of dollars? The strike would hurt all the wrong people, including members of the union.

Unions, in their current state, are becoming more and more irrelevant in today’s economy. To survive, they must reinvent themselves and prove their value by better understanding the economic issues that drive considerations for wage increases and educating their members on how to protect themselves and diversify their capabilities as workers. Unions have a reputation problem and the theatrics being played out in NYC are not helping matters.

Aug 15

Navel Gazing at the Network Level

I was amused to read the various articles concerning ABC’s angst over who they’ll select to fill Peter Jennings’ shoes as nighttime network anchor.  Among the front-runners is Diane Sawyer who, insiders say, doesn’t want to do the evening gig because she’s too obsessed with overtaking arch nemesis Katie Couric in the morning talk show slot.

What amuses me is the thought of these executives weighing their various alternatives as their share of overall ratings continues to be dismembered by the likes of cable, the web and high-profile bloggers.  It’s akin to Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned.

Although there have been reports of the "Big Three" networks exploring alternative means of staying relevant, the fact remains that Sawyer, Couric, et al, are a slowly dying breed.  The less navel gazing about who fills the Jennings slot, the better.  It’s time to remove those Ostrich-like heads from the sand and figure out what current and next generation Amercians want in terms of their news and "infotainment."  Sad to say it, but Katie, Matt, Charlie, Diane, Brian and their ilk are the T Rex’s of broadcasting’s Jurassic Period.  And their reign as masters of the universe is fast coming to an end.

Aug 04

The Road to Cooperstown Runs Along Main Street

So, let’s suspend reality for moment and imagine that you’re baseball legend and sure-fire Hall of Famer Rafael Palmeiro. All of a sudden, your life is crumbling in front of your eyes. Caught taking steroids, you’ve been given a 10-game suspension. Even worse, Congress is mumbling about possibly nailing you for perjury because they have you on videotape categorically denying the use of steroids. "Ever!" as you stated vehemently on tape.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.  So, is all lost?  Not necessarily.  If Rafy were one of our corporate clients, we’d advise him to quickly admit guilt and put a program in place to make amends. I would tell Rafy to voluntarily suspend himself for the season (the 10-game suspension is such a joke). Between now and October, I’d send Rafy on the to road to hamlets large and small across this great land of ours.  I’d have him meet with Little League coaches and their teams and counsel kids on the evils of steroid use.  Then, I’d take some of his millions and establish a Rafael Palmeiro Anti-Steroid Foundation whose purpose would be ongoing education and counseling.  After doing all that, I’d have Rafy take his case directly to the people before the start of next season and ask them for a second chance.  Americans love to give people a second chance.  But only if they are open and honest.  If Palmeiro wants to see himself enshrined in Cooperstown one day, he’ll first have to log many miles along Redemption Highway.