Sep 01

Will the Big Mac cause America to lose future wars?

In what may the most telling sign yet that our society is in a deep, and perhaps permanent, Fat-soldier decline, comes word that the U.S. Army has dramatically altered its fitness and basic training requirements for new recruits. Why? Because they can't handle it. A jaw-dropping front-page New York Times article reports a 70 percent increase in recruit drop outs between 1998 and 2008 because, as an Army spokesperson pointed out, the combination of a sedentary lifestyle, the reduction of gym classes in public schools due to budget cuts and, yes, good ol' fast food has created a generation of overweight, out-of-shape teenagers. It's no exaggeration to say the Big Mac is playing a key role in undermining our nation's security here and abroad.

In an effort to retain anyone remotely fit, the Army has dramatically altered its physical training regimen for the first time in history. Get this: they've dropped sit-ups and long runs from their training. How sad is it that the average Repman reader can probably bang out more push-ups and run a longer distance than the typical American teen?

There's something strangely symmetrical about America's decades-long decline. Initially, we saw it with our kids' test scores, particularly in math and science. Reports showed the very best engineers, the ones who will be inventing next generation technology, all seem to be coming from India or Asia. Many attend America's top universities since Stanford, Harvard, et al, are still among the world's elite. But, the newly-minted grads quickly return to their place of birth and apply their newfound acumen to solving a different country's technology challenges.

Now, we're seeing the result of years of physical and nutritional neglect coming home to roost (that last line was a salute to our nation's farmers who, as Repman readers will recall, are thought of more highly than PR types).

It's getting to the point where our kids not only can't outthink the competition, they can't outfight them. With each passing day, I'm starting to better understand what the average Roman citizen must have felt circa 476 A.D.

The saddest thing about teenage obesity is that it's solvable. But, there's really no one to hold accountable. Who will force parents to prepare better meals (and steer the kids away from Mickey D's)? And, if the kids aren't exercising in school because of budget cutbacks, how do we encourage them to embrace fitness? And, if Nintendo and Sony continue to churn out reality-based, slash-and-burn video games that keep the teens glued to their computers, how will they burn calories? Maybe the industrial design company IDEO can create a fat-burning mouse.

This is a sad, sad state of affairs. I, for one, am totally embarrassed. I think I'll go climb a mountain to burn off the stress.

Jul 01

Where are they now?


July 1
It
was 31 years ago today that Sony introduced the once-ubiquitous Walkman. I have
a personal connection to that launch since I worked for the public relations
firm that helped make the product a true cultural phenomenon (note: I was only
eight years old at the time. This was before child labor laws had been
enacted).

Geltzer
& Company devised the P.R. strategy and tactics for the Walkman campaign.
Our overarching theme was simple, but memorable: 'Hearing is believing.'

Howard
Geltzer made sure we held massive press conferences in major markets (and, in
those days, one could attract 75 or more reporters to a seminal event like the
Walkman's intro). Howard made sure, though, that these events weren't your
typical, boring technology demonstrations. Instead, he persuaded Sony
executives to bring 75 Walkman prototypes to the event. We handed them out to
reporters as they arrived. Then, on cue, we asked them to place the headphones
over their ears, press play and just listen. The broad smiles, looks of
astonishment and rapid scribbling of words on reporters' notepads told us we
had a hit. And, the Walkman really was, as the Japanese executives liked to
say, 'epoch-making.'

Howard
also made sure we distributed Walkmen to every art director at major
advertising agencies, suggesting they use it as a prop in their photospreads.
That was genius. Suddenly, models such as Christie Brinkley and Brooke Shield
(she was older than me at the time, btw) were strutting their stuff sporting a
Walkman.

Howard
really hit a home run, though, when New York was crippled by a major subway strike.
He positioned us account types on either end of the Brooklyn Bridge. We handed
out the Walkman product to tired, angry and frustrated commuters who were
walking to and from work, suggesting they listen to their favorite music as
they crossed the legendary bridge. Oh, and he had us pitch all the local and
national media about Sony's 'selfless' gesture to help ease the pain of
stranded commuters.

It
worked like a charm.

I
was part of a team that helped make the Sony Walkman a true cultural happening.
We even had the Walkman placed on permanent display in the Smithsonian.

Sadly,
Sony somehow took its eye off the ball and never really advanced the Sony
Walkman platform. Instead, a guy named Jobs running a company called Apple came
up with something called the iPod. And, that was all she wrote for the Walkman.

Whenever
I think of the Walkman, I think of Geltzer, and the amazing people who worked
there. What a training ground! It spawned the likes of:


Chris Atkins, head of Standard & Poors corporate communications


Gaye Torrance, who has run her own very successful IR/M&A firm for years


Richard Jones, head of PR at Guardian Life Insurance


Marv Gellman, one of Ketchum's top publicity gurus


Pat Lamb, a top publicist who has been ably serving Sony's hated rival,
Panasonic, for years


Alec Shapiro who, ironically, is now a top muckety muck at Sony


Lorraine Raguseo who, sources tell me, now consults to New York State wineries.
Talk about a sweet job.


Angela Cody, who reported to me on the Sony account at Geltzer and to whom I've
been reporting ever since

The
Walkman may have faded into oblivion, but the Geltzer/Sony team remains one of
the best with whom I've ever had the pleasure to work.

With
the Walkman, hearing was indeed believing. And, at Geltzer, doing was learning.
I arrived as a green-as-grass account executive and departed as a battle-tested
vice president ready to take on new challenges. Looking back, I couldn't
imagine a better training academy for public relations professionals. 

Jun 19

Sony sneak attack on Manchester Cathedral deserves more than an apology

The latest in a long line of screw-ups by the one-time corporate golden boy, Sony, is a real beaut.

‘Resistance: Fall of Man,’ one of Sony’s latest computer games, simulates a shootout between soldiers Ps3resistancefontus_2 and aliens inside a church that bears a striking resemblance to Manchester Cathedral in England. Church officials demanded the game be immediately changed or withdrawn, especially in light of gang-related gun violence in the city.

Sony responded only with a letter of apology.

If we wonder how and why incidents like the Virginia Tech massacre seem to be happening in increasing numbers, we need only look at the incredibly obscene violence that comes from video game makers like Sony.

For once, I agree with church officials. Sony should yank the game from store shelves and start practicing some corporate social responsibility.