May 22

What’s a poor Millennial to do?

Last week I shared some rather alarming intelligence from the advertising agency, Hill Holiday, warning brands of all stripes about the severe implications of being caught creating or sharing fake news.

The HH research said consumers will drop brands that share fake news faster than Trump dumped former FBI Director James Comey a week or so ago.

Troubling new research from Research Now has only fanned the flames. It shows that Millennials, in particular, struggle when it comes to determining what’s real and what isn’t.

Considering so many Millennials are being asked to disseminate news on both the client and agency sides of our august industry, that’s akin to pouring gasoline on fire (i.e. If Millennial communicators can’t tell what’s true and what isn’t, what’s to prevent them from unknowingly sharing fake news on their company’s/client’s social channels and damaging, if not destroying, long-standing relationships between the brand and its constituents?).

It turns out the 1,100 Millennials surveyed struggle to determine what’s real and what isn’t. That’s because they aren’t being taught the critical thinking skills that were part and parcel of every college curriculum prior to their arrival on campuses a decade or so back.

In fact, 44 percent of the Millennials surveyed by Research Now received an “F” when the company evaluated their critical thinking skills and the ability to identify fake news. And, only 36 percent of Millennials surveyed said they were well-trained in critical thinking. Indeed, a shocking 37 percent readily admitted to having already shared fake news on their social channels.

Holy mega disaster in the making, Batman!

Critical thinking, you see, is paramount in determining if what one reads is true or false. And, according to the World Economic Forum, next to complex problem-solving, critical thinking will be the SECOND most important skill a college graduate will need to possess in 2020.

So, what’s a poor Millennial to do?

In my mind, the answer is elementary, my dear Watson. Do what every trained journalist is required to do before filing a story of any type: verify the news from a trusted second source.

So, if like most Millennials, you rely solely on social media news for information and entertainment, admit to routinely sharing that online content (55 percent) or have already accidentally shared fake news (36 percent), just do the right thing. Double check the “news” with articles in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, a trusted industry trade publication or another source whose integrity for accuracy is impeccable. If it doesn’t pass the sniff test, hit delete.

Having said that, ferreting out fake news is a challenge for communicators of all ages. See how well you fare in this test of recent events:

I won’t tell you my score. If I did, I’d probably be interviewing for a job at Edelman as we speak.

Sadly, this is no laughing matter. In fact, it’s an issue that should concern our industry’s top trade groups ranging from the Institute for Public Relations ( and The Arthur W. Page Society ( to the PR Council ( and PRSA’s Counselors Academy (

PR professionals pride ourselves on being the ethical and moral compass of the organization. How can we continue to say that if young practitioners no longer possess built-in BS detectors?

Last, but not least, this should be a clarion call to the PR, journalism, communications and marketing academics who are (or, as the study suggests, aren’t) teaching students to develop critical thinking abilities. That’s where the crux of the problem begins and that’s where it should be immediately addressed.

By the time we hire Millennials, their sloppy news-checking habits have already been formed. And, unless we insist they check and re-check facts before passing them along, you’ll see more and more organizations take a huge hit for spreading fake news (and firing the agencies who enabled it to happen).

And a tip of Rep’s Critical Thinking Cap to Cat Cody for suggesting this post.




May 16

Not this Boomer. Not no how. Not no way.

Yesterday’s New York Times article, headlined “Eyes drift. Marketers stick to TV” had this Boomer/blogger executing a classic double take.

In sum, the article says that, even though TV ratings are collapsing, media stocks are failing and core cutting is accelerating, major advertisers are CONTINUING to pour billions and billions of dollars into, get this, broadcast television.

In fact, major marketers just plunked down a cool $9 billion dollars to sponsor shows on ABC, CBS, ABC and Fox. This, despite the fact that TV’s number one show, ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ has a median viewing age of 55.

So, why do smart CMO’s, whose average mayfly-like lifespan is shorter than any other member of the C-Suite, continue to dump mega dollars into a medium a Pivotal Research analyst described as “…archaic as water flowing through pipes”?

There are several reasons:

– Network sales directors correctly point out that they, and they alone, provide premium content that is professionally produced, vetted and won’t be an issue for your brand to be associated with (a biggie considering the flak Facebook in particular has received after allowing live videos of murders and suicides to appear right alongside digital ads).

– While digital may be the darling of the day, it still trails traditional advertising spending by a whopping 11 percent. So much for the mindset that ALL THINGS MUST BE DIGITAL RIGHT NOW.

While I can understand why advertisers prefer TV to digital, especially when it comes to reaching Boomers, I must tell you I despise commercials.

I don’t watch a single “live” major network program; I opt opt instead to DVR my favorite cable programs, and view them when I can. And, when I can, I immediately fast forward EVERY, single commercial.

So, for now, there remains a colossal number of Boomers (and their younger brethren, the so often overlooked Gen Xers), who still watch the mediocre mix of recycled:

–  ‘CSI: Benton Harbor’ spin-offs

–  Oh-so-predictable ‘Bull’ courtroom dramas

–  Moronic sitcoms and reality shows.

I can tell these network advertisers one thing for sure: their days are numbered.

While “the base” may still enjoy “Dancing with the Has-beens and Never Were”, their Millennial and Generation Z kids aren’t going anywhere near TV sets.

And, discerning Boomers and Gen Xers will continue to DVR their favorite shows and blow past commercials faster than the White House disavowed Trump’s sharing top State secrets with visiting Russian diplomats.

Network TV is reaping the rewards of the final days of the horse-and-buggy era. While they can still count on money pouring into their coffers in the short term, the handwriting is on the wall (or on the i8. Take your pick).

Digital is coming. And, guys like me are leaving.

The sooner Boomer bloggers like me die off (or descend into senility), the sooner networks will have to face facts: The Big Bang Theory, and the advertisers who support it, will disappear.

It’ll be a Big Bang of advertising. And, it’s coming soon to a theatre near you.

Hello digital. Bye-bye broadcast.




May 15

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

Last week’s shenanigans in the West Wing reinforced what’s been happening across all pillars of society for the past few years: The rise of fake news and the demise of truth. There are lots of fingers to be pointed at lots of ersatz sources on both the Left and Right Wings of our highly polarized society, but I’ve yet to see an analysis of the potential impact of false news on corporate America.

Hill Holliday just filled that gap by surveying 540 Americans aged 18-61.

As you see from the infographic below, Americans have had it with fakery. And, woe betide the organization that is caught creating, or forwarding, fake news.

When asked if a brand they loved presented fake content:

–              59 percent of respondents said they’d stop shopping with that brand.

–              36 percent would stop following the brand on social media.

–              30 percent would delete the brand’s app.

Holy dire consequences, Batman! And holy opportunity for the chief communications officer (CCO) and her PR partners!

The Arthur W. Page Society in particular, and our profession in general, has long advocated on behalf of the role of the CCO and, positioned the “title” as being the conscience of an organization. Clearly, the CCO’s role has never been more important.

Cover-up unethical practices, share false, negative information about a competitor or boast that your product, service or company is something that it’s not, and the fallout won’t be temporary. Massive amounts of stakeholders will cut you off. Permanently. Your sales, stock price and reputation will experience a nuclear winter. And guess who many CEOs will blame? The CCO and her agency.

These are the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls, but it’s also the time for CCOs and their agency partners to rise to the occasion. If you see something that seems fishy, say something. Push back. Verify and re-verify. Refuse to lie or spread fake news. If you’re on the agency side, resign the account post haste.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single client that can afford a 59 percent decline in sales. And, I don’t know of a single agency that could survive the fallout of having aided and abetted a client organization in spreading fake news.


May 10

Want Fries with that?… We’re out of scruples.

Today’s guest blog was written by Matt Lester, Peppercomm’s creative director. 

For quite some time the Carl’s Jr. burger chain had been the king of sexist, soft-porn marketing. So, I suppose they can be commended for emphasizing food instead of boobs in their latest campaign. Going back to their roots of solid, innovative, good food with a sense of humor was a smart step in the right direction, albeit forced by consumer data more than from the heart. Through a well-produced pairing of a seemingly honorable, can-do Carl Sr. and entitled slacker Carl Jr., they set up a classic sitcom conflict by leveraging the generational differences between a baby-boomer dad and his millennial son. I was actually looking forward to what’s next in the series.

Let’s not heap too much praise on one, admittedly well done film. Having been part of a global coffee campaign that ran nearly two dozen episodes in the states alone, I know a thing or two about serial commercials. The question of what’s next is exactly what should be on the minds of every one of your viewers at the end of each film. Diligently establish full characters and they’ll practically write the scripts for you. Carl Sr. was introduced as the classic, righteous, all-American hero arriving just in the nick of time to save the company from certainly failure. A man who stands tall for his principles, does the right thing for himself, his family and the public at large. Well, that’s who I thought he was until I saw the latest installment explaining how the Baby Back Rib Burger was born.

Here’s yet another example of our new world order where the less scruples you have, the more you’re celebrated at the highest levels of society. Where the old definition of the classic hero fighting for fairness and what’s right is turned into a joke. In this film, the two Carls team up to blatantly steal a, “million-dollar idea” from a hard-working short order cook and then cowardly run away. To add insult to injury, it’s not enough to take advantage of the guy and leave him with nothing, he’s made to look the fool and humiliated in the closing scene.

Most CMO’s and CCO’s know that the importance of what a company stands for is at an all-time high and rising. Carl’s Jr. had a perfect opportunity to establish a new purpose, one about a belief in honest, good food at a good value. Instead, their agency stole that chance from them by portraying their founder as being just as lazy, irresponsible and selfish as his spoiled kid.

Ray Kroc is reported to have once said, “If I see my competition drowning, I’ll stick a hose in their mouth.” Sadly, I guess that’s Carl’s Jr.’s new mission, their new purpose. Dare I say, it almost makes me miss the boobs.

May 09

A Ray of Hope in the Morning

I was pleasantly surprised to read that my favorite morning news show, CBS This Morning is kicking some serious butt.

I’ve been attracted to the morning show ever since CBS completely changed the format in 2011 and added the distinguished Charlie Rose as their anchor. Rose is flanked by longtime Washington insider, Norah O’Donnell, and Oprah’s BFF, Gayle King, who also happens to be a formidable interviewer.

What makes CBS This Morning different, and far better, than it’s network rivals is its intense focus on news (at least for the first half hour). So, while GMA is reporting on Kelly’s new co-host and The Today Show cast is busy making each other laugh, Rose & Co. are taking care of business.

The program begins with a snapshot of the lead news stories of the day called, “Your world in 90 seconds.” If I have time for nothing else, I know I can count on that first minute-and-a-half to bring me up-to-speed.

Typically, I watch 15 minutes or so of CBS This Morning. Then I check my feeds from The Skimm, BBC America, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age and Adweek. With that kind of download, I’m locked and loaded with the information I need to counsel clients, suggest new ideas for my firm and be prepared to discuss just about any topic of the day at a new business meeting.

According to Adweek, I’m not the only one who’s discovered this gem in a sea of superficiality in the morning. Check these facts:

  • Rose & Co. are delivering the biggest viewership for CBS morning shows in 30 years.
  • It’s the only one of the three major network morning shows to grow viewership in the past five years.
  • It’s the only morning show to have gained viewers with both the coveted 25-54 age demographic AND with women. ABC and NBC plummeted by an average of 25 percent with the same cohorts.

CBS This Morning is an oasis in the desert. Its remarkable success gives me hope there’s a growing number of Americans who prefer smart, hard news to start their days (as opposed to the pablum served up by NBC and ABC or the polarizing content found on Fox and MSNBC).

One final point: CBS This Morning has also attracted 10 new, blue chip advertisers this year. As CBS-TV President of Sales, Jo Ann Ross summarized: “Every category is now interested. They know they are getting an educated and intelligent audience.”

Here’s hoping the powers-that-be at CBS continue to double down and invest in a traditional medium that’s keeping pace with anything digital has to offer.


May 01

Making the English Language Mediocre Again

Name the only president in American history whose words and grammar were worse than those of Donald J. Trump?

According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, that dubious distinction belongs to 43, otherwise known as George W. Bush.

Carnegie Mellon researchers say that presidential candidates “…routinely use words and phrases of students in grades 6-8.” Not The Donald. CMU academics say Trump’s vocabulary lags behind even those lowly standards.

But, there’s a method to Trump’s mangling madness, says Times Columnist Charles M. Blow, who described Trump’s Tweets as “…a jumble of incomplete thoughts stitched together with arrogance and ignorance.” His words. Not mine.

Trump’s short, and rambling, Tweets emphasize certainty and determination, built upon layer and layer, like (ironically) bricks in a wall,” wrote NYT CEO, Mark Thompson. “It’s a style that students of rhetoric call parataxis (Note to self: Call primary care doctor to see if I’ve been inoculated against this disease).

Thompson says parataxis is “….an age-old style used by generals and dictators alike who have used it to distinguish themselves from the caviling civilians they mean to sweep away.”

Yikes, I don’t know if I’m more perplexed by the phrase sweep away or the adjective caviling (Note: I must admit to having had to research the latter, which means whimpering or whining).

I’ll have to work that gem of a word into my next cocktail reception discussion with my fellow, long-suffering Jets fans (“C’mon, guys. Let’s admit it. We’re just a bunch of caviling cry babies.”). That’ll be right after I invoke the late Spiro T. Agnew’s description of the media as, “Nattering nabobs of negativity.”

What is it with Republicans and their contempt of mainstream media?

Regardless of the gibberish and double talk, Trump’s base eats up his Tweets, even if they’re:

– Inaccurate (“a U.S. Fleet is now steaming towards North Korea”)
– Contradictory (“I’m killing NAFTA”) only to be followed the very next day by (“Just had great talks with leaders of Canada and Mexico. Lots of room to negotiate NAFTA”).
– Or, flat out absurd (” My cabinet has probably the highest IQ of any cabinet in history”).

It’s one thing to mangle the English language. It’s quite another to use one’s barely understandable Tweets to bewilder friends and foes alike. That’s like playing Russian Roulette with the fragile stability of an unstable world.

What worries me most from a grammatical and spelling standpoint is the impact TrumpProse will have on our nation’s young people (who are already severely challenged when it comes to writing clear, concise, active sentences).

Mix in eight more years of Trump’s trashing of the language with another near decade of recent college graduates using text abbreviations in their client and management memos, and you’ve got all the ingredients necessary to return the proper use of the English language to a mix of prehistoric, cave man grunts and indecipherable slang.

It’s a real problem that I believe our nation’s colleges and universities have taken a pass on. I know my son, who is completing his Ph. D. while simultaneously teaching freshman history students, is absolutely appalled by the abysmal quality of the papers turned in by his students.

And, it’s only going to get worse with our nation’s commander-in-chief setting the example.

It makes one pine for the days when W. used to mangle his speeches with such memorable phrases as, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

Where’s it all headed? Thoughts welcomed.