Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Has the Public Learned About the Economy? (Not Much)

With the 24/7 bombardment of information about the country’s financial crisis, how much has the public learned? Not much, it seems, even about the basics of our situation.

Before I go any further, check to see how much YOU have learned, through this test.

The Pew Research Center gave its latest News IQ Quiz, a multiple-choice test about current events, to 1,001 adults in mid-November. It found that a few facts have clearly permeated the national consciousness: 88% know that BP is the owner of the oil well that exploded; 77% know that the national deficit is larger today than in the ‘90s. But when it comes to specifics about our financial situation, the results are curious, to say the least.

Only 39% knew that the government spends more on defense than on education, Medicare or interest on the debt. When asked how much of the government’s loan to banks under TARP has been paid back, only 16% knew that over half has been returned. And only 14% knew that the current inflation rate is running about 1%.

To me, it’s understandable that only a small number would know the name of the British prime minister (15%) or the incoming Speaker of the House (38%). But our economic outlook is affecting everyone. And for months, especially in the Congressional campaigns, the No. 1 issue being blasted out by the print media, airwaves and blogosphere has been the importance of the government getting our growing debt under control.

So this survey raises some questions. Are the media so focused on opinions and “takes” that they are not presenting the basic facts? Is the public simply focusing on the opinions and sloganeering and not making an effort to learn the facts? Or is the public even paying attention at all?

For the record: 26% - more than the number who knew about TARP loans or the current inflation rate – could identify the Google phone’s operating system (Android).

- Potomac Communications Group

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don't-Miss Book: The Man Who Sold America

Let me recommend a fascinating new book for everyone interested in communications or the art of persuasion – “The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (But True) Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century.” It makes a compelling case that Lasker was not just the father of advertising as we know it today, but also an important pioneer in political campaigning, management consulting and philanthropy – all without any formal education.

Lasker joined a Chicago ad agency, Lord & Thomas, straight from a Galveston, Tex., high school in 1898, a time when agencies did little more than purchase newspaper space for bland ad copy typically written by the client. He realized that more creative copy emphasizing the benefit to the buyer – “salesmanship in print” – could get greater results for the client and expand revenues for the agency. His emphasis on research, targeting, testing and “creative” soon turned small struggling clients into powerful national brands – Palmolive soap (emphasizing beauty over mere cleanliness), Puffed Wheat (“shot from guns”), Goodyear tires. He rolled independent orange producers in California into a single brand, SunKist, and got Americans drinking OJ. He turned a funny-tasting condensed milk made by Van Camp into the market leader by telling buyers to insist on its special “almond flavor.” And he created a dominant brand out of Lucky Strike by promoting benefits for the throat and weight-loss.

Through the new medium of radio he got Americans to begin brushing their teeth, which most had never done before. The client was a relatively unknown toothpaste. Lasker identified unknown artists, bought time for them to appear regularly on radio shows, and soon the entire nation was eagerly tuned in to Pepsodent ads on “Amos ‘n’ Andy” and a new comic named Bob Hope.

At the request of the Republican Party, he essentially redefined political campaigning. His innovative P.R. helped get Warren Harding elected, and Lasker played a leadership role in defeating the socialist/author Upton Sinclair in his bid to become governor of California. He also mounted a major campaign – enlisting Adolph Ochs and his New York Times, among others – against Georgia in its perceived railroading of Leo Frank, a Jewish accountant convicted of raping and killing a young girl in Atlanta, with essentially no evidence. The national spotlight condemning Georgia probably led to the lynching of Frank by a Ku Klux Klan mob, and left Lasker wondering about his role in the tragedy.

Lasker’s friends and colleagues formed a Who’s Who of the first half of the century: Walt Disney, Wendell Willkie, Joe Kennedy, William Randolph Hearst, Will Rogers, David Sarnoff, Henri Matisse, William Wrigley Jr. (with whom Lasker shared ownership of the Chicago Cubs and helped baseball recuperate from the devastating Black Sox scandal of 1919).

Despite it all, he agonized that he had never really accomplished anything of importance; he was driven to be “consequential.” Late in his life, that came to pass. With his dynamo of a third wife, he turned his attention to charities, and in his last decade created new fund-raising strategies that began attracting tens of millions of dollars into planned parenthood and other “consequential” causes. Their work resulted in the first federal funding for cancer research and, in effect, the current versions of the American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health and National Institutes of Mental Health.

The book is written by Jeffrey Cruikshank and Arthur Schultz, who was CEO of the agency that succeeded Lord & Thomas. It’s a fascinating insight not just to a single man, but to the formative years of modern media and modern communications.

- Potomac Communications Group

Monday, November 8, 2010

When You Have Some Extra Time in Washington . . .

The next time you have a business trip to Washington, take some extra time to look around. The city is popping with great new attractions you should check out.

Start with the new Arena theater complex – or technically now the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. The Arena has been a landmark for Washington theater for decades and was the second theater in the country, outside of New York, to win a Tony, in the mid-‘70s. Now it has literally repackaged itself – a glistening new contemporary building on the same site in Southwest Washington, a new mission to develop and showcase the best of American theater, even a new café run by José Andrés, one of DC’s – and the nation’s – top chefs. This long-awaited center opens this month with a highly praised new production of Oklahoma!, symbolizing the company’s commitment to American classics. The $135-million complex is worth a visit even if you don’t get to see a production. But try to.

Just across the river from Georgetown, in Rosslyn, is a new culture center called the ArtiSphere. It offers art galleries, a ballroom, venues for music and other performances and three theaters. The edgy Washington Shakespeare Company has moved there from its former home in Crystal City and is inaugurating its new space with two soaring new productions presented in repertory, Richard III and Frederic Schiller’s Mary Stuart. Here’s a rave review of the two shows. (I should disclose that I’m not totally objective about WSC, since I’m a long-time board member.)

The Artisphere is in the original home of the Newseum, the world’s only known museum dedicated to journalism – or as they say today, “the media.” A couple of years ago the Newseum moved to Pennsylvania Avenue, near the Capitol, and now it’s better than ever. The permanent exhibits of the history of journalism, with dramatic examples of the best print and electronic news coverage of the past century, are worth a half-day, anytime. And the Newseum always offers a wide range of temporary exhibitions, currently ranging from Sports Illustrated photography to media coverage of Elvis. Be sure to allow plenty of time; you’ll want to explore it all.

We try to keep up with all the goings-on in Washington, from new restaurants to special events at the theaters and museums. If you have any extra time in the city and want to explore, give us a ring. We’d love to give you some tips.

- Potomac Communications Group

Friday, November 5, 2010

Professional Societies: Where's My Generation?

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Construction Writers Association’s annual conference in Chicago. I joined CWA in 2006 while working in the corporate communications department of a large general contracting firm. I continued my membership to stay on top of industry happenings. More importantly, I find that the in-person networking opportunities it offers complement its social media counterpart, and often are more valuable.

At this year’s meeting, I noticed that I was one of the youngest attendees. I serve on CWA’s membership committee, and recruiting young professionals is one of our challenges, just like for many other groups.

To those young professionals, regardless of the field, who dismiss associations because you feel you can get the same networking benefits via Facebook or Twitter for free, I urge you to reconsider. While I follow my CWA colleagues on social media, I feel that face-to-face meetings provide more meaningful exchanges and insight.

Professional associations offer opportunities to network both informally and formally. Networking receptions remind me of the importance of honing one’s interpersonal communications skills. Informal networking helps me understand the industry and the latest trends. The more I learn, the better prepared I am to help my clients communicate effectively in this industry.

Finally, joining a professional society has provided me with opportunities to grow professionally. There are numerous leadership opportunities. Just offer to volunteer for a committee or task group. Trust me, no one is going to turn you down.

This year, I had the opportunity to speak during the conference. It pushed me to practice (over and over again) what our firm preaches to our clients about PowerPoint and public speaking.

While social networking is a great tool, professional societies provide an important way to build connections. How do I know to follow you on Twitter if I’ve never met you online or in person?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Working Globally Through a Single Office

One of the biggest challenges of an independent communications agency like ours, with staff in only one city, is finding a way to help our clients in other areas of the country, or even in other countries. We solved that problem years ago when we joined Pinnacle Worldwide, a network of quality firms that can form seamless teams to help clients with broad-ranging needs.

We have called on our Pinnacle partners to provide fast-turnaround help in several far-flung areas, from California to Northern Europe. And we have used our Washington expertise to help our partner firms in Iowa, Michigan and other cities around the country.

Pinnacle Worldwide recently broadened its reach by forming a strategic alliance with 27&More, a similar network headquartered in Europe. Now Pinnacle’s 50 offices around the world are supplemented by 27&More’s offices in 44 different countries. Combined, we now offer a geographic spread – and diversity of subject-matter expertise – that can rival the multinational agencies, but that still provides the customized services of independent boutique firms that have deep roots in their local communities.

We are proud to note that we have just expanded our role with Pinnacle Worldwide. At one of its regular meetings in New York last week, our Partner Leonard Greenberger was named to the group’s Executive Committee. In addition to representing our experience with communications in Washington, Leonard brings leadership to Pinnacle’s capabilities in energy and in serving trade associations and professional societies.

We are proud to be associated with Pinnacle, and proud that Leonard is on the leadership team.

- Potomac Communications Group