Wednesday, November 30, 2011

PCG Supports Bread for the City

What’s more fulfilling professionally than enjoying the work you do and the people around you? My short answer: having the opportunity to work with colleagues to do our small part to support a cause that’s doing amazing things for the lives of D.C.’s most vulnerable residents. Earlier this year, PCG began a partnership with Bread for the City, a D.C.-based non-profit organization that provides food, clothing, legal and social services, medical care and a host of other comprehensive services to those in need in the District.

As a first endeavor, our project team, which includes Karen Heinold, Barbara Longsworth and myself, developed an advertisement that appears on several Metrobuses in the District through the end of this year. The intent is to encourage pedestrians and others to support BFC’s Combined Federal Campaign (#61733) and United Way Workplace Campaign (#8219).

We incorporated a QR code in the body of the ad so that people can easily scan it and make a donation right on the spot. It also allows those interested in giving to save the donation link from their smartphones and electronic notepads to reference later.

All in a day's work! :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We Ran A Marathon and Survived To Blog About It

When co-workers gather for lunch, the conversation topics are endless. But lately, the conversation at the PCG lunch table has been leaning more and more often to running. (Sorry, non-runners.) That’s because two PCGers recently completed the Philadelphia Marathon!

That’s right. Two of us were crazy enough to put in weeks of training to run 26.2 miles. For fun. While Philly was my second marathon, it was the debut marathon for PCG Coordinator Natalie Vegel.  

We survived!
Our mutual love for running was discovered over lunch one day. This discovery quickly revealed the coincidence that we were both registered for the Philly Marathon in November. With several friends training for fall marathons, a training group quickly formed. We were a gang of runners comprised of friends, significant others, and current and former co-workers, all with the goal of conquering 26.2 miles in various races several months down the road.

For 16+ weeks, the alarm went off early on Saturday mornings and we collectively headed into the early-morning darkness to conquer the gradually increasing mileage. (We even raced the clock against a looming hurricane one weekend!) 

Before we knew it, we were tapering (translation: no more crazy mileage) and the big day was upon us. As we nervously gathered on race morning, we marveled at the great racing weather and confirmed with each other that yes, we were really doing this.

And run the marathon we did. With friends and fellow runners cheering us along the way, we crossed the finish line one by one. In one piece and with big smiles on our faces.

To answer a question we've both been hearing quite a bit over the past week - yes, there are definitely more marathons in the future for both of us!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Impressions of a First Trip to China

I just got back from a first-time trip to China, and my head is still spinning. Not from the jet-lag (though that’s still fogging things up a little), but from trying to sort out everything we saw. It’s one thing to read about a country that’s rapidly growing and changing, but another to see, first-hand, the astonishing history that’s being made. The scale is overwhelming, and so are the contradictions.

We passed through a little-known city in southwestern China, Chongqing (formerly Chung King). It’s the largest metropolitan area in the world, approaching 40 million, and has a massive, glitzy skyline that looks like a cross between New York and Las Vegas – modern, rich. Then we saw that our luggage was being carried from a van to a boat on bamboo poles, balanced on the backs of laborers straining under loads of hundreds of pounds. Just the way it was done 200 years ago, in the shadow of neon-flashing skyscrapers.

Sleek high-rises are everywhere, with more popping up daily. Shanghai alone has built over 6,000 skyscrapers higher than 35 floors just in the past 20 years. That’s 300 a year. But those shimmering buildings can’t hide the bitter poverty of the vast majority of Chinese, with disabled beggars lining the streets near every tourist attraction.

The most blatant contradiction we saw is the country’s basic governing philosophy. Officially, it still reveres Mao. In souvenir shops we saw his likeness plastered across books, key rings, coffee mugs and T-shirts. But in reality, the country has essentially rejected his fundamental economic views. It seems that China has adopted Wild West-style capitalism – buying, owning, building, selling, making fortunes, all with little regulation. And the Chinese are using their new prosperity to buy into Western culture on a massive scale, with more signs for Starbucks, KFC, 7-11, Subway, Hagen Daz, Gap, Hooters and Apple than (it seems) noodle shops. And more shops for the economic elite, like Prada and Hermes, than we could count. The dress is Western, the ads are Western, and the people seem to love Americans. I was tempted to stand in the endless line leading to Mao’s tomb in Tiananmen Square just to see him spinning in his grave.

The educated young people seem to accept all this. Those smart and lucky enough to succeed on the national academic tests are pouring into the big cities by the million, from farms and small villages, to attend college, get a small apartment in a new high-rise and begin leading a Western-style life. Our tour guides fit this mold. They understand the miracle of China’s booming economy as well as the long-term questions it is raising about the billion-plus still living an 18th-century life in the countrysides. And they realize that they don’t enjoy many of the basic freedoms that the Western world sees as sacrosanct.

To me, some of the candid comments of our tour guides summed up these contradictions:

“How can I be so critical of our government? They don’t care what I say to you. You’re foreigners, and you already know all this.”

“Sure, we’d love to have all your freedoms. But we have IPads and apartments. To us, for now, that’s a fair trade.”

“Nobody wants to say it, but we know we’re now capitalist. Anything goes. We don’t have any freedoms – but we can do anything we want.”

Watch this space

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Google+: Why it’s Worth Your While

With Facebook as perhaps the most widely used social utility that lets us all stay connected with family, friends and those with whom we have shared interests, you might ask yourself “Where does Google+ fit in?” Well surprisingly enough, many people and organizations alike are drawn to the “Hangout” feature that enables group video chats. With “Circles,” you can push information to segmented groups. For trade associations, that’s especially handy if you only want to reach communications staff within member companies or your government relations contacts. And there’s the inevitable fact that Google is expanding integration of its other assets like YouTube, Google Maps and Google Places with Google+. [I never thought I’d write “Google” so many times in one sentence.] In any event, that’s just a small sample of some of the perks of using Google+.

It’s worth checking out. Click Z, a Mashable publishing partner, offers more reasons why Google+ is worth your while.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pakistani Coal, Nepalese Hydropower and Indian Energy Communications

The debate over how best to meet the nation’s energy needs and grow our economy can be contentious. But the hurdles we face pale in comparison to those stacked before decision makers in emerging nations.

Last week, The Brookings Institution held an event, titled “Energy Security in South Asia: Cooperation or Conflict?” that examined the looming energy crisis building in the region. Charles Ebinger, senior fellow and director, Energy Security Initiative at Brookings, provided opening remarks for the event and painted a humbling picture for the stability of the region as nations attempt to meet rapidly increasing energy demand while working to overcome the barriers of limited domestic resources, institutional shortcomings, subsidized energy prices, a lack of investment in energy infrastructure and little regional cooperation.

Joined by panelists Stephen Cohen, senior fellow at Brookings; Martin Indyk, vice president and director, Foreign Policy at Brookings; and Ron Somers, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, Ebinger argued that concerted cooperation between India and Pakistan, and smaller neighboring states, is critical to meeting energy demand and is both the key challenge and opportunity to providing stability in the region. The panel agreed that cooperation has so far been absent between these states due to a lack of political will – largely contributable to the inability of leadership to communicate effectively on the scale of the energy challenge and the need for cooperation between historical rivals.

To be clear, the challenge is immense. In India, rapid economic growth has given birth to a middle class pushing 300 million strong – 10 million new cell phones are activated each month and 54 percent of the population remains under the age of 25. India needs a $350-billion investment in new electricity generation sources in just the next five years to keep up with energy demand. And India will need fuel from every source available – whether that’s natural gas from the U.S. or Myanmar, hydropower from Nepal or coal from Pakistan’s immense reserves in the Thar Desert.

But despite the real and obvious benefits presented by better trade relations and collaboration on the region’s staggering energy challenges, building the case for cooperation between suspicious rivals has proven exceedingly difficult. Security and stability in South Asia might very well hinge on the ability of governments to effectively educate their populations on both the scale of their energy challenges and the need to holster historical enmity and cooperate with regional neighbors. Just like in the U.S., tackling energy challenges is less a technology issue than a leadership issue. Let’s hope great communicators can emerge in South Asia and unify the region behind an energy policy that makes sense.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

This Is Not Journalism

We often work with clients to help them prepare for public meetings and other information sessions where media are likely to attend. At one of these recent events I saw a reporting tactic that I have never before experienced. Minutes before this meeting began, a reporter handed out hundreds of business cards in the crowd with the following message hand written on the back:

This just blew me away. This was brazen controversy hunting. I am all for reporters keeping companies accountable and reporting the facts of a story so the public can be informed, but this is something else all together. When I started my career as a television reporter the influence of news consultants was beginning to shape the need for an investigative reporting team as a path to ratings success. I believe it is this ratings mindset that is driving newsrooms today to always have a controversial scoop whether one exists or not; even if it means using tactics like a handwritten note begging for a whistle blower. While not a clear breach of ethics, it is tacky.

(P.S. -- I won't name this reporter or the station he worked for, but I sure wanted to.)