Saturday, June 28, 2014

Save Money. Live Better. Shop Elsewhere.

As a teenager, I belonged to a retail union. This enabled me to work 20 hours a week at Master's, a regional department store. When business slowed, the store laid off workers, including me. The union rep said she could get my hours back -- or I could just accept the union's unemployment compensation, which amounted to the same check I'd get if I went back to work.

Master's, if it existed today, would have been gutted by monolithic Wal-mart, whose "Save Money, Live Better" mantra masks a business strategy that demands lower costs for the goods it sells. This, in turn, sends manufacturing jobs to countries that don't defend the safety of their employees. That's what unions did best: they led the push for safer working conditions and livable wages.

By Walmart from Bentonville, USA  (Walmart’s Grease Fuel Truck)
 [CC-BY-2.0 (]
via Wikimedia Commons
You may have missed how Wal-mart attempted to trample a unionization move at a store in Canada. Last week, in Quebec, Canada's Supreme Court said the company broke the rules by closing the Jonquiere store just a few months after employees voted to unionize. The store never re-opened, but Wal-mart must now compensate its former employees for lost earnings. An arbiter will determine the extent of what Wal-mart pays.

Wal-mart, on its foundation website, says: "It’s our mission to create opportunities so people can live better. We consider it our responsibility to make a positive impact in the communities we serve." As a public relations strategy, the company's grants to local community organizations are noteworthy. But is that really living better?

That slogan somehow inconsistent with shuttering a store in a community of about 55,000, just to smack down a few employees seeking better workplace conditions and consistency of wages.

If you want a broader perspective of Wal-mart's practices, devote some time to viewing "Wal-mart: The High Cost of Low Prices," now viewable on YouTube at .

If you prefer to act, however, just shop elsewhere. Don't fall for "Save Money, Live Better" slogans from a company that often works to dismantle the quality of life in communities where it does business.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How not to sell tickets.

Ticketmaster never cared about its image. Or its public relations. It charges usurious add-on fees for concert tickets, and people pay them. Sometimes, Ticketmaster gets hauled into court for its fees, and then vanishes from the news radar.

OnCenter in Syracuse, NY, by Joegrimes at en.wikipedia
 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Still, you'd think they actually wanted to sell tickets. Yet, judging by Ticketmaster's weekly email blast, they have a grudge against Rochester. Their emails tout concerts in Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, New York City, Verona, and Salamanca. All an hour or more away. 

But, Rochester, where I live? Hardly any shows.

Ticketmaster has my Zip code. They know from my purchase history that I'm more likely to buy tickets for Judy Collins than Usher. A 6th grader could look at these data points and assume: "Dave prefers attending concerts by soft-rock artists in Rochester." 

Yet, they think I'm dying to hike to Syracuse to see Engelbert Humperdinck. Never mind that I last visited a concert venue in Syracuse in the mid-1990s. Ticketmaster's database knows which venues I've frequented, and many more of them are in Rochester than anywhere else. So I can only assume that:

a) Ticketmaster's database has zero customer relationship management capability. They don't know a thing about their customers, despite our purchase history.
b) Ticketmaster gets more promotional dollars to hype out-of-town shows than Rochester concerts. (But really, Engelbert Humperdinck?)
c) Ticketmaster overlooks that any concert more than 45 minutes away requires an additional investment in fuel, parking, meals, etc. that I'm seldom willing to pay. (Again, I ask: Engelbert?)

Ticketmaster is now owned by LiveNation. LiveNation books performers and venues. Ticketmaster sells the tickets to their concerts. Why this isn't symptomatic of a monopoly, I don't know. But that might suggest why Ticketmaster's e-blasts promote artists I'm seldom interested in seeing.

This type of e-marketing might work if Ticketmaster was the only game in town. But it isn't. There's StubHub. Brown Paper Tickets. Wegmans. Craigslist. A dozen ways to buy seats at concerts I'd want to attend. You may not care about your reputation, but as long as you disregard your own customer data, you're just holding the door open for other ticket merchants.

At the very least, please stop selling me Engelbert. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Facebook Diet (or Listening with Intent)

Last week, except for a few Fathers' Day photos, I didn't post on Facebook.

You could say I went on a Facebook diet. Cut out the starchy, empty carbs (also known as "clickbait.") Got away from the screen, took longer walks. De-listed myself from pointless pages I'd once liked.

I did share a few responses to others' posts on Facebook. But for seven days, I refrained from sharing links to other stories and videos, or leaving pseudo-pithy observations of my own. Mostly, I eavesdropped on the din of discourse on the world's largest gossip website.

What happened when I stepped back from the "scream of consciousness" of Facebook?

  • I spent less time fretting over what to post. No pontificating on the missteps of public figures. No hunting for decades-old snapshots for "Throwback Thursday." And, I got more stuff done.
  • I thought friends would take note of my absence, message me, and ask if I were OK. I was mistaken.
  • I blew past the outright commercial posts. They didn't matter. Real friends matter. 
However, I listened and read more of my friends' posts. Yes, about half of those posts were either self-absorbed, vain, or supercilious. (Guilty as charged; some of my posts fit these categories, too.) When I waded past some of these, I discovered a few posts that reflected genuine challenges in their lives, and made me think of how I could help.

Listening with intent
(original artist: Benjamin Vautier Koller Auktionen )
via Wikimedia Commons
Saying less and listening more are sound communications practices, whether on Facebook or in business or personal relationships. That's how you learn to listen between the lines.**

My Facebook diet taught me that it's not the quantity of posts or "likes" that matter. It's the authenticity of the messages that count. 

In PR, we obsess over "content," and many social media websites serve up meaningful content to help build brand awareness and reputations.

But the real value of Facebook now appears to come from listening with intent, responding to friends in need, and dialing back from re-posting excessive clever wordplay or baby/cat/dog/ferret videos. From a communications viewpoint, we'd learn more by observing what others post, and incorporating these learnings in our communication strategies. 

So, if you see fewer posts from me, don't be concerned. I'm on the Facebook Diet: consuming less, listening more, and trying to build meaningful relationships.

**Listen Between the Lines is one of David's PR Rules.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What to watch: the impact of net neutrality

The dance about net neutrality has barely begun. And it's going to affect what crawls across your computer. Unless you start asking questions.

By NASA [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
First, Common Cause says this about net neutrality: "network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose and use any applications they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their internet service provider." You can learn more at

What this means: think of the internet as a collection of pipelines through which media content flows. Verizon, Comcast, or Time Warner are some major owners of those pipes. They can "throttle" downloads of content providers like Netflix if they don't pay for increased bandwidth. Or, you might see Walmart's online shopping pages load more quickly than Amazon's, if Walmart buys preferential pipeline service.

Companies that control the "pipes" through which content passes have control if the FCC doesn't enforce (or walks away from) net neutrality. Congress' current efforts to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act could allow pipeline operators to charge those providers for preferential bandwidth.

The provider-vs.-pipeline bashing has already begun. Last week, Netflix dinged Verizon for allegedly slower downloads. 

Verizon cried foul. But preferential delivery of content has existed for years. Anyone who's used Facebook knows they see some friends' updates more often than others. There's a reason Facebook keeps defaulting to an absurd "Top Stories" ranking of content, rather than the latest updates most individual users prefer.

Content skirmishes are going to continue: Amazon's current tussle with Hanchette publishing. YouTube content that's mysteriously unplayable on some devices. (Remember, Google owns YouTube, and has a content library called Google Play that requires more pipeline.) So some content is already excluded, even if you know it exists. And Hulu (owned by 21st Century Fox, the Walt Disney Company, and NBC Universal) and Amazon's Instant Video also need space in those pipelines.

For my profession: a collapse of net neutrality might hamper the ability of advertisers and public relations people to promote clients' products online or via digital video, which eats bandwidth. But more is at stake.

I sometimes write about diversity. It's important to remember that the internet is about diversity of ideas and content. I do not care at all for Iggy Azalea (warning: explicit content, NSFW*) or cat videos. But you might, and you shouldn't be prevented from viewing them.

Any effort to restrict or limit diversity of content can be devastating to how we, as U.S. citizens, use -- or lose -- these channels to share information.

I'm asking my Congressional representative what she's doing about net neutrality. And I hope you'll do the same.

*Not Safe For Work

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Google's diversity: a leadership mea culpa

By Oregon Department of Transportation (Diversity Uploaded
by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Wow. Say what you will about Google's massive Internet presence, but when they mess up, they're not shy about it.

A few days ago, Google admitted its workforce was overwhelmingly white. And male. They shared some metrics here. This is unusually forthright, because there's no major litigation facing Google regarding workforce inequities. Instead, they got out in front of their problem, defusing potential negative publicity before criticism or litigation arose.

But dig deeper and you find their statistics are somewhat worse when it comes to the diversity of the company's leadership.

Google's overall workforce is:
  • 30 percent female, 70 percent male. 
  • 61 percent white, 
  • 30 percent Asian, 
  • 2 percent African American, and 
  • 3 percent Hispanic.
Google's leadership demographics are less forgiving: 
  • 21 percent female, 79 percent male. 
  • 72 percent white, 
  • 23 percent Asian, 
  • 2 percent black, 
  • 1 percent Hispanic.

To Google's credit, it says: We’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity. And it is hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts. All of our efforts, including going public with these numbers, are designed to help us recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people.

And Google adds there's a lack of African American and Hispanic computer science majors in colleges from which to recruit. This is likely true, although for every computer science major who lands a job in information technology, you'll find IT teammates who hold degrees in criminal justice, nursing, physics, finance, and other non-computer majors. They learned computer science on the job.

(I recently authored a book on IT degrees for high school students, and encountered many IT people whose backgrounds didn't include a computer science degree.)

The real issue is leadership in diversity, however. Google doesn't have enough diverse leaders, and they're not alone. In 2013, there were six black CEOs in the Fortune 500; only one was female. There were eight Latino CEOs in the Fortune 500, and 23 women CEOs. (One of them, Marissa Meyer of Yahoo, is a Google alumna). Read more at DiversityInc.

Diverse leaders -- whether CEOs, presidents, or executive vice presidents -- aren't always attuned to hiring or advancing women and people of color. I've worked with white male CEOs who did more to champion workplace diversity than a minority CEO who followed. But diverse executives often bring a multicultural perspective to decisions that help grow their businesses. Many recognize that creating a more-diverse workforce can give them an edge in innovating new products and services,multicultural marketing, or competing in new market segments or global regions. 

Google has succeeded by creating online services we now depend on, offering them at no cost because they give Google information about our online behavior. So perhaps it hasn't needed more diversity, until now, as it faces more competition in North America and abroad.

Now, other competitors are gaining strength, and Google realizes it needs diverse talent to maintain its competitive edge. The steps they take going forward will speak to how well its leadership moves to correct its imbalanced workforce.