Monday, January 26, 2015

Scribbling in the dark

In an earlier life, I reviewed films for a small-town daily newspaper. It was pre-Rotten Tomatoes. Pre-internet. So if you wanted to know if a movie was worth your $5, you read newspapers or hoped Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel reviewed it for their TV show.

USAF Snipers by By Tech. Sgt. Bonnie A. White (USAF)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today, I don't review films. And I try not to wade in to debates about controversial films. I saw The Interview on pay-per-view. And I may see American Sniper, Clint Eastwood's latest film. But I'm unlikely to write about either movie.

I gave up reviewing films because I found scribbling in the dark distracting. I wasn't experiencing or enjoying the on-screen stories. I found myself analyzing the product, much the way testers at Consumer Reports test toasters and microwaves. In a way, I was contributing to the PR buzz for feature films.

And I decided that I wasn't happy as an underpaid cog in some studio's star-making machinery.

Today, I prefer seeing films for their entertainment value. And to forget about the outside world for 100 minutes or so.

But I have an opinion about filmmaker Michael Moore's recent comments regarding American Sniper. His viewpoint, based on his family experience: "snipers are cowards" who've been known to shoot people in the back. Moore was criticised for his viewpoint by (not surprisingly) Fox News and Sarah Palin. He shared a response on social media, which is partly captured here.

My view: Moore makes powerful documentaries that can be very persuasive. So he should do what he does best: get behind a camera and deliver his point of view on film, digital, or whatever medium he chooses. He can upload what he creates to YouTube or another site. Getting into a social media volley with Sarah Palin and her followers lends too much viability to a marginal politician whose own sense of judgment leads to another set of questions.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Losing the original geek squad

Radio Shack, where you bought your last blank cassette in 1998, could file for bankruptcy reorganization in the next few weeks.

Retailers have had a rough start in 2015. Macys, J.C.Penney, and Target Canada, which never got its supply chain issues under control, all are shuttering stores.

Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia
 [GFDL ( or
CC-BY-SA-3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Radio Shack, however, has been losing ground for years, squandering opportunities to rebound. When it lost the computer retailing business to Best Buy, it went into cellphones and wireless phones. And remote controlled toys. And digital cameras. And even created a buzz-worthy TV ad for the 2014 Super Bowl.

Of course, RS' marketing never drew crowds. Check out this 1980's ad for the Color Computer III, and you'll see why.

Why did Radio Shack falter? A few reasons: its aging customers finally learned how to order cheaper digital parts and electronics online. Its customer-engagement strategy that found sales clerks asking for everything except a fingerprint and blood sample just to buy a replacement phone battery.

Most damning, however, was the company's employee engagement strategy:

There wasn't any.

A few years ago, most Radio Shack employees I met knew plenty about their products, unlike the clerks in a Kmart electronics department. The Shack's workers were the original geek squad, and could tell you the difference between flux-core and rosin-core solder.

But, this sad account of working for Radio Shack makes a shift behind a McDonald's grille sound like a good time. If it's even 50 percent accurate, it shows an utter disregard for engaging employees in any effort to rescue the company.

Employee engagement is a major issue in Human Resources, and HR executives often turn to their public relations colleagues for help. Tapping into the energies of motivated employees can spell the difference between success or demise. And many communications strategies, including two-way communications, diversity and inclusion, and employee/executive chats, are in the wheelhouse of most PR professionals.

Engaging employees may or may not have saved Radio Shack. And, because RS also owns the cell-phone aisles in many Target stores, it won't vanish completely. But when you squander the knowledge and energy of store employees -- the original geek squad who were the face of the business to consumers -- you're doomed.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Facebook is PR for the rest of us

I don't do resolutions. Unless I'm performing as John Hancock in a community theatre production of "1776."

But for 2015, I have a modified mindset regarding social media. What I read about my friends on Facebook is not their real lives, and I'm not going to compare my life to theirs.

Your Facebook friends will post their successes, their celebrations, family photos, and maybe snarky comments about Kardashians and Biebers. Those friends are less likely to post about their cramps. Their firings. Their financial losses. Their private addictions.

Queen, c. 1985, by Thomas Steffan (Own work) [GFDL
(, CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
What we see on Facebook and other social media are a kind of PR version of their lives. Their "best of" experiences. It's like a CD of Queen's Greatest Hits. You'll hear "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." You're less likely to hear "Stealin'."

And if you buy into Facebook's PR spin on people's lives, you're not seeing everything. Facebook's algorithms skew the content you see. And, most of your friends confront challenges that you'll never see on Facebook. It's an unfinished picture, at best.

In this vein, I'm re-sharing Peter Shankman's Jan. 5, 2015 post from Facebook. Peter has a boatload of PR smarts, and a spot-on view of how this works:

"I was talking to a friend the other day who said that she was totally bummed, as all her friends were having these amazing holiday seasons, and she was home, alone, with nothing to do. I asked her how she knew - She told me she was reading all of their updates on Facebook.

"People, stop comparing your lives to those you read about on Facebook. They're not true! I post photos of me at the gym, on TV, having a great time, etc. Why? Because they make people happy, and they're the moments I feel the most like sharing! You think I'm going to post about when my investments go south, when I fight with my wife, when my office-mates piss me off? Of course not. 

"Why would any rational person? "Hey, my life sucks. Check out my photo gallery about it!" Duh. Never.

"When you compare your life to the lives of people you see on Facebook, you're doing yourself a massive disservice. STOP DOING IT. Live your life for YOU, and remember that the race is ALWAYS only with yourself."

Peter nails it. (Check out his blog here.)  I hope you'll keep this in mind as Facebook and its cyber-siblings contribute to the discourse and drift of our lives.

Monday, January 5, 2015

When to use a smartphone in a restaurant

By Drapplesi (Own work) [GFDL
( or CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
This isn't a rant. It's not a diatribe. It's simply my point of view.

I don't carry a smartphone.

They're easy to get and operate. But I resist using one.


Because it quickly becomes an intruder in my real life. And, if we're having a conversation, it's intruding in your life, too.

I believe in the art of listening over the artifice of texting. I believe in building relationships between placing my order and the arrival of the meal. I believe in eye contact, not eyestrain.

And I find the creepy blue glow of a smartphone casts an unflattering pallor over the face of the person using the phone. In a dim restaurant, it looks like a scene from "The Walking Dead." Yick.

Yes, I've used Yelp to help me find interesting restaurants. But I don't want Yelp to tell me whether I should bring preconceived opinions to a dining experience while I'm eating. I want to savor the entree and decide from an unbiased point of view.

I'm not anti-electronic, by any means. I own and use a tablet. I just choose to put it away and concentrate on being authentically engaged in a conversation.

And, when you strip away all the electronics, all the search engines, and all the analytics, great PR is supposed to build engaging conversations.