Category Archives: advertising

Kill These Words & Phrases Part 3

“Put a unique spin on this, throw it out there so it can grow legs, get some traction and go viral.  I want a footprint!”

I woke in a cold sweat.

Words and phrases that should be killed are sprouting faster than zombies in a George A.Romero film.   They’re more persistent than sallow vampires in the twilight.  I can’t stop thinking about them though some say I’m anal (props to Freud for that evergreen).  Others have likened our kind to being word police, but I consider us mavericks.  No, wait.  The paunchy maverick slid back to the Senate  and unleashed The Rogue.

Yikes!  I step back from that since the first definition of “rogue” in is “a dishonest, knavish person; a scoundrel.”  Hmm.  Well, I guess it’s safe to call yourself a rogue if you know your audience never uses a dictionary.

Actually, I’m just a guy who loves the language, respects the creative use of it and dislikes lazy use of language, especially among “educated” professionals.  I’m just giving you a heads-up that.

Really, I’m being totally transparent.

The phrase making the sales rep rounds is “reaching out.”  Several, from different parts of the country have used that on me, always beginning, “Dennis, I’d like to reach out and see how our company can help you.”

Well, friend, it’s like this:  if I’m drowning, I really want you to reach out and help me.  However, if your goal is to fill inventory, get the manager off your back and boost your commission, a simple media kit will do.  If it looks like your station is a good fit, I’ll reach out to you.

And then you know what we’ll do?  We’ll have a conversation!

Actually I’ve heard this in higher ed more than in the media.  It usually begins with a problem (masked as “a challenge”) between two people or parties who disagree (have “different goals”) and the path to a solution is to have one of these conversations.  Conversation implies civility which means you can’t raise your voice or even let your face get red from rising blood pressure.

“Conversations” are bland, mishmashes of buzzwords that suffocate our ancient instincts to reach out and kill the opponent.

Hey,  I’m just sayin’. . . .


( I’ve had a lot of feedback from readers.  I’m thinking of setting up a separate page with all three posts and everyone’s contributions.  So please send me the words and phrases that drive you nuts.)

Note:  Thanks to the guys over at Target x  who picked up on our shared love of language and continued the, umm, conversation.

More Words & Phrases I’d Like to See Dead

Back in January I did a post on Words and Phrases That Should be Buried.

I’m on Rant 2.

“Literally” is still the most overused word.  It is the Ramen of our vocabulary.

Here are more additions:

Wrap my head around it. I never got this phrase.  It conjurs up something you’d see  watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  I think this image came from an aging hippie suffering one too many acid trips.

Getting eyeballs is  overused in the worlds of advertising, marketing and the Web. It’s a disgusting image, conjuring up pictures of those bloody eyeballs you see on low budget horror films and Garbage Pail Kids trading cards.  “Getting eyeballs” still doesn’t address getting the mind behind the eyeballs to concentrate on the message.

Silos. I’ve just starting hearing this in office conversation and I’ve seen it a few times in writing.  It’s one of those words that creates an appropriate image.  (See yourself as dried corn nestled in your own comfortable silo not wanting to communicate with the corn in the other silos).  The image was used as early as 1989 in the context of “vertical silo syndrome.”   Now I hear it on campus as in “departments are silos,” not caring about other departments.  It’s going to wear itself out fast because it’s an easy concept for lazy speakers.

Butts in seats.  Kind of like “getting eyeballs.”  Butts in seats, of course, is filling seats with people.   So why can’t we say we want to “fill seats?”  We’ve broken humans into butts and eyeballs.  Not a pretty picture.

I don’t know wherecreepy edged into the national daily dialogue but it spread like The Blob in a microwave.    It probably evolved from “it creeps me out.”  I suppose it’s popular because it’s fun to say and is easily inserted into any kind of description of something somewhat distasteful.  I think it’s adolescent and no one over the age of 18 should be using it.

Unfortunately they do use it.  I heard a middle-aged secretary today relating a story of a couple accidents in which two friends in different parts of the country died about the same time.  “That’s creepy,” she told the other secretary.  “Don’t you think that’s creepy?  I just think that’s really creepy.”

I crept out, wrapping my head around a silo of sanity, keeping my eyeballs straight ahead and my butt far away from any nearby seats.


Please send in your candidates for instant death.

The Grocery Store Survey

“It’s a company doing a marketing survey on food buying,” my wife said, handing me the phone.
Yes I do the grocery shopping. I volunteered several years ago to give her more time to attend to her production agency.
I took the phone.  “Hi, my name’s xxxxxx and I’m calling on behalf of Sirs, a marketing  firm. . . . .”
I try to cooperate with marketing firms doing surveys for obvious reasons.
The questions were well structured and it soon was clear that I shop at three different stores: Tops, Wegman’s and Shure Fine. At first, the answers were easy.
As we drilled down, the answers were not so easy. Rate the quality of the selections; rate the variety of offerings; rate the price. . . .
Finally I cut in and said, politely:  “This survey is skewed in the sense that our Shure Fine is a small neighborhood grocery store, not nearly the size of Tops and Wegmans.  There’s no way Shure Fine can compete on selection, variety, even quality on certain things. Can you make a note of that?”
“Well, there’s no place here. . . but I can tell my supervisor.”
I knew where that would go. No room for exceptions in a database that’s already been set up in a world built for Excel, speed and efficiency.
I finished out the survey, which, in my mind, was already worth less than when we started. Tops came out on top because that’s where I shop every week and spend the most money.
Nowhere will those reading the results know that I stop in at Shure Fine three times a week for dairy products, meats and other convenience items.  Or that I’ve done it for 30 years.
It probably won’t matter that the place is clean, the tellers are friendly and the local owner hires and trains local high school students who learn, among other things, interpersonal skills and how to be polite.
There’s nothing in there noting that the owner inherited the business from his father and three generations of the family have contributed enormously to the community.

Again, Sirs is a reputable firm, the questions were well-thought out and logical and the whole experience was professional.

But the results are skewed.

It’s a reminder to take any survey or poll with a healthy grain of salt.

Putting The Public Back in Public Relations: Part 2

I enter part two of the review of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations reminding you that I think the book  is  valuable.

Putting the Public neatly summarizes the demise of the traditional media and the rise of the social media and PR 2.0.

It’s  ironic that the authors understand and capture  well the new media and the need to communicate ideas  in a quick, concise, clear way that’s tailored to our particular audience, and it takes them 300 pages to do it.

-A 300-page novel is not outmoded.

-A 300 page book on social media is.  With more thought and a good editor it could have been at least 50 fewer pages.

-As soon as it’s published, any references to Robert Scoble’s posts, or Chris Anderson’s blacklist is not news.  In the PR 2.0 world, this stuff is ancient history.

Granted, the  book is both a guidebook and history. But 300 pages is still too long.

The authors repeat things over and over.  I’m sure they’re doing it to drive home their points.  But I, like others, am reading this book because I already read the leading blogs,  listen to podcasts (which is where I heard an interview with them, leading me to buy the book), engage in Twitter, read AdAge and Wired and and follow Scoble.

In the larger picture, these are niggling complaints.  The authors have done a service to a profession in profound evolution, providing a pioneering work that’s  a textbook for the future of PR.

As the authors point out, we’re in the time of a huge transition.  PR is in an era of telling stories and being a part of a community that we understand and contribute to.

With each chapter I found myself grabbing a pencil to mark passages where Brian and Deirdre offer up insight, truth and a clearer way into PR’s future.

Just as importantly, I’ve subscribed to their blogs and sites to keep up with the conversation that they initiated.

I Did These Things. Now What?

Ron Bronson’s post about spreading yourself too thin in his Edustir blog on Bloghighed August 17, was a wakeup blast of synchronicity for me.
I was just about to do a post about what more I can do in social media land.

And I’m still going to do it.
We’ve been producing podcasts since 2005. They’ve slowed a bit and evolved but we’re still doing them and still getting visits.

We also have every podcast transcribed, both to enhance search engine accessibility and to meet ADA requirements.
This year I created a biweekly TV talk show, “Conversations,” that airs on local cable. We edit the shows into 2-3 segments and upload them on YouTube.
We’ve begun doing student testimonials for YouTube.
We’ve been getting our feet wet with Twitter.
We’re nearing the 1,000 fans mark on our Facebook, which I think is good for a small, rural university.

A couple weeks ago, after months of thought, I, with the help of our IT department, launched the MU Blog, a mix of news and observation.

My news director is about to debut a twice weekly news video –stripped down, straightforward, using a web cam and keeping it under two minutes.
We’re making plans to gradually move our alumni quarterly online.

So, even after the great points made in Ron’s blog, I still wonder what more can we do?
My internal question with everything that we produce: is the content good? I don’t want fluff. None of us has time for that.
Are we speaking meaningfully to our intended audiences?

Is there more we can do in a meaningful, productive way?

Or should we be doing less?

I’m really asking.

* * *

I was  vacation this week.  I decided, in my personal blog, to make a list of all I want to get done, and then document each day to see how many of the projects I actually accomplished, since (thanks John Lennon), life gets in the way of our plans.

Check out my progress or lack thereof.

Newspaper Ad Resurgence? Not Likely.

An article in Ad Age says Newspaper Ad Revenue to Recover is yet another article that gave me hope from the headline.

Then I got depressed.  Then angry.
The article starts out, “Sorry, haters of traditional media: Newspapers’ slide is going to end.”
Sorry, Nat Ives, cheap lead.

I don’t hate traditional media. I began my career with the Star Gazette  back in the late 60s  when reporters had strove hard for objectivity in lean, accurate writing.

The Ad Age article looks at a Borrell Associates forecast that says ad revenues will be up 2.4% next year and up to more than 8% by 2014.  In his blog, Gordon Borrell goes into detail and hedges a bit on this forecast.

I buy the hedge.

Newspaper are desperately needed, along with magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired, and others.  Listen to just a few episodes of Fresh Air, Terry Gross and Dave Davies rely heavily on reporters from The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post and a handful of others.
But to say that ad revenues are going to increase and people are going to start buying newspaper is wishful thinking.  Just keep clicking those ruby slippers.
Massive communication revolution = print  free fall.

Our local paper, The Star Gazette, was the first Gannett Newspaper. Today it’s a skeleton, its muscles ripped away by the corporation.
The folks at the top (print, radio, TV) saw the rise of the Internet and either ignored it, didn’t understand it, or did not find the right way to generate revenue.
They never dreamed  that people would actually choose other ways to get their news and entertainment.

Look, corporations, greater numbers of people are not  reading newspapers. Don’t tell me you’re going to have a smaller, educated audience. That continues to smack of elitism, self-aggrandizement, and, frankly delusion.
I want to say that no one under the age of 40 reads newspapers, but you know what? Fewer and fewer people under the age of 50 are reading newspapers.
Habits are formed in our first 18 years. If teens are not reading newspapers now, they are never going to.
I do see hope for well run local weeklies.  They’ve maintained a sense of community.  They’re the place where you can find wedding announcements, little league pictures and articles about local events and concerns.  Local businesses continue to advertise.

Why do I rant?  Because I’m very divided.  I grew up with newspapers and depended on them.  Now, as a PR person of 30+ years I need to know where my marketing, advertising and PR are most effective.

It’s not in print.

More in the next post.

My No Budget TV Talk Show Pt 2

“Conversations” has been airing for three months.  Our first guest was VP for finance Mike Reid about a new community relations committee and some of its goals.

I did this to show that  the university is very involved in the community and the region.   We interspersed information about Mike’s farm, his family who created a business selling maple syrup and apiary products.

Admissions Director  Brian Barden was another guest.  I wanted people to see how complex his operation is, how the admissions process works year- around, and some of the challenges he faces to bring in not only a diverse mix of students, but the challenges of filling certain programs.

I followed up on one request and interviewed Mansfield University President Maravene Loeschke and local optometrist and trustee Bob Strohecker about a new  college/community committee whose first project is to raise money for a movie theatre.

We took the equipment into the field and interviewed officials on a new business park and what it would mean to the community.

I have a roster of potential guests that could fill the next year.   I  do a show every two weeks so neither I nor my producer will be inundated.  The show airs four times morning and evening each weekend.

In the show itself, I take two breaks which we use  to air MU commercials.  Possibly, in time, I’ll seek commercials from area businesses, charge a nominal amount and turn the money over to our Foundation for scholarships.    (I’m thinking out loud here.)

After several shows aired, I wrote a news release and we sent it out to local media.    People on campus and around the area have stopped me to tell me how much they like the show and what a great community service it is.  This is the kind of word-of-mouth publicity you can’t buy.

Like everything else that all of us do, the producer and I have fit it into a crowded schedule.  But the payoff on a local and regional level is worth it.

We pull the audio, lay down a music bed and turn some of the shows into podcasts.  I also have an intern breaking the shows into four-five segments to upload on Youtube.  (I actually had requests to do this from people not on the local cable. I’m sure alumni will be interested, too).

Some of you have also expressed interest in seeing them so I’ll provide a link in a future post when some are up.

I emphasize again that this show is no budget.  No special effects.  No set design.  We use a few still shots when appropriate.  It’s exactly what the show title says it is, conversations.

As we do more shows, I’ll keep you posted on our progress and what I learn.

If you have thoughts or ideas, please share them.

The Wallendas Part 4

Angel, blonde hair glowing  in the spotlight, dressed in a bright turquoise jumpsuit, was a stunning figure.

She put her good foot on the steel wire.  She swung her her artificial leg and when the plastic foot landed softly on the wire, you could have heard a pin drop.  It was a long moment.  3,000 people became one as they focused on Angel.

She took a step forward, and then, with her prothesis, another.  She was nervous.  I wondered if I was going to have a heart attack.

She faced a 30-foot span with nothing between her and the hardwood floor 16 feet below.  In a few unbearable moments she was in the middle, where the wire sags just a little.  The tiniest misplaced move could end in a fall.

I swear you could feel the entire gym audience supporting her, praying for her. . .

So was I.  When you produce a special event you’re in a place somewhere between God and a gray area.  I wanted her to succeed for herself, and feel victory, hear applause, soak in the love.  I wanted to raise money to help her. I also wanted her to succeed so the university would benefit from the media coverage.  I wanted her to succeed, too, because if she didn’t, Mansfield would be remembered as the university where Angel Wallenda fell and ended her career.

Her walk seemed to take forever.

When she reached the platform on the other end, the gym burst into, I think,  the most heartfelt, exuberant applause I’ve ever heard in my life.

She turned and walked back.  All of us felt easier about that trip.  She was good.  She had no feeling in the plastic leg but somehow she had learned to make it work.  We were seeing something unique, remarkable, almost miraculous.

A young woman with two partial lungs, an artificial leg, needing cancer treatments, yet so full of hope, confidence and determination that she inspired people around the world.

That night at Mansfield University, Angel Wallenda truly became the Angel of the high wire.

* * *

The publicity was international.  We raised $3,500 in ticket sales.  Donations poured in from around the world and Angel went to California for the cancer treatments.

Angel was no stranger to publicity but the Farewell Walk at Mansfield University made her an icon.  She appeared on talk shows around the country.  Whenever little Steve appeared, he  wore a Mansfield University sweat shirt.

Reader’s Digest did a cover story on Angel.  Mansfield University was mentioned in a couple paragraphs.

My department won a CASE award for Special Events and I was invited to speak at a CASE conference.  I was asked to write articles.   I  was a 15-minute expert on special events.

I thought the The Farewell walk was the end of my relationship with the Wallendas.

I was wrong.

Two years later, I was involved with Steve Wallenda again.  This event nearly did end in tragedy.

Three Decades, Nothing Changes

During my time at Mansfield University, I’ve served under five presidents and my department has been relocated four times.  With the most recent  move  to North Hall, our campus’  “Old Main” I decided to go through all my files and collected stuff.

Nearly three decades of stuff.

The first thing I discovered is that there was a lot of things I didn’t need.  I threw out about two-thirds of my holdings.

The second, and most important discovery:  nothing changes.

I didn’t read everything, but I did go through selected memos, minutes and discussions that began for me in 1980.

The first president I served under was controversial.  She was brought in to reduce the number of faculty.  She did it in a blunt way, not consistent with the smooth, sometimes hypocritical way of higher ed or any top management.

When she got the job done, with pressure from the faculty union, she took another job.  (Read fired.)

I won’t go through all the administrations.  What struck me was memos back and forth between me and my superiors about budgets, staffing, needing more help and money to do the job they were asking me to do.

There are memos of me defending the public relations department.  There are missives from me explaining that the results of PR cannot be bean counter quantified. (No one used the term ROI in 1985).

There are battles with a supervisor looking for ways to pressure me to leave.

There are also letters thanking me for the great job our department did publicizing their event.

I did not find one note congratulating us on getting our university into the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, USA Today, the dozens of Associated Press articles.

I did find notes that said we weren’t getting enough publicity for MU.

I found letters that said we were not touting our department’s accomplishments enough.  I found about the same number that said I was a publicity hog for our department and myself.

From every decade I found memos that said we were in a budget crisis and would have to find ways to do more with less, to work more efficiently and effectively . . . . .

I found, and continue to get, memos declaring that we have to be more accountable.

I found five year presidential reports on how we’re going to move bravely into the future.  Nowhere did I find a document showing that we accomplished all that we said we were going to do, except the Middle States Report.

Here’s the bottom line:  The only thing that changed in three decades was the method of communication . Fifteen years worth of communications were done on typewriters and mimeograph machines.  The last 15 were done on computers.

The human element–the hopes, dreams, successes, failures, the occasional lies, the infighting, rare  congratulations, the bullying, stalling, the forging ahead or the  fight for status quo — indeed, the human nature that hasn’t changed since Socrates, lay before me in tired piles of dusty files.

Technology changes.

Human nature does not.

My conclusion?  Do the best you can each day.  Push for what you believe in.  You’ll win some and lose some. At the end of the day the mark you leave will be forgotten but it will have helped the institution and contributed to your own intellectual and spiritual growth.

My new perspective was, in the end, liberating.

President Obama, Don’t Fib

Note: I modified this from my personal blog because the President’s gaff was a big PR blunder. All the marketing literature says when you make a mistake – whether you’re a company exec, education or political figure, or even someone at the foot of the totem pole like me – you admit the mistake and go on with things. This little bowing blunder is a reminder that in today’s mightily networked world, you either fess up fast or suffer the consequences.

Dear President Obama,

You said during your campaign that as president you would make mistakes.  You’re not perfect, you said.  You’re human.

That’s all true, of course.  But many, many millions of children and youth in the United States and around the world idolize you.  You are bigger than life.  To millions you are a super hero. You even have your own action figure.

You are a role model.

So don’t fib.

If you bowed to a king, say so.  Tell people it was a sign of respect.  You’ve talked a lot about respecting other countries and other people and most folks welcomed that new philosophy.

If bowing was out of place, then say “I made a mistake.”  You’ve done that before and won overwhelming respect for the admission.

Now, when your people say you weren’t bowing, it opens the door to critics to lash out at you.  It brings others to defend you and what suffers the most is the truth.

When I was a kid, Superman could do no wrong.

Today’s young people are more sophisticated.  They know super heroes are flawed, and their flaws are what keep them human.  But just as  important as their unique powers is that they own up to their mistakes.  If they can’t correct them, they at least admit to them.

If your bow was done out of sincerity and respect, say so.

The bow isn’t important except to mean-minded, frightened people who are terrible role models.

What is important to the next generation is the response following the action when you’re called on it.

Do what’s right in your heart.  Then tell the truth.

Don’t fib and don’t let others fib for you.

Thank you, Mr. President.