Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Magic of being a Mensch

Penn & Teller, in their opening week on Broadway, did not fail to literally thrill and delight the audience with their unique form of "magic" - or trickery, tomfoolery, sleight of hand, plain bullshit, as the talkative Penn Jillette would describe it. Of course their version of trickery is masterful, practiced and Olympic in its skill and style.
 The small "parlour tricks" were big fun: like revealing how old timey magicians  pulled what were actually fake rabbits out of the proverbial hat, to completely astounding us by turning the fake demo rabbit into a real one before our eyes.

The bigger tricks, like their version of "disappearing" an elephant or the classic sawing a woman in half were all done with literal levity, audience participation or jokes...but they never talk down to the crowd.

But, it was afterwards that I saw an almost bigger trick: a crowd of humans tightly encircling a man in the center and practically consuming him with flashes and fevor, but being tamed by the lone subject in the middle.
Teller, or "Mr. Teller" as he was known when he was my brother's teacher at Lawrence High in NJ, soothes, and calms the crowd, cooing at them in kind voice. Teaching us still....

His part of the stage act never involves speaking a word, but when Teller talked to the crowd that was something to hear. He was patient, polite, generous and, well, a mensch with every single person. If he needed to coax a camera-shy person into a photo, or remind an anxious, clamoring kid that there was a bigger kid (me) who had been waiting longer, he never raised that voice or seemed irritated. He continuously reassured everyone he was not leaving until everyone had a photo or an autograph. There must have been a couple of hundred clamouring fans. I can't imagine how he was not claustrophobic with people pressing in on him.  And yet, the crowd was tamed, and behaved, if that is not oxymoronic in describing crowd mentality, thanks to one of the best communicators I've ever seen.

See them while you can. Through 8/16.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ms Green Dreams

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned; how has it been 9 months since my last post?  And yet the topic of that last entry remains current: how do we face our problems as a town, a country, a planet, and keep up the motivation to heal the world when it's all so overwhelming and easier to just pull the blanket over your head?  While the good news is Ebola is amazingly back under control, other things seem worse - with Palmyra falling brutally, and more uncivil civil conflicts in our own home towns. 

And, just when you want to tune out, give up, and just tune in to Mad Men, THAT outlet pulls the plug.  But not without giving us a little reminder of social progress made since that era, especially as pertains to the ERA, in one of the last episodes. This won't blow the finale for those that are delaying gratification by storing it in their DVR, and even if you've never watched it, at least watch the segment from one of the last episodes when Joan tries to go head to head with her boss over sexual discrimination. Spoiler alert: she loses.

Joan's argument and poise is perfect, her character's bravery buoyed by Betty Friedan. While she at least walks away with some dignity and some of her owed dollars, the battle is what is important for women today to watch and understand.  It really was not very long ago that women like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem helped us finally WIN some of those battles.

We still have a ways to go, and equal pay issues can be added to my laundry list of misery-making headlines.  But we cannot take the progress for granted.  Organizations like Makers are showcasing the stories of women who have - and do - make America.  Younger women can't afford to not tune in and understand the sacrifices made by the Joans before them.

I've made my own progress in the past few months. I'm channeling my anxiety about the news into a resource for women who want to find purpose-based ways to help turn thing more things around.  It's called Golden Girl Dreams, and its aim is to be a curated guide to ways to give back. It's my sideline so it's slow going, but the illustrious followers I've gained on Twitter and the enthusiastic response I've gotten to the concept inspires me, and keep me moving forward.

It's all we can really do, after all.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Little Help?

Ebola. ISIS. Israel. St Louis. And those are just the big headlines.  I was reminded of those and more after a brief reprieve from the news during a three-day getaway. And I found myself weeping while watching the broadcast the night I returned. When is it okay to tune-out? What is the tipping point between the responsibility of staying current and doing one's part vs self-responsibility to fight the anxiety provoked by helplessness...or its close cousin, hopelessness?

I have Saved a Child, donated to UNICEF, cleaned up the parks because NY Cares, mentored, protested and donated some more. And heaven knows I have evangelized environmentalism. By nature I am a bit of a cockeyed optimist yet I find my faith floundering. Must I keep watching the news? Do I dare to look away? For how long?

How do we stay tuned in, which is essential for staying empathetic to the plights and needs of fellow human beings, and not turned off by the tonnage of bad news? How can I renew my confidence that a little help from everyone can help turn a tide? It takes a village may be an understatement with what we are facing; ironically the temptation is to run away...or just turn away. It's easy to compare oneself with the angels who do aid work and feel insignificant. I'm hoping sending more donations and creating more dialogue will help the world at least a little and stave off some bit of pain for those afflicted - and for those of us watching from home.

Some Suggestions for where to send A Little Help:
Red Cross
Anti-Defamation League

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Riding the Green Wave in April

Ann Curry's special on NBC - "Our Year of Extremes: Did #ClimateChange Just Hit Home" - was well done and provided a necessary reminder - in simple a+b=c terms that there is little doubt it is people that are impacting our planet's dramatic weather changes. And watching the report as both an ad sales marketer and someone passionate about sustainability, something was clearly missing. Something as glaring as those glacier images. Not one advertiser in that show grabbed the opportunity to align their brand with corporate social responsibility. And not one advertised product was anything endemic to the area of sustainability. There were half a dozen ads for QSRs and fast food restaurants, a couple of department stores and (ironically) insurance companies, many cleaning products, and even those land-filling coffee pods. I'm from the "it'll never be perfect but at least we can try" camp. So, where was Starbucks and its sustainability effort? Where were CSX or Amtrak touting fuel-saving transportation modes? How about even a fuel-efficient or hybrid car? Even Microsoft - which PRNews just applauded as the most socially responsible company of 2013. Instead, we saw ads for (ironically) air fresheners and burgers.
A few years back #NBC launched its fairly wide-reaching "Green in Universal" effort. Where's the beef now? Around then, #CBS bought a smart little company EcoMedia, which while today still allows ads for mainstream brands to feature a leaf in the corner of your screen, indicating a portion of the ad buy is being donated to environmental causes, I haven't seen a leaf in a long time. Now, just as when waves of consciousness were spurred by things like long fuel lines then diminished when the lines went down, it seems it has grown less ...convenient?... to wave a green flag. Yet media media gives a nod to extra eco-content in April -- Earth Day month  
But as every marketer today will tell you, ads are most effective when more "native" to the content and appropriately aligned. So, some cynics might cry "greenwashing" if the Climate Change special had ad loads of more environmentally conscious products, but even they would have to agree that the AD environment was better suited to sponsors who at least tried to grab the opportunity to shine their sustainability spotlight a little bit brighter.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What if God were On the Bus?

I always loved how Joan Osborne's lyrics captured the essence of it being possible that anyone could be anything, and what if God were just a "slob like one of us" ...just a "stranger on the bus...". I got that reminder today. I realized I'd misplaced my metro card and was frantically searching my pockets for the fare just as the bus pulled up.  Then in my frenzy a receipt I needed went flying into a puddle, and I plucked it out gingerly, flapping it dry.

Shaking my head at my own disorganization I heard a woman ask if I needed a tissue to dry off the receipt. I looked up and it was a shabby but warmly dressed woman, who was missing most of her teeth. Probably in her 60s, but could have been younger based on what seemed to have been a hard-lived life. I thanked her and declined then shared how stupid I felt about losing my metro card.  Without a second of hesitation she asked if I needed money for the fare.

A whole range of thoughts raced through my head -- from "oh gosh, I hope she didn't think I was looking for money," to "she doesn't look like she even HAS any money - let alone any she could spare?" to "what an incredible gesture." Clearly to all appearances I was the one who should be offering her help, but this stranger from the bus thought nothing of helping another stranger even if it put her that much more behind on rent, or food. I was humbled, and honored. I assured her that I would be okay, after she asked at least twice more if I was sure I'd be okay.

I thanked her and said I wished more people were like her. She just asked, "Well, that's just the way we should all treat each, isn't it?"

Simply, yes. It is.
And a stranger from the bus reminded me of that.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mine, Yours, Ours: Eat It

Across a two-page spread in today's New York Times Sunday Review section (or if you no longer read newsprint, below the online "fold" on the Opinions page) live three seemingly different, but to me curiously related pieces, that spotlight how we look at ourselves and others. Check out "MySelfie, Myself," "Ma'am, Your Burger Has Been Paid For," and "How to Feed the World," and tell me if you see the connection.

What I see is a series of stories that illustrate our varying levels of self-orientation, the good, the bad and the ugly.

There's more than just self-orientation to taking and "selfies" - but, according to @NYTimes tech reporter Jenna Wortham in "MySelfie, Myself," these digital self-portraits are "more about showing your friends and family your elation when you're having a good day or opening a dialogue or line of communication using an image the same way you might simply text 'hi' or 'What's up?'" Or, as a Vine co-founder said, it's less about vanity but "...about you doing something else, or you in other places. It's a more personal way to share an experience." And posting selfies apparently ups one's social currency, sparking more reactions and responses to posts.

So here you go:
But no matter how it's positioned, selfies by definition are "all about me." Me, myself and I are the subject. 

So then we look at the next story below that, "Ma'am Your Burger Has Been Paid For."  This piece describes today's social resurrection of the "Pay It Forward" concept coined by the 1999 best seller (whoops, almost wrote "best selfer!") and later film version with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. 

Apparently in a phenomenon primarily happening at fast food drive-thrus, customers are being self-LESS, paying for the car behind them in a chain reaction of random acts of generosity. Stories of hundreds of consecutive cars covering the food purchases of the drivers following them were reported at Tim Hortons in Winnipeg to Chick-fil-A in Houston and so on. (FYI, though not mentioned in the NYTimes story, a little late to the game Starbucks tried to leverage this selfless trend with an organized version of altruism last week, but we'll give them points for trying to encourage a little less selfie-ness in the world.)

Which brings us to "How the Feed the World." In a nutshell, the "how" won't be by covering the cost of the coffee of the car behind you. It will be, as the astute Mark Bittman describes, when we "stop assuming the industrial model of food production and its accompanying disease-producing diet is both inevitable and desirable."  This is a tough but important article to read. 

Bittman reminds us that we have more than enough calories produceable to feed the projected 9 billion people blooming by 2050. But a third is going to feed animals and another third is wasted along the food chain.  Especially here with Big Ag where based on the number of people fed per acre "the United States ranks behind both China and India (and indeed the world average), and roughly the same as Bangladesh, because so much of what we grow goes to animals and biofuels."

There IS a road to salvation, but it will require something we don't do very well outside of the occasional Chick-fil-A drive thru lane: selflessness and a shift to less consumption, more energy efficient farming methods and a focus on not how MUCH is produced but HOW food is produced. 

By diversifying crops, mixing plants and animals, planting trees — which provide not only fruit but shelter for birds, shade, fertility through nutrient recycling, and more — small landholders can produce more food (and more kinds of food) with fewer resources and lower transportation costs (which means a lower carbon footprint), while providing greater food security, maintaining greater biodiversity, and even better withstanding the effects of climate change. 

I stopped eating meat and poultry for good back in the '70s, shocked by reading "Diet for a Small Planet" and its statistics on the inefficiency of grazing cattle vs growing protein rich soybeans, for example. Even if you approach things more moderately, do consider posting a selfie of yourself reading "How to Feed the World" with a link to the article.  And instead of saying "Ma'am, Your Burger has Been Paid For," galvanize your friends and consider giving up the burger even for a week, or to whatever degree you can, and pay it forward for the population and the planet by saying, "your edamame has been paid for."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Talking to Ourselves

Bryan Boettger wrote a well-researched blog that made a great point in MediaPost's "Social Media Insider" yesterday about the Oreo tweet.
Slam dunk (sorry) on the point he made, which is that of the THOUSANDS of retweets it received, a high percentage were from other marketers and social media folks: 
In an age when social media is supposed to help brands connect with average consumers, I find it ironic that the social media industry is what Oreo seemed to connect with most – not average consumers....
...I think Oreo and 360i did an amazing job. They were aware, smart, creative and fast --everything a brand and agency should be.
[But] Here’s the big point: I just question how much the tweet resonated with the general public, compared to resonating with what our industry is craving.

Bryan also compared the tonnage of retweets to the number for the most popular presidential post during the elections.  It was less than half of Oreo's.  His explanation is that
The President’s tweet was spread by average Americans, but Oreo’s tweet was spread by us: ad industry pundits, professionals and news outlets. And it was retweeted by us IMMEDIATELY after it came out.
To me, an important point beyond that in this example marketers were talking to mainly each other, is that in general we follow like-minded people most often. We choose to hang out in similar circles, like birds of a feather.  And while social media amplifies all our voices louder and broader, for sure, ears that we hope to influence may never hear our point of view because they probably have not chosen to follow us. 

More and more we'll stay in our own lanes, listening to each other speak about the stuff we already agree with.  This is might not matter much with a package goods scenario - Oreo and others have brand strategies and advertising that helps them reach wider audiences.  But it's definitely important in social CAUSE circles and politics.  We're already spending way to much time talking to ourselves versus really engaging with other opinions.  It's the trouble with citizen journalism and it's an easy way to homogenize communities. 

So, reach out, everyone, and do something crazy like following some people you don't necessarily agree with.  And maybe even retweet them!