musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
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It's always nice to see the price come down on a product, at least from the consumers' point of view. How often does that happen, after all?
So I was happy to hear that the U.S. Postal Service has trimmed the price of a first class stamp by 2 cents.
But remember when that same postal service introduced the forever stamp? That was back in 2007, when a stamp cost 39 cents. They promoted it as a way to hedge against future price increases. People bought more stamps than they needed, to avoid higher prices when postage rates would inevitably go up. And the postal service got the money, to put into its bank accounts, even if not yet providing the service. Sounded like a win-win situation.
For years, that was the case But now, those who've bought extra forever stamps at 49 cents are finding them worth only 47 cents. The stamp still gets you first class postage, but does it put the postal service's credibility in question?
Have they damaged the marketing value of the "forever" stamp?
I've been in southern California since last Saturday, with another week to go before heading home to NY.
I came out here for business, representing a client at the annual Lifesavers traffic safety conference in Long Beach.
Since the conference ended on Tuesday, I've been on vacation, sleeping till almost 9 every morning, which is late for me. But what makes it seem strange is when I get up and look at my email and I realize that back home half a work day is already done. I see emails time-stamped 5 and 6 a.m.
Even though on vacation with an associate covering things back in the office, as the owner of a small service business, I feel compelled to do what I can to respond to clients and media quickly, even while away.
But the 3-hour time difference feels a little strange. Maybe if I stay out here another several weeks, I'll get used to it.
We've had lots of distractions lately, especially on the political scene. Those distractions have too often been hijacking the news cycle, putting the focus on nastiness, name-calling and misogyny by some would-be national leaders.
There's another type of distraction that's also pretty bad, and many of us are guilty of it.
It kills more than 3,000 people every year, and the number is going up as more of us have and use cellphones constantly and as automakers put more gadgets and technology onto our dashboards.
Teens are especially at risk, since they're less experienced drivers and they've also grown up with cells and texting, so it's part of their DNA. That's why my client The National Road Safety Foundation had me organize an event for them at The New York Auto Show. We're calling it Teen Driver Safety Day, and we expect a few hundred teens (and parents) when it happens tomorrow, April 1st. It also marks the start of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
I just taped an interview with WCBS Newsradio, the top all-news station here in New York. The station will be airing it throughout the morning tomorrow, having me talk about distraction and our Teen Driver Safety Day.
It's an important topic, and it's one we easily overlook as we get distracted with everything else in life. So... when you're behind the wheel, stay off the phone. Even hands-free can be a serious distraction.
I had the privilege of being invited to a summit of traffic safety leaders and experts, convened in Washington by Dr. Mark Rosekind, who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Speaking to about 80 people at the start of the summit Thursday, Dr. Rosekind cited a number I’ve heard him mention at other traffic safety conferences -- 32,627. That’s the number of people who died in traffic crashes nationwide in 2014. He makes a point of using the exact number, rather than saying more than 32,000 or nearly 33,000, since every single part of the total represents a life gone – a loved one, a co-worker or fellow member of the community lost. He feels it’s important to always try to personalize those numbers so they’re more than mere statistics.
Dr. Rosekind convened the meeting, which he titled “Driving Behavioral Change in Traffic Safety,” as a first step in laying out a plan to reach a goal many might think impossible – zero traffic deaths. He says we’ve become too accepting of the idea of losing tens of thousands of people to crashes. And while we’ve brought that number down from more than 44,000 a decade ago, he says the lower total should still be unacceptable to us, he said. For a variety of reasons – lower gas prices, more miles driven, distraction by cellphones and mobile devices – early numbers coming in for 2015 show the number of deaths may actually rise by as much as ten percent.
Dr. Rosekind’s vision is to bring the number of traffic fatalities down to zero. He knows it could take a few decades, but he points to a convergence of things that show now is a good time to begin the effort.
The public is tiring of losses due to selfish behavior like drinking or texting while driving. Laws have been passed and more continue to be established making such bad behavior illegal. Technology is helping make us safer drivers, by warning us when we go out of our lane or get to close to another car, and it even can take control and apply the brakes to avoid a crash.
We’ve been hearing a lot about driverless cars. Early predictions when Google introduced the concept a few years ago said we’d be in driverless cars by 2020. That turned out to be overly optimistic, but experts told us today that we could see 40 or 50 percent of the nation’s auto fleet being driverless by 2035.
Another change that’s on the horizon is what’s being called mobility service. We’re seeing the tip of that iceberg now with Uber, Lyft and other on-demand car services that will eventually make car ownership a less attractive option for many. Why own a car that spends most of its time sitting in the garage when you can get one, along with a driver, when and where you need it?
For the traffic safety community that I’m proud to be a part of, through my many years of work for clients including NHTSA and The National Road Safety Foundation, there will be some big challenges ahead, as well as some great opportunities to try new things and expand others that have been proven to work.
NHTSA’s Dr. Rosekind ended the meeting today by challenging us to think of ways to move toward Zero. He plans to invite us back in a few months to begin to draw up a plan, with short and long-term goals and action items to begin meeting the challenge. I look forward to it.
I’ll be writing more in this space over the next several days about the conference and the various challenges and opportunities to get to zero traffic fatalities.
People just don't seem to get it. What you put online is NOT private.
The latest example of stupid behavior comes from people who should know better -- execs at a major ad agency.
Campbell Ewald had to fire its CEO after a staffer posted a racist email. The email was sent in October, but it didn't come to light until someone sent it to Adweek, which published it in January. Within days, the agency lost three clients, led by insurer USAA and then by Henry Ford Healthcare System and financial services firm Edward Jones.
A few years ago, one of the biggest public relations agencies, Hill & Knowlton, had to fire a senior VP after he stupidly tweeted how he hated going to Memphis, which he called a boondocks town. He was on his way to a meeting with FedEx, whose headquarters and operations hub is -- guess where - in Memphis.
You would think people at ad and PR agencies would know that what goes online might be seen by others. Duh.
I happened across a post on Facebook yesterday that asked "If you could visit a place in time, where would you go?"
An interesting idea, and the person said the 1950's. With the post was a link to a site that has an assortment of photos from various decades.
It was fun to look through the pix. Many had those beautiful cars of the time...attempting to look futuristic but now looking classic. There were pictures of people at the beach, people enjoying Coca-Cola in the classic Coke bottle, teen girls in gaudy sunglasses that were the style back then. Pictures of families having a roadside picnic. Old-fashioned buses. Gas stations where the attendant actually came out to pump your gas and wash the windshield. Shoveling out of a snowstorm. Quiet small-town streets lined with mom & pop stores and no shopping malls and Walmarts.
The 50's were a good time to be a kid. Not much to worry about.
Would I trade it for 2016?
It would be nice to go back for a visit so I could again see people in my family who are long gone. It would be so sweet to hear my grandfather, in his Russian/Yiddish accent, ask me if I'd like another bowl of his home-made split pea soup, so thick that the spoon would stand upright. It would be so nice to see my parents, as I saw them when I was young, dancing in the living room to Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra on the radio. Or playing a seemingly endless game of ringoleevio in the back yard of the apartment building with Ben and Mel and Tommy and Jimmy and Carol and my sister Shari. The family picnics on Sundays, literally surrounded by aunts, uncles and tons of cousins now either gone or moved to faraway places.
Lucky us, we had no worries.
Looking at the photos from the 1950's, though, I see a skewed version of reality. Only one out of 77 pictures showed a black person, and no Latinos or Asians at all. No Jews, either.
I enjoy the diversity of today. It makes life much more interesting on so many fronts. Today's technology enables us to be in touch constantly and instantly, pretty much anywhere in the world. We can get answers to just about anything just a few finger-touches away. And we can drive anywhere without having to stop for a map or to get directions. With jet travel a routine thing, it's no big deal to visit other coasts...of these United States or foreign shores.
Life is pretty good here in 2016.
We have our challenges, for sure. War and hatred, poverty, prejudice are still rampant. But we've come so far, accepting others for who they are and not hating or being suspicious because they don't look or love or pray like us.
One troubling thing today is the tone of our presidential campaigns. They are bringing out the worst in us, showing that there are many among us who would like to go back to the 1950's, but not for reasons I mentioned above. Instead, they'd like to take us back to a time where Jews, blacks, Asians and Latinos were marginalized, where America was lilly-white and people of color -- black or brown -- were kept "in their place," and we all pretty much had to think and act alike.
That's not a time I'd like to revisit, and I hope our leaders and future leaders don't try to take us back there.
An article on the Opinion pages of Monday's Wall Street Journal is headlined "We Need Better Presidential Debates."
I couldn't agree more.
The writers, head of debate organization Intelligence Squared U.S. and an ABC News correspondent, make the case for us to use the standards of the classic Oxford-style debate, where the debaters have more time. They say this format would expose candidates who only use carefully canned responses, and it would force them to be more knowledgeable on issues.
I think I know why the current short-response format is used. Very simply... it makes for better TV.
Longer responses, which should bring more depth to what is being said, can test viewers' attention spans. So the current format, with its loose and unenforced rules, becomes a great reality TV show rather than a forum to inform and persuade voters. The Republican debates drew big audiences not so much for what was being said as for the potential spectacle of seeing candidates, particularly Trump, name-call, mug and make outrageous statements designed to be perfect attention-stealing sound bites. What have we learned, other than this one's a loser and that one's low-energy?
The WSJ article suggests the debates begin with each candidate having a 7-minute opening statement. With the initial field of seven or eight candidates, the Republican debates would have spent nearly an hour just on opening statements -- a surefire recipe for tune-outs. The networks carrying the debates sell commercial time, so they need the huge audiences in order to get good ad rates.
So 7-minute opening statements will never fly on commercial TV.
But here's a solution -- air all the debates on C-SPAN and public TV, where audiences and ad rates don't matter.
The other way to improve the debates in the future is to set ground-rules and stick by them. Candidates should be told in advance that they will have a 15-second overtime limit. When the bell signals time is up, they must know that their microphone will be turned off exactly 15 seconds later -- mid-sentence or not. And the mic should not be turned on again until it is their turn to respond. This will prevent interruptions by whoever is the loudest or rudest.
Ground-rules for behavior should also be set and enforced. No personal name-calling -- it belittles the candidates and the process. Each candidate can get one "pass" for bad behavior, but after a warning by the moderator, if a candidate violates the rules of decency and decorum, he or she should have their mic shut off and be asked to leave the stage.
Maybe then the candidates will be able to stick to a real discussion of the issues at hand, rather than forcing us to endure stupidity like a candidate calling another a loser, ugly or fat, or a mamma's boy.
Candidates can do and say whatever they like in their stump speeches and various campaign appearances. But the debates are supposed to be a chance for we, the voters, to size up the candidates, see where they stand on issues, and get an idea of their depth of knowledge and how they handle the verbal and mental challenges of a proper debate discussion.
I try to steer clear of politics here, but I can’t remain quiet after months of what has been the most degrading and disgusting early campaign season I can remember.
I’ll start by saying I am a Democrat, although I try to base my voting decisions on issues rather than party.
But what’s been happening on the Republican campaign trail has been a travesty… and I think the media has played a major role in what has been a circus sideshow that has to be making us look like fools in the eyes of the world.
I usually am a staunch defender of the media. A free and unfettered media is one of the things that allows a democracy like ours to flourish, by helping keep the public informed. But they’ve been doing a disservice in their coverage of the GOP presidential race.
Part of the problem lies with one of the candidates, who I’ve already gone on record as not liking because I consider him a pompous ass, a petulant bully who calls people names if they disagree with him and who has proven himself to be a blatant racist and misogynist. (By now, you have to know who I’m talking about. I just can’t bring myself to put his name on my 2 cents.)
Beyond his name-calling, public use of foul language not befitting a candidate and his constant reference to his TV ratings, he has said very little about how he would “make America great again.” He’s talked about walling off our southern border and having Mexico pay for it. He talks about carpet-bombing ISIS and preventing Muslims from entering this land of the free.
On just about everything else, when asked what he would do and how, he simply says “trust me.”
Why should we trust this blowhard who started out with a silver spoon and has many times used bankruptcy laws and other loopholes (legal, but not ethical) to default on loans and hurt thousands of businesses and individuals along the way.
And here’s where I fault the media. Their coverage of his antics rather than putting the focus on real news has helped elevate him and give him the credibility that comes with coverage.
I’m not saying he should be ignored. He’s been a front-runner, so media have to cover him. But if he’s not saying anything of substance, then he shouldn’t get ink or airtime. Yes, say he had three rallies in Iowa or New Hampshire. But don’t take another 30 or 60 seconds of a 30-minute newscast to run a clip of him mugging or calling Jeb Bush a loser or Carly Fiorina ugly. That is not news. His answer to unemployment -- "I'll be the best jobs president that God ever created." That's news? Strange, boastful and perhaps a bit sacriligious, but news?
If he says something about policy, then it’s news. And that’s what we need to hear or read so we can be an educated and informed electorate.
I’m amazed and distressed by how much one person with a big mouth can derail the campaign process. Other candidates should have ignored his bluster and outrageous taunts. And the media should have been taking him to task, asking him tough questions and not letting him off the hook with his non-responsive and insulting answers.
Yes, I understand there are many people who have become frustrated and disenfranchised with gridlock in D.C. – much of it created by leaders of the party that’s calling for change, ironically. But some of it is rooted in racism against our first black President. And some is based on fear of foreigners, be it terrorism or jobs that’s the real issue. But the way to fix it is not with name-calling and vapid trust-me promises.
Maybe the media and the thinking public will belatedly step up as the campaign cycle moves around the U.S. I hope so.