Archive for April, 2011
Federal Reserve Shows that Smart Event Planning Can Manage High Stakes
When communicators organize and stage a press conference for their organizations, the stakes are pretty high. We hold press conferences to support a variety of objectives — such as to address recent challenges or issues or to launch new programs — however, rarely do we have to think about how our press conference will negatively impact the U.S. economy. Well, that’s what the public affairs staff at the U.S. Federal Reserve is thinking about today as they plan their first public press conference to be held this week to discuss the new policy statement of the Federal Open Market Committee.
What is said during the press conference by Chairman Ben Bernanke, whether in his opening statement or in responses to reporters’ questions, could sink the stock market in minutes — a hit that would further hurt the already floundering economy. A lot of pressure? You bet. Great advance thinking and planning by the Federal Reserve will help manage this press conference and its impact on the market.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal today, the Federal Reserve communications team has already taken steps to manage the message from Wednesday’s press conference. Many of their precautions demonstrate procedures that we should consider when planning our own press conferences as well.
- Conduct research on similar events before planning your event. Since this was a first for the Federal Reserve, their team wisely spoke with other banks and global financial institutions with press conference experience to identify lessons learned from these events in the banking industry. Understanding and applying these tips and tricks prior to planning this press conference will help the Federal Reserve limit the pitfalls and challenges they might have faced without such important research. Learning from others’ successes and failures should always be the first step for communicators when planning press conferences, or any type of event.
- Keep event agenda focused on communications goals. To keep on message and force the attending media to cover those key messages, construct the press conference agenda with the event’s communications goals as a guide. The Federal Reserve is planning for brief remarks by the chairman followed by a time-restrained question-and-answer session to keep reporters focused on their key messages and limit tangents that might have occurred if Bernanke delivered longer remarks.
- Set rules for who attends and how people participate. While there is much interest from financial industry people in this press conference, the Federal Reserve decided to limit press conference attendees only to invited media. To attend, the Federal Reserve has stipulated that reporters must work for a media organization recognized by Congress and that each outlet may only send one reporter. By laying the ground rules early about who can attend, event organizers are creating a controlled environment, establishing expectations for how the event is going to be run and establishing their guidelines for how media should be covering the event.
- Prepare the event spokesperson for everything. In the past when speaking with a room full of reporters, Chairman Bernanke answered questions received on notecards. At this press conference, the Federal Reserve is going a more traditional route calling on reporters with raised hands to ask questions. In either scenario, preparing the spokesperson by discussing potential questions and familiarizing them with good answers is key to help Bernanke feel (and look) comfortable during the press conference. Also, this preparation is the best way for the Federal Reserve to control the message and limit negative fallout impacting the New York Stock Exchange before the closing bell.
While communicators, like those working for the Federal Reserve, may not have control over what reporters ask, there are preventive steps we can take in the research and planning phases for press conferences to create an environment that offers the greatest potential for desired outcomes for an organization’s communications goals and messages.
Earth Day 2011: The danger of “eco-friendly” shopping
Today is Earth Day. Since April 22, 1970, people everywhere have celebrated the Earth and worked together to find ways to protect Mother Nature. But as commercialism has crept into Earth Day celebrations, I have to wonder how “eco-friendly” shopping really is.
Headlines such as Earth Day 2011: Go Shopping For Your Planetseem benign enough, but they communicate a subtle message that consumerism is the way to fight climate change. According to Andrea Uku, “green” shopping is a great way to show the planet you care:
I can’t think of a better way to show the planet I care than to do a little green shopping this Earth Day…these items will not-only help you support your environment, but they’ll also help you with a much-needed spring wardrobe update.
In communications and advertising, “eco-friendly” seems to be a buzzword for ecologically friendly, but as consumers, we have to be careful. For some companies, “eco-friendly” translates to economically friendly greenwashing. Wikipedia defines greenwashing as:
… the deceptive use of green PR or green marketing in order to promote a misleading perception that a company’s policies or products (such as goods or services) are environmentally friendly.
As Slavoj Žižek and others have pointed out, the concept of conscious consumerism is a paradox, because mass consumerism ultimately supports the economic systems that breed environmental degradation and social inequity in the first place. For example, if a person buys Ethos water at Starbucks, five cents goes to helping provide clean water for more than a billion people worldwide. How much clean water (and money) does Starbucks waste in making the plastic Ethos water bottles? Well, they don’t advertise that part so clearly, but I bet it’s much more than the water inside. Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff shows that 70 units of waste created every one unit of waste we throw out.
I am just as guilty as the next person of buying things I don’t really need, but taking care of the environment does matter to me. While most of us won’t become climate change activists, even on Earth Day, we can examine our consumerist habits. The next time you see that awesome shirt or those great shoes, ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I really need this or do I just want it?
- Is the company trying to make me think I need it?
- How many resources went into the making this one product?
- (If they say it’s eco-friendly), is this company an exampleof greenwashing?
- Can I help others discern between environmentalism and consumerism? Need help: Here are some tips to teach kids good practices from the start.
What Killed the Soaps? Stay Tuned…
Last week, ABC announced the cancellation of two iconic soap operas: All My Children and One Life to Live.
As a closeted soap fan, I have to say that I am sorry to see these soaps go. I grew up with Erica Kane on All My Children, and I watched soaps tackle issues like abortion, lesbian marriage, and interracial relationships long before society as a whole was more accepting. The soap world was a place that was larger than life and even larger than death (the good characters never seemed to stay dead, they’d just come back with amnesia or a different face played by a different actor). Even today, soaps are a guilty pleasure, although my watching is confined to recordings on my DVR.
But for my 21-year-old daughter, the antics of soap characters can’t hold a candle to the antics of the “stars” of reality television. Want cheating and fighting? Watch “Jersey Shore.” Want to peek at the wealthy? Watch the Kardashians.
The “soapier” real life got, the more quaint the soaps seemed. And for many, it will seem that reality TV killed soaps.
But some of the new dramas getting good ratings on evening network television prove that there is an audience for solid drama that isn’t necessarily edgy. The truth is that the writers of these soaps forgot a critical communication lesson: listen to your audience. There was a lot that went wrong with All My Children and One Life to Live, including writers who rewrote history for a quick story (Erica Kane’s abortion way back when never really happened and the baby-who-was-never-aborted came to town later as a full-grown man — don’t ask!) or ignored legacy characters in favor of newer, cheaper actors. Fans responded at first with letters to the soap magazines, and the soap writers begged the script writers to listen.
But the soaps continued to slash costs and beloved characters’ onscreen time.
In response, the fans tuned out.
Will the remaining soaps take direction from their key audience, or will they ignore the very people they are trying to reach? Stay tuned.
Galvin Electricity Initiative Introduces Landmark Smart Grid Rating Program
Energy Experts Develop First-of-Its-Kind Perfect Power Seal of Approval Program to Drive Innovation, Transformation in Electricity Industry
CHICAGO, Ill. — The Galvin Electricity Initiative today introduced the Perfect Power Seal of ApprovalTM (PPSoA), a program to drive innovation in the electric power industry by embracing consumer needs. The program, modeled after the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification for buildings, will evaluate and recognize the nation’s top-performing smart microgrid projects in key performance categories.
“The Perfect Power Seal of Approval program establishes much-needed metrics that can empower consumers, businesses, communities and regulators to demand better performance from the power system,” said John Kelly, deputy director of the Galvin Electricity Initiative. “Today’s monopoly-driven business model does not hold participants accountable for quality in electricity service. The PPSoA program shines a bright light on this issue, shifting the focus from technology for technology’s sake to measurable system performance outcomes. By providing a standard set of consumer-focused criteria, we aim to inspire continuous improvement in smart grid projects, as those projects innovate to meet the Seal of Approval criteria over time.”
Research has shown that nationwide, consumers and communities are looking for dramatic improvements in four areas — reliability, consumer empowerment, efficiency and environment, and cost. The PPSoA converts these consumer demands into simple and effective metrics that measure and benchmark performance. The program, which is based on Six Sigma quality methods, will help the industry identify necessary improvements as well as strategies for achieving more aggressive goals that meet or exceed consumer demands — financed, for example, by eliminating wasted energy. Projects that score well in one or more categories will be awarded a category-specific seal for each, which allows the program to maintain high standards for improvement while recognizing exemplary performance in critical areas. Projects that excel in all four categories will be awarded the full Perfect Power Seal of Approval.
The rating system was developed by the Initiative together with an advisory committee of experts in various sectors of the industry, including power distribution, utility benchmarking, environmental advocacy, green buildings and product safety. The committee uncovered precedence for each of the new metrics but found that until now, they have not been combined to form a comprehensive picture of electricity system performance from a consumer perspective. The Initiative is collaborating with consumer protection certification organization Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL), to train and certify PPSoA evaluators.
“We are excited about the opportunity to work with the leaders at the Galvin Electricity Initiative on this unique project,” said Jeff Smidt, vice president of Global Energy at UL. “The PPSoA will serve as a necessary vehicle for catalyzing power system transformation based on the voice of the consumer, which we believe should be the driver of all smart grid efforts going forward. UL’s experience in the product safety and consumer protection arenas has shown that a consumer focus ensures both success and value.”
In the pilot phase, the PPSoA program will test the beta version of the rating system by evaluating a select group of projects. Beyond the pilot phase, the program will expand to additional types of projects with the help of a broader stakeholder process. To learn more about PPSoA criteria and performance metrics, visit www.galvinpower.org/sealofapproval.
For more news about the PPSoA, visit galvinpower.org/news:
- Read Smart Grid Today’s coverage: Galvin Initiative Introduces Perfect Power Seal of Approval www.galvinpower.org/media/news/initiative-introduces-perfect-power-seal-approval-smart-grid-today
- Visit www.galvinpower.org/power-consumers/share/multimedia/video-paul-oneill to see former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill discuss quality and the electricity industry.
- Join the conversation at facebook.com/galvinpower and twitter.com/perfectpower.
CONTACT: Scott Rieder, (202) 248-5476, moc.mmocnavnull@redeirs
The Galvin Electricity Initiative was launched by former Motorola CEO Robert W. Galvin to transform our electric power system into one that is reliable, efficient, secure and clean, and meets the needs of 21st century consumers. In 2011, the Initiative continues to spark a migration toward a consumer-driven electric power system that is based on quality leadership. The goal is to promote grid modernization through policy reform and the development of Perfect Power smart microgrids that place top priority on serving consumers and businesses with reliable, high-quality, clean power.
In Memoriam: Sidney Harman, Communications Innovator
Newsweek executive chairman Sidney Harman passed away this week at the age of 92. A sound pioneer, businessman, communicator and philanthropist, Harman spent much of his life discovering better ways for people to connect to each other and the world. He made his fortune by introducing high fidelity or “hi-fi” to the sound industry in the 1950s when television was in its infancy and radio was a primary way many learned what was going on outside their own communities. With the introduction of “hi-fi” sound, people could take in news programs, sporting events and artistic performances without background noise or irritating sound distortion, changing the way they engaged with the world around them.
From the beginning, Harman used his business successes to support social change. He was known for the “quality of working life” programs he initiated in the plants that manufactured his hi-fi systems. The programs focused on improving productivity by increasing job satisfaction and lowering workplace stress – issues that the corporate world still struggles with today. As his calling in life tilted toward philanthropy, Harman served on numerous trustee boards including the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change and the Public Agenda Foundation, a organization dedicated to helping the general public make thoughtful, informed decisions about critical public policy.
Harman made headlines in August 2010 when he purchased Newsweek from the Washington Post Company for exactly $1. The magazine was drowning in debt and many media observers had basically written it off. But Harman saw a way forward that led to a merger with The Daily Beast to form a new entity that he believed combined serious journalism with energetic web savvy.
The impact his latest innovation, the Newsweek Daily Beast Company, will have on the 21st century news media landscape is still emerging. But Sidney Harman’s willingness to take a risk on innovation while investing in social good shows that the stories that truly matter to our national well-being can be told with creativity and integrity.
Communities Fuel Social Change
On March 18, an 11-month-old from my hometown, Watertown, NY, was critically injured by a child abuser. I don’t know this little girl, nor do I know her family. But in small communities that doesn’t matter. In a small community, tragedy experienced by one is felt by all and my heart aches for them.
What has happened in response to this tragedy is a testament to the passion of people in small communities, and is an amazing example of what is possible when one or two individuals leverage their personal communications channels to push for social change.
Starting with a Facebook Page
“Team Kate,” named in honor of this beautiful baby, was created on Facebook by friends of Kate’s mom to show their love and support for the family. My friend from high school, Maura, is one of the founders. Within a few days, Team Kate had more than a thousand supporters and many of my friends had FOR KATE hearts in their Facebook profiles.
Rallying with a Community Event
Maura didn’t stop there. She began coordinating a community-wide rally in support of Kate’s recovery. Within a week, Team Kate’s Facebook page was filled with offers for donations to support the event – free space, free food, free raffle items, free entertainment, free promotion from the media, people wanting to come, people wanting to donate – the list goes on. On Sunday, April 10 hundreds of people showed up in support of Baby Kate.
Taking it to Beyond the Community to Help Others
In late March, baby Kate celebrated her first birthday – in a hospital – because of a child abuser. On that day, several hundred people – some who know her, many who don’t – wished her a happy birthday through Team Kate’s Facebook page. And in less than 24 hours, more than 750 people signed a petition that Maura created in Kate’s honor to advocate for more severe punishments for child abusers.
This goes to show that social change doesn’t depend on political parties or Capitol Hill. It depends on people who passionately seek justice and communities that fight for those who can’t.
Rachel Carson: Mother Earth
“In every out-thrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand, there is the story of the earth.”
Rachel Carson is the founder of the modern environmental movement and author of the ground-breaking book, Silent Spring.
Carson was born in the little town of Springdale, PA on May 27, 1907. She spent much of her childhood exploring and enjoying the forests and streams around her farm, and her interest in nature inspired passionate writing.
After attending Pennsylvania College for Women, Carson was awarded a scholarship to complete her graduate studies in zoology at Johns Hopkins University. She moved on to a 15-year career in federal service, eventually rising to editor all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Her work allowed her to visit the Chesapeake Bay area in order to better understand the economics and culture of the region. This experience motivated her to author several books, but none as scientifically and culturally important as her last book, Silent Spring. Published in 1962, this landmark publication documented the detrimental effects of synthetic pesticides on the environment, animals, and humans. The use of DDT was later banned in 1972, largely as a result of Carson’s work. Silent Spring has been recognized as one of the greatest nonfiction works of the 20th century.
When Carson died from breast cancer in 1964, the Fish and Wildlife Service named its Wells, Maine refuge, “The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge,” in her honor. Carson’s life and work set the stage for large-scale environmental advocacy, and has served as the inspiration for countless current and future environmentalists.