Archive for June, 2011

Quick! Grab Me!

June 2011

Last night, I decided to go shoe-shopping from the comfort of my sofa, so I whipped out my iPad and went to a popular shoe site. A screen popped up saying that the site had an app for shoe-shopping. Heaven! Three pairs of shoes later, my idle desire to go shoe-shopping had turned into a “need” for shoes. Why? Because the site grabbed me by making it so darn easy!

Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes on Flickr

I thought of this as I read that mobile devices, such as my iPad, have outpaced PCs in using wi-fi bandwidth. Just as the shoe site reached out and grabbed me on my sofa, smart communicators are taking advantage of this format evolution to make sure their audiences receive their messages.

Studies show that our brains change when we spend more time browsing the Internet than reading books — our brains become “trained” to be flexible and grasp ideas quickly. So, it stands to reason that people who are using mobile devices to get their information need quick bursts of information and not the “War and Peace” of press releases.

Mobile isn’t just for youngsters anymore. Communicators wanting to reach adults can forgo in-depth prose, because the latest stats show that adults are using wireless more. The trend is even more striking among African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos, who not only outpace whites in cell phone ownership, but also in the use of the phones’ features.

So, the question for communicators:

Hw fst cn u commnic8?

Students/Educators Take No Child Left Behind to Heart

June 2011

As the school year wraps up, many, including myself, are caught up with graduation excitement. My niece graduated from high school this month, and I am very proud to share her accomplishment and celebrate her academic achievements as if they were my own.

Photo courtesy of Pushout Philly blog

But, what if she had dropped out?  What would I think of her then?

Many assume that a high school dropout is someone who has failed or isn’t intelligent enough to meet the academic requirements to finish school.  Education is promoted as the key to success, so it is socially ingrained in many of us to make these judgments.

Because of this perception, a group of students and educators have joined forces for a youth-led multimedia project, PuSHOUTs, to impact behaviors around the word and change the concept of a “dropout.”  Instead, they are working diligently to rebrand and promote someone who didn’t finish high school as a “pushout.”

Why pushout? The founders believe that it is not failure, but circumstances like violence, limited resources and lack of support, that force youth to leave school before they can graduate.

Right now, PuSHOUTs is investigating why so many young people of color are failing to graduate from Philadelphia public schools and what is being done to address the problem at the community level.  It is a collaborative effort between Voice of Philadelphia, PhillyCam and Youth Empowerment Services of Philadelphia, better known as YesPhilly. Of their own accord, this group is embarking on a powerful social marketing campaign to dispel faulty assumptions about high school dropouts, change staggering statistics and contribute to the future prosperity of our country.

I’ve been following members of Congress and the Administration very closely as they work to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). While all of us who care about education continue to wait to see if a reauthorization of the bill occurs by the start of the next school year, it is refreshing to know that students and community members are taking their own initiative at the local level to reduce high school dropout rates and improve academic achievement for all students.

Galvin Electricity Initiative’s Yeager to Discuss Perfect Power Seal of Approval on NDN/New Policy Institute Panel

June 2011

WASHINGTON — Today, Galvin Electricity Initiative Executive Director Kurt Yeager will serve as a lead panelist at an NDN/New Policy Institute panel to explain the Initiative’s new rating program for projects in the energy and electricity sector—the Perfect Power Seal of ApprovalTM (PPSoA).

Joined by industry leaders from Full Spectrum, the White House Office of Science and Technology and Verizon Telecom Connected Home Product Marketing, the panel will explore how wireless communications can create opportunities for clean energy technologies and the smart grid, as well as new technological approaches that will be needed to support wireless networks in the future. The event will be webcast at 12:30 p.m. EDT at www.ndn.org/livecast.

In April, the Initiative launched the PPSoA, a program to drive innovation in the electric power industry by embracing consumer needs. The program will evaluate and recognize the nation’s top-performing smart microgrid projects in key performance categories. The intent of the PPSoA is to establish much-needed metrics that can empower consumers, businesses, communities and regulators to demand better performance from the power system. The program will set the bar for measuring the quality of industry projects, including those in the future which will employ the latest state-of-the-art wireless technologies to transform the relationship between consumers and electricity providers.

“This event serves as a vital opportunity to discuss our new program alongside such quality industry companies, who like the Galvin Electricity Initiative, are committed to shifting the global energy and electricity model for the 21st century,” said Yeager. “The PPSoA program will hold projects in the industry to a standard of high quality and accountability, where the focus will shift from technology for technology’s sake to measurable system performance outcomes.”

The program already has some traction—Austin’s Pecan Street project affirmed its support for the PPSoA in its February RFI on the Customer Side of the Meter, which cites the program as offering a clear set of metrics for achieving Pecan Street’s consumer-focused core principles.

To learn more about PPSoA criteria and performance metrics, visit www.galvinpower.org/sealofapproval.

Contact: Maria Enie, (202) 248-5460
menie@vancomm.com

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, 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.

Web-Literate Abramson Offers NY Times More Than A Broken Glass Ceiling

June 2011

Many stories about Jill Abramson’s historic appointment as the executive editor of the New York Times have focused on her gender. However, Abramson has another quality that may prove to be even more important and critical to the success of the Times: Web savvy.

Photo courtesy of ReservasdeCoches.com on Flickr

Now that the Times has launched its paywall and rejected the increasingly popular belief that news should be free, it is no surprise that a changing of the guard was in order. By demanding that regular online readers pay for its content, the Times was drawing a clear line between its storytelling and the rest of the online news clatter. Will Abramson be able to navigate these uncharted online waters while ensuring that the Times remains the standard bearer for investigative reporting and non-fiction story-telling? Her writers think so.

Hours after the announcement, there was an outpouring of support from Times writers on Twitter. Jennifer Preston, the first social media editor in Times history, tweeted, “For all of you wondering about Jill Abramson and the Web? Jill gets it. And she’s fearless. We’re lucky.”

Back in 2010, Abramson temporarily stepped aside from her managing editor role to focus on digital operations and strategy. Bill Keller, then executive editor, said that they both thought that “one of us should really master the whole complicated machinery of an integrated newsroom,” and “Jill came up with the idea that one of us — i.e., her — should do a full immersion.”

Keller, often criticized  for being resistant to the digital revolution, elaborated:

“We really want this to be one newsroom, and it is part of the way there, not all of the way there. There is still a digital rhythm and a print rhythm, and they don’t feel synchronized.”

If Abramson’s goal is synchronization, she’s taking the right steps. Shortly after the announcement, the current Times social media editor tweeted that she had made a “Twitter date” with Abramson. With the inevitable decline of the newspaper industry looming, Abramson has her hands full, and a simple Twitter handle won’t save the Times.  However, I have faith that Abramson has the vision, experience and online training to throw the Gray Lady a lifeline.

As Preston said, “What’s most important is a commitment to devote resources and talent to innovation. That’s there.”

It Gets Better: The Video Heard 'Round the World and in the White House

June 2011

Is it possible for one video to launch a social change revolution? Can one YouTube video inspire others to take action and become activists?

President Obama proclaimed June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month and launched a new section on the White House website dedicated to the policies and issues impacting the LGBT community. Both are landmark civil rights statements never before made by a sitting President. One of the sections of this White House microsite worth noting is called “It Gets Better.” Sound familiar? It should. The section name is a tip of the hat to the successful It Gets Better Project launched to reach out to LGBT teens contemplating suicide due to bullying and prejudice.

The message discusses the happiness, potential and positivity that awaits youth after the difficult teen years. This project — started with a single YouTube video by columnist Dan Savage and his partner Terry in September 2010 — turned into an international movement, inspiring more than 10,000 user-created videos by world leaders, celebrities, activists and others. It has been viewed more than 35 million times and has inspired people around the globe. Watch Google Chrome’s recent tribute to Dan, Terry and their video:

What can we learn from the success of the It Gets Better Project for launching a social change revolution?

  1. Be honest. Both Dan and Terry shared their personal stories regarding difficult teenage years. It was their personal accounts that made the video so engaging and inspired others to share stories.
  2. Keep it simple. The majority of It Gets Better tribute videos have something in common — creators used a simple web or video camera to record testimony or a pledge of support. Most didn’t use fancy editing or production. The personal nature of this  format eliminated those distractions, allowing users to just focus on the messenger and the message.
  3. Use your connections. Dan Savage is a well-known journalist with a syndicated column, a weekly podcast and a spot on “This American Life.” To say that Dan is well-connected is an understatement, and he shared his video with as many people as possible, spreading his message far and wide. Like Dan, we all have family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or like-minded people in our lives who would be willing to share our message and call to action. Reach out via e-mail and social media to get your message to the right people.
  4. Don’t overthink it – just act. Dan and Terry recorded their video in response to a wave of LGBT teen suicides headlining the front pages of newspapers around the country. To be responsive to the growing issue, they quickly acted by recording their video and posting it to YouTube. They were able to capitalize on a news cycle still covering this topic and received more exposure than if they had waited and posted the video a few weeks later. As my mom would say, “You have to strike when the iron is hot.”
  5. Believe the sky is the limit. Did Dan and Terry know that a few months after posting their video, President Obama, Pixar employees or the World Series champion San Francisco Giants would make videos of their own? Probably not. They may have only intended their video to let LGBT teens in crisis know they aren’t alone, but by placing no limits on their efforts, their video led to a movement of love and support and a new non-profit organization focused on sharing that message of inclusion with others in need. Change is always possible with commitment, passion and a willingness to do whatever it takes to accomplish your social change goals.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” In the case of June’s LGBT Pride Month Presidential Proclamation and It Gets Better Project, a moving campaign to help youth live for a brighter future can begin with a single YouTube video.

Eschew Obfuscation

June 2011

As someone who spends a lot of time working on the issue of electricity grid modernization, I get a number of trade publications every day.  They love to cover (and we love to weigh in on) the power industry’s struggles to engage customers. Since most utilities are virtual monopolies, most have never really talked with their customers, much less asked them what they want or need. One of these trades, an online publication, covered the most recent study asking electricity customers what they think about upgrading the power grid. The subject line read “Consumers still don’t grok smart grid, though buy-in key: studies.”

Stranger in a Strange Land[Insert sound of stereo needle screeching to a halt] Grok? In over 20 years working in communications and marketing, I have never run across that term. But it’s quite possible I missed something along the way, so I conducted a quick poll of my colleagues. Of 29 employees, eight thought they had seen the word before but only two — less than 10 percent — knew what it meant.

So you don’t have to Google it, the word originated in the 1961 Robert Heinlein novel Stranger in a Strange Land. In the book, it’s a Martian word! It has entered our vernacular and now is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish a rapport with.”

Whether the average customer will ever understand, much less “establish a rapport with,” the smart grid is material for another post. But the point here is that the publication used a word in its subject line that likely grabbed attention, but distracted from the larger message. I and others spent so much time looking it up and chuckling about the word choice that we never did read the article thoroughly — and the article was about communicating with customers! The ironies in this situation were stumbling over each other to present themselves.

The New York Times recently ran an article about words in our language that are better left unwritten. The list had originally been compiled by a certain New York magazine editor, and is thus quite subjective, but still a good rundown of words that are, as the writer called it, “phony baloney vocabulary.” Words such as authored, celeb and dubbed were listed. Both that list and the situation above spotlight the urge that writers sometimes feel to get fancy with language — and the folly in doing so. Writing should be greater than the sum of its parts. If you want your reader to “grok” you, avoid over-taxing his or her vocabulary. Otherwise the reader, whether dumbfounded or smug, will spend too much time thinking about you — and not enough time absorbing your message.

Farm Aid Responds to Weather Disasters Across the Country

June 2011

Willie Nelson and Farm Aid Activate the Family Farm Disaster Fund

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — As thousands deal with the aftermath of the devastating tornadoes and severe storms that continue to threaten the South, Midwest and Northeast, Farm Aid has activated its Family Farm Disaster Fund to aid in the immediate relief effort for family farmers in the affected regions.

“Our hearts go out to all the folks across the country that have been affected by the devastating weather disasters over the past few weeks,” said Farm Aid President Willie Nelson. “At Farm Aid, we are doing everything in our power to deliver immediate support to family farmers, getting them back on the land and growing good food for all of us.”

Recent reports indicate that 2011 has been the deadliest year for tornadoes in almost 60 years, and tornado season is only half over. Farmers along the Mississippi River have lost their fields and homes to record flooding. Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers from the Southeast to the West are dealing with historic drought conditions. And most recently, farmers in the Northeast have also been affected by heavy rains and flooding.

Since activating the Family Farm Disaster Fund, Farm Aid has raised more than $22,000 in emergency assistance. Every dollar raised will support local farm groups, churches and rural organizations that get funds as quickly as possible to farmers in the impacted regions.

“We are proud to join in the relief effort to help family farmers rebuild their farms and livelihoods,” said Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar. “These farms serve as a critical part of our nation’s backbone, and we strive to help them in this time of need, as they have served the needs of our nation’s people for decades.”

Contributions can be made to Farm Aid’s Family Farm Disaster Fund online at www.farmaid.org.

Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. Since 1985, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $39 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

Farm Aid 2011, the organization’s 26th annual benefit concert, will be held in Kansas, City, Kan. on Aug. 13. For more information, visit www.farmaid.org.

CONTACT: Maria Enie, (202) 248-5460
menie@vancomm.com

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles: Proud Chicano

June 2011

June 2011

“I am Joaquin/ Lost in a world of confusion/ Caught up in a whirl of a gringo society/ Confused by the rules.”

―Stanza from “I am Joaquin,” by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles was one of the earliest leaders of the Mexican-American equal rights movement, commonly referred to as the Chicano Movement. With his poem, “Yo Soy Joaquin,” he helped define the meaning of being a Chicano.

Gonzáles was born on June 18, 1928 and raised in Denver during the Great Depression. His nickname, “Corky,” was attributed to his fiery demeanor, which his uncle coined by saying “he was always popping off like a cork.”

Gonzáles worked hard to save money for a college education and began attending the University of Denver. Though he took an interest in engineering, Gonzáles realized that he could not bear the financial burden of college and subsequently left school. He began to pursue a career in boxing, where he used the survival skills he learned growing up in the harsh conditions of his childhood neighborhood. Gonzáles rose to become an amateur national champion and one of the top fighters in the featherweight class.

His boxing fame and success enabled him to make a smooth transition to a political career. In the mid-1960s, Gonzáles founded the Crusade for Justice, which organized  high school walkouts, demonstrations against police brutality and mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War. He also organized the annual Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in 1969, which brought together large numbers of Chicano youth from throughout the United States and provided them with opportunities to express their views on self-determination.

Gonzáles died in 2005, but his contributions will forever live on as a communicator, community organizer, youth leader, political activist and civil rights advocate, where he helped forge a new spirit of Chicano unity.