Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Other Side of Date Night

A photo within a photo is called the Droste Effect.

But what do you call a photo of someone taking a photo?

My significant other calls it "The Other Side of Date Night," according to her new Instagram account that features photos of me taking Instagram photos when we're out together.

This differs from the recursive photo-within-a-photo-within-a-photo properties of the effect named after an image on a Dutch cocoa package designed by Jan Misset in 1904.

The Droste Effect is well-documented. Look at these 50 great examples.

So too are popular searches for photos of people taking photos. Consider this Tumblr search or 500px blog post.

It's not the same as "The Other Side of Date Night," though.

Closer is this amusing Instagram account of the problems people encounter in taking pictures of mirrors they plan to sell on Craig's List.

Closer still is "The Boyfriends of Instagram" account, which documents the ridiculous lengths boyfriends go through to capture the perfect Instagram shot of their girlfriends.

But there's no label to describe the faux-epic image of me at the top of this page, iPhone held aloft, snapping the unoriginal Instagram photo of the New York skyline to the right, while on a date with my wife in Jersey City.

Or this photo she took of me from inside a dry car on a rainy night in Bogota, NJ. I posted the resulting image of St. Joseph's Church on my @foundinnj Instagram account because I post a photo of a New Jersey church every Sunday accompanied by the #njchurcheverysunday hashtag.

Why? Because I can't help myself.

I blame modern life for this technology-enabled obsession. I don't think my parents or grandparents worried about stuff like this.

What's worse is that thought of taking a photo of me taking a photo of something else has now spread to my workplace.

Consider this recent photo of my colleague Eric Wilkens (not shown) taking a photo of me, taking a photo of phtojournalist Dominick Reuter, taking a photo of Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg.

Let me propose a name for this social-media-era phenomenon. Call it the SOS Effect.

SOS stands for "Significant Other Shot" or, in work situations, "Significant Observer Shot."

The SOS Effect is a photo of someone taking photo of someone else taking a photo. When you're the trailing subject of such a photo, it's also a sign that you desperately need help.

It means, for example, that you should be paying more attention to your significant other.

And that, my friend, is the true meaning of "The Other Side of Date Night."

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Madam Marie's Path to Enlightenment and a Better Future

Instagrammable and immutable.
On a beautiful summer's night this past Wednesday, I saw my superficial past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw a better future, thanks to Madam Marie.

At a boardwalk psychic's stand -- the same one Bruce Springsteen sings about on "Fourth of July, Asbury Park" -- I learned the power of having someone look into your eyes and concentrate their energy on you.

It was just a few minutes of empathy, but in this age of social media, where so many of our interactions are superficial, it felt rare and real and lasting.

Sabrina, the granddaughter of legendary psychic Marie Castello, had asked me to extend my right palm, but she was staring into my eyes.

"Aren't you going to look at my hand?" I asked.

"I'm not interested in lines," the psychic said. "I'm interested in auras."

In Sabrina's eyes, my aura was especially re-assuring. I was surrounded by angels and destined to live a long, happy and healthy life. There's to be a financial windfall in February, and deceased relatives are looking out for me.

Still, I hadn't come looking for answers or advice. I didn't care about my fortune or about any stranger's observations about my life. I had just wanted to say thank you.


"On the boardwalk way past dark..." (Sandy)
I had wandered to Madam Marie's from the Asbury Hotel, site of an event hosted by Michelle Maurice and Mike Davis of the Asbury Park Press, where artists and writers shared stories about love and loss.

I left before the end because the hour was growing late and Thursday was just another working day, and I was also a bit sad. There had been more songs and stories about loss than about love.

Seeing Madam Marie's brightly lit purple awning nearby, I shyly walked up to tell Sabrina that one of my daughters had been there a year or two ago. Cathy and I had been on a dad-daughter outing when she tugged at my arm excitedly, as if she were still a little girl, and asked if she could get a reading.

My daughter, my Mom and especially my late Dad were always big believers in psychics, so I gave Cathy some cash that night. When she returned a little while later, she was happy. It had been a life-affirming and magical experience for her, and I thanked Sabrina sincerely for that.

When I said I had never been to a psychic myself, Sabrina offered to read my palm. Throughout the reading, she kept asking if I had any questions. I wouldn't normally look to a psychic to provide answers to life's questions, but finally I indulged her.

"Can you tell me something you know to be true?" I asked.

"I can tell you with certainty that one of your daughters will be married by this time next year." When she saw my skepticism, she added, "It will be a surprise."

That, it would be!

The truth is, I don't think predictions matter much. I think what really matters is the enlightenment offered by a visit to Madam Marie's:

Let's take the time to focus on one another. Let's look into each other's eyes and pay attention to what we say. Let's make the effort to show concern, compassion and empathy for someone else.

I'm convinced, with absolute certainty, this will lead to a better future for us all.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

This is a lone sailboat on Pleasant Bay.
Approaching the 50th anniversary of Woodstock this week, my wife and I were sitting under a tent today splitting a bottle of wine. We were an hour's drive from Yasgur's Farm, listening to a great cover band play classic rock.

When Rick of The Flying Obersons began singing: "Love, I get so lost, sometimes days pass and this emptiness fills my heart..." I broke into a wide smile.

I recognized Peter Gabriel's song, which immediately brought to mind the movie "Say Anything" and John Cusack defiantly holding a boombox aloft to play "In Your Eyes."

Such is the power of music. It brought my wistful mood into focus.

My wife and I had just returned home from a vacation week in Cape Cod without our daughters, now grown, and without our family dog, now gone. In the past, we had always spent vacation time there together as a family.

This year, all week long, we toured, joked, ate and hiked surrounded by families with young children and curious dogs -- all with doting fathers who looked and acted just like me, nearly 20 years ago.

If only I could go back in time, I thought.

Meanwhile, all week long, I took many more photos than I've ever taken on vacation, as if I could stop time millisecond by millisecond. As if I had some control.

Now I'm left with all these images, without the five of us in any of them, nearly 20 years later.

So in my own act of defiance, I'm posting nine of them here. As if this blog post were a boombox and I'm holding it aloft.

Because, really... on second thought... I don't want to go back in time. I want to remember everything just as it was last week, for as long as I can.

I want to appreciate that when I look into eyes of my wife or my daughters today, I see the doorway to a thousand churches... and the resolution of all my fruitless searches.

This is where we stayed. Facing south, we often saw Mars in the night sky in our view from the Adirondack chairs. It was too cloudy to see the Perseid meteor shower.

This is Sipson, a 25-acre island currently for sale for $8 million.

This is a Cape Cod Baseball League playoff game. The Chatham Anglers won.

This is the beach at Provincetown, where you don't have to get sand between your toes.

This is Chatham Lighthouse. My wife likes the "Danger, Rough Bar" sign.

This is the Sharks in the Park display on the lawn of the Eldredge Public Library, with artwork currently up for auction online. 

This is still a fishing village.
This is where we went to church on Sunday. No one looked happy during Mass.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Thoughts About Corporate Media Relations, In Real Life

“Annie Hall” is a favorite old movie.

In a favorite scene, a Columbia professor who teaches “TV, Media and Culture” stands in line in a crowded theater lobby, loudly and pompously trying to impress his date by quoting Marshall McLuhan.

The real McLuhan magically steps into the picture and shuts him up by saying, “You know nothing of my work! How you got to teach a course in anything is amazing!”

The punchline: If only real life were like that.


Something similar happened to me recently.

Fade in to more than a year ago. Asked by Ragan Communications to talk about media relations to PR professionals, I cited a decades-old pamphlet, “The Executive’s Guide to Handling a Press Interview,” to say the basic principles of effective media relations hadn’t changed since.

Dick Martin, a legendary long-time AT&T PR executive, had published the following tips in 1977:
• Tell the truth
• Remember your audience
• Begin with your conclusions
• Be brief
• Avoid jargon
• Keep control of the interviews
• Don’t try to answer hypothetical questions
• Don’t lose your temper
• Don’t repeat negatives
Remember, local news isn’t local 
All, to me, were still valid. The last point was prescient, since it was made long before the Internet existed. It referred to local news stories that had broader impact if syndicated by AP or UPI.

Now shift scenes to this past March, when I actually met Dick Martin.

He had just keynoted the “PR Women Who Changed History” event in New York, where he eloquently spoke about the life of the late Marilyn Laurie, AT&T’s first and only female chief communications officer. You can view a video of his talk on the Museum of PR’s Facebook page.

I excitedly introduced myself afterward and told Mr. Martin that I had used his 1977 pamphlet as the basis for a presentation about the immutable principles of good media relations.

He looked at me like I was crazy.

Urbane and polite, he didn’t exactly say, “You know nothing of my work! How you got to be a spokesperson for Verizon is amazing!”

Instead, as he furtively looked for the nearest exit, he simply said, “I don’t know about that. I think a lot of things have changed about media relations since then.”


So I thought long and hard about what to say when the Museum of PR invited me to speak to students attending a PR Summer School event last month. The topic was how to be a corporate spokesperson.

Undaunted, I used the same slide of Dick Martin’s media relations tips. Good messaging is good messaging, I said, still believing the points he made in 1977 are just as valid today.

But, I acknowledged, so much else has changed in the meantime. Coincidentally, it’s changed in the same way Marshall McLuhan predicted it would in the 1960s. “The medium is the message” referred to a world connected by technology. This, McLuhan theorized, would change the nature of what’s news, and what our relationship is to all the things that will be communicated to us.

He was right. Technology and the global village created by the Internet have changed the nature of news, and the nature of our lives.

Avoiding politics, I pointed out recent evidence of this in the world of major league baseball.

About the nature of news. A story ran on TV evening news – which has precious little time to inform viewers about important world events – about a fan claiming a ball thrown into the stands by a Chicago Cubs player. A camera caught a man grabbing the ball and giving it to a woman seated next to him after it was muffed by a young boy in the row in front of them.

Social media went into immediate witch-hunt mode. Literally millions of people viewed the video on Twitter and condemned the man. The Cubs PR team reacted with blinding speed – the speed of good PR these days being measured in mere minutes in this era of 24/7 news cycles. They posted a tweet of a Cubs player handing the boy two autographed baseballs in atonement.

Only later – after initial news reports -- was it learned that the man in the video had collected many baseballs from his seat in back of the dugout during the year… and that he’s known for giving the baseballs he collects to children sitting nearby. Earlier that same game he had given that same boy an errant foul ball.

More and more, this is now the nature of news: lacking perspective, rushing to judgement, pandering to page views.

About the nature of ourselves. Do you know what niche area of PR will be extinct in 20 years?

Media training.

Consider 24-year-old Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader’s locker-room interview after this year’s All Star Game. As he played in the game earlier that evening, the Twittersphere surfaced racist and misogynistic tweets from his account seven years earlier.

Again, the speed with which it became a story was mind-boggling. While the game was underway, baseball PR handlers descended into the stands to advise his parents to turn their Hader-emblazoned jerseys inside-out so they wouldn’t be harassed. Meanwhile, the players themselves consulted cell phones in the dugout as they followed the saga of Hader’s seven-year-old tweets.

Immediately after the game, facing dozens of reporters and cameras in a confined space in the locker room, Hader handled the interviews expertly: he sincerely apologized, took ownership of the situation, looked everyone in the eye and answered tough questions directly. He even volunteered to attend sensitivity training and gave some context (quoting rap lyrics) for his tweets as a 17-year-old.

Media trainers would advise that this is the first rule of damage control: go ugly early. Get all bad news out quickly and begin taking steps to fix things.

Hader seemingly knew this instinctively. His demeanor on camera, at the worst moment of his life, may well have been the product of having grown up in an age where people no longer have to be “trained” how to behave on camera.

The best video training technique these days is simply to turn a cell phone camera on yourself and record. You self-correct after seeing the video.

With video now part of everyone’s everyday lives, and some people having lived this way since childhood, we have become different people because of it.


In this new environment, I offered students three takeaways that, even in 2018, harken to basic principles of media relations that Dick Martin might still agree with.

1. Respect Journalists.

In a recent Washington Post column about “the sorry state of corporate media relations,” Steven Pearlstein writes that in many companies what is widely referred to as “earned media” now takes a back seat to “owned media.” Companies use websites, Internet search engines and social media to build their brand identities and communicate directly with stakeholders.

True enough. Owned media is a strategic marketing and sales weapon.

But earned media -- getting a story told by a third-party who has no vested interest other than uncovering the truth – can be a weapon of mass destruction.

Earned media deserves PR attention now more than ever. Building trust with reporters and helping them do their jobs can authentically enhance a brand’s value in a way that money still can’t buy. Ignoring the power of earned media can quickly ruin reputations. Look what’s happened recently to Uber, Facebook and Wells Fargo. And to the entire business of Theranos.

As the number of true journalists sadly continues to decline, every one who remains deserves an increasingly higher degree of respect.

2. Learn the Numbers.

“Follow the money” isn’t just good advice for investigative journalists; it’s also good advice for  corporate communicators.

You can differentiate yourself from many PR peers and enhance your career by taking the time and effort to learn and understand your company’s finances.

To become a strategic adviser rather than an order-taker, it’s essential to view your company from an owner’s point of view and to understand the financial issues that drive business decisions.

While most everyone values lifelong learning, often “creatives” or “word-people” avoid learning about finance.

Here’s an easy fix: study earnings release disclosures, and read 10Ks and annual reports. At the very least, ask finance colleagues about their jobs. Invite an accountant to lunch.

3. Advocate for something you love.

This is by far the most important rule for any spokesperson.

I work for Verizon. Every day, the company connects millions of people, companies and communities with powerful technology. Here’s a video of my colleagues sharing their favorite lines from Verizon’s Credo, the set of principles pictured here that describes the company's core values.

Throughout my career, I’ve been privileged and honored to have been able to work with some of the best journalists in the world.

I’ve been equally privileged and honored to have been able to do so while speaking on behalf of Verizon employees.

If, in real life, you’re not proud of the PR work you’re doing, you’re advocating for the wrong company or client. Get out. Now.

You’d be better off going home and watching a favorite old movie.