3 Things You Should Know About Video

"Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VTR..." Video has been the future of communications since the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” was first recorded in 1977 (this is a video of the Buggles’ version from 1979, when nascent home video tape recorders were still called “VTRs”). Much has changed since it was the first music video broadcast by MTV in 1981, starting with the fact that MTV doesn’t really play music videos anymore. Radio ...

Advertising’s Silly Season

With Super Bowl LI just under a month away, it’s time once again for advertising’s annual exercise in self-immolation. We’ll hear about companies that have bought time on the program. Various aspects of ad creative will get doled out, and social media campaigns launched in hopes of increasing or extending awareness. The entertainment value of the spots will get reviewed in real time during the show, and ranked immediately thereafter. Winners and losers will be decided. And then nobody will ...

Iterating Locks & Keys

Considering there are iron skeleton keys that still turn door locks in medieval castles, you’d think the technology was more than ready for disruption with the swipe of a digital app. Turns out it’s more complicated than that. “Mechanical key systems have always had limitations in solving the problem of access control, especially for large systems,” explained Peter Siklosi, a product manager at Assa Abloy. "Keys can be lost without a reliable way of blocking access for those in locks, ...

Catechism and Cheeseburgers

McDonald’s has opened a restaurant “within eyeshot” of St. Peter’s Square, and a cardinal has called it a “disgrace” that serves food “I would never eat.” A committee of local residents thinks it clashes with the architecture and traditions of the area. The Vatican owns the building, and will collect $30,000 in rent every month from McDonald’s, which further complicates the issue. I’ll admit that when I visited Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in Berlin for the first time a few ...

Inventing The Future

Xerox founded its PARC research center during the sales heyday of its eponymous paper copiers, and tasked it with inventing “the office of the future.” Its location in Palo Alto, far away from corporate headquarters in an Internet-less era of expensive toll calls, is often cited as a mistake that kept it from commercializing every discovery. “No, we went where the people were,” answered Steve Hoover, PARC’s CEO, noting that physical and psychological distance meant its innovators weren’t bound ...

The Night AFTER Christmas

[Note: This poem originally appeared in Advertising Age on December 15, 2011. It has been edited because the author can't resist tinkering] 'Twas the night after Christmas, when all through the store/every employee was working their annual chore: The sale signs were hung by the windows aplenty/Hoping tomorrow the store wouldn't be empty. The merchandise piled high on every surface/Arrayed and displayed for solely one purpose: Since, by the branding consumers weren't enticed/The market required the products get repriced. When, ...

Learning From Hackers

Do-it-yourself types fly under most corporate radars, or at least they’re mischaracterized as tinkerers, post-end users or, worse, hackers. Epson has demonstrated that they can be a fruitful source for innovation, as long as a company knows what to look for, and how to apply it. The proof came in its Indonesian market late last decade, where sales staff reported numerous instances when its popular ink jet printers were being hacked by folks who filled large containers with ink, then rigged ...

3 Things You Should Know About Special Events

With a new year just around the corner comes the inevitability of a barrage of company events at the Consumer Electronics Show. I don’t go to them expecting to be surprised; rather, it’s habit, mostly, followed somewhat distantly by the nagging fear (or is it hope?) that a host will actually make an event something that I shouldn’t miss. It’s an opportunity that too many businesses don’t exploit, mostly out of habit, too. When you think of the time ...

Apology Theater

You’ve probably noticed that lots of companies have apologized lately: Wells Fargo, Facebook, Samsung, Ivanka Trump’s company and, most recently, Evernote. It’s simply not convincing, and usually makes matters worse. It also helps erode our trust in businesses overall. The Evernote incident is a good guide to why apologies don’t work; it got vocal pushback on announced changes to its privacy policy that would have allowed its human employees to read user content so that they could keep tab on the ...

A New Platform For Vehicle Intelligence

Autonomous driving development is focused on shifting human control to computers, in hopes of doing it more effectively and consistently. Auto supplier ZF is looking to build a platform that brings new intelligence to those systems, starting with a prototype that literally sees pedestrians before they’re visible to a human or camera eye. The technology, called X2Safe, detects pedestrians that aren’t visible to drivers, cameras, or radar, and then communicates with vehicles, smart phones and smart watches. Reimagining the Platform ...

3 Things You Should Know About Employee Communications

I’ve been working with employers and clients to deliver employee communications ever since I started in the PR business. I still don’t think any of us have cracked the code on it. Lots of factors conspire to inhibit or misdirect otherwise talented and principled people from delivering what's needed. It's not for lack of valid and important information that needs sharing. Yet the impact of the results extend past the disregard of uninterested employees: I'd say its shortcomings are directly ...

Job Site Choreography

Fluor “designs and builds the world’s toughest projects,” according to its website, which means things like remote petrochemical plants and complex infrastructure systems that require tasks with risks commensurate with their importance. “Lots of safety planning goes into our critical field activities,” said Ashly Coggins, project engineer, noting that there can be thousands of people working on a larger project at any given time. Each work day begins with crews planning their work and identifying ways to avoid potential hazards. ...

Dating A Scientist

After reading one of the regularly excellent issues of New Scientist magazine, I caught an ad near the back cover that offered a dating service. “Look for your hero,” it said, promising to help readers “meet like-minded people who share similar interests.” The picture featured a blonde woman wearing goggles, a bad cape, and carrying a briefcase. Geek matchmaking. It struck me as a brilliant idea. Big data have made dating a far more predictable, if not a somewhat ...

3 Things You Should Know About Technology

“Every company is a technology company,” declared Gartner’s research chief in 2013. The premise has since become accepted wisdom for learned academics and business reporters. So how can you communicate effectively about it? Things are especially challenging if you’re at an established business, which means you have to navigate a complex dance between marcom’s routines for communicating product details with customers, and a need to note the themes and popular buzzwords that matter to everyone else. Working within the constraints ...

Innovating For The ‘Next’ Customer

Though utilities in America’s Midwest can rely on battling the spiking demand and storm outages that come with every summer, Ameren is also exploring the disruptive innovations that may influence its customers’ future expectations. “As part of our long-term planning process, we did an analysis looking out to 2030 and saw the potential for a disruptive step change in the way consumers get and use energy,” said Steve Kidwell, VP Corporate Planning at Ameren. The company also recognized it possessed ...

Making Good On Promises

In the flurry of stories about the election’s immediate aftermath, I’m looking for how many ad creatives will move to Sweden. It might seem like an inconsequential side note, but a small Swedish agency staged a brilliant stunt, offering job interviews in the case of a Trump victory. It was called The Great Trump Escape. The firm, called Round & Round (not to be confused with the equally, though differently brilliant Ratt hair ode of the same name), used a ...

3 Things You Should Know About Executive Quotes

If you’re a senior PR person, chances are you spend far too much time crafting quotes or interview language for senior executives. It was the bane of my existence when I ran corp comm at big public companies. It wasn’t just the nature of the businesses in which I worked; we could have been announcing the invention of time travel, but drafting the quotes attributed to our CEOs always got the most attention. Everyone had an opinion, so a committee ...

How A Utility Dared To Work With A Startup

A large utility and tech startup couldn’t be more different, to the point of being opposites, yet American Water dared not only to work with Smart Earth Technologies (“SET”), but eventually entrust it with collecting and aggregating meter data used to collect its $3 billion in revenues. “It was our first major engagement with a startup, and it was big,” said Paul Gagliardo, Innovation Manager at American Water, which operates as a regulated utility in 16 states. "For a good ...

The Secret To The AT&T/Time Warner Deal

A PowerPoint that explains the deal is hidden somewhere deep in AT&T’s computer directory. The presentation is filled with haughty declarations about the future of “premium content” and “entertainment experience.” Bar graphs of viewing habits and smartphone use are juxtaposed to appear related, and solid and dotted lines connect boxes as if to map a world in which companies don’t sell “things,” but rather “play” in “spaces.” It was produced by McKinsey, Accenture, or some other consulting firm. ...

3 Things You Should Know About Reputation

Corporate reputations and brands are not the same things, and it’s important to understand the difference. Reputations are the result of what people know about a business based on their judgements of its performance, gleaned through buying stuff, working there, owning stock, etc. It’s the present value stakeholders assign to the meaning, believability and reliability of a company’s future performance. Brand is what a business has promised, either in performance or associated emotional benefits. It’s a future value, or “intangible,” ...

Samsung’s Unplanned Obsolescence

Samsung has killed its battery-exploding Galaxy Note 7 phone no more than two months after launching it in hopes of beating Apple’s new iPhone to stores. It’s predicted to lose $9.5 billion in sales, and $5.1 billion in profits through 2017. It goes to show the kind of money involved in the planned obsolescence racket. Vance Packard coined the term in his 1960 book “The Wastemakers,” in which he described the economic theory of purposefully limiting the productive ...

What If Oil Companies Used Their Expertise To Deliver Alternative Energy Solutions?

Statoil is one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, operating 34 fields on or near the Norwegian continental shelf, among its other global operations. Its expertise extracting fossil fuels has made it uniquely suited to innovating green solutions, as evidenced by its scale test of gigantic wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. Jan Fredrik Stadaas, strategy & innovation manager at Statoil, explained: "Sometime in 2002, people were discussing the possibilities for more offshore oil facilities, and they started ...

3 Things You Should Know About Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is all the rage these days among communicators. It’s popular because it’s pretty much impossible to buy your way in front of audiences anymore. The generation that consumed slack-jawed the ads that interrupted episodes of Gilligan's Island on TV are now listening to customized Spotify playlists, and letting people they don’t know curate their information on Pinterest. Younger consumers are consuming snippets of news that flash across Twitter, and swapping information that is purposefully configured to disappear almost instantly. ...

Will Smart Tech Be Moral?

I’ve been thinking about the nature of right and wrong in, well, nature, and how it relates to our hopes for smart technology. The Universe isn’t fair or unjust; it just has no morals. The movements of atomic particles or planetary orbits aren’t good or bad. Molecular interactions don’t first consider equally viable options, and any "mistakes" don't last long. Magnetism has no opinion. It’s a rules-based system, in which the only outcome is efficiency. When Hobbes, Rousseau and other ...

Concrete Plans For The Future

I don’t know who invented concrete, though it has been in widespread use since the ancient Romans used it to build the Colosseum and miles of aqueducts, but I recently met the guy who is innovating it for building skyscrapers, conserving water, and fighting global warming. Andreas Tselebidis is director of sustainable concrete technology and solutions at BASF, and his enthusiasm for concrete — which ranges from its molecules to its morality — started when he was a university student. ...

3 Things You Should Know About Crises

The crisis communications industry is robust these days. Triggering events seem to be increasing in lockstep with the tech and services made available to discover and share them. People have learned to expect the worst of businesses and institutions; trust in authority is at all time lows, and brand loyalty can be as fickle as this afternoon’s headlines at TMZ. So, while these circumstances serve as full employment act for PR people and their specialized crisis response plans, it begs ...

Training For a Post-Apprenticeship World

As NiSource rolls out a $30 billion long-term plan to modernize an electric and natural gas infrastructure that serves nearly 4 million customers in seven states, it’s also innovating how it recruits, trains and retains the employees who’ll maintain it. “Maybe a quarter of our workforce is 55 years-old or more, and the average age is in the mid-40s,” said Jim Stanley, NiSource’s COO. “Many of them acquired their skills over years of service, and already possessed significant work experience ...

Tesla & SpaceX Crash Into Our Expectations For Innovation

There are two powerful myths doing battle on the roads and in the skies: One celebrates stoic individuals who dare to innovate, and the other promises huge rewards to those who are first to a market. I wonder if they’re mutually exclusive, or at least contradictory. News of a deadly crash attributed to Tesla’s Autopilot last week followed three incidents this summer. The company blamed two of those earlier crashes on driver error — it seems its Autopilot isn’t so ...

3 Things You Should Know About TV Advertising

TV advertising should be extinct by now, yet such old paid commercial speech has found new legitimacy. How is that possible? I thought we consumers were supposed to abandon the disruptions of commercials as soon as we had the chance, opting instead to sell things to one another via social media. P&G bet on this forecast a few years ago, and has since seen its brands falter (it’s now pulling back from social and putting money back into TV). Over ...

On The Dangers of Opacity

Although business transparency is central to making decisions on investing, regulation, and what sort of world we are creating, there’s very little of it from many of the largest technology companies. Some of it is purposeful, and some of it is inadvertent. All of us are impacted by it. Ask yourself a simple question: Do you know Uber’s plans? Of course, you’ve likely experienced the ease of its ride-sharing technology, and read stories about how it’s disrupting taxis and delivery ...