Be Valentine’s Day Star: Flowers Wilt, Notes Last

Valentine’s Day is a great chance to show what that special person means to you. Christmas has presents for the kids. Thanksgiving is consumed with food and family gatherings. Valentine’s Day is “show time” for lovers. Make the most of it.

ValentineDayTry something different this year. Write a personal note that is both specific and revealing. If you need a hand getting started, maybe this will help:

1- Jot down the things you love most about your partner. Make a list.
2- Think of specific examples that reflect those traits
3- Locate a photo or two that represents the examples
4- Create a brief outline that tells this special story
5- Start writing

You don’t have to be Hemingway. A little editing here, a little polishing there, and you will have something that will be memorable.

You have the time. How much of it have you spent on social media lately? Give it a break for a moment and pause for something that matters a lot.

Flowers last a week. Candy is loaded with fat. The right note can be an enduring treasure. Go for it!

The writer runs a communications business and has the good fortune of having the best wife and daughter any man could hope for.

Super Bowl Ads: What Worked, What Didn’t?

Puppies still work. Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad on the lost puppy became the top-rated commercial, according to USA Today’s Ad Meter, a survey of 6,700 consumers.

Many advertisers went the “pulling the heart strings” route this year. It made breaking through the clutter that much harder. And is there is a lot of clutter. I counted 108 ads between the game’s kick-off and final gun, including promos and billboard ads.

The clutter and fierce competition make it difficult to recoup the $4.5 million price tag for a :30 spot. Advertisers pay a premium for the spots, it ‘s like buying a stock when it is high, and count on online views to help mitigate the costs.

The NFL went halfway with its PSA on domestic violence. The 30-second spot it aired was not nearly as gripping as the 60-second spot shown online. Given its awful domestic violence record, it should have aired the 60, especially considering it had five promos for Blacklist, its upcoming program.

Fiat’s “blue pill” ad got a lot of traction, it was funny and made  a simple point. I also liked the Pete Rose “In the Hall” ad — a clever, good natured poke at a controversy.

Many ads made it difficult to know what the product was until the end. Some car dealers were the worst offenders. The Go Daddy ad, a last-minute substitute for a cancelled ad on a puppy mill, was flat, a sharp break with its bombastic rep.

In the end, every advertiser should be asking the same question, is this the best possible use of $4.5 million? Something to ponder while they are pumping their chests over a Super Bowl ad.

The writer, a former TV news anchor, runs a communication and training business.

Belichick Fumbles DeflateGate Presser

New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick played Pontius Pilate at a nationally broadcast press conference on DeflateGate — the scandal over deflated air pressure in the team’s footballs during the AFC championship.

Belichick, who ended the press conference abruptly after 11 minutes, said he was “shocked” by the revelation and claimed he “never talked to any player or staff member” about football air pressure. Belichick said repeatedly he “had no explanation for what happened.”

His press conference may have added to the controversy. He said reporters would have to check with his quarterback (Tom Brady) to learn more about Brady’s air pressure preferences. An old tape of Brady surfaced yesterday where he indicated he preferred lower inflated footballs to throw. Belichick appeared to shift the focus to Brady with the comment.

Belichick’s situation is complicated by baggage. The NFL fined him a half-million dollars for his role in 2007 SpyGate, when the Patriots broke the rules by using videotape to steal signals. He is also known as incredibly detail oriented, making the “I knew nothing” defense more difficult to believe. It is Belichick’s job to know what his staff may or may not have done.

After fumbles over domestic violence, concussions and bounty money, to name a few, the NFL Commissioner’s current credibility makes resolution of the latest problem more difficult. The NFL assumes it has an unlimited supply of passes for public relations messes. This is risky thinking.

In the meantime, DeflateGate is far from deflated.

The writer is a communication crisis expert and former sportscaster.

Shocking Protester Video Goes Viral

In just eight days, my Facebook video post (beware deplorable language) revealing shocking protester behavior towards police has drawn nearly 1.5 million views. Over 26,000 people I do not know, from all walks of life, have shared the brief video with others.

The video strikes a nerve and reaction to it sends a message worth noting.

Many media outlets, some political leaders and a few race-baiting profiteers have painted a picture of America with contempt for police. New York State’s Attorney General said “everyone is at risk” because the trust between police and the communities they serve has broken down.

Yet, thousands of comments from those who watched the shared video tell a different story. These citizens present overwhelming support and empathy for law enforcement and a rising tide of anger on how all police are being portrayed.

Rusty Devine commented: “If they (the protesters) truly thought cops were that bad would they be in their faces like that? NO WAY!!!” Victoria Van Soest Hare wrote, “So sad…The next generation…We’re screwed!!!!!”

Some responses have come from African-Americans, including this one from Nyetta Abernathy: “We need to teach our children how to take their anger and use it in a productive way. This is terrible and makes the situation worse.”

No police misconduct is acceptable. Those who misuse their authority should be held accountable. But targeting the police avoids the more difficult challenges.

A Justice Department report reveals black youth commit violent crime at a rate five times higher than whites. And other blacks are the most frequent victims of their crimes. This gap is a result of many complex social, economic and cultural problems. Change will only occur when those issues are addressed, working together. Sticking a middle finger into a cop’s face won’t fix anything.

Learn more about Mark’s BOOK here.

The writer gives seminars on communication, police-media relations, organizational development and politics. He also conducts one-on-one speaking coaching.

Connect with Mark on LinkedIn.


Graphic Cancer Ads Prompt Strong Response

Terrie Hall

Terrie Hall

Graphic TV ads attempting to persuade people to quit smoking get strong reactions from the people who view them. Just like taking care of your body for cancer also is important to protect your skin with amazon vitamin c serum. Just ask TV stations about healthcare’s version of negative ads: “We know they are having an impact when we get many hateful calls about them asking us to remove them from the air,” said one TV assignment desk editor.

One of the most striking ads features Terrie Hall of North Carolina who reaches for her wig and fake teeth and speaks through a voice box. Sadly, the ad has outlived her. She died of cancer in 2013.

The ads do get noticed, which is the first challenge any ad faces. The Centers for Disease Control claims their ads work, leading to hundreds of thousands of calls to their stop smoking hotline. And it says, a fair chunk of those callers wind up quitting. They to these kind of ads because they want people to get healthier, they recommend people to get their own vision 20 supplement to get more healthy.

But should the millions of viewers who don’t smoke be subjected to them, while in the comfort of their own living rooms? And could other ads, not so graphic, also work well to get people to quit?

Taxpayers finance the ads. So a greater sensitivity to their reactions, from millions of people, should be expected from our government. The shotgun approach — distribution to a such a mass audience — could be refined to a more targeted audience, especially given the capabilities of social media today.

Local TV stations are responsible for everything they air. But it’s not practical to expect them to cover every one of the cancer ads given their high frequency.

If you have a complaint, you may be better off calling your Congressional representative, not the station. The ads are a public policy initiative.

The writer is a former TV news anchor reporter, adjunct professor and communications coach and strategist.

Be the Speed Networking Standout!

Speed networking — when business people exchange quick introductions and then move on — has become a top way for business people to mingle and to get more customers or clients. It’s a predictable development for the 140-character “Twitter Age.”


Speed Networking

However, many have yet to learn how to be really good at it. It is no small challenge, being interesting is a skill. Improvement requires some planning and technique.

My advice to those running the events: allow each participant either 1 1/2 half or two minutes for their part and the same for the other participant. Enforce the time strictly, too often one participant hogs the time. Try to get a good variety of attendees, it gets old after meeting your third banker.

For participants, the standard sales pitch won’t get you far. People tune out. Try these suggestions:

1- Do Homework
If you know who’s coming in advance, do a little homework. Check LinkedIn profiles. Let them know you’ve studied the basics about them. Identify common interests you share (i.e., same college, love skiing, etc.)

2- Listen Carefully
People are there to tell their story. Let them do it. Pose questions that show you listened well. Try to locate the “pain” in their business endeavors and offer help relieving it.

3- Talk Benefits
Avoid your list of services. Talk about the benefits you provide and do it in plain English. 

4- Tell a Story
You are not there to pack in as many details as possible. Consider your presentation to be a story that paints a picture of what you do.

5- Be Helpful
You are an expert in something. Give that expertise away to people who could use it. Let them feel you are in their corner.

6- Be Enthusiastic
If you are not passionate about what you do, why would anyone else be?

7- Remember the Basics
Have a name tag you can read. A scribbled name is a waste. Bring business cards. It’s amazing how many people at networking events don’t have them. The excuse doesn’t matter. You come across as poorly prepared.

Most importantly, believe in yourself. There is something special about you. Share it.

The writer is a communication coach and consultant who attends well over 100 events a year.

New Approach for 21st Century Communication

Does a “pre-owned” car run any better than a “used” one? When did we start defining “screw ups” as “breaches in protocol?” The last time a kid at McDonald’s messed up your order, did you complain about the “breach” in your bag?

Clarity Is a Skill

The Internet has forced an explosion in the volume of communication but how are we doing on the quality? I’m tempted to say, “less than optimal,” but then I would be falling into the same doublespeak trap.

The Internet and social media are starving for clarity. Simplicity is not simple. It’s a skill. Better communication in the communication century will require a new approach. Try these five straightforward suggestions:

1- Spend Less Time On Spinning People, More on Helping Them

2- Avoid a lot of big words. They don’t make you smarter, they make you less likely to be understood.

3- Be plain spoken and conversational. Attention spans are shorter than ever. Don’t assume people will stay tuned in. They won’t. Get to the point.

4- Be visual. Use pictures and video to shape your story and use your words to create images in other people’s minds.

5- Be genuine. There’s something special about everyone. Let yours shine.

The direct access to people we now have is the greatest communication revolution since the printing press. What do you intend to do about it?

Joan Rivers: Truth Serum in the P-C Age

Joan Rivers, Twitter photo

Joan Rivers said what she thought. Agree or disagree with her, it was unvarnished. She was biting, often harsh, but she held nothing back.

That set her apart, increasingly so as the Politically Correct Age developed. Her directness was funny because it was so unusual, so daring. “Can We Talk?” was the signal to hold on to your hat.

She was a woman pioneer. Late night talk was exclusively male when she first appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson nearly 50 years ago. Carson loved her and gave her a chance to fill in for him often. When she became his competitor, hosting her own show opposite Carson, he never spoke to her again. In fact, the Tonight Show ban extended through Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. Her appearance on Jimmy Fallon ended a nearly half-century absence there.

Her life wasn’t all laughs. Her husband, Edgar, committed suicide after 22 years of marriage. Her career had plenty of hits and misses. But she didn’t exclude herself from her own barbs, joking frequently about her own plastic surgery. She was the Commissioner of the Fashion Police and the red carpet will never be the same without her.

Joan Rivers reminded us no one is perfect and that laughing at our imperfections is a lot better than cultivating them.

The writer has been involved in media for more than 30 years and has been an adjunct media professor for the past eleven.



Ice Bucket Lessons for Nonprofit Fundraising

The ice bucket challenge will be a fixture in PR classes for years to come. More than $100 million was raised in a month, about 35 times more than the same time period last year. The awareness of ALS has skyrocketed.

What was the secret to the amazing success?

1- Social Media
Everyone on Facebook is a publisher today. These “editors” determined it was newsworthy and gave the story life.

2- Genuine Origin
The story “went viral” because the challenge began with someone with ALS, Peter Frates, who issued a challenge to other athletes.

3- Visual
If a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth even more. Getting an ice bucket dumped on you is visual and visuals count. And since everyone reacts a bit differently, each video is somewhat unique.

4- Technology
Without ease of use, technology fails. It’s become so easy now to tape and post video from smart phones, the masses had a chance to participate…easily.

5- Something New
Most fundraising is about copying what has worked before — walks for the cure, charity golf tournaments, etc. There’s no substitute for a clever new idea in today’s communication universe where people’s attention is a precious commodity.

Today, your good cause has company. There are thousands of them and all of them have access to the Internet. Think out of the box, be visual, present genuine stories and keep it simple.

Maybe you can produce the next big thing.

 The writer is a communications/media consultant and speaking coach.

Hotel Puts Price Tag on Free Speech

A Hudson, NY hotel has threaten to fine couples that get married there for any negative review posted about the hotel — from any wedding party guest.

What a way to start the honeymoon.

Here’s the policy (now removed) from the Union Street Guest House’s website:

If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review.

Amid an Internet firestorm, the hotel tried to defuse the situation by claiming the post was outdated and placed there tongue-in-cheek. However, someone claiming to be a former guest said he received this email from the hotel:

“please note that your recent on-line review of our Inn will cost the wedding party that left us a deposit $500.  This money be charged via  the deposit they have left us unless/until it is removed.  Any other or future reviews will also be charged to the wedding party (bride & groom) from the guarantee they have provided us.”

Doesn’t sound like tongue-in-cheek to me.

It’s unclear if the hotel actually ever kept a couple’s deposit, but the threat is damage enough.

The online reviews service,, compounded the problem by removing criticism of the hotel policy on its site. It insisted first-hand experience at the hotel qualified people to post. Really? You don’t need to visit the hotel to have an opinion about its policy.

Attempts at the manipulation of free speech are not only the work of politicians and government. The corporate world engages in it as well and the price and quality of products and services we buy are affected by it.

Keep vigilant. Any attempt to inhibit speech is a loss for all of us.

The writer is a longtime 1st Amendment advocate and former TV anchor/reporter.