Bookmark and Share

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Not the Holiday We Want, But the Holiday We Need

2014 has been a year of discussion about politics, war, technology, immigration, race and gender. Yet what has actually been accomplished?

As a society, it feels like we’re constantly spinning our wheels. We know that there are problems, but we all can’t seem to come together, agree, focus and make change happen.

This problem is bigger than our political differences, economic circumstances and diverse cultural histories. It’s a structural problem. Our society is not designed for social action or concerted goal setting.

Humans are by nature a self-centered species. We’re also creatures of habit who avoid long-term planning at all costs. On an average day, most of us do not even check the news to see what’s happening in the world. If you are one of the ever-rarer avid followers of current events, you probably react every day to what has happened on the news that day.

A black teenager was shot by the police? Protest today! But pass legislation to strengthen police accountability, improve schools, break down the prison-industrial complex and increase budgets for officer training? Never! That would take more than a day.

We already have an excessive number of holidays focused on remembrance. We have Veterans Day and Memorial Day for our troops, Martin Luther King Day for civil rights, Presidents Day for our nation’s leadership, Independence Day for our country’s founding, Thanksgiving to be thankful what we have, Christmas to commemorate Christ’s birth and many more. But what days do we have for expectance?

New Year’s Day is meant to be a day of planning and introspection; a day to set goals for our life over the next three-hundred and sixty-five days. This is great for improving oneself but not so great for influencing big social problems. Who do you know who sets a New Year’s resolution to end poverty in the rural South or reform the tax code to encourage job growth?

What we really need is a national day of planning and contemplation. In marketing and management terms, we must develop an annual strategic plan. Congress obviously won’t plan for the next year – let alone the next day – so that leaves the responsibility up to us.

That’s why I’m calling for a federal holiday on January 2nd called Planner’s Day (maybe Congress can think up a better name since they have clearly demonstrated their proficiency in the naming of post offices). This would be the one day a year that the average Joe would be encouraged to read a book, write a letter to their elected officials, talk to their neighbors or write up a plan on how they can impact others throughout the year.

It would also be a day for organizations to discuss their “big” plans for the year. It even could be the one time in which elections are kept out of the national discussion. Policymakers could be required to debate each other on live television and aim to agree on at least one point of improvement to be executed throughout the year.

Members of the academic community would also be able to participate. They could write analytical treatises and send them to the press in an effort to spur discussion, instead of letting their ideas languish in an obscure journal.

Maybe after a few years of taking an annual breather, we’ll be able to step it up and develop a solid national master plan – and stick to it. Maybe in a decade or two we could solve all of our social problems.

Or, at least we’d get an extra day off work.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Can you imagine a city or a country without garbage?

I visited Sweden last summer and was impressed with how clean and comfortable it is. Unlike Oakland, where I live, and other American cities, you don’t see garbage littering the streets of Stockholm. The landfills are practically empty. 
Sweden has perfected the concept of recycling and repurposing. They set the example for sustainable living. Instead of dumping waste and garbage in landfills, they burn it to produce heat and energy. According to a recent segment on Public Radio International, burning the garbage in waste-to-energy power plants generates 20 percent of Sweden’s district heating and provides electricity for a quarter of a million homes.

Ironically, the system works so well that Sweden has run out of garbage. They recently began to import about eight hundred thousand tons of trash from the rest of Europe to fuel their power plants.

There is a lot to be said about living green. We could all take a lesson to help ourselves, help the economy and help the environment. 

~ Paula

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

You don’t have to look far for design ideas

So you’re tasked with designing a magazine ad or a billboard or an issue brief, but you have no idea where to start. It never fails that there are tons of ideas floating around in my head, but then the well dries up when I actually have to put ink to paper. To help get my creative juices flowing when I’m handed a project, I refer to my design inspiration file where I collect ideas as I come across them.

Here are some of the places I look to for inspiration:
  • Pinterest: Not only is Pinterest a great place to look for design ideas, it’s also a great place to virtually collect ones you like. To get started, try out a few different search terms such as “logos,” “brochure,” “print design” and “flier.” You can also start following pinners who have a similar style to you.
  • Google Images: Another good place to search for sample designs is Google. As with Pinterest, try out a few different search terms to get started. I get much more attractive search results when I use Pinterest, but Google Images is also a good way to see examples of what not to do.
  • Magazines: I always keep an eye out for design elements that attract my attention when looking through magazines. Magazines often do really interesting things with headlines, sub headlines, pull quotes and incorporating pictures into a story layout. It’s also a good place to look for ad ideas that are successful at setting themselves apart from the competition – other ads and text on the page. 
  • Billboards and other outdoor advertising: Just as seeing print ads in their “native habitat,” it’s also really helpful to keep an eye out for advertising while you’re out and about. Which billboards catch your eye and why? What about others don’t work? What you think looks good on your computer screen may not work for drivers speeding by a freeway billboard. 
~ Nicole 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Powerful Exhibit Honors Veterans' Stories Through Ink

For many Americans, Veteran's Day means they get a break in their work week and a day off.  Sadly, most won't spend any time celebrating and honoring our nation’s veterans. For those struggling to find meaningful ways to honor war veterans, I encourage you to take a look at a new online exhibit, WAR INK, which opens today. 

War Ink is a beautifully presented multimedia exhibit that showcases honest and emotional collection of video, photography and audio interviews using tattoos and words of 24 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. These brave men and women shared their tattoos and stories to help civilians, like you and me, develop a deeper understanding of their experiences in hopes of opening a dialogue and develop community connections.

Here's a preview of the War Ink exhibit at

“Every tattoo on my body tells a story,” says WAR INK veteran Ron “Doc” Riviera of Santa Cruz, California. “If people would just ask, they wouldn’t get a movie or a book, they would get the real thing.”

Take a few minutes and check out this powerful exhibit that’s sure to leave an impression. Then perhaps, when you see a veteran, say hello and ask them about that tattoo. Who knows, maybe he or she will have a story or two to share.

~ Muriel

Monday, November 3, 2014

U.S. Military Leading the Charge in Social Media

Whether you like the military or not, many aspects of our daily lives have military roots. For instance, the term ‘campaign’ so often used in PR and marketing came from the military, as do words like comptroller, division and ambush along with scores more. And if you take a look at the structure of any military command, you will see nearly the same organizational structure used by most Fortune 500 companies.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the U.S. military has been one of the first large organizations to publish guidance on social media, like on how to build a social media presence and how to maintain operation security in a time of increased and uncontrolled communication.
A chart explaining when and how to respond to comments that the U.S. Air Force produced in 2008 is still being used by many social media managers around the world today.
So the latest salvo from the military is the U.S. Army’s just revised social media handbook. This handbook builds on years of experience and contains a lot of very useful advice that any PR or marketing firm can easily adapt for their own purposes.
The handbook tackles some of the challenges civilian PR and marketing firms must face every day, like: Basic Social Media Management Tips, How to Maintain Security. and Crisis Communication
Whether you are in the trenches of social media or leading the charge, the Army’s social media handbook could be a valuable aid that you might want to check out.

- Ken

Friday, October 10, 2014

HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) -- A Success Story

It’s always nice to hear a success story, especially if you have a vested interest in it. In our work with
our client, the California Center of Public Advocacy, we help to promote HEAL: Healthy Eating Active Living, a program that supports wellness in communities through healthy diets and active lifestyles.

One of the cities that adopted the HEAL program was Livermore, California. And one of the beneficiaries of the program has been the mayor of Livermore, Bob Taylor. According to a recent article in the Contra Costa Times, over the past two years Mayor Taylor has lost 40 pounds by lowering the amount of calories he consumes and getting more exercise. Not only has the mayor lost weight, but his dog is a bit slimmer as well as a result of all their walks.

So congratulations to Mayor Taylor. Hopefully he’s just one of many who are living a more healthy and active life because of a program like HEAL.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Richmond Confidential

Chevron Richmond erupting on August 6, 2012
Source: Greg Kunit, 
Oakland Local
Back in February, the citizens of Richmond, CA woke up to a pleasant surprise – a fresh source of local news in the heart of a city underserved by the media and ever thirsty for some hard-hitting journalism.

The Richmond Standard appears to be just like any other community newspaper. It has articles about the city council, area nonprofits and a police blotter with captivating headlines. It even has an entertainment section. It’s led by a full-time editor, and its common-sense motto proclaims that it delivers “community-driven news.”

There’s just one thing wrong with this paper. If you happen to scroll to the bottom of its website you may be surprised to see this wee bit of legalese: “Chevron and Chevron Richmond are shorthand for Chevron U.S.A. Inc.’s Richmond Refinery and its other divisions located in Richmond.”

As it turns out, this newspaper is a project of Singer Associates, Chevron’s high-priced PR firm. Its editor, Mike Aldax, is in fact an account executive for the company, which proclaims that it is famous for being an award-winning corporate “fixer” that does damage control after major public health catastrophes, many that appear to be the result of alleged negligence.

The Richmond Standard is a corporate fiction, an astroturfing tool that attempts to trick readers into reading news through the lens of a company that just two years prior sent 15,000 local residents to the emergency room. Unfortunately, this sort of thing isn’t just a project of a cynical, desperate company.

A Disturbing Trend

Since the dawn of the Web Age, the news has become a commodity, and news organizations have begun to adopt a similar strategy that melds misdirection, reporting and public relations to create a product that blatantly defies journalistic principles and sullies a once great industry.

As news organizations come to the brink of bankruptcy, they increasingly turn to sponsored content to raise much-needed funding. These articles look like real news but are actually fancy press releases formatted like hard-hitting reporting.

This trend is damaging the public’s trust and eroding the integrity of once-trusted outlets. Most recently, the New York Times, a source once thought to be bucking trends by maintaining the quality of its reporting, has started to permit sponsored content in an effort to maintain profitability.

Now, the only difference between the Richmond Standard and the New York Times, is that the Grey Lady has many suitors, while the other has just one.  

Do Your Part

Everyone can do their part to unravel this trend. Subscribe to the New York Times and your local newspaper. Donate some money or time to Richmond Confidential, an independent and nonprofit news agency covering Richmond. And always take a second look at the author of that article you are reading – he or she may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.