Posts Tagged ‘TrendSpotting’

…being in Athens as it falls down

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

athens_plus1.jpgAthens is the dirtiest, foulest, most-disorganized city I’ve visited in decades. The capital city of Greece is ripe with pollution; there isn’t a motorbike that doesn’t snort emissions far worse than cars. I can’t get enough of it and you can sense the excitement in every section of town. Each person wants to help make this nation great again.

I am drawn to the pact the citizens have made with each other to do whatever it takes to improve the bad scene that scares everyone I’ve met. (Bizarrely, there is nonstop graffiti on every pubic available space that appears to be an encouraged outlet!) Still, if you ask any Athenian he will tell you “I have no idea how to fix this. I just know doing it will be painful for us all.” To fix this place there must be some consensus on what went wrong, and this Government can’t even say that is decisions have been bad for decades.

Not a political reporter by trade, I have spent four decades running towards cultural happenings before their awareness is widely known for magazines, newspapers, TV commentary–and via fiery blog posts. Here in Civil War Athens I blanched when I was first told about the Government’s policies on getting away with it - there isn’t anything the Greek Government won’t do for its friends - and I wonder if the organized strikes the world witnesses so casually are only the first spark of hell for this godforsaken place.

The entire town sat still for 48 hours while protesters took over the city square, forcing every business that sold anything to shut down in solidarity. (It’s wild to find everything here being unionized while none of these groups are, to the naked eye , connected by ideals.) The local pharmacy closed to protest a law that says anyone with a permit–even an optometrist–can naturally pass it down to his next of kin. This is madness. If you own a taxi medallion you can hand it to anyone you know at a price set–by you.

This is a place that, since the torturing junta was thrown out in 1974, turned to a definition of democracy that says “Here!” Public sector jobs are given to whoever the giver knows. There are no standards here–a recent census proved every family has an unwarranted worker among them. d. There has been a general acceptance of tax evasion for anyone who has a cash business including service pros, General Contractors and any smartass who could take cash. The only people who hate these facts are the ones in the streets now. Does this sound famili A relatively small percentage of the nation makes a lot of money–and everyone is under- or unemployed. Sound familiar? made a lot of people rich–and the rest of the people unemployed. It is such a known fact how Greece has been bilked by its childish leaders and “those in the know,” in its shamelessness it renders Bernie Ebbers and that Tyco freak petty thieves. Only thing that surprises Greek citizens is how long it took for these outrageous backwards laws, a known house of cards, to bankrupt the whole nation.

Patronage is a word that you don’t hear much in the “first world”. Here it is a matter of record. The citizens are asking millions of Greeks with work paid for by Government to stop their selfishness and think of the whole: They want workers to work in jobs that are sanctioned; they know some of them will be unemployed and sacrifice is the word everyone throws around. It may seem comical to the British or American, but no one in Greece has ever been “made redundant” and yet there are more than two people doing every public sector job. So this is political nightmare that can only be undone when tough, swallowable rules are voted upon. Don’t forget: two years ago when the I.M.F. asked leaders how many Government employees existed the answer was no one had ever counted!

Older people and young kids are holding placards in the city center alongside those you expect at a loud protest. (Police are reticent to act; they appear to recognize friends in the crowd.) All the people are asking, from where I stand, is that jobs are kept by the ones who work their asses off and pay correct taxes–jobs that are unnecessary must cease. And, yes, union heads must agree to take concessions in order for the European Union to loan Greece all the funds it needs to keep it from losing incoming travelers.

After a week here I believe that these leaders are childish and scared to change; and that Greek professional workers will never accept those in power. A lady I like here said: “You have laws in your country and we don’t. I’d hope Americans realize how lucky they are every day.”

I am proud of all Greeks in what I am calling the European Fall because although it is hard to breathe the air and the trash guys still refuse to budge, no one is fleeing–I haven’t met anyone who wants to abandon what they started. “Something has got to give,” a lively store clerk said with a sudden sad expression. “I have a job today and am lucky; tomorrow I probably will not. Who can know!” There is a sense Greeks will accept what may come–even if it means the worst. Like all Mediterraneans, at night The Plaka is packed with partiers. I don’t see a lot of Athenians staying home eating takeout–they need to converge. When I asked a new friend in a trendy cafĂ© in Gazi–once a slum, now a super-busy Soho–he shrugged. “We will get through it–but we’ll be hard to recognize on the other side.”

It’s difficult to sleep The hotel window is open and the buzz outside is palpable even as the daily The New York Times claims Greece is turning a corner I think not: The nation will fall hard before its revival because no one on any of the multiple sides wants to budge. The next time I come here I’m certain nothing will be the same. There will be many people out of work. Taxes will be paid by people who have never filled out a form. Undeserved funds handed by the European Union–which Greece should never have joined–will have been spent and a hand will be out again. Garbage will be collected by private entities. Each union will ask for concessions and most will be thrown a bone. Yes, strikes will occur every day. The tourist areas will be separated and likely overseen by troops. There will be many people to blame, and a whole country to thank, for the changes. The Ancient Greeks will be proud.

[My new book out in 2012 is titled How To Fame.]

Special Episode of “The El Show” (El-ection Day Wrap-up)

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The regular Tuesday El Show on Blog Talk Radio was interrupted this Election Day for a special with guests anchor David Brancaccio and ad man Steve Cone. Listen in. But here is a summation just so you know what’s in store:

    Blog Talk Radio Presents “The El Show: El-ection Day Special”

On this Election Day special, I start off with an idea there won’t be much change in these mid-term elections which I find arguably disappointing since I’m really a big believer in change. Joined in this discussion is David Brancaccio from Public Radio’s “Marketplace” (former host of the fabulous “NOW” on PBS) who takes a different standpoint and claims that these mid-terms will result in change and that is due to the issue of money. David claims that the economy plays a big part in determining the election despite education being the classic fundamental issue of elections in the past. He says that despite economic indicators saying we’re coming out the hole, consumer confidence is down which gets people annoyed and they lash out on the polls. With certain politicians losing their seats, despite not making an obvious difference, David believes the makeup of congress dictates how money flows so as more republicans come in, money flows change which in turn affects how large companies choose to invest. However, I point out to David: let’s be real. I feel precarious about the true scale of change that is going to happen particularly in the next two years, not just because a lot of people aren’t showing up to vote except for the partisan supporters on either side, but also because even if certain politicians get displaced for others within their party, they’re still going to stick to party lines as there’s not enough passion out there to make radical changes.

Speaking of passion, David brings in the youth element arguing that there’s neither the passion among the youth to register to vote nor the interest due to the disappointment from the lack of change that was promised to them at the last election. Many just look and see the same old thing. Obama was an opportunity lost to the in-house politics and fighting and less focus on what’s for the greater good (my feeling). David blames the media too for focusing too much coverage on these issues, making it out to be a sports race and less on how much peoples votes can actually make a difference. Negative advertising and campaigning, said to have cost a staggering $1 billion this election, doesn’t necessarily make people want support the one releasing the negative campaign. If anything it just puts more people off voting because it all gets blurred together, where everyone is made to look like the bad guy, hardly good publicity for Congress’ already low approval ratings. So after all the money spent they shouldn’t be surprised when turn out is low. Although sticking to his argument that this election will matter, David argues that low turn-out has historically benefited the Republicans.

So we turn to the ad whiz Steve Cone (”Steal These Ideas”) who has noticed that the theme of voter’s sentiment is to “throw the rascals out” )to quote Norman Mailer) and to “get rid of the incumbents”. Cone, too, is disappointed to see just how much money has been spent on negative advertising arguing that 90% of adverts are negative and found the same correlation that it doesn’t swing votes. In fact, he believes its backfiring on all politicians as it makes them out to be crooks. He has yet to see an advert that he believes is of good quality and that a campaigner could be proud of. The only people they appeal to and persuade to come out and vote are the extremists and already committed. We both believe that a more successful candidate would be one who came out with a feel good campaign such as what Spitzer did and Cuomo just completed in New York, promising to weed out the crooks on both sides.

A solution that Steve proposes is that candidates should be more aggressive at seeking people out online, use technology to make people feel engaged like President Obama did in his successful campaign. Rather than spending obscene amounts of money on ineffective adverts, they would get more votes by using the Internet as its cheap, easy, interactive and most people are online these days. Politicians should ask people what they want to see in an advert, what issues they want addressing and resulting in more effective advertisements that they can say are approved by the people. Adverts need some form of response mechanism to get feedback from their viewers.

As a final note to end the show is the very true statement that everyone should vote because if you don’t vote you can’t complain! To listen to the whole kaboodle: Play it.

Don’t forget The El Show is live and taking calls every Tuesday at 9 AM e.t.

Twitter @theelshow and @laermer

The NBC PR Disaster & End of Corporate Speak

Monday, January 18th, 2010

conan-heller.jpgI would have thought that all conglomerates have learned how quickly they can be damaged by “not checking in” with their customer base. Doesn’t anyone remember a year ago when Tropicana disastrously changed their carton without asking if anyone loved the old one? But no one at NBC Universal Comcast GE Microwave got a whiff of the orange-flavored catastrophe so they stepped right back into shit with their heads in the air. And no matter how they paint this pig, the last-place network has lost a huge swath of TV watchers (and we all watch TV, no matter who says “Not me”) by telling us how the Leno drama will end up.

It’s as if they thought we would somehow accept their final answer.

A statement along the lines of “Don’t worry, we’re fine moving Jay into Conan’s slot” was a classic that worked great before we became our own TV networks. That is, we are now the people who make the news. Water coolers are no longer where the action is–it’s on our handheld Black-i-Pres where we wouldn’t dream of quoting a major news story we didn’t have an opinion on. And yes, there was a time when we might be swayed by the machinations of an evil (but persuasive) newsmaking machine.

Back in the days of The Cosby Show being moved opposite Magnum P.I., a powerful media corporation could dictate a success by aggressively shoving a plethora of ads down our shrugging throats. (Even in 2005, when Grey’s transferred to Thursdays, it worked because “Choose Thursday” was plastered behind every toilet!) But now we do the shoving. We are the tweeters and status-updaters and IMers and G-talkers who make opinionated decisions based on how we feel about the deciders. Zucker & Co. will find their unsubtle ways emulated by the people as we take our fight to the well-oiled Internet.

And so this will be an unwinnable public fight that an old-fashioned conglomerate will regret.

It only gets worse for NBC who has to wince as side-show celebrities take sides in an ugly, unfettered way. The slot winner (Jay) has a single star in his corner–and Mr. Seinfeld is already on the payroll cause NBC’s committed to his tacky reality series soon to be renamed Jerry Is a Whore. Rosie O and Jimmy K have been nastily telling Jay to do “the right thing” so Conan can retain the throne–Kimmel went so far as to say “We have children–you have cars.” Alas, NBC has become so righteous and indignant that if Leno did say I’m out of here there’s simply no way NBC could keep the 11:35 brand from dom. Really, this is a circus created in less than a month that should never have gone this far.


NBC played it too close to the chin–er, vest and did not look our way. It’s a corporate error still mass-produced by many media companies as they leak news to same-size media companies and believe we will accept the verdict because it’s all business and nothing is personal. But NBC chieftains (like those orange dudes) are not cognizant of how much personal time we spend laughing at the disasters powerful people make every day. We laugh at the news–we laugh at the way it is covered–we laugh at the tone. Our thought is always, “As if we don’t already know what’s going on.”

We already know NBC is scared witless they made a mistake. And they never bothered to come to us for advice. And that is PR 101.

NBC Universal needed to concoct an online forum using the requisite tools–Twitter, Facebook, a popup micro-site, Linked-in, even colorless - to gather ideas given them by a few who care who hosts what. If they had, they’d be in a powerful position to say “We got this data from knowledgeable, helpful participants.” The results might have surprised them.

What we have here is a unique dilemma. Two big players on one network is normal–but one is always more popular by far. Jay Leno is the handy standby that luckily signing a decent contract allowing him to work until he drops dead. Conan O’Brien is the risky business decision–quirky, unbalanced, nervous-to-a-fault, freakishly tall–now being thrown out like yesterday’s omelet because his early show didn’t rise to hit levels by usual standards. These are two separate stories that should not have competed for public attention. Leno should have been put on hiatus–isn’t that word that everyone uses for cancellation anyway?

I’m surprised, too, that GE has such a short memory about Tonight. Doesn’t Zucker have copies of memos about how poorly Leno performed post-Carson? NBC stood firm with carefully crafted press statements until Leno started winning. The holders-of-the-pink-slips did same for an unknown O’Brien when he took Letterman’s 12:35 show with little notice. [NBC was always the evil empire. They started the Irishman with 26-week contracts.]

In 1993, remember that Letterman was god, but the notion that of canning Leno after seven months and playing musical time periods was unfathomable. It’s insulting to the host and the well-honed staff that has just gotten going; still, but it would have been seen as a slap to viewers who may not be watching but waited to see what others thought about the change.

In 2010, anyone who reads knows O’Brien ratings are low, granted, but Nielsen is only a part of the story today. The “viralness” of some of the current Tonight stunts have been gaining ground and people began to talk…which always leads to an increase on TV and a lot of sponsored Hulu hits. Simultaneously, NBC ruined Jay Leno at 10 by forcing him to be a PR guy whose guests were network stars of their own troubled (read stale) programming. Zachary Levi is colorful on Chuck, but come on!

Now the online/offline/phone-addicted public has their arms firmly folded (and will remain that way) because NBC drop-kicked the redhead and never checked with 24/7 tweeters to ask how would you feel about a switch.

Doesn’t NBC know anyone over at Tropicana?

Funny thing is–asking people (”in an Internet chat where we discussed our problems”) gives these suits an ability to claim, say a year from now, that O’Brien was paid out because the viewers spoke up and said it was time for a change. Key word: time.

And the current big-rating monologues are silly (”Guess what,” murmured O’Brien, “I’ve been offered a role in a porno…and I’m considering it!”) and are helping no one. It’s fun like a poke in the eye! Keeping the fisting skit that Conan did about NBC on its own ad-supported Hulu isn’t a sensible strategy. It’s also not funny for new owner Comcast who has to clean it up.

Don’t you find it uncomfortable watching two corporate stooges poking fun at one another while competitors use their public fight to bring viewers in? (Seth Meyers on SNL: “This week you didn’t need Cinemax to see someone get screwed on TV.”) The pit bosses know the two Tonight hosts’ careers have been irreparably blown and still neither’s camp has done anything but cower–and bitch. “Team Conan” concept is a tween-era marketing boon for the Twilight set that won’t mean more people turning in after he moves to E!.

In a few short weeks the dust is sure to settle. Leno will pop back up at 11:35 (wistfully, with his lips smacking); Conan will get a million viewers who can locate him after Chelsea Handler or Wanda Sykes; The Late Show host will be crowing like mad and winning, I guess; and no one will care. By then Charlie Sheen will be jailed, hospitalized or dead and we’ll all be jawing about the new laugh riot Toby Maguire on 3 and a Half Men.

After the Vancouver Olympics no one will be talking about NBC–a boycott will be underway–and I’m sure young Fallon will be blamed, tarred and feathered. Those pride-filled peacockers will have a big hole to fill. It will be their mouths. Because no one in our networked world wants to be told who is good or bad. And as far as numbersl, in the DVR Culture world Nielsen no longer holds the cards to what succeeds.

We have them. We deal them every single day.
Twitter @laermer

Bandwagoning: Lazy Way To Success

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

You know how we’re always being told to do things better, to try harder, to reinvent, to reengineer, to break the rules, to innovate, to make a difference?

You know how “good” is never good enough? How we’re made to feel guilty for doing what’s been done before, for taking the well-trodden path? Just look at some wow-selling book titles: Good to Great; First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently; The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement.

Well, maybe there’s just a chance that it’s okay to follow in others’ footsteps.

Not to reinvent the wheel, but instead to roll with it. Maybe we can live better, saner, even more successful lives by jumping on the bandwagon, not sitting at the reins trying to blaze the trail ourselves. I call it bandwagoning. It’s succeeding in your goals in a way that feels more natural… some might even say a “lazy” way.

Here is my definition of bandwagoning: it’s the lazy person’s way to success. But don’t let the “lazy” part put you off. I don’t mean lazy in a bad way, or, rather, I don’t necessarily think that being lazy is bad. In fact, I think that being lazy can be positively good for you. There is pseudoscientific evidence that being lazy not only is beneficial to the spirit and to our general well-being, but can actually make us more successful. Successful according to all the usual criteria such as wealth and happiness!

So please justify all things that are the path of least resistance in life, whether at home or at work, that feel right for good reason. Demonstrate to everyone that taking naps, bucko, is good, nay, a brilliant part of everyday life and leads to greater productivity. Watching TV opens your eyes to the world and provides undreamed-of moneymaking opportunities — those Ginzu knives must be making someone real cash! We’ll give you tips on how to avoid unwelcome social contact and how to survive when you’re traveling away from home.

Recognize that, as a bandwagoner, you’ll be ahead of the curve, and not everyone will be accepting of your new stress-free way of life; you can now proudly cover up so as to appear suitably frenetic and driven.

The above is a reference found inside 2011: Trendspotting, from McGraw-Hill.

Twitter @laermer112305im-so-lazy.JPG

TrendSpotting Tips For Marketers

Monday, November 16th, 2009

playworkstuff.jpgOn the 1-year anniversary of the launch of “2011: Trendspotting,” I have decided to ponder a variety of trends to look forward to in business:

    Out with the bad customers.

These days, businesses generally subscribe to the theory that it

What Are We Going To Do When The Recession Is Over?

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Everything today seems very recession-centric. You can

When You Speak, Audiences Teach You More

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Remember that “close talker” on Seinfeld? Well, me, I’m a “future talker,” the man who shows people how to see clearly into the not-so-distant future!

Close talker.

I do a lot of talking — publicly, privately and to myself. Normally, I give speeches about “Punk Marketing” and how to make yourself better at selling. But with the advent of my popular book that I

Barack: The Truth Blog

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Chattering classes have come close to consensus: Barack Obama better get used to hearing the Marine Band play “Hail to the Chief” as he goes about his day (how cool?). The man is as good as inaugurated. Polls have him ahead in ways that make us all go. Every historical analysis gives him the edge. Does anyone even remember the guy he’s running against?

Now comes the truth.

Things change, things change, things change. Polls change, moods change, inertia will likely change, and next thing you know the story — and chattering classes reporting or analyzing — will be amended beyond belief. Headlines You Can Expect: “Holy Lazarus! McCain Rises Again!”, “McCain: Pol with Nine Lives”, “Obama’d Out”, or “Obama? Oh Brother!” Which will no doubt be followed by a round of stories saying the exact opposite soon after, I promise.

If the Dem primaries taught us one thing, it’s that elections are cyclical. You remember, you were there… we all were. Oy were we. And statistics and polls prove that many of us were flip-flopping (a term sadly referring to one of John Kerry’s biggest downfalls in the 2004 election) our way through the Dem-on-Dem crime. We were Hill-raisers, we were Barockin’ the vote, and don’t forget we were flighty.

Media angles and strategic PR fuel our indecision. In 2004 Team Bush slammed John Kerry for chucking his medals of honor from his army days. Bush went AWOL, Kerry misplaced a few pieces of silver. In end Bush PR squad won the battle. They put the story first and spun it so meticulously it made enough people question Kerry’s patriotism (whatever).

It’s starting all over! Are you ready, troops? The media already came down on Obama over his refusal to don an American pride pin. Obama explained that the pin “became a substitute for true patriotism” and that he is “going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.” Media translation: Obama hates America.

Oh, and John McCain, the poor geezer, is the easiest target… heart attack factor runs through his veins. Everyone’s zinging away with the old man-senior citizen punch line. Come on you know it’s hurtful! There are sites out there dedicated to predicting his heart attack. Can you say “Eeek”?

These are non-issue distractions that work, though. (I work in PR and I love distractions.) Examples are endless and the consequences disastrous. Let’s not forget Al Gore passionately tipping Tipper for a smooch to prove he’s not square. I’m still uncomfortable when I see her.

In the months to come, Desperate Housewives will not supply the same level of drama as CNN. Remember, this is our process… You asked for it. You earned it. You will live through it. Look the other way or sit back and enjoy.

Don’t forget to vote, man! []

The Real Blogs Stand Up

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Blogs have become cultural beacons, sculpting public opinion and the whole of the landscape. I have come to love the blogosphere. What

Madonna. One Word for Hype…

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Madonna seems to have a case of Girls Gone Wild-itis. Five years after swapping spit with Britney and X-tina, The Material Mom has proven again there

Buy the Book - 2011