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Monthly Archive: June 2005

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Spinning, Spinning, Spinning...

I’m home today, mending from a pretty severe case of sinusitis – by the way, any leads on a new nose (incl. various accoutrements) would be greatly appreciated.

Perhaps you saw the news item yesterday coming out of New York – about Snapple (the beverage company) setting the record for the world’s largest goopy mess. Made me think of you PR folks out there, toiling in the bubbling asphalt; spinning, spinning, spinning.

If you missed it, Snapple was actually making a go at the world’s record for the largest ice pop – a record set in 1997 by Jan Van Den Berg, a self-proclaimed “ice-pro” in the Netherlands. Apparently, the all-important elements of weather and timing conspired against the stunt – it was 82 degrees Fahrenheit in the Happy Apple on Tuesday, and the truck bearing the frosty opus of opportunity ran late; stuck in morning NYC tunnel traffic, no doubt.

Had the event gone off as planned, the thing would have towered about 30 feet over the gawkers, instead it sloshed out onto the street causing one woman to slip and fall and a team of cyclists to tumble into the gutter. New York’s Finest (the Fire Department) had to draw out the hoses and wash the gloopy goopy goo into the sewer where I’m certain New York’s infamous (the rats) enjoyed a feast of kiwi strawberry slosh.

Eww.

I’ll be darned if this event didn’t draw out an anecdote. Soon after World War II, RCA Records announced that it had developed the first "unbreakable" phonograph record. Until that time, they were made of clay and were very fragile. The new RCA platter was made from durable vinyl, which was a relatively new petro-industrial material.

A publicity executive conjured up a stunt to demonstrate the invulnerability of the new disk from the top of the RCA building in downtown New York. The date was set and the press and public showed up in droves. At the designated time, the president of RCA dropped the old clay record by its edge and it zipped straight down to the pavement, disintegrating on contact.

Then came time to show off the new super-platter; the executive dropped it in the same manner as its predecessor and, to everybody's astonishment, it too shattered like an old dinner plate. Facing public impalement or worse, the panicked flack redirected the stunned president to drop another vinyl record, "... but as if you were going to set it on a record player," he whispered. The change in aerodynamics caused the record to drift down to the waiting crowd where it bounced off the pavement intact. The agency, so I am told, was none other than Art In Industry, Inc, predecessor to the venerable Ruder-Finn.

Weelllll… I’ll bet there are a few executives who are doing some serious spinning right about now – trying desperately to put a brave face on a miserable flop. Or was it?

Snapple’s press announcement can be found here; the first reporting of the event here; ah… and what the heck, yet another example of CNN swiping from another outlet here.

That’s all for now. Pray that my nose heals.-HP

Monday, June 6, 2005

Monday, June 6, 2005
Hoaxes and Chain Mail

I have something to pass along to the world of freelance writers, PR practitioners, and others who are professionally engaged in communications.

I’m writing about the phenomenon of forwarded “call to action” emails. Otherwise known as “chain mails,” they are innocently packaged stories that often begins with a deal beyond belief or a tale of impending disaster or dire strait. After the body of the message is through with tugging your chain or heart strings, the follow-up is often a request to sign a petition, send money, make a phone call, and then to pass along the “original” message to ever more people. Even the most resolute and non-participatory among us melts when reading about the terminally ill child in Spokane or the distraught parent in Miami. And, oh how the flames rage when we read about the latest fraud scheme, social injustice, or the “real” story about a special interest.

Now… be honest. Nobody is watching. How many of you have actually participated in a ‘chain’? I have, but only early on when I was new to email. After a few embarrassments, I adopted a sure-fire solution – I check the facts before I forward. It’s actually quite easy to do: ‘copy’ a sentence or phrase from the suspect message and paste it into a Google search. You will get one of three possibilities: nothing (rarely), a list of newstories confirming the email (rarer still), or a list of hoax references (9 times out of 10).

As full time – 24/7/365 – professional communicators, we hold the mantle as people who are serious enough about what we say because people assume that we spend a minute or two checking our facts. In our little spheres of friends and colleagues, aren’t we the ones who people look up to when it comes to news items or calls to action? Are we not what demographers and statisticians call “opinion leaders”?

Being vigilant about what you forward will help assure that eventually we can break the most insidious hoaxes; it can also insure you from professional embarrassment. Take as example two attorneys – both very dear friends of mine – who recently forwarded chains. The first one is from “Joisey.” She forwarded that old yarn about how Nina Totenberg (of NPR fame) recently went on the air with a report about Congress cutting funding for public broadcasting. My friend is a public defender, an activist, and considers herself fairly adept at email etiquette. Nevertheless, she managed to forward this message to nearly all of her clients and friends before I was able to warn her that it was a hoax – a fairly old one, actually, which stung all the more.

The latest was from another attorney who considers himself a professional in sorting out the chaff and the kernels of the Internet flood. He specializes in fraud litigation, but also works for the Pentagon (a fraud intelligence consultant, no less), and has clients who pay him to watch out for fraud, has written books about avoiding fraud, has even been on CNN offering tips on detecting fraud… and uhm… in particular, email hoaxes. Well… he got a forward from a trusted source about “809” telemarketing fraud and rewrote much of the message before rebroadcasting it to his entire list of clients and research associates. Yep… you guessed it. Another hoax. While this one has elements of truth (and my friend added his own brand of counteractions), the original 809 warning had mutated with errors that my friend mistakenly included – the most embarrassing point is that “809” is now exclusively the area code of the Dominican Republic.

The lesson here? The Internet is pretty cool, but the information we get from it is only as smart as the dumbest mistake (like forwarding hoaxes). And we, as the purveyors of much of the buzz – online and off – have perhaps more than our share of responsibility to improve the chances that e-mail can be intelligent once again.

Of course the obvious remedy for chain hoaxes is to cease forwarding – but where’s the fun in that? -HP

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