Big Fish, Little Fish

Between classes, projects, work and trying to keep some semblance of a social life without completely dropping off the face of the earth, I’ve been busy. Too busy in fact to regularly post on this blog. Sadly (though I’m not quite sure for who), this is going to be my last blog post. Maybe I’ll be back. Maybe not.

Lucky for me, I’ve been surrounded by new forms and outlets for music over the past few months. I’ve been creating a PR plan for the lovely historic Kent music venue, The Kent Stage, with my partner Emily over the past few months. Submerging myself in the venue, its history, its culture, audience and music has been a fascinating learning experience.

I’ve also just completed one of my all-time favorite classes ever, Record Promo, taught by the marvelous and iconic Gene Shelton, former VP of Media Relations for Warner Bros. Learning the ins and outs of the music industry fed directly into my passion for music. Where else can you take a class where for three weeks straight all you do is listen to music, critique it and essentially be the A&R people of the record label? Sweet.

Record labels have taken a serious dive over the past few years due to the increase in music downloading. Over the past few months not an issue has gone out from Rolling Stone magazine that hasn’t discussed the exposion of Live Nation and the decline of the standard label. I definitely feel for all of the people losing their jobs, but what can I say, I love my iPod.

The increase in online activity isn’t all bad. I’m a recent convert to MySpace and am absolutely drawn to the different channels and tools it has to check out new bands, artists, listen to unreleased material, catch bulletins on show additions or postponements, etc. Forget finding old friends- let me discover a new band!

The interactivity from Web 2.0 capacities doesn’t hurt the bands one bit when trying to publicize or promote themselves. E-newsletter blasts, MySpace and Facebook profiles, blogs, forums, e-fliers and Web sites. Aside from some of the majors losing some change from (possibly illegal) online sales, the garage band down the street is praising these new Web technologies!

In this Internet day and age, indie labels and promotion agencies like FTF Records and Kent State student-run GTB Entertainment can take advantage of the big-business bust and get its artists out in front of the world.

Using new 2.0 strategies, tools and tactics, these businesses and talented musicians have opportunities they may not have had even five years ago. Hell yeah.

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Fingers sore from twiddling

I came across a fascinating article yesterday in Rolling Stone’s “Best of Rock 2008” May issue. It desribed two of my favorite passions: live music and getting people to make a difference.

The article highlighted HeadCount, a grassroots non-profit organization founded in 2004 by Andy Bernstein, author of the Phish fan guide, The Pharmer’s Almanac, and Marc Brownstein, bassist for the electronic-infused improvisational jam band, Disco Biscuits. (And one of my favorite bands!)

The Web site states HeadCount is devoted to voter registration and participation in democracy.

HeadCount is lead by several heavy-hitters in the music community. The Board of Director’s includes Bob Weir (The Dead/Ratdog), Al Schnier (moe.), Andy Gadiel (Jambase) and Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), among others.

“It’s about making a difference.” – Bob Weir

HeadCount volunteers set up shop at all of the major music festivals such as Bonnaroo, Wakarusa Festival, Summer Camp and All Good Festival (to name a few). These festivals bring in tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of people, so many that in HeadCount’s “Call to Action” PSA video, jam legend Trey Anastasio said “all the people at one festival can turn an election.”

So why mix music and politics? This is a question I’m sure many people are thinking and ‘low and behold, the answer is available on HeadCount’s site:

We believe that music, expression and freedom are all intrinsically intertwined…Many artists and fans have strong convictions and a deep personal belief in democracy. We created an organizational structure to channel those beliefs into action.

HeadCount makes sure to stress its bipartisan status. It does not prefer to register more Democrats than Republicans or vice versa, rather it is solely focused on getting people to register so that they can make a difference.

“The group voice is more important than the individual.” – Trey Anastasio

In the “Call to Action” video, Bela Fleck of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones explains why live music festival goers are targeted: that demographic can’t be reached easily and music festivals are a way to reach thousands of them.

I’ve blogged before on the importance of youths in the upcoming presidential election. These young people have such a power hold over the election that Obama, Clinton and McCain can’t help but strategize and implement campaign tactics that target the younger and savvier voter.

According to the Rolling Stone article, HeadCount reaches its target market “by creating television ads and e-mail campaigns, and by setting up registration booths at concerts by everyone from Wilco to John Mayer and at festivals like Bonnaroo and Farm Aid.”

Last year HeadCount signed up 48,500 voters and only hope to double that number this year. The musicians aren’t endorsing specific candidates, rather are just showing how they care.

HeadCount is possibly dealing with hundreds of thousands of proactive and empathetic people who wish to get off the couch, stop twiddling their thumbs and make a difference.

To which I say, ROCK ON!

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Ignorance is not bliss.

Social media is all about people communicating and interacting with people through the hundreds of new Web technology tools, networks, bookmarks, etc.

(Sidenote: many of you are probably aware of this explanation and are sick of people running it to the ground, I know I know. But for those of you not aware…)

In his PR 2.0 blog, Brian Solis wrote a post the other day on how social media isn’t all that different from the standard marketing or public relations campaign template, but now it’s taken on a whole new humanistic voice. Solis aptly writes,

“We’re opening our ears and our minds to acknowledge that we can no longer push our thoughts at people in order to earn resonance; we have to listen, talk, listen, assess, and contribute value.”

With all of the new online avenues to facilitate ideas and conversation it seems there are a few negatives to follow this innovative new culture we live in. For instance, many of my fellow students at Kent State University have been (rightly) exercising their basic freedoms of speech lately online. This recent editorial has spawned over 200 comments, including the good, the bad, the VERY bad, and the ugly.

People have no problem voicing their opinions in the form of online comments, but what about “saying it to [insert your name] face?” This is by no means a new concept, but it’s on my mind because of the recent student online comment uproar(s) on KentNewsNet.

Disclaimer: I have absolutely NO problem with people voicing their opinions. Do it. But maybe people are taking advantage of the ease of online conversations because they get to “hide” their face.

However, I do have a bone to pick with this comment responding to a student editorial about President Les Lefton’s inaccessibility and seemingly ignorant attitude to his students:

“And while this is Kent State University, it is very comparable to a major mid-cap company given its operations, cash flows, etc. Do you think the CEO of any public company answers the questions that every worker e-mails him? Of course not. CEO’s aren’t paid to do that, and neither is President Lefton.”

I disagree in every way. And Kent State is not on the NYSE. I’m no expert in the matter, but I did spend a great deal of time last semester reading and presenting on the Arthur Page Society’s 2003 book, Building Trust.

The collection of approximately 20 leading CEO’s views and anecdotes on building trust among shareholders, stakeholders and employees and how they run (or try to run) an ethical and value-driven corporation opens the dialogue that there are Chief Exec’s out there who actually do care.

Did any of the CEO’s from Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Aetna, GM or Schering-Plough say the efficient way to run their organization is by ignoring their employees or employee concerns?

Absolutely not. In fact, this is a sure-fire way to piss off employees, and no one wants that. It is understandable that the president of a university or a CEO is extremely busy. That’s a given, but not an excuse.

Like Solis said, “We have to listen, talk, listen, assess, and contribute value.” 

Leaders of any kind of small, mid-size, or large entity have an obligation to communicate, interact and listen with their constituents, be them external or internal, by email or in person.

Especially in this new era of social media.

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A Progressive move?

Adios, Jacob’s Field. Hello…Progressive Field?

If you don’t live in Cleveland, you might not care when the Jake, home of the Cleveland Indians, sold its naming rights for an easy $3.6 mil to Progressive Insurance in January. According to Progressive’s site, it is the third largest auto insurance group in the country.

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One thing’s for sure, there are a lot of aaaaangry Cleveland-ers, and they are not afraid to speak their minds, especially in the form of online comments.

Maybe if we hadn’t lost the Gund to Quicken Loans people wouldn’t be feeling as dejected or let-down.

Trendy Cleveland news magazine, Scene, recently ran an article titled, “How Progressive insurance lost what made it progressive,” which garnered over 35 passionate comments and responses.

The comments either:

  • Defended the Mayfield insurance giant
  • Negatively back-lashed it
  • Complained (or b****ed) about the name change, or
  • Yelled at the people who were b****ing.

So what’s the big deal? What’s all this hoopla and uproar about?

For starters, apparently people, more importantly, its employees, aren’t too happy about little ol’ Progressive Insurance. It’s no secret the company isn’t doing as well as it did in the past. Shares have nose-dived and over 300 employees were shooed out since November.

It’s rumored that ever since “Peter B.” Lewis passed on his Chief Executive Officer title to Glenn Renwick, Progressive has turned into the land of the Iron Fist, and this does not make for a happy work environment.

Progressive’s branding and marketing strategy has also taken some heat. Lisagecko.jpg Rab, author of the Scenearticle, describes Progressive’s high-tech and unoriginal commercials as no match for Allstate’s notable spokesperson (Dennis Haysbert) or GEICO’s funny cavemen or cute Australian gecko.

I couldn’t even tell you what Progressive’s slogan, tagline, or jingle is.inside2-allstate.jpg

I’m thinking that splashing its large block letter name across Cleveland’s downtown Indian’s stadium (and all other stadium materials) won’t cause people running…or driving their uninsured cars…to Progressive.

A company cannot solely rely on building a brand name and then put aside the creation and implementation of a concise customer and employee message, a strategic public relations and marketing plan, and strong and rememorable advertising.

I’m interested to see if Progressive unveils a PR campaign once baseball season gets underway or if it continues to rely on corporate stadium ads…

And if Wal-Mart buys the naming rights for the Brown’s stadium, I’m outta here.

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Saving Face: Organizations, the Politician and their Spouse

I understand every person and relationship is different. It seems to be normal and healthy for a couple to have their ups and downs. Makes sense.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a “Loveline” relationship analysis. It is, however, related to what I feel is Image Management. I’m referring to the recent situation with Eliot Spitzer, but more importantly, to Silda Spitzer and all of the other politician’s wives who’ve dutifully stood by their cheating husband’s sides.

goffmanerving528.jpgSociologist Erving Goffman wrote The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, analyzing the processes and actions people create and manage for their social roles. Goffman used stage (“dramaturgical”) metaphors to describe how people live their life as a stage performance and control their own scripts and settings.

I came across a fantastic previous professor of mine from the University of Dayton, Dan Miller, and his writings on Goffman and symbolic interactionism. Goffman also popularized the concept of “saving” or “losing” face, which describes how people control their own behavior to avoid situations that may cause embarrassment or humiliation.

One could say former Gov. Spitzer tried to hide his affair(s) from Silda Wall Spitzer and the rest of the world because he wanted to “save face,” or maybe because he is an alpha male who thought his political status could exempt him from being a lying adulterer…

Regardless, I’m particularly interested in why Silda, Hillary Rodham, Wendy Vitter, Dina McGreevey and Suzanne Craig felt it was their responsibility to stand by their husband’s sides, especially during the humiliating (for both parties I’m sure) press conference and public apology.

I fully understand every one of these cases, situations, and couples are different in their own way, but from an outside perspective, I cannot fathom why a wife needs to stand stoic and proud at her husband’s side as he is reading a public apology script to try and save whatever “face” he has left.

In a Psychology Today blog post, Stanton Peele also ponders why the cheated-spitz.jpgon wife feels the need to stand dutifully by his side. “We shall see if Silda Spitzer falls in the group of women who find their marriages to powerful men sufficiently rewarding to overlook – and to assist – their husbands’ very public indiscretions.”

In Public Relations, it is important for an organization to consistently manage its brand and image among the public, employees, shareholders and stakeholders. Similarly, in order to be successful it is vital to be as transparent as possible with every public.

Organizations must maintain its “face” or brand as much as possible, same as the politician and their spouse.

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How far is too far?

The importance of freedom of expression has been ingrained in everyone’s heads since childhood. Why was the catty comeback, “It’s a free country!” so widely used on the playground? Because that is the image and thought-process drilled into American people.

I can do what I want and say what I want whenever I want!

Well… not really.

For example, just look at the Congressional wiretapping debacle last month. According to the BBC News article, “The House of Representatives allowed the law to expire this month after refusing to rubber stamp a Senate bill that would give telecommunication firms immunity from lawsuits.”

hor.jpgWarantless tapping of phone calls and emails, regardless if it is only implemented on “suspected terrorists,” is frightening! Even though the (telecommunication immunity) temporary law expired, this seems to only be the tip of the iceberg. With wireless phone tapping comes loss of rightful freedoms. I’m sure the wireless tapping issue is here to stay and it is only the beginning.

Even students gabbing on their personal computers is starting to garner legislative attention.

On the extreme side, there have been very sad and unfortunate incidents of students committing suicide because of cyberbullying. More and more students are being cyber-bullied, or harassed online. Many states are lobbying to create cyberbulling legislation that will give the school freedom to control student Internet bullying. This is now getting into the freedom of expression and right to privacy realm.

Many of the laws are contained to monitoring the school’s own computers and networks. Understandable. Now it gets into the nitty-gritty when some state laws “call for education officials to take action against off-campus bullying that disrupts their schools.”

The USA Today article also said, “School administrators were told they “may impose consequences” for off-campus bullying — but only when it “substantially interferes” with a school’s operation.”

School disruption? May impose consequences? Substantially interferes?

I’m channeling last semester’s Research Methods in Mass Communication course: how are those terms conceptualized and operationalized? IE, how are the terms defined and measured? I can guarantee many people have different ideas and definitions for those terms and concepts.

In the Center for Scholastic Journalism’s blog, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism, Mark Goodman, summarized the concern more clearly:

“Only when school officials can reasonably forecast that student speech will cause actual, material disruption does the First Amendment allow it to be punished.”

This is when it starts getting reaaaally difficult and hairy.

playground.jpgShould schools step in? If so, how far should they step in? Should students be wary about what they write on a school computer for fear of being monitored or censored? Should students be wary about what they write on their own computers for fear of the school stepping in?

Where will it stop? How far will it go?

As far as bullying and writing negative comments about people- can’t we go back to the other playground mentality of “treat others as you would like to be treated”?

So simple yet so profound.

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Which came first? The celebrity or the President?

We live in a celebrity-driven society where rock stars, movie stars, talk show hosts, heck, even b-listers are not only given a silver spoon, but a microphone that beats physics: everyone in the world is able to hear what they have to say. The explosion of social media (ahem, YouTube) doesn’t hurt the celebrities or their message either.

Celebrities like getting a piece of the primary pie. It all started with my not-so-favorite billionaire, Ms. Oprah Winfrey. (Actually, I applaud Oprah’s humanitarian and charity efforts, I just can’t stand her studio audience). Once Oprah announced her endorsement for Barack, it seemed as if the dam broke open and all celebrity endorsements came pouring down.

It’s not like celebrities or rock stars endorsing candidates is anything new. Whether it was true or not, rumors circulated former President John F. Kennedy had the boys of the Rat Pack supporting him.200px-rat_pack.jpg

Badabing. And there you have it. It’s a win-win situation for the endorser and the endorsee. Refer to the old school PR saying: any press is good press. Depending on how you handle the situation of course. It also makes one wonder, how many celebrities are receiving any sort of kick-backs (besides press) from the candidates?

Let us peruse the guest list.

Rock Stars for Obama: Grateful Dead (Phil Lesh), Pearl Jam, Common, Stevie Wonder, Fall Out Boy, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Ne-Yo, Usher, and of course the myriad of celebs in Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am video.

Rallies for Clinton: Madonna, 50 cent, Jon Bon Jovi

McCain supporters: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone

Last but not least, Huckabee. I save this for last because apparently I’ve been living under a rock and just saw this video today. Huckchuckfacts. Chuck Norris, aka Walker, Texas Ranger, teaming with presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.

The video consists of a serious-faced Mike Huckabee making Chuck flagman.jpgNorris quotes such as, “My plan to secure the borders? Two words: Chuck Norris.” I didn’t realize being a full-blown comedian is a Presidential campaign tactic.

Professor David Jackson from Bowling Green State University has conducted research on the effects and influence of celebrity endorsement. In the Huffington Post, blogger Elana Berkowitz wrote Jackson “found that the celebrity endorsements influence opinions by reinforcing popular beliefs or making unpopular beliefs seem more palatable.”

Although, as Jane Fleming Kleeb, executive director of Young Voter PAC, so eloquently stated in Elana’s post, “you can’t rely on celebrities to be the holy grail of getting young people to the polls.”

There you have it. Celebrities can toot the candidates’ whistles all they want, but in the end, it’s all you.

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