Tuesday, September 27, 2016

If Trump hired me as debate coach

Arms flailing, face distorted, Trump fell apart in the first debate with Clinton. He could not counter Miss-3-by-5-Card’s charges of stiffing workers, dodging taxes, mocking women and the rest.

If Trump’s people called me for help—and offer me enough money—the following debate strategy could save his butt.

Dear Trump team: Here’s how to avoid rambling defensiveness: Work from a basic, all-purpose framing of Trump’s life. 

Trump’s all-purpose narrative frame:
I’m a successful businessman—an outsider to politics—which is what our country desperately needs.

[As a businessman] I believe our leaders have ignored why they were elected—to keep America safe and strong—to make America great – not for pie-in-the-sky global purposes. All our policies—immigration, trade, taxes, education—should be for our people—and especially our people who are harmed by closed factories and failed inner-city policies.

Charge: What about releasing your taxes?
Counter: [As a businessman] I’m a private person. I don’t broadcast my affairs. As a public official you sold access for money, took hundreds of thousands from Wall Street, compromised national security and then lied about what was on your server… Let’s talk about that, not my taxes.   

Charge: You declared bankruptcy and stiffed workers.
Counter: [As a businessman] I’m an outsider, an entrepreneur playing by the rules… not an elected official. Your party has run Detroit and Chicago for decades—how about stiffing all the poor people who have rotten schools, raging violence and no hope? They trusted your party and you stiffed them.

Charge: As I said, you declared bankruptcy and stiffed workers.
Counter: [As a businessman] I hire thousands of people, build hotels and create jobs. I fly around in a jet built by skilled engineers. I hire pilots and mechanics. These workers benefit from my enterprises.  

Charge: You were given millions by your father—my father worked, and I started with nothing.
Counter: [As a businessman] I was given a million and built it into an empire… You’ve spent 30 years in government and are now worth hundreds of millions – how did that happen?

Charge: You don’t give to charities.
Counter: [As a businessman] I believe in giving people good jobs so they don’t need charity. Anyway, your Clinton Foundation is less a charity and more a money-laundering scheme.

Charge: You call women demeaning, abusive names.
Counter: [As a businessman] I don't live under a cloud of censorship, though I’m not proud of those words. My top advisers are women, and I’ve always treated women fairly. I hope I was respectful to you when you came to my wedding. 

Using this simple, credible frame, Trump—who stumbled like a drunk—could have prevailed as a debater.

My fee for this advice is one million dollars—mere peanuts for a better shot at becoming the most powerful man in America. Of course, if Trump pays me, follows my advice and becomes President, I’d probably use the money to move my family to Peru.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Is fall a brand?

The other seasons have their distinctive qualities. They have strengths, I admit. But the other seasons can’t do what fall does. They’re okay, but they can’t make you cry.

Think about it. Summer is too ridiculous—the tiny shorts, the annoying presence of sweat. Spring struts around in gaudy pastels. Spring stands for newness. But what’s so great about baby blades of grass? Cute can't make you cry.  

Winter is too serious to do much emotional damage. You dig deep and fight through winter. Winter gets angry—but screw that, you get angry, too. Winter sends ice, you melt it. When rain turns to sleet, you put on your game face. Winter slams into your game face, and you give winter the finger and order soup.

But fall... is different. Fall touches you deep inside. Fall  knows who you really are. It has mysterious insights. The autumn moon seems… knowledgeable. That sudden coolness takes you by surprise—like biting into garlic. What's going on here...? These long shadows in the afternoon are confusing. You better hurry up and figure this out.

Fall reminds you that you are a little kid heading off to school with new stuff in your bag. Fall reminds you that you are always planning for winter. Fall reminds you that you once dreamed of this year — and that you intended to have a certain life.

Fall’s reminders hit you like two-by-fours and make you cry.


Monday, September 19, 2016

DeBlasio refers to bombing as an "incident"

Last week, I asked students in my Strategic Communication class at John John College to draft a statement from the CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines after the capsizing of its largest liner. In their statements, students used various words to describe what happened... and we mapped them out as follows: 
It's a rough mapping, but instructive. I argued that the terms in the upper right were the most accurate, credible and appropriate for the public statement... and that the terms in the lower left were weak and waffling... perhaps even evasive. 

This past weekend the world learned of a series of bombings in the New York City area... and one chosen word of Mayor DeBasio appeared on our word map. 

Yes.. this explosion was a very bad "incident"... a word chosen with a specific motive in mind. What motive?—I leave that for you to discern.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Wells Fargo's sacred "booklet"

Wells Fargo Bank recently fired more than 5,000 employees for signing up customers for credit cards they hadn't asked for—getting credit for the "sale"—and then collecting bonuses for their productive selling. Pretty neat scam! 

Meanwhile, customers got charged a fee for buying what they never knew they had bought... The employees often cancelled the card accounts, pocketed the bonus and, what? stopped off to buy a sweater on the way home? 

This scam was primitive—like the guy who broke into a restaurant and casually made himself hamburgers—and naive—no one thought customers would notice?—and widespread—"Hey Sally, I'll swing by your desk and return the stapler after I open these phony accounts." 

But—according to the Wells Fargo public statement—it was just in keeping with how they serve customers' financial needs. How else can one interpret this, the most brick-headed public relations statement since the head of BP told a world reeling from his company's massive destruction in the Gulf of Mexico, "I just want my life back." 

Paragraph 1
"We want to satisfy our customers' financial needs..."

Paragraph 2
This is the mission that appears in The Vision and Values of Wells Fargo, a booklet that inspires how we serve you every day...Our mission is as important to us today as it has ever been.

Paragraph 3: 
Recently, we reached a settlement with (a list of government watchdogs) over allegations that some of our retail customers received products and services they did not want.

Okay, let's interpret this public statement. Freely but faithfully: 

"Oh God, we want to do so much good for our customers—we really do... which is what our HR consultants told us to write down in our vision and values booklet. That booklet is as beautiful and wise as it ever was... We read it every day, recite it while shaving and lick its pages just like they told us to do at the values training workshop. Oh, and one more thing: Some pompous pencil-pushers in a big la-ti-dah "agency" who think they're better than everyone made us give back all the money we stole from our customers." 

I'm not criticizing the public statement, mind you. I'm just wondering about the rotten culture of a bank that thinks "values" are things that you keep in a "booklet."  


Friday, August 26, 2016

Seven signs of summer

Ah summer. You travel the subway dripping wet, arrive in a frigid building and sneeze like it’s January, and go home and watch the Mets play like little leaguers.

Then you go on vacation and you’re still on the phone with clients. Your wife complains of the heat. More air conditioning. It’s sunny but you’re colder than dead seal blubber. The Mets still play like little leaguers.

Ah, but the signs of summer. The letters and pictures that over-paid jerks like us sold to a client… or that a client dreamed up without any outside consultation. Except from a spouse. Who was surely drunk.

7 signs of summer

7 - Insult
How’s this for a sense of humor? A government agency boasting of convenience. When I snapped the picture a security guard told me that cameras were not allowed. Well, that’s convenient!

6 Humility
I saw this graphic on a van. Is it me, or do these service guys look like they’re putting guns to their heads? 
“You wrapped the ducts in asbestos? Pass me the Glock.”

5 Defiance
You go to a small town in New England… walk by a barber shop… and look—an endorsement for Hillary… er, but not for President.

4 Bravado
Charter schools are cool. But how cool is this one on West 49th… "Hells Kitchen." Be true to your school—and carry a switch blade.  

3 Indifference
Up in New England they nurture the hardy virtues—like your freedom to walk out on granite boulders and not sue if you slip and bash your head. 

2 Excess
Sometimes multiculturalism is taken too far… as in this pharmacy slogan rendered in two languages. Free advice: If a reflexive verb is involved, stick to English.  

1 Partisanship
My favorite sign of summer (okay–I spotted it in May) is this poster for a legal assistance organization that is, let’s face it, politically uber-sanctimoniously correct.  

Ah summer: A beautiful season mainly because it is the warm-up act for the main event—fall.


Friday, August 12, 2016

"Complete the Danged Fence"

Well, 458,478 viewers got here before us, but I think you'll find this Senator McCain re-election ad from 2010 fascinating. 

It's a beautiful piece of 30-second cinema—crisp, hard-edged—well focused. 

And looky here: the message is that murdering criminals pour into the US over our Southern border—and that it's time to "build the danged fence." 
Murderers from Mexico? Need for troops? Build a fence?—here depicted as pretty dang WALL-like. 

This was Senator John McCain... in his 2010 re-election campaign.  

Ponder this ad in the context of today's Republican politics: The Party is ripped asunder by the mob-like Trumpsters calling for a WALL and the—what shall we call them? the hypocritical elite Republicans who get themselves elected by looking tough, calling for a FENCE and then vilifying the mob-like Trumpsters. 

It's almost enough to drive you into the arms of that other party—you know, the party fixated on race, obsessed with bathrooms, and emotionally convulsed by the very idea of free speech.

Almost... but not quite.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Chekhov, Guns and Greitens

Okay communicators, listen up:
The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov understood theater—which means he understood human beings.

Checkov knew that when you hint something dramatic is going to happen, it better happen!—or audiences will be justified in trashing the box office and vomiting on your prop lady. Okay, he didn't write that last part, but he did write this about meeting expectations:
"One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep." (11.1.1889)
So along comes Eric Greitens—former Navy SEAL, political outsider and winner of the Republican nomination for Governor of Missouri—with an ad featuring him and a rifle. 

Let's see, according to Checkov's rule, he should fire it. What do you think will happen? See for yourself.

The conclusion is obvious: Liberal arts majors should be proud to see that Navy SEALS study and adhere to the theatrical principles of Anton Chehkov.