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March 31, 2020 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

You can always count on the United States to find ways to entertain — not even Covid-19, with millions of people under lockdown, can stop America’s cultural juggernaut. When the outbreak of the novel coronavirus led to the cancellation of the iHeart Radio Music Awards, music execs decided to replace it with an ingenious idea: having musical artists perform from home, together.

The iHeart Living Room Concert for America helped raise US$8 million for coronavirus relief on Sunday night. It was a hit, drawing nine million viewers to watch acts like Dave Grohl, Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish, Billie Joe Armstrong, and many more perform from home — kind of like the rest of us are doing, minus the singing.

One of the bigger hits of the night was, surprisingly, the Backstreet Boys. So if you miss the late 90s and early 00s, fill yer boots.

March 30, 2020 -

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The video of a representative of the World Health Organization hanging up on a reporter for asking questions about Taiwan’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak quickly spread around the world on Saturday. The Hong Kong reporter, Yvonne Tong, was asking questions of Bruce Aylward, a Canadian doctor. From The Guardian:

Asked by the RTHK reporter, Yvonne Tong, if the WHO would reconsider Taiwan’s membership, Aylward didn’t respond for several seconds, before saying he couldn’t hear the question.

Tong offered to repeat it but he cut in: “no, that’s OK, let’ move to another one then.”

“I’m actually curious to talk about Taiwan as well,” Tong said.

Aylward then appeared to either hang up the call, or get disconnected.

This is truly one of the most embarrassing, self-inflicted PR disasters in recent memory (and not just because he hung an oversized WHO bath towel behind him).

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March 30, 2020 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am a huge fan of The Ezra Klein Show, a Vox Media podcast that goes deep into some random but fascinating issues like loneliness, identity politics, atheism, poetry, veganism, “political hobbyism”, class conflict, I could go on. Klein is the best kind of journalist: struggling to make sense of the world, genuinely curious, and open to having his mind changed. 

Another of my favorite journalists is Evan Osnos, an award-winning staff writer for The New Yorker. Evan was based in China for a long time, overlapping with a few years that I lived in Beijing. I didn’t know him well at all, but occasionally ran into him at Luga’s, a dive burrito shack pouring fake booze for just over $1 in a seedy bar district. Osnos is arguably the best writer on China today; he speaks Putonghua well and has taken the time to dive deep into the culture. Not only does he “get” China in a way that few other journalists and pundits do, he’s able to articulate the many nuances and contradictions in both society on the ground and in the highest levels of government in a way that helps the rest of us understand the country better. (One of the best recent books on China is Osnos’ Age of Ambition, which is a fascinating look into how the country’s growing political and economic power is shaping society on the ground.)

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March 16, 2020 -

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Editor’s Note: An update to this story has been included at the end.

The Covid-19 pandemic got serious in North America last week when big events started to be called off to prevent person-to-person transmission of the virus. The NBA was the first of the major sports leagues to suspend the season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday night, minutes before tipoff between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder. The NHL followed about 15 hours later, announcing Thursday morning that the NHL season would go on “pause”. Then it snowballed: the MLS, Major League Baseball, Broadway, NASCAR, and other events were all suspended with some, like the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament, canceled outright.

Even though sports executives have known about the coronavirus since January, nobody expected sports leagues to suspend their seasons. It’s a drastic step that brings huge consequences both financially and logistically. In a way, the leagues had no choice, as they relied on information from health officials and had to do whatever it takes to stop Covid-19 from spreading further. Stopping the regular gathering of 20,000 people in arenas across the continent seems to be rather obvious!

A crisis like this can provide excellent public relations case studies. Some organizations have come forward with clear and compassionate communications with their season ticket holders, fans, and employees, while others — ahem, Mark Chipman — have badly missed the mark.

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March 7, 2020 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

There isn’t much to this story, except for the fact it’s extremely rare and very entertaining.

We have all worked in jobs with people we dislike, and sometimes dislike passionately. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can be a massive distraction for an entire team.

The key, in those situations, is to remain as professional and cordial as possible, especially when you are on live television! But one TV news anchor in New York let his frustration get the best of him, criticizing his own station’s reporter during a live hit from an apartment building where residents were complaining about building management.

The live, on-air interaction was shared on Twitter by Kalen Allen, who works in the TV business in LA. You can tell, right from the moment the reporter throws back to the anchor, that something was up. Things went downhill from there, fast.

At one point, the reporter makes reference to previously being the anchor’s boss, which is probably awkward. It goes without saying, though, that those feelings should never affect work.

I suspect they won’t be sitting at the same table for the next company dinner.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

https://twitter.com/TheKalenAllen/status/1235671828388929536?s=20

January 12, 2020 -

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’ve been fortunate over the years to be involved in some pretty bizarre and random projects, like traveling around China for a Business Traveler television show, serving as a Simon Cowell-style judge on a Chinese version of The Voice, or personally escorting (now Presidential candidate) Mike Bloomberg for part of his visit to Hong Kong many years ago. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I ever have imaged doing any of those three things.

Now, I can add a fourth: attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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December 25, 2019 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

This landed on my phone this Christmas Eve, and I thought it was worth sharing.

December 15, 2019 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Several friends have mentioned the new Noah Baumbach movie “Marriage Story” to me recently, which is a sign the movie is having an impact on audiences considering it was only released to Netflix on December 6. The film stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as couple struggling through the realities of divorce.

The New York Times on why the movie can be so uncomfortable:

The most painful parts of “Marriage Story” act out that revisionism, as idiosyncrasies are made to look pathological and mistakes are treated as potential crimes. The German social critic Theodor W. Adorno wrote that “divorce, even between good-natured, amiable, educated people, is apt to stir up a dust-cloud that covers and discolors all it touches,” an insight that Baumbach illustrates with vivid precision. He shows how “the sphere of intimacy” (to continue with Adorno) “is transformed into a malignant poison as soon as the relationship in which it flourished is broken off.”

I enjoy movies that tend to be emotionally uncomfortable, especially when they deal with real issues that real people face in real lives. There’s no superhero here, no computer-generated explosions or characters coming back from the dead. Just two people, hurting, struggling, and thrust into a legal and living situation neither are familiar with. I definitely recommend it.

After you’ve watched it, don’t forget to check back here for the punchline to Alan Alda’s joke.

December 15, 2019 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Several friends have mentioned the new Noah Baumbach movie “Marriage Story” to me recently, which is a sign the movie is having an impact on audiences considering it was only released to Netflix on December 6. The film stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as couple struggling through the realities of divorce.

The New York Times on why the movie can be so uncomfortable:

The most painful parts of “Marriage Story” act out that revisionism, as idiosyncrasies are made to look pathological and mistakes are treated as potential crimes. The German social critic Theodor W. Adorno wrote that “divorce, even between good-natured, amiable, educated people, is apt to stir up a dust-cloud that covers and discolors all it touches,” an insight that Baumbach illustrates with vivid precision. He shows how “the sphere of intimacy” (to continue with Adorno) “is transformed into a malignant poison as soon as the relationship in which it flourished is broken off.”

I enjoy movies that tend to be emotionally uncomfortable, especially when they deal with real issues that real people face in real lives. There’s no superhero here, no computer-generated explosions or characters coming back from the dead. Just two people, hurting, struggling, and thrust into a legal and living situation neither are familiar with. I definitely recommend it.

After you’ve watched it, don’t forget to check back here for the punchline to Alan Alda’s joke.

December 14, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m working on a number of big projects at the moment, projects that take months of planning before being rolled out — which is exactly the opposite of what I did on Wednesday night this week.

I have written before about my affinity for RSS readers, but the constant development of Inoreader by the team at Innologica has transformed RSS from a handy reader into an incredibly powerful productivity tool. I now have dozens of high quality feeds on a number of topics that I like to track, filter, and tag, including, of course, communications and marketing. I’ve always used RSS as a way for me, personally, to isolate the signal amid the ever-deafening noise, but it never occurred to me to actually share the highly distilled and valuable articles coming through my reader. This week, it did.

I pressed “send” and published the first, hastily-compiled issue of Digital Bits, a simple, weekly newsletter with some of the best articles on corporate communications, PR, internal communications, and digital marketing. Some of the blogs and sites referenced in the newsletter have been invaluable to me over the years, leading to the implementation of actual software programs and workflows at the exchange that we use literally every day. The newsletter isn’t long and isn’t meant to be; it simply contains links to a couple of articles that I think would be worth your while if you work in communications, are studying it, or are just plain interested in the field.

It’s the first time I’ve done a newsletter like this, so I’m wide open to feedback and suggestions for making it better. I’m considering these first few issues to be a relatively quiet beta test until I work out the kinks and slowly find the newsletter’s voice.

The first issue looks at the immense need for content that goes beyond writing words, something that a shocking number of organizations have yet to grasp. There’s also a look at how comms people can find “influencers” inside their companies and leverage their voices to drive change and communicate better. The newsletter also includes an article on holiday video fails and links to free internal HTML newsletter templates that can be dropped into Outlook or Gmail.

If you work in communications or are just interested in the field, please give the newsletter a shot. I’d be very grateful and love to know what you think.

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