12.30.2008

The 42 percent solution

Woah. Over in New Hampshire, and other coastal states, the impending salt-water fishing license is starting to rile the troops.

We don't have no stinkin' saltwater here in the Green Mountains, but we thought we had a way to kinda/sorta help fund our cash-strapped Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. For the last few years, Gov. Jim Douglas has spearheaded an effort to assist the department with a pretty good chunk straight from the General Fund.

But what the governor giveth, the governor also taketh away, something that was chronicled early in the fall.

And now we've got some even harder numbers: What was once a $2.1 million General Fund appropriation to Fish & Wildlife has been chopped down to $1.1 million which means things like improvements at fish hatcheries won't happen, some positions won't be filled, items like the annual wildlife calendar won't be produced, amphibian and reptile surveys won't be completed and new vehicles for wardens won't be purchased.

Yeah, times are tough and every department is getting whacked, but a 42 percent decrease in the amount of General Fund money to Fish & Wildlife?

The heck with a Great Lake designation, Maybe, to fund our fish and wildlife department better, we need to get Lake Champlain declared an ocean.

- MC

12.21.2008

Right on, brother

Although it was written from the PR perspective, this rant from Bad Pitch Blog is worthy reading for anyone, in any industry.

"... Face it, with people spending less and waiting to see which industries will die harshly, we are not going to be “rescued” anytime soon. To survive in this mess you’re going to have to have balls. And be fiercely un-mediocre in this time of sameness and safety. Our field will have to be the ones who constantly say to clients, vendors, partners and employees: I (or we) will not do any work that I (or we) don’t believe it. Let’s follow our instincts and not let the negative ones, the ones who wish to send crap releases that say nothing new, the ones who want to issue information-devoid, machinery-driven information to the press and others, guide us to failure. As my preamble stated, it all comes down to caring—like Asians and rice fields that Gladwell ponders with precision –so PR farmers who are in it to bide time will become nonunion baristas in a post-Starbucks environment... "


Read the whole thing here: LINK Bad Pitch Blog

12.17.2008

Recesssion proof?

...being sick to your stomach because it's dumping and you're going to work.

... hearing and feeling the slurp of a loaf of bread-sized trout taking that twilight fly.

... seeing your kids go bonkers inside a freshly set up tent.

... leading the way into fog-covered flatwater at dawn.

... breaking trail on the final push to the summit.

... banking corners on smooth and slightly moist singletrack.

... fresh tracks on Sunday. sore legs on Monday.

12.15.2008

No news is bad news

"From what we’ve heard,” said an outdoor industry exec to me this morning. “It’s a rare company (that hasn’t reorganized recently). And if they haven’t, they should probably have their head examined.”

Judging by the number of LinkedIn and Facebook requests coming in, I think that person was spot on.

Unfortunately, if you're older than a decent bottle of scotch, then you've been through this before.

My personal PR dance with downsizing dates back to the final puff of the dot-com bubble (spring, 2000). As the freshly minted Emissary of the Buzz, my new hire bonus was a single round of "hey, look how much money we just raised" PR followed by 13 months of periodic bloodletting. Good times.

I kept a work journal back in those days (sort of like a blog, except it was written with "paper" and a "ball point pen." Check Wikipedia), and waxed long and poetic on that first downsizing.

That cut stung for a couple reasons. Primarily because it was deep and harsh. But also because it was a surprise.

I never got used to it, but I did embrace the reality that downsizing is just as natural as rapid growth. Every company believes it’ll never happen to them. But guess what? It happens to everybody.

* What's the point of downturn PR? The primary goal of PR in a downturn is to embrace the opportunity to fill a vacuum. Namely, if you don't provide a story about your brand, someone else will. In PR circles, they call it “getting out in front,” meaning that you’re taking the opportunity to lead, even when it comes to bad news. This can be ginormously helpful in creating confidence and goodwill.

* Who's your daddy? In any reorg communication, take your time on the front end. Think about the news you are considering releasing. Think hard. Consider the reaction of each of your primary audiences: your employees, your business partners and your consumers (via the amplifier of your primary media players). If you’re fortunate enough to have a decent PR team in place, you’ll find that the message required for those three groups is very much the same: short-term stability, long-term stability, and overall stability. Did I mention stability?

* What’s your biggest concern?
Your biggest concern is not that the news will get out there – but rather that there’s more trouble ahead. You need to provide your trusty employees with a good reason to keep their resumes off of Monster.com. You need to explain to your business partners that doing business with you remains a good idea. And you need to provide some real transparency so that the media can trust that what you’re telling them is really all there is to know.

* Consider silence:
After the third round of dot-com layoffs, when the media had stopped covering the death spiral, the CEO asked me if we even needed to do a press release on the next round of cuts. He had a point. Not every layoff requires an official press release. If you didn’t do one when you hired that new division during a season of 125% growth, you might not need one when you let them go. However, since you will need to have a concise document for both business partners and employees, and since the message is likely the same for the media as well, creating an internal press release in advance of any downsizing activity is time well spent. Be prepared. Nothing looks worse in a reorganization than being disorganized.

* Can I trust the media?
Media coverage follows trends, just like everybody else. When things are good, stories of companies on the upswing dominate the news. When things are bad, the deathwatch seems to own the front page. But at the end of the day, the media are looking for the same thing you are … the chance to communicate a compelling anecdote to an eager audience. If you’ve been flying to close to the sun, then … sure … you may find yourself in the company of Eliot Spitzer. But if you truly believe there’s a silver lining in your story, then you owe it to yourself and your company to allow the media to find it.

12.10.2008

The last chair

I don't cry on chairlifts -- not usually, anyway -- but i did on sunday.

I had spent the day before among red velvet seats and gingerbread houses that filled the local theater as part of a community competition. There was Hartshorn's farm, looking both accurate and edible. The congregational church was there too, mighty tasty. And there was even a licorice-roped Single Chair of Mad River Glen, frosted with coconut and adorned with loaded Patrol sleds. Going further was a pristine recreation of Les Deux Magots, a spirited Fenway Park, and a pretty decent recreation of the Empire State Building.

A few had ribbons on them already. One winner was the beaver pond, the creation of elementary school sculptors Sophie and Emma, complete with a few furry little dudes and a melted Lifesaver lake full of candy fish.

Another winner was a four-poster treehouse that perked up above a lawn made of green Rice Krispies treasts. "Michael's Treehouse," read the label on the front of the gingerbread creation, spelled out in hard candy and confectioners sugar.

The Treehouse was a team effort, created by a batch of local adults and kids from Prickly Mountain, and their meticulous construction looked too good to eat, even for a sugar hound like me.

Although many of the gingerbread houses were available to bid on by silent auction, the Treehouse was not. So, I took the kids over and bid on Smurfland instead.

By Sunday, the gingerbread competition was a fond memory ...a Lake Wobegon kind of artistic explosion that can only happen in a place where the majority of the population simply hates their televisions. A touch of true local color, it became a central topic of chairlift conversations for me as I skied the day away.

Late in the afternoon, as a snow squall exploded, I hitched a chair with my friend Susan. Once again, I used gingerbread as a starter. But this time, I learned something.

Turns out that like the other gingerbread houses, the treehouse was a true replica of a genuine place. In this case, the treehouse was a living memorial for Michael, a neighbor, friend and father who was dying of cancer not that far away from where we were skiing. It was built by his closest friends, and will stand forever as a remembrance.

The squall cranked up a notch after I lost Susan, whirling itself into a white tornado of sorts and chasing away what little crowds there still were on a weekend day in December. I skied the rest of the day solo, riding high speed quads by myself and minesweeping the edges of a few worthy treelines. And I thought through it all.

I thought about my role as a neighbor and father. And I thought about my role as a cancer survivor, skiing almost three years to the day after my own date with intensive care.

What could I do, right then and there, for Michael? Should I head home and light a candle? Would a prayer help? Should I be in a vigil somewhere?

Eventually, the answer was crystal clear. I did what I would've wanted, had I been the one in bed and Michael been here on the hill. I breathed deeply of mountain air, and I skied until the last chair.

Michael died last night. He will be missed.

12.03.2008

November exercise regime

Lifted three pumpkin pies into rear of minivan.

Hiked back yard. Twice.

Sprained wrist while opening pint of Ben & Jerry's Cinnamon Roll Fantastico.

Rest day.

Held puppy.

Lifted bicycles onto garage hooks.

Carried case of wine (it was full!)

Ran 0.9 miles pretty fast. Stretched HARD afterwards.

Impressed small children with mediocre snowball accuracy.

Shoveled pile of slush. Got sweaty.

Poured strong cup of decaf.

Wore livestrong bracelet.

Wrestled with six year old.

Ate organic eggs.

Thought about gym membership.

Bore brunt of political conversation.

Tackled brother in law during Thanksgiving football game. Man that felt good.

12.02.2008

Think globally, write locally

My first newspaper job paid me $13,500. For a full year.

I was pretty psyched about it. But being 22 years old, I was also psyched about eating pancakes for dinner, potatoes for lunch, and stealing toilet paper from the newsroom stalls.

But let's face it. The pay sucked. I cranked out about 4000 words a week, 200,000 or so words a year, and (rounding up) racked up a sweet 7 cents a word. Not exactly a Fortune 500 career choice.

But ignorance was bliss. I didn't know that freelance writers even charged by the word. I didn't know that the food chain of freelance writers began by working with small regional rags (25 cents a word), matured into broader titles (a buck a word), and eventually honed in on national publications with the ability to pay some real dough (two bucks a word and up).

And I certainly didn't know that eventually I would be able to say with a straight face that I was overpaid.

As you might already know, newspapers in some parts of the United States are turning to a new source for their endless copy needs: glocalism.

One publisher in Pasadena is loudly bragging about his cost-saving move of laying off full-time US staff and tapping writers in India to cover town council meetings ... for as little as 1 cent a word. That's an annual salary of around $2000, in case you were wondering.

While the rest of the country is reaching across borders for everything from shrimp cocktail to chrome plated SUVs, it's tough to point a finger at the newspaper industry and ask them to just say no.

Unless, of course, you believe that news is different, that it's important, and that the line must be drawn there.

Unarguably, newspaper content has been mangled in recent years. The success of full-color, short-attention span news coverage has forced even the most holy of newsrooms to adapt. With arbitrary format regulations like "10 column inches or less" and "no jumps", newspapers have painted themselves into a corner with increasingly irrelevant coverage choices. Over the same time span, their profits have plunged.

Standing in 2008, for a "publisher" interested only in the bottom line, it's an easy choice to save a few bucks by switching bylines on their already crappy local news coverage. Who's going to notice? Who's going to care?

But journalism is different. It's an essential part of a community, whether you're in metro Denver or a tiny town in Vermont. Healthy newspapers help create healthy democracies. Without an engaged reporter and an editor breathing down his neck, you lose both conscience and context.

Take it another step, and it's not hard to imagine a day where the news won't be covered at all, or worse still ... that companies and governments will be asked to cover themselves.

Glocalism is a brilliant idea for creating content. Too bad it kills journalism along the way.