One of the features I write for Franco PR as their Integrated Media Consultant is a look at news and PR issues from both sides of the scrimmage line given my long experience in both journalism and corporate communications. Recently, I decided to add a podcast version that I’d love to share with you all.
You can now listen to Tales From the Beat on Spotify, IHeartRadio, Amazon Music and Apple Music.
Here’s the first one related to the recently revived Detroit Auto Show. Love to get your feedback. Thanks!
Now that Mikhail Gorbachev is no longer with us, I don’t think he’d mind me telling this story. You see, he unknowingly participated in a little trick I pulled in order to help a major executive save face in front of an even bigger one.
Back on April 25, 2012 a gathering was held in Chicago to honor past Nobel Prize winners. At the time I was the head of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s digital communications team, which was part of the corporate communications department.
The Jeep Brand was sponsoring a luncheon and that included a keynote speech by our chief marketing officer.
One of the services we provided was shooting and editing video posted on the company’s media website for use by any media that wished to include it in their coverage of a particular story.
Normally, I wouldn’t be the one doing the shooting but on this day our two real videographers we otherwise assigned, so I jumped in, popping over to Chicago to shoot the speech and post it to the media site.
We got to the location a little early and after setting up my tripod in the best position to capture the speech I decided to shoot some b-roll. Good call. As I was shooting I can’t believe who I see through my viewfinder ambling into the room as if it was lunch time at the company cafeteria.
First there was the former President of Poland Lech Walesa, then the Dalai Lama and finally this smiling guy with a familiar port wine spot on his head, Mikhail Gorbachev. They all take seats at the round table with our CMO. I shoot and shoot, all the while not believing the giants I’m shooting sipping from their water glasses and munching on rolls.
About 15 minutes before his speech our CMO comes up to me and gives me a troubling order. “Do not shoot me. Just shoot these famous people LISTENING to me so I can bring the video back to the CEO to show him how interested these Nobel Laureates were in my speech.” The CEO was the late, wonderful and demanding Sergio Marchionne.
I explained I was there to shoot his speech for use on the media site and the media would not use video of that does not show the speaker. But he was desperate. “You have to help me. I don’t care about the video. I have to show Marchionne something!”
OK. I can appreciate not wanted to piss off the big boss. So I came up with a plan.
To satisfy the media I actually did shoot the entire speech, but when I emailed the edited version to the CMO it showed Gorbachev and Walesa and Penn and the Dalai Lama all raptly listening and even applauding! The speech was a freakin’ hit with these historic figures! See the video below!
Within hours I received a giddy email from the CMO telling me how much Marchionne loved the video and what a genius I am.
Genius? Wouldn’t go that far. I grabbed the shots of all those folks listening to a speech, but it was my executive’s—it was the person who spoke before him. Then I edited in clips from that footage into my executive’s speech so I looked like they were listening to him. I did shoot the actual applause that came after his speech. Since this version was for internal use only and not for editorial use, it seemed like an OK way to help out a stressed executive. After all, they all DID listen to him, but I was just one guy with one camera so I had to find a way to make it work.
After that day, every time I saw Gorbachev or Walesa or the Dalai Lama or Sean Penn I just smiled to myself, remembering my little editing sleight-of-hand using some slightly time-shifted shots of them to help out an important co-worker make an impression with the big boss.
Oh…the version released on the media site did NOT include my editing artwork—just the video of the speech.
The late Mr. Gorbachev, I’m sure, could relate to a bit of intrigue to save a colleague from the wrath of the supreme leader. Call it a bit of video perestroika—restructuring. Da?
Fourth of July always meant two things back in Glen Oaks Village, where I grew up in eastern Queen, New York: a glorious barbecue behind the apartments with our four closest neighbors, and foolish decisions regarding fireworks.
First the barbecue. Glen Oaks is a community so large it has its own zip code and is home to about 50-thousand residents. Built in the 1940’s and written up in national magazines, it remains a showplace.
We shared a common backyard that contained a long clothesline for all to use and expanses of soft grass. The neighbors set up long aluminum tables end to end in the backyard and each family had its own grill. Ours was a dinky thing we received as a free gift from the now defunct Bayside Federal Bank for opening up an account. It was just large enough, though, to cook a few hot dogs and burgers for my brother and me and our parents. Those big Weber grills hadn’t yet been invented.
One of our neighbors, the guy we always suspected was in the Mafia, had the best grill. It was about a yard in diameter on a fancy stand and he cooked Italian sausage. We always wondered what truck it fell off.
Another neighbor sounded like that old actor Peter Lorre and just as sinister. When he asked for another hot dog you could always imagine the next thing he’d say was, “or I’ll kill you.” Turns out he was very mild mannered. He just sounded like an assassin.
After eating we’d invariably start tossing around a football, which, in turn, always seemed to knock someone’s clean underwear drying on the clothesline onto the ground. That action sparked the owner of the drying underwear to stick their head out their back window overlooking the yard and shout things that directed all of us to burn in a very warm deep, underground place. This only sparked us to start aiming for other items drying on the line and if you could dump a fitted sheet you won the admiration of all, and the raising ire of the the sheet’s owner who would call the cops on us only to be told, “sorry, but we’ve got four cases of wet socks ahead of you.”
Now the fireworks. Our dads would score some firecrackers or more powerful ashcans from the docks in lower Manhattan and we’d pretty much shoot them off with no incident, although it was always entertaining to slip a few lit ones through someone’s mail slot.
Our dads were, if anything, both smart and devious. Two cases in point. First, was when they could only come up with sparklers instead of firecrackers or ashcans. C’mon, sparklers? No noise, no nothin’. Sparklers were for wimps or kids whose dads worked in the suburbs. But my dad was especially resourceful. After all, he was a World War II hero, winning medals for capturing a house of Germans by shouting orders in Yiddish, which sounds like Germans to exit the house and the idiots complied. So he knew a thing or two about misdirection.
“Look, you’re doing it wrong with the sparklers by just holding them,” he explained. “When they’re halfway done throw them in the air as high as you can and they become Roman Candles!” Crap! We had Roman Candles in our hands all this time and didn’t know it! Yes, sometimes kids were as gullible as wartime Germans. We totally bought it, and except for when a lit sparkler landed in someone’s garden igniting their pansies it was a damn good ruse.
Speaking of ruses, when our dads came up totally short they caucused in desperation and pulled out a couple of road flares and lit them. “We call them ground-level displays!” one would say. Ah..dads can be such good bullshitters. That’s why we love them.
Then there was the time the brother of one of our friends was on leave from the Navy. He thought it would be cool to wrap up some .22 caliber bullets in an envelope, stuff it in a drainpipe, light it up and run like hell. Guess what? Bullets are faster than idiotic Navy guys on leave. The dumb guy spent the rest of the Fourth, and a good deal of the 5th through 8th in the hospital healing from his awesome stunt.
At least he didn’t shoot down anyone’s drying BVDs.
I’m old enough to remember hiding “crib notes” in my hand when attempting to not fail a trigonometry exam. Oh c’mon, you did it too. Maybe you scribbled some facts in pen on your hands or arms. Get caught, you get sent to the principal’s office, or worse, get a F on the exam. Aw, don’t act self-righteous about it. I bet you read the Classic Comic version of Silas Marner or dove into the Cliff Notes rather than suffer through the actual, depressing book.
Yeah, yeah, it’s technically cheating, which has me thinking about what’s become glaring demonstrations of cribbing among Major League Baseball players. It’s right there on TV. Catchers sport those flip up things attached to their wrists that contain intelligence on opposing batters. Pitchers and position players doff their caps where they’re hiding cheat sheets on how to play the next guy at bat.
I don’t know the exact wording but I’m imagining something like, “Joey Bagadonuts sucks at hitting sliders,” “Andy Eatme hits to short right field and has bad breath.” This is invaluable intelligence as to how to pitch to or defend against the hitter. But it just smacks of smuggling crib notes into the test room.
OK, I’ll invoke it. What I was a kid, players just, well, remembered things about their opposition or had a feeling about the guy and acted accordingly. Can you imagine a grouchy Nolan Ryan looking inside his cap for advice on how to brush back a batter with a 100 mph fastball? Screw it, he’d just terrorize the guy on general principles because it’s fun.
If Ryan’s catcher had the temerity to flip up and refer to crib notes on his wrist and then actually suggest a pitch based on that information, I’m guessing he’s the one who would get the heater aimed at his head.
Did Willie Mays need notes hiding on his head? Are you kidding? Ball goes up, ball comes down… in his mitt. What’s so hard about that? Nothing, if you’re Willie Mays.
I know, it’s all related to the scourge of sports related Sabremetric, data, numbersnumbernumbers, blah blah blah blah.
Go ahead, without Googling it, tell me what OPS is. Sure, some of you will know, others will pretend they know, honest ones will say, “don’t give a shit.” What’s the guy hitting? Launch angle? It’s baseball, not NASA. The ball’s gotta rendezvous with the fielder’s mitt, not Venus.
I love it when they tell me how fast the ball left the bat. Sure, it lets you know how hard the guy swings but honestly, some of the most effective swings are slow and easy and result in run scoring hits.
All these esoteric stats may be included in these cheat sheets but to me sports is all about training, natural talent, instinct and spitting.
But it would be fun to see the umps crack down on this stuff, like test proctors, ejecting guys for using the crib notes on their wrists and under their hats rather than playing the game using their heads.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash is being blamed today for making a bonehead move that probably contributed to his team’s loss in the World Series. You see, he pulled the team’s ace pitcher, Blake Snell even though he was tossing a great game…surrendering to the endless babble of numbers, acronyms and abbreviations known as Sabremetrics…or as I call them….”WTFetrics” Cash just didn’t want Dodgers batters to get a third time at the plate against the guy, even though Snell was basically mowing them down.
As a lifelong fan of the national pastime I was content with knowing a batter’s average, a pitchers earned run average and other stats like how many homers a guy hit, bases he stole and runs he batted in.
I get that things have moved along and we now know esoterica that help managers, owners and players supposedly make better decisions on the field and off. Therefore, I’ve decided to go with the flow and adapt this development to my own life.
I started today at noon with my midday repast. As I lifted my ham sandwich to my piehole I asked my meal mate to take some video on their phones that I could later examine to better understand what I have designated my “Lunch angle.” Could I more effortlessly ingest my ham on rye by reducing the angle at which it enters my mouth? By adjusting my lunch angle, I might be able to keep my mouth shut longer, thereby allowing me to listen to the gossip being offered before taking another sloppy, noisy bite. I love anything that improves cognition.
Another stat I find useful is how I measure and regulate complaining. I’ve set a hard and fast limit by establishing a firm Bitch Count. When I find myself getting too whiny, I cut myself off after four complaints within an 8-hour period. Then I engage in a self-enforced cool-down cycle by swilling two fingers of Jack Daniels on the rocks. The same goes for anyone I happen to be with. Hit the Bitch Count and you’re cut off–forced to join me for happy hour until you calm down. Could take several rounds.
The one baseball stat I find mind-numbing is OBP, or on-base percentage. Here’s now the pros figure it: On Base Percentage (aka OBP, On Base Average, OBA) is a measure of how often a batter reaches base. It is approximately equal to Times on Base/Plate appearances. The full formula is OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit by Pitch) / (At Bats + Walks + Hit by Pitch + Sacrifice Flies)
In real life one can use a similar formula to measure a person’s inability to use tact or diplomacy or Obtuse Bile Percentage. The formula would be expressed thusly as: OBP= Swear words + Corporate slang + Inappropriate hand gestures / Text messages with angry emojis + Selfish demands + Supportive References to Sean Hannity. A perfect score of 1.000 wins the designation as PTB or Perfect Trump Boor.
My final example is the fascinating, yet polarizing stat known as the WHIF…or Wife plus Husband per Issues Fought. It’s fairly self-explanatory and is considered an important predictor of future evenings bereft of connubial connection.
That’s just a start but I’m sure by the end of the season I will have established a new benchmark for UNR or Useless Numbers Referenced. Play ball!
This time of year I look neither behind nor ahead. I look forward to the black hole known as the week between Christmas and New Years. Many folks use the week to take a nice vacation, escape winter or embrace the season and ski or sled or skate or roll around in the snow doing their spastic squirrel routine, which often follows ingesting many ounces of Yukon Jack.
For those of us who remain home, the holiday interregnum is a time to take a look around our houses, take in all the seasonal stuff we plastered everywhere, consider, in our case, both the tree and the menorah, and saying to ourselves, “holy crap. We have to put it all away.” It’s imperative to strip one’s abode of all signs of celebration by New Years Day, lest we be labeled “Holiday Lingerers.” You know who you are. Those people who leave their Christmas lights on their houses past Easter. Guess what? The Easter bunny doesn’t appreciate being greeted by another holiday’s gear. Not only does it piss him off, he swaps out chocolate eggs for ones made of nasty carob. That’s putting all your dregs in one basket!
For those of us who also celebrate Passover, a tardy decoration takedown yields a knock at the door from an incredulous Elijah the Prophet who testily asks, “what? you couldn’t get that schmuck Morty to move your holiday chazerei?”
During normal times when we don’t have lunatic as President there’s not much news to follow either. The POTUS and family go somewhere warm, members of Congress try to remember where they actually live and the government is basically shut down..because employees are on vacation…not locked out of their jobs because the Prez is taking a Twitter tantrum, telegraphing to the world he is, in fact, dumber than any episode of any TV show involving Tom Arnold.
I normally use the week to sort my stacks of Post-it notes, doing a jigsaw puzzle that makes a picture of air, and asking family members to fill in the blank for the sentence: “When I look at my ass in a mirror it reminds me of _________.” That’s a perennial favorite and generally elicits hilarious responses such as “Trump’s head with no hair,” “Two Half Harvest Moons,” and “New Hampshire and Vermont… if their edges were a little more rounded.” I can’t wait to hear this year’s responses. Don’t worry. I won’t share them with you…unless you beg. My readers always come first.
I try not to think about work, which is easy, since I’m mostly retired. My two freelance gigs are fun, don’t take a lot of time and I work from home, which means no office gossip or backbiting. I did, however, spread a rumor about myself to the Walter White bobble-head on my desk that I tried to steal pens and Scotch tape from my wife’s desk. I could swear it warned me to “tread lightly.” Scared the crap out of me.
We don’t do anything on New Year’s Eve anymore because, frankly, we’ve seen a lot of old years become new years and, well, all it means is now I have to trash all my calendars and replace them with new ones. Frankly, it makes me sad to say goodbye to my “Pithy Marcel Marceau Quotes Day-By-Day” calendar. But now I can look forward to the “2019 Reasons to Rejoice the End of The Big Bang Theory” calendar. I looked ahead. January 1st? “Don’t have to go to shrink anymore to try to un-see Sheldon and Amy having sex.”
But that’s all just me. I wish you all a wonderful 2019. Now take down that tree!
I must ask you all something. Do you hang signs in your house or office? I’m not talking about signs that offer actual information or warnings like “Exit” or “Laundry” or “Joey’s Room-Stay Out!” I’m talking about signs with dopey stuff like this one like this:
Ha! Funny stuff. Well, back at ya from the eternally eye-rolling spouse with this one: Can you just see these dueling placards decorating a special place in home populated by people so dumb, all their IQs added together couldn’t pass muster with Mensa.
I see a lot of signs since my family enjoys hunting for old stuff in antique malls. My wife finds things she can craft with. She’s incredibly inventive with how she turns something old into something new and fun. My son collects playing cards. I look for old records. What we don’t look for are dopey signs because, well, we try not to hang stupid stuff in our house which might spark a call from anyone visiting who might be worried about our sanity to call social services that might go like this:
“Yes sir. This is Morty Feid from social services. I understand you have a number of idiotic fishing signs hanging in your house.”
“Excuse me, Morty. They’re not idiotic. They’re providing valuable information regarding our regard for angling and total disregard for each other.”
“Well, Mr. Garsten. One of your neighbors gave us a call. She was concerned about your sanity.”
“Oh..you took the bait! HAHAHAHA! Bait! Get it? That should be a sign!”
MORTY HANGS UP.
Of course, not all signs pertain to fishing. Some have been created to merely convey class, or lack thereof.
Case in point, this one aimed at setting an immediate tone for visitors who need a quick pitstop:
And this one, explaining why the living room may look more like a landfill:
I always thought this one provided nice, subtle information as to where one might clean their clothing:
Of course, it’s always nice to convey to friends just how much they mean to you when they pop over for a visit:
The funny thing is, while I may see scores of signs for sale I have never once seen anyone actually buy one, or display such profundity in their homes, leading me to wonder if that’s a warning sign that one might not care to hang in their homes proof they’re a horse’s ass.
I love Black Friday. I never buy anything, but I never come home from the stores empty-handed. Or should I say empty-headed, because my noggin’ is chock full of scenes squirreled away as I plow through the crowds of consumers who may as well be wearing camo and greasepaint as if they were hunting for buck Up North.
Let me start with the big, big guy imparting his wisdom to the little, little lady about the early lull before the deluge. “It’s like this,” he said in his best philosopher’s/bullshitter’s voice. “The folks are either regurgitating or recovering (from Thanksgiving).” Too polite to call the lummox on his profound nonsense but not dumb enough to adopt it, she replied, “Must be. Or else they just haven’t yet arrived. It’s still early.” The big guy didn’t realized he’d been owned and mustered a lusty “See?”
It was Def-con 1 at the local Walmart, hours before the official start of Black Friday. The troops scurried to set up crime scene tape from the front clear to the back of the store, delineating the expected lengthy checkout queues. Men and women ran around like SWAT team members, armed with two-way radios, clipboards and earnest faces, ready to intervene during the inevitable wrestling match between customers fighting over the last 99,000-inch TV on sale for $1.50.
I’ll move on to an antique mall in Jackson, Michigan. That’s about 90 minutes west of Detroit off I-94. Somehow we ended up out there because it was a sunny day and it seemed better to take a drive then look for parking spaces at the mall. Now for those unfamiliar with Jackson, it’s main “industry” is home to a group of state prisons. I always thought a catchy little slogan for the town would be, “Making a Living Off Lifers.” Just never caught on. Anyway, we hit two antique malls. At the first, a sprawling one-story affair, a guy kept wandering into every booth we were in. He seemed legit except for him constantly telling us, “I got one of those.” It hurried our pace. We did find a few bargains if you count some old doilies and other stuff made of fabric my wife uses for crafting. There was a pot of free coffee, but it looked like an antique too. I mean..is coffee supposed to be solid?
About a mile away the second place was much bigger. Three floors of old stuff including a can of Liquid Wrench, which looked like the one I still have in my garage. The featured “guest” in this episode was the barrel-chested gray-haired guy wearing a University of Arizona jacket, pushing a stroller that would accommodate two toddlers. Psych! As he pushed the buggy through the tiny aisles I could hear women screeching little baby-waby-cutey-tooty things in voices of such high frequency it would compromise the integrity of bullet-proof glass. Those must be cute babies, I thought. So I waited until the guy made his way towards where we were standing and man, those babies were brothers from another mother…a mother with four legs! They were twin tea cup shitzus! Yeah, they were cute as hell and the guy was cool. We got talking to him because my wife and I are both University of Arizona alumni, which made him instantly cool. Had a nice conversation, gave each other the obligatory “Bear Down!” and moved along. As we thought about it, we figured the guy didn’t really want any antiques. He was one of those folks who wheels around their adorable pets to elicit squeals from others sane people.
I’ll wrap this up with today’s early morning trip to the mall. Wasn’t in the market for anything. It’s just a lousy, rainy day and it’s a place to walk and absorb. The big crowds hadn’t yet arrived, as most of the stores still were not open. What caught me attention was the kid getting the Cinnabon stand ready. The lights were out, but he was near the window so I could see what appeared to be a desperate young person apparently freebasing frosting, perhaps to get that kickstart for what would be a challenging day.
At that point it was time to escape. A nice line of cars followed me to my parking space which I was more than happy to relinquish. I have to admit though. I was a bit surprised at the initial lack of shoppers in the mall. Maybe they were just regurgitating, or recovering.
This summer I became something I never thought I would be, or want to be. In fact, I’d never before used the word in a positive light, let alone aspire to become one. Yes…I’ve become a..a..a..consultant!
Some of you may have seen the really flattering news release, tweets and Linkedin posts from the kind folks at Detroit public relations firm Franco PR announcing my engagement with them as an “Integrated Media Consultant.” That’s lofty language for someone with a lotta miles on them in a position to perhaps share some guidance and insight based on 45 years of experience in journalism, broadcasting, social media and corporate public relations.
So why the initial turned up nose at the word “consultant?” To be honest, it started at my very first television job as a weekend weather guy at KGUN-TV in Tucson, Arizona, where I worked while earning my MA in journalism back in the late 1970’s. Our station had a kickass staff of reporters and videographers and actually paid better than our competition. The problem was, our ratings were awful–last in the market. How bad were they? If my memory serves me, reruns of MASH had a 40 share. The share for our early newscast, which followed directly after MASH was a measly 18. Now those were the days before remotes. Viewers had to actually get up off their chairs or sofas, walk over to the TV and switch channels. That’s how much they hated us. What to do? Call in consultants!
My station employed a pair of consultants–a fired news director and a woman who’s fashion sense could only be described, kindly, as, um, “industrial.” The first thing these idiots did was destroy everyone’s confidence. They spooked our anchor guy so much and made him so self-conscious he actually wrote himself a reminder on the set that said, “Don’t over-emote, don’t over gesture, don’t touch your pee-pee.” He’s not an anchor man anymore.
In my case they were borderline anti-Semitic. One of my signature things to say when only a light rain was forecast was to use the word “spritz.” My audience loved it since it’s not a word often heard in southern Arizona which made it memorable. When I was recognized on the street somewhere, often a viewer would smile and ask, “hey Ed, is it gonna spritz today?” It’s always helpful to have your own buzzword. But not according to our genius consultants. I was told to drop “spritz” because, they said, “it’s just too..um..Eastern!” I countered, “do you mean it’s too..um..Jewish?” The dynamic duo could only look at their Kmart shoes and stammer..”uh..no, of course not..um…why don’t we talk about your wardrobe?”
Ah..wardrobe! The woman consultant who’s favorite designer may have been Coleman, as in tents, deigned to offer advice on how to appear on television. Her sense of fashion leaned towards what someone like, oh, Oleg Cassini may have categorized as “tres fooking boring!” Then they told me to act “natural.” When I explained that I was, they offered, “well, try acting naturally a different way!” Hey..thanks! You morons.
The upshot of all this great advice? Our ratings sunk even lower, and they were fired. So was our news director and shortly thereafter, I was lucky enough to escape after landing a job with the then, up and coming CNN to help them launch their second network, then known as CNN2 and now HLN.
Well, that was my first, scarring experience with consultants and it always stayed with me. I know there are many, many fine consultants out there. I just had a bad first experience. Now it’s my turn in that position and I’m using that experience to help shape my approach. I know full well that people are always a bit suspicious of “that outside guy” and may feel threatened. I plan to be as good a listener as talker, simply offer some respectful insight into different ways of doing things, perhaps some advice and a lot of information. Use it as you wish, or not at all. Hopefully I’ll be helpful and at the least, get folks thinking and spark some creative ideas, all in the service of satisfying clients and of course, making money.
I just plan to act naturallly…in my own way. Hope it helps.
Two years after “retiring” I now have two new jobs. Both part-time but still, it ain’t exactly lounging on the beach, or playing golf with the other alta cockers or pushing a shuffleboard stick at a condo in Florida.
Regular followers already know I’ve been contributing to Forbes.com since the end of July. Today, the super official news release went out about my new gig…with the big boy pants title of Integrated Media Consultant at one of Detroit’s leading public relations agencies, Franco PR.
A reasonable person might ask, “what the hell’s the matter with you? You’re retired!” Let me clear that up. I retired from full-time work. I didn’t retire from wanting to use my skills, from creating, from collaborating with smart, creative, courageous people, from being excited at accomplishing something that fills me with pride and self-esteem. So now I have the best of all worlds. I’m old enough to retire from the full-time rat race but not too old to stop moving forward.
I did give full retirement a shot for about three months when I first left Fiat Chrysler but I got so bored I almost longed for a staff meeting. Almost. Well. Never. Then my series of part-time things began and that was just right.
I have just enough free time to be either of use, or annoyance to my wife and family, to go play hockey, paddle in my kayak, jump on my bike, scare myself on the ski slopes and bang on my drums and guitar and still be able to write for Forbes.com to maintain my reporting and writing chops and advise the awesome team at Franco that’s so skilled and open to new tricks..even from an old dog, who’s open to learning new things too.
A little work. A little play. Most afternoons around 3 p.m.? A tall glass of Jack on the rocks. Retirement? Nah..It’s living.