Friday, June 30, 2006

Buford's Cavalry

Headquarters First Cavalry Division,
Gettysburg, June 30, 1863.

I entered this place to-day at 11 a.m. Found everybody in a terrible state of excitement on account of the enemy’s advance upon this place. He had approached to within half a mile of the town when the head of my column entered. His force was terribly exaggerated by reasonable and truthful but inexperienced men. On pushing him back toward Cashtown, I learned from reliable men that [RH] Anderson’s division was marching from Chambersburg by Mummasburg, Hunterstown, Abbottstown, on toward York. I have sent parties to the two first-named places, toward Cashtown, and a strong force toward Littlestown. Colonel Gamble has just sent me word that Lee signed a pass for a citizen this morning at Chambersburg. I can’t do much just now. My men and horses are fagged out. I have not been able to get any grain yet. It is all in the country, and the people talk instead of working. Facilities for shoeing are nothing. Early’s people seized every shoe and nail they could find.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

Jno. Buford
Brigadier-General of Volunteers.

[P.S.] The troops that are coming here were the same I found early this morning at Millersburg or Fairfield. General Reynolds has been advised of all that I know.

Dispatch courtesy of

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Badger Congress!

Correct-o-mundo. E-mail, call or write your Senators. Tell them to vote to keep the Internet neutral. Then tell them again. Today.

If you use the Internet for commerce, if you blog, you need to find out more. If you use the Internet for your telephone service, you definitely should be on top of this issue. First, read the blog piece by Susan Kirkland. That’ll get you fired up. Then read “Save the Internet” on the Free Press website.

It’s critical – and complicated. In a tense tie vote yesterday, a US Senate committee rejected an amendment that would have preserved the status quo of equal pricing for all Internet traffic…that’s network neutrality.

It’s about money, of course. The big telephone and cable companies want to kill net neutrality. For example, if net neutrality disappears and you are using VoIP, your phone call could be dropped because it doesn’t meet “their” quality standards. These companies don’t want to give up the long-distance revenue that VoIP is draining from their bank accounts.

Wikipedia says here: Neutrality regulations require network providers
ISPs) to transport all packets on a first come, first served basis except for Denial of Service Attacks, to offer service plans distinguished only by bandwidth, and to refrain from billing third parties for network services.

Think about it this way. A vote to keep the net neutral is a vote for keeping the Internet free of regulation (and the kinds of predatory pricing that phone and cable companies just adore). And speaking of money, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are uneasy about “controlling” the Internet – especially since this is an election year and this has become a hot issue.

This is no “free press” deal – it’s a freedom-of-speech issue. Find your Senator’s e-mail address
here. Want to include your Congressional Representative? Find his or her e-mail address here. Do NOT do nothing. Contact your politicians until they agree that the Internet should stay neutral.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Martins Back

Having spent the last week or so touring Alaska, Mary Jo and David Martin have come back home to the south. Here’s a picture of David seeking protection from the Alaskan mosquitoes. True or not, I really couldn’t resist the photo: he says the musk ox robe is about as silky as you’d wish – and warm with it. But not something he’s likely to need here in Houston.

Mary Jo said they enjoyed the entire trip, but her and David’s best adventure was in Fairbanks. They spent hours in the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North – a small but perfect place, designed by architect Joan Soranno, to learn and experience. The website notes:

The Museum's mission is to acquire, conserve, investigate, and interpret specimens and collections relating to the natural, artistic, and cultural heritage of Alaska and the Circumpolar North.

According to the Martins, it’s unique. Mary Jo was especially impressed by The Place Where You Go to Listen, a sound and light environment created by composer John Luther Adams. It’s a “musical ecosystem” where visitors are surrounded by the rhythms of daylight and darkness, the dance (and recording sounds) of the aurora borealis, and the seismic vibrations of the earth, in real time.

Glad they went. Glad they’re home. And next time, David, bring back the whole ox.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Creeped Out

For only five payments of $25.99, you can purchase a doll that looks like a prematurely birthed baby. True fact. This strikes me as seriously weird.

Early this morning, I was paging through one of Barbara's magazines. Good Housekeeping. Redbook. One of those. And among the half-dozen or ten other The Ashton-Drake Galleries ads was this one, on the left. “This doll is not a toy, she is a fine collectible to be enjoyed by adult collectors.” Uh-huh.

This unusual piece of art is created by “renowned doll artist Tinneke(who in real life is Tinneke Janssens) under the trademarked product line “So Truly Real.” There must be 300 hits on Google for the doll series and the artist. This is serious business...another one of those niche markets that I usually enjoy talking about. There are thousands of doll collectors worldwide. They have their own associations. You can even order a doll that looks like you, or a son or a daughter or a grandchild.

I have lived in such glass houses, so I can't really throw stones. There's not much intellectual distance between military miniatures, for example, and dolls. I understand the appeal of collecting all sorts of things.

Still, I hadn't even had my first cup of coffee yet. Art aside, it creeped me out to discover Little Grace lying there all pink on the page. Maybe I am too sensitive, but to see a doll that represents a preemie seems a bit off. Not true for you? It can be yours for only $129.99.

Photo from

Monday, June 19, 2006

Employees First

Last year, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita caught a lot of us with our pants around our ankles in terms of emergency communications – with employees, customers and many other audiences.

So last Friday, Mary Jo Martin of Knowledge-Based Marketing and I finished a small qualitative survey among businesspeople in our area about disaster communications planning. It's titled “Are You Ready?” Here are a couple of highlights.

Unlike a general Houston Business Journal survey
here, our smaller sample says 80% of our respondents do have a disaster communications plan in place. And 51% update their plans once a year (27% update more frequently).

Two-thirds of the respondents said they update their plans because of “weather-related changes.” That phrase is directly related to (and compared with) last year's hurricane season.

Most critical? Employees come first: 82% of the respondents said their most important audience for communications in an emergency was their workforce. When you’re responsible for the health and safety of your workers out in the field, or in your office, they are absolutely the ones you want to communicate with. (You want to make sure they and their families can communicate with you, too!)

Customers were the next most important group, 62% identified their customers as a key audience. Then the audiences fall off sharply in importance. Media, vendors and public authorities tied for third place, way down the list. Shareholders were the next lowest. And the “community” was last…not so surprising, since the topic is emergency communications by companies.

What is a bit of a shock is that 20% of the respondents do not communicate their emergency communications plans with employees. Looking at our respondent base (which is small) suggests that this 20% may be sole practitioners or small businesses. I hope so.

Last year proved the truth of the old Army adage about teaching. First, tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em. Finally, tell ‘em that you’ve told ‘em. When in comes to protecting your most valuable assets (your workforce), it’s way better to communicate your plan over and over again. Just like the City of Houston did.

Want a free copy of the “Are You Ready?” results? It's just four pages. You can respond to this post with your edress, below. Contact Mary Jo (further below),or

Thanks to all our respondents and to Knowledge-Based Marketing.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Steph's Story

According to a news report, a certain private school in Markham, OH, was recently faced with a unique problem.

A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick, they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the maintenance man would remove them and the next day the girls would put them back.

Several memos were posted about this without effect. Finally the Principal decided that something had to be done.

She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night. To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls just how hard it was.

Following the instructions, the man took out a long-handled squeegee, solemnly dipped it in the nearest toilet bowl and scrubbed at the mirror.

There was complete silence in the room. Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

Thanks and a tip of the Hatlo hat to Stephanie Murphy.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Humility Day

Thanks to the unfortunate performance of the US team during yesterday’s match against the Czechs – and my “typical” American attitude – I’m taking a Humility Day here in the executive offices of the Baron Text Development Company of Houston, TX. Why? Well, I had sent a little e-mail to my old friends and colleagues at Rust2, the Dialogue International Agency in Prague. Just a small boast. A tiny taunt.

Then the Americans made a poor showing against the Czechs in the World Cup game.

The polite principal of Rust 2, Graham Rust, sent an e-mail: “Just got your message while watching the match, now 89th minute and only four goals between USA and outright victory! Fingers crossed, see you soon! G.” Nice.

Oliver Herbst, one of Rust’s project managers, was at the match and more…forgiving: “I was there in person and can say the atmosphere was amazing. I’m still recovering from the victory (bus ride wasn’t what I had hoped). We met with some Americans hours prior to kick-off in a bar and both sides showed true sportsmanship wishing each other the best of luck (the Czechs a little louder though). Good luck against Italy on Saturday!”

My thanks to Graham and Oliver for not beating me over the head with the Czech victory. That sound you hear? It’s only me, choking down my slice of home-made humble pie.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Topo Chico

The Mexican team, El Tri, won its first FIFA match yesterday in Nuremberg, with terrific play that outscored Iran 3-1. I had a talisman for its victory.

I was holding a bottle cap I found during my Sunday AM walk, from a bottle of Mexican mineral water. It has the classic Topo Chico logo, red with white “snow” on top, on a yellow background. Even as I picked it up, I could visual the classic Mexican bottle, that heavy greenish glass so much like an old-style Coca-Cola bottle.

Like a lot of brands that have spread north of the Rio Grande, Topo Chico soft drinks are a familiar and colorful sight in grocery stores here, and wherever there’s a large Hispanic population. In addition to agua mineral, the brand offers flavors you don’t see in US pops – pineapple, tamarind (one of my faves) and grapefruit.

The company’s story is a classic one too, and you can read all about it here – in Spanish or English. I’m particularly fond of the “Legend of Topo Chico,” which involves your basic Indian (in this case, Aztec) princess in search of curative waters, which she found springing forth from a hill shaped like a mole (topo in Spanish, according to the website)…a mole hill.

Quite how the originators of the brand got from the mole hill to the brand name (mole + boy, or “small, awkward person” according to Babel Fish) is beyond me. Maybe somebody will tip me to the secret.

More important, though, is juxtaposing the concept of the little guy with the appeal of Mexico’s big win on Sunday. It’s a great story. I hope that the Topo Chico bottlers will consider a tie-in with Mexican football next year. Buy a bottle for yourself next time you’re at the store. Viva Tricolores!

Photo courtesy of

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Joe Marketing

From the number of times I’ve posted about coffee, you’d imagine that’s all I think about. Not true. Mostly. On the other hand, I am fortunate to belong to a lively online forum that, last week, generated some interesting back-and-forth about marketing the upscale java experience in the US.

The head of Marketing for SoFlow, Sam Bedford, started this hare:

I just read that BK (Burger King), McD (McDonald’s) & Dunkin Donuts plan to grab a substantial piece of Starbucks’ market share by appealing to the average consumer who may be intimidated by the Starbucks vocabulary as well as the price.

Question: Don’t you think with over 80% share of the retail coffee market the ave. Joe is actually buying from Starbucks and buys into the whole experience or am I completely wrong and there is a huge opportunity to win middle America?

If you’d like to see what other marketing professionals think about the Big Three’s chances to take substantial market share away from Starbucks, read the entire discussion thread here. You may need to be a member, if you aren't already. You could always join up. It’s free and I have enjoyed the devil out of it. Have a great weekend.

Logo © Soflow Ltd.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

McKee’s Five

Long post – good subject. The president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland, an ad agency specializing in fast-growth companies and businesses, wrote a Viewpoint article for Business Week magazine. Here’s a shortened version of what Steve McKee wrote about “five words you should never use” in an ad:

Quality. This may be the most overused word in advertising, which is the primary reason why you should stay away from it…every company believes it can use the word “quality” in its advertising. Too many have, and as a result, now it has become just seven empty letters.

Value. Like quality, value has been ruined by overuse….Value, like quality, is in the eye of the beholder, and every product or service has its own value equation. Saying “we provide the best value” is, therefore, virtually meaningless.

Service. Have you ever heard an ad promising lousy service? Of course not, which is the reason why claiming good service just falls on deaf ears…simply promising great service won't make it happen.

Caring. Do you really believe your company cares more about your customers than your competition does? It may feel good to say so, but the claim flies in the face of common sense.

But the fifth word is different. The fifth word doesn’t work precisely because it’s not variable. The fifth word is binary. (Huh?)

Integrity. A company either has integrity or it doesn’t…When a company talks about integrity in its advertising it’s for one of two reasons, neither one of them good: They’re either trying to cover up some lack of integrity (which never works) or they’re implying they live by a higher standard than their competition. That’s impolite, to say the least. Every company needs to have integrity. No company needs to advertise it. Using common words that have become empty clichés is a shortcut to nowhere. Just because you sell it doesn’t mean people will buy it.

As the intro says, it’s a viewpoint. I’ve been struggling for years to keep tired words out of ad copy. I’ve never quite been able to drive a stake through “flexible,” for example. “Customer-focused” is another one.

McKee’s five words do have their problems. However, as code words, they do have…uh…value. “Integrity,” for example, is almost mandated these days because of Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. Limp words (like the McKee Five) will continue to be used despite an inconoclast’s viewpoint. So I have three suggestions for companies and institutions about the McKee Five.

First, go to the trouble of supporting tired words like “value” or “service.” Prove why your value or your service is worth more than a kiss-off from jaded consumers.

Second, consider the scary idea of a report card. Many hospitals, for example, are using report cards whose scores are generated by patient comments – and putting them up on their websites. If you base your marketing and advertising on such common characteristics, test them on your customers…and report the results. Product and service improvement should be a continuous part of your business anyway, so a real report card isn’t something you should be ashamed of using.

Third and better yet, try finding out what your customers’ real key decision factors (DCFs) are…through research. Dig beneath the McKee Five for DCFs that are truly meaningful to your customers. Find out how your company, product or service is rated relative to those factors. Then base your advertising on those where you are strongest, or those that you want to reinforce.

McKee is really saying, “Don’t be lazy.” You want customers? Give them real reasons to buy from you. I guarantee it’s worth the effort.

Original article © The McGraw Hill Companies. All rights reserved. Thanks to Rob Schoenbeck for pointing this one out.

Monday, June 05, 2006


In a recent article, I was reminded that for every corporate chairman like Rich Kinder or Steve Jobs whose “salary” is $1, there are dozens (like Home Depot’s Bob Nardelli and Yahoo’s Terry Semel) whose compensation is in the hundreds of millions of bucks.

I am re-reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond and just finished his chapters on kleptocracy, which is, broadly, “A government characterized by rampant greed and corruption” [from the Greek kleptein, to steal].

Specifically, Diamond is describing the ruling class of a nation state that transfers tribute from producers to an elite (p. 276-277, Norton trade paperback, 2003). I was struck by Diamond’s “four solutions,” the ones that rulers have used to gain popular support while still maintaining power (and riches)…and how much his model could be applied to the world’s current crop of humongously compensated CEOs.

I’m as capitalistic as any businessman. I work hard for my earnings and don’t – mainly – begrudge others’ higher salaries. But there’s a parallel between what Diamond’s ruling kleptocrats have done historically and what a number of C-level executives do with their corporations.

So very briefly, I’m putting down Diamond’s four solutions, and a corporate interpretation of each.

Disarm the populace and arm the elite. Well, think about what the corporations do to “disarm” their employees, like fostering dependence on healthcare benefits; and their stockholders, like forbidding them to ask pointed questions during shareholders’ meetings. Corporations arm their elites with similar (but smaller) executive compensation packages and privileges.

Make the masses happy by redistributing much of the tribute received. How about slightly better returns on share price, or bonuses for workers, or giving substantially to charity? Hmmm? Aren’t these ways of “sharing the wealth,” but not very much of it?

Use the monopoly of force to promote happiness. In other words, the company will fire your keister if you question its behavior. Isn’t that what happened to several of the Enron whistle-blowers? Or, the company will move offshore, depriving the community of much-needed jobs (which keep employees and their families happy).

Construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy. This one’s pretty easy if you presume that capitalism is the reason and the justification. But since I am a capitalist myself – without the hefty salary – I would rather offer the “ideology of corporate entitlement,” which has been heavily displayed by Enron, HealthSouth, and a few other companies: we’re the best, so we deserve to be able to treat you like peasants.” This kind of attitude runs throughout a given organization…every employee feels the same way, no matter how little he or she is involved in corporate management.

None of this is new. Wasn’t it Al Capp who coined the phrase more than 50 years ago, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA?” Or was this from the musical version?

Think how often this subject has come up – like every time there’s a big corporate scandal, reaching back to Harry Sinclair and the Teapot Dome Scandal, the Robber Barons (no relation) of the late 19th Century, and beyond

I’m not biting the hands that feed me. I am grateful to be able to conduct my business with some of the country’s largest corporations.

I also know – and so do you – that there are thousands of American business leaders who do not make anywhere close to the kind of money we’re talking about here. Many of these thousands do indeed redistribute their wealth to shareholders, employees and charities, and are particularly worthy of respect.

But when I hear that somebody’s getting $100 million in compensation, I really do wonder if he or she couldn’t get along with $10 million or $1 million – and surrender the rest to the shareholders.

Cover: WW Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

No Pix

Just in time to reference a current problem with Blogger, this arrived from Edith Fusillo in Atlanta.

A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named “Ahmal.” The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him “Juan.” Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal.

Her husband responds, “They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal.”

Blogger, Signalwriter’s host, has been technically glitched for the past 72 hours. Nobody’s been able to post photographs to their blogs and the bloggers are restless. More than that, they’re outraged. Some pretty…hasty…comments have been shared in the discussion group, here.

Once Blogger became aware of the problem – and admitted that it was system-wide rather than an individual blogger’s incompetence – it has gone to work on it. But these haven’t been patient hours for the bloggers.

Moderation would seem to be the best approach to dealing with the issue, despite our deep-seated recognition that a picture's worth mucho words. We’ll just have to wait it out. Meanwhile, it’s “no pix” for Signalwriter.

This affair does support a couple of things I’ve noticed (and commented on) the previous posts. First, propeller-heads seem to be terminally convinced that nothing could possibly be the fault of their software or pun intended. I’ve had several mechanical failures in my new computer system. Each time I called my computer guys, they said, “We’ve never, ever seen that happen before. Are you sure you’re not (fill in the rest with achingly long technical expositions)?” In every case, a mechanical part has indeed broken and they’ve had to replace it.

Second, the e-mails from Blogger users demand instant gratification; I have written about this kind of technological expectation in previous posts.

Until Blogger has solved the challenge, use your imagination when you read my words. Envision hurricanes. Visualize twins separated at birth. Meantime, a second pun forwarded by Edith sums it up: Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says "Dam!”

Thanks and a tip of the Hatlo hat to Edith’s originating correspondent, tlynn623.