Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Are you interested in Software Architecture?

Do you know anyone who is? If so, give them this message:

iCarnegie Delivers its Certificate Program in Software Architecture Design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, June 24–26, July 15–17

Matt Bass, a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Software Engineering Program, will offer a certificate program on Software Architecture Design to be held at Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus in two sessions, the first from June 24th to June 26th and the second from July 15th to July 17th.

The Software Architecture certificate program is intended for practicing software architects, aspiring software architects, software developers, software engineers, programmers, and project managers.

The course teaches attendees how to use a structured approach to create a system that supports business goals. In that regard it focuses on systemic properties such as scalability, reliability, security, and modifiability that traditional approaches often miss.

"This course benefits both the individual attendee as well as the organizations that they work for. From an individual perspective the curriculum provides both the skills and credentials needed to be recognized as a Software Architecture Professional. From an organizational perspective it provides a means for understanding how technical tradeoffs impact the business goals." Bass said. "This is something that organizations typically have a hard time doing, these tradeoffs are often made without explicitly considering the business impact until it is too late, resulting in systems that are brittle, unstable, lack desired properties such as performance or throughput, and are difficult to evolve or maintain."

Specific topics addressed in the course include:

* How to identify architectural drivers from a business context
* How to approach projects for eliciting a prioritized set of architectural drivers that reflect the business context
* How to specify architectural drivers in a way that is unambiguous and testable
* How to select appropriate architectural tactics and patterns
* How to employ a structured design process for realizing an architecture
* How to create a framework for planning architectural activities
* How to evaluate Architecture
* How to document software architectures
* How to identify for software product lines

The program is strictly limited to 40 people. All attendees are expected to be familiar with modern software engineering concepts and have participated in the development of medium to large scale software development. Discounts are available for early registrants, as well as iCarnegie and Carnegie Mellon University alumni. Those interested in registering for the six session course should register online at or contact iCarnegie at 412-622-2150.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I give you one last PNC achievement.

It's the last one I promise. This one is just too good to pass up.

"Achievement is going where you're going." Got that? I'll say it again, "Achievement is going where you're going." Can you feel yourself moved and running over to your local PNC branch to sign up? That stirring message, number 1000 I suppose in a list of 10,000 equally (un)stirring messages, was placed on another bus stop, on the outside so that everyone might see it. Outside. Clever that PNC ad agency. But enough of PNC.

Not only banks write dumb copy. As I read the local fishwrapper today, I came across the story of efforts to save the murals in St. Nicholas Church in Millvale, I came upon this impassioned message by the save-the-mural coordinator, "It's about institutionalizing and permatizing an important work of art...."

Can you feel yourself moved by that message?! Can you imagine this important work of art NOT being "institutionalized and permatized"? Can you imagine yourself marching in front of City Hall shouting, "Institutionalize and permatize the murals. Institutionalize and permatize the murals." Makes the hair stand up, doesn't it?

Why do you suppose these people don't check with me before they utter these inanities? Just kidding, of course. The ad types want to be creative, not direct, and the coordinators (I'm guessing consultants) want to sound impressive, not understood. If they ever heard of the teaching of a guy like me, they'd run in the other direction. After all, achievement is NOT listening to Barr (and his slight but loyal 80 followers). Achievement is institutionalized and permatized.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I bring you the next installment of PNC.

I was waiting at the corner of Arch and North this morning for the 54C. It was late, and when it finally rumbled around the corner near Kindred Hospital (what was once Divine Providence Hospital), I saw what I couldn't believe, but should have suspected, a bus board on the passenger side of the lavender (honest) bus, reading, "Achievement Rides the Bus".

I don't know if you've ever ridden the 54C in Pittsburgh but the last thing that rides that bus is achievement. A lot of mullet heads, a colony of mental health patients and few disoriented elderly populate the bus I ride. I'm guessing many of them have such bad credit that they don't even have a bank account.

But, PNC has begun this "Achievement" campaign and they're going to plaster it every where, even if it makes no sense. Or, perhaps it's some kind of positive thinking campaign. "If we tell them they're achievers, they'll become such and be forever indebted to PNC for helping them." In fact, I predict PNC will begin to label every thing and many people in western Pennsylvania with this achievement thing.

Who needs it more than the Pittsburgh Pirates? Most sportswriters predict that the Buccos will lose 100 games this year. With PNC on their side telling them that "Achievement is hitting a home run" they might only lose 90 games. And speaking of miss (or Miss), Big Ben from the Steelers can benefit as much as anyone in Pittsburgh from a positive thinking campaign, "Achievement stays away from women." I can see it on the sides of kegs at tailgate parties at Heinz Field or on the sides of Steeler players' helmets.

But, back to my daily transportation, the 54C, and PNC's meaningless advertisement, "Achievement Rides the Bus". Can anyone tell me that the message really offers the target audiences a benefit or differentiates PNC in a meaningful way from their competition? Can anyone prove to me that audiences who are overwhelmed with noise will see PNC's message and process it within a few seconds (and then take some action). Even if the audience is exposed to this campaign from enough frequency, will they make sense of these messages? I doubt it. But I offer this prediction: PNC and its agency will win an Addy or two (forget the CLIO) and all will be happy. They may even move the needle a little on name recognition and they will brag on that. But in the process of spending the millions of dollars they are spending on this campaign, they will help to make John Wanamaker, and his famous comment, seem like a real achievement, "I know half of my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half."

Monday, April 19, 2010

I give you more from PNC.

I took the boys to Tae Kwon Do practice tonight, driving up Perrsyville Avenue through the upper North Side. When I stopped at the traffic light near Perry High School, I saw a bus stop (shelter) with this message on the side: "Achievement-Putting a Kung Fu grip on your finances."

I thought it was ironic that I was driving to martial arts practice and PNC was telling me that I'd be a high achiever if I got a "Kung Fu grip" on my finances. Trouble was, I had no idea what that meant. What does it mean to get a "Kung Fu grip" on your finances? And, how does that relate to achievement? Does Kung Fu teach a certain grip? Do you relate banking to Kung Fu?

More importantly, is there a benefit in here anywhere? People want to know the benefits quickly, right? Can we agree on that? Also, as we said before, outdoor, transit, bus shelters work best to build brands and support other forms of communication. But, what is the brand here? Achievement? If so, is that differentiating from the competition (although you might argue that PNC doesn't have much competition). Still, these vague messages waste a lot of money since few people see them (I look for them).

Lastly, I was surprised to see the message in this part of town. You might say it's very democratic for PNC to advertise in a poor part of town. But, as I said before, most people, rich or poor, want to know, in direct language, "How can I save money or make money?" They want ease and convenience. They want something new, something that makes them look better than their neighbors. Few are looking for achievement. Most want the easy way out.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Body language can fool you.

It sure fooled the Pittsburgh District Attorney's office this year. The DA's office brought charges against a Pittsburgh PAT bus driver for indecent exposure, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and reckless endangerment when he was seen (first by another PAT driver) to have put his son's head on his lap and to have patted his rear.

All PAT buses run video cameras, and after PAT officials reviewed the video, they suspected evil doing and shared the video with the DA's office. Then the travesty began. Anthony Leffler, 51, was arrested, lost his job and was told to stay away from his sons. This, of course, led to his being humiliated and publicly accused of being a pervert. Fortunately, Common Pleas Judge avid Cashman saw a ridiculous situation and threw the case out, proving that common sense can prevail over poor body language interpretation.

What should you think when a child's head is put in his father's lap? A sex thing going on? What should you think if a man pats his son's (or, worse, his daughter's back side)? A sex thing going on? It seems ridiculous to even consider, doesn't it?

What should you think if the person across from you folds his arms across his chest? That he's angry? Maybe he's cold. What if a woman looks at you? Should you assume she's automatically interested in you? Maybe you have a new pimple on your nose.
What should you think if I look away and up to my left? That I'm lying? Maybe I'm just shy.

We are told that in emotional situations we communicate with few words and much body language (the famous and misrepresented Albert Mehrabian study at UCLA). If it is true that we use body language to understand each other in emotional times, we must think carefully and realize that body language needs to be consider in context and not in isolated body clues. Or, we will attribute messages that aren't being sent or don't exist.

This happened to Anthony Leffler and he suffered for it. Wouldn't you like to talk to his accusers and ask them why they see pedophilia when a dad puts his son's head in his lap and pats his butt?

BTW - Mehrabian said that we express our feeling 7% by words, 38% by tone of voice and 55% by body language. He didn't say that we always communicate this way. It's in emotional times when we express feelings. The bus driver was being emotional and he used body language to expres it. Unfortunately, some troubled people with wild imaginations misunderstood.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Achievement stretches a dollar.

Get it?

If not, welcome to lame headlines, Part 2.

PNC (by the way, my bank) has a series of billboards around town (around the region for all I know) with inane messages like the one in the title of this post.

Tell us, PNC, how does achievement stretch a dollar and how do you expect us to figure that out when we drive by your message at 60 MPH while listening to the cd player, fending off the tailgaters and keeping the kids from throwing things out the window?

Billboards are most effective in brand support, right? We're not going to run to the bank to sign up because we saw a message on a billboard. But how does your message help build your brand when no one knows what the heck you're talking about? Perhaps you will say because you have fitted it with the other millions you are spending on this "achievement" thing.

Well, here's some free advice: Use verbs in your messages, instead of nouns that have been created from verbs. In other words, tell the audience to achieve something, if you must. Verbs hold our language together and drive our communications. And,while you're at it, ditch this achievement campaign and differentiate yourself in some meaningful way. Take a lesson from Michael Porter or Trout and Ries.

Or, go back to advertising 101; people want to know how your product will bring them a BENEFIT. They don't want to be told to work at something, like achievement. And they certainly won't work at figuring out what you're trying to tell them when you say "achievement stretches a dollar". They want a bank for what? High interest rates on their savings, easy to get loans with easy terms and low interest rates. (Or, in this age, they want a bank that promises to be solvent in two years.)

Here, again, as with Wheeling Jesuit University (Is PNC related to WJU somehow?) we see ad types being clever (hoping to win awards or be like Mad Men) and executives who have swallowed this garbage for some strange reason. Maybe they don't want to look non-creative. So, I say to PNC (my bank),as I said to WJU, fire your ad agency (Is it the same one?) and the staff responsible for bringing you this lame work and start to think like a customer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Use Your You.

No, I didn't just write a typo in the headline. And, you didn't misread the sentence. "Use Your You" is the slogan of Wheeling Jesuit University, as recently seen in a newspaper insert, titled, "College Bound", an insert no doubt created especially to draw college advertising dollars, and presumably targeted to teens and their parents.

If that weren't bad enough, the university seems to have created a whole campaign around this vapid message. (See their website

The word "lame" was created for this slogan. If ever there were an inane message, this takes the (dis)honors.

What could "Use Your You" possibly mean? Use your (emphasis) you, not someone else's?. And, what message of benefit does it give an 18 year old looking for a college to attend? How exactly does one use his/her you? Or, is the message meant to take the "against position", as in against the colleges that won't let you use your you? Perhaps it competes with the colleges that tell you to use your not-you. I don't know; it's baffling to me.

But, I've seen this kind of thing before, especially from America's colleges and universities. This ridiculous message comes from some creative type in the recruitment office or some academic who convinced the recruitment office that he was creative. I can just picture the person philosophizing and then rhapsodizing over his/her message. Ironically, the message couldn't have been written by a Jesuit. Jesuits are known for their practicality. This message smells distinctly of academia.

Why doesn't the message work? For many reasons. It offers no tangible benefit. It has an assonance that makes it nearly impossible to say. It makes little to no sense, especially to readers whose minds are already cluttered beyond control with straightforward messages from the world's most sophisticated messengers. You know, people like Coke, Pepsi, McDonald's.

And what are 18 year old boys, WJU's target audience, interested in? I'll give you a hint, it's a three-letter word. Eighteen year old boys already spent their early teens discovering their "yous". I know; I was one. They long ago knew how to use their you. I'll admit, though, that 18 year old girls, being a more mature group than the boys, might be thinking about how to use their yous as they enter college. But still....

Let's face it: the message sucks. It will not attract attention, lead to interest or action. No one knows how to act on it, anyway. So, I suggest that WJU (that's Wheeling Jesuit University) immediately fire its ad agency/marketing firm as they obviously are run by a bunch of creative types who spend all day wondering how to win Ad Week awards. Or, if the campaign was created internally, move the writers back to the classroom where they will do less damage and hire a good writer/marketing person. Hire someone who knows that clever seldom works in media environments as saturated as ours.

If nothing else, put these writers in a room and tell them they can't come out until they use their yous.

Monday, April 5, 2010

You must understand your audience.

I recently travelled to Latin America where I watched a difficult business transaction unravel during a late night dinner.

The American, Mr. Low, whom I accompanied, was negotiating business contract language with a Latin American, Mr. High. The relationship began to disintegrate as Mr. Low (representing a low context culture) insisted that the proposed contract re-structuring include specific financial goals. Mr. High (representing the high context culture) was quite insulted by the demand for the specific language.

"You don't understand my culture," he said. "My word is my bond. If I say I will do it, I will. This is bad. We don't do things this way in my country. You should have studied my culture before you came here."

"You should have studied mine," Mr. Low replied. "I have a boss and he wants to see the language in the contract. What if you or I die before the end of next year. Who will remember our agreement? I trust you, but I am being asked for this contract language. If you had studied my culture, you would know this is how we do business."

The situation was worsened by the fact that Mr. High had a colleague with him and didn't want to lose face. Mr. Low wasn't worried about that, to him this was just business.

I had studied the difference between low context cultures and high context cultures but this was the first time I had witnessed them in action. And it was uncomfortable. The Latin American man seemed genuinely hurt by the American's approach and the American seemed genuinely puzzled and perplexed by the whole thing. As for me, true to my Libra nature, I saw the points both of them were making.

These two intelligent and otherwise friendly businessmen were simply struggling inside their own high and low context cultures and neither understood the other's culture enough to step out of their ways to find a third path. The evening ended with Mr. Low repeatedly telling Mr. High as we walked back to our hotel that he trusted and respected him while Mr. High tried to understand what was happening. It was rough. And, as far as I know, they still have not resolved the issue.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How do you treat others?

I just returned from a visit to Tampico, Mexico, where I taught "Business Communications" with my CMU colleagues, Chris Labash and Andy Wasser. We were the guest, generally speaking, of AiSTAC, the Asociacion de Industriales del Sur de Tamaulipas, A. C. We spoke at a campus of Tech de Monterrey last Friday and Saturday to over 100 business people about how to use better communications to give Mexico a better position in the global economy.

I said we were the guest of AiSTAC, and we were. But, we were also the personal guests of Luis Apperti, a man of great energy, intelligence, and passion. Luis took us everywhere we had to go in his SUV, from the day we arrived to the day we left. He showed us the sites of Tampico, Mexico, good and bad. He treated us like honored VIPs, finding us the best food and the best company. He even took us to meet the mayor of Tampico.

Chris and Andy and I were safe in the good hands of Luis. None of the three of us knew much Spanish. Chris kept mixing his limited French with his limited Spanish while Andy and I communicated with gestures. Thank goodness Luis has a fine command of English (as well as most of the other people we met) or we would have been reduced to grunts.

Luis kept us safe when our car was stopped by the heavily-armed and much suspicious soldiers who gathered at many traffic lights along the major highways. Because Luis is so well known, we were typically passed right through such checkpoints. But, we would have been like Innocents Abroad had we been on our own.

We spent many hours with Luis, enjoying every minute of it. We ate every variety of shrimp, tuna, beef, and all things Mexican (as in HOT). I should say that I ate mostly fish (ah, the sea bass). Luis was such a gracious host that he even collected us at our hotel on Monday, the day of our departure, at SIX IN THE MORNING to drive us to the airport, where he made certain we filled out the right forms and went into the right lines. Then, as we landed in Houston to make our connecting flight to Pittsburgh and turned on our cell phones we had messages from Luis asking if all was going well.

This was the treatment we received from our Mexican friends! And, how do we treat them? Luis told us about a border crossing he had to make into Texas. Because his family came from Italy when he was young, and because he is light-skinned and blue-eyed, he looks more Italian than Mexican (despite the fact that he has lived in Tampico most of his life).

Anyway, about this border crossing, he was singled out and told to go to a less crowded line at the border. In the process he was given a piece of paper with the letters "OTM" written on them in ink by the border guard. When he asked what "OTM" stood for, he was told, "Other Than Mexican." If that were the typical preference shown to "whites", and if the treatment of Mexicans were not too bad, we could, perhaps, overlook that incident. But, alas, it isn't.

Luis also told us a story of having been singled out and prejudiced against, essentially because he had a new car and a look of wealth. He had his car strip searched and was "patted down" by authorities with guns and the ability to tear up his visa, and cause him untold bureaucratic headaches if he wanted to return to the USA (where, incidentally, he has businesses). Luis speaks English very well but didn't tell his guards and he listened to one of them say he was going to "get this fat fuck."

The story had a happy ending, fortunately, but it pained Chris and Andy and me to hear after we had been treated with so much kindness, respect and courtesy, not just by Luis, but by everyone we met in Mexico, everyone. Our experience made us reflect on the few days last year when Luis and several of his colleagues visited us at CMU. We realized that we clearly did not understand hospitality as the Mexican people understand it.

Luis and his Mexican countrymen have taught us that the standard for courtesy, respect and generosity is much higher than we thought it to be. The trip has taught us, once again, that if we want to communicate, we do it not just with language but with our actions. It has taught three of us that we need to be vigilant about the actions of our countrymen, those who are stopping people at our borders and subjecting them to the discourtesies, examples of which Luis shared with us.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I wrote a love story!

I haven't written many stories in my life and never really bothered to try to publish them. I have short stories, book-length stories, a memoir, and a love story (from a woman's pointof view)! I decided to post them on my website for people who like to read.

As I said above, I wrote a love story and I have posted it as a Valentine gift to my friends and anyone else who wants to read it. If you are interested, go to the book section of my website (Click on the words "love story" in the blurb.)

I hope you enjoy the story, especially those of you who are stuck in the house, unable to move because of the load of snow in Pittsburgh and the Northeast. Anyway, Happy Valentine's Day! I hope you find love, recognize it and cherish it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I'm getting my 15 minutes of fame!

I will be interviewed about my free book ("Ask the Right Questions; Get the Right Job") on WPXI's "Our Region's Business" on Sunday at 11a.m. It is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. that day, and 3:30 p.m. on the subsequent Monday, and then two more times on WJAC-TV (Johnstown – Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling – Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m. It constitutes my 15 minutes of fame!

I have been interviewed on television before (and on the radio and in newspapers). When I was a PR guy and handled news media relations, I often appeared on newscasts answering questions and providing some flak for my employers. That was often uncomfortable.

But this time, I had fun! Bill Flanagan is a great host. And, I had once invited him to lecture my marketing class (years ago), so we knew each other a little. In any event, the six minutes I appeared on his program flew by in a heartbeat. I felt full of enthusiasm, I knew my subject, I was energized and only a wee bit nervous.

So, we'll see if I do well. What is well? I'd say: at ease, knowledgeable, coherent, animated, audience-focused, articulate, confident. That's a tough yardstick to measure against and I'm likely to be my own worst critic. If you watch it, let me know how you think I measure up!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How did you hear about the snow?

This past week has seen a lot of snow in Pittsburgh. That snow has caused a lot of headaches and will likely cause more (think about that ice in your downspouts that may pull pull away from your house)!

Be that as it may, we all heard, in one way or another, that the BIG snowfall was coming. I'm curious about how you learned about the impending snow storm and how you managed to communicate with others about it.

Were you listening to the radio? How about TV? Get any text messages? Phone calls? As a communication professional, I'm curious to know what media attracted and connected with you and where they may have failed.

Were you half way to work or school before you knew those places were closed? How did you get your updates? How do you think we could have communicated better?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

You don't have time.

According to a recent study, you are processing 100,500 words per day. These words come in the form of 171 e-mails (the average for business people each day), 3000 commercial messages, 1000 blog posts per minute and messages on clothing, toilet stalls and human skin, among other places.

You don't have the time (or, as the techies say, the "bandwidth") to process all of that information. So, you avoid, or ignore, most of it. That which you avoid is academic, bureaucratic and legalistic, but also, clever.

What are the clever messages? I saw the following messages this afternoon as I looked out the bus window on my ride home on the 54C:

"Everyday people need food every day" Get it?! These are everyday people. (Remember Sly and the Family Stone? They had a hit with everyday people.) Anyway, everyday people need food every day. Does that make you want to run to the Food Bank? How about this:

"Pittsburgh is not just our hometown; it's our only town". Does that make you want to run to Allegheny Valley Bank? No? Gee, they're only in Pittsburgh. How about this bank:

"Creativity. You deserve that from your bank." Really? I'd like a higher interest rate on my savings or access to a lower mortgage rate. Creativity I can do without. If I were First Niagra, I'd want creativity from my ad agency. (PNC doesn't do much better with this gem: "More green practice today; more green trees tomorrow". Does that make you want to bank there? Green trees? Are they after a younger demographic? Do younger demographics worry about trees more than us old folks? Or, is the bank trying some subliminal thing with "green". If only it were true.)

Whatever the answers, people (young or old) have no time and no energy to figure out clever advertising messages, especially when the messages are placed on billboards that drivers pass by at 55 mph (at the slowest). People want benefits. They are selfish and ruled by this acronym "WIIFM", what's in it for me? You better tell them quickly; they have lots of YouTube videos to watch and Facebook messages to post.

Do you want your message to sink in? Make it direct and simple, not too clever. Follow the lead of (I know, you'll scoff), Attorney Edgar Snyder who says on his busboard, "Injured? Free legal help". It was placed at a bus stop outside West Penn Hospital! That message gets through to a qualified audience in hyperspeed. Or, use the Pep Boys approach: "4th Tire Free". Or, this message: "We cash all tax checks". Or this for a cold Pittsburger: "Heater Sale."

Those messages lack "creativity" you'll say. I say, no one has time for creative. Competition is at an all time high for every business. People have little disposable income. They are using coupons at an all time high. Buyers are looking for words like, "Sale", "Save" and "BOGO".

Every so often, a smart creative type combines simple with creative as when Volkswagen's agency created the "Think small" campaign. Or, when McDonald's told tired overworked customers, "You deserve a break today." But, those combinations of simple and creative are few and far between.

If you want to connect with a potential customer, spend your promotion dollars wisely. Be direct with him or her. State the benefit quickly. Use an action verb. Use the word "you". Be conversational. Don't use the Qdoba approach and ask, "What are you going to love at Qdoba?" The customers may not be able to think of an answer. (BTW, have you ever seen a worse name, "Qdoba"? Much evidence suggests that simple names make successful products and services, but that for a later post. Right now, you don't have the time.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

The AlphaBandit Strikes!

I don't usually have an opportunity to laugh on the 54C, the PAT bus I take just about every morning and evening to and from Carnegie Mellon University. But, today was an exception.

I boarded the 54C, bus 2609, near Lulu's Noodles on Craig Street in Oakland for my trip through lower Shadyside, central Bloomfield, and the Strip District and on to the North Side where I disembark for the Mexican War Streets.

The bus was of an older model, dirty and creaking from rusty springs as it labored up Craig Street. I climbed aboard after an elderly man who used the aluminum handrail. The bus was being captained by a scowling, middle-aged driver with reflective sunglasses and a Fu Manchu beard. Minding my own business, I looked for an empty seat near the middle of the bus, not concerned about a window seat since the windows were coated with the splashed remnants of recent snows and road salt.

Actually I was mostly concerned with getting an intact seat, as many of the seats were half popped off, springs protruding. I found a seat and pulled a book from my bag, in this case "Repositioning" by Jack Trout, and began to read.

Before the bus turned on Liberty Avenue, many of the passengers de-boarded for the new Children's Hospital, leaving only a few North Side bound passengers. That's when I spotted the work of the diabolical villain I will call "The AlphaBandit."

If you ride the PAT buses, you will see a series of signs on the windows. From the front of the bus, they begin with the request, "Please step to the rear." If you've ever been on a crowded bus near shift change in Oakland or at class changes at Pitt or CMU, you'll know how crowded the buses get. Most people ignore the signs so that they can lean near the wheel wells in the front of the bus and put their packages in the spaces above the wheel wells. That area provides a place to better balance on the usually unbalanced buses.

Anyway, the signs are meant to solve a problem most drivers don't want to be bothered with, crowd control. The drivers seem resigned to their crowded fates and ignore the bunching of humanity at the front of their vehicle while plowing along giving their standing riders a thrill on every turn.

After asking the good folks of mass transit to move back, the next sign prods riders gently by asking, "A little farther please." That's precisely where the "AlphaBandit" struck on bus 2609. A nefarious and clever wordsmith, the "AlphaBandit" moved several letters in the decal sign to create the message, "A little fart...please."

I know. I know. It sounds so juvenile, doesn't it. But, come on, if you've ever ridden the bus, you'll know it isn't a real pleasurable or thrilling experience. We PAT people have to take our bus entertainment anywhere we can get it. And if it's in puerile entertainment, so be it. I laughed and snickered at that sign for 15 minutes like a twelve year old kid until I disembarked at West Park.

Maybe I was tired. Maybe I was giddy from a day of teaching. Maybe it was the effects of my head cold and runny nose. Whatever it was, I was entertained by the work of the "AlphaBandit" and look forward to his/her next creation. In fact, I wonder how the "AlphaBandit" might modify the last message on that bus, "Thank you for stepping to the rear". I know it will have something to do with the word "rear". Anyone have any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What word or phrase made you crazy last year?

I'll never forget the first time I heard someone say, "We need to drill down to the granular level to find that information." As an English major who became a marketer, I was fascinated by the image of drilling into a pile of data, like a team of oilmen on an ocean rig, to find answers. The metaphor intrigued me.

But then, as the morning meeting progressed, I heard the words used maybe five more times. By the end of the day, I'd heard "drilling down" used probably ten more times. And, by the end of the week, I had heard it so much I was ready to scream the next time I heard anyone say they were going to drill down for anything! The phrase had changed from a fresh image into a stale cliche, an old, moldy donut of language left for the rats to pick over.

Unfortunately, especially in the business world, occasionally some poetic soul invents a new way of comparing things and the copycats rush to use it... over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over....well, you get the point.

That thought led me to wonder what words or phases made you want to scream last year because they had become trite, worn out, overused, hackneyed and cliched buzz. If nothing comes immediately to your mind, I'll nominate a couple for your consideration: "death panel", "tweet", "google", "rogue", "ping", "win-win", "touch base", "Web 2.0", "social media marketing", and "whatever."

I know that "google" has become a verb and "tweet" is rapidly approaching that status, but, still.... Anyway, let me know what language is bothering you! Do some drilling down! It's your deliverable for the week! It will produce a win-win for all of us!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Are you overwhelmed yet?

I just read "How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers" from Roger E. Bohn and James E. Short of UC San Diego. It tells us how many hours we're spending with media and how many words and bytes it relates to. Ultimately, it gives evidence to what we're all feeling, overwhelmed!

The report says, "In 2008 Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day. Interestingly, information consumption in bytes increased at only 5.4 percent per year, as TV and radio still dominate consumption with 60 percent, although a third of the words and half of the bytes are received interactively.

Are you spending 41 percent of your time watching TV? Americans are, according to the report. The authors tell us that we work for three hours a day (on average) and sleep for seven, and that "three-quarters of our waking time in the home is receiving information." Only 24 percent of our time is spent on a computer, receiving information.

So, what are we receiving? Words and bytes. In 1980 4,500 trillion words were consumed. That has grown to 10,845 trillion in 2008 or 100,000 words per American per day. TV gives us over 45 percent of those words. But, we live in a digital age, so the authors tell us about bytes, too.

When we are measuring bytes, moving pictures dominate all other types of information, that means television, computer games and movies in theaters. The authors estimate that the average American consumed about 34 gigabytes per day in 2008, information that would fit on 7 DVD discs, those represented a 350 percent increase.

I've just scratched the surface of the report, but it supports everyone's feelings of being overwhelmed with information from every corner, from blogs to books and TV and text messages. It serves to remind us that our audiences are being showered with 100,500 words each day and 34 gigabytes. To share a message with your audience in the midst of that clutter, you need to begin with the audience. Live in the Land of the Audience!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I enjoyed these books; you might, too!

1. "Profits Aren't Everything, They're the Only Thing" was written by George Cloutier with Samantha Marshall. Cloutier has been called "The Turnaround Ace" by Business Week. He and Marshall subtitle their book, "No-Nonsense Rules From The Ultimate Contrarian And Small Business Guru."

Coutier is CEO of American Management Services and Co-Chairman of Partner America and has spent his working life helping small businesses after graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Business School. His book depicts him as a plain spoken, in-your-face pragmatist and true contrarian. For instance, he titles "Profit Rule 12: Don't Treat Sales Like Your Mother-in-Law".

Too many CEOs and business owners are afraid to sell, according to Cloutier. "If sales are down, there's always something or someone else to blame....if you're losing sales and heading for financial trouble, it's your fault (and) by far the biggest crime against sales is the owner's unwillingness to mix it up with customers." In other words, Cloutier says, get cozy with your customers...and your mother-in-law!

"Profit Rule 10" is "You are not in business to pay your vendors." And, to that Cloutier says, "Never pay your bills on time." He calls cash management "hand-to-hand combat"! If you like that, you'll love this concept, "Instead of stressing over writing checks to your vendors, you should view them as your best source of financing." In this regard he suggest you be "...evasive and non-committal about your next payment...." Hey, the check's in the mail, Bubba!

If you think teamwork is the way to success, you'll want to skip this book. Cloutier says in Profit Rule 14, "Teamwork Is Vastly Overrated." I'm not making this up! He says, "There is no $ in Team" and "Employees crave strong leadership and structure."
He adds, "Don't encourage diverse opinions. It's a business, not a democracy." Lastly, he challenges business losers by telling them, "It's Not the Economy, Stupid, It's you!" He tells them, "Sure, small business owners can blame the economy for their problems. Most people do." So, suck it up, partner, create a real plan and watch your relatives, if they work for you, because they're probably robbing you blind.

2. If you want a book that's a little more on the positive side, and concerns a bigger business, read "Six Rules For Brand Revitalization" by Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. Light was Global Chief Marketing Officer for McDonald's during the 2002-2005 turnaround at the fast food giant. Kiddon consulted with him from Arcature LLC. This was after McD's CEO Jack Greenburg said, "Marketing is broken at McDonald's" and the stock price at the company had fallen from $45.31 in March 1999 to $17.66 in September 2002.

Light and Kiddon describe the McDonald's fall as being slow, painful and public, explaining that it failed to attend to the three basics of renovation, marketing, and innovation. In effect, the company was intent on opening new restaurants but not improving anything about them. In so doing, say the authors, the chain turned its back on the principles of founder, Ray Kroc, and his desire to make all customers feel special.

The authors describe these issues at Mickey D: outdated store designs, inconsistent advertising, overemphasis on deal promotions, declining product quality, poor service, reduced employee pride and a bunch of other woes, anyone of which might by itself wreck a company. So, recognizing a "Crisis of Complacency," they established the Three Cs of Turnaround: Clarity of Direction, Consistent Implementation, and Commitment from Top Down and created a "Plan to Win" with four goals: More Customers, More Often, More Brand Loyalty and More Profitability.

In their efforts they established six rules: Refocus the Organization, Restore Brand Relevance, Re-Invent the Brand Experience, Reinforce a Results Culture, Rebuild Brand Trust and Realize Global Alignment. And, it worked. In 2004 and 2005 McDonald's began to win awards and profits. Even today, we see the lasting effects of their work begun eight years ago. It's a story of hard work and victory!

The two books have similarities and differences, not the least of which involves payments to vendors and teamwork. But, I'll let you sort that out. I recommend that you read both books because they are well written, easy to read, and useful!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Steeler Fans, Don't Despair!

Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers have missed the playoffs. But, if you need ACTION this coming Sunday, if you want COLOR and CEREMONY and DRAMA played out under a GREAT DOME, I invite you to the Pittsburgh Latin Mass. Wait, wait, wait.....don't leave me.

Hey, I'm not kidding. I like sports as much as the next person. I played baseball in high school and college and was on the high school football team (at my high school a 120lb, 5'4" running back didn't see much action). I even coached a middle school football team way back when I taught at DS Keith School in Altoona, PA. So, I mean what I say here.

Steeler fans make Steeler football a religion of sorts. Don't you agree? Now that the team occupies the same plane as the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns and will disappear until next August, I suggest an alternate form of worship, the Pittsburgh Latin Mass.

How can a church service replace your football worship this coming Sunday? Let's see. The Pittsburgh Latin Mass (PLM hereon) has a story, the last supper of Jesus, and perhaps the world's best known celebrity and quarterback of sorts. He faced insurmountable obstacles in his game (the real Super Bowl) and a real solid defense, the Pharisees and the Romans.

But, he had a Game Plan! And, this contest had action, color (in this case lots of purples and reds), pageantry (certainly), interesting sounds and a rabid crowd. JC was playing for all the marbles, all the world's marbles. The PLM, which recreates that contest of 2000 years ago, has the same intensity as a Steeler Sunday, and more! In addition to the stuff already mentioned, the PLM has inspiring music, but not in the form of a marching band. In fact,the PLM held every Sunday at St. Boniface Church near Pittsburgh's North Side (high mass at 11am), has one of the best choirs in western Pennsylvania. They sing in Latin!

Speaking of Latin, it's an ancient and mysterious language. So, you can relate it to the mysterious language used by Big Ben: "Slant right...Button hook" and so on. But in this case, you'll hear, "Dominos vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo." What's not to like? Add to that the pervasive aroma of incense and you have a formula for a great Sunday. (You can do the hotdog odor later at home.)

The PLM will even show you some killer instant replays, but in this instance we call them "The Stations of the Cross". You won't see any athletic highlights like this in any century real soon. JC took more hits than Hines Ward will ever know. Talk about hamstring injuries, how would you deal with nails in the hands. It gives new meaning to "nailing the quarterback."

So, this coming Sunday don't despair. You can still get your religious fix (regardless of your denomination) by visiting the Pittsburgh Latin Mass. You can sing, cheer (quietly) for the underdog, watch an incredible contest reenacted, and you might even see a Rooney there!