Stupid Phone

At least three times this week, my “smart” phone froze during the bus ride to work, throwing a wicked wrench into my chances of winning solitaire.

Pushing Milo: A Failed Attempt to Make My Dog Famous

Milo

Milo

If there’s one thing we all know it’s that you can’t force a viral video, however that rarely stops us from trying. As a publicist, I focus on attention: creating it, breeding it, stopping it, and always, always trying to control it. Of course this is an impossibility when the very result I wish for is dependent on people, distracted people not looking to further divide their attention to help me out.

But as I said, this never stops me from trying to gain as much attention as possible. The effect is fleeting, vaporous by nature, yet there are times when all that greets me is silence, biting quiet. You see, the opposite of attention is not inattention it’s indifference. You can work with love, anger, frustration, caring, but you can’t do much with, “Eh.”

As an unemployed publicist, volunteering my time to nonprofits in an effort to keep busy, make a difference, and be noticed, I seek out attention every day. My latest attempt found me holding an iPhone over my dog’s shoulder as I tried to entice him to sniff at a Nexus on the ground in our local park. Milo did not grasp his role in something larger as he sniffed the mulch, but before the day was out his good deeds would be plastered across the internet. That was the dream, conceived in a moment and built in a morning. Not all dreams come to fruition but I get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

* * *

Milo was romping around the small park, never straying from the area covered in wood chips. The groundskeeper had only removed the web of yellow police tape from the grassy lawn a few days ago, lifting the ban on four-legged fun from the soggy clay earth. A few hot days might mean an early spring, wringing the winter damp from beneath our feet.

He followed closely behind me, his tail keeping time as he sniffed the ground. A good stick was hard to find and we spent a few minutes searching for a length of branch that was not too chewed up by previous visitors. As I began looking to the bushes where sticks were thrown and never retrieved I saw a black rectangle laying on the ground where it didn’t belong. It’s smooth screen suggested that it had been misplaced recently, after the morning dew had evaporated and before a rambunctious dog had discovered it either with its feet or teeth.

I picked it up, feeling its width across my palm, it was bigger than an iPhone, smaller than a Nook. I looked around for someone in search of their phone, calling out for it like so many dog owners distracted by conversations.

No one was in sight. I swept its screen hoping for a signal, clicking buttons along its side. Its screen illuminated. It was locked, not allowing me to access any information that could point me to its owner. Generic bubbles, probably a native installation, slowly spread across the glass. It was nameless.

My only option was an emergency call. I tried my own phone number first, hoping that the phone might consider this situation an emergency. #Fail.

I’ve never been shy about dialing 911. It’s a reflex when you stumble across car accidents or people in need of medical attention. I even called once as a teen just to settle an argument with my parents. It was before Google so our local police department seemed like the best option at the time to answer a question of law – available 24 hours a day and only three button clicks away.

So I dialed it, lapsing into my usual disclaimer.

“I’m sorry to bother you but this is not an emergency,” I said and then quickly before the operator could postpone my request, “I found a phone and I was wondering if you could tell me the number that I am calling from.”

“Sure darling.”

She gave me the phone number and wished me luck. I think those 911 operators enjoy a good deed after hours of mayhem-induced calls.

I entered the number in my phone and pressed the green phone icon. It rang. After a few rings the larger phone vibrated in my hand. I waited for the answering message, hoping for a name, anything, a clue that would lead to another clue that would lead to a person.

A mechanical voice answered, dictating the number that I had reached. Nothing personal, just the cell service recording.

* * *

I thought of a few options on the way home and was now typing the phone number into my Google search bar. I pressed enter hoping for a name and instead received lists of numbers. As a reporter I had “found” people online dozens of times, maybe hundreds, so I knew this was only a first attempt, not nearly the end of the road. I tried variations on the number, checking the area code.

Cincinnati.

Over the next few minutes I indulged in a fool’s errand and I knew it. Reverse directories. They promise free information but quickly request trial fees, enticing you with headlines of found names and addresses.

I clicked off the phone’s case, hoping for any details, maybe a slip of paper or an etching that began with “If found please return…” All I saw was the Nexus logo on the phone’s back. I had never held one before and as I contemplated next steps I also allowed my mind to consider if I should trade in my phone.

I looked at its broad screen and noticed the carrier information, AT&T. Back to the computer, searching for customer service and placing the call. It did not go as I desired.

“But I just want to return the phone. I don’t need to know who it belongs to. You must have their information on your screen. Can you call a secondary number or email them with my information so I can return it?”

“Absolutely not sir,” the mid-western accent responded. “We cannot send any information to that person. What if we did that and you decided to kill him.”

That seemed pretty far-fetched, especially since I was trying to return a phone. But I guess AT&T operators had seen it all, the grisly truth behind information sharing that inevitably led to the vicious killing of their customers.

“Is there an AT&T store near you?”

“Probably. It’s San Francisco.”

I thanked the operator for his “assistance” and hung up. There was one more shot and I held a bit of hope in lessons from my small town childhood. Sometimes these lessons serve me better than my time as an investigative reporter. They were basic but that’s why they worked. Always smile when you need something. Have empathy for those who use actual timecards. Go local when corporate fails.

That last one produced more leads than I can count, so I dialed up the local AT&T store in Cincinnati.

“I’m terribly sorry to bother you, but I found a phone in a park today. I was able to get the phone’s number from 911 by placing an emergency call and it has a Cincinnati area code. I’m all the way out in San Francisco and I was worried that one of your customers may have dropped it while on vacation. Is there any way that I can give you the number and you could help put us in touch so I can return it? I’m sure they’re worried sick about their phone.”

“Well sure sir. Let me see what I can do,” the voice said. “I just need to check that file. I’ll be right back if you can hold on.”

A minute passed and the voice returned.

“I have a few telephone numbers listed here. What’s your name? Your phone number?”

I hung up hoping for a call any moment, but the minutes passed and it didn’t come.

I had some errands to do, being a Saturday and all, so I hopped in my car, perching the Nexus on my dashboard alongside my phone. They were angled just right so that I could grab either quickly if they rang.

* * *

I returned home an hour later with the phone still in my possession but also with an idea.

Milo always wants to go for a walk, especially when it is not part of his routine. A late morning walk meets all of those crucial criteria so I slid on his collar, harness, and leash and headed back to the park.

We returned to the scene of the discovered phone, my plan fully formed. I placed the phone back on the ground, slightly to the left for better lighting. I called Milo over, pointing at the misplaced technology.

“What is that? What is it?” I said in my most excited voice possible.

He kept sniffing the tree it was next to, probably covered in evaporated piss.

“No. Milo, what’s that?” pointing at the phone. He sniffed it, success.

Now I knew it could be done so I sent him away a few feet, held up the iPhone, and clicked open the Vine app. I called Milo over and quickly recorded his bouncy steps. I asked him to sniff the phone once more and recorded it before tucking the phone into his collar and grabbing more of footage on the way home.

It was ok but it needed something. Back home I tried to get him to jump into the desk chair but he wasn’t going for it. I picked him up and placed him there. Just a half second shot at the computer. Make sure the Twitter log-in screen is open.

The keyboard was unplugged from several attempts of having him “type” on the floor where he’s more comfortable. It’s back on the desk and like the keyboard playing cat, I’m typing away with his paws. A short message from Milo and that’s it.

The excitement swelled inside me. Could I have just made the most viral video ever? I posted it to Twitter. Could we find the owner through social media? How many stories were picked up because they played out on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.?

My inner-publicist, dormant from the West Coast relocation awoke and began making plans. I sent out links to the local press and online carriers of odd news. It was a request to help Milo find the phone’s owner. A sure thing for a brief, a blurb on the home page, a quick push at the end of the local news broadcast. I knew it was a big “no no” to push your own video but I didn’t have time for it to be discovered and shared online. That’s when I got the call. The Nexus was vibrating. I answered it too late, fumbling with the unfamiliar icons. It rang again and I finally was able to answer. It was him, the owner. My first thought was, “Damn, now if the press calls to interview Milo we will have already returned the phone. They’ll miss the hook, the request for assistance from the dog, the opposite of helping an owner find their missing canine. Why couldn’t he call later?” My original attempt to just complete a simple good deed took over. I agreed to meet him back at the park in a few minutes. I would hate to have lost my phone, imagining all of the emails and calls I would miss in that time apart, maybe even a job offer. Who knows, maybe this guy was some head of a startup and in need of someone with my skills.

* * *

The phone was tucked back into Milo’s collar. I tapped the screen and Vine recorded a second. This was the resolution to the story, the closure that would complete the follow up video soon to reach around the world. How would our lives would change in the next few hours? Maybe a new job would come of it. As we neared the park I could see the young man through the fence posts. His eyes were glazed, probably hung-over from Friday night. Did he lose the phone then, jumping into bushes? Any thoughts of returning a phone to a thankful entrepreneur seeking a communications director quickly evaporated like the gallons of dog piss in this park. “Hey, I’m Brian.” “Eh, hey.” He eyed Milo. You could see the wheels turning, gears slipping and catching then slipping again. I bet the sofa that he slept on was still warm. “We found your phone.” I handed it back to him and blurted out my request. “Do you mind if Milo hands you back your phone actually and I record it?” He may not be my golden ticket but I wasn’t giving up on our project. The gears completely disconnected at this point. I wondered what language he thought I was speaking because he didn’t take any of that in. “Huh?” “You see I made a video and posted it on Twitter hoping to find you, the owner. This would help me complete the story.” Drawing on years of photo requests at the animal hospital I used to work at I put in the disclaimer. “I don’t need to see your face, just your hand.” “Eh, ok.”

* * *

A few minutes later, and a few seconds of recording richer, and I was back at my computer. No emails from the press. My blog post from earlier in the morning had 2 views. 2 views? I posted the second video to Vine later in the day, holding out hope for a weekend call from a reporter, trolling through links in search of the perfect, cute video. I slumped in my chair and stared at the screen. They were out there, promoting links to videos, sharing them on Reddit, changing lives if only for a few minutes. They found their viral content and they didn’t need my help today. Milo and I will sit and wait, like good boys.

Words of Wisdom from Big Business, Part 2

In the second of this four part series I selected bits of wisdom from modern business experts and historians that appear on HISTORY’s “The Men Who Built America”. (Read Part 1 here.)

The following quotes are from the second episode, Bloody Battles. As the war heats up between Rockefeller and Carnegie the observations from these leaders become more pointed. If you can make the time in your schedule, this episode is worth watching if only to see how an elephant helped Carnegie to convince some residents that the first steel bridge would not collapse.

On Mentors
“Like most young people who get breaks, luck has a lot to with it and timing. And the second factor besides timing is that as a young man usually all of us would admit that there was a mentor, a benefactor. And when an older person who you respect and admire has confidence in you it’s a great booster to your own self confidence.” – Steve Wynn

On Perseverance
“You have to be patient and have perseverance and have a sense of where you want to go and having the passion to still believe in your idea even when everybody else is saying ‘Why are you wasting your time on this, obviously it’s not, it’s not, it’s not happening?’ But you know it’s going to happen. You just don’t, you never give up on that idea.” – Steve Case

On Uniqueness
“Every business has some uniqueness; either unique talent, unique product, unique capacity. And the trick is to find it and capitalize on it.” – Ron Perelman

On Failure
“I guarantee if these guys were alive today they wouldn’t be telling you about their successes, they’d be telling you about their early failures. Or the places they almost failed. That’s the great motivator and you have to be able to embrace that. If you can’t embrace both failure or the possibility of failure or the tremendous fear of failure, you can’t be wildly successful. It’s an axiomatic truth.” – Donny Deutsch

On Fear“The difference between people who succeed and people who fail, I think in many cases it’s not fear. Everyone experiences fear. The difference is what do you do with your fear. Do you work to overcome it or do you let it defeat you? And I think that is actually what distinguishes very successful people from others.” – Carly Fiorina

On Partnerships
“The partnership between Carnegie and Frick was very analogous to the way a good business partnership works today. You want somebody that’s completely opposite and different from you as you possibly can get.” – Mark Cuban

More on Partnerships
“I think the great leaders find partners who basically can exploit their weaknesses but not, kind of, dance on their strengths. Instead of hiring weaker versions of themselves they hire people that are tremendous experts at what they’re not.” – Donny Deutsch

On Being First
“Carnegie demonstrated that if you’re the first at whatever you do, you have a huge advantage over the people who come along later because you got the jump on them and very often that jump allows you to carve a niche and to maximize your profits within that niche.” – H. W. Brands (historian)

On Brands
“When your brand becomes so big that you become the name, you become the face behind the brand, it’s difficult. There’s also a great deal of responsibility and risk and you have to be very, very careful.” ­– Donald Trump

On Competition
“I always say you have to have someone to hate to aim for. Having an enemy, having an arch enemy, having a competitor, is what ups the game for everybody.” – Donny Deutsch

More on Competition
“Oh I benefit from high class competition. I’ve been dogged by the competition. Bested by the competition a couple times. But I’ve had my licks too and we’ve managed to hold our own.”– Steve Wynn

Words of Wisdom from Big Business, Part 1

My favorite television shows usually save me from having to read a book. That’s not to say I do not read. In fact, I read every day. I just find some subjects, such as history, are frequently written in a manner that is not accessible…by which I mean dull.

So my interest was piqued when HISTORY said it would air a four part series on the titans of American industry that rose from the ashes of the Civil War. “The Men Who Built America” on History began its run last month and I am only just getting around to watching each episode.

While viewing the first episode, A New War Begins, I was re-introduced to several names of early American industry including Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Carnegie. Some of the best parts however are the asides from retired and current business leaders. Here are my favorite quotes from these leaders in the first episode:

On Vision
“You talk about seeing around corners as an element of success. That’s what differentiates a good leader. Not many people have it. Not many people can predict that corner. That is a characteristic of great leaders.” – Jack Welch

More on Vision
“The idea is to see what’s missing. That’s what the creative entrepreneur does. He serves people with things that they need. Some people can’t find the new thing to do. But sometimes you see something that everybody has to have. You say, ‘Oh man, I gotta give them this.’ Then you go to work on it because they need it.” – Russell Simmons

Even More on Vision
“I think entrepreneurs and certain business people just look at life and look at things that are changing and are able to see those things and say ‘I can create a business out of that’.” – Mark Cuban

On Sizing People Up
“Every business is about understanding people. Which people you have to get through. Which people you have to embrace. Which people you have to jump over. Which people you have to push out of the way. That’s the game.” – Donny Deutsch

On Innovation
“Innovation is not a big breakthrough invention every time. Innovation is a constant thing. But if you don’t have an innovative company coming to work every day to find a better way you don’t have a company. You’re getting ready to die on the vine.” – Jack Welch

On Technology
“Today everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. They’ve heard these great stories, you know, about Apple. But you know what? When you start a company you can think: what’s the revenues gonna be, how much it’s gonna be worth to shareholders. But you always need a technical element. You need somebody who knows how to do it and build the things. You need the scientists.” – Steve Wozniak

On Salesmanship
“The Rockefellers and all these guys were all great salesmen. At the end of the day, it’s the salesmen who make the money.” – Jerry Weintraub

On Winning v. Money
“To me, it’s always what’s next and I think that’s what drives most very successful people. It’s never about the money. I mean that’s a way of keeping score. It’s about achievement and it’s about winning a game and it’s about upping the ante.” ­- Donny Deutsch

More on Winning v. Money
“They don’t think in terms of money. They think in terms of winning. Now naturally if you win big in business money follows. But that shouldn’t be your objective. Your objective should be to win. Win, win, win, win. All the time. Not sometimes. Every time.” – Sumner Redstone

On Competition
“I think it’s good for the system and it’s really, I think, what most business is about. It’s about doing a better job on out-hustling your competitors.” – Ted Turner

More on Competition
“Competition gets very aggressive. People have no idea how aggressive it is. And sometimes you don’t even hear it because what goes on behind your back is not a pretty picture.” – Donald Trump

On Quitting
“You have to be smart. You have to have vision. You have to have all of these different things, but the most successful people are the people that had the right idea but never, ever quit or gave up. The people that really succeed in life are those that don’t quit.” – Donald Trump

On Being on Top
“People are always rooting for very successful people to fail. The day people are not taking shots at you, it means you are not on top anymore.” – Donny Deutsch

Buried Alive: Social Media Helps Bad News Rise from the Dead

Burying news is a practice widely used by public relations professionals. However issuing news on a Friday at 5PM or while another organization or event is dominating the narrative is no longer a sure fire way to go unnoticed. Sorry folks, there no longer exists a bottomless pit to drop press releases.

So who’s to blame? Responsibility squarely rests on social media and “citizen journalists.” Case in point: Twitter reports are highlighting just how one such attempt to bury bad news is backfiring. Just as Apple presented its much-anticipated keynote to announce the iPad mini, social game provider Zynga reportedly laid off more than 100 employees, providing them with 2 hours to vacate their desks.

The news broke as former Apple, Sony, Mint, and Smulee employee Justin Maxwell posted the following tweet:
Since Maxwell’s post the Twitterverse has been lit up with rumors ranging from layoffs of departments (TheVille and Bingo) to entire office shutdowns (Austin, Boston, and Chicago). At the time of posting this article, Zynga has yet to make a formal statement however it would be a fair bet that the company’s management and communications team had the Apple keynote in mind when deciding when to inform their employees of this news. (UPDATE: Read the statement from Zynga CEO Mark Pincus.)

With the proliferation of social sites, especially those adopted as news sharing platforms, it is time for public relations professionals to rethink when to deliver bad news – if they haven’t already. There is no more hiding and trying to do so may just make matters worse.

Here are some tips for dealing with a brewing crisis.

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