Google Glass and Fred Armisen: When Life Imitates Art

Wait…if the SNL skit came first then which one’s the parody?

Google Mother’s Day: Not Too Intuitive

Google doodles are always fun but today I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Maybe it’s me, I just woke up, and building things with a foggy head never end well.

If you haven’t tried it yet, it appears to be a card creating factory that helps you put together something from your grammar school days and share with mom.

My first attempt looked like something that might be sent from Norman Bates with a campfire and a blood red background:

Screen shot 2013-05-12 at 9.09.38 AM
My second attempt was a bit too Charlotte (SNTC):

Screen shot 2013-05-12 at 9.10.59 AM
The third was pure branding (not sure which icon I selected that suggested my mother might need a reminder to use Google):

Screen shot 2013-05-12 at 9.12.10 AM

I gave up with this fourth result, a mixed bag of marketing and childhood whimsy:

Screen shot 2013-05-12 at 9.13.14 AM
Time to own up and go to Amazon for a book to send to mom. Thanks Google, in a roundabout way you helped me find what I needed to do.

The Coolest Doodle

Google outdid itself with the Saul Bass doodle. Brilliant!

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.

Revisiting Some Viral Videos

Mediaplex’s Jim Nichols recently compiled a list of viral video success stories from 2012. The theme was videos that broke the mold by going against the “accepted” rules. You can view all of the campaigns here, however my favorite has to go to Google Maps 8 Bit video for April Fool’s Day. I disagree with Nichols though on one point, this video is very cool.

Was Joining Google+ Communities a Bad Idea?

Picture 10I’m a community guy. I join groups, share ideas, and generally look to learn from others. So I signed up for a few PR and Social Media groups yesterday to experience the new Google+ Communities. It has taken less than 24 hours for me to regret that decision.

Since joining, I continue to receive emails from each group in real time. While I think that this is a great feature, an improvement on LinkedIn’s aggregated overnight updates from my groups, I wish the content were more engaging. Each post is another in a long line of “going around the room” introductions. Hopefully this is only due to the influx of people, like me, jumping on board and soon more community members will begin posting their thoughts, questions, advice, worries, and passions.

Maybe it’s me. I enjoy the opportunity to learn more about people however I prefer to hear what they have to say before I find out what they do.

The Blame Game Goes Hi-Tech

SkywalkerWe’ve all stepped in it at one time or another. Modern communications is a fast paced, team effort however it consists of people so mistakes are sure to happen. Maybe you’re a journalist who misquoted a source or a spokesperson that cited the wrong fact only to see it shared across the web moments later. As long as it was not malicious you hopefully identified where you went wrong, learned from your error, and moved on. There are others though who will blame everyone but themselves for their error.

This week a fake press release made the rounds purporting that Google had acquired ICOA. The release appeared on PRWeb, was quickly picked up by media outlets from small blogs to the Associated Press. Eager journalists provided insight regarding the importance of the acquisition and swiftly retracted those reports once the release was identified as untrue.

This would be the perfect time to publish a retraction and if asked, own up to jumping on a bandwagon with others who did not check their facts with either Google or ICOA. Enter TechCrunch’s east coast editor John Biggs.

In an article published the day after TechCrunch, along with many other media outlets, reported the false news of the ICOA acquisition, Biggs highlighted the reporting error by lining up buses to throw everyone from the PR industry to his own audience underneath. It is a sensational article and well worth a read if only to understand the degree to which Biggs feels burned by the whole ICOA affair.

Weaving a thread through his article, Biggs mainly focuses on the increased speed of the news process in a digital world. It is an ongoing argument in communications circles regarding how to balance the speed at which journalists report the news with the voracious appetite of their audiences. It has become a chicken or the egg question as news sites seek revenue generating page views and consumers want to be the first to learn of and share breaking stories. (The wife of my former publisher was fond of saying,”It’s called news not olds.”)

There is a valid point to be made and a perfect opportunity to again own up to having rushed to press with unverified information (newswires or competing media outlets are not the sources I have in mind). In an odd turn Biggs preferred to martyr his profession by putting himself in the position of a journalist working to meet the needs of everyone but his craft.

While I can’t defend the “reposting” of any press release without proper vetting (and to be clear plenty of people fell for the ICOA pump and dump scam), I think the value we’ve added to the process itself far outweighs some of the risks.”

Amazingly Biggs embraced his fellow journalists to share in any blame and accomplished the difficult “backdoor brag” perfectly in a single sentence.

So what is this value-add? According to Biggs it is spreading the news quickly. Huh?

“Call it process journalism or call it “just talking” but what we do at TechCrunch and what they do at AllThingsD and what they do at TNW and GigaOm is approximately the same thing: we spread the word on important deals, inventions, and improvements in the tech industry. If that’s wrong then I don’t want to be right.”

Now that’s a nice bit of rhetoric. Biggs stated an obvious description of news production only to follow it with a statement with which readers people can only agree. Biggs follows by setting the stage for martyrdom.

“The problem comes when that churn, that endless wave of news, crests over our abilities to manage and vet. There is a call, for example, to slow down when it comes to coverage. You don’t care that Angry Birds Star Wars is out the moment it’s released. Why not just sit on that news for a few days, really give it a good dry rub? Why not give old Mighty Eagle a call, get him on camera. Really make an event out of it. We don’t do that because that’s even worse than pasting in a press release. There is a very large percentage of people for whom the words “Hey, Angry Birds Star Wars is out. You can get it here” is far superior to a 1,000-word article on how they got birds to look like Han Solo. We’re not any company’s marketing organ, no matter how many times we post about Apple. Those who want more can always find more. Always. So slowing down isn’t the answer.”

I agree that slowing down is not necessarily the answer however if doing your job means slowing down then you have a decision to make. When I started out as a reporter for a weekly newspaper I had to tailor my reporting knowing that I was up against a daily competitor and news sites online. My strategy was simply to dig up facts that I knew the other outlets did not possess. If there were no more facts then you decided to shelf the story or run it with added commentary to provide a greater insight. Speed worked against my competitors since I could use their reports to pursue different avenues of questioning with my subjects or dive deeper into their news briefs.

I can understand Biggs’ frustration at wanting to report every story 24/7 however even journalists need to know their limitations. Journalists need to pick and choose their stories with greater care given the “endless wave of news.” A simple rule could be adopting a policy that says if you can’t vet a story then you can’t publish it. It really should not matter what the policies are at other news outlets. Editors are responsible for their outlet’s integrity and no other site. I seem to remember a recent story where an entire industry blamed each other without looking at their own practices. Oddly enough it also had something to do with investments…

But let’s not slow down. This is where Biggs takes a really bizarre turn in an argument against posting less and vetting more:

“Could we post less? Sure. I’d love it if we did. But we have a team of people who want to write. They want to get stuff up. They revel in breaking news even if that news doesn’t seem important to you, specifically. It’s like asking a gazelle to take the bus. So that’s out.”

So who’s in charge over at TechCrunch? Unfortunately the TechCrunch writers enjoy writing so much they can’t slow down so there you have it. Yet this argument feels wrong. Is there someone else to blame? How about the usual scapegoat: PR.

“The answer, as far as I see it, is simple: avoid PR and PR newswires and keep the conversation going naturally. If you’re a founder, either hire a marketing manager internally or do it yourself. If you made something cool, tell us directly. At this point in the game gathering a list of friendly journalists is as easy as visiting 100 or so websites. It didn’t used to be that way. To get access to a newspaper you had to send a letter to an editor that would, inevitably, end up in the trash. Now you can spam a bunch of writers who are hungry to feed that maw.”

So it appears that journalists also fall victim to the awesome power of Spam.

Too bad they can’t think for themselves. I remember once upon a time I thought for myself as a reporter. But then again spam came via fax so unless the office assistant handed it to me I could avoid it. (If you are in PR or want to learn a bit ore about the industry, I urge you to read the comments section follow Biggs’ article for some fantastic responses from members of this profession.)

So will there be any sort of acceptance by Biggs for TechCrunch posting false news without confirming it with Google and ICOA?

“If we jump, once in a blue moon, at something that looks like it might be the little guy finally catching a break (and it’s actually a pump and dump scam or a stupid product or a lie), forgive us or at least understand: We’re getting up every morning and not going to bed in order to keep you informed. If you don’t like that, there are plenty of other ways to get your news, but I feel few are as fresh or as fascinating as this new form of tech journalism that we are all now building.”

An interesting ending that truly martyrs the profession while telling an audience that “there are plenty of other ways get your news” if you are unhappy with TechCrunch’s reporting. Seems like a non-apology I heard recently that was also covered by TechCrunch.

Calvin and Hobbes on…Crisis Communications

Two weeks ago I spent the morning sifting through quotes from a favorite character of my childhood. The resulting blog post, Winnie the Pooh on…Social Media, was so much fun to create that I decided to take a look back on another publication that provided me with wisdom during my youth, Calvin and Hobbes.

It seems as if young Calvin was always in crisis mode while Hobbes fanned the flames to watch the meltdown. The mistakes of these two characters contain valuable lessons for anyone facing a media crisis. After all, can’t we all sympathize with a child that so succinctly states what we all think when a crisis occurs: “Reality continues to ruin my life.”

Here are a few more bits of crisis wisdom from author Bill Watterson:

On Ignoring the Crisis
“What state do you live in?”
“Denial.”

On Setting Expectations
“To make a bad day worse, spend it wishing for the impossible.”

On Luck
“You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”

On Pity
“Its no use! Everybody gets good enemies except me.”

On Planning Ahead
“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.”
“What mood is that?”
“Last-minute panic.”

On Keeping Your Cool
“Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words.”

On Picking a Competent Spokesperson
“I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.”

On Knowing Your Facts
“As a math atheist, I should be excused from this.”

On Crafting Your Soundbite
“If something is so complicated that you can’t explain it in 10 seconds, then it’s probably not worth knowing anyway.”

OnMisdirection
“This one’s tricky. You have to use imaginary numbers, like eleventeen…”

On Offering a Scapegoat
“Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?”

More On Offering a Scapegoat
“Nothing I do is my fault.”

On Owning Your Mistake
“Don’t walk away! I’m trying to apologize you dumb noodleloaf!”

More On Owning Your Mistake
“I love the culture of victimhood.”

On Quoted (Gloating) Competitors
“In my opinion, we don’t devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.”

On Elevating the Crisis
“A little rudeness and disrespect can elevate a meaningless interaction to a battle of wills and add drama to an otherwise dull day.”

On Cutting Your Losses
“Where do we keep all our chainsaws, Mom?”

On Keeping a Positive Perspective
“Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine, and valleys of frustration and failure.”

On Recent Crises:

On Mitt Romney’s Binders Full of Women
“Girls are like slugs – they probably serve some purpose, but it’s hard to imagine what.”

More On Mitt Romney’s Binders Full of Women
“She didn’t even give me credit for my professional clear plastic binder!”

On the Gap’s “Manifest Destiny” T-Shirt
“How rude.”

On Google’s Early Release of Financials
“Another genius foiled by an incapable assistant.”

Do any of your favorite Calvin and Hobbes quotes apply to crisis communications? Share them in the comments section below.

AuthorRank: Brian Adams

Pick Me Up

So I had one of those days. It was made all the more special by being crammed into just a few hours.

In that short amount of time I missed a bus (managing to nearly sweat through my suit) arrived at a job interview when everyone was already in the room, broke a shoe lace, failed to get a haircut prior to tomorrow’s job interview and managed to show up at my wife’s photo shoot and suck some of the fun out of her day with my humdrum attitude.

So, I did what any 30-something male does in today’s society – sat on the couch and searched for someone on TV to make me feel better.

That’s when I stumbled upon comedian and cartoonist Pete Holmes. In a matter of minutes I felt a little bit lighter and was able to put things in perspective.

Today wasn’t all bad. After all, I had a job interview (and another lined up for tomorrow – and hey, a third one next week) and I have an incredibly supportive wife who notices when I am out of sorts and who asks what’s on my mind.

Below are two appearances by Pete Holmes that helped get me out of today’s rut. All it took was someone to put themselves out there, share a few truths and try to connect. Thanks Pete!

Pete Holmes on Google:

Pete Holmes on Magic:

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