Archive for the ‘Important People and Ideas’ Category

Marketing advice from the big-wigs

Friday, May 7th, 2010

A few weeks ago I was able to attend this year’s Global Marketing Summit, an annual event presented by the International Advertising Association‘s NY Chapter and sponsored by Bloomberg Business Week, CNN International and Google. Big thanks go out to marketing diva Ciara Pressler for the ticket.

We spent the day listening to some serious VIPS in the marketing world address the thorny topic of “The New Normal”. I believe the title was in reference to an article written last year by Ian David, worldwide Managing Director at McKinsey & Co (free registration required). Mr. David expounded on what he called “not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order.”

So what is the new normal?

In this context, the “new normal” refers to a shift in consumption patterns by the U.S. consumer. The experts agreed that value(s) and trust are twin forces to be reckoned with during this period of adjustment. They sense a growing distrust from consumers towards big business, big media and the government (which interestingly, the PEW Research Center just echoed and quantified in this scary report). Gee…I wonder why?

Consumer behavior has changed in response to the information technology revolution we are living through. Increased access to information has helped give rise to virtual communities, independent journalism, consumer research, self-produced media and so on. Marketers have to back up their claims now, which means some massive message restructuring.

The New Normal also refers to a rise in consumer frugality and saving in response to the financial crisis. Consumers are scarred and scared, many of them much poorer than they were a few years ago either due to real estate deflation or high debt levels. Between wage stagnation and high unemployment, many are pessimistic about their future earning prospects. People are looking for high quality in tandem with low prices and we are much more reticent to part with our hard earned cash for non-essentials than in the recent past.

All this spells disaster for people who market products that aren’t necessary for survival.

Here are a few things I took away with me.

Value + Values: Consumers want something of high quality that ALSO reflects their personal values whenever possible now that they can do a ton of research prior to purchase. There is increased consumer scrutiny when money is tight and information is everywhere.

Constant Change: The info tech revolution is still underway with more futuristic technology right around the bend. Marketers who want to do things the old way or the “way we do them” will be in for a bumpy ride. The possibilities are endless but resources are finite, so building flexibility into all communications planning and organizational strategy is key. In addition to creating products & services that present a smarter solution, we need to work smarter to get the message out effectively and when something isn’t working, change it.

Intrusion vs. Engagement (aka Push vs. Pull): The old way is to push your product to large groups of people as often as you can afford to using traditional mass media like radio, newspaper, television. The new way is to create a feeling – of excitement or intrigue or reliability or respect or trust – about your brand/product/service in a consumer who has been specifically targeted using technology and existing data.

As we should all know by now, things on the media landscape are changing rapidly (some not for the better). People are spending lots of their time on the internet and marketers want to be there. But the old way isn’t working well in the brave new wild west and very few have worked out the etiquette of the sale yet. Privacy concerns are huge and consumers are more media savvy than they’ve ever been.

Best case scenario is when people come to you via referral from an existing customer. Relationship building through reputation and personal connection is the engagement marketers seek. What they are experimenting with now is: how do they become your trusted friend?

Other thoughts from my notes:

  1. Brand is about what you do, not what you say. Since it is difficult to differentiate yourself by what you do when others do the same thing, what truly differentiates you is WHO you are and HOW you do what you do.
  2. Understand your customers and build the customer experience around them.
  3. Advertisers need to be content creators for the brands they represent rather than messaging architects (ok artists, we should EXCEL at this one).
  4. A free white paper titled “The Authentic Enterprise” was mentioned as an excellent resource. I look forward to reading it.
  5. Word of mouth info sharing is possibly the most powerful force in the universe.

What do you think?

Improve your financial literacy

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

In this post, I’ve included links to some important financial resources that were mentioned in Saturday’s workshop. Among them, you’ll find some of my favorite blogs and sites, as well as a gigantic financial glossary, three articles on how to hire a financial planner and some handy tools and calculators (loan, savings, retirement) courtesy of FINRA.

Banking & Lending

Bankrate is the place to get the best available rates on just about any kind of consumer financial product; Mortgage 101 is an educational site for potential home-buyers; if you’ve gone to college recently and wanted a scholarship, you probably remember filling out a nightmare of a form called the FAFSA; and if you are looking for basic, general information about all-things-banking why not head to the source and check out the educational resources provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City?


Be sure to review your credit history each year using Annual Credit Report (it’s FREE); learn how your credit score is calculated and what affects it by visiting MyFICO; if you are trying to avoid debt collectors and bankruptcy, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling can put you in touch with a free credit counselor; if you are new or just inspired to learn more about how the game works, visit; and next time you are ready to shop around for a new card, be sure to check out Card Ratings first.


Such a topical issue given the health care “debate”…If you are an artist looking for health or liability insurance, you can find it at Fractured Atlas; if you are any kind of freelance worker looking for health, dental, life or disability coverage, check out Freelancer’s Union.


If you are curious about or ready to take the plunge into investing, here are some resources to help you learn the lingo, grasp key concepts and demystify the complicated world of “Wall St”: Investopedia, The Motley Fool, Morningstar, and Mutual Fund Education Alliance. The topic of peer-to-peer lending as an investment strategy came up, made famous by the international organization Kiva.


The U.S. Social Security Administration sends you a statement twice a year to report on your taxable income and projected benefits. If you haven’t received one in a while, you can request it online. Be sure it matches your tax statements – I found they missed crediting me over $15,000 of income one year!

And obviously Social Security won’t be enough to support those of us under 40 when we reach collecting time, so you should consider participating in an employer sponsored plan (usually a 401K or 403B) and maximize any matching funds opportunities they provide. If that isn’t an option, consider an Individual Retirement Account.


Why not start at the top and just contact the IRS (or consult their new YouTube channel – seriously!) with your questions? In preparation, you might want to spend some time on these blogs: Don’t Mess With Taxes and TAXGIRL.

Personal Finance

My top blog picks are The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly – I have been reading both for years now, and think they are two of the best places online to find tips, tactics and techniques for reducing debt, saving for retirement, learning to craft a frugal lifestyle that doesn’t cramp your personal style and more. Of course, what is theory without practice, so be sure to investigate the free money management tools offered by Mint and Wesabe.

Finance, Economics, Policy

Here a few of my favorites blogs: naked capitalism, The Big Picture, and The Baseline Scenario. These are serious blogs written by serious minds who really know their stuff. Sometimes I don’t follow every little detail, but reading them has helped me dramatically improve my understanding of macroeconomics, fiscal and monetary policy, and the financial calamity we are currently living through.


SBA stands for Small Business Administration – it is the part of the Federal government designed to help support small businesses; SCORE is an amazing national organization that provides business education, resources, templates and even mentoring in locations around the country; and if you are looking for general business advice, check out or

If there are any questions we didn’t have time to cover in the workshop, or follow-up thoughts or resources you’d like to share (whether you participated or not), please post in the comments section.

I want to thank everyone who braved the storm-that-never-came to join me.

My heroes: Bill Moyers

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

I always knew the incomparable beacon of light that is Bill Moyers would be featured in this column at some point, so when I learned last weekend that he announced he will resign from PBS in April 2010, I figured now was the time to write a post about him. I have been watching Bill Moyer’s Journal program regularly since it was resurrected for a second life on PBS in 2007 – I believe at the suggestion of my Grandma. I don’t own a television so I watch it online and while I don’t follow the schedule, I check in weekly to see who he’s been talking with.

Qualities he possesses that I respect most include:

1. his commitment to being one of the lone voices speaking truth to power in the tattered shreds of what we call “news media”;

2. the level of sincerity that fuels his investigations and an honest desire to get to the truth of the matter;

3. the courage he demonstrates by presenting important issues from many different sides without apology.

His understanding and mastery of the process behind investigative journalism, knowledge of history and ability to place events in meaningful context is now a dying art in our media. He has been unrelenting in his coverage of the health care reform debate/debacle and very recently challenged the President and members of Congress to reinstate the draft if they feel we should send more troops to Afghanistan.

Earlier this month he featured an interview with Anna Deavere Smith, one of the most awe-inspiring and unflinching voices in American theater, about her current show Let Me Down Easy. Some of my favorite episodes include several conversations with the noteworthy economist Simon Johnson, a fascinating discussion about Thomas Paine with two noted scholars and a mind-bending dissection of potential outcomes in relation to an important case currently under review by the Supreme Court that “could decide to erase the legal distinction between corporations and individuals”.

Last week’s episode was a lesson in history and featured rare recordings of LBJ in conversation with various advisors talking about how to deal with the war in Vietnam. It was particularly compelling given the current political debate about how to deal with Afghanistan (a war I believe we cannot win and should not be fighting) and I am sure Mr. Moyers intended to provoke reflection on our past experiences waging wars in foreign lands against guerrilla fighters. As the (paraphrased) saying goes: Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Bill Moyers is one of the last independent journalists in the U.S. who knows his history and is using his position and program to advocate for our society’s progress and evolution, instead of serving the same old interests with the same poor results.  Watch him (and check out the show’s archives online) while you can.

Mr. Moyers – you will be sorely missed. Thank you for always shining your light into the dark places of our society.

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe – a film made with fiscal sponsorship

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Last night, I had the immense pleasure of seeing a film on the “big screen” that I helped become what it is in a little tiny way…

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe is a documentary about William Kunstler, the famous/infamous civil rights attorney who defended the Chicago 8, the Catonsville 9 and a host of other controversial figures throughout his career.

The film was made by two of his daughters, Emily and Sarah Kunstler. I met them while managing the fiscal sponsorship program at Fractured Atlas and worked with them to process the donations and manage some of the funds that helped make this movie a reality. They also used Women Make Movies as a fiscal sponsor, another important organization that serves women filmmakers.

The film is a beautiful story of a complicated man and the relationship his daughters had to him while growing up here in NYC. In Kunstler’s later years, he defended some rather unsavory characters, including handling two years worth of appeals battles in behalf of Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Jogger rapists who was later exonerated when the real culprit confessed to the crime.

The film is currently playing at Cinema Village in NYC – it runs through this weekend and will be extended if ticket sales warrant it. They are having talk backs/Q&As with the filmmakers and some of the key players after certain showings and if you have any interest in the history of civil rights and/or this fascinating man, I strongly suggest you see the film.

Yusef Salaam was one of the speakers at the Q&A last night. To hear him talk about being falsely accused, convicted and to ultimately serve 5+ years for a crime he didn’t commit at age 15 was frightening, heartbreaking and ultimately inspirational. He has become an amazing advocate and a bold example of why we need serious prison and judicial reform in this country.

It will be opening in LA, San Francisco, Seattle and more cities around the U.S. this weekend – you can find all the details on the film’s website.

Congratulations to Sarah and Emily for creating this amazing documentary about their father and an important figure in American history. To me, this is the best possible use of a fiscal sponsorship program in the arts.

Go Vote NYC!

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Today is election day here in NYC. Polls are open from 6am – 9pm.

If you need information about your polling site or anything else related to the election, you can find it here or by calling The Board of Elections at 866-VOTE-NYC.

Participate and make your voice heard!

My heroes: Elizabeth Warren

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I’ve decided to start writing about people whom I feel are so important that everyone should know who they are. I begin with a woman who has become an amazing role model for me over the last year given her ability to speak truth to power eloquently and decisively.

Elizabeth Warren is a professor at Harvard Law School and Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, the committee responsible for figuring out where the TARP (aka bailout) money went.

She has been warning about the “coming collapse of the middle class” for years. The first time I saw her speak was in this amazing video of the same name hosted and presented by UC Berkeley’s Graduate Council Lecture series in March 2007.

Below is a great interview with her about her life, what motivated her to study bankruptcy and the middle class and how she got involved in consumer issues. She has co-authored two important books on the subject with her daughter, The Two-Income Trap and All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan.

Most recently, she spoke in a great interview with Yahoo! Finance at The Economist’s Buttonwood Gathering and had this to say:

Warren pulls no punches when it comes to her criticism of former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for his failure to put any restrictions on or monitoring of the initial TARP funds, and for using the money for something other than “toxic asset relief,” as originally intended.”I have a real problem when we describe to taxpayers their money will be taken and used one way and in fact it’s used another way,” she declares.

And you can always check out how the COP is progressing by watching the quickie video updates summarizing each new report or if you are a true die-hard like me, checking out the full hearings (I listen to them while I cook).

I would call her the greatest living advocate for the middle class in the USA today. Having been born into the middle  class to parents who have struggled my whole life and destined to die in the middle class (assuming I don’t outlive it as a socio-economic strata in our society), I cannot put into words the anger and frustration I feel towards the leaders in big business and government who have chosen to capitulate and ultimately, serve institutions with giant lobbying budgets over  individual citizens. Smarter people than me have argued their complicity and collusion have systematically reduced this country to an oligarchy during my lifetime and I wonder every day where this nation will be in 5, 10 and 20 years unless we drastically change things for the better.

On behalf of our nation’s disenfranchised individuals, I want to thank you Elizabeth Warren for doing everything in your power to help us.