2008 « maslansky + partners

Nonprofits must tell donors about solutions if they expect to win the public’s trust

written by Lee Carter and Larry Moscow for The Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s March 22nd, 2012 issue

 

Chronicle of Philanthropy

March 27th, 2012 blog, news, Press No Comments

The iPhone 4: It’s not me. It’s you. And the press. And smartphones. And algorithms. And still not me.

A college professor I know related an anecdote about a student explaining why he didn’t have his homework. His car had been broken into and his bag stolen. And also his grandmother had gotten suddenly very sick. Other students in the class giggled awkwardly, darting glances at each other. Why? Because the explanation didn’t sound true. Two unrelated, singular events offered up for one small problem. The student seemed to be giving options, as if to say, “And if you don’t believe that, how about this?”

In the grand scheme of things, (more…)

August 3rd, 2010 blog No Comments

What’s in a Name: The Battle over “Illegal Immigrant”

By Patrick Buckley and Chris Manley

The words we use matter. They can help re-frame issues and change debates. Whether it’s changing discussions about global warming to those about climate change. Talking about a death tax instead of an estate tax. Or promoting stronger environmental standards instead of increased government regulation.  Language plays a critical role in how we all perceive issues and form opinions.

 

Given this, we’ve been watching with particular interest the efforts of immigrant rights groups to get the Associated Press and others to end the use of the term “illegal immigrants” in their reporting.

 

The activists behind the “Drop the I-Word” campaign argue the phrase is “legally inaccurate,” “politically loaded” and “dehumanizing [to] the people it is used to describe. Perhaps more to the point, they claim its use has helped deny the country a “truthful, respectful debate on immigration.”

 

The AP, the New York Times and others have been, to date, unmoved. They explain that the term just calls these immigrants what they are: people who are here illegally.  (As the Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan explained, the term “gets its job done.”)  They’ve also pointed out that the proposed alternatives, such as “undocumented immigrants” or “unauthorized immigrants,” confuse rather than clarify the issue. They’re trying to cast themselves in a role we often ask the media to play: that of neutral observer.

 

The trouble is, this isn’t honest.  When it comes to such a politically charged issue, there are no neutral terms.  The way we talk about a contentious issue implies a choice. To make editorial decisions about words is to agree to focus the debate here instead of there.

 

Determining what words to use requires balancing multiple factors.  One of those factors is most certainly accuracy, but another has to be considering the associations and triggers that a particular word or phrase carries. Because all words are emotional triggers. In a debate like this, even words chosen to carefully avoid the legal question would anger those who want this to be a legal issue.

 

Rightfully or wrongly the term “illegal immigrant” carries considerable rhetorical baggage. It’s closely connected to coarser terms like “illegals” and “illegal aliens,” both of which the AP and the New York Times have stressed they will not use.  It focuses the debate on individuals’ status as lawbreakers. Using the term “undocumented workers” would focus the debate on their status as having not completed paperwork. “Unauthorized workers” would frame this as a government allowance issue. All carry very specific implications, which organizations and individuals must choose among.

 

None of this means the term shouldn’t be used – the baggage it carries is only one factor that has to be weighed against others. But it does mean that these publications have an obligation to consider and explain, fully, why they decided to keep using it. Accuracy alone dodges the central question.

October 22nd, 2012 blog, insights No Comments

Clint Sievers

Clint holds a BS in Communication Studies and Political Science from Northwestern University, and a Masters in International Relations and Religion from Boston University.  He lives in Arlington, VA with his wife Jana and their hyper-active cat Kaylee.

April 21st, 2010 team No Comments

American Medical Association

April 30th, 2010 Associations No Comments

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

April 30th, 2010 Philanthropic No Comments

Blue Cross Blue Shield

Chase

Comcast

April 30th, 2010 Media No Comments

Consumer Healthcare Products Association

April 30th, 2010 Associations No Comments

Continental Airlines

April 30th, 2010 Consumer-Retail No Comments

eLanco

Emblem Health

Estee Lauder

April 30th, 2010 Consumer-Retail No Comments

Entergy

April 30th, 2010 Energy-Utilities No Comments

General Electric

Hilton Hotels

April 30th, 2010 Consumer-Retail No Comments

Insured Retirement Institute

April 30th, 2010 Associations No Comments

Kindsight

April 30th, 2010 Technology No Comments

Kroger

April 30th, 2010 Consumer-Retail No Comments

Monster

April 30th, 2010 Technology No Comments

Motion Picture Association of America

April 30th, 2010 Associations, Media No Comments

National Mining Association

April 30th, 2010 Associations No Comments

Lee Hartley Carter

A member of the executive leadership team, Lee oversees a diverse range of language strategy work for Fortune 500 companies and non-profits in the U.S. and abroad.  To do this, Lee has conducted, overseen, and analyzed countless instant response sessions, traditional focus groups, brainstorming and strategy sessions. and surveys in more than 15 countries.  She has worked with clients in a wide range of industries including financial services, energy, automotive, sustainability, hospitality services, food and beverage, technology, and consumer products.  And, she has worked extensively in public affairs, public policy, and issue advocacy.

Before joining maslansky + partners, Lee spent more than ten years in marketing and strategic communications. And, like many of her colleagues at m+p got her start in politics advocating for teaching hospitals, graduate medical education, the use of bicycle helmets, and healthcare for those who couldn’t afford it.

Lee serves as a member of the National Head Start Association advisory board focusing on messaging, is a fellow of the National Committee on US-China Relations Young Leadership Forum, and an occasional contributor to Fox News and MSNBC.  A graduate of Furman University, Lee majored in History and Sociology.  She also studied theater and architecture at the University of London. She lives in New York City.

 

 

April 29th, 2010 team No Comments

Mike Phifer

Mike has written or assisted on speeches for numerous US Senators and Congressmen as well as foreign heads of state.  On the corporate side of the business, he has worked with industries ranging from technology and fast food, to financial services, credit cards, and alternative energy.  He has conducted surveys and Instant Response Dial Sessions throughout the United States, well as in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and China.

Mike’s primary interests are in language development and speechwriting.  Before m + p, Mike was an analyst at the Corporate Executive Board, a best practice research and executive education firm in Washington, DC. A cum laude graduate of Vanderbilt University, he majored in political science and communication studies.  Mike is a native of Paris, Tennessee, which is home of the World’s Biggest Fish Fry.  Currently a resident of New York City, Mike recently spent a year living in the Middle East where he did freelance writing for a former Prime Minister and learned how to spot a good hummus.

April 25th, 2010 team No Comments

Fox Strategy Room with Brian Kilmeade

Michael Maslansky discusses messaging regarding the current financial crisis, bailouts, and American sacrifice.

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November 26th, 2008 news, Television No Comments

Penn Mutual

Personal Care Products Council

Peter G Peterson Foundation

May 18th, 2010 Philanthropic No Comments

PricewaterhouseCoopers

Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

PSE&G

Shell Oil

Southern California Edison

Hey Man, Give Me Another Chance

This is the new message coming from corporate America, and it’s not a pretty sight.

For several companies right now, selling more of their products isn’t the main goal.  It’s earning back the right to sell their products at all that’s keeping senior management, corporate communicators, and advertising executives up at night.

Following their global recall, Toyota is spending millions trying to convince the public its cars are safe again. Domino’s spent the first quarter of 2010 trying to get lapsed customers to come back by denouncing the old recipe for its pizza.  GM trumpeted its TARP repayment “in full, with interest, ahead of schedule” as it asked for a second look at the New GM.  And Nike created a controversial ad to protect its Tiger Woods brand in which Tiger faces the camera as we listen to an old voicemail from his dad asking Tiger what he was thinking.

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July 3rd, 2010 blog No Comments

Van Kampen Investments

Wachovia

Westfield

America Reacts: Why are Tea Party Ads Working With Dems?

PART ONE OF A SERIES

Media coverage of the midterm elections has painted a picture of two parties, irreconcilable in nearly all respects. But are they? Together maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research selected a handful of Democratic and Republican campaign ads from across the country, and tested them for the second-to-second, gut reactions of 560 American voters.

We wanted to take these campaign ads directly to the people and (more…)

October 13th, 2010 blog, Press No Comments

Michael Maslansky on CNN American Morning

Michael Maslansky conducted a focus group to get reactions to Obama’s speech to the joint session of Congress, laying out his plan for Healthcare Reform. The Instant Response dial testing revealed the second by second reaction of Republicans and Democrats to the President’s national Health Care Address.

September 10th, 2009 news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on CNN American Morning

Michael Maslansky discusses how language affects perceptions of the War on Terror and the stimulus package.

February 9th, 2009 news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on CNN American Morning

Michael Maslansky conducted a focus group to get reactions to President Obama’s speech laying out his decision to send more American Troops to Afghanistan. The Instant Response dial testing revealed the second by second reaction of Republicans and Democrats to the President’s address.

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December 12th, 2009 news, Television No Comments

Interview: Deal with Public Fallout

Michael Maslansky provides lessons in crisis communication for Toyota, BP, and Transocean in his interview with Investors Business Daily.

It’s inevitable. Even the best companies have to learn to deal with a public crisis every now and then.

New York-based corporate communications expert Michael Maslansky, author of the new book “The Language of Trust,” says firms facing a public relations crisis must do more than they first think is necessary to protect their image.

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May 19th, 2010 news, Press No Comments

The Marketer’s Bookshelf: Trust In The Post-BP Era

With BP still unable to stop one of the ghastliest corporate-triggered disasters in history, it’s hard not to open a book like Michael Maslansky’s The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics (Prentice Hall Pres) with a foul taste in your mouth.

The problem, as the world’s skeptics know, isn’t what companies say. The problem is what they do.

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May 10th, 2010 news, Press No Comments

For Brands, Bad News Can Be Good

Companies should be honest about product, brand weaknesses.

Months ago Domino’s launched a campaign introducing a new pizza recipe by bluntly telling consumers its old product was terrible.  Showing videotaped footage from focus groups and other customer feedback, Domino’s President Patrick Doyle surrounded himself with comments about pizza that “tastes like cardboard” and is “devoid of flavor.”

The campaign was met with immediate criticism from the marketing mavens.  Many said it would only serve to highlight what non-customers dislike about Domino’s.  Or worse – that it would chase away current customers.  The result?  In early May, Domino’s announced unprecedented same-store sales increases of 14.3%.


May 27th, 2010 news, Press No Comments

Small Business Trends Book Review of The Language of Trust

The review starts by framing the book through the lens of Ricky Gervais’ film, Invention of Lying.

While the film was not nearly as funny as Gervais, it is a great set-up for the book and Ivana is the third person to raise it with me. Read more for her conclusions about the book, and the movie:



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May 22nd, 2010 news, Press No Comments

The Powell Doctrine and Crisis Management

When will companies learn that slow, defensive responses to crises don’t work?

Toyota, BP, even Tiger.  They all have in common a failure to get in front of the news cycle, a failure to take decisive action immediately and a failure to apply the necessary resources to resolve the crisis or demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to its resolution.

According to the Powell Doctrine, the most effective way to maximize the potential for success and minimize casualties in battle is to use overwhelming force.   The same must be said to be true when it comes to crises — large or small.

Instead of bringing decisive force many companies (more…)

May 15th, 2010 blog, insights 2 Comments

Why Perceptions Really Matter

The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics is a book about how to use language to undo the skepticism that a world of too much spin has created.

The book is based on more than a decade’s worth of research into how consumers and the public respond emotionally to often complex, difficult and controversial topics. Whether your goals are corporate positioning, introducing a new product, or re-framing the policy debate, language carries more influence than you might fully realize. (more…)

April 15th, 2010 blog, insights No Comments

Break Through to Your Skeptics

How do you communicate in a world filled with skeptics?

When your intentions are good, you are doubted. When your products are good, people assume there is a catch. When you tell a positive story, people assume you are hiding something. There is no benefit of the doubt, only a higher degree of skepticism than ever before.

It is not just “bad” companies that suffer.  Being a good company, selling a good product, or supporting good policy is no longer enough to get people to listen to your message. In this environment, PR pros need to (more…)

May 10th, 2010 blog, insights 1 Comment

You Might Be a Trust Killer—and Not Even Know It

An Interview with Michael Maslansky, RainToday

Trust—it’s the crucial aspect of selling professional services. If prospects don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you. We all know this, but often we kill any trust that might be developed with our sales and marketing tactics. And we might not even know that we’re sabotaging our efforts.



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May 27th, 2010 news No Comments

In this Post-Trust Era, Credibility is Everything

Despite the fact that we’re in an age of doubt, skepticism and mistrust, corporate-speak still rules.

It’s amazing that big companies often seem tone-deaf in their routine communications with customers and other stakeholders. Sure, there’s the eternal specter of SOX compliance — adhering to the rules set forth by the corporate governance standards dictated by the Sarbanes Oxley Law — but that doesn’t preclude effective human communication without bluster, artifice or obfuscation. The big problem is that we’re still living between two realities; as savvy as some managers are about the new world of truth and transparency, there’s still a strong gravitational pull that draws them back toward the old-school happy-talk they once relied upon.

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May 24th, 2010 news, Press No Comments

America Reacts: Dem Ads Outperform GOP Ads on Economy and Jobs

Part Two of a series, read Part One here.

Another week and another round of commercials with candidates trying to make their case. This week, maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research tested head-to-head match-ups in four close races: senate races in California, Nevada and Wisconsin and the California gubernatorial races. Every one of the eight ads we tested is focused on the candidate’s message on jobs and the economy

As we noted last week, we used The Reactor, a technology that allows us to tap into voters’ emotional responses to understand exactly how voters feel when they see these ads and hear these messages. This week’s test was conducted with over 500 Democrats, Independents and Republicans from around the country to get voters’ second-to-second, gut reactions.

What did we learn?

Last week’s ads focused on attitudes toward government. The results clearly showed that many of the anti-government messages from the Republicans (and Tea Party candidates) were working with Democrats and Independents as well.

On jobs and the economy, the picture looks different — and surprisingly so. We see some Democrats scoring well with positive economic messages about balanced budgets and green jobs. We also saw Democrats focus their attacks on outsourcing and even NAFTA, to mixed success. Overall, in these races, the Democrats’ messages do better expected given the economic environment, while ads from their Republican opponents had a tougher time hitting the mark.

Our conclusions are below, but we invite you to judge yourself — take a look at the second-by-second reactions of voters (separated by Democrat, Republican and Independent) as they watched 8 campaign ads.

 

“I am not a politician, I am an accountant and a manufacturer.” Not exactly the most romantic or eloquent political statement, but it was the most effective line in the eight ads we tested. In fact, it was the only line that worked across party lines. Johnson manages to thread the needle — emphasizing his outsider status without tainting himself as connected to big business (note that he doesn’t call himself a businessman at all). Unfortunately for Johnson, the ad takes way too long to pay off the line, so its power is somewhat limited.

“End the bailouts.” It is unclear why any Republican in this election cycle would ignore this phrase. At worst it has limited impact with Independents and Republicans. At best it energizes the right and brings much of the rest of the country along with it. Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle used it in this week’s ad. Overall her this ad was much less effective with Dems and Independents than the ad we tested last week, but it still popped with Republicans.

“He’s powering a new clean energy industry.” On the other side of the Nevada race stands Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He starts his ad by hammering home detailed facts about green jobs he has created, generating strong positives from Democrats, and mild positives from Independents Republicans. The use of specific numbers on job creation has a strong impact in this ad. Though the ad then shifts to attack Angle, the positive message about green jobs was a relative winner, even though we haven’t heard much about the green revolution during this election cycle.

“Independence” vs. “Accountability.” We tested ads from the California gubernatorial race that pitted Democrat Jerry Brown against Republican Meg Whitman. Brown’s ad noted that, “at this stage in his life, he has the independence to make the tough decisions.” Whitman, on the other hand, said that Sacramento could benefit from the “accountability and focus” of a business. Ironically, Brown is the positioning himself as a fiscal conservative, while Whitman tries to put power in the hands of the people. Though both ads played well within their parties, Brown’s emphasis on specifics, especially “no taxes without voter approval,” played better than Whitman’s fairly trite “mission” to create jobs, cut waste and improve schools. Advantage: Brown.

“Outsourcing.” This word hasn’t gotten a lot of play in the larger narrative about the campaign but it is popping up in a surprising number of attack ads from Democrats. We also may have thought that the days of attacking NAFTA disappeared with H. Ross Perot, but NAFTA-bashing is alive and well, at least in Wisconsin. Three out of four Dem ads we tested included attacks on Republicans for outsourcing jobs. Carly Fiorina, Republican Senate candidate in California is attacked for outsourcing jobs while CEO of HP. Sharron Angle is attacked for supporting “tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas.” And Ron Johnson is attacked by Russ Feingold for supporting NAFTA and CAFTA — two deals Feingold says are “responsible for lost jobs.”

The reaction to each of these ads was negative (as is typically the case for negative ads). What is telling is the intensity of response. If we had to pick a winner, it would be Senator Barbara Boxer’s attack on Carly Fiorina. This attack, full of lots of support points that directly relate to Fiorina’s tenure at HP, generated the greatest negative intensity. Though this ad isn’t going to persuade anyone to vote for Boxer, it is powerful enough to support a negative narrative about Fiorina and have an impact on the race.

Black-and-white and Boring. Speaking of attack ads, the rule should definitely be “go big or go home.” We know that negative ads almost always generate negative reactions across the board. We also know the ones that end up working are the ones that generate the high intensity responses. The worst thing a candidate can do is launch an attack that simply doesn’t generate a reaction from the voters. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Carly Fiorina did in her attack on Barbara Boxer in California. This hyperdramatic black-and-white ad actually had very little punch. It sought to blame Barbara Boxer for “trillions in reckless, wasteful spending” and “crushing hopes.” It failed to connect these results with any votes or actions Boxer has taken. The disconnect between effect and cause led to one painful result: boredom and minimal impact from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.

2010-10-14-20101013101110101110ReactorImage.jpg

This research is part of an ongoing collaboration between maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research to monitor Americans’ reactions to a range of political ads during the run-up to the Mid Term Elections. The Reactor is Roy Morgan Research’s proprietary online research tool designed to continuously measure respondents’ reactions to these ads.

More to come…We expect the next update to be out next week. If you would like to see the results of these and similar research studies, just sign up on our site.

Michael Maslansky (@m_mas) is CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, a language strategy and research firm, and author of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics

 

Follow Michael Maslansky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/m_mas

October 22nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

Interview: Why Consumers Don’t Trust Businesses

Mike Carruthers interviews Michael Maslansky about the ability to trust businesses and speak the same language.


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May 5th, 2010 news No Comments

Book Review: Bullish on Books: When the Truth is Not Enough

Armed with more than a decade’s worth of research, Michael Maslansky, the author of THE LANGUAGE OF TRUST Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics explains what individuals and corporations need to do now to overcome the global skepticism.

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May 7th, 2010 news No Comments

TheStreet.com Interview with Michael Maslansky

TheStreet.com interviews Michael Maslansky on Real Story. Listen now

May 5th, 2010 news No Comments

Dresser After Dark – Interview with Michael Maslansky

Michael Maslansky interviews with Dresser After Dark. Listen now.

America Reacts: Obama Still Wins vs. Clinton (Bill); O’Donnell Scores by Not Being a Witch; “Independent” is the New Hope and Change

Part III of a series.

While several Democratic candidates are working to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular administration, Democratic voters nationwide still respond better to an endorsement from President Obama than one from former President Bill Clinton, according to just-released research from maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research

 

Additionally, Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch” ad scores well not only with Republicans but with independents and even some Democrats. And the strongest line of the week comes from Democratic Congressional candidate Bobby Bright of Alabama whose claim of being “the most independent member of congress” resonated with voters from all parties nationwide.

 

We tested eight political TV ads using The Reactor, a technology that taps into voters’ emotional responses to understand exactly how voters feel when they view ads and hear political messages. This week’s test was conducted with 532 Democrats, Independents and Republicans from around the country to gauge voters’ second-to-second, gut reactions.

 

Note: while the ads tested were for local Congressional and Senate races, they were tested with voters across the country and thus reflect national political sentiment.

Obama vs. (Bill) Clinton – (Obama still wins). Though there are plenty of people who would probably love to see this electoral match-up so we chose to compare the impact of their endorsements on voter attitudes.

 

  • We found that Bill Clinton was not as polarizing as he once was, but his endorsement of Democrat Arkansas Senate candidate Blanche Lincoln wasn’t all that effective either.
  • On the other hand, reactions to Obama’s endorsement of Democrat Louisiana House candidate Cedric Richmond were slightly more negative than to Clinton from Republicans, but were much more positive from Democrats.

 

“I didn’t go to Yale.” Neither did you, according to Republican Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. In her second ad speaking into camera, O’Donnell positions herself against her Yale educated, wealthy opponent and succeeds with voters across the political spectrum.

 

  • Though she isn’t likely to win this race, history is likely to look positively on her two backlit campaign ads. Aside from her opening line in the first ad, disclaiming her connections to the dark arts, both ads tested strongly with conservatives and independents, and even broke into positive territory with Dems.
  • “I know how to make and keep a dollar.” Consistent with reactions to other ads we have tested, references to real-world business experience, like this one from O’Donnell test well across party lines.

 

 

Dems overshoot the mark in attacking their own party. We tested four ads from Democratic candidates trying to distance themselves from their own party. Though each was effective in driving positive reactions from Conservatives, these ads did nothing to move the middle. Here’s what worked and what didn’t.

 

  • Anti-Pelosi is better than Pro-Boehner. Georgia house candidate Jim Marshall mentioned Nancy Pelosi or San Francisco 5 times in 30 seconds. Only one of the ads failed to include her by name. At the same time three of the ads mentioned Republican leaders or conservative voting records. Overall, references to Pelosi were much more effective in driving up Republican responses than references to Republican leadership. (these mentions were also extremely polarizing for Dems).
  • Guns and Money. References to the NRA had limited incremental impact with any party in either of the two ads that mentioned them. Support or agreement with Chambers of Commerce also did little to move the needles, even with Independents.
  • Few care about health care. Perhaps it is because people still don’t understand the health care bill. Or because these candidates weren’t spending enough time to explain their position. What is clear, however, is that messages about voting against or repealing the health care bill had little impact on reactions from voters.
  • “Independent” is in. The single most effective line in the anti-dem ads from Democrats was from Bobby Bright of Kentucky. Though it is no surprise that saying “I am the most independent member of Congress” would work with Independents, this line also got positive marks from Democrats and Republicans – virtually the only one in the ads we tested.

 

This research is part of an ongoing collaboration between maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research to monitor Americans’ reactions to a range of political ads during the run-up to the midterm elections. The Reactor is Roy Morgan Research’s proprietary online research tool designed to measure respondents’ continuous reactions to ads.

 

More to come. We expect the next update to be out next week. If you would like to see the results of these and similar research studies, just sign up on our site.

Michael Maslansky (@m_mas) is CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, a language strategy and research firm, and author of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics.

Follow Michael Maslansky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/m_mas

October 22nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

America Reacts: Obama Still Wins vs. Clinton (Bill); O’Donnell Scores by Not Being a Witch; “Independent” is the New Hope and Change

Part III of a series. View Part I and Part II


While several Democratic candidates are working to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular administration, Democratic voters nationwide still respond better to an endorsement from President Obama than one from former President Bill Clinton, according to just-released research from maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research

(more…)

October 22nd, 2010 blog, Press No Comments

America Reacts: Dem Ads Outperform GOP Ads on Economy and Jobs

Part Two of a series, read Part One here.


Another week and another round of commercials with candidates trying to make their case. This week, maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research tested head-to-head match-ups in four close races: senate races in California, Nevada and Wisconsin and the California gubernatorial races. Every one of the eight ads we tested is focused on the candidate’s message on jobs and the economy.

(more…)

October 22nd, 2010 blog, Press No Comments

MSNBC Live Speaks with Michael Maslansky

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, appeared on MSNBC Live Wednesday July 13th to offer commentary on the debt ceiling negotiations and 2012 presidential campaign fundraising. Opposite from Michael is MSNBC Political Analyst Karen Finney, a former Democratic Committee Spokesperson.

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July 15th, 2011 news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX & Friends September 7th 2011

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz & partners, sits down with former U.S. Labor Secretary Nominee Linda Chavez and democratic pollster Doug Schoen on FOX NEWS show FOX & Friends to discuss President Obama’s upcoming speech on jobs to a joint session of congress amidst a sinking approval rating.

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September 8th, 2011 blog, news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on CNN American Morning September 16th, 2011

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz & partners and author of “The Language of Trust,” appears on CNN “American Morning” to weigh in on President Obama and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s “language of leadership.”
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September 20th, 2011 blog, news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX & Friends August 11th 2011

Michael Maslansky appeared on FOX and Friends to discuss the Iowa straw poll and to offer insight on how class warfare will be an issue in the upcoming election.

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August 17th, 2011 blog, news, Television No Comments

Chris Manley

Chris has an M.F.A in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a degree in English from the University of Notre Dame. He’s lived in Washington state, Ohio, Texas, Indiana, and Iowa.  He finds frequent moving is great for making new friends, but not so great for keeping them. He currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and is sure that the Irish (the football team, not the nation) are about to turn the corner. Seriously. Just you wait.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

The Language Moments of 2010

Here’s a fun look at the Language of 2010:

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January 7th, 2011 blog No Comments

America Reacts: Reactions to the State of the Union

A CNN Opinion article written my Michael Maslansky on voter reactions to the State of the Union speech can be found at CNN.com.

Anderson Cooper 360* Video Analyzing viewers’ reactions to SOTU address can be found on the AC360 Blog.

January 27th, 2011 news No Comments

What’s Your Credibility Quotient?

As a salesperson, you need credibility to succeed. If you can successfully establish credibility and build rapport with customers, your chances of closing a sale are much higher.

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January 4th, 2011 blog, Press No Comments

America Reacts: It’s NOT the Economy, Stupid, It’s the “Future”

Part IV of a Series New York City (October 25, 2010) – It’s easy to say that this election is about the economy, from jobs to taxes to outsourcing. But a closer look at the midterm election ads that test best shows that voters don’t just want to talk about the economy. They want to talk about the future, where we are headed, and how we are going to get there, according to just-released research from maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research. (more…)

November 11th, 2010 blog, Press No Comments

Narrative Blitz!: The race to tell the story of the midterms

“I’ve spent my whole life chasing the American dream,” John Boehner said, just before tearing up and getting verklempt. Everyone knows that’s the international symbol for having finally, against overwhelming odds, made it.

On the other side of the country, Harry Reid gave his own victory speech. He promised struggling Nevada families that “the bell that just rang isn’t the end of the fight; it’s the start of the next round.”

Wednesday afternoon, President Obama mumbled awkwardly to explain a car in a ditch in neutral with people pushing in opposite directions while a slurpee looks on from the shoulder or something like that, continuing his Guinness Book run for Most Bloated Metaphor.

In the days following the 2010 midterm elections, there’s been a second, unseen battle being waged across America’s airwaves and hotspots: to control the story of what this election really means for America. Regardless of who wins, the victor will benefit the most and, accordingly, control the story heading into 2012.

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November 11th, 2010 blog, Press No Comments

Hope and Change 2.0

A closer look at the language of Candidate Obama in 2008 and Sarah Palin in 2010.

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November 11th, 2010 news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX and Friends

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, visited FOX and Friends on Saturday October 23rd 2010 to discuss the politicians who helped or hurt their causes in the debates that took place during the previous week. Winners included Oklahoma Gubernatorial Democratic candidate, Jari Askins and Tea Party stumper, Sarah Palin who were both able to tap into their base and rally support.

On the other side, Delaware’s Senatorial candidate, Republican Christine O’Donnell focused on too small of an issue that missed its mark. Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi also struggled in getting her point across due to the negative language she used.

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November 11th, 2010 news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX’s The Strategy Room

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, visited Fox’s Strategy Room on October 29, 2010 to discuss recent political ads and debate the effectiveness of negative ads in a candidate’s campaign.

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November 11th, 2010 news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on CNN’s Parker-Spitzer

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, participated in a round table discussion on CNN’s “Parker-Spitzer” on October 28, 2010.
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November 11th, 2010 news, Television No Comments

Four lessons companies can learn from the midterm elections

The morning after the mid-term elections it seemed anyone considering a run for office wouldn’t need to hire a campaign manager. Every news site, every cable news channel, and your favorite blog told us the myriad “lessons” we supposedly learned from an event less than 24 hours old. A simple Internet search would turn up everything you need to know about the political environment for your pending candidacy. The analysis runs the gamut from silly to sophisticated.

But the election also yielded important lessons for companies. By studying the political conversation we’ve gained four key insights into the current national mood. Apologies to eye backers, but language is the real window to the soul. (more…)

November 19th, 2010 blog, Press No Comments

Hope and Change 2.0: It’s the Tea Party’s Turn

“There is something happening when people vote not just for the party they belong to but the hopes they hold in common …we are ready to take this country in a fundamentally new direction.”

“We’ve gotten tired now of looking backward. We want to look forward and, from here, my friends, the future, it looks really good. It looks really good.”

I remember when the movement started. It took the press by surprise. It took the political establishment by surprise. It was driven by the people – people from around the country who had a new or renewed interest in politics. They were fed up with the status quo and wanted something different–something that felt a lot like a revolution. They took to the streets and the web. They came out in numbers much greater than expected. The establishment tried to marginalize them, to silence them, to make them irrelevant.

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November 11th, 2010 blog No Comments

The Boy Who Cried Mandate: The Perils of Exaggerating Reality

On Mondays we have staff calls. We all have hectic schedules, so it’s important we set aside some time each week to keep each other abreast of everything that’s happening with ongoing and upcoming projects. Also, there is lunch.

Everyone has suggestions, but as Management, I’ll often narrow it down to the two most popular choices. If seven of the thirteen of us opt for Thai, and the other six would rather try that new barbecue place, unfortunately, some tough choices must be made. “A close call,” I might say, “but we’ll try to do the barbecue place next week.” (more…)

November 16th, 2010 blog No Comments

Same words, different meaning: the bipartisanship gap between the GOP and Obama

On Tuesday President Obama and Republican congressional leaders both emerged from the White House’s long-awaited “Slurpee Summit” sounding, perhaps surprisingly, a similar tune. (more…)

December 2nd, 2010 blog, Press No Comments

Trust Across America Names Top 100 Thought Leaders

Trust Across America, dedicated to unraveling the complexities of trustworthy business behavior, has selected 2010’s Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. These people collectively represent a group that can genuinely transform and reverse the cycle of mistrust in business.

According to Barbara Kimmel, Executive Director, “This year’s recipients include leaders from the public and private sectors as well as authors, consultants, researchers and academics. Each recipient has made an extensive, positive contribution to building trust in business.”

The full list of honorees can be found at http://www.trustacrossamerica.com/offerings-thought-leaders.shtml.

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January 12th, 2011 news No Comments

America Reacts: State of the Union Address

Check out the reactions from our real-time dial testing of the the Republican response to the President Obama’s State of the Union address:

(Click “read more” on the lower right for reactions to President Obama’s full speech, the Republican Response, as well as the Tea Party Response)



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January 27th, 2011 blog No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX and Friends

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, sits down with Fox and Friends hosts Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade on Thursday February 3rd 2011 to talk about the top three Super Bowl commercials of all time – why some take the cake and others fall flat.


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February 3rd, 2011 news, Television No Comments

Margaret Files

A South Carolina native, she moved “up North” to attend Vassar College and never looked back.

Among the skills that Margaret contributes to the team, she is known for her ability to get a bulletproof case of weird-looking tech onto a plane without a photo ID.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

Katie Cronen

Previously, she worked in Georgetown University’s Writing Center and served as Marketing Director for an on-campus start-up.  Based in the NYC office after beginning in DC, she is proud to add to the firm’s curious abundance of redheads.

Katie currently resides in Manhattan but would gladly relive her glory days spent feasting on bread and cheese in France.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX and Friends 2011-08-10

Michael Maslansky appeared on FOX and Friends to discuss the debt ceiling deal and Newsweek cover showing a rather unflattering photo choice for Michelle Bachmann.

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August 15th, 2011 blog, news, Television No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX Business September 14th, 2011

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz & partners, appears on FOX Business September 14th, 2011, to share his take on several topics: planned overhauls to the corporate tax code, rising healthcare denial rates, and the “Watson” supercomputer—once featured on Jeopardy—being used by health insurer WellPoint to help diagnose medical problems.
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September 20th, 2011 blog, news, Television No Comments

A speech worthy of his job

It didn’t seem possible.  Expectations for the President’s speech were too high and his team was already tamping them down.  It was preceded by a huge logistical misstep and was being rejected by many Republicans before it even took place.  And in the end it offered very few new ideas.  (more…)

September 12th, 2011 blog No Comments

What speech were they watching: wildly different reactions to the President’s Jobs Speech

After my post on Obama’s jobs speech [A speech worthy of his job] I received a slew of comments from friends and colleagues giving their reactions to the speech and my perspective. (more…)

September 12th, 2011 blog No Comments

language moments of 2011

From entertainers Charlie Sheen and Hank Williams to President Obama and the always-entertaining GOP presidential field, here are our choices for the most memorable language moments of 2011.

Let us know your pick – especially if it’s one we didn’t include.

Enjoy!

Your Friends at maslansky luntz + partners


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December 23rd, 2011 blog 2 Comments

Michael Maslansky on CNN American Morning October 25th,2011

Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners stops by CNN American Morning to weigh in on The American Jobs Act, the 2012 Presidential elections and President Obama’s new “yes we can”: “Pass this bill!”

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October 27th, 2011 blog, news, Television No Comments

Factsheets are not your friend

The proverb “the truth will set you free” is as tired a cliché as any.  It’s also completely, totally, and utterly wrong.  If headlines from today’s news are any indication, the 21st century version of that Biblical nugget should read “the truth is what my editor says it is.” (more…)

November 28th, 2011 blog, insights, Uncategorized No Comments

Michael Maslansky on the Gerri Willis Show

Michael Maslansky appears on Fox’s Gerri Willis show with Majorie Clifton and Clint David to discuss Bernanke and the underestimated risks of the economy, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker taking down a billboard advertising himself as a job creator with unfortunate placement in front of a closed down factory, and the public’s loss of interest in the Kardashians.

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January 19th, 2012 blog No Comments

SOPA Protests: Viral or Vacuous?

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate companion, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), are losing momentum by the hour.  Congressmen and Senators seem to be scrambling to announce their opposition to the bills as currently written, and there’s a significant grassroots movement dedicated to defeating these bills.

As a language and messaging consultant, I’m especially fascinated by the way online firms such as Google and Wikipedia have taken up this issue.  From their perspective, opposing the legislation is virtually a no-brainer.  They argue that SOPA could restrict free speech and even force some web sites to shut down – not exactly good for business or the ideals they stand for.  But how they choose to dramatize that opposition can reveal much about how these companies think about the people they’re trying to reach. (more…)

January 19th, 2012 blog, news, Uncategorized No Comments

Wait, did Rick Perry just quit?

Rick Perry’s “strategic retreat” out of the 2012 Republican primaries leaves us once again scratching our heads.  Does that mean he’s pretty much out?  Mostly out?  Out but waiting to sneak back in when nobody’s looking?

The suggestion he’s left the door just ever-so-slightly open – that he’s left (never say “lost”!) the battle, but not the war – shows Perry once again injecting a little suspense into the reality show of this year’s Republican primaries.  (We’re STILL waiting to hear that other government agency he wants to cut.)

Perry’s co-retreaters have stayed equally true to form in their supposed farewells.  Huntsman (remember Huntsman?) went out with a fittingly unexciting yet straightforward ending: “today I am suspending my campaign.”

Cain played the blame game -  not to mention the run-on sentence game – as we might have expected: (more…)

January 19th, 2012 blog No Comments

“Captain America” – Michael Maslansky on the State of the Union

As if the Republicans didn’t have enough problems, President Obama’s State of the Union address gave them more reason to worry.

On Tuesday night, Obama defined a potentially powerful new narrative for himself and his campaign. Gone was the candidate of hope and change. Gone was the president who often came off as more disinterested observer than passionate patriot. There, instead, addressing a Congress girding for the upcoming election, was Captain America — an unabashedly bullish protector and promoter of America and Americans. (more…)

January 26th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Poor Meryl Streep… the Language of Losing at the Oscars

by Margaret Files

When aspiring actors rehearse their hypothetical Academy Award acceptance speeches in their bathroom mirrors, which phrase do they hear echoing in their ears?  Is it “And the winner is…?” or “And the Oscar goes to…?”

Over the years, the producers of the Academy Awards have experimented with both.  For much of the history of the ceremony, the award winner was introduced with the straightforward phrase: “And the winner is…”   But in the politically correct era of the late 1980′s, at the 61st annual Academy Awards the original phrase was replaced with the more neutral “And the Oscar goes to…”

Both expressions are, of course, technically accurate: the Oscar goes to the winner.   But with the new phrase, the producers were apparently employing a little language strategy to try to make the presentation of the award a kinder and gentler experience for the nominees whose names aren’t called.  After all, to position one person as “the winner” is to, by implication, position the others as “losers.”  Every good language strategist knows that sometimes, it’s as much about what we don’t say as it is about what we do say.

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February 24th, 2012 blog 2 Comments

Yelp is on the way

yelp real people, real reviews - stock trades higher than expected

by Jennifer Gilbert

On March 2nd, Yelp went public.  They set their price at $15 a share, listened to the bell ring, and then watched and waited to see just how much a bunch of online reviews written by the average Joe and Jane are really worth.

 

Apparently, they’re worth about $1.5 billion.  When trading ended that Friday, Yelp’s stock was valued at $24.58.  Just a teensy bit more than expected.

 

Now, this is interesting not just because it was a bit of a financial shock—was the IPO mispriced?  Is this the sign of another tech bubble?  Has the company been profitable… ever??  Maybe not.  But there is value in something else.  Companies are feeling it.  Just ask the CEO of Netflix.  Time magazine recognized it.  Take a look at the Person of the Year for 2011.  And investors recognized it last Friday.  It’s The Rise of the Consumer.

 

Yelp is popular.  So popular in fact that it’s a verb—a $1.5 billion verb—because it gives the customers of every brick and mortar company a voice loud enough to be heard by millions.  Sometimes it’s a pleasant, satisfied voice.  Sometimes it’s an irate, critical voice.  But whatever the tone, raising that voice is one of the many reasons that so much power has shifted from businesses to consumers.  Companies can no longer let a customer leave their establishment angry without a risk of reprisal online.  And all of us Yelpers know that one negative review can overshadow 10 positive ones.

 

Yelp’s IPO was interesting.  Exciting.  Newsworthy.  But most importantly, it was a symbol of something bigger:  a power shift that will ultimately cause small business owners and CEOs alike to rethink their company’s communication with customers. The Rise of the Consumer has already brought about the Year of the Protester, a series of corporate apologies, and now a soaring IPO from a review site that was clever enough to harness the power of YOU.

 

What’s next?

March 12th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

We know there’s a problem. Let’s focus on the future.

by Thayer Fox

You’ve heard me say it — Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. That’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense at a time when we’ve got to pull together to get the country moving. – President Barack Obama, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale, Va., Feb. 13, 2012

President Obama introduced his 2013 budget proposal today, and during a speech given at NOVA the President seemed to communicate the language of tough choices, action, and improvement. In short, the language we need to hear from him during these tough times. (more…)

February 14th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized 1 Comment

Santorum’s Communication Challenge

by Patrick Buckley

Coming off last week’s GOP debate in Arizona much of the coverage has centered on Rick Santorum’s more than adequate job fending off his challengers’ attacks.

But as many observers have pointed out, the real question surrounding his candidacy remains his ability to effectively communicate the reasonableness of his views on social issues to voters in a general election.

For insight into how he might do this, it’s helpful to compare how he’s talked about social issues with how he’s talking about the economy.

Santorum’s been able to establish common ground when talking economics because he’s been willing to concede a few points to audiences that disagree with him.  In defending his opposition to auto-industry bailouts to Michigan voters he focused mainly on the consistency of his position.  He also said the following:

                    “If we had just stayed out of it completely, and let the market work, I believe the market would have worked… Would the auto industry look different than it does today? Yes it would. Would it still be alive and well? I think it would be alive and equally well if not better.”

By conceding that the industry is now doing well and would in fact look different had the government not intervened he bought credibility with his audience, while still maintaining that he believes his position was the correct one.  Many on the other side of the issue came away seeing his stance as well-considered and in-line with his long-held positions on government intervention. (more…)

February 27th, 2012 blog No Comments

Pills, Sex, and Religion: What’s the Issue?

by Katie Cronen

Last week, the Senate killed the Blunt Amendment, a bill that would have allowed any employer—not just religious organizations—to opt out of covering any mandated health services in President Obama’s health care legislation on the grounds of a “moral objection.” The debates surrounding the law and its proposed amendment have almost exclusively focused on coverage for oral contraceptives, often carrying emotionally charged language from both sides of the issue. Yet as advocates and opponents for the health law aim to sway voters and public opinion, they’re using language that frames their arguments in completely different contexts. And the language that’s resonating most powerfully is determining who’s asserting control and calling the shots.

 

Take, for example, the advocates for birth control coverage. They first introduced the topic as a women’s health issue that concerns fair and equal access to a drug that women depend on for reasons beyond contraception. Highlighting additional benefits of the pill, like the prevention of ovarian cysts, they sought to use facts to fight the otherwise loaded implications of forcing religious institutions to provide birth control. But as we’ve seen over and over again, the facts won’t set you free, especially without any context or emotional appeal. On the other hand, their argument is rooted in a plea for equality and preventative health which, on the surface, is far from a hard sell. (more…)

March 5th, 2012 blog No Comments

President Obama – It IS about Religious Freedom

by Keith Yazmir

It is a truism in politics that he who frames the debate generally wins the debate.

Exhibit A: the battle over whether religious-affiliated institutions should be required to cover birth control in their private health plans.  It’s about women’s rights!  It’s about freedom of religion!  It’s about sexual morality!

But while the Limbaugh-ian fireworks and morality battles have been attracting most of the media attention, the thing that has most stood out to me is how quick the Obama administration and its allies have been to cede the frame of religious freedom.

In politics, as in all forms of communication, the question is not how many total people your message works with, but whether it works with the RIGHT people.  And in this case, that means the all-important swing voters who will not only choose our next president but also the congress he must work with.  It is with this group of independents that questions of religion can – and do – play a more important role. (more…)

March 8th, 2012 blog No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX Business’ The Willis Report

Michael Maslansky joined Monica Crowley and Tina Korbe for a panel discussion of current events on FOX Business’ The Willis Report with host Gerri Willis.  Michael shared his insights on State Senator Nina Turner’s proposed Viagra Bill, Rick Santorum’s suggestion to ban teleprompters for politicians, President Obama’s March Madness challenge, Occupy Wall Street’s financial woes and Britney Spears listing her house at half the original asking price.

 

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A Ghost of Goldman Future:

Why a now infamous resignation letter tells us more about the public than the firm

 by Chris Manley

 

We’re all in a tizzy over an “op-ed” the New York Times ran yesterday, penned by Greg Smith, now-former-employee of Goldman Sachs. I use the term op-ed loosely. While its contents are very much worth discussion, what’s most interesting is that the paper published it at all.  It’s a sign that the firm needs to do more to convince us they’re on our side.  Or it will stay fair game for any other Greg Smith that might come along.

 

To call the piece an “op-ed” is not very accurate. It’s worth noting that Smith found his moral compass shortly after bonuses were announced—the sizes of which are unofficially an index of how much money you’ve made for the company.  (more…)

March 15th, 2012 blog No Comments

The O’Reilly Factor: Are boycotts unamerican?

O’Reilly asks Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, and public relations consultant Peter Mirijanian to weigh in on the recent controversy over unions and their involvement in social issues. After Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, unions to threatened sponsors who advertise on certain programs. O’Reilly’s question: Are boycotts un-American?

 

March 19th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX News

ml+p CEO Michael Maslansky joins comedian Jim Norton and attorney Liz Mandarano to offer coverage of the Republican presidential race:

March 27th, 2012 blog, news, Television No Comments

Keith Yazmir on FOX and Friends

Keith Yazmir, partner at maslansky luntz + partners, and Scott Blakeman, comedian and columist, sit down with FOX Business Network anchor and working mom Melissa Francis to debate the appropriateness of calls for boycotts and firings at media institutions in response to controversial behavior.  The focus of the conversation focuses on the current contention surrounding Rush Limbaugh’s branding of female law student Sandra Fluke as “a slut” when she spoke for health insurance coverage of birth control.  The incident has resulted in sponsors pulling their ads from his show and the calling on Clear Channel to fire Rush.

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March 20th, 2012 blog, news, Television No Comments

Lee Carter on FOX Business’s The Willis Report

ml+p Partner Lee Carter appeared on FOX Business’s The Willis Report with Andrea Tantaros and Gretchen Hamel to discuss if Republicans are waging a war on women:

The Fruit and the Fox

by Clint Sievers

When I was a child, my mother gave me some good life advice: it takes so little to be above average.  Sometimes it seems that’s even truer when it comes to corporate social responsibility.  Years after Nike and other apparel companies were forced to confront sweat shop practices, tech companies are now facing a similar backlash over working conditions at their suppliers’ facilities.  Have they learned nothing from the clothing industry’s experience?

 

Of course – as with most stories in the tech industry today – this is all about Apple.  As consumers and opinion makers focus more and more on its relationship with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles many of Apple’s most popular products, Apple is scrambling to polish its image as a company that can do good at the same time it’s doing well.  And after a brief effort to change the conversation to the jobs it creates in the United States, Apple is finally starting to recognize that it has to take working conditions seriously.

 

But instead of seeing an opportunity to take the lead and take a stand, other tech companies have tried to take the Fifth.  When the New York Times recently asked companies like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, HP and Dell how they’re addressing concerns over working conditions, most of them simply refused to answer.  Unfortunately for them, in today’s hyperlinked news environment the court of public opinion won’t accept that silence.  When they say “no comment,” anyone who’s paying attention only hears “we’re guilty too.”

 

Even when there’s not much to say, it’s always better to say something than to say nothing.  So while most tech companies are doing their best to ignore working conditions, Microsoft’s “regular audits” and (summarized) public reports look like total transparency.

 

So kudos to Microsoft.  And to everyone else, you’re only hurting yourselves by not explaining what you’re doing to create and uphold higher working standards as well as why those standards matter.

April 12th, 2012 blog No Comments

John Hancock, what are you trying to say?

by Clint Sievers

The setup: John Hancock has released a series of ads showing couples and office workers discussing retirement and investing plans.

 

What they say:  Each ad shows multiple people having individual conversations.  The catch is that each conversation is exactly the same.  And across ads, all of the conversations follow the same story arc – one person expresses worry or despair about today’s markets, and the other indicates that doing something is better than doing nothing.

 

The message: “You are not alone.”  John Hancock wants investors to know that people across the country are struggling with the same issues, and that they’re equipped to provide investments and “hope” in today’s volatile markets.

 

What the audience hears: Our experience in the financial services industry has shown that investors look at ads like these and see a formula-based approach that creates a strategy based on what “people” want rather than what I want.  Hours of dial sessions and focus groups with investors have shown us that while “you are not alone” may seem attractive to show clients that John Hancock understands what they’re going through, today’s investors want to feel unique.  They’re extremely sensitive to anything that sounds like their advisor is trying to put them into a category or apply a formula to their investing plan.  They want personalized financial advice based on a deep understanding of their individual needs and situation.  These ads provide the exact opposite message.

May 8th, 2012 blog 1 Comment

Lee Carter appeared on FOX Business’s Gerri Willis show Tuesday, April 24, 2012.

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April 26th, 2012 blog, news, Television No Comments

Language Strategy gets sexy: Cosmopolitan magazine and the art of knowing your audience

by Margaret Files

When you think of Cosmopolitan magazine—if you ever think of Cosmopolitan magazine—you probably associate it with articles like “100 Naughty Things to do with Ice Cubes” and “Hookup Horror Stories.”  But if you pick up a Cosmo on a newsstand this month, you’ll find a little language strategy hiding amid the sex tips.

A blurb in the June 2012 issue is titled “Learn to Speak His Language” and it’s all about one of our key principles here at maslansky luntz + partners:  to get through to your intended audience— whether that’s your boyfriend, your clients, or your customers— you have to first understand that what you say and what they hear may be two entirely different things.  And the key to connecting is to understand where they’re coming from, so you can use language that resonates with them.

When we make language recommendations to our clients, we like to illustrate that point with a chart that looks like this:

you say, they hear, instead say

Now check out Cosmo’s version.  Look familiar?

Cosmo: Learn to Speak His Language

So next time you find yourself frustrated because you thought you were saying something loud and clear but you just aren’t getting through, take a step back and think about it from your audience’s perspective.  Is what you say the same as what they hear?  And if not, is there a different way you can try to get your message across?

May 10th, 2012 blog No Comments

Sofia Briley

Along with southern charm, Sofia brings strong media experience to our firm.  Sofia is a recipient of two Emmy Awards for her role as producer of two Public Service Announcements. As well as talent behind the camera, Sofia is known around the office for her cameo in front of the camera as a boxer with a mean right hook.

April 18th, 2010 team, Uncategorized No Comments

Which “value added” programs really help advisors build their businesses?

“If you can build advisors’ confidence, that’s the biggest thing you can do, especially now because it is really tough for them to have a compelling investment philosophy. We have a lot of scared clients out there and a lot of scared FAs.”

Quote from the Financial-Planning.com article by Hung Tran.

May 17th, 2012 news, Press No Comments

Does MSNBC Hate America?

By Mike Phifer

Over the weekend, would-be public intellectual and MSNBC host Chris Hayes slipped his Gucci loafers neatly into his mouth.  While discussing the language used to talk about wars, Hayes took issue with the word “hero” being used for fallen soldiers.  In doing so, the horn-rimmed Hayes served himself to ideological foes on a silver platter (fair trade silver, naturally).  He explained:

 

“I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable — uncomfortable — about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.”

Regardless of what you think about MSNBC’s politics generally or Chris Hayes specifically, it seems he wasn’t willfully trying to disrespect or denigrate those who’ve died for our country.  In fact, he took special care to say just that.  So why the fuss?  Weren’t Hayes and his guests simply having a candid, honest conversation about the rhetoric of war we so often use (or misuse) in the back and forth that is American democracy?

The short answer is yes.  (more…)

Laura Block

Previous to Conde Nast, Laura worked on a handful of political campaigns, some of which were BIG winners and some that were BIG losers.  Laura is graduate of Penn State University and is very PSU Proud. She lives in NJ with her husband and daughter who keeps her very busy.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

When the best apology is none at all

by Jenn Dahm

Message always matters, but it REALLY matters when you’ve made a mistake. Just ask Jamie Dimon.  He’s the CEO of JP Morgan, and his company messed up big, losing 2 billion dollars on risky investments this quarter.  On NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday, Dimon dealt with the mistake saying the bank was “dead wrong,” “sloppy,” and “stupid.” What he has not said is “I’m sorry.”

We know from our work helping dozens of companies message their mess ups that there’s a subtle, but important, difference between admitting you made a mistake and actually apologizing for it. We’ve found that the public wants to see leaders own their decisions—both the good and the bad. They want them to take responsibility for their actions or mistakes. They want them to be humble and be human. But they often respond negatively to the words “I’m sorry.” Why?  For some, it’s because  they see  “I’m sorry” as sign of weakness. Others just don’t believe them.  And still others want to know what they are doing to address it.  Simply put, the words I’m sorry doesn’t come across as the language of a leader.

So when is apologizing appropriate? People want explicit apologies when someone has been harmed, gotten sick, been hurt or died as a result of a mistake (I’m talking to you Toyota, Tylenol, and Costa Concordia).  But those examples are few.

Are people angry at JP Morgan’s mistake? Yes. Does it erode confidence in financial industry? You betcha. Should the CEO apologize? No. For Dimon (and other CEO’s messaging their mistakes), the best apology is often none at all.

The campaign narrative: Cory Booker

by Clint Sievers

For political campaigns, the message is often the only thing that matters. So when Newark Mayor and Obama supporter Cory Booker criticized the President’s new campaign ad questioning Mitt Romney’s record as head of Bain Capital, both campaigns immediately tried to turn the story into compelling talking points.

It’s no surprise that Booker’s comments – he called the ad “a distraction” and “nauseating” – didn’t sit well with the Obama team. And Booker has spent most of the week doing his best to walk back his remarks and emphasize his support for the President. But as with most campaign “controversies,” this isn’t really about the issue du jour. It’s about how Obama’s and Romney’s teams are attempting to define each other, and themselves.

In this case, the flare-up of rhetoric is ultimately about governing. What is each candidate’s governing philosophy? And in today’s environment, which candidate is most likely to spur job and economic growth?

The Obama campaign is attempting to set Romney’s business experience against Obama’s governing experience. They say that the skills needed to govern are different from the skills needed to run a company, and that Romney doesn’t understand that. On Monday, Obama himself said this: “This is what the campaign is going to be about…When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.”

In other words, the Obama campaign is attempting to make this into a story about the difference between wealth creation and job creation. They argue that because Romney has made his business experience so central to his campaign, it’s not only fair, it’s necessary to talk about whether Romney’s business-oriented approach to governing will do more harm than good. And that means questioning whether Romney truly understands the impact his business decisions have had on workers and their families.

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May 22nd, 2012 blog No Comments

Forbes.com Article

Keith Yazmir and Patrick Buckley contributed an article on to Forbes.com through the publication’s CIO Network.

Cloud Computing: How Marketers Are Alienating CIOs

June 6th, 2012 blog, news, Press No Comments

The War over Words: A Frenzy over “Fine”

by Clint Sievers

Presidents are at their best when they project empathy.  Who can forget Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” moment (whether it actually happened or not)?  And nowhere was George W. Bush better than when standing on the rubble at Ground Zero, proclaiming “The world can hear you!”

Do either of this year’s candidates have such a moment in them?  It can be hard to see how, with both President Obama and Mitt Romney working overtime to look more detached and more disconnected from the everyday concerns of the American people.

Until now, it’s been a fairly one-side contest.  Romney has given the Obama campaign plenty of ammunition with gems such as, “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” and “I like being able to fire people.”

Of course, many of those gaffes can be explained as out-of-context language grabs.  But that makes what happened last week all the more cringe-worthy for the President.  At a Friday news conference, Obama told the assembled press that “the private sector is doing fine.”

Oops.

Obama’s larger point is that what’s really holding back the recovery – and what really needs help – is the public sector.  But just as with Romney’s comments, the context doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that these six words are exactly what the Romney campaign needed to revive concerns about the President’s own inability to connect.  Unsurprisingly, they’ve already made a commercial using Obama’s comments against him.

But will Obama’s gaffe have any lasting impact on the race?  Not likely – or at least, not any more likely than Romney’s own foot-in-mouth moments.  And that’s largely because of the way Romney himself responded.

Instead of allowing the President to speak for himself, Romney decided to expand on the President’s comments, saying Obama is wrong to call for “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.”

Talk about a face-palm moment.  Yes, it’s possible to argue that the American people want smaller government, and want to cut back on some of the benefits given to public sector workers.  But what politician in their right mind opposes firefighters and police?  Not even Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is willing to go that far.

The President did himself no favors this week with an uncharacteristically undisciplined remark, and he gave Mitt Romney a huge opportunity to cast himself as a more authentic voice of the American people.  But by bringing firefighters and police into the argument, Romney completely failed.  So who won this week’s war of words?  Someone has to come out ahead, and this one goes to the President.

June 11th, 2012 blog No Comments

Embrace Your Enemy’s Truth

by Thayer Fox

President Obama’s environmental agenda kills American jobs, creates higher energy prices and weakens our nation’s security… America is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and we could create our own energy if the government would let us.” – Rick Santorum (March 2012)

This week the U.S. Court of Appeals voted unanimously to uphold the EPA’s determination that heat-trapping gases from industry and vehicles endanger public health. The coal industry, select utilities, the National Association of Manufacturers, and 14 states had vigorously fought the EPA’s policy and the court’s ruling was seen by many as a major setback.

In the ongoing PR battle surrounding this issue industry groups framed the EPA as responsible for killing jobs and keeping us dependent on foreign oil. These frames pivoted the conversation away from pollutants and on to the benefits coal to American policy. And based on what we’ve seen while testing messages, they are the best two that the coal industry has.

But unfortunately for them these approaches alone didn’t work. And as long as they’re fighting the EPA they likely never will.

That’s because these frames don’t directly address the core issue: the environment. The EPA talks about environmental impact to exclusion of all other issues. And with good reason. Focusing squarely on pollutants and their impact has made coal public enemy #1.

To win these debates, industry groups don’t have to ditch their current talking points, but they need to acknowledge the primary concerns of their enemies. In this instance those opposed to the EPA’s policy should:

•        Start by acknowledging the EPA’s concerns

•        Show that they take these concerns seriously by highlighting the continued advancements in clean

   coal technology

•        Pivot away from bashing the EPA’s narrative and focus on creating a more holistic one of their own

Santorum’s quote above nicely captures the industry’s current position. (more…)

June 28th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

UnitedHealthcare Gets it Right

by Thayer Fox

On Monday UnitedHealthcare announced it would honor three of healthcare reform’s mandates regardless of what the Supreme Court decides this month.  How they handled this communication is a case study in strategic communication and smart messaging.

It’s not simply that they saw a PR opportunity and grabbed it.  It’s not just that they curried favor with both the administration and the nation’s healthcare members in one strike.  It’s in how they communicated about the mandates they wouldn’t honor that was most impressive.

To some extent, every major carrier in the country has prepared for these mandates and factored them into their operations and budgets.  UnitedHealthcare saw an opportunity to celebrate the work they’ve done, and leverage it to showcase how they champion members.  This is commendable, because often corporations do not turn operational initiatives into communication assets.  They do not always see the opportunity to shine.

UnitedHealthcare did.  But that’s not all.  In communicating what they would voluntarily honor, they also announced aspects of the reform mandate that they would not honor.  Namely, coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.

This is a seriously controversial issue.  And how they communicated their decision was masterful.  They addressed it head on:

“UnitedHealthcare recognizes the value of coverage for children up to age 19 with pre-existing conditions. One company acting alone cannot take that step, so UnitedHealthcare is committed to working with all other participants in the health care system to sustain that coverage.”

This message works not simply because it’s true.  The truth rarely makes a message effective.  It’s that it reframes the debate.  It pivots the conversation away from United and onto the body politic.  With this message, it’s no longer about what United won’t do, but about what all carriers – and the country even – should do to enact this part of healthcare reform.  In short, it sparks important debate and puts UnitedHealthcare in the position of moving that debate forward.

The important takeaway is when making a proactive announcement, it’s important to realize that critics will always think what you’re announcing does not go far enough.  This is true in any regulated industry from healthcare to energy to financial services, where critics will never think your oversight or environmental initiatives are strong enough.  In announcing voluntary compliance you’re often inviting criticism.  Prepare for that criticism.  And understand how to steer the conversation when it comes.  UnitedHealthcare’s approach is a powerful way to do just that.

June 12th, 2012 blog No Comments

The Soda Empire Strikes Back, Um, Awkwardly.

by Chris Manley

The soda industry is abuzz (there’s a Simpson’s joke in there somewhere) since May 31st, when, as The Economist joked, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg “channeled his inner action hero” and announced a ban on sugary-drinks-not-made-with-milk-or-alcohol–larger-than-16oz-as-long-as-they’re-not-sold-in-grocery-stores.  If the ban sounds confusingly specific, it is.  Which makes Bloomberg’s action-hero explanation even more ironic: “New York is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something. I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

You’d think this would be relatively easy for a large, well-funded union of megacorporation superfriends to fight. Especially one that has, lately, taken decent steps to improve its reputation. Before the ban was announced, the American Beverage Association (a trade group representing, visually at least, Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and, inexplicably, Sunny Delight) began running an ad that does a reasonably good job of explaining that they offer “more choices and smaller portions with fewer calories.”

Here, the message is just about all anyone wants or expects from an industry that sells carbonated sugar.  Only a zealous few in the Bay Area are awaiting the release of Coke III, Now with Wheatgrass!  Just put the ability to choose an 8oz can instead of a 24oz SupaChugga in people’s hands, and they’ll be satisfied.

Unfortunately, Bloomberg’s opponents seem to have chosen to hit back fast rather than smart.  In the past two weeks we’ve seen two new ads, neither of which strikes what ad savants at Joe Slade White and Company would call a “responsive chord.”
The first ad is an alarmingly tasteless mash-up (more…)

June 14th, 2012 blog No Comments

The Language of Leadership: How Jamie Dimon Fared

by Patrick Buckley

In the world of business, few leaders are held in higher esteem than JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon.  As the CEO of one of the largest banks in an industry that is generally reviled Dimon has come to be seen as a white knight.  Not only is he the leader of one of the only large financial institutions to not report a loss through the recent economic crisis, but his forthright communication and leadership style has been held up as a model of how leaders should both communicate and act.

Given this it was with particular interest that we turned our attention to Dimon’s testimony last week before the Senate Banking Committee to explain a recent trading loss of $2 billion dollars.

As a research-driven communication strategy firm we’ve found that Americans need to hear very specific things from leaders in Dimon’s position.  We call it the Language of Leadership and we’ve seen how following or ignoring its core principals have produced radically different reactions for communicators.

His testimony was very well-received with both the media and financial pundits, but we wanted to see how Dimon delivered on the Language of Leaders with average Americans.  So we tested portions of his testimony using our proprietary Instant Response dial technology with a group of Americans including both Democrats and Republicans .

How did he do?  Well, the reviews were mixed. (more…)

June 21st, 2012 blog No Comments

Michael Maslansky on the Joy Behar Show

June 25th, 2012 blog, news, Television No Comments

Voter Reactions to Obama and Romney Energy Policy

On June 13th we tested energy policy messages from Democratic President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with an even mix of Republican and Democrat voters.

June 25th, 2012 blog 2 Comments

Michael Maslansky on CurrentTV’s Viewpoint with Elliot Spitzer

 

Michael Maslansky joins Democratic strategist Basil Smikle on the Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer to discuss Obama and Romney’s reactions to the immigration policy, what policies are going to be most important for the upcoming presidential election, and actions the candidates may take in order to stay competitive.

June 27th, 2012 blog, news, Television No Comments

Potty Mouth Government

by Larry Moscow

I am not a prude.  Even if I wanted to be, as the parent of 3 spirited teens, prudishness is not really a viable option.  Quite the opposite, I’m a pretty open-minded, probably overly permissive parent.  I’ve been known to take the lead in facilitating some questionable family pop culture activities (think Hangover I, II and Bridesmaids).  But when it comes to language usage, the line has to be drawn somewhere. At first my wife and I tried to police use of the B-word. However that particular noun is so ubiquitous in music, TV and everywhere else that most people born after 1990 are probably unaware of its slightly forbidden past.  So now when my 16 year old daughter and her friends blithely refer to one another as B’s… we just grin and bear it.  But the F-word. That’s another whole story and definitely where I’ve tried to assert the power of my parental line drawing, as feeble as it may be.  Use it my presence, and at the very least laptops, smart phones, iPods and other can’t-possibly-live-without items are immediately confiscated.

When I’m not at home policing language— I do have a day job—message research and the very precise and strategic use of words and language.  Words matter – they’re my livelihood, and so is public policy. So what to make of the reaction to the Supreme Court’s monumental ruling this week on Health Care?  I’m not talking about the politics, policy or even the law; I’m talking about the coarseness of the language used by the victors.

Just take a look at the items below –one from the head of the DNC the other from the Obama Reelection Campaign — and tell me, when did official Washington adopt the lexicon of a smut-talking 16 year old? Suffice it to say that if candidates for class president in high schools around the country adopted such language, suspension, or at least detention would probably be a part of their future.

Have I evolved (devolved) from permissive parent to political prude?

(Tweet by Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee after the healthcare bill passed)

(T-shirt for sale at store.barackobama.com)

June 29th, 2012 blog No Comments

Blog Post

June 29th, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

The Derecho Dialogues

by Clint Sievers

I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for five years, and this past weekend was one of the worst.  Even 2010’s Snowmaggedon didn’t cut our power.  And when it’s 99 degrees, air conditioning feels a lot more like a necessity than a luxury.

We’ve worked with utilities facing issues just like this one over the years, and the same communication challenges keep cropping up.  Customers don’t get angry at utilities because the lights went out.  They get angry because they feel helpless and uninformed about when the lights are going to come back on.  And that goes double in the age of social media: consumers expectinstant, clear communication – and when they don’t get it, frustration mounts.

My utility – Dominion Power in Virginia – was actively involved online and especially on social media throughout last weekend’s Derecho storm and subsequent outage.  In many ways, their communication efforts were spot on.  But in some cases, their tweets and Facebook messages left me scratching my head.  First, the bad:

They say:

  Dominion Virginia Power  @DomVAPower

We also want to share with all of you some of our restoration challenges. We aren’t making excuses, just trying to provide answers to some of your questions.

Unlike a hurricane, this storm could not be forecasted well ahead of time by the National Weather Service. When we plan for hurricanes we have time to secure and position people and supplies. We couldn’t do that with this storm.

Customers hear:

If you have to preface it with “we aren’t making excuses,” it’s an excuse.  Period.  Who cares if the storm wasn’t predicted ahead of time? It’s your job to be prepared. You didn’t do your job, and now my refrigerator can’t keep my food fresh.

They say:

  Dominion VA Power‏ @DomVAPower

@kishoreks sorry, i don’t have that info but we will be posting new updates later today. (more…)

July 3rd, 2012 blog No Comments

Gerri Willis Show: Panel Discussion on Keith Olbermann’s Conspiracy Theory, GM in China, GOP VP Nominations and Raising the Retirement Age

Michael Maslansky joins Elisabeth Meinecke and Tamara Holder as a panelist on Fox Business’s Gerri Willis show.

(more…)

April 25th, 2012 blog, news, Television No Comments

The Miami Mistake

by Justin Altum

Next time, Ozzie Guillen should just save himself some time and stress and tell everyone of Cuban descent their mothers are ugly.  The amount of backpedaling and apologizing he’ll need to do as a result of that pales in comparison to the ditch he’s dug for himself and his organization.

For those who haven’t heard, Guillen, the Miami Marlins manager, decided that opening a new stadium for the team in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood was also a perfect time to praise Fidel Castro.  Guillen’s respect for Castro stems from his perseverance: “A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last sixty years, but that son of a bitch is still here.”  To Guillen’s credit, he at least called him a “son of a bitch.”  But, hey Miami fans of Cuban descent – those tickets aren’t going to buy themselves!

When you’re in a role like Guillen’s – an ambassador to a community in many ways – good communication requires a balance of a number of elements.  From knowing your audience to the right timing and simply (but importantly) having a good message, there is no shortage of baseball metaphors to explain how miserably Guillen failed here.

(more…)

April 18th, 2012 blog No Comments

Political ad wars 2012: the messages and moments that will frame the 2012 election

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

In an election season set to shatter records for television advertising the ad battle is likely to play an outsized role in determining which party controls congress and occupies the White House.

Over the course of the next several months we’ll be testing some of the most talked about, most controversial, and most powerful political advertisements with hundreds of American voters. We’ll be talking to Democrats, Republicans and the all-important swing voters.

Our goal? As the campaigns seek to frame, blame and call each other names, we want to understand what messages and attacks stick and why. We want to not only understand what messages are resonating with the American people, but to help give you an inside track on who is likely to control power come November.

By using our proprietary Instant Response technology, we’ll get to hear from them what they think are the most compelling, persuasive and credible messages being delivered by the campaigns and their supporters.

What follows is a detailed breakdown of what we heard during our first week of testing.

To start things off we choose test both TV and web advertisements from both of the major presidential campaigns on an issue central to the race: the economy. What we heard was fascinating.

 

presidential attack ads: part 1

 

We tested three current ads attacking President Obama and three that attack Governor Romney. The attacks were selected from recent ad flights from around the country and each reflects a prominent theme of their opponent’s efforts to frame their campaign. (more…)

July 6th, 2012 blog 7 Comments

Communication Strategist

Job description




maslansky + partners is a communication strategy firm grounded in a rigorous approach to messaging research. We work with Fortune 500 companies, trade associations, non-profits, and public policy groups to help them address their most important communication and messaging challenges.  We’re seeking a Communication Strategist with strong analytical thinking, persuasive writing, and project management skills to join our team.




Every member of our team is:



  • A researcher – we conduct qualitative and quantitative research to understand how audiences respond to different ways of talking about something and why
  • A writer – we help clients engage and persuade their audiences by writing in a way that resonates and compels them to act
  • A strategist – anyone can find out what an audience thinks; we bring an analytic and strategic approach to messaging.
  • A consultant– we constantly imagine the world through the eyes of someone else: our clients’, what are their challenges externally and internally and how can we help them? Our clients’ audiences: how do we factor “their truth” into effective messaging?



What you’ll do:



  • Work on a range of challenging communication issues, including corporate reputation and branding; public affairs and issue advocacy; new product launches and repositioning
  • Be part of a team of people who are focused on creating great work for great clients
  • Have the opportunity to develop the messages we take into testing (and see how well your messages work)
  • Use market research to create meaningful, actionable and interesting communication advice for clients
  • Support research and consulting projects from start to finish: draft proposals designed to win business, determine participant screening criteria, develop written exercises and other participant stimuli
  • Manage logistics, making sure m+p’s project, recruiting and media teams are working together seamlessly on your projects
  • Interact with clients over phone, email and in-person
  • Edit, proof-read and format, ensuring everything that goes to our clients is as close to perfect as possible



Skills and Experience



What you should bring:



  • 1 – 3 years’ experience in market research, corporate communication, public affairs, public relations, advertising, marketing, or another field that you can convince us is relevant
  • An ability to juggle and prioritize simultaneous projects and responsibilities… and keep your cool while doing it
  • Experience with and ideas about compelling, persuasive, credible messaging
  • Strong analytic skills so that you can understand and synthesize perspectives that may be very different from your own
  • Strong writing skills (bonus points for cover letters that demonstrate these skills)
  • Strong computer skills:  Proficiency in Word is table stakes. The ability to express ideas visually, particularly using PowerPoint, is a compelling differentiator
  • A mature demeanor, ready for client-facing situations
  • Social media engagement is a plus



Company Description



Our firm is guided by the simple idea that it’s not what you SAY that matters, it’s what they HEAR. We use research to advise our clients what to say, what not to say, and why it matters.  We passionately believe that for PR, marketing and advocacy efforts to be successful, they must have the right words, phrases and framing.




Though small, we have a large impact. We work on major communication challenges for Fortune 500 companies, trade associations, non-profits, and public policy groups around the country and the world.




Please send resume and cover letters to NYJob@maslansky.com  (Please include your last name in the subject line)

October 1st, 2012 careers No Comments

Michael Maslansky on CurrentTV’s Viewpoint with Elliot Spitzer

July 13th, 2012 blog, news, Television No Comments

Sara Snedeker

Prior to joining + p, Sara worked with a political consulting firm and the press office of the New York State Attorney General.  A few of Sara’s favorite things are the Yankees, New York City weather in the fall, and Italian restaurants of all kinds.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

The Derecho Dialogues, Volume 2:

Now with more dialogue!

The following is a conversation between Chris Manley and Justin Altum in ml+p’s DC office..

DerechoChris:    Hey Justin, did you see this letter that Dominion wrote to you in the Washington Post?

Justin:    You mean the open letter to customers that made us all sound like heroes?  I did see it, and as a Dominion customer, I’m glad they think really highly of my ability to survive without electricity for a few days.  I do have to say, it was a little over-the-top.

Chris:     I agree that it’s a little bit melodramatic.  But we’re often advising utilities to do everything they can to demonstrate to customers that they understand what they’re going through.  You can see them trying to sympathize with how difficult it is for people to live without power.

Justin:    Yes, I agree with you on that.  I think they key words are right in the center of the page: thank you.  There aren’t enough companies today who acknowledge the role and importance of the customer today.  The nice thing about the intent of this letter is that it comes not after they did what they said they were going to do – restore power – and not after they failed miserably.  It seems like open letters to customers today revolve around a company making a huge mistake.

Chris:    I think the idea here is a good one, but the wording sounds a little more like what you’d say during a war and not after a storm.  I’m sure they’re trying to take this as seriously as possible since there were some deaths as a result of the power outages.

Justin:    I couldn’t agree more, Chris.  (more…)

July 17th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Jesse Jackson Jr. American Horror Story

by Thayer Fox

As anyone following the news knows Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is on a leave of absence. The question is why?

To date Rep. Jackson’s office has refused to fully explain what’s going on, and the public response is unfolding like a classic horror story:

 

  • Act 1: The monster is born. The monster starts off small and unassuming – it’s a simple question. Where has Rep. Jackson gone? (more…)
July 18th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Political ad wars 2012: is bipartisanship dead on arrival?

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

In 2008 Barack Obama’s ability to sell the nation on a new, more bipartisan brand of leadership was central to his electoral victory.  In the 2010 midterm battles the opposite was true.  Tea Partiers and others rode to Washington not by promising bipartisanship, but its opposite: fierce and principled partisanship.

What can we expect from 2012?  Will it once again be a banner year for candidates promising to reach across the aisle?  Or has that dream been sufficiently dashed?  We wanted to find out.

Following what Politico called “fake week” in Washington – a week characterized by a series of supposedly bipartisan photo ops with no real substance – we wanted to understand who, if anyone, was successfully delivering a message of bipartisanship on the campaign trail.  And we wanted to understand what, if anything, candidates could say to make these appeals resonate with voters.

For our second installment in the Political Ad Wars 2012 project we tested a series of ads promoting bipartisan leadership from both Republican and Democratic congressional candidates.  The testing was conducted with 150 Americans of various political stripes.

The results were telling. (more…)

July 18th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Michael Maslansky on the Cavuto Show

Michael Maslansky appears on Fox Business’s Cavuto show with Liz MacDonald as the host of the day. The two discuss Apple vs. Samsung, the battle of the smartphone, and the $2.5 billion lawsuit.

August 2nd, 2012 blog No Comments

When Campaigning on the Third Rail: Keep it Simple

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

This was supposed to be an election about the economy, but Paul Ryan’s entrance into the race changed all that.  When Mitt Romney named his running mate, new issues shifted to the forefront of the national debate, most notably Medicare.

In recent weeks Democrats have been taking to the airwaves to attack Republicans for their plans to turn it into a voucher system, while Republicans have continued fighting back claiming Obamacare has taken away Medicare’s funding.  And for Republicans, it’s clear they want to make this issue a focus of the campaign: so far, Medicare’s been mentioned 18 times in speeches at the Convention in Tampa, most notably by Ryan, who, to great booing, related how Obamacare “needed hundreds of billions more. So they just took it all away from Medicare.”

As candidates scramble to paint their opponents as the bigger threat to Medicare’s future our firm, maslansky luntz + partners, researched whose arguments are resonating with voters and whose are falling flat.

To do this we tested six 30-second campaign ads on the subject with over 226 Republican, Democrat, and Independent voters from across the country.  What we found might be sobering for the campaigns.

Republicans: The bottom line is don’t take it too far.  They can get credit for trying to protect Medicare in something like its current state – which is pretty impressive considering their current proposals – but arguing too long and hard about this may erase those gains quickly.

Democrats; The takeaway is that opposition ads shouldn’t be laughed off.  Voters don’t understand the issue well enough. And with an emotionally charged issue like Medicare, any perceived change will evoke negative reaction. As for their ads, narrow and straightforward attacks on the Republican’s proposed plans for Medicare, as laid out in the Ryan budget, seems to be the best approach.

Everyone wants to save Medicare.

They don’t call it one of the ‘third rails of American politics’ for nothing. Voters see it as a vital program and react positively to any language that promises to protect or secure it. Regardless of party affiliation, people want Medicare protected for today’s seniors, and for future generations.

In one of the ads we tested Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) focused narrowly on the need to save the program to help people like his father, a veteran.  Rigell made no mention of Obama, or any political party, instead laying out his own position on protecting Medicare. It was simple, straightforward and to the point.  Not surprisingly voters from across the political spectrum reacted positively.

‘We’ve earned it.’

The most powerful articulation about why Medicare should be protected was also popular across party lines.  Whether uttered by a Republican or a Democrat, everyone reacted well to the idea that we need to save Medicare and Social Security “because people have earned it.”

Connecting this so-called entitlement program, something liberals have traditionally supported, to the idea that individuals should be rewarded for their hard work and sacrifice, a more traditionally conservative line of argument, makes the message appeal to a wide swath of voters.  As many conservative respondents said in reaction to this line of argument, “These are not entitlements, people pay into these and should get back what they paid into.”

At the convention, Paul Ryan and others have continued beating this drum.  “An obligation we all have to our parents and grandparents,” Ryan warned, “is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for.”

The strongest arguments are the most straightforward.

Voters want to see this program protected, and getting them to think your opponent has other ideas doesn’t take much more than saying so.  In fact, more complex arguments were less successful. 

For instance, several of the Democratic ads tried to connect Republicans’ supposed desire to weaken Medicare to their goal of passing tax cuts for the wealthy.  But the argument didn’t land well with voters.

While both Democrats and Independents seem to agree “tax cuts for millionaires” are bad, it’s unclear exactly how that connects to entitlement programs.  And given the limits of a 30-second spot, campaigns could not sufficiently explain the connection.  The result is a confused audience, not what the ad makers were going for.

Republicans ran into a similar problem.  Ad testing indicates the argument that Obamacare has forced cuts to Medicare does seem to have legs, especially with the base.  That said, voters were again easily confused by the logic.

Two of the ads we tested took a very hard line that the Affordable Care Act “cut Medicare. Why? To pay for Obamacare.”

The message worked with the party’s base, but moderates and Independents generally didn’t identify with this message.  These groups reacted negatively to the idea of cutting Medicare, but when they got to the explanation as to “why,” they started to doubt it.

For many voters it just doesn’t sound believable. Republicans have invested significant time and money trying to convince Americans that Obamacare is all about giving government healthcare away for free.  Suggesting that suddenly Obamacare is the reason people are not going to be able to get Medicare didn’t make sense.

Taken together, it seems that voters want to hear two things from candidates when it comes to Medicare: you’ve earned it, and that’s why I’m going to protect it.  Remember Kelly Johnson’s famous acronym KISS: keep it simple and straightforward.  Well, it works.  The more complicated the issue, the more simple and straightforward the message has to be.

TV ads for testing were provided by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Below are links to the ads we tested:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cOrOO0vrGo&feature=plcp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YfWaERDyS0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDETEiEqDj8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mtX8j4rh_w

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8lVlkjvntE&feature=plcp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mnzIpQIbT4

August 30th, 2012 blog No Comments

Michael Maslansky on The Ed Show

August 11th, 2012 blog, news, Television No Comments

Pop-Up Video! Acceptance Speech Edition–Which Oscar Winners Did It Best?

We laugh. We cry. We ridicule… Academy Award acceptance speeches can become the stuff of legend. These are the real, unscripted performances that we love to watch soar… or crumble.

How did this year’s big winners do? We looked to our team of language strategists and communication professionals to rate Sunday night’s speeches using instant response dial technology. Our experts reacted to the language and tone of each “performance” on a second-by-second basis. Now watch the good, the bad and the ugly…Pop-Up Video Style!

February 27th, 2013 blog, highlights, insights No Comments

Two different American Airlines, for two different markets

By Thayer Fox

US Airways and American Airlines produced a full-page ad in both the New York Times and Washington Post last Friday to help tell their story about their intent to merge.  The challenge is the story that they tell in each paper is wildly different, and is meant to conjure very different reactions.  In a time where consumers have more access to information than ever before and are looking for reasons to distrust companies, this divided strategy should make us stop and think.  Do the benefits of a customized message outweigh the risks of appearing duplicitous?   Consider the following five key differences, noted in the actual ads below:

 

1. The DC ad tries harder to make its case.  The DC ad on the right doesn’t want you to take its word for it.  It’s much more of a lobbying piece.  It employs third-party validation through a series of quotes, while the NYC ad is only copy.  They must think the DC audience will be more skeptical of what the airlines have to say and so they’d rather someone else tell the story for them.  The fact that the quotes come BEFORE any copy in the ad only reinforces this.

2. In DC this merger is about choice somehow.  The DC ad communicates the explicit benefit of “choice” while the NYC ad vaguely states that the merger “will create something greater”.  They must believe that DC is difficult enough to warrant fishing for and communicating a tangible benefit instead of leaving it vague like they did in New York.  And choice is certainly a benefit consumers value.  But is it credible to communicate choice?  The merger by definition will take one airline away, resulting in less choice.

Perhaps they believe they are speaking directly to AA frequent flyers in the DC ad, who will now have more AA choices out of a hub that was dominated by US Air.  And frequent flyers of both airlines will have a larger network.  But this will not create more choice for all flyers.  And consumers are skeptical of mergers to begin with, because mergers take away choice.  So by focusing on this benefit they at best appeal to a core audience of frequent flyers and at worst come across as phonies to everyone else.

3. The DC ad is about the lawmaker.  The copy in the NYC ad communicates to the consumer.  It’s about customer service, experience, and access.  But the DC copy communicates to the lawmaker.  It’s about more competition, jobs, and communities – all areas that are of significant concern to legislators and regulators.

The DC ad also implies that if the merger does not go through then jobs could be lost.  This is a difficult message to deliver.  Most audiences usually reject it as too negative.  They’d rather hear how people will gain rather than be threatened by what they could lose.  Yet AA handles it well, letting the reader only infer the negative. First, they deliver the positive message that the merger will deliver “a path to improved compensation and benefits and greater long-term opportunities to our employees”.  And second, they offer the quote from the President of the US Airline Pilots Association that supports the merger as one that will help keep AA “financially strong”.  The ad leaves us to infer that the opposite outcomes – no path to long-term employee opportunities and a financially weak American Airlines – may threaten pilot job security.

4. In DC it’s about the benefit to American.  AA is emerging from bankruptcy.  The benefits of this merger are clear and tangible to AA and its many employees.  This is a powerful story to tell, and may be why the DC version focuses more on AA than on US Air.  And notably when you read from left to right at the bottom of the ad, the AA logo comes first and the US Air logo comes second.

But the logos are in the opposite order in the NYC ad.

Perhaps they gave US Air the left side in the New York outlet because they gave AA the left in the DC outlet and they simply wanted to be fair.  Perhaps they think US Airways has a better story to tell in New York.  Regardless of the reason, it only hardens the appearance that these companies want readers to walk away with different interpretations of the merger depending on which outlet they are reading, and presumably which type of reader they are.

5. The NYC ad focuses on both companies equally whereas the DC ad focuses on AA.  The photos help bring this to light well.  The DC ad prominently features an AA jet, and leads readers to only one website: newamericanarriving.com.  The NYC ad shows a ramp service operator with his two wands pointing directly at EACH company’s logo.  And each company has their OWN URL dedicated to the merger.

These URLs deliver on the strategies outlined above: the American and US Air URLs on the NYC ad focus on the benefits to the consumer (like the ad copy) while the URL for the combined companies that is on the DC ad focuses on the benefits that appeal to lawmakers.

 

Perhaps they banked on the readership: the New York Times is liberal and the Washington Post is conservative.  But this doesn’t fully account for the challenge of looking two-faced.  It’s not just that consumers have more information and can spot this stuff more quickly.  It’s the actual people who fly.  Consider the amount of decision-makers – those who could very well have influence over this merger – who frequently take the shuttle between La Guardia and Reagan.  They pick up both the New York Times and the Washington Post to read while taxiing.  It’s easy to believe that seeing these two ads side by side will only raise eyebrows higher among an audience these companies are clearly hoping to appease.

February 19th, 2013 blog, insights No Comments

They Approve This Message, But Does it Matter?

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

Since the passage of McCain-Feingold in 2002 candidates have been required to indicate their support for the content of their television and radio advertisements.

The provision responsible for this change is known as the “Stand By Your Ad” and its passage has led to the words “I approve this message” being heard countless times by millions of Americans.  But while this phrase has become a familiar staple of American politics, to date there hasn’t been much work done to understand what impact the message – and the way it’s delivered – has on voters.  We wanted to change that.

To that end we tested a series of current ads by the Obama and Romney campaigns.  The testing was done in person with 30 registered voters in New York and online with over 150 voters from across the country.

We wanted to see what, if any, impact these so-called “sponsor messages” have when delivered in different ways.

What we found was surprising.

1      For a segment of voters, sponsor messages DO matter.

These messages don’t matter to a lot of voters.  Many tune them out.  And across the board their importance pales in comparison to the other content in ads.  But for a segment of the electorate, sponsor messages do have an impact.

One of the most important reasons for this is that in many ads the sponsor message is only the time voters hear directly from the candidate themselves.  As a result, some voters actually take cues from the way a candidate’s approval is conveyed to determine how sincere they were about the ad’s content and whether the candidate truly stands by it.  As a result these “canned” phrases can disproportionately affect how persuaded voters are by an advertisement.

“When you actually see them saying it you can tell they agree with what the ad is saying.”- Democratic voter

(more…)

August 8th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Don’t Take it From Me: The Constituent Testimonial

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

 

With political contributions at all-time highs campaigns have more money than ever to spend on advertising.  Despite this, many are having a harder time than ever getting their message across.  The reason?  Voters have lost faith in the candidates.

Regardless of party affiliation most voters have come to view politicians with suspicion.  They’re skeptical of their claims, their character and their ability to deliver positive change.

So what’s a communications director to do?  Well, many have resorted to a tried and true approach to getting their message out: using testimonials from regular people in their advertisements.  The thinking goes that while voters may not believe politicians, they’re still willing to take the word of the “average people” who are their supports.

In this edition of Political Ad Wars we wanted to find out if this thinking still held true.  In the face of record distrust – and even disgust – could constituent and supporter testimonials still break through and resonate with voters?  Or does the distrust extend to the Average Joes, making testimonials a lost cause?

To find out we tested six recent television ads – five from congressional candidates and one from a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney – with 150 Americans of various political stripes.

Here’s what we heard.

They’re (still) effective.  Campaigns rely on testimonials for a good reason: they work.  More than facts, figures and policy proposals, hearing how a candidate helped an individual or family has real emotional resonance with voters.  Why?  Well, there are a couple of reasons.

1  They don’t question the motives.

You might think voters would question who exactly was appearing in these ads and what their motivations areas.  Well, you’d be wrong.  To a person they found the supporters featured in these ads to be credible and sincere in their convictions. (more…)

August 8th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

When targeting women, stop thinking girly

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

 

In a world capable of facebook targeting, sophisticated segmentation studies, and something called “narrowcasting,” communicators and marketers are starting to wear out a lot of carpet pacing back and forth, wondering how exactly they’re supposed to use all this new data they’re collecting.  A client recently wondered aloud, “Ok, but do we need a different message for rural moms in the Plains states?” She was not kidding. Much sleep being lost over those Kansas agri-moms, apparently.

Though it plays out in more finely-cut demographics today, the idea that we need to craft different messages for different audiences isn’t a new one.  For example, we have a rich history of advertising stupidly—I mean, um, differently—to women.  The theory being (kind of reductive here, but it’s a blog, so) “if men and women are different, they must want different kinds of appeals.”  The trouble is, attempts to make ads more appealing to women often default to some, well, let’s say assumptions that may or may not be grounded in reality.  So we decided to take a look at six campaign ads with a range of appeals traditionally viewed as more appealing to men and women, and see how women’s gut-level, moment-to-moment responses differed from men’s.

What we found will…

…(If you’re a man) really surprise you!

…(If you’re a woman) be frustratingly obvious, but at least someone is writing it down! (more…)

August 31st, 2012 blog No Comments

Intern

  • Filing papers.
  • Getting coffee.
  • Making copies.
  • Organizing closets.
  • Answering phones.
  • Working for free…

Sound like a great internship?

We don’t think so either.

At maslansky + partners, our interns are immersed in the daily work of the only market research firm in America that truly specializes in language. They utilize research skills regularly, weigh in during brainstorming sessions, and contribute to the products that ultimately make it into the hands of clients at Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, and political agencies. The intern team handles a diverse range of duties, including but not limited to: assisting with focus group preparation, execution and follow-up; helping analyze polling data; monitoring media coverage of current and potential clients; identifying new business prospects and assisting in preparing new business pitches; creating client PowerPoint presentations; and researching public policy issues.

maslansky + partners offers part time opportunities during the school year and full time positions available during the summer. Interns are required to work 2-5 days per week, but hours are extremely flexible. Interns receive a daily stipend of $50 and some are eligible for school credit. Oh… and free lunch on Mondays!

WHO IS A GOOD FIT?

Who is a good fit for our company? Bright, energetic, responsible students interested in gaining real-world experience in a small, fun office (we have locations in NYC and Washington DC). You must be proactive and willing to get involved in every area of our research projects. Helpful skills include online research techniques, written and verbal communication, and proficiency with the full Microsoft Office Suite.

Please send your updated resume and a short introduction email to Sofia at sbriley@maslansky.com

September 20th, 2012 careers No Comments

Welcome to the Post-Fact Era

by Patrick Buckley and Chris Manley

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once quipped that while we’re all entitled to our own opinions, we are not all entitled to our own facts.  Well, things have changed.

“Facts” and “the truth” have gotten a lot of media exercise of late, as a slew of political ads and speeches have been outed as inaccurate.  Jon Stewart and Tom Brokaw mused last night on whether it was the internet’s fault, or the press’ for not policing things.  The New Yorker’s John Cassidy took a longer view, calling dickeying with political factoids “as American as baseball.”  Marathoners nationwide are up in arms.

But that this rhetoric should contain falsehoods is nothing new.  What has changed is our relationship to facts—how we receive and process and weigh them against what we already know.

For all its democratization of information, the digital age has created fact-inflation.  We’re more likely to demand facts, and far more likely to feel empowered to discount the ones we don’t like in favor of those we do. We’ve entered an era where facts are discussed more than ever, but somehow carry less weight than at any time since the dark ages.

The growth of the Web and the democratization of all the devices on which we use it have triggered a vast, sprawling universe of voices that we read and listen to constantly.  The ability of “the Media” to filter and mediate the best points of view is gone.  We simultaneously love and loathe this, and it’s given us a strange two-sided problem: because information is so readily available, we feel more compelled than ever to demand facts.

But like any valuable resource, the sudden commodification of facts has also devalued them.  Anyone with a computer can find competing facts in seconds.  Facts are, in a word, cheap.  So while we’re more likely—and more able—to cry foul when we don’t like what we’re seeing, we’re also comfortable ignoring facts we don’t agree with and discounting the importance of our preferred side being caught lying.

We see this all the time in our work  researching the effectiveness of corporate, policy, and political rhetoric.  An agricultural client comes to us wondering why they’re losing market share to organics.  They have reams of research showing their products are just as good.  They have a recent Stanford study saying organic meat and produce is no more nutritious and no less likely to contain e. coli than regular produce.  But all their facts don’t seem to matter.

When they present their side of things to customers, here’s what people say:

“This doesn’t matter.”

“Your data was bought in corrupt studies.”

“Next week another study will say something else.”

“Ok, well, I’ve read different.”

And so on.

We’ve always been more likely to make decisions based on our existing worldview than the facts.  But the digital age and fact-commodification have just brought this problem into uncomfortably bright light.  Which is why this election seems to be the lie-iest ever.  And the most frustrating for the fact-cultists among us.

September 6th, 2012 blog No Comments

Romney’s Inelegance and its Implications on Messaging Segmentation

by Thayer Fox

As most people have heard by now a video recently surfaced showing Mitt Romney giving his pitch to donors.  In it he talked about the 47% of Americans that he says are “dependent upon government… [and] believe that they are victims.”  Of this group he said, “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

This statement was insensitive.  It was insulting.  And it was tailored to appeal to his immediate audience.

If this is indeed the message wealthy Republican donors want to hear from him – and that’s up for debate – then he achieved an important goal – he delivered a relevant and appealing message to an important constituency.

But in the process Mr. Romney also turned off a much larger, and arguably more important audience: average Americans.

As marketers there are lessons in Romney’s missteps beyond just, don’t say stupid things.  His error provides real insight into the ways candidates, and companies, should approach message segmentation.

The first lesson is the most obvious: don’t deliver a message to one customer segment that will insult another, no matter how relevant or appealing it may be. It will invariably come back to bite you.

The second is more complex and points to the need for more nuanced strategies for message segmentation.  Segmentation is not just about delivering your audience what they want to hear.  The various segments in your audience are going to want to hear different things – sometimes wildly different.  That doesn’t mean you should simply give them those messages.  Instead, effective message segmentation is about marrying what your audience wants to hear with who you are as a brand and what you are willing and want to say.

So pretend for a moment that, for simplicity’s sake, your brand has three key messages you want to deliver.  Romney’s gaff suggests that each segment should NOT get its own unique message.  Instead each segment should get some variation of all three messages, where each message is amplified or dampened based on the segment’s preference.

Think of your messages as levers on dashboards, and each segment gets its own dashboard:

In this approach each segment gets one message and not the other two, which can lead you in to trouble.  Instead consider a more nuanced approach:

This approach is more intricate and involves deeper thought about how to pack three messages in the space where one once lived.  But doing so will help drive consistent messaging that achieves your objectives while safeguarding you from contradiction.

September 20th, 2012 blog No Comments

Political Ads: America’s not really listening anymore

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

By Chris Manley and Patrick Buckley

A September 19th Politico story suggests that Governor Romney’s “47 percent” remarks will have a small but negative effect on who will vote for him in November.  While that may reflect the results of a Gallup poll, our own research on the nature of public opinion this election season suggests his remarks won’t make much difference.  Americans aren’t really listening to what the candidates are saying anymore.  Instead, they’re just waiting to hear something that confirms their defense or hatred of the party speaking.

 

We tested 42 presidential and congressional advertisements with more than a thousand people nationwide.  They identify as Republicans, Democrats, Independents.  Conservatives, liberals and moderates.  Our objective was to identify which arguments allow candidates to transcend party lines.  What could a Democrat say to win over a moderate Republican, and vice versa?  Turns out we’re asking the wrong question. We should’ve asked, “what will it take to even listen?”

 

We did, of course, identify some things that work and don’t work with the different audiences—and those are covered in other posts.  But by and large, findings suggest ad dollars spent to win over “the other side” is money wasted.  Tracking the moment-to-moment reactions of 200-400 people a week, we can pinpoint the exact moment in any ad where Republican and Democratic voters start to disagree with each other.  It’s not the moment a position or policy revealed, but the revelation of whom the ad supports.

Reds and Blues have identical positive reactions to this doctor, until the moment she says the new healthcare law “isn’t fixing things.” After that, Democrats hate everything she says, as much as Republicans love it.

 

The substance of an argument makes little difference.  Democrats reject ads from Republicans the moment it’s clear they’re watching a Republican ad.  Same on the other side.  And by “completely reject,” we don’t mean “disagree with.” We mean they tune it out. Hundreds of people say of opposing advertisements, “It’s all lies.”

 

“Nothing persuaded me…To declare the new system will [hurt the] doctor-patient relationship is an irresponsible lie…I hate it.” –Participant

 

[NOTE: The “Independent” line in the attached dial clips represents the average of those who identify as conservative and liberal.  Our sample of Independents skewed conservative, as does the line.  But while the average of all Independents is more moderated, we found the comments of individual independents to be just as dismissive of the party they identified with less.]

 

The vitriol and dismissiveness should give us all pause. Negative reactions on both sides share one thing: they have little or nothing to do with the contents of a given ad.  These responses are preprocessed, automatic.

Republicans approve of this absurd rhetoric from Chuck Norris. The more extreme it gets, the better. Democrats, to their credit, seem willing to concede there’s something to the “get out to vote” message.
 
As for the few truly open-minded voters, they’re more likely to be equally disenchanted with both sides. Worst of all, there’s evidence voters CAN like a message from the other party—but only as long as they don’t KNOW where the message comes from (yet).

 

If it’s not clear what party the speaker in an ad supports, then substance matters—Democrats can like a Republican message and vice versa.  The moment it becomes clear, one party reflexively loves the message, and the other party hates it.

Unless you’re from coastal Virginia, you probably don’t know what party Scott Rigell is from.  This ad takes a policy stand without using langauge that shows party afilliation, and everyone likes it.

 

Political advertising is a medium long associated with dishonesty and cheap shots—not the most persuasive stuff.  But today’s ad wars are wasting ad dollars.  The skyrocketing sums would be better spent on talking policy without mentioning any party or any hot-button political words. Or perhaps the best ROI of all is to simply use social media to try to target your faithful to vote in greater numbers.  Because from what we’ve seen, that “moveable middle” is becoming smaller and a lot less movable.

September 24th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Ad men to Microsoft: C’mon, we track because we love!

by Chris Manley

I like commerce as much as the next guy. Big fan of the economy. I’ve even been known to stop some poor kid from embarrassing his future self by lecturing his friends and relatives on the 5 pages of Marx or Nietzsche he just discovered in his freshman survey class (“The thing is, Scooter, a lot of people have actually thought about this before…”). But even I have never contemplated the kind of brass-balls free-market defense the Association of National Advertisers did on October 1st, when they declared that tracking your browsing history so they can better sell you cars, soda, and insurance was a form of – wait for it – consumer protection.

Somewhere in a cell, Bernie Madoff is slapping his thigh, saying, “Damn, that’s bold.”

The ANA’s open letter to Microsoft comes in response to Microsoft’s plans to make a “Do Not Track” option the default setting on their upcoming Internet Explorer 10 browser. The “DNT” option would tell web sites that your computer does not want to be tracked by cookies—and so, theoretically, you shouldn’t receive targeted ads. (In reality, almost no web sites actually care about the DNT request. They just track you anyway.)

That an advertising association would fight efforts to handicap marketers is hardly surprising. What is surprising, to me at least, is their preposterous argument that tracking people’s every online move is somehow a principled stand for what consumers want.

“We believe that if Microsoft moves forward with this default setting, it will undercut the effectiveness of our members’ advertising and, as a result, drastically damage the online experience by reducing the Internet content and offerings that such advertising supports. This result will harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy.”

Working at a firm that specializes in using language that resonates with people, I guess I can see what they’re going for here. People like Internet, they don’t want to be harmed, they like competition, and everyone goes bananas for innovation.

The trouble is, stringing all these positive words together kind of ignores that consumers see tracking their online activity as  something that’s good for marketers at their own expense.  At best they think of it as creepy or annoying to see the Ford whose gas mileage numbers you checked to win a bet follow you around the internet like the Jim Carey character in The Cable Guy. At worst they think it’s a total violation of privacy.

Telling consumers that it’s for their benefit is sort of like breaking up with someone while patting him on the head, telling him it’s for his own good.  Even if you really, really seriously mean it, it’s just not believable. Ever.

Microsoft, for its part, called the move “an important step in the process of establishing privacy by default, putting consumers in control and building trust online.” This shows a much better effort to listen to what consumers are saying about the issue. And it  has a far greater likelihood of being believable.

The ANA, of course, has every right to argue its case in the court of public opinion. But framing what consumers view as an invasion of privacy as consumer protection is unlikely to win anyone over.

October 5th, 2012 blog No Comments

What would it be like if advisors knew what their clients were really thinking?

Inside Information

By Bob Clark, in Investment Advisor - August 2012

I’ve never been a big fan of focus groups. My skepticism dates back to the early ‘90s, when I was an editor on the team that launched Worth magazine. Like many consumer publications, we used focus groups to test everything from cover designs to potential story ideas. Our marketing team asked people to tell us what they thought they would like to see in a future issue. It seems to me that most people are woefully bad at predicting what they will like, which is why magazines need editors.

Then one day, I was trying to stay awake while watching yet another focus group from behind the one-way glass, as the participants were thumbing through the latest issue and sharing their “wisdom” about the table of contents, feature layouts and what fonts we should use. Suddenly, one of them piped up with: “It would be great if you had a section in here that gave us advice about personal finance.” All the other participants started nodding their heads in agreement. That got my attention, as I was the editor of the section that gave advice on personal finance, and apparently, not one reader out of those 15 could find it.

The problem was that most people flip through magazines looking at the right-hand pages, and in an effort to keep the advertisers happy, our publisher had put my section on the left-hand pages—rendering it virtually invisible. Based on that feedback, I was able to convince the publisher that the personal finance section warranted a more prominent position in the magazine.

I was reminded of that focus group while watching the streaming video of Michael Maslansky’s session at the Loring Ward National Education Conference in Monterey in June. The CEO of Maslansky Luntz and Partners uses his expertise in language and messaging to help litigators, non-profits and many Fortune 500 companies—including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and UBS—to communicate more effectively about products, brands and issues. He is the author of “The Language of Trust,” and you probably saw his firm’s trademarked polling and focus group methodology during the 2010 elections, where it enabled CNN to show live audiences’ real-time reactions to speeches as they were being given.

If you’re anything like me, you probably have reservations about today’s high-tech quantifying of human behavior, but Maslansky appears to use his knowledge and expertise to help people better understand, and therefore better help, the people they are trying to serve. Still, to fully grasp the power of Maslansky’s process—garnered from over 100 research projects—you really have to see it. It’s like a focus group on steroids. For independent advisors, who have many ideas about what their clients are thinking but very little data to back them up, it’s obviously an eye-opening, mind-bending experience.

At Loring Ward, Maslansky’s program started with a panel consisting of 13 local investors between the ages of 55 and 70 with at least $500,000 in investable assets. Half of the panelists were retired and all had financial advisors. The panelists were seated across a broad stage with a handheld device about the size of a cell phone, with a circular dial. Each panelist could indicate a favorable or unfavorable reaction by twisting the dial. The panelists’ reactions were electronically aggregated to show a composite real-time reaction on a large screen on the stage.

The panelists were shown videos of advisors answering six questions that prospective clients would be likely to ask. The 13 panelists were asked to indicate whether they felt more likely or less likely to engage the advisor who was speaking, second by second, as he was giving his answer.

Altogether, this provided the advisors in the audience with an unparalleled insight into how investors truly feel about the various phrases that advisors use to explain their services, their market outlook, what differentiates them, their process, how they get paid and their request for referrals.

“Yet, even though you talk to clients every day, it’s very difficult to get into their heads: to know what it is that they are really thinking,” Maslansky told the advisors in the audience. “Humans, by nature, don’t always tell people the whole story.”

Maslansky explained that the results would appear on the big screen as a flat line that either trended up or down: “The middle of the graph is 50. That’s neutral; not good and not bad. A response of 70 or above means what’s being said is really working. Between 50 and 70 you’re not hurting yourself, but you could probably be doing a better job of engaging your client or prospect. If you’re below 50, you really should just shut up because every time you open your mouth, you’re really doing damage to you credibility and to your ability to sell your client.”

The answers that advisors gave (which were the normal answers they used in their practices, I’m told) did, indeed, show some dramatically different investor responses. For instance, when one advisor answered the question, “Why should I work with your firm?” by saying he had a “great investment method, based on a disciplined, scientific strategy that won a Nobel prize and has been tested for 40 years,” the responses were negative, negative and negative. In fact, not one panelist felt positive about this pitch. “He came across as a salesman,” said one investor, capturing the sentiment of the panel.

In answer to the same question, another advisor talked about being independent and working for the client rather than a large company, which enabled him to look out for his clients’ best interests, all of which tested well into the very positive range. “He said what he would do for me,” said one panelist, “rather than giving me a pitch.”

The investors also liked presentations that included financial plans, setting realistic expectations, financial goals, considering their values and people who are important to them, and especially, a team approach, which indicated to them expertise beyond one person. They didn’t like any words they didn’t understand, such as volatility, outsourcing and particularly counseling. “It’s a negative word,” said one panelist. “Nobody wants to go to ‘counseling.’ I’d rather go to the dentist.”

The panel of investors gave the highest positive scores of the session to the advisors talking about how they got paid. All were direct, clearly stating they had a 1% of assets fee up front. They then talked about what they would do for that fee, including keeping their clients from making mistakes, especially when the markets were down; keeping clients from blowing up their financial plans; making less when clients’ assets were down; and working even harder when the markets were down and they got paid less. Maslansky summed up the effectiveness of these answers this way: “We see a lot of advisors try to avoid giving out the number,” he said.

 

“The best answer to a fee question is a fee. If you don’t have the number in the first two sentences, you’re toast. Then they think that you’re hiding it. Say you charge a 1% fee, and then tell them what you do to earn it; it’s much more effective.”

These, and the responses to the other questions that the advisors answered, illustrated a surprisingly small number of communication mistakes that advisors make—yet, according to Maslansky, they make them with great regularity. A big one is talking about themselves rather than about the clients and what the advisor will do for them. “Most advisor/client conversations quickly become more about the advisor and less about the client,” he said. Then there’s overselling: “You can’t offer a perfect solution, and investors know this. Tempered promises have more credibility.”

The most prevalent mistake is the use of industry jargon, which the vast majority of investors don’t even begin to understand, and which consistently tested negatively: Volatility, asset allocation, accumulation, distribution, longevity risk, investment policy statements, CFP, the list is nearly endless. “This is where the industry falls down every day,” he said. “There is so much jargon that you don’t even recognize it. Advisors need to constantly remind themselves that investors don’t know what you think they know.”

The Takeaway

  • Advisors don’t make a lot of mistakes, but they make them regularly
  • The most common mistake is using industry jargon
  • Be up-front about fees and give clients a hard number

(#74136) Reprinted with permission from Investment Advisor magazine. Copyright 2012 by The National Underwriter Company doing business as Summit Business Media. All Rights Reserved. For more information about reprints from Investment Advisor, contact PARS International Corp. at 212-221-9595.

October 15th, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

Messaging Lessons from the VP Debate

By Patrick Buckley and Chris Manley

As the country readies itself for tonight’s second presidential debate, we wanted to understand what approaches and arguments are likely to sway voters.  To do this we tested key segments of last week’s vice presidential debate with hundreds of voters from across the country.  Using our web-based Instant Response Dial technology we found what worked, what didn’t, and why.  What follows is a quick rundown of what we learned.

1. Not much rattles the base.  Democrats reacted positively to Biden and Republicans to Ryan.  Independents were split.  This isn’t surprising.  It’s important to remember most answers are unlikely to sway most people.  They’ve made up their minds and view events through their own lenses.  So watch for those brief moments when you feel yourself momentarily nodding your head for “the other guy.”  And we watch for that in the dial lines.

2. Libya’s a problem.  No one—Republicans, Independents, or Democrats—was having any of Biden’s claims of knowing nothing about threats or attacks in Libya.  And everyone, regardless of party, reacted positively to Ryan’s rejoinder.  Obama noticed, since Secretary Clinton (who says she’s retiring after the election) fell on her sword yesterday and accepted full responsibility—just in time for tonight’s debate.

 3. Nobody likes a hypocrite.  One of Biden’s strongest moments came when he revealed Ryan requested federal funds for his constituents, despite having attacked those funds as wasteful federal spending just seconds earlier.  Even some of our Republicans had to admit this undermined Ryan’s Thrift Crusader image.

4. Wrong direction = right message.  Ryan hit his stride with Democrats and those who say they’re undecided when talking about the slow growth of the economy under Obama.  He hammered example after example of numbers that have gotten worse over the last months.  But instead of relying only on obscure metrics he opened in relatable terms about overall growth.  While Biden took issue with his facts, voters reacted favorably.

5. The power of “responsibility.”  For Dems, no economic message has more resonance than the idea that corporations and the rich need to take more responsibility.  But the message also did fairly well with Republicans, who seemed to see this message of more responsible businesses as much better than any message about the government’s role in that responsibility.  While “leveling the playing field” turned some voters off and smacked of government-led wealth redistribution, Democrats seem to have an opportunity to calm Republican alarms of socialism if they frame their arguments in terms of businesses.

6. 47% doesn’t move the needle.  Voters may be over it.  Or else they’ve decided how they feel.  Either way, it was clear that the voters we surveyed weren’t moved by Biden’s attacks.

7. Demeanor didn’t sway many voters.  This was surprising.  Going into the testing we assumed many voters – from both sides – would be swayed by the demeanor of the two candidates.  In reality, those who seemed to like and support Vice President Biden praised his antics.  Those who support or like Ryan applauded his subdued performance and saw Biden as a smirking bully.

October 16th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Presidential Debate: Why being right is wrong

As the dust settles on the second debate, one thing is clear. The loser in each debate was the candidate who thought it was more important to win the battle over facts than the war of ideas.   Romney won the first debate by projecting a positive confidence, while Obama got mired in wonky and long-winded explanations.   In the second debate, Obama presented positive and pithy narratives, while Romney angrily fought back with facts and statistics.

 

In both debates, the litigator lost; the orator, won.

 

This isn’t the way it is supposed to happen. In a world of fact-checkers-on-the-fly, the truth is supposed to prevail. But in debates, trying to prove you are right is just the wrong strategy.   Why?

 

  • You’re talking about their story not yours. Every minute spent correcting your record is time spent validating the other guy’s criticism, using his terminology and playing on his terms.  Whether you are right or not doesn’t matter.  In the heat of a debate, fighting one fact with another is like fighting fire with fire – it doesn’t put out the flames; it just makes the conflagration bigger.
  • You’re speaking in data not stories. The easiest way to lose an audience is to get into a debate over facts and figures.  It is hard enough for people who pay attention to these things to tell the difference between such things as increases in employment and decreases in unemployment. Uncommitted voters need to hear themes, narratives and personalized stories. Fact fights, like food fights, leave everyone a mess.
  • You’re being small instead of big. Romney won the first debate because rhetoric matched the size of his job. He framed every response in a larger context, while Obama played the policy wonk. In the second debate, the roles were switched. Obama spoke in big themes not small data. That was left to Romney whose angry attempts to set the record straight appeared petty. In both cases, big ideas were far more important than small details.

 

Facts can be great tools to attack, but they are poor shields. The candidates would do well to remember that as they prepare for their final contest.

October 17th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized 2 Comments

Our Debate Take: Romney v. Obama – October 16, 2012

We analyzed reactions to the 2nd 2012 Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from some of the top communicators in the country. Below are the key insights we took away.

 

October 17th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized 1 Comment

Language of Cancellations: An analysis of NYRR’s message to runners

By Thayer Fox

As many in New York City know the 2012 ING NYC marathon was cancelled.

As an avid long-distance runner and NYRR member, this topic is near to my heart (disclosure: I was not signed up to run this year’s NYC marathon – I am running the Philadelphia marathon in two weeks.  I am doing the 9+1 qualification this year to run in 2013, and trained closely with many who were planning to run this past Sunday.)

Like all NYRR members I received the email on Friday that the marathon was cancelled.

FULL TEXT:

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that the 2012 ING New York City Marathon has been canceled.

The decision was made after it became increasingly apparent that the people of our city and the surrounding tri-state area were still struggling to recover from the damage wrought by the recent extreme weather conditions. That struggle, fueled by the resulting extensive and growing media coverage antagonistic to the marathon and its participants, created conditions that raised concern for the safety of both those working to produce the event and its participants. While holding the race would not have required diverting resources from the recovery effort, it became clear that the apparent widespread perception to the contrary had become the source of controversy and division. Neither NYRR nor the City could allow a controversy over the marathon to result in a dangerous situation or to distract attention from all the critically important work that is being done to help New York City recover from the storm. 

NYRR, in partnership with the Rudin Family and the ING Foundation, has established the “Race to Recover” Marathon Fund to aid New Yorkers impacted by the storm. Over $2.6 million has been raised, including a $1 million donation by NYRR. We are asking you to join us by making a $26.20 donation, or whatever you can afford, to help bring recovery and hope to those communities and families most affected. Proceeds will go to Hurricane Sandy Relief, administered by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. You can also donate to the relief effort through NYRR’s fundraising platform, CrowdRise, which includes the American Red Cross and other charities.

NYRR will redeploy the marathon resources and materials toward the recovery effort. We will share the details of this project as they are finalized in the days ahead.

We all recognize this has been a very challenging time in New York City that has impacted so many people, including you, our runners. Please know that this is one of the toughest decisions we have ever made, and that we deeply appreciate your support.

 

Anecdotally, most of the runners I know begrudgingly accept NYRR’s position and this communication.  That said, I want to dig into it using a framework we call LOFT, where we analyze the Language, Order, Frame, and Tone, each on a 5-point scale. As I hope you will see, NYRR nails the framing, but misses some key opportunities.

 

    • Language: 4 out of 5.  The language NYRR uses credibly expresses its audience’s emotions while fostering fellowship.  The email sets the stage nicely with “heavy hearts”.  This is what every runner has.  NYRR calls the situation “very challenging”, and the last sentence “Please know that this is one of the toughest decisions we have ever made, and that we deeply appreciate your support.” engenders camaraderie and puts the reader on the side of the communicator.  This is the language of sadness.  That said, NYRR would do well to employ some other languages – most notably the language of sympathy – which is discussed below.

 

    • Order:  2 out of 5.  NYRR gets dinged on this attribute not because of the order in the communication itself, but because of the timing of its delivery.  The communication came out on Friday – two days before the marathon – which means many of the out-of-towners (roughly 30% of NYC marathon runners) were either already here or stuck with paying non-refundable travel expenses.  That they do not explicitly acknowledge this point is shocking. 

 

    • Frame: 5 out of 5.  There are two very powerful frames at work here.

        • First, it’s about the runners as much as it’s about the victims.  This communication speaks to runners and the NYC community alike.  Too often communicators overly segment their communication and end up using messages that appeal to one audience and enrage another. The email sufficiently acknowledges the victims of Sandy and states clearly that all resources will be redeployed to help them.  This is what the NYC community wants to hear.  And at the same time, they made it about their core audience.  They focus on runner safety and speak from a runner’s perspective.  This is what runners want to hear.

       

        • Second, it’s not about resources it’s about safety.  The focus on safety is a frame in itself.  And it works because it is both personal and plausible.  They neatly reframe the debate by stating clearly that the marathon would not divert resources, and that this decision is all about runner safety.  This is a widespread concern for runners.  The media was tough on the running community – a point NYRR makes in the email – which certainly fueled the fire. In the hours before the race was cancelled a dear friend of mine was seriously considering not running because, in her words she “didn’t want to get spit on.”  The race starts on Staten Island – the borough with the most Sandy-related deaths.   That could have been a recipe for disaster.

       

    • Tone: 3 out of 5.  The tone is sad, which is perfectly appropriate.  But it lacks deeper sympathy.  A marathon is not a one-day event.  It is the pinnacle of six months of grueling training that many slug through alone with little fanfare.  Cancelling the marathon for many is akin to forever cancelling a Broadway show the day before it opens.  It’s all work and no pay off.  Not to mention the fact that this event costs a whopping $270.  There is no mention in this communication – and has been no mention – of a refund.  NYRR missed an opportunity to acknowledge these sacrifices.

 

The missed opportunities aside, in all NYRR communicated pretty well given the extraordinarily tough position they are in.  Any decision they could have made would have certainly made significant audiences very angry.  I know for a fact this one did.

Strategically though they chose to hurt the audience they are closest to.  This is smart because this is the audience they can ultimately win back.  They are in a position to directly communicate with them via email and ground mail.  In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see if they continue to communicate with the would-be marathoners, and what if any consolation they will offer to help make this right.

 

 

November 5th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

The Battle to Own Cyber Monday

By Jenni Gilbert Adjali, resident ml+p shopaholic

Ah, Cyber Monday.  The online shopping event of the year.  It’s the Superbowl.  The Oscars.  The World Series.  It’s what we’ve all been training…err… saving for.

 

This year more companies tried to get in on the cyber sales game, jostling for position in our inboxes with more outrageous offers than ever before.  Many used the tried and tested language of sales, while others branched out into new, unexplored territory.  But when all was said and done, who won the Cyber Monday Messaging battle?  We broke down our picks and pans into three categories:  the Challengers, the Marketing Gamers, and the Left Fielders.

 

The Challengers.  The companies who encouraged the shopaholic in all of us.  Those who pushed us to our shopping limits, demanding that we be available at all hours for “flash sales” and “lightning deals”.  These are the communicators that instilled a true sense of urgency, bringing to life what Cyber Monday is all about:  being one of the lucky few to get the best darn deal on the internet.  Some of our favorites:

 

  • Amazon.  The online behemoth won us over with their signature “Lightning Deals”—each one a call to action, challenging us to ignore the tempation of food, sleep, and family and to instead focus on that ticking clock, counting down to the crucial deal window.
  • Baublebar.  This little jewelry company understands us.  They know how much we love to shop.  They know we just need a little incentive.  Their emails were clear and to the point:  “Spend more, save more”.  Cha-ching!

  • Urban Outfitters.  Cyber Monday is the online shopper’s Superbowl, and Urban Outfitters maintained the purity of the game.  Their email subject line had us nodding our heads and whipping out our credit cards:  “There’s no such thing as Cyber Tuesday – Shop NOW!”
  • Gilt Groupe.  The Gilt Freefall 5 minute sale language got our pulses racing and imbibed the true spirit of Cyber Monday.  Our one complaint:  the word “doorbuster”.  Cyber Monday is a sales event that deserves its own lexicon, not brick and mortar language borrowed from Black Friday.

 

 

Marketing Gamers.  These companies had a sale on Cyber Monday, but they didn’t have a Cyber Monday sale. They  walked the walk—sales and deals galore—but they didn’t talk the talk.  They played marketing games but didn’t use language that appealed to the urgent essence of Cyber Monday.  They appealed to us, but they didn’t stand out from the crowd because their communication was underwhelming or caused Expectation Gap (created when language overpromises and a product—or sale, in this case—underdelivers).  Some disappointments:

 

  • Ebates.  It is possible to have too much of a good thing.  Ebates, the online cash back deal site, sent too many emails with too much information.  On Cyber Monday you need to grab our attention quickly—we are, after all, busy shopping.

  • CB2.  Crate and Barrel’s younger, trendier sister store promised “one day. two great offers.”  Caution:  Expectation Gap!  When we’re getting a big, bold deal in our inbox every few minutes, a 15% off promo with free shipping seems like a drop in the bucket.
  • Bluefly.  This online fashion retailer offered a great deal, but their approach was off.  We want a thrill.  A challenge.  A sense of urgency.  Their blanket discount on every item was nice, but didn’t get our hearts racing.

Left Fielders.  The companies that tried something new.  The ones that broke the mold.  The ones that still have us shaking our heads and asking, “what were they thinking?”  Our biggest head-scratchers:

 

  • Lincoln Center.  Not everyone has permission to get in on Cyber Monday, and Lincoln Center proves that.  It’s a noble effort, but somehow it just feels wrong.

 

  • PRSA (Public Relations Society of America).  Another organization trying to get in on the action, PRSA offered new members special extras for joining this week.  We all like a good deal, but riding the Cyber Monday wave can only take you so far.

 

Although the main event is over, the deals keep rolling in.  Companies continue to ply us with “Cyber Week” offers and extensions of Monday’s promotions.  But those of us that play the game aren’t deterred.  After all, this is just practice… and next Cyber Monday is only 362 days away.

 

November 29th, 2012 blog No Comments

Hurricane Communications: Fact vs. Compassion

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, email inboxes all over the East Coast have been overwhelmed by businesses, organizations, and local authorities looking to “get it right” with their disaster communication. Customers are having fees waived and getting their commutes strategized.  Businesses are reaching out to help the communities where they operate.  All in all, there’s a lot of care and concern coming from all directions.

But that begs the question:  What do customers want to hear in the wake of a disaster like this?

When it comes to the businesses and organizations they interact with every day, some play a bigger part in people’s lives than others.  Those affected expect one thing from their favorite online clothing retailers, and something else from companies that provide cold, hard necessities like transit authorities or the power company. It stands to reason that for the former, customers want a little more compassion and love in the way they frame their communication ….from the latter: a few more answers.

Who needed to communicate with facts

With city services, customers want to hear accurate information in a timely manner. There is no relationship to be nurtured, no personalized notes—just straightforward information for the commuter who wanted to know if he’d be able to get to work on Monday, and maybe have a hot shower on the way.

MTA:  They concentrated on letting commuters know exactly when they would be able to travel on various lines.  Their communications were to the point.  Just the facts.  No fluff.

“It’s my goal that every day, we’re going to bring back more and more service. We will be having service into Penn Station on the Main Line, the Ronkonkoma Line, we also have service continuing from Brooklyn to Jamaica as well. And finally, on the Port Washington Line, we’re going to have service from Great Neck into Penn Station” – MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota

How did they do:  They gave the customers exactly what they wanted: the facts, in bucket-loads, leading the media to describe their efforts as “heroic”. The MTA message reads as a checklist of improving services. Where vague assertions were made, such as “It’s my goal…to bring back more and more service”, these were followed by evidence that made them seem credible.

ConEd:  Assured customers they were working tirelessly, tried to manage expectations, and attempted to give accurate timing on when power would be restored.

“Con Edison today will begin the process of restoring power to mid- and Lower Manhattan following repairs to its East 14th Street substation. We will continue working through the weekend reinforcing our underground systems and repowering critical transmission lines needed for reliability.” – Con Edison Statement

How did they do:  No matter how much information you give, when it comes to one of the necessities of modern life it is never enough. Framing doesn’t help either.  Customers really don’t care that you are “working through the weekend” when they are sitting in darkness. Even though Con Ed tried to limit expectations as early as possible, telling customers in areas with overhead lines that restoration of power “could take at least a week”, this didn’t stop them being roundly slammed by the media for their tardiness. NY Governor Cuomo summed these towering expectations up on Monday, saying that “people should be getting information… I think that utility companies have not performed adequately”.

Who needed to communicate with compassion

Retailers and service providers play a much bigger role in the personal side of people’s lives.  People chose to have a relationship with these companies—to buy their shoes from them or to insure their homes and cars through them.  Now, they’re in this together.  Customers expect a more personalized approach to what is, at its core, a very personal situation.

Birchbox:  A subscription based grooming products company gave customers more than the very standard “our shipping will be delayed” email.

“We are so thankful to have you as a customer and look forward to getting back up and running so we can deliver on our service promise to you.” – Birchbox Customer Team

How did they do:  Birchbox, might have pushed the envelope of credibility by writing to every one of their customers telling them how thankful they were to have them, but this was balanced by a strong and successful human tone to their messaging.  When they went on to say that staffers who were able were “working from home” to continue to provide service throughout the blackout, they made their business personal.

Geico: Many feel like insurance companies are always looking for ways to avoid payouts, or drag out claims. Geico got an early jump on this natural disaster.

“We realize our most important responsibility to our policyholders following a loss is to ensure the claim settlement process is quick and easy. We are busy preparing to do just that; teams of GEICO claim adjusters have deployed along the projected storm path, and they will remain in affected areas until they have resolved every hurricane-related claim.” Tony Nicely, Geico Chairman

How did they do:  By letting customers know they were ready and waiting to go above and beyond in helping submit their claims, they positioned themselves as a company to rely on.  They had already taken actions to make the lives of those affected easier—even before the storm hit.  While all insurance companies could have been taking similar actions, talking about it made all the difference.  They had every customers’ back, and they let them know it.

JetBlue:  Not only did the airline assure customers how much they personally felt for those affected, they brought the message back home by letting them know JetBlue was caring for their employees first.

“Our hearts go out to the millions affected by this far-reaching devastation…Within JetBlue, we are supporting the crewmembers who have lost everything through our own internal fund first, in order to keep the public funds dedicated to our communities at large.” – Dave Barger, JetBlue President and CEO

How did they do:  JetBlue opened with a line so emotive it might have made customers’ skeptic nerve twitch–and in any other situation it would likely be seen as “too much”.  But here, it works.  When they say they will divert funds to look after their own team members, people hear, “We’re a responsible and caring company doing the right thing.”

In a Natural Disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the kind of service you deliver and the types of products you provide help dictate how you should communicate. Retailers and businesses in crowded marketplaces—those who must actively compete for customer loyalty—need to reinforce their relationships with those customers.  On the other hand, companies and organizations providing commodities are expected to provide answers and information quickly, efficiently, and frequently, because there’s nothing worse than being left in the dark.

November 7th, 2012 blog No Comments

Language Moments of 2012

It’s that time of year, and after last year’s Language Moments of 2011, the bar has been raised again. From “Malarkey” to “Binders full of women” – this has been a great year for golden language moments.

Here is our take on the good, the bad, and the ugly language used in 2012 – with highly non-scientific reactions from the right and the left.  Positive scores are good.  Negative scores are bad.

 

Let us know which words you liked, which you didn’t, and if there were any we missed. Enjoy!

December 18th, 2012 blog 3 Comments

Michael Maslansky Oticon Presentation – Copenhagen

Michael Maslansky presented to Oticon’s 5th International Conference in Copenhagen earlier this year.

Michael laid out a practical approach to using the Language of Trust to effectively address some of the toughest questions hearing care patients face, and manage some of the hearing care industry’s most common and difficult communication challenges.

The video of Michael’s address can be seen here.

 

Michael Maslansky at Oticon

 

November 20th, 2012 blog, news No Comments

Instant Response on your Smartphone

Last week we brought our Instant Response technology to PRWeek‘s Power to the People. It was billed as an interactive conference for a transparent age, with audiences using our innovative new Smartphone Web App, created by SquareOff, to register their moment-to-moment responses to speakers.

 

 

PRWeek Power to the People Instant Response

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We tracked audience responses to debates on Ethical Risk in PR, and concepts pitched to an audience of PR professionals in ‘The Battle of the Big Ideas’. We analyzed how those with more or less industry experience reacted to different themes, with Michael Maslansky giving feedback to audiences on how we tracked their responses. Participants were given a new level of event interactivity, and saw the results of this displayed in real-time:

 

“Delegates are constantly frustrated by conferences where they are ‘talked at’ all day and can’t interact with the content. The use of dial technology at PRWeek’s Power to the People event was an extremely effective way to engage our delegates in the content and to keep them interested throughout sessions.” - Steve Barrett, Editor-in-chief, PRWeek

“The SquareOff technology let every member of the audience participate in our session by reacting in real-time to each of the speakers. By using their smartphones they could give their moment-by-moment reactions and see how everyone else in the room was reacting as well. SquareOff is a great technology to create an interactive live event.” - Dave Senay, President and CEO, Fleishman-Hillard

With this new technology, your everyday Smartphone is turned into your personal Instant Response dial. We look forward to utilizing this exciting new advancement in audience response at future events, and in other innovative ways in the future. Watch this space.

November 26th, 2012 blog, news, Uncategorized No Comments

Patagonia’s Sanctimonious Cyber Monday

By Jenn Dahm

Patagonia certainly managed to stand out from other Cyber Monday ads by asking customers NOT to buy their top selling jacket. Their email manifesto reads as follows:

 

As a professional language strategist with years of market research experience, I would give Patagonia one simple piece of communication advice: cut the crap.  If you’re serious about saving the earth, don’t rely on self-righteous, reverse psychology. Do something.  Pull the jacket off virtual shelves for Cyber Monday.  Sell it, but for a higher price and use the money to offset the environmental costs. Donate a portion of profits to an environmental charity.

 

Your mother was right, “actions speak louder than words.”  Patagonia’s lofty rhetoric denouncing “our culture of consumption” doesn’t match the reality that it’s still cashing in on Cyber Monday.

November 27th, 2012 blog No Comments

“I respectfully decline”: The Language of Declining Holiday Parties

By Margaret Files

Eggnog

The holiday season is upon us, and that often means an inundation of invitations to holiday parties. In the case of some, you may just not have the time in your schedule to attend.  You may just need a night off to put your feet up and work on your online Christmas shopping. You may have seen that the invitation list comes replete with those guys who sidle up to you every year with a grin and a sprig of mistletoe.

 

As professional language strategists, we decided to share our recommendations for politely declining an invitation, based on our four principles of credible communication:

 

Be Personal: Pick up the phone if you can, or at least send a brief explanatory message instead of just checking “no” on an e-vite RSVP.  The personal touch goes a long way to making the host feel that their invitation was carefully considered and regretfully declined.

 

Be Plainspoken: As soon as you know you’re going to decline the invitation, get to the point and make a clean break of it.  “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make it…” is always a good start.  Don’t leave the host with a wishy-washy “maybe.” That means you’re waiting for a better offer, and they know it.

 

Be Plausible: Honesty is always the best policy.  If you have a prior commitment, just say so.  But if you have to make up an excuse, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t say you’re bedridden with pneumonia when “I’m getting over a cold” will do.  That way, when incriminating Facebook photos emerge of you knocking back eggnog at another bash, you can at least be somewhat convincing when you claim you suddenly felt better.

 

Be Positive: Find a way to end on an upbeat note.  Maybe suggest another time that you and the party’s host could meet up – but only if you genuinely want to, lest you find yourself consulting these invitation-declining tips again a few weeks down the line.  Otherwise, you can say something complimentary about how much fun you’re sure you’ll be missing out on, or how you wish you could be there to sample their famous fruitcake.

 

 

 

December 10th, 2012 blog No Comments

Deft Apology, Gangnam Style

It recently emerged that PSY, the South Korean pop-star of Gangnam Style-fame, took part in an anti-American rally in Korea in 2004 where he sang some downright awful things about killing “Yankees.”

Leaving aside our personal feelings on these odious comments, PSY and his handlers faced a serious reputational hurdle.  How’d they respond?  In short, very well.  The below statement seems genuinely personal and apologetic.  It also put the statements in context without seeming to try to downplay the response.

We (reluctantly) tip our hat.

 

APOLOGY

“As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I featured on in question from eight years ago—was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.

I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months—including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them—and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology. While it’s important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music, I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. I have learned that thru music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology.”

 

December 11th, 2012 blog No Comments

Former NFL Commissioner Verbally Dazzles Us

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has rescinded punishments against players in the New Orleans Saints bounty case. In issuing his decision, Tagliabue threw us a bit of a verbal riddle. Here’s how we think it played out:

 
The Advice:

“Just issue an official sounding and completely nonsensical statement and stun your audience into confused silence…” – Communications Advisor

The Results:

“Unlike Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects… My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization” – Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue

If you can break through the verbiage and tell us what they meant, there’s a large cash prize in it for you*

*Not really

December 12th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

The iPhone Line: Language to Lose and Language to Use

By Sara Snedeker

I was headed out to the Apple Store last weekend to buy a new iPhone 5 when I heard a big box electronics retailer was offering $50 off on all smartphones.   I decided to change course.  Big mistake.

Unfortunately, a deceptively long line combined with rude customer service reps left me vowing to never shop there again.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will share with you some of what our work – and personal experience – has taught us about how NOT to treat your customers.

 

 

Basically, don’t be rude.  But also keep in mind that just directing a customer to a line can sound dismissive and condescending.  No one likes to wait, but I will appreciate if you let me know you sympathize and give me an estimate of how long it will be, especially if the line appears shorter than it really is.

 

 

Not surprisingly, turning customers away isn’t a great business decision.  When a customer walks into your store, you should do whatever you can to help them.  If you can’t pull more resources to shorten the line and a customer isn’t interested in waiting, point them to specific, alternative options.

 

 

No matter how dumb a customer might seem, don’t belittle them to a fellow employee or another customer.  It just looks bad.  In fact, never let a customer hear you talking about another customer.

 

 

Don’t shoo the customer away while he or she is packing up, even if there’s a line of people waiting.  It may sound cliché, but if everyone else says “thank you” and you don’t, the message you’re sending to customers is “we don’t appreciate your business.”

The bottom line: with stores more crowded than ever holiday season, consumers can choose to make their purchases at any number of retailers.  You can have a winning marketing campaign and great prices… but if your employee’s don’t communicate in a way that demonstrates they value your customers, you better believe they’ll take their business elsewhere.

 

December 21st, 2012 blog No Comments

Is my call really important to you?

By Katie Cronen

While attempting to sort out a hotel reservation over the phone, I recently spent a fair amount of time on hold, that special brand of waiting room.  As the first robot operator I “spoke to” funneled me into a new holding pattern, somewhere amidst the din of soft rock that began playing I realized many companies could probably benefit from a little language strategy in this department.

 

Even if your lines are swamped and your customer is destined to wait upwards of 10 minutes to speak to a “live representative,” I think there are a few language dos and don’ts that can make the difference between a customer who’s annoyed, but patient and one who hangs up in a huff before dialing your competitor.

 

When I first call…

  • Don’t tell me my call is important to you.  If it were that important, I wouldn’t be waiting on hold.  It’s that simple.
  • Do tell me you’re working to put me in touch with someone who can help as quickly as possible—and bonus points if you can give me an estimate of how long that will take.

 

When I’m on hold…

  • Don’t keep me captive on your line listening to ads for how great your company is.  Loud music is one thing, but pushy promotions can make you sound like a hypocrite in this context.  If you were that great, I probably wouldn’t be calling you in the first place.
  • Do give me the option to hold my place in line, hang up and receive a call from you when a representative is available.  At least then I feel like I have a choice in the matter as my neck muscles begin to fatigue.

 

When someone finally does pick up…

  • Don’t make me repeat my story over and over again to each person I meet.  If you have to switch me from department to department, I want to feel like we’re making progress, not like I keep starting from scratch.
  • Do acknowledge the time I’ve spent waiting in a human, personal tone, like “Hey Ms. Cronen, I really appreciate you waiting so long – and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get to you sooner.”  It will diffuse any pent-up frustration I have and help us both focus on why I actually called in the first place.

 

December 12th, 2012 blog No Comments

Big News from Zipcar

Earlier today, Zipcar announced it was being acquired by the Avis Budget Group.  If you’re not familiar with Zipcar, they’re the company that brought us easy, convenient, hourly car rental at a price that’s truly affordable.  Rarely do I find emails like this even worth reading, much less informative, but Zipcar’s announcement was surprisingly well done: short, concise, and focused on the most important person in the world…me!  Read my take below and let me know whether you agree.

 

 

January 2nd, 2013 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Michael Maslansky talks Grover Norquist on The Joy Behar Show

 

 

January 3rd, 2013 blog, news, Television No Comments

Subway asks customers not to take it out and measure, internet’s response predictable

By Chris Manley

 

 

Here’s one for the face-palm archives: Subway customer Matt Crosby posts a photo of an 11-inch footlong sandwich to Subway’s facebook page. The internet does what it does: turn anything quick, easy, and funny into a worldwide meme, spurring sandwich eaters the world over to take their tape measures to Subway and post similar pictures dressed up with cartoonish internet faux-outrage. It gets picked up by some relatively well-known sites, such as HuffPo, Gawker, and Buzzfeed.

 

The fast food industry may get a lot of customers, but it gets no love from the media. If they’re not making America’s kids fat, they’re speaking out against gay marriage. So in the grand scheme of things, you’d hope Subway would recognize this for some pretty merciful fun at their expense and respond with something equally fun—“Free One-Inch Piece of Bread with Every Footlong! Now through February!”… etc.

 

Unfortunately, it looks like the fun people were out for drinks, or cupcakes and the lawyers took the call.  Subway’s response (which they have since taken down, but it hardly matters):

 

“With regards to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, ‘SUBWAY FOOTLONG’ is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway® Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length. The length of the bread baked in the restaurant cannot be assured each time as the proofing process may vary slightly each time in the restaurant.”

We see this kind of knee-jerk response from companies all the time. “They have a problem with us! They’re making FUN of us! Quick, get the law guns!” It’s usually the absolutely wrong thing to do, and it was here, for Subway. By calling out “footlong” as a trademarked phrase they’re giving it more weight and importance, not less. Hell, they even capitalized it—the typographical equivalent of neon lights.  The next sentence goes on to focus on what they can’t do: assure length of something that has a name that references specific length.

 

Here, for free, out of the goodness of my heart, are three alternate responses. Would the lawyers like them? Probably not. But they respond in a tone that fits the problem, and focus on the things people like about Subway, instead of on what Subway can’t do.

 

“It’s not the size of the sandwich that counts, it’s how you use it.”

“Given the choice between bread that’s baked fresh in our restaurants every day, and bread that’s all mechanically accurate, we opt for the former.”

“We promise to cram 2 feet of flavor into a foot of bread. Sometimes we do even better. You’re welcome.”

You’re welcome, Subway.

January 22nd, 2013 blog 1 Comment

Star Wars geeks in the White House

…..pulling it off with style.

This story starts with a pledge. The White House agreed to officially respond to any petition which could gain more then 25,000 signatures in 30 days. That sounds like a challenge.

 

A collection of Star Wars fans responded by posting a petition to build a real-life Death Star (based on a build cost estimate laid out by Lehigh University students) by the year 2016. And they got 34,435 people to agree with them.

 

Now, the White House could have filed this away in the “we’ll get around to responding sometime” box. Instead, they grabbed the opportunity to charm the socks off geeks around the world with the beautifully serious, and reference-laden response below. Who says government can’t have personality?

 

This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For

By Paul Shawcross

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

 

However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs – one wielding a laser – roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White Housescience fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

 

Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, we commend you. Now where can we sign the petition for building a time-travelling DeLorean?

January 15th, 2013 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

What’s in a Name? Re-naming the “Fiscal Cliff”

By Larry Moscow & Patrick Buckley

What’s in a name? Sometimes everything.

Take the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The name attached to the issue is conjuring the wrong kind of discussion. Each day, as we move closer to the January 1 deadline, the headlines and sound bites continue to signal catastrophe. From cataclysmic spending cuts to massive tax increases to nightmarish economic scenarios, the language couldn’t be more fatalistic.

And now that President Obama is back in town and Speaker Boehner lies in wait in Ohio, the fear is that Washington will become captive to its own language. Some commentators have pointed out the term “fiscal cliff,” popularized by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, might be obscuring what’s at stake. Very few, however, have noted that the name itself actually makes reaching a deal more difficult. The fact is this extreme rhetoric makes it nearly impossible to take a sober assessment of the situation and only serves to turn off an already disillusioned public.

Advocates of compromise on both sides of the aisle can do better. In fact, they would do well to re-brand the current debate in a way that opens dialogue and public engagement, not shuts it down. We recommend talking about the country facing a “fiscal reset” if compromise isn’t reached.

First, this term is more accurate. While failing to reach compromise will have a negative impact on credit ratings and the economic strength of public programs, the impact would neither be as catastrophic or permanent as the cliff imagery suggestions. With a reset, there are serious, negative consequences: You have to start over. But there are also opportunities: You get to start over. See what a difference one word makes?

But this goes beyond accuracy. Labeling the current debate a “fiscal reset” could actually be productive. It would set up the issues facing lawmakers in a way that acknowledges the need for change and starts us on the road to compromise. Instead of focusing on what’s as stake if we fail to come to some agreement on what to do, we could focus on the positive – the reset – that is in order to strengthen the country’s economic position.

Changing the language around the issue wouldn’t alter the automatic cuts or tax increases that would kick in if a compromise isn’t reached. But it would rewrite the usual Washington script in a way that’s far more amenable to actual conversation. And, by making the issues at hand less fatal it would help draw in the public.

By positioning the situation as a reset, we could now look at the three main policy areas through a very different lens.

1) Taxes. Many Americans believe it’s time for Congress and the administration to hit the reset button when it comes to the US tax code. But lawmakers seem firmly locked into their positions. And the idea that we’re running off a cliff hasn’t changed that. Now imagine if we were talking about the terms of a reset. No doubt there’d continue to be widely divergent views and the desire to dig in heels, but both sides would be entering the discussion having first acknowledged the need to reset things.

2) Entitlements. Whatever you may think of entitlement programs for the old and poor the math no longer works out. There are simply too few workers to support the growing number of retirees, let alone the rest of the government benefits. So what to do about it? While the principals are embroiled in negations on the particulars, average Americans have their voices reduced to a yes or no: do you support entitlements that are going to drive us over the edge or not? Switching an entitlement cliff for an entitlement reset changes the conversation.

3) Defense spending. As many defense analysts have pointed out, our current military is structured based on plans and decisions made decades ago in a wildly different world. It may now be time to have a debate about whether the structure—let along that level—of spending makes sense. we’re trying to avoid the need for the discussion. A reset implies an opportunity to have it. By changing the way we talk about the automatic spending cuts we could setup a situation where those conversations could more readily take place.

As the New Year approaches, a legitimate worry is that policy makers will now produce a “least of” short-term plan that narrowly averts the “crisis.” By reframing this whole debate around the need to “readjust” and “recalibrate,” we can get rid of the finger pointing and childish games. Rather than jumping off a cliff, our leaders would be forced to reset our national agenda and finally attend to the people’s business.

January 15th, 2013 blog No Comments

Michael Maslansky on Coca-Cola health campaign

Michael Maslansky joins FOX Business, Money with Melissa Francis, to discuss the effectiveness of Coca-Cola’s recent health campaign targeting obesity.

 

January 17th, 2013 blog, news, Television No Comments

A new American? American Airlines’ new positioning

 

Becoming a new American?  American Airline’s new rebrand may make it sound like they are entering the immigration debate.  But in fact that’s just their new slogan.  Somehow we doubt this kind of confusion was what they were going for.

 

 

 

January 17th, 2013 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Oreo’s twitter explosion and the importance of brand identity

By Clint Sievers

You may have heard that the lights went out at the Super Bowl the other day.  You may have also heard that Oreo stole the show with this tweet.  Some people are even asking whether the tweet’s wide exposure heralds a new era in social media advertising.

 

 

The fact is, twitter and other social media sites are still a niche market for advertisers.  Everyone is still trying to figure out how to use social media to complement or replace traditional media, and that leads to uneven adoption.

 

But what the Oreo ad really did was highlight the importance of a consistent messaging strategy.  Without a culture that encourages bold ideas and a certain tolerance for risk, this ad wouldn’t have happened, and everyone would be talking about Oreo’s $3.8 million flop of an ad.  Oreo and its ad agency were prepared to take advantage of anything unusual that happened on Sunday night, and when the blackout gave them an opportunity, they seized it.  Can anyone imagine Lincoln, sorry, the Lincoln Motor Company, pulling off a similar coup?

 

Companies today need to know who they are and what they stand for at all times, and in all situations.  Employees from the front lines to the boardroom need to be onboard with the brand’s strategy and identity.  It can mean the difference between putting a “me-too” hashtag on your commercial and generating real buzz and engagement.

February 5th, 2013 blog, insights, Uncategorized No Comments

Valentine Gift Decoder: it’s what your gift says that matters.

By Jennifer Gilbert Adjali

It’s finally upon us.  That fluffy pink and red holiday, decorated with hearts, cupids, and teddy bears.  That most symbolic of days for couples everywhere.  And the day that strikes fear into the hearts of those who have to face the inevitable question:  what do I get my Valentine?

 

If you were considering a stop at Duane Reade or Target on the way home from work on Thursday, think again.  Valentine’s Day shopping should not be taken lightly.  That’s because each gift you give tells a story.  It’s a symbol of something more.  It has a hidden message and meaning which—until now—was only known to your recipient.  We’re here to help. To uncover the secrets of these symbols. To decode the hidden meaning behind your gift and help you understand why some will fail, and others will soar.  Because it’s not what you gift… it’s what your gift says that matters.

 

Step One:  Identify your audience.  Are you in:  (a) a brand new relationship, (b) a mature, happy relationship, or (c) a rocky relationship—one that might need some extra work this Valentine’s day?

 

Step Two:  Use the Gift Decoder to match your gift options with your target audience.

 

Step Three:  Choose the gift option that produces the desired result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 12th, 2013 blog, insights No Comments

Connecting Before the Storm: The new language of utility communications, post-Sandy.

Written by Thayer Fox and Patrick Buckley for Public Utilities Fortnightly’s Spark

 

 

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, utilities are already facing huge pressure to create smarter energy delivery and stronger infrastructure, all while keeping prices down.

But as Rahm Emmanuel famously said four years ago in the wake of the financial superstorm, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” It’s important for utilities to understand that the extreme weather last fall not only underscores the need for operational improvements, it also introduces profound implications for how utilities communicate.

This goes way beyond the concept that utilities must communicate better during storms. This is about changing the way they communicate long after power is restored and the visible work ends. It’s about a new language – a comprehensive shift in how and when utilities reach customers, the words they use, and the way they frame the conversation. It’s an opportunity that utilities should embrace.

The need for this shift stems from the fact that customers don’t value the work utilities do each day. They take it for granted because energy is by nature a behind-the-scenes business. This is an industry of engineers who solve problems and don’t boast.

When everything is running smoothly most utilities see no need to communicate. The lights go on, and customers don’t think much about how or why. But that’s changing with violent weather. Everyone thinks about their electricity when a major storm knocks it out. Everyone asks questions. And in response utilities are playing catch-up to rebuild a positive dialogue with customers.

These same customers who ask the tough questions when their power is out don’t think of all the proactive work the industry does to keep homes, schools and hospitals up and running during normal weather. This is because no one is telling them about it. Utilities need to tell that story to regain public support and boost their perceived value. And they need a new language to tell it.

So how should utilities define this new language? While each utility is unique, the new language should embrace three principals: it should be active, consistent and positive.

Active Engagement
Active means establishing a deeper dialogue. Many utilities have started doing this through efficiency tips and tools. This type of proactive outreach must extend to the actual work utilities do every day. It must signal to customers that for utilities, the work never stops.  As an example, utilities should highlight the role they’re taking in researching innovative ways to improve a community’s power supply.

In times of crisis, active means anticipating instead of responding. After a storm the papers flood with stories of customer complaints and angry mayors. And utilities mostly react. This dynamic must change to one where utilities actively push solutions and engage communities before their leaders come calling. An active position tells customers that their utility doesn’t just pop up each time a power line goes down or rates need adjustment. If nothing else, customers should know this: their utility is dedicated to helping protect the people of the towns and cities in its territory.

Consistent Messaging
Consistent means a steady drumbeat. It also means a lexicon that’s understood and embraced by the entire organization.

This is critical for utilities that hope to break through the clutter. Because most regulated utilities have tight marketing budgets, they’ll never be able to reach consumers like a major marketer. So they must build a positive foundation. They must prime the conversation because when disaster strikes, customers will search the Internet for information about it, talk to their friends and family, and vent on social networks. And if a utility hasn’t laid the groundwork, the conversation will be entirely defined on customers’ terms.

To lay the foundation, all utility personnel must deliver the same message – from linemen, to customer service reps, to the CEO. It’s not easy, but it gives utilities a fighting chance.

Positive Future
Finally, it’s about staying positive. In the context of violent weather, positive really means focusing on the future. Utilities can’t rest on their laurels. Customers want to hear visions for the future and what a utility is doing every day to make it happen. This is tough because many times the natural gaze of a utility is backwards. Rate cases are almost always about recovery costs, based on earlier test periods. Regardless, utilities have to find future-focused messages that people can get behind and deliver.

When customers ask “what happened?” utilities must remember that they’re actually asking “what will you do about it?” And only when customers feel their utility is charting a better, more positive path to the future will they believe that utility is a competent manager of the energy they need to run their lives.

Changing utility communication habits won’t be easy. Utility executives are a heads-down, hard-working crew. But if utilities are going to continue to operate as is, change needs to occur on many fronts. One of the most essential changes, and possibly the easiest one to make, is how they communicate.

February 27th, 2013 blog, insights 1 Comment

Director of Finance and Operations

maslansky + partners, a language strategy and research consultancy, is seeking a Director of Finance and Operations.   We are looking for someone to play a central role on our leadership team as we pursue significant growth opportunities.

The Director of Finance and Operations will work closely with the CEO to manage the business and drive execution on key strategic and tactical initiatives.  We are looking for someone with a strong agency finance background, an entrepreneurial spirit, the demonstrated ability to think   and act strategically, and a track record of effectively managing projects and people.   As our leadership team focuses on developing new clients and delivering exceptional advice, the Director of Finance and Operations will run “the business of the business.”

Who we are

Our firm is guided by the simple idea that it’s not what you SAY that matters, it’s what they HEAR. We believe in the power of words and language to drive successful PR, marketing, and advocacy efforts. We use research to advise our clients on what to say, what not to say, and why it matters.

Though small, we have a large impact. We work on serious communication challenges for Fortune 500 companies, trade associations, non-profits, and public policy groups around the country and the world.

  • We are language strategists – we bring an analytical approach to developing effective messages and treat it as a strategic discipline
  • We are researchers – we conduct qualitative and quantitative research to understand how audiences respond to different approaches, language and strategy
  • We are writers – we help clients engage and persuade their audiences by identifying language that resonates emotionally
  • We are empathetic – we are able to see the world from a variety of different perspectives, including those of our clients and of their audiences
  • We are unsatisfied – we believe things can be done better, we challenge assumptions, and we always ask “why?”

What you’ll do

  • Lead our finance function
    • Work closely with our CEO, in-house project teams and off-site accounting team to manage the business finances.
    • Help us identify and implement more effective and cost-effective approaches to running our business.
  • Be an integral part of our firm’s growth strategy
    • Help us to evaluate and execute new business opportunities.
  • Improve and manage important aspects of our firm’s operations
    • Manage our media, field operations, finance and IT functions
    • Assist project teams with the development of new business proposals and evaluation and analysis of financial results of project engagements
    • Coordinate project staffing and utilization on project engagements
    • Lead others in execution of special initiatives across the organizations
    • Mentor, inspire and motivate staff and identify better training and staff development programs.

What you’ll bring


  • BA and 10+ years’ experience in finance and accounting, including agency finance experience.
  • Demonstrable experience in driving and leading change initiatives, improving operations or processes and finding better ways to operate.
  • A desire to enthusiastically take ownership of new initiatives and the ability to keep existing operations running at the same time.
  • Strong communication skills and a clear point of view.
  • The ability to handle tight deadlines and multi-tasking – and still have fun

The position includes all the standards like competitive compensation, health, vision, and dental insurance, paid time off, bonuses, 401k plans.  Oh… and free lunch on Mondays!

To apply for the position, please email resume & cover letter to: lblock@maslansky.com. (Please include your last name in the subject line)

July 3rd, 2013 careers No Comments

The Demise of “Compromise”

By Jenn Dahm

“There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower 

Compromise is dead.  Not just the concept.  The articulation of the word “compromise” no longer resonates with the American public.  No matter where people stand on the issue of sequestration (love it, leave it, don’t really know what the heck even happened), the process has left people with the sense that if you have to reach an agreement wherein all parties are satisfied, nothing will get done.

I saw this consistently talking to the general population of good ole ‘Mericans in four cities across the country just this week. People’s perceptions, and as a result how they hear your message, change fast. This is a friendly reminder to refresh your language strategy folks.

March 8th, 2013 blog No Comments

Messaging for the Soda Ban: Emotion, not Statistics

By Margaret Files

 

Tomorrow, the long-awaited (or, some might say, long-dreaded) soda ban was supposed to go into effect across New York City.  At the last minute, a judge has invalidated the ban, which would limit the sizes of sugary beverages sold in New York City.  Time will tell whether a legal battle ensues and whether the law will ultimately be enforced.  But if Mayor Bloomberg intends to continue pushing for the ban, he should consider making some changes to his language strategy to garner more public support.

When the law was first proposed last summer, opponents of the ban created a campaign that positions “Nanny Bloomberg” as a Big Brother who wants to take away consumers’ right to consume what they please.  A typical ad, frequently glimpsed on the back of beverage delivery trucks, reads “Don’t let bureaucrats tell you what size beverage to buy.”  This language strikes a nerve, and effectively creates an “us against them” mentality that allows beverage providers to position themselves as the consumers’ ally.

In light of this opposition, Mayor Bloomberg and his supporters have been forced to repeatedly defend the ban.  Frequently, they cite statistics about the rising prevalence of obesity and its accompanying health problems, and argue the need to combat it with public health policy.  But the fact is that Bloomberg’s defense tries to take a logical approach—while, thanks in part to the opposition campaign, many New Yorkers view the issue through an emotional lens.

 

 

If Mayor Bloomberg wants his message to break through, he needs to stop throwing around empty statistics, and meet his critics where they’re coming from.  If their fear is that the ban infringes on their personal freedom, the mayor and his allies must address that fear head-on.  A consistent message that this law regulates businesses, not consumers could be more effective in building public support—or at least minimizing opposition.  Consumers won’t even consider listening to the facts and figures until the Mayor can address their gut-level, emotional concerns.

It may be too late for a new messaging strategy to make a difference in court, but Mayor Bloomberg may still have a chance to win in the court of public opinion.

March 11th, 2013 blog 1 Comment

Lululemon frames yoga pant recall as “product shortage” – language to use or lose?

By Jennifer Gilbert Adjali

 

Late yesterday yogis everywhere collectively gasped as Lululemon Athletica announced a recall of their famous black Luon yoga pants.  It seems product that hit the shelves starting on March 1st has been showing a bit more of their customers than they’d like.

Lululemon, known for being a customer-centric brand, released a lengthy FAQ about the oh-so-sheer yoga gear on their site.  This tome walks us through not just the details of the recall, but also the timeline, the company’s decision-making process, and next steps.  It is, on the whole an incredibly informative and transparent piece of communication.  But could it be better?

 

What follows is a message analysis we call LOFT, breaking down their communication into its key parts:  Lexicon (the words they use), Order (the way they tell the story), Frame (the lens they communicate through), and Tone (the emotion they evoke through their message).

 

LOFT Analysis

 

Lexicon:  4 out of 5.  Lululemon does a good job of using words that work.  Product was removed because it “falls short of our very high standards” and they “are committed to providing the highest quality of products”.  They tell us they will not resume production and shipment of the product until the problem is “addressed and corrected.”  They also refer to customers as “guests” throughout, invoking a feeling of hospitality.

Order:  2 out of 5.  Here we lose a lot of momentum.  They start strong with a clear description of the issue and which items are affected, but then they start building their internal story (when they knew about the issue, what they did first, what caused the problem, etc.) before addressing the real concern:  what the heck do I do with my see-through pants?  They walk through irrelevant information—such as the component materials in Luon fabric—before relevant information—like how to return affected merchandise.  Much skimming and scrolling is required before consumers’ questions are answered.  As a recent Lululemon shopper myself, I had to read the entire FAQ before I was confident I did not, in fact, own any see-through yoga gear.

 

Frame: 5 out of 5.  This framing hits the mark because it addresses the majority of concerned customers.  The FAQ headline says it all:

 

This creative framing (spin, anyone?) avoids calling this what it is:  a recall.  So why is this the right frame?  Given that the pants in question were only on the shelves for about two weeks, very few customers will actually be affected by this manufacturing snafu.  But because fully 17% of the women’s bottoms sold by Lululemon have been pulled from the stores and online, many more people searching for these yoga staples will be affected in the weeks and months to come.

 

Tone:  3 out of 5.  For the most part, their tone is dead-on.  Serious, concerned, and dedicated to fixing the problem.  What they gain in straightforwardness, however, they lose in warmth and empathy.  After all, finding out you had unknowingly worn see-through yoga pants would be a pretty emotional discovery. An actually apology worked into the FAQ would have gone a long way.

 

While Lululemon’s quick response to the recall was well worded, they confused the story by telling it in the wrong order, and missed an opportunity to strike an empathetic tone.  And although their FAQ was incredibly comprehensive, the sheer length (no pun intended) watered down their message.

 

But all that said, framing a product recall as a pant shortage was smart.  Now Lululemon fans everywhere just want to know when they can get their hands on these exclusive and limited black yoga pants.

March 19th, 2013 blog No Comments

Marilyn Chenoweth

Marilyn earned a Master’s degree in Communications from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s degree in English from Villanova University.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, she loves the smell of rain and a strong cup of coffee.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

Money Talks

By Sara Cott

Money talks in Washington – this time literally. The Washington Post recently reported that Organizing for Action, a nonprofit organization established to raise funds for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, is now responsible for Obama’s personal Twitter feed. While the President will continue to tweet occasionally (he signs his personal tweets “-bo”), Organizing for Action now runs @BarackObama on a daily basis. The account, which once functioned as Obama’s personal and campaign account, has nearly 29 million followers.

People are expressing concern that the account is becoming a mouthpiece for wealthy donors. Organizing for Action, as a “social welfare group,” is tax-exempt and can accept unlimited monetary contributions with limited transparency. Its fundraising efforts are targeted at wealthy individuals and corporations, with perks for top donors like quarterly OFA board meetings with the President, and now control over the most followed Twitter account among world leaders.

 

Organizing for Action Twitter

Ultra-wealthy donors have always had more access to the politically powerful.  The real problem here is that it makes the presidential Twitter account look deceptive. Twitter is understood to represent a direct voice from the author to the audience. Now the President’s mouthpiece is actually run by an independent organization. The account is under the President’s name, uses his photo and links to his personal website. While most people probably never assumed that Obama was on his Blackberry tweeting all day, they at least assumed the tweets matched his viewpoints and were written by White House staff. Now, Organizing for Action gets to speak for the President even though its tweets may not align with the President’s thoughts or positions.

 

People follow @BarackObama because they want a direct link to the President and his viewpoints. If Obama doesn’t want to lose followers, he should be careful about putting his donors’ money where his mouth is.

April 1st, 2013 blog No Comments

David Baynham

He holds a degree in English Literature from the University of Bristol in England, and specializes in bringing a language-driven approach to analyzing “big” data.

A dual-national hailing from both Australia and England, David moved to New York in order to take up his role at m+p’s NYC office.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

Meaghan Bresnahan

Meaghan can be found working in the DC office alongside her incredibly intellectual bro-workers. Never one to accept an answer or a solution at face value, she is constantly challenging herself and those around her to ask questions (“Is there more to life than Greek yogurt?”…. “What’s a glass ceiling?”). And to develop the right messages to answer them.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

The good and the bad of new hospital slogan, “Cheat Death”

By David Baynham

A North Carolina hospital recently announced a new slogan as part of a rebrand:

 

Cheat Death

The hospital says they hope to create a community health movement, shifting the conversation from curative to preventative care. The slogan certainly packs cut-through among a sea of generic healthcare focused messaging, but it isn’t the first time it’s been used in a health context. The advert for pomegranate drink POM Wonderful, below, was banned for over-promising on the ability to cheat death with its antioxidant powers:

 

 

It’s obviously hard to make a case that this latest example is any different in terms of misleading claims, but it’s still attention-grabbing, and funny right? The strategic reasons behind the change are also sound—preventative health means money, time and energy saved rather than spent on fixing issues in later life. It falls down, though, when it comes to the additional baggage that comes along with that phrase. “Cheat Death” suggests “getting away with” bad behavior, or some kind of magical elixir to nullify a debauched life—a little self-defeating when attempting to build preventative care habits around eating and exercise. With a hospital that’s going to help you “Cheat Death”, what’s to stop you reaching for that 7th piece of pumpkin pie?

 

We like a slogan from Pfizer that has a similar strategy beyond it much more: “Get Old”. It’s about accepting that we get old, and trying to do it with confidence, and the help of products that will get you there. It’s positive, it’s an incentive, and it carries no negative connotations. Oh, and it avoids using the word “Death”. Best to steer clear of that if possible.

April 5th, 2013 blog 1 Comment

Dan DeVore

Originally from Tennessee, Dan spends his weekends canvassing Washington D.C. for authentic Memphis-style BBQ, charcoal grilling just about anything (if you can eat it, you can grill it) and finding the best way to say “no” to John Cusack movies.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

A Master Class in Establishing Common Ground

By Patrick Buckley and  David Baynham

President Obama’s speech last week to university students in Jerusalem has received a lot of attention and a fair bit of praise (see here, here and here).

Leaving the politics aside – never easy on this topic – we saw it as a noteworthy address for the approach the President and his speechwriters took.

Coming into this speech it was clear many Israelis didn’t trust the President.  Here’s a rundown of the numbers.  Obama’s team knew this.  They also knew that in order to have anything the President said matter to the Israeli public they’d have to work to chip away at some of that mistrust.

We know from our work that one of the most effective ways of doing this is establishing common ground, which is exactly what this speech tried to do.

Here’s what it looked like.

‘I understand your circumstances’

A lot of the knock on Obama vis-à-vis Israel was that he was naïve about the circumstances – and threats – Israelis face.  His speech had to change that view.  He used the circumstances of individual Israelis to try to make clear that he does “get it.”

 

When I consider Israel’s security, I think about children like Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot – children, the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live… I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from.

‘We’re not so different’

Obama spent a lot of his speech building to a point of personal, emotional empathy. From his own family’s Seder dinners, to his personal history, he showed that he was culturally and emotionally capable of seeing the world through the Israeli people’s eyes:

 

For me personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, it spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.

‘There’s a narrative that binds us’

By framing the U.S./Israeli relationship in the context of a broader, universal narrative of freedom in a homeland, he also strengthened the idea of a bond, a familial connection, a shared destiny between the two nations:

 

It is a story about finding freedom in your own land. For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience…In the United States – a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew – we are naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land.

‘These bonds are unbreakable’

Not only did Obama express empathy and connection, he hardened the strength of these sentiments with an iron-clad promise of solidarity and support:

 

Today, I want to tell you – particularly the young people – that so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo lah-vahd [you are not alone].

It was only after establishing his understanding of the Israeli people, and the strength of the bond the two nations share, that he was able to attempt to deliver hard truths on the change required to build peace in the region.

More importantly, leading by example, he was credibly able to ask for understanding from his audience:

 

But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes.

 

Full Video and Transcript of Obama’s speech can be found here

March 26th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language Strategy, Kardashian Style

This is just a quick reminder that language matters to EVERYONE… even to people who don’t know the difference between its and it’s.

 

March 25th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Don’t Like: Jamba Juice doesn’t pull any punches

 

You say: “We do not honor Jamba Juice or any other vendor coupons, gift cards/checks or frequent buyer cards”

We hear: “You didn’t really expect us to give you a smoothie with that $10 gift card, did you?”

 

Jamba

June 20th, 2013 blog No Comments

Thayer Fox on Advertising

Check out critical commentary on recent ads, from our own Thayer Fox. Click through for the HuffPost Live video below:

 

May 22nd, 2013 blog No Comments

LEGO building a “Hey, Babe” generation

By Meaghan Bresnahan

 

 

The new “Hey Babe” addition to Lego’s hard-hatted sticker collection begs a number of questions that Lego clearly didn’t see the need to ask:

 

  • Is this sticker condoning street-side harassment?
  • Are we perpetuating male-laborer stereotypes?
  • Who is going to find this funny? (Is…anyone going to find this funny?)
  • Are we too good for vocative commas?

 

But the single biggest question that Lego seems to have forgotten stems from the very nature of their intended audience. No, not the mothers responsible for lassoing their children through the toy aisles of super stores. Not the bloggers looking for yet another reason to debate flawed gender norms.

But the children who will use these Legos, build with these Legos, share these Legos with their Lego-playing friends. Children who repeat everything they hear.

How is this going to affect them?

 

May 6th, 2013 blog No Comments

Accidentally Ignorant

By Sara Cott

The newly released song “Accidental Racist” by country singer Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J certainly lives up to its name. Its controversial lyrics about race relations in the South have led critics to deem it “the worst song ever.” Still, Paisley defended the song on the Tonight Show, saying “I thought maybe it would be an interesting conversation between country music and rap music to deal with this subject between two individuals, in a loving and understanding way.”

Paisley’s goal of inspiring a “loving and understanding” dialogue on racism in America is a positive one. Why, then, was the message received so poorly?

Let’s talk take a closer look at the lyrics:

 

It’s not that the public misunderstands what Paisley and LL Cool J’s lyrics mean, or that they necessarily disagree with the singers’ intent. Rather, they interpret the symbols of racism in entirely different ways than the singers do. In effect, Paisley’s good intentions are lost because the audience does not relate to the lyrics, and the artists come off as “accidentally ignorant.”

April 17th, 2013 blog 1 Comment

Jodi Strauss

Jodi started her career in polling and data collection, and brings 15 years of experience to her role at maslansky + partners.  She lives with her two beautiful daughters in New York, and has an unrivaled expertise in the city’s signature cuisine:  pizza and burgers.  

April 19th, 2010 team No Comments

Earth Day: It’s about people not the planet

By Margaret Files and Aliana Greenberg

Many companies and non-profits take Earth Day as an opportunity to remind us all to take stock of our environmental impact. And while these efforts are commendable, they can become “white noise” to an audience that has heard the same messages over and over again. But truly effective messages cut through the clutter by making actions personal. Here’s how:

1) Demonstrate why being environmentally conscious consumers is not only our responsibility, but something that can benefit us. For example, the Energy Department and the Ad Council recently released ads highlighting the benefits the consumer reaps from becoming environmentally conscious. By conserving energy, they will have more money to spend on luxuries such as vacations or spa days.

 

 

2) Making the conversation personal doesn’t just mean saving money. Consumers also find it rewarding when they can see how their efforts can actually make a difference to the larger environmental effort. Based on research we’ve done in this space over the past several years, here are 3 top tips for effective messaging around environmental issues:

 

April 22nd, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Like: The Local Bagel Shop

 

Two thumbs up for telling it how it is:

 

April 23rd, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Don’t Like: Your Generic Drug

Somehow, we were less-than-reassured when we saw this drugstore sign yesterday…

 

April 26th, 2013 blog No Comments

Plan B in the headlines: What’s in a name?

By Margaret Files

A New York Times headline today reads “Drug Agency Lowers Age for Next-Day Birth Control,” and contraception advocates probably smiled when they read it—not only because of the new, less restrictive law, but because of the specific wording chosen by the Times.  What the headline is referring to is known more commonly as “the morning-after pill.” It’s an ambiguous term, and advocates for its availability work hard to make sure the conversation around this medication clearly defines it as contraception, not a pill that induces abortions.

 

The confusion around “the morning-after pill” exists for a few reasons.  Not only do some confuse it with a different medication, mifepristone, which is an option for terminating an early-stage pregnancy with pills rather than surgery, but conflicting definitions of conception muddle the conversation as well.  Some religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, define the moment of conception differently than medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists do. That means that, based on their definition, some believe the morning-after pill actually has the potential to terminate a pregnancy, not just to prevent one.

 

By describing the pill as “birth control,” and not just “the morning-after pill,” the Times is not only being precise in its language, but is also implicitly endorsing the ACOG’s stance.  That means that anyone who reads the Times headline likely interprets the issue as one revolving around the availability of “birth control” to minors—a much less politically and emotionally charged issue than the availability of an “abortion pill” (although it can still spark plenty of controversy in its own right.)

 

This blog post isn’t about whether the wording chosen by the Times is right or wrong (although, let’s face it—most in the medical community would probably agree with them).  Rather, this is an example of how the words we choose to use are powerful and laden with more meaning than we may even realize.  It may seem like a question of semantics to argue about when, exactly, we should call a woman “pregnant.”  But how we define something, and the words we use to talk about it, can have a very real impact on how we understand and make decisions about these issues—and how institutions like mass media, government agencies, and church authorities influence these decisions for us.  Whether we’re talking about “climate change” vs. “global warming;” “illegal aliens” vs. “undocumented workers;” or “emergency contraception” vs. “abortion pill,” our words matter.

May 1st, 2013 blog No Comments

JC Penney is sorry and they want us to come back.

By Thayer Fox

While the candor and directness in this spot is refreshing, it is easy to question if it will work. JC Penney says, essentially, that they’ve screwed up, they hear us, and they’d like us to come back. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that to an ex-girlfriend I’d have close to a dollar.

And it rarely works.

You don’t take back the person who is simply sorry. You don’t respect the person who grovels. You want to be with the person who has personality. The person who not only rights a wrong but who takes a stand. In this ad JC Penney errs too far on the side of being contrite and in doing so fails to tell us who they are now. This is even more critical given the significant changes they’ve made to their business and brand in the last year. So a store with a personality disorder is asking us to love them again because they’re sorry they can be so weird sometimes. That is a heavy lift to say the least.

 

May 1st, 2013 blog No Comments

Indianapolis Airport security is stretched thin…

Taken by m+p Partner, Larry Moscow, on the road today. Thank god we got that whole airport sequester thing worked out!

Indianapolis Airport, 4:50pm, 5.2.13

May 2nd, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Like: NYC Sanitary Inspection Response

 

Any New Yorker will recognize this dreaded symbol of low hygiene in the restaurant window – here’s some guys who are getting out ahead of the story:

 

May 15th, 2013 blog No Comments

Mars has an Obesity Strategy: Buy candy, but don’t eat it all

By Chris Manley

 

About the only thing growing faster than America’s waistlines is America’s shrill panic over its growing waistlines. McDonald’s is serving fruit smoothies and oatmeal now. So stop blaming them, already.  Geez.

But what if you’re, say, the candy industry? You literally make sugar taste better. You’ve got maybe 10 minutes before Chuck Schumer gets himself on TV proposing a T.H.I.N. (There’s Happiness In Nutrition!) Act* making it illegal to buy candy in portions of more than 100 calories on weekdays or within 2000 yards of a school.

You need an Obesity Strategy that will make it clear to the nation that you’re doing what you can so stop getting on your case already.

Luckily, Mars has an idea.

 

 

Chocolate tastes even better when shared! So a bag of M&Ms is really for, like, 2 or 3 people. Who would even WANT to eat them all, right?

“Sharing our treats is just one little step that can make your day a little sweeter,” their ad suggests. “Responsible nutrition habits provide a lifetime of benefits.” It’s worth noting that this ad runs in the Capitol Hill newspapers, suggesting they’re more concerned with Washington seeing it than, say, people who buy King Size bags of M&Ms.

I can kind of see what they’re doing here, and I feel for them. We’ve come to a moment when our consumer selves are in conflict with our social selves. We want someone to do something about all these fat people we’re seeing on TV, with their faces tastefully framed out of the shot. But when the candy bar we’ve always bought, and ate, is now labeled “Sharing Size” instead of “King Size” we’re either going to ridicule them for selling the same thing so transparently reframed, or even worse, be upset that they’re now kind of calling me a greedy candy ogre, because I am damn sure eating this whole thing myself. I bought it didn’t I? Mind your own business, candy police.

I wish I could say there was a universal lesson here. But the obesity issue, and companies’ efforts to be conscious of and responsive to it, is tough. We want to confront our culture of gluttony but we’re kind of touchy about it. Here, the notions of good value and corporate responsibility are at odds with each other. Navigating between them requires a very, very specific understanding of exactly how people view each individual product, and how they’ll react to each specific word in that product’s context.

Just because consumers are schizophrenic on this issue doesn’t mean our food and beverage retailers get to be. And suggesting that I buy a larger bag and then give it away is just that. I’m not running an M&M soup kitchen here.

 

*Note: Chuck Schumer has not proposed a THIN Act yet. This is fictional. For now.

May 28th, 2013 blog No Comments

Vigilante Copy Editing

According to the Times, someone has been copy-editing the placards in the Pratt Institute sculpture garden.

m+p is very intrigued.

 

 

May 7th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Don’t Like: Zipcar

I guess they’ll be getting a lot of butt dials…

 

May 8th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Like: Mom Themed Language Strategy

Look familiar?

Message Analysis: Budweiser, “Where your beer is brewed”

By Clint Sievers

Companies are constantly trying to reach their audience. But in today’s increasingly fragmented media environment, it’s tough to stand out from the crowd. We’ll occasionally be taking a quick look at print and media ads and letting you know whether we think they can break through … or if they’re off the mark. First up: Budweiser’s new ad campaign.

 

 

Audience: Craft beer drinkers; those who want to feel a connection to their beer, and see Budweiser as mass-produced, mass-market swill.

Message: Budweiser is made here too, by people who live in your communities. In fact, it may be made closer to home than you think.

Success or failure: Does anyone really drink Budweiser because it tastes or feels like a craft beer?  We think not. This one fails the plausibility test.

Why: Aside from the obvious problem with a company like Budweiser trying to look small and local, the images in this commercial only increase the errors.  No craft beer drinker wants to see images of industrial-size vats and massive factories when they think about how their beer was made.

Most ridiculous line: “America’s largest local brewer”

 

 

May 10th, 2013 blog No Comments

Global Language Strategy

By Keith Yazmir

 

The Right Language

What’s the problem?

In today’s digitally-powered world, saying something about a brand, product or issue has never been easier. So why does it feel increasingly difficult to be heard – to have an impact, change an opinion, drive action?

I’d like to suggest it’s because WHAT marketers and communicators are saying hasn’t caught up with HOW we’re saying it.

In short, we have a language problem.

 

The REAL Digital Divide

While the digital revolution has radically altered how we deliver information, it has had an equally profound, yet far-less discussed impact on how customers, legislators, voters, employees – anyone we’re trying to reach – HEAR what we are trying to say.

Accordingly, while the communication industry has been quick to leverage the power of new media, the way brands develop and articulate what they are trying to say has remained essentially unchanged over the past 50 years.

Let me explain.

The traditional approach to crafting messages is to gather a bunch of subject-matter experts and leverage their knowledge and expertise to come up with what to say and how to say it.  The problem is that digitally-savvy audiences are growing ever more cynical and selective regarding what they choose to listen to and believe. While at the same time, the sophistication of modern business means that decision-makers are increasingly removed from how their audiences speak and think.

Even when communicators test what they’re looking to say, message inputs and research methodologies often err on the side of fact and reason in spite of recent neuroscientific research showing that people actually react to communication emotionally, not rationally.

The result of all this is a series of dangerous communication gaps between what communicators are trying to say and what their intended audiences are actually hearing: what brands know to be true, audiences increasingly doubt; what communicators see as relevant is often different from what really interests their stakeholders; what we believe to be clear, to them can still seem confusing; and what we want to make exciting, to them often sounds like just another company talking about itself.

It’s time for a different approach.

 

It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear

At the end of the day, it’s not what marketers and communicators say that matters, it’s what our audiences HEAR.

The words, language and images we use must resonate not with us but with them, on a real, emotional level. In this brave new world, what we say and how we say it must be ever more relevant, credible and finely tuned if we are to have any chance of being heard.

Which is why today maslansky + partners, is teaming up with Ketchum Europe to launch a new way for brands, industries, CEOs and political candidates to maximize the results of their marketing and communication efforts.

 

A New Approach

By combining our unique approach to language and messaging with Ketchum’s unmatched ability to engage audiences, we will help clients address their critical communication challenges using the right language and images, delivered in the right way and at the right time to have the biggest possible impact.

Using our research-driven approach to measuring real-world, emotional reactions to words and articulations, we will help clients maximize the effectiveness of their marketing and communication investments – so they know for a fact before they spend anything on delivering their message, speech or platform that they are doing so using the right messages in language that truly works with their audience.

By doing so, we will help bridge the widening gap between the sophistication with which communicators are leveraging the delivery potential of new media – and the outdated ways they are still talking to their audiences.

Press Release: maslansky + partners expands to Europe

 

NEW YORK, LONDON and PARIS, MAY 30, 2013 – maslansky + partners (m+p), a research-driven messaging and language firm founded on the idea that It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear™, today announced it has opened a European office to help serve its growing range of clients with their global communication strategy needs. Keith Yazmir, partner at m+p, has assumed the role of Managing Director Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) and will be based in London and Paris.

m+p helps companies, industries and political candidates develop the right strategic language and messages to break through, be heard and drive action. They are the only market research firm that truly specializes in language strategy – identifying precisely what to communicate and how to articulate it to transform how your message is heard. From The New York Times and the Washington Post to the BBC and “60 Minutes,” they are recognized as the leader in message-based research.

“Our global clients are increasingly asking us to help them address internal and external communications and positioning challenges through in-language work around the world. Over the past year alone, we have done work in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and Turkey, not to mention Brazil, Peru, China and Thailand, for a broad range of clients including Goodyear, Pfizer and Elanco,” said Michael Maslansky, CEO of m+p. “Our new European presence will allow us to better help our US-based clients thrive in today’s increasingly global marketplace while bringing us closer to clients based in the EMEA region.”

From advertising to digital, public relations and public affairs to brand positioning, m+p has an extensive background in developing language that changes perceptions and drives the decision-making process.

They are different from other research firms because they are at the same time communicators and researchers. Using their proprietary research methodology to measure real-world, emotional reactions to the language used by brands, CEOs and industries, m+p helps clients maximize their Return on Message – the ultimate impact of their communication and marketing efforts – so they know for sure before investing in a media or channel strategy.

m+p is part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC) Their European presence will be based at:

 

m+p London
35-41 Folgate Street
London E1 6BX, UK
+44 (0)20 7611 3884

 

m+p Paris
54 rue de Clichy #600
75009 Paris, FRANCE
+33 (0)6 30 99 44 30

 

About maslansky + partners
maslansky + partners (www.maslansky.com) is a research-driven messaging and language strategy firm. Based on the concept that It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear™, m+p works with brands, CEOs, industries and politicians to develop the right language, narratives and messages to change target audience perceptions. Whether supporting advertising, PR, branding, employee communication or public affairs, m+p applies its pioneering research methodology to harness the role emotion plays in how people interpret messages and language and to help clients maximize the impact of their marketing and communication spend. maslansky + partners is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc.

About Diversified Agency Services
Diversified Agency Services (DAS), a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC) (www.omnicomgroup.com), manages Omnicom’s holdings in a variety of marketing communications disciplines. DAS includes over 200 companies, which operate through a combination of networks and regional organizations, serving international and local clients through more than 700 offices in 71 countries.

About Omnicom Group Inc.
Omnicom Group Inc. (www.omnicomgroup.com) is a leading global marketing and corporate communications company. Omnicom’s branded networks and numerous specialty firms provide advertising, strategic media planning and buying, digital and interactive marketing, direct and promotional marketing, public relations and other specialty communications services to over 5,000 clients in more than 100 countries.

May 30th, 2013 news No Comments

Message Analysis: Coca-Cola’s New “Sharing Can” Ad

By Becky Waddell

 

 

Audience: Carbonated beverage consumers, specifically those who have an emotional response to Coca-Cola’s fun-loving yet nostalgic appeal.

Message: Opening a can of Coke is pure happiness, but it’s even better if you can share that happiness with a regular-size can that splits into two mini cans.

Success or failure: Are people really so germaphobic that they can’t share a normal can? We’d say no. And there have been a good few complaints once consumers realized two mini cans put together will contain less Coke and more packaging than a regular can. But this is a marketing stunt rather than a product launch and, despite the confusion concerning practicalities, the “Sharing Can” is still a cute concept that successfully communicates Coke’s brand message: Sharing Happiness.

Why: The spot highlights other ways Coca-Cola has helped people share happiness in past campaigns, like the vending machine that gave you a can if you hugged it. The only thing that couldn’t be easily shared was the can itself, until the “Sharing Can” was introduced. It’s surprising, cute, and frankly, made some of us really happy!

A Winning Frame:  If you saw Chris Manley’s post on the new ‘obesity strategy’ from Mars (link), you already know that some of us think simply talking about sharing as a means to promote nutrition (as Mars does) is a cop-out for actually developing healthier products and package sizes, the way companies like PepsiCo and McDonald’s have developed them in recent years. The Coca-Cola spot is much more successful than the Mars approach because it frames sharing around the positive feelings you gain from the experience.

Best line:  Half the size, twice the happiness. Proof that happiness doubles when you share it.

We think Mayor Bloomberg would definitely be a fan.

June 3rd, 2013 blog No Comments

The superficial art of empty statements

By Thayer Fox

After seeing the Mayor of Toronto’s recent remarks regarding his alleged use of crack cocaine, we decided to take a closer look at his response:

 

blog

 

June 3rd, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Don’t Like: we’re prisoners of Citibank

By Margaret Files

 

Ah, there’s nothing like curling up on the couch with a glass of wine and your transaction history… right?

 

citibank

 

We cringed when we spotted this sign in a NYC window, because this message is all about what Citibank’s customers CAN’T do. (Really, I can’t put it down?  What if I want to?) This language inadvertently positions the Citibank app as an annoyance, not a convenience.  After all, how much time do we really want to spend checking on our bank accounts?

In this increasingly-connected world, we’re hearing more and more focus group participants tell us how important it is to be able to walk away from their devices once in a while.  This is a good guideline for all communicators, but it’s especially relevant in the technology realm: keep the focus on customer choice, not on how you can dominate their lives.

With the right language, you can strike a tone that’s inviting—not demanding.

June 13th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Like: Newcastle Brown Ale

 

Sometimes there’s just nothing like the HONEST approach:

 

Newcastle

June 5th, 2013 blog No Comments

Message Analysis: Tide + Downy, “The Princess Dress”

By Marilyn Chenoweth

 

 

Audience: Modern-day moms and (especially) dads who have an emotional reaction to the timeless appeal of Tide and Downy

Message: Tide and Downy are the laundry detergents for modern-day moms and dads

Success or failure: This message successfully communicates the fact that Tide and Downy are “great on their own” and “even better together.”  But it also acknowledges the role of the modern-day dad – an acknowledgment that both men and women welcome with open arms.  Here at m+p, we’ve found that household roles, chores, and decision-making are changing.  And if you want to stay ahead of the game, you’ve got to make Mom and Dad the targets of your message.  Time and again, we’ve seen genders react to messages very differently.  We specialize in finding the sweet spot that appeals to both – and we know it’s no small task.  Tide and Downy found that sweet spot, and we give them our wholehearted stamp of approval.

Why: Dads today are not incapable fools or ignorant children whose wives must keep them in check.  So why have marketers, up until recently, continued to portray them in this light?  We’re thinking of Huggies’ controversial, “Have Dad Put Huggies to the Test” campaign, which the diaper company dramatically altered after receiving widespread criticism from insulted dads who felt the company had reduced them to inattentive dummies.

Modern-day dads participate in carpool, cook dinner, and wash clothes.  They’re playful, helpful, loving, and bright.  Tide and Downy know this, and they articulate the point perfectly in “The Princess Dress.”  The message here is simple, yet effective.  Dads today play an active role in keeping their families clean, healthy and happy – and they can count on Tide + Downy every step of the way.

Best line: “Since I’m the one who has to do the laundry, I do what any expert dad would do: I let her play Sherriff.”

We love this modern-day dad’s explicit, yet humorous acknowledgment of the role he plays in his daughter’s life.

 

June 11th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Like: “points that don’t expire? You bet your asterisk”

By Katie Cronen

 

We love everything about this email that just came from jetBlue:

 

jetBlue

June 17th, 2013 blog No Comments

A sure sign Apple is worried about its future

By Michael Maslansky

As much as Steve Jobs always said he never needed to listen to customers to understand what they wanted, Apple’s communication was always perfectly attuned to the customer.  From “1984” to “Think Different” to the latest iPhone and iPad ads, the focus was always on the user. Ads would inspire them, delight them, engage them. The message was always about the kind of people who purchased Apple products and the things you could do with them.

 

It was never about Apple…until now.

 

Apple ad

 

Apple’s latest campaign talks about “we” instead of “you.” It says “We’re engineers and artists…we sign our work…This is our signature. And it means everything.”  It’s a beautiful ad and carries the same Apple aesthetic, but a very different voice. It is inward-looking not outward-facing.  It is defensive not inspirational. It is backward, not forward looking. This is an Apple that feels like it has been slighted.  This is an Apple that wants credit. This is an Apple that is trying to hold on, not one that continues to lead.

 

Of all the talk about how Apple has changed since Steve Jobs died, this speaks the loudest to me. It suggests that the mentality inside Apple has gone from offense to defense. From communicating with actions to trying to convince people that Apple is the same company they have come to respect.

 

Apple’s success has always been based on its ability to inspire others. Today it faces louder critics and stronger competition than ever before. Let’s hope that this ad was just a rest stop on the way to the next great innovation and not a sign that Apple’s best days are behind it.

June 21st, 2013 blog No Comments

The Power of Flaws

By Michael Maslansky

Why are people and organizations so afraid to admit weakness?  

I started the day being interviewed about the future of the advertising and communications industry and how my firm is adapting its capabilities in the face of a rapidly changing environment. During the course of the interview, I shocked the interviewer by acknowledging that, while we are good at many things, we are weak in our ability to rapidly adopt new technologies into our business. His response was that I was the first person of his many interviewees to acknowledge our firm wasn’t perfect.  But he didn’t say it as a slight. He said it was a compliment. Not only was he impressed with my openness, he said it gave everything else I talked about more credence.

This afternoon I spoke to a woman, call her Amy, to give a reference for a vendor named John who I do a lot of work with. He is great and I wanted him to get Amy’s business, but his partner is weak…at best. I loudly sang John’s praises. But it wasn’t until I talked about his partner’s weaknesses that Amy responded to my comments. She didn’t use the weaknesses as a reason to dismiss John as an option. Instead, she was disarmed by my honesty, thanked me profusely for it, and she was much more interested in hiring John – and his partner – because now she felt like she had a real sense of what she was getting into.

We see this so frequently in our work. People and organizations afraid to acknowledge their flaws for fear of projecting weakness or losing an opportunity. But infallibility is a myth. And trying to project a perfect image is itself a sign of weakness.

As consumers, we are all skeptical of perfect people and products.  In our mind, there is always a catch and we look to find it. If you hide the flaw, we will look harder for it and we will discount your strengths in the process. But if you acknowledge your weaknesses, we feel satisfied that we have found the catch. Then we open ourselves up to listen to your strengths.

Today, credibility is among the most important of business and personal assets. Without it, we can’t persuade, engage or sell to our audiences. And credibility is anchored in our humanity – both as people and as organizations. To earn credibility you must be human. You must be flawed.

So talk about your weaknesses. It might be your biggest strength.

June 27th, 2013 blog 1 Comment

Online Recruiting Manager

maslansky + partners, a language strategy and research consultancy, is seeking an Online Panel and Recruiting Manager with strong database management skills to join our team.




Our firm is guided by the simple idea that it’s not what you SAY that matters, it’s what they HEAR. We believe in the power of words and language to drive successful PR, marketing, and advocacy efforts. We use research to advise our clients on what to say, what not to say, and why it matters.




Your job will be to act as our Online Recruiting Manager to help us successfully manage and grow our recruitment panel while also recruiting participants for our research groups in cities around the United States.




We are looking for someone who has the skills, drive and creativity to significantly expand our online recruiting efforts.  We currently maintain a strong database of qualified participants for in-person research studies.  We are looking for a candidate who will help us grow our database and increase our ability to recruit for our research projects.




You will be responsible for

  • Managing and maintaining our existing recruitment database.
  • Developing recommendations for how to improve our database and the technologies that support our recruiting efforts.
  • Developing, exploring and executing cool new methods of recruiting members to fulfill our panel/panel growth plan.
  • Working with our Field Director to program screening surveys and recruit participants for specific research sessions around the United States.
  • Monitoring progress, ensuring quotas, and rescreening and reconfirming research participants to ensure quality control.
  • Anticipating and addressing recruiting issues to ensure high levels of participation by high-quality participants.
  • Developing best practices for improving the quality of our database participants.
  • Monitoring panel growth/engagement/satisfaction/churn and reporting on panel performance metrics to management.




The ideal candidate is

  • EXPERIENCED:  We are looking for someone who has demonstrated online recruiting, database marketing or panel management experience.  We are looking for a minimum of 3 years experience in a role that includes database management and growth.
  • TECH-SAVVY:  We are looking for someone very comfortable with online databases and marketing in a digital age.  Ideally, you will have some knowledge of quantitative and/or qualitative methods, be very comfortable with social media and be comfortable coding in HTML or willing to learn it on the job.  And you will definitely need to be proficient in MS Office, especially Excel.
  • DETAIL-ORIENTED:  We only have one chance to get these sessions right – and getting the right participants in the room is essential to our success. We are looking for someone with demonstrated skills at effectively managing multiple complex tasks and competing priorities under tight deadlines.
  • ENGAGING:  To do well at this job, you have to like people and enjoy talking to them.  We want someone who likes getting thank you notes from happy participants in our research.
  • SELF STARTER:  We are looking for someone who doesn’t have to wait to be told what to do.  While you will be required to work with multiple teams, in the end your success will be based on your internal energy and motivation.




Why you should apply

  • The right person will experience a real sense of accomplishment on a daily basis.
  • We are very open to flexible work arrangements including freelance, part-time or remote work.
  • As our company evolves, this role will too.  The future will include greater management responsibilities and a broader role in the organization.
  • We operate in a laid-back culture that works hard but also has a good time.
  • The position (if hired full-time) includes all the standards like competitive salary, health, vision, and dental insurance, paid time off, bonuses, 401k plans.
  • Oh…and free lunch on Mondays!




Please send your RESUME, AND COVER LETTER to nyjob@maslansky.com.

June 27th, 2013 careers No Comments

Language we… think we like: PSAs and the art of compromise

By Margaret Files

 

“Make Your Move Missoula” has recently launched a new campaign designed to encourage bystanders to intervene to keep others safe from sexual violence.  The posters have gone viral, thanks to the way their language cleverly plays off familiar excuses like “she was asking for it.”  But the way one of the PSAs was worded has ruffled some feathers among those who have otherwise applauded them:

 

Missoula

 

Some commenters have objected to the phrase “no way to treat a lady.”  This wording raises legitimate concerns that it reinforces an outdated concept of who “deserves” or is in need of protection, which could potentially exclude men, or women who are not deemed to be “ladylike.”  In one commenter’s words, “Have you heard of benevolent sexism? It’s no way to treat a PERSON.”

To their credit, the organization behind the posters has addressed this objection on Facebook, explaining that their goal is to create language that resonates with their target audience—just as we always tell our clients to do:

We should note that this poster in particular was developed for use in rural Montana and uses language that speaks to people in our communities. Actually, several of us on the steering committee felt similarly to you – but we decided that our posters needed to be in the language of our target audience in order to be effective.

In this debate, I think I have to take the side of Make Your Move Missoula.  They have important goals, and they’re using the language they think can best help them accomplish those goals.  And, just as importantly, they have proactively and clearly addressed the criticism, and provided their reasoning—helping put a damper on the internet outcry.

So what do you think: Is it OK that they compromised their beliefs to connect with their target audience, or do they have a responsibility to “lead by example” with the language they use?

July 10th, 2013 blog No Comments

A loss of innocence at Sea World

By Clint Sievers

 

Today is not a good day for Sea World.  A new film, called Blackfish, comes out today to remind the company of its darkest hour – when a killer whale called Tilikum killed his trainer in 2010.

This kind of film is entirely predictable.  Animal rights activists have been questioning animal captivity in zoos for decades.  And it’s certainly not new for Sea World – most people learned all they wanted to about killer whales in Free Willy.

Blackfish is getting a lot of attention.  But not just because of the film’s content.  Sea World has decided to take the fight to the public, issuing a point-by-point rebuttal of many of the film’s claims.  This is a tried-and-true PR strategy, but is it the right one?

Full disclosure: I love Sea World.  I grew up anticipating trips to its now-defunct Ohio theme park (whose idea was that anyway??), and proudly set foot in all four of its theme parks before I hit puberty.  I was always awe-struck by the power and grace of these massive animals, not to mention the bravery and care of the trainers who got in the water with them.  So I paid close attention in 2010 when Sea World began to grapple with the negative media attention.

I want Sea World to put this mess behind them.  To be the place where millions of families continue to gain an appreciation for marine life around the world.  But Sea World’s attacks on Blackfish aren’t going to bring that day any closer.

Sea World has done a lot to ensure that nothing like the Tilikum incident happens again.  It has increased safety measures, provided more training, and even kept the trainers out of the pool with the killer whales during performances.  But you wouldn’t know it from their response to Blackfish.

The point-by-point rebuttals (and counter-rebuttals) do nothing to advance a positive story about what Sea World is doing to move forward.  In fact, they only reinforce the “Free Willy narrative” put forward by the film-makers – that there is no justification for keeping these highly intelligent and dangerous animals in captivity.

It’s OK for Sea World to address Blackfish.  But a bunker mentality isn’t doing them any favors.  It’s time for Sea World to use the extra attention as an opportunity to tell a more positive story about what it’s doing to improve – in both its park-level activities and its broader conservation efforts.

 

 

 

July 19th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language That’s Accurate But Sort Of Makes Us Mildly Uncomfortable

By Chris Manley

 

Bag must fit in the sizer

Walking through the airport we saw this – language that grants a stupid metal skeleton frame box agency over whether our bags can ride humanely in the cabin or must take the cold unpressurized plunge into the cargo hold. As though the box is capable of active voice transitive verbs, and the airline’s gate attendant must just sheepishly do what the box tells him.

 

I’m sorry, sir, but the box has really spoken, hasn’t it? I will bring this up at the next meeting, because this box in particular has been a martinet lately, but it’s sized your bag, and all appeals have been exhausted.”

August 8th, 2013 blog No Comments

Vice President

maslansky + partners, a language strategy and research consultancy, is seeking a Vice President in our New York office.




As member of the company’s senior team, the Vice President will play a key role in leading client engagements, running research studies, developing new business opportunities and influencing the strategic direction of the company.




We are looking for someone who can think strategically, communicate persuasively, work collaboratively and act entrepreneurially.




Who we are

Our firm is guided by the simple idea that it’s not what you SAY that matters, it’s what they HEAR. We believe in the power of words and language to drive successful PR, marketing, and advocacy efforts. We use research to advise our clients on what to say, what not to say, and why it matters.




Though small, we have a large impact. We work on serious communication challenges for Fortune 500 companies, trade associations, non-profits, and public policy groups around the country and the world.




  • We are language strategists – we bring an analytical approach to developing effective messages and treat it as a strategic discipline
  • We are researchers – we conduct qualitative and quantitative research to understand how audiences respond to different approaches to language and strategy
  • We are writers – we help clients engage and persuade their audiences by identifying language that resonates emotionally
  • We are empathetic – we are able to see the world from a variety of different perspectives, including those of our clients and of their audiences
  • We are unsatisfied – we believe things can be done better, we challenge assumptions, and we always ask “why?”

 

 


 


What you’ll do

  • Lead client engagements and run research studies:  Our clients come to us to communicate more effectively on challenging topics. We work with them to develop a comprehensive understanding of potential approaches to communication.  Then we test these approaches for emotional resonance before recommending a language strategy derived from insights about their target audiences.  Working with a Partner and other members of our team, you will lead this process, from planning to research execution and strategy development.
  • Develop new business opportunities:  Our business is built first and foremost by delivering exceptional work to our clients.  When we do that, they come back.  Beyond that, you will help us to identify new targets, develop business proposals and participate in new business conversations.
  • Influence the strategic direction of the firm:  Our senior team helps to drive the direction of the business.  You will participate on this team to help us identify and take advantage of strategic opportunities to grow and strengthen our business.




What you’ll bring

  • The right experience…it can come from a lot of places, but it is likely to come from 7-10 years of work in strategic planning, public relations, corporate communications, corporate marketing or market research.
  • Some good war stories of how you helped to address challenging communications or marketing issues
  • Research experience.  Serious research experience is great.  But experience working with research – as a client, agency, or otherwise – is a must.
  • Examples of strong persuasive writing…op-eds, blogs, presentations will do.  Press releases and academic papers probably won’t.
  • A point of view.  We don’t really care what it is, as long as you have one, and can communicate it persuasively.
  • Presence.   When we walk into a room, we want people to remember we were there.  We lead with substance, but you also need a demonstrable ability to present well.
  • The drive to succeed.  We work hard.  We work under pressure.  We do it because we want to create great work that has a real impact.
  • A positive outlook.  If you are a generally unhappy person, please spare us.




The position includes all the standards like competitive compensation, health, vision, and dental insurance, paid time off, bonuses, 401k plans.  Oh… and free lunch on Mondays!




To apply for the position, please email resume & cover letter to: lblock@maslansky.com.  

(Please include your last name in the subject line)

July 22nd, 2013 careers No Comments

Language We Don’t Like: Cut & Paste in a Crisis

By David Baynham

After a horrific disaster in northwestern Spain yesterday, involving the derailment of an express train killing at least 80 people, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is already feeling the heat from angry critics of his message of condolence to victims and their families. The statement appeared to include a section cut and pasted from a statement previously sent to victims of an earthquake in Gansu, China.

 

I would like to express my deepest condolences for the loss of human lives and the material damage from the earthquake that has occurred in Gansu has caused”

In crisis situations such as this speed is, inevitably, of the essence. This is, however, a sad example of a mistake stripping a message of any personal touch in the most sensitive and serious of situations. For the families of victims looking for consolation, this is worse than saying nothing at all.

July 25th, 2013 blog No Comments

Lessons From Fiction: Opening The Public To Your Positive Story

By Patrick Buckley and David Baynham

 

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” – Kurt Vonnegut

Time and again in our work we run up against the same brick wall when it comes to communicating about the good a company does:

 

But, WHY are they doing this?”

“I know they’re a business, so there must be a money-making reason behind this they’re not telling us”

Surprisingly enough, the secret for overcoming these objections may come from the world of fiction.

 

Why?

 

Kurt Vonnegut, one of America’s great storytellers, has provided communicators with the best approach for overcoming this hurdle: provide your audience with the motivation for your actions—even if it isn’t a perfect one. Here’s an example of what we mean:

 

Your audience is often skeptical, and if they can’t see a WHY behind your actions, they’ll go seeking it themselves—and often assume the worst. Taking this approach will help you disarm some of the skepticism consumers bring as baggage to the conversation. By presenting your motivation, you’ll control the consumer perception of your actions.

July 30th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Like: Shake Shack’s new fries

 

You spoke. We heard. Fresh fries.”

We think Shake Shack is channeling our “it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear” philosophy there. The high-flying New York burger chain (and an m+p favorite), announced a big move this week. They’re moving from the old reliable frozen crinkle-cut, and using fresh cut fries instead. And they explained it nicely…

Why are they making the move to tamper with beloved fries? “You asked us to. We listened.” Who can argue with that?

We spotted that the language was even coming to life on staff t-shirts:

 

Shake Shack Heard3

August 9th, 2013 blog No Comments

Communications Lessons from Fiction: Anaïs Nin

By David Baynham and Chris Manley

 

We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are” – Anaïs Nin 

We love this quote. Anaïs Nin, perhaps best known for her famously risqué storytelling, hits the nail on the head here—and when it comes to credible communication, it bears repeating.

Our clients often ask us:

 

Why can’t we just explain it to them truthfully? The facts are on our side.”

“It’s logical, it makes sense…why don’t they believe us?”

Years of Instant Response research with hundreds upon hundreds of audiences have taught us one important reality that’s difficult for many well-meaning clients to deal with: personal baggage always trumps the logical truth.

If the listener comes to the table convinced of unchecked greed and corporate corruption in the financial industry, a bank will have a hard time telling them the number one priority is the consumer. If your audiences’ experiences, biases, or preconceptions don’t jive with your message—it’s not a story you can credibly tell.

So how do we tackle this? One of the ways we like to describe this concept, so aptly encapsulated by Nin, is of two divergent world views—yours and your audience’s. Great communication comes in finding the sweet spot between the two.  Ignoring this dynamic is basically demanding that your customers, clients, voters, or skeptics see the world through your eyes, rather than you offering to see it through theirs. Odds of persuading an audience that has to do all the work for you are pretty low.

their truth

August 12th, 2013 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Language We Like: Putting Numbers in Context

By Katie Cronen

When it comes to investments or donations, anything over a couple million dollars is impressive. But it’s often difficult for consumers to wrap their minds around the difference between $4m, $40m, and $400m.  In the below case, tying the economics of the NYC film industry to a tangible benefit that people care about–teacher salaries–is a smart move. For communicators, the amount itself is easily forgotten unless it’s contextualized to be easily understood.

 

Film Industry

August 26th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Love: Seamless Twerking on the Subway

By Becky Waddell

While so many people are busy bashing Millennials (‘entitled’, ‘lazy’, ‘narcissistic’), Seamless takes the opportunity to appeal to this target audience with super relevant references in this New York Subway ad. Language We Love.

Twerking

August 19th, 2013 blog 2 Comments

Christina Amestoy

As a native Vermonter, she is always up to defend the obvious superiority of Vermont craft beers, the Red Sox, and New England summers.

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

When Every Word Matters

By Katie Cronen

If like me, you were randomly browsing the web last night (because hey, Scandal was a repeat and I had nothing better to do), you may have seen this headline from MSN:

“Pope: Church cannot focus on abortion, gays”

 

MSN Homepage

 

 

And if, like me, you were intrigued enough to click on the link and check out the specifics of the pope’s latest comments, you may have seen a headline with essentially one word change, but a significantly different context:

 

MSN Article

 

 

“Only.”

There are a number of ways to interpret the subtext of these two headlines, but I would argue that any way you slice it, they don’t mean the same thing.  This tactic of summarizing quotes so that they’re more likely to lure an audience is far from new, and in today’s 24-hour news cycle, the ability to be taken out of context is about as easy as it is to click “Share” on Facebook.  But it does serve as an important reminder to us all: the words we use matter.  And so when—not if—we aren’t given the benefit of the doubt, it’s critical to understand more than just the intentions of our message, but how they’ll be received.

In other words….it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.

September 20th, 2013 blog No Comments

Coca-Cola feels the pains of translation

By Sofia Briley

 

It’s not what you say….it’s what they hear…and just sometimes, what language they hear it in.

 

Coca-Cola recently created a promotional campaign in which they paired a random English word with a random French word on the inside of their VitaminWater caps. All fine for a brief moment of entertainment for their customers, right? Right. That is until on one particular bottle, the English word “you” was paired with the word “retard” (meaning “late” in French), leaving one English-speaking customer feeling pretty insulted by the message she found on her cap (see photo below).

 

CC 1

 

 

The lesson here is, while VitaminWater was clearly having some “on brand” fun, words always have an impact. What should have been a simple idea to engage customers, immediately turned into a crisis situation—resulting in a letter from the customer ending with “sincerely, an ex-coke drinker.”

 

Coca-Cola did issue a personal apology letter to the family, who happened to have a daughter with cerebral palsy and autism. But, had Coca-Cola paid a little closer attention to the message they were sending, they could have avoided this embarrassing situation all together.  A little tip for next time Coke, “douche” and “preservative” also have different translations.

 

CC 2

September 20th, 2013 blog No Comments

United Airlines apology (finally) gets it right!

By Mike Phifer

 

As a staunch defender of a marginally-less-than-awful U.S. airline, I often find myself wishing they could just get it right.  Whether it’s the flickering TV in the ceiling from 1993, the suspicious stain on the headrest, or the 90-minute logjam masquerading as a 20-minute delay, American business travelers are stuck between a broken armrest and a hard place.  It’s as if domestic airlines just can’t get it together.  And, when they inevitably screw up, they either act like it didn’t happen or pretend a drink voucher will make up for missing your father’s 70th birthday dinner.

That is, until now.

Ever since the Continental-United merger, the new United has sworn up and down they are going to be different.  New planes.  Global wifi on every route.  And, most important, better customer care.  Of course, given the infamous unionization-as-ossification airline business strategy, you’ll forgive my skepticism.  When it comes to customer care, are things really any different behind the shiny new United livery?

Actually, it appears they are.

On a flight home from Seoul to New York last week, the head purser (talk about Language to Lose) announced that the video system was broken…in Economy Class.  By the grace of a free upgrade, I wasn’t in Economy Class for once.  So, not my problem.

But here’s where it gets interesting.  During the flight, the captain actually came on to apologize to everyone on board and read a message sent in-flight from the head of customer care.  Because of the inconvenience, everyone on board was invited to visit a United website upon landing to claim a free gift as an apology/token of their appreciation.  Naturally, I assumed the plane had been hijacked by Ashton Kutcher, and a Punk’d camera crew would soon roll out from the overhead bins.

Surprisingly, it gets better.  By the time we landed, I had already received an email from United apologizing for the broken video system that wasn’t even broken in my cabin.  Presumably everyone on the plane got the same email.  The kicker is that, not only did they apologize for something I didn’t experience, they did it well (see the email and my commentary below).

 

 United

 

This simple albeit automated act of communicative kindness sent a clear message: the new United truly takes customer care seriously.  This time, they mean it.

Too often, companies forget that great customer service—I mean, customer care—is as much about how you talk to your customers as it is what you physically do for them.  No amount of smart, well-written communication will make up for a crappy in-flight experience.  But when you pair the right language with the right deeds, the combination creates an experience your customers won’t soon forget.

 

October 18th, 2013 blog No Comments

Thanksgiving Recipes from maslansky + partners

We decided to communicate our favorite Thanksgiving recipes for you to enjoy this holiday season.  Enjoy!

thanksgiving

(more…)

November 22nd, 2013 blog 4 Comments

Too little, too late: Target finally apologizes to customers for security breach

By Marilyn Chenoweth

On Monday Target launched a major PR effort to apologize to customers for a massive cyber-attack on its network over the holidays.  The retailer ran a full-page apology letter from CEO Gregg Steinhafel in some of the nation’s major newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today.  Steinhafel also granted his first full interview since the breach to CNBC.

Recently, Target admitted that the security breach, which started in late November and lasted 19 days over the holiday shopping season, was nearly twice as large as they initially thought.  They also retracted a statement saying that PIN numbers weren’t stolen.  Turns out, they were.  This news means the cyber-attack was one of the largest and most severe of its kind, affecting up to 110 million Target customers.  About 40 million credit card records and 70 million other records containing customer names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses were stolen.  This is a big, big deal.

I had my pin number stolen once before.  And I watched over $300 vanish from my meager post-grad bank account within a matter of minutes.  It’s a scary, humbling experience and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  I can relate to the disgruntled Target customers who were affected by the breach.  And I think I speak for many of them when I say the retailer’s apology was a nice gesture, but it was simply too little, too late.

Frankly, I believe most people understand the risk they assume when signing up for a credit or debit card.  And I bet almost everyone has had one of their cards compromised at some point.  It happens.

No, the breach was not Target’s fault.  But did Target reveal what they knew and when they knew it right from the very get-go?  That’s not entirely clear.  And it’s swiftly damaging the brand’s reputation.

Here at m+p, we believe honesty is the best policy and transparency is key.  Instead of letting fragments of information trickle out for well over a month, Target should have detailed the full effects of the breach, acknowledged the severity of the situation, assured customers they were doing everything possible to repair the damage, and apologized.  The longer you wait to bear the bad news and admit your shortcomings, the more negative the situation becomes in the minds of reporters and consumers.

Target owes much of its success to the emotional brand equity they’ve built with consumers over time.  Many brand enthusiasts, myself included, affectionately refer to the retailer as “Tarjay.”  Let’s hope that, despite their recent mistakes, consumers will stand by the famed retailer’s side and give them a chance to rebuild their trust.

 

 

January 15th, 2014 blog No Comments

Language We Like: Hotel Breakfasts

By Meaghan Bresnahan

We spotted the below marketing campaign from Country Inns Hotels. The ad depicts a hotel breakfast – presumably free with room. Country Inns is letting us know that because this comes inclusive, we don’t have to worry about one more line on our expense reports.

We liked it for one key reason: every business traveler knows the pain of the expense report. This a great example of language that demonstrates an understanding of their audience’s needs and priorities.


Country Inns

December 3rd, 2013 blog No Comments

An Apology Not Fit for Everyone

By Erika Troia

Recent comments made by Chip Wilson, Founder and Chairman of the high-end athletic apparel company, lululemon athletica, have sparked media attention—and not the good kind.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg TV, Chip Wilson faced complaints that lululemon’s expensive, high-quality pants were wearing prematurely by stating:

 

Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for [the yoga pants]… It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it.”

Did he just blame the women who wear his company’s product as the reason for the problem?

That’s certainly what people heard, and at m+p we’re believers that “it’s not what you say that matters, it’s what they hear.”

To combat the negative media onslaught, Chip uploaded a message to lululemon’s YouTube page—notably titled “A Message” and not “An Apology.” See text of the message below:

 

Hello, I’m Chip Wilson. I’m founder of lululemon athletica. I’d like to talk to you today about the last few days of media that’s occurred around the Bloomberg interview. I’m sad. I’m really sad. I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions. I’m sad for the people at lululemon who I care so much about that have really had to face the brunt of my actions. I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact it has had on you. I’m sorry to have put you all through this…For all of you that have made lululemon what it is today, I ask you to stay in a conversation that is above the fray. I ask you to prove that the culture that you have built cannot be chipped away. Thank you.”

Chip Wilson

Er…

The message, devoid of sincerity and authenticity, doesn’t apologize for what he said about women’s bodies not fitting the pants, but instead apologized for the consequences of his words, and for the effect it had on his employees and lululemon as a brand. It’s also pretty clear he’s reading from the teleprompter, resulting in more insincerity and disconnectedness in what he’s saying.

Even though he said apologetic words like “sorry,” “repercussions of my actions,” and “I take responsibility,” his message didn’t resonate with those he offended.

Chip might want to issue another apology. One that apologizes for what he said, how offensive it was to those who buy his product (and to those who don’t), and focuses less on how it effects the employees of his company. One that, quite simply, is fitting for everyone.

November 18th, 2013 blog 1 Comment

Message Analysis: “We’re a culture, not a costume”

By Sachiko Pettit

 

Halloween

 

While dressing up in silly costumes is all part of the spirit of Halloween, a student-led awareness campaign claims that some inappropriate costumes may take it too far. A group of ten students started a poster campaign “We’re a culture, not a costume” to ask people to think twice before choosing a Halloween costume that plays off ethnic or cultural stereotypes.

Audience: The small student group, Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS), from Ohio University created these posters in the hope of sparking a discussion about race and insensitivity. The posters, which started out as a small movement, quickly became popular over Tumblr, catching the attention of Time, Huffington Post, and other media outlets.

Message: That Halloween costumes are rife with hurtful stereotypes – and that these shouldn’t just be brushed under the carpet.

Success or failure: The message is straightforward and coincides with the belief that “it’s not what you say that matters, it’s what they hear.”  Costumes that reinforce cultural stereotypes, whether it be “uncivilized Native Americans” or a “promiscuous Geisha” are offensive, whether or not that is the intention behind wearing them.

Why: The media attention around this campaign highlights that this is a hot topic not only on student campuses but across America. Although there has been widespread support for the students’ campaign, others dismiss it saying that people are just “overly sensitive” and “can’t take a joke.” But their message is honest and simple: whether it is your intention or not, wearing one of these costumes is insulting and turns someone’s cultural identity into a caricature. While dressing up is supposed to be entertaining and fun, after seeing these posters, it is difficult to argue that the “fun” in wearing these costumes outweighs the offensive message. We are curious to see how this message influenced Halloween costume choices as a result – if at all.

October 31st, 2013 blog No Comments

SquareOff Gauges Audience Reactions at PRWeek

Michael Maslansky appeared at this year’s PRWeek session Battle of the Big Ideas.  Audience members reacted to the speakers using SquareOff Interactive Mobile technology which turns any smartphone or tablet device into an audience response system.  The video below showcases some of the highlights from this event:

November 13th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language We Like: Bethesda Bagels

By Chris Manley

Bethesda Bagels in Washington, D.C. Displaying the plainspoken principle to great effect.

 

Bagels

This simple little tableaux argues obliquely that their food and beverage is natural without having to actually make the claim. It leaves us with the impression that they’re the kind of people who wouldn’t use the junk we’re afraid of, but it lets us draw the conclusion ourselves.

No insincere-sounding press-releasey statements like “Here at Bethesda Bagels, we’re deeply committed to using only the finest quality flours…” stencilled anywhere in the shop. And if they made the claim directly, we’d probably be less likely to believe it, and certainly more likely to start consciously looking for evidence that it’s not true.

October 1st, 2013 blog No Comments

Press Release: maslansky + partners Announces Strategic Alliance with LSG Consulting Associates

NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2, 2013 – maslansky + partners (m+p), a research-driven messaging and language strategy firm founded on the idea that It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear™, today announced it has established a strategic alliance with LSG Consulting Associates (LSG Consulting), a Connecticut-based strategy consulting firm.  Together, maslansky and LSG will utilize their combined experience in research, messaging and marketing strategy and operations to deliver a more complete offering to clients.

Michael Maslansky, CEO of m+p, and Lisa Goldstein, founder and Managing Director of LSG Consulting, have collaborated on work in the health care insurance arena, and share related experience providing strategy support for money-center financial institutions and other Fortune 500 companies. “Lisa’s extensive national and global marketing experience at blue-chip client companies helps ensure that we always deliver a strategy that is driven from the customer’s perspective and mindful of the client’s realities,” commented Michael.

“Lisa has lived through many of the challenges our clients face in terms of making their marketing programs and campaigns be as break-through and results-driven as possible. She understands that research must be actionable to be worthwhile –a guiding principle we live by at m+p.”  Using proprietary research methodology to measure real-world, emotional reactions to the language used by brands, CEOs and industries, maslansky + partners helps clients maximize their Return on Message – the ultimate impact of their communication and marketing efforts – so they know for sure before investing in a media or channel strategy.

Whether supporting advertising, PR, public affairs, branding, or employee communication, m+p applies its pioneering research methodology to harness the role emotion plays in how people interpret messages and language. As the former CEO of VGS Creative, a general advertising agency based in Westport, CT, Lisa commented, “Michael and his team have always demonstrated an incredible ability to understand what it takes to engage and persuade an audience.  They focus on identifying consumer truths and developing the words, phrases and messages that resonate at an emotional level.  They then present a strategic framework that clients can actually use. I am confident that leveraging m+p’s proven process of using science to validate messaging will enable our current clients (corporates and their agency partners) to better mitigate risk and ensure the highest degree of success from any of their marketing and branding efforts.”

Lisa added, “Our skill sets and experience complement each other, allowing us to deliver senior-level strategic advice and bring more value to our clients in an offering we believe to be unique. While our companies will remain independent, we will collaborate when it makes sense – ultimately to help our clients exceed their goals. Moreover, the seasoned team of partners and colleagues at m+p will bring additional depth and breadth to ensure an excellent client experience.”

About LSG Consulting Associates

LSG Consulting (http://www.linkedin.com/in/lsgconsulting) is a Connecticut-based strategy firm focused primarily on corporate clients. It is led by Lisa Goldstein, who during more than 25 years in marketing leadership positions at major corporations and agencies has launched brands, redefined categories, entered new markets and managed through market and company business cycles.   She brings this experience and expertise to   her work, assisting C-level and senior executives with a broad range of strategic challenges to drive change, revenue growth, and profitability.

About maslansky + partners

maslansky + partners (www.maslansky.com). m+p helps companies, industries and political candidates develop the right strategic language and messages to break through, be heard and drive action. They are the only market research firm that truly specializes in language strategy – identifying precisely what to communicate and how to articulate it to transform how your message is heard. They are different from other research firms because they are at the same time communicators and researchers. From The New York Times and the Washington Post to the BBC and “60 Minutes,” they are recognized as the leader in message-based research. From advertising to digital, public relations and public affairs to brand positioning, m+p has an extensive background in developing language that changes perceptions and drives the decision-making process.

About Diversified Agency Services
maslansky + partners is a part of Diversified Agency Services (DAS), a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC) (www.omnicomgroup.com). DAS manages Omnicom’s holdings in a variety of marketing communications disciplines. DAS includes over 200 companies, which operate through a combination of networks and regional organizations, serving international and local clients through more than 700 offices in 71 countries.

About Omnicom Group Inc.
Omnicom Group Inc. (www.omnicomgroup.com) is a leading global marketing and corporate communications company. Omnicom’s branded networks and numerous specialty firms provide advertising, strategic media planning and buying, digital and interactive marketing, direct and promotional marketing, public relations and other specialty communications services to over 5,000 clients in more than 100 countries.

 

October 2nd, 2013 news No Comments

Michael talks “Duck Dynasty” star suspension on The O’Reilly Factor

maslansky + partners CEO Michael Maslansky joins The O’Reilly Factor on FOX News to discuss the controversial sacking of “Duck Dynasty” star over homophobic comments in the press.

 

 

January 6th, 2014 news No Comments

Macy’s and Barney’s Discrimination Issues

maslansky + partners CEO Michael Maslansky stopped by FOX News’s Shepard Smith Reporting to discuss recent reports of racial discrimination at department stores Macy’s and Barney’s.




November 4th, 2013 blog, news, Television No Comments

Language We Like: Chris Christie Killing it with Kindness

Nice girls and guys don’t finish last. Mean ones do.

When asked to say one nice thing about each other at last week’s governor’s race debate, Senator Barbara Buono took a swing at Governor Chris Christie.  She cracked, “Well, he’s good on late-night TV; he’s not so good in New Jersey.”

Governor Christie responded in the best way he possibly could. Magnanimously. When given the chance to snap back, the often acidic tongue from New Jersey had nothing but heartfelt and sincere praise for his opponent:

 

She’s obviously a good and caring mother and someone who cares deeply about public service in this state because she’s dedicated a lot of her life to it. And while we have policy disagreements, Kristine, I would never denigrate her service. And I think we need more people who care enough about our communities to be able to stand up and do the job that she’s done over the last 20 years.”  - Christie

Unsurprisingly, the audience responded with roaring applause. It wasn’t so much what Christie said, as what the audience heard when he said it—strength, confidence, and generosity. And most of all, something that could touch them beyond political point-scoring.

Check out the video of Christie’s comeback below:

 

 

October 15th, 2013 blog No Comments

Dan Snyder’s Fight for the Redskins’ Name

By Shelley Whiddon

 

An ever widening chorus of voices – including President Obama’s – is passing judgment on the Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder’s decision not to change the team’s name.  The critics continue to suggest the name carries racist connotations, while Dan remains firm that what matters most is the football heritage behind it.

In the face of such continued criticism, we don’t think Snyder’s decision to communicate an intractable position is the way to go.

redskins

Dan seems to be saying that it’s just “my opinion versus yours.” When you’re placing the heritage of a football team in contest with the emotions brought about by a history of racial oppression, that’s an uphill battle.

Is the intention behind the word all that matters? Even if I say I believe Dan Snyder and the other 57% who said in a recent Washington Post online poll that the name shouldn’t be changed…when they say that they mean no disrespect, is that enough? (Mind you, I won’t go as far as saying I believe that even one fan is thinking about Native Americans when they sing “Hail to the Redskins,” which Snyder contends is in honor of the team and seems to imply, also in honor of the history of the people.)

As a believer that “It’s not what you say that matters. It’s what they hear,” I’d argue that intention matters very little. A growing segment of the population is offended by the word and no amount of team pride or RG3 touchdowns will lessen that.

As a side note, my high school mascot was the Redskins and they had the sense to change it in 2000 to the Raiders. And I’m sure fans are still flocking out in the dozens to see those Friday night games, despite the name change.

October 15th, 2013 blog 1 Comment

Communications Lessons from Fiction: Anton Chekhov

By David Baynham and Chris Manley

 

A quote from Anton Chekhov that we stumbled upon recently got us thinking about how in certain marketing situations, the direct approach isn’t always the right one.

 

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass” – Anton Chekhov

What Chekhov is talking about here is the beauty—or power—of things left unsaid. Things left for the imagination. Using details to communicate a more powerful whole.

Yes, lovely for flowery literature. But it’s not something that we, as marketing professionals and communicators, can easily grasp as useful for our profession. I mean, we’ve got a plainspoken principle we’re supposed to be sticking to here, right? I need to communicate it as straightforwardly as possible. Except…every now and again we run up against a communications impasse where certain assertions are rejected no matter the evidence we put behind them:

Chekhov 1

Sometimes we can’t just TELL our audience.  This is particularly an issue with “worn out” assertions—such as “added efficiency.” They are to marketing what a shining moon is to fiction: a cliché, a phrase leaned on so often as to be silly, jarring because of its history more so than its veracity. But then how do we convince them?

We’re all used to the adage that if we really want to convince our bosses of something, make them think that they came up with it themselves. Chekhov’s advice is similar. If you give your audience the information they need to reach the conclusion themselves, the conclusion feels truer (we’re channeling Leo DiCaprio in Inception a little bit here).  So:

 

Chekhov 2

 

We don’t always need to provide our audiences with the answer. Sometimes we need to give them the building blocks to get there themselves. Thanks, Chekhov.

 

October 16th, 2013 blog No Comments

Shelley Whiddon

Shelley is also an (in-recovery) entrepreneur who co-founded a small business in the Washington, DC metro-area, teaching children foreign languages at an early age. She enjoys cooking (eating!), travel and she’s currently writing a book on living in small spaces for My Home Press, an imprint of the National Association of Home Builders.

She lives in NYC with her fiancé and their two cats who sleep a lot but don’t believe (or care if) their humans need sleep.

April 21st, 2010 team No Comments

Jenna Galbreath

 

Jenna graduated with an honors diploma in International Studies from the University of Oregon.  Originally from Portland, Oregon, she also has lived in Costa Rica and Tunisia.  She brings Spanish and Arabic language skills, a strong collection of Oregon Ducks paraphernalia, and a curious appreciation for cheap red wine.

 

April 20th, 2010 team No Comments

UN Women Gives Bad Language a Good Purpose

By Shelley Whiddon

Bad language (and the attitudes behind it) can deliver powerful results in the right hands. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) just launched a new ad campaign to remind viewers that gender inequality is still a critical issue around the globe. The ads show women’s faces overlaid with the top Google searches on a given day that start with phrases such as “women should,” “women cannot” and “women need to.” The results reveal top searches for depressing content such as:

  • Women need to be put in their place
  • Women cannot speak in church
  • Women should be slaves

UN Women takes the harmful language and gives it purpose.

 

UN Women

 

Today, I did a search that started with “women are” and the top search was “women aren’t funny” – far from as troubling as “women should be slaves” but still annoying. (I should note that the second most searched phrase was “women are better than men”).

October 22nd, 2013 blog No Comments

Michael Maslansky addresses the Language of Trust for MDRT 2013 Annual Meeting

Written by Kathryn Furtaw Keuneke for roundthetable.org

Language of Trust article_Page_1

 

Language of Trust article_Page_2

October 28th, 2013 news, Press No Comments

What am I supposed to think?

By Michael Maslansky

In communications, we often see that everything vague will be interpreted negatively. We look for the catch. When a company makes a claim, we look for the spin. We challenge the facts.  We question the validity.

And so it was when I saw the below ad from American Airlines this morning. I happen to support the merger of American and USAir, if only because I desperately hope that my combined point totals will keep me at the highest status level. But still.

 

AA-USAIR_SUPPORT

 

If 183 members of Congress support the merger….does that mean that 252 do not?

If 26 state and local Chambers support it…how many of the hundreds of others do not?

And while 8 Mayors in Metropolitan cities support it…are those important cities for AA and USAir?

If you want to persuade me, give me context not data. Help me think about facts, don’t just give me the facts themselves.

I don’t know about you, but this ad left me thinking AA and USAir are in serious trouble. After all, they were vague…so I am going to interpret negatively.

 

 

October 29th, 2013 blog No Comments

Trust Is a Four-Letter Word

The m+p philosophy and methodology is featured heavily in the below WealthManagement.com Editor’s Letter from David Armstrong. Michael Maslansky took language strategy and Live Instant Response Dial Testing to the Peak Advisor Alliance conference in Omaha, Neb. David’s article below outlines some of what we learned:

 

WealthManagement

 

 

October 30th, 2013 news No Comments

Thanks for the “additional savings,” TWC

By Sara Snedeker

At m+p, we often find a disconnect between “your truth” and “their truth.”  Frequently, this disconnect comes down to how companies and customers think about money.  Companies are tempted to try to label transactions as “savings,” because they know that’s what customers want.  The trouble is, misusing the word has far worse consequences than simply being upfront about pricing.

Many corporations define “savings” as spending less on something than you might have otherwise.  This viewpoint is very rational, and “true.”  But it doesn’t acknowledge “customers’ truth.”  To a consumer, the concept of savings is very simple: spending less money than before.  Anything else is spending, not saving.

Take, for example, this email that landed in my inbox from Time Warner Cable yesterday.  I was happy to see a subject line that said “We’re pleased to extend you additional savings” until I read further.  They’re letting me know about a $15 per month increase.  In my book, that isn’t exactly “additional savings.”

 

TWC

December 19th, 2013 blog 1 Comment

Michael Maslansky again among the “Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business”

NEW YORK, March. 6, 2014 /PRNewswire/ – CEO and author Michael Maslansky has been named for the second time to the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business by Trust Across America-Trust Around the World (TAA-TAW). The annual list honors CEOs, leadership experts, and researchers across public and private sectors.

Today, even organizations that have a great story to tell have trouble communicating credibly with their customers and other stakeholders.  They face increased skepticism that makes it harder than ever to engage and build – or rebuild – trust.   Their motives are questioned.  Their facts are challenged.  And their every word is scrutinized.  In this environment, it is more important than ever for organizations and executives to understand their stakeholders’ perspective and develop communications that will resonate.

maslansky59_ (more…)

March 6th, 2014 news, Press No Comments

Michael Maslansky discusses Duck Dynasty dustup on O’Reilly Factor

December 24th, 2013 blog No Comments

Language Moments of 2013

With a busy year-end of gaffes and memorable messages, we decided to wait until 2014 to create our fourth annual take on the good, the bad, and the ugly Language Moments of the Year for 2013:

 

This year we highlight our favorites: the language of politics…the language of inspiration…and the language that was just plain crazy (of which this year had a bumper crop). Enjoy, pass it on and let us know what you think and what we missed!

January 6th, 2014 blog, highlights No Comments

Michael Maslansky named Top Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business 2014

Michael Maslansky has just been announced as being among the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business this year. The report, published by Trust Across America – Trust Around the World, can be found here.

 

Trust

January 14th, 2014 blog, news No Comments

How I Met Your Mother apologizes with class

By Shelley Whiddon & David Baynham

This Monday “How I Met Your Mother” screened a controversial Kung-Fu themed episode. The episode featured such scenes as exaggerated accents, characters drinking tea, eating noodles, or practicing calligraphy. The show, the latest in their run of “Slapsgiving” gags, caused an angry response (helpfully cataloged under the hashtag #HowIMetYourRacism).

 

HIMYM

 

Almost 18 hours after the show aired, co-creator Carter Bays took to Twitter to make his apology (NOTE: Tweets read from bottom to top):

 

Carter Bays

These are just a couple of reasons why we like Carter’s move here:

  1. Carter came to the point of anger – Twitter – and even used the #HowIMetYourRacism hastag to directly enter the hostile conversation
  2. He actually thanked people for their anger – for raising the issue
  3. He acknowledged, and apologized for, the length of time between airing and apology
  4. He contextualized how this happened, without turning it into an excuse
  5. He apologized, directly, and unreservedly – sometimes the most well-meant apologies fall down because they fail to simply use the “S” word
  6. He asked for forgiveness indirectly, with a commitment to regain trust

 

 

January 16th, 2014 blog No Comments

Tips from Michael Maslansky on how to build referral networks

Michael Maslansky’s communication advice features prominently in the January issue of Investment Adviser Magazine. Michael shows the best ways for advisers to secure referrals from professional “centers of influence.” The full article can be read online here.

 

Tips

January 20th, 2014 blog, news No Comments

Only 5% of Americans realize big bank bailouts have been repaid

 

In 2008 the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was put into place by the U.S. government to help support a staggered financial industry – what the media and the public at large referred to as a “bailout.” Since 2008, America’s larger retail banks have repaid this money – something the public is at least somewhat aware of right?

Think again. TARP’s lasting impact on people’s perception of the financial industry is clear from our latest survey data which found only 5% of the American public believes America’s large financial institutions have paid it back.

TARP

So what should the financial industry be doing?

Let’s be honest, it’s too late for an information campaign. No one wants to put TARP back on people’s radar. But the fact that the American public fundamentally believes most large banks and financial companies OWE THEM, can’t be ignored. It’s essential context for what Americans will give the financial industry permission to say and to stand for going forward. A bit of advice for members of the financial industry:

 

  1. Don’t make excuses.  When you do have to talk about TARP, don’t pass the buck or make excuses. Effective communications acknowledge your role and responsibility when people perceive you’ve done wrong.
  2. Focus on your audience. Because they think they bailed you out – and that you still owe them, you don’t have permission to claim that you contribute to the overall stability and wellbeing of the economy (you’re part of the problem, remember?). They want to hear about how you are contributing to fixing the problems you created—such as helping out small businesses.
  3. Be humble. It’s natural to want to talk about the good impact your organization has or how great a product is—but if you sound chest-thumping, given the context of TARP perceptions, it seems like you are just doing it all to cover up for the bad stuff.  Instead, take the tone of “we are here to serve.”
  4. Listen. Many Americans think financial institutions are tone deaf.  That they are completely out of touch with America and Americans.  As a result, it’s important to demonstrate that you are both LISTENING and HEARING what they expect from you.

 

Call or email us to see the full data and cross tabs or to talk about how lack of trust in the financial industry might impact a communication challenge on your plate today.  JDahm@maslansky.com at (917) 677-9100.

 

Survey Source: Google Consumer Surveys, Updated Feb 1st 2014 - 464 respondents weighted to be proportionally representative of the Internet population.

January 23rd, 2014 blog, Uncategorized 1 Comment

President Obama Delivers His Most Republican Speech Yet. His way.

By Lee Carter

It took the President over an hour to deliver the most Republican speech of his Presidency.  His message was simple.

 

I am a man of action.  I am going to act to create opportunities, fight for the middle class and create jobs…It’s time to restore America to what used to be good.”

 

That could have been written by a Republican, right? It’s no secret that for more than thirty years the GOP has been working to position themselves as the party of opportunity where hard work pays off and good jobs abound. The party that believes in restoring America to greatness. Well… if my twitter feed was any indication of how America reacted, the public was as divided as the house floor. Democrats seemed to love it. Republicans hated what could have been their own message. Why?  Well, like all of communication—it’s not what he said that mattered, it’s what people heard. And what people heard depended on their views of the President, America, and politicians in general. So, let me break down the messages he used…Both, what he said. And what folks heard.

 

1)      I’m going to act.  The President used a lot of language last night that made it clear that he was no lame duck.  That he was going to get stuff done.  That he was going to act on his own. 

SOTU1

 

2)      Opportunity for all.  The President used the term “opportunity” more than a dozen times in last night’s speech—arguably the most Republican message on earth.  And, despite the fact that just more than a year ago Republicans wanted The Grand Old Party to be “synonymous with the name ‘Growth and Opportunity Party’” they didn’t respond well to the term “opportunity” when it came from the President’s lips at all.

SOTU2

 

3)      Fighting for the middle class.  Who fights for the middle class?  Ask Republicans and they will say that they do.  Ask Democrats and they will say they do.  Who is right?  They both believe they are.  There is a gap here.  A big one.  And in this gap is where the reaction to the message lives.

 

SOTU3

4)      By creating jobs.  In a lot of the work we do, we say that job creation is the new charity. What do we mean by that? We mean that creating jobs is viewed as one of the best things a company or politician can do.  And clearly the President got that same feedback in his research.  His set of policies read like, “The answer is jobs, what is the problem?”  The truth is that no one could possibly be AGAINST job creation.  And yet…some people were.

 

SOTU4

5)      It’s time to restore America to what used to be good.  And America used to be really, really good.  So let’s get back to that.  Can’t we all agree on that?  The answer in a word, NO.  Unless we are talking about Cory.  Then yes.  Because he represents everything that has EVER been good about America.  At least we can agree on SOMETHING.

SOTU5

 

So, was it a success?  It depends on what side of the aisle you were sitting.  I think people heard exactly what they wanted to hear.  And that is exactly what we saw on the floor of the house last night.

January 29th, 2014 blog No Comments

The Super Bowl XLVIII Ad Mazzie Awards

Because it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.

 

What better opportunity for a brand to tell a story to America than Super Bowl Sunday?  Companies from across the country and around the globe reach deep into their pockets to talk to one hundred million viewers for a matter of seconds—all to the tune of $4 million.  So, how did they do?  Did they tell a good story?  Does anyone remember what it was?  Was it worth the millions of dollars they spent?

What follows is our take.  Our awards for this year’s Super Bowl Ads… The Superbowl XLVIII  Ad Mazzies…call out hits and misses when it comes to communicating with Americans.

And the Mazzie for…

Best Brand Makeover goes to:  Radio Shack.   More people at our company discussed this spot than any other.  Why?  Because they did what we tell our clients to do all the time—start all communication from the understanding of where your audience is coming from.  You have your truth.  Your audience has theirs.  And only one of these two truths matters (hint: it’s the latter).  To sum it up, Michael Maslansky (CEO) said:  “This was one of my favorites, they put their flaws out front, gave people a reason to try them again, and connected back to the brand.”  Well done Radio Shack.  As more than one person here said, “The 80s called.  They want their store back.”

Best Use of Patriotism goes to:  Chrysler.  In a year where patriotism filled the ad space, Chrysler stood tall.  Why?  Because they built on a powerful narrative they have been telling over the past few years—buying a Chrysler equals support for American-made products.  And this year they made that stance credible.  Patrick Buckley (VP) noted, “For me, the best part was the line about letting ‘German’s brew your beer’ and let the ‘Swiss make your watches, but we will build your cars.’ It lent some credibility to the idea that the American automobile, like the American road, is, as an idea, unique, special and worth promoting.”

Most Personal goes to: Hyundai.  The best—and most human—marketing strategies are the ones that make you think about YOU.  As Marilyn Chenoweth (Associate Language Strategist) said, “I loved this ad because it was personal.  It reminded me of my own dad and how he was constantly keeping me out of harm’s way when I was little.”

Best Use of Controversy goes to:  Coca-Cola.  Like it or hate it—and there were plenty on both sides—there is no question it struck a chord.  Chris Manley (Senior Director) defended the ad, arguing: “I criticize our industry a LOT for thinking it’s way more intelligent than it really is…but this is a piece that really elevates the TV spot to art. It’s taking a controversial position without making a logical argument. It takes a side in a debate with two legitimate sides but does so in microcosm, looking at humanity rather than customers. ‘America the Beautiful’ in multiple languages, with immigrants, touched a lot of people and infuriated others. This is what art does.”

Best Use of Nostalgia goes to: Dannon.  There were a few throwback spots this year (Jerry Seinfeld was one, but he left many people upset that the reunion everyone was hoping for was just another Super Bowl ad).  Building on previous ads, Dannon really hit a nostalgic home run. Katie Cronen (Sr Language Strategist) said: “The Full House reunion was classic and blended seamlessly with John Stamos’ ‘brand.’”  Not to mention the fact that it gave women a reason to keep watching a very painful game.

Best Use of Iconography AGAIN goes to:  Budweiser Clydesdales Puppy Adoption.  It’s a bit formulaic…Cute puppy + Cowboy + Clydesdales.  But it works.  Year after year we look forward to those iconic horses. As Justin Altum (VP) said, “Super Bowl Sunday is about tradition, no matter how you spend it, and for me, seeing the Clydesdales is a nice part of it.  Oh, and puppies never hurt.”

Freshest Take on Their Brand goes to:  Beats.  Up until now Beats was for a certain kind of music lover.  By using Ellen DeGeneres as a brand ambassador alongside their well-known horde of male athletes and rappers they took the brand in a new direction.  David Baynham (Social Media Manager) said: “this felt so fresh because it embraced a side of music-loving that it felt like Beats had ignored till now.  Whether it will be good for the brand remains to be seen, but it was a pleasant, subversive surprise.”

Creepiest Turn of Phrase goes to:  Scientology.  This has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with language.  SPIRITUAL TECHNOLOGY?  Lee Carter (Partner) had this to say: “Do I want my spirituality to have technology in it?  Technology for me is often equated with stress.  Spirituality is where I find rest.  Put the words together and I’m not even sure what it means.”

Creepiest Concept goes to: Squarespace.  Some might say this was unnecessarily creepy.  In our experience scare tactics just don’t work.  Felix Hofmann (Associate Language Strategist) said: “I never thought the Internet was bombarding me with stuff I don’t need, at least not in the age of spam filters, email alerts and personalized feeds.  It’s a cheap scare tactic, and I’m not buying into it.”

Most Out of Touch with Target Audience goes to:  Maserati.  In their first super bowl spot ever, we were left wondering, “Who were they even talking to?” It was a great ad.  For someone else.

Best Ad Developed by an Intern goes to:  Cure Auto Insurance.  We don’t remember any lines from it—or even what they were trying to say.  But, as our Media and Technology manager Bentley McBentleson said, “I just remember it looked like something an intern at Pixar would do on their lunch break.”

Most American but…I Have No Idea What That Company Does goes to:  I’m still not sure.  But I hear they make plastic mats that go in cars.  I think.  I am still not sure what they do.  We suggest they take advice from the movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:  “And by the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories?  Here’s a good idea – have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!”  And for $4 million dollars… I’m talking to you Company Whose Name I Don’t Remember…

Worst Brand Makeover goes to:  Kia.  The problem here: they didn’t acknowledge the truth of their audience.  Sara Snedeker (Language Strategist) argued, “They aren’t a luxury brand and this commercial isn’t convincing me otherwise.”

And the Final Mazzie…for Most Anticipated Comeback goes to… 24.  Jack Bauer is back.  And we can’t wait.  All we were left wondering is whether President David Palmer will make an appearance in the Allstate ads next year?

 

So was it worth the $4 million in the end?  Time will tell what the ad spots bought their brands. For now, it bought them a Mazzie.

February 4th, 2014 blog No Comments

Corporate Sponsorships in a Human Rights Debate: The Sochi Winter Olympics

By Lee Carter

What’s the problem?  The Winter Olympics in Sochi are being politicized because of questions about human rights.  Human rights questions and the Olympics aren’t news.  It happened in Beijing.  And it’s happening again now.  So, some people are calling for a boycott.  Some bars are even boycotting Russian vodka (this is that serious folks).  And Cher refused an invitation to perform there.

Who is impacted?  Obviously the athletes.  And the LGBT community at large.  But lots of eyes are turning to the corporate sponsors.  If Cher won’t go to the Olympics and people won’t drink Russian vodka—should corporate sponsors spend the money to even show up?

What do we think Olympic Corporate Sponsors should do?  Stop your whining.  OF COURSE YOU SHOULD GO!  Take a deep breath, and do what you are there to do.  My dad used to tell me when you are up to your waist in alligators, remember the object of the exercise is to drain the swamp.  So, corporate sponsors—drain the swamp. Don’t lose focus.  Remember the object of the exercise.  It was to support the Olympics, global camaraderie, the athletes, and the dream, NOT to weigh in on Russia, their policies or politics. The issue that has nothing to do with the reason you are there.  So, stay the course.  And find the message that allows you to focus on the Olympics and not the Olympic host countryand their politics.

So, sounds easy.  But if people want them to boycott, what should they say?  There is nothing less political than hard work.  The beauty of victory.  The agony of defeat.  So, Corporate Sponsors, I say to you…don’t allow yourselves to be politicized.  Keep your language focused on what we all agree on.  On the things that make us tune in to the Olympics to begin with.  On the reasons we tear up during medal ceremonies and at the stories behind the athletes and their families.  So, when you talk about your sponsorship – sponsor the Olympics.  Sponsor the Athletes.  Sponsor their families (I’m talking to you P&G).  Sponsor their dreams.  Sponsor hard work.  Sponsor the spirit of coming together.

Easy enough if sponsors control the message, but what happens when they are asked the tough question? How can you sponsor the Olympics when they are being held in a country with a well-debated human rights record?  Answer them with pride.  “How can we NOT?  We are here focused on one thing.  The Olympic Games.  And all that they represent.  This is not political.  In fact, there is nothing less political than this.  We are here to support the athletes.  Their hopes, dreams, and countless hours of hard work.  We are here to support the spirit of competition.  The global community coming together.  We are here to find common ground. And support the things that make all of us great.  That is why we are here. Period.”  And leave the politics of Russia to Russia.

 

February 4th, 2014 blog No Comments

Why Likening A US Airport To A Third World Country Is A Bad Idea

By Lee Carter

 

What’s the problem?  Vice President Biden wants to get support to spend more on infrastructure.  That’s an easy pitch right?  Well, here’s how Joe put it during a speech in Philadelphia earlier today:

 

If you blindfolded someone and took them at two o’clock in the morning into the airport at Hong Kong and said where do you think you are, they’d say, ‘This must be in America, this is a modern airport’…If I took you in blindfolded and took you to La Guardia airport in New York, you must think, ‘I must be in some third world country.’ I’m not joking!”

I really wish you had been joking Joe…In all of the work we do, we find that it’s POSITIVE language that motivates, not NEGATIVE.  Bashing something, or someone, to get your point across—even if it is true – is never well-received.  Sure, we have all looked at La Guardia and thought it could use some sprucing up (I mean really NYC, this is the best you can do?) , but negative language doesn’t motivate support—it just makes the person doing it—in this case our Vice President—look…bad.

What we think he should have done instead?  Focus on the positive.  Paint a picture of the benefits and outcomes rather than focusing negatively on the problem.

So, sounds easy.  But how should he have done it?  If I were advising the Vice President, I would tell him to focus on two key benefits:  the jobs created in rebuilding the airport and the better travel experience for Americans and our guests. Something like…

 

Have you been to an airport or a train station lately and thought, ‘we can do better than this?’ I have too.  And, I know we can do something about this.  And create jobs in the process.  Let’s invest in infrastructure.  Let’s make sure when Americans and our guests arrive in our cities they see the great country that we are.  Let’s put our best foot forward.  Let’s make sure that Americans have the ability to get around on highways that are well thought out and minimize traffic.  Let’s work together to find ways to improve our train system so that our citizens can get from one place to another in cost effective and efficient ways.  Let’s do this.”

Sound better?  We think so too…

 

February 6th, 2014 blog No Comments

AOL CEO Shows the World He Can’t Manage In Three Sentences Or Less

By Lee Carter

What’s the problem?  AOL has to cut back on their benefits.  So? Welcome to the post-recession era.  Haven’t a lot of companies?  Why is this even news?  Well… It’s because the CEO Tim Armstrong doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea how to successfully communicate that fact.  On a call an employee call earlier today he said:

 

Two things that happened in 2012.  We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased healthcare costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan.”

WHAT?  Hold the show.  HE DID NOT JUST SAY THAT.  Is he blaming his decision to cut the 401(k) plan on other employees’ distressed babies?  I mean seriously?  Could he possibly have shared bad news in a worse way?  Hard to imagine.  When people say they want an explanation for changes, they certainly don’t mean THAT!  As my partner Larry Moscow said to me, “This is perhaps the most irresponsible, anti-parent, unaccountable CEO excuse I have ever seen for not being able to run a successful company!  To publicly point a finger at two employees’ because they had ‘distressed babies’ and therefore the insurance premium increases have led him to cut  everyone’s 401k contribution is beyond pathetic.”  I couldn’t agree more Larry.

What did he tell us in those three sentences:  A lot.  And it’s not good.  He told us that:

  1. He can’t manage.  What is he thinking?  Let’s not forget our cardinal rule here at m+p Tim, “it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear”.  And what his employees – and his investors – hear is that their CEO doesn’t know how to manage his business if he can’t manage to help two of his employees through tough times.
  2. He has no empathy for his employees.  Is he that tone deaf?  Has he watched undercover boss?  In this day and age, CEOs need to show more empathy and support of their employees.  If Undercover Boss’s can manage to take care of their employees and give bonuses, why can’t he?
  3. AOL is in serious financial trouble.  This is sending a clear signal that AOL must be in financial trouble.  If 2 million dollars throws them off providing an important employee benefit, it’s a clear signal that AOL must be in trouble.
  4. He should have called us before he picked up the phone.  Seriously Tim.  We are here.  Ready, willing, and able to help.  Before your next call e-mail me at lcarter@maslansky.com.
February 7th, 2014 blog No Comments

What happens to the markets when Yellen talks? [Part 1]

By Lee Carter

I’ve always been interested about how the markets react when the Fed makes an announcement.  Or when jobs numbers get released.  So, I decided to watch what happens when Yellen talks.  She’s new—just one week as the Federal Reserve Chair—so this is a great opportunity to watch it from the start.  And to learn from it.  So starting today I am going to watch.  Which is a good thing, because she is expected to be making her first big announcement later on today.  According to a Time article:

 

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is expected to say Tuesday that the nation’s central bank will continue to scale back its bond-buying program that has stimulated the economy for years, as long as economic growth keeps continuing.

In her first public testimony as Fed chair, Yellen will say she expects “a great deal of continuity” with the policy course charted by recently-departed Fed chair Ben Bernanke, according to her prepared remarks. “I served on the committee as we formulated our current policy strategy and I strongly support that strategy,” Yellen will tell the hearing of the House Financial Services Committee.”

So, what does that mean?  What will the markets do?  Well, according to my friends on the street here is what they are hearing…

Yellen

 

Now, let’s see what the markets do after she makes her announcement.  More to come.

February 11th, 2014 blog No Comments

Can Paula Deen Come Back? Yes She Can.

By Lee Carter

What’s the problem?  Paula Deen is working on a comeback.  Are we ready?  The sunny queen of southern cooking and heartfelt comfort food went from being a beloved household name to a fallen star in a matter of weeks this past summer.   Deen was a symbol.  She was someone we could all relate to.  She was more than just a celebrity chef.  She was like the relative we all wished we had.  And, all that was lost with a single admission that she dropped the N-bomb sometime in her past.  She broke our hearts.  She went from being the aunt we loved to a racist we wanted nothing to do with.  And every time she opened her mouth after she made things worse.  The fallout she’s dealing with is still very, very real.  The bottom line is that we lost trust in the very thing we loved most about Paula Deen—her heart.  And that is no small thing.

Who is impacted?  All of us who bought in to her image.  We feel let down.  We feel betrayed.  We feel like we were hoodwinked.  And she hasn’t done anything yet that makes us feel otherwise.  In fact, many of her statements made things worse.  Consider this gem her people released on June 20th:

Deen had “recounted having used a racial epithet in the past, speaking largely about a time in American history which was quite different than today.” She was “born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today. To be clear Ms. Deen does not find acceptable the use of this term under any circumstance by anyone nor condone any form of racism or discrimination.”

Um… Does that sound like a woman who is sorry?  Like she has learned?  I’m afraid not.  It sounds like a woman who is trying to justify some bad behavior.  And so, most of us turned our backs on her and her sob story (remember that disaster on the Today Show?).  Yikes.

Can she come back and who should she look to for inspiration?  Absolutely, undoubtedly yes.  If Jerry Springer, Michael Vick, Bill Clinton, and Martha Stewart, can have solid careers after a whole range of controversies, it’s definitely possible. Britney Spears has the hottest ticket in Vegas. An all but forgotten sex tape made the “careers” of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. People love a comeback story almost as much as they love pillorying those who’ve made big mistakes. The problem here is that we are talking about racism.  And that is hard to bounce back from.  Take a look at Mel Gibson.  And Michael Richards.  I do think it is possible though.  Because there was one big difference.  What she said was years ago.  When Mel Gibson and Michael Richards had their rants, it was modern day.  So, if she can gut out a week of late night jokes—and demonstrate that she is authentic in her desire to be a new and better woman—she has a chance.  Let’s just hope she doesn’t pull an Anthony Weiner and throw herself a plantation-themed Return to Relevance party (thanks Chris Manley for your help coming up with that one).

What we think Paula Deen should do?  She has the opportunity now to be back in the spotlight and she is ready to use it.  Here at maslansky + partners we focus a lot on rebuilding trust.  And that is what she needs to do.  So, Paula Deen I say to you, stop making excuses and take responsibility.

So, sounds easy.  But what should she actually say? If I were advising her, here are a few suggestions I would make:

1.       Be authentic and don’t walk away from what we love about you.  Think about how much you care about fixing this. Convey that. And for goodness sake, be humble.  Your celebrity will look a little different than before – in fact it should look different.  Embrace that.  That will help you distance yourself from the symbol of racism in the south that you have become.  At the same time, don’t forget who you are.  We don’t want you to come back healthier.  Or different.  With some new PR seeking platform.  You still have a huge (even if closeted at the moment) fan base who will eat up whatever butter soaked dish your serving.  Embrace what we still love about you so we have something to hold on to. Secret admission Paula, here at our company we all sat around one day close to Thanksgiving feasting on one of your gooey pumpkin cakes made by a genius colleague.  And we loved it (even if we were ashamed to say it out loud).

2.       Take responsibility.  A lot of your fans argued that you were being mistreated and were a victim.  Unfortunately you seemed to buy in to that with all of your mascara smeared crying on morning shows and appearances. Cut that out. Nobody cares about the millionaire victim.  So, take responsibility for your actions.  And in so doing rebuild trust.  NOTE:  this doesn’t mean apologizing (thanks to New York Times for calling that apology ceasefire).  Say something like,

“I take responsibility for my actions.  Since the time I said those awful things, I have learned a lot.  I offer no excuses.  I can only tell you that I don’t like the woman I used to be.  And, I am working hard to be a better woman today.  I know I have to earn your trust and respect.  And I am committed to doing that.”

3.       Use your new partnerships to build credibility.  Partnerships are equivalent of third-party endorsements.  If those partners can trust you, maybe we can too.  It sounds like this new venture will reshape partnerships and how your celebrity is used – and that will go a long way to helping things look and feel different.

4.       Be positive. Taking responsibility and addressing this doesn’t mean dwelling on the past or making excuses.  It requires you to be forward looking.  Once you have done all of the above, focus on the future. Be positive.

Bottom line Paula is that you need smarter advisors who you are really and truly listening to.  That means call us Paula.  We are here.  And I know we could help.

February 12th, 2014 blog No Comments

Word Watch: Energy Renaissance

By Lee Carter

What’s the problem?  America needs a new energy policy that will work.  No matter what side of the aisle you are on, I bet you can agree on that.  But right now no one owns the debate.  The phrases that are out there are old.  And, so far we haven’t seen any results.  Just think about what’s being said…

 

Table

 

 

Same old, same old.  And, all of the above have the baggage that we associate with the party delivering the message.  For example, if someone on the left hears a Republican say “energy independence” they will likely have a haunting image of Rudy in 2008 and his call for energy independence saying, “Drill baby, drill?” and the crowd chanting along with him.

The point is:  all the phrases today have some negative connotations associated with them.  There is nothing new that will break through the baggage that exists.  And, because at m+p our philosophy is “it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear”—we believe whoever frames their energy policy in a new, promising and inclusive way will win the debate.  So, when we heard this new phrase this week, we were intrigued.  We found words we want to watch.  Because that’s what we do.  We get excited by language…

M+P WORD WATCH OF THE WEEK:

 

ER

 

 

What do we hear when the unnamed Senator used the phrase?  With two exceptions here at maslansky + partners, everyone had an extremely positive reaction to the phrase.  What follows is a series of quotes from my colleagues.  This is just a sampling.  And the quotes I have included are from Democrats and Republicans alike.

 

he said 1

 

So who said it?  Guess.  I don’t want to ruin it for you.  Because after responding to the phrase without knowing who it was, UNIFORMLY everyone here was shocked by who the messenger was.  But maybe, just maybe it was a Senator who seems to be a fan of Dr. Seuss.

Will he win the debate?  Will others pick up the phrase?  Will someone else start using it to reframe the whole debate?  Let’s watch and see.  Maybe those two m+p-ers who had the negative reaction were right… But then again maybe the rest of us were…

 

February 14th, 2014 blog No Comments

Michael Maslansky interview in Fortune on repairing damaged reputations

In the wake of AOL chief Tim Armstrong’s comment about the million-dollar price tag for saving “distressed babies” going viral, Michael Maslansky talks to Fortune Magazine about how to deal with this kind of reputation damage. Read the article here.

 

AOL

 

 

February 18th, 2014 news No Comments

Lee Carter speaks about Paula Deen’s comeback on FOX News

February 19th, 2014 blog No Comments

No One Puts CapOne In My Office—Why in the Post-Trust Era Even Contracts Matter

By Lee Carter

What’s the problem?   Capital One has always been a fun and friendly financial services firm.  They have been bold about it.  Going where no financial services firm has gone before…I’m talking to you David Spade, “E-I, E-I-NO!”  But, now bold has gone to a whole new level.  They are brazen.  They recently sent a contract update to cardholders that states that “we may contact you in any manner we choose” and that such contact can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a “personal visit.”  As if that weren’t invasive enough… They even specify that these visits can be “at your home and at your place of employment.”  To make matters worse, they have questionable caller ID practices, stating: “We may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose.”  Gross CapOne.  Just gross.  What’s next?  Is David Spade going to come knocking on my door?  My colleague Chris Manley was right.  This language IS just creepy.  As he said, it is “totally horrifying and straight out of Orwell or Vonnegut.”

What’s the worst part?  Oh… I’m not sure where to begin.  But, after a quick poll of my workplace we had a tough time deciding which little nugget was worse, they gave us so much to work with!  But, we all agreed that when they said, “we may contact you in whatever manner we choose” including a “personal visit” they crossed a line.  Have they even heard of being customer focused?  This just in CapOne, customer focused means customers first.  Read:  I don’t want you in my living room or my workplace.  Finger-wag CapOne.  Finger-wag.  This is basic stuff.  Why did you have to say that?  If I said it once, I have said it a million times (well all of us here at m+p have) it’s not what you say… it’s what they hearTM.  So… CapOne, this one is for you.

 

CapOne 2

 

 

Who’s to blame?  This is a case of lawyers run wild.  We see this in the work we do all the time.  Yes, lawyers need to protect their companies.  And if these few creepy words weren’t in the contract there is no doubt that a credit card company showing up at someone’s house could legally constitute harassment.  So the lawyers were doing their job.  Unfortunately, the communications team was not.  What Capital One failed to understand is that the trust in their company—and their entire brand image can be ruined by one line of text in a contract.  This stuff matters.  So communications and marketing teams around the world my advice to you is pay attention to the fine print tooIt’s not just the headlines, glossy print, and advertisements that matter, it’s EVERYTHING you say.   

Who is impacted?  Well duh.  Obviously customers.  But I bet that there are a few other folks impacted as well.  And, based on how tone deaf they seem to be, CapOne clearly doesn’t understand the impact this misstep can have on their key stakeholders beyond their customer base.

 

  1. Investors.  What does this say about the credit rating of CapOne’s portfolio of debt?  My guess is that it’s not good.  If I were an investor or an analyst, I would be taking a second look at their cardholder base big time.  If the story gets bigger we might see their stock price shrinking as a result.
  2. Regulators.  Gosh, can you imagine what a field day the Hill is going to have with this story?  This is like a gift to the staffers working on the side of increased regulation on financial services firms.  Have at it Capitol Hill.  Have at it.  I would if I were you.
  3. Prospects.  If it’s a gift for DC, it’s even more of a gift to their competitors.  If I were in the market for a new card and I saw this headline I would run, not walk in the other direction.

 

How should they respond?  Unfortunately, they already did.  And they clearly did it before they called us.  Their response shows how very tone deaf they are.  They made the three mistakes I see companies making all the time when responding to a wrongdoing.

 

  1. Failing to take responsibility.  Does it help us to know that this language has been in the contract for a long time and is just now coming to light?  They thought so.  That’s probably why they told us.  Does it really?  Absolutely not.  CapOne learn this now:  you are responsible for your actions no matter how long they have been in place.  Own your mistake.  You made one.  And this one could be costly if you don’t own up to it.
  2. Responding to the wrong issue.  They did this across the board. 
    • Visits at home or at work.  With statements like, “Capital One does not visit our cardholders, nor do we send debt collectors to their homes or work.”  Really?  The issue isn’t that they have made these visits in the past.  The issue is that they might in the future.  Enough said.
    • The caller ID issue.  When it came to addressing the caller ID concerns they said their policy was about some “local phone exchanges” who “may display our number differently” they were not being intellectually honest.  Do I believe that for a second?  No.  It seemed like they were shirking the issue.  That explanation just didn’t seem to line up with the contract which talked about “modifying or suppressing” their caller ID details, drawing up images of predatory telemarketers.
  3. Responding with an action…But the wrong one.  We have seen companies turn trust around in these types of situations before.  Companies mess up.  And when they do, they earn back trust by making a symbolic gesture that addresses the concerns of their customers.  Think of NetFlix.  Or Coke withdrawing New Coke from the market and returning to the original recipe (thankfully).  In both instances they did the right thing by responding to their customers concern.  CapOne failed.  They offered to “rethink the wording” on their contracts.  Really CapOne?  You can do better than that.

 

Will this impact trust in CapOne?  Yes.  But it’s their response that they will define how much.

February 19th, 2014 blog No Comments

Fitbit CEO Apologizes with Class

By Shelley Whiddon

 

Fitbit recently issued a voluntary recall of their Force fitness-tracker wristband after users reported rashes and blisters. Even though only 1.7% of users have reported a skin irritation, Fitbit is offering a refund at full retail price. And the CEO has issued a statement that can be found on their website. Here’s what we think:

fitbit2

February 24th, 2014 blog No Comments

Lee Carter on CNN’s @This Hour

 

Lee Carter talks damage control for the Republican Party in the wake of fresh offensive comments from Ted Nugent

February 25th, 2014 blog No Comments

Language We Don’t Like: your bread tastes like what?

By Margaret Files

 

Spotted in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport: “You taste the time and sweat it took to make this loaf.  You taste perfection.”

 

La Brea Bakery

 

Remember folks… it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.  And while the people behind La Brea bakery might be proud of how hard they’ve worked to perfect their baked goods, no one wants to hear about “taste” and “sweat” in the same sentence when they’re deciding between their airport food court options.  After snapping this photo, I bought my breakfast from the Caribou Coffee next door, where “sweat” wasn’t on the menu.

 

March 17th, 2014 blog No Comments

60 Seconds with Ketchum: Language of Influence

Keith Yazmir, our Partner and Managing Director EMEA catches up with PR firm Ketchum in London to discuss the Language of Influence:

 

 

March 7th, 2014 blog No Comments

Slider Top2

It’s not what you say that matters,

it’s what they hear.

 

We are a research driven communication strategy firm with a twist:

we find the right language so people hear what you’re trying to say.

 

What’s YOUR language strategy.

April 19th, 2010 top-slider No Comments

Keith Yazmir

His work has spanned a wide range of issues and industries, including consumer products, technology, pharmaceuticals and travel and tourism as well as public affairs and public policy advocacy.

Previously, Keith spent more than 15 years as a public relations executive, communication advisor, media spokesperson and political operative.  This included five years as vice president and head of the communication division of New York City’s official marketing agency, NYC & Company.  There he played a key role in formulating crisis communication strategy following 9/11, oversaw the city’s television, print and radio ad campaigns and directed all digital marketing and research activities.

Keith also served as vice president of marketing and communication for the French economic development agency Invest in France, where he directed a national (U.S. market) marketing and communication campaign for the French Government.

Like many of his m + p colleagues, Keith began his career in politics, working on presidential and senatorial campaigns.

Keith is a graduate of Oberlin College with a degree in government.  He also studied international relations at the School for International Training and at the University of Nairobi, Kenya.  A native of New York City, he has traveled widely and lived in both Paris and East Africa.

April 27th, 2010 team No Comments

The Language of Trust

Our CEO Michael Maslansky’s book shares our key insights and guiding principles for selling ideas in a world of skeptics.

June 6th, 2012 highlights No Comments

Case Study: PepsiCo

CEO Indra Nooyi asked us to formulate a language strategy to support global culture change efforts.

June 6th, 2012 highlights No Comments

your story’s important

We see it all the time. People and organizations with important stories to tell about their brand, their offering or their issue. Yet misperceptions, complexity and distrust get in the way.

You’re investing time and money to tell your story – but your audience just doesn’t seem to hear or embrace what you’re trying to say. That’s because how you tell your story is frequently as important as what you are trying to say. We identify the strategy and language to transform your story into something people actually hear – and act on.

April 21st, 2010 about-beliefs No Comments

emotions matter

Communication strategies – not to mention research methodologies – tend to treat people as overly analytical and rational. That’s just not how we see things. At all.

We believe people carry a significant amount of historical and emotional baggage into every encounter – with friends, at work, with brands. People hear and interpret things based on how those things make them feel – and only then rationalize their emotion-based reaction. Which is why we don’t ignore the fact that you’re communicating with human beings driven by emotion. We capitalize on it.

April 20th, 2010 about-beliefs No Comments

language is power

Any seven-year-old will tell you the saying about sticks and stones is wrong. Words – whether on the playground or in the boardroom – are enormously powerful. The right language elects leaders, sells products and wins policy debates. It engages employees, sways juries and cements brand reputations.

Too often we see people investing thousands or millions on message delivery – whether through advertising, public relations or digital marketing – while using messages and language that will never achieve their goals. We understand how the right language expresses ideas, nurtures beliefs, and compels action. And we put it to work for you.

April 19th, 2010 about-beliefs No Comments

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April 22nd, 2010 processes No Comments

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April 22nd, 2010 processes No Comments

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April 22nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

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April 22nd, 2010 processes No Comments

Process TOP

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April 22nd, 2010 process-top No Comments

The Year of the Apology: The Worst and Best of 2009

Who did the best? Who did the Worst? A Report Card

The list of apologies in 2009 is almost too long to recount. But who did it best – and worst – and why? We tested 15 of the most public apologies of the year to see what makes for a good apology and a bad apology and what we can learn from our A-list of apologists. (more…)

April 22nd, 2010 blog, credibility No Comments

Is Trust Really Back for Business?

“How much do you trust business to do what is right?”

That is the question posed in the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer. And the good news – if you can call it that – is that 54% of Americans believe that business will do the right thing, representing an 18% jump from last year.

But business should hardly celebrate. First, there is always the risk of mistaking a majority for a mandate. This number is barely half the population at best and means that the other half don’t trust business to do what is right. And while the numbers are not broken out, my guess is that only a very small percentage of the population feels strongly about their belief in business.

More importantly, being acknowledged as a company that will “do what is right” is not really a ringing endorsement. I might believe that a company will “do what is right,” on the big things – fraud, serious product safety issues, etc. – while also doing everything that it can to put its profits and shareholders ahead of its customers. In other words, I might trust the company’s big actions but remain skeptical of its everyday interactions with me as a customer.

In fact, that is what I see everyday. Even where companies are not perceived as inherently evil, the overwhelming majority of Americans view them with a skeptical eye. This trust, even if it is increasing, is incredibly fragile.

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Earn the Trust of Skeptics

Michael Maslansky’s book The Language of Trust reviewed in the Miami Herald. (more…)

April 26th, 2010 news, Press Comments Off

Selected by CIO Insight Magazine

Michael Maslansky’s The New Language of Trust was selected by CIO Insight Magazine as one of the Best Books of Spring.

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March 26th, 2010 news, Press Comments Off

AT&T

Conservation International

Conservation International – Financial Services

April 22nd, 2010 Philanthropic Comments Off

Disney

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April 22nd, 2010 Media, selected Comments Off

Pfizer

Case Study One

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April 22nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

Anatomy of an Apology: Akio Toyoda

In an age of mistrust, even the smallest slipup can destroy a well-cultivated corporate image.

So it’s no wonder that Toyota is scrambling to control the fallout from their latest recalls. The acceleration problems that have led to a recall of more than two million cars aren’t simply a quality-control issue – they strike at the heart of the company’s value proposition: reliable cars that keep your family safe.

Much has already been written about Toyota’s response to this corporate crisis, and especially their failure to act more quickly. I want to focus on a specific event, Akio Toyoda’s February 9 Op-Ed in the Washington Post. The point is not to assess Toyota’s overall approach to this crisis or to predict its effectiveness.
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April 27th, 2010 blog, credibility No Comments

Dropbox

Dropbox shared folders let you share or collaborate on a set of files. When someone joins a shared folder, the folder appears inside their Dropbox, and syncs to their computers automatically.

April 27th, 2010 clients, Media No Comments

Microsoft

Microsoft Windows 7

the perception gap

Following lackluster sales of Windows Vista, Microsoft knew the release of Windows 7 would present a daunting marketing challenge. It was critical they move beyond the negative perceptions associated with Vista and re-establish trust in the marketplace.  With this in mind, they came to us for help.

the language strategy

We relied on our proprietary Instant Response Dial technology to dive beneath people’s surface responses and explore their deeper, emotional decision-making triggers. We developed a thorough understanding of how consumers, small business owners and software developers in key target markets throughout North America, Europe and Asia relate to their operating systems in general and to Windows in particular. And we emerged with insights and a strategy that turned original assumptions on their head.

the impact

The resulting language strategy not only drove Microsoft’s global advertising, public relations and digital campaigns, it also informed the Windows 7 visual identity and packaging design.

The result: one of the most successful product launches in Microsoft history, with Windows revenue jumping 70% to date, making it the fastest selling operating system in history.

PepsiCo

PepsiCo

the perception gap

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is committed to fulfilling her vision of creating the defining company of the 21st century — a global company with an ethical purpose. And she pursued it, developing healthier products, minimizing their environmental footprint, and generally becoming a better global citizen. Yet key stakeholders around the world – from consumers and the media to investors, governments and NGOs – continued to see PepsiCo solely as the makers of Pepsi. Even its own employees were not fully embracing the new direction.

the language strategy

So the company came to us for help. We worked with PepsiCo and their public relations agency in key markets across the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America to identify a series of Communication Gaps in which the language the company was using was not aligned with the worldview of their widely diverse audiences. We then applied our proprietary Instant Response Dial methodology to develop and test articulations of the right language.

the impact

The resulting language strategy identifies what PepsiCo needs to communicate – and the specific messaging – to truly resonate with both their employees as well as their external stakeholders. In the second phase of the project, we are partnering with PepsiCo to help weave their new language strategy into the fabric of the company. This included producing a Language Brand Bible, helping guide advertising efforts, editing CEO speeches and the Annual Report, and conducting worldwide training sessions with senior leaders and communication executives.

The result: our work is helping drive external corporate reputation and internal culture change by transforming how PepsiCo communicates with its key audiences.

Bank of America

UBS

Citibank

McDonald’s

AARP

NBC Universal

April 27th, 2010 Media, selected No Comments

Alcatel-Lucent

April 27th, 2010 selected, Technology No Comments

Amgen

Florida Power & Light

Tyco International

P&G

Anheuser-Busch

FedEx

eBay

Starbucks

we are truth tellers

We don’t believe in sacred cows or the status quo. Every organization has its own internal language, thinking and expertise. The problem is that these things invariably color how you communicate externally – with audiences that speak, think and understand very differently than you do.

Gaps between how you say things and how they hear them are common. Our job is to help close those gaps – even when it means pushing you to rethink age-old assumptions. When firmly-held beliefs about how to communicate don’t work, we aren’t afraid to tell you. And explain why. And show you what will.

April 18th, 2010 about-beliefs No Comments

Jenn Dahm

Jenn graduated magna cum laude from The University of Chief Illiniwek (also known as University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana) with a dual degree in English and Speech Communications. When she’s not uncovering language that helps build trust, she likes cooking, hosting parties, and DIY interior design.

 

April 22nd, 2010 team No Comments

Justin Altum

Since joining + p in 2005, Justin has completed projects and built messaging strategies for numerous clients across a variety of industries.  He has conducted Instant Response sessions and quantitative surveys across the U.S. and in international markets such as China, India, Brazil, and Europe.

Justin has worked with companies such as AT&T, FedEx, Pfizer, Anheuser-Busch, and Lowe’s to build better language and communication strategies, and with non-profits such as Conservation International and AARP on critical language and messaging efforts.  He has also led the firm’s work with professional sports franchises, including projects with the Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and other teams.

Prior to joining + p, Justin was with the Corporate Executive Board, a leading best practice research and executive education firm in Washington, DC, where he worked with leading global companies.

Justin is a graduate of the College of Charleston with a degree in political science.  A native of Indianapolis, Justin lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife, Kate, and their golden retriever, Cooper.

April 24th, 2010 team No Comments

Larry Moscow

A National Emmy award-winning television producer, Larry spent more than two decades as a television executive and news producer for CNBC, MSNBC, CNN and PBS prior to joining + p. Larry’s journalism career included a stint as Washington Bureau Chief for CNBC, directing coverage of Capitol Hill, the White House, and the regulatory agencies.

As a business journalist, Larry has extensive experience covering topics ranging from corporate strategy, international trade, health care and the financial markets. While serving as part of the management team at CNBC, Larry led the redesign of the network’s financial news programming, including the creation of popular programs such as “Squawk Box” and “Power Lunch.”  Larry was also executive producer of PBS’s acclaimed “Wall Street Week with FORTUNE” and senior producer of MSNBC’s “The News with Brian Williams.”

In 2004, Larry was appointed to the advisory board of INVESTOR EDUCATION, an organization designed to equip investors with the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed investment decisions. The non-profit entity was part of the “global settlement” between the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and 10 of the nation’s top investment firms. Larry and his wife Cindy live in Maryland with their children Brooke, Nikki and Jason.

 

 

April 28th, 2010 team No Comments

Michael Maslansky

How CEOs, companies, and entire industries communicate – whether during crises, in advertising and public relations campaigns, or with investors, Congress or the American people – often means the difference between success and failure.  Clients from PepsiCo to eBay to Microsoft to Starbucks turn to Michael to understand the public mood, challenge conventional wisdom and transform not just what they say to key audiences – but how they say it.

Michael shares with clients his in-depth understanding of hot-button issues in banking and financial services, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, corporate social responsibility and non-profits, technology and consumer products, and litigation and politics.  Over the years, he has helped Fortune 500 companies position and differentiate their brands and products during good times, and protect their reputations during crisis.

Michael’s new book, The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics was published on May 4, 2010.  The book reviews the communication challenges that companies and industries face today and offers proven tools for building trust and credibility with consumers, regulators and the general public.

Michael’s strategic analysis builds on insights from his unique combination of expertise: battle-tested communications experience combined with a deep understanding of public opinion.  He has conducted hundreds of research projects in over 20 countries using his firm’s trademarked polling and focus group methodology, lauded by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, “60 Minutes,” “Nightline” and PBS’s “Frontline,” among others.  Michael is one of corporate America’s leading communications and research strategists.

Prior to coming to m + p, Michael founded MarketResearch.com, a leading market intelligence company where he served as president and remains on the Board.  Previously, he led a distinguished career as a corporate attorney with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

April 30th, 2010 team No Comments

Bentley McBentleson

Prior to joining + p, Bentley spent seven years working as a multimedia producer for a wide variety of clients.

He earned a Bachelors Degree in Film and Video Production from the School of Visual Arts in New York. In his spare time, he regularly manipulates the channels of creative energies, utilizing cutting edge technological innovations to create dazzling displays of videographical insights that he promptly posts to YouTube.

April 19th, 2010 team No Comments

Patrick Buckley

Before joining the team, he worked as a writer and researcher at a New York-based non-profit advocacy organization.  Previous to that, he worked in the communications department of Gen. Wesley Clark’s presidential campaign and as a press aide for a production company in New York City.  He has also worked as a freelance writer and editor.

Patrick holds a fine arts degree in writing from Emerson College in Boston, MA.  He lives in New York and bikes to work when the weather is good.  And he’s going to buy a helmet very soon.

April 23rd, 2010 team No Comments