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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fun with the English language: A riddle

As public relations specialists, we at Goff & Howard fundamentally practice the art of communications, both verbal and visual. As a result, we are connoisseurs of language – its proper use; its flexibility, power, and clarity; and even its playfulness. It is this last aspect of language which we will occasionally celebrate in posts to the GH Spin.

Here’s our first installment:

What common English word is nine letters long and, after removing a single letter each time in sequence, remains a common English word from nine letters down to one letter? Watch the video below to find out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The reality disconnect in American politics: new evidence

Some of my Republican friends have been unhappy with me lately because I’ve cautioned that this could become not so much an anti-Democratic year, but an anti-incumbent and anti-establishment one.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen’s latest Rasmussen Reports survey of public attitudes about Congress illustrates what is brewing. While Americans have been giving Congress historically low approval ratings for the past two and a half years – typically in the low teens – Rasmussen has found in recent months that a supermajority of Americans give Congress a “poor” rating – 71% in February and 64% in a new survey released this week. Of course, Americans love to bash the stupidities of Congress. From Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken to late-night comedians, political satire has been a staple of our popular culture. But voters’ attitudes seem to be moving from bemused (or fatalistic) resignation to something edgier.

The most fascinating finding in the Rasmussen survey is this: while a supermajority of Americans overall think Congress is performing “poorly,” 53% of Rasmussen’s group of voters described as the “political class” segment think Congress is doing a “good” or “excellent” job! These are voters who typically trust elites and the intentions and efficacy of government. (They also represent, according to a January 2010 Rasmussen survey, something like only one in ten voters.)

“Political class” voters are likely to work in the media or in the public sector (largely shielded by the convulsions in the private economy), or are active in party politics. They hold a much more sanguine view of the state of current affairs than do perhaps 90% of their fellow citizens.

When cultural elites and their fellow travelers hold widely divergent (and far more optimistic) views from the rest of society in a time of economic crisis, incendiary things can happen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health care debate goes viral

Drama unfolded on Sunday as the health care reform debate jumped from Capitol Hill to television, computer, and cell phone screens across the nation. On a weekend traditionally dominated by NCAA basketball coverage, it is hard to believe that C-SPAN, FOX News, MSNBC, and CNN ratings were through the roof as many Americans skipped March Madness to watch the cable news networks’ live coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives health care reform debate.

Social networking sites were also buzzing with lively debates as friends commented on statuses and posted links to coverage. At 9 p.m. on Sunday – when the House passed the health care bill – 2.05% of tweets included the health care reform hash tag (#hcr). While initially this figure might not seem significant, when Tiger Woods announced his return to the Masters on March 16, only 0.062% of tweets mentioned Tiger.

Over the past few months, it’s been fun to follow tweets about the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and the Bachelor, but this most recent trending topic could be downright inspiring. At a time when many people lament the demise of the media’s ability to inform the public, millions of people are receiving more information and sharing their opinions about important political issues than ever before through Twitter and Facebook. Social networking has quickly become the fastest growing method of civic engagement – a trend I hope sticks around for good.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Acronyms need a SWAT

Consider the acronym SWAT. It could, of course, mean Special Weapons And Tactics, or, it could be one version of the marketing assessment, Strengths Weakness Advantages and Threats. But it could also mean Sisters With a Throttle to a motorcycle enthusiast or Sick Wild and Twisted to a hip-hop music lover. Talk about confusing.

Not only are acronyms annoying, as though the speaker doesn’t want you to be part of his little club of people who know what the heck he’s talking about. But they make it impossible to get your point across because no one can follow you.

Recently I went to a day-long training session with several different state and federal agencies. The twist was that acronyms were forbidden ALL DAY LONG. It quickly became a great sport watching staff members from the DNR, DOH, OPS, DPS, and many more try to describe who they are and what they do without using acronyms.

We here at The GH Spin would like to extend that edict to meetings everywhere. Ambitious? Perhaps. Necessary? For sure.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Plunging into the office pool

Employers beware: a month-long office party started yesterday. Live video feeds of the first March Madness games began on work computers across the country yesterday. The tournament, which is infamous for annual bracket challenges, is also known as one of the biggest ways companies lose productivity. It is estimated that March Madness could cost employers as much as $1.8 billion in unproductive wages during the first week of the tournament alone.

Despite the loss in productivity, March Madness is a time for watercooler trash-talking and lunchtime bonding over the underdog’s game-winning buzzer shot – things that boost camaraderie and morale among employees.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saint Paul celebrates its pot of gold

Saint Paul was full of energy and Irish cheer today as revelers (real Irish or just Irish for the day) enjoyed one of the largest Saint Patrick’s Day parades in the country. The nonprofit Saint Patrick’s Association organizes the parade each year and donates the proceeds from button sales and sponsorships to charity. Last year, the association donated more than $10,000.

This is the 43rd year that people have paraded through the streets of Saint Paul hoping to find the luck of the Irish and maybe even a beer. With today’s very warm weather, the Irish eyes were clearly shining.

We here at Goff & Howard look forward to the Saint Patrick’s Day parade and the visitors it brings to our neighborhood each year.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Talking heads take the cake in recently released journalism study

The only bright spot in the PEW Research Center’s dismal report on the state of American journalism is the resurgence of cable news networks. Prime-time viewership for FOX, CNN and MSNBC grew 7%, while daytime viewership rose 16% over the past year. Additionally, overall cable news revenues rose an estimated 5% due to subscription fees and audience growth.

While this is positive news for the industry as a whole, it is important to recognize that cable news shows became noticeably more ideological in 2009. The strongest ratings growth and overall ratings were among partisan talk shows – FOX’s Glenn Beck program was up 96% while The O’Reilly Factor was up 16%.

If cable talk shows are the future of television news, viewers will need to watch critically.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The college kid in every legislator

Reading piles of papers you neglected when they were assigned, meeting frantically with study groups, pulling all-nighters – are you thinking of your college days yet? This week the inner college student in legislators seems to have emerged due to today’s first committee deadline.

All week committee hearings have stretched from early in the morning until late at night to accommodate the last-minute bills that still need to be approved by policy committees in order to be considered during the remainder of the session. Some legislators have even pulled all-nighters to keep up with the influx of bills that arrive in their offices.

While it certainly seems like a painful process for adult lawmakers to subject themselves to such torturous conditions, committee deadlines are important to keep the legislative process moving. Just like most college students, legislators appear unable to make progress unless there is a deadline looming over their heads.

Today is the time for legislators to fish or cut bait.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Afghan troop surge meets Pentagon chartjunk

Edward Tufte coined the term chartjunk in his 1983 classic, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, to describe elements which “make the graphic appear more scientific and precise” than the data needs or allows. In government, chartjunk is regularly used by bureaucratic elites to justify their unique grasp of a perilous situation. But so often, it is also a graphic confession of confusion or bad thinking.

Take this recent example:

Afghan society is often characterized as a tangled web of tribal, religious, ethnic, economic, and other alliances. The U.S. Department of Defense visualizes the Obama troop surge in that difficult land as a similar tangle of programs, initiatives, and “stakeholders.”

Perhaps Alexander the Great, the Persians, the British Raj, and the Soviet army didn’t have enough flowcharts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hockeytown, USA springs to life

The melting of snow piles, the donning of lighter coats, walking instead of sprinting from the office to the car, and the crowds of hockey fans filling Saint Paul’s streets, bars, and restaurants mean one thing – hockey tournament season has arrived! Thousands of people will descend upon the city to cheer for their favorite hockey team in the boy’s high school state tournament, the WCHA Frozen Five, and the NCAA regional hockey championships.

In 2007, Sports Illustrated recognized Saint Paul as Hockeytown, USA. For Saint Paul, hockey is more than just the Minnesota Wild – it’s about the pickup games on the neighborhood pond, the peewee games at the community ice arena, and the high school games at the city rink. Even the Xcel Energy Center – the home of the Wild – displays the hockey jerseys of every high school in Minnesota in the outer concourse.

Hockey is more than just a game. It helps city businesses, bars and restaurants at a time when our economy needs a boost. These tournaments add an estimated $7-10 million a year to the city’s economy. Restaurants will be full, bars will be crowded, and people will be happy.

Welcome to Saint Paul, hockey tournament athletes, coaches, and fans.

See below for more information about the upcoming hockey tournaments:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Minnesota’s indebtedness ranks in the middle of the 50 states

The orgy of public sector spending across the globe in recent years is coming home to roost. Speculation is now running rampant that the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) may drag down the EuroZone by mid-summer. The previously unspeakable or unimaginable – the possibility of national bankruptcy – is now beginning to be talked about openly by a few sober politicians in the United Kingdom, Japan, and even here in the United States. For example, Governor Pawlenty has mentioned national bankruptcy in some of his recent speeches as part of his rift against the Obama administration’s “stimulus” spending.

For years, observers of state governments have closely watched the deteriorating fiscal conditions of most of the 50 state governments. But with the heightened awareness of global sovereign debt, more scrutiny is being paid to each state’s indebtedness. As part of its new survey on “The Global Debt Bomb,” Forbes conducted an overview of the states’ debt problems. The five best ranked states were Utah (1), New Hampshire (2), Nebraska (3), Texas (4), and Virginia (5). The five worst ranked were, not surprisingly, New Jersey (46), California, (47), Connecticut (48), New York (49), and Illinois (50).

Minnesota was in the middle of the pack of the Forbes survey, at 18th position. This slightly better-than-average placement is cold comfort considering that the state government carries $866 in public debt per capita but a whopping $14,233 in unfunded public pension liability per capita. Something for taxpayers and lawmakers to consider after last week’s updated Minnesota state budget forecast.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An old dog learns new tweets

Mainstream media was quick to dismiss social media before most of us had heard about Facebook or Twitter. They held the power over information and could care less what someone’s status was. The more the mainstream media struggled to understand social media, the faster the rest of the world embraced the phenomenon.

  • In 2007, Facebook had 12 million active users worldwide; it now has 400 million.
  • In 2007, people sent 5,000 tweets a day, according to Twitter; now there are nearly 50 million a day.

Now with millions of people plugged into social media through laptops and iPhones, social networking sites buzz with activity as friends bash the Bachelor’s decision to propose to Vienna Girardi on Facebook, and sports fans fume over bad plays or referee calls on Twitter. Despite a marked decrease in regularly programmed television ratings, network channels have seen an increase in viewers during live, large-market television events – all thanks to social media.

  • The Grammys drew 26 million viewers on CBS, up from 19 million in 2009.
  • The Golden Globes’ ratings went up 14 percent on NBC.
  • The Super Bowl was the most-watched U.S. television event of all time, drawing 106 million people to CBS.
  • The Olympics on NBC triumphed in the ratings throughout the event; the opening ceremony drew 32.6 million viewers.
  • ABC has sold out all its ad space for this weekend’s Oscars telecast.

There may be some new life in the mainstream media – as long as they switch from the “must see TV” model to the “must tweet TV” model.

Click here to read more.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Polaris Blazes a Trail at the Capitol

It was Polaris Day at the Capitol today, as Scott Wine, chief executive officer of Polaris Industries, met with several state legislators to talk about Polaris, manufacturing in Minnesota, and the legislative efforts of interest to Polaris. Based in Medina, Minnesota, Polaris is one of the powersport industry’s leading manufacturers and employs more than 2,000 Minnesotans. Goff & Howard has worked with Polaris for more than 15 years and was honored to be a part of today’s legislative event.

Polaris is known for its innovative products, and as a part of Polaris Day at the Capitol, the manufacturer brought its newest electric ATV, the RANGER EV, to the Capitol for legislators to see in person. The RANGER EV, which is part of the ongoing evolution of ATVs that began in 1985, is built for clean and quiet operation that allows for fewer disturbances to the natural environment.

Polaris CEO Scott Wine and Goff & Howard’s Brian Bergson, Chris Georgacas, and Lynda Chilstrom introduced legislators to the RANGER EV, Polaris’ newest electric ATV, on the steps of the Capitol.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hollywood Comes to Lowertown

The Union Depot was bustling with activity today as filming began on the new crime drama movie, The Convincer. The movie, which stars Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, and Billy Crudup, focuses on a desperate insurance salesman who gets his hands on a rare violin. Minneapolis-based Werc Werk Works, an independent film and finance company, is producing the film.

We look forward to bumping into Kinnear on our way to the parking garage!

The Power of a Link

Over the past decade, the Internet has transformed news consumption into a social experience. Readers can now participate in the news process by sharing articles that they find interesting. This dissemination of news often takes place through social media. According to a recently released survey by the Pew Research Center, 52% of online news consumers have posted a link on a social networking site and 51% of people who see links on these sites have read them.

I am the perfect example of this phenomenon. This morning I read a report that I found interesting (see above) and wanted to share it with people (you). So, I’m linking to it in a blog and will then post the link via Facebook and Twitter. This starts a chain reaction where my followers repost the link for their followers to read. It’s quick, it’s fast, and it’s a powerful way to participate in the news process.