Friday, October 12, 2012

Fourth blog, wherein I defend celebrities creating charities

Nancy Lublin, CEO of "Do Something" took to LinkedIn today to criticize celebrities creating NGOs.  As examples she cited recent troubles of Wyclef and Kanye's foundtions being shuttered and the trouble Madonna has had starting a school in Africa.

But surely celebrity-founded NGOs are not the only to fail at their task, but perhaps those failures are just more newsworthy.

The Time of India, for example, reported in June, 2011 that an internal evaluation determined 8 of 10 NGOs "unable to meet key parameters to prevent spread of HIV or AIDS" in India, rating the majority of their projects "failures."

The fact is, there are many advantages to having celebrities involved in the founding of these organizations.  As John Prendergast, a longtime activist on African issues told The New York Times Magazine, “Celebrities are master recruiters. If you’re trying to expand beyond the already converted, there’s no better way to do instant outreach than to have a familiar face where people want to know more about what they’re doing in their personal lives,”

In a sense, celebrities can leverage their brand equity as a force for social good.

Not on Our Watch, co-founded by George Clooney, has given over $9 million to aid the crisis in Darfur.  Kevin Bacon used the notoriety of tongue-in-cheek college game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" to start, ‘social networking with a social conscience,’ as he told Variety in July 2007.  Of course Princess Diana is well-remembered for her work on behalf of the disabled, homeless, and those with HIV/AIDS, as well as working actively against the use of landmines.

And, ironically, even Ms. Lublin's NGO was co-founded in 1993 by actor Andrew Shue, then of the hit TV drama "Melrose Place."  As her success attests, his pioneering spirit may have lacked some specificity at the time, but he helped create a force for good that is going strong 20 years later.  Seems to me that if celebrities can "do something" to help the world, they ought to.  If the Shue fits, wear it!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Third Blog: Stars and their Place in History

In honor of Freddie Mercury's birthday, I'm asking the musical and historical question:  What do Freddie Mercury and Diana Ross have in common?

Apart from liking to be called "Miss," I mean.  Pretty different sounds, right?  From different countries and backgrounds different styles of music -- about as different as different gets in pop music, right? 

What about the groups that made them famous, respectively Queen and The Supremes?  From different decades, and, generally speaking, with fairly different age and demographic appeal.

And yet, each emerged as the unquestioned leader and iconic front person for groups which struggled to make an impact within the prevailing genres of the time and then, seemingly overnight, became the most successful bands within those movements and, just as quickly, eclipsed and essentially retired all the other performers in the categories.

By now you've guessed that I'm talking about Girl Groups for the Supremes and Glam or Glitter Rock in the case of Queen.  In each case, it took about 4 years of little or limited success starting from roughly the beginning of their respective decades until about the mid-point at which everything turned in their favor and against the fortunes of the other bands that chose to carry on in those genres.

So what you say?  The Beatles reinvented Rock-n-Roll, Michael Jackson became the King of Pop, Nirvana replaced Punk … eventually.  Happens all the time, right?

Not really.  Elvis would be the most likely supplanter of Rock-n-Roll, except that by the time 50s Rock was replaced Elvis wasn't really even doing that much of it.  By the time the Beatles came along, Rock and Roll as it was known then was a distant memory.  In fact, what the Beatles did could arguably be described as becoming the Ultimate Teen Idol group, even though their style initially harkened back to 50s style rock.

Something similar could be said for Nirvana.  What they conquered and replaced was 80s "Alternative" or "College Rock," using the style of the previous decade's Punk.  Punk Rock splintered so fast into New Wave, Ska and ElectroPop that it is hard to find any single successor.  The closest comparison to an outright takeover and replacement of Punk Rock in the Supremes/Queen mode might be the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Flea was at least part of the punk movement as a member of Fear, but redefined the sound by creating a hybrid that mixed in 70s Funk.  It may have taken longer to reach Ultimate Success but the payback is that it has been much more lasting.

And while Michael Jackson and Madonna did become the biggest pop stars of the 80s, their lineage could be linked most closely to the evolution of Disco into Dance Music and they always had many very successful competitors in that field before and after their reigns (despite holding onto their crowns).

No, the Supremes and Queen stand alone in terms of their emergence from, dominance over and disposal of the genres from which they sprung.  So maybe those were just small sub-genres, headed for the dustbin of pop music history anyway.  Well, Glam and Glitter Rock were associated with some of the biggest musical acts of the 70s, from David Bowie, Roxy Music, Elton John and even the Rolling Stones for a period of time.  Though perhaps less well-remembered, the 60s Girl Group period included such solid-hit powerhouses as The Shirelles, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, The Marvelettes and Martha and the Vandellas.

Of course, Freddie Mercury and Diana Ross were never just members of a group nor even of the genres they began by aspiring toward.  Their styles and personas outgrew even the bounds of pop music itself and they each became something both symbolic of and larger than their own times.  I don't think its an accident that Diana Ross became Supreme during the Civil Rights Era nor that Freddie Mercury's ascendancy as Queen began during the early days of what was then called Gay Liberation, although, ironically, they would both have somewhat complicated relationships to these movements.

Sometimes stars are called by history but the calls go unanswered because the stars are out making their own history.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Blog the second 7-18-11 In which I discuss business travel

I'll begin by addressing my friend Heidi’s comment about the first blog that there have to be sacred times when you should be without access to communication devices.  I completely agree and I actually feel that being so connected we have more flexibility to choose not to be reachable.  So take my 24/7 accessibility claim with something of a grain of salt.  As with all my pronouncements, I tend to exaggerate for effect and speak in absolutes.  But if I qualified everything all of my paragraphs would be, well, like this one.

So, onto traveling.  Travel is tough and getting worse.  Ever more security procedures, longer waiting times, packed planes, fewer amenities, delayed flights, and crabby people irritated by all of the above.

On the other hand, there is wi-fi access on many flights now, more electronic devices to pass the time, better in-flight entertainment, better restaurants in airports in which you can wait out those delays.

There are a million tips online for travelers, so I will try to stick to what I think is more unique in my case yet hopefully beneficial.  The first is that I almost never travel for purely business reasons if I can help it.  In the same way that I have to tend to business on most vacations, I also try to fit as much pleasure in any business trip as I can.

But it means I have to plan carefully so as to not get overtired or distracted from the main purpose of my trip.  I try to always get into the first city (usually New York) at least one or two days ahead of my first meeting.  I don’t charge clients for travel days and I certainly don’t bill for the extra hotel nights or expenses.  Those are the things I do for myself to make travel more comfortable and my life richer for more face-to-face relationships that benefit my personal and professional life.

While I usually meet a friend, go out and/or see a show on the first night, I make sure the next morning is clear so that I can sleep in.  I always try to get a full 8 hours while I’m traveling for health and clarity but the first night is especially important to get over any lingering jet lag.

The good news is that noon in New York is only 9 AM in LA so I’m not usually expected by most (except those that follow me on social media!)  For the most part I subsist in the hotel room on energy bars and protein drinks so I don’t have to go out for breakfast and also to keep the client’s travel costs in line.  They also help to get moving without too much reliance on caffeine.

Coffee to me is a necessary and pleasurable evil that must be kept in a box for 3 reasons: 1) my addictive personality, 2) it can dry out my skin and 3) I need it when I need it and if I use it everyday it will lose its effectiveness. 

Besides, I have 8 glasses of water to get in and that is always tough for me. There is enough energy and clarity in a glass of water to get through any non-work or light social situation, especially Vitamin Water.  And of course, people love to meet at Starbucks so it’s not like I won’t have plenty of ops to caffeinate.

OK, so here is the Hollywood Tony Takeaway List for Business Travel:

1. Take care of your physical health. Hydrate. Vitamin     water.  Minimize alcohol and caffeine.  Get enough      sleep.  Minimum bedding standards (for me 400         thread count sheets and down pillows and comforters.
2.   Take care of your emotional health.  Avoid as much direct conflict as possible.  For example, I always ask my vendors to discuss cost overruns or other negotiations with my office rather than distressing me and possibly involving my clients in any disagreements.  I also trust my wife to only tell me as much as I need to know about any fracases at home or in the office until I am back on the ground in LA.
3.   Be comfortable. Loose fitting clothing.  Two pairs of socks.  Simplified dressing.  Athletic shoes that look like business shoes. 
4.   Have a strong tether to the mothership.  If you don’t have a reliable support staff at the controls while you are performing your space walk, your line is going to snap and you will end up floating forever faster than you can say Major Tom. 
5.   Stay in close contact with loved ones.  As much as you need professional support on the road, you need emotional support even more.  You have to be reminded everyday why you’re doing all of this in the first place, and be reassured that however badly you get beaten up out there, loving arms are waiting to help put you back together when you return.
6.   Mix in some fun.  See a show, meet a friend for a meal or a coffee, visit a landmark or museum.
7.   Scope out your Starbucks, your deli, your drugstore.  Know where your resources are so you can relax and focus on the job at hand.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blog the first 7-18-11 Wherein I discuss working vacations


Since this is my first blog, I will offer this disclaimer: I do not expect anyone to even read this, much less attempt to follow my example.  If you choose to do so, it is at your own risk.  One of the reasons I have waited so long to do this is that I am uncomfortable giving advice even when explicitly asked.  My path is my own and what works for me may be a disaster for others.

Whew.  Now that that’s out of the way and I cannot reasonably be accused of grandiosity or didacticism, I can admit to those of you who are still reading that of course I think you should do exactly as I say and do in all your affairs, as well as with your spouse or s.o.

So I’ll start with my response to a recent article about those aforementioned significant others getting irritated by their other checking work emails during personal time.  I said I thought it was a hell of a thing!  That they should 1) be grateful their spouse or whatever is employed and 2) that they are conscientious enough to keep on top of their business.  On a more personal note, I would like to add that since my wife and I have worked together for the past 18 years in our own business that every email she answers is one I don’t have to!  Where’s the downside?

But even if you aren’t lucky enough to be partners in business as well as life, you should at least acknowledge that the success of one partner is inextricably tied to the other.  And if it ever doesn’t work out due to your endless nagging about their good work ethic, you still get to walk away with half.  I hope your conscience hurts you later.

Yes the long promised global village has come to pass and with it the round the clock work schedule.  24/7 ain’t just a platitude anymore baby.  9 to 5 is totally 20th now.  So let go of the past and embrace the possibilities of the future.

Are you going to be tethered to your electronic devices forever more?  Yes, you are so get the hell over it.  Stop moaning about Crackberry addiction and learn to love your android overlords.  It’ll take you a couple of vodka and electronics to get you on your feet again, but you can do it. 

First, stop sounding like somebody’s grandpa in 1947 who doesn’t like that “idiot box” and is choosing instead to stay with radio.  That was a bad bet then, just like preferring a Selectric typewriter to a word processor was a bad move 4 decades after that.  If you don’t remember or never knew what a Selectric was, you have permission to move on.

The point is, it doesn’t matter if you prefer the way things “used to be.”  But just so we’re clear, liquid paper was a gross, gloppy, damned inefficient way of correcting your mistakes and nobody was fooled.  And if you couldn’t spell it wasn’t easy to hide.  So stop bitching about Auto Correct’s occasionally hilarious offerings and be thankful people don’t know how little attention you paid in your English classes.  And if you really can’t take the <1% error rate of the world’s most comprehensive open source 100% free online mapping system, turn off Google and go back to the Thomas Guide.

And no, you shouldn’t ever go on a vacation without Internet access.  Sorry Charlie but it doesn’t matter how good of a hold you think you have on your clients, clients want vendors they can get a hold of.  Freedom’s just another word for 10% unemployment.

But seriously, with every sacrifice comes a new way to game the system.  Remember coming into the office to a stack of phone messages all marked urgent and most with time deadlines to return those calls.  And how you’d get caught off guard by bosses and clients with out of left field requests or complaints?  If you were like me, you could feel your temperature rising and your responses getting shorter and snappier.

Why?  Because we want to please others and now we have the time to prepare before responding to an email or even a text.  We have access to our files and calendar no matter where we are and, even if we are facing a tough response, we at least have a moment to breathe and find some perspective before we have to answer any question or request.  I’ll take that over being able to “get away from it all” any day.

OK, so here is the Hollywood Tony Takeaway List (to be featured in every blog so people don’t think this is just some kind of rambling, fatuous stream of consciousness):

1.               Time mapping.  If you’re like me, you now have clients on multiple continents, so it’s not just calling back the East coast first and working your way west.  In LA, Japan’s work day is from late afternoon to late evening (the next day), Europe is from very early morning until late morning.  On vacation, it is further complicated by the time zone change.  For the last two weeks we were on various Hawaiian islands so we had to adjust everything back 3 hours from our usual routine.  That was just enough to move Europe from the first morning priority to the last thing before bed, and flipped Asia to midday and made the East coast our first AM priority.  So other than going to breakfast, our Hawaiian activities were focused on afternoon and evening, back to the “office” at night.  An interruption of our vacation?  Not at all.  A guarantor of future vacations and the ability to relax and enjoy knowing all was well and truly handled before we went on our next adventure.
2.               Cloud computing.  I’m not talking about one of these new music sharing services, although music is always nice to keep you feeling good about working on vacation.  We like Drop Box but are considering Google Docs as a back up.  The ability to share the  document creation process with other team members is a godsend when you are trying to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.  At the very least another set of eyes is good advice between mai tais. 
3.               Redundancy.  Don’t count on one system, device, program or Internet service when you are not in familiar territory and even when you are.  We have both FIOS and cable modem at the office, I use gmail in addition to my .coms for email, as well as Facebook messaging, emails and MMS for personal communication, I carry an iPhone and iPad for 3G or wi-fi access wherever I am, as well as a netbook for wi-fi, use Go To My PC as well as cloud computing, everybody checks each other's .com email wherever we are so as to avoid using those annoying "out of office" auto replies; in addition, I actually pay a real life staff to pick up my phone at the office to avoid the annoying auto-attendant as much as possible.  I expect everyone to help one another avoid missing any calls or even make a client wait more than is absolutely necessary.  When I say 24/7 service, I mean it and expect everyone on my team to help make that happen, as well as being sure there is mobile communication available at all times.
4.               Delegation.  While I keep in the loop on all current and potential projects from bidding to billing, I trust my team to be able to step in at virtually any point in the process other than presenting results.  That's my show.  Otherwise, I have to be able to move around the country and the world without holding anyone up unnecessarily. 
5.               Contingency plans.  Stuff happens.  Plan on it.  A worst case scenario for me is being able to stay at the beach a little longer or have a second glass of wine at lunch with a friend or colleague because everything is handled.  My mom used to say always expect the worst and you'll never be disappointed.  And I never am.  Another glass of Veuve please.
6.               Coffee.  Need I say more?