Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sleazy Marketing Is Polarizing America

I was always proud of my now-concluded four-decade career in marketing but it is disgraceful now to witness marketing techniques being perverted to tear our nation apart.

Granted, I was sheltered by my specialty in community/destination marketing which is bound by a strict code of ethics.

But isn’t it ironic that the process for selecting or influencing our nation’s civic leadership is one of the few remaining, if not the last sector, of our society that is not compelled to be transparent, honest and ethical?

Instead of marketers showing leadership in this regard, most seem conspicuously silent while a few are instead perverting marketing to make politics even more sleazy.

I always felt marketing was honorable not only because in my profession I used it to better communities but because I came up in the school that taught that:

marketing at its core, like good parenting, is about helping other people make distinctions and good decisions, decisions that are best for them even if in the end your product or service or community or world-view is not selected.

Okay, that may be a little "Kumbayah" but believe me, it works much better than the old-school sales or product-driven approach of hoodwinking customers into buying what you have to sell rather than what they need, often involving unethical subsidies and kick-backs.

Here are two ways I see marketing being perverted in politics not just by some secular Americans but by a group to which this would seem anathema: a small sliver of the 1 in 10 Americans who score highest on the religiosity index and form the core of the so-called Religious or Christian Right now “rebranded” as the Tea Party.

The popular media misuses the term “rebranded” because it is also misused by so many newly-appointed corporate executives eager to stamp their ego on a company or product or to attempt to outrun bad publicity and low public opinion with what in reality is a simple a “renaming” or “refreshing” of the most superficial elements of a brand.

The classic example of the power of renaming is when in 1947, after being known as the as the U.S. War Department for 160 years, the name was changed to The Department of Defense, in part, to make lobbying more palatable.

The news media didn’t miss it when AIG was renamed Chartis after it was caught up at the center of the financial scam that created and deepened the Great Recession and in turn generated the deficit/debt controversy, most of which occurred much earlier. The media didn’t miss it, primarily, because the company publicized the change to comply in part, I suspect, with securities regulations and truth in advertising etc.

But the popular media has failed to see through the crafty story marketers created for the origin of the Tea Party even after revelations a year ago by prize-winning investigative reporter Jane Meyer in an article entitled Covert Operations. I was amused and taken back in time when I read the connection with the John Birch Society, a similarly ultra-conservative movement that opposed the Civil Rights movement.

That the Tea Party is a simple but highly effective “rebranding” of older movements that had fallen out of favor in public opinion and particularly with generations that came of age during the 1990s and 2000s was given even more credibility in an Op-Ed piece earlier this month published in the New York Times.

The authors of the op-ed, David Campbell now at Notre Dame and Robert D. Putnam at Harvard, also collaborated an incredible book, I just finished reading, entitled American Grace – How Religion Divides and United Us based on many surveys including the two-year Faith Matters Survey.

Their op-ed is a preview to a follow-up study that will be detailed in a new edition due out early next year. The book is incredibly easy to read and highly recommended for both the 83% of Americans who belong to a religion and the 17% who do not identify with a religion but 80% of whom believe in God.

The book is also a reminder that, while the current involvement of religion in politics is fueled around a relatively small sliver of the 1 in 10 Americans who are conservative ultra-traditionalists, both socially and economically, religionists were also at the heart of many liberal movements such as the American Revolution, antislavery, the social gospel and both the Progressive and Civil Rights movements.

The divide is so extreme today simply because marketers helped political operatives identify, exploit and exaggerate differences using premarital sex, homosexuality and abortion. They have also used demographic and psychographic projections to panic extremes because the generations coming of age, including those who profess to be religious, are less concerned about the first two issues and are moving to the center on the third.

Marketing is being perverted not to help people understand distinctions and see solutions but to blind them through fear, exaggeration and misinformation.

One last example occurred to me after reading this quarter’s issue of Good Magazine featuring an article by William Wheeler entitled The Information Arms Race.

It summarizers the perversion in politics of a marketing best practice called predictive analytics or micro-targeting. When I worked there before my recent retirement, our community/destination marketing organization for Durham became one of the first to use micro-targeting so I have a modest understanding.

We used it nationwide to identify households that mirrored the characteristics of visitors who had already visited and liked Durham as a destination and shared a predisposition for activities and interests this community can deliver. This informed the decisions on which marketing tactics were most efficient and effective to reach such prospects.

The ultimate goal was to not only to find people we could help in making distinctions and good decisions but to more closely identify the people for whom Durham would be distinctive, appealing, fulfilling and a good fit overall as a destination.

As you will read if you click on the link to the Good magazine article, marketers are instead helping political operatives identify and exploit areas of ambivalence in people predisposed to favor opposing views. Their goal isn’t helping people make distinctions and good decisions but to muddy their thoughts and further widen the partisan divide.

Politics, thanks in part to a polarized Supreme Court decision last year, is probably now even more “no-holds-barred” and vulnerable to sleazy marketers than at any time in the last 100 years.

To me, to be ethical is a particularly American value. Now is the time to infuse the same ethical behavior that is required of other elements of our society into the process of selecting civic leadership for our cities, towns, counties, states and the nation that is required of other elements of our society.

Ethics and politics should not be mutually exclusive.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You Only Have 6.5 Seconds

The typical viewer really only pays attention to 6.5 seconds of any television advertisement.  That’s how long advertisers have to “capture attention and motivate action.”cathy4

In her new book released last week, Cathy Davidson breaks down one of the most successful television spots and explains why creators spent millions to apply the science of attention to make sure viewers give attention to just the right 6.5 seconds and disregard stipulations such as product side-effects or the sponsors behind political attack ads.

This is why the cost of placing an ad is only the tip of the iceberg.  Perceptual eye tracking analysis has revealed the same thing about print and other forms of advertising.  It is also explains why headlines and photos are much more powerful than newspaper text.

It is also one of the reasons that marketing expert Laura Ries wrote this week that:

“Unless you spend enough to get above the noise level, money spent on advertising can be extremely wasteful. That's why mass-media advertising for a brand that isn't well known or doesn't have enough money to spend is ill advised. A brand like this is better off doing PR, social media and anything else it can think of.”

If a small business or organization elects to use advertising at all, here are six suggestions from a marketer:

  • Make sure the medium doesn’t turn off more consumers than it serves.  For instance, outdoor billboards are seen as a desecration by nearly 7 out of 10 North Carolinians compared to the 1 in 10 who make use of them weekly.  There are plenty of other “out-of-home” alternatives that are less expensive and don’t foster scenic and economic blight.


  • Insist on seeing the details of the cost per impression.  An ad may seem incredibly cheap but that is because it reaches very few people. Know your target audience and match it against the distribution and demographics of the outlet before you advertise.  Show it to a competitor or vet it with your community’s destination marketing organization (DMO.)


  • Leverage your ad by placing it in a publication that is official (in the legal sense) such a the Official Durham Visitor & Relocation Guide and don’t be fooled by perversions of that term “official” often used to hood-wink unsuspecting small businesses such as the low-circulation knock-off produced by the Chapel Hill-based Durham Magazine which uses the term “official” but only means that it is the magazine’s official guide, not Durham’s.


  • Understand who your customers are in order to know how to reach them.  Before advertising, spend resources on research to identify exactly who your customers are.  Advertising in today’s over-communicated world is wasteful and ineffective as an expert blogged this summer in Advertising Age.


  • Measure the results so you know how the advertisement performed.  Don’t rely on customers telling you they found your ad (they won’t remember.)  Use a unique URL or phone number in the ad that can be inexpensively tracked to determine the cost per inquiry.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Setting DPAC Apart!

Beverly Thompson is part of a unique collaboration in Durham.  As the director of the Office of Public Affairs for the City of Durham, she collaborates with communication professionals who represent Durham as a community via the now-best-practice, 20-organization Durham Public Information & Communications Council (DPICC.)

This body was created and has been facilitated by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) as the community's marketing agency, since the mid-1990s, to synergize and improve collaboration among communication professionals working at the various organizations that represent Durham.

The mission of the DPICC is to leverage both the quantity and quality of information distributed about the community and to jointly address issues that undermine Durham’s identity and image.  DPICC oversees Durham’s overarching brand.DPACBuildingNightCorner

I caught up with Beverly recently and learned that guests at the DPICC meeting this month were Bob Klaus, general manager of the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) and two members of his staff, Cassie Jones, guest experience manager and Michael Colvin, senior house manager.

Until my retirement nearly two years ago, I enjoyed working closely with Bob and the folks on my team worked closely with Cassie, who truly epitomizes what was said at the meeting.

Bob works for Nederlander/PFM, a partnership that owns and operates theaters worldwide and operates the DPAC under contract with the City of Durham.

Week before last, the City announced that in just its third full season DPAC hosted 192 events, including 58 sellouts, which were attended by 357,000 residents and visitors including 11,000 season ticket holders for the SunTrust Broadway Series.

After operating expenses, DPAC netted $2.5 million in revenue of which just 60% is retained by Nederlander/PFM and 40% is distributed back into a City fund for the facility.  While the distribution seems a hair less than last year, these overall  measures have already transcended what was not originally projected until the fifth year of operation.

Coupled with more than $1.2 million in visitor tax revenue, more than half a million in ticket surcharges and the net from naming rights, this may narrow the overall cost of the theater for this year to around $1 million or so by my estimate.

Public infrastructure including cultural is not really meant to pay for itself other than by leveraging a vibrant community into economic vitality.  But this is as close as you get.

At the DPICC meeting this month Bob revealed four of the keys he sees to DPAC’s success to date:

  • Borrowing “best practices” from other theaters and organizations such as Disney, DPAC focused on customer service as the strategy to set the facility apart from other entertainment venues, here or in other communities.


  • Hiring at DPAC is very selective and considered pivotal to its success and every year all front line staff (ushers, ticket takers, etc.) must re-apply for positions with typically 20-30% not invited to return based on past performance.


  • Extensive training is given to front line staff on how to do whatever they can to say “yes,” rather than explaining what they can’t do.  If they aren’t able to to fulfill a request, they are trained to immediately elevate the issue/problem to a supervisor so they can get back to helping others.


  • Thousands and thousands of comment cards are solicited from customers and each manager reads every single card.  Whenever additional comments are added, Bob personally responds to each of them.

The strategy definitely works.  Congratulations to Bob and his team at DPAC, to both Nederlander and PFM and to the management and governance for the City of Durham.

Hats off as well as to Durham Wayfinders, a corps of 1,000 volunteers recruited and coordinated by DCVB that grew from an idea by Bob Klaus into a resource for all Durham festivals, events and facilities.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Music Engages More Regions Of The Brain Than Anything

Many people who have been come to know her over her more than twenty-year career in community/destination marketing (DMO) have been surprised to learn that my successor in Durham has undergraduate and graduate degrees in music, degrees often cited as excellent preparation for admission to professional schools.

Music is obviously also a perfect preparation for running a DMO!

In her new book Now You See It, Cathy N. Davidson, notes that neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Levitin has discovered that “music makes complex circuits throughout the brain, requires all the different kinds of brain function for listening, processing, and producing in various forms and makes us think differently.”

Levitin, who wrote the book This Is Your Brain On Music,directs the McGill University Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise in Montreal. He has noted that “music engages more regions of the brain than anything else.”

Additionally, in remarks at the University of Miami, he noted that “brain studies also indicate that components of expertise that contribute to superior performance include memory, attention, will power, belief in self, physical configuration and an ability to view multiple failures as necessary steps to succeed…”

One of Professor Davidson’s popular classes at Duke University substitutes the word “Internet” for the word “music.” The preparation materials for This Is Your Brain On The Internet, note that “the kind of research one does every day on the Internet helps one to think in a creative, collaborative, nonlinear fashion.”

Her new book makes the case that along with gaming, the Internet is giving us a model for how to reform public education. This month, we’re seeing the eighth class of first year students entering college who have grown up with the Internet as a given, a central part of the household, play and work.

Davidson’s new book makes a compelling case for a fresh look at the core benefits that subjects such as art and music bring to a holistic education. In the book, she also notes that the people who originated both the IQ test and the objective, multiple-choice exam, both warned against their use during their lifetimes and why.

Yet today, we find a major part of every class year devoted to taking standardized tests that measure only memorization and are largely irrelevant to the workplace. Davidson argues that the literacy skill to learn, unlearn and relearn must be added to the old three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Education according to Davidson must now include “three new Rs “rigor, relevance, and relationships.” Maybe innovation is right under our nose.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lessons From Birth

It wasn’t clear I was going to make it during my first six months of life.

While I have no real memory, it’s all there in my wiring. Experts have identified this period and what I overcame at the beginning of life as the source of some of the traits that helped me succeed in my now-concluded nearly-four-decade career as a community/destination marketing exec.

But I’ve also had to learn to moderate the downside of those very same strengths.

I was conceived in October of 1947, more than a year after my Dad returned from Europe and got out of the U.S. Army. My parents had eloped three years earlier and my Mom had lived and worked off-base as Dad went through basic training at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, California before shipping out to Europe.

After the separation of war, they were eager to start a family.reg6-eastern

I was a bit overdue and born in 1948 in the midst of the hottest and busiest time of year on the 1200 acre cattle and horse ranch and related farmland that my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents had homesteaded and then assembled just a mile from the upper Henry’s Fork in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Eastern Idaho.

My Dad rushed my Mom 50 miles south to the nearest hospital in Idaho Falls on a very hot July afternoon in a 1949 Ford that had come out the month before. I was delivered before he could park the car and make it to the delivery room. The pregnancy was a surprise because specialists didn’t think it was possible for Mom to have children.

But my parents were very determined. I was followed by two sisters, each of us spaced three years apart but, sadly, they also suffered three miscarriages.

I got off to a great start, weighing more than 8 lbs. at delivery but it all went downhill from there. My immediate reaction over the first few months of life was to projectile vomit regardless of whether it was my Mom’s milk or any number of formulas including the “tried and true” Mead’s Dextri-Maltose, developed nearly forty years earlier in 1911.

I’m not talking about the usual baby spit-up but vomit that shoots out six or more feet in a gush, often showering my Dad or grandfather.

At three-months, older women on nearby ranches and farms worried that I wouldn’t make it much longer. I was barely gaining any weight and nothing would stay down and crying was non-stop. In early January, as I turned six months old, the ranch was buried in one of the huge blizzards common during the winter there, erasing every visible sign that any roads had ever existed.

But this blizzard was epic, even for that part of the country, drifts were high enough to bury some telephone poles and they completely blocking roads and even trains for a month.

My Dad went down in the cellar to get a can of powder formula and couldn’t find any, although my parents remembered stocking up the week before the storm. Desperate, they gave me some of the whole milk that we sold to the creamery in nearby Ashton along with the even more valuable cream when we separated a portion.

Whole cow’s milk was believed to be the worst thing possible to give any baby but especially with this condition.

The “miracle of the blizzard of 1949” has been recounted at nearly every family gathering I can remember. Once I drank the whole milk I stopped crying for the first time in six months and began to immediately gain weight. They found that formula, by the way, hiding in plain sight the next morning; but from then on, whole, incredibly rich, cow’s milk was the centerpiece of my diet.

I was fortunate enough to dodge most the negative side-effects that can result from what medical professionals term “faltering growth” or a half century earlier by the myth-enshrouded term “failure to thrive.”

But specialists, including management consultants, have credited that adversity with honing several traits that were conditioned by my parents, teachers and mentors into strengths that helped me succeed in my school work, in athletics and in my career.

I’m living proof, however, that each of those strengths could also be liabilities had I not learned from them and adapted.

Here are a handful:

  • A passion for life and learning. My system had to kick-start so many times in those first few months that I have innately anticipated every day as though it would be my last. Life is not taken for granted. But I had to learn to moderate intensity.

  • An indefatigable drive and resilience to achieve both short-term milestones and long term goals while overcoming setbacks or obstacles. I’ve had to learn to appreciate and work with people who move more slowly and appear less motivated.

  • A hyper-vigilance that helps me see strategically and quickly identify threats which has been key to my work responsibilities. But I’ve had to learn that everything isn’t a matter of life or death and to be more trusting at one level and maybe a little less overall.

  • An ability to tolerate a certain amount of ambiguity and inconsistency that probably comes from a pretty ambiguous first six months but opened my mind up to new data,fresh ideas, innovation and growth. But I’ve had to learn to listen carefully to those who harden positions without backup for both/and alternatives.

  • An empathy for the underdog, the underprivileged, the disabled, the stigmatized and an intolerance for condescension, racism, sexism, misogynists and BMOCs. But I’ve had to learn not to tell myself stories and to listen beyond the messenger.

Of course, I’m grateful that I lived but I’m especially grateful for those who helped me condition the traits imbued by that early struggle into strengths.

In turn, I also appreciate what I learned from adapting and managing those strengths and I’m thankful for everyone who has been so tolerant and forgiving during this journey.

This bit of history may be of interest one day to my grandsons, who started 1st and 2nd grade yesterday and maybe their children or children’s children.

But I dedicate it to my Mom and Dad, just 19 and 24 years old at the time, who never gave up on me, even when covered in projectile vomit and sleepless through six months of constant crying.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

44% of Workplace Interruptions Are Self-Induced

I’ve spent all weekend reading and rereading an incredible new book, released just last Thursday.  It is entitled Now You See It – How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

This book is a must-read for anyone concerned with transforming both the workplace and public education to better suit the world that has evolved so dramatically “since that fateful day in April 1993 when Mosaic 1.0, the first popular Web browser” unleashed the Internet for widespread use as the author notes. Capture

In full disclosure it is written by Cathy N. Davidson with whom I share a passion for Durham, our adopted hometown and whose work at Duke University, as co-founder of HASTAC and as an author are more reasons to believe Durham is indeed where great things happen.

This is one of those books where nearly every sentence reveals new research, information, insights and examples of why we urgently need to update both our workplaces and educational system.

Our current workplaces and the educational system meant to prepare us are both creatures of 19th century thinking.  The Internet has revolutionized the way we work and collaborate but the layout and rules of the workplace and the educational system largely remain stuck in the century before last.

Davidson humorously notes that Ichabod Crane, the schoolmaster in the classic 1820 book entitled The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, would be baffled today by electricity, moving images, computers and cell phones but he’d be right at home and find little had changed in today’s classroom since the horse and buggy days of Sleepy Hollow.

If you’re like me, you’re guaranteed to finish this book enthusiastic and optimistic about the changes we need to make.  You’ll also come away with a fuller understanding of how our brain works including the fact that it is always “on” and that 44% of workplace interruptions originate and 80% of our neural energy is consumed not from external sources but from the distractions in our own minds.

The question isn’t whether we can and must multi-task but when have we ever mono-tasked?  Researchers noted in the book have confirmed that switching from one specific task to another uses less than 5% of the brain’s normal “at rest” energy.

I really can’t do the book justice in the framework of one post but there is no one book I’d recommend more to anyone wanting to see into the near and long-term future of how we’ll live and work and learn and unlearn and relearn in this century.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Painful Lessons At Charlotte’s Expense

It’s been painful and sad but not very surprising to witness the tragedy that has unfolded in Charlotte, North Carolina over the last year.

Community/destination marketing organization (DMO) executives there should have known better but the full story is merely masked by scapegoating an individual, throwing him “under the bus” or reassigning him and then adding another layer of management, probably along with a good amount of micro-managing.

The Charlotte Regional Visitor Authority (CRVA) is the umbrella organization created to essentially strap Charlotte’s DMO, Visit Charlotte, down with the operation of several mega-facilities there.

Some well-intended executives fell down an extremely slippery slope; but as one blogger notes, it is only symptomatic of a broader community culture that includes other downtown and business-related organizations.

Hopefully that community’s newspaper will keep digging and revealing until it makes fully transparent the entire toxic cocktail of hubris, envy, and special interest pressure at the root of this problem which has become embedded in the nature of so many communities and which ensnared CRVA.

This should also be a warning to many other communities including several others in this state that are similarly addicted to a blend of mega-facilities, mega-events and the so-called business development funds or subsidies and kickbacks required to sustain them. Those where local news media are complicit or complacent and choosing to sit back and relish in Charlotte’s drama, would be better served by real scrutiny such as that exhibited by the Charlotte paper.

Obsession by many cities with mega-facilities and mega-groups all begins, when in the immortal words of Charles Dickens, a city’s “nosiest authorities insist on being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

A Raleigh scribe once coined the term Charlotte-envy to describe that condition in his community. It was noted in turn that Charlotte has Atlanta-envy, and Atlanta…well you see the drill and the condition certainly isn’t limited to just these three communities.

Even communities such as my adopted hometown of Durham aren’t immune just because it has a stronger and more outspoken commitment to being genuine and authentic and focus on building on a strong sense of place and the evolution of place-based assets rather than worrying about replicating other communities.

During my now-concluded four-decade career and especially during the two as Durham’s DMO exec, I was fortunate to be insulated by a prudent legislated directive to market the community as a whole: a policy stating that facilities and events should be market-driven not ego-driven, and another prohibiting a focus on the thin slice of external events where subsides or underwriting are required to “buy the business.”

That didn’t prevent special interests and even a few public officials from attempting to corner me from time to time. At first the pressure was only from nearby Raleigh interests or sycophants when, from time tome, that community would go “big game hunting” and then try to guilt-trip or corner Durham into betraying its well publicized policies.

But the pressure later came from a handful of Durham-related interests including government or development officials who would frequently try to corner me into underwriting a pet event or to make decisions based only on “who’s asking” or to redirect marketing to favor one facility over the community-at-large or on more than one occasion to “enhance” economic impact estimates to be more impressive just as it appears to have happened in Charlotte.

They were never successful but the pressure was unrelenting and “but for the grace of God,” I too could have fallen into or been drug into the same trap as my counterparts in many other communities.

From statements in the news media and in an internal audit it appears Charlotte may have felt pressured to exaggerate projected attendance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame which may in reality only be half of what was projected. The shortfall appears to be in the anticipated one-third from resident attendance within 50 miles of the facility.

From personal observations during many visits to Charlotte, on many Saturday’s one can shoot a cannon through the community’s museums and sports venues and not hit anyone, not to mention find a restaurant that is open at lunchtime. It is a classic case of supply has outstripping demand and as a New York Times headline once read, “Build It And They Will Come - but Not For Long.”

Ironically, that NASCAR facility is one of the mega-facilities in Charlotte to be truly place-based. While Charlotte isn’t home to a NASCAR race or a speedway, it is very close to several other communities where race teams are based as well as to the town of Concord, North Carolina which is the true physical location of a NASCAR raceway and several race events including those at the so-called Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Charlotte is also the largest city in the state where much of NASCAR’s storied past is anchored.

I suspect it was while investigating the dramatic attendance shortfall at the Hall of Fame that reporters were able to spot that part of the public underwriting (state and local) provided to land and produce the CIAA basketball tournament had been kicked back to the DMO as a bonus for the event’s planner who also worked there.

The pressure to do something like that can be very subtle and veiled and entitled but nonetheless intense.

I don’t know anything firsthand about the Charlotte situation, but over several decades I’ve witnessed how a downfall like this has all too often come to occurred in other communities. Here is a scenario.

  • Individuals with power or money or both, typically business leaders, are able to drown out the voices of people who truly love and value community for its inherent and distinct sense of place by persuading elected officials and community organizations that, in order to be “major-league,” the community needs to build facilities that make it like other communities.

  • Instead of waiting until it can organically warrant facilities, a community falls under the spell of “build it and they will come” and begins to lure major sports teams, major museums and other cultural interests by promoting facilities.

  • Soon the facilities are cannibalizing one another and so often community and business leaders begin to pressure the DMO to table or downsize its community-wide mission and begin focusing on filling only the mega-facilities that have been built.

  • Ultimately, as happened in Charlotte, officials may strap the DMO with responsibilities for operating several of the facilities to further restrict its focus in selected mega-facilities and away from its true mission on behalf of the community as a whole.

  • Still unable to fill the facilities because projections have been over-stated, the DMO then begins to lobby for a “business development fund,” aka “a slush fund” to lure mega-events that nearly always require far more in underwriting than the events generate as a return in local tax dollars needed as a return on investment.

  • Boosters suppress or “neglect to inform” proposals to pursue mega-events with third-party event analysis especially when it is negative and economic impact estimates are careful to direct attention to gross vs. net figures, guaranteed to delight some local businesses, enthusiasts and special interests while primarily blinding local officials and news media to the true return on investment and displacement.

  • As individuals, some officials and special interests begin to “lean” on the DMO to direct business their way or to hire certain people or to contract with certain companies and when or if they refuse, the same or more energy and often money is used to try to get the executive fired.

  • Eventually a suction is created because the “build it and they will come” theory rarely, if ever, works and the slice of mega-events that can be bought dries up or the churn of facilities begins to create a suction as the supply of facilities outpaces any possible demand from visitors or residents.

  • As stress increases or elected and other government officials turn-over, someone protests or posters for the public to distance themselves. A search for a scapegoat begins while others complicit hope the community and the news media will tire of the “story” after a few months or become sated by the sacrifice of a few reputations or or organization so that the co-dependence and dysfunction can resume.

Of course, the answer is for communities to stay focused on leveraging what makes them indigenous and unique vs. carbon copies; and for economic and cultural development interests to stay focused on their job and sober their communities to the lure of so-called “major-league.”

DMOs need to have incredibly strong codes of ethics that that apply to boards of directors, management and staffs alike and insulate them from special interest pressure and discourage ego-marketing. Any focus on events, where they make sense, is best restricted to those that will complement and not displace other visitor segments and that don’t require subsidies.

But the real problem as it is in so much of society is the money in politics that can so easily compromise local interests and surrender community interest to special interests.

Hopefully Charlotte, a great community, learns a lesson and returns to fostering the things that make it distinct and the individuals involved will be redeemed. Hopefully other communities will also take heed and turn more intently to protecting and defending and organically fostering a distinct sense of place.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Apathy Is An Enabler of Desecration

If they aren’t nose-down catching up on their smartphones and iPads, some of my former colleagues in community/destination marketing (DMOs), who are fortunate enough to attend the second of two major educational events held each summer, will see two things on the way in from the airport when they gather in Salt Lake City at the end of the month for USTA’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO).

First will be a spectacular view of a stretch of the Wasatch Range, a 162-mile mountain range that runs from the Utah-Idaho border down the spine of Utah perpendicular to the short stretch from the Salt Lake Airport to the conference hotel.Capture

The second thing they will notice, especially if during their visit they have reason to be on the north-south I-15 through that city, is how incredibly scarred the view of those mountains and the skyline are by more than 200 huge back-to-back outdoor billboards crammed in the short distance from south of Ogden through the Salt Lake Valley to Provo where I attended and graduated from college.

I thought to myself as I traveled this route earlier this month on my now-concluded 6,300 mile cross-country venture that outdoor billboards have turned what was once one of the spectacular areas of the Intermountain West into one of the most severely blighted.

Fortunately, Salt Lake City leaders banned the digital versions of billboards last spring. I love the Utah-Life Elevated slogan and art work on welcome signs but to deliver on the one depicted in this blog, travelers will indeed need to be elevated above the billboards to appreciate it.

Many DMO execs attending the conference are so numb to true sense-of-place they probably won’t even notice. Those who do may at first just be grateful their destinations have been spared the blight and then it may dawn on a few that they and their primary constituents are responsible.

Yes, one of the great ironies about the million or so outdoor billboards wallpapering many parts of this country and blighting the landscape for residents and travelers alike is that far too many destination marketing executives have hypocritically desecrated the view shed in other places with billboard messages heralding how unspoiled and special their communities are.

But that isn’t the real irony. Five of the two dozen or more industries fueled most by visitor-centric economic and cultural development are the primary reasons this obsolete form of advertising is still on life-support even though far more effective, useful and less obtrusive and expensive alternatives exist.

Lodging, restaurants, retail stores, entertainment venues and gas stations, in that order, collectively make up 70% of outdoor billboard users according to an analysis in 2003 with hotels and restaurants alone driving 40% of the use.

And these are the very businesses that rely so heavily on the unique sense of place worthiness of their communities where they do business, something undermined and threatened by the blight of outdoor billboards. Whatever they believe they gain through the advertising is lost many times over by the desecration it creates.

Communities and states seeking to draw travel-related spending to their economies are at the mercy of the ignorance and apathy of both those businesses most likely to benefit and the DMO execs entrusted to protect, defend and promote them as visitor destinations.

Unfortunately, many destination marketing execs are trapped in a “circle-the-wagons” mentality (often firing inward by the way) instead of showing true leadership in their communities. They fail to realize that typically fewer than 1 in 10 consumers use the monstrosities while seven times that many are offended by them.

“At the end of the day,” stated a branding expert recently, “it is the brands themselves who end up shouldering responsibility as well as the brunt of citizen frustration…their very presence as outdoor advertising has made them scapegoats.” These brands, typically franchises, are also slowing the transition of those honorable outdoor billboard companies to less obtrusive forms.

It may stiffen the backbones of many DMO execs that as marketers they can take courage from the fact that pioneers of the “Mad Men” era such as advertising and marketing giants such as David Ogilvy and Howard Gossage long ago discouraged use of outdoor billboards and cited their detrimental effects.

I know that the job of a DMO is anything but easy and there are some execs who truly “get it”, but maybe it will take a new and more courageous generation of destination marketing leaders to finally stand up in unison against the harm being done by outdoor billboards to their cities and states.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A “Best Practice” Scenic Cities Certification

I’m working with a group that, by adapting a great Texas program now in its third year,, hopes to pattern a program to certify North Carolina towns and cities as scenic.

Only 20 of the 1200 cities and towns in Texas have achieved the designation which is based on 73 stringent criteria that demonstrate that a community is serious in its commitment to quality-of-life development including an effective bundle of programs, ordinances, rules, and regulations.

Under the Texas certification, cities and towns there can build additional points toward certification with the goal of earning Recognized, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum Certification.

The program is particularly useful to community/destination marketing organizations (DMOs), commonly called convention and visitor bureaus, to which I devoted my now-concluded four-decade career.  Those DMOs that are aware of the importance of sense-of-place should certainly already understand the things that desecrate it.

DMOs are also in the best position to leverage the certification to signal a community’s worthiness for consideration by potential visitors, event planners, filmmakers, newcomers and relocating executives.

The one improvement I hope we make with the North Carolina program is to be sure to include the Destination Marketing Association of North Carolina as a partner along with the NC League of Municipalities and the NC Association of County Commissioners, and many other organizations including the soon-to-be reignited Scenic North Carolina.

Here are a few of the benefits to a city or town that has been certified under the Texas program:

  • improves property values
  • attracts new business
  • enhances economic development efforts
  • educates your citizens about the importance and impact of local decision-making
  • improves quality of life for residents
  • makes your city more appealing to tourists
  • shapes your city as a destination center for travelers and meeting planners
  • positions your city to serve as a model for emerging scenic cities, and
  • creates synergies with other certified Scenic Cities.

Certification itself earns:

  • technical advice and support during the application process
  • exclusive access to Scenic City logos for use on city website, print materials
  • media release regarding certification issued to local and regional newspapers, radio, TV
  • Scenic City emblem to post within city limits
  • recognition at a special luncheon event to be held in the Fall following certification, and
  • synergies with other certified Scenic Cities.

If communities want to pre-qualify for the North Carolina program, I suggest reviewing the Texas application upon which we will expand and improve.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

“It’s Just A Movie”

To temper our youthful exuberance for movies (and books) my Dad was famous for rolling his eyes and muttering to my two sisters and me, “oh for hell’s sake, it’s only a damn movie.”

That’s been my reaction to people asking what I think about the soon-to-be-released movie, “Main Street,” with a fictional setting in Durham. They have heard rumors and reports about what I’ve known since I read the script during the filming and they wonder if I think its unflattering and stereotypical depiction will mean for Durham’s image.Main Street

“It’s just a damn movie,” I have said and expect I’ll say it again and again.

For those of you not familiar with Durham, the community has an excellent image nationally and regionally and the best image in the state of any of the major cities.

But over the past two decades we’ve reversed a negative image among and perpetuated by a significant proportion of residents in surrounding communities and to a lesser extent within the boundaries of the 22-county viewing area for television stations. This included fighting off the detrimental effects on visitors, meeting planners, newcomers and relocating executives.

The movie looks good on the trailers but it is one of those films with a good director, an excellent cast including now-Academy Award-winner Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom and several other excellent actors. The movie was penned by Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Horton Foote, who soon after passed away at 93 years old.

Everything should have clicked but I’m judging by the limited release that it got tripped up in editing as many movies do and won’t be a blockbuster.

Mr. Foote was not only nowhere near the form he was when he penned two of my favorites films, To Kill A Mockingbird released in 1963 and Tender Mercies released in 1983 but prior to penning Main Street his head had been filled with many of the stereotypes of Durham from several decades ago along with a good dose of “Raleigh to the rescue” B.S. that I had to overcome when I encountered it on a daily basis from the moment I was recruited here more than two decades ago to jumpstart Durham community/destination marketing until I retired nearly two years ago.

Part of my job included building on the reputation as a film location that Durham had inherited as the location for Bull Durham and also defending and protecting and updating the community’s image in the minds of visitors, newcomers, relocating businesses and investors.

I know something about community image having pioneered a scientific-best-practice approach for how to unwrap and then address one.

Other than an isolated anecdote here and there that I’m certain will be on the OMG grapevine, the movie isn’t a threat any more than Kiss the Girls and Bull Durham didn’t give Durham a reputation for sex and serial murderers.

If movies determined community image, New York City certainly wouldn’t be the dynamic place it is and the television series CSI would have been the end of Las Vegas and Miami.

Below are a handful of things to remember about a communities image:

  • Community image isn’t about promoting positive attributes and suppressing troubling issues. True image rests on being genuine and celebrating and amplifying the positives while acknowledging and working to improve areas of improvement and eliminating myths.

  • Of true danger to community image are “water-cooler” myths that can only be addressed by empowering people with facts that will inoculate those who are neutral from purveyors of the myths. This is particularly important if a large number of people commute to work in a community but don’t live there.

  • News stories have no role in community image. By nature the news deals with troubling issues. News can undermine a community only when coverage is imbalanced compared to nearby communities and/or when negative stories are specifically attributed to a community without context or perspective while at the same time positive stories taking place there are attributed to either rival communities and/or general areas, effectively “damning by faint praise.”

  • Of greatest threat to community image and identity are things such as inaccurate or truncated airport arrival and departure greetings, inaccurate postal street delivery designations, predatory real estate agents and homebuilders, a high proportion of people who work but don’t live in a community, absentee landlords and unethical economic developers.

For more information on community image, click here and here as well as several other posts elsewhere on this blog (

As for “Main Street”, “it’s just a damn movie” but it sure does showcase the depth and diversity of Durham as a visual goldmine for location scouts for films, advertisements and videos and a community that is cooperative and hospitable to filmmakers.

The real and lasting impact of film productions on a community and the reason DCVB pursues and facilitates them as Durham’s Film Office are the visitor dollars spent while filming and a reputation as a visually intriguing location with a memorable and unique sense of place.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Balance Alone Blinds News Consumers – Fosters Gridlock

Two weeks ago, I made a pit-stop part way into a day-long drive down through two national parks including the Jackson Hole, a valley along the iconic 44-mile Teton Range ending at the town of Jackson, Wyoming, just over the range from my birthplace.

During that respite I checked a newspaper I read digitally where I came across an op=ed column referring to a “cult of balance.” Only it resonated for me more as related to news media and continued to cross my mind as I wound my way back south and east to Durham and I’ve continued to think about it during the week since my return.

The op-ed, by Princeton economics professor and columnist Dr. Paul Krugman, articulated something I had witnessed first-hand many times during my nearly four-decade career in community marketing where an integral part of my responsibilities included being a resource and/or spokesman for news media.

Main stream news coverage in general has become so balance-obsessed that it unintentionally, but effectively, blinds news consumers to critical information while enabling superficial conclusions, “cheap-shot” artists, grandstanders and, not just recently, political extortion.

Of course, I’m not referring to Fox News or the Excellence In Broadcasting Network which are avowedly partisan and borderline entertainment vs. news and where sifting any fact from fiction requires processing the contents through or, tools which by-the-way, are useful for monitoring any kind of misinformation or hyperbole.

Genuine mainstream news reporters and editors, and for that matter publishers, appear to be so determined to be viewed as fair to every side of a story that an often contrived balance unfairly blinds news consumers whenever the media fails or neglects to reveal whenever information or statements have been proven false or have repeatedly failed to withstand independent scrutiny and verification.

Not everything has two equally balanced sides. Not every side of an issue is equally factual. Eventually the preponderance of verifiable evidence (not just opinion) should become part of the news coverage, especially when it is contrary to conventional wisdom or dogma or ideology.

A shortage of staff and resources result in many news stories now devolving into simple “he-said, she-said” dramas. When it isn’t noted in stories that one side or the other has provided factual evidence vs. just opinion or has been discredited by objective, third-party analysis, news consumers are left to view everything in gridlock, everything as political.

Not everyone is unreasonable. Not everyone is partisan. Not everyone is inflexible. Not everyone is a victim. Some people deliberately lie. Some people shun responsibility. Some things just haven’t worked, no matter how well-intended.

When objective, third-party evidence exists, I believe the news media has a responsibility to give it as much attention as the “he-said, she-said” versions. Providing information and shedding light isn’t taking sides.

Of course, it ultimately the responsibility of individuals to be informed and to sift fact from fiction and misinformation. I’m not faulting the mainstream news media as much as suggesting that it should not be deemed “imbalanced” to reveal evidence,when it exists, that will help make sense of a story that otherwise doesn’t “add up” and all to often is dismissed as a personality conflict or grudge-match.

Not everyone reads. Not everyone is objective or open-minded. Not everyone seeks alternative viewpoints. Not everyone is a news junkie. Not everyone has a confirming “myside” bias. Not everyone is ethical.

Gridlock is the result of ignorance or a lack of perspective. Ironically, stories contrived for balance foster gridlock. It is time for the legitimate news media to tell it like it is, even if the facts mean the story won’t be perfectly “balanced” or that those exposed will go “ballistic.”

This is especially true if, as cultural historian Neal Gabler writes, we’re no longer in the Age of Enlightenment that inspired America’s founders and the people who have made this nation great.

Instead, Gabler writes, while we’re awash in the Age of Information, we’re also “in the post-enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy.”

If we’re truly in an age of information with fewer thinkers, we need news reports and the media to be more revealing of things that just aren’t true.

Monday, August 15, 2011

575 miles of Trees will soon Vanish from NC Roadsides

North Carolinians will soon see 575 miles of trees disappear from roadsides, deforesting 100 miles more than the span of the entire state, corner to corner, from Manteo in the northeast to Murphy in the southwest thanks to legislation pushed through the General Assembly on behalf of lobbyists for the outdoor billboard industry by two State Senators.Capture

Former Department of Transportation roadside executive Bill Johnson has also gleaned that even the extremely conservative $12 million estimated value of the trees the legislation will eliminate was mysteriously zeroed out of the fiscal impact of the bill, virtually delivering, in the minds of many experts, an illegal public gratuity under the constitution.

The new legislation will not only clear-cut 2,000 acres of trees in the state, but the method of calculating the $12 million loss to NC citizens is based on out-dated measures that haven’t been adjusted to take into account the value researchers have documented showing that over 50 years, a single tree provides $31,250 worth of oxygen, $62,000 worth of air pollution control, $37,500 worth of recycled water, and $31,500 worth of soil erosion control.

The cost of the bill also does not reflect the value of the invaluable scenic easements the billboards destroy, thereby effectively giving the outdoor billboard industry a complimentary anti-scenic easement for the 8,000 outdoor billboards that wallpaper the state, blighting one of the pivotal attributes drawing tourism and new employers to North Carolina.

And the $12 million loss to the state from the legislation definitely fails to include what a new study will soon reveal is an average decrease of $34,000 in the value for every home located near a billboard.

Judging from observations during my six different routes across this country over the past year, North Carolina’s ability to live up to its legendary scenery has already been severely eroded and a major culprit is the outdoor billboard industry.  It is impossible to describe the blight billboards create on our state until you traverse states with little or no such obstruction.

Maybe an even bigger surprise for North Carolinians will be that the bill doesn’t really protect large trees as hoped. The legislation ostensibly prohibited removing large trees of a certain size but industry lobbyists and sponsors inserted loophole-wording defining size not at the present but back when the billboards were first installed, essentially placing every tree at risk, regardless of current size.

Further more, the new legislation will permit outdoor billboard companies, without DOT supervision, to buzz cut the trees and vegetation to the ground, not just low enough to make the bill board visible.  Even before the legislation took effect, North Carolina’s overall tree cover had fallen below 60%, below the average of many of its urban cities like Durham.

Are the 9% of our state’s residents who indicate they use billboards weekly really worth the risk to businesses of alienating the nearly 7 of every 10 North Carolinians who view them as blight let alone sacrificing the tremendous hidden cost to the state in loss of trees and scenic view shed?

Unfortunately, according to emotional branding guru Marc Gobé, speaking month before last, “at the end of the day, it is the brands themselves who end up shouldering the responsibility [for outdoor billboards] as well as the brunt of citizen frustration…their very presence as outdoor advertising has made them the scapegoat.”

Gobé isn’t alone.  Dating back to pioneers of the “Mad Men” era, advertising and marketing giants such as David Ogilvy and Howard Gossage have discouraged use of outdoor billboards and cited their detrimental effects.

This also isn’t just a political issue.  Overwhelming opposition in polls to billboards is consistent among Independents, Republicans and Democrats.  Other Republican leaders tried in vain to reason with the two sponsoring Republican advocates fronting for this legislation on behalf of special interests lobbyists.

Even the “standard-bearer for American conservatism”, the late William F. Buckley, wrote in an article entitled The Politics of Beauty  that “billboards are acts of aggression, against which the public is entitled, as a matter of privacy, to be protected…the big name libertarian theorists should go to work demolishing the billboarders’ abuse of the argument of private property.”

Maybe this new legislation, while too late to prevent further blight, will be a blessing in disguise and the blatant over-reaching will further impassion the 80% of voters it offends according to scientific polling by Public Policy including nearly 70% who never utilize outdoor billboards for information and find them a detraction from community and state appearance.

More on that later.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beware of Lost Business to Justify New or Larger Facilities

I am amazed at the number of community/destination marketing (DMO) executives across the nation who still push for newer or larger facilities based on data from flawed “lost-business” reports, even though this rationale has long been discredited.

This obsession almost always indicates that a DMO is operating in a long-outmoded sales mentality at the expense of more holistic marketing. Ironically, it also means the DMO may be ignorant of and/or simply failing to grasp the pivotal difference between traditional economic development (often known as smoke stack chasing or big game hunting) and visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

The traditional approach is supply driven. The visitor centric approach of DMOs is demand driven.

The former pursues facilities and organizations that may hopefully generate demand but, unfortunately, these have been shown recently to displace almost as much.

The latter focuses on generating visitation demand that will make existing facilities sustainable and improve the market-driven feasibility for future facilities.

Most often lost-business reports are cited in relationship to convention facilities and increasingly of late to sports facilities.

To understand why they can be misleading, let me use conventions and meetings as an example, but a similar analysis applies to sports events as well.

There are roughly 1 million conventions and meetings held each year in the USA give or take. The market has fallen back to the mid-2000s level because of the great recession and isn’t projected to surpass those levels again until 2012 or later.

However, only 1% of these are the major conventions so many DMOs obsess over. Each region of the nation is eligible for roughly a quarter of these or a couple of thousand meetings each year. They average about 1,000 room nights per day and a quarter of these events use convention centers. Far too many DMOs are fighting over this small 1% slice.

Far too few DMOs go after the 17 or 18 times larger segment of other association meetings which are much more manageable and can be fit into periods where visitation is needed without displacing other types of visitation. Still fewer DMOs focus as well on the 80 times larger corporate meetings market.

Community and business leaders must be aware of the market when evaluating a DMOs use of “lost-business” as a rationale for expanding or building facilities. Much too often the reasons why business is being lost can be determined by examining the following circumstances:

  • A DMO may be poorly prospecting and pre-qualifying the groups it pursues. A dead give-away to poor targeting is if the DMO is still offering or providing underwriting subsidies or giving kick-backs in order to land groups. It means they are focused on a much to thin slice of the market.

  • A DMO may be neglecting to make sure the needs-periods are based on surveys of local public and private facilities not just speculation or conventional wisdom or ego. Business lost because the DMO is pursuing groups that are too large for existing facilities or during periods when availability is low due to other visitor markets is not really “lost-business.”

  • Also check to make sure the DMO is monitoring its fair share of each potential visitor market including but not exclusively the 10-15% related to conventions, meetings and sports events and comparing it against stringently defined competitor sets which include comparable nearby communities.

  • Make certain the DMO isn’t still using the gross economic impact of groups instead of the more relevant net-value-added impact on the entire business climate, not just hotels, and also in terms of the return in local tax revenues on investment in public facilities and infrastructure.

  • Make certain the DMO is not only staying current with but voluntarily circulating third-party analysis of mega-conventions and sports events to local stakeholders, officials and news media, especially those that reveal fallacies about mega-groups. Good economic development is rarely about ego.

  • Make certain the DMO isn’t attributing lost business to a particular facility without first factoring in competition within the overall community, public and private. Lost-business needs to be lost to the community as a whole not just a particular facility or district.

  • Beware of DMOs promoting the need for new or larger facilities on the premise that they will in turn generate construction of surrounding facilities. Facilities rarely if ever spawn other facilities and regardless, even when they might, there are much less expensive ways to do so, such as generating demand for existing facilities.

Contemporary, best practice DMO’s stay focused on and calibrated to generating demand to fill existing capacity rather the antiquated sales-driven lobbying to increase the supply of facilities. The market will signal when expansion is needed.

More often than not, a DMO crying for newer or larger facilities is failing to focus on fair market share, filling needs-periods and good prospecting.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When Beliefs Become More Like Possessions

Coincidentally, two things happened during my just concluded cross-country trip that helped me better understand Tea Party followers.

Even though Tea Partiers are rare, just 9% of the general public and 11% of registered voters, I was able to meet and/or listen to several either during refueling stops or during dinner conversations because, traveling alone, I choose to eat at the bar in the places where I stop.  This often leads to some interesting encounters.

At the same time I was interacting with some of these folks on the trip out west and back, along the northern route this time, I read What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought by Dr. Keith E. Stanovich, a professor and researcher on human reasoning at the University of Toronto.  I was able to apply some of the information I gleaned from this research during my encounters.

Each of the Tea Party adherents I met appeared to have well above average intelligence but only a shallow grasp of facts and information.  It appeared to me that they based their opinions almost entirely on testimonials heard on talk shows or at rallies.

In his book Stanovich notes that while intelligence is innate, rationality is learned and that research reveals that “open-minded thinking is associated with reliance on statistical evidence” while what he terms “myside bias” has an over-reliance on testimonials.

This explains why, to a person, the activists I met seemed unperturbed to learn that the vast majority of the current debt problem occurred under a conservative president who had inherited a budget surplus.  When probed for the basis of their beliefs they almost always cited talk show hosts or speakers at rallies.

Similarly, they didn’t appear to be racists but tended to generalize about immigration and racial issues based on group stereotypes gleaned from testimonials that may have been racist rather than on facts or any personal experience with or knowledge of individuals.

The nation is currently held hostage not by the 11% of registered voters who are Tea Party adherents but by the less than 6% who insisted, in the very recent USA Today/Gallup poll, that the Congressional Committee now charged with trimming the debt should “stand pat on principle no matter what.”

Based on what I learned from the research reviewed in this well-written book, the inflexibility of this very small group is grid locking the nation and the economy because they “treat their beliefs” in Stanovich’s research, “as possessions” making it almost impossible to inform them with additional information or to find compromise.

To me, this is what makes them so dangerous and why even conservative columnist David Brooks raises questions about their moral decency.  Maybe even more dangerous are those officials elected to represent far more than this tiny 6% but to whom they pledge allegiance, “no matter what.”

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

One Republican’s Object Of Deep Spiritual Significance

A powerful, popular, independent Republican President was on my mind as I started my third cross-country road trip in less than a year, driving up the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and crossing bits of Maryland and West Virginia before cutting across Pennsylvania to carve my way around the Great Lakes.

My route took me near a route of then-desolation in Pennsylvania that Theodore Roosevelt viewed from the train as he made his way from Buffalo to Washington D.C. after the assassination of President McKinley.

A hundred years ago, Roosevelt probably wasn’t aware that settlement and development had by that time eliminated one of every three trees (210 million) from the billion acres of forest that had covered America in the mid-1600s.

Roosevelt also didn’t have access to the economics involved. Today we know that “over the course of 50 years, a single tree can generate $31,250 worth of oxygen, provide $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycle $37,500 worth of water, and control $31,500 worth of soil erosion” according to the Arbor Day Foundation.

What Roosevelt did have according to his biographer, Edmund Morris was a firm belief, even as a city boy that “trees were objects of deep spiritual significance.” He also viewed conservation as good for business, good for development and in the best interests of the American people.

He bucked his own powerful political party and, as noted at this link, by the end of his term he had “established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 new U.S. National Monuments.

He also established the first 51 Bird Reserves, four Game Preserves, and 150 National Forests, including Shoshone National Forest, the nation's first.

The area of the United States that he placed under public protection totaled approximately 230,000,000 acres.” And yes, he was a Republican.

Today, more than half of the earth’s forests are in Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China. Forests cover less than 1/10th of the earth’s surface and about 30% of its land area. Degrading forests are driving 17% of greenhouse emissions.

America’s tree cover has remained at 747 million acres for the last 100 years. According to the national atlas, this includes 384 million acres in the East and 363 million in the West. In the East, 74% are broadleaf trees, in the West 78% are conifer.

In the East 83% of forest is privately owned but in the West 57% is publicly owned. This may explain why I saw far fewer outdoor billboards in the Midwest and West.

This may also explain why public officials in North Carolina are so slow to protect trees from outdoor billboards, oversimplifying it as a private property issue rather than as a degradation of view-shed and sense—of-place as the general public here overwhelmingly does.

Once heavily forested, North Carolina is now less than 60% tree covered or less than the tree canopy in the City of Durham, the state’s fifth most populous city. North Carolina has also become less forested than either of its two neighboring states, Virginia and South Carolina.

We need more Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt. Especially in North Carolina.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Innovation Is Right Under Your Nose

I had my hands much too full in 1965 to notice, but while I was caught up in the back to back to back to back to back releases of Mr. Tambourine Man (Dylan and The Byrds,) Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Help, The Sounds of Silence and California Dreamin’, Toyota launched the development of the hybrid technology (Prius etc.)

Things we commonly refer to as “breakthroughs” have usually been evolving right under our noses for decades.  Clive Thompson notes in a column for Wired Magazine that the revolutionary iPhone “pinch-and-zoom” was actually pioneered back in 1983.

Click here to read more about what Bill Buxton at Microsoft terms the “long nose” theory of innovation.

The lesson for organizations that seek to be innovative is that it is more about adapting existing or evolving concepts at the margins than waiting for a “bolt out of the blue.”

Friday, August 05, 2011

My Third Cross-Country In Less Than A Year

For anyone curious about my hiatus, I recently completed my third, 6,000-plus-mile cross-country trip in less than a year. As always, riding shotgun was my English Bulldog, Mugsy and we took the Jeep instead of the Cross Bones.

This time we went up the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, then across those narrow bands of Maryland and West Virginia and cut across the southwest corner of Pennsylvania.Early Morning - Newman Lake '11

We curled around the great lakes, up through the Wisconsin Dells, across northern Minnesota and North Dakota and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

We took a new route across Montana to Great Falls, then skirted the Bob Marshall Wilderness and up through Glacier National Park.

We continued on US 2 up through the incredible forests and lakes around Libby to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, then across to Newport, Washington before dropping down the very western edge of the Idaho panhandle to rendezvous on a lake with family including my grandsons and daughter, my Mom, younger sister and brother-in-law and my niece and nephew and his family.

There is something therapeutic about dogs and children, especially the sounds of little voices while they are swimming, fishing, rowing and canoeing or getting the first glimpse of Ospreys and Blue Herons at work feeding their families.

On the way back we continued down the panhandle then up the incredible Clearwater and over Lolo Pass back into Montana, down through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks and several valleys along the Wyoming-Idaho border.

We then crossed over and along the Wasatch Range through Utah before cutting back east across the Colorado River and up and over a band of Rockies that dissect that state before dumping back out onto the plains at Denver.

Part way through Missouri we took a new route down through Paducah, Kentucky and the northwestern part of Tennessee before heading up over the Smoky Mountains and home to Durham.

We didn’t miss all of the heat wave.  It was in the 90s and humid as I went through Bismarck, North Dakota.  But in the Northern Rockies, I woke up each morning to find it in the 50s and there were several days when the temperature barely reached 80.  On the way back it was a stifling 113 in central Missouri.

Mugs is a great travel companion.  We’ve now taken six different routes across this country and, other than those times during my now-concluded four-decade-long career in community marketing when parachuting into various cities on business trips, these cross-countries  allowed my first real exploration of 22 states and new routes through many other states through which I had previously traveled.

More later on which areas exceeded expectations or didn’t live up to the hype.