Tuesday, April 30, 2013

“Life Goes Easy on Me Most of the Time”

The line by singer-songwriter Damien Rice that I use in the title of today’s blog crossed my mind a week ago.

As I was checking out after a routine procedure that I have technicians periodically perform for Mugsy, my English Bulldog, my veterinary doctor came to me and and whispered that since our last visit a large mass had appeared just inside his right ear.

Tomorrow the vet will operate to remove the mass and send it for testing.  Anyone who knows me or even reads this blog knows that Mugs and I are inseparable even on long, cross-country road-trips.

I had asked them to check and possibly clean his ears because I had observed him repeatedly licking the bottom of his back foot and then inserting it into his ear and gently pawing it.

As little kids when we hurt a finger we instinctually put it in our mouth.  Maybe that’s because saliva has long been proven to be one of the best antimicrobials around.  Dogs appear to instinctively understand that too.Mugs Riding Shotgun Cross Country February 2011

When I returned to the Vet a few days ago for some pre-surgery blood-work, I mentioned that almost immediately after her diagnosis I could tell Mugs had seemed to rapidly decline and I was concerned.  She smiled gently and told me it was more likely due to the fact that he could sense I was worried.

For people who don’t know English Bulldogs, they are the breed often shown in commercials or on YouTube videos.  Mugs is about 55 lbs., built solid and close to the ground.  His breed has a smushed-in face and wide mouth with the lower jaw jutting out, a huge head and neck set into very broad shoulders on bowed legs with huge feet. The ears are small, similar to pigs ears and very soft.

Though very laid back, English Bulldogs have big personalities. Playful but calm with a teasing sense-of-humor, bulldogs are very loving but stoic and they live to “ride.”  Mugs and I plan to be doing a lot of that in the coming months, including a reunion with my grandsons where he is held in high esteem.

Many people treat their pets like children.  Mugs is more like a sidekick.  Whatever the eventual outcome of the surgery and tests, I know one thing for sure.  He will take it in stride.

Me, maybe not so much, but I am positive by nature.  I have always had the habit of briefly imagining the worst that can happen in situations such as this, a way to manage expectations I suppose.

And so it is - life goes easy on me most of the time.”

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Rapid Shift to Digital and Hybrid Events

Across the nation, many communities are concerned because bookings for conventions and meetings are down from what they were last year.  Others feel the pace of bookings is off or that they definitely aren’t growing as fast as people thought they would.

Although conventions and meetings represent only 10% of overall visitation nationwide, this must be particularly alarming for communities still over reliant on this segment.

People are tempted to look at short term causes such as the uncertainty created by the election or sequestration.  One short-term cause is certain to be the uptick in other types of more lucrative business travel.  When this occurs, hotels are often reluctant to pre-sell to groups at discounted rates.

A closer look at bookings at communities with which I am familiar gives a more complicated picture at this point in the year.  The number of groups booked may be down or flat in the case of bookings facilitated directly rather than just spearheaded by the community’s destination marketing organization (DMO.)  Related lodging room-nights are off much less but overall attendance, which includes day-trip visitors more so.

Of course there are longer-term, structural shifts at work.  Conventions and meetings have been in gradual decline now for decades.  And a new new benchmark report illustrates why it is now important not only to measure traditional in-person conventions and meetings but also online and hybrid events.

The report shows that while in-person attendance is flat or down for nearly six out of ten meetings, it is up for nearly seven out of ten where the event is online or an online hybrid of an in-person event.

Any trend analysis of conventions and meetings is incomplete now without measuring digital alternatives or hybrids as well and that may be why so many communities are in the dark.

The new benchmark report indicates that while 80% of the survey participants produce physical events, 70% of these also produce online events.  The survey included a broad cross-section of meeting types including 23% associations, 17% corporations, 7% trade shows as well as a large number of business to business and commercial conference producers.

Online events are no longer at the margins.  Six out of 10 draw more than 250 participants with nearly a third drawing 1,000 or more.  More than just webinars, eight out of ten last more than an hour and 36% last five hours or more.

Judging by the amount of time typically wasted during in-person events, online or hybrid events are obviously more cost-effective too.

None of this is good news for communities that continue to sink tens and hundreds of millions of dollars into huge facilities reliant on an ever shrinking number of in-person conventions and meetings, often shelling out more to “buy” the events than they are ever likely to generate in impact.

Even where the community’s DMO has responded by diversifying into more lucrative visitor segments and promoting more realistic expectations and facilities, they are often subverted by an outdated cocktail of community ego and hubris.

Only when ratings agencies and bond markets finally rebel will many finally release their hostage communities.  In time, behemoths will be replaced by much smaller facilities capable of facilitating or staging hybrid and online only events and occasionally much smaller in-person components.

Those looking into the future of conventions and meetings such as Jessie States with Meeting Planners International share predictions that this new generation of smaller, more nimble facilities will also be more local – local materials, local foods, local artists, local icons and local talent – they will embrace “place.”

There will always be a role for face-to-face conferences as illustrated in the results of a new joint survey released this month by the Chief Marketing Officer Council and the E2MA.

But even as 73% of the respondents rated conferences, conventions and trade shows as “still very valuable” or “essential to doing business, 45% have a challenge making a business case for attendance, 38% are slimming down participation and 31% are moving to webinars and virtual presentations.

Hopefully, Empowermint, the DMO subscription database of histories on 40,000 meetings and 20,000 producing organizations is already being updated by Destination Marketing Association International to track online and hybrid as well as in-person meetings.

As recommended last week by my friend and DMOpro consultant Bill Geist, many savvier destination communities must begin to recalibrate analysis for why they lose a convention and meeting and in my opinion that must include tracking ongoing shifts to digital and hybrid alternatives.

A friend at the City of Durham mentioned to me in passing at an event last week that under new contract management by Global Spectrum the Durham Convention Center (DCC) has cut the building’s operating deficit by $1 million compared to the hotel company that previously managed the facility.

For decades, hotel companies contracted to operate it had been treating the DCC as their own ballroom and as hotels often do with their own facilities, subordinating the needs of the Center’s meeting space whenever more lucrative transient business was available.

Fortunately though these conventions and meetings were rarely lost to Durham, just to that particular facility.  Even so, local governments still reaped but failed to attribute tax revenues related to this segment of visitors.

Even though, it will be a few years before several new hotels near the DCC all become operational and make the facility even more marketable, Global Spectrum is ensuring that it competes to harvest its full share of conventions and meetings spearheaded by the community’s DMO.

Durham has long reaped its fair share of conventions and meeting-related visitation but Durham’s DMO has been very wise over the last decade and a half to make sure that the community has been in a position successfully pursue the 9 out of every 10 visitors nationwide for other purposes.

Long-term, the writing is on the wall about conventions and meetings and it isn’t good.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Listening Past My “B.S.– O–Meter”

Forming strategic partnerships was something at which I became pretty good during the latter half of my now-concluded 40-year career in community-destination marketing, or so I was told.

But I had to try very hard to compensate for a blind spot.  Like most deficits that people have, it was due, in part, to a strength.  I have always had what I like to call a very well-calibrated “B.S.-O- Meter.”

I remember trying to collaborate with two colleagues many years ago.  They would meet before hand and come up proposals for my cooperation and then present them to me as though they were “up for discussion.”  They weren’t.

Unfortunately, many of these proposals undermined the mission of the organization I led, but I still tried to sift through them for alternative ways to make things work.

One of these individuals would frequently interrupt me as I raised questions or concerns.  Thinking they were open to free-flowing discussion, I would begin to do the same, only to be lectured by the other person for “interrupting.”

It was frustrating that my best win-win counter-proposals would come to me only later as I turned these exchanges over in my mind looking for something that would work.

The problem, other than being offended at the double standard and being put on the spot by requests they knew were antithetical, was that I needed to be a much better listener.

While reading a newly published book entitled Real Influence, co-authored by two doctors, Mark Goulston an M.D and John Ullman a Ph.D. who teaches at UCLA, I recognized myself in a part of the book that deals with getting past a “blind spot.”

When my “B.S-o-Meter” was on full alert due to somebody’s “self-serving tactics and techniques,” I would often listen “at” them with my “defense up and preparing counterpoints.”

If I was being asked to do something antithetical and the B.S. was running particularly deep, I might even listen “over” the person, which I now know is far more of an insult than interrupting.

The authors of Real Influence have been graciously republishing summaries from the book on the Harvard Business Review blog.  A few weeks ago, when I read the one on listening it dawned on me that the intent I often attributed to those two friends was really due to the fact that they also had difficulty with listening.

They often missed what I was trying to repeatedly explain because they were either “listening over” or using what the authors describe as “problem-solving” listening, where instead of trying to truly understand, they just wanted to check things off the list.

It was a testament to our collective perseverance that the three of us were able to pull off several strategic partnerships.  However, the process was far more exhausting and far less fulfilling than my involvement in many other collaborations over the years.

I like what the authors call “listening of the highest order.” This is described as listening to “other people to discover what’s going on inside them.  It’s listening on their terms, not yours.  It’s understanding where people are coming from to establish genuine rapport.”

Introspection is something that comes easy to me.  Thanks to insights I glean from books and posts such as those authored by Drs. Goulston and Ullmen, even though now-concluded, my career is still teaching me a little bit more every day.

Who knows, maybe even my two long-ago colleagues are listening.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why Two Recent Events Will Spawn Social Good

On two occasions over the past five days, I’ve attended community functions where networking flourished.  Both reminded me of an essay I read a year ago by James Fowler entitled 10 Points on the Science of Spreading the Word.

One was  Faces of Change a Duke Medicine event honoring the 50th anniversary of admitting its first minority students and faculty, part of the rapid transformation spurred by the late Governor, U.S. Senator and Duke President Terry Sanford.

The second occurred yesterday at Durham’s Annual Tribute Luncheon, produced each year by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau in lieu of the customary annual meeting.

Always paying tribute to those who have fostered and promoted Durham’s sense of place, this year’s event honored Gospel Singer and Pastor Shirley Caesar.

Dr. Fowler is a University of California – San Diego professor of medical genetics and political science whose “work lies at the intersection of natural and social science, with a focus on social networks…”

The two Durham events each involved a mix of community, civic, business, neighborhood and university leaders.  Most attendees including “hangers on” such as me, knew the purpose was to pay respect to the honorees, but there were still a few individuals flitting around the room trying to score points or press personal agendas.

From my reading and adaptation of Fowler’s “10 Points” the altruism of the two events should be contagious.  In fact, events such as these can act much like a “matching grant.”

The two events are organic and unpretentious, so their messages are more likely to get amplified more than traditional annual events that turn into proselytizing advertisements for the sponsoring organizations.

The studies Fowler cites also suggest that these two events, by shining a light on good behavior, are more likely to spur others to perform good deeds.

Attendees are also more likely to be bellwethers for social good who in turn, carry the message from these events to hundreds of people who were unable to attend.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Providential Attentiveness

In 1984 and 1985, as Durham, North Carolina, where I live was taking actions to improve roadside appearance by banning billboards and creating an appearance overlay to further protect appearance along a soon-to-be constructed segment of I 40, research gathered since the mid-1970s was being field-tested to calibrate safety cut-zones.

Since then, studies have been piling up that reveal benefits from trees and other scenic view-sheds that extend far beyond aesthetic benefits or even the health benefits of trees there.  These benefits include removing air and water pollution in addition to regulating climate.

While the gray infrastructure of highways is considered essential to economic development – which includes tourism - the green infrastructure of trees and vegetation is increasingly being proven just as essential to not only tourism but the renewal that spurs human creativity and innovation.

For instance, a study published in 1995 by researchers at Cornell and the University of Michigan founds that natural views were associated with better focus and paying attention.

Failure to focus and pay attention is the cause of the great majority of roadside fatalities, 60% due to alcohol and much of the remainder due to young drivers who are many times more likely than the general population to run off the road.

The national standards for safety zones that states are supposed to follow in managing roadside vegetation have often re-tested since the 1970s and 1980s, in an attempt to protect these populations from themselves.

The policy is 30 feet where there are guardrails and otherwise 40 feet, undulating for exceptions around assets such as bridges to no more than 50 feet. This varies with travel volume and speeds above 65 miles an hour or on steeps hills or around curves.

However, studies show that trees and natural views also improve attention and focus.  This is the opposite of what is intended by outdoor billboards for which the North Carolina legislation has recently enabled the sacrifice of thousands of acres of trees so they can be even more distracting, over the objections of 8 out of 10 voters.

Last December, researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of Utah published a study showing that exposure to nature provides a cognitive advantage including attention restoration, improved concentration and increased creativity and problem-solving ability.

Last month, researchers at universities in Edinburgh published a study using mobile EEGs (electroencephalography) that revealed that traversing green spaces lessens brain fatigue.4f5e06e3bd2e4

There are similar studies that show the danger that the few seconds of distraction it takes to read a billboard pose a significant danger for drivers.  The owners of the companies that own these distractions (increasingly hedge funds) are caught in a conundrum.

On one hand, they try to persuade advertisers that they are indeed distracting and get read by drivers.  Then on the other, they use copious campaign donations to help persuade lawmakers that they aren’t (a technique called “legalized corruption.”)  *AHEM!*

Over the past several hundred years in America, there have evolved at least four different worldviews of the relationship between nature and humans.  The one dating to the 1700s and 1800s is that through “Providence,” nature has been put here to be exploited by humans.

It is still deployed today by some to justify desecrating roadsides.  But could it be that the intent of this “Providence “ is not just so we can create blight and desecration to benefit only out-of-state billboard companies, now found useful by only a fifth of one percent of the population?

Could it be that the “Providence” so intended is for trees and nature to serve as a means for human reinvigoration and attentiveness including a far greater form of resulting economic vitality than sheer exploitation??

Is it possible that by sharpening the senses, trees and vegetation are not only safer than purposeful distractions such as billboards but a means of helping us drive more safely as well as think more clearly and creatively?

Is it possible that when this benefit from trees is factored into maintenance expenses along with those related to removing air and water pollution, providing climate control and preventing erosion, that the greatest expense to society of all is cutting them down?

It is not only possible, it is probable.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where Democracy Is Still Potent

Recently during a public hearing in southwestern North Carolina, the head of the state association for outdoor billboards tried to argue that North Carolina was a safer and better place in the 1970s when it didn’t have roadside trees.

Of course that wasn’t the case, but his point was that cutting down all of the trees along the state’s roadways and especially around billboards would make them safer.  Of course, that isn’t true either.  Current setbacks for trees along roadsides have long been calibrated based on meticulous safety research.

However, those who might fall for this faulty reasoning, which unfortunately may include far too many legislators coupled with copious amounts of campaign donations, might be surprised to learn that it was proven at the dawn of motorized vehicles that cutting down roadside vegetation actually made roadways less safe.

This phenomenon was first observed in the English countryside where early roadways were often lined on both sides by very tall hedgerows.  However, when the hedges were lowered, it was found that drivers then increased speeds and drove more recklessly because they “felt safer.”

Andrew Zolli, co-author with Ann Marie Healy of the 2012 book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, included that tidbit in a presentation recently.  He also shared findings that when bicyclists wear helmets they may wisely be protected from the occasional fall but the fact is that when they wear one, drivers feel they can move closer to bicyclists at higher speeds increasing the likelihood of accidents.

Zolli is the executive director and curator for a fascinating organization known as PopTech, a collaboration of social innovators and scientists dedicated to investigating, prototyping and growing social innovations and breakthroughs.

In my opinion, at heart he is a futurist.  In a recent presentation Zolli noted that one reason we’re so lousy at predicting the future is a condition he calls “novelty bias.”  When we think long term, we take what is newest and make it the dominant feature of the future.

We’re doing that now with many technologies.  Today smartphones and tablets are toppling desktops and laptops but that doesn’t mean they won’t be just as rapidly toppled.  Thinking long term means looking beyond today.

Zolli notes that we have a tendency to focus too much attention on fast-moving threats such as terrorism, and not on far more powerful slow-moving threats such as climate change.

For instance, he cites that we’re spending trillions on the 1 in 28 million chance we’ll be impacted by an act of terrorism but zilch on the 1 in 6 chance we’ll be impacted by climate change.

Too often this misdirection is fueled by media frenzies that give us very unrealistic expectations.

The same phenomena can be fueled by social media such as neighborhood listservs.  On one level they can provide a useful heads up on suspicious activity, but on other levels they amplify and recirculate alarm to the point that many subscribers tune out just when they should be tuning in.

In organizations of every size you can see “novelty bias” undermining strategic thinking both at the management and board governance levels.  As Dr. Michael Porter argues, ninety-five percent of executives are too focused on operational effectiveness.

Governing boards often spend far too much time on compliance and not enough on strategic thinking.  This results in what Porter cautions is trying to mimic and then best the competition.

Truly strategic thinking should lead them instead to “compete to be unique.”

I find it disingenuous that many of the people who trash government regulation as ineffective are adherents of the ideology that has gutted its capacity over the last forty years.

But I agree with Zolli that regulations often become far too complex to be effective, primarily made that way, in my experience, by lobbyists who continue to pollute the regulatory process on behalf of special interests long after the legislative mandate.

A wry example Zolli gives is that BP had stringent rules for being careful with the handling of coffee while something obviously wasn’t working as intended with higher risk requirements such as proper capping of wells.

Regulations need to be more nimble and resilient to be effective and that starts with far more adequate enforcement by executive branches at every level. Regulations must also protect the process from legislative and special interest meddling.

Strategic thinking begins with executives and governing boards being aligned on the true purpose of the organization.  This isn’t, as the authors of Can’t Buy Me Like argue, just a mission or vision statement.

Purpose has more to do with intent.  Who is served?  How are lives touched and improved?  What is the organization’s ethos or character?  Purpose according to the authors is the core that informs every move.  It isn’t just about marketing.  In fact, they point out that an organization’s true purpose may never show up in its marketing.

If as consumers we only valued organizations, brands and products with passion, maybe we wouldn’t need regulations.  The author of Red Thread Thinking defines passion as drive connected to the heart of what the organization is all about.

Since the 1980s, anti-government partisans have largely gutted the effectiveness of regulations.  Today their work perverts true democracy by demonstrating that six people for whom only a few of us were permitted to cast ballots can thwart things supported by 90% of Americans or North Carolinians.

However, we are not powerless.  There are companies such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, that even as meat inspection has been eviscerated, has firmly stood for “food with integrity” and a core purpose illustrated by the commercial at this link and in this article in Onearth magazine about the pork growers who inspired it.

A tool I use and hope to help improve by factoring in companies that use desecration marketing such as outdoor billboards is GoodGuide which is most useful in the form of a smartphone app.

It ranks companies, brands and products by a 1 to 10 scale for how they treat society, health and the environment.

This is where true democracy can still  be potent.

Monday, April 22, 2013

America’s Next “Hero” Generation

A month ago I spoke to Dr. Dana Clark’s large class of potential “community-destination marketers” at Appalachian State University (ASU) perched in the northwest mountains of North Carolina.

Weeks from graduation for most, I told these students that should they land a position with a destination marketing organization (DMO) they would already be among the top 1% in knowledge about the topic.

Two things will be required of them.  One, patience with co-workers and supervisors who will be stuck in out-dated approaches, and two, a realization that within 3 to 5 years what they have learned at ASU will be obsolete.

Using a quote I had read in my local newspaper, I relayed the wisdom of a friend of mine, Dick Brodhead, who is the president of Duke University in Durham, where I live.  In a speech to faculty, he had noted just the day before my trip to ASU that a liberal arts education:

“…aims to engage multiple forms of intelligence to create deep and enduring habits of mind, an active, integrative spirit naturally disposed, when it comes upon a new fact or situation, to go to work trying to understand it, updating preexisting understandings in a new light.

…It is, in the fullest sense, equipment for living.”

These kids to whom I spoke at ASU are bright, energetic and very thoughtful.  They asked great questions, and I could also see it in their eyes as each one filed by to shake my hand later.

Any DMO will be lucky to land one of them but I wish for them that they will find one smart enough to listen to and engage them in contemporary applications of community marketing such as the one in Durham.  Unfortunately, those odds aren’t good even if they limit their availability to just those that are accredited.

I offered to these students that the college courses most beneficial to community marketers today outside of those about destination marketing and development will be historical analysis and statistics just as they were during my now-concluded 40-year career in that field.

Many people misunderstand the value of historical analysis because they think of history as linear.  Actually, it is cyclical.  It doesn’t exactly repeat itself but the cycles are similar.  However rather than predestined, outcomes depend on the reactions of generations to times of crisis (e.g. Civil War, Great Depression/World War II.)

To understand their role in historical cycles, I recommended to these students a book first published when they were preschoolers entitled An American Prophecy, The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

First published in 1997 and now available as an iBook, it accurately forecast what we now know as the financial crisis.  It traces cycles over the past five centuries.  Cycles span a human life or roughly eighty to one hundred years.  Each cycle has turnings that follow seasonal rhythms, e.g. “growth, maturation, entropy and destruction.”

The turning dating from the 1980s until the financial crisis has seen an “unraveling” of society, similar to other cycles in our history.  I told the generation to which I spoke last month at ASU, that if I read the book accurately, their generation is potentially a “hero” generation, much like the G.I. Generation of my father.  They will also face a similar crisis in their lifetime.

Just short of a week after that presentation, the New York Times published two columns.  One, by liberal-turned-conservative David Brooks summarizes a paper by a Yale senior describing the generation to whom I spoke at ASU and the influences that have shaped it.

The author, Victoria Buhler describes how she and her peers in that class grew up in a time of prosperity in the 1990s.  That was shattered first by 9/11 and then by the jadedness and moral ambiguities created by two long wars followed by the financial crisis.

As they enter their adult years, Buhler, according to Brooks, writes that this generation is now more anxious and cynical.  They are less idealistic about America and the world.  In Brooks’ assessment of Buhler’s thesis, this generation emerges empirical.

They “require hypothesis to be tested and substantiated with the results replicated before they commit to a course of action.”

To me, this means they will be far more capable of bringing America back from the unraveling of the last forty years based on a sound, “what works” policy rather than the ideological gridlock of many in high office today.

The same day as Brooks’ column was published, the New York Times published one by liberal economist Dr. Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize-winner who as a young man worked in the Reagan administration just as the unraveling so now apparent was set in motion.

Krugman argues that we’re cheating our children all right, but not from debt.  We’ve been cheating them for decades by neglecting public investment in infrastructure, disabling regulatory oversight of the food and water supplies and undermining upward mobility and the middle class to the advantage of the 1%.

I saw the future in the eyes of those students with whom I spoke at ASU and I have faith they can help us recover from this most recent unraveling and a crises yet to be manifested.

However, it will all come down to whether they are able to turn things around as we did during the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Depression/World War II, each of which could have gone another way.

It isn’t a given but my hopes and prayers are with them.  God bless America!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Infographic - 2013 State of the News Media

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Route To Pay My Respects

Mugsy (my English Bulldog) and I haven’t planned our cross-country drive out west this year.  But we’re intrigued by the thought of taking a northern route, skirting along the upper shores of the Great Lakes.

However, I’m also drawn to pay my respects at a monument in Arizona located in a valley between national monuments for Tonto and the Sonoran Desert, east of Yuma, north of Tucson and south of Scottsdale and the San Tan Valley, that is “San”, not Sun.”

The ruins of Tonto are not named for the 1950s Lone Ranger side-kick or Johnny Depp’s more realistic portrayal in next summer’s move-remake, it is probably the other way around.

The Tonto monument was set aside by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1907 and the Sonoran one by President Bill Clinton in 2001, but the purpose of my visit is a monument erected in Florence, Arizona in late 2007.  It’s more like a wall than a monument, featuring five life size images depicting federal, state, county, municipal and corrections officers.Pinal County Memorial

As they have done each year since the Sheriff’s office there tracked me down a few years ago, I am invited to attend a ceremony that will honor more than thirty names on that wall.

They called because they spotted one of the names on the wall for whom they had little background as the subject in a few of my posts on this blog.  George F. White was a DEA special agent and pilot who was killed in a 1973 crash near Casa Grande, about 30 miles west and south of the memorial.

He was helping to break up a drug cartel.

“Ferd” as we called him, was my mother’s youngest sibling but born just over six years before I was.  I was his annoying little sidekick growing up.  Like a brother, he introduced me to sword-fighting with hypodermic needles intended only for horses and cattle, building Korean-war era model fighter planes and sneaking downstairs to read racy novels such as Ian Fleming’s series about James Bond.

He died at age 30 while interdicting drug traffickers just three months before my daughter and only child was born and just a few years after serving three tours and more than 300 missions over North Vietnam as an F-4 Phantom fighter pilot.

Famously, he blew scores of windows out in Lehi, Utah, where his father - my grandfather lived - when he buzzed the tiny town and  created a sonic boom as he returned home from his last tour.

Ferd’s adult life was never settled.  After graduating from Utah State University with a degree in marketing he immediately joined the US Air Force.  He lived hard, drank too much, flew fast and dangerous.

Unfortunately, just like those Lehi windows, many of his relationships were also shattered.

Today Pinal County (pronounced Pee-Nahl) Arizona has a population of more than 387,000 people spread over more than 5,300 acres.  According to the Sheriff, an Iraq War vet, it also still has 75-100 drug cartel cells and listening/observation posts used to facilitate a freeway of illegal drug and human sex slave trafficking.

Ferd would have turned 72 years old next month.  I still have a large file of his papers passed on to me by my grandfather that includes his Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star. I hope one day to find and pass it on to one of his two children.

On one of my annual and sometimes bi-annual forays across the country, I also plan to stop and pay my respects.

I owe him that.  In fact, we all owe him that much along with others who serve our country, including public servants who seem all to often fair game for scoring ideological points since they were made fair game for ridicule in the 1980s.

It seems that only in the wake of tragedies such as those this week during the Boston Marathon and and the explosions in West,Texas do we remember, if for only briefly, that public service doesn’t have a party.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A New Era of Purpose

There are many reasons when visiting Durham, North Carolina, where I live, to take in Duke Homestead, a state historic site four and one-half miles north and east of downtown.

One series of nostalgic displays and dioramas documents how tobacco and all other products were marketed in this country from the mid-1600s to the mid-1960s.  As Bob Garfield and Doug Levy quip in their new book Can’t Buy Me Like, this era “took America from Plymouth Rock to the Vietnam War.”

It is what Dr. Philip Kotler and Hermawan Kartajaya called Marketing 1.0 in their 2010 white paper.  Most people who think they know a lot about marketing (but really don’t have a clue) remain stuck in that pre-1965 mind-set.  They mistake marketing for advertising which has rapidly reached extinction.

Into the 1960s as that era began to peter out, school kids in Raleigh were still being bused to Durham on field trips to take tours of the historic Lucky Strike Factory in Downtown.  Tobacco wasn’t the only addictive product to benefit from that era.  So was soda “pop” as we called it in Idaho where I grew up, as well as snack food.

The mid-1960s saw the emergence of a brief 45-year “consumer era” of marketing because emphasis switched from the product to the consumer.  This consciousness also also helped mark the beginning of the end for tobacco.  The Lucky Strike Factory in Durham closed in the late 1980s.

One of those kids from Raleigh who may have been on one of those field trips, eventually resurrected the old Durham factory in 2004.  By leveraging parts of a family fortune built on “product era” advertising along with historic tax credits and more than a hundred million dollars from local governments in surrounding infrastructure and facilities, he was able to turn it into a showcase for adaptive reuse.

That was the same year that Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, kick-starting a new era of marketing that Kotler and Kartajaya  call Marketing 3.0, or values-driven marketing and that Garfield and Levy call the “relationship era” based on “marketing with purpose,” a concept coined by Mark McKinney.

In my opinion, the “marketing-with-purpose era” will soon spell the end of other addiction-driven products laden with sugar, salt and fat because their purpose is as flawed as tobacco.  Some say their tactics of denial, obstruction and insensitivity to public health are based on the same playbook.

When I agreed to make Durham, North Carolina my adopted home in 1989 to practice what would be the last half of a 40-year career in community-destination marketing, only between 10% and 14% of residents in this state had become obese.

Eight years later, as tobacco advertising was further being banned on outdoor billboards, that percentage was nudging 19% and today it is over 29%.  Nationwide, one our of every three Americans is obese.

“Birthers” still claim the bans on tobacco are a conspiracy.  A more thoughtful objection to bans on products that fuel obesity such as sodas, argue in op-eds such as this one last month that government should not intervene because “true character growth can only occur when someone chooses freely.”

Others would argue based on ethical dilemmas as this op-ed by a former police officer does in questioning the use of traffic cameras to inhibit those who deliberately run red lights.

Good points but I am much more persuaded by an op-ed a few weeks ago by Dr. Robert Frank, an economist at Cornell.  In his 1859 essay On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued that - "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

It was calculated that in 2008, the medical costs associated with obesity were $147 billion a year alone.  These costs are born by each and every individual using the health system in America.  Someone’s right to chug as much soda as they can drink ends with the harm their actions bring to others.

My rights should not be dependent on how long it may take someone to develop character enough to cut back on soda and Cheetos or on how much they let their children imbibe.

In her new book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach notes that “our earliest forbears evolved a taste for important but scarce nutrients: salt and high-energy fats and sugars.”

No longer scarce, businesses today are making billions of dollars marketing products made only of these nutrients and appealing to our primal instincts surrounding these tastes, and it shows in rates of obesity.

I suspect these companies are fully aware of the addictive properties of sugar as documented in Michael Moss’s new book.  Brain chemistry research has proven though that addiction is not due to a lack of character or willpower.

As chronicled in the new book Clean by David Sheff, addiction to substances is a far more serious threat to society than was dismissed in that recent op-ed as an opportunity to develop character and the companies pushing it are or should be fully aware by now.

These companies aren’t the only ones out of step.  Many see evidence that gun manufacturers are even more overt in using the stalling tactics that tobacco used for decades as does the outdoor billboard industry, an all-but-obsolete enabler of desecration marketing.

The authors of Can’t Buy Me Like quote Andy Kessler as calling the 2010 invention of the “Like” button by Facebook as “one of the most valuable innovations in technology over the last several decades.”

It is great marketing for Facebook, but as noted in USA Today this week, many businesses - particularly small businesses - need to take heed from Garfield and Levy who note that “…a brand needs a social voice but a brand is not defined by its social voice.”

In this new era of purpose-marketing, it is crucial that a business or organization or community understand its core purpose and be able to communicate its values and add value for its audiences.

In later posts, I’ll revisit “Marketing with Purpose.”  In the meantime I hope these resources will be of value to you.

Thanks to the powerful sugar and guns lobbies, it just may be that the consumers of products that foster addictions to primal substances such as sugar and fat will curb the conduct of companies more quickly than government will.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Number 3

In the wake of the bombing in Boston, I can’t get the figure 3 out of my head.

That is the number of fatalities so far.  That is also the percentage of Americans who give blood according to the American Red Cross.

One blood donation can save up to 3 lives.  Those hurt in Boston may on average require 100 blood donations each.

Yet, even without crimes such as the one near the end of the Boston Marathon this week, someone in the U.S. needs blood every 2 seconds.

The average transfusion requires three times the maximum amount of blood that can be donated by an individual age 17 and over once every 56 days.  Humans produce twice that amount of spit each day.

Only 37% of Americans are eligible to donate blood.

Approximately 44,000 units of blood are needed daily in hospitals and emergency rooms.

Only 6.6% of the population, including only 4% of African Americans and Hispanics has a blood type that can be used for anyone in emergencies such those treated after the explosions in Boston.

However, universal donors can only use o-negative blood.

The percentage that donates blood (3%) is similar to the percentage of Americans who intentionally litter (4%,) although I doubt they are the same individuals.

It is also just shy of the percentage of blood donors who do not vote.

It is also just shy of the percentage that Americans represent of the earth’s population and yet we generate 40% of the world’s household waste (this is also the percentage of the blood supply collected and distributed by the American Red Cross.)

It is about half of the percentage of blood (8%) that is taken from the average male during a donation.

It is the percent of a day that it takes to make a donation the first time (one hour – and most of that is prep.)

By some comparison, sometimes 3% seems huge.

The 3% who donate blood is 15 times the tiny percentage of consumers who still find outdoor billboards useful leading many to characterize these forms of blight as “litter on a stick.”

Click here to see if you are eligible to donate.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Binging Into My Mid-60s

Nielsen, the company that measures television viewership, now classifies mine as a “zero TV” household, one of 5 million now nationwide.

This doesn’t mean I don’t watch television, I just don’t subscribe.  The number of “zero TV” households such as mine has doubled in just a few years.

According to SNL Kagan research reported in USA Today last week, subscription television providers including cable, satellite and telecoms added just 46,000 customers last year compared to the 974,000 new households that were created.

I assume this was “net” any cancellations but it must be very alarming for that business model.

Many “zero TV” households still watch television according to a study released last week by Harris Interactive.  This includes 40% of all households that watch via either Netflix (30%) or Hulu (22%) like I do. 

That percentage drops to 19% for the 55+ age group in which I am included but zooms up to 71% and 60% for consumers in the vaunted age groups of 18-29 and 30-39 respectively.

When I do watch television now, it is either a movie or more frequently by what Harris terms “binging.”  This means I may watch two, three or more episodes back to back as though they were a movie.  More than six out of ten Americans now “binge” view, most (78%) using a television as opposed to watching on a computer or mobile device.

I first learned to “binge” view television when on our annual lake trip one year, my youngest sister and I stayed up late one night watching the first few episodes of Lost (image shown in this blog,) a show I had never watched during the six seasons that it ran.

After returning home, over several months a friend and I, who also hardly ever watches TV, “binge” viewed all 121 episodes of Lost.  Half of “binge” viewing involves older shows or past seasons of current shows but 40% involves current seasons of shows.

I rarely watch television now as a diversion, e.g. while eating or mindlessly.  I watch only when I feel like watching and if I find something I like, I find it more enjoyable to watch episodes back to back rather than as it was rationed in the past and at a tiny fraction of the price I previously paid for a subscription.

Friends ask if I miss the news or sports events, but I receive dozens of channels free via a digital antenna.  I also tend to access seasons of certain sports when available, also much less expensive.

Audiences for so-called “local” television stations have continued to stagnate nationwide even though last year was laden with election year advertising.  The average loss for local affiliates was 6.5% last year.

This included annual losses of about 10 million of viewers over all time slots.  Cable news saw a minimal growth of 1% but news packages such as CNN have dropped by half over a half dozen years.

As advertising revenues have fallen for local stations, these businesses have turned more and more for revenue to retransmission fees from subscription TV and now with those outlets also in decline, local television faces strong competition as Google and other avenues begin to offer reach that is truly local.

More than 40% of local news is now sports, weather and traffic reports, all of which can be accessed in real-time on mobile devices.  The good news is that the percentage of coverage obsessed with crime has fallen to 17% replaced by coverage of disasters, government (maybe that is redundant,) business and human interest.

All together nearly one in three Americans have stopped tuning to a news outlet and it ranges equally across gender, political affiliation and age groups including 36% in the age group I am about to enter.

If this is news to you, you’re not alone.  Six out of ten Americans are unaware of the financial woes of the news industry.  Television in particular has trouble turning the lens inward, preferring to cover the woes of newspapers where circulation is leveling out and revenue alternatives are supplanting the decline of advertising.

A byproduct of my shift to a “zero TV” household is that I am reading and indulging interests such as family history research more than ever.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mapping Why North Carolina Could Use Some Gridlock

Earlier this month, Republican Governor Pat McCrory helped distribute awards in honor of North Carolina’s popular roadside wildflower program, including one named for a friend  of mine, Bill Johnson, the 30-year roadside veteran who helped  establish it.

The Governor also inducted former Governor and Mrs. Martin into the Wildflower Hall of Fame, in which Bill was one of the first inductees two years ago.  The former First Lady inspired the wildflower program shortly before I made Durham, NC my adopted home in 1989.  I first met the legendary Mr. Johnson as he was launching the state’s Scenic Byways as a follow-up.

At the luncheon the Governor vowed to do what he can to enhance scenic programs such as this.  He has his work cut out for him.

Powerful members of his party in the General Assembly still hold views of the natural world that date to the late 1700s and 1800s.  This was a time when nature was viewed primarily as something God placed on earth for us to exploit.

More on the source of my view on this and other worldviews of the natural world later.

While less than a third of North Carolina voters are Republicans, they now control nearly 65% of the overall seats in the NC General Assembly. Regardless of whether it is due to careful gerrymandering or the resulting over-amplification of swing voters it brought about, it is interpreted by these powerful interests as a mandate to “deform.”

Prior to McCrory’s election, these powerful and unchecked legislators had brow-beaten the executive branch into enabling the sacrifice of tens of thousands of flowering dogwood and redbud trees that the state had planted along roadsides stretching between the wildflower beds the Governor honored.

For instance, over the objections of 8 out of 10 North Carolinas including by 19 to 1 members of their own party, these legislators also pushed through authorization for out-of-state billboard companies to desecrate roadside trees across the state and over ride local ordinances in communities with higher standards.

It may very well be that anything the Governor does to fulfill his vision of being transformative will be similarly over ridden by these and many other similar deformations underway in my state.

North Carolina could desperately use a little grid-lock.

Helping me understand how otherwise reasonable people would seek to deform North Carolina is an incredible article published last year in the Harvard Law Review.  It was written by Professor Jed Purdy who teaches constitutional, property and environmental law here in Durham at Duke University Law School.

He is also the author of the 2010 book entitled The Meaning of Property: Freedom, Community, and the Legal Imagination but you may want to start with one of my favorites, a book he wrote in his mid-20s and published more than a decade ago entitled For Common Things: Irony, Trust and Commitment in America.

It takes an appreciation of irony to stay engaged with what’s being perpetrated now by those in high office in North Carolina.  By stuck in the 1700s, I was implying that powerful interests who seem intent on deforming our state appear to have the perspectives Purdy describes as more relevant between 100 and 200 years ago.

This was a time dominated by a view of the natural world as “waste.”  Dismissing restraint or regulation as a “threat to liberty,” this mentality pillaged much of the country until the late 1800s. Purdy cites an 1883 debate over administration and funding of Yellowstone Park adjacent to where I was raised and spent my years on an ancestral homestead cattle and horse ranch.

Some senators at the time, according to Purdy, argued that Yellowstone should be divided up and sold, or in my opinion to use a word euphemistically used by those with the same view today about lands set aside in the public interest, “privatized.”

Just the last sixty years of that era saw two-thirds of the deforestation that has taken place in the United State during the last 400 years and by the 1890s the desecration began to shock the nation and its leaders into what Purdy describes as a new ideal of the human-nature relationship, what he calls “progressive management” or conservation.

It is  epitomized by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt and legislation such as the creation of national forests which was inspired by immense desecration right here in North Carolina.

In recent polls, more than one in five Americans still consider themselves conservationists today, more than any other label used by the more than one in three Americans overall who are deeply concerned about the state of natural environment being left for future generations.

As a moderate independent voter, it is the description with which I feel comfortable.  Three times as many people who fish and hunt in this country consider themselves conservationists than those who belong to the NRA.  Many are Conservatives and relate to the group formerly named Republicans for Environmental Protection.

Renamed ConservAmerica, the group is represented in Washington by a native North Carolinian and last fall formed a ground-breaking partnership with Audubon called the American Eagle Compact under the slogan “Because Conservation Doesn’t Have A Party.”

The early 1900s also saw the emergence of an ideal toward the natural world that Purdy calls “romantic epiphany.”  This ideal has been at the center of a key part of North Carolina’s tourism appeal since the 1930s including the inspiration for the first efforts to roll back roadside billboards in the state.

Today, this ideal is carried forward by groups such as Scenic North Carolina, an affiliate of Scenic America.

Judging by their actions, the ideals of conservation and “romantic epiphany” are despised by those Republicans in powerful positions in the NC General Assembly today. They seem determined only to roll our state back to the era of despoliation, back to the view of nature as only indicative of waste, back to the 1800s.

Tourism is a visitor-centric form of economic and cultural development.  Trees are a signature element of the natural aspect of North Carolina’s appeal to tourists which include more than 80% of relocating business executives prior to announcing their interest.

Trees along roadsides are the state’s first impression of its natural assets.  Butchering them for billboards or even just the convenience of maintenance engineers is obviously a good way of dampening tourism interest and eroding the North Carolina brand overall.

I suspect though, that anyone with a worldview of nature that has been in disrepute since since the late 1800s has little concern for tourism or relocating businesses or thousands of small businesses.

Their latest maneuver to prohibit the high standards of North Carolina’s towns and cities is further evidence of wanting to deform the state back more than a century and with it the state’s hard-won brand.

Purdy continues by describing a view of the natural world that emerged  in the early 1960s called “ecological interdependence.”  It spawned American’s deep concern for clean air and water anchored in the interdependence of nature and the moral sanctity of life.

Those bent on deforming North Carolina back into the 1700s and 1800s are even more disdainful of this ideal, even as we begin as a society to re-imagine a future ideal around the natural world spurred by scientific evidence of catastrophic climate change.

It is ironic that even scientists who were climate change skeptics now agree that this current environmental threat is nearly all the result of from human interaction with nature dating back to the 1700s and the dawn of that view of nature as wasted unless fully exploited.

Purdy is careful to note that none of these human-nature ideals have ever been monolithic even in the 1700s.  He provides evidence that often they were defined by something society was trying to avoid.

This blog is certainly not a substitute for reading and re-reading Professor Purdy’s salient overview of these various eras of the relationship between humans and nature, which I highly recommend.

His mapping of our views of nature over time has helped me not only better understand the realities and worldviews driving those so intent on deforming North Carolina, but made me even more concerned.

As valid as parts of that reality may seem, it is imperative that it once again be with other even more valid and relevant views.

When the pendulum begins to swing back from such extremism - and it surely will - hopefully we will not only seek rectify the damage, which will take generations, but re-imagine the next era of human-nature ideals in a pragmatic, moderate and less ideological sense.

Governor McCrory can get a head start on this process by following through on his comments at the Wildflower luncheon this month.  He’ll need all the support he can get from North Carolinians and courage within his party’s caucus to bring some sense to the General Assembly.

If not, instead of being transformative, the legacy of his administration will be one of deformity.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Infographic - Demographic Use By Social Media Type

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Triage Approach To Panhandlers

In the six weeks since I posted an essay entitled Distinguishing Homelessness From Panhandling, some in the faith community in Durham, North Carolina where I live have raised concerns that panhandlers might be required to serve jail time if they violate a public safety ban on solicitation along roadways.

I suspect those concerned didn’t read the blog or the study I wrote about, but then again, I often kid friends that according to some analytics I probably have many times more readers in China than I do in Durham.

The study notes that 38% of panhandlers are substance abusers, 40% suffer from depression, 17% are mentally ill and 7.6% suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.  From what I’ve witnessed when personally approached, that could also be the breakdown of panhandlers in Durham.

Some panhandlers may warrant jail time, which can be determined by careful triage to separate those involved in it as an unlawful pursuit or scam from those who need treatment for addiction or mental health issues.  Fewer than 1 in 5 people who are homeless also panhandle so that should not become an excuse to enable panhandling.

According to his newly-published book Clean – Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, David Sheff cites the estimate that there are twenty million people with substance addictions in this country, approximately one in twelve over the age of twelve.

Sheff is including alcohol in those numbers and notes that “every day drugs kill over 365 Americans” and “in 2010, 85% of the U.S. prison population were incarcerated for crimes committed while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs including crimes committed to get money to buys drugs.”

This may include some panhandlers or maybe panhandling is an alternative or based on the study maybe even a fallback.  That would need to be part of the triage.

I doubt though that the $600 billion estimated as the annual cost in health, crime and lost productivity from drug abuse in the United States includes the $2.9 million that “givers” who live or work within the Durham city limits hand to panhandlers each year.

Those seeking to make panhandlers exempt from jail time need to work even harder to educate “givers” including many who are likely in their midst to alternative programs such as Durham Can You Spare A Change.  As the study reveals “givers” are part of the problem, not the solution.

But if Durham does hold panhandlers accountable for jail time, I hope it has or will adapt programs such as H.O.P.E. which involve immediate probation after arrest, twice-daily drug testing with violations instantly resulting in two days of jail time followed by a return to probation and testing until behavior has changed.

Maybe this approach in turn could be adapted to make sure those prescribed drugs for mental illness were diligent about taking those meds and channeled away from panhandling to transitional programs.

To help those who must overcome addiction, it probably isn’t feasible to assign panhandlers to Durham’s highly-regarded T.R.O.S.A because I doubt they would immediately qualify until sometime later during this cycle.

But as Sheff substantiates so well in his book, addiction is a disease not a moral weakness.  It isn’t about willpower or a lack of character.  It is treatable and preventable.

Durham’s new solicitation ordinance is a good one.  As a community we need to send a message loud and clear to “givers.”  In my opinion we also need a system of triage that uses jail time where warranted and also ensures treatment for mental illness and addiction.

There is a way to be a caring community without enabling panhandling.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Making Economic Development Transformative

Newspapers across North Carolina picked up on an announcement by Governor Pat McCrory that he wants to shift the marketing of economic development to public-private partnerships like it was something new.  It really isn’t a new idea.

Focused on story value, the news media, especially short-handed as it is today, appears to have little interest in corporate memory even if clues are buried in their own archives.

Unfortunately, many in political circles are even less inclined to historical context, dooming progress at best to “two steps forward and one step back” or as it seems in the NC General Assembly for several years, “two steps backward and one step forward.”

Many governors have tried what Governor McCrory outlines.  Hopefully, his vision goes far beyond the usual attempt to shift costs to the private sector.  I also hope this isn’t the attempt to make things less transparent that we’ve seen in other states recently or heaven forbid as merely a means to put the “fox in charge of the chicken coop” as some have tried.

Generally, something similar to the current proposal was pitched more than two decades ago during the administration of Governor Martin, another North Carolina Republican, but it was shouted down by members of his own party I suspect because it was floated by a Lieutenant Governor from another party.

It has also been tossed around many times in North Carolina tourism circles with an eye to leapfrogging the draw backs of retro-approaches in Florida, Georgia and Alaska.  Many favored the more dynamic and self-sufficient California model which is an adaptation of the approach modeled long ago for produce such as Washington apples.

However, while tourism and business recruitment are both housed in the state commerce department, they are fundamentally very different approaches.  The former is demand-driven and the latter supply-driven making a one-size fits all impractical.  However, integration and leveraging of the varying roles and skill-sets needed is imperative.

Where they intersect is that more than 80% of business executives who are considering relocating or expanding to North Carolina come here secretly as visitors first.  Another fundamental difference in demand-generated and supply-driven economic development is that the former is expert at branding and marketing and the latter is sales-focused.

I believe Governor McCrory genuinely seeks to be transformative, but regardless of how revolutionary the proposed retooling is will depend on how well these inherent cultural differences are understood and addressed.

Approaches such as the one to which the Governor is intimating are usually inhibited because politicians - and those in business even more so – according to place-marketing gurus such as Dr. Philip Kotler have a hard time understanding marketing in general or that the marketing of “places” such as states and communities is inherently very different than the marketing of individual businesses or corporations.

Lumping huge swathes of counties under non-profits, as the state did many years ago as an outsource conduit for economic development funds also does not a place make. These are merely layers that can aid decisions but at the end of the day, the decision is about specific locations in specific cities, towns and counties.

Even more important though to economic development are state responsibilities that were long ago severed from the department responsible for commerce. Economic development success regardless of tourism or business recruitment is reliant on being attractive to “talent” which has more to do with “quality of place” than anything.

Being an attractive state for talent is at its core about clean air and water, forest canopy including urban area and along roadsides, preservation of scenic character as well as sense of place, well-maintained infrastructure – green, gray and brown - and the vitality and uniqueness of individual cities, towns and counties.

Ironically, all things that are under attack by many in high positions of state leadership and members of the Governor’s party.

We all got to vote for who would be Governor, but we didn’t get to vote for the power-brokers in charge of lock-step caucuses in the legislature nor the lobbyists who have undue sway there, brokered in part, by donations to campaign funds.

No amount of retooling of the economic development apparatus can outweigh the importance of quality of place.  Corporate graveyards are littered with businesses who believed marketing could make up for a degraded product.  The same is even more true of “places.”

If he wants to truly revolutionize economic development, the Governor first needs to align the legislature in support of a long forgotten and oft-ignored amendment embedded by a 7 to 1 vote in the North Carolina constitution in 1972:

“It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry, and to this end it shall be a proper function of the State of North Carolina and its political subdivisions to acquire and preserve park, recreational, and scenic areas, to control and limit the pollution of our air and water, to control excessive noise, and in every other appropriate way to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty.”

So-called “privatizing,” even to non-profits, is a step backward, not forward as the Governor seeks.  However, North Carolina leadership doesn’t have to look far though for a successful model and as with many so-called innovations, it has been honed right here in the Tar Heel state.

When North Carolina’s local option lodging occupancy tax was pioneered here in the early 1980s to self-fund community-destination marketing and visitor-centric economic and cultural development, it took a decade but the NC General Assembly instituted some best-practice stipulations:

  • The organizations responsible are public-private but in the form of public authorities.
  • This enables them to secure the best talent possible and to be free of limitations that make state employees less effective.
  • However, this approach ensures transparency, public accountability and financial oversight and audit by a state commission and the North Carolina treasurer.
  • Proprietary information is still secured away from competitors.  The authorities can combine public and private funds but for a mission and purpose that is strictly legislated.
  • Governing boards are appointed to not only represent the public and private sectors but balance within economic sector and by size of enterprise and geography.
  • Guidelines protect the authorities’ missions from political pressure and special interests, public or private.
  • Stipulations provide for incentivizing facilities or events but not at the expense of the core mission and only when the authority receives all of the funding it is meant to have.

This approach in cities, towns and counties now drives 80% of the revenues generated for North Carolina on the tourism side.  This is a better approach than the non-profit model because it has all of the benefits but with transparency.

Adapting it would further Governor McCrory’s transformative vision by leveraging and adapting a by-product of the state’s innovation and this is how most innovation evolves.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Safeguarding Community Sense-of-Place

Last week, a headline appeared in Durham, North Carolina’s The Herald Sun using a quote attributed to long-time Mayor Bill Bell.  It noted that the Mayor said the skyline of the community shouldn’t be the concern of the Historic Preservation Commission.

In the article Mayor Bell is quoted as saying that this element of the community’s sense of place should be reserved for elected officials rather than the commissions they appoint to review developments.  Some members of the City Council have been under pressure from a private group it funds in part to lobby local government on behalf of downtown development.

I can understand these points of view but both the City and the downtown advocacy group obviously didn’t value the skyline enough back in 1997 when the City sold a strip of land along the left field wall of the then-new city-owned Durham Bulls Athletic Park to the team’s Raleigh owner.

Until now, the dramatic view of the Durham skyline over that wall has served as a reminder to the 60%-70% who are non-residents at the games that they are enjoying themselves in Downtown Durham.  That is now all but disappearing behind a new office building that fills nearly all of the remaining gap shown in the image in this blog.Durham Bulls APark 2

Having won a hard-fought battle to keep the Bulls in Durham which included an agreement to erect the award-winning ballpark, apparently no one in City government at the time - administrative, appointed or elected - nor the downtown group lobbying on behalf of the developer nor even “yours truly” appeared to think to protect the inspiring view-shed.

Elements of sense-of-place are fragile and to adapt an African proverb, they take the vigilance of an entire village to safeguard.

Similarly, when it was transferred to private owners no guarantees were embedded in property that runs in front of the Durham Performing Arts Center, another source of pride.  Only the Great Recession has delayed a development that will make the beautiful, huge-glass-walled view of downtown from the theater lobby mute.

As Marcia McNally, a downtown Durham resident, professor emeritus in landscape architecture and environmental planning at UC-Berkley and urban ecology pioneer cautioned in an op-ed for the Durham paper this past weekend about the proposed 26-story tower that spurred the Mayor’s comment:

  • “It must look like Durham and respond to our history, climate, and public spirit.”


  • “Durham is an integral part of the Research Triangle [home to RTP, located four miles from Downtown] where significant advances on energy efficiency are being made.

Duke University is a leader in climate change research. Durham must demand progressive, top quality engineering for a project this size.”


  • “…word on the street is that the community needs to bury criticism – that we somehow can’t afford to offend the developers because this project is important for Durham.

Well of course it is. But I want to know what will be done to ensure the above and other issues the public has are heard and met?”

The appeal of Downtown Durham is its historic appearance and its scalability to pedestrians, rare in mid-sized communities these days.  Exceptions finagled over the years are readily apparent.  I know and trust the sensibilities of current elected officials but even they have proven vulnerable to the push and shove of back-room lobbyists.

Those impatient with design review are well advised to read the Urban Land Institute’s Ed McMahon whose most recent essay appears in the April issue of Birmingham magazine under the headline Design Matters.

For the reasons Ed notes, I too favor a system of checks and balances that helps remind generations to come about sense-of-place which includes scale. I also agree with the Mayor that the reviews need to be timely but it should be no surprise to developers that in a community with an incredibly high sense of community pride and passion, people will take interest and expect to be involved.

It is far too common, as illustrated in this video about a special tree in Fort Lauderdale, that community values about place are forgotten when money is involved.

Unfortunately distinctive sense of place in communities is under a full attack in the North Carolina General Assembly, as evidenced by new bills such the one at this link introduced by Senator Harry Brown.

Accountable only to the citizens of Onslow County, he is also the architect of the give-away a few years ago to out-of-state billboard companies, including an over-ride of local tree ordinances along state highways and the wanton sacrifice of one of the state’s signature assets.

This new and equally bad bill now seeks to strip local governments of all authority to regulate any activity where there are state regulations on that activity, e.g. billboards, landfills and homebuilding etc.

Apparently, the Republican-controlled legislature, while adamantly defiant of federal laws now ironically wants to superimpose its will on local governments.  This subverts the community sense of place so crucial to economic development and what makes North Carolina worthy of love from so many North Carolinians and tourists.

Rather than trying to intimidate the Historic Preservation Commission, Durham officials and advocates need to celebrate that reviews such as this are in the community’s best interest.

They also need to do everything possible to make sure Governor McCrory, a long-time former Charlotte mayor, is prepared to veto bills such as Brown’s and protect the right of communities to set higher standards.

Monday, April 08, 2013

My Radio Streaming State of Mind!

I haven’t used an alarm clock or a clock radio in many years but I still couldn’t come to dispose of one the other day.  I was thinking I might still need it if I wake up during the night and because it is an atomic variety, it is a cool clock.  But at my age, it isn’t bright enough to read.

According to a new study by Arbitron and Edison Research, a third of Americans over the age of 12 now use their cell phone to wake up compared to 12% who use a clock radio and 22% who still use a dedicated alarm clock.

Surprisingly,  a full third use some other means, probably meaning they rely on someone else to wake them up. I doubt they are all disabling “helicopter” parents.

In fact, I hardly listen to over-the-air radio anymore except for the local NPR station in snippets when I’m shaving or making coffee in the morning or occasionally in the car.  I find it more efficient to read NPR news shows via a smartphone app.  Reading is much faster and more flexible than listening.  It is also easier that way to forward something of interest.

I may not renew my subscription to satellite radio which has been useful on several cross-country road trips.  Being among the 28% who now have a Bluetooth in-car connection, I discovered a few years ago that it is much easier to stream the news via my smartphone through my car radio and much more enjoyable to listen to music that way via Pandora.

Pandora is measured as part of what is called online radio. In use by more than 80 million Americans since its launch in 2005, Pandora has an incredible 69% awareness level according to this new study.

If you are among the 3 in 10 Americans who are unaware, Pandora permits you to set up personal radio formats using a particular artist or song and then fine tune it by pressing a thumbs down to eliminate a song or a thumbs up to encourage more of that same type in the future.

More than 27% have listened to Pandora in last month and a fifth listened to it within the last week.  More than 45% are already aware of iHeart, a Pandora wanna-be but  driven more as a means to access over-the-air radio stations through streaming (app downoads of Pandora lead by more than 3 to 1.)

iHeart lumps Durham, where I live, in with what it calls the Raleigh, NC market, so if I’m ever inclined to use it to reach an old-fashioned radio station, I am probably just as inclined to select stations in Austin or other areas with stations that haven’t been homogenized (smile.)

Regardless, I find it easier when listening to old-fashioned stations or specific albums or artists or tracks at home or in the car to stream using Rhapsody as I have since 2004 which peaked my interest the following year in Sonos, a wirless, multi-room home HiFi system with access to countless online music services.

All of this is a huge shift.  In 2010 when I retired, only 6% of cell phone owners had ever listened to online radio via their car stereo.  That is now up to 21%.  As the scope of over-the-air radio becomes more and more the same, Pandora and Rhapsody are also a great way to explore new music.

For instance, when I became aware of a new country-folk group called The Lumineers while watching a Hulu Plus-streamed clip of the Chickeneers on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last week (shown on YouTube here,) it took only seconds to tap into not only The Lumineers but a lot of other artists in that category that were new to me.

Not bad for someone who is now Medicare-eligible!  Of course, to my grandsons, ages 7 and 9, things tethered by a cord or restricted to over-the-air broadcast are historical artifacts.

By the way, the new study notes that in the month prior to the survey percentage of Americans over 12-years-of-age who watched TV shows by streaming or downloading them did so as follows:

21% on a television screen

19% on a desktop or laptop

8% on a tablet

7% on a cell phone

Studies such as this try to put the best face possible on traditional formats for TV and radio by pointing out that 45% of the population have digital video recorders (DVRs) and more people listen to online radio (including Pandora) than watch videos online through services such as YouTube.

Lost in the findings that 84% in a car and 62% at work still rely mostly on AM/FM radio is that these numbers are rapidly shrinking.  A sign that the “hoofbeats” of streaming are rapidly gaining is that 67% of homes now have a WiFi network compared to just 9% in 2011 and one in four already have five or more devices connected.

More than half of Americans over 12 have a smartphone including 17% my age or older and three-quarters of those between ages 18 and 34. More than half download music, and 44% listen to online radio compared to 57% who play games, 83% who browse the Internet and 90% who use this device to take photographs.  One in three Americans already have a tablet.

If this all sounds strange to you, just blink.  While I doubt they will ever become entirely extinct – after all we still use fax machines – the writing is on the wall for over-the-air radio and TV as well as cable.

Not only is this of great concern for those who make their living or fortunes with these technologies but even given just the capital costs involved it must seem as the saying goes, “like changing a jet engine in midair.” But shift they must.

The only thing in question is which replacement business model will be most successful in the future and how fast will it become obsolete as well.