November 30, 2008

Buggy Whips

I wonder sometimes whether prospective employers really think before they post job descriptions. Here’s what I’m talking about: a Spokane based international sales and marketing company ran a want ad in Sunday’s edition of the Spokesman Review seeking someone who is creative, a good writer, Internet savvy, understands social media and is adept at search engine optimization. So far so good---sounds like a great job. But here’s the catch: this unidentified company wants you to fax---that’s right, fax a resume! Are you kidding me?

Clearly, a job’s a job. But here’s a question you might want to ask before dialing that fax number even if you can do it from your computer: what type of corporate culture asks someone with extremely marketable and modern on-line communications skills to apply by using the technological equivalent of a buggy whip? I mean, if this is what a company thinks is creative I wonder what the bosses’ reaction would be when you asked them to create a Face Book account or suggest that Twitter might be an effective way to reach your target audiences.

I understand that prospective employers sometimes wish to remain anonymous during the initial recruiting phase. But we all know that blind email addresses can be created which will prevent job applicants from learning the company’s name. The bigger issue, however, is transparency. Employers want good workers---outstanding communications professionals seek solid and innovative companies. Hoping a fax machine spits out the type of person you want without providing vital information that helps people make informed decisions could be as productive as watching paint dry. So why not be up front, be proud of the company and let the market decide?

I’ll expect the company’s answer in a letter.

November 25, 2008

Another Kind of Bailout

Kudos to the Spokane City Council for two decisions that will enhance our quality of life and save us some money over the long haul. But deciding to regulate aggressive panhandling and recommending against using Conservation Futures money to buy the Downtown YMCA wasn’t done in a vacuum---lots of communication went into the effort to give Council members the right information to make informed and defensible decisions.

Providing law enforcement and business owners the tools to protect us from being harassed as we walk through our streets seems reasonable. But the challenge was for businesses, police and the Downtown Spokane Partnership to persuade Council members that the pedestrian interference ordinances were needed, reasonable and legal. Stakeholder meetings, lengthy discussions and transparent communication among constituents created a set of regulations that all Council members could support.

But those pushing to use $4.3 million of Conservation Futures money to buy the Downtown Y aren’t as adept. The Parks Board put a one million dollar non-refundable deposit on the building more than two years ago but did not follow up with any sort of communication effort to persuade the City to fork over the rest of the cash. So now with a late April deadline to close on the deal or lose the million dollars---and with no backup plan---the Parks Board hopes the Spokane County Commissioners bail them out. But the Council rejected a resolution supporting that idea---something about being stuck with a 20 year bond payment for an extremely expensive building the City doesn’t want and that’s going to be torn down in five years seems to be giving the Council heartburn. Those opposing the use of CF funds simply did a better job of communicating their side of the issue.

Developing effective messages and persuasive reasons for the City to take on this project could have prevented the Parks Board from looking foolish. Parks Board members still have time but as they squandered more than two years why should they suddenly change? My guess is they won’t.

November 18, 2008

Panhandling Solution

Downtown Spokane is never boring: great restaurants, excellent shopping, easily accessible services and colorful people have made my eight years as a Downtown resident and wage earner interesting, entertaining and generally fun. But I am concerned that despite all of our progress the number of aggressive panhandlers and what I term professional loiterers has increased to the point that our community’s safety, image and continued economic vitality are threatened.

I am continually barraged with aggressive demands for money regardless of what time of day or which street I’m on as I walk to and from my downtown office. I am also frequently forced to step over or around people camping in my building’s parking lot just outside the backdoor. And I have on at least two occasions called 911 because I genuinely feared for my or someone else’s safety.

There is at present no recourse for citizens or business owners to prevent people from aggressively soliciting money or from blocking the streets and sidewalks other than asking them to move on---requests generally refuse in the most vulgar of ways.

There is, however, a partial solution to this problem.

The City Council is considering five Pedestrian Interference ordinances that will have a positive impact on the quality and character of our Downtown’s street-life and businesses if they are passed intact:

They would help alleviate aggressive panhandling by giving police and business owners’ authority to move people away from building entrances.
The measures would prevent people from lying down in public rights of way such as sidewalks and alleys.
First Amendment rights are fully preserved.
They differentiate between freedom of expression and inappropriate behavior and strike a balance between the two.
Will continue to allow street performers and artisans who obtain permission.

We are all working diligently to continue making Downtown Spokane a safe, clean and vibrant environment which drives our community and region. Having the right tools at our disposal will ensure our continued success.

November 17, 2008

Work Around the Media

The media landscape is changing dramatically---especially in the way communications professionals try to engage local and national media organizations. In a recent presentation to the Spokane Regional Marketing and Communications Professionals---MarCom---I said that the traditional ways of persuading reporters to cover stories don’t seem to be working. So I suggested that they may want to take a more radical approach: go around the media altogether.

Here's what I mean. Technology allows us to either focus on specific audiences without filtering our messages through the legacy media or use on-line tactics to get the media's attention.

Two specific examples: Former Kendall Yards project manager Tom Reese recently announced on Spokane’s new local social networking site Launch Pad---INW that he was among the more than 300 people who were laid off from Coeur d’Alene based Black Rock Development---something all of Tom’s friends had known for a couple of weeks but a fact that had escaped media attention. It wasn't until Spokesman Review reporter Tom Sowa---also a member of this community---read Reese's announcement that a story was written. Reporters follow blogs and on-line communities to find out what's going on. Second example is even better. President-elect Obama will deliver his weekly addresses through You Tube---bypassing the media completely and allowing him to get his messages directly to his audience: you.

Bottom line---why spend money to get so-called "free media" when you might be better off using those resources to sharpen your messages and communicating directly with your target audiences? What you’re doing now probably doesn’t work as well as it did so trying something new can’t hurt!

November 3, 2008

Getting a Reporter's Attention

I’ve never been one to be above a little shameless self promotion---so here goes. The Spokane Regional MarCom Association---MarCom---has been gracious enough to invite me to make a presentation this Friday, November 7th on an issue that befuddles everyone who works in communications: how to get the media’s attention. I contend that a large club usually does the job but I hope to be a bit more subtle Friday morning.

It’s no secret that both the local and national media landscapes are in chaos. KXLY-TV just sacked 15 people and cancelled several news shows, (I believe this to be just the beginning), the Spokesman Review recently chopped another 27 people and advertising revenues for both traditional print and broadcast outlets are falling almost as fast as the Dow. Despite the problems we can still work with the media to effectively communicate our message---we just have to do it a lot differently.

Examples: Building traditional relationships has to be expanded to include social networking, there are better options than creating standard news releases and media kits and PR and Marketing professionals have to become experts at all things digital because that's where the media are going.

The presentation should be fun and provocative; I expect to learn a lot as well. Check it out. November 7th, 7:30 in the Spokane Club’s Georgian Room.