Where We Work

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A few months ago my 10 year-old daughter created a chart to track what all of the members of our family were up to each day. I was struck by the fact that in addition to activities like SOCCER, GYMNASTICS, SCHOOL and WORK, there was a category called WORK FROM HOME.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Like much of today’s workforce, I’ve telecommuted in varying degrees for the past 15 years. There’s even currently a hit song titled “Work from Home” by Fifth Harmony:

You don’t gotta go to work, work, work, work, work, work, work
But you gotta put in work, work, work, work, work, work, work
You don’t gotta go to work, work, work, work, work, work, work
Let my body do the work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work
We can work from home, oh, oh, oh oh
We can work from home, oh, oh, oh oh

You get the picture.

About 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week, a figure predicted to increase 63% in the next five years. When my kids were small I worked from home one day a week, a privilege of being a partner in a small business. Our babysitter still came on those days; there was no way I could juggle work and full child care responsibility at the same time. But I was able to spend some time with the kids, take them to doctor’s appointments, start dinner, and throw in a load of laundry or two.  I did my share of conference calls from the parking lot at Bed Bath & Beyond, but because I didn’t spend three hours commuting, running out for the occasional errand still gave me more solid “at my desk” hours than a typical commute day.

At a certain point I made the decision to stop working from home on a regular basis. I found it easier to get things done when I was in the office and could catch the production director in person to get a quick estimate rather than stalking her by email, or sit with a designer to look over his shoulder as we worked on a project together. I also had a lot of guilt on my WFH days. If I did something around the house, I felt like I should be working. If I was working, I thought I should be spending time with the kids. The last few years at my agency I stayed home only when I had an event (like a school concert in the middle of the day) and working from home gave me more productive hours than if I had schlepped into the city.

I found it annoying when people (including my husband) would ask, “Are you off today?” and I had to stress, “No, I’m working from home.” A WFH day isn’t a vacation day…or at least it shouldn’t be. As a manager, I did find that some people on our staff took advantage of our largesse and “work from home” turned into “work from the pool” or “work from the mall.” The key for managers and employees to agree about workday hours upfront and put their expectations in writing. Allowing employees to work from home or have flexible hours were benefits that didn’t cost us a dime, but engendered appreciation and loyalty from our staff.

 

When she joined Yahoo as CEO in 2013, Marissa Mayer famously (or infamously) banned working from home to encourage the sharing of ideas. I agree that while, “people are more productive when they’re alone…they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” But like Mayer herself, this policy didn’t quite catch on. Once employees are given a benefit it’s hard to take it away.

In Clash of the Generations: Managing the New Workplace Reality, Valerie Grubb notes that workers from different generations have different perspectives on working outside the office. Gen Xers like me, “…place a high value on their individual freedom (including setting their own hours and incorporating work-from-home options).” While Baby Boomers are more likely to want to keep their work at the office, “64 percent of Millennials would like to occasionally work from home…” Telecommuting employees have a longer, more productive workday than their office-bound counterparts. There’s no travel time, it’s quiet and there are fewer interruptions.

A Vice President of Human Resources at a pharmaceutical company, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me he’s a “big fan” of allowing employees to work from home as long as they’re reachable and the work gets done. “I do not think it should be every day,” he said, “as the collaboration factor is really important.” His viewpoint isn’t completely in line with his company’s corporate culture, however. While there’s no official policy on the matter and managers are allowed to approve working from home on a case-by-case basis, it’s frowned upon and most staffers don’t feel comfortable doing it very often.

The FWA (Flexible Work Arrangements) policy at a major consulting company includes flextime, job sharing, telecommuting/working from home, and reduced work/part-time options. Their goal is to create a culture that supports employees’ work/life balance and adds to diversity within the workforce. Perhaps most important, the official policy states that career advancement shouldn’t be impacted by employees’ use of FWAs. It’s crucial that management throughout the organization buys into the policy and doesn’t penalize their employees for utilizing it.

But there’s a downside to this flexibility. Because technology has allowed us to always be connected, people feel the need to be available 24/7/365. It takes some willpower to set boundaries for ourselves so that “working from home” doesn’t turn into “working all the time.” You’ve got to put down the cell phone and be totally present when it’s family time.

There are also social benefits of interacting with other human beings. Last spring I worked for an organization with a predominantly virtual workforce. When they’re not on-site with clients most employees work from their homes, saving the company a ton in overhead. While they utilized tools like Skype and Slack to assist with communication and collaboration, there was still an element of camaraderie missing.

Working from home hasn’t just reshaped the office, it’s reshaping our homes, too. Business is booming at retailers like Staples and IKEA that meet the growing demand for home office furniture and supplies. But what if you don’t have enough space for a desk, want to get away from that crying baby or annoying roommate, or need access to pricey office equipment?

The latest trend for consultants and entrepreneurs is co-working spaces like WeWork, which sells itself as not only a place to rest your laptop but a physical and virtual community. WeWork has 128 locations in 39 cities with plans to expand to every continent (except Antarctica) by 2017. Benefits for its members include access to health insurance, a social network, events and workshops.

While co-working spaces are a haven for freelancers and startups in cramped urban areas, I haven’t seen many people in the Serendipity Labs location in my suburban New Jersey town. Most people in the area have room in their homes for an office space and are content to decamp to the local Starbucks when they feel the need to flee the house. Serendipity Labs lists 9 company-owned and franchised locations on their website with over 100 under development. Their vision is “to provide premium, members-only workplaces with high performance meeting facilities at corporate standards.”

If a local co-working location isn’t hip enough for you, you can join the growing number of millennials who work anywhere in the world as long as they’ve got a laptop and Wi-Fi. Take Uber to your Airbnb in Tahiti and really leave the office behind!

Personally, I’m pro-choice. I believe it’s between an employee and his/her manager to agree upon an arrangement that meets both of their needs. Employers should empower their staff to be creative and build a supportive environment that increases employee satisfaction and productivity.

 

Roger’s Big Fat American Payout

“Gretchen Carlson Claims Victory for Roger Ailes Ouster: ‘Women Will No Longer Tolerate Sexual Harassment’.” Two weeks after she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss, Fox News Channel Chairman Roger Ailes, he resigned under pressure.

Gretchen may be celebrating but I’m mad as hell. Because along with his walking papers, Ailes is being handed a big fat payout of $40 million. His employer, 21st Century Fox, is even covering his legal expenses to fight Carlson’s lawsuit. Is this truly a victory? If someone deserves to be forced out, they do not also deserve to take home millions of dollars. The fact that fired CEOs are rewarded financially for their mismanagement is frustrating. The fact that Ailes is being paid a huge sum for his misbehavior is sickening. And he’s not even really leaving the company; he’ll remain as a consultant until 2018.

It has long been obvious that Ailes has a penchant for beautiful blondes. Just look at the female anchors on Fox News, or at his wife (who he started dating while she reported to him at NBC.) Once Carlson made her allegations public and Fox started its own internal investigation It quickly became clear that there was substance to them. Just like with Bill Cosby, after one woman was brave enough to speak out others started to do so. But instead of facing jail time like Cosby, Ailes’ “punishment” is receiving a consulting contract and millions of dollars from his employer. Sounds like a sweet retirement deal, not an acknowledgement of any wrongdoing.

In his statement, 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch praised Ailes’ performance and did not even mention the circumstances around his departure. So why is he really being stripped of his position? Rupert’s sons, executive chairman Lachlan and chief executive James, took advantage of Ailes’ fall from grace to get rid of him. This was the excuse they’d been looking for to wrestle control of the business from Ailes.

Failing to directly address the allegations against Ailes is disrespectful to the women who were subjected to unfair treatment and a hostile work environment. I hope Gretchen wins a bundle from her lawsuit. Fox’s actions resulted in a pyhrric victory for the accuser and a big fat financial windfall for the accused.

 

Women on My Mind

women illustration

I’ve been thinking a lot about women lately. Of course there’s Hillary Clinton, the first viable female candidate for president who’s ironically having a tough time getting the support of young women voters. Old school feminists like Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright aren’t helping with their comments, which are rubbing millennial women entirely the wrong way. Albright’s been saying, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” for years, attacking women who haze other women. These nasty chicks feel that since they had to fight their way to the top, and since there’s limited room for senior women in their given field, they’re not going to make it any easier for the women who follow them. But to young women who were born onto a still-imperfect but much more level playing field, it sounded like Albright was telling them to support Hillary just because she’s a woman…which to them is as bad as not supporting someone just because she’s a woman. Young feminists appreciate the historical significance of a potential female president but it’s more important to them to vote for a candidate on his or her merits, not his or her gender. Isn’t that really what we’ve been fighting for all along?

Another woman I’ve thought about is Jessica, who I worked with at the Grace Institute Brag Party last year. She and 104 other women just graduated from Grace’s intensive 5-month job readiness program. I was so proud of her when I received a LinkedIn notification that she got a new job as a receptionist at a law firm. Congrats to all of the @graceinstitute grads!

I’m tickled pink about the return of some of my favorite funny women on TV. Samantha Bee is killing it on TBS’s Full Frontal. Much has been said about the fact that she’s the only woman in late night comedy (which is a bit of a stretch; her show is on at 10:30pm, which is really prime time…but, whatever.) I hope whoever passed over her to replace Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show is looking at the ratings and realizing he made the biggest mistake of his life. I like Trevor Noah and think he’s doing a decent job, but seeing Bee succeed is sweet revenge for the sexism and ageism that prevented her from getting that promotion.

I can’t be too mad at Comedy Central, they did bring us Inside Amy Schumer. I was a fan long before Amy became a movie star and one of The Most Fascinating People of the Year. Amy’s right up there with Richard Pryor and George Carlin as one of the most daring and influential comedians of all time…not just one of the best female comedians. Now Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are back in season 3 of the hilarious Broad City. If you haven’t watched this show, run…don’t walk…to Comedy Central On Demand to catch up.

Speaking of women in TV, I want to give a shout out to my fellow Women in Cable Telecommunications NY chapter board members. @WICTNY has been working on a Leadership Series event titled, “Climbing the Corporate Ladder: How to Make it to the Next Rung” featuring a panel of four successful women at various stages of their careers. The event (to be held on February 29) sold out in record time and I was reminded of just how hard these volunteers work to put together helpful, meaningful programs. The benefits of WICT membership go way beyond what one can learn at our events, however. In Never Eat Alone: and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, Keith Ferrazzi touts the importance of networking and developing real, mutually supportive friendships for career success. As I’ve been reading the book I keep thinking how fortunate I am to have developed many great personal and professional relationships through WICT.

To keep abreast (pun intended) of all the news that matters to women I read the LZ Sunday Paper. There’s always terrific, thought-provoking content curated in former NBC exec Lauren Zalaznick’s weekly roundup of news, insights, arts and culture. Sign up at LZSundayPaper.com, it’s a great read.

Email from Louis C.K.

Here’s the email I received today about Horace and Pete. I think it’s fascinating for the creator of a show to share this kind of information about the process.

Hello friend guy lady or other,

Some of you are aware that, last Saturday, I launched a new series on my site louisck.net called “Horace and Pete”. I’m writing now to tell you some stuff about it….

Horace and Pete is a new show that I am producing, directing, writing, distributing and financing on my own. I have an amazing cast: Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Alan Alda, Jessica Lange, Aidy Bryant, Steven Wright, Kurt Metzger and other guest stars. Also Paul Simon wrote and performed the theme song which is beautiful.

The response to episode one has been great so far and there are more coming. We are making them now and having a lot of fun doing it.

Part of the idea behind launching it on the site was to create a show in a new way and to provide it to you directly and immediately, without the usual promotion, banner ads, billboards and clips that tell you what the show feels and looks like before you get to see it for yourself. As a writer, there’s always a weird feeing that as you unfold the story and reveal the characters and the tone, you always know that the audience will never get the benefit of seeing it the way you wrote it because they always know so much before they watch it. And as a TV watcher I’m always delighted when I can see a thing without knowing anything about it because of the promotion. So making this show and just posting it out of the blue gave me the rare opportunity to give you that experience of discovery.

Also because we are shooting this show in a multi-camera format with an emphasis on a live feeling, we are able to post it very soon after each episode is shot. So I’m making this show as you’re watching it.

Okay so let’s talk for a minute about the five dollars of it all. If you’re on this email list then you’re probably aware that I always make an effort to make the work I do on my own as cheap as possible and as painless as possible to get. That’s why my specials are five dollars and that’s why I sold tickets to my last big tour here on the site, with our own ticketing service at a flat price with no ticket charges and we have worked hard to keep my tickets out of the hands of scalpers.

So why the dirty fuckballs did I charge you five dollars for Horace and Pete, where most TV shows you buy online are 3 dollars or less? Well, the dirty unmovable fact is that this show is fucking expensive.

The standup specials are much more containable. It’s one guy on a stage in a theater and in most cases, the cost of the tickets that the live audience paid, was enough to finance the filming.
But Horace and Pete is a full on TV production with four broadcast cameras, two beautiful sets and a state of the art control room and a very talented and skilled crew and a hall-of-fame cast. Every second the cameras are rolling, money is shooting out of my asshole like your mother’s worst diarrhea. (Yes there are less upsetting metaphors I could be using but I just think that one is the sharpest and most concise). Basically this is a hand-made, one guy paid for it version of a thing that is usually made by a giant corporation.

Now, I’m not complaining about this at all. I’m just telling you the facts. I charged five dollars because I need to recoup some of the cost in order for us to stay in production.

Also, it’s interesting. The value of any set amount of money is mercurial (I’m showing off because i just learned that word. It means it changes and shifts a lot). Some people say “Five dollars is a cup of coffee”. Some people say “Hey! Five dollars?? What the fuck!” Some people say “What are you guys talking about?” Some people say “Nothing. don’t enter a conversation in the middle”.
Anyway, I’m leaving the first episode at 5 dollars. I’m lowering the next episode to 2 dollars and the rest will be 3 dollars after that. I hope you feel that’s fair. If you don’t, please tell everyone in the world.

Meanwhile, we’re going to keep making Horace and Pete. We’re going to keep telling you the story.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy it. I’ll write you again later and tell you more about it. It’s fun to talk about. But for now I want to shut up and not ruin the experience of you just watching the show.

Here’s the link for the website. Enjoy episode 2 of Horace and Pete. We’re shooting it now. You’ll get it on Saturday morning.

This person,
Louis C.K.

OTT is HOT

It seems like wherever you turn these days everyone is talking about how Over The Top services (streaming networks) are taking over the video world. (Except, of course, when they’re talking about Donald Trump.)

To wit:

  • Netflix received 8 Golden Globe nominations for television programming this year, more than any other network. In stark contrast, NBC – host of the awards show – received 0. While Netflix didn’t take home any statuettes, Amazon won 2 of the 5 categories in which it was nominated. The streaming services’ dominance was most obvious in the Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy category, representing 4 of the 6 nominees: Orange is the New Black from Netflix, Transparent from Amazon, and Casual from Hulu, with Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle taking home the prize. The other 2 nominees were from HBO.
  • Amazon and Netflix shelled out millions at the Sundance Film Festival, snapping up high profile films by outbidding traditional distributors. Last year Amazon attended the festival but didn’t buy anything. This year their acquisitions include the drama Manchester by the Sea starring Casey Affleck for $10 million (that’s Casey, not Ben). Netflix ultimately lost the most buzzed-about film at the festival, Nate Parker’s The Birth of A Nation, to Fox Searchlight, but not before bidding the price up to a record-breaking $17.5 million.
  • Netflix has even worked its way into the millennial vernacular: “Netflix and Chill” is the new “Booty Call.”

It should come as no surprise that the most innovative content is being driven by the newest delivery platform. Historically each time a new competitor enters the ring they have had to be more agile and original than the established players to earn the respect of the creative community, viewers, and the press. Back in the early days of cable, basic networks’ lineups included a heavy dose of broadcast repeats and rejects. Cable was the Rodney Dangerfield of the television world. When the cable networks became profitable enough to invest in quality original programming, they had to break new ground to lure viewers away from broadcast. Suddenly cable shows started winning critical acclaim and awards.

HBO (and later Showtime) figured out that theatrical films were commodities. To build viewer loyalty they had to offer original programming too…and it had to be better than what was on basic so customers would pay more to get it. Unencumbered by the “standards and practices” of broadcast, with bigger budgets than basic, and without the need to pander to advertisers, the premium networks attracted the best Hollywood talent–both behind and in front of the camera–by offering more creative control. Premium became the place to be for high quality, pushing-the-envelope series.

Now the OTT services are the new kids in town, so they’re the ones willing to take creative risks. They’re out-premiuming the premium networks. I have yet to pay for a streaming service; we spend so much on our cable bundle that I can’t rationalize shelling out any more for in-home entertainment even though they’re very reasonably priced. While you pay for Netflix as you go and Amazon charges upfront for a year, they both come out to about $8 a month. If it were up to me alone I’d probably cut the cord, get a digital antenna for broadcast reception, and order up Amazon and Netflix. But my husband and son are die-hard sports fans, so cable is still the best option for our family.

To get a first-hand view of what all the fuss is about I took a deep dive into streaming waters with simultaneous month-long trials of Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. On Netflix I started the month with season 3 of Orange is the New Black (I was already a fan, having seen seasons 1 and 2 with previous freebies) and ended it with the first episode of Making a Murderer, the series making documentaries cool again and sparking a national debate about the guilt or innocence of its protagonist. I was sorry to miss the rest of the series, but not sorry enough to pony up $8 to see it. My husband, who doesn’t watch a lot of dramas, stuck with Narcos (based on the life and legend of Pablo Escobar) while I sampled a couple of episodes but never got hooked.

On Amazon I double-binged seasons 1 and 2 of Transparent. I loved that it’s unlike anything else on television but was surprised how much of the focus is on Maura’s narcissistic children’s dysfunctional sex lives rather than her own struggles as a transgender woman. Prompted by its Golden Globe win I checked out Mozart in the Jungle. I liked it enough to watch several episodes but, even combined with free 2-day shipping and the other Amazon Prime perks, opted to opt-out and the end of the trial.

Our kids like Netflix because its easy-to-use guide and recommendations for each family member make it simple to find programming that appeals to them. We’ve probably got access to just as much family friendly fare on cable (if not more), but it’s cumbersome to search through the linear channels and each network’s on demand offerings. They were turned off by Amazon’s interface and didn’t really give it a chance; they may have been more interested if we didn’t have Netflix at the same time.

Circumventing even the streaming services and with no advance warning, Louis CK just released the first episode of a new series he wrote, directed and stars in called Horace and Pete on his website. For $5 “You can download the video here. Once you’ve got it, it’s yours to do with as you like: sync it to your Zune, stream it over wi-fi to your spouse, burn it to DVD, etc.” I admire that he brings his programming directly to the people and I was intrigued enough to part with $5, but I have to say I appreciated it more than I actually enjoyed it. The superb cast includes Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Jessica Lange and Edie Falco. It’s more like a stage play than a television show, compete with an intermission, and is most definitely not a comedy.

I didn’t love it but I love that he did it. Whether direct-to-consumer, OTT, on cable or on broadcast, the less interference there is from the “suits”, the more innovative programming we’ll see.

Goin’ Mobile

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Look around you. On the street, on the subway, at a restaurant. I bet you see lots of people looking at their mobile phones. Today there are 5.2 billion mobile phone users across the globe; 2.1 billion of those are smartphones. Including tablets, there are more mobile devices in the world than people.

At a recent family gathering I noticed three of my nephews sitting next to each other on a couch, all staring down at their phones. The compulsion to stay plugged in has become so overwhelming I had to yell, “Put down the phones!” to get them to talk to the people around them. It’s difficult to look away from our texts, posts, news and scores when we hold the power of immediate information gratification in our hands.

The statistics are astounding:
• Consumers check their mobile devices 150x per day
• The average American spends almost 2 hours a day on a mobile device
• That’s more than 57 thousand hours over the course of a lifetime

In fact, time spent on mobile devices (2.8 hours/day) has surpassed time spent on desktops and laptops (2.4 hours/day). In April 2015 Google changed their algorithm to favor mobile sites. Over Thanksgiving weekend 102 million people shopped in brick and mortar stores… but 103 million people shopped with their phones. Mobile accounted for 57% of total online traffic. The kick-off of the holiday shopping season isn’t really Black Friday and Cyber Monday anymore: it’s Mobile Weekend.

The mantra for marketers is “Mobile First.” Mobile can no longer be an afterthought, it has to be our first thought about connecting to consumers. What other medium is with people virtually all day, from the time they wake up until they go to sleep, at home, school, work and play?

We need to consider the mobile experience first, but not in isolation. Mobile strategy should integrate with the rest of the marketing plan because mobile usage is integrated with the rest of our lives. Every interaction with a brand, whether in the digital or real world, is part of the customer journey and needs to present a consistent brand experience.

Coming from a traditional media background, I first became aware of mobile as a marketing platform in the form of display ads. Which kind of suck. The banners are tiny and hard to see, and approximately 50% of clicks are mistakes: people actually trying to get rid of the ads, not engage with them. But there are so many other tactics in the mobile marketer’s arsenal. Video. Apps. Mobile websites. SMS (text) messages. Email. Native advertising. Social media. Location-based services. QR codes. Search. Gaming. All of which can be monitored and measured to eliminate the guesswork of traditional marketing. With mobile, as with all digital marketing, evaluating key performance indicators can help us make informed decisions about what creative is working, whether we’re targeting the right people, and the return on our investment.

I have a love/hate relationship with mobile. As a marketer, I love the direct pipeline to consumers and ability to target audiences and offers. As a consumer, I love the connectivity, convenience and custom content. I use my phone to email and text, buy my train ticket, pre-order my coffee, get directions, find discount parking, deposit my checks and see if my son has left school yet. At this point I’m hooked and can’t picture life without it. Ask people what one device they’d want on a desert island, and I’d bet smartphones would win by a landslide.

As a member of society, however, I’m afraid that mobile devices are negatively impacting our ability to concentrate and interact with other human beings. We need to demonstrate self-restraint and set rules for our kids about when it’s appropriate to use our phones and when it’s not. Mobile devices should enhance our lives, not take them over. I know it’s easier said than done. Perhaps our mantra should be “People First, Mobile Second.”

Thanks to NYU adjunct professor @RayBeharry for most of the data referenced in this article.

Photo by nenetus

And the Winner is…

When Joe Biden announced that he would not be running for President, the reason he cited was that there just wasn’t enough time left to mount a successful campaign. This was more than a year before the election. But Biden was right; after all, the campaign had officially begun a full 596 days prior to Election Day when Ted Cruz announced his candidacy.

It seems like we’ve been hearing about the 2016 presidential race since the day the polls closed in 2012. We’re a year away and I already have campaign fatigue. I can’t face another 12 months of debates and scandals and polls (oh my!) The thought of covering another presidential campaign drove Jon Stewart off the air; he just couldn’t take it anymore.

Our neighbors to the north just held an election for Prime Minister. Unlike our regularly scheduled elections, in Canada federal elections occur when the Prime Minister asks for one. Incumbent PM Stephen Harper (who did not win re-election) was sharply criticized for the extreme length of this campaign. CBC News called it a “mid-summer marathon.” The Canadian Press reported that this “grueling” campaign was the costliest ever and the longest since 1872. The Globe and Mail said it was “endless.” Just how long was this record-breaking campaign?

11 weeks. That’s right, less than three months.

And Canada is hardly alone in holding such brief campaigns for its highest office. Many countries have laws limiting the duration of campaigns. NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben wrote, “In Mexico, a 2007 law limited the length of campaigns. In Argentina, advertisements can begin only 60 days before the election, and the official campaign itself can start only 25 days after that. In France, the presidential campaign is generally only two-weeks long.”

Who benefits from America’s protracted campaign season? Not the candidates, who can’t possibly do the job they currently have properly because they have to spend so much time raising money and making appearances. Not the citizens, who don’t need two years to make up their minds. I already know who I’m voting for, and I’d venture to guess that the majority of Americans do too. Why can’t the Presidential race be more like the Super Bowl and less like the World Series?

As far as I can figure out, it’s the media that really win. It gives them something to talk about. And talk about. And talk about. The Atlantic put together a daily dashboard tracking mentions of the candidates on Aljazeera America, Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, FOX Business, FOX News, LinkTV, and MSNBC. As of November 1, 2015 Donald Trump had received over 121,000 mentions, followed by Hillary Clinton at almost 111,000, Jeb Bush at over 62,000 and Bernie Sanders at over 25,000. That’s a whole lot of air time.

Then there’s the media coverage of the media coverage. Post-debate analysis includes not only an assessment of the candidates’ performances, but evaluations of the network and its reporters hosting the debate. CNBC has been widely blasted for its “gotcha” questions and time-wasting banter during the Republican debate it hosted last week. Google “CNBC GOP debate” and you get over 15 million hits.

And it’s not just news shows anymore. When candidates began appearing on talk shows and poking fun at themselves on SNL several years ago, I thought it was endearing and humanizing. Now they’re EVERYWHERE, and it seems degrading to see the people vying to be the leader of the free world prostrating themselves in front of every talk show host in town. I had the TV tuned to the Today show one morning last week and Access Hollywood Live came on next. I was aghast to see the hosts of this Hollywood gossip show offering their critique of the last GOP debate. Co-host Billy Bush may be related to Jeb, George et al, but come on…it’s not Meet the Press. They discussed at length whether or not Donald Trump has stubby fingers. I kid you not. This is how we’re choosing our next president?

The media also benefit is as the recipient of all of those advertising dollars. Political TV ad spending will top $4.4 billion for federal races this year, up from $3.8 billion in 2012. Jeb Bush’s superPAC has already raised more than Obama’s main superPAC did in all of the 2012 election. As of the end of September, Hilary Clinton had raised about $75 million since entering the race…well on the way to her $100 million goal for this year, a large part of which will likely go to TV spending.

But do all those ads work? A 2010 study concluded that while ads do have an impact on voting, the return on this investment is highly questionable. 1,000 more ads for a candidate across a whole campaign resulted in a 0.5 percentage point improvement in that candidate’s share of the vote. Why spend all this money if the ROI is so low? Because if your competitors are doing it, you have to do it too just to be in the game. It’s the cost of entry.

Savvy political operatives have found loopholes in all of our well-intentioned campaign finance reforms, rendering them useless. We haven’t been able to limit fundraising by passing laws restricting campaign donations. Maybe we’d be more successful stopping the spending madness by passing laws restricting the length of the campaigns instead, and our politicians could get back to the business of governing instead of spending half their time focusing on getting elected.

Bragging with Grace

The conservative politicians and pundits who say that unemployed people are lazy and don’t really want to work haven’t met the ladies from Grace Institute. Grace “empowers unemployed and underemployed women in the New York area to achieve economic self-sufficiency” by providing “job-skills training, counseling, placement services, and continuous learning opportunities that lead to upwardly mobile employment.” There are approximately 1,000 inquiries for each 130 places in each class; 75% of the participants graduate; and 80% of the graduates are placed in full-time jobs within one year.

I had the pleasure of volunteering at one of these learning opportunities called a Brag Party. Executive Coach Peggy Klaus led a three-hour workshop on the art of bragging. “Bragging,” she said, “is just being proud of yourself.”

Bragging is something that does not come naturally to many women who’ve been trained by our culture to put the needs of others (kids, spouses, parents, team members) above ourselves and to be modest about our accomplishments. It’s particularly difficult for the women at Grace, many of whom are living on government assistance, are victims of domestic violence, or are recent immigrants.

Grace Institute was founded in 1897 as a free training program for women by W. R. Grace, an immigrant who made his fortune in shipping and was twice elected Mayor of New York City. Sounds a bit like an early Mike Bloomberg. The course offerings have evolved over the years from millinery and stenography to MS Office and interview skills, but the mission remains the same: to help women find work and support themselves financially.

I was at the workshop as a representative of the Women in Cable Telecommunications New York Chapter. In addition to supporting women within our industry, WICT NY is dedicated to helping underprivileged women and students reach their leadership potential. WICT NY sponsored the event and provided a number of volunteers. Many of the other volunteers were from financial services companies which also employ Grace graduates.

 

My partner for the day, Jessica, arrived in New York from Puerto Rico at age 19 speaking no English. She worked as a line cook and started to move up the ranks in the restaurant business but a back injury made it difficult to be on her feet all day. With a high school-age daughter to support, she turned to Grace for the training she needs to segue into a new career. She is bright, enthusiastic and presents herself very professionally; I have no doubt that she will graduate from the 6-month program and quickly land a job.

We participated in a series of exercises designed to make us more comfortable tooting our own horns and touting our successes. We had to learn that “Brag” isn’t a four-letter word. (Well, it really is a four-letter word, but not THAT kind of four-letter word.) One barrier to bragging is the fear of being a bad bragger: the kind of blowhard who talks incessantly only about herself, exaggerating her achievements and stealing credit from others. Good bragging was defined as talking about your accomplishments and value in a conversational way, weaving a few key points into a story delivered with a sense of urgency, excitement, and delight.

It was a thoroughly fun and fulfilling experience, and I’d venture to guess that I learned as much as Jessica did. Peggy is an amazing presenter and infused the room with the power of positive thinking and expression. Grace Institute gives these women the opportunity to succeed and I was thrilled to play a small role helping them achieve their dreams.

The Old “New Fall Season”

I grew up in a non-television household. We owned a TV but pretty much the only programs my parents watched were 60 Minutes and Masterpiece Theatre. TV was like dessert: an occasional treat rather than a staple of our diet. Yet somehow, despite being reared in an environment that was pretty hostile to television, I developed a fascination with the medium that eventually led to a career in television marketing.

I’ve been nostalgic lately about the excitement of the New Fall Season. It was like Christmas to me, with new shows to unwrap each night. I’d study the TV listings trying to guess what my classmates would be talking about on the playground the next day. Of course there were no DVRs or On Demand so you had to choose wisely. If you picked The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour instead of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family — and it turned out that Greg & Marcia were hotter than Sonny & Cher — you didn’t get a second chance to see that episode for weeks or months. You completely lost the opportunity to join the conversation about whether the new Chris was better than the old Chris.

The good news was that you had at least a 33 1/3% chance of getting it right since there were only three networks to choose from. In my mind the independent stations weren’t worth paying attention to and PBS was for toddlers and old people.

The competition for viewers was as intense back then as it is today, but that’s about the only thing that has remained constant. Now there are hundreds of channels to choose from and new shows premiere all year long. TV isn’t just on TV, it’s on your computer…and “binge viewing” has entered the lexicon as platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime launch whole seasons at once. Which got me thinking, does the New Fall Season even exist anymore and if it does, has it outlived its purpose?

I posed this question to Peter Gaffney, SVP of Programming for History and A&E. Pete grew up next door to me and remembers coming to my house to watch the Friday night preview show forthe new Saturday morning cartoons, so clearly my family gets partial credit for his highly successful career. He said that since the broadcast networks launch so many shows (most of which fail), promoting a whole new line-up at one time is more efficient than trying to market individual programs throughout the year. Cable networks, on the other hand, consciously avoid launching shows in the fall during the broadcast premiere frenzy (and the baseball post-season). He looks at the competitive landscape year-round for opportunities when new cable shows can get some attention.

It’s worth noting that many of the most successful series in broadcast television history did not premiere in the fall…like Seinfeld, Happy Days, All in the Family, Survivor, American Idol, Dallas and The Simpsons. Part of the reason these mid-season replacements were able to find an audience is precisely because they didn’t get lost in the madding crowd of Premiere Week promotion. Cable networks had the brilliant idea of counter-programming during the summer, launching new shows while the broadcast networks had all but given up. This strategy generated hits like Mad Men, Sex and the City, Entourage, The Wire, Weeds, Ray Donovan, and Louie, and programming stunts like Shark Week.

Fast-forward to 2015 and TV Guide’s website has an awesome Fall Preview section with show descriptions, a day-by-day schedule, trailers and more. It’s come a long way from the days of the black and white printed grid and is like crack to TV geeks like me. They consider fall to be August — November (which I think is a bit of a stretch) and include both series and season premieres.

A look at this year’s schedule reveals that cable spreads its premieres very evenly across this time period with 13 in August, 13 in September, 13 in October and 5 in early November. The Internet and satellite services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, DirecTV) also follow this model with 2 premieres in August, 3 in September, 4 in October and 3 in November. But broadcast still crowds the lion’s share of premieres into September through early October with only 2 premieres in August and 6 in November but a whopping 58 in September and 21 in October.

Audiences can’t possibly find out about and get excited about that many shows at one time. The competition for the hearts and minds and eyeballs of America makes promoting programming in smart, cut-through-the-clutter ways more important than ever. Content may be king but without marketing the king could be playing to an empty room.

Campaigns need to integrate traditional and digital tactics to build awareness and prompt sampling, with out-of-home and social media becoming more important all the time. Every campaign should include at least one unexpected element. As Stephen Colbert said, CBS plastered his face on every possible surface to promote his premiere on The Late Show…but using his voice and clever commentary on the Waze navigation app was the killer tactic in that campaign.

But what am I doing sitting here writing? I’ve got a whole lot of TV to watch!

What’s News?

It turns out I have no idea what is and isn’t news.

The path to this revelation began at 7 this morning. Instead of turning on the Today show as usual, on a whim I put on CBS This Morning, which has the reputation of being a more serious news program. September 11 isn’t like other days and I wanted to hear what serious journalists had to say.

I was disappointed to see that a remembrance of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history was relegated to the third spot on the rundown. The top story of the day, according to CBS News, was Joe Biden’s appearance on CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert the previous night.

Any other day of the year this would have been just fine with me. I understand the importance of cross-promoting your network’s shows, especially one so highly anticipated that has just launched to big ratings and critical acclaim. (Sidebar: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert really is excellent television. Kudos to Executive Producer Meredith Bennett!) But let’s put things in perspective here: that’s television, 9/11 is life. I am also in no way minimizing the personal sacrifices made by the Vice President. I just felt that the honchos at CBS made a self-serving decision to promote their own show over one of the most important events in modern American history.

 

In fairness, because I didn’t watchToday today I didn’t know what story they led with. So I took a look at the websites of the three broadcast network morning news programs. Not surprisingly CBS News featured Biden and Colbert at the top of the page. But I was stunned to see that ABC News also led with the Biden story (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was credited at the top of the page, but Colbert’s image was conspicuously absent from the photo.)

At least ABC did have a banner above the Biden story promoting a live stream of the 9/11 commemoration ceremony and the video itself was playing in a small box below Biden’s big head. The top stories on the Today home page were an interview with the seamstress who helped two inmates escape from a New York prison, a dog story, and Justin Bieber.

So it wasn’t just that CBS was putting its own business interests above editorial credibility. Across the board, the broadcast network news directors had decided that 14 years later, 9/11 just wasn’t news anymore. Maybe, I thought, it’s because TV targets the lowest common denominator and people really do care more about Justin Bieber than 9/11. Surely the venerable New York Times would give the anniversary of the terrorist attacks the prominence it deserved, right? There was no mention on the front page; 9/11 didn’t appear until page 17, after stories including “Largest U.S. Electric Utility to Pay Fine Over Power Plan Rules Violations” and “Liberal Becomes First Female Mayor of Nashville in Runoff.”

Had people really forgotten the horror of that day? The suffering of all of those who lost loved ones? The loss of innocence we all experienced? A quick look at my Facebook feed showed me that this was not the case. There were dozens of beautifully worded tributes, images of the Twin Towers, and proclamations to Never Forget. I don’t think my friends are unique in their need to come together and publicly acknowledge the significance of this day. People want to share their sorrow and support each other.

While the news outlets may continue to focus on what’s considered news at J-school, social media reveals what’s really important to people. The national conversation is on Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram. TheToday show has its kitschy Orange Room devoted to monitoring social media. Perhaps the news directors should listen to what their viewers and readers are talking about amongst themselves. Isn’t that what news is?