Saturday, February 23, 2013

One in a Million (or Two)

On "A Prairie Home Companion," Garrison Keller describes the community of Lake Wobegon as a place where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and the all the children are above average."  In truth, you don't have to go to Minnesota to experience those demographics.  Odds are that right in your own home you can find fit, beautiful and brilliant people of all ages, as long as you use your parents as the judge.

However beyond the subjective measure of mom thinking that you are the best, objective measures of superiority are harder to come by.  Whether you gauge it by money, influence or power, there is usually only one person that can be considered the top: one quarterback, one sorority president, one first-to-cross-the-finish-line.  In some cases, it's harder to delineate, and there's an old expression about "first among equals." But when you add it up, there is usually no doubt as to who really is on top.  After all, you can be an ace swindler, or you can be Bernie Madoff, and there's little doubt as to who wins that race.

Still, people love to think that are special. Even if it means nothing in practical terms, it does wonders for your ego to be recognized as the elite. And recognition of that love of recognition that has led to one of more effective marketing campaigns in a while, courtesy of the networking site LinkedIn.

If you haven't dealt with it, LinkedIn is a social media site aimed at business relationships that way the Facebook is aimed at personal relationships.  You put up your profile, including education, career goals and any salient facts related to your professional life, and invite others to link to you with their info of the same stripe.  It's become a quick way to do a cursory check of a person's professional background, albeit a self-generated one.  For many, myself included, almost any new professional acquaintance gets a quick spin through the LinkedIn lens, giving me at least a Dragnet overview of who they are: "The facts, ma'am, just the facts." You can debate whether it's really of any use in job-seeking or sales, but at the very least you get a person's basics, one that is mercifully free of pictures of kittens.

But back to the campaign.  Recently, some users of the service have been receiving laudatory notices.  In big print, they say "Congratulations! You have one of the top X% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012," where X is 1, 5 or 10 percent. Click the big yellow button, and you're taken to a "personal" letter from a senior vice president applauding you on your standoutiveness. After all, being in the top 1%, or 5%, or even 10% is a pretty big deal in terms of income or grade point average.  Many savvy social web users quickly flashed the news out, with lots of posts and tweets reading, "SO honored to be named among LinkedIn's top viewed profiles.  Thanks to all you YOU for making it happen."  A mother should be proud.

Now, as the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.  But as another saying goes, let's do the math.  LinkedIn notes that it is sending out these notices on the occasion of their community hitting 200 million members.  That means that for the 10 percenters, you rank right up there with 20 million others.  The 5 percenters?  That would be 10 million.  And the eltie of the elite, the 1 percenters?  Your profile is tops along with 2 million of your fellow LinkedIn-ers.  We're not talking Navy SEAL kind of selectivity here. More like if they were to call a convention of the top dogs, you could meet in Houston, so long as the entire population moved out and let you use their homes.

Still, it's nice to be recognized for anything.  As the proud recipient of one of these notices, I'm not sure I will print it out and frame it for my wall. But I will learn the secret handshake, and take the key to the special LinkedIn washroom.  I guess I better just be prepared to stand in line for a long time to wash my hands.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is on LinkedIn because he feels he should be. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Uncle Sam Calling

The media was doing its level best to hype the end of the world. Or put in a more mundane way, it was forecasting the weather. The truth, of course, lay somewhere between those two. The storm that was rolling up the Eastern seaboard and colliding with another from the Midwest was indeed a potent snow maker, and deserved more than just a passing mention. But in spite of what the Weather Channel would have you believe, we would all live to see another day before a new Ice Age was upon us.

Still, while it would be foolish to ignore the impending meteorological event, it was easy to tune out the warnings and watches. So many times before similar "heads-up's" have amounted to little more than a nuisance. Not that this time it wouldn't be a big deal, but cry wolf often enough, and it's hardly surprising that we don't pay attention even if we're about to be eaten.

But then I, and lots of you, got the call. More specifically, my phone rang and vibrated, though the cadence was different than usual. When I grabbed it, there was no one there. What I did see was a bright red triangle with an exclamation point in it, kind of like a traffic sign telling me to watch out ahead. I didn't even have to hit a button to display the message: the symbol came full screen, along with a warning: "Severe Alert. Blizzard Warning in this area til 1:00PM EST Sat. Prepare. Avoid Travel. Check Media. - NWS." Uncle Sam was calling, albeit sounding a bit like Yoda.

For many of us, this was our first experience with the latest incarnation of the old Emergency Broadcast System. You remember the EBS: a flat announcement on the radio or TV that "This is a test, it is only a test," followed by an annoying tone for 20 seconds or so, followed once again by the same flat voice: "Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been instructed where to turn for more information. This is a test, this is only a test." Go about your lives. Don't stop moving. Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

However, depending on TV or radio these days to get the word out in an emergency is a dicey proposition at best. With online and game consoles and movies on your phone, three quarters of the populace pays no attention to those traditional media outlets, and certainly not in real time. If you want to reach the masses quickly and where they are, there is probably no better avenue than their smart phones. After all, we take them with us to the store, to bed, even into stalls in rest rooms (where we proceed to chatter and dismiss the background noise, no matter how embarrassing it gets to be).

In that light, the WEA system, for Wireless Emergency Alerts, makes eminent sense. Activated in June of last year, it's a government program run by the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, working with the cell phone industry.  Alerts can be extreme weather warnings, like this one, as well as local emergencies, AMBER alerts for missing children and Presidential level alerts for national emergencies. Not to worry: if you can't be bothered for anything other than an inbound nuclear warhead, you can opt out of all but the last.  

These are not text messages in the traditional sense. For one, they are limited to 90 characters, hence the abbreviated form of "Prepare. Avoid Travel. Check Media." (Note to Middle East Twitter users: it took you 140 characters to foment regime change; see what you can do with less?). And the alerts are sent out from cell towers to all phones in the area, regardless of their home base. So if you're visiting Southern California from New Jersey, and it's about to fall into the sea, you won't be left standing there wondering what all the fuss is about.

What we have here is the perfect example of a public-private partnership: you got your government agencies with important info, you got your wireless carriers with access, you got your public with the need to know. Everybody's happy. Now, if only they would text me if the Dow is going south with my portfolio. Is that too much to ask?


Marc Wollin of Bedford has grown to like texting. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Stand Still, Look Pretty

If I said "Peyton Manning," what association would you make? Football in general, quarterback more specifically, and frenetic signal caller if you're really into it. You might think Indianapolis Colts, where he played someone of his best ball. Or more recently Denver Broncos, where he looked to be having the perfect comeback year after neck surgery. Or perhaps you'd think of Eli and Archie, his brother and father respectively, probably the most well know football family until this most recent Super Bowl featured the dueling coaching brothers, Jim and John, in Harbaugeddon.

However, football fan or not, you might also connect him with Sprint, DirecTV, MasterCard, Reebok, Gatorade, and more recently, Papa John's Pizza and Buick. Those are just some of the companies which have paid him as a celebrity endorser. For the firms, they get a well-known championship-caliber marquee face with a squeaky clean reputation, a combination they hope will rub off on their products. As for Peyton, it's not a bad trade: those associations bring him somewhere near $15 million a year, a total which ranks him in the top ten of athlete endorsers worldwide.

While the individual deals may vary, likely his role in each case is pretty simple: appear in some commercials, maybe show up at the company's national sales meeting to shake a few hands, perhaps make an in-house video exhorting the troops to sell more stuff. He likely doesn't get involved in the crust formula at Papa John's, nor the MPG standards for the Buick fleet. As summarized succinctly by Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp singing as The Wreckers, it's pretty much about showing up: "You just stand still, look pretty."

But that's not enough for some superstars. They, and by extension certain their corporate partners, think they can do more for their millions. And so we came to one of the more interesting announcements at the press conference recently held by Research in Motion. Not the expected introduction of two new phones and an operating system. Not the unexpected announcement that the company was changing its name to its most identifiable product, and would henceforth be known as BlackBerry. Rather, it was the introduction of their new Global Creative Director, Alicia Keys.

Yes, that Alicia Keys. Chart topping duet rapper with Jay-Z for "Empire State of Mind," composer and singer on the new CD "Girl on Fire." And now, corporate suit (though she wears it well). At her introduction, she professed how she used to be a user, then strayed, and is now back: "I was in a long-term relationship with BlackBerry, then I noticed hotter, more attractive sexier phones at the gym. So I broke up with you for a while. I missed the way you organized my life, so I carried two phones and played the field a bit. But then you gave me a call, told me you'd been working out. Now I'm happy to announce we're exclusively dating again!" Someone has obviously been drinking the BlackBerry-flavored Kool-Aid.

But now that she's ditched that hussy iPhone, what does it really mean? After all, she's not the first superstar to have a corporate title: Lady Gaga is a Creative Director for Polaroid, Black Eyed Pea is Director of Creative Innovation at Intel and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor is Chief Creative Officer at Beats Audio. And none of them is usually quoted in stories on stock price or earnings multiples in the Wall Street Journal, though I might have missed it.

Even the company might not be so sure. After all, when she was introduced, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said to her, "You were hired for a job, so tell us, what are you going to do for us?" Her response: "I'm going to work closely with the app designers, developers, content creators, the retailers, the carriers to really explore the platform and create ideas for its future." Really? Hard to believe one could fit all that in between appearances on the Grammys and concerts on 5 continents. Steve Jobs looks like a slacker by comparison.

Still, if it helps BlackBerry survive, let alone thrive, the relationship might be worth it. At the very least, it will give the employees of the beleaguered company a fun new colleague to rub shoulders with. After all, at the end of the press conference, Keys said to Heins, "I'll see you in the office," to which he responded "Monday at 8:00." Now, that's a watercooler worth hanging around.


Marc Wollin of Bedford respects Alicia Keys' music, not so much her tech cred. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

History As A Guide

Running errands on a recent day, I was meandering my way back home. As I drove down one of my usual strips I noted a formerly deserted storefront, now reoccupied. It had housed, what? A pizza place? A pharmacy? A video rental place? (Remember those?) No matter: what's done is done. The point was that it had been empty a while, buffeted by the tectonic shift in retail from bricks and mortar to online, a movement from which no business seems immune.

But good for the landlord; he had a new tenant. It appeared to be a burger joint, one of the new breed that offers basically the same thing you get at McDonald's, just with a brioche bun and organic cheese from contended cows for a $12 premium. Still, I made a mental note to add it to our "try" list when the opportunity arose. Then, as I drove past, I looked more closely at the stylish sign hanging out front. Below the designer graphic with the establishment's name, in a classic serif font, was the legend "Established 2012."

Not "Opened."  Not "Started." Not "Born." Rather, "Established," a word that conjures up time itself. When you use that term, you are not just talking about an inception date, but rather something that has a long history, an institution that has endured and prospered. It has permanence and durability, often gained in spite of long and sometimes difficult odds. The United States was and is established. Likewise with Glenlivet Scotch, Ford Motors and The New York Times. Even the Rolling Stones have been around long enough to be considered established, though these days they could also be considered mummified.

So why would a new venture try and evoke a long and proud tradition of existence, even though they don't have the goods to back it up? After all, we're a culture that craves the latest and greatest, be it cell phones, cars or clothing. "That's so last year" has been replaced with "That's so last month." In fact, more and more, the yardstick for measuring the cutting edge isn't the calendar, but the clock. In a world of Twitter feeds and Facebook postings and Tumblr blogs, each updated hourly, old isn't 5 months or even 5 days: it's 5 minutes.

To be sure, there are areas where we value longevity. We want our financial experts and institutions to have a track record. That's not to say that they shouldn't be up on current advancements in the field. Rather, they need to have the seasoning that enables them to evaluate and understand anything new in the context of what went before. Same with our medical professionals and our accountants. And of course, Betty White.

But restaurants? They fit squarely in the former category. How often has a place which had been the "must go" establishment one month, where you couldn't get a reservation for love nor money, gone to all but begging for business six months later, handing out coupons for free appetizers on Tuesday nights. In that environment, describing a new up and coming place as "established" would seem almost counterintuitive, sort of like trying to sell an iPhone by touting it as using the same design as it had back when it was introduced in the Mesozoic era of smartphones in 2007. Oh wait; that is how they sell them. Never mind.

So while the aforementioned burger place might have high hopes and lofty designs on the future, it remains to be seen how things will go. Make no mistake: I wish the owners the best of luck, I really do. I, and I'm sure others in town, will give it a whirl in the not-too-distant future. And if the food is good, and if the service is acceptable, and if the price is right, it will survive and perhaps even thrive. Should that be the case, and it's still serving them up in a few years, then feel free to go and add "established" to the sign with my blessing. But until then, perhaps it would be best to not tempt fate, and just be a little more humble. There seems to be plenty of space below the name, so how about changing the subtitle to "Sticking our foot in the door of dining trends in 2012, and hope you all keep coming back."


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to eat out, as long as it better than what he makes at home. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.