Unappreciated Genius and Founding Father

29 07 2008

Despite his appearance on the $10 bill, Alexander Hamilton has not faired well among historians in relation to the attention and praise devoted to the other founding fathers. Being born out of wedlock, he began life at the lowest social strata of a society obsessed with ancestry and the perceived merit of proper breeding. Hamilton was, however, a recognized genius who has been commonly portrayed as an egotistical elitist who viewed the common man as a great irrational beast to be feared and controlled.  He was often at the center of political firestorms that brought him into conflict with more popular figures like Jefferson, Adams and Monroe. He was involved in one of the nations first political sex scandals and was killed in a duel by a political rival. By all accounts he lived a life of high drama and intrigue.

Although controversial, he possessed a towering intellect that is worthy of praise and admiration. He deserves recognition as one of the most profound thinkers of the modern age.   

Ron Chernov, a biographer of Hamilton, has concisely summarized his contributions quite well. Hamilton was an “architect of a modern America, in both its politics and economics, creating the building blocks of the nation’s government and economy.”   

More to come regarding the Unappreciated Genius of Alexander Hamilton.

Tom Speaks

What’s “The Big Idea?”

29 07 2008

I’m reading in Entrepreneur Magazine recently about a relatively new company called NiteSweatz. They produce sleepwear with wicking material to help those who, for any number of reasons, sweat at night. Brilliant, right? Right!

A few weeks later, my wife is complaining about being hot at night and sweating a lot while she sleeps. I immediately think of NiteSweatz. BUT, I was not aware of the funky spelling. So, when I typed in “Night Sweats” I got an array of options. After narrowing my search and realizing the spelling, I happened upon a result in the listings for NiteSweatz on The Big Idea (a TV show on CNBC). Not knowing it was a show at the time, I clicked with interest. Sure enough, there is the founder of NiteSweatz being interview by Donny Deutsch on a show called The Big Idea – a show that’s dedicated to sharing information about new products, new companies, business growth ideas, etc.

This was a month or so ago. This past weekend, we’re flipping through the channels and up pops Donny Deutsch and The Big Idea on CNBC, so I stick with the show for a while. And, to my amazement, I realize this appears to be a show that was created for…Public Relations!

It is a fast-paced show, moving from topic to topic and guest to guest in seconds. The topic of discussion this night was “How to make good money in bad times.” Not a bad subject! There were panels of experts in real estate, innovation consulting, banking; and there were questions that came in from people via email, phone and even video. But, what’s cool about it is the opportunity for PR. If you happen to be an expert in a certain industry, this is a great opportunity to share your expertise. If you’re a start-up, or a company that has a great new/innovative product or service, The Big Idea looks like a great place to get noticed.

Now, because of the quick pace and insane jumping around, you may be mentioned along with 20-30 other great new products or companies; but that’s what it’s there for. It’s a show for businesspeople; businesspeople who are interested in the next Big Idea!

So, if you think you have a Big Idea; or if you can present yourself as an expert in your industry, consider The Big Idea. It might just give you your “Big Break!”

The Art of Politics – a la CafePress.com

28 07 2008

If you are an American, you have probably been bombarded with more than your fair share of political propaganda this election season. With all of the political debates, town hall meetings and breaking political news stories, the design of the supporting collateral materials is often largely ignored. This is the case, unless of course you are a designer who works with an assortment of politically minded professionals, all with an eye for political design.

I’ll be honest. It wasn’t until recently that I took a look at how design, specifically t-shirts, drives a political campaign, and this election season has been one of the most interesting, thanks in part to CafePress.com.

CafePress.com empowers its users by allowing them to create, buy and sell customized merchandise online using the company’s unique print-on-demand and e-commerce services. These services allow each storeowner the flexibility to create custom designs or even design on the fly with the potential to substantially increase their profitability. It is this flexibility that opens the proverbial can of worms when it comes to the latest in political t-shirts. Storeowners are given the ability to drive their personal message home to millions of people about a particular candidate, and this means that as an individual, you are no longer hard pressed to find a t-shirt with just the political message you are looking for.

I believe even the hardcore political junkies will have a hard time saying that there is no value in the political t-shirt after viewing the 285,000 political designs and 7,800,000 political products on CafePress.com. Young people in particular are flocking to CafePress.com to choose the perfect political t-shirt so as not to fall behind in the latest fashion trend while keeping a careful eye on how their t-shirt might impact their friend’s views on the upcoming election.

Whether you are a conservative, liberal or somewhere in between there is bound to be the perfect t-shirt for you. Keep in mind, the latest fashion trend is also declaring a message and influencing the political realm like never before. And if this is news to you, it’s time to climb out of your cave and take a look around at the latest fashion trend hitting the streets, as it just may impact who our next leader will be.

Allison Stulpin

Now What?

20 07 2008

Have you seen the TV commercials: two people climbing up a rock cliff, one grabs a rock which causes a huge boulder to break loose. The boulder then falls, as the climbers watch, directly on top of their truck sitting below the cliff. Or a guy is sitting in a coffee shop working on his laptop when a tube of lip stick rolls to his foot. He picks it up and hands it to the woman sitting at the table next to him, only to turn around to realize his laptop was stolen. Each commercial ends with “Now What” and then NowWhat.com.

Any idea what these commercials are for? I didn’t either; so after a year or so of seeing those commercials, I finally decided to check it out. Visit www.nowwhat.com. Great site! And great advertising! Although it took me some time to respond, I’m not the audience. For college students and young professionals, I have to believe this resonated. It’s an ad campaign for insurance giant, State Farm. But, very subtly advertised.

This is a great example of an integrated marketing campaign. TV commercials (I believe I’ve seen outdoor billboards, too) drive traffic to the web site. The web site allows you to play games, sign up for free music, watch videos about (what else) insurance, and they’re even hosting a live steaming music concert with well-known artists in just a few weeks.

The reason I say it’s a “great example” is because it hits several criteria that I think define a great campaign:

  1. It gets your attention. Funny commercials, with a teasing message.
  2. It motivates the viewer to action. Obviously, you’re supposed to go to NowWhat.com
  3. It connects with the audience. The clear audience is 18-25 year olds, beacuse of the use of graphics, music connection and gaming options. I don’t know much about the insurance industry, but I would guess that establishing a relationship early on has to be their goal. I’ve been with my insurance company since I got out of college (it just so happens to be State Farm).

I don’t know how well the campaign has worked. But, I have to believe it’s doing okay, because it’s still in effect at least 12-18 months after I first saw my first NowWhat.com commercial in 2007.

Public Policy Advocacy – Special Interests??

18 07 2008

News media. Websites. TV/Radio. Public Presentations. Direct Mail. It never ceases to amaze me at the extensive level taken to influence public policy in our country. 

God Bless the Framers and Founders of our nation for the First Amendment right to free speech!  But, as importantly, the First Amendment provides our right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  In other words, as legal citizens of this country we have the right to influence public policy, laws, regulations and legal decision-making.

I spent nearly a dozen years in my career as the head of government relations for a financial services and insurance company.  There is no comprehensible way to calculate the number of trade groups, advocacy groups, ad hoc coalitions, think tank and policy wonks who are employed solely to influence the public perception and regulation of the health care industry.  I am sure someone has tried to calculate how much is spent on health care advocacy in a given year, but I would tell you to double that number….and then some! 

But, even as there are so-called “special interest” groups pursuing their specific niche piece of the health care industry, it is without question that just about every possible side is represented and every angle has been heard. We are familiar with free-market health care, single-payer health care, government-run health, care, managed care, etc, etc, etc.  All these initiatives have teams of people working daily to further their specific cause. This is what is both great, and at times unfortunate, about how public policy is created and decided in this country.  It is great that our free society provides for the open discussion of nearly every ideology imaginable.   However, it is possible the greatest idea ever imagined could never become public policy if enough money, groups, and organizations are opposed or see the idea as a threat to their ideology. 

Let me go back to the term “special interest.” By far, one of the most overused, and incorrectly used term in our society.  Folks, ALL of us have special interests!! Simply make a list of all your passions, interests, careers, families, religous beliefs, parenting styles, food choices, educational attainment goals, pet ownership beliefs, and on and on and you will quickly see that you, indeed, have a huge variety of special interests.  If you have a passionate opinion on big issues such as abortion, religous freedoms, education reform and health care reform, all the way to day-to-day issues like food labeling and school bussing, your beliefs put you in so-called “special interest” groups. 

By labeling people, it is easy to place them in factions and let them “go at it”!  The media loves to group people into “special interest” to watch them fight over issues like dogs over a piece of meat. As the old media adage goes, “If it bleeds, it leads”!  For instance, if they can get film of pro-life and pro-choice groups screaming at each other, it makes good press.  But, unfortunately, too often the battle is of far more interest to decision-makers than actually taking action on public policy. In other words, when an issue is so controversial it causes massive outcry from both sides, it often becomes too easy to do nothing.  Status quo is often easier, or safer, than making tough decisions.

I go on this rant for a couple key reasons.  One, absolutely speak your mind on public policy issues that impact your world!  Whether it is the illegal immigration, or the height of street signs in your community (yes, I was actually taken to task on this in my community), make your voice heard.  On the other hand, keep in mind that in a free nation, a wide variety of issues and ideologies will be shared from a wide variety of sources. Most come from a distinct difference of opinion, upon which we must agree to disagree. Unfortunately, others come from areas of hatred and malice, where the specific intent is to harm others. This is the crap that often makes the headlines.  Try to stay above the fray and use reason when considering facts. 

Make sure your voice is heard. But, let others speak as well. Hold public officials accountable, and steer public policy through level-headed debate. And, please, the next time someone uses the term “special interest”, feel free to slap them! Stupidity is a pre-existing condition.

Later  – Kerry Smith

The Camera is Always On!

18 07 2008

By Martin Moleski

A video of the Rev. Jesse Jackson that circulated through the news media and video sharing sites this past week made me think about a discussion I’ve had with my brother on multiple occasions. The conversation basically goes like this:

Me: “Why can’t a person realize that when there is a camera focused on his face he shouldn’t say racist, sexist or derogatory remarks?”

Brother: “Maybe he thought the camera was off.”

Me: “The camera is always on, what an idiot.”

The world in which we now live means we have no privacy. With YouTube, Google, cell phones with video capability and computers that save EVERYTHING, your dirty laundry is going to get aired in some way or another. As a side note, I’ll inform you right now that just because you ‘delete’ your browsing history, temporary Internet files and e-mails, our government is quite sophisticated and way ahead of you and they’ll get the info they need – See Marc Dann, Elliot Spitzer for proof.

If you are a public official, or are currently campaigning to become one, be prepared to have each and every word scrutinized and compared to your previous comments. And when your opposition finds a contradiction or flip-flop on video you better be prepared to justify your statements. And it’s tough to do because once you start back peddling you only dig yourself a deeper hole.

So my advice to you is simple. First, always be aware of the fact that your conversation with a neighbor, relative or voter could be recorded, posted online and viewed by thousands of people without you even knowing it. Second, control your own message and be consistent. If you hate saying the same thing over and over again, then you’re probably doing it right. And, finally, even if you’re not running for public office, don’t make racist, sexist or derogatory comments. I know I shouldn’t have to say that last one, but look at the videos below to see some great examples of people not understanding that the camera is always on.

Be careful out there!

Senator Joe Biden makes racist comment
George Allen makes racist comment while waving to cameraman
Congressional candidate Kirk Schuring fears the City of Canton
Senator John Kerry can’t tell a joke

Love it or hate it… Helvetica is a force to be reckoned with.

16 07 2008

Designers are constantly faced with the issue of choosing the right typeface for logo design. Basically, a font should support the brand in three principal ways:

1.) enhance the overall visual appearance of the composition

2.) create a compatibility with the other design elements

3.) legibly communicate the name/message

However, these days there are just too many fonts out there to pick from and the process of finding the right fit can become quite cumbersome. So which typefaces are safe? My choice is always the clean sans-serif classic Helvetica. So here is a brief, and I mean brief, history on Helvetica:

Helvetica was created by Max Miedinger (with Eduard Hoffmann) at the Haas type foundary in Münchenstein, Switzerland in the late 1950’s. Originally called Neue Haas Grotesk, it was renamed Helvetica in 1960 from “Confoederatio Helvetica” which is the Latin name for Switzerland. The new moniker was issued to make it more internationally marketable. I think it worked.

Typography since the 1960’s has been completely saturated with the crisp clean lines of Helvetica. Today it is still one of the most commonly used fonts in the world. Look around. Street signs, billboards, storefronts, tax forms, mail boxes, subways and logos everywhere are using Helvetica because of its pure neutrality and subsequently its omnipresence in our global culture.

Of course this extreme infusion into all things type has caused a backlash or two over the last half century. Designers either love it or hate, but no one can argue that Helvetica is not a dominating presence in our world.

For all you type nerds out there that want to watch an interesting documentary on this subject, there is a wonderful movie that I had the pleasure to view a couple months ago called simply Helvetica. It is a feature-length independent film by Gary Hustwit that reveals Helvetica’s transcendent impact on society that goes beyond nation or language as the classic typeface celebrates 50 years. –hd



Holly Davis