You Stay Classy, DC

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I spent most of my youth wanting to be a reporter when I grew up.  I’m not sure exactly where it came from.  I like being at the center of the story, and I’ve always been a big Superman fan (his alter ego of Clark Kent was a mild mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, of course).  In high school I was the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and I attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.  All with the intent of someday seeing my name in the New York Times.

Well, life has a funny way of making different decisions for you.  And, it’s my non-Medill roommate from college who finds himself with a New York Times byline these days (with great stories here and here).  But I still love the news business and everything it represents.

I finally had a chance to visit the Newseum in Washington, DC a few months ago for the first time.  A museum that celebrates the history of the news medium – from print reporting to broadcast (radio and then TV) to today’s online journalism delivered via the web and social media.  It’s a wonderful place to spend a day, and my wife (also a former journalism major) and I found ourselves captivated by exhibit after exhibit focused on the role of the news media literally across centuries.

Recently, the Newseum opened up a new exhibit focused on the movie “Anchorman:  The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”  The movie, which stars Will Ferrell among others, focuses on the exploits of a news anchor in 1970s San Diego, and is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.  If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and go now.  If you have, you probably know what I mean.  The “plot” revolves around the introduction of a female anchor (played brilliantly by Christina Applegate) into the male-dominated world of the news and the conflict that it causes.  The sequel, coming out in December, touches on the transition from local to cable news in the early 1980s.

The exhibit touches on both of these elements, attempting to use the publicity around the film to teach real lessons on the evolution of the TV newsroom in the 1970s and 80s.  It’s also trying to sell tickets.  It’s tough being a museum that charges admission in Washington, DC – with the Smithsonian offering so much to visitors for free.  But, the Spy Museum seems to be doing it well.  The Newseum, which moved into the city not long ago in a brand-new facility on prime real estate, does not seem to be doing well.  Which leads its critics to challenge that the Anchorman exhibit is just a way to get more people in the door and may not be appropriate for a museum designed to honor and celebrate the actual newsmakers across generations.

I myself find this criticism itself interesting, given that you could make a case that the news industry in general finds itself at a similar crossroads.  Is the purpose of networks like CNN, Fox News and CNBC to report the news – or to entertain their viewers?  Perhaps that’s a story that the Newseum should be trying to tell – in fact, that’s their point on the exhibit.  It’s okay to learn by entertaining – and once you’re inside and have explored the Newseum, maybe you’re more likely to tell your friends and return.

Personally, I can’t wait to see Baxter, take a photo on the set, and take my turn at being Ron Burgundy.  In the meantime:

One Coin Will Rule Them All!!

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Not sure if you’ve seen this yet, but judging from the response from the Technorati I know, if you haven’t you will.

It’s Coin (onlycoin.com) – a one-source method of payment. Bye-bye giant wallet (my college roommate will be crushed – his Costanza-esque wallet has always been a source of pride).

Pre-sales look good so far – 24 days left, and they’ve already reached their crowd sourcing goal. I have lots of questions (mostly revolving around security and timing – hopefully, a bigger player doesn’t steal the idea first). And, with mobile payment becoming more and more available at merchants (I haven’t used anything other than my iPhone in a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks in a very long time), I wonder how long before I can completely throw my wallet away.

But, kudos to Coin for not only a great idea, but also a well-presented one. The video makes it really easy to understand exactly what this is and why I want it. And oh, do I want it!

Native Advertising – should you be using it?

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According to a recent State of Native Advertising report from Hexagram and Spada, native advertising accounts for nearly 20% of total publisher revenues, with that number expected to climb to as much as 30% with a year. Blog posts, articles, and Facebook are the most popular forms of native advertising, while tags such as ‘sponsored’, ‘brought to you by’, and ‘featured’ are increasingly being used to identify native content. So what is “native advertising”, and should you be using it for your marketing efforts?

Native advertising is defined by Wikipedia as “a web advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience.” In old-school marketing, we called this an “advertorial” and it has been a huge part of any direct marketing tool kit since the 1960s. By making it feel “real”, the advertiser is able to increase interest which leads to improved response rates.

The challenge in today’s digital age comes from the blurred lines between authenticity and paid content. Almost everything we see online these days is presented from a point of view, and sometimes it’s hard to judge whether it’s been paid for or is real. Take my own blog as an example. There are posts where I talk glowingly about a product, service or a client – is it because of a pre-existing relationship or because I am honestly that passionate about it? Sometimes, I go out of my way NOT to praise a client just to avoid any notion of impropriety.

But, when done right, there is no doubting native advertising is effective. So think about how you can integrate blog posts, social media and online referrals into your own marketing efforts. Always do so honestly, letting readers know that it’s marketing. But, if you can provide them with value you should get a return on your efforts. A running store should promote new routes to run, shoe models that may be of benefit, and share experiences that may relate to an upcoming event. This is all great content that provides value. And if it comes from an outside blogger, even better. Just make sure to disclose if they received any product considerations – or if they didn’t. Being honest with your readers just serves to increase the value of the content – and hopefully (in this case) drives traffic to your store.

Wearable Tech – It’s Coming

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How many of you out there had a calculator wrist watch back in the 80s?  Get your hands up – I see you looking away from the monitor.  I had one.  So did enough kids in my class that I remember math teachers having to confiscate them before a quiz.  It was the first time that wearable technology crossed over into the mainstream.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the fad didn’t stick.  I guess the convenience of being able to quickly determine the square root of 4,052,169 (keep reading – answer is below) didn’t outweigh the small keys, bulky nature and overall geeky-ness (before geeky-ness was cool) of having one.

History always repeats itself, they say, and we’re about to become deluged with wearable technology once again.  If you don’t know about Google Glass yet, you will soon.  The lightweight glasses are designed to be both unobtrusive and easy to use.  But, put on a pair and you’ll definitely stand out in a crowd.  If you think the guy talking to himself in the corner (on a bluetooth headset) is annoying, just wait until you try to have a conversation with someone staring into space while reading a website.  I have seen some great uses for Google Glass, including Cal Ripken using it as a teaching tool.  But it’s still not subtle, and the next time I sit down with someone wearing them, I’m sure I’ll be wondering if our conversation is being broadcast over the internet or recorded in a way that may make me uncomfortable.  (Then again, I’m the guy in the room with a smartpen.)

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Google Glass is just one example of wearable tech.  Every tech company from Apple to Samsung is working on their own wearable tech.  Nike has a number of products already on the market.  (And let me plug my friends at Milestone Pod while I’m at it.)  But what seems to be missing still is a killer app – something that wearable tech does that takes it from curious to must-have. 

This MediaPost article speaks to just that issue.  There’s just nothing yet that’s so compelling that it generates the buzz and purchase  required from early adopters that increases the supply chain and decreases the retail cost so that a product can transition into the mainstream.  I was one of the first people I knew with an MP3 player.  Being able to take 12 songs with me was great, but it wasn’t until Apple figured out how to package up 1,000 songs in an affordable device that it really took off.  Same thing with Tivo – DVRs didn’t make it until cable companies figured out they could just throw another $10 onto our monthly bill instead of requiring an investment into a $300 piece of equipment.   And it’s probably what doomed the calculator watch – it’s nice to be able to figure out an exact 15% tip quickly, but it’s nothing that we absolutely had to have.

Time will tell what gets us all to wear Google Glass, and how our lives will change from that moment.  I famously said I didn’t need a DVR, or an iPad, or a Slingbox, or a remote keyless entry for my car.  Yet, each of those things changed the way I operate significantly, and I can’t imagine going backwards.  So, I’m sure at some point my smartpen will go back to the Island of Misfit Technology and I’ll come into meetings wearing my Google Glass instead.

(Oh, and the answer to the square root of 4,052,169 – 2013 of course!)

Honoring Veterans Everywhere

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Today is Veterans Day.  And for those of you who have served or are currently serving, a very heartfelt thanks goes out.

Growing up, Veterans Day never felt like much of a holiday.  I didn’t know any veterans personally (although my grandfather was in the Army in WWII, he never left the country), the country overall didn’t seem sure on how to handle Vietnam Veterans in general (Click here to see President Obama’s recollection of the same), and at some point we even stopped getting the day off from school.

Now, however, I feel very differently about Veteran’s Day.  First and foremost, I think we all know someone who’s served, particularly given the US’s military involvement around the world over the past 20 years, many of whom are our neighbors, workout partners, co-workers and friends.  And, we probably also aren’t more than one degree removed from someone who didn’t make it back either.

One of my fraternity brothers enlisted shortly after 9/11.  He’s a doctor in Boston, and in addition to being a team physician for the Red Sox and Patriots, saw the potential need for an orthopedic specialist in the field.  So he spent the better part of 6 months in Afghanistan helping heal soldiers and learning how to poop while balancing a rifle on his lap.  I thought of him often while he was there, and I know his family is glad to have him back.

I have another friend whose cousin was killed by friendly fire, just weeks before his tour was to have ended.  He was inspired as an 8-year old on 9/11, and enlisted the day he turned 18.  He proudly served with honor, and expected to return back into the field after a short time back home.  Unfortunately, he won’t get that chance. My friend is now active in a variety of military cause-related efforts, even participating in the Marine Core Marathon to help raise money.

This past weekend, my wife and daughter participated in a Wounded Warrior workout at a Crossfit gym in Glen Burnie.  I’m sure they were motivated by the efforts of the veterans in attendance, and I know how deeply it impacted them both.  They went out of their way to help support people whom they didn’t even know, so impressed were they of the sacrifices each had made.

So this Veterans Day regardless of your personal politics, I encourage each of you to take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families to protect the interests of the United States across the globe.  Take a minute to make a call, send an email, shake a hand and say thanks to the members of the military that you know.

 

Airspace Lounge – Making Travel Great

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I travel a lot for work. In many ways, it’s become routine. Parking garage to gate. Gate to plane. Stop for fast food. Search for wifi. Hope rental car doesn’t smell. Check in to hotel. Enjoy miniature soap. Turn around and head back. So, when I am surprised (either in a good way or a bad way), I stop and notice.

That brings me to American Express’s new Airspace Lounge. I’ve been to two thus far: Baltimore and Cleveland. What makes these airports unique is that they don’t have regular airport lounges. So in the past there hadn’t been a spot for reliable wifi, a quiet place to sit, or a free cup of coffee. For $20 (or free with certain types of Amex cards), you get all of that and more. The decor is simple, yet comfortable. There is a conference room you can rent (although I haven’t yet). And you get a $7 credit for snacks or cocktails. (This morning, I enjoyed the cheese plate).

What is really great is that allows you to be productive. I can set my laptop on the counter and work undisturbed until my flight takes off. Many lounges I use are often overcrowded or not practical – a comfy chair is nice, but it’s hard to edit a presentation with a computer on my lap. The mix of comfort and practicality at the Airspace Lounge is top notch.

My only complaint is that there just aren’t enough of them. Hopefully, that will change in time.

Business travelers – which airport lounges are your favorites and why?