Archive for: Sabrina Schaeffer

Digital Services

DC: Most Socially Networked City

USA Today rates Washington, DC the “Most Socially Networked City” in the country.  The survey ranked the 100 best – and worst – “Twitter Towns,” and the nation’s capital came out on top.

Following DC were:

2. Atlanta

3. Denver

4. Minneapolis

5. Seattle

While some may have thought Seattle – often considered the Internet technology capital – would have earned the top slot, experts conclude that politics played an important role in the ranking.  No, Washington didn’t lobby for the title; but, Twitter is being used increasingly as a political tool, for advocacy and in GOTV efforts during election cycles.

Part of the research also included analysis of sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Researchers collected the number of people making use of these social media tools per capita in each state’s most populated cities.

Defense Practices

Cryptic Ads Confuse DC Commuters

Despite calls for drastic spending-cuts, government contractors are advertising at record levels.  In fact, DC’s local WTOP-FM, which targets government managers, reports an increase in government contractor advertising by as much as 15 percent this year.

There’s one problem though: no one can understand the ads.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal this week, an increase in competition has led like Northrop Grumman and Quinetic North America to expand their marketing efforts in a way that has touched the broader public.

The “wooing” of government procurement officers used to be “conducted mainly in private.” But as the advertising has become more widespread, many Washington-area residents are utterly confused by cryptic ads plastered across metro cars and local buses.

The ads talk in governmentese, using “mysterious acronyms” the WSJ says gives “the ads the flavor of coded Cold War era shortwave radio broadcasts: ISR, F136, IPV6 and ICD-10.” And it seems the more obscure the ad the better. Take one for instance, that simply reads: “THOSE WITH A NEED TO KNOW, KNOW.”

But it may be that these enigmatic ads are a bit too unintelligible: even procurement officers claim they often can’t understand them.

According to the article, Northrop Grumman ran an ad in a metro stop picturing a “bombed-out city neighborhood,” followed with the text, ‘By the time you’ve identified the threat, we’ve already taken it out of the picture.’ In the lower, right-hand corner, a single clue: ISR.”

A lengthy online conversation ensued in which viewers revealed they “still don’t even get what they mean.”

Read the full article here.


Digital Practices Public Affairs Services

Simon Says…Regulate the Internet

When the Federal Communications Commission issued its new “network neutrality” regulations last month, most of us were thinking about how this new layer of government was going to affect Internet freedom here in the United States. Most telecomm policy experts were not, however, talking about how other countries around the world might follow in our footsteps.

Bartlett Cleland, Director of the Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation wrote this week about how countries like Venezuela are reassured by the FCC’s recent regulations, which they can now use to justify greater controls over their own communications systems.

Just days before the FCC made its ruling, the Venezuelan Parliament changed its laws in order to give President Hugo Chavez the power to regulate Internet content by implementing heavy regulations on Venezuelan-based service providers.  Specifically the country’s ISPs are now required to block broad categories of material that, for instance, “fosters unrest among the citizenship or disturb[s] public order,” and “refuses to recognize the government’s authority.”

In other words, the Venezuelan government has found a way of regulating all content. As Cleland concludes, “Venezuela needed little provocation for its continued oppression, especially from the U.S.” Nevertheless, Chavez can relax “knowing that the U.S. has joined Venezuela in the company of governments who regulate the Internet.”

Public Affairs

Protecting the Purity of the Vermont Maple Brand

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

That’s the adage that always comes to mind when I pass the syrup impersonators at the grocery store. I suppose it’s because when I first got married, I made the mistake of bringing home Aunt Jemima syrup from the grocery store instead of real maple syrup. My husband was aghast – in part, because I had spent four years at a college in Vermont.

In seven years of marriage, I haven’t repeated that mistake, and I’ve become a bit of Vermont maple syrup snob.  That’s why I can sympathize with regulators at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, whose job it is to protect the “maple” brand.

Fast food giant McDonald’s recently released a new breakfast option – fruit and maple oatmeal – and as a result have found themselves in a bit of a sticky situation. While they describe the oatmeal as “sweet harmony,” the new product hasn’t gone over so well with Henry Marckres, consumer protection section chief of the VAA.

According to Marckres, “We have a set of laws and regulations, and in maple law, it has to come from the sap of the maple tree or syrup.” The problem? McDonald’s advertises its new food as containing “natural maple flavor;” yet, there is nothing truly maple in the oatmeal, making it illegal to use the phrase in Vermont.

Kelly Loftus, the public information officer at the Vermont agriculture agency is concerned with making it clear to the public that McDonald’s is not using Vermont maple syrup in its oatmeal, and the state claims it’s their goal to work with McDonalds to meet all regulations.

Anyone who has worked on a branding campaign before can tell you, a single word can forever define a product: Xerox, Kleenex, Coke.  So it’s hard to know if this is a struggle to protect the purity of maple or the next step in the war against fast food.

Practices Services

In Memoriam: Alfred Kahn

On December 27th, at the age of 93, famed economist, Yale professor, and former government official Alfred Kahn passed away in Ithaca, New York.

While Kahn spent more than 60 years teaching economics at Cornell University, he will probably be best remembered for his years during President Carter’s administration, when he served as chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board and presided over the deregulation of the airline industry. His work was monumental, setting the stage for the era of deregulation during the Reagan years. In one fell swoop, Kahn helped dismantle a heavily regulated industry, allowing airlines to determine both where they could fly and how much they could charge. Read

Public Affairs

Lowering the Volume

Amidst all the noise over the current tax deal between the White House and Congressional Republicans, it was easy to miss a slightly quieter piece of legislation that Congress passed last week.  The CALM Act – the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act – will now mandate lower volumes for television commercials.

Apparently, in addition to the nation’s near-10 percent unemployment, Americans are really angry about loud TV commercials. To be fair, many of those annoying ads do transmit at much higher volumes than the shows they interrupt – in some cases as much as twice the volume.

It’s been well known for years that TV advertisers compete for viewers’ attention by pumping up the volume.  (A strategy that’s been less effective in the age of mute buttons and DVR technology.) That’s why it’s not surprising that the television industry has been largely supportive of the new regulations. More and more they realize they will have to communicate their message in more creative ways.

The FCC will be given a year to determine their operations and the television providers will have another year to comply with the law.

Practices Public Affairs

Slam Poetry a Communications Slam Dunk?

As I wrote about yesterday, sometimes it’s necessary to find a new way to communicate.

That’s exactly what some proponents of “net-neutrality” did at a public hearing on Tuesday night in New Mexico, co-hosted by the (Un)Free Press.

According to a report in The Hill newspaper, activists made their voices heard through verse: “And if you saw my Comcast bill you’d see, it’s as reasonable as a robbery.”  You can read more of the poetry here.

Of course, while these activists might be finding creative ways to communicate, it’s worth noting that the organization hosting the event yesterday is headed by the self-identified neo-Marxist Robert McChesney.  Despite what the protesters might believe about the debate over net-neutrality, Free Press has been working closely with the Obama administration to call for greater regulations and taxes on the Internet, which will ultimately lead to greater control of the media by the government.

Slam poetry might be a communications slam dunk, but not if it’s a losing message.

Public Affairs

More Talking Doesn’t Change Opinion

Ever feel like telling the folks on cable news shows to stop talking? Perhaps it’s because despite heated debates, guests rarely change their opinion on the issue.

New research considers how debates over controversial science move opinion and found that more talking does not create consensus.  In fact, the researchers found that the more talking, the harder it is to reach an agreement.

The primary author of the study, North Carolina State assistant professor of communication Andrew Binder, explains that there’s “almost this deterministic notion that if you build it, they will come; if you give them the information, their eyes will be open and they’ll see it for all its glory, which doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Of course, political scientists have been saying this for years.  John Zaller, the father of public opinion research, explains in his pivotal work The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinions that elite communication is the lifeblood of mass public opinion.  And public opinion moves in response to the consistency and intensity of elite messages.  So when elites are divided – whether it’s related to health care or climate change – the public follows suit based on varying levels of political awareness and values.

So now that we know that more talking doesn’t actually change opinion, what should we do?  Binder suggests reframing the issue. If repeating the same debate over and over again doesn’t achieve the desired outcome, policy experts and opinion makers need to figure out how to make old issues new again.


The Social Network is a Must-See Movie

Mark Zuckerberg is consumed with being accepted. And accepted he was: the prestigious Philips Exeter Academy, Harvard University. But despite his academic achievements, he was socially awkward – even Aspberger-like – and at times cruel. His was a personality unfit for social success.

At least that’s how writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher portray the creator of Facebook in the new movie The Social Network.  The movie is framed by two parallel lawsuits filed against Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg. And flashbacks to life at Harvard and in Silicon Valley offer both moving and cynical views of how a young college sophomore changed so rapidly and consequentially the way the world communicates. Read

Digital Services

Name Dropping: Justin Bieber

Traditional Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts usually include activities like running telephone banks, transporting voters to-and-from polling stations, and canvassing street corners. In the age of digital communications, however, all this has changed. Certainly candidates and political interest groups are using social networking sites like Facebook to help drive turnout. But now they’re using these sites in a different way.

According to a report in Politico, the best way to communicate your message is to connect it to t(w)eener heartthrob Justin Bieber.  “Just last week,” Politico reports, “rumors spread that Bieber’s fan base was so active on Twitter that the microblogging website has servers dedicated just to him.” Read