Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Art of Politics as Usual

Today's Washington Post headline called the poster "Political" -- with the quotation marks, as if to suggest it was something else. How could it not be political? The writer has a problem with the depiction of Obama made up to (presumably) look like the Joker from Batman. The article goes on with a long discussion about the poster and its intent. It obviously struck a nerve.

It always fascinates me when an icon emerges in the public spotlight that gets the kind of attention with the speed that this piece has. The poster apparently started appearing in Los Angeles within the last week, and has quickly become another lighting rod in the debate about Obama, public policy and race.

After 9/11, heaven help anyone who spoke out against the war. The Bush administration had a "you're either with us or against us" agenda. Anyone who did was labelled anti-American. Think Dixie Chicks. Are we at a similar place now -- where every lampoon and criticism of the President is off limits, only this time scrutinized for racial overtones? Can we get past this please?

Poster artists have been combining metaphors forever. And presidents have been portrayed as everything from Hitler to one of the three stooges. Is the joker poster political? Of course it is. Is it racist? Depends on what lens you view it through. Couldn't it be as simple as one artist's opinion (like it or not) that Obama is a socialist clown? No more, no less?

The big loser here is the designer, who apparently anonymously released a piece destined to become another icon into the public domain without credit or copyright. My guess is that he's an Obama supporter who just happened on an image too compelling not to publish.

Copyright 2009, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Can a Low Profile be Good for Business?

The house that I live in was designed and built over 100 years ago. As was the norm in those days, the builder took great care with details, craftsmanship and materials. Whenever I do work on it, or have work done, my goal is first to maintain and restore rather than replace and renovate. Though it's mostly brick, it has a lot of trim and porches constructed of the wood available at the turn of the century. It's always amazed me that 90% of it is original and has remained intact. The other ten percent has been an ongoing source of annoyance and expense. I have had a number of exposed portions of the steps, railings and porch decking replaced at different points.

Unfortunately, my limited knowledge of wood and its resilience to weather has left me with having to redo some of the same repairs. Over the last week, I've been discussing with Jim, a longtime carpenter who can build anything I can draw, options for replacement materials. I want to be true to the architecture of the house, but also don't want to have to make the same repairs a third time. I've been able to do research, but finding a knowledgeable supplier has been a bigger challenge. Stay with me, there is a communications message here.

So of course I was pleased to see a profile in the local paper of a man who runs a hardwoods company talking about the best woods for old houses -- in Alexandria. Great, I'll call him and get a recommendation, buy the material from them and be all set for the next century. I Googled the company name. Nothing. If something is on the web, I am usually pretty good at finding it. I could find nothing on this company. It's astonishing that someone could be in business for any length of time and manage to NOT be on the web. Anywhere. Talk about keeping a low profile.

This left me did the article get written about this company? Was it a fluke discovery by a reporter, or a PR pitch? If it was the latter, they really missed the boat. The value of the company's earned media was completely erased by its web invisibility. Pretty astounding in 2009. I wonder how you could even do that if you tried.

In thinking about it, maybe that works for the hardwoods guy. Maybe in some cases, there might actually be an advantage to staying off the web. And that could be an opportunity for an "anti-PR" firm. Which sounds like really hard work. Which makes what we do almost seem easy.

Copyright 2009, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Quality over Quantity

Click and Send. That's apparently the extent of the effort required to apply for a job through the mega employment websites. When we used them (in the past), it amazed me how many resumes they generated so quickly. But it was truly quantity over quality. Most were below average, bland, or just bad.

This process makes it virtually effortless for anyone to shoot their resume off to fend for itself, sans cover letter, to companies they know little or nothing about because they hadn't spent the five minutes it would take to do a little background research. When I read stories about people who send out 400 resumes in a month, it makes me wonder how much they could say about any of the companies to which they applied. And if they even care.

That's why it's a breath of fresh air to get something from someone who does the opposite, and does it well. Kimberly Durant, a recent graduate of the design program at RIT did everything right to set herself apart. She sent a custom made package in the form of a mini Chinese takeout box containing her resume, letter and work samples, all rolled into little scrolls tied with ribbons inside the box.

When anyone can blast off an email, old fashioned "snail mail" still stands out. Kimberly took it even a step further and sent it in a carrier box via Fedex. Her cover letter referenced favorite examples of our work as posted on our website. Not hard to find. But few people take the time. By describing this in her letter, she showed a genuine interest in what we do, and related it to her experience and how she could help us.

Not surprisingly, she followed up by phone and email. Kimberly's effort demonstrated initiative, research, skill and craft. That's way more than most people do with a portfolio in an in-person interview. And That's impossible by "click and send."

Copyright 2009, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Creative Thinking: The Way Out

I suck at math. Always have. I always thought it was the way my mind was wired, and that is true to a degree. But that notion changed for me a couple of years ago when I was at my son's middle school for a "back to school night." It was one of those events where the parents go from classroom to classroom and hear about what their kids will be doing in each. The math teacher was a man on his second career (teaching), and he was very enthusiastic about it. He did a demonstration about how he taught math concepts in different ways. One was with a beaker full of liquid in a discussion about volume. He explained how he used props to demonstrate the math concepts he was talking about. That's when it clicked for me. He was using a visual to demonstrate an abstract. In ten seconds he made me understand what a seventh grade tutors threw up their hands over. I got it. It was a creative approach, and it worked. He had turned the abstract into something immediately tangible.

People tend to look at things "the way it's always been done." That's because this approach works most of the time. But when things, like banks and car companies fail, the usual thinking doesn't work. That's when people need to look at things in different ways.

The country didn't get out of the Great Depression, or any of the eleven recessions since by doing business as usual. Not to suggest we're in a depression or anything close, but what we really need as a nation is some good creative thinking. The way you solve new problems is by looking at them from different sides. And that's probably not the way your math teacher did it.

Copyright 2009, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.

Monday, May 11, 2009

People of Color.

"Is the website color I see on my screen what it will really look like? Will it match our letterhead? Will it look the same when we print on our printer." These are typical client questions that come up over and over as we work through corporate identity programs. The answer to all of them is: "it depends." Chances are, the biggest exposure to your brand will be online. That means the screen is the new standard. Simple. Except that everyone isn't looking at the same the same screen.

Once upon a time (just a few years ago), printing set the standard for color. Designers focused on selecting colors, picking ink swatches and seeing the work through production (making sure the colors are specified correctly and printed accurately, ect). They still do that. The big difference now is that most work is viewed on screen and never printed. And when it is printed, it's likely to be on an office laser or desk top printer.

Combine the fact that every monitor and every printer are calibrated differently (if at all) with multiple print technologies and you have an identity nightmare. We know color critical to an identity, and branding, so what's the solution? There easy is: "it depends." Imagine that a company uses orange and blue for its identity. Just pick two ink colors and be done with it right? Not so easy. Suppose the orange is so bright that simulating it in four color process ink (or color laser toner), makes it appear muted and dull? Suppose the orange appears washed out on screen? This is where a good design input is like gold. The best approach may be to create custom color formulas, one for printing in process color on coated paper and possibly another for printing on uncoated paper (which cuts down on brightness)...and another for on screen viewing for PCs and PDAs. It's all balancing act -- the color needs to be adjusted, but it also needs to look like the brand.

It's important is for brand stewards (marketing, PR and communications people) to pay close attention to color -- and be involved in the details and decisions as adjustments are made. This requires input from their audiences, designers, technical people and vendors. The best legacy can be left by establishing and documenting graphic standards that will live on as people come and go.

Copyright 2009, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Friend me. Link me. Poke me. Tweet me.

Social networking is a buzzword for 2009. It seems like everyone marketing and communications is scrambling to get a handle on how to harness the media that is part of what's being called "web 2.0" I read a statistic that Facebook was getting 160,000 new users a day in December. This could explain the surge in contacts I've seen in recent months. Pretty impressive. I predict Facebook will eclipse myspace, and its "grown ups rival" LinkedIn. It also has the potential to overtake Twitter.

Social network marketing isn't just about FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. It's about making connections and being in the place where customers, fans, and friends already are. The social networking websites just provide the tools. For business, this means that a sound web strategy as part of a bigger plan is more important than ever. These new tools present big opportunities with new ways to think about how we connect.

Twitter is one of the most intriguing, though when I first heard about it, I thought it seemed really silly. Twitter is like a blog that limits posts to 140 characters at a time. People "tweet" all sorts of things. Some useful, some not so much. With Twitter, you have to choose your words very carefully, not only to fit the character limit, but to do so without loosing the clarity of your message. A Twitter post I made in favor of President Obama's comments on how Washingtonians handle snow was misread as sarcasm when I included "this guy is off to a great start". I am the last person to avoid sarcasm, but in 140 characters, you can't afford to clarify your statements. I got some negative replies, one asking "if I was better equipped."

Some people are making outstanding use of Twitter's ability to blast out bursts of information to big lists of "followers." Washington area traffic reporter Angie Goff
( provides real value with up-to-the-minute updates on road traffic throughout the region. Combine this with feeds to your cellphone, and you have a killer app that's even better than traffic radio because it's in your hands when you need it. Early adopter Shonali Burke ( was actually able to beat some of the "real" media with reports and "retweats" of the Mumbai massacre through her network of "tweeters" in India. And Comcast has woven Twitter into its customer service program where they monitor the "twatter" ready to diffuse problems before they get bigger.

For me, it's fun to watch as it all evolves so quickly. It's even more fun because you can participate. Follow me:

Copyright 2008, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.