The Teddy Bear


(published originally in Vanguard Communications’ InSites Blog)

“I love you, baby girl.”

It’s a refrain in the new Duracell battery ad, a weeper that shows how one little girl deals with her daddy’s deployment and how a battery-operated teddy bear with her father’s voice is a source both of hope and of despair, when it reminds her of, but doesn’t quite replace, her far-away father.

The ad isn’t the brainchild of some executives sitting in a room. Duracell executives told Mashable that they were in a family’s home and asked to see the children’s favorite toys. Out came a bear similar to the one in the ad, and out came the story, re-enacted by actors in the commercial.

There are many heart-wrenching ads, especially around any holiday, but this July 4 ad rings especially true — because it is. And, the red-white-and-blue cherry on top is that Duracell is donating $100,000 to the USO’s Comfort Crew for Military Kids, which helps children deal with family deployment.

Communication based on truth followed by a real investment in an issue. It’s a terrific recipe for the most effective kind of communication.

Pointless Protest


Dear Reader, I hope you will not boycott my blog after reading this.

 Because, I shamelessly watched the Olympics. Despite an impassioned segment from Keith Olbermann about the horrific dog killing in Sochi. Despite Russian politicians’ ignorant and insulting statements about homosexuality. And despite Putin’s years of human rights violations.

 I watched because, despite all the calls to boycott the Olympics by my enlightened friends and colleagues…what good would it do?

 Take it to its logical conclusion.

 Okay, NBC gets low ratings for the Olympics. So maybe they decide that covering the Olympics is a losing proposition if they can’t promise advertisers the viewers. And then, sponsors for the athletes have to give a second thought to those sponsorships because, if their good deeds aren’t going to get national visibility on a broadcast network, is it really worth it to sponsor an athlete? And the athletes, shorn of sponsors, will they be able to afford Olympic competition? How does any of this lead to the Olympic Committee putting the next Olympic site candidates through a basic decency checklist before awarding the Olympic venue?

 Likewise, I have yet to share a Facebook status or pass along a chain email. Does cancer care if I dedicate my status to saying in some creative way that cancer sucks? If I post a red equal sign to show my support of marriage equality, will the Supreme Court justices take note and change their vote? I’m pretty sure they’ve taken no notice of any of my statuses, otherwise the legal penalties for child or animal abuse would be a whole lot more creative and painful.

 If I tell you my bra color, or make my profile picture purple, how much money will go to a cause I believe in? Chevrolet pledges a dollar to fight cancer for every purple photo. But I write checks for more than a dollar, so wouldn’t I be better off just writing a check or volunteering?

 Don’t get me wrong. I think boycotts and protests can bring about great social change. But they have to be done strategically. If we all just hop on the latest easy, fun social wave because it makes us feel good about ourselves without actually ensuring that our mobilization results in change, isn’t our protest pointless? 



Not Quite Kosher


It’s time to confess. There is a slight possibility that I may have sent a woman straight to hell. It wasn’t malice, it was ignorance. But, I worried for years that she was going to hell nonetheless. At the very least, I had blocked the spiritual potential of her soul, according to one article.

As a professional communicator, I know that the most effective writing or training acknowledges the audience’s culture and beliefs.

But I stumbled across the importance of cultural competence long before that.

I was in college, working in a small restaurant near the entrance to Milwaukee’s only mall. A couple of older women came in, taking forever to settle into the small booth and arrange their shopping bags around them. They would be my last customers of the shift and I wanted to get started on their order quickly.

“What’ll you have?” I asked almost before they could study the menus.

The slightly older woman, the one with dark curly hair, said she was interested in our corned beef sandwich.

“Is it kosher?” she asked.

Now, you have to understand, I went to Catholic junior high, Catholic high school, and I was attending a Jesuit University. I didn’t really know any Jewish people; my only experience with them was with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, or the Fiddler on the Roof.

But I had heard the word, “kosher,” of course. When something wasn’t quite right, wasn’t quite “on the up and up,” people said it wasn’t quite kosher. So I assumed she was asking whether our kitchen was clean, or whether the corned beef was really corned beef. And, again, I was in a hurry.

“Of course,” I replied. “Do you want cheese with that?”

Looking a bit startled, the woman declined and pursued, “You’re sure it’s kosher?”

Longing to be done with this order, I assured her that indeed it was.

And then I went back into the kitchen and sliced the corned beef on the big stainless steel slicer where we sliced corned beef, ham, turkey, cheese, pretty much anything that needed to be thinly sliced.

Then I brought the woman her sandwich.  And maybe, sent her to hell. Or, at least, spiritual blockage.