Category Archives: branding

Reputation Management and Appropriation, Lessons in Ethics from Edmond Dantès

My study of communications and public relations was taught by passionate adherents to Ivy Lee’s Declaration of Principles – that it is the ethical responsibility of a public relations practitioner to offer uncompromising truth to the public on behalf of one’s clients. Perhaps because of this, and despite working in high tech for 16 years, it should be un-surprising that I view the use of technology in the form of bots exponentially deployed during the United States 2016 presidential elections, let alone anywhere else, as abhorrent.

My various social media accounts address the complexities of my person; Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram serve as outlets for my professional existence while Pinterest and Facebook are more intimate expressions – at the intersection of these social platforms is my blog. While I have a blog I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself ‘a blogger’ (it is not a commercial venture). Yet my writing on this platform, having gone viral, has had impact – in part responsible for shifting public policy and the proposed exploitation of the pristine waters of the Adriatic in 2015/2016.  While building my own Instagram presence I admit to being thoroughly perplexed as to how (with the quality of photos and nominal content offered) fellow travel specific accounts could possibly have earned followers approaching 100,000 in less than a month. Thus, the clarity offered in reading Jess Gibson’s Dear PRs post referencing ‘bot-gate’ was genuinely appreciated, and it’s also why I take a particular delight at the failure of Instagress.

The truth has always found a way to be revealed, in our connected world discovery of appropriation, fraud or illicit behavior comes down to days, minutes or even seconds with a few keystrokes and keen intelligence. Throughout history there have been individuals whose jealousy, ruthlessness, greed and sloth have risked fortunes and reputations for (perceived) gain or retribution – Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo anyone? Just as Edmond Dantès took full advantage of his time falsely imprisoned to learn every skill imaginable in developing a faultless reputation and re-branding himself, every effort in thought leadership and in garnering a dedicated follower base, and fostering epic levels of engagement takes considerable patience, skill and acuity.

Beyond the Instagram bloggers’ ‘bot-gate’ other more widely known unveilings of deceit relate to appropriation of the resistance movement by Pepsi and State Street of New York City’s iconic bronze sculpture created by Arturo Di Modica.

The Tate Modern offers this essay on appropriation,

[…] to create a new situation, and therefore a new meaning or set of meanings, for a familiar image. Appropriation art raises questions of originality, authenticity and authorship…

All great art is subversive, a commentary manifest with physicality. Co-opting the passion found in resistance to injustice in its many forms, feminism, racism, environmental stewardship, and its related arts for commercial gain by the advertising industry has a vast history in the United States.

Fearless-girl-vs-arturo-di-modica

I don’t like what Fearless Girl ‘is’ specifically because she is contrived by Mad Men to gender-wash their clients’ bottom line. The $2.5 trillion (under management) State Street Global Advisors opted for a publicity stunt on International Women’s Day of instead of doing the long overdue ‘hard work’ of creating a work environment of equality and gender partity or proactively investing in education for girls on a global basis. For the unaware allow me to point out that advertising (in which both Pepsi and State Street engaged) is only related to public relations as it is a part of the greater communication functions in general. It seems to me if you are retained to represent the interests of a seven or eight figure client your responsibilities should include candid risk assessment to any proposal you present. Ultimately this all comes down to proactive reputation management versus putting your client in the rather costly position of damage control through crisis management.

With so much to lose why take a chance in the first place?

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and then, please do share the blog with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

 

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The Social Media (non) Crisis Management of Maison Goyard

This is a story of new (money, culture, technology) smashing into old (quiet, refined, luxury) and what happens when the latter doesn’t understand the former. Those brands whose communications teams are not savvy to the nuances of social media court disaster and entrusting the reputation management of your brand to a junior staff member without critical thinking and strategic depth in their portfolio of skills can lead to a public relations nightmare.  Equally so this about how businesses need to be agile in our always on, 24/7, 365 digital world; your five year plan demands flexibility and responsiveness to what happens on social platforms. This is the paradigm shift, social media now drives the success of your business – in real time.

I watched just an epic fail in the clash of cultures represented by the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards and the 163 year old French luxury brand Goyard. Perhaps it is their storied history, or the fact that Goyard’s own head of communications is not on Twitter, or their (perceived) niche market does not rest with the Wild West of pop music or all three in combination with their Frenchness but when, (quite literally), handed the market expansion opportunity of the century Goyard blew it.

Back Story:

It started with a scarf, le carre en français, and the globally famous hip-hop artist and entrepreneur DJ Khaled (a major social media influencer with nearly 3m followers on Twitter alone) who loves the Goyard brand (whose Twitter account is less than 10K).

Goyard doesn’t make clothes so Khaled purchased several of their logoed silk scarves and had a bespoke, one-of-a-kind jacket made to wear while he hosted the (globally televised) VMAs, you can’t buy this kind of exposure. Mind you we are talking about dropping at least four and possibly six figures on this jacket, and if you recall Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point DJ Khaled is precisely the type of person that every brand covets to maintain their relevancy with changing market segmentations and to drive their brand and in particular revenue forward.

Unprepared, Goyard’s social media account manager started receiving tweets enquiring about the jacket (and other clothing items such as caps) during the VMA.  Sadly the Goyard replies were rude and frankly insulting (amongst these claiming that the scarf jacket was a fake – now all deleted from their feed).  Despite Goyard’s various tweets (it’s the internet so these live forever), DJ Khaled takes the high road and still promotes Goyard and makes nice publicly.

The PR crisis started on social media but it is still playing out in traditional and web-based media two days later. This ‘live forever’ storyboard has redefined the brand’s reputation with publications as wide ranging as Melty Style, New York Magazine, Luxury Daily, W Magazine, HipHopDx and the #SoSoShow covering the story. Maison Goyard just learned the hard reality that Twitter’s 313 million active users serve as a powerful force to be reckoned with; ignoring their immediate enquiries or, what’s worse, insulting them they will never forget and absolutely will find somewhere else to spend their money.

Goyard has been building its brand reputation for 163 years but because they failed to keep pace with societal shifts and the use of social platforms they have undone those efforts in mere seconds.  As the creator of a luxury brand, a connoisseur of beautiful things and as a communications professional the Goyard social media fail was painful for me to witness, inexcusable and avoidable. Goyard can take a ‘lessons learned’ and revamp their business with an agility that its heritage precludes and we, as a global audience, are not witnessing and they should be talking to Commarglo about how to rise like a phoenix from this episode.

 

Le Carre Jacket.png@djkhaled bought a bunch of@goyard

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Visit @Commarglo to learn more about leveraging social media for your brand.

 

 

 

 

Sitting on the #socialmediamarketing sidelines

Every day I witness epic #fails related to the use of social media to market brands, failures to achieve increased sales, to shift perception, to communicate effectively and it is so very frustrating.

sidelines 2Right now I am sitting on the social media marketing sidelines, and to a larger extent the whole strategic planning for the brands involved. Efforts that, oh gosh I wish I was driving – and not being in the driver’s seat is giving me the same level of nausea I get whenever I am a passenger. And, mind you, this is not about my ego and or desiring to stand in the spotlight because every MarComm professional knows that our place is in the background making things happen. But still.

socrates-knowing-that-you-know-nothingOn more than one occasion in every professional communications person’s lifetime can be heard a refrain similar to ‘I’m sorry. “You don’t know what you don’t know.” I should have listened to you.’ Ultimately ‘decision makers’ who always seem to think they know best because, well, they are in charge, who undermine the expressed goals of their business strategies based solely upon ego rather than knowledge and there’s absolutely nothing to be done about it. Being right is no consolation. It doesn’t matter what the vertical is. It doesn’t matter who didn’t listen and whose advice was ignored. When the net result realises something far less than what could have been strategically planned for, and was tactically possible to deploy, the underlying reason for the shortfall is either about ego and/or competency.

spartans2

Photo credit: standard.co.uk

A short while ago London witnessed the most perfect deployment of advance marketing in my recent memory – and yes, it went viral. Funny how washboard abs on a man wearing leather briefs and gladiator sandals will attract attention, get people talking, ENGAGE with the brand. And that is the point of marketing, isn’t it?

Through a friend I heard recently that his point of contact (a marketing person) bemoaned the fact that the owner of her company held disdain for the expenditures associated with marketing and communications, he just couldn’t find value in these activities. As I listened I thought the same thing I have for 30 years, this isn’t ‘if you build it, he will come’. Today (as ever) word of mouth fostered by strategic communications is what drives revenue. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it is an activity so in-your-face that people gasp out-loud, and often times it is (rather mundane) variations on thoughtfully developed core messaging – but it is always about positioning, brand alignment, and amplification which garners engagement. Simple? Right? Ah, not so much so. Because the other critical piece of this is while a marketing and communications professional knows that they are not an engineer or a doctor for some reason other professionals all think they can “do” our jobs as well as we do.

On another note my business partner Ken Herron and I are the #IstraKT team competing in the #ShareIstria campaign being run by the Istrian Tourist Board for a €10,000 prize (and yes, bragging rights). The only analytics that actually count for us (or any of the teams) are those generated during our respective week of the contest (in our case this is the last week of the campaign starting in Rovinj, Croatia 25 – 31 July). Of course we’d be delighted for you to follow our adventures under the hashtag #IstraKT (on Twitter, Instagram, G+, Facebook, Periscope and our blogs) on Twitter we are @kenherron @teresafritschi and our new business is @commarglo. We haven’t begun to deploy the various components of our plan. For now our efforts are only pre-marketing ones. That is not so say we haven’t netted results – we have, impressive results by anyone’s standards.

The following represents ONLY engagements realised to date (not actual Tweets, not delivery to accounts, not impressions, not blog posts read, Pinterest shared, no Facebook Shares or Likes – well you get the idea) from 24 April 2015, when we entered to qualify as contestants in the ShareIstria contest, to 11AM on 11 July 2015 and were pulled from analytics.twitter.com for each of our accounts.

9815 @KenHerron
4015 @TeresaFritschi
435   @commarglo  (after years of discussing it we finally decided to make our business relationship ‘formal’ and legally incorporate on 29 June)

It should be noted I am not the metrics geek of our team, but we have earned FourteenThousandTwoHundredSixtyFive engagements under the #ShareIstria hashtag for our three accounts on Twitter in SeventyEightDays.

Remember this ‘us’ not fully deployed, this is us sitting on the social media marketing sidelines, queued and waiting for our turn to engage. Let’s assume that the conversion rate of these ka-chingengagements is 2% – meaning that eventually 285.3 people (not factoring in traveling companions) will actually visit Istria, Croatia as a result of our pre-marketing efforts. There, according to Lonely Planet, they will spend on average €316.82 per day (sorry, our messages aren’t targeting the backpacker market segment) and let’s “just” consider our time as the average visit – 7 days – thus adding (at minimum) over €633,000.00 to Istria’s tourism revenues. I feel really good about that.

In the meantime pull your own numbers. Not close to these? Challenge your social media agency or internal team to do better for you and your business and 90 days to up their results. Not happy after that? You know how to find us – @commarglo.

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and then, please do share the blog with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

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From darkness to light – lessons in living well

This is part of what my horoscope said today (thanks so Servane!): “Should your mood evolve further into dark reflections or doomsdayish daydreams, your best antidote is to step back Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Imagesand unashamedly laugh at your own melodramatic tendencies. The dark will always be here, periodically shadowing the light with its ever-impending scythe of mortal impermanence. Greet it, then: ‘Hello, there, dark. No, I haven’t forgotten you’re lurking. I just already have plans to be stupid and silly and rebelliously not-serious for this next little while. I’ll get back to you when my schedule permits. Later, dude.’”

I have to admit that even my friend Ken called me out on my “last post as being heavy” but tornado rainbowtoday we’re going to an inspiring and happy place, a place where deeds are based in fairness and personal integrity, an awe inspiring place where double rainbows come out and bird song accompanies symphonic compositions devoid of painful dissonance, and beauty clears away the dark ugliness that is draining all of us.

A year and a half ago a cross-country race was being run in Burlada, Navarre. Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was running second, some distance behind race leader Kenyan Abel Mutai – the bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics – who mistakenly pulled up 10 metres ivanfernandezshy of the finish line, presumably thinking he had already crossed. Fernández Anaya could have easily exploited Mutai’s mistake to claim victory yet he guided the latter to let him cross first. That Fernandez Anaya is 24 years old is only important in the possibilities of his examples of good conduct will offer all of us in the future. His words after the race resonate in a sportsmanship all too lacking in contemporary society: “But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.”

And so I dug around the life moment playground known as YouTube for other examples of gut wrenching, heart tugging personal integrity and humanity (shedding lots of good tears in the process) and offer you these three additional videos:
This, from the Barcelona Olympics and this one from a football (soccer) match between teams in the Ukrainian Premier League and this one, not of sports but of a boy in Oslo, Norway and ‘just like the rest of us’ Norwegians doing the right thing (and some clearly not).

We think heroism is a vague concept assigned to people with larger than life lives – that’s not respecttrue, each of us are extraordinary in our own way, and the tiniest gestures have impact – the pebble in the pond of goodness.  My friend Servane, in one of her TEDx Talks here, says something really important – something easy to remember and act within –  “Love is a political weapon.” (Whoa), and because of her words I thought of this meme that is making its rounds, of another athlete doing something political because he and his teammates see the suffering in Gaza and can make a grand gesture to draw attention to the plight ordinary Palestinians experience everyday – even as we all know that $9 Million USD is a drop of water against a desert of despair caused by Israel’s apartheid policies.

liberty

@albapro/Instagram

Fernandez Anaya mentioned the future gains for his name in the context of branding in his post race interview but in the visceral moment doing the right thing wasn’t a strategic business decision of “if I do this, I will get that” but humanity shining through brightly like a beacon of hope, of kindness, of how we wish to be treated and simply doing. It was the 4th of July in the United States yesterday – the celebration of our nation’s birth (something like the Arab Spring but 238 years ago).  The last line of the Declaration of Independence reads: “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The best that we as Americans once had to offer the world were these ideals, every man, woman and child across the human experience should be free from ignorance and self indulgence, the destruction of our world and each other from greed, anger and fear. So today, (and tomorrow and all the next days after those) no matter where you call home, no matter where you aspire to live remember that without our mutually pledging to each other our lives we should not think ourselves as living well but merely existing.  To whatever God to whom you pray may s/he watch over and keep you in the light.

If you enjoy my blog please consider “buying me a cup of tea” in your currency via livelikeadog@gmail.com through PayPal and please do share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

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About cows, milk, and the “all natural” lies told by Chobani to build brand loyalty

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog my writing about cows may seem off brand – it’s not, please stay with me

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The gentle lovely things we assume will always be such when we are children take on a different level of clarity (or denial) as adults.  If you (I, we) hold onto your childlike wonder – a good thing in many regards – there are some rude awakenings to be encountered.  I have a theory that any kind of awareness, real thoughtful and thought provoking awareness, sneaks up on you and then slaps you upside the head. And, then, YOU GET IT! (Thank you PETA advocates for all of your efforts for so many years!) 

“The only way I can pay back for what fate and society have handed me is to try, in minor totally useless ways, to make an angry sound against injustice.” ― Martha Gellhorn

containersWhen I was in 1st grade my beloved teacher Mrs Dwyer took us on a field trip to a dairy farm (well at least I only remember the cows, there might have been other animals). I distinctly recall the aqua blue and white insulated container that my mom put my favourite lunch in, leftover chicken croquettes, for the trip. And, I remember the smell of the cows, pfew-y! But what I also remember was the way that the farmer introduced us to them, each one, a name (like us) not a number on a yellow tag hanging on their ears. I had forgotten about this until recently but it’s important to our collective connection to other sentient beings and our food systems and global food security.  

milkWhilst many prefer soda pop (diet or otherwise) I am a milk drinker, never so satisfied as a tall glass with a couple of ice cubes to make it even colder to drink. I also recognise the benefit this beverage of choice has made on my bone density and my teeth (at 53 still not a single cavity or filling, nor root canals).

As a native of New York state the homegrown Chobani once had my unwavering patronage in purchasing its yogurts (particularly Blood Orange, Passion Fruit and Pomegranate flavors) – and then the dedicated and passionate folks at Whole Foods and the Sum of Us outed Chobani for using milk from cows fed GMO grain (consider signing the petition) and my heart sank, and then outrage kicked in. I used to think ‘watchdogs’ were unnecessary – naïve, I know. But greed does stupid things to some people and taking the long view of impact on our planet, our health and that of the welfare of the animals with whom we are so indebted seems irrelevant when faced with ‘untold and vast riches’.  So, a product developed to not only create jobs, positively impact local economies, promoted as being “all natural” and generally leveraging its brand in positive ways (Olympic chobanisponsorship, Shepherd’s Gift Foundation) turns out to be another big corporate lie designed to build brand loyalty!  When you reach a level of success such as Chobani there is a moral imperative to do the right thing, and in doing so legitimately earn even greater brand loyalty in the process: I don’t take Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability lightly – in for a penny, in for a pound. If Chobani were really serious about “nothing but good” and the impact on our health they would also be concerned about the sourcing of the milk used for their yogurt, and driving an industry shift back toward the healthful origins of yogurt – something founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya purports to have mirrored in the creation of Chobani (yet another lie?) This isn’t (entirely) about Chobani’s business decisions, it’s really about cows – and us.

cowI go back to my experience as a six year old, blue skies and sunlight, a split rail fence and a beautiful cow’s eyes meeting my own and snuffling my hand; how a cow should live – foraging on sweet green clover, alfalfa and hay, a salt lick nearby and a cool stream of water to drink.

On Facebook recently someone posted a video of a man in Spain and a cow – it was so beautiful it unhappy cowsmade me weep (it turns out that Santuario Gaia is an animal rescue not-for-profit).  The contrast to the cows (in the picture at right) and the cows of my childhood and the rescued cow at Santuario couldn’t be more extreme.  In Germany, Kuhrettung Rhein, a thoughtful group dedicated to rescuing cows who would be destroyed when their milk production vs the cost of maintaining life ‘forces’ a farmer to make economic decisions – if you haven’t seen their “cows out of the barn videos” you simply must!  

If we as consumers and those working in the food industry do not recognise our extreme power to foster change – why not? This is old “news” as Upton Sinclair wrote in The Jungle:

“Into this wild-beast tangle these men had been born without their consent, they had taken part in it because they could not help it; that they were in jail was no disgrace to them, for the game had never been fair, the dice were loaded. They were swindlers and thieves of pennies and dimes, and they had been trapped and put out of the way by the swindlers and thieves of millions of dollars.” 

We must be the change we want to see, each of us must “make an angry sound against injustice”.  If we desire sustainable practices then we must vote with our wallets and yes, make hard choices (at least for now) to purchase products that are more expensive yet GMO free, that can be documented as being free of cancer causing recombinant bovine growth hormone, aka (rBGH) whose words of “all natural” and “organic” means just that and aren’t simply slick taglines developed to foster brand loyalty. To which end Chobani will never again find its yummy flavours in my shopping cart, Stonyfield’s will be getting my yogurt business once more (Whole Milk French Vanilla) and my milk drinking business (yes, I am hemorrhaging at the price of a 1/2 gallon) is going back to whole, organic and based on the ethical treatment of the cows themselves with the hope that my (drop in the bucket) changes will be met with those of others whose awareness precedes my own, and those of you who might just join us as a result of reading this post.

 

If you enjoy my blog please share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

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Nostalgic and guilty pleasures found in marshmallow Peeps, honouring Mrs. Dwyer

I am a hypocrite in my food choices for the span of time each spring that it takes me to eat one four pack of Just Born (always the yellow ones) Peeps. I succumb to this guilty pleasure to remember and honour Mrs Dwyer.

Argh, sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, and various food dyes – but I don’t care (though I wish I KNEW IF the sugar was GMO-free). 

Mrs. Dwyer was my 1st grade teacher.

Easter-time 1967, I was 6 years old and had a stabbing pain in my right side and a slight fever. Mrs. Dwyer sent me down to the nurses’ office. I remember hobbling the seemingly endless distance over the terrazzo floors, wincing with every step. Within the hour I was in carnation chairthe Emergency Room and headed for surgery to remove my appendix which they later told me had nearly ruptured. When I woke up Mrs. Dwyer had sent a bouquet of flowers – peppermint striped and white carnations, a couple of red and white paper straws bent to ‘take a sip’ all served up to resemble an ice cream soda. It was the first time (and obviously memorable) I had received flowers! I remember that they smelled like cinnamon, and to this day I can’t see red and white striped carnations without having my heart clench, getting a lump in my throat and thinking of Mrs. Dwyer. I have a chair that I reclaimed and refinished in my early twenties that I finally recognised years later was a tribute to her love – I am about to sell it after living with it since 1983 – but what is in my heart and head ties this to her and who she helped make me.

In retrospect there is no doubt in my mind that I was one of her favourites (after all the woman also came to my wedding and rushed the altar to bestow her blessings and kisses and hugs when I was pronounced a married woman at 23) but then, I was a scared little kid with a huge bloody incision laced with cat gut  who had just been soothed and affirmed as special by someone I thought (still do) extraordinary.

When I came home from the hospital three or four days later Mrs Dwyer magically appeared with an enormous (to me, at the time) Easter basket and amidst the floss grass were speckled eggs, jelly beans, a chocolate bunny and PEEPS!  I am pretty sure she had taken the Peeps out of their cello wrapper because I remember their being just a littlemarshmallow_peeps crunchy on the outside. The yellow sugar coating and the evaporating moisture of the gooey middle forming a crust. It is still the only way I can eat them – poke a hole in the package wait 24 hours and devour! Each one makes me 6 again and knowing fully and completely that someone (outside of my family) loved me. I was (and still am) the single yellow Peep in the sea of pink, purple and blue Peeps, utterly unique and special because Mrs. Dwyer made me so!

Our childhoods are filled with such sweet pleasures that we rarely recognise for just how special they are at the time (or later) and whilst I don’t live in the past, sometimes these extraordinary moments appear like a rainbow with all the associate blessings and I am so very grateful.

Recently another iconic brand of my childhood has been making quite a bit of social media noise for its “Wholesome” ad campaign launched a month ago (today). Honey Maid Snacks produces the ubiquitous graham cracker used for S’Mores and cheesecake crusts (like my Aunt Wanda Novak made) and made so famous (for a certain generation of us) by Bill Cosby in his routine on Kindergarten (timestamp 2:00). And, like many of the nearly 6 million people who have watched the commercial on YouTube and witnessed the ‘haters’ response to it, I applauded and cheered (and yes, Tweeted) when their response to the ugliness of a (very loud) but narrow minded minority hit the circuit about a week ago – entitled LOVE. But to the two artists whose efforts turned all the comments on the Wholesome ad into art – a special shout out. I noticed that the ugly comments you rolled inward, while the beautiful responses you rolled outward, yeah, I noticed. Love, should always be radiated outward and (though it pains me) let the ugliness destroy itself in its own shadows. We are one, and your art united all of our hearts – thank you.

smeepssmores

 

 

 

bunny smore

 

sugar mountain

 

 

I know it seems like I got off track from Mrs. Dwyer and Peeps – I have not, I assure you. Because while I have been thinking about graham crackers and Peeps, and the joys of childhood and nostalgic longings for what ‘was simpler’ I found a S’Mores recipe – made with Peeps! Coined S’meeps! And I thought OMG that is SO COOL – so I Tweeted that out as well!  Now, a tower of smushed, melty chocolate and Peeps is a far cry from Bill Cosby’s Kindergarten but truly, emotionally anyway, as intrinsically innocent and perfect as my long ago Easter basket.

peepssmores2

No Peeps or Bunnies were harmed in the writing of this blog post!

I wish you beauty in everything that touches your life, and hope that today (and every day) you will find a way to bring some memorable sweetness to your own and someone’s life who least expects such. Go forth and Peep!

Sending you love in Heaven Mrs. Dwyer, and an enormous heart filled with gratitude.

 

If you enjoy my blog please share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my print or ebook from Amazon, please click on the cover art of my book, ebook also available through Barnes & Noble and Lulu, thank you! 

 

Currency and banking innovation – Bitcoin, microfinance, plastics – inspiration in a tea tin

Earlier this afternoon I was making myself a cup of tea and pulled out the sweet remnant of a DSCN9898birthday gift, the empty tea tin of something wonderful and fruity that my girlfriend Jennifer had bought for me, for a couple of Sugar in the Raw packets and found $20 I had stashed in there at some (unremembered) point in the past. This seemingly mundane discovery reminded me of the recent mother lodes of gold coins found in CaliforniaIsrael and those of the Staffordshire – buried treasures of the American Gold Rush as well as Iron and gold coinsMiddle Age era ‘safety deposit boxes’.  What we trust, insofar as currency for transactions, has certainly evolved over the course of human history.

The creation of new currencies, or protecting assets and still making them available to their owners, most notably rests with The Knights Templar.  Their efficient network and managed holdings ultimately created such wealth, and jealousy and covetousness as to foster the political intrigue between Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V resulting in their condemnation, and destruction to allow the ‘legitimate’ confiscation said assets. Our modern banking system might have been modelled on The Templars but 1000 years on, it’s time for innovation and to cast off the shackles (and fees, and bloated salaries) that come with what has become conventional and its resulting hotbed of resentment.

A brilliant, passionate man I met, (virtually within the dynamic social entrepreneurial world of which I am part), Shaun Frankson works for The Plastic Bank (title: The Dot Connector). The truth is I promised Shaun months ago (sorry for the delay!!) I would write about their ground-breaking efforts in monetizing Ocean Bound Plastic waste, in fact The Plastic Bank is the only organization on a global basis to do such, (please also sign their petition) Buried Treasure.  What’s so impressive to me is how their efforts aim to solve catastrophic environmental issues simultaneously with raising up the world’s disadvantaged populations by collecting and trading in plastic waste as a currency – hidden treasure indeed. The Plastic Bank has had some recent successes worth mentioning as synopsised in this post to Shaun’s Facebook wall on 25 February (but not yet found in Google’s news feed): “2 countries, 3 cities, 8 meetings, 8 flights, 1 historic train trip, and 20,000 ton of social plastic… Mission accomplished.” What did that net? The Plastic Bank is now only months away from making plastic waste a bona fide currency in Latin America during Q2 2014!

While I am on the subject of “plastic currency” I can only hope that all this innovative thinking leads to a deal with Innovia Security. The Bank of England just announced it will spend 1 billion Gbps bank-notes($1.67 billion USD) over the next decade on materials and printing of its new banknotes and the integration of Ocean Bound Waste (OBW is intercepted rather than reclaimed from the oceans’ various gyres, let’s hope that it is in the future) as the raw material used to create the polymer substrate in printing currencies, currently in 23 countries, would have incalculable positive impact in the eradication of poverty as well as the mitigation of environmental pollution; two very different types of currencies each servicing its unique population.

While innovators are realigning our core values and responsibility to the planet (and hat’s off for the positive start but) San Francisco is currently only concerned with single serve plastic bottles of water yet hasn’t banned any other beverages (maybe the beverage industry successfully blocked the inclusion of soda and juice and milk – again?). Redemption monies from bottle bill legislation serve as a currency of sorts for the urban impoverished across America and Canada, still all plastic bottles and containers have not earned the distinction of 5cents (or 10cents) per to ensure recycling.  Why? (More on that particular rant in the future, I promise.)

pilgrim map

Matthew Paris, maps from the Historia Anglorum and Chronica Maiora, St Albans, c. 1250.
Route-Map to the Holy Land
The St Albans monk Matthew Paris (died 1259) never made the journey to the Holy Land. He did however draw a fascinating map of the pilgrimage route from England to Jerusalem. The route begins in London and progresses from the bottom to the top of each page. The final destination is the Holy Land depicted on two leaves.

I have been dealing with things tangible, that any one of us can hold in our hand, from grocery bags and plastic containers, to currency made from the same polymers – what about the intangibles? When Medieval pilgrims to the Holy Land first put their trust in The Knights Templar to ease the stress over carrying the funds necessary to make such a journey and for protection it was with the blessing of the Pope in Rome, faith notwithstanding trust was implicit and quite literally sacred.  There wasn’t profit involved as usury was considered a sin:

 …though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase (Leviticus 25:35-37).

So monies were deposited with the Good Knights and the same monies were returned (using those funds in the meantime to offer loans at interest to sovereigns who overspent was something else).

The Greater San Francisco Bay area has been host to technological innovation since 1939, anyone using a computer should know the story of William Hewlett and David Packard, but no one REALLY KNOWS exactly who is behind the brilliant currency innovation known as gold bitcoinBitcoin. While Bitcoin’s buried treasure is worth about the same amount as the gold coins in the buried Californian tincan should the $9m USD in value harddrive be found in a hundred years’ time will the digital code supporting it still exist? Because while any innovation in currency deals with hiccups (and thefts and counterfeiting) as well as the means to protect those assets we are moving forward so fast and away from traditional, and even digital currencies, that it’s hard to grasp how humankind will ultimately conduct its transactions in even five years time.

In the meantime, in global terms, there are 4 billion people who live on less than $2.50 USD per day – surely the contemporary equivalent of Medieval pilgrims to the Holy Land where innovation and trust platforms are critical.  Clearly the likes of JP Morgan (net income for the fourth quarter of 2013 of $5.3 billion) are not going to service those earning such insignificant amounts (even as their greenwashing efforts for WaterAid ease the conscience (?) of those top 100 London based JP Morgan top earners gaining average of £2m each in 2012 and Goldman Sachs disclosed its high flyers received £2.7m on average). Smart people have been tinkering around with servicing this underserved population for a couple of years with crowdfunding on low cost smart phones, but even policy wonks disagree is microfinance designed to raise people out of poverty or provide equal access to financial services? Why do they have to be mutually exclusive? And even experts agree that the success of Grameen Bank and its microfinancing model is 20 years old and ready for the next round of disruptions (or innovations). Forbes magazine (back in 2007) indicated that there were more than 12,000 microfinance institutions operating across the globe, 900 are currently registered with the Nigerian Central Bank alone.  

Let me expand on the nominal introduction previously offered of Oradian.com because as I see it what they are doing is critical to the successful disruption of microfinance and could provide the bridge to both lift people out of poverty and provide financial services in due course.  They are not an NGO, they are technology geeks – four CIOs actually – with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model which has two distinct client bases, the institutions providing microfinance services and the end customer whose transaction is being processed; in other words they are “development tech” and very much like the actual Knights Templar both interfacing with the pilgrims as well as holding the assets (albeit very temporarily) on their trust platform – well over 100,000 transactions to date spread amongst their (current) three customers, not bad for a company that didn’t exist before June 2012.  A two year contract with Development Exchange Centre (DEC) in Nigeria provides Oradian credibility, income and expansion of their client base much the way that Templar founders Godfrey of Bouillon and Hugues de Payens were able to grow in a mere nine years to having expansive holdings all over Europe and the Levant.  We still are impacted by their decision to provide, protect and disrupt the status quo of the 12th century, and today four billion people stand to benefit from the disruptive efforts of The Plastic Bank and Oradian.

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