Category Archives: business communications

Caveat Emptor – Social Media Influence, the Frye Fest and Reputation Management

This is not an echo of these words of P. T. Barnum – “As a general thing, I have not ‘duped thePT-barnum world’ nor attempted to do so… I have generally given people the worth of their money twice told.”, but rather these “Every crowd has a silver lining.”

Every generation has a Bernie Madoff, a Kenneth Lay, a Donald Trump who beguile the seekers of vast wealth, inclusion, distraction or any combination thereof to part with their money.

For Millennials, at least for this end of April 2017 weekend, it seems that person is Ja Rule, née Jeffrey Atkins, rapper, and creator of Bahamian Ponzi Scheme also known as the Frye Music Festival*** 2 May update – Federal Trade Commission violations cited and lawsuit filed.

Like so many before him Ja Rule was successful in his scam (or “not a scam” as he claims) for two reasons, he understood the raw vulnerability of the masses (even privileged ones willing to spend upwards of $250,000) and created a compelling campaign leveraging LOTS of young beautiful women (gaining more than 800k views) whose only claim to fame is to have built very successful personal brands making them social media influencers as a means of monetizing that vulnerability for personal gain.

frye

The influencers (I think the term shills is more appropriate) among them Kendall Jenner (nearly 22m Twitter followers),  Bella Hadid (more than 750k Twitter followers), Em Rata (more than 1m Twitter followers) made out like bandits with paychecks reported to being $250,000 to stand around, or lounge in bathing suits adorning the eye with a promise of ‘come play with me’. Using Instagram they promoted, and promoted, and promoted and in doing so the money poured in. Sex, as ever, sells.

Kendall Jenner made 250K off of promoting #fryefest ,

Yesterday, April 28th, Ja Rule (allegedly) tweeted and someone posted a screen grab to Instagram that the Frye Festival was all a big ‘social experiment’ to test the mettle of participants in a Hunger Games like scenario of adversity. (Some of the related posts include drinking their own urine to survive.)

#fryefestival • Instagram

Time will tell how short the memory of the public is, and whether by association these women have negatively impacted their credibility and their future earnings, and whether Ja Rule will be the subject of both a Class Action lawsuit and criminal charges for fraud.

This goes back to my last post, less than a week old, about ethics and reputation management. The nature of social media is that everything good or bad plays out in real-time. In our Wild, Wild West of social platforms there is broader issue for Twitter and Instagram and Facebook to consider – if ‘sponsored content’ results in an abuse of the public trust by hosting the influence peddling content are you complicit?, and if so, are you culpable?, should you distance your business further from such content and somehow shift the juncture of revenue generation? If a post subsequently results in bullying, terrorism, human trafficking, stalking, domestic violence, fraud, wrongful death, or murder have your policies enabled such to take place? Will any of these potential tragic events subsequently amplified to audiences approaching 600 million people globally result in lawsuits for ‘pain and suffering’? Corporate communications professionals should be involved in risk assessment, and not simply for the sake of reputation management or avoiding crisis management. I hope that this weekend legal, executive and communications teams at various social companies are meeting to develop (or expand) policies and legal protections.

The public clamors for social influencers to more carefully examine their choices of endorsement deals, a fairy tale ending which will never happen. It is the idolization of the rich and infamous which brought these individuals to Exuma and they need to take personal responsibility for their choices.

In closing, Caveat Emptor

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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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! 

 

(Just) 10 reasons your brand can no longer “opt-out” of social media

social-media

Image sourced from http://www.http:ownernation.us by VistaPrint

  1. The long lead times of traditional corporate communications and marketing no longer work in our always-on dynamic world. Real-time conversation now fuels new and existing B2C and B2B customers.
  2. An active, brand-relevant online presence enables customers to trust you.
  3. “Marketing today is not about what a company says about itself. It’s about what its customers say about the company” – and customers are now saying this on social media.
  4. Customer service is now social. Happy customers become brand evangelists who drive revenues. Want an example? See KLM.
  5. Your audience works, lives, and plays on their smartphones, fish where the fish are! One-fifth of leisure travellers worldwide use social platforms in their travel planning, and the hospitality vertical realises an average of an 11% conversion rate. The Economist made a studied investment last year in social media, and enjoyed a 31% increase in its subscription rate year-over-year.
  6. Social media as an SEO ranking signal is increasing in importance. 93% of online experiences begin through a search engine and SEO-based inbound leads (generated from online management) have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7% close rate.
  7. Use social media to educate about new properties, rebranding efforts, and renovations and in doing so, hotels are selling out months before re-opening.
  8. Content marketing and executive branding objectives offered through social media establish thought leadership in months rather than the years required by traditional public relations efforts.
  9. Brand storytelling is now a necessity, not a luxury. Social media presence boosts brand recognition, marketing, and recruiting, while creating a richer customer experience. Treating employees as valued stakeholders aids in retention, cuts down on hiring and training costs and also creates a huge pool of brand ambassadors.
  10. If 90 year-old Queen Elizabeth II recognises the value of proactively managing her online reputation why haven’t you? Every CEO needs to get serious about the management of their professional reputation and that of their company to ensure that s/he controls the content. Managing your reputation online is a critical part of any integrated global marketing strategy and social media provides you with a fast, effective way to do this.

 

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

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.

 

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Comms 101: You won’t hear the message, if you don’t respect the messenger – Earth Day

Anyone around teenagers for 20 minutes will recognise that nothing creates a impenetrable wall of resistance faster than talking down (or worse, raising your voice) to a person – and yet authorityso much of the most critical information we need to make informed decisions is mired in incomprehensible rhetoric, charged with alarmist emotions, divided along preconceived ideals or coming from a talking head.  For all of our sakes we need to stop, now.

In the business world the sole function of marketing and communications is about getting the message ‘right’ and having it resound with its targeted audience to bring about action on their part and yet, the peril of the Earth, something critically important to each of you reading this and all the oceans and animals and plants and insects and birds, hasn’t garnered the kind of action so needed.  A WHOLE BUNCH of reasons exist for this, let’s start with greed and end with indifference, and the hundreds of variables to be found in between. But there are two basic components which serve to explain our (very nearly) collective lack of actions: the first is that the audience must identify that the messenger is ‘like me’ but be regarded as a respected authority and the second is pope-francis-selfiesthe inability of ‘real smart people’ to craft their stories (and yes, they are all stories even when non-fiction) and cut through the noise to create resonance.

First example, I don’t believe that there is a credibility issue with those represented on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (more likely an awareness or priority issue) which just concluded its Fifth Assessment Report – it isn’t happy news (the press release is also available Arabic, Chinese, Russian, French and Spanish use navigation at the upper right side of this page). The press release is long and dry – no surprise given that the two report(s) which the press release supports had to be written to ensure multinational agreement (by all participants) and publication in a marathon 28 hour session recently held sciencein Berlin. And while NPR did a fabulous job reporting the IPCC results the uber-right believes that NPR has a left bias, thus not a ‘like me’ trusted source. And so, unless you are a policy wonk, climatologist, or eco-warrior you probably are not going to read or listen to these two outlets.

In terms of successfully conveying complex science and culture, in succinct language easily understood and embraced by large swaths of the English language speaking populations the folks at the National Geographic Society have no peers.

“The world is not ready for the impacts of climate change, including more extreme weather and the likelihood that populated parts of the planet could be rendered natgeouninhabitable, says the planet’s leading body of climate scientists in a major new UN report.”

But if you are an Evangelical Christian (roughly 13% of the 32% of the worlds’ population who identify as being Christians) you are not going to put credibility in the painstakingly researched and documented science offered by Nat Geo scientists ~ all of the climate shifts, Polar Vortex, drought, earthquakes and tsunamis are the direct result of an angry God.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks ‘the same language’ as this Christian population: “It is a responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it“. To keep it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it.”, and this should guarantee resonance, comprehension and action – will his call for a universal boycott of the companies which most severely violate our planet actually happen? Or is the dominion of money still too compelling for such sacrifice?

The use of common language spoken by a respected member of a specific community is why I was particularly interested in the way that the producers, the director and the very high profile actors and journalists have come together in Showtime’s new 9-part series entitles Years of Living Dangerously.  I watched the first episode as a result of an email from Upworthy – they thought it important to share (as I do) and went a step further by including the Grist’s exhaustive effort in coalescing the counter-attacks presented in various op-ed pieces. Striking is the genuine effort put forth to listen and to speak in languages (various core audiences) that would be UNIVERSALLY EMBRACED and understood – and I do mean natural-disasters-7650127universally! – around the most complex issues our world is facing:  food and water security, climate change, war, natural disasters and those made by man and his greed and indifference.

If I have one fear about its viewership numbers, of the seven billion people on the planet, they are based solely upon the immediate impact  of those cozy and warm as well as those already overwhelmed and trying to cope.  Yes, it’s an hour in length, and no, it is not entertaining.  Actually it’s rather exhausting and painful but the contrast to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is palpable; most of us who watched Inconvenient Truth in 2006 were already aligned with the message whereas Years of Living Dangerously the respect for differing opinions, those in denial or attributing our planet’s destruction to an angry God are given a gentle hand in guiding them toward enlightenment.  Successful communications (and marketing) doesn’t ‘talk down’ to or yell at constituent audiences and in this Years of Living Dangerously embraces the model of a trusted best friend, devoid of real or perceived bias the value proposition of this first hour (seems to me) conveys exactly what it needs to regardless of what side of the issues presented you might stand. multiracial_planet

We are one.  There will be no need for a vengeful God bringing forth the Rapture if we don’t stop screaming at one another and really begin to listen beyond our personal filters because our ignorance, apathy, and intolerance will be successful in our own undoing, destroying the fragile Earth we call home and all life as we know it. It really is time for unity and action of the most passionate and positive kind! Earth Day must be everyday.

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Greenwashing does not make your company a pillar of #CSR or sustainability! – Guest Blog for Ethical Value

ev logo Guest post for Ethical Value, co-published simultaneously

The Coca-Cola Co. ‏@CocaColaCo  “We believe investing in women is the absolute key to economic growth.” Charlotte Oades @USCCFBiz4Good #5by20. #Inspire2Act #IWD2014

cry TweetShortly thereafter came this retweet ‘love’ from a very smart man that I respect (who will remain nameless):

RT @CocaColaCo Fm producers #suppliers #distributors #retailers & recyclers we aim to empower 5M women http://CokeURL.com/l2me8  #Inspire2Act

I saw these Tweets and my stomach convulsed.  Not that empowering women is a bad thing, no, THAT IS A VERY GOOD THING, but, as Collective Evolution (and many other sources) so aptly points out:

“Coke uses “public relations propaganda” to convince consumers and entire nations that it is an “environmental company” when really it is linked to pollution, water shortages, and disease.”

‘The smart man’ I mention, in RTing this particular Tweet, seems to have bought into the green-washing of Coca-Cola courtesy of their marketing team (as do hundreds of millions of people on a global basis), and this not only stuns me because it is so contrary to “his brand” but also makes me sad and angry.  But it is this sentence, from Coca-Cola’s own website, that pushed me over the edge:

“As we move toward our 2020 Vision of doubling our business by 2020, enabling the economic empowerment of women will undoubtedly be an important contributor to our success.”

Let’s be clear, Coca-Cola’s #5X20 initiative isn’t REALLY, altruistically, about lifting women out of poverty it’s about market share, doubling their business, and in doing so, contributing to the health decline of 80% of the worlds’ populations whose average household income is less than $10 (USD) a day! Think about that for a second when the vending machine at your office is likely asking $2 for a single 20 ounce bottle of Coke! So I Tweeted:

#CSR? @CocaColaCo’s #5X20 is actually #causerelatedmarketing NOT #empowerment for #women! #LiesToldOnTwitter

coke_vs__pepsi_by_mandypandy4291-d4qhbue

Artwork by Miranda Coss

Just so we are clear this isn’t a prejudice based in a Coke versus Pepsi (or any of their respective other beverage brands) preference; I am not and have never been a big cola drinker, while I do enjoy the occasional Dr. Brown’s, Izze or Orangina I would be willing to bet that my consumption of these amounts to less than a total of ten 16 ounce servings in any given YEAR. I think you should read this about what drinking Coke and Pepsi actually do to the body, and I can only hope you start to view your habit with a little more caution toward your health (or that of your kids and grandkids.

But I digress; this post is not primarily concerned with our beverage choices but the use of public relations to obfuscate the reality of Coca-Cola (and other multinational corporations) when it comes to legitimate social responsibility practices.  By leveraging social media, optimization of search engine results with technical acumen, strategic thought  and proactive and diligent management Coca-Cola is, to a large degree, successfully controlling its message.  To underscore my point, I just did a Imagesearch on Google “Coca-Cola environmental impact” of the 3.3 million results, (Google is the most popular SE in terms of use – see graph) on the first page of results ‘above the page break’ Coca-Cola has ensured their placement in three of the top five results – Wikipedia comes in at the #2 spot and at #5 is KillerCoke.org. (According to MarketShareHitsLink.com, October 2010, 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results, which is why having a strategic communications plan that includes Web 2.0 for brand enrichment is so critical in our hyper-connected world.)

So what results are you, the consumer or a journalist doing research, going to get when a desire suddenly seizes you to learn more? Unless you are willing to dig deep – you would never discover that despite their “plant based” bottle PR campaigns that the resulting Imagebottles which both Pepsi and Coke are hyping as being eco-friendly are STILL chemically the same, absolutely identical to the polyethylene terepthalate, or PET, and high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, that regular plastic bottles are made of: these carry the same negative human health and environmental impacts as plastic made from fossil fuels. And yet the messaging makes those of you drinking the 14 (yes, fourteen different) billion (USD) brands from Pepsi   or the 108 (yes, ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT!) beverage brands from Coca-Cola with all those plastic bottles going into the environment, all those trillions of empty calories being consumed, all the resources used and subsequent negative impact on the planet – in particular water use feel a bit righteous in your consumer choice – my darlings you have absolutely no reason to!

“Drinking” water in Ghana

I am not anti-Capitalism, but I have never, ethically, been able to use my skills and passion to promote an employer or a client whose business I did not fully respect (ie, prostitute myself for a paycheck).  I recently had a conversation with the CEO and founder of a technology firm whose platform is designed to help (genuinely) lift the bottom 3 billion of humankind out of poverty – the same number who also do not have access to clean drinking water or basic sanitation, the identical target market for doubling Coca-Cola’s business by 2020 for whom it will actually be cheaper to drink a cola beverage than to drink clean water! It’s fine to make money, it’s fine to make money in emerging markets, it’s a noble and wonderful thing to give a hand-up (rather than a hand-out), but in my mind’s eye it’s NOT FINE to sugar-coat actual objectives to make them more palatable to your consuming public and distort reality.  If Coca-Cola and Pepsi and the rest of their beverage industry brethren REALLY WANT to help empower women then I suggest taking 8% of their annual profits and fund opportunities for education previously unknown to all but a few of the bottom 3 billion of our neighbours or the various efforts to provide clean water around the world, their philanthropic and CSR departments can one stop shop for worthy projects at Charity Water, Water or in this blog post from Huffington .

Corporate Social Responsibility and the companion sustainability protocols are not ’cause related marketing’ (which is what Coca-Cola’s #5X20 actually is), what CSR ‘should be’ truly is the heart and soul, conscience and character of doing the right thing within a corporate environment.

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Thou shalt not steal [Intellectual Property (IP)]

A half truth is a whole lie. ~Yiddish Proverb

Ultimately greed is what brings a society to its knees.  It might be one person or a conspiracy involving many but all the covenants with God,  regardless of religion, include the basic tenets of faith  and counsel against ‘stealing’; this is at the core of the 10 Commandments and that of thousands of years of philosophical thought leaders. To look in the mirror or into your soul and know that those nebulous grey areas that allow corruption to populate do not exist, this is integrity.

cheat

Face value – not just taking things at face value, not the value of the face staring back at your in the mirror but also the perceived value of saving face.  We, global citizens, seem to be consumed by the latter – not so much the first two of my ‘face value’ examples and that is the crux of what is going so wrong with our world.  Cheating is essentially stealing and stealing is a lie we tell ourselves to somehow justify when the inconvenient truths of our actions are pointed out to us.  The failure of admitting wrong, taking responsibility rather than casting blame or manifesting righteous indignation in response to being revealed seems to be mounting in our experiences. Who and what to believe? When to question? To intervene, expose or to simply walk away? (And if walk away, where to hide from the insidious nature of corruption?)

I am a ‘face value’ person – even if I could ‘help it’ I wouldn’t want to change.  I genuinely prefer, Marcus-Aureliusas my new Croatian friends Zeljka and Dubravko have each mentioned in their uniquely individual phraseologies, to get my fingers burned rather than to take a ‘wait and see’ attitude and assess people over time.  But, in truth, it has been happening with greater frequency of late – about once a month if I am honest.  At some level I wish to understand why my ‘depth perception’ seems to be blind to ulterior motives, nuances of (lacking) ethics, and outright criminal activity (until it slams me upside the head as it did last week).

About seven weeks ago I was asked (by someone I love and who has been a friend for a very long time) to do a favour for someone I don’t know.  It seemed a benign thing, help this third person to save some money by purchasing something in the United States and then forwarding it to them in Southeastern Europe. On the basis of the friendship of 15 years I agreed and frankly didn’t think much about it; thankfully my naïveté comes complete with an ‘intervention goddess’ because my ‘good deed’ effort was thwarted by a very sensible company policy to only ship product to their existing customers (which when I asked my friend for a name I was informed there wasn’t a name to provide).

Night Cove

Zyken Night Cove Alarm Clock

Like one of those alarm clocks with the light and sounds that gradually and gently wake you, I have just started to process that in our desperate global economic times I very nearly became a co-conspirator in the theft of Intellectual Property! It’s not a pleasant realisation.

According to the various persons with whom I have communicated via phone conversations and email exchanges (amounting to several hours of time already)  since the 8th of February if I am lucky this should be reconciled sometime between the 4th and 7th of March, it is not lost on me that all of these resulting entanglements impacting my bank account, my time and energies and (I fear) the loss of the cherished friend are serving as poignant lessons in ’cause and effect’.  It’s ironic (somehow) that I have always been quite vocal to friends who think buying fakes is okay (the whole argument spanning human rights violations to the cost of developing a branded product, marketing it and protecting it which often fell on ‘lalalala’ conveniently deaf ears).  As a marketing communications professional part of my responsibilities are to work with legal counsel to “protect the brand”, its assets (product portfolio) and the jobs that come with creating said products. I have been quoted in general business and trade publications, and interviewed on the radio and for inflight news programmes specifically about protecting Scotland’s indigenous products, namely Harris Tweed and Fair Isle Knitwear. So, I think it’s somewhat reasonable to be angry about almost being duped into violating everything I hold true.  Still, I want to BELIEVE with my whole heart that my friend didn’t understand what was being asked of me – this is our most basic human instinct to protect what is precious to us. Yes, even as I shared my concerns and asked to speak outside of business hours to clarify what was and wasn’t known there has only been CYA email in response – oh, how my heart is seizing up!

So this is a blog post about the larger issue of morals and ethics and our global marketplace and the nuances of doing business in other cultures (and our own regardless of where we live) and the grey areas which exist as a result.

Yarmouk refugee camp

Photo credit: Reuters

I am currently reading Jack Cashill’s Ron Brown’s Body, How One Man’s Death Saved the Clinton Presidency and Hillary’s Future for two reasons: it looks like Hillary’s bid for The White House is imminent and Ron Brown’s death in Croatia was never fully investigated. Suffice to say that at Chapter 10 Cashill is still outlining Brown’s assent (and not yet his fall) but the scope of the ‘dealing’ is really quite extraordinary. And as we (the world) hold our collective breath over the Ukraine’s future and what Vladimir Putin might do in concert with Viktor Yushchenko to remain the regional Alpha Dog (while Yushcenko is clearly Putin’s bitch) I am struck by how the powerful will do a great deal to stay in power at the peril of ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire and personal interests. The New York Times was given special access to the “Museum of Corruption” (the apt moniker assigned to the 140 acre – notably 1/2 the size of the country of Monaco – compound which is called Mezhyhirya) and what’s striking is how (relatively) quickly Yushchenko was able to create an environment of personal enrichment while bankrupting his country – and how desperately Putin wants his puppet (Yushchenko) to remain in power even at the possibility of inciting World War III.  Equally so we bear witness to the enormous human suffering (as well as resilience, dignity and patience) of the Syrian people – this image – above left – published in The Guardian earlier this week and the revolt of the Venezuelan middle class – I doubt that the population of any “average American city” likewise confronted with such hardship would be such a model of decorum or equally get up off their complacent asses (as long as video continues to stream and junk food is accessible) to make an effort to improve some tiny aspect of our collective experience.

Our future is being bankrupt by theft, from the attitudes of Nestle Corporation related to the privatisation of the worlds’ water to infidelity in relationships, from a seemingly simple request by a friend to purchase two of “something” and ship it (wherein the second of each of these presumably would be reverse engineered and thus have me be an accessory to international corporate espionage) to the current violations of sovereignty happening (as it has many times over 2000+ years) in the Crimea with its valuable access to the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and subsequently, global shipping lanes to the poisoning of our planet with fracking and big oil pipelines.

“Men kill for many reasons, they steal but for one-greed.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Falls the Shadow

While I agree with Ms. Penman’s words some version of death always also accompanies theft.

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