Creating Community – garbage can collaboration

July 31, 2013

Here is a photo of grouped garbage cans in a cul-de-sac near our house on the North Shore of Sydney.  This picture says a lot about neighbourliness in this small street:  the residents have all decided (together?) to group their cans to make it easy for the local council trucks to empty them.  We who live in the relatively low-density suburbs of Sydney rarely collaborate with neighbours like this. When you walk the streets of the suburbs on garbage pick-up day, you see more garbage cans than people.  But here at least the cans have their own “community”.

Grouped garbage cans Sydney July2013(Photo:  Sydney’s North Shore on garbage pick-up day)

For those who do not know, the yellow bin is for paper, blue is for bottles/cans and black/red is for general rubbish.

Perfect is the enemy of the good

July 28, 2013

“Perfect is the enemy of the good.”

I found myself saying that in two business meetings not long ago.  I am not certain where or when I had first heard that statement, nor what exactly stimulated my saying it.

What I meant to say at the time to my colleagues at the time was that once something is good and it works, it’s time to complete it, that attempting to achieve perfection can delay a project, an activity or an event so long that you can lose its timeliness.  And that perfection is sometimes not possible, so it can be fruitless to achieve it.

But where did the statement come from?  I had no idea.

According to Wikipedia, that not-100%-reliable-source that we tell our university students that they must never, ever quote, the phrase is commonly attributed to the French writer and philosopher    Voltaire  (also known as  François-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778), whose poem  “La Bégueule” (1772) first lines read:

Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

Which is translated as:

“In his writings, a wise Italian
says that the best is the enemy of the good.”

Related concepts are the “Pareto” principle or “80-20” rule and the “law of diminishing returns”.

The Case for Analogue Public Relations

July 28, 2013

The digital world has become so pervasive that we have lost touch with real life experiences.  The same goes for public relations.

Earlier this week, I received a neat package in the mail, containing a box that had two packages of “Skittles” (both since eaten) and an old-fashioned stereoscopic viewer, all of it a promotion for the new Australian “Movietimes” comparison movie booking website.  The promotions company involved – the Taboo Group, based in Melbourne – has been targeting Australian bloggers, as a means of promoting the service.  Here is a photo (without the now eaten candy):

Movietimes photo

Well, I was charmed, and thus here (above) is my link.  It has been an awfully long time since I have received an “analogue” (actually, what I mean to say is “physical”) promotion in the mail.  I used to receive a number of them in my role as a film critic for The Australian Jewish News, but in our hyper-digital world, these have dropped away.

My favourite was a t-shirt some years ago that promoted a theatrical re-release of the (now classic) film Apocalypse Now.  It had brown writing on an off-white t-shirt, and I remember wearing it so much that I finally wore it out.  And I had loads – and I mean truly loads – of comments about the shirt.  Mostly along the lines of, “Wow, where did you get that shirt?”  To which I explained that I was a film critic and the distributor sent me a copy because of the re-release.

Apocalypse Now poster

Cost of the “Movietimes” package – probably not much.  Cost of the t-shirt:  again, surely less than $10.  Impact?  Tremendous.

So when we continue our fancy digital promotions, remember that there’s nothing like some true “experiential” PR, the t-shirt, the candy, the physical object that we see, touch, feel and taste.

African American disadvantage in 2013

July 28, 2013

The recent Trayvon Martin verdict (George Zimmerman found not guilty) has stimulated new discussion about African-American (black) disadvantage in the USA.

Here’s what President Barack Obama said:

In the African-American community, at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here. I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.  The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Time Magazine – which specialises in summarising complex phenomena in coherent and reasonably objective ways – included a set of statistics in their most recent issue:

Issue Blacks Whites
Median household income $33,000/year $55,000/year
Male unemployment 15% 7%
Religion important to their lives 79% 56%
Believes discrimination exists in USA today 56% 16%
Percentage 18-24 enrolled in college 36% 45%
Percentage in US population 13%  
Percentage  in US prison population 37% (three times pop rate)  

(The Time statistics were sourced from the National Urban League, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, Social Problems journal and Sentencing Project.)

And here are some more statistics from Time:

–          Blacks make up 13% of the US population, but 37% of those in prison – thus incarcerated at three times their rate of population.

–          Blacks constitute 13% of the regular drug users (exactly their rate of the population), but are 38% of those arrested for drug offenses (again, almost three times the rate of others – surely a connection).

–          Wages grow at a 21% “slower rate for black former inmates, compared with white former inmates”.

–          “Eleven US states deny the right to vote to more than 10% of their black populations because of felony convictions”.  And yet, blacks voted in the 2012 Presidential election at a GREATER rate than whites did, for the first time in history, continuing a trend that has been apparent since 2000 – see the US Census Report from May 2013 and the Pew Social Trends report.

The Great Gatsby watch down under, part 6

July 28, 2013

For some months now, I have been following the success of Baz Luhrmann’s film “The Great Gatsby”.  After eight weeks of release, the film is still playing in 161 Australian cinemas with a total box office of Aus$26,918,096, according to Urban Cinefile.  As of 28 July 2013, it still achieved a weekly box office of $467,788, although that was down 31% from the previous week.

The North American reception of “Gatsby” is fascinating:  “Gatsby” is by far Luhrmann’s most successful film there, having grossed US$143,888,405 as of 25 July 2013 (according to Box Office Mojo), with a recent increase to 302 cinemas (for reasons I do not know).

Gatsby has grossed approximately US$186,200,000 outside of North America (56.4% of its worldwide US$330million total).  Outside of North America, the film has fared best in Australia, closely followed by the United Kingdom.

Compare “Gatsby” to “Australia”, Luhrmann’s next “biggest” film.  According to Box Office Mojo, “Australia” grossed US$211,342,221 worldwide, a full 76.6% of that outside of North America.  Although “Australia” is, at heart, a very “Australian” story, the Australian box office for that film in 2009 (US$26,521,500) is very close to the “Gatsby” box office (US$24,588,158).  Given the four years difference in ticket prices and the fact that “Gatsby” is still playing in Australian cinemas, it’s highly likely that the two films will end up performing similarly here in Australia.

So, two conclusions:

  1. “The Great Gatsby” is definitely Luhrmann’s American hit.  While $143 million is not “break out”, it’s certainly strong – and places Luhrmann for new projects.
  2. Following the “ten percent rule” (see David Dale in The Sydney Morning Herald of 19 May 2008), which states “movie distributors have relied on the formula that a big US movie will make in Australian dollars roughly one tenth of what it makes in US dollars”, “The Great Gatsby” is over-performing here in Australia almost by a factor of two:  Aus$26,918,096 compared to US$143,888,405 is not 10%, but approaching 19% of the North American box office.  So the “local” Luhrmann/produced in Sydney/Australian stars factors all certainly have made a difference.

“This is the End” film review

July 19, 2013

This film review of “This is the End” appeared in the Australian Jewish News on 18 July 2013.

(Written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg)

The thing you have to know about the new film “This is the End” is that it’s made by twentysomething guys for twentysomething guys.  The further you fall outside this demographic, the less appealing “This is the End” is likely to be.

The set-up is part of the fun – and yes, the film is very funny, in a cerebral, gross-out, post-adolescent take-it-to-the-max kind of way.  It goes like this:  actor Jay Baruchel arrives at Los Angeles to hang out with his old friend Seth Rogen.  We realise early on that these guys are playing versions of themselves, when someone walking past asks, ”Hey, Seth Rogen, what up, man?” and another says, “You always play the same guy in every movie.  When are you going to do some acting?”

After Rogen and Baruchel go to Rogen’s house to spend the afternoon getting stoned and horsing around, Rogen convinces Baruchel to come with him to a party at James Franco’s house.  There a “who’s who” cast of the current Hollywood “brat pack” (all playing themselves) dance, take drugs and have casual sexual encounters – just the sort of thing you would expect of a Hollywood party filled with the beautiful, young, rich and famous.

Aside from Franco, proud of his fortress-like house with its modern art collection, we see African-American comic Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rihanna, Jason Segel, David Krumholtz, Paul Rudd, Mindy Kaling, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aziz Ansari and Evan Goldberg.  We are also introduced to a number of (presumably fictional) “in-jokes”:  youthful innocent Cera is, in reality, horny, sexually aggressive and nasty; Baruchel and Rogen, childhood Canadian friends, are attempting to re-kindle their “bromance” friendship; and all of the party-goers are, without exception, fabulously self-absorbed in a “Seinfeld” type of way.

Hollywood actors are easily satirised, and “This is the End” finds many different ways to do so.  Everyone unashamedly keeps referring to their own movies:  when Jonah Hill decides to pray, he says, “Dear God, this is Jonah Hill, from ‘Moneyball’”.

After the comic introduction comes the turn to horror:  something like the apocalypse takes place, with some people beamed up to heaven in blue light, others falling into massive sinkholes and Los Angeles exploding into fire.  Only Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Hill and Robinson remain marooned in Franco’s house, joined by comedian Danny McBride, who steadfastly refuses to play any games of being nice.

“This is the End” falls squarely into the “comedy-horror” genre with many influences, from “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist” to “Zombieland”, “Ghostbusters” and “Shaun of the Dead”, with dashes of the apocalyptic end of the world:  think “2012” and “Earthquake”.  But “This is the End” goes one step further, introducing themes from the “Book of Revelations” (the last book in New Testament), complete with horned fiery beasts; along with elements of the Christian concept of “Rapture”, as commonly used by Christian fundamentalists, especially in the USA.

These Christian themes appear odd, given that “This is the End” was co-written and co-directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, both of them Jewish – and that at least half the major characters, including Hill (born Feldstein) and Franco, are also Jewish (and in fact even Baruchel’s paternal grandfather was Jewish).  It’s hard to tell what religious points “This is the End” is trying to make.  Despite the funny monsters, the film seems to take the Christian concept of self-sacrifice seriously (it’s how you get to heaven).  There’s probably no deeper meaning in these religious symbols; they are really more of an excuse to introduce the “end of the world” action.  But I wondered.

Despite the presence of so many well-known stars, the real acting honours in “This is the End” go to Danny McBride and Craig Robinson, who both seem to inhabit their roles (such as they are) with good dramatic effect.  Rogen plays Rogen, Franco is uncharacteristically subdued and Jonah Hill is given a ridiculous “zombie possessed” scene.  Perhaps I expected too much?  If you like this sort of movie, then “This is the End” is a must-see; young people seem to love it, and it’s even funnier with a large audience.  If this genre is not your thing, give it a miss.

Rogen, Goldberg and Baruchel had apparently been thinking about “This is the End” for many years, and in 2007 they shot and released a one and a half minute trailer on YouTube entitled “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse”.  The trailer is still there, with more than 655,000 views.

This is the End Franco Roget Baruchel

(Footnote:  I was asked to rate this film for the Jewish News publication, and found that terribly difficult.  I gave it 4 stars – out of 5 – for young people, but only 2 stars for the older demographic.  Thus an average of 3/5.)

Spell and pronounce their names correctly

July 17, 2013

Spell their names correctly.  A “cardinal” rule of public relations.  To which I add “pronounce their name correctly”.

There is no mystery why some salespeople insist on mentioning your name again and again when they are trying to “make the sale”.  Few things sound so sweet to someone than the sound of their own name.

There are few “personal” public relations mistakes worse than sending correspondence with mis-spelling.  It shows you don’t care enough to check.  Or you made a mistake and did not notice.  You don’t really know them well enough.  In all of these cases, it’s a “turn off”.  It shows you simply do not care.

I speak from experience.  While my first name is easy, my last name is not.  One result is that I usually make restaurant bookings with my “official” first name, “Donald”.  Have done so for many years now.  And I am endlessly fascinated by the mis-spellings of my surname (last name), with “P-e-r-i-g-u-t” and “P-e-r-g-l-u-t” being the two most common, or adding an extra “a” (you guess where), or changing the “gut” to a “man”.  Of all of them, it’s the transposition of the “g” and the “l” that bothers me the most, mostly because it’s simply not a pretty name that way.  And I have one correspondent in an academic institution who continues to use this mis-spelling, many years after I first pointed out the mistake.

Recently, the importance of names was reinforced by a story told on Australian radio by American cellist Alisa Weilerstein:  there’s a reasonably difficult last name.  And that was the point of it all.  In an extended interview on ABC’s Radio National’s “Breakfast” program on 12 June 2013, she told the story of how she played at the White House in 2009 with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and their family in the audience.  As Weilerstein tells the story, the President introduced them all at the beginning, but stumbled over her name.  Oh well, she thought, it’s a hard name, many people do.  But at the end of the concert, the President was determined.  Obama specifically thanked the musicians by name at the end, and carefully pronounced Weilerstein’s last name correctly – and looked right at her as he did so.

That’s what the President of the United States of America does.  He pays attention to names, because he knows that they are important.  We should recognise that too.

Here is a clip (11’13”) of Weilerstein playing at the White House: