Thursday, June 12, 2014

Father's Day

A few years ago my cousin Kevin published this piece about his father, who was my father’s oldest brother. It is a fitting tribute. 

Father’s generation created better world
By Kevin D. Preston

He was the eldest son of seven children of an immigrant family. Born to a sickly father and a mother who lived a long life and worked every day of it, he inherited his father’s health, and his mother’s determination.

He began working at the age of 9 and quit school at the age of 15 to help put bread on the table of his family during the depression. A soldier at 21, across the beach at Omaha at 24, married at 26, the father of three by age 30.

He was a high school dropout who was determined not only to support his family, but to ensure that his children would have a better start than he did. He had only two things going for him, an unlimited determination to work, and an uncanny ability to fix things.

For more than half a century he worked in mills and factories at home and overseas, fixing warplanes, machinery, jewelry and antiques as well as the toys of his children and grandchildren.

But he has always been far more than just a workhorse. He knew that beyond the everyday struggle for survival there were larger issues which affected the quality of the world he and his family would live in.

By reasoning more simple yet more powerful than that of his college educated children, he knew that his country must support programs to reduce poverty, because he knew what it was to be poor. He knew that discrimination was wrong because as a French-Canadian, and as a Catholic, he knew of the crippling effects of bigotry on both the victim, and the bigot.

And despite the fact that out of devotion to his church he sent his children to parochial schools, he always supported the proper funding of public schools, because having been deprived of a proper education, he knew its value.

Out of the Depression 

Although special to me, my father’s story is typical of that of many of his contemporaries. His was the generation that as children saw and felt the devastation wrought by the Great Depression. His was the generation that as young adults fought and beat Hitler and all he represented. His was the generation that built the greatest economic power the world had ever seen. His was the first generation in history to choose to share their newfound material success with the poor and their long cherished political rights with minority groups which had long been excluded from their enjoyment.

It has become the fashion among my generation to denigrate the condition of the world which we are inheriting; to focus on problems which remain rather than on progress already made.

True Test 

But the final measure of any generation is whether they leave the world better than they found it. And by that measure my father’s generation has been exceptional.

The simple fact is that the sons of my father’s generation are, on average, richer, healthier, better educated and will live longer than their fathers.

They eat better foods and work shorter hours.

More of them have the right to vote and to stand for public office. Unlike many of their fathers when at similar age, the sons can, for the most part, travel across this country, eat in restaurants, sleep in hotels, rent apartments, marry, play golf and do pretty much what they want regardless of their race or religion.

Inspiration 

It is by any standard an impressive list of accomplishments.

As a 10-year old boy in 1961, I watched on television the handing over of the reins of power from my grandfather’s generation to my father’s.

In his inaugural address 30 years ago President Kennedy said that “… the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war and disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.”

I knew even then that he was talking about millions of fathers, but in the eyes of this 10-year-old boy, my own father became my measure of what that generation was, and was to become.

Thanks Dad, and happy Father’s Day.


Kevin D. Preston of Attleboro is an attorney.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The On-Line E-Newsletter: You Can’t Live Without It

A respected non-profit recently sent out an RFP for a firm to create a newsletter for the organization. Although we rarely respond to RFPs at New Harbor Group, we strongly believe that having a newsletter is a good thing. Every organization should have some way to tell its story and update its key audience on a regular basis.

But here’s the problem: This particular group asked for proposals for putting together a print newsletter. Bad idea. If you don’t have a newsletter, and you’re thinking about starting one, here’s why an on-line edition is absolutely the only way to go:
  • Why pay for printing and postage? Who does that anymore? It’s simply a waste of money.
  • Keep it fresh. The on-line version won’t get stale waiting for that “one last story” to be submitted, then getting printed and then sitting around in the bulk mail trays at the post office.
  • Get (really valuable) information. An on-line version will give you data about your audiences – who opened the e-mail announcing the latest edition, and who hit “delete”; what stories are popular, and which ones aren’t. With a print newsletter, recipients may read it, or they may toss it – you’ll never know.
  • And speaking of data, your advertisers will be thrilled to know how many people visited their website – and perhaps even hired them or bought their product because someone clicked on their ad in your e-newsletter.
  • Keep the conversation going with social media. With your on-line newsletter you can actually engage with your audiences, either in the comment section, or even better – with social media. Your on-line e-newsletter is a great way to drive your readers to your social media pages (and your website itself), communicating with your audiences and finding out what they’re really thinking about you.
  • Also - it’s “green”.
Amazingly, the main objection to an on-line newsletter is usually this: Somewhere out there exists a mythical, 90-year old person who doesn’t have e-mail or use the Internet. Needless to say, I’m dubious.  After all, we live in a world where 84% of Baby Boomers – who are now well into their 60s – say that the Internet is an essential, like bread and milk in a Rhode Island snowstorm. I’ve never met this person who isn’t on-line, or learned their name, but this person is the reason why people tell me they can’t possibly put their newsletter on-line.

Nevertheless, if you’re in print and thinking about the transition to an on-line e-news, I have a solution for the “90-Year-Old Person Who Doesn’t Use the Internet” problem which works like a charm. I’d be glad to share it.

Our client the Rhode Island Society of CPAs has a very successful on-line newsletter called “What Counts.”  Not only does the Society enjoy all the benefits of an on-line newsletter I described above, they also defray nearly the complete cost of the publication with advertising, which you can see at the bottom of this – and every - page when you click here.

And yes, we are prepared for that “person who is not on-line.”  If that person calls the Society they will print this version, and mail it to him or her. First class.

If you have an existing print newsletter, you need to be thinking about how to transition to an on-line edition as soon as possible. If you don’t already have a newsletter, and are preparing to start one, the only place you should be publishing is on-line.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Silver Lining to the Sterling Saga...


New Harbor Group is often asked to help a new client “deal with a potential problem.”   Many times, that “potential problem” is actually a significant problem and it’s time for some crisis management.   For those who haven’t been through one, managing a crisis isn’t just about how you react, but it’s also about how prepared you are for when one strikes.    

Hopefully, the next crises you or your company faces won’t be as potentially devastating as the one encountered by Adam Silver just a few months into his new job.   When Silver took over as the NBA Commissioner earlier this year, he probably never imagined that a member of his Board of Governors would be caught on tape delivering a racist diatribe (apparently a regular occurrence by some accounts).  Perhaps Silver knew beforehand that the LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, may have been a racist, but once Sterling’s rant hit the airwaves Mr. Silver was thrust into one of the League’s most serious and potentially damaging public relations incidents of all time.   

How Silver responded to the crisis would not only define his legacy as the League commissioner, but also impact the reputation of the League for years to come.

As most know by now, Mr. Silver responded swiftly, decisively, and effectively.  Not only did he decide to dole out the harshest possible penalty possible, but he was quick to offer a sincere apology, delivered a home run of a press conference, and even found himself looking like, something of a hero.   

What are some of the most important take ways you can learn from the Commish?
  1. Get the Facts:  Or as many of them as possible, as quickly as you can.   Silver’s first move was to authenticate the tape.  Once he knew it was in fact Sterling’s voice, he knew he had to act.

  2. Talk to Your Partners:  No one likes surprises, most importantly your key stakeholders.  One of Silver’s best moments in his press conference was deflecting a question asking if Mr. Sterling could remain an absentee owner if the Board of Governors didn’t force a sale.   Silver’s response: “I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him.”  Also to his credit, Silver was also in communication with several players, coaches and former players throughout his decision making process, likely gauging their reaction to different scenarios.

  3. Take Bold Action:  Mr. Silver weighed the pros and cons of taking big or little action, and perhaps even against some legal advice, he went big.  Whether Sterling can be forced to sell the team or not doesn’t really matter at this point.  Mr. Silver put his personal stamp of his new office on it by taking authoritative action.

  4. Get Out There:  Just three days after TMZ released its tape of Mr. Sterling, the Commissioner was holding a press conference in Manhattan to announce his decision.   It was pertinent as more and more stories were already percolating about Mr. Sterling’s racist history, more celebrities and athletes were urging protests, and the focus on the NBA playoffs was being seriously diluted.    (Candidly, 72 hours is a bit longer than we recommend waiting to respond, but Mr. Silver benefited from the story breaking on a Saturday.  Opting for a Tuesday presser gave his decision more attention than doing it on Sunday or first thing Monday.  The extra 24 hours was a gamble, but it paid off for him because he took the right action against Mr. Sterling.)

  5. Apologize:  After only being on the job for three months, Mr. Silver could have legitimately claimed non-culpability.  Fortunately, he did not.  He apologized for the comments made by Donald Sterling, expressed a deep sense of sympathy for those hurt by his comments, and displayed a genuine recognition of the time it will take to rectify this issue with the fanbase, sponsors and larger basketball community. 

  6. Hire the Experts Ahead of Time:  Probably the most important point of all - don’t wait until the emergency is upon you to have your crisis communications team in place.    One of Mr. Silver’s first calls upon hearing about the release of the Sterling tape, was to his crisis communications consultant who had been counseling the NBA for years.   
When a catastrophe hits, you want a person in place that knows you and you trust.   You don’t have time to look for one or second-guess their advice.   You need someone that can help you navigate the storm and help you defuse the situation.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

If today’s media covered the Gettysburg Address…

President Lincoln’s Remarks at Cemetery Dedication Disappointing
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President’s address, only 3 Minutes Long, Lacked Substance

It was the greatest battle ever fought to date on the continent - over 50,000 casualties were suffered.  So many of those in attendance at the dedication of the Gettysburg Nations Cemetery yesterday were somewhat taken aback by President Lincoln’s address to the crowd in this small southern Pennsylvania town.

In a three minute speech that contained only ten sentences, Lincoln offered nothing new in the way of strategy or a plan for winning the war, now approaching its fourth year.

‘There was no plan offered here today,” said one pundit. “It was just another speech from another politician.”

“Somehow, I expected more from him,” he added.

The President’s uninspired performance was judged by some to be a reflection of the Union effort in the battle at Gettysburg earlier this summer, and the Northern campaign as a whole.  Despite a major loss of life suffered by Union forces, the battle did not end in a decisive Federal victory.  In fact, many experts have severely criticized the Union Commander, Gen. George Meade, for his decision allowing Gen. Robert E. Lee’s crippled Army of Northern Virginia to escape across the Potomac River in the two week period following the battle. Lincoln did not address this issue in his speech.

The battle, culminating the second major Confederate invasion of Northern territory in as many years, was within minutes of becoming a catastrophic Federal defeat at several points.

Some military consultants say Lee’s defeat was due only to the absence of Gen. Thomas E. “Stonewall” Jackson, who died two months before Gettysburg at the Battle of Chancellorsville. 

The irony of the circumstances surrounding Jackson’s death was not lost on one expert at yesterday’s ceremony.

“It wasn’t even Union troops who killed Jackson,” chuckled the observer. “He was accidentally killed by his own men.”

This fact only reinforces the widespread belief that Northern forces, who have consistently outnumbered Confederate units throughout the war, can only win when Southern troops present them with a “can’t miss” opportunity to do so.

“Even then, it’s an iffy proposition,” the consultant added.

With Election Day less than a year away, most political experts saw today’s speech as a way for Lincoln, who only received 39% of the vote in 1860, to galvanize support. Most polls show the President trailing badly, and many Northerners have grown weary of the fight, as this summer’s draft riots in New York City showed.

“Lincoln’s political prospects are dim, and his lackluster performance today didn’t help him any,” said one Washington-based consultant. “He missed a golden opportunity to crystallize the case for the Union, outline a strategic plan for victory and help his re-election bid.”

Observers noted yesterday that even after the Federal victory at Vicksburg, touted by Lincoln as “cutting the Confederacy in two,” the South fights on ably and effectively.

Instead, the President offered a speech laden with platitudes about the battle and its fallen heroes. Short on facts and substance, Lincoln made no reference even to the number of Union dead felled at the battle. His awkward gimmick of “four score and seven years ago,” a device he used to note the 87 years which have passed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, fell flat.

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here,” Lincoln said. From the reaction to his speech, the President was right on both counts.

Nov. 20, 1863