Tickets are Free – the Experience Priceless!

[Editor’s Note:  The original story was posted March 27, 2017.  Here’s a glimpse of what you missed! NBC Nightly News Story on Dancing Dreams]

It’s that time of year! Time when dreams come true at Dancing Dreams! This year’s dance extravaganza is Sunday, April 2nd, at 3pm at York College in Jamaica, Queens in New York City. C6Mxg3eU4AEBfJY.jpg small

It’s an amazing experience that these dancers will never forget because they pour their heart and soul into their performances. When people care about something deeply, success follows.

Joann Ferrara, a pediatric physical therapist by training makes sure of it!  Joann founded Dancing Dreams, a charity that gives children with physical challenges a chance to fulfill their dreams to dance.  It is her passion, her dedication, her sleepless nights and her dreams that enable her to turn what some may think are impossible dreams into reality.

Joann’s passion is matched equally by that of her student dancers. As a result, hundreds of New York/metro area children, parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and teens benefit from a dance experience they never thought possible…. And dance they do, in a performance “extravaganza” on stage complete with costumes, makeup and glitter– just like their friends, sisters and mothers have done before them.

It matters little this ballerina is in a wheelchair or that dancer has braces on her legs, or can’t hear the music.  If you want to be inspired. See the show. Or learn more at   www.dancingdreams.org. Or, call/text 516.659.8704.

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Never Stop Learning — Ever!

When the opportunity to go “back to school” for the MBA I always wanted became reality, I didn’t quite know how to react. It had been a while since I was in a classroom. I wondered what it would be like to be a student again.  And, just how difficult would that Mercy College “TURBO” program be.  Five nights a week and all day Saturday for four weeks is grueling, especially with a Long Island commute.

imagesBut, I love it.

Being in a learning environment again is inspiring.  The first class had me hooked. It’s something that had been missing over the past few years and I didn’t realize it until I was back in the classroom and saw what my professors and fellow students had to offer.  I know now that it will be something that I continually pursue whether in college or at another corporation.

We’ve all heard how important “training” is to corporations.  “We have a strong commitment to training our people” is a sentiment that can be found in most annual reports.  But what’s that “training” all about?  Mandatory ethics training that’s about as inspiring as…. well, you know.  Classroom training for the chosen few.  Online training for the rest of us.

What’s missing from many corporate training programs, from my perspective, is the stimulation you get from being part of a true learning culture.  I would argue that the degree to which businesses, big and small, can integrate a spirit of learning in their own environments would help corporate commitments to training get beyond mere platitudes.

Regular classes started earlier this month – a mixture of traditional and online.  Like everything else, some are more interesting and easier than others.  But understanding the business environment with a fresh lens is priceless!

 

 

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ICYMI: Lunch with a Legendary Ad Man

As the hostess seated us at a neighborhood sushi restaurant near Columbus Circle, my lunch partner said quietly, “When I come here, I always sit there,” pointing to the sushi bar located to my right, “the second seat from the right.” I wondered why as we continued to navigate the table maze to get to our seats. The answer came a moment later. “That’s where the head sushi chef is stationed,” he said as a matter of fact.

lesteryoung

A young Lester Wunderman.

Ahhh, I thought. A little known detail… a tiny piece of information… but a significant data point for the ad man at the center of the trillion-dollar direct marketing industry he so proudly invented and named more than five decades ago. Perhaps that’s why Lester Wunderman, 94, founder and chairman emeritus of the agency that still bears his name, was so successful. He made sure he knew something nobody else did, which gave him a competitive edge in business and in life.

I had the pleasure of being office “neighbors” with the legendary nonagenarian for the better part of a decade. We were also on a first-name basis, which I considered a great honor since he was frequently quoted as saying, “just because you know my name, doesn’t mean you know me.” This September day, we lunched on the sushi/sashimi combo. He had salad and I the soup. And our conversation focused on leadership, learning and a look forward.

On Leadership
I asked about the single aspect of his own leadership style he considered most important. Without hesitation, the man I had come to know as “Lester” responded: “Empathy. If you are not able to feel what your people are feeling, you don’t have a company. A company is not just about the numbers; it’s about the people.” He recalled some hard times he and the agency endured early on. I could feel the perseverance of his past.

He explained you pay people to produce and produce profitably, but to get them to do so you need to understand what inspires and motivates them. He likened running a business to playing a game. “It doesn’t mean you win every time. But it does mean you play with the best people you have all the time.” Lesson learned.

On Learning
Knowledge is important to him—so important that when it came to his own education, the path he chose was anything but typical. “I never planned to be ‘matriculated,’ I planned to be educated,” he said; “there’s a difference.”

The difference, I learned, was characteristic of this advertising legend. Lester Wunderman wanted to be educated about specific topics that interested him—not what others thought he should learn. Therefore he attended classes he chose at institutions that offered them that he selected—New York University, City University of New York (CUNY) and Columbia University. Ultimately, academicians from CUNY recognized his educational pursuits and awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Letters.

This quest for learning was never more apparent than his decision to learn Spanish. During lunch, I got the back story. A voracious reader, Lester would frequently take the subway from his Bronx home to the end of the elevated line—all the while his head buried in a book. When he disembarked, book in hand, he continued reading as he walked to his favorite spot beneath a tree in the nearby park.

“One day I was walking and reading at the same time and bumped into a guy who was also walking and reading at the same time,” he explained. “Our books fell to the ground. When we picked them up we discovered we were both reading Don Quixote. His book was in Spanish and mine was in English.” Serendipity or karma, I wondered.

Admittedly, Lester said he found the story “boring” at first. But the two men got to talking. His fellow reader was a Spanish instructor and suggested he read Don Quixote in its native language to grasp the richness of the story. It was then Lester decided to take his Spanish to the next level. Once he did, there was a new found appreciation for the story, its language, its humor and its wit. Another lesson learned.

Looking ahead
“Relevance” remains his mantra; and, as technology inculcates itself into the advertising industry, “personal relevance” nears his Nirvana.

Of the Internet, Lester was among the privileged to preview it in the 1960s. In later years, he observed “I can’t claim to having had a vision of its eventual popularity, but I had an absolute fascination with its potential. I knew what it could do, was using it, and viewing it as a technological miracle that could bring to life the kind of dreams I had about dialogues between consumers and advertisers.”*  That comment is perhaps the most telling of advertising’s continued evolution.

So I wondered. What’s next for the industry? Relevance remains key and data will be used to make what’s relevant more and more personal, he said. Then he added this: “My ultimate belief is that manufacturing will change. Factories, which started in England as a means of mass production, will go away. We are in the age of what I call ‘personal advertising’ now. And, I believe we will have factories in our homes and use data to help make the products we want to make.”

It is this type of thinking that makes legends. It is why Lester Wunderman was the first direct marketer to be named to the Advertising Hall of Fame. It’s why he sits at the second seat from the right at the sushi bar. It’s also why the inside of all his overcoats fashion a ruby red silk lining. But that’s a lesson for another time.

* Conversations with Marketing Masters, Laura Mazur and Louella Miles, 2007, John Wiley & Sons.

Originally posted, September 2014.

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Author’s note:  For 12 years, I headed Global Communications at Wunderman, the billion-dollar digital agency founded in 1958 by Lester Wunderman, the legendary ad man who turned traditional advertising on its heels with a “direct” approach. I had the pleasure of working directly with Mr. Wunderman, who served as an ambassador to the industry, on many initiatives, including speaking engagements at Direct Marketing Association events, the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the re-launch of his autobiography, Being Direct and the establishment of archives at The John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University which maintains an archive of the personal papers of Lester Wunderman.

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Why This Aspiring Banker Makes Cakes!

GetInline.aspx4The first one seemed to be a fluke. Less than a year ago, his brother asked if he would make a cake for a surprise birthday party. Not just any cake, a “Cake Boss”-style cake, reflective of all things water polo, a particular passion of the guest of honor!

Before his brother’s request, had he made any cakes? No!

Had he even thought about making cakes? No!

Yet, always one to welcome any challenge, this former college football player, now banker, found a few instructive videos on YouTube and determined that this challenge was eminently do-able. A few days later, he agreed to do it.

An Amazon “prime” member, he began ordering the tools of the cake baking trade. Packages flooded the front porch daily. Spatulas, rolling pins, pans, molds, fondant, letters, numbers, edible food dyes and countless other supplies were soon in abundant supply.

Now what?

Not more than 24 hours until the big event, not an egg was cracked. It was crunch time. The kitchen turned into a full scale “manufacturing” shop. First the cake—chocolate swirl. Then the design—blueprint. Next the canvas—the fondant. And finally, the masterpiece: a cake featuring a water polo match in progress, with capped players in scoring position of the netted goal and flip-flops, towels, lane lines and life preservers lining the deck, was unveiled at the party.GetInline.aspx

Not bad for a first try. But, this wasn’t just a one-time flash in the cake pan!

Many more cakes followed. One for Thanksgiving, adorned with a Pilgrim top hat (work-in-progress pictured above and finished product below).

turkeyThere were others:  one for a baby shower; an Italian-themed birthday cake, complete with mozzarella and tomatoes and a red-checkered tablecloth; and, his latest creation, Thomas the Tank.

GetInline2.aspxI marveled at his patience. Each railroad tie was molded to perfection, as were the pebbles that dotted the tracks and the red brick tunnel. As for Thomas — his unmistakable blue tank was punctuated with black and red trim, spoked wheels and perfectly chiseled eyes, nose and mouth.

All the pieces of the cake puzzle lay separately on the kitchen table and the clock was ticking until delivery. “How do you know how to do this?” I asked. Without hesitating, he responded, “It’s no different than building model toys I did as a kid. It’s a hobby… it’s fun.”

Fun for him to build. Fun for us to enjoy. And that’s what hobbies are — FUN!

Wouldn’t we all benefit from a little more “hobby” squeezed into our day? What’s yours?

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Long Live the “Systematic Buzz Phrase!”

This little gem was a favorite of a veteran college professor. He used it in class to highlight how easy it is to create speeches, presentations, business plans, news announcements and general messages that contain pure nonsense. I thought it was worthy to share.

thThe “Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector” first appeared in 1968 in Newsweek Magazine in an article called “How to Win at Wordsmanship.” A U.S. Public Health official, Philip Broughton, then 63 years old, came up with the idea to show how buzz phrases run rampant in business communications. It is as relevant today as it was then.

Here’s how it works. Thirty popular buzzwords are organized in three columns. To create a perfect-sounding, legitimate buzz phrase—applicable across as many industries as you can think of—simply choose any three-digit combination and select the corresponding word from each column!

For example, 4-9-0 translates to functional policy options!  My lucky numbers 7-7-7 translate to synchronized incremental projection!  

Go ahead, try it!

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3
0. integrated 0. management 0. options
1. total 1. organizational 1. flexibility
2. systematized 2. monitored 2. capability
3. parallel 3. reciprocal 3. mobility
4. functional 4. digital 4. programming
5. responsive 5. logistical 5. concept
6. optional 6. transitional 6. time-phase
7. synchronized 7. incremental 7. projection
8. compatible 8. third-generation 8. hardware
9. balanced 9. policy 9. contingency

I would add a few more words to the column lists—big data, multi-channel, ecosystem, engagement, earned media, owned media, ROI, scalable and viral immediately come to mind.  What are your suggestions?

warroomMy guess is nearly 50 years after the “Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector” debuted, far too many corporate marketing materials, business plans, executive letters and online copy use more buzz phrases than any of us would like. It’s so easy to fall prey to industry jargon, especially when social media and online communications put increasing pressure on timing.  Unfortunately, I’m sure I have been among the guilty.

Abraham Lincoln said of his communications: “I determined to be so clear than no honest man could misunderstand me and no dishonest one could successfully misrepresent me.” He would be horrified to read some business communications today.

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A Celebration of Courage

Writing_the_Declaration_of_Independence_1776_cph.3g09904It has been said that the most im­portant liberty this nation’s founding fathers asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776 is the freedom to govern themselves.

To recognize the courage, intellect and wisdom of our founding fathers, I post today the transcription of the Declaration of Independence, as it appears in the National Archives.

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

imagesWe hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


 

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“Survival” vs. “Strategic” Employee Communications

Do customers know more about your business than your employees? Do employees find out about executive changes or new products and services in a tweet or a post from friends? Are teams clueless about where the company is headed this year… or in the future?

2imagesWhen employees are in the dark about important company news, they go into survival mode; and, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Too often, employees face an information void either because management has not made a strategic commitment to invest in communicating to its most valuable resource, its people, or because of inadequate internal communications systems and processes. Employees who feel disenfranchised are left to their own devices. “Survival communications” emerge that benefit their individual needs, not the needs of the organization.

A successful employee communications infrastructure is not complicated; it will mitigate, if not eliminate, the need for ad-hoc, often destructive, survival communications. Its three essential elements are: 1) commitment from the top; 2) role clarity; and, 3) customized delivery.

1. Commitment from the Top
A CEO’s main thrust must be chief communicator of the organization’s vision and strategy. Too often, CEOs of large and small businesses alike find it difficult to speak with their own people directly. This problem infects the entire organization. Division and business unit leaders become the lead communicator within their own spheres of influence, often without the right message. Hence, many leaders get caught up in a complex network of survival tactics instead of a healthy system of strategic communications.

low section view of three people walking --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

A newly minted CEO who rose through the ranks scarcely had a profile with employees. When it was suggested he “walk the halls,” his first reaction was reluctance. “What would I say?” he asked. “Ask people what they are working on,” he was told. We started with a small list of well-respected people  throughout the organization—at all levels. As expected news traveled quickly of these impromptu conversations, which gave him the perfect opportunity to reinforce the company’s mission. Of course MBWA (Management by Wandering Around) is not new, Abraham Lincoln used it before the term was coined, but it is often sorely overlooked.

2. Role Clarity
confused1Any successful internal communications plan must ensure that every employee, at every level, in every office understands his or her role in achieving the organization’s mission. It’s common sense. But this is made more difficult because it requires not only clear, consistent messages, it requires these messages to be tailored in such a way that they are internalized, and hence, acted upon, by employees.

If employees can’t answer the simple question, “who’s in charge,” turf wars, wheel-spinning and scapegoats abound. Nothing gets done. When this occurs at the highest level, the void is apparent with glaring clarity to most everyone. Without clarity, employees simply will carve a survival path of their own. Ultimately, they will leave.

3. Customized Delivery
Employees have different information needs. Tailor employee messages by segment—executives, top tier management, sales teams, support services—and across geographies. tumblr_inline_mm3bqpMsEV1qz4rgp-300x300In addition, just because something was communicated once (in a company meeting, or in a global message) doesn’t assure “message received.” It takes a few times for that to occur. Company news must be communicated frequently, in context and in ways compatible with the corporate culture and the way people use technology. It we are out of touch with the lifeblood of the organization, neither our people nor our communication will survive.

When Yammer and What’s App were all the rage, some mandated their use in internal communications. Yet, few used them, and fewer used them effectively. Understanding how mobile fits into an organization’s internal communications strategy is critical. What role does texting have? Does email still rule? Are intranets optimized for mobile? How is privacy and security baked into the communications strategy? These are just a few questions to consider.

Avoiding Survival Mode
Understanding the communications dynamic enables organizations to break the cycle of stagnating survival communications. Healthy organizational environments provide employees with the information needed to perform and understand their future roles. As a result, employees can feel confident that leadership is on the right path as the organization grows. This only happens when company news is timely, shared freely and communicated in ways that are easy for every employee to access and understand. And this starts at the top.

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Face it. You Are Addicted!

Having neck pain?   Walking into people on the sidewalk?  Experienced a near miss crossing the street?

img_0792Sometimes I think the “DON’T WALK” signs should read “STOP TEXTING.”  We are not only more connected than ever, many of us have a tinge of “connectivity addiction.”

The more devices we have, the happier we are. In fact, we have more devices and spend more time on them than any other device prior. With computers, laptops, television and radio, the on/off button was something regularly used. Not so with our devices today. Always-on is a badge of honor. And who doesn’t feel the onset of anxiety setting in when the juice runs low or heaven forbid, runs out?

We think we are “connected” because we are “always-on.” We see a tweet, a post or an update as soon as it occurs from friends, family, colleagues and even world leaders. But are we? Are we truly connected to what matters most to us? Moreover, do we really want to be that connected? Is it healthy? Is it productive? Am I really more informed or better off because I can share a photo of my pancakes, the skyline, a dog or cat or whatever I fancy right now?

Anectdotal evidence suggests there are cracks in the connectivity dream. In some circles, disconnecting is the new black. And yes, you guessed it, there’s even an app for that.

Companies must better understand the dynamic between man, woman and child and their devices. And we all need to be connected in different ways. Real-time data gives us the ability to get more of what we want and less of what we don’t want and do so when and where we want to receive it. Today, uber relevance reigns. There is simply too much competing for our attention. I ask again, to what end? Is all this connectivity leading to better, more targeted, more relevant communications?

The Wisdom of Lester Wunderman

lesterI learned a valuable lesson from Lester Wunderman, the father of direct marketing, years ago: “Just because you know my name doesn’t mean you know me,” he said. Taking that a step further, it also doesn’t mean I want it now (even though all the data suggests it) or I want to do it with my phone.

In the world where we can access any and everything with a swipe or command, a “connectivity gap” is emerging, and it is getting in the way of communications that really matter to consumers, businesses, employees and even our friends.

We think we have communicated something because we just “sent it” or “posted it.” But unintended consequences are real. Delivering bad news in a text doesn’t work. Un-vetted blogs, tweets, posts (light on facts), do more to un-inform, than inform. Hashtag photo opportunities too often backfire. And the list goes on.

There simply is no substitute for well-conceived communications strategies that close the connectivity gap and free us from our connectivity addiction. Integrating new media technologies and an understanding of how social media channels wield their influence are part of it. But make no mistake, nothing happens without a plan and a commitment to stick to it.

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BOOK REVIEW: Water Damage – Suspense, Romance & Adventure in NYC in the 1900s

A break from the usual with this post—a book review of Water Damage, just published by New York professor,  Daniel R. Cillis, Ph.D. It’s his second novel in a trilogy about America in the 1900s. Full disclosure—I know the author and I’m so proud! It’s also a great story. Cillis tells a different history for the world’s financial capital with vivid descriptions, details and imagination.

9781491756829_COVER-fqa.inddSet in 1912 in New York and New Mexico, Water Damage is a work of historical fiction that suggests a famous Wall Street explosion that decimated the corner of Broad and Wall was the beginning of a reign of terror in the big city. It follows the further adventures of fictitious Spanish-American war hero Adobe Centori who teams up with federal agents to discover spies and saboteurs in New York.

The story contains absorbing characters, including a German Count, a Mexican Army Commander, U.S. Federal Agents, NYPD officers, New Mexican Cowboys and one very beautiful Femme Fatale. With keen attention to the details of the day, Water Damage transports the reader to New York and New Mexico and back again as a plot for America’s destruction unfolds. Water Damage is the second novel in a trilogy about America in the 1900s.

Storyline details
Adobe Centori seeks redemption for the woman he could not save and is drawn into an even greater conspiracy—a secret war against America. After a Wall Street explosion, a series of attacks in New York City raises the stakes for all involved, none of whom can deny the sense of a coming catastrophic attack. A cross-country search for anarchists and state-sponsored spies ensues. Centori joins federal agents and the New York police and an international plot tied to Germany’s ambitions in the coming Great War. Although New York and the financial center of the world recover, American foreign policy will never be the same.

6500e13c5c76af7ec3a8f262295de55dWater Damage is steeped with historical figures and details. Supporting characters Teddy Roosevelt, the New York City Police Commissioner and even the Italian-born financier and hotel bartender who invented the “Martini” are real, though some names have been changed. Also accurate are the descriptions of New York’s landmark Knickerbocker Hotel, which reopened as a hotel earlier in February 2015 after 95 years as an office building under various other names, Long Island’s Sagamore Hill and the world famous Woolworth Building. As with other historical fiction novels, some dates have been slightly altered to fit the storyline.

It has it all – intrigue, romance, adventure—with lots of twists and turns. At the same time, readers have an opportunity to learn about the rich history of New York and New Mexico!

And you can buy it today on Amazon or BN for less than a cup at Starbucks!
About the author.

Water Damage
Publisher: iUniverse (March 20, 2015)
Paperback: 448 pages
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1491756829

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Have you been to “customer service” hell?

Earlier this year, I recounted various disastrous scenarios of customer service gone digital (see prior post). Of the four, I had a sneaking suspicion that one would continue for months. I was right. I had little faith that “fax” the company insisted I send would do the trick—especially since the company claimed it was the fastest internet in the country. Communicating only via fax seemed at odds with its very being.

inbound-call-centre-vacancy.jpg_1352272647Calls to customer service last year (September 20th, two calls on November 15th and another on December 13th) to resolve the case of the “missing” digital box seemingly were going to produce a positive result. In fact,  I was told by Mikisha (reps won’t disclose their last names, even when pressed), that the $398.61 replacement cost for the digital box that was returned in person 11 months earlier was credited to my account. Good news!

Not so fast. In March, a collection agency got involved. Oh good. To recap the insanity: Verizon (oops, did I let that slip?) sent my account into collections to recover the cost ($398.61) of a digital box that was, in fact, returned to a company storefront months earlier, and later verified by the company as returned. I was also erroneously charged (and paid) for nine months $7.99, plus taxes, for this returned box. This means the company was pursuing collection of more than $470 (less taxes) for merchandise it had acknowledged was returned and services for which I overpaid. Nuts!

Upon learning this, I called customer service again (March 25th) and was told it was an error. The charge for the returned digital box was reversed while I was on the phone with the representative and she said within 48-hours I would have an email indicating the charge reversal was pending, followed by a second email, indicating it was processed. Furthermore, my account was marked with a “code” indicating the supervisor would call me to resolve the overpayment.

“A code?” I asked. “May I have the name of the supervisor?”
“No. We can only give you a code,” the rep responded.
“Okay,” I conceded with skepticism.

Predictably, more than 48-hours later, no email and no phone call from the supervisor. I called customer service again and was directed directly to the collections agency. [As you can imagine, that went well.] I tried again. This time I got through to another rep who was going back to the very beginning of the saga. That wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I asked to speak with a supervisor. I was prepared to be on hold all day, if necessary; it turned out to be just about 15 or 20 minutes.

The supervisor was skillful in calming me down and worked through the issue. After a time, he said someone, early on, neglected to ticket the incident correctly, which is why each time I called, I was sent in circles. The proper ticket number was needed to trigger the correction in the system. Without it, the account was considered delinquent and automatically went (and stayed) in collections regardless of what any other customer service rep said he or she did.

Post Script: As of this writing, it appears the $398.61 charge for the returned digital box was recorded and the Collections agency was notified the account is settled. It also appears that a check for $72.80 for monthly services I never received will be sent in a few weeks. If all this, in fact, is true, thanks goes to a patient Verizon customer service supervisor named Jay (though he did give me his last name).

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