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We’re Through, Toyota

March 10, 2010 4 comments

My love affair with Toyota was as old as this ad, but no more.

I’ve been a Toyota fangirl for as long as I can remember. My eco- and budget-aware parents always owned Toyotas; in fact, I learned to drive stick in a ’78 Corolla (that’s it in the picture). That was the start of my love affair with this brand: I graduated from the Corolla to a swank ’85 Cressida, snagged the Matrix the year it came out, succumbed to the suburban siren call of the SUV and picked up a 4Runner along the way, had two torrid affairs with Lexus (that counts) and finally saw the eco light of day with the Prius in which I currently trundle to work daily with fingers crossed that my floor mats won’t bite off my feet or otherwise cause me bodily harm.

I’ve only owned ten cars over the course of my adult life. SEVEN were made by Toyota. Please keep this in mind.

One recent Saturday the Russian tells me we’ve received a “VIP invitation” from our local Toyota dealer to thank us for our support during Toyota’s current difficulties (by “difficulties” they meant this) and offer a SPECIAL ONLY FOR US zero-percent down/zero-percent financing deal on the 2010 Prius.

The Russian has been known to fall prey to “too good to be true” offers before (though I probably would too if I were flooded with junk mail daily in a language not my own) – so to be on the safe side I scrutinize this letter within an inch of its life. I’m looking for the fine print and the disclaimers and I can’t find any so off we go to Toyota! We’re gonna buy a new Prius! And we’re gonna save LOTS OF MONEY!

Forget that we have to wait 30 minutes for our “VIP appointment” because our salesman (who we’ve known since my son was in diapers and from whom we’ve bought three cars) decided to meet with some walk-ins first. We finally sit down and with that VIP SPECIAL ONLY FOR US offer in my hand, I tell him we’re keen to get our mitts on that sparkly new 2010 Prius.

Will you be surprised to learn there were strings attached to this deal? Will you be shocked to hear the VIP SPECIAL ONLY FOR US offer was only good if the dealer deemed our current car worthy of trade-in? Will you be amazed to know the salesman from whom we’ve bought three cars delivered this news casually and without apology? And despite the “I want to buy a new Prius let’s talk” tattoo on my forehead, that he made no effort to engage us in any kind of negotiation?

The Russian was mute through all this, probably hoping that if he got very quiet it would offset whatever rage I was about to vomit all over this salesguy.  I knew we were about to truck out of there in the same car we’d come in with no VIP SPECIAL OFFER FOR US and no sparkly new Prius, so why not let ‘er rip?

What I wanted to say:

Really, Toyota Salesguy? REALLY? Do you think this is a good time to be hoodwinking loyal customers with bogus offers? Do you think at a time when NO ONE wants to buy your death trap Prius that maybe you’d want to treat those who do with a little more courtesy and consideration? Do you think maybe, just maybe, you should get your manager down here to your cubicle and make him apologize for inconveniencing us with his slimy sales tactics and taking up the better part of our Saturday morning with this goose chase? I am a trained public relations professional, Toyota salesguy, and I know a communications crisis when I see it and believe you me, you guys are in the MOTHER of all crisis situations and companies in crisis should not PISS OFF THEIR LOYAL CUSTOMERS.

What I actually said:

Gosh, Toyota Salesguy, this is really disappointing. I guess there’s nothing to talk about so we’ll be going now.

 Because I’m tough like that.

Look,  I realize the boneheaded sales ploy of a manager desperate to drive showroom traffic is not the fault of the corporate overlords – after all, they’re too busy cranking out all those TV spots that “put a face” on the hardworking technicians of Toyota who believe in these cars and “drive them too!” – what do they know about what happens on the front lines?  But the combination of seemingly endless recalls with false advertising/crappy service at the local level – well, there are plenty of auto makers who’d be thrilled to take my money (and my loyalty) right about now. (Oh, and whose cars don’t accelerate uncontrollably and kill families in fiery crashes.)

We had a good run, Toyota. 26 years and seven cars, to be specific. But no more. A girl can only take so much heartbreak.

Image via.

Fantastic Mr Fox, Foodie Edition

November 23, 2009 1 comment

I am dying to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”  Can you blame me? Any cartoon that includes George Clooney and Meryl Streep on its voice talent roster is okay in my book, PLUS you’ve got the awesomeness of stop-motion animation AND Wes Anderson at the helm. Oh, and a 91% on the Tomatometer at rottentomatoes.com. Done, done and done.

But wait, there’s more. Did you know chef extraordinaire Mario Batali voices one of the characters? Neither did I, at least not until the movie’s PR team at 42West brought it to my attention. Batali provides the voice for the Rabbit character and from the looks of things, footwear inspiration as well. 

Mario in signature crocs.

Now check out Rabbit. Look verrry closely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the most adorable thing of all. The 42West PR gang have provided me with lovely Thanksgiving Day recipe cards created by none other than Rabbit…er…Mario Batali. Although I’m off the hook for kitchen duty this Thanksgiving, I know for sure I’ll be road-testing Rabbit’s pumpkin-sage-butter pasta dish sometime in the very near future (in which there is, by the way, an entire stick of butter. The pasta, not the near future.) 

Check out the Pumpkin Lune with Butter and Sage and the rest of the recipes here: Thanksgiving Recipes from Mario “Rabbit” Batali

 

Love letter to the FTC: I received nothing in exchange for this post, not even a pair of orange crocs. Or a stick of butter.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” opens nationwide on Thanksgiving Day.

Batali croc image via.

Rabbit image via 42West. 

The Future of Journalism: BWE 09 Recap

October 23, 2009 2 comments

Oh how I wish I had been at Blog World Expo this year. For one thing, I would’ve like to have seen Guy Kawasaki drool over Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson up close and personal at the closing keynote. With Chad Vader on the same stage, no less. For another (and perhaps more professionally appropriate), I wish I had been a spectator at the fascinating “Future of Journalism” panel hosted by Brian Solis and featuring CNN anchor Don Lemon; NYU journalism professor and PressThink blog author Jay Rosen; conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt; and Current TV COO Joanna Drake Earl.

 There was a lot to this discussion (including some hostile questions from a blogger who – heaven forgive me – looked like he hadn’t seen a shower or the outside of his mother’s basement in a while), but what was most valuable to me were these three distinctions:

Professional vs Amateur
Vertical vs Horizontal 
Broadcast vs Share 

I’ll explain.

The Numbers Please: According to Solis, there are 400MM tweets published in any given month. There are over 2 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook each week. Twitter has more monthly uniques than cnn.com and nytimes.com (by the way, if those stats are inaccurate please blame Solis. I was merely watching innocently at home via web video. In my PJs.) That’s a LOT of information swirling around the interwebz. The question is, how reliable is it as news?

 A Hybrid Approach: News may unfold on Twitter, but you don’t get the full depth of a story the way you would if a professional news organization were behind it.  A hybrid model seems to be what’s emerging, or at least that’s what Current TV’s Earl suggests. You still need an editorial point of view and journalistic rigor (fact-checking, anyone?) to bring shape and structure to the mind-boggling amount of content being generated all around us. She describes this as “pro-am” journalism.

“The Wired Ecosystem”:  NYU’s Rosen describes the blogosphere as a continuum between amateur (“citizen”) producers and professional (“traditional) media.  Solis gives the example of NBC’s Ann Curry looking for information on North Korean missile test, getting nothing from her traditional sources but finding leads on Twitter. CNN’s Lemon asserts that even breaking news found through social networks requires double- and triple-confirmation before it can (or should) be reported. The point is, it’s one big ecosystem and the best content is generated when traditional and “new” collaborate.

From “Network” to Networked: My favorite distinction of the panel comes from Rosen. He cites the iconic scene in the film Network when deranged anchorman Howard Beale incites his viewers to fling open their windows and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” That image – millions of atomized viewers uniting in behavior not because they are connected to one another, rather, to a central mass media outlet – defines traditional media. The viewer-media connection is vertical and one-way. Now, thanks to technology, we are connected not only to mass media but to one another – so we still consume information vertically but can instantly share it horizontally.

I marvel at people who continue to dismiss social networking as a time-suck, or microblogging as self-indulgent narcissism. Well, maybe my dad can get away with it – but then again, he’s a retired lawyer and not a practicing communications professional. Those of us who fall into the latter group will do well to embrace the lessons of this panel and be aware of the boundaries collapsing all around us: between professional and amateur journalism, vertical and horizontal communication, and – crucially – broadcasting messages vs sharing stories.

 

 

My Call with Uma Thurman

October 14, 2009 6 comments

Motherhood2I’ve mentioned before that I’m part of a group of NYC-area mom bloggers working with the team promoting Motherhood, a movie coming out in a week or so made by a mom, starring a mom, about a mom. No money exchanging hands (that’s for you, FTC), just access to the cast and director for interviews and some nice link love on the movie Facebook page.

So I’m waiting for the call to start this morning, making chit chat with the dozen or so bloggers on the line and enjoying the not-yet muted sounds of their home lives in the background. I hear cooing babies, barking dogs, toddlers clamoring for “Sesame Street.” My background noises, meanwhile, are those of the work-at-office mom: tooth-rattling jackhammers and sirens shrieking their way down Lexington Avenue.

Uma joins the call. Mute button on. Suddenly I’m having a moment. I AM ON THE PHONE WITH BEATRIX THE BRIDE. Holy Tarantino. The warrior mother, the assassin goddess, the woman who dispatches legions and murmurs, “Those of you lucky enough to still have your lives — take them with you. But leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”

*Swoon*

Ooops, I’m first up! I get to read my question myself. In my mind I’m saying, “Beatrix the Bride I love you and want to braid your hair and can I try on your yellow jumpsuit” but here’s what I actually say: “Uma! Hi!” She answers my question and the dozen that follow but Blessed Virgin Mary, this call is a hot mess. It’s all dropped connections, background noise, overlapping conversation…in other words, the absolute personification of motherhood itself. I don’t think a single one of us is sweating this fact because we’re used to chaos. It is our currency, whether we work for a paycheck or not. Moms all do a variation of the same juggling act, after all. Which sometimes sucks and sometimes is beautiful and joyful.

So here are some of my favorite bits from the interview:

Uma was asked where she feels the movie’s authenticity comes from. She said she loves that Eliza’s character is not there to cast the viewer’s attention on someone else – a man or a child. She is the heart of the movie, depicted honestly – with flaws and anger issues, but very much in love with her family.

She’s surprised when other mothers dismiss the topic of motherhood in film (as in “Why watch a movie about my own boring life?”) Uma wonders why we discredit ourselves so much that we’d think raising another human being isn’t worthy of pop culture attention.

My question was about a scene described by director Katherine Dieckmann as her favorite in the film. Eliza and her husband are sitting in a car. Emotional words are exchanged. I asked Uma to describe it and here’s what she said: 

Eliza is digging into the source of her unhappiness, the fact that she’s lost herself in the minutiae of domestic life. She’s worn down by the tiny, grinding repetitive acts that make up her day. She no longer recognizes herself.

I want to see this movie for that scene alone. I predict I’ll hear myself in Eliza’s words, see myself in her frustration. I wonder what will happen for her and if she’ll find peace with the choices she’s made. I wonder too about the women in my life who don’t have creative or professional outlets, who lose a bit of themselves every day. The moms who – like Eliza – pour all their talent and energy into their families at the expense of their own aspirations. They’re the ones who deserve happy endings.

Motherhood is in theaters October 23rd.

Image via.

Check out Eliza’s blog here.

Riding through Hell: 2009 World Business Forum Recap

October 11, 2009 1 comment
Blogging live at the WBF. See the back of my head in the front row?

Blogging live at the WBF. See the back of my head in the front row?

It’s Day 1 of the World Business Forum. I’m tucked comfortably into my puffy velvet seat on Radio City Music Hall’s third mezzanine. Despite some wi-fi challenges (what conference is complete without them?) it’s been smooth sailing for the 50 or so of us who are here as part of the official Blogger Hub. Two levels below, the orchestra seats are steadily filling to the accompaniment of the Lite FM-ish smooth jazz flowing through the sound system (you were expecting Lady GaGa?)  Despite the stated “business casual” dress code, it’s a sea of gray suits down there. I’m in standard issue PR girl black head-to-toe, with gold flats and crystal drop earrings. (This is my business casual.)

Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton takes the stage to open the conference, and something he says sets the tone for all the speakers who follow:  “When you ride through hell, you don’t stop.”  It’s an old cowboy saying, but pretty apt right now. No denying things have been pretty hellish for the past 12 months. It’s a common refrain with nearly every speaker – unemployment up, GDP down. American small business dying on the vine. We may technically be out of the recession, but the hard work of recovery has just begun. And there’s the question of sustainability and whether economic recovery will happen at the expense of a planet which, as speaker Jeffrey Sachs reminds us, “is bursting at the seams.”  

How appropriate that climate-related disaster metaphors are a recurring conference theme: it’s Katrina, a cyclone, a tsunami. Cataclysmic. The eye of the hurricane is past but the challenges left in the aftermath are monumental. Hellish indeed. But as Hinton says, this is no time to stop riding. It’s simple in business: Grow. Do. Wherever the market goes next, we must focus on growing. Innovation brings good fortune. It’s always time for ideas. 

There is no shortage of ideas coming from the Radio City Music Hall stage. My head and laptop are swimming with them. I look down at my notes in between speakers and am amazed I can keep up at all (Thank you 10th grade typing teacher. Name: forgotten. Impact on my professional life: priceless.) Themes emerge from speaker to speaker and begin to coalesce on my monitor; here are the two that resonate most powerfully for me:

Truth: Saatchi and Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts tells us the truth is ugly. Don’t be afraid to face it. Bill Conaty, former HR chief of GE, describes “truth and candor” as pillars of a performance culture. Management guru Bill George cautions against denial, says leaders willing to face organizational and personal realities free up their companies to move forward. Or make tough but crucial decisions like, as Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld suggests, killing your company’s sacred cows in times of crisis.

Creativity:  Needless to say, there is much to absorb from the event’s most high profile speakers George Lucas and Bill Clinton. In both cases it takes me a minute to get my star-struck fingers typing, once I do I find my notes coming back consistently to creativity. The Lucas Q&A with film critic Ben Mankiewicz is billed as “The Future of Cinema” but feels more to me like a blast from the past. In a good way, considering how forward-looking Lucas’ past actually was. It’s easy to get so caught up in his role of father of the “Star Wars” mythos that I forget the boldness of Lucas’ business innovations. Small action figure movie tie-ins didn’t exist before Lucas pioneered the model with Kenner and forever altered the movie merchandising landscape.  And when he couldn’t find a production shop able to make the visual effects needed for “Star Wars,” he created Industrial Light and Magic.  I have no idea what enables a human being to have the courage and means to look into a void and simply invent what’s needed. Where others would see a yawning chasm, Lucas saw opportunity.

As for Clinton, creativity as well as collaboration are recurring themes in his speech. He cites interdependence – not globalism – as the word he believes best describes the century we live in.  According to Clinton, it is not just about the movement of money around the world, but the flow of diverse people and ideas. And in his view, there is no such thing as a personal rainstorm. The problems of the 21st century – terrorism, poverty, famine, diseases – will be solved only by cross-border creativity and collaboration. And while there is hope embedded in that message – of people and organizations putting aside individual agendas for a common good – there is a grave warning, too:  “We have to find a world where we can all win, otherwise, none of us will.”

Go here for more blog coverage of the World Business Forum.  

(image via)

On the Agenda: World Business Forum ’09

October 4, 2009 1 comment

 

The scene at Radio City Music Hall last year

The scene at Radio City Music Hall last year

I am over the moon that I get to attend the World Business Forum as a featured blogger alongside an extremely serious group of digital big kids. Liz Strauss is among this crew; I’m trying to figure out a way to sling Liz over my shoulder like a backpack so she can murmur smart things in my ear as I go about my day. This isn’t practical since a) Liz is about six feet tall and b) humans don’t make great backpacks. So I’ll have to settle for tweeting alongside her on October 6th and 7th — meet me over at the forum twitter hashtag (#wbf09) if you want to find out what George Lucas, T. Boone Pickens and Bill Clinton are up to these days.

(Image via.)

How I Told My 6-Year Old About 9/11

September 11, 2009 24 comments

My son and I have a bedtime ritual where we play with his “question cards.” They’re flashcards, really, questions on one side and answers on the other — math, science, social studies, vocabulary — designed for first and second graders. We were at it last night.

He’s tucked into the old blue glider (the same one I nursed him in, tatty and faded but I can’t bear to give it away), I’m on the floor quizzing him.

How many quarters in a dollar?

Is a continent land or water?

What four things does a plant need to grow?

And then this:

What U.S. city did terrorists attack on September 11, 2001?

What?

It stops me cold. My eyes fill, my stomach turns. In the flash of a card, I am hurled back in time. 

There it is. A social studies question on a first grader’s flash card.

My son pokes me with his foot, wanting me to continue. 

I look up. Carefully: “I need to tell you something important.”

He’s listening. He knows when I’m serious.

I breathe. “Tomorrow is a special day. I’m not sure they’ll tell you about it in school, so I want to tell you myself.”

Still listening.

“There used to be two amazing buildings in New York City – huge skyscrapers, we called them the Twin Towers. You would’ve loved them, they were really cool and you could see them from all over the city.  I used to look for them when I was lost because they’d help me figure out where I was supposed to be going.”

He’s liking this. He’s into big, cool buildings. He wants to know if I was ever inside them. I said no, but Daddy was once, in a beautiful restaurant at the top of one of the towers where you could practically see the clouds.

Hard part. “One day eight years ago, some bad men got on airplanes and flew right into those towers. The airplanes exploded like bombs, and that made the towers catch fire and fall down.”

My son takes this in. I’m not even going to mention the Pentagon and Pennsylvania. This is enough. He frowns.  “But…were there people in the towers?”

My heart hurts. His first concern is the people inside. I get it out: “Yes, there were people in the towers. A lot of people of died that day.”

His eyes widen. He clenches two small fists, angry. “THOSE JERKS.”

Oh, my baby. Jerks. A playground word. A playground world. That’s what life should be for a six-year old. “Jerk” is just about as bad as it gets in his reality. Am I right to invade it with the ugliness of this story?

Too late now. He wants to know why the terrorists chose the World Trade Center. I’m startled by the thoughtfulness of the question. I tell him the towers were symbols of New York City, of America, of a way of life the bad men hated.

I can tell we’re moving into deep waters and frankly, am not equipped to explain why radical Muslims hate the West. I don’t understand it myself. Besides, my son has friends named Mohammed and Abbas whose moms come to the playground in long skirts and head coverings. All I want my son to know is Muslim is something some of his friends just happen to be — the same way Daddy is Russian Orthodox and his best friend Sebi is half-Jewish. I don’t want him to care or even notice the difference.

I can see I’ve got a few seconds left of his patience before he’s ready to go back to easier questions. “So tomorrow, sweetheart — you’ll think a special thought for those people who died. Yes?”

Yes.

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