Might As Well Laugh

Elbert Hubbard is an American author who’s credited with this quote: “Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out of it alive.”

Given that none of us will survive this life, we might as well laugh as much as we can along the way.

That’s the idea behind my new humor blog called “j/k” (that’s digital shorthand for “just kidding”).

A lot of things happen to me that would really depress me if I didn’t laugh at them. I know this from experience because I’ve dealt with depression before. But as I’ve gotten older (I’m staring down 50 and trying hard not to blink), I’ve come to realize that looking for the funny in life isn’t just fun, but it also has likely extended my life by a few years.

Some of the things I’ll write at “j/k” are true. Some are partially true but embellished. Some are inspired by true events. Some are just utter and complete falsehoods. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what’s what, but I hope you won’t spend too much time on it. Instead, I hope my posts there lighten your load a bit.

I’ve already written about a visit to a really terrible winery and about the fact that my addiction to old TV sitcoms is beginning to affect my everyday conversations. I’ll also give you the Friday 5 — lists of useless information that you can’t live without. I invite my “Communication at Work” followers to check it out and let me know what you think. But don’t leave for long! I’ll still be here writing about communication in our work and personal lives.


2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for “Communication at Work.”

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 19,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

4 Reasons Big Bird is Still Cool After All These Years

Who would have thought that the “Saturday Night Live” performer getting the most laughs this week would be Big Bird?

But there he was, all 8 feet of his yellow plumage, seated next to “Weekend Update” segment host Seth Myers, yawning because he was up way past his 7 p.m. bedtime and nearly stealing the show from guest host Daniel Craig.

Big Bird suddenly became the talk of the U.S. presidential campaign last week after Republican Mitt Romney suggested withholding federal support for public broadcasting. Romney promised he had nothing against Big Bird, but the damage was done. The next day, from Sesame Street’s Twitter account, Big Bird tweeted, “My bed time is usually 7:45, but I was really tired yesterday and fell asleep at 7! Did I miss anything last night?”

Big Bird was retweeted more than 12,800 times and has been the talk of social media and news programs ever since.

How is it that a puppet from a children’s show manages to remain so cool and so relevant — not with kids, but with grownups — after more than 40 years? The answers provide some good lessons for brands everywhere.

  1. Stay true to the brand. Big Bird doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He, like all the Muppets from “Sesame Street,” remain in character — and more important, true to their characters — no matter what situation they’re thrown into. It would have been tempting for Carroll Spinney, the main inside the bird, to knock off a few double entendres or attempt some “grown-up” humor, given the setting. Instead, he kept it clean: “I’m a bird! Tweeting is how we talk!”
  2. Know your audience. Big Bird’s appearance on “SNL” wasn’t geared to children, most of whom share a bedtime closer to his. He knew his audience was the parents of those kids, many of whom grew up watching him on “Sesame Street” themselves. He also knew his audience would never forgive him if he delivered a line not in keeping with his character.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The whole reason Big Bird’s appearance worked is because Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit production company behind “Sesame Street,” has a good sense of humor about itself and was willing to play along — as long as the brand’s integrity remained intact. That’s the sign of a strong brand.
  4. Remain relevant. “Sesame Street” has managed to do so after all these years, even with many of the same beloved characters. A child-like 8-foot bird that’s active on Twitter? Now, that’s hip.

Poking Fun at a World Gone Nuts

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh. At yourself. At others. At the world.

That’s the premise behind Constant Crisis News, a very funny weekly podcast produced by two communicators.

I’ve known Hamilton Holloway and Chuck Hansen for many years. I met Ham when we both worked in employee communications at Capital One at a time when the company was just getting off the ground and growing exponentially. I met Chuck some years later after I had left the company and he had just arrived. We run into each other frequently at local PRSA meetings.

Ham is no longer in the communication business. Now he hawks sustainably grown, fairly traded coffee when he’s not serving on various community boards, especially those that focus on the needs of mentally disabled people. But he’s still a communicator at heart. Listening to him and Chuck riff on the insanity of our world takes me back to some of my favorite memories at Capital One, when 5 p.m. came and some of the genuinely funny folks in our office would unload the craziness that had accumulated during the day.

Chuck is making a career out of humor. He writes an award-winning humor column for his hometown newspaper and folds some funny into the motivational speeches he delivers around the region. He has lots of experience to draw on, having been a congressional press secretary and a speechwriter for a Virginia governor, not to mention his aforementioned corporate work.

Ham and Chuck (“the people, not the meat-counter products,” as their bio says) bring all of those battle wounds and their dry, sometimes twisted sense of the ridiculous to a podcast that will make you laugh and that will even make you think. Give it a listen here.


Pick-Up Lines for Communicators

As a public service – and for a little Friday fun – here is a list of pick-up lines and flirtatious phrases for communicators. If you’re offended by any of them, at least it means you get them:

  • I like your style. No, I mean your AP Style.
  • How ‘bout coming over here so I can kiss your ellipsis.
  • I want you. Period. Backspace. Exclamation point, exclamation point.
  • I’m free of all social diseases and dangling participles.
  • Baby, when I’m with you, I feel like just breaking free and throwing caution to the wind and living with reckless abandon and breaking all the rules, including the one about run-on sentences.
  • You make me want to pull out my red pen.
  • You must also be a writer because I’m reading you pretty clearly.
  • Do you want the edited version or the rough draft of what I’m thinking right now?
  • I’ve misplaced a modifier. How about you coming to my place and helping me look for it?
  • I’d like to both compliment you and complement you. Aren’t you impressed that I know the difference?
  • Let’s you and I get together for a game of Scrabble. I’m feeling like I might triple word score.
  • Think of me as your rough copy. With a little massaging, I could turn into a masterpiece.

Now, add yours to the list. You don’t have to admit to having used them before.

If We Can’t Define PR, Congress Will Do It For Us

For many years, public relations professionals have wanted to be taken seriously, to be known for more than the stereotype of “spin doctors.”

We might get our chance, but first we have to survive the spotlight of the U.S. Congress.

William R. Murray, president and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, writes on the Institute for PR’s blog that Congress is increasing its scrutiny of the profession through investigations into government spending on PR. The inquiries are likely to shine a lot of light on the profession and it will probably get pretty ugly before all is said and done. That’s how Congress operates these days.

Of course, PR professionals who go about their work ethically have nothing to worry about. As Murray points out, “Such scrutiny — if conducted fairly and objectively — may prove valuable for public relations.”

He could be right. This might be an opportunity for leaders of our profession to explain what ethical PR practitioners do — which brings to mind another recent kerfuffle around the definition of PR. PRSA recently put forth three options for defining the profession and a public vote determined the final one. Critics came out of the woodwork. Many ridiculed PRSA for the process and for even attempting to provide a definition, saying it was a waste of time and money.

However, at a time when the PR profession needs to explain itself and how ethical practitioners do their jobs, we need a succinct, accurate definition of what we do. If we can’t provide one, the upcoming congressional circus will define the profession for us. And I don’t think we want that.

VCU Football: Undefeated Since 1968

I’m ecstatic about VCU’s run to the NCAA Final Four. As a graduate of VCU’s School of Mass Communications — which right now is the university’s third-largest undergraduate degree program — I’ve never been so proud of my alma mater.

A lot has been written about VCU in the last week as a curious sports-watching nation has discovered this Richmond, Va. gem. The fact that VCU doesn’t have a football team has largely kept it off the map. What kind of school is VCU? What kind of people study there? What kind of culture does it have? What’s it known for?

A banner spotted by a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter at the team’s send-off to Houston just about says it all: “VCU Arts is proud of the Rams. Good luck in the Super Bowl.”