Drive By History

My work travels take me to various cities, where I typically try to squeeze in a bit of culture while I'm there. But today's day-trip to Baltimore and Washington, DC, left no time for that. Alas, I snapped one great picture of the National Mall as we drove by in a cab on the wait to the airport. That's the Jefferson Memorial, honoring the 3rd US President and author of the Declaration of Independence, and behind it the Washington Monument, honoring the 1st US President (and, the world's tallest stone structure!).

National Mall


Falling into an Echo Chamber of Meaningless Buzzwords

Chor Boogie
Chor Boogie mural at Wynwood Walls in Miami by Flickr user @stephrog

Have you read Samuel Scott's latest piece on Techcrunch?

"Everything the tech world says about marketing is wrong."

It's a provocative headline, with an equally strong point of view on how the latest generation of marketers - digital and tech marketers in particular - are getting caught up in buzzwords at the expense of following basic marketing principles.

“The biggest problem in marketing in the tech world today is that too many marketers do not know the first thing about marketing...The use of buzzwords has caused a new generation of marketers to enter the field without knowing even the basic terms and practices that underpin our industry."

While I don’t necessarily agree with every point in here, it’s worth reading. Scott mentions the recent Hubspot tell-all as a case in point. I’m not sure where I fall on that particular controversy (haven’t read the book yet, although I thought Darmesh Shah handled it well in his response), but at the end of the day what really good marketer wouldn’t try to create their own category - potentially even a buzzword - in order to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace?

Hubspot has had runaway success with the term “inbound marketing” because they made it their own. They didn’t invent the concept of content marketing, they were just shrewd enough to package it up with the latest tools available (the Internet, plus a keen understanding of not only SEO/email/content marketing but also the marketer's desire for a simpler way to manage and report on those things) in a way that made it very appealing to the marketplace. Of course, if you hang your hat on a certain positioning, you need to make sure your brand/product/service can deliver on it (and from what I’ve seen of Hubspot, it is a nice little product), or the phrase means nothing.

That said, it’s critical for us as marketing professionals to recognize that there are a lot of buzzwords out there that can overshadow the basic marketing principles we need to employ for success. As Scott points out, most of what we do falls into "one or more of the five frameworks within the promotion mix: direct marketing, advertising, personal selling, sales promotion and publicity. (The promotion mix itself is under one of the four Ps of the marketing mix: product, price, place and promotion)." This is marketing 101, and a good reminder of it at that.

Inbound marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, search marketing. Most online marketing tactics are really just direct under another name…highly targeted and designed to elicit an immediate response that can be measured. Direct marketing is appealing to brands that are increasingly under pressure to show results quickly. But it is typically is used in conjunction with the other pillars of the marketing house (advertising and publicity) in order to build/sustain a brand and move product. They are different things, used for different purposes and (should) have different goals and success measures.

I think the buzzwords are OK, provided they aren't used as a crutch to avoid a more thoughtful approach that's grounded in marketing fundamentals. What do you think?

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Curiosity and the Power of the Liberal Arts

MaleconFlickr image of street art along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, via @stephrog


I have long valued curiosity as a key trait in business and in life. I credit my parents (who instilled a love of reading and respect for questioning at an early age) and my Liberal Arts education from Bowdoin College (where I honed my critical thinking and communication skills in order to capitalize on the output of all that questioning). When I entered the business world and found myself working in the early Internet economy, the sector was still new and changing so rapidly that the only way to succeed was to voraciously read, listen, and question. And I strongly believe that holds true today - so much so that we included curiosity among the corporate values we have emblazoned on our office wall: "Curiosity. About people, ideas, technology, media and society."

Well, it seems like curiosity - and the constant questioning and analysis that is central to the Liberal Arts - is having a moment. Just look at all the articles published on the topic in recent months by Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, Deloitte, PwC, Time, The Washington Post, USA Today, and yes, my alma mater. All praising curiosity and the power of the Liberal Arts.

"Welcome to the era of the curious leader, where success may be less about having all the answers and more about wondering and questioning." - Warren Berger in Harvard Business Review

Curiosity is a critical trait for success in today’s world, particularly in rapidly-changing fields. It creates an openness to unfamiliar experiences that allows us to see things differently. It breeds hacker behavior that yields new approaches and fresh ideas. And it fosters multidisciplinary thinking that drives innovative solutions to complex problems. That's why I seek out and foster this quality when building teams.

"Curiosity is what often motivates one to learn about new domains, pick up new tools and programming languages, master new analytical techniques, and engage in the type of associative thinking that leads to innovation." - James Guszcza, US chief data scientist for Deloitte Consulting LLP

Curiosity is, of course, ingrained in the STEM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) which have grabbed headlines for some time now. But there is a the growing STEAM movement that seeks to insert the Arts alongside these more specialized studies.

"What can’t be replaced in any organization imaginable in the future is precisely what seems overlooked today: liberal arts skills, such as creativity, empathy, listening, and vision. These skills, not digital or technological ones, will hold the keys to a company’s future success." - Tom Perrault, Chief People Officer at Rally Health

Advances in machine learning and automation could one day commoditize tasks like coding and number crunching, but curiosity, creativity, and vision can't be programmed. They are uniquely human skills that can (and should) be cultivated. As a hiring manager, I've found that humanities students in particular possess the ability to adapt, think on their feet, frame an argument, and persuade an audience. These are critical (and transferable) skills, regardless of industry focus.

"Only people with specialized creative skills — honed from years of thinking, reading, writing, and creating — have the talent of making the complex simple and the difficult accessible...The ability to understand the world through different lenses and turn competing or disparate viewpoints into a compelling narrative is an art, not a science. It requires an intuitive understanding of the world that comes from a deep immersion in the liberal arts." - Tom Perrault

So ask questions. Seek out opinions. Consider alternatives. Talk about them. Strong critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills - areas in which the Liberal Arts tend to excel - will lead your team to do great things.

Find me on LinkedIn here.


This is what's wrong with online advertising.

The Illuminated Crowd
Flickr image of "The Illuminated Crowd" public art in Montreal via @stephrog

"2015: The Year in Culture"

Sounds like my kind of article, so I click through.

I'm taken to, part of the Time Inc. Affluent Media Group family of websites, which also includes Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine. All reputable publishers producing premium content. And yet this is what I encounter:


1) The beginning of the story that piqued my interest takes up about 27% of the page (closer to 5% if you disregard the large image and white space around it). There are four prominently placed ad units above and to the right (and one in the footer, well below the fold). In order to keep reading, I'm forced to click through to the next page.

2) I'm served yet another ad, this time in the form of the much derided interstitial, or pop-up, that interrupts my reading until I can either sit through it or skip it to proceed. In this particular ad the "Continue to Site" link and "[X]" to close the ad link are dangerously close, and I inadvertently click through to the advertiser's site (causing mild annoyance for me, and inflated response metrics for them).

Departures 2

3) I make it through to page 2 (0f 23!) where I am rewarded with a bit more content, but no option to "view article on one page," which is customary in this scenario. Instead, Departures forces me to click through to the next page, which - you guessed it - spawns another interstitial. This happened between ALL 23 PAGES of the article. And it was always the same ad. Most readers probably would have abandoned ship at this point because the user experience was so poor, but I played along to see what would happen.

4) Five pop-ups later (and a couple of miss-clicks through to the advertiser's site), I arrive at page 6. Which is an ad. No article content on this page, just an ad unit for Wynn Resorts surrounded by the other standard ad units. I have been served 30 ads to this point, and this new placement brings it to 31. I'm not even halfway through the article I wanted to read.

What is going on here? I have a reputable publisher, whose content I enjoy, but I feel duped. Their site seems to be more a vehicle for ad delivery than actual publishing, with little to no thought given to their readers.

Listen, I work in digital media and I understand the need for (and value) of advertising, particularly as a revenue stream for publishers like Departures. But the ad model only works if readers feel like they are getting value in return (i.e., I'm willing to view your ads in exchange for free content). When you make the content incredibly difficult to access, or overshadow it with the ads, the value exchange becomes uneven and I lose interest in your site (and content).

As for the advertisers...I saw the Glenlivet pop-up 23 times in one session, and the Fathom Cruise to Cuba ad about the same. I'd like to think the excessive pop-ups were thanks to a glitch in the system (I just went back and no longer see it, but that could simply be because they burned through their impressions), but even so the site and its advertisers could follow some basic best practices to avoid this. Among them:

  • Don't chunk up long articles into dozens of pages just so you can serve more ads. If you must, at least give readers the option to "view on one page."
  • Don't place "continue to site" and "close ad" links so close together. Remember that many people may be viewing on a smart phone or tablet and navigating via touch (which can be less precise than a mouse).
  • Evaluate post-click behavior to make sure those who did click through seem to have done so intentionally. If there's an exceedingly high bounce rate, something is wrong that warrants further evaluation (creative, offer, placement, target...).
  • Set frequency caps for your ads so you avoid overexposure and ad waste.
  • Monitor ad delivery and adjust accordingly if you see over- (or under-) delivery in any given placement.

User Experience FTW.

Find me on LinkedIn here.

Celebrating Three Years (and Ways to Help a Friend with Breast Cancer)

3 YearsToday is my anniversary: three years in remission from breast cancer.

Hooray! 🎉

If you follow me here or on social media, you've seen that I've had an amazing year full of travel and adventure. I am so fortunate to have had these experiences, and as I've said in years past, the Thanksgiving holiday has special meaning for me now.

Sadly, the breast cancer war is still waged all around us; you likely know someone who has been impacted by it. Over the years, countless people have asked for my advice on how to help a friend or loved one who is facing breast cancer treatment, and I repeatedly forward an email with the below information that I crafted soon after my own fight. I decided to publish it here, as a point of reference for the next person who might find it valuable.  Everyone's situation is different, but these are some of the things that made my own journey more tolerable. Perhaps they'll benefit someone in your life, too.

Flowers and Cards.

FlowersCliché? Maybe. But a colorful bouquet and hand-written note can really lift one's spirits. Especially during the long months of treatment, after the initial shock of diagnosis has passed and you are just trying to get through, day by day. One dear friend even sent a small lemon tree to my home. Beautiful, living things can impart a healing energy when you need it most.


DogearedThere are a lot of pretty, cause-related jewelry options that provide hope as well as a daily reminder that someone was (is) thinking of you. Two lines that I like: Dogeared Make A Wish bracelets on Irish linen, and Bravelets Breast Cancer Awareness jewelry ($10 from each purchase is donated to the cause).

Reading Materials.

Whether to pass the time during long hospital waits, inspire or educate on breast health, or simply distract from heavier thoughts Booksand worries, reading materials of all kinds can be a welcome diversion. I received and stocked up on my share of guilty pleasure magazines (hellooo, US Weekly), light-hearted books, and one serious medical tome in the form of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book - not for the faint of heart but widely considered the Bible for the newly diagnosed (and utterly fascinating reading). Some of my friends put movies (DVDs) in my care packages and they were great - I'm a huge reader, but there were days when my eyes hurt or I just couldn't focus on text and zoning out in front of the TV was perfect.


Gift basketYou can't go wrong by offering to cook a meal or pick up groceries. Everyone needs to eat! And having someone else pick up/prepare it for you is a welcome treat. Just remember: if your friend is undergoing chemotherapy, s/he may very well suffer food intolerance and nausea. I ate mostly bland things during this time: oatmeal, yogurt, applesauce, chicken soup, smoothies. With the occasional burger or steak thrown in when my red blood count was low. 

Head Coverings.

HeadcoverChemotherapy often leads to hair loss, and pretty head coverings come in handy not only for aesthetic reasons but for practical ones, too - bald heads get cold! Pretty knit or felt caps and cotton scarves are the perfect accessory. Avoid any rough/itchy material which can aggravate delicate skin, and silk which can easily slide off. I found some good scarf options at but you can also find knit caps and square scarves at regular retail stores.

Skin & Nail Care Products.
Chemo makes your skin insanely dry and delicate, so you go through a lot of moisturizer. Near the end of treatment I was using a heavier, medicated balm on my feet (Carmex, with socks) - it was the only thing that kept them comfortable. Chemo can also really damage your nails, causing them to yellow and break. So, rich lotions and pretty nail polishes lifted my spirits and my appearance :)
Cre-C Shampoo.
Cre-c shampooLike skin and nails (and other areas of the body that have high cell turnover, like inside your mouth - see below), chemo damages your hair, causing it to fall out. A friend turned me on to this Cre-C Max herbal shampoo from Mexico (also available on that is designed to stimulate hair (re)growth. I used it regularly in the weeks and months after treatment and I think it works!
Oral Care Products.
Chemo is tough on the delicate tissue in your mouth, often causing sores that make regular, alcohol-based mouth products unbearable. Fortunately, there are products geared towards people with "dry mouth" that work well. I used Biotene toothpaste, mouthwash and gel to keep my teeth and mouth healthy; it's available at most major drug and grocery stores. And for those suffering with mouth sores...popsicles help!
Natural Tears.
I had a lot of eye problems. The chemo dries out your eyes and then they over produce tears in an effort to moisturize themselves. There were days when I had tears streaming down my face and couldn't keep my eyes open because they were burning. But if you put a few eye drops in every few hours it keeps them in check.
Vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements are really good to take while your immune system is suppressed, as it helps you fight off infection and helps strengthen bones (but definitely clear it with your doctor first).
Recovery Garments.
HealincomfortAs if surgery isn't bad enough, you're sent home with these God-awful surgical drains to remove fluids from the wound. Without going into the gory details, they are long tubes attached to your side that must be supported so that they don't fall (or get pulled) out. After my mastectomy, the care team at MGH sent me home in a Jacki All Star Shirt, which not only has multiple pockets to support the drains, but also a snap-front closure for ease of dressing (you can't lift your arms over your head after this kind of surgery), and Velcro sides so that nurses can easily check the drains on subsequent visits. Another nice option, which I purchased for a friend recently, is the Heal In Comfort Recovery Kit. It includes a shirt similar to the Jacki, plus a wrap-around drain pouch and shower lanyard. While these items aren't as fun and glamorous as jewelry or flowers, they are incredibly helpful (and comfortable) for those that undergo surgery.
HopeAgain, everyone's situation is different (and much of this is geared toward people who must go the chemo/radiation route), but these are some ideas to show your support. But really, the biggest thing you can do for someone diagnosed with breast cancer is to be a source of positivity and hope.

Hemingway's La Finca Vigia

I'm gearing up for another trip (more on that later) and I still haven't posted everything from my last trip! Here's another wonderful memory from Cuba...

Ernest Hemingway had a long and storied relationship with the island. He first arrived in 1932 for the marlin fishing, and rented room #511 the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana until 1939. This is where he began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In 1940, he used the royalties from that book to purchase Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”), a quiet villa in San Francisco de Paula about fifteen miles east of Havana.  He shared it with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn (with whom he worked as a journalist reporting on the Spanish Civil War - the subject of the book); she was very impressive in her own right - this is a great book about her. He later shared it with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh

Hemingway lived and worked here for over 20 years, writing Islands in the Stream, Across the River and into the Trees, A Moveable Feast, and The Old Man and the Sea. When news of his suicide back in the US reached Cuba in 1962, the property was turned into a museum (whether taken by the Cuban revolutionary government or gifted to the people of Cuba by Mary Welsh is a subject of debate), complete with much of his original furniture, artwork, and personal memorabilia. 

Today, the restored home and grounds look much like they did when occupied by the famous author, with one exception: when visitors reach the end of the long, secluded driveway they are greeted with tourist amenities like fresh pressed pineapple juice and a Cuban band:

Pineapple juice


But leaving the driveway behind and heading up to the main house is like stepping back in time to a white washed villa so full of personal artifacts and period pieces that you half expect to hear Papa Hemingway hammering away at his typewriter behind one of the heavy wooden desks inside.

Main house


Visitors cannot enter the house; instead, you follow along the outside walls where most of the windows are open (no screens), allowing great visibility into each room. And a little black dog who had dug a hole near the foundation in which to escape from the midday heat:


Every room is adorned with hunting trophies from Hemingway's African safaris:

Living room

  Front hall



Sitting room


And the books! There are over nine thousand of them in his personal collection here; I would have loved to have gotten closer to investigate.









The furniture, tile floors and art are exquisite; besides personal photos and several Spanish tapestries depicting bullfights, there is also this ceramic plate by his friend Pablo Picasso:


And on a wall in the bathroom, hidden behind the door, you can see where Hemingway diligently recorded his weight every day...ranging from 200 lbs. to a high of about 240 lbs.



Also in the bathroom, a dead lizard sits in a glass jar of formaldehyde. The story goes that one of Hemingway's many cats got a hold of this fellow, and the lizard put up a fight to the end. Amazed by the lizard’s bravery, Hemingway decided to preserve it as a tribute to courage and dignity.


Alongside the main house is a tower, originally conceived as a writing retreat, although Hemingway preferred to work in his bedroom.


Here is a vintage shot of Hemingway on the steps:


And the main room inside the tower...


...which provides sweeping views of Havana:


Back on ground level, there is a small patio and trellis, with a long, winding path leading down to the pool area.




Garden path

The grounds are lush with flowers and ancient trees:



And at the far end of the property sits Hemingway's pool, where Ava Gardner went skinny dipping back in the day, after which Hemingway ordered his staff never to empty the water 😋


A small pool house serves as an art gallery full of personal photos of Hemingway and his celebrity friends.


Out back sits a pet cemetery (!).  Hemingway had ~50 cats in his lifetime (!) and some of them are resting here.

Pet cemetery

But the pièce de résistance is Hemingway's fishing boat, the Pilar. Besides using it for fishing in the Florida Keys, during WWII he used the Pilar to patrol the waters north of Cuba on the lookout for Nazi submarines that might attack sugar ships headed for the Allies.



The boat - and the entire property - is a fantastic piece of history, well worth a visit if you are ever in Havana.

The Dawn of a New Internet

Language of the Birds
Flickr image of "Language of the Birds" public art in North Beach, San Francisco via @stephrog

A colleague recently pointed me to this great article on Vox: 2015 is the year the old internet finally died. It's worth a read, for publishers and advertisers alike. The premise:

"...the idea that the internet as we knew it, the internet of five or 10 or 20 years ago, is going away as surely as print media, replaced by a new internet that reimagines personal identity as something easily commodified, that plays less on the desire for information or thoughtfulness than it does the desire for a quick jolt of emotion."

- Todd VanDerWerff,

Here are the points that should matter to brands producing content for the web:

  • "With the rise of social media, a site's brand identity is a little less important with every year." This is in reference to publishers, as their content makes it's way across the social web, converted to quick headlines, sound bytes and images that may not carry the original source branding. I would argue that this is why a strong, consistent brand strategy is important now more than ever. With your content getting disseminated across multiple, disparate sources (owned, earned, and paid), it is critical that all elements work together to reinforce the same core attributes.
  • "Social media has, essentially, turned every content provider into a syndicator." With the need to churn out more and more content to feed the short-on-attention social masses, long form stories and blogs with strong central identities have given way to to a bevy of [somewhat generic] syndicated feeds. Nearly every business I've talked to struggles with the content conundrum: how to develop or secure enough relevant content to keep the Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/Instagram/Vine/etc. feed satiated. But if you look around your organization, there is likely a lot of content you are already producing that can be syndicated on the web. And like the point above, it can all work together to reinforce the core brand message. Don't forget to take form into account: consider how to use motion to capture people’s attention, especially while animation/video are still somewhat of a novelty on these platforms. By way of example, look at this fun view of the ICA Boston, courtesy of Instagrammer @thefutureiswow. In mere seconds it captures the energy of the museum and the South Boston waterfront.
  • "On social media, you share an article because you agree with the take, sure, but also because it says something about you..." This underscores the longstanding notion that social media profiles are an extension of one's personal brand, and people will only align themselves with other brands/stories/products that reflect positively on their own. This is a point we've talked about since the dawn of social media, but I feel like many publishers have lost sight of it. To succeed in social, you must create content that people would want to associate with their personal brands, so it's critical that you really know your audience and map your content strategy to their interests and passions.

It can be challenging for brands to find their place in all of this, for sure, but I think it is fascinating to watch the evolution of the Internet and our role in it.

Which reminds me...have you seen the Dave Grohl Rick Roll?!

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