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June 2010

What I learned at #adclubedge - Part 1

EdgeNote: this post originally appeared on the PARTNERS+simons blog.

Last week's Ad Club EDGE Conference: Branded in Boston was a smashing success, judging by the sold-out crowd in attendance at the Westin Boston Waterfront. The day-long event brought together people from all aspects of advertising, marketing, public relations, production, design, and academia to learn more about - and celebrate - brands that were born and raised in our own back yard. Here's what I learned there (in no particular order):

Continue reading "What I learned at #adclubedge - Part 1" »

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I quoted novelist and playwright W. Somerset Maugham in yesterday's post, and I'm going to do so again here, but relative to a different topic.

In his memoir The Summing Up, he explains the need for writers to "cut, cut, cut" their work:

Maughamsmoking"To do so now is more than ever necessary, for audiences are at once quicker-witted and more impatient than ever before in the history of theatre... Audiences in the past seem to have been willing to sit out scenes that were elaborately developed and to listen to speeches in which the characters fully explained themselves. It is very different now, and the difference has been occasioned, I suppose, by the advent of the cinema. Today, audiences... catch the gist of a scene in a few words and having caught it, their attention quickly wanders."

This was published in 1938. Isn't it amazing...he could be describing the shift from traditional broadcast and print media to the Web.

Gasland, BP and The Summing Up

Gasland So, my day job had me doing some research on media outlets in Pennsylvania and I kept coming across stories about HBO's latest documentary, Gasland, which premiered last night.

It was a [controversial] hit at Sundance, and has since been covered by the Wall St. Journal, the New York Times, and the Daily Show among others. I've set my DVR to record it.

Gasland was directed by Pennsylvania-native Josh Fox and documents his multi-state investigation of natural gas companies' use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves pumping large amounts of water deep underground, fracturing rock to release natural gas. It also leads to natural gas leaking into the water supply, gas blow-ups, and according to Fox, an industry that "won't take responsibility for their actions." Sound familiar? Here's a preview:

Later in the day, I chatted with another Pennsylvania native who told me about Centralia, PA. Have you heard of it? A mine exploded (underground) here in 1962 and THE FIRE IS STILL BURNING. The town failed to install a fire-resistant clay barrier between an open trash pit and the mine, and when trash haulers proceeded to dump coal burners there...boom. Centralia's population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981, to 12 in 2005, and 9 in 2007. All properties were claimed under eminent domain and all buildings were condemned in 1992; the town's zip code was revoked in 2002. It is now a ghost town. 

Centralia [Photo via veender]

And then there is BP, which has been covered ad nauseum, but like the above show a troubling pattern in human history. From William Falk, editor-in-chief of The Week:


"In moments of distress and panic, it is tempting to succumb to ideologies that promise a single, simple solution to the mess that is the human condition. Communism was blinkered like that, but so, in its purest form, is free-market capitalism. While drilling in 5,000 feet of water, the capitalists at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig made a considered decision to forgo some troublesome safety measures, to save time and about $10 million in costs. Why not risk a small fine when millions of gallons of oil were waiting? It must have seemed like the smart play at the time... This is the problem with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand’’: To work its corrective magic, it depends on occasional disastrous mistakes, depressions, death, and widespread suffering... Regulation, too, often falls short of the ideal. Consider the case of Bernie Madoff, who ran his monstrous Ponzi scheme for two decades, right under the noses of the SEC. Even after a whistle-blower came to the agency with proof that Madoff’s “investment fund’’ was a scam, the regulators did nothing...That leaves us, I'm afraid, back where we started: groping our way forward, with no surefire solutions to human fallability."

From EJ Dionne, op-ed columnist at the Washington Post:
Dionne_author-photo "Deregulation is wonderful until we discover what happens when regulations aren't issued or enforced. Everyone is a capitalist until a private company blunders. Then everyone starts talking like a socialist, presuming that the government can put things right because they see it as being just as big and powerful as its Tea Party critics claim it is. But the truth is that we have dis-empowered government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task. The sludge in the gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions."

From W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938):

Thesummingup "So long as men are cursed with the sense of possession, and that I presume is as long as they exist, they will wrest what they can from those who are powerless to hold it. So long as they have the instinct of self-assertion, they will exercise it at the expense of others' happiness. In short, so long as man is man he must be prepared to face all the woes that he can bear." (p. 187)

6/23 Update: 3 more soundbytes I came across today that I needed to include here:

1) News from today that a northeastern Pennsylvania school district has reached a five-year gas lease agreement with a company that drills in the lucrative Marcellus shale field.

2) Attorney Eugene C. Kelley's blog post: Are We Doomed to Repeat History With the Marcellus Shale Deposits in Northeastern Pennsylvania?

3) Historian Margaret MacMillan, in Dangerous Games, "History should not be written to make the present generation feel good but to remind us that human affairs are complicated."

Meet my new love: Lonny

LonnymagNo, it's not a man. And it's not a puppy. It's a publication; more specifically, a shelter magazine designed to fill the void after my beloved Domino magazine folded last year.

Lonny actually launched last fall by a former Domino staffer who had the idea to replicate the accessible design focus that title was famous for, but this time in an online-only format built on the Issuu self publishing platform. A new acquaintance tipped me off to it last week, and I see that they got some great press in today's NYTimes. It's name is a combination of London and New York.

Just like Domino, Lonny has a gorgeous, clean design; but thanks to its digital nature, it also provides "inspiration at the click of a finger" - meaning readers can easily click on any item for more information or to buy. The Issuu platform provides a magazine-style browsing experience, complete with table of contents, full page ads (also clickable!) and page flipping. Full-screen, single-page and zoom viewing options provide even better visuals of the merchandise and showrooms. 

I'm only halfway through the June/July issue, and it's chock full of design ideas, beautiful rooms, and lovely little finds like Jack Spade's Perforated Bookmark Paper and this Conservatory Chair from Anthropologie.

  BookmarksChandelier Anthropologie Conservatory Chair
But the best part is that I discovered this one late, so there are five more (back) issues for me to catch up on! Perfect Summer reading.

Check them out yourself, and if you're so inclined, contribute to Lonny here.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Howdy, y'all.

Wrapping up a week-long adventure in Dallas. It is HOT down here...nearly 100 degrees and very humid every day. Thankfully, there is a strong breeze which makes it bearable outside.

Here are the highlights:


On Saturday we visited the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the eerie site of JFK's assassination in the former Texas Book Depository. It's very moving, even for those of us who didn't live through the event. The museum chronicle's Kennedy's brief presidency, the turbulent '60s, and that fateful day in Dallas when John & Jackie touched down on Love Field and joined the motorcade through the city. It's tough to watch the live footage of the event, knowing what the outcome would be. It also includes footage and background on Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as his subsequent murder by Jack Ruby, and of course all the conspiracy theories that surround those events to this day. The book depository is modeled to look like it did on November 22, 1963, and outside, two white X's on the street are a reminder of the bullets that took our 35th President's life.

P1000796After that sobering experience, we strolled around the historic and arts districts of Dallas to see some of the other sights. This included a stop at Wild Bill's Western store to check out the boots, hats, spurs and belt buckles. The Texans love their rhinestones! We also had our picture taken with an authentic cowboy who did his best to sell us some goods, but we left empty handed. This stuff just doesn't fly in Boston ;)

P1000806 Lunch at Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse was superb. It's name after a 40,000 acre longhorn ranch in Texas that has been in the same family for six generations. The beef is U.S.D.A. Prime and hand-cut in house, and prepared in the way ranch hands have used for over 125 years. We ate the Chipotle Sirloin Caesar with romaine, roasted peppers, and smoked corn, tossed with a chipotle spiked roasted garlic dressing and topped with grilled sirloin. Sooo good.

P1000813 After lunch we walked to the Fashion Industry Gallery, a boutique wholesale venue showing brands like Trina Turk, L.A.M.B., Citizens of Humanity, Ben Sherman, and Da-Nang, all at significantly discounted prices. It's a shopper's paradise: a seemingly endless corridor of showrooms. It's also an event space - Nicole Richie recently hosted a party there. I was sooo excited to visit this place, and super dismayed to find it closed the afternoon we visited! Ugh.

P1000818 The Nasher Sculpture Center is a small, outdoor space in front of the Dallas Museum of Art. And I mean small. There are only about a half dozen sculptures (when we visited, anyway...they say it can house up to 20, and there's an indoor gallery as well), so it's a very quick trip (but it's as known for its trees and stone work as much as for its installations). And they don't allow photos, but the guard was snoozing in a corner and I snapped 3 or 4 before she made me aware of the policy. Enjoy!

P1000821 On Saturday night, and had dinner at Craft, the tony restaurant inside the W Hotel owned by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio (of Top Chef fame). The food here was AMAZING. We shared numerous small plates, including quail, short ribs, salmons, halibut, gnocchi, Cippolini onions, sweet corn, key lime pie, toffee pudding, and more. But the [marketing] highlight was when they gave each of us an individually wrapped blueberry-lemon muffin...to enjoy the next morning. Brilliant!

P1000824 A visit to Craft isn't complete without a swing through the W Hotel lobby and bar (the Living Room). Like all W bars, it's a total scene on a Saturday night. But this one stays true to its Texan roots by having a wall of miniature cowboys, horses and steer hanging in the lobby like a beaded curtain. Hilarious. Everything else is as stark, swank, and fabulous as you'd expect from the W. With a little bit of southwestern kitsch thrown in for good measure. 

Fearings. Oh my. I don't even know where to begin with this Fearings_rattlesnake_barone. It started out on my list of must-visit restaurants, but when we ran out of nights for dining, we decided to just check out its bar scene. And what a scene it is. Lots of 50-somethings, lots of plastic surgeries, and wildly entertaining. I could sit there and people watch for hours. It's inside the Ritz...be sure to check it out if you're in town.

P1000838 Galleria Dallas. Like everything in Texas, this place is huge. Every major retailer you can think of, all under one roof. Seriously: a giant Saks Fifth Avenue, right next door to an even bigger Nordstrom. Heaven! There's even a well-utilized ice rink in center court. And it's 100 degrees outside! Conveniently, the hotel shuttle dropped us off here, but we didn't allot nearly enough time to explore this monstrosity. And believe me, our wallets were better off for it.

P1000840 Mercy Wine Bar. This was a great little find, right in Addison. It's located in an unassuming strip mall and surrounded by other restaurants, but is one of the top-rated wine bars in the country (and multi-year winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence). The food here was fantastic - especially the white truffle mac 'n cheese - and very reasonably priced. Their sign out front is cute, too...notice the silly hours of operation.

P1000785 The rest of the time, we've been at the Intercontinental Dallas for a business conference. It's past its prime, to be sure, (or as Kevin R. noted on Foursquare, "Get here 30 years ago.") The staff seems a bit sparse for a hotel of this size, the lobby shop has only one copy of each magazine/book for sale (and they've clearly been read before), and they are stingy with the towels (like today, to when I emerged from the shower to find only one small hand towel in my bathroom!). But the rooms are generally comfortable, there's a nice little pool area outside, and the meeting/function rooms have worked out well. 


On the first night we dined at the Monte Carlo restaurant inside the hotel, which serves "Mediterranean cuisine with a Lone Star touch." Nearly everyone got the Cowboy Steak special (what else?!) but I had a nice piece of salmon, followed by strawberry shortcake. Decent meal, but far from the best one of the trip. We've eaten a LOT here...the Texans like to eat! There are tons and tons of restaurants and bars here.

Here's the full photo set (minus most of the conference-related ones):

Hills Like White Elephants

Leave it to Urban Daddy to introduce the latest twist on dining in Boston: a semi-secret, Hemingway-themed dinner party...in Southie.

Razor shiny knifeHills Like White Elephants, named after a Hemingway short story, is a supper club that will debut in Boston on June 13th after enjoying previous nights in London, New York, and Panama City. It is hosted by Michael Cirino and friends from a razor, a shiny knife, an "educational, social, and theatrical culinary experience."

Ticket holders are promised a night of intrigue: besides dining with strangers in a room done up like the Hemingway short and access to 7 courses of exotic fare, they'll be treated to "demonstrations of skill" like knife-sharpening or sausage making.

Get more details - plus your [$166!] tickets - here.

Bad Girls Go Everywhere

Jennifer-scanlon-bad-girls-go-everywhere Before Mary Richards and Ann Marie (of That Girl fame), before Gloria Steinem and Candace Bushnell, there was a different sort of champion for the single girl: Helen Gurley Brown.

You may know her as the long-time editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, but as Jennifer Scanlon recounts in her very entertaining biography of HGB, Bad Girls Go Everywhere, she's also a prolific writer, media maven, and feminist (of sorts) that was way ahead of her time.

I picked up Scanlon's book after reading about it in my college alumni newsletter (Scanlon is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College), thinking it would be a fun, "Summer" read. What surprised me was that it was much more academic in nature - providing fascinating insights into both gender roles, the media landscape, and pop culture in the 1960s - but still eminently readable, like one of Carrie Bradshaw's columns.

What I found so interesting:

  • The paperback wasn't introduced until 1939. Before that, few people owned books, as hard covers were too expensive. The paperback democratized reading in America! I'm now interested to read another book Scanlon cites in her notes, Two Bit Culture: the Paperbacking of America.
  • Helen Gurley came from humble beginnings in Arkansas, which taught her to live frugally and use her - ahem - feminine wiles to get what she wanted in life. She was (and is) a huge advocate for working, independent women.
  • She spent years as a secretary (one of the few professional roles available to women in the 1950s) before her employer at ad shop Foote Cone Belding noticed her writing skills an made her an advertising copywriter. 
  • She played the field for years, celebrating her singledom and advocating for other women to follow suit. It was not until she was 38 (a dinosaur back in the 60s!) that she decided to find a husband...and she did so, in a very matter-of-fact way, by meeting and marrying successful film producer (and twice-divorced) David Brown.
  • David is another fascinating character - he is the producer behind such hit films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, M.A.S.H., Jaws, Cocoon, A Few Good Men, and Driving Miss Daisy. The idea for Jaws actually came to him via HGB - a Cosmo reader submitted the story idea to her, she passed it on the David, he read Peter Benchley's book and then secured the movie rights.
  • David encouraged HGB's writing, and made all the right introductions for her in Hollywood. In 1962 she published the wildly successful (and controversial) Sex and the Single Girl, the precursor to our modern day Sex and the City. In fact, she wrote a monthly column called Step into my Parlor just as Candace Bushnell would years later.
  • Besides numerous books, HGB also penned several reality TV show ideas that were eerily similar to current-day programming. In one, celebrity chefs face off with a list of ingredients to see who can prepare the best meals; in another, celebrities weigh in on everyday-peoples' marital problems. Sound familiar?? While these sorts of shows are a dime a dozen today, they were considered uncomfortable material for television viewers in the 1960s. Basically, if a show didn't depict a Happy-Days-like nuclear family, it didn't air. There was even some controversy when real-life loves Lucy & Desi Arnaz filed for divorce and would no longer work together on the I Love Lucy show: rather than portray Lucy as a divorcee in later episodes (socially unacceptable!) they chose to make her a widow.

Although HGB no longer mans the helm at Cosmo, she was named the 13th most powerful American over the age of 80 by Slate magazine. Her beloved David died earlier this year at age 93, but Helen is still going strong at 88.