Mar 27, 2009

One-career families

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: modern family

All of us are thinking about success differently than we did a year ago. In our own lives, we’ve gone from a mind-set of more, more, more to one of living within our means, making ends meet and getting a decent night’s sleep.


On a larger scale we hope this will translate to a general shift from selfishness to altruism, individualism to solidarity, “every man for himself” to “we’re all in this together,” cornering resources to pooling resources.


Families may be the most promising social group when it comes to making this kind of change work. Before 2008, jobs were relatively plentiful; families could aspire to “have it all.” And if they didn’t, they could pretty conveniently engineer a split. Success had a lot of “self” in it (self-expression, self-development, self-realization).  But now, no longer. Now jobs and money are much less plentiful, assets have shrunk in value, and it makes a lot more sense for families to stick together, pool resources and seek success collectively.


The dynamic of success within the family is changing, too. Over the past several decades, the traditional income structure shifted from a single earner (the man) to double earners, and now we are moving back to a single earner in a lot of cases. The difference? There is no longer an assumption that a man is the head of household income. Women are better educated and have higher earning potential than ever. And plenty of women have equal or better employment security than their partner. When the economy is shedding jobs, it makes sense for households to go for a single-earner strategy and support whoever has the best prospects at the time, regardless of gender. That may be tough for some men to accept, especially those in an older age bracket. But in the tougher post-2008 environment, and in a world of ever-increasing power and potential for women, the terms of tradition have changed. Basic survival will be served by developing a flexible family strategy, with partners willing to swap roles as circumstances change, sharing the burdens and the rewards.

Mar 25, 2009

Arm’s–length intimacy

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: internet

Recently, a steamy online romance between bullet-scarred bad boy Tommy, 18, and hot 17-year-old jailbait Jessica ended badly. After exchanging countless e-mails full of intimate details and passionate promises of what they would do when they finally met in person, it turned out that Tommy was actually an overweight, lonely 45-year-old bachelor and Jessica was an unhappily married mother of four. Sure, it could still work out, though it doesn’t have quite the same soft porn spark, does it? But do the secret identities really change the truth and passion in the e-mails?


Meanwhile, over on Facebook, people are revealing the walk-of-shame moments of their lives with alarming indiscretion (and regularity—doesn’t anybody spend a quiet night at home anymore?). Drunken binges, one-night stands—these used to be relegated to embarrassed, Tylenol-soothed phone calls to best friends. Now they are uploaded instantly and broadcast globally to an ever-widening circle of online friends, acquaintances and why-did-I-click-approve strangers. The problem is, the Internet never forgets and the horror of the Google image search shows no mercy.


It’s all part of what psychologist Daniel Goleman refers to negatively as “Cyber-disinhibition.” Apparently, people are more inclined to act out impulses online than in person.[1]  Believe it or not, though, there is a real positive side to these uninhibited arm’s-length relationships on the Internet.  It’s what you might call the Cyber-Couch Effect. 


In classic Freudian psychoanalysis, as we all know from … uhm … Woody Allen movies, the client reclines on a couch and the analyst sits out of sight, deliberately creating an “arm’s-length” interaction. This allows the patient the space and freedom to open up. Social networking sites such as Facebook and instant chat applications such as AIM and Skype function as online recreations of these therapeutic “arm’s-length” interactions. They may not be as professional and structured as psychoanalysis but they’re a lot less expensive and a lot more spontaneous—with almost as many acronyms (ROTFLMFAO!).


Psychotherapist Paula Hall says communicating online allows intimacy to build quickly. When people can’t see each other to track facial reactions and body language, they’re less likely to feel nervous. This means they’re more likely to reveal personal information much earlier than in a face-to-face situation.[2]  What’s more, established and stable online groups typically become very supportive. It’s not unusual for people in such groups to write “I don’t know why I’m sharing this, but…” and go on to open up deeply.


The intimacy of online connections is no substitute for real in-person relationships.  But they can be great sources of comfort for people living in situations where expressing soul-bearing honesty is not really appropriate or possible. Just ask Tommy and Jessica.

AIG is the poster child for Wall Street gone bad.

AIG is the poster child for Wall Street gone bad.

So it’s clear that Obama is outraged on our (the taxpayers’) behalf, and we thank him for that. On the heels of the President’s recent dressing down of insurance giant AIG for its huge bonus payouts, CEO Edward Liddy told Congress he has called for the return of “at least half” of bonuses of more than $100,000—himself calling the payouts “distasteful.”



But what do we, the taxpayers, think? Are we as burning mad as our President, or are we just feeling cold toward it all?


In hearings, Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York cited “a tidal wave of rage” running throughout America right now. And a recent Harris Poll shows that 83 percent of adults do think bonuses should be returned and paid to shareholders, and that 87 percent think Wall Street should be subject to tougher regulation. Not surprising sentiments at a time when so many Americans fear for their jobs and homes and health care, and massive amounts of bailout money are going to banks.


But what is hard to believe is that the feeling isn’t even stronger. Amazingly, not all appears to be lost for Wall Street when it comes to public opinion. The same poll reveals that a shocking 20 percent of Americans disagree that Wall Street firms should only pay bonuses when they are doing well and making good profits. And while a majority of respondents believe that most successful people on Wall Street don’t deserve to make the kind of money they earn, a sizeable minority of 40 percent think they do deserve those big bucks.


A Daily Kos poll from just last week shows that an astonishing 76 percent of Americans have “no opinion” about Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi scheme operator who swindled $65 billion from unsuspecting investors, from Hollywood honchos to charitable foundations to a Holocaust survivor.


So are Americans inching toward apathy, or is it all just too chaotic and complex to truly contemplate? Perhaps right now, many Americans are just more focused on holding our own lives together than on looking for someone else to blame.

Bob and Lee Woodruff for

Bob and Lee Woodruff for

We’re seeing the rise of the $104 giver. It’s the new philanthropy, put in the hands of you and me. It’s the power to make real moves via laptop or Blackberry or iPhone—and via small donations of a couple of dollars per week that gain strength from the momentum of massive virtual networks. These givers are involved 52 weeks a year, blogging and tweeting about the causes they care about. They delight in daily debates with those who share their passion (or don’t). They relish the satisfaction of constantly connecting with their community, of seeing instant results of their efforts, whether it’s organizing a rally via Twitter, spreading awareness by recruiting new members on Facebook, or watching their donation tote up the tally another notch.


Social media is a real spark here. Witness last month’s twestival: Live events in 202 cities around the world in a single day raised $250,000 for charity:water, which translates to the funding of clean water for more than 17,000 people in Ethiopia, India and Uganda. And the entire event was organized via Twitter, a free, fast, totally simple way to connect with like-minded people across the globe.


This week Porter Novelli hosts a panel called Social Media for Social Good at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, brainstorming and debating where we can go next and how to keep innovating for our communities. There we’ll also join in launching Tweet to ReMIND. ReMIND, founded by ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff and his wife, Lee, funds localized resources and support for injured U.S. service members who are returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and reintegrating into their families and towns. The Tweet to ReMIND project aims to mobilize 400,000 Twitter users to raise $1.65 million over Memorial Day Weekend. That number represents the 1.65 million service members who have been deployed since 9/11. With just $5 per donor, ReMIND can meet its goal. What a small but powerful individual gesture that, when combined with the strength and momentum of social networking, can breed a giant change in people’s lives. Also at SXSW we’ll see change agent Stacey Monk launch TweetLuck, a St. Patrick’s Day–themed Twitter project raising money and awareness for a children’s school in Tanzania.

Mar 14, 2009

Indicators: what’s happening?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: consumerism| reboot

Where can we find true indicators of what’s happening now, so that we can help coherently shape our future? We all look to mainstream media, who relentlessly attempt to break down for us the multi-zero sums that are nearly impossible to comprehend. At the gym or the coffee shop, we hear people tell their own stories or offer secondhand reports of what’s happening locally. We see “clearance” signs plastered on shop windows and popping up on retail Web sites, begging us to pony up just a fraction of what we once did to purchase goods and feed their businesses. The Dow and other stock indices look like Rocky Mountain ski runs. And most weeks the President has somber words on the subject.


For news junkies accustomed to the worst but still looking out for glimmers of hope, a road-traffic measurement tool offers some interesting indications of American behavior. Traffic information provider INRIX has released its Traffic Scorecard for 2008, showing a dramatic 30 percent decline in peak traffic congestion on major urban American roads. Survey data suggests that higher fuel prices in early 2008 and the slower economy later in the year kept the drop consistent throughout. Americans spent an average of 13 fewer hours stuck in traffic than we did in 2007 (though if you’ve ever braved Manhattan’s cross-town bus, you’ll wholeheartedly agree with the Scorecard’s recognition of New York as second-most congested city in the U.S.).


The significant impact our economic climate had on these figures is pretty clear. Higher unemployment leads to fewer commuters. Tighter household budgets mean fewer trips to the mall. Lousy retail sales make for fewer products shipped; fewer trucks on the road also contribute to less traffic. That’s a lot of here-and-now pain, but could it also offer the tiniest glimmer of hope? Less traffic does translate to less fuel consumption and less nasty fumes released into the atmosphere.


Over the last few years, our excesses have been driving us into a deep hole of debt, and we know that can’t continue. We’ve also literally been driving into dangerous energy dependency, and that can’t continue either. Would we have voluntarily stopped the journey we were on? Probably not.


But we should be paying attention to behavior-tracking indicators, and using them to brainstorm new concepts for living. In this case, we can strive to continue driving down traffic numbers and emissions even as employment numbers rise again, utilizing public transportation, alternative fuels and other innovative methods—all part of the Reboot for our future.

Mar 11, 2009

Talking about the near future in Seattle

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: trendspotting

Marian Salzman on Seattle TV (King 5/Kong)




And finally, photos from a trends luncheon hosted by Porter Novelli in Seattle:

Mar 09, 2009

The story of Jack + Bill is millennial empowerment

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: millennials

In these challenging times, nothing is more important than innovation, because nothing will help us reboot optimism quicker. Jack + Bill may have begun as an offhand challenge to Alyson Campbell and a group of New York­–based Millennials last spring, but we have come an awfully long way since then. Jack + Bill is the toast of our business today, and for good reason. Our energy, passion and willingness to disrupt positively to empower people and ideas have received a thundering ovation from our industry peers.  Named after Porter Novelli’s founders, Jack + Bill was designed to identify, brand and publicize emerging fashion talent during the summer of 2008. It raised awareness of its clients through blogging, microblogging, viral video, social-network branding, event planning, Web site development and traditional public relations specialties. Many of us tracked the evolution of the agency on the Jack + Bill blog and Web site, as well as via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube. The viral buzz and mainstream media outreach garnered coverage in a slew of outlets as well as connecting us better than ever with the marketing trades. We saw our strongest coverage in PR Week U.S. in years, including front-screen video on its home page.

Jack+Bill team at PR Week Award Show
Jack+Bill team at PR Week Award Show

Mar 05, 2009

The saving lifestyle

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: credit crisis| millennials| recession

When a few influential people start doing something different, we have the makings of a trend. For example, when households started to forgo landlines and use only cell phones at home. Or when Millennials started watching “TV” on their laptops rather than their televisions. 


But when entire populations suddenly start doing something radically different, it’s a lot bigger than a trend. That’s what’s happening right now with American attitudes toward money. Pretty drastic changes have swept through the country since the economic crisis really took hold.  Even the term “megatrend,” coined by John Naisbitt in his 1982 bestseller, falls way short of describing how large-scale spending patterns have screeched to a halt, as people scurry to pay off their credit cards and stuff cash under the mattress.


It seems like yesterday that many of us were merrily spending more than we earned, funding the difference via home-equity loans or other sources of credit. Americans under 35 in particular were big non-savers; in 2006, for every $100 they earned, they spent about $117. But in 2008 this trend reversed sharply; the personal saving rate (the difference between what people earn and what they spend) went from 0.8% in August to 3.6% in December. Goldman Sachs has predicted the 2009 saving rate could shoot up between 6% and 10%—even the breadth of that range shows just how unpredictable things are. 


We’re training ourselves to resist impulse, and we think twice even when we’re buying necessities. While these seem like positive changes in personal attitudes and values, they also contribute to further devastation of the economy. What is the fallout when a whole national economy (let alone global economy) switches from spendthrift to thrifty? 

Mar 01, 2009

Am I addicted to news?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: current events

I tele-commuted one day last week, so TV news was my workmate all day long. It was an eye-opening experience. I watched Joe the Plumber attend a book signing five people showed up to; and economic report after economic report repeatedly reminding me that the sky is still falling. I heard various conservatives rant, numerous liberals ramble and academics talk about how we’ve lost our way. What became incredibly clear is that I suffer from what Tom Brokaw once described when he said he felt at odds with the world when he was out of touch with the news. How could the world function if he wasn’t at the news throttle to monitor its comings and goings? I think I am having delusions that planes won’t crash, volcanoes won’t erupt and salmonella won’t spread as long as I’m at the ready. I’ve been obsessed for years, but it’s getting worse. Where do I find a 12-step to help me shed this ridiculous addiction? I saw “Confessions of a Shopaholic” last weekend, in part to amuse my two young nieces (though I’ll admit I was curious, I loved the books), and now I keep thinking, Who would attend a news addiction group? Can news be destroying my social life?

obamahopeSince the World As We Knew It morphed from Dalí painting to disaster movie last year, there has been a subdued but detectable undertone to the ever-present anxiety. Though many people contemplate the future with fear and dread, a few are feeling excited. The stress is stimulating them, and I don’t mean government stimulus, I mean creative.


A couple of days ago Peggy Noonan wrote a sober piece in the Wall Street Journal that concluded with an upbeat hunch about economic regeneration beginning “in someone’s garage, somebody’s kitchen. … The comeback will be from the ground up and will start with innovation. … In the future everything will be local. That’s where the magic will be.”


While admittedly I sometimes give in to my own sense of foreboding, I’m also feeling an encouraging twinge lately, ever since I logged back into the new media world after taking a hiatus from my cyberlife for a while. Now between my blog, my Facebook, Twitter and a plethora of other innovations, it feels almost like 1993 again for me, only this time I get to narrowcast, or curate my news as I want to see it. I stay up half the night reading and listening and bantering, and I’m reminded of when I first came to grips with the strange new world of online, back in the days when AOL CDs flooded my mailbox (and when physical mailboxes were still relevant). Once again I’m exploring new things, reaching out to people because their ideas provoke questions and suggest possibilities. I don’t want to get all nostalgic about learning and bonding, but I am really having so much fun with two Blackberries, texts, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Friend Feed, news aggregators, alerts, you name it, I am trying to utilize it and make it work for me.

It’s our embrace of innovation and exploration—not fear—that will get us over this hurdle. There’s something great at hope’s edge: lots of little sparks of energy just waiting to be grabbed and made into something interesting. I can feel a lot of creativity coming on.

An embrace of critical thinking will also carry us far. Frank Rich talked about America’s unfortunate history of blind faith and hard-headedness this week in his New York Times column. As we face a rising and surprising chorus of acceptance among leaders of the idea of nationalization of our banks, we need to be expanding our capacity to understand what that means. Last Friday night, I was joking with a friend that perhaps we should forget dinner and just get drunk since it might be our last weekend as capitalists. He wasn’t amused and told me to stop panicking. Then again, he doesn’t work in the business world.  On Sunday I was lecturing a Dutch friend that if they nationalize the bank, the shares disappear, get vaporized, like a Madoff investment. (See U.S. News’s Rick Newman for more on that.) Many Americans are only starting to get what nationalization would even mean, because, why would they have cared before?  The term has only recently crept into the national lexicon. This whole concept is a new big source of angst—a parallel path to unemployment numbers if you will. Let’s hope the lasting effects of the past few years have begun to condition all of us, as citizens, to get educated and ask questions.