Vermont Wedding Country

Whether you are dreaming of a winter wonderland in Vermont, romantic fall foliage, spring or green/eco wedding, Riverside Farm in Vermont can assist you and to plan an elegant Vermont country wedding, one that you and your guests will always remember. Specializing in the destination Vermont weddings, our Vermont wedding estate hosts elegant and unique barn weddings, outdoor weddings, rehearsal dinners, ceremonies and receptions. Imagine your Vermont wedding of a life time as a three-day celebration, which would include a delicious rehearsal dinner, a beautiful outdoor ceremony, a magnificent reception and a farewell Sunday brunch, each utilizing a different location on the property. You may select a tented event on the fabulous landscaped grounds or an event in one of the property's stunning barns while allowing for every modern convenience.

Favorite Blog

Here’s an extreme illustration of a good point: If I stand up during an airplane flight and say, “Excuse me everyone! I’d just like to state that I am NOT a terrorist, and that there are absolutely NO bombs in my luggage, and certainly not anything that will explode mid-flight in the cargo section! Thank you for your attention!”

For sharing that bit of absolute truth, I would probably be zip-cuffed by a Federal Marshall and the plane would be emergency-landed in a cornfield. And it would be a reasonable outcome, because I associated those unfortunate concepts with myself, even though it was to deny them.

The point: People automatically jump to the conclusion that if you’re denying something, that there must be some grain of truth to it or you wouldn’t have to deny it.

The fact that this is an almost universal human characteristic means that it must have demonstrated some value over the millennia since language evolved; probably because lying evolved about five minutes later (“I did NOT eat your share of mastodon.”).

A less extreme example is a news story with the same kind of problem. In discussing the horrific Japan earthquake, and fears that its many aftershocks could be foretelling something more dire, a seismologist was quoted as saying, “It’s not like there’s some global supercluster getting out of hand.”

Wait, you mean there IS such a thing as a global supercluster of earthquakes? And that such a thing COULD get out of hand?

So does the seismologist simply need some media training, or do we need to worry more?

Mazda makes the most of a recall - 4 Mar 2011, 9:08 am

A product recall is always a difficult, delicate communications challenge. It’s even more so for automobiles, because even when they’re working perfectly, people are being killed by them every day. But the recent news about Mazda’s recall of 65,000 Mazda6 passenger cars is a rare situation.

First, Mazda initiated the recall before any dire consequences came about, just to be on the safe side. Second, the recall is for a quirky reason: yellow sac spiders somehow made their way into a whole bunch of Mazda6 vehicles – which are advertised by the company under its “zoom-zoom” tag line.

So a Mazda spokesperson, Jeremy Barnes, is quoted as saying, “Perhaps yellow sac spiders like to go zoom-zoom?”

So this is a perfect recall: first, the company burnishes its creds by recalling vehicles just in case the spiders’ webs could foul up the engine and cause safety problems. Second, a spokesperson incorporates the vehicle’s pitch into a humorous explanation of why the spiders chose the Mazda6, thereby leveraging an inherently negative news item for positive publicity.

A PETA train wreck - 4 Feb 2011, 8:29 am

It’s always instructive to see jaw-dropping examples of how someone has poorly planned their introduction of a new product, service or idea. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) provides a great example in its introduction of artificial meat. To be fair, it’s not actually PETA’s product, but they’re underwriting part of its development by funding a scientist, and they touted the development on their website via a blog post. A very bad blog post, I might add.

First, let’s look at the MSNBC story. The biggest mistake there seems to be that they didn’t prepare their sponsored scientist for interviews. It’s also possible that the preparation didn’t take, or was not very good to begin with. In this story, the PETA-sponsored scientist, Nicholas Genovese, commits just about every egregious interview error you can imagine. He associates the new scientific breakthrough with the concept of disgust, he compares it to things that are not disgusting (but are completely inappropriate for comparison purposes), and then he devolves into making no sense at all.

Dr. Genovese – undoubtedly a brilliant scientist but a very bad interviewee – gives the reporter an opportunity to frame this groundbreaking new development with this quote: “There’s a yuck factor when people find out meat is grown in a lab.”

It’s hard to know where to start with something like this, but the most basic is: don’t use the word “yuck” when characterizing a product you want people to like. Even the most basic PR training can let you in on the secret that people associate concepts you utter with whatever you’re trying to sell them. So if I’m trying to sell you my public relations services, I wouldn’t use the terms “incompetent,” or “inexperienced,” even if – and this is crucial to understand – even if I’m saying I’m not any of those things.

And Dr. Genovese’s blunder is even worse than it might seem at first, because psychologically, people flee from, or flock to, a candidate, a product, or a service if they perceive that others are doing the same. We are, at our core, herd animals in many respects. So Dr. Genovese says “yuck,” and ascribes that sentiment to “people,” which is a very large group. The implicit message is that if you don’t think “yuck” when you hear about lab-grown meat, then you are outside the norm, and need to start thinking “yuck.”

So he’s already ruined the interview with that quote, but let’s see what else he says. Maybe he saves it:

“There’s yogurt, which is cultured yeast. You have wine production and beer production. These were not produced in laboratories. Society has accepted these products.”

Um, yes. I think that’s the point – society doesn’t have a problem with food not made in a lab.

“Further out, if we have interplanetary exploration, people will need to produce food in space and you can’t take a cow with you.”

This is true. But you do have to carry all the materials that the meat-making machine uses for raw inputs.

“We have to look to these ideas in order to progress. Otherwise, we stay static. I mean, 15 years ago who could have imagined the iPhone?”

I really think he could’ve done better than to compare lab-grown meat and the iPhone. I would think even the most die-hard vegan might wonder about that metaphor, let alone the millions of people who need convincing that lab-grown meat is competitive with the kind that comes from animals.

Okay, he didn’t save the interview. But maybe the scientist who is the prime mover on this technology, Dr. Vladimir Mironov, can bring a modicum of respect to this new product:

“It will be functional, natural, designed food,” Mironov said. “How do you want it to taste? You want a little bit of fat, you want pork, you want lamb? We design exactly what you want. We can design texture.

“I believe we can do it without genes. But there is no evidence that if you add genes the quality of food will somehow suffer. Genetically modified food is already normal practice and nobody dies.”

Oh dear. In this one quote, Dr. Mironov managed to raise powerful doubts by contradicting himself and raising the specter of death associated with adding genetic material to inert, lab-grown meat. He calls the product “natural” and “designed” in the same sentence, and even, one might surmise from the sentence structure, in the same breath, despite these words being completely contradictory. And then the kicker is that he says he believes he can do it without genes, but if he has to add the genes, there’s no evidence it’ll kill you.

And the article contains other evidence of awful PR as well, such as discussion of how the research cannot secure funding, and how the scientist has decided to call the new product “charlem,” a clever acronym for “Charleston Engineered Meat” (the university at which the research is being conducted is in Charleston, SC).

So I conclude that this article is a disaster for the scientists, for PETA, and for the concept of “cultured meat” being accepted by the public anytime soon. But it doesn’t stop there, because PETA’s blog post about the effort is only better because it’s shorter, and therefore can’t pack as much ill-conceived messaging into it. Consider this gem:

With the help of a grant from PETA, the scientists are working on growing “cultured” meat in their laboratory, relying on techniques similar to those they are using in their research on growing human organs for transplant patients.

This is just awful. It conjures up images of scientists swabbing out the meat-growing machine after it was used to grow human livers and spleens, so that it can be used to grow a batch of charlem for dinner. And what if someone forgets to set the meat-making machine from “human” to “non-human”?

Companies spend millions of dollars figuring out how to launch and brand a new product, and as you can see, it’s for good reason. If I were advising the people on the introduction of this groundbreaking technology, I would have, first and foremost, steered them away from even using the word “meat” to discuss it. For all of human history, meat has been something that comes from animals. To suggest that something “cultured” in a lab can be called meat is, by definition and by gut instinct, unnatural. Say it provides the same protein-punch as meat. Say you can optimize its fat content, and make it taste very close to being meat. Say that it offers environmental benefits of reducing greenhouse gases, waste in our waterways, etc., but for goodness’ sake don’t say it’s lab-grown meat.

Disruptive technologies are a wonderful thing and have historically moved humanity ahead by leaps and bounds. But introducing a product as a replacement for something as fundamental to the human experience as meat – a food almost universally regarded as the cornerstone of proper nutrition – is a matter that must be treated with respect; after all, you’re taking on eons of human evolution. To ignore people’s dearly-held perceptions, and to dismiss them as a “yuck factor” that they just have to get over, is foolhardy and alienates the very people you need to convince.

Future positioning unfolds - 2 Jun 2010, 6:39 am

Further to my previous post about the Obama Administration positioning itself regarding the BP oil spill, I guess we can conclude that it’s option number 2 they’re going for, based on this story in the WSJ. And they’re moving fast, too; typically these things take a LONG time to put together, but the administration is putting form before substance in order to make sure they have laid their timeline well.

They want to be able to point to the chronology and be able to show that they were very quick in pursuing criminal and civil investigations. You can tell that speed is more important than thoroughness in this case because of the vague nature of the claims being made, and the generalities they’re throwing out there, to be detailed later:

In a press conference, Mr. Holder said there is “a wide range of possible violations.” He declined to specify the target of the investigation because he said authorities aren’t “clear on who should ultimately be held liable” and didn’t want to “cast aspersions.”

The Justice Department is looking for violations of some of the same environmental laws that Exxon was charged with breaching during its 1989 Valdez spill in Alaska, among other criminal laws.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if BP mounts a vigorous defense. If I were in their PR department, I would resign myself to the assumption that there will be major findings of wrong-doing; the saying “you can’t fight City Hall” is nowhere more apt than when dealing with the credibility of the most powerful human on Earth. Do you really think the Obama administration (or any president, for that matter) is going to launch an investigation and be satisfied to tell voters later on, “Well, we didn’t find anything; there was no wrongdoing.”

In PR, as in the legal profession, you try not to ask a question unless you know what the answer will be. The Obama Administration is asking the question, “Did BP do anything to subject themselves to criminal and/or civil penalties?” From the administration’s point of view, simply by asking the question, the answer must be yes.

Whenever you’re positioning yourself as a corporation, non-profit, or government entity, you have to keep in mind that whatever exigency you’re responding to right now isn’t always going to be the biggest thing on people’s minds. A great example of this is the Obama Administration’s positioning on the giant oil spill off Louisiana’s coast, illustrated by the first few paragraphs of this WSJ story.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday said he had dispatched Justice Department officials to the Gulf Coast to determine whether there had been any “misfeasance” or “malfeasance” related to the leaking oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Holder, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said he sent the officials to the area to advise him on “what our options are.” He said the government’s primary focus was on preventing the leaking oil from devastating the coast when it reaches land.

This is smart stuff that serves two purposes:

  1. The less important purpose: It positions the federal government as having looked into every nook and cranny, so it can continue to appear as though it is doing all it possibly can. In truth, well blowouts are a sad reality of the dangerous, technically demanding, and expensive process of drilling for oil, and there’s really nothing the federal government can be expected to do to make this one turn out any better. That, however, doesn’t change everyone’s expectation that the federal government should be able to bend the laws of physics, weather, chemistry, and anything else to prevent disaster.
  2. The more important purpose: It helps position the Obama Administration to continue with its offshore drilling plans, which it believes are a necessary tactic in the overall strategy to wean the country from foreign oil. If this sad incident were found to be the result of malfeasance, then that means it can be – rhetorically, at least – attributed to human failings that can be addressed in the immediate term by arresting people and hanging them out to dry, and in the longer term by implementing new rules and regulations “to ensure that something like this never happens again.” Then, after a reasonable mourning period, offshore drilling can again be discussed, having put this ugly business of malfeasance behind us.

In the absence of malfeasance, the explanation for the disaster is much less conducive to the Administration’s offshore drilling plans: offshore drilling – especially in deep water – carries inherent risks that human technology cannot yet mitigate with any significant degree of certainty.

Holder’s recent pronouncement therefore might seem small – a throwaway gesture, even – but its net effect, as this drama unfolds over months and years, could be significant.

You’d think this is a simple enough dictate to follow, but people ignore it all the time. One of the most recent examples is this story, in which President’s Cancer Panel report is taken to task by the American Cancer Society, and many others. It all stems from overreach in the report, exacerbated by one of the report’s authors essentially confirming that they jumped the gun.

The President’s Cancer Panel report basically says that we’re all swimming in a toxic brew of carcinogenic chemicals that are almost certainly killing us by giving us cancer. Based on this conclusion, it urges the President to use the power of his office to regulate chemicals more thoroughly. This call to action is issued despite the report’s conclusion that, “At this time, we do not know how much environmental exposures influence cancer risk.”

Okay, that would seem to be a bit of a stretch… recommending the POTUS to regulate chemicals based on a lack of knowledge. But perhaps an explanation from one of the report’s authors would clear things up, so we might understand this apparent disconnect. Here’s the article’s paraphrase of such an explanation:

[Report author Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr] acknowledged that it was impossible to specify just how many cancers were environmentally caused, because not enough research had been done, but he said he was confident that when the research was done, it would confirm the panel’s assertion that the problem had been grossly underestimated.

To my point about sticking to what you know, Dr. Leffal is WAY off course, and pretty much comes out and says so. His report concluded that there’s not enough information, but because he is “confident” that research will bear out his recommended course of action, he has no compunction making that recommendation.

The problem that needs to be illustrated here is that Dr. Leffal has let his personal biases and baggage color his statements AND his report. According to this report in, Dr. Leffal’s career has revolved around primarily one issue:

Surgical oncologist LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. has worked to focus attention onthe problem of high cancer death rates among minorities, especially African Americans. As the first black president of the American Cancer Society and asan educator at Howard University, Leffall has dedicated his career to educating both the medical profession and the lay public about cancer risks for minorities.
His whole professional life has been brought to this report, and led him to stray from the messaging that could be supported by facts. You and I can speculate idly about things like this, but experts create higher expectations for themselves, and therefore need to adhere to much strictly standards of accuracy when it comes to concluding, claiming, asserting, and certainly when reporting and recommending to the President, while being quoted widely in the news doing so. When even the American Cancer Society is taking a cautionary report to task, you know you’ve missed the mark.

Politico ran a great analysis of the healthcare issue as it pertains to President Obama’s polling numbers. The story notes that the President’s image inside the Beltway is at a high for having gotten the healthcare reform bill across the finish line, while outside the rarified environment of Washington D.C., the numbers are decidedly more gloomy:

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found Americans oppose the health care overhaul 50 percent to 39 percent – worse rankings than before Congress passed the bill, when polls were evenly split. In Florida, where he visited Thursday, Obama is losing two critical groups on health care, seniors and independent voters, according to a Mason-Dixon poll late last month. Nearly two-thirds of Florida seniors oppose the health bill, with just 25 percent in favor. Independents oppose the law by a margin of 62 percent to 34 percent.

The story is thorough and balanced, offering all kinds of interpretations from strategists, spokespeople and consultants. The administration spokesperson, Dan Pfeiffer, says they “don’t share the media’s obsession” with polling numbers, and goes on to imply that they’ve conducted a fairly sophisticated, historically-grounded assessment of the situation:

“The president’s political standing is quite high considering that we are governing in the worst economy in 70 years and the anti-Washington mood in the country. He fares quite well in comparison to other presidents in similar circumstances.”

Hmmm. I guess aggregating the current polling numbers, researching other presidential terms that faced similar circumstances, and looking up their polling numbers for such circumstances to compare to today’s does not constitute obsessing over the polls.

So I think it’s safe to say they do pay close attention to the numbers. But what are they going to do about it? Image and reputation are suffering, so you have to address that by resonating with your target audience. You do that by addressing the thing(s) that matter the most to them. According to the article, the Administration is going to focus on Wall Street reforms next.

I’m no political wizard… I’m just a PR guy. But I would think people want the recession to end, rather than see more attention paid to the esoteric machinations of Wall Street. The best analysis in the article is, in my opinion, from Steve Lombardo, a former PR exec from Edelman (a top-notch global PR firm):

“When the public is focused almost entirely on the economy and jobs, and a president does anything other than focus on something that is about that specifically, then the president pays a penalty for that,” Lombardo said.

The combination of the Vermont gubernatorial race and tax season provides a great illustration of how critical timing can be to a candidate’s image and reputation. On Thursday, April 15, Democratic candidate Deb Markowitz made her tax returns available publicly. Great timing, and it gave her a great messaging point over her many rivals in this race. Because she was the first to release her returns, she now has the moral high ground when it comes to transparency of personal finances, and the other candidates are playing catch-up.

In this story from the Burlington Free Press, Republican Brian Dubie and Democrats Doug Racine, Matt Dunne, Peter Shumlin, and Susan Bartlett are now all in the position of having to say that they will be releasing their returns in the next few days. Even if they had planned it from the opening day of their campaign, it still makes them look like they’re following Ms. Markowitz’s lead. Witness the responses:

Corry Bliss, Dubie’s campaign manager, said the Republican was preparing to release his return. “We absolutely plan to release it in the next couple of days, as is customary for candidates running in Vermont’s gubernatorial election,” Bliss said.

And these:

Spokespersons for Doug Racine and Matt Dunne said Thursday that the candidates plan to release their tax returns in the near future. Representatives for the gubernatorial campaigns of Democrats Peter Shumlin and Susan Bartlett did not immediately respond to inquiries Thursday about whether those candidates would release their returns.

And Dunne’s spokesman added that he’s glad to see the other candidates “jumping on the bandwagon,” because Dunne called for such disclosure in February. Unfortunately for Mr. Dunne’s candidacy, nobody cares that you called for it first if you don’t do it first.

That’s why planning is so critical; because timing can mean the difference between success and failure. It doesn’t matter how great your messaging is if your timing is off.

Unclear journalism trashes the truth - 14 Apr 2010, 9:23 am

A story in today’s Times-Argus illustrates the problems inherent in sloppy journalism. This is the kind of thing that can cause serious PR problems, because a poorly-researched story can damage reputations AND make it difficult to address the misinformation after the fact.

The story’s main thrust is that unlicensed junkyards are a problem that need to be addressed. It notes that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is drafting rules to enforce the new junkyard licensing law that was passed last year, but also points out that dozens of junkyards are not in compliance. If the rules aren’t even complete yet, then what are the unlicensed operators not in compliance with? How can a story note that the rules aren’t yet established, while pointing out that some people aren’t obeying them? Doesn’t that raise a rather obvious question?

And secondly, if the first law they passed last year is not even fully implemented (since the rules aren’t written), why in the world is NEW legislation being considered? Lawmakers, regulators, junkyard operators and advocacy groups don’t even know what the effects of the first law will be yet; how can a story not address that rather obvious fact?

Andy finally, where is the reporter’s support for the statement, “complaints about junkyards appear to have been rising recently”? He cites a couple of anecdotes, but no statistics that would actually prove that statement.

It may be that the reporter’s story was actually better, but it was poorly edited. Or it could be that he was facing an unreasonable deadline and couldn’t do the research he knew was necessary. But the fact remains that this is a bad storyabout an important topic, and therefore does a disservice to those whose livelihoods depend on salvage operations, and to those who care about environmental issues.

People always think they’re being very careful when they speak publicly. They make sure to qualify their statements with very clear caveats, like, “I’m speaking only for myself, and not as a member of the management team [or board of directors or whatever].” These statements are not just very clear; they’re also wholly ineffective.

Take, for example, this story by CNET blogger Josh Lowensohn, which reports on Adobe employee Lee Brimelow’s disparaging comments about Apple’s recent decision to bar third-party APIs from app development. The Lowensohn blog reports Brimelow’s indelicate conclusion: “Go screw yourself Apple,” and headlines the report “Adobe Flash Evangelist: ‘Go screw yourself Apple.”

Now, let’s think about this briefly: Brimelow was careful to note that he wasn’t representing Adobe’s views when he told an entire company to go molest itself. But that obviously made no difference; it ended up with Adobe’s name in the same headline as “Go screw yourself Apple.” Therefore, as far as the reading public is concerned, Adobe has said this to Apple. He’s an Adobe employee, for goodness’ sake.

So we can come to two possible conclusions: either Adobe wants this messaging out there because they believe it will appeal to their hardcore customer-base, or Brimelow strayed far from the approved messaging path and has received (or soon will receive) a dressing down by his boss(es). I can’t imagine a company like Adobe would want vulgar references to its competition as part of its communications toolkit, so I’m guessing the latter conclusion is more accurate.

I hope so, anyway; I’d hate to think that marketing devolves to competitors including the phrase “screw you” in their key messaging platforms.