YouTube re-introduced me to the charm of I Love Lucy and its spin-off shows. Perhaps the classic sitcom subconsciously reminds me of watching it with grandma during days off from school. I’ve also watched behind-the-scenes footage of Desi Arnaz addressing a live studio audience and, with comic flare, introducing the show’s characters moments before cameras began to roll. Someone posted color film apparently shot by an audience member and edited it into a sequence with corresponding black and white segments from the actual episode. The color film highlights Lucille Ball’s striking red hair and, in this particular instance, a sharp blue hat she wore for a sketch. You suddenly remember the show is not real and consists of performers, real people who in a less-connected world found a simple formula that entertained viewers at home around the world.
I’m surprised I Love Lucy still makes me laugh. I wonder if my sense of humor is less sophisticated or perhaps the show truly is, like Mickey Mouse, a timeless classic attractive to all generations. The show clearly demonstrates how technology, colloquialisms and the roles of women inside and outside the home have changed. But, in many ways, the decades have changed little about people and the everyday, instinctive interactions between men and women and married couples.
But the fairy tale stories surrounding the show and Lucille Ball offer me lessons with extremely rough edges. The show and its spin-off, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, often included guest stars who, in their day, held the fame and fortune of today’s Brad Pitt. But I only knew some of these stars after visiting Wikipedia, which quickly reminded me time after time that people the public once assumed held the world in their hands were no longer with us. I feel somewhat uneasy about how only a touch of a finger can fast forward me from larger-than-life personas in their prime to decades later when it all ended. Despite the reruns, I imagine some of today’s younger generations have only a vague concept of I Love Lucy and the genius of its star character. Wikipedia also explained how Vivian Vance (Ethel) apparently disliked William Frawley (Fred) enough to pass on pairing with him on a future project. (I guess their on-screen bickering reflected heavy doses of reality.) And a Barbara Walters interview with Lucille made it clear as black and white that her marriage to Desi was a disappointment. The glamorous Hollywood marriage only was such in the public’s desires and imaginations.
All this reminds me of simple life lessons that are complicated to implement. We stress over life’s small moments and ultimately forget why it even matters. Work creates tension because work is a means to money. Money is a means to a lifestyle. Lifestyle often leads to materialistic purchases we persuade ourselves we need to achieve status and greater happiness. Enough never seems enough. To stay aboard this fast running train, we spend our lunches, meetings and even visits to the park staring down at smartphones searching for new emails or distractions to fill a void. We magnify the unimportant and forget to watch our families smile or the striking mountains passing us while we drive. Rush hour is every hour and the end is a constantly moving target that nearly comes closer.
We imagine the personalities surrounding the success of I Love Lucy over the years had it all: the fame wrapped in fortune. From their studios, they spread worldwide magic. But Barbara Walters interview with Lucille reminded me in the end, no matter our status or bank accounts, people generally want the same treasures in life: happiness, health and love. Fame, fortune or a new BMW may momentarily realign our thinking, but even those with so much seem to eventually realize the basics are our true foundation for tranquility. And this re-occurring conclusion leads us to our common expressions of “life is short” and “smell the roses.” In reality, that is a religion so few practice.
I don’t believe I Love Lucy is meant to conjure up such deep or simplistic thinking depending on your point of view. But this is my experience. Fame, fortune and achievement earn you a Wikipedia entry, but our legacies, even if not publicly appreciated, should strive for much more than that.
A RE/MAX broker/owner asked if we could persuade the media to cover a visit by one of the company’s hot air balloons to a school. We anticipated some of our media contacts would dismiss the idea, categorizing it, fairly or not, as little more than a commercial for a company. Some newsroom managers, in an overzealous attempt to preserve journalistic ideals, too quickly reject a newsworthy story pitch when hearing a business owner or private company is involved. How those managers apply their standards is sometimes hypocritical, but let’s save such a debate for another time.
We asked the broker/owner if she had any suggestions on how we could point out why the hot air balloon was newsworthy. She explained, among other aspects, students would learn about aerodynamics, meteorology and the history behind mankind’s first powered flying vehicle.
We first decided whom to pitch the story to. We wanted to pinpoint a journalistic target, not blast an email to multiple media outlets. We ruled out many journalists who prefer hard news stories and related sidebars. What we needed was someone who often covered fun, light features.
We chose a morning weathercaster and his producer. Keith has known both people for years and emailed a casual, straightforward email that cut to the chase in six sentences. (We never considered sending a press release.) The challenge was driving home the news value while explaining RE/MAX would sponsor the balloon for the event. Mentioning RE/MAX too soon might invoke the unpredictable “commercial clause.” But if our pitch didn’t mention RE/MAX at all, the media outlet might consider our email misleading after arriving at the event. Keith remembers reporting on one particular story when a pitch, intended to ensure media coverage, took advantage of some clever wording to deliver an empty promise. This is similar to junk mail with clever subjects providing weak content. Brands weaken their relationships with the public and media by practicing such a tactic.
We attempted to strike the correct balance between being strategic and accurate and the producer, eight minutes after we sent our email, agreed to cover the story. Find your news value and resist temptations to plaster someone with your brand name. Don’t overwhelm the media with unnecessary details. Less is more. Then strategically pick the person who will appreciate your pitch.
Keith speaks to businesses about video production and video marketing.
As an investigative reporter, I saw a trending response from companies accused of taking advantage of customers. The companies argued to me they were bound to encounter some criticisms considering their number of customers. The businesses then pointed out the number of complaints represented a small percentage of overall customers.
I didn’t buy this theory, which I believed posed two major pitfalls. First, these companies ended up facing my microphone not because consumers were upset. These businesses could have addressed and settled on solutions when customers first raised their concerns with them. But because the companies did not respond or responded poorly, a number of angry customers turned to organizations such as the Better Business Bureau. And when the BBB noticed a trend, it contacted the media. While the number of complaining customers may have represented a small percentage of overall business, the number is much more significant considering the amount of people who felt so fed up, they told their stories to a reporter such as myself.
The argument’s second pitfall is it doesn’t address the actual accusations. The response attempts to dismiss the complaints as a small pool of people without answering whether their concerns are legitimate.
A New York Times article again reminded me of this interaction between the media and companies under the journalistic microscope. The story questioned whether third-party hotel booking sites are misleading customers. One of the key complaints from people The Times interviewed is they can’t get refunds.
Someone The Times identified as a chief executive for a travel industry consulting company is quoted as saying, “People just don’t understand how online searches work.” I inferred this response as something akin to, “We’re not the problem. They are.”
Lesson: When communicating with the media about complaints, don’t let customers infer they are to blame. That’s a tough sell if numerous customers have shared similar complaints with the media about your company. First, explain you need time to gather the facts of the case and you’ll get back to them with more information. Then investigate. Do the problems reflect a need for change? Why couldn’t the company resolve the problems directly before customers turned to the media? If the problems are isolated, tell the media the instances do not reflect the whole. If the problems are a trend, explain the company is working to improve and considering changes.
The Times wrote the same person who provided the above quote went on to explain the 117 complaints processed and closed with the BBB during the last three years were among 1.1 million rooms booked. I inferred from others The Times interviewed that the number of complaints is small overall. In addition, other responses discussed how the booking process in general could lead to confusion and hotels room rates are often changing.
But critics in the news story used stronger language such as “deception” and “deceitful” and discussed fine print and tiny font size.
We don’t know who is right. The industry’s arguments may hold some merit. But don’t let customers infer you believe they screwed up. That’s not good public relations. Don’t let the media infer you believe a small percentage of disgruntled customers is a natural part of doing business, especially when those customers’ stories end up in The New York Times. That’s not good media relations. We believe even one angry customer calling a reporter is one too many. Yes, the customer may not always be right. But not finding a solution before the media get involved can cost much more than a refund. And in this case, the media are not small-town publications you might argue are desperate for tiny controversies. This issue got so out of hand, even The New York Times considered the story worth covering.