The Design of Voting

We can fly a man to the moon, but we can’t design an effective ballot. What gives?

It’s amazing to know that we, as American citizens, cast votes to elect our officials; however, it’s equally disappointing when your experience at the polls is nothing short of confusing.

Earlier today, I cast my vote at my local polling place. Having done this for several elections, a few things stuck out:

  • many voters didn’t know what precinct they lived in,
  • others were unfamiliar with the voting process, and, most importantly,
  • the ballot appeared to be designed by a third-grader.

And “designed” is used generously. Shouldn’t this be simpler?

Fundamentals

Ballots should be designed for two things:

  • Legibility: Know your audience and assume that voters will have a difficult time reading small or light type. Typeface matters!
  • Ease-of-use: The last thing a voter should be when reading a ballot is confused. Keep the design as simple as possible while still communicating key information.

That’s it. A legible, easily understood ballot will make for a much better polling experience – which should be more a celebration than a frustrating nuisance!

How do we guarantee this result? A few design enhancements can go a long way.

Embrace space

First, we must separate key blocks of information. The federal election, state election, and local races and questions should all be given ample white space in between each other. Similarly, each candidate should be clearly marked and given air to breathe. Cramming several candidates into less space may save paper, but doesn’t provide clarity or a satisfying experience to the voting public.

Simple instructions

Work under the assumption that this will be everyone’s first vote. Perhaps the voting area of the ballot comes with a line of text reading, “Vote for one of the following candidates. If you vote for more than one, your vote will not count.”

For local elections (perhaps state representatives), ballots might read, “Vote for one of the following state representatives. State representatives work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and represent districts across the state.”

This seems overly simple, but can help voters feel more confident about their voting responsibility.

Sizing

My ballot used similarly-sized type for the entire document. There was no dominant element and all the information held similar weight.

Altering the headline size on a ballot can make a huge difference. Each section (federal, state, local) should have its own heading, all consistently sized. The next level of information (the candidates’ names) should have a smaller type treatment. Finally, supporting information like a candidate’s party, address or explanatory text for a question should have a tertiary treatment and size. The size and weight of type should work like a funnel or headline structure for a web page.

Civic importance

Just as it’s the responsibility of Americans to cast an educated vote, it’s just as important for local and state governing bodies to design a simpler voting process.

With so much cynicism and voter apathy surrounding voting, the experience must be made simpler and more enjoyable. Americans should feel empowered every election, not frustrated and pressured.

In short: save the ballot and save our elections!

Almost Missing My Flight Restored My Faith in Humanity

It’s 6:25 p.m. and the back of my neck is prickling with sweat. My flight leaves in 17 minutes. Not boarding, leaving. In the 30 minutes that have elapsed since being in line, I have moved approximately 12 feet closer to the TSA official checking IDs and boarding passes.

I start doing the math. If it takes me another 15 minutes to get to the scanners, I will have 60 seconds to get my luggage and sprint to the gate. Not possible. I start to think about all of the money I will have to pay for another flight, the inconvenience for my family picking me up and I realize that I cannot miss this plane. I will have to rely on the goodness of other people.

I spent most of my queue time talking myself out of this option. I don’t want to be that person. After all, I am the one who left work late, took a Lyft Line rather than a regular ride and knew that the TSA is short-staffed. I don’t deserve to get the expedited version of the bag check experience. Despite that, I start asking my fellow line-mates if I can pass.

flight_800“Excuse me, I’m nervous that I will miss my flight, may I go ahead of you?”
“Sorry, do you mind if cut in line to make my plane”
“My flight takes off in 16 minutes, could I…?”

Each time I brace myself for anger, frustration and annoyance; and each time, I am pleasantly surprised. Everyone lets me pass, including the one or two slightly peeved travelers. Not only that, many of them seem genuinely concerned for me. One guy loudly announces that I should ask the entire line at once, after which the remainder of the line moves over to let me through.

The humanitarian aid does not end there. Once I go through the screening booth and collect my belongings I decide that I do not have time to put my sneakers back on. As I round the first corner of the terminal, I slide several feet in my socks and I realize this was not a good idea. Naturally, I continue running shoe-less anyway.

I’m approaching the third turn on my route as I hear “Miss! Miss!” My driver’s license had fallen out of the overflowing pile of belongings I am clutching to my chest. A nice gentleman not only alerts me of the issue, he goes out of his way to pick it up and hand it to me. I try my best to quickly and genuinely thank him so I could continue around the corner. I make the turn, looking for gate 38 – the one all the way at the end. JetBlue attendants are holding the door to close the tunnel as I swiftly slip in, phone in hand.

So yeah, I’m grateful for humans.

Exploring Business Opportunities in Cuba

We’ve launched a new thought leadership series with our IPREX partners called Global Perspectives. Each month we will look at a global issue and share our perspective on the business implications and communications challenges involved with the selected topic.

Our first Global Perspectives tackles the changes in Cuba.

Read below for thoughts on doing business into Cuba from IPREX partners around the world.

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BEIJING  “Closer economic ties between Cuba and the U.S. are to be welcomed, especially as global trading patterns are evolving and becoming much more multilateral. Chinese trade with Latin America has grown rapidly in recent years, surpassing US $258 billion in 2014.

“China is the second-largest trading partner of many countries including Argentina and Cuba, and a primary source of credit. That is a massive change from 1990s, when China ranked just 17th on the list of Latin American export destinations.”  Maggie Chan, Director, Greater China, Newell PR

 

BERLIN – “Cuba is a country in transition – that is the impression of two ORCA executives who travelled the country in October and December 2015. A number of small but profound changes are transforming everyday life on the Caribbean island. Small business is gaining ground, Cubans are becoming private employers, and tourism is booming; new resorts are popping up on wonderful beaches. The run on the Cuban market has already begun.

“The German Vice Chancellor recently visited the island, accompanied by a business delegation 60-strong, with the aim to boost economic cooperation. He emphasized that “German firms can offer Cuba very good solutions, particularly in the fields of energy, health, machinery and plant engineering.” As specialists in public diplomacy, we can assist with these development opportunities.  Michael T. Schröder, Managing Director, ORCA Affairs

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DALLAS  “While U.S. restrictions have eased for certain industries, it is only the first step on a much longer road to normalized U.S.-Cuba relations. There are still strict regulations regarding how U.S. businesses must operate in Cuba.

“It is important that businesses beginning to serve the Cuban marketplace choose a partner that understands the complexities of a market that has been off-limits to Americans for 50 years.” Jody Venturoni, Partner, LDWWgroup

 

FORT LAUDERDALE  “How to do business with Cuba is a major topic of interest in South Florida, where conversations are happening between Cuban and American entrepreneurs.  While the Castro dictatorship understandably remains a source of outrage for Cuban-Americans and others, President Obama’s reopening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and allowing certain types of trade has generated tremendous interest in the business community.

“Cuba’s potential for airlines, cruise lines, hotels and other travel-related companies is obvious, but will not be realized until the embargo is lifted. Meanwhile, companies of all sizes should focus on cultural exchange and philanthropic work to build the relationships and brand recognition they will need when trade barriers are removed.” Jane Grant, President, Pierson Grant Public Relations

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MADRID – “Cuba is still a very special economy with two currencies. A gigantic state apparatus controls the commercial activity with a bureaucracy typical of a country that is not democratic. Therefore, any company that wants to invest there must keep in mind some peculiarities.

“Cuba is a country where market prices are imposed, free competition does not exist and tariffs are not the same for everything, even if the imported product is the same. Additionally, the only source of news is the government. Cuba will be a good country in which to invest, but not yet.” Mayte González-­Gil, CEO, poweraxle and IPREX EMEA President

 

MEXICO CITY  “The relaunch of relations between Mexico and Cuba is related to the deepening project of updating the economic and social model driven by President Raul Castro in his country. During May 2014, a Mexican business mission formed by 68 Mexican businessmen representing 48 companies took place. This is a clear sign that opportunities are coming.”Horacio Loyo Gris, Co-Founder, Dextera Comunicación

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NEW YORK  “The richness and worldwide popularity of Cuban music begs interesting business opportunities that may be had by activating and empowering the island’s wide array of talent and intellectual property in the field.

“Exploring partnerships with U.S. brands and makers of musical instruments and pro audio equipment, U.S. agencies may be able to enter Cuban markets and in turn capitalize on the opportunities to produce, promote and help develop Cuban artists in a worldwide stage, also using them for marketing, PR campaigns and content, much like Win Wenders and co. did with the Buena Vista Social Club, minus all the trade restriction headaches he endured at the time!”  Raul Gonzalez, Director, RGAA PR, a partially-owned subsidiary of French/West/Vaughan

 

SAN FRANCISCO  “Cuba is a long way from becoming a priority consumer market for U.S. companies. Most Cubans make an average of $20 per month. Other emerging markets with an established middle class offer opportunities to U.S. companies without as much uncertainty. However, one of the biggest opportunities for U.S. companies is in the Cuban travel sector. European and Canadian hotels have been doing business in Cuba for years.

“Given its geographic location, U.S. travel would benefit from entering the Cuban market. U.S. companies entering the Cuban market will have a need in Cuba for public affairs, employee recruitment and employee communications. These U.S. companies will also have a need for issues management here in the U.S., as some opposition remains (among Cuban-Americans) toward U.S. companies doing business in Cuba.”  Juan F. Lezama, Director, Mosaico, the Latino Division of Fineman PR

Read more perspectives in IPREX Voices: http://www.iprex.com/iprexvoices/

Of Soviets and Starbucks

February 15th, 1990 was my father’s first day in America, and according to family-lore, the day he quit smoking. Two months ago I went home to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his arrival in the country. He made his way here during the waning years of the Soviet Union, leaving his home country of Ukraine for Austria and Italy, until he was finally granted permission to immigrate to the United States.

I’m always amazed at the admiration he has for this country, so in the spirit of his 25 year anniversary in the US, I asked my dad what word best represents his thoughts and emotions when thinking about America. In his noticeably Russian-accented English, he said, “inspirational.”

I was a bit struck after hearing that word. “Inspirational” is a nice soundbite, but more than anything it represents an abstract ideal. Don’t get me wrong—I know my dad meant it when he said it, and I admire him for it. But having come of age during one of the most polarizing periods in American politics, “inspirational” sounds like the hollow fluff you expect to hear from our politicians during election season.

Which brings me to my work in PR.

inspire

While interning at HB over the last few months, I’ve come to recognize that companies, particularly those catering to Millennials and consumers of technology, are increasingly promoting that abstract fluff over the reality on the ground. It’s the idea of the socially responsible but still profit-driven company adeptly navigating morality in the marketplace. Sometimes, the public will buy into a company’s social message. But the strategy isn’t foolproof. What starts out as a socially-conscious message could easily backfire. The recent PR debacle at Starbucks is a good example of this.

In March, the company implemented a new initiative, “Race Together,” where baristas would place stickers with those words on customers’ cups in hopes of jump starting a national conversation about race. In Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s head, this was a great idea, but it didn’t translate well with the American public, across the political divide of left and right. Starbucks was hammered by pundits and the average Joe for displaying poor judgement and naivete.

Uber, which promotes its societal contributions by stressing its outsized role in the sharing economy, was heavily criticized last November when Josh Mohrer, general manager of Uber New York, decided to a boastfully tell a journalist,“I was tracking you,” as she pulled up to their meeting. Uber’s privacy policy prohibits contract drivers from tracking customers, but it’s widely available to employees at the corporate level. The breach of privacy resulted in harsh criticism and damaged Uber’s reputation among the public and government officials.

If I were a betting man, I’d expect more such PR disasters to proliferate among companies that cater to Millennials and other tech-savvy and socially-conscious groups. This is not to say that running a business responsibly is impossible. But large companies like Starbucks and Uber will have a difficult time managing their image if they continue testing the waters with what Americans believe to be ethically and socially responsible.

My dad might never learn how to order an Uber or a tall, nonfat latte with caramel drizzle from Starbucks, but I know he’s always looking to buy from companies that do good and inspire. It’s up to companies to either live up to the missions they set, or get out of the business of morality.

It’s the responsible thing to do.

PR Community: Let’s Help Save America

Can PR Fix This holeThe hidden peril of the snow that has buried the northeast is the potholes that come out as winter melts away. Of course, this year the potholes are already out in full force. Last week, while driving in Newton, Mass., I saw a pothole on a concrete portion of a main road that revealed the broken rebar underneath. Despite an entry into the city app, it remains unfilled as I write this.

The problem of maintenance within America’s crumbling infrastructure is enormous, one that is rising to the level of a national crisis. Our bridges are on the brink of failing, our power lines lie above ground where they’re subject to the wrath of weather, and our transit lines are inadequate to handle the riders they have today.

One issue to blame for this problem may be around the PR of a maintenance project. Writing on CityLab, Eric Jaffe points out that maintenance projects just don’t attract the same kind of attention that big, new “Ribbon Cuttings” do. So when it comes to political and popular support, a new road, transit line or bridge get the love.

Of the many reasons infrastructure repairs get snubbed for construction, big public ribbon-cutting ceremonies that come with fresh projects—but not with stale maintenance—is near the top of the list. By the nature of their limited tenure and uncertain futures, politicians care more about attaching their name to a new project than extending the life of someone else’s old one.

Here in Boston lots of fanfare is behind the extension of the Green Line into Somerville, even as the T itself has deferred maintenance of years. The Boston Globe recently ran a graphic detailing the ages of trains running on the tracks and the T chief (who has since resigned) mentioned in a press conference that no one would take out their old car, but the T is forced to take out old trains.

Ahead lies one of the biggest “Ribbon Cuttings” there is in the Boston 2024 Olympic bid. A big selling point from local officials is that this will “upgrade” our infrastructure–not just for Boston but for surrounding communities as well. But even if we put in the money to fix and upgrade for the Olympics, what happens in 2034 when this infrastructure ages and suffers from another decade of “deferred” maintenance? Detractors of the Boston Olympic bid point to other cities in which aging venues are little more than expensive ruins littering the landscape.

If PR helped create the problem, then PR can help solve it. It’s easy to help promote something big like the Olympics, but how do you build support for the everyday needs of maintenance?

Now here is my question for the PR community: how can we make maintenance sexy?

The opportunity killer in your hand

Twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t find a job in Massachusetts. A recession was squeezing businesses, nobody was hiring, and unemployment would be tripling in the next two years. I packed my dog and all my belongings into a small car and headed west.

After job-seeking stops in Syracuse, Columbus, Detroit and Chicago, I ended up sleeping on a friend’s couch in Minneapolis, MN. Before heading out to my 7th interview at Dayton Hudson Corporation (extra points if you know what that became), I walked my dog in my friend’s small neighborhood park. There, I met a woman who said her husband’s organization was looking for someone with communications skills. After one meeting, he hired me to manage communications for a new university department he was leading. That job kicked off a career in communications.

Fifteen years ago, I worked at an agency and shared my commute with another employee on a regular basis. We got to know each other as we talked about everything from his screaming children to how to make our company better. Making use of that car time and many hours of conversation, we built a business plan and started what became HB. We are still business partners today.

Three years ago, I flew to a business meeting on the West Coast, and sat next to the CFO of a sustainable food production business. Turns out we live near each other in rural Massachusetts, and I was surprised to learn that his business was headquartered nearby. He was surprised to find the head of an agency like HB living so close to him. Today, our companies are exploring ways to work together.

These results, and many others, stemmed from conversations. In two out of three instances, they were conversations with complete strangers that would never have happened if I:

  • had my head buried in a device when walking my dog;
  • used every airplane minute to work and catch up on media;
  • exchanged “work time” with my commuting buddy, where one of us would work wirelessly while the other drove.

Today, I’m surrounded by people whose faces reflect the glow of electronic absorption. I can’t even make eye contact. When I’m away from home, I sometimes eat at the hotel’s bar. The last time I did this, three men and one woman were also at the bar, each one glued to a smartphone. I pointed it out to a bartender, and he said, “If I weren’t talking to you, I’d be doing the same thing.” One of the smartphone users looked up, smiled for a moment, then looked back down. Some distant part of his brain heard me talking about the way people used to meet, learn from each other, find opportunities. But he turned back to an important email conversation, probably thinking that I was speaking a foreign language. If we had talked, we might have found common ground and ended up helping each other in some way. We would have certainly enjoyed the evening more.

How often do you sit in waiting rooms, airport lounges, restaurants, or bus, airplane and train seats where you completely ignore those around you? For what? To catch up on one more email only to chime in “I agree” to a message thread where you’re one of a dozen recipients? And for this, you kill the opportunities around you. In some cases, like the ones I described, these opportunities are worth thousands or millions of dollars. In other cases, they’re worth a shared moment, a laugh, a common thread that reminds you of your shared humanity.

Connecting to other people is a privilege, yielding moments of learning, absorbing stories, sharing perspectives. Such live connections offer the best opportunity to lead a richer existence, whether or not financial gain is involved.

Today, many of us use the devices to avoid connecting with others. We write email when we should call, text when we should talk. This means we’re becoming more task-oriented and losing much of the value that comes from human interaction. By hiding in our devices, we lose a level of humanity: our advice is more easily dismissed; our tone more easily misinterpreted; our value more easily forgotten; our people more easily fired.

Put down the device. Think. Write a letter. Think some more. Say hello to a stranger. And notice the flood of ideas, the opportunities and the good feelings. Next time you’re on an airplane, introduce yourself to the person next to you. You might find you know a few people in common. You might find reason to get to know each other more. You might find that connecting outside LinkedIn feels better and lasts longer than connecting inside LinkedIn.

 

 

Hypnotized by the Black Keys

Beneath your feet the stands start rumbling. The stadium is hazily illuminated by hundreds of smart phone lights. Shouts are deafening and your throat is already hoarse, but you keep cheering for them to come back out.

And then it happens.

Lights burst back on as guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney walk across the stage. The crowd erupts even louder than when the pair began playing some of their most anticipated songs.

The backdrop rises to reveal the spinning hypnotic graphic of the band’s latest album, Turn Blue (Nonesuch). It’s hard to look away as Dan sings “Weight of Love,” the first song on the album.

The Black Keys’ entire performance Sunday night at the TD Garden was a mesmerizing, visual experience. At any given time the crowd witnessed up to 20 screens featuring different angles of Auerbach and Carney. Each shot was stylized with a psychedelic filter and synchronized with the crescendos and diminuendos of every song. Some screens would fade out as another would seemingly pop out of no where, giving an animated effect. As a visual communicator, I appreciate the marriage of visual and auditory performance. I did not expect it from the Black Keys despite their obvious appreciation of art (check out the album cover of Attack & Release).

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The closing song of the evening, “Black Submarine” really drove home how incredible the pairing is. Just after Dan utters “a broken heart is blind,” the stage explodes again with a medley of lights in sync with his guitar solo. I could sense awe and appreciation flooding the crowd.

The stadium (fit for over 17,000 people) had an energy akin to an intimate show, made possible by adoring fans belting out lyrics in unison and the gratitude exuded by the musicians. Dan does not talk much on stage, and even admits that he is “certainly not your typical front-man material.” He paused a few times, only to thank the Boston audience. It’s inspiring, rare and refreshing to see artists who continue to push the envelope and remain humble after so much fame and success.

 

Balancing Eyeballs, Wrecking Balls and Hardballs: Journalistic Integrity and Native Advertising

wallNewsrooms always put up a solid wall between the business and journalistic sides of publishing. This wasn’t something imposed by readers, viewers or listeners, but by the newsrooms themselves. For journalists it was a point of ethics, and they spent many hours discussing the ethics of influence. Being a journalist means that people trust you to tell them what they can’t see; if they can’t trust you do that, then you lose your ability to speak.

To see these ethical standards at work, just look at the ethics sections on places like AllThingsD or TechCrunch. Writing on the Huffington Post, Associated Press Standards Editor Thomas Kent points out that a key way to identify a journalist is asking “Does the person or his organization guard against conflicts of interest that could affect the product? If conflicts are unavoidable, are they publicly acknowledged?”

This barrier between journalist and business interest is becoming increasingly muddled thanks to native advertising. These strategies are very interesting for those of us who need to reach the audience of a given publication, but there is also worry about eroding the very integrity that public relations is designed to harness, thereby hurting just about everything we do.

Back in the 90s as a young news producer I tried launching a business segment. My ultimate boss, the station general manager, the woman who approved my paycheck each week, walked into the newsroom and handed me a company to profile. Of course it was a potential advertiser, something I didn’t realize until after running the story. We killed the segment not long thereafter.

Still, in small-town New York State, this semi-permeable wall was the norm; commerce influenced coverage. Big cities and big newsrooms had the luxury of building a far more solid barrier, and it was a regular topic in journalism school. We’d spend hours every Friday discussing the role of influence, what constituted influence and its impact on reporting. One of my favorite professors exhorted us to not eat the food put out at press events, lest we be influenced by some really great smoked fish.

In This Town, Mark Leibovich points to all the ways in which politicians and journalists become influenced by the money and access that flows freely around the former swamp on the Potomac. In this world, parties, fame, cash, food and access are all commodities, as long as no one openly admits to being influenced. In this world, Hardball host Chris Mathews can move from the political world to the “journalistic” world without missing a beat. The whole thing makes turning down a spread of bagels laughable.

This obviously has great implications for someone in PR, which is, after all, about “influencer relations.” Our goal is to be ethical even as we position our clients to be part of journalists’ stories. It can be a tough balance. An extreme case in point is Miley Cyrus. Sure, her antics gain lots of attention and selling albums, but is the attention she’s receiving helpful for the long-term viability of her brand? Sinead O’Connor seems to think not, though Cyrus acknowledges that her antics sell music. Why should she stop?

Here at HB we operate in the business-to-business world and don’t often encounter cases as extreme as a foam-finger-waving, hyper-sexualized, barely-of-age twerker on national television. Well, not yet, anyway. I haven’t had a client CEO publicly swing naked on a wrecking ball (at least not our client).

With this balance in mind, news organizations continually face a tough decision: how far do they go in trying to make money while also informing the public? What do they give up when placing one above the other?

The other day I sat in a meeting of people participating on a hyper-local blog and the subject of hiring came up. Given the troubles facing hyper-local news, including cutbacks at AOL’s Patch and layoffs at the Boston Globe hyper-local sections we broached the idea of hiring a full-time reporter to do the daily work of collecting news and information. To do so, of course, means having some sort of budget and among the ideas were display ads and native advertising. Display ads got shot down as impractical and native advertising had an “ick” factor that seemed to turn off nearly everyone in the room.

Still, local publications have begun embracing the concept. In a Digiday article, one editor noted that asking local organizations to pay for press release placements isn’t all that far afield from what they had been doing. “Preston Gibson, director of development at the Cape May County Herald said, ‘The content is the exact same content we’ve published [in print], but now we’re getting paid for it.'”

The fear, according to the purists, is a blurring of the lines between content that is paid and that which is editorially independent. Over on Business Insider, Henry Blodget points out that entertainment has always paid the news bills and sites like Buzzfeed have simply built on that concept.

Journalism snoots love to snicker about Buzzfeed’s cat pictures. What they’re missing is that Buzzfeed’s formula takes a page right of the playbook of traditional media: Successful publications and networks in print and TV have always funded expensive journalism and news with feature content with broad appeal.

The best course of action here is to clearly let readers know when they are reading “sponsored” content. As an example, traditionally we’ve understood when an ad is on TV, it interrupts the flow. Now, however, many shows are selling the content itself. Watch Hawaii Five-0 and see the good guys drive GM vehicles (the model names carefully written into the script) while the team uses Microsoft products. That’s advertising, but a lot less overt.

On the digital side my fear is that even with clear notification readers won’t really notice.

Years ago as a freelance writer I did a story about a local tea store for a beverage magazine. The shop’s owner loved the piece, but kept calling it an “ad” and even offered me free tea (I turned it down, see above). The idea that she confused a paid advertisement with an editorially independent article bugged me. She wasn’t the only one. How often do we hear people quoting something they heard about on a TV advertisement as “fact”? When a person argues a point and references something “they read,” do we question the source of the information?

While the stakes may be low when reading a car review and one may go easy on an advertiser, they rise considerably when that same level of influence is put behind more government-driven news, like a local article sponsored by a developer touting a change in zoning laws. This is already happening in the business-to-business tech media, in which many sites freely mix independent editorial content with paid submissions. The flags acknowledging paid content are often so obscured as to become irrelevant.

The bigger question may be “what’s lost?” If people don’t really notice or care when something is sponsored as opposed to editorially independent, then what happens to the quality, breadth and depth of the news they receive? How can they make informed decisions if the information itself comes from paid sources?

Massachusetts: Crushing it in Clean Tech

Blog the 13th: Massachusetts and clean-tech

As a leader in education, innovation, science (and sports), it’s no surprise that Massachusetts is ahead in clean energy advancements. President Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan notes over 2,700 renewable energy projects in Massachusetts since 2009, generating enough energy to power more than 150,000 homes throughout the state. In other words, Massachusetts will accomplish its goal of generating 15 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

HB understands the importance of clean energy innovation and we’re proud to call Massachusetts our home. We believe our home state deserves a virtual round of applause for the strides it’s making as a leader in solar, wind and geothermal energy. In honor of our “Blog the 13th Series,” here are 13 ways Massachusetts leads the clean energy wave.

Big things happening in the Bay State

1. Massachusetts was recently ranked No. 2 in the nation as a leader in clean technology industries. That’s behind a state with nearly six times the Massachusetts population. Look out California, we’re coming for you!

2. According to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) 2012 Clean Energy Report, the Commonwealth now has approximately 71,523 clean energy employees: researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and thought-leaders. Hats off to all of these folks bringing Massachusetts into the future of energy!

3. Greenovate Boston, a city-wide movement led by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, encourages all Bostonians to collectively reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The organization shows how simple it is to reduce an individual carbon footprint. For example, if every person in Boston made a small lifestyle change like using cold water when doing laundry, the city would collectively reduce carbon pollution in the air by up to 240 million pounds over the next ten years.

Get Your Shine On, Massachusetts  

4. We’re knocking solar power innovation out of the park…literally. Did you know that America’s most beloved baseball stadium, the one we’re lucky enough to have in our own back yard, not only produces some of the (sometimes) best baseball we’ve seen in years but solar energy, too? It’s true; Fenway Park is the only stadium in the United States heating its water with solar energy. We love that dirty water…just not in our stadiums!

5. According to MassCEC, as of July 2013 Massachusetts reached a statewide total of 281 megawatts of solar electricity — enough to power 42,106 houses. That’s like taking 29,116 cars off the road. Imagine how much easier it would be to drive through Boston with less congestion!

6. Just last month, Boston was fortunate to be one of only three locations in the United States to host the world’s largest solar-powered boat at Fan Pier. PlanetSolar, the only boat to circumnavigate the globe on solar power, spent its time in the city as an ambassador of solar energy. Through various events with swissnex Boston, the PlanetSolar team presented the boat’s practical application and the enormous potential of solar power.

7. In 2007, Massachusetts implemented a state mandate to install 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017. Under Governor Deval Patrick’s leadership, the state has achieved this goal four years early. Since 2007, the state has steadily increased its solar power capacity including a large jump from 2011 to 2012 with an increase from 42.5 megawatts to 135.8 megawatts of power.

Take that, Windy City

8. Cape Cod, one of Massachusetts’ many treasures, has become known for more than its beautiful beaches and ground-breaking research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Cape Wind, America’s largest offshore wind farm, is a project in development by Energy Management Inc., a Massachusetts-based energy company. The project will be located in the center of Nantucket Sound with 130 wind turbines. Cape Wind is expected to produce an average of 174 megawatts of wind power — almost 75% of the electricity needed to power Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Construction is expected to begin by the end of 2013.

9. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) has developed a number of wind energy projects throughout the Greater Boston area. It recently installed a 1.5 megawatt turbine at its Charlestown facility and two 600 kilowatt turbines at Deer Island. The energy generated by these wind turbines will save MWRA rate payers $600,000 a year in energy costs.

10. Boston is home to the nation’s first wind blade testing center. MassCEC’s Wind Technology Testing Center (WTTC) offers the latest blade testing and prototype development to propel Massachusetts as the leader in developing next-generation offshore wind turbine technologies.

Solar heat beneath your feet

11. Geothermal power, a process which generates electricity from solar energy stored within the earth, is utilized throughout Boston. According to Greenovate Boston, Boston University and Boston Architectural College use geothermal power for its buildings and say the investment will pay off in energy savings within 7-10 years.

Funding for the Future

12. According to the President’s Climate Action Plan, “the 2014 Fiscal Year Budget continues the President’s commitment to keeping the United States at the forefront of clean energy research, development, and deployment by increasing funding for clean energy technology across all agencies by 30 percent, to approximately $7.9 billion.” Massachusetts has set an aggressive goal for 80 percent of its electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2050. Based on our performance to date, it will be much earlier. We may even see another Red Sox World Series win before that!

The Opportunities are Endless

13. Not only is Massachusetts paving the way with clean energy generation, we also have several companies with products that recover and save energy. Take for instance Airxchange, an industry leader in energy recovery ventilation with its patented wheel technology that reduces energy requirements for conditioning outdoor air by 70 percent. Or, when thinking of installing your next large-scale lighting system, consider Digital Lumens. With its patented technologies, Digital Lumens Intelligent Lighting Systems save between 75-90 percent of lighting energy that traditional light sources require.

Are you in Massachusetts? What innovations have you noticed in the clean tech world? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below or via Twitter @hb_agency.

No Snow Job Needed

The recent snow storm once again caused power disruptions across many towns in eastern Massachusetts, with notable areas concentrated along the South Shore, an area where I live. Although the snow itself was ultimately manageable, the resulting damage it caused to power lines led to several days of no electricity and cold homes for hundreds of thousands. The two companies responsible for restoring power to these areas have made very visible efforts this time in communicating to their customers, providing a toll-free line to speak with a live person to report downed lines to or request further information (if your phone works…), near real-time updates via their corporate websites showing where power outages exist and when affected customers can expect restored power, and regular statements from their senior executives regarding the status of their efforts.

First off, thank you to my power company for this, a tremendous improvement over prior efforts during Hurricane Irene, where the lack of consistent and straightforward, unspun communications left many in the dark, both figuratively and literally. Both companies now provide interactive maps and ETA for restoration of our beloved electricity. In the past, we might have seen messaging a bit off the top-line.

Making an honest effort to inform customers and avoiding much of the detached, self-congratulatory back-slapping that plagued past communications is critical to ensure customer trust. We’re in the same boat — the roads were in rough shape for all of us, weather was terrible and conditions far from ideal. And since I made it to work along those same roads, along with tens of thousands of others, you want empathy and information, not needless spin.

In times like these, how about directly cutting to the point – offering a strictly customer-centric voice to your communications – i.e. when is power expected to be restored, and where will this occur. For executives and companies that face the difficult task of updating customers and shareholders in times of crisis or those faced with conveying bad news, the best policy is often “just the facts,” without softening context and spin. Customers and the general public have a vast capacity to forgive and forget, and expect these challenges. Companies, executives and the professionals helping manage their public relations should also understand that in the era of immediate communications where customers can verify the veracity and accuracy of statements, a “just the facts” policy, whether those facts are either encouraging, or more of the same, makes the most sense.