Digital version of a profile of Mike Sitrick, founder of my new firm, Sitrick And Company, to run Sunday June 3 in the New York Times.
It’s been a long time since I stuck my nose inside of a church, mosque or temple to continue my chronicle of church tourism started on this blog a decade ago. A recent visit to an old California mission (the first I’ve visited) with my good friend and guide, Jim Forbes, inspired this entry.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Spanish mission and estancia system stretched along the Californian coast as far north as Sonoma north of San Francisco. Spaced about a day’s journey apart, they were the first western/European centers of power along that wild coast, connected by a road known as El Camino Real. The first of the Alta California missions was founded in 1769 in San Diego. The mission I visited, San Antonio de Pala Astencia, or “the Pala Mission” was founded by Franciscan friars in 1816 as an astencia or sub-mission of the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia closer to the coast downstream on the San Luis Rey River. The Pala Indian Reservation is home to the Pala Band of Mission Indians, descendants of the Cupeno and Luiseno tribe native to the area.
One gets to Pala off of Route 15 after passing the Lawrence Welk Trailer Park and hillside avocado orchards and citrus groves. The landscape is rugged, rocky, and arid with lots of boulders and volatile brush that makes the Pala/Escondido area a very dangerous place to live when the brush fires light up the skies and 200 foot tall walls of flame appear over the ridges. Pala is a reservation for the descendants of the Indian tribes who were displaced by Spanish and American colonists from their traditional dwellings closer to the Pacific Ocean. As one arrives in Pala the first sight is a large, modern casino with an immense sign touting the upcoming visit of some musical act. But off the main road, in a neighborhood of modest homes, is the Mission of San Antonio de Pala.
We got out of the car and walked through the Mission cemetery, our arrival noted by a pair of little boys who were surprised two gringos would walk through the hallowed burial ground checking out the tombstones. They clambered over the stairs leading up to the freestanding belfry, marked with a sign asking visitors to please not ring the bell as that was reserved for the call to worship and to mark the passing of a parishioner.
Since it was a Sunday a service was underway in the long, single story chapel, and with an overflow crowd standing in the doorway, we didn’t enter, but listened for a minute as the priest read a series of community announcements.
We lingered in the shade in front of the church for a bit, then moved on in search of a farmstand where I bought some dried chilis.
For the Union Dead, Robert Lowell
On Boston Common, following a decade-long Memorial Day tradition, volunteers from the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund have set out more than 37,000 flags to mark the memory of all the Commonwealth’s soldiers who have died in battle defending the country since the Revolution.
Jim Gould, local historian and essayist, emailed me on Saturday the news that a flag had been placed on the grave in Cotuit’s Mosswood Cemetary of my great-great-grandfather, Capt. Thomas Chatfield, to honor his service in the Union Navy during the Civil War.
Chatfield survived the Civil War unscathed. Across the street from where I sit, in the park in the village center, sit two hulking granite boulders with bronze plaques affixed to their faces. There are enscribed the names of Cotuit’s veterans of the two world wars.
I did not serve in the military but a few men in the family have. From my fifth great grandfather Job Handy serving in the Continental Army in the American Revolution to the present with my son serving in the U.S. Army, there’s somewhat of a military tradition to honor. My father was in the Army in the early 1950s, stationed in post-war Germany. My brother Tom served in the Army’s special forces for nearly 15 years. My nephew is presently a Navy Seal. My son is a private in the 25th Infantry.
I missed the draft for the Vietnam war by a few months in 1976, then came close to enlisting in the Navy after graduating from college four years later (a missed opportunity I’ve regretted ever since). I should have served but didn’t.
Here’s to those who did serve or are serving now:
Here’s to Jim Forbes who served in the USMC at Khesanh. To Rick Larcom the Green Beret who lost his leg in Vietnam. To Sam Berry who flew an Air Force tanker. To Ben Field who is a sonarman aboard a USN submarine. Here’s to all who serve in distant wars today, who have served in the past, and who one day will have their graves marked on some future Memorial Day by a flag they earned through their service.
Searls writes down what I’ve been thinking and predicting for the past couple of years: the mounting backlash by consumers and regulators against tracking technology is going to blow up the existing Adtech market and cause a whole lot of pain for tracking-based advertising models.
“Adtech is built to undermine the brand value of all the media it uses, because it cares about eyeballs more than media, and it causes negative associations with brands. Consider this: perhaps a $trillion or more has been spent on adtech, and not one brand known to the world has been made by it. (Bob Hoffman, aka the Ad Contrarian, is required reading on this.)”
On May 6th, I joined the firm of Sitrick And Company as a Member of the Firm (e.g. “partner”) and the first Head of its new Boston office at One Post Office Square. I’m going to build a global tech practice for the firm as well as advise its clients in New England and the Boston area.
Mike Sitrick, the founder of the firm, has been the leading crisis communications specialist in the country for more than 30 years and advises a blue ribbon of corporate and celebrity clients out of the firm’s headquarters in Los Angeles. The firm also has offices in San Francisco, Denver, Washington, DC and New York City.
Sitrick is home to a roster of former national and local business reporters with the likes of Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Bloomberg on their resumes. One of them, my former Forbes colleague Seth Lubove, recommended me as the guy to build up the firm’s tech practice. So thanks to Seth, here I am.
Crisis communications is a fascinating and often misunderstood specialty in the public relations world and Sitrick is the acknowledged black belt at it. In January his second book — The Fixer — was published by Regenery, and in it he lays out a simple ten rule framework for how to weather those adrenaline-filled moments of sheer panic hat come to every organization on occasion. Most telling is his contrarian approach to working with the media. Where many PR firms and internal PR teams take an adversarial stance in their relations with the press, Sitrick prides itself on working closely with the media to get its clients’ version of a controversy out there rather than hide behind the stonewall of “no comment.”
I can look back at several key points in my career when I felt the most energized and empowered, and nearly all of them were associated with some form of crisis or breaking news. Working a crime scene or fire as a cub reporter at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune. Saving a colleague choking on a roast beef sub in the Tribune’s newsroom with a Heimlich. The Shattered Glass scoop my team at Forbes.com broke open in 1998.
Calming down pissed-off customers flooding the Better Business Bureau and social media with complaints over delayed computer shipments at Lenovo.
2017 was enlivened by some challenging crisis work at my former job – running PR at Acquia — and I quickly realized my attention and productivity both soar when things go wrong and hit the proverbial fan. So as I parted ways with Acquia, the one thing I wanted to do was more crisis work — either at my own agency (codenamed “Dumpsterfire”) or with an established one where I could learn.
The chance to work with and learn from Mike Sitrick sold me and so here I am.
A press release went out this morning. Here’s a link to it.
I have a nice collection of books and over the past two weeks I’ve winnowed down their numbers by dragging 20 black contractor bags to the Boys Club book trailer at the Barnstable Dump. I may have given myself a hernia in the process, as all of those books were upstairs, scattered between five book cases, and had to be Santa Claus carried downstairs and out the door over my shoulder.
I lightened the load on the old house’s bones and perhaps even slowed its sagging into the sand, but no one was happier to see the black bags of books leave forever than my wife Daphne, who asked me multiple times “what’s wrong with a Kindle?”
A lot is wrong with a Kindle. All those sad “books” locked away on a little plastic rectangle have nothing to compare with the impressive ranks on actual shelves of Shelby Foote’s trilogy of the American Civil War, Gibbons’ massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which I also listened to via Audible during endless car commutes from the Cape to NYC), a signed three-volume hardcover set of John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium trilogy, a full shelf of Pynchon, all of O’Brian’s Master & Commander series, and treasures dating back to college.
Friends and house guests can’t spend a pensive moment on a rainy day looking for a good book on the Kindle in my briefcase. I can’t excitedly press a masterpiece sitting on a device into their hands knowing it won’t come back, but still feel glad to give them the chance to experience what I had when I read the book for the first time.
What sits on a person’s book shelves may say more about a person than their Match.com profile or their Meyers Briggs score. Who hasn’t cocked their head to the side and spent a few minutes scanning book spines to get a sense of their host and their interests? When I was in college I was invited to dinner by my advisor John Hersey. His home on Humphrey Street in New Haven was packed solid with books, more than I had ever seen before or since. My read on him? People who write books own a lot of books.
My shelves — prior to the Great Reshelving of 2018 — would have told a browser that their owner catalogued according to the laws of entropy. Nothing was grouped correctly. Proust was hanging out with James Ellroy. Ancient software manuals sucked up precious space. Flimsy IKEA bookshelves had cracked and collapsed to reveal they were nothing more than corrugated cardboard encased in vinyl. Stacks of books lay under beds collecting dust bunnies. Torn paperbacks with no covers competed with first editions, great poetry, and irreplaceable yearbooks and family photo albums.
Being the nerd I am I went online to look for some guidance on how to most efficiently purge my collection and reorganize it across multiple bookshelves in separate rooms. Should I use the Dewey Decimal System? I did work in a library in college and the Cotuit Library is right across the street and I kind of know the DDS. Was there an amazing book app that would scan ISBN numbers and help me keep track of my lending? One lifehacking tip advised organizing books by the color of their spines the way teenagers sometimes organize their apps on their phones by the color of the icons.
In the end I went topical. Fiction and poetry are being shelved alphabetically in the main book case along with the best of my maritime history and fiction. Paperback fiction (in decent shape) went on the uppermost shelf that is conveniently paperback sized. Ancient history and literature — Herodotus through Runciman — went into a bedroom along with more marine titles, mountain climbing, survival stories, philosophy, and coffee table art books. The guest room got more beach reading and popular stuff like Stephen King, along with all the local flora and fauna and Cape Cod specific titles.
First came the purge and the purge intensified. In a moment I would ponder as book in my hand and make a quick assessment. Was it a duplicate and if so, was it superior to the other edition? Do I need three hardcover copies of Harry Potter and the Lost Prince of the Planet Xerox? Was it out of date, e.g. some business book about “Agile Lean 6 Sigma Teams?” that wasn’t relevant anymore to anybody and probably was that way the day it was published? Into the trash with it. Was it a one-off read that would probably never get picked up and read again? e.g. anything by James Patterson? Into the trash.
My criteria for disposal grew more weening the more weeding out I did. Sometimes I’d find a title so heinous I’d cringe that it even came into the house, let alone found space to molder in.
Once the purge was completed and five back-bending trips to the recycling center lightened the house by several tons, I started shuttling the survivors to their new homes. In the process I was able to dispose of one dilapidated IKEA bookcase and multiple temporary shelves in various bedrooms. I removed about 100 feet of shelving by the time I finished, and what remains has plenty of room for more books. All photo albums and yearbooks are in a set of shelves inside of a closet used to store old electronics and other detritus.
The most satisfying part of the Great Reshelving was the reunification of so many scattered titles and the discovery that my favorite authors are Don DeLillo, Peter Matthiessen, Barry Hannah, Joan Didion, John McPhee, Thomas Pynchon, and Cormac McCarthy. I’m really into Byzantine History (especially the fall of Constantinople), the naval history of the Civil War, whaling, American small boat design, shipwrecks, mountain climbing, and English romantic poets.
As for apps, yes there are book apps that purport to make life easy, but in the end I just did it by the seat of my pants the old fashioned way.
I’ve been into non-currency applications of the blockchain thanks to Dries Buytaert’s thoughts about using it to reward contributors to open source projects, and Steven Johnson’s excellent article about blockchain, cryptocurrencies, ICOs, the Bitcoin Bubble and Etherium in the New York Times Sunday Magazine last January.
I signed up for po.et, received a Frost token and API URL; downloaded the WordPress plugin, uploaded the zip file to my account on WordPress.com and filled out the plugin’s settings with my name and the Frost settings.
I can stick a badge like this one:into my posts by adding “” to each post. What’s the big whoop? It’s essentially stamping a piece of my work with my Po.et token so it can be verified as my work and not an impostor’s nor a thief’s. I believe I can audit my work for it’s use (or abuse), use it on photos, audio… and maybe incorporate a payment system in the future.
Po.et has one of the best self-descriptions I’ve seen from a tech company in a long time:
Po.et is a tool that allows publishers to timestamp their digital works. Po.et uses blockchain technology in order to create digital “fingerprints” that can mathematically prove an article hasn’t been altered or tampered with.
Why Paul Theroux Loves Cape Cod https://nyti.ms/2qzzOzJ
Theroux is one of my favorite writers of fiction and acerbic travel. His 1978 novel Picture Palace is set on the Cape, and he’s had a summer place here since the mid-70s.
“It is my home, so it is in my dreams,” he writes, “a landscape of my unconscious mind, perhaps my mind’s only landscape.”
I just finished smearing cream cheese all over today’s New York Time’s front page story about how the U.K. company Cambridge Analytica filched 50 million Facebook accounts to fuel its data profiling engine for the Trump campaign and other Republican races over the past few years. It was spellbinding and infuriating at the same time, making for my best outraged breakfast in weeks.
Data services like Cambridge Analytica aren’t new, they’re usually just another pollster with a black box algorithm and some intimations that they have a pipeline to the source of the good data that others don’t. At the 2010 CES I was pitched hard by two companies who shall go unnamed but who both claimed to have full data feeds from either Google, Facebook’s “social graph” and a full record of every tweet ever twitted. They were selling their services to digital marketers such as myself to drive campaign development, media planning, and Big Data voodoo psychographic persona profiling. The one that said they had a full database of every tweet ever sent was applying some cockamamie sentiment analysis that could determine the difference between a teenager calling a Toyota Corolla “a sick ride” and a pissed off commuter calling the same car “a sick POS.” Another made it sound like they were kinda, sorta a Google portfolio company with Google investments and permission to get really deep into the good stuff. Neither of those two companies made a shred of sense so I begged off and went back to my sore feet and sense of wonder by the porn stars trying to crash the hospitality lounge Lenovo set up in the Bellagio across from the AVN Awards.
I walked away feeling very creeped out by those early social analysis firms’ claims of having a “special” relationship with the Big Three in social networking and search. For all I know they were only scraping profiles and copying tweets, and I doubt any of them had a true backdoor into Google’s search records John Battelle wrote presciently in 2003 prior to publishing his book about Google, “The Search” — that Sergey and Larry have long been sitting on the world’s most exhaustive “database of intentions” but don’t pimp it out because, well, because Google’s motto is “don’t be Evil.”
Andy Kessler told me in 1995 as I was figuring out the business plan for Forbes.com that the true currency of the Internet wasn’t goiing to be cash based — purchases, subscriptions, etc. — but informational. I wasn’t sharp enough to fully grok his point, but in essence he correctly called that true source of value coming from information as users like you and me were persuaded to part with our personal details in exchange for some free value.
Dries Buytaert, who invented the open source CMS, Drupal, also called it a couple years ago when he said there was no way for a content brand like the New York Times to beat the power of the Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft profile given the immense amount of data they were accumulated on their users’ activities.
“Traditional retailers like RadioShack and Barnes & Noble were great “content platforms”; they have millions of products on shelves across thousands of physical stores. Amazon disrupted them by moving online, and Amazon was able to build an even better content platform with many more products. In addition, the internet enabled the creation of “user platforms”. Amazon is a great user platform as it knows the interests of the 250 million customers it has on file; it uses that customer information to recommend products to buy. Amazon built a great content and user platform.”
To read this morning, with a mouthful of bagel , that a Cambridge Analytica researcher was able to weasel Facebook into handing over the intimate details of 50 million people by fibbing and claiming the data was for an academic study would be jaw dropping were it not for Facebook’s unbroken record of ham-fisted actions and policies regarding its users’ data, the same reason I avoid it like the network despite its ubiquity.
“Get over it, you have no privacy” may be the cynical creed of this brave new world, but I have to imagine, given the throbbing tenor of the headlines (today’s Times story checks off all the good keywords of the current news cycle including “Robert Mueller” “Donald Trump” “Julian Assange” “Steve Bannion” and of course the world’s foremost kleptocratic state:, “Russia“) and on the back of Equifax screwing the pooch last summer by forgetting to patch its Apache code, that we’re getting closer to the big pullback in Internet confidence by the consumers of the world that was predicted by the World Economic Forum and the McKinsey Global Institute over five years ago.
It’s shaping up to be a banner year for a privacy revolt. Cambridge Analytica is heading to the mattresses just the EU’s new consumer privacy regulations — GDPR — is going into effect. The EU has a record of passing the most stringent consumer privacy regulations and any company with global reach is going to have to snap to and toe the line or face a lot of flights to Strasbourg or The Hague to face the music. After all, half of Europe lived in a snoop state with the Stasi listening into everything, so when their government tells Google an individual has a right to be forgotten, you can bet that person is going to be forgotten or Google isn’t going to sell many ads in Germany or France.
I’ll make some far fetched and wishful predictions that a few things could happen:
- Digital marketers are going to think long and hard before asking for a prospect or customer to share personal information. Database marketing is going to get some serious scrutiny from their general counsel and Chief Risk Officer. The entire martech stack is getting a full colonoscopy right now before GDPR kicks in less than six weeks from today.
- Companies in the martech and data analytics space are going to fall all over themselves to sell those same marketers some sort of “put the consumer in control” tools so data pigs with their first, second and third party data can begin to look like white hats. I can write the taglines now: “Earn Customer Trust By Putting Them Control of Their Data.”
- Forget Big Data, the next market is going to be for tools that let consumers own and manage their info, so they can be in control of their data. The only people to do so will be tin foil hat-types like my step father who used to call Microsoft tech support because he thought they were responsible for scam spam from the Prince of Cameroon who needed his banking details to save his country’s treasury.
- Say hello to the beginnings of the “Big Reverse.” You know — “when banks compete for your business you win?” The dream of killing advertising and marketing and turning the tables so when I need a new car I can somehow let all the dealers know I’m looking for a really sick SUV with 5 mpg and get bids back like Buddy Cianci with snowplowing contracts in Providence.
- Digital and Tivo killed interruption-based/ shotgun marketing. Digital came along and the best the marketing world could come up with were ignorant retargeting ads that chase us around to buy the shoes we bought the time they planted a tracking cookie under our bumpers to follow us around like total creeps. If that’s the best they can do with my shoe size, credit card number, my time zone, gender, and penchant for pictures of squirrels eating pizza, then they are cavemen with stone axes claiming to be “data-driven” marketers.
- The ineptitude of the hundreds of corporations and governments who have had to issues contrite “oops, we lost your social security number, here’s a free credit report” statements are going to have to face up to a new world where hoovering up birthdays and zipcodes and astrological signs isn’t permitted, and the Cluetrain-driven vision of Doc Searls and Project VRM is going to become the new normal very very soon.
- Say goodbye to lead gen and the interrupted afternoons when “Business Development Representatives” will cold call you because you were naive enough to share your actual name and phone number in exchange for a white paper on “Harnessing Machine Learning to Drive Customer Digital Experience Delight“
Winter is coming for the data-pigs of the world. The conspiracy theorists and preppers are going to take Cambridge Analytica, the Illuminati, Rootin’ Tootin Putin and the Barnum & Trump White House look like The Rapture. Breach a few more Equifaxes, Targets, and Ashley Madisons and people, even the “sheeple” are going to get wise to the fact that it’s not just their browser history that could embarrass them into pulling the plug.