Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pizza Monger Meets Pizza Mogul

On a recent fateful night at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., the pizza monger finally met the pizza mogul. In retrospect, it probably had to happen sooner or later.

My 7-year-year old son, Clark, is the pizza monger. Whenever we go to University of Louisville basketball games, Clark’s first stop is at the Papa John’s pizza booth. He always orders a pepperoni personal pan pizza. (These are available only at the games, by the way, from what I can tell). Then – and only then – can the fandom begin.

At a recent game, we followed our regular routine: Enter, get personal pizza, find seats. But this game was to be anything but normal. We had just settled in when I looked up and saw the pizza mogul – none other than Papa John’s founder John Schnatter– standing along the rail near my seats. For those of you who don’t know, Schantter is a native of Jeffersonville, Ind., near Louisville, and is a benefactor of the University of Louisville.

As a U of L grad myself and a lifelong Louisville native, I’ve seen “Papa John” around a few times, but never so close. Not being the shy, retiring type, I immediately called out with the catchphrase from Papa’s latest commercial: “Papa John is in the House!” Having heard this probably a billion times, Papa John gave me the requisite lukewarm nod.

Then something extraordinary happened. Papa spotted Clark with his ballgame staple, a Papa John’s pizza. Obviously liking what he saw, the pizza mogul rushed to the pizza monger and requested a high-five. Palms were slapped. Papa John returned to his post. After a couple minutes, Clark looked at me and said nonchalantly, “Daddy, that was the guy on the box.”

As it turned out, Papa John was at Freedom Hall to film a commercial for the pizza chain that will air during March Madness. At halftime, he even hit a half-court shot. To celebrate, he said everyone in the house would get a free pizza with their ticket stub.

A couple days later, we saw Papa John again, except this time it was only on the box.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Like a Diamond, Good Slogan Lasts Forever

Quick. Can you name the tagline for Coca-Cola? How about for Pepsi? They’re two of the most recognizable brands in the word. They spend a lot of money on advertising. Surely, you can name their taglines, right?

Not so much, according to Steve Cone of Epsilon, who recently spoke to Humana’s marketing team about good marketing. Cone travels the country offering a $50 bill to anyone who can name the soda giants’ taglines. That $50 is still in his wallet.

These examples show that the biggest companies don’t always make the most of their marketing dollars, he said. In fact, Cone contends that bigger the company; the more likely it is that they are needlessly draining their marketing budgets.

If you’ve got a good tagline, stick with it, he said. Coke and Pepsi are two companies that are probably best known for earlier taglines. Have you had a Coke and a smile? Did you join the Pepsi generation?

Good taglines are simple, Cone said, reflecting a company’s values with an attitude. You do know that what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, right? The slogan is actually “Vegas: What Happens Here, Stays Here,” but you get the picture.

Jingles work well, Cone said. He also likes personalizing the brand with a celebrity or a character, especially a character. After all, “Tony the Tiger” never gets caught like Tiger Woods. Finally, integrate your marketing campaign across all platforms.

Follow these tips and perhaps everyone will know your tagline, even if you don’t advertise on the Super Bowl.

By the way, Coca-Cola’s current slogan is “Open Happiness,” while Pepsi boasts that it “Refreshes the Word.” Keep those in mind just in case you run into Steve Cone. You can thank me for the $50 later.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Industry’s Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Had the privilege of attending a luncheon with Courier-Journal president and publisher Arnold Garson recently, and he said, in true Mark Twain fashion, that reports of the newspaper industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Newspapers are too good at publicizing their own problems, he said, while television news rarely reports on its own loss of viewers.

Newspapers remain a profitable industry, he said. Garson said papers that have gone broke have fallen into two main categories: Second tier papers that were artificially propped up for years by “joint operating agreements” and newspapers that unwisely took on too much debt. As other industries recover, so will newspapers, he said.

Garson conceded that newspapers must react to the times, starting with regular price increases, just like other businesses.

He is bullish on print, but can envision a day when a few editions each week are delivered electronically. The biggest obstacle to this is developing an electronic reader that interfaces well with the newspaper format, he said.

In closing, Garson said the C-J will publish his obituary and the obituaries of all of us who had gathered to listen to him, but not its own.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Cup Runneth Over

When I was a cub reporter, I learned one of my first lessons about brand management. I had written about a fire in the small southern Indiana town where I worked. I said the fire moved quickly after spreading to some “Styrofoam cups.”

Several weeks later I got a letter from the good folks at Styrofoam. (Those were the days before e-mail). They were more worried about damage to their brand than damage to the house. They informed me, ever so firmly, that Styrofoam doesn’t make cups. They recommended the alternative “plastic foam” in place of Styrofoam.

I didn’t print a retraction. However, more than 20 years later, I’m probably the only guy you know who calls those things “plastic foam” cups.

Styrofoam may not exist anymore for all I know. Or they may have branched out into cups by now. But I can’t take that chance. Even as I write “Styrofoam cup” in this post, I fear some Internet robot may find the phrase. A letter of admonishment won’t be far behind.

The point is this: You’ve got to be passionate for protecting your brand, even if it’s only with some cub reporter at some small newspaper in southern Indiana. After all, those cub reporters eventually become reporters at much larger papers. They may even become a PR guy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Putting a Steak in the Ground

In my last blog post, I talked about the Brett Favre Steakhouse in Green Bay, Wisc. While I don’t know anything about the place or its finances, I can’t help but wonder if it represents a cautionary tale for us as investors.

Chances are the steakhouse was once considered a “can’t miss” investment. I imagine the pitch went something like this, “This is a sure thing. We’re talking about a restaurant named after the most beloved athlete on the community’s most beloved team. We’ll just fill the place with Packers memorabilia and the food will fly out there.”

I bet it did, too. The place was probably buzzing with excitement, including an occasional visit by Favre himself. It probably felt like it would never end.

But nothing is forever. Favre waffled on his retirement, then clashed with management. By the time he signed with the New York Jets, I bet the crowds in Green Bay were already thinning out. “Don’t worry,” backers probably said. “Brent has a lot of goodwill in this town.”

Judging by what I saw on my recent visit, they slapped a couple Jets photos on the wall and proceeded as if nothing had really changed. What they hadn’t banked on was Favre signing earlier this year with the Packers’ most hated rival, the Minnesota Vikings. No way to spin that one, which is probably why I didn’t see Favre in purple on the wall.

Favre went from beloved to persona non grata. An idea that seemed inspired now seems shortsighted.

Sure, Brett Favre’s Steakhouse still serves a pretty mean Brett Favre signature steak. The restaurant is far from deserted from what I saw, even on a weekday. But I can’t help but wonder if it’s far from its heyday, too. After all, there’s not much of a chance of Brett dropping by these days. Even if he did, I’m not sure he’d bolster sales very much.

I imagine entrepreneurs pitching a new idea now. “It’s this theme restaurant,” they’re probably saying. “It’s going to be huge. Aaron Rodgers is on board.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tales from the Road ... and the Airplane

I just got back from a whirlwind business trip to Green Bay and Chicago. My travels were eventful as always, including the following:

  • My luggage took a different flight than me. Thank you, American Airlines.

  • Drank my first Spotted Cow beer. Thank you, Debbie Henry.

  • Spent $17 on an official cheesehead hat. I guess that’s a lot of money for a big block of inedible cheese. However, my son was insistent. In case you’re wondering, he’s a bigger fan of cheesy hats than the Green Bay Packers.

  • Won $60 at a casino on an Indian reservation. I took a tip from the great Kenny Rogers by knowing when to walk away … if only he had walked away from that plastic surgeon.

  • The good folks at the Swissotel locked me out of my room after promising me a late checkout. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, anyone can take a reservation; the key is keeping the reservation. Usually when I can’t open a hotel room it’s my own fault. Maybe science will eventually unlock the room key-cell phone conundrum.

  • Escaped a close call from a woman with a dog on an airplane. I’m allergic to dogs, although I’m not sure this lady would even recognize her traveling companion as a dog, based on the ongoing conversation between the two of them.

  • Not so lucky when it came to the puking woman just one row ahead of me. Thankfully, I narrowly avoided a sympathy barf.

  • At the AHIP conference, I saw a woman’s presentation interrupted by her own cell phone. It wasn’t even a cool ringtone. I chalked it up to karma since presenters are always telling audience members to turn off their phones.

  • Enjoyed two dinners at Brett Favre’s steakhouse in Green Bay. The restaurant is still in Green Bay even though Favre isn’t. He now plays for the Minnesota Vikings … the Packers most hated rival. The food was good, but the merchandise wasn’t moving. I did hear about some bozo paying $17 for a cheesehead. That’s enough to make you want to puke on an airplane.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

From Cheese Plate to Cheesehead

We all know men are from Mars and women are from Venus. That point was dramatically driven home to me the other day when I asked people of different sexes about the very best place to stay in Green Bay, Wisc.

A young female professional who is very familiar with the area recommended a place “owned by a Catholic college that is cute, quaint and has a nice brunch.”

The male, also a professional, went another direction. He recommended the Hilton Garden Inn. Not so cute, not so quaint, but located directly across the parking lot from Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.

“They have the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame there,” he explained. “If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to check it out.”

So much for that nice brunch.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Keeping Tab on Some Old Brands

Many of the brands of my youth are gone, lost presumably to changing tastes and perhaps a better informed public.

I used to wash my hair with a shampoo called Body on Tap. It was made with actual beer, which was supposed to be good for your hair. I haven’t seen Body on Tap for years. If it were still around, you’d probably have to keep it locked up in a liquor cabinet. The FDA also might frown upon beer being promoted as a cure for a bad hair day.

Tab, the original diet soda, is still around, but not as popular as it once was. As it turns out, people apparently prefer diet sodas that don’t taste like cough syrup and include warnings about dying lab rats on the side. Imagine that.

I loved Fun Dip, which is basically what you get when you empty a jillion Pixie Sticks into a mountain of sugary dust and then shovel it in with a spoon, also made of sugar. To the best of my knowledge, the packaging wasn’t made of sugar, but it should have been.

We weren’t much for moderation in those days. Charles Chips used to arrive at my doorstep in the equivalent of an oil drum. Charles Chips might still be around somewhere, but I’m certain they don’t come in oil drums anymore.

The bottom line is we’ve probably gotten too smart for suspect additives, mountains of unrefined sugar, gargantuan sizes and alcohol-infused household products. Or maybe the lawyers just smartened up. Either way, these are positive developments.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but have an occasional yearning for one of the most heinous -- yet delicious -- salty snacks of my youth. It was called Bacums. As I recall, Bacums were basically bacon-flavored potato chips. Each chip looked like a miniature slice of bacon. If they were around today, you’d probably confuse Bacums for dog treats. But if Bacums are for dogs, then slap a collar on me and call me Spike. I loved Bacums. I ate them every day. At my high school, you couldn’t find a warm vegetable for a hundred miles, but you could always find a bag of Bacums.

I don’t remember ever giving up Bacums. Luckily, the changing snack food market saved me from myself. But I won’t lie. If I could find one last bag of Bacums, I’d eat them right now, washing them down with a Tab, of course, just for old-time’s sake.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Let’s Shake On It

It seems like an epidemic is breaking out. It’s not H1N1, although it may be closely related. It’s a condition I’ll call handshakeicitis.

There have always been a few suffers … those who turn to Purell at slightest possibility of an open palm. But their ranks are growing rapidly since the swine flu if my experiences are any indication. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve met two victims.

First, I approached my son’s teacher at a recent open house, extending a friendly hand. She ducked aside as if I had brandished a gun. “I can’t shake your hand,” she explained. “My allergies are acting up.”

A few days later, I ran into an acquaintance at a restaurant. My hand sprung into action like a GI Joe with karate action. Once again, handshakeinteruptus. Just like the teacher, he said he was under the weather and didn’t want to spread germs.

If that’s the case, I should be thankful. But I can’t help but wonder if these people are protecting themselves from me instead of me from them!

I’m not unsympathetic. After all, I’m a hypochondriac from way back. WebMD used to be among my favorite Web sites. I don’t even want to talk about the great diabetes scare of the 80s. Yet, when it comes to handshakes, I forge fearlessly ahead. The extravert prevails over the germaphobe, hands down, so to speak.

Whether it’s fair or not, I can’t help but feel rejected by those unrequited handshakes. It leaves me hollow, like a guy with a bad pickup line on Ladies Night.

Dr. Keith Ablow of Fox News says it OK to shake hands, even with the swine flu threat. He says we need human touch now more than ever. So follow my lead. Get a grip! Don’t be afraid of a hearty handshake.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How About a Digital Debate?

Some of my recent Facebook comments have been rubbed out quicker than one of Tony Soprano’s enemies. Can a defriending be far behind?

Perhaps a generational gap is to blame. Many of my Facebook friends are younger than me. They’re probably surprised to see a 40-year-old in their digital sandbox.

For the most part, that’s fine. I live vicariously through their party people weekends while posting updates about my wife, kids and Louisville sports. But when the conversation occasionally veers into politics, things get a little sticky. For starters, I think their embarrassed to know someone who didn’t actually vote for Barack Obama.

I should take a timeout here and tell you that I’m the kind of guy who is very passionate about his views. I’ve always been that way. In my peer group, you either debated or got run over. We argued about everything … sports, girls, clothes, etc. We drank beers, argued, ate, argued, went home, stewed and did it all over again the next day.

This was probably great training for a career in public relations. If someone said something you didn’t like, you picked it apart. You couldn’t delete their comments.

Facebook isn’t like that. In the digital world, if you don’t like something someone says, then you just zap it away. I found that out the hard way while commenting about things like the health care and other current events.

I prefer the old way. If you don’t agree with me, let’s go toe to toe. When it’s over, you’ll send me a virtual margarita. I’ll send you a smiley face. And we’ll do it again tomorrow.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Enter at Your Own Risk

I was in a pretty sketchy convenience store the other day when it occurred to me that most of these places have a few major things in common. So in the interest of public safety, here are my top 10 signs that you’re in a shady convenience store:

10). Police won’t stop there … even for free doughnuts.
9). Always someone on a bicycle hanging suspiciously around a pay phone.
8).You can’t find USA Today, but you can find three fetish magazines.
7). More handmade signs than a lemonade stand.
6). The clerk is staring at you through bars like an inmate on death row.
5). Three words: Lotto. Lotto. Lotto.
4). A fellow customer is actually enjoying one of those hot dogs off the rollers.
3). They have one of those measuring sticks at the door to identify the perpetrator … and they actually use it.
2). Police tape. (See number 3).
1). One brand of milk; five brands of rolling paper.

If you see three or more of these 10, then it’s probably a good idea to move on down the road. You can thank me later.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Weekend for the Birds

I like birds, but I’m starting to think they don’t like me.

I’ve had a few dust ups with our feathery friends over the years, but nothing as ugly as this past weekend. It started during a visit to the Newport Aquarium in Northern Kentucky. Oddly for an aquarium, one of my favorite exhibits was an aviary. We purchased some nectar to feed the birds. Many birds happily partook of our sweet offering.

I felt at peace with the wildlife, like a regular John James Audubon. That is, until one of the birds rewarded my goodwill by relieving himself on my t-shirt. I thought it was “number one.” My son, Trent, who is more knowledgeable about these things due to countless hours watching Animal Planet, cheered me up by telling me it was more than likely “number two.”

That’s right. This bird didn’t bite the hand that fed him. He pooped in it.

It was traumatic, particularly facing a two-hour drive home with a bird-soiled shirt. However, I wasn’t about to let it ruin my weekend. I recovered quickly enough to stop off for some ice cream. By the next morning, all was forgotten as I went about my weekly routine, mowing the lawn, cutting the weeds and washing two cars.

After washing the cars, I went inside and cleaned up a little. By the time I returned – no more than five minutes later – birds had hit them both, negating an entire afternoon of hard labor in a single selfish moment.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the same birds. After all, the birds in Newport seemed safely incarcerated within some netting. But perhaps one of them called out a hit on me, like a mafia kingpin tapping into a criminal network from his jail cell.

Why would these birds target me so vicousouly? I scoured my memory banks for the answer. If anything, I’ve been pretty good to birds over the years. If I see one in the road, I always drive around it. I don’t eat much chicken. I even taught a paraquet named Amos how to say “Pretty Boy,” undoubtedly making him the envy of his flock. Amos would have lived longer too, if he hadn’t eaten so damned many cigarettes, but that’s another story.

Anyway, between these bittersweet memories of Amos, I finally stumbled upon something.
When I was much younger, I owned a muscle car with t-tops. Once, when visiting a drive-through establishment, a bird with aim like Peyton Manning pooped on my wife’s head. I laughed uncontrollably – not only for the rest of the day, but for months afterward.

So maybe it wasn’t the birds that got me after all … but karma.

Monday, July 20, 2009

You Never Forget Your First Beanball

Even at 6 years old, Clark is a lot tougher than his old man. He proved that over the weekend.

Clark got hit in the eye with a baseball during warm-ups for his Little League All-Star game, resulting in a first-class shiner. A lesser man – his dad, for instance – might have packed it in right there. Clark not only played in the game, but got a couple hits.

I speak from experience on this. My Little League career ended at about Clark’s age when a manchild nicknamed Froggie beaned me in the head with a fastball. I continued to play after that, but spent most of my time in the batter box trembling with fear. Because of Froggie, I was much more worried about getting hit than getting a hit.

After getting hit, Clark wasn’t too eager to mix it up again, either. Something about the thud of a hardball against soft flesh will do that to you. But Clark did play. In fact, in true Hollywood fashion, he darned near had the game-winning hit. Unfortunately, the lead runner was sent back to third. We lost in extra innings. The storybook finish will have to wait for another day.

I’d like to think it might still happen, however. Perhaps on some cool October evening many years from now with the Reds leading 3-2 and just one out from clinching the World Series, Clark will be called in from the bullpen to save the day. With 45,000 people watching anxiously from the stands and millions more on national television, Clark will wind up, muster all his strength and promptly drill Froggie’s offspring right in the head.

That kid has one coming.

Friday, July 10, 2009

An Izzo Elevator Encounter

As it turns out, Tom Izzo apparently felt as badly about his Michigan State Spartans knocking my Louisville Cardinals from the Final Four chase as I did. At least that’s what he told me in the elevator of Cleveland’s Renaissance Hotel.

I was in town to promote the National Senior Games. He was in town to attend the LeBron James King City Classic basketball tournament, featuring the best high school players in the nation.
As fate would have it, we ended up on the same elevator at the same time, along with Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber.

The last time I saw Izzo was at a distance. He was patrolling the sidelines in Indianapolis as his underdog Spartans easily dismantled my beloved Louisville Cardinals, depriving me of the joy of a Final Four appearance. This time, the personal space between us was much more intimate. We were in a cramped elevator instead of the Lucas Oil Stadium. Because of the man next to me, I would never see T-Will in a Louisville uniform again. I couldn’t possibly let the moment pass without letting him know just exactly how I felt.

“Coach,” I started. “Why did you have to beat my Cardinals like that?”

“Well,” he replied sheepishly. “Um, I’m sorry about that.”

Witnessing this, Weber chimed in instantly with “I’m not!”

Apparently that Big Ten blood runs pretty thick.

Regardless, I left the elevator feeling better, knowing Izzo didn’t really want to beat the Cardinals like that. And at least he didn’t take the UK job.

There’s one postscript to this story. On my return trip, I ended up right behind West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins in the airport security line. Huggins is a hated Louisville rival way from way back in his days at Cincinnati. I thought about giving him the business too, but held my tongue. After all, we beat West Virginia.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Take My Advice: Kick Wedding Planner to the Curb

My wedding planner was organized, detail oriented and determined to squeeze every last dollar from the ceremony. She also happened to be my wife, Kim.

Kim didn’t have a whole lot of help either, particularly from me. I was living in another city at the time. Even if I hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been much help. After all, I’m the kind of guy who thinks a daffodil is a type of pickle.

Under these circumstances, I really admire what Kim was able to accomplish. While working full time, she was able to plan a simple, but beautiful ceremony. At the reception, the food was hot and the beer was cold. The floor was filled with people dancing the electric slide.
Most importantly, it didn’t cost as much as a house – or even a sports car.

Today, more than 15 years after I was married, planning your own wedding is becoming a real rarity. Most people turn to outside consultants to plan and execute their “big day.” It’s a great convenience, but it also comes with a price tag.

I question the wisdom of this approach. After all, money is one of the main stressors in a relationship. Isn’t it more important to start your relationship on solid footing than to throw a good party … even if it means doing the Macarena in a union hall?

Following is my advice to those with impending nuptials.
  • Call in favors from friends and family: the cousin who is a photographer or the uncle who has a timeshare at Gulf Shores.
  • If you find yourself shopping for a gown in a place that has its own reality show, then turn around and run for the exits.
  • Keep the ceremony short and sweet. Your wedding is not as entertaining as a Hollywood blockbuster and shouldn’t last as long.
  • Go with the finger-foods instead of the sit-down dinner. No one is expecting your reception to be featured on The Food Network.
  • Cut the big-man table a break and start service before you arrive.
  • I can’t stress this enough: no beer can pyramids in mixed company.
  • Be realistic when it comes to your honeymoon. Pictures of the two of you on a private island are nice, but you can’t live in them.

On last thing, in this economy, it might be time to kick the wedding planner to the curb. Trust me, it can be done. I’ve done it … or at least my wife did.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tourist in Your Own Hometown

Despite the corny “Possibility City” advertising campaign, I love my hometown of Louisville, Ky. I was born and raised here. I went to college here. I’ve worked at two Fortune 500 companies here, and yet I still apparently look like a tourist.

That was the unfortunate feedback I received during a recent family lunch outing in Louisville’s east end. We were at Logan’s Roadhouse, which is a place we don’t typically frequent. As a result, we spent a little extra time with the menu.

That fact, coupled with what must have been overly casual attire for a Sunday afternoon, spelled just one thing to our waitress: T-O-U-R-I-S-T.

“Where you from?” she said.

“Um, from across the bridge,” I felt like saying.

Instead, curiosity got the better of me. I began to query the waitress about why she so readily identified us as tourists. She danced around the issue delicately, perhaps fearing loss of tip. She pointed to the menu confusion. I sensed something deeper.

I was placing my bet on Kim’s colorful ensemble. She, in turn, was quick to blame my golf shirt, which, by the way, she happened to pick out. Or maybe it was Trent’s chronically unkempt hair. Or perhaps the corndog that Clark ordered. We’ll probably never know for sure.

Either way, maybe Louisville really is “Possibility City.” If you wear the wrong thing, it’s quite possible you’ll be mistaken for a tourist.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ugly Banter Would Jeopardize Game Show Appearance

I watch Jeopardy several times a week, matching wits against my wife and son. Despite the fact that I once bombed at an actual Jeopardy audition, these battles have convinced me that I would fare pretty well on the actual show. In fact, the only part of the show that concerns me is the required banter with host Alex Trebek between the first and second rounds.

It seems to me these stories need to be equal parts humor and intellect. Very few contestants actually get it right. Their stories are either too obscure or too dry, like, “Alex, I once celebrated New Year’s Eve twice when I crossed the International dateline.”

As lame as these stories are, I must admit I probably don’t have anything better. Many of my best stories are far too bawdy for national television.

“So Doug, tell us a little bit about yourself.”
“Well, Alex, I once hit my uncle in the gut with a golf ball shortly after his hernia surgery.”
“Ouch. That’s sounds painful.”
“I told him I had a bad slice.”

Or how about this gem?

“Doug, I understand you’ve been interested in finance from a very young age.”
“Yes, Alex. Funny you mentioned that. When we were teenagers, my friend Kenny and I used to tie strings around quarters to get free games at the arcade.”
“Um, I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.”
“Well, uh, don’t put that on the show.”

Something tells me these stories just wouldn’t make the cut.

In fact, most of my stories are so completely devoid of sophistication that I might tank the game on purpose, just to avoid returning as champion. After all, another day would mean another story. In a worst case scenario, I’d need five day’s worth of witty banter. That’s a lot of pressure. I could even get called back for the Tournament of Champions … and yet more stories like this:

“Doug, it says here that you once ordered in French at a Mexican restaurant in Italy.”
“No, Alex, I didn’t. You must have me confused with the other contestant. However, I did once celebrate New Year’s Eve with a grown man in a diaper.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Don’t DARE Go There

New Year’s Eve has been a lot more subdued at my house since D.A.R.E. moved in.

D.A.R.E. is short for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. It’s a police officer-led classroom program that teaches kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Both my children have been through the D.A.R.E. program. They are fully indoctrinated.

That’s a good thing, of course, unless you’re planning to order a drink with dinner, as I discovered during a recent family outing.

The purpose of the evening was to celebrate the end of our dispute with State Farm. Feeling celebratory, I ordered a Blue Moon. The festive mood soon vanished, however, as I found myself facing charges of being a drug user.

It went something like this.

The waiter delivers a refreshing Blue Moon, complete with an orange slice. I take a satisfying sip.
Clark, my 6-year-old son, intervenes. “Daddy, do you know what that is?” he asks.
Eager to hear the reply, I say, “No, what is it?”
Clark says defiantly, “That’s drugs.”

I immediately imagine Clark telling his kindergarten teacher how his dad does drugs, followed shortly thereafter with a visit from social services. Trying to head this off, I explain to Clark that alcohol isn’t really a drug and dad doesn’t really drink much anyway.

I’m in the clear until the second DARE junior officer, Trent, my 12-year-old, weighs in with, “Dad, you drank a martini (really a margarita) at the Great Wolfe Lodge and you also had a drink on New Year’s Eve.” At this point, I realize Trent must be keeping a spreadsheet of my alcohol use, which we’ll be discussing in future therapy sessions.

Kim, my wife, who ordered a sweet tea, seems delighted with the whole conversation.

Finally, I’m able to change the subject and finish dinner without further incident. I even managed to slip in a second beer, which is important since I probably won’t be able to order another one for months. After all, it’s all being thoroughly documented.

My only saving grace through this episode is that I don’t smoke, meaning the kids will have to save that lecture for their grandmother.

Even with such inquisitions, I think the D.A.R.E. officers are doing a great job. I congratulate them. I just hope they’re available to watch the kids on New Year’s Eve.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You Can’t Flip the Switch on Fame

Don’t ask for something you don’t want, you just might get it. I thought of that old adage this week as I watched the travails of Jon and Kate Gosselin, who appear on a TLC reality show featuring their eight children.

“Jon and Kate plus Eight” is a cute show with a cute title featuring a cute couple and their cute kids. But things aren’t so cute lately. In fact, they are downright ugly. In case you haven’t been in a supermarket checkout line, here’s the rundown:

· Jon may or may not have been canoodling with a 22-year-old woman
· Kate may or may not have been cozy with her bodyguard
· The couple may or may not have been perpetrating this cute little fraud on all of us for months

Most of it was painfully laid open before our very eyes earlier this week. As they suffered, TLC racked up its biggest ratings ever.

I feel a lot of sympathy for the Gosselin children, but very little for the couple, despite their rants against the paparazzi and their cries for privacy. After all, from the fertility treatments to the reality TV show, this is the life they chose.

In better times, they parlayed their celebrity into free trips, access to sporting events, tummy tucks, hair plugs, a bigger house and book tours. Now, Jon, in particular, seems like he wishes it would all just go away.

But fame isn’t like that. You can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube. Like it or not, Jon’s life will forever be defined by “Jon and Kate plus Eight,” just as Omarosa will forever be a sore loser and Steve O will always be a jackass.

On the latest episode of “Jon and Kate plus Eight,” Kate tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy by planning a birthday party for the couple’s sextuplets. In one particularly poignant moment she spots the paparazzi following them to a party store. Children shouldn’t know about paparazzi, she says. Ironically, she says this into a camera – one of a group of cameras that have been documenting her family’s life for the past four years.

Kate is right, of course. Five-year-old children shouldn’t be stalked by paparazzi. Mine weren’t. But then again, I never turned their lives into a television show.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hanging up His Hooks?

For most of my dad’s life, he has been defined by one thing above all else: His uncanny ability to stalk and catch black bass.

If black bass had their own vocabulary, then my dad could read and write it fluently. He understands where bass live, what they eat and how they think. For all I know, he spawns like a fish. He used to drink like a fish, too, but that was another time.

I know the stories of my dad’s fishing exploits are true because I’ve seen the videos … countless hours of videos.

Dad, of course, takes great pride in his reputation as an extraordinary fisherman. He also takes great pride in the tools of his trade, including his truck and boat. Both are black and spotless. On occasion, he even dresses like the boat, replete with matching black clothes and logos, looking like a combination of Johnny Cash and Dale Earnhardt.

So it was with great surprise that I learned that dad sold both this week. It was all gone suddenly in one fell swoop to a guy from Bardstown, Ky. I heard talk about scaling back, but didn’t take it seriously. In retrospect, I should have. Dad can be impulsive, like the time he bought a car at a yard sale or sold a house out of the blue.

But this decision isn’t impulsive, he said. As it turns out, fishing is a lot of hard work, especially if you tackle it like he does. Unfortunately, I can’t be of much help either. You see, the fishing gene apparently skips a generation.

Dad says he’ll keep fishing. He’ll simply leave the upkeep to his younger friends. There will be more fish to catch and more videos to film.

Dad won’t look back. He never does. There’s already discussion of a new car in the garage to polish.

For my part, I’m having a harder time letting go. It’s too much to process all at once. Among other things, I’m starting to wonder if the guy from Bardstown with the black truck and boat will now be the one watching my kids!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Got a Caffeine Monkey on my Back

My name is Doug Bennett and I’m addicted to Diet Coke. For most of my life, this hasn’t presented much of a problem. But things have changed. I now find myself scouring downtown streets for just a few drops of the good stuff.

Let me explain.

When I first started working at Humana, we had a refrigerator stocked full of free drinks, including Diet Cokes. From now on, I will refer to this time as the golden years. Oh sure, there were a few hiccups. I can recall a few times when the lovely administrative assistants in government relations couldn’t stock them as quickly as I could drink them. But for the most part, we had a virtual endless oasis of brown nectar right at our fingertips.

Unfortunately, like GM and Chrysler before it, our refrigerator fell victim to the ailing economy. Juice and water survived. Diet Coke got the pink slip.

My world came crashing down around me. I felt confused, vulnerable and sleepy. Not to mention the fact that I’d need thousands of quarters to quench my thirst.

Even with a pocket full of change, finding a new supplier proved difficult. The soda machines in my building exclusively carry Cokes in plastic bottles. I prefer canned Cokes, which is a quirk I hadn’t really noticed until the refrigerator ran dry.

As a result, I was forced into the streets, broken and thirsty with a big caffeine monkey on my back. After a few days of emptiness and lukewarm bottles, I found a snack shop in the lobby of a building across the street that carries Diet Cokes in the can.

I wish this was a happy ending. But, like the government relations aides before them, the snack shop people can’t seem to keep pace with my ravenous consumption. On bad days, I turn the corner to find empty slots where Diet Cokes ought to be. The entrepreneur in me wonders how they could possibly let such a golden opportunity slip away.

Anyway, things might be finally looking up. One coworker is willing to sell me Diet Cokes at a discount to finance her wedding. Additionally, I hear the building is moving to canned sodas as part of its greening initiative. And who knows? If the automobile industry can recover, maybe the refrigerator can, too. In the meantime, I’ll see you on the mean streets.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Great Wolf Rates High

Several weeks ago, I went with the family to the Great Wolf Lodge, just outside of Cincinnati. With apologies to Roger Ebert, I’d give it four out of five puking kids.

Great Wolf is a hotel with an indoor water park, featuring attractions for all ages. It is costly, but a big hit with kids. Kid-friendly touches include a room within a room, complete with bunk beds and a television. A role-playing game with a wizard’s theme is another great diversion.

But the main event is definitely the water park. At any given moment, Kim and 6-year-old Clark played basketball in one of a half-dozen pools, while 12-year-old Trent and I nearly lost our lunch on one of the park’s mondo water slides.

This brings me to the innovative puke-scale rating. Not surprisingly, pizza doesn’t mix well with undulating waves and death-defying slides. On four different occasions, teenage lifeguards shut down Great Wolf’s wave pool to clean out offending organisms.

In case you’re wondering, the lifeguard who spots the lost lunch must remove it. No one could be blamed for literally looking the other way. Not these guys and gals. They took their jobs seriously, donning protective gloves and removing regurgitated remnants.

During one such cleaning, we returned to our room. Apparently determined not to be outdone, Clark complained of a stomach ache. Thankfully, the moment passed.

That’s why I can give Great Wolf only four puking kids. It nearly earned a rare five-puke rating, but it wasn’t to be on this trip.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Raising the Roof!

Charlie Brown has kicked the football. The Washington Generals have won the game. The Independent candidate has been elected.

To put it another way, score one for the underdog.

After six months of nearly continuous turmoil, State Farm has decided to pay for my roof. I’m truly grateful. I just wish it had been sooner … and a lot easier.

For those of you scoring at home, the final tally looks something like this:

· One letter to the editor
· One Department of Insurance (DOI) complaint
· One file too thick for my filing cabinet
· One memory card full of photos
· Two engineering reports
· Two letters to lawmakers
· Two cars moved to another insurer
· Three fish sandwiches eaten during a consultation with a friend/attorney
· Eight or nine roofers’ opinions
· 10 bitter blog posts
· Numerous sleepless nights
· More sympathetic lunchtime conversations than I can count

After all of this commotion, I ended up exactly where my neighbor did, except State Farm cut him a check right on the spot.

The only conclusion I can draw from all this is that the process is designed to frustrate. Those with the least resolve and resources get run over like road-kill. The rest of us – those too stupid and too hard-headed to give up – can eventually be heard.

Thank you to my friends, family and neighbors for their support. Thank you to everyone who took their time to climb on top of my house.

Now it’s time to celebrate … by literally raising the roof.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Curse of the Colorful Guy

It’s a lot easier to give people directions to my house now. It’s the only one in the neighborhood with bright orange French doors.

They weren’t always so eye-popping. In fact, they were quite muted, but they were also leaking. I summoned my dad over to take a look. He spent hours repairing them and left a note with very specific instructions, “pick up white semi-gloss oil-based paint.”

“White,” Kim reminded me, as my son and I prepared to leave for the paint store.

Somewhere between home and the paint store things went horribly awry. White seemed too boring. A colorful guy like me craves more. I decided to go with terra cotta to match the bricks. “Clay pot” seemed close enough. And why not go full-out glossy?

Ever the good soldier, Dad painted my doors completely in glossy “clay pot,” which will henceforth be known as “burn out your retinas” orange.

My wife hates it. My neighbors can’t leave their houses without sunglasses. My dad refuses to invest another six hours in the project. Finally, if I ever try to sell the house, my pool of buyers is now restricted to the colorblind.

I know what you’re thinking. “It can’t be that bad.” If you saw a picture, all your doubts would be removed. I’d attach one, but I’m afraid the results would be more damaging to computer networks worldwide than the conficker worm.

There is this piece of good news, however. You can now see my house from outer space. Just be sure to cover those retinas first.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Getting Stuck by State Farm

State Farm is running another commercial as part of its “get the car wash and the rinse” series.

In this one, several people buy popsicles from an ice cream truck. The stingy ice cream man gives everyone their popsicles, but withholds the sticks. Hilarity -- and a mess -- ensues.

I guess it’s clever enough, but maybe I'm not a good humor man for expensive advertising campaigns after having my roof claim denied.

The message of all this advertising is State Farm doesn’t cut corners like its competitors. Of course, you wouldn’t know it by me. I do, however, agree you’ll never have to worry about sloppy popsicles. After all, State Farm will always stick it to you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hosed by State Farm

In the last couple of weeks, I watched a lot of great basketball and saw a lot of stupid State Farm commercials. To me, any State Farm commercial is an affront. Every time I see one I think about how State Farm won’t pay $7,000 to repair my roof, but can dish out the big bucks to be the marquee sponsor of the NCAA tournament.

I’d like State Farm better if they promoted less and paid more. To put it another way, these ads could fix a whole lot of hurricane damage.

Insurance is about trust. You can’t buy trust during a college basketball tournament. You earn it by living up to your word.

Nevertheless, there is State Farm at every TV timeout, telling us how their insurance is more complete than their competitors. In one spot, a guy gets his car washed. He’s horrified to learn it hasn’t been rinsed. A goofball attendant reminds him that he paid for a wash … not a rinse.

This is a heavy-headed metaphor for State Farm. The message is that State Farm covers everything … the wash and the rinse.

Indeed. If my experience with State Farm is any indication, they are bound to give you a good hosing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

State Farm: You're No Panasonic

I was recently pleasantly surprised to find that some companies (not named State Farm) are actually still interested in satisfying their customers.

The experience didn’t exactly start out as an ode to customer service. My big-ticket, flat screen television was being invaded by red and blue blobs. The TV is new enough to be new, but old enough to be outside of warranty.

I reached for the Pepto-Bismol and the telephone. Someone in India answered. I was transferred a couple of times. More heartburn. I was already drafting a complaint letter to Panasonic in my head when something unexpected happened.

I found someone who actually seemed knowledgeable about my problem. He led me through a couple of diagnostic tests. When nothing improved, he promised to send out a technician at no cost. Within a week, my television was fixed.

Remember, this television was outside of warranty. Was this a recall? Was it a known problem? I don’t know and frankly don’t care. All I know is ESPN never looked so good.

Next time I’m in the market for a new TV, Panasonic will definitely be in my “consideration set,” as the marketing people are prone to say.

State Farm could learn from these guys.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

State Farm Should Get a Clue

Not surprisingly, State Farm’s engineer has delivered a report in which he finds the company has no culpability for damage to my roof.

Here’s what he does blame:
  • Poor adhesion of shingles
  • Overlapping shingles
  • Old shingles
  • Weathered shingles
  • High nailing
  • Short nailing
  • Finger-nailing (just kidding about that one)
  • Poor ventilation
Here’s my theory: Mr. White did it on the roof with a candlestick.

In all seriousness, the report includes so many different explanations that it reminds me of a guilty man in an interrogation room searching for an alibi.

The engineer blames anything and everything except the most obvious – 80 mph winds from Hurricane Ike that damaged the roofs of every home around me. Their claims have been paid. Meanwhile, I’ve lost shingles, just like the roofers said I would.

Take heed, people, having State Farm insurance is like having no insurance at all.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Running Gag

If you question the power of advertising, why do I still feel compelled to yell “Go, O.J., Go!” whenever I see someone running frantically to catch a bus, cab, plane, etc.?

O.J. Simpson (yes, THAT O.J. Simpson) starred in an ad for the car rental company Hertz in the 1970s. In the ad, Simpson is running recklessly through an airport jumping every obstacle as he tries to catch a departing airplane. Encouraging onlookers yell, “Go, O.J., Go!

For years since, whenever I saw someone running chaotically in a public setting, I felt like yelling, “Go, O.J., Go!” More times than not, I actually did yell it. Surprisingly, no one ever bloodied my nose. They were in too much of a hurry, I guess.

Anyway, just last week, probably three decades after that commercial last aired, I see a young guy running like a madman down Louisville’s Main Street. My first thought? “Go, O.J., Go!” This time, I contained myself. Being born long after the commercial, the guy couldn’t have possibly appreciated my cutting-edge humor.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t block the thought. I’m not making any promises for the next time someone blazes past me, either.

With O.J.s’ reprehensible behavior, Hertz has long since ended its relationship with him. Unfortunately, as far as the commercial goes, I’m having a harder time letting go.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Olympic Spirit

Being in peak physical condition myself, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my recent trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where I got to compare notes with Olympians Anne Cribbs, Kim Carlisle and Peggy Fleming.

Cribbs and Carlisle were both Olympic swimmers. Fleming is the iconic Olympic figure skater. Cribbs (1960 in Rome) and Fleming (1968 in Grenoble, France) won gold medals. Unfortunately, despite making the Olympic team, Carlisle didn’t get to compete in the Games because of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boycott.

I am a highly decorated athlete myself, having won participation trophies over the years in both softball and bowling. So it was only natural that the four of us would gather in a local gym to swap training and nutrition tips.

OK. That didn’t happen. But I really did get to spend some time with all three between bites of my pasta and meat sauce.

Among other things, these Olympians are involved with promoting the 2009 National Senior Games, which will be held Aug. 1-15 at Stanford. The games are being sponsored by my company, Humana. More than 14,000 athletes ages 50 and above are expected to participate. The games are really personification of the idea of lifelong fitness and aging gracefully - something the Olympians know a lot about.

In fact, they say “once an Olympian, always an Olympian.” If only the same could be said for pitchers in the B division of the Salem softball league.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This Just In

As I mentioned when I launched this blog, I never run out of opinions. So it should come as no surprise that I have even more to say about some of my previous topics. And away we go.

  • First, I recently noticed that my favorite insurance company, State Farm, is running commercials staring basketball phenomenon LeBron James. What do they have in common? Both specialize in rejections. Seriously, State Farm, I need a new roof. What does LeBron need? Another Bentley? How about sending a little bit of LeBron's pocket change my way?
  • Speaking of a phenomenon, the Snuggie simply refuses to die. It’s hard for me to pick out the dumbest part Snuggie folklore. However, if pressed, I would have to say it’s the video of people at a football game wearing Snuggies. That’s as unlikely as the return of the dinosaurs, right? Wrong. I swear I saw a woman wearing a Snuggie at my son’s basketball practice. She didn't even appear to have escaped from an institution. For more about the Snuggie phenomenon, click here.
  • Here’s my political observation of the day: How come Democrats want to raise your taxes, but they can’t seem to pay their own? Are you listening Tom Daschle?
  • Finally, my good friend Todd Tucker is about to release his latest book, Atomic America. As usual, I can’t seem to drum up any interest from the Courier-Journal about his story. If Todd would only consent to having octuplets, I think we’d be on to something. In the meantime, you can preview his book here.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Know When to Say Obnoxious

Because of a delayed flight, I spent a lot of time in an airport bar the other day, but not nearly as much time as the guy on the stool next to me.

In fact, this guy had so much to drink that the bartender finally had to cut him off. Then he got angry. His slightly less inebriated friend tried to soothe things over by explaining that the bartender was only trying to keep him from becoming “obnoxious.”

“I’m not obobob --,” he said.

“I’m not obobobnoxxx --,” he said, giving it second chance.

“I’m not like that,” he concluded, apparently realizing that three syllables were at least one too many for him.

It was like a combination of Jeff Conaway from Celebrity Rehab and Porky Pig.

I was so entertained that I shared this story during my presentation in Orlando as an example of how not to communicate. It seemed to go over pretty well.

As for the guy, he got on the same plane as me, but I never heard a peep out of him ... obnoxious or otherwise. He must have been sleeping it off.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Editor Scissorhands

The New Albany Tribune ran my letter to the editor about State Farm today. They only edited out two words: State Farm. Guess they didn't want to tick off an advertiser.

You can read the letter here. It is the second one on the page.

Right after the letter ran, a woman called my home. She said her son is having exactly the same problem as me. His insurer? State Farm.

I appreciate The Tribune carrying my letter. As a former reporter, I'm a big fan of community newspapers. I only wish they would've told me they were uncomfortable publishing State Farm's name. As for me, I'm not afraid. The truth is unassailable.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Worth a Thousand Words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So in the interest of resting my fingertips, here's what my roof looks like now. Notice the shingles are coming up all over the place. They weren't like this before that blowhard Hurricane Ike visited. Granted, I was only educated at a public university, but seems like simple cause and effect reasoning to me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another County Heard From

I recently heard from my friend, Jim Montgomery, regarding my blog entry about cheapskate behavior. Jim is generous to a fault, but apparently has been exhibiting some early warning signs. He wrote the following:

  • You buy generic ketchup (done it but switched back)
  • You tell the waiter it's your birthday ... just to get the free cake. (done it ... but this is usually after several refreshments)
  • You cut your own hair. (haven't paid for a hair cut since probably 1989)
  • You listened to a daylong sales pitch for a free night's stay. (have done the "60 minute" two-hour timeshare thing several times for free Disney tickets)
  • You’re keeping your skinny '80s ties ... just in case they make a comeback. (did they go out of style???)
  • Your precious childhood memories became a little less precious when you discovered ebay. (you can get a lot for comic books and Star Wars figures!!)

FYI ... Jen (Jim's wife) LOVES her Snuggie!!!

Hey Jim, in the interest of full disclosure, I don't think I've ever paid for a haircut. Of course, my mom is a beautician. Also, my superhero action figures have definitely padded my PayPal account. That snuggie, however, is unforgivable.

Jim is not only a funny guy, but a top-rate designer. You can find his Web site here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

State Farm Presents CSI -- Roofing

In the latest roofing news, State Farm has presented me with a list of seven “independent” engineers to choose from to examine my roof for evidence of wind damage. After checking out their Web sites, I don’t think there’s an independent one in the group.

It appears to me that most, if not all, of these companies are “forensic” engineering firms. In other words, they are the CSI of roofing. Something tells me David Caruso isn’t being summoned to my house to conclude that the roof died of natural causes. Instead, he will be peering into his microscope, looking for the smoking gun of racking.

One of the companies says this on its Web site: “In the realm of asphalt shingles, habits of the installer are perhaps the single greatest asset or shortcoming to a shingle roof’s wind resistance. Therefore, we place great emphasis on how the roofing contractor performed his work from the early stages of preparation through the finished roof installation with respect to published manufacturer and code requirements.”

Does this sound like an independent company or one that is predisposed to blame installers instead of 80 mph winds?

Another company brags of its “litigation support.” Whose litigation are they supporting? Mine? I don’t think so.

By the way, forensic engineers don’t come cheap. I'm told they cost $500 to $700. I'd rather that money be applied to my roof. Unfortunately, as it turns out, my premiums cover roof autopsies, not roof repairs.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

State Farm Update

It's Tuesday. That means another roofer has spent the day on top of my house. Like the three before him, he says I have extensive wind damage.

In fact, contractors have spent more time on my roof this winter than Santa Claus.

Nevertheless, State Farm continues to deny my claim. I recently filed complaints with the Indiana Department of Insurance and the Indiana Attorney General in hopes that these bodies will pressure State Farm to do the right thing.

It didn't have to be this way. Some of my neighbors were cut checks right on the spot. Frankly, I've spent more time fighting this than I care to spend. But I won't give up. Just ask my cousins. They were forced to spend an entire Christmas Day with me playing Intellivision football. I'm still waiting for a rematch.

Anyway, State Farm's latest tactic is to have an "independent" engineer review my roof. Of course, this "independent" engineer must be chosen from a list supplied by State Farm. Doesn't sound too independent to me. Maybe State Farm should pick their engineer randomly from the phone book, just like I picked my roofers.

If you've had similar problems with State Farm, I'd love to hear from you. Perhaps we can form a rock group called "Doug and the Denials." We better practice at your place though. I'm not sure my roof will hold up to the angry guitar rifts.

Friday, January 9, 2009

State Farm Creates State of Confusion

According to JD Power and Associates, there are key points in a person’s interaction with a business in which they become either an advocate for that company or an assassin against that company. State Farm sure isn’t turning me into advocate.

Let me explain.

I’ve had State Farm since I was 16 years old. Every bit of my insurance is with them (for the time being), including auto, home and life, which is why this so disappointing.

The remnants of Hurricane Ike hit my area late last year with winds of more than 80 mph. Shortly thereafter, I noticed my neighbors started having their roofs replaced. I became concerned that my roof might be damaged, too.

I called State Farm. They sent an adjustor. He told me there were a few damaged spots on my roof … below my deductible, of course. Many other shingles were turned up at the edges, but this was due to an installation method called racking, he said.

Having never heard of racking, I called a roofer for a second opinion. He said 80 percent of the shingles on my roof were loose, caused by the wind. A second roofer rendered the same opinion. A second State Farm adjuster was dispatched.

“Racking,” he said, as he explained to me how wind can miss one house while hitting the next two.

Ironically, my neighbor was introduced to “racking” too, at first. Then he protested. Then the insurance company cut him a check. That insurance company was State Farm … the same State Farm that I’ve paid premiums to for nearly three decades.

In fact, State Farm is replacing roofs all over my subdivision. Why they’ve drawn the line at me is anybody’s guess. I do know this: I’m not feeling much like an advocate.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Atwater Story is Appointment Television

If I’m a little blurry-eyed today, it’s because I got drawn into a fascinating program on PBS Frontline last night about the late Lee Atwater. Atwater was the take-no-prisoners political strategist behind George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign.

Sometime around 11:30 p.m. I realized I could have captured “Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story” on Tivo. By then, it was literally too late.

The program had it all: Willie Horton, Michael Dukakis in a tank and a “no new taxes” pledge. It was all orchestrated by an overly ambitious, blues-loving southerner who was willing to pay any price and burn any bridge for victory.

From a PR guy’s perspective, a few things stood out.

First, Atwater believed that the best way to keep the press from dissecting his guy was by attacking the opponent. In Atwater’s world, the press was like a dog that could chew on only one ankle at a time.

Secondly, Atwater knew the press had neither the wherewithal nor the appetite to dive into substantive issues. They preferred quick sound bites that were tailor made to his themes of justice, flag burning and gun-owner rights.

Finally, and perhaps most astounding, was the revelation from Dukakis that he knew Atwater’s issues were hurting him, but had been counseled not to respond to them. On the aforementioned Willie Horton, for example, he said none other than Ronald Regan had run a similar prison furlough program as governor of California. Certainly, the national press corps would have howled at the irony, if the story had been told.

In later years, Clinton would take the opposite approach, stamping out each allegation against him before it gained steam, like a fairgoer with a mallet whacking at mechanical moles. Of course, Clinton had his own Atwater in James Carville.

As an aside, the program also features some fascinating footage of a young George W. Bush, who was then stumping for his father, alongside Atwater.

For all these reasons, I highly recommend “Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story” … just set your Tivo first.