March 27, 2012

#BCconf12 #CSR #conference wrapup and awards

I've been to four Boston College corporate citizenship conferences over the past eight years. Was this the best? Difficult to say. Sometimes it was right on and other moments missed the mark. At least there were no embarrassingly bad presenters, wildly unprepared or dreadfully boring.

The Phoenix Sheraton downtown put on a smooth event without technical difficulties. Good food was efficiently served, the spacious meeting rooms were clean, sound and video were high quality and reliable. Overall, quite pleasant. The only drawback was sharing the hotel with a Reebok conference, which meant the gym and the bar overflowed with people. At least the people were pleasant to look at, for the most part.

The plenary speakers were a mixed bag. While lessons and innovative approaches were scattered throughout the keynotes, I found them long and at times tedious. A bit like extended infomercials for the sponsor companies' CSR programs. Interesting but not necessarily relevant to my work or tied to a bigger picture. The lesson to be learned from the combined keynotes was unclear.

And now, some unofficial awards. I couldn't attend every breakout session. I hope those of you who attended others will add thoughts in the comments. Or, better yet, blog you thoughts and post a link in the comments.

Most surprising mind twister: Coinstar (who owns Redbox). I found myself challenged by Nicole Trimble in the session entitled, "Innovation in Corporate Citizenship." The way Coinstar is thinking of how vending machines can solve some seemingly unrelated social problems should challenge us all to expand our thinking about our own products and services.

Most directly relevant factoids: Net Impact answered the question, "How important is citizenship to the employees, really?" Their statistics from a recent study show that college students value job security and career growth opportunities as non-negotiable, but they also think positive social and environmental impact are important. Employees also want "my job" to have a positive social or environmental impact much more than they care about a company's overall citizenship reputation. Employees who have some social or environmental impact are more satisfied in their jobs by a 2 to 1 ratio. Compelling statistics, and there were plenty more.

Most unfearful: Jennifer Silberman of Hilton Worldwide took her comments the farthest and was most open of all the presenters I heard, going into detail on some thorny reputation issues the company faced in a session called "Managing Corporate Citizenship as an Essential Part of Reputation." Very helpful, and I wish I'd gotten a chance to thank her for her candor.

Most gracious response to a clueless question: The entire panel of the "Engaging stakeholders through social media" session gets this award for not slamming down the guy who stood up and said, "I don't care about Facebook and am new to Twitter. Can you tell me how to use it?" The panelists also did a good job of detailing some internal and external social media campaign examples, giving the audience a good "social media in marketing 101" seminar. Considering how few people were tweeting from the session, an intro seminar seemed like just the right fit.

Worst tweets: I love that you're jazzed about the session you're attending, but please do not tweet this: Sitting in a session listening to Tom, Dick and Harry! So excited!

Best tweets: Too close to call. A dozen or so people tweeted at the #BCconf12 hashtag throughout the conference, and I found it helpful to hear what was happening in other sessions I couldn't attend. You can go look at all the tweets and decide for yourself. I found a few new tweeps to follow in CSR, that's for sure.

Best schwag: Also tough to call. I'm going with Dell, who gave everyone a $25 Global Giving gift card. The chocolates from Hershey's and the Target freebies were very cool and deeply appreciated, but the charitable gift card is just a touch more classy.

That is all. What did you think of the conference?

March 25, 2012

#CSR conference season! this week: #BCConf12

Why do all CSR conferences happen right around spring break? This week it's the Boston College conference in Phoenix. Next week it's the Charities @Work conference in New York.

I'm disappointed I'll miss BCLC's conference in Atlanta, but that starts the day after I get back from a 10 day vacation in Nepal. After a week in Vegas for work, then I have to spend a week in Charlotte for work which means I'll miss United Way's CLC in Nashville the first week of May.

It's a crazy travel time, especially since they all fall in or around National Volunteer Week, Earth Day, National Workplace Wellness Week, Teach Children to Save month, and, it seems, a host of other corporate citizenship initiatives and activities. (Some, like BSR's conference, the Points of Light conference, and the Public Affairs Council's corporate citizenship conference, come later in the year.)

I actually enjoy all these conferences. I see lots of colleagues I have grown to like very much (turns out people who care about corporate citizenship tend to be really nice, creative, fun, compassionate, interesting people), and I meet lots of new ones every year as well. But it can be exhausting.

This year I'll actually be speaking at the Charities @Work conference in New York (see my recent CSR Wire blog post). And recently my workplace giving campaign was named #1 in the country by United Way for the third year in a row. Plus I received a nice award from CHC California. So it's a good year already.

If any of you will be at BC or C@W, look for me and say hi. The best part about the job (apart from bringing out millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers to help people in need) is meeting colleagues from other companies, places, and backgrounds. Maybe I'll see you at tonight's dinner.

I hate flying on Sundays for work. But if I have to, this conference is a good place to land.

(This is a photo of me, on the left, receiving the award from CHC California in the Wells Fargo boardroom at a reception on March 7th. Macy's and UC San Francisco were also honored that night.)

March 13, 2012

ancient radio history

I found out the other day that 2012 is the 50th birthday of KALX, the radio station at UC Berkeley.

Why does this matter to me?

For eight glorious months in 1988-1989, I worked the news room at KALX. One or two mornings and two evenings a week, I learned to report, write, engineer, and produce news broadcasts.

I will never forget my first story. I was assigned to write the kicker--the final story of the broadcast, after the sports guy tossed it back to the anchors. Often meant to be a humorous or lighthearted finish. The story was of a man who had been found in his apartment several weeks after dying there alone. Ha, ha! How lighthearted can you get! I wrote something that was probably 200 words, and the producer (I forget who it was, but she was awesome) took my paper, grabbed a red pen, and obliterated half the words.

At first I stood dumbfounded. Although I was an engineering major, I was a pretty good writer. I thought. Then I read the result, and it was so much better. I learned about omitting needless words that day. (You'll have noticed, no doubt, I don't edit blog posts with the same vigor.)

We got in the habit of bringing blank cassettes to the studio to tape our broadcasts. I held on to my dozen or so tapes for 20 years. Finally, last spring, I digitized them.

My crowning achievement was on May 25, 1989, shortly before graduation. I went into the news room (the station used to be on Bowditch) and found that I was the only one to show up. I pulled lots of wire copy, found a couple of carts from the previous night's show, and steeled myself to do it all myself. Then I heard there was an action going on in People's Park, just a few blocks from the studio. I grabbed a tape deck and ran down there, found someone to interview, asked a couple of questions, ran back to the studio, wrote a quick piece, and settled in to do the newscast.

It's quite a thing to produce, write, engineer, and anchor your own newscast. I think it turned out pretty good, all things considered. Especially given that I had only six months experience, two days a week.

Those were some awesome times. I forget most of the people I worked with but do remember the ones I worked most often and most closely with. Some went on to media careers, but most I think did not.

I learned as much about the craft of writing in those six months as I did from any creative writing class. And I took some creative writing classes from some famous authors, including one US Poet Laureate. There's nothing like a deadline and a 90-second time limit to teach you to get your message across succinctly.

March 9, 2012

The Lascaux Review

Some great writers and terrific friends (the online kind I've never met in person but hope to some day) have started a new literary journal, The Lascaux Review. They are accepting submissions and have already published their first short story and poem. Please go check it out. And if you're a writer, consider submitting something excellent!

Full disclosure: Steve and Wendy asked me to be on the journal's advisory board. So far it's unclear what this means, but I seem to remember being promised cookies.

March 5, 2012

some things that baffle me

Publishers are under siege, and the barbarian heathens are demanding that Traditional Publishers (TP) justify their existence. I'm not a barbarian heathen, but I can sympathize with some of their positions on this complex topic.
One of the biggest reasons trumpeted by the stalwart defenders of traditional publishers is this: We have editors! Good ones!

Yes. No argument there. You do. Track record and all that. But there's a logical conundrum that's been itching me about this. This blog is my place to scratch. Publicly.

Agents tell writers to hone and polish, polish and hone, until your book is unrejectable. Join critique groups. Eliminate adverbs. Revise it nineteen times, then nineteen more. Read it aloud into a recorder and play it back under a harvest moon at midnight, taking notes with a lucky pen. Rinse and repeat. Then, when it's absolutely positively inescapably incapable of being rejected... then--and only then--query an agent. And the agent gets you in with the publisher.

Where you can finally get The Editor Your Book Desperately Needs (TEYBDN).

Presumably, your book needs this editor because you are a clueless barbarian heathen who is just so cute to think you can write an actual publishable story.

No, no, sorry, that just slipped out. I didn't mean it.

Presumably, your book needs this editor because without this editor your book will suck.

Here's what really baffles me. Conventional Wisdom (CW) would appear to be telling us that editors can't write, and writers can't edit. Only together, through the magic of a Publisher (P), can a book worthy of public presentation be created.

I mean, because, if editors could write, they'd just... write. Right? They'd create their own stories, then edit them. And there would be no need for the barbarian heathen hordes to write anything. Or, for that matter, for literary agents to exist.

So we must conclude that editors can't write. (It makes as much sense as the initial presumption that writers can't edit.)

I, for one, do not get excited by the prospect of my stories being edited by someone who can't write.