Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Thank You, Martha Stewart

Today, I am attending the fourth annual D: All Things Digital Conference in Carlsbad, CA ( As always, it is a very interesting conference with a variety of speakers under the auspices of executive producers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal.

The highlight of today was a Q&A session between Walt and Howard Stringer, Chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation. He was substantive and very funny.

During the audience participation portion of the session, Martha Stewart stood up and asked Stringer a question. She was holding a large shopping bag, and, one after another, pulled out power cord after power cord for all of her digital devices that she needs to carry on the road. Her question was: Why can’t we have one universal charger? Good question.

But, I will raise the greater question: why do we need chargers at all? I am sensitive to this question because my firm is fortunate to represent a company that makes the key component for fuel cells ( Not only do we think about these issues every day; but, more importantly, we are shocked that more people aren’t focusing on the fundamental question: when will we have a portable power solution that solves the “runtime gap.” Do you know that, in spite of a lot of hype, you probably can’t watch a whole TV show on a cell phone without a recharge?

We are continuously looking for ways to sensitize influencers to this runtime gap problem. And, today, of all people, Martha Stewart handed us an answer! Thank you.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The World Really is Flat

I am listening to some terrific Irish music performed by a group called Ciunas ( I had the great opportunity of hearing them in person a few weeks ago. What's amazing about this group is that all the performers are young Americans!

Upon hearing them, I marveled that this group of performers could have learned the multi-faceted aspects of Irish music in such tremendous depth. I know this may not surprise everyone -- there are certainly a lot of similar examples. But they know the history, the euphonics, the instruments, etc. Not just well enough to play the music, but also well enough to compose pieces in the same mode.

I was really struck when I heard this group that the world really is flat. I think this is a permutation of what Thomas Friedman means (, because in today's environment there is such realtime access to worldwide cultures!

This has vast implications on the way companies communicate. At Roeder-Johnson, we work with companies that simultaneously need to describe their leadership to American investors and customers as well as to Europeans, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Indians and many other countries. On the one hand, you can argue (as we have for decades) that communicating with each culture needs to be done by people who are native or at least intimate with that culture. But what's a small company to do when it can't afford the time or other resources to customize all of its communications to each different culture?

This is a complicated question. But I will take a shot at it:

-Be respectful of different cultures and what they consider to be important;
-Prioritize: that is, understand which are the most important cultures to which communications should be truly customized;
-Step above details of the story and try to communicate universal story that can be appreciated multiculturally;
-Educate about issues not just about specs (though don't pontificate);
-Listen and respond to specific feedback;
-Work with natives where it's necessary.

This is a new discipline -- communicating with the entire world all at once. We will all learn how it works over time. But, for now, there's going to be some trial and error along the way!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Could any of us do this as well as C.J. Craig?

Last night was a sad night for fans of "The West Wing". The last show of the series aired. I won't give away the plot, since many people may still have it on their TiVo.

But, while I was reminiscing about the show today with a fellow communications professional, I was reminded that when C.J. was press secretary I used to marvel at how facile she was handling the questions fired at her all day long. And then, I would remember, she had a script!

But, it brings to mind the great challenge that we all have today -- in this world of 24/7 dialog. I am sure there are a lot of people with a lot of opinions. But here are a few of mine:

-Try to keep in mind what your core message is. It can be tough, but it's good discipline;
-Try to focus on substance. Not fluff or hype;
-Don't be afraid to say "I don't know";
-Start with the truth.

Those guidelines may be pretty basic, but it turns out they are quite hard to follow.

I don't really remember if C.J. followed these guidelines. But I seem to think she did!

It's a Question of AIM

There's lots of focus these days on the potential for American technology companies to consider listing on the AIM (Alternative Investment Market) of the London Stock Exchange. This attention stems from a few things: the potential for an AIM listing to substitute for a mezzanine private equity financing; and the desire for companies to achieve a level of liquidity that is not available as long as the NASDAQ IPO market is so barren.

Since we work with an AIM listed company (PolyFuel --, we have had the tremendous opportunity to observe this burgeoning phenomenon first-hand. It would be inappropriate to comment on PolyFuel's experience. However, having launched and worked with nearly 100 technology companies through the years, the AIM appears to have great promise for the right American companies.

I just went to a luncheon sponsored by ThinkEquity ( today on AIM listing and what is involved. But I find it surprising that at this forum, along with nearly every other conversation I have about an AIM listing, there is little or no awareness of the restrictions American companies have in terms of their communications in the U.S. It boils down to a simple concept: American companies listed on AIM and not registered in certain ways with the SEC can do nothing to promote their stock in this country. The implementation of this is open to interpretation; and, of course, the restriction is not on normal activities in the course of doing business. But it does take some sophisticated, experienced communications expertise to help an AIM listed company communicate as it needs to in the U.S. without conflicting with these regulations. This doesn't mean it's not possible, it just means that some thought and consideration needs to go into it.

But communicating in the U.S. is critical for American technology companies. Of course much of their markets are here. But, as importantly, in many cases, the perceptions around the world about a company are formed based on U.S. communications.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Dancing into the Future

Last night, I saw my very talented nephew in his senior dance recital at the Perpich Arts High School in Minneapolis. He was superb. But I won't brag here about a family member. I want to talk about his teachers; and how they use technology to help their students learn. Even when what they are learning is dance!

At the beginning of the program, Tom Kanthak, one of the instructors, told a story about how he had contacted a current American Classical Composer Marc Mellits and worked closely with him to ultimately enable the Perpich senior class dance students to make videos of some wonderful dances to Mr. Mellits' delightful music.

First, two side notes: I was so impressed with how lucky these students are to have Mr. Kanthak as their teacher! He was so enthusiastic and creative. Moreover, it's wonderful that Mr. Mellits spent significant time reviewing and critiquing these young dancers' work.

But the real point here is that a group of seniors in high school -- whose passion is dance, not computers or math or anything scientific -- were able to so simply use a computer to create their own movies. It was stunning to me. It's only a matter of time till we all communicate in movies and video as easily as we do in writing and voice!

I certainly am not the first to understand this; I guess YouTube and OneTrueMedia understand it on some level. It certainly means something significant about the way we share ideas. Perhaps we will really all become minstrels: developing a new kind of oral communications tradition that will last through the ages.

We will watch this play out. I am sure it will be quite a dance!