Brave Borys

My old friend from Syracuse, with whom I spent time at summer camps and ski trips many years ago, is now the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine.  I received the following memo from a variety of sources, so I thought I’d publish it verbatim for all to read…

Memorandum Regarding the

Visit to UCU of a representative of the  Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) (former KGB)
(responsible for contacts with Churches)
18 May 2009, office of the rector, 9:50-10:34

At 9:27 in the morning Fr. Borys Gudziak received a call on his private mobile phone from a representative of the Security Service of Ukraine requesting a meeting. The meeting was scheduled for 20 minutes later at the rectorate of UCU. This official had had contacts with the UCU rectorate a year ago at the time of the visit to the university of the then President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko. He had made a visit to the rectorate in the late afternoon on May 11 with regard to a request of the Ecumenical and Church History Institutes to sign an agreement to use the SBU archives. At that time members of the rectorate were away from the office. He had, what Dr. Antoine Arjakovsky, director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, called a “very good meeting.”

Upon arrival on May 18 in a polite manner the agent related that certain political parties are planning protests and demonstrations regarding the controversial (and in some cases inflammatory) policies of the new Ukrainian authorities. Students are to be engaged in these protests. There is a danger that some of these manifestations may be marred by provocations. He stated that, of course, students are allowed to protest but that they should be warned by the university administration that those involved in any illegal activities will be prosecuted. Illegal activities include not only violent acts but also, for example, pickets blocking access to the work place of government officials (or any protests that are not sanctioned by authorities).

After his oral presentation the agent put on the table between us an unfolded one-page letter that was addressed to me. He asked me to read the letter and then acknowledge with a signature my familiarity with its contents. He stated that after I had read and signed the letter it would be necessary for him to take the letter back. Since I could see that the document was properly addressed to me as rector (I also noticed that it had two signatures giving it a particularly official character) I replied calmly that any letter addressed to me becomes my property and should stay with me — at least in copy form. Only under these conditions could I agree to even read the letter (much less sign).

The agent was evidently taken back by my response. It seemed that the situation for him was without precedent because in my presence using his mobile phone he called his (local) superiors to ask for instructions on how to proceed. The superior refused permission to leave me either the original letter or a copy, saying that the SBU fears I “might publish it in the internet.” I questioned this entire procedure and the need for secrecy and refused to look at the letter and read its contents. The young official was disappointed and somewhat confused but did not exert additional pressure and did not dispute my argumentation.

Our conversation also had a pastoral moment. I cautioned the agent of the fact that the SBU as the former KGB, with many employees remaining from the Soviet times, has a heavy legacy of breaking and crippling people physically and morally and that he as a young married person should be careful not to fall into any actions that would cause lasting damage to his own identity and shame his children and grandchildren. I sought to express this pastorally as a priest. To his credit he both acknowledged the past and declared his desire to serve the needs of Ukrainian citizens. He also asked that I indicate to him if I feel that he is exercising improper pressure.

Finally, I expressed my and the general population’s profound disappointment that the work of the SBU is so uneven, that security and police officers live lavishly on low salaries because they are involved in corrupt activities, and that the legal rights of citizens and equal application of the law are severely neglected. I gave the recent example of my cousin, Teodor Gudziak mayor of Vynnyky, who in February 2010 (three days after the election of the new president) was arrested in a fabricated case of bribery that was set up by a notoriously corrupt political rival and former policemen through the regional and city police. Despite the fact that two weeks before the fabricated affair the mayor, based on a vote of the town council, had given the SBU a video of plainclothes policemen breaking into his office and safe in city hall in the middle of the night and using town seals on various documents the SBU took no action. (The leadership of the Church, specifically Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, fears that by manipulated association this case may be used as a devise to compromise the rector of UCU and the whole institution which has a unique reputation of being free from corruption.) I also related that I had reliable testimony and audible evidence that my phone is tapped and has been for many months.

The population of Ukraine continues to fear and distrust both state security and police personnel because of the woeful track record of law enforcement and because of the diffuse practice of police intimidation of honest politicians, journalist, common citizens and the wonton extortion practiced by security institutions and police with respect to middle and small business. I asked the young agent to convey these concerns to his superiors. I had the impression that personally he is open to moral argument but that he also was simply doing his job. It was clear to me that he was dutifully “following orders.”

During our conversation the agent asked me about the imminent (May 20-22) General Assembly of the Federation of European Catholic Universities (FUCE) that will be hosted by UCU in Lviv. He characterized it as an important event (it has received considerable publicity) and asked about the program and whether it is open to the public. It was clear that he would have been interested in participating in the proceedings. I said that the main theme, “Humanization of society through the work of Catholic universities,” was announced in a press release as will be the outcome of the deliberations.
The working sessions of the university rectors, however, are not open to the public. I explained that the 211 members of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) and the 45 members of FUCE follow closely the development of the only Catholic university in the former Soviet Union. They will be monitoring the welfare of UCU, especially since in Japan in March at the annual meeting of the Board of Consultors of IFCU I had the opportunity to describe some of our socio-political concerns and the threats to the freedom of intellectual discourse (imposition of Soviet historical views, rehabilitation of Stalin and Stalinism, to whom a new monument was unveiled in Zaporizhzhia 5 May 2010) and new censorship of the press and television that are incompatible with normal university life.

Subsequently, as had been arranged at the beginning of the meeting, I called in the UCU Senior Vice Rector Dr. Taras Dobko to whom the official repeated the SBU’s concerns.

Besides noting the SBU’s solicitude for stability in Ukrainian society there are a few conclusions to be drawn from the encounter and the proposals that were expressed:

1. Signing a document such as the letter that was presented for signature to me is tantamount to agreeing to cooperate (collaborate) with the SBU. The person signing in effect agrees with the contents of the letter and their implication. In KGB practice getting a signature on a document that was drafted and kept by the KGB was a primary method of recruiting secret collaborators.

2. Such methods have no known (to me) precedent in independent Ukraine in the experience of UCU and of the Lviv National University whose longtime rector (and former Minister of Education, 2008–10) Ivan Vakarchuk I consulted immediately after the meeting. These methods were well known in the Soviet times.

3. The confiscation of the letter after signature makes the letter and signature instruments to be used at the complete discretion of the SBU

4. The possible scenarios for the exploitation of such a document include the following:
a.) In case of the arrest of a student the SBU could confront the rectorate and charge that the university was informed of the danger to students and did not take necessary measures to protect them from violence or legal harm. In this case the university administration could be charged with both moral and legal responsibility. A charge with legal ramifications could become an instrument to try to force the university to compromise on some important principle (freedom of expression, forms of social engagement and critique, even religious practice, all of which have precedent in recent history). Furthermore, the authorities could use such a pretext to exert a high degree of pressure on the university to curb any and all protest by students.
b.) After a hypothetical arrest of a student or students the students and their parents as well as other members of the university community could be shown the document with which the administration was warned and counseled to curb student activities. Since the administration did not stop the students from the activities that became the pretext for the arrest, parents or others could draw the conclusion that the university does not have adequate concern for the welfare of its students. This would be a most effective way of dividing the university community and undermining the university’s reputation among its most important constituents–students.

5. The apparent genuine surprise of the agent at my refusal to do as requested could mean that he is not used to such a reaction. He had explained to me that he works with clergy on a regular basis. It could be assumed that other clergy (who work with youth, students, etc.) have been approached and that they have not refused to sign such documents.

6. Measures of this nature create apprehension and unease. They are meant to intimidate university administrations and students. They are part of a whole pattern of practice that is well known to the Ukrainian population. The revival of such practices is a conscious attempt to revive the methods of the Soviet totalitarian past and to re-instill fear in a society that was only beginning to feel its freedom.

7. Since only two of the approximately 170 universities of Ukraine have been voicing their protest regarding recent political and educational developments and many rectors have been marshaled/pressured to express their support regarding the turn of events, it is clear that in recent months fear and accommodation are returning to higher education at a rapid pace. It can be expected that UCU will be subject to particular attention and possible pressure in the coming months. The solidarity of the international community, especially the academic world, will be important in helping UCU maintain a position of principle regarding intellectual and social freedom.

8. Speaking and writing openly about these issues is the most peaceful and effective manner of counteracting efforts to secretly control and intimidate students and citizens. As was apparent during this incident, state authorities are particularly sensitive about publicity regarding their activity. Information can have a preemptory, corrective and curing role when it comes to planned actions to circumscribe civic freedom, democracy, and the basic dignity of human beings.

It should be noted that on 11 May 2010, when Ukrainian students were organizing protest activity in Lviv as well as Kyiv, a representative of the office of Ihor Derzhko, the Deputy Head of the Lviv Regional Administration responsible for humanitarian affairs called the rectorate and asked for statistics on the number of students participating in the demonstrations. UCU’s response was that the university does not know how to count in that way.

Please keep UCU and all the students and citizens of Ukraine in your thoughts and prayers.

Fr. Borys Gudziak
Rector, Ukrainian Catholic University

Such is life in Ukraine under President Yanukovych.

Who Are You?

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) greets Michaele Salahi (C) and her husband Tareq (R) during a state dinner for India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) at the White House in this official White House photo taken November 24, 2009 and released November 27, 2009. REUTERS/Samantha Appleton-The White House/Handout

Well, now we know the “publicity stunt” is back. First the balloon boy of Colorado, now the real housewife of D.C., Michaele Salahi.

They’ve asked the news folks to “get their bids in” for interviews, according to the AP:

The couple who crashed President Barack Obama’s first state dinner are peddling their story to broadcast networks for hundreds of thousands of dollars, a television executive says.

The executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the network does not publicly discuss bookings, told The Associated Press that representatives for Michaele and Tareq Salahi contacted networks to urge them to “get their bids in” for an interview. The executive said the Virginia couple was looking for a payment in the mid-six figures range.

Meanwhile, CNN confirmed that the Salahis had canceled an appearance they had scheduled for “Larry King Live” on Monday.

Network news divisions say they don’t pay for interviews. But for eagerly sought interviews in the past, they have offered to pay for access to exclusive material, such as pictures or videos from their subjects.

Representatives for the couple did not immediately return telephone and e-mail requests for comment.

Michaele Salahis is a reality TV hopeful trying to get on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of D.C.” Her and her husband’s success in getting into the state dinner Tuesday without an invitation embarrassed the White House and Secret Service.

Scandal marketing and publicity stunts are one thing, but this kind of activity is dangerous and inconsiderate. Keep it clean and honest, please.

Making Viral

Nice video, ey? A seemingly amazing feat of engineering. Is that dude crazy? Or did he have superior preparation and testing before he slid down the slide?

It got thousands upon thousands of view when first released, and, undoubtedly, had its share of critics and hoax-hounds. Turns out they were right: it was a crafty move by an agency for Microsoft Deutschland

Marketing giant MRM Worldwide, who created the campaign on behalf of Microsoft Germany, issued a statement saying: “We really enjoyed the discussion about whether our film was real or not.

“At the beginning we didn’t want to tell at all, but after reading several people’s comments, who were seriously thinking about trying this on their own, we decided to reveal officially that we used some digital magic to make the film.


The spoof was created in a series of stages: first an MRM employee registered a website for make-believe engineer “Kammerl”, where the viral was hosted from.

For the footage itself, a stuntman was used to slide down a slope, secured by a rope.

This was added to an animated sequence of a body flying through the air, with another real shot of the stuntman jumping into the pool at the end.

The entire sequence was then meticulously edited to make it look like a single take.

MRM said the point of the viral campaign was “to entertain people and to demonstrate the unbelievable possibilities of good planning”.

“With Megawoosh, we developed a viral campaign for Microsoft Germany which generated unbelievable response in communities, in just a few hours,” it added.

I’m not sure this type of manufactured viral program is in the best interests of the customer. Sure, it got heaps of short-term attention and response — and it was probably cost-effective. However, I’m not convinced this makes a lasting, favorable impression for Microsoft’s efforts in Germany.

Sick Vick

This idea has legs: get Michael Vick as a spokesperson for PETA. Via Mediabistro:

Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons star and dogfighting enabler is talking to PETA about doing some spokes-work for the publicity savvy organization, 19-months after the story broke.

AdAge has what little details are available, confirms with PETA that Vick’s unnamed image handlers are involved. Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications, and Drew Kerr of Four Corners are the PR people the trade called upon to comment on the strategy.

I agree with most of it except that PETA has PR “problems”. The beauty of what they do is their ability to preach loudly to their choir while keeping themselves firmly in the media. Those they upset were not going to donate to the cause anyway. Here they have a win-win, they can tout his contrition if Vick is effective, and publicly flog him if he acts out. Public sentiment of sports fans likely ranks Vick higher than any of the drugs-takers.

Another example is PETA’s recent stunt targeting school kids to get the word out about the cruelty in circuses. Gothamist asked if they went too far. It worked precisely because it went too far.

This is one stunt I’d like to perversely see go awry, just to see the outcome in the mainstream media. Like all image rehab campaigns, Vick–like A-Rod et al–needs to start by getting back to playing good ball.

Might be real, or just another memorable PETA stunt.

4 Million Gallons Per Day

The Tiger Woods Dubai golf course (“Al Rubaya”) will require 4 millions gallons of water per day just to stay green.  That seems like a waste. According to a Toronto Star piece on Dubai’s failure (“a cross between Vegas and Missisauga”), that’s one of many…

Its vast wealth notwithstanding, the things that make Dubai liveable are those that happened when the planners weren’t looking. But life will out, even in a city built by oil-fuelled hubris.

To most, the image conjured up by Dubai is one of superlatives: This is the location of the world’s tallest tower (the Burj Dubai), the world’s most expensive hotel (the Burj Al Arab), the world’s richest horse race (the Dubai World Cup), the world’s … Well, you get the idea.

And not to be outdone, there’s the brand new The Tiger Woods Dubai, a golf course in the desert that requires four million gallons of water a day to stay green. This in a country built on sand.

It’s also the site of some of the planet’s worst congestion. It’s not just that everyone here drives; everyone drives badly. In March 8 of last year, for example, three people were killed and 277 injured in a highway pile-up that involved more than 200 vehicles.

Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by what has been accomplished here. The extent of this ruin-in-waiting is truly mind-boggling.

The question is where to start. The main street, Sheikh Zayed Road, may be as good a place as any. It runs through the city and continues on to Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s quieter, richer cousin, and capital of the United Arab Emirates. This, the road where the accident occurred, reaches 14 lanes in places – and that’s in the heart of the city. Speed limits exist, but only to be ignored.

In neither city are pedestrians welcome anywhere near the street. But in Dubai, the visitor realizes in nanoseconds that this is a city dedicated, enthusiastically, if not slavishly, to the car, the bigger the better. People just aren’t meant to be pedestrians here, but drivers.

According to a recent story in Abu Dhabi’s new English-language newspaper, The National, locals overwhelmingly view traffic accidents as the major cause of death and injury among children. No kidding. Anyone crossing a road in these parts is fair game. To step out means taking your life into your hands.

And if SUV sales have collapsed in North America, Emirates remain as committed as ever to driving the biggest set of wheels they can find. Hummers, Escalades and Cayennes abound. Dubai’s traffic, like its wealth, depends on oil, a commodity that’s already running out. It’s Abu Dhabi, back down the road, that has the vast bulk of the U.A.E.’s oil reserves – 95 per cent. Dubai has less than five per cent, and it is not expected to last more than a decade. The economy relies on real estate, tourism and Abu Dhabi, the emirate that is reported to have invested upwards of $10 billion (U.S.) in Dubai’s economy. The truth may be that this city will be obsolete in less time than it takes most communities to figure out who and what they are.

But at the moment Dubai is famous for its architecture. Landmarks such as the Burj Al Arab hotel, which sits in the water off the city’s waterfront, have become designated icons, reproduced endlessly in kitsch souvenirs sold everywhere. In another context, such a building, despite its glorious bad taste, would still be a monument. Here it’s just another symbol of built excess, one of hundreds, if not thousands.

The most interesting aspect of the hotel is the helipad that extends conspicuously from the top of the sail-like structure. Though obviously intended to convey a sense of riches, it actually addresses the underlying frustration of trying to get around by car.

To be fair, Dubai is now constructing a new above-ground metro. It will be the region’s first serious attempt at public transit, not including bus lines that serve the huge immigrant underclass brought here to do the dirty work. Keep in mind that fully 90 per cent of Dubai’s population comes from somewhere else, typically Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

As for those skyscrapers that crowd Sheikh Zayed Rd., each more outrageous than the next, they have the strange effect of cancelling each other out. Each becomes unexpectedly meaningless, rendering any discussion of architecture irrelevant.

The Spiffy Channel

NBC Universal’s SciFi Channel had a very good year, reports Television Week:

Sci Fi is coming off the best year in its history. In primetime it ranked 13th in total viewers among ad-supported cable networks in 2008. It’s a top-10 network in both adults 18 to 49 (up 4%) and adults 25 to 54 (up 6%).

During its fourth-quarter earnings call, parent General Electric said Sci Fi racked up a double-digit increase in operating earnings despite the beginnings of the recession.

They’re using this success to rebrand the channel to SyFy. When I first read it, I thought it rhymed with “spiffy.”

Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave? From the press release:

While continuing to embrace our legacy and our core audience, we needed to cultivate a distinct point of view with a name that we could own that invites more people in and reflects our broader range of programming,” said Mr. Howe in making the announcement. “Syfy allows us to build on our 16 year heritage of success with a new brand built on the power that fuels our genre: the Imagination. Syfy ushers in a new era of unlimited imagination, exceptional experiences and greater entertainment that paves the way for us to truly become a global lifestyle brand.”

Since I used to work for GE, I have a bias and tend to agree with the lion’s share of their marketing decisions. With this one, however, I don’t think this is a good idea. Most people in this Slashdot discussion don’t like the change either:

Why? To pull in a more ‘mainstream’ audience. If you’re unclear what ‘more mainstream’ means, TV Historian Tim Brooks spells it out for you: ‘The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular.’ Yes, we should probably all be offended. And telling us that a crack marketing team came up with the name because that’s how tech-savvy 18-to-34 year-olds would text it really doesn’t help.”

Matt Blum at Wired doesn’t think they asked any geeks about this change:

I heard somewhere they considered several hundred other new names before settling on this one; if so, I can’t imagine how bad the others must’ve been. And, assuming they ran the change past a focus group or two, did they bother to include even a single geek in them? Because I can’t imagine any geek not breaking out into a rant at the idea.

I’ve been through quite a few branding discussions/projects in the last ten years and I don’t understand how this is the best name to rebrand the SciFi Channel with.

So Long, Sucker City

Back in August, Circuit City ordered all copies of Mad Magazine removed from all their stores that sold magazine (only 40 of 700) because of this spoof:

Initial reactions around the Web at the time concluded it was an embarassing moment for Circuit City, especially after laying off senior employees in 2007 attracted criticism. That was my opinion at the time, too, and I bet both the departing and remaining employees were unhappy. I should know: I’ve been through a couple of job-eliminations.

But Circuit City recovered. While I was vacationing in Ukraine and Romania in late August, the “Sucker City” story became a public relations case study. Via PR News (registration required):

The Crisis
On August 4th an operations employee at Circuit City noticed that the current issue of Mad Magazine, sold in select Circuit City stores, had a parody in it called “Sucker City.” She didn’t find the parody funny, so she sent out the following note., a popular and well-traveled consumer complaint site, got a hold of this e-mail and posted it on their Web site.

From: Elizabeth Barron, Corporate Operations
Approved message.

Immediately remove all issues and copies of “Mad Magazine” from your sales floor. Destroy all copies and throw them away. They are not inventoried, and your store will not incur shrink.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this!

One page of the parody was available on Mad’s Web site as a preview to induce you to go buy the issue. By trying to suppress the parody that would have otherwise languished in an issue, the objection increased its exposure. This is affectionately referred to as the “Streisand Effect,” so named for Barbra Streisand’s campaign to take photos of her house off the Internet. Her campaign has had the unintended result of disseminating those photos even further by giving them more notoriety.

The Circuit City story had two sides: tiny-classic-humor-magazine-past-its-prime versus big-dumb-retailer. Because both sides had been defined (as a result of the leaked internal memo), the chatterati began their work in earnest. As you can see from the timeline above, over one hundred blogs and Web sites picked up the story in the first 24 hours.

The Reaction
Jim Babb of Circuit City’s communications team first heard about the Sunday night story through e-mail. “The issue came to my attention first thing Monday morning. Someone sent me an e-mail about the posting on, but I probably would have spotted it on my own pretty quickly.” Jim and his boss, Bill Cimino, quickly drafted a response specifically intending to incorporate the humor necessary for the context.

Getting it approved is a different task, and required going to executives higher than themselves. “Bill […] helped me get on executive radar quickly. There was immediate agreement that we needed to respond not only quickly, but also in a manner befitting the subject matter. That quick access and approval made all the difference in responding.”

Here’s the response they sent to Consumerist’s editor Ben Popken, which was posted Monday afternoon about 24 hours after the original Consumerist story broke:

Hi, Ben,
I spotted the article about Circuit City and MAD Magazine on your site.

fyi, I became aware of this “situation” only this morning, and I have sent a note today to the Editors of MAD Magazine.

Speaking as “an embarrassed corporate PR Guy,” I apologized for the fact that some overly sensitive souls at our corporate headquarters ordered the removal of the August issue of MAD Magazine from our stores. Please keep in mind that only 40 of our 700 stores sell magazines at all.

The parody of our newspaper ad in the August MAD was very clever. Most of us at Circuit City share a rich sense of humor and irony…but there are occasional temporary lapses.
We apologize for the knee-jerk reaction, and have issued a retraction order; the affected stores are being directed to put the magazines back on sale.

As a gesture of our apology and deep respect for the folks at MAD Magazine, we are creating a cross-departmental task force to study the importance of humor in the corporate workplace and expect the resulting Powerpoint presentation to top out at least 300 pages, chock full of charts, graphs and company action plans.

In addition, I have offered to send the MAD Magazine Editor a $20.00 Circuit City Gift Card, toward the purchase of a Nintendo Wii….if he can find one!

All the best,
Jim Babb
Corporate Communications
Circuit City Stores, Inc.
Richmond, VA

Editor Popken then added his pithy summary of why he thought this was such a good response. These points should be drilled into PR people daily as advice for handling reputational crises such as this one:

1. Admit you were wrong
2. Stop doing the wrong thing
3. Make a material gesture of apology

Circuit City got their response out as fast as possible, but not fast enough to catch an Associated Press story that hit the wires and was automatically published on hundreds of news Web sites across the Internet. Over the next 24 hours, the Associated Press would update their story with Circuit City’s clever apology, but it would be picked up by an additional 100+ Web sites in the process.

Analysis and Lessons Learned
Given that this kerfuffle didn’t actually touch the core values of Circuit City, some communications professionals might have suggested that this would blow over quickly enough. “I knew immediately there was no upside in taking on Alfred E. Neuman” said Circuit City’s Babb. “Beyond the obvious ‘this cannot be ignored’ element, the situation frankly called out for immediate action to correct the original mistake. We responded quickly because it was the right thing to do, and because it made sense from a PR point of view.”

By intervening and correcting the overly thin-skinned order of another employee, Circuit City sought to change the tone and direction of the coverage to come. By the time they saw it, there was no way to stop the media and the blogosphere from talking about it, so Circuit City’s efforts could only slant the coverage in a positive manner and hopefully let the story die as fast as possible.

By resolving the conflict and providing a sufficient mea culpa, they helped the story go away as quickly as possible. You can see from the graph above that it worked, and the story died within 36 hours.

Note that, at about the same time the apology letter was published on, the Associated Press put a story about this on the wires. This is awful, as AP immediately promotes the issue from “online kerfuffle bandied about the blogosphere” to “light sarcasm for mainstream media.” It’s the perfect story to make your audience laugh while poking fun at a large retailer that nobody is likely to defend. You can see from the next-day spike of television, newspaper, and radio station Web sites that the AP article gave the story an enormous follow-on audience. This is partially due to the fact that so many media Web sites simply run AP stories without much review.

However, the apology does seem to have resolved the issue, ending any further interest from reporters or the public in the story. It quickly dies one day later. The smartest thing Circuit City could do is to cease discussing it any further.

What should you learn from this?

Monitor the net for your brand: If you don’t have a formal monitoring system in place for your brand that would notify you within 12 hours of a high profile complaint, you need to get one immediately in place. You can’t do it manually, and why would you want to? Many services scan the Net and send you e-mail once a day (or more often) for not a lot of money. “We normally check out the environment with the usual Google & Yahoo searches,” said Circuit City’s Babb, “but we also have a search engine that crawls the Web and sends us Circuit City references that it picks up.”

Remember the three lessons from As the editor of Consumerist recommended: Admit what you did. Stop doing it. And apologize in a material way for it. Circuit City’s response covered all three of these bases. They admitted making a dumb move, ordered the magazines put back in stores, and offered a gift card to the editor of MAD.

Keep a sense of humor: Perhaps most important, Circuit City recognized what their Operations employee didn’t: Some things about Circuit City are ripe for satire—a characteristic that sets Circuit City apart from roughly zero other companies out there. And they appropriately responded with sincerity and self-deferential humor rather than PR jargon. The new “cross-departmental task force” is arguably as clever as anything in the MAD spread that originally started all this.

Well now they’re shutting down and liquidating, sucker. Does this change the case study’s conclusion?

My experience with Circuit City was OK, but not all good. Recently, I vowed never to shop at Best Buy again (15% restocking fee did it for me).

Best experiences from national chains includes Radio Shack, but if UPS can ship it, online is the way to go. Face the future.

Goat For A Ride

Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species, but I certainly wouldn’t consider them a power source for personal transportation. OK, this device is meant for dogs, but why not other smaller animals?

Mark Shuette is the man behind the Dog Powered Scooter (and trike, skateboard and folding bicycle). Interesting invention that’s been around for about a year and another example of American ingenuity. Not baaad.

What’s That Smell?

Remember the old Rodney Dangerfield joke? “My wife said ‘kiss me where it stinks’ — so I took her to Jersey!”

Taking the counter-point, I thought New Jersey got a bad rap (I live in N.J. now) and needed a new tag line. One to be used for tourism and economic development. Thought “what’s that smell?” had legs — use it for The Shore and restaurants, and so many other attractions you could attach a scent to. Kind of grows on you, doesn’t it? Pokes fun at all the refineries along the Turnpike. So what? Since when did “Jersey Girl” become a positive?

Look, there’s now a town in Iowa that smells like garlic. The local spice producer donated garlic salt for use on icy streets, so they mixed it is with the standard rock salt:

City crews in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny are using garlic salt to melt snow and ice on streets from Tuesday’s storm.

The salt was donated by Tone Brothers Inc., a top spice producer headquartered in Ankeny.

Public Works Administrator Al Olson says the company donated 18,000 pounds of garlic salt to use on its 400 miles of roads.

Olson doesn’t have details, but he says the salt would have ended up in the landfill, so the company donated it. A telephone call Wednesday to Tone Brothers wasn’t immediately returned.

Olson says the city mixed the garlic salt with regular road salt and it works fine. He says some road workers say it makes them hungry, but Olson doesn’t recommend it to spice up lunch or dinner.

“New Jersey: What’s That Smell?” — gotta nice ring to it, doesn’t it?