Code-shifters Unite! Sir Richard Takes the Prize: “Oh, no you di’int!”

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin, Code-shifting guru

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin, Code-shifting guru

I am afraid I “di’id,” err, I mean I do, “code-shift” that is. Code-shifting (sometimes called code-switching) is a long-standing tradition of those amongst us who can be having dinner with our friends from the ole neighborhood (the ones called “stinky”, “nails” and “princess” even though their names are Steve, Theo and Paulie), and with a “wait one” finger in the air to our pals we can take a call from a senior editor at The Times to give a comment on the Secretary of State’s recent gaffe regarding an overseas speech which seemingly is at cross-purposes with current White House policy. We’ll use words like “statecraft” and “hegemony” with Mrs. Senior Editor, and then when we hang up we’ll use words like “bite me” and “that’s why you have three ex-wives” to our pals who were mocking us brutally whilst we were on the phone. (Did you notice, by the way, that I used the words “amongst” and “whilst” when its clear that I am a simpleton from SoCal? Now that, Dear Reader, is an affectation and not code-shifting.) Now … wherest was I?

With our business colleagues on the road we mock-n-curse each other privately, and the nefarious competition, with a toolbox rich with colorful insults, and then we insist that our young brood riding in the back of the car on the 2-hour ride to San Diego not say “sucks” when “stinks” will suffice. Or as Kate Hepburn’s mom in

Dinah, Ms. Lord's little sis, formerly Diana

Dinah, Ms. Lord's little sis, formerly Diana

The Philadelphia Story (1939 or thereabouts) said to her youngest, “Don’t say stinks, Dinah. Say ‘smells,’ but then only if absolutely necessary.”

I can see both sides of this controversy (it’s only controversial because I say it is … I want this LinkedIn post to have some substance after all) because on the one hand, it’s axiomatic that we should all behave in a consistent and principled manner toward our fellow man (but not the fallow man, damn him!). This seems to be at odds with the code-shifting crowd’s natural wont, but, upon deeper examination, not so much. We ALL code-shift. When we talk to our kids; when we speak to our child’s homeroom mom; when we go on job interviews; when we’re on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (and The Roots, one of my faves); and, yes, even when we go to church.

There are lines that we shouldn’t cross to be sure. If you are personally uncomfortable using sarcastic humor or colorful language, then by all means behave consistently across each population of your acquaintances (and here is where I plead the 5th, dear friends). However, I am willing to bet that even amongst your most conservative conversationalists, there are phrases or slang that you feel comfortable using with one group and yet would not venture to use that same vocab at the PTA meeting or Cub Scout troop. See my meaning? Catch my drift? Are you pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down? Code-shifting is natural and I believe helps grease the wheels of communication, especially in the business world.

“How so?” you ask. First, it puts all at ease. When you speak formally toward your octogenarian grandmother, the one whom you still call “grand mere”, she feels at ease, and believes that her 80-some odd years on this earth were not in vain, and

Smith College, Where your  grand mere  went to school

Smith College, Where your grand mere went to school

that sending you to Smith Colllege (her alma mater) was in fact not good-money-after-bad. When the President (No. 44 himself) talks with White House groundskeepers or staffers around him (say, Kal Penn, formerly of the hit series, House, when he was serving in the White House) he will in his inimitable way put them at ease and probably reference the Chicago White Sox’s (his favorite team) recent win against the Nationals. This is how it works with those who are naturally gifted in this regard. They seek to put others at ease, yes, but secondly, it primes the pump of information. People talk more when they feel that someone is actually interested in them, but especially ifthey can relate to the person addressing them … and that someone is you and I. As I always tell my teenage sons, “Interested people are interesting.” And, when folks find you interesting, they will talk all things personal and business.

Ifyou try code-shifting — even if you feel silly at first — then you’ll begin a life-long journey of knowing our fellow man if not in a deeper way, then perhaps in a richer one. Greatness in this regard can indeed lead to accomplishing great things. Let’s consider President Lincoln, from poverty to becoming arguably one of the

President Harry S (no period), Retired

President Harry S (no period), Retired

greatest writers and communicators ever; President Truman (also from humble beginnings), he worked at a men’s clothing store and eventually 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.; Frederick Douglas, the former slave who became a leading abolitionist, is another personal hero of mine, who crossed color lines, even in his marriage, and could chat with Presidents and paupers alike; Queen Elizabeth is also said to be excellent at this and has met well over 500,000 people in her life time. She might not dap you up or high-five you, but she can ask you about cars (she was a mechanic during WWII), sheep, dogs, and anything else considered to be “common.” Former President Bill Clinton and current VP Biden are especially strong-suited here as well, although their touch some may say is a little too common and lead to awkward moments of awkwardness (tautology intended). The common touch requires common sense as well, n’es pas?

To my way of thinking, the single best modern example I can think of in this regard, is business leader extraordinaire, Richard Branson. Completely without guile (from news articles and his books that I’ve read, at any rate) and is just unabashedly immune to bruised ego syndrome. That is the downfall of so many leaders, viz., not considering that others may be right or at least should have a voice (insert here, Mssrs. Steve Jobs, Al Gore, certain religious leaders, et. al., for examples of impolitic or perhaps stoic behavior and those without code-shifting abilities). Branson flies around the world and has a beer with mates (aka, his employees) in Australia, the US, and the UK with abounding aplomb. He has meetings on his Necker Island with world leaders (The Elders organization) as well with equal ease. Indeed, he receives the code-shifting award for 2015. Well done, you, Sir Richard!

And, that is, after all, what code-shifting is all about, viz., the common touch, the kind that Kipling wrote about in his If: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch.” Even the Apostle Paul said “I become all things to all people.” I think his point was that we have to reach folks where they’re at if we want to be their friends or at least help them understand where we’re coming from. That’s the essence of code-shifting. I’ve been seeing a lot more of it recently, and that to me is agood thang!

As always, we welcome your feedback!


Gaffes and The Golden Rue (and other rules)

Elon Musk, Tesla (Wikipedia)

Elon Musk, Tesla (Wikipedia)

The Golden (olden) Rule runs something like this: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” In the world of communications professionals, replete with PR firms on retainer, Chief Marketing Officer’s (CMO) on antidepressants because their average tenure is 2.5 years, and communications directors on-call, ready to take over for the stressed-out CMO, the Golden Rue (that’s no misspelling) goes like this: Sooner or later, we all regret our very own gaffe-riddled words — and may have to eat them — so let’s not enjoy the Schadenfreude sandwich when our competitors screw-up their own maladroit syntax. Or, something to that effect (I’m still working on it).

This week the polymath CEO Elon Musk (Space-X, Tesla, etc.) is having to make amends for speaking his mind, as is his natural wont, during an interview with a German business publication last month where he revealed his plain spoken thoughts on Apple’s getting into the electric car business:

Elon Musk is oft-great for a quote, whether talking with Stephen Colbert about terraforming Mars with thermonuclear devices, or discussing “what-keeps-him-up-at-night” puzzlers like those pesky, inchoate A.I. robotic armies potentially threatening mankind with an extinction level event (this is not an exaggeration; Google has the patent on this). But, when talking about competitor Apple, the sui generis Musk showed himself human and proved up the adage that it’s best to keep the competitive hyperbole to a minimum. Salty language is great when company-facing, motivating the troops and whatnot; but when client-facing, speaking to the public (and by definition to the other side because any CMO worth their salt has a skunkworks competitive intelligence team running 24/7), the preferred ratio for the perfect bravado cocktail is 2 jiggers more graciousness, 1 jigger less hyperbole.

Being gaffe-prone doesn’t necessarily speak ill of CxO’s; just acknowledges the amount of face-time/prime-time a dynamic company will have by definition, especially in the age of Bloomberg West, all manners of Dreamforce’s, SouthBy’s, DLDnyc’s, and other cool venues where your hipster CxO can malaprop with the best of them.

If you’re in the C-Suite and actively engaged with the public, investors, the media, and creating content (both video and print), chances are you’ll come to rue and regret your (their) own gaffe at some point, so live by the Golden Rue which basically advocates not piling on, to be gracious to the other guy, and to “measure twice, cut once” as any good carpenter knows, especially when giving interviews, speaking publicly, or writing a piece, response (or remonstrance) on Pulse, Medium, or microblasting on social media du jour.

Having to walk back public comments can be a tricky task (trisky?). Herculean even. Some gaffes can end a career, viz., Amy Pascal, whose private gaffes were leaked vis-à-vis the Sony hack. Some gaffes are par for the course, especially if that course is public policy, e.g., Veep Joe Biden, George W., et. al., whose every word is public, parsed, and a potential whoopsie daisy. And, some gaffes are ill-advised word choices just because they soundgawdawful, as we were reminded by Christopher Hitchens about the D.C. politico who should have used the word miserly instead of the word which sounded an awful like the N-word. Whether you’re advising business executives or policy wonks, sometimes “just because” is good enough, Dear Reader, and occasionally career-saving great advice for your client.

Usually, though, a quick apology, and occasionally a mea maxima culpa, along with a heartfelt and concomitant corrective, and you’re well along your way helping navigate the communication waters for your organization. Nonetheless, both the rule and the rue (golden-hued didactic directives) suggest the giving and receiving of a full measure of grace and understanding when it comes to the ubiquitous gaffe. Especially, if we learn from the Golden Rue.

Year-End Denouement ... Season's Reflection

Year End Denoument 2015.jpg

It's the end of the year for 2015, and I'm sure like us you feel like this year just flew by.

At the end of the year, we've the big three to reflect upon: Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah and New Years.  As a business not usually directly tied to a B-to-C model, there always seems to be less of an opportunity for us to really craft a message for consumer clients and those all important warm feelings associated with our national troika of year-end reflection, think Coke polar bears, Microsoft singing outside an Apple retail outlet on 5th Ave., or a John Lewis Insurance commercial with an adorable dancer causing mayhem.


But, we always try to make that connection with the ultimate end user of our products and services, no matter how attenuated it may be, dear friends. For us, it's always a good / great reminder to be thankful.  We do live in an amazing country that affords us as consulting groups, pure leadgen players, law firms and advocacy groups, the opportunity to make a fine living (or attempt to at any rate), making a difference to consumers and clients, whether business units in a large organization or consumer claimants to a law suit.  It's an honor to help people, and we at EW + (blue) are especially honored to assist our clients in that grand endeavor of marketing, telling an engaging narrative, or launching a new product and or service.  

Christmas and Hanukkah remind us that there are some things that are above and beyond our ken, as the great poets of yore were wont to opine.  Not wishing to wax too poetic, but we welcome the miraculous, because God knows we need once in a while to make payroll, hit our conversion rates, or get a response email from a broker who owes us some make-good leads!  But, whether it's a Festival of Lights menorah or an inspired Christmas Creche sitting in some town square (like the one here in Malibu which has both prominently displayed across from each other just below Pepperdine University on PCH), we welcome the moment to realize, recognize, and remember that all of our collective striving throughout the year is all about family and life-goals and things outside of work or our quotidian selves.  To our way of thinking, that's where life gets really interesting, meaningful and inspired.  Good reminders to be sure, and we welcome and celebrate these few but heartfelt opportunities as the business comes to a close in 2015.

Finally, we wish you and your organizations, families and communities the best and blessings for a tremendously healthy and prosperous 2016.  Happy New Year, dear friends!  

-- From those of us at East, West and Blue

Our Corporate Communication Philosophy

As marketing and communications professionals, we’ve written dozens of press releases (and ordered, edited, and published dozens more); created pitch-books and presentations for VCs and angel investors alike; have drafted corporate communications on behalf of and from the office of CxO of some sort during celebrations and catastrophes, as well as massive hirings and firings; created and overhauled corporate vision; drafted and red-lined hundreds of contracts and agreements of various forms; and have written responses to government agencies, judges, and opposing counsel.

How you phrase, parse, preach or pitch your message is hugely important, both to your organization as well as to you. So, here, over Coffee Bean vanilla lattes in Malibu, we've decided to put out a quick primer, as best as one can draft such a document sitting in 78 F degree weather amongst the beautiful, rich, homeless, recently spotted actors and athletes du jour — talkin’ ‘bout you David Duchovny and Blake Griffin — illegal aliens, er, I mean, non-documented though decently paid workers, unpaid though over-represented screenwriters, and bikers hellbent for trouble (lycra and leather alike).

Here now for your perusal, our very quick, yet heartfelt, communication bromide and offering:

Thoughtful comity over cruel quips.

None of us are perfect, no not one.

If we’re a liberal, very advanced company, and our consumers are not (even some of them), we respect them and their traditional worldview. If we’re a conservative company, and our consumers are not (even some of them), we respect them and their forward- thinking worldview.

We do not talk down to potential consumers simply because they think different from or hold opposing views than we do. Even potential consumers that will never be our customers are part of our body politic, market, and hemispheric.

We protect our employees, ALL of them.

We respect our consumers, ALL of them.

We respect ourselves, ALL the time, and therefore demand the best in behavior from ourselves and our employees, especially in the way we communicate with each other, our clients, our consumers, and our competition.

We have a worldview and we hold fast to it. We don’t change our principles because some, several, or serious numbers decide that they don’t like us, what we did/do, or what they perceive we stand for; we hold on to our moral compass whilst remaining true to our core of respect, even if / while others do not respect us.

We are having ongoing conversations with ourselves, our employees, our colleagues, our consumers, our community, our competition … at all times. We speak truth to power and we powerfully seek the truth in how we operate. Our conversation therefore is peppered with urbane wit and seasoned with compassionate drive to succeed in the marketplace of commerce – and ideas — while having fun.

Mad Men, 1960's and the Spirit of the Times


I love the 1950's.

mean would you look at those specs and shades, and all of those cool de rigueurhats and thin ties and other 50's iconography. The iconic eyewear brand Oliver Peoples (parent company Luxotica) has fitted me going back 25 years back when I bought my first pair -- and still rock -- straight out of undergrad. Of course, Warby Parker has some very cool retro specs as well.

This picture (the big one, supra) is actually from the 1960's, which was something Matt Weiner noticed about developing and shooting Mad Men, viz., that the iconic "50's style" was really more or less a carryover into the 1960s that just killed it in pop culture repositories of influence from 2008, all of those fashion magazines and mens and ladies fashion lines that love a good atavistic lift whenever they can borrow from a recycled era (not to mention the copycat shows like the excellent The Hour, guilty pleasure Pan Am, and the ridiculous The Playboy Club, as well as revival of award winning How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying -- not coincidentally originally starring on both stage and film Robert Morse who is just an absolute favorite actor). And, I was, admittedly, not so much a fashion victim, but rather a recipient of compliments because my sense of elan had caught up with "fashion" and had become more acceptable to prêt-à-porter, which is a nicer way of saying I'll wear it off-the-peg my good man.

The law firm I ran marketing and business development for in downtown Los Angeles (a large consumer advocacy firm), owned a restaurant on the bottom floor, and many of our partner firm's associates were young 20 and 30 somethings, all wearing varied and sundry Paul Smith, Ben Sherman, Ted Baker, and Burberry suits with accompanying brogues and pocket squares, smoking their fine cigars after hours on Friday when the senior partners were gone for the day, as if they were on the show Suits (USA Network).

When the the show Mad Men first made its debut on AMC I thoroughly enjoyed it almost because it was so non-PC with all of the cigarette smoking and men-will-be-men memes, Joan Harris' hourglass figure, and afternoon cocktails because it's 5 o'clock somewhere (I am such a conservative, Dear Reader! Apologies to my more lib inclined friends if/when I offend on such rants). Of course, I don't partake of the aforementioned Mad Men antics, but, you know, I can appreciate the mise en sceneof it all. By the way, above is an avatar AMC created for/of me vis-a-vis the Mad Men home page. In honor of the the show beginning its last season this next week, see what they can haberdash for you as well. I do like my pipe, though it is an affectation.

As a writer one focuses on transitions as they tend to drive conflict -- and all great stories have conflict. It's in with the new (hottie trophy wife, Don Draper's new wife, Meagan) and out with the old (ball and chain who put you through medical school, so to speak, Betty). You want conflict? Add a new, young wife to the mix of teenage kids who visit their now plumpish, late-40's mom. It's a bit worn, but you get thebromide-cum-conflict. Which is what I particularly like about this Mad Men show with show horse (and clothes horse) John Hamm holding up fairly well over the long haul of the series 7+ year run. Always those transitions, from one iconic moment fading and mixing in like an afternoon cocktail into the rich sepia tones of the next one, like a nice pair of Foster Grants (was that 60's eyewear?) transitioning from sunglasses to inside lenses.

Let's play a quick game, you and I, Dear Reader. Can you spot the public personalities in this photo snapped from a significant public event? And, can you name that event? I spotted this when I was visiting the other day, and I hit on a deadlink of theirs when what should appear, mirabile visu? This great image above from a bygone era.

Anyway, back to my quick and quirky quiz: Whom do you see peering up into thespace age (I'm feedin' ya hints here, Harvey!)? If you see the king and queen of Belgium, then damn et tres bon! If you spot the man figuratively and literally "insecond spot" in the stands and to LBJ, then "hot dang! (said with LBJ Texan drawl), you've spotted Hubert Humphrey, our 38th VP ... and "good on ya, son!" I even see a John Hamm lookalike there in the 3rd row wearing his aviators. Btw, it was LBJ who oversaw Apollo and gave his imprimatur on NASA who then named their headquarters Lydon B. Johnson Space Center due to his influence over the decade-long Space Race. I will admit, I did spot ole Hubert because, as I mention above, there was just something in the back of my mind (high school US History?) that recognized that pasty heir to the throne visage.

Yes, in the back of my mind, everything was better in the 1950s, but of course it wasn't. I myself am a child of the 70's, with two teenage sons who have the same racial heritage as our 44th president, and there were miles to march before men were judged by the content of their character during those same 50's. It was just that our problems as a country were different, less manifold perhaps, more drenched in discussion of duty over "me-me-me" rights ... heated and principled discussions and demonstrations of yesteryear rather than vapid occupy rioting of today. And, maybe, just maybe, there was some innocence back then that had yet to be sullied by keeping up with so many Duckdashians or binge watching hours of addictive House of HoneybooCards or Meerkating Jimmy Fallon as he walks around a set at 9am before he's done his show makeup.

Still in my 40's but feeling every bit the Minver Cheevy scratching my head and thinking.

Welcome back Mad Men for your last season, and as always, I welcome your feedback.