Thursday, 29 March 2012

10 Possible New Names for Edmonton International Airport

What's in a name? Plenty, if you're an airport. In today's era of aeronautical interconnectedness, airports are typically people's point of entry into a city and the first glimpse and taste of a place that people get. It is hardly surprising, then, that cities around the world, in an effort to put their best foot out first, are keen to make their air terminals becoming of their idealized selves. And often this includes naming their airport after a distinguished citizen or iconic figure.

Today's Edmonton Sun featured an article on airports named after hometown legends. While it covers many of the most colourful, like Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, John Lennon International Airport in Liverpool and Galeão-Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, it also missed some great ones such as Fryderyk Chopin International in Warsaw, Nënë (Mother) Teresa International in Tirana, Albania, W.A. Mozart Airport in Salzburg, Austria and, my personal favourite, Chinggis Khaan International Airport in the Mongolian capital Ulan Baatar.

Naming airports after famous people can be a thorny business, however. Airports are typically named after dead politicians (as well as, occasionally, still living ones), and dead politicians have a way of postumously falling out of favour or falling on the wrong side of history. Johannesburg's international airport long bore the name of Afrikaner statesman Jan Smuts, but in the post-Apartheid era he found himself replaced by the late ANC organizer Oliver Tambo.

Now-deceased dictators Chiang Kai-shek and Saddam Hussein once had major air hubs named after them, in Taipei and Baghdad respectively. Neither of these airports has yet to find a replacement. And when Montreal's Dorval International Airport adopted the name Pierre Elliott Trudeau, there was a predictable outcry from Quebec sovereigntists, although with the city's main east-west thoroughfare named after Trudeau's arch-nemesis René Lévesque, separatists and federalists in the city can rightfully claim to being even.

But what about Edmonton? Unlike eastern Canada, which has Trudeau, Pearson (Toronto), Lesage (Quebec City) and Stanfield (Halifax) Airports, the western provinces have yet to jump on the airport-naming bandwagon, with only Saskatoon (John Diefenbaker) and Winnipeg (named after aviation pioneer James Armstrong Richardson) opting to do so. But Edmonton has a beguiling lineup of distinguished civic luminaries whose names could lend themselves very nicely to our newly renovated and expanded international terminus. Here, for what it's worth, are my top ten suggestions:

1. Nellie McClung International Airport

My personal top choice. Canada's most famous female suffragist and first-wave feminist was born in Ontario and raised in Manitoba, but she spent her busiest years in Edmonton. The name also has a very nice ring to it, in my opinion.

2. Marshall McLuhan International Airport

As a communications professional, this one would make me pretty happy as well. The late Edmonton-born literary critic and communication theorist who coined the now-famous phrases "global village" and "the medium is the message" might be a fitting choice given the role of air travel in the creation of said village.

3. Harold Cardinal International Airport

While not as widely known as the above two, Cree lawyer, writer and Aboriginal rights activist Harold Cardinal is deserving of much wider recognition given his central role in the Aboriginal renaissance in western Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Naming an airport after him would certainly do the trick.

4. Emily Murphy International Airport

While not as well known as Nellie McClung, women's rights activist, member of the 'The Famous Five' and Canada's first female magistrate is certainly just as worthy. She was also a lifelong Edmontonian. However, her espousal of eugenics now makes her a controversial figure.

5. Big Bear International Airport

Another Aboriginal candidate, the legendary Plains Cree leader's name was actually Mistahi-muskwa, which, while it has the requisite coolness, probably wouldn't have enough international currency to be considered for this role. Still, Big Bear, whose band wintered on the North Saskatchewan, hearkens to pre-colonial times, which makes him an appealing candidate.

6. Albert Lacombe International Airport

The Catholic clergy of yesteryear has a certain PR problem in western Canada thanks to the Indian Residential School System. Nevertheless, Father Lacombe, who was deeply respected by both the Cree and Blackfoot, whose peace treaty he helped broker, remains a highly regarded figure.

7. Wilfrid "Wop" May International Airport

A First World War flying ace and a pioneering bush pilot in the Canadian west, Wop May is a beloved figure among Canadian aviation buffs. And aviation buffs seem to have outsized sway when it comes to naming airports. Probably because they care.

8. Max Ward International Airport

Another one for the flying enthusiast crowd, Max Ward is another aviation pioneer who started out as a bush pilot and ended up founding the once-popular charter airline Wardair. However, last time I checked Max Ward was still alive, which probably rules him out.

9. Robert Goulet International Airport

The late Broadway icon and star of Camelot and The Man from La Mancha spent his formative years here in Edmonton and graduated from Victoria Composite High School. He also played alongside fellow Edmontonian Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, which ups his YEG-cred.

10. Leslie Nielsen International Airport

Last but certainly not least, the ironic choice. Not only was he raised in Edmonton (and also a Vic Comp graduate), Nielsen is also uniquely well suited to this 'role' for having starred in the legendary air disaster comedy Airplane! (as well as the sequel). EIA could even add the tagline "We are serious - and don't call us Shirley" to its marketing material. Just a thought.

Any other suggestions? Which ones would you go for? Over to you, reader.

Россия, мы вас любим! 10 Reasons Why Russia Deserves More Love

weird looking russian matreshkas 1

Brush Talk is now a full five months' old, and as such has been around just long enough to have developed certain viewer trends. This month has been by far the busiest to date, traffic-wise, owing in no small part to a certain ranty post about a certain viral video campaign. Suffice it to say I'll be scouring the intertubes for the next viral video phenomenon lest my readership drop off the face of the earth in the coming months.

Over the first five months of Brush Talk's existence, one of my biggest mysteries has been this blog's apparent small but consistent following in Russia. Canada of course commands the lion's share of this blog's readership, followed by the United States, but Russia has consistently ranked at number three, significantly outranking both the UK, where I have family and friends, and Japan, a country where I lived for six years, have many friends and continue to accord outsized attention on in this blog.

Why this is the case is a mystery to me. I've never been to Russia in my life. I'm not aware of my having any friends or contacts there, although I do have a few expatriate Russian friends in this country. And I've barely written about Russia on this blog, and the few times I have haven't exactly been flattering. I wrote about the Russian government's official web portal in my December post on The Best and Worst of Government Web Design basically to say that I thought it sucked, and then two months later wrote about the Nord-Ost Hostage Crisis within the context of botched crisis communications.

And yet, people in Russia continue to follow my blog. I have no idea why. Perhaps because I've pissed them off (although my Russian following emerged well before the web portal and Ost-Nord posts). Perhaps it's a small group of Russians with a bizarre obsession with Canadian PR students and their travails, much like David Hasselhoff's German followers, only weirder. It has even occurred to me that brushtalk might be an obscene word in Russian, although I've found no indication that this is the case. (I did look it up.)
In Soviet Russia, the space hotel books you!

But whatever the reason, I am touched that I have a following in the land of cosmonauts and vodka shots. After all, these are a people who are tough to impress. As such, I would like to take this opportunity to make clear to any Russians reading this post that while I may have been critical of certain aspects of Russian government communications in the past (which frankly pales in comparison to the things I write on Facebook about our current prime minister here in Canada), I have nothing but total respect and admiration for your country's contributions to our global civilization and culture. When it comes to civilizations that leave me awe-struck, the land of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and t.A.T.u. is way up there. I sincerely hope to visit someday, but for now I'll have to content myself with my top ten list of things I love about Russia.

10) The world's sexiest-sounding language

There's a reason why Russians have always made such great movie bad guys and femme fatales. The Russian language - and the Russian accent - just sounds so freakin' bad-ass, the perfect combination of sexy and sinister. Byutiful, dahlink!

9) Baltika Beer

Only sold in one place in Edmonton, to my knowledge - the Liquor Depot on Jasper Avenue. Trust me, it's worth the trip.

8) Dmitri Shostakovich

He suffered for his art like few ever have, penning exploratory music through the horrors of Stalin's purges and the 'Great Patriotic War' with the fear that he could be whisked away to the Gulags at any time for falling foul of the government. His Fifth Symphony, which premiered in 1937, literally saved his ass, and still stands the test of time as a phenomenal work.

7) Excellence in science and academia - against all odds

27 Nobel laureates is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a country whose modern history is one best characterized by catastrophic warfare, tyranny and economic turmoil.

6) Russian Tea

Vodka may be the beverage most closely associated with Russia, but nobody does tea better than the Russians. Steeped in silver samovars, flavoured with lemon and sweetened with jam, Russian tea culture puts the Brits to shame and gives the Japanese a run for their money.


5) Environmental activism - against all odds

Source: Radio Free Europe

The Russian government may not be winning any awards these days for promoting a 'green' agenda, but Russia's grassroots enviro-crusaders, whose causes range from the Siberian tiger to Lake Baikal, are some of the toughest activists you'll find anywhere. The campaign to save the historic Khimki Forest outside Moscow has seen ugly repression in recent years, but tree-loving Muscovites are not backing down.

4) Anton Chekhov

Anyone who believes that the Russians have no sense of humour has evidently never seen The Festivities, Uncle Vanya or, for that matter, George F. Walker's brilliant bastardized riff on The Three Sisters in his early piece of dramaturgical terrorism Beyond Mozambique. A lifelong medical doctor with a penchant for extreme travel and black humour, Chekhov was part Monty Python, part Ernest Hemingway, all classic Russian badass.

3) The only real space program

In spite of the minor inconvenience that their main launch facility is situated in the now independent republic of Kazakhstan, the Russians remain the masters of outer space, or more specifically the masters of putting human beings into outer space. While some have criticized the Russian government for devoting up to 50 percent of the country's space budget to manned space travel, it goes without saying that if the shit really hits the fan on this planet, it's the Russians that will be in charge of transportation to the nearest habitable planet. And in the meantime, the Russians have big plans for space tourism - for those with a hell of a lot of money to burn.

2) Architecture and Design

From St. Basil's Cathedral to the opulent underground passageways of the Moscow Metro to the capital's ultramodern International Business Centre, no country does design to quite the extreme as the Russians do. "We're going to hell in a handbasket but we're looking good doing it" might well be the official design slogan of a country where even the most decrepit Siberian outposts have a certain vintage Star Trek-type charm. And then there's all the cool Soviet-era typefaces. Gotta love it!


1) Resilience, come hell and high water (or some combination thereof)

Far be it for me to trivialize the horrendous ordeals that the Russian people have been forced to endure over the past century-plus. Nevertheless, the fact that theatre troupes remained active amid the wholesale economic collapse of the early 1990s and that composers, choreographers and poets continued to work amid the terrifying climate of Stalin's purges says something about this place. One can only hope that this country's great creative spirit doesn't have to suffer the same tortures in the 21st century that it did in the 20th. And yes, I realize this is an intrinsically paradoxical statement, but in the words of V.I. Lenin, deal with it, comrades!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Inigo Montoya Teaching Moment #3: Fight the 'Power'

It's been a while since my last post on words and wordcraft, allegedly still the focal point of this blog. Things have taken a decidedly more political and sociological bent on Brush Talk in recent weeks, but now we return to the radix (see IMTM #1).

Those of you who follow this blog are now no doubt familiar with the Inigo Montoya Teaching Moments, which focus on commonly misused words in the English language. In the past I've looked at 'radical' and 'gender', both of which are fairly recent corruptions. Today, however, we examine a word that to my mind has been misused for so long that nothing short of a gargantuan language paradigm shift is likely to change its use. It's still, however, worth examining.

The word in question this time is 'power'. It's a word that appears almost everywhere, in just about every context you can think of. The power of one. Speak truth to power. Female empowerment. Power colour. The power of imagination. Fight the power. The powers that be. It's truly everywhere, and moreover it's something that we're all supposed to want. I mean, don't we all want to be empowered, or at least have a little more power over our own destiny?

I've always been somewhat wary of the word power, and then after a discussion with Dr. Maggie Hodgson, a respected Elder from the Carrier Nation in central BC and a tireless advocate of restorative justice and reconciliation, I realized why that was. Dr. Hodgson talked of the many subtle but telling misunderstandings and miscommunications between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal stakeholders - and how one particular group of Elders objected to the characterization of a BC land claim settlement as a 'transition of power'. 'Power', in their view, was a colonialist word that implied the subordination of one group by another. When asked what they sought to gain from the land deal with the BC government, the responded with a single-word answer: strength.

So what exactly does the word 'power' mean? In scientific terms, Dr. Hodgson's characterization of it is indeed close to the mark. In physics, power is the rate at which energy is transferred, used or transformed. In the case of electric 'power', it's the rate at which energy is transformed into light or heat, as measured in wattage. In other words, power is not simply a synonym for strength or energy. Power does necessitate application, the degree to which said strength or energy is applied externally, as in 'power of attorney' or 'executive power'. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, this does make it a more inherently confrontational and frictious word than strength, which is a more defensive and reserved state of being.

Why, then, are we always talking about power in our culture? It could be because we're hyper-sensitive to having power applied to us by the powers that be and that, like Chuck D, Flava Flav and Professor Griff, we do feel compelled to fight the power. Also, references to power abound in our culture, from the Bible (divine power) to Karl Marx (power over the means of production) to our cultural touchstones (the power of the Force). But I can't help but feel that our culture's fixation on power is a major factor in the current state of our planet - both in the cavernous gaps in economic prosperity that plague our society and our rampant destruction of our natural environment.

But can we purge our language of improper usages of the word 'power'? Easier said than done, most likely. I tried this week to find alternative words for power in my own speech and writing - and failed miserably. Is there a good alternative to the word 'empowerment'? I can't really think of one. In our high 'powered' modern world, expressions like 'strength' just sound wimpy. Like a drug, language has a tendency to reach a tolerance level in our society, at which point a stronger, more potent word is needed to replace the old one whose energy is spent. This would probably explain the proliferation of profanity in our culture, and why curse words of old don't have much sting left in them.

It would be ridiculous to advocate a return to the 'correct' use of the word power - if for no other reason because I've seen no indication that this word has ever been used properly. But it might not be a bad idea to reflect on the word, as it is a word that I believe is taken to mean something other than what it actually means. And in the meantime, please enjoy what has to be the funkiest protest song ever recorded courtesy of Public Enemy. And do fight the power. It deserves to be fought.

Monday, 12 March 2012

After the Wave: The Communications Lessons of 3.11

The town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, after the tsunami

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the worst calamity to befall Japan since World War II and the most powerful earthquake in the country's recorded history. A year after the devastating twin disaster of the March 11 Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the full scale of the disaster is still being determined. A March 10, 2012 national police report confirmed 15,854 deaths, 9,677 injuries and 3,155 missing persons across eighteen prefectures in an earquake so powerful that it is estimated to have moved Japan's main island of Honshu a full 2.4 meters east and shifted the Earth on its axis by an estimated 10 and 25 centimeters.

While the earthquake and tsunami wreaked destruction of epic proportions, the most talked about story of the calamity was not the natural disaster itself but the nuclear accidents it caused, most notably the ongoing level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. While the year following the disaster has seen remarkable progress in rebuilding some of the municipalities ravaged by the quake and tsunami, the Fukushima crisis, the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster - remains very much an open wound, the magnitude of which will probably not be fully ascertained for years - if not decades - to come.

As with any major disaster, there were many sub-plots in this one. As a professional communicator (and one with a longstanding connection to Japan), the most compelling aspect of this unfolding drama was the communications story. As with any major disaster, how effectively a a country or region deals with the forces of nature gone wild is primarily a measure of pre-disaster planning and post-disaster communication. And on both of these fronts, the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami story represented both resounding success and abject failure. It was a story of one cause and two disasters - one that was handled remarkably well and another astoundingly badly.

Lessons Learned

The Tohoku tsunami and the Fukushima meltdown may have stemmed from a common cause, but once the wave hit the northeastern coast of Japan, the two became very much separate disasters. Moreover, the way in which these two disasters were handled by the respective authorities speaks volumes to the strengths and weaknesses of crisis communications - and of communication as a whole - in this highly disaster-prone country.

Japan's historical track record for crisis communication is shaky at best. Numerous political and social factors have contributed in the past to slow and ineffective post-disaster communications, including a bureaucratic and cloistered political culture prone to factionalism and infighting, a group-oriented culture wherein tremendous emphasis is placed on consensus-building (resulting in slow decision making) and a high premium placed on 'face-saving' and maintaining surface calm best encapsulated by the Japanese terms tatemae (建前) meaning 'outwardly agreed-upon 'truths'' and honne (本音), that which we know to be true but keep to ourselves. Even the Japanese language itself is fraught with ambiguity, a factor that may even have triggered the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima, as I address in my December 11 post.

The remains of JAL 123
(Source: Sécurité Aérienne et Accidentologie)
This plus a longstanding reluctance to involve outsiders in Japan's domestic disasters has led to some notably egregious crisis management failures. One of the worst in recent history was the 1985 crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123. For those who don't remember this disaster, a Boeing 747 on a holiday weekend short-haul flight from Tokyo to Osaka broke apart shortly after takeoff and crashed in the mountains west of Tokyo. While the cause of the accident was ultimately determined to be an improper repair by a Boeing technician, the situation was exacerbated by a botched rescue effort caused by confusion and bickering between police agencies and a thwarted rescue attempt by nearby US military personnel that was halted by Japanese officials. In the end, four out of the 524 people on board survived, but many others died while waiting to be rescued.

Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara (Source: AP)
Ten years later, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the southern part of the western prefecture of Hyōgo, devastating the port city of Kobe. Here again, poor crisis planning and communications appear to have cost lives. The then socialist-led government of Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama was excoriated  by the Japanese public for its confused and disorganized response, for poorly managing local volunteer efforts and for initially refusing help from foreign countries. In the same year, a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult was also marred by poor communication between city authorities, police and emergency services. Many local hospitals only received information on diagnosis and treatment after one professor of medicine saw the reports on TV and phoned in.

A Tale of Two Crises

Fast forward to March 2011 and the picture looks quite different – at least in part. As far as the actual natural disaster was concerned, communications was handled beautifully. Firstly, Japan’s new earthquake and tsunami warning system, which prior to March 11, 2011 had never been truly put to the test, worked perfectly, automatically issuing alerts via television and cell phones shortly after the first, less harmful, shock wave was detected, providing time for many people to make preparations for the more powerful shock wave that followed – and probably saving a great many lives.

(Source: Japan Meteorological Agency)

In the case of the 3.11 disaster, the Japanese government under Prime Minister Naoto Kan responded with unprecedented swiftness. He also urged the Japanese public to act calmly and tune into various media for updated information. The Prime Minister also wasted no time setting up a crisis communications control centre in his office to coordinate the government's response and, in stark contrast to the Kobe disaster, sent out immediate requests for assistance to emergency response teams in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Tireless Edano (Source: Nippon News Network)
The Japanese government also made the inspired decision of appointing then-Chief Cabinet Secretary (now Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry) Yukio Edano as the government’s chief spokesperson. A blunt, plainspoken northerner (a Tochigi native and a Tohoku University graduate) with a knack for social media communication, Edano put forth a phenomenal performance as crisis communicator that made the stocky politician in the blue one-piece emergency suit one of the disaster’s most enduring symbols. For at least a week, Edano was either fielding television interviews or tweeting up-to-the-minute information from tsunami-ravaged areas. A week into the aftermath, the man’s increasingly haggard appearance and faltering on-air commentary led to the popularization of the Twitter hashtag #edano_nero (literally “Edano, get some sleep!”).

While the Japanese government still faced questions over the speed of its response to the mounting humanitarian crisis (including from Minister Edano himself), the government’s communications performance, both internally and externally, was an unprecedented success. The government’s embrace of overseas help was a major coup for the government. Its close collaboration with the US military through Operation Tomodachi (‘Friend’) was commended by the Yomiuri Shimbun as solidifying the Japan-US military alliance, while the Japanese government’s request for help from South Korea resulted in an outpouring of donations and goodwill from a country with a long history of animosity towards Japan.

The Japanese government’s response to Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, both during and after the disaster, clearly demonstrated that substantial progress had been made in Japan in terms of crisis communications planning in the decade leading up to the disaster. However, as the aftermath of the Fukushima meltdown, clearly shows, this progress was not evenly spread and that among certain institutions at least, the old modus operandi is still very much alive and kicking.

Data Without Information: Making Sense of the Fukushima Debacle

In the year following 3.11, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the utility responsible for the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has become one of the country’s most despised institutions. While cold shutdown of the plant was achieved in mid-December 2011 and work is now underway at decommissioning the plant, the reputation management fallout for Japan’s largest power company is anything but contained. The first anniversary of the 3.11 disaster saw large-scale protests outside TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters, while TEPCO shareholders have filed a $67 billion lawsuit against the company's executives in the biggest claim in Japanese history.

Tokaimura - the prequel to Fukushima? (Source: Wikispaces)
The Japanese public’s mistrust of TEPCO and of the country’s nuclear energy industry as a whole long predated the Fukushima disaster. In 2002, the government found the utility guilty of false reporting in routine governmental inspection of its nuclear plants and systematic concealment of plant safety incidents. Five years later, the company announced to the public that an internal investigation had revealed a large number of unreported incidents at its plants. All this had followed a 1999 incident involving a major uranium leak at JCO’s Tokaimura nuclear fuel-processing in northern Ibaraki Prefecture, which resulted in the deaths of two workers and the evacuation of 161 nearby residents. In this case, poor internal communication and inadequate training were identified as the cause, while slow external communication shook public confidence in the industry.

At 2:46 pm on March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude offshore earthquake generated a 40-meter tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi complex, leading to a massive release of radiation and the meltdown of three reactor cores. From the very beginning, it was evident that the plant’s owners were in complete disarray, with little idea of exactly what was going on or how to communicate it. With no communications plan in place, TEPCO responded reactively with numbers devoid of context and opaque engineering terminology, which merely exacerbated public confusion and anxiety. Moreover, whereas social media was beneficial in communicating tsunami-related information, in the case of the nuclear accident the flurry of tweets and retweets that followed the utility’s latest announcements amounted to a nationwide game of ‘telephone’, further fanning the flames of confusion.

TEPCO CEO Masataka Shimizu (Source: Kyodo News)
As Tokyo-based media consultant Gil Chavez explains in his article in the Nov-Dec issue of Communication World, explaining radiation levels in terminology understandable to the general public is a tricky undertaking at the best of times. The standard measurement of radiation, the Sievert (Sv), was unfamiliar to most people both within and outside Japan prior to the accident. This and similar terms such as millisievert and microsievert suddenly began flooding the country’s news media. Add to this the extent of the public panic generated by the twin disasters and it’s hardly surprising that TEPCO’s attempts at reactive crisis communications were a near-total disaster. Even the utility’s attempt at using Twitter to alleviate the situation resulted in backlash, as it was perceived firstly as too little, too late and secondly as a cheap effort by TEPCO to improve its image in the midst of the disaster.

The PR fallout from the Fukushima meltdown ultimately spread to the government of Japan after its reserve of public goodwill stemming from its effective handling of the tsunami aftermath had been upended by its apparent inability to bring the nuclear disaster under control and to take TEPCO to task for its mishandling of the situation. Prime Minister Kan’s personal popularity took a pounding until, facing the prospect of a cabinet rebellion, he announced his resignation in August 2011. Recent revelations show that Kan’s brinkmanship may have prevented an even larger calamity. A government report quotes Edano as having warned the prime minister of a “demonic chain reaction” of plant meltdowns could require the complete evacuation of Tokyo at a time when TEPCO officials wanted to pull its emergency workers from the plant. His unrelenting pressure on TEPCO may have saved Japan.

The Fukushima debacle clearly illustrates the need for a well-developed crisis communications plan, particularly for an industry that is both fiendishly complex and fraught with fear and anxiety – especially in sole country on earth to have been subjected to a nuclear attack. The Fukushima Daiichi accident had all the hallmarks of a smoldering crisis, namely the age of the plant (It was built in 1971 and had just had its operational lifespan extended by ten years), the regularity with which large tsunamis have struck the area (in 1793, 1856, 1896, 1933 and 2011) and TEPCO’s own patchy safety record. While the magnitude of the earthquake in question was unprecedented in Japanese historical records, similarly powerful megathrust earthquakes have occurred elsewhere on earth, most recently off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, in December 2004, triggering the deadly Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated coastlines as far away as Somalia.


The triple disaster that befell Japan on March 11, 2011 put every aspect of the country's infrastructure, institutions and human capital to the test, and results are a lesson to the world. In communications terms, while the Fukushima disaster stands as a cautionary tale of what happens when you fly without a communications plan, the other story was that of a major breakthrough in crisis communications in a country with a long history of poor disaster communication. If nothing else, this disaster shows that governments, regardless of culture and historical precedent, can indeed learn from past mistakes and that, in Japan’s case, the government clearly had learned its lessons from previous crises. As catastrophic as the the events of 3.11 were, they could easily have been far worse, and indeed much smaller earthquakes have resulted in far greater loss of life.

One of the most enduring lessons of this disaster is that in a time of crisis, people, regardless of their cultural mores and social grammar, want a swift response and clear, concise, up-to-the-minute information. And in the case of the natural disaster itself, that is – for the most part – what people got. It could have been better, but given the enormous obscacles that officials and rescuers faced, their performance was on the whole commendable. As for the nuclear disaster, even this could have been far worse than it was (and was feared at the time) and was one at least hopes that it will result in systematic overhauls to how communications is handled within this industry.

In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan, especially those mourning the loss of loves ones and those still awaiting return to destroyed coastal hometowns in the northeastern prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, on the anniversary of the worst calamity in the country’s postwar history.


Thursday, 8 March 2012

XY Allies: 6 Male Feminist Heroes Worth Celebrating

My plans to write a post yesterday in honour of International Women's Day got derailed by the need to respond to the out-of-control KONY 2012 craze. But as it's still March 8 in the corner of the world where I live, here we go.

International Women's Day was first celebrated in 1911 on March 18 in in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, and was moved to March 8 in 1913 - a date that has held ever since. It is a national holiday in a number of places, mostly in the former Soviet bloc nations (due to the holiday's historical connection to the international socialist movement), and in the rest of the world is marked by events aimed at celebrating the tremendous breakthrough achieved by the female sex over the past century - and raising awareness of how far we still have to go in our society.

What is often lost in discussions about feminism and the status of women in society is that while women have indeed made tremendous strides, they have more often than not had to do so in the face of stubborn resistance and outright (and often violent) hostility from the other half of the species. To this day it seems that the impetus is always on women to break glass ceilings and scale new heights, but rarely is the onus placed on men to play an active role in dismantling these barriers. Girls are urged to "be all they can be" but you rarely hear boys being summoned to take on the patriarchy.

In our contemporary North American society, I often hear people - mostly men - make remarks along the lines of "feminism has run its course" and "women are no longer second-class citizens." These types of statements fly in the face of statistics that show that women continue to earn significantly less than men and be staggeringly outnumbered in corporate boardrooms and the halls of political power. In the meantime, sexism still runs rampant in popular entertainment, from mega-douchebags like Rush Limbaugh to Hollywood cockfests in which women are relegated to supportive, objectified sexpot roles.

So why do we have this bipolar world in which women are extolled to be astronauts, physicists, brain surgeons and heads of state while the troglodytic sexism of our popular culture shows little - if any - signs of abetting? In my opinion, it's because the responsibility for bridging the gender gap has been seen for far too long been placed solely on the shoulders of women. Case in point - of the International Women's Day blog posts you've read today, how many of them have been written by men? How many male feminist scholars and authors can you name real fast? There really aren't that many.

Fortunately, there are some male feminist icons out there. Usually, these are men who are not generally known for being feminists, although their actions and output suggest otherwise. This post is not meant to be a "What about the men?"-type whinge-fest. Rather, it's meant to be a call-to-action to men aimed at getting the point across that working towards sexual equality (notice that I don't say gender equality - see my February 5 post on this subject) is as much our job as it is women's job. And men looking for feminist inspiration among their own ranks could do worse than to follow these guys' examples.

1 - Henrik Ibsen

Source: Wikipedia
The modern-day Kingdom of Norway is regularly ranked as one of the best places in the world to be female, thanks to its relatively narrow gender wage disparity, state-sponsored childcare and overall culture of social progressiveness. It's tempting to suggest that Henrik Ibsen, Norway's premier 19th century playwright and poet, had a significant role in moving the country in that direction. His iconic plays A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler were both scathing critiques of 19th century European family life centred on petulant female protagonists, which made him a controversial figure in his time. Ibsen's feminist consciousness stemmed very much from personal experience, namely a real-life female friend who ended up being publicly disgraced and confined to an asylum - and served as the inspiration for Nora in A Doll's House.

2 - Jean-Paul Sartre

Source: Question Everything or
Die Ignorant (Tumblr)
The philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter and political activist best known as the father of French existentialism is also one of the greatest male allies the feminist movement ever had. As the longtime common-law partner of renowned feminist author and theorist Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre proposed marriage to Beauvoir, which she rejected out of a personal objection to the construct of marriage. The end result, however, was a long and mutually beneficial relationship that gave Beauvoir time to earn an advanced academic degree, join political causes, travel, write, teach and take both male and female lovers (the latter of whom they sometimes shared). In the end, Sartre's quiet, steady and at the time socially difficult support of Beauvoir may have been his single greatest contribution to social change.

3 - Ridley Scott

Source: Movieline
British-born Hollywood blockbuster craftsman Ridley Scott may not come quickly to mind when asked to name the leading feminist figures of today, but consider his film output over the years. His big breakthrough picture was the 1979 sci-fi-horror masterpiece Alien, which gave the world Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver), who remains the gold standard for tough-as-nails intergalactic female ass-kickers. Since then, his output has included Legend, Thelma & Louise and G.I. Jane as well as movies like Blade Runner and Gladiator which, while not female-centred per se, still feature prominent and memorable female characters. More recently he has assumed the role of producer for the wonderful CBS legal-political drama The Good Wife, arguably the most feminist show on TV at present - with some of the most compelling female characters we've seen in a long time.

4 - Hayao Miyazaki

Source: Toonpool
Japanese manga artist and anime film director Hayao Miyazaki is considered by many to be the greatest living animator. He also deserves recognition for being one of the world's most dedicated feminists. With the notable exception of his breakthrough 1979 film The Castle of Cagliostro (featuring that beloved rogue Lupin III), virtually all of his films have centred around female characters, most notably Nausicaä of the Valley of the WindMy Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle. Miyazaki's feminist outlook stands out in a film genre replete with derogatory portrayals of women, and indeed Studio Ghibli President Toshio Suzuki has publicly referred to the director as a "feminist" for his mold-breaking female-centred work.

5 - Kurt Cobain

Source: Bowiesongs (Wordpress)
Amid the machismo and misogyny that has long been part and parcel with the rock world, the late Nirvana frontman stood out as a welcome exception. A troubled soul and a difficult human being to say the least, Cobain was also an ardent feminist - and an early supporter of the nascent 'Riot Grrl' punk scene that was brewing in Olympia, Washington at the same time that Nirvana's fame was skyrocketing. Riot Grrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna (formerly of Bikini Kill, now with Le Tigre) famously described her longtime friend as an "angry young feminist" and his feminist sentiment was clearly apparent in songs like 'Rape Me', 'Polly', 'Pennyroyal Tea', 'Breed', 'About a Girl' and 'All Apologies'. Had addiction and mental illness not taken this pioneering pro-feminist artist away from us at such a young age, one wonders what he might have achieved in combatting the sexism that still prevails in popular music.

6 - José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero

Source: Reuters
Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was in power for seven years between 2004 and 2011. While his reputation was tarnished by Spain's economic implosion following the global financial crisis, he is perhaps to be best remembered as one of the most passionately feminist male political figures of modern times. A self-described feminista, Zapatero made headlines at the start of his second term in 2008 by appointing the first ever female-majority cabinet in European history and succeeded in pushing through tough anti-domestic violence legislation, liberalizing divorce laws and legalizing same-sex marriage. The result? While Spain's economy continues to be in rough shape, the country he led for seven years is now ranked among the top countries in the world for gender equality. Not bad for a place where until as recently as the 1970s women were barred from serving as witnesses in court or opening bank accounts by themselves.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

PHONY 2012: 9 Reasons Not To Support This Manipulative Meme-Du-Jour

On April 20 you might just wake up to find Joseph Kony all over Toronto.

By the time you read this post you with no doubt have already seen the latest viral video phenomenon, KONY 2012. In case you've missed it, the video is part of a human rights campaign gone that has ratcheted up millions of YouTube hits, trended like wildfire over Twitter and has drawn thousands to to its Facebook page

The subject of Jason Russell's now-viral film is Joseph Kony, the notorious Ugandan warlord and leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Established in 1986, the LRA has carried out a violent bush war in the northern part of the country with the stated aim of overthrowing the government and establishing a theocratic state centred on the Ten Commandments.

That Kony is a reprehensible figure is not in any doubt. Since the start of this armed conflict, the LRA is accused of abducting some 66,000 children to serve as child soldiers (or sexual slaves) and has displaced over 2,000,000 people in northern Uganda as well as in neighbouring South Sudan and the Central African Republic. Since 2005, Kony has been indicted with no less than 12 counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement, and rape, with a further 21 charges of war crimes include murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, inducing rape, and forced enlisting of children into the rebel ranks.

Yes, there's no doubt that Kony is a bad man. Nevertheless, this viral campaign, which pledged to bring this wanted war criminal to justice by the end of this year, is a deeply problematic affair. Admittedly, I was taken in for about the first ten minutes, although I found the transparent manipulativeness of it to be grating from the start. But by the end, I was deeply suspicious of this campaign and did some further digging. The following riposte on the always irreverent blog Jezebel offers a less than flattering perspective on the tactics of the campaign's mother organization, Invisible Children. Here, however, I will focus on the cause in question.

My sister, Valerie, is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University in Illinois who specialized in post-conflict resolution and reconciliation in Africa - in places ranging from Uganda to Sierra Leone to South Africa. As something of an expert on the LRA conflict, she kindly filled me in on the conflict, which, admittedly, I knew very little about 24 hours ago.

I'm not going to get into how transparently manipulative the filmmaker's promise to his young son that he would capture Kony by the end of the year is, or, for that matter, the fact that Rush Limbaugh went on record defending the LRA last year when Obama committed 100 special forces troops to the region to help the Ugandan army pursue Kony and his thugs. But here here are a nine facts to consider before you leap onto this online bandwagon:

1) There's nothing 'new' or 'invisible' about this conflict. Joseph Kony has been at or near the top of the International Criminal Court's most wanted list for the better part of a decade, and anyone with any knowledge of African political affairs of the last two decades is already well aware of him.

2) The footage of Kony and the LRA used in this video is extremely dated, mostly at least a decade old.

3) The internally displaced people (IDP) situation in northern Uganda has been essentially over since the Ugandan military pushed the LRA out of the country and into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo and CAR. Kony himself is believed to be in the CAR currently, not in Uganda.

4) As Valerie eloquently put it, awareness is not the problem. The problem is FINDING him. And to suggest that an arbitrary date such as the end of 2012 is feasible for tracking down and capturing this fugitive is absolutely ludicrous. It took the US military nearly a decade to find Osama bin Laden following the US overthrow of the Taliban. It took even longer for the Serbian special police to capture Ratko Mladić, the former Bosnian Serb commander and the infamous 'Butcher of Srebenica', in a country far smaller than either of the places where Joseph Kony is likely hiding.

On that note, it is worth noting that Uganda's military, a far more professional and well equipped outfit than it was in the 1980s, has been searching for Kony for years, and that Uganda's northern neighbours (South Sudan, the DRC and the CAR) are among the world's most dysfunctional and lawless countries, making finding Kony at least as daunting a task as finding Osama in the anarchic mountainous region spanning the Afghan-Pakistan border was.

5) Contrary to what this video suggests, Kony and the LRA pose no existential threat to the people of Uganda at present. The LRA has been expelled from the country and Uganda is today one of the more stable and economically prosperous countries in the region. Granted, Uganda does have lingering human rights issues, not the least of which being President Museveni's constitutional tinkerings and repression against political opponents, but as we've seen in Russia lately, this is hardly a strictly African problem. The picture painted of Uganda as a lawless basket case of a country was accurate 30 years ago when the country was still recovering from the murderous regime of Idi Amin, but it's in no way reflective of the current state of affairs there.

6) The video is completely black and white and makes no mention of the Ugandan army's own atrocities, both within its own borders and in its neighbouring countries. A Human Rights Watch report from 2005 noted that "The Ugandan armed forces have failed to prosecute or otherwise meaningfully discipline soldiers and their officers responsible for abuses in the north." This, if anything, is the untold story of the LRA conflict - not Kony's atrocities.

7) The video states that Kony and his forces have no ideology other than his own desire to consolidate power. In fact, the conflict has deep roots in ethnic strife. Kony's own Acholi people briefly enjoyed a privileged position in Uganda under the rule of President Tito Okello, and the conflict began following his ouster by current president Yoweri Museveni. As such, the LRA enjoyed early support from Kony's fellow Acholi, a long marginalized ethnic minority in Uganda.

8) Perhaps most troublingly, the video seems to call for US military intervention in Uganda to locate and capture Joseph Kony. Given how successful such intervention has been in Afghanistan and Iraq, do we really think this is a good course of action in what has been a chronically unstable part of the world for decades? Moreover, so many of the problems that have bedevilled this region have resulted from foreign armed incursions across borders, not the least of which being the enduring tragedy of the eastern DRC, where soldiers from neighbouring countries have taken rape as a weapon of war to previously unheard of levels.

In fact, President Obama did commit US troops to the region to assist the Ugandan army in tracking down Kony in this ever-restive region. But as we saw in Afghanistan, no number of troops in a region like this guarantees quick results in hunting down wanted fugitives - especially when they have friends and influence among cross-border co-ethnics.

9) There are other conflicts in the world that strike me as more immediate than this one. Joseph Kony is an exiled and marginalized figure with little remaining influence. Why is Mr. Russell not, instead, campaigning for the capture and indictment of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad? Why is he not focusing his attention on tyrants such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang or even Museveni himself, whose most recent 'election' was marred by charges of voter intimidation and violence? I'm only asking.

In sum, this viral campaign strikes me of having all the hallmarks of 'slacktivism' - wherein an international cause celebre is embraced in a brief frenzy of online activity, which is all-too-quickly abandoned. Pursuing war criminals is a wholly admirable goal, but one that takes incredible longstanding resolve. The late Simon Wiesenthal devoted a lifetime to hunting down Holocaust perpetrators, and the organization he founded is still in hot pursuit of the remaining Nazi war criminals believed to still be alive. Bringing Joseph Kony to justice is no less of an undertaking.

In the meantime, if you want to help people who have suffered human rights abuses, get involved with Amnesty International. Or volunteer at your local refugee centre. The Mennonite Centre for Newcomers here in Edmonton is always looking for volunteers. And helping out refugees here in Canada does indeed pay off. The latest issue of Alberta Views featured a very uplifting story about former refugees from South Sudan who came to Alberta - only to eventually return to their native country following its declaration of independence in May 2011, bringing with them the skills and expertise that this painfully poor and vulnerable young country will need in order to survive and grow its economy.

There are so many better ways of helping further the cause of human rights than to support temporary online crazes. Far be it for me to pooh-pooh people's wholly laudable disgust vis-a-vis despicable figures like Joseph Kony and their desire to do good. I just wish people would be a little more questioning of what they see online - and do their homework.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

If Fictional Characters Conducted SWOT Analyses

One of the first things they teach you in any public relations program is how to conduct a SWOT analysis. For those of you unfamiliar with this cornerstone of strategic planning, SWOT is a handy acronym that stands for Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats. In a nutshell, it's a very helpful way of identifying the internal and external factors that stand to either help or hinder you in pursuit of specific organizational goals.

For marketers and crisis communicators, the SWOT analysis is the equivalent of the periodic table - an essential tool without on which the rest of the communications planning process depends. It is used in creating recommendations during viability testing and is also an invaluable tool in crisis management planning. It's a disarmingly simple rubric, one that strikes me as being just as applicable to personal predicaments as to organizational issues.

Just how applicable is the SWOT to personal situations? Consider the dilemmas faced by the following fictional characters - and imagine if they had incorporated this analytical approach into their strategic planning processes.

"Okay, boys, here's our strategic plan."
Case #1 - Snow White

Once Snow White had retreated to the forest and been taken in by the seven dwarves, she had successfully bought herself enough time to draw up an impromptu strategic plan for dealing with her evil stepmother who was in hot pursuit. Her end goals were straightforward enough: evade capture and death at the hands of the wicked queen and marry her Prince Charming. Having established this, her SWOT chart would have looked something like this:

  • I'm the frickin' fairest of them all! Even the queen's lousy mirror says so!
  • Prince Charming is definitely into me.
  • I've managed to evade capture - so far.
  • So far the queen's assassins have proven to have the brains of celery.
  • I got myself some protection.
  • I may be the fairest of them all but I'm certainly not the brightest of them all.
  • I'm not particularly good at taking care of things myself.
  • My 'protection' consists of men who are only three feet tall and subject to union-mandated working hours.
  • If I can hold out long enough the prince will find me and all will be well.
  • If I can off my stepmother - or get the prince or the dwarves to do it, I'll be queen.
  • My stepmother is evil, tenacious as hell and won't go down without a tremendous fight.
  • She's also a master of disguise, which with me not being particularly bright is a bad combination.
Had Snow White sat down and gone through this process rather than frolicking around the forest picking buttercups, she might have saved herself a lot of unpleasantness. As it happened, however, she would not have known that her trump card was the ability to survive a fatal fruit-induced poisoning by way of a kiss from her true love. Snow White proved to be the fairlytale equivalent of the Exxon Corporation - capable of surviving even the most botched crisis management 'cause, well, we need that happy ending.

"Damn it, that was my texting hand!"
Case #2 - Luke Skywalker

While Snow White is clearly a case of failed strategic planning that could only be salvaged by Deus ex Machina intervention by Disney's happy ending industry, Luke Skywalker presents a more fascinating case. Consider his quandary upon escaping his near fatal battle with Darth Vader on Cloud City, a duel that cost him both his good hand and his blissful ignorance about his family lineage. While beaten up and demoralized, Luke was still alive - and like Snow White had bought himself enough time for some planning.

Luke's SWOT analysis probably would have looked something like this:

  • I've got Jedi powers out the wazoo!
  • I've had training from the two greatest Jedi masters of all time.
  • I'm a kick-ass X-Wing pilot.
  • I'm friends with the toughest SOB's in the galaxy.
  • If all else fails, I can always take my dad up on his job offer to co-rule the galaxy.
  • I just lost my fighting hand - and my lightsaber.
  • I quit school before graduating - and may have lost Yoda as a reference.
  • My best friend and trusted ally has just been frozen in carbonite and has been shipped off to Jabba the Hutt as a wall decoration.
  • My daddy issues are just getting worse - and he's still kind of, well, evil and probably doesn't have my best interests in mind.
  • Prosthetics have come a long way. Hell, my dad is half artificial and he still managed to kick my ass.
  • That lightsaber-making tutorial I took a while back is certainly going to come in handy.
  • I can save Han Solo from Jabba - and after what I've just been through, dealing with an invertebrate crime lord with no legs shouldn't be too challenging.
  • I can always go back to Dagobah for more training.
  • As least now I know the truth about my father. I can better prepare myself psychologically for our next confrontation.
  • I've heard rumours about a new Death Star. That's not going to make things any easier.
  • Yoda's not exactly getting any younger.
  • I'm pretty sure Princess Leia is my sister - and we totally smooched on that ice planet. I really hope that nosey medical droid didn't tell anyone!
Looking at this breakdown, it seems clear that the SWOT analysis was part of Luke's Jedi training, shoehorned somewhere in between swinging from trees and telekinesis. When he shows up on his home planet of Tattooine ready to take on the Hutt, he's clearly a man with a plan - and he executes it perfectly.

But it's not just the heroes who can benefit from a good strategic plan. Had more fictional villains taken this approach, their villainy might just have triumphed.

"I'll SWOT you my pretty!"
Case #3: The Wicked Witch of the West

The Wicked Witch of the West is an unfairly maligned figure. A foul-tempered, misanthropic witch to be sure, she still had far more reasonable aspirations than most fictitious villains, namely to avenge the death of her sister - and reclaim those snazzy red shoes. Once Dorothy sets off on the Yellow Brick Road in the company of her three ridiculous companions, the witch knew it was only a matter of time before the girl and the stolen shoes reached the all-powerful weight-loss guru wizard. But she still had time to do a quick SWOT analysis, which would have looked something like this:

  • I'm a witch, dammit! I can fly on broomsticks, turn people into toads and all that crap.
  • I can summon flying monkeys, which, believe you me, comes in handy in situations like this.
  • I'm not encumbered by the same pesky ethical standards as that annoying, goody-two-shoes Glinda.
  • Dorothy's esteemed entourage are lacking in the brain, heart and courage departments.
  • Youthful good looks are definitely not on my side, and for a female fairlytale character this isn't good news.
  • Having 'Wicked' in my name is definitely a disadvantage.
  • My shoe obsession and anger management issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
  • My flying monkeys aren't always the most effective goons. What I wouldn't do for a gang of football hooligans or something!
  • I'm deathly allergic to water. Don't ask.
  • Dorothy and company are still a long ways from Emerald City - and I have flight on my side. I am a witch, after all.
  • I can always threaten to drown her dog or something. She's a sensitive thing.
  • If it comes down to a court case, I'm confident that evidence will point to Dorothy having killed my sister with her house and then callously stolen her shoes.
  • Whatever happened here, I could always reinvent myself in a revisionist novel and Broadway musical.
  • That douchebag Oz really doesn't like me, and Dorothy's cutesy routine and her little dog will win him over for sure.
  • Did I mention the whole being deathly allergic to water thing? I still haven't come up with an antidote to that.
In a SWOT analysis, the idea is to leverage your strengths so that they counter your weaknesses, and do the same with your threats and opportunities. Unfortunately, in spite of her best laid plans, the Wicked Witch of the West's last and most crippling weakness proved to be insurmountable. Barring some sort of advanced water-shield, no SWOT analysis in the world could have pointed to a solution to this problem. Sometimes the best solution really is to be nice to everyone and not make a fuss when people steal your stuff. Especially if you can be killed with a bucket of water.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Amazing Power of the Words "Thank You For Your Message"

I was recently forwarded an excellent article by Business Insider managing editor Jessica Liebman entitled 'The Number One Mistake People I Interview Are Making These Days'. That mistake? Not sending a follow-up email thanking the interviewer for the interview. As Liebman explains, not sending a thank you message after an interview ends up inadvertantly sending the message that you're either ambivalent about the job in question or you're disorganized and forgot about following up. Either way, it goes without saying that this is not a message you want to be sending to a prospective employer.

This article, however, got me thinking about the broader power of the words 'thank you' within the context of the PR profession. As a professional communicator, I consider it my job to response as promptly as possible to emails. Much of the time it's a two-sentence response along the lines of "Thank you for your message. I will be getting back to you shortly." In exactly ten seconds I've managed to acknowledged that the person's message has been received, thank them for it and communicate my intention to follow up on the matter. And as a bonus, the word 'shortly' is nicely ambiguous, meaning that it's now up to you whether it means 'in ten minutes' or 'by the end of the week'.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a communications professional is when people don't take the trouble to do this. As PR people, we are in the business of encouraging two-way communication, and by not taking ten seconds out of your day to respond to email messages you are hindering that process. When I send an email and don't get any sort of response, my default assumption is that either I typed the wrong email address or that the person I'm writing to has left the organization, or something else along those lines. It's always very anticlimactic - and irritating - to find out that Person X did indeed get my message but gave no acknowledgement to that effect.

Beyond simple courtesy, there are any number of good reasons why a quick thank you message is good practice for anyone working in a communications capacity. Here are my top five reasons:

1) It's easy and it only takes a few seconds.

2) It generates goodwill on the part of clients, stakeholders and inquiring publics - and shows what an awesome communicator you are.

3) It helps perpetuate two-way symmetrical communication, which is the goal of any decent PR professional.

4) It buys you time by saving you the trouble of responding to numerous pesky follow-up emails.

(Note: You may still get pesky follow-ups, but if you've already communicated your intentions, you've done your job as a communicator.)

5) It helps keep you organized.

This last point is an added benefit of sending a quick note of thanks in response to a request. In my experience, you're far less likely to forget to do something when you've taken the trouble to state your intention of doing it. It's usually best to have a personal routine whereby you follow said thank you emails with a note on a whiteboard, a post-it note on your computer screen or a new 'task' in your Outlook - whatever be your aid-to-memory of choice. Procrastinating on responding to an email is a great way of ensuring that whatever it is you have to do doesn't get done, meaning heaps of unnecessary stress a week or a month down the road.

In sum, if you want your work as a communicator to run as smoothly as possible, always respond to emails with a quick acknowledgement. Phone messages are a somewhat different matter, requiring a bit more planning and time, but there's rarely any excuse for not responding to an email as soon as you receive it. The same also applies to social media inquiries, the whole point of which is to facilitate near-instant two-way communication.

In the meantime, I would like to thank Nikki Van Dusen (@nikkivandusen) for giving me the heads up on the Business Insider article. And to everybody else, thank you in advance for reading - and if you have any inquiries about anything related to this blog (or anything else for that matter) I will be getting back to you shortly. Seriously.