It’s been 38 days since the BP oil spill. And I've noticed that even as politicians and BP executives continue to struggle over the details of the spill and how to stop it, other groups -- conservationists, greentech companies, green-energy lobbyists, policy makers -- are using this contamination as a catalyst for conversations about what the spill teaches us and what we can do better.
The contamination of the Boston water supply last month offered a similar opportunity to think about the bigger issues raised by a single event.
On Saturday, May 1, one of the first hot days of the year, I was enjoying a standard brunch with friends., Because of the heat, we were all swigging back multiple cups of water. Until, that is, the restaurant was raided by several police officers demanding that the manager remove all tap water from the tables. An odd, modern day prohibition? No—severe water contamination and lots of it. A 150-foot long pipe had ruptured, causing more than 265 million gallons of contaminated water to enter Boston’s water supply. All in all, the contamination impacted 2 million individuals across 38 municipalities. Consequently, a three-day water ban was placed over the city of Boston, leaving citizens without access to fresh water. It made me realize how much we take fresh water as a given. While we may be a population obsessed with bottled water, ultimately, we know that we can turn on a sink and have fresh, pure water on demand. More than a billion are not that lucky.
Boston has historically had one of the purest supplies of drinking water in the country. So much so that it is one of only five U.S. cities exempt from the Environmental Protection Agency’s filtration requirement. Yet, during the ban, we could not brush our teeth, wash dishes, water our animals, wash laundry or drink from the supply upon which we’ve become so mindlessly dependent. I say this with a tremendous sense of guilt, but in many ways the past couple of days have been otherworldly.
Coffee shops, ubiquitous throughout the city, ported handwritten signs, declaring they could no longer serve coffee. Citizens bemoaned this inconvenience and businesses like Dunkin Donuts lost an average of $13,000 per day by store. Convenience stores were stripped of their bottle water supply as citizens bulked up their coffers, unsure of when the ban would be lifted. Ironically, for myself and so many, it was the small things that I missed the most, like grabbing a cup of coffee on the way to work. Which made me realize all the more how privileged we are to have such access to clean water. The biggest inconvenience I suffered was having to prepare coffee at work. I knew the water would come back. That it would be clean, safe and drinkable.
While the water ban was more or less a three-day adventure for Boston, it’s a day-to-day reality for a huge percent of the world. The IRC estimates 1.1 billion, or one in six, people rely on unsafe drinking-water sources on a daily basis. This inequity, resulting from an inadequate access to water supply and the consequent impact on sanitation and hygiene, leads to the death of more than 1.5 million children each year. Pure and simple, clean water should be a guarantee for everyone.
It’s evident that a united, global effort is needed to guarantee this immense need is met. As an individual, where do you start? A great place to begin is to educate you on the realities. World Water Day (which passed on March 22) offers a rich array of resources to learn about this inequity and mobilize. The Water Project, which works to brings clean water to Africa and India expands on these resources and offers a donation option.
Imagine if those three days were a lifetime and bottled water was not an option. For some, that day is already here.
It’s time to act. What will you do?
Notes from the Intern's Desk:
Early last January, the first day of the spring semester found me trudging through the snow at 7:45 a.m. under still-glowing street lights. As I tread carefully over ice patches and wished I had worn more layers, I reminded myself not to complain about the undesirable class time. I needed to embrace the dreaded 8:00 a.m. lecture, as it was now sure to be included in many of my future schedules. Having just declared journalism as my minor, I was on my way to my first class in the program. When registering a couple months earlier, I had mentioned to my advisor that all the journalism courses seemed to be held during unfortunate time-slots (translation: very early). She laughed and said, “They do that on purpose, you know, so that you’ll get used to it. Journalists have to get up early. The news doesn’t sleep, and now, neither do you!”
Little did I know I would soon be informed my early-rising was for nothing. Though freezing and groggy, I was excited. This was the beginning of my journalism career, whatever that might be. Settled in the lecture hall, I admired my professor’s classic reporter looks: tweed suit, round glasses, gray mustache, pen tucked behind the ear. He turned to face the class and smiled: “Welcome to ‘Interpreting the Day’s News.’ I guess if you’re sitting here, you enjoy writing enough to study a dying profession.”
I know he was joking, but only partly, and I wasn’t amused. College students don’t generally take kindly to being told that their field of study is useless and going to leave them unemployed. The discouragement continued throughout the semester: we all dragged ourselves in twice a week at an ungodly hour just to be told we were wasting our time. On top of that, my advisor constantly told me that the journalism and communications programs were too similar for me to minor in one and major in the other. By April, I was over it. The next semester, I concentrated on my other minor, Spanish, and planned to drop journalism as soon as I found time to fill out the forms.
Exactly a year after that first journalism class, I started interning at Metis. Here, I have seen for myself that journalism is not dying at all, but is, rather, in transition. The viability of print journalism is certainly dwindling, but the internet offers plenty of outlets, from forums to blogs to actual online news sources. And in the world of public relations, there are countless tasks that require journalism skills: writing press releases and news alerts, pitching to reporters, editing for clients and coworkers, etc. Seeing its usefulness firsthand began to bring back my enthusiasm for journalism, and the final push I needed came from Metis employees who assured me of how important their journalism degrees are to their success in public relations. My fall class schedule now includes another journalism course.
There is no question that journalism is evolving. Readers have discovered exciting new ways to consume news, and print media is now an endangered species. But there will always be a need to know what’s going on in the world, and getting that news out to consumers still requires journalism- just in different forms. As a Metis intern, I’m learning to think outside the proverbial box when it comes to spreading information. Blogs, videos, and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are often overlooked as information-sharing tools, but we can’t afford to fear experimentation with multimedia. Only those with creativity and willingness to try new media forms will survive the journalism revolution.
Give it up for Cleantech once again! One of our partners, FullPower, Inc., a full-service consulting firm that provides services for the renewable energy storage market, announced today that it is launching The Advanced Energy Storage 2010 Conference and Exposition (AES2010), a conference for scientists, engineers and manufacturers who are developing and deploying green energy generation and efficient power distribution solutions for communities worldwide. AES2010 will take place October 12 -14, 2010 at the beautiful Catamaran Resort in San Diego, Calif.
FullPower, Inc. also is offering industry sponsorship and speaking opportunities that will address critical industry issues within renewable energy generation, smart grid, transportation, manufacturing and the development of advanced materials and nanotechnologies. Attending companies include: Sempra Generation, Ioxus, Inc. (Metis client), NessCap Ltd., Maxwell Technologies, EnerG2, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, Ballard Fuel Cells, Quantum Transportation, Dressler-Rand, Firelake Capital, ReliOn, UltraLife, PowerGenix, Axion International Power, IVUS, U.S. Army REDCOM and Institute for Transportation Studies.
We all know that consumers continue to look for ways to respond to limited resources, international security concerns and global warming, the demand for new energy sources continues. Therefore, that demand exists in each of the following event topics:
- Using advanced energy storage to distribute power when and where it is needed via a smart grid.
- Establishing new, cost-effective energy storage solutions to extend the range and performance characteristics of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.
- Addressing the potential environmental nightmare posed by the proliferation of portable electronics and the eventual need for extensive battery disposal.
- Identifying the financial sources available to promote the growth of clean technologies and green solutions.
To register for the event or inquire about sponsorship or speaking opportunities, go to www.fullpowerinc.com/AES2010.html. FullPower, Inc. and Metis look forward to meeting you there.
It happens often in the PR world. You write an e-mail pitch, you send it off and you sit there hoping you’re going to get a response back. Then, five times out of ten, you’re still waiting after three days, wondering why you did not get a response. You start evaluating your pitch and whether it really relates to the contact you e-mailed as much as you thought it did. But what if it isn’t the content in your actual pitch? What if the problem is as simple as your subject line?
In my last post, “What is the Real Value of Public Relations?,” I spoke about an experience I had working at a former agency that demanded business press for no reason. It was during this exact experience that I learned how a subject line could actually affect if or when someone would respond. We experimented daily with subject lines to get responses. We tried catchy, off-the-wall subjects to get feedback from our contacts. Some laughed or didn’t react, but, overall, we got a response. It was embarrassing, yet gratifying at the same time. Hey, you’ll do anything to help your client understand why their top contact won’t speak with them, right?
So, as I evolved in this PR profession, I’ve helped my teams realize that it’s more about getting to know your contact then thinking of a catchy, off-the-wall subject. From my experience and discussions with contacts, the crazy subject lines didn’t prove to be as worthwhile as they seemed at the time. I generally ask colleagues: Do your contacts respond to “Re:” or “Fwd:” or just your client’s name? Maybe. Do they respond when you paste in the title of a release or the trend subject about which you think they are writing? Probably not. The point is: You need to experiment - Find a pattern in your outreach, get to know your contacts, research them before you speak with them, provoke their interest through your subject line and get noticed.
Here are some additional tips from an online service called Mail Chimp, “Best Practices in Writing Email Subject Lines.” My favorites are:
- Avoid the words free, help, percent off and reminder
- Keep your subject line to 50 characters or fewer
- Keep the message straightforward and avoid using splashy promotional phrases, CAPS, or exclamation marks in your subject lines. Subject lines framed as questions can often perform better.
- Put yourself in your recipients' shoes. Don't sell what's inside. Tell what's inside.
So, instead of telling your manager that you can’t get an answer, think about what you can do to get that answer next time. It will help you and your contacts understand what you are pitching, and help you get the answer you’re seeking.