Here you'll find essays written on a variety of topics. Some of them contain practical advice and tips on public relations and marketing subjects. Others are more far ranging. 


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Bird of a Different Color

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

by Jim Rhodes

We have a celebrity in our neighborhood, and cars have been cruising slowly around the park in front of our house poking cameras with huge lenses out of the windows hoping to capture photos of him.

He is a bird. But not just any bird. He is a robin - but not just any robin.  He is an all-white robin – beak to tail, with only a few dark spots in his plumage.

I have done some research and have learned that the condition is called leucism (from the Greek word for “white”).  Leucism, I have learned, is caused by a lack of cells that produce melanin pigment in the bird’s feathers.  Many leucistic birds have white patches, but it’s rare to see one that’s totally white. Leucism is not the same as albinism.  A true albino normally has reddish eyes, due to the lack of normal eye pigmentation, while leucistic birds only have whiteness in their feathers.  Their eyes are black, like normal birds. Our bird is leucistic.

I have taken to calling him “Luke.”

We first spotted him last season, but he disappeared during the winter. He reappeared a few weeks ago, merrily pecking for worms with the other robins.

Leucism is not all that rare in the animal kingdom, but leucistic birds are seldom spotted.  That’s primarily because they don’t live long. Without their normal protective coloring they often fall prey to hawks and other predators. That’s why we were happily surprised to see him back in the neighborhood when the first crocuses of Spring poked their heads above the ground a few weeks ago.

We know he’s a male bird because of his behavior.  It’s mating season, and he is busy showing off for the female robins while chasing off the other males. He doesn’t seem to be aware he is different from all the other robins, and the females don’t seem to find him unattractive. According to my sources, that’s because robins attract mates with their calls and not their plumage. We’ve seen him flying into a neighbor’s shrubbery with another normally colored robin, so we suspect there may be a nest. The condition is inherited, and we are hopeful we may see some white baby robins soon.

Meanwhile, I am trying to figure out how I can become appointed as Luke’s PR agent. I have a comprehensive celebrity publicity program in mind – talk show appearances, product endorsements, the whole shebang.  Not to mention a major social media splash.  Including, of course, a Twitter feed in which Luke will tweet to his followers and fans.

Bits of History

Friday, November 22, 2013

by Jim Rhodes

 

 

 

I ran across a trivia question in an online newsletter the other day.

Question:  What is the name of half a Byte (4 bits)?

Answer: A half a Byte is called a nibble.

I wrote a note to the editor (who is an old friend).  Here is what I said:

Re your trivia question … Maybe so in computerese, but colloquially four bits is 50 cents. When I was young we always called a quarter two bits.

You may be interested to know that term originated from the common practice of subdividing Spanish gold coins in the colonial era.  Apparently at a time when smaller-denomination coins were uncommon and paper bills were rare, people would take a knife and cut the large coin into eight equal pieces (bits) to make change.  Hence the phrase “pieces of eight.” As the phrase moved from Spanish into American English, one bit became one-eighth of a dollar.

You may have heard the old ditty, “Shave and a haircut, two bits.” Or Roger Miller’s hit song “King of the Road,” where he sang about an “8 by 12 four-bit room.”

 

My friend wrote me back to say she thought I have too much time on my hands.  I suppose she’s right.

 

 

Short and Sweet

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

by Jim Rhodes

My blog this month is a musical offering for the season. 

I invite you to sit in a comfortable chair near a window with the autumn sun filtering through the golden leaves, and take a listen to this: September Song. The music was written by Kurt Weill.  The singer is his wife Lotte Lenya. Maxwell Anderson wrote the lyrics. They were Jews and fled to America from Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

For once, I have nothing else to say.

Half Empty or Half Full?

Friday, September 13, 2013

by Jim Rhodes and Frank Soccoli

There are indications that the shipping industry is starting to emerge, however tenuously, from the doldrums of the last six years, but signals are mixed.

Moore Stephens reported in June that shipping confidence has risen to its highest point since 2010. On the other hand, in the same month, Moody’s Investor Service issued a negative report for shipping, predicting continued depressed freight rates for at least the next 18 months due to persistent overtonnage in most segments. Moody’s estimates that aggregate industry Earnings Before Income Tax, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) for publicly held shipping companies will decline by 5-10 percent this year.

There are disturbing signs of a new wave of speculative ordering of new tonnage, propelled by bargain-basement prices from shipyards desperate to fill slots and a reported influx of capital from private equity sources. A primary driver for the surge of orders is the improvements in fuel efficiency of new ship designs over older ships.

The fall into receivership of STX Pan Ocean, South Korea’s largest bulk ship operator, is a sign of the times. It’s not likely to be the last. Several other shipowners are said to be insolvent and teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Interestingly, there are reports that certain German banks are offering high-interest “payday loans” against the scrap value of older vessels as a last resort for distressed shipowners who have exhausted their working capital and are unable to obtain financing to continue operations.

The delivery of the first Maersk giant Triple E 18,000-teu containership, coupled with rumors that other container lines are designing even larger ships, into a market already overcrowded with too many ships chasing too few cargoes, may be a big gamble that will pay off enormously in terms of market share, but will certainly not help ease the persistent overtonnage.

So whether you see the shipping glass as half full or half empty, one thing is certain. Shipowners must reduce the cost of operating ships to survive in a business environment characterized by anemic shipping demand, persistent overtonnage, low freight rates, rising fuel costs, tight credit from marine bankers and high costs of environmental compliance to meet new regulations.

The first place to start is with fuel, which accounts for 40-50 percent of a vessel’s operating costs. As the Emission Control Areas (ECA) continue to expand, that percentage is likely to rise even higher due to the higher cost of low-sulfur fuels. As a result, there is growing interest in the potential of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative marine fuel. So far, there are fewer than 50 ships running on LNG, but the number is expected to grow, given the significant price differential between LNG and low-sulfur diesel. A recent DNV study projects 1,000 LNG-fueled ships to be in service by 2020. This of course assumes a worldwide LNG bunkering infrastructure, which at present does not exist. To be sure, there is plenty of activity in this area, especially in the Baltic and Great Lakes, where routes are fixed and relatively short, but there is a long way to go before LNG fuel will be readily available at seaports worldwide, along with adequate facilities to store the fuel and bunker ships.

In these unsettled times for shipowners, the 2013 SHIPPINGInsight Fleet Optimization Conference will convene in Stamford, Conn., Oct. 23-24. This will be the second annual conference, which is devoted to examining the challenges, solutions and best practices for reducing operating costs and improving ship efficiency. The agenda includes a solid list of moderators and speakers, including senior executives from 15 major shipowner companies. Given the intense industry focus on the potential benefits of converting to LNG, a dedicated LNG workshop is being added to the Fleet Optimization Conference this year. It will take place immediately following the main conference, and is open to all registered delegates. The workshop will take the form of a less formal round-table discussion including shipowners, classification societies, regulatory bodies, engine manufacturers, bunkering companies and other industry experts to take a deeper look into the issues, challenges, solutions and best practices for LNG propulsion. It will be led by Greg Trauthwein, editor of the Maritime Reporter and chairman of the Fleet Optimization Conference.

You can view the full agenda and register online at www.shippinginsight.com.

About the Authors

Jim Rhodes is president of Rhodes Communications, Inc., a public relations and marketing company specializing in the maritime industry. Frank Soccoli is president of Soccoli Associates LLC, a maritime industry consultancy. They are co-producers of the annual SHIPPINGInsight Fleet Optimization Conferences. Maritime Reporter and Maritime Professional are the exclusive media sponsors for the conference.

Court is in Session

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

by Andrew Knecht

For me, watching television is relaxing, entertaining and sometimes, contrary to popular belief, educational. I’m not talking about quiz shows such as, “Jeopardy!” or “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?”  I’m talking about TV shows that when you look close enough, can provide good lessons and tactics that can be used every day in my work in the PR industry.

Suits,” a prime-time drama on the USA Network, features a well-respected corporate lawyer named Harvey Specter and his aspiring associate, Mike Ross. Together, they represent one of the most prestigious law firms in New York City, Pearson Hardman. Harvey, known as, “the best closer in New York City,” doesn’t lose his cases. In the pilot episode, Harvey is tasked with hiring an associate from a pool of cocky Harvard grads.

After a dazzling display of his photographic memory, complemented by his wittiness and a pinch of charm, Mike was hired. But it isn’t until the end of the first season that the managing partner, Jessica Pearson, learns that Mike never completed college.  Harvey knows that Mike doesn’t have a law degree, but keeps the secret under wraps. The funny part? Jessica decides to keep Mike on at the firm anyway.

Aside from Mike’s fictitious degree, there are several elements that Harvey and Mike use to win their cases that can be easily applied to my work in PR.

Harvey and Mike have to analyze their client’s personal account of the charges filed against them. They examine the facts of the case, the relevant laws, and the nature of the prosecuting attorney to decide the best course of action that will win the case. In PR, we have to analyze our clients’ goals and plan the best way to achieve them and to gain positive exposure in the process. Harvey has to connect the pieces to a very large and complicated puzzle. Then he hopes those pieces don’t change. But when they do, he has to adapt. In the PR world, when a client changes their mind on what information they want disseminated or how they want a certain advertisement to look, we have to adapt to those changes. That’s just the nature of PR business.

On “Suits,” it’s important for Harvey and Mike to stay ahead of their competition. With any case, Harvey begins by researching the prosecuting company, much like we do with new clients’ competitors. For Harvey, it’s more about gamesmanship. His research reveals the prosecuting attorney’s legal decisions in previous cases that they are likely to use again, against him. In PR, our research helps us to gauge the clients’ current position among others within the industry. We also have to educate ourselves and become familiar with the clients’ products and services and the long-term goals of their CEOs so we can provide effective PR services.

But it doesn’t matter who the prosecuting attorney is or what the charges are. Every case requires Harvey’s best game. Every case requires him to think strategically because the other guy will be strategic too.

And the game doesn’t end with the clients either. It also keeps the colleagues on their toes when associates and managing partners compete on their own levels to earn higher positions of power or coveted cases. They play mind games with each other as they do simultaneously with the lawyers they’re trying to beat in the court room.

In the world of Pearson Hardman, the opposing attorneys will question people uninvolved with the case. They try to throw Harvey off his game by making unannounced visits to the Pearson Hardman office, in hopes that he will let his guard down. They also use newly discovered information about the case before Harvey even knows it exists. The prosecuting attorneys will use every trick they can to gain an advantage. So how does Harvey respond?

With more creativity. He works with Mike to find every possible loophole to keep his client out of prison. He has to, or else he loses. And Harvey doesn’t lose. With each case, he uses context clues from interrogations with clients and prosecution lawyers, documentation from previous court cases and a little outside-the-box ingenuity to engineer victories for his clients in the courtroom.  He takes black and white law and finds the rest of the rainbow in the fine print and I can’t get enough of it.

PR work calls for us to come up with creative solutions to our clients’ problems, and within their budgets. We constantly have to find creative ways to promote their services that appeal to their audience.

Now I’m not naive. I’m sure much of the plot is made to look more ostentatious than real life would reveal. Many of the tactics used on the show may not actually be utilized in our due process. Or maybe they are. I don’t know, and I also don’t want to be in a position where I find out. But my point here is that “Suits” has helped me to strengthen my critical thinking skills and has assisted me with training my brain to think more outside-the-box. These skills come in handy because in the P.R. industry, sometimes our clients need us to produce a seemingly impossible project that calls for detailed analyses, a little gamesmanship and a lot of creativity. To that I say, bring it on.

 

Speed at Sea

Thursday, August 29, 2013

by Jim Rhodes

 

 

I think the fastest I have ever traveled in a boat in the open ocean was about 40 knots, when I was captain of a U.S. Navy 65-ft patrol boat in the 1980s. Definitely a white-knuckle experience for me.

 

I was fascinated to watch the recent attempt by our friend Chris Fertig to break the speed record from New York to Bermuda. Chris took time off from his day job at Maersk Lines Ltd to set a new record for the Bermuda Challenge last year, only to see it broken by an Italian speedboat a month later. This August he got his revenge and recaptured the record.

 

Chris, with his navigator Tyson Garvin, sped out of New York harbor in a custom-built 39-ft. open-cockpit boat early in the morning of Aug. 21 at better than 70 mph (about 60 knots). They were forced to stop after the first hour to replace a broken propeller with one of their two spares, then resumed their course at a slower speed to reduce wear and tear on the props. They cruised the rest of the day at about 55 mph (47 knots) until, about 150 miles out of Bermuda, the other propeller broke. They were faced with a choice of dropping out of the challenge or undertaking a scary underwater propeller replacement in the pitch dark. No quitters, they made the repairs. Since there were no more spare props, they elected to reduce speed again to a sedate 40 mph (34 knots) the rest of the way. Still, they easily set a new record of 15 hours 48 minutes. That’s over an hour faster than the Italian team. If I’ve got the arithmetic right, that’s an average speed of better than 49 mph (42 knots) for the 780 mile run. Read about it at the Bermuda newspaper, The Royal Gazette.

 

Additionally, two of our clients played a role as sponsors of this exciting event.

 

DeLorme supplied one of its new-generation inReach SE personal satellite communication devices for GPS tracking, two-way text messaging and (if needed) automatic SOS. DeLorme relayed the boat’s position coordinates every 10 minutes to a map display on the Boating magazine Bermuda Challenge website.

 

DigiGone supplied a suite of hardware and software that enabled live video streaming from the boat while underway. DigiGone’s unique compression technology made it possible to push high-quality video through the boat’s satellite antenna using very low bandwidth of less than 200 kbps. For those readers who don’t follow this sort of thing, that’s a remarkable achievement. The live video feed was also shown on the Bermuda Challenge website.

 

This meant that families, friends, followers and (importantly) their ground support team could follow their progress across the map and watch them visually on an Internet connection throughout the voyage.

 

Chris is not resting on his laurels. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t make another run at the Bermuda Challenge record. He says the boat is capable of 84 mph (better than 72 knots) for extended periods! At that speed, they could shave another five hours or more off the record. He’s also eyeing a round-the-world speed record attempt in another boat that he has on the drawing board. You can read more about their enterprise at the Offshore Endure website.

 

Trade Publishing Blues

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

By Jim Rhodes

Barista Uno, who comments dailiy on a range of issues concerning the world maritime industry at the excellent Marine Café Blog, recently posted a question on the LinkedIn group site Maritime Writers and their Audience

“The maritime press is suffering from too much uniformity in content and style. Even the story headlines seem like templates. What's gone wrong?”

I filed the following comment:

I believe a big part of the problem is cost-cutting by publishers, who have cynically decimated their editorial departments, making redundant their most experienced editors and journalists in favor of lower paid staff. Or, in many cases, not replacing them at all but spreading the work around the remaining staff.

“This means the overworked editor relies more heavily on freelancers, many of whom are their former colleagues. These freelancers contribute to other journals, and some are also doing PR for clients at the same time to keep food on the table.

“Many of the marine journalists have moved around from publication to publication, and have worked with or for each other at one time or another. There is very little new blood coming into the business, and who can blame them?

“Since the great majority of maritime trade journals have no significant paid subscription base, they are wholly dependent on advertising. As advertising revenues dry up, expenses must be cut, and the first place to start is usually the editorial staff.

“I hope none of my friends in the marine journalism business will take offense at what I have said. There are a lot of fine writers with a great depth of knowledge of the industry. I believe they are all doing their best to keep doing what they love in an extremely difficult environment. I have heard horror stories about freelancers, who formerly occupied the editorial desk at major publishers, and are now waiting months to get paid their paltry pittance for articles they were commissioned to write.”

Let me just add that I have been privileged to know and work with some extraordinary editors and journalists, not only in the maritime trade press but in other industries as well. Most of them spent time at sea. They could be hard taskmasters, and they ferociously protected their readers from anything but first-rate journalism. They could be pretty tough on a PR guy like me, and they often made me work hard to get it right if I wanted to persuade them to cover a story. But I fear they are a dying breed and soon to become an extinct species altogether. The realities of trade publishing are stark and the marketplace is relentless.

See what others had to say in response to the question here.

 

PR Nightmare

Thursday, August 01, 2013

By Jim Rhodes

 

Let us all pause for a moment to breathe a little prayer for the poor unfortunate souls who populate the communications department at Carnival Cruise Lines. By any measure, Carnival has had a perfectly awful stretch of bad news.

In February, Carnival Triumph was in the news following an engine room fire that left the ship adrift and its passengers stranded for days at sea without air conditioning, lights or working toilets. Photos and video of the tent city on the main deck were all over the media.

Eleven days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave a failing grade to Carnival Fascination in a surprise health inspection.

The following month Carnival Dream suffered a generator failure while in port at St. Maarten and had to fly the passengers back home with apologies and refund checks.

The U.S. Coast Guard released a report July 15 on its investigation into another fire that occurred on Carnival Splendor in 2010.

On July 22, it was reported that five officials at Carnival’s Costa subsidiary had been sentenced to jail terms in Italy for crimes related to the January 2012 grounding of the Costa Concordia in which 32 crew and passengers died. At this writing, the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino faces charges of manslaughter in an Italian court.

Now we learn that passengers have been attacked by flesh-eating bacteria in the hot tubs when cruising on Carnival ships. According to a news report on July 22, a passenger aboard Carnival Paradise contracted folliculitis in December 2011, and narrowly escaped amputation of a leg. More recently, two other passengers filed suit alleging they were infected by an antibiotic-resistant strain of staphylococcus during a voyage in May 2012 on Carnival Fascination. Their lawyer has filed for a class action suit and is seeking the names of other passengers infected from whirlpools on Carnival ships.

Whew!

At least, when I settle down to cocktail hour after a particularly stressful day at the office, I can take solace in the knowledge that it could be whole lot worse. I could be Carnival’s PR spokesman.

 

The Conversation Prism

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
By Valerie Myers 

 

  

This is cool and visually interesting so I just wanted to share!

Developed in 2008 by Brian Solis, The Conversation Prism is a visual map of the social media landscape. It’s an ongoing study in digital ethnography (the study and systematic recording of human cultures and cultural phenomena) that tracks dominant and promising social networks and organizes them by how they’re used in everyday life.

 

To learn more and to get free downloads of the prism, visit the creator’s blog at BrianSolis.com.

 

 

 

One for the Textbooks

Monday, April 15, 2013

By Jim Rhodes

In an earlier lifetime, I worked for a company whose CEO’s marketing strategy when confronting potential negative publicity was, If you can’t fix it, feature it.” I had occasion to remember that adage recently when I read about how one company successfully averted what could have been a PR nightmare.

The company is Maersk Line, one of the world’s largest operators of containerships. In June 2012, one of its vessels, Maersk Norwich, steamed into Rotterdam with the carcass of a dead fin whale draped across its bulbous bow. The 12-meter long whale had apparently been scooped up by the ship when floating on the surface somewhere in the North Atlantic during its voyage from Santa Maria, Columbia, and the Dutch port.

The story was reported in the Dutch media, and photos of the dead whale were soon popping up on Internet news sites. 

Maersk Line has a reputation for publicity shyness in the maritime industry, and one would have expected the company’s PR department either to ignore the story in hopes that it would fade away unnoticed, or to issue a formal press statement acknowledging the incident and disclaiming responsibility.

 

Instead, the company decided to leverage their extensive social media audience of more than 800,000 followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms to share the stories with pictures across the online community. Maersk’s Facebook site said simply and convincingly, “This image, of a noble and elegant creature, accidentally struck down by a Maersk Line vessel deeply affected us all.” The Facebook article related that there was a strong possibility the whale had been dead before it was hit by the ship and that the carcass had been sent to a zoologist in the Netherlands for study. It went on to explain in detail the measures taken by Maersk ships to avoid striking whales. The company even created a photo album page on Pinterest under the title, “In memory of the Maersk Norwich whale,” and encouraged its followers to post their favorite pictures of whales.

Jonathan Wichmann, who manages Maersk’s social media, was quoted as saying, “The story of the whale was actually the most popular in terms of the number of users who shared it."

"You get nowhere by covering up in a crisis,” said Wichmann. “Do not be afraid to let go and share the negative.  In this way you regain control."

The strategy, it seems, paid off. A Google search of the terms “Maersk Norwich" and "whale" yields almost no negative stories, but lots of links to Maersk’s Facebook and Pinterest pages. “Maersk, the Whale Killer" became "Maersk, the Whale Lover."

 

Note:  I am grateful to the editor of IHS Fairplay Solutions, one of the leading international maritime technical trade publications, for bringing this story to my attention with an editorial in the March issue of the magazine.