Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tweetering On The Brink

In a previous life as a journalist, one of us had an editor fond of yelling at offending reporters who failed to bring back a story: “There are no bad cities. Only bad reporters.”

Clearly, it’s an adage that applies just as aptly to public relations professionals.

Or at least that’s what came to mind when we read the intemperate – or should we just call it like we see it, stupid – Tweet sent by a high-ranking representative of the illustrious global public relations firm Ketchum trashing the hometown of a client that just happened to be global giant FedEx.


Apparently, James Andrews, vice-president of Ketchum Interactive Digital in Atlanta, engaged in the same kind of stereotyping that he’s fought against in his own career. Apparently, based on the behavior of one jackass in Memphis, he wrote off all of us as if he’s never encountered similar behavior in his hometown of Atlanta, the city allegedly too busy to hate (also too busy to discuss race relations honestly).

His lame attempt to explain how he essentially treated Twitter content as a spontaneous utterance only compounded the problem. We had images of Ketchum’s advice to a client in a similar situation, because we suspect it is “Apologize and ask for forgiveness.”

And the knee-jerk defenses by many who worship at the altar of social media was enough to inspire another stereotype – that they live in a Pollyannish world known for its naivete – but unlike Mr. Andrews, we’ll resist the temptation to tar everyone with the same brush.

A Couple of Things

There are two things that stood out for us as the dust settled: 1) Mr. Andrews’ bi-coastal background seems to have stunted his knowledge of Americana; and 2) Contrary to many in the blogosphere, the reaction about his comment wasn’t because it was an attack on Memphis but on FedEx.

First, as a former senior employee of Columbia Records portrayed as one cool dude who’s on the front edge of the digital frontier, Mr. Andrews needs a refresher course on how Memphis has changed world culture. From forms of music that became the beat driving the sexual revolution to entrepreneurial innovations that changed the lifestyles of all Americans – from motels to self-service groceries, from drive-in restaurants to the place where a radio station was programmed by African-Americans for African-Americans, Memphis has been seminal to contemporary culture.

As penance, we assign him to read, “Cities in Civilization,” a thick tome by the brilliant Peter Hall who distilled the story of civilization into the story of about two dozen cities over 2,000 years. And yes, one of them was Memphis, right up there with London, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris.

Missing The Point

Second, Mr. Andrews just flat missed the point about the local outrage following his Tweet. “I understand that people have tremendous pride in their hometown,” he said. In adding a comment that should be filed under the heading of “physician, heal thyself,” he added that he is “extremely committed to educating my clients and community on better ways to use social media.”

At this point, we need to admit mixed attitudes toward Twitter here. There is strong advocacy for the immediacy of its communications to friends during the day and for its ability to convey the feeling that we have a support network and advisers as our day unfolds. Meanwhile, there is the contradictory attitude that Twitter is the digital embodiment of a world too self-obsessed and primed for immediate gratification.

It makes for an interesting debate, but in the end, it’s not really what matters, because Mr. Andrews’ Tweet was the digital equivalent of killing an innocent bystander. In the end, his shot did not strike Memphis as much as it wounded FedEx. In criticizing Memphis, he perpetuated negative generalizations that the originator of global commerce fights to overcome every day as it recruits the best and brightest to its workforce.

The Real Memphis

As FedEx acknowledges, it is challenging to get the kind of workers that it needs to come to Memphis, but when they do come, they fall in love with the city. Over the years, the inventor of global commerce has learned that recruitment is more about selling Memphis than FedEx.

That’s because the vast majority of young professionals decide where they want to live before they decide where they want to work. In other words, Memphis has to be a magnet for what we’ve called the “young and the restless” in our talent reports for other cities. Unfortunately, Memphis – and most of the top 50 metros – isn’t on the list of cities attracting young college-educated professionals. Only about 16 cities are winning the competition for these knowledge workers.

Years ago, confronted with this recruitment problem, FedEx dissected its recruitment process and realized that potential employees saw little more of Memphis than the airport and the suburban Winchester/Hacks Cross area where the World Headquarters is located. Hidden from these prospective workers was the funky vibe of downtown, the great music being made by bands in Memphis right now, the rich African-American culture, the uncommon hospitality and friendliness of our people and the charm and “heart” of city neighborhoods.

Benefit Of A Doubt

To give Mr. Andrews the benefit of a doubt, perhaps he’s been trapped into the airport/world headquarters merry-go-round, and he’s not been acquainted with the fundamental essence of Memphis. While we often worry here about trends of our city and talk candidly about events that trouble us, here’s the underlying fact: we wouldn’t live anywhere else in the U.S. but here.

That’s why we appreciated so many people contributing hopeful resolutions and wishes for 2009 in the past two weeks. It’s not disturbing to us that some people disagreed with their opinions (or ours), but what is disturbing is that we have a worrisome cadre of people who seem to take pleasure in simply criticizing without offering solutions and berating anyone who dares to say something positive about our city.

There is so much right about Memphis. As we’ve said before, the most exciting and encouraging things going on here are from the bottom-up, change bubbling up from the grassroots, and new thinking spreading like a virus from self-organizing people dedicated to a better city.

Bruised And Beaten

Unfortunately, Mr. Andrews hasn’t met these people, and instead judges all of us by the worst one of us. But in trashing Memphis as the kind “one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here,’” he sent the message that all the people being recruited by FedEx that they are misguided if they even consider a job here.

That’s what so many defenders of Mr. Andrews seemed to miss. This wasn’t about our civic pride being bruised. More to the point, it was about someone who campaigned for FedEx’s business bruising their corporate recruitment programs. That’s why this isn’t about whether Twitter is a friendly aside or a casual comment to acquaintances, or whether it is personal opinion, and like all opinions, can have professional ramifications if people don’t agree with you.

In that regard, the mandate seems pretty simple: all of us need to think before you post.

Postcard For NYC

In closing, we turn to a Memphis expatriate blogging from New York. She said it well:

“I was not going to feel the need to actually defend Memphis…I was going to let it go the way of yesterday's news. But this morning, wending my way to the train, it all came over me anew. You see, recently I've made a concerted effort to be less of a cynic. I don't think my old contempts were natural; they were a pose of youth. The opening and softening of my opinions and sensibilities have been revelatory, quite pleasant. However, even I was shocked at the ‘softness’ of the thoughts occurring to me this A.M.: Memphians have poetical souls. Only poetically-souled people could love a dying city. The phrase ‘poetical souls’ was a particular surprise. But there you have it.

“Memphis is a tricky place. The crime rate is high, the gap between rich and poor enormous, the city government wicked and farcical. Much appears to be decaying about one, out of use, out of order, a lover struck with plague. But—partially because of, not in spite of its troubles—the place is full of human beauty and richness (if you don't trust the biased natives, just ask Jim Jarmusch or Cat Power). None of this artfulness is an accident. It is the product of the incredible highs and lows, near magical forces at work. It is the product of poetry, Memphian soulfulness. SOUL MUSIC!!!!! I may live in Brooklyn now, because it's where a young artist ought to be, but it's not for lack of love for my hometown or the glorious friends that I have there (Pillow and Alpha!). Look across this country and you will find so many places loved by poets, loved because of their inherent flaws and feats, downs and ups, loved without hope or promise. Where are you from, Hamilton Nolan? What do you love? Are you one of those people who only love clean, easy, hermetically sealed places? Soulless places? Harrumph!

“It would be pedantic of me to make a list of all of the great soul records made in Memphis, for there are many many many, but I will provide a snippet sampler (Otis at Monterey!”


Santo said...

SC, you win a "Live Where You Live" bumper sticker!

It can be easy to downplay (or even disparage) the importance of proclaiming civic pride; in the face of our very tangible problems, the very intangible concept of civic pride can seem impotent. Maybe an affront from an outsider without standing was necessary to help some regain perspective. (You can’t defend yourself without a foundation of self worth.)

Pride alone is not a solution. But if we expect anyone to work hard enough to come up with lasting solutions, we need to let people know that Memphis is worth fighting for.

As an aside, I overheard a breakfast table conversation this morning in which my 5 year old daughter was explaining to her little brother why “Memphis is the best place to live.” (I don’t believe in brainwashing my kids, so she knows nothing of the Live Where You Live campaign and we’ve not talked about civic pride.) She cited how “cool” our neighborhood is and how nice our neighbors are and how great her school is (Downtown Elementary), and added something about the all the cats and dogs. (Oh, and we have fairies that visit the backyard.)

Tom Guleff said...

I wish Twitter would fix/upgrade its application on finding folks to follow. It hasn't worked in several months.

Peggy said...

Wasn't it a bit hypocritical of FedEx to get so angry? After all, if Memphis and Memphians are so great, why isn't FedEx using ONLY Memphis ad agencies?

Anonymous said...

Well, since you immorally censored my last post because you didn't like what it said, which is pathetic, I will post again.

Hey that makes me YOU SCAPEGOAT. GET IT?

Three fingers pointing right back at you from your own hand.

All I asked for was a "List of What's Right About Memphis Right Now". Is that beyond your scope of producing?
You, like so many reality haters, like to posit that there are many things right about Memphis, then, never come up with what is right about Memphis in a readable form.
Your myopic veiwpoint about what is right about Memphis is WHY you can't recruit talent and scapegoating some guy on a blog, regardless of who he is or what he says, is pathetic.
You keep going to the past for advice on what to do in the future, you keep quoting the far past as current success. It doesn't play and you don't fool me and I live here. You sure aren't going to fool anyone outside Memphis.
If he wounded FedEx then they are already on dangerously shaky ground. Their leadership program should have been trickled down to the lowest employee, as it was designed to be and that was the recommendation BY THE DESIGNER OF THE PROGRAM, I guess they don't listen well either.
They just delete what they don't like to hear too.

The Real Memphis:

People who come here, recruits especially know darn well to look around, people want to come to Memphis, when they get here they look around ALL OVER and then they want to leave. My sister in law comes here regularly from England, she's a college principal and overees the investing and buying of other colleges all over the world. She's seen a lot of places god and bad, china India, she always goes all over the place to see what the places are about. She wouldn't be caught dead living here and wonders why we still do.
Fedex recruits are just the same, they hit the good spots, but what they SEE in hacks Cross, Hickory Hill, Winchester, Danny Thomas, South of Beale, parts of Uptown North, Hollywood Springdale, New Chicago, Jackson Avenue, Klondike, James Road, Chelsea Ave, North of Poplar near the main library, Macon Road, (I'll stop there but not because I don't have more ammo) is BLIGHT. It's a big turn off. If they've visited before it looks even worse.
Of course it can when someone takes action instead of paying lipservice. That would take acknowledgment of the problem, not censorship of any counterpoints of view.
From your deletion, I see you aren't even ready to do that. So we're all gonna suffer some more.
Maybe you should have thought before YOU posted.
As far as the blog from New York, Memphis doesn't make music like that anymore and hasn't for a very long time. The music it does make now, well, go get some CURRENT music and you tell me what inspired it.
For Memphis to move forward you have to let go of a past that's success was in the sixties and seventies. Elvis, Isaac, Aretha, BB, they don't live here anymore either. They are either dead or moved. That's over.
They don't exist in the future of Memphis.
More multiracial use needs to be made at Staxx Acadamy, it shouldn't be an exclusively African America place, Steve Cropper was not African American and he was a BIG part of Staxx, so was Estelle, and lots of other people.
Memphis ha a lot of things bigger cities also have but it hasn't taken care of the basics. Liveability, sustainability, and transportation, and crime reduction. It's all just a big joke at city hall.
Proclaiming Civic Pride is important but it will not serve as a substitute for for the aforementioned.
So get that list of "what's right about Memphis today" put together and maybe we can build on it, nebulous comments about what's right do not serve either.

Smart City Consulting said...


We didn't delete your last post because of its content, but because of complaints - and concerns - that you are doing nothing to contribute to a meaningful conversation. The main reason that we deleted your post was that we were just tired of the multiple posts that are essentially screeds about all that is wrong.

If you are so well-informed about all that is wrong with Memphis, please help the rest of us with some solutions. SCM is no blog of civic boosterism, but if Memphis is so dispiriting and cancerous to your life, we think you should look elsewhere for fulfillment, because the journey back for our city will be long and will require the best efforts of every one of us.

Finally, your request for a list of what is right about Memphis wasn't ignored. We just see it as ultimately uselfess, because clearly, you are fixated in your opinion and our list would make no difference at all.

We write often about what is right about Memphis (and about what is rong), and frankly, if you have to ask, you are just too disconnected from what's really going on here at the grassroots to appreciate our answer.

Finally, to your comment that we immorally deleted your post, we can only say that you have a strange definition of morality. The greater morality would be for you to be part of the solutions and not contributors to our problems and a malignant defeatist attitude.

At any rate, we appreciate your reading.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Anonymous said...

If he doesn't even know that great live music by current bands is all around us in this city, why should any of us listen to him?

He's just out of it. Ignore.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, we can all survive on live bands alone, brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Hey if you just have to delete my posts, you're not big enough to read them. Do me a favor and delete this one and the first one, then you can dog the guy in the post that you dogged unopposed, just delete them all.
I guess you'll be the only one coming up with solutions too, none of your cheerleader buddies are effective either.
Good luck and delete.

Able said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Able said...

Smart City—

Such thanks (and embarrasments) for your inclusion of my post in your discourse. My little essay was an account of homesick thoughts, a rosy surge of "patria!" from a remove (and from a little umbrage at Bluff City's glib Gawker dismissal). If I knew I would be entering into a conversation about solutions for Memphis's future, I might have cast aside the dreamy rhetoric. Hamilton Nolan's defense of this twitterer effects me as a member of this generation of Brooklyn-based neo-journalists, but Memphis certainly oughtn't to worry its proverbial head over his misplaced brand of "snark." In my new city, this sense of easy, cruel superiority-to-all-else is terribly problematic. When I walked to the train that morning full of lyrical love for Memphis, I was full of regret for my dually beloved New York and its own uncharming, self-harming provinciality writ large in new media.

I have an eye toward history and heritage—green tile roofs and STAX and every bit of the Pink Palace Museum. I have a deep, abiding love for Central Gardens, where I grew up. And Central High School and Memphis College of Art, what gave me diplomas. I'll be the first to admit that I led a charmed exisitence, among family and friends, friends who are family, on sunporches and under dogwood trees and in booths at CK's and the Buccaneer. Memphis is where I was a child and all of the remembered (or misremembered) bliss and mock-tragedy that that implies. Many apologies if I get soupy when I talk about it.

It is also where I became an artist; and though there is always something of the offputting colonialist in the artist's account of beauty, I do think that there is a great deal of worth in the aesthetic, personal, and political highs and lows, olds and news, ups and downs in my Memphis.

A better woman than I can mull the politics or forge solutions. I mull the aesthetics and poetics and just happen to love Otis Redding a lot.

Smart City Consulting said...


Thanks for keeping the faith from the Big Apple. You summoned up the words to describe the feelings that we have about this crazy, often dysfunctional place. But at the same time, we love the gritty, urban feel of the place, as well as the creative sparks that it ignites with regularity.

Keep in touch, and we enjoy your posts.

Smart City Consulting said...


We'll come up with a list of the 10 things we like about Memphis or the 10 things that are right about Memphis or whatever list you want. You come up with a list of 10 pragmatic, specific solutions to the problems of Memphis.

Anonymous said...

Zippy: Is that you?

packrat said...

I'll only address the point about the current music scene. It's alive and kicking and there is some really great music being made in this city in the here and now.....we have some serious problems, and I'm on record with many people as despairing about them sometimes, but there IS a lot of good happening here still....oh, and that guy who posted on twitter should perhaps not bite the hand that feeds him. Right or wrong in his "analysis", when you are employed by someone, you should not reflect poorly upon that person or business.

Amie V said...

Taking the chance of being classified as an artistic Memphis cheerleader with no substance here, but anonymous, I will say that I love this city, and contrary to all of your angst, and the problems that this city does face, there is a soul and spirit to this city that DOES inspire art in all its forms from visual to written to music. There are organizations and creative people all over this city trying to make a difference here, from cleaning up our rivers to improving the quality & safety of our neighborhoods and producing amazing art, so if you can't see that, and choose to wallow in negativity, why don't you do us all a favor and move and leave this 'shit hole' to those of us who love it enough to make it an even better place. And btw, I say this as a person who has lived in major 'cool' cities across the U.S. and Europe. There are problems in every city on the planet, so good luck trying to find a new home that doesn't have problems.

Aaron said...

Hear Hear Amie!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well I posted my list and I posted plenty of positives in my second DELETED post with the list. I do agree that one should not bite the hand that feeds it unless it is feeding it JUNK. I'm not saying that's what Memphis feeds us all the time.

I'm saying this ONE MORE TIME:

(Unless you are a whimp!)

Problems to fix are opportunities for GROWTH,
Only if you actually address the problems effectively!


Buncha drama queens.

Now you're dogging the other guy with the opinion you don't like and deleting pots you don't like, that's as deplorable as it gets.
I've already come up with my solutions and they go to the people who can do something about them, that's their most effective destination, not here.
You don't like being told that you have no listening skills, but, deleting posts only proves it 100%. I don't know why you did. Must've had a bad day. You robbed the people big enough to dig the gold out of what I wrote their opportunity.
Maybe this is the blog only for people who whitewash to what's politically correct?
Didn't used to be.
The music scene in Memphis is alive and well, Packrat, but, it's not the be-all-end-all of music scenes, but, it could be. I have solutions to bring that about, and they will be presented to who is where they will be effective. No complaints about Memphis artists here.
Arnie, you called Memphis a "shit hole". You see, SCM deleted my posts, they only left the ones that they wanted to leave. They deleted two really descriptive posts and never did I refer to Memphis in the negative.
I agree, there are many organizations and individuals working to get Memphis back together, I'm one of them. I know plenty of them, however, if they take things in a negative way they were not posted that way, it's on them. I won't take your "Willy Herenton advice" of get out. In fact, you better pray I don't! You'll move before I do because you think you live in a "shit hole" and you will eventually give up. Maybe the advice column job isn't for you.
There is a soul in the people, whether they recognize or acknowledge it or not. It's there.
So, to all the people working on Memphis who have been having a very difficult time getting the least little thing accomplished and are bewildered at the unresponsive government, things are already changing. I have and had plenty to do with it, I made sure of that. I went where I needed to wrote effective letters and spoke to who I needed to all over the country sometimes in person, you should too.
There are some STELLAR players in leadership positions. They are only hampered by the incumbents from the last election.
Now is the time when we need large numbers of people to show up and break through the bottlenecks that keep our city from making and taking effective actions. We need demonstrations and pickets.
Peacefully done!
There is blight and it's an opportunity. Will it be squandered on the rich? Will it be used to train the once "entitled" to fish?
Utilities are unaffordable by most of America. Thats an opportunity, will it be squandered is government subsidy or be used to train the once incarcerated?
Neighborhoods that were once beautiful are unsustainably designed and faltering. That's an opportunity. Will it be squandered on soulless real estate speculation?
Will it be used to train, unite, depolarize, educate, uplift, and enrich?
Will it be used to build a model of "how to"? Will Memphis write the book?
Not if it thinks it already has, with bad stats to disprove it.
Think "woodshed".
Lets just hold off a little while on our sales effort and recruitment until next year's stats come in, you may be pleasantly surprised. You may have real proof and something to be proud of and fuel for further renewal of spirit. Cheerleading is great when you really have something to cheer about and no issue you'd rather avoid soooo badly that you would delete posts. Lets not try to sell where we are now to unsuspecting people who will leave disappointed and tell their tale outside.
Lets get some good un-sandbagged stats and then begin the campaign. It will work at that time. This is not yet that time.

To the person who made some remark about whether I know there is good live music in Memphis, you don't know crap about me, you just show your ignorance, don't do that. It 's not a solution.

Memphis is a broken road, we are commanded by the Lord to remove the obstacle for the man behind us and the children, not to leave it littered and call it "flavor".

Anonymous said...

Aime V,
The journey to "actually getting those projects successfully completed" is what's valuable, not "trying".
The point where your rear end is in the air but your knees are bending is not the "trying" area when attempting to sit down or stand up.
You either are doing it, or you are not.
There is no in between.
If you say you are yet it never actually gets done you become a liar, if it gets done, you have integrity with your word.
Too often in Memphis we settle for trying and failure, adulation and acrimony on a press junket instead of success.
That will have to end now if anything is going to be left of Memphis soon.

Anonymous said...

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Buy Cialis said...

Why you don't use your Twitter account to do this stuff, it's a little suspicious!