#AmtrakLive Journal Part 3: Plight Of The Selfie

I’ll talk more about the #AmtrakLive ride itself this week (the last in this series). But until then there’s a couple of things I wanted to talk about because they’re bugging the crap out of me involving Uber and Selfies.

 

1. Uber wants YOU to lobby the city of Austin to allow Uber to operate there. Currently Uber is operating in a quasi-legal state beyond the pedicabs you see out there for SXSW Interactive.

 

Now, I use Uber religiously. I don’t LIKE the company’s policies or politics, but over the years I had so many awful experiences with NYC cabbies that once I made the switch, I never went back. On average, it’s between $8 and $10 more than taking a cab, but the quality of the ride, the space you have to sit in (remember, I’m 6′ 4″), the free bottled water, and the professionalism of the driver is not something to be overlooked.

 

And in Los Angeles? Uber is downright vital to your survival and ability to get anything done because mass transit when getting around the city is concerned is awful. Kafkaesque doesn’t begin cover mass transit in Los Angeles.

 

That said, the surge pricing, especially if it’s deliberate, is BS. The NYC Uber Drivers also have reported problems with the front office. The kind they need to unionize to fix. The problems are kind of legion, but one driver best summed it up to me as “Having to go to a DMV in Hell”, so he and others try to avoid it at all costs. So the company may offer a great service, but if the drivers are talking Union and the company is (possibly) intentionally inflating prices, I have huge problems with them asking me to do any sort of advocacy for them until that stuff is resolved.

 

What does this have to do with #AmtrakLive or Amtrak itself? A lot. Because when I got off the #AmtrakLive train in Austin, I went to use Uber like I always do, and I was hit with a message demanding I take action to help allow Uber in the city.

 

Uh … nope.

 

There’s a huge difference between Uber and Amtrak. In some ways, if you pay your state and federal taxes, you have “ownership” in Amtrak. It’s your money at work, so if Amtrak comes to you and says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if we completed the tunnel under the Hudson River that would get millions of cars off the road, help protect our environment, and improve train speed and arrival times to New York’s Penn Station? Yeah? Of course it would! But we need your help” that would be ok.

 

You have a stake in Amtrak, whether you realize it or not. They’re asking you to care and be active about something you “own” in some way, and the thing they’re advocating for is a win for everyone, not just them.

 

(If you’re wondering, “Why hasn’t this been done already?” That’s because Governor Christie killed a similar project and threw everything into chaos. Not to be undone, his counterpart in NY went ahead with a new Tappan Zee Bridge without the train component because reasons. Seriously. Much like anything in New York State, nobody knows why anything really happens. It just sort of does, and then you get really angry when you realize how broken NYS’s government is before forgetting about it because it’s designed in such a way that no meaningful reform can ever happen, short of splitting the state into two. I honestly think, in my grandkid’s lifetime, you’ll see a bunch of states split into two for exactly this reason. My generation may be a lot of things, but we’re efficiency nazis with a do-it-yourself ethos. Also remember that, at some point Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. will become states because Puerto Rico now has the money for a referendum to become a state and they overwhelmingly voted in 2012 to indicate they wanted statehood. States usually enter into the US in pairs. So, “new states” is not something that hasn’t happened in a long time. It’s something that’s about to happen in our lifetime.)

 

Anyway … If Uber says, “Hey, we want you to lobby the city of Austin for us”, that crosses a line into, “Let’s help this wealthy, private company with kinda crappy policies expand their business.”

 

See the difference?

 

Yes. Uber is awesome. I love the service, but it’s also a private company that wants us to change the rules to benefit themselves. That’s not ok. Especially if those rule changes are done at the detriment of Uber competitors like Lfyt, Sidecar, and present taxi cab services.

 

Uber can hire lobbyists (something I’ve advocated they and other Shared-Economy companies do for a couple of years now) and do all the political work on their own. They don’t need you, they got the money. (And just to be clear here, I don’t sympathize with the cab companies and city governments giving Uber a hard time because, in most cases, they’re acting like greedy jerks too.)

 

Amtrak doesn’t have the money to do that sort of thing. It’s like the Postal Service. It’s a vital enterprise that’s historic while also being important to our future, but because it’s not sexy and exists as a detriment to private interests (Fedex, UPS, the airline and automotive industries, truckers unions) it has a lot of powerful enemies too. And because it’s not sexy, it’s easy to beat up on.

 

So, Uber, I like you guys a lot, but I also know a bunch of your investors and the kind of money you’re making. You’re not Amtrak, and you shouldn’t be asking people to lobby for you when you can do it yourself pretty successfully. If you were to change your policies, I’d reconsider. But until then? Ain’t going to happen.

 

2. I don’t watch as much prowrestling as I used to. I gave up on WWE because I feel like their new policy is to antagonize the audience that pays for the most stuff (PPVs, merchandise, tickets) at the expense of an audience that “maybe, someday” will pay for their stuff. DC Comics is sort of doing the same thing, funny enough. So this whole “No no the story is going somewhere, we promise” thing wore a little thin where almost every good story they had since 2011 or so has not panned out at all. Unless you guys like John Cena and Triple H. Then you have nothing to complain about.

 

Also: They continue to treat their women like garbage despite 40% of their audience being women and their stated effort to reach out to more Moms. They seemingly refuse to address this, although NXT (their Triple A of sorts to the WWE’s Major League), has a great women’s division. Unfortunately, they do a horrible job of introducing their women to the main roser (see: Emma, a beautiful australian wrestler who is incredibly awkward, dances poorly, and IS AFRAID OF BUBBLES. Somehow they reduced her to “This guy’s girlfriend” when introduced to the main roser. So, yeah, I’m out.)

 

WWE’s only other (nationally) televised competitors, TNA, is awful. It’s like they had a meeting one day and was like, “Let’s do what the guys in WWE are doing, but worse!” And since WWE is pretty terrible these days, you can only imagine what a variant of that awfulness done by a dime store variant looks like. They are also WORSE at handling their women then WWE is, most recently having, and I kid you not on this, a “Girlfriend in a Cage” match. No. I’m not joking.

 

Put another way, wearing a CM Punk shirt is about the extent of my fandom these days. But there’s this great phrase that comes from the world of prowrestling. It’s “getting over”. When you’re “over” with the crowd, they buy your stuff. If they buy your stuff, you get booked to do more high profile things. It’s a really simple concept that I like to use when talking about marketing. You want to get yourself, or the brand you’re working with, over, but not both. Because only one thing can go over per event. The second you try to wedge two things in there, it clouds the message that you’re trying to send and nothing stands out.

 

Which brings me to the selfies you might have seen during #AmtrakLive. You’ll notice I’m tagged in them, but I’m not actually in any of them. That’s because I have never taken a selfie nor want to be in one. I don’t hate them, but I’m not one of those “look at me and all the cool things I’m doing because I’m me!” guy. I’m more like a “One time I was invited to give a speech in New Orleans, and before I went on, I went to use the men’s room. Steve Forbes came over to use the stall next to me and ripped a giant, meaty fart. Then he turned to me and said, “I’m Steve Forbes. What are you going to do about it?” That’s the side of the fence I’m on.

 

(Note: Only part of that story is true. )

 

I rather tell you a funny story rather than go, “Look at me! Look at me! LOOK AT ME!!!!!”

 

So here’s my thing with the selfies, if you do it once or twice, it’s fine. Not a big deal. I don’t like them, but that’s just a personality thing. Any more than that and I think it starts to become at the expense of the thing you’re doing in an effort to get yourself “over”.  Like I said, that’s just how I see it. So, this is totally subject to interpretation and not a statement of fact.

 

But since I work with more than a few companies that organize events, I thought this was worth mentioning. If you get invited somewhere to an event, I always felt like the subtext was that you’d be there for the benefit of the event and not yourself. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I think, and when I see someone at an event trying to get themselves over, it rubs me the wrong way because I don’t think selfies help to advance the cause.

 

I think it’s worth throwing out there to all event organizers, not just the ones I work with,  that you should always be on the lookout for inviting people who are going to show up to get themselves over and not you. Because having people like that around isn’t overly different from Uber asking you to do something for them with no benefit in return.

 

 

 

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#AmtrakLive Journal Part 2: Just Be You

I’ve been to LA three times now.

The first time Microsoft was spending a ton of money on a show hosted by Stuff White People Like’s Christian Lander. I was a guest on the show, and the only memorable thing that came out of that was that on the following week, I had my head shaved live on Justin.TV.

When I was out there I told them that if they could get the show to trend on Twitter, I’d shave my head. I kept my word. Little did I know how easy it is to actually get something on Twitter, and at the time anyway, the people at Twitter had the ability to manually make stuff trend. Amanda wound up doing the head shaving. Felicia Day, the guest on the show that following me, said I looked good bald. I don’t think she was being honest because I sort of looked like that really racist Wonder Woman villain without my hair (you know the one I’m talking about.) But. They, Crispin+Porter, was nice enough to bring me out there and I’m a man of my word. I wound up wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers hat until my hair grew back.

The second time I was here was last year. I was struggled with the early signs of heart failure, although at that point I thought it was just the flu. Or the kind of cold you get when you spend too much time on an airplane and haven’t figured out that the tray tables are absolutely covered in diseases. DO NOT EVER USE THE TRAY TABLES. Unless you have like, Clorox wipes or something, but even then, who travels with Clorox wipes in their carry on luggage? (And … could you even get through security with them? What’s that conversation like?). Anyway, it wasn’t the flu. It was the very beginning stages of heart failure, something that wouldn’t fully hit me until I was in Wales for the Do Lectures. So I spent most of my second trip to LA sick, and what little of it I do remember working on behalf of a movie project I was supposed to be working on.

(Don’t get me started on that movie. It’s the first and last time I believe one of these Hollywood types about anything without seeing something really, really solid and confirmed by at least three people I trust. That was one of those situations where, everyone believed what was being said, so nobody questioned it. Long story short, I felt like an asshole, and a lot of people would agree that I should because I fell for it pretty hard. Now I don’t really trust anyone until they’ve signed an NDA and a services agreement, especially if they’re from Los Angeles. Fool me once … )

Neither time, I got to do too much beyond go to Santa Monica Pier. So I intentionally skipped going there this time.

Where were we? Oh, right, #AmtrakLive. That’s tonight! And the reason I’m out here in the first place for the third time. This … was actually the first time I came away from LA with a favorable opinion of it. I’m still incredibly distrustful of people here (I don’t hold grudges, but I don’t forget anything either), but this was the first time I got a better look at the city itself, or cities to be more exact. The thing I hear most often from people that live here is that Los Angeles is like six separate cities that were sort of fused together. That’s pretty accurate. It’s not like Chicago or New York in that, although different neighborhoods may have different appearances, you still know where you are. Here if you haven’t been to Los Angeles before and you were dropped into any given location (except maybe Hollywood) you would think you were somewhere else. Miami is sort of like that too, but talking about Miami means talking about the state of Florida, and I’d like to keep this blog as positive as possible.

That’s something for you to think about. Not that Florida sucks, it does, but that Los Angeles isn’t a city in the way New York City and Chicago are cities. So when you approach marketing / PR in Los Angeles with a mindset of, “Well this thing worked in another big city, it’ll work here” you’ve already lost.

It won’t work here. The problem is that too many of us approach communicating with one another in such a way that we assume “If this is true for this person, it must be true for others”. Nope. It’s not. Everyone is different. That’s why these blog posts that have been popping up lately about “How To Pitch A Journalist” annoys me so much. It’s usually a journalist (or actually, a blogger, let’s be honest here) explaining to you “How things work now” and that “this is the way to pitch journalists in general”, when they’re usually wrong. Why? Because every journalist is different, and so for them to say, “I only want pitches by email and that’s how you should pitch reporters” is incredibly dumb because it’s not true. If you’re a tech reporter, getting pitched by email is the WORST thing that you could do because everyone emails you at all hours of the night. What works for one doesn’t work for another. Yet we still approach it the other way when the other way is totally wrong.

(The ironic thing is that we keep hearing about the age of personalization, right? Everything is personalized. Yahoo doesn’t want you to sign into their services with Facebook because, by logging in with your Yahoo! credentials, they’re able to better personalize the experience. You hear this all the time, but at the same time this is going on, you’ve got people out there giving advice on networking, pitching reporters, marketing in the city of Los Angeles, from a more general standpoint.)

That takes me back to #AmtrakLive. If I was a better man, I’d make a point to learn one thing about each of the people on the train and find a chance to recite it in such a way that isn’t creepy (because let’s face it, my generation is made up of excellent stalkers), and in a way that seems (and should be) thoughtful. But I’m not that guy. You should be that guy or girl. That’s how you handle events like this. That and smiling, lots of smiling. And trying not to say anything too controversial. Like how you think you could make a nice ceramic bowl and fill it with baby guts or something. I don’t know. Don’t be weird is I guess what I’m saying. Oh, and don’t talk about yourself. Like at all. Just don’t do it. It’s all about the person doing the talking, in most cases, that won’t be you. You only talk about yourself if you’re asked directly or if it’s applicable to exactly what’s being discussed. Otherwise? Shut up.

I’m not that guy. At least, not anymore. It’s not that I don’t need to be (I do), it’s just that I’m exhausted. I’m also so conditioned to people now asking me for stuff, and that’s ok, but it’s also made me not be proactive about engaging (legit engaging, not the BS engaging) with new people.  I’m the guy who wants to get coffee, sit quietly somewhere, and read a book. And if you want to come hang out with me? Awesome! Let’s chat. But I’m just not the guy to remember that one thing and then insert myself into other people’s conversations. Mostly because, well to borrow from Family Guy, doing that “insists upon itself”. It feels sort of rude to do.

So, my plan is to be myself, hopefully that’s mildly amusing to some, and then hang out quietly and chat with people that way.

Will it work? We’re going to find out in a few hours. But don’t copy me. That’s the point here. What I do isn’t what you should do. Same deal with comparing LA to Chicago or NY. It can’t be done. Everyone is different, every city is different, and that’s ok. You just have to realize

 

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