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Foot-in-Mouth Quotes & Soundbites
By George Merlis Thursday, May 21, 2009

Last week we posted some noteworthy soundbites and direct quotes from the media and analyzed why they were effective.  In addition, we added a few foot-in-mouth quotes and soundbites. The kind of statements that are mortifying when they appear in print or are broadcast widely. I call these breaking into jail quotes and it seems they have nearly universal appeal; there appears to be great entertainment value in seeing a spokesperson become a mis-spokesperson.

So here are a few more examples of Breaking Into Jail quotes:

Bowled Over
As polished as he is, President Obama is as capable as Vice President Biden of breaking into jail (although far less dependable on that score.) On the Tonight Show on March 19th, discussing his inept bowling game, he proved to be comedically inept, too:  “It’s like -- it was like Special Olympics or something.”   The president realized he’d slammed a cell door behind him almost at once and he got on the phone to apologize to Special Olympics top guns.  The lesson here is when you are dealing with the media, leave comedy to the comedians. To twist an old Edward R. Murrow quote: Just because your voice now reaches halfway around the world, it doesn’t make you any funnier than you were when your voice could only reach halfway down the bar. (Substitute “smarter” for “funnier” and you have the Murrow original.)

Ronald Reagan, too, was celebrated as a masterful communicator and misfired as a comic when he was president.  Asked for a microphone check before one of his weekly radio addresses, Mr. Reagan said, “Well, I’ve just outlawed Russia.  The bombers are on their way.”

Let ‘Em Eat Cake
The Marie Antoinette Award for jail breaking soundbites goes to Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. In the aftermath of the L’Aquila earthquake, Berlusconi in a German TV station interview said of the thousands of quake victims, newly homeless and  living in tents: “Of course their current accommodation is a bit temporary, but they should view it like a camping weekend.”

But Wait, There’s More......

The outcry was immediate and intense, so Berlusconi decided to make amends by inviting some refugees of the quake to live in his mansion outside Milan.  That offer revived the controversy that erupted some time back when the prime minister received permission to double the size of his Milan-area estate without going through the usual permitting process.

Pride Goeth Before The Fall, Las Vegas Division
“This is the sort of project God would build if he had the money.”  -- An anonymous MGM Mirage executive describing the casino firm’s $8.6 billion CityCenter development on the Las Vegas Strip.  That bit of hubris was expressed before a sour economy and a tangle of nasty lawsuits stymied the project and sent MGM Mirage careening toward bankruptcy.

That Explains It All Department
Rep. John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, is being investigated for steering government funds toward favored contractors.  He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “If I am corrupt, it is because I take care of my district.”
The Flip Side of Breaking Into Jail, here are a couple of noteworthy quotes from recent news stories:

Ron Pollack, Executive director, Families USA, an advocacy group seeking wider health coverage, speaking of Medicaid, which covers poor children, but -- in most states -- not able-bodied adults: “In 43 states, you can literally be penniless and you’re ineligible for Medicaid, so for these populations the safety net is more holes than webbing.”  A very effective word picture.

Radio talk jock Michael Savage, known for his angry radio diatribes against Hispanics and Muslims, on being banned from entry into the United Kingdom for being a messenger of hate: “My first thought was, damn, there goes the summer trip where I planned to have my dental work done. My second thought was, darn, there goes my visit to the restaurants of England for their great cuisine."  Having played to two stereotypes in two sentences, he went on to add: "My views may be inflammatory, but they're not violent in any way.”

And, Finally....

The New York Times scored a major coup by getting an interview with a leading Somali pirate -- a man responsible for hijacking some 25 ships.  But the pirate, Abshir Boyah, told the newspaper he’s thinking about a career change since there is pressure at sea from an international armada of naval vessels and on land from fundamentalist Muslim warlords.  Boyah made clear which he fears the most, telling the Times: “Man, these Islamic guys want to cut my hands off.”  An effective word picture, if ever there was one.

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Design Sponge launches Biz Ladies Series
By Carleigh Lowe Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Personally, one of my favorite blogs to read is Design Sponge. Which is why I am thrilled that they just launched a new series called Biz Ladies, where business owners can get advice, share experiences and connect. Every Tuesday there will be a new post featuring experts, artists, designers, shop owners and professionals.

Check out the first post in the series by clicking on the link below:

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Innovation In Tough Times
By Carleigh Lowe Friday, May 15, 2009

I recently saw the results of a survey conducted by InnovationLabs called, "Innovation in Tough Times". One key question they asked that got me thinking:

What specific tip would you give your fellow innovators to improve their innovation efforts during tough economic times?

Some answers to this question from the survey:
• Hang in there and keep pushing forward, because it's innovation that will turn this
economy around.
• Be open, be critical and never stop trying.
• Difficult times create opportunity.  Try to focus on where things are going, not where they are
• Focus on all three types of innovations- Product, Process and Management....Then assign priority to innovations based on expected tactical and strategic results

Support your fellow innovators by sharing your own tips, let us know your answers to this question in the comments, we would love to hear from you!

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Noteworthy, Quoteworthy and Foot-in-Mouth Statements
By George Merlis Thursday, May 14, 2009

Want the media to use your agenda in their stories?  The key is expressing your message points during interviews and news conferences in extremely compelling language.  You want the reporter to think, “I gotta use that,” or “I couldn’t say that better myself.”  When those thoughts flitter through a reporter’s mind, it’s almost a guarantee that she is not going to paraphrase you, but is going to use your words in her print, online or broadcast story.

The way to make a message into a “gotta use that” quote or soundbite is to use grabbers: word pictures, analogies, quotations, comparisons, startling statistics and “st” words (first, last, best, worst, biggest, smallest, etc.).

There’s another category of “gotta use that” language; and that’s the irresistible foot-in-mouth quote.  A classic is President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” assertion, which he made in a news conference at the height of the Watergate scandal.  No one had asked him whether or not he was a crook; he just introduced that startling defensive response on his own because.... well, I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know why he did it.  Nonetheless, I have a name for the unprompted introduction of a negative into a media encounter: Breaking Into Jail.

I’ve compiled a collection of recent quotes and soundbites that are either noteworthy, quoteworthy or good examples of foot-in-mouth statements:

Foot-in-Mouth Re: Executive Compensation

About three weeks ago news outlets revealed that in the first quarter of the year, banks and investment houses had salted away billions for executive compensation -- despite the financial crisis and the fact that they had received huge taxpayer loans.  Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas van Praag delivered this justification: “We need to be able to pay our people.”  The New York Times pointed out that the firm had put aside $4.7 billion for compensation in the quarter, amounting to some $569,220 per employee.  That number, of course, may not reflect reality because it would prevail only if the $4.7 billion were divided equally among all employees -- executives, assistants, go-fers, etc.

But wait, there’s more.  Goldman Sachs was, at least, profitable in the first quarter of ’09, so had less to apologize for.  Morgan Stanley lost $578 million in the same quarter. If you happen to be a Morgan stockholder your piece of the loss was 57 cents a share.  Still, Morgan put aside $2.08 billion (yes, that is a “b”) for compensation. If you subtract the $578 million loss from $2.08 billion set-aside you get -- a profitable quarter!  Justification for all this came from Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer, Colm Kelleher, who was quoted in the Times as saying, “The number of fat cats making loads of money is much less than you think.”  Now a word picture is always effective in turning a statement into a “gotta use that” quote, but the CFO of a bank calling himself and fellow executives “fat cats?”  THAT’S breaking into jail.

AIG Executive Bonus Backlash I

After it was bailed out by the federal government, AIG paid out $160 million in executive bonuses.  That yielded some extremely quoteworthy material.

This exchange, worthy of a 19th Century English novelist’s pen, highlighted a  March Congressional hearing. Representative John Lynch (D., MA) to AIG Chief Executive Officer Edward M. Liddy: “This is like the captain and the crew of the ship reserving the lifeboats, saying to hell with the passengers.”  That was an effective enough word picture, but Mr. Liddy then set Lynch up for a verbal coup de grace.
Liddy: “I take offense, sir.”
Lynch: “Offense was intended, so you take it rightfully, sir.”

AIG Executive Compensation Backlash II

Senator Charles Grassley (R. IA) on the AIG executives who received those bonuses: “I would feel a little bit better toward them if they’d follow the Japanese example and take that deep bow and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.”   It was a highly-effective and universally-quoted soundbite, but then the senator backed off the suicide part of it.  (Note: In the aftermath of the dust-up, some AIG executives did resign, some returned part or all of their bonuses and one wrote a completely non-apologetic, self-justifying op-ed piece in the New York Times. I can find no record of an AIG executive committing hara-kiri.)

You Auto Buy Now

Few remember this, but back in the ‘fifties recession the Eisenhower administration latched onto a campaign started by Cleveland automobile dealers, urging Americans to buy cars as a way to stimulate the economy.  The campaign had election-style buttons which read, “You Auto Buy Now.”   Those buttons seem quaint when stacked up against the dire straits of the global automobile industry.  Here are some good quotes about the current situation:
Maud Olofsson, Sweden’s Enterprise Minister, on her government’s refusal to bail out ailing automaker, Saab: “We are not prepared to risk taxpayers’ money.  This is not a game of Monopoly.”  Game of Monopoly is a good grabber, a word picture.

A veteran GM worker on the mandate for his employer to come up with a reorganization plan in 60 days and for Chrysler to form a joint venture with Fiat in 30 days: “What we’ve worked for, for 25 years, can get gone in 25 days.”   A comparison or implied comparison makes for an effective grabber.

A Chrysler assembly line worker on prospects for the contract his union signed two years ago: “They want to go in and carve it like a turkey.”  Another good word picture which turned a simple point into a “gotta use that” quote.

The prospect of a Fiat partnership with Chrysler, yielded several good quotes.  Here’s one from Fiat’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne:  “We’re not doing this because we’re good Samaritans.”

Max Warburton, an analyst, came up with a word picture to describe the challenge facing Fiat: “It’s a huge management gamble, It will be enormously difficult to make it truly functional. It’s a moon shot.”

And Senator Bob Corker (R,TN) used another grabber technique -- a quote -- to make a point about Fiat and Chrysler:  “The U.S., through its citizens, through its banks and through its workers, is delivering a company with a bow tied around it to Fiat. Fiat isn’t bringing much to the table. I’d like them to have more skin in the game.”  “Skin in the game” has become part of the business lexicon, but the phrase is actually a quote.  It was coined by Warren Buffett to refer to high-ranking executives who demonstrate faith in their firms by buying stock in the companies they run with their own money. Come to think of it, that’s quote and a word picture, so Sen. Corker got a two-for-one grabber there.

Here is an interesting auto industry foot-in-mouth quote: Bob Lutz, outgoing GM Vice Chairman: “General Motors is dedicated to the removal of cars and trucks from the environmental equation, period.”  Sounds awfully benign, doesn’t it?  So why is this a foot-in-mouth quote?  Because any reporter who did a simple Google search would have come up with an earlier quote from Lutz and put the two together.  That earlier quote: “Global warming is a crock of *&$%.”

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Tips for Startups in a Down Market
By Carleigh Lowe Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Take a look at this video from of Seth Godin (business genius and author), he has some great tips for startups in a down market.

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