Forgiveness (or Who Framed Roger Maris?)

As a child, my great love was baseball.  By the time, I entered 4th grade, I had played one year of Little League and was mildly interested in watching the Red Sox on Channel 38, as long as there was not a Godzilla movie on Channel 56.  Though that year, I stumbled across a baseball book that had been abandoned by one of my older brothers (who were 9 and 15 years my senior).

The book was gloriously full of  history and statistics, up until the 1961 season. 1961 is one of the most-hallowed seasons in baseball history. There is a lot written about that season, but if you’re curious, just  ask  Billy Crystal. (Spoiler alert: Roger Maris breaks the home run record.)

My family moved to the Orlando area when I was a teenager and I became  less interested in baseball, because I no longer played it, and there was no “home team”.  I still liked baseball, but it had lost its obsession status.

Though when I started college, it was intriguing  to see pictures of Roger Maris’ record-breaking swing in a few bars around  Gainesville:

Roger Maris Hitting 61st HR

(Source USA Today)

I later found out that Maris owned and operated a regional beer distributor.  I periodically saw his sons wheeling kegs into the restaurant where I worked.  Though I never thought that much about beer distributors until I was called on to change kegs in the middle of a busy shift. Then I blamed them for everything that was evil in the world.

Changing kegs was always an inconvenience.  Getting the key to the beer storage room, wheeling the keg to the bar cooler,  and swapping it out for an empty one, that was always ensnared in the  clutter  of aluminum barrels and clots of rubber tubing; it was a royal pain.  All the while, dishes  were piling up, milk dispensers needed to be changed,  and vomit was accumulating on the men’s room floor…

One fateful night, my boss, from Boston, shouted “Squawt, foah-get about that table, weah outta  Budwise-ah, go change that  keg!”

Budweiser. Roger Maris.

It’s well-known fact that when I suffered my second hernia, my screams F-bombing “…Roger Maris!” (in absentia,) could be heard for blocks. I’m sure that there were reports of echoes being heard in Micanopy and Archer.

I would  to address a couple of things. First I want to clarify that I was directing my shouts at Roger, Jr.,–one of the beer-delivering sons–not the home run king himself. 

Second, the tap lines that I was trying to disentangle when I sustained my injury included many brands of beer. I have no evidence that A-B was any more, or less, responsible for the tear in my abdominal wall (and dangling intestine)  than any other brewer.

I was not even lifting an A-B product when the injury occurred. Therefore, it was unfair for me to cast aspersions against the Maris, or Busch families. I hope that they will both accept my sincere apologies. You are hereby absolved.

Given my Irish-Catholic roots, it is difficult, physically  excruciating in fact, for me to let go of a grudge. I intend to begin healing by shifting my focus to the great pleasure of my life;  irony.

And knowing that I herniated myself by lifting an object that was labeled:


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There Will Be Whitespace

I use to think of myself as a pretty good writer. I was a mass communications major and my courses in journalism, advertising and writing for broadcast, instilled habits of language clarity, brief sentences and abundant whitespace.

These habits  were annoying to some of my liberals arts professors who seemed to cling to the days of yore, and actually used “whereas” “inasmuch” and “shan’t” in their own communication.

In a discussion of my progress on a term paper, a professor advised me that he understood the US Constitution very well and that there was no need to  for me to “dumb down” my explanation of appellate decisions for his benefit.

There were also professors who  resented  my  short sentences and paragraphs.

I’ve always had problem with the concept of “dumbing down” content.
The practice of crafting content that is more consumable, and available to a wider audience seems like a savvy strategy to me.  It’s  more like you are “smartening up” your content.

Likewise, if you succeed in describing a complex topic in easy-to-understand terms, don’t ruin the  moment by saying it’s a “quick and dirty” explanation.  “Succinct and elegant” is far more appropriate.

There are myriad reasons that I’ve identified that have kept me from writing in recent years. Though I think the one that looms largest is that I seem to have drifted far from my habits of clarity and brevity of earlier in my adult life.

A lot of recent my writing seems bloated and rambling.  The act of editing something such beastly drafts  dampens my enthusiasm for writing. Hell, it dampens my enthusiasm for enthusiasm.

I’m trying to be a good writer again.  There are a many areas in which I can improve, but I’ll begin with a promise that nothing that I write going forward will be dumbed down, or quick and dirty; at least not intentionally so.



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Content Fidelity

Years ago, a friend described his sister’s job hunt. He chuckled as he told me that she didn’t get any callbacks after distributing about 40 copies of her résumé and,  “She said it’s my fault.”

I asked, “Why is that your fault?”

He replied “Because I told her that she should use Quark to make it more appealing. I told her how she  could add graphics and make the type look nice and she was all over it.”

For those who aren’t familiar with it Quark (Quark Xpress) is a layout and typesetting program that dominated the publishing and advertising industries for many years before the rise of Adobe’s InDesign (the successor to Pagemaker).

“Why is that your fault that she doesn’t have a job?” I asked.

“Because, there was a mistake in the Quark version that wasn’t in the original,” he responded.

Ah, few things are more disheartening to young person seeking to start a career than realization of an error on a résumé.

“You mean she made a typo? I remember completing a rez on a typewriter and sending it out all over the damn country and I discovered later I had misspelled “liaison” and I freaked out. Did you show her how to spell-check in Quark?” I said.

“Yeah, she spell-checked it, but that didn’t help her.”

“Did she use the wrong word in a sentence?”

“No, guess again.”

The suspense was killing me,  “No, tell me I give up.”

He started laughing–that heaving, teary-eyed, snotty-nosed laughter–as he told about the line in the original copy of the rez, in which his sister referenced a summer job at their hometown’s library and the line in the Quark version. In her original document, she described how she: “Executed children’s learning programs…”

The Quark incarnation read: “Executed children.”

OUCH! Hard to imagine that any amount of graphics or typography would overcome that. I would have curled up in a fetal position and not left the house for weeks (OK months).

She shook off the initial embarrassment, corrected the error and sent out another wave of résumés. She landed a job just a few weeks later.

I don’t remember if my friend’s sister had re-typed the content into the Quark document or she had pasted it there. Regardless of how it got there, she had a content-fidelity problem, in which there was a major discrepancy between the two versions of her résumé.

Content-fidelity errors like this happen with incalculable frequency in organizations, both large and small. Everyone makes typos (or “copy-os” or “paste-os”). Sometimes they are caught in QA, other times they are not. Some errors are minor embarrassments, some are damaging to a company’s reputation.

Some are expensive to fix.

Some will get you sued.

Years ago, the technical communications sector recognized the risks of recreating content , thus developed  single-source, intelligent content architectures to allow for content to be created once and automatically expressed in multiple channels. Perhaps the best part is that when mistakes are identified they can be fixed in a single location and automatically updated across all content products within the organization.

If your organization habitually recreates content, or pays exorbitant fees for outsourced content creation, you may want to reconsider your content processes. There are numerous resources that will describe single-source, intelligent content, but I think  this  book is a good place to start.

Moving to an intelligent content framework requires a commitment to change and change is hard. Though allowing your competitors to make the change before you do will be even harder.

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Reducing Your Brand Security Risk

Intelligent Content
Structured-content authoring (“intelligent content”) is a well-established practice in industries such as aerospace, pharma, intelligence, and medical device manufacturing. In this type of architecture, content is not managed as documents, or web pages, but as reusable modules. These modules  can  be dynamically assembled and delivered (as a Word/PDF file or a Web page) at  the moment of consumption. This ensures that the text-based content is current and consistent among all publication channels.

Recently, there has been a concerted effort by some of the big names in technical communications to evangelize these modular-content strategies in non-traditional areas such as marketing. This is way overdue. The modular-content architecture and XML-based technology that have proven successful in TechComm have merit in MarComm, where there is no shortage of repeatable content.

Your Brand Security Risk

The industries that gravitated toward modular content designs did so  for several reasons. Atop the list: content that was inconsistent (thus confusing or contradictory) presented a security risk. Ensuring the consistency among all publication channels, is the best way to mitigate this risk.

I realize that not every industry is like aerospace or intelligence, but all organizations are  deeply concerned with their brand. Text-based and visual content that is inconsistent among channels is  not only confusing, it also dilutes your organization’s brand. What is the cost of recreating a  logo, because you can’t find the original?  Or the cost of discovering that your company founder’s name  is misspelled in dozens of locations throughout your public-facing sites?

If your logos, slogans, or mission statements are inconsistent, you have created  brand security risk. What is the cost of that?

Creating Content is (T0o) Easy

To many people the term  “content” refers to  formatted text with inserted graphics created by a word processor, publishing program or Web editor.  For decades, tools like Word, InDesign (Pagemaker), Dreamweaver, etc.  have offered a convenient means to create content quickly. If we need to move a large portion of content, we can copy and paste into its new location, or 10 or 12 locations. If a document needs be visible in multiple repositories, it’s easy enough to copy it, or e-mail it to somebody who can upload to the required places.

Content Reuse or Content Recreation?

Though when (“when” not “if”)  the content becomes outdated, do you know whose  job it is to remember those 10 or 12 locations, three months or two years from now? Or if your contacts retire, or go on vacation, do you know who has access to all those repositories where the documents were uploaded? If  disclaimer copy changes on a whole product line, will you be able to track down all the packaging, advertising, and web sites where it appears?

If you can’t find content, who will recreate it? If a vendor recreates it, whose budget pays for their time? When you recreate content, are you a little anxious that it might not be accurate? You should be.

If content has to be recreated, because it can’t be found, which account executive is going to tell the client that it has to be recreated. My suspicion is none of them, it’s likely that your company is  going to eat the cost, to fix the content, with fingers crossed, under the radar.

My assessment of most organizations, is that often project teams,  reviewing content-management platforms aren’t really aware of the whole content picture. Often  these people, who aren’t in the content trenches,  don’t have a feel for the content complexity. Because the mechanical process of creating content (typing, copying/pasting, adding an image..) is rather simplistic, isn’t it?

However, that ignores the whole arduous process:  strategy, original photography and talent fees,  writing (not typing), illustration, design, quality assurance, customer approval….

A Single Source of Mistakes

In a recent post,   I wrote  that a downside of digital content production is that while we can make content faster than ever, we can make mistakes faster than ever,  too.  The Internet ensures that we can share our mistakes with the whole world.

In the content management industry, you will often hear the term “a single source of truth,” meaning that content objects are stored in a centralized repository and expressed in multiple channels throughout the organization. This  “create once publish everywhere” (COPE)  model may sound cool,  but do your organization’s (or client’s)   decision makers really see the utility of this? Really?

If they don’t , they not might be  aware of the costs or risks associated with  recreating content. If they aren’t, perhaps the value of such an architecture to them is the rapid response to incorrect, or outdated content.  Don’t be shy about sharing horror stories, like the time that an art director recreated a one-word  banner ad and misspelled the one word and the mistake was caught the client’s CEO. Or the time that an IT manager sent a company history by email to a consultant and a misspelling of the founder’s name was published in dozens of places.  (Both of these examples actually happened during my previous engagements).

Mistakes are going to happen. Though we can make fewer mistakes by focusing on CREATING and REUSING content rather than RECREATING content. With a single-source content strategy you  can respond quickly when mistakes are discovered: revising content in one place that will  updated everywhere you had published it.

Your ultimate goal: to  have a single source of your mistakes (that’s not as weird as it sounds). We won’t ever eliminate mistakes completely (though isn’t it pretty to think so?). However, a single-source content strategy will ensure that you can correct your mistakes quickly  and completely.

The underlying problem with discussions of single source ‘content ” is that there are many different content types and they have different management and delivery needs. There are no platforms that will handle all of them, at least none that will handle them all well.

Digital Mastery

Photographs and digital illustrations  have  resolution (dots-per-inch) and color model needs  that are very different in print than they are screen-based vehicles such as  tablets or phones. Yet, the print, broadcast and web  versions of an image can all be derived from the same source file, commonly known as “the digital master.”  A digital master file should be composed of sufficient individual colors (millions) and resolution (100’s of dots per inch) such it can be down sampled into print- and screen-appropriate formats. The practice and technology associated with management of these rich media files is known as “digital asset management” or “DAM”.

(If there is nothing else that you take away from this post, you should start using “DAM” as an adjective–That DAM software, The DAM server–because it’s awesome. Use the term early and often: throughout the whole DAM project, and into DAM operational phase.)

Content LEGOS

In technical communication circles, practitioners adopted  intelligent content that was component-based. In such an architecture each of these  content components  can stand on its own, but are designed to be joined with other components (like so many content LEGO blocks).

Think of repeatable content “chunks” throughout your organization. It’s likely that in your current systems, to update one word or letter in your disclaimers, (company history, mission statement…) you would have to open many documents, and web sites to make a   slight change throughout your content collections.

This type of content management is a bit more esoteric than DAM, but “component content management systems” (CCMS) have been commonplace in the tech communication for some time. There are well-established architectures that facilitate the granular-level management of text content, most notably, DITA, a framework developed by IBM to address their own content reuse challenges.

DAM and CCMS are both mature disciplines, but neither by itself will be able to help to eliminate your brand security risk.

Be The Change

As stated above structured text-based content and image-based content have very different management and delivery needs. There are products and consultants that are capable of addressing single-source design and delivery of rich media and others that are savvy in the architecture of component-level content management systems. However, in the interest of brand security there needs to more cooperative efforts  between these two camps.

In my opinion, recent efforts by the technical communications titans to move into non-traditional areas such as marketing, and corporate communications will have only limited success until some of the channel-specific issues  for rich media are addressed.

In short,  there needs to be better interoperability between these two types of platforms  DAM industry and those in the CCMS space. (See? ‘CCMS’ not nearly as fun to say as ‘DAM’). Such innovations might come from the software or consulting industries, but fastest path to industry-wide innovation is demand from the customers.

If you are evaluating DAM or CCMS for the first time, or seeking to replace your incumbent platforms, ask the companies on your short list about their experience with integration of DAM and CCMS.  At the proof-of concept stage ask them again, and compel them to prove their claims, or to provide you with a clear plan on how they would approach such an integration.

These platform integrations, and vendor partnerships will be slow to happen without your persistence efforts to ensure your own brand security.


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