Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Expert Syndrome

Far too often when it comes to product advertising, marketing and “line-extension”, and decisions, those who make the decisions fail to consult the most important component of the decision….the consumer. It is completely understandable how the consumer is “left out” of the decision and is mostly due to ego or “The Expert Syndrome” after a company reaches success.

Netflix is an ideal example. Here’s a company that at the outset was brilliant in its product and niche. Netflix is most likely responsible for the demise of video stores such as Blockbuster, Movie Gallery, etc. Netflix has had outrageous success over a relatively short time….and over the last few years introduced the “streaming” extension of its traditional DVD service. Personally, I love both services. I can dig deep into the Netflix library to find those vintage or independent movies…not currently found in its “instant library”….and with an iPad and a simple connecting device can view many movies and TV series on the BIG screen ….anytime, through the “instant” feature from Netflix.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why Netflix would like to increase interest in its “instant viewing” feature. Imagine the money saved when Netflix is not required to send out a DVD or purchase the products required. It’s virtually a money machine….and good for Netflix. One problem. The consumer. The average consumer does not live a “light speed” technical life...with all the bells and whistles offered in todays technological smorgasbord. Most still have a “non-Blue Ray” DVD player and wonder what happened to Blockbuster. Yet Netflix executives assume the contrary. Instead of focusing on developing an awareness (through advertising and marketing) of the simple equipment required to enable a consumer to watch Netflix instantly…they focused on those who already are…increased the prices for both and confused the hell out of the Netflix consumer. Now after the Netflix stock plummeted the CEO and its team of yes men…..set out to remedy the mess by confusing the consumer even more. Soon Netflix will only stand for instant play programming and “Quickster” for the DVD division. WTF?

Well, time will tell if this will work…but I remain skeptical. In my opinion, if Netflix had asked the consumer what was needed to increase use of the “instant” service….I believe they would find this answer. “What equipment is required to use Netflix instantly?” Then Netflix could have focused on offering either a partnership with a WIFI company or provide to every member (for a small charge) a newly designed TV “plug-in” that allows the consumer to access the “instant” viewing programming.

This “expert” syndrome from executives and owners etc, extends to many other products requiring advertising.

As a Voice Actor, I sit on my hands occasionally, as the client will “pick” over and over at the delivery of words and phrases of a commercial or other project. Not because the read or style is inappropriate for the target audience but because they simply have a “sound” in his or her head…and mostly because they can. The own it, therefore they are experts. Of course as a professional talent…I may offer a suggestion or a question, but it is my job to deliver what the client wants, period. You may have listened to the William Shatner session where he is criticized for his interpretation of the delivery required for a commercial he was voicing. If you have not heard the exchange between Shatner and the client…. it’s Classic. I’ve attached it on the right column. What the owner/director failed to consider is that William Shatners' distinct voice and fame naturally command attention and interest…. and therefore the message WILL be heard…not just because of how he delivered it…..but because HE delivered it. It always comes back to the consumer reaction and not the executive or owner.

How the consumer reacts to listening to or watching a commercial is what it’s all about. Research before and after a product is produced is a critical component to enable a spot-on response from the consumer. Focus groups, one on one interviews and other forms of research with consumers enable an unbiased conclusion of the effectiveness of the creative.

"Effective listeners remember that "words have no meaning - people have meaning." The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each others messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved." ~ Larry Barker

"Big egos have little ears." ~ Robert Schuller

From inside Studio A I’m James Herron

Friday, August 6, 2010

This Challenge is Contagious!

Are you up for a challenge?

Now this challenge, mind you, will take you the rest of your life, during which you most likely will not receive anything in return for your efforts. Are you still up for it? For many of us this will be a life altering experience. Oh yes, very important….you will not be paid one penny for this effort although you may be inclined to give of your own money freely. Have I lost you now? No? Great…then lets get on with the challenge!

Here are the rules:

First of all, you must make a commitment to take part in the challenge everyday from now on. I’m counting on you and your word to be as good as gold! You can work at this anytime, anywhere and as often as you wish, just pledge a minimum of once per day.

§ There are no age restrictions

§ The more spontaneous you are the better

§ The more generous you are the better

§ Think positively and believe in yourself and others

§ Pledge to begin in earnest after you have completed reading this blog

The challenge: Random Acts Of Kindness.

What is a Random Act Of Kindness?

Here is how Wikipedia defines a random act of kindness:

“A random act of kindness is a purportedly selfless act performed by a person or persons wishing to either assist or cheer up an individual or in some cases even an animal. There will generally be no reason other than to make people smile, or be happier. Either spontaneous or planned in advance, random acts of kindness are encouraged by various communities.”

In 1982, California peace activist Ann Herbert scribbled on a place-mat in a restaurant “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” The words left an impression on a fellow diner, who later told the phrase to others. The words inspired much thought and conversation, including the movie “Pay it Forward” in 2000.

From a simple act such as opening a door for someone….to a more generous act such as giving your kidney….just maintain a selfless focus on helping others….without regard to what’s in it for you.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” - Aesop

I’ll bet you’re already practicing and you don’t even know it….but when you focus on it you can make a huge difference!

Even simple stuff like this:

§ Smile

§ Fill a parking meter

§ Open a door

§ Give a hug

§ Share your lunch

§ Place sticky notes around with encouraging comments

§ Read to a child

§ Volunteer at a senior’s center, a school, a soup kitchen

§ Feed the hungry - make sandwiches, a hot meal and a hot drink

§ Let someone go ahead of you while driving or in the grocery line

§ Offer your change to someone struggling to find the right amount

§ Give to a charity

§ Walk around with change in your pocket and give it to those in need

§ Give sincere compliments

§ Forgive

§ Give positive praise

There is a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation you may find of interest. The Random Acts of Kindness™ Foundation inspires people to practice kindness and to “pass it on” to others. They provide free educational and community ideas, guidance, and other resources to kindness participants through the website.

I'm looking forward to hearing about your Random Acts of Kindness!

Good luck…and THANK YOU!

Inside Studio A………..I’m James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The “Joy” of Ed Walker

It was in about 1963…while growing up in the Washington D.C. area when first I discovered the genius of Ed Walker. My ear was glued to a small “Crown” transistor radio ( I can even recall the color as baby blue) as I laughed through the “The Joy Boys” radio show! Oh my head…..what a blast it was to listen!

Upon reflection I now know how radio in that era could be so magical. As I listened, I began to dream of someday broadcasting over the airwaves! A big part of that dream was fueled by Washington D.C. radio legend Ed Walker.

Ed Walker was born April 23, 1932, in the Chicago suburbs. He became a Washington D.C. radio personality in the early 1950’s.

From 1955 to 1974, Ed Walker teamed with Willard Scott (the very same Today weatherman and the original Ronald McDonald!) as co-hosts of the nightly Joy Boys of radio program which was an awe inspiring cavalcade of improvisational comedy radio.

The Joy Boys was spontaneous humor with sketches and characters set-up by Willard...then Ed would follow with a quick wit, character voices and sound effects ALL manufactured in the studio live. He used all kinds of gadgets ...the trash can, shoes on sand, a door opening and closing…..you name it Ed would capture the sounds!

The “Joy Boys” program began on WRC-AM, an NBC owned-and-operated station, moving in 1972 to WWDC-AM.

Please take a moment to view the YouTube link to the last "Joy Boys" show on WRC in 1972.

It was in the fall of 1973 that I was fortunate enough to work with Ed Walker and Willard Scott. I was a part time on-air jock at WWDC and for many weeks I would follow “The Joy Boys” show. My dream had now reached reality! I recall my first greeting from Ed as one as if we had known one another for years! I went from a bunch of nerves before going into the studio to feeling relaxed and calm once I interacted with Ed. I was thrilled to be performing!

Ed Walker is not only an amazing talent but the world’s nicest, and most generous guy! His infectious laugh and consistent smile is a hallmark. Those of us lucky enough to have worked with Ed, know just how important he is in inspiring excellence and overcoming challenges in life.

In the mid 1990’s, I called Ed to request his help. I had the pleasure mentoring a young student from Emerson College in Boston. He was so excited to begin a career in broadcasting but felt he may never reach his full potential because of his physical challenge. He was blind. I knew if anyone could inspire this young man it would be Ed Walker. So we coordinated a conference. When the young man engaged in conversation with Ed….his face lit up….showing the obvious signs of barriers lifted and an exciting future ahead!

Ed Walker too has been blind since birth.

This year, Ed Walker will be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in the category "Local or Regional - Pioneer."

On October 3rd, Ed Walker was also presented the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Quarter Century Broadcasters Club.

Congratulations Ed and THANK YOU! It remains an honor to be your friend.

Inside Studio A………..I’m James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

You can hear Ed today! He hosts a weekly four-hour Sunday night program, The Big Broadcast, on WAMU-FM, featuring vintage radio programs from the 1930s to 1950s, such as Gunsmoke, The Jack Benny Show, The Lone Ranger, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Superman. Walker began hosting The Big Broadcast in 1990 when his friend John Hickman discontinued hosting due to illness. The show started in 1964, the longest running program on WAMU.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Voice Fatigue - BBS Syndrome

I had been finding that some days by 11 am my voice was beginning to fatigue. If you rely on your voice as your livelihood as I do, this can be particularly troublesome.

I first noticed this issue about a year ago. What was going on? What the heck was causing this to occur? Was it something serious? Was it environmental?

My thoughts ran wild with everything from voice polyps; cancer, food and drink issues. I imagined everything and anything.

Scheduling voice over sessions was also challenging and at times an issue since my voice was at its best in the early morning hours EST. Clients on the “left coast” would often receive a request to record as early as possible. Fortunately, I’ve had such wonderfully flexible and understanding clientele.

A few weeks ago I began tests through the hospital to determine the cause of my voice fatigue.

Ever had a tiny scope with a camera stuck down your throat through your nose? Yikes! Actually, with a little Novocain I did not feel a thing. It was weird however. A TV monitor was mounted so the Doctor could view the results of the probing camera and as I could. I never thought I would be viewing my throat, and larynx.....now that's a very profound statement! In a strange way it was rather interesting.

The results were conclusive. I was diagnosed with Muscle Tension Dysphonia a voice fatigue disorder caused by muscle tension.

Listen Sweetheart....I'm in famous company as this is amazingly also called Bogart-Bacall Syndrome.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall both suffered from a mild vocal disorder that has been named for them, Bogart-Bacall Syndrome. BBS is now the medical term for an ongoing hoarseness that often afflicts actors, singers or TV/radio voice workers who routinely speak in a very low pitch.

Bacall naturally had a high, nasal voice; she trained it to be lower to get her debut part in To Have and Have Not. You can view her singing through the link on the right.

Apparently, over the years I’ve been unconsciously “training” my Larynx muscles to find a non-normal flexed and tense position as I used my voice. When I relaxed (got a good night sleep) the muscles returned to normal. The tense flexed position would return to my voice as the day progressed.

Fortunately, this is a very common issue and thankfully one that can be remedied through therapy and rather quickly.

I am working with the “Voice & Swallowing Center” and receiving prescriptive vocal exercises. These include a series of “Hum” exercises I follow daily from a CD. The drill is to make the vocal muscle recall that “normal” zone all the time.

If you would like to view a variety of voice issues and symptoms including Muscle Tension Dysphonia check out The Voice and Swallowing Institute of The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary at http://www.nyee.edu/cfv-larynx-disorders.html

Another important fact I discovered is how essential hydration is to sustain a healthy voice. A minimum of TWO QUARTS of water are recommended per day. So drink baby, drink.

Of course yelling and screaming is not a good thing at all.

I’ve taken to using a “rapid hand clap” (picture an prim and proper 18th century French Officer) when I cheer for my beloved Boston Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots or President Obama! I also now use simple hand gestures against those challenging the above mentioned.

Okay I look like a dork…but my voice is happy.

My hope is you find this information helpful. I know many of you reading this are professional actors and actresses, singers, teachers, politicians and other blabber mouths.

Inside Studio A………..I’m James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Proud “Tree Hugger”

Has it really been 39 years since we first celebrated Earth Day?

I am proud to say that I was among the many Americans who participated in the first demonstration.

On April 22 1970 we gathered in Washington D.C. in support of this National Day of Observance of Environmental Problems. Of course, even in this peaceful demonstration we all received criticism for our ideals and concerns. Much like the debate over Global Warming today, Earth Day was seen as a bunch of hippie “tree huggers” gathered to smoke pot and party. Nothing could have been further from the truth or the facts.

Approximately 20 million Americans participated, with a goal of a healthy, sustainable environment. Earth Day 1970 was held coast-to-coast with massive rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

In just two short years….by 1972 Earth Day had become a world wide effort to recognize that the need to improve our environment was a real and valid concern.

U.N. Secretary General Waldheim observed Earth Day with similar ceremonies on the March equinox in 1972, and the United Nations Earth Day ceremony has continued each year since on the day of the March equinox (the United Nations also works with organizers of the April 22nd global event). Margaret Mead added her support for the equinox Earth Day, and in 1978 declared:

"EARTH DAY is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time, and instantaneous communication through space.”

At the moment of the equinox, it is traditional to observe Earth Day by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell, a bell donated by Japan to the United Nations. Over the years celebrations have occurred in various places worldwide at the same time as the celebration at the UN.

In 1991 while Program Director of WBOS-FM in Boston and in tandem with Adam Klein (a remarkable Promotions and Marketing director) we sought to bring together Bostonian's to celebrate a Earth Day. Together with the City of Boston we created the Earth Day Concert and Festival held on the Esplanade in Boston.

This would be a FULL DAY celebration of our planet with hundreds of environmental exhibits and FREE music from artists such as Ritchie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Marc Cohn, Roger McGuinn and so many, many others.

The day was blessed by a wonderful Native American Indian Chief who prayed for sunshine and fresh air. Local and National members of Congress and Senate would speak, as did many wonderful celebrities. The first concert in 1991…gathered between 25 and 50 thousand concerned citizens.

The Earth Day Concert and Festival became an annual event and by 1995….with sun shinning and the air clean more than 150 thousand would attend this peaceful celebration of the Earth.

Sadly, WBOS-FM was purchased by Greater Media in the late 1990’s who’s brilliant leadership decided that the sincere efforts to bring together Bostonian's to celebrate the Earth should become a commercial venture. The President of Greater Media called me a typical “Tree Hugger”. I was so PROUD TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED as a TREE HUGGER by such a pompous ass and was relieved to no longer work this bumbling idiot.

Greater Media renamed the event WBOS Earth Fest. Of course, the music continued to be free and the crowds continued to come…..but the message was muddied among the commercialism.

Today as we observe Earth Day we can be proud of the international grassroots activism linked through the Internet, the over 5,000 environmental groups and the hundreds of millions of people in a record 184 countries and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, according to whom Earth Day is now "the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a half billion people aka TREE HUGERS every year."

Happy Earth Day!

Inside Studio A………I’m James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

(stats via Wikipedia)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Art of Listening

Do you ever get the feeling that your questions, concerns or worries are falling on deaf ears by those of whom could provide a solution?

Many times you feel like you’re beating head against the wall. It can be so frustrating. I’m sure you can think of many examples. Here’s the classic one for me; You call a business with a concern and are placed on hold….. “Your call is important to us….please stay on the line for the next available operator” ....this then goes on and on….sometimes it’s just unbearable....and you finally give up.

Funny, when this occurs I always visualize a phone bank with flashing lights “on hold” and operators talking and laughing among each other about the latest episode of American Idol or something...all the while completely oblivious to the callers on hold.

A person or business which is accessible and sincerely listens and then is responsive is a rarity today.....and yet there are exceptions!

I’d like to share just such an exception with you.

Webster’s Dictionary defines listening as the following:

1: to pay attention to sound

2: to hear something with thoughtful attention or give consideration <listen to a plea>

3: to be alert to catch an expected sound.

Dr. Larry Nadig Ph.D. a Clinical Psychologist says ~

“Expressing our wants, feelings, thoughts and opinions clearly and effectively is only half of the communication process needed for interpersonal effectiveness. The other half is listening and understanding what others communicate to us. When a person decides to communicate with another person, he/she does so to fulfill a need. The person wants something, feels discomfort, and/or has feelings or thoughts about something. In deciding to communicate, the person selects the method or code which he/she believes will effectively deliver the message to the other person. The code used to send the message can be either verbal or nonverbal. When the other person receives the coded message, they go through the process of decoding or interpreting it into understanding and meaning. Effective communication exists between two people when the receiver interprets and understands the sender’s message in the same way the sender intended it.”

As a Voice Actor I uses many professional resources to market my services. They range from an Agent, Casting Director, WEB Page, Internet Voice Acting Services and of course good old fashioned word of mouth.

Voices.com is a superb on-line service which provides a one stop resource for clientele worldwide searching to find talented Voice Actors. I have been a member of Voices.com for many years. My business has been sincerely enhanced by the excellent service offered from Voices.com for both clients and Voice Actors.

Several days ago, Voices.com made a change to its “home page” which (in my opinion) changed the successful dynamic and “sizzle” of the service they offer. The change involved removing featured talent which included pictures and links and was replaced by a simple informational page.

In fact, the change was such a concern to me, I wrote a lengthy email and then followed it up with a phone call to David Ciccarelli CEO of Voices.com.

I was immediately connected to David without delay or being placed on hold for ever. When connected with David, I was met with gracious concern for my criticism.

We were engaged in conversation for what felt like an unlimited amount of time. David spent the better part of our time with patience listening to my concerns and suggestions. He indicated that the changes had made based on research and testing. He did acknowledged my concerns and sincerely appreciated my suggestions and ideas.

When we concluded the call I had a better understanding of the changes and felt David was very gracious and professional.

I remained concerned about the change to the Voices.com home page.

I wrote several more emails and included Stephanie Ciccarelli co-founder and PR Director, Laurynda Pasma the Product Development Director in addition to David Ciccarelli. Boy, I really vented my concerns. I shared a few examples of why I remained concerned including a research study I had discovered about "change for change" sake. I guess I was beginning to think my emails were becoming irritating...and was reasonably certain I would never receive a response.

I immediately received a warm response from Stephanie Ciccarelli. She was very gracious to me and while offering support of the revisions made to the home page…indicated that she and the Voices Team appreciated my candor and concerns. Here’s a portion of Stephanie’s comments -

“In fairness to David, you have given him a very narrow window in which to implement any of your suggestions. If you have been following the conversation on VOX Daily, you know that we are considering adding a link to the Featured Talent listings, it's just a matter of where on the home page and how it would appear. In the past, we had used images of people on the home page and know that it works. We're still exploring how we may do this while ensuring that the website performs to the best of its ability for both voice talent and clients hiring them.”

David, Stephanie, Laurynda and entire Voices.com team could have chosen to ignore my concerns, not taken my call, and thought of my concerns among the more than 107,000 users of Voices as just a “blip” on the screen…and forged ahead with blinders on.

Instead, they choose to do the right thing and sincerely listened.

I’m confident I was not the only Voice Actor from whom they heard with concern for the changes. But I certainly was made to feel I was the most important and thus will remain loyal and grateful always.

The Voices.com home page has now returned to its original layout.

As you can imagine I highly recommend Voices.com and wish to commend and thank David, Stephanie, Laurynda for the professionalism and excellence each demonstrated.

Inside Studio A……………I’m James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Flip The Help Switch

A few weeks ago I witnessed Brian Williams of NBC reporting that many Americans (and viewers of the NBC Nightly News) were fatiguing on all the bad news heard day in and day out and that viewers wanted to see and hear good news too! Well, NBC took this criticism seriously and began devoting the end of each newscast with a segment entitled “Making a Difference”.

Each evening NBC and Brian feature several stories of “Random Acts of Kindness” from Americans throughout our country. Several times, I’ve been moved to tears at the amazing selfless acts made by our friends and neighbors. (You may view many of the stories aired on "Making A Difference"...see the link on the right).

I got to thinking….what if each day…each of us performed at least one random act of kindness? I’ll bet most of us do so already, but if by making this daily plan paramount ….as routine as your grocery list..... could we change a life?

Eggs, milk, cereal, random act of kindness, laundry soap….

Imagine the possibilities? Imagine the difference we may make in the life of someone in need?

Last week, I responded to Voices.com requesting an audition for a business in Cleveland Ohio. When I reviewed the details of the project and the business…I noted the client indicated;

(Paraphrasing) “Due to the economy our business is really struggling. This commercial is our last attempt at advertising to hopefully generate enough business to continue to provide our service to our customers and keep our staff employed“.

I could not help but flash to the NBC “Making a Difference” reports and the many wonderful ways people have helped one another.

I sent in my audition and I included a note to the client in which I indicated that my services had been offered at no charge. A few hours later, the client contacted me in amazement. “No one has ever offered such a thing for me… she said. Thank you so much!” Hearing her sincerity really made me feel great, too.

I voiced the commercial with the knowledge that this business owner was extremely grateful for my service and talent…..but was also relying on me to help make a difference with her business.

Maybe you viewed this past Sundays (April 5th) CBS “60 Minutes”. One of the featured stories was that of a public hospital in Nevada which had to discontinue treating cancer patients (without insurance) because of a lack of funding. Believe me, this was truly a heart wrenching story showcasing several (among many) average Americans who literally may die because of they have no way to pay to receive essential treatment!

One of the Physicians who had been treating patients at the hospital (which was no longer offering the service) decided to take matters into his own hands and open his own service for cancer patients. He invited all the patients who had been displaced by the public hospital to receive help at no charge. “Pay what you can” he offers. “We’ll take care of you”. He has jars and boxes throughout the city asking for donations too. It is selfless people like this physician that may be the angels on Earth.

I guess for many of us it takes a catastrophic event such as the collapse of the world economy to flip on the “help” switch inside.

Will you flip your help switch to on?

Will you take my challenge? Make a “Random Act of Kindness” into one of your daily routines?

Let me know your stories too…I’d love to share them.

Inside Studio A ……. I’m James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.