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The 15-Seconds Blog

  • Compared to What?

    Want to explain some hard-to-grasp statistic?  Compare it to something people already know.

    The website Gawker has a item today called “How to create a shocking statistic.”

    They point out a recent story in the LA Times which reported that each year more Americans now die due to prescription drug overdoses than from car crashes.

    Gawker, incorrectly in our view, calls the comparison a “false statistical hook,” since they say there is no connection between the 37,485 people who died in 2009 (the most recent year where stats were available) from prescription overdoses and those who died in car wrecks.

    The connection is that most people have some sense that a ton of people die from car crashes.  They couldn’t give you a number — but they know it is a lot.  So when you tell them that prescription drug overdose deaths outnumber that amount — they think to themselves: “Wow…that is a lot.”  That was the impact the reporter was hoping to achieve. 

    Gawker itself points out, is that virtually all of the many news organizations which followed up on the LA Times story used the same statistic — so it worked.

    You don’t have to use morbid statistics like deaths to make a point.  Last week a news story compared the amount of rain that fell in the Northeast to how much water it would take to fill Yankee Stadium to the brim X thousand times. 

    We don’t know how much rain it would take to top off the stadium in the Bronx…but the image clearly evokes a sense of “Man, that is a lot of water.”

    Just today, when describing the U.S. tax laws President Obama said that the tax code is over 10,000 pages long.  Well, how big is that?  He went on to say if you stacked up the regulations on the floor they would reach over five feet high.  That is an image you can understand.

    So if you are doing a media interview and need to convey a large numerical concept — find some unique and colorful way to express that figure by using a unit of measure that readers and viewers can get a grip on.

    By the way, the 15-Seconds blog is coming up on its 500th post. These posts, if printed out and laid end to end, would be as long as the Washington Monument is tall.

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  • Crash Course In Getting On TV

    Want to make sure your TV interview makes it on the air?

    It helps to speak colorfully and with animation.  In the clip below, Phoenix resident George Lindell perhaps goes a bit too far in proving the concept.

    Lindell was driving to the grocery store yesterday when he was rear-ended by another car.  His colorful description of the event is in the clip below.  “Reality hits you hard, bro!”

     After his dramatic reenactment of the crash — Lindell comes down to earth and explains that he hopes the other driver involved — who was still trapped in his car at the time with live electrical wires nearby — would soon be rescued so he could “get his insurance card” to pay for repairs.

    The clip below if from MyFoxPhoenix.com.  When Lindell completes his trip to the grocery store — we recommend he pick up some decaf. 

  • Rejected Reputation Transplant

    Recovering from a damaged public reputation can be a tricky operation.

    The Aviation Institute of Maintenance, a small employer in Philadelphia has shown how not to do it.

    Claudia Rendon took a leave of absence from her job at that company to donate a kidney to her son to keep him alive.

    According to the Fox affiliate in Philly, Ms Rendon has been having a tough year. Her mother died, her uncle died and her father was diagnosed with leukemia. After taking eight weeks of unpaid leave to recover from the kidney surgery which saved her son’s life, she tried to go back to work.  Her employer told her, however, that they had given her job to someone else in the interim.

    Since the company is a small outfit — they were within their legal rights.  But the optics were awful. A MyFoxPhilly reporter showed up to ask the manager about it and was somewhat rudely shown the door.

    There followed a somewhat predictable (even international) outcry about a heartless employer being mean to a woman who is now minus a kidney and a job. 

    The next day management recognized they were damaging their brand and announced Rendon could return on full salary and when another job opened she could “apply for it.”  Huh?

    The same manager who threw the reporter out the day before said they had recognized the earlier decision was a mistake but snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with a legalistic explanation about how their “policy” precluded just saying she had been re-hired.

    Rendon later said she didn’t trust them and feared they were going to make her life “a living hell” and oh, by the way, she is getting a lawyer. 

    The Aviation Institute of Maintenance should know that if you want to repair your image and recover from a botched communications operation — don’t do things half-way.  Anything short of saying “We are sorry.  She has her job back” is just media malpractice.