Summer School Lessons

Tomorrow is a dark day in my children’s lives. After 10 weeks of sitting gap-mouthed in front of the television, they will find the remote actually has an “off” button. Tomorrow, school begins.

Where did the summer go? I’m thinking this one belongs somewhere in the category of “could have been better, but could have been a lot worse.” In any event, it was a time that gave us plenty of food for thought, especially those of us involved in online communications.

  • This summer, we learned an awful lesson about little kids not being safe, even when they are playing in their front yards with their best friends. We also learned the media can help catch those sick enough to snuff out a childhood (an AMBER Alert in Southern California helped save two teenage girls).

    This is an important lesson for those of us involved in electronic media, too. Imagine the impact if some of the more popular sites also pitched in and issued alerts for child abductions and other breaking news — a self-imposed public service announcement of sorts.

  • We saw how far the mighty can fall as news of Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Andersen continued to get media play. In a previous column, I examined how these organizations were either handling or mishandling the news. It was a mixed bag. The Enron site all but shut down during its scandal. Martha Stewart all but shut up about her entire affair.

    One thing I didn’t mention in that column was a good idea from WorldCom, which offered an opportunity to receive email updates on the situation. My request for an email came up short on the response end (a terse “thank you for inquiring” notice). In theory, it’s a nice idea for organizations that find themselves in the midst of breaking news night after night.

  • We learned 401K does not represent the total amount of money in the average American’s nest egg. I don’t know about you, but I sure wanted better online interactive tools to help me plan what’s left of my retirement. At this rate, I’ll be pounding out press releases and columns when I’m well into my 90s just to buy the groceries.
  • We learned nine miners who worked together had enough camaraderie and grit to keep each other alive in the bowels of the earth for 77 hours. Think about it. Could you and your work colleagues put aside petty arguments to pull together under those conditions, and for that long? We spend the bulk of our lives with many people who are at best tolerated during long work days. It’s becoming increasingly evident that in the face of a harrowing workplace event, these near-strangers may be the ones on whom our lives depend. Something to consider on those days when even “good morning” seems like too much conversation to expend on workmates.
  • We learned even the great Tiger Woods has bad days. A good lesson for those days when copy keeps coming back bleeding red ink from your editor’s pen, the Web site continues to crash, or that surefire marketing campaign falls flat with a huge, dull thud.
  • We learned even with such depressing economic news, there are rays of hope in — of all places — the online retail sector. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, online retailers reported a 24 percent jump in year-over-year results from the same period in 2001.

    It seems aggressive shipping promotions by companies such as Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com helped fuel the trend. According to CNN’s Eric Hellweg, “Through its own market research, Amazon settled on a price point that would entice its customers to buy more without sacrificing too much of the company’s profit margins by eating the shipping costs on bigger orders.” Hellweg says it’s “not rocket science, just mature business strategy finally put into practice.” Hmm. Maturity and the online world? So much for the naysayers who thought these words would never be seen together on the same printed page.

During this hot, long summer there were plenty of lessons. And to think school has only just begun. Imagine how smart we’ll be by winter vacation.

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