Not a drinker? Good luck doing business in China!

We are in the Asian Century according to many economists, politicians, business people and conspiracists alike. Whether you want to believe that Asia is dominating the 21st-century, both culturally and politically, is up to you. What you cannot deny, however, is China’s ever expanding influence and consequent economic significance for many countries, including the U.S. and Europe.

It is arguable and I will argue, of course, that as China continues to grow economically and politically, it will also expand its cultural influence. If you’re thinking that China will do away with its cultural traditions of yesteryear and suddenly become a clone of western business culture, I must say my friend, you may be dead wrong!

China will cling on to its own approaches and ways of doing things and as it becomes increasingly economically powerful, any pressure for change may just diminish.

So what does this mean for everyone else?

Well, China has always been a market of interest for the larger corporations, and now mid-size companies have to consider expansion into geographic areas of which they have little, if any, knowledge. Along with crunching the numbers and prepping the financial reports, businesses need to also make a fervent effort to be culturally aware and engaged.

And they can start by familiarizing themselves with a Chinese saying that goes, “No social ties can be formed in the absence of alcohol.”

Alcohol has been the staple of business deals since the beginning of time; relationships are forged, intentions conveyed and many a deals struck, thanks to the help of liquid gold. But different cultures, do these transactions in different ways. With Chinese culture only projected to become more influential, business people should become more familiar with how the Chinese wine and dine. After all, first impressions mean everything!

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Courtesy of Agence France-Presse/Getty Images via WSJ

Rules for Drinking at Chinese Banquets (courtesy of EDDIE YATMING LAM of the Wall Street Journal)

  • Cheers! Only the host is allowed to make the first toast. At that time, all guests will raise their glasses – bottoms up. A guest should not be the first to propose a toast, since that would give the impression of stealing the limelight from the host and be disrespectful. After the first round of toasts, people may leave their seats to approach others to make a toast. For other guests, the first toast to be made away from their seat should be directed toward the highest-ranking person at the other company before raising a glass to other people at the banquet.
  • Bottoms Up! Clinking glasses means bottoms up. If you take the initiative to clink glasses with someone, you must finish the drink in your own glass. If your glasses don’t clink, you can drink whatever amount you wish.
  • Hey Boss!  If a superior proposes a toast to you, you should make sure the rim of your glass is lower than theirs when they clink your glass. If the superior downs their glass, you should do the same. Raise the glass with your right hand when toasting. To indicate greater respect, you can place your left hand at the bottom of the glass.
  • Let’s Bond! Although the purpose of a business dinner is to do business, you seldom talk about specifics at the table in China. Instead, it’s enough to touch on a topic in broad strokes, since more complicated matters are reserved for office time. This time is reserved for getting to know one another and bonding.
  • It’s Been Real! At the end of a banquet, the main host will propose a final drink and thank guests for attending. They will then gulp down their glass of alcohol and others will follow suit. Make sure you’re not holding an empty glass.

If Gap Inc. Apologized, it Might go a Little Something Like This …


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I often don’t get to write creative pieces like this, but recently, in a brand writing class, the opportunity arose — this is what I think a Gap apology would/should sound like. Wonder if Gap will see this ;-).

Remember the 90’s?

Gosh those were some good times!

We danced with Audrey Hepburn, in our skinny black pants, to the jams of AC/DC and grooved to Madonna and Missy Elliott as they showed off their fresh new Cord jeans! Ooh ooh remember this? They call me mellow yellow … they call me mellow yellow. Who knew how awesome a pair of khakis could really be?

We did. We all did. We were a generation of hip, adventurous, life-loving, jean; khaki and white tee wearing “Gapsters.” We were the Gap generation and we did everything together. We hung out with our friends and went on dates; got older, got jobs and ruled casual Fridays. Even as everyone grew up and started families, Baby Gap and Gap Kids were right there with you.

And then … the dreaded, embarrassing, inevitable happened.

We had a mid life crisis! Brought on by F.F.O.M.O (Fashion Fear of Missing Out).

But instead of buying a toupee or a red convertible, we tried to change our logo and swayed from our look. What were we thinking?! While trying to be “trendy,” we lost touch with our self and all of you. For that, we are sorry.

We’re returning to the good old days of awesome, true to form, quality Gap gear we all know and love.

Fall back into the Gap!

Yours truly,




Living life — simply, since 1969


Ode to Manhattan


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Manhattan, the “hilly island” or “place of inebriation,” purchased from the Algonquian Indians by the Dutch in 1626 for what is said to be mere dollars worth of beads and trinkets. Little did either know how priceless she would later become.

Today Manhattan is the financial capital of the world, a fashion capital of the world, and she will forever be known as the city that never sleeps.

And why would you?

From the bright-lights of Times Square and the scenic-serenity of Central Park, to the glorious, unmatched skyline of her eclipsing skyscrapers, each street, drenched in its own history, shares its story with every step. Her intoxicating energy fizzes through the air like freshly poured champagne. Encouraging bold and boundless exploration, she lures you in, embraces you and shows you how to really live.

She is the place dreams are made of.

Welcome to New York City!

Breaking Down the Silos Between PR, Marketing and Advertising … Once and for all!


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John Hayes, the Chief Marketing Officer at American Express expressed in an interview that as a result of the change in society and the use of technology, marketers were losing control over what was being said about their products, while still being held accountable for their success or failure. As a result, I feel it is more crucial than ever for marketing, advertising and PR professionals to break down silos and work together. They need to create cross-functional groups that focus on reinforcing brand values and deepen relationships. But in order for this to happen there has to be a distinction and appreciation between the professions and what each brings to the table, in order to maximize the effectiveness.

All three professions are truly partners in the world of business and communications. Marketers find the target audience and align that audience with a specific product or service, advertising expands/reiterates awareness of the product or service to that audience, and PR helps strategically communicate with that audience to increase their awareness and receptiveness to the product or service.  More specifically, however, the key differences are as follows.

  • Design vs. Build: Marketing is all about creative content, sales and deliverables; advertising is about creative content geared toward publicity, and PR is about “the story,” reach, and a reflection of the organization’s image and reputation.
  • Content Control: Marketing and ad campaigns have total control over what their message is and how it will be delivered. PR on the other hand, does not have any for the most part. A story can be pitched, emphasizing talking points and key messages, but when left in the hands of the media, in the end, they choose what to write about and what to share with their audiences. PR practitioners can only hope that their objective somehow gets delivered.
  • Timing: Marketing campaigns and advertisements can practically be run at any point in a product or services life cycle, however in PR, content must be newsworthy and therefore, timing is important. No publication wants “news” about something that has existed for a long time or that another publication already broke the news about. They always want something new to present to their readers.
  • Earned vs. Bought: PR deals with earned media by building relationships with the public primarily through third-party coverage in the media. Marketing and advertising campaigns are purchased and do not require approval or feedback from the media for completion. PR works closely with both marketing and advertising because it supports publicity efforts that encourage participation of the public or stakeholders.
  • Longevity: Marketing and advertisers choose how long they want to run their campaigns. Their biggest obstacle is usually cost. PR practitioners have no control over how long the media will present their information. A newspaper for example will run a PR story for one day, but advertisements can be purchased indefinitely if they so choose.
  • Cost: Marketing and ad space are costly regardless of the medium. PR is free if you are able to get the media coverage you want.

Essentially, John Hayes was right. In today’s fragmented society, where the internet is ever expanding and information access (regardless of accuracy) is at the tip of our fingers, stakeholders/publics will no longer accept dictation. In Fraser Seitel’s The Practice of Public Relations, he says that 70% of people state they do not believe advertisements and that ads are no longer influencers in their decisions to act. As a result, the marketing message has shifted from building awareness to creating relationships (the crux of what PR is about). The big idea is not solely based on marketing and publicity, but on customer engagement. In the end, the goal of every organizational department is to successfully fulfill the bottom line of the company for which they work and I believe to maximize success, they must all do so together.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel one profession plays a greater role than the other in impacting the bottom line?

Supreme Court Approves Health Care Bill … Say Whaaat???


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Yes. You read that correctly. If you haven’t already heard, the Supreme Court approved Obama health care in a 5-4 vote. President Obama addressed the decision saying that the passing of the act reaffirms “a fundamental principle that here in America — in the wealthiest nation on Earth – no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin.” A very loaded and dramatic statement I might add, but at least now, we are closer than we have ever been to that being truth.

For those of you, however, who are unfamiliar with the new Affordable Care Act or who do not agree with it, below is a helpful checklist provided by the White House to get you better acquainted.

(No, this is not propaganda for the Obama Administration.)

It is my firm belief that knowledge is power … so read up and share your thoughts.

How do you feel about the Affordable Care Act?

Does Technology Really Bring People Together?


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In one of my earlier blog posts entitled “Blame it on the Facebook,” I talked about how technology or social media more specifically, is damaging intimate relationships. The behaviors we witness everyday seem to support this theory as well. How many times have you seen two people sitting at a dinner table and both totally glued to their cell phones instead of having an actual conversation with each other? What about the relationships that have ended because one of the partners couldn’t break away from playing “War of the Worlds” for the 13th straight hour?

Tech anthropologist, Stefana Broadbent, disagrees.  She states that through her studies, she has found that technology actually increases intimacy. Broadbent states that every person has an intimate sphere that consists of about 5 to 7 people. She goes on to say that regardless of how many friends you have on Facebook, studies have shown that you only communicate with 2 to 6 of them. Same thing for instant messaging buddy lists, Skype and cell phones, which indicate that 80 percent of all phone calls are only made to 4 people in your contact list.

For me, I can say that all sounds about right. As I try to strengthen my presence on social media networking sites like Twitter, perhaps this pattern won’t hold true, but for now, it’s pretty darn accurate.

Broadbent strengthens her point, by bringing us back 15 years and into the life of  factory workers, school children, and migrant parents. She reminds us of this time when you clocked into your job and there was absolutely no contact with the outside world, no contact with your private sphere, until you clocked out to go home. If you were lucky, “there was a public phone hanging in the corridor somewhere,” she says. The lower the job classification of the person, the more removed he or she would be from their personal sphere. She also reminds us of situations where children, whose parents moved away to work toward a better life, only knew of their parents as the people who sent money.

But thanks to the bustling technologies of today, she says people are fervently staying in touch with their most intimate sphere now more than ever. Thanks to technology, we are taking advantage of being in contact all throughout the day. According to Broadbent’s study, fifty percent of people with email access at work are actually checking their private email. The study probably does not account for people checking their email through mobile devices. If mobile devices were included, I’m sure the percentage would increase by at least thirty percent. Additionally, seventy-five percent of people admit to having private conversations at work, and one hundred percent of the population admits to texting at work.

Furthermore, family members around the world can now take advantage of Skype and services alike to keep in touch with each other in real time.

So perhaps, technology is strengthening our most intimate relationships as far as increasing accessibility. But could it also be damaging them as well? My thoughts continue to go back to the couple at the dinner table, conversation-less and texting. Is the use of technology a double edged sword?

What is the Big Deal?


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By now, most of you probably have seen or heard about the Burger King commercial featuring Mary J. Blige singing about their chicken wraps. As a result of this unfinished video clip, an outrage has spread across some of the black community. This outrage was fueled by the black women-oriented website Madame Noire who said the ad was “utter buffoonery,” and the popular TV host Wendy Williams, of “The Wendy Williams Show” who described the video as a “sad day for my people,” with “my people” referring to Black Americans, amongst other sources and commentators.  I have watched the video and as a person of color, I cannot say that I am offended by the commercial or upset that Mary J. Blige participated in the video. If the commercial was about burgers would it have made such an impact? According to critics of the video, it heightens a stereotype that blacks like chicken. Well, guess what everyone, most people like chicken. This situation is kind of like the “Streisand Effect” happening right now just in a different sense of the term. By all these people criticizing the meaning behind the commercial as being stereotypical, what they are really doing is shedding even more light on a stereotype that many are claiming they want forgotten.

Mary J. Blige seems like a smart, independent woman to me. She is a mega superstar that has amassed her fame over many years. I think that if she felt the commercial was going to be offensive, she probably would not have done it. In fact we all know the video was not finished. According to CBS news, Blige said that the ad didn’t come across the way it was planned and she would never put out an unfinished spot. Burger King said the ad was released prematurely and it hopes to have the final ad on the air soon.

We know that Burger King is hurting in comparison to other fast food giants. They’re trying to go public again and need as much shareholder support as possible. And yes, they as well as many fast food chains, have been known to largely target black populations and perhaps this is exactly what they were going for by employing a famous, black singer to sing about one of their products. But companies do this all time. They select particular spokespeople to target specific markets. It’s called target marketing.

So before everyone decides to lose their head about the ad, why don’t we all wait for the full video to be released? If you think you’re hurting Burger King with negative feedback, the likelihood is slim. The partially completed video is now viral, meaning more free advertising for Burger King. Now, probably more people than ever, are viewing the Burger King commercial and the chicken snack wraps. In the end I would like to know what is being accomplished from massively criticizing this unfinished ad? The stereotype is being widely aggrandized and we’re making assumptions that Burger King deliberately, played on this stereotype when we really have no basis for those claims, at least not at this moment anyway.

There are so many other factors that we should be protesting when it comes to these fast food giants like the quality or lack thereof of their foods and the fact that they grossly saturate low income areas, thereby, helping to increase obesity, diabetes and heart disease among low income Americans. These topics need a voice and I’d much rather see time spent on these things than on a multi-millionaire songstress singing about chicken.

BTW – Why wasn’t there as much push back on Popeyes’ “Annie the Chicken Queen” commercial, featuring a black woman as Annie the Chicken Queen?

Mad Men: Then and Now


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“Mad Men” is “A drama about one of New York’s most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm’s most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Donald Draper,” according to IMDB.

It all sounds so fascinating right? But in my opinion, “Mad Men” is the slowest unfolding television series I have ever seen in my life. Each episode appears to repeat the same storyline over and over again with a few exceptions: character involvement and a slow unraveling of the “mysterious Don Draper.” I mean what exactly is the show building up to? Are we all waiting to see what happens with Don? Or are we simply watching an era of American history through a dramatic lens? What’s all the hype about? After watching the “greatly anticipated” Season 5 premiere, I’m still asking the same questions. So I decided to make something productive out of the two-hours I wasted, I mean, used to watch Mad Men.

The following is a brief comparative analysis of the gender roles and politics portrayed in “Mad Men” to life today.

Cover of Book entitled “Mad Men Unbuttoned” by Natasha Vargas – Cooper.

Mad Men’s story line serves as an extremely accurate representation of the life — of middle to upper class Caucasians – in America during the sixties, and has a depth that draws on elements from all over the 1960s era.

To begin, “Mad Men” celebrates a time when capitalism was king; ran hand in hand with democracy, and had a strong vote in American politics.  From a liberal standpoint, I must say, I see no real difference between then and now with this exception: the American people learned as a result of the civil rights and youth movements, as well as the war protests, that they can affect change, and “big government” is not always the be all end all of American policy and decision making. Occupy Wall Street is a great example of the same thought process happening today; where people are coming together in demonstration against capitalism and its influence on the economic divide of this country.

Continuously, I foresee Season 5 of “Mad Men” incorporating many events that occurred during the late sixties in which the American people used their collaborative power to protest inequalities and injustices. The scene where Black Americans stood protesting outside the ad agency is a prelude to that factor. Having the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, blacks were now able to do things they never could before, including demanding equal opportunity employment. Although to this day, there are still many prejudices in the hiring system – across all realms of diversity – companies have vastly improved their equal opportunity practices. This is a factor the executives at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce seemingly had no intention of implementing, at least not from what we see from the fifth season premiere.

Furthermore, “Mad Men,” continues to demonstrate the great divide amongst sexes in the work place and at home – probably more than any other dynamic in the show – during the sixties. Men were the dominating sex. Women in the workplace, particularly secretaries, were disposable, made to feel the only valuable asset they had was their sexual prowess. Women were constantly used by men for various reasons, from taking care of children to sexual fulfillment to spying. This is evident in the scene with Roger, a married man, opening flirting with Peter’s secretary, who is very clearly reciprocating the flirtation. Peter, frustrated with Roger trying to take credit for his accounts, points out to his secretary that Roger was only flirting with her so he could see Peter’s schedule. The secretary seemed disappointed as if she had lost a great opportunity – becoming the big boss’ next lover.

Additionally, women were referred to as “girls,” and were spoken to as if they were children. An example of this is when Lane Pryce condescendingly tells his wife, after she asks him about paying their son’s college tuition, “This is why I don’t like you opening the mail.” The gender gap was so wide in the sixties; it was almost unheard of to think of a man doing childcare. We can see this in the scene where Peggy asks Peter to simply, take Joan’s baby back to her. Peter responds by saying, “Do I look like I have a skirt on?” Today, there are more and more stay at home dads and women in high powered positions in the workplace, heck there are women who are completely career-oriented and have no desire to have a family. Gender roles are not as clearly defined and in some cases, the roles have reversed.

The premiere of the fifth season takes us away from the “Camelot” era into 1966, on the cusp of the youth movement, and the tail of the civil rights movement, and provides many points of comparison of life then to what it is today. For those of you who are die hard Mad Men fans, knowledge of the dynamics the late 1960s brought to American history leaves a tremendous anticipation for what lies ahead for the rest of the “Mad Men” season.

If you’re a “Mad Men” fan, I’d love hear why and what I may be missing. Please share your thoughts :).

The Efficiency Behind


, , , , , has become the most popular Web 2.0 travel site with 35 million visits a month, $3.5 billion in annual travel sales, and $140 million in revenue according to  Fast Company.  That’s quite impressive for a company that only employs about 150 people versus the competition who employ in the thousands. So how does this get done? One word— efficiency.

Last week, I attended a talk, hosted by Graduate Women at MIT, entitled, “Lifelong technology entrepreneur Paul English shares secrets to moving mountains while working a balanced 40-hour week.” Going into the auditorium I was preparing to hear the same corporate spiel read from the same overloaded PowerPoint. But Paul’s talk was quite the contrary. He gave valuable insight on the workings of Kayak as well as tips on how he maintains a healthy work-life balance.

(Side note: For those of you who don’t know, Paul English is the CTO and Co-Founder of, he is also on the board of Partners In Health, and Village Health Works).

On an average day, Paul does yoga, goes to the office, where he is quickly faced with tons of e-mails, meetings, actual work-work, and then goes home to make dinner for his family.  Needless to say, Paul is a busy guy.

Yet he manages this work–life balance quite uniquely – he is all about having a 40-hour work week. This means being efficient and getting rid of the little things we do on a daily basis that simply wastes time. Paul says he receives 400-500 emails a day. He combats this inundation of emails by doing one of four things: delete, do, delegate, or defer. Never read an email and then leave it for later, scanning your emails wastes time, says Paul. When you get an email, act on it with one of those four actions. Secondly, no TV! Paul says not watching TV can save on average two hours a day to do things that are more fulfilling and bring more value to your life.

Paul’s passion for efficiency does not end with his own life. He makes sure to run a tight ship with his employees as well. If he sees his employees working longer than 40 hours or being unproductive, he calls them out on it, and helps them find ways to maximize their work time and become more efficient. He is not a fan of extended meetings or of meetings that encompass more than the key people needed to attend— it takes away from production. Furthermore, he believes in pushing power down the organizational ladder so everyone feels empowered to make decisions. He feels it’s more productive to ask forgiveness and take risks than ask permission and potentially waste time and opportunity.

Paul English and the Kayak engineers reaching out for a customer service call.

At Kayak, Paul’s desk is right alongside the rest of his employees. Sharing of ideas and giving feedback are highly encouraged.  If you ever have a customer service issue with, your phone calls and emails are answered by either Paul himself or one of the engineers. So why would an engineer that gets paid $150k a year answer customer service calls? The genius behind this personal customer service touch is A) providing great customer service and B) maximizing customer usability.  “If you make the engineers answer e-mails and phone calls from the customers, the second or third time they get the same question, they’ll actually stop what they’re doing and fix the code. Then we don’t have those questions anymore,” says Paul.

Sounds pretty hard core, but is beating out its competition big time and with less than half the staffing. Plus it’s not all work and no play. The Kayak team is equipped with a kegerator, billiards and a promise from their CTO that is the best company they will ever work for. As for Paul, who manages to spend quality time with his kids, run a top-tier travel site, work out, meditate, read, participate in about half a dozen non-profits, provide entrepreneurial coaching, and still have time for dating … well, I think we should all take some pointers.

What are your efficiency secrets?

Dear Public Relations: Thank You for the Hippie Movement


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Typically people have no idea what public relations is or what PR people do.  No, we are not all like Samantha from Sex in the City, nor do we just go around making sure celebrities’ pictures are in the best magazines.  PR is, in its most basic form, communicating a message strategically and effectively. It’s easy to site a case study about a Fortune 500 company or fashion designer to help demonstrate this, but I find the real fun is showing PR in a way you never thought about it before.

The world’s largest youth movement originated in the 1950’s with the Beatniks: young, artistic people who rejected the norms of conventional society. As the years progressed, the movement became more sophisticated.  Unbeknownst to these young outcasts, aspects of public relations began to take hold and their small existence amassed into what today is referred to as the Hippie Movement.

This movement of the 1960’s-1970s fostered a decade of love, sex, peace and recreational drugs. Being a hippie meant you were unconventional and stood firm against societal pressures. They supported anti-war protests, civil rights, and environmental consciousness. They knew that in order to make an impact and have their messages heard they had to increase their size and strength. Soon word of mouth blossomed into full blown public relations tactics.

These tactics included most famously the use of music. Artists such as The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Bob Marley and Janis Joplin to name a few, made music with a message. These messages incorporated lyrics of peace directed toward American participation in the Vietnam War and lyrics of equality during the Civil Rights Movement. Songs like Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Puff the Magic Dragon became anthems laden with subtle influential messages.

Music set the tone as grassroots tactics came into play. Protests were prevalent. Hippies actively voiced their opinions in demonstrations and sit-ins every chance they could. Police officers were handed flowers and given hugs. Slogans that powered anti-society, freedom, and self-empowerment such as “think for yourself and question authority,” (popularized by Timothy Leary an American psychologist known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs) fueled unity and cohesion in the movement.

The summer of 1969 inarguably demonstrates the role of PR in the hippie movement. The “buzz” generated for Woodstock was so successful it attracted half a million people from all over the United States to a dairy farm in Bethel, New York. A community relations task force was put together to try and appease the negative pushback from the townspeople who were afraid the hippies were going to “cause riots and rob them.”  The task force held local press conferences and free events that focused on spreading positive messages about the music festival. Although these tactics proved to be unsuccessful, as the people of Bethel later voted to make it impossible for such a large event to ever take place again, Woodstock did happen and is now known as one of the most famous musical events to take place in America’s history.

The hippies had messages they wanted to spread to the world. Although they used unusual PR methods of execution and recruitment, they were effective. As a result, what started as a small group of societal rejects amassed into the world’s largest youth movement, impacting history in a way that will never be forgotten.