WASHINGTON D.C. — Here are my prepared remarks from this Wednesday’s Consumer Federation of America awards banquet. There is no video, so I’ve  matched an audio file with a few images. I’m sorry the audio isn’t great — it’s from Michael Shreiber’s iPhone — so if it’s too hard to hear, you can read the text below. It was an amazing, flattering, humbling night.  Also below is a quick bit of Ed Mierzwinski’s talk introducing me.

(Click here to watch/listen on YouTube)

It is so wonderful to be here tonight, among all you folks who spend all your days, and many nights and weekends, fighting to make our country a little bit more fair. I’m honored that you took a little time out from that fight to have dinner here with me tonight, and floored that I’m in front of you getting an award. I’m also well aware that I stand between you and a well-earned good night’s sleep, so I’ll be brief.

I’m thrilled that this award is named for Betty Furness.  As a kid in north jersey I grew up watching betty, cheering for Betty. And it’s no small thing that I wathed with my parents, a high school teacher and a secretary — who also cheered for Betty.  I picked up a lot from that

As you know, Betty broke a lot of barriers, for women, for television, for consumers..but the one she didn’t break was age.  She felt she was prematurely pushed off the TODAY show when she still had more to give.  Age discrimination hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves — I’m doing some reporting on it now — its a bad problem that’s only going to get worse.

Speaking of getting worse, let me just take a moment to talk about journalism.  I’m very, very honored to receive this award, but I’m a little concerned that you picked me because you had trouble finding another living, breathing journalist.  Certainly you had trouble finding another living, breaking consumer journalist.  There’s a stark reality facing my profession, and you all know it well. Thousands of years of collected journalism experience have been vaporized as journalism wretchs through this time..and I firmly believe we all see the consequence of that, every day, as we see the race to the bottom that is our national discourse.

When journalism is done well, it gives voice to those who would otherwise be voiceless in society. I’m hear to warn you that journalism itself is in danger of becoming voiceless. But maybe…just maybe…there’s something you and I can do about that.

As many of your know, I left NBC News two years ago to set out my own shingle, thinking that was the better way for me to continue covering the topics I care so deeply about. There was a real danger that my voice would slip into oblivion. But thanks to some good fortune and good partners — my first partners are here tonight, the good folks of Credit.com, who threw me my first lifeboat — I’m proud to say that 874 stories later — no kidding – I’m still standing.

But hundreds, even thousands, of my colleagues are not.  I miss them. I need them. You need them.  Our country needs them. So I am working with the University of Georgia’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation on something I call sustainable journalism.  Can journalists facing the awful dillema of working in PR or writing up 27 ways dogs are cuter than cats find an alternate?

I talk often of a mythical school board reporter in Iowa who’s about to lose her job, and take with her all the institutional knowledge of how that school system runs. Can she find a way to keep doing stories that parents in her community desperately need?  If I have my way, she will. She’s start a paid newsletter, or get a few sponsors for a blog, or she’ll do a podcast, or she’ll learn to syndicate, as the folks at Credit.com have taught me. Whatever it is, I really, really want her to try. I don’t want her voice silenced.

So, how can you help?  I’m here tonight to ask your patience when you get a phone call or email from a journalist working with an outfit you’ve never heard of.  Better yet, maybe throw us a bone or two.  A scoop that might make the back page of the Washington Post might make an independent journalist’s entire career.  And yes, that’s a hint.

I know you have the same mission I do, to give voice to the voiceless.  Well, here’s a new chance to do that. I know many wounds the media has suffered are self-inflicted. But I promise you many individual journalists are worthy of your help. And they need it.  I accept this award on behalf of all my friends and colleagues who are struggling to make sure their voices don’t disappear during this turbulent time.

From my speech on Wednesday. That's Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in the background. (Photo by Ed Mierswinski)

From my speech on Wednesday. That’s Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in the background. Below, a short clip of Ed’s comments.(Photo by Ed Mierswinski)


If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Sign up for my free email list, or click on an advertisement, or just share the story.





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Click for my Brexit impact story at Grow

Click for my Brexit impact story at Grow

Today might be a good day to step away from the keyboard (after reading this story), go enjoy the sun, and not look at your portfolio.  Peeking again and again won’t do you a whole lot of good.

The Brexit “Leave” vote is a genuine surprise, and markets hate surprises.  But as we’ve seen during Friday’s down-but-not-catastrophic market activity, it might not be quite as big a surprise as you think. Clearly, some professional investors had priced in the Brexit Leave vote already.  And that’s important for you, non-professional investor. It’s too late to do whatever you might think to do in response to the result – say, sell stocks or buy gold.  That trade has already happened. The damage is done.  Your move is to just hold on to whatever plan you already had.

It feels like stocks are going to suffer a historic drop in value today. But remember, we can point to many down Dow days that had only-short term impact. Like Sept 29, 2008, when the Dow lost 778 points. Or Sept 17, 2001 – right after the 9-11 attacks — when the Dow lost 685 points.  In both cases, and on the dozens of days when the Dow has lost 400-500-600 points or more, the market has always recovered. Sometimes, within a week or two. So, don’t overreact.  (Here’s a great chart of the Dow’s 10 worst days, and what happened next.) In fact, if there’s something you’ve wanted to buy — a stock or mutual fund — today is probably a good day to buy it.

Soon, it might be a good time to buy British tea, too — if this big drop in the value of the British Pound holds, U.K. goods should become cheaper in the U.S., at least temporarily.  But don’t cheer too loudly about that.  It also means U.S. goods are about to become much more expensive across The Pond, a potential disaster for U.S. companies.

What other disasters might come from Brexit? Well, really, we don’t know..this move is unprecendented. My Scottish friends believe this almost certainly means Scotland will leave the U.K., as the Scottish want to stay with in the E.U.  And then there’s the strange case of Northern Ireland, which also voted to stay in the E.U.  Will the North start erecting more border controls with the Republic? Or will it find a way to join the Republic?  The Brexit dominoes could fall for a long time. And that’s why markets are so spooked.

I have a lot more to say about the potential Brexit impact over at Grow.  Have a read. While you are there, go ahead and check your portfolio if you must. But really, after that, go to the beach and let the dust settle.

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Sign up for my free email list, or click on an advertisement, or just share the story.





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bryant art

Quantrey Bryant wasn’t a suspected terrorist, but he was a convicted felon, and felons aren’t supposed to be able to buy guns.  But from an Alabama jail cell, using smuggled cell phones, stolen credit card data, online websites, and straw buyers, Bryant was able to set up a guns-for-money crime ring, federal authorities say.  He ultimately used crude forms of identity theft to evade background checks and buy dozens of guns with other people’s money, including several AR-15s — the assault rifle in several mass shootings recently.

Bryant’s case highlights a problem with America’s gun purchase process that’s far more fundamental than the background check loopholes now being debated in Congress.

At a time when Little League volunteers are forced to submit fingerprints and online banking customers must answer arcane questions should they forget their passwords, there is essentially no modern identify verification conducted as part of a gun transaction. The simplest forms of identity theft can foil the process nearly 100 percent of the time.

In other words, it’s easier to lie and get a gun than lie and get a credit card in America. 

No one trying to reform America’s process for selling guns should proceed without learning the lessons offered by Bryant’s story: The fact that a felon plotting from jail could buy guns online with stolen credit card information and hire a straw buyers to pick them up shows how porous the background check process really is.

In 2013, Bryant was nearing the end of five long years in an Alabama prison — he’d been convicted of two second-degree robberies in 2008 — but he had a plan to set himself up for freedom. He had a source inside high-end retailer Smith+Noble, and in August 2012, she started feeding him stolen credit and debit card data.  He’d managed to get cell phones into his cell – he was accused of having five of them back in 2010 – and began committing identity theft from there.  At first, he used the credit and debit card data to put money into other inmates’ accounts.  Then he set his sights on larger crimes. He directed co-conspirators to set up used car sales at a local auto auction house. When time came to pay for the cars, Bryant’s partners directed the seller to call Bryant, who “paid” for the cars over the phone using new credit cards he’d tricked banks into issuing.

On a Twitter account that appears to belong to Bryant, the identity thief seems to brag about his enterprise.  In May 2012, he Tweeted:

“Don’t judge me I ain’t on the streets and I’m still getting money.”

But as freedom crept closer, Bryant turned his attention to buying guns.

In February 2013, Bryant was transferred out of Alabama Department of Correction Facilities into the custody of Jefferson County Community Corrections.  He was allowed to complete the final month of his sentence at his mother’s home, while under supervision of a community corrections officer. He was formally released from custody on March 19. But his online gun-buying splurge had already begun.

On March 12, Bryant ordered three pistols from an online gun website (I have decided not to name).  The orders were placed in the name of Curtis Glen Robinson, who would later plead guilty to aiding Bryant.  Neither the indictment nor the plea agreement make clear how the transaction was funded, other than indicating that stolen credit/debit card information was used.

[Read more!]

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Nlich.org. Click for full graphic

Hourly wage required to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in each state. Nlich.org-click for full graphic.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that there isn’t a single state in the U.S. where a worker earning minimum wage can afford the rent for a two-bedroom apartment — or, for that matter, a one-bedroom apartment. You might be surprised to learn that there isn’t a state where renters earning average pay can afford a two-bedroom apartment, either.

(This story is part of my Restless Project: Why Americans Can’t Sleep at Night.)

The National Low Income Housing Coalition crunched the numbers recently and found that a toxic mix of stagnant wages and rising rents has made things really difficult on a wide swath of U.S. wage-earners. It calculated a “housing wage” by determining how much workers would have to earn hourly to afford a “fair market rent” apartment for 30% of their income. By that measure, the national housing wage is $20.30 for a two-bedroom unit and $16.35 for a one bedroom — both far above even recently increased minimum wages.

But in many parts of the country, the numbers are even bleaker. Near Washington, D.C., the two-bedroom rental wage is about $31 an hour. In New York, it’s $27. In Maryland, it’s $26. In fact, in six staes and D.C., the housing wage is north of $25 an hour, the report says.

(This story first appeared on Credit.com. Read it there.)

Another way of expressing the same problem: Using the national rates, a worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would need to work 2.8 full time jobs, or approximately 112 hours per week, to afford a two-bedroom apartment. That renter would need to work 90 hours to afford a one-bedroom, according to the report.

“In only twelve counties and one metropolitan area is the prevailing minimum wage sufficient to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment,” the report says. Those regions are all in West Virginia and Washington state.

Meanwhile, the average hourly wage of renters in the U.S. is $15.42, which is $4.88 less than the two-bedroom housing wage.

“In no state is the mean renter wage sufficient to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rate,” the report points out.

Here’s one example of the troubling numbers at work:

In Washington state, fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment is $1,203. That means a worker needs annual earnings of about $48,000 to afford that unit, or $23.13 per hour. Based on the state minimum wage, a worker would need 2.4 jobs full-time jobs to afford that. The real average renter wage in Washington is just $16.69, meaning a worker with an average-pay job needs 1.4 jobs to afford a two-bedroom place. In King and Snohomish counties, the region’s most expensive areas, the housing wage is much higher: $29.29.

Part of the problem is skyrocketing rents due to high demand and low supply. Vacancy rates are at their lowest levels since 1985, and rents have risen at an annual rate of 3.5%, the fastest pace in three decades, according to the housing group.

Another part of the problem I’ve written about before: Builders are less interested in constructing medium-prices housing at the moment for numerous economic reasons, preferring mostly high-end construction. This impacts availability of starter homes and rental units.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition says it is using a trust fund to help communities build and rehabilitate affordable rental homes.

“It is also critical to preserve and improve the nation’s public housing stock, expand the number of housing vouchers, and increase funding for other programs providing affordable housing to truly end this crisis,” the report says.

What is the housing wage for your state? You can find out on the map on this page. Remember that your earnings are only one of many things that determine your ability to find housing. Your potential landlord will probably look at a version of your credit report as part of your rental application, and badcredit rating or a history of payment problems could make it harder to find a place to live. A pasteviction could be really problematic, as well, though it may not be a deal breaker.

It’s a good idea to review your credit before looking for housing, so you can check it for errors as well as be upfront about anything a landlord may find during a credit review. To keep track of where you stand, you can get a free credit report summary, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Sign up for my free email list or click on an advertisement.



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Katie Ray-Jones is CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Katie Ray-Jones is CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

In the days when there were newspapers, every cub reporter’s first job was to go to the local police station and mine stacks of police reports looking for good stories.  In my first job, as is common, a desk sergeant sat with me once a week and sifted reports for me.  He handed me the “interesting” reports that might lead to stories; the dull and routine went back into his desk drawer.

Week after week, he handed me DUI after DUI.  The “dull” pile?  I can still hear his voice in my head.

“Domestic.  Domestic…..another domestic.”  And into the drawer.

In the peaceful little suburb I covered, a majority of police reports were domestic violence reports that landed in the sergeant’s desk drawer.  I eventually got up the courage to ask about them, and I was told it wasn’t fair to embarrass families involved.  A fight with the police chief ensued, but that’s not the story I’m writing today.

On days like today, I can’t help but wonder if Omar Mateen’s name was hidden in a drawer like that.

When news broke that Orlando monster Omar Mateen had an ex-wife who says she was abused, Katie Ray-Jones wasn’t surprised.  More often than not, mass murders are preceded by domestic violence, she says.

“Those of us working in domestic violence have recognized this link for some time,” said Ray-Jones, ‎CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  “We are seeing a strong correlation between domestic violence and mass murder, and we have the data to support that.”

A website that tracks gun violence published a study recently of the 133 mass shootings in America between January 2009 and July 2015.  Its conclusions were stark:

“There was a noteworthy connection between mass shooting incidents and domestic or family violence. In at least 76 of the cases (57%), the shooter killed a current or former spouse or intimate partner or other family member, and in at least 21 incidents the shooter had a prior domestic violence charge,” it said.

In other words, mass shooters commonly attack intimate partners, but even when they don’t, the shooter often has a domestic violence background. It should seem obvious that a person capable of harming someone they supposedly love is capable of far greater destruction.

“Often they are not labeled domestic violence in the headline. But people who work in this space are not surprised when there is a history,” Ray-Jones said.

We don’t know if Mateen’s ex-wife called police on her husband after he allegedly abused her — probably not, give reasons we’ll discuss.  Plenty of facts remain unclear. But regardless of how this story turns, we do know there’s a clear link between family abuse and mass murder. We just haven’t been listening carefully enough. And as we all scramble to do something — anything — to stop the next Omar Mateen — one critical step is to listen better to abuse victims. Because odds are high the next mass shooter is sitting in a police department desk drawer right now.

It might seem natural to wonder why Mateen’s ex-wife didn’t ring a louder alarm bell, and Ray-Jones said she used to ask those kinds of questions when she started working in domestic violence.  But not any longer. Victims are scared for their lives, for good reason.

“Clearly this is a man capable of tremendously heinous acts. Women know their partner the best. When he says, ‘If you call police, I’ll kill you’ you have to believe he’s capable of that,” she said.

But fear of the violence spouse is only part of the story. Many victims who call her hotline say calling the police would do more harm than good.

“We recently surveyed survivors’ experience with law enforcement, and a lot of women say they did not have a favorable experience when they did call police. Sometimes, no one is arrested.  Or police say, ‘Just go cool off for a few hours… Even female officers often don’t respond well sometimes,” she said.

We also live in a time of decreased trust in law enforcement, Ray-Jones said.

In a survey of hotline callers, 80 percent of those who had called police previously said they were “somewhat or extremely” afraid to call them in the future.  And 1 in 3 said they felt “less safe” after calling police.

But even when police handle the calls well, there are other frustrations. District attorneys prosecute violence as misdemeanors; victims recant testimony, often out of fear.

When we mishandle domestic violence cases, we miss a very important opportunity to stop a future, heinous crime. Very few domestic abusers turn into mass murderers. But it’s also true that men who beat their wives rarely do it just once.  Instead, the level of violence often increases.

“When I worked at the local level supervising a team of 15 people who responded to 911 calls …so many times staff on this team would come back and talk about a different victim, but the same perpetrator, someone we’ve encountered before,” she said. “He leaves and finds someone else to control. We know that it’s rare that someone who is an abusing person does it once.”

Guns also play a big role in domestic violence cases.  The hotline surveyed 5,000 victims and found that 10 percent of time, a firearm had been discharged as part of the abuse.  In other cases, guns are used for psychological abuse, such as “the husband cleaning the gun while staring at the wife,” Ray-Jones said.

“We are finding that there is not enough protection for women in violent relationships where firearms are a part of the relationship,” she said.

It’s too early to draw specific conclusions from Mateen’s case, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from focusing on the connection between domestic violence and mass murder.

It’s hard to imagine the Orlando tragedy feeling any worse, but the idea that an obvious warning sign might have been missed adds to the torture for victims’ families, and it should fuel our resolve to not let it happen again. Ray-Jones is advocating for more funding to train law enforcement so they can better handle domestic violence cases and support victims.

The rest of us? We should all learn to listen better.   And to open a few more desk drawers.

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Sign up for my free email list or click on an advertisement.



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Levittown, on New York’s Long Island, new starter homes were plentiful in the late 40s and 50s. Click to visit the Instant House blog, a tribute to manufactured homes.

Levittown, on New York’s Long Island, new starter homes were plentiful in the late 40s and 50s. Click to visit the Instant House blog, a tribute to manufactured homes.

Young would-be home buyers are still sitting on the sidelines of America’s housing market, with first-time homebuyers representing a decades-low share. Student loans, high prices and low credit scores have all been blamed for this, but Bank of America recently proposed a different explanation.

Perhaps they’re just being patient.

Young adults don’t want starter homes, the bank said when explaining the results of a recent survey; they want to wait until they can buy their dream home and perhaps the home they’ll grow old in.

This story first appeared on Credit.com. Read it there.

“Seventy-five percent of first-time buyers would prefer to bypass the starter home and purchase a place that will meet their future needs, even if that means waiting to save more,” the bank says. “Thirty-five percent want to retire there.”

When asked why they haven’t bought a home, 56% told researchers, “I don’t think I can afford a home or the type of home I’d want.”

California loan agent and housing expert Logan Mohtashami said he’s seen evidence of this in his own sales. Younger folks are looking for larger homes, he said, specifically “more three-bedroom detached homes. That means no condos for them.”

But while patience is a virtue, so is facing reality. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem with claiming that would-be buyers are simply waiting and saving: There are very few starter homes for them to buy. Would these young people feel differently if they actually had options?

To understand the question, let’s back up a bit and get into the numbers.

The housing market is hot — home price listings are up 9% nationally from one year ago, according to Realtor.com. But the market is still broken. Only 30% of homes are being sold to first-time buyers, when the historic rate is 40%, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The absence of (mostly) young first-time buyers creates problems all the way up the housing market food chain, making life difficult for families looking to sell and trade up while turning millennials into a generation of apartment dwellers.

Or perhaps it’s not really a problem. It’s possible some homeownership attitudes are changing, and trading up is becoming a thing of the past. Older generations were very comfortable buying smaller homes and moving as their families grew. Today’s buyers are used to much larger homes — the average home built in 2016 is 2,500 square feet, compared to 1,500 square feet in the 1970s, Mohtashami said.

Meanwhile, long-term trends suggest that Americans — both first-time buyers and trade-up buyers — are staying in their homes longer. A study by the National Association of Home Builders shows families moved after 11 years in 1987, on average, but stayed 16 years in 2011. The research is skewed by the housing recession, but the long-term trend is still for buyers to stay in their homes longer.

Maybe we should call millennials the “one and done” crowd.

But back to the chicken-and-egg problem. First-time home buyers have an average student loan debt of $25,000, according to NAR, which puts a serious damper on home-buying dreams. NAR thinks that debt delays saving for a down payment by an average of three years.

But debt is only one of the obstacles young people face.

“There are several reasons why there should be more first–time buyers reaching the market, including persistently low mortgage rates, healthy job prospects for those college-educated and the fact that renting is becoming more unaffordable in many areas,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist at NAR. “Unfortunately, there are just as many high hurdles slowing first-time buyers down. Increasing rents and home prices are impeding their ability to save for a down payment, there’s scarce inventory for new and existing homes in their price range, and it’s still too difficult for some to get a mortgage.”

Where Are All the Starter Homes?

The disappearing starter home is one element of the equation that some have overlooked, but it’s critical. Five minutes on any realty website can offer a tough dose of reality to anyone dreaming of buying a first home.

Sales of $200,000-and-under homes dropped the past two years, according to RealtyTrac. And many of the existing cheaper homes — often made available through foreclosure during the recession — have been snapped up by investors and turned into single-family rental units. A report last year from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that the recession added 3.2 million more single-family home rental units, “unprecedented” growth in this part of the market.

Then there’s the new construction problem. Builders just aren’t building $200,000 homes right now for a simple reason: Larger homes mean larger profit margins. BuilderOnline.com did a great job of breaking down the math in a story last year:

Making a $200,000 home work as a home builder is junior high–level arithmetic. Solving for profit — say, 20% — land and building direct costs cannot exceed $160,000. Problem is, a 20% margin on a sub-$200,000 house has become frighteningly elusive in the past decade.

The lowest build cost is around a $50 a foot,” says David Goldberg, a home building and building products manufacturers analyst for UBS, New York. “If you do a 2,000-square-foot house, which is what you’d have to do to compete with existing stock, that leaves you with $100,000 of sticks-and-bricks cost. The maximum cost on the land would be $60,000.”

So back to the original proposition: Are young people staying in apartments or living with their parents because they are patient or because they are hopeless? The answer, no doubt, lies somewhere in the middle. But when young people say they are simply waiting until they can afford the home they want, you have to wonder if they are being patient or simply sparing themselves the heartache of shopping for a unicorn.

If you’re in the market to buy a home, it’s a good idea to check your credit before you apply, since a good credit score will help you qualify for better terms and rates. You can see where you currently stand by viewing two of your credit scores, updated each month, for free on Credit.com.

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Sign up for my free email list, or click on an advertisement, or just share the story.





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OhioAuditor.Gov

OhioAuditor.Gov

How bad has the ransomware problem become?  The state auditor of Ohio held a press conference yesterday because local government agencies keep falling for ransomware attacks. And a firm that tracks domain activity found a 3,500% increase in ransomware-related domain name registrations in the past quarter.  Hacker love to cut and paste, so imitation is the surest sign that something is working.

Recall the high-profile, alarming ransomware attacks earlier this year on hospitals.  These “your money or your data” crimes can do a lot of damage quickly, and confused organizations brought to their knees by missing mission-critical data often pay up.  Of course, smaller organization with less IT resources are at greater risk.

Here’s what’s going on in Ohio.  Auditor of State Dave Yost issued a warning on Thrusday to treasurers, fiscal officers and others responsible for spending public money that cybercrimes targeting government are “on the rise.” And he offered these examples.

  • An investigation continues in an eastern Ohio county after the county’s court data was attacked by ransomware on May 31. A virus had encrypted the court’s data and hackers demanded $2,500 for the key to unlock the information. Because a recent copy of the data wasn’t available, the county agreed to pay the $2,500. (Note: Because the transaction is ongoing, we are not identifying the county.)
  • A similar ransomware attempt was made April 5 in Vernon Township (Clinton County). That cyberattack did not result in the payment of any ransom because the township’s data was backed up.
  • In Peru Township (Morrow County), the township fiscal officer’s computer began screeching on March 9 before a notice appeared on the screen advising that a solution was available by calling an 800 number. The township paid $200 to stop the attack.

In separate, non-ransomware incidents,  an employee at Big Walnut Local School District in Delaware County was tricked into issuing a check for $38,520 to a hacker. The money was recovered before it was lost. The Madison County Agricultural Society wasn’t as lucky; it was scammed out of $60,491 through someone posing as the IRS, collecting back taxes.

“We’ve all seen and heard about the criminals who try to steal our personal funds. These scammers would like nothing more than to get their sticky fingers on our tax dollars, too,” Yost said. “We need to be vigilant because they are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they attempt to steal money through the internet.”

Yost is right.  Network security firm Infoblox reported last week that hackers were falling over each other to set up websites related to ransomware scams.  The firm tracks domain registrations as a way of monitoring the Internet for threats, and it says it found a 35-fold increase in newly observed ransomware domains from the fourth quarter of 2015.

“There is an old adage that success begets success, and it seems to apply to malware as in any other corner of life.
In the first quarter of 2016, there were numerous stories in the news about successful ransomware attacks on both
companies and consumers,” the firm said.  “We believe the larger cybercriminal community has taken notice.”

According to the FBI, ransomware victims reported costs of $209 million in the first quarter, compared to $24 million for all of 2015.

“Unless and until companies figure out how to guard against ransomware – and certainly not reward the attack – we expect it to continue its successful run,” Infoblox said.

Yost said all the crimes began with some variation of phishing, and urged all government employees to be on alert.

“The internet is the tool of choice for criminals, and we need to make it as difficult as possible for thieves to access community treasure chests,” Yost said.

The best way to do that, as Vernon Township showed above, is to keep good backups.

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Sign up for my free email list or click on an advertisement.



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Click to learn more about the awards dinner.

Click to learn more about the awards dinner.

Tell the truth: when people say “lifetime service awards,” you think “retirement.”  So it is with mixed feelings that I share with you I will be honored with one on Wednesday.  The Consumer Federation of America, which represents 300 non-profit consumer organizations around the country, will be presenting me with the Betty Furness Consumer Media Service Award.  The honor is much greater because I will be sharing the dais with three other recipients: Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois; U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio; and Albert Foer, a leading voice in antitrust issues.

The Paley Center (click for more)

The Paley Center (click for more)

The awards, and the short speeches, will be presented at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C., at a dinner “to honor distinguished lifetime service to consumers.”

I’m so flattered and humbled. Any writer will tell you the eternal question you ask yourself, no matter how successful you might seem to others, is simply “Is anyone reading?”  So an award like this helps me feel a little better about the answer to that question.

Those of you who know anything about my journey from Web news startup to major media to independent journalist know there’s a special reason I am excited about this. When I left NBC News two years ago and set out my own shingle, I worried that my stories would disappear from view.  Many of the topics I write about — privacy, technology run amok, the disappearing middle class — might disappear with me.  Coming now, as I struggle to help fix the news business, this award means a lot to me.

But rather than dwell on the “lifetime service” part of this, let me dwell on the Betty Furness part of this. Betty would never have it, anyway.

I grew up cheering on Betty as she shamed misbehaving companies on New York television, and then on the TODAY show.

Furness, rather famously, never retired — she simply reinvented.  She was a breakthrough early TV star and a pioneer for women.  But half-way through her very comfortable life as the suburban face of Westinghouse appliances, Furness took the leap to consumer protection in the Johnson administration.  Within a few years, she was hired by WNBC-TV to be the station’s consumer reporter — practically inventing the category.

“I quit because I was restless. I wanted to be me,” Furness said.

Here’s how the New York Times described Furness in its obituary for her.

“In her heyday with WNBC-TV in New York, she regularly broadcast the names of errant businesses and shoddy products. She pointed television cameras at stores where New Yorkers had been cheated, and lectured the proprietors. She reported on hamburger that was too fat, on warranties that were too lean, on gadgets that were too temperamental and on business ethics that she saw as seriously flawed. She even scolded Macy’s.”

Before Betty, local TV was afraid to names names and shame when shame was required. Executives said that audiences weren’t interested (while they were counting advertising dollars).  The popularity of Betty’s segments proved them horribly wrong.  Eventually, she rose to fill-in anchor at TODAY, replacing Barbara Walters for a time.

“Many a local television station brought on a consumer reporter in various cities around the country because producers saw Betty defy the conventional odds and make the Today Show segment a highly rated few minutes,” says Ralph Nader about Furness on his website. “Betty Furness overcame those taboos and raised the integrity of journalism more than a few notches. She came through on television with clarity, honesty, and sometimes a bit of humor. With her strong voice and graphic illustrations of how more than a few businesses rip off or harm consumers, she made a public service out of the public airwaves. In a line of work where one serious error could shorten a television journalist’s career, Betty Furness persevered and prevailed.”

America needs a lot of things right now, but the spirit of Betty Furness sits atop that list.  If someone thinks I am carrying on even a little of her tradition, I couldn’t be more proud of that.

I’ll have some images and some more remarks about the event on Thursday. Then, back to work. As Betty might say, there’s a lot to do.

But before you go, here’s a bit more Nader on Betty:

“Betty, you taught millions of people how never to retire, how always to grow into different careers while using the skills developed from prior work to be ever more useful to the society around you. You’ve earned a place in American history all by yourself, your true grit and irrepressible interest in what is important in peoples’ lives. No one had a larger constituency — the consumers of America. No one was truer to their claims for justice.”

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Sign up for my free email list, or click on an advertisement, or just share the story.





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whiskey and money

By Dan Maccarone and Bob Sullivan

Have you ever wondered how tips get shared in a busy bar when multiple servers help you? Well, with so much cash changing hands so quickly, it’s not exactly scientific. And sometimes, it gets messy — or downright ugly. Here’s an example of both:

“I worked in a bar once that didn’t have a ‘pooled house,’ and bartenders got tipped out by servers. I was serving downstairs with an inexperienced bartender on a quiet Sunday, but there was a party upstairs that eventually spilled over onto our floor,” tells a bartender friend of Dan’s. “The bartender was quickly overwhelmed, so I left my tables — and my tips — and jumped behind the bar to help her bust out cocktails. When the rush was over, I mentioned to her that she wasn’t going to tip me out because the bartenders never tipped out the servers. She said, ‘Well, I found this 28 dollars on the bar and I don’t know what it’s for, so why don’t you just take that. I said ‘thank you,’ and took it.”

Co-author Dan Maccarone

Co-author Dan Maccarone

This story — taking some cash from the bar that hasn’t been rung in — may sound innocent enough. But it doesn’t end there.

“At the end of my shift,” Dan’s server-turned-bartender friend said, “I was like, ‘hey did you ever figure out what that 28 dollars was for?’ She said she did, but that she didn’t ring it in, so I should keep it. But I handed it back to her.”

An honest gesture, it would seem. But not to everyone.

“Three days later, I was called into the office and my manager said ‘I just got back from vacation and was reviewing the video from the other day and I saw you take cash from off the bar. Now I can’t trust you.’ I said, ‘I knew you couldn’t trust me when I started working at a bar with cameras. And now you tell me that you’re looking at the footage and there’s footage of me giving it back.’ She’s like I know you paid it back, but you still took it.”

Of course, Dan’s friend didn’t stay at that bar much longer.

Cash. Theft. Trust. Dishonesty. Disloyalty. Disrespect. Fairness. Unpaid labor. So many big notions arise from small, everyday bar transactions. And, let’s face it — almost all workplace transactions. Woe to the bar owner — any manager — who is ignorant of all these dynamics. An owner who is simply obsessed with stopping theft at all costs can easily misread situations like these. After all, the server was the real crime victim above. And the paranoid owner actually himself an honest, hardworking employee.

But you don’t have to be that oaf of an owner. Just keep in mind the first piece of advice Dan’s partners offered when they opened their first bar, “Destination.”

“Everyone will steal from you.”

Dan, full of eager innocence, was baffled. How can you create an environment of trust when you take that approach? Wasn’t it easy to get caught? Pilfering dollars from every shift wouldn’t be hard to miss. But stealing doesn’t always involve swiping a few bucks here and there and the motivation to steal may have very little to do with how you treat the staff — more on the second part later.

EMPLOYEE HAPPINESS

One of Dan’s bar partners used to clean house every six months. His idea was to make workers live in fear of their jobs at all times; he believed this “helped” them somehow discover motivation and create new reasons for customers to buy drinks. In reality, however, this just inspired bitterness and encouraged them to “stick it to the man.” While a great boss or leader doesn’t necessarily have to equate friendship, it should spark respect, a feeling that perhaps has commonalities with fear but it’s certainly not the real thing.

When an industry as a whole accepts that everyone will steal from you — it’s just the amount and how they do it that’s a variable — perhaps it’s worth re-examining how things are done. That may be another topic for another time. What we can do, however, is take some notes from where the bar industry goes wrong and ensure we don’t do the same thing in other companies. You may be thinking to yourself, “if the bar industry already gets it wrong, aren’t we already well ahead of them?”

Sadly, the answer is no.

WHAT IS STEALING?

Seems like an easy question, doesn’t it? Simply put, it’s taking something that doesn’t belong to you. But in bars it’s not quite that simple. Of course there are the times where some bartenders will swipe the cash a customer gives them, pocket it and never ring it in. That’s pretty obvious stealing. Then there are the occasions when your cash register balances out with more cash in it than you rang in — that could be an extra $20 in your pocket and no one will ever know. Then it gets complicated.

Perhaps you’ve ordered a whiskey or a wine and that glass seemed a little too full. Maybe you tipped the bartender a bit more because of that. In that case, technically, that overpour is the bartender giving you a little something extra and taking it out of the bar’s pocket.

The “buy-back” is a common tactic in bartending. Bar workers believe that no one leaves after getting a free drink, so customers stay and pay for one more and unless the customer is a total chode, he or she will tip on the free drink.

Ever done a shot with the bartender? Seems like a friendly gesture for sure, but if you’re not charged for either shot (and it’s a 50/50 chance on whether you will be), the bartender didn’t actually buy that for you. The bar did. And there was most likely a tip in there somewhere.

There’s a fine line here because the previous three examples are sometimes totally kosher depending on the bar’s policies. Some bars allow their staff to do shots with customers as part of the buy-back policy (Dan and his crew at Destination definitely did). An overpour to a regular is common or using that tactic instead of a buy-back is absolutely legit — you could even say acceptable. But it’s easy to imagine a bartender crossing the line — say, 20 friends come in on a Saturday night and no one pays for anything, but that bartender pockets an extra hundred bucks in “tips.”

STEALING IN THE REAL WORLD

You may ask where the parallel between the bar and corporate world exist. Certainly, teams aren’t giving away the house on a regular basis, right? And you’re not worried about an account manager pocketing part of a project budget. That would be ridiculous.

But there are other ways unhappy team members can — maybe unassumingly — stick it to you. The obvious ones are trite: swiping office supplies, taking advantage of free food or drinks (as an unhappy employee in his early twenties, Dan once stocked his entire fridge with free soda from the office), spending most of the day gobbling up Facebook, Twitter or even Medium(!) posts instead of actually getting work done. Wasting time online may be the most common of all these days, sparking many companies to block access to social media on any company devices. Not that that really makes a difference, as people can access those same sites on their phones, tablets and even watches now.

Then there are grey areas. Many companies look at any work created on their hardware as property of the company. So, if an employee stays late to work on a side project, their employer can lay claim to it should they want to. The argument is simple: the company provided the resources therefore it deserves some of the reward.

This actually happened to Dan at an agency about a decade ago. He and his comedy group created a game that went viral. His boss immediately suggested they sell the same concept to a client (without compensating Dan or his friends), claiming because they’d programmed the game on the company’s computer, the company owned it.

Some of this “theft” is acceptable, naturally. A few minutes here and there on Facebook, grabbing a few pens or a notebook for use outside the office — these things aren’t going to sink the company and can help morale.

What follows is the bigger question about stealing: the anger at being told the company owned this piece of work he and his friends had spent a lot of personal time on immediately seeped into Dan’s day to day feelings on the job (he had suggested a similar idea months before and his boss had rejected it out of hand). Instead of congratulating him on his success, his boss attempted to take advantage of it. That instantly created an unfriendly work environment where Dan was in fear of his job if he didn’t turn over the files to the game. Even worse, it inspired Dan and a co-worker to copy every file they could onto their own hard drives to make sure they had access to whatever they needed if they found themselves out of jobs.

This is where the “everyone will steal from you” scenario becomes scary.

People sign NDAs all the time, but they can’t unlearn things they’ve learned. You can try to block them, stifle them, etc, but when it comes down to it, as an employer, you’ve (hopefully) taught your team members a lot.

We don’t say this to be paranoid. In fact, just the opposite. Trusting your employees, treating them with respect, encouraging independent work and thought are what inspire loyalty, hard work, respect and a long-term relationship — both in your current situation and down the line. Creating unnecessary reasons for someone to want to steal, or at the very least turning their days in a bored purgatory, does no-one any good.

STOP THE BLEEDING

Stealing — or should we say “stealing” — very simply finds its roots in team satisfaction.

Keeping employees happy is not a hard thing. Most of the time the unhappiness comes from a lack of respect: respect of that person’s time, knowledge, experience, or just them as a person.

Bartenders are no exception: whether they’re experts in cocktails, beer or musical theatre, you can leverage their talents to have a positive impact on the business (that doesn’t necessarily mean you need an amature rendition of Hamilton performed behind the bar, but perhaps the energy, rhythm and character of a good actor can help customers stay excited).

From the bar world, here’s one of Dan’s favorite examples of an employee preventing stealing. One afternoon, a porter at Destination named Oscar was cleaning the basement when a random guy off the street snuck into the basement, ducked into the liquor room and snatched a couple bottles of Jack Daniels. As he fled, Oscar (the porter) chased him down several blocks on Avenue A, tackled him, reclaimed the bottles and waited for the police to arrive. All for $80 worth of whiskey. You cannot ask for a more dedicated team member than that.

In the world of business, keeping your employees happy should come from the same place. We’ve seen agencies that were sweatshops, keeping people for 14–18 hours a day, pulling all-nighters and paid pennies without the opportunity to find a way out. Not shockingly, motivation wanes after a few short months and the turnover rate at those places is insane.

At Destination, Dan and his partners employed the tactics he used at his agency when managing staff. It was a place of respect, of open conversation, of shared ideas. Where free drinks were encouraged but where ringing higher than expected was rewarded with bonuses. At both Hard Candy Shell and Charming Robot, a bonus structure for every employee exists — why not give over-performing bartenders and waitstaff the same incentive? It’s a low-cost, simple solution that benefits everyone.

And don’t forget, making employees work extra without paying them is “stealing,” too — and may even be stealing, without the quotes, depending on applicable labor laws. Set expectations for a standard workday (we all have to work late sometimes), encourage people to take vacation, listen to their ideas thoughtfully and honestly, give constructive feedback, compliment people’s good work.

When a customer is wrong or abusive to your team in anyway, come to your team’s defense and don’t be afraid to ask that customer to leave — literally if it’s a bar and metaphorically if it’s another business. There’s nothing fun about firing or 86’ing clients/customers, but when that relationship becomes a plague on everyone, you have to weigh the revenue they produce against the overall health of the company. There’s no excuse ever for a client/customer to mistreat a member of your team. For the most part, the client is fairly embarrassed for being called out and is overly apologetic. Treating people with respect comes from all sides.

Which comes back to Dan’s friend at the beginning of this post.

“If you have an open relationship with your manager, you’re not going to worry about reporting your buy-backs,” she says. “If I owned a bar, I would just give my bartenders a hundred dollars a day in buy-backs — remember that’s not what it’s actually costing the bar. My bartenders would be responsible with that money because it can go a long way and they aren’t going to give away three $32 shots.”

That’s still “stealing,” but notice the difference — the bar is “in on it.” It’s human nature to want to get away with things here or there — just like it’s human nature to revel in getting something for free every now and then. That will never change. Everyone “steals.” Smart owners just learn how to work with this force of nature, not against it. When it works right, it something worth celebrating with a free drink.

More Barstool MBA:
The Brand as Experience >
The Well-Timed Free Gift >

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dan Maccarone is the co-founder of Charming Robot, a digital product design agency in NYC. He also hosts the podcast Story in a Bottle, chronicling the stories of tech and media professionals. Follow him on Twitter@danmaccarone.

Bob Sullivan is a New York Times bestselling author and a Peabody award winning journalist. His work can be found at BobSullivan.net and you can follow him on Twitter @RedTapeChron.

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Sign up for my free email list, or click on an advertisement, or just share the story.





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whiskey

The stolen glance at a watch or phone. The fiddling with the coat on the back of a chair. The lingering over a one-third full drink. The “one last look around.”

A well-trained bartender spots the signs right away. The “Should I Stay or Should I Go” look. This crucial moment plays out dozens, maybe hundreds of times each night at every bar in every city in the world. What happens next might be the difference between a great night for the till and a bar that closes early. Or closes, forever.

And right at this very moment, a well-trained bartender saves the day — or in this case, the night — with a well-timed free gift.

When done correctly, with class and elegance, no one even notices. In fact, the subtlety of the gesture is critical. Because it’s not for everyone. It’s just for someone who is special.

Co-author Dan Maccarone

Co-author Dan Maccarone

As if delivered from the sky, a fresh bottle, glass, or mug appears — often swapped out for the near-empty drink with sleight of hand befitting a street shell game hustler. And maybe a knuckle rap on the bar, with a whisper:

“That’s on me, mate.”

When treated to a free drink….The patron, now staring at a full glass, smiles wryly. Maybe she offers mild protest. But in a moment, his shoulders relax, the coat stay put on the chair, and he’s in for another drink. And almost certainly, another two — because almost no one leaves after getting a free drink.

Witness the wisdom of the buyback. The power of the well-timed free gift.

It’s not just booze, of course. Free anything works. When Dan used to bartend “Sunday Fundays” at Destination, his bar in New York City’s East Village, the crowd would inevitably transform from individuals to a group because we, as bartenders, would incentivize them to stay and enjoy. Every weekend would include some experimentation from the kitchen — like bacon and cheese stuffed into our homemade pretzel nuggets. They’d give them away, giving every customer a say in how they evolved the recipe throughout the day.

And people would stay. All day. Those little spontaneous gifts to them sparked what transformed into a long-term commitment. A great Sunday for them, and for Destination.

The single hardest thing for any business to do is get someone to walk in the door — literally, or virtually. But the second hardest thing is to get that someone to stay there.

This is the second in our series, Barstool M.B.A., where we take the lessons learned from bar ownership and playing music in bars, and help you apply it to your business. You can read part 1, The Experience is Your Brand, here.

Every business has this “stay a while” problem, but bars solved it long ago with the “buyback.” The term suggests that the institution of the bar somehow extends some kind of formal credit to the drinker for buying X amount of drinks. And, in fact, some bars do operate on a strict three-to-one formula, with free drinks entered into the point of sale systems and inventory carefully tracked.

But that’s not a well-timed gift. That’s just a confusing “buy three get one free” price tag. It’s also an expectation that will eventually cause hard feelings (“Hey, where’s my buyback!?”). And it probably hurts as much as it helps. What if that drinker demanding a buyback has already had too much? You’d rather he left anyway. What if the bar is already overcrowded? You don’t want to waste that stool on a non-revenue generating customer. What if the bar is nearly empty, with buzz (craic!) threatening to vanish, and you desperately want that one good-spiriting couple to stay? It might be worth giving them a free drink after they’ve only paid for two, or even one.

The principle of the well-timed free gift is far more subtle, and far more effective, than a formulaic buyback. But it requires bravery by ownership. And trust. It takes guts to allow a bartender to make on-the-spot, snap judgments about doling out free stuff.

The potential for corruption (Free drinks for all my friends!) and even outright theft is high (We’ll deal with that in a future chapter, called Everyone Will Steal From You). If you are granting this subtle power to workers, they won’t be able to stop what they are doing and enter things into a spreadsheet. They have to have a feel for keeping the right people in the place and the right time, and you’ll have to just trust them.

Everybody likes free stuff. Everybody likes rewarding loyal customers. But giving away free stuff is not good business. What is? Turning a customer you are about to lose into a customer who is about to spend more money. That’s business magic. Sometimes, all it takes is a gift. Not just any gift, of course, but the right gift at the right time.

A gift doesn’t always have to be a tangible thing. Sometimes it’s just something that adds a benefit to the user/consumer that has no obvious value to the business — doing a “solid” — but in the end actually reinforces the brand.

Here’s a digital world example: when Dan worked on Hulu, the question came up of what happens when a user searches for a show that Hulu didn’t have. Normal business logic would suggest you just tell people you don’t have that show and suggest “similar” shows that the user clearly isn’t looking for. Think — “You searched for Lost. We don’t have that, but here are some other Sci-Fi shows you might enjoy: Star Trek, Buck Rogers, Lost in Space.” Nothing about the message is helpful or delightful to the user.

Instead, Hulu bucked the trend of keeping people on its site no matter what and told users, “Sorry, we don’t have Lost, but you can go watch it at ABC.com.” The goal was to inspire loyalty, and make sure Hulu was top of mind whenever consumers thought of watching any show online. It worked.

Similarly, when working out the original strategy for Rent the Runway, the team added incentives for customers who may have been unsure about the idea of renting a dress. One of those was adding a free “backup dress,” which allowed customers to get a second version of the same dress in a size up or down in case that designer trended larger or smaller. And when it launched, the cost to add a backup style from the company’s dress inventory only added another $25 to your bill.

The idea that you can take the wise sensitivities of a bartender and apply them in your company doesn’t only apply to the digital world. Imagine if a cable TV company used solid research to learn when customers were about to cut the cord or bolt for a competitor and granted them a free month, or even a service upgrade — again, *before* that consumer has already put on their virtual coat and has set out to leave the “bar.” Today, customer retention departments cut deals to stop subscribers right as they are about to cancel.

This painful, game-like process often creates hard feelings, however. And, it encourages consumers to flirt with competitors. Imagine if it were proactive, rather than reactive? Why let them flirt in the first place?

Or here’s a brick-and-mortar example. Imagine if department stores had well-trained employees stationed near checkout counters. When they saw a soul looking a bit lost, and hesitatingly wheeling a cart towards a register, an employee could intercede with a question, like “Have you seen the deals in our jewelry department?” Or even, “You look like a loyal shopper: Here’s a free pair of earrings. And you know, I can show you the perfect necklace to go with them.”

Notice, this only works if employees have wide discretion and good judgment. They can’t bother busy moms racing towards the 12-items-or-less checkout lines. Rather, they would need to sense customers who aren’t quite satisfied that they’ve found what they were looking for before heading home and offer that satisfaction.

These interactions could be much easier on websites with treasure troves of data on purchasing patterns. One music store Bob shops at actually throws candy into the box with every order. It’s amazing how much that little gesture means. What if the store stepped up its game just a bit and threw in a pair of drumsticks once in a while? Or what if the music seller called Bob when he hadn’t ordered anything in a few months and offered to mail a free pair of sticks? (Yes, that’s the way to Bob’s heart) Again, critically, this isn’t a random free gift. It’s a well-informed buyback. The store knows drummers need sticks at regular intervals. The sticks are cheap, but appreciated. Perhaps it could even send a brand that many drummers haven’t yet tried yet — a brand with higher margins, and make it easy to order more.

Of course, free gifts can be used in the wrong way as well. Thinking back to cable companies. A common tactic for them is to call customers seemingly offering a benefit by asking cord cutters to add a land line to their package, claiming that by adding this service the customer can reduce their bill significantly. The problem is that a) most people don’t want this “gift” and b) it actually ends up costing the customer more in the long-run as that special is only good for a short amount of time before converting to the true full price. That’s not a free gift; it’s a Trojan horse.

Here’s the point. Plenty of drumsticks come in packs of 10, including an extra pair for free. What we’re suggesting is giving away two for free *first* — before the purchasing decision has been made.

It might be a better hook to encourage loyalty, and more purchases, than the extra pair of sticks that seem ancillary at the time of purchase.

Yes, yes, you’ve heard that companies don’t make money by giving things away for free. But that sounds like the logic coming from the bar owner who’s so obsessed with draft beer inventory he wants to count every ounce of spillage. Nobody is suggesting giving away top shelf liquor here. Part of the calculus of the well-timed free gift is cost.

But make sure you consider the true cost of the gift we are suggesting.

The critical question to ask: are these kinds of free gifts really that much more expensive than random, ineffective advertising campaigns designed to get other people to walk into your store to replace the ones who left?

This works just as well in the services industry. It can be frustrating at an agency when clients ask for features or deliverables that are out of scope (but, of course, they will want them within budget). It’s definitely dangerous to set a tone by just acquiescing immediately to these requests, but there are other moments when you can deliver things that aren’t terribly difficult and make a big impact. For anything made in the browser, throw in a 404 page. Your team will have fun designing this, the client will appreciate it and you’ll be in great company.

Whatever the gift cost, you know what’s almost impossible to measure? The cost of customers walking out the door less happy than they could be.

This weekend — tonight — we’ll see this scene play out again and again. A group, at the bar, shuffling uncomfortably. They are little tired, a little ready to go home, but still malleable. When they look around for a “should I stay or should I go?” sign, they are met with blank stares. A moment later, they vanish, like ghosts — and their money vanishes, too. Later, there will be a different moment, at a different bar: A similar group in a similar state will get “intercepted” by the bartender, at the right moment, bearing the right gift — $11 worth of free drinks. Three hours and $200 later, they will text all their friends about all the fun they had that night, and make plans to return soon.

Which bar do you want to be?

NEXT WEEK (June 20, 2016): Everyone Will Steal From You

MORE BARSTOOL MBA: The Brand as Experience >

Dan Maccarone is the co-founder of Charming Robot, a digital product design agency in NYC. He also hosts the podcast Story in a Bottle, chronicling the stories of tech and media professionals. Follow him on Twitter@danmaccarone.

Bob Sullivan is a New York Times bestselling author and a Peabody award winning journalist. His work can be found at BobSullivan.net and you can follow him on Twitter @RedTapeChron.

 

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