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Belief in brand America: The true cost of the debt ceiling debacle

August 28, 2011 Comments

Image credit: Eyeteeth

It is not surprising that the partisanship that paralyzed the U.S. Congressional process around the raising the debt ceiling debate has now shifted to a blame game surrounding Standard & Poor’s downgrading of the U.S. dollar credit rating from AAA from AA+. As the European Union calls emergency meetings and Asian stock markets examine whether Sovereign borrowers in the Asia-Pacific region would be affected, few have mentioned an intangible cost that is likely to have even greater long term effects – the erosion of a belief in the American political process.

America is a brand that is exported daily through its protection of fundamental human rights around the world, through its currency dominance and through its Hollywood movies and pop culture appeal, among others. But when its own system proves to be paralyzed by self-serving politics that would risk the well-being of the country as a whole, and by extension financial markets worldwide, the legitimacy of the brand is thrown into question both at home and overseas.

The effects of such politicking extend far beyond Wall Street, foreign stock markets or Congressional job approval ratings of 13%. Consumer confidence, a critical driver in economic renewal, cannot help but stall in the face of such political inertia. In fact in August it reached its lowest level in three decades. As Reuters reports:

High unemployment, stagnant wages, gridlock in Congress, and a stockmarket slump all contributed to a consumer mood that was as grim as when Jimmy Carter was President during the recession of 1980 and interest rates were more than 20 percent.

At home, employers will be likely to reconsider whether to hire new staff further frustrating full-time job gains, while overseas belief in the values and political process that underscore the United States brand will suffer in direct proportion to our domestic dysfunction.

The success of all brands turns, in part, on belief in the story that they tell. Beyond stimulus packages, tax relief or even debt ceiling extensions, parties on both sides of the political divide must now inspire companies, employers, entrepreneurs and employees to believe that it is possible to achieve the changes and growth we need to restore this country if we are to achieve sustained economic growth.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle ignore this fact at their peril. A demoralized political base is far harder to reanimate and a depressed economy more difficult to stimulate when belief in the very system they uphold has dimished. By eroding our belief in the political process politicians hijack our belief in ourselves, costing this country far more than dollars or profits.

In the short term the responsibility for brand stewardship of the political process falls to the debt super committee whose constitution does not bode well for a swift or substantive result as both parties rise to the challenge of compromise. But as we enter deeper into the Presidential election cycle both parties would be wise to restore a fundamental belief in politics that underpins support for any and all politicians.

Do you believe the political process is damaging belief in America around the world or simply in politicians?



charity: water’s 5-year anniversary: Drilling for hearts of gold

August 25, 2011 Comments

This September marks the fifth anniversary for charity: water, and I’ve had the priviledge of knowing some of the people involved in the organization for much of that time. I first met its founder, Scott Harrison when he was out here speaking in Los Angeles 3 years ago. He was incredibly unassuming in his manner and deeply passionate about the cause. At that time, the achievements of the charity were far more modest but his ambitions were enormous. I have since seen Scott speak at several conferences around the country, and most recently again here in LA. When he had a moment to chat I asked him how many LA/NY trips he made last year to support the cause and he confessed more than 70. This is someone who is really investing sweat equity in the clean water cause.

As I came to understand the organization better, my respect only grew. I got to meet Paull Young, and other great people who work at the organization. I went and visited their offices, and as someone deeply invested in the social change space, I was struck by the consistent integrity of their purpose, of their people and of their accountability to their donors.

So here’s three reasons to have confidence that your time and donations will be well spent by supporting charity: water.

1. STORYTELLING: One of the great challenges for non-profits face is to become effective storytellers, and perhaps no other charity has done a better job of bringing their mission and purpose to life than charity: water with their wonderful films and advertising campaigns which have enlisted the support of partner brands. This bodes very well for their future success.

2. TRANSPARENCY: charity: water has maintained unparalleled transparency by ensuring that 100% of people’s donations go to drilling for clean water, while using separate funds to cover their staffing and office costs. Over the last 5 years they have continued to add to that transparency so donors could have peace of mind that their dollars were being well spent. Right now that includes using the web and GPS location technology that allows people to actually see where the wells are being dug by donor dollars. As the film above explains, that will soon extend to seeing where the new drilling rig is located as well as the work that it’s doing.

3. AMBITION: charity: water has demonstrated a consistent breadth of ambition that matches the scale of the water crisis that the developing world faces. It takes such a rare blend of madness, inspiration and work ethic to make such a goal possible and they have it in spades.

charity: water is comprised of people who are deeply committed to achieving what you want for others in their lifetimes: clean water and everything that makes possible. Please watch this film and share it. Help them buy their first drilling rig. Help them make this the first of a fleet of rigs changing the lives of millions. And make a donation by clicking here. Congratulations to the entire team at charity: water for their amazing five years of work.

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Images and Voices of Hope Summit: Is media disconnecting us from ourselves?

August 24, 2011 Comments

I’m really excited to be speaking at the Images and Voices of Hope world summit in September in New York. I wanted to share the event with you because it addresses what I think is a very important question. The theme for this year’s event is “Mind Full Media” and the conference is designed to answer the question as to whether digital technology is, in fact, increasingly connecting or disconnecting us from ourselves and one another.

As we’ve discussed from various angles in this  blog, it’s difficult to strike the perfect balance between the joy of this newfound connectivity and the anxiety it creates as technology moves ever faster. This is especially true as we witness the historic events unfolding around the world that are both disruptive and transformative and increasingly enabled by social media, such as the Spring Revolutions in the Middle East or the recent riots in the U.K..

In short, the conference will be looking at how we maintain a healthy human experience in the context of digital technology. They will be inviting leaders in the fields of journalism, marketing, gaming, culture and the arts, to discuss these issues. Specifically, the summit will revolve around four main questions:

  • How do we know what we know?
  • How does our engagement with media shape our awareness?
  • How do we know who our what we can trust?
  • What do we do with what we know?

Having attended the conference the year before, I was struck not just by the caliber of people who spoke at the event, but also by the quality of conversations that were generated by the collision between different disciplines. If you are interested in the topic and event, I invite you to visit



Chuck Carey of Troika: How listening and design shape brand storytelling

August 22, 2011 0 Comments

Each week the We First blog reaches out to an industry professional to provide insights into different aspects of branding or storytelling, and to highlight different strategies for social change. This week our guest is Chuck Carey of Troika which …

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GOOD Magazine and Jumo: A powerful partnership for change

August 19, 2011 0 Comments

A new partnership emerged this week that is exciting on several levels. On Tuesday, Mashable announced that GOOD magazine had acquired the social networking platform for non-profits called Jumo that was started by Chris Hughes who helped to create Facebook and …

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Top ten social media survival tips

August 17, 2011 7 Comments

In this economic climate it’s not surprising that many people are feeling pressured on several fronts. Social media needn’t be one of them. In fact, shifting gears or taking a breather is often healthy and allows you to recalibrate your …

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How language is changing advertising

August 15, 2011 2 Comments

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Utenti Pubblicita Associati (UPA) conference in Milan where the theme was the future of language and its role in shaping advertising. The other presenters were UPA President, Lorenzo Sassoli de Bianchi, …

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Blake Canterbury and BeRemedy: The power of social media and community combined

August 12, 2011 0 Comments

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Blake Canterbury, founder of, which is a smart new idea for using social media to enlist community support to solve problems within that community. here’s what he had to share. SM: Blake, …

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About Simon Mainwaring

We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.

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