Monday, October 11, 2010

Vote Your Conscience; Not Your Party

 I submitted this draft op/ed to the Washington Post for the America's Next Great Pundit Contest.  Since my submission was not chosen for online voting, I decided to share here with everyone. 

More than 200 years ago, George Washington warned Americans about the rise of political parties in his farewell address.  "It serves to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration....agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one....against opens the door to foreign influence and corruption...thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another."

In 2002, Democrats saw an opportunity to unseat a popular incumbent in the House.  Connie Morella had held the 8th Congressional seat in Maryland since 1986.  Despite being a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, she was widely popular among her constituents.  Democrats gerrymandered her district, which led to her loss to Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) -- a prime example of partisan politics that continues to plague our country.  Here was a legislator who not only had the best interests of her constituents and country, but also sided with Democrats on many issues. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Caps Fans: We Must Move On

A kick in the gut.  Devastating.  A loss for words.  Or as Capitals forward Jason Chimera said, "If someone came to your work and stepped on your desk or punched you in the head, that's how it feels."

This post is not about blame, bad calls, a dreadful power play or a brick wall-like goaltender.  Nor is it about what the Caps do off season to make any necessary changes.  I leave that up to the pundits, sports radio and sportswriters to debate in the coming weeks and months.

Over the last 12 hours or so, I've been thinking about how best the community of Caps Nation can move on from such a devastating defeat after a season where we had the best record in the league.  For inspiration, I sought out the insights of a former colleague, Andrew Cuneo, a Red Sox fan who until 2004 experienced gut-wrenching defeats almost year after year. He had this to say:

"It hurts.  Sure it hurts.  I still to this day say seeing Aaron Boone's homer in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS is the closest I've ever come to crying over a sporting event.  But I can say this. The greatest part about losing like this is knowing that once it does happen (and it will) winning will be that much sweeter.  The feeling in 2004 was so unreal I honestly STILL haven't come down from it.  '07 was nice, but that 2004 club will go down as the greatest sports moment of my life.  Losing hurts...and you feel [just awful].  But then you start to realize the day will come when we can all celebrate.  It has to."

Thank you Andy.  Your words are dead on. 

I am an Orioles fan too.  Just shy of my 10th birthday in 1979, I experienced my first "kick in the gut" sports moment. That year I attended my first post-season game in Game 2 of the ALCS when Jim Palmer pitched against Nolan Ryan -- one of my fondest childhood memories.  We went on to win that series to play the Pirates.  Like the Caps, the O's went up 3-1.  Then suddenly hall of a famer Willie Stargell led the charge and they came back to take the series.  To this day, the song "We are Family" makes me cringe.  Then in 1982, we were -- if memory serves -- three games behind the Brewers going into the last series of the season.  As fate would have it, we played the Brewers in a four game series at home.  We won a double header and then won the third game -- only to lose the AL East on the very last day of the season.  But then I experienced such joy in 1983 when the O's took the World Series.  The image of Cal Ripken catching that last out will always be in my memory.

I also am a Terps fan.  They were up 20 points on Duke in the 2001 Final Four only to lose.  But then they came back the next year to win the whole thing.  That win was sure sweet.

So Caps Nation, we too can learn to move on as the days turn to weeks and months.  Again, the team may change before October, but we can hope and have faith that we too one day will see Ovie and the boys lift that Stanley Cup.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Watching the 2010 O's Reminds me of Swingers

There's a scene in the film Swingers where the character Mike, played by Jon Favreau, decides to call the girl he just met at a bar that night.  It begins innocently enough, but then he's not sure if the answering machine cut him off or not before leaving all of his digits. So he calls back again, and again, and again. And just when you think it's over, he calls again.  And finally a last time when the girl picks up and says, "Mike, don't ever call me again!"  While hysterical, the scene is so painful to watch.  So are the 2010 Orioles.

Just when you believe they cannot possibly think of another way to lose, they surprise you.  Let's see... yesterday...17 hits, a lead and then two three-run homers by Boston in the seventh.  Friday, I believe the bullpen walked in the winning run.  Opening Day in Tampa, their closer can't hold a lead with one out in the ninth.  That's just three; there's probably at least a half dozen more losses like this in the O's dreadful 2-16 2010 season, the worst start since 1988 when they went 0-21.

I'm not sure what the problem is.  Sure, their bullpen is the primary culprit.  But there is a lot of talent on this team; and from what I understand some real solid young players in the farm system.  So what gives?

Prior to the start of this season, pundits in newspaper columns and radio shows said the O's were good, but would be better in another division.  That's a load of &^%%$$.  You play up to your competition.  Just look at all the teams that play Duke in college basketball. Every team plays their best against them.  So it should be true for the O's against the Red Sox and Yankees.  One only needs to look at Tampa, a team that almost won the World Series two years ago. 

I heard another pundit say that O's Skipper Dave Trembley needed to have at least a .500 season to keep his job.  .500!  Are you kidding me?!  What kind of goal is that?!  That kind of mentality has kept the O's in mediocrity and loserville since 1998.  I truly believe that their woes are primarily due to a lack of leadership from players, coaches and ownership.  Their mission and culture needs to be about winning as a team and nothing else.  If that means letting Trembley go to send a message or find a replacement who can light a fire in players' bellies, then so be it. They need someone like a Davey Johnson.  Oh wait...Peter Angeles fired him after the 1997 season when the O's were AL East wire-to-wire champs.

And apparently Angelos allegedly shunned Cal Ripken's offer to help the younger players.  A report that I believe is true because Angelos rarely talks to the press.  However, he made sure to come out and immediately deny the reports.  By the way, are we still paying Albert Belle's contract?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Buzzer Beater Punch in the Gut

There's nothing worse than replays of a buzzer beater when your team is on the opposite end of it. The Terps made an amazing comeback late in the second half to take a one-point lead twice (I think I heard one of the announcers say "Fear the Turtle" twice), only to see that erased in a matter of seconds. A punch in the gut; screams across Terrapin Nation this afternoon. Kudos to Michigan State on a big win.

Maryland, you had an over-achieving season, sharing the regular season ACC title and making it to the tournament. Congrats to Gary and team on a great season. While a disappointing end, as someone used to say, "Wait 'til next year."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Make Maryland/Georgetown an Unrivaled Rivalry

Aside from totally messing up my bracket, Georgetown ruined the opportunity for a local match up with Maryland. [Full disclosure: I'm a Maryland alum so this will be a biased posting]. The reality is that we shouldn't have to wait for the unlikely scenario of playing each other in the post season.

The two teams last played each other in a consolation game of an early season tournament in 2008. Prior to that, they played each other during the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA's in 2001. But the last true regular season game between the two schools was in November 1993 at the USAir Arena (formerly Cap Center). I was fortunate enough to attend that game. To this day, that game is probably the best live sporting event I've ever seen. (Terp fans: check out the YouTube video below). That game was the first one between the schools in 13 years. A day after the game, Tony Kornheiser's column in the Washington Post led off with:

"By all means you want to see this again. Oh, sure, absolutely. You want to see Maryland play Georgetown next year. You surely don't want to wait another 13 years for this. Thirteen years between games. What was that, bar-mitzvah scheduling?"

Well, it's now been almost 17 years. Someone born that day can now drive and see an R-rated movie without a parent or guardian. My understanding of the situation is that Maryland Coach Gary Williams is happy to play Georgetown again as long as it takes place at Comcast Center, the Terps' home court -- since the 1993 game took place at USAir arena, which was Georgetown's court for the majority of their home games (today, it's Verizon Center). Georgetown's argument is that Verizon Center is more of neutral court for both squads. A valid argument; however, it is not Maryland's fault that Georgetown does not have an on-campus arena outside of McDonough that is large enough for such a game. So why not alternate Comcast/Verizon every year and give local fans the unrivaled rivalry that we deserve?

The BB&T Classic

And speaking of Verizon Center, the BB&T Classic, which has raised millions of dollars for the Children's Charities Foundation, switched formats several years ago from a four-team two-day tournament to just two games on one day. Perhaps the local powers that be could use this tournament as an opportunity to make the possibility of a Terps/Hoyas rivalry a reality by turning this back to a real early season tournament. It could include: Maryland, Georgetown, GW and George Mason. Perhaps the BB&T could be a compromise option if Maryland and Georgetown can't agree to terms for a yearly match up. Let's make it happen!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Starbucks: Handling a Tough Situation the Right Way

As someone who is committed to open and transparent communications, especially with employees, I was really impressed by this video segment presented by Ragan. It's about how Starbucks handled layoffs. I would like to highlight two best practices that stand out in my mind:

1) Brainstorming with colleagues all the questions that will be on the minds of employees.
2) Holding meeting/event with displaced employees and their families a week after the action to network and ask questions. Such a move allows employees to fully digest what has happened to them.

Check out the video.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Great Day to Be a DC Area Sports Fan

Hey there DC area sports fans. In case you weren't paying attention, the DC area had a great sports day yesterday. Both the Terps and Hoyas not only made the NCAA tournament, but they received #4 and #3 seeds respectively (Full Disclosure: I'm a Terps fan!). And they are both in the Midwest portion of the bracket. Perhaps they will meet, which would be nice given they rarely if ever play in the regular season. Don't get me started on why this does not happen.

Plus, the Caps came back from a 3-0 deficit without the Great 8 to win in OT against the Blackhawks in front of a stunned and quiet home crowd. The playoffs cannot start soon enough.

And the Nats' Stephen Strasburg had a second strong outing in pre-season play.

Let's keep it up!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Abandon the Chotchkies and Focus on Employees

by Mitchell Derman

Fans of the film Office Space probably remember the restaurant Chotchkies. Jennifer Aniston played a server. The relentless restaurant manager ridiculed her constantly for not wanting to wear more "pieces of flair." Having worked at Bennigan's -- a Chotchkies wannabe -- during my college years, I can remember wearing all those silly pins on my suspenders. Thinking about the movie scene, it was evident that those "pieces of flair" had nothing to do with motivating the Chotchkies employee to perform her job better.

A recent Harvard Business Review article examines "What Motivates Workers." According to a survey of people managers, what motivates workers most is recognition, e.g., e-mail acknowledgment with the team copied, public recognition in an all-hands or staff meeting for a job well done, etc. However, according to a study of employees, what really motivates employees is progress, e.g., that they feel a sense of accomplishment.

What is the Implication for Organizations?

Since the economic downturn began in 2008, so many organizations have had to eliminate and/or significantly reduce many employee-friendly benefits, including tuition reimbursement, 401k match and training. There also have been salary freezes and layoffs. In this environment, many organizations focused much of their attention on non-financial incentives in order to retain their top talent. Based on the study mentioned in HBR, it seems that this type of recognition may have been the wrong approach. Whether it's completing or making headway on a project, developing a new solution to a problem or finalizing a strategic plan, employees want to feel that they are accomplishing something special that contributes to their own sense of well-being and for the benefit of their colleagues.

My Own Experience

According to the article, organizations should "avoid impeding progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive, or holding up resources. Negative events generally have a greater effect on people's emotions, perceptions, and motivation than positive ones, and nothing is more demotivating than a setback."

Having worked at AOL from 2003 to 2006, I can certainly relate to "negative events impeding progress." Those years were an interesting time for the company. Broadband had become a reality and AOL's dial-up customer base was migrating to cable and DSL in droves. While the company started to get its mojo back on the advertising side, it struggled to innovate and develop new disruptive technologies and user-friendly tools as it had done long ago with Instant Messenger.

I sense that this lack of innovation stemmed from the fact there were always rumors of layoffs around the corner. There were always re-organizations, new management and new strategies. One of the quotes I would always hear was: "The only thing constant at AOL is change." The constant change certainly impeded the ability for employees to accomplish their goals, which adversely affected employee morale.

Overcome the "It's not our day job" Mindset

The main challenge with employee communications is that employees have their day jobs, and are not necessarily compensated to pay attention to the Intranet, newsletter articles, company blogs and all the other internal channels. I always tell my media relations/external PR peers that reporters may not cover you the way you want them to, but at least they will listen to you because it's their job to cover your organization's marketplace.

So it's important to focus on delivering communications that can help employees be better at their jobs. Don't get me wrong, giveaways and branding campaigns can be part of an overall employee communications program, but they need to be coupled with real value-added information that helps employees accomplish their work and further develop their careers. The last thing you want is for a program to be perceived as a gimmick. Next thing you know and all those coffee cups, t-shirts and pens appear on eBay.

Thanks to Elizabeth Lupfer for helping me shape this post and bring out the right tone. Read her blog, The Social Workplace. If you have an idea for an article about employee communications or would like to be a guest blogger, feel free to e-mail me at Also feel free to send me any photos of chotchkies received at work. And remember, Friday is "Hawaiian Shirt Day."

Friday, March 5, 2010

World-Class Win Should Lead to World-Class Celebration

As a University of Maryland alum, I was beyond excited when the Terps beat Duke late Wednesday night. And I enjoyed exchanging all the Facebook posts with friends and fans across the country. For Terrapin Nation, there's nothing like beating Duke.

That said, I am always disheartened the next day when I hear the news reports about riots and arrests. There's absolutely no reason for it. Don't get me wrong, of course we should be celebrating. However, if the allegations about starting fires and attempting to turn over a bus are true, those actions send the wrong message to students, fans, alumni and the surrounding community. Quite frankly, it's an embarrassment, especially for a university that has made great strides during the last several years to become the world-class institution that it is today.

In the days and weeks ahead, as due process takes its course, if any of the alleged behaviors are proven true, anyone responsible should be held accountable for their actions.

As March Madness approaches and the Terps hopefully go deep in the tournament, let's not make ourselves mad with bad choices. Let our celebrations be world-class.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Not Your Typical Farewell Message

For those of you who may not have heard, I have left Hill & Knowlton to pursue new opportunities and aspirations. My last day in the office was Feb. 18. Not one to draw attention to myself, I did decide to have a little fun with my farewell e-mail to colleagues. Since the e-mail received rave reviews, I wanted to share with others. I would like to think that this is how "The Onion" would have covered it. Names of colleagues have been redacted to protect the innocent. lol. Enjoy!

From Wire Reports: Feb. 18, 2010
Mitch Derman Mystery Brings Back Memories of “Primary Colors”
Inside the Beltway types always clamor for a mystery. Not since the days of “Who wrote Primary Colors” has official Washington been so enraptured. But the “Where is Mitch Derman” mystery almost has a Willy Wonka-esque feel to it. People want that golden ticket. The soft-spoken communications professional that he is, Derman has remained mum about his professional life after Hill & Knowlton. Although a handful of lucky professionals apparently have been displaying Derman’s cool new business card that lists his title as Communications Consultant.

His popular blog, Beltway Banter, has not been updated with a new post in months. As the paparazzi clamor outside the Willard Hotel, where rumor has it a send-off is planned, we’ve summarized some of the rumors that have dominated the blogosphere in recent weeks:

American Idol Bound?
When Simon Cowell announced he would not return next season, Derman’s name has apparently, to the dismay of many, appeared on many short lists. A disgruntled Cowell has said, “Not possible. He would attract too many Grateful Dead wannabes. We can’t have that.”

Capitals Defenseman
. With a three game skid due to defensive lapses just before the Olympics, Capitals GM George McPhee is said to be considering Derman as a new defenseman. A shock to NHL followers considering Derman has never picked up a hockey stick. Two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin, in Vancouver for the Olympics, was quoted as saying, “Mitch has eaten one too many cookies to play on this squad. Let Crosby and the Pens have him.”

Input from Zachary.
Anderson Cooper, during a recent 360 program on CNN, managed to talk to Derman’s son at his preschool playground. Like his father, Zach also was mum. “I play with dinosaur,” he told Cooper.

Orioles GM
. MLB insiders have even heard the possibility of Derman becoming the next Orioles GM. According to comments from owner Peter Angelos in the Baltimore Sun, “No way, will never happen. He would bring back the winning tradition that we have not seen since 1997. We cannot have that here!”

White House Consultant.
Even inside the White House briefing room, there was talk of adding Derman as a communications consultant. While senior staff have neither confirmed nor denied the rumor, they did say that Derman could have helped the Administration in getting Americans to understand healthcare better.

PR Firm Softball League Commissioner.
According to league sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to comment on a free agent, the chances of Derman taking on this role are between slim and none. In fact, according to H&K Coach NAME, who is rumored to be challenging DC Mayor Adrian Fenty on a snow platform, “Derman was more of a primadonna than a player…always demanding things. He only played once and he was 0 for 3. However, I do have to admit that his locker room antics always helped instill a strong culture. He got me with that rayon tie joke every time.”

While Derman does remain mum, we do have his official statement:
“Today is my last day at H&K. For the last three plus years, I have enjoyed working with many of you – some of the brightest and most talented communications professionals in the business. While I’m still trying to figure out the next phase of my professional journey, I want to extend my gratitude for helping me achieve some of my career goals during my tenure. I will stay in touch. Whatever I do, I will keep living the dream.

I can be reached at (I may get a gmail account. According to NAME, aol mail is so old school. But old school is how I roll:) or on my cell at 571-216-8712. I may even try to revitalize the Beltway Banter blog. You can also follow me on twitter: @mitchderman. I’m sure our paths will cross again."

All the best,

P.S. – Let’s go Caps!

Friday, February 19, 2010

For #happodc -- Seeking New Opportunity to Add Value to an Organization

I am a corporate communications professional with more than 15 years of experience helping organizations link stakeholder engagement (both internal and external) to business objectives. This includes the ability to:
  • Influence both internal and external audiences, including employees, business partners, media and industry analysts.
  • Tie social media concepts and channels with traditional communications campaigns.
  • Convey leadership’s voice in all communications.
  • Write and edit executive correspondence and columns, op/eds, bylined articles, blog postings and press releases.
  • Effectively develop and implement communications strategies, as well as messages that resonate with audiences.
  • Build effective media relationships that generate results.
  • Develop and implement programs that enable managers to effectively deliver communications to their teams.
  • Roll out Rewards & Recognition programs to employees.
  • Apply a client service mindset whether supporting teams within an organization or as an outside consultant.
For more information, contact or @mitchderman. Also open to assisting other job seekers.