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How Not to Advertise

by Dr David, Publisher / Editor

Michael Dorfman is a genius. Michael's son Renato Dorfman, one of the most prominent sculptors in Mexico (photos above), is also a genius. Michael regularly writes a popular blog on Go Whole Food Vegan and mails it out to subscribers. I get his mini-articles and read them. They're well written. They're something close to my heart, your ability to avoid doctors and medicines and maintain health and well-being through lifestyle choices, mostly diet. But, as hungry as I am for articles to publish, I can't republish Michael's pieces.

I require a less teach-y tone, less educational, less instructional, less didactic tone. Most people don't want to attend, let alone, read lectures. People want to be entertained. Our consciousness is embedded in narrative. We want stories. And we want to identify with the people in those stories.

Imagine the opening scene of a television sitcom: the family is spread out in kitchen and living room; the husband throwing open the front door enters and exclaims, "You won't believe what happened at the office today!" We're hooked. We've been bred over the millennia to listen to stories.

Michael is promoting veganism. Now I was a vegan before there was a name for it. Back then a vegetarian who didn't eat milk or eggs was a "non-lacto, non-ovo vegetarian." Also, advising people to change their diets was what I did professionally. But this I attempted only after I got their attention, respect and even admiration by curing their immediate ailment with homeopathy.

Asking someone to change their diet is like asking someone to quit smoking cigarettes. Everyone knows why they should. They've got the facts, or, at least, enough of them. More reasons won't convince them. Persuasion is more art than science. Except for geniuses like Michael Dorman, most of us make these intimate decisions emotionally, and aren't swayed by reason. We know it's not healthy for us, the environment or the cow, but we feel like we deserve a juicy sirloin and, dammit, we're going to indulge.

The rule of thumb is: when people are asking for help, it can be hard to help them; when they are not asking, it's impossible. When people come to my office asking for help and pay me money for it, I still have to be very clever about how I try to deliver it.

For the longest time I begged Michael to convert some of his blog posts into articles for this magazine, to talk write about his personal experience more, to add story and human interest. The last time I implored Michael to sweeten his message he turned to me and observed, "You're very persistent." That was over a year ago. Now when we see each other we just say hello. I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid.

I've done a good job of keeping my nose out of Michael's business. I've stopped trying to help him when he's not asking for help. I do publish announcements of his periodic Vegan Fests on my event calendar, San Miguel Events. It is only the prolonged exposure to a poster for that event, across from me at the Saturday Market, that has stirred me to these remembrances.

"Save the Date." Indeed, but which date? Is it October 11th or (as Mexicans and most of the rest of the world would read it) November 10? Well, "Save the Date" is in English, so October 11 seems most probable, but, as we are already in November...

This uncertainty (and others) would be resolved if the designer had seen fit to include the day of the week alongside the doubtful date; "Friday, October 11" or "Sunday, Nov. 10." It is the same point I tried to make with Michael; "Be more human." Imagine if your friend invited you to come over on "November 27." Your first thought would be, "What day of the week is that?" You're second thought might be, "I've got to get a new friend." We know what we are doing by the day of the week. We know if we are free, on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday...

Designers love leaving the day of the week off of posters. They love the way all those numbers (of the date) look all by themselves. In my position as the "Mayor of Events" here in San Miguel, I see a lot of that. The worst of it is when they omit the day and include the year. I don't like to think of myself as a prejudiced individual, but if you do not know what year it is (or if you think I might be advertising something occurring 12 months hence), then I don't want you coming to my events.

I attribute most of this to what I call the "virgin eye." After the designer or layman spends an hour making a poster or a banner they have lost the virgin eye, the perspective of the the casual viewer. The public will spend less than two seconds looking at it, if their attention is not immediately caught and satisfied. I advise, "The information has to leap of the page/screen and embrace the reader. No one is going to stop and study the banner (poster). The more words, the fewer readers. Why make people go to their calendars to understand your poster. They won't."

Recently I had reason to complain of this same lack of human interest with a local NGO. Their mission is also very close to my heart. Their blog posts are also very interesting, but, again, lacking in story and person. I have also been pleading with them for a more interesting angle, just a little more personal perspective.

A friend of mine, who volunteers with them, brought my plea to their director: "Tell him I have the most popular website in town." To this the director only replied, "I've never heard of it."

Then I met an administrator of the organization and pitched him my proposal. He liked it and even started telling me some great stories, but only enough to whet my appetite.

Then I received an emailed announcement that the director was giving a talk. (It was the first private communication I ever received from the NGO. I'm guessing it was due to that administrator's influence.)

This coming W., has a talk on "Y." at Z. It would be great if the information on the attached poster could be posted. It is a free event and will be held in English.

I tell people, "If you don't care enough to make an interesting event announcement, then why should people be interested in coming to your event?"

I wrote back:

Hola A.,
Thank you.
I will gladly post your event.
As I was telling B. [the administrator], I'd like to, and have been trying to, do a lot more. X. [the NGO]is doing a lot of interesting, important work, which, with a more human face, would make great articles in my very popular Sunday magazine, www.sanmiguelsunday.com. Please help me help you.

Regarding your talk, it would be good if I could post some text; the title, "Y." is vague. You're not going to reach anyone new with just that title. If you don't care to describe the talk, then why should anyone, who is not already concerned about the subject, care to come? You are just preaching to the choir.

Gracias, saludos, suerte,

A. wrote back:

Hi David,
Thank you for your support and suggestions. B. [the administrator] mentioned a few of your ideas to me earlier this week and I will definitely incorporate them moving forward. Next time we write a human interest story, I will send it your way.

Regarding the talk Friday, our director has sent me the following description:

[Two dry, perfunctory paragraphs; pure, polished, public relations]

Thanks again!


After receiving this email I again saw B., the administrator, and, still trying to get content of human interest, complained to him of A.'s lack of help. He understands my motivation and, I sense, approves of it. But I got the feeling that some political dynamic in the organization keeps him from assisting me. In any case, he encouraged me to keep trying, although I am sure he did not anticipate the tone I would adopt.

I wrote back to A., CCing B. and the director of the NGO:

Hola A.,
"Next time we write a human interest story, I will send it your way."
That's a lackadaisical response, if I ever saw one.
How about going out of your way to create content that has human interest, instead of preaching to the choir? But then it isn't "out of your way" is it, because you're the Development Coordinator?
Fact-based presentations do not engage most people, at least, not the people who need to be engaged.
Our consciousness is based in narrative. Human beings love stories, especially stories about other human beings.
I am very sympathetic to the mission of X. [the NGO]. I have published various of your blog posts in my very popular magazine, www.sanmiguelsunday.com. I would like to spread the word, to publish more. I am asking for help and not getting it from you, from any of you.
An earlier complaint I made was taken to your executive director, G. The messenger came back and told me that G. said that he didn't know my website (the most popular in San Miguel). Another lackadaisical response.
I'm sure your dry, didactic tone works just great with engineers, but the public needs a story.
Pardon my frustration. I guess I should stop trying.

I didn't hear back from A., but I did, within hours, get this email from G., the director:

Dear David,

It's unfortunate we are meeting under these circumstances. Your emails to my staff are disrespectful, condescending, and, from what I can tell, completely unwarranted. I simply can't have that. We have been working hard building up our communications, and we have been creating many human interest pieces. A. is an integral part of that process and our team. But it is a process for us. We are all incredibly overworked and doing the best we can with what we have. And I will say, we accomplish way more than most given our operating budget.

A. was nothing but friendly and accommodating to your requests despite your consistently rude, demeaning tone masquerading as advice.

I greatly appreciate your support in helping us get the word out, and I apologize if you have felt under-appreciated or frustrated by our response. I assure you it does not come from a lack of interest but rather from simply having too much on our plates. But your tone and manner of communication with my staff is inexcusable. If you would like to have a productive, respectful conversation with us about our communications – and the type of pieces we can create for your website – we would be happy for the opportunity.


Well, at least that got his attention.
I wrote back:

Dear G,
Thanks for responding.

A. did not respond in a 'friendly and accommodating to [my] requests despite [my] consistently rude, demeaning tone,' because the tone of my first email, to which A. gave her only response, was neither rude nor demeaning. Nor was my advice anything other than sincere.

A.'s one line response to my sincere, polite offer to help was perfunctory and dismissive. My point to her being that you don't ever write stories with human interest, there is not any accommodation in her telling me, "Next time we write a human interest story, I will send it your way."

I understand that you need to defend your staff, as I understand that you are all busy, but when a local magazine with thousands of readers, almost all potential contributors, offers to give your organization publicity, then the representative of that magazine deserves some attention. That's just obvious. When the representative expresses frustration at not getting your cooperation, and then gets no cooperation, but a dismissive reply, then I think it is your staff which is violating common etiquette.

I spoke with B. [the administrator]. He liked my idea of putting a human face on your publicity. I just need to sit down with someone for 30-60 minutes and interview them about some of the persons involved in your work. B. would be my choice. He already gave me some interesting points of human interest. I don't know what organizational politics are involved, but he seemed reluctant to put himself forward. I am sure that the publicity would help with your fundraising.

I am sorry for the tone of my last email.
Thank you.

Very much yours,

I haven't heard back and I'm not holding my breath.


A penultimate note:
In my capacity as Mayor of Events, I know that, busy as he is, Director G., on at least two recent occasions, has found time to talk, for over an hour, to groups of 15-25 persons. If he (or Administrator B.) sat down with me for 45 minutes, I would have what I need to create various articles for this magazine. Those articles even here in low season, would be read by at least 250 people, and maybe as many as 1,000.

Michael Dorfman gives excellent dietary advice and G. does an excellent job of administering his NGO, but neither of them has a clue about publicity. (They don't cut their own hair; why do they do their own publicity?) Unfortunately, neither of them is asking for help.

I imagine God up in heaven, slapping His forehead at our foolishness, shaking Her head in disbelief.


Read more about Vegan Fest
Sunday, November 10


Dr. David welcomes you to San Miguel Sunday. Anyone with any interest in contributing articles is heartily encouraged to contact him at the email below. The "Best City in the World" deserves a good Lokkal magazine.


A final note:
I gave Michael a chance to review this article before I published it. His response is below. This guy is a genius and a mensch (a real human being).

Hi David,
I really appreciate your promoting the event and my presentation. I agree with you regarding the poster. It was poorly done. Unfortunately I had nothing to do with it´s creation. The team that designed it is from Queretaro and they make all the posters for the monthly vegfests there.

With regards to what you wrote about how I write, I understand what you´re saying but that´s not what I consider my purpose...which is to inform people, through evidence based research as well as my experience, of the benefits of whole food plant based nutrition. I´m not interested in convincing people to change through a certain mode of writing. I write the way I write...not the way you think it would be better for me to write. I´m happy with what´s happening in San Miguel, with regards to the amount of people that are responding to a whole food plant based lifestyle. Besides my Go Whole Food Vegan Facebook page, which has over 2500 followers, 3 months ago we created a Facebook group here named The Vegan Wave SMA. We now have more than 100 members and it´s growing weekly. Our goal is to inform and support people living in San Miguel, as well as visitors, who are are on a plant based journey or are interested in learning more about the topic. We will have an information table at this Sunday´s VegFest. We´ll have 1) vegan recipes, 2) a list of vegan restaurants in San Miguel or restaurants that offer vegan options, 3) a list of excellent resources, 4) a signup sheet for vegan potlucks and 5) additional information.

There´s a lot of people living in San Miguel who would really like to achieve optimal health and wellbeing and don´t know what to do. That´s what the Vegan Wave group was created for.

Thanks David for your support,

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