Philadelphia

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This past week, trade shows for three clients graced my calendars simultaneously. Since I had gotten to ISC West, I thought I could skip the ESX electronic security expo in Nashville. That’s because I figured I could split my week between the Health and Beauty Aids Expo in NYC and UBM’s bundled packaging, plastics, medical device, quality, automation, and manufacturing events in Philadelphia. Long week, but I learned a few things. Well, one I already knew — there are no shoes comfortable and supportive enough for a day at a trade show. And also, each city and convention facility has its pros and cons. Let’s look at them.

Overall Facilities:

Jacob Javits Center in NYC has been there a long time, far longer than Philly’s Pennsylvania Convention Center. It has been there long enough to need regular renovation, another of which it is undergoing now. I have been at show in Javits when the roof has been leaking into an exhibitor’s booth. The PA Convention Center (PACC) is newer but was built for smaller shows and became a work in progress adapting to fit larger events. Neither one is ideal, but Javits has always been larger-scale and able to go with the flow. Advantage: NYC

Our client HLP Klearfold fortunately had a prominent location toward the front of the HBA hall at Javits.

Our client HLP Klearfold fortunately had a prominent location toward the front of the HBA hall at Javits.

Access:

Both facilities are in the heart of major urban centers. Although NYC is the larger city, Javits is conveniently located on the west side, a block in from the Hudson. It is a short walk from Pennsylvania Station, but an even shorter walk from the midtown ferry of NY Waterways, so you can park on the NJ side and enjoy a nice boat ride getting to the show. PACC is at the very heart of Philly, a block off Market near City Hall. It is accessible from various train, subway, and bus stops, and there are lots of parking lots nearby. Problem is that when Center City Philly traffic is completely gridlocked, things can be bad for getting in or out of PACC. Advantage: NYC

View of space shuttle Enterprise on the flight deck of the Intrepid from the top deck of a NY Waterways ferry.

View of space shuttle Enterprise on the flight deck of the Intrepid from the top deck of a NY Waterways ferry.


Labor:

Be prepared to pay top dollar as an exhibitor at both halls, because both are unionized labor. But I understand at the event in Philly, the requirement did not kick in until your booth was 400 square feet or larger. So, for smaller exhibitors, and at carpentry rates of $200 per hour, it might pay to stay small. Also, good help can be hard to find, so be prepared to supervise your own booth construction. All things considered, things are always more expensive in NYC. Slight advantage: Philly

Food:

While at Javits this week, I didn’t bother leaving the building for lunch. The closest restaurants are a long walk. At a prior show, I made the trek and discovered they were all booked by exhibitors for private parties. That leaves cabbing it to a better meal or the Javits downstairs food court where this week, I discovered subterranean pigeons. I’ll take Philly’s Reading Terminal Market (where Wayne Hayward of Tinius Olsen treated me to a great gyro lunch) and many nearby restaurants any time. Big advantage: Philly

Demonic pigeon from the bowels of the Javits Center subterranean food court.

Demonic pigeon from the bowels of the Javits Center subterranean food court.

Traffic:

Truth be told, that always depends on the quality of show management, the calendar, and multiple other factors. Like print, I keep hearing that trade shows are a dying enterprise. However, where else can companies meet face to face with new prospects and existing customers and vice versa. Expositions typically have an educational component with a full schedule of on-site conference sessions. While attendance seemed very light at both the NYC and Philly shows the days I was there, I don’t think either event or venue was a clear winner in this regard. Tie

Hotels:

Both cities have some phenomenal four-star hotels and both have their share of sub-par properties. New York’s rates (rapes?) are legendary, although Philly’s aren’t exactly a bargain. Both cities have made news in recent years with bedbug reports, but Philly had a fire from a meth lab being operated from a hotel room in Center City. My solution is to stay in NJ and take the ferry. Another tie

Winner:

If you go by my above scoring, you’ll see it is pretty much of a dead heat tie. But in this case, bigger is better (New York), experience counts (New York), and there is the X Factor that New York, like Las Vegas, is a destination city. So, I guess I give a slight edge to New York City with the recognition that trends favor a passing of the baton. Philly hasn’t been at the trade show, convention, and meeting business as long, but with continued improvements on all fronts, might just pull off a coup. Meanwhile, for fans of Elvis, country music bars, cowboy boot emporiums, you can’t do better than an exposition in Nashville.

Elvis lives (outside many storefronts) in the Nashville Expo Center neighborhood.

Elvis lives (outside many storefronts) in the Nashville Expo Center neighborhood.

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A roof over your head. Seems like such a basic concept, but ironically, what is the term for the biggest group of expenses of any business (the expenses that constantly get cut in order to maintain profitability)? Overhead — employee salaries and benefits, office or commercial space, utilities, taxes, insurance to maintain that office or commercial space. So, as businesses struggle to make payments, and often have to layoff staff, so do the many individual employees affected by such cuts. And with all the holes in the safety net of government assistance, more and more people are losing homes and without employment unable to find affordable housing. Vicious cycle, as they say.

Homeless is a term that says it all. You have hit rock bottom economically and you have the cold hard pavement as a pillow each night. A few weeks ago, our blog talked about the politics of cancer and how some forms were politically incorrect and less sympathetic (notably, lung cancer thanks to tobacco stigma). The same rules apply to the homeless and make them easy to dismiss — when you have a group that includes the mentally ill (many off meds or untreated), the drug addicted (alcohol, prescription, and/or illegal drugs), and the criminal (serving your time does not guarantee you a roof over your head upon release), many are going to be quick to write off the problem of homelessness as unsolvable or throwing good money after bad. But the group also includes people who can’t find work in a tough economy, entire families, veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars, and the poor who work but don’t earn enough to pay for housing.

Real life is seldom ever neat and tidy, however. I was reminded of this when hearing the latest presidential campaign tussles over 47% of Americans not paying federal income tax and some other percentage receiving government assistance. Regardless of which candidate you support, those numbers should disturb you. A lot. For me, they underscore that too many Americans are on the handout side of some kind of weighted scale and not enough are on the working and earning enough to pay federal taxes side.

One Step Away is a new newspaper sold by the homeless in Philadelphia to help the homeless.

One Step Away is a new newspaper sold by the homeless in Philadelphia to help the homeless.

That is why I was heartened by a casual event when I was down to the Pennsylvania Convention Center last week. I was approached by a street vendor selling a newspaper called “One Step Away.” It is a new publication designed for a noble purpose— to incentivize the homeless to earn money and get themselves on a path toward a roof over their heads.  Each homeless vendor pays 25 cents a copy but sells the paper for $1. That means every paper purchased puts 75 cents in their pocket. Most salespersons I know would kill for a 75% commission; however, we’re not talking about an easy-to-sell product in the digital age. In fact, I just saw a story about how newspaper revenues had dropped to 1950s levels. So, “One Step Away” is properly structured on a basic free enterprise level and the homeless vendors have a great carrot to help themselves. They have skin in the game, unlike a significant portion of those 47% who aren’t paying federal income taxes but receiving benefits.

“One Step Away” gets its name from the truism that too many of us are only a missed paycheck or a lost job or a medical crisis on the plus side of the homelessness ledger. That is a sobering thought.

If you would like to help the “One Step Away” mission, I encourage you to visit OSAPHILLY.ORG to donate, support, advertise. This video will introduce you to some of the many homeless vendors you will be helping get back on their feet.

Philadelphia once captured national attention about the problem of homelessness when an 11-year-old boy named Trevor Ferrell from one of America’s richest suburbs, Gladwyne, challenged his parents, his church, and a whole lot of other fellow citizens to help out. I am glad to see that TrevorsCampaign.org is still carrying on his mission. It was a little bittersweet to read this account and learn that the adult Trevor elected not to leverage his fame into a career and is now dealing somewhat anonymously with adult challenges like the rest of us — meeting financial obligations and trying to make a good life for his own family. We all have skin in this game.

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There are few things that adults and children agree on, but a life-altering ice cream dessert might be one of them. In Philadelphia, home of so many great ice cream brands, we now have two very different ice cream palaces that are worth special trips to.

One is in the western suburbs (Audubon, PA) and embraces a Swiss tradition of ultra-rich, fresh ingredient ice cream and chocolate making — Zwahlen’s. You can’t miss their store, because it is in a chalet style building in the middle of a strip shopping center.  But cuckoo clock ambiance is not what makes this place special. It is the incredible melt in your mouth frozen goodness in a rotating lineup of great flavors. However, their vanilla is just so perfect for adding your own toppings that you will likely walk away a Zwahlen’s fan for life. It is a tough measuring stick for the ice cream chain stores.

Franklin Fountain

A very different experience can be had in Old Philadelphia, right on Market Street at the corner of 2nd Street.  Franklin Fountain is an old time ice cream parlor that has reinvented what ice cream sundaes and floats can be. In the winter months, they make a smore style confection with specialty marshmallows that they light with a blue flame. The lucky recipient gets a long spoon to break up the graham crackers in the ice cold stainless steel container. Or there’s the Franklin Mint made with real crème de menthe. Whichever great ice cream dish you select on their menu, you will find yourself transported to heaven.

Now, Philadelphia also has another kind of ice cream experience. My friend Pete tipped me off to a YouTube-based ad with a text link literally designated as “scarred for life” from the Hot Air blog. This is one of the oddest, creepiest spots (there are actually two of them) to ever attempt to sell ice cream. In this case, the brand is Little Baby’s Ice Cream. The experience of watching these two spots is about as far away as you can get from Zwahlen’s and Franklin Fountain. It is in Frank Zappa “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” – David Lynch Eraserhead territory. You have to be pretty damn sure of the quality of your ice cream to attempt something that is this far out on a crazy limb that you just hacked off with a crosscut saw. If you can’t join ‘em, lick ‘em.

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The Mütter Museum is a Philadelphia Must-See.

The Mütter Museum is a Philadelphia Must-See.

If the question is “May I take photography inside of all your marvelous medical oddities, curiosities, and maladies?”, the answer is a definite no. But actually, my question is “Can I blog about Philadelphia’s infamous Mütter Museum?”, and I’m just going to plunge ahead, not waiting for an answer, and beg forgiveness later.

If you are a Philadelphia area resident and you have never ventured to 22nd Street between Market and Chestnut, to the College of Physicians’ amazing, disturbing, and eye-opening (and in some cases, oozing) Mütter Museum, you owe it to yourself to put it on your New Year’s Resolution list. A visit will cure you of thinking hypochondriacs are crazy, it will give you new respect for the medical pioneers who have helped us achieve the healthcare available to us in the 20th Century, and it will create empathy for some remarkable people who have had to endure some physical handicaps, indignities, and challenges that underscore the strength of the human spirit.

If you are from outside of Philadelphia, I have good news for you — the Mütter is now available to you every Monday via its very own YouTube channel with a video minute starring its current curator. I would like to salute the Museum’s marketing team for its social media inventiveness (you can also connect with the Mütter via Facebook and Twitter). They are leveraging digital and social to connect in an educational and entertaining way with a wide audience of museum members, followers, and potential new converts. Marketing creativity has long been a strength of the Mütter, however. A good many years ago, a former curator was a semi-regular guest on David Letterman’s show. Earlier this fall, the Mütter premiered an art film by identical twins, the Quay Brothers, who were likely drawn to the collection by the saga of conjoined twins Yang and Eng. The museum really understands that its halls are filled with exhibits that are offbeat at best, off-putting at worst, and that it needs to play to its strengths, but with 365-days-a-year unconventional outreach.

As great as the new YouTube channel is (deep, too, with around 100 videos), you need to visit in person to get the full Mütter experience. The Soap Lady needs to be seen in the flesh (or in all her saponified glory). There are several preserved ovarian cysts that are (I’m not exaggerating here) larger than our Butterball Thanksgiving turkey for 12. Then, there is the mega-colon (also preserved and on display) from a man whose bowels’ nerves were contributing to the worst constipation problem anyone could ever possibly conceive of (until you see it on display). Perhaps the most amazing thing I learned was that the Hahneman of yesteryear found nothing they could do, so they discharged the poor man (not the hospital’s finest hour).

The Mütter is a tourism treasure of the City of Brotherly Love and needs all the love it can get. Here is a holiday card in the form of a very entertaining Gamestop commercial from Christmas season 2010 that has nothing to do with the Mütter, but as you’ll see, everything to do with the Mütter:

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Your help is needed. Immediately! Urgently!! The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s primary fundraising program, the Light the Night Walks, are on Saturdays starting in October and you need to do your part. If you, your family, or one of your friends has been affected by one of the blood cancers, you don’t have to be asked twice. If you have not been personally affected, you need to say thanks for your good fortune, then step forward and help out someone who is suffering through leukemia or lymphoma treatments. Once diagnosed, it is scary, demoralizing, debilitating, and draining. For many, it is also a death sentence.

You can certainly make an online contribution (here is my fundraising page), but I encourage you to personally participate in one of the area walks.

Each one is a family event that will be uplifting for you to see so many who are suffering take positive action toward finding cures. All those electric candle lit balloons identifying lost loved ones, those who has conquered the disease, as well as those still fighting the battle represent an inspirational moment for the ages. The overwhelming majority of funds raised during Light the Night walks go to research and patient support and advocacy.

Balloons lit by electric candles highlight Light the Night walks.

Balloons lit by electric candles highlight Light the Night walks.

Blood cancers do not respect race, religion, or status in life. You can even have your own hit tv series and find yourself in the fight of your life. Just ask Michael C. Hall, star of “Dexter”, who is this year’s lead ambassador, after being successfully treated for Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010.

When you have a life threatening illness, you need all the support and hope you can get. This current article indicates that hope is very much alive and local through research at Penn with some especially promising results. Many of the advances in treating childhood leukemia over the past 30 years have taken place right here in the Delaware Valley at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. That’s something we can all take civic pride in. The early breakthroughs in Penn’s research demand additional funding and wider trials. Anyone currently diagnosed does not have time to wait. Please help now!

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One horse town? Philadelphia is a one party town.

One horse town? Philadelphia is a one party town.

This has been quite a week for political junkies, locally and nationally.  I haven’t found much that is entertaining in politics for quite awhile. However, two separate video clips really lifted my spirits with humor, intentional and otherwise.

First up is a major shakeup in an otherwise predictable mayoral race in Philadelphia. That is the intent of the ad — to undermine the status quo of a one-party town and the slumber of the opposition, which phones it in every election cycle. Well, John Featherman wanted to be sure that people knew he was running as a Republican and that he is interested in helping to bringing about change. His campaign team has put together a satirical viral video that may never see a broadcast buy. It has already done its job, though, generating coverage on all the local media and national exposure through the Drudge Report.

Kudos to Mr. Featherman. If you can remember the last time Philadelphia and Republican were mentioned in the same sentence, you know that this video has delivered the goods. I am sure Mr. Featherman knows that it is by itself not a game changer (there is barely a mention of the candidate, his platform, his bio, etc.), but he is now on everyone’s radar screen.

As for the national 2012 presidential campaign, which has begun in early and bizarre fashion with Donald Trump trumping the other prospective Republican candidates by grabbing daily headlines over President Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (or lack thereof). That story has had its own strange trajectory, including news from the governor of Hawaii promising to put this matter to rest once and for all earlier this year (he didn’t, thus setting up the Donald to revive it).

Regardless of what you think of the birth certificate angle, or the real estate mogul’s presidential chances, Trump could not have been too excited by this announcement via YouTube Video.

This may be Gary Busey’s revenge for getting fired on The Apprentice last week.  Or the launch of a new show, “When Reality Stars Attack.”

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The Mummers Parade, every New Year's Day, is Philadelphia's Mardi Gras.

The Mummers Parade, every New Year's Day, is Philadelphia's Mardi Gras.

Every New Year, the Mummers return to amaze, entertain, and ultimately mystify. They are the greatest show on earth that most outside of Philadelphia (and sadly many in the Delaware Valley) seem to pay little attention to.  The parade is thousands of Elton Johns and Lady Gagas in full feathery regalia. An American Idol competition for marching bands and street choreographers. A city-wide spectacle unfolding block by block up Broad Street.

So why aren’t the Mummers front and center in selling Philadelphia tourism? It’s complicated. The City seems to be annually challenged to make the Mummers Parade a profitable enterprise. Because it falls on the New Year’s holiday, the cost of services escalate (and that’s even when the weather is cooperative). Ironically, at a time when the City is packed with people, many businesses prefer to stay closed for the holiday to making money when the opportunity presents itself.

Separated from the parade, the Mummers seem to lose a lot. A single string band is festive, and “O, Dem Golden Slippers” is lively, but a small representation merely hints at the pageantry and year-long sweat and toil by volunteers and performers to pull off each annual parade.

Not surprisingly, the Mummers haven’t translated well to the web. Lots of sites (like this, this, and this), some selling and supporting the uniquely Philadelphian Mummers enterprise, but none capturing the Mummers experience. A somewhat better repository is YouTube with clips of individual club performances. However, that underscores how hard it is to distill the essence of Mummery.

For years, the local TV stations have taken turns providing Mummers parade coverage and playing hot potato. It is always a LONG day of endless commentary and a thankless job for anchors assigned. Only CNN with its 24/7 filling airtime model might be up to the challenge.

Seeing the parade up close and personal, as it unfolds, is the only way to take in all things Mummers. Once, a friend invited my wife and I to watch the parade from the eagle eye view of the Union League. We were warm, had great food and drink, but it was antiseptic. The Mummers parades I remember best were all ground level, strolling along Broad and around City Hall, enjoying both the string bands and the crowds cheering them on. It wasn’t always family friendly thanks to public drunkenness, but it is hard to be judgemental when carrying your own hip flask to help ward off the all-day cold.

Maybe Philadelphia is holiday’d out, with so much devoted to the July 4th Freedom Week celebrations.  Maybe the Mummers are too much of a peoples’ parade of neighborhood clubs and volunteers to be managed cohesively by city officials. Maybe the competition of Mardi Gras (New Orleans has its own holiday), the pageantry of Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Brothers, and Disney theme park parades, and ever-more-elaborate music videos make the Mummers pale to a jaded public.

However, more and more people are attracted to Philadelphia for New Year’s Eve celebrations at great restaurants, bars, and music clubs, with city-sponsored fireworks, and by attractive hotel packages. In 2012, according to recent reports, the city might even be host to the NHL’s national audience tv event, the outdoor Winter Classic. Capping it all off with a full day of Mummery would seem to make Philadelphia a destination city for the entire New Year’s Holiday. The Mummers are a live event and a street event — the city should start planning for 2012 and how best to integrate the parade into making Philadelphia  and the Mummers synonymous with New Year’s memories for visitors from near and far.

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Duck Tours

Duck Tours

Some times it is fun to learn what is going on at home when you’re on vacation. That was not the case last week, while in Boston with my family. We were grabbing lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant when my oldest son looked up at the TV and noticed a scene from Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing waterfront area featured on CNN. The story was about the sinking of a Ride the Ducks tourist amphibious vehicle following a collision with a barge. Ironically, at that moment, my wife was on her cell calling the Boston version of this attraction to get information on departures later that day.
Needless to say, this story resonated with my family the rest of the week. We had all taken the Philadelphia tour the other year and enjoyed it a lot. Even though, we were familiar with all the on land sites, it was fun to see them from a new perspective and the 20 minutes or so in the Delaware River was a view of our city we’d never seen before. Throw in the plastic “quackers” and the fun Philly music favorites played on the Ducks’ speakers and you had a winning outing for all ages. We were more than interested in repeating the experience in Boston.
For awhile the story seemed to get better. Initially, it sounded as if all the passengers were rescued and that those who were had not been seriously injured. Then, news came that two passengers were unaccounted for. As time wore on, hope began to fade and eventually the bodies of 16-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man from a Hungarian church group touring the states were recovered. A sad riverside memorial service on Saturday indicates that the thoughts and prayers of many in the city go out to the families of Dora Schwendtner and Szabolcs Prem.
Reading the detailed accounts in the Philadelphia Inquirer answered most of our questions as to how this tragedy could have happened. This tidal section of the Delaware River is a major shipping channel, and although the tourist boats stay close to shore, unforeseen circumstances such as this can bring them into harm’s way when motor trouble occurs. Making matters worse, the barge was being powered from the other side by a tugboat attached near the rear. There was evidently no visual recognition that the stranded duck tour vehicle was even in the barge’s path.
One surprising revelation came from Chris Edmonston, Director of Boating Safety at the Boat US Foundation. He noted that a Pennsylvania rule that requires children 12 and younger to wear life jackets applies only to recreational vessels. Commercial vessels must have enough life vests for everyone on board, but passengers are not required to wear them. This tragedy could spur a change in that regulation. From passenger accounts, it sounded as if things went from minor problem to full-blown chaos very quickly. Plus, if we should have learned one thing from the current BP rig disaster it’s that we must never forget Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” A corollary to that might be that “No matter how many contingencies we plan for, there will always be another one that we didn’t plan for.”

Duck Tours

Duck Tours

That might be why the very next day after Philadelphia’s tragedy, the streets of Boston were still active with so many of their own Ducks tours. The ones I saw were all filled with eager tourists. Either they hadn’t heard the sad news

Duck Tours

Duck Tours

from the Delaware River or they didn’t believe in lightning striking twice.
From a PR and marketing perspective, I guess this all makes sense. The Ride the Ducks tour company seemed to be taking appropriate steps. The President flew up from Atlanta to Philadelphia and made himself accessible to address questions promptly. Not sure that Boston’s duck tours are run by the same company, but regardless, all their livelihoods depend on making tourism fun. You just hope they will incorporate everything they learn from the Philadelphia tragedy into standard operating procedures going forward to also make tourism safe. Improvements that might prevent future tragedies are the least that should be done in memory of Dora and Szabolcs.

Historical Footnote: Peter Binzen writing for The Inquirer has an interesting bittersweet personal account about usage of the Ducks in WWII in Italy.

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