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2010 Communication Hits and Misses

Every year, I compile a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice as a speaker or communicator. Following is the 2010 list of winners and losers…


  1. Steve Martin – Martin disappointed a New York audience by spending an evening talking about art, which did not meet the audience’s expectations. Tickets were refunded by the venue. Then he pushed back against the criticism in an OpEd. He would have come off much better had he simply apologized and, perhaps, made an offer to try again. No one — not even someone as famous as Martin — is entitled to take up an audience’s time talking about what he or she wants instead of what the audience wants. (My video about it is here .)
  2. Rick Sanchez – The CNN anchor forgot he was speaking on the record and said very offensive things about Jews. He did apologize, said he messed up, and that puts him on the road to redemption in my book. But, again, it laid bare the contradiction of a journalist who instead of just reporting the news and doing so with some intelligence, expressed some dark, personal and ignorant opinions.
  3. Toyota – The company and its leaders handled the massive recall so poorly. Instead of courageously stepping forth to face their customers, they hid, hoping it would go away. It never does and these corporations never seem to learn. Seems like ancient history now, but I’ll bet most car buyers will think twice before going to a Toyota showroom. Breaking trust with customers is one thing. Hiding instead of being forthright is another entirely.
  4. Kanye West – West’s chops aside, he needs to recognize his communication style is hurting him and his fans. When a person of West’s talents and successes refuses to recognize others’ talents and successes, and is self-pitying to boot, it’s easy to conclude he’s probably not selling as many recordings as he might be.
  5. Tony Hayward & BP – Goodness, faux pas do not get a lot worse than this. While the greatest ecological disaster this country has ever seen was being unleashed and people’s livelihoods destroyed, Hayward complained about his plight and even left the scene for several days to attend a sporting event. He’s now left the BP scene, too.
  6. Barack Obama – I’ve been a huge fan of Obama’s big speeches, yet I always worried about his ability to fare well in smaller venues and connect emotionally with voters. His inability to fashion a coherent narrative and comfort (lead) the public through difficult times contributed greatly to his party’s midterm losses.


  1. Melinda Gates – What a woman! As one of the world’s richest people, Ms. Gates seems to have her head screwed on right and her feet firmly on the ground. With so much wealth, it would be easy to turn away from the world’s troubles. Melinda Gates, however, places herself in the midst of them, does a lot of good, and presents herself with modesty and humility.
  2. The Coen Brothers – These fraternal film directors are among the most successful in a brutal industry. They keep their profiles low, clean and are very selective about whom they give interviews to. When they do give an interview, they always come across as the boys- next-door-made-good. They make you want to buy tickets to their movies.
  3. Sandra Bullock – I will never forget Bullock’s 2010 Oscar acceptance speech. This is an actress and woman who knows who she is and is ok with that. Through the win, her messy divorce and the adoption of her son, she carried herself with humility, poise and great humor and warmth. No wonder she’s so successful.
  4. Terry Betteridge – You may not have heard of the CEO of Betteridge Jewelers, a small, elite business that sells only high-end pieces, but Terry has done an amazing job with promotion. His radio spots are simple: Terry talks, has a series of conversations actually, about how he wants customers to feel when they come into his stores. I love listening to his stories so much, that not only do I turn up the volume, but I would feel very comfortable going into his Greenwich store and browsing without any intention of buying.
  5. Sarah Palin – I’m going to get a lot of pushback on this (can feel it building already), but I’ve always felt Palin had something special in the communication department. She has become hugely successful in a very short time, has helped members of her family do the same, and she gets lots of media attention on her own terms. She may not be a Mama Grizzly, but she’s definitely a Strong Mama, and that’s something to recognize.
  6. Barack Obama – Yes, sometimes they make both lists. The president pulled out some big wins in the closing weeks of this Congress and that goes in large part to his communication strategy. Maybe the next two years will not include as much gridlock as the past two. (A girl can hope, can’t she?)

What do you think? Whom did I leave out?

Copyright 2010 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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