PR maven Marian Salzman’s CV lists a range of top jobs: CMO at Porter Novelli and CMO at JWT Worldwide and now president of Havas PR North America.
She’s written or co-written 14 books, popularised the term ‘metrosexual’, claimed that ‘sleep is the new sex’ and that PR has become too feminised – to its detriment, and was a queen of early efforts at conducting research online.
She’s also just recovering from surgery to relieve her of her second brain tumour (the first was in 2007) when I met her for lunch the day before the CAANZ Marcomms Leadership Group conference for 2013.
Salzman is a keen trendspotter, always looking for the next big thing, and in spite of having been in New Zealand as long as it takes to get a coffee and unpack your bags, she’s already noticed a handful of key differences. The first, and biggest, is our love of and thirst for property ownership.
“The first thing that really struck me was this idea of everyone pushing people to buy homes here, which is completely counter to the trend around the world that people have renter’s envy – people don’t want to own homes, because it ties you down and doesn’t allow you the economic freedom to follow a job or a new love and be able to up and get away.”
It feels like consumerism, says Salzman, like the banks are in “collusion” with property owners to provide messages of pure consumerism. “You saw your parent’s generation absolutely able to retire on their homes. It was pretty much a given that a big chunk of your wealth, no matter how well you did working, was going to come from the home your parents were going to leave you. And that completely fell away from 2008 when the market collapsed to present.”
Food is another. In spite of a relentless focus on healthy food and fighting the obesity crisis, Salzman found the range of healthy food on offer here to be paltry. Recipes in the newspaper don’t have pointers on how to adapt them to be, say, gluten-free or dairy-free; they simply stand as-is. “It doesn’t seem to have the same emphasis on healthfulness – it’s very rough to find really healthy food. I think we don’t know that much about our diet and all of the processed foods and that the processed food business is going to come under an immense scrutiny along the lines of what has happened with cigarettes.”
And trend or otherwise, she believes the US economy is on the mend. As an employer, she’s seeing “kids” coming to her wanting a signing bonus. “The whole thing has changed in the past four months.” There are jobs again, she reckons. Well, for some: those who know digital and social, the young, the technically able and those who can move to where the jobs are. Those people are fine. Those who are in deep trouble are what she calls the BMWs: the Bloated White Males. “The BMWs are deeply fucked.”
Since her last visit to New Zealand shores in 2005, the level of ethnic blending has also changed. It’s becoming an even more ethnically diverse culture, particularly in the food space. “It feels much more Asian as a city than I ever remember – it feels much more multicultural than it has in the past.” During her last visit, it seemed more influenced by American culture, particularly fast food. “You still see Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway, but they’re buried between so much ethnic food.” To be fair, since 2005, the hamburger chain Carls Jr has come to Kiwi shores. That’s American, isn’t it, I ask? “Unfortunately, it is.”
Salzman’s biggest concern, though, is mobile phones, which she believes are “the new tobacco” and will see people raise a lot of questions about what it’s doing “microwaving” our heads. Most people realise their head gets hot from a long phone call and headaches aren’t uncommon.
“Think about the increased incidents of brain tumours and acoustic neuromas, and think about the number of people who are notoriously attached to their cell phones who have then died from those diseases. And the studies, like the old tobacco studies, notice that they almost always originate in Scandinavian countries with a long history of cellphone innovation, like Finland and Sweden.”
From a trend standpoint, Salzman believes the first preventative act will be restrictions of cellphone use for children “until the skull gets hard”, then text messaging replacing voice anyway, or an increased usage of Apple’s Face Time.
When Salzman was first healing from brain surgery, she couldn’t use her phone for voice calls, because she’d risk her head heating up. It was only in the last three to four weeks of a three-month recovery period that she could talk for more than five minutes at a time, because of the metal plates in her skull post-surgery. “When you have pins, the first thing in your head that heats up is the metal. It could be a conversation that was by no means frustrating, but my head would be getting hotter.”
Salzman’s first experience with the hot metal in her head was after the first tumour, when she says she was “completely naïve” about it and unthinkingly got on a tanning bed before a vacation. “I forgot that my head was metal and I went racing out of the suntan bed, I literally went racing up the street half-naked because the metal on my head go so hot.
“No-one had ever said to me these are the things you can’t do. You realise that we do so many things to ourselves that aren’t healthy.”