During the last week in July, 125 gigantic hot air balloons will billow aloft, and look down on old fashioned barnstormers, alligator wrestlers, concerts from Herman’s Hermits and the Dooby Brothers, plus the surreal performance of Mark (the human vacuum) Lyle eating a record number of Italian subs. It’s the 14th annual New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, held in Readington in Hunterdon County. To join the over 150,000 expected attendees log onto www.balloonfestival.com or call 800-hotair9. What fun, what festivity, and what a recipe for a natural or man made disaster.

For organizers of massive gatherings, the question is not only how to make things go right, but how to prepare for things that could go horribly wrong. As the first part of its recently awarded $45,000 grant to promote homeland security, Raritan Valley Community College presents "Emergency/Disaster Preparedness for Special Events" on Thursday, December 8, at 8 a.m. at the college’s North Branch campus. Ken Staats, vice-president of operations for the West Caldwell-based event planning company Promo 1, outlines the disaster protocols in place for the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, which his company organizes.

Other presenters include Richard Celeste, executive director of the Somerset Police Academy; Anthony Poveromo, founder of 21st Century Security in Brooklyn; Colleen McKay-Wharton, public health planner with the Somerset County Health Department; and Raritan Valley Community College president Jerry Ryan.

Led by Raritan Valley Community College instructor Elizabeth Ngonzi, students in her event planning class are using this emergency/disaster forum to design a very real preparedness program.

"The biggest problem is that so many professional event planners have absolutely no disaster protocols in place at all," says Ngonzi. But her students surely do. Drills have been run. Student teams have been assigned each doorway, and each student has a group of attendees for which he or she is responsible in case of emergency. Students with medical training have been singled out, and cooperative plans with local emergency response crews and school security have been set in place. While current events planners may be lagging, when these students finally enter the trade, disaster prep will be inherent.

Ngonzi became acquainted with special conferences and hospitality when, at age four, she and her mother emigrated from Uganda. Her mother served in that country’s United Nations diplomatic corps. After attending the U.N. International high school, Ngonzi earned a B.A. from Syracuse University in telecommunications in l992. Later she earned a master’s degree in management and hospitality from Cornell University, and trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. From there she parleyed her small catering business into Amazing Taste (www.amazingtaste.com), a South Orange-based hospitality consulting company that has planned everything from Broadway opening parties to sales conferences for Arthur Andersen.

Lightning & plague. "Our New Jersey Balloon Festival, and indeed, every event is unique," says Staats. "And with that, a unique set of emergencies and disasters may arise." For the Balloon Festival, Staats foresees two categories of trouble: man made and natural. The former, would most typically be a ground bomb or shooter, or something dropped from aircraft chartered at nearby Teterboro Airport. The natural, and much more likely emergencies, would come from lightning strikes and huge storms with not-uncommon 60 m.p.h. gusts. These might possibly rain balloons full of passengers from above on vast crowds already threatened by wind-fueled wildfires.

Interestingly, with either possibility, the responses are the same. Forces must be marshaled to deal with communication, traffic control, fire, mass casualties (primarily injuries), and much more. Staats has recruited more than 20 local and area groups, composed of nearly 200 individuals, some of whom will be on site, and some of whom will be on standby. For specific emergencies, specific experts are directed into service.

None of this is anything new for the Staats, who has been attracting huge crowds for over 20 years. Raised in the small town of Red Hook, New York, about an hour down the Hudson from Albany, Staats attended Colgate University, earning a B.A. in sociology in l982. From there he joined Philadelphia-based Spectacor Management Group and managed stadiums all over the country. "Most municipalities build stadiums at their taxpayers’ expense, but often lack the skills to make it a profitable enterprise for the town," says Staats. "We made them money by closely governing all of the innumerable details."

Then 14 years ago, when Promo 1’s owner, Howard Freeman, bought the New Jersey Balloon Festival, Staats came onboard as vice-president of operations. He currently manages that and 30 other Promo 1 outdoor festivals. The closest to a real disaster Staats has ever encountered was the onslaught of a huge storm with 70 m.p.h. winds that forced the closing of the balloon festival for a single day.

Chain of command. "Every organizer has to remember that when disaster strikes, this is no longer your event," says Staats. "It should fall onto the shoulders of predetermined, professional commanders who take over." The events planner doesn’t ask a security specialist how to launch hot air balloons and schedule vendors. It would be an equal mistake for event organizer to put on the emergency general’s hat and start shouting orders.

The Balloon Festival has already designated the Readington police, working with the area Office of Emergency Management (OEM), as the default decision makers. An OEM command trailer will be sitting on site, which in case of emergency will be manned by police, OEM people, and trained sheriff office dispatchers. These dispatchers serve as both a vital communicating and tranquilizing force. They know what groups to contact, and how. It is a lot less horrifying to hear the loud speakers announce, "EMS, we have a 271 over at sector C," than to hear some hysterical voice screaming, "Help, please! Is there a doctor in the house?"

Out on the grounds will roam what Staats calls the eyes and ears of the command center: medical teams and fire teams. Each can take care of minor problems on their own, but also they can report every problem of any size to the central trailer. This pre-established protocol can help avoid some of the tragic rescue-group turf wars that cost lives during 9/11.

Laundry list. The words Staats never wants to hear from a hospital receptionist are, "Oh, you are having a balloon festival nearby? We never knew." Both the Hunterdon and Somerset medical centers have been informed about the event and given details, including expected crowd size, and ambulance routings.

Their medivac helicopters will be alerted and on hand. Electric and wireless communications from the command center to the several area rescue and aid groups have been planned. The FAA has been contacted to beef up security at local airports. Drills and walk throughs have been blueprinted.

Afraid versus aware. It is not the job of a government or an event planner to scare people, says Ngonzi. Color coding the potential terrorist threat of each festival day is just silly. So are blatantly carried fire arms or continual sirens and loudspeaker warnings. These are obvious feeders of paranoia, but Ngonzi’s students found that language can be just as intimidating. Instead of announcing where the emergency exits are, and how to flee anything from bombs to divine wrath, Ngonzi’s class opted for a more blended strategy. In an welcoming introductory speech, the host will describe to their guests where restrooms, exits, phones, and all facilities are, while slipping in the necessary safety information – in calm tones.

"You cannot let disaster preparation become an all-consuming factor of your event," says Staats. His suggestion? Be an executive. Turn the worry of security and emergency over to the professionals, keep in constant touch with them, and then concentrate your own worry on keeping the festival afloat.

– Bart Jackson

Legal Ethics: David Dugan

In the best of all possible worlds, the law of the land expresses and seeks to maintain a society’s code of ethics. And those who become attorneys work to uphold this legal-ethical system. But with lawyers, as with other professions, the everyday quandaries of running a business and negotiating between different interests can create its own set of ethical issues.

Both to guide attorneys in an ethical path and to punish those who behave unethically, governmental or governmentally appointed bodies, usually at the state level, have created ethical guidelines and laws to promote ethical behavior. According to attorney David H. Dugan, III, New Jersey’s "Rules of Professional Conduct," adopted over 20 years ago by the New Jersey Supreme Court, contains over 50 specific rules to which all lawyers are subject, one of which is the "duty to be considerate to each other."

Dugan, a Medford-based attorney and the author of "Professional Responsibility in New Jersey," moderates an Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) seminar entitled "Hot Topics in Ethics" on Saturday, December 10, at 9 a.m., at the Clarion Hotel in Cherry Hill, and on Saturday, December 17, at 9 a.m., at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Cost: $179. For more information or to register, call 732-214-8500 or visit www.njicle.com.

Dugan and his copresenters will be discussing ethical issues that may crop up for lawyers in a number of areas:

Advertising rules. Attorneys are permitted to advertise, but not in any way that is confusing, misleading, or fails to provide potential clients with sufficient information. New Jersey has a Committee on Attorney Advertising, appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court, that reviews lawyers’ advertisements after the fact. Attorneys are required to either supply copies of advertisements to the committee or keep them on hand.

People who see an advertisement that they feel is inappropriate can file complaints with the committee.

Management of client funds. Attorneys who misappropriate a client’s funds are disbarred and in New Jersey disbarment is permanent. Dugan gives two examples of unethical funds management: (1) If a lawyer takes money that is on hold for a real estate closing and, without the client’s consent, uses it to pay bills. (2) If a lawyer takes money from an estate that he or she is managing and does not give a proper accounting.

In 1961 the New Jersey State Bar Association created a fund to reimburse clients who suffered a loss due to dishonest conduct of a member of the New Jersey Bar. Initially an association committee, in 1969 the fund became the Clients’ Security Fund and an entity of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Its name changed in 1991 to the New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. New Jersey’s judges, attorneys, and foreign legal consultants pay for the fund, which is administered by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Supreme Court and employs a full-time staff.

Confidentiality. "Often lawyers are asked to help clients working on things that might be considered marginal or close to being illegal," says Dugan. If something is actually illegal, of course, the lawyer would refuse to help. But what happens if the client goes ahead and does it anyway – is the lawyer required to disclose confidential information? Because of client-lawyer privilege, the attorney cannot be compelled. "It’s a tough issue," says Dugan, "because often the law enforcement people and the courts want the whole truth brought out, and the lawyer is remaining silent."

But the more difficult question, he says, occurs when a lawyer helps the client, and then the client does something that turns out to be a fraud. Is the lawyer responsible because of planning and execution? The answer is "yes," and in such cases confidentiality doesn’t apply and the lawyer may be responsible along with the client to those who were defrauded.

Conflicts of interest. These conflicts may occur in several cases: if an attorney is representing two different clients whose interests conflict or a client whose interests conflict with those of a previously represented client; if the attorney’s personal interests are at variance with those of clients; or if the lawyer is representing government agencies and entities while at the same time retaining private clients in other agencies.

When clients’ interests conflict, the lawyer may be able to overcome the ethical problems by getting the consent of the parties involved. The issue concerning government agencies is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Pay-to-play contracts. Robert Levy, an attorney in Lyndhurst, will be talking at the seminar about the issue of pay-to-play contracts – making contributions to political candidates and then getting contracts from the governmental entities they support. An existing New Jersey statute deals with state and county contracts.

A new statute goes into effect on January 1, 2006, and deals with municipalities and counties. Under the new law, attorneys in private practice who own more than 10 percent of a partnership and contribute more than $300 (either solo or through the aggregated contributions of all members of the family) will not be able to get government work. The municipal statute provides exceptions for contracts awarded by merit, says Levy, but the term "merit" is vague, and what a municipality decides it means is final and not up for review. Another complicating issue is whether the solicitation of contributions constitutes a "contribution."

Dugan has been in practice for 40 years. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American history and political science from Wheaton College in 1959 and then went to Yale Law School, graduating in 1962 in the same class as Alan Dershowitz. After being a trial attorney for most of his life, Dugan now focuses on legal ethics. He defends lawyers who are being disciplined, provides expert testimony in malpractice cases to describe lawyers’ standards of care, and consults for law firms and lawyers who want direction in what’s ethical and what’s not. He also does lots of speaking and writing for NJ ICLE, including a book he edited, Professional Responsibility in New Jersey.

– Michele Alperin

Redesigning TastyKake: John Nelson

The way a food product appears on supermarket shelves is a critical part of its identity. Sure, taste is important, too. But in a competitive marketplace it is often the packaging that clinches the decision for the consumer.

Because a food product’s visual presentation can significantly affect sales, companies must ensure that product packaging keeps up with changing tastes and product evolution. A decision to change packaging demands careful analysis and eventually a commitment of time and money. To support the intricate redesign process, companies often turn for help to consulting companies such as Havertown, Pennsylvania-based DePersico Creative Group, professional home of John Nelson, whose job it is ensure that products of all kinds attract the kind of notice that makes them fly off the shelf.

Nelson talks about "Redesigning TastyKake" on Tuesday, December 13, at 11:30 a.m., at NJ CAMA (the New Jersey Communications and Marketing Association) at the Doral Forrestal. Cost: $45. For information, call 609-799-4900.

The first step in a product redesign is to decide whether doing one makes sense. Nelson recommends evaluating four aspects of the business environment in making this decision:

The business itself. If the business is strong, growing, and has sufficient brand recognition loyalty, then Nelson concludes, "If it’s not broken, don’t fix it."

Category trends. Over time product presentation changes. For example, 10 years ago, every wine label was essentially the same, and now each one is distinctive. If certain types of products are moving better than others, a business needs to figure out why and then ask itself: "How can I adapt my product lineup to take advantage of the changing trends?" Sometimes an entire product category receives bad press.

During the height of the low carb craze, for example, all pasta was bad. So Nelson worked with Campbell to push chicken recipes using its tomato sauce.

Another problem is that a product may be too narrowly perceived in the public eye. For example, Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce was perceived as being only a steak sauce and needed a program to build awareness that it could be used in other recipes.

Product changes. "If you have product enhancements, like whole grains or new vitamins," says Nelson, "those are things that need to be communicated on shelf." Otherwise, the product may look dated.

The competition. Nelson recommends doing store checks on competitive goods in all classes of trade – for example, grocery, nongrocery, and convenience stores.

Once a company has decided to move forward with a product redesign and has selected Nelson’s company, the process is fairly straightforward:

Ensure that the client’s branding message is clear. If you do one thing well, make sure to tell the public what it is. "If you hit them over the head enough times, they’ll get it," says Nelson. If necessary, a company will need to redesign its communication hierarchy, as DePersico did for TastyKake three years ago when the company requested a minor redesign.

At that point DePersico kept the same overall look but instituted a clearer communication hierarchy. The top level was the TastyKake brand logo, the second was the icon brands – KandyKakes and Krimpets, for example – and the third was the descriptor, peanut butter or butterscotch.

Develop concepts based on client criteria. "We based our recommendations on the company’s initial objectives, a competitive analysis, and timing and budget considerations," says Nelson about the more recent TastyKake redesign. DePersico kept the three-level hierarchy, but otherwise created entirely new packaging concepts. TastyKake’s colors had been yellow and blue, and DePersico developed three test concepts, one in yellow, one in blue, and one in yellow and blue.

Test the concepts. Testing is usually done in collaboration with an outside marketing research group. Market research tested the three concepts with an audience electronically – which is much faster than using focus groups and reaches a broader population. Using a questionnaire, which DePersico developed with TastyKake’s senior management, the research firm asked questions about usage, awareness, color, memories about TastyKake, and strengths and weaknesses of the design concepts.

Because color was integral to the three concepts and Nelson wasn’t sure how the colors would be calibrated on the interviewees’ computer screens, he tried to make sure that the highest percentage of interviewees would receive the best possible strength-of-colors images. After the initial testing, some refinements were introduced in the designs and the concepts were retested to make sure the findings were as accurate as possible. The yellow and blue concept emerged as the front runner.

Develop the new package designs. It’s not trivial to implement a product design and do it quickly. In the case of TastyKake, what with individual and family packs, Wal-Mart versions, different brand icons, and so forth, about 150 items needed to be completed in three months.

Use photography to maximize appetite appeal. Food stylists and photographers from DePersico collaborated with lab technicians from TastyKake to give the packages maximum levels of appetite appeal. The goal, explains Nelson, was to "make it mouthwatering, but not over promise." The food was styled within certain parameters: for example, if the picture showed a product cut in half, it could only show one-half of the total cream filling. The result, says Nelson, is "reasonable, realistic, but unbelievably appealing to look at."

Consider improving print quality. Nelson convinced TastyKake to spend more money on printing in order to hire a better printer and use better stock. "It worked out beautifully," says Nelson.

Work with all departments involved. Nelson works with everyone in the company, from operations to purchasing, logistics, legal, and sales. "We want to make sure that the design and recommendations we prepare not only meet or exceed the original objectives," he explains, "but are executable and adaptable to different circumstances."

Nelson describes a fiasco in which one of DePersico’s competitors had proposed an in-pack promotion where several million "sorry, you’re not a winner" cards were printed and blown into each carton. But because the equipment did not pick up the cards at the line speed they needed, eight-and-a-half million ended up on the floor. DePersico’s solution: Nelson requested 500 index cards on different stocks, tried them in the equipment, identified the right one, and delivered in two weeks. "If a change is out of the ordinary, you have to make sure it’s going to work," he says. Nelson has even gone to a press run to make sure the printers are held to the highest possible standard. Nelson has been with DePersico for four years. Before that, he had his own agency, Cambridge Advertising, for seven or eight years, but decided to join up with DePersico because of its more substantial creative resources. Before he went out on his own, Nelson had worked for a competitor in the Philadelphia region for eight or nine years.

When he was younger, he says, "I loved to play with watercolors and photography, but I never wanted to be a starving artist." He decided instead to pursue marketing, with the idea that he would work on the account management side, and received a B.S. in marketing from York College in 1979. He considered getting a master’s degree, but then his first child – the oldest of four – was born, and he no longer had the time for school.

Nelson’s philosophy about account service is to "treat people the way I’d like to be treated and never leave them for a minute questioning their decision to work with me." He says he used to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to work with the 1 percent of unhappy customers. But he’s learned that you can’t make everyone happy all of the time: "If 99 percent of people value what you do and feel their business has been improved by your contribution," he concludes, "that’s a pretty good day."

– Michele Alperin

Packaging New Jersey: Kim Stever

New York City. The Jersey Shore. Mercer County.

Mercer County?

We don’t often think of our home county as a great tourism destination, but the members of the New Jersey Capital Region Convention and Visitors Bureau want to change that image. The goal of the not-for-profit organization, formed about one year ago, is to increase tourism in Mercer County.

"The Mercer County area is a great place to visit. We have great arts and cultural events, we have universities, sporting events, and shopping opportunities," says Kim Stever, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau. The convention and visitors bureau has a new website, www.visitcapitalregion.org, to help promote tourism in the area.

The hospitality business in the Mercer County region is fractured into many segments, Stever says. Packaging these segments and marketing them together, she says, is one of the best ways to promote tourism in the area.

To help Mercer County business people gain a better understanding of packaging the Convention and Visitors Bureau will hold a breakfast summit, "The Power of Packaging," on Wednesday, December 14, at 8:30 a.m. at the RWJ Hamilton Center for Health and Wellness at 3100 Quakerbridge Road in Hamilton. The breakfast is planned by the Stoltman Group, a corporate event planning company which works with the visitor’s bureau to produce various events. To make reservations for the breakfast, call 609-278-1856.

Three guest speakers will be on hand to talk about various aspects of tourism packaging. Mitchell Sussman, the owner of Starr Tours, is also a former president of the National Tour Association. He will discuss building packages for groups. Megan Hughes, former manager of partnership marketing at Anheuser-Busch Theme Parks, currently owns her own consulting business in Boston, and will talk about how to develop packages with hotels, events, and key attractions. Bob Pruitt, a partner in Dana Communication in Hopewell, will discuss "The Power of Marketing as a Destination."

Tourism is a benign economic driver. It touches everyone. Anyone involved in attractions, historical societies, art groups large or small, and retail all receive income from tourism. The average return throughout the country on money spent to promote tourism is $10 for every $1 spent.

Regionally, we have a great example in how to increase tourism through marketing, Stever says. "Philadelphia has worked really hard and now the city averages $90 for every $1 spent." The City of Brotherly Love was recently named "Best Place to Visit" by National Geographic magazine. There efforts have paid off for other cities and towns in the region. "Camden is a feeder market for Philadelphia and has also seen an increase in tourism," Stever says. Considering an entire region only makes sense when developing tourism, she adds. Bucks County, just across the river from Mercer County, attracts thousands of tourists each year. Why not find synergies that will induce some of those visitors to drive – or walk – across state lines?

Tourism is the number two industry in the state of New Jersey, says Stever, and her job is to make sure that Mercer County gets its share of those dollars. There are many reasons why people visit this area, she says, including business meetings, conventions, the universities, sporting events, and arts and cultural events. The purpose of packaging is to help the tourist who comes to the area for one event to find other activities that will encourage him to extend the visit.

Student tours are one of the fastest growing marketing for group tours, Stever says. Sporting events are also one the many reasons people come to Mercer County, and not just for the Trenton Titans hockey team or the Trenton Thunder baseball team. "Mercer County parks see over a-quarter-million out of town people each year for sporting events," says Stever.

A student team of 10 players usually means about 20 additional people who come to watch or coach the event, she notes. "Soccer, rowing, baseball, whatever the event, they all need a place to eat, a place to sleep, and some way to entertain themselves in the evening." A package for a student sports group could include discounts to a restaurant and movie theater, she suggests. Whether the group is a sports team, a family of four, or a couple planning a long weekend, they have one thing in common, says Stever. "They don’t want to get here and pick up a lot of brochures and then decide what they want to do. They want everything bundled and presented in a nice, precise package."

Stever brings 20 years of experience in the tourism business to the convention and visitors bureau. She started her career at Valley Forge, and then moved to the Anheuser-Busch – owner of a number of theme parks as well as the breweries for which they are best known – where she worked to develop both domestic and international tourism for the company. She left Annheuser-Busch and went out on her own, working with the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and later served as a consultant for the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Packaging can include a range of services, not just hotels and restaurants, says Stever. Some business and organizations that can benefit from packaging are obvious. Sports venues from golf and tennis to skating, boating, and equestrian centers are naturals, as are specialty stores and shopping areas such as Quakerbridge Mall or Palmer Square are all popular stops for tourists. Taxi or limo services can also benefit, as well as cultural and historical societies that sponsor museums, theater, or other cultural events. Musical groups can market themselves to conventions and meetings, suggests Stever. The trick, she says, is to understand both who you are marketing to and who your best partners are. Know your audience. The owner of a bed and breakfast who wants to create a package to attract more weekend guests should first look at its clients. "Do the people who stay here drive a BMW or a Ford Focus?" she asks. "Are they a couple, or a family of four on a budget who have $100 to spend for the entire day?"

Identify appropriate partners. Once you have decided who your clients are, you can find the best partners to create proper packages. Packaging for a professional couple, Stever says, could include tickets to the McCarter Theater or the Grounds for Sculpture and discounts to stores in Palmer Square. A family of four on a budget might be more interested in miniature golf and a trip to the Old Barracks Museum. Special events such as Patriots Week are great anchors around which to create a package.

Develop relationships. Create a dialogue with other businesses and organizations whose events are attractive to your clients, suggests Stever. A package should offer your guests several options. "They might choose three tickets out of an offering of 10," she says.

The secret to packaging, she says, is to provide value to your customers by understanding both how to market the package and how to price it.

Packaging works for everyone involved, says Stever. "A theater might sell 10 tickets at a discount through a package. They don’t make full price on the tickets, but that is a lot better than not selling those 10 tickets at all."

— Karen Hodges Miller

Safe Online Holiday Shopping

The holiday season is a busy time as people hunt for the perfect gifts for family and friends. The Internet can make your shopping faster and easier, but there can also be pitfalls if you are not careful. The Better Business Bureau, the National Consumers League, and the National Cyber Security Alliance offer advice to ensure you have a safe online shopping experience, so that your gift-giving is a joyous occasion, not an opportunity for cyber thieves:

Know who you’re dealing with. Check out unfamiliar sellers with the BBB and your state or local consumer protection agency. If you’re buying gifts on an online auction site that provides a feedback forum, check the track record of the seller before you bid. Don’t buy things in response to unsolicited E-mails from unknown companies, since these may be fraudulent.

Get all the details. Confirm the name and physical address of the seller; how much the product or service costs; what is included for that price; whether there are shipping charges; the delivery time, if any; the seller’s privacy policy; and the cancellation and return policy.

Look for signs that online purchases are secure. At the point that you are providing your payment information, the beginning of the website address should change from "http" to "shttp" or "https," indicating that the information is being encrypted – turned into code that can only be read by the seller. Your browser may also signal that the information is secure with a symbol, such as a broken key that becomes whole or a padlock that closes.

Pay the safest way. It’s best to use a credit card, especially when you’re purchasing something that will be delivered later, because under federal law you can dispute the charges if you don’t get what you were promised. You also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on your credit card, and many card issues have "zero liability" policies under which you pay nothing if someone steals your credit card number and uses it.

Never enter your personal information in a pop-up screen. When you visit a company’s website, an unauthorized pop-up screen created by an identity thief could appear, with blanks for you to provide your personal information. Legitimate companies don’t ask for personal information via pop-up screens. Install pop-up blocking software to avoid this type of "phishing" scam.

Keep documentation of your order. When you’ve completed the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page and/or you might receive confirmation by email. Print that information and keep it handy in case you need it later.

Know your rights. Federal law requires orders made by mail, phone, or online to be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, you can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but you do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, the company’s policies determine if you can cancel the purchase and whether you can get a refund or credit.

Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly and asks for your personal information. Identity thieves send out bogus E-mails about problems with consumers’ accounts to lure them into providing their personal information. Legitimate companies don’t operate that way.

Check your credit card and bank statements carefully. Notify the bank immediately if there are unauthorized charges or debits, if you were charged more than you should have been, or if there are any other problems.

Keep your computer secure. Protect your computer with spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall, and keep them up to date. Go to www.staysafeonline.org and www.onguardonline.gov to learn more about how to keep your computer secure.

Beware of E-mails offering loans or credit, even if you have credit problems. Con artists take advantage of cash-strapped consumers during the holidays to offer personal loans or credit cards for a fee upfront. These scammers simply take the money and run. Contact the seller promptly about any problems with your order. Check the company’s website for a customer service page, "contact us" link, E-mail address, or phone number to get your complaint addressed or questions answered. If you can’t resolve the problem, contact the BBB.

For more information visit www.nclnet.org/holiday or www.staysafeonline.org. The National Consumers League offers advice about shopping safely online at www.nclnet.org/shoppingonline and telemarketing and Internet fraud tips at www.fraud.org. The Better Business Bureau offers reports on New Jersey businesses at www.newjersey.bbb.org.

A New Weekend Degree Option

John Scelfo, an information technology manager for a major food distributor, wanted to return to college to earn a degree in information technology. But he wasn’t sure he had the time or the patience to pursue such a degree. Most colleges, he thought, would make him take entry-level courses, the contents of which he already knew from his job. And working a busy schedule, he suspected he wouldn’t have time to commute.

But thanks to a new program for professional advancement offered at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) known as Weekend University, Scelfo is now on his way to earning his IT degree.

Weekend University makes it convenient for working adults such as Scelfo, a Mount Olive resident, to return to college. Classes are offered on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, and students can attend classes once a week or once every other week. The classes, which run for an hour and a half and are supplemented by online work, meet on the NJIT campus in Newark.

Students can begin Weekend University by enrolling in one of two 24-credit certificate programs: Essentials of Information Security and Essentials of Information Systems Management. Once students complete a certificate program, they can apply those credits towards the NJIT bachelor’s degree in IT. They can earn credit for work experience and apply it towards the bachelor’s degree. In this way, students earn two credentials – a certificate and a bachelor’s degree – for the price of one.

The Weekend University is open to adults who are looking to gain a stand-alone credential quickly in a hot information-related employment field and who may also want to complete a college degree. It is tailored for adults who want to be lifelong learners and stay on top of their professions. Researchers who study adult learners note that most of them need to remain at their jobs but they also want to earn the qualifications to get promotions. Weekend University is intended to help them achieve that goal.

Take Scelfo, for example. He has worked for AFI Food Service, Elizabeth, for 10 years. He started out at the bottom: working in the warehouse. He later transferred to the firm’s IT division. Back in the early 1990s Scelfo had enrolled in a private university where he studied IT. But due to financial constraints, he was forced to drop out. Nonetheless he worked his way up to IT manager at AFI – a job he’s held for two years. Now he wants to enter the executive IT rank, and he thinks having a bachelor’s degree will help him. So he enrolled in the certificate program and is taking a computer science class and an accounting class.

Students who earn the bachelor degree will be well positioned to find high-demand jobs, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Top 50 Occupations report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks information technology as the profession expected to grow fastest over the next 10 years, while the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development says that these jobs are among the top 50 occupations in demand in the state.

Students in the information security program at Weekend University take classes such as ethical hacking; computer forensics; wireless networks technology; and computer and network security, where students who select information systems management take classes such as database system design and management; systems for analysis and design for managers; and decision support systems.

The IT bachelor’s degree offers students a multidisciplinary approach, allowing them to choose a specific area to apply computing and telecommunications technologies. The degree balances emphasis on software and hardware applications with an array of concentrations in many fields. It prepares students to integrate, design and manage computing and telecommunication resources. Through core courses that provide knowledge of information technology functions, system development and applications, the program helps students develop a marketable expertise in information technology.

The deadline to enroll in Weekend University for the spring semester is January 19. For more information or to apply to the program call NJIT’s Continuing Professional Education office at 800-624-9850 or visit adultlearner.njit.edu/weekend.

Apply Please

The NJ Communications, Advertising and Marketing Association (NJ CAMA) is holding its annual ASTRA Awards competition, which judges the highest quality of work done by communications professionals. Any individual, company, or organization engaged in the creation of advertising, communications, and marketing is eligible to enter the best work completed in 2005.

"The prestigious ASTRA awards honor the best creative, concepts, strategies, and design work done by the communications, advertising, and marketing community," Larry Trink, ASTRA Awards chairman, NJ CAMA board of directors, said in a prepared statement. "I encourage all agencies, freelancers, companies, and non-profits to enter the competition and have their creative work recognized by their peers."

The award categories include: sales promotion, collateral material, direct marketing, out-of-home, business/trade publications, consumer magazine, and newspaper advertising, web banner ads, interactive, websites, radio, cable and television advertising, multi-media campaigns, self promotion, design/advertising arts, public service advertising, marketing, public relations, excellence in writing, and ideas that never went beyond the concept stage.

The fee for each entry is $60 for members and $85 for non-members. The deadline for entries is February 6 at 4:30 p.m. Entries will be accepted until the close of business on February 13 at a $10 late fee per entry.

The awards will be announced at a presentation to be held on Thursday, March 23, at 6 p.m. at the Conference Center At Mercer.

Job Hunting Myths

The Five O’Clock Club, a venerable New York City-based company specializing in coaching people into new jobs, has just published a study showing that traditional ideas about how to land a job may be totally off. Here is an excerpt.

Ads and networking – ask most people how to get interviews, and that’s what they’ll mention. But the Five O’Clock Club wanted to find out what really works. Its October survey of professionals, managers, and executives clearly shows that job hunters get more meetings for the time spent through "direct contact" than through any other single technique.

"Articles abound to prove the importance of networking,’ Richard Bayer, chief operating officer of The Five O’Clock Club, is quoted as saying. "And networking is important. However, our research shows that direct contact is a more efficient way to generate meetings."

"Networking" means using someone else’s name to get a meeting. "Direct contact" means aggressively pursuing people whom you may have known in the past or people you have never met. These might include association members, or people identified on the Internet, through newspaper or magazine articles, or from library research. (For entry-level people, direct contact even includes going from one human resources office to another in an office center.) Bayer outlined the results of the survey:

Direct contact is the most time efficient way to get meetings. Surveyed job hunters spent 61 percent of their time networking, yet networking accounted for only 28 percent of their meetings. On the other hand, surveyed job hunters spent 11 percent of their time on direct contact, which resulted in 35 percent of their meetings. Networking is very time consuming. You have to find people who are willing to let you use their names. With direct contact, there is no

middle man.

People making a career continuation relied on direct contact even more than networking. People looking to stay in the same industry or field got 36 percent of their meetings through direct contact and a little less than that by using someone else’s name to get a meeting. The job searchers contacted strangers, and got meetings because of their accomplishments – and their discipline in working follow-up phone calls.

Even career changers got 31 percent of their meetings through direct contact. Career changers often feel they should network to meet people in new fields or industries. However, most of their contacts are in their old field and networking into a new field is immensely time consuming. It must be done, but direct contact can also result in meetings.

In this market search firms accounted for only 11 percent of meetings; newspaper ads and company websites each accounted for 6 percent; online job boards accounted for 13 percent. Bayer says that his organization’s survey indicates that everyone makes the mistake of placing too much importance on published openings. A better approach, in his view, is to contact organizations that don’t publicize openings now, and stay in touch with them. This increases the chance they’ll hire you, rather than post the job, when they need help.

More information about how to effectively contact employers directly can be found in the Five O’Clock Club book, "Shortcut Your Job Search: The Best Ways to Get Meetings" (Delmar Press, 2005).

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