Jan 17

Will Sirius make Stern Superfluous?

The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating editorial the other day questioning Howard Stern’s longevity as a counter-culture icon now that he is free to say and do whatever he pleases on Sirius radio.

Unshackled from the constant harassment of the FCC, Stern can now assault listeners with as many Lesbian lovers, little people and other "unique" characters as he pleases with absolutely no retribution from on high.Stern

And, that’s exactly what threatens Stern and, potentially, could turn him into yesterday’s one-trick pony. You see, a lot of the fun in listening to Stern, so I’m told (note: I’m an Imus fan), was to hear him rail against government authorities and plead his First Amendments rights.

Will Stern be able to re-invent himself on Sirius or will he continue to revert to the same-old, same-old without the "David vs. Goliath" subplot of freedom of speech vs. filth to fuel interest?.

The best brands find ways to reinvent themselves when confronted with seismic marketplace changes. Apple and IBM are two great examples. It remains to be seen whether the shock jock can follow suit and come up with a new shtick that will keep consumers of commercial-free (and censorship-free) radio coming back for more.

Hat tip to Dandy Stevenson for her thoughts.

Jan 17

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Talk about a case of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes," how about the latest misstep from Sprint? According to the Associated Press, a Sprint operator refused to provide information to help locate a toddler who was in his father’s SUV when it was stolen.

The incident went down just before Christmas when Jason Cochran buckled his 10-month-old son Cochran_child_1 into his car seat and ran inside the house to collect his three-year-old. While he was inside, the car was stolen with Cochran’s infant and cell phone, equipped with a GPS system, inside.

Despite frantic calls from Mrs. Cochran to Sprint to provide the coordinates, the company operator refused to cooperate, saying it wouldn’t release the information without a subpoena and a $25 service fee. Happily, the SUV and the child were found within a few hours, safe and sound.

But, what about Sprint’s horrific behavior and the nonsensical bureaucratic policies and procedures of its operator? In my opinion, they should be severely chastised in the court of public opinion. Yet, as far as I know, there hasn’t been much fallout beyond the article.

Sprint’s boorish behavior is yet another example of performance trumping image and reputation. In other words, all the public relations and advertising in the world won’t make any difference if the organization’s product, service or, in this case, conduct, are shabby. Hopefully, the powers that be at Sprint have made some changes based upon this "near miss." Next time, they and their customer may not be so fortunate.

Jan 13

Another tagline from hell

And so, the unfolding drama as to what New Jersey’s new state motto will be has come to an end. The winner: "New Jersey….come see for yourself." Now, let’s see… should I come see for myself the gas tank farms that blight the NJ Turnpike, the bumper-to-bumper traffic outside the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour or, perhaps, the unprecedented number of toxic waste sites?

Regardless of the unintended double meaning, NJ’s new motto got me to thinking about other taglines from hell. Who can forget:

"We want you to live" (Mobile Oil)

"Why fool around with anyone else?" (FedEx)

"Eat Jimmy Dean" (Jimmy Dean Sausage)

Or how about these for possibilities…

"Fox News….Right is right, dammit"

"Enron…Watch us multiply"

"Pol Pot…Over 10 million killed"

Double entendres serve as great taglines when they’re clever and communicate a double positive. Sadly, though, NJ’s new moniker only reinforces an already horrific reputation and leaves the state open to further ridicule. Sad as it may be New Jersey’s reputation as a dump is well earned and until they begin to clean things up, the most clever words in the world won’t make any difference.

Jan 12

You can’t judge a book by its cover…

…because Oprah sure can’t. A departure from Nobel Prize-winning works for her Book Club of must-reads is the subject of a heated debate that boils down to nothing more than what section of the book store the public should find A Million Little Pieces, a book on substance abuse and recovery by James Frey.Frey

After the muckraker site TheSmokingGun.com posted a damning report on the veracity of Frey’s harrowing tale of alcoholism and crack addiction this week, the author, and even his mom, have taken to the Web and the air to defend not only the book that "kept Oprah up at night," but the memoir genre itself.

Frey’s story is about his experience as a 23-year-old man who wakes up broken, bloody, and with his teeth nearly dangling out of his mouth on a plane heading to Minnesota, where he is to begin rehabilitation treatment. While he is trying to sober up, he must face the demons in his very near past, which include arrest warrants in three states.

TheSmokingGun.com claims this is a flat out lie and that Frey was never wanted in three states and that he never served any jail time. In fact, they devote eight pages to dissecting the lies that "abound" in Frey’s book on their site.

In an interview last night on Larry King Live, James Frey offered that, by definition, the memoir genre, whose rules and boundaries as a new genre have yet to be outlined, lends itself to the embellishments of the author. In fact, he admits that the book was originally shopped to different publishing houses as a novel and that the decision was ultimately made by Random House to distribute it as a memoir.

This is where the debate begins and where it should end. James Frey is not a liar, he’s an author who got a very nice check for writing a good book and his publishers decided to label it X while some people (perhaps without book deals of their own) would prefer to call it Y.

Whether Frey was missing one tooth or three by the time he arrived in rehab or whether he served three months or three years in prison as a result of his drug use has nothing to do with the fact that the author was in fact a young man who hovered near death in the grips of addiction. To call the author a fraud, or worse, a liar, is ridiculous.

As is TheSmokingGun.com’s headline "The Man Who Conned Oprah."

Even Oprah would agree with that, as she made a surprise phone call to Larry King last night to say that despite the controversy surrounding Frey’s story, she made a connection with his words and so have hundreds of thousands of other people. This, she says, is what critics should focus on: the impact of a writers words, the quality of the story, and the lessons to be gleaned from it.

Kudos to Ms. Winfrey for subtracting herself quickly and masterfully from a rather bland debate by pointing out the bottom line for Larry King and his viewers: A Million Little Pieces is a good book that will scare anyone straight on even casual drug use and it should continue to inspire future readers.

As with anything involving Oprah, she always comes out on top. Now THAT’s reputation management…

Jan 10

This NFL decision should be penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct

LevitraSo, the NFL just announced it plans to cut its $18 million sponsorship agreement with Levitra, saying the erectile dysfunction drug campaign is "too risqué" for viewers.

Say what? Time out, ref! Time out!

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Is this the same NFL that for years has been allowing beer companies to run commercials with bikini-clad babes romping across the screen? Is it the same NFL that permitted ABC to run the incredibly suggestive T.O. and Nicollette Sheridan of Desperate Housewives commercial during the half-time of one recent Monday night game? And, is it the same NFL that’s been trying to distance itself from the Minnesota Vikings’ sexcapades on their Lake Minnetonka cruise boat and the Carolina Panthers’ lesbian cheerleaders brouhaha?

What’s next for the suddenly Puritanical NFL? What other commercials might they deem a bit too naughty? Those adult diaper spots can get pretty graphic at times. Or, how about those sleeping pill commercials? The ones with the nightgown-clad models who sigh and stretch oh-so-contentedly after finally getting a good night’s sleep? Aren’t they risqué?

The NFL’s move strikes me as pure hypocrisy. The league needs to clean up its own infractions before it throws a yellow penalty flag at advertisers who allegedly offend the general public’s sensibilities. In fact, I’m sorry, but I’m throwing my red flag. I’d like the officials in the booth to review this call.

Jan 05

Good night and good luck

And so, after all his protestations and arguments to the contrary, it appears that Jets coach Herm Edwards is in the final stages of leaving to accept the top spot with the Kansas City Chiefs.

How sad is it that leaders in all walks of life today say one thing and then do the exact opposite? It Herm seems to me that Herm’s behavior is now the norm and not the exception.

Why isn’t the media holding our leaders more responsible for living up to their promises? Why aren’t there repercussions for people who act and behave the way Herm Edwards has done in recent days?

Herm’s behavior (i.e. re-assuring the press and fans that he wasn’t interested in the KC job while negotiating with Chiefs management behind the scenes) reminded me of an incident at Peppercom during the dotcom heydays.

As we were growing to the tune of about 100 percent annually, we decided to reward one of our top performers with a partnership in the business. The negotiations were heated at times, and took the better part of the Summer as "I’s" were dotted and "T’s" were crossed. Finally, the deal was struck. We called together the staff, issued a press release and lifted our champagne glasses to toast our newly-minted partner. About a week later, she resigned to take a corporate gig (with whom she was obviously negotiating all the while).

To both our erstwhile partner and the departing Herm Edwards, I’d borrow the signature sign-off of legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow and say, "good night and good luck."

Jan 04

Crisis demands swift, but accurate, communication

The unfolding West Virginia mine disaster is a textbook example of poor crisis management. As we now know, the victims’ families were originally told by officials that 12 miners had survived. Three hours later, they corrected themselves and said only one person was still alive. The effect on the families can only be imagined.

As I was getting off my train this morning, I was horrified at the sight of several newspaper headlines. "Miracle!" was featured in large print on the front page of the NY Daily News and USA Today shouted "Alive!" when in fact all but one of the miners had died. From what I’ve read today Usatoday (who knows what to believe at this point), it looks like the majority of these reports were based off rumors that were spread at the scene from one person who obviously didn’t know what he was talking about. The media, who should know better, were so caught up in the hysteria and meeting print deadlines that they were willing to trust on-site chatter instead of waiting for an official confirmation.

Although the press jumped the gun, the WV state officials are even more at fault. According to several reports, WV Governor Joe Manchin visited a church where the families of the men were gathered, and declared "miracles do happen!" As the church bells rang, family members embraced one another and ran out with tears of happiness in their eyes. This premature announcement certainly generated a wave of excitement and false sense of hope amongst the local community and the entire nation. It will be interesting to see how the governor responds to the surge of criticism heading his way.

Regardless of who made the incorrect decision on the miscommunication, today’s incident is a painful example of the need for all organizations to prepare for different types of crises by doing advance simulations and to be sure the correct policies and procedures are in place BEFORE "the next big one" hits.

Jan 03

Some sure signs it’s New Year’s Day

As I sat and nursed my post New Year’s Eve wounds the other day and did my "typical male" channel surfing thing on the tube, I noticed a number of traditional and not-so-traditional New Year’s happenings worth commenting on:

1.) What’s with the total sensory bombardment of ever-more bizarre sounding college football bowl games? They literally seem to come at you 24×7 and each tries to convince you it’s more critical than the others (How about the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and the sponsor’s tagline: We didn’t invent chickens. Just the chicken sandwich." Talk about poignant). My favorite obscure bowl game, though, was the Boise State-Boston College game that was sponsored by some computer maker and played on blue, yes, blue grass. A football game played in Boise, Idaho, on blue grass? What has the world come to?

2.) The Sci-Fi Channel’s 24-hour Twilight Zone marathon. No matter how bad your hangover, a good Zone episode is guaranteed to perk things up. My daughter, Catharine’s favorite is "Talking Tina," the vicious talking doll who ends up killing the abusive Telly Savalas. She’s seen it so many times, she literally knows every word of dialogue. Tina is so memorable that Mattel should think about producing a 45th anniversary model to boost their sagging sales.

3.) The media’s single-minded obsession with all things diet related. Each day, the morning shows trotted out one self-help weight-loss guru after another, all of whom were re-cycling the same old bromides. Every January we get the media weight-loss feeding frenzy and, every year, it seems like more and more Americans are becoming obese. What’s wrong with that picture?

4.) Last, but definitely not least, I actually saw three separate commercials reminding viewers that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Another week or so and I’ll bet we start seeing back-to-school specials. Do advertisers have no shame?" As some pre-blogging pundit once said, "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

Jan 03

Inaction breeds contempt

I recently watched the year-end episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. One of the segments (they do four each episode) was about blatant racism in professional soccer or football throughout Europe. The piece featured several black professional football players who relayed the horrors of playing to sold-out stadiums in Spain, Italy and Germany while being taunted with monkey chants and pelted by bananas. Even worse, some fans displayed signs referencing the Holocaust while proudly displaying Nazi paraphernalia. The segment also featured members of right-wing racist cults that use football matches as fertile recruiting grounds for new members (i.e. racists). Soccer_2

As I watched this segment with incomprehension, one less obvious question kept popping up in my head: What is the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the governing body of professional football in Europe, doing about the very public display of racism in the stands and on the fields? The answer, amazingly, is very little. In fact, the CEO of UEFA, who was interviewed by Gumbel for this segment, demonstrated little evidence that the league was aware of the issue and willing to take meaningful action.

One major issue for UEFA is their executive committee is made up of all white men. And, as Thierry Henry (one of Europe’s premiere football players) stressed, unless you’re black, which he is, and on the field when the monkey chants rise up or the bananas come reigning down on the field, it’s impossible to comprehend the pain, fear and frustration felt by those who are the target of such behavior.

Well, I’m a white man but it didn’t take long for me to become enraged that racism was not only so widespread among European football fans, but that the people who were governing it were so apathetic to the situation. If UEFA won’t take a stand, then the European Union should. Open and frequent displays of racism across European’s football stadiums are a scary thought. Letting it happen without consequences is even scarier.

As Churchill once said, "I never worry about action, but only about inaction."

Dec 29

The Red Cross: Charity Begins at Home?

After Hurricane Katrina struck, money was flowing in as fast as the waters of Lake Pontchartrain and more than a few do-gooders thought there was little harm in skimming just a bit off the top. So far, 49 volunteers have been indicted for scamming donations that were intended for victims, but the investigation is spreading to other states and this is expected to be just the tip of the iceberg.

The United Way has never fully recovered from its scandal-filled 90s and the Red Cross has been trying to patch some bad holes in its moral fabric for some time now. Now that these icons of American charity and generosity have shown their feet are made of clay, what do future generations see as models for their generous spirits? The Red Cross said it is "devising new systems with the help of the FBI and Secret Service so that such fraud will be easier to detect in the future." What? We need the Secret Service to monitor a volunteer organization?

Can’t you just see the next Red Cross "Contribution Distribution" chart? 10% to legal fees, 10% to the Secret Service, 10% to Legal Aid fund for volunteers who will sue the Red Cross because they felt they were "entitled" to at least gas money, 10% to internal audits to search for further flaws in the system, 5% to media train spokespeople to deal with crises and 25% to administration and salaries. Not much left for those who actually need aid.

Charity is big business and Clara Barton has gotten too big for her bloomers.

Hat tip to Dandy Stevenson for her thoughts.