Aug 15

Navel Gazing at the Network Level

I was amused to read the various articles concerning ABC’s angst over who they’ll select to fill Peter Jennings’ shoes as nighttime network anchor.  Among the front-runners is Diane Sawyer who, insiders say, doesn’t want to do the evening gig because she’s too obsessed with overtaking arch nemesis Katie Couric in the morning talk show slot.

What amuses me is the thought of these executives weighing their various alternatives as their share of overall ratings continues to be dismembered by the likes of cable, the web and high-profile bloggers.  It’s akin to Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned.

Although there have been reports of the "Big Three" networks exploring alternative means of staying relevant, the fact remains that Sawyer, Couric, et al, are a slowly dying breed.  The less navel gazing about who fills the Jennings slot, the better.  It’s time to remove those Ostrich-like heads from the sand and figure out what current and next generation Amercians want in terms of their news and "infotainment."  Sad to say it, but Katie, Matt, Charlie, Diane, Brian and their ilk are the T Rex’s of broadcasting’s Jurassic Period.  And their reign as masters of the universe is fast coming to an end.

Aug 12

New Church Scandal Looks Like Another Instance of ‘Do as I Say, Not as I Do’

With yesterday’s resignation of Msgr. Eugene V. Clark as rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it sure appears that we have yet another example of a public figure who says one thing and does another.

Clark has been accused of having an affair with his longtime personal secretary of 33 years. The woman’s husband, who has filed for divorce, has provided videotape images of Clark and his estranged wife entering a Hamptons hotel and then leaving five hours later in different clothes. Talk about a smoking gun!

What exacerbates the allegations in my mind is that Clark has previously used his powerful position to wax poetic on the "immorality in the American culture."

This incident is shockingly similar to the Harry Stonecipher/Boeing saga. Readers will recall that after becoming Boeing’s CEO, Stonecipher initiated strict personal behavior guidelines for employees as part of the corporation’s revamped code of ethics. Then, he went ahead and had an affair with an employee that ended up costing him his job.

It’s no wonder many feel that America has lost its moral compass when the Clarks and Stoneciphers of the world act in such blatant disingenuous ways. As a former altar boy, I can only pray things get better before they get any worse.

Aug 11

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Alan Finder’s NY Times article today about college branding came as no surprise to me, having  represented two top 15 business schools.  Colleges such as Beaver, Trenton State and Cal State Hayward have all changed their names in hopes of increasing enrollments, endowments and, via both, their positions in the all-important US News & World Report rankings. In fact, the US News and BusinessWeek rankings have absolutely turned college & university marketing upside down. The average person would be stunned to know how much time and emphasis is placed on rankings by college administrators.  Moving up in the polls is a red letter event, while the reverse is cause for sorrow.  While colleges are businesses, it’s sad to see how "rankings focused" they’ve become. I wonder if an increased focused on faculty and curriculum content (and strategically marketing each) might not be a smarter pursuit for the folks in higher education.

In the end, it’s about the educational experience.  Slapping a new name on the campus gates won’t mean anything unless the renaming comes with unique offerings that allow the institution to differentiate itself from the others.

Aug 08

Google Pulls a ‘Do as I Say, Not as I Do’

Saul Hansell’s New York Times column today about Google’s decision to refuse to speak with any CNET reporter for the next year is a real eye opener.  The company is upset with a CNET expose on how the Google search engine can be leveraged to glean personal information on an individual.  It was a smart piece of journalism.  What rankled Google however, was CNET’s decision to reveal personal information about the company’s CEO Eric Schmidt, including his number of stock options, where he lived and his political fundraising activities.  Google cried foul and announced the year-long moratorium.  Bad move.  Google is supposed to be all about instant information and open access.  So, when an enterprising reporter uses the Google model to do just that to file her story, it gets testy.  Google, and its in-house PR executive, David Krane, should know better.  Such knee-jerk reactions only make an organization look like a spoiled brat who throws a tantrum because he or she didn’t like the way the game was played.  Google should get over itself real quick and lift the ridiculous CNET moratorium.  The only one it’s hurting is itself.

Aug 08

Masterfoods’ Mega Mistake

Last Friday, Stuart Elliot’s advertising column focused on Masterfoods USA’s introduction of the Mega M&M.  To be sold in 12.6- and 19.6-ounce bags, these M&Ms are 55 percent bigger than their standard-size counterparts.

It is fair to question Masterfoods’ serving up a product that is clearly feeding the fattening of America.  The company’s spokesman spins the answer by saying that M&Ms have always been about sharing with others.  As for the size, another spokesman said that "adults have said they like a bigger bite-sized product with bigger bite-sized taste."  To sum it up, Masterfoods doesn’t see this as contributing to America’s obesity problem.

Well, as someone once told me, you can’t spin a spinner.  Companies that sell unhealthy foods should be honest with their consumers.  Masterfoods is not.  It is trying to hide the reality that its product is unhealthy.  The company is doing more than simply misleading the public; in my book, this misguided product stands as another example of corporate America’s irresponsibility and unaccountability for its actions.

Aug 04

The Road to Cooperstown Runs Along Main Street

So, let’s suspend reality for moment and imagine that you’re baseball legend and sure-fire Hall of Famer Rafael Palmeiro. All of a sudden, your life is crumbling in front of your eyes. Caught taking steroids, you’ve been given a 10-game suspension. Even worse, Congress is mumbling about possibly nailing you for perjury because they have you on videotape categorically denying the use of steroids. "Ever!" as you stated vehemently on tape.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.  So, is all lost?  Not necessarily.  If Rafy were one of our corporate clients, we’d advise him to quickly admit guilt and put a program in place to make amends. I would tell Rafy to voluntarily suspend himself for the season (the 10-game suspension is such a joke). Between now and October, I’d send Rafy on the to road to hamlets large and small across this great land of ours.  I’d have him meet with Little League coaches and their teams and counsel kids on the evils of steroid use.  Then, I’d take some of his millions and establish a Rafael Palmeiro Anti-Steroid Foundation whose purpose would be ongoing education and counseling.  After doing all that, I’d have Rafy take his case directly to the people before the start of next season and ask them for a second chance.  Americans love to give people a second chance.  But only if they are open and honest.  If Palmeiro wants to see himself enshrined in Cooperstown one day, he’ll first have to log many miles along Redemption Highway.

Aug 01

All My Sons

The New York papers were abuzz this weekend with the news of the split in the Murdoch clan.  The Post, predictably, lauded the accomplishments of Lachlan Murdoch, the 33-year-old News Corporation scion and now ex-deputy chief operating officer.  Just as predictably, the Daily News taunted its rival in the city’s tabloid wars by writing that Lachlan was "bailing out of the struggling New York Post amid talk of a family feud."  The The Times and the Journal , meanwhile, play the story down the middle while digging deeper (go figure).

At age 74, Rupert Murdoch is preparing for the day when he will no longer be around to control the news behemoth with which he is so closely associated.  There is no questioning Murdoch’s accomplishments, but the Lear-like drama being played out may damage the company’s reputation beyond repair.  This episode leads one to wonder if, for all his business acumen, Murdoch may be doing his investors and his empire a disservice by relying too heavily on dynastic succession.  As the Journal put it, "why should executive posts at publicly traded companies be passed on like heirlooms?"

Aug 01

Innovate or Die

BusinessWeek’s special report on innovation should be a wake-up call to corporate communications, advertising, marketing and public relations professionals everywhere.  Its message is stark, but simple: design firms, anthropologists, socialists and consultants are partnering with corporations like P&G and GE to figure out how to innovate around customer needs and design all new products and services.  Instead of abdicating this role to others, communicators should be acting as "innovation catalysts" within the organization, leading discussions, workshops, etc., that are focused on catching up with, and leap-frogging, the P&Gs.  Sadly, though, too many of us are caught up with justifying our existence and providing the "same old, same old."  Those communicators who do wake up and begin playing pioneering roles in innovation discussions will reap the rewards.

Jul 29

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night

So Jurgen E. Shrempp is leaving the DaimlerChrysler CEO’s suite a year earlier than planned. The New York Times speculates that the automaker’s surprising second quarter earnings gave Shrempp the cover he needed to exit now.  Using terms such as "embattled" to describe the 60-year-old executive and labeling the company "trouble-prone" understates the enormity of the Chrysler division’s problems.

As Ford and General Motors continue to struggle, what is Chrysler’s answer to its woes?  Why, to bring back its former chairman as its pitchman.  Brilliant! Genius!  Too bad that Lee Iacocca is unknown to a generation of car buyers.  To make matters worse, he is paired with the actor best known as Seinfeld’s George Costanza.

DaimlerChrysler’s stock rose more almost 10 percent on the news of Shrempp’s impending departure.  Maybe the company should borrow its new advertising slogan from a song that is less Rodgers and Hammerstein and more traditional blues: "Been down so long, it looks like up to me."

Jul 27

Scrutiny Could Make NASA Stronger

The front pages of today’s New York Times and Washington Post sport large color photos of Discovery’s launch, each of which accompanies an article heralding NASA’s return to the space shuttle business.  Prominent in both these stories is not only the mention of Discovery’s ill-fated predecessor, Columbia, but an admission that two pieces of "debris" came off the shuttle during its flight.

One could be cynical and attribute NASA’s candor to necessity; after the Columbia disaster subjected the agency to painful outside scrutiny and intense self-examination, it had no choice but to re-examine the shuttle program.  Yesterday, to show that it had learned its lesson, NASA mounted cameras all over the launching pad to monitor for the slightest speck of potential trouble. Sure enough, it found some.  As John Schwartz points out in his analysis, "all this inspection may be a mixed blessing."

It may, indeed.  Still, the agency’s openness looks to be the right way to go.  If NASA can bring back Discovery without a hitch, its reputation will be burnished. By extension, the American space program can anticipate a bright future.