Are the big oil and gas companies headed for trouble? With several of them posting record profits this quarter, one would think not. The industry is enjoying the rare benefit of increased demand along with surging prices. The cash is rolling in. Life is good.
But one wonders how sensitive these behemoths are to a potential backlash from the American public for profiting at their expense. As we head into winter, the gap is likely to worsen. Oil and gas consumption will increase, causing a further dent in consumers’ wallets.
I’m not anti-business and I’m not advocating that these companies should not be profitable so we can drive around in our SUVs and purchase cheap gas without reservation or concern. However, if I were the communications chief of one of the these oil companies, I wouldn’t be waiting around hoping that the American public doesn’t wake up and take action. Instead, I would urge my management team to use a small percentage of those profits to benefit a cause that would help some of the people who are hurt by the rise in energy prices. I would use it as an opportunity to preempt any consumer backlash and use it to strengthen the company’s reputation. I would send a clear message to all of my key stakeholders that while critical, the bottom line shouldn’t be the only measure of success. After all, the price tag on any company’s reputation is likely to be a lot higher.
Unfortunately, I don’t know of any oil company that has adopted this strategy. Wall Street is too focused on near term results so management teams are too focused on profits. Time will tell how this all plays out but ignoring the issue and continuing to reap the benefits at the expense of customers is akin to throwing fuel on a fire.
Today’s New York Times Metro Section contains a front-page article about a returning Iraqi veteran, Michael Serricchio, finding that his former $200k per annum job at Wachovia Securities had been eliminated during his tour of duty.
The 33-year-old husband and father says that, after three months of pleading with his employer to get his old job back, he was instead assigned to making cold calls for a $2,000 monthly draw on commission. Mr. Serricchio says he intends to sue.
Wachovia executives won’t comment publicly on the issue, saying it’s a legal matter that needs to play itself out in court. As a result, what could have been a minor issue easily resolved has now blown up on the pages of the Times.
One wonders who is making the calls within Wachovia. Is it a human resources executive? Perhaps it’s Serricchio’s erstwhile boss? More likely, a chief legal counsel is calling the shots. I just hope corporate communications wasn’t involved in this fiasco. And if it wasn’t, why wasn’t it?
Too many times short-sighted decisions that can have a huge long-term impact on an organization’s image and reputation are made without consulting corporate communications first. If Wachovia was smart, they would have reinstated the returning soldier’s job. Instead, they’ve done an excellent job of reinforcing the pervasive attitude many Americans have towards large companies: that they’re cold, uncaring and focused solely on the bottom line.
Once upon a time, our agency had a very mean client. This client had an ego that would put The Donald’s to shame. She believed she walked on water and, as a newly minted partner at the executive search firm we represented, felt her personnel announcement should be a cross between "War and Peace" and "On the Road." This was a brand new client for us, and handling this woman’s personnel announcement was our first assignment.
Each day, a revised draft would be sent over and would boomerang back to us faster than you can say, "Crocodile Dundee." Why? Because it didn’t flatter her ego to the degree she felt appropriate. Our writers "didn’t get it," she would tell us. "They don’t understand that I once ran a company and was profiled on the cover of Obscure Business Today," she would sniff.
As the days progressed, our queen of mean became increasingly disenchanted with the drafts of her press release. "They’re boring," she would complain. "They don’t capture all of the amazing things I’ve done," Then, literally 10 days into the relationship, we were fired because, "we couldn’t execute on the personnel announcement." To add insult to injury, we were told they weren’t comfortable we’d be able to generate the kind of front-page trade story coverage her announcement demanded.
Fast forward to the present. We had just been contacted by a prospect firm with a strikingly similar name as that of the executive search company. Since the long-forgotten name was back on our radar screens, we decided to find out what had become of our nemesis. So, we checked the site. She was gone. After a little checking, we discovered she had landed at a larger, much better known search firm. And there was an announcement about her joining the firm in the press section. And guess what? This major tycoon of the modern business world received exactly two sentences in a trade rag. Ah, we thought. There is such a thing as poetic justice.
Just when I think that the major international airlines are lumbering awake in the face of their impending doom, I am reassured that, alas, they are just as obtuse as ever. An ongoing battle with one of them, American, serves as confirmation.
Last spring, we flew on one of American’s OneWorld partners to Europe. In total, we flew about 8,000 miles, which American refused to credit to our frequent flier points. "It didn’t go through," I was told at first. Only after finding all my receipts, boarding passes and itineraries, then faxing them to Dallas and waiting for weeks, were we rewarded with a grand total of 1,077 points each.
Calling the customer service center proved to be a fruitless endeavor, as well (that was after searching the web site for a number to call, which took some time). Each time I called, I was immediately put on hold and forced to listen to Muzak. If American doesn’t want disgruntled customers to call, this is the way to do it. I gave up.
This is no way to treat a dwindling base of loyal customers. They have far too many choices and you need them more than they need you. If you want examples of good customer service, look at what JetBlue and Southwest are doing. Their customers are fanatically loyal.
Yet the big airlines wonder why they have problems. I would tell them to look within. You can’t blame fuel and labor costs for everything.
The crack marketing minds at McDonald’s have fumbled with their sponsorship of a new, CBS/NFL pre-game show segment called the "Pounder Index."
Each week, McDonald’s and the CBS pre-game crew of erstwhile NFL jocks rate the most vicious tackles/hits of the preceding Sunday from a video and audio standpoint. Each tackle/hit is assigned a "Richter-scale" like number based upon its viciousness and loudness. The hapless New York Jets and their wide receiver, Laverneus Coles, took top honors this past Sunday for a shot Coles received courtesy of a Buffalo Bills safety that registered a "whopping" 9.1 on the Pounder Index scale.
One wonders how McDonald’s Pounder Index would have rated the hit that Jack Tatum laid on Darryl Stingley back in 1978, leaving Stingley permanently paralyzed? Would that have topped the Coles tally of 9.1? Or how about the time another Jet, Dennis Byrd, ran full speed and head-first into a teammate and broke his neck? Byrd eventually recovered, but never played another down. Would Byrd’s horrific collision have carried enough visual and acoustical drama to have made McDonald’s top Pounder Indexes of that long-ago week?
It seems to me the burger marketers can find better, more humane ways to reach the NFL’s Joe Six-Pack audience than spotlighting the ever-more horrific "shots" that NFL players lay on one another.
C’mon McDonald’s. Stop with this hitting below the belt. Pull the "Pounder Index" segment. We deserve a break today (and every Sunday).
I’m in the midst of reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, "Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream." As she did in her incredible "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" tome of 2001, when she went "undercover" to see what it was like to be a member of America’s working poor, Ehrenreich goes incognito in search of a new story.
This one really hits close to home, as the former New York Times columnist reinvents herself as a 50-year-old unemployed public relations freelancer and event planner. She takes the reader along as she goes job hunting for a full-time corporate PR gig.
Unlike "Nickle and Dimed," however, the story is slow and unappealing. The author spends far too much time ridiculing the various self-help job search gurus and PR executives she encounters on her sojourn. What really got my attention, though, were Ehrenreich’s constant jabs at, and put downs of, the public relations field, which she refers to as "journalism’s evil twin."
Ehrenreich reminds me of so many other "holier-than-thou" journalists who look down their collective noses at PR and refuse to admit how much they depend upon us for ideas and access. This has obviously been an age-old problem for PR people and isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
Still, I’d love to hear or read something from a journalist that speaks objectively about PR, and recognizes what we bring to today’s 24×7 world.
Well, I can always dream. Oh, and by the way, Ms. Ehrenreich? We’d never hire anyone with such preconceived notions and such an obvious chip on her shoulder. Better hang onto that day job.
What a fascinating announcement by the National Basketball Association that it intends to clean up its image with a comprehensive campaign entitled, "NBA Cares." One of the highlights is a new dress code for players that will discourage Phat Farm-type garb and suggest they sport more acceptable, mainstream togs.
The new program is a smart move in the right direction for a league that is still reeling from the fallout of last season’s Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons slugfest. But, like any other image or reputation program, the new campaign will only be as effective as the product, service or institution it represents. In other words, the campaign must "ring true" with the average Joe.
So, will we now see a kinder, gentler type of NBA player as a result of NBA Cares? Will on- and off-the-court behavior suddenly be transformed as a result?
If the league is really serious about changing its image, it needs to address players’ behavior first. The NBA must either institute mandatory counseling and training or provide some sort of 24×7 helpline for players who simply don’t have the wherewithal to deal with their sudden fame and fortune.
With more and more players being arrested for increasingly grievous crimes, a new dress and deportment code is little more than a band aid unless it is enforced consistently and completely. Otherwise, this new policy will have as much credibility with fans as sending Bernie Ebbers and Ken Lay on a speaking tour to espouse best practices in corporate ethics would have with my peers in the business world.
Westchester County (N.Y.) District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, now famous (or, is she infamous?) for her 32 seconds of silence while delivering her campaign announcement speech due to a misplaced page, has once again shot herself in the foot.
This one is a real beaut. In her fundraising outreach, Pirro’s crack team inadvertently mailed a note to the candidate’s opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. To add insult to injury, the letter was addressed to "Hill’s" old address at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Talk about database mismanagement!
To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, Pirro’s credibility is dying a death by a thousand cuts. As she makes one mistake after another, voters will surely lose faith in her ability to manage the bigger issues.
The devil is, indeed, in the details. We routinely host "meet the media" luncheons at our office. Almost without exception, one of the biggest complaints reporters have of PR firms is the correspondence they receive replete with misspellings, incorrect titles and addresses, confused genders, and other careless and unnecessary errors.
Image and reputation constitute a total package that goes far beyond style and substance to extend to the tiniest of details, including an updated mailing list. One can win the battle but still lose the war by making too many foolish mistakes.
Yesterday’s loss by the New York Jets was another painful
experience for this lifelong fan.
As I watched the mediocre Buffalo Bills move the ball
effortlessly up and down the field through what had been lauded as a tough Jets
defense, I lapsed into my annual "oh well, wait ’til next year"
Then, finally, a Jets player made a nice stop on one of the
Bills’ running backs. Immediately, the player began to dance, and strut, and
whoop it up, making all sorts of bizarre gestures of self-congratulations.
I know such antics have become commonplace in the circus
sideshow that is college and professional football. But have things not reached
a new low when an individual player, whose team has been pushed, pummeled and
pulverized all day long, decides to beat his chest in full view of 80,000 fans
and millions more on TV because of one good, but meaningless, tackle?
What’s become of sportsmanship? And, where is the
accountability? Why aren’t coaches schooling players on the nuances of when,
and more importantly, when not, to strut their stuff?
I wonder how this sort of behavior would translate to the
business world. Maybe the next time my firm finds out that it narrowly lost a
new business pitch, I’ll run out into the hallway and start doing a war dance,
throwing in a moon walk or two. Because, hey, we may have lost the business, but
I did one heckuva job answering the prospect’s question about the smartest ways
to beat the competition to the punch.
I shuddered as I watched yesterday’s carefully orchestrated "teleconference" between the president and a hand-picked bunch of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. It was so awkwardly staged and so obviously pre-programmed and rehearsed that any credibility the administration might have hoped for disappeared faster than those still-missing weapons of mass destruction.
Drawing a comparison with the private sector, could you imagine a CEO carefully staging such an event and expecting employees, customers or the Street to buy it? I was working with a bunch of Fortune 500 executives yesterday, helping them with their presentation skills. We all agreed that while style was important, it was useless if the message wasn’t based on reality.
If the White House wants to enlist more support for their Iraqi initiative, then they need to do a much better job of stage managing their communications vehicles. And they need to give the American people more credit. We know honest answers when we see them. And we can see right through bogus ones. Yesterday’s staged exhibition was just plain frightful.