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.

Jul 26

Throw in Some Shorts and a Hat and I’m All Yours

In a further indication of the near total lack of accountability in our society, the New York Times today reported that Sony BMG Music Entertainment used all sorts of payola schemes to induce radio disc jockeys to play their contracted performers’ music over the airwaves.

Giveaways included flat-screen televisions, PlayStation 2 games, and out-of-town trips for two. My favorite, though, was Sony’s sending one Adidas sneaker with the promise of a mate if the DJ would play the song A.D.I.D.A.S. By Killer Mike at least 10 times.

Sadly, business ethics has come close to becoming an oxymoron. Why the trend started and why it continues to take on new and ever more bizarre iterations in this post Enron/Bernie Ebbers world escapes me. It’s high-time one of our political leaders called for the creation of a blue-ribbon panel to address the moral and ethical challenges eroding every pillar of our society. Of course, we’d need to find some ethical politicans to lead such an effort. Maybe if Sony offers some Adidas sports gear as inducement, we can round up some willing participants?

Jul 19

What Became of Accountability?

Clyde Haberman’s column in today’s NY Times about the alleged doctoring of Mayoral Candidate’s C. Virginia Fields’ campaign photo to depict her as resonating with a diverse population provides a dead-on discussion about accountability, or the lack thereof.  The photo in question was doctored, and the faces of white people replaced with those of people of color.  When the deception was revealed, Fields blamed her top advisor who, in turn, blamed Fields.

What’s become of accountability?  From Bernie Ebbers and Ken Lay to Barry Bonds and Karl Rove, no one seems to accept responsibility for their actions anymore.  Beyond being a bad thing, it’s also dumb.  I believe accountability can be a huge factor in successfully differentiating an individual or an institution.  Think about it.  There are so few people who accept responbsibility for their actions nowadays that those who do will break through the clutter. Being accountable isn’t just the right thing to do.  It’s the smart thing.

Jul 16

Crisis Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation

What do the major Firestone tire recall, Martha Stewart, Mad Cow Disease and the NYC blackout have in common?  They were all seismic crisis events that occurred in the Summertime.  It amazes me how complacent Corporate America is when it comes to crisis preparation.  They seem to be on a permanent Summer vacation.  Recently, we conducted surveys of business continuity and risk managers of Fortune 500 companies and found out the vast majority have never simulated a potential crisis.  As a result, they’re not prepared for the inevitable.  It’s simply amazing that this mindset still prevails in our Post 9/11, Madrid and London bombings world.

What will it take for business and industry to wake up?  CEO kidnappings, hostage situations, actual terrorist attacks on fabled American brands?

It’s a chilling thought in the middle of a heat wave.

Jul 13

PoweRGirls is Weakening the PR Industry’s Image

I just addressed a group of about 100 public relations college students and Summer interns.  In the session, we spoke about their dreams, hopes and futures in the business.  When I asked what was keeping them up at night, almost all of the young women pointed to Lizzie Grubman and PoweRGirls, the MTV reality show about a group of female PR party planners.  Young industry professionals are outraged that Grubman and her party planning cohorts have become the standard bearers of the PR world.  The group I met with today see themselves as being light years away from the vacuous, starstruck, one dimensional types portrayed on the show.  And they’re right.  Public relations today is a far-flung, sophisticated industry that provides a wide range of services, from crisis counseling and issues advocacy to marketing support and employee communications.  It’s a shame that bright, young professionals just entering the field have to routinely deflect such banal questions as: "oh, so you do parties?"

Jul 12

Coke Isn’t It

Sometimes I’m amazed at the hubris of companies like Coca-Cola, who today announced a new program to encourage physical activity in our children.  The program is called "Live it," and will feature sports stars like Lance Armstrong urging sixth grade kids nationwide to stay active. While the idea is laudable (and smart from a corporate image standpoint), it’s also deceptive since Coke is selling its soft drinks in thousands of middle schools around the country.  Instead of positioning themselves as a solutions provider, Coke should find other ways to make money and pull its vending machines out of our nation’s middle schools.  A little less Coke and a lot more exercise would start putting a dent in our nation’s childhood obesity crisis.