Aug 31

Down for the Count

Last year, three of the country’s largest newspapers (Newsday, the Dallas Morning News, and the Chicago Sun-Times) admitted to falsifying their circulation numbers, resulting in circulation staff shakeups and compensation to advertisers.

Now comes the news, courtesy of Advertising Age, that the magazine world is experiencing "a Msl_3 circulation scandal that is tearing through the industry." The latest titles to be caught with their pants down and their numbers artificially up are Martha Stewart Living, Family Circle, and House Beautiful. As many as one third of the leading consumer magazines may be affected, according to Ad Age.

All I can do is to let out an exasperated sigh. The news media is already taking hits from all sides for ethical lapses everywhere, and now this. Perhaps, as one publisher said, this scandal could be an "apocalypse." If so, the print media should get right with itself and start thinking about its own second coming as trustworthy in word, act and deed.

Aug 29

Rain, Rain, Go Away. And Take the News Folks with You

I have been thinking about John Bolaris in the last day or two as I watch nonstop coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Who’s John Bolaris, you might ask?  He’s the unfortunate Philadelphia Bolaris_2 weatherman who received hate mail and even death threats in March 2001 after his dire predictions of a devastating blizzard turned out to be massively overstated.

Well, you could attribute that to Philadelphians taking their weather as seriously as their sports, but the precedent is notable.  On the Gulf Coast today, it’s the meteorological equivalent of impending Armageddon, if the cable news networks are to be believed.  They sicken me with their 24/7 coverage of misery and mayhem.  Yes, it’s a big story; a major American city, and one of its most culturally significant, may be devastated.  Yes, the media have an obligation to let people know about loved ones in the area.  Still, they go so over the top and whip up such fear that they neglect a key element of their mission, which is to report the news.  In so doing, they should help people to understand it.  They are not, in this instance.  Not only do they relegate themselves to play-by-play announcers as they focus on the storm track, but they miss a key part of the story: that this hurricane might damage or destroy the oil refineries in the area, hastening the rising price of gas. The implications for the economy are ominous.

It is hard to trust the media, and the broadcast media in particular, on this one.  They have made so many mistakes in hyping past "storms of the century," and have managed to evade responsibility when nothing occurs, that the trust keeps eroding.

No matter what happens, today we are all John Bolaris.

Aug 24

If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Trash ‘em!

What could Jonathan Klein, CNN’s president, be thinking?  According to the Drudge Report, Klein is quoted in an upcoming New York Times article trashing his competitor and long-time nemesis, the Fox News Channel. We who study the art of reputation management all know that it’s gauche to talk about your competition in public. But, the faux pas is compounded when your competitor is crushing you in the ratings.

One can only surmise that Klein is cracking under the pressure to shrink the gap, or abyss, that exists between CNN’s ratings and those of FNC. This type of tirade, which mirrors itself as sour grapes, won’t help matters.

What Klein should be doing is studying what FNC has done and determine how he, too, can create a platform that has such a large and loyal customer base. Say what you want about FNC (and I’m not a huge fan), but they’ve figured out a model that works and are beating the competition night after night. Klein knows that, but he sees more value in trashing it.

Aug 24

You Can Check Out, But You Can Never Leave

When it comes to reputation and image, the average person will think of an organization, institution or corporation. Sadly, too few of us pause to think about individual reputation and how priceless and precious it is.

What brings personal reputation to mind is two recent examples of individuals who left one organization to join another. Both handled their resignations in a totally professional way and were wished well by peers and managment alike. Yet, no sooner had the individuals departed than management determined the two had, in fact, "checked out" months before. Work hadn’t been done. Needs hadn’t been attended to. In short, they had just stopped trying, figuring that focusing on the next job was all that mattered.

Bad move. Because when it comes to personal reputation, one must always give 100 percent 100 percent of the time. "Checking out" early can and will damage one’s reputation. Why? Because eventually these two will move on again and when the next prospective employer is asking for references, that "checking out" manuever will weigh heavily in any comments.

When it comes to one’s reputation, you can check out. But you can never leave.

Aug 22

What’s in a Name?

Hold the presses! The artist once known as Sean Combs has delivered an earth shattering bolt of news! Combs, who has also been known variously as Puffy, Puff Daddy and P. Diddy, has announced that, henceforth, he is to be known as Diddy. "I felt like the ‘P’ was getting between me and my fans, and now we’re closer," he told Katie Couric.

The removal of a consonant may make no difference to Puff…er, I mean, Diddy…and his legions of non-fans, but his action recalls two other name changes and their results. One is AirTran, the low-fare carrier that, along with Southwest and JetBlue, is remaking the airline industry. You may not remember AirTran’s previous incarnation as ValuJet, and that’s the point. After a series of accidents, such as the May 1996 crash in the Florida Everglades that killed 110 and caused its temporary grounding, ValuJet reinvented itself in November 1997 as AirTran. The new airline then began a turnaround that stunned industry observers and passengers alike…helped, in large part, by management talent recruited from the ranks of defunct airlines such as Eastern.

Contrast that with Altria. You know what that is. Despite its efforts to diversify beyond tobacco, the company is still called Philip Morris. The 2002 name change fooled nobody. In fact, one could argue that Altria will always be known as a tobacco company whose CEO consistently denied any link between smoking and disease.

So what’s in a name? Less than what meets the eye. With apologies to the old Zenith TV ads, the quality has to go in or the name means nothing.

Aug 19

Sale Away This Summer…and Fall…and Winter…and Spring…and…

Remember Christmas? It’s December 25, the day that a majority of the world celebrates as the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s marked with family get togethers, reflections and prayer, feasts and, of paramount importance to many, gift-giving.

Relax. I’m not about to launch into a tirade about the commercialization of Christmas. Nor will I bemoan the fact that the word is being replaced with the generic "holiday season." Instead, I raise this as an illustration of how sectarian and secular holidays have converged to the point that the American calendar has become one long occasion for ongoing sales promotions.

I began to think about this when I heard a radio advertisement for a back-to-school sale around Independence Day…little more than a week after the end of the school year. Shortly after Labor Day, we’ll be assaulted with promotions for Halloween. The day after that, Nov. 1, marks the start of the aforementioned "holiday season." Remember when that was the day after Thanksgiving, the so-called "Black Friday"? No more.

Such brash, aggressive commercialization of traditional dates is absurd. When retailers push the envelope to ridiculously early dates, they risk damaging their reputations and alienating a customer base that is increasingly less loyal.

Aug 18

Zero Hour for the Airlines

In my last post, I mentioned how the airlines are going to hell in a handbasket.

The trend seems to be accelerating, helped in no small part by unions that cannot see the forest for the trees.  Earlier this month, thousands of British Airways passengers were horribly inconvenienced by sympathy strikes staged by BA workers at Heathrow Airport.  The scenes of passengers camped out at the airport, Europe’s busiest, weren’t helped by images of long lines of frustrated travelers futilely seeking answers from overwhelmed BA staffers.  The entire episode threatens to undo the years of hard work that CEO Rod Eddington and his team have done to turn around the once ailing carrier.  Already, the media have reported the angry threats of BA customers vowing never to fly the self-described "world’s favourite airline" again as a result.

Now comes the news that Northwest Airlines faces a walkout by its mechanics’ union this weekend. The union is worried that half of its members’ jobs would disappear if it agrees to the airline’s demand for concessions.  In a strange twist, Wall Street is frankly hoping for a strike, and Northwest’s stock rose on the news of the possibility.

So here we have one international carrier that has risen from the depths, only to have years of progress sabotaged by its workers in a matter of days.  Another, hoping to emerge from Chapter 11, may face the same fate.  When will unions learn to cut their adversarial nonsense and realize that, once they sully their companies’ reputations, they destroy themselves and their members in the process?

Aug 18

It’s Just Another Day

Paul McCartney’s song, "Another Day," came to mind this week as I skimmed the New York Times Business section.  Delta is selling off a regional airliner to avoid bankruptcy, a former high-ranking CBS employee returned to the company after just one month as president and CEO of Evermore Partners and, yes, four more Wall Street stockbrokers were just arraigned for financial chicanery. It’s just another day and, good day sunshine, no one really says or does anything about it.

The airlines are going to hell in a handbasket. Corporate America doesn’t think twice about a high-ranking executive who skips out on his new company four weeks after joining it. The Citigroups, Lehmans and Merrill Lynchs continue to transact business, unsullied by their employees’ skullduggery.

When did the Deltas, CBSs and Wall Street firms stop caring about their images and reputations?  I suspect it occurred more or less simultaneous to the time when we as a population suddenly started accepting unethical behavior in every facet of our lives.  Yeah, yeah, yeah — it’s just another day.

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.