Jan 30

Hey, it’s time to trot out the Challenger disaster footage again!

When we media train corporate executives, we warn them of the media’s fondness for bad news by repeating the oft-used expression, "If it bleeds, it leads."

Clearly, this is the case with breaking news as well as anniversaries of horrific events. Witness last weekend’s never-ending cavalcade of Challenger disaster footage to mark the 20th anniversary of that horrific event.Challenger

Time and again, we watch the ill-fated space shuttle hurtle upwards en route to its appointment with destiny. And, time and time again, we hear about the brittle O-rings, NASA’s rush to launch despite the frigid temperatures that day and, of course, the tear-jerking fate of astronaut-teacher Christa McAuliffe.

Surely, there is a more respectful and professional way in which to honor the memories of the fallen astronauts. Must we see the explosion every hour of every day of the weekend? Sadly, my question is a rhetorical one. Because, sadly, there is no one person or institution in this land to hold the media accountable for overstepping the bounds of decency. We must, instead, rely on the media to police themselves.

In an era when corporations own the major media outlets and entertainment trumps hard news, we’re seeing an increase of tabloid sleaze from the once-proud news networks. The milking of the 20-year-old Challneger calamity is a great example of this trend.

What would the late, legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow think of this weekend’s Challenger clips? I like to think he’d use a variation of his signature sign-off and sigh, "Good night and good luck…to the future of broadcast journalism.

Jan 27

Oprah comes clean

Here’s to Oprah Winfrey for devoting yesterday’s show to accepting blame for the James Frey/"A million little pieces" debacle.

Oprah, whose endorsement of Frey’s book sent its sales into the stratosphere, took the fabricating author to task for his egregious lies, chastised his publisher for not doing any fact checking, and, critically, apologized to her fans for initially recommending the book and, later, justifying Frey’s lies when she phoned in to the Larry King Show a few weeks back.

How refreshing it is to see a "leader" actually hold herself accountable for her actions. While I’ve never, ever been a fan of Oprah’s, I really admire what she did yesterday. Compare that with the waffling and outright avoidance we see from leaders in such areas as:

- government (the Hurricane Katrina cover-up being only the most recent example)

- business (a la Messrs. Lay and Skilling, who go on trial next week)

- the Catholic Church (which continues to avoid addressing the root causes of its pedophilia plague)

- sports (where the likes of Ron Artest, T.O. and the Minnesota Vikings sex cruise perpetrators do as they please with no repurcussions, etc.).

So, hats off to Oprah and her gutsy move to hold herself and those around her accountable. If only we had a few more people like her in positions of power and authority.

Jan 26

At Ford, quality may be job one, but smart communication sure isn’t

So, on the one hand the Ford Motor Company is laying off 30,000 employees. On the other, though, it continues to run television commercials featuring employees who grew up working on Ford cars and "…have Ford cars in their blood."

I sure hope some of the featured employees aren’t the ones who were handed pink slips the other day.Ford

Ford’s marketing misstep reeks of poor internal communications. Did the folks in human resources not communicate with their peers in communications, or vice versa. Or, is it simply a case of someone on high not thinking through the image implications of continuing the campaign during the downsizing. Either way, it’s embarrassing. As a communications "mechanic," I’d suggest Ford bring its internal processes into the shop for an alignment.

Hat tip to Jackie Kolek for her opinions about this.

Jan 20

PR for PR’s sake?

I would like to applaud Lewis PR in London for their quick response in seizing an opportunity for a bit of self-publicity when a Whale was spotted swimming in The Thames. Not only did they create a special blog, they got themselves interviewed live on Sky News to plug it.Whale

The location of their London office provided them with a unique opportunity to provide a ‘witness’ report, which is always a guaranteed hit on rolling news programs while broadcasters were no doubt frantically scrambling to find experts to comment on the whale’s health and any other bits of trivia that would keep the endless coverage new and fresh.

I do admit that, to start with at least, the continuous posts on the blog gave us some amusement on a Friday afternoon. Some lucky Lewis employee got to spend their afternoon thinking up cheesy headlines to liven up their own ‘rolling’ news coverage about the whale. "Whale takes to the Sky"(copter), "Whale meet Again" and "Battersea Whale’s Home" are just some of the classics.

But I wonder what benefits this exercise really brought to Lewis. Is it just PR for PR’s sake?

Hat tip to Gioconda Beekman in Peppercom’s London office for contributing to this post.

Jan 20

And the winner of the annual NFL/Chick-Fil-A End Zone Entertainment Competition is Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers

I think the NFL is missing a huge marketing and sponsorship opportunity by not capitalizing on end zone dancing. The increasingly more creative and bizarre jigs being performed by touchdown-scoring wide receivers like Steve Smith, Santana Moss and the notorious T.O. never cease to amaze and delight me.1_1

So, why not take a page out of the NBA play book? They make a big deal out of the slam dunk spectacle and build a whole separate event to highlight it at All-Star time (and raise God knows how many extra sponsorship dollars in the process). MLB does the same thing with its home-run derby.

The NFL can trump its fellow leagues by taking the end zone competition to a whole new level. Schedule it at half-time of the Super Bowl. Bring in the top performers from each team and let them have at it. Pull together a judging committee that hold up score cards after each dance, moon walk, marriage proposal, phone call to an agent, impersonation of a waiter, etc. Judges should come from the entertainment world a la American Idol, since the wide receivers’ dance routines are the equal of anything we see on Broadway or the silver screen. Just imagine a panel of Paula Abdul, Dave Chappelle and Lindsey Lohan debating the creativity, athleticism and virtuosity of each receiver’s routine. Talk about priceless.

So, here’s a plea to the NFL: wake up and capitalize on what your players are providing you. Take it to the next level, find the right sponsors and judges, and I guarantee the sponsorship and advertising dollars will pour in. And the fans will love it. Besides, you need to replace those lost revenues after cancelling the $18 million Levitra contract.

Hey Steve, Santana and T.O., "are you guys ready to get down?

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.