Apr 28

And like the legendary Phoenix rising from the ashes, Kate Moss is back and bigger than ever

Seemingly disgraced beyond repair and relegated to the ash heap of celebrity has-beens only a few months ago, Kate Moss is back and bigger than ever.

The pencil-thin, drug ingesting supermodel has been featured on recent covers of W and Vanity Fair, and served as a guest editor to French Vogue. She’s also signed corporate spokesperson gigs with Virgin Mobile, Dior, Roberto Cavelli and CK Jeans.

If that weren’t enough, Nikon has just built a new campaign around the Anorexia poster princess for Mossnik a new line of cameras. So, what’s wrong with this picture?  Plenty. What has become of our society when we glorify "bad" or "troubled" people like Moss? What sort of message does it send to our kids? Are we saying that unacceptable behavior is not only ok, it’s the best way to become a star? And, what sort of image does it convey about the corporations who pay Moss to pose with their wares?

That said, and giving the devil her due, Moss has clearly risen like the legendary Phoenix from the ashes of disgrace and defeat. So, how about the city of Phoenix "adopting" this morose model as its official symbol? She could ride on floats in parades, throw out the first ball at D’back baseball games and do all sorts of things that born-again quasi-celebrities do. Such a partnership would differentiate Phoenix from other Sun Belt cities and also enable the 32-year-old Moss to scout out pre-retirement housing for herself. And, speaking of retirement and retirees, how about this Phoenix of a celeb doing guest appearances at local restaurants during their early "bird" special meal offerings? Talk about karma…..

Apr 28

Katie preps for weighty CBS News anchor gig with ‘hard-hitting’ investigative piece

Outgoing Today Show co-host Katie Couric flexed her investigative journalist’s muscles this morning in the second installment of a two-part, self-proclaimed ‘hard-hitting’ piece on ‘what men think is sexy.’"

The segment probed 800 men to find out whether they preferred their women to be size two or 10, sporting jeans or something more sensual, and their bodies to be natural or augmented by plastic surgery. Katie’s investigative swat team grilled groups of "brainy" and "brawny" men to slice and dice the findings and see if the nerds had different tastes than the hunks.

I won’t insult your intelligence by going any further. The point is that this sort of fluff is Katie’s strong suit. America loves Katie and her slightly naughty, mostly nice girl-next-door manner. Pieces like the one today are what made her the media darling she is. It’s also why I cannot she her succeeding as a nighttime news anchor on CBS. It’s one thing for Ms. Couric to discourse on the latest trends in negligees. It’ll be something quite different to see her report on our young men being killed in Iraq, Iran’s blatant march towards a full nuclear weapons program or any of the other horrific things happening every day around the world. Her giggles simply won’t translate in this new, hard news milieu.

I think Katie’s big move is a big gamble for her and for CBS. I know I won’t be tuning in. The lady just doesn’t have any street cred. Oh, and Katie, my answers are size two, jeans and natural, thank you very much.

Apr 27

Bluetooth Blues

Bluetooth-enabled cell phones empower users to walk around and carry on their conversations hand-free, which is a great thing. What isn’t so great though and, to me, is a bit unsettling are the growing hordes of people walking the streets, hallways and public facilities of our world seemingly talking to themselves.

I was in the men’s room of the Continental Airlines presidents club this morning washing my hands123  and minding my own business when a guy strolled up behind me and asked, "how’s the pricing?"

I stopped and looked in the mirror. He then asked, "Well, are they going up or down?" He was staring straight at me in the mirror. Until I noticed the Bluetooth earpiece and the attached microscopic mouthpiece dangling down, I actually thought he was addressing me.

I don’t like these Bluetooth boors. They strut around with their chests puffed out, chopping at the air to punctuate a point, totally oblivious to everyone else around them.

This has to be an ego trip thing. Why else would you want people to think you were a slightly deranged, recently discharged patient from some upstate psychiatric hospital? To me, hands-free headsets are just one more bizarre cog in the machinery of an increasingly crazy, out-of-control world. While I love my blackberry and depend on my cell phone, I’m suffering from the Bluetooth blues right now. In my opinion, this is one technology that we’d be better off without.

Apr 26

Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair

The times, they are a changing, especially in the corner office.

Jonathan Schwartz, the new president and chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems, sports a ponytail in today’s New York Times photo. How cool is that? I’m not sure, but I have to believe Schwartz is the first official "long-hair" to join the exclusive Fortune 500 CEO club.J_schwartz_2

The hirsute leader’s unconventional appearance has to be unsettling to some of America’s more conservative business cultures (Disney and IBM come to mind). But, I think it’s totally liberating and very cool of Sun’s board to not care about Schwartz and his locks. For one thing, it fits the Silicon Valley/technology industry’s counter-culture philosophy. For another, it sets a nice tone for the corporate culture within Sun.

I remember working for a couple of CEO’s who would absolutely flip out if someone violated the unwritten dress code. One CEO went ape on a poor guy who once wore a pink shirt to the office and questioned his manhood right in front of the entire office. Another CEO counseled me to only buy my suits from Brooks Brothers and to steer clear of "….that Italian shit." He said Corporate America wore Brooks and expected its agency executives to do the same.

Happily, the times they are a changing. I, for one, am glad that Schwartz is on the scene and figuratively flinging his ponytail in the face of convention. If I had a few more locks to work with, I’d do the exact same thing.

Apr 24

Response to Julia Hood

Julia Hood’s editorial in today’s PRWeek raises some interesting and valid counterpoints to my post from last week on large agencies. As Julia knows, my original bone of contention concerned the out-of-proportion editorial coverage afforded to the big guys by her trade journal and others. And while there are exceptions to my comments about the dearth of innovation and thinking from big agencies (Ketchum and Edelman are notable exceptions), the fact remains that the big guys simply aren’t the best examples of today’s swift-moving, rapidly-changing marketplace. And, that’s a direct result of what I call the "holding company mentality." Having come from J. Walter Thompson before founding Peppercom with my partner, Ed, I know that the publicly-traded companies worry about:

1.) their stock price

2.) their overhead expenses

3.) their profitability

Notice I didn’t mention the client or agency employees in my list.

While all firms worry about the cost of doing business, the WPPs, Omnicoms and Interpublics of the world exert tremendous pressure on their respective agencies to tow the financial line (which, by necessity forces them to allocate time to satisfying their owners first and their clients and employees second). This sort of pressure also creates a "quarter-by-quarter" management mentality and an environment in which offices with separate P&L’s will often battle over the same client dollar. As a result, we’re seeing very little innovation from large agencies and, from what I hear, dramatically reduced management development programs. Why? Because R&D and management training are expense items.

At the same time, we’re not seeing any serious industry thought leadership from most of the big agencies. Why? Because to speak out too loudly is to rock the boat. And as the Nick Naylor character in "Thank you for Smoking" said, "We all have mortgages to pay." So, Julia, while I expect you to continue to cover the big guys in full-page spreads, give some thought to similar-sized profiles of people like Phil Nardone, Mark Raper and Jennifer Prosek. These are the people who, if asked, would place the client and their own employees at the top of their lists of business concerns. They’re also the people who are reinventing the business to develop new service offerings and future leaders.

The issue isn’t advertising vs. PR (although I’ve waxed poetic on that in past posts). Rather, it’s all about the future of PR. My question to you, Julia, is this: do we have the type of leaders and agencies who will develop the services and train the people to delight clients now and in the future?

Apr 24

What to do when the big guy fudges the truth

One of the most difficult challenges facing a corporate communications/public relations executive is deciding how best to handle a CEO credibility crisis. As you’ll recall, the RadioShack people did absolutely nothing when their former CEO David Edmondson was caught lying about his college degree. Day after day, as the crisis escalated out of control, the corporate communications department issued one "no comment" statement after another. Finally, RadioShack’s board of directors stepped in and fired the CEO.

Today comes the revelation that Raytheon’s CEO William H. Swanson, the celebrated author of Swansonsbook_1 "Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management," has been ousted by a blogger who revealed that no fewer than 17 of Mr. Swanson’s bon mots are direct rip-offs of a 1944 book written by a UCLA professor.

Corporate spokesperson, Pamela A. Wickham, said some of Swanson’s rules were "…absolutely on track" with the Bruins professor’s work, but said the final Swanson booklet had been shaped by the CEO’s own experiences. Oh baby, talk about doubletalk.

This crisis could have been averted (and still might) if Swanson had merely given Professor King credit as a source for some of his pearls of wisdom. Instead, he and Raytheon have sat back, published the handbook as original thinking and reaped the image rewards of Swanson’s being positioned as something of a latter-day Peter Drucker. And, sadly, rather than counseling the CEO to admit fault and give credit where credit is due, the PR spokesperson is busy spinning the story in a pro-Raytheon way.

It remains to be seen if the Raytheon CEO’s fudging of the truth will cause the same uproar we saw occur at RadioShack. Regardless, corporate communications/PR seems to have lost yet another opportunity to play a senior strategy role in counseling an executive what to say and do in a crisis. But, as the Nick Naylor character in "Thank for Smoking" likes to say, "Hey, we all have to pay for the mortgage."

Apr 21

I hear it’s your birthday

Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday is a big news item here in the States. And, while I consider myself quite the Anglophile, I have to admit I just don’t get the adulation. Queen_and_repman

Is there a more unimportant major figure in the world today than the Queen? Is there an institution any more irrelevant than the monarchy? With all of the mega problems we deal with every day, why is the Queen’s 80th birthday sharing the spotlight with Iraq, soaring oil prices and the last minute foiling of another possible Columbine disaster?

I know the Queen and the Royal Family are wrapped up in Britain’s overall "image," but it seems to me the time and money spent to maintain this antediluvian autocrat could be much better spent in other ways. That said, happy birthday Liz, and many, many more.

Apr 20

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Can you believe a General Motors PR staffer approached ex-Clinton Labor Secretary and current political pundit, Robert Reich, and offered to pay him to use his blog and other communications "vehicles" to say positive things about the auto maker’s worker buyout program? Oh baby, talk about falling asleep at the wheel!

In this post-Armstrong Williams-Ketchum debacle world in which we live, you’d think any PR person worth his or her salt would know better than to approach a political commentator cum journalist and offer him money to shill for them. The Williams-Ketchum mess was major news for months, so I find it hard to believe GM’s combined client-agency team missed the coverage. Or did they?

Reich was right to publicly condemn GM for their foolish offer. The incident, though, leads me to ask another question: if an allegedly smart and savvy marketer like GM is still doing pay-for-play stunts, are there others out there as well? If so, then maybe its time for the Arthur Page Society and the Council of PR Firms to offer refresher courses explaining why pay-for-play is so wrong and how much damage such mistakes wreak on our industry’s image.

And, how about poor GM? Is this Detroit’s version of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, or what? Someone there needs to get on a ‘fast track’ ASAP or there won’t be any money left in the coffers to procure future pay-for-play deals.

Apr 20

When a smile can be a secret weapon

Abdul Wali has sold fruit in front of 470 Park Avenue South for the past four years. Like the proverbial mailman, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor dark of night keeps Abdul from peddling his oranges, bananas, tangerines, apples and other assorted fruits.7865332_1

I’d always been impressed by his even demeanor and consistent service and decided to decided to ask Abdul the secret of his success. He was happy to answer my questions and told me it was a combination of things:

- knowing what his competitive fruit stand guys were peddling and charging

- knowing when to replace certain fruits with others as the seasons changed (his best selling year-round item is the good old apple)

- always smiling, no matter how rude or indifferent his customers may be

Abdul’s customer-centric service got me thinking about his peers in Corporate America and a couple of my less-than-positive interactions with them. One occurred in the gorgeous reception area of a major multinational organization. I’d arrived early for a meeting and asked for my client. The gum-chewing receptionist gave me the once over, put down her cheap romance novel and said, "I don’t know him. Where he work at?" I told her. She sighed, picked up the phone and called another receptionist, asking "You know some guy named Smith?" Needless to say, I was amazed that such an unprofessional woman was allowed to be an initial point of contact for a top company.

My other service saga comes from the early days of Peppercom and involves a Drew University intern who doubled as our fill-in receptionist. I’d given her an important assignment and called her into my office to ask about its status. She responded to my question by saying, "Oh yeah, that project. Sorry dude, guess I just flaked on it." Needless to say, she was soon flaking out somewhere else.

A company’s image and reputation is simultaneously priceless and delicate. And every company is only as strong as its weakest link (witness the gum-chewing, cheap romance novel reading receptionist). In these days of indifferent receptionists and flaked out interns, it’s comforting to know that the Abdul Wali’s of the world still exist. And still get it. Service with a smile works every time.

Apr 19

Have the Mets already won the World Series? Their new team song would lead you to believe so

My favorite baseball team, the New York Mets, have just introduced a new team song, entitled, "Our team. Our time." It debuted at last night’s game in which the Metropolitans were absolutely drubbed by their old nemesis, the Atlanta Braves.  Nymets3dlogo

Put simply, the new Mets song is just plain awful (click the link above and take a listen for yourself). The "Our team. Our time" lyrics are boastful beyond belief and speak of being our boys of summer as being "…number one" and "…the real deal." True, the blue and orange do sport MLB’s best record and, true, they really have acquired some interesting and talented new players. But, boasting of being number one thirteen games into a 162 game season reminds me of what GM’s Chairman Bob Lutz did last week when he proclaimed General Motors would not only survive but, indeed, be more successful and more profitable within five years’ time than at any point in its gloried past. Yeah, sure.

Sadly, the urban strutting and boasting in the new Mets song simply doesn’t ring true and certainly isn’t backed up by the team’s performance in recent seasons (two key prerequisites in any re-positioning or image campaign). Beyond that, though, I have to raise one final question: what was wrong with the team’s original song, entitled: "Meet the Mets"? For me, that tune always conjures up all the good, the bad and the ugly of the past 40-plus seasons, and makes me want to root as hard as ever for today’s bunch of Metsies. As for "Our team. Our time", let’s wait for October before we start the celebrating.

Hat tip to Tom Powers for this idea.