Jun 30

How about a blogger-in-chief cabinet level position?

As our country approaches yet another July 4th celebration, we have much to be proud of. At the same time, though, from an image and reputation standpoint, we’re probably not the most popular country in the world. So if the U.S. were my client, I’d advise an immediate grass roots education program that was open, honest and consistent. I’d propose we start communicating not just the good, but the bad and the ugly as well. I’d open up an honest dialogue with countries/people around the globe.

As part of my total communications program for the U.S., I’d create a blog for the government in which we posted daily comments about our thoughts and policies, and engaged in an interactive dialogue with friend and foe alike. The best companies are open and honest with their constituents, and the smartest ones are leveraging the blogosphere to create new relationships based on trust.

So, while it may be totally naïve on my part, why not establish a cabinet-level "blogger-in-chief" position, appoint a Tony Snow type-communicator to post thoughts and let him/her loose to criticize or praise the government, explain why we do the things we do, and, critically, respond to comments from others who post their thoughts. It works for IBM, Apple and Microsoft, so why not for the US?

Jun 29

Time waits for no one

I just came across an article about a rock group called Deja Boomers that revises classic hits and updates them with age appropriate lyrics for my rapidly-aging Baby Boomer peer group. Since today happens to be my birthday, I thought I’d share one of the Deja Boomer lyrics and suggest a few of my own.

So, for the Fat Domino song, "I’m Walking," the Deja Boomers have re-titled it "I’m limping," and changed the lyrics to read: "Whatever happened to my younger years? Now I’m left with just my fears, it’s one thing to be called grandpa, it’s another thing sleepin’ with grandma."

So, in that spirit, here are a few suggested age-appropriate lyric changes to rock classics:Way903321

From the Stones: "Wild horses couldn’t drag me away" to "Wild horses couldn’t drag me away (without my walker)"

From the Beach Boys: "God only knows what I’d be without you" to "God only knows what I’d be (without Cialis)"

From Jackson Browne: "Doctor, my eyes have seen the tears…" to "Doctor, my eyes can’t see at all"

From the Cars: "I guess you’re just what I needed" to "I guess a nap’s just what I needed"

From the Grateful Dead: "Truckin, got my chips cashed in" to "Shufflin, got my dentures in"

From the Beatles: "The long and winding road…" to "The long and winding road is too long and too winding"

From the Beatles: "All you need is love" to "All you need is love, rest, meds, orthodics and a daily aspirin"

And so on and so forth. I’m a firm believer in the adage that age is relative. I’ve met 20-something’s who seem ancient and 60-something’s who can run rings around me. All I can do is "keep on keeping on" and hoping that my personal "stairway to heaven" is still decades away from becoming a reality."

Jun 28

Leo, I feel your pain

Remember the music from the movie ‘Jaws’? That ominous ‘bah dah, bah dah, bah dah’ that you’d hear whenever the Great White Shark was circling its next victim? I’ll bet lots of agency execs hear the very same notes in their minds whenever a new marketing manager takes the helm at a client Cadlogo_1 organization. And, justifiably so.

Just ask Chicago’s fabled advertising agency, Leo Burnett. No sooner does Liz Vanzura settle into  her new gig as Cadillac’s marketing honcho then the music starts playing, the shark starts circling and the 71-year-old relationship takes on the form of a helpless swimmer about to become lunch.

Like any Great White Shark worth its salt (water?), Ms. Vanzura let Burnett flail about for a while before sinking her teeth in for the coup de grace. After leaving her previous job at Hummer, and taking over in February, Vanzura began giving new creative assignments to her ‘old’ agency, Modernista. How nice.

Can you imagine the angst at Burnett after being told the plum, new projects were going to someone else? And, that someone else was Vanzura’s erstwhile partner? Uh oh. ‘Bah dah. Bah dah. Bah dah.’

Leoburnett_1 Having been in the ad agency’s position more than once in my life, I liken this "new client in town with a different agenda" scenario to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s fabled five steps of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. So, I’m sure the first set of discussions at Burnett revolved around how best to save the account. As Ms. Vanzura bypassed the incumbent time and again, the hostility must have reached a fevered pitch within the agency with Vanzura dolls being stuck with needles, her likeness being hung in effigy, etc. Then, with the prospect of $226 million in business driving away as it were, desperate managers probably tried one crazy stunt after another to woo back the mercurial, new client. Perhaps they formed a convoy of Cadillacs, drove them to and from Detroit, and vowed to keep doing so until Ms. Vanzura agreed to stay the course. Or, maybe they offered to rename their pets and kids Cadillac? What about changing the stalls in the agency restrooms to reflect various Cadillac models? Whatever they tried, it fell on deaf ears. So at long last, acceptance set in.

And that’s when the predator moved in for the kill, severing the 71-year-long relationship a few weeks back. A GM spokesman would only say, "We have enjoyed a good degree of success with Leo Burnett in moving the Cadillac brand forward." That’s it. That’s all for nearly three-quarters of a century of work. The brutality of it all is breathtaking.

I’ve always felt that agencies are just like baseball managers. We’re hired to be fired. It may take a few hours (yup, we actually lost a client three hours after being hired). Or, it can take 71 years. But, it will happen. Obviously, agencies are fired for lots of legitimate reasons. But, the ‘new sheriff’ is a particularly sad and cold figure who, I believe, reflects poorly on the image and reputation of the client and the client organization.

Will Ms. Vanzura’s decision change any consumer’s mind about buying a Cadillac? Of course not. But, there’s a human element here, an element of compassion that is clearly lacking. Burnett had 70 full-time people working on the Cadillac business. Many will no doubt be let go.

So, Leo, I feel your pain. It’s a tough business. And, we agency-types are hired to be fired. If it’s any consolation, this blogger won’t be buying a Cadillac any time soon. Bah dah. Bah dah. Bah dah…

Jun 27

How do you market to a new generation of virtual hermits?

A new survey out of London from global market research leader TNS (a Peppercom client) shows that teenage boys, aged 12 to 18, are spending record amounts of pocket money on computer games. In fact, fully one-third of the average British boy’s chump change now goes to purchasing the ‘Grand Theft Autos’ of the world (note: teenage girls in Britain have little interest in computer games, opting instead to shell out their moola on music).

While there are many disturbing elements to these findings, what troubles me is the parallel trend acompanying the money spend: teenage boys are spending inordinate amounts of time online, whether it’s playing video games, surfing MySpace or doing god knows what else. As a result, they’re literally not interacting with the world at large and gaining the requisite social skills they’ll need to succeed later in life.

Such a scenario is fine if the lads all aim to work in isolated cubes sorting through some kind of research. But, I can’t imagine any positive outcome for game-playing zealots in the business world of tomorrow. Futurist Watts Wacker has researched teens and pre-teens and says many of them count ‘virtual’ friends as among their closest buddies. Our youth are deeply engrossed in conversations with people they’ve most likely never met, and confiding their most intimate secrets to literal strangers. What would Dr. Phil say?

To me, it’s a mind-boggling trend that not only has significant implications for the day-to-day social interactions of the next quarter-century, but for marketers as well. How will traditonal approaches possibly resonate with the Grand Theft Auto crowd when they don’t send or receive information the way we do?

It seems to me the best answer will be to market via relationships built on trust. Reaching and having a dialogue with a future consumer’s ‘circle of influencers’ will become even more important than ever. Marketers will be forced to figure out totallly different ways to not only break through the clutter, but to connect with a guy who grew up choosing his friends and entertainment from in front of a keyboard. And, a guy who, sad to say, spent one-third of his discretionary income on video games. Yuck. Whatever happened to whiffle ball, stickball and bubble gum cards?"

Jun 26

If you’re part of the problem, how can you also be part of the solution?

Nestle’s acquisition of the weight loss company, Jenny Craig, sure makes for strange bedfellows. Here’s Nestle, which pumps out such weight-inducing, artery-clogging candies as Nestle Crunch andCrunch_2  Nesquik, about to simultaneously market a ‘meal’ of prepackaged low-calorie meals and motivational   workshops. Say what?

While the move is a pure profit play since Jenny Craig is red hot in the wake of the Kirstie Alley spokesperson campaign, it does create some interesting mixed messages. In supporting the acquisition, Nestle chief executive and chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, said, "The rise of obesity and resulting metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, is a major public health concern, not only in the U.S.A., but the world over. The Jenny Craig acquisition puts us in the privileged position to help many of our consumers." Well, yeah. But, you’re hurting them at the same time with all that rich, gooey chocolate stuff you’re making.

Maybe, like RJR, which presents a balanced portfolio above and beyond its line of health-wrecking cigarettes, Nestle is justifying its bad stuff with its new line of good stuff. Or, maybe they’ll re-position themselves as a more holistic marketer ("We made you fat. Now we’ll help make you thin. But then we’ll make you fat again…").

If the Nestle "lifecycle" marketing trend takes off, maybe we’ll see other smart partnerships take root. A pediatric clinic, for example, could merge with a funeral parlor chain to create Morning & Night, Inc….."We’re the hello and good-bye people!" Or, how about a tricycle maker partnering with a manufacturer of walkers and canes? ("For your first spin and very last step"). McDonald’s could get into the act by striking a partnership with, say, the Tour de France ("Slowing you down before you   speed it up").

I guess Nestle’s made a smart business move, but I sure wouldn’t want to have to explain it to a group of activist shareholders at an annual meeting ("People people! Please calm down. Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe will be happy to answer all of your questions. But, you have to stop eating so many Crunch bars for crying out loud. Those things are like speed. Happily, we have a Jenny Craig clinic starting in a few minutes in one of the breakout rooms so you guys can work off all that pent up stress.")

Hat tip to Moon Kim for this idea.

Jun 23

Be careful what you say. The bridge you burn may be your own

Dan Rather’s parting shots at CBS were probably not the most graceful words the legendary Drather_1 journalist  has uttered in his nearly half-century-long career. He lamented the network’s treatment of him and said he would not accept the offer of an empty office and no assignments on which to work. You really can’t blame him. And, considering the fact that his days as a major network anchor are over, Rather probably didn’t burn any bridges with his potshots.

That said, one does have to be very careful about what one says about a former employer or co-worker, especially in such a relatively small field as public relations where everyone knows everyone else. In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit to being guilty of violating this credo, having often shared my very negative views on the CEO to whom I once reported. While I was (and am) wrong for badmouthing the guy, many others who have come in contact with the Neanderthal agreed with my feelings (and often have better, even more insane anecdotes than my own).

Badmouthing a former employer can come back to bite you in the butt in the least expected way. Recently, for example, we were competing for a piece of new business against several other firms. At the end of our presentation, the prospect pulled my partner aside and told him that a former employee (now with a competitor) said she had been our best publicist and that, since her departure, we no longer had any top-flight media relations people. The prospect told my partner he’d automatically eliminated the firm because of the unprofessional comment. And, needless to say, that particular individual won’t be welcomed back to our office any time soon.

So, think through what you’re going to say before ‘dissing’ someone. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book about the Lincoln cabinet called "Team of Rivals," Honest Abe would always write a "hot letter" to himself listing the transgressions of someone who had really ticked him off. Having vented his anger, Lincoln then proceeded to discard the letter. That sounds like a great way to deal with negative feelings about former employers or co-workers.

Hat tip to Dandy Stevenson for this idea.

Jun 22

It’s the little things that can make or break an organization’s image and reputation

I’ve written in the past about employee "ambassadors" and how important every individual’s role is in shaping an organization’s image and reputation with customers. A boorish receptionist can kill a new business experience. An impolite account executive can damage an existing relationship. Even a poorly worded communiqué can undo months or years of trust between client and agency.

So, when I received an unsolicited pitch letter from the Flatiron Database Marketing Company, I thought it would make for a good example of what not to do.

Beyond the hype and hyperbole in the letter from the telemarketing firm, what struck me was theFmletter_1  abysmal quality of the paper stock and type. The ink was smudged in several places and many words were virtually impossible to read. In fact, I just noticed that some of the ink rubbed off on my shirt and has left a permanent mark. What a nice way to start my day.

Does Flatiron Database Marketing actually expect someone to react positively to such a solicitation? ‘Oh boy, those guys who just sent me the illegible letter with the ink that just rubbed off and ruined my shirt would be ideal to help me build sales.’ C’mon. This correspondence deserves to be framed and displayed in the National Sales Hall of Shame’s unsolicited pitch letters wing.

Last, but not least, I simply don’t believe telemarketing is appropriate in my field. My rationale is simple: I don’t do business with people who cold call me, so why should I expect some prospect to act differently?

The Flatiron letter was a distasteful reminder of how important the little things are to an organization’s overall image. Hey, do you think they’ll pay for my shirt’s dry cleaning? If they do, I promise to visit the Hall of Shame.

Jun 21

It’s time for the NBCs, CBSs and ABCs to follow the BBCs lead

A member of the crack and far-flung Repman reporting staff identified a fascinating new development in London.  The BBC has provided a "desk" to a citizen journalist (nee Blogger) from which he can cover whatever happens to strike his fancy. How about our broadcast networks following suit?  Anyway, herewith (as we Anglophiles like to say) is the report from our London office…

A major British online news outlet has offered a desk to a ‘citizen journalist’ for a week as an experiment. Strange you might think, but in the summer Europe effectively shuts down. Journalists affectionately refer to this time of the year as the silly season for news.

Lets face it, on this side of the pond we have already been subjected to a blow by blow account of the England players boarding the plane to Germany; the England players’ plane taxiing to the runway; the England players’ plane taking off and finally the England players plane being airborne…you get my point.  Let’s see what kinds of story angles get selected as newsworthy in the coming week. Citizen journalists may just be what we need.


In his second day as "citizen journalist," Frankie Roberto has already succumbed to football mania Froberto with reports titled: "Owen heading back to England" followed shortly by "The England match" … and it all started so positively. But this raises an interesting question. What is news?  Well, for me it’s not football, but for millions of people across the world, it is. So, should the news we receive be dictated by us, the audience, or by journalists who are paid to be objective and select the news that they feel we should know about?

Jun 21

You’re hired! Oops, sorry. Meant to say you’re fired!

Spencer Stuart’s brand new survey about the lifespan of the average chief marketing officer makes for sobering reading to say the least. According to the results, the average CMO lasts for only 23 months in general, and as little as 15 months in the tech and industrial sectors. Man, these poor bastards don’t have enough time to even arrange their wall posters before being shown the door.

CMOs surveyed in the annual Stuart audit said their Mayfly-like lifespan (by far the shortest of any C-suite title, btw) is due to their being caught in a perfect corporate storm: CEOs are placing extraordinary short-term pressure on them because of the Street’s quarter-to-quarter focus while, at the same time, very few CMOs have access to the CEO. Talk about a lose-lose proposition. CMOs can’t justify their existence because they don’t know what the CEOs strategy is in the first place!

In this week’s Advertising Age, Jeff Bell, global VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business added another reason for so many CMOs dropping like leaves: "The shorter tenure is in part a reflection of the change from failing traditional marketing approaches to less defined and more dynamic approaches. Clearly, the skill set of CMOs is changing from TV, TV and more TV to interactive media."

These findings and analysis come as no surprise to me. CMOs traditionally came from the mainstream advertising and marketing worlds. What we’re seeing is that group’s inability to stay ahead, if not keep pace, with the rapid fire changes in the marketing landscape caused by digital technology. As a result, they flame out in record time.

At the same time, all this turnover has to be a real bonanza for Spencer Stuart and their executive recruiting ilk. That said, Corporate America will rebel if Stuart et al. keep sending the usual suspects to interviews. Instead of dusting off some group head from JWT or hyping the advertising manager of some Unilver brand, Spencer Stuart would be wise to look to the ranks of corporate and agency public relations professionals. The best ones "get" the brave new world of citizen journalism and the "consumer as king." More important, they know how best to align a corporation’s traditional and digital offerings and, dare I say it, tie the overall marketing spend to sales performance.

Clearly, the current cast of characters isn’t making the grade. So let’s hope the executive recruiters abandon their old boys’ Rolodex and dial up some of PR’s best-and-brightest. My gut tells me if they do, our candidates will not only shine, they’ll stay in their CMO jobs long enough to unpack their files and hang a few paintings.

Jun 20

An ode to innovation

I’ve had the privilege of knowing Ken Makovsky for quite some time. As Ken knows, I’ve always seen his agency as a “best practices” model for our own, especially when it comes to quality and business acumen.

Over the years, Ken has proven himself a fierce competitor, industry thought leader and, I’m happy to say, a rabid fellow Mets fans. Now, though, you can add one other descriptor to Mr. Makovsky: co-marketer.

That’s right, Ken and I are off-and-running with the first of what we intend to be three co-branded podcasts on the subject of blogging. The impetus for the series was two independent surveys on the subject undertaken by our respective firms. Ours showed an overwhelming support of blogging by marketing executives. Ken’s survey, on the other hand, audited business executives and revealed that 90 percent saw no benefit to blogging, either from an awareness or qualified sales lead standpoint. The “gap” between the two survey findings seemed like an ideal opportunity to launch a co-branded podcast series. The two of us completed the first one last week. Our next one will include a corporate communications executive. We hope the third podcast will include the views of a living, breathing CEO.

As much as I’ve admired Ken and his firm over the years, the very thought of enacting a co-marketing effort with him would have never entered my mind. But, then along comes blogging and podcasting. And, I thought, what a beautiful way for us to discuss our respective blogging initiatives.

And, so, here we are. Two heads of independent midsized firms discussing blogging and why our marketing peers embrace it, but Corporate America doesn’t. As we were wrapping up our discussion, the thought struck me that Ken and I were doing something quite unique in the public relations arena. I’ve wracked my brain to think of other agencies that have come together to co-market, but couldn’t. How fitting, I said to Ken, that two independent firms are leading this re-definition of agency marketing. As a matter of fact, we issued a challenge to the big guys, the firms owned by the holding companies (you know who you are). We said we’d like to see Helen partner with Mark or Ray sidle up to the new guy at Burson (I simply can’t keep track of who’s running the show over there anymore). In short, we’d like to see the big holding company guys show some innovation and thought leadership in the digital arena. Edelman certainly is. But, then, Edelman is independent. For now.

Beyond the agency world, though, why aren’t other “rivals” leveraging digital technology’s flexibility and partnering to reach consumers in new and different ways. Coke and Pepsi could do a podcast on beverage trends. Ford and Toyota could do one on environmentally safe cars. Delta and Continental could share business travel tips with their listeners.

The possibilities are endless (and very smart, to boot!). But, I guess it takes a couple of Mets fans to jump start the process. Hey Ken: I’m looking forward to the second podcast this week. Let’s see if any of the big guys take up our challenge and follow in our footsteps.

For me, this is one more example of the little guys leading the way in industry innovation. And, Julia, you can quote me on it.