Feb 27

How not to win friends and influence people

JetBlue has had its share of advocates and defenders in the aftermath of its Valentine’s Day Massacre. And one can argue all day long as to whether the airline did or didn’t do things well, or will or won’t survive.

But one thing’s not up for argument in my book: JetBlue Director of Communications Jenny Dervin has some pretty unhelpful ideas about who to be blaming right now. Here’s a choice quote from Ms. Dervin from a PR Week cover story: "Those (PR) agencies that felt the need to contact our CEO and the corporate communications department directly, telling us exactly what we were doing wrong, were not helpful, and they are all going to go on a special list that I’m going to share with my colleagues in the PR industry, encouraging them never to do business with those companies."

Holy cow! Shades of the Nixon enemies list of the late 1960s and the Hollywood blacklists of the 1950s! Can you believe Ms. Dervin is threatening to hurt the reputations of ANY PR firms that called her, her office or the CEO during the crisis? Aren’t there more pressing matters at hand for her and her company?

Well, Ms. Dervin, I’m pleased to report that we didn’t call you, your department or your CEO. To be sure, we did so some years ago, but didn’t reach out during this crisis. And won’t. Ever.

That said, I do hope that you and JetBlue survive for a very long time. But keep in mind that the PR industry is a relatively small one, where everyone knows everyone else (or almost). Experience shows that people who go out of their way to hurt other people don’t do well in our business (or most others).

So hang onto your job, Ms. Dervin. Else you may find out that others compile their own lists: Executive search recruiters, senior communications executives and heads of agencies all keep lists in their heads of senior staff prospects — good and bad. And while I believe those lists aren’t as mean-spirited as the one being tallied by someone who wants to blacklist PR professionals, it’s a marketplace reality that what goes around can come around.

Feb 27

King of kings may not be

Titanic director James Cameron is about to break a startling ‘news‘ story Tomb_2
that he says will shake Christianity to its very roots. In a new documentary, Cameron says he has proof that Jesus Christ did not ‘rise again’ after being crucifed and that his coffin, along with those of Mary, Mary Magdelene, et al, has been found near Jerusalem.

So, if Christ’s coffin has indeed been found and some sort of DNA evidence proves it’s him (Him?), does that, in fact, destroy his (His?) long-standing image and reputation as being ‘king of kings’?

Far be it from me to comment on the merits of what Cameron has found. But, it will be fascinating to see how Christianity in general, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, will respond. Will it be the usual dismissive shrug of the shoulder? Will they condemn Cameron? Or will the Church step up to the plate and appoint its own independent commission to examine Cameron’s findings and claims?

Regardless of what course they take, it’s yet another serious challenge to a Church that’s been reeling for years in the wake of multiple scandals, most of which were badly bungled from a crisis management standpoint.

Just this once, though, I’d love to see them respond in a smart, measured way and be open to an honest and frank dialogue on the subject. Could anything be more important to them (Them?) right now?

Tip of the hat to Tom Powers for the idea

Feb 26

February 22nd was just another day in the ongoing dumbing down of America

I had the opportunity to watch the first 15 minutes of Good Morning America and then listen to Harry National Public Radio on Thursday, February 22nd (which, ironically, happens to be the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday). Anyway I thought their respective lead news stories provided an interesting snapshot into the continual dumbing down of society. To wit, NPR’s lead stories were as follows:

– Anti-Iraq War protests in Sydney, Australia, against Vice President Cheney’s impending State visit

– The latest machinations in the Scooter Libby trial

– The capsizing of an Indonesian ferry boat with significant loss of life

– Prince Harry’s posting to Iraq as a member of the British military services

Conversely, Good Morning America focused solely on Prince Harry, and devoted its first 15 minutes to the ‘breaking story.’

As we slide further and further into a sleazy, tabloid-obsessed society, it’s sad to see GMA stoop to National Enquirer-type levels.

So, where are the remaining bastions of legitimate news? Aside from NPR, CNN, the Times and Journal, I’m hard pressed to think of many.

It’s a sad trend that augers poorly for our children’s future and our country’s global competitiveness.

As a quick postscript to this ‘dumbing down’ blog: the Today Show devoted the first 25 minutes of its Friday, February 23rd ‘edition’, to the Anna Nicole Smith nonsense. What a disgrace.

Feb 23

Being Rob Longert

I just spent a full day living Rob Longert’s life.

Rob is a junior account executive who agreed to swap jobs with me for a full day. So, while I Rob_longert_2 shuffled off to his cubicle alongside our other junior account executives, Rob ‘ran’ Peppercom for a day.

The idea, which at first seemed like a lark, ended up becoming a huge learning lesson for me. I learned, for example, how difficult and stressful it is to be an account executive at a fast-paced agency. I also learned how critical technology has become to the job of an account executive (and, how daunting such technology can be to someone who isn’t the most tech-savvy guy in the world).

Perhaps most importantly, I ‘re-learned’ what it feels like to be on the receiving end of an assignment. It’s easy to drop off a task and ask someone to get it done by COB. It’s quite different, though, to be struggling to juggle three existing assignments, and then have someone drop off a late afternoon assignment that’s due by COB. Talk about meltdown city.

The tasks I was assigned were probably a breeze for a 20-something junior account exec to perform, but I defy any senior PR executive to try and compile comprehensive news searches, scan articles, track down and forward links to various teams, attend team meetings and brainstorms and, oh yes, draft a pitch letter for a client’s industrial product, all within an eight hour day.

I can honestly say that I came close to drowning. I blew every deadline I was given, and felt like I was letting my various account teams down.

At the same time, I observed some things that could be improved upon and, perhaps, make us a better place to work. I also came away with enormous respect for the incredibly intense schedules our people have. In fact, I honestly thought twice about asking our various account people to help me with things today after having gone through my Rob Longert of a day yesterday.

I encourage any executive in any line of business (even medical supplies) to set aside a day and see what it’s like to be a junior person at your firm. I guarantee you’ll be a better person for having gone through it.

So while I’m still recovering from being Rob Longert, I’m really glad I did the day-long swap. As for you, Rob, my hat’s off to you. Words can’t express how thrilled I am that you’re doing your job and I’m doing mine. Being Rob Longert is brutal.

Click here to hear a discussion about the day with Rob, Steve and Peppercom staff.

Feb 22

So, that’s why customer service is so bogus across-the-board

Nearly two-thirds of some 300 global executives surveyed said they don’t deserve their customers’ loyalty. More than half say their company doesn’t deliver unique and beneficial products or services, and eight out of 10 admitted they had no idea how much a customer complaint cost in terms of shattered loyalty and lost business. Ouch! Talk about hands-off management.

The eye-opening survey, conducted by Strativity Group, Inc., should be a true wake-up call to management teams and boards of directors everywhere. According to Strativity, the results show a shocking lack of investment by the surveyed companies in the training and technology necessary to satisfy, if not delight, customers. Heck, these executives aren’t even going through the motions!

What shocks me (besides the obvious) is the admission by executives that they do little, if anything, to differentiate their company’s or product’s ‘value prop’ or points of differentation. So, if they aren’t delivering a solid product and not differentiating themselves from competitors, are these executives not punching their own one-way ticket to Palookaville?

Maybe. Maybe not. Could the findings, instead, be shedding light onto one of the reasons why there’s been so much turmoil at the CEO level? Are the top kicks so obsessed with their own pay packages and delivering an overnight result to the Street that they’re neglecting the basic blocking-and-tackling needed to engage in, and nurture, a long-term customer relationship? Are the results merely reflecting a ‘take-the-money-and-run’ mentality on the part of some corner office occupants?

The survey also underscores a reality of public relations: no matter how good the product or service is, PR cannot overcome shoddy service or a lack of focus on customer satisfaction by the client organization.

I really hope Strativity Group continues to undertake surveys like this in the future. In fact, I’d love to see them slice-and-dice the results by company size, industry, job title, geography, etc. It would be a huge help to further analyzing what all this means. Hey, does that mean I’m not satisfied with their customer service?

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for point out this survey to me.

Feb 21

Unless you have some reason not to, I’d appreciate your giving me outstanding marks in every category

Having just dealt with the local Lexus people on a new lease for my wife’s car, I once again encountered the truly bizarre ‘report card’ process many luxury car makers employ.

Our sales guy (or "Sales & Leasing Consultant" as his card states) was as nice as could be as he Salesman_1 walked us through options, payment terms, delivery, etc. But, he really got down to business when the conversation turned to the ‘sales experience’ questionnaire we’d soon be receiving in the mail. As previous car salesmen have done in the past, the Lexus guy looked us firmly in the eyes and stated, "If there is any reason you feel you cannot give me outstanding grades in every category, please let me know now. You should know that my performance review and bonus depend on my receiving all ‘outstanding’ grades." Ouch. Talk about guilt!

Naturally, we nodded our heads and said, "Sure. No sweat."

But, the Lexus report card process got me to thinking: what other profession asks the prospective client for a straight A’s report card right in the midst of the deal?

Could you imagine a doctor doing this? "Oh, and one other thing. Before I perform the knee surgery, I’ll need you to fill out this report card. Please be sure to give me top marks."

Or, how about a PR firm who, as they finish up a big new business pitch, not only ask for the prospect’s account but, suggest that when their consultant calls in 90 days to conduct a verbal report card, the ‘new client’ provide outstanding marks in all categories?

So, here’s to the Lexus sales guy who will, in fact, be receiving outstanding grades from me when the ‘sales experience’ questionnaire comes in (he was a really nice guy, by the way). Far be it from me to rock the boat. And, besides, you’ve got to admire the sheer chutzpah involved in asking for straight A’s midway through the exam.

Feb 20

PR? We don’t need no stinking PR

We once had an aggressive, new biz-focused account person who was constantly cold calling 23jetblue_1 companies. One day, she cold called David Neeleman, the now beleagured CEO of JetBlue. And, she actually got through, only to be told by the uber successful chief executive: "We don’t need outside PR counsel. Never did. Never will."

Fast forward to the cover story in yesterday’s Times. I’d bet my bottom dollar Mr. Neeleman is now paying some PR shop hundreds of thousands in crisis communications fees to help him try and save his company’s battered image and reputation.

Might a prior invesment in external PR have helped last week’s disaster and its reputation aftermath? Maybe. Maybe not. One thing’s for sure, though, an external PR firm would have media trained Mr. Neeleman and schooled him on what promises to make and when. Right now, his credibility, and that of his airline, is in a death spiral, all because of horrific performance and broken promises.

So, here’s hoping Neeleman can fix his current mess (and maybe be more open to assistance from public relations counsel in the future).

Feb 15

I’m not snickering at Snickers’ problems

By now, the advertising pundits and outraged members of the gay community have all weighed in on the oh-so-politically incorrect Super Bowl commercial from Snickers. Advertising experts agree it was a bad ad to begin with, while some members of the gay community have spoken out about the commercial being homophobic (note: the spot shows two guys ripping out their chest hair after ending up in a kiss as a result of consuming a Snickers bar from opposite ends).

Regardless of who’s right and who isn’t I, for one, feel Snickers’ pain. They clearly designed the over-the-top spot in order to break through the Super Bowl commercial clutter. Their PR firm actually distributed the commercial in advance of the game to build buzz. Unfortunately, this particular viral effort backfired big time, forcing Snickers to yank the spot.

Snickers and other marketers are being forced to become more and more outrageous in a vain attempt to establish a dialogue with consumers. Sadly, what the advertisers are missing completely is that these types of mass appeal ads aren’t nearly as effective as one-to-one marketing. And, the best TV commercials now all have digital, viral and one-to-one components added on because, if you’ll excuse the pun, they’re no longer ‘sticking’ to consumers and influencing decision-making.

So, Snickers, while my stomach may not go out to you (I don’t have a sweet tooth), my heart does. Hang in there, go back to the drawing board and factor in more one-to-one, and less Super Bowl thinking into future initiatives.

Feb 13

The “E” in CEO should stand for “excess”

America’s CEOs are a class unto themselves who, despite their credentials and experience, continue to come undone one after another.

In just the last 10 days or so, we’ve seen Bob Nardelli and his obscenely high pay package at The Home Depot (enough, no doubt, to underwrite the upkeep of American homes for the next quarter-century) come unglued by irate shareholders.

Nardelli’s no-no was followed by The Cartoon Network’s Jim Samples and his staff’s ill-advised (but quite intriguing) guerilla marketing stunt to drive awareness of the network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force by placing flashing electronic boxes in various cities. Outraged citizens, homeland security specialists and medical supply executives alike formed an unlikely coalition that forced Samples to stand down on Friday.

Last, but not least, comes news that Doug Parker, the CEO of US Airways was arrested for drunk driving just hours after his company’s $9.8bb bid for Delta Air Lines had been rejected. Talk about drowning one’s sorrows!

Why are chief executive officers coming a cropper in record numbers? Is it the stress placed on them by an unforgiving Street? Is it an inability on their part to keep apace with the revolutionary changes we see in every part of society? Or, as is the case with politics, is the system itself scaring away the best and brightest candidates? I know I would never aspire to be chief executive of a Fortune 500 company. The scrutiny and intense, unrelenting 24×7 pressures simply aren’t worth the pay package.

That said, it’s been fun to watch the Richards, Carlys, Chainsaw Als, Bernies, Kens and Jeffs publicly self-destruct. It’s also been fun to watch the next generation of Bob’s, Jim’s and Doug’s have their moment of infamy. The one thing that does seem to bind them all together is their mutual excesses: whether it’s excessive pay, excessive play or an excessive belief that the rules of society simply don’t apply to them.

So, here’s a vote for officially changing the ‘e’ in CEO to ‘excess.’ I can’t think of a better way to describe what we’re seeing.