May 14

Couric’s calamity no surprise

Pert and perky Katie Couric’s performance as anchor of the ‘CBS Evening News’ has been anything but uplifting and lighthearted. In fact, according to Nielsen ratings the show had its worst performance in Couric_exuberance_cbs_2 two decades.

Couric’s demise comes as no surprise since, as I said at the time of her being named the news anchor, Katie lacks the gravitas and street cred necessary to report on the heinous and horrific global events that seem to only worsen with each passing day.

Put Katie on a Today Show set discussing bachelorette party dress codes, officiating at a viewer-driven wedding or guessing where in the world Matt Lauer is, and she’s perfect. In fact, she was the absolute best at what she did (whatever that was. Morning entertainer?).

But, put Katie behind a big, imposing desk similar to the ones Chet Huntley, Peter Jennings, Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow once occupied, and duck and cover.

Katie says she doesn’t see the ratings debacle as a ‘….a doom-and-gloom scenario.’  But, trust me, she does. And so do the CBS powerbrokers who pay her $18mm per annum salary.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So, keep an eye open for all sorts of bizarre programming riffs and tricks as Katie & Co., try to fix what ails them.

But, they won’t. And, it’s all because she (and her bosses) are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Katie’s credibility was never there to begin with. At some point, everyone will admit defeat and Katie will be sacked. But, look for her to re-emerge at some point in the next few years with an ‘Ellen’ or ‘Oprah’ type show (and, once again, be a huge success).

May 14

Speed dating for PR firms

Imagine receiving an e-mail from a potential paramour asking you and 15 other guys or girls to send your vitals and level of interest in hooking up. Keep in mind, you’ve never met or heard of this person before. And, you’ve even been given a deadline to respond: Tuesday, May 15th at 4pm.

Well, that’s exactly what a firm called Terrachoice Environmental Marketing did to about 15 or 20 PR firms (including mine).

In the e-mail they say they want a PR firm (or "agent," which is an interesting use of words), to represent Terrachoice in such sectors as commercial interiors, JanSan (one of my favorites), building materials, carbon neutrality (a sure Silver Anvil winner) electricity and printing services.

I don’t react well to cattle calls and never have. I think responding to such inquiries belittles our profession and makes one feel more like a plumber, carpenter or medical supply executive than a public relations counselor.

Terrachoice Environmental Marketing probably doesn’t know any better, so I won’t comment on the professionalism (or lack thereof) of the mass e-mail. I would ask the firm, though, if they would employ the same tactic to look for a mate in their personal life. After all, what sort of quality firm (or person) responds to a mass e-mail?

Thanks for including us, but we’ll miss tomorrow’s deadline. Happy hunting…

May 11

Someone here needs to take a bullet

I once worked for a woman whose favorite expression in times of crisis was, ‘Someone here needs to take a bullet.’ And, sure enough, she and her lieutenants would decide which staff member would fall on his or her sword, accept blame for the latest client servicing debacle and, in effect, take a bullet. Neeleman_3

Yesterday, Bill Neeleman took a bullet for JetBlue’s ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre.’ The image-tarnished airline’s founder and CEO was forced to step down by the board. It was a good move since Neeleman is so closely associated with the company’s horrific anticipation of, and response to, a nasty Winter storm that crippled his carrier’s service and wreaked havoc on tens of thousands of passengers.

Switching the top dog of a damaged organization, though, is usually nothing more than a superficial gesture. And, in this case, Neeleman is really just being kicked upstairs to a chairman’s job.

I’m convinced that JetBlue will never win back its lost customers or its once-stellar reputation. At the time I first made that statement, many pushed back and said I was wrong. But, in my mind, JetBlue has become a generic term in the crisis communications dictionary that paints an immediate visual image of tired, angry passengers stuck on planes for nine hours or more while an inept airline management struggles to figure out what to do. Sadly, no amount of advertising or viral marketing will ever overcome that image. JetBlue has become the Enron of airlines. And, yesterday, Bill Neeleman took a bullet for the screw-up.

Don’t be surprised if new CEO Dave Barger’s first move is a name change. Americans will never forgive JetBlue, but so many of our fellow citizens are out-of-touch and unmindful of current events that a name change might be just the ticket for JetBlue to escape its current turbulence, find some smoother airspace and, perhaps, enable Dave Barger to avoid a future bullet aimed in his direction.

May 10

Well, it was fun while it lasted

I guess it had to happen sooner or later for this erstwhile altar boy. I’ve been officially excommunicated by the Catholic Church. Even worse, I can no longer receive communion (talk about a real bummer).

Yes, I’m out. Gone. Done, Kaput. History. Finished. Washed up. Tossed out like yesterday’s newspaper. Pope_4 All because I’m pro-choice. Yes, like the vast majority of Americans, I’m pro Roe v. Wade and believe a woman should have the right to choose whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy. And, that’s puts me on Pope Benedict XVI’s enemy list.

In a way, it’s a modern red badge of courage. It’s kinda cool to be able to answer that typical ‘what’s new?’ question one receives at cocktail parties by responding, ‘Well, I’m studying improv, planning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in December with my son and, oh yeah, I’ve just been excommunicated by the Catholic Church.’

This latest ruling will only serve to further alienate the Church from the majority of Americans (and prospective congregants). It also paints them as out-of-touch and unresponsive (just like another sheltered leadership team I can think of). It’s one thing to take a firm stance on an issue like abortion. It’s quite another to throw someone out because he or she disagrees with your point of view. And, with Benedict’s other recent edict declaring that Limbo no longer exists, my post-life options are becoming increasingly limited.

Thanks to Tom Powers for the idea.

May 09

Ridiculous quote of the week

"Of course, we intended for Cocaine energy drink to be a legal alternative the same way that celibacy is Cocaine_2an alternative to premarital sex."

— Clegg Ivey, partner in Redux Beverages, makers of an energy drink called Cocaine, which is being withdrawn from stores because of concerns about its name. Ivey went on to justify the name by saying it fit the company’s "….tongue-in-cheek" approach. The company says it will rename and re-distribute the product in a few weeks.

Here’s my new name suggestion: Methadone. I’d love to hear your naming thoughts…

May 09

Apparently people aren’t dying to get in after all

Funeral parlors aren’t the go-go growth industry they used to be. According to a recent BusinessWeek article, cremation is absolutely killing funeral parlors. Cremation, which costs about one-fifth of your average ‘Six Feet Under’ type funeral service, is now used in 30 percent of all deaths and will account for fully half by 2025.

But, we shouldn’t sound the death knell for funeral parlors just yet. They’re fighting back with smart entertainment-focused line extensions, including video memorials of a loved one’s life, prime rib dinners and champagne fountains.

It’s comforting to know that the seemingly dour death industry can rise to the occasion and add just as many bells and whistles as your average Las Vegas casino.

In fact, why should the funeral parlors stop with prime rib dinners and videos? Why not add gambling and entertainment to the equation? Just imagine how uplifting Black Jack tables and roulette wheels with high-heeled, well-proportioned waitresses dispensing drinks could be. Hey, there could even be a floor show. In fact, the funeral parlor circuit could breathe new life into aging Rock performers such as Blue Oyster Cult. I mean, is there any more appropriate song for ‘passing over’ than ‘Don’t fear the reaper"?

I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long for the funeral parlor industry to add a whole new dimension to their service offerings (and be able to charge ever more outrageous fees in the process). In response, crematoriums will be forced to light a fire under their acts as well. Low costs will always attract a certain type of clientele, but, hey guys, this is war. So here’s guessing that it won’t be too much longer before we learn that a crematorium has booked a Jim Morrison look-alike to sing, ‘Break on through" as some family bids a fond farewell to their dearly departed.

May 08

The fine folks from Bioprocess International just made my life a whole lot easier

Check out this spam I received in my inbox this morning. Not sure how I survived before this product:

New NALGENE Tank Liners

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This message comes to you from BioProcess International, One Research Drive, Suite 400A, Westborough, MA 01581.

May 08

I’d welcome a changed Delta

Newly emerged from Chapter 11, Delta Airlines is running an advertising campaign entitled, ‘Welcome change. Welcome Delta.’

When will marketers learn that hollow promises made in print and broadcast commercials no longer
work with a disenchanted, disgruntled and disturbed customer base?

Delta’s commercial shows brighter planes, cooler in-flight entertainment and Bobby Flay-type chefs whipping up exotic delicacies. Yeah, right.

Get me from point A to point B on time and without hassles and I’ll think about flying your airline again. Until then, I’m announcing an indefinite delay in experiencing the new, ‘changed’ Delta.

May 07

Never has so much been owed by so many to so few

My alma mater, Northeastern University, has totally revamped its look, feel and delivery in recent Nulogo2_3 years. The transformation has been so complete that visiting alumni are astonished to see what’s been done.

As a result of its renaissance, Northeastern has become a smaller, better school. It has attracted better administrators and faculty, and now accepts less than 2,000 applicants from a pool well in excess of 20,000. It has also skyrocketed in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, and is now a top 100 school with aims to go even higher.

All of this makes me proud. But, in the process of getting better, NU has also made what, in my mind, is a classic image mistake. They’ve fired or re-assigned some of their best teachers and lecturers simply because they don’t possess a Ph.D. The degree, says, NU, is a critical component in its quest to becoming a truly great academic institution, attracting grant money and endowments, and continuing its inexorable rise to the top.

One key customer constituency, however, is up in arms about the mass firings: the students. Some believe the very best faculty is being pushed out, simply because they lack that extra credential. Others have told me the soon-to-be-dismissed profs made a huge difference in their academic lives and eased their transition from high school to college. Speaking directly to some and reading the e-mails of others, I can see how much the school’s decision is affecting them.

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of credentials, since they exist to assure us the individual in question is properly trained and adheres to a certain ethical standard (note: one exception to the credentials rule is the APR in public relations which, in my mind, is truly worthless).

The powers-that-be at NU need to re-think their Ph.D-only dictum. Credentials do not make a great teacher. And, it seems to me that more than one great teacher is being given the heave-ho in this pell-mell rush to the top of the charts. A Ph.D.-only faculty may present an impressive image to the greater world of higher education, but what does it say to the student body?

In thinking through the situation, I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s famous quote about the RAF fighter pilots who defended their country against tremendous odds in the Battle of Britain. It certainly holds true for the unfortunate NU faculty and the countless students whose lives they’ve impacted: ‘Never has so much been owed by so many to so few.’

May 04

What’s wrong with this picture —- Take two

Am I the only one who, upon seeing the front page photograph of the 10 Republican Party presidential hopefuls, thought: ‘Ah, hello, is this the General Motors board of Debate_2
directors’? Each candidate is an aging, White guy.

The Republican Party has zero diversity and little originality in its offerings. And, while the aging white guys all applaud the rollback of Roe v. Wade and love what’s happening in Iraq, they are dangerously out of touch with the way most Americans think.

The right-wing Christian fundamentalist faction may embrace these dudes, but the majority of Americans will reject the ultimate candidate as being irrelevant and representative of what used to be and not what is and will be. The Republicans need an image overhaul…pronto.