Feb 29

No apology necessary for not apologizing

Stanley Bing’s blog about the inadvisability of apologizing makes some smart, savvy and, as always, funny
points about a recent tempest in a teapot at Maxim Magazine.
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In a nutshell, Bing argues that Maxim management called unnecessary
attention to a blunder by publicly apologizing for it. Lots of Bing readers disagreed, though, and believed it disingenuous to not apologize for the transgression.

Well, yes and no.

Bing is right that Maxim did escalate an otherwise forgettable event with its printed apology. And, Bing’s readers are right to say that apologizing is the only ethical and transparent thing to do in this crazy, post-Enron world in which we live.

Bing’s point, though, is that formulaic crisis management isn’t ALWAYS the smart solution. In fact, Hollywood’s version of crisis management is so pathetically predictable that the apology is seen as the sham it really is.

Bing is a top corporate strategist in ‘real life’ and would, I think, argue for a full apology and complete transparency if a Fortune 500 company were to find itself between a rock and a hard place. That said, I do think there are many shades of grey in any crisis and, sometimes, just sometimes, not apologizing is the way to go.

Feb 28

Responsiveness 101

What do communications students from Marist College, Northeastern, the University of Vermont, the1_2
College of Charleston and the PRSSA share in common?

Almost all have failed to follow-up with me after being urged to post comments on my blog, submit a writing sample for my edits or just plain ask for my help in networking.

I’ll bet I’ve lectured before 500 or more college students in the past year alone. And, I’d guess that less than two percent have leveraged the ‘meetings’ to connect with me. These are the same kids who, in conversation with me, voice serious fears about successfully entering the workforce.

I’ve discussed the students’ lack of aggressiveness and follow up with search consultant par excellence, Bill Heyman. He agrees that, while the latest generation of college kids, live, eat and breathe all things digital, they lack either the competitive drive or intellectual wherewithal to connect, network and differentiate themselves as thought leaders.

I’m sure sociologists could have a field day with the various reasons why this is happening. But, in my mind, it comes down to two factors: my generation of parents has spoiled the current one, most of whom expect the business world to beat a path to their door. Second, the Web has become a virtual crutch of sorts enabling kids to avoid direct confrontation.

Regardless of the causes, we’re left with a group of kids who desperately want jobs, but seem reluctant or unwilling to roll up their sleeves and do it what it takes to succeed. File it all under the term ‘sense of entitlement.’

Feb 27

Fear is innovation’s mortal enemy

Lots of us work, or have worked, for people who made us afraid to fail. They scared us so much that weYelling
became paralyzed with fear. One of my bosses routinely screamed at me and others. Another took his cigarette and lit one of my newsletters on fire to show his displeasure. A third would surreptitiously undercut many of my moves behind my back.

Beth Comstock, president of NBC Universal Integrated Media, recently addressed the subjects of fear and risk-taking at an Institute of Public Relations audience. During her address, she asked: ‘Is there anyone here who hasn’t spent a sleepless night anticipating the next day’s big story, having quite confidently told our boss or our client we knew the outcome and then living in fear of being fired the next morning for not delivering what we promised? I’ve been fired in my imagination at least a couple hundred times.’

While I can totally sympathize with Beth (a former client, btw), I’d like to think the draconian work environments I knew in the 1980s and early ’90s (and she apparently knew until quite recently) are the exception, and not the norm.

Managing by fear may be a sure fire prescription for Six Sigma-type compliance, but in today’s rapidly-changing world, businesses desperately need risk takers. To her credit, Comstock says she encourages risk taking at NBC. I sure hope so, because staying awake nights worrying if a failed media placement might cost a job, is no way to inspire out-of-the-box thinking. Come to think of it, it’s not much of a way to live either.

Feb 26

Going from bad to worse

Repman readers know that NJ Transit is a personal bete noir of mine. The commuter train service isNj_transit_logo
routinely poor, the conductors’ attitudes are reminiscent of Stephon Marbury on a bad night and the restrooms make their Tanzanian counterparts look positively opulent.

So, I wasn’t too surprised a month or so back when NJT summarily decided to ‘short’ the 7:26am into the city. No announcements were made. No explanations given. One day, there was just one less car. And, one day, every Matawan commuter suddenly found himself standing the whole way.

NJT is in an enviable image and reputation standpoint. They don’t have to worry how bad their service is or how poorly they treat customers. There simply are few, if any, alternatives.

As a result, the passengers stand, sweat and sway as the 7:26 lurches and leans its way into the Big Apple. And, NJ Transit executives ease back in their office chairs secure in the knowledge they’ve once again reinforced their core positioning, ‘Just train bad.’

Feb 25

Students determined to be more successful than their parents

Steve and Ted sit down with University of Vermont students to discuss their job perspectives and whetherRepchatter_logo_2 or not
they believe they will be as successful as their parents. 

This discussion centers on the latest student survey that shows that this is the first generation that does not believe they’ll do better than their parents in terms of financial and job success.  What are the reasons for this?

Is the recession causing concern for young job seekers? Perhaps Generation Y has a different definition of success?

Feb 25

The ultra rich are different than you and me

Stephen A. Schwartzman is chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, the super aggressive, superSchwarzman
successful private equity firm that recently went public.

A profile in the New Yorker chronicles Schwartzman’s rise to the top, paying particular attention to his Machiavellian management style and his Dennis Kozlowski-like personal excesses.

It’s the latter that registered on my image and reputation radar screen. A recent Schwartzman Christmas party, for example, boasted a James Bond theme, featuring models circulating as ‘Bond girls’ and a tuxedo-clad Schwartzman himself posing as ‘Bond. James Bond.’ I wonder if Moneypenny and Q were in attendance as well?

Not content with merely emulating the Ian Fleming playboy, Schwartzman pulled out all the stops at his recent 60th birthday bash. He literally transformed the Park Avenue Armory into a replica of his $37 million Manhattan apartment, replete with a full length portrait of himself. Dinner was served in a faux night club setting with orchids and palm trees. Comedian Martin Short handled MC duties and Marvin Hamlisch, Patti LaBelle and Rod Stewart serenaded him and his guests.

Not bad. Not bad at all. But, not smart for the CEO of a publicly-traded company either. What don’t the Schwartzman, Ebbers, Schrushy and Kozlowski of the business world get? It’s one thing to live life in an opulent, in-your-face manner if one’s finances are private. But, living the high life a la Stephen Schwartzman, is a sure fire way to attract some aspiring whistle blower’s or district attorney’s attention.

I’m not suggesting Blackstone’s big boy has done anything wrong but, if he has, throwing a 007-themed gala might not be the smartest way to stay under cover.

Feb 21

Pro basketball fouls out

A new Harris poll of Americans shows a huge decline in pro basketball’s popularity. When asked to nameNba_3
their favorite sport, Americans chose pro football (30 percent), followed by baseball (15 percent) and college football (12 percent).

Pro basketball, which ranked third as recently as the late 1990s, is now an also ran. It garnered only four percent of the total, tying it with men’s college basketball and, ho hum, golf.

I’m not surprised by the results. Pro basketball is just plain awful. The season is endless. The games are boring. The players are one-on-one showboats. There’s very little teamwork and even less defense. Aside from that, it’s not bad.

The NBA model is broken and needs more than the next Michael Jordan to fix it. And, they’re paying the price with empty arenas and lower ratings.

I have to admit I never thought I’d see the day when Americans would rank basketball behind ice hockey, soccer and auto racing.   Hey, if nothing else, it may provide a co-branding opportunity. Maybe the NBA can strike a partnership deal with Ambien as a sure fire cure for insomnia?

Feb 20

Obama, can you spare a dime?

I’m simultaneously amazed and appalled at extraordinary amount of campaign monies being racked upMoney
every month by Obama, Hillary and McCain. It’s especially galling when one juxtaposes the candidates’ war chests with the very real pain many Americans are suffering right now.

So, here’s a suggestion: Obama, Hillary and McCain (I try to ignore Huckabee, hoping he’ll go away) should tithe a percentage of their monthly campaign contributions to needy causes. Each candidate, for example, could ‘adopt’ street people in the primary states still left to contest and pay for a week’s worth of free soup, clothing, shelter, etc. Each candidate could demonstrate real caring and concern by reaching into their own ‘pockets’ and helping the less fortunate.

Imagine the image and reputation boost if Hillary or Obama did just that in, say, Texas. It might be enough to ensure victory. But, sadly, more money for the poor would mean less money for those horrific, pit bill attack ads. And, no candidate could possibly win without those.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea.

Feb 19

Bill Lane’s advice for blacks, Asians and women

I suppose there’s a certain liberation that goes along with retirement. Secure in the knowledge that one can say what one wants without repercussions, one is free to wax poetic on anything and everything.

And, Bill Lane does just that in ‘Jacked up,’ his behind-the-scenes’ look at Jack Welch’s GE. Lane’s take is a true page-turner. What makes it interesting to me, though, is the way it intersperses communications strategies between often hilarious tales of Jack’s manic swearing, bashing and overall boorishness.

To his credit, Lane’s not afraid to take on controversial subjects that might have cost him his job in days past. For example, he provides the following ‘presentation’ observation and advice to minorities:

- Black males: ‘…your audience will be sincerely rooting for you, hoping that you are not up there because of some affirmative action boost, and out of your league.’ And ‘…the lurking, unspoken, awful question is about competence.’

- Asians: ‘Asian males need to stand up, look serious and forcefully establish the importance of what they are about to say.’ Lane quotes one Asian as saying, ‘…we are stereotyped as bright, brainy, brilliant…but also as bad leaders.’

- Women: ‘…women, most women, are not thought of by men as REAL leaders…their ability to lead largely male organizations that are still faintly pattered on World War II military organizations is in question.’

Lane says blacks, Asians and women need to out think, outflank and out hustle their white male counterparts to succeed in today’s corporate environment. I’m sure there’s some truth in what he says. But, I wish he’d said while he still had some ‘skin’ in the game.

Feb 15

A sure fire Rx for the job hunting blues

My partner and I were recently dazzled by a job prospect who did absolutely everything conceivable to ‘win’Job
the interview.

She employed some strategies that may seem academic, but proved spot on for differentiating her from the competition. And, with a much-hyped Recession on the horizon, I’d suggest any jobseeker: consider some of her approaches, including

- tell the prospective employer exactly why you think you’d be the ideal fit

- spend the time to not only research the company in general, but be able to share ‘trivia’ and ‘tidbits’ that will demonstrate your interest and passion

- demonstrate knowledge of the company’s points of differentiation as well its leading competitors (i.e. ‘Industry knowledge’). This particular prospect knew our positioning, key messages and milestones.

- come prepared with tailored questions. While our job prospect didn’t know she’d be meeting with us simultaneously, she nonetheless had a set of questions ready for each of us

- follow-up the first interview with HAND-WRITTEN thank you notes. It shows the employer you’re taking a little more time and energy than your e-mail dependent competitors.

I’m probably missing some nuances from that fateful interview. But, I promise you that, as soon as the prospect left, we asked our senior people to set meetings with her. And, we extended an offer shortly thereafter.

So, rather than fretting about the latest economic news, create a tailored action plan for ‘winning’ interviews with the organizations you admire most.