Mar 31

Bottary’s back and the blogosphere’s got him

2f149c6_3
Leo Bottary’s excellent blog is back and better than ever. Leo’s a solid counselor and his insights
into the black, white and gray of client relationships is not only accurate, it’s also thought provoking. His recent one about "convincing" clients is spot on. I sometimes find myself deliberating as to how strongly I should push back on a client strategy. Obviously, each case is unique, but Bottary’s advice is evergreen. If you’re adamant about your POV and have the courage of your convictions, it’s in your and your client’s best interests that you "convince" him/her of its merit. Courage, though, is a prerequisite to convincing and what separates the wheat from the chaff.

Mar 28

“I’m a Loser” would be more appropriate

The New York Mets, the love of my life, just held singing auditions in Manhattan. Their goal: to select a few,Picture2
talented individual fans to sing the national anthem at select 2008 games. It’s a great concept and a smart way to connect with a diverse fan base. But, the Mets picked the wrong audition song from an image and reputation standpoint. As my partner, Ed, would say, “It doesn’t ring true.”

Sure, the Mets are synonymous with baseball, apple pie and the Star-Spangled Banner. But, they’re even more synonymous with losing. And, Mets fans died a thousand deaths last September as the team blew a seemingly insurmountable lead over the hapless Phillies and collapsed. True to form, the same franchise that holds the major league record for most losses in a season (120 in 1962) set an all-time major league record for the worst collapse in baseball history.

So, rather than prompting Sinatra wannabes to warble the lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner, the Mets event might have been far more credible if fans had been encouraged to belt out such tunes as:

- “Free Falling” by Tom Petty
- “I’m a Loser” by The Beatles
- “The End of the World as We Know It” by R.E.M.

Or, Mets fans could have been encouraged to dedicate songs to individual underachievers on the dysfunctional ’07 squad. How about:

- “Fool on the Hill” by The Beatles (and dedicated to Tom Glavine for his first inning meltdown against the Marlins in the final game of the season.)
- “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon (and dedicated to Paul Lo Duca, who was thrown out of a key game the Metropolitans ended up losing because his replacement committed a critical error. That loss began the September slide to oblivion.)
-  “Nowhere man” again, by The Beatles (and dedicated to a totally out of touch, deer-in-the-headlights Willie Randolph, who kept telling reporters the champagne toasts would be that much sweeter after he and his Mets pulled out of their temporary swoon.)

Hope springs eternal. And, like other long-suffering Mets fans, I’m hoping this will be our year. That said, I won’t be surprised to see Mets fans lining up next March for another audition. Let’s hope next year’s tune isn’t “Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance” by Aerosmith.

Mar 27

Clarification

My recent blog about a fund for families of slain journalists has been misunderstood by some. It was not meant to offend those families (as I clearly stated). Clearly, it is important to help (in any way) families of those who have fallen in these unrelenting, brutal wars.  Rather, my point was merely suggesting that PR professionals and journalists typically have a one sided relationship. And, I don’t think we would see much support from journalists if the roles were reversed.

Mar 27

1.67 pennies for your thoughts

The U.S. Mint recently admitted that it now costs 1.67 cents to produce a single penny. They say penniesPenny_2
now are 97.5 percent zinc with thin copper plating and admit that the value of the metal exceeds the coin’s face value! To borrow Peppercom’s Deb Brown’s favorite expression, ‘you simply can’t make this stuff up.’

So, in a period of tremendous economic uncertainty, market flux and job loss, our country is deficit-spending to create coins that no one wants or uses. What’s wrong with this picture? A penny for your thoughts. Make that 1.67 pennies for your thoughts.

I’m surprised I haven’t read more news stories about this farce. I’m also surprised McCain, Hill or Barry haven’t jumped on the issue to position it as yet another example of big government waste. God knows Clinton and Obama need something right now to distract negative stories.

If I were running the show, I’d tell the U.S. Mint management team we’ll be deducting an extra .67 cents from their annual salaries for every new penny they make. That should get their attention. I’d also enroll them in an Economics 101 class ASAP.

Whoever’s running the U.S. Mint is one bad penny. One might even call them cents less.

Thanks to Deb Brown for the idea.

Mar 26

Why do I have this uncontrollable need to play Blackjack?

TV commercials touting the latest prescription medication cure for god knows what malady absolutelyMirapex
dominate the airwaves. I don’t have access to the exact statistics, but I’ll bet they account for a third or more of all network spots.

Some are well done. Most are formulaic and banal. All carry those wild side effect warnings at the end (some of which say the meds might actually cause the malady they’re intended to prevent).

My favorite meds commercial is for Mirapex, a drug intended to lessen restless leg syndrome (who knew restless leg syndrome even existed before these spots began to air?). Anyway, at the end of these ads, a stern, male voiceover warns that taking Mirapex might lead to uncontrollable gambling urges. Now, there’s a first. Taking a prescription med might make me break out a deck of cards and, say, challenge others to a winner-take-all game of five card stud? Amazing. Alarming. Astonishing.

Card playing requires one to maintain, well, a poker face. But, suppose one suffers from restless leg syndrome, pops a Mirapex, has a sudden and uncontrollable urge to gamble and then proceeds to ‘tip off’ his or her strategy with a shaking leg? Wouldn’t that be counterproductive? Actually, it could make for a nice line extension for Mirapex. Maybe they should produce MirapexFullHouse, a pill that controls leg spasms for the duration of a card game. After all, you’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them and, if you’re popping Mirapex, know when to keep them from shaking.

Mar 25

Up Next on Fox Business: We Throw a Rock in a Glass House

Guest blog by Gene Colter.Fox_2

The marketing folks at Fox Business have violated one of the most important Commandments of
Advertising: Never talk about your competitor. Their sin, a print ad that pokes fun at CNBC shouter Jim Cramer’s bad call on Bear Stearns, can be seen here.

Some rules (if not commandments) are made to be broken. This is not one of them. Talking about your competitor – good or ill — at best muddles your message and at worst reminds the consumer who else is selling whatever it is you are making.

The Fox Business ad uses a trio of famously wrong prognostications as a lead-in to a quote from Cramer imploring folks not to pull their money from Bear, because Bear will be fine. (Bear wasn’t.) The ad’s bottom line? “Turbulent Times Call for a Credible Network.” That’s Fox Business.

This takes the worst-case scenario described two paragraphs ago and finds ways to make it worst-case-to-the-nth degree. Let’s document just a few, starting with the oh-so-obvious.

The day will come when Fox Business pundits make their own bad call. In fact, that day has already passed, with the upstart network’s anchors getting dinged in the earliest days for factual errors and mischaracterizations. News organizations, especially new ones, are allowed to make mistakes. But they shouldn’t gloat about it – in a paid ad – when their compatriots stumble.

And about that CNBC “mistake”: James Cramer’s catch-all bag of admonitions, predictions, protestations and discount Dadaism are his own, not CNBC’s. (Full disclosure: My wife previously was employed by Cramer-founded Web site The Street.com.)

Finally, hubris and Schadenfreude mixed together make for a particularly venomous cocktail coming from an established leader, much less a network that’s been on the air for all of 12 minutes.

Some readers will deem this commentary naïve, pointing out that I should expect as much from Fox. I don’t see the world that way: Fox is part of media leader News Corp. and worthy of analysis that doesn’t resort to simplistic stereotyping.

Mar 24

A break from reality

Palm Beach is a real trip. Having just spent five days there, I can confirm it lives up to its image andPalmbeach_2
reputation as a place of opulence, decadence and indulgence.

Palm Beachers seem to fall into one of two categories: the younger, Eurocentric jet set crowd and the older, monied bluebloods. Both adhere to the same general dress code, though. A gold-buttoned blue blazer, pink Oxford shirt, khakis and Gucci loafers (sans socks) for the gents and a lame pant suit, Gucci sandals and a jewelry store’s worth of diamonds and pearls for madame. 

Smoking is very big here, as are cigarette holders. PB’ers are ostentatious and like to tool around in either their Bentley convertibles or some sort of classic Jaguar roadster from the 1950s.

Part of the fun of visiting Palm Beach is the people watching and conversation eavesdropping. The latter was particularly productive and seemed to indicate that most of the world’s ills aren’t resonating here. There was no talk of Iraq, Hillary or the Recession, for instance. Instead, chitchat centered on a new Bulgari show at Saks, an Easter Saturday polo match in Wellington and complaints about the poor service at the Ritz.

These are the beautiful people who work hard to float serenely through life, worrying only about the latest party or fashion show. It must be nice, but it must also get tedious at times.

Still, a refuge is a refuge. So, if you’re looking for a few days away from Eliot Spitzer, failing financial institutions and worries about the future, check out Palm Beach. The uber rich may not welcome you with open arms, but they’ll allow you to observe them in their natural habitat. And, that my friends, is a real trip.

Mar 21

Later, Latte.

Guest blog written by Ted Birkhahn.

Full disclaimer: I am a recovering Starbucks addict.  Every day on my walk from Grand Central to ourStarbucks
office, I pass five Starbucks.  Until recently, I always stopped in one of them and plunked down several bucks on a mediocre latte.  Why?  I loved the routine and the brand experience, not the taste of the coffee. 

But, as the recession loomed and with daily reminders that it’s time to stop spending and start saving, I decided to put the skids on my Starbucks habit.  At first, I tried to change my route to the office so I wouldn’t have to walk past a Starbucks but that didn’t work; no matter what route I chose, I was bound to run into one.  So I decided to show some self-control and just go cold turkey.

Am I indicative of a trend that is sweeping across the nation contributing to the vanishing profits of the world’s biggest coffee chain? It’s hard to pinpoint why Starbucks has suffered.  Did they grow too fast?  Are their prices too high?  Is the taste of the coffee just not that good?  Did the brand – and the experience it provides – run its course?  I suspect it is a combination of all these factors.

However, one thing is certain: If the U.S. finds itself in a prolonged economic downturn, Starbucks is a dead-man walking.  Although it is making major changes to the way it makes, serves and sells its products, I believe the company is too big and cumbersome to dig itself out of the hole that it’s in. 

Only time will tell what happens to Starbucks.  In the meantime, I’m off to the kitchen to grab a free cup o’ joe.

Mar 19

Patterson seems to be everything Spitzer wasn’t

If his speech is any indication, New York’s new governor will be everything his predecessor wasn’t. InPaterson
addition to being the first blind and black governor of the empire state, David A. Patterson appears to be the ‘yin’ to Elliot Spitzer’s ‘yang.’ To wit:

- Patterson is inclusive and reached out across party lines to ask Republicans and Democrats alike to work together. Sptizer’s pit bull tactics, on the other hand, only served to isolate and anger Albany lawmakers.

- Patterson’s manner was folksy, warm and self-deprecating as opposed to Spitzer’s argumentative and combative style.

- Patterson (and his wife) both came clean asap on prior affairs, thereby circumventing any investigative reporting and subsequent media circus on the subject. No need to compare Spitzer’s transparency on a similar subject.

Patterson has a long way to go and many hurdles to clear, but if day one is any indication, he’s off and running. Communications pros, young and old, should look at ‘the speech’ as a textbook example of connecting with an audience, inspiring confidence and setting the stage for progress. The new governor may be legally blind, but his vision for New York’s future seems crystal clear.

Thanks to Ken Jacobs for the idea.

Mar 18

I have to write off the new USPS/HBO campaign

I hate to say it, but letter writing is a dying, if not, dead form of communications. The youngerLetter
generation, in particular, has no interest in putting pen to paper.

That said, I was fascinated to see the US Postal Service partner with HBO and its most excellent new mini-series, ‘John Adams,’ to launch a letter-writing campaign. The ‘power of the letter’ initiative is aimed at high school students and is costing HBO a cool million dollars to underwrite.

USPS Spokesperson Sue Brennan, said, ‘In this era of e-mail and text messaging, there really is something to be said how about personal a letter is.’ I agree. But, unlike the American Revolution, this cause is doomed.

Kids simply don’t want to take the time or effort to send traditional letters or notes. I’m not alone in encouraging college kids to use letter writing as a differentiator in their job searches. It really does work. I’ll always open a personal letter, but will quickly delete most anonymous e-mails.

Written letters say something about a person’s desired image and reputation. It tells me he or she does care enough to take the time and effort to personalize a message in a way that text and e-mail never can. It’s also a refreshing, if antiquated, antidote to the anonymity and coarseness of the web.

So, here’s a challenge/request: tell me if you agree or disagree that letter writing is dead. But, put it in writing and mail it to me. Assuming I get any takers, I’ll do a follow-up blog (and mail a personalized, written version to the letter writers).