Dec 30

It’s the Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance

So, like the New York Mets, the New York Jets just blew a late season lead, missed winning their conference and once again failed to make the playoffs. Like the Mets, the Jets had a ton of high-priced talent and an underperforming coaching staff. And, like the Mets, the Jets will make high profile, off-season changes and nothing, absolutely nothing, will change.

Like the Mets, the Jets are weighed down by a systemic organizational defect. I'd liken it to a missing gene or synapse. No matter who manages which organizBrett_Favre_Jets_Football_sff_standalone_prod_affiliate_8ation, the team fails to deliver.

Neither team can be faulted for holding players and coaches accountable. But, in these cases, accountability doesn't change the fundamental flaws. To say it's discouraging would be to say that 2008 was an interesting year on Wall Street.

Jets and Mets fans long ago learned to adopt a philosophical "wait till next year" attitude. If we didn't, we'd end up doing bodily harm to ourselves and others.

I'll leave it to others to analyze the deeper fundamental reasons why these two franchises consistently underperform. As for me, it's simply a matter of the same old story, same old song and dance.

Dec 24

He Seemed Okay, Until He E-mailed Me from His Hotmail Account

Guest post by Lia LoBello and Rebecca Maas

In an age where people ages 7-70 have some type of online presence, you might think an e-mail address is a relatively innocuous way of presenting your identity to the world.  You’d be wrong.

Particularly among today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings, the type of email address you use says as much as about you – if not more – than any social network profile ever could.  Are you a professional?  In need of a little update? Or, maybe you actually just need something to reflect how creepy you are?  Our research, conducted mostly through conversation with co-workers and friends, is hardly scientific but that doesn’t mean we weren’t able to draw some strong conclusions.  An analysis of our findings:

Like most things Google touches, Gmail quickly became the gold standard of e-mail interfaces when it burst onto the e-scene in 2004.  Promising that you never had to delete an e-mail again due to nearly-unlimited storage capacities, users had to be invited to create an account by someone with access – and to know such a person was not dissimilar to knowing a guy who knows a guy who can get you and all your friends into the hottest New York nightclub for free.  Now open to the public at-large, the typical Gmail account contains all or part of a user’s full name (no SxxxyGrrls or HotBods here, please) and says, “I’m an adult.  Take me seriously.” 

A classic favorite in the early part of the decade, Hotmail served as an email provider standby for soon-to-be college graduates needing to send resumes to potential employers at lightning speed. The standard Hotmail address usually includes a portion of the owner’s name (typically the first initial and full last name) combined with a significant number, be it a birth date, jersey number or graduation year. Those who have maintained their original Hotmail account over the years are typically afraid of change and aren’t well-versed in current events. “Relationship” is a four-letter word to the average Hotmail user, but they always manage to find a (usually good-looking) date to weddings, funerals and reunions.  Also, they tend to live in trendy areas and lease year-end model cars. 

Email users who Yahoo! are born leaders and aren’t afraid to prove it. From small business owners to networking professionals, the Outlook-esque format is appealing to account holders and is appropriate for the standard Yahoo! email addresses that typically consist of the user’s full name. That’s not to say Yahoo! users don’t know how to have fun; in fact, the motto “work hard, play hard” is quite fitting. Rarely ones to shy away from the spotlight, they can be outgoing and have a fat Rolodex of “friends” – ranging from old college pals to that friend-of-a-friend who came along on that last-minute trip to Mexico. And while you might not see any Yahoo! email addresses exchanged at the newest restaurant or club opening, they eventually catch on, determined to be part of the fun – even if it means going for the early-bird special on a Wednesday night.

Oh, AOL.  We loved you so much in middle school and early high-school, when you were the only game in town.  But like a dreamy high school quarterback, you have not aged with the times.  You burned us with your steady deletion of emails (forcing us to constantly resend ourselves items of real or imagined importance) and a staggering quantity of spam.  Lucky for you, older family members still think this is our primary email address and we keep you around — if only to continue to delete the massive amounts of chain letters said family members still send.  Maybe one day, Bill Gates will really send them a million dollars and they can afford some time offline.

Dec 23

E-Cards Killed the Holiday Greeting

Guest Post by Laura Mills

This weekend, I caught myself venting to my boyfriend about holiday greetings.  As my Blackberry refreshed, the latest in a slew of online e-greetings popped up, and my patience waned. 

See, holiday cards are my thing.  It’s a habit nurtured by my late grandmother, Betty Joyce Mills, who instilled the importance of handwritten correspondence at an early age.  She was the master.  Joyce always sent postcards, even if she had only visited a local spot in Birmingham for brunch with her bridge club.  Her thank you notes were impeccably timed, with exuberant prose in her always recognizable cursive.  She sent birthday cards, Valentines, Halloween greetings as well as notes for the tiniest of accomplishments, including a congratulations card for being published on the internet after my first guest blog posted on RepMan

And even as she grew an affinity for e-mail, computers and the World Wide Web, Joyce never lost reverence for handwritten correspondence.  Every year, I receive more and more e-cards of animated cows or my face on Will Ferrell’s dancing “Elf”Elf-yourself
body.  There is nothing wrong with this, but while I appreciate the thought, the convenience and, as one friend put it, that it’s inherently eco-friendly, the digital alternative seems empty to me. 

A recent holiday article in the New York Times verbalized a lot of how I feel about this tradition.   Mainly, the joy involved in the process.  There are few people in this world that aren’t lifted by a handwritten note, arriving via post.  It’s just more sincere.  More personal.  More special.

To me, this doesn’t just apply to the holidays.  As we become more and more digitally dependent, the written note is becoming a lost art.  Too often, after interviewing a potential colleague or treating a recent grad to a weekend networking brunch, an email passes unceremoniously through my inbox as a gesture of appreciation.  Or worse, receiving a Wall post thank you on my Facebook page. The point is made, but it’s quickly lost.

While digital progress is necessary in many contexts, you can’t convince me that this is one of them.  So, this New Years, I challenge you to write more handwritten notes.  For the sake of the public relations industry, let’s briefly relinquish the convenience of the quick email or instant message.  Let’s be more personal in 2009.

Dec 22

Hail Mary Full of Grace? Not This Time, Playboy

Guest Post by Dawn Lauer

Chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises Christie Hefner has been quoted claiming that fans of the brand “look to Playboy for glamour.” After this month’s Mexican cover features a model mockery of the Virgin Mary, I imagine she’d like to eat those words.  

Let’s face it: Playboy never pretended to make the Church proud, but blatantly insulting the mother of Christianity – of any religion – is a long-term marketing faux pas (even if the short-term sells magazines).  Issuing a public apology on behalf of the organization is a step in the right direction.  However, anyone with even a modicum of intelligence, let alone fellow Catholics out there, are likely more insulted by Playboy’s lame attempt to deflect responsibility for the offense.

Of course Playboy Mexico never intended to offend anyone as they say, because it could hurt sales!  The clincher for me, however, was the fact that the magazine still denies that the shrouded Mary in front of a stained-glass window with the words, “we love you, Mary” bears any resemblance to the Blessed Mother.  Hmm . . . talk about a divine coincidence . . . the magazine was published just days before Mexico’s Virgin of Guadalupe celebration and weeks before Christmas – draw your own conclusions. 

It’s more than sad that nothing seems to be held sacred anymore. Just my two cents, but for all you “edgy” organizations out there that think it’s a genius idea to defile a religious icon and then issue an equally insolent “apology,” think twice.  The spark you’re hoping for will most likely backfire. 

What baffles me is the “creative” at Playboy Mexico who thought the concept was a good one. Religion is not an area Playboy should be messing with. As a Catholic, I’d recommend to that individual that s/he go to confession, but just like Playboy's apology, something tells me the “Hail Marys” will fall on deaf ears . . .

Dec 19

Please Don’t Hurt My Embargo

Guest Post by Andrew Stein

As someone that pays my rent through my work as a so-called “PR flack,” I found Michael Arrington’s recent post on TechCrunch to be rather interesting.  In his “Death to the Embargo” statement, Arrington proclaims that TechCrunch, one of the world’s most influential tech blogs, will no longer honor any sort of embargo or NDAs. 

The blog’s new policy is, and I quote, “From now our new policy is to break every embargo.  We’ll happily agree to whatever you ask of us, and then we’ll just do whatever we feel like right after that.”TechCrunch-logo-270

I have worked with a few different clients where we offer news under embargo and the thought alone of explaining why their international product announcement date was blown by someone we OK’d makes me nauseous.  However, I don’t completely disagree with Arrington’s frustration.   I understand his sentiment that tech companies are desperate for coverage and some PR firms now offer pre-briefs as easily as the guys handing out strip club cards on Las Vegas Boulevard.   By offering a “special” embargo to every, it cheapens the news.  It also greatly increases the risk that will jump the gun in order to be first and create a name for itself.  I get that, and couldn’t agree more that we as “PR flacks” need to do our jobs intelligently and strategically.

However, the idea that TechCrunch will now agree to a NDA, all-the-while knowing they are not going to keep it, is dishonest.  And yes, shame on us for reading this post and thinking our agreement will be held. We have been warned.  But for a blog that strives to be considered a respected editorial outlet, there needs to be some level of trust.  PR firms are not going away and, while some may be irresponsible in their jobs, a large percentage of us represent our clients the right way.  Blogs such as TechCrunch need our help, even if they don’t want to admit it.

Embargos are meant to be issued as a win-win for both sides.  In my experience (can’t speak for all), we identify certain, top-tier reporters and bloggers that we deem as the major influencers, and offer them a head start on the news to provide time to set up their story and perhaps gain an inside perspective. The win for the client is improved relationships and visibility with important media outlets in hopes of placing positive coverage. 

By sticking to this policy, I believe TechCrunch will eventually be hurting itself.  Important technology companies that TechCrunch readers expect to read about will decide not to offer news in advance due to this “guarantee” of a blown NDA.  Arrington states that a major reason for this policy is that sites like Google News and TechMeme prioritize based on what site broke the news first, which has led to others jumping the gun.  However, by scaring companies away from offering pre-briefs, this is exactly what will happen.  The TechCrunch editors will obtain news at the same time its competitors are already posting their stories.

A double-edged sword?  Maybe.  I’m not in Arrington’s shoes to know how much PR spam email he gets.  Again, I agree with Arrington that some in the PR industry have acted unprofessionally and lazily in the way they perform their jobs and they deserve to be called out and blasted.    However, I do know there are PR pros that look to build relationships with influential outlets like TechCrunch (which can be a lot easier said than done) and I don’t appreciate how he blankets the entire industry due to the actions of a few.  It’s true in any industry, not just PR, that some people are just not good at their jobs, and I don’t believe insulting the whole lot is the way to go about it. When it comes to this “I lie, but I told you so” mentality, I think it’s childish and there’s got to be a better alternative.  

Dec 18

Confused About Caroline

I don't know what to make of Caroline Kennedy's intention to succeed Hillary Clinton as New York's junior senator.     Kennedy

On the one hand, I adore all things Camelot. On the other hand, Caroline strikes me as about as qualified for the U.S. Senate as Sarah Palin was for the vice presidency.

For me, the deciding factor is the current economic maelstrom. If Caroline wanted to pursue her destiny in a go-go growth era, I'd say go for it. But, these dark, dreary days of debt and despair call for decades of decision-making experience. Toss in all the paparazzi nonsense that's likely to smother every second of Caroline's "run" and it all seems so unnecessary. Especially now.

Caroline Kennedy has a sterling image and reputation. And, while I'm sure she's responding to some higher, inner calling, I can't help but think this whole adventure will end badly.

But, hey, I've been wrong many times before. "Senator Kennedy" does have a certain familiar and reassuring sound to it. And, lord knows, the state and the country could sure use some reassurance right around now.

Dec 17

It Could Be Worse, You Could Be in Detroit

Imagine trying to recruit a top creative talent to work at a Detroit ad agency right around now. "Look, Sid, Detroit's got everything: it's a vibrant city with a booming economy. It has mild winters, the NFL's best team and, to top it all off, traditional advertising is just bursting at the seams. What's not to love, Sid?"

Now, that conversation may have worked in 1957, but could you imagine trying to lure anyone with a modicum of talent to the Motor City today? What would the recruiter really say, "This is ground zero for the recent economic meltdown and we're damn proud of that fact. Sid, you can be an integral part of a quarter-century of precipitous rack and ruin. Imagine the stories you can tell your grandchildren!"
I cannot imagine what it must be like living and working in Detroit right now. Campbell-Ewald, which has represented Chevrolet since before the flood, just slashed 100 jobs. And, get this, if Chrysler goes belly up, Detroit-based Omnicom ad agencies will be left holding the bag for some $80 million in media buys. Talk about a head-on collision. 

Even if the government does come to the Big Three's rescue with a bailout, who'd want to work there? Detroit's proven it can't innovate, its legion of remaining executives still see rebates as their overarching marketing strategy and an entire generation of car buyers equate American-made automobiles with shoddy workmanship.

Still, if the bailout does come, the automakers will start spending money again and the recruiting calls will follow. "Sid, baby. Work with me here. We need a guy with your skills and creative juices. And, besides, when you're in Detroit and working on a car account, there's literally nowhere to go but up. Put in a few years here in Detroit and, I promise, Sir Martin or someone will move you to a real market where you can work on clients that actually make quality products. Hey, we'll even throw in an overcoat, snow shovel and food stamps. Whaddya say, kiddo?"

Dec 16

A Gentle Reminder of Why I Love AMEX

Guest post by Sahana Jayaraman

To: Sahana
From: Holly Green

Last night my buzzer rang and from the lobby I heard a voice, “Sahana, you have a floral delivery.” I paused for a minute, thought about the date… “No, it isn’t a special occasion, isn’t my birthday…”

I ran downstairs to see what this was all about. The delivery man handed me a beautiful pot with a vibrant green plant assortment. I opened the card and it read “Please, do not allow your recent experience to color your perception of American Express. We appreciate your loyalty and value your membership. ” It was a housewarming gift from AMEX.

About two months ago during my move to San Francisco I was faced with a nightmare relocation company that held my goods for weeks past my promised delivery date, and worst they had zero customer service. During my battle with them I had tried to get my initial $680 deposit credited since they failed to provide the services they said they would. American Express acknowledged my concerns, withheld the amount and went to bat for me to dispute the fairness of the charge. About a month later AMEX called me and said that they weren’t able to dispute the claim with the vendor and that they unfortunately had to drop the case.

The customer service representative, Holly Green, apologized for the inconvenience caused by the relocation company. She said that American Express would like to reimburse me $50 to my account. That in itself was such a nice offer. I would never have expected flowers on top of that. 106605944_629f51e0fe

This gesture struck a chord with me. In a time when companies have been hit hard, forced to cut back on expendable budgets, whether it be for holiday gifts, corporate incentives or other over-head costs, it spoke volumes that American Express would still continue to provide such exceptional customer service.  Note to companies out there – now is the time to really analyze the ROI on each of your spends.

Not only is it a brilliant customer service strategy, but it directly speaks to what we have been telling many of our clients in this economy. To continue “business as usual” and about “staying connected” with clients/customers and key stakeholders through these times. It really humanizes the brand and generates loyalty. In fact, American Express already has one new customer. When my co-worker Jessica heard the story and how pleased I was with the benefits of my Blue Cash rewards card, she was in awe and immediately sold on AMEX’s brand promise. I told my brother in-law and he loved the story so much he decided to renew his membership for another year.

Whatever you are doing AMEX, it’s working, and people are noticing – so keep on at it!

Dec 15

It’s Nice to Fall In Love

I've fallen in love. Yes, there's a certain someone out there who makes me see things in new ways, makes me reflect on old things in different ways and makes me laugh out loud when I'm feeling down.

That certain someone is Bill Bryson and man, oh man, can he write. I just finished Shakespeare, which I highly recommend. It's a page-turner that explores what's known and what isn't about the Bard of Avon. And, it does so in a lively, informative and, yes, funny way.

Bryson scoots around England in search of the elusive playwright and, in the process, debunks various theories that Shakespeare was, in fact, King James I, Francis Bacon and god knows how many other pretenders. A surprisingly large number of otherwise intelligent people believe Shakespeare couldn't have had the depth, breadth, education and experience to have written on so many different and diverse subjects. But, Bryson shows that he could. And he did.

Bryson also reveals the amazing number of everyday words that Will brought to the modern English language (some 2,035 words were, in fact, first used by Shakespeare). These include: antipathy, critical, dwindle, leapfrog and zany, to name just a few. And, how about this for inventing phrases? The bard first coined: "one fell swoop," "vanish into thin air," "play fast and loose" and "be in a pickle." The latter two have certainly found their way into our media of late, no?

I love reading books that provide additional perspective on the crazy world in which we live. I've also read Bryson's Under a Sunburnt Sky, which is must reading for anyone interested in Australia. And, I'm devouring A Walk in the Woods, which is de rigueur material for anyone who has ever climbed, hiked or even camped out. It's so funny that I've often laughed out loud at certain passages, engendering disdainful sneers from my fellow NJ Transit riders.

Looking for an ideal stocking stuffer for that certain someone (even if that certain someone is you)? Then, by all means pick up something, anything by Bill Bryson. But, remember, I found him first. "Bryson, oh Bryson, wherefore art thou Bryson?"

Dec 12

P.T. Barnum Would Be Proud

I didn't think the collective content of The Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and Discovery Health could sink any lower. Then, I saw the "tree boy." If you haven't viewed this bus wreck of a "documentary," avoid it at all costs. It depicts the travails of an Asian man who, because of some rare genetic defect, has sprouted tree-like limbs, foliage and shrubbery all over his body. It's truly horrifying. But, it's what the three "Discovery" channels have become. They're a 24×7 cavalcade of freaks, oddities and spectacles.2014998030_ea58a1dee3_o

One recent scan revealed "the 200-pound tumor" on one network, "the 800-pound girl" on another and "the 30,000 calorie-a-day man" on a third.

It's disturbing to see how far the brand has strayed from the vision of John Hendricks, its founder. I helped publicize The Discovery Channel in the early 1990s and was part of the publicity team that launched The Learning Channel. Content in those days included environmental programming for the former and classroom education with the latter. Both were considered intelligent, insightful and inspirational.

Their modern-day successors are trivial, trite and trashy.

TDC is a brand that is more distorted than some of the people it profiles. They pander to the sleazy side of human nature and, I for one, recoil in disgust before I channel surf to find something a little less revolting. That said, P.T. Barnum must be smiling contentedly in the great freak show in the sky. It was Barnum, after all, who first brought us Tom Thumb, Jumbo the elephant and countless other sideshow spectacles. I'll bet he'd love the tree boy.