Sep 30

And I thought Wikipedia was bad

We were one of the 55 hapless public relations firms that responded to an initial RFP from Wikipedia. That's not a misprint. Wikipedia invited 55 firms to submit proposals. We actually did fairly well, making it to the 'semifinal round' of eight or 10 firms.

September 30 - Zappos_Logo

I was stunned to learn Wikipedia had spun so many wheels at so many agencies. But, the W types are pikers when compared to Zappos. According to the current issue of Ad Age, Zappos invited 100 ad agencies to pitch its business! Can you believe that? And, after a year of sifting through the proposals, they ended up selecting Mullen for what turned out to be a meager ad budget of only $7 million.

Some might attribute these fishing expeditions to inexperience or indecision on the part of the prospective client. I don't. I think it's a combination of hubris and insensitivity. Inviting 55 or 100 firms to pitch one's business is cruel and unusual punishment, and certainly no way to conduct business or treat one's fellow human beings.

I'd like to think the Wikipedia and Zappos cattle calls are one-offs. But, something tells me this sort of boorish behavior is becoming the norm and is just another manifestation of an overall societal meltdown of civility and decency.

Sep 29

Just declare it an open city like the French did with Paris

September 29 - morton511

Throughout history, when faced by insurmountable odds, military leaders have often abandoned a key fort or city to a rapidly-approaching foe. The Russians did it with Moscow when Napoleon's Grand Armee was bearing down on their frozen capital. And, the French returned the favor in June of 1940 when the Nazis had overrun their country and were blitzkrieging their way towards Paris.

I mention these historical footnotes because I see parallels to an agency's being asked to defend an existing account. The September 14th issue of Advertising Age contains an interesting editorial urging clients to tell defending agencies the truth when putting an account up for review.

I'm not sure what specific event, or series of events, prompted the piece, but it's thoughtful and ends with the following admonition to clients: 'There is shame….in leading an agency along, watching it waste money and time in a futile effort, because you either don't yet know what you are looking for – in which case you shouldn't have called a review in the first place – or because you simply didn't have the guts to tell your current agency the truth.'

We've had some very bad experiences defending existing accounts. In almost every instance, the client assured us they were merely 'seeing what other resources might be available' and told us we had the inside edge as a result of our hands-on knowledge. Yet, we lost almost every review.

When clients put accounts up for review, they do so because they're unhappy with the status quo. Period. Defending an account seldom works and ends up hurting agency morale.

The far better approach is to take a page from the history books, declare the account an 'open city' like Moscow or Paris and allow the invading armies (or agencies, in this case) inside the walls.

Sep 28

I am the happiest man in the world

September 28 - mountain

Those were the final words of 71-year-old multimillionaire Clifton Maloney, spoken shortly after successfully summiting the 26,000 ft-plus peak of Cho Oyu, the world's sixth highest peak. Maloney, the husband of U.S Representative Carolyn Maloney, went to sleep after making the comment and never woke up again.

What a way to go! If I could orchestrate my own passing, I'd do it the way Maloney did: accomplish something truly magnificent, share my post-event adrenaline high and then leave my friends and companions with some memorable words.

I'd hate to die behind a desk. Or, after being struck by a car or, god forbid, on the NJ Transit 7:28 to the city.

Not this blogger. I'd like to go right after 'killing' a stand-up comedy performance. Or, completing a grueling 18-mile run. Or, like Maloney, summiting a brutally-challenging peak.

We're not given the option of picking the time or place of our departure. But I'd like to think that, wherever he is at the moment, Clifton Maloney has to be pretty pleased with his manner of passing. He went out at the happiest moment of his 71 years on earth. To me, that's living.

Sep 25

The misery never ends

September 25 - newspaper

I just visited the College of Charleston Thursday and Friday, attending board meetings, delivering lectures and participating in panels. I love the C of C. It's a beautiful campus with bright, alert students. 

As might be expected, most of the students said finding a good job was their number one pain point.

I shared my job search/interviewing strategies, but also heard some smart tips from fellow advisory board members I thought worth sharing, including:

  • Think global. Relocate to the hot markets that have jobs, such as China. Spend a few years there gaining experience and leverage it to come back home to your ideal job.
  • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of how business works. (Note: this doesn't seem to be an age-specific problem since the Council of PR Firms routinely reports the 'lack' of such knowledge is the number one criticism of agencies by their clients).
  • Learn a second language. With American's rapidly-changing demographics, fluency in an Asian or Spanish language or dialect can be a huge plus.
  • Master writing and, in particular, writing on deadline. PR demands multitasking and PR pros must be able to write quickly, clearly and consistently.
  • Be willing to do whatever it takes. If assigned grunt work, be the best possible grunt.

That last point prompted one young lady to raise her hand. She'd just finished an internship and, frankly, didn't care for the grunt work. "When will the misery end?” she asked. “Never,” I responded. “The misery changes as one moves up the food chain, but it never goes away. It just becomes more intense.” I don't think she cared for my answer.

Another student disagreed with my advice on job interview preparation. “Do you have any idea how busy we are? We don't have the time to do all the research on a company that you suggest we do. Besides,” she said, “That's what the internships are for. You learn about the company when you get the job.” I wished her well and suggested she had a real Catch-22 situation on her hands since a company won't hire a person who hasn't demonstrated the time or energy to learn about them in advance.

The students were fully engaged in the lectures, grateful for the advice and will, I'm sure, do very well once they hit the real world. I just hope they come prepared and accept the fact that the misery never ends.

Sep 23

Image goes for a ride

I always wear jeans and sneaks when I fly. To me, comfort trumps appearance, especially in today's unfriendly skies.

September 23 - business_travel

It wasn't too long ago, though, that the very thought of dressing in jeans and sneaks on a business trip was verboten. My CEO at JWT always dressed in business formal wear, even when we were traveling on a Sunday. 'You never know who you might meet,' he admonished me, after spying my open neck polo.

On another occasion in the late 1980s, I sported jeans, cowboy boots and an unshaven face on a Sunday night flight to a client off-site. I figured I'd be flying alone, so why worry. Ah, but my client was also on the flight. We shook hands after landing, and then he offered me a piece of advice. 'There's casual and then there's casual. You represent your firm wherever you go. How do you think your CEO would feel if he saw you looking like this?' Duly noted.

That was many moons ago, of course. Today, there is no dress code for business travel. In fact, any code of airline comportment has been blown to smithereens. Nowadays, the typical fellow traveler is a morbidly-obese man dressed in a track suit, flip-flops and carrying two Double Whoppers with cheese on board. In fact, spying a passenger in suit-and-tie is akin to a sighting of Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman.

I knew the times had truly changed when I recently spied the always erudite, always neatly coiffed Bill Heyman in a pair of jeans at O'Hare. If the Bill Blass of PR search consultants is ok with jeans and sneaks at the airport, then it's ok with me as well. I just hope Mr. Heyman doesn't lapse into the track suit and Whopper mode any time soon. If he does, then we will have truly reached the end of days.

Sep 22

The ‘it’ girl of the in crowd

September 22 - facebook

I was just friended on Facebook by the 'it' girl of my high school 'in' crowd.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal to you, but to an image and reputation guy like me, it's huge.

September 22 - facebook_golfThat's because, in high school, I had very little image and even less reputation.

My high school, like yours, had a rigorous social structure, akin to the Caste System in India. At the top were the Brahmins who reigned supreme. And at the bottom were the Untouchables who, were well, untouchable. And unlikeable. And pretty much unnoticeable.

I existed somewhere in the middle. As a very shy and introverted adolescent, I was quite content to just get by. I'm not sure why, but I made it my mission to fly under the radar at all costs. I simply didn't want to stand out.

The ‘it’ girl, on the other hand, moved in rarified circles. Like a Disco-era Marie Antoinette, she decided who she would like and whom she would allow to like her. She naturally dated the 'it' guy and together they ruled the roost as the it couple.

And, that was cool. And, that was then. And, this is now.

Since last crossing paths with the ‘it’ girl, I've lost my adolescent inhibitions, become fairly outgoing and done a few pretty cool things. Cool enough, I guess, to be accepted into the ‘it’ girl's virtual inner circle.

I feel a little like the late JFK who, after listening to Marilyn Monroe's sultry and sensuous singing of 'Happy Birthday' to mark his 45th birthday, said: “I can now retire from politics having heard the words of 'Happy Birthday' sung to me in such a sweet and wholesome way.” Ditto. I can now retire from the image and reputation wars having finally been accepted by the Brahmin of Brahmins.

Sep 21

Survey Says: Paul Is Still the Cute One

By Guest Blogger, Julie Farin ( PR pro and Beatlemaniac – not necessarily in that order.


Who is your favorite Beatle?  That seems like a question one might have been asked on February 10, 1964, the day after the four lads from Liverpool first performed on The Ed Sullivan Show to more than 70 million viewers across America, officially pulling the trigger on The British Invasion. 

But with months of multimedia marketing leading up to the 09/09/09 release of The Beatles Rock Band video game along with the release of digitally remastered “boxed sets” of the Fab 4’s historic music catalogue, it seems like just about everyone is climbing aboard the Beatlemania Reloaded bandwagon.

It comes as no surprise that Zogby International recently decided to poll Americans and ask them which of the Mop Tops – John, Paul, George or Ringo – they like best. “Paul was always more popular than the rest of us,” John Lennon once told Tom Snyder in a 1975 interview.  Well, Lennon would not be surprised to learn that Sir Paul McCartney continues his 45-year reign as the most popular Beatle with 27 percent naming him their favorite, Lennon taking a distant second at 16 percent, George Harrison coming in a dark horse at 10 percent, and Ringo Starr an even darker one at 9 percent.

What surprises me most about this seemingly unscientific survey is the admission that nearly a quarter of those polled said they didn’t even like the Beatles, while three percent said they weren’t familiar enough with the band’s music to make an informed decision.

“It must be the crazy love songs and ‘Yesterday’,” said John Zogby, the CEO of the firm that conducted the poll.  He attributed McCartney’s popularity to his looks (Paul was always considered The Cute One), and his longevity (he’s 67-years old and is still releasing albums and selling out concert tours).  Zogby adds, “Interestingly, John is the main answer for people who never go to church.”  That seems too convenient a statistic to associate with an outspoken man who once infamously proclaimed, “We’re more popular than Jesus” and who also considered himself “basically a Zen pagan.”

It also seems a little unfair to compare the two Beatles who are still living, performing, and releasing albums, with the two who have been dead for many years.  Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me how well McCartney topped this poll.  [Disclosure:  John Lennon has always been my favorite Beatle, and yes, I do go to church and consider myself a spiritual person.] 

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Paul is fab and quite gear after all these years.  In fact, my good friend Michael Starr (no relation to Ringo) has nicknamed me “Lady Macca” because I never miss a McCartney concert when he comes to my town (New York City).  The results of this survey seem as irrelevant and invalid as asking a card-carrying Beatlemaniac to name his or her favorite Beatles song.  That’s “Something” I can never “Imagine” doing.

Sep 18

The dangers of inside-out marketing

September 18 - Jesus Freak 2 Those of us who suffer the daily indignities of the 7:27am New Jersey Transit ride to Manhattan are periodically subjected to old-time Bible thumping by a dyed-in-the-wool, certifiable Jesus Freak. The guy sets up shop directly across the tracks from us, cites a Bible passage or two and then warns us to abandon our wicked and wanton ways before heading into the latter-day version of Sodom & Gomorrah.

I ordinarily tune him out as quickly as I'm tuning in Pink Floyd, Ziggy Marley or Luigi Bocarini on my iPod. Today, though, the Jesus Freak got my attention with a particularly nasty assault on the evils of Islam. How insensitive, I thought. Hasn't he factored in the Muslim commuters on the platform? Or, doesn't he care? It also occurred to me that I was sharing the platform with any number of commuters who were looking forward to the Jewish high holidays. Hmmm. Another target audience down the tubes.

And, then it dawned on me. The bible thumper was making a classic inside-out marketing mistake. He wasn't thinking about his audience. He wasn't taking the time to figure out who they were, what sort of information they'd like to hear and where they'd be most open to engaging him in conversation. Instead, the sermon on the platform was all about him and his views.

I see inside-out marketing coming from some of the allegedly best and brightest brands in Corporate America. Alongside the amazingly dysfunctional internal operations at many of these companies, inside-out marketing is one of business and industry's better-kept, dirty little secrets.

Despite all the hoopla and posturing about social media and best practices for reaching the newly-empowered consumer, inside-out marketing still ricochets through the hallways of America's best companies like some sort of rampant, mutant H1N1 virus.

NJT's resident Jesus Freak is obviously oblivious to inside-out marketing (he's most likely oblivious to most things in life). But, there's no excuse for highly-paid, uber powerful marketers who keep making the same mistake 'He' does.

Wise up, Corporate America. It's later than you think. And, speaking of thinking, it's no longer about you or what you think. It's all about what we the consumers (and commuters) think.

All aboard!

Sep 17

Silence kills

September 17 - layoffnotice I was shocked to read about the horrific happenings at France Telecom, the global telecommunications giant. Based upon huge staff reductions and other Draconian measures taken during the recession, no fewer than 23 employees have committed suicide in the past 18 months.

I was even more shocked and, in fact, sickened to read about senior management's apparent lack of communication and abject indifference as the crisis unfolded. One France Telecom employee, Monique Fraysee-Guiglini, said management had been in total denial for a long time. “It has refused to listen to what the office doctors had to say about the restructuring. We tried to sound the alarm several times, in vain. Speech is very restricted,” she said.

What a terrible indictment. And, what a horrible way in which to manage an organization and treat fellow human beings. I've seen lots of corporate cultures over the years, many of which were positively toxic. But, I've never, ever experienced one that seems as totally detached from common sense, business ethics and basic decency as the one at France Telecom.

Having just attended the Arthur Page Society's annual conference, I know how critically important honesty and transparency is to a brand's reputation and performance. During the two-day conference, we had the opportunity to listen to the CEOs of such companies as US Airways, Darden Restaurants, CDW and others. Each consistently stressed the critical importance of placing ethics ahead of expediency. These companies succeed because they do the right thing.

If the allegations against the senior executives of France Telecom are true, then the company will most surely be forever branded as the evil doppelganger of J&J/Tylenol in the annals of crisis communications management.

Sep 15

Hiding The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg

Guest Post from Michael Dresner, CEO, Brand² Squared Licensing

Last week, I ordered a time capsule from which features news articles from the future. Sure enough, on Saturday I got a fresh copy of The New York Times dated June 27, 2099. (Ok, this sounds far-fetched. Bear with me). The Business Section reported a new venture initiated by the great grandchildren of Vera Wang, in honor of her 150th birthday. Wang’s descendants decided to re-launch the brand – with powerful PR support (given the coveted NY Times impression). To commemorate Vera’s contributions to bridal fashion, they were re-introducing Vera Wang bridal gowns. But, in an effort to protect the prestige of the brand, no other product bearing the Vera Wang name would be available. The gowns would only be distributed through, or 15 sales representatives. Furthermore, the original patterns that made Vera so successful when she first commenced bridal gown design would not be available. “The patterns remain the most potent symbol of the Vera Wang name,” her great grandchildren said. “Sooner or later we’ll embrace that opportunity.”

September 15 - FabergeEgg Does that sound absurd? Economically naïve? Could Vera’s descendants undermine her accomplishments by creating such a limited context in which to enjoy the brand? I would say yes, resoundingly. Turns out a variation of this future shock is happening today. The House of Faberge – founded in 1842, a purveyor of high-end jewelry and coveted Easter Eggs originally created for the Tsar of Russia – presented its first new line of jewelry in more than 90 years last  week. Consumers can only buy the merchandise from Faberge’s website, or 15 sales reps. And, no plans exist to launch the jewel-encrusted Easter Egg. “Eggs remain the most potent symbol of the house of Faberge,” manager Mark Dunhill said. “Sooner or later we’ll embrace that opportunity.”

Being a connoisseur of brand re-launches, I was hoping for more. The House of Faberge is a regal reflection of personal luxury with a history of making people literally feel like kings and queens. Perhaps the current protectors of the brand could have at least read a page from the Vera Wang business plan. She started in bridal gowns, and ultimately parlayed a design aesthetic and brand name that represents a cross-category solution for brides, before, during and long after the nuptials. Or Louis Vuitton (a brand which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2004). Vuitton started as a luggage and trunk retailer, and now is a symbol for prestige across dozens of personal accessory categories.

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