Nov 30

The uniforms aren’t the problem

Guest Post by Isaac Farbowitz

November 30 - AT 5-20 SeaverMetsUniform “The New York Mets today announced they will wear a new pinstripe home uniform next season inspired by the early years of the franchise. The design combines new and old elements of Mets uniforms. The Mets created the retro uniform following research and positive responses to the jerseys the 1969 World Champion Mets wore during their 40th anniversary celebration in August.”

So reads a “News Flash” email I just received from my beloved NY Metropolitans. If you want to find an organization that is simply lost and spending its time and dollars in the wrong places look no further. The Mets just came off a miserable season, made all the more difficult for Mets fans as we watched the hated Evil Empire from the Bronx being paraded down the Canyon of Heroes after winning number 27. 

If I were working in the Mets front office and I was looking to reconnect with fans, every dollar and resource would be spent trying to field a better team next year as well as trying to figure out why half of my team spent more time on the DL then they did on the field. I certainly wouldn’t have done “research” to come up with new uniforms which, by the way, look pretty similar to what they have worn for years. To think that even a dollar or a minute was spent on this “research” shows just how far removed from reality they Mets really are. 

It’s amazing to me that this idea for the new uniform even got past the first conversation among the front office. Wouldn’t someone have said “Hey guys, I don’t think our fans are that upset about how we dressed on the field last year.” Or, did some guy or gal from management say “This is a great idea- we may lose 90 games next year but at least we can look better doing it!”

I think the powers that be in Queens, NY need to take a hard look at what the real issues are and stop “Flushing” resources down the drain. I think Mets fans from near and far should send the Wilpons and crew a “news flash” letting them know that the uniforms are not the problem, and changing them won’t put more bodies in the seats or W’s in the win column. If this is the best the Mets can do to reconnect with their fans, I’ve got a feeling that the summer of 2010 will be spent much like the summer of 2009- looking forward to NFL Kickoff Weekend. On second thought, after watching the Same Old Jets implode again, I might spend the summer taking up a new hobby- walking on hot coals. 

Nov 25

What if?

I have been glued to NatGeo, The History Channel and other networks that have been replaying the horrific events of November 22-25, 1963 (some, like NatGeo using never-before aired footage).

November 25 - JFK headline The whole sad and sordid JFK assassination anniversary got me wondering: what would the media coverage have been like if JFK had been assassinated on November 22, 2009, and not in 1963? Here are some random thoughts:

- MSNBC would have been there to cover the event live. They follow Obama to the most obscure town hall meetings, so why not ship off a team to Dealey Plaza?

- There would have been hundreds of Abraham Zapruder types, all of whom would have used their cell phones to capture the grisly second-by-second shooting from every possible angle (and, each would have been instantly posted on sites such as CNN.com).

- All three morning network teams would have immediately dispatched their anchors to Dallas for special 'Saturday morning aftermath' shows. 'Somber and sad news indeed, Ann. Thanks. Now, on a much lighter note, Al, I understand there's quite a snowstorm blowing in from the Northwest?'

- Eyewitnesses, School Book Depository employees, Dallas policemen and everyone else and their brother would be all a Twitter. Perhaps even Oswald himself would have had time to send a quick Tweet or two: 'No sir. I have not been accused of shooting anyone and I demand immediate legal representation.'

- The Hollywood entertainment sleaze casts would begin round-the-clock coverage of Jackie and the wardrobes she'd chosen to wear at various State affairs.

- Less scrupulous brand marketers would begin exploring signage opportunities on, or near, the grassy knoll. 'What do you mean we can't put our purple logo on the triple overpass? Says who?'

- I'm assuming the TSA would pull a power play and assume jurisdiction for the entire investigation, pushing out Dallas cops, Secret Service agents, the FBI and others.

- The first thought in everyone's mind wouldn't be a Communist plot but, rather, an Al Qaeda terrorist attack.

- The Playboy Channel would originate live coverage from Jack Ruby's strip club. 'Jack, you say that Oswald and the Secret Service agents were all here last night? Unreal.'

- Sarah Palin would issue a statement, passing along her heartfelt condolences and recall that she was able to see Russia the last time she visited Dallas.

- Conspiracy theorists would be blogging like mad and posting various, three-dimensional versions of the killing zone on various sites.

- Oswald's murder at the hands of Ruby would feature many more first-hand interviews of the latter, and include such questions as, 'Jack, how did you feel when you pulled the trigger?' Or 'Jack, what's next? A book and movie?'

In short, what struck me about the original coverage was its combination of shock, naïveté, caring and compassion. While there would be some trace of all four in modern-day coverage, I'm afraid we've become so immune to death and sleaze that there'd be a media circus of epic proportions.

Nov 23

To dream the impossible dream

November 23 - wallpaper_football10 I applaud my alma mater’s decision to end its college football program. Northeastern University’s decision was reached after an exhaustive, two-year study and follows on the heels of cross-town rival, Boston University’s, decision to follow a similar course.

Northeastern is a serious contender in sports such as ice hockey, crew and, every now and then, basketball. But, the football program has always been an also ran. Like many other wannabe’s, N.U. aspired to greater things and actually scheduled an opening match against perennial football powerhouse Boston College. The result was both laughable and predictable.

Now freed from the shackles of climbing a mountain too high (or a bridge too far, if you prefer WWII analogy), Northeastern is free to concentrate on its core athletic competencies while also diverting funding to academic pursuits (an area in which the school is rapidly rising through the ranks).

Northeastern’s David v. Goliath run against BC is akin to a two-person PR start-up competing against Weber-Shandwick in the public relations industry annual awards’ programs. While N.U. may boast the single, most creative tailback or safety on the gridiron, BC’s sheer size and numbers guarantee a lopsided result. Ditto with the industry awards’ programs. Like the NCAA, our industry should create three distinct categories based on size and allow the big guys to compete against one another, midsized firms to engage with their peers and the boutiques to do the same.

What chance did Northeastern ever really have against a major football powerhouse like BC? None. And, what real chance does an unknown start-up have when competing against 11, count ‘em 11, separate submissions from one Top 10 agency in a single category? The fledgling boutique can only afford one submission while the behemoth can lob in one after another.

The awards’ system is broke. And, the PR powers that be see it as nothing more than ‘an old argument,’ that merits no discussion. That leaves little guys with one of two choices: follow Northeastern’s lead and divert whatever disposable marketing dollars you have on something with a higher return on investment or, like the Man of La Mancha, continue to dream the impossible dream.

Nov 20

The History Channel is finally delivering on its original brand promise

November 20 - HistoryChannelTV Like its siblings in the Discovery Channel programming stable, The History Channel has badly lost its way of late. Rather than broadcasting historical programs that subject matter buffs like me covet, the network has focused instead on such garbage as the travails of Alaska ice truckers and tabloid shows on Nostradamus and his ersatz predictions.

Lately, though, The History Channel has been delivering on its original brand promise: historical programming that provides a unique perspective on the past. Its new series, 'WWII in HD' is world class. It combines the best elements of a Ken Burns PBS documentary with a color version of the legendary 'Victory at sea' to provide an amazing, new look at 'the greatest generation' and its incredible victory against the Axis Forces.

The History Channel has lined up a number of actors (i.e. Rob Lowe) to provide the voiceover narration of real life, if little-known, WWII heroes.

It's absolutely mesmerizing, has stopped me in my usual viewing tracks and led me to hope and pray that the cable network has abandoned its current, mediocre fare and committed itself, instead, to provide higher quality content.

I'm not sure why Discovery, TLC and The History Channel lost their respective mojos but, knowing business as well as I do, I have to believe it was conceived by some hotshot programming whiz kid. I'll bet the kid failed and has been replaced by a new executive who has been charged with righting the badly listing ship.

So, here's a note to The History Channel's new programming honcho: whoever who you are, and whatever you're doing, keep it coming. I adored the 'original' History Channel, dropped you when you lost your way and am now prepared to give you a great, big, welcome back, man hug.

Nov 19

We’re just finding different ways to not be successful

We all have our crosses to bear in this life. For me, it's rooting for the Mets and Jets. Each season, each team finds new and different ways to disappoint.

November 19 - mets The Mets staged the single greatest collapse in Major League Baseball history three years ago. They followed that up with another, less dramatic, but equally devastating collapse two seasons ago and never bothered showing up to play in 2009.

The Jets haven't won anything since 1969 and, in their own unique way, are even more challenging to follow than the Mets.

This year's squad not only started off with three straight wins, but brought an attitude of brashness and trash talking worthy of a certain best-selling, erstwhile governor of Alaska. Sure enough, though, the team has imploded midway through the season.

November 19 - jets logo The ways in which the Jets lose can be as riveting as the best plot twists in a Colin Dexter 'Inspector Morse' murder mystery. One never knows how they will hand away a game to a lesser opponent. One week, they dominate both sides of the scrimmage line, only to be betrayed by their special teams. This past Sunday, the usually reliable, in-your-face defense completely collapsed in the last seconds of a loss to the Jaguars.

You know things are bad when the head coach, Rex Ryan, admits he '….would make a lot of calls' to friends and mentors in the game asking for advice because he did not have answers. That's comforting. The new head coach has no idea why his team is imploding. He says the situation is 'a comedy of errors, but it's not funny.' Amen to that. Jets fans haven't been laughing about anything since a certain Joe Willie Namath pulled off the impossible dream on January 12, 1969.

So, what's worse? A Mets manager (Willie Randolph) who shrugs his shoulders and says, 'Hey, if it's not your life and it's not your wife, how important can it be?' Or a Jets coach (Ryan) who shakes his head and laments, 'We're just finding different ways to not be successful.'

Nov 18

Newspapers vs. ‘Newspapers’

Guest Post by Carl Foster, Peppercom UK

Uk mags "Good morning, Trinity Mirror news desk"

"Hi, I'm calling from Trinity Mirror PR to follow up on the press release I sent you about our new widget"

"Oh, right. When did you send it?"

"Just a little while ago"

"And you're calling from where?"

"Trinity Mirror PR. We sit on the other side of the office from you. Look, I'm standing up and waving – yoo hoo!"

"Oh yes, hi. Can you send it to me again? Or better yet, just tell me where it's saved on the server and I'll copy and paste it from there."

That worrying scenario could play out at a newspaper near you if the suggestion of Neil Benson, editorial director at Trinity Mirror in the UK, comes true. The idea that struggling newspapers should set up PR agencies as an additional source of revenue has set tongues wagging in PR circles, but the notion should be of concern far beyond our little fiefdom.

Of course, desperate times call for desperate measures. We're certainly at the stage where no idea is a bad idea when it comes to saving the newspaper industry from further closures. However, if newspapers were to set up PR agencies, even if they were to operate at arm's length, their very credibility and trustworthiness would be called into question. If the model did prove financially successful it would not save the newspaper; it would simply mean it was replaced with a 'newspaper'.

The newspaper vs. 'newspaper' concept is not new. An Evening Standard column from earlier this year highlights the rise of councils in London producing their own pseudo-newspapers. According to the Standard, more writers in London are now employed by these official papers than by the local independent press. Who is paying for this? The Standard says one of these pseudo-newspapers, the Greenwich Time, has a total gross cost of £708,000 a year, with at least £532,000 of that borne by the public purse.

Apparently Andy Burnham, the then media secretary Andy Burnham said that council newspapers were "overstepping" the mark. But this is too vague. In the U.K. we need an U.S. FCC style proposal that requires transparency for "endorsements and testimonials" by people with "material connections" to sellers of a product or service.

Would a PR agency linked to a newspaper group have a "material connection"? One for the lawyers I think.

So if the credibility of some newspapers is in decline because of the source of their revenue, and the very existence of other newspapers is threatened by a collapse in revenue, where does that leave the citizens in our democracy that need varied but credible sources of news? Well, the ad-supported, free online (and sometimes offline) model doesn't seem to be working – even if the Evening Standard has put all its eggs in that one basket. At the other end of the spectrum we have Rupert Murdoch, who will be putting all News Corp. content behind subscription walls soon, and also possibly block Google from searching its pages.

Another suggestion, put forward by Greg Dyke, the former director general of the BBC, is a state-funded (not state-owned) media. This seems to be one of the few ways to guarantee that the media has the resources to provide credible and thorough news coverage. Dyke puts forward the suggestion in a debate on Al-Jazeera’s Empire programme, which is well worth watching. However, the question of how this funding would filter down from the giants of the BBC and France24 to local newspapers is a tricky to answer.   

So, in the spirit of no idea being a bad idea, how do you suggest the newspaper industry save itself from collapse?

Nov 17

Getting Motown’s mojo back

November 17 - fabdetroit Five Detroit advertising agencies are donating their collective firepower to a year-long campaign aimed at attracting 'young and creative people' to consider Motown as a place to live and work. Underwritten by Time Inc., 'Assignment Detroit' also involves reporters and editors from Essence, Fortune, Money, Sports Illustrated, Time and related websites.

One marketing initiative involves a proposed web site to be called CreativityLivesInDetroit.com. It will feature such Detroit success stories as Tim Allen and Kid Rock. Another campaign likens seeking job opportunities in Detroit to the crew that joined the explorer Ernest Schackleton in his brutal Arctic expedition. And, therein lies the problem.

Does a massive advertising and marketing campaign designed to attract young people to Detroit make sense when the infrastructure is still so badly broken?

I read somewhere that Detroit has 80,000 empty office buildings and warehouses. And yet, a local ad executive said of Detroit: 'Kids who are coming here find it the land of opportunity' in fields like music and film.' Could both facts be true?

I sincerely hope the Detroit campaign succeeds. But, how can any marketing campaign work when the product or experience is flawed? It's a classic chicken or egg conundrum. Do you spend serious bucks on advertising to attract people who will start businesses? Or, do you wait for the economy to show some signs of life first and then point to current successes, instead of making a vague promise about being part of a turnaround?

Time Inc. is to be saluted for its investment. Here's hoping I'll be able to file a blog in a year's time and say it worked.

Nov 16

Dirty Pool

November 16 - awards I've had the opportunity to judge everything from the Silver Anvils and CIPRAs to the PR Week and Big Apple industry awards. And, while I'm honored to be asked, I have to tell you something: the industry awards programs are badly broken.

They're broken in one, fundamental way: big agencies are allowed to submit as many entries per category as they choose. They pay the same amount per entry as does a small, two-person start-up. And, that's unfair.

Let me cite specifics. I'm currently judging the 'digital/social media' category for one of these awards' programs. If you can believe it, there are no fewer than 75 separate entries for one award! To begin with, that's absurd. Who wants to pay serious money for a one-in-75 chance?

But, here's the real issue. Right alongside 11 (yes, 11!) entries from the world's largest public relations firm is one from a start-up I've never heard of. And, a panel that includes me, and probably four or five other time-pressured judges, has to choose the best. What are the odds the start-up will win?

I've actually tallied up the entries. Of the 75 in total, no fewer than 37 come from the top 10 agencies. Talk about unfair competition! Nearly 50 percent of the digital/social media category entries come from four or five PR firms.

So, here's a question to the powers that be at these awards' shows: why don't you price the entry fees by the size of the agency? Instead of charging every agency $375 per submission, why not charge the Webers, Fleishmans and Ketchums double or triple the fee? They're probably a hundred times larger than some of the other competitors.

If the media properties did so, it would lessen the deluge from the largest firms, level the playing field and, probably, raise even more money for their cash-starved coffers.

I'm amazed more small and midsized agencies don't complain about this obvious inequity. It's dirty pool.

Nov 13

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players

I was reminded of Shakespeare's classic words as I listened to an extraordinarily strong panel at yesterday's Ernst & Young's Strategic Growth Forum (note: we represent EY).

November 13 - open-door1 The panel was entitled, 'Navigating Through Challenge and Triumph: How top leaders do it.' The panelists were: Lynn Eisenhans, chairman, CEO and president of Sunoco, Margery Kraus, president and CEO of APCO (and incoming chair of the Council of PR Firms) and Shelly Lazarus, chairman, worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather.

The trio addressed a potpourri of topics, but the one that struck home was the discussion surrounding 'leader as actor.' Kraus and Lazarus, in particular, spoke about the need for leaders to consistently project positive verbal and non-verbal messages to their employees.

Kraus spoke about APCO's open-door policy and its importance to the firm's culture. One day, though, Kraus decided to keep her door closed for some time. When she finally opened it, there was a gaggle of employees milling about. The closed door had scared them and they were worried that something profoundly negative had just occurred. Instead, Kraus assured employees that the door had been closed only because she'd kept her windows open and was concerned her assistant would get chilly. Case closed. But, a classic example of the roles and responsibilities of leaders in times of crisis.

Far too many leaders hide behind closed doors. Far too many leaders wear their emotions on their sleeve. Far too many leaders over react to short-term setbacks instead of staying focused on long-term strategy.

Eisenhans, Kraus and Lazarus are classic examples of maintaining grace under pressure. In fact, their anecdotes and advice reminded me of another classic quote. This one is from Kipling: 'If you can keep your head when all those about you are losing theirs…then, my son, you'll be a man.'

Natural leaders instinctively know that a smile or an open door will send a critical signal anxious that employees desperately need to see.

We still have a long way to go before the economy bounces back. But, the better the CEO 'acts' and the more she or he keeps her/his head about them, the more reassured and productive the employees. And, the more productive the employees, the speedier the recovery.

Nov 12

What has become clear to you since we last met?

November 12 - emerson Ralph Waldo Emerson was noted for greeting friends with the question, 'What has become clear to you since we last met?' His intent, say historians, was an invitation and a challenge to guests to assess the progress of their thinking.

I find the question profound in its simplicity and thought I'd share what's become clear to me of late:

1) Management by fear is alive and well. Despite countless studies, articles and books extolling the benefits of a great corporate culture, I continue to see our teams take a beating from misbehaving client managers. I also continue to see refugees from other agencies wash up on our shores with tales of shouting and screaming bosses. That said, I remain unclear how or why bullies survive.

2) President Obama is nearly as clueless as W. A great communicator prior to his election, the president has become hopelessly caught up in hundreds of issues that have clearly distracted him from accomplishing one or two truly important and critical goals: creating jobs, ending foreign wars and solving the healthcare mess. And, I don't see him rising above the abyss anytime soon.

3) Far too many businesspeople are jumping on the social media bandwagon without knowing why. The same holds true for 'consumers' who feel compelled to post each and every detail of their mundane daily lives on Facebook, Plaxo and LinkedIn. The latter two, in particular, have become the bane of my existence.

4) The quality of writing continues to devolve with each passing year. I'm now routinely receiving missives from people holding fairly senior positions that are rife with spelling and grammatical mistakes.

5) There's nothing quite as satisfying as the insights gleaned from a work of non-fiction. I've been on a Malcolm Gladwell tear of late and find many of his observations incredibly relevant to work and life in general.

6) My TV viewing is now limited to two comedies and one drama series. That's it. I no longer go to see movies, since the first-run flicks are absolutely pathetic.

I'd be interested in reading what's become clear to you since we last met. Feel free to post away.