May 28

Three takes on two very different crises


May 28
In
a special Memorial Day edition of RepMan, I’ve asked my roving band of guest
bloggers to posit their collective POVs on two very different crises: the BP
nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico and Sarah, the Duchess of York (aka Fergie) and
her sleazy move to sell access to her ex-hubby, Prince Andrew. I hope you’ll
find their takes of interest, encourage you to post comments and wish one and
all a long, happy and healthy Memorial Day weekend.

Abby Schoffman
reporting from New York on BP’s Twitter nightmare

Just
in case BP doesn’t have enough to deal with right now, the digital world
decided to throw them something else to strategize about –
@BPGlobalPR. No, this isn’t the
company’s PR posse tweeting updates about the latest efforts in the top kill
efforts – you can find that over on
@BP_America’s
stream, the company’s legitimate account.

@BPGlobalPR,
on the other hand, is a humorous imposter filling the Twitterverse with a
different take on the situation. The fake account was started last week and
already has almost 50,000 more followers than the official BP account. Although
some of the tweets
are
a bit vulgar, the
majority of them offer some comic relief, in an “I can’t believe they just said
that” kind of way. But I suppose it’s only humorous if you realize it’s not
actually BP spouting out things like “A bird just stole my sandwich! You
deserve everything you get, nature!!! #bpcares.”

Many
people are mistaking the imposter account for BP’s real account – and they’re
getting pretty worked up about it. Having people think that a company is poking
fun at such a serious, self-created disaster with a satirical Twitter account
could create permanent brand damage. Unlike other cases of fraudulent Twitter
accounts, where they’ve been
taken down, BP is
letting it slide for now. According to a recent
AdAge article, BP is aware of the account
but realizes that people have the right to discuss their feelings about the
situation.

I
have mixed feeling about the account. I like that BP understands that people
are going to say whatever they want about the brand, whether BP likes it or
not. But if some people aren’t realizing it’s a joke, then maybe BP should step
in. That doesn’t mean they have to insist the account is taken down, but they need
to make it clear that the account isn’t affiliated with BP (although I’d argue
that it’s already pretty clear to the majority – or at least I’d hope so).

So,
is this a case of a company realizing that you can’t control everything in the
realm of social media or is it that they just don’t know how to manage a crisis
in the digital space?

Ann Barlow in San Francisco
says BP’s full-page ads are about as effective as its oil-spill containment

We’re
pinning a lot of hope on the top-kill solution, BP’s attempt to halt the
seemingly inexorable flow of oil. 
Meanwhile, BP’s reputation is plummeting about rapidly as the health of
Gulf-area wildlife – and so far the solutions for both have been equally effective.

For
instance, BP has taken out full-page ads in a number of major newspapers across
the country to talk about what it’s doing and where readers can go for more
information. It’s using the opportunity to reinforce its commitment to making
things better, being the good corporate citizen that it is.

Too
bad corporate ego, lawyers and an ability to rationalize almost anything will
prevent them from saying what we all need hear. That they screwed up.  They were arrogant. They were reckless. They
put the chance to make a little more money for shareholders and executives
ahead of the lives of the people, animals and plants across an enormous swath
of water and coastal land.

Unless
and until they can do that, I’d just as soon BP put its money into mopping up
the mess they made.  That’ll clean up
their reputation better than any ad can.
 

Of course, lucky for
the oil company as well as Exxon-Mobil and others that have wreaked 
havoc on the environment through shortcuts, people have short
memories, the media have an even shorter one, and BP has lots and lots of
lawyers. We’ll move on, BP will continue to make billions, and the Gulf Coast
will wonder why everyone forgot them. Maybe BP can take out full-page ads once
in awhile to remind us.

London’s Carl foster
on Fergie, the Royal Family’s version of an oil spill

No
two crises are ever the same, not least because every individual or organization
at the wrong end of a crisis has a different brand promise – the bigger the
brand, the harder the fall. Take the brand promise of Sarah, The Duchess of
York (to give her the official title). She is an aristocratic ex-royal; an
individual from whom you would expect the highest standards of behavior. Well,
it is exactly that expectation that makes a video of her accepting money from a
fake businessman to 'open doors' to her ex-husband, but still close friend,
Prince Andrew, the UK's Special Representative for International Trade and
Investment, all the more shocking. A football agent taking bribes? Who is
surprised? An ex-royal? Well, it's all terribly vulgar.

What
next for Fergie? Her PR people pulled their trusty crisis manual off the shelf
(and when you represent the Duchess of York it never gathers too much dust) and
started following the rules. Step one: Appear contrite, put out a statement
expressing regret and put your actions in context (she is broke). Step two:
Line up a high profile TV appearance, such as Oprah, to get your story out (at
least Oprah will be more effective for Fergie than full page newspaper ads are
for BP). Next you can expect her to lay low for quite sometime, then do some
staged appearances, then do some charity work, or in the case of Fergie, more
charity work.

Hopefully
the Duchess of York will be able to get over this reputation crisis and get
back to the point where she was respected as a businesswoman and admired for
her part in the most amicable divorce in Britain. A lot will depend on her PR
handlers from now on.

May 27

Nothing magical about Magic Kingdom’s financial scandal


May 27
Bonnie
Hoxie, a member of the Walt Disney Company's corporate media relations
department, was arrested yesterday and charged with selling early access to the
entertainment property's earnings reports. Ms. Hoxie was allegedly working with
a friend, Yonni Sebbag (whose surname says it all) to sell the 'insider'
information to hedge fund managers.

In
addition to splitting the money with her accomplice, Ms. Hoxie demanded he
supply her with such items as Stella McCartney shoes and a $700 Nieman-Marcus
handbag. I guess the Mickey Mouse hat, Little Mermaid flip-flops and Goofy ears
only go so far.

Disney
obviously has no control over its employees' conduct. But, when a company such
as BP or Disney places itself on a pedestal of environmental sensitivity or
purity, respectively, they take an even harder image hit when employees act
inappropriately.

Comics
will have a field day with Hoxie's moxie. Disney-edged material could include:

-
Did Hoxie's nose grow every time she told another lie?

-
Did Sebbag look in the mirror and ask, 'Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the
sleaziest of them of all?'

-
Was Hoxie Snow White to Sebbag's Dopey?

Poor
Walt Disney must be turning over in his grave. I'll bet he'd like to line up
Hoxie and Sebbag in front of those hunters who killed Bambi's mom.

The
Disney incident is a cautionary reputation tale. The feel-good, 'we do
everything right' mantras espoused by most Fortune 500 corporations can quickly
become a target for comics, pundits and bloggers like. So: note to the
Landor's, Siegal Gale's and other corporate identification firms that come up
with such slogans as 'Beyond petroleum.' Do some scenario playing first to see
if the tagline might provide an unhappy double entendre if things go South.

As
for Hoxie and Sebbag, I'll borrow the signature statement of Looney Tunes' character
Elmer Fudd and say, 'Th-Th-Th-That's all folks.' 

May 26

When it comes to hard-hitting, investigative reporting, the ad trades have no peer


May 26
I
love reading Advertising Age and Adweek. They not only tell me the latest,
greatest thinking in the 'other' marketing disciplines, but they aren't afraid
take off the gloves and slam inappropriate behavior by client and agency alike.

The
current Ad Age provides a great example. In a front page article, Ad Age goes
behind the scenes to report on Chevy's reprehensible treatment of their
erstwhile agency of record Publicis. Readers learn about incoming CMO Joel
Ewanick's refusal to meet or even speak with the account managers from
Publicis. He didn't even return their repeated e-mails and voice mails.
Instead, he shifted the entire Chevy brand's $600 million account to his good
friend, Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein. That's the sort of atrocious
client-side behavior that deserves to be outed.

The
Chevy saga is one of many examples of the ad trades not being afraid to tackle
misbehaving clients. Earlier this year, Ad Age warned its agency readers of
'serial' clients such as 1-800-FLOWERS, Quiznos and BMW who chew up and spit
out agencies every few months.

The
PR trades are just the opposite. They'll whack agencies for underperforming or
not delivering on anticipated results but seldom, if ever, go after poor client
behavior. As an example, PR Week once gave us a 'thumbs down' because the
editor at the time said I hadn't been as vocal an advocate for independent
agencies as the publication's editorial staff had expected. So, they publicly
slammed my agency for an apparent personal shortcoming.

The
Holmes Report, Bulldog and others are quick to jump on agency account wins and
losses (and love to send an e-mail to the effect, 'Hey, we just heard ABC
Widgets is putting your account up for review. Any comment?'). But, their
heart-warming profiles of CMOs, VPs of corporate communications and PR
directors read like 'The Lives of the Saints.'

It's
high time PR industry trades began publishing in-depth, investigative pieces
like the Ad Age/Chevy piece. I'm not sure why there's such a reluctance to do
so, but it results in readers only getting half of what's really happening. So,
note to Steve, Paul and others: provide a real service to your agency readers
and let us know about the Joel Ewanek's and the 1-800-FLOWERS of PR. Trust me,
there are enough horror stories to fill multiple editions. 

May 25

Simply the worst


May 25
As
faithful RepMan readers know all too well, New Jersey Transit is the absolute
bane of my existence. In many ways, the service is a microcosm of society
itself: each year things just keep getting worse.

This
week, NJT announced a 25 percent fare increase along with a simultaneous
reduction in train service. What other business could get away with that kind
of abuse? 'Ah, listen, Alex. You've been a valued client of ours for some time.
And, I know our service has been pretty horrific for the entire time period.
But, I wanted to give you a heads-up that we'll be increasing our monthly fee
by 25 percent. Oh, and by the way, we'll be doing a lot less within the
increased budget. Have a great day.'

NJT
justified the lose-lose scenario as a result of the economy. Trust me, NJT
service has always been abysmal, regardless of the economy. That's why I'm once
again updating my suggested tagline for America's most horrendous business.

Forget
about '….Just train bad' and '….Expect less.' NJT should now lay claim to
being '…Simply the worst.'

The
beauty of 'Simply the worst' is its flexibility and authenticity. The
conductors' rude behavior is simply the worst. On-time performance? Simply the
worst. And, the lavatories? Simply the worst. The new tagline is 100 percent
authentic, too. How many other people, places or things can claim the same?

In
fact, here's my Top 10 list of the world's worst people, places or things
:

10)
Worst terrorist: The Times Square buffoon

9)
Worst religion: Catholicism

8)
Worst sports franchise: NY Mets

7)
Worst president: 'W'

6)
Worst Super Bowl host city: Jacksonville (that's a different blog for a
different day)

5)
Worst former client: Think purple

4)
Worst boss: My Brouillard CEO

3)
Worst music: Country & western

2)
Worst singer: Barry Manilow

1)
Worst public transit system in the known universe: NJT

Do
you agree with my Top 10 list? Send me your thoughts. What did I miss? 

May 24

The best team-building exercise known to man

I've
been through all the typical team-building exercises on the market, dating back
to the prototypical Stephen Covey stuff of the early 1990s. Some of it works.
Some is a mere band-aid (think: Kaisan).


May 24
Believe
it or not, stand-up comedy is the real deal. I saw its potent, team-building
effect once again this weekend at the PRSA Counselors Academy's Spring
Conference
.

Stand-up
comedian
Clayton Fletcher, led the workshop and had
his work cut out. His session was scheduled for 8am on Sunday morning (and,
counselors, if nothing else, love to party). So, the group was subdued,
skeptical and, in some cases, a tad out of sorts from the previous night's
extra-curricular activities. 

A
group of 100 or so PR executives shuffled into Asheville's Grove Park Inn's
main banquet room, stuffed their mouths with breakfast and listened as Clayton
explained why comedy is a powerful tool that dramatically enriches a PR firm's workplace culture
and how it makes all the difference in the world in prospect and client
meetings. The silence was deafening
.

After
laying the groundwork, Clayton then asked for a few volunteers to 'perform' a
few minutes of their own material. I held my breath. Then, Janet Tyler of
Airfoil raised her hand, strode to the stage and absolutely killed (as we
comedians like to say). With the ice having been broken, one after another senior
executive dashed to the front of the room to perform. And the audience just
loved it. They pulled really hard for one another, loved 'learning' new things
about the their peers and finally 'got' the connection between comedy and
establishing rapport with an audience and fostering team building within a
group. It was a true Anne Sullivan/Helen Keller 'ah ha' moment.

When
the hour-long session concluded, the crowd roared its approval, rushed the
podium to ask Clayton if he could run a similar session for their firms and
congratulated one another for their hysterical bits.

I
was beyond happy. I know the power of comedy in business and have made sure
most Peppercom employees have not only been trained, but that some have
actually performed professionally on stage. And, I know it's helped our
workplace culture.

Despite
my proselytizing, however, I've been met with blank stares when I speak about
comedy to other agency owners. Big firms won't do it, believing their in-house
'camps' or 'universities' provide all the presentation skills and team building
necessary. And, smaller firms see it as a cost item they simply can't afford in
this economy.

The
truth is, stand-up comedy training is a highly-effective, seldom-used training
tool that will pay dividends for years to come. But, I'm fine with other firms
not embracing it. Because, all things being equal, when a prospective client or
employee has to decide a firm with whom to partner, she'll choose the group
that made her smile. And, I'll be laughing all the way to the bank.

May 20

Looks like CEOs would pick Clayton Christianson over Arthur W. Page any day of the week


Innovators
A
just released survey of 1,500 CEOs by the IBM Institute for Business Value
shows an overwhelming percentage want one thing from their direct reports:
creativity. Chief executives want innovative thinkers such as Clayton
Christianson, who rocketed to business rock star status with his book, 'The Innovator's Dilemma.'

Written
in the dotcom heyday and intended to educate 'brick-and-mortar' CEOs how to
disrupt their business models before some upstart 'click-and-mortar' did it to
them, 'The Innovator's Dilemma' seems to embody exactly what today's CEO wants.

Why?
Because, according to the IBM survey, chief executives want to blow up the
status quo. They want fresh thinking and they want to end organizational
paralysis. It's obvious their desire coincides with a market upturn.

And,
yet I find the results discouraging. Why? Because, despite all the moral and
ethical lapses we've seen of late from the likes of BP, Toyota, Goldman Sachs
and others, honesty and transparency didn't even register on the CEO's agenda.

That's
a shame for public relations executives in general and the Arthur W. Page
Society in particular. We, as professionals, have been patting ourselves on the
back for earning a seat at the C-suite table convincing ourselves that more and
more enlightened CEOs have grasped the critical need for a great image and
reputation. And, The Page Society's raison d'etre is business ethics.

Well,
guess what? The CEOs in the IBM survey still think the same way their
predecessors did. For CEOs, it's all about top and bottom-line growth,
delivering shareholder value and pleasing the Street. Period.

The
problem with 'creativity at all costs' is that it encourages a business culture
where results count more than doing the right thing. Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling
were all about creativity and innovation. So, too, was Bernie Madoff.

I
feel for the late Arthur W. Page and the Page Society itself (of which I'm a
proud member). This survey is a sobering reminder that the average chief
executive is still all about one thing and one thing only: results.

Happily, there are exceptions. I
guess they just decided to skip taking the IBM survey.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the
idea behind this post. 

May 19

R-E-S-P-E-C-T


Blackberry  
I'm dedicating Aretha Franklin's 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T" to 
some ADD-ravaged marketing folks at a leading distilled spirits maker. They’d recently invited us to pitch their business despite the fact we possessed little, if any, 'liquor' experience. Naturally, once we were in the midst of the presentation, the lead marketer asked about our creds and, after listening to two or three brief case studies, sighed and asked: 'That's all?'

 

But, disrespecting our lack of industry experience didn't prompt today's blog. It was something far more pernicious. The entire team used their BlackBerries throughout our presentation. 

 

I kid you not when I say that each, and every, member of the seven-person team consistently sent and received e-mails on their PDAs as we walked through our pitch. It was unbelievably rude.

 

But, according to research conducted by Christine Pearson, a professor of international business at The Thunderbird School of Global Management, this sort of boorish boardroom behavior has become par for the course.

 

Pearson says increased incivility in business is a direct result of the PDA craze. Why? Because we believe simultaneously attending a meeting and multitasking on a Blackberry increases our efficiency. Neuroscientists say it produces the exact opposite effect: dividing our attention between competing stimuli instead of handling tasks one at a time actually makes us less productive.

 

The folks from this leading spirits company are by no means alone in their multitasking boorishness. Peppercom has two senior executives who are notorious for their use of BBs during our weekly management meetings. I've even tried to hide one of the offender's PDA in the hope that he'd cease and desist. Alas, no such luck.

 

ize="2">Prospective clients are more insensitive than ever to an agency's time and resources. It's one thing to demand a proposal overnight, select the best ideas and then never announce a winning agency. But, it's even worse to publicly humiliate a firm by paying more attention to a BlackBerry than to a presenter. So, note to this particular marketing team: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.

May 18

“Hey, honey, forget that weekend in Cape Cod. Let’s take the kids to Alabama!”

I can’t imagine a better tourist destination right now than the pristine beaches of Alabama.
Oil-spill-beach420-420x0 Sure, downtown Baghdad has some great restaurants. And, there’s always the possibility of catching a glimpse of Osama bin Laden in Karachi, Pakistan, but why hassle with foreign intrigue when the Gulf Coast beckons? 

That’s why I’m supporting the Alabama Tourism Department’s brand new, $1.5MM marketing campaign to assure tourists the state’s beaches are clean and open.

I can just imagine the campaign slogans:

-    ‘That’s not oil, silly. Someone just spilled her bottle of sunscreen in the water’
-    ‘Just because our fish are floating face down doesn’t mean they aren’t happy’
-    ‘Alabama’s oil slick waters: the perfect antidote for your arthritic joints’

And, just imagine the added drama of, say, zig-zagging your jet ski in between large oil patches! I could even see ESPN2 covering it as a new type of extreme sport. “Ed, our next contestant is Bunny from La Grange, Illinois. She’ll be attempting to beat Sam from Bowling Green’s time of 2:23 to, and from, what’s left of that oil rig out there on the horizon. And, keep in mind, there must be thousands of dead fish and birds littering her way. This will be a real test indeed. And, the beach crowd is just loving it. Those who haven’t been overcome by the putrid smells are standing and chanting, ‘Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!’”

As for the overall campaign’s theme song? What else but Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water.’

The late P.T. Barnum was credited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But, I have to believe even the most intellectually challenged vacationer in America will be hard pressed to visit Alabama’s beaches in the next few weeks or so. That is, unless BP pulls a real marketing coup and offers to underwrite everyone’s vacation costs. “Hey, Honey, guess what? Those nice people at BP say they’ll pay us three dollars for every one we spend on vacation in Alabama. So what if we develop black lung disease? Think of what this will do for our retirement account.”

May 17

Why am I not surprised?


Mets_logo
However anemic their
offense, defense and pitching may be, the New York Mets do lead the major
leagues in one key category: the single steepest decline in season-to-season,
per game attendance. And I, for one, am not in the least
bit surprised.

On average, the Mets
attract no fewer than 6,852 less fans per game than last season. That's enough
to populate a major city in Wyoming or South Dakota. And, I'm proud to say I am
one of those 6,852.

I've decided that, despite
a brand new field and a team that, for once, actually hustles, I will not set
foot in CitiField. In fact, I will not park my frame in a Mets seat until Omar
Minaya is thrown out for impersonating a general manager.

Minaya has done to the
Mets what the management teams of Toyota, BP and Bear Stearns did to those
once-proud institutions. In a period of just four years, Minaya has taken a
World Series caliber team and slowly, but, surely, decimated it. He's let great
free agent talent slip away while signing such $18 million losers such as Ollie
Perez. He's watched his pitching corps deteriorate season after season while
arch rivals like the Phillies and Yankees enrichen their respective staffs.
He's clung to overpaid and oft-injured malcontents such as Beltran, Reyes and
Wright instead of trading one or all for some real major leaguers.

The Mets are a team in
tatters. And, as long as Omar Minaya remains at the helm, I'll stand fast with
my fellow 6,852 disenchanted brethren and boycott the ballpark.

It was in 1973 that legendary Mets reliever Tug McGraw rallied his team
and Mets fans alike with his 'Ya gotta believe!' battle cry. I'll begin
believing again when a new general manager takes the helm.

May 14

It’s time to pull the plug on the APR


May 14
It's
great to see that an ad hoc committee of industry heavyweights within the
Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has finally stepped up to the plate.
People like Richard Edelman, Deb Radman and Art Stevens (owner of the most
finely-chiseled biceps in the business) have petitioned the organization's
21,000 members to drop the APR accreditation as a prerequisite for leadership
within the trade group. Up until now, one could not hold
a PRSA leadership position without the ersatz tag.

That's
great. But, why stop with just the leadership proviso? I'd dump the APR
accreditation completely. It's irrelevant and, as I wrote in a previous blog entry,
completely useless.

Clients
don't care whether an agency's staff has earned the accreditation. Most agency
owners I know don't care if their people have passed the bogus, half-day
SAT-type test. Yet the PRSA still requires board members to possess it before
they can assume office? Talk about being out of touch with reality.

There
never was, and never will be, any way our industry can create an examination
equivalent to one's passing the bar in law and earning an Esq., or receiving an
M.D. in medicine.

PR
industry credentials are earned in the school of hard knocks. Our best and
brightest learn and excel by doing, not by answering multiple choice questions
testing one's response to hypothetical scenarios.

The
PRSA needs to face facts and embrace the future. Let's open up the leadership
ranks to our industry's best (most of who don't have a comma and three letters
following their name on a business card). And, let's lose the acronym once and
for all.

An
APR and $11 will get one across the Verrazano Bridge and nothing more.