Oct 28

Six Other Reasons PR Firms Get Fired

Lucy Siegel of Bridge Global Strategies recently authored a blog entitled, 'Six Reasons PR firms Get  Fired.'  As someone who's been a journalist, a corporate communications manager and a PR agency manager, Lucy knows her stuff.

I agree with each and every one of her points. But, I'd add six other reasons PR firms get fired:
Fortune-cookie-youre-fired-message
1) There's a new sheriff in town. We've won business when a former client becomes the new top dog at an organization and brings us along. We've also been shown the door when a new head of corporate communications wants her own PR firm. It happens all the time.
2) The client falls in love with someone else. The CEO of one large agency is absolutely nonpareil in his ability to wine and dine other agency's clients. He's taken a big one away from us in the past and has quite the reputation for doing the same thing to just about everyone else.
3) Bait-and-switch. Big agencies still front load their new business pitches with superstars from the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations who promise to open doors. Then, when the prospect hires the agency, a bunch of 23-year-old junior account executives show up.
4) Account staff turnover. Every agency loses people, but some (such as the one run by the wine-and-dine guy mentioned above) are revolving doors. Clients hate having to re-train new account managers and fire agencies as a result.
5) Different offices or practice groups fighting over who owns the client relationship. This is another reason big agencies lose clients. I remember witnessing first-hand a major power struggle within Hill & Knowlton between my boss and the head of another practice to see who would own the new P&G client. P&G hated the internecine warfare and fired us.
6) Agencies become newsmakers. Clients do not like seeing their agencies making negative news. So, when H&K was raked over the coals in the early 1990s for manufacturing news for the government of Kuwait, there was a wholesale client defection. Ketchum and Edelman have also taken very public bruising for past misdeeds. And, McGarryBowen was just identified as one of the sources of leaks that enabled environmental activist groups to hijack client Chevron's 'We agree' campaign. That cannot be sitting well at Chevron HQs right now.

What have Ms Siegel and I missed? Why else do PR firms get fired? Do blogs about getting fired cause firings? I sure hope not.

Oct 27

“We are sorry the guy died, but what can we do?”

United Arab Emirates Swimming Association executive director Ayman Saad was direct and to the Products_image2-2660-d point when asked to comment about the death of 26-year-old American swimmer Fran Crippen this past weekend. He sighed and said (Saad?), “We are sorry the guy died, but what can we do?” What can one do? The answer is: a whole helluva lot more than the UAE Swimming Association apparently did.

Crippen was competing in a 10 kilometer open water race in the UAE and, according to a top official with FINA, an international organization governing swimming, likely died from overexertion. The ever-sympathetic Saad, added: “This guy was tired and he pushed himself a lot.” Oh. 

Other swimmers disagreed with Saad’s moronic observations. The winner, Thomas Lurz, said it was far too hot to even hold the competition. "The water was amazingly hot. There were many swimmers who had serious problems in the water,’ said Lurz. Several swimmers complained of dehydration and disorientation after swimming in the warm water and three were taken to the hospital. The UAE Swimming Association said the water was 84 degrees at the start of the race. Many other swimmers have said the water temperature was more like 90 degrees! Man, that’s bathtub hot.

Two reactions:

-      I’m not a competitive swimmer, but have competed in many long distance running events where the same exact thing happened. In April of this year, for example, I ran the Long Branch Half Marathon in 90 degree temperatures. More than 30 runners collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital. I stopped four or five times during the run and took a full month to recover from the severe dehydration. Too many race officials such as the ones in the UAE and Long Branch turn a blind eye when it comes to protecting the safety of athletes. They’re more concerned with getting the race started on time and pleasing the sponsors.

-      Saad’s comments have to rank on my all-time top 10 list of stupid remarks. Others would include:

  • “I’m not a witch,” Christine O’Donnell, Delaware Tea Party candidate and erstwhile witch.
  • “We seem to have a major malfunction,” NASA official witnessing the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding in mid flight.
  • “Mission accomplished,” President George W. Bush, declaring the war in Iraq won in 2004.
  • “The Gulf of Mexico is a big ocean,” Tony Heyward, erstwhile CEO of BP, immediately after the massive oil spill had occurred.
  • “I did not have sex with that woman,” President William Jefferson Clinton.

Help me here, Repman readers. What are some other all-time horrific public comments? Let’s create a list and ask Jack O’Dwyer, Paul Holmes or Erica Iacono to publish it. Hey, if we go about this the right way it could become an annual ‘Repman and friends Top 10 most stupid statements of the year’ kind of thing. Alternatively, we could give credit where credit is due and name our list, ‘The Ayman Saad Most Moronic Comments of the Year.’ What better way to pay tribute to that ass?’

So, send me your thoughts. Assuming I collect 10 or more, I’ll issue a press release and ask our crack agency publicity team to pitch it to one of the PR industry trades. I can’t think of a better way to ‘out’ Saad while paying tribute to the late Mr. Crippen.

A tip o' RepMan's the mountain climbing hat to The Danderoo for this suggestion.

Oct 26

A Yankees’ Postmortem

Today's guest blog is authored by Peppercom receptionist, raconteur and all-around good guy, Ray Carroll.

The World Series matchup has been set. And, while the average Yankees fans is mourning the team’s unexpected playoff exit, many are somewhat oblivious to three much larger loses.  This past season, a tyrannical boss, a legendary stadium voice, and an unofficial team mascot all relocated to the field of dreams in the sky.  Revered by many (and, in the boss’s case, despised by even more), the trio’s starkly contrasting personalities made each a Big Apple institution. 

Temporarily curbing my preference for the Mets’ blue and orange, and as a lifelong fan of our national pastime and the city itself, I feel compelled to pay homage and commemorate the lives of the ‘Pinstripe Three’.

The first is, of course, George Michael Steinbrenner III. As everyone knows, ‘the boss’ was a maniacal owner and domineering sports figure whose antics will never be duplicated.  His intensity and single-minded focus on winning resulted in adoration and hatred alike.  A curt and shrewd businessman, GMS was who he was. He held no punches even as his image plummeted.

GSM pic 1I’m interested to see if his surviving family members (most notably, son, Hank) can extend the winning tradition that George had returned to the franchise (note: prior to the boss becoming owner, the Yankees had languished for many years as an also-ran).  I give the Texas Rangers credit for superior hitting and outplaying the Yank in their just-concluded American League Championship Series. But, after witnessing owner Nolan Ryan’s laughter as his Rangers catapulted towards victory in the 9th inning of Game 4, I wondered how GMS would have reacted. One thing’s for sure. It wouldn’t have been pretty.

GSM pic 2 Praised and loathed by fans, George’s achievements are undeniable. His distinguished vision for success boasts seven World Series rings and the creation of Yankee Global Enterprises, LLC.  By departing the scene in 2010, the cagey businessman neatly dodged some serious estate taxes, saving his family one-half billion dollars.

The second great Yankees loss this past year came with the passing of Bob Sheppard. Sheppard was the orator’s orator who emulated the voice of god and exemplified 

1BobSheppard elegance from a century past.  For five-plus decades, he’d been the unforgettable stadium voice for the Yankees & New York’s football Giants alike (note: the Giants had played all of their home games at Yankee Stadium prior to the creation of Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands of New Jersey). Sheppard’s pronunciation was perfect and his elocution expressed pure class.   

 In fact, opposing players eagerly anticipated hearing their names introduced with Sheppard’s remarkable diction.  In an interview, Sheppard said he focused on the Three C’s: “clear, concise, and correct” – an outlook shared with PR.   Watch Bob remark on his time-honored career here.

Last, but certainly , not least, is Freddy Schuman (a.k.a. Freddy Sez). Unlike Steinbrenner or Sheppard, Schuman was a humble man who graced Yankees home games with a witty sign, spoon and shamrock clad pan.  His moniker derived from the signs he created for each and every game.  Freddy was a fixture at the stadium, and brought a great deal of joy to the other faithful in the stands.  As a matter of fact, Freddy rarely, if ever, missed a game. As sure as the Yanks’ were outfitted in pinstripes, so, too, was Freddy with his paraphernalia.

1FreddySez For two decades, Freddy was not only seen at every home game and championship parade, but also as an unofficial ambassador at the St. Patrick’s Day Parades (see: House of Pain’s Jump Around video – 3:34 mark). He also cheered local university basketball games and even starred in Nike commercial (here at 0:52 mark).  Freddy Sez was a living asset to the stadium. His memory was honored prior to ALCS Game 3, and his name and image illuminated on the center field scoreboard. 

The Yankees will pursue their 28th championship next season. But, they’ll have to do so without “The Boss”, “the Voice”, and “Freddy Sez”. For me, though, they’ll always live on as three of the New York’s sports scene’s most memorable and charismatic characters.

I’m confident the Yankees will be in contention next season, but will a loss of non-athletic influencers affect their team culture?  Will they absorb the multiple losses or begin a long downward spiral of soul searching?  What are your thoughts?  How do you think Steinbrenner, Sheppard and Freddy Sez stack up against some of New York’s other legendary sports figures of past eras?

 

Oct 25

Name any business that not only rejects the majority of its prospective customers, but also boasts about doing so

That was the question posed by Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun Thursday at a 14_seal meeting of the University's "Corporation", a group of 50 or so alumni and benefactors that I'm proud to say I've joined.

The answer to President Aoun's provocative question is colleges and universities. He spoke specifically about N.U. which, under his guidance the past four years, has skyrocketed its way up the most important national rankings, attracted some of the world's most gifted academics and become a real player among the elite universities. Indeed, of the nearly 38,000 applicants received this past year, Northeastern rejected nearly two-thirds!

But, Northeastern isn't content to rest on its laurels. The President advised us of some serious global competition from China, Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom that's keeping him up at night. The latter two, deprived of government funding for higher education, have become extremely aggressive in their marketing. The former two, supported by government monies, are fast becoming major factors in higher education. China, said Aoun, has doubled its number of colleges and universities in just 10 years (and the average university is the same size as the city of Boston!). Korea, he said, is making a major push at recruiting international students and is competing with our best schools for the very same talent pool.

Northeastern has a distinct competitive advantage over virtually every other college and university in the world. It's called 'Co-op' and stands for cooperative education. It's a somewhat clumsy phrase to describe THE perfect blend of classroom and real world experience. N.U. pioneered co-op more than 100 years ago and has perfected the model, creating deep and long-lasting relationships with such major global employers as General Electric (no school has more alumni at GE than N.U.). As a result, the vast majority of Northeastern's graduates land jobs. In fact, the school placed no fewer than 83 percent of its June graduates in the midst of the worst recession in 80 years. Compare that number with some state and small liberal arts schools that struggle to place 30 percent of their graduating classes (and are just now getting around to formalizing their intern programs).

N.U.'s success is due, in part, to Aoun's contrarian approach. While other schools were retrenching, Northeastern was investing and expanding. Since 2006, it's hired no fewer than 204 new faculty and improved a campus that is now rated, along with Harvard, as Boston's greenest (a huge factor in attracting the best and brightest Millennials, BTW).

Speaking of the best and brightest, Northeastern is making its acceptance standards even more rigorous. The majority of incoming freshman graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes and N.U. now boasts more national merit scholars than ever before.

It's nice to see a real American education success story. It's even nicer to be playing a role in helping President Aoun and his staff take the school to even greater heights.

That said, Steve Cody, Northeastern University class of 1977, wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of ever being accepted to the world class institution that is the N.U. of today.

Oct 22

Some stunts should never see the light of day

Buried_aliveIn this time compressed, ADD-addled, 24×7 news cycle world of ours, marketers are going to ever  greater extremes to break through the clutter.

Some, like the Old Spice campaign, are remarkably smart and successful. Others, though, such as the stunt I'm about to relate are downright dangerous, if not completely harebrained.

So, to publicize the screen debut of a new Ryan Reynolds' thriller called “Buried”, the Alamo Drafthouse theatre chain came up with an unbelievable stunt. They found four local Texas women who agreed to be blindfolded, driven in silence to a burial site 30 minutes away from Austin's 'Fantastic Fest' and, get this, be interred in wooden caskets, lowered into the ground and have shovelfuls of dirt dumped on top of them. The specially-equipped caskets contained flat screen monitors attached to the coffin roof that enabled the women to view the movie.

I wonder if popcorn and a supersized Coke with flexible straw were provided as well?

Wow. That is just so, so wrong. Suppose one of the women just freaked out, had a major panic attack or, god forbid, suffered a fatal heart attack? I'm all for smart, guerilla marketing, but this stunt deserves a special place in hell.

At my firm, we're long on strategy and short on stunts. We'll do them. But only if they leverage a client's strategy and deliver measurable results.

And, while we've never produced anything that could cause potential bodily harm, we have had our share of clunkers. Quite a few years back, we launched an 'innovation tour' of college campuses to underscore one client's commitment to innovative thinking. We constructed huge white boards, took them to college campuses and invited students to write down any and all ideas for making America more innovative. Smart, no?

We received some great ideas from the college kids. But, we also got some unbelievably nasty, X-rated comments about the client and the client's CEO that our team had to quickly delete. All in all, it turned out to be a terrific learning lesson about the unpredictability of stunts.

Burying four people alive may generate some buzz for the movie (hey, I wrote about it), but at what cost? I know nothing about the director or his movie, but I've taken an immediate, visceral dislike for both. And, in my book, that's the antithesis of smart marketing. Why alienate a potential audience with a tactic that may resonate with a few core constituents?

Bury the buried alive stunt, Mr. Reynolds.

Oct 21

I’d rename it ‘The Dirty Laundry Report’

DELANEY-REPORTjpgThe Delaney Report has been covering the advertising and media worlds for eons. It's the  prototypical gossip sheet that's jam-packed with the inside scoop on:

- Accounts that might be in play
- Executives who are screwing up
- Agencies that are losing people in droves. 

It should really be called The Dirty Laundry Report.

Sure, TDR provides some great one-on-one interviews with CEOs and CMOS and is a MUST for any agency's rainmaker, but the publication's real essence resides in its snarkiness. It revels in sleaze and scandal, while embracing their ugly cousins, failure and fear.

Every three months, for example, the newsletter hands out awards to the best and worst performers of the previous quarters. Read what it has to say about some of last quarter's worsts:

- “Worst Marketer: William Weldon, chairman/CEO of Johnson & Johnson. For his lackadaisical attitude and approach in handling the company's product recall embarrassment. For allowing the reputation of a company long known for its high standards of ethical business policies to suffer. For a lack of tough managerial decision making when it was most needed. For letting employees lose faith in their employer.” Wow. That is just brutal. I'm surprised Weldon wasn't accused of treason as well.

- 'Worst Advertising Agency. Arnold Worldwide. For failing to solve the client defection problem as computer seller Dell Inc. and beverage marketer Dr. Pepper Snapple Group recently pull ad assignments from the agency. For allowing clients MetLife and Accenture to go into review. For inconsistent creative. Blame falls on the agency's chairman/CEO Hamish McLennan, creative boss Tony Granger.' Phew! How'd you like to be an Arnold employee and have to deal with that sort of mudslinging? Imagine what Arnold's clients must think? And the 'award' certainly won't be listed on either McLennan's or Granger's CV.

- “Worst Publication. Monthly magazine Reader's Digest. For inconsistent editorial that changes with the editor-in-chief of the moment. For a poor performance on the ad-page front and a continued plunge in circulation. Blame falls on Mart Berner, the CEO of the magazine's parent Reader's Digest Association.” I want to go to the nearest newsstand and pick up a copy. And, if I were an aspiring journalist or space salesman, I'd be e-mailing my resume as we speak. Not!

And, therein lies my fundamental issue with TDR. They don't just report news. They hurt people's careers and damage the image and reputation of all sorts of organizations in the name of journalism. I'm sure they see themselves as performing a valuable reader service, but I see their product as mean spirited and vindictive.

I majored in journalism in college, held jobs in three different newsrooms and had an offer to work full time at CBS Radio. I wanted no part of it. I couldn't take the non-stop negative news cycle or the jaded cynicism of reporters. And, I didn't enjoy reporting on someone else's misery and misfortune.

I've been known to take a shot or two at a misbehaving former client or prospect, but I would never purposely hurt someone's image and livelihood (and do it 48 times each and every year, thank you very much).

In my book, airing someone else's dirty laundry is akin to playing dirty pool. I wonder how TDR would fare if someone turned the investigative spotlight on them? More to the point, I wonder how they'd like it?

Oct 20

The ‘Other’ Big C

I'm in the midst of flipping through Jon Stewart's laugh out loud coffee table book, Earth. It's   TMCQuentinMeaseCroppedRGB written for aliens who have stumbled across planet earth long after we humans have annihilated ourselves. In it, Stewart provides his P.O.V. on the who, what, when, where, why and how humanity got itself into the mess that is life in the year 2010.

As is the case with all of Stewart's humor, the text is decidedly tongue-in-cheek. One section, entitled ‘The Phases of Man’ is both hilarious and insightful.

The middle-age section naturally hit home with me. It features a photograph of a portly, balding middle-aged guy rocking a Hawaiian shirt, mandals, a couple of tats and an earring. Various arrows point to the man's anatomy and contain captions such as this one about his visible chest hair, “Men of a certain age were eager to show the world not all of their hairlines were receding.” Another arrow pointing to the man's sagging chest reads, “Decreased metabolism manifested itself in the form of love handles, spare tires, saddle bags, walrus knees, beluga back and manteats.”

Stewart describes middle age as the period of time between 45 and 60 (Phew! I still qualify). He then goes on to say that middle age varied greatly due to changing life expectancies. “For instance,” he writes, “victims of midlife crisis during the Dark Ages would comfort themselves with the thought that 20 is the new 16.”

Tuesday's New York Times Science section neatly complemented Stewart's wisdom on middle age with an in-depth analysis of how and why centenarians make it to 100 years of age and beyond. There are now 96,548 humans 100 years of age, or older (there were only 38,300 in 1990). That's enough oldsters to fill the Rose Bowl! Of course, they'd fall asleep before halftime, but still…

According to the article, which cites findings of a New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, there's a direct link between longevity and people who are extroverts, have a healthy dose of self-esteem and strong ties to family and community (note: two out of three ain't bad). It also reports on a University of Pittsburgh study that followed 97,000 women for eight years and said those 'deemed optimistic' were significantly less likely to die from heart disease than were pessimistic women, which the study described as “cynically hostile.” (Note: I've had more than one cynically hostile client over the years). Pessimists were also more likely to be overweight, smoke cigarettes and avoid exercise.

Here's the kicker, though. A Swedish study of identical twins separated at birth and reared apart concluded that only about 20 to 30 percent of longevity is genetically determined. That's huge. That means we can play a major role in determining how long we live and whether we can make it to the 'other’ Big C.

My game plan to reach 100 is two-fold:

- Challenge my body with intense physical exercise such as this past weekend's rock climbing in New Hampshire  , the Tour de Pink charity ride and other seemingly nonsensical middle-age pursuits.
- Challenge my mind with daily blogs, bi-monthly podcasts, performing stand-up comedy and trying to devise new service offerings for Peppercom. I find battling with Ed also keeps my mind fresh. I may die before this blog is even posted, but I've got a ‘Big C Plan’ that I'm implementing. What about you? Are you thinking of making it to the other Big C? If so, share your game plan. Lifelong learning is another key ingredient in the lives of centenarians portrayed in the Times article. And, I'm all ears (minus the eDSCN4689arring, of course).IMAG0066 (2)

Oct 19

Fool me twice, shame on me

As a follow-up to last week’s blog about crisis prospects who disappeared after soliciting our Charlie-brown ideas, here’s one about an equally sinister strain I call the repeat prospect (Latin: devious repeatus prospectus).

This variety makes initial contact, spins one’s wheels, leads one on and then selects another firm only to surface years later with the very same siren call.

And, yes, it is akin to a siren call when an erstwhile prospect calls you out of the blue, tells you how highly they thought of you the last time around and would really love to reengage. It’s just like the guy who, having had his heart broken once before, agrees to hook up with the love of his life, knowing full well she’ll probably burn him once again. Sometimes, just like men and women I know, some public relations firms simply can’t resist the temptation to give it another go (especially in a recession).

So, we did give it another go. Twice, in fact. And, in both cases, we were badly burned for a second time.

The first repeat prospect was a financial services firm that had actually retained us for a few weeks several years back, but then decided to halt the program, open it up for a competitive bid and ended up returning to its previous agency! The drama played out like a subplot in “All My Children.”

Then, like a bolt of lightning, they re-appeared this Spring when things were slow and we were prowling for new business. Sure enough, the repeat prospect wooed us with all sorts of superlatives about our thinking and creativity, and implored us to pitch her ‘two’ separate accounts that, in total, would bill $30k per month. So, knowing full well this woman had burned us once before, we pulled together a presentation, arranged a videoconference and, sure enough, received absolutely no response. When I finally pinged the woman after weeks and weeks of waiting, she said they’d decided to go in another direction.

The second heartbreaker was a law firm that really put us through the ringer three years ago. This one not only demanded a full creative pitch, but an on-site presentation requiring out-of-pocket travel expenses. They left us hanging for weeks before finally telling us that, “We were really looking for a firm in our headquarters town of Duluth, but thanks anyway.” So, when these guys re-surfaced, the self-defense system was at DefCon 5.

Just like the financial services firm, though, the law firm types waxed poetic about our prowess, and even called me a “rock star.” (Note: Flattery will get you everywhere with this blogger.) Still, the whole “ …ya gotta be in Duluth” thing made it a non-starter and we told them so. “Not to worry,” said the lead prospect. “We’ve learned our lesson. Please do us the favor of speaking with our lead partners." So, being the gullible, business hungry agency we were at that moment in time, we pursued the account. We once again subjected ourselves to a videoconference presentation and absorbed the out-of-pocket costs for a trip to the hinterlands. And, sure as rain (or snow, since we’re talking about Duluth after all), nothing happened.

But, you know what? I don’t blame either prospect. It’s my fault for falling for the same line twice. The ‘woman of my dreams’ had re-engaged years after breaking my heart and, like a chump, I convinced myself that, ‘This time would be different.’

Whoever said, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me’ must have pitched these two organizations. Or, maybe some femme fatale suckered him into a second go-round only to once again lay him low? Whatever the case, I’m going to start following George W. Bush’s savvy, advice. Once when delivering a speech, W. decided to quote the line, but mucked it up badly and said, "Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… (long period of silence)… you can't get fooled again."

I hear you, W. I hear you.

 

 

Oct 18

Wipe the Crumbs Off Your Face or Admit You Ate the Cookie

Today's guest post is by Emily Simmons, a graduate student in communications at the College of Charleston.

He’s famously known as the SEC basketball coach who painted his chest orange in support of the Lady Vols and the first head coach to lead the Volunteers to a #1 national ranking.  Bruce Pearl Ncaa06_mp_t607 led his team into the Elite 8 during the 2010 Men’s NCAA Tournament, the only time in the university’s history.  Now he is the man barely holding on to his job and what’s left of his pride. 

On Sept. 10, Pearl spoke the words that an 'Orange Nation' hoped were not true.  He not only violated recruitment violations, but he lied to NCAA officials during interviews in June.  Although Pearl doesn’t directly admit lying to authorities, he describes his violations as “misleading information.” 

According to the NCAA, Pearl exceeded regulations set for the amount of phone calls coaching staff was allowed to make to recruits.  He is also accused of allowing recruits and their families to extend visits over the 48 hours allotted to a recruit, with each visit being paid for by University of Tennessee’s Athletic Department.  Following his June meeting with NCAA investigators, Pearl reportedly met with UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton to fess up.  Why then was it not until September that he came clean to the public?

The old saying that a picture speaks a thousand words may be the reason why he kept his mouth shut for a few months.  The NCAA obtained a photo of three prospective recruits in Pearl’s home, catching him with his hand in the cookie jar.  NCAA regulations state that high school juniors are not allowed contact with coaching staff off campus.  Following the photo leak, the coach held a press conference during which he shed a few dry tears and choked over his words while apologizing to his family, the NCAA, his staff, Tennessee fans and of course, his players and recruits.  He admitted to violating NCAA regulations and misleading authorities during their investigation.  But, did he really admit that he was the one who stole the cookie?

He confesses that while he blatantly disregarded national rules, he was only sorry for lying about them afterwards.  Pearl vows to cooperate fully during the continuation of the investigation, but he and his staff have failed to answer any further questions from the media.  While he claims he “learned it’s not ok to tell the truth most of the time, it’s ok to tell the truth all the time,” his lack of transparency during this investigation leaves fans and professionals following the case wondering whether one apology is enough.  Does Pearl need more open communication to stop his fall from grace?

With preparations for the 2011 recruiting season well underway, the UT coach and his staff will have little time to convince these recruits that the Orange Nation is the place for them due to UT’s self-imposed sanctions as corrective action following their violations.  Tennessee has reduced the number of days allotted to recruit from 130 to 104 days.  Official recruit visits will be limited to eight days rather than 12, and it can be certain that Pearl will only allow recruits to stay for their given 48 hours.  The head coach was suspended from recruiting calls for nine days, and his Associate Head Coach Tony Jones will not be charging long-distance bills for the next three months.  In addition, he and his staff have received pay cuts and retention checks have been delayed for three years.

While the self-imposed sanctions are clearly an effort to lighten NCAA-imposed sanctions, it’s also a tactic that many are replicating in their own institution.  For example, on Oct. 8, University of Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun announced violations of NCAA recruiting laws.  Their response?  Self-sanctions, of course.  UConn has placed the men’s basketball team on a two-year probation and taken away one scholarship for each of the probated seasons.  Sept. 27, AnnMarie Gilbert, Eastern Michigan women’s basketball coach, announced her one-month suspension following NCAA practice hours violations relating to the 2009-2010 Women’s Invitational Tournament.  While neither of these coaches has officially been punished by the NCAA, they have followed in Pearl’s footsteps in hopes that a few self-sanctions and slaps on the wrist will save their reputation and their programs.

The upcoming months will be the only way to evaluate these attempts to save not only university reputations, but the upcoming recruiting season as well.  Pearl self-proclaims that he is to “be an example for the NCAA,” but depending on the NCAA’s response, his role as an example could cost him his career and the future success of the UT Athletic Department.  Claiming three head football coaches in three seasons and one nationally scrutinized head basketball coach, Tennessee can only hope that these self-sanctions allow the university to become the phoenix and rise from the ashes.

Oct 14

“Get your free crisis counseling! Step right this way!”

You'd think by now this battle-tested veteran of the crisis wars would be able to distinguish X14241308 between a real and fictitious lead and, in the process, avoid giving away free advice. But, clearly, some remote part of my brain still clings to the belief that prospects will do what they say and deliver on their promises. Alas, such is not always the case.

Two recent examples prove my point:

- A month or so ago, the CEO of a family-owned business was referred to me. His organization was in deep trouble. A rival faction on his board was threatening to wrest control away from the man, ending what had been nearly a century-old love affair between the company and the CEO’s family.  Listening to his plight on the phone (replete with sobbing, BTW), I went into action over a weekend. Joined by a few other Peppercommers, we dug deep into the issues, developed a strategy and submitted a plan and budget. Then… radio silence. Eventually, the CEO resurfaced to say he didn't have the funds to retain us. Case closed. Time spent helping this guy? Fifteen hours. Monies collected: none.

 - More recently, the head of a firm whose work was at the epicenter of a global firestorm on the blogosphere was referred to me. As I'd done in the previous case, I listened as the executive lamented about the damage done to date, the very real possibility that customers would bolt and the need to do the right thing ASAP. Not understanding the nuances of crisis communications, the executive asked me to hypothesize various scenarios and possible strategies. We ended a lengthy conversation by agreeing to  speak again the following morning with the organization's other top leaders and begin implementing a rapid crisis response. Once again, the silence was deafening. Time spent counseling: 1.5 hours. Monies collected:  none.

My wife suggested I stop trusting prospects to pay for my time before a contract is actually signed. Instead, she counseled I say nothing until the proverbial check is in hand. She's right, of course. She's also a lot less trusting than me (which can be a good thing).

So, the next time the circus barker cries out, 'Get your crisis counseling! Step right this way!' the adjective 'free' will be noticeably absent from the proclamation.