May 27

Garbage in, garbage out

9109 I’ve never met Casey Jones (the marketer, not the engineer), but I already like the cut of this man’s jib.

For those of you unfamiliar with Casey (the marketer, not the ill-fated engineer), Jones has a long list of accomplishments including serving as VP of Dell and creating Apple’s memorable ‘1984’ TV spot that launched the Mac computer.

But, I’m not writing about Casey’s past accomplishments as a marketer. Instead, I feel compelled to wax poetic about his fresh way of thinking about client-agency relationships. As a strategy consultant to corporations such as Verizon Wireless, Jones has changed the ways clients think. To wit, Verizon’s VP of marketing communications, John Harrobin, is now holding his internal executives responsible for “…demonstrating excellence in providing the organization’s stable of agencies clearly defined briefs from which to execute marketing communications and campaigns.” That’s HUGE! In other words, clients can no longer pass the buck and blame their agencies for poor execution. Instead, thanks to Casey’s counsel, Verizon’s internal communications team shares success or failure with their agency partners. Talk about a long overdue sea change.

Jones is an absolute evangelist when it comes to the ongoing blame game about failed marketing efforts. His motto is ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’ That’s shorthand for his theory that efficiency-obsessed clients can get want they want by not slashing an agency’s budget but, rather, by briefing the agency better. Jones rates the average client direction as being between a two and a three on a scale of one to 10. “The norm is partial, incomplete and sometimes no brief at all,” he opines. Ouch.

I agree with Jones (with reservations, of course). We have some superb clients with whom we’re fully engaged in the strategic planning process, creative brief and definitions of success. And, then there have been those clients who, after telling us they wanted a strategic partner, left us to put out fires on a daily basis and fired us for ‘not understanding the business of their business.’ I still recall a post mortem with one client who admitted he himself didn’t really get the corporation’s business model but still felt compelled to fire us. “So,” replied Deb Brown, our ice hockey playing, Kangoo-jumping, absolutely fearless account manager of the ill-fated business, “How do you expect your agency to understand your business if you don’t?” You go, girl.

Casey Jones and his ideas are starting to take root. The Association of National Advertisers’ School of Marketing has invited him to give presentations about the importance of quality briefings by the client. That’s great. But, it’s not enough. I suggest the Arthur W. Page Society (www.awpagesociety.com) and the Council of PR Firms (www.prfirms.org) follow suit ASAP and invite Jones to present to PR types.

Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. It’s high time other clients follow the lead of Verizon Wireless and hold their own internal communications team just as responsible for success (or failure) as they do their external agency partners.

As Ad Age said in its headline for the article, “Marketers, quit blaming your agency – it’s your brief at fault.”

May 26

There’s no such thing as a merger of equals

NewsweekBeastAdweek reports the merger between Newsweek and The Daily Beast is a steaming pile of sh*t. As  is the case with most 'mergers of equals', this one is anything but.

It started out well, though. One unnamed departed editor told Adweek, “Initially, a lot of us were really excited.” But now, says Adweek, former staffers say the newsroom is “…in a constant state of turmoil, uncertainty and confusion.” No surprise.

I was part of a multi-agency merger of equals back in 1992. Earle Palmer Brown scooped up four or five of us simultaneously promising that, although we'd lose our individual firm names, we'd still have full autonomy. The first indication to the contrary came two weeks later. I was attending a firm-wide, 40th anniversary retreat in lovely Bethesda, Md., when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was our human resources manager. He pointed to a spot in the distance. “See that guy with the moustache? He's your new boss.” When I asked what had happened to the old boss with whom I'd negotiated my contract, the human resources guy shrugged his shoulder and sighed, “Oh, he'll be gone in three months. He just doesn't know it yet.” Nice.

I've also witnessed countless mergers of equals as an agency partner. None went very smoothly. Some management teams really tried. Others merely went through the motions. And, then there were the unmitigated disasters. I remember visiting the headquarters of the 'loser' in one merger of equals and thinking it must have been like touring Hitler's bunker in May 1945. The halls were empty. The survivors shuffled along staring blankly ahead and, when we held a morale building workshop we listened to one horror story after another (up to, and including, one very senior executive who told us she was tossed out of her office and told to find the first empty cube).

One key reason mergers of equals fail is the cultural disconnect. At Newsweek, staffers are going nuts because as Tina Brown herself was heard to say, “Oh, I'm causing all sorts of trouble. I'm changing all the features in the last hour (before going to press).” What a fun gal! I know first-hand how much staffers detest 11th hour changes on a big presentation, so I can only imagine how the merged equals react to a steady diet of this type of drive-by management.

It's rare to find a marriage of equals. It's even rarer to find one in the business world. Here's betting the merged Newsweek/Daily Beast sputters for a year or so before either folding or sold at fire sale prices. It's the AOL-Time Warner of 2011.

May 25

Advertising’s early warning system

WynfordVaughn-ThomasbbAdweek is to ad agencies what radar was to the Royal Air Force in September, 1940: an early  warning system.

Adweek, and its peers, Advertising Age and The Delaney Report, never hesitate to warn agencies about badly behaving clients. Consider Adweek's April 25th column entitled, 'Is Heineken the Worst Client Ever?'

According to Adweek, nine agencies have represented the beer brand in just six years! Talk about a revolving door. And, get this, the $60 million account is once again up for review, and Publicis and Wieden are pitching it. Why are they wasting their time?

Adweek did some digging to better understand Heineken's heinous habits and cited churn in the leadership ranks (four CEOs and four CMOs since 2005). Yup. That'll do it. The new sheriff almost always boots out the incumbent, regardless of how good the team or how effective the work. That happened to us no fewer than three times in 2008 and '09. New sheriff. New agency. Sure as rain.

Now, as part of our due diligence in new business, we warily check the prospect's churn record. If it's anything like Heineken's, we run away faster than you can say pop top bottle.

Frequent agency churn not only damages the firms, it hurts the client's marketing efforts. As Ken Robinson of search consultancy Ark Advisors says of Heineken, “…how can you possibly put together a cohesive positioning when they switch agencies so often?” Amen, brother.

All of which prompts a question from this blogger: how comes PR trade journals don't provide a similar watchdog service? How come they can't (or won't) 'out' serial prospects as their advertising brethren do?

The client coverage I read in the PR trades is limited to:

- Case studies
- Personnel announcements
- Updates on the latest crisis du jour and accompanying statement (“Pigglesworth & Swine take these allegations very seriously,” said Jane Hare, VP of corporate communications)
- A fawning profile of the VP, Corporate Communications (“His peers at Toxic Chemical say Jim Electron is strategic, creative and positively unflappable; rare qualities indeed in a Fortune 500 executive.”)

PR trades could do a tremendous service to their tens of thousands of agency readers by tipping us off to a serial prospect on the prowl (akin to British radar's alerting the R.A.F. of yet another Luftwaffe sortie).

Radar saved Britain. The ad trades are aiding ad agencies. So, how come the PR journals aren't stepping up to the plate? If they did, I'd be the first to step forward, quote Churchill and proclaim, “This was their finest hour.”

May 24

My COO is overpaid, my CFO is 60 percent of the executive he once was and my CMO is good, but certainly not a superstar

Wilpon21Imagine the chief executive officer of a publicly-traded corporation bashing his best employees  in a New Yorker article. Well, that's exactly what Mets owner Fred Wilpon just did.

The beleaguered owner of the beleaguered franchise told a reporter that Jose Reyes won't receive a grade A contract when his current one expires at the end of the year. He said rightfielder Carlos Beltran is only 60 percent the player he once was and called David Wright 'a good player, but not a superstar.' He also said some nasty things about first baseman Ike Davis.

When asked if the Mets were snakebitten, Wilpon mimed Beltran's check swing that ended the 2006 National League Championship Series and the team's chance at a World Series. In short, Wilpon totally bashed his own players and team.

Could you imagine a Fred Smith, Jeff Immelt or Mark Zuckerberg doing something similar? Actually, I COULD see Zuckerberg doing it. And, Steve Jobs was notorious for beating up his employees, but never in public.

The Mets are a complete train wreck, with a 'conductor' who doesn't believe in his talent. It's time for Wilpon to sell and a new owner to take over. It's tough enough to motivate a cast of characters who ARE overpaid and who DO underperform. I actually agree with everything Wilpon said about Reyes, Wright and Beltran. But, I'd never, ever say it on the record.

That said, have I told you my feelings about Ed lately?

A tip o' Repman's batting helmet to Chris 'Repman, Jr.' Cody for suggesting this post.

May 23

Judgment Day is every marketer’s dream

HeaderI don't know about you, but I had a blast in the minutes, hours, days and weeks leading up to  6pm, Saturday May 21, 2011 (AKA Judgment Day). Sure, nothing happened. But, so what? There were so many great tweets, blogs, status updates, videos and new comedy bits that it made the whole non-event a mega happening.

That's why I think President Obama should declare May 21st Judgment Day. And, it should be treated as an annual national holiday. I know marketers would absolutely love it. Retailers, for example, could own Judgment Day Eve. Just imagine the TV commercials:

- “Special end of the world prices like you've never seen! You'll agree Best Buy is positively otherworldly!”

- “You want some rapture? Check out our Judgment Day Eve prices at The Gap!”

- “Radio Shack's prices are the absolute lowest you'll find in this life.” 

Sales on Judgment Day Eve would totally eclipse Thanksgiving's Black Friday (and, give a whole new meaning to the color black as well, thank you very much). As a matter of fact, Valspar, Dutch Boy or some other paint brand should create a special 'Grim Reaper Black' shade for the occasion).

Turning to sporting events, I envision:

- Judgment Day doubleheaders at baseball stadiums (the Anaheim Angels would, of course, be featured on the national game of the week)
- 'End of the world' World Cup soccer matches (India vs. Pakistan would make for a neat opening match)
- And, how about a special pre-season college football game pitting the University of Notre Dame against Brigham Young University? I'll bet even He would tune in for that contest. And, I guarantee a mega sponsor would snap up the rights faster than you could say Adam and Eve. I can see it now: 'Ladies and gentlemen, and viewers around the world, welcome to the 2012 Quiznos Judgment Day Bowl.' And, just imagine if the Fighting Irish and Cougars end up tied at the end of regulation? Talk about sudden death overtime. Wow. The Batesville Casket Company should think about that particular branding opportunity.

But, wait, there's so much more marketers could do on Judgment Day. K-Mart, Wal-Mart or one of the other big box chains should copy Macy's and sponsor a parade. Harold Camping could be named honorary marshall in perpetuity. Cities could compete for hosting honors (a la the Olympics). And the winning city would earn the right to rename itself Sodom or Gomorrah for the day. The sponsor could hold an online contest to select Lot and his wife (and, wouldn't the latter search be a superb branding opportunity for Morton's Salt?).

Judgment Day could be the new crystal meth for marketers. Like eternity itself, it has limitless possibilities.

It's the mother of all days, and deserves to be repeated year after year after year until, god forbid, it actually becomes the REAL Judgment Day. Until then, I'd like to hear from each and every member of my flock. What branding opportunities am I missing?

May 20

You better hope he wins

080211_MrRude With Judgment Day now less than 36 hours away, I thought I'd come clean and relate THE most egregious example of client abuse in my firm's 16-year-history.

The incident occurred quite some time ago at a long-forgotten PR Week awards banquet. We had 'bought' a table that was shared by a few clients and their respective Peppercom account managers. One of the clients happened to be our largest billing account and all three of the top three corporate communications honchos were in attendance.

The trio reveled in their power and expected us to be dutifully reverential in their presence. Two of them were actually decent human beings. But, the third, who served as the senior person's henchwoman, was an absolute horror show. She'd routinely yell, scream and demean (and was later unanimously inducted into our client hall of shame).

Anyway, fast forward to the PR Week dinner. We had nominated the most senior client for the prestigious PR professional of the year award and, mercifully, he'd been named one of four finalists. As a side note, Peppercom itself was nominated for several awards that night, including best midsized agency of the year.

As the dinner ended and the awards presentation began, the henchwoman waited for the top dog to make a quick trip to use the facilities. As soon as he was gone, the henchwoman leaned across the table, looked me in the eyes and hissed, 'You better hope he wins.' She wasn't kidding. My life flashed before my eyes. I looked at my colleagues, who responded with looks of shock and horror. How could we possibly control the judges' decision? And, would we really lose the business if the top dog wasn't named PR professional of the year? (which, based upon the subordinate's behavior, was rather ironic).

The big moment finally came and, sure enough, our client did win the award. Everyone smiled and hugged, and the team breathed a huge collective sigh of relief. Then came the kicker. The categories in which we, Peppercom, had been nominated were still to come. But, the client trio grabbed their award, sipped the final dregs of their wine and said, 'Thanks for treating tonight, but we've got to run.'

I still recall one of our 'lesser' clients leaning over to me and whispering, 'That may be the rudest professional behavior I've ever witnessed.'

Needless to say, the PR professional of the year and his entourage are history, and we've moved on to represent bigger, better and much nicer clients.

But, Judgment Day has a way of dredging up past slights, real or imagined. And, this one was very real and very painful. If there is a god and tomorrow is judgment day, I do hope He was watching those industry awards. If so, there will most assuredly be no rapture for the PR professional of the year or his henchwoman. In fact, I have a parting message for the latter: 'You better hope He doesn't come.'

May 19

The 11th commandment should read: ‘Thou shalt blame others for thy sins’

BlogIt was only a matter of time before U.S. Catholic Bishops chose to adopt the victim strategy in  defending its priests' rampant pedophilia. In a comparison that is almost laughable were it not so pathetic, the Church is now blaming the sexual liberation of the 1960s and '70s for its priests' predatory tactics.

The bishops say neither celibacy nor pedophilia were the root causes of their priests' problems. And, get this, they say their problem has been pretty much cleaned up. Yeah, right, and the Mets will win the World Series this year.

Catholic Church leaders MUST be living in a parallel universe. First, they fast track Pope John Paul II for sainthood based upon two rather shaky miracles. (Hey, I can point to a REAL miracle maker. How about Gil Hodges, manager of the 1969 Mets? Any votes for beatifying St. Gilbert of Flushing?)

Second, the bishops publicize this totally bogus report that assumes no responsibility whatsoever for the conduct of their priests. Hundreds of priests ran amok for decades, destroyed lives and then were simply transferred from parish to parish as the Church desperately tried to cover up its mess (all done, BTW, under the aegis of the soon-to-be Saint John Paul II).

If the Catholic Church can blame the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s for its wrongdoings, so should everyone else. Heck, if I were advising Arnold Schwarzenegger right now, I'd just tell him to go with the church defense. I'd tell the governator, “Look, Arnold, baby, fathering your maid's kid wasn't your fault. It's that damned sexual liberation of the '60s.” Ditto with Lindsay Lohan's problems. Blame the 1960s and '70s. Don't like ObamaCare? Tough. It's a direct result of the sexual liberation. Are you a Cubs fan still waiting for the first world's series title since the Flood? At least you can blame the sexual revolution for distracting the owners, managers and players for the past 50 years.

I know the New Testament advises followers to turn the other cheek. But, where does it also say to point the finger at others for one's own poor behavior?

The Catholic Church should be ashamed of this latest cover-up. Blaming sexual liberation for rampant pedophilia is akin to Detroit's explaining its woes by pointing to better engineering and quality from Japanese and German auto makers. Puh-lese!

I believe Shakespeare was a member of the Church of England, but he must have been thinking of Catholic Bishops when he wrote, “The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” And, to paraphrase Hippocrates, “Bishops: heal thyselves!”

May 18

We need the Navy Seals to take down the bin Laden of Burgers

Some 55Presentation10 leading health care professionals and organizations have signed their names to a  full-page advertisement running today in six national newspapers. It's a call to action pleading with McDonald's to stop its sleazy, subversive marketing to kids and to retire their damnable corporate icon, Ronald McDonald.

Fuggedaboutit! The ad won't work because McDonald's won't stop marketing to kids. They can't. The impact on future sales would be too horrible to contemplate. (Could you imagine life without plus-sized families wolfing down Big Macs five times a week? How positively un-American.)

Instead, America's health groups should get serious, mobilize their monies, marshal their troops, and declare war on McDonald's. And, public enemy number one of what I'm calling 'Operation: Waistline' should be Ronald McDonald himself.

In my mind, Ronald's the bin Laden of Burgers, the Pol Pot of Poor Diets and the Hitler of Healthy Living.

And, I'd engage the same elite Seal 6 team that took out bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound for this surgical strike. Why not? They've got a proven plan and are ready to roll.

I'd have the Seals initiate a midnight raid on Mickey D's Oakbrook, Illinois, headquarters. I'll bet they'd catch Ronald watching the tube (hopefully nothing worse than PG-13 content). I picture him lying in bed, wearing just his red overalls. He'll have an arm draped around one or more of his morbidly obese wives while puffing on a cigarette and scarfing down some fries and a chocolate shake.

As was the case with bin Laden, I'd tell the Seals to take him down ASAP. Who knows what a cornered corporate icon might do in a moment of desperation? Waste him. Plus, no one wants Ronald McDonald alive and put on trial. The guy's a real charmer and that red and yellow costume might just sway a jurist or two. No, I'd tell the Seals to put one bullet just above Ronald's eye.

Then, let's bury him in an undisclosed location in Lake Michigan. We don't want McDonald's fanatics making a shrine out of Ronald's final resting spot.

The Mob likes to say if you 'cut off the head, the body will die.' I think health care professionals need to adopt the same strategy with McDonald's. Whack Ronald and watch our nation's obesity epidemic (and waistlines) slowly, but surely, contract.

One caveat to the Seals, though. Do yourselves a public relations favor and don't adopt an American Indian code word such as Geronimo for Ronald. There's no need to undermine the results by alienating an important minority.

So, let's get to work. Let's infiltrate Ronald's inner circle, use some advanced terror techniques to determine his daily habits, get some spy satellites to focus their cameras on his compound and get this deed done. If Obama doesn't want to issue the final execute command, I will.

Ronald McDonald must die if America is to live. It's go time!!!!

May 17

Heaven couldn’t wait

Porn Found In Bin Laden CompoundHow about Osama bin Laden and his henchmen turning out to be porn addicts? 

Now, ain't that a kick in the head? Or groin, if you prefer.

According to published reports, the Navy Seals discovered a massive amount of pornographic DVDs and other materials in bin Laden's compound. Holy Islam, Batman. What up with that? Note: I saw one Islam watcher on MSNBC who quoted a popular expression in bin Laden Land to the effect, “When you are away from Mecca, Allah is blind.” That must be the terrorist version of 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.'

Anyway, since the government won't release the actual names of the titles in bin Laden's porn collection, I thought I'd take a guess at what he dialed up on those cold and lonely Pakistani evenings:

- 'Debbie does Abbottabad'
- 'The Western Devil in Ms. Jones'
- 'Deep Turban'

Bin Laden's porn penchant presents a tricky image and reputation problem for al Qaeda. The late global terrorist was noted for his ascetic lifestyle, spirituality and, above all, hatred of the 'American Whore'. And, one of his value-adds to the faithful who bought into his warped view and were willing to become martyrs for the cause was the promise of 72 virgins awaiting them in paradise.

Oops. I guess Osama came from the 'Do what I say not what I do' school of terrorism.

I'm not suggesting those three score and 12 ladies aren't still chilling in paradise waiting to please the latest Jihadist. But, for Osama bin Laden, it sure seems like heaven couldn't wait. And this blogger can't wait to see how al Qaeda spins this story. How much do you want to bet they'll be accusing the Seals of planting the porn? Yeah, sure.  So how will they explain the popcorn and Johnny Jihad Blue Label whiskey lying alongside the videos?

May 16

From gold standard to sub standard

Johnson-And-R_jpg_600x345_crop-smart_upscale_q85Rather than crafting just another blog castigating Burson for its catastrophic mishandling of the  Facebook crisis, I thought I'd instead reflect on a delicious irony that seems to have gotten lost in the fray. I refer to the positively karma-like timing of the Burson crisis and the latest in a long-line of product recalls that have decimated the image of its one-time client, Johnson & Johnson.

Some 30 years ago J&J's executives, in partnership with a Burson team led by the legendary Al Tortorella, literally wrote the crisis communications handbook when consumers started dropping like flies after ingesting arsenic-tainted Tylenol tablets. They did everything right. The corporation's CEO was front and center in any and all interviews. He apologized for the mortal mistake. He grieved right along with the affected families. He even yanked ALL Tylenol products off every single store shelf. That decision was unexpected, unprecedented and unbelievably gutsy. It was also the right thing to do and it became the gold standard against which all future crisis responses were judged.

Now, juxtapose what Tortorella & team did then with what Burson, in particular, isn't doing today. Burson has delayed, obfuscated and issued terse, impersonal statements. Perhaps, most importantly, they haven't apologized for their mistakes. I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that neither Burson, nor its erstwhile client, will be setting any new, gold standards in their management of these latter-day crises. Both are, instead, now textbook examples of how NOT to manage a crisis.

I don't know Mark Penn and his senior Burson lieutenants, so I can't comment on what they knew or when they knew it. But, their post crisis communications has been abysmal at best. One wonders why they didn't just give Al Tortorella a call?

I won't lose any sleep over Burson's blues, but I am genuinely sad for Harold Burson. He's a great man who built a great firm that was once populated by great people. He deserves much better than this.