Robots, guts and moth balls

Rde8746lmoth. jpgA few days ago, my colleague Deb Brown penned a blog about when and where comedy is, and isn't, appropriate.

Deb's blog focused on courtroom humor but, to her credit, she quickly transitioned to when, and where, comedy is appropriate in business.

I'm obviously a huge proponent of comedy in business but, as my comedy coach and the nation's sole chief comedy officer, Clayton Fletcher, always reminds me, ”If you have the least doubt about how appropriate your material is for the workplace, don't use it.”

So, submitted for your approval, are three classic examples of the wrong use of comedy in business (note: the names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent):

– In the middle of one of his very first Peppercom new business presentations, the legendary Andrew Stein decided to add additional commentary to a case study slide being presented by Maggie O'Neill. The slide concerned NextFest and our work for GE. Maggie concluded by saying, “And, this was the first time a robot ever threw out the first pitch in a Major League Baseball game.” To which Stein quickly added, “Unless you include George W. Bush.” If my looks could kill, Stein would be pushing up daisies. Happily, though, the prospects were liberal Democrats and laughed out loud at Stein's oh-so-inappropriate ad-lib.

– Michael Zakkour was a newly-minted Peppercom management supervisor anxious to make a good impression. So, in his very first new business presentation, he was bound and determined to connect with Gartner's head of public relations. “Look,” he said, staring intently into the prospect's eyes, “this isn't about PR. It's about battle. All-out war. And, we're going to gut your competition!” He smiled as he ended. But, the prospect was horrified at our version of American Psycho, and opted to go with another, less bloodthirsty firm.

– Many years ago, I worked for a firm that represented J.T. Baker & Company, the world's largest manufacturer of gypsy moth spray and bags (see, you just learned something). Shortly after winning the account, I accompanied Joan Carris, our firm's media specialist, to Baker's lovely Phillipsburg, NJ, office to meet the bug people. Deciding to ingratiate herself with a joke, Joan began the meeting by asking a question: “How many of you have seen moth balls?” The insect-obsessed executives all raised their hands. “Really,” replied Joan. “How did you ever pull their tiny legs apart?” Silence. I received a call the next day asking that we remove Joan from the account.

Comedy has a very real, and powerful, role to play in business. But, understanding when and where to use it is just as important as comedy itself.

I'm pleased to report that Stein has neatly survived his suicidal mistake. And, I'm pretty sure Mike Zakkour is still gutting prospect's competitors for some other agency. But, I really can't speak for Joan Carris. She had her own firm for many years, but I doubt she ever again represented an insect repellent brand. If she did, though, I guarantee she didn't break out the mothballs joke a second time.

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