Jul 27

A sure-fire Rx for short-term profits (and long-term loss)

MrPotterWhat do many Fortune 500 chief executive officers have in common with Rochdale Securities analyst Richard X. Bove? A maniacal pursuit of short-term profits instead of long-term strategies.

To be sure, CEOs have an excuse: Wall Street investors and their boards of directors are laser-focused on quarter-by-quarter performance. And, the average CEO’s tenure rivals that of a Mayfly.

But, Bove has no such out. His job is to follow the financial services sector and report on best and worst practices. And, Bove thinks customer service is the wrong way to attract customers!

Based on a recent first-hand experience with Wells Fargo, Bove believes all banks should push products and service rather than catering to customers’ whims. Reflecting on Wells Fargo in particular, he said, “I’m struck by the fact that the service is so bad, and yet the company is so good.”

Ouch. As one might expect, a Wells Fargo spokesperson immediately responded and, naturally, emphasized the giant bank’s focus on delighting customers. And, yet, I fear CEOs and institutional investors will be whipped into a frenzy by Bove’s myopic viewpoint and double down on product development and risk management. That’s worrisome because it will only produce a short-term spike in sales while damaging the long-term image and reputation of those banks that pursue a parochial path to profits.

Bove seems to have literally lost sight of the modern reality. The customer is king (or queen). Period. The best product in the world can’t overcome a horrible experience. And, it can absolutely kill a mediocre or inferior product. Worse still, a single-minded focus on product and profits will undermine the authenticity and credibility of any marketing message from a bank.

In our partnership work with author and customer service expert, Emily Yellin, we’ve analyzed every brand from Starbucks and Comcast to Sony and T.J. Maxx. And, in almost every instance we’ve uncovered a disconnect between what the brand promises and what we, placing ourselves in the customers’ shoes, actually experienced. And, therein lies the rub (and the opportunity).

Smart CEOs should be taking the exact opposite tack than the one suggested by Bove. They should elevate the role of the chief customer contact executive and empower the customer service representatives to participate in the brand messaging. The latter, and the latter alone, have first-person knowledge of what does, and doesn’t, delight the target audience.

Alas, the average chief executive is far more concerned about his personal compensation and golden parachute than in focusing on a long-term strategy that includes superb customer service. For every enlightened Tony Hsieh at Zappos there are far too many Richard X. Bove clones occupying the corner office. And, Bove’s clarion call is a real red flag to this blogger. It’s a sure fire prescription for short-term profits (and long-term loss).

Jul 26

And, the Gold Medal in Mixed Messages Goes to McDonald’s Corporation!

Olympic-graffiti-corporate-pollutionHealth and nutrition experts everywhere are up in arms over the title sponsor role McDonald's Corporation is playing at the London Olympics.

I agree. The brazen Golden Arches gambit sends exactly the wrong message to the world's youth: aspire to be an Olympic athlete yourself one day, but keep hardening your arteries with our caloric-laden slop. Alas, money talks. And, doing the responsible thing walks. So the International Olympic Committee was only too happy to pocket McDonald's greasy cash.

To deflect the public outcry, Ronald & Co. launched an oh-so-obvious, oh-so-self-serving marketing effort entitled, 'Favorites Under 400 Calories.' It regroups the heart-attack-waiting-to-happen food offerings by promoting the few low cal treats on the menu such as the Fillet-O-Fish Sandwich and Oreo McFlurry (two items I'm sure every finalist in the 100-meter dash consumes on a daily basis).

I'd like to see the Olympic athletes send a message to the world's number one source of unhealthy food. How about:

- Using Ronald's mug as the bull's eye for the javelin competition? Extra points would be awarded for planting the spear right between the clown's eyes.
- Having shot-putters hurl their deadly (and oh-so-heavy) iron balls at carefully arranged rows of golden arches. The competitor who topples the most goes home with the Gold.
- And, Piccadilly Circus would feature a giant electronic computer screen that keeps track of the ever-increasing number of obese citizens around the world. Dubbed The McDeath Clock, the billboard would also contain QR codes visitors could scan and redeem for a free Quarter Pounder and fries.

If nothing else, the CEO of McDonald's should be awarded the Gold Medal for corporate mixed messaging. No organization does more to ensure new generations of unsuspecting eaters consume ALL the wrong food items. Yet, no other organization (save the tobacco companies) does a better, more disingenuous job of painting itself as a loving, adorable and caring concern. The London Olympics sponsorship is just the latest and most egregious example.

Jul 25

Agony of the feet

Today’s guest post is by Greg Schmalz, president, Schmalz Communications.

For years Tony Robbins has been known for his motivational seminars to help individuals to maximize their potential. Just last week, he conducted another one of his “Unleash the Power Within” seminars in San Jose, Calif.  Take risks; take action.  But this time, his program may have backfired.

YOU GOTTA BE TOUGHvvPart of the seminar included walking across hot coals on lanes that measured 10 feet long. Temperatures ranged from 1,200 to 2,000 degrees. The result? Nearly two dozen of his attendees suffered second and third degree burns which required medical attention.

Was it a fluke? Reportedly his program has been doing this for more than three decades. But it only takes one incident to tarnish his reputation.  Motivational?  Like the thrill of victory and the agony of the feet.

Heck, why not have your customers walk on broken glass or maybe get them to believe they can walk on water. How many times have you walked barefoot on the pavement on a hot summer’s day and hopped around because of the heat, let alone walked over hot coals?

While Robbins, himself, would not make a statement, a spokesperson from Robbins Research International said, "We have been safely providing this experience for more than three decades, and always under the supervision of medical personnel…  we continue to work with local fire and emergency personnel to ensure this event is always done in the safest way possible." 

Really?  But what concern have they shown or expressed for those who have been burned by this experience? If Robbins wanted to leave a lasting impression, he apparently has. But this exercise seems to be one that has gone up in smoke.  How many have he “motivated” to return to another seminar?

Jul 24

Crystal Mets

The N.Y. Mets are Delilah to my Sampson. The sun to my Icarus. Wallis Simpson to my Edward VIII.

It seems that, no matter how hard I try to keep away from this miserable excuse of a sports franchise and their heartbreaking ways, I fall off the wagon, suffer a relapse and, once again, become a Crystal Mets addict.

I thought I’d beaten my addiction after the team’s three successive, late season collapses a few years back. At that time, I swore to ignore them. I refused to watch a single game on SNY. And, I avoided their news digs at CitiField like the plague.

And, then, this year’s squad of overachievers, has-beens and misfits washed up on shore and began winning in the most improbable ways. Teenagers dragged up from the minors began performing miracles. Johan Santana hurled the first no-hitters in the sorry franchise’s 51-year history and a guy named R.A. Dickey became the feel-good story of baseball. And, so, in the same way a recovering drug or alcohol addict simply cannot resist the allure of his drug of choice, I popped on the tube. I began watching an inning or two. And, the inning or two became an entire game.

Egged on by the announcers who expressed wonder at these magical Mets (i.e. “Gee, Keith, these Mets are starting to remind me more and more of the 1986 world champion team”), I found myself wanting and needing my Crystal Mets addiction more and more as May turned into June.

(Watch this video of Kenyan schoolchildren reenacting Game 6 of the 1986 World Series:)

I knew I’d passed the point of no return when I hopped on a Number 7 train and made my way to CitiField. It was akin to a heroin addict returning to the hood after a stint in rehab or an alcoholic touring a Heineken facility. And, the game I happened to attend featured Dickey on the mound. And, what did the 37-year-old wunderkind do? He hurled a one-hitter against the Birds of Baltimore, one of baseball’s better-hitting teams. I was floating on an endorphin high.

And, then, as they’ve done every single year save two, the Crystal Mets crushed me. I first sensed it in the Subway Series when it became oh-so-obvious that these Mets really were nothing more than a glorified high school team. But, it didn’t hit me full-on until they were outplayed and outclassed by the Chicago Cubs, the worst team in the National League.

Since then, the Mets have plummeted faster than the Stock Market on a day when Greece, Spain or some other beleaguered European country hits another economic speed bump.

And, so, badly burned for the umpteenth time, I’ve once again gone cold turkey. No more watching the Crystal Mets on TV. No more scanning the sports pages. And, god knows, no more trips to CitiField. I’m steering clear of this hussy of home town teams, once and for all.

And, yet, like some sultry siren of the seas, the Metropolitan Baseball Team remains omnipresent in the deepest recesses of my consciousness. And, I know that someday, some way, when do they return to greatness, I’ll be right back in the field-level boxes high-fiving Repman, Jr., and screaming my lungs out for my Crystal Mets. I wonder if Jeff Van Vonderin and the fine folks on A&E’s ‘Intervention” would consider featuring me on an upcoming segment? Perhaps with the help and support of loved ones, I can shake this addiction once and for all.

Jul 23

The stability card

Rudderless-shipAside from the superbly managed senior management team at Ketchum, it's widely known that the global agencies are a complete mess. The departure of Burson CEO Mark Penn to Microsoft is just the latest example.

Porter Novelli is rudderless. H&K has re-branded itself under YET another new CEO. Weber and Fleishman have suffered serious corner office churn. And then we have the very public dissolution of Ruder-Finn.

But our industry trade press shies away from providing any analysis or commentary on the churn and burn at the largest PR agencies. Why? Because the big guys buy far too many tables at awards' dinners and place way too many print and digital ads. So, why kill the geese that continue to lay golden eggs?

Since the journalists won’t provide commentary, allow me to explain why CEO churn at the big agencies is an important issue for clients and midsized and boutique agencies alike. First, I'd like to address clients.

Those who retain Burson are most likely thinking, “Well, I never met Mark Penn, so what do I care?” Ah, but that's where you'd be making a big mistake, Ms. CCO. Because, while you think your relationship isn't with Burson but, rather with your Burson team, I can assure that each and every one of your team members is asking one, and only one, question today: “What does this mean to me?”

I guarantee there is widespread panic as yet another new CEO takes the helm. And, your Burson account manager isn't thinking, “Gee, I need to call the client today just to check in.” And, she isn't thinking, “Gee, I better follow up one more time with the Fortune reporter to make sure our client's CEO is included in the story.” Nope. She's thinking, “Gee, maybe I should return that headhunter's call.”

And, here's an open letter to my peers at the very best midsized and boutique firms: we need to play the stability card more overtly when we compete with global agencies.

In the past, we've emphasized personal attention, senior-level management, deep industry expertise and, of course, more cost effective ROI. Well, here's an even better reason why that big packaged goods company should pick you instead of Porter Novelli: stability.

Think about it. Ken Makovsky, Marina Maher, Margi Booth, Jen Prosek, Mark Raper, Monty Hagler, Gini Dietrich, Daryl McCullough, Tom Coyne and others have been at the helms of their shops for decades. And, their senior teams have been there right alongside them. In fact, I guarantee if an executive search firm or, dare I suggest it, an industry trade journal were to conduct a stability survey, the differences between the big guys and the rest of us would be stark.

Churn and burn at Burson, Porter and the others means business disruption. And, business disruption should be a cause of concern for clients and a new, and powerful, weapon in the arsenals of smaller, independent firms.

Now, if we could only get the trade press to provide their take on the subject. In fact, I'd love to engage an editor in a friendly debate on the subject. And, I'd be delighted to share the panel with the CEO of any large holding company (except Rob Flaherty or Ray Kotcher. Those guys know what they're doing.).

Jul 20

A revival that didn’t need reviving

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Catharine Cody.

Annex - Stewart, James (Harvey)_04Sometimes the original cannot be improved. How does one improve upon perfection?

That was my reaction to the Broadway revival, Harvey.

Allow me to explain…
 
A few weekends ago, I had the chance to see one of my all-time FAVORITE movies on Broadway.  Written in 1944 by American playwright Mary Chase, “Harvey” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945.  After a brief stint on the stage, the play was made into a movie starring Jimmy Stewart. You may remember him from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Rear Window,” but in my mind, he’s synonymous with that big white rabbit, 6 feet 3 and a half inches tall, named Harvey.
 
For those of you unfamiliar with the storyline, “Harvey” is about a grown man who has an imaginary friend named Harvey.  Harvey is a big, white rabbit sometimes referred to as a pooka.  The story takes place in the span of one day when a woman decides to commit her older brother, Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart)to an insane asylum. It’s a heart-warming flick on the top of my all-time favorite movie list, along with “Gone with the Wind” and “The Mummy.”(I know, odd choices, but to each his own!)
 
I was spellbound when I first saw the movie “Harvey.”  From the opening line of “every day is a lovely day,” to the last scene when Harvey and Stewart walk home, I was captivated.  As a member of generation Y, one might think that I wouldn’t enjoy a black and white flick.  But boy, do I.  Anything sans color is right up my alley.
 
So, you can imagine my excitement when my father bought us two seats to see the revival of the play, “Harvey,” starring Jim Parsons.  I knew that no one would be able to come close to Stewart.  But, I went in with an open mind.  The writing speaks for itself.  Anyone delivering the lines Chase penned would be sure to evoke the same emotions, right?  Not so much.
 
Stepping over the fact that some of the best scenes were cut entirely, some of the lines that WERE kept in the play were totally butchered.  Jimmy Stewart has a certain presence that just cannot be copied.  He delivers his lines perfectly, slowly and warmly.  Jim Parsons, who played Elwood P. Dowd in the new play, reported that he never saw the original movie.  Parsons rushed through some of the most heart-warming lines and completely butchered the meaning.
 
In one scene, Stewart explains how he came upon the name “Harvey” for his rabbit-friend.  His psychiatrist asks, “Didn’t you know anyone-ever, whose name was Harvey?”  To which Stewart replies, “No, maybe that’s why I always had such high hopes.”  In the movie, this line is a stitch.  I crack up immediately when he says it.  Well, in the play, Parsons rushes right through it barely eliciting a chuckle from the audience.
 
No one, in my opinion, can live up to Jimmy Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd.  Jim Parsons tries- and fails.
 
Now to all you folks reading this, I’ve got to go hang out with one of MY best friends.  He’s a dog. His name is Rooney.  He’s visible, but still a pookah.  Oh, and my regards to you and anyone else you should happen to meet along the way…

Jul 19

Inactivity tops cigarette smoking as world’s leading cause of premature death; Tobacco Institute announces aggressive campaign to regain lead

Screen-shot-2010-07-20-at-2.37.39-PMA new study in the British medical journal, The Lancet, shows that leading a sedentary lifestyle now causes more deaths worldwide than cigarette smoking.

The news set off widespread jubilation in the Franklin, Tennessee, headquarters of SLACKER (Sedentary Lifestyles & Avoiding Cardio Can Kill Everyone, Really), the uber industry trade group that represents everyone from manufacturers of Barcaloungers and jumbo TVs to video games and fast food.

Thomas J. Girth, Jr., president of SLACKER, called the news a culmination of a four-decade long consumer awareness campaign. “When fast food first took off in the 1960s, we were hopeful it would lead more and more people to do less and less. But, in hindsight, it really took the technology boom of the 1990s to add the final ingredient needed to create a world full of lazy people. To honor the event, we're asking slackers everyone to inhale a supersized Mickey D's meal while channel surfing from their couches.” Mr. Girth added that SLACKER won't sit still.

“We will sit still in terms of inactivity, but now that we've topped tobacco as the world's number one cause of an early death, we're upping the ante,” barked Girth. “We'd like to be responsible for 10 million premature deaths by 2015, and are more than confident we'll surpass that goal." Girth said his management team considered a celebratory parade, but admitted “No one wanted to expend that much energy.”

Up in smoke

Meanwhile, the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, observed a day of mourning while a Tobacco Institute spokesperson vowed his group would reclaim the top spot.

“The mark of a true champion isn't winning. It's getting up off the ground, dusting oneself off, lighting up a fresh cigarette and getting right back in the ring,” observed Billy Bob Blacklung, IV. Mr. Blacklung cited the tobacco industry's aggressive marketing campaigns in poor, Third World countries as the cigarette’s last, best hope to reclaim bragging rights.

“Have we killed countless billions over the years? Sure. But, that doesn't mean we can't do better. And, by flooding the uneducated masses in Third World countries with free samples at an early age, we believe we're building a solid foundation for future growth,”said Blacklung, attempting to suppress a deep, hacking cough.

Both organizations rejected any suggestion of a strategic partnership. Girth said, “When you're the best, you don't need anyone else.” And, Blacklung wheezed, “If we do strike a strategic partnership, it would be with a group focused on youth. Who wants to partner with a bunch of morbidly obese couch potatoes? Yuck!”

Jul 18

Will a Google injection save the flatlining Yahoo?

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Danielle Lundquist.

Yahoo-locccgo-after-recession-humorousIt’s no secret that Yahoo! has been a sinking ship for years.

Financial woes, regular layoffs, questions about its relevance, and a revolving door of questionable CEOs – which includes Carol Bartz, who was better known for her foul mouth than her business acumen, and Scott Thompson, who lied about his educational background – have not helped matters.

Simply put, Yahoo! is a disaster of a company. I would even go so far as to say it’s a has-been that’s been bested by Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google and a slew of other start-ups for years. But Yahoo! took an important step toward restoring its battered reputation by naming Marissa Mayer as CEO earlier this week.

Mayer’s “geek” background and achievements at Google have been well documented, and there’s no question that she’ll bring a very different, fresh approach to Yahoo!. Her product savvy as well as commitment to making great user experiences will undoubtedly make some kind of immediate dent at Yahoo!, boost morale, and attract some much-needed talent in the process. Yahoo! was smart to recognize the breath of fresh air that Mayer can hopefully inject right off the bat.

At age 37, she becomes one of the youngest CEOs among the world’s largest companies anywhere. And at six months pregnant … that puts her in a CEO league all her own.

All of which makes Yahoo! look … dare I say it … smart.

I really must applaud Yahoo! for what seems to me a calculated move to not only work on its business but also – and maybe most importantly – its reputation. Mayer’s own reputation sparkles – even though she ruffled a few feathers by skipping today’s earnings call (it’s her second day on the job – I’ll give her a pass for not yet having a direction for the company fully fleshed out). She’s a well-known workhorse, a smart, dedicated professional, and relatable (despite the millions she has in the bank). Simply by osmosis, some of that should rub off on Yahoo!. After the debacle of the last few years, that’s something of monumental importance for Yahoo!.
                                                                        
Yahoo! also didn’t blink when Mayer told the Board that she was pregnant – something that I’m unsure other Fortune 500 companies would have done in the same position. And there’s already been debate in the blogosphere about whether she’s up to the task with a baby on the way. Deanne Katz wrote that, “While Marissa Mayer's pregnancy was likely not intended to make such a statement, it certainly is a positive message that having a baby and being a high powered executive are not mutually exclusive.”

In today’s day and age, I don’t think this is really a debate we should (or need) to have anymore. With Mayer’s appointment, Yahoo! seems to agree.

It’s Board was smart enough to recognize that she brought a certain something to the table, pregnant or not, and that her work truly speaks for itself. Yahoo! knows it has monumental challenges, and time will tell if Mayer (or anyone, quite frankly) can right the ship. But Mayer is hands down the best person at this time to try to help them get there. I wish her the best.

Jul 17

Some things never change

Boys-or-girls-7th-birthday-star-party-badge-327-pIt was seven years ago (July 11, 2005, as a matter of fact) that the Repman blog was launched with this inaugural post: "Why a Blog on Reputation Management?"  Re-reading it is like taking a time trip to the recent past.

In the text, I addressed such image and reputation crises of the day as:

- The late Michael Jackson's fondness for young boys (shades of Jerry Sandusky!).

- Bernie Ebbers, the disgraced CEO of Global Crossing (Bernie was just the vanguard of what would be many more corrupt corporate chieftains to follow).

- Trent Lott's speech about the late Strom Thurmond's pro-segregationist ways (Trent and Strom would have had a field day with Obama).
- The juicing of baseball players Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, respectively (Now, it's Lance Armstrong's doping and Roger Clemens' oh-so-bogus acquittal from his perjury case).

In the original blog, I noted that all of the above were emblematic of the complete erosion of trust in every pillar of American society in 2007. And, sadly, things seem to have only gotten worse.

That said, it's both shocking and somehow predictable that ONLY the Catholic Church (fueled by its never-ending pedophilia scandals and refusal to embrace change in a rapidly evolving secular world) remains at the top of the crisis du jour list.

Looking back, I distinctly recall erstwhile Peppercommer Andrew Foote urging me to write my own blog. Having recently joined us from CooperKatz where Steve Rubell was lighting up the nascent blogosphere with his observations, Andrew pushed me to create Repman. And, I still recall his advice at the time:

- "Find your own voice." Check.

- "Take the road less traveled." Check.

- "Posit your views on other, more influential bloggers' sites." Check. I still post comments on blogs written by Al Ries, Ken Makovsky and Richard Edelman, among others.

- "Comment on breaking news stories." I did at first, but now find I create the most buzz when I opine on a page two story (that's because most competitors swarm around the lead story of the day).

- "Never, ever, let someone else guest blog for you. Readers are only interested in your POV." That advice proved wrong. Some of the very best received Repman blogs have been guest authored (and, I think guest writers also provide Repman an oh-so-important refresh).

Andrew helped jump-start a passion that has seen me win several industry awards (note: I'm honored to say I've yet again been honored as a finalist for PR News blogger of the year). Blogging has also enabled me to counsel clients as they've created their own digital footprints. And, it's provided me with a bully platform to inject a comedic angle into otherwise serious subjects.

Indeed, I think it's my blend of comedy and commentary that sets Repman apart. And, I have Andrew Foote (who now toils for The Evil Empire, BTW) to thank for that.

Who knows if Repman will still be publishing in seven years' time? If it is though, you can count on one thing: along with death and taxes, the Catholic Church will still be knee deep in crisis and denial. Some things never change.

Jul 16

Vick’s back so Mick attacks

Easter Weekend 2007 006Controversial canine advocate and former Congressdog Mick Cody, (pictured,) is foaming at the mouth over what he terms “…yet another Michael Vick outrage.”
 
Vick, the highly-paid Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who was convicted of staging illegal dog fights, is launching his own line of athletic wear, and Mick's not happy.

“This thug killed scores and scores of pit bull terriers,” said Cody, panting heavily after a three-mile walk in 90-degree temperatures. “While he may have paid his debt to society with a prison stint, Vick never should have been allowed back into the NFL,” snarled Cody as he lapped up a bowl's worth of cool water.
 
The ex-Congressdog bristled at the very thought of Vick's now becoming the Kim Kardashian of football. “Not content with the millions he makes on the field and in promotions, Vick will now be raking in even more loot through a clothing line,” he howled.

Cody suggested Vick's clothing line, named V7, should stand for 'violence' and 'seven dead dogs.' He also thought the apparel should include:
 
 - Whips
 - Chains
 - Taser guns
 - Cattle prods
 - Hoods
 
"If nothing else, Vick's clothing line should be authentic to the man's brand. He tortured and killed many innocent dogs, so why not provide the same sado-masochistic tools once employed by Vick and his posse to the misguided fan base that still roots for him?” Mick said as he lifted a leg on his mom's prized flower garden.
 
The former Congressdog, who has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate on the Romney ticket (to offset the negative press caused by the candidate's once having strapped the family dog to the roof of his car,) is also barking mad about Vick's charitable donation. A portion of V7 sales will go the The Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia.

“The bastard doesn't even have the decency to includes canines in his money-making scheme,” whined Cody. “One would think a PR handler would have advised Vick to earmark the funds to the local ASPCA.”

Mick confirmed that, given the opportunity to meet Vick, he'd earmark, legmark and pretty much puncture any exposed portion of the star's body. “He'd be dog meat after I was done with him,” growled Cody.
 
Mick Cody first rose to prominence in the aftermath of the Vick controversy. An outspoken canine advocate, Cody became the first dog elected to Congress. He was later forced to resign in the aftermath of a scandal in which he texted topless photographs to a feline admirer.
 
Cody remains active on the speaking circuit and is available to address sales meetings, conventions and dog shows. His aide-de-camp and life partner, Rooney Cody, manages the former Congresssdog's schedule, and can be friended on Facebook at Bothdogs.

And a tip o' RepMan's climbing helmet to Greg Scmalz for this suggestion.