Feb 28

Here’s your hat. What’s your hurry?

Did you know the average client-agency relationship lasts
only 2.5 years.

down from 5.3 years in 1997, and a seemingly eternal 7.2 years in 1984.

Save-your-marriage-The downward spiral has been caused by a combination of time,
technology and (an erosion of) trust, according to The Bedford Group, an
Atlanta-based search consultancy that conducted the research.

The statistics are both sobering and, sadly,

Client-agency relationships are more fragile than ever,
thanks to:

-  Our 24×7 news

-  The immediacy of
social media

-  Wall Street's
relentless pressure on CEOs to produce positive quarterly results.

The latter is the real catalyst for change. The chief
executive of a publicly-traded company places tremendous pressure on the CCO or
CMO who, in turn, ratchets up the heat on the agency.

And, when the competition is outflanking the client
organization and sales are flat or down, the first people to face the
executioner's sword are, in fact, the agency account team. It's a food chain in
its most perfect form.

At the same time, I've been a first-hand witness to the
adverse impact of technology on client relations. In many instances, e-mail
reports and weekly phone calls have replaced in-person meetings. It's so much
easier to relay news, especially if it's negative, by e-mail or text.

As a result, the bonding that used to occur over lunch or
a game of golf has all but disappeared. And the rich relationships that
developed from face-to-face meetings have been replaced by ephemeral,
text-driven communications that are an inch deep and a mile wide.

So, nowadays, when a highly-stressed CEO sneezes, his CCO
catches a cold and the PR agency dies. It's that simple.

Elizabeth Zea, a partner at Juel Consulting, said, 'As an
industry (she was referring to advertising, but her words apply equally well to
PR), it feels like we have lost sight of what it means to have a relationship.'

We've tried various methods to deepen client
relationships, including quarterly reviews, substantive interviews between our
consultant and the client, and quantitative surveys.

In the end, though, our relationships of longest standing
have thrived for one reason: the account manager has made it his or her
business to develop a personal, face-to-face relationship with the lead client.

In some cases, though, all the relationship-building in
the world won't matter because the CCO needs to show the CEO who needs to show
the Street that they're listening and making changes.

instead of sending the usual 'Dear agency' termination note, CCO's about to end
a 2.5 year relationship might want to borrow a line from my mom (who used to
tell travelling salesman: “'I'm not interested. Here's your hat. What's your

Feb 27

Profits over people

Did you know that, according to published reports, Yahoo
CEO Marissa Mayer enjoys chauffeured limousine service to, and from, the
company's Sunnyvale headquarters? Did you know she's had a nursery built next
to her office so she can care for her child? And, did you know she's notorious
for keeping employees waiting for hours to meet with her?

If so, it should come as no surprise then that Ms.
Mayer has just severed ALL telecommuting positions at Yahoo

Citing a need for face-to-face communications in order to
enhance innovation, Mayer's dictum is, in fact, a brutal, take-it-or-leave-it
ultimatum to the organization's 600 or so telecommuters. Many are single
parents. Others suffer from agoraphobia. Others simply don't possess the
financial wherewithal to move to company HQs.

And, how delicious is it that this also happens to be
Telecommuter Appreciation Week? Timing is, indeed, everything in life.

Ms. Mayer seemed to be a breath of fresh air when she
first joined Yahoo. She made many smart, clear-sighted decisions that were
rewarded on Wall Street. But, her telecommuting 'let them eat cake' declaration
tells me the new Yahoo boss is just like the old boss(es). Note: in the
interests of full transparency, I should report that my firm represented Yahoo
for 15 roller coaster months. At the time, Carol Bartz was CEO. And, I think it
would be fair to describe her period on the throne as a genuine reign of

Rather than continue to posit my views on what I see as
Mayer's readily transparent move to place profits over people, I decided,
instead, to conduct in-house qualitative and quantitative research. 

I first asked Sara Jane Whitman Ramos, our culture czar
and a telecommuting mom, for her take on Marissa's decision. She said, “It's
disheartening to see a company as influential as Yahoo take away its
work-from-home policy. (Mayer's) decision is an antiquated one that, as we're
seeing in the media firestorm, is backfiring. The best and brightest employees
are looking for freedom and flexibility. Peppercomm
recognizes this value in today’s workforce which is why we maintain a
company-wide telecommuting policy, a practice for which we were recognized by
Crain’s New York
. Yahoo needs to build a stronger management system that
fosters open communications across channels, and have a better understanding of
what motivates people.'

I next surveyed our employees, asking them two questions:

1.) If Peppercomm took away its work-from-home policy,
would it negatively impact your perception of the firm?

percent (70%) of the 59 respondents said it would.

2.) If Peppercomm no longer had a work-from-home policy,
would you seek different employment?    

percent (44%) answered yes or maybe.

I'm disappointed, but not at all surprised, to discover
that Ms. Mayer is just the latest in a long line of inside out, top down,
totally detached Yahoo CEOs. She may be doing the right things financially, but
I've always believed a company's most important constituency is its employee
base. And, as a long-time Yahoo observer, I can't name another well-known
corporation that has so consistently mishandled its workplace culture over the

My only question is this: Does Yahoo possess a Marat or
Robespierre within the ranks who has the chutzpah to foment a palace
revolution? If a corporate monarchy ever deserved to be overthrown, it's this
one. The queen is dead! Long live the people!

RepMan tips his telecommuting hat to Vivienne Barlow.

Feb 26

And, we don’t like what we’re hearing

A recent Nielsen Report showed that fewer
consumers than ever trust advertising
. I can
understand why.

The average advertisement represents top down, inside out thinking and rarely,
if ever, empathizes with the wants and needs of the consumer. Instead, we're
bombarded with brand promises of faster, better and sleeker products and

There are many egregious examples of the gap that exists between what a brand
promises and what the actual end user experience is (think: airlines, insurance
companies, cable operators, etc.). My personal bete noir is New Jersey Transit.

Since becoming a veritable monopoly decades ago, NJT has excelled at redefining
poor quality and service. A list of complaints would fill an entire train, but
a few of the more overt ones would include:
2.26.2013 RepMan
– Broken restrooms (often awash with waste)
– Rude conductors
– Inexplicable delays (the details of which conductors seem to take perverse
delight in not sharing)
– Trains that always seem to be one car short, hence forcing passengers to
press together like sardines (and, in a Hitchcock-like twist, telling
passengers stuck in the first and last cars that those areas have been as
designated 'silent' zones, so curses and epithets aimed at NJT should be kept
very, very quiet).

None of this would matter if, at the same time, NJT didn't run advertising campaigns
that strain credulity. Last year's effort was headlined:

– 'NJ Transit: Getting you there'

I suggested they add the word 'eventually'.

To add insult to injury, though, NJT has the unmitigated gall to launch a
brand, new campaign, entitled:

– 'NJT: We are listening'

The advertising is an obvious response to the withering rider comments posted
on numerous anti-NJT websites, blogs and Twitter feeds.

But, the new campaign begs the question' What have you been doing for the past
four decades, NJT? Has the commuter rail line suddenly been cured of a
system-wide hearing disorder? Are they, like The Who's Tommy, suddenly able to
see, hear and speak after years of being deaf, dumb and blind?

I don't believe NJT is listening at all. They're merely try to temporarily
placate the great, unwashed masses.

If NJT sought genuine authenticity in their new advertising campaign, the
headline would read:

– 'NJT: We are listening. We don't like what we're hearing. And, we're not
going to improve a damn thing. Live with it.'

I'd be a happier, more content consumer if my providers would only stop making
absurd brand promises while I continue to endure the reality of their everyday
experience. I'd go on, but I've been squeezed into a packed, quiet car and my
typing is upsetting an already pissed-off fellow passenger.

'NJT commuting: where personal safety is your problem.'

Feb 25

When customer service goes pear shaped

The following guest blog was penned by Lady Diana of Soltmann, CEO of Flagship Consulting, Peppercomm's London-based strategic partner and a soon-to-be official, seamlessly-integrated component in our firm's far flung empire (which will one day rival the depth and breadth of Britain's circa 1890. Think: The sun never sets on the P'comm Empire, etc.).

A month ago my usual contractors came around to try and breathe some life into my soggy, mossy and compacted lawn.  The usual operatives John and Barry had been replaced by a new crew who were very polite, but clearly did not know their way around my lawn. I had to go out to a meeting so I left them to it.

When I returned I discovered that they had deviated from their normal procedure and bagged up all the debris into 25 large black extremely heavy bags for me to dispose of.  I decided to call the company and ask them why this had happened. The administration manager answered the telephone and as I explained my plight it was clear that I was not going to get much sympathy.Vv
“Madam” she said “we send out clear instructions ahead of every treatment. You will have known exactly what to expect.”

I could feel myself bristling…

I said that I had been a client for over 8 years and that I only read things when they sent me a red alert to let me know that something had changed.

Miss Moneypenny then told me that if I wanted the bags removed I would have to pay commercial rates as the business could not afford to do things for free.

I expressed some surprise at this as in the past the operatives had always put the debris on the compost dump. “There are no instructions to do anything like this on your file, Madam” she said.

I decided there was no point in continuing the conversation, so I said goodbye and immediately wrote a letter terminating my contract with the company.

It was what happened next that was interesting…nothing!

Assuming that I would get the ‘head in the sand’ approach after waiting for a week I contacted another lawn company and asked them to give me a quote. They were extremely efficient and came over the next day. Within 24 hours I received a plan and a quote which seemed reasonable. The company was family owned and they were very clear about explaining the added-value they would bring. I decided to sign up.

A week later (so almost three weeks after my initial complaint) the managing director of the previous contractor rang me. He had clearly had customer complaint training and performed in a text book manner, apologising, offering me various sweeteners and free treatments. The trouble was, it was too late!

Mentally I had already severed the relationship. I had met with the shiny new contractor; they had wooed me exceptionally well and also demonstrated how they were better than the previous supplier. They had continued to cultivate me with brochures, invitations etc. and made me, as customer, feel important and valued. Something I had not felt for a long time with the previous supplier.

So although I have agreed to meet with the managing director, I have already decided that I no longer want to do business with him. The shiny new person just seems so much better and there is now that awkwardness with the old supplier which makes me feel uncomfortable.

The moral of the story? Never be too complacent with your customers and clients. Make them feel important and valued all the time.  If you make a mistake, act! Don’t wait around, act immediately to rectify it. Remember there are hundreds of competitors out there just waiting to pounce, looking shinier and more exciting than you.


Feb 22

Beantown’s bars have the best brew and crew

Slide1As someone who is positively obsessed with the image and reputation of people, places and things, I was taken aback to read a recent Crain’s New York Business piece reporting that Boston is putting a real hurt on the Big Apple’s ability to attract the best and brightest workers, and one of the reasons may be the experience provided by its bars and restaurants.

The study caused me to toss back another Blue Moon and do some personal digging into this seeming disconnect (after all, New York is renowned as one of the globe’s true culinary meccas).

So, practicing what our firm’s Audience Experience offering preaches I chose NOT to focus on restaurant and bar owners in each city but, rather, on the patrons themselves. I wanted to understand each city’s brand (if you will) from the end user’s vantage point.

I spoke with two experienced drinkers (in a positive sense, mind you) who have bent many an elbow in both Manhattan and Boston bars and restaurants.

My question was this: Crain’s New York Business says Boston’s bars are to the Apple’s as the Patriots are to the Jets (i.e. they kick butt, pure and simple). Having imbibed at many fine establishments in each metropolis, what’s your take on why Boston is winning this particular battle?

Alex Chigas, a financial representative at Fidelity Investments in Shrewsbury, Mass, had this to say: ‘The big difference between Boston and New York bars is this: Manhattan has far more high end, upscale bars/restaurants that only the well-heeled can afford. But, while Boston also provides a high-end experience, it has far more boutique eateries and bars that offer great grog and grub for any budget. Put more bluntly, we have more, and better, hole-in-the-wall bars than New York.”

Ouch! That hurt more than yet another last-second, game-winning Tom Brady drive to defeat the hapless Jets.

Josh Brown, Director of Marketing at Metropolitan Pipe & Supply Company in Cambridge, provided a different, and completely unexpected, POV: “Education is Boston’s ace in the hole. We have a higher concentration of colleges and universities in Boston than anywhere else on the planet. So, those students experience our great bars and restaurants and stay right here to begin their careers. It’s a strategic advantage that New York couldn’t possibly match.”

Double ouch! That’s akin to saying the Boston Red Sox have a far deeper, and wider, farm system than the Yankees and, ergo, will produce more highly skilled major leaguers down the road.

I love it! And, Josh’s analysis makes perfect sense. Even more important for someone who simply lives to foment unrest, I’m hoping these comments will spark some heated reaction from my New York-based readers.

So, how about it guys? What do those of you who have been introduced to John Barleycorn in both Boston and New York bars feel about the respective experiences? Which city has given you the biggest buzz for your buck, and why?

And a tip o' the Red Sox cap to Chris Cody for suggesting this post.

Feb 20

When reporters become the headline

Anchor19n-1-webCBS-TV news anchor, Rob Morrison, was arrested this past Sunday for allegedly choking his wife, Ashley Morrison, a CBS MoneyWatch reporter. Mr. Morrison was charged with strangulation, threatening and disorderly conduct. 

This is very bad news for Mr. and Ms. Morrison, both personally and professionally.

I can't speak for the personal side, but I can assure you that Mr. Morrison has just as surely put a stranglehold on his once promising career as he allegedly did to his spouse's neck. And, I'll bet that Mrs. Morrison will be forever identified as 'the former broadcaster and domestic violence victim.'

CBS has already washed its hands of both husband and wife, refusing to comment “…because this is a personal matter.”

Reporters are hired to cover the news, not to create it. And, in a similar vein, public relations professionals are hired to represent their client's or company's product or service.

When the spotlight is shined on either reporters or publicists, it typically inflicts a major blow to the individual involved. In our field, some of the more high-profile examples have included:

– A Ketchum PR team member who Tweeted derogatory remarks about Memphis during a FedEx all-hands meeting in, you guessed it, Memphis.
– A GCI (now part of Cohn & Wolfe) intern publicly attacking blogger Jeff Jarvis and his less-than-positive review of a GCI client's product.
– Edelman's less-than-transparent work on behalf of Wal-Mart.

All three incidents did a number on the individual's career and elicited a public apology from the PR firm.

The Morrison family is in full crisis management mode as we speak. The strangling spouses issued a statement through their lawyer, calling the charges “…grossly exaggerated.” Yeah, sure. Check out this quote from the local Darien, Connecticut, police department: “…Morrison had become increasingly belligerent toward his wife during the course of the evening, culminating in his choking her by the neck with both hands.” The cops also observed 'red marks' on Ms. Morrison's neck that were “consistent with being choked.”

Don't be surprised if the battling Morrisons find themselves black listed from future gigs in journalism. That said, they'd be eminently qualified to open a crisis management firm that specializes in domestic violence cases.

Feb 19

Lifelong listening

Nameplate I'm a big believer in lifelong learning and the importance of listening before crafting a communications strategy, much less a campaign.

But, I recently learned a very painful lesson by violating my own code of listen first, last and always.

The setting was a new business presentation to a professional services firm. Because I'd done so much work in the field over the years, I just assumed I knew what the prospect's challenges would be. Even worse, I was so blinded by the brilliance of what we'd built at Peppercomm over the past 18 months or so that I didn't listen when the prospects began to explain why they were firing a global, holding company and looking for a smarter, nimbler and more creative partner.

They proceeded to tell me they wanted PR 101, the kind of stuff I churned out when I worked for Geltzer & Company and Hill & Knowlton in the 1980s. Press kits, editorial calendar, speaking opportunities, case studies, media training, etc. Their wish list could have been penned by a young Harold Burson, Al Golin or Howard Rubenstein.

While nodding my head to indicate my compassion with their current plight and understanding of their sincere desire for publicity by the pound, I was positively salivating to them all about:

– Transmedia communications.
– Content curation.
– iPhone apps and Facebook pages we've created.
– Our take on best practices for engaging with audiences in the blogosphere.
– New websites we've designed and an employee video our creative director had recently completed by traveling to 21 client plants around the world!

When I was done, the non-plussed prospect blinked, and asked me the following question: “Steve, do you even call yourselves a PR firm anymore?”

That got my attention. I tried to back-peddle faster than Joe Willie Namath in his prime. I assured him that basic PR, as well as the blocking-and-tackling he said he needed, still accounted for the bulk of our billings. I tried to quickly insert some examples in my next, few remarks, but time had run out, and the prospect's appointment with the next firm was only minutes away.

Recognizing how badly I'd blundered, I sent an immediate follow-up note, emphasizing our laser-focus on bread-and-butter media relations. But, the die had been cast. And, sure enough, a 'Dear Agency' note arrived a few days later, thanking us for our time, wishing us well without new, integrated approach, but emphasizing that the prospect was headed in a completely different direction.

In hindsight, I realized I've been proselytizing about listening for so long that I'd stopped listening when it mattered most.

Trust me, though. I'll make sure listening first, last and always becomes more than just a mantra with me (and my firm). The failed new business pitch was a painful, but important, speed bump on the road known as lifelong learning.

The next time a prospect says he wants to buy a hamburger, I'm not going to suggest a petite filet mignon instead. I may not even ask if he wants cheese. I'll let him know we've got just the right burger for him. Period.

Feb 14

Acquisition is a poor substitute for strategy

The romantically-timed Valentine's Day announcement that American Airlines will merge with US Airways to form the world's largest air carrier may be good news for a few senior executives and even fewer institutional investors, but it's a total disaster for the flying public.

I know of what I speak, having endured the last two years of the United/Continental merger which, at the time, also created the world's largest air carrier. Back then, United ran ads everywhere trumpeting the merger, and declaring:

'It's not who's merging that counts. It's what about to emerge that does.'

I can tell you that, based upon my personal experiences of the two past two years, what did emerge was a living hell for passengers (especially those of us who had been loyal, long-standing Continental passengers).

Post-merger, our Continental Gold and Platinum Elite status and points were put in the bottom of the barrel of what United calls 'Premier Access.' Talk about an oxymoron. There were no more first class upgrades, no more free passes to the President's Club and no more early boarding. We were all treated like cows being herded towards the final round-up.

To make matters worse, it seemed that every United plane suffered massive delays of one sort or another. Reservations were lost. And, the surviving employees of both airlines took very public potshots at one another. I recall sitting next to a deadheading Continental pilot on one delayed flight who sighed, and said, “This airline has gone to hell in a hand basket.”

Another pilot announced over the loudspeaker, “This delay really isn't my fault. United simply cannot get its act together." Great brand ambassadors, no?

And, the United flight attendants made Charlie Sheen seem like a teddy bear in comparison. They'd routinely scream at unsuspecting passengers for the least, little infraction.

Just yesterday, for example, I saw a United flight attendant rip one passenger a new oral orifice because he kept attempting to jam an obviously oversized piece of luggage into an overhead bin. Exasperated, she screamed, “Look people. It's real simple. If you don't give me those bags for gate-checking and find a seat, we don't take off. The ball's in your court!"

Which led me to create yet another suggested tagline for the 'new' United: ‘Just sit the f*ck down and shut up!'

The ultimate coup de grace, though, came the other day when United celebrated its best, monthly on-time performance in a decade by rewarding all 17,000 employees with a $100 bonus. That's just plain wrong. They don't deserve the bonus. Long-suffering passengers should get the loot. And, it's yet another example of isolated fat cats in the corner office thinking top-down and inside out (and forgetting all about what it's like to experience their brand).

So, best wishes to those of you who will be flying the new American/US Airways combination.

As business strategist, Gary Hamel, is fond of saying, “Acquisition is a poor substitute for strategy.” Obviously, neither American nor United has a strategy except growth for the sake of growth.

And a tip o’ RepMan’s cap to Catharine Cody for suggesting this post.

Feb 13

Making changes while change is still possible

3-stooges-footballThe always superb Advertising Age recently published a thought-provoking, post Super Bowl treatise on the current state of the National Football League. And, as a fan of long-standing, I must say absorbing the piece was akin to being blindsided by an open-field tackle from the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis.

Did you know the NFL's future is in deep, deep trouble? As a matter of fact, based upon the article, I'd list The National Football League right alongside Big Tobacco and McDonald's as the three most likely brands to be completely missing from the American landscape of 2050.

Try tackling these hard-hitting stats:

– 1,500 former NFL players are suing the league in federal court, claiming the NFL fraudulently concealed the risk of brain trauma from playing pro football. That's enough players to stock a whole new league.

– The NFL's popularity among Americans is in steady decline. In fact, it's dropped two percent in the last year. Big deal, you say? Well, guess what? Professional boxing and horse racing were both America's top sports in the first two decades of the 20th century, and each dropped an average of two percent a year during the 1930s.

– Every year, an additional five percent of American kids aged six-12 STOP playing organized tackle football.  That means an increasingly smaller talent pool for the league to tap.

– When asked if he'd let a son of his play organized football, President Obama said it “would be a tough call.” To paraphrase LBJ's seminal quote about Walter Cronkite, “If you've lost (the sports-loving) Obama, you've lost the nation.”

Seemingly oblivious to this all-out blitz on the league's image and reputation, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has authorized a new branding spot from Grey Advertising that ran during the Super Bowl and will continue to air on the NFL Network. Its theme? 'Celebrating the Game of Football,' according to league spokesperson Brian McCarthy. Nice.

It never ceases to amaze me how many executives, and organizations, believe a major problem will simply go away if they keep ignoring the problem and, focus instead, on the excitement and allure of the product (and that holds true for nicotine, a Big Mac with cheese or head-jarring tackles).

Like other huge businesses, the NFL isn't about to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. But, if they don't start admitting fault, making wholesale safety changes and instituting a middle school education and awareness campaign, those of us who are still alive in 2050 may find ourselves spending Sunday afternoons in the Fall watching water polo, Seinfeld reruns or, dare I suggest it, getting off the couch and engaging in calorie burning, artery de-clogging exercise that doesn't involve head-to-head contact.

Were I the ghost of Christmas Future (masquerading as an NFL referee), I'd penalize the league 15 yards for 'flagrant disregard of making changes while change is still possible.'

Feb 12

Driving Customer Satisfaction Down the Road to Extinction

Today's guest post is by Steve Bauer, television journalist and writer.

Car-dealerI'm a still wreck and it's been several hours since my terrifying car incident. I have sweaty palms, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat and I'm gulping for air. Yes… I have been car shopping. When I'm looking for a new vehicle I usually end up feeling like one of those poor cobras being attacked by a mongoose. Hours of dancing, nipping and bleeding before I'm finally grabbed by the neck and throttled. MSRP, list price, dealer prep, tax and tags… it goes on and on and on. And customer satisfaction does not.

In my family we name all of our cars. Don't ask me why. We just do. And every one of them we name Betsy. My wife Trina has been driving a Honda CR-V for a while. A long while. We believe in running the wheels off a car before trying to trade in what's left of the rusting carcass. We thought about buying a new car last fall when the 2012's went on sale. We decided Trina's 2004 still had plenty of life left in it. Since then, we've replaced the drive shaft, both front axles, two tires- and that's just the major stuff. Trina and I suddenly realized it was time to gently drive old Betsy onto an ice floe and push her off to auto heaven. And that meant we were heading to auto hell.

There was a time when you could go to a dealership and say, "I want a blue Chevy automatic with the Barney Rubble trim package". You were out the door faster than Fred Flintstone could down a DinoBurger- your chrome-plated ride depreciating exponentially before you hit the end of the driveway. Ah, the good old days.

Trina and I wanted to buy another CR-V but it's no longer an option. Sure, they still make 'em. But we both enjoy driving manual transmissions. And sadly, the stick shift has gone the way of Tyrannosaurus Rex- smoked by the flaming asteroid of modern driving habits. If you want to drive a new CR-V then you have to get the automatic transmission. So we set our sights on a Honda Accord LX 4-door. Plain old reliable transportation.

We were pleased to learn that you can still buy an Accord with a manual transmission. That is, if you can find one. Checking the internet we found just three Accord LX 4-doors with manual transmissions within a 100 mile radius of our Pennsylvania home. I hear there are lots of people clamoring for manual transmissions- but car makers just aren’t producing many of them. We still had to enter the pit of despair- the first dealer showroom.

Henry Ford was the automotive giant who invented the assembly line. Ford famously said customers could buy his cars in any color they liked, as long as the color was black. Honda must be channeling Henry- because 4-door Accords with manual transmissions are now available in just two colors; "modern steel metallic" (which looks like black to me) or silver. Trina and I love cars with racy colors- red, blue, green. I once even owned an orange car. Hey, I got a deal on it! To top it off, no matter which color you choose you have to take the black interior. I love sitting on a black seat that’s been baking in the July sun! So, Trina and I, by now desperate to get a car in a decent color, went to Plan B. We went to the Toyota dealership to look at a Camry. The smiling Toyota sales agent told us we could get a Camry in lots of great colors- even Barcelona Red Metallic! But we can’t get one with a manual transmission- don’t make ‘em anymore.

Isn’t the customer king? Why is it so hard to get a manual transmission? If I want Rallye Red or Dyno Pearl Blue- why not? Why are we being stuffed into a one-size-fits-all black box? Maybe this is a gray area…

Trina and I do have one word of advice. When the salesperson asks, "How much do you want to spend?"- don't answer.

I'll spare you the details of our daylong stint of “negotiating” with florid faced sales managers. (I think they must get these sales guys on loan from Guantanamo Bay.) Trina and I are now the proud owners of a spanking brand new 2013 Honda Accord LX with a manual transmission. It's silver. Yes, we caved on the color. The car has blue tooth hands free link, SMS Text Message Function, Illuminated Steering Wheel-Mounted Cruise, Audio, Phone and i-MID Controls, Pandora® Internet Radio Compatibility, USB Audio Interface, MP3/Auxiliary Input Jack, i-MID with 8-Inch WQVGA (480×320) Screen and Customizable Feature Settings and Chrome Door Handles.

So far, I know how to use the door handles….