Apr 21

Yes, but…

mets-fans-paper-bagsI’m just as excited as any long-suffering New York Mets fan by the team’s meteoric start. Their 10-3 record is the best in the National League, and the team’s best start since 1985.

Amazin’ isn’t it? Yes, but this franchise is notorious for perpetually losing. And when they do field a great team, the Mets are also hampered by the memories of some classic, late season collapses.

So far, the Mets are the talk of the town. And, they’re actually drawing large crowds to the usually vacant CitiField. It’s interesting to note that baseball, and sports in general, seem exempt from conventional wisdom when it comes to image and reputation.

There’s no way paying customers would remain loyal to any business that, year-in and year-out, produced an inferior product. Ah, but with loyal Mets fans, hope springs eternal each spring.  And, I share that hope. But, I also have an ingrained fear that, by June, we’ll all be saying, “Same old Mets.”

 

 

Apr 16

@TinyTony

Ted Jenkins’ recent blog on wsj.com posed a fascinating idea that, unfortunately, makes very little sense. He says the very best gift to give a newborn is his or her own domain name and Twitter handle !?!?!

blackberryJenkins argues that, like their parents do today, children will one day need to establish their personal brand identity. And, if the parents of Tiny Tony buy www.tinytony.com and a Twitter handle such as @TinyTony, the little tyke will be set for life, says Jenkins. That’s because, if Tony happens to become a Hollywood movie star, sports sensation or billionaire businessman, he won’t have to pay big bucks to someone who has already claimed it.

While Jenkins is clearly thinking ahead, he’s not looking at the big picture. We’ve seen countless digital tools and social media destinations wax and wane in popularity in just the past five years alone. It boggles the mind to think what sort of online environment might face Tiny Tony when he sets forth to conquer the world. The odds are good that LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and their ilk will be long gone (having been replaced by faster, cooler experiences). And, Tony’s parents would be stuck paying the monthly domain fees in perpetuity. As one Journal reader quipped, “Buying a domain name for your child today would be like my dad buying me a CB radio when I was a kid.”

On a related subject, should you believe Tiny Tony, Toni or Tammy deserve their own domain names now, be sure to create a fairly complex password that can’t easily be breached. The best password advice I’ve heard comes from the infamous Edward Snowden, who recently explained his thinking in this whimsical, PG-13 rated clip from the John Oliver Show.

I’ll bet Snowdon would approve of TinyTonyTugsaTiger. I’d like to see a hacker crack that password.

Apr 14

Looks can be deceiving

2013-01-14-3-old-golfers-featured-imageIf you scanned the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, tuned in one of the major TV news programs or surfed the web, you’d think that golf is a white hot game at the moment.

But, you’d be dead wrong. In fact, golfing is facing its own Oldsmobile crisis. Why? Because most golfers are either Baby Boomers or members of the Greatest Generation. And very few Millennials are even paying attention to it. Want bottom-line proof? The industry lost a net 400,000 players last year, according to the National Golf Foundation. Any business losing 400,000 customers annually needs to fix what’s broke post haste.

It’s especially ironic that golf doesn’t resonate with young people since Jordan Spieth, the winner of Sunday’s Masters Tournament, is only 21. And, according to The Times, the top ranked woman golfer is 17. And, three of the top five men in the new world rankings will be under 28. So, what gives?

Yahoo Sport’s Jay Busbee had this to say, “Golf’s in a lot of trouble. It’s expensive and takes too long.” And that combination is pure poison when trying to attract Millennials. Busbee went on to add, “Because most young people don’t have the disposable income and/or free time and/or desire to spend 6+ hours on an expensive golf course. And the rules of golf — and there are so many, so many – don’t mesh well with the Millennial mindset.”

There’s lots of talk about building shorter, nine-hole golf courses and re-positioning the sport as a young, family-friendly game. Good luck with that strategy. Unless the industry does something truly dramatic to attract younger players, I think golf will become a fringe sport within 20 years. And, unfortunately, there are no Mulligans when it comes to salvaging a game or re-positioning a brand.

 

Apr 07

The best defense is a good offense

 

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Industry consultant Robb High recently blasted out a promotional e-mail entitled, “Client retention mistake #6: believing the agency’s “great work” will be respected by a new CMO.”

In the memo, High said, “53 percent of agency reviews are triggered by a change in the C-suite, so the likelihood the incumbent agency will be replaced is frighteningly high.” He added that, when the CMO of an agency’s largest client is replaced, it’s one of the “scariest moments” in an agency’s life. To which I say, amen brother.

We’ve been on both sides of what many refer to as “the new sheriff in town scenario.” We’ve been invited to pitch a new piece of business because of a previous relationship with the sheriff. And, we’ve also watched helplessly as one of our accounts is put up for bid after a direct client report leaves (or is asked to leave). The latter scenario once happened with what was, at the time, our largest account. And, as High states, it was easily one of the scarier moments in our 20-year history.

High argues the best strategy to combat the new sheriff syndrome is maintaining an aggressive new business pipeline. That is so true. And, frankly, it’s something we’ve struggled to perfect over our 20-year history. We’re now using a number of software systems that help us identify prospects in our sweet spot as well as those where we may have only one degree of separation. I must say it’s been working quite well. Both our new business and client retention rates have improved significantly.

New business is the lifeblood of an agency. That’s because, like baseball managers, we’re hired to be fired. It could be a month, a decade or longer, but the ax will fall.

Apr 03

Girl Scouts Listen Better Than Many Fortune 500 Companies

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Today’s post is by Jackie Kolek

Last week I was asked to attend my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop meeting as the “snack and stay” mom.   The girls were preparing for a Girl Scout Cookie sale in front of the local Shack Shake, so I was asked to come in and talk about marketing.  I felt like I know a little about that subject, so was delighted to come in and talk to them.  What was even cooler is that this group of 9-year olds was earning their “Customer Insights” patch.  Customer Insights is one of two Cookie Business patches that they can earn, the other being the “Cookie CEO” patch.   The Girl Scouts have come a long way since I was a Brownie and we went bowling and decorated Christmas trees in an old folks’ home.

In order to earn this patch, the scouts had to do what every good marketer should; listen to their audiences.  The scouts were first asked to think about who their customers could be (a grandparent, neighbor, businessperson, etc.), how they would sell to them (over the phone, at a booth, going door-to-door) and what type of customer they might be (nut allergy, elderly, doesn’t like chocolate).  This exercise really got the girls thinking about what motivates their potential customers, how best to reach them and what might prevent them from buying cookies.

The next step was a visit to the local grocery store.  During the on-site visit, the girls were asked to interview shoppers in the cookie aisle.  What were they buying, who they were buying them for, what they liked and didn’t like.  Mostly importantly, they needed to ask shoppers who were not buying cookies why not?  Hearing people say no to cookies is a part of selling.   The girls are taught to use each “no” to learn more about customers.

Armed with this insight, the girls developed a marketing plan.  Ours was simple; most of the local troops had finished their sales so we would position our sale as a “last chance” before all the cookies were gone. We also created messaging about how buying Girl Scout cookies helps fund activities, like sending a girl who could not afford it to camp.  And one smart little scout suggested that people would buy from them because they were cute, so pigtails were a must.  We created flyers and “blinged out” signs with our messages to attract potential buyers.  Each girl asked their parents and siblings to spread the word via social media.

The result was a very successful sale.  The girls had a blast and sold out of every type of cookie.  I’m extremely impressed that the Girl Scouts have embraced the concept of understanding your audience and is educating girls about the importance of audience insights.  Not only are the Girl Scouts benefitting by increasing cookie sales, they are creating an army of savvy business leaders.  After being part of this experience, I’m happy to say my daughter is one smart cookie.

Apr 01

You win! (April Fool!)

2324373647_DC_Comics_Joker__Ha_Ha_Ha_Ha_Ha__410043_answer_102_xlargeHaving been in the PR business since William Henry Harrison sat in the Oval Office (however briefly), I thought I’d seen every twist and permutation in the mating ritual otherwise known a new business pitching.

Then, along came ABC Widgets. They were in the midst of a search, didn’t like any agency they’d seen to date, had heard good things about my favorite firm and asked if we’d be interested. We were.

The Widget PR folk asked for an initial call. During the call, we answered all of their questions and, when the subject of potential conflicts came up, we said we didn’t see any (with the possible exception of the XYZ Doodad Company). Widget folk said not to worry. Doodad wasn’t a conflict. At the end of the call, they invited us to meet the decision-making team within a few days’ time.

To do so, we’d have to quickly assemble a team, prepare a presentation (that, naturally, had to include a few creative ideas) and drive to NoSuchPlace, Delaware.

We did so. From the get-go, it was obvious the Widgets types dug our act. As we whipped through the preso and nailed one question after another, we brought up the Doodad case study, thinking it would address many of their challenges. When we finished, one of the senior decision-makers said, “You represent Doodad?” We shook our heads affirmatively.

We then proceeded to answer a few questions about how we’d staff the Widget account and adjourned the meeting. There was no question we’d nailed it. The PR folk even told us so and said we’d be hearing from them the next day.

We heard from them the next day. The call began something like this, “Steve, we love your team, but the Doodad conflict is a real problem. Does Doodad know you’re pitching us?” they asked. “No,” I said. “Since we didn’t think it was a conflict and you didn’t either, we never asked.” The Widget folk asked us to ask.

We did. As expected the Doodad types had no issue with our also representing ABC Widgets. I was psyched and sent the Widget folk a quick e-mail, figuring we’d sealed the deal.

Later that day, a call came from the Widget PR folk. One of them said, “We appreciate the hustle, the interest and the ideas but, frankly, the Doodad conflict is too big a hurdle. We’re going with someone else.”

And, that was that. We’d virtually won an account one day only to be told the next that we’d lost because of a conflict the PROSPECT initially told us was NOT a problem.

There ought to be a law.

Mar 26

Can an ad campaign restore a company’s reputation?

10302045_10203109744255987_1932378722688478557_n-neon-sw-signWould you use a major advertising campaign to restore confidence in your battered brand? I sure wouldn’t. Advertising is great for creating awareness, but not so adept at establishing credibility. After all, the advertiser has total control over what is said as well as when and where it appears, so authenticity can be a tad suspect. PR and social media, on the other hand, carry far more third party credibility, especially in times of crisis.

I ask these questions because SeaWorld just launched a major advertising campaign to try and restore its reputation some two years after a scathing documentary called “Blackfish” attacked the theme park chain for cruel and inhumane treatment of its prized attraction, killer whales.

It the ads, SeaWorld features an in-house veterinarian, Chris Dodd, who says, “I wouldn’t work here if I wasn’t able to give these whales the world class care they deserve. So, don’t believe what PETA and Blackfish are saying.” Sorry, Mr. Dodd, but those comments make me a tad suspicious since SeaWorld also happens to be your employer.

The SeaWorld campaign really misses the mark in terms of addressing the larger issue: should these amazing, wild creatures be penned up in man-made tanks and forced to perform like circus lions before an adoring crowd? I think not. But, if SeaWorld loses the whales, what will be left to attract tourists? And, therein lies the conundrum. SeaWorld’s stock has dipped 40 percent in the past two years and attendance to their 11 theme parks has decreased by four percent. Imagine what those numbers would be like if the whales were to be set free?

In one of the other SeaWorld ads, Chairman and Interim CEO David D’Alessandro says, “There’s been a lot of misinformation and even lies spread about SeaWorld. We want to provide the facts, so people can make up their own minds on this important issue.” Perhaps. But, I’d be much more comfortable if an independent, blue ribbon panel was releasing the facts and not the theme park itself.

I think SeaWorld is swimming upstream if they think the average American wants to see killer whales kept in captivity. I also appreciate the reality that SeaWorld is really stuck between a rock and a hard place (or whatever the nautical equivalent of that aphorism may be). Popular opinion will force them to set the whales free at some point, so why pay money to visit a killer whale-less SeaWorld?

But, that’s SeaWorld’s problem. In the meantime, I’ll just paraphrase Ronald Reagan and say, “Mr. D’Alessandro, tear down those whale tanks!”

Mar 20

Why?

images-59Why would three extraordinarily successful business executives go out of their way to purposely antagonize significant segments of their target audience?

I ask because all three were in the news this week, albeit for altogether different reasons.

Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana’s incendiary comments about IVF and gay parents  sparked a worldwide backlash that included the likes of Sir Elton John, Ricky Martin and Courtney Love. All three called for a D&G boycott and vowed never to wear the label again. That cannot be good for business.

Separately, Chick-fil-A’s CEO Dan Cathy announced plans to open the fast food chain’s largest free-standing store right in the heart of New York City, arguably America’s most liberal city.

In case you don’t know, Cathy is notorious for his very public comments supporting traditional marriage. As might be expected, Cathy’s statements provoked nationwide boycotts and protests from the gay, lesbian and transgender communities as well as liberals everywhere.

I’ll bet my last wishbone that his new Manhattan store will prompt a whole new round of demonstrations when it opens. It’s the fast food equivalent of Daniel entering the lion’s den.

All of which prompts one fundamental question: why? Why mix one’s personal views and morals with business? Why go out of one’s way to alienate thousands, if not millions, of potential customers? It makes no sense whatsoever.

In my opinion, a business executive should limit his or her views to family and friends. Period.

D&G and Chick-fil-A will obviously continue to survive, if not prosper, despite their owners’ explosive (and unnecessary) comments.

But, what if the owner of a smaller, less well-known business chooses to air her views about, say, right-to-life? Such comments could very well kill her business. And that would be so unfortunate and so unnecessary.

Mar 19

Have you had a crucible moment?

tug-of-war-125x125Don Spetner writes a consistently wise and insightful column for PR Week. In his most recent piece, Spetner shared his crucible career moment.

It occurred when he was being raked over the coals by a bullying, belligerent and bullheaded client. It got so bad that Spetner was seriously contemplating changing careers.

I’ll let you read the full story to find out how Spetner dealt with his crucible moment. But his words inspired me to write about mine.

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away I was an aspiring account executive for a number of PR firms. While I took to PR like a fish to water, I must admit there were aspects to the job I didn’t much care for (i.e. A.P. reporters who hung up on me in mid-sentence, clients who yelled and screamed at me in front of my boss or the shark-infested political waters of the large agency world).

As my disenchantment grew, my father-in-law happened to mention he was selling his restaurant, a legendary Manhattan steak house called Frankie & Johnnie’s. My wife, who also happened to be in PR (and truly loathed it) suggested we buy it. I was young and naïve, so I said, “Sure!”

Happily, my father-in-law flat out rejected our inquiries, saying, “I wouldn’t wish that lifestyle on anyone, much less family members.”

Duly chastened, we both went back to our day jobs. I figured I better concentrate on what I did best. And, sure enough, within a few months I began a true love affair with PR that continues to this day. As for my wife, she turned to personal training.

But, what if my father-in-law had yes that day? That’s easy. It would have been an unmitigated disaster. Neither my wife nor I knew beans about running a business, much less a famous steakhouse.

What about you? Have you had a crucible moment like Don and me? If so, please share. I’ll bet it’s as juicy as an F&J’s rib-eye.

Mar 17

Three management lessons from St. Patrick

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt O’Purdue. 

Ah, St. Patrick’s Day. Holidays here at RepMan invariably present a chance for some real clickbait to inflate our site traffic. Oops…I mean invariably present a chance to create some high-quality content to enhance our audience engagement.

So in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, without further ado we present three management lessons from the one and only Apostle of Ireland.


peewee2 (aaaaa1)Chase out the snakes:
St. Patrick is legendary for chasing the snakes out of Ireland. The lesson here for managers is to guard your company’s culture with a religious fervor. Corporate culture is what really enables you to differentiate yourself from your from your competitors; not your products and services. Those employees who don’t fit into your culture? Maybe they need to be chased out.

Probably the best example of this comes from second-generation Irish-American Anne Mulcahy. When she took over as CEO of Xerox, charged with turning around a failing company, she told 100 of her executives to get on board with the plan or leave. Ninety-eight elected to stay.

Learn the language: St. Patrick was actually born in Roman-occupied Britain. He got his first taste of Ireland only after he was kidnapped and sent to Ireland to tend sheep as a slave. While there, he picked up the local language and culture, which he used later in life on his return to Ireland to proselytize. The lesson here is to continually expand your knowledge of your employees and your clients. Can you talk their talk and walk their walk? If not, your most important messages for them are going to fall on deaf ears.

Keep it real: St. Patrick grew up in an aristocratic family and was later ordained a bishop. In Ireland, he broke bread with nobles and chieftains, legend has it. Yet he’s venerated today for his acts of service and his life of poverty. As a manager, you need to make it clear to your staff that you’re a leader, but you also need to show them that you will never forget where you came from. Make sure you get down in the trenches with them on a regular basis. Edit a press release, write a tweet. When was the last time you actually attended a weekly client conference call?

If you follow this simple advice, you’ll be that much closer to management sainthood.