Mar 06

Note to Hillary: There’s no ‘I’ in team

Greg Schneiders’ most excellent opinion piece in PR Week answered a question I’ve been wrestling withHillary
for some time: why do I overwhelmingly prefer Obama to Hillary?

As Schneider points out, Hillary’s speeches routinely employ the first person (‘I did this. I did that. I will do this. I will do that’). Obama, on the other hand, is a third person advocate (‘We will do this. We CAN do that together,’ etc.).

Hillary is iconoclastic, idiosyncratic and isolated. Obama seems warm, engaging and collegial by comparison. Coming on the heels of a disastrous administration whose leader was a sheltered, self-centered president who either dismissed criticism or questioned critics’ patriotism, Obama really does seem like a much needed breath of fresh air.

I’ve always been a fan of the ‘we’ word and recoil in disgust on the rare occasions when Peppercom employees opt for first person self aggrandizement in client or prospect meetings. Success, whether it be in business or politics, is a group activity. My best guess is that Schneiders is dead on. Hillary is all about Hillary, and Obama is all about the average American.

There’s no ‘I’ in team, either on Pennsylvania or Madison Avenues. And, that’s why ‘Hill’ will remain on Capitol Hill and not be back in the White House with Bill and Chelsea in tow.

Feb 19

Bill Lane’s advice for blacks, Asians and women

I suppose there’s a certain liberation that goes along with retirement. Secure in the knowledge that one can say what one wants without repercussions, one is free to wax poetic on anything and everything.

And, Bill Lane does just that in ‘Jacked up,’ his behind-the-scenes’ look at Jack Welch’s GE. Lane’s take is a true page-turner. What makes it interesting to me, though, is the way it intersperses communications strategies between often hilarious tales of Jack’s manic swearing, bashing and overall boorishness.

To his credit, Lane’s not afraid to take on controversial subjects that might have cost him his job in days past. For example, he provides the following ‘presentation’ observation and advice to minorities:

– Black males: ‘…your audience will be sincerely rooting for you, hoping that you are not up there because of some affirmative action boost, and out of your league.’ And ‘…the lurking, unspoken, awful question is about competence.’

– Asians: ‘Asian males need to stand up, look serious and forcefully establish the importance of what they are about to say.’ Lane quotes one Asian as saying, ‘…we are stereotyped as bright, brainy, brilliant…but also as bad leaders.’

– Women: ‘…women, most women, are not thought of by men as REAL leaders…their ability to lead largely male organizations that are still faintly pattered on World War II military organizations is in question.’

Lane says blacks, Asians and women need to out think, outflank and out hustle their white male counterparts to succeed in today’s corporate environment. I’m sure there’s some truth in what he says. But, I wish he’d said while he still had some ‘skin’ in the game.

Feb 15

A sure fire Rx for the job hunting blues

My partner and I were recently dazzled by a job prospect who did absolutely everything conceivable to ‘win’Job
the interview.

She employed some strategies that may seem academic, but proved spot on for differentiating her from the competition. And, with a much-hyped Recession on the horizon, I’d suggest any jobseeker: consider some of her approaches, including

– tell the prospective employer exactly why you think you’d be the ideal fit

– spend the time to not only research the company in general, but be able to share ‘trivia’ and ‘tidbits’ that will demonstrate your interest and passion

– demonstrate knowledge of the company’s points of differentiation as well its leading competitors (i.e. ‘Industry knowledge’). This particular prospect knew our positioning, key messages and milestones.

– come prepared with tailored questions. While our job prospect didn’t know she’d be meeting with us simultaneously, she nonetheless had a set of questions ready for each of us

– follow-up the first interview with HAND-WRITTEN thank you notes. It shows the employer you’re taking a little more time and energy than your e-mail dependent competitors.

I’m probably missing some nuances from that fateful interview. But, I promise you that, as soon as the prospect left, we asked our senior people to set meetings with her. And, we extended an offer shortly thereafter.

So, rather than fretting about the latest economic news, create a tailored action plan for ‘winning’ interviews with the organizations you admire most.

Jan 31

Will Starbucks water down its brand along with its coffee?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And, Starbucks sure seems desperate at the moment. Starbucks

First, they sacked their CEO and reinstated founder and chairman Howard Schultz in the position. Then Schultz announces that the brand has lost its way and promises to close stores and re-focus on core offerings. Next, McDonald’s, sensing vulnerability, announces it will open 14,000 coffee bars and go mano-a-mano with the once unrivaled coffee king.

And how does Starbucks respond? It begins testing $1 cups of coffee in its hometown of Seattle. That’s right, the guys who dazzled marketing professors everywhere by convincing Americans to pay $4 or more for a cup of Joe, have blinked.

One can almost sense the panic that must be pervading the hallways of Schultz’s once-proud empire. Slashing the price of its coffee flies in the face of everything Starbucks stands for, and should give a monumental image and reputation boost to McDonald’s gamble.

The Starbucks move makes as much sense as Lexus suddenly offering a cheap, ‘starter car,’ Gucci licensing body tattoos or Zegna selling designer overalls.

These are the times that try men’s souls and now is the time for Howard Schultz to stand firm and hold the line on pricing and brand consistency.

Jan 11

Promotional Darwinism Emerges from Writers Strike

Guest blog written by Laura Mills.

I am annoyed by this writers strike.  Like many, I want my “Grey’s Anatomy.”  I want my “Office.”  And IHershey
really want my new season of “24.”  Instead, we’re stuck watching reruns and increasingly mindless reality television (“American Gladiators,” anyone?), while contemplating the rapid depreciation of TiVo…

This week, Reuters reports that NBC is offering to refund some Golden Globe Awards marketers after scrapping the traditional telecast.  Disappointing news for a bored America, but let’s be honest.  As the Reuters story shows, the strike by the Writer’s Guild of America isn’t just our issue.  It’s putting marketers in a very unique situation.  As we follow coverage of the strike with hopeful anticipation, other news outlets report the increasing potential for an economic recession.  I think marketers are secretly over the moon to have a reason to cut back on broadcast spending, harboring an attitude of “let’s store the harvest and get ready for a chilly winter.”  Everyone knows that in the face of recession, marketing budgets are the first to be trimmed.  But alternately, I think the writers strike also provides a great opportunity. 

With the promise of hours of reality television in primetime, branded sponsorships are inevitable.  For example, a recent episode of Bravo’s “Project Runway” featured a design challenge sponsored by Hershey’s.  Models and sample sizes generally aren’t associated with Reese’s Pieces and Twizzlers, but they made it work.  Hershey’s allowed the designers to run loose in their Times Square store and pillage as much candy and merchandise as they could for use as materials in their garments.  It was brilliant, and even I’ll admit to craving a Kit Kat at the show’s conclusion.  If we’re going to see more of these types of promotions, I would hope for more out of the box thinking like Hershey’s and “Project Runway.”  In fact, here are some unexpected sponsorships that I would like to see:

• “The Apprentice” and the NCAA (Imagine Tim Tebow in the board room)

• “Dancing with the Stars” and Playstation (Think: Dance, Dance Revolutions)

• “Survivor” and Band-Aid

Joking aside, I expect to witness savvy brands distinguishing themselves from their competitors as they leverage the current broadcast landscape.  In many ways, it is its own sort of reality show.  Will you be watching?

Jan 10

What car would they drive and what music would be playing on the car radio?”

We usually wrap up our corporate positioning projects by asking internal and external respondents whatCar
an organization might look like if it came to life and, once alive, what car would he/she drive and what music would be playing on the radio. The results help us shape the tone of the subsequent PR campaign (i.e. A response such as “…We’d be Arnold Schwarzenegger driving a Hummer” would dictate a different program tone than, say, “…I see us as Audrey Hepburn tooling around in a Jaguar convertible.”).

So, based upon their images and reputations, I thought I’d adapt the ‘car/music’ game and apply it to the leading presidential candidates. Here goes:

– Hillary Clinton would be wheeling around in a tough, boxy black Volvo. Nothing frilly for Hilly. Just something safe and sturdy that will take her straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And, since Sen. Clinton is so dependent upon the female vote (yet insists she doesn’t play the gal card), she’d be listening to Helen Reddy’s ‘I am woman.’

– Barack Obama would be driving a sleek Lexus. Boasting smooth lines, cool handling, and a sweet turning radius, the Obama luxury car’s radio would be tuned to some sort of upscale jazz from Thelonious Monk.

– John Edwards strikes me as a little man who would be most comfortable in a little car. So, let’s place him behind the wheel of a yellow Volkswagen whose speaker system is blasting some Southern rock anthem like ‘Free bird.’

– John McCain is true-blue American and would be driving a midrange Ford or GMC, the type you rent from Hertz and beat the hell out of for the duration of your trip. McCain’s music would be late 1960s and heavily influenced by the Vietnam War. So, I’m guessing it’s Barry McGuire’s ‘Ballad of the green berets.’

– Rudy Giuliani is a one issue candidate whose car reflects his limitations. It’s a huge Chevy Suburban that can only go in one direction, is impervious to dents and nicks and knows that it looked great for one, brief shining moment seven years ago. The music: either Journey’s ‘Eye of the tiger’ or Pat Benatar’s ‘Love is a battlefield.’

– Mitt Romney reeks of conservatism (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you). So, Mitt’s driving a conservative, family-focused mini van. Like Mitt, the car’s boring and bland, and colored brown. The music would be something like Debbie Boone’s ‘You light up my life.’

– Mike Huckabee strikes me as a real gladhandler who’s warm and fuzzy on the outside, but struggling to control a hair-trigger temper. (In fact, Huckabee’s the candidate I’d pick as most likely to engage in road rage). Huckabee’s zipping around in a Jeep and his radio station is jumping back-and-forth from evangelical, pro-creation anthems to Rush Limbaugh’s latest diatribes.

Projecting a candidate’s car and music of choice is lots of fun. And the nice thing is there is no right or wrong. So tell me what you think. Do you see the candidates differently? If so, what sort of car/music do you envision?

Dec 06

Curious? I think most guys would be repelled

Have you seen the TV commercial featuring Britney Spears and her new line of perfume called ‘Curious’? InCurious_2
the spot, Britney makes eye contact with some hunk and then, seconds later, is embracing him in her peculiarly passionate, but sleazy, way.

My first thought: what woman would wear Britney’s perfume? My second thought: what guy would ever find this a turn-on?

I can imagine the scene: a guy and girl are connecting. Things are progressing nicely. The guy is totally intoxicated with the woman and whispers in her ear, ‘I love how you smell.’ She sighs, and says, ‘It’s Curious by Britney Spears.’

Ouch. Talk about a buzz kill. Game. Set. Match.

What sane guy is going to want to hook-up with a woman who wears the perfume of America’s sleaziest and most unstable celebrity? If I hear that response, I bolt for the fastest exit, post haste.

What marketing genius thought ‘Curious’ was a smart line extension? Who’s the target market: emotionally unstable, drug and alcohol-addled girls, aged 18-25?

There are great new product ideas, good new product ideas and just plain bad ones. Curious perfume by Britney Spears belongs in a category of its own I’d label: ‘ugly.’

Dec 04

Eli Manning is anything but ‘unstoppable’

The problem with celebrity endorsements is, well, celebrities. And, unless a brand acts quickly toCitizenwatchad0507
disengage itself from a poor performer, its fortunes can plummet right along with the celebrity’s stock. Sometimes the decision is obvious, and smart marketers have dropped such losers as Brittney, Barry Bonds and Michael Vick faster then you can say brand disaster.

But what should a brand do when it signs a deal with a marginal performer? Citizen watches is facing that dilemma after inking a deal with New York Giants Quarterback Eli Manning. Unlike his celebrated big brother Peyton, Eli’s career has been anything but rosy. Despite pulling out a last-second win at Chicago this past Sunday, Eli’s performance was questionable at best. And, two Sundays ago, he single-handedly blew the game by throwing four interceptions against the Vikings.

So, when Citizen Watches airs commercials and publishes print ads saying their watches are as ‘unstoppable’ as Eli Manning, it elicits a chuckle, a cry of derision or worse.

Eli Manning is a real mixed bag. And, I for one don’t want to own a watch that, like Eli, might work one minute but stop the next. If Citizen continues to stand by their man, I suggest they switch from ‘unstoppable’ to ‘unfixable.’ At least it will ring true.

Tip o’ the hat to Isaac Farbowitz for this idea.

Nov 30

The Most Expensive Garment You Will Ever Not Own

Guest blog written by Gene Colter.

That multimillion-dollar bra Heidi Klum sported a couple of years ago has got nothing on this tiny tog of extravagance for the toddler set.Vest

The item in question is a patchwork vest for kids, available from J. Crew’s “Crewcuts” line for $325. Spotted on a flier ad on a countertop at a train station. Said flier was soon doused in coffee as the result of the classic “spit shot” produced by the person writing this entry.

This is an article of clothing whose economic excesses deserve further examination and perturbation. The two feet or so of material on display in this imported luxury speaks volumes about the reputations of both the retailer who sells it and the parents and relatives who will buy it.

First, the obvious: By definition, junior will get one season’s wear out of this item. One. (If your child can still wear the vest 12 months hence then there are medical problems in your family, and I wish you nothing but the path to good health, and please stop reading now.)

But, foolish blogger, you’re thinking, can’t you understand that this item can be passed down to little brother?

Indeed. Which amortizes its cost slightly – but of course also means that you have taken on the financial responsibility of another kid. So, at the risk of using fuzzy math, you’ve got the price down to about $162. That’ll make a dent in the $200,000 or so the extra kid will cost you through age 18 provided you don’t send him to private school.

Continue reading

Nov 01

Alicia’s challenge

Account Executive Alicia Wells and I journeyed north to Poughkeepsie yesterday to meet with MaristMarist
College students. Our goal: to share advice on the needs and realities of today’s workplace.

We discussed the dearth of good writing, reliance on ‘TextSpeak’ and importance of creating and maintaining a personal brand and reputation.

I was pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of questions. Students were genuinely interested in agency business models, personal career paths and ways in which to improve their writing.

I was disappointed, though, that more students didn’t engage in the 90-minute conversation. As is usually the case, a small group seemed to ask the most questions, while others were content to sit back and listen. I’d encourage those who were reticent to act differently in future settings. Employers prize warm, engaging workers who can quickly connect with peers, clients and, of course, the media.

I was also disappointed, but not surprised, to learn most students didn’t participate in the Blogosphere. I encouraged them to do so, knowing that blogging, podcasting and all things digital will only become more important in years to come.

Last, but not least, Alicia issued a challenge to the Marist students: we suggested they read today’s blog and post their comments. So, c’mon guys: tell us what you thought. Especially those of you who were a little shy yesterday.