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 21

Dante’s Kids

Guest blog written by Gene Colter.

Come with us now as we descend into hell. Down through the first circles and on to the murderers andMortgage_2
harmers of the innocent and young. Gaze upon the horrors to be seen there. –

I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting and avoiding the come-on letters, but this one got by me. It came in a good-quality envelope, the sort of one used to see wrapped around personal letters back when people wrote letters. So I opened it. On the cover of the card inside was a color photo of a darling baby girl. She was some months past birth, given her ability to hold her head up and the stud earrings she was already sporting, but she was still swaddled like a baby. My mind raced: Whose baby is getting christened? Why don’t I recognize this lovely little doll? I opened the letter to find out.

Whereupon I found out that I, Eugene, could lower my monthly mortgage payment if I could meet with a representative who had reviewed my loan and who would soon be in my neighborhood to chat.

That representative, of course, would be a mortgage broker. He and his ilk are well represented down where the sun never shines. And, despite a daily pounding of news coverage on the woes of the nation’s housing market, some of the worst salespeople in the country continue to ply their trade just as they did when housing prices were inflating and loans of dubious merit were being extended to people who had little hope of being able to live up to their terms.

This is an industry that has not even begun to grasp the basics of reputation management. Salesmen in general have always had a complicated reputation, but the mortgage-broking industry stands out in its awfulness.

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Nov 05

G.P.A.’s are M.I.A. when it comes to a hiring decision

Like many of his fellow college seniors, Chris ‘Repman, Jr.’, Cody is stressing out big time about his gradeGrade
point average (GPA). Believing that a 3.75 rather than, say, a 3.4 will determine his future prospects, Chris is spending hour after hour at the library, pulling all-nighters and volunteering for extra-credit assignments.

To which I say, ‘chill.’ A GPA means almost nothing to a prospective employer and, to the best of my recollection, has never, ever come up in the course of an actual interview.

Employers, instead, look for relevant work-study experience. We also prize grads who, prior to the interview, take the time to study our firm and understand our value proposition. Last, but not least, we want friendly, outgoing people who will fit in with our culture.

If I were to grade the image and reputation of a GPA in the hiring process, I’d give it a 1.0.

Colleges and universities need to do a much better job of educating students about the irrelevance of grades to the workplace. And, I’d love to debate anyone who thinks differently.

As one of Rep, Jr’s UVM professors would say, ‘Questions? Comments? Issues?’

Oct 24

New business is about them, not us

Four of us are sitting in the reception area of a new business prospect’s headquarters. We’re one of fourBored_2
agencies to be invited to present today and, as you might expect, we’re filled with nervous excitement.

Deb’s rehearsing her lines. Marya is wondering what questions we’ll be asked and Caryn’s re-reading background information.

While we’re all focused on what we want to say and how, we’re also mindful of what really makes the difference in new business. Despite this being a combination credentials/creative ideas pitch, the prospect really doesn’t want to hear that much about us.

As Millie Olson of Amazon Advertising says, ‘Forget about credentials presentations.’ Prospects really don’t want to know arcane facts and figures about your firm or its work.

Instead, prospects want to tell you about their pain. They want you to know what’s keeping them up at night. They want to know how you’ve solved similar challenges and, critically, how you’d partner with them to solve their issues.

The more prospects talk, the more likely you’ll be hired. It sounds simple. But, many of us forget to ask questions and listen to the answers. Instead, we rush pell-mell through our slides. And lose the opportunity as a result.

How will today go? It’s hard to say. But, we’ll be sure to stop and ask questions as we go. Because it’s about them, not us.

Oct 08

Win at any cost is a losing management style

George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the New York Yankees, told Manager Joe Torre yesterday to ‘findSteinbrenner
a way to win the Cleveland series or find a new job.’ Nice.

Steinbrenner is such an ass.

I know, I know. His teams win for him. And, he expects the team with the highest payroll in baseball to bring home a World Series trophy year-in and year-out. And, yes, I know that Yankees fans respect Big George because he does demand winning at all cost. But, I just couldn’t imagine working in that culture. The money, the fame and the Yankees ‘tradition’ wouldn’t be enough to lure me into that dysfunctional organization. Not no how. Not no way.

Imagine working for a Steinbrenner in Corporate America? They used to be legion (think Chainsaw Al Dunlap). But, as political correctness has reared its ugly head and workplace culture has been linked to everything from productivity to employee retention, the Steinbrenner-style manager has slowly disappeared (or, more likely, submerged).

That’s not to say management by fear is dead. Far from it. One of our client organizations, for example, recently underwent a merger and the key operatives were absolutely paralyzed by fear. Sudden ‘redundancies’ had put their jobs at risk. Despite having done admirable work up until that time, our clients’ firm was the lesser of two equals in this so-called merger of equals. And, so they were shown the door, virtually overnight.

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Sep 10

Not wanting to let go isn’t limited to Baby Boomer CEOs

The Wall Street Journal article on Baby Boomer CEOs and their reluctance to step down struck a chord. Old_man

In the article, the Journal cites a 60-something chief executive who had hired his successor and then, quite simply, refused to leave. The exact same thing happened to me 12 years ago.

I was hired by a 65-year-old CEO to be his heir apparent. Foolishly, I took his word that he’d be gone within a year. Instead, I was the one who ended up leaving.

After settling in, I discovered that I was only the latest in a long line of successors this ‘lion in winter’ had hand-picked for the assignment. Truth be told, though, he had no desire to ever relinquish the reins. So, he made life unbearable for we CEOs in waiting and forced us out, one by one.

Every cloud does indeed have its silver lining, though, and so did this one. Immediately after leaving that hellish environment, I holed up with Sir Edward Moed in his squalid, one bedroom apartment and launched Peppercom.

Oh, and the CEO in question? He finally disappeared into the sunset about five years ago. It just goes to show that Baby Boomer CEOs aren’t unique in their desire to hang on as long as possible. In fact, history’s pages are replete with ‘chief executives’ like Napoleon, Caligula and Saddam Hussein who had no desire to ever let go.

Thanks to Laura Zanzal for the idea.

Aug 22

Never underestimate the power of a website

Marketing Consultant Robb High’s survey of 132 agency executives and 118 client decision-makersImage_2
confirms the importance of agency websites.

According to High’s survey, 97 percent of clients on the prowl for a new agency examine an agency’s site as part of the due diligence process. And, more than three-fourths of client decision-makers believe the ‘people/staff’ profile sections are the single most important component of an agency’s site.

Yet, almost half of the agencies polled have sites that only contain profiles of the two or three most senior people. And, 18 percent don’t feature anyone on their sites.

High’s results confirm what we’re seeing: more and more prospects asking for biographies of the ‘team’ that would work on their account. It’s always been important but, I think, so many ‘clients’ have been burned by the big agency ‘bait-and-switch’ model that they’re insisting on the team ‘meet and greet’ before pulling the trigger.

It makes sense, but can be difficult for the agency since the ‘team’ a prospect meets with, say, September 5th might not be the one that’s available on October 5th when the client makes its final decision. That’s because a day or a week at an agency can be like a year in more traditional businesses. Clients come and come. Accounts wax and wane. And, while Johnny, Janey and Akbar may have had time available when they first met the prospect well, stuff happens.

High’s survey is instructive and we, for one, will be making changes to our web site to make it more user friendly and people-focused. Prospects will be seeing more Peppercommers on our site, but they’ll have to balance that with the realities of agency life when it comes to the composition of their actual team.

Aug 15

McDonald’s has become the Disney of fast food

A new study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (which sounds like a fun read, btw)C482ba8af0f895
shows that kids aged three to five overwhelmingly prefer McDonald’s-branded food items to generic ones. In the test, the tikes consistently reached for MickeyD french fries over those in plain white bags. They also opted for hamburgers, chicken nuggets and even carrots enclosed in wrapping paper with the golden arches.

This is scary stuff and shows how insidious and infectious TV advertising can be to little kids who stare at their sets hour after hour. There’s no doubt they are clearly connecting to the McDonald’s TV spots. It wouldn’t be so outrageous if childhood obesity wasn’t at all-time record highs.

So, what’s McDonald’s response to the study? A spokesman said "….. (It) was important and McDonald’s has been addressing it for quite some time." Yeah, sure.

McDonald’s, like big tobacco, has hooked millions and millions of Americans on their horrific food items and they’re not about to abandon future generations. Sure, they’ll add a salad or two to the menu, but TV commercials highlighting artery-clogging fries and burgers are just as important to Mickey D’s ongoing success as Pinocchio, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid are to Disney.

In my opinion, McDonald’s is paying lip service to the problem (pun intended). It’s up to parents to police kids’ TV viewing if they want today’s tiny tikes to avoid becoming tomorrow’s two-ton teen time bombs.

Aug 14

Not walking the walk

I’m always fascinated to attend industry seminars and see my peers grappling with
business developmentIst2_187726_self_promotion_2
and branding issues. They know exactly how to counsel clients on the best and brightest ways to break out from the pack. Yet, when it comes to agency marketing, most firms simply don’t walk the walk.

A new survey* undertaken by marketing consultant Robb High substantiates this alarming trend: namely, 76 percent of 132 marketing communications firms surveyed have no regular outbound communications directed to marketing decision-makers. And, more than two-thirds of the 118 client decision-makers surveyed couldn’t name more than five agency brands. And, that spells trouble with a capital ‘T’.

So, while a select few agencies focus on fine-tuning their positioning, creative campaigns and strategic partnerships, the average one isn’t even attempting to communicate in the first place. When I ask agency owners and senior executives why they don’t consistently and clearly communicate their ‘value-adds,’ they typically say they’re focused on billable client work. Or, they’ll say they’ve tried it once or twice but, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, ended up assigning the most junior person who invariably fails.

Over the past 12 years, we’ve always treated our firm as a critically important client. We’ve allocated the necessary time and manpower and assigned our very best people to promoting Peppercom. And, it’s paid off. Big time.

While I’d like to think that most agencies will wake up and pay attention to High’s stats, the likelihood is that the majority will remain in denial and just keep their noses to the grindstone. And, that would be a fine strategy if client-agency loyalty really did still exist.

*From Robb High Tuesday August 7th 2007
Results of a survey among 132 Markeing/Communications  firms and 118 client marketing decision-makers:
76% of MarCom firms have no regular outbound communications directed to client marketing decision-makers (regular = more than 3/year).
68% of client decision-makers cannot name more than 5 agency brands (aside from their current agency or agencies.) 59% of those who know 5+ brands rate their depth of familiarity as "agency brand name only."  68% of MarCom firms with outbound communications send to a list of fewer than 100 companies, even though only one in 16 clients conducts a review in any given year. 79% of MarCom firms with an outbound communications program use only land mail. 97% of decision-makers select email as their "preferred" form of business communication.

Jul 31

Oh, those first impressions…

No one would argue that first impressions are critical to an organization’s image, reputation and businessBattlebus_2
success. So, why do so many businesses still get it wrong?  I’m not sure I have the answer. But, my recent sojourn to Normandy and the U.K. provided loads of good and not-so-good examples of first impressions. To wit:

The good:

1.) My Battlebus tour driver in Normandy made an indelible first impression. Battlebus is one of many tours offered of the D-Day invasion beaches and landmarks. Like its competitors, Battlebus crams eight passengers into a tiny bus and takes you to and fro for eight long hours. Without a passionate and knowledgeable guide, however, the tour could easily become more like a Bataan Death March than a once-in-a-lifetime trek. Happily, our Battlebus guide, Julian, was simply superb. He not only knew his stuff. He took the time to get to know his eight fellow travelers. He probed to find out what we knew, wanted to know and wished we’d known. In addition to the ‘usual’ destinations, Julian made sure we went off the beaten track and crammed in as much fun stuff as possible. I couldn’t recommend him or his tour group more highly.

2.) In the midst of a strategic partnership meeting at Peppercom’s London office, Jacki Vause and I were interrupted in mid sentence by our guest. He wanted us to know how truly impressed he was with Michael Cowdroy, the staffer who’d greeted him at our front door. The guest went on at great length about the importance of first impressions to a service business like ours and commended Michael again and again (Well done, Michael!).

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