Jun 15

Oh no, not Bo

O’Keefe & Co., a Virginia-based PR firm, announced it has secured one-time movie star and heart Bo_derek_gallery_main throb, Bo Derek, to help celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Founder Stephen O’Keefe said Derek, the star of the 1979 movie ‘10,’ was ‘…the perfect 10 to help us celebrate an almost perfect 10.’ Oh.

No offense to O’Keefe which, I’m sure, is a great firm, but Bo Derek? Bo Derek was yesterday’s news within six months of the film’s release. And, if she was a 10 then, her star appeal today has to be about .10.

And, what about poor, old Bo herself? This gig is quite a comedown from those heady days spent frolicking on the beach with Dudley Moore.

Sorry, O’Keefe, but hooking up with Bo Derek to celebrate a 10th anniversary rates, perhaps, a 1 on a scale of one to 10.

Jun 14

You can fight City Hall

It’s heartwarming to see Kellogg’s pull its Saturday-morning advertising support of six food products, Fruitloops_2 including Apple Jack and Fruit Loops.

The products, which are chock full of sugar and other nasty stuff that can contribute to childhood obesity, may also be removed from the market entirely if Kellogg’s can’t re-constitute them and make the gook less, well, gooky.

I’d gladly stand-up and salute Kellogg’s for this seemingly strong statement of corporate social responsibility, but based on the New York Times article, their actions seem to be based more on self-preservation and less on altruism.

So, the actual ‘hats off’ salute goes to the two consumer activist groups who made sure their message and multimillion dollar lawsuit threats reached the corner office in Battle Creek, Michigan. It’s nice to know that average people still can make a difference.

Thanks to Rob Longert for the idea.

May 31

Here’s one vice I’m all for

Hats off to the Long Island and Metro North Railroads for deciding to continue their age-old tradition of serving alcohol on afternoon commuter trains.

Temperance advocates may disagree, but a little John Barleycorn not only takes the edge off the Beer average work day, but makes the inevitable delays, boorish behavior by fellow passengers and the aloof, if not outright hostile, attitudes by the conductors just a little more bearable.

So, let’s lift our glasses to the powers-that-be at both railroads and congratulate them on a very, very smart image and reputation move. That said, why can’t the Aimee Semple McPherson-types who run NJ Transit follow suit? If they did, I’d be willing to treat for the first round.

May 30

Better late than never

Humming along on its way to oblivion, the General Motors Corporation has finally awakened to the Green movement and announced it would be hiring hundreds of engineers and producing scores of new Hummer_2 models that would be environmentally friendly by 2010.

GM has been stuck in idle for years as an inbred management team allowed Toyota and other foreign competitors to zoom past the once mighty monolith.

Despite finally waking up, GM will continue to lag behind its competitors. Why? Because, while they may have finally stumbled onto the Green trend, GM has yet to produce the kind of quality automobiles that Americans want. So, thanks for becoming eco-friendly, GM. Now, see what you can do about building decent cars.

May 25

Where customer service is a a true oxymoron

Ted ‘Ludacris’ Birkhahn and I played tennis yesterday at a facility so horrific and staffed by people so incompetent that it almost defies description. In fact, in an era where outstanding customer service is seen as the price of entry for most businesses in most industries, the Midtown Tennis Club not only stands alone in its shabbiness but, indeed does so in a blatantly defiant way.

To wit, the Midtown Tennis Club:

– has poorly maintained clay courts that, in many areas, have been worn through to the underlying macadam. This makes for an experience more akin to ice skating than tennis.

– the front stairway is partially blocked to make way for an escalator. It’s a nice touch considering one has to climb about 4,000 steps to reach the front desk. But, the construction has remained in the same unfinished state since 1989.

– the locker rooms are dirty, drab and lacking of air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. And, the two shower stalls feature only scalding hot water in hot weather (it was a true delight showering in 130 degree water after having just played two hours in 90 degree temps) and Artic-like cold water in winter. Another nice touch is the clay pellets one tramps through with momentarily clean feet on the way from the showers to the lockers.

– the courts have no extra back or side footage, so one often finds oneself smashing into the walls or nets to vainly retrieve a volley.

– the piece de resistance, though, is the friendly, smiling and always attentive staff (not). The sullen and surly women behind the counter not only lack any and all social graces, but they take forever and a day to check players in and then, in a deft servicing touch, will invariably either under or overcharge, forcing players to wait as they re-enter credit card information into a machine that had to have first come online in the Eisenhower Administration.

So, why you ask, do the Ludacris one and I frequent such an establishment? That’s easy. The Midtown Tennis Club is a virtual monopoly in the area in which it’s situated. There are so few clubs and so many players that management can afford to treat its customers with utter contempt and its facilities with complete neglect.

Until a player is seriously injured on the poorly maintained courts or a competitive facility is built in the ‘hood, the Midtown Tennis Club will remain a proudly defiant non-participant in the global and noble quest by most businesses to provide superior customer service.

May 14

Speed dating for PR firms

Imagine receiving an e-mail from a potential paramour asking you and 15 other guys or girls to send your vitals and level of interest in hooking up. Keep in mind, you’ve never met or heard of this person before. And, you’ve even been given a deadline to respond: Tuesday, May 15th at 4pm.

Well, that’s exactly what a firm called Terrachoice Environmental Marketing did to about 15 or 20 PR firms (including mine).

In the e-mail they say they want a PR firm (or "agent," which is an interesting use of words), to represent Terrachoice in such sectors as commercial interiors, JanSan (one of my favorites), building materials, carbon neutrality (a sure Silver Anvil winner) electricity and printing services.

I don’t react well to cattle calls and never have. I think responding to such inquiries belittles our profession and makes one feel more like a plumber, carpenter or medical supply executive than a public relations counselor.

Terrachoice Environmental Marketing probably doesn’t know any better, so I won’t comment on the professionalism (or lack thereof) of the mass e-mail. I would ask the firm, though, if they would employ the same tactic to look for a mate in their personal life. After all, what sort of quality firm (or person) responds to a mass e-mail?

Thanks for including us, but we’ll miss tomorrow’s deadline. Happy hunting…

May 11

Someone here needs to take a bullet

I once worked for a woman whose favorite expression in times of crisis was, ‘Someone here needs to take a bullet.’ And, sure enough, she and her lieutenants would decide which staff member would fall on his or her sword, accept blame for the latest client servicing debacle and, in effect, take a bullet. Neeleman_3

Yesterday, Bill Neeleman took a bullet for JetBlue’s ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre.’ The image-tarnished airline’s founder and CEO was forced to step down by the board. It was a good move since Neeleman is so closely associated with the company’s horrific anticipation of, and response to, a nasty Winter storm that crippled his carrier’s service and wreaked havoc on tens of thousands of passengers.

Switching the top dog of a damaged organization, though, is usually nothing more than a superficial gesture. And, in this case, Neeleman is really just being kicked upstairs to a chairman’s job.

I’m convinced that JetBlue will never win back its lost customers or its once-stellar reputation. At the time I first made that statement, many pushed back and said I was wrong. But, in my mind, JetBlue has become a generic term in the crisis communications dictionary that paints an immediate visual image of tired, angry passengers stuck on planes for nine hours or more while an inept airline management struggles to figure out what to do. Sadly, no amount of advertising or viral marketing will ever overcome that image. JetBlue has become the Enron of airlines. And, yesterday, Bill Neeleman took a bullet for the screw-up.

Don’t be surprised if new CEO Dave Barger’s first move is a name change. Americans will never forgive JetBlue, but so many of our fellow citizens are out-of-touch and unmindful of current events that a name change might be just the ticket for JetBlue to escape its current turbulence, find some smoother airspace and, perhaps, enable Dave Barger to avoid a future bullet aimed in his direction.

May 09

Apparently people aren’t dying to get in after all

Funeral parlors aren’t the go-go growth industry they used to be. According to a recent BusinessWeek article, cremation is absolutely killing funeral parlors. Cremation, which costs about one-fifth of your average ‘Six Feet Under’ type funeral service, is now used in 30 percent of all deaths and will account for fully half by 2025.

But, we shouldn’t sound the death knell for funeral parlors just yet. They’re fighting back with smart entertainment-focused line extensions, including video memorials of a loved one’s life, prime rib dinners and champagne fountains.

It’s comforting to know that the seemingly dour death industry can rise to the occasion and add just as many bells and whistles as your average Las Vegas casino.

In fact, why should the funeral parlors stop with prime rib dinners and videos? Why not add gambling and entertainment to the equation? Just imagine how uplifting Black Jack tables and roulette wheels with high-heeled, well-proportioned waitresses dispensing drinks could be. Hey, there could even be a floor show. In fact, the funeral parlor circuit could breathe new life into aging Rock performers such as Blue Oyster Cult. I mean, is there any more appropriate song for ‘passing over’ than ‘Don’t fear the reaper"?

I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long for the funeral parlor industry to add a whole new dimension to their service offerings (and be able to charge ever more outrageous fees in the process). In response, crematoriums will be forced to light a fire under their acts as well. Low costs will always attract a certain type of clientele, but, hey guys, this is war. So here’s guessing that it won’t be too much longer before we learn that a crematorium has booked a Jim Morrison look-alike to sing, ‘Break on through" as some family bids a fond farewell to their dearly departed.

May 03

If only….

Recently we interviewed some venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who, upon reflecting on their early successes and failures, wished they’d known then what they know now. That thought popped into my head as I addressed a group of University of Vermont college students the other day. It was my third lecture Steve_cody_2 before soon-to-be-graduates in the past six months. As I addressed their questions and concerns, I thought to myself, ‘If only I’d had the opportunity to meet with, and speak to, an entrepreneur/businessperson when I was starting my career.’ Needless to say, I didn’t. As a result, I knew next to nothing when I showed up at Hill & Knowlton as a freshly-minted junior account executive.

So I figured I’d compile my list of ‘If only I knew then what I knew now.’ For example:

– Ninety percent of business is, indeed, just showing up. I never cease to be amazed at how dysfunctional American business & industry is. With a little hard work, inspiration and desire, it’s not too difficult to run rings around the average businessperson. So, check your intimidation at the front door.

– One’s image and reputation is everything. When I was younger, I was quick to accuse and quick to condemn. Happily, I didn’t burn too many bridges along the way. Now, with the possible exception of medical supply executives, I bend over backwards not to offend anyone.

– Networking is fundamental to building one’s image and reputation. I waited way too long to begin building a database and communicating regularly with what should have been an ever-expanding list.

– Voracious reading is fundamental to success. Monday’s UVM business class, for example, depended almost exclusively on the web for news and information. Despite the fact that most were business majors, few, if any, read The Wall Street Journal.

– Voracious reading fuels an expanded vocabulary which, in turn, drives clear, consistent writing (a commodity that is becoming increasingly scarce in business & industry). I believe the best public relations writing mirrors that of the Journal. Wished I’d known that earlier on in life.

– Multi-tasking is imperative. It’s amazing how much productive work one can get done on a conference call. That’s when I wrote this blog.

There’s much, much more to share and reflect on. But, I’d like to ask readers to contribute and answer the same ‘if only’ question: namely, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

Mar 14

Halliburton’s timing impacts its image

Regardless of whether Halliburton’s decision to relocate the office of Chairman and Chief Executive Halliburton2_1 Officer David Lesar to Dubai was made purely for business reasons, it does raise eyebrows. It also comes at a time when Halliburton can ill afford any more hits to its already tattered image and reputation.

Halliburton’s Manager of PR, Melissa Norcross, sent reporters an e-mail in which she swept aside suggestions made by Democrats that the company was ‘….trying to run away from bad publicity on their contracts.’ Norcross insisted instead that Halliburton’s curious move was made purely for business reasons and will not benefit it from a tax standpoint. She added that Halliburton intends to remain a U.S. Corporation.

Maybe. Regardless of its motive, Halliburton’s timing is terrible and provides leading Dems like Hillary another opportunity to take potshots at the the White House and that crack shot himself, Vice President Cheney.

Halliburton is an incredibly successful, well-positioned company that should have waited for ongoing investigations of its Iraqi War shenanigans to have played out. Relocating the CEO’S office to Dubai sends exactly the wrong message at the wrong time and makes it seem like the company is indeed, as some Dems suggest, just taking the first step in a strategy to relocate itself completely outside the jurisdiction of U.S. Laws and regulations.