Feb 25

Students determined to be more successful than their parents

Steve and Ted sit down with University of Vermont students to discuss their job perspectives and whetherRepchatter_logo_2 or not
they believe they will be as successful as their parents. 

This discussion centers on the latest student survey that shows that this is the first generation that does not believe they’ll do better than their parents in terms of financial and job success.  What are the reasons for this?

Is the recession causing concern for young job seekers? Perhaps Generation Y has a different definition of success?

Feb 01

Rumblings of a recession cause discomfort

Steve and Ted discuss the present state of the economy and the possibilities of a recession. Repchatter_logoWhat impact
could this have on the PR industry?

This discussion centers around the recent doom and gloom stories presented by the media at top tier publications.

Should we be worried about our jobs? Is the media contributing to the problem by hyping the recession to a point where it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy?

Jan 22

Which came first, negative press or poor financial performance?

I never cease to be amazed at the ways in which the media can whip up a frenzy: whether it’s forecastersJournalism
predicting a storm of the century, entertainment-focused, paparazzi types reporting on some dysfunctional celebrity’s latest miscue or, in the case of the economy, pure doom and gloom stories that make the much anticipated Recession a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My most recent ‘fan-the-flames’ favorite appeared on the front page of the New York Times business section. It focused on 40- and 50-something blue collar types who, having lost their $18-an-hour jobs, have been forced to move back in with their octogenarian parents. Ouch. Talk about grim. Not content with reporting just the facts, though, the reporter felt compelled to dig deep and elicit such quotes as, “I’m ruined,” and “I’ll never be able to dig myself out of this hell.”

The media helped build the dotcom mania of 1999 and 2000 by waxing ecstatic about get-rich-quick schemes that, as we now know, were anything but.

Now, they’re taking the opposite tack and filing one negative story after another. Which begs the question: which came first? The poor economic news or the negative press? My money’s on the latter.

Dec 30

Growth at Any Price – Including No Growth

Guest blog by Gene ColterTh12410
When my mom travels from my home to JFK airport this week, chances are her Florida-bound JetBlue flight will be substantially delayed, just as my dad’s flight was last week.

It won’t be the airline’s fault – New York-area airports have on-time arrival/departure percentages that rival the test scores of “successful” college football teams – but every little hiccup gets me thinking about what’s gone terribly wrong with the airline that only a short while ago had been the promise of the industry. More to the point, JetBlue stands as an object lesson on the mission that drives – and damages – many of America’s greatest companies.

JetBlue is near to hitting a couple of notable anniversaries. The discount carrier was founded almost a decade ago in 1998, and it was almost a year ago that JetBlue made worldwide headlines after allowing weather-bound passengers to spend 10 hours on the tarmac and canceling over 1,000 flights.

The root cause of that debacle – and the inevitable travel delays of the Colter brood – is not weather. It is JetBlue’s overreaching for “growth,” a sin that’s so common among notable public companies and their backers that we have trouble even recognizing its pervasiveness.

Please know that your blogger does not own sandals and hugs no trees. (In fact, given the latter’s tendency to invade his basement, he must often be physically detained by contractors from trying to cut down every tree in his heavily wooded Northern New Jersey neighborhood.) But the fact stands that there are reasonable growth strategies – often evidenced by their long-term parameters – and growth-right-here-right-now-don’t-care-how-it-happens strategies.

When David Neeleman founded JetBlue, he showed signs of getting it all right: limited, controlled reach; disdain for the all-over-the-place pricing and hub-and-spoke system that had damaged the major carriers; dynamite customer service; and a serious commitment to managing costs.

But Neeleman is also a “serial entrepreneur” and a man who seems to treat his much-discussed attention-deficit disorder as a public-relations messaging point. More to the point – and this is the real killer – JetBlue is a public company, with all the attendant quarter-to-quarter demands that entails. We should have known.

So it was a couple of years ago that Neeleman — since replaced in the top job, though he remains the company’s non-executive chairman – added another type of aircraft to JetBlue’s stable, plus a bunch more routes and a new training center. Costs – in an industry already legendary for high fixed costs – soared. The future is by no means bright for the airline with good TV, fun-loving attendants and tasty blue-corn chips.

Business luminaries with much more serious chops than I will see that I am making a lonely argument about controlled growth, and they will dismiss it. Yet the fact remains that sometimes – many times – companies would be better off reining in their urges to soar ahead and instead settle for steady profits and good cash flow, picking their spots for big strategic moves that will bring another wave of sustainable growth.

Just ask JetBlue, which posted losses for the last two years and whose stock price is near-grounded at about $6. Even fans of the airline have noted that it has grown too fast to manage its challenges.

It’s unfair (though certainly convenient) to single out JetBlue. Many companies have similarly stumbled. Countless more will follow. And even successful multinationals suffer at the hands of U.S. public markets, which, make no mistake, are a tremendous asset, perhaps more so than government and any other social entity.

Consider, for example, McDonald’s. The Golden Arches have pretty much penetrated every market they can operate in. Analysts ding the stock because it is no longer a “growth company.” But the cash flow from “Billions and Billions Served” is amazing, and what’s wrong with cash and the profits they produce? I suspect the company could fund itself from operations for eternity, or easily turn to banks or bond markets should it need to fatten up its customers, er, coffers. Does it even need to be public anymore?

So, as the New Year approaches, make your way to the airport and settle in for your long (long) trip home. Perhaps you can kill some time by working on a plan to take McDonald’s private.

* * *
Speaking of public companies, anyone who wants to get the real read on what the economy’s fate will be in 2008 would do well to skip the government data and instead turn to the companies’ financial reports. Your goal is to determine whether companies are spending down their cash piles. Right now, most aren’t. If that trend continues no amount of consumer spending or Federal Reserve intervention will keep the economy’s trajectory from looking like JetBlue’s stock chart.

Dec 26

Is it Murder?

Guest blog written by Deb Brown.

Recently, a 17-year-old girl desperately needed a liver transplant and, which we hear too often, theCigna
insurance company — in this case CIGNA Healthcare — refused to pay for the operation. It wasn’t until 150 teenagers and nurses protested outside CIGNA’s offices that the insurance company finally decided to reverse its decision.  But, it was too late.  The young girl died last Thursday.  And, the family is planning to press murder or manslaughter charges against CIGNA.

Maybe we do need insurance companies to be charged with murder and have several top executives thrown in jail for callously refusing to try to save a person’s life.  Why does it take producers like Michael Moore, protests from teenagers, or the media in general to force insurance companies to reverse their decisions and pay for life-saving operations? This is the reason we all pay insurance premiums in the first place…so we don’t have to worry about critical procedures or medications.

Apparently, the health insurance industry doesn’t seem to care too much about its reputation.  According to a Harris poll from 2006, health insurance companies and HMOs are only ahead of oil and tobacco companies when it comes to doing a good job. 

The attorney of the family who just lost their daughter during this holiday season says, “The insurer ‘maliciously killed her’ because it did not want to bear the expense of her transplant and aftercare.” 

Maybe it has something to do with H Edward Hanway’s salary and compensation? According to Forbes in 2006, Hanway, CIGNA’s CEO, had a total compensation package of $28.82 million. 

It’s tragic that insurance companies can continue to make these heartless decisions.  This is certainly a case to follow.  If CIGNA is charged with murder or manslaughter and some executives spend some time in jail, maybe then, and only then, will they see a child as a child and not as a claim form.

I wonder if Hanway has a 17-year-old daughter?

Nov 13

Chris, Brett and Toulouse-Lautrec would be pleased

In a true triumph of facts over fiction, absinthe is once again being peddled to non teetotalingAbsinthe_3
Americans.

Yes, the bad boy of the spirits world is no longer ethereal. Two new
brands of absinthe, which was banned in 1912, are now available for
purchase. And, how cool is that?

Scientific tests have proven that, when consumed in moderation,
absinthe is not the liquid version of heroin or crack cocaine. Nor will
it drive drinkers to emulate the excesses of van Gogh, Lautrec or Oscar
Wilde.

I first became aware of absinthe’s effects a few years back. It was
then that Ted ‘Ludicris’ Birkhahn and I traveled to Munich for a
combination business and pleasure trip. Once ‘in country,’ we connected
with Chris ‘Repman, Jr’ Cody, his fellow Peppercom/Europe Intern, Brett
Lichtmann, and P’com Euro MD Jacki Vause.

It was there that Ms. Vause introduced Chris and Brett to absinthe (an experience I don’t think either will ever forget).

Continue reading

Oct 25

I don’t like Green Meanies

Everywhere I turn, I see, hear and read about ‘going green.’ Whether it’s my neighbors buying hybrid cars,Gogreen
major Fortune 500 companies announcing huge sustainability efforts or big PR firms declaring their workplaces will be carbon neutral by 2009, it seems like everyone’s jumping on the environmental sensitivity bandwagon.

And, that’s cool. It’s a noble effort to be sure. But, is it a futile one as well? Auden Schendler, who Time Magazine anointed just last year as a ‘climate crusader’ thinks so. He laments in a current BusinessWeek profile, "How do you really green your company? It’s almost f***ing impossible."

It seems that no matter what any of us do, it will have very little, if any, meaningful impact on reducing global carbon emissions. Does that mean we shouldn’t try? Or course not.  But, the ‘doing well by doing right’ corporate mantra du jour, is apparently just that in many cases: a mantra du jour.

According to BusinessWeek, some companies are already abandoning their green efforts because they don’t provide an immediate return. CEOs, pressured by Wall Street to produce quarter-to-quarter results, simply can’t wait seven years to show an ROI (which is understandable).

Continue reading

Oct 15

Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

There’s a fascinating cover story in the latest issue of HR Magazine entitled, ‘Are you too family friendly?Baby_2

The article asks if, in light of political correctness, employers have gone overboard in granting too many perks and privileges to employees with children. According to the article, a growing number of childless workers are saying flex schedules and other concessions made to working moms and dads are unfair, if not, discriminatory.

It’s a slippery slope since publications like Fortune routinely include such benefits as a prerequisite to being named to their ‘Most Admired’ list. In our own industry, The Holmes Report in particular lavishes praise on family-friendly workplaces in its annual survey.

HR Magazine says the childless perks pushback is only going to grow. One in four American households now consist of a single, childless person (and there are now 92 million single or childless citizens 18 years of age and older).

So, what’s an employer to do? One HR expert suggests a cafeteria-type benefits offering from which employees can choose to best meet their personal needs. That sounds fair to me.

It’s a genuine image and reputation conundrum for every organization. In our rush to meet the needs of employees with children, we’ve unconsciously overlooked the single/childless workforce. However enlightened such organizations may seem, the fact is, they’re not.

It’s time that Fortune, The Holmes Report and other publications wake up to this new trend and factor a ‘balanced’ benefits program into their annual rankings.

Sep 05

Who needs a Tony Snow?

The White House has a new, number one cheerleader in the person of CBS Nightly News Anchor KatieCouric_2
Couric.

‘On assignment’ in Iraq this week, Katie has filed one flattering, pro-administration, pro-surge report after another. In one, she’s busy touring an airy, laugh-filled Baghdad marketplace. In another, she’s tooling around an oh-so-sedate Fallujah with General David H. Petraeus. As they stretch out in the back of a Humvee, Katie asks the top Army kick how things are going…..

Petraeus: “Very well, Katie.”

Katie: "Yes, it’s clear that things here are under control. How important was the recent 30,000 troop surge to this success?"

Petraeus: "Huge. The extra troops have allowed us to really keep things in line. We’re now spiraling up instead of spiraling down."

Katie smiles contentedly, adjusts her sunglasses and, no doubt, goes on to ask the general if his Humvee comes equipped with a lighted vanity mirror she can use to touch-up her face. One would think Iraq’s heat and desert winds must wreak absolute havoc on a top journalist’s hairdoo.

And, what was up with the timing of Katie’s ‘frontlines’ assignment and W’s ‘surprise’ visit to war-torn Iraq. Is there any doubt conversations were held between the White House and CBS to negotiate a dramatic, on-the-ground interview between the two embattled figureheads?

Katie’s recent reportage indicates her having come full circle in her career. She started out as a high school cheerleader and has now gone back to the future on 43’s behalf. Who needs Tony Snow when Katie’s available?

Aug 06

Disaster is the crack cocaine of broadcast journalism

As could be predicted, the broadcast media went on a pure feeding frenzy after the horrific Minneapolis bridge collapse. 806_image_3

The disaster was dissected and deconstructed time and time again. Eyewitnesses, experts and anyone else who could walk and chew gum were interviewed and asked what they saw, thought and felt. Sidebar stories showed local bridges that, like the one in Minneapolis, had structural defaults.

Intrepid reporters strapped themselves into crash simulators and walked us through best practices for escaping a submerged vehicle.

I’d list all of the above as sound, responsible journalism. Where the media beast went over the line, though, was in the showing and re-showing of the bridge collapse itself. I wish I had a dollar for every viewing.

Spectacular calamities have become the crack cocaine of TV news coverage. How many times have we seen JFK and Jackie hanging a left-hand turn into Dealey Plaza? Or, how about the Challenger hurtling skyward until it explodes into a thousand pieces? And, of course, the Twin Towers come crashing down each and every time Al Qaeda issues a new warning.

It’s all about the ratings and, sadly, shock sells. So, the media continues to cross the line and show too much negativity too many times. The end result is that, like JFK, the Challenger and the Twin Towers before it, the images of the Minnesota bridge collapsing into the Mississippi River are now seared into our collective memory banks. And, to what end?