May 27

Nothing magical about Magic Kingdom’s financial scandal


May 27
Bonnie
Hoxie, a member of the Walt Disney Company's corporate media relations
department, was arrested yesterday and charged with selling early access to the
entertainment property's earnings reports. Ms. Hoxie was allegedly working with
a friend, Yonni Sebbag (whose surname says it all) to sell the 'insider'
information to hedge fund managers.

In
addition to splitting the money with her accomplice, Ms. Hoxie demanded he
supply her with such items as Stella McCartney shoes and a $700 Nieman-Marcus
handbag. I guess the Mickey Mouse hat, Little Mermaid flip-flops and Goofy ears
only go so far.

Disney
obviously has no control over its employees' conduct. But, when a company such
as BP or Disney places itself on a pedestal of environmental sensitivity or
purity, respectively, they take an even harder image hit when employees act
inappropriately.

Comics
will have a field day with Hoxie's moxie. Disney-edged material could include:


Did Hoxie's nose grow every time she told another lie?


Did Sebbag look in the mirror and ask, 'Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the
sleaziest of them of all?'


Was Hoxie Snow White to Sebbag's Dopey?

Poor
Walt Disney must be turning over in his grave. I'll bet he'd like to line up
Hoxie and Sebbag in front of those hunters who killed Bambi's mom.

The
Disney incident is a cautionary reputation tale. The feel-good, 'we do
everything right' mantras espoused by most Fortune 500 corporations can quickly
become a target for comics, pundits and bloggers like. So: note to the
Landor's, Siegal Gale's and other corporate identification firms that come up
with such slogans as 'Beyond petroleum.' Do some scenario playing first to see
if the tagline might provide an unhappy double entendre if things go South.

As
for Hoxie and Sebbag, I'll borrow the signature statement of Looney Tunes' character
Elmer Fudd and say, 'Th-Th-Th-That's all folks.' 

Feb 05

There doesn’t seem to be a Robin Hood in this economic downturn

February5 - public_enemies I've been on a Depression-era reading binge of late ranging from 'The Grapes of Wrath' to 'Pretty Boy: The Story of Charles Floyd.' I also happened to catch the surprisingly good flick, 'Public Enemies.'

I found it fascinating to discover that the public enemies of the Great Depression era were often desperadoes with hearts of gold. Floyd, for example, would not only rob banks, he'd tear up the mortgages being held on his friends' properties (that's kind of cool and certainly endeared him to the local kinfolk). And Dillinger was noted for being an early proponent of Ronald Reagan's trickle-down theory. He'd often hand out recently stolen bank money to passers-by in the street and occasionally pay the drivers of the cars he'd just hijacked.

Floyd and Dillinger were also said to be extremely friendly and courteous, especially to local citizens who lionized the bad guys for 'getting even' with a system that had let them all down. Locals not only provided food and shelter, they'd often send pursuing G-men on a wild goose chase.

The public enemies of the Great Depression chose crime as their way out of poverty. But, some did it in such a way that their image and reputation often rivaled that of, say, a Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey in terms of popularity.

Juxtapose that phenomenon with today. We're in the midst of what many are calling the Great Recession. Yet, I sure haven't seen any examples of latter-day Robin Hoods, have you?

Today's criminals seem to range from Al Qaeda operatives and white-collar Dennis Kozlowski types to drive-by gangstas who murder innocent kids and muggers who kick the bejesus out of helpless octogenarians. If there's been one bad guy with a good heart, I've sure missed the story.

So, how come Dillinger and Floyd had hearts of gold while Madoff and the Christmas Day underwear bomber don't? (Btw, how'd you like to be remembered for the rest of your life with that sobriquet? 'Hi, I'm Steve. I do PR, and you?' 'I'm Achmed. You may remember me as the Christmas Day underwear bomber.').

I think yesteryear's bad guys were nicer because they grew up in a 'nicer' society where the Golden Rule still existed. Floyd, for example, came from a classic, hard-working farm family. Neither Floyd nor Dillinger grew up in a 24×7 negative news cycle. Nor did they have access to video games like Grand Theft Auto (although both would have no doubt excelled at it). In short, Dillinger and Floyd grew up in a kinder, gentler world where a man's handshake was as good as gold, people treated one another with respect and role models (for the most part) behaved like role models.

Today's criminal class would probably laugh at the very notion of sharing the loot with the unemployed underclass. Sadly, our bad guys are more like the sheriff of Nottingham than Robin Hood.

Dec 09

And the walls come crumbling down

Birds do it. Bees do it. Trade publications most certainly do it. In this case, 'it' is blurring the lines between editorial and advertising.

December 9 - the_dallas_morning_news_logo_2 Recently, the Dallas Morning News announced that some editors have started reporting directly to executives outside the newsroom who control advertising sales. Ouch. So much for the separation of church and state.

The initial reassignments are limited to sports and entertainment. But, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. And, the implications are grave to the Fourth Estate.

Bob Mong, the editor of the Morning News, said reporters had been urged to '….fight back if they were told to do anything unethical.' Good luck with that one. The paper's management has clearly opened a veritable Pandora's Box that will never again close.

In today's brutal economy, it's all about the almighty dollar. With traditional journalism imploding on all fronts, it was only a matter of time before a major news organization put advertising/sales in charge of editorial. And, once that happens, any semblance of true, unbiased objectivity disappears.

Trade magazines have routinely blurred the lines between advertising and editorial. I can remember countless calls from a certain monthly publication's editor who told me Peppercom would be featured in an upcoming issue and a full-page ad would only further enhance its impact. I laughed, and said, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'

These are sad and worrying times for society in general, and journalism in particular. I'm frankly surprised the Dallas Morning News went virtually unreported in the PR trades. It's a seminal event that, if it becomes a trend, will have a cataclysmic impact on how we, as communicators, function.

Oct 05

Top 10 reasons why David Letterman did a great job of managing his crisis

10.) He was prompt
9.) He admitted fault
8.) He called his actions 'creepy'
7.) He made the announcement on national TV
6.) He apologized
5.) He used comedy, a powerful weapon, in an appropriate way
4.) He made clear he hadn't violated the workplace policies of either CBS or his own company
3.) He made clear that the timing of the workplace liaison predated his becoming married
2.) He was genuine in his remarks, and, drum roll please…………….

1.) He used the right platform at the right time and in the right way to convey the message

October 5 - david-letterman-heart-surgeryToo many CEOs balk at disclosing negative information. Or, they bumble their way through stiff, obviously rehearsed remarks. Or, they stop short of admitting fault and assuming responsibility. Or, they'll have a PR spokesperson handle the media on their behalf. Or, they'll let the lawyers control the message which ends up sounding like pure gibberish. Or, they'll bury their heads in the sand and hope to ride out the storm.

The Letterman story may have additional chapters before it ends. But, in my book, the man handled the image and reputation elements of the communications as well as I've ever seen.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Paul Schaefer and the 'Late Night' Band playing, 'I'm a Man,' by Chicago.

Sep 17

Silence kills

September 17 - layoffnotice I was shocked to read about the horrific happenings at France Telecom, the global telecommunications giant. Based upon huge staff reductions and other Draconian measures taken during the recession, no fewer than 23 employees have committed suicide in the past 18 months.

I was even more shocked and, in fact, sickened to read about senior management's apparent lack of communication and abject indifference as the crisis unfolded. One France Telecom employee, Monique Fraysee-Guiglini, said management had been in total denial for a long time. “It has refused to listen to what the office doctors had to say about the restructuring. We tried to sound the alarm several times, in vain. Speech is very restricted,” she said.

What a terrible indictment. And, what a horrible way in which to manage an organization and treat fellow human beings. I've seen lots of corporate cultures over the years, many of which were positively toxic. But, I've never, ever experienced one that seems as totally detached from common sense, business ethics and basic decency as the one at France Telecom.

Having just attended the Arthur Page Society's annual conference, I know how critically important honesty and transparency is to a brand's reputation and performance. During the two-day conference, we had the opportunity to listen to the CEOs of such companies as US Airways, Darden Restaurants, CDW and others. Each consistently stressed the critical importance of placing ethics ahead of expediency. These companies succeed because they do the right thing.

If the allegations against the senior executives of France Telecom are true, then the company will most surely be forever branded as the evil doppelganger of J&J/Tylenol in the annals of crisis communications management.

Jul 21

Today’s hero is often tomorrow’s road kill

Discarded-old-computer-1 I tossed on an old t-shirt before heading out for my five-mile run Sunday morning. It wasn’t until I’d come back and taken it off, though, that I noticed the writing. It featured the slogan of a long gone Web 1.0 client. This wasn’t just any Web 1.0 company. It was the first-to-market in its field. Remember first mover status? Ooooh. It was soooo important.

Anyway, this dotcom had raised millions of dollars from top venture capital firms and its Israeli-led management team believed they walked on water. I remember their unbelievable hubris when they’d descend on our office. When not brow-beating our account team in the conference room, they’d stroll up and down our hallways screaming into their cell phones at some administrative type or banker on the other end. And we permitted it because, well, these were dotcom gods, that’s why. I think they went belly-up in 2002.

I remember another Web 1.0 CEO and his henchwoman who thought they, too, walked on water. Their business model had something to do with being on the edge of the Web and, like the Israelis, they were first-to-market with their business model. They’d raised tons of money, hired hundreds of people and demanded that our account team work 24×7 just like they did. I still remember their ‘coming out’ party at Lotus. It was a ‘must attend’ event for anyone who was anyone in what used to be called Silicon Alley. I also remember the CEO acting like some sultan from “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights”and holding court in a back room. That company imploded two or three months later.

I also recall a gaming company whose head of public relations had the foulest mouth this side of a Bayonne longshoreman. She, too, thought she walked on water and regularly browbeat our team. I think the worst moment came when an industry trade publication named her ‘Young PR Professional of the Year.’ I remember thinking at the time that either some judge hadn’t done her homework or the industry was now including verbal abuse as a key component of the successful, young PR pro. Happily, it turned out to be the former and this horror show and her firm soon disappeared from the Web 1.0 landscape.

I bring all this up because I’ve noticed more and more hubris of late from Web 2.0 CEOs and their in-house marketing communications types. Hopefully, what I’m seeing is an exception to the norm. Even if it’s not, I’m sure I’ll be running one day soon in a  t-shirt from a company that went very quickly from being today’s hero to tomorrow’s road kill. That’s because there seems to be a direct correlation between short-term abuse and long-term failure.

Jul 13

Hell hath no fury

July 13 - woman The alleged murders of erstwhile sports stars Steve McNair and Arturo Gatti have given new meaning to the old phrase, 'Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned.'

From what I've been able to piece together, McNair and Gatti both shared a fondness for the ladies, but made the mistake of two-timing the wrong ones. McNair was the apparent victim of a murder-suicide while Brazilian authorities say Gatti's wife is the lead suspect in his slaying.

McNair's assailant had purchased her murder weapon just days before, again pointing to the need for more stringent gun control laws. I'm not sure what Mrs. Gatti used to deliver the final knockout to her ex-pugilist hubby, but the odds are good she bought it recently.

Weapons of choice aside, what's with the sudden rash of cuckolded concubines committing the ultimate crime of passion? I'm sure there are myriad societal factors involved in each, not the least of which is the pro athlete's belief that he can do or say anything and get away with. And, I'm sure Mrs. Gatti's defense team is already preparing a case of justifiable homicide as the rationale for her actions.

Whether it's easy access to guns, sports stars who think the rules don't apply to them or criminals blaming society for their heinous actions, something has gone badly awry.

The same society that vilified Michael Jackson now worships him. Sarah Palin, despite delivering a rambling, nonsensensical resignation speech, remains beloved by seven out of 10 Republicans. And, now it looks as if the Bush Administration deliberately withheld classified CIA information from Congress. What's a reasonably rationale blogger to make of all this?

It all comes down to one word: accountability. The rules have changed and the guilty are no longer being held strictly accountable. Black is now white and white black.

If nothing else, aging and randy sports stars should study the McNair/Gatti massacres and think twice about their next liaison. In a society gone mad, mad women are feeling more empowered than ever.

Apr 29

This cannot be good news for Sparks, Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris

April 29 - no_red_meatA newly-released study of more than 500,000 Americans confirms that men and women who consume the most red and processed meat are likely to die sooner, especially from heart disease and cancer. Results of the decade-long survey were published in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

As a long-standing fan of fish, the news comes as comforting confirmation that I was right in withstanding all that peer pressure over the years from the Ed Moed's and Art Cody's of the world who'd say, 'C'mon Steve. You're at a steak house. Order a damn porterhouse!'

More to the point of this blog, thought, it'll be interesting to see how the meat packing plants, trade associations and multiple steak houses will deal with this news (not to mention good old McDonald's which, in this blogger's humble opinion, has done more damage to more arteries than any other entity in the history of mankind).

How will the pro-meat spin doctors spin these new facts? My guess is they'll trot out some medical shill who's been on some company's payroll for awhile. Taking a page out of the tobacco industry strategies of the 1960s, said 'medical expert' will present contrarian evidence proving that meat is a beautiful thing and, like those Wonder Bread commercials of yesteryear, '……helps build strong bodies in 12 ways.' (Note to Wonder Bread: What, exactly, were the 12 ways white bread helps build strong bodies?).

So, if you're a Peter Lugar, Morton's or Sparks Restaurant whose claims to fame are outrageously tasty steaks, what strategy makes the most sense?

– Aggressive counter-claims
– Reactive messaging to be trotted out only if, and when, the subject comes up, or
– Simply adopting a 'this too shall pass' philosophy?

Image aside, what are the moral and ethical implications of continuing to dish out a food product that has now been directly linked to disease? Do I see a Surgeon General's report in the making?

As for me, I'll continue to order the Dover Sole and keep my fingers crossed there isn't another study underway that links fish consumption to, say, leprosy.

Aug 26

With a Name Like Cash, You’d Think the Quest Board Would Have Been More Vigilant

Quest CEO Jerry Cash has been removed from his position after diverting some $10 million of company funds into a personal account.

I don’t know Mr. Cash’s track record, but this latest scandal is dripping with irony. For example, do you think any Quest board members worried that, in hiring a guy with such a surname, Cash might play loose and fast with their organization’s funds? Are there one or two directors who now find themselves shaking their heads and sighing, "Damn, why didn’t we pick that guy named Francis Fiscally Responsible when we had the chance? Or, what about Louise Long-term Growth? She was a viable candidate."Embezzlement

To their credit, the Quest board acted quickly to ditch the Cash problem. In fact, one might say they cashed out. Sadly for Mr. Cash though, his attempts at cashing in were uncovered. And, the only cash stashing on this former chief executive’s horizon will probably involve Cash’s checking into a minimum security prison.

Let’s hope the Quest board does a better job of vetting surnames in their next search. "So, Mr. Sarbanes, I see you’ve had some legislation named after you? Tell us more."

Jul 30

Hello, Is There Anybody in There?

Believe it or not, there’s a Mastercard print ad running right alongside massive coverage of a horrific assault on a British honeymooning couple on the tropical paradise island of Antigua.

The advertisement depicts a beautiful, deserted island and the headline: "Arriving: Priceless." Ouch. Talk about bad timing. Talk about horrific placement. Suffice it to say there was nothing "priceless" about this use of the corporate sobriquet. Getawaymc150

Who’s to blame when something like this occurs? Is it the paper? Mastercard’s advertising agency that bought the space? Or, does the final responsibility lie with the brand itself? Surely, it’s the brand that suffers the image and reputation damage from such an obvious blunder.

Mistakes happen, and to err is human. But, if I’m a friend or family member of the ill-starred honeymooners, I’d be slow to forgive Mastercard. This particular advert is tasteless, not priceless.