Oct 24

Do You Truly Want to Be a Leader? Listen to What’s Happening in Pop Culture

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Sam Ford

For marketers and communicators, especially those working at agencies, staying on top of what's truly shaping communication is vital. But, as an industry, we've never really been all that good at it. Sure, we can see trends happening once they are prevalent and react to them. But it's been tough for agencies to truly innovate and drive our clients toward where they should be headed.

 Foent
Even if you prioritize constantly challenging the way you think, it's hard to figure out how to do that. At Peppercom, we put a great deal of emphasis behind challenging our own status quo: from our internal Innovation Mill launched by Peppercommer Lauren Begley–which highlights the latest innovations and experiments in the marketing space that we might learn from as an agency–to collaborating with new partners and making hires from outside the public relations space. (After all, that's what brought me–now an "in-house" media studies academic–to the firm.)
 
But beyond that, I wanted to share a bit of advice I've learned over the years as to the best way to stay on top of what's happening in the world: keep up with what's happening in culture. That's the gist of Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer: that marketers who pay little attention to the world around them will both miss out on business opportunities and find themselves at risk.
 
I'll take that one step further and say that PR, advertising, corporate communication and marketing pros who want to truly stay abreast of what's happening and what's coming need to watch the entertainment space.
 
For the past several years, I've been fortunate to help organize an annual conference called the Futures of Entertainment. The event brings together media industries practitioners, marketers, and media scholars to talk about what's happening in the entertainment world. And, through my years of research, I've often found that new modes of engagement, developments and challenges that eventually affect companies and governments have, in some ways, often been "previewed," in a way, among media audiences over the years.
 
After all, many of the ways citizens today talk about the news, rally the government, or petition companies–particularly through online communication–was once considered the strange and marginalized space of "the fan" or "fanatic," people who had nothing better to do with their time than to become obsessed with what they watch, create media that responds to it, share media amongst each other, etc.
 
Each year, I look at the issues that end up getting planned for the conference as a barometer of the things I should be keeping in mind and the issues I should be thinking about how to bring to bear on our agency and our clients. And I'm especially proud this year that Peppercom's events division, Peppercommotions, is helping plan the conference.
 
To Repman readers, whether you work for an agency or "in-house," I highly recommend you come up and join us at MIT Nov. 11-12 to talk about pressing issues like "spreadable media," crowdsourcing, location-based technologies, audience/producer collaboration, and privacy issues. In particular, we'll look at the innovations taking place in journalism & documentary filmmaking, music, serialized storytelling, and children's media. And I promise there will be many implications to come from these issues in the marketing world. Rather than waiting for them to happen and playing catch-up, I hope you'll consider joining us.
 
More information on the conference is available here: http://convergenceculture.org/futuresofentertainment/2011/
 
Grant McCracken's book referenced is here: http://www.amazon.com/Chief-Culture-Officer-Breathing-Corporation/dp/0465018327

Oct 11

Drowning in data

The following is the first in a two-part series analyzing a first-of-its-kind study of 1,700 chief marketing officers from 64 countries and 19 industries by the IBM institute for Business Value. I'd like to thank IBM for providing this blogger with access to the study's lead researcher, Carolyn Heller Baird.

ManDrowningInData A global study of 1,700 chief marketing officers in 64 countries shows the majority share one common trait: they're drowning in a sea of data.

Conducted by the IBM Institute of Business, the CMO survey confirms that while marketers know data holds the key to customer insights, some 80 percent still rely on such traditional sources of information as market research, while an astounding 68 depend on sales campaign analysis to make their strategic decisions. Ugh. Talk about yesterday's news!

The 'marketer as Luddite' findings come at a time when the lifespan of the average CMO varies from between three and four years (less than any other member of the C-suite). And, to add even more stress to an already tenuous existence, IBM says CMOs and their bosses, CEOs, both identified “getting closer to the customer” as one of three key prerequisites to success in the 21st century. So, if the CMO knows her boss wants to get closer to the customer, but she's still living in the past when it comes to embracing ways in which to do so, it might be time to update the old resume.

Carolyn Heller Baird, IBM's lead CRM researcher and director of the global study, says CMOs ‘get’ that they have to do a MUCH better job interpreting all the data, but still cling to “…tracking markets and not individuals, and transactions rather than relationships.”

Why? Because finding the best new analytical tools is easier said than done, says Baird. “For one thing, CMOs are incredibly time pressed. For another, they're limited by budget and, in some cases, culture. So, change can't happen overnight.”

Where change IS happening, though, it's producing dramatic results. IBM featured Kraft Foods' Oreo Cookie as a case in point. Kraft had been struggling to take a bite out of the vast consumer pocketbook in the world's largest market for nearly 20 years. Then, finally, after LISTENING and ENGAGING with living, breathing human beings and not relying on data, Oreo struck gold (or cream, if you prefer). They made the cookie smaller and less sweet-tasting. Sales have since skyrocketed by more than 80 percent and in-store sales in some regions have more than tripled. Man, that's a whole lot of cookies!

To duplicate Kraft's success, says Baird, CMOs need to foster greater collaboration across the enterprise, especially with the chief information officer. They also need to build a staff with new and different skill sets all aimed at understanding the critical emotional connection a product, brand or organization must build with a customer.

Last, but not least, the best CMOs need to leave their ivory towers and personally walk the walk. “Look at your organization through your customers' eyes, as they progress through the full relationship cycle. Be a customer. Drop in on stores and sites. Go to your call centers and sit with randomly selected customer representatives. (Ask yourself) how easily can customers interact with your organization – before, during and after the sale?” says Baird. The best CMOs know the only true key to success is listening to individual customer wants and needs.

As Repman readers know, that's what I've been preaching for at least the past year. My awakening came after I suddenly woke up one day and realized I'd never experienced my own brand. Then, after surveying CMOs and PR managers, I found that most had never put themselves in their customers' shoes either. Now, I'm born again and proselytizing to the best of my ability.

Embracing new and dynamic forms of data research and building tighter bonds across the organization are two critical steps a CMO must take. The third, and perhaps most important, is both the easiest and hardest: finding the time to slip into a pair of customer's shoes and as Kraft did with Oreo Cookies in China, living the customer experience first-hand.

For more information about the IBM study, entitled 'From Stretched to Strengthened,' e-mail iibv@us.ibm.com. Tell them Repman sent you.

And, stay tuned for part two of my report on the IBM CMO study. I'll be speaking with Ms. Laird about which industries are leaders and which are laggards, and why.

Oct 06

Experiencing the brand before creating the plan

I had the good fortune yesterday to address an audience of cable industry communications 
managers.

It was a panel discussion whose goal was to identify best practices for client-agency partnerships, understand the fast-changing media relations landscape and predict what's next.

BrandExperience I saw the panel as an opportunity to once again ask the marketing and PR types in the audience if they had ever put themselves in their customers' shoes and experienced the brand from the outside in. About half had done so.

I congratulated those who had and suggested that those who hadn't done so do so immediately.

I've come to believe it's impossible to create an effective communications plan unless you literally walk the walk and experience what your customer experiences.

For a cable industry communications executive, that would mean experiencing, say, The History Channel through each and every one of its online and offline touch points. And, it would mean putting oneself in every constituent audience's shoes.

Then, and only then, would a cable executive be able to craft the precise plan with which to engage in a conversation with each and every audience on THEIR terms. That's critical, because it's all about being where they are. "They" being the customer.

Too many organizations still rely solely on quantitative data to inform their branding and messaging communications. That's not only yesterday's approach, it's taking the easy way out.

Smart communicators are beginning to realize the nuances and insights to be gleaned from experiencing the brand BEFORE creating the plan. It may involve some heavy lifting but, trust me, the pain will be worth the gain. I should know. We put ourselves in our customers' shoes and, while the overall experience wasn't bad, we identified areas for improvement and have  tweaked our communications program accordingly.

If a PR firm can do it, so can a cable company. Or, any company for that matter. The longest journey begins with a single step.

Oct 05

How NOT to make it in the Big Apple

Your name is Naomi Nitwit. You've held a variety of design and production jobs over the past two decades but, for personal reasons, moved away from the Big Apple a few years ago.

Now, though, you're refueled, recharged and ready to re-engage. And, gosh darn it, you're going to write the best, show stopper of a cover letter the New York advertising and design field has ever seen. Why? Because, you want to get back to the hot lights and late nights of the City, that's why.

But, there's only one problem, Naomi. You forgot to re-read the letter and resume before hitting the send button. As a result, each and every track change is visible. Just take a gander:
Slide1Ouch! In the first graph she writes "…this job seems perfect." And what exactly would that job be, Naomi?  BTW, I love the letter's penultimate line. It reads, “Need a sentence here saying you are interested in getting back in the industry in NYC, I think.” Safe to assume that came from a job coach?

Your resume also contains track changes and reveals such interesting items as date changes (so, did you leave the real estate gig in ‘07 or '08?).

I also found myself bemused by the word change from 'blast' to 'marketing' and the accompanying note that reads: “blast is a very negative concept”. I agree.

Naomi, I know you're trying your best. But, it's a cold, cruel world and you really need to take ownership of what I like to call 'The brand of you'.

You'll never make it back to the Apple with a cover note and resume that contain track changes. Maybe you should change your strategy and, instead, team up with the football playing college senior who sent me an e-mail blast? No, wait a minute. Blast is a negative concept!

And, a tip o' the mortar board to Jason Dodd for this suggestion.

Sep 28

Why didn’t I think of that?

Personal-Powxxer-500x496 I thought I'd heard of every conceivable new business strategy.

I've read every one of Robb High's endlessly repetitive 'agency mistake' e-mails. I've listened to Brent Hodgins and his diabolically clever Mirren business development workshops. And, I've even learned a few tips of the trade from such notable strategy consultants as Richard Harte, Ph.D., and Darryl 'Big D' Salerno.

But, my new business thinking was just rocked by a voice mail from a commercial real estate agent. Yes, you heard me right, a commercial real estate agent.

The call came from a guy I'll call Tim. As is usually the case with unsolicited cold calls, Tim made his message sound urgent. And, he also used a soft, personal tone and an air of familiarity that made it seem as if we'd known each other since those halcyon days at St. Francis Grammar School.

Tim's message not only left my lower jaw hanging on the floor. It made me shake my head and think, 'Why didn't I think of that?'

It went something like this:

“Hey Steve. How have you been? It's Tim. Tim Tenacious with Fabulous Realtors. You know. The big commercial real estate brokers here in midtown. Anyway, listen, I'm a big fan and I know there are so many ways you can help Fabulous PR ourselves. So, here's what I need from you ASAP. Can you call me back and give me talking points I can use with my CEO to convince him to hire you as our PR firm? In the meantime, we can help you find some space that will perfectly meet your needs and we'll have a great quid pro quo going. So, ball's in your court, big guy. Give me some bullets I can work with. Oh, and I'll set a meeting through your assistant and we'll start finding you the kind of office space you deserve. Can't wait to catch up.”

Tim's twisted logic was both appalling and laugh out loud funny. I immediately shared it with my management team, suggesting we toss out all of our other business development strategies and, instead, borrow a page from The Book of Tim.

Could you imagine me calling, say, Jon Iwata of IBM (a dream client I'd love to work with, BTW) and leave him a Tim-type voice mail?

“Jon? Way, way too long buddy. Way too long. Listen. Do me a favor. Call or e-mail me some talking points ASAP about your new top-of-the-line laptop computers, OK? I want to put your sales messages on Deivis Baez's desk. He's our IT manager and he really should be working with you guys to upgrade everything. Across-the-board. Right now. You get me? In the meantime, though, put Peppercom on a monthly retainer so we can return the favor and make this a real quid pro quo. You'll get a big order for new software  and we'll help you PR IBM. Can't wait to hear back, Jon. Talk to me baby. I want to help you help yourself.”

I've heard of reverse psychology before, but Tim's new business strategy is a stupefying show stopper.

In fact, if I were Tim, I'd stop trying to sell commercial real estate and, instead, channel my genius towards strategy consulting. Trust me, Robb High, Brent Hodgins, Darryl Salerno and all the rest won't know what hit them. In fact, they'll probably end up hiring Tim to provide strategy consulting for their strategy consulting.

I'd go on, but I owe Tim some bullet points for his CEO.

Sep 20

PR’s version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

I thought today's decision by the military to finally lift the oft-vilified don't ask, don't tell policy  Mediocrity_web_laaaog5 provided an ideal hook with which to weigh in on a disturbing trend in PR; a different type of don't ask, don't tell policy, if you will. I refer to the astounding ability of proven failures to land one plum job after another.

PR's don't ask, don't tell policy is especially overt in large corporations and holding companies. Every week or so, I'll receive an e-mail from someone I know who was recently let go for doing a horrible job. But, his note is entitled, 'Great news!' or 'Movin' on up!' and it informs me that, despite having just been fired from his 37th straight CCO spot, he's just been named head of corporate communications for a global financial institution. Say what?!?!?

And, on the large PR agency front, one has only to double click on any PR daily's 'people on the move' section to see that John Smith has switched jobs once again. He's gone from Porter to Fleishman (or, was it H&K to MSL?). And, there's a note about Jane Doe, who has hopped around more often than the Easter Bunny. She's switching from Golin to Burson (or, is it Weber to Edelman?). They've both landed new gigs heading up a major health care or consumer products group, even though everyone in the know knows they went down in flames at their previous employer. And, they call this the big leagues? Ugh.

So, how do these empty suits survive?

I believe relentless downsizing is the culprit. There are far fewer human resource executives who are being burdened with wading through hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes. So, when a few finalists who possess 'deep sector expertise' and can walk and chew gum at the same time are brought in for interviews, the path of least resistance seems especially attractive.

Human resource managers don't ask John Smith why he's held 18 jobs in seven years. And, Mr. Smith sure as hell won't volunteer the information. So, after a perfunctory reference check (which is a joke since candidates ONLY provide the names of individuals who will provide glowing reports), the empty suit is named vice president of public relations for Massive Corporation, Inc., or EVP and director of WPP's global technology practice. And, once firmly entrenched, they'll spin wheels, achieve nothing, collect huge paychecks and be shown the door once again within 18 months. And, then, the cycle repeats. It's almost like an Animal Planet documentary about Yellowstone Park's ecosystem.

All this wouldn't matter if it wasn't happening everywhere in corporate America (note: I'll bet $100 that recently fired Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, arguably one of the worst CEOs in recent memory, lands a new, higher paying gig within six months). 

I believe pervasive downsizing has enabled otherwise mediocre executives to survive, if not, thrive. The real loser is the American economy. There are multiple reasons why we're rocketing along a highway whose upcoming exits are marked Second World and Third World status, but the Peter Principle is certainly one of them. 

Companies who adopt a don't ask, don't tell policy and enable mediocre, empty suits to continue filling plumb jobs aren't just hurting themselves. They're hurting everyone. And, by the way, this would make for a great investigative piece if a PR trade REALLY wanted to do some serious journalism.

Aug 02

Peace in our time

BratI'm glad to see more marketers responding to the righteous indignation of folks like me who  despise the offspring of others for ruining an otherwise great meal, trip or experience.

I speak, of course, of brash, bratty and ill-mannered kids; the kind who will race up and down a restaurant or airplane; the kind who will scream and cry at the top of their lungs because daddy refuses to take them out of their high chairs; the kind who throw their stuffed animals at each other and repeatedly pummel the back of your plane seat for, say, three hours in a row.

Recognizing that repeat customers such as I are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, Ryanair has launched child-free flights. Malaysia Air announced it would institute a baby ban in first class (Sigh. It makes me want to book a flight to Kuala Lumpur just to enjoy the solitude). And, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are also reportedly considering no kids policies.

And, it's not just airlines that dislike other people's kids as much as I. The Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City has been kid free since '03. And, Celebrity Cruises has declared sections of their cities on the sea strictly off-limits to anyone under 16. As Larry David would say, "It's a good thing! It's a good thing!"

There's a reason marketers are finally waking up to the havoc caused by poor parenting and their run-away freight train-like offspring. There are more and more empty nesters every day. What's more, 20 percent of American women NEVER bear children (that's a 50 percent increase since 1970). And, the cost of raising a kid now averages $230k. That's simply too much for many cash-strapped couples in this never-ending recession of ours.

There's even a website solely devoted to helping people like me find kid-free destinations. It's called LeaveThemBehind.com. I love it! Another site called NoChildrenByChoice says more and more brands are getting past their fear of alienating America's long-standing love affair with baseball, apple pie and kids and, instead, promoting child-free vacations.

No matter what your fear or phobia, it helps to know you're not alone. And, baby (pun intended), I'm not alone by a long shot when it comes to disliking someone else's snot-nosed child ruining my experience.

I may even reconsider my future retirement plans (which had called for hanging onto my New Jersey home for weekends and buying a pied-a-terre in the Apple). It turns out there's a city in Scotland that has a village rule preventing households from having even one child! Dogs, however, are welcomed. It's called Firhall. I'd call it Nirvana.

Jul 08

Ignorance is gender neutral

Dumb-and-DumberEver take note of the steady drumbeat of male bashing in print ads, TV commercials, sitcoms and  movies? It's not overt but, like death and taxes, it's something you can count on.

Here's a quick case in point. Doubleclick on this current State Farm commercial and tell me what you see. What I see are three separate examples of absurdly stupid men who spend the savings from their low-cost State Farm policies on such idiotic items as falcons. Note how the clever, level-headed wife uncovers the mystery of the missing money, who spent it (her hubby) and on what (the bird).

I wouldn't be writing this blog if the State Farm spot had included even one dopey woman. But, it doesn't. All three morons are men. In fact, if Madison Avenue creative directors and Hollywood screenwriters were asked to describe the average American male, they'd use adjectives such as: clueless, idiotic, helpless, befuddled and overwhelmed. Ask the same influencers to describe the average American female and you'd hear such superlatives as: bright, engaged, sensitive and multi-tasking (re: the latter, journeyman comic Darryl Salerno likes to ask, “If women are such great multi-taskers, how come they can't have sex and a headache at the same time?” His words. Not mine).

Want another insurance sector example of subliminal male bashing? Look no further than Geico's brilliant caveman campaign. How come the tagline doesn't state, “Insurance made so simple even a cavewoman could understand it”? The answer is obvious: we've been programmed to just accept the fact that men are stupid. So, ipso facto, cavewomen were smarter than cavemen.

I've been around long enough to know there are just as many ignorant women as men. But, our entertainment gurus have decided otherwise.

It doesn't bother me. But, it SHOULD bother you if you're a mom or dad of impressionable boys and young men because it's reinforcing a negative stereotype in their minds. And, conversely, girls and young women are being told they're superior to boys and, aside from procreation, really don't need them for much of anything.

Feminists might argue that men have no one to blame but themselves for the negative stereotyping. But, for every Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and Tiger Woods, there's a Casey Anthony, Tonya Harding and the former governor of Alaska. Ignorance is gender neutral. But, the perceptions of our nation's future leaders are being shaped to believe otherwise.

Too much of anything is bad. It's high time for some responsible (and balanced) marketing and entertainment content from what Ad Age used to refer to as the 'intersection of Madison and Vine.' Let's call for a cease-fire on male-bashing.

Jul 06

Corporate Social Irresponsibility: PR’s next BIG thing

What do brands such as 7-11, Armour and Hooters have in common? They all sponsor competitive binge-eating contests. Slide1 In case you've somehow missed it, competitive binge eating is the next new thing. Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs pioneered the caloriefest and now lots of other brands are following suit (and setting a horrific example for a nation already beset by obesity and weight-related illnesses).

All of which spells opportunity for some enterprising public relations entrepreneur. In fact, I'll bet a quarter pounder with cheese that there's some latter-day, bizarro world version of Carol Cone just salivating over the revenue potential. (Note: Carol Cone is widely recognized in PR circles for pioneering cause marketing and corporate social responsibility programs. Today, nearly every organization purports to 'do good' and some actually do.)

But, back to the business development opportunity. This past July 4th weekend, Joey 'The Jaws' Chestnut won his fifth consecutive Nathan's hot dog eating contest at Coney Island by consuming 62 dogs in 10 minutes (@ 397 calories per frank, Jaws inhaled some 24,614 calories in 600 seconds. I gag just looking at those numbers).

I'm also thrilled to report that Sonya Thomas won Nathan's first-ever women's competition by scarfing down 40 dogs in the same 10 minutes. I say thrilled because now women can't point to this obscenity as yet another example of 'stupid guy things.'

By winning their respective competitions, Chestnut and Thomas automatically become members of the Major League Eating Hall of Fame. For you non-foodies, MLE is the official governing body of binge eating and includes such other superstar athletes as:

– Don Lerman, who holds a world's record for consuming SIX POUNDS of baked beans in one minute and 48 seconds (note to self: do NOT stand downwind of Big Don).

– Cookie Jarvis, who shoveled down six and two-thirds pounds of linguini at one sitting (and, I'll bet she remained seated for some time afterwards. I wouldn't be able to move for a week).

– Takeru Kobayoshi, who sucked down 57 cow brains in 15 minutes (something tells me Kobayoshi-san didn't have much category competition, though. "The cow brain-eating contest? Hell no. I'm here to throw back some bratwurst.").

A cursory glance at the World Eating League's website reveals such major sponsors as Heinz and Pepto-Bismol. Heinz ketchup and mustard has to be the K-Y Jelly of binge-eating. I can't believe anyone can taste anything after, say, the 41st dog has inched its way past the trachea. It's all about lubrication at that point.

Pepto's marketing spend is a no-brainer. But where are Tums, Immodium and, of course, Scott Tissue?

And, how, exactly do the makers of Heinz and Pepto explain their sponsorships in annual reports? "In another area of cause marketing, Your Company once again contributed $1 million to sponsor the World Eating League. Management and directors alike believe obesity is not a problem but, rather, an opportunity that will provide immediate shareholder growth (and girth)."

I jest of course. These companies should be ashamed of themselves. So, too, should the competitors, who actually believe they're athletes. I always thought athletes burned calories, not consumed them.

The real losers though, as always, are our nation's kids. I can just picture 12-year-old, 200-pound Johnny or Sally Ann  giving up on their fitness program and opting instead to pursue a career as a World Eating Champion. "Hey mom and dad! I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. The king of the hot dog eating universe!"

But, enough already with French Fries finger pointing and Buffalo wing bashing, I have a business plan to write and some misbehaving brands to pitch. I think Corporate Social Irresponsibility is PR's next BIG thing (and, what a great double entendre the service offering's initials will make. "CSI? You betcha! In fact, we have an entire division devoted to it.").

And a tip o' the toque to Valerie "the Foodie" Di Maria for this suggestion.

Jul 05

Evil spirits

I perform stand-up comedy as a hobby.

Every time I sit in the green room awaiting my turn on stage, I listen as my fellow comedians struggle to maintain the fine line between the irreverent and the obnoxious. Some succeed. Some bomb. And, those that do bomb are not only greeted by boos but, even worse, by dead silence. And, trust me, the latter is far worse. Silence tells a comedian, an actor or a brand for that matter, that they’re not worth the time of day.

And, frankly, the new Spirit Airline campaign isn’t worth the time of day either except that it serves as a textbook example of how not to use humor in marketing.  In case you’ve somehow dodged the endless barrage of unsolicited spam from the low-fare discount airline, their sleazy promotions have run the gamut from scantily-clad, pole dancing ‘flight attendants’ who strut their stuff in flatbed trucks going from market to market to frat boy, promotional riffs on the latest political scandal.

For example, during the endless Anthony Weiner scandal, Spirit blasted this very unfunny e-mail:Weinerone And, when the Governator’s reckless ways with his house maid generated front-page news, Spirit jumped on the bandwagon with an ad entitled, ‘Hasta la vista to high fares!’ The text was predictably accompanied by a photo of an attractive young lady in a French Maid’s costume.

Spirit supplements these breaking news one-offs with an endless barrage of daily e-mails sporting such witty titles as: ‘The Red Light Special’ (a trashy tome that trumpets $9 one-way and $17 round-trip fares).

I have three fundamental marketing problems with the Spirit campaign. The first two are obvious:
1.)    Sophomoric humor isn’t funny (unless you’re a sophomore in high school).
2.)    Since they’re neither clever nor witty, the ads end up being nothing more than offensive and stupid. The latter may work for Godaddy.com and Howard Stern, but not for an airline.
3.)    Airlines are a very serious business. Each day they transport thousands of people to and fro in their planes. If, God forbid, something tragic should occur on a Spirit Airline, these ads will be dredged up by the media and used against them (remember how the media savaged BP with its own advertising after the oil spill?).

Reputation management is fundamentally critical because it helps build a reservoir of trust and credibility in the minds of end users. That’s why, despite endless product recalls, J&J continues to finish at, or near, the top of the Fortune and Reputation Institute lists for most admired organizations. The company spent decades making itself synonymous with trust. BP, on the other hand, changed the meaning of its initials (from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum) before it had built a reservoir of trust. Then, adding insult to injury, BP didn’t back up the change with quality assurance programs. Hence, when the oil hit the fan, as it were, pundits and comedians had a field day (‘i.e. Did you hear what BP stands for? Beyond Pathetic.’).

I’m not sure what the polar opposite of reputation management is, but Spirit Airlines is pioneering the craft.

Smart, insightful humor can be a powerful weapon in any organization’s marketing arsenal. And, it can work very well in serious industries too. Just look at Geico (life insurance) and Southwest (airlines). But, crass, offensive junk like the kind being served up by Spirit is akin to whistling past the graveyard. They know they’re over-stepping the boundaries of common decency in an attempt to sell tickets. What they don’t know is how the media will use these very same ads to destroy Spirit’s reputation if, and when, something goes south.

I think the new motto for Spirit Airlines should be: ‘An accident waiting to happen.’”