Apr 23

Revenge is a dish best served cold

As an agency owner, I was pleased to read that Draft FCB had managed to recoup its massive Wal-MartWalmart
loss by nailing the account of arch enemy Kmart.

By now, the known marketing world is up to speed on the soap opera-like details of how Draft FCB first won Wal-Mart and then, based upon alleged shenanigans by Wal-Mart’s Julie Roehm and Sean Womack in the search process, was summarily fired. Wal-Mart went on to hire the Martin Agency, fire Roehm and Womack, be sued by Roehm for wrongful dismissal, counter sue her for ‘conduct unbecoming’ and so on and so forth.

In the meantime, Draft FCB was left to pick up the pieces and overcome a huge image and reputation challenge created by the Roehm/Wal-Mart fracas: did FCB look the other way when it came to proper business conduct? Did they ‘buy’ the new business via lavish gifts and entertainment? Were they engaged in discussions to set up a separate business for Roehm and Womack in exchange for being assigned the Wal-Mart account?

Draft FCB’s parent company, Interpublic, conducted an internal audit and found no instances of wrongdoing. Cleared of any breaches of ethical conduct, Draft went on the offensive and, bingo, nailed the Kmart account.

I’m not privy to what really went down at Draft, Wal-Mart or Kmart, but as a guy who’s been through more than one ‘wrongful’ dismissal by clients, I rejoice in Draft’s being able to not only recoup a good percentage of the lost Wal-Mart billings, but to do so through the auspices of a direct competitor of the company who’d publicly humiliated the agency in the first place.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Apr 09

Corporate Social Irresponsibility

There are great marketing ideas, not-so-great-marketing ideas and bad marketing ideas. Occasionally, though, there comes along a marketing idea so bad that is also qualifies as just plain wrong.

Krispy Kreme, the makers of those heart-stopping, calorie-laden donuts, has lent their name to an event so unique that it strains credulity. Naturally, it incorporates their ubiquitous product. But, after that, the idea goes straight to hell in a hand basket.

Called ‘The Krispy Kreme Challenge,’ the ‘race’ encourages joggers to run one mile to and from a Krispy Kreme store. Fair enough. But, the ‘challenge’ involves stopping at the KK store and downing a dozen donuts before completing the race.

The race was started as a fund raising event by a NC State University fraternity and is now sponsored by a local running supply store, a handful of local college hang-outs and a law firm.  Now in its second year, the KK Challenge attracted a record 1,400 runners whose race fees contributed more than $10,000 to the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

The donation is a good thing. But, everything else about the challenge is wrong.  Just plain wrong. What is Krispy Kreme thinking? I’m not a doctor, but consuming a dozen donuts and then running a mile has to put huge strains on the cardiovascular system. It can’t be good for the stomach or other vital organs now that I think about it. Just thinking about the race makes me ill.

Why would KK lend its name to a race that does more harm than good? Will it take a few runner heart attacks before someone with some semblance of sense and responsibility wakes up and pulls the plug on this god-awful idea?

The Krispy Kreme Challenge is so bad and so absurd that I believe it should be entered in its own PR industry awards category: corporate social irresponsibility.

Mar 29

How a ‘send’ button can send one’s image and reputation to Hell

Once again, the digital world has enabled an unsuspecting PR player to unwittingly wreak havoc on him/herself and the organizations he/she represents.

Following on the heels of such embarrassing mistakes as the GCI Intern who took on Uber Blogger Jeff Jarvis’s unkind comments about Dell, the Weber AE who was labeled moron publicist of the month for incessantly pitching a KFC non-story to Gawker and, of course, Edelman’s infamous anything-but-transparent blogging work on behalf of Wal-Mart, we now have the Waggener Edstrom/Microsoft briefing book on Wired Magazine’s Fred Vogelstein.

As is customary before arranging any interview between a client and reporter, WagEd’s account team created a briefing book for their Microsoft client in which they describe what Vogelstein is like. Such information helps a client prepare for the interview and avoid any possible pitfalls.

Somehow, though, the briefing document fell into the wrong hands, Vogelstein’s. Amazingly, someone from WagEd actually e-mailed the Vogelstein briefing document to the editor himself. And, faster that one can type, ‘oh shit!’ Vogelstein had great material for a totally new and different type of story about Microsoft.

Naturally Vogelstein blogged about how the WagEd people described him as being, among other things, ‘tricky’ and someone who ‘digs for dirt.’

Mistakes happen, and we’re all human. But, as a result of someone’s mistake, deliberate or otherwise, WagEd has jeopardized a media relationship, gotten smashed from an image and reputation standpoint and, at the very least, not strengthened its long-standing relationship with Microsoft.

Having sent e-mails I later regretted, I now try my best to think through any potentially controversial correspondence before hitting the ‘send’ button. It’s a sad, but very real fact of the Web 2.0 world in which we live that a ‘send’ button can also send an individual’s or organization’s image straight to hell.

Thanks to Stephanie Chaney for the idea.

Mar 22

Man oh man. A man who finally stands up for men

There’s an interesting debate unfolding on the pages of Adweek between Glenn Sacks, who heads something called the Fathers’ Rights Movement and advertisers who see Sacks as an overzealous nutcase.

Sacks, you see, has a problem with the way men in general and fathers in particular are portrayed in TV commercials and sitcoms. He says that, for the most part, men/fathers are portrayed as buffoons who appear totally helpless in front of their kids and invariably have to be rescued by their smarter, more adept wives/mates. He cites Volvo and Verizon as two of the more egregious practitioners of the men-bashing genre.

I happen to agree with Sacks and have seen the male-bashing phenomenon go on for quite some time now. While no expert on either commercials or sitcoms, I do know something about the workplace and have seen countless instances where, in mixed groups, it’s seen as perfectly acceptable to belittle men. But, reverse the roles just once, and watch out.

I’m not sure who, when or why it became politically correct to bash men, but I think it sends horrible messages to the next generation. Like Mr. Sacks, I’ll keep standing up for guys when I see or hear something that’s clearly ‘below the belt’ in work situations. I just wish Hollywood and Madison Avenue would wake up to the long-term damage they’re wreaking. Putting other people down because of their race, creed, color, or even gender, is wrong, and speaks more about the image and reputation of the oppressor than the oppressed.

Mar 02

So much for the benefits of a positive image and reputation

An exhaustive 23-year study of Wall Street stock performance shows that despised companies actually outperform admired ones.

The study’s authors found that lower-ranked companies on the annual Fortune “America’s Most Admired Companies” list, posted a 17.8 percent return as compared to only a 15.4 percent return by their ‘admired’ peers.

The authors say the counter-intuitive findings are the result of what they call a "positive aura effect." Investors in companies they admire receive some of their rewards in either warm and fuzzy feelings about the company/product (think Toyota Prius) or ego gratification (think Rolex watches). Investors in despised companies on the other hand (Wal-Mart perhaps?) see their rewards solely in stock performance and invest accordingly.

Wow, so much for investing time and energy in building a positive image, launching corporate social responsibility programs, and believing that doing good is good business.

If the new study is, in fact, accurate, might we see a return of the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age who raped and pillaged their way through the corporate landscape? Will Chainsaw Al Dunlap be brought out of retirement to run roughshod over more companies, torching everything that stands in his way?

The survey results are disturbing since so many CEOs are maniacally focused on pleasing the Street to begin with. If they now also think that ‘doing bad’ has suddenly become good business, woe betide the next corporate communications chief who goes in to sell the boss on a feel-good green initiative.

If this bizarre aberration actually takes hold, might we also see the rise of new publications such as ‘Despot,’ ‘Tyrannical Executive’ and ‘Brutality Week’? Will ‘Infamy Illustrated’ publish their annual "Most Despised Companies" list, causing PR departments and their firms everywhere to retrofit publicity programs to generate the most heinous press coverage possible?

It’s almost enough to make me want to pack up my tent and go home.

Feb 27

King of kings may not be

Titanic director James Cameron is about to break a startling ‘news‘ story Tomb_2
that he says will shake Christianity to its very roots. In a new documentary, Cameron says he has proof that Jesus Christ did not ‘rise again’ after being crucifed and that his coffin, along with those of Mary, Mary Magdelene, et al, has been found near Jerusalem.

So, if Christ’s coffin has indeed been found and some sort of DNA evidence proves it’s him (Him?), does that, in fact, destroy his (His?) long-standing image and reputation as being ‘king of kings’?

Far be it from me to comment on the merits of what Cameron has found. But, it will be fascinating to see how Christianity in general, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, will respond. Will it be the usual dismissive shrug of the shoulder? Will they condemn Cameron? Or will the Church step up to the plate and appoint its own independent commission to examine Cameron’s findings and claims?

Regardless of what course they take, it’s yet another serious challenge to a Church that’s been reeling for years in the wake of multiple scandals, most of which were badly bungled from a crisis management standpoint.

Just this once, though, I’d love to see them respond in a smart, measured way and be open to an honest and frank dialogue on the subject. Could anything be more important to them (Them?) right now?

Tip of the hat to Tom Powers for the idea

Feb 20

PR? We don’t need no stinking PR

We once had an aggressive, new biz-focused account person who was constantly cold calling 23jetblue_1 companies. One day, she cold called David Neeleman, the now beleagured CEO of JetBlue. And, she actually got through, only to be told by the uber successful chief executive: "We don’t need outside PR counsel. Never did. Never will."

Fast forward to the cover story in yesterday’s Times. I’d bet my bottom dollar Mr. Neeleman is now paying some PR shop hundreds of thousands in crisis communications fees to help him try and save his company’s battered image and reputation.

Might a prior invesment in external PR have helped last week’s disaster and its reputation aftermath? Maybe. Maybe not. One thing’s for sure, though, an external PR firm would have media trained Mr. Neeleman and schooled him on what promises to make and when. Right now, his credibility, and that of his airline, is in a death spiral, all because of horrific performance and broken promises.

So, here’s hoping Neeleman can fix his current mess (and maybe be more open to assistance from public relations counsel in the future).

Feb 09

How I’d advise the country’s fattest city

Men’s Fitness magazine has just named Las Vegas the nation’s "fattest" city. The findings should Bh8892 come as no surprise since, with the exceptions of those brutal trade shows, most visitors to America’s Sodom & Gomorrah do litte, if any, walking while gorging on high calorie, high fat $1.99 breakfasts.

So, I ask: should the powers that be who run this money mecca care about their new brand positioning? I would think so: a fitter clientele would mean longer lives, less healthcare costs and more energy to feed the one-arm bandits 24×7.

In fact, if I were advising the City fathers, I’d suggest the following:

1) put clocks back in the casinos and suggest that gamblers get up, stretch and walk to a different ‘pit’ every 20 minutes

2) put heart-healthy snacks within arms’ reach of the gamblers.

3) stage a cocktail waitress 10k race on the Strip

4) offer to match the winnings of any gambler who also can prove he/she worked out at least once while vacationing in Sin City

5) encourage Steve Wynn to call his next hotel K-2, and put the casino at the very top of the building thereby forcing gamblers to climb staircases to lose pounds before also losing their hard-earned money.

I have to believe being labeled America’s fattest city is a real bummer for Vegas. It certainly doesn’t reinforce the glamorous, exotic branding they’ve been propagating for years. In fact, if they don’t stem the tide soon, gamblers may start dying of heart attacks right on the casino floors. The cause, however, won’t be the shock of winning or the grief of losing, but simply their morbidly obese bodies crapping out.

Until they start making some changes, I suggest Las Vagas be renamed Lost Waistlines.

Feb 02

A boy called Ann

Happily, our filters catch most of the unwanted and unsolicited e-mail spam that chokes our system. Every now and then, though, a few slip by. And when they do, I’ll automatically hit the delete button. On extremely rare occasions, though, one or two will actually get my attention because of an interesting angle or offer.

The other day, I received one unsolicited e-mail that caught my attention for all the wrong reasons. It came from Bill Penrod of NSON Opinion Research in Fall River, Massachusetts. Bill’s salutation stopped me in my tracks. It read, "Dear Ann…"

Bill’s spam went on to say that he travels to Boston quite frequently and would like to meet to explore a possible partnership with me the next time he’s in town. How nice of him to offer!

I wrote Bill back to tell him my name wasn’t Ann and that I didn’t work in Boston. Sadly, there was no response from Mr. Penrod.

Not that I have any immediate need to work with a market research company but, if I did, Bill and his NSON Opinion Research bosses should know I won’t be using their firm.

What good is a mass e-mail campaign when it not only generates little response but, in my case, actually damages the sender’s image and reputation?

So, Bill, do give me a call when you’re next in Beantown. Just dial our main number and ask for "Annie." I actually prefer that to just plain "Ann."