Jul 05

People. You can’t live with them. You can’t live without them (although there are a few I could do nicely without, thank you very much)

People are strange beasts. Some can be so warm and engaging. So ready to go out of their way to help.

Others, though, can be unbelievably self-centered and insensitive. And, on this dark and gloomy day, I thought I’d focus on the latter group.

In just the past few weeks alone, I’ve sat alongside friends, associates and acquaintances, all under the guise of "getting together to catch up." Instead of catching up, though, it seems I always end up listening to a one-sided, never-ending litany of what’s new with them, their jobs, their kids, their ailments. You name it. They seem to love to update me.

Yesterday, for example, I sat through an endless progression of high school and college memorabilia trotted out by a friend of my wife’s. While it was interesting to a point, it just went on and on. And, not once did this guy ask me one question about me or what was going on in my life. This seems to happen to me all the time. Maybe I have that, "Hey, tell me your life story" look on my face.

Moving right along to insensitivity, our agency was just informed we didn’t win a piece of business we’d been pitching for god knows how long. The prospect was totally disingenuous throughout the process. First, she told us they wanted to work with us. After the initial meeting, she asked for proposal and budget, saying they wanted to get started asap. So, we submitted the plan and waited. Weeks passed. We checked back in. The prospect said they still wanted to work with us, but now we had to sit on a conference call with a bunch of senior players who had questions about the plan we’d submitted. So, we did. The senior players proceeded to shoot the shit out of the original plan (which the prospect had loved btw). Needless to say, the prospect didn’t defend us or the plan during the call. Based upon the new direction, we were asked to revise the plan and present it in person. Wary of the changing weather patterns, we asked if we were still the lone agency. We were assured we were. So, our team went to the prospect’s office and gave the presentation. As our group was leaving, we bumped into another agency’s pitch team. Nice. Very nice. And, today we got the call saying the other firm had gotten the business because they had brought a larger team. Oh brother.

I’m a firm believer in the adage, "what goes around comes around." This prospect will undoubtedly "get hers" one day down the road. As for the boorish people who ask to get together to "catch up," but instead talk only about themselves, maybe I should tape the conversations and send them, along with a cover note saying, "It was great to catch up. Let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on any of the points covered in the cassette."

Jun 23

Be careful what you say. The bridge you burn may be your own

Dan Rather’s parting shots at CBS were probably not the most graceful words the legendary Drather_1 journalist  has uttered in his nearly half-century-long career. He lamented the network’s treatment of him and said he would not accept the offer of an empty office and no assignments on which to work. You really can’t blame him. And, considering the fact that his days as a major network anchor are over, Rather probably didn’t burn any bridges with his potshots.

That said, one does have to be very careful about what one says about a former employer or co-worker, especially in such a relatively small field as public relations where everyone knows everyone else. In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit to being guilty of violating this credo, having often shared my very negative views on the CEO to whom I once reported. While I was (and am) wrong for badmouthing the guy, many others who have come in contact with the Neanderthal agreed with my feelings (and often have better, even more insane anecdotes than my own).

Badmouthing a former employer can come back to bite you in the butt in the least expected way. Recently, for example, we were competing for a piece of new business against several other firms. At the end of our presentation, the prospect pulled my partner aside and told him that a former employee (now with a competitor) said she had been our best publicist and that, since her departure, we no longer had any top-flight media relations people. The prospect told my partner he’d automatically eliminated the firm because of the unprofessional comment. And, needless to say, that particular individual won’t be welcomed back to our office any time soon.

So, think through what you’re going to say before ‘dissing’ someone. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book about the Lincoln cabinet called "Team of Rivals," Honest Abe would always write a "hot letter" to himself listing the transgressions of someone who had really ticked him off. Having vented his anger, Lincoln then proceeded to discard the letter. That sounds like a great way to deal with negative feelings about former employers or co-workers.

Hat tip to Dandy Stevenson for this idea.

Jun 22

It’s the little things that can make or break an organization’s image and reputation

I’ve written in the past about employee "ambassadors" and how important every individual’s role is in shaping an organization’s image and reputation with customers. A boorish receptionist can kill a new business experience. An impolite account executive can damage an existing relationship. Even a poorly worded communiqué can undo months or years of trust between client and agency.

So, when I received an unsolicited pitch letter from the Flatiron Database Marketing Company, I thought it would make for a good example of what not to do.

Beyond the hype and hyperbole in the letter from the telemarketing firm, what struck me was theFmletter_1  abysmal quality of the paper stock and type. The ink was smudged in several places and many words were virtually impossible to read. In fact, I just noticed that some of the ink rubbed off on my shirt and has left a permanent mark. What a nice way to start my day.

Does Flatiron Database Marketing actually expect someone to react positively to such a solicitation? ‘Oh boy, those guys who just sent me the illegible letter with the ink that just rubbed off and ruined my shirt would be ideal to help me build sales.’ C’mon. This correspondence deserves to be framed and displayed in the National Sales Hall of Shame’s unsolicited pitch letters wing.

Last, but not least, I simply don’t believe telemarketing is appropriate in my field. My rationale is simple: I don’t do business with people who cold call me, so why should I expect some prospect to act differently?

The Flatiron letter was a distasteful reminder of how important the little things are to an organization’s overall image. Hey, do you think they’ll pay for my shirt’s dry cleaning? If they do, I promise to visit the Hall of Shame.

Jun 20

Boys will be boys

You’d think high-ranking executives of Fortune 500 companies, knowing their every action is under a microscope nowadays, would adhere to the highest ethical and moral standards. Like Caesar’s wife, the reputation of a c-suite executive in our post-Enron, Sarbanes-Oxley world should be "above reproach."

Yet, here comes another example of unbelievably bad behavior from a top corporate executive. This time, it’s Wayne Pace, the chief financial officer of Time Warner, Inc., who has been accused by a convicted prostitute, Andreia Schwartz, of being her ‘sugar daddy.’ Over a period of three years, says Schwartz, Pace ‘showered’ her with gifts of all kinds.

Obviously this is so wrong in so many ways. But, the thing that strikes me is Pace’s obvious recklessness vis-a-vis his fiduciary responsibilities to the publicly-traded company for whom he works. Did Pace think, like President Clinton, Mike Tyson and Kobe Bryant before him, that the conventional rules followed by ‘average’ men didn’t apply to someone in so lofty a position? Why is it that the pampered elite so flagrantly disregard the rules of the society that has enabled them to prosper?

As a red-blooded American male, it also disturbs me that this seems to be a ‘guy’ thing. Just look at the NBC Dateline series ‘To catch a predator.’ Every single one of the Internet sexual predators duped into visiting a 12- or 13-year-old kid is a guy. And, some hold incredibly important and respected jobs to boot. So, what gives? What’s going on? Is it the individual guy’s fault? The sex-obsessed society in which we live? Both? Neither?

It’s all very confusing and depressing to say the least. Regardless of the root causes of his behavior, here’s hoping that, if found guilty, Mr. Pace pays a heavy price for his wanton ways. And, here’s also hoping that Time Warner takes the accusations very seriously and acts quickly to make sure that such an incident cannot easily happen again. It seems to me severe punishment may be the only way to change the old ‘boys will be boys’ mentality.

Jun 19

Mickelson Drives Callaway’s Rep Right Off Course

You might have to be a golf fan to understand the enormity of Phil Mickelson’s complete mental meltdown suffered on the 18th and final hole at the 106th US Open at Winged Foot yesterday. But you don’t have to be a golf fan to understand the reputation issues that Lefty is causing for Callaway Golf this morning.

Last year, Callaway introduced their 2 new FT-3 Drivers with technology that used various weighting systems to help even the average golfer hit their driver straight. If you generally hit the ball right, you could buy a weighted club that made the ball go left, and vice versa. Problem was that the market wasn’t that excited and Callaway saw lackluster sales results. However, when Mickelson won this year’s Masters several months ago, they got an amazing break as he used both drivers in various circumstances to help him win the Major. Immediately, Callaway reintroduced the clubs with Phil as their poster boy using not one, but both of their clubs to win one of golf’s most coveted prizes- the Green Jacket.

Today, Callaway wakes up with a major headache as Mickelson essentially had yesterday’s US Open5706720_7_2  won as he stepped onto the Tee at 18. All he had to do was make Par and the championship was his. As he got ready for his last tee shot and pulled the driver out of the bag, the TV announcers immediately questioned why he was hitting the very driver he had trouble with all day, and why he wasn’t opting to go with a "safer" club. If you watch any news or sports show, you know what happened next as Phil hit a horrible shot into a tent and put himself into bad position which caused a chain of poor shots that cost him the championship.

Everything Callaway had gained at Augusta was now gone in one drive. That choice and subsequent shot are already being called one of the biggest chokes in sports history and the golf world is abuzz this morning with Lefty’s mental meltdown. In a press conference, he said he was an "idiot" and openly questioned his club choice. The real question now is if golfers will give Calloway a mulligan or will the reputation of the FT-3 Driver become part of the biggest chokes in sports history.

Hat tip to Isaac Farbowitz for this post.

Jun 12

Sir Martin’s approach is the right one

Public mudslinging almost never works (unless, of course, you’re Ann Coulter and looking to hype sales for your latest liberal-bashing book).

The latest example comes from the other side of the world where, after disengaging his firm from a partnership with WPP and switching instead to Omnicom, Yan Gang, ceo of Citic Guon Group in China, said WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell "had absolutely no manners, no upbringing and no culture." Ouch!

Those are pretty harsh words, to say the least. Happily, Sir Martin has not taken the bait and retaliated. Instead, a WPP spokesperson would only say the mega holding company "….is very bullish about its prospects" in China. Well done, Sir Martin. Your non-response leaves Gang-san dangling in the wind, and portrays you as being above the fray. In my opinion, it’s the smart and sophisticated way to win the image and reputation wars.

We almost always advise clients to take the high road a la Sir Martin, and avoid slinging mud back-and-forth with a foul-mouthed competitor. Of course, though, there are exceptions. Especially if the client’s competitor is spreading vicious lies or half-truths that, if left uncorrected, could hurt the client’s business.

Comparative advertising, direct mail and public relations that extol the benefits of one client’s product or service over a competitor’s is standard operating procedure. It’s always existed and always will. Mudslinging has no place in marketing communications, and never will. Unless, of course, you’re looking to hype sales of a new book and decide to pick on the 9/11 widows. Then, it works like a charm.

May 31

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me

I was truly surprised to read Katie Delahaye Paine’s defense of Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson’s admitted plagiarism in a letter to the editor in the current PR Week. In her letter, Paine says Swanson, who admitted fault for lifting entire sections of writings from other authors and passing it along as his own, shouldn’t be lumped alongside truly "reprehensible" CEO’s like Ken Lay and Dennis Kozlowski.

Paine, who admits Raytheon is a client, said removing Swanson would only hurt the company’s performance and achieve nothing else. I couldn’t disagree more vehemently.

If public relations is ever to "gain a seat at the table," we need to draw a line in the sand and stand up to liars, cheats and frauds like Swanson. If the guy ripped off countless authors and re-packaged their writing as his own, he’s guilty of cheating. My question is: what other lines may he have crossed? Has he fudged some numbers, cut some deals with nefarious characters, done a little price fixing? I’m not suggesting he has, but if he lied once he could very well lie again. Fool me once…

I, for one, think the Board and shareholders should be crying for Swanson’s removal. So what if he’s improved the bottom line in recent years? How much long-term damage has he done to Raytheon’s reputation? Ms. Paine says Swanson didn’t "lie to employees or defraud shareholders." Hello! By plagiarizing others’ work, he did lie to employees (who thought the CEO’s management tome contained his personal thoughts) and he did defraud shareholders (for the very same reason). Would you want to work for a liar? Would you buy stock in a company run by a thief? I wouldn’t.

Let’s start acting like the ethical and moral compasses we purport to be and stop making excuses for bogus chief executive officers. The sooner we do, the sooner PR will be taken more seriously in the boardrooms of Corporate America.

May 11

CEO misconduct is becoming an everyday occurrence

How sad is it to read about one bogus CEO after another lying, cheating or just plain misbehaving? Along with the erosion of trust in our religious, government, sports and entertainment "leaders," what’s happening in big business is clearly fanning the flames of an overall feeling of angst and hopelessness in America.

The latest CEO crisis comes from New England and involves Brian Keane, the founder and top kick of his eponymous, fast-growing, publicly traded computer company. While the allegations are vague, they involve "misbehavior" and were serious enough for the board to step in and ask Keene to step out.

Happily, the Keene board acted responsibly. As did the Radio Shack board when its CEO was caught lying about his college credentials. I’m still amazed and appalled, though, by what’s not happening at Raytheon, whose board is impersonating the proverbial deer caught in the headlights in the wake of its CEOs blatant plagiarism of other authors’ works.

We need accountability in the worst way right now. For whatever reason, societal or otherwise, personal accountability seems to have gone the way of the carrier pigeon, dodo bird and T. Rex. It’s become extinct. And, I’m not sure how to ever bring it back.

It’s great to see some boards step up to the plate and hold the misbehaving executives accountable. But a similar mechanism seems to be missing entirely in every other sector of society.

May 08

When in doubt, blame it on Ambien

When Congressman Patrick Kennedy placed the blame for his reckless Beltway driving the other night on Ambien, it opened the floodgates for the media to send out reporters and find other "people in the street" to agree with the Rhode Island politician that Ambien could indeed have been the cause of the latest Kennedy Family disaster.

As Kennedy and the media were pointing the finger at Ambien, its maker, good old Sanofi-Aventis,Sanofi_aventis  continued its version of communications sleep-walking, issuing a statement that reactions like Kennedy’s only occurred in the rarest of cases.

Sanofi’s "Sounds of Silence" campaign is exactly the wrong public relations tact to take. By doing so, they allow others to frame the debate. There are many things the drug company can, and should, be doing in its defense, the first of which would be to name an independent, blue-ribbon panel to investigate Ambien more thoroughly (hey, Kennedy could be named to the panel. How’s that for "keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer"?). Assuming the drug is proven to cause problems, taking a proactive, concerned approach now will help Sanofi-Aventis in the long run.

The longer Sanofi waits, the more we’ll see people start to use it as an excuse for binge eating, reckless driving and god knows what else. It may even replace the old "my dog ate my homework" bromide. And, high-profile cases like Kennedy’s will only provide more fodder for the media to crucify the company and its drug. So, I’m leaving a corporate communications wake-up call for Sanofi-Aventis. Guys: it’s later than you think.

May 05

Is the Raytheon board for real?

Swanson_1 The Raytheon board of directors’ decision to dock nearly $1 mm of Chief Executive William Swanson’s mammoth 2006 compensation package is a joke, nothing more than a symbolic slap on the wrist.

Swanson, who overtly plagiarized multiple sources to "write" a management guidebook, should have been fired. Period.

Whenever a CEO’s behavior pre-empts the day-to-day business operations of his or her organization, it’s time for that individual to pack up his or her tent and head home. I don’t know who to be more angry with: the board for not living up to its fiduciary responsibility, the CEO for not owning up to his obvious thievery and resigning, or Raytheon spokesperson, Pamela A. Wickham, for issuing bland and bogus statement after bland and bogus statement in support of her boss.

This scandal is so wrong from so many standpoints, I just don’t know where to begin. The bottom line, though, for all concerned should be Swanson’s credibility. It’s been shot to hell. If he’s lied about his "unwritten management rules" book, what else has he lied about?

For the sake of customers, employees, the Street and every other constituent audience, the board should step in and can this guy ASAP. And if, for whatever reason, the Raytheon board needs to cite a precedent to support its difficult decision, it need look no further than Radio Shack. Those board members immediately deep-sixed their lying CEO for inventing a college degree.

Let’s dump these bogus CEOs and find people who don’t make up college pedigrees or rip off other authors to write a book. America needs leaders right now. Swanson and his ilk are the just the latest incarnation of Messrs. Ebbers, Lay and Skillings. We need honest, competent CEOs to lead Corporate America. I’m sure they’re out there, but they sure seem to be harder and harder to find.