Nov 14

Sandusky, Ohio’s PR challenge

1849658501pLet’s suppose for a moment that your name is Daniel J. Kaman. For the past seven years, you’ve been president of the city commission of Sandusky, Ohio. During that time, you’ve no doubt had to deal with all the things city commissions deal with: taxes, infrastructure, tourism and attracting business to the city. Then, in the waning months of your seven-year term, boom! The earth, the moon and the sky itself suddenly fall on your shoulders. Your city’s name is front and center, day-in and day-out, right smack in the middle of the year’s uber crisis: The Penn State University scandal.

Can you imagine a worse image and reputation challenge? How do you deal with the fact that your city’s name is now synonymous with one of the worst alleged pedophiles in American history? What do you do?

I’d suggest several options for Mr. Kaman and the city commission’s consideration:
-    Ignore the crisis completely. Your terms end on 12/31/11. Let the incoming commission deal with the image and reputation fallout.
-    Call together the best image and branding minds in the city, county and state and brainstorm new and different ways to position the city’s outbound marketing.
-    Change the city’s name. This is a big deal though since, in 2018, Sandusky, Ohio, will mark its 200th anniversary.

I’d opt for the third choice if I were in Mr. Kaman’s shoes. Like it or not, his city’s name creates insurmountable business challenges. To wit:
-    Can you imagine some Mid-West husband shouting upstairs to his wife, “Hey honey, let’s bring the kids to Sandusky this summer!” Just placing the words Sandusky and kids in the same sentence sends shivers up and down this blogger’s spine.
-    Or, how about a CFO and risk manager making this recommendation to their CEO: “Sir, we’ve conducted our due diligence and made our choice. We believe it’s in the best interests of Moed, Moed & Birkhahn to move our corporate offices to Sandusky, Ohio. Yes sir, we’re aware that Jerry Sandusky is the Jack the Ripper of modern times, but we believe the tax breaks and local community environment outweigh the fallout we’d receive from every one of our constituent audiences.”

The city has to change its name. But, they can do so in a smart and strategic way.

I’d counsel Commissioner Kaman to involve Sandusky’s citizens in the name change exercise. Create a microsite that is linked to the city’s website and invite local kids, parents and seniors to contribute names. Or, maybe Kamen is a revenue-driven guy and decides, instead, to approach a technology or Web 2.0 company and offer his city’s naming rights for, say $1 million? Maybe Sandusky, Ohio, becomes Godaddy.com, Ohio? I have to believe those Godaddy types would love this sort of negative buzz.

Whatever he does, I do hope Mr. Kaman does something. The name Sandusky will be forever linked in the minds of Americans to pedophilia, cover-up and disgrace. And, what city wants to have to deal with that albatross when trying to market itself?

Oct 10

Does genius trump abuse?

Rotten-apple I must admit to being taken aback by the universal outpouring of grief, passion and adulation at the recent passing of Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs. It reminded me of the reaction that followed the passing of Michael Jackson and George Steinbrenner, respectively. I've added 'Jacko' and 'The Boss' to a list that includes Jobs because, frankly, all three were very, very bad guys.

Articles about Jobs and his abusive behavior were plentiful before he contracted pancreatic cancer (but curiously scarce since then). In fact, here are links to just five pieces from such reputable media outlets as Forbes, CNN.com and The London Daily Mail (insert links).

I'll let you read the full texts, but consider the following excerpts:

– Despite an estimated net worth of $7 billion, Jobs had NO public record of giving to charity.
– He and his board covered up his initial pancreatic cancer diagnosis for nine months, a totally unethical, if not illegal, stunt by the CEO of a huge, publicly-traded company.
– His factories regularly employed young teenagers and people below the legal working age of 16, made them work grueling hours and tried desperately to cover it all up.
– Jobs had two Apple security guards search the home of a San Francisco man and threatened him and his family with immigration trouble if he didn't return blueprints for a missing iPhone prototype.

But, that's just scratching the surface of a man who was clearly one of the all-time nasty leaders in the history of business. Consider these tidbits:

– Forbes named Jobs to their 'Bully Bosses Hall of Fame'.
– Jobs routinely parked his Mercedes in the handicapped parking space.
– He consistently reduced employees to tears and fired long-time subordinates in front of their peers, often after ridiculing them as “bozos”.
– He claimed personal credit for scores of ideas and patents that other Apple employees had invented.
– Stanford professor Robert Sutton said he was “…besieged with Steve Jobs stories” when he announced he was writing a book entitled, 'The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't'.
– Jobs always considered himself the smartest guy in the room, and Apple's employees and products were either “insanely great” or “shit”.
– Unhappy with a product called MobileMe, Jobs told the product development team, “You've tarnished Apple's reputation. You should hate each other for having let each other down.”

Two final tales:
– A former employee said of Jobs, ”No one greets him or says hi to him. Low-ranking employees are afraid of him. I remember him walking around the campus one time and groups of people in his way would just split and let him walk through.”
– Former Apple PR chief Laurence Clavere once told a colleague that before heading into a meeting with Jobs, she embraced the mindset of a bullfighter entering the ring. “I pretend I'm already dead.”

So, there you have it. Multiple examples from impeccable sources that Jobs was arguably one of the worst human beings to ever lead a global organization. And, yet, the fawning, hagiographic profiles completely dominate the media and paint Jobs as some sort of Thomas Edison/Mother Theresa hybrid.  Is that because:

– The media really is a pale imitation of its former self, and balanced, objective reporting simply no longer exists?

– Or does genius totally trump abusive and unethical behavior? Are we willing to turn a blind eye to one man's endless record to inhumanity to his fellow man and paint him as a god because of his genius?

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, you won't catch me dropping off a bouquet of flowers at the nearest Apple store or lighting a candle in his memory. I'm more likely to quote the classic line from 'The Wizard of Oz' and sing: “Ding dong the Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!”

Aug 26

The Pol Pot of supersized portions

First it was Hosni Mubarak. Then, Muammar el-Qaddafi. Now comes news there's been a coup d'etat at Burger King as well, and the King has been banished.

The media cited words such as 'creepy' and 'disturbing' to explain the king's overthrow. I'd add “…horrific role model, guilty of encouraging millions to eat themselves to an early grave”.

Ronald_mcdonald_arrestedWith the king gone, I'm hoping that, like the Arab Spring, we'll now see an Obesity Fall. And Ronald McDonald should be the first to go.

The sadistic-looking clown is public enemy number one. He's the ultimate fast food despot who, in fact, has a far creepier and disturbing side than the late Burger King. Ronald, you see, was purposely created to be a junk food version of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. Kids loved Ronald and, boy, did Ronald love kids (mind you, I'm not suggesting pedophilia was a motivator. To the best of my knowledge, Ronald was never ordained).

Ronald McDonald ensnared generations of unwitting kids with his mini amusement park rides, Happy Meal treats and 'life is a blast' at Mickey D's marketing campaigns. The bastard is single-handedly responsible for countless cases of morbid obesity and their associated complications. He's the Pol Pot of supersized portions.

So, here's hoping that, with the king gone, we'll now see Ronald McDonald deposed. And, let's not stop there. The Obesity Fall should include Colonel Sanders, the Pillsbury Dough Boy (who should be chained to a treadmill until he losses those multiples layers of dough) and other icons of obesity.

The king is dead! Long live sensible eating!

Now, let's round up some mercenaries, a platoon or two of paramilitary types and order a NATO air strike on Oakbrook, Illinois (where Ronald and his family maintain their palatial estate).

May 19

The 11th commandment should read: ‘Thou shalt blame others for thy sins’

BlogIt was only a matter of time before U.S. Catholic Bishops chose to adopt the victim strategy in  defending its priests' rampant pedophilia. In a comparison that is almost laughable were it not so pathetic, the Church is now blaming the sexual liberation of the 1960s and '70s for its priests' predatory tactics.

The bishops say neither celibacy nor pedophilia were the root causes of their priests' problems. And, get this, they say their problem has been pretty much cleaned up. Yeah, right, and the Mets will win the World Series this year.

Catholic Church leaders MUST be living in a parallel universe. First, they fast track Pope John Paul II for sainthood based upon two rather shaky miracles. (Hey, I can point to a REAL miracle maker. How about Gil Hodges, manager of the 1969 Mets? Any votes for beatifying St. Gilbert of Flushing?)

Second, the bishops publicize this totally bogus report that assumes no responsibility whatsoever for the conduct of their priests. Hundreds of priests ran amok for decades, destroyed lives and then were simply transferred from parish to parish as the Church desperately tried to cover up its mess (all done, BTW, under the aegis of the soon-to-be Saint John Paul II).

If the Catholic Church can blame the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s for its wrongdoings, so should everyone else. Heck, if I were advising Arnold Schwarzenegger right now, I'd just tell him to go with the church defense. I'd tell the governator, “Look, Arnold, baby, fathering your maid's kid wasn't your fault. It's that damned sexual liberation of the '60s.” Ditto with Lindsay Lohan's problems. Blame the 1960s and '70s. Don't like ObamaCare? Tough. It's a direct result of the sexual liberation. Are you a Cubs fan still waiting for the first world's series title since the Flood? At least you can blame the sexual revolution for distracting the owners, managers and players for the past 50 years.

I know the New Testament advises followers to turn the other cheek. But, where does it also say to point the finger at others for one's own poor behavior?

The Catholic Church should be ashamed of this latest cover-up. Blaming sexual liberation for rampant pedophilia is akin to Detroit's explaining its woes by pointing to better engineering and quality from Japanese and German auto makers. Puh-lese!

I believe Shakespeare was a member of the Church of England, but he must have been thinking of Catholic Bishops when he wrote, “The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” And, to paraphrase Hippocrates, “Bishops: heal thyselves!”

May 09

A little something for the al Qaeda operative in all of us

Article-0-0BF14C4E00000578-929_634x387 A little less than a week after the death of Osama bin Laden, New York-based Kuma Games has  introduced an Internet-based game called ‘Episode 107: The Death of Osama bin Laden.’ That’s nice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the free enterprise system, being first to market and all that, but check out this feature: game players can not only pretend to be members of the elite Navy Seals Team 6 that took down bin Laden, they can also choose to defend bin Laden. Yes, that’s right. Little Johnny can don a virtual robe and turban, pick up his AK-47 replica and begin wasting some of the storming Navy Seals operatives. That’s just so wrong in so many ways that it defies logic.

If I had lost a loved one on 9/11, or in one of the two wars that followed on its heels, I’d be planning to launch a personal Jihad against these bozos. And, I wouldn’t build-in an option for players to defend Kuma Games either.

Can you imagine your 11-year-old son, double-clicking on episode 107 link and yelling, “Hey mom, I’ll be down for dinner in a half hour or so. My al Qaeda mates and I have to disrupt this Navy Seals operation. It’s imperative we get bin Laden and his family safely away.”

Episode 107 is billed as the latest in a franchise of video games that recreate military missions, including the capture of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. There’s no indication if the Kuma Klan also provided an option for game players to defend Hussein and secret him away to another, new hiding place. But, they probably did. Nor is there any indication whether Kuma has created similarly-themed video games that enable players to say, whisk Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun away from their Berlin bunker in early May of 1945, or find an escape route from Elba that would provide Napoleon one last shot at conquering Europe and killing millions.

I’m not a child psychologist, but enabling an impressionable youngster to defend bin Laden might tend to soften the youngster’s views towards the mass murderer, no? And, in my mind, that could lead to any number of unintended, and very serious, real world consequences.

So, let me borrow a page out of the Ronald Reagan speech book and demand of Mr. Kuma (or whatever nut job runs the company) to: Take down that game!

Tip o' RepMan's Green Beret to Catharine "Goose" Cody for the idea for this post.

Apr 15

Hype without substance is as phony as a three dollar bill.

A client in the education software space was recently sharing the results of a global survey that  showed her organization's customers rated it poorly when it came to service. She stared at the marketers around the table and said, “It's our job to improve these numbers.” I disagreed, and said so. I told the client the best marketing in the world wouldn't move the needle if her organization didn't first fix its poor service.
 
Beef-300x282The same holds true for the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club (AKA 'The Mets' or 'Los Mets' as they're known to my Spanish-speaking readers).
 
The Mets stink. Period. The club has been in a slow, but steady, death spiral since blowing the biggest late-season lead in baseball history a few years back. Many of the perpetrators of that atrocity are gone. And, the team has a new general manager and field skipper. But, the basic model remains broken. And, ownership can't afford to fix it, because they lost their shirts fiddling around with Bernie Madoff.
 
Despite the broken service offering, though, the Mets continue to hype each and every one of their upcoming encounters with all the drama of a Hollywood premiere: 'Tune in Sunday as David Wright and Jose Reyes lead the Mets into battle with their arch division rival, Chipper Jones and his Atlanta Braves!' Puh-lese. I'd rather watch grass grow.
 
No one cares about the 4-9 Mets, as was exemplified by the tens of thousands of empty seats at Citi Field on Thursday (where Los Mets dropped both games of a doubleheader to 'Troy Tulowitzki and his Colorado Rockies!').

Hype without substance is insulting. And, whether it's a client who thinks a thought leadership campaign can improve the findings of a future branding study or the lame superlatives used to convince Mets fans to turn on the tube or turn out to Citi Field, the end result will be the same: failure.

Fix what's broken first and don't try to spend three-dollar bills.

Apr 05

Can you spot the ancient ad that’s more relevant than ever?

Pic19912Pic17035This blogger’s older brother constantly bombards me with videos, tunes and other memorabilia from the distant past. I’m not sure exactly why he sends me these things, but most end up in my virtual wastebasket. This one containing the ads pictured, however, struck a chord.

As you’ll see, it contains a number of print advertisements from a bygone era. It’s hard to say which is more politically incorrect. But, there’s one ad that, sadly, is as relevant today as it was when it first appeared a half century ago. Let me know if you agree about the ad in question, and we’ll go back-and-forth on why this particular ‘wrong’ is more ‘right’ than ever before.

One other observation: these print ads from yesteryear are amazingly patronizing and condescending towards women. I find it fascinating that today’s advertisements and commercials have come full circle with many, if not, most, equally demeaning to men (i.e. portraying us as dumb, helpless creatures always in need of a woman to show us how to Pic25667survive, etc.).Pic14771Pic01869Pic26299Pic21726Pic23811       Pic26299  Pic11538

Mar 10

Law? What Law?

This is the second of two transportation centric posts and was written by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

This certainly isn’t a scientific study by any means, but I can confidently estimate that 90 percent of all the New York City cab drivers I’ve encountered over the past few months seem to New-york-cabbie-taxi-driver-on-cell-phone forget (or conveniently ignore) the law that bans cell phone use while driving (even hands-free).  What can be so important that cab drivers have to consistently talk on their phones?  Any other person making personal calls all day at work would be fired.

The law has not stopped cab drivers from using their phones, hands-free or otherwise.  It actually seems as if the problem is getting worse.  And, the drivers honestly don’t care.  They think that you, as a passenger, either can’t hear them or you don’t care if the driver is distracted and happens to crash into the car in front or completely misses your stop.

Every time my husband and I encounter someone on the phone, we immediately inform him/her that it’s against the law.   The driver usually shrugs his shoulders, says he knows and, after dropping us off, moves on to the next passenger who is forced to play Russian Roulette with his/her life unless the passenger insists the driver stop talking on the phone. 

A year ago, my husband contacted the Taxi and Limousine Commission (T.L.C.) about a different incident.  The T.L.C. asked my husband to describe the driver, although my husband had the receipt with the taxi number.  All the T.L.C. had to do was to check to see which driver was in the cab at the time indicated on the receipt.  No, that was too easy.  The T.L.C. then asked my husband how tall the cab driver was.  “How tall?  He was sitting down!”  Needless to say, because my husband didn’t ask the driver to get out of the car and check his height with a measuring tape, the case went nowhere.  You can’t make this stuff up. 

Then, this past weekend, I blew up.  We were in a cab headed home, when my husband looked over into the front seat because something didn’t look right.  The cab driver wasn’t on the phone, but he was texting while driving!  Obviously, the law covers texting as well.  As much as I can’t tolerate a cab driver being on the phone, texting really pushes me over the edge.  The driver apologized, admitted he knew about the law– as they all say they do– but just shrugged his shoulders.  We could call the T.L.C. again, but after my husband’s last experience trying to reason with the T.L.C., it’s not worth it.

In March 2010, The New York Times reported that New York City taxi drivers “gouged riders out of millions.”   So, perhaps the T.L.C. couldn’t deal with my husband’s complaint last year because it was dealing with a major issue that was clearly impacting its image. 
Image?  Did I say image? 

Speaking of which, last November, the T.L.C. issued a new and improved dress code for the cab drivers in New York City.   “Proper dress is not something that we can enforce very easily,” said David S. Yassky, chairman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Nonetheless, we want to communicate to drivers that there is a standard of behavior, and that’s what the rule should get across.”

Yes, of course, we must be sympathetic to the T.L.C.’s plight of trying to enforce a dress code.  If they can’t enforce a dress code easily, how can we possibly expect them to enforce the correct rates or enforce no cell phone use while driving?  And, it’s really nice to know how much the T.L.C. cares about its image and has its priorities in the right order.

Unfortunately, I fear it’s going to take a fatal accident– or accident – and a multimillion dollar lawsuit– or multiple lawsuits– against the City and the T.L.C. to get them to take passengers’ complaints seriously and enforce the law (the one about no cell phone use while driving…not the one about the clothes).  But, if the cab driver crashes, hopefully he’ll at least look good when the police show up. 

T.L.C. should no longer stand for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but rather The Law is of no Consequence.

Feb 24

Don’t toy with us

Today's guest post is co-authored by Peppercommers Sara Whitman Ramos (pictured) and Brendan Mullin.

PhotoPeppercom’s motto has always been to work hard, play hard. So, what better way to live that  motto than to hang out at last week’s Toy Fair? Brendan Mullin and Sara Whitman (that’s us) took on the show, meeting with influencers and manufacturers, and of course stopping a bit to goof around with some of the latest and greatest in playthings.

Organized by the Toy Industry Association, Toy Fair 2011 hosted 300 exhibitors, making this a very good year. Association leadership was quoted as saying, “This kind of positive news reaffirms Toy Fair’s reputation as the epicentre of toy and youth product creativity, originality and excellence in the Western Hemisphere.”

To get some perspective on that, we had the chance to speak with industry veterans, Claire Green and Wendy Smolen, co-founders of The Sandbox Summit. In addition to providing much-needed advice for tackling Toy Fair – Hydrate! Snack! – they also shared their thoughts about the state of Toy Fair, and whether or not the show is living up to its reputation:
What are your thoughts about the quality of exhibitors you saw this year in comparison to previous years?

There was a much more upbeat quality to this year's Toy Fair than in the past two years. The quality of exhibitors was basically the same. You have the classic big guys, the mid-size companies who are always trying to muscle their way in, and the innovative new guys. It's an interesting mix.
 
We agree. Everyone was happy. We weren’t sure if it was the promise of better economic times, the toys or just something in the air. At one point, that “something” in the air was flying marshmallows from The Marshmallow Fun Company.
 
What trends are you seeing that are particularly exciting?  Technology always grabs headline. Here are a few themes:
 
1. This year we saw the reverse trend of apps transforming into product. Classic online games like Angry Birds and Tetris both moved off the screen and onto the table.
 
2. 3-D. Hasbro, Mattel, Spinmaster, and others all brought out products that can be viewed in 3-D.
 
3. iPads/iPods as toys. More and more companies are creating apps to play on the iPad. Discovery Bay introduced Yoomi, using a device that turns an iPad into a game. VTech introduced a kid-friendly alternative to the iPad. Hasbro had My3D, which lets a player play 3-D games on an iphone; Fisher Price introduced a kid-tough case for a parent's iPhone. 
 
4. New technology. We saw a laser printer that colors Barbie's hair (Fisher Price) and a voice-activated car (Bandai).
 
5. Great thinking games. ThinkFun, Gamewright, FatBrain, BriarPatch, WorkForge, Blue Orange all had imaginative, creative ways to play.
 
There’s no doubt that technology and toys will continue merging in fun and unusual ways. One of Sara’s favorites was a ping-pong playing robot from Tosy, a Vietnamese company. B tried to take him on, but the robot was scared silly by his paddle-wielding skills.
 
Anything that toy manufacturers are not addressing effectively or as well as you’d like to see?
We’re always surprised to see traditional packaging geared towards “girls” and “boys.” It’s the 21st century and time to grow beyond the pink and blue.
 
And to close, what catches your eye when you’re walking the floor?
Having been immersed in toys for so many years, what catches our eye is what has not been done before or is now being done in a smarter, more fun way. It's the "slap your forehead" moment. It always makes you smile. And that's really what toys should do.
 
To our ears, sounds like Toy Fair nailed it on all three counts – creativity, originality and excellence.

But, we’d like to hear from Repman readers. Do you think the current state-of-the-art in toys is better than previous generations? Are toys safer?

In the meantime, stay tuned for more from our day of play at Toy Fair 2011…coming soon. Now, give me that toy!

Feb 23

Wretched excess

I sometimes shake my head in wonder at how utterly detached from everyday reality our role Article-0-0D4F3118000005DC-11_634x381 models have become.

Take the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter. Please. I think the Yankees would like another team to take the aging superstar off their hands. In addition to his eroding, on-the-field skill set, Jeter just brought himself and the Yankees some very unnecessary publicity with the construction of a 30,875-ft palatial estate in Tampa which neighbors are calling “St. Jetersburg”. Yankees fans may be struggling to make ends meet, but their captain has built himself a Vatican City-sized enclave that serves to only further illustrate the increasing gap between the ‘haves and have nots’ in the America of 2011.

At the same time, at least one Major League Baseball general manager is finally stepping up to the plate and drawing a line in the sand (infield dirt?). Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox described talk of $30 million-a-year ballplayers as “asinine” and said he'd support a work stoppage to bring fiscal sanity back to baseball. Good. Someone has to stop the ever-escalating madness. Compensation for major league sports stars is way out of line, especially in the midst of a continued weak economy and nine percent unemployment.

Then again, why should Derek Jeter care what the great, unwashed masses think? And why should St. Louis Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols think twice about demanding the equivalent of the gross national product of a small Caribbean nation when negotiating his next contract?

I once worked for a semi-delusional CEO who kept predicting a secular crisis between the haves and have nots. I don't think we'll be seeing an Egyptian or Libyan-type insurrection anytime soon in America. But, I do think what we're seeing in Wisconsin and other states is an indirect backlash at the wretched excess of detached, uncaring and pampered superstars like Derek Jeter who think they deserve to live in mansions that would make King Louis XIV of France green with envy.

Where will it all end?