Jan 28

The case of the missing two feet

100209_crazy_weathermanAside from politicians and NFL executives, the profession I least admire is meteorologist. These feel-good, ear-to-ear smiling types are oh-so-quick to point out when their forecasts are accurate. But what really floats their boat is to speculate on a coming weather event, prognosticate the worst and send their viewers and listeners into a positive frenzy.

Snowmageddon, AKA “The Blizzard of ‘15” offered tri-state meteorologists everything they needed to construct multi-day, 24×7 coverage of what, essentially, ended up a total non-event.

As early as Sunday, we saw intrepid weather teams interview one after another scared homeowner pushing a snow blower in his shopping cart (“Golly, I am so grateful to have gotten one of the last ones available,” he’d pant). Or, we’d see another StormTracker standing in a Queens side street, and declare, “Tim, look at this. It’s only begun snowing lightly and already you cannot distinguish where the curb ends and the street begins. Imagine what it’ll be like in 24 hours when the full force of Winter Storm Juno hits!”). BTW, why must they name these storms?

No one, though, can top WCBS-TV lead meteorologist, Lonnie Quinn when it comes to Hollywood theatrics. Straight out of central casting, Lonnie will get excited when the forecast is 72 degrees and sunny. But, when the mother of all blizzards is bearing down on his neck of the woods, Lonnie goes positively postal. He rolls up his sleeves, pulls down his tie and runs from one map to another (thereby generating tiny sweat beads which begin pour down his forehead and well up under his arms). This guy wants us to know he’ll do whatever it takes to keep us safe.

All the hype worked like a charm. Thousands of flights were cancelled, all major rail lines were shut down and the New York subway system was closed.

Today, when it was oh-so-apparent they’d missed their predictions by some two feet, all the meteorologists fell back on the same line, “Well, as New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie said just moments ago, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” And, I agree (but with a huge caveat).

The reckless weather forecasters scared the bejesus out of the metropolitan area. They forced homeowners to buy provisions they had no need to buy and they cost area businesses countless hours of productive work. Name one other profession that can miss the mark by two feet and not be held accountable. A doctor would lose her license and house contractors would be fired (“Sorry, Mr. Smith, but your roof is two feet too long.”).

But, not meteorologists. No one holds them accountable for the havoc they wreak. So, here’s a suggestion for someone to act on (or not). Create a website called www.weatheraccuracy.com and let’s rate our favorite, and least favorite, forecasters. On a scale of one to 36 inches (which is the amount of snow he predicted), I’d give Lonnie Quinn a zero.

Jan 22

Where trust, authenticity and character don’t matter

peanuts-lucy-charlie-brown-footballAside from politics, I can’t think of another field of work in which maintaining trust matters less than in the NFL.

The latest pro football scandal, dubbed DeflateGate features the New England Patriots. The charge: they purposely deflated their footballs in last week’s AFC championship game to gain a competitive advantage.

Apparently, NFL officials inspected the balls used by the Patriots at halftime and 11 of 12 were underinflated. And, an underinflated ball, say the experts, gives one an advantage when passing in wet, rainy conditions.

If proven true the NFL is considering an appropriate sanction against the Pats. Some suggest a steep fine. Others say the league should ban Pats Coach Bill Belichick from sidelines of the Super Bowl. Were I making the decision, I’d hit New England where it hurts most: by benching star quarterback Tom Brady.

Anything less than a Brady benching would be yet another slap on the wrist, band-aid response from a league that is notorious for not really caring about its image and reputation (think: Ray Rice, head concussions and domestic violence, to name just a few examples).

But, here’s the saddest thing of all: the NFL fan base doesn’t really care either. The game remains larger than life and fans still turn out in record numbers.

I’m sure someone at the NFL must care about image, reputation and maintaining trust with the consumer. But, it seems as if the conventional wisdom at league headquarters remains taking action only when public opinion demands it (and applying the mildest of reprimands).

Needless to say that sort of foot-dragging would put any other sort of business out of business.

 

Jan 20

96 percent of Americans can’t be wrong

titanic23n-2-webI did a genuine double take when I read this article last week. Tyson Foods announced it would begin introducing chicken as a morning alternative in the hopes it would become a staple right alongside bacon and sausage. Yeah, sure. “Ah, miss? Hold the eggs over easy with bacon. I’m in the mood for a juicy chicken instead.”

The move comes in spite of the fact that, according to the NPD Group, only four percent of Americans currently eat chicken for breakfast during an average two-week period. The vast majority of consumers, like me, prefer chicken at lunch (55 percent) or dinner (82 percent), respectively.

Nonetheless, Tyson’s is bullish about its seemingly nonsensical move. A spokesperson said, “Consumers are looking for more breakfast options.” Well, perhaps. But, chicken at sunrise? Why not meat loaf instead?

I must admit Tyson’s two new offerings do sound scrumptious: chicken sausage links with bits of apple and maple flavored chicken patties. Mouth-watering, no? I think I’d select a Pinot Grigio to accompany the links and a Sancerre to add a little zest to the patties.

I realize that desperate times call for desperate measures, but this smacks of Tyson’s doing what Tyson’s thinks is right (as opposed to listening to what the customer has clearly indicated they prefer).
Business books are chock full of examples of companies that preferred giving the customer what the marketer wanted as opposed to what the audience desired and paid the price (Think: J.C. Penney’s, Blockbuster and Wet Seal, to name just a few).

I may be proven wrong, but if I were at the helm of Tyson I wouldn’t try to sell a product or push a time slot that consumers have already made clear won’t work. Talk about swimming against the tide.

Jan 16

Smart humor is so often the missing ingredient

Repman readers know I’ve never been in love with advertising, since so much of it still misses the mark in terms of building an emotional connection with me. That’s certainly changed in the last few years as transmedia storytelling has forced marketers to become smarter about when, where and how to engage with prospective buyers. At the same time, many have also begun to recognize the importance of comedy in conveying their message.

For example, this brilliantly self-deprecating advertisement from Newcastle Brown Ale stopped me in my tracks and changed my perception of the brew. In the spot, Newcastle leveraged the comedic talents of Aubrey Plaza to not only poke fun at mega brands who spend $4 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial but, in a diabolically clever way, presented a very funny way for every small advertiser to also buy 30-second spots during the game.

The video tells the story far better than me, but I’m happy to see so many more advertisers embracing comedy in their content. It’s an oh-so-smart way to break through the clutter, humanize the brand, connect with audiences and, most importantly, either reinforce perceived perceptions or, in my case, alter them.

So, here’s looking at you, Newcastle. Your ability to make me pay attention to you just may prompt my ordering one of your brown ales at the very next watering hole.

And a tip o’ the hat to Thommy Powers for suggesting this.

Jan 13

Me, too.


interior_of_a_slave_shipMost organizations I’ve come into contact with aspire to one of two things:

– Leapfrogging the competition to become the premier player in their category
– Doing everything possible to maintain their status as top dog in the industry.

So, it comes as more than a surprise to see one of America’s top airlines, JetBlue, abandon many of the key differentials that made it a high-flying, beloved carrier with an almost cult-like following and an A-plus rating on any customer satisfaction survey.

That’s right, Virginia, those days are gone with the wind. As Joe Brancatelli explains in his recent article, JetBlue management caved to the pressures from Wall Street analysts who wanted to see the airline deliver far higher profit levels a la American, Delta and United (Boo!).

So, say good-bye to:

– Checking one free bag of luggage
– Comfy seats offering 34 inches of legroom
– Any semblance of innovative, cutting-edge ideas.

And, say hello to:

– Fifteen more seats on each of JetBlue’s Airbus A320s. Can you say crammed?
– The introduction of slim-line seats which Brancatelli describes as “thinner, lighter, rock hard and stripped of most cushions and padding.” Ouch!
– A “refresh” of the airline’s already ageing fleet (as opposed to investing in new planes). To the savvy traveler, the word refresh translates to maintenance delays.
– And, oh yeah, paying for your checked bags.

So, in one fell swoop, JetBlue has abandoned what made it so special in order to chase the almighty dollar. But, at what price?

I’m not a big believer in alienating customers and I can’t think of many recent examples of top-ranked companies who abandoned the very strategy that got them there in the first place.

When customers got wind of what JetBlue was planning, the airline responded by saying, “Trust us.” I believe Captain John Smith of the RMS Titanic and George Armstrong Custer used similar expressions in the North Atlantic and Little Big Horn, respectively.

Instead of the oh-so-sketchy ‘trust us’ promise, I suggest instead a new tagline: “JetBlue is now a me, too.” That most certainly will manage customer expectations moving forward.

Jan 09

Part III: B2B marketers top new year’s resolution should be: Stop marketing!

We thought we’d kick-off the new year with a provocative, three-part podcast analyzing the results of our recent co-branded survey with The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Join Jeff Pundyk, global VP of content solutions at The Economist Group, as well as Peppercomm’s president, partner and Demi-God, Ted Birkhahn, for a no holds barred discussion explaining why so many B2B marketers are quite simply missing the mark with their content strategies. Oh, and feel free to post comments agreeing or disagreeing with our panel…

Part III

Jan 07

Part II: B2B marketers top new year’s resolution should be: Stop marketing!

We thought we’d kick-off the new year with a provocative, three-part podcast analyzing the results of our recent co-branded survey with The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Join Jeff Pundyk, global VP of content solutions at The Economist Group, as well as Peppercomm’s president, partner and Demi-God, Ted Birkhahn, for a no holds barred discussion explaining why so many B2B marketers are quite simply missing the mark with their content strategies. Oh, and feel free to post comments agreeing or disagreeing with our panel…

Part II

Jan 06

Remembering Mike Herman

MikeHerman_looking-left_webMike Herman was a friend and mentor to me. He was also the former head of Epley Associates in North Carolina. And he was a visionary chairman of the PRSA’s Counselors Academy. Mike passed away this past weekend.

As you might expect, many of my Counselors Academy colleagues have already posted countless accolades about Mike’s humanitarian ways, serious musical skills and overall zest for life. So, I thought I’d share, instead, a brief anecdote that describes the type of leader, mentor and friend Mike was to me.

Shortly after inviting me to join the Counselors Board, Mike suggested it would be a wise move on my part to also chair the very next Spring Conference. I remember him phrasing it this way, “Steve, you’re the perfect guy for the job. Do it.” And so I did it. Or, at least I tried.

Needless to say, I knew I’d bitten off more than I could chew. The Spring Conference is the crown jewel of the Counselors Academy. Being tasked with managing it made me feel like I’d been asked to manage the Super Bowl instead. I was in DefCon 5 mode from day one.

And, things only got worse from there. About a month before the scheduled conference in the Spring of 2003, the now legendary SARS epidemic broke out. PR pros cancelled their trips in droves. Suddenly, an event that normally attracted 300 attendees had dwindled to a precious few.

I was desperate. So, I picked up the phone, got through to Mike and suggested we pull the plug post haste.

There was a prolonged silence on the other end. Then Mike sighed his patented sigh, and asked, “Steve, do you want to be remembered as the ONLY Spring Conference chair who never held a damn Spring Conference?” After a few other epithets, Mike told me to buck-up. He said SARS or no SARS, the show would go on. And it did.

Needless to say, the conference was a huge success. The fearless 80 souls who did attend the event enjoyed the intimacy of a smaller group since it afforded them more access to the keynote speakers, workshop leaders and one another.

I thanked Mike profusely afterwards. But, in typical Mike fashion, he sighed and said, “It’s all in a day’s work, Steve.” And then he laughed one of those patented Mike Herman belly laughs.

So let me add one other word to the many used to describe the Late Mike Herman: unflappable.

Jan 05

B2B marketers top new year’s resolution should be: Stop marketing!

We thought we’d kick-off the new year with a provocative, three-part podcast analyzing the results of our recent co-branded survey with The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Join Jeff Pundyk, global VP of content solutions at The Economist Group, as well as Peppercomm’s president, partner and Demi-God, Ted Birkhahn, for a no holds barred discussion explaining why so many B2B marketers are quite simply missing the mark with their content strategies. Oh, and feel free to post comments agreeing or disagreeing with our panel…
Part I:

Dec 22

How baseball can help lift the Cuban embargo

fidel-castroToday’s guest post is by Peppercommer Paul Merchan.

As with most historic announcements, the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba has fueled mostly a wait and see response. Most reports say that it’s unclear how this will impact the Cuban economy and the Cuban people.
But leaving politics aside, there is one factor that could potentially unify the nations and even end the embargo. And call me crazy when I say this, but it involves sport. Fidel Castro’s favorite sport, for that matter – béisbol.

Argentine-born revolutionary Che Guevara, who helped place Castro in power, was reported to have once said that Cuba would never truly be united with the rest of Latin America until it learned how to play soccer like everybody else. That’s because Cuba is teeming with baseball fever, and has been for almost a century. The sport is one of the few vestiges of American imperialism that the Castros permitted to remain on the island.

Here is my basic premise, and I think even a cynic would agree: what’s going to drive change in policy is capital. And organized sport brings in capital – lots of it. We may not see the typical American business lobby for the embargo to be lifted. However, baseball is not a typical business, as was clearly established by the Supreme Court in 1922. It has some more flexibility. And while MLB isn’t going to be meddling in U.S. foreign policy, the national pastime of both nations is going to foment a new ideology of shared opportunity.

Baseball’s reputation in Cuba is healthier even than it is in the U.S. It’s an obsession. It is their version of the “beautiful game,” like soccer is in Brazil. As such, it has the potential to heal.
Sport has always led the way to normalization. Baseball was one of the first organizations in the U.S. to integrate, allowing black athletes to play alongside whites. In the aftermath of conflicts such as World War II, it was soccer in Europe and baseball in the U.S. that helped society recover from the bloodshed. Revisionist history will question whether the motives of those making decisions back then were pure, or motivated by money. Perhaps it was both.

If MLB were to enter Cuba, and players were able to freely come to the U.S. to sign contracts with franchises here, the possibilities of talent and profit would be endless. Caution must be taken to develop an economic model that would improve upon the one in the Dominican Republic, where the nation benefits little from the extraction of its talent. But if it were to be designed in a mutually beneficial manner, rest assured that the success would prompt other businesses to follow suit. And when that happens, the relations between the U.S. and Cuba will be as warm as the Caribbean Sun.

Just imagine this scenario: Game 7 of the World Series featuring the Havana Rays hosting the Washington Nationals in the Estadio Latinoamericano with Cuban and American flags draped alongside each other. It’s hard to think of something more unifying than that.