Aug 11

Crazy bosses

Crazy bosses I’m whipping through yet another hilarious business tome by Stanley Bing. This one’s entitled ‘Crazy Bosses’ and is chock full of laugh-out-loud tales of totally dysfunctional leaders. In the book, Bing separates crazy bosses into one of five separate species:

1.)   The bully

2.)   The paranoid

3.)   The narcissist

4.)   The wimp

5.)   The disaster hunter

Although it’s a few years old, the book is as timely as ever, what with the recent meltdowns of BP’s Tony Heyward and H-P’s Mark Hurd, as well as California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s alleged misbehaviors while serving as eBay’s CEO.

Hands down, the craziest boss I ever worked for served was the CEO of an international management consulting firm. He’d be listed as ‘exhibit one’ in Bing’s chapter on bullies. This particular boss had been a former NFL offensive lineman (and, he took the word ‘offensive’ as his watchword in the business world). The guy was a hulking menace and resembled a fitter, broader and much meaner Tony Soprano. There was no light side to this chief executive, though. He ruled by intimidation, pure and simple.

Among my more vivid memories are:

– The time I asked for a raise after going two years without one. Fond of screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs, the CEO belittled and berated me for having the nerve to even think about a raise. He said I should be ashamed of myself for taking a dime of the firm’s money. That was his way of saying, ‘Sorry kid. No raise.’

– He was fond of always using the speaker phone for his calls since it made him seem even more powerful. One time, we were on the phone with the head of a London PR firm we’d retained to handle an acquisition. Thinking he’d hit the mute button, the CEO proceeded to tell me what a clown the London PR guy was, how poorly he thought of him and his firm, etc. All the while, I’m waving my arms and pointing to the phone. Finally, I scribbled a note telling the CEO he hadn’t activated the mute button. He smiled and said, ‘David, you hearing all this?’ David responded immediately, ‘Oh yes, Tom.’ To which the CEO smiled and said, ‘Well that ought to light a fire under your ass! Get to work.’

– The CEO was street smart, but poorly educated. He often misunderstood fairly basic words and phrases. Once, as we were discussing the firm’s overall marketing campaign, I happened to say we needed to look at our materials en masse so they had one look, feel, voice, etc. I used the expression en masse a second time. That’s when the CEO stopped the meeting and asked, ‘Who the hell is this guy Maas and what does he do for us?’

– Another time I was reviewing materials with the CEO when a call came in from the president of one of the firm’s many divisions. The CEO interrupted our meeting to begin berating his direct report in front of me and six or seven others. After hearing a few excuses from the division leader, the CEO cut him off and said, ‘Jesus Christ, John. If you can’t do this job, I’ve got lots of other smarter and hungrier people than you who’d love the chance. Turn this thing around by the end of the week or book yourself a one-way ticket home!’ He hung up, laughed out loud and got back to the business at hand.

Misbehaving CEOs are far too common in today’s business landscape. What they don’t understand is the immediate impact their words, actions and behaviors have on the organization’s image and reputation.

There’s a good chance my erstwhile NFL lineman turned CEO’s boorish behavior wouldn’t pass muster with the board of a publicly-traded company in the year 2010. Or not.  We parted ways with a distaff version of my crazy boss not too long ago. She’s the CEO of a publicly-traded company and is renowned for dropping the ‘F-bomb’ and threatening immediate termination of any employee who leaks inside information to the press. I remember her first company-wide meeting in front of 5,000 or so employees. After a brief speech, she asked for questions. A meek, mild engineer raised his hand and asked if he could continue to speak to the media with whom he’d developed a relationship over the years. The CEO sighed audibly and said, ‘What a stupid, stupid question!’

Crazy bosses are epidemic. Who was your craziest boss and in which category would you place her? Any and all input welcomed. Oh, by the way, I’d probably list myself in the narcissist category.  I’m the first to admit I’m all about me.

Feb 03

What would you do?

Ad Age just ran a fascinating article about the industry's 'most toxic' clients. According to 'unnamed' advertising search consultants (Don't you just love that they won't go on record? What is this, Watergate?), there are several brands that are positively notorious for churning their agencies. They incFebruary 3 - logoslude:

 - Chipotle (which has had something like 30 agencies in five years)

– Quiznos (we had a small project this past Summer and really enjoyed the working relationship. Go figure.)

– 1-800-Flowers

Ad Age suggests the churn is caused by a constant turnover at the CMO level. That sounds right. I'd suggest, though, that the CMO churn is precipitated by constant change at the organization's CEO level. One begets the other (I love Biblical speak).

We've fallen prey to three recent CMO churns, losing an existing relationship in each case.

The whole sorry and sordid mess got me thinking. What would I do if I were a newly-minted CMO at a Fortune 500 organization? Would I:

A) Alert the incumbent firm(s) that they're dead meat and have 60 days to wrap things up? Like Nick Lowe, I believe it's cruel to be kind.

B) Put the account up for review, but assure the incumbent CEO that his firm has the best chance of winning? I fell for that line.

C) Tell the incumbent it has one chance to defend the business before you'll put the account up for review. Then, hold the meeting, tell the incumbent they've addressed your concerns and fire them regardless immediately after the new year? That one just happened. Nice, no?

I, personally, would go with option one. As a newly-minted CMO, I'd want to be surrounded by people I've worked with in the past, not vestiges of a predecessor's regime. That said, I'd call the agency CEO, tell him or her that I respect their work, but was making a change. It's the only humane thing to do.

One new top kick at a Fortune 500 company called our account team together this past Fall, lauded our efforts, said his direct report raved about us and even told us he'd like to expand the relationship. In the process, he asked for no fewer than four separate proposals on how we'd do just that. We were psyched to say the least. Then, we heard absolutely nothing for 30 days.

His lieutenant (the one who'd supposedly praised us in absentia) finally sent me a note, asking for dinner and commenting that it had been 'too long' since we'd last broken bread. We met and, after telling me about his son's soccer team, said, 'Steve, it's time to dial down the relationship.'

Advertising has its toxic brands. PR should have the same. The group I just mentioned would top my list. Have any toxic client churn stories you'd like to share? I find it quite cathartic.

Oct 27

I thought we were making progress in a lot of areas

October 27 - Eric_Mangini(3) Earlier this year, I engendered the wrath of Cleveland Browns fans by suggesting that erstwhile Jets coach and newly-named Browns Coach Eric Mangini was bad news. I asked the rhetorical question, 'Why do sports teams keep recycling losers?'

Mangini was the latest in a long line of mediocre and just plain bad football, baseball and basketball managers and coaches who, inexplicably, keep landing new, higher paying jobs despite a history of failure. I went on to suggest such a thing simply wouldn't happen in business industry. When CEOs fail, they rarely turn up at the top of another firm; instead, they usually start their own hedge fund or venture capital firm with the cash from their severance packages.

Not so with pro football. Take a gander at this season and the performance of Mangini and his Browns. They're 1-6 after being drubbed on Sunday by the Packers, 31-3. And, what was Mangini's comment after the game? 'I thought we were making progress in a lot of areas.' My comment? He's delusional. Could you imagine a CEO saying something similar to Wall Street analysts after a disastrous quarterly earnings report?

Mangini made the same sort of absurd comments as the Jets lost game after game at the end of last season. He was always pointing to progress on one side of the football while the team was collapsing on the other.

Mangini reminds me of former Mets Manager Willie Randolph who, during the team's historic collapse at the end of 2007 season, kept pointing to the positives: 'We saw some great pitching tonight. All we needed were some clutch hits,' or 'The guys were hitting the cover off the ball. We just need more consistency from our bullpen,' or my personal favorite: 'These losses will make winning the division and sipping the champagne just that much sweeter.' Needless to say, the Mets never did win the division and any champagne that was consumed was probably washed down with scotch, vodka or some other sedative to ease the pain.

I'd like to see accountability come to the coaching ranks. If a guy has a proven record of losing, ditch him. Blacklist him. Suggest he become a media trainer. Send him packing. But do not do what the Cleveland Browns and countless other franchises have done with the likes of Mangini over the years. Do not recycle losers.

Aug 04

Being Steve Cody

Guest post by Laura Zanzal

August 4 When my alarm went off Thursday morning, I got up, started to get ready and then thought to myself, “Wait a minute!  I’m the CEO!” I was back in bed faster than you could say, “Laura Zanzal, managing partner and founder.”

To prep for my job role as Steve, I carefully packed my gym bag and studied options for my turkey burger.  All kidding aside, my day as Steve was informative and flew by. It was an eye opener to how demanding his schedule can be as well as how many impromptu, yet important, meetings Steve is expected to attend. Furthermore, it was interesting to see how “quick on your feet” and confident you have to be in this job role. In one particular meeting I sat in on, Steve was expected to work with a select few to come up with some humorous ideas for a client – in just a few hours. While I’m used to brainstorming and deadlines, I’m not in a position where I’ve ever had to think of an idea and run with it almost immediately. It was definitely interesting to watch ideas bounce off one another, with a more serious tone than what’s typically found in a brainstorm.

Being Steve though definitely had its perks. Between a spacious office with a—gasp—door to a personal assistant who happily called my roommate with Happy Hour specials, it was definitely comfortable and I look forward to these perks as my career progresses. As much as I hate to say it though, I did miss being in the trenches. I was disappointed that I didn’t know the “gossip in the cubes” and missed all the casual conversations through the cube walls. Once you are all alone in an office, it really makes you realize how fun your Peppercom family truly is.   

All in all, I think the job swap was an excellent idea. During my reign as Steve Cody, I found myself telling everyone about the swap – from friends and family, to even those employed at Steve’s gym. The common response, “Wow, your boss is really cool. I wish I could do that.” More companies should embrace the job swap, since it was a great learning experience for both myself and Steve, and I think both of us now have a greater appreciation for our jobs.

Jun 30

The rules don’t apply to me

June 30 - ceo Power brokers think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s certainly true of sports stars, rock impresarios and politicians. It’s also true of executives. Take the latest findings released by UberCEO.com that reveal a near total use of social media tools by Fortune 100 chief executive officers.

UberCEO thinks CEOs are either distracted or too timid to engage in the blogosphere. Timidity (or fear) is a likely culprit. But, so too, is hubris. CEOs move in rarified worlds and breathe rarified air. As a result, most think the rules governing mortal men simply don’t apply to them. One needs only to think of, say, Bernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling to prove the point.

I think CEOs think social media is for the hoi polloi. They don’t need, or want, to dirty their hands by interacting with the masses. They already have their hands full with such irritants as analyst calls, CNBC interviews or annual meetings. Who has the time or patience to write a blog, Tweet or maintain a home page on Facebook?

Sure, one needs to factor in Sarbanes-Oxley when conjecturing why CEOs avoid social media like the plague. And, yes, there remains a solid business case why the big kahuna needs to do this citizen journalist ‘nonsense.’ But, I think the average chief executive officer thinks just like the J. Walter Thompson CEO I once worked for. He felt himself above the fray and looked down his nose at lesser mortals. Let them eat cake (or hit ‘send’).

Until, and unless, we have some truly enlightened CEOs sitting in Fortune 100 corner offices, I don’t think we’ll see any blogging or podcasting. CEOs think that’s something for the ‘marketing guys’ to deal with. In the meantime, they have bigger fish to fry: Wall Street is unhappy with the stock performance, the board is questioning the latest downsizing and the charities are demanding some sort of sustainability program. Blogging? Bah humbug!

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.

Jun 20

When push comes to shove, the bottom-line is still the bottom-line

I attended a fascinating panel discussion Wednesday night at Manhattan’s Penn Club. The event was co-hosted by the Arthur Page Society and the Council of PR Firms, and focused on the former’s recent white paper booklet, entitled: ‘The Authentic Enterprise.

The Authentic Enterprise should be must-reading for every PR professional. It addresses the emerging role of the chief communications officer and includes interviews with 31 chief executive officers (a superhuman feat in, and of, itself).

The findings point to the CCO’s emerging role in a world of social media and transparency. The panel included such luminaries as: Harvey Greisman of Mastercard, Paul Jensen of Weber Shandwick, Valerie DiMaria of Willis, Roger Bolton of APCO and Maril McDonald, who runs one of the sharpest communications consultancies in the country.

The group believes we, as an industry, are better positioned than ever to help the corporation ‘interact’ with each and every constituent audience. They also believe CEOs ‘get’ the importance of social media, are concerned by its lack of control, but turn to the CCO for guidance (which is a big win for the industry).

For me, though, The Authentic Enterprise panel/white paper discussion literally lacked a bottom-line component. Sure, the CEO will turn to the CCO in times of reputation crisis and, perhaps, to engage with Web 2.0 audiences in new and more meaningful ways. But, the CEO’s 24×7 world revolves around one fundamental issue: satisfying the Street.

Roger, Valerie and Harvey did a good job in addressing my questions about how The Authentic Enterprise connects to an ROI-driven C-suite. But, frankly, I was left wanting more. So, here’s hoping the Page Society commissions groundbreaking research on an ongoing basis. I’d love to read a follow-up entitled, ‘The authentic, bottom-line focused enterprise.’

May 29

Synarchy sounds like anarchy to me

Those legendary ‘unnamed sources’ that journalists love to quote say WPP may name its specially created,Stress
Dell-exclusive agency Synarchy. Anarchy is more like it.

The agency, code named DaVinci, won all of Dell’s estimated $100 million in annual revenue last December. At the time. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said DaVinci would have 1,000 employees in place by March 1. They would be culled from the holding company’s various units and constitute a ‘best and brightest’ team for Dell.

Well, guess what? WPP/DaVinci is 400 employees short and two months late. Dell’s spokesperson says it’s no big deal and WPP says it’s looking for quality, not quantity. Yeah right. Another one of those unnamed sources, a recruiter, summed up the DaVinci/Synarchy opportunity best: ‘Lack of a culture, lack of variety, lack of a career path. And then on top of all that, this specific client.’ Talk about lose-lose-lose.

There’s no way a truly talented agency person would work for DaVinci/Synarchy/Anarchy. Agency work is all about variety. One works for a professional services client in the morning, a consumer goods company at lunch and a Fortune 500 organization in the late afternoon. One has a crisis. Another has become an also ran. A third aspires to become a more socially responsible outfit. Every day is fresh and new.

Imagine being an agency guy and living, eating and breathing nothing but Dell all day long. Every single day. Ugh. Mix in the reality that clients come and clients go, and one has all the ingredients for a dead end career move.

I can’t speak for the 600 Synarchians (Synarchites?) already in place, but I’d strongly advise the 400 other applicants to think long and hard before signing up. This particular DaVinci is anything but a work of art.

May 23

Countrywide’s image problem is clearly systemwide

Countrywide, the lender most closely associated with the disastrous home loan/mortgage crisis, can’t
catch a break when it comes to reputation management.

Already pegged as the Peck’s ‘Bad Boy’ of the crisis that has bankrupted countless consumers and left untold others facing foreclosure on their homes, Countrywide’s Chairman Angelo Mozilo is facing court hearings and possible prison terms for alleged fraud.

Apparently not content with that sobering scenario, however, Mozilo further fanned the flames by misfiring on an important e-mail exchange with a customer.

After receiving a distraught plea from a hearing-impaired loan recipient for some sort of financial relief, Mozilo lashed out with his own e-mail. Thinking he was sending his ‘unbelievable’ response to an internal-only audience, Mozilo instead punched the ‘reply’ button. The astonished and outraged Countrywide customer who received Mozilo’s missive prompted posted it on a leading website. Now, Mozilo is dealing with a different kind of ‘thrilla’ as he tries to position himself as something other than an 800-pound digital gorilla.

There really should be an e-mail training session for CEOs. Having learned some valuable lessons myself, I’d be happy to lead the course. I’d start with a quick review of the keypad. I’d then move on to explain the difference between ‘forward’ and ‘reply.’ For the truly technology-challenged chief executive, I’d even share best practices for establishing an internal filtering process to enable someone in the know to read the e-mail before it ever sees the light of day.

Mozilo’s digital fumblings have made Countrywide’s systemwide problems exponentially worse. Along with everything else, he’ll now have to explain exactly what he meant when he typed the comment.

On the upside, though, Mozilo might luck out and be sentenced to a minimum security prison that offers a top notch e-mail course for white collar criminals. Hey, maybe he’ll become so adept that when he finally gets out, Mozilo can apply for a loan online.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea.
 

May 15

Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight

Why do some relationships last a lifetime while others go south in a fortnight?Heart

Whatever the reason, it always hurts when a personal or professional relationship sours, especially when one is the ‘dumpee’ as opposed to the dumper.

We just experienced a truly mysterious parting of the ways after only 45 days. What made it mysterious was the total absence of warning signs. There was no heads-up, no request to move someone off the account, no complaint of too little coverage or too many reports. Nothing, nada, zilch.

Instead, we received a Friday afternoon ‘cease and desist’ e-mail from the CMO. Since I’d had a warm relationship until then with CEO, I immediately asked him what had happened. He didn’t know. The decision had been made without him. Hmmm. Now, that’s really interesting.

When we finally were able to speak with the CMO, we were told our account manager hadn’t been visible enough. Oh. OK. So, why can’t we fix that? No response. We asked: why end things after only 45 days? Both parties lose in that scenario. No response. Just a curt ‘We think it would be best for both parties to end things.’ Oh. Sure. Ok. That makes perfect sense.

Paul McCartney once wrote: ‘Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.’ He was oh so right. And, when it does, it hurts.