Aug 09

When your CEO isn’t New York Times worthy

Remember the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine Bennis, running low on contraceptive devices,
Nytimes1 had to decide which boyfriends were and weren't sponge worthy?

The episode came to mind recently when we were fired by a client CEO whose story, despite our very best efforts, was found by reporters at the 'old, gray lady' not to be New York Times worthy.

Never mind that we had scored tons of superb placements in outlets such as Fast Company, general business press, vertical industry and trades. The narcissistic CEO felt his epic tale should be splashed across the front pages of the 'print' edition of The Times. Aside from feeding his Mt. Everest-sized ego, the Times hit was uber critical to the CEO because the other power players in his social circle also routinely appeared in the paper. So, he HAD to be there or else.

Unfortunately, the Times editorial staff disagreed (no matter how many angles we tried). And, since we failed to produce the seminal Times hit, we were summarily discharged.

The CEOs self-aggrandizing misbehavior reminded me of the stereotypical typical dotcom founder who, armed with a freshly-minted Stanford MBA, a me-too business model and millions of dollars in venture capital seed money insisted his mug be front and center on the cover of BusinessWeek. His CMO henchwoman (they were almost always henchwomen, BTW) would nod her head vigorously and add, "How could they not put Halsey on the cover?" Well, nine times out of 10, the professional journalists laughed off the pitch as not being cover worthy and the henchwoman would discard us like yesterday's newspaper.

All of which reminds me of a superb observation the legendary Manhattan PR wizard Howard Rubenstein shared with a PRSA audience many years back. When a prospect or client CEO demanded to be on the front page of The New York Times or the cover of Fortune, Rubenstein said he'd let out an exasperated sigh, lean over, pull open his desk drawer and produce a toy gun. “You want to be on the cover of Forbes? Fine. Go murder someone and I'll get you on the cover of Forbes.” I think that sums it up beautifully.

Stanley Bing's book "Crazy Bosses" contains a hilarious chapter about the care and feeding of self-absorbed, narcissistic maniacs who believe the sun rises and sets with their every move. My only addition to Bing's pearls of wisdom would be to determine expectations BEFORE a relationship begins. If you run into the next George Steinbrenner who needs his ego stoked with one front page feature after another (and you believe the actual news value akin to what Lindsay Lohan was served for breakfast in the L.A. County jail, walk away). Tell the prospect he or she isn't client worthy.

Mar 09

I’ll take a 9mm Glock to go with my espresso, please

March 9 I've never been a fan of the bitter-tasting, over-priced Starbucks brand of coffee. I like their store layouts and soothing jazz music, but I've never bought into the whole 'barista' scene. I'm a Dunkin' Donuts kind of guy. Just the facts, ma’am.

So, Starbucks’ most recent move has really left a bitter taste in my mouth: they're allowing gun-toting customers to open display their six guns in stores. Talk about sending mixed messages.

Here's a brand that always projected a warm-and-friendly 'let's save the environment, we're all in this together' mantra that has suddenly re-positioned its stores as potential stage sets for recreating the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. What are Howard Schultz & Company thinking?

In defending their decision, Starbucks issued a typical corporate cop-out of a statement, saying: 'The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in legislatures and courts, not in our stores.' What malarky, as we bloggers of mixed Irish descent are won’t to say.

If Starbucks is willing to allow its customers to openly brandish weapons, why not go full bore and transform the entire customer experience? Stores should be remodeled to look like Old West saloons replete with those cool swinging doors. And, instead of smooth jazz, stores could play such ditties as:

– I Shot the Sheriff (Bob Marley version, please)
– Johnny Got His Gun
– The sound tracks from 'Full Metal Jacket,' 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Platoon'
– The Battle Hymn of the Republic
– A mix of gansta rap, Aryan martial music and any country song that includes lyrics about shooting dead some cheatin' S.O.B.

Baristas should be trained to greet pistol-packing customers with a new welcoming, 'Howdy partner. Is that a .45 millimeter Colt in your holster or are you just happy to see me?'

Maybe the brand name itself should change to reflect the coffee chain's new Wild West mind set? How does Warbucks strike you? Wild Bill Starbucks? I've got it: CSI:Starbucks. Now, there's a name that both reflects reality and is aspirational. And, that, my friends, is a brand experience home run (or should I say bull's eye?).