Mar 17

The Dante’s Inferno of holidays

March 17 I’ve heard New Year’s Eve referred to as ‘amateur hour’ since so many drink so much in so short a period of time. I agree. It’s an ideal night to hunker down and watch what’s left of Dick Clark countdown the final seconds of a dying year. The same can’t be said, though, for St. Patrick’s Day. It goes far beyond mere amateur hour status and deserves a much more exacting moniker. I suggest calling it the Dante’s Inferno of holidays.

What makes St. Patrick’s Day the Dante’s Inferno of holidays are the hooligan high school kids who hop onto various trains heading into the city and literally run amok. Already three sheets to the wind at 7:28am, the high schoolers careen up and down the narrow aisles, spill their bottles of Corona over otherwise placid commuters and engage in shoving and pushing matches that often escalate into replays of Ali-Frazier I.

Further exacerbating the horror show that is St. Patrick’s Day on NJT is the indifferent, standoffish attitudes of the train conductors. Rather than reign in the free-for-all, the conductors act as if it’s just another day. So, those of us who fork over $400 per month-plus for the rare privilege of riding the nation’s worst commuter railroad are like innocent bystanders watching a modern-day version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

All of which just underscores NJT’s horrific image and reputation. In fact, based upon my recent St. Patrick’s Day experience riding the train from hell, I’d like to suggest yet another update to my tagline for the Garden State’s transit service. Instead of: ‘Expect less,’ I’d like to update it to the more accurate, ‘Expect the worst.’ When it comes to the worst possible customer service experience imaginable, nobody beats NJT. Nobody. Not no how. Not no way.

Jan 12

January 12th is an important date in the image and reputation wars

There are a number of reasons why today, January 12th, is an important date for me. One reason, in particular, pertains specifically to image and reputation.

January 12 - superbowliii-19692 It was January 12, 1969, that the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts to win their first, and only, Super Bowl victory (stay tuned on the latter, though).

It's an important image and reputation milestone because, up until January 12, 1969, the mainstream sports/business establishment hadn't taken the upstart American Football League seriously. Created in 1960, the AFL had been seen by most as little more than a circus.

But, by 1965, the tides had turned. Fueled by the signing of Joe Willie Namath and other top college players, the AFL began earning a modicum of respect. In fact, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was forced to concede that his league's championship was no longer a 'world's' title, and agreed to a match of each group's best team.

The first two contests were blowouts, with Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers humiliating the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, respectively.

Ah, but then came January 12, 1969, and Joe Willie's Super Jets. The Jets win wasn't just a sports victory but, in fact, a seismic sea change for the AFL's image and reputation. Within a few years, the two leagues merged to create the NFL as we now know it.

It's nice to reflect on past glories while reveling in the knowledge that today's Jets are in the thick of the playoffs (while the hated Giants are cooling their heels on the sidelines).

Considering the fact that the reverse is almost always the case, I'm reminded of a quote from the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War.

At the very end of the war, a Union soldier who happened to be black, was watching a column of captured Rebel prisoners pass by. Suddenly, he spotted his former master. The black soldier smiled and said, 'Bottom rail on top now, massa.'

I think I speak for Jets fans everywhere when I say to our Giants counterparts: 'Bottom rail on top now.'

Jan 04

Worst curtain call ever?

January 4 - giants curtain As a lifelong New York Jets fan, I must admit to taking special delight in the total collapse of the hated New York Giants. I especially enjoyed their curtain call at Giants Stadium two weeks ago.

The team's marketing and PR types had made a big deal about a special halftime celebration that would commemorate the team's many accomplishments in the soon-to-be-leveled edifice. But, they failed to factor in a horrific first half performance by 'Big Blue.' By half time, the game was clearly over and, with it, the team's chances for making the playoffs.

But, the celebration went on and 80,000 depressed fans suffered through highlights of the greatness that once was and was no more.

It was a horrible curtain call, to be sure. But, not the worst. That notable distinction belongs to my very own NY Mets who, in their collective wisdom, decided to hold a huge celebration at the conclusion of the team's final game at Shea Stadium in 2007. The Mets, though, had once again blown a late season lead to the hated Phillies and entered the final game needing a win to force a playoff. Guess what? They rolled over and played dead, falling behind by five runs in the first inning. The team made no effort to fight back and ended up losing by a lopsided score. Fans left in droves as each inning passed.

By the end, there were fewer than 10,000 people in the stands. Yet, some marketing whiz decided to go ahead with the Shea celebration anyway, and the team paraded the great players of yesteryear past the shell-shocked fans. It was easily one of the weirdest scenes I've ever witnessed.

So, note to sports marketers everywhere: if you have a mega, anniversary-themed event in the making, be sure to hold it BEFORE the contest begins. And, force the home team players to watch the hoopla. Maybe it'll inspire better performances than those turned in by the '09 Giants and '07 Mets, respectively.

Nov 30

The uniforms aren’t the problem

Guest Post by Isaac Farbowitz

November 30 - AT 5-20 SeaverMetsUniform “The New York Mets today announced they will wear a new pinstripe home uniform next season inspired by the early years of the franchise. The design combines new and old elements of Mets uniforms. The Mets created the retro uniform following research and positive responses to the jerseys the 1969 World Champion Mets wore during their 40th anniversary celebration in August.”

So reads a “News Flash” email I just received from my beloved NY Metropolitans. If you want to find an organization that is simply lost and spending its time and dollars in the wrong places look no further. The Mets just came off a miserable season, made all the more difficult for Mets fans as we watched the hated Evil Empire from the Bronx being paraded down the Canyon of Heroes after winning number 27. 

If I were working in the Mets front office and I was looking to reconnect with fans, every dollar and resource would be spent trying to field a better team next year as well as trying to figure out why half of my team spent more time on the DL then they did on the field. I certainly wouldn’t have done “research” to come up with new uniforms which, by the way, look pretty similar to what they have worn for years. To think that even a dollar or a minute was spent on this “research” shows just how far removed from reality they Mets really are. 

It’s amazing to me that this idea for the new uniform even got past the first conversation among the front office. Wouldn’t someone have said “Hey guys, I don’t think our fans are that upset about how we dressed on the field last year.” Or, did some guy or gal from management say “This is a great idea- we may lose 90 games next year but at least we can look better doing it!”

I think the powers that be in Queens, NY need to take a hard look at what the real issues are and stop “Flushing” resources down the drain. I think Mets fans from near and far should send the Wilpons and crew a “news flash” letting them know that the uniforms are not the problem, and changing them won’t put more bodies in the seats or W’s in the win column. If this is the best the Mets can do to reconnect with their fans, I’ve got a feeling that the summer of 2010 will be spent much like the summer of 2009- looking forward to NFL Kickoff Weekend. On second thought, after watching the Same Old Jets implode again, I might spend the summer taking up a new hobby- walking on hot coals. 

Nov 19

We’re just finding different ways to not be successful

We all have our crosses to bear in this life. For me, it's rooting for the Mets and Jets. Each season, each team finds new and different ways to disappoint.

November 19 - mets The Mets staged the single greatest collapse in Major League Baseball history three years ago. They followed that up with another, less dramatic, but equally devastating collapse two seasons ago and never bothered showing up to play in 2009.

The Jets haven't won anything since 1969 and, in their own unique way, are even more challenging to follow than the Mets.

This year's squad not only started off with three straight wins, but brought an attitude of brashness and trash talking worthy of a certain best-selling, erstwhile governor of Alaska. Sure enough, though, the team has imploded midway through the season.

November 19 - jets logo The ways in which the Jets lose can be as riveting as the best plot twists in a Colin Dexter 'Inspector Morse' murder mystery. One never knows how they will hand away a game to a lesser opponent. One week, they dominate both sides of the scrimmage line, only to be betrayed by their special teams. This past Sunday, the usually reliable, in-your-face defense completely collapsed in the last seconds of a loss to the Jaguars.

You know things are bad when the head coach, Rex Ryan, admits he '….would make a lot of calls' to friends and mentors in the game asking for advice because he did not have answers. That's comforting. The new head coach has no idea why his team is imploding. He says the situation is 'a comedy of errors, but it's not funny.' Amen to that. Jets fans haven't been laughing about anything since a certain Joe Willie Namath pulled off the impossible dream on January 12, 1969.

So, what's worse? A Mets manager (Willie Randolph) who shrugs his shoulders and says, 'Hey, if it's not your life and it's not your wife, how important can it be?' Or a Jets coach (Ryan) who shakes his head and laments, 'We're just finding different ways to not be successful.'

Jun 12

Location, location, location may work for real estate, but not marcom

June 12 Ad Age says New York-based Heineken USA is only considering Manhattan ad agencies in its search. The spirits maker says the breadth and depth of digital communications challenges makes face-to-face meetings more important than ever. So, they say they need an agency that's only a few minutes away.

I don't buy that logic for a minute. I think it shows, instead, that Heineken's marketers are high maintenance and need lots of hand holding.

As Ad Age correctly points out, geographic limitation also restricts talent and ideas. By shutting out the best and brightest from other regions, Heineken is almost guaranteeing a less strategic and creative end result.

Heineken is the third marketer in recent months to demand a local agency. ConocoPhillips and Liberty Mutual apparently made a big deal about agency location in their RFPs as well.

We recently lost a pitch we should have won because the law firm prospect told us they wanted its firm to be located in Los Angeles. Unlike Heineken, however, they neglected to mention this fact during the search process. Nice touch, no?

Face-to-face meetings are critical, especially in sales. But, to insist that an agency selection be based solely on proximity is foolish. We have clients all over the country and our results are consistently good, whether the organization is based in Oshkosh or Ossining.

Heineken's 'hometown' search is nothing more than a needy client already indicating that he or she will be extremely high maintenance. Now, who's up for a Corona, or two?

Jun 03

Identify your arch nemesis

I just attended this year's PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference.

I've belonged to the Academy for at least 15 years and believe it to be the single, smartest professional development I've ever made.

I always seem to take away a gem of an idea or two that make me and my firm just a little bit better. And this year's conference was no different.

June 3 - geek-squad2 Monday's keynote speaker was Stephen Roberts, founder of Geek Squad, a 24,000 employee strong, global tech support company. Despite being a self-confessed geek, Roberts is way cool. And, way smart. And a big believer in public relations. He thinks "advertising is the price you pay for being unremarkable." He sees PR as the real deal since reporters have to be convinced your story is of value to their readers, viewers or listeners or else it ends up in the circular file (virtual or physical).

Roberts shared his views on how he created and expanded his company and how he keeps it authentic. He also told us what keeps him up at night: the fear that a newer, hipper, more cost effective competitor will appear unexpectedly and steal market share.

To prevent (or forestall) that from happening, he's in the process of creating the Geek Squad's 'arch nemesis.' Check this out: he's literally creating the business model for a company that would compete with his own. He's anticipating everything from virtual service models to lower pricing structures. How cool is that? It's a 2009 version of Clayton Christianson's disruptive technology strategies of eight to 10 years back.

And, it got me thinking.

When I conjure up images of an arch nemesis, brands like Edelman, Weber and other aircraft carrier types come to mind. But, then, I think, nah: Peppercom's real arch nemesis is some start-up or some hybrid model I'm not thinking of. The traditional firms won't be the big winners in a few years time. And, it may not be the independent midsized firms either. In fact, it may not even be a PR firm.

I have no idea who my arch nemesis is (or will be), but I do know that I want to devote several hours of our upcoming management retreat to think long and hard about the type of agency I'd create today if I wanted to take away Peppercom's market share tomorrow.

And, that my friends, is why I belong to the Counselors Academy.

May 12

World class networking and a chance to honor Valerie Di Maria? What more could you ask for?

May 12 - big apples Winning PRSA New York's Big Apple awards in the mid and late 1990s helped put a fledgling Peppercom on the radar screen of PR's movers and shakers. The events also helped yours truly hone my nascent networking skills.

So, when I was asked to chair the sponsorship committee for this year's event, I readily agreed despite the challenges of doing so in the worst economy in recent times. I'm happy to report we've raised quite a few bucks and that the event, set for May 21st at the Rainbow Room, should be way cool.

I'm doubly pleased that longtime buddy and erstwhile client, Valerie Di Maria, will be receiving the John W. Hill Award that night. Valerie, you see, was also instrumental in my firm's early success. It was Valerie who, as head of GE Capital's corporate communications at the time, rolled the dice and hired a very new and still relatively inexperienced Peppercom for a major branding program. It was a huge breakthrough win for us and established our street cred in a major way.

So, here's hoping you can join hundreds of other PR types in an uber networking event and pay homage to a most deserving industry leader, Valerie Di Maria. Trust me, it's a relatively small, but strategically smart, investment for you and your organization.

Jun 18

Larry Bossidy would be proud of Omar Minaya

Omar Minaya and the Mets management are so inept that they even bungled the firing of their fumbling,Minaya
bumbling manager, Willie Randolph.

Rather than do the humane thing by removing Willie while the team was playing at home and in the midst of a dismal losing streak, they chose instead to make Randolph fly cross country to Anaheim. There, they fired Willie at the stroke of midnight after the Mets’ second consecutive win. What a travesty! Poor Willie.

That said, Minaya’s style reminds me of ex-GE Vice Chairman Larry Bossidy’s approach to executive executions. According to ‘Jacked Up,’ Bill Lane’s kiss-and-tell expose of GE during the Jack Welch regime, Bossidy was Jack’s go-to guy for axing underperforming managers.

Bossidy would start his day by hopping on the GE corporate jet in Connecticut. He’d then fly from one company town after another (ie. Louisville, Syracuse, etc.) He’d be met by the local business unit’s human resources manager. Together, they’d ride to the office in a chauffeured limo. Bossidy would get out, walk into the exec’s office and terminate him. Then, it would be back to the jet and two or three more firings.

Bossidy would be done with the executions by early afternoon. He’d then direct the jet to fly to Augusta, Georgia, where he’d get in a round of golf before returning to Connecticut for dinner. Nice.

Note to Omar: after the Mets dump you at the end of the season, maybe you could connect with Bossidy and/or get a referral to GE? They’d love the way you handled Willie’s going away party.

Jun 17

Where’s Mr. Blackwell when you need him?

Forbes is great at compiling lists. They publish the 400 richest, the 100 best investments, the 300Top_10
Spartans. Oh wait. The latter wasn’t a Forbes list.

Regardless, Forbes has just published its list of the 75 most reputable companies in the U.S. There are lots of names you’d expect (Johnson & Johnson, GE and FedEx, for example) as well as a few surprises (Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley). I found the latter two names particularly interesting in light of the sub-prime disaster.

But, enough about the good guys. I’d like to see a list of America’s least reputable organizations (a Forbes 500 version of Mr. Blackwell’s 10 worst dressed Hollywood stars, if you will).  Who would you put on the least reputable list?

Here’s my top 10 (bottom 10?):

1.) Jet Blue – From a reputation standpoint, this airline is a midair collision. And, what’s with JetBlue and bathrooms? First, they won’t allow passengers to use restrooms during a nine-hour delay on Valentine’s Day. Then, more recently, they forced a passenger to fly in a lavatory for an entire flight? (Note to self: use the restrooms before boarding).

2.) The entire airline industry minus Southwest.

3.) ExxonMobil, Shell and their ilk. How much longer before top oil and gas industry executives start fearing for their lives because of astronomically high gas prices?

4.) New York City crane suppliers.

5.) A New York City political infrastructure that allows crane safety standards to go by the boards.

6.) Ford (talk about being asleep at the wheel as the gas/environmental crisis loomed large on the horizon. They’ve finally begun shutting down assembly plans that make the gas guzzlers).

7.) Chrysler and the rest of the beleaguered American auto industry (imagine losing an 80 percent market share and still being in freefall?)

8.) The New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, inc. (Mr. Wilpon: now, that you’ve finally fired Willie Randolph, it’s time to turn your sights on Omar Minaya. He’s the chief architect of this mess. Dump him ASAP and hire a GM who can build a blended team of veterans and up-and-comers.)

9.) The National Basketball Association. The game is a farce. Showboating "what’s in it for me?" players sharing the court with crooked referees makes for an NBA that’s on a fast break to oblivion (or, if not, at least becoming a legitimate rival to professional wrestling).

10.) The fast food industry. I still think they’re part of the problem, not the solution.

Thanks to Rob Longert for the idea.