Oct 17

To strut or not to strut. That is the question.

Yesterday’s loss by the New York Jets was another painful
experience for this lifelong fan.

As I watched the mediocre Buffalo Bills move the ball
effortlessly up and down the field through what had been lauded as a tough Jets
defense, I lapsed into my annual "oh well, wait ’til next year"

Then, finally, a Jets player made a nice stop on one of the
Bills’ running backs. Immediately, the player began to dance, and strut, and
whoop it up, making all sorts of bizarre gestures of self-congratulations.

I know such antics have become commonplace in the circus
sideshow that is college and professional football. But have things not reached
a new low when an individual player, whose team has been pushed, pummeled and
pulverized all day long, decides to beat his chest in full view of 80,000 fans
and millions more on TV because of one good, but meaningless, tackle?

What’s become of sportsmanship? And, where is the
accountability? Why aren’t coaches schooling players on the nuances of when,
and more importantly, when not, to strut their stuff?

I wonder how this sort of behavior would translate to the
business world. Maybe the next time my firm finds out that it narrowly lost a
new business pitch, I’ll run out into the hallway and start doing a war dance,
throwing in a moon walk or two. Because, hey, we may have lost the business, but
I did one heckuva job answering the prospect’s question about the smartest ways
to beat the competition to the punch.

Oct 14

Staged Fright

I shuddered as I watched yesterday’s carefully orchestrated "teleconference" between the president and a hand-picked bunch of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. It was so awkwardly staged and so obviously pre-programmed and rehearsed that any credibility the administration might have hoped for disappeared faster than those still-missing weapons of mass destruction. Teleconference1_1

Drawing a comparison with the private sector, could you imagine a CEO carefully staging such an event and expecting employees, customers or the Street to buy it? I was working with a bunch of Fortune 500 executives yesterday, helping them with their presentation skills. We all agreed that while style was important, it was useless if the message wasn’t based on reality.

If the White House wants to enlist more support for their Iraqi initiative, then they need to do a much better job of stage managing their communications vehicles. And they need to give the American people more credit. We know honest answers when we see them. And we can see right through bogus ones. Yesterday’s staged exhibition was just plain frightful.

Oct 12

Saab Story

Saab As I was working out this morning and listening to my favorite classic rock radio station, I heard what initially seemed to be a clever spot from Saab.

The voiceover narration began by lamenting the "sameness of our modern lives." The TV shows all seem to have the same basic plots, said the disembodied voice. Same thing goes for major motion pictures, which all seem to be remakes of 35-year-old sitcoms. Saab punctuated the point by reminding listeners that we all seem to wear pretty much the same style of clothing these days.

But, when the spot ended, I realized that something wasn’t ringing true. And then it hit me. As the narrator bemoaned the sameness of today and contrasted that drabness with the unique qualities of new Saab automobiles, the background music was The Who’s 1969 song entitled, "I’m Free." Bingo. I realized what was wrong with the spot. In an attempt to differentiate their client’s car by talking about its unique safety qualities and stylish curves, the ad guys goofed by using the same advertising approach every other car company has been using of late: leveraging songs from rock and roll dinosaurs such as The Who, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones to connect with baby boomers who still think of themselves as being hip and relevant.

How sad, I thought. Saab had come so close to breaking through the clutter by correctly positioning its car’s very different attributes. Instead, Saab blew it by using the same old rock songs everyone else uses.

So, in the end, Saab marketers ended up embracing the very sameness they criticized in their copy.

Oct 11

Can’t Buy Me Love (or Job Security)

Well, well. The vaunted Yankees, with baseball’s largest payroll, went down in flames last night in Anaheim. No surprise, really. This really isn’t a team but, rather, an amalgamation of high-paid hit and pitch men. Angels_1

As a longtime Mets fan who enjoyed seeing the Bronx Bombers’ demise, I still see the Yankees as a great image and reputation case study, especially when one views the uncertain status of Messrs. Cashman, Torre and Stottlemyer. When they inked their contracts with George Steinbrenner the three had, in effect, made a pact with the devil. Steinbrenner’s "win at all costs" mentality placed a tremendous strain on both managers and players. All knew that each game could be their last if the Yankees didn’t go all the way to the World Series and win it.

Steinbrenner’s abusive management style may achieve short-term gains but not long-term success. I know first hand; I once worked for a Steinbrenner-type executive at J. Walter Thompson. I agreed to join the firm because of the financial package that the CEO dangled in front of me.

That turned out to be a very bad move for me. And I have to believe that, deep down, Torre rues the day he made his pact with Steinbrenner.

Healthy organizations don’t rely on fear to motivate employees. They build talent from within and nurture it. The best organizations encourage risk-taking and see failure as a smart, healthy and productive way for employees to become better.

Shooting for the stars is fine as long as the organization is patient and empowering. Working for a CEO who screams, shouts and threatens is no way to live, especially when life is so short. In addition to poisoning the internal organizational culture, management-by-fear has a toxic effect on image and reputation. Who would want to work for a firm that emulated the Yanks’ style? What clients or customers would want to do business with employees who are paralyzed by fear? And what competitor wouldn’t delight in besting this sort of company at every opportunity?

I realized my mistake and left JWT after a short while. I hope Torre and company pack up their kits and head somewhere else. Money can’t buy love. As the Yankees are demonstrating on the national sports stage, it can’t buy security either.

Oct 09

UPS = Unbelievably Poor Service

To: Michael Eskew, CEO of UPS
From: A former customer
Re: Big Disappointment from Big "Brown"

Sorry to bother you, I can only imagine how busy you
are. I have some suggestions on how you
should run your business. By the way,
for the record, I have no experience running a global company. Furthermore, I am not an expert by any means
in the art of package delivery or supply chain services.

With that said, I do have a few recommendations based on
some first-hand experiences that I have had with your company. Recently, your company lost or
"misplaced" or "failed to deliver" a package (whatever your
employees want to call it) that had time-sensitive tickets to a major sporting
event. Besides seriously disappointing
the people who were planning to attend the game, your company’s failure to
deliver the package by the agreed upon delivery date resulted in the loss of
about $200. Needless to say, it’s not a
great deal of money but enough that it is worth mentioning.

However, it’s not the initial mistake of losing the package
that is so disappointing. After all,
mistakes do happen. Instead, it is the
way your customer service reps handled the situation. To make a long story short, after hours of
being transferred from one rep to another, they finally conceded that there was
nothing they could do to rectify the situation, and besides refunding me the
delivery charge, I was told I needed to live with the disappointment. No joke.

So, here’s my recommendation for you. Stop spending millions of dollars on your
"Brown" ad campaign. All the
marketing in the world won’t convince a disappointed customer that UPS is
worthy of their business. Stop investing
in technology upgrades unless you can invent something that prevents you from
ever losing packages again. Stop
worrying about your competition and what they’re up to next.

Instead, have someone sit down with every customer rep in
your vast organization and make sure they know how to use common sense and help
someone who has just been royally screwed over by the missteps of your
organization. Have these people learn
that the power of one customer’s disappointment is more powerful than a
compelling 30-second spot during on TV. Tell them that all customers, especially those being royally screwed,
should be treated as though the company’s bottom line depended on their

Mr. Eskew, your organization, and its reputation, is only as
strong as your weakest link. And that
weak link just cost you a customer. 


Oct 06

Image Repair 101

Class, today we’re going to examine how and why our country’s image and reputation is so poor in most countries around the world. We’ll also be discussing how we might begin to turn our negative image around, perhaps by drawing on case study examples from the private sector. As you know, these are key discussion points in our Image Repair 101 syllabus.

Before we examine the root causes of our country’s poor image, however, let’s discuss yesterday’s Senate vote to begin regulating the detention, interrogation and treatment of prisoners held by the American military.

Despite vehement White House opposition, 90 of 99 senators passed the new measure, which is great. It’s a smart, first step in what will surely be a very long road toward restoring our country’s image abroad. With these new guidelines in place, we should see much less abuse of the type inflicted by Lynndie England  and her cohorts at Abu Ghraib prison, and much more of the caring and compassion our country had hitherto been known for.

And, class, looking at the private sector for a second, how long do you think the average CEO would hold onto her/his job by totally ignoring the organization’s image in key markets? Does anyone believe that alienating potential partners and customers is a smart way to transact business or to create positive goodwill for your institution? Hmmm, no hands are being raised. 

Now that the Senate has brought clarity to how our military should be treating prisoners of war, let’s hope that the House of Representatives follows suit so we can put this measure into effect. Then, maybe, we can move on and explore other ways to improve our country’s image abroad. One smart step might be to appoint a senior public relations executive to a post specifically designed to accomplish that goal. White House crony Karen Hughes was recently appointed to do something akin to that task, but seems to be stumbling badly in her efforts to connect with the Arab world.  That’s probably because she doesn’t possess decades of relevant experience undertaking similar image repair assignments for corporate clients.

So, does anyone have additional thoughts? What else can we do? Ah, there’s the bell. Tomorrow, let’s discuss the image and reputation implications of a CEO’s appointing senior-ranking executives with no relevant experience to highly visible posts.

Oct 03

A Parable of Corporate Loyalty

Long ago and far away, we once represented a very big corporate client. As a small, start-up agency, we were overjoyed to have bested those big, bad competitors from the galactic agencies. This win, we reasoned, would really put us on the map. And indeed it did. And indeed, life was good. But not for long.

For at the very outset of the relationship, we were warned by the client CMO that, like most marriages, client-agency relationships only lasted five years. We chuckled to ourselves and proceeded to do great work, year-after-year. But, with the passing of each year came the same "five-year" warning. And with the warning came such comments as, "it just doesn’t seem as fresh and new as it once did." And "it seems like we’re starting to take each other for granted." Duly concerned, we would brainstorm and come up with ever-more creative program ideas, winning big industry awards in the process and, more importantly, dramatically improving our results from the previous year.

Then, one day, a call came in to tell us this client was "spinning off" from its parent and would be putting the account up for review. We were told not to worry, but we were also told that "we’d had a good five-year run."

And sure enough, as our client contact introduced us to his CEO at the final presentation, he said, "Well, it’s been five good years and nothing can last forever." And, sure enough, we lost the account (only to win it back a few months later when the client realized he’d been "…seduced by a flashier, sexier model that couldn’t match our performance levels.").

All of this came to mind the other day as I was reading what had happened to poor Arnold Communications, which was just summarily dumped by Vollkswagen after doing years of award-winning work. Why were they dumped? Because the new CMO, who had come over from Mini Cooper, wanted the same agency she’d worked with in the past, to represent her at VW. So, is that reverse loyalty? Loyalty in a bizarro world? I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is today. And only today. Because the era of decades-long client-agency relationships is long dead. And with it, the concept of corporate loyalty.