Feb 28

How sad is the current state of the airline industry that food has now become a differentiator?

As I was suffering through another painful NJ Transit commute this morning, I happened to spy a Continental Airlines billboard proclaiming, "Other airlines feed you a promise. We feed you."

It got me thinking about the absolutely horrific experience that is business travel. And how sad it is that the institutionalized food they serve on board Continental is now seen as a differentiator.

On the other hand, food may be a smart differentiator since on-board customer service on any airline has become an oxymoron. As has on-time arrival. So maybe that cardboard-tasting imitation of a roast beef sandwich is a smart messaging move on Continental’s part. One thing’s for sure: the days when United invited us to "fly the friendly skies" are long gone. Business travel is to be endured and survived, not enjoyed.

Feb 27

TV may not be hurting our kids, but it sure doesn’t help

A new University of Chicago study shows "very little difference and if anything, a slight positive advantage, in test scores for children who grew up watching TV early on, compared to those who did not."

Now, I’m not qualified to comment on the impact of TV on test scores, but I do feel qualified to discuss what I see as the impact of TV and computers on the ability of young people to write.

Poor writing (make that horrific writing) is PR’s dirty little secret. And each year it gets a little worse. I cannot tell you how many of my peers at the senior ranks of our profession lament the state of writing among next generation publicists entering the field.

I’d have to be equal parts sociologist, anthropologist, economist and educator to even begin to guess at all the reasons for the stark decline. But, in my mind, it comes down to a profound lack of reading and a proportionately high increase in TV viewing and reliance on the computer. Television and computers tend to "dumb down" the language and encourage grammatical short cuts and outright bastardizations of the language.

Sadly, the situation only seems to be getting worse. So, while I’m glad TV doesn’t hurt test scores, I can tell you it’s directly contributing to the rejection of many job candidates we interview who, in their writing tests, mangle the proper use of "its," "there" and "to," and love to use the phrase "should of" instead of "should have". It’s almost enough to make me want to not watch tonight’s episode of "24." Almost, but not enough.

Feb 22

Glaxo’s new communications strategy is a sure fire prescription for success

I love what GlaxoSmithKline is up to. The other day, GSK’s vice president of external advocacy (ya gotta love the job title) announced that the entire 8,000-strong sales force had been media- and message-trained and would be asked to interact with various constituents to help overcome the pharma industry’s horrific image. Gsk

This is so smart that it absolutely baffles me why more organizations don’t take similar steps. I cannot tell you how many companies we’ve come into contact with that keep their sales and marketing groups in separate silos. One erstwhile client in particular stands out in my mind. One of the world’s biggest and best-known brands, this company’s sales and marketing teams functioned like warring armies. Sales was openly disdainful of marketing, seeing it as an unnecessary drain on the bottom-line and only good for developing product spec sheets. Simultaneously, marketing perceived sales as an out-of-control group of high flyers who would say or do anything to land the next big sale. Bringing the two groups together in an off-site meeting enabled us to begin the process of tearing down the walls and overcoming preconceived stereotypes.

It takes an enlightened management team to bring sales and marketing together. Here’s hoping that Glaxo’s program is successful and serves as a bellwether for other, less progressive organizations.

Hat tip to Dandy Stevenson for this idea.

Feb 22

Doing the right thing (at last)

Kudos to Radio Shack’s board of directors for acting quickly to boot CEO David J. Edmondson after he was caught lying about his academic credentials. The board executive chairman, Leonard H. Roberts, hit the nail on the head when he said the move was needed to safeguard Radio Shack’s Edmondson corporate reputation and image.

But, where were the corporate communications people when the crisis escalated and CEO Edmondson initially refused to resign? Story after story quoted "corporate spokespeople as only volunteering a meek "no comment." This behavior leads me to believe the lawyers were calling the shots during the crisis. Otherwise, why would any corporate communicator worth his or her salt mumble a worthless phrase like "no comment"? Crisis management 101 dictates that, even if a company has nothing to say as a crisis unfolds, it communicates caring and concern to its constituents and promises to share information when it becomes available. Except that is when the lawyers, who never want to communicate anything, get involved.

So, hats off to Radio Shack’s board. I’d give them an A-plus for decisiveness and crisis containment. As for the corporate communications department, let’s give them a C-minus. I’d suggest they use this incident as a case study to educate their peers in legal that "no comment" can often be perceived as evasiveness on the part of the organization. For a company that sells communications equipment, "no comment" statements simply aren’t acceptable ways to communicate during a crisis.

Feb 21

NASCAR is one sport that doesn’t start my motor

In this interregnum between the Super Bowl and opening day of Major League Baseball, many fans turn to other so-called sports for their entertainment high.

There’s golf, of course (which is a skill, not a sport, as far as I’m concerned). And the NBA and NHL, which are obviously sports. But, how about the coverage we’re seeing of such other "skills" as bowling, poker and, my personal bete noir, NASCAR?

I just don’t "get" these so-called sports. Nor do I "get" the intense interest among viewers to watch these incredibly boring events on TV.

NASCAR races are the ones that totally baffle me. Could there be anything less interesting than watching a bunch of cars circle a track hour after hour?

I’ll never forget attending the Pocono 500 for a client many moons ago. When I arrived and saw the countless Confederate battle flags mounted on top of RVs parked on the track infield, I thought I’d made a mistake and, instead, wandered into a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. But the overpowering noise soon disavowed of that misconception. As I stood around with the clients and their customers, I found that, try as I might, I just could not connect with the race. Hour after hour the cars, painted to resemble their corporate sponsors, whizzed around the same circle. And, it was that "sameness" that wore me out. I couldn’t wait to leave.

So, what am I missing? What’s with ABC’s and ESPN’s love affair with NASCAR? I know the sport is a religion South of the Mason-Dixon line and that corporations are flocking to reach this demographic, but what’s the attraction?

Maybe if I’d tinkered with carburetors as a kid, I’d know the answer. Then again, maybe not.

Feb 16

Maybe we should just pack up our tents and go home

First comes the news that a low fat, high fiber diet makes absolutely no difference in one’s health and well-being. Today, we learn that calcium and vitamin D supplements provide no benefit whatsoever to women over 50 hoping to stave off the horrific effects of osteoporosis. Nor do the supplements prevent colorectal cancer. And, and here’s the kicker; calcium and vitamin D supplements actually increase one’s risk of kidney stones.

Isn’t it comforting to know that, in today’s uncertain world, pretty much everything we’ve been told about our diet, health and fitness has been wrong? Or at least seriously flawed? It makes me feel like running over to the nearest McDonalds and supersizing myself.

It seems like we can’t trust our doctors and scientists. We can’t trust our elected officials (although that’s nothing new). We have grave doubts about our religious leaders. Our sports and entertainment heroes are doping themselves up with steroids, gambling on games and being arrested for all sorts of lewd and lascivious deeds.

All of this bad karma reminds me of one of my all-time favorite business war stories from the dotcom days. At the time, we were representing a dotcom that aimed to provide vision testing over the web. Once we were hired and dived into their business model, however, we uncovered any number of fundamental flaws in the way in which they’d actually administer the traditional vision test. One day, our account manager was really laying into them about the site’s shortcomings. The conversation became so heated that, at one point, the marketing manager sighed and exclaimed, "Maybe we should just pack up our tents and go home."

That statement nails my feelings about the diet and fitness news. And, yes maam, I’ll take an extra large order of fries to go with my supersized Big Mac.

Feb 15

I’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too. Oh, and throw in some NYC-branded condoms to go

Just when one thinks he’s seen and heard everything comes news that the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is "…currently developing the first NYC-branded condom."

The department spokesperson says the branding effort was created so they "…can later track the effectiveness of our distribution."

The announcement obviously ticked off the more conservative elements of New York society such as religious institutions and social conservatives because, they say, it promotes "certain lifestyles."

As far I’m concerned, though, this is an absolutely brilliant branding strategy by the City, and fits in beautifully with the way in which they’ve merchandised NYC police and fire department merchandise.

I have no doubt the condoms will become incredibly popular and generate significant revenue for the City’s coffers.

I have to believe the hoards of tourists visiting the City will snap up the branded condoms in bushel loads. And, I can just imagine the conversation. "C’mon Fred. We have to buy a six pack for the gang back home in Omaha. Just imagine Marge’s reaction when I give her a NYC-branded condom."

Beautiful. Just beautiful. And, it could only happen in New York….

Feb 14

Talk about strange bedfellows

There’s no doubt that truth can be stranger than fiction. Take this example. An Italian company called Edizioni Musicali Terzo Millennio has purchased the rights to 23 prayers written by the late pontiff, Pope John Paul II.

According to a company spokesman, the Rev. Guiseppe Moscali, the goal is to have international artists set the prayers to music. So far, so good. But, here’s where the tale takes a bizarre twist.

Among the artists interested in recording the prayers is Michael Jackson. Talk about a moth being attracted by the flame that kills it. What must Jacko be thinking? Having barely escaped being convicted on pedophilia charges, he now decides to sing songs from the erstwhile leader of the Roman Catholic Church, an institution staggered by countless charges of pedophile priests running rampant in their ranks?Mj

And what must the Church be thinking? One wonders if the Vatican spinmeisters had Jacko riffs in mind as they began carefully nurturing John Paul II’s legacy? (i.e."Say, Fabrizio, can’t you just picture Michael Jackson moon dancing his way through the pope’s prayer to the Blessed Mother?").

Either way, this has to be one of the most bizarre partnerships in recent memory. And a very questioinnable image and reputation move on the part of both Mr. Jackson and Rev. Moscali.

Feb 12

Me thinks the media doth protest too much

There’s nothing like a good old snowstorm to whip the media into a heightened state of frenzy. Each local channel seems bent on outdoing the other with “live team coverage” from Route 17 in Ramsey, the Saw Mill Parkway in Westchester County or Jericho Turnpike on Long Island.

In each instance, we see the intrepid reporters bravely battling the elements to let us know that, yes indeed, it is snowing. And, yes indeed, it’s probably a good idea to stay inside and ride out the storm. They use words and phrases like “the blizzard of ’06,” and “it’s bearing down on us like an out-of-control freight train” and “we should all just hunker down and ride it out as best we can” to heighten the gravitas of the moment. At the same time, the daring field correspondents seek out local residents and sanitation roadcrews in every area and seem genuinely depressed when the interviewees say things like, “It’s really not that bad,” or “I’m able to get around pretty easily.”

When the wind-and snow-whipped reporters turn things over to their peers inside the warm studios, the latter make sure to express their concern and admiration for their daring counterparts braving the raging snowstorm.

What must “real” journalists covering “real” crises like the war in Iraq, mass genocide in Africa and the ever-more scary bird flu think of these local yokels?

It’s one thing to accurately and responsibly report weather as a news story and then move on to other, more pressing matters of the day. It’s quite another to “blanket” the airwaves with 24×7 hype and hyperbole aimed at heightening ratings and scaring the bejesus out of viewers. One wonders how these same local “journalists” will respond if, and when, a truly calamitous event besets the tri-state area? Back to you in the studio, Maurice..

Feb 12

If only they’d spend some those of those big bucks on PR

I’m always amazed in the aftermath of the Super Bowl commercials hoopla why no one asks an obvious question: why aren’t some of the advertisers spending huge amounts of money on PR, instead of blowing it on 30-second spots few will remember and fewer still will respond to?

So, while the Bud Light and Sprint Nextel commericals were rightly praised by the likes of Stuart Elliott in the NY Times, why aren’t more pundits suggesting that the less successful marketers find better ways to reach target audiences?

For example, the insurance company spot featuring Fabio in a gondola who, when he re-appears after emerging from a bridge, is suddenly old and wizened, totally missed the mark. First, I can’t even remember the firm’s name. Second, who in god’s name is the ad aimed at? Is the average consumer going to call his or her insurance agent because Fabio suddenly aged sixty years in front of their eyes? As my daughter might say, “I mean, c’mon.”

Or, how about those dreadful GoDaddy commercials? The spots never explain the GoDaddy business model. Instead, they spoof the now two-year-old, highly irrelevant Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. If GoDaddy wants to let people know it’s THE place to go to create and register a Web site URL, why not spend the money to clearly and consistently communicate that message through editorial content, which is so much more credible than advertising?

Next to word-of-mouth, public relations is the single most effective way to sell a product or service. It boggles this PR guy’s mind to think how many more customers would be buying those Super Bowl advertisers’ products and services if only they’d opted to spend the big bucks on the much more cost effective public relations option. Oh well. Wait ’till next year.