Jun 20

RepChatter Show #17 posted

Ted and I discuss the news that Clearly Canadian Beverage Corporation, the struggling sparkling water maker, has agreed to star in its own reality TV show in an effort to revitalize the brand. Is this a smart move on Clearly Canadian’s part, or is the proposed series (if it gets picked up by a network) going to bomb and ultimately damage the brand even further?

Additionally, General Motors comes back into the discussion as Ted and I talk about GM’s recent move to offer $1.99 per gallon gas rebates to anyone who purchases a GM SUV. What are the implications of this since the company is trying to position itself as being environmentally friendly?


Jun 20

Boys will be boys

You’d think high-ranking executives of Fortune 500 companies, knowing their every action is under a microscope nowadays, would adhere to the highest ethical and moral standards. Like Caesar’s wife, the reputation of a c-suite executive in our post-Enron, Sarbanes-Oxley world should be "above reproach."

Yet, here comes another example of unbelievably bad behavior from a top corporate executive. This time, it’s Wayne Pace, the chief financial officer of Time Warner, Inc., who has been accused by a convicted prostitute, Andreia Schwartz, of being her ‘sugar daddy.’ Over a period of three years, says Schwartz, Pace ‘showered’ her with gifts of all kinds.

Obviously this is so wrong in so many ways. But, the thing that strikes me is Pace’s obvious recklessness vis-a-vis his fiduciary responsibilities to the publicly-traded company for whom he works. Did Pace think, like President Clinton, Mike Tyson and Kobe Bryant before him, that the conventional rules followed by ‘average’ men didn’t apply to someone in so lofty a position? Why is it that the pampered elite so flagrantly disregard the rules of the society that has enabled them to prosper?

As a red-blooded American male, it also disturbs me that this seems to be a ‘guy’ thing. Just look at the NBC Dateline series ‘To catch a predator.’ Every single one of the Internet sexual predators duped into visiting a 12- or 13-year-old kid is a guy. And, some hold incredibly important and respected jobs to boot. So, what gives? What’s going on? Is it the individual guy’s fault? The sex-obsessed society in which we live? Both? Neither?

It’s all very confusing and depressing to say the least. Regardless of the root causes of his behavior, here’s hoping that, if found guilty, Mr. Pace pays a heavy price for his wanton ways. And, here’s also hoping that Time Warner takes the accusations very seriously and acts quickly to make sure that such an incident cannot easily happen again. It seems to me severe punishment may be the only way to change the old ‘boys will be boys’ mentality.

Jun 19

Mickelson Drives Callaway’s Rep Right Off Course

You might have to be a golf fan to understand the enormity of Phil Mickelson’s complete mental meltdown suffered on the 18th and final hole at the 106th US Open at Winged Foot yesterday. But you don’t have to be a golf fan to understand the reputation issues that Lefty is causing for Callaway Golf this morning.

Last year, Callaway introduced their 2 new FT-3 Drivers with technology that used various weighting systems to help even the average golfer hit their driver straight. If you generally hit the ball right, you could buy a weighted club that made the ball go left, and vice versa. Problem was that the market wasn’t that excited and Callaway saw lackluster sales results. However, when Mickelson won this year’s Masters several months ago, they got an amazing break as he used both drivers in various circumstances to help him win the Major. Immediately, Callaway reintroduced the clubs with Phil as their poster boy using not one, but both of their clubs to win one of golf’s most coveted prizes- the Green Jacket.

Today, Callaway wakes up with a major headache as Mickelson essentially had yesterday’s US Open5706720_7_2  won as he stepped onto the Tee at 18. All he had to do was make Par and the championship was his. As he got ready for his last tee shot and pulled the driver out of the bag, the TV announcers immediately questioned why he was hitting the very driver he had trouble with all day, and why he wasn’t opting to go with a "safer" club. If you watch any news or sports show, you know what happened next as Phil hit a horrible shot into a tent and put himself into bad position which caused a chain of poor shots that cost him the championship.

Everything Callaway had gained at Augusta was now gone in one drive. That choice and subsequent shot are already being called one of the biggest chokes in sports history and the golf world is abuzz this morning with Lefty’s mental meltdown. In a press conference, he said he was an "idiot" and openly questioned his club choice. The real question now is if golfers will give Calloway a mulligan or will the reputation of the FT-3 Driver become part of the biggest chokes in sports history.

Hat tip to Isaac Farbowitz for this post.

Jun 16

GM’s not a jolly green giant after this latest miscue

How come there are so many smart people in Corporate America who, when banded together, become incredibly stupid? Okay, it happens in small companies too, and God knows it happens in government. But when organizations like GM beautifully juxtapose their so-called "Live Green Go Yellow" initiative with subsidizing gas purchases for anyone who buys the company’s biggest gas guzzlers, you can’t help but wonder if group think could get any worse.

GM’s green program is a great idea. Done right, as The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman describes with razor-sharp accuracy, it could spark the company’s comeback. But instead, its short-term thinkers, no doubt staring at what must be legions of unsold SUVs and trucks, convinced the company to offer gas at $1.99 a gallon for a year to anyone who’d actually feel good about buying one at a time like this.

When this kind of thinking wills out, companies, governments and other groups lose the chance to do something great. They’d rather make this quarter’s numbers than invest the time, energy and money to create something of lasting value, not only for society but for the company as well.

GE figured out that a solid eco-strategy would not only be a good thing for the environment, but great for the company’s reputation and over a fairly short time, damn good for its bottom line, too. Its eco-imagination program is expected to yield billions for the company over the next few years.

What really galls me in GM’s case is that its highly respected head of global communications has either bought into the group think or is willing to serve as the mouthpiece for it. His job is to stand apart, even when it feels mighty uncomfortable (let’s face it; it’s a lot more comfortable to agree with the boss than disagree), and fiercely protect the company’s reputation by advocating for policies that improve it and strongly objecting to those that don’t. A real green initiative, one that spans all of the company’s lines, would certainly fall into the former category.

Until that happens, GM can look forward to more columns like Tom Friedman’s, and we can look forward to more dumb, short-sighted decisions born of group think that may ultimately consign this particular company to the scrap heap.

Jun 16

Are mainstream journalists missing the real ‘competitor’ with their single-minded obsession of scooping one another?

I had the opportunity last night to listen to remarks by Gary Silverman, marketing correspondent for the Financial Times. Silverman is bright, witty and engaging, and provided a no-holds barred look at his job and his world. Among other things, he talked about sources, what’s on and off the record, and how he "sells" a story to his management.

What caught my attention, though, were his comments about mainstream media and the rise of the citizen journalist. While admitting that he routinely reads Gawker and a few other Web sites, Silverman admitted he and his ilk are far too focused with scooping their mainstream competitors than worrying about what a blogger might say or do.

That struck me as a potential fatal flaw. While the FT certainly has to worry about what the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, BusinessWeek, Fortune and others are covering, they really should wake up and figure out why bloggers are becoming more and more powerful. This is especially true when one considers their future readers aren’t turning to the ‘usual suspects’ for their news and information. So, while the FT might be waging a smart and strategic battle for readers in 2006, their generals may not be aware of the ‘new’ army gathering strength on the other side of the hill.

The Journal has a very smart strategy vis-a-vis the blogosphere. Their law journal reporter, for example, will routinely post questions wsj.com and wait for some of our country’s top legal minds to weigh in with opinions. He’ll then craft a follow-up print article analyzing their views. It’s a great way to marry traditional and digital content.

It seems to me mainstream media like the FT should stop worrying about today’s competitors and start figuring out ways in which to involve tomorrow’s reader. If they don’t act soon, traditional media may be facing a journalistic version of Waterloo.

Jun 15

Talk about a powerful threesome: the Web, word-of-mouth and PR are helping to make one guy’s dream come true

UK-based Richard Green shares a fantasy not too dissimilar from that of many other guys around the world: he’d like to have a threesome with his girlfriend and another woman. To his surprise, though, Green’s girlfriend gave him the "green" light if, and only if, he was able to create a Web site and attract 5 million hits. Strange, I know, but read on.

Thanks to a combination of word-of-mouth and public relations, Green has already attractedPleasemak_1 more than 2 million-plus visitors to Pleasemakethiswork.com.

I found out about it by listening to a newsbrief on National Public Radio this morning. According to NPR, tens of thousands of people around the world are passing the URL along to their friends, making Green and his Web site one of the hottest items on the worldwide web.

Pleasemakethiswork.com is yet another stark example of the power of the web. But, it’s an even greater example of how PR and word-of-mouth in tandem can accomplish a desired goal: whether that objective is heightened awareness, creating relationships with customers in a new and different way or, as in Green’s case, achieving a cherished fantasy.

Would any other marketing combination have worked as well? I doubt it. Would I have responded to direct mail, in-store promotions or, god forbid, an advertisement? Nope. But the news report gave Green’s mission all the credibility it needed to pique my curiosity. You can like or dislike what he’s doing, but Green’s clearly a master of 21st century buzz marketing.

Jun 14

Boorish border guards don’t help a country’s image

I’ve been to Canada any number of times and have always enjoyed the overall experience. Except, that is, for the border crossing interrogations. Man, talk about intense. Gitmo’s got nothing on Canada.

Yesterday’s incident was typical. As I was leaving Niagara Falls, Ontario, I received the third degree from a tough-as-nails crossing guard who had a very serious chip on his shoulder. To wit:

Crossing Guard: "What was the purpose of your visit?"

Repman: "I was invited to speak before the Canadian Public Relations Society’s annual conference."

Crossing Guard: "Really? Why do we need Americans to tell us what to do?"

Repman: "I can’t answer that. I was happy to do it, though."

Crossing Guard: "What did you talk about?"

Repman: "All sorts of public relations issues and trends."

Crossing guard: "Such as?"

And so on and so forth. He kept me at the gate for at least 10 minutes, and asked me everything from length of stay to where I lived and worked in the U.S. (He really struggled with the fact that I lived in Jersey, but worked in NYC. I guess they don’t commute in Niagara Falls). Anyway, when I was finally released, I felt as if I’d been grilled by Sipowitz of NYPD Blue fame.

As I said, this wasn’t the first time I’d been badgered by a boorish Canadian crossing guard. One guy actually delayed me for a good half hour because he was convinced I had come to Canada to steal their intellectual property.

I’m sure there are bogus crossing/customs people in every country. And, clearly, they have a serious job to do. But, going overboard to beat up an otherwise harmless U.S. citizen reflects poorly on a country and detracts from the overall travel experience. Maybe the Canadian Tourist Board can hold a few "personality" workshops for the guards. They might also want to explain that "invited" guests to their country might think twice about coming back and sharing information if an interrogation awaits them at every crossing.

Jun 14

In this case, Coke clearly isn’t it

The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating story the other day that would be absolutely hilarious if it wasn’t so sad from an image and reputation standpoint.

Here’s the deal: a couple of enterprising entrepreneurs cum inventors came up with the idea of tossing Mentos tablets into bottles of Diet Coke. The immediate result is to create a geyser of fizz that skyrockets some 20-feet into the air! How cool is that? Anyway, videos of Diet Coke bottles going off like Mt. Vesuvius have been spreading around the Internet faster than the recent ear and throat infection that waylaid a large percentage of our agency’s staff.

To their credit, Mentos is making the most of the buzz (fizz?) from the viral spectacle and absolutely loves the 800 or so different videos of the Mentos-Diet Coke eruption. Pete Healey, their U.S. marketing head, says the ‘free publicity’ is equivalent to over $10 million in advertising (note: in my book, it’s worth a whole lot more than that since it’s an opt-in, viral campaign that is being passed along solely by word-of-mouth).

Now, here’s the downer. Diet Coke ain’t happy. In fact, Coke spokeswoman Susan McDermott said, ‘We would hope people would want to drink Diet Coke more than try experiments with it.’ She also says the "craziness of Mentos doesn’t fit with the brand personality" of Diet Coke. Gimme a break. This is potentially a huge marketing bonanza for Diet Coke if they’d only loosen the corporate sphincter muscle a little and think outside the box (the bottle?).

Mentos gets it and is about to consummate a marketing deal with the two men responsible for one of the more elaborate videos (these particular guys used 101 two-liter bottles of Diet Coke and 523 Mentos to create a dancing fountain like the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Here’s the video:

Viral, word-of-mouth marketing is here to stay and certainly what the future will be all about. Consumers decide what’s hip, cool and funny. Not marketers. Mentos gets it. Diet Coke doesn’t. Maybe the latter needs to mix in a little Rum and enjoy the buzz (and subsequent sales).

Jun 13

North or South of the border, people still seem to be sweeping the diversity issue under the rug

I had the opportunity to speak to, and exchange views with, scores of public relations professionals attending the Canadian Public Relations Society’s annual conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

My remarks were entitled, "Creating a future-driven vision" and argued that we, as PR pros, need to keep a half-step ahead of the multiple, simultaneous marketplace changes going down or risk being swept aside as irrelevant. In the talk, I touched on everything from the rise of the corporate purchasing manager and the ‘consumer as king’ phenomenon to digital marketing ‘best practices’ and diversity (or lack thereof) in our industry.

Blogging and diversity were the ‘hot’ topics of the day. We went back-and-forth on digital best practices and agreed that blogging provided an ideal way with which to engage in new and different conversations with ‘consumers.’ That said, everyone agreed that digital ROI remains elusive to say the least.

When it came to diversity, one attendee thought my call to action was outdated and said ‘affirmative action’ was yesterday’s news. He believed it was time for us to "move on." I responded by saying that, while his comments may reflect what’s happening (or not happening in Canada), it definitely doesn’t translate south of the border.

In my opinion, the PR industry has done a very poor job of diversifying. Collectively, we don’t even come close to reflecting the society in which we live. Nor do I see any overt, proactive initiatives that will dramatically change the landscape. I believe that’s because our clients aren’t driving the discussion. Until they insist that their agency partners become more diverse (or suffer losing their business) we won’t do so (or, we’ll take our sweet time getting there).

Maybe the PR industry needs to be taken to task a la what our advertising brethren are going through. Beginning on June 17th (which happens to be the start of ‘Advertising Week’), a gaggle of ad agency honchos will be subpoenaed to testify before NYC’s diversity hearings and explain why their shops are so lily white. It should make for great ‘copy’ as an ad guy might say.

Here’s hoping our industry can get its act together and start taking real, concrete steps to becoming more diverse. And beyond leveling the playing field in terms of skin color and ethnic backgrounds, we also better wake up and figure out how to recruit more young men to our ranks. One of PR’s dirty little secrets is that fewer and fewer guys are entering the field. If we wake up one day and find ourselves an all-white, all-female industry, how will we possibly make the case for being relevant to 21st century marketers? And how long will it be before some group of media-hungry politicians hauls some of us before public diversity hearings to defend the indefensible?

Jun 12

Sir Martin’s approach is the right one

Public mudslinging almost never works (unless, of course, you’re Ann Coulter and looking to hype sales for your latest liberal-bashing book).

The latest example comes from the other side of the world where, after disengaging his firm from a partnership with WPP and switching instead to Omnicom, Yan Gang, ceo of Citic Guon Group in China, said WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell "had absolutely no manners, no upbringing and no culture." Ouch!

Those are pretty harsh words, to say the least. Happily, Sir Martin has not taken the bait and retaliated. Instead, a WPP spokesperson would only say the mega holding company "….is very bullish about its prospects" in China. Well done, Sir Martin. Your non-response leaves Gang-san dangling in the wind, and portrays you as being above the fray. In my opinion, it’s the smart and sophisticated way to win the image and reputation wars.

We almost always advise clients to take the high road a la Sir Martin, and avoid slinging mud back-and-forth with a foul-mouthed competitor. Of course, though, there are exceptions. Especially if the client’s competitor is spreading vicious lies or half-truths that, if left uncorrected, could hurt the client’s business.

Comparative advertising, direct mail and public relations that extol the benefits of one client’s product or service over a competitor’s is standard operating procedure. It’s always existed and always will. Mudslinging has no place in marketing communications, and never will. Unless, of course, you’re looking to hype sales of a new book and decide to pick on the 9/11 widows. Then, it works like a charm.