Sep 21

Miss Moneypenney, find Mr. Bond

It’s one thing when one big competitor tries to spy on another in order to obtain trade secrets. It’s bogus and unlawful to be sure, but I’m sure it happens more often than we think. H-P, though, has certainly taken the spying game to a whole new level with yesterday’s revelation it had considered eavesdropping on the operations of CNET and The Wall Street Journal.

Apparently willing to do just about anything to get to the bottom of those irksome boardroom leaks, H-P was actually thinking about sub-contracting some work to a James Bond-type.

Can’t you just imagine the scene at CNET’s cafeteria if H-P had, in fact, planted a spy there?

CNET employee number one: "I have got to lose another five pounds in time for the wedding or I’m toast."

CNET employee number two: "If I’m not mistaken, quite a few of the H-P directors are weight challenged. Wonder if we could find out what diet plans they’re on? Ah, yes, I’ll take a turkey and Swiss on wheat bread with mayo and tomatoes, please."

Cafeteria clerk: "You bet. And, how about you sir? Yes, you in the back. The one in the black suit, white shirt and tie with sunglasses. What’ll it be?"

H-P Bond-type, with British accent: "Coffee please. Shaken, not stirred."

Anyway, what impact will the spying hijinks have on H-P’s already shaky corporate reputation? For a12049hd0  company that was once the darling of Silicon Valley, H-P is in full image and reputation freefall right now. If these spying allegations are true, then heads need to roll. And, H-P management needs to be up front and center, either completely denying the allegations or suggesting a separate, internal investigation of its own.

I have to believe employees are walking the H-P hallways on eggshells right now, not knowing friend from foe. And, I’ll bet every little click on the telephone prompts a Pavlovian response. If H-P had been smart about it, they would have brought Sean Connery out of semi-retirement and done the spying thing right.

Sep 20

Dallas always seems to have some sort of an image issue

Ever since the JFK assassination, it seems like Dallas has had something of an image and reputation challenge. Some see the city as a throwback to the "Old West." Others see it as a "get rich quick" type of locale (i.e. J. R. Ewing, etc.). And still others see it as emblematic of a "New South" city with lots of ugly skyscrapers and a flashy pro football team. but not much real substance. Obviously, there are counterpoints to every one of these arguments but, still, perception is usually reality in cases like this.

Now comes another blow to "Big D’s" image. Yesterday, the FBI released its survey of America’s top 10 safest cities and guess who finished dead last? According to the findings, Dallas had 8,484.4 crimes committed per 100,000 people. That equates to one crime per 12 residents. Ouch. Now guess what city topped the list as America’s safest? New York City, which reported 2,675.5 crimes per 100,000 people, or one per 37 residents.

So, what should Dallas do to start turning around its crime problem and resulting image? I have toDallas_1   believe the FBI’s scary figures will impact travel & tourism dollars, not to mention the lucrative conference and trade show business.

Job one is obviously to study what law enforcement agencies in NYC are doing right and apply some of those tactics to its enforcement programs. But, from a PR standpoint, Dallas might want also to highlight those individuals and organizations who have had positive experiences in their city. A viral campaign aimed at meeting planners and travel agents would be smart. As would some sort of effort showing all of the things to do and see in and around Dallas, with the emphasis being on the latter.

That said, there’s only so much that PR and marketing can do for a brand that has inherent problems. In fact, some marketing pundits argue that lots of advertising and PR will actually hurt a bad product or service since it will attract more people to the obvious flaws and initiate a negative word-of-mouth campaign.

So, note to the powers that be in Big D: fix the infrastructure first before you embark on any sort of aggressive publicity campaign. The travel & tourism dollars you save may be your own.

Sep 19

Transparency is a competitive advantage

Although I’ve made mention of the sole Fortune 500 chief executive officer to post his own blogs, I’d not visited Jonathan Schwartz’s site until recently.

What I saw really impressed me, especially in light of today’s closely controlled corporate messagingJschwartz  environment (i.e. the tightly choreographed debut of a certain brand new news anchor on a major broadcast network comes to mind).

In one blog, the Sun Microsystems CEO talks all about his recent customer, analyst and media meetings in New York City. He openly discusses the types of products about which he briefed the various audiences. He also admits that a last-minute cancellation by rival Dell Computers made his schedule much more robust. In another blog, Schwartz walks the reader through a particularly difficult and slightly embarrassing prospective customer presentation to a major government agency.

How cool is this? How many CEOs do any of us know or work with who would be willing to open up and share this sort of insider talk with the world? Schwartz does it because he believes it’s the fastest and most effective way to communicate with every one of Sun’s constituent audiences: the Street, employees, customers, supply chain partners, etc. And, although he says he does so within S.E.C. guidelines, I have to believe Schwartz absolutely drives Sun’s legal team nuts. Which warms my heart to no end.

In my opinion, Schwartz is the digital version of Daniel Boone, blazing a trail that, I guarantee, other CEOs will soon follow, especially as younger and more tech-savvy Fortune 500 chief executives take the reins.

Despite what some critics may say, the Web 2.0 phenomenon will only continue to grow. In fact, according to Technorati Founder David Sifry, there’s a new blog being launched somewhere in the world every second and there are nearly 50 million blogs overall (up from only 1.6 million only two-and-half years ago).

CEOs will catch on. It’s only a matter of time. And the smart ones will do so for exactly the same reason Schwartz says he did: his blog provides transparency and nowadays, transparency is a competitive advantage. Sure, open communication is no guarantee of fiscal success — Schwartz has a long road ahead — but it has to help.

Sep 18

The suspect has been charged with rape, breaking & entering, drive-by shooting and running the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds

I’ve been amazed and appalled by the notes at the bottom of the daily sports pages. Each day, it seems, a different college football phenom is being arrested for some sort of vicious crime: assault & battery, rape, resisting arrest, selling and possession of drugs, drive-by shooting, etc. You name it, it’s happening.

But, why is it happening, what real damage is being done and who should be responsible? In terms of image and reputation, the player’s image takes a momentary hit. But, the coach is always there to defend the star as "innocent until proven guilty." And, the team takes a temporary hit when it loses its star stud before the big game with "State." But, the NCAA always seems to come away smelling like a rose. And ESPN, which lavishes amazing "game day" coverage each Saturday, also glosses over the crime sprees except, as noted before, if it means a key quarterback or lineman will miss an upcoming game. Then, their expert analysts will debate what the "key player loss" means to the team.

Now, juxtapose all of this nonsense against an old 1960s episode of "Leave it to Beaver" that I happened to catch on TV Land not too long ago. In the episode, the "Beav" had gotten in trouble for making a funny face that threatened to mar the entire class photograph (ah, for the simpler times). Anyway, the photo had already gone to the printer and it seemed there was little that anyone could do to rectify the situation. Beaver’s dad, Ward Cleaver, rushed off to the Grant Avenue Elementary School to meet with Beaver’s teacher (the always attractive Miss Landers) and the school principal. He assured them he’d take full responsibility for the incident, pay to have a new pic snapped and severely punish the Beav (who, as it turned out, was grounded for a week).

So, what’s all this got to do with today’s college football? Just this: I think in a lot of cases, the players’ parents are at fault for today’s horrific, criminal behavior. These athletes were allowed to run wild at an early age. The parents abdicated authority to the schools or the coaches who, because the kids were gifted, turned a blind eye to their transgressions. The result? The jocks grew up thinking society’s rules and laws simply don’t apply to them.

So, who loses? We all do. The players’ careers can take a nosedive (just think of Maurice Clarett of Ohio State), the school’s images take a black eye (think of the University of Miami a few years back) and, worst of all, our kids are hero-worshipping thugs and degenerates.

I’d like to think things will get better and the next generation of parents will assume more responsibility for child-rearing. But, the daily sports pages tell a different story. As long as a gifted young football player can run the 40 in 4.3 seconds, he’s got an open field to rape and pillage at will.

Oh, and by the way, as was always the case, everything turned out fine for the Beaver. The photographer was able to "mask" Beaver’s funny face and the 8th grade photo came out just fine, thank you.

Sep 15

Too many people place too much importance on titles

Stuart Elliott’s column in yesterday’s Times reported a resurgence in bizarre job titles at ad agencies and web design shops. According to the column, titles like "chief experience officer, " "marketing evangelist" and "chief consumer officer" are all the rage now at such hot shops as Strawberry Frog, Walrus and Naked Nitro.

Unlike their wacko "dotcom days" job title counterparts, Elliott says current ad sector job titles are more "outward facing" and reflect the type of experience an executive brings to the plate. So, a chief experience officer, for example, supposedly has deep insight into consumer wants and needs. Whatever.

In my mind, creative job titles are just about irrelevant. It’s the person and what she brings to the equation in solving client problems that counts, not her cool-sounding job title.

I can remember some real beauts from the dotcom days. We represented one crazy firm, for example, whose CEO’s job title was "Mr. Big." And, the PR director’s title was "minister of propaganda." I kid you not (one wonders if he had ever taken the time to study the history of World War II?). I also recall a "duke of partnership data" job title at another failed dotcom.

Clients care about strategy, creativity, counsel and, of course, results. Creative job titles are about as important as yesterday’s newspaper. That said, if you have any great job title examples to share, please do so. I’m all ears. In fact, maybe I’ll change my title to "chief listening officer.

Sep 14

If lawyers can be outsourced, is PR next?

BusinessWeek has a fascinating report on DuPont’s move to outsource millions of legal documents and services to an offshoring company called OfficeTiger. If it works, DuPont could cut its legal expenses in half, cut processing time by three months and digitize millions of old, paper-based records. The only thing standing in the way of success, reports BW, are the obvious language and cultural subtleties.

Legal services can be outsourced because they are still incredibly paper-based, says BW. So, whileOfficetiger_1   DuPont will still maintain a team of high-level attorneys in its Delaware headquarters, it can wipe out dozens of lower-level legal beagles if OfficeTiger comes through.

So, is PR next? Will clients soon be counting on low-cost Filipino, Pakistani and Indian publicists to pitch The Wall Street Journal any time soon? Highly unlikely. For one thing, clients like to have industry-specific agency partners (and, there can’t be too many Asian-based industry specialists who understand U.S. verticals). For another, clients like to have their agencies within arm’s length (not on the other side of the world). For another, the subtlety and sophistication needed to quickly understand a client’s business, the pain points keeping the client’s customers up at night and the client’s unique solution to that pain demands senior-level thinkers. As does the ability to translate the "problem-solution" into a quick, compelling media pitch.

So, while I’m intrigued by DuPont’s legal outsourcing model (and think it bodes ill for law firms everywhere), I’m not going to lose any sleep worrying that they’ll turn to PR next.

Sep 13

He who hesitates is lost

BtoB magazine has several articles in the most recent issue that underscore the growing importance of blogs for business-to-business marketers.

According to one survey by KnowledgeStorm and Universal McCann, more than 80 percent of the 4,500 people surveyed read blogs, with 18 percent reading them daily and 33 percent weekly.

A column in the same issue by Paul Gillan, a web consultant, chastises those B-to-B marketers who remain on the sidelines waiting for the "Web 2.0 bubble" to crash. Gillen says social media is here to stay and, since there is very little venture capital money tied up in supporting bloggers and community sites, that there won’t be any crash, just continued growth.

I’ve always felt this way. Once the average person feels empowered to write whatever he or she feels about a company, a politician or a sports team, there’s no turning back. The proverbial genie is out of the bottle. Marketers who avoid the web or, worse, don’t monitor message boards to see what people are saying about them, run the risk of alienating existing customers and scaring off prospective ones.

Few marketers will disagree that blogging is an important business-to-consumer strategy. Yet, now we have evidence of its growing popularity in the B-to-B space.

Smart B-to-C companies have already capitalized on Web 2.0 to create all sorts of new and exciting relationships with consumers. General Motors is a great example. There’s no doubt that savvy B-to-B companies will follow suit. Some already have. IBM, for example, has had a blogger-in-chief for some time.

Blogging isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s become a prerequisite to a total marketing effort. We’re seeing more and more existing and prospective clients asking for credentials and ideas in the digital realm. Many are in the B-to-B space.

Blogs are today’s "Web site." In the past, some companies didn’t think it was important to have a Web site. Now, businesses and consumers expect every company to have a Web site, whether that company is in the B2B or B2C space. Not having a Web site is as absurd as not having a business card. It won’t be long before blogs are as standard as Web sites.

Pundits and marketers who sit on the sidelines and keep waiting for the social phenomenon that is blogging to pass, do so at their own peril. The time to act is now. He (or she) who hesitates may not only be lost. They may be left behind as well.

Sep 12

So much for weightlifting

According to a just-released study, weightlifting may lead to glaucoma in men. That’s just great.

It seems no matter what doctors, trainers, nutritionists or others recommend as being good for us,1276990_1   it invariably turns out to be just the opposite.

Obviously, this is only one study. And, according to the broadcast coverage of the findings, doctors want to take a much deeper dive into the findings, but still…

It makes me think of the old adage: "the only thing certain in life are death and taxes."

It also reminds me of Woody Allen’s character in the long-ago movie, Sleeper. When Allen wakes up after a prolonged Rip van Winkle-like sleep, he finds out that everything that was once considered bad is now good. So, a doctor offers him a cigarette and tells him it will do him good. Another suggests a thick red steak. Amazing how spot on Allen’s commentary has become.

As for me, I’ll keep lifting. But, I’ll also make sure to include a glaucoma test when I go for my annual eye check-up.

Sep 11

A tale of two cities

Having had my fill of the endless 9/11 coverage on television this past weekend, I was honestly looking forward to a quiet day at work when I arrived at my Middletown, NJ, train station this morning. That’s when I noticed preparations being made for a special 9/11 memorial observance.298rkf983_1

Thirty-seven Middletown commuters perished in the World Trade Center disaster, more than any other tri-state town or village. In recognition of the victims, the township has built a special park right next to the train station that contains plaques and photographs of each of the 37 fallen commuters. It’s tastefully done and sets just the right mood for peaceful reflection.

The town has also planned several special events today, including a moment of silence for the fallen commuters. Which got me thinking. Why doesn’t Manhattan have official "city-wide" moments of silence? Why doesn’t the country?

Obviously, there were memorials, tributes and docudramas throughout the weekend, but no official, widespread moments of silence. And, walking around Manhattan this morning, it seemed to be just another work day. In fact, Manhattan really is two cities when it comes to 9/11: there’s downtown and the Ground Zero area, and then there’s everywhere else.

Why doesn ‘t New York City (and the country) declare official 9/11 moments of silence, probably at 8:46 and 9:03? All work, school and other activities would come to a stop in honor of the nearly 3,000 fatalities.

It’s a delicate discussion topic to be sure, but wouldn’t everyone feel better about official moments of silence? I know I would. And, it would certainly help bring the "two cities" together on this critically important day.