Mar 29

How a ‘send’ button can send one’s image and reputation to Hell

Once again, the digital world has enabled an unsuspecting PR player to unwittingly wreak havoc on him/herself and the organizations he/she represents.

Following on the heels of such embarrassing mistakes as the GCI Intern who took on Uber Blogger Jeff Jarvis’s unkind comments about Dell, the Weber AE who was labeled moron publicist of the month for incessantly pitching a KFC non-story to Gawker and, of course, Edelman’s infamous anything-but-transparent blogging work on behalf of Wal-Mart, we now have the Waggener Edstrom/Microsoft briefing book on Wired Magazine’s Fred Vogelstein.

As is customary before arranging any interview between a client and reporter, WagEd’s account team created a briefing book for their Microsoft client in which they describe what Vogelstein is like. Such information helps a client prepare for the interview and avoid any possible pitfalls.

Somehow, though, the briefing document fell into the wrong hands, Vogelstein’s. Amazingly, someone from WagEd actually e-mailed the Vogelstein briefing document to the editor himself. And, faster that one can type, ‘oh shit!’ Vogelstein had great material for a totally new and different type of story about Microsoft.

Naturally Vogelstein blogged about how the WagEd people described him as being, among other things, ‘tricky’ and someone who ‘digs for dirt.’

Mistakes happen, and we’re all human. But, as a result of someone’s mistake, deliberate or otherwise, WagEd has jeopardized a media relationship, gotten smashed from an image and reputation standpoint and, at the very least, not strengthened its long-standing relationship with Microsoft.

Having sent e-mails I later regretted, I now try my best to think through any potentially controversial correspondence before hitting the ‘send’ button. It’s a sad, but very real fact of the Web 2.0 world in which we live that a ‘send’ button can also send an individual’s or organization’s image straight to hell.

Thanks to Stephanie Chaney for the idea.

Mar 27

I don’t ‘heart’ people who overuse the F word

If you haven’t done so already, check out Lily Tomlin‘s outrageous ‘performance‘ in this extreme outtake from the movie ‘I Heart Huckabees.’

Her boorish, bullying behavior notwithstanding, what must she have been thinking? Does being a fading Hollywood star exempt Ms. Tomlin from decent behavior? Were her meds simply having an off-day? Lilytomlin_rgb_2

Equally perplexing, though, is the passive, almost nonchalant, attitude of her co-actors (including megastar Dustin Hoffman in the middle seat). What’s up with that? Were they too embarrassed to say anything? Too intimidated? Why didn’t they respond in kind when Tomlin turned her wrath on them and used the F-word in various forms and combinations?

Coming at this from an image and reputation standpoint, does Tomlin’s idiotic behavior say more about her or that of her nonplussed peers? Personally, I’ve lost respect for the whole carload of actors.

I’ve been subjected to CEOs who used cursing and shouting as part of their management-by-fear style. Sadly, hostile workplace suits weren’t in vogue in the 1980s when these tirades occurred, so beaten-down employees had one of two choices: endure the abuse or leave.

Happily, those days are long gone and abuse, whether it’s in the workplace or on a Hollywood set, simply shouldn’t be tolerated. Let’s hope Mr. Hoffman has stiffened his backbone since the Tomlin outburst and is now telling other abusive actors he doesn’t ‘heart’ screaming or abuse.

Mar 26

Love us or hate us. Just don’t ignore us

I can’t tell you how many times we receive an urgent call from a prospective client with a white hot crisis and a need to hire an agency post haste. When this occurs, we weigh the prospect’s ‘clientworthiness’ as well as our ability to properly staff the need and make a ‘go-no go’ decision.

So we’ll draft a detailed plan, include budget and staffing suggestions, and wait to hear back. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. But, increasingly over the past year or so, we do neither. In fact, we end up hearing nothing from the prospect who was so desperate for our assistance. Not one word.

She or he has seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. We give it a few days, or a week, and follow-up, only to get voice mail. We give it a few more days, or a another week, and send an e-mail, only to receive no response. Eventually frustrated, and more than a little upset, we write off the lead entirely.

I’d like to attribute this sort of poor behavior to the marketing types at start-up technology companies, who are running at 1,000 miles per hour. But, the fact is, we now deal almost exclusively with large, established concerns that, one would hope, are staffed with more considerate and responsive professionals.

Obviously, we’re all busy multi-tasking our way through the crazy quilt business landscape we inhabit. But, do yourself a favor and show the professional courtesy of at least responding to someone who has taken the time and effort to share his or her best thinking in your hour of need. By being too busy or self-absorbed to respond, you’re only accomplishing one thing: undermining your own image and reputation.

Mar 23

Christian preachers find themselves in a lion’s den of bad publicity

Once again proving my belief that organized religion is the root cause of many of today’s problems, one Christian televangelist after another has been outed by a site called MinistryWatch for bilking millions and millions of dollars from their faithful, but unsuspecting, flock of believers.

And, once again proving the power and reach of bloggers, the mainstream media has jumped on the bandwagon and is vilifying these Bible-toting financial vigilantes in a series of reports, documentaries and exposes.

Some of the transgressions are truly obscene and reinforce, in my mind, that too many fakes and fakirs use religion as a weapon to raise false hopes and empty pocketbooks. The preachers profiled in MinistryWatch live in palatial estates and cruise the highways in Rolls-Royces, yet implore their often downtrodden flocks to tithe more and more of their hard-earned money to the ministry.

I believe Christianity and Christian fundamentalism has been on the rise in recent years because it provides a seemingly ‘safe harbor’ in an increasingly brutal and uncertain world. And, while everyone is free to believe or not believe, I’ve been put off by the hard-charging proselytizers who point to the televangelists as guides who can and will lead me to a better and more fulfilling life.

Well, as is the case in business, sports, entertainment, politics and every other sector in society, people will tend to support those individuals and those institutions that are seen to be doing the right thing. And there is no way I would ever ‘buy’ into what the televangelists are peddling.

The Christian fundamentalist movement has been dealt a serious image and reputation crisis by its horde of money-grubbing, ‘do as I say, not as I do’ televangelists. It’s time for someone or something (a blue ribbon panel perhaps) to come in and, a la Jesus himself, throw out the moneychangers.

Mar 23

The idiocracy is here

I finally got around to watching ‘Idiocracy,’ a movie by Mike Judge of ‘Office Space’ fame that depicts lead character Joe Bowers being projected 500 years into Idiocracy_3 the future as the result of a failed government experiment.

Bowers wakes up to find the U.S.A. of 2505 has been so dumbed down by mindless entertainment and mass commercialism that good old Joe, who was originally selected for the time travel experiment because he was perfectly mediocre, is immediately hailed as the smartest man in the world.

The movie is both funny and alarming at the same time. That said, I honestly don’t think we have to wait for 2505 to find that our country has become an idiocracy.

How else to explain:

– the latest American Idol developments heralded as lead new stories on The Today Show and Good Morning America.

– a contestant on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ using all her lifelines to try and figure out which U.S. president was known as ‘Give ’em hell Harry.’

– a Harper’s Bazaar survey showing that 10 percent of respondents thought Joan of Arc was married to Noah.

Sadly, the lowest common denominator continues to trump everything else. I fear for our children (and their children) since such mass dumbing down will inevitably wreak havoc on our global competitiveness. It’s an image and reputation issue that, if not addressed in the near-term, will have huge repercussions down the road. And not one presidential candidate is addressing it. Talk about an idiocracy!

Thanks to Deb Schleuter-Brown-Schleuter for the idea.

Mar 22

Man oh man. A man who finally stands up for men

There’s an interesting debate unfolding on the pages of Adweek between Glenn Sacks, who heads something called the Fathers’ Rights Movement and advertisers who see Sacks as an overzealous nutcase.

Sacks, you see, has a problem with the way men in general and fathers in particular are portrayed in TV commercials and sitcoms. He says that, for the most part, men/fathers are portrayed as buffoons who appear totally helpless in front of their kids and invariably have to be rescued by their smarter, more adept wives/mates. He cites Volvo and Verizon as two of the more egregious practitioners of the men-bashing genre.

I happen to agree with Sacks and have seen the male-bashing phenomenon go on for quite some time now. While no expert on either commercials or sitcoms, I do know something about the workplace and have seen countless instances where, in mixed groups, it’s seen as perfectly acceptable to belittle men. But, reverse the roles just once, and watch out.

I’m not sure who, when or why it became politically correct to bash men, but I think it sends horrible messages to the next generation. Like Mr. Sacks, I’ll keep standing up for guys when I see or hear something that’s clearly ‘below the belt’ in work situations. I just wish Hollywood and Madison Avenue would wake up to the long-term damage they’re wreaking. Putting other people down because of their race, creed, color, or even gender, is wrong, and speaks more about the image and reputation of the oppressor than the oppressed.

Mar 21

Anti-Hillary YouTube video is interesting study in image and reputation

With 21 months to go before the next president is sworn in, the gloves are clearly off and the nasty politicking has begun. The new anti-Hillary video on YouTube, for example, has already attracted 1 million downloads. Allegedly created by Obama supporters, the Hillary spot is a riff on the classic 1984 Apple TV spot and shows an ‘athlete’ hurling a ball-and-chain at a large screen of Ms. Clinton and blowing it to smithereens.

So, which candidate’s image and reputation does the spot tarnish? Neither. I believe people have already made up their minds about Hillary and, like the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, one either loves her or hates her. As for Obama, he’s still too much of a blank slate. He needs to explain who he is and what he stands for rather than take pot shots at what Hillary is or isn’t.

The fascinating part of the process is the technology factor. YouTube and other such sites are empowering politically active citizens to creatively vent their views and opinions and reach mass audiences in ways never before possible. Howard Dean was the early, acklowedged master of blogging in 2004. It will be interesting to see which candidate masters the total CMG spectrum as we wind up to the November ’08 elections and whether Web 2.0 becomes a decisive factor in the actual voting.

Mar 20

Humor is a huge advantage in life and business

A recent study of 54,000 Norwegians (who knew there were so many?) showed that adults who have a sense of humor outlive those who don’t find life funny. And, the survival edge is even greater for caLaughingncer victims. The greater a role humor played in their lives, the greater the chances the cancer victims had of surviving.

Humor is critical in business as well. And, I think far too many businesspeople take themselves and their jobs too seriously (especially in the agency world). Ed and I, for example, worked at a totally humorless agency in the mid-1990s. The culture reflected the humorless man who ran the shop. While I can’t comment on mortality rates, I can state that the business was in total freefall as key people and clients defected one after another. Who wanted to work with or for a bunch of sourpusses?

Studies have shown that chemistry is a huge factor in why clients choose one agency over another. The corporate decision makers want to work with bright, happy and upbeat people. In fact, when we conduct a post mortem immediately after a big new business pitch, we evaluate how much the prospects talked and laughed. The more chatter and chuckles, the better our chances of winning.

There are lots of ways to live one’s life. In my opinion, humor is a critical component to building one’s image and reputation over the course of a career. Speaking only for myself, I’d rather have a tombstone that read, ‘He made people laugh’ as opposed to ‘He made a lot of money.’

Mar 19

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Having now performed at two New York comedy clubs, I have a much deeper understanding of, and Fdr appreciation for, the stresses that go along with public speaking (or performing).

A recent Gallup poll, for example, showed that 40 percent of U.S. respondents fear speaking in front of an audience (in fact, public speaking ranked second overall in the survey, topped only by ‘encountering a snake.’).

Respondents cited such psychological side effects as sweating, shaking knees and hands, quivering voice, flushing, rapid heartbeat and nausea. (Note: I think I had ALL of those symptoms in the seconds before I took the stage for the very first time). A different survey said Americans actually fear public speaking more than death (which prompted Jerry Seinfeld to quip: ‘That means if you’re at a funeral, you’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.’).

Closer to home, Peppercom’s Catherine Carlson equates public speaking to having root canal surgery, and says she’s learned to cope with the stress via a combination of techniques, including making eye contact with the audience.

There are many lists of tips and techniques for overcoming the fear of public speaking. And, while they all help, I did learn a few new ‘tricks’ at the five-day American Comedy Institute course that prepped me for my stand-up debut. Above and beyond the typical deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques, the ACI comics/instructors taught me about timing, delivery and pacing. They also shared the best ways to avoid ‘nerves,’ including:

1.) Totally mastering your material. Too many busines people rely on powerpoint slides and don’t take the time to memorize and rehearse a presentation in advance. You should. It makes a HUGE difference in terms of confidence.

2.) Visualize one person who always laughs at your remarks as you’re heading to the stage. This will put you in a positive, upbeat frame of mind. The business equivalent to this would be to visualize a past speech/new biz presentation that was particularly well received and lock onto that image just before you begin.

3.) Don’t get angry at yourself or your audience. This is huge. I’ve seen countless new business presentations and speeches get derailed because a member of the presentation team forgot his or her comments and directed the angst inward or, worse, became agitated by a question or comment made by a prospect or audience member. Anger destroys chemistry.

4.) Have fun. It seems like an absurd thought in such a stressful situation. But viewing speeches or performances as character-building moments in one’s life can make them seem more like opportunities than obstacles.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ That is so true in terms of public speaking. The anticipation is almost always worse than the actual experience. Mastering public speaking is critical to an individual’s image and reputation and, if not nurtured and mastered, can derail an otherwise promising trajectory. So, memorize, practice, visualize, keep cool and, oh yeah, have fun.

Thanks to Catherine Carlson for the idea.

Mar 15

Avoiding churn and burn clients

Seems like the advertising and PR trades always carry the same names of client companies conducting agency searches. These ‘churn and burn’ clients hire and fire agencies as frequently as Major League Baseball teams do with their managers.

Propriety prevents me from naming names but, just as sure as Jenny Dervin of JetBlue has her list of ‘agencies and freelancers’ she’d like to have blacklisted from the new business process, we agency types know which client companies constitute the churn and burn bunch.

Having experienced some of these clients first-hand (and read and heard countless war stories from peers), I know that churn and burn typically results from some combination of:

– an unclear marketplace positioning (red flags should go up when a prospect answers your preliminary positioning question by saying, ‘Well, we’re hoping the new agency can tell us that.’ Wrong-o. We can create a positioning that will resonate with the media, but the client needs to know what service offering differentates their company from all others.

– high-level executives within the client organization who either don’t understand or don’t appreciate PR

– unrealistic expectations (it’s critical to align the definition of success from day one)

– a weak (or junior) client contact who will assume credit for the agency’s good work but throw it under the bus when times get tough

– a client who isolates the PR agency from other ‘marketing partners’ such as interactive shops and advertising agencies. How can we succeed if we’re not leveraging the efforts of others?

The key to avoiding churn and burn clients is due diligence in the search process. For example, a prospect recently asked about our termination clause, saying he had to be able to fire the new agency within the first 60 days if things didn’t work out. Ouch. We quickly and politely excused ourselves from that potential nightmare.

Bob Barlow, a West Coast entrepreneur and hubby of Peppercom’s demi-goddess, Ann Barlow, passed along a pearl of a line that fits perfectly in this instance: ‘You meet one a-hole in a day, it’s unfortunate. Two in a day, it’s a shame. Three in a day, you’re the a-hole.’

After a while, agencies have no one to blame but themselves if they fall prey to the churn and burn client.