Apr 30

The G’s knew what they were doing all along

I had the opportunity recently to reconnect with the husband-and-wife team who ran a PR firm for whom I worked for in the mid-1980s. Howard and Sheila Geltzer (who we rank-and-file types always called the ‘G’s’) operated a very successful agency for some 30 years.

When I toiled as an account supervisor at their firm, I saw the G’s as great, but flawed, leaders. They taught us a good deal about positioning, client management, strategy and, of course, media relations. But, agency profitability, client over-servicing and accounts receivable issues always seemed to intrude in any and all conversations.

As a 26-year-old know-it-all, I resented the financial discussions and thought ill of what I perceived to be a pennywise, pound foolish, management style.

Fast forward a few decades and you’ll find an older and wiser me. In fact, I told the G’s that I now understand and totally respect what they’d accomplished and how they’d managed the business. All of which reminds me of the famous Will Rogers quote: "The older I get the smarter my father gets."

Apr 27

Why should Alec Baldwin have to apologize?

Alec Baldwin’s decision to publicly apologize for a cell phone rant allegedly leaked by his estranged former wife, Kim Basinger, is another example of formulaic PRApologies_2
having run amuck.

Hollywood has a proven crisis model in place that includes an apology, an outreach to the ‘offended’ person or persons and some sort of rehabilitation program to ensure that the offending remarks or actions will never happen again. Mel Gibson and his anti-Semitic crisis outreach is now the classic response (as compared to that of Don Imus and his much-too-little, much-too-late post ‘nappy haired hos’ push). But, why is the ‘model’ trotted out each and every time a crisis, now matter how mundane, erupts?

Why should Baldwin have to apologize to anyone? What a parent says to his or her child is private (even if it is leaked publicly). I think it’s time for a Baldwin, a Richard Gere or some other Hollywood buffoon to step up and say, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.’ I’m not going to listen to my handlers and I’m not going to cave to ‘conventional wisdom.’

The PC police and their ‘pound of flesh’ mentality have dictated that image and reputation management must include a carefully orchestrated program of apology, contrition, reflection and reincarnation. That’s BS. If the ‘crisis’ in question, like Baldwin’s, is private, it should stay private.

Apr 25

Unbaptized babies may no longer be in limbo, but the Church’s image sure is

After centuries of teaching Catholics like this blogger that unbaptized babies who die go directly to limbo (and do not pass "Go" and do not collect $200), the Vatican has just announced that Baptism is Pope_2 no longer a prerequisite for admittance into the pearly gates.

If memory serves from my Baltimore Catechism days, we’re all born with ‘Original Sin’ which, in turn, was caused by Adam and Eve’s transgressions in the Garden of Eden. And, unless we were baptized as babies and had said sin cleaned from our immortal souls, we were doomed to an eternity in Limbo (‘being in an eternal state of happiness, but having no direct access to God.’ Which, by the way, doesn’t sound all that bad in retrospect).

Now, thanks to a ruling by Pope Benedict XVI, upbaptized infants are good to go re: Heaven.

What does this 180 degree change in core teachings say about the Church? Is it finally catching up with the times, especially in light of abortions? Does it run the risk of further eroding its credibility and alienating true believers with the sudden about-face? Or, is this instead a diversion? A relatively mundane matter in light of some of the seismic global issues that Pope Benedict & Co should be weighing in on?

In my mind, the Church itself is in a metaphorical sort of limbo: the more they pontificate (pun intended) on arcane matters of doctrine and distance themselves from the mega issues threatening to tear our world apart, the more they remain in a state of ‘perfect natural happiness’ (while the rest of us edge closer to the abyss).

Apr 24

The brand of you

With countless college seniors about to graduate and enter the workforce, many are naturally beginning to sweat the process of landing that first, full-time gig.

Having addressed many student groups (and about to speak to two separate classes next week at the University of Vermont), I can tell you that interviewing and resume writing are top-of-mind for the business, marketing and communications students with whom I speak.

When I address them, I tell students to think of themselves as a discrete brand. Like a brand, they need to:

– differentiate themselves from competitors

– address their strengths

– connect and resonate with the end user

– provide a perceived value-add

College seniors can do so by creating what I call "the brand of you." This includes:

– writing a resume that clearly and concisely establishes a short-term career objective, lists any and all relevant work experience and suggests how you’ll be able to hit the ground running (waiting tables at the local TGI Friday’s isn’t going to land anyone a job).

– "connecting" with the interviewer by asking what business-related pain points are keeping him or her up at night (i.e. "What’s your number one business issue?"). Based upon classroom or real-world experience, suggest ways in which you might be able to ease that pain (i.e. If the interviewer suggests the firm hasn’t had much success connecting with prospective customers, suggest things you might have done in work-study/intern assignments or, suggest doing some research and following up with a few recommendations).

– develop three key points about yourself that, regardless of the questions asked, you’ll be sure to communicate in the interview.

– if the company has a blog, post comments on it. Even better, if the interviewer blogs, engage in a digital conversation with him/her prior to and following the interview. This approach has clearly differentiated job prospects seeking employment at Peppercom.

– send a hand-written thank you note. Everyone uses e-mail. Be different.

– write a press release about the firm having already hired you and send it along with the thank you note. It will get you noticed.

I’m surprised how unaware and unprepared most students are when it comes to marketing themselves. So, as I finalize next week’s 60-minute presentation for the UVM students, I’ll be sure to remember that, while they’ll undoubtedly be interested in my case studies and trends analysis, what they really want to know is how they can land that first, important job.

Apr 23

Revenge is a dish best served cold

As an agency owner, I was pleased to read that Draft FCB had managed to recoup its massive Wal-MartWalmart
loss by nailing the account of arch enemy Kmart.

By now, the known marketing world is up to speed on the soap opera-like details of how Draft FCB first won Wal-Mart and then, based upon alleged shenanigans by Wal-Mart’s Julie Roehm and Sean Womack in the search process, was summarily fired. Wal-Mart went on to hire the Martin Agency, fire Roehm and Womack, be sued by Roehm for wrongful dismissal, counter sue her for ‘conduct unbecoming’ and so on and so forth.

In the meantime, Draft FCB was left to pick up the pieces and overcome a huge image and reputation challenge created by the Roehm/Wal-Mart fracas: did FCB look the other way when it came to proper business conduct? Did they ‘buy’ the new business via lavish gifts and entertainment? Were they engaged in discussions to set up a separate business for Roehm and Womack in exchange for being assigned the Wal-Mart account?

Draft FCB’s parent company, Interpublic, conducted an internal audit and found no instances of wrongdoing. Cleared of any breaches of ethical conduct, Draft went on the offensive and, bingo, nailed the Kmart account.

I’m not privy to what really went down at Draft, Wal-Mart or Kmart, but as a guy who’s been through more than one ‘wrongful’ dismissal by clients, I rejoice in Draft’s being able to not only recoup a good percentage of the lost Wal-Mart billings, but to do so through the auspices of a direct competitor of the company who’d publicly humiliated the agency in the first place.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Apr 20

There has to be a smarter marketing spend than this

Nationwide Financial Services and a start-up airline called Skybus have announced a first-ever ‘co-branded airplane.’ Gee whiz. What a breakthrough concept.

The Airbus 319 will display the Nationwide logo and its long-running tagline ‘Nationwide Is On Your Skybus_3 Side’ on the fuselage as it trucks around various Midwest destinations.

Nationwide’s Mike Switzer says the branding will allow Skybus to charge ‘outrageously low prices.’ Oh, ok, I get it. Give me a minute while I switch my insurance policy to Nationwide.

The very thought that someone will be influenced on a purchase as important as life insurance just because the plane they ride in has a logo on it is absurd.

It’s also another great example of a marketer missing the key ingredient of connecting with consumers in our information overloaded society: understanding their pain and offering a solution.

And, speaking of pain, is there a more overt symbol of an object that continually causes pain than a plane?

Just wait until the first big snow storm causes massive delays and the Nationwide-branded Skybus is idling on some godforsaken airport tarmac hour-after-hour. I guarantee some sweaty, irate passenger will stand up and shout, ‘Hey Nationwide! If you’re on our side, get us out of this friggin’ plane!’

Apr 19

Does the world really need another business publication?

I predict the new business publication from Conde Nast will last about 18 to 24 months at the most. Called Portfolio, the slick and thick (300 pages) business periodical aims to fill what Editor-In-Chief Joanne Lipman calls ‘white space’ in the business media market.

With information overload at its all-time high and most of us struggling mightily to stay abreast of news and trends, I cannot possibly conceive of any more white space being available. So, how could the Portfoliocover2 powers-that-be at Conde Nast ever think there would be room for a massive newcomer?

Early reviews are, shall we say, less than kind. Truth be told, I haven’t spent time reading all 300 pages, but I can assure Conde Nast that there’s at least one business reader who can’t and won’t attempt to familiarize himself with Portfolio. And, my gut tells me I’ll be the norm in this case, not the exception.

Having provided publicity support for at least four failed magazines I can think of (Shock, Individual Investor, Financial World and Tele.com), I know that content alone isn’t enough to break through in a crowded space. To succeed, Portfolio would have to be dramatically different from The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune and countless others. Instead, it seems from reviews that the text is ‘more of the same.’

As I’ve said in the past, all the publicity and marketing in the world can’t fix a broken model. And, in my mind, Portfolio is dead on arrival. The ‘body’ may linger for a while, but I wouldn’t shift any money in my own portfolio betting on its success.

Apr 18

Bigger isn’t always better

There’s a fascinating byliner in PR Week by Laurie Dodge, who says she’s worked on both the client and agency side, and managed agencies large and small.

Dodge’s missive is less than flattering towards the bigger agencies. She decries what she calls the ‘senior person syndrome,’ otherwise known as ‘bait-and-switch.’ She also mentions a big agency propensity for young, inexperienced staff learning at the client’s expense as well as peddling ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions ‘….that worked for someone else."

I’ve had the opportunity to work for several large agencies and, sad to say, I’ve seen numerous examples of what Ms. Dodge has pointed out. I’d like to think these service issues are caused by the financial pressures placed on the big guys by their holding company parents and not some sort of corporate apathy that besets the larger firms.

I remember the CFO of one large agency periodically demanding that our account people increase fees in order to satisfy the holding company profit goals. She justified her demands by claiming that our clients ‘always had extra money stashed away in some desk drawer.’ I guess CFOs had more room to be creative in those pre-Enron days,

While I’m sure that particular CFOs behavior was extreme, I have to tell you we do love competing for business against the big guys. It’s much easier to sell against some of the weaknesses cited by Ms. Dodge than it is to go up against the best and brightest of the independent midsized agency world.

That said, there’s a definite need for large agencies, especially if a client has on-the-ground needs in multiple markets or a deep and specific need in a particular area such as public affairs. But, as more and more corporations are learning, bigger isn’t always better.

Apr 17

Every college and university needs a crisis plan

Yesterday’s horrific happenings at Virginia Tech reinforced my belief that every college and university needs a crisis response & communications plan in place. And, as Ron Alsop’s article (subscription required) points out in today’s Wall Street Journal, schools need to simulate various potential scenarios in order to gauge their ability to react and respond.

Yesterday’s two-hour gap at V-Tech between the first and second series of shootings is a good Vt_3 indication of why crisis planning is needed. While all the facts aren’t known, one thing is clear: the only student communication came in the form of an e-mail some two hours after the first shooting. How many lives could have been saved if university officials had practiced response procedures in advance? What if they knew exactly what to do and how to communicate it?

VT administrators are in full spin doctoring right now, trying to defend their decisions. But, clearly, angry parents and others will demand changes in the massacre’s aftermath.

I believe more and more parents will be demanding that their children’s schools have a crisis plan in place. It’s not just a discussion about campus security. It’s now part of every college’s image and reputation, and each and every one should take the time to prepare and report back to parents on those preparations. A good crisis plan — and regular examination of it — not only makes students safer but also contributes to the overall image, an important and differentiating factor in recruitment, fund-raising, etc.

Sadly, as was the case in the private sector with 9/11, it has to take a mega disaster to get the attention of the powers that be before changes are made.

Apr 16

Here’s a no brainer: your average Republican is out of touch

The latest Pew Research Center survey shows that viewers of "The Daily Show" and "Colbert" and Colbert_2 readers of daily newspapers are the most knowledgeable about current events while those who watch Fox know the least.

The survey, the first of its kind since 1989, showed fewer people today could identify the vice president (only 69 percent knew of Dick Cheney as opposed to 74 percent being aware of Dan Quayle in ’89. Whether Quayle himself was ever ‘aware’ is debatable). That said, the 31 percent of current respondents unable to identify Cheney may have just been in denial.

Men did better than women in the survey and older Americans fared better than their younger counterparts (the latter finding is no surprise whatsoever since so many of my son and daughter’s friends strike me as being totally out of touch with current events).

And, last but not least, Democratic respondents outclassed their Republican peers in terms of awareness. Again, this may be just mass denial on the part of the latter. After all, if I was a Republican, I’d try to erase just about everything in my memory banks prior to 2000.

Thanks to Bob Reed for the idea.