May 31

Here’s one vice I’m all for

Hats off to the Long Island and Metro North Railroads for deciding to continue their age-old tradition of serving alcohol on afternoon commuter trains.

Temperance advocates may disagree, but a little John Barleycorn not only takes the edge off the Beer average work day, but makes the inevitable delays, boorish behavior by fellow passengers and the aloof, if not outright hostile, attitudes by the conductors just a little more bearable.

So, let’s lift our glasses to the powers-that-be at both railroads and congratulate them on a very, very smart image and reputation move. That said, why can’t the Aimee Semple McPherson-types who run NJ Transit follow suit? If they did, I’d be willing to treat for the first round.

May 30

Better late than never

Humming along on its way to oblivion, the General Motors Corporation has finally awakened to the Green movement and announced it would be hiring hundreds of engineers and producing scores of new Hummer_2 models that would be environmentally friendly by 2010.

GM has been stuck in idle for years as an inbred management team allowed Toyota and other foreign competitors to zoom past the once mighty monolith.

Despite finally waking up, GM will continue to lag behind its competitors. Why? Because, while they may have finally stumbled onto the Green trend, GM has yet to produce the kind of quality automobiles that Americans want. So, thanks for becoming eco-friendly, GM. Now, see what you can do about building decent cars.

May 29

Talk about being in denial

A $28 million ‘creation-based’ museum has opened in the heartland and is devoted to depicting antiquity via a literal interpretation of the Bible. So, since the Bible teaches that God created the world Biblebased_3 approximately 5,000 years ago, this museum has animatronic versions of Adam and Eve cavorting in the Garden of Eden right alongside T Rex and other dinosaurs.

The museum’s creator believes that God made all creatures simultaneously and wanted to build an environment in which true believers can experience the real deal as ‘He’ intended.

Scarier than the museum’s creation, though, is the fact that record numbers of believers flocked to the museum’s opening. What does it say about a person, people or country that will not permit cold scientific facts or reason to get in the way of belief? Fundamentalist religion is truly scary.

May 25

Where customer service is a a true oxymoron

Ted ‘Ludacris’ Birkhahn and I played tennis yesterday at a facility so horrific and staffed by people so incompetent that it almost defies description. In fact, in an era where outstanding customer service is seen as the price of entry for most businesses in most industries, the Midtown Tennis Club not only stands alone in its shabbiness but, indeed does so in a blatantly defiant way.

To wit, the Midtown Tennis Club:

– has poorly maintained clay courts that, in many areas, have been worn through to the underlying macadam. This makes for an experience more akin to ice skating than tennis.

– the front stairway is partially blocked to make way for an escalator. It’s a nice touch considering one has to climb about 4,000 steps to reach the front desk. But, the construction has remained in the same unfinished state since 1989.

– the locker rooms are dirty, drab and lacking of air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. And, the two shower stalls feature only scalding hot water in hot weather (it was a true delight showering in 130 degree water after having just played two hours in 90 degree temps) and Artic-like cold water in winter. Another nice touch is the clay pellets one tramps through with momentarily clean feet on the way from the showers to the lockers.

– the courts have no extra back or side footage, so one often finds oneself smashing into the walls or nets to vainly retrieve a volley.

– the piece de resistance, though, is the friendly, smiling and always attentive staff (not). The sullen and surly women behind the counter not only lack any and all social graces, but they take forever and a day to check players in and then, in a deft servicing touch, will invariably either under or overcharge, forcing players to wait as they re-enter credit card information into a machine that had to have first come online in the Eisenhower Administration.

So, why you ask, do the Ludacris one and I frequent such an establishment? That’s easy. The Midtown Tennis Club is a virtual monopoly in the area in which it’s situated. There are so few clubs and so many players that management can afford to treat its customers with utter contempt and its facilities with complete neglect.

Until a player is seriously injured on the poorly maintained courts or a competitive facility is built in the ‘hood, the Midtown Tennis Club will remain a proudly defiant non-participant in the global and noble quest by most businesses to provide superior customer service.

May 24

Time travel is so much fun

In anticipation of our firm’s Spring cleaning this Thursday, I started rifling through some old files and deep-sixing unnecessary clutter. As I did, I came across a true relic that presented a mini time portal to another era that, thankfully, is dead and buried.

The artifact was the January 11, 1999 issue of PR Week, which I had held onto because of a page-six article heralding Peppercom’s winning the GE Financial Assurance account (beating Fleishman and Bozell Worldwide in the process. Bozell Worldwide? Where are they now?).

Anyway, as I scanned the entire issue, I came across some real time-period gems, including:

– An editorial presumably penned by then Editor-In-Chief Adam Leyland bemoaning the fact that national business publications had been missing the boat on the huge, upcoming Y2K crisis. He wrote: "The Millennium Bug is not just a technology problem; as much as anything it is a problem of communication. He cited a recent USA Today survey in which 46 percent of respondents expected air traffic control systems to fail. Yet, Leyland said, most airlines were "…adopting little more than a cautiously reactive approach to media inquiries." The text goes on and on to warn about the major business disruptions about to occur and industry’s seeming lack of proactive communications outreach. He felt Y2K was a huge opportunity for the PR industry to shine. In fact, as we now know, Y2K was much ado about nothing and Y2K preparedness was one of the major hoaxes of the late 1990s.

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May 22

Say it ain’t so, Joe

Just once, I wish I knew for certain which foods, drinks, and lifestyle choices are, and will remain, healthy for at least a short amount of time.

One day, bread is bad. Then it’s good. Another day, aspirin is found to thin blood but raise blood pressure. Red meat is bad. No, it’s good. And, don’t get started on the incredible, edible egg.

In the midst of the turmoil created by certain foodstuffs being heralded as good one day and bad the Coffee_pouring next comes the remarkable news that a Brooklyn College study shows drinking four or more six-ounce cups of coffee a day reduces your risk of dying of heart disease by 53 percent! Holy cow. The same ‘Joe’ that makes your heart bounce around like a basketball in the hands of Steve Nash may actually be heart healthy? What’s next? A report that smoking two packs of cigarettes a day will not only clean and strengthen one’s lungs, but forestall certain types of cancer?

BC’s counter-intuitive finding has to be huge news for Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and other purveyors of the powerful, little caffeine bean. But, the whole thing leaves me scratching my head. I know when I’ve reached my caffeine limit. And four is two too many.

Put four cups down my hatch and you’re looking at a category five hurricane, a 9.0 earthquake on the Richter Scale and a world-class Nor’easter all rolled into one.

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May 21

Product design pros would have loved the Spanish Inquisition

Do you have as much trouble as I do opening some of the space age product packages being made by the P&G’s, Unilevers and others?

Just this morning, I barely missed slicing opening an artery as I vainly tried to gain access to a new Mach packet of Mach III razor blades. These packages are fool-proof, knife-proof and bullet-proof. The packet containing five little containers of dental floss is positively maniacal in its stubborn refusal to be opened and could confound the cagiest bank robber.

Not only are these packets impervious to simple opening techniques, they’re made of some nasty, ragged plastic that, when punctured at long last, lie in wait for the unsuspecting consumer to reach inside and try to extract the desired consumer product.

I’m sure these Fort Knox-like packages were created in response to the Tylenol-type product tampering scares of the 1980s and 1990s. But, c’mon. There has to be a happy medium. What good to me is a new razor blade, box of dental floss or can of shaving cream when I’m howling in pain, and searching for some band-aids to stanch my bleeding? In fact, wouldn’t it be ironic if the Gestapo-like product packaging people decided to encase band-aids in these fool-proof, lethal packets? If they did, then we’d have arrived at the true end of the universe: a product that both caused pain (i.e. Slashing the bejesus out of yourself when opening the packet) and provided the solution (a band-aid to control the bleeding).

It’s madness. Sheer madness. And it does nothing to build product loyalty, either.

May 17

Ad industry should do its homework first before asking PR: why can’t we all just get along?

I’m reading more and more articles in the ad trades about PR’s growing importance and its seeming ‘encroachment’ into such ‘traditional’ advertising domains as word-of-mouth.

This week’s Ad Age contains an interesting piece by Noelle Weaver that asks, in effect, why we can’t all just get along. Alongside it, though, is a telling list of comments from various readers, that explain, in part, why the disconnect continues.

One observation from an integrated marketing agency executive inadvertently nails the ‘problem’ on the head. Intending to illustrate how each discipline contributes thinking to the other, he writes, ‘…..PR people often identify the Big Idea and write great headlines and taglines, and the ad creatives come up with great promotions, events and story placement ideas.’ And, therein lies the problem.

Ad people still think of PR as being limited solely to stunts, press releases and media relations. It isn’t. And, it hasn’t been for some time. The best PR is being leveraged to create new, and serious, dialogues with a rapidly-changing end user landscape, and ranges from viral and digital initiatives to thought leadership and strategic partnerships. As long as advertising types continue to see us as stuntmen and women, they’ll continue scratching their heads wondering why we can’t all just get along (and continue to lose more and more of the client’s overall marketing budget).

May 16

This has ‘lawyer’ written all over it

Kraft Foods has struck another blow in the increasingly uneven ‘negotiation wars’ between clients and Kraft_2 agencies. According to an Advertising Age report, Kraft is demanding that ad agencies pitching its business not only relinquish ownership of ideas they present but, get this, accept legal responsibility for any ideas used in the future.

So, Kraft not only takes your ideas but, if they’re sued down the road because of one of those tactics being illegally or incorrectly implemented, the agency takes the legal hit, not Kraft. And that applies to winning and losing agencies alike.

Picture this: your firm kills itself to create a drop dead creative presentation, goes through late night rehearsals, kisses the requisite prospect client ass in the pitch and sends after-meeting ‘please hire us’ notes and trinkets hoping against hope to be selected. But, you aren’t.

Now, fast forward a few years down the road and imagine a phone conversation that goes something like this:

Kraft: "Ah, hi there. How have you and the agency been?"

You: "Great, Syd. Great to hear from you again. What’s up?"

Kraft: "Remember that idea you guys had to create the world’s largest hunk of cheese?"

You: (chuckling): "Absolutely. We still think it has tremendous legs to it."

Kraft: "Well there are some legs underneath it. One of those 2,000 pound cheeses was on tour, collapsed and crushed three consumers. We’re being sued, but you guys are legally liable. Just wanted to give you the heads-up there’s a class action suit headed your way."

Kraft’s new dictum would be absolutely hilarious in its absurdity if it didn’t place unsuspecting agencies in harm’s way.

In recent years, lawyers and purchasing managers have been adding all sorts of unneeded and unnecessary policies and reporting procedures to the new business process. But, this latest legal machination is not only unfair, it’s irresponsible.

Thanks to Bob "Frank" Reed for his idea.

May 15

PR Week’s less-than-excellent agency survey

PR Week provides a comprehensive and value service to the industry. But, they do clients and agencies alike a disservice when they publish a report like their ‘Agency Excellence Survey.’

While it appears fairly comprehensive in scope and was conducted in conjunction with Millward Brown, a serious research player, it focuses solely on the big agencies (and is interspersed with some handsome, full-page advertisements from Weber-Shandwick, Porter-Novelli, Ketchum and Ogilvy).

The problem with the section is its parochial view. More and more clients have sought relationships with smaller, more nimble, agencies precisely because the so-called ‘excellence’ PR Week and Millward Brown are surveying is lacking at many large firms. And, that’s not conjecture. It’s fact.

I’m not saying the big guys aren’t good. I’m merely stating the obvious: PR Week is completely missing the boat with its report. It’s time Julia, Elly & Co. spread the wealth. I guarantee we can find plenty of small and mid-sized firms that could more than match the ‘excellent’ scores given to our bigger brethren.