Nov 26

ROWE Would Have Been a No-Go with My Former Employer

Ron Alsop's book, The Trophy Kids Grow Up, continues to provide a mother lode of new and informative stuff about Millennials in the workplace.

The book shares the angst of Millennials, their parents, teachers and employers as we all try to adapt to the trophy kids' unique work ethic. Unlike their predecessors, for example, Millennials work to live, and not vice versa. Most see their jobs as a means to an end and not their meaning for living. If "driven" was the best word to describe Generation X, hints Alsop, then "self-absorbed" probably best defines their successors.

Many employers are balking at Millennials' perceived sense of entitlement, especially in the aftermath of the market meltdown. Others, though, seem to have adopted a mentality that says, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Organizations such as Best Buy, IBM and Capital One have implemented "Results-Only Work Environments," or ROWEs (btw, what's up with all the acronyms in business? It seems to get worse with each passing year. Look for an upcoming blog on work acronyms I'd love to see.).

Anyway, Millennials working in ROWE units can come and go as they please, as long as they accomplish their assigned tasks. It's not about working hard, but workingFrisbee smart. The trophy kids love it and, says Alsop, will often organize frisbee golf matches and other types of recreational breaks before, during and after their team assignment.

ROWE would have derided at my former employer, a division of J. Walter
Thompson, that was run by a true, old-school Martinet. He not only had us sign-in each and every morning at the reception desk, but would also receive a list of absent or tardy employees from the receptionist every morning at 9:30. It didn't matter if those who were seated at their desks were working in smart, creative ways (they mostly weren't, btw). What mattered was 100 percent attendance. Needless to say, his approach did little for morale and the agency slowly, but surely, sunk into a morass of anonymity.

I'm not a big fan of most Millennials and their casual work ethics (especially when it affects quality). But, I must say I like ROWE and see how it makes sense. We adopted flex-time long ago. And, it seems to me, we could benefit from a frisbee golf tournament every now and then. Of course, the Park Avenue South cabbies and bike messengers might make the course a tad difficult but, hey, we Boomers are always up for a challenge. So, who feels like playing the back nine this afternoon? We'll designate Cosi's as the sand trap.

Nov 24

Talk About a Battle for the Ages: It’s the Throat Cancer Guy vs. the “Saved By Zero” Moron

The throat cancer guy may have finally met his match. For those of you not familiar with him, the throat cancer guy is easily the most irritating presence on TV.

He stars in commercials that feature his robotic-sounding voice and implore viewers not to smoke cigarettes and end up like him, an obnoxious, in your face guy who's had his larynx removed (but, still somehow speaks with a Spanish accent). That last part continues to befuddle me.

Anyway, the throat cancer guy appears to have some solid competition on the airwaves: Toyota's "Saved By Zero" campaign.

Like the throat cancer guy, Toyota's campaign has apparently pissed off a large number of people, yet, at the same time, appears to be working. It's been linked to a definite uptick in car sales. I guess people are able to get past the nausea and somehow focus on savings (it just shows how tough the times really are).

Since the throat cancer guy and Toyota's Saved By Zero moron both air repeatedly during sporting events, I think it's safe to say Thanksgiving Day will be a mini Super Bowl of sorts. Who will succeed in pissing off more viewers: the obnoxious throatToyota
cancer guy who walks around a swimming pool lamenting his inability to dive in (someone should really push him) or the monotone Saved By Zero moron imploring people to lease or buy Toyotas? Actually, it's not a level playing field since Toyota can track car sales on a daily basis while I would think the CDC or anti-tobacco groups track trends over months, if not, years.

Still, there is one recourse for dealing with both advertising fiends: the mute button. And, it's somehow comforting to know that thousands, if not millions, of fellow football fans will be hitting the same mute button as me as we down our turkeys and dodge the throat cancer guy and Toyota moron one more time.

Thanks to Andrew Stein for the idea.

Nov 20

Fuqua’s Poster Boy of the ’90s has Become the Jeff Skilling of Our Times

When we represented Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in the 1990s, we heard faculty and administrators alike wax poetic about their shining star, Rick Wagoner. At the time, Rick was rising through the ranks of America's (and the world's) largest car company, General Motors. And, he was emblematic of how far a Fuqua grad could go in the business world. Gm_to_close_windsor

Fast forward to yesterday's Congressional hearings and, sadly, Mr. Wagoner has become an icon for the sagging American economy. Under his cautious, reactionary leadership, GM did just about everything wrong: pulling back from hybrid and electric cars, investing in gas-guzzling SUVs and Hummers, and waiting way too long to curtail excessive UAW pay scales and lifetime healthcare for former employees.

Yesterday, along with the leaders of Detroit's other two horribly-run car companies, Wagoner came before Congress to beg for a $25 billion bridge loan. To add insult to injury, he flew back-and-forth on GM's corporate jet. In fact, Wagoner and his peers have failed in all aspects of public relations.

Rick Wagoner's earned a spot alongside such other infamous American chief executives as Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap and Dennis Kozlowski. He didn't do anything illegal. Wagoner just didn't do anything smart or strategic, which is what top B-school grads are expected to do. 

When business historians analyze the rise and fall of the American automobile industry, Wagoner will most likely have the final chapter and epilogue all to himself. As for the Fuqua School, I have to believe they've started shining the spotlight on other, more successful alums.

Nov 17

Middletown’s Version of Pickett’s Charge

My hometown of Middletown, NJ, is a huge Wall Street "bedroom" community. To give you an idea of how many Wall Streeters we have, Middletown lost more people on 9/11 than any other tri-state town. There's even a memorial at the local train station.  In fact, one of my most vivid, post-9/11 memories was watching local Middletown policemen driving home victims' cars that first Monday after the cataclysm.

I'm sorry to report that, ever since the September 15th collapse of Lehman Brothers and the markets, Middletown has been experiencing a new type of 9/11.

This time, though, the cops aren't driving home anyone's car. And, no one's building any memorial park for the victims. But, like 9/11, the empty parking spaces and train seats are a mute testimony to everything that's gone wrong in the larger society.

I'm not talking about just a few missing cars and commuters either. The gaping holes I see remind me of author Jeff Shara's description of Pickett's Charge on the third913-004-2F9DEBCC
day of the battle of Gettysburg. Participants in the Civil War battle reported seeing entire Confederate regiments simply disappear in the hailstorm of bullets and cannonballs being rained down on them by defending Union soldiers.

The Middletown train station and 7:28am NJ Transit train to New York are bloodless, latter day versions of Pickett's misguided and ill-advised charge.

Sadder still is the reality that there will be most likely be more empty spaces and seats before we see any upturn. To borrow a phrase from another American war, these are indeed the times that try men's souls.

Nov 14

So, We Agree? We’ll Close Four Plants, Downsize 6,000 People and Order a Few of those New Challenger 600 Private Jets

You have to love the timing of some recent e-mails. Yesterday, I received one suggesting I book a high-end spa experience for my firm while there was still availability. Today, I received an unsolicited e-mail suggesting I act now to reserve time on a Challenger 600 private jet.


Private Jets
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offer premium luxury and style as they are configured with the widest cabin in
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chairs, a full galley, a three person divan, a pull out queen size bed and flat
screen televisions.  Whatever your needs may be the Challenger is ‘best in
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Our introductory rate
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The cost of our card,
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Sentient – 25 hour
Challenger card is $252,500.00
Flight Options – 25
hour Challenger card is $302,000.00
Flex Jets – 25 hour
Challenger card is $325,000.00


Call or email
me today to take advantage of this offer.

Both make sense. Times have never been better. Markets are soaring through the roof, consumer confidence is sky high and everyone everywhere is spending tons of money. So, why not act on Concord Private Jets' "limited time offer" to buy a 25 hour block of flight time for only $212,500? After all, it is "25-50 percent less than the leading competitors" and I do like to pride myself on being a smart shopper.

But, why stop there? I think now is also the ideal time to dig deep and buy that new top-of-the-line Bentley to drive me to and from the corporate jet airport. And, I'd naturally want some Champagne Veuve Clicquot and caviar on board as well.

These are the times to live life large. That's why I'm so glad that high-end spas and private jet companies are thoughtful enough to remind me how best to spend my money. I'd go on, but something tells me now is also the perfect time to upgrade to a new top-of-the-line Rolex. I sure hope they spam me soon with news of an amazing limited-time offer.

Nov 13

Party Tonight, for Tomorrow We Die

Someone needs to clue in the fine folks at Spa Party that now may not be the ideal time for a blast e-mail campaign. While many companies would love to shower their employees with mani's, pedi's and tarot card readings, the cold, harsh truth is that most holiday parties are either being dramatically cut back or cancelled altogether. In fact, The Wall Street Journal carried a story saying that even Santa Claus bookings are off 30 percent this year (there's actually an association of guys who dress up as Santa).

If organizations and municipalities can't afford the meager hourly rates of a part-time Santa, what makes Spa Party think anyone will shell out big bucks for an over-the-top bacchanalian feast? And, what company would want to run the risk of being accused of holding an AIG-type boondoggle when unemployment rates are soaring higher than an oil company's profits?

Methinks it's high time Spa Party downsizes its mindset from champagne and hors d'oeuvres to beer and pizza.

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Nov 12

The Last 60 Days Have Sure Taken the Shine Off Trophy Kids

I'm in the midst of reading Ron Alsop's most excellent new book, The Trophy Kids Grow Up.

It's a fascinating tome that sheds light on why Millennials (those born after 1980) act the way they do in the workplace. It's chock-a-block full of riveting case studies, anecdotes and "how to motivate them" lists. Alsop dove deep to speak with the "kids" as well as their parents and employers. AlsopFinal

The book's message is simple: employers need to bend the rules and accept the quirky ways and beliefs of trophy kids (who earned the moniker by receiving trophies in their childhood years for simply showing up to a school or athletic event). When a trophy kid shows up at work in flip flops and jeans, or multitasks during a job interview or makes it clear she needs to take a sabbatical to explore her spirituality, employers need to suck it up and say, "OK, well your generation is in great demand and you'll soon be our middle and senior managers so, sure, chill out."

Alsop quotes one Millennial after another who complain about being bored by a project or needing a new work challenge. Most possess so little corporate loyalty that nearly half of the 18- to 24-year-olds Ron interviewed said they planned to job hop in the next year.

The trophy kids may indeed be job hopping in the next year. But, most of it won't be of their own making. Ever since September 15th when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial markets went into their cataclysmic tailspin, the trophy kids' luster has started to fade. 

Now, the "free to be me" kids with high expectations who told Alsop they'll keep job hopping until they find their ideal position are, well, up the proverbial creek.

I wonder what will happen to an entire generation that was brought up to believe it could have whatever it wanted. How do they suddenly change lifetime habits overnight and start toeing the line? Or, do they?

It's a fascinating subject that demands at least a sequel. For now, The Trophy Kids Grow Up, published in the late summer, is about as relevant as a Bear Stearns stock option.

Nov 11

Separate P&L’s Have Always Been a Bad Idea, But In This Economy, They’re Toxic

I love competing against the holding companies in this current economy.

The big agency model has its pluses and minuses even in good times. But, when clients are singing the blues and cutting costs at Mach speed, the big agency model is an albatross, or worse. And, as Dan Orsborn points out in his PRWeek column, the big agency, multi-office, separate profit & loss strategy, in particular, is a gigantic lose-lose.Istock_000003282632small

Like Dan, I come from a big agency background and I saw, firsthand, the dysfunctional nature of separate P&L's. The agency's offices compete against one another for the client's dollars and possess little, if any, esprit d'corps. The client, meanwhile, ends up with a disjointed team that often finds itself at cross-purposes (i.e. the Oakland office will fight hard to bill for an upcoming event even though the Altoona branch is best qualified to handle it).

The current economic meltdown is having a seismic impact on the traditional advertising agency model. I've witnessed entire traditional ad campaigns wiped out in a nanosecond by a cost-conscious client. And, I'm positive some of these very same clients will wake up to the ersatz, separate P&L's model and insist on one seamless team and invoice.

Separate P&L's is a bad business practice that I could easily see the marketplace correcting in the next year or so. That said, the big guys are about as flexible as an aircraft carrier in the Panama Canal, so who knows? In the meantime, I can't wait to address the benefits of a single P&L in my next new business pitch.

Nov 10

It Could Only Happen in America

Yes, Virginia, Joe the Plumber has retained the services of a public relations firm. Joe, an unlicensed Ohio plumber who skyrocketed to fame as a result of challenging Barack Obama and subsequently appearing on John McCain speaking gigs, has hired The Press Office in Nashville._45113142_joe512

According to O'Dwyer's, Joe is hoping The Press Office can create enough buzz for him to land a Country & Western record deal. Apparently, Joe does far more than simply unclog toilets. He also sings and plays guitar.

Can you believe the lunacy of this? And, you know what? Some bogus record label will sign Joe hoping to gain some buzz from his ersatz buzz.

I can just imagine the album.

I'd call it "Joe the Plumber Pipes Up" and would suggest such singles as:

– "If I Had a Wrench"
– "Plumbing the Depths"
– "(I've Got) Those Palin Blues"
– "A Red State Blue Collar Guy"
– "Mac Ain't Back'"
– "Oh Mama, Tell Me it Ain't Obama"

This has platinum record written all over it.

And, how about the PR firm? I can just imagine their next big business presentation:

– Prospective client: "So, tell us about your agency."
– "Well, we're based in Nashville, have been around for years and represent such classic brands as Grand Funk Railroad, Waylon Jennings and, oh yes, Joe the plumber."

Gimme a break! This could only happen in America.

Nov 07

Train Yourself to Think Outside the Box

We all know who won the election, but what corporation leveraged the seismic event with a surprisingly street-smart guerrilla marketing effort?  Jackie Kolek reports from the wilds of Connecticut.

Following Barack Obama's historic win Tuesday night, counties across the nation were still counting the returns on Wednesday.  Yet many of us will now be looking to another set of returns: ones delivered by the stock market.  In a very savvy marketing move, a local Merrill Lynch representative was handing out a great research paper at the train station in Westport, CT on Wednesday.  The paper, "Elections and Sectors," provides an interesting overview of historic performance of the market following presidential elections.

According to the report, equity markets tend to do much better in the 12 months following a Democrat being elected.  Longer term performance favors Republicans.  Regardless of what party gets elected, market performance is significantly better when the President and Congress share the same party.  Since 1921, Republicans have held the office 47 years, compared to Democrats' 40 years.  The 12-month average return for the S&P 500 under the Democrats in office is 20.9%, while Republicans saw an average return of 5.3% (adjusted to exclude FDR's first year.  If you factor that in, the return is -6.4%).  The impact of an election on various sectors is mixed.  In the year following an inauguration, technology, industrials and utilities have been the top performing sectors when a Democrat takes offices.  Staples, telecom and discretionary sectors are the winners under Republicans.

The report was very interesting and a smart move by Wei Chen, a local Merrill salesman.  It also serves as a great example of leveraging breaking news and events to offer thought leadership.  At Peppercom, we look to do this on behalf of our clients through the ACT Program (Available to Comment Today).  We monitor breaking news and look for opportunities to offer our clients for expert commentary or a contrarian point of view on a specific issue.  It's a very successful way to get clients in front of the right media and showcase their expertise.

Tuesday night Americans sent a loud message about the need for positive change.  Let's hope the Markets agree.