Dec 10

I’m Hardly a Latter-Day Steinbeck or Kerouac, but Still…

I'm struck by the starkness of the post-market crash/credit crunch world in which we live. I've posted blogs about deserted train stations, empty train cars and the rise of a new, if fictitious, 24×7 all doom-and-gloom cable news network that gleefully reported on all the negativity.

Today's trip to Newark Airport served as yet another case in point. There were five people in front of me on the security line and only one security checkpoint open. Passengers and TSA agents alike seemed like survivors of an apocalypse, going through the motions like automatons. Later, in the Continental lounge, I shared what is probably a 30,000-square foot reception lounge with perhaps 10 other travelers.
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But, the most chilling of all the sensory experiences is the almost eerie quiet. The
silence at times is deafening. Don't get me wrong. I'm the first one to complain about screaming kids, pushy grandparents and boorish gate agents. But, Newark's Terminal C reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode. Unlike Rod Serling's Zone, though, this is all too real.

I would think it was these types of sensory experiences that inspired John Steinbeck to write The Grapes of Wrath and Jack Kerouac to pen On the Road. Whatever their motivations, I'm sure latter-day authors and poets will weigh in with their takes on our modern wasteland. It's hard to believe so much has changed so dramatically in just 90 short days.

Dec 09

What’s Become of the F Word?

I don't see it, hear it or read it anymore. In fact, the F word has literally disappeared overnight from the American vocabulary. Oh sure, some irate Manhattan cab driver will still employ it. A PR executive who's just been told his agency's 2009 budget has been yanked is likely to let loose. And, we Jets fans certainly call upon it on most Sundays.

But, that's not the F word to which I'm referring. You see, I'm speaking of an F word that's barely registering a pulse these days: "Fun."

Fun is gone. It's vanished, and it's bordering on becoming extinct. In its place, we've seen the sudden emergence of fun's evil twin: "Fear."

Kathryn Williams, the "W" in KRW, a top leadership/coaching firm who participated in our webinar last week, stressed the urgency of fun. She said the best leaders, the ones who will become heroes in this current economic cataclysm, are the ones who will take care of themselves first and then "administer aid" to their employees. She likened it to the airplane instructions in which adults are advised to don their own oxygen masks before applying their children's.

That makes perfect sense. I see too many executives walking around with a hangdog look on their face. Their expressions and non-verbals say it all. They're scared. They're paralyzed. They've never seen anything like the current economic climate. Well, guess what? They unknowingly project those feelings to those around them and, soon, very soon, an entire organization becomes paralyzed.
And, paralysis is a one-way ticket to business oblivion.

Heroes find a way to rise above the fray. They take time to laugh in the face of fear. They bring the other F word back to its rightful place.

So, cut your costs. Find your new revenue streams. But, don't forget about having fun, too. Williams suggests leaders find the time for neck and back massages, meditation or other forms of relaxation. Personally, I opt for a mix of stand-up comedy, long-distance running and any sort of historical/biographical/comedic reading material.  

I also go out of my way to inject humor in the workplace, whether it's through hallway banter or an e-mail comment purposely designed to elicit a chuckle. I told one of our senior directors that I see myself in the Bob Hope role at Peppercom, responsible for raising troop morale.

You can do it, too. And you should. So, check the doom-and-gloom at the reception desk when you arrive each morning. We'll get through this. And people will remember whether you led the way with cheery optimism or buried yourself in your office with a bunker-like mentality.

Dec 08

Deathknell Productions Launches The Doom Network, Promising “All Doom, All The Time”

New York, December 8, 2008 — Deathknell Productions today announced the launch of a new cable channel , called The Doom Network (TDN). According to Peter Pessimist, president and CEO of Deathknell, TDN will "…go the final mile to give viewers what they really want: wall-to-wall, 24×7, doom-and-gloom."

Pessimist explained, "Look, the four major networks and our leading cable competitors have done an excellent job of inciting fear, anxiety and hopelessness. But, hey, those three words are ingrained in our corporate mission statement. In fact, our slogan really says it all: 'A world of hurt.'"Mushroomcloud

TDN will be staffed by top professionals from the past and present, all of whom share one common trait: they're synonymous with negative news.

"Jeff Skilling has agreed to be our on-air anchor and will provide live remotes from his prison cell," explained Pessimist. "He'll be joined by field correspondents ranging from Charles Manson and Dennis Kozlowski to the AIG event planners and Rick Waggoner of GM." Board members include Judas Iscariot, Pol Pot and the Anti-Christ.

Industry analysts are skeptical of the fledgling cable network's chances for success and question the wisdom of launching TDN in such uncertain times. Pessimist scoffed at such reports and exclaimed, "Are you kidding? For us, these are the good old days!"

The Doom Network will focus on death, destruction, personal bankruptcies, murder/suicides, morbid obesity, sudden infant death syndrome and terrorism. "We're also hoping to have some of the Somali pirates provide regular commentary,"
beamed Pessimist.

The Doom Network is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Deathknell Productions, a worldwide leader in sleazy financing, black market arms shipments and moral decay.

Dec 04

Employees Aren’t a Key Constituent Audience

I've always believed employees were a key constituent audience, especially in times of crisis. As a matter of fact, I've counseled countless clients to consider employees their most important audience since they are any organization's first line of defense. But, I was wrong. Employees aren't a key constituent audience. In fact, they shouldn't even be labeled as such.

Anthony Johndrow of The Reputation Institute hit the nail on the head in our webinar yesterday when he said employees should be treated as partners and colleagues, not as an "audience." He is so right.

Traditional, top down communications has been totally disintermediated by the blogosphere and word-of-mouth. Honest, transparent and frank discussions with employees on a peer-to-peer level are the only way to go in the current economic crisis, said Kathryn Williams of KRW, a leadership/executive coaching firm and another webinar panelist.

Johndrow concurred and said specificity is the key to lessening employee angst and fear of job loss. "The more they know exactly what's expected of them and how they can contribute to the bottom-line, the more likely they are to stay focused on the task at hand and not get caught up in the rumor mill," he said. 

The webinar was a fascinating exercise that focused on how each and every one of us can become "heroes" within our organization. Panelists agreed heroes need to be honest, transparent, open to taking risks and, above all, a calm, steadying influence. Those are tall orders in the 24×7 all doom, all-the-time world in which we all live.

But, as was the case in past crises, the cream will rise to the top and new heroes will be anointed. And, each one will instinctively "get" that every employee within their organization is a colleague with whom to collaborate and not a constituent audience member to be talked at.

Dec 02

The Heroes and Villains of 2009

Just about every crisis in history has produced heroes and villains. There were FDR and Hoover, Churchill and Hitler and Kennedy and Khrushchev to name just a few.

The same holds true for recent business crises. For every Jobs, Buffet and Gates, there seemed to be an evil doppelganger such as Lay, Skilling and Kozlowski.

So, the question arises: who will be the heroes and villains of today's seismic crisis? Who will rise to the occasion, demonstrate nerves of steel, rally the troops and stay the course? And, conversely, who will look for the quick buck, the easy way out, the coward's course?

My firm will join two others for a webinar on Wednesday, December 3rd, to discuss who the heroes of today's economic crisis might be and what qualities they'll need to succeed. And, unlike most off-the-shelf PR/crisis communications webinars, this one will be truly broad in scope.

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Webinar panelists will include executives from KRW International, a leadership consulting firm that does two things very well: helping a client motivate the survivors of a downturn while nurturing next generation superstars, a tall order in these days of doom and gloom. We'll also have a leader from the Reputation Institute and one of their clients, a small pharmaceutical company called Johnson & Johnson. They'll discuss best practices for maintaining and even growing an organization's reputation in times of crises. Mix in Peppercom's battle-tested acumen in digital crisis communications and one has a very, very different strategic discussion.

I hope you'll join the dialogue. It's definitely not your grandfather's crisis communications 101 webinar. And, it promises to describe, if not identify by name, who will likely become the heroes and villains of 2009.

Dec 01

Grim and Grimmer

I hate to say it, but this looks to be the mother of all bad job markets. The horrific economic downturn has had two immediate effects on job seekers: first, there are fewer jobs (duh). Second, and perhaps, less obviously, Baby Boomers, who have seen their retirement savings marginalized, are sticking around much longer than anticipated. The end result? A veritable gridlock for the few available job openings.

That's a lethal combination for college seniors. Factor in the findings of a 2006 research report, and one has all the ingredients for a perfect storm.

So, what's a poor college senior to do? There's only one obvious answer: out-think the competition for the few jobs that are available. Shutterstock_9779503

Employers have the luxury of hiring only the best and brightest. So, that means they'll want someone who can convince them they'll be able to hit the ground running and make a positive, short-term impact.

How does one convince an employer that she or he is indeed "The One?"

Start by creating your own brand. Develop a point-of-view about the organizations you're targeting. Post comments on relevant blogs. Learn the business of the prospective employer's business. Familiarize yourself with its stock price and recent history. Research the biographies of senior management. If it's a publicly-traded company, memorize the names of the board of directors. And, strange as it seems, be prepared to discuss possible merger or acquisition partners that might make sense for the employer.

Last, and definitely not least, come prepared with a list of questions for the interviewer. Begin by asking what business issues are keeping him or her up at night. Ask how he or she attained their current position. Ask for a description of the type of person who succeeds in the organization and be prepared to compare some of your personal strengths with those prized by the organization.

It won't be easy. And, as the research shows, luck will factor into the equation, salaries will be lower and advancement in the ranks slowed by the recession. But, cream always rises to the top. And, if you're willing to go the extra mile, no amount of doom or gloom will keep you from reaching the pinnacle.

Let me know how you fare. And, please add to my list of suggestions. This blogger would like to help.

Thanks to Brian McGee, professor at the College of Charleston, for the idea.