Mar 17

The lost generation

A recent PRWeek editorial posited the view that industry leaders have done a poor job of Capt.7a23ccc1c683d417205acba34c397564
explaining why the AIG's and Citigroup's of the world are entitled to spend their bailout money to hire PR firms. Where, the publication asked, are our leaders?

I would ask the very same question. But I would apply it to 'helping the next generation of PR pros.' Where are our leaders? Where are PR Week (as well as every other trade publication and industry association)?

I may have missed it, but I haven't seen, read or heard a single word aimed at assisting PR/communications majors who are about to graduate from college.

Where are the 'how to' columns? Where are the guest by-liners? Where are the podcasts and blogs containing useful tips for the next generation?

Industry trade pubs and associations are quick to publish articles about cost-cutting best practices and ways in which agencies can provide more value for lower fees. And, I wish I had a dollar for every opinion piece about measurement and 'what's next' in social media. But, where's the long-term thinking? Where's the investment in our industry's future?  Where is the practical knowledge our college kids need before they enter what may very well be the worst job market in 70 years?

To be sure, there are some individual leaders who are helping the college seniors: Tom Martin and Brian McGee at the College of Charleston come to mind. So do Larry Parnell at George Washington University and Maria Russell at Syracuse. But, where are the editors, reporters, association presidents and agency leaders?

We're only one midsized firm, but we're doing our best to try and help. For example:

– We're hosting a podcast next week that will be composed exclusively of college seniors majoring in PR. We're going to ask them what they're doing to prepare for graduation, how they are differentiating themselves and ask them to share best practices.

– We’ve posted a podcast on our website created by our interns. It's an amazing 'how to' in terms of succeeding at one's first job. It also lists things the interns know now that they wish they knew then. And, it includes tips for winning a job interview.

– We're also actively lecturing at colleges such as NYU, Northeastern, Monmouth University, the University of Vermont, Baruch, the College of Charleston, and others.

The average college senior has about six weeks until graduation. Many, though, are like deer caught in the headlights. They often use words like 'terrified,' when I ask them how they're feeling about the future. They have no job prospects, are saddled with significant student loans to pay and, worst of all, have no industry media or associations providing mentorship or advice.

So, here's a quick note to PRWeek, et al: hold off on the navel gazing for at least one week and devote some ink and advice to the next generation. It's later than we think.

Mar 16

I Wish I Had Done a Better Job

Today Deb Brown, Partner and Managing Director Strategic Development, has written the following special guest post.

That’s one of the now infamous sound bites from CNBC’s “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer as 928_Medium
Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” hammered him Thursday night. This show created a lot of buzz, which I’m sure has been a home-run for “The Daily Show’s” ratings, and many reporters called Stewart the clear “winner.” However, there’s one topic that I haven’t seen covered in the articles I’ve come across (although, admittedly, so much has been written on the topic that I might have missed it).

The topic I find the most interesting is how a show that’s on a comedy channel turned one of the supposedly most respected financial news networks in the country upside down. Now, I happen to be a fan of Jon Stewart’s and I think he’s very smart, but what does this say about CNBC and the experts we allegedly trust?

We know when we’re watching Jon Stewart that he is what he is– a comedian. And, to make sure we know, he’s on Comedy Central. But, how are viewers supposed to feel and act when Cramer is basically apologizing for CNBC’s mistakes (and there seemed to be quite a few mentioned Thursday night) while Stewart underscores “the gap between what CNBC advertises itself as and what it is.” 

What does this say about not only Cramer’s reputation, but CNBC’s reputation as a whole?  What does this say about journalism when Cramer hides behind the fact that he didn’t know someone was lying because he was a CEO or he was Cramer’s friend? The showdown may have ended at 11:30pm last Thursday night, but can it take Cramer’s show down with it?  Or the cable network?  It will be interesting to see if this just completely blows over or if this is the start of a serious reputation issue for CNBC.  At last count, more than a thousand articles, blogs or TV segments wrote or aired segments about Cramer cowering under Stewart’s passionate attacks that “it’s not a (bleeping) game.”

But, come on… Stewart is a comedian.  What kind of lasting damage could he possibly do? 

Crossfire, anyone?

Mar 13

Why Should I Care?

I recently lectured to a George Washington University PR/communications class alongside a top newspaper editor. He was there to provide feedback on "pitch letters" that the students had sent him.

In explaining why some hit the mark while others didn't, he shared an anecdote. Before entering his managing editor's office to pitch his story ideas, he always made sure he had an answer to one fundamental question, "Why should I care?"

The journalist told the students they should always keep that question in mind before pitching him or any other journalist. I agree. Too many marketing types get distracted by the creativity of a story angle rather than thinking through why a media outlet's readers, viewers or listeners should care.

Advertising agencies are notorious for creating campaigns that win awards, but don't move the sales needle. Many PR pros are the same. I can't tell you how many press releases, bylined articles and case studies I've judged in various awards' competitions that, while creative, fail to explain to me why the customer or prospect would care.

I think the "care" question works equally well for business in general. Far too many organizations drink their own Kool-Aid, speak their own language and launch their own inside-out campaigns without asking the question, "Why should my customers care?"

Organizations exist to serve customer needs and wants. Not to win awards. This may seem obvious. But, too many of us are far too caught up in "owning an idea" or being "creative for the sake of creativity."

The organizations who will survive, if not thrive, in this downturn will be those who answer the "Why should I care" question.

Mar 12

Opening Day at Stimulus Package Field

(Public Address Announcer): "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to opening day at Stimulus Package Field.

CitiGroup, as well as the New York Mets management and players, would like to thank you for helping to bail out the hapless, reckless corporation and make today's game possible.

We'd also like to thank you for paying the ticket price to enter the gates today. In doing so, you've actually bailed out Citigroup and the New York Mets management and players a second time. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts (and wallets).

We'd now like to direct your attention to the Ben Bernanke Bullpen area where a U.S. Marine Corps Band will shortly lead us in the singing of our National Anthem.

But first, these notes of special interest:

– Those of you seated in the Timothy Geithner luxury boxes will be able to follow today's stock market dips on your personalized Bloomberg terminals. Please note: Citigroup shares are off by 40 percent since the opening bell.

– Those of you seated in the Bernie Madoff loge reserved section must vacate your seats now. It turns out your tickets are worthless. We do apologize, but it's your own fault.

– Those of you seated in the Alan Greenspan grandstand will, unfortunately, not be able to see anything at all. Mr. Greenspan thought "sightless seats" were especially appropriate since he himself never saw the recession coming. We suggest tuning into the game on WFAN Radio to follow the play-by-play.

Now, please stand and place your hand over your hearts (assuming they're still beating). We also request that those of you who still have the money to own a hat, remove it now and join us in the singing of our National Anthem……."

"Oh say, can you see where's our economy's gone?……."

Mar 11

PR Pros Deserve an “F” in “F-to-F”

I'm composing this blog en route to Washington, DC and a PR News speaking gig. My subject, like most of those on Tuesday's docket, concerns social media.

But I, unlike my fellow presenters, plan on saying something quite different. Rather than droning on about the latest new bell or whistle, or extolling Web 2.0's many virtues, I'll instead be warning about the threats inherent in social media. And, the threats I'll be discussing have nothing to do with crisis communications.

Social media is rapidly becoming a crutch for agency and client executives alike. We recently queried 12 top chief marketing officers and heads of corporate communications to ask two questions: a) how were they demonstrating leadership within the organization? and b) how were they helping to uncover new markets and revenue streams? Eleven out of 12 highlighted social media as the answer to both questions.

Internally, intranets and group e-mails are being used to keep employees informed and aware. Externally, PR pros are engaging in dialogue with all sorts of target groups on Facebook, blogs, etc.

But, only one executive indicated that he took the time for face-to-face meetings (or, F-to-F, as erstwhile Ketchum Chairman Dave Drobis calls it) with employees, customers and prospects.

By meeting face-to-face with employees, this respondent says he was able to connect the dots between what senior management was doing externally (launching new products, etc.) and what they were saying and doing internally (across-the-board freeze on wage and salary increases).

By meeting face-to-face with customers and prospects, this enlightened corporate executive could personally research "the new normal" and update his organization's sales and marketing strategies accordingly.

PR pros are flunking F-to-F communications because we've become over dependent on social media. It's a big, big problem that simply isn't being discussed. And, I guarantee 99 percent of the PR News audience won't do one thing differently after they listen to my remarks. Why? Because F-to-F is a whole lot harder than banging away on a keypad and hitting the send button.

Mar 10

Thanks for Choosing Comcast. An Additional $4.95 Will Be Automatically Charged to Your Account for Speaking to a Live Customer Service Representative

Comcast customer service is an oxymoron. The monopolistic cable giant is one of, if not, the worst examples of poor customer service. In fact, I'd put Comcast right at the top of my all-time "rude, indifferent and boorish behavior" rankings alongside TSA agents, NJ Transit conductors and my St. Francis Grammar School nuns.

Every few months or so, Comcast arbitrarily yanks my basic and pay-per-view service. And every time it happens, we call to complain. And, every time it Comcast
happens, we're greeted by a voice mail explaining that our payment is "overdue." We then punch another button, enter our check number and are told checks typically take 72 hours to clear. Growing increasingly frustrated by the automated ineptness and our knowledge that the payment was mailed weeks earlier, we keep punching various options.

Finally, after being told we should punch "2" for Spanish and "8" for "Urdu," we're told we can speak to a "live customer service representative," but an additional $4.95 will be automatically billed to our account. Say what! You've screwed up for the umpteenth time and you have the unmitigated gall to bill me to speak to a live person to fix it? What's wrong with this equation? That would be like an innkeeper charging extra to rid my sleeping quarters of bed bugs.

But, since Comcast (like a certain law firm that shall remain nameless) is a total monopoly, what's a poor cable viewer to do? So, we punched the live person button, spoke to a nice, but ineffectual, CSR who first told us our account was overdue, then verified they'd received our check and finally confirmed that, sadly, checks took 72 hours to clear. We told this live, if somewhat dim, person that the check had been sent weeks ago. The light bulb finally went on and he promised he'd "re-boot" our system ASAP and service would be returned right away.

That was Thursday night. By Monday morning, there was still no Comcast service.

Comcast's horrific business practices are just one of one zillion reasons why America finds itself in the fix it's in. We vent and we blog, but in the end, we keep paying for what amounts to criminal performance.

Mar 09

Brake for Moose

The rest of the sign read: "It may save a life. Hundreds of accidents." As I spied this and similar signs dotting the northern New Hampshire roadway, I started wondering: what was the author's intent? Brake-for-moose

Did he/she think a motorist would speed up and purposely try to smash into a 1000-pound moose? When he mentioned lifesaving, was he referring to humans, moose or both?

And, was the "hundreds of accidents" a lament, a boast or an exhortation? Was he/she disappointed there weren't more? Are Maine and Vermont motorists speeding ahead in the Moose-maiming sweepstakes? Was the road sign the writer's desperate attempt to inspire "Live free or die" drivers to step on the gas?

And, what sort of signs do moose create for their ilk? "Halt for motorists. Do you really need to cross that highway? Do humans suck, or what?"

I can't speak for other motorists (and certainly not for the average moose), but this blogger will most certainly hit the brakes pronto if, and when, he sees antlers up ahead. I don't want to be the one to put the N.H. State total over the millenial mark.

Mar 06

“The Wrestler” Runs Rings Around “The Reader”

I've only seen two of this year's Academy Award-winning films, but thought one far surpassed the other in every conceivable way.

The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, held me in a Full Nelson grip throughout. The story of a down-and-out wrestler and his stripper girlfriend was, in a word, riveting. The settings, photography, dialogue and pacing beautifully captured the quiet air of desperation faced by the lead characters. And, Rourke literally became his character: Randy the Ram, a washed up pro wrestling superstar beset by drug addiction, nagging pain and an ailing heart. Tomei is also brilliant in her role as the whore with a heart of gold. The_wrestler_mickey_rourke

I've never liked wrestling and wouldn't waste my time watching one of their bogus matches on TV, but I can't say enough about this flick. It reinforced my belief that moviemakers really can create magic. And, Rourke was robbed. He deserved the Oscar. The judges deserve to be slammed by a collective Ram Jam.

Now, The Reader. I found this flick to be a pale imitation to The Wrestler. The plot was ponderous, plodding and predictable. And I, for one, have seen a lifetime's worth of Holocaust-themed movies and don't need yet another one. Ms. Winslet's accolades also surprised me. I didn't find her acting or her character particularly compelling or engrossing. If anything, Ralph Fiennes ran rings around Ms. Winslet from a performance standpoint.

I'm fascinated by Hollywood image and reputation discussions. The Reader was heralded as a strong best picture candidate and Ms. Winslet trotted out as a sure thing for best actress. Rourke's performance was also ballyhooed, but positioned as a "comeback" effort (as if that should handicap it in some way). And, The Wrestler wasn't considered to be on the same plane as Slumdog, The Reader and others.

As we know, beauty is most assuredly in the eye of the beholder. But, Mickey Rourke's battered, bloodied and beaten down wrestler got to me. I thought it was one of the most intense screen performances I've seen in a long, long time.

Mar 04

Marge, I Hate to Say This, But It’s Probably Best if We Hold Off on that New Lamborghini

You know the times are tough when even Lamborghini is reporting a dip in sales. Yes, the uber rich are holding off on purchasing the latest and most ostentatious models of the uber sleek, uber pricey automobile.

I wonder if the remaining rich are doing so because they're suffering from a post-Madoff, morning-after malaise or they simply see it as being smarter (and safer) to be more politically correct in their purchases.Lamborghini-concept-s

Either way, what should Lamborghini do from an image and reputation standpoint? Hold fast with their breathtakingly high sticker prices or, a la Mercedes, begin bastardizing their brand with lower end, low cost models?

I'd advise them to remain in neutral. I think Mercedes and Starbucks made the wrong choices in their down-market moves. There may be more potential buyers, but what becomes of the brand's image and reputation? There was once a certain panache that went along with driving a Mercedes or sipping a Cafe Latte and listening to Coltrane at a Starbucks. But, the Mercedes 190 looks and rides like something straight outta Motown and Starbucks instant coffee projects an air of desperation to me.

So, here's hoping those high-flying folks at Lamborghini strap themselves into the proverbial cockpit and ride out the downturn. If they do keep the pricing pedal to the metal, I, for one, will be clapping and shouting, "Bravissima!"

It's high time that one brave, iconoclastic, if ill-advised, manufacturing company turned a blind eye to the economic cataclysm and held fast to its exorbitant pricing. 

I may not be buying. But I will be clapping.

Mar 03

I’d Charge on a Per Flush Basis

It came as no surprise to learn that Irish airline Ryanair is considering charging passengers £1 to use the in-flight lavatory. We've seen airlines use a la carte pricing for everything from extra baggage to pillows and blankets, so why not the loo as well?

I'm all for a la carte pricing. It helps our beleaguered airlines stay in the air (Ryanair, for example, will realize an additional £650mm this year alone from baggage charges). But, I don't think a one-size-fits-all loo fee makes sense.

I'd opt for a per flush pricing system. I'd also tack on a "time-spent-in-the-loo" surcharge. Stay inside the little bathroom more than two minutes and you'll be hit with an extra pound per minute. That'll light a fire under some lethargic bottoms. I also think there should be an 'odor eater' fee. If a passenger befouls the in-flight loo so badly that others are reluctant to use it, the airline should nail the offender with a smell violation. Judging by the fifth floor men's room at Peppercom, airlines could realize a serious windfall with an odor penalty.

Toilet tissue should also cost us money. Why should the airlines give away valuable one-ply, sandpaper-like tissue? I'd charge on a per foot usage. That'll inhibit those of us who use too much.Airlines2_080603_mn

Airlines have really just started scratching the surface with a la carte pricing. Why not charge passengers for using the overhead air vents? Charge passengers £1 to turn them on and an additional pound per minute. Do passengers think recirculated air is free? Geez, Louise.

The sky's the limit when it comes to airline pricing, so let's get creative people. Oh, and by the way, if it works for the airlines, shouldn't our beleaguered corporations follow suit? I'd like to see the A.I.Gs and GMs of the world start charging employees for their chairs, desks, computers, etc. How about a $15 cover charge for each employee each and every day? The receptionists could collect it.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I like a la carte pricing, but I'd like to see a whole lot more creativity in the process.

Thanks to C.P.O Jeff Kasko for the idea.