May 26

More leaders need to embrace mediocrity

mediocrityWhen I plied my trade for a now defunct agency known as Earle Palmer Brown in the early 1990s, I distinctly recall our CEO ending every staff meeting by extolling us to do better.  “After all,” she’d say, “I intend to run the very best integrated marketing firm in the city.” Because our billings had plummeted faster than an Iraqi defense since she assumed the firm’s reigns, those words rung hollow to say the least. And, sure enough, the agency imploded and is now a footnote on some long-forgotten list of moribund agencies.

The CEO of Brouillard Communications embraced a somewhat similar strategy when I served (suffered?) under his leadership during the years 1993 and ’94. At his staff meetings, he’d push back on concerned account managers reporting that clients simply refused to pay our bills since they were priced higher than a Tiffany lamp circa 1917. The CEO would grimace, sigh and respond, “Look, we produce the most sophisticated and most beautiful work in our industry. Clients will pay more for it if you just keep reminding them of that fact.” And, his CFO henchwoman would quickly chime in by adding, “Besides, everyone knows CCOs and CMOs all have an extra stash of cash tucked away in their desk drawers. Just tell them we need it for the next campaign.”

That agency sunk below the horizon in the early 21st century.

I reference these two examples of mismanaging expectations because current New York Mets Manager Terry Collins has been making ill-conceived comments as his team continues to immolate after a storybook start of 13-3.  First, On Sunday, after the Pittsburgh Pirates drubbed the Amazins’ by a score of 9-1 en route to sweeping a three-game set. And secondly, Collins was understandably upset with his ragtag squad, but chose ridiculous words to motivate them. He said, “(I said) knock it off. You’re big league players, you’re the best of the best. Let’s just go play like it.”

The New York Metropolitans are the best of the best? That’s like saying W. and Obama have been the best back-to-back presidents in U.S. history. Or that Ben Stiller movies are serious pieces of art. C’mon. Both suggestions strain credulity to the breaking point.

That’s why I always choose to manage expectations when I perform on a comedy stage. I begin my set by asking the audience if they enjoyed the previous performers’ acts. After they roar their approval, I say, “Well, get over it, because you’re about to witness a highly mediocre performance. In fact, my motto is “Expect less.” I find it works like a charm since, if I bomb, I’m delivering on my promise and, if miracle of miracles, I should be funny, I exceed expectations.

I’m not saying EPB or Brouillard would have survived with more realistic, transparent executives at the helm, but they might have. As for the Mets, they’re hopeless. And, it’s high time Collins (and leaders from all fields) do a better job of expectations.



May 21

Going your way (if your way is straight to hell)

New Jersey Transit is to public transportation as Bernie Madoff was to safe investing. Poisonous, rapacious and uncaring. And, that’s on a good day.

sink.You see, the powers that be have just made a few, new decisions that would be laugh out loud funny if they weren’t so sad. Check out this article.

Raising fares while cutting service AND rewarding bureaucratic, do nothing executives with pay raises at a time when the overall experience rivals that of United Airlines on a bad day should be made a capital offense.

Would that NJT officials could be thrown into adjoining cells with Madoff. After all, they’re ripping off just as many people as Bernie did in his heyday.

If they were incarcerated, I’d love to see NJTs bigwigs forced to use the same type of Third World restrooms as they feature on their trains. Now, that would be justice. It would also be the (fitting) way to go.

And a tip o’ RepMan’s fedora to Ken Jacobs for suggesting this post.

May 19

Don’t read this blog

Anyone who’s ever raised a child knows the power of reverse psychology.cartoon

If you want little Johnny to, say, eat something nutritious and he balks, smart parents will turn the proposition on its head. You’ll tell Johnny he’s 100 percent correct in turning up his nose at those hideous Brussel Sprouts. In fact, you tell him you agree those nasty veggies are a pox on mankind.

Then you move in for the kill. You ask Johnny why he’d want to eat Brussel Sprouts? All they’ll do is make him healthier, stronger and more likely to make the basketball team. And, sure as rain, just as you’re taking the offending meal away, Johnny grabs the plate and scarfs down the sprouts.

The same philosophy applied to Romeo and Juliet. Odds are good the star-crossed lovers wouldn’t have ended falling in love and up ending it all if their families hadn’t forbade them from seeing each other.

I mention reverse psychology because one of my favorite radio stations, is using reverse psychology in a spot recorded by Alec Baldwin. The commercial’s goal is to try and drum up money for QXR’s member-supported station. But, rather than rehash the same old advertising bromide, Baldwin does just the opposite in a brilliant and funny way.

Baldwin’s commercial broke through the clutter and got me thinking about gift-giving in a whole new way. So, why don’t more marketers try reverse psychology to sell their wares?

Here are a few half-baked suggestions:

– United Airlines: “Our in-flight experience is so good even Saudi princes beg us to let them sit in coach.”
– McDonald’s: “A waist is a terrible thing to waste.”
– Goldman Sachs: “Rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

How about you? Have you seen, read or heard examples of reverse psychology to sell something? If so, don’t send me the link. I’m not interested.

May 14

“Dead Boy” ad guy is DOA at Nationwide Insurance

It came as no surprise to this blogger that Nationwide CMO Matt Jauchius, who developed the now infamous “dead boy” TV spot that ran during the Super Bowl and outraged millions, has just left the big insurer to “pursue other interests.”

In case, you missed it, take a look:

As you’ll note, the rather lengthy commercial actually depicts a child being killed and cites Nationwide Insurance as the best guarantee to assure one’s family is protected for such an unexpected tragedy.

The tone, content and timing of the spot could not have been more ill-conceived. The Super Bowl is a national (if not international) day of parties, festivities and celebrations. And, as we know, many viewers actually look forward to watching the Super Bowl commercials rather than the game itself.

So, for Jauchius and Nationwide to interject a major downer in the middle of a party is the ultimate party-pooping ploy.

Responding to the avalanche of complaints in the immediate aftermath of the TV spot, Jauchius said the commercial was “…designed to raise awareness of preventable childhood deaths. We weren’t trying to sell insurance with this spot,” he said. “We were trying to save children’s lives.” To which I respond, balderdash.

Jauchius knew exactly what he was doing. He was using scare tactics to encourage a huge, captive audience to consider buying additional coverage from Nationwide to safeguard the economic impact of losing a child.

So, it comes as no surprise that Jauchius left Nationwide a week or so ago to “….pursue other interests.” That’s polite corporate speak for saying he was shown the door. It’s equally telling that the recently-departed CMO was not replaced by another executive with marketing credentials but, rather, by a Nationwide lifer named Terrance Williams. The latter’s experience includes regional leadership roles and positions in sales, claims, underwriting and operations. In other words, just about everything but marketing communications.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that, under Mr. Williams’ leadership, Nationwide will be doubly cautious and quite a bit more conservative in its future marketing endeavors. With the sacking of the dead boy guy, I’m guessing scare tactics will go the way of all flesh when it comes to upcoming Nationwide marketing endeavors.

May 12

Bill Simmons Speaks Up and Stands Out

Today’s guest RepMan is by Peppercommer Dmitriy Ioselevich.

keep-calm-and-speak-upBill Simmons and ESPN decided to part ways last Friday after nearly 15 years together. Typically, employee moves don’t generate this much news interest—The New York Times broke the story and #BillSimmons became the #1 trending topic in the country on Twitter.

But Bill Simmons is different, and that’s a good thing.

For an industry as saturated as sports journalism, Simmons has stood out amongst his peers for his willingness to always speak his mind, often to the detriment of his employer. Among some of his more outlandish actions:

  • In 2009, Simmons was suspended from using Twitter for two weeks because of tweets that were critical of a Boston sports radio station. He was again suspended from Twitter in 2013 for criticizing one of ESPN’s own shows.
  • In 2014, Simmons was suspended for three weeks for repeatedly calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a “liar” in response to his handling of the Ray Rice controversy.
  • In 2015, Simmons was a guest on former SportsCenter anchor Dan Patrick’s new radio show, even though ESPN employees were forbidden from appearing on the show. The next day, ESPN announced they would not be renewing Simmons’ contract.

To ESPN, Simmons is an outlaw with no respect for authority—in particular, the authority (read: money) of ESPN’s various partners and sponsors. To his fans, Simmons is just a diehard sports nerd stating his (admittedly biased) opinion. That’s why he’s been able to build a multimedia empire that now includes, the award-winning “30 for 30” documentary series, one of the most popular podcasts in the country and a prominent role covering the NBA on TV.

Once just a popular writer for ESPN’s defunct Page 2 site, Simmons is now everywhere! He’s built his own iconic brand with an army of loyal followers, most of whom will likely follow him to his next venture.

This should be any public figure’s dream, and a lesson for anyone working in communications. Although we would never recommend that our clients say or do anything that would get them fined or fired, we do counsel them to stand for something. The challenge, however, is how to stand out from all the noise.

That’s why it’s so important to consistently refine messaging to make sure a client’s viewpoint isn’t just emulating what others in the marketplace are already saying. And once a client stands for something, they should be consistent across all platforms in order to maximize engagement.

Simmons never really considered himself a sportswriter, but rather more of a self-proclaimed “Sports Czar”—a spokesperson for sports fans everywhere. Simmons’ mouth may very well have gotten him fired, but the brand he created is so strong that every pseudo news outlet in the country is now clamoring to hire him. Or he might build something from scratch and change the way we all consume sports.

Every individual has this same opportunity to speak up and stand out. It’s time more people did.

May 08

Telling it like it is

MaaarsJamDid you know that more and more start-ups are choosing company names that explain what product or service they provide? According to Adweek the trend is occurring because, in this information overloaded, 24×7 world in which we live, one does not want to force target audiences to research what your bizarrely named company does. In fact, that 10 extra seconds could quite possibly cost you a prospective client or investor.

The names of today’s start-ups are direct, and to the point:
– Rent the Runway
– Dropbox
– Viewlift

Compare those to a few of Adweek’s 10 dumbest start-up names ever, including:
– Fwix

Note that most, if not all, of these wacko names were created during the heyday of the dotcom.
And, speaking of wacko dotcom names, I have three of my own to tack on to Adweek’s list (Note: we represented all three):
– Edgix
– Hypernix
– Pretzel Logic

How about you? Any memorable dotcom names you’d like to add to the list? Or, how about current start-up names that really nail what the organization does? It might be fun and instructive to compare and contrast. Or not.

May 06

The damage can be far reaching

A recent survey of 50 journalists by the Public Relations Global Network revealed that members of the Fourth Estate are truly ticked off by business executives who demonstrate three specific traits:

– Arrogant behavior
– Failure to answer sensitive questions
– Attempt to control the content that appears in the article.

I’ve had many dealings with each type of executive, as well as a fourth: the executive who cancels an important interview at the last second.

A surprising number of business leaders are clueless about the role their deportment plays in the eventual outcome of an interview.

The arrogant one not only risks becoming the subject of an unflattering profile piece but, worse, could jeopardize any possibility of a long-term working relationship with the journalist.

The executive who pleads the Fifth Amendment when asked sensitive questions will also end up frustrating a reporter. My all-time favorite example of an evasive, obfuscating executive is the guy in this CNBC clip from a few years back (Cadbury-Schweppes). Note how the executive refuses to answer any questions whatsoever about his company, his industry or his competitors. Note also how frustrated the journalists become at his evasiveness. I guarantee he was never invited back.

And then there’s the executive who confuses media relations with advertising. At the end of an interview, she’ll demand to see the reporter’s copy before it appears in print. While some reporters will agree to fact check a quote, the best will most certainly not share their copy in advance.

What these business executives don’t know about their boorish behavior is the direct impact it has on:

– Their professional image
– Their organization’s image
– Their PR firm’s reputation

Agency representatives work long and hard to nurture key relationships with the most important editors, reporters, bloggers and influencers. When a business executive blows off an interview at the last second, refuses to answer legitimate questions or comes across as Roger Mayweather, Jr., it’s the PR professionals who bear the brunt of the reporters’ ire. And, it only takes two or three such incidents to completely undermine a solid relationship.

The time to vet a potentially explosive or uncooperative business executive is not when a live interview is underway but, rather, during pre-scheduled media training. That’s when you can determine if the executive is too tightly wound, unwilling to share key information or thinks he walks on water.

It’s too bad such executives don’t realize the extent of the damage they cause.