Aug 08

Nowadays, a Vote of Confidence is Akin to a Kiss of Death

If you believe what GM Director George M.C. Fisher says, Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner’s job is safe and secure. "We are absolutely convinced we have the right team under Rick Wagoner’s leadership to get us through these difficult times and on to a bright future," said Fisher. Uh, sure. Gm_jpeg_image

Fisher’s either blowing smoke or inhaling a special kind of smoke if he expects shareholders and GM watchers to believe that hyperbole. Wagoner and his team are responsible for GM’s dire straits. They totally blew the hybrid car opportunity (think: Toyota Prius), were slow as molasses in curtailing the outrageous costs of lifetime health benefits for employees and retirees and, most recently, were asleep at the wheel as fuel costs skyrocketed and the company kept pushing gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks. On top of everything else, GM’s stock has dropped from $40 per share in October to $10 today. Talk about reckless driving.

I wish I had a dollar for every time a board director, team president or general manager has expressed confidence in a failing executive or manager only to turn around and later fire the sad sack.

Like Willie Randolph was to the Mets, Rick Wagoner is a distraction to GM. He’s become a lightning rod for anger, frustration, ranting and raving. If the ailing auto company has any hopes of pulling out of its death spiral, it needs to be focused.

Fisher and his cohorts will wake up at some point and relieve Wagoner of his duties. And, Rick will drive into the sunset with hundreds of millions of dollars in a severance package and a smoldering wreck of a company disappearing in his rearview mirror.

Jul 22

Overcoming the “Not Invented Here” Idea

One of the biggest challenges facing public relations firms, advertising agencies and businesses in every sector is the "not invented here" syndrome. It works like this: new ideas are dismissed, put on the back burner or not properly funded because, well, they weren’t invented by the organization’s inner circle.

Detroit’s a great example of the not invented here syndrome. Top executives literally sat around for decades collecting paychecks, recycling old ideas and rejecting new ones because the Big Three had a proven formula. Well, the proven formula is a wreck and the Big Three are now eating the dust of foreign competitors.

John Kanzius is an out-of-the-box thinker. He also happens to be a retired radio and television executive who maybe, just maybe, has discovered the cure for cancer. Happily, Kanzius had the financial wherewithal to invest in his novel idea and happily, he found two major research centers, the University of Pittsburgh and M.D. Anderson, who were willing to risk taking Kanzius’s idea to the next level. The latter is critical. Kanzius’s idea never would have seen the light of day if the research organizations hadn’t been willing to embrace the new and unexpected.

The best organizations invite thinking from all employees, They also embrace outside thinking. We’ve purposely hired academics, journalists and designers precisely because they think differently than we do.

Ossified thinking kills businesses. Look at Smith-Corona. Or Pan Am. Those organizations who ignore the John Kanzius in their midst do so at their own peril.

Thanks to Deb Brown for the idea.

Jun 19

Think you’ve got image issues? Try selling Buicks

The New York Times has a brutally depressing story about a failing Buick dealership in Columbus, Ohio.Buick_2
The piece is a sad, yet compelling, read because it encapsulates
so much of the pain being felt by Americans everywhere.

Buick has been in trouble for years. It’s perceived as a tired brand for an older, dying audience demographic (indeed, Buick owners average 60 years of age). That said, it took the recent gas crisis to apply the coup de grace to many dealerships like Len Immke Buick. Why? Because Buick doesn’t make any small, energy efficient automobiles.

Instead, what remains of the Immke dealership tries to peddle three different types of large, gas-guzzling boats. In their halcyon days, Len Immke sold 200 cars a month. Today, they’re lucky to sell that many in a year. Some days, no one even enters the store. The sales team was downsized a few years ago, everyone took pay cuts and the salesmen now double as janitors after hours since they can’t afford to hire an outside service.

Buick is dead. The body may still be showing a pulse. But, it’s just a matter of time before the plug is pulled. And, when it is, Len Immke Buick and hundreds of similar dealerships will close. The ripple effect will heighten the pain that already exists in towns and cities like Columbus. And, what will the salesmen, many of whom are in their 40s and 50s do for employment and health care coverage?

When senior management fails at its mission, everyone loses. And, when a brand’s image and reputation are beyond repair, it’s time to euthanize the body. It’s just too bad the men who mismanaged Buick over the years aren’t held accountable for this debacle. As one of my bosses liked to say, “Someone should take a bullet.”

Mar 05

New print ad isn’t one of BMW’s finest hours

The hotshot German carmaker, BMW, is running a new print ad heralding its certified, pre-owned modelsBmw2_3
(read: used cars). The headline declares: ‘One of our finest hours, revisited.’

The copy’s obvious intent is to emphasize that a pre-owned BMW is still a great automobile, which it very well may be.

But, the copywriter clearly doesn’t have any sense of history. At the absolute height of the Battle of
Britain when Nazi bombs were raining down on London and elsewhere, Prime Minister Winston Churchill rallied his fellow Brits by proclaiming, “…if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour.””

Whether it’s ignorance or insensitivity, the BMW ad is an unnecessary image and reputation gaffe that should be rectified faster than a Nazi Panzer tank blitzkrieging its way through France in June of 1940.

Sadly, the ad copy is just another example of today’s generation having absolutely no sense of what went before.

Aug 09

A Bright Spot in an Otherwise Gloomy Day

Today’s blog is a guest post by Jackie Kolek

I had the displeasure of attempting to fly out from JFK to San Francisco during Wednesday’s nightmarishImage_809_2
thunderstorms.  The normal one-hour trip to the airport took over three hours. I missed my plane, fought unsuccessfully to get on another flight and was left stranded at the airport.  Through it all, my trusty car service driver, Chris, emerged as the hero of the day. 

Not only did Chris drive through torrential downpours, floods, accidents and floating man-hole covers to get me to the airport safely, he refused to leave me there until he knew flights were taking off.  Luckily, he had the good sense to give me his card with his cell number on it.  For when I could not get another flight out, I couldn’t even get through to the service dispatcher.  Chris had picked up another passenger, but tried to get through to the dispatcher for me and then called a friend who was also a driver to see if he could pick me up.  When that failed, Chris suggested to his current passenger that perhaps she wouldn’t mind if he swung by the airport to get me.  Remarkably, she was okay with it.

When I called the dispatcher back to make the reservation, I was told there would be an additional charge for requesting a specific driver.  To me, Chris was worth every penny and I’ll definitely ask for him next time I travel.  So, a major hats off to Computer Car’s Chris and his passenger Marilyn, who was an additional two hours late to work after sitting in airport traffic.  Who ever said New Yorkers are rude?

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.

Apr 05

Volvo’s shift away from safety is a dangerous image move

Ad Age reports (subscription required) that Swedish carmaker Volvo is in the final stages of selecting a new agency and a totally new corporate positioning.

After decades of owning the ‘safety’ moniker, Volvo executives believe it’s time to become hipper and trendier.

The new brand platform, says Volvo’s Tim Ellis, builds on safety but will appeal to the more emotional, right-side of a buyer’s brain. ‘Safety, on its own," says Ellis. "….is not enough.’

I disagree. I think Volvo is making a serious mistake. By expanding the brand description, Volvo will 223943 succeed only in confusing prospective customers while running the risk of potentially alienating its core constituency who buy the auto because it feels and rides like a Sherman tank. Further complicating Volvo’s goal is its relatively paltry budget vis-à-vis its global competitors.

I’m no car expert, but changing a brand’s core values and positioning makes sense only if the market isn’t responding or if the brand promise/positioning no longer rings true. Other car brands may be touting safety in their marketing programs, but that doesn’t change the way people feel about Volvos.

In my mind, Volvo will always be the car I want my kids driving. Unless, that is, they start trying to convince me that Volvos are sleeker and sexier than, say, a Ferrari or Maserati. If they do, I’ll accelerate past their dealer showrooms faster than you can say ‘zero to 60.’

Jan 29

I’d refer to them as ‘The Detroit Debacle

Putting the final nail in the collective image and reputation coffins of GM, Ford and Chrysler, industry trade icon Automotive News announced this week (subscription required) that it will no longer refer to the trio as "The Big Three."

Instead, because Toyota has passed by Ford as the number two global auto maker, and other international manufacturers are circling the three top U.S automakers like vultures, Automotive News will henceforth describe the Big Three as "The Detroit Three."

How sad. How the mighty have fallen. All the lay-offs and all the recalls and all the bad press can’t possibly hurt as much as this image demotion from the bible of the automotive media.

So, where do The Detroit Three go from here? From an image and reputation standpoint, the troika are decades away from recapturing their once lofty brand reps. That’s because Americans have given up on the erstwhile Big Three from a product quality standpoint. It will take years and years of outstanding cars before GM, Ford and Chrysler can ever hope to be once again seen as the pinnacle of automotive image and excellence. In fact, in my mind, they should be called "The Detroit Debacle." It’s a more fitting descriptor.

Dec 21

There ought to be a ‘lemon law’ for brands

Like a pop song that’s started to get a little stale or a previously undefeated college football team that’s just been upset, mighty Ford Motor Company is about to drop in the polls.

The polls in question are the lists of top global automakers. And, according to published reports,Hh9331   Ford is about to lose the coveted number 2 position to Toyota as soon as January. Amazingly, Ford’s held the ‘two spot’ since the 1920s. But poor quality, workmanship, design, strategy, and god knows what else, has forced Ford to move out of the fast lane and give way to mighty Toyota.

From an image and reputation standpoint, I see no light at the end of the tunnel. Ford is simply not seen as producing a quality product. Americans want value for their money, and no longer see Ford as a viable solution. And, the best advertising, digital, viral and PR campaigns in the world won’t help. Nor will price cutting or ’employee discounts’ for everyone.

Ford’s problems and current predicament took years, if not decades, to cause. And, it will take years, if not decades, to fix.

So, I’d like to suggest that some governing body somewhere enact a lemon law for brands. Just as the government has stepped in to protect unwary consumers from buying a lemon of a car, some marketing group should be created to advise poorly managed organizations like Ford that marketing isn’t a solution.

Ford’s paying a heavy price for having taken its collective eyes off the road. It’s a lemon of a brand that, like a poorly built car, needs to be fixed from the inside out.

And, no one should be surprised if Toyota sees GM in its rearview mirror in the future as well.

Thanks to Deb for this idea.