Sep 29

How NOT to secure a summer internship

Stupid_meter There are many smart and strategic ways to stand out from the competition, demonstrate knowledge of a prospective employer's business, impress the reader with one's command of the English language and secure a summer internship.

And, then there is this steaming pile that found its way to my in-box on Wednesday:

“Hey my name is Clueless McWhocares and I am from Long Island, NY. I'm going to be a senior at Pineapple State University in Pineapple Kansas where I also play football and major In Political Science and minor in communications. I'm desperately trying to get a jump on other students who are attempting to get internships for the summer, So that is why I am contacting you guys now. I am really interested in Public Relations and would like to know if you have any internships for the summer of 2012? “

College and university students as well as recent grads should study this e-mail as a worst case example.

Let me share with you just a few of its fundamental flaws:

– It begins with “Hey”. As my mom loved to say, “Hay is for horses”. If I don't know you and you're connecting with me for the first time, try a salutation along the lines of Dear Steve or Dear Mr. Cody.

– I counted at least four grammatical mistakes in the first two sentences. That's akin to a death sentence for any job seeker. Show me you don't care enough to check the spelling, punctuation and grammar in a cover note to me and I guarantee I won't let you within a football field's length of my clients.

– “That's why I'm contacting you guys now.” You guys? You guys may work in the huddle of this guy's college football team, but it's a critical fumble in a cover note. Again, lose the tone of familiarity and text abbreviations you use with your buds. I don't think our contacts at Fortune 500 corporations would appreciate their Peppercom account manager addressing them as “you guys” in monthly reports that they, in turn, forward to senior management.

– “That's why I'm interested in Public Relations.” What's why you're interested in public relations? The student hasn't told me anything about his experience, relevant internships or why he's gravitating towards public relations as opposed to, say, bricklaying.

– Last, but not least, there's no closing to the letter. No yours sincerely, Best wishes or even Regards. Nada. Just white space. That makes me feel special. Very special indeed. 

The final nail in this student's coffin is the impression that his note was one of hundreds blasted to PR firms across the country. I don't like spam from vendors, stockbrokers or measurement firms. And, I really don't like them from students.

So, study this missive from hell and learn from it. Tailor your cover notes, use formal business language that is grammatically correct and last, but not least, show me you've taken the time to study my organization. Otherwise, you WILL end up as a bricklayer, Wal-Mart greeter, McDonald's burger flipper or some other dead-end job. One thing you will NOT get is a summer internship at a top PR firm or corporation.

Aug 29

A fuzzy future at 40

Xlarge_2010-11-17_145448Ken Makovsky's superb 'If you've never failed, you've never lived' blog made me think of my own  fear of failure and the fear of failure I see in far too many Millennials today.

First, me. Back in 1995, after 15 months of pure hell serving as president of Brouillard Communications, a division of JWT that, mercifully, no longer exists, I was asked to leave. I was devastated. I had just turned 40, was married with two kids, carried two mortgages, leased two cars and provided for two dogs (one of whom happened to be named Pepper).

Despite my previous successes, I was lost at sea as to my next move. I couldn't contemplate another holding company experience and I feared going it alone. Enter Edward Aloysisus Moed from stage left. Equally disgusted by the politics, bureaucracy and parochial culture of the large agency world, Ed had left Brouillard a few weeks before me. He suggested we give it a go on our own. We did. And, I've never looked back.

But, I wouldn't be a success today if I hadn't failed so badly in the past.

Which is why Ken's blog is a MUST READ for those Millennials who have been raised to believe they'll always win. (Note: if you have a chance, also read Ron Alsop's most excellent book, “The Trophy Kids Grow Up”. It nails the sense of entitlement and fear of failure endemic in most Millennials).

I see the fear of failure in my own kids. They're both doing extraordinarily well, but they struggle with adversity. That's because, like most other Boomer parents, we coddled them and, as Alsop's book title suggests, gave them trophies even when they finished dead last.

Failure is important. It paves the way for success, especially for those who are resilient and have the wherewithal to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and say, “OK. I just failed. What did I learn to ensure that I won't fail again?”

Oh, and if you have a chance, doubleclick on the video embedded in Makovsky's blog. I think you'll be surprised to see how many famous people were complete failures before they finally figured out that failure was a pathway to success.

Aug 02

Peace in our time

BratI'm glad to see more marketers responding to the righteous indignation of folks like me who  despise the offspring of others for ruining an otherwise great meal, trip or experience.

I speak, of course, of brash, bratty and ill-mannered kids; the kind who will race up and down a restaurant or airplane; the kind who will scream and cry at the top of their lungs because daddy refuses to take them out of their high chairs; the kind who throw their stuffed animals at each other and repeatedly pummel the back of your plane seat for, say, three hours in a row.

Recognizing that repeat customers such as I are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, Ryanair has launched child-free flights. Malaysia Air announced it would institute a baby ban in first class (Sigh. It makes me want to book a flight to Kuala Lumpur just to enjoy the solitude). And, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are also reportedly considering no kids policies.

And, it's not just airlines that dislike other people's kids as much as I. The Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City has been kid free since '03. And, Celebrity Cruises has declared sections of their cities on the sea strictly off-limits to anyone under 16. As Larry David would say, "It's a good thing! It's a good thing!"

There's a reason marketers are finally waking up to the havoc caused by poor parenting and their run-away freight train-like offspring. There are more and more empty nesters every day. What's more, 20 percent of American women NEVER bear children (that's a 50 percent increase since 1970). And, the cost of raising a kid now averages $230k. That's simply too much for many cash-strapped couples in this never-ending recession of ours.

There's even a website solely devoted to helping people like me find kid-free destinations. It's called I love it! Another site called NoChildrenByChoice says more and more brands are getting past their fear of alienating America's long-standing love affair with baseball, apple pie and kids and, instead, promoting child-free vacations.

No matter what your fear or phobia, it helps to know you're not alone. And, baby (pun intended), I'm not alone by a long shot when it comes to disliking someone else's snot-nosed child ruining my experience.

I may even reconsider my future retirement plans (which had called for hanging onto my New Jersey home for weekends and buying a pied-a-terre in the Apple). It turns out there's a city in Scotland that has a village rule preventing households from having even one child! Dogs, however, are welcomed. It's called Firhall. I'd call it Nirvana.

Apr 11

“Let’s see, 11 fatalities should add up to, yup, a bonus of just about $180k for each of us.”

Blood-MoneTo paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, “CEO's aren't like you and me.” How else to explain the  decision by Transocean CEO Steven Newman to split a year-end bonus pool of $898,282 with four other C-suite executives?

If the name Transocean sounds vaguely familiar, that's because they're the engineering geniuses who built the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in 2010, killed 11 people and caused the worst environmental crisis in history (think: BP oil spill).

Newman & Co. split the loot after proclaiming 2010 to “be the best year in safety performance in our company's history.” Can you imagine what the worst year must have been like?

After the bonuses were announced and an incredulous public recoiled in disgust, Newman swiftly backpedaled and cut the bonus pool to a mere $650,000. Now, that's more like it. This way, the five fat cats only pocket a little under $130k per cadaver.

As might be expected, the chief executive officer appeared suitably humbled by his heartless heavy-handedness and issued a statement (probably after being prompted to do so by his chief communications officer). He said: “The executive team made this decision (to take fewer dollars) because we believe it is the right thing to do. ”Huh? The right thing to do? How about not taking any bonus at all? How about starting a fund to pay for the college tuitions of the children of the dead workers? How about waking up to reality?

Imagine if Transocean had, say, built the World Trade Center complex or the Japanese nuclear reactors? The management team would be set for life.

Sad to say, Newman's behavior doesn't surprise me one bit. Fortune 1000 CEOs aren't like you and me. They're much closer in type to pampered, superstar athletes such as Barry Bonds, Brett Favre and Roger Clemens. They're surrounded by handlers, schedulers and sycophants, and made to believe they walk on water (a most unfortunate phrase in the case of the Transocean guys).

In fact, Newman's behavior reminds me of John Thain's whining after the crash and fall of Merrill Lynch. Despite overseeing the worst year in the Thundering Herd's history and being forced by the government to sell the firm to Bank of America, Thain still demanded a performance bonus of $25 million!

Is it any wonder the average American now lists CEOs right alongside lawyers and used car salesmen as the least respected profession?

Feb 17

Start me up

Today's post is dedicated to Ann Barlow and Edward M. "Ted" Birkhahn.

Representing VC-backed start-ups is a slippery slope at best. On the plus side, many of these AX034090 nascent businesses are pioneers in new, and robust, sectors that are sure to grow in the future (think: clean tech, nanoscience, Manhattan fruit stand vending, etc.).

As a result, they're extremely attractive for two reasons:

– Their business model might actually succeed and you may find yourself in the role of a latter-day Waggoner-Edstrom (a West Coast powerhouse PR firm that, in the early 1980s, partnered with a tiny start-up called Microsoft).
– You'll be able to build your sector credentials and, when the timing is right, trade up to a serious, established player in the space for a far larger budget.

But, the dark side of start-ups is bleak indeed. To wit:

– They're chaotic and almost impossible to keep on track in terms of program strategy and implementation.
– The in-house marketing or PR contact (if one exists) is typically 12-years old and has no clue whatsoever how to manage an agency or a national publicity campaign.
– Despite being founded by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg wanna-bes, most start-ups tend to follow the Japanese consensus management style. Decision making is often glacial, always muddled and often reversed multiple times after the green light has been given to the agency. We had one start-up change from being a BtoC player to a BtoB, and back again (all within six months).
– Start-ups believe they're making the world a much better place. So, even though they may be bringing a next generation circuit board to market, the CEO and his team believe they should be simultaneously delivering a keynote speech at Davos and appearing on the cover of Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
– Every press announcement has to be crammed full of tech speak, industry jargon and laughable hyperbole. One start-up wanted the words 'funky culture' included in the boilerplate description of the firm believing it would catch editor's eyes and help separate them from the competition. Not.
– Last, but not least, start-ups say they want strategic counseling. But they don't. They want order-takers who are willing to work insane hours, make endless changes on press releases and endure the oral and written abuse when the end results don't meet the client's expectations.

We've fired quite a few start-ups over the years. We ended one relationship because the client violated the letter of agreement and stole away our account executive. We ended another relationship when friends at other agencies told us the client was shopping the account around after only a few weeks of working together.

I guess agencies will continue to represent these high maintenance clients because of the 'Zuckerberg effect' and the chance to build credentials in a high growth sector. Then, of course, some agency CEOs may actually believe the abuse heaped on an account team by a start-up is akin to basic training in the Army. It toughens one up for the bigger battles down the road.

I'd like to say we'll avoid all start-ups in the future. But, we won't. Hey, there's a guy holding on the phone right now who says he's the next Steve Jobs. Gotta run.

Feb 07

Sorry, but this is my elevator

Erstwhile Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal had his own private elevator at corporate headquarters. Fatcat-banker-1 After being deposited at a separate, ground floor entrance by his liveried driver, Mr. O'Neal would stroll into 'his' elevator and zoom upwards to his world-class corner office on the 32nd floor. When he was done mastering the universe for the day, good ol' Stan would take a few steps, push the elevator button, descend down and be met by his driver.  All in all, not a bad day. 

But, O'Neal was canned after racking up some $30b in toxic assets and trying to sell Merrill without the board's knowledge. He was replaced by former NYSE CEO John Thain who, upon hearing of O'Neal's private elevator, declared it “…ludicrous.” Thain wanted to demonstrate his Midwestern, common man roots, so he began riding up and down in the same elevators as the hoi palloi. Goodness gracious! Such sacrifice. 

Ah, but according to Greg Farrell's page-turning 'The Crash of the Titans,' JayThay was no slouch himself when it came to excess. Along with his PR henchwoman, Margaret Tutwiler, Thain completely gutted O'Neal's corner office and refurbished it to the tune of $1.2m (all this while Merrill was capsizing under a crushing debt). JayThay's also the stand-up dude who decided to pay all the Merrill executives huge, year-end bonuses with government TARP monies. That sly maneuver cost him his job when Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, who had just bought Thain's Merrill at a fire sale price, found out.

I miss the wanton greed of those egomaniacal Wall Street CEOs of yesteryear. I'm sure the current crop still buy themselves $4,000 commode seats and $100,000 area rugs, but the Kublai Khan types such as O'Neal, Thain and convicted felon Dennis Kozlowski, seem like a distant, if fond, memory.

So, in an effort to fill the breach and re-position PR executives as masters of the universe in our own right, I've decided on the following:

– A full-time butler. Sure, I'm dressed in business casual most of the time, but one never knows when a suit-and-tie prospect will come a knocking. And, I'll need Jeeves on the payroll to assure I'm neatly pressed and ready to impress.
– My own elevator. I may only travel five floors, but I need to make a statement.
– A full-time assistant for my assistant. O'Neal and Thain each had multiple assistants to assist their other assistants, so why can't I? Effective immediately, Dandy assumes the title of executive vice president (hey, if Margaret Tutwiler could hold that title at Merrill, and be responsible solely for “…burnishing John Thain's image,” then so can Dandy). Hey Dandy, maybe Mags could be your assistant? She may be in need of employment.
– A liveried driver behind the wheel of a Maybach. Thain paid his driver $225k, plus bonuses for overtime. That seems fair. I'm tired of cabbies. A master of the universe needs coddling. But, I'll call my driver Jimbo, instead of James. I also need to project a more down-to-earth image and Jimbo seems more accessible.

I have many more wants and needs but, based upon the outrage caused by the excesses of Messrs, O'Neal, Thain and Kozkowlski, I'm guessing I'll only have about 10 months or so before being kicked out and handed a golden parachute similar in size to theirs (say, $187 million, or so).

Edelman and Weber may be vying for “the World's Largest Agency”, but I'll be content with being named “the World's Most Exorbitant.” Note to the various awards' programs: that might make for a nice, new category.

Feb 03

Sorry kids. But, you can’t blame genes for those tight jeans

A just-released study conducted by the University of Michigan of some 1,000 sixth graders in Obese_boy the state showed proper diet, regular exercise and less television viewing had a dramatic effect on lessening childhood obesity. The study is among the first to prove that even if obesity is linked to one's genetics, it can be combated with a little common sense. In other words, obese kids and their parents will need to find other excuses to explain their bulging waistlines.

Michigan is faring poorly in its battle of the bulge. The state ranks 41st in the nation for highest childhood obesity rates, and a staggering 21 percent of Detroit's kids qualify as obese. That means one in five is likely to suffer weight-related health problems, placing a further strain on our nation's already beleaguered health care system.

U.S. childhood obesity also reinforces a global perspective that America is a lazy, bloated, self-centered superpower whose best days are past.

We still have time to change our wanton ways, though:

– First, we need to stop blaming obesity on genetics. Statements such as: “Why bother dieting and exercising when my DNA has already determined I'll be morbidly obese by the age of 21?” should be countered with the Michigan study facts.

– Second, the government needs to push our nation's public schools to do a better job of educating kids about the importance of exercise and diet.

– Third, parents need to step up to the plate (figuratively, not literally) and better manage their kids' lifestyles (two hours a day sitting in front of a television or computer screen is unacceptable).

– Last, and certainly not least, fast food makers need to stop marketing their mega-whopper, calorie-laden, artery-clogging meals in friendly, wholesome ways (replete with smiling clowns). I think the surgeon general should insist these bacchanalian feasts carry warning labels to the effect: 'This Happy Meal will make you and your body unhappy. It will add empty calories, help raise cholesterol levels and lead to a host of diseases, including diabetes.'

It pains me to see what's happening to our nation's youth. At least, they no longer have the genes/jeans excuse. I guess that's a step in the right direction. Now, kids, it's time to put down the Cheetos, turn off the tube and start getting the old ticker pumping away. You may be saving your own, and the nation's, health and well-being in the process.

Sep 29

Hit the road, Jack. You too, Efrem.

According to a recent CBS Morning News segment there's a growing grassroots movement to ban 100909-screamingsign-hmed-6a.grid-4x2   or segregate screaming toddlers from such public domains as restaurants and airplanes. And I,  for one, heartily applaud the effort. 

Nothing can ruin a dining experience faster than a yelping baby at the next table. Likewise, I'd compare any flight to, or from, Orlando as aviation's version of Dante's Inferno. Just about every Air Disney plane is chock full of screaming kids hopped up on sugar. They'll barrel up and down the aisles, fall all over themselves and often fling their Mickey Mouse ears at some luckless adult passenger. While the kids run amok, mom and dad either snooze, shrug their shoulders and smile or crank up their iPods.

The call for a little kids crackdown is overdue and, I believe, a direct result of the hands-off parenting we're seeing in modern society. For whatever reason, more and more parents have abdicated responsibility for their child's education, diet and behavior. And, as regards at least the latter, the rest of us are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

It wasn't always this way. My dad wouldn't stand for bad behavior in public from his three sons. And, Ang and I reigned in Chris and Cat whenever they acted out. In fact, I'll never forget a brutal dining experience with a young Repman, Jr.. Chris couldn't have been more than two years old at the time, but he was on total overdrive that particular night. His banshee-like cries and Wrestlemania-like jumps, body slams and falls stunned fellow diners and forced us to beat a hasty retreat home. We were embarrassed and didn't want to subject others to the youngster's recklessness.

That sort of parental responsibility doesn't seem to happen very often these days. Instead, little Jack and Efrem are given license to run roughshod like some miniaturized, modern version of the Visigoths.

My personal bete noir is the kid sitting in the row behind me on a plane who continually pulls, punches and kicks my seat. I also adore the rotten tot who decides to run laps around his table and mine at a nice restaurant, completely destroying an enjoyable dinner.

I do hope the grass roots program I heard about on CBS takes hold. We should restrict misbehaving kids to the back of the plane or a separate section of the restaurant. Case in point, a restaurant in NC has banned unruly children and the owner says business has increased as a result. The world would be a slightly saner place if more restaurants followed suit.  Better yet, we should limit the number of flights and fine dining establishments that accept kids under the age of two.  But until then, look out for that kid with the applesauce! I think he's about to fling it your way!