Jun 09

A tale of two crises

This is a tale of two crises. One was handled flawlessly. The other was badly bungled.

The first dominated yesterday's PR news world and concerned the ill-advised attempt by Delta Airlines to charge returning Afghanistan veterans $200 for their extra bags. Ugh.

A social media savvy vet captured the unfortunate and oh-so-unnecessary airport confrontation between the vets and the “Sorry sir, but rules are rules” airline worker. He posted the video on YouTube and it spread faster than Anthony Weiner's nude pics.

In the blink of an eye, Delta suddenly had a 747-sized crisis on its hands. But, that's when the airline turned on the after burners, fastened the seat belts and weathered the increasingly bumpy ride. A Delta blogger, identified only as Rachael R (is Rachael Ray moonlighting?)  quickly posted an apology AND announced an immediate change in the airline's baggage policy for traveling U.S. military personnel. A simple, yet brilliant move. Crisis averted. Delta and the vets can move on. And, Rachael R. can get back to her cooking.

Now, compare Delta's response with the Bank of America's incredibly, ham-fisted mishandling of a Florida couple's mortgage payment.

Warren and Maureen Nyerges had purchased their foreclosed home outright.   However, while on a foreclosure frenzy, BofA decided the property’s foreclosure was still in force and past due.  So, the bank went on with their foreclosure on the hapless Nyerges. With no other recourse, they hired a savvy lawyer who turned the tables on the bank in a brilliant legal maneuver that would impress even the legendary Mike Lasky of Davis & Gilbert fame.

The couple's lawyer proved the home was free and clear and demanded the bank pay their $2,500 legal fees. BofA refused. So, get this, the lawyer got a court order to go to the local bank branch and take possession of their furniture. Ya gotta love it!

Sheriff deputies and a moving van showed up at the bank. But, the brain-dead BofA branch manager STILL wouldn't comply. It took a full hour before he finally gave Mr. & Mrs. Nyerges a check for $5,772.88 as restitution. This local news clip below is a MUST SEE and should be included in any crisis planning workshop.

 

Did BofA issue an explanation, an apology or announce a change in their foreclosure policy? Nope. There wasn't even a peep from the massive financial institution.

So, here's an idea. Since BofA has shown itself so inept at managing crisis communications, why not outsource the function to the Delta Airlines team? I'm sure the ailing airline could use the incremental income and Bank of America desperately needs competent PR counsel. Hey, maybe BofA can even convince Delta's Rachael R. to cook the Nyerges a special 'forgiveness meal.'

Jun 03

Ex post facto customer service

Complaint Ask the average public relations executive if she understands customer service and employs it as part of an integrated communications solutions set and you'll receive a resounding, 'Absolutely!'

She'll proudly point to her complete mastery of social media, cite endless examples of how she's used blogs and tweets to better serve a client's customer and be equally quick to point with pride at how she 'solved' a customer's complaint by 'taking the offending conversation offline' and figuring out a solution.

I'd call that ex post facto customer service.

What the average public relations executive DOESN'T realize is that, when it comes to customer service, we're actually part of the problem and not the solution. Why? There's a number of reasons. The macro ones are best enumerated in a superb Harvard Business Review piece authored by Bruce Upbin.

The more mundane reason we PR practitioners don't get customer service is rather obvious (if consistently overlooked or ignored). We eagerly partner with marketing communications to push out campaigns touting the corporation's faster, better, easier-to-use, more cost effective, safer, sleeker, sexier, more stylish, more reliable product or service without EVER involving the very same organization's customer care people in the messaging creation. Nor, do we EVER put ourselves in a client's customer's shoes and experience the brand from the purchaser's POV before crafting copy or pitches. Experiencing the brand is critical because it's no longer enough to hold traditional, and sometimes staid, focus groups to "understand the customer." Focus groups are not the equivalent of truly immersing MARCOMM in the customer experience and are simply not enough when making the linkage between brand promise and customer experience. As a result, we're fully culpable for reinforcing a brand promise that's inside-out in its creation, inconsistent at times and, in some cases, the EXACT opposite of what the customer or prospect experiences.

The end result is an angry, confused customer, lost sales and a damaged image and reputation. Want some examples? Look no further than Comcast, Toyota, Goldman Sachs, or just about any airline, insurance or telecommunications company. Their marketing campaigns extol such virtues as superior service, consistent results, employee pride and low-cost, dependable service. But, we all know the exact opposite to be true.

And, yet we PR types beam with pride and do a big chest bump whenever an editor, analyst or prospective client asks who owns social media nowadays. Why, we do. PR SHOULD own it we say, because we understand the conversation better than those evil one-way, talk at you advertising or digital types.

But, what we don't know (or don't care to know) is that most corporation's organizational structures are broken. They separate marketing communications from customer care and, indeed, treat the latter as the office ghetto. Intelligence coming into customer care from actual customers could be used to make the product or service better or find out what customers are thinking in real time. But there are often no channels internally for those in marketing, customer care and product development to exchange information and hear from customers regularly and robustly.

So nobody in the company has a stake in the whole customer experience, except the customers, who often end up knowing a company better than its employees. Customers have to talk to and deal with different parts of the company that never speak to each other. Office ghettos and silos foster a culture where people only focus on their part of the business and damn the rest. Ghettos and silos stiffle creativity, innovation and the ability to care about the customer. As a result, there are fundamental gaps between what an organization promises and what we, the customers, actually experience. And, if we PR types were REALLY smart and strategic, we'd figure out ways bridge those gaps.

I'm not suggesting my firm is REALLY smart or strategic, but guess what? Thanks to a superb strategic partnership, we're putting the pieces in place to begin closing the aforementioned gap and better align what a brand promises and a customer experiences. And, when we've perfected it dear Virginia, I believe it will usher in a new era in which PR people really do GET customer service.

Until then, I've got to run. Comcast just disrupted my on-demand service for the 30,000th time. And, I need to raise holy hell. But, they'll keep on telling me they're just Comcastic on every single TV commercial.

May 12

So, these two lawyers walk into a bar…

Aside from used car salesman or al Qaeda operative, I can't think of a single occupation with a worse image and reputation than lawyers. In fact, a recent survey of America's most trusted professions showed that lawyers finished just above used car salesmen and beneath politicians.

Lawyers also rival insurance agents as the people I try my best to avoid at cocktail receptions. The former try to sell you policies while the latter can't wait to cite some arcane precedent regardless of the subject. (“Interesting that you bring up long distance cycling as a hobby, Steve. In the case of Armstrong, et al, vs. Humanity, we argued that…”)

So, imagine my trepidation when I was recently invited by a top law firm to lead a 90-minute Humor in the Workplace seminar for their litigation and employment attorneys. Brother, that sounded like as much fun as hanging out with some TSA agents and discussing pat downs for an evening.

Well, guess what? I was wrong. The lawyers were warm, engaging and open to learning how and why humor could make them more effective. And, get this, some of them were actually FUNNY. Not Joe Pesci funny but funny enough.

I've had the good fortune to lead humor workshops for pharmaceutical executives, human resources directors, PR executives and, now, lawyers. And, I have to tell, lawyers would NOT be on the bottom of my list. In fact, the toughest crowd I've EVER had to work with was PR executives who were attending an industry conference. Not only were some openly disdainful, others were downright rude and multi-tasked on their BBs right in front of me. Boo, hiss, PR types.

So, here's a big shoutout for the legal profession. Sure, they still gouge society for each and every penny they possibly can. And, yes, they're the absolute lowest of the low. But, I'd be honored to sip some sauvignon blanc with any of the litigators I trained on Wednesday. Your witness.

Apr 15

Hype without substance is as phony as a three dollar bill.

A client in the education software space was recently sharing the results of a global survey that  showed her organization's customers rated it poorly when it came to service. She stared at the marketers around the table and said, “It's our job to improve these numbers.” I disagreed, and said so. I told the client the best marketing in the world wouldn't move the needle if her organization didn't first fix its poor service.
 
Beef-300x282The same holds true for the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club (AKA 'The Mets' or 'Los Mets' as they're known to my Spanish-speaking readers).
 
The Mets stink. Period. The club has been in a slow, but steady, death spiral since blowing the biggest late-season lead in baseball history a few years back. Many of the perpetrators of that atrocity are gone. And, the team has a new general manager and field skipper. But, the basic model remains broken. And, ownership can't afford to fix it, because they lost their shirts fiddling around with Bernie Madoff.
 
Despite the broken service offering, though, the Mets continue to hype each and every one of their upcoming encounters with all the drama of a Hollywood premiere: 'Tune in Sunday as David Wright and Jose Reyes lead the Mets into battle with their arch division rival, Chipper Jones and his Atlanta Braves!' Puh-lese. I'd rather watch grass grow.
 
No one cares about the 4-9 Mets, as was exemplified by the tens of thousands of empty seats at Citi Field on Thursday (where Los Mets dropped both games of a doubleheader to 'Troy Tulowitzki and his Colorado Rockies!').

Hype without substance is insulting. And, whether it's a client who thinks a thought leadership campaign can improve the findings of a future branding study or the lame superlatives used to convince Mets fans to turn on the tube or turn out to Citi Field, the end result will be the same: failure.

Fix what's broken first and don't try to spend three-dollar bills.

Mar 24

In a modern crisis, a full page print ad is as relevant as yesterday’s news

JournalNews_Ad_Japan_LetterRunning a full page print advertisement in The Wall Street Journal or New York Times used to be   part and parcel of any serious crisis response plan. The ad provided the chief executive officer of the company in crisis with an unfettered opportunity to tell his side of the story without any editorial interpretation from media, pundits or the average Joe.

But, those days are dead. They died when social media made each of us a citizen journalist. They died when CEOs such as Dennis Kozlowski, Jeff Skilling and Bernie Ebbers stole millions of dollars from their organizations. They died when once respected brands such as Johnson & Johnson, BP and Toyota were caught covering up their transgressions.

Nowadays, full-page print ads signed by the CEO of a company in crisis make me cringe. Take the one penned by J. Wayne Leonard, chairman and chief executive officer of Entergy Corporation (insert ad).

Petrified that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's call for a review of the Indian Point nuclear energy plant by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will result in its closing (and, possibly the closing of other Entergy-run nuke plants,) Leonard lists reason after reason why his Indian Point facility is safe.

Sorry, Mr. Leonard. But, I don't buy it. And, I doubt anyone else does either. That's because, like print advertising itself, Fortune 500 CEOs have little, if any, street cred.

Americans trust word of mouth. They trust family and friends. They trust influencers such as "Consumer Reports," J.D. Power & Associates and The Good Housekeeping Seal. But, they no longer believe the inside-out, top down 'C-suite speak' one finds in a paid print advertisement.

If I were advising Leonard, I'd suggest a much different approach. I'd begin by enlisting credible, third party ambassadors who do believe that next generation nuclear power plants are safe. This group could range from academics and authors to bloggers and informed individuals without a personal or political agenda (does such an animal still exist?). I'd provide these trusted sources with my facts and figures and encourage them to speak on my behalf (knowing that I couldn't control what they eventually write or say but understanding that's what makes their voice so much more compelling than mine).

I'd reach out to my employees and assure them they're not earning paychecks from an evil corporation that's building and maintaining death traps. I'd provide them with messages they, in turn, could share with their family and friends.

I'd also engage in face-to-face community relations in each and every market where my nuke plants are located. I'd hold town hall meetings and invite local leaders, activists, employees and the average Joe to attend and share their concerns.

There are probably other, even smarter strategies Leonard & Co., should employ. But, relying on a paid, full-page ad in the Times is not only old school crisis management, it's counter-productive. It's changed my mind from neutral to skeptical. And, that dear readers, is why smart public relations is the new king of the integrated marketing mix. When it comes to credibility, PR trumps advertising each and every time.

Mar 10

Law? What Law?

This is the second of two transportation centric posts and was written by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

This certainly isn’t a scientific study by any means, but I can confidently estimate that 90 percent of all the New York City cab drivers I’ve encountered over the past few months seem to New-york-cabbie-taxi-driver-on-cell-phone forget (or conveniently ignore) the law that bans cell phone use while driving (even hands-free).  What can be so important that cab drivers have to consistently talk on their phones?  Any other person making personal calls all day at work would be fired.

The law has not stopped cab drivers from using their phones, hands-free or otherwise.  It actually seems as if the problem is getting worse.  And, the drivers honestly don’t care.  They think that you, as a passenger, either can’t hear them or you don’t care if the driver is distracted and happens to crash into the car in front or completely misses your stop.

Every time my husband and I encounter someone on the phone, we immediately inform him/her that it’s against the law.   The driver usually shrugs his shoulders, says he knows and, after dropping us off, moves on to the next passenger who is forced to play Russian Roulette with his/her life unless the passenger insists the driver stop talking on the phone. 

A year ago, my husband contacted the Taxi and Limousine Commission (T.L.C.) about a different incident.  The T.L.C. asked my husband to describe the driver, although my husband had the receipt with the taxi number.  All the T.L.C. had to do was to check to see which driver was in the cab at the time indicated on the receipt.  No, that was too easy.  The T.L.C. then asked my husband how tall the cab driver was.  “How tall?  He was sitting down!”  Needless to say, because my husband didn’t ask the driver to get out of the car and check his height with a measuring tape, the case went nowhere.  You can’t make this stuff up. 

Then, this past weekend, I blew up.  We were in a cab headed home, when my husband looked over into the front seat because something didn’t look right.  The cab driver wasn’t on the phone, but he was texting while driving!  Obviously, the law covers texting as well.  As much as I can’t tolerate a cab driver being on the phone, texting really pushes me over the edge.  The driver apologized, admitted he knew about the law– as they all say they do– but just shrugged his shoulders.  We could call the T.L.C. again, but after my husband’s last experience trying to reason with the T.L.C., it’s not worth it.

In March 2010, The New York Times reported that New York City taxi drivers “gouged riders out of millions.”   So, perhaps the T.L.C. couldn’t deal with my husband’s complaint last year because it was dealing with a major issue that was clearly impacting its image. 
Image?  Did I say image? 

Speaking of which, last November, the T.L.C. issued a new and improved dress code for the cab drivers in New York City.   “Proper dress is not something that we can enforce very easily,” said David S. Yassky, chairman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Nonetheless, we want to communicate to drivers that there is a standard of behavior, and that’s what the rule should get across.”

Yes, of course, we must be sympathetic to the T.L.C.’s plight of trying to enforce a dress code.  If they can’t enforce a dress code easily, how can we possibly expect them to enforce the correct rates or enforce no cell phone use while driving?  And, it’s really nice to know how much the T.L.C. cares about its image and has its priorities in the right order.

Unfortunately, I fear it’s going to take a fatal accident– or accident – and a multimillion dollar lawsuit– or multiple lawsuits– against the City and the T.L.C. to get them to take passengers’ complaints seriously and enforce the law (the one about no cell phone use while driving…not the one about the clothes).  But, if the cab driver crashes, hopefully he’ll at least look good when the police show up. 

T.L.C. should no longer stand for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but rather The Law is of no Consequence.

Mar 09

Standing Room Only

This is the first of two transportation centric posts and was written by Peppercommer Ann Barlow.

Until now, one of the few complaints that I've had about BART, San Francisco's commuter and city  train service, is the lack of adequate seating to accommodate all the passengers. But after reading a report shared by Peppercom friend Greg Schmalz, I'm starting to feel grateful for the many times when overcrowding has forced me to stand. 

Bacteria_cartoonIt seems that some testing conducted by a supervisor with San Francisco State University's biology lab revealed that the cushioned, upholstered seats contain a lot more than the behinds of passengers. Drug-resistant bacteria and fecal matter (among my favorite euphemisms) were discovered, and attempts to clean them with wipes doused in alcohol failed to adequately remove the disgusting and potentially dangerous organisms.

When I moved to the Bay Area from the New York area five-plus years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the commuter train service. Like RepMan, I suffered for years from NJT's utter indifference to passenger comfort and customer service. Contrast that with the BART experience, which begins with joining an orderly queue to wait for the train at designated points in the stations. If the train you are riding is delayed, you can expect frequent updates and apologies from the conductor. The trains seldom break down and are normally on time. Sure, there are occasional problems, and the system managers don't seem to have cottoned onto the idea that if a line goes down, they should provide an alternative means of getting you to your destination. You're on your own.   But all in all, as commutes go, it's a pretty pleasant experience.  Or it was.

I admit to often having eyed at the teal-colored seats with suspicion.  They're comfortable, but can anything with that much fabric be hygienic?  Apparently not.  BART says plans are in the works to change out the seats, which were installed decades ago when comfortable seats were thought to encourage ridership.  In the meantime, it does clean the seats nightly and spend hundreds of thousands on yearly dry cleaning.  It plans to survey riders on preferences.  Really?  I think you can bet that riders want safe, hygienic conditions.  If that means cold, plastic, hard seats, so be it.

If a lot of other riders read the study today, I suspect we may go from 'standing room only' to 'sitting room only.'

Mar 02

Rule Britannia? Not when it comes to customer service

In some ways it's comforting to know the inefficiency I've experienced at the hands of, say, the division of motor vehicles or New Jersey Transit, isn't a uniquely American experience. Far from it. 

Images Last night, for example, after a six-plus hour flight to London's Heathrow Airport, my fellow passengers and I were subjected to an amazingly painful welcome to Britain's shores.  (This, mind you, after being greeted by countless placards of happy, smiling Brits).  Despite the fact that no fewer than three airplanes had arrived at the same time, British Passport Control decided to assign just one clerk to check paperwork. And, the clerk in question seemed to fancy himself something of an investigative journalist. As hordes of hungry, tired, unwashed travelers grumbled and checked their watches and PDAs, the clerk would harangue travelers with incessant questions, demand additional paperwork and sometimes just disappear completely for five or 10 minutes to do god knows what. The whole scene reminded one of a traffic jam on Long Island's infamous Belt Parkway (note: the Belt is the U.S. highway system's version of the Tower of London).

To further compound matters, there was absolutely no explanation why only one passport control agent was on duty to process the 300-person strong throng. Oh, there was one other, semi-official looking official strolling the area, but he merely hummed to himself and smiled at what must have resembled a pack of refugees fleeing from the latest Middle Eastern conflict.

I was more than a little concerned because, as the delay extended beyond an hour, I worried my waiting driver would bolt, assuming I'd either skipped the flight entirely or taken a cab instead. He later told me my arriving flight had been removed from the message board and that there'd been no communication whatsoever made to the friends, families and drivers waiting for the stalled passengers. Good show, governor (not).

Finally, at about the 75-minute mark, two other passport control agents slowly strolled towards their stations, sat down, chatted amiably with one another for a while, gradually activated their computers and, wonder of wonder, motioned to the huddled masses to approach their stations. The lines eventually began moving and, 90 minutes after first arriving at passport control, I was finally cleared.

The first thing I did was to head to the currency exchange booth. 'Sorry, sir,' the attendant informed me. 'We've just closed for the evening.' It was the perfect coup de grace.

I have a simple solution for solving what, in my mind, is a serious potential image problem for the U.K.'s tourism trade. Pluck the passport control agents out of their jobs for a day and make THEM experience the service. As a former CEO of mine was famous for saying, 'I'll bet that'll light a fire under their asses.'

On the plus side of the ledger, Britain's surly, inefficient and insensitive passport control agents would find immediate gigs in America should they choose to cross the pond in search of better-paying jobs. Personally, I thought the nasty, surly passport agent would make for a superb conductor on any NJ Transit train.

There's no secret formula for fixing shoddy customer service. We're helping brands accomplish it in the States by suggesting marketers experience their customer experience first-hand. It works wonders.

Sadly, though, what unites the British passport control workers with their American peers is their employer: the public sector. Far too few public sector workers are incentivized to be either efficient or courteous. Instead, they simply clock in and clock out.

I know it may not play well in state capitals such as Madison or Trenton, but here's a vote for making public sector workers experience what their customers endure. It'll not only improve productivity, it'll enhance their countries' images and reputation. And, as I said, I have a solution. And, oh, how I'd love to engineer a role reversal and place that passport control agent at the rear of a 300-person line. I'd like to see how he likes waiting 90 minutes before I deign to review his papers. 'So, who's next in line? Hurry up sir, please, my shift's about to end.

Feb 25

You aren’t what you say you are (unless the customer agrees)

Shout out to Emily Yellin for suggesting this idea.

image from farm4.static.flickr.com It’s interesting to think about brands that have touted their strengths or points of differentiation in taglines only to have the customer experience turn out to be the polar opposite. Consider just a few examples:

  • BP’s ‘Beyond petroleum.’ There’s no need to recount how many journalists, pundits and comedians lambasted the initials and tagline in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill.
  • Merrill Lynch’s ‘thundering herd’ of financial advisors were a breed apart. They sure were, especially after the firm experienced a massive meltdown as the real estate bubble burst and the markets collapsed. Today, what’s left of the thundering herd is corralled inside parent company, BOA. 
  • Toyota’s ‘Moving forward’ which, after a series of highly-publicized accidents caused by acceleration pedal problems, became a nasty, daily reminder of the automaker’s crisis.
  • And then there’s the perpetual bad boy of branding: Comcast. Thanks to its horrific customer service, Comcast’s ‘Comcastic’  boast may be the gold standard for never living up to a brand promise.  

There’s an amazingly simple way to avoid these disconnects: put yourself in customer’s shoes before ever attempting to frame marketing messages. 

Ian Wylie, a Forrester analyst, tracks customer service and blogged about a rare, best practice in Fast Company. In the text, Wylie profiled David McQuillen of Credit Suisse, who continually places himself and his C-suite bosses in the shoes of the customer (note: McQuillen has moved on since the 2007 blog was written and is now with OCBC Bank in Singapore). For example, he’s made the top brass visit local branch banks, stand in line, exchange foreign currency and ask customers questions. He’ll then take them back to the office, have them surf the company’s web site and attempt to check interest rates and fill out application forms. He brought a meeting of the bank’s 200 top managers to a complete standstill when he pulled out a speaker phone and dialed the customer service line. McQuillen said he saw ‘…fear in their faces, because they didn’t know what the experience was going to be.’ McQuillen said the bank has five million customer interactions a month and questioned how many, if any, managers had any clue about the quality of those interactions. 

McQuillen is one of the few visionaries in an emerging field that recognizes inside-out marketing no longer works. Time Magazine may have declared you and me (the consumer) as ‘person of the year’ a while back, but the vast majority of marketers don’t get it (we recently surveyed 75 CMOs and found that 75 percent had never experienced their brand as a customer). For the most part, marketers still craft campaigns that tout their best-in-class product or service without ever experiencing said product or service from the customer’s point of view.  

We’re digging deep into this yawning gap and are slipping into the shoes of CFOs, moms and other ‘consumers’ to experience a brand online, on the phone and in person. We’re also determining exactly where a purchase consideration is being made. 

We’re not nearly as street smart as McQuillen who, in an attempt to make his bank do more to help customers with disabilities use its branches, offices, web site and call centers, made each member of his team spend a day in wheelchair. They also wore weighted suits to re-create what it’s like to be 70-years-old and had them eat lunch in the dark, courtesy of local Zurich restaurant called the Blind Cow (where all the waiting staff are visually impaired). What a superb way to understand the customer before making the necessary tweaks to better connect with them! McQuillen’s even gone on the speaking circuit to explain what it was like to be wheelchair-bound for a day. 

I’m no McQuillen, but it’s pretty easy to see what he’s seen: You aren’t what you say you are unless the customer agrees. So, paraphrasing the Hippocratic Oath, ‘marketer, heal thyself.’”

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.