Dec 09

What’s Become of the F Word?

I don't see it, hear it or read it anymore. In fact, the F word has literally disappeared overnight from the American vocabulary. Oh sure, some irate Manhattan cab driver will still employ it. A PR executive who's just been told his agency's 2009 budget has been yanked is likely to let loose. And, we Jets fans certainly call upon it on most Sundays.

But, that's not the F word to which I'm referring. You see, I'm speaking of an F word that's barely registering a pulse these days: "Fun."

Fun is gone. It's vanished, and it's bordering on becoming extinct. In its place, we've seen the sudden emergence of fun's evil twin: "Fear."

Kathryn Williams, the "W" in KRW, a top leadership/coaching firm who participated in our webinar last week, stressed the urgency of fun. She said the best leaders, the ones who will become heroes in this current economic cataclysm, are the ones who will take care of themselves first and then "administer aid" to their employees. She likened it to the airplane instructions in which adults are advised to don their own oxygen masks before applying their children's.

That makes perfect sense. I see too many executives walking around with a hangdog look on their face. Their expressions and non-verbals say it all. They're scared. They're paralyzed. They've never seen anything like the current economic climate. Well, guess what? They unknowingly project those feelings to those around them and, soon, very soon, an entire organization becomes paralyzed.
And, paralysis is a one-way ticket to business oblivion.

Heroes find a way to rise above the fray. They take time to laugh in the face of fear. They bring the other F word back to its rightful place.

So, cut your costs. Find your new revenue streams. But, don't forget about having fun, too. Williams suggests leaders find the time for neck and back massages, meditation or other forms of relaxation. Personally, I opt for a mix of stand-up comedy, long-distance running and any sort of historical/biographical/comedic reading material.  

I also go out of my way to inject humor in the workplace, whether it's through hallway banter or an e-mail comment purposely designed to elicit a chuckle. I told one of our senior directors that I see myself in the Bob Hope role at Peppercom, responsible for raising troop morale.

You can do it, too. And you should. So, check the doom-and-gloom at the reception desk when you arrive each morning. We'll get through this. And people will remember whether you led the way with cheery optimism or buried yourself in your office with a bunker-like mentality.

Dec 04

Employees Aren’t a Key Constituent Audience

I've always believed employees were a key constituent audience, especially in times of crisis. As a matter of fact, I've counseled countless clients to consider employees their most important audience since they are any organization's first line of defense. But, I was wrong. Employees aren't a key constituent audience. In fact, they shouldn't even be labeled as such.

Anthony Johndrow of The Reputation Institute hit the nail on the head in our webinar yesterday when he said employees should be treated as partners and colleagues, not as an "audience." He is so right.

Traditional, top down communications has been totally disintermediated by the blogosphere and word-of-mouth. Honest, transparent and frank discussions with employees on a peer-to-peer level are the only way to go in the current economic crisis, said Kathryn Williams of KRW, a leadership/executive coaching firm and another webinar panelist.

Johndrow concurred and said specificity is the key to lessening employee angst and fear of job loss. "The more they know exactly what's expected of them and how they can contribute to the bottom-line, the more likely they are to stay focused on the task at hand and not get caught up in the rumor mill," he said. 

The webinar was a fascinating exercise that focused on how each and every one of us can become "heroes" within our organization. Panelists agreed heroes need to be honest, transparent, open to taking risks and, above all, a calm, steadying influence. Those are tall orders in the 24×7 all doom, all-the-time world in which we all live.

But, as was the case in past crises, the cream will rise to the top and new heroes will be anointed. And, each one will instinctively "get" that every employee within their organization is a colleague with whom to collaborate and not a constituent audience member to be talked at.

Jun 18

Larry Bossidy would be proud of Omar Minaya

Omar Minaya and the Mets management are so inept that they even bungled the firing of their fumbling,Minaya
bumbling manager, Willie Randolph.

Rather than do the humane thing by removing Willie while the team was playing at home and in the midst of a dismal losing streak, they chose instead to make Randolph fly cross country to Anaheim. There, they fired Willie at the stroke of midnight after the Mets’ second consecutive win. What a travesty! Poor Willie.

That said, Minaya’s style reminds me of ex-GE Vice Chairman Larry Bossidy’s approach to executive executions. According to ‘Jacked Up,’ Bill Lane’s kiss-and-tell expose of GE during the Jack Welch regime, Bossidy was Jack’s go-to guy for axing underperforming managers.

Bossidy would start his day by hopping on the GE corporate jet in Connecticut. He’d then fly from one company town after another (ie. Louisville, Syracuse, etc.) He’d be met by the local business unit’s human resources manager. Together, they’d ride to the office in a chauffeured limo. Bossidy would get out, walk into the exec’s office and terminate him. Then, it would be back to the jet and two or three more firings.

Bossidy would be done with the executions by early afternoon. He’d then direct the jet to fly to Augusta, Georgia, where he’d get in a round of golf before returning to Connecticut for dinner. Nice.

Note to Omar: after the Mets dump you at the end of the season, maybe you could connect with Bossidy and/or get a referral to GE? They’d love the way you handled Willie’s going away party.

Jun 05

PR Pros may have access to C-suite, but their digital message isn’t getting through

USC’s Annenberg School for Communication’s GAP V survey is a timely and helpful measurementCsuite_2
substantiating PR’s rising importance within the corporate infrastructure. The main findings show that 64 percent of the 520 senior corporate communications respondents report directly to the C-suite. As a result, they are more likely to have more resources than those who don’t. OK, so far, so good.

Jerry Swerling, who heads the school’s PR studies program, says the question is no longer whether or not PR has a seat at the table, but what to do with it. No argument with that point either.

But, here’s where the Annenberg findings fall short. We’ve participated in two recent (and fairly extensive) surveys of PR pros. Both showed a huge ‘digital’ gap between the PR/communications function and the C-suite. In fact, PR pros are incredibly frustrated about the C-suite’s lack of understanding and support of digital. Respondents to our survey overwhelmingly ‘get’ digital’s importance, but cannot get the C-suite to get it. As a result, PR executives report little support to properly their fund digital initiatives.

I’m not suggesting there’s a gap in the Annenberg Gap V survey findings, but I’d love to see next year’s Gap VI probe more deeply into what I see as one of the biggest, and least well understood, pain points facing PR pros today.

May 20

It was over before it began

Guest blog written by Jackie Kolek.Call_2

I had a truly bizarre call with a new business prospect last week, let’s call them Company X.  Sadly, it was not the first time I have received these types of calls.  We were contacted by Company X, who told us that they were looking for a new agency.  Great.  The prospect sent us a link to their web site and a backgrounder on the company.  Terrific.  So, we set up a call to get a download on their business and tell them a little bit about our agency and our relevant experience.  All sounds good up to this point, right?

Yet, when I got on the phone with Company X last week the senior PR communications person immediately asked me to tell them my thoughts on their business and give them my recommendations on messaging and strategies for a PR program.  WHOA.  There are so many things wrong with this scenario that I could go on forever.  For now, I’ll focus on the two most critical flaws. 

First, the junior person who we were dealing with probably had not set expectations internally with her boss or bosses.  They most likely ordered her to go find a new firm and didn’t give much more direction than that. While we had spoken and exchanged a few emails, we clearly agreed (in writing) that we would do a 30 min call to get some more background on Company X and tell them about us.  Obviously that had not been communicated on Company X’s end and they were expecting us to come in with a specific proposal for them.  Even if that was a good idea, this disconnect immediately put us at a disadvantage with the decision-makers and probably didn’t make our junior point of contact look good either.

Second, and most disturbing, is that Company X was looking for us to deliver thoughts on messaging and strategic recommendations before we’d ever had a real conversation with them.  Without the benefit of hearing the client’s business goals and growth objectives any sort of communications recommendations would have been superficial and meaningless.  Sure, we could say "you need to be on the cover of the Wall Street Journal" but what does that mean?  First and foremost, we need to understand the client’s business in order to identify how communications can help them achieve those goals.  Are they looking to break into a new target audience?  Raise their profile with potential investors?  Recruit and retain better talent?  Reposition themselves in the market?  Fix a tarnished reputation?

When I explained this to the senior marketing person at Company X, her response was "any firm we hire should be able to answer these questions."  Well, enough said.  We told Company X that we were probably not a good fit for their needs.  I am sure they’ll go hire some firm who will tell them whatever they want to hear in order to win the business.  And in six months time, Company X will be shopping for another firm.

May 05

What did they know and when did they know it?

PR Weeks’ annual agency business report provides a nice dive into the country’s top 47 firms. It’sMarkpenn_2
polished, professional and to the point. But, curiously, it leads with a questionable selection and an even more questionable word choice.

Each of the top agencies in the section, you see, is defined by a word selected by the PR Week staff. Weber Shandwick is called ‘the heavyweight.’ No argument there. Ketchum is given ‘the linchpin’ moniker. Ah, ok, if you say so. And, Fleishman is proudly proclaimed ‘the titan,’ which sounds like something straight out of Jason and the Argonauts.

But, and here’s where I wonder what the PR Week folks were thinking, they lead off their entire list with Mark Penn and Burson-Marsteller, proclaiming both as ‘the counselor.’ Ouch. Talk about bad timing.

Why lead with Penn, when he’s just been pilloried because of improper connections with Hillary (hey, that rhymes!)? A John Budd letter to the editor earlier in the very same edition takes Penn to task for his obvious conflict of interest mistake. And, yet, a few pages later, there he is in all his glory.

All of which leads me to wonder if PR Week’s left and right hands were not communicating. Or, did someone decide, ‘Hey, what the heck? It’s a nice photo of Mark and he is a counselor, a counselor whose credibility and ethics have been seriously called into question, but so what? Let’s go ahead and lead our special section with him anyway.’ Or, worse, did someone not connect the dots?

It’s all very puzzling, and leads me to ask the age-old journalism question of our lead trade journal: What did they know and when did they know it?

Apr 25

With friends like Jack Welch, who needs enemies?

Jack Welch never ceases to amaze. He’s arguably the greatest chief executive in American businessWelch
history. He’s earned every conceivable accolade. And he’s worshipped by businesspeople near and far.

So, why does he feel the need to publicly bash his hand-picked successor, Jeff Immelt?

Speaking to reporters after Immelt accepted full blame for GE’s mediocre first quarter, Welch said he would ‘…get a gun out and shoot’ Immelt if he missed his financial goals again.

Ouch. What’s that all about? Talk about second guessing someone. Talk about slamming your own golden boy.

Welch obviously comes from the Vince Lombardi ‘tough love school of management.’ And, even though he’s no longer running the show at GE, he’s still trying his best to motivate Immelt by fear.

Management by fear is totally bogus. I never liked reporting to a menacing CEO and found myself being less strategic, less creative and less productive as a result.

Retired CEOs should stay retired. Or, they should write columns for BusinessWeek. Or they should charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for one hour speeches. But, they should not publicly bash their hand-picked successors.  It’s bad form and reflects poorly on the image and reputation of all concerned.

Apr 17

I’ll let my successor deal with this

The most excellent Arthur Page Society Spring Conference was chockablock this year with great speakers.Awp
One, in particular, was Rick DeLisi of the Communications Executive Council (CEC).

Rick analyzed the rapidly-changing landscape and shared his views on how organizations are changing the way they communicate. Most, he said, are moving towards knowledge sharing. It’s no longer a ‘top down, here’s what management thinks and wants you to think’ strategy. Rather, the communications model is quickly evolving towards the market deciding what it thinks and wants, and organizations struggling to keep pace.

The good news: the corporate communications functions will be at the epicenter of facilitating knowledge sharing. The bad news: most corporate communicators interviewed by the CEC admitted they’d made absolutely no change to adapt to this changing environment.

The CEC questionnaire provided multiple choices, including: ‘greater centralization of your function,’ ‘deeper integration in marketing,’ ‘change in hiring profile,’ ‘change in function’s reporting line,’ ‘greater decentralization of communication’s staff and resources,’ or ‘deeper structural integration with human resources.’

But, the corporate communications types overwhelmingly selected ‘no change.’ Are they whistling past the graveyard? Fiddling while Rome burns?

I think the answer may be more basic. Guessing that most senior corporate communicators are well into their middle age, I wonder if they feel adapting to change will be their successor’s headache? Most are nearing retirement, are probably in comfortable positions and may not want to rock the boat.

I really hope I’m wrong. But the CEC findings speak for themselves. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake the respondents’ fast-track successors are as swift as the adjective suggests.

Apr 11

Doing right by doing good

According to a survey undertaken by Equilar, Inc., on behalf of The Wall Street Journal, many more CEOsCashbonus
of America’s largest companies are turning down their bonuses. At least eight top kicks turned down their 2007 bonuses. That’s compared to only four in ’06. And, based upon today’s economy, I’m sure we’ll see the number expand dramatically next year.

That said, experts quoted by the Journal say a deferment sends mixed signals and can be interpreted by employees as a ‘ho hum.’

First American Corp CEO Parker S. Kennedy is doing it the right way. Instead of saying, ‘no thanks’ to the board, he’s asking that his $800,000 bonus be disbursed among eligible employees. That’s really smart. It not only says, ‘Hey, I know times are tough and I’m not going to take advantage." It also says, ‘But, I want my best employees to suffer as little as possible.’

Employees are any company’s ultimate brand ambassadors and, in my opinion, the most important target audience to influence. Employee actions or inactions can make or break a company’s fortunes in a Recession. Just look at Bear Stearns. Or, Arthur Andersen.

More CEOs of publicly-traded companies need to emulate Kennedy. It portrays him as a caring, responsible chief executive who does the right thing when the chips are down.

I think Wall Street and Main Street alike will reward those CEOs who not only turn down bonuses in down times, but truly share the wealth. It’s a great example of doing right by doing good.

Dec 03

Party hard, but party wise

It’s holiday season time and once again employees old and new, senior and junior need to mix good cheerOffice_party
with good sense.

Over the years, I’ve attended holiday parties that have been a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. To wit:

– one employee becoming totally inebriated while the rest of us watched in horror
– a consultant slinging back mud slides and then wobbling around our hallways, insulting women near and far
– one employee so smashed he literally couldn’t pull himself off the floor
– a senior executive attempting to make a speech, but being so blasted he forgot what he was saying, stopped and walked away into the night
– an intern flashing the magic finger at Ed not once, but twice
– various employees breaking down and crying
– dirty dancing, groping, fondling and hooking up

We’ve also had great themed parties, including one that featured a murder mystery and another with a magician performing various tricks.

Holiday parties can be a great bonding experience. But, they can also do a number on one’s reputation and career path. The best advice I’ve heard is to party hard, but party wisely. The image you save may be your own.

Thanks to Debrah Hussey for the idea.