Monday, March 31, 2008


The new building property manager stopped by our office today to check on some maintenance they performed last week.  I really like this guy.

When I first met him a few weeks ago, he told me things were going to be different around the building.  His goal was to fix any problems that existed and begin doing some preventive maintenance to make sure there are no problems in the future.  Of course, I doubted his sincerity given the bad service the building provided during the previous two years.

But he has proven to be a man of his word.  In addition, he is a genuinely good guy.

Before leaving, he asked me:  "What do you guys do again?"  I gave him the standard elevator speech and saw from the blank stare and awkward smile that to a person outside of our industry, the standard answer doesn't work.

"It's like this," I continued, "We help clients figure out who they are, what they want to be, how their interests match up with their customers and prospects, and how they can achieve their goals.  Then we help them get there."

"Huh," he replied with curiosity.  Then he nodded and left the building.

There is a valuable lesson buried in this seemingly meaningless story.  About three months ago, knowing that our Cleveland office lease expires later this year, we began reviewing our options.  After all, though the space is phenomenal, the service sucks.  

This is the same formula that dogs so many companies; I call it the inequity formula:  Good product, bad service.  Good service, mediocre product.  Good product, bad price.  Good service, bad delivery.  Good product, bad distribution.  And on and on.  Of course the formula gets much more complicated by adding other variables like price, convenience and competition.

At the end of the day, while the best companies offer great products at a great price, make them convenient to acquire and back them with terrific service and warranties, there are all kinds of gradations that can still work.  And it all depends very much on what prospective customers want and/or need. Sometimes price is secondary to convenience or performance.  And sometimes price is everything.  

Consider the whole green movement.  Study after study shows that more and more consumers are willing to pay more money for environmentally safe products.  Will it last?  For a while.  On the flipside, consumers are willing to drive miles out of their way to get the best price per gallon on their gas, regardless of the brand.

So, back to our lease.  Here I am - ready to find new space - when the building hires a new property manager and a new maintenance crew.  And slowly but surely I am changing my opinion about the brand. Suddenly I have phenomenal space and good service in a convenient location at a reasonable price.  And as you might expect, rather than bashing the building I now find myself in the role of advocate. Well, maybe I am not an advocate yet, but at least I am not bashing the building.

Whether by design or accident, the building has righted its brand.  In essence, they have changed who they are.  And in the process, they have met the needs and wants of their tenants. MarkeTING 101.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Once Upon a TIme...

As a young boy, I was a newspaper carrier for The Cleveland Press; this was the community's afternoon paper.  Back in the day nearly every major city had more than one daily.  Not anymore.

Some people preferred the morning edition and some liked the afternoon paper.  It was the same with TV news.  You either watched the 6:00 early evening news or the 11:00 nightly news before going to bed.  And pretty much that was it.

The newspaper and the TV were destinations for the first and/or final word on what was going on in your world.  Not anymore.

News is now constant and fluid.  There is no longer a beginning or an end.  It just exists.  

Newspapers, quite frankly, now serve little purpose other than to document (in ink) something that is already history.  It is also a fine place to find ads.  And TV news; what's that?  Blather and hype and conjecture and updates and so on [Editorial note:  I do not include Charlie Rose in this category; he is the best].

If I want the news I review my RSS feed or check my Google news alerts.  From here I go to virtually any source in the world for breaking real-time news or updates on scores and stories in progress.  What was it the Wicked Witch of the West said before melting and shrinking? "What a world, what a world."

And I love it.  And so does everyone else.  News (a.k.a. information) is constantly available and constantly updated.  And when it stops being interesting it is simply archived.  What a world indeed.  Okay, so the quality of reporting is not what it once was (there are no more Walter Cronkites) and integrity is less apparent (no more Edward R. Murrows)... still, there is a lot of good stuff out there.  And sure, you can't be certain what you should believe, but hell, half the world still believes John Kennedy was killed by the government and that our American astronauts never landed on the moon. So really, what's the difference anyway? 

I just feel sorry for those sad few (or maybe it's tens of millions) who don't have routine access to the Internet.  They have no idea what they are missing, plus there's all that black ink on their fingers from reading their newspapers.  In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, "that's a shame."

Back in the day, some powerful community leader or representative of the downtrodden (a guy like Ralph Nader, maybe) might have appealed to the masses by way of a strong speech or tightly written editorial.  Not anymore.  We now have blogs for that... millions and millions of blogs (like this one) and YouTube.  So many places for so many people to say so many things.

Once upon a time words had unbelievable power - whether spoken or written - if they were sincere and delivered by the right person.  And you would read them in your morning or afternoon paper or watch them on the TV news.  And sometimes these words even changed the world.  But not anymore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Recession Now Officially Unofficial

According to The Kiplinger Washington Editors, we are now officially in a recession.  Thank you very much.

But according to John Elsasser, EIC of Public Relations Tactics, PR practitioners are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead.  Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, Jim Owens, Chairman and CEO of Caterpillar reported today, "The U.S. economy is probably in recession now but will likely have real growth this year..."  Thank you very much.

In an unrelated story, George Shiffler (not Stiffler), research director at Gartner says: "The recession is going to affect PC shipments, but it's certainly not going to do anything like it did to the market in 2001."  Thank you very much.

Then again, John Simons, a writer for FORTUNE reported just two days ago, "Advertising spending - the fuel that powers the media and entertainment industries - is poised for downturns as corporations and consumers grow frugal."  Thank you very much.

And then this new survey of American CFOs (weasels) conducted by FEI finds "...recession concerns in the U.S. are impacting their company's budgets, spending and hiring."  Thank you very much.

Elsewhere, the National Post reports that "the Iraq war is monstrously expensive and, unlike Vietnam, not stimulative economically speaking."  Thank you very much.

According to the Motley Fool (in this case, Tom  Hutchinson), "about 45% of economists believe we are in the midst of a recession (including guys like Warren  Buffett)."  Thank you very much.  

The Chicago Tribune says today that consumer confidence plummeted to a five-year low in March. Thank you very much.  

And a recent survey of 19 states with some form of legalized gambling found that about half saw gross revenue and admissions drop. Thank you very much.

And now the bottomline (for those of you like me who have no idea what to believe anymore): "We are here on this Earth to fart around.  Don't let anyone tell you any different."  Kurt Vonnegut*.  Thank you very much.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Great Ideas Never Grow Old

"Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off."

During the mid-1960s, Robert Kennedy spoke these words about his father. Just a few years later, in June 1968, Edward Kennedy repeated these words in eulogy of his brother.

There is very little that touches me more than a string of simple words speaking obvious truths. These words are a perfect example. Consider how they have passed the test of time - for better or worse. One could easily close his or her eyes and imagine these words spoken today, rather than four decades ago.

It matters not who speaks them. What makes them real and makes them last is that they are genuinely great ideas. I often speak to clients and associates about the concept that marketing and public relations are only tools (like words) that convey or communicate ideas. If they are great ideas, then the marketing and public relations can have tremendous impact and great staying power. "So," we advise them, "concentrate on being a great company that produces great products and services."

Anyway, this post is not intended so much to encourage conversation about marketing and public relations. It is a reminder that those of us who by choice or chance are in the position to do good necessarily have an obligation to help those who are not in the same position. This is a simple idea that makes America work, that made America great. This is a great idea.

Thank you Bobby.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Choice of a New Generation

I read an informative article in The New York Times today by Stuart Elliott.  It was about Pepsi's new Tava brand beverages.  Around the same time, I read an informative blog on Bokardo by Joshua Porter (it was forwarded to me by my brilliant friend Dominic).

Stuart's story is all about Pepsi bypassing traditional media and going commando to launch the new product.  Lot's of new tech, online, feel-good ideas that combined make a potentially powerful campaign, complete with a dedicated Web site, banner ads, promotions and unconventional stunts.  I must admit a bit of jealousy; it's been a while since I've worked on an account the caliber of Pepsi, with the courage and budget to support such extensive and creative launches [editorial note:  I am however a Coke drinker].

Joshua's  blog is about social media marketers.  He suggests that social media tools amplify opinion, they do not improve it.  Maybe it's just me, but I really like this idea; maybe because it's what I've been communicating to friends and associates for the past year.  I love progress.  I love new technology.  And if there is a reason to use it, then by all means, do so.  But just because something is there, doesn't mean you should use it.

As  Joshua puts it, "If your product sucks [and you give people a platform for expression], the resulting conversation will be about how much it sucks."  At the end of the day, nothing has really changed.  Good companies have good people who make good products and stand by their products.  Companies that do not have good people or do not make good products or do not stand by their products are what I refer to as bad companies.

In short, you can't fake good... at least not for long.  And social media simply gives the marketplace more outlets and faster access to help nature take its course.  Conversely, social media serves to help good companies to grow and engage and learn and evolve.

As this relates to Stuart's story, my guess is that if Tava is a good brand run by good people who stand behind their products, their commando campaign will be a success... and we will all know about it in real time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Smile Away

Shortly after the break-up of the Beatles, Paul McCartney (and wife Linda) released Ram, his first studio album (not to be confused with his first solo album, which he recorded at home).

Anyway, Ram features a wealth of great music from a still young musical artist in search of a new identity.  One of those tunes is a sweet number called "Smile Away."  Pretty much it is a song singularly devoted to some guy who had really smelly feet... so smelly you could smell them a mile away.  Smile Away.

Which leads me to a recent Ad Age article (of sorts) in which Jacquelyn Ottman offered her thoughts on how the "green" landscape will shift in the coming year.  In fact, she says that she expects to see "some tectonic shifts this year in the world of green marketing."

And this got me to thinking about the whole "stinking" environmental issue. Suddenly the whole world is concerned about ruining the planet and ruining our health.  And that's a good thing I think.  So, naturally, companies are jumping on the bandwagon to feed the beast.  Which is also a good thing I think.

But I can't help but wonder about the state of the economy, which I view as being terribly big, smelly feet.  So big and smelly, in fact, that the odor could easily distract the country (if not the planet) from the environment.  Does that sound extreme?

Maybe it is a bit dramatic, but I am aware that a lot of people are really hurting right now.  A lot of people are unemployed and even more are uninsured.  More and more are losing their homes every day.  Meanwhile, the price of gas and all things related  (which is pretty much everything in this petroleum-based world of our) keeps rising.

And here's the connection:  green costs more than non-green.  In other words, it ain't cheap to be environmentally responsible.  So it makes sense to me - in a strange sideways logic - that if so many Americans (and others) can barely afford a "traditional" lifestyle, how will they afford a "green" lifestyle.

And I can hear Al Gore tell me that they can not afford not to have a green lifestyle (polar ice caps are melting, the Atlantic Ocean is being desalinated, the ozone is disappearing, the climate is changing...).  And he is right.  But Al Gore has likely never been so poor and hungry and unemployed that he would risk going to jail just to steal food to feed his family [editorial note:  I like Al Gore].  

All this is to say that I think we better stay focused on the real issues.  While the well-intended want a "greener" planet, there are millions (if not tens of millions) of  underprivileged who just want some green (as in cash to survive this fractured economy) so they can continue to live on this planet.

Ram on.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Big Idea or Bad Idea?

I caught a few seconds of Donny Deutsch a few weeks ago; some segment entitled Big Idea/Bad Idea.

Donny's two participating guests were told of a new McDonald's concept in California.  No more arches, no Ronald McDonald, no messy tables.  Instead, guests are presented with a Starbuck's-like environment of cushy leather seats and plants and healthier food choices.

Both of the guests felt it was a Big Idea.  I thought they were insane; so did Donny.  This was, after all, McDonald's, not Le Bernardin's.

All this to segue into a story about Skyy Vodka.  My dad was a great fan of vodka.  He liked the taste.  He liked the clarity.  And mostly he liked the limited odor.  My dad was a man's man who understood that the primary purpose of vodka was to dull the senses, calm the nerves and get one drunk.

I mention this to explain that I do not totally understand the concept behind Skyy Infusions, a premium, fruit-infused vodka made in five all-natural varieties and presented in a new slimmer pacKaging design.  Skyy's senior brand manager tells us "all-natural is what's hot right now."

I am sure that she is right.  And I am sure that all the research supports the decision.  But I am equally sure [OPINION ALERT] that this move will not jump Skyy from its No. 4 market position to something loftier.  And even if it does, I contend that it is a Bad Idea in the long run.

It is contrived.  Skyy is not going natural because it believes natural is better for drinkers. They are not even going natural because they believe it tastes better.  They are going natural because they identified a new trend and determined that they can capitalize on it.  So much for brand protection.

By the way, I like Skyy Vodka.  It's smooth, mixes well and is not unaffordable.

But please.  Lisa Pope of Pope Consulting says that the all-natural positioning is important. "It plays into the trends that are  happening in the beverage category as a whole, and fits into consumers' needs at this time."

Really?  Do consumers "need" vodka infused with natural ingredients?  I guess it is "healthier" than vodka infused with unnatural ingredients, which begs the question of what consumers have been drinking up until now.

Anyway, here's my point, and I apologize for rambling: Skyy is a vodka, like McDonald's is a fast food hamburger joint.  Getting rid of bad stuff and adding in good stuff is a good idea (not a Big Idea) because it recognizes that you care about your customers. But by-and-large, consumers drink Skyy vodka for a reason... just like they eat McDonald's burgers and fries for a reason.

As my dad used to say, "Just be true to who you are."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Why you should NEVER EVER bypass the strategic marketing planning process.

I have been doing this (marketing and PR) for a couple decades now, representing hundreds of organizations – from start up companies to international FORTUNE 50 corporations – and it never ceases to amaze me how rarely organizations take the time to develop strategic marketing plans.  

Whether launching an entire new business or a single new product.  Whether planning a global multichannel marketing campaign or a local market direct mail post card campaign, there is NO GOOD EXCUSE for not planning.

So, here are my top 10 (of about a thousand) reasons for NOT bypassing the planning process:

1.  If your marketing plan is not in writing there is no legitimate accountability for anything that gets done (or doesn't get done, as the case may be).

2.  If it is not in writing there is a very good chance it will get overlooked, forgotten or ignored.

3.  While it is possible that you may intuitively "know" what needs to be done, you may be (and probably are) wrong.

4.  And if something happens to you, then the "intuitive knowledge" is lost with you.

5.  If you do not document specific, detailed objectives, there is no reasonable way to measure results.

6.  If there is no way to measure results, there is no way to determine ROI.  But hey, it's only money.

7.  If there is no plan documenting prioritized objectives connected to prioritized target audiences, how will you know what to do first?  Or where to spend the majority of your budget?  Or what to cut out if budgets shrink?

8.  If there is no plan, there is no documented situation analysis - no overview of your place in the business world.  Theodore Levitt, author of the article "Marketing Myopia" points out that many companies get themselves into deep trouble because they fail to understand just exactly what business they are in.  A little self-analysis goes a long way.

9.  Without a comprehensive marketing plan you will never be able to determine if any particular tactic (advertising, direct mail, publicity, trade show, special event, Web site, social media, etc.) is the best possible marketing investment or just another intriguing idea (the idea du jour).

10.  [Insert drum roll] When was the last time you went on a very important, long-term, long distance journey without a map or an itinerary?  When was the last time you went to the grocery store without a list?  When was the last time you gave a speech without notes. Such rarely rarely if ever end well.

And for any skeptics out there:  Planning is not intended to prevent, avoid or otherwise stave off the work that must be done, it is simply an essential precursor.  In the words of Peter Drucker, "Plans are only good intentions unless the immediately degenerate into hard work."

Do the planning. Then do the work.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Geese in Flight and Dogs that bite.

I just flew in from Raleigh; man are my arms killing me.

Did I ever mention that my oldest son is a special effects and lighting professional with a leading video game company?  He is.  

Matt graduated from Bowling Green State University four years ago with a BFA.  At the time he was leaning towards a career in pottery.  I told him then what I had always told him and what I continue to tell him today.  Follow your heart.  Do what you love.  Make a contribution to the world by being happy.

Matt is the happiest young man I have ever known, and I hope it lasts forever! 

I, on the other hand, have been rather grouchy lately.  Some might even say downright crabby. Okay, the truth is several people have made that observation.  And they were right.  I found myself going to Carolina in my mind more than once a day.  And signs that might be omens say I'm going... so I figured I might as well make the trip and get it out of my system.

North Carolina is my secret place where I escape from the daily grind... where I have been escaping for nearly 20 years.  I love North Carolina.  The beaches, the water, the sunshine, the moonshine, the people, the trees, the red clay, the food, the breezes... I love everything about North Carolina.

Anyway, while Kathy and I were there, spending every waking minute with Matt, he finally asked me the magic question:  "So, how is work these days; are you still enjoying it?"  You see, the student had turned the tables, asking me if I was still following my heart.

So, I told Matt the truth.  "Sometimes I wonder.  I love the business in its purest form.  I love the research.  I love the strategic planning and the problem solving, I love the creative process, I love the writing.  But sometimes I wonder. I love the people I work with – my fellow employees and our vendor partners and the media and some (but not all) of the industry associations and our clients (especially the ones who value marketing and PR as highly as we do)."  

So I told Matt the truth.  "Yeah, I still enjoy it.  I learn new things every day.  I challenge myself every day. I am excited about the possibilities every day.  I still enjoy it."  

But I must also admit that every now and again it is still a good idea to go to Carolina... even if it's only in my mind.