. The Transom .

Thursday, June 29, 2006

How not to make a city look good

I saw this ad in the latest edition of Inc. magazine. At first, I thought my hometown of St. Louis had been firebombed or was suffering some major natural disaster. Maybe our local politicians were extremely corrupt and we were spiraling out of control (content for another blog...).

I looked out my window and, thankfully, all was well. We just suffer from an incredibly ignorant advertising department inside the Post-Dispatch. At first glance, you would never guess this ad was promoting the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's classified section. Go there to look for work. More St. Louisans go to the Post classified than any other blah blah blah.

I took one look at this and thought I would see the head of the St. Louis tourism commission on a march to the Post looking for heads to roll. This ad completely undermines efforts made by our city to promote tourism and economic development. Are we in such bad shape that we're hanging a Help Wanted sign on the one landmark that symbolizes national expansion? Did the Post even think before putting this ad out?

Someone needs to explain to me how this city's newspaper would think this ad was good for the city. It doesn't deliver the right message. It doesn't connect with what the Post was trying to do. It gives St. Louis an incredibly poor image.

Congratulations, Post-Dispatch. I'm sure that Lee (and the Pulitzer's) would be very proud that you're doing all you can to run your subscriber base into the ground.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Ritz-Carlton drives the bus

On Friday, we invited Brad Cance, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, to speak to us about how the hotel company has built their reputation for excellence and amazing client service. There are a number of things in place that help perpetuate that kind of thinking, but overall, he said it comes down to the right people.

He quoted Jim Collins' book Good to Great about how you have to have the right people on the bus, and in the right seat. He spoke about how they expect the very best from their ladies and gentlemen, and in turn, treat their ladies and gentlemen with the utmost respect.

That model works for the Ritz-Carlton, it works for us, and it can work for every company regardless of size, offering or location. Problem is, too many companies don't invest the small amount of time it would take to really make it happen. Can you imagine what your reaction would be if you ordered a Big Mac and it was brought to your table instead of plopped down on a tray? What if the guy at Jiffy Lube took 30 seconds and cleaned your air filter instead of trying to sell you a new one? What if the Wal-Mart employee actually took you over to the kids shoe department instead of pointing a finger and saying, "it's on that side of the store."

Little things could go a long way.

Good service isn't expensive, it just requires you to think of your customers' experience and make it one that they will remember. That starts with getting the right people on your bus. Look around your office. Look at the people who serve your business. Should they be on the bus, or at the bus stop?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A lesson on how to blow one billion dollars

Remember when Europeans really liked America? Yeah, me neither. It's been awhile.

USA Today just ran a story citing several recent studies showing how the reputation of the United States continues to take a nose dive in Europe. In fact, many European countries rank the US as a greater threat to international security than Iran. More than Iran? That must be France talking, right? Wrong. Try England. Germany and Italy ranked us second, one behind Iran. Gee, thanks.

It does illustrate one very important point about communications. If you don't walk the walk, all the talk in the world can't save you from the truth. The US is currently spending over one billion dollars on an advertising campaign to help shore up our image overseas. Wasted money if you ask me.

Instead of cubicles, we'll call them MySpaces...

Why does every kid right out of college expect to be treated like a 30-year company veteran? Why do they get insulted when I don't include them in decision making? Why do they ask 'why?' so much?

Sound familiar? Get used to it. GenY will rock your world, oldtimer. Most people assume Yers are spoiled or want everything handed to them on a silver platter. I used to buy into that theory. But now I think it's because they are the most entrepreneurial generation, ever. They are tech-savvy, unafraid of change and yearn to learn. They don't necessarily care about doing the entry-level tasks, they just want to know why. A response of, "because I told you to" doesn't fly with this group. That worked for the Veterans and the Boomers. Keep in mind that 50% of the male Veteran generation served in the military, thus spawning military-like corporate behavior. The Boomers just accepted it. GenX created 'Me, Inc.' and the Yers are taking it to a whole new level. There are as many Yers as Boomers. You don't think they have the sheer numbers to move an economy?

Our country has policies and pension plans designed for the Veteran generation. The Boomers didn't change things because they are an accepting bunch. The Xers don't have the numbers (only 40 million) to create change, only support it. But the Yers, at 80 million strong, have the numbers, the know-how and the desire to completely shake things up.

I predict in ten years I'll be working for a kid just out of college, in a virtual home office to support my work/life balance, doing nothing but communicating online. Of course, that's just my theory. I'd love to hear yours.

Monday, June 19, 2006

How Ghana can change your business

This past weekend provided an example of why you can't always bet on the big name, highest paid, most popular or most expected-to-win team, whether that team is a business or a pee-wee football team.

In the World Cup, there are few surprises. The big soccer nations (Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, etc) always do well. It's almost a tradition. But then there is Ghana. The Czech Republic had the pleasure of playing Ghana, a team that no one picked to make it past the first round. The spread on the Ghana-Czech game was four goals. Ghana was supposed to lose. They were expected to lose. Everyone knew they would lose. But no one told Ghana...

Ghana dominated the game from the start, scoring in the first 2 minutes. They played with more tempo, more enthusiasm and more heart and won the game, easily.

Last night, South Korea was playing the 1998 World Cup champs, France. Again, France was supposed to rout the Koreans. What happened? Korea came out hungry and hot. France came out looking like they expected to win. The result was a tie. A huge accomplishment for the Koreans, and an embarrassing result for France.

In the US Open, after Tiger Woods spent the weekend at home, Phil Mickelson was the top ranked player in the field. He was at or near the top of the leaderboard all week. Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie were all in contention. So was Geoff Ogilvy. Who? This was Father's Day. This was Phil going for three majors in a row. This was New York. It was supposed to end with Phil holding the trophy. He was expected to be the best. But he didn't win. Ogilvy, who most fans have never heard of, played his heart out and won by a shot.

So what's the moral of the story in the business world? Just because you aren't the biggest, or the marquee company, or the one expected to win, you can. Hunger, heart and determination blow past reputation and ego every time. I'd rather go with a smaller, hungrier firm than a large one that expects my business. Why? Because the underdog isn't going to stop fighting. He won't rest on his laurels. He'll prove that he belongs.

Here's to Ghana, South Korea and Geoff Ogilvy for having the fire to show that it isn't the name that wins you the heart of the people, it's the heart of your people that wins you the name.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

When strategy and bank accounts collide

Watching the U.S. Open today, I was reminded of one of the most confusing marketing decisions in the last few years. Through this year, the PGA Tour has television rights with ESPN, easily the biggest name in sports television. Tournaments would be shown on ESPN for the Thursday-Friday rounds and then switch to the networks for weekend coverage. Made sense.

Starting in 2007 (or '08 - I'm not certain), the Tour signed on for 15 years with The Golf Channel as their television partner. Cable channel to cable channel. Sports channel to all golf channel. Makes sense, right?


One big objective of the PGA Tour, the PGA of America, and the USGA for the last several years has been to grow the game of golf. They wanted to "introduce the game to non-golfers." Someone explain to me how moving away from the most watched sports television network to one focusing exclusively on golfers will introduce non-golfers to the sport. The Golf Channel pulled out their wallet, the PGA Tour threw their grow-the-game strategy out the window, and the sport of golf lost a golden opportunity.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Why CEO's need PR now more than ever

A lot of talk has been made recently about how kids today get into more trouble than their parent's generation, how our ethics are gone, and how corrupt corporate America has become. That's all a bunch of nonsense. The only difference is that it's 100 times easier to get caught today than it was 'back then.' Kids were just as foolish, our ethics were no better, and corporate America is actually probably in better hands today than 50 years ago.

The reason for all of this is transparency. It's become a completely over-used term, but until something better comes along, I'll run with it. Before, a corporation selected what information it wanted to release to the public to help drive stock prices. Today, information is not only reported by the 'corporate head' but also by the whistle blower in accounting or operations. There is no private information anymore. What's a CEO to do?

The first thing to do is fire your spin doctors. They aren't PR people and they don't know how to operate in today's world. What today's CEO needs is honest communications counsel that understands the business and the effect information has across all stakeholders.

Whew. That's a big role. Welcome to today's public relations.

Luckily there are ways to tell the counsel from the spin docs. Counsel seeks your input and works with you on solutions, even challenging your ideas fiercely to ensure the right action is taken. Spin doctors wait for you to tell them what to do. Counsel brings new ideas and information to you that will be helpful in your decision making. Spinners react to information or downplay its worth. Counsel is worried about the bigger picture. Spin doctors focus on the next five minutes.

CEO's realize that a corporations reputation matters more today than ever. Stocks prices go up and down on information that has nothing to do with finance. The number of job applicants fall over news that Company B isn't properly recycling their e-waste. Having a bank full of good feelings helps offset the occasional bad news. Having no bank leaves the focus only on the bad news.

The reputation of your company and the manner in which you operate isn't a job to be left to the legal department or human resources. It certainly doesn't fall under advertising, although that tool will likely be utilized by the PR counsel at some point. The mighty responsibility of managing your corporate reputation, how the world views and perceives what you do, falls squarely on the shoulders of public relations. In my opinion, too many CEO's can't see past the legal department. Companies aren't letting the people trained in reputation and communications management actually manage the communications and reputation of the company.