Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Leadership Ideas from GM's CIO

Here's a good summary of ideas from GM's CFO, Chris Lidell, taken from a letter to the editor in the current CFO magazine:

(1) Data. Don't just crank out data; turn it into actionable information and insight that others can use to grow the business forward.
(2) Dialogue. If you have one hour for a presentation, spend a little time presenting the data and much more time in a two-way conversation about how to take action.
(3) Drive. Get out of your office and talk to employees and customers. And by "driving every car in the portfolio," you can experience products firsthand (data) and take action.

For more, check out "GM's Chris Liddell Takes Stock."

Monday, June 27, 2011

QR or Not QR

As in to use a Quick Response or not to use a QR code, a 2-dimensional bar code that looks like this:

QR codes are used on printed materials, like an ad, to provide a quick link to additional information. The idea is that by using your smart phone's camera capability, you can take a photo, scan the bar code and launch to the Internet for more information -- without having to remember an often complicated URL.

Interesting concept, once that the CueCat (below) pioneered a decade ago, but failed miserably in its attempt.

Now that scan-and-go concept is back, but there are still problems. Apparently there are good QR scanners for iPhone and Android users, but there doesn't seem to be a decent QR scanner for BlackBerry users.  I've tried four, and find that with all of them, I've had to try scanning several times before the bar code is decoded and my smart phone's web browser is launched to the correct page. At that point, I'd prefer to have the URL so I can just write it down and enter it the next time I'm at a computer.

Meanwhile, Steve Smith, a contributing writer for MediaPost, has written a worthwhile article for those interested in how to deploy QR codes as part of their marketing.  Check out "How Not to Dig a QR Rabbit Hole," but here are a few key points:
  •  Mike Wehrs, CEO of ScanBuy, told Smith, "Don't create a code and just point to the home page of a [standard] website." I clicked on the QR code for "Midnight in Paris," and landed on the same website I would have found through any search engine.  Same for ads for Porsche. I was expecting something more than their home page.
  • Wehrs said it's worse when the link is for a standard website that hasn't been optimized for mobile users.  Don't forget: most people using a QR scanner are going to access the link from their smart phones -- so the landing page should work for a smart phone user!
  • Links from QR codes should add value for the user. Smith Cites Macy's as using QR codes for coupons -- that makes a lot of sense to me.
  • Wehrs suggests providing a headline so that users know what to expect. For Home Depot, ScanBuy used the headline "Scan the code for more Martha" to support a Martha Stewart promotion.
Those are some good points for communications functions considering the use of QR codes. Check out Smith's article for more thoughts.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that business cards are being transformed or even replaced by QR codes; check out the article here. Two other good Times articles to check out are "Cracking the Q.R. Code" and "Connecting With Clients Through the Power of Tech."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

TVBlog's Perspective on Jon Stewart's Interview with Chris Wallace on Fox

Over at TVBlog's David Goetzl provided a recap of Jon Stewart's interview by Chris Wallace on Fox News.  What I found interesting is that it proves the challenge of political bias because we took the same interview very differently.  You can check out his article here.

Here's my perspective.

1. Chris Wallace wanted to nail Jon Stewart to admit that Stewart is biased.  Wallace said he was just trying to understand Jon Stewart, but many of his questions seemed designed to elicit one response: to get Stewart to admit that he's biased and that he's out to get Fox News. What Stewart said was that say while his ideology informs his comedy, his main goal as a comedian and political satirist is to make people laugh by spotlighting absurdity, hypocrisy and corruption. 

2. Was Wallace unfair to Stewart? If saying Wallace is a counterweight to Hannity and Beck, as Stewart alleged, is unfair to Wallace (and I'm not sure it is) -- wasn't it also unfair of Wallace to make the same point about Stewart and other Comedy Central programs? (Wallace had prepared footage of Comedy Central programs and said he sat through hours of "South Park.") By the way, Stewart agreed that his show serves as a counterweight to "South Park" and other shows.

What's striking is that in responding to Stewart's point that Wallace is a counterweight to other more opinion-based Fox programming, Wallace responded by making the same point about Stewart, thus equating a news network and a comedy network.   It should be apples to oranges, but Wallace made a direct comparison.

3. Stewart may have a left-wing bias, but Fox doesn't admit that it has a right-wing bias. I understand the point Wallace was attempting to make about Stewart and newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. but if it's important to understand left-wing bias of the media, shouldn't it be important to understand the right-wing bias of the Wall St. Journal, New York Post and Fox News?

In fact, the concept of objective journalism in the U.S. is a modern contrivance. In the mid-1800, newspapers openly declared their perspective, whether the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American, which was founded in 1844 and takes a conservative perspective, or the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, founded in 1833. Interestingly, given's Fox's slogan, the Democrat and Chronicle was first called the Balance, before becoming the Democrat (and later the Democrat and Chronicle).

Perhaps it would be better if all media acknowledged the filter that its editors take on the news it covers.  And it certainly would be better if those who use sweeping negative terms to describe the other side were to stop doing so and to accept the fact that they've done so. At the end of the interview, Stewart said he was guilty of that himself, but you don't hear anyone else coping to that. Partisans on both sides are to blame for this.

4. Taking facts and delivering perspective that makes people laugh does seem like more work. So, does Stewart work harder than Wallace? Stewart can be more selective in what he covers -- he's putting together a comedy show after all, not a news program. But in covering the same story and when conducting interviews on those topics, Stewart also has to make people laugh. That's definitely a tougher challenge.

5. Stewart's biggest point got left out of the recap. His goal is to follow a tradition set by Mark Twain: to hold up absurdities of American life and politics -- and now, its 24-hour saturation media.  

Here's the interview in its entirety:

Monday, June 20, 2011

How to Motivate Employees Who Otherwise Might Feel They're Doing Grunge Work

An Inc. Magazine article about a hair-drying chain contained some interesting tips on creating excellent customer service.

As reported in Inc., Leonardo Inghiller, author of "Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization," said one of the most important things a company can do is to "give employees permission to wax creative."   Inghiller, who once worked at Walt Disney, said:
"We always told the housekeepers, "You are not here to clean rooms. You are here to create a memorable experiences for your customers. We had housekeepers who would take little Mickey Mouse plush dolls and put them in children's beds with a note, 'I was waiting for you.'
"If your employees understand the mission and have the freedom to do great things, then they will do great things."
 He's right -- an uncleaned room would certainly detract from the wonders of Disney. And what an interesting way to motivate employees!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Forbes Validates Our Prediction about Curation

In our annual list of predictions, we said we expect to see a lot of "curation" this year. In an April column, Lewis D'Vorkin wrote, "The soul of media: Curation and editing, all one in the same."

Interesting all the more because on Jan. 12, 2011, we posted "Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, Part III," in which we said,

As used in 2011, curation does not have anything to do with healing. Sometimes known as "digital curation," the term generally refers to the concept of a website that offers information selected and maintained by an actual human (who might be known as a curator if this were a museum), not by an algorithm. In newspaper circles, this person used to be called "editor."
Read D'Vorkin's column, it worth checking out. But it's also nice to see another prediction validated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Could it be the work of the Hamburgler: McDonald's Confronts an Online Hoax

McDonald's was the subject of a hoax, involving the following photo:

Turns out that that the phone number listed on the false notice actually goes to KFC.

And, it turns out, that the notice was not true.

McDonald's has a strong track record of diversity. And once the company found the hoax, it tweeted a response and then retweeted others who supported the Golden Arches.

But there are some, including's Matt Wilson, who asked, "Did McDonald’s do enough to correct a Twitter hoax?"

Check out the article, but here are some points to consider about McDonald's response:
  • People started using the hashtag #seriouslymcdonalds to comment on the issue. In my search, I did not see that McDonald's used that hashtag, so that people looking at that as a trending topic probably would not have seen McDonald's response. Instead, McDonald's retweeted some other folks' tweets that included the #seriouslymcdonalds hashtag. 
  • They could have made a temporary change to the link listed in the McDonald's bio; right now it links to the @McDonalds Twitter Team -- but the company could have added a temporary statement about the hoax and its track record in supporting diversity.
  • Since this was a hoax perpetuated outside the company -- i.e., was not an employee prank, like that video from KFC's employees or a mistweet by the Chrysler social media agency or the Red Cross employee --- McDonald's could have taken a more aggressive stance in getting out the news that the photo was a hoax, and to have pointed to its decades of diversity success. The company may have wanted to be cautious for fear of unleashing copycat hoaxes, but I think it's an opportunity to tout its record on diversity. And, as some noted in Wilson's article, this hoax is likely to re-appear anyway because it can be difficult to kill rumors (Pres. Obama's birth certificate is just one example).
As for suspects behind the hoax, I'm sure McDonald's will investigate who might be behind it.

I have no way of knowing, but am wondering if ex-McDonald's employee, the Hamburgler may still carry a grudge.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Fortune Looks at the Qualities That Make for an MVP CEO

    Just as Major League Baseball compiles its annual list of National League and American League All-Stars, Fortune is compiling its list of CEOs to comprise Fortune's "first Executive Dream Team."

    I'm not sure of the value of an "Executive Dream Team," but editors and readers like lists. And like the All-Star balloting, readers can vote for the CEOs of their choice. However, the link is embedded in the print edition as a QR code, and voting page was not available by searching for it online; so if you have a BlackBerry, for which QR code scanners are unreliable at best, you probably can't vote. And if you don't get the print edition, you probably can't vote. (Which is why I'm including the URL here.)

    According to long-time management reporter Geoff Colvin, there are five "tasks that star CEOs of tomorrow will need to do extraordinarily well. While I don't disagree with Colvin's choices, I think some of those tasks are more important than others and that there are a bunch he left out.  Here are some from his list I agree with:
    • Understand global business in their bones.
    • Change strategies and business models more than before. I think this is very important.
    • Identify and manage risks before they become disasters. Also very important.
    But that list is not complete. There are other qualities, too, that an Executive Dream Team should have, especially when considering the executives (see below) on Fortune's ballet. Qualities such as:
    • Understanding how to execute.
    • Providing leadership.
    • Taking care of employees, including training and succession planning.
    • Fostering innovation. You can't update your business model if your organization isn't innovating.
    • Being able to work with board members and customers -- different selling skills, but both are important.
    • Understanding marketing.
    • Anticipating trends that will drive sales.
    Which CEO would be on your Dream Team?
    • J.P. Morgan's Jamie Dimon
    • Apple's Steve Jobs
    • McDonald's Jim Skinner
    • IBM's Sam Palmisano
    • PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi
    • IBM's Sam Palmisano
    What other qualities did Fortune overlook? Or that we missed? Let us know.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    11 Lessons from Weinergate

    We knew it was a train wreck when Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said he could not say "with certitude" whether or not that now infamous photo was of him.

    Here are some lessons learned from the past two weeks.
    1. Do not take a picture of your junk. If you feel compelled to do so anyway, do not take the photo with your cell phone and do not load it onto your computer -- it's too easy for something unpleasant to happen.  This might seem obvious, but clearly it's a lesson that Brett Favre and Anthony Weiner could have benefited from.
    2. Do not share pictures of your junk. Nothing good can come from it. Doing so is unlikely to get you what you want. And, if you're a public figure, is more likely to make the day for your political enemies and late-night comedians. Even Jon Stewart, who on previous editions of the "Daily Show" has said he's good friends with the congressman, had to take Weiner to task.
    3. Social media is a great way to connect and engage with people you've never met, but limit the nature of the conversations you have with people you don't know. Your parents told you not to talk to strangers for a reason. This is particularly true for the Internet, where no one know if you're a dog. (Apparently in more senses than one.)
    4. If you feel you must respond when a woman says she thinks you're politics are "hot," focus on the politics, not the "hot." It may be flattering for someone to call you "hot," but it's never good for married politicians to respond to those compliments.
    5. If you're not sure if a conversation you're contemplating or actually having is appropriate, it probably isn't. Before you post or hit send, ask yourself, if this is made public, how would TMZ respond? What will Andrew Breitbart do with this content? 
    6. A little flirting may be okay, but persistent over-the-line conversations are not. Keep in mind that those online conversations that you think are sexy and fun will actually look especially sordid and creepy when other people can read them. Keep that in mind the next time you consider engaging in those sorts of conversations.
    7. If a photo or conversation is made public, do not lie and say your account was hacked if, in fact, your account was not hacked. Eventually, the truth will come out, and now people will know, among other things, that you a liar. And a bad one at that. 
    8. Remember: it's usually not the deed but the cover-up that causes problems. True, it would have been embarrassing for Weiner to admit at the start that the photo was his. But had he admitted the truth up front, he would have spared himself two weeks of humiliation. And he would have more credibility.
    9. By not answering questions clearly and succinctly, you actually raise the distraction level. Weiner is an otherwise feisty, smart and astute politician, with a lot of media experience. He should have realized that providing fuzzy, contradictory answers only stoke the scandal's flames (and not in a way he wanted to via his online exchanges).
    10. If you schedule a press conference to finally admit what we all know to be true, do not let anyone else -- especially a political enemy -- commandeer your podium before you get there. Instead, if you're going to be late, at least station a staffer to prevent anyone else from usurping your microphone and airtime.
    11. If you hold a press conference to make a teary confession, do not take questions afterwords. Make your statement, explain that you're sorry you've hurt those closest to you, that you made and learned from your mistake, and then left the podium. There will be no sympathetic of softball questions from the media, like, "Congressman, now that this is behind you, are you glad to get back to focusing on the business your constituents elected you to do?
    There's clearly a 12th lesson here, one best illustrated by the Daily Show, especially in this faux press conference.

    Check out Don't Be A Weiner for other lessons and a good post on, 5 Tips for Handling a PR Crisis like Weinergate. If you have other lessons from this recent crisis, let me know.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    The Future of Advertising, Social Media & PR

    Earlier this week, Alex Poulos at LaunchPad Media, wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe that discussed the future of advertising, "‘Mad Men’ of the future: The world of advertising — consumer, beware."  In the piece,
    Poulos makes a few points about what the future of advertising holds, which, because of new technologies, will bring about new levels of:
    • Intrusiveness.
    • Invasiveness.
    • Interactivity.
    • Integration.
    It's this last point that interests me the most. Poulos says that "advertising, marketing and PR will be indistinguishable. Yet words used now to hasten that day -- 'integrated,' 'synergy' and 'holistics' -- will seem silly in the future."

    I agree with that -- just as we predicted in the 1990s that so-called "new media" would just be called "media." Until, of course, we got to a new "new media," also known as social media. 

    I think there's a chance we'll stop referring to social media even as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others are integrated more closely into our smarterphones and are embedded in all sorts of devices, including cars.  (For example: you'll be able to enter your friend's location from your contact database to program the address into your GPS.) That convergence will just be the way we live.

    And I think the current wave of new media will just be called media by the middle of the decade.

    Of course, it will be supplanted by even newer media.  But that's grist for another blog article.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    7 New Business Mistakes Agencies Make

    Earlier this week, I wrote about mistakes clients make during the new business process. Today, I want to take a look at mistakes agencies make -- these are mistakes we try to avoid, but we've made them, too.
    1. Not answering direct questions. There are some questions that are difficult to answer, including the quantity of articles an agency might expect an announcement to generate or a question about budget levels. But too many agencies hem and haw when a client seeks a clear answer. Hemmimg and hawing makes it seem like you don't know or won't answer.
    2. Being too vague when it comes to program specifics. There's a debate about how detailed agencies should get in their proposals. If you don't provide enough detail, you may not provide the prospective client with enough information to ascertain whether or not you would be suitable to serve as their agency. Part of the debate is this: which is more important -- the ideas or the execution of those ideas? As the head of an agency, I think both the creative and the execution are important, and work hard to excel at both.  At the proposal level we want to provide enough detail to prove our thoughtfulness and experience without handing a document to a prospective client that enables the organization to implement the program without us. (We've heard of cases were clients take the ideas generated through the RFP process and implemented those concepts themselves, without hiring a new agency.)  Getting that balance right is a challenge.
    3. Not developing reasonable metrics to measure and evaluate the client's marketing investment. In fact, too often agencies don't see a campaign as "an investment," so they think in terms of generating coverage (via traditional PR) or generating followers (via social media) but fail to focus on the need to generate leads. I realize setting expectations and metrics for social media can be a challenge -- especially because metrics for one company may not be appropriate for the next company. But because clients see PR and social media as part of their marketing investment, we need to do a better job of quantifying our proposals and campaigns so as to help determine the ROI for that investment.
    4. Pursuing clients that are not good fits, based on your experience. In a down economy, agencies are more motivated to pursue any new business. But there are clients -- while worthy organizations -- may not be a good fit for you. It's not worth pursuing that kind of new business, if only because those assignments may not be a good fit for the agency, its culture and its other clients.On the other hand, I'm not saying agencies must limit their new business only to the sort of clients and industries with which they've worked previously. It's hard to expand if you don't push the boundaries. But agencies and clients should be cautious.
    5. Not delivering what the client wants or focusing the proposal only to the needs of the day-to-day contact and not the marketing chief. We did that once -- provided a good program that addressed what the potential day-to-day client told us she wanted but ignored what her boss wanted.  She had told us she was the key decision maker, but that turned out not the the case. Meanwhile, too many agencies seek to solve the prospective client's marketing challenge from the agencies' perspective and not take into consideration the client, the client's culture, resources and needs.  The client is looking for a partner, an agency it can work with. By not addressing the client's needs upfront, the agency shows that it doesn't really care. (It's a big tip-off if the client's name is misspelled or if another client's name is listed in the body that the proposal didn't get a lot of thought or interest from the prospective agency.)
    6. Not showing any interest or enthusiasm for the client, its business and sector.  I'm always surprised when clients tell us that their current agency no longer seems interested in the business, and yet we hear that about other agencies. If agency personnel don't seem excited, it will be difficult for them to generate excitement among reporters, bloggers, etc. 
    7. Playing bait-and-switch by bringing only senior people to the pitch meeting and then asigning only junior staff to the account.  This has been going on a long time. Some clients we now work with have specifically told us they liked that our account teams all have substantial experience, and that the people who pitch the account actually work on the account. For us, that makes sense for how we run the agency and our mindset about our corporate culture. 
    We don't mind if other agencies make this last mistake, actually. Or any of the other mistakes we've highlighted above. We continue to look for ways to improve what we do. And since we wrote about the mistakes prospective clients make -- based on a blog post -- we thought it only fair to point out mistakes agencies make.

    Let us know if there's an agency new business mistake you've seen that I have not captured above.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Mistakes Clients Make When Choosing an Agency: RFP process

    In Part I, I responded to a blog post by Avi Dan on "The 7 Biggest Mistakes Clients Make When Choosing An Agency." In Part II, I want to explore the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

    The RFP process is intended to be a level playing field for all participating agencies, which would be fine and fair. But in practice, RFPs seem like a more complicated process, for clients, who have to develop them, and for agencies, who have to respond to them. 

    I actually don't know anyone who likes the RFP process.

    The problem is that too many of them seem poorly designed.

    A few years ago, we got one from an engineering-driven company, and it was clear that the committee that developed the RFP was comprised of engineers, not marketers.  The tactics and strategies that are important for successful marketing were included -- but at the end, under a Miscellaneous heading. Sometimes RFPs have questions that don't even address the issue.

    Here are some elements that are the hallmark of a well-conceived RFP:
    • A clear explanation of why the organization is conducting an RFP now, including the challenges the company faces. We've seen RFPs that provide minimal background, which makes it difficult to address key challenges. For example, one RFP was clear on the key challenge -- the organization was launching a new first-of-its-kind product; unfortunately, a quick search found that their product wasn't the first, and that that affects the strategy, messaging and positioning. 
    • A clear explanation of what the organization is seeking in an agency, particularly the skill sets and experience.  There are lots of blurred lines out there among agencies: there are traditional PR agencies; hybrids (likes ours, cover PR and social media); and social media agencies as well as ad agencies focused on digital. Part of the process before the RFP should be to pre-qualify the sort of agency, its expertise and background that can help an organization achieve its goals. That pre-screening can help agencies determine whether they should participate. 
    • Specific objectives for the program. 
    • A realistic time line for the process. We've seen RFPs that requested a great deal of work to be completed in two weeks, with the promise the prospective client would respond in two weeks. That happened recently, but that's the exception. I remember one RFP process in which the client said they would make a decision within a week...which stretched out to more than a month. And I knew going into it, based on what the prospective client said, that they were never going to meet their deadline.
    • A clear overview of the scope of work. One challenge is that the scope of work for a social media campaign can vary widely depending on the company, its resources and culture. This is especially a challenge when it comes to talking about social media, which can cover a lot of ground and tactics, and can require lots of multimedia content that can entail out-of-pocket expenses. 
    • A clear overview of the budget. I understand the challenge in talking about budgets -- as a company you don't want to set the bar too high (say, $20,000 per month) if a hungry agency is willing to underbid (say, $10,000 per month).  But without a range, or some guidance, it's difficult for an agency to know what's realistic or not. Because one prospective client said, "we really want to see your best ideas," "we're entering an important make-or-break growth phase for the company" and "budget isn't really an issue," we provided some great creative ideas...that also happened to be thousands of dollars more than they could stomach. Knowing that budget was more of an issue, we would have provided more ideas that fit that parameter.
    • A clear sense of how the proposals will be evaluated, including the structure you're looking for. A recent RFP we heard about generated proposals written in PowerPoint, Word and Excel. If there's that much confusion in how the document should be presented, there may be other problems with the procees. By the way, preparing a template for the proposals will also make it easier for the evaluating committee to review all the proposals and select a winner.
    There are some other good ideas regarding RFPs on LinkedIn Groups available here; I liked the response from Paul Gilbert, a regional Director at Forrester Research.

    If you disagree, please let me know. If you agree and have a great story to share, please let me know.

    Meanwhile, to be fair, check out my blog post, "7 New Business Mistakes Agencies Make."