Category Archives: General Corporate
Ode to the Working Mom
May 10, 2013
I am a Mom. I wear that label proudly, passionately, and joyfully. I am also an executive. I worked hard for that title, and I do that proudly and passionately, too. It doesn’t make me special. Nor does it make me a bad mother. There are millions of working Moms. We aren’t Tiger Women, too selfish to give up our designer shoes and “stay home to raise our children” and we aren’t poor, downtrodden women who know we would be better mothers, if only we weren’t forced to work against our will, even those of us who work primarily for the money.
We are accomplished. We are uber-efficient. And we are strong. (cue Helen Reddy music). We are also insecure (Am I doing this right?), overloaded and exhausted. But we are a sisterhood. We don’t meet every Tuesday morning at playgroup, or get together to make homemade, organic baby food at each other’s houses. We probably aren’t in a book club (unless voracious consumption of email counts as a book) and we aren’t in the gaggle in the school parking lot. A cell phone is a lifeline, not a fashion accessory.
We are a wolfpack. We support each other, often wordlessly while clutching a Starbucks cup. We are the moms who know a child is most likely to projectile vomit as you are hugging them goodbye on your way to the airport, and all of your clothes are at the dry-cleaners. Raging high fevers appear most often on the day of important client meetings. (And we know that you NEVER, EVER, schedule one of those on October 31). We hide poster board between our mattress and box spring for emergency uses when a project is forgotten about until 9 p.m.
We understand that pancakes, or Lucky Charms, are a perfectly acceptable dinner. And that (gasp) store-bought cupcakes work equally well for a bake sale. We are the living proof that you can make New York to California and back a day trip if there is a recorder concert featuring Hot Cross Buns, played in the round, tomorrow. (Yes, I really did that!)
We smile patiently when Moms at school tell us how lucky we are that we “get to go to work” and talk to grownups all day, and “go the gym” at lunch time. (Note: yesterday, lunch time was 4 p.m., and unless scarfing French fries with a colleague is a workout, and I missed the memo – gym at lunch may be the biggest myth ever.) And we gently remind the orthodontist that only offering appointments on Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4p.m. isn’t particularly customer-friendly.
Nothing strikes terror in our hearts like an unplanned school closure, except perhaps a request for a meeting from the teacher. (“Johnny is acting out in class. I know you work, but…..”) Forget December, September and June are the most stressful months of the year. Hands down.
My first baby is turning 18 next month. I was the first Mom to have a baby and return to work at my agency. I pretty much made it up as I went along. My entire frame of reference was Baby Boom and Clair Huxtable. Luckily, I’ve had mentors, colleagues and clients figuring it out with me. They have been my “Mommy Wolfpack” – they’ve inspired me, encouraged me, laughed and cried with me. And they’ve given me the swift kick in the pants when I’ve needed some tough love. Because this is what Moms do – we mother. We even mother each other.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Moms out there. And to my Mommy Wolfpack – this is my ode to you. You know who you are.
When a couple of guys who liked to run founded the Blue Ribbon Sports Company in 1964, I’m sure they didn’t set out to create a mega-brand. They began with a simple need to make better track shoes. I haven’t found any prophetic stories about naming their company after the Greek Goddess of Victory – because at first, they didn’t. They named it after the simple goal of winning more track events. Perhaps it was this singular dedication to purpose that prophetically foreshadowed success that is rarely duplicated. Yes, I’m talking about Nike.
I’ve written about Nike before. In fact, I write about them more than I mean to….they just seem to keep coming up as an example of a company getting it right, at least reputationally speaking. It’s why they consistently appear in the top 20 of Fortune’s Most Admired List. It’s why their stock is at an all-time high, and it’s why everything they do – from making a shoe for a limping elephant, to signing the first openly gay pro athlete to a contract, makes headlines.
What does Nike know (and practice) that the rest of us don’t?
- Purpose is everything. It provides the courage to stand by your athletes during controversy, the inspiration to innovate and the power to change entire industries. And we aren’t talking about manufactured purpose designed to appeal to a certain set of stakeholders… authentic purpose that begins at the top. Maybe that is why their CEO gets a 90 percent approval rating from the employees.
- Leaders Go First, and they go BIG – Many great businesses have been built on the strategy of being a “fast follower.” Nike isn’t one of them. They create the future by marching boldly toward the future they define. That includes their approach to sustainability – of the planet, of society and of their business.
- Great companies have great stories. I know that storytelling is sort of a buzz word in our industry today. But check out this article from 2000 – yup, you read that right. It’s all about how Nike invests in corporate storytellers to create a culture, which ensures that the sense of purpose we discussed earlier lives on.
- Consistency, from the inside out. Nike’s approach to its employees is consistent with its approach to the world. They are noted as an LGBT-friendly company, and an LGBT-friendly sponsor. They live their values. They tell their stories.
- Simplicity rules. Nike has mastered the art of simplicity, in an increasingly complex world. Their discipline around branding, messaging and even decision-making is the stuff that B-school case studies are made of.
If you want a bullet proof reputation like the one Nike has earned, Just Do It. Enough said.
I am the product of an all-girls private school that did all of the things that studies show women’s schools do. It was cool for girls to be smart. Women are leaders. We could (and should) have a voice. And like many women of my generation, I always wanted it all…and learned the hard way that having it all meant having to do it all in all of the ways that the studies about working women and the third shift have already documented to death. (And that any working mom of my generation can tell you about firsthand.)
So I am fascinated by what feels like a throw-back conversation about the glass ceiling, the frenzied discussion around Leaning In (For women, at work. For men, at home. ) and the truly polarizing debates about Marissa Mayer and those who “feel sorry for her baby”, criticizing her for taking only two weeks of maternity leave and “abandoning her baby” then criticizing her for bringing her baby to work. All we need is a bra burning (Did I miss the email about that?).
Sure, some see this as opening up a conversation about choices, tolerance and a sisterhood of support. But mostly, women are turning on each other in droves around these topics, such as the much shared, snarky piece by Maureen Dowd, who seemingly doesn’t buy the whole Lean In thing. (Admittedly, I found this funny, but I am a fan of snark.) Forget the battle of the sexes; we haven’t seen a battle of the women like this since Melanie Griffith’s Working Girl character opined, “If you want to be taken seriously, you need serious hair.” (A rule to live by, by the way!)
This is no different than the eternal battle between career women (aka Tiger Women) and stay at home mom’s (aka SAHMs) – both of whom feel defensive and make false assumptions about the other. Among the most notable – the falsehood that career women are selfish, materialistic people who put shoes ahead of their offspring, get to go to the gym at lunch every day and have more money than they know what to do with; while SAHMs are an intellectually inferior species who are wasting their education, watching daytime TV and baking bread from scratch because they have more free time than they know what to do with. Neither is true. And perhaps, we should support and respect each other rather than fight with each other.
Because this infighting is exactly what those who wish to keep women “in their place” are counting on. The debate isn’t a throwback. The glass ceiling is real, as this infographic shows. Women are still only holding slightly more than 10 percent of board seats in the Fortune 500 and most of the companies who do have women on the board have only one. Some might call that “a token.” As many as one third of MBA students are women, yet only 3 percent of C-level executives are women. Male owned start-ups receive 95 percent of the VC money.
We are our own worst enemy. Let’s stop perpetuating the stereotyping of female infighting. Whether you choose to Lean In, or lean out, maybe women need to try Leaning ON each other for a change.
Let’s start a #LEANON movement…share your secrets and tips with fellow women. Here’s my working Mom survival tip No. 1:
Keep a stack of singles in a kitchen drawer. This way when you school-aged child needs exactly $3 on the way out to school, you won’t be writing a $3 check. This also counts as homework help, because you are teaching your precious angel to count money.
#LEANON, baby. #LEANON.
Rating S&P’s Words
April 24, 2013
As practitioners of crisis communications, we regularly work closely with legal counsel to make sure that the communications strategy is closely aligned with the legal strategy. Our objective is to help protect brands and while the lawyers look toward winning in the court of law, we public relations practitioners aim for success in the court of public opinion. Words matter for each of us in arguing our case and we seek to be in sync in legal filings and corporate messaging. Yet, there are some times when friction can emerge between the road the lawyers are taking and what we believe may be best for our client’s reputation.
That rub is now being played out in fabulous fashion in a civil fraud lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice against Standard & Poors Ratings Service regarding S&P’s ratings and the 2008 financial meltdown. As The Wall Street Journal reporter Jeannette Newman points out in her excellent April 23 story on the case, S&P has long focused on the words “independent” and “objective” in selling itself as the grand arbiter of the quality and safety of corporate debt and a host of financial instruments. “Independent” and “objective” went hand in hand with “Standard” and “Poors” in how the Company described itself to investors and sold its expertise for very big bucks to its clients. The words are ubiquitous in the materials produced by S&P’s marketing and public relations teams and frequently repeated by company executives.
But facing the DOJ in court, S&P’s lawyers are now saying those words are just “puffery” and were never meant to be taken at face value. The company’s legal team, which includes First Amendment super-lawyer Floyd Abrams, cites recent Federal court rulings that call into question whether S&P’s watch words can really be depended on. Or as Ms. Newman recounts, the lawyers’ point is that “S&P’s ratings were objective, independent and uninfluenced by conflicts of interest. That, however, is beside the point.”
Whether this legal strategy will win in the court of law is yet to be seen but it looks like a very shaky argument in the court of public opinion. Ms. Newman’s quote in the story from Duke Law professor Samuel Buell sums up the issue quite well. He states that “Even if it’s a viable legal argument, it’s a pretty unattractive argument for S&P to be putting forward since they’re basically in the business of charging clients for their reputation. What they’re saying here is, ‘When we’re talking to investors about our own reputation, we’re engaging in meaningless puffery.’”
Now I do not know how and if S&P’s communicators were involved in litigation support, but this is a pretty big hole for the company to dig itself out of reputation-wise, especially when it is the subject of a front page WSJ article. Lawyers have their job to do and public relations professionals have their job to do. In the realm of litigation support, we must not be shy to argue our case to executives/boards and make sure they know all the potential ramifications of the legal strategy and words counsel are using. What may win the day in court could lose in the court of public opinion and impact business and the bottom line. That is why, particularly in the digital age when legal documents are more accessible than ever, it is important to review court filings from a brand and reputation perspective and provide communications counsel to executives/boards. At the end of the day, it is up to them to decide which way to go when lawyer words and brand messages conflict but a seat at the table when those decisions are made is crucial. Time will tell if S&P made the right decision.
Despite the amount of intellectual property that exists on college campuses, the best way for some schools to market themselves is to excel in athletics. How else could a school that was relatively unknown a few weeks ago receive more than 42,000 visits to its admissions page in one week?
So what happens to a university’s brand when its athletics program encounters a crisis that has spiraled out of control? Rutgers is the latest school that is about to find out.
Rutgers’ head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was caught on camera abusing his players in practice and hurling inappropriate slurs at them. This was discovered by the Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, in December. Rather than fire Rice at the time, Pernetti decided to only suspend him for three games and fine him. When the video of Rice’s actions were leaked to ESPN on Tuesday, the masses on Twitter were calling for not only Rice to be dismissed, but Pernetti as well.
Rutgers has seen an incredible boost in its reputation in the last decade thanks in large part to the success of its athletics and Pernetti’s leadership. Its football team went from a laughingstock to a respectable power that fills its stadium for home games. The women’s basketball team captured the nation’s attention and sympathy when it was attacked by Don Imus on the radio. The school’s move to the Big Ten will reap millions of dollars that will be used to build programs across the university.
Pernetti has been credited for bringing Rutgers to this point and was even named one of the most powerful businesspeople in New Jersey and nominated for awards for his work. However, his lax punishment against his men’s basketball coach may bring an end to both their careers at the school, now that the video has gone viral.
Pernetti is standing by his coach and at the moment, the university administration is standing by both of them. Will that change with the media and social media frenzy and when admission applications, enrollment and tuition dollars drop as a result? Or will Rutgers be seen as another school where athletics personnel can do whatever they want without getting fired? Until both of these two are gone, Rutgers’ reputation and credibility will be at stake not only for athletics, but also for its innocent students and alumni.
Nike Suspends Deal with Pistorius: Smart Move, or Reputation Stunt?
February 21, 2013
Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is the tree, reputation is the shadow.” Today, all kinds of pundits will be writing about Nike’s decision to suspend their agreement with Olympian Oscar Pistorius as a reputation-saving move. Heck, I’ve written about Nike and their tendency to stand behind their athletes before. They stuck with Tiger Woods through marital infidelity. And with Lance Armstrong long after reason suggested they shouldn’t.
Nike watchers might have expected them to stick with their Olympian, too. Is the reputational risk of standing by an accused murderer who describes himself as the “bullet in the chamber” a greater risk for the brand than a doper, a cheater or an animal abuser? Nike has demonstrated that they are not afraid of controversy, or even criminal convictions (they were the first to re-sign Michael Vick after he returned to the NFL). Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, LeBron James – all sparked controversy, and all received Nike’s support.
So what’s different? Is Nike doing the right thing, guided by their values? Or is this just another headline-grabbing opportunity for the brand?
I don’t have an inside view of Nike, but they do a great job of articulating a sense of true business purpose and values that guide their decisions. It would be easy to defend a decision to stick with Pistorius based on a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But sometimes, you have to trust your gut…and sticking by Pistorius just feels wrong. A call like that isn’t to grab headlines, or even to preserve their reputation. It is a demonstration of Nike’s character.
Papal Transition Power: Leadership Lessons of the Vatican
February 11, 2013
Pope Benedict XVI resigned this morning – the first Pope to do so since 1415. The papacy is one of a few positions with the expectation of service for life – Supreme Court Justices comes to mind as the other. Perhaps serving as Pope in the same lifetime as Pope John Paul II (credited with a leadership role in ending Communism in Poland and throughout Europe) sets a precedent for being newsworthy. And this Pope certainly fit the bill. This Pope has had a lot of firsts – he is the to resign since the 1400s, the first to use social media (although I’d like to think John Paul II would have – if he can ski he can tweet!) and the first (that I know of) to demonize Catholic Nuns, whose Nuns on a Bus movement struck a real chord with me.
In the coming days and weeks, there will undoubtedly be coverage and analysis of the papal selection process. For those who aren’t familiar, the Cardinals retire behind locked doors in Rome, pray, reflect and vote by secret ballot until a unanimous successor is selected, with the results of each vote communicated to the world with the release of smoke: white smoke signaling that a new Pontiff has been chosen. (Two popes died while I was in grammar school, so I remember the good Sisters teaching us about this process almost as clearly as I remember the two extra days off from school to commemorate the solemn occasions.)
Whether you believe in Divine intervention of the Pope, or not, Catholic, or not, it is hard to argue that the position of Pope carries enormous influence and great challenges – it requires leadership of one of the largest, wealthiest, most diverse, most geographically dispersed organizations in the world. What can leaders of any organization learn from the Papacy?
- Effective leadership begins with clarity of purpose – whether you are selling software, building cars or practicing law, good leaders have clarity of purpose. And what you do isn’t a purpose. Why you do it, and ultimately how you do it, elevates a “to do list” into a true purpose. Focus on what, why and how. That clarity of purpose often translates into an organization’s shared values – an approach that may be easier for a religion than a business – but a valuable one, all the same.
- Consensus has value – to most of us, the idea of a unanimous decision seems impossible. Isn’t that why we need a leader? To make the decisions in the absence of agreement? While this is true, never underestimate the value of building consensus.
- Down time matters – Who among us isn’t overscheduled? I imagine that one of the great advantages of the Papacy is that scheduled time for celebrating Mass and prayer is built into the schedule. This time for reflection is vital for good decision making.
- Never underestimate the value of face time – the worst time I ever had leaving our building across from the Meadowlands wasn’t due to a sporting event or a concert. It was when the Pope came to the stadium. It was gridlock, all day. A CEO sighting should not be as rare as a papal audience – and your employees shouldn’t have to crowd into the proverbial square to see you.
- You really can (and should) get social – the data is overwhelming. The opportunity to be a leader among CEOs in adoption of social still exists. If the Pope and the President can do it, so can you. (BTW, check out this infographic on Churches and social media)
The Real Winner of the Super Bowl…Owned and Earned Media?
February 4, 2013
I confess, I watch the Super Bowl mostly for the ads. And after Beyonce so adeptly kicked the lip sync critics to the curb with her impromptu rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, I was interested to see what she would do next.
Sure, Super Bowl ads have launched cultural phenomonons like Budweiser’s Wazzup!, Coca Cola taking the mean out of Mean Joe Green, The Old Spice hunk and Monster.com’s ode to “Middle Management” in their “When I Grow Up” spot.
At $3 million a spot, if this is the best the advertising industry has to offer, it’s no wonder that big brands are turning to owned and earned media over traditional advertising. You might blame it on the dual screen phenomenon – but most of this year’s ads felt tired to me – and most of them I barely even remember – just 12 hours later.
While Taco Bell pulled out the proven approach of “use old people acting like young people” and got a chuckle in my family room, the ads that were more about storytelling and brand values/reputation than “selling stuff” like Dodge Ram’s We are Farmers and the much buzzed about Clydesdale horses, who haven’t struck a chord like this since Budweiser’s 9/11 spot. I was especially proud to be a Jeep owner after watching their tribute to returning soldiers.
It is also interesting to see the trend of using those ads to prompt social media campaigns – like Lincoln’s crowd sourced #steerthesscript and Budweiser’s name the Clydesdale twitter promotion. Oreo’s best moment was their blackout tweet, not their commercial or Instagram push. But I have to say, those of us in PR could have activated those social media efforts for a lot less than $3 million.
The best practices of this year’s Super Bowl ads make a great case for the argument about PR being more effective than advertising:
- Narrative and storytelling engage the
- Reputation first, selling stuff second
- Celebrities only work if they are authentic to
the brand – real people are often better heroes.
- Use social to create and extend two way
And PR is more cost effective, too.
I believe in second chances. That’s why Rocky gets to come back. Why playoffs have a wild card. And why it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. Last January, we published a list of reputations to watch – the companies whose reputations were at a crossroads, and whose actions in 2012 would dictate their future. Some, like J&J and Target, seem to be muddling along – they haven’t permanently shot themselves in the foot, but the absence of a major negative issue is hardly a ringing endorsement for reputation rehabilitation. Same for Sears, whose acquisition of Kmart still seems like a big mistake.
This year’s biggest missed opportunities:
HP – There is nothing like a new leadership regime to give a company and its reputation a fresh start. And after the Mark Hurd debacle, and the entry of Meg Whitman, I was rooting for HP. But two major post-acquisition write downs and lots of finger pointing have done little to restore HP’s reputation mojo.
Facebook – Last year saw Zuckerberg punching back after a nasty movie portrayal with a massive philanthropic donation to Newark public schools. With its reputation at a crossroads, Facbook IPOed, with well-documented and disastrous results. Still relevant because they are prolific, but not on many “Most Admired” lists, and that is too bad.
North Korea – was on our reputations to watch list last year, because the election of a new leader might have been the start of a new era for the nation as a participant in the free world. And while Kim Jong Un is meeting with Google’s Eric Schmidt, most believe that is about appearances, not really change. It isn’t good when your finest moment as a world leader is being parodied by The Onion as the Sexiest Man Alive, and having China fall for it.
Sesame Street – An unfortunate sex scandal for Elmo changed the trajectory after Mitt Romney’s Big Bird comments gave American’s favorite neighborhood a boost in relevance.
Reputation Losers of 2012
January 8, 2013
General David Petraeus and the U.S. Army – Sex scandals are hardly worth mentioning today, especially in Washington. But when a revered four star general, whose star was rising after reversing the United States’ fortunes in Iraq and receiving bi-partisan support for the top position at the CIA, comes crashing down in one day, it’s worth mentioning. What’s next, a reality show on Generals gone wild? The Petraeus scandal left America wondering exactly what kind of code governs the leaders of our armed forces.
Donald Trump – is still living by the motto that any publicity is good publicity, and continued to spout comments and ridiculous propositions about the President right up until Election Day. It is not a good day when your children need to stage a publicity intervention and tell you to just be quiet. Now if they would only stage a hair-do intervention, too.
Lance Armstrong – the only thing worse than a cheater is one who lies about it, and leaves his foundation with the baggage.
Mitt Romney – The presumed winner after the first debate and with most pollsters picking him to win, Mitt Romney’s 1 percent ideology failed to earn him the job of CEO of America. The only thing worse than the public humiliation of losing? His son’s lame attempts to claim he never wanted to be President anyway.
The NRA – Tone deaf is the only way to describe their response to the horrific events in a small town in Connecticut.
Speaker Boehner and the Republican Party – Watching the sore loser behavior of the Republican Party is like watching a train wreck – you want to look away, but you just can’t. Somewhere in a red state, a group of strategists is debating how their discussions and definitions of rape were so “misunderstood.” A word of advice – when elected to Congress, at least pretend to be interested in doing the job.
This list could have gone on for 1,000 words. Who would you add to the list?