Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Giving Up on an Idea Doesn't Mean Giving Up.

The greatest lessons I've learned in life come from knowing when it is time to quit. Too often we stay with things because we can't accept loss, we are locked into a faulty belief, assigned an inappropriate value to something, or can't disown a misguided commitment. Sway - The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman explains this better than anything I have ever read.

To me, knowing when something isn't working is the true measure of wisdom. As I tell myself all the time, the only true wrong decision I make is when I fail to make the next decision that might improve upon or correct a past decision.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Baseball Past the First Week of October Should Be Outlawed

Other than a few obsessed sportscasters, the occupants of your neighborhood nursing home, and the fans in the cities involved, who the heck cares about the MLB playoffs? Not me. In fact, in the future, call me if/when the Cubs make it to the World Series. Otherwise, I think the entire baseball season is WAY too long and would require way too much of an investment of time to follow for a season, so I don't get into it all.

I hate preseason games. It's the equivolent of asking patrons to attend dress rehearsals for a musical where the performers speak, but don't sing their parts since the performace doesn't count for anything except stage direction and practice. My interest in the baseball season can be defined this way: Opening Day, a game or two each season at Wrigley Field, and on then to the Bears.

Some years I have a lukewarm interest in the World Series. This isn't one of those years.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Great Brands Know Their Constraints

Constraints are the essence of branding. Nothing can be all things to all people. In fact, powerful branding is the ability to define your target audience as narrowly as possible. That is not to say appeal to fewest people, but rather, define your appeal by its most significant impact. Keeping in mind at all times, that being well known is not the same as having brand loyalty.

Constraint knows where the edges are, but it does not mean restraints. Rather than that which holds one back, constraints define the boundaries of choice.

An example I use often, because it was an assignment in which I was involved, is the March of Dimes (MOD). Given that the mission of MOD at the time was to overcome birth defects and infant mortality, some might say that every parent, grandparent, and elected official, tax payer, and medial professional and educator is a target of MOD since they all are affected by the health of children. While its true various elements of the population have a significant stake, and we would all likely benefit from them hearing the message, that doesn't make them all a target of MOD. When I spoke on behalf of MOD at various functions, over a couple of decades, I used to start by telling the audience that babies are not the target of MOD, but rather the by-product of MOD. Branding is about behaviors. Babies are not responsible for their behaviors, so why pretend they are your target? This would infuriate various members of the MOD staff because they built their reputation over the years on showing either sickly and deformed children, or healthy, bouncy babies, and reporting on the numbers of babies that fell into each category. Healthy babies represented a goal for MOD, but not a target.

The target of MOD is women who choose to have healthy babies. If women practiced better prenatal care, we could cut in half the number of children who are born this country with birth defects. The last time I checked the US was ranked around 25th in terms of infant mortality. So, it appears education is as important in the MOD mission as is medical research and scientific breakthroughs. And who is the only person that can successfully have a healthy baby? The Mother!

Yes, men have a role in making a baby, but they don't "have" babies. 50% of the births in this country are unplanned. It is safe to assume those pregnancies were not initiated by women who chose to have a healthy baby given what we know today about the importance of preconception life style behaviors, and prenatal care. Likewise, a good portion of the female population is outside of childbearing years, or incapable of having a baby for any number of reasons. That reduces the target population further still.

In other words, MOD's target audience is limited to women who choose to have healthy babies. In tailoring messages to other influencers (fathers, coworker, employers, elect officials, etc., it is critical that MOD frame them through the experience of the mother's education: "Dad's don't smoke or drink around expectant mothers. It my influence them to engage in behavior that is not healthy for the baby they want." That's a targeted message.

The constraints represented in knowing whom their target audience really is (in the case of MOD, women who choose to have a healthy baby), and how to express the brand through the perspective of that limited audience, is key to making a brand successful.

Friday, October 9, 2009

More on what to do about youth violence

On September 28 I wrote about the murder of Derrion Albert, the high school student who was beaten to death in the streets of Chicago by fellow students who disliked him because he was from another neighborhood.

I predicted within a week another murder would move him from the headlines. Actually, there have been two student violence incidents since Albert's. In the mean time, President Obama sent Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan to Chicago to address the issue.

Sadly, all they did was make more speeches, rattle off a list of what they consider to be the White House's actions to address youth crime, and drop off a check for $500,000, allegedly to be used to improve security at the school Albert attended. The Chicago School District promptly announced that they had already spent more than that amount providing additional bus service to that high school in the two weeks since Abert's death, implying the money wouldn't be buying any new security, but being applied to the bus bill.

And of course, Jesse Jackson jumps in front of the cameras to call out the National Guard. Michael Phlager, the catholic priest/neighborhood media darling did his usual chest beating and mock outrage while issuing some inane challenge against the perpetrators by stating "if you come after our children, you come after us," or some such nonsense. Everybody is jockeying for camera time but no one has a meaningful solution. ministers and neighborhood leaders seem more interested in where they can get another grant to advance one of their current (read: nonperforming) programs.

I touched on a couple of ideas I think can help to bring this epidemic under control in my Sept 28 post, but it seems it's time to elaborate.

40% of the children in Illinois have no adult male living in their household. 35% of all children born in Illinois have no father listed on their birth certificate. When will we as a society recognize that without strong male role models in the life of each and every child, their chances of success are significantly reduced?

In addition to more after school and peer group activities others have proposed, here are the five things I believe could be done immediately to reduce the incidence of violence among America's youth:

1. We as a society must use every means available (economic, interpersonal, political, etc.) to impress upon women that having children with multiple men, who do not take daily responsibility for helping to raise their children is no longer acceptable. New consequences need to be imposed. We must change social services, laws and cultural standards to impress upon these women that society will no longer bear the costs of their bearing children they are not equipped to raise.

2. Men who do not participate on a daily basis in the lives of their children must be made to feel the full weight of society's wrath. I will leave fathers' rights to others to discuss; my issue is fathers' responsibilities. If a man chooses not to provide support for his children, I say throw the book at 'em. If for whatever reason a man cannot be present on a daily basis, they should be prepared for another to do it. If that means their standing as a father is somehow diminished, that is the price one pays for not meeting their responsibility. If on the other hand, fathers take an active, daily role in their childrens' lives we should find new ways to recognize these successes. Nothing accelrates change like positive reinforcement and peer/public recognition.

3. In households without a daily male role model, children are left to learn men's role in society from television, movies and music. Media does not properly demonstrate to children how responsible men behave. We must restore honor and prestige to the process of being a responsible and engaged father. Let's establish a new standard. As a society, we must insist that EVERY child be raised under the influence of a mother figure and a father figure. The days of moms raising children without the assistance of a male role model must end. If mom isn't capable of finding a responsible man in her life, at least give the children a chance to find one through social services, the YMCA, churches, or other community resources. The days of children living without access to a responsible male, if none lives in their household, must end.

4. Parents and other concerned adults in each community must self-organize to provide daily and frequent parent patrols around their schools, and in their neighborhoods. A national program called Watch D.O.G.S. enlists dads, father figures and other concerned males to spend a day in school. A schedule is designed for every day of the school year, and dads take turns volunteering. Watch D.O.G.S. is especially successful in elementary and middle schools. They are not there as a security force, or do they carry specific roles. The only authority they have is to serve as positive male role models for all the children with whom they come in contact throughout the day. In some cases, they help out with math, or reading. In other cases, they just walk the halls and monitor and have lunch with the students. Truancy, school violence, and incidents of bullying all improve dramatically in schools where Watch D.O.G.S. has been allowed to flourish. It doesn't take a formal program like Watch D.O.G.S. to see improvement, just the presence of a few men in school to help set better examples.

5. Until men are willing to accept the daily responsibility for the children they bring into this world, then the privilege of molding those children should be taken on by others. Neighborhoods can organize on a grassroots level to see that every child in the community has a personal father figure, or responsible male role model, or mentor. This isn't rocket science folks. You match the kids up with men of character who are willing to give some time and attention. It is almost unthinkable that a child would be raised without a mother figure in their life, so why don't we assign the same significance to a father figure? Yes, I know there are issues of safety and screening that have to be addressed, but the sooner a child has a responsible man in their life, the more likely they are to feel the influences every child should.

A study done by Gallop and ABC News in the late 90's sought to find common denominators among the criminals in the prison systems across the country. Only one factor proved to be almost universal, and was cited by more than 85% of all the inmates interviewed. What the criminal element of our society has in common isn't race, poverty, lack of education, or the influence of drugs and alcohol -- it is father absence, or fatherlessness.

The bozos lining their own pockets in Chicago's city hall, and the politicians in Washington, DC wring their hands, call for more police, tougher laws and more funding, but the real issue is men just need to be better men on a one-to-one basis with children, and women should demand this for every child. Admittedly, many of the young men who committed the savage beating of Albert are beyond hope and a scourage to society, but there are plenty of children that can be still be saved, and they are watching the adult reaction carefully. Do nothing new, and we signal the same path awaits more fatherless children.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A WGN Radio Listener Weighs In

Maybe I'm dating myself by acknowledging I have been a regular listener to WGN Radio for many years. The truth is, when at my desk, the station was on for long stretches of the day. Radio helps me concentrate. Sometimes, talk radio serves as white noise, sometimes I find I'm drawn into the interviews and discussions. However, lately, many of the WGN on-air personalities rely heavily on the front page of the Chicago Tribune for their topics. If I read the paper myself in the morning, I don't need WGN to read it to me again throughout the day, or to bring the writers from the paper on the air to summarize the story for me. The news is the news and I get that, but why not give me a different perspective rather than repeat someone else's?

Over the past few months, management of the station has made a number of changes that I assume are an attempt to capture a larger market share, and remain relevant. Audience favorite Spike O'Dell retired as the morning personality and was replaced with John Williams. Long-time mid-morning duo Kathy and Judy were asked to leave earlier this year. These two moves set off a parade of on-air auditions, and a series of changes at the station. John Williams was moved again, and now works from 9am-Noon. Garry Meier, who was once among the most popular (and some would say abrasive) characters on Chicago radio came out of an extended, self-imposed hiatus after failing to reach a contract agreement with his former employer. Greg Jarrett was brought in to fill the early morning slot.

Ironically, one of the few time slots that have remained stable is the one held by Steve Cochran from 4-7:00PM. In recent years, Steve has earned a reputation as the station's "bad boy." He openly questions management decisions on the air, and speaks often about how he gets hauled in the boss' office to be reprimanded for his behavior.

Here's where I come out on the changes:

I've stopped listening to WGN in the early morning. I find Jarrett's style to be pompous, arrogant, and self- absorbed. I tried to listen for a while, and was willing to overlook his constant references to California, and his West Coast contacts. I was even willing to put up with his conservative political blustering. Almost from day one, he tried to ingratiate himself to the audience by rooting for Chicago's teams, and acting tuned into politics, and the culture. It struck me as completely insincere, since he has virtually no history with the city, or knowledge on any of those topics. Admittedly, the station runs Cubs and Blackhawks games, so he had an obligation to get on those bandwagons, but the rest of the time he's trying so hard to appear "with it" and "someone I should want to know," he reminds me of the high school misfit who follows the cool crowd around campus and jumps into every conversation with a "me too" story in the hopes he'll be liked. His "commanding voice," which is great for radio, suffers from his attitude, which reminds me of that pompous dimwit character played by Ted Knight on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

I have yet to hear Jarrett conduct an interview where he actually asks a question seeking any insight. In an attempt to show his command of a topic, he typically asks questions in the form of lengthy comments that generally allow for nothing more than a "yes" or "no" from the person being interviewed.

I always considered Andrea Darlus to be a credible news person, but it seems the station has encouraged her to be what I characterize as "bubbly and improvisational." I liked her better when she was more measured. Her new giddiness wears thin. Likewise, Leslie Keiling, the traffic reporter, has been given a wider berth to interact with Jarrett on the show. I liked her better when she just reported, and commented less. I admit, my morning alternative, WBBM is pure business radio, and I'm not crazy about it, but it beats "plastic" Jarrett and his harem.

Before leaving the topic of traffic, why do we need it every 8 minutes all day? Keiling's reports citing travel times on the local expressways is so formulaic, and changes so seldom that I can usually give it from memory. "If you're traveling inbound on the Edens, it 17 minutes to the junction . . ." Why not skip all that, and just give us deviations from the usual patterns and reports of accidents? I believe the frequent traffic and weather updates are nothing more than a device to create specific ad unit sales. I find the frequency gets in the way of meaningful interviews and discussions.

John Williams was never a favorite of mine, but I tolerated him the way you might a kind, but out-of-touch uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. Since the change to midmorning, I think he's found a second wind. He's showing more insight, asking probing questions of his guests, and is generally more entertaining than I found him to be in other day parts. The key differences between Jarrett and Williams are Williams understands no one is seeking for him to replace Walter Cronkite as the most trusted authority in America. He has learned people don't dial in to listen to him; they dial in because he is interested in what they think and have to say. Equally as significant, he doesn't take himself too seriously. Williams is a bright spot in a spotty line-up.

Garry Meier's delivery still sounds to me like his shorts are pulled up too high, but he adds an element of humor and irreverence the station can use. He's at his best when he's going after Greg Jarrett and Mayor Daley, and at his weakest when his sidekick "Elton Jim" interjects. Meier's sidekick lacks the quick thinking patter a sidekick should have. Again, I am reminded of the high school misfit who desperately wants to be part of the crowd so he constantly kisses up to the big man on campus while permitting them to also make him the brunt of most jokes, and accepts the bullying just to be part of the crowd.

Where did the station get this new "house announcer?" Is she someone's girlfriend, or Sam Zell's daughter? I can think of no other way she got on the air. I'm sure she's a terrific person, but the sound of her voice is fingernails on a chalk board to me. The first time I heard her I though it was bit someone was running. Her inflection, modulation, tone, and pace are ALL wrong. She talks too fast, places emphasis on the wrong words and syllables and is just plain annoying. I've begun keeping track of the products and services she hawks so as to remember not to buy them. Note to management: This is WGN Radio, not a Columbia School of Broadcasting class. Hearing that annoying voice frequently throughout the day is a factor in why I no longer consider myself a regular WGN listener.

Finally, realizing my comments have been mostly negative and somewhat harsh, I saved my greatest compliments for last. Steve Cochran's show is the only one I try to catch as often as possible. Again, the stations too frequent traffic and weather reports hurt his delivery, but Steve keeps his content fresher, his interviews more lively, and his topics more diverse. Steve's strength is interacting with and engaging the listeners.

Radio isn't rocket science. Just put someone on the air who is entertaining, knowledgeable on a variety of topics, and interested enough in me that I'd like to be sharing a private dinner with them.