Our beloved Brew.

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's Time Notre Dame University ask WWJD?

I don't recall when I first recognized I loved all things Notre Dame University, but it was while in elementary school, for sure. The greatest benefit in moving to Chesterton, IN when my wife decided we were leaving Aurora, IL, where I was perfectly content, was the knowledge that it was about forty minutes from Notre Dame following the Indiana toll road.

Repeated hints, trips to the campus, mounds of ND apparel and outright begging weren't enough to entice either of my children to consider attending the one place I longed to be a part of for most of my life.

Despite numerous visits to the South Bend campus for a wide variety of sporting events and religious services, I had never been to an ND football game until this season when my son and I watched the Fighting Irish take on Stanford. Having attended all manner of professional sports, including World Cup soccer, and Olympics, I rate that game as one of the three most memorable and exciting sporting events of my life; sharing it with my son made it priceless. Until I experienced it firsthand, there was no way for me to comprehend how special ND football is.

That's why it pains me to say I don't expect to attend another until the University faces it moral obligations and comes clean about two incidents where students were put in harm's way while the school lawyered-up, kept tight-lipped and tried to sweep the incidents under the rug. As the parent of a college student, I would not feel comfortable sending my child to Notre Dame.

In October, Declan Sullivan, a student videographer for the football team was killed when he fell from a tower during the taping of football practice. In November, Lizzy Seeberg, a student at St. Mary's, committed suicide after filing a sexual assault complaint against a member of the ND football team. Parents don't send their child off to college expecting them to die there.

In the case of Sullivan, there is no question he had no business being on a sixty-foot tower during the wind storm that was present that day. Jack Swarbrick, the Athletic Director of ND claimed it was a normal practice day and the weather was not particularly concerning. He blames the incident on a fluke gust. That is just so wrong that it borders on evil. Sullivan was texting about his fear of the weather conditions before being on the tower and shortly before he fell to his death.

When I read accounts of his texts in the local papers all I could imagine was my son in that same position and how awful it had to be to climb that tower in fear, knowing that if you protested or refused you'd be branded for shirking your duties to the team. The pressure would be unbearable for many adults, let alone a college student, in that situation.

Brian Kelly, the head football coach left practice in the hands of the assistant coaches long enough to wander over to where the tower lay fallen, and the ambulance was, to check on the condition of Sullivan while the EMTs were attending to the young man. He quickly determined there was nothing he could do, and went back to practice. I find that fact bordering on heartless. I interpret his actions as: "Yep, boys, a lad in the service of our team fell to his death a few yards away, but don't let that interfere with your preparations for the big game on Saturday. We've got a game to win, a tradition to uphold and my career to protect." I have lost all respect for Coach Kelly.

Before the Sullivan death had left the media's attention the story of Lizzy Seeberg's death and ordeal was in the news. Was she sexually assaulted? That will never be determined. In fairness to the football player she accused of groping her, we must accept that his version of what happened suggests it was consensual activity. Although he has never been named publicly, and neither the team nor the University took any action against him, he has engaged a high profile attorney who now claims his client is considering suing based on the accusations. So it appears to me neither the University or his parents have done a very good job of teaching him responsibility. If the accuser's death ruled out any possible legal action against him, why wouldn't it rule out any countersuit on his part? She is not alive to defend herself. Why does he feel a need to assume the role of victim? He, his parents and the attorney have to know he will never truly clear his name in this incident. My guess is the University will offer him a quiet, but significant cash settlement to drop his case. Sadly, based on all accounts to date, they haven't offered either the Sullivan or Seeberg families any kind of closure.

I can't embrace the University again until the day I hear that both families are fully satisfied with the Notre Dame response, and Notre Dame accepts responsibility for the poor handling of both incidents and enacts changes to their policies that ensure students safety is more than lip service on their campus. While I've always known that ND is big business, I also felt it was a Catholic epicenter in this nation. As such, it has a duty to conduct itself in a manner that puts the tenets of its faith ahead of its desire to protect its brand reputation. As Father Theodore Hesburgh, the former president of Notre Dame, was fond of saying, " . . . you do it because it's the right thing." It's a simple matter of asking what would Jesus do?

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Tribute to Little Grandpa

It wasn't done intentionally, and I am not fixated on the subject of death, but this the second posting in a row that deals with the subject.

Yesterday, John Robert (Bob) Smith passed away in Florida. Some people knew him as Robert, some as John, but most called him Bob. Around our house, he was known as Little Grandpa, Sandy's father, and my father-in-law.

I'm not sure exactly when we started calling him Little Grandpa, but I clearly remember it was as a result of our children, who at a very young age used that term when they were trying to distinguish between their two grandpas in a conversation. My dad, because he was taller and heavier was called Big Grandpa. The terms just stuck.

Sandy and the kids just got back from a long weekend to visit Bob (as I called him) because there was concern expressed among Sandy's sisters about his declining health. We hadn't seen him in  a couple of years, since he moved from Illinois to Florida, and we wanted the kids to see him again in as close to the way they prefer to remember him, as possible. Three days after their return, he was gone.

Although we were warned that he suffered from dementia, only had moments of lucid behavior and also was frail physically, the kids and Sandy enjoyed their time with him. He joked, reminisced, watched old family movies, and seemed to be in decent health. In many ways, it was like the old times with him. True, he had to ask who Sandy was when he first saw her, but he clearly recognized the kids, and called them each by name as they first approached him. He even inquired a few times about me and my work. It appears Bob was an example of a condition about which I have often heard - a person who has suffered an extended illness sometimes appears to have a nearly complete recovery just days and hours before they pass.

Bob moved to Florida at the request of his ex-wife, my mother-in-law. She offered to care for him when it was clear a few years ago that his health was failing and he could no longer live on his own. We wanted him near us, but Sandy did not feel it her place to argue with her mom over his care. Aronka daily picked Bob up at the nursing home where he spent his nights and those times when his health took more severe turns for the worst. Most days she would take Bob to her home and tend to his needs, feed him and generally help him maintain as close to normal a lifestyle as he could muster.  We do not have a close relationship with Sandy's mother for reasons that separate lots of mothers and daughters, but we admire, and are eternally grateful for what she did in caring for Bob.

Before his health began to decline, which happened suddenly, Bob spent years providing daycare for our  two children. This was especially significant when you factor in that Sandy trusted NO ONE with our children. Bob was the sole exception. Although both children adored and were adored by Little Grandpa, Tate especially considered him to be a third parent. Little Grandpa never tired of getting down on the floor with the kids to participate in any activity that amused them or occupied their time. The kids were always the first to tire of an activity and move on to something else. While I tried to steer my kids activities so as not to get too bored myself, he always let them take the lead and never hesitated to follow - sometimes it was coloring, or piling blocks to knock down, and sometimes it was merely shredding paper. He participated as enthralled as they were. I'd never witnessed an adult before who was so comfortable being childlike. I know I didn't have the patience to be that way myself.

The rituals Bob shared with the kids were too numerous to list. Everyday, as Tate arrived home from preschool and grammar school, Little Grandpa would be hiding behind the bushes at the side of the garage with just a rifle barrel visible. That was Tate's signal to run to the backyard, dump his backpack and pick from the arsenal of weapons Little Grandpa would stash under the row of arborvitaes. Then, fairly armed, they would engage in a spirited round of pretend battles.

Most days, Bob would take the kids down to the neighborhood park only a couple of blocks from our house. It was there that he taught Tate to love fishing, and where they spent countless hours talking or just sitting silently hooking their share of catch and release fish from the stocked pond.

As president of the homeowners association it wasn't unusual for the private security firm or the police to call me at my place of business when a serious incident occurred in our neighborhood of over 1000 homes. I just wasn't prepared when they called to tell me my father-in-law, who was in his late sixties and my six year-old were being detained for climbing a massive earth mound and throwing rocks at the construction site at the end of the block. Bob yelled "Run!" and started to take off himself when he first saw the authorities approaching, but Tate didn't get it, so Bob decided to stand and face the music with his co-conspiritor.

Ah, the stories; I could go on forever.

Instead, we will have to be content with the memories this man left us. The wisdom and calm he taught us, the level of commitment he demostrated to our family, the generosity and kindness of soul he shared, and the lifelong impact he made on us. Truly, he had a greater hand in molding our children than anyone other than Sandy and myself. He may have been known as Little Grandpa but he proved to be the biggest man I knew and he will be missed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When I'm Dead and Cold, Just Chill

This past weekend I attended the funeral of an old friend and colleague.

David Ray Pierce was a gifted Creative Director/graphic designer for over thirty years. I never knew him to lose his temper, raise his voice, or lose his composure. No matter how complex the challenge, how tight the deadline or bizarre the behavior of the client, once we reviewed the strategic platform he would summarize the assignment and address me using his pet expression saying, "We'll get back to you, boss man."

Of the hundreds of talented creative directors, graphic designers and art directors with whom I've worked, I never enjoyed working with anyone more than "Piercey," as we called him.

When my daughter checked in from college last night and asked how the services went, I couldn't help but remind her of my own final wishes. If I have my way there will be no memorial service, Mass, eulogy, "celebration of life," obituary, funeral or burial. In other words, when it's my time, I want the quickest, least expensive and tidiest disposition possible. I've suggested to my family there is a place in the next town over that does cremations. No need for an urn. Just have them put me in the oversized Baggie Zip-lock pouch they supply.

As far as I am concerned, my wife and kids can dump my ashes on the front lawn. Or, if they feel the need for something more symbolic, the next time they are in my hometown of Rochester, NY they can toss my remains off the Memorial Bridge which spans the Genesee River.

At the immortal age of sixteen I had summer employment along the steep banks of the Genesee at a Catholic cemetery. Within minutes of a graveside funeral service, a crew of laborers to which I belonged would descend on the grave and remove all the flowers so the guys responsible for burying the body could get to work. We’d pitchfork the arrangements into the back of a dump truck and haul the load to the edge of the cemetery property where a bulldozer would push it down a mountainous embankment to form a makeshift landfill. Additionally, Genesee Beer, now known simply as Jenny, was made within eyesight of the bridge. It was long thought the beer company used water from the river to make its beer. It pleases me to think my ashes might both rest on the landfill I helped to create in my youth, and also find their way into one of America’s iconic brews. Now that is double symbolism!

Death has become big business and it disturbs me that even in death, the “man” wants to get into my pockets. From the florist, which the story above illustrates is a colossal waste of money, to the plot, urn, casket, mortician, caterer, etc.; it’s all about finding ways to rake in the cash.

My immediate family is encouraged to do whatever the minimum is that they need to find some closure or acceptance for themselves. Beyond that, I say DO NOTHING! I consider the act of paying respects to someone with whom you have not kept in recent contact, or seen within the last six months to be insincere at least, and hypocritical at best. The people that matter to me I talk to, see, or email regularly. As close as we might have once considered ourselves, I do not consider you a current friend unless we've kept in touch as described. In the event you are ever invited to a memorial service of any kind for me, you are now officially off the hook - please do not attend. If you ever have a need to mourn my passing or reflect on our relationship after I’ve gone, feel free to stop by the Memorial Bridge and have an icy cold Jenny.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Teaching This Old Dog New Tricks

Like most everyone else in this economy, I've found I have to broaden my horizons and constantly seek new ways to deliver value to my customers. Sometime last year, when a client was considering launching a new marketing initiative and asked my advice, I asked what evidence they had that suggested the tactic was appropriate or even necessary. The client had done an excellent job of researching the market potential, customer need, design, and introduction of a new product it launched earlier this year. Now, the client was considering investing a sizable sum of money in marketing activity to follow up the launch but hadn't asked customers some critical questions to inform what comes next.

The client asked me to advise them on strategy for the marketing. My first question was, “Why are you doing this?” It came down to the client’s gut sense that a major marketing push was needed to move beyond the launch effort.

I encouraged the client to consider asking their customers, prospects and those people who chose to go with another competitor how they felt about the company’s new product, sales process and marketplace offerings. To be clear, I wasn’t proposing a customer satisfaction survey. Instead, I advised my customer contact people on their customer and prospect lists and seek their consent to be interviewed by me. Working with the client I designed a list of eight questions meant to start a conversation of about fifteen minutes.

I didn't consider it necessary to get answers to each of the questions and let the respondent take the discussion in any direction that suited them. I was attempting to gain insight into the client’s marketplace position.

The results were spectacular. We learned there were a few previously undiscovered, highly significant, common threads of importance to all customers. In the end, we came away with not only a narrowly focused positioning for marketing materials, but a number of company and sales behaviors that could affect likely purchase decisions.

I’ve never considered myself a researcher before. And I certainly don’t consider myself a reporter, but as a journalist friend of mine said, “Getting to the real story takes experience, polished listening skills, and the ability to deviate from your story outline to find real meaning.” Through my years of professional experience I’ve developed those skills.

Shortly after this first client experience, another client asked me to weigh in on their intention to create materials for their distributors and dealer network. Again, I asked, “Why?” The answer was the same. The VP of Sales had a “gut” feeling that something was needed and settled on a Power Point presentation to be delivered on a thumb drive. Fearing that this could be a complete waste of effort, which might never be used in front of a client, I asked for permission to talk to distributor reps and dealers. In the end, we determined the piece would not get used, but we also gained some invaluable insight as to what the company was doing well and what the sales force needed to reach more customers. As a result, the customer came back and asked me to do a similar set of interviews among its end-user customers. This information led to a reorganization of the customer service area, retraining of customer service reps, the addition of a national sales manager role to serve an entirely new, and vast market segment, and a new
approach to the VP of Sales entire sales process.

This past summer I conducted eight such surveys for various clients and found them to be valuable new tools. As I stated earlier, these aren’t customer satisfaction surveys. Instead, I am probing for information that will reveal customer motives, marketplace positioning, and the level of understanding customers have regarding my customers’ offerings. Since the responses are used in aggregate, without individual attribution, and the client does not have access to my raw data or forms, the level of candor is very high. The process uncovers some real gems – some not so flattering comments, and some successful elements which are real revelations to clients. I deliver both the good and bad news. What clients value most is learning things they didn’t previously know about their customers and the perceptions of their business. They also appreciate that they can proceed with a list of action steps in which they can have real confidence.

Along the way I’ve uncovered a little “cottage” service that generates new revenue sources, complements my core offerings and taught me old dogs can learn new tricks.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's it Worth to Have Blago's Head on a Plate?

The verdict is in. The jury agreed on only one of 24 counts against former IL governor Rod Blagojevich. The jury just couldn't wade through all the information the government presented and draw a conclusion on the more serious counts. Blago faces up to five years on what amounts to the same charge of lying to the FBI, that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

The Adams father and son clowns that Blago has as lawyers proudly proclaimed they presented no defense during the trial, but looked ridculous in the post trial media interviews as the ranted, raved and taunted the federal prosecutor to build public sentiment against a retrial on the hung-jury counts. They characterized the prosecutor as "a nut" and suggested he is a master at getting indictments against innocent people.

Did I miss something? Hey Bozos - your client lost! He's now a convicted felon! He is almost certainly going to prison. He will lose his law license. He still has to deal with the retrial where it's likely he faces a retooled prosecution, more focused on certain counts, and almost as certainly, he is headed for more convictions and years added to his sentence unless the government offers him a plea deal.

The Adams' and Blago each took a turn before the cameras and microphones to express their indignation and blast the case that was brought by the government. They pointed out that while children are being shot dead on a daily basis in the streets of Chicago, police officers are being killed on almost a weekly basis, the money would be better spent on law enforcement rather than what they claim is the vindictive pursuit of a former governor by an overzealous goverment attorney.

Now that Blago's campaign war chest is depleted and the cost of his defense will be paid by tax payers, his team made the case that those tens of millions of dollars are a burden the public shouldn't have to bear.
Let me put it in simple terms: There should be no limit to what the people of Illinois, and other citizens of this country are willing to pay to regain the integrity of public office and insist that the holders of those offices, whether elected or appointed, understand there is no rock under which they can hide and expect to profit by pocketing the people's money. If my math is correct three of past five governors of the state of Illinois will have done prison time when Blago faces the music. Dan Walker and George Ryan both got caught with their hand in someone else's cookie jar.

Some people speculate that the jury failed to reach a verdict on the remaining counts because the crass and self serving manner in which Blago performed on the taped conversations is what many people see as the way the game of public office is played. Blago was merely doing standard horse trading as they see it. Even more reason to go after him again.

The good new is the federal prosecutor in this case seems single-minded in his commitment to see Blago face time for every criminal act for which he has been charged. As many a criminal can attest, the government seldom gives up in cases like this. I for one say, "Let the retrial begin!" Moreover, public servants everywhere who abuse their office should recognize their time is coming.

Friday, August 13, 2010

WikiLeaks Crosses the Line and Sacrifices Lives for Profit

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would one day be siding with Sarah Palin on an issue, given our polar opposite views of many matters of the environment and politics. But at least this once we seem to agree on this issue of military and national security.

A couple of weeks ago, WikiLeaks began publishing about 76,000 secret files regarding covert operations related to the war in Afghanistan that came into its possession. Management at WikiLeaks refuses to name its source, but the US government has detained an intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning who it suspects as the source. I have deliberately chosen not to visit WikiLeaks web site and check out the documents so as to avoid contributing even slightly to the profit they hope to gain from their acts of treason. Other mainstream media has reported that there is indeed a great deal of sensitive information that has been released.

The founder and editor of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, announced during a speech to a London group that he will authorize the release of another 15,000 documents. Like the first batch, these files contain sensitive information including the names of individuals working in clandestine operations and details of plans and events related to the war. Where WikiLeaks has taken the time to black out names and specifics, there is enough surrounding information to put at risk not only our military, but also numerous individuals who work with our troops.

Sarah Palin made a public appeal to Assange and his organization not to release any more files. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I'll go one better and suggest that by his actions, Assange has not only proven to be aiding and abetting the enemy as Palin suggests, but he should now be considered an enemy of the state, and treated like any other enemy combatant. It is one thing to claim the rights of a free press, and quite another to reveal sensitive military information that risks the lives of our military fighting forces, and those persons assisting them in protecting ours and Mr. Assange's freedoms. We are at war, and timing is everything. If wrongdoing exists it should be exposed and consequences should follow. This is not the time to do that.

In what I view as an act of cowardice, Assange chose to deliver his address via Skype, from an undisclosed hiding place because he allegedly fears the US will try to arrest him, or worse, that some shadowy powers will try to have him killed.

What's next? Will we learn that he has taken up residence in a sublet cave somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan? In my eyes, Assange has now clearly declared his allegiance to our enemies in the war, and deserves their same fate.

Want to uncover wrongdoing of this or any other government as part of your journalistic obligation, I'm all for it. Put other lives at risk, and compromise our military efforts while we're actively engaged in war just to sell more ad space, and extend your fifteen minutes of fame, then I say, face the consequences of any common traitor.

I wonder how WikiLeaks would feel if the government made public a list of its employees and they were open to the backlash they deserve for choosing to work somewhere that puts its business objectives ahead of our national interests and security. Americans, it's time express your outrage and boycott WikiLeaks and any firm or organization that supports it. Sarah, on this one, I think you and I are closer than not.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Red Bulls Sign Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry, the outstanding French soccer player has joined Red Bulls of MLS. With his signing the league now has its first legitimate European soccer superstar. Henry may be "over the hill" at 33, but he possessed ball skill and scoring abilities unmatched by all but a few players in history. As a World Cup champion, a European champion, and the most prolific scorer in the history of Arsenal, of England's Premiere Division, he brings credibility and ballet-like moves to a league whose players have less in common with world class soccer than donkeys on ice skates.

As the Red Bulls sit today, they don't have the caliber of players who can complement Henry's grace, precision and creativity on a soccer field. It will take two or three more signings to put Henry in an environment where he won't be expected to single-handedly deliver victories. The LA Galaxy proved that pairing a former world class name with the best player in America, Landon Donovan wasn't sufficient to win games.

As I wrote extensively prior to his LA Galaxy signing, Beckham, while a competent player - like Henry, also past his prime, would not create the groundswell the league was desperate to create. He merely bolstered his own celebrity and that of his Hollywood craving wife. Days before it was revealed that she was resurrecting the Spice Girls for a failed "world tour," I facetiously wrote that his presence would have the same effect on American soccer as hers would on the music scene if she announced the rebirth of the Spice Girls. That prophesy has proven to be more than accurate. The Beckham's presence in America has sold a lot #23 jerseys, but not as many as before he abandoned his LA commitment for a European team where he could face stiffer competition in his attempt to win a spot on England's disastrously performing World Cup team. As I predicted, Beckham drew massive numbers of curiosity seekers when he first toured MLS cities, but that quickly faded. Even his return to England's team for the World Cup went bust due to an injury that kept him in street clothes on the bench.

Moreover, I questioned the sense of plopping one world-class player on the field among a team of second rate players. Beckham may be one of the greatest passers who ever played, but if you have players around him who don't know where to be, and lack the skills to receive his perfectly placed passes, and can't finish with a shot on goal, his brilliance is for naught. The LA Galaxy's woeful record during the Beckham years proves my point.

Make no mistake, Henry can still play circles around many of the best players in the world, but even the great Pele, who is better comparison to Henry's coming to America than Beckham, had to have a supporting cast his equal. The fabled New York Cosmos surrounded Pele with some of the best players of his era. Henry will dazzle crowds, and bewilder opposing defenders and goalkeepers. At some point, without other great players around him to help carry the load, he will be contained by heavy-footed donkeys going "roller derby" on him throughout a game.
Like the Statue of Liberty, Henry is gift from France that serves as a symbol of what this country can be, at least from a soccer perspective. Fittingly, he will wear a jersey that promotes the energy drink Red Bull. Henry may well be the elixir to energize that franchise, but like Beckham, he cannot carry the league. He will however, take over the merchandising crown worn by Beckham. Moms and Dads everywhere will be pestered to buy a Henry/Red Bull Jersey to replace that relic Beckham jersey, much like the player which is now irrelevant.

Friday, July 9, 2010

LaBron James Signing Signals the Collapse of the NBA

Everything I detest about the NBA was manifested in the obscene media circus that took place around the signing of free agent LaBron James. Mark this date and time. Every condition necessary for the collapse of the NBA is in place, and moving full steam ahead. No, it won't be tomorrow, or next week, or even next year, but the NBA is doomed.

Three National Basketball Association free agent "all-stars," Chris Bosh (Admittedly, I don't follow the NBA and had never heard his name until this week when he was mentioned as an also-ran, supporting player in the LaBron James derby), Dwayne Wade, and his majesty King James have conspired to join forces and bring an NBA championship to Miami. Good for them. Why go through the formality of the season, just send them the league trophy now. If that spares the nation of another NBA season of games, I am all for it. In the end, professional basketball is all about ridiculous sums of money, tattoos, gangster lean, badass attitude, groupies, and fame.

James, like his new teammate Wade has determined that winning a league championship is the pinnacle of life. Wade went so far as to say he turned down a chance to play in Chicago and be near his children, but had to "take the emotion out of it." Get the message kids? To Dwayne Wade, his children are mere emotions. The consequences of a booty call gone sour. Business comes first. After all, making tens of millions a year can only go so far. Only a fool would walk away from a bigger payday. And a man (I use the term loosely) can walk away from his kids for the riches of South Beach. It seems a bit hypocritical of him considering the battle he went through with his ex-wife during a recent divorce. But it is so much clearer now why he chose to accept the divorce now and leave the incidental matter of child custody to the judge to settle "sometime in the future."

To me, James going to Miami is a blessing. At least we Chicagoland don't have to deal with constant media watch I am certain his presence in Miami will create. The NBA is comprised of gangster and hoods who to their credit found a way out of the ghetto through basketball, but that does not make them people I want in my living room.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Real Worth of Landon Donovan's Stunning US Goal in the 2010 World Cup

Landon Donovan scored an extra-time winning goal for the US against Algeria to bring the American team back from the brink of despair and elimination. Some have called the goal the most important in the history of US soccer. I agree, but for reasons beynd the obvious advancement of the team into the second round of this year's World Cup.

Although I have often criticized Donovan over the years, I am prepared to admit I am wrong about his development and leadership. Moreover, the manner in which he scored this goal is equally as important as the goal itself.

Donovan made himself available to the Tim Howard, the US goalie as soon as Howard made a save against a threatening Algerian attempt on goal. Even with time dwindling, Donovan didn't panic, he didn't heave the ball upfield as most American players are wont to do. He used his speed, ball possession skills and vision to launch a counterattack, something that most youth coaches in this country don't teach often, or well enough.

From the moment little kids step on the soccer field, some coach, parent or other misinformed adult begins to shout "pass!" Soccer in America has resembled pinball rather than the strategic game of skills and movement it is meant to be.

With Donovan's goal, young (and older) players have an example to emulate which encourages possessing the ball, taking on opponents, and distributing the ball only when it makes tactical sense. Perhaps the greatest example Donovan set was the continuation of his run after passing to Jozy Altidore who took the original shot at the Algerian goal. When the keeper allowed the ball to rebound away, Donovan was there to calmly collect it in stride and confidently tuck it into the back of the net. His effort was not a fluke, nor merely a matter of being fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. If you watch his run from the outset, you will see that he never slowed, nor did he hesitate to take up a position in front of the net that gave him a chance for a rebound, and an open lane to the goal.

If he never scores another goal for the US, Donovan has secured his place as the most accomplished player to ever don a uniform for this country. The manner of play in which he scored this particular goal is a model for every player who seeks to elevate their game to the level of world class. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On the Record Regarding the US World Cup Team

Just so I don't appear to be a complete "Monday morning quarterback" let me go on record right now saying I hope Desmond Clarke does not see any further action for the US in the World Cup. He is the weak link. While most of the people who I consider to be most knowledgable about soccer tell me Michael Bradley is the real deal, I believe his lack of creativity and attack-mindedness are severe liabilities. I hope he proves me dead wrong. Findley is not capable of playing in a forward position at this point in his career, much more seasoning and should be replaced before Friday's game. Coach Bob Bradley is not likely to do any of these things, least of which is to bench his son. There, I'm on the record.

World Cup Soccer Starts Five Days Late

FINALLY! A World Cup match worth watching. In one of the few matches of this year's tournament that wasn't played by two teams trying not to lose, Spain threw everything it had at Switzerland through a relentless attack that nearly wore out the field on the flanks. The Swiss would bend but not break, demonstrating brilliant defense. As I predicted before the WC got under way, Switzerland is a team that must be taken seriously.
I thoroughly enjoyed this 1-0 victory by the Swiss despite predicting Spain as the eventual winner of the WC. I stand by my prediction. Spain's somewhat selfish play, especially in the first half, squandered numerous scoring opportunities. With so many stars on the roster, each wanting to put their stamp on the game, shots were taken that were often less than the best alternative. I believe the coaches will address this, and Spain will be one of the two teams to advance from Group H. Unless the wheels fall off, Switzerland will be the other team simply because Chile and Honduras lack the balance of attack and defense shown by Spain and Switzerland.
This game was especially satisfying to watch because I turned off the volume and watched the game without the din of the vuvuzelas, which I consider an embarrassment to all concerned, while also avoiding the less than insightful commentary of the announcers. When I saw Mike Tirico and Alexis Lalas were the in-studio analysis team, I was freed up to finish my morning paper before the start of the second half.
The World Cup has now shown the potential we all knew it had to present entertaining and intelligent soccer. Now that everyone has their first game out of the way, and they are jockeying for one of the two available spots in each group that moves on to the single elimination round, every team will need to play to win, or at minimum, save face. FINALLY, the real World Cup is under way!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

BP and the Gulf Oil "Spill"

I've held off writing about the BP Gulf Oil Spill simply because there is so much being said about it, and my highest concern is not out of professional interest related to the BP brand, but rather the ecological disaster that will be with us for at least decades.

I am prepared to give BP some very valuable and expensive PR and image advice as a public service. Forget about your damn image. Fix the real problems, solve the crisis, and to hell with you image management. More on this later.

As vain as it sounds, I am breaking my silence because two regular readers indicated they were eager to see my reaction to the BP/Gulf oil spill. First let me say, I am disgusted that BP and parts of the media continue to use words like "incident" and spill in describing this. An incident is a temporary, limited, or periodic occurrence, out of the ordinary that generally does not have long-term repercussions. A spill is what happens when you lift your glass of milk too fast and some sloshes out. Neither of those terms applies to the obscene events that continue, largely unabated, along the southern and now eastern shores of the United States. If they were to cap the well this moment the obscenity will continue in the form of devastation to our environment, loss of livelihood, damage to the food source, and economic impact that is truly immeasurable and likely to be felt for decades, if not generations to come.

Although I'd like to see the government take a more visible role in all of this, I have no way of knowing if they are controlling the situation, or what pressures they are putting on BP behind the scenes. I suspect they are making life at BP a living hell. At least I hope they are.
Do we need to continue offshore drilling? Unfortunately, yes. Can we afford as a nation and a responsible society to do it under the conditions and regulations that exist today? Absolutely not. Some areas are just too precious and represent too great a risk to the public well-being. In other words, stay out of Alaska. And probably Florida's waters, etc., etc.

Prior to this disaster I would not have thought it took a rocket scientist to figure out that when you punch a hole in the crust of Earth, literally miles under water, from miles away, you have to figure something terribly wrong could happen, and design a number of back-up plans for "what if . . .” Clearly, that wasn't done. Moreover, it appears BP took as many shortcuts as possible and ran a variety of unsavory risks in the manner by which they set up and operated this site. I've read that the techniques they used in this well are not uncommon among other members of the industry. These companies know its risky, and not necessarily the best methods, but they are committed to keeping costs down and shareholder value up. If ever there was a case for Congress to step in and completely revamp an industry, this is it.

Now to matter of the BP brand. The jackasses working in the PR effort to protect BP's image should be ashamed of themselves. Proof that some people will do anything for money. Lots of it. Don't be swayed by their feeble defense that as professionals, they have an obligation to offer BP their services. They were not sworn to some PR version of physician's Hippocratic Oath. For the record, they might want to refer to a particular portion of that oath that reads: "First, do no harm."

This is a brand that does not deserve to be saved. See, a brand isn't about image. It's about behaviors. BP's behaviors have been deplorable. Instead of running costly full-page newspaper ads to tell America BP takes full responsibility and is going to deal with this to find a solution - FIND THE DAMN SOLUTION! Stop the media circus they are conducting, try being truly open with the American people, fire Cheney's PR person who you brought in to wave her magic wand over it all, (Can you believe they actually hired this twit?), begin offering some protection from the toxins to the thousands of workers you brought in to start cleaning up (despite BP's efforts to portray it as simply picking up litter, this is very dangerous work).

BP is about to prove once again, what I have been saying for my entire career: A brand is the property of the intended audience, not the company trying to advance it. A brand exists only in the minds of the stakeholders, not in the hands of the corporate wonks or shareholders. When BP chose to engage in risky behaviors for the benefit of its stakeholders, it made everyone on this planet a stakeholder. I believe, in response to one of the greatest corporate foul-ups in history, BP is about to see a "stakeholder" revolt unlike anything previously known to man.

I have no sympathy for those local BP dealers who claim their sales off by as much as 40% and the consumer outrage is misdirected at them. If for years you have gladly profited off the good will and clout of the BP brand, then you have to be prepared to accept the negative fallout you rightfully share in the disaster. You collectively chose as dealers not to hold your supplier to higher standards and failed to ask the right questions about procedures that might have prevented this.

The BP brand is dead. They corporate wonks that run the place will quickly set out to replace the name or sell off the assets as soon as the federal government lets them out of the headlock that is meant to keep them focused on cleanup. Don't be surprised to see the Amoco name resurrected. Is this a good move? I don't think so, but naming isn't BP's problem so until real changs are made in behaviors there, what they call the brand will make little difference. 

Despite how angry the public gets and how costly this becomes to BP it is predicted they have more than enough insurance and assets to weather this. Sad, isn't it? BP might be a far smaller company when this is all over, but even that is unlikely. No, BP has protected itself well financially and you shouldn't expect they will shrink out of existance. That is not to say they might not, slink out of existance. Expect to see them drop a few tens of millions on image enhancement and a major rebranding effort. I do expect the BP name to go away in this country. People who cite how Exxon was able to continue after the Exxon Valdez disaster are comparing apples to oranges in the percieved relative magnitude of the situations, the long-term damage, the mood of the public for corporate irresponsibility today versus then, and the ability of social media to generate ire that wasn't possible during the Exxon era. I expect those BP PR wheels are already turning and some of my former colleagues are sopping up enough buckets of money to affort their own homes in the Hamptons alongside those of their clients.

If you get a chance, check out @BPGlobalPR on twitter. This person, identifying them self as Leroy Stick knows more about branding than most of us who claim to practice it for a living - probably because he/she has a clear moral compass, good judgment, sound reasoning and compassion for people and our Planet ahead of profits. Hey, come to think of it, BP, isn't that what a brand should be based on?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Living Without the Brands You Used To Love

Manufacturers, especially in the food and beverage area have long been consumed with "case counts," - the movement of inventory, rather than brand loyalty. This trend has evolved over the past decade and is so prevalent that most brand managers today are more accountant than marketing person. In the "old days" brand managers were largely marketing and promotions people.

In an effort to reverse the decline in soft drink sales being experienced industry-wide as a result of consumer trends toward healthier lifestyles, soft drink manufacturers have begun significantly raising prices. Just last year, in the Chicagoland area, consumers could walk into any major supermarket chain and benefit from pricing wars to buy four or five twelve packs of Coca-Cola or Pepsi products for under $10. Today, on sale, consumers are getting three 12-packs for ten to twelve dollars. In some cases, supermarkets are offering three 12-packs for nine dollars with a qualifying minimum purchase of ten dollars.  

Even more of a threat to sales and margins is the shift in power away from the manufacturer to the retailer.
Costco, with its more than 400 stores drew a line in the sand and stopped offering Coca-Cola products because the beverage company refused to offer the warehouse club pricing that is consistent with the store's below-market strategy. Costco represents a significant portion of Coke's business. Coke, on the other hand, is less than half of one percent of Costco's $70 Billion annual sales.

Costco didn't run the risk of alienating its customers by ceasing to carry Coke because its customer base knows that Costco carries items on an irregular basis depending on pricing and packaging values. The standoff was recently settled when Coca-Cola backed down. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

I don't know if it's still true today, but years ago around McDonald's corporate headquarters, they bragged that if Coke lost the fast food giant's business the soft drink company would fall from number one in fountain sales in America to number four. Today, McDonald's is offering "buy any beverage for a buck" promotions. That may sound like a good deal but as recently as last year, McDonald's offered the same size product for as low as seventy-nine cents depending on the market and owner/operator participation. I doubt much of any of that increased margin is finding its way to Coke's Atlanta headquarters.

Walgreens is in the midst of a major makeover of its stores from the "drug store and sundry" model of old to compete with supermarkets and convenience stores. You'll be able to buy cold beer and a number of other previously unavailable products at every Walgreen store. Many of the things you used to buy at your corner drug store won't be sold there anymore as merchants slim down the variety and product offerings to focus on the most profitable margin items.

The shift in marketplace power is dramatic. As consumers preferences continue to change, retailers adjust their offerings to meet customer needs, sales goals and profit margins, you can expect some longtime, iconic brands to fade in prominence faster than ever, be acquired and merged, and in some cases, disappear altogether. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

To Blog Or Not To Blog

At dinner last night a couple said they are considering a blog to help promote their book about teaching sibling children about breast feeding. http://www.amazon.com/Mommy-Breastfeeds-My-Baby-Brother/dp/0981653804 I mentioned that another friend of mine sent me a link to an article from Inc. Magazine written by Joel Spolsky. www.inc.com/magazine/20100301/lets-take-this-offline.html Mr. Spolsky began a blog (Joel on Software) over ten years ago, even before starting his successful company, Fog Creek Software. His site grew to over a million unique visitors a month, making it one of the oldest and most successful blogs in existence. He used this recent Inc. article to announce that he no longer has the time or the interest in continuing his blog.

The reason my friend sent the article to me was, as he said, "You could have written this."

You see, I don't blog for feedback, to grow my business, or to one day generate revenue from my writing. I blog because something inside me wants to be expressed. I consider blogging to be like my piano playing - meant for no one's satisfaction but my own. I never play for others. The fact that someone might happen by my front door and hear me playing is of no importance. Much like the words I write, the notes I play are meant to express and release something, not communicate, inform or entertain another. Self absorbed? Perhaps. I look at it differently. I do not excel at writing anymore than I do music, but I feel refreshed, energized and better suited to tackle the issues where I am expected to excel: parenting, marriage, friendship and good citizenry after doing either endeavor.

I write and play what moves me. Like the notes on the piano as they sail into the abyss of sound, once the words move from my mind to my keyboard, it doesn't matter if they are lost forever in the black hole that is the Internet. However, when I write, I always attempt to assume the reader's position, not the writers. Good storytelling whether oral, musical, or written is always about audience. It must provoke the thought "I see me." That is the fundamental tenet of branding as well. So, you see, music and writing are merely tools for sharpening my branding storytelling instrument as listener. I save them here to revisit and evaluate my storytelling, not to share them with the world. Having them on the Internet provides a forum where certain standards of engagement are expected. Otherwise, I'd merely save them in Word.

To me, writing is like branding. It must always be about them, and never about me/us. Blogs that promote a company or product are doomed. Blogs, like successful brands must address something bigger than themselves. On that point Mr. Spolsky and I are in complete agreement.

Back to my dinner friends . . .

Rather than express my views about my music and blogging, I shared with them the advice from Mr. Spolsky's article. A blog won't help them sell more books. Sharing their insights on subjects larger than their book topic might gain significant numbers of followers, but a blog meant to sell books will fail. As Mr. Spolsky rightly points out, "Do you know anyone who gained a single customer from a blog?" I don't.

Earlier in the week, the husband of this same couple sent me a note telling me how much he enjoyed my blog writing and offered a couple of good suggestions about the appearance of it. During our dinner, he went further and suggested I disable the ability for readers to comment since no one has added even a single comment. As he put it, "No one wants to be the first, so no one comments. With no comments, it appears no one else is reading the blog. Besides, as much as I agreed with and enjoyed what you wrote I didn't feel compelled to write 'Yes, I agree,' or comment myself."

My blog only has 6 followers including my daughter, her ex-boyfriend (Sorry Ben if that stings - I know the wound is still fresh), a couple of past clients, a friend, and a woman who found my site but remains unknown to me. I do get email feedback from other people from time to time who wish to express their own views privately. As much as I appreciate their correspondence, I have to admit feeling a little guilty since I view this blog as more a journal than a public forum.

Blogs that want feedback and comments make succinct comments and ask questions. My blog is comprised of long form essays that make stands. As the name states, I am all about brands that stand and for that to be, one must declare where they stand.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toyota Recall Advice

Like every other brand expert in the world, I have to chime in regarding the Toyota recall. Since so much has been written and said about the depth of Toyota's problems and what it will take to repair the damage, I will keep my remarks short.

Issue #1: HEY, TOYOTA start making SAFER, more reliable, and better cars. The proof is, you haven't been doing that despite all your apologies and claims "We're really concerned."

Issue #1: HEY, TOYOTA, stop TALKING (ads) about what a great car you make and how dedicated your people are and START doing it! The fact that you INCREASED your ad spending underscores your insincerity, and your belief that you can buy your way out of the problem. When will corporate America (and Japan) learn that throwing millions of dollars into your ad agencies bank account DOES NOT improve the situation. Of course, the ad agencies will argue they are part of the solution. Go to a carpenter and ask them how they solve problems and they'll use a hammer. A brand is not advertising or marketing. Your ad agency is in the process of underscoring it and your future sales will confirm it.

Issue #3: HEY, TOYOTA, at what point do you come to the realization that you sell more because what you sell is better than the next guy instead of you sell more because you sell more. The worst thing you could hope to be is what you were - a bloated, arrogant, customer disregarding, mass producer of autos.

Issue #4: Every single car you build represents a person, a future owner, and their loved ones, not a machine. Start building cars as if your child were riding in it instead of buidling it as if your child was profiting from it. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What If Haiti Is Never Rebuilt?

The media coverage of vast devastation and human suffering in Haiti has conveyed a sense of urgency seldom seen before. The outpouring of support included an unprecedented TV special simultaneously picked up by numerous networks and cable outlets that generated more than fifty million dollars. Americans also used texting to automatically generate contributions at a level never before seen.

As horrific as the tragedy has been in the island nation, it is already slipping from people's concerns as the "news fatigue" factor kicks in. Anytime there is a disaster of great magnitude caused by nature, people of this country are quick to respond. Likewise, there is also always a rumbling from some people about "helping our own" rather than giving to others beyond any I have seen before.

Perhaps because of the magnitude of the destruction in Haiti, or the massive fundraising that has occurred, there seems to me to be a significantly higher level of opposition to Haiti relief than I've noticed during other disasters. There may be racial and socio-economic factors at play, but I think most of the resistance to long-term aid to Haiti is driven by a different motive.

It is one thing to provide immediate assistance to those in need of medical attention, food, water, and temporary shelter. It is quite another to suggest that America has a duty to help rebuild Haiti.

The people of Haiti have lived at the lowest level of poverty in the Western Hemisphere for decades as the bottom of the barrel definition of "Third World" conditions. Those conditions existed because the people of Haiti have done nothing to correct their leaders. Haiti has no economy to rebuild. It lacks the structure of a society, or the cultural mores to promote the general good. There is no agriculture, manufacturing, service industry or tourism in Haiti. Haiti has long been a nation of deadbeats run by a handful of thieves.

If America were to rebuild Haiti what would be built? No farms or factories of any significance were destroyed. In essence, aside from a few poorly constructed office buildings, schools, hospitals and hotels, the only building of significance that was destroyed was the palace. Most of the structures that were destroyed were poorly constructed housing and shanties. Because the people of Haiti have allowed themselves to be ruled by corrupt and self-serving people there were no meaningful building standards, or worthy infrastructure. You didn't hear about the public water treatment center, or the bridge and highway system being wiped out because they didn't exist in any meaningful form. In many ways, Haiti has been culturally bankrupt and lacks the collective will to live otherwise. The Dominican Republic, while not a perfect state, has used self-determination and market forces to create a far better society for its people on the same island.

People who suggest that by building modern, safe homes, hospitals, schools, workplaces and roads in haiti will somehow keep anti-American influences such as Muslim radicals, and South American communists from gaining a foothold I ask, so why weren't those forces successful prior to the disaster?

I agree we should provide all the medical assistance, first aid and humanitarian provisions needed by the people of Haiti. If Haiti is to be rebuilt, let the people of Haiti do it, or invite outside private enterprise to determine what can economically flourish there. If the land is too barren to support agriculture, the people too poorly educated to support commerce, and the political will too low to take back their destiny, I do not think it is America's place to rebuild that nation's housing, roads, and economy. Until the people of Haiti are willing to work toward their own future, it is wrong for the U.S. to assume we can create a better place there.