Solitaire-y Confinement

So one thing I plan to do better in 2012 is delegate more often and more wisely.  (I mean delegating can only go too far, right?  Like there’s NO way I ever send someone to the liquor store for me!)  I was poised to pen some prose about the dopes at the gym who would be better served sitting at the Five Guys next door.  Case in point, I literally ran yesterday next to a chick who was playing solitaire on the video monitor on her treadmill… and she was 28 years-old tops!!!!  I have to believe the act of  chewing a triple bacon cheeseburger would burn more calories.

But then I happened upon this following gem of an article (thanks for writing Jason Gay; and for forwarding KC!).  I couldn’t summarize my observations better, so here you go.  I present to you my first delegated task of 2012: 

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203471004577140900388728374.html

And for you marketers out there, I’ll be following up with the lessons we all can take from this genius composition in a day or two. 

ENJOY!

7 Things I Hate About the Holidays

Merry Christmas to all!  Let’s get right to it… though I do enjoy the typical consumer trappings of  Christmas (i.e. receiving presents), here is my spreading of yuletide anger – most of which you know you agree with but are too chicken to admit:

7.  Cars with Christmas decorations.  You know what I mean… the cars with wreaths on the grill, reindeer antlers out the windows, etc.  Now, I have several family members guilty of this violation (you know who you are; but I still love you!).  Alas, not all all is lost: Use this annoyance as your personal ‘hang out’ profiler: “Dress your car in Christmas cheer, then don’t sit with me for a beer.”

A close 2nd to this annoyance are those who affix stick figures of their family composition.  I’m glad to see that this iteration didn’t take too long to emerge…

And while on my curmudgeonly car sticker rant, can we stop with the dumb ovals telling me where you’ve been?  Do you think anyone gives a sh*t that you’ve been to OBX (Outer Banks), IRE (Ireland), or this head scratcher… NWW (North Wildwood)!!!  Seriously? DJ Pauley D won’t even take a gig there!

6.  College Bowl Games.  I know, shocking coming from a guy whose TV watching is limited to sports and the Bravo network (thanks KC!), but I hate the college bowl games…  HATE THEM!  I’ll spare you the tired argument as to why I want – make that, deserve – a playoff system for D1 College Football.  No, this complaint harkens back to my youth and why I LOVED New Year’s Day.  See, for all of you born in the 80’s and beyond (quickly becoming most of the people I know), the best part about New Years – especially in the pre-drinking days – was the complete bliss thanks to every bowl game being played on this day.  It was an embarrassment of riches; I warmly recall sitting with my old man and random brothers for an entire day without 1 commercial thanks to the pre-cursor of the flashback button… me getting up and actually changing the channel to another game whenever a commercial appeared on the game we were watching. How I miss the days of Pete Giftopoulos picking off Vinny Testaverde!

Compare the magic of this one day to our modern version of the bowls which kicks off – and I sh*t you not – on 12/17/11 with the “Gildan New Mexico Bowl” and ends with the national championship on 1/10/12.  In between we’re treated with such classics as the “Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl”, the “Belk Bowl”, and the unforgettable “San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl”.  Tell me you wouldn’t trade the auto flashback bottom on your remote today for manual channel changers on New Year’s Day, circa 1982.  Besides, isn’t this the reason we had kids?

5.  Apple store.  Those familiar with this blog already know my disdain for all things Apple (admission:  I’m typing on a MacBook Air while playing “Words with Friends” with my daughter – iPad for me; Kindle for her – who is sitting right next to me… just because we can).  I admit, really cool stuff. BUT going in that store is like visiting the modern day version of Woodstock – have you ever smelled worse B.O. and bad breath?  And not just MY Apple store – its pandemic to them all! I never thought the smell of the football locker room at St. Pius X (now defunct) HS could be trumped by anything worse.  Congratulations Apple; you have reached yet another peak on your climb to world domination!

4.  Christmas Lights.  Another common complaint, but with a twist:  So we’ve come a long way as a society where air-bags routinely save lives, cigarretes have been eradicated from bars so now I can wear jeans more than once before washing, and someone figured out how to make buffalo wings without the bone – what a great improvement for those who wish to consume vast amounts of fat without the caloric burn from  working around the bone!  And lets face it, the wing is a mere vehicle for getting the blue cheese to your mouth… just sayin’.

With all the technological enhancements to Christmas lights (e.g. icicles, flashers, fade to music, etc.), I must be the only person who cannot find the magical strand that still lights when one bulb fails.  I hear this exists and after having purchased about 10, none of them work as advertised.  May you rot in Hades you marketing geniuses who continue to dupe me into thinking “maybe if I just buy one more strand…”

3.  “Every Kiss begins with K”.  …and its red-headed stepchild, “He went to Jared”!  You know what else starts with K?  How about “kill” –  like what what I want to do to myself whenever I hear that g*d damn jingle!  And “he went to Jared” should be followed with “and I will divorce his a*s in about 3 years if he buys my rock from that shack.”  People, do yourself a favor and visit my boy Paul Jacobs at Ascot Diamonds in Arlington, VA (www.ascotdiamonds.com).  Shameless plug here for sure, but Paul is the man and tell him I sent you so he continues to hook up yours truly!

2.  Anyone over the age of 6 who wears Santa hats.  My 11 y.o. daughter is granted special dispensation here…

1.  Justin Bieber

Now a word about my mother – talk about a bum deal. She lost her best friend and sister a few months ago to the ravages of leukemia.  Then she totals her car last week trying to avoid an a-hole motorcyclist pushing 90.  She swerves into a front yard to avoid him, car hits a tree stump and wham – totaled!  I’m guessing the motorcyclist was on his way to an Apple store with a Christmas wreath on his grill.   And then, in prepping for kids/grandkids coming over for Christmas day, running around like a maniac to get the presents wrapped and house in order, she takes a misstep and BREAKS HER FOOT!  Talk about needing a break –  but not that kind!!!

So my lone positive note of this post:  Mom, look at it this way… 2011 is just a few days from being over… 2012 is bound to be better!  At least we’ll be rid of Fraud’Bama!!!!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night… I’m on my way to the Apple Store to spread good will via breath mints.

WE ARE… PENITENTIARY STATE!

OK, that title was too easy, but I have resisted reacting in a knee-jerk manner to the breaking Penn State scandal.  In full disclosure, I grew up in a Penn State family; my dad is an alum and it was a birthright – no, make that a birth-DUTY – to root for the blue and white on fall Saturdays.  In our home, Sunday may have been the day of worship for that other child-molesting organization (i.e. the Catholic Church); but Saturdays were reserved for JoPa and Linebacker U

A lot has been revealed of the sordid activities allegedly perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky… a Sports Illustrated expose in the Nov 21 edition does an excellent job explaining the key characters, timelines, etc.  I have been fighting like hell to avoid ‘piling on’ but the following cannot be denied:

  • Sandusky is a creep and deserves to spend the rest of his days picking up the soap in the showers at Graterford prison where all of his fellow inmates are certainly attuned to his transgressions and will be more than happy to ‘slide around the showers’ with him like he mastered with 10 year old boys.  His actions are despicable by any measure and the punishment cannot be severe enough.  He is public enemy number one in this story but won’t get much more attention beyond this bullet as it’s obvious that he is at fault and his actions are universally condemned.
  • Mike McQueary just confirmed for me why he sucked so bad as a QB at PSU.  McQueary played QB for the ‘Nits in the mid-90’s and I recall having an otherworldy disgust for his play at that time to the point of questioning my allegiance at all to the ‘Nits.  His decision-making was horrific as was a perceived lack of toughness/guts in crunch time.  Has such an opinion ever been more validated when he stared down the scene of a 60-year-old man sodomizing a young boy in a shower room and decided to do… NOTHING???!!!  Are you kidding me McQueary???  You’re 6’5″, I’m guessing 250 lbs (packing on at least 10-20 lbs since you stopped turtling from LBers rushing who you should have been tough enough to withstand a hit from) and you don’t confront that monster and save the boy???  And then you have the gall to send an email to your ‘boys’ after you go in hiding saying “I did do something – I stopped him from doing it again.”  And, “… you have no idea how it feels to witness something like that… hope that you never do.”  Sorry Mike, I would actually HOPE to walk upon an old dude banging a young boy because I know I WOULD STOP HIM!  It’s not as if you happened upon Mike Tyson on a ‘roid rage… he WAS A 60 YEAR OLD MAN!  Now in fairness, I must allow for the other side of this argument… check out this link from Jane Leavy regarding the “Plight of the Whistleblower” – well done but I obviously don’t agree.
  • The PSU Administration.  Included here are the University President (Graham Spanier) and the others who were in charge of keeping order at the University.  They clearly covered up past instances and they will have their day in court.  The gut feeling here is that this thing is rotten to the core and if these people knew of Sandusky’s transgressions so did NCAA officials.  This is just the start of the avalanche, friends.  Expect many more heads to roll.  (For more on the inconceivable malfeasance of how the investigation has been handled, check out the bullets from this week’s SI story).

Of course missing from the key players was one of my all time favorite octogenarians, Joe Paterno.  It’s still seems unreal to me that the keeper of all things good and wholesome could have known even rumors about his top lieutenant Sandusky and decide to simply say a few words to his superiors???  Perhaps his greatest attribute was Joe’s grandfatherly presence in Happy Valley especially on the recruiting trail when assuring moms and dads across the nation that their kids would play for a premier football program AND would graduate AND would keep their noses out of the sorts of scandals that continually plague other top flight programs (see Florida St “Sneaker Gate“, USC “Bush Gardens“, Ohio St. “Tattoo U.”, etc.).  These pale in comparison to the allegations in Happy Valley… unrivaled except for what’s unraveling at Syracuse (to be continued…).

My initial sympathy for Joe, heightened by the media coverage of a man obviously not able to even comprehend such a travesty at his age (e.g. his offer to retire at the end of the season, “say a prayer for the kids”, etc.) quickly turned into a boiling rage:  How could a man who is easily the most powerful icon in the state of Pennsylvania allow these unfathomable crimes to occur under his watch?  How did he not have the fortitude to sit his friend down and tell him that beyond never coaching again, the authorities are being called because beyond stealing the innocence of the child-victims, etc. – YOU Mr. Sandusky have just destroyed everything we stand for at this university in your actions of cruelty and selfishness.  In those fleeting moments of self-gratification not only did you destroy the lives of the boys you abused but you have also tarnished the reputation of EVERY student that has ever walked through these doors… those recent grads struggling to find jobs and those already out in society who now face public ridicule whenever their alma mater is revealed.  And the future?  Forget about it.  Try fundraising now:  PSU would find it easier soliciting funds for the Sandusky prosecution than they would for facilities, scholarship endowment, etc.

Joe fell victim to the insulation afforded those who rise to meteoric heights where the daily goings-on become secondary to the overall mission.  In his case, securing the all-time NCAA victory record and protecting his teams from outside influences that would prevent that accomplishment.  Stories are now emerging of other cover-ups that pale in comparison to the Sandusky affair but are troublesome nonetheless.  They follow a common theme; players break rules (or possibly laws), PSU administration approaches Paterno, Joe intimidates the officers into letting him handle it internally or else risk his removal from the fundraising process.  Classy Joe…

And here’s my personal beef:  Joe,  you stole my loyalty and a seemingly infinite amount of Saturdays rooting for your ‘wholesome’ principles.  I held off the detractors who said you were too old and the game has passed you by.  I defended the run-run-pass-punt offensive malaise (before you allowed Galen Hall to implement the spread) while allowing the defense to win games because I thought it was a throwback to the days where football was a metaphor for life; that hard work and a conservative mindset would ultimately lead to victory as you kept focus straight ahead at the ultimate prize…  that short-term failures only made you stronger.  Little did I know that this approach included ‘looking the other way’ when things didn’t quite mesh with your goal.  And perhaps if you ignore things long enough that they’ll just go away.   And those boring-ass uniforms… I accepted the brainwashing that they were actually ‘cool’.  They’re not… they suck and now I can admit it.

Lastly, a word on institutional culture and why these crimes were able to continue in the manner they did.  I wrote my master’s thesis on “Organizational Culture and it’s Effect as Business Strategy”.  (Yep… MBA from where else… PSU!).   The basic tenet is that successful organizations either purposely or tacitly craft the culture of their employees/members – everything from control vs. autonomy to office decor to the ‘norms’ of the daily work day – to align with their goals.  Forward-looking companies that have at their core innovation and advancement typically are characterized by autonomy where employees are given vast freedoms to try new approaches and where failure is almost expected in exchange for finding that one ‘eureka’ idea that can launch a business for decades (see Apple Computer).  Compare this to the rules-laiden, risk-averse, conservative/staid surroundings of the financial services – or legal – profession and you get my point.  Universities have a culture that is very insular… an ‘us vs. the world’ mindset where students rally around alums and their sports teams to show that they are ‘better than the rest’.  This can typically be chalked up to youthful exuberance that is outgrown when the students move on to other walks of life.  But those who are left behind (and don’t get me started on ‘tenure’) only naturally fall into the ‘spell’ that such rallying cries become reality… that there really IS something different about ‘us’ compared to those outside the quad.  Layer on top a figurehead that is larger than life (literally in JoPa’s case) and you have the makings of a sub-culture that exists to protect the figurehead… where the figurehead and the University becomes one, making it near impossible to separate one from the other.

This is what happened to PSU and JoPa.  His is the face associated with the acronym… with statues adorned throughout the campus… with fundraising letters ending with his signature.  It comes at no surprise then that his is the reputation that was continually protected and whose words were followed and who ultimately controlled the actions of the school.  So 1% of me actually feels sorry for Joe as he fell under his own spell.  It must be tough receiving nothing but accolades for 5 decades where all transgressions are swept under the rug.  But as for the rest of me… if Joe in fact did know… even JUST what McQueary told him, then I can’t see how anyone can exalt even the great philanthropic work he unquestionably has done.  Because when Joe had a chance to address the eye of the storm, when the most powerful man at the University and maybe the state was faced with the chance to save the innocence of youth, when a mere conversation with police would have started the beginning of the end for Sandusky… what did Joe do???? 

He punted.

Is it a headache or is my hat just too tight?

Man, realizing how hard it is to keep this thing current!  I made the masochistic decision to run for – and ultimately win – a board position for my 8 year-old’s Little League (suffice to say it’s a full-time job with the meetings, emails, planning, etc.).  In an effort to remain current, allow me to cover off on events since my last post.  Enjoy the musings:

  • Steve Jobs postscript:  Of all my previous posts, the last one stirred the pot most.  Had a few who misunderstood my point of questioning the herd mentality of his ‘disciples’ and thought I was bashing the man.  I certainly wasn’t – but do feel a bit vindicated by his biography that paints him as a world-class A-hole (at least early in his career).  I have become a ‘ends don’t justify the means’ sort of guy.  I realize the guy created a better mousetrap but the way you treat people is bigger in my book – regardless of the level of ‘success’ the world determines you have achieved.  But I have to admit that those Toy Story movies are pretty great – long live Pixar!
  • Hank Williams Jr. fired from MNF:  Torn on this one… on one hand I really hated that G*d damn song from the first minute I heard it and couldn’t be happier that it’s now forbidden to be on my TV screen.  On the other hand, he was wrongly fired.  Hear me out (and I did consult a prominent DC attorney who happens to be of the Jewish faith to make sure my position wasn’t unreasonably insensitive)  For those living under a rock, ESPN took umbrage (and a barrage of negative publicity) when Williams mentioned in an interview that ‘Obama and Boehner hanging out was akin to Hitler doing the same with Netanyahu’.   Hanky-boy was summarily pummeled and branded an anti-Semite for bringing up Hitler in his analogy.  I for one don’t see the issue:  It’s not as if he was comparing one of our leaders to “Hitler” but rather that to point out the diametrically opposed ideologies that the two men share.  He easily could have used ‘Jesus and Pontius Pilate’ or ‘Bin Laden and Bush’…would he have gotten the ax if so???  I think not.  I know the Holocaust is an extremely sensitive subject, but still don’t see the issue with the analogy… but psyched I don’t have to hear that stupid a*s song anymore; maybe the folks at ESPN agree with me and just needed a reason to fire that dummy!
  • Herman Cain emerges as a viable Republican nominee:  OK, originally a big fan of the 9-9-9 plan due to its simplicity and seemingly fairness upon first glance.  Is the beauty in its simplicity or impossible that something which makes sense to the masses can actually work???  I missed the debates since Cain has emerged but he must be a realistic candidate because the accusations of sexual harassment are now coming out of the woodwork… which means he’s likely going to be our next President!  Welcome to the spotlight Herm!  (sorry, wrong Herm, but couldn’t resist an image of the original hero of the Miracle in the Meadowlands!).
  • American Horror Story: Generally not a fan of the horror genre – I mean who LIKES being scared???  But this show is fast-moving up the ranks of must-see-TV for yours truly!  The macabre is amazing.  And the fact that the ancient, decrepid maid appears as a hot piece to the main character summons a similar experience in my life:  I’m the only fan who liked the Ray Rhodes era in Eagles football history.
  • Eagles beat the sh*t out of the Cowboys on national TV:  I mean is there anything greater to a true sports fan?  This will be my rallying cry when I run for President — we can all come together in hatred of the putrid Cowboys.  A collective welcome of Tony Romo to the ‘never lived up to the hype’ list.  Move over Reggie Bush, Mike Mamula, JaMarcus Russel, Ryan Leaf, and Mike Williams (first one… don’t know where the second one came from… I’m talking about the dope from USC who had to sit out his senior year before being allowed into the draft… played for the Lions, Cowboys, and maybe Seattle or something now???  I think he’s eyeing a spot with Franklin & Marshall next season).
  • More Hank Williams…:  While on the topic of Hank Williams and his lousy song, can we PLEASE do something about the even MORE annoying Faith Hill rendition of Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You”, lyrically altered to squeeze in Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth???  I don’t get it… Isn’t Miss Hill a multi-Grammy award winning recording artist?  Can’t she write a song herself to be retro-fitted with “Al and Chris in the booth’???  And what about Jett? She wasn’t available to sing her own damn song?  Too many gigs lined up at Wolf Trap to spend the 2 hours re-recording the one song?
  • Peyton Manning out for the year:  Amazing I’m going to write this, but has there ever been a more obvious choice for MVP?  Wouldn’t that be something if Manning won the award without playing a game?  I have never seen a team be more dependant upon one player than the Colts.
  • Scandal in Happy Valley:  Wow, longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky accused of sexually assaulting 10-year-old boys… and JoPa knew about it???  What a horrific end to a pristine program… while I type this, there are certainly more facts to come… none of which are going to be good…
  • NBA Lockout continues….: … and just about nobody cares.  I was supportive of the players in the NFL lockout considering the short shelf-life of the typical NFL player (3.5 years) and the physical damage they endure.  AND the fact that the median salary of $770,000 for those numbers of years means there’s a lot of guys putting their bodies at extreme risk for a relatively small amount of money. Seems like a lot, but see how long $1.3MM lasts when you don’t have much of anything else to fall back on.  (For you math majors, $1.3MM equals $770k x 3.5 x 50% thanks to Uncle Sam!).  The NBA Players are a joke by comparison – the fact they were getting 57% of league revenues is absurd when Spencer Hawes makes over $2MM PER YEAR for an un-Michael-Jordan-like avg. of 8 points per game.  What a joke…

Lastly, a tip of the hat to the Gansevoort Miami.  The wife surprised me with a long weekend in South Beach last week and we had an amazing time, in spite of gale force winds and a bit of tropical storm the last day.  The only issue was an incredibly poor wireless internet connection.  And for someone whose job never stops, this is akin to rusty nail stuck in the bottom of your foot while trying to run a marathon.  The Gansevoort has a very efficient survey process for guests upon check out… a brief survey awaits via email, waiting in your inbox when you return to the ‘real world’.  Being in the marketing industry, I tend to answer these things perhaps more than most.  But this time, I had legitimate reason to inform them of the internet issue — something that would definitely deter my future business.

What happened next was flat-out text-book with respect to CRM communications.  3 or 4 hours following my submission, I received a personal communication from the GM informing me of the steps they are taking to improve their internet service and as a goodwill gesture of thanks for not only my business but for helping them improve, have extended a free upgrade when I book my next visit.  It blows me away why more businesses don’t operate like this; it’s FAR easier to satisfy the customers you have than trying to acquire new, so why not do all in your power (within reason) to keep ‘em coming back?!  Kudos to you Gansevoort… I will return, gladly taking that free upgrade, and will continue my perma-grin that appears every time I step foot at the Saturday pool party at Plunge!

And then the next day I’ll be left wondering, “do I have a headache, or is my hat just too tight?”

Steve Jobs

So we lost an American icon two weeks ago – Steve Jobs was a true revolutionary in the technology, personal computing, and entertainment spaces.  Alas, if you think this is yet another digital bl*w job, think again.  Quite frankly, I don’t get it.  Now all you maniacs who are about to press ‘comment’, stop; I do “get” all that the man did to make our lives better, keep us more connected with those we otherwise wouldn’t via a machine that gets smaller and smaller everyday making our communications and existence in general more convenient, productive, efficient, etc.  He may even lay more accurate claim to inventing the internet that our pal Al Gore.  But none of these eulogies are my intent… for you must merely peform a Google search to read all the platitudes.

What I don’t get is this outpouring of love as if we lost our closest relative (or dog for you PETA folks).  I was in Philadelphia two weekends ago (fitting, as I witnessed the death of Philly sports in one godforsaken weekend!), walking around Rittenhouse Square, when we happened past the Apple store.  I was struck by maybe a thousand post-it notes of sympathy for Mr. Jobs and sentiments of how much he would be missed, etc.  HUH??? 

So I really am not an unsympathetic wretch – I genuinely feel bad for the Jobs family – or any family that loses a loved one prematurely to a terrible disease (or any cause for that matter).  But this outpouring of love for a man who pioneered a ‘better mousetrap’?  Did we gather around the village bonfire to lament the inventor of the air conditioner when he passed?  How about the venerable Thomas Crapper?  (The first correct ‘comment’ to name that person and ID Crapper’s gift to society gets a free subscription to TC Ramblings!).  I would make the argument – and win EVERY time – that these two gentlement have contributed more to society but left in relative anonymity.  Why?  I have no f’ing idea!  I mean, part of the appeal of Jobs – I believe – is he was perceived largely as a nerdy recluse whose contributions far outpaced his compensation.  Not like those piece of sh*t Wall St. bankers who do nothing for the greater good of society but rather stuff their wallets, eat steaks, get fat, and seemingly never have anything bad happen to them.  (Hold on, need to post my protest location on FourSquare!).  But seriously, shouldn’t we have the same issue of paying $699 for an iPad that costs something like $42 to produce as we do b*tching about Bank of America charging $5 per month to utilize their debit card?  At the end of the day, just take your damn business to the bank next door that doesn’t charge for their debit card – isn’t that far easier than filling up my damn airwaves and print with treatises why this is ‘extortion’???  For the love of God, find another stinkin’ bank!

Which brings me back to our collective mourning of Jobs.  I have 2 theories:  1) Conspiracy (of course).  Could the saints that run Apple be behind this public outpouring of love and devotion?  Consider the post-it notes; could that have started with notes of support by the employees who were perhaps encouraged to affix to the store front?  Once that occured, then perhaps 2) the Pack Mentality caused the notes to take on a life of their own as our disaffected youth – fresh from their $100k education but lacking a job that pays even 25% of their investment and so meander the sidewalks looking like Zack Galafanakis wondering why nobody will hire them – pulled the ‘crazy pens’ from their Lands End back packs and simply joined the pack of sympathizers, emblazoning their 3×3 neon notepads with Hosannas?  Plausible. 

(Sidenote:  Don’t these Apple stores remind you of the Black jack tables at the Borgata on a weekend – 5 rows deep of people straining to get on the table to donate their money!  I go in those stores and dont’ know what the hell I’m supposed to do after faking like I know what I’m doing  by picking up various versions of iPhones – only differing in color!  I think the employees are somehow color coded but can someone show me the legend so I know who to ask what?  I bought wifey a MacPro Plus last Christmas – yes, I said it, CHRISTMAS! – and the sweet nerdy sales girl was SO damn smart… but man if she didn’t have the most awful breath.  Isn’t that how it always works?  We can never have it all… smart as a whip, even on the cute side of the ‘looks continuum’, but god-awful breath!  I guess they won… I bought the computer before sprinting outside for fresh air.)

OK, now the marketing lesson:  If you can get enough people to start behaving in a certain way, you’re almost guaranteed that the herd will follow.  Citing statistics, roughly 3% of us are true trailblazers who march to our own beat.  Know what makes the rest of us?  SHEEP!  Don’t worry, it’s good being part of the herd… safer that way.  But as sales professionals, we focus so much on the microcosm of every transaction and oftentimes miss the bigger marketing picture.  Sometimes I wonder what has happened to the ‘loss-leader’.  We all know about the hi-rollers getting the fabulous free suites at the Bellagio and the airlines rewarding the frequent flyers with free flights… why do they do this?  Look no further than the age-old strategy that keeps ‘em coming back:  Forget about the occasional profit, identify those prospects or even current customers who have the ability to attract ‘followers’ and get them to YOUR marketplace – whatever the cost.  Marketing is about long-term brand and experience building.  Don’t fall into the quarterly earnings trap that stifles innovation.  Be the trailblazer with the zany idea; so long as its rooted in long term growth the sheep will follow.

Baah! Baah!  Baah!

Expectations… guess what Ryan Howard does vs. lefties with the game on the line?

First of all many apologies for my silence of late.  Still getting a handle on this whole blog thing… I realize that frequency is crucial but I’m not some troll sitting in a basement blogging… I have a damn life!  Blame my uber-social wife for too many activities; if I were holed up in my basement in my underwear commenting on minutia then I’d put out content every day.  Unfortunately, she makes me go out and interact with real people… which is good for content; bad for having time to write about it.

Fear not… I’m loaded for bear.  Rather than blow it all out here, I’ll focus on a series of concise yet entertaining/educational anecdotes… starting with tonight.  So I settled in to watch my noble Phillies take their rightful place in baseball royalty by expelling the almost worthy Cardinals in their chapel of  a baseball field.  Unfortunately we’re forced to suffer through a game 5 back in heaven-on-earth, Citizen’s Bank Park, where our very own deity, Roy Halladay will vault us one step closer to the promised land (fear not!). 

So being 2 martini’s deep when Ryan Howard yet again swiped at a typical 2 strike slider away, out of the zone by yet another junk-balling lefty to dash our hopes and cause me a bellowing howl of “F*CK”, much to the chagrin of our not-quite-understanding next door neighbor who just one week ago filed a noise complaint to our home owners association, I was pretty down in the dumps.  Expectations… what can I say?

Wifey tried to calm  me down (with the ever-so-popular, “what the eff is wrong with you?!”)… didn’t quite work.  Know what did?  When she threw on the DVR of ‘Real Housewives of NJ’, watching the Gorga’s and Giudice’s making friendly in Punta Cana!  Let me tell you friends, must see TV!  This Bravo really has taken the concept of ‘trainwreck’ and figured a way to make mad cash on it.

But I digress.  More to the point… on the ‘expectations’ theme, I arranged a subtle ‘Happy Birthday’ dinner for my 25-year-old betrothed (well, she looks 25… you can guess her real age :-).  We had a great time at a wonderfully fun restaurant in the Reston Town Center (many thanks to Anthony at Il Fornaio - if you want to hold an event at a vibrant venue with great food and great staff, THIS is the place!).  But let me tell you about a business who did it wrong… that would be Passion Fish also in the Reston Town Center… pretty much the consensus premier restaurant amongst 10 or so within a 4 block diameter (sorry Morton’s… but you’re slipping).  Here’s the issue that both marketers and logical consumers with  more than a 5th grade education can appreciate:

I have 15-20 guests ready to join the birthday dinner.  Let’s remember that we’re about to enter (if we haven’t already) a double-dip recession.  Frankly, restaurants aren’t breaking at the seams with people clammering to bring in $1,500+ worth of business.  So a few days prior, off I go to discuss the dinner party with Ms. Rigid-I’m-The-Group-Sales-Director at the aforementioned Passion(less) Fish.  May I just offer that a bigger moron doesn’t exist.  Perhaps due to the rigid sales manual the Nazi superiors forced upon poor Miranda, she was dead set on enforcing the $2,000 minimum for the room with a limited menu.  I felt bad for her… living 2 blocks away and a consummate frequenter of the various establishments nearby, I can count on one hand the weekend evenings when the backroom in consideration was actually utilized.  Maybe its just me, but expecting our guests to pony up $150+ each was a wee bit much for a low-key dinner, but I was SURE that in these trying times that I had all the leverage and surely my tan-averse adversary would see the error in her ways and realize that receiving SOME profit is certainly better than NO profit.

This is a lesson that I’m shocked by daily.  Now before you Jack Welch’s out there offer, “give them a break, there’s overhead that has to be covered including a dedicated server staff and the slow down caused by the orders all at once which will impact the other guests that evening.”  Really?  So you’re going to tell me that if I just rolled to any restaurant with 15 individuals who are all dying to get drunk and eat are going to be turned away?  Right, thought not.

So what happened?  I wheeled my big Italina a*s out of that joint and told Miranda to let her boss know that she just turned down $1,800 worth of business due to her rigid demand of $2,000.  I walked roughly 500 steps to Il Fornaio (ahem, the BEST), reserved a private table where they customized the menu, held me to NO minimum, etc. and promptly pocketed our $1,800 by the end of the night.  I have the receipt and am thinking of sending to the management of Passion(less) Fish but thinking that would be bit caustic… so, I’ll do that tomorrow!

Bottom line for all of you marketing gurus, there needs to be a degree of autonomy between the programs we devise and the autonomy of the sales function to close deals (where the goal is NOT to maximize profits with each deal; but rather, to maximize long-term profitability).  Business rules have stifled more innovation than any recession.  I have the benefit of performing both business functions; I do sales for a marketing services organization so I’m constantly ‘selling’ services that, when improperly implemented, cause a disconnect with the sales effort. I blame this phenomenon on technology and doing ‘more with less’.  That is, we’re constantly wearing more hats since technology has made us vastly more productive than we were 10 years ago… when it took 5 people to do the work of 2 today.  But guess what… skill sets still matter.  And just because I find a Miranda who is great at greeting people, it doesn’t mean she has the smarts to realize that closing a deal of $1,800 vs. $2,000 (when costs are likely 50% of this) when the alternative is an empty room is actually a good thing (to quote the immortal Tom Krizmanich).  

Sort of like when the Phillies lose game 4 of the NLDS with a chance to have the rotation set up perfectly for the NLCS.  But not to worry, there’s always an Il Fornaio (or a good Teresa/Melissa catfight) around the corner to right the emotional ship!

What the F?

So this past weekend I was immersed in pure euphoria otherwise known as the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles… perhaps the only combo better in my book than vanilla milkshakes and sex.  And don’t you know, they both completely sh*t the bed Sunday night.  Now let’s give the Phightin’ Phils a break; the night prior they clinched a playoff berth (first of any MLB team) and rightfully celebrated by chugging goblets of Veuve Clicquot.  And for our beloved Iggles, well, they gave it the ole’ college try vs. a predicted Super Bowl contending Atlanta Falcons but our favorite reclamation project – and key to our season – Michael Vick went down to injury late in the 2nd half where had he stayed upright, the ‘Birds would have certainly beaten the Pigeons.

But the rest of the trip is what has me up typing with one eye on the Rachel Zoe Project.  That would be, in order, the ride back from Philly to DC, my 8 year old’s little League baseball game, and then my TV viewing for the evening.  Interestingly enough this concept started a full week prior watching Monday Night Football.  Now I have a general disdain for NFL commentators as the number of ‘goods’ max out at two:  Al “Do you believe in miracles” Michaels and Troy “is that you LaVar Arrington hiding under my bed” Aikman.  The rest of the bunch are toss-ups between the voice-over guy for the old Monster Truck rallies and Michael Buffer.  But one of the 3 Stooges from the MNF booth, Philly’s own Ron Jaworski, had a minor slip of the tongue.  It’s so damn funny that I can only implore you to view/listen; I’ll wait…

Funny as sh*t, right??? I really can’t stand Jaws; as much of a homer Philly fan that I am, I’m sure you think I would/should love him, but no.  I didn’t even like him when he led the Birds to their first super bowl appearance in 1980 (disclaimer: I turn 40 in about a month.  It’s widely believed that prepubescent boys begin their life of sports fandom – and by extension, a constant barrage of beer ads, truck commercials and cut-aways featuring practically naked cheerleaders… and we like Halloween parties in our middle-age featuring the same elements, why??? – around 8 or 9 years old…  the ’80 Super Bowl hit when I was 9… I was hooked on the Birds!  But bearded wonder Jaws was NOT for me… he looked like a dope.  And then I heard him speak and his ‘dopiness’ was cemented.  One of my favorite phrases is ‘tis better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.’…  Apropos for Jaws.   And it’s not what he says but rather the over-inflection of his voice pattern that’s like nails on a chalkboard for me.  But my position was/is “give the guy a break.”  We’re talking cable TV (ESPN) after 10PM people… if we can’t say sh*t there, where can we???  And the fact that the poor guy had to castigate himself and actually apologize during the broadcast was flat embarrassing (but also very funny!).   Didn’t we learn during that whole wardrobe malfunction thing a few Super Bowls ago that the NFL needs some sort of delay on their broadcasts?

But here’s the rub… one week later during my post Philly sports malaise day, I went the OTHER way with this profanity opinion!  Now I played a collegiate sport and know full well the locker room mentality to the point where the F word is merely an adjective in my daily lexicon (“can you believe that f’ing client still hasn’t paid?”  “Honey, throw a chicken pot pie in the f’ing microwave?”  “Our f’ing neighbor is banging on our door again because we’re too loud?  What the f?!”).

So I’m listening to 2 hours of the Howard Stern show (huge fan… don’t judge me) on my drive back to DC and, not having had much chance to listen since his shift to satellite radio about a decade ago, I was pretty amused by the casual dropping of our favorite 4 letter words.  But I have to tell you, it was EXTREMELY conversational and literally a non-factor in terms of frequency but in terms of effect, A+.  My next profane-laced experience (now that I’m somewhat super-sensitive thanks to Jaws) was my 8 year-old’s little league game!  No, none of the kids were dropping f-bombs, but merely EVERY parent conversation (whispered of course) WAS!  Then, the Coup d’Etat … the Charlie Sheen f’ing roast!  This was extremely funny… but forced if you know what I mean.  While Howard’s use of profanity was pretty casual, this profanity mixed with an occasional respite of the King’s English was, how shall I say, too f’ing much?  I’m no prude, but it made me think…

Every company wants to be ‘edgy’ and ‘push the envelope’ these days when it comes to strategy and stockholder meetings but what do they actually do??? The same old safe creative used for the last 20 years.  Not that this is always a bad thing… if you’re Allstate, the last thing you need is a Snooki driving around Italy touting the responsiveness of her agent.  Or if you’re Charles Schwab utilizing a scene from “Wall Street” touting “greed is good”.  But let’s take a lesson from DirecTV:  Disclaimer, I’m a customer – and they are NOT a client – and I generally hate the choke hold they have on me due to my addiction to the NFL (i.e. the ONLY reason I use their service).  But those Deion Sanders spots are priceless.  And how about the balls they have to brazenly announce the “free NFL ticket”???  It took me all of 2.2 seconds to call and discover that it’s for new customers only and complain why a customer of 10+ years has to pay $350… when I learned that my call was 95% of their total.  But it didn’t matter… I threatened to cancel but never did.  That’s some balls.  Juxtapose to Netflix who thought they had a stranglehold on their customers and forced them to choose between streaming  movies OR DVD delivery and subsequently saw a 30% drop in stock price.  That was foolish.  There are a plethora of other options for movies… namely HBO and their answer to ‘movies on demand’, HBO-GO.

So the lesson here, before you show a set of f’ing b*alls, better make sure your f’ing product/service can’t be replaced!

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