Archive for the ‘Mistakes’ Category

Service of Mistakes That Are Not All Bad

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Photo: viralnovelty.net

“As long as they are well-intentioned, mistakes are not a matter for shame, but for learning”– Margaret Heffernan, Businesswoman. That’s what you read after Matt Schiller’s signature on his e-mail. He’s advertising and business manager for Catholic New York. I noticed the quote when I was in touch with him earlier this week. Heffernan, headquartered in the UK, is an international businesswoman, author and TED speaker.

The quote reminded me of a perfect way to finesse a mistake that impressed me years ago. The speaker was VP of design for a luxury brand; well regarded in the interior design world; a big deal at the American Society of Interior Designers and president of the International Furnishings and Design Association at the time of this story. One of his board members proudly presented a brochure on furniture design at the annual meeting that her committee had just published. Instead of speaking with this person privately, a busy-body, also on the board, raised her hand and said, “I saw a typo on page four….” Robert replied, [and I bet it wasn’t true]: “We always place an error in our marketing materials just to see if people are reading them.”

Photo: leadershipstyles.org

When I told Matt about this incident he admired Robert’s response, “his defense of a team member and his non-confrontational way of handling what could have become a tense situation. That’s the kind of leadership we need more of in every aspect of life.” Matt added: “I have often said to colleagues, ‘I have made an incredible number of mistakes in my life, and I have tried to learn something from each of them.’”

My biggest mistakes happen when I don’t follow my gut and when I work when too tired. I don’t always listen to my instinct and I don’t stop when I know that I’ll get whatever I’m working on accomplished in a fraction of the time the next morning.

Other mistakes happen when dealing with vendors who deliberately hide information or don’t volunteer what may change a prospect’s mind about accepting their proposal. They hope you won’t ask the pertinent questions. These are the mistakes Margaret Heffernan refers to. The fix: Experience. You learn what questions to ask.

In what category do most of your mistakes fall–when you don’t listen to your gut; you work when exhausted; you’re misled and haven’t asked the right questions to unearth the facts or something else?

Photo: agapegeek.com

 

Service of Buyer’s Remorse

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Photo: realsimple.com

Photo: realsimple.com

“The Lists Issue: Style and Fashion” page of last weekend’s Wall Street Journal’s “Off Duty” section asked five “stylish men” to report their “most regrettable purchase.” These included three pairs of a Clark shoes–all the same–that the owner tired of; a suede Ralph Lauren car coat with too much fringe; Nike sneakers with pink and purple accents bought online while under the influence of Ambien; a $450 umbrella from London enjoyed for 31 minutes before being left behind in a taxi and boots purchased on Piperlime, [it’s out of business now], with too thin soles discovered while walking five miles in a parade.

Too tight shoesShoes that hurt account for most of my mistakes along with a pasta maker I never had time to use so I eventually gave it away after dragging it, with good intentions, from home to home.

However, the one that stings the most and longest was a red dress I pleaded with my mother to buy when I was in eighth grade so I’d have something to wear at a Christmas party at school. We wore uniforms—except on Friday when we could dress in civilian clothes. My mother said, “You don’t like red and will never again wear this dress.” Nevertheless she bought it for me and I don’t think I ever did wear it again. When I think of it I still cringe at my selfishness.

What are some things you’ve regretted buying? Have you learned something from each experience or do you keep making the same mistakes?

 Girls red dress

Service of Getting the Facts Right

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Just the Facts

This guest post is written by Homer Byington who continues to devour history books and biographies as he has since childhood and has an uncanny memory for facts.  My husband wrote:

Ashley Jackson’s Churchill, (Quircus, New York, 2014), and Harry L. Katz and The Library of Congress’s Mark Twain’s America, (Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2014), have more in common than that I just finished one and started the other.

Churchill book coverBoth books received excellent notices. The recent glowing review in The Wall Street Journal was what prompted me to read the latter, and I can attest to the quality of the writing and fresh, balanced thinking in the former. Jackson’s work reminds me a little of that great popular historian, George M Trevelyan’s. However, while the illustrations in Mark Twain’s America are lavish and stunning, it reads like it was written by a committee, which it probably was. The book is also minimally annotated and the index is a joke.

Mark Twain's America coverThese books have more in common than just success. Unfortunately, they both contain factual errors.

The photo caption under a photograph of the three men on page 5 of the insert to Churchill reads, “December 1943: The Bermuda conference. French Premier Joseph Laniel, President Eisenhower and Churchill.” The 1943 must be a typo; the date should be December 1953 when the three of them did meet in Bermuda. What is confusing is that Churchill also met with then General Eisenhower in Tunis in December of 1943, but it was not likely at that time that either of the two had ever heard of Laniel who was then living in occupied France.

On page 22 of Mark Twain’s America, the authors, writing about John Marshall Clemens, the father of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) state: “Trained as a lawyer in Kentucky, and named after the country’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he….” John Jay was the country’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I am not bragging, but I knew that before I reached high school. John Marshall was not even the second or third. The position was considered sufficiently miserable, that nobody would do it for long. That is the beauty of the Marshall story. When President Adams offered him the job, he took it and did much to make the court what it is today.

I know about editors, proofreaders and fact checkers, but I blame the authors. If they cannot get their facts right themselves, how can we trust what they write? The Library of Congress, especially, should be ashamed of itself, and Mark Twain’s America, because of the pictures, is likely to end up in every school library in the country.

What do you think? Should authors be held accountable for errors of fact in their work? Or is it all right for them to slough off the blame on their editors, proof readers and fact checkers?  Can you share other such examples of factual mistakes?

Proofread

Service of Marketing Slipups for Bud Light & Twitter

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

  Oh no 1

Is there a single soul who hasn’t felt that heart-sinking feeling of “Oh no!” after clicking on “enter” or “continue” whether they’ve inadvertently sent an email to the wrong person, allowed spell check to have its way with them or incorrectly completed an online form due to a runaway autofill function on a computer.

sendSome missteps can be avoided with a diverse marketing team—I suspect the first example occurred because decision makers were all men. Others are due to computer glitches that will happen increasingly as corporations race to market a service with insufficiently tested technology.

Don’t Take This Lightly

Budweiser ClydesdalesErica Martell sent me “Bud Light Label Snafu Teaches the Value of Proper Message Vetting,” by Christine Birkner in Marketing News Weekly. Birkner wrote: “On April 28, Leuven, Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev NV pulled Bud Light labels with the message: ‘The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever.’ The label messaging had ignited a social media firestorm because some consumers perceived it as promoting rape culture.”

I don’t know about you but that was the first thing I thought of. The label was part of the brand’s #UpForWhatever campaign to appeal to ingratiate themselves with millennials with a devil-may-care approach to life. In addition, Bud Light created a beer festival in Crested Butte, Colo, a town they renamed “Whatever, USA.”

According to Birkner here were some of the reactions:

  • “A Change.org petition asked A-B InBev to remove the labels, stating, ‘The brand is blatantly linking their product to sexually assaulting people while under the influence of alcohol.’”
  • “The Center for Reproductive Rights tweeted: ‘So gross. Nope, definitely not #UpForWhatever.’” 
  •  “Other marketplace responses on Twitter included comments such as, ‘Budweiser execs  should be ashamed,’” and,
  • “‘Maybe I’ll drink a bunch of @budlight & then drive a bulldozer into their corporate headquarters, since I’ll be #UpForWhatever.’”
  • “Twitter users created a hashtag in response to the label: #UpForThingsIExplicitlyConsentTo.”

Chirp

Bird with bugSpeaking of Twitter, in Social Media & Marketing Daily Erik Sass wrote “Whoops: Twitter Runs Ads Next to Porn.” Sass wrote that affected brands included Nielsen, Duane Reade, NBCUniversal, and Gatorade.

Sass credits Adweek, which broke the story, and continued: “The Promoted Tweets appeared in Twitter feeds that were clearly inappropriate, with profile names like ‘Daily Dick Pictures,’ helpful purveyor of all your day-to-day dick pic needs, and ‘Homemade Porn,’ which sounds nice and crafty. The naughty ad placements apparently resulted from a bug, and unsurprisingly marketers are suspending their campaigns until Twitter fixes the technical glitch.”

All male boardroomCan you share other examples of lamebrained marketing? In the Bud Light case, does it happen because the marketers are too rushed or, as I suggest above, all male? Given that Bud is now owned by a Belgium-based company, might it be an example of global marketing run amok? As for Twitter, in its rush to sell ads, did it jump the gun before its staff understood how to use the technology or was someone in the digital layout department not paying attention–simultaneously tweeting friends, perhaps?

Lamebrain

Service of a Mistake You Wish Hadn’t Happened

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

oops 2

My senior year in high school was one of the most stressful of my life. That’s why this mistake caught my attention. Someone in the admissions department of Johns Hopkins sent an email with the subject line, “Embrace the Yes,” to 294 students telling them that they had been accepted when, in fact, they had been rejected.

EraseAccording to coverage in thedailybeast.com, in an article by Jonathan Ernst for Reuters, the college immediately admitted its mistake and apologized. “Admissions decisions days are stressful enough. We very much regret having added to the disappointment felt by a group of very capable and hardworking students, especially ones who were so committed to the idea of attending Johns Hopkins that they applied early decision,” Ernst quoted David Phillips, vice provost for admissions and financial aid at the University.

Mistakes happen. The university did what it could to address the matter and with speed. But oh, gosh! In this discussion I’m not including fatal mistakes by physicians, surgeons or parachute folders. Have you made such an error, been the recipient of one or heard of slip-ups with no happy ending that make you slap your head and exclaim, “Oh no!”

slap head

Service of When it Works it’s a Beautiful Thing: Baruch P.R. Helps Turn a Lemon into Champagne

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Baruch Coillege 060913

Large organizations that listen to their P.R. counsel can often work magic when things go wrong, which, of course, they inevitably do. That is what just happened at Baruch College, where I’m involved in a mentoring program. Baruch is part of the massive and complex City University of New York system, one of the most extensive and decentralized educational institutions in the state.

Baruch in ManhattanBaruch, as do other city and state colleges, charges students who are New York residents a significantly lower tuition than it does those from out-of-state. For some reason it had been charging tuition for a recently admitted student, Matthew Levy, a lifelong New Yorker, at the “out-of-state” rate. When Baruch caught the error, it informed Levy that in future he would be billed at the lower “residents” rate.

Not unreasonably, however, he decided to seek reimbursement of the approximately $7,000 he had overpaid and approached a clerk in the school’s admissions department to help him. The clerk told him: “Normally, if you paid, you don’t get your money back,” but that he could file an appeal, including as evidence of his New York State residency, copies of his driver’s license and voter registration card.

Matthew, no fool, went one step further. He also wrote to David Segal “The Haggler” in the Sunday New York Times Business Section and asked for his help to expedite the refund. 

Christina Latouf, Baruch VP Communications

Christina Latouf, Baruch VP Communications

Segal wrote: “The Haggler contacted Christina Latouf, a spokeswoman for the college. She needed a day or two to figure out what had happened, and then she wrote something rather remarkable. In an e-mail, she said that the school not only took responsibility for stumbling blocks inserted between Mr. Levy and his refund, but also that changes would be made so that such errors don’t happen again. Those changes include working with the City University of New York — of which Baruch is part — to review out-of-state designations.

“‘Further, if a student’s initial documentation indicates they have always been a New York State resident, we will no longer request additional documentation,’ Ms. Latouf wrote.”

Baruch StudentsSegal praised Baruch for changing its system: “Do you hear that, dear readers? It is the sweet sound of modest reform, a noise as rare as the quack of the Scaly Sided Merganser.”

He continued: “‘At the heart of this case was an incorrect coding designation,’ Ms. Latouf wrote, in conclusion. ‘While we have put some measures in place (such as the one that triggered our initial outreach to Matthew), we will build and utilize new technologies to put more safeguards in place, and train staff to assure coding is accurate.’

Baruch students 2“True, soothing and conciliatory words are cheap. But Baruch is off to a good start. Two days after the Haggler called, the school contacted Mr. Levy, and that same afternoon he e-mailed the Haggler a photograph of a document waiting for him at the bursar’s office: a check for $7,245.”

I’ve met Latouf, who is Vice President for Communications, External Relations and Economic Development at Baruch, and dashed off a note to congratulate her. She responded: “It was a lot of work, but we’re all very pleased to have been able to turn a potentially negative story into a positive.” 

She did more than that: She showed the world what a well-oiled organization she works for. Who couldn’t admire the speed of the reform? Baruch includes 1,500 full time academic and administrative staff and more than 17,000 students. That someone in the administration listened to the communications VP and agreed to and implemented changes at warp speed shows trust. Like The Haggler, I think this is unusual and laudable.

Do you?

Baruch Logo

Service of Need to Know

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

barcode

Recent incidents reminded me of when George H.W. Bush was pilloried for not knowing what barcodes on grocery store items were. The man never went food shopping because he was busy and furthermore could afford to have others do it for him. So what? Would knowing what it’s like to wait in line at a grocery store make anyone a better President? I don’t think so.

If that’s what you think, you’d probably also believe that to be any good, PR people, marketers and doctors who represent or prescribe cancer, heart and diabetes or depression drugs must have had these diseases.

This year, early on Easter week, some complained because President Obama hadn’t sent out Easter greetings when he religiously recognized the holidays of others, such as Passover and Ramadan. Does anybody really think that any President personally sends out such greetings? This President is dealing with war, unemployment, escalating gas prices and inflation all ’round. But even if things were going swimmingly, who thinks that a President should draft and distribute such messages?

Press secretary Jay Carney responded that the President went to church on Easter implying that this was enough recognition. Carney should have put the matter to rest and admitted that the press office messed up and forgot to send out a message. But it is I who forgot: Few take blame for anything anymore.

gmAlso last week, a well-meaning radio talk show host started his interview with Dan Akerson with a reference to an OnStar promotion, asking Akerson for the inside scoop so he might win the prize, a General Motors car. It was clear that the General Motors chairman didn’t have a clue about this promotion and he mumbled some response making it obvious. Does a chairman who is driving an American icon through treacherous economic waters need to know about every subsidiary’s sales ploy? I don’t think so, however in this case, my bet is that he will in future.

Do you think that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, forgot to read the dress guidelines that came with the Royal wedding invitation to William and Kate’s nuptials? Should her husband’s staff have let her know that she was expected to wear a hat or doesn’t it matter that she appears to be the only hatless woman in the church?

In these instances, we’re dealing with perception and the potential of creating a crack for a competitor to jump in or jump on. How much detail do you think big business bosses, politicians or Presidents need to know or be concerned about?

toomuchinfo1

Service of Brand Loyalty

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

loyalty

I don’t usually identify brands when I have something negative to write, but since Ann Zimmerman let the crayon out of the box in a front page story in The Wall Street Journal, I decided to comment about the reaction she described to a product introduction, Crayola Washable Colored Bubbles.

The title and subtitle of her article summarize parents’ experience with the $10/bottle February launch: “Crayola’s Colorful Soapy Bubbles Leave Indelible Memories…When They Burst, as They Always Do, Cleaning Up Can Be Challenging.”

bubbleZimmerman reports “The problem: when the bubbles pop [or the solutions splash], they leave a neon-bright-and, parents complain, often permanent-mess. Despite the large type on the front of the bottles that says ‘Washable.'” Zimmerman continues that along with staining skin, according to “product review sites such as Amazon.com and Twitter, it is best to keep the floating bubbles away from walls, carpets, driveways, decks, grout-and just about everything else.”

The bottle features an unusual thing for bubbles: A long warning. While Zimmerman notes that most have none, Crayola’s alerts parents to first test surfaces for staining.

chemistIt took years for the brand to introduce its version of colored bubbles. Meanwhile, Tim Kehoe collaborated with a chemist to invent Zubbles in 2005, which received Popular Science‘s Grand Award for General Innovation. Kehoe ran out of money to mass market his bubbles and sold Zubbles, Zimmerman reported, which she noted nevertheless gets “glowing” praise in Amazon comments. It is available online and in select toy stores.

A few weeks ago a darling 2 ½ year old child’s visit to the office reminded me of just how deep-rooted the Crayola brand continues to be. She is the grandchild of an office colleague. Her sandwich was in a plastic container the shape of a standard white or whole-wheat bread slice, decorated with the Crayola logo. Her granddad joked about storing crayons in her sandwich box and she howled with laughter and noted, between guffaws, that “you shouldn’t eat crayons!”

I am disappointed with Crayola. This new product is designed for children to play with; it’s not hair dye or textile finishing spray that usually comes with warnings to test first! How come a giant corporation couldn’t concoct what a few entrepreneurs did?

Can you imagine how you’d feel if you gave a child a gift of these bubbles and they ruined the walls or floors of a friend or relative’s home? Do you think management thought through the ramifications of releasing such an imperfect product? And as a consumer, if you can’t trust a brand like Crayola, what can you trust?

trust

Service of Big Companies Making Small Ones Look Bad

Monday, April 4th, 2011

computerglitch

I know of three recent instances in which large corporations made small business people look incompetent or irresponsible. I had to share.

A friend thought he’d lost it when he tried to download a document to a major international office support business. No matter what he clicked or how hard he tried to follow the instructions, he couldn’t send it. He finally picked up his laptop and brought it to the store. When he got there–the branch doesn’t give out its phone number–the staffer said, “Oh, you have a Mac. You can’t always download from a Mac.” Couldn’t the website have noted this weakness in a warning? Is a customer’s time of no value? I empathize. When technology lets me down I always blame myself.

vintagetelephoneoperatorThe second instance happened to me. A client was setting up his booth at an exhibit in NYC. I was on call should he need anything as his partner wasn’t able to assist him. I didn’t leave my office from the time I knew he was scheduled to download at the dock at 12:45. I check the phone periodically–a habit–by picking up the handset to hear if the telltale quick dial tone indicates that I have messages. After 4, there was one. My client left it for me at 1:30. I was horrified. My voicemail is part of a major corporation’s package. It’s not the first time that the phone message system has let me down. I’ve been at work until 8 pm some nights and only the next morning do I get a message left for me at 4 or 5 pm the day before.

And then there are those missing emails. I know I don’t get all of mine. The proof: Just last week I read an email response sent to many people on a committee. I’m a member but I never got the original one. When I checked, I was on the first TO: list. Scary.

On the bright side, there was some service connected to these instances of big companies making small ones look bad: They translated into a post.

These examples are not a conspiracy to knock out the small guy. No company deliberately harms its customers. I nevertheless feel helpless and frustrated because I can’t control every aspect of my business. Can anyone? Do you have any similar examples?

juggler

Service of Heart Stopping Goofs

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

bigmistakes

I worked at an agency where colleagues loved to give each other heart palpitations by teasing that the printed brochure, invitation or collateral that one had worked on so diligently had a typo in the third paragraph, a flopped photo bottom right or missing copy.

At times there really was a goof. A dog’s age ago a graphic artist designed a logo for a client’s promotion and a major trade magazine gave the launch a lot of space and used a quarter of a huge page to reproduce what the artist sent them. [It was so new that the agency didn’t have the art yet.] You couldn’t miss the logo and normally we’d have been elated. I can’t explain in technical terms what happened, but on the printed page, half the logo, with the program’s slogan, dropped out and made no sense.  I was mortified. The sinking feeling comes back as I write this. That never happened again because for ages [this was before digital], I showed subsequent graphic designers the case of the missing half logo and asked that they take the right preventative measures.

royal-mug2The recent heart-stopping royal mug mishap is only a recent prominent example. Can you imagine opening the carton fresh from China, rushing in to the boss with the first pieces sent express something at great expense to hand the sales staff to generate orders, when someone in the office tells you that featured next to Kate Middleton, the bride, is her future brother-in-law, Prince Harry? “Haw, haw,” you say, only to realize the royally humongous slip up of the missing Prince William.

The good news is that it’s only money. The bad news: Someone at the company has a big mouth. Otherwise, how would the news reach media worldwide, including The Telegraph [where I got the image]?

I mentioned the wrong mug/mug to a crack ad agency art director friend who told me of a mysterious mistake that cost $500,000 to reprint. It involved three aligned coupons. Somehow the copy on the back got switched so that only the middle coupon had the right info.

How to avoid such calamities that cost companies millions? Slow down. slowdown21Being careful takes time. If your copy editor or colleagues and assistants have all been fired, or if you didn’t have any to begin with, ask friends, relatives or neighbors to read or check the material before you click “send” or sign off on anything. When in doubt, check Google.

I wonder if some people are reluctant to bring others in on a project because they don’t want anyone to know what they are up to. Others fear that by asking for assistance they show weakness. Keeping projects close to the vest may make still others feel a sense of power. Any of these approaches are Petrie dishes for cultivating mistakes.

How do you avoid heart stopping goofs? Can you share any good ones?

yikes

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