Archive for April, 2011

Service of Deadlines

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

stopwatch

Joseph S. Nye Jr. was on Book TV on C-Span 2 the other weekend discussing “The Future of Power,” at a February 15 presentation taped at the Center for a New American Security. When I tuned in he was discussing the difference in cultures between academic and government work.

His example was a hypothetical research paper due at the White House at 3 pm. As the deadline approached, the writer, from academia, thought the project could be better, that currently it was a B + and with a bit more work could be an A. So he polished and tweaked it until it was perfect. It arrived at the White House at 5 pm.f-grade1

Government Grade: F. Why? It got there too late to be used.

We’ve discussed writing blog posts, press releases, proposals, late breaking news or anything deadline-related. There comes a moment you must give up the work because in most cases, nobody can pay for Pulitzer Prize-winning copy.

more-time1It’s not only in academia that you can plead for an extension, though in Nye’s example, the person didn’t ask for one. I’ve never worked in government. In business, you can usually ask for one, though it isn’t a smart idea especially if you’re responding to an emergency or a scandal or announcing a product launch you’ve known about for eons, press kit material for trade show introductions or the guts of a press kit to distribute at a press event.

I don’t believe in missing other people’s deadlines nor do I ask for extensions.  Why? The Golden Rule. It’s awful when you are left in the lurch by someone else who misses their deadline whether a vendor, free lancer, partner or staff. Contractors and repair people have a reputation of not showing up when expected and giving no warning. You may have the hard deadline of a January wedding reception at your house but be prepared to cut the cake in an unpainted dining room on an unfinished floor.

In Nye’s illustration had the writer contacted the White House to ask for more time, he/she might have heard: “Don’t worry that it’s not perfect. We need the information in it to help us make a decision.” It seems to me that the imaginary person was thinking more about him/herself than the recipient of the research.

Are deadlines a part of your life? What do you do if you see you can’t meet one?

 missed-deadline

Service of Paper that Calls to You

Monday, April 25th, 2011

business-card 

A friend, writer/editor Jim Roper and I share a passion for fine quality stationery-all sorts of paper goods.  His notes and gift bags of handmade paper feel as exquisite as they look. He gave me a box of Florentine cards a few years ago. I have sent most to special people but still have a few as I have a hard time parting with them.

Jim suggested I read Lesley M. Blume’s Wall Street Journal article, “Leaving the Right Impression.” It was about the trend for people to design and use calling cards-that’s what Blume says they are, well, called these days. My husband has always referred to business cards this way but these personal cards are different in that along with a name, they provide only one bit of contact information such as a phone number.

distinguish-yourselfBlume noted that the reasons for these cards on thick, wonderful paper ranged from distinguishing oneself in a job search to “the ongoing ‘heritage’ movement-a nostalgia-tinged societal turn toward objects that last, smolder with individuality and are well-made-which has made its zeitgeisty way into the world of stationery.” She continued, “And a personalized card acts as a quiet rebuttal to the white noise jabber-jawing of Twitter and Facebook.”

I get her first reason. Distinguishing yourself in positive ways is always smart. But I wonder why people [apart from mothers and loved ones] are going to keep these beautiful cards and if they do, where. I input contact information to my smartphone as soon as I can and have no room or place to store such things whether beautiful or merely practical.

More important: toomuchworkWill the cards require the recipient to work to find you? What if a prospective employer doesn’t want to speak with you and all that’s on the calling card is your phone number? In frustration, he/she may toss the card and move to the person whose email address is easier to find.

We increasingly need to know and share everything NOW. We Google, we link, we dash off a line at midnight on a handheld phone’s keyboard. I don’t think calling cards will buck this trend. The recipient may carry the card around for ages as a bookmark [if he/she hasn't moved to a Kindle]. My bet is that in the end, they will have no clue who gave it to them.

I’m all for encouraging face-to-face contact in favor of hiding behind a keyboard. I can’t get over being asked to jot condolence messages on websites, for example. But calling cards aren’t the answer to social networking and texting run amok.

How do you distinguish yourself? Do you think calling cards are an effective way?

distinguish-2

Service of Praise Glut

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

compliment

I love complimenting people and try to live by the adage “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything–but try to look for something legitimate to admire.”

I don’t think compliments happen too often after childhood when caregivers yell out “GOOD JOB” when a child turns a doorknob. I write a boss about an outstanding staffer or speedy response to my inquiry and most often get back a note that says “We appreciate your comments because most customers contact us with complaints.”

My friend Nancie Steinberg sent me Lucy Kellawy’s article, “You might be a total genius, but I wouldn’t tell you so,” in the Financial Times. Kellawy writes from London: “Last week, when a woman in our travel department booked me a flight, I sent her an e-mail: ‘That’s absolutely marvellous – thanks so much.’

congratulations“In congratulating her so warmly for doing her job, I thought I was being charming and gracious, but now I see I was actually doing something rather darker. Not only was I debasing the language, but was pushing a drug that turns people into demotivated, infantile, praise-dependent junkies.”

She goes on to tell about a colleague whose boss at his new job elaborately praised him for each and every utterance in his columns. She added: “When I said that this sounded rather nice, he gave me a scornful look. It made him think his editor stupid, which made him feel stupid by extension. To be considered a total genius for merely delivering his column on time was degrading all round.”

And she pointed out that exaggeration and overstatement is rampant in the workplace in the UK these days [American style] where all staffers are called “talent,” and an ordinary comment is referred to as “insight.”

drugs2She goes on to write: “Congratulation inflation not only damages language, it is bad for us psychologically. Praise is a Class A drug and we crave more and get upset when we don’t get any in sufficiently pure form.” She compared workers to 10 year olds in a Columbia University study where those praised for being clever gave up when given a tough task and those called diligent kept working until they met the challenge.

I disagree with Kellawy. At almost 5 pm on Friday I sent unexpected copy involving a tight deadline to Emily Moses, a junior staffer working on the New York Women in Communications account, asking her to distribute the info to two boards, expecting to see it in my email inbox on Monday. She sent it in minutes. I was elated. I thanked her then and commend her again here. Emily would move on a dime if she thought it important so why be stingy with praise?

How do you take to praise? Does it motivate or impede you? Do you dole it out generously or judiciously? Can there ever be too much?

 praise

Service of Excessive Choice

Monday, April 18th, 2011

choice

You can’t be too rich or too thin said Wallis Simpson and I agree with her except when someone is too thin because they are sick or overstressed.

I don’t always welcome excess especially when it comes to  choice. Even when I feel flush I don’t like humongous menus with a million choices. How can all this stuff be fresh? I am never distracted by the endless list of options when I have a yen for a toasted poppy seed bagel and coffee.

bad-gradesReviewers gave Research in Motion, the BlackBerry folks, bad marks last week for their new tablet. A big complaint: RIM’s tablet has only 3,000 apps when others, such as Apple’s iPad, provide 300,000. I can imagine the disappointment and inconvenience when just the programs you want to download aren’t available on the tablet you just bought, but does everyone really need hundreds of thousands of choices? The coverage I read in the Wall Street Journal and New York Post didn’t note that RIM selected to partner with the 3,000 best apps in the world, which would have been a smart thing to do, to counteract the opinion that  “more is always best.” Is much, much more always better?

I knew a wife who sounded like the waiter at a sandwich counter when asking her incommunicative husband what he wanted for lunch. She’d list a zillion combinations of cheese and cold cuts including a range of condiments. That extreme may have kept their marriage intact, who knows?

When I shop for a skirt, shirt, dress, shoes or a gift-and I love to shop-I stop when I find what I want. Do I need to see 10? 50? 1,000? I guess 20 options of style and color would be perfect. Must I check all the rest or continue shopping once I’ve found IT? No: Who has time?

When is a ton of choice ideal and when excessive?

choice2

Service of One Size Fits All

Friday, April 15th, 2011

onesizefitsall1

When I see a jacket or sweater marked “one size fits all” I have my doubts though I’ve owned such pieces. Even so, I have friends and relatives who wouldn’t look so hot in some. The concept has been around forever. A PR colleague, David Reich, said that when he introduced L’eggs pantyhose to the market, that’s how they were sold.

I understand we are all subject to the same laws and policies but don’t understand why they benefit only some, not all.

In this economy, I can see why politicians avoid raising taxes for middle and low income folks. Yet, is this the time for a one size fits all tax policy? It’s obvious. If politicians tax the extremely rich they are petrified they won’t be gifted the money they need to win their next election. But does it make sense to give a pass to those who can well afford to toss in more for the general welfare when in fact they will experience zero personal belt-tightening?

taxI also don’t get why politicians fear the extent to which extremely rich citizens are allergic to taxes. OK, there are some who move out of the country after they’ve made their zillions here so they don’t have to pay another penny. What’s the point of having all that money if you can’t live among friends and family? [No mother-in-law jokes in response please...] And what happened to gratitude and paying something back to the place that supported your success? Maybe if we changed the name of what they pay–something like “rich gifts”–instead of “taxes,” these folks would feel better about a tiny reduction to giant worth.

In another instance, I fully believe in freedom of speech, but have a very hard time swallowing that corporations can donate limitless amounts of money to campaign funds. We tout this advantage of being an American and yet I wonder if my voice is buried when the impact of my $25 campaign donation is so diminished, not to mention my vote?

Do you think the one size fits all concept works? When?

vote2

Service of Long Lasting Brands

Monday, April 11th, 2011

brands

There are branding specialists galore who help people create and maintain brands, their own, a product’s, a company or corporation’s. Yes, people are considered brands today to be packaged like a good or decorative element.

I’m forever fascinated by the longevity of so many who made a mark that continues to achieve buzz and attention even though the venerated person is either no longer in the public eye and most frequently is long dead or out of the public eye well before the word brand was in fashion.

brigettebardotThe April 7 issue of FurnitureSeen that appeared in my emailbox last week featured a Hepburn Modular Sofa which, the copy noted, could have been inspired by either Katherine or Audrey–and Bardot, a “curvaceous seating collection” for which the Spanish designer Jamie Hayon had the French 1950s/1960s movie siren Brigitte Bardot in mind.

Estée Lauder died in April 2004 and yet she still makes headlines for her namesake company that now sells 28 brands. In The New York Times article, “What Would Estée Do?” Natasha Singer quotes longtime employee and global brand president Jane Hertsmark Hudis: “I think a lot of us ask ourselves, ‘What would Leonard do? I also ask myself: ‘What would Estée Lauder do? Am I upholding her values and her vision?’” Leonard A. Lauder is chairman emeritus and Estée’s oldest son.

The End Note of Culture & Leisure Magazine‘s issue No. 44 features a smiling Coco Chanel and a quote, “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” The issue of this smart, fashionable, visionary publication was devoted to southern debutantes and editor/founder Natalie Rushing chooses to remember Chanel.

doris-dayDoes anyone think often of Doris Day these days? Will Friedwald interviewd the top grossing actress of all time recently for The Wall Street Journal‘s Leisure & Arts section in “Sunny Day Keeps on Shining.” Friedwald spoke with Doris on the phone-she doesn’t like being called Ms. Day-who said that when she moved to Carmel, California 30 years ago “I put all my records and everything away. I didn’t think anybody cared if they heard me or not.” And yet she continues to get fan letters and is perplexed that “after so many years out of the spotlight, her recordings and films continue to be cherished by generation after generation.” Friedwald adds that Sony Music will release a retrospective box set later in the year.

What do you think makes a brand long lasting? Does it help if the inspiration is dipped in the rosy glow of selective memory and is no longer in the harsh eye of public scrutiny that seems to enjoy watching people fall? Did these stars of business, fashion and film represent a kind of quality we miss or try to achieve today? Do you consider yourself a brand?

public-eye

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

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