If it's a story about me, then I'll say so up front.

This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We're Not Limping - We Just Walk Funny

Long, long ago in a Galaxy far, far away (OK, Chicago in the late 1970’s) my husband, the marketing guru, had a coffee client. McDonald’s was introducing their new coffee standard to the country and this high-end coffee client was the anointed supplier. In the end, Brad (the husband du jour) wrote a heck of a darn strong campaign that spelled out, in plain terms, just exactly what it was that made his client’s coffee so superior to the competition that McDonald’s would be proudly featuring this coffee exclusively. And the client just shit.

“You can’t say that,” was their response.

“Why not? Isn’t it true?” Brad retorted.

“Of course it’s true. But nobody outside the industry understands that this is the way the industry has traditionally processed coffee beans. If we tell the public, our peers in the coffee business will be furious.”

They were dead serious. In the end, they chose to go with a much weaker campaign that sounded more like puffery than truth, because they would rather keep peace in the industry than sell more coffee.

I’ll bet you think that this is an unusual case. Not necessarily. I’m always surprised at clients who will pay good money to shoot themselves in the foot and then pretend that they are not limping.

Back when I was in the film production business, we were casting a spot for a water heater company. (Hey, they can’t all be big, glamorous clients. Some days it’s United Airlines and some days it’s water heaters; the bank just doesn’t care.) Anyway, we looked at a lot of actresses to play the nagging, harpy wife. In the end our client insisted on casting an inexperienced newcomer who, frankly, gave a crappy audition. We were mystified and none too pleased.

On the day of the shoot, the actress was so nervous that it took nearly two hours to get a decent reading of one lousy line. It wasted time and cost us thousands. But the client didn’t care because when she first appeared on set, ready to shoot her scene with her hair in curlers, cold cream all over her face, wardrobed in an unattractive bathrobe and ratty pink slippers, our client stood up and proudly declared in a loud voice that carried across the whole soundstage, “Yes! She looks just like my ex-wife. I hate her!!”

How that helped sell water heaters I will never know, but the client was thrilled and we all limped to the bank.

I used to have a wonderful friend, Susan Gillette, who was President of DDB Needham, a big Chicago advertising agency. One day at lunch, Susan admitted that, “We agency people award a million-dollar-spot to a director based on what he can bring to the party. We then proceed to spend the rest of the project trying to protect our egos and thwart his efforts.” Thank you, Susan. At last, truth in advertising.

I wonder if there are other businesses where clients pay good money to shoot themselves in the foot?

Sure there are: I recently worked for a nonprofit that was sinking deeper and deeper into financial trouble. Part of what I was paid for was the ability to raise money. But the Board of Directors refused to allow me to tell anyone of our problems. “Keep a positive attitude,” insisted the Board. “We have to look like a winner.” If we had been a high-profile player on the New York stock exchange, that attitude might make sense. But when you are a nonprofit that depends on grants and contributions for your sustainability, it’s hard to go to a grantor and say, “We’re just great. Everything’s terrific. Couldn’t be better. And by the way, could you please give us a big sweaty wad of money? Please? Not that we need it or anything……”

Bang bang, they shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my client shot me down...

(with apologies to Sonny Bono, as I limp slowly into the sunset)

Friday, April 9, 2010

How Not to Get Promoted.

People sometimes send me unsolicited questions, asking for mentoring or just advice. I’m not sure why folks do this, as my personal life is a mess and I would be the last one I would approach for counsel. Nonetheless, they do. So let’s open the mailbag today and see what is in it. Oh, look! It’s a nice young lady complaining that she has been working in a company at the same job level for 7 years and is sick of getting passed over. What advice can I, as a longtime President/CEO/Executive Director/boss-type, give her to help her get promoted in today’s business culture?

One might ask the more obvious question, “Why is she asking me? Has she not noticed that I, myself, am currently out of work?” But that trifling aside, I have been a boss at various companies for about 28 years total, and I can definitely reveal the top 10 ways NOT to get promoted (if that’s your goal). In just the last five years, I have been faced with every single one of these situations with one employee or another. Seriously, folks! Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Talk stink about me in the workplace. Word will never get back to me and even if it does, I will admire your forthrightness.

2. Hide information from me. What I don’t know won’t hurt me.

3. Fight with your co-workers. There’s nothing like a constant stream of distraction to keep the productivity juices flowing.

4. Refuse to share your job skills with anyone else in the office. That way, when you get sick or go on vacation, no one will be able to update the website, or access the administrative calendar, or batch the credit cards or figure out your filing system. It may play havoc with the commerce but it will make them appreciate just how valuable you are around here!

5. Dress for comfort, not for business. Sure, low heels and a skirt might be more appropriate than fleece pants and tennis shoes, but you work best when you are relaxed. What do they think this is, a business?

6. Be late every day. You will know that you have reached your goal when your co-workers have a daily pool to see who can come closest to your actual arrival time. (Again, keep in mind that I’m not making this up.)

7. Adhere tightly to your job duties. If it’s not on your job description, why should you do it? It’s not your problem. And if you find yourself with extra time during the day, use it to check in with your grown daughter, write funny e-mails to your friends or play on-line solitaire.

8. Do a requested task when it is convenient for you, not necessarily as soon as I ask. After all, who am I to dictate your schedule?

9. Bring your problems to work with you. Share them with everyone – me, your co-workers, our clients. The more the merrier!

10. Don’t offer to help me with anything. If you had wanted my job you would have applied for it.

I hope that this has been useful to you. Personally, if I had a job right now, I would thank my lucky stars and not worry about crawling to the top until things calmed down. I’d hunker down, kiss my boss’s feet and cash those paychecks as fast I got them.

Meanwhile, keep those cards and letters coming. Next week’s blog: How many ways can I, as a client, shoot myself in the foot and still pretend that I’m not limping?

Happy weekend!