49ers scandal points to expanding professional crisis — in management as well as marketing

Is anyone really shocked that a PR manager got the brilliant idea to communicate with his internal audience along the lowest common denominator?

The denominator itself is disgusting.  Don’t even need to dignify the interests of the PR guy’s audience or his apologists with any discussion.  The critical issues — and of great significance to any business — are to be found in the back story.

If it’s true that the team’s owners and managers only took action when threatened with public exposure, to the media and the league, after knowing of the tape’s existence for months, more than the PR manager’s judgment is in question.

If the PR manager’s counsel on the question of the coach’s effectiveness outweighed that of professionals with some expertise in leading teams on the field, playbooks and talent, more than the PR manager’s power is in question.

If with all the PR expertise out there this is all the 49ers could find to advise them on visibility — and teach the players something about what constitutes a positive image — more than the PR manager’s credentials is in question.

Businesses and their leaders must realize that in claiming the bully pulpit they have a responsibility to elevate discussion and push standards of behavior ever higher, not lower.  They must retain professionals who aid them in accomplishing this objective, not convince them that the content of a video like this is effective, much less funny.  And they need people who focus the outbound messages and inbound training for the organization on the business at hand, not themselves and their apparent desire for stardom or coziness with the other employees.

Of course, maybe this is just about the pugilists taking their Neanderthal-ic field rules and trying to get the rest of us to play by them.  I hope the new PR manager can figure out a better way to make that happen, if that is indeed the strategy.  We’ll take that on as well.

The silver lining — for global business — inside the Andersen conviction and its overturning

At the end of this day of unplanned Andersen reunions and impromptu alumni meetings,  the positive elements of this entire episode are clearer than ever.  Not just for the lives upended by the indictment and the conviction nor for the empty rejoicing of a reputation less tarnished but for those affected by the churn.  That means all of us who conduct business.

Four good things.

Sarbanes-Oxley and the daylighting of the back office, the back room and maybe even the university club.

Less self absorption and more introspection on the topics of accountability, responsibility and personal motivation.

A higher — and more specific — burden of proof in the prosecution of actions as well as intent.

Andersen values alive and well.

Despite the betrayal and the missteps, the benign neglect and deliberate upheaval, the achievements, performance, competitiveness, work ethic and service orientation of thousands were not lost.  These things never are.  Instead, they are imbedded in organizations the world over.  Companies and governments and foundations and schools are the beneficiaries of a professional energy that has long been the secret sauce of the Andersen alum.  Fabu, I say. 

Andersen conviction overturned — vindicates the organization but it should not vindicate those who enabled the event

What a way to start the day here on the west coast.  News that the Supreme Court has unanimously overturned the conviction of Andersen in the Enron case.

This is an enormous vindication of the majority of the people who embodied the vision and values of the venerable organization — but not of the few managers who enabled Andersen’s destruction.  Would that the last teams of managing partners had the dedication to the principles that guided Andersen for decades.  Their interpretation of legacy extended only to what they naively believed was the measure of success:  belonging to the same club of clout their avaricious clients had erected and whose membership they controlled.

I wrote about this two years ago in a short piece published by HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW.  The fact that the managers whose mismanagement brought Andersen down will soothe their wounded psyches with this reversal of the conviction is the only downside of today’s events.  Had they seen fit to act as stewards of Andersen’s focus on professional standards, Enron never would have happened to Andersen.  Like the other clients whose antics and shenanigans were uncovered by Andersen, Enron would have been fired as a client and its leaders exposed for who they were long before Enron imploded and Andersen exploded.

One more thing before the next blog:  this verdict is no indictment of the noble effort to prosecute white collar crime.  It is, however, a word of warning about persecuting the innocent and making scapegoats when the prosecution of a few individuals will do.  We should identify the truly guilty and learn from their mistakes.

Attention C-levels: Marketing ROI = advertising ROI? I think not.

It’s terrific that marketing experts are devoting time, attention and serious discussion to the return on the marketing investment.  I’m chiming in.

First, marketing is not advertising.  Advertising is a component of the marketing effort, and any agency that tells you the two disciplines are one and the same — or that advertising must drive the marketing bus — is simply trying to sell you a big campaign.  Which might be the same as trying to sell you a well-known bridge or monument. 

Somebody had to say it.

Second, to measure marketing ROI, and therefore the various functions — like advertising, media relations, executive communications — that constitute or integrate with Marketing, let’s try something new.

  • Think of Marketing as a profit center.  Your measurements include:  does the sales force think that Marketing has helped it generate leads, open doors and/or close a sale?  If the answer is yes, then find a way to measure the cost — yes, cost, not "investment" — as well as the yield of Marketing’s effort by each sale won.  And, make sure Marketing gets credit as a member of the team that makes the sales happen.  If the answer from the sales force is no, then Marketing is in deeper excrement than you thought.
  • Think of Marketing as a results center.  As many experts assert, there’s going to be some part of the Marketing cost that you just can’t measure in hard numbers.  Enter leadership and effectiveness.  Your measurements include:  when you go to a Marketing functionary, you get help; at the end of the "day," you have an ad campaign that sings or a brochure that rings or a website that pings; and, every marketing activity sends the same message across multiple channels to multiple buyers.  Service, potency and consistency are elements you can evaluate, and a "yes" answer means that your time and insight aren’t being wasted, they’re being leveraged.  That is ROI.
  • Think of Marketing as a thought center.  When it comes down to it, the most powerful marketing has a personal touch — and not just on the customer/receiving end but on the delivery end.  Your measurements here include:  are we passionate about what we are selling; and, does what we say convey the power of a unique thought about our product or service?  Marketing functionaries should be helping you expose what you love and believe about your company or product just as much as they are helping you reach the touchpoint on the audience’s side.

What color is your ocean?

There’s a new book out and it’s going to turn a lot of marketing thinking on its head.  Or should.  Blue Ocean Strategy:  How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant [Harvard Business School Press, 2005].  About time.

I’m a big fan of Michael Porter, and the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy — W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne — take his work and put it into the proper context.  They say that it’s time to move away from the prevailing strategic orientation, "competition as the core of corporate success and failure," and shift to a new unit of analysis, "the strategic move."  They define this move as "the set of managerial actions and decisions involved in making a major market-creating business offering."

The locus of the move is from the red ocean to the blue ocean.  The red is industry verticals as we know them today.  The blue doesn’t exist until an innovator or an innovative company, new or existing, reinvents the market space, forming new groups of customers by introducing products or services that speak to their needs and do not exist as yet.  Examples include Cirque du Soleil, the Apple personal computer, Dell built-to-order computers and IBM’s System/360.  As some of these examples show, and as the authors point out, "most blue oceans are created from within, not beyond, red oceans of existing industries."

I think this is entirely compatible with Porter’s analysis of the five forces of competition and how understanding them helps to shape a company’s strategic approach.  Kim and Mauborgne teach that an analysis of the competition is appropriate, but it has to be as a contributing process to the acts of creating uncontested market space, making the competition irrelevant, creating and capturing new demand, breaking the value/cost trade-off and achieving differentiation and low cost, not just one or the other, as Porter established in the 1980s.

Huge message for technology companies here, who often have mental, even emotional, blocks about linking their innovations to what buyers want and value.  The bust should have taught us this, but I’m skeptical as to whether we have absorbed the full depth of the lesson.  I think it’s this, using the Kim/Mauborgne classification:  if you’re going to sell your technology, it’s more important to be a value pioneer than a technology pioneer. 

Climb into this mindset and you’re already in the right place for deciding how to build a product, market it and sell it.  The factors affecting these decisions turn not on your passion for the technology but your passion for the marketplace’s ability to use it.  Take note of the competition, but obsess about the customer.

Women, recipes and intellectual capital

One of the common recipe experiences that emerged over the course of the past few weeks is the question of pride of ownership.  I’ve had countless people, mostly women, share anecdotes from their own family histories about a grandmother or an aunt or a cousin who refuses to share a recipe, or worse, leaves out a seemingly innocuous ingredient.

While Pia, Toni and Checka — the three sisters who are the de facto recipe experts in our family — were working on the tests of our recipes, there were several selections that had different versions for each sister.  Probably nothing sinister or sneaky, but this issue has popped up so much lately that I found myself thinking seriously about why so many women guard their recipes as if they are the treasure of the realm.

Conclusion:  it’s because they are.  For women today, a recipe is perhaps mostly a sentimental legacy.  But for women of past generations, it represented intellectual capital — and maybe the only thing they owned, much less invented.  A recipe symbolizes knowledge.  It signifies creativity.  And it’s a differentiator. 

Yes, Michael Porter, the women who barred the kitchen door were choosing the more sophisticated competitive barrier.  They weren’t going for the low cost option — they were setting the price high, knowing that their recipes might be the one true factor that differentiated them at the church supper, the holiday dessert table or the romantic dinner for two.

Maybe that’s why so many of us who come from cooking families have an innate sense of what it takes to differentiate us, to mine what is unique in our perspective, to value individuality.  And to stick to our guns.  I mean, wooden spoons.

Brands, players and startups

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