Posts Tagged 'Public Relations'

The curious case of H-P: what they taught us in English class but never in B-School

Stop the Press!  Theodore Dreiser novel makes headlines in 2010!

That’s what went through my mind as I heard and read about the tragic story of Mark Hurd, now former CEO of H-P.

Okay, so here we have the story of an aspiring actress who is attracted to the fame and wealth of a powerful corporate executive.  She accompanies him to social events, dinner, theater.  The executive, who is married and has children, becomes careless in his matters dealing with the actress.  Soon their relationship is revealed, along with certain financial improprieties of the executive.  In the next act the executive falls from grace, resigning his position and facing estrangement from his family.  The actress is catapulted into the spotlight and fame.

Mark Hurd and Jodie Fisher?  No, Sister Carrie.  The novel written over 100 years ago by Dreiser.    It’s a wonderful, torrid, steamy, censored affair (the original version was not published until the 1990s).  You can download it from Project Gutenberg or just read the summary in Wikipedia.

Jodie Fisher

Jodie Fisher

The more I read about Jodie Fisher, more striking become the parallels between her and the narrative arc of Sister Carrie.  It’s updated, with a Hollywood twist instead of Broadway.  The movie credits of Ms. Fisher  (Sheer Passion, Body of Influence 2) probably  contributed greatly to the troubles that Mr. Hurd faced from the HP board of directors.  We can also vividly imagine what he must have faced going home and telling his wife about the situation.

Her star is rising.  Up 6% on IMDb’s STARmeter

And the total irony of the situation is that this is HP, the same company that was investigating and wiretapping its own board members a few years ago.  In the first day of trading since the news came out, the company’s valuation dropped $9 billion.  Yes, that’s right, $9 BILLION in value.

In the investigation done by the board, they found no evidence of the sexual harassment accusations.  They did uncover a reported $20,000 in wrong expense reports to pay for dinners with Ms. Fisher.  Hurd has been a solid performer for HP, stabilizing the company after the disruptions earlier in the decade.  He’s led the company to record revenues and earnings.  He’s moved in all the right directions.

So did HP do the right thing by asking Hurd to resign?

Some people say no, that Hurd was cleared of the accusations and his leadership is invaluable to the company at this time.

From my perspective, the simple answer is yes.  And the more complex answer is still yes.  There are several compelling reasons that weigh heavily in favor of the resignation.

The first and foremost is that the behavior of a CEO should follow the same standards as any employee.  (In one very remarkable company I know, there isn’t even a reserved parking lot for the CEO).  If I were found with $20,000 in wrong expense reports, you can be pretty darn certain that I’d be out on the street.

The second is that the board needs to be transparent.  The moment this became public, it was easy to predict how distracting it would be to the performance of HP and the company’s reputation.  And you can be certain that in today’s world a secret like this wouldn’t stay a secret very long.  Not with movies like “Sheer Passion” lurking in the background.

This was reported to be the advice of their PR firm, APCO.  It sounds like excellent advice.  Imagine for a moment that you are on the HP board, know this explosive secret and exercise stock options before it is revealed.  That would put you in a pretty tight spot, too.  From the moment they heard about it, they must have been under great pressure.

So my strategic solutions to prevent this problem from arising again in 21st Century corporations:

1.  Have all MBAs take at least one course in literature.  Fiction is the stuff of life.

2. Give a copy of Sister Carrie to all board members of public corporations.

3. Give all executives a copy of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  We can all learn a little from his famous observation on business: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”

4. Hire lots of people with Master of Fine Arts degrees to stimulate the corporate imagination.   In the interests of transparency and full disclosure — I have my MFA degree in creative writing.

Anything I left off the list?

The irony of cutting spending on news media and finding no outlet for PR

This article in AdAge caught my eye this morning:

“As media market shrinks, PR passes up reporters, pitches directly to consumers”

This is quite a paradox.

There has been a strong trend of companies increasing spending on PR because they know that a mention in a news article carries more weight with consumers than a typical ad.  Every great brand can make a good news story.

At the same time, these same companies have been cutting media dollars out of newspapers and magazines, a trend that started before the current downturn. They do not want to spend as much generating their own messages and paying for those messages to be delivered to consumers.

However, the newspapers and magazines rely on the paid advertising.  Without out it, they close.  And the PR outlets disappear.  Suddenly companies find themselves in the situation of more stories chasing fewer reporters.  The opportunities for “free media” decline as advertising support for “free media” evaporates.

So what do companies then do?  Send the message directly to the consumers just as they did with advertising.  The media may be different but the need for advertiser generated messages is the same.


P.T. Barnum’s spirit lives on

P.T. Barnum set-up shop at the Hippodrome, located next to Madison Square.  In later years he brought his circus to Madison Square Garden, which was then located right next to the real Madison Square (built on the site of the old Hippodrome).  When his circus was there, it was the media epicenter of America.  It was the Times Square of its day.

P.T. Barnum is long gone but his spirit lives on at Madison Square.

It’s just about impossible to walk near the park without seeing how Barnum’s media savvy spirit lives on.

Exhibit A: The HSBC campaign shot in Madison Square:

Speak up America!

Speak up America!

Exhibit B: The  Living Zero Home.  This is a modular home that uses zero energy from outside the home, more or less.  It’s traveling around the country and recently came to rest next to Madison Square.

The Green House

The Green House

These are just two examples from the past few weeks.  The list of other pr, advertising, promotional efforts at Madison Square could go one for days.  It’s not all about sponsored events and advertising.  It is the site of art installations — last fall a Japanese artist, Tadashi Kawamata, built and installed individualized Tree Houses in many of the trees around the part.  It was quite a site for us city dwellers without backyards.  The area is also home to cultural events such as the Big Apple BBQ Block Party.

Photo credit: The camera on my Samsung Behold.

When unpredictable things happen to brands – or – who’s driving that Wienermobile?

Good marketing means keeping your eyes on the road ahead, not watching the world through the rearview mirror.  And a part of that is contingency planning — being prepared for the unexpected.  

The news story of an accident involving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is a perfect example.  In Wisconsin the Wienermobile went the wrong way and crashed into the garage of a house.  If a regular car had lurched in the wrong direction on a driveway it would be noticed only by the neighbors on the same block.  But when the Wienermobile does it, the whole world is watching.  

Now I personally  think that Oscar Mayer is a great brand.  It was founded by a real family.  It has been doing social marketing through Wienermobile appearances long before the phrase “social marketing” was penned.  

The picture below illustrates the consequences for a brand that is driving by looking in the rear view mirror.


AP Photo of Wienermobile crash

AP Photo of Wienermobile crash



This incident happened less than two weeks after Oscar Mayer himself passed away.  This Oscar Mayer was the great grandson of the original Oscar Mayer.  The Mayer family founded the Oscar Mayer company 3 generations ago, also in Wisconsin.  The website TMZ reports that Mr. Mayer did not want the Wienermobile to make an appearance at his funeral because it would be “too much of a spectacle.”

Which reminds me of an old Yiddish saying, “Man plans and God laughs”.

Is Twitter a strategy, a tactic or the next Second Life?

I was witness to a phenomenal Hoola-hoop performance at a middle school talent show.  The incredible sixth grader did a routine including putting on a soccer uniform, complete with shin guards, doing some fancy footwork with the soccer ball and balancing more than a dozen hoola-hoops to the tune of “You’ve got to move it, move it” from the Madagascar sound-track.

Remember the hoola-hoop?  I do and it was a global fad before I was even born.  Like all fads it was eventually replaced by a new one.  But unlike some fads it had a second life. More than 50 years later its still around.

Second Life?  Remember than phenom?  Cover of Business Week!  This was going to change everything.  Virtual meetings, virtual collaboration, virtual storefronts, virtual banking. There was a land rush from Adidas, Wells Fargo, Wired Magazine, Reuters, H&R Block, Reebok, Dell, IBM, Sony/BMG and on and on and on.


The story that launched Second Life

The story that launched Second Life

Forrester recently declared Second Life as virtually abandoned by major corporations with the possible exception of IBM.  Oh, its still around.  Just not quite the way anyone expected.

Which brings us to Twitter.  Is twitter the next Hoola Hoop?  A big fad that will fade away?  A big difference is that the Hoola Hoop was profitable right from the start.  And the company created the Frisbee as a follow-up.  Wham-o!

As for Twitter, the business plan is still a work in progress.

So next on the list?  iPhone Apps anyone?

The lesson for marketers is that these are tactics, not strategies.  Maybe good for some short-term PR.  You need a strategic framework to evaluate the new tactics, to see which make sense and which don’t.  

And the lesson for start-ups is that you need a business plan.

What are CMO priorities for 2009?

We wanted to know how CMOs would arrange their priorities for 2009.  So we analyzed some new proprietary data from a new survey we conducted among CMOs and other senior marketers about their priorities for 2009.  The study was done in partnership with Jupiter Research (which is Forrester as of January 1st).

Two themes came through clearly — the need for greater accountability and the challenges of managing brands across all of the new forms of media.  

Here are the top 5 priorities of marketing decision makers for 2008

#1  Achieving measurable ROI on my marketing efforts

#2 Developing marketing programs that integrate online and traditional media

#3 Translating the brand experience across different touchpoints

#4 Cutting marketing budgets without cutting performance

#5 Optimizing our portfolio of brands

The Jupiter Research data is available here.  jupiter-cmo-priorities-for-2009

You can read more about the study by downloading it from our website,

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