Sunday, December 31, 2006

National Oil

Tourist Athens, tourist brands: BMW and McDonald’s, Gucci and Bill Blass and all the others. Starbucks is here, though Jacobs Coffee, a German brand owned by Kraft Foods, is giving it a run for its money in Flocafe cafes throughout the city.

Local brands are a bit harder to find unless you go into the local grocery stores. Nevertheless, there are some powerhouse brands here: Ioli Water, a product of Athenian Brewery, is constantly top-rated by reviewers. Its bottles feature labels by various artists.

Through great personal effort, Barbara and I tasted a large number of different ouzos, the licorice-tasting aperitif that’s Greek indeed. We can report that the very best is Sans Rival Ouzo from P. Thomopoulos & Son SA, produced in Piraeus for about a hundred years.

My favorite (and not so local anymore either) is probably Minerva Olive Oil – which is no small brand here. In 1904, the Karakostas-Giannakos Company expanded its activities and began to trade in olive oil, the most valued product grown on Greek soil. The Minerva bottles, with the goddess Athena as the company’s symbol, are obvious on Greek grocery store shelves. I don’t know why Athena is on the bottles when the name is Minerva...I suspect it has something to do with Athens being the company’s home base. Its original office, as far as I can understand it, was here in Omonia where we are staying.

Since it’s now an international company itself with a wide range of products, it’s not so surprising that its agency is TBWA Athens – its web site was created by “Greek Geeks.” Really.

But you do have to get off the tourist squares and streets to find the local products...not just branded ones, either, but the staples of everyday living from fresh fish and meats to nuts and bolts. That’s the best way to tour anyway, no matter where you are in the Euro Zone.

Happy New Year to oil!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Talking Turk

Is it possible to have an outstanding customer experience in under two hours? Apparently it is, with Turkish Airlines – Turk Hava Yollari. This carrier supplied the link to Athens from Istanbul, the only non-KLM leg we’ll have flown.

Our very early AM check-in went smoothly and we ambled down to the gate to find a rare light flight, maybe because it was early, Maybe because it was Tuesday, maybe because the “second day of Christmas” is a holiday in Greece. The THY check-in agent was completely friendly and when she saw my height, she changed our seats to the emergency exist row without being asked. The THY Airbus 330-200 was immaculate; the aircrew was capable and everyone smiled.

A call to the airline number in Istanbul on 25 December had already prepared me in a way – impressed the hell out of me in fact. Come to find out that THY has already won a couple of awards for its call center.

I read in the airline’s flight magazine, Skyways, that THY’s Chairman, Candan Karlitekin, had laid down these “good customer” initiatives at the beginning of 2006. They had a positive and measurable effect on us in what is, after all, an hour-and-forty-minute flight. THY code-shares with American Airlines (yuck!) to Chicago from Houston and thence overseas. It’s an airline that deserves a second look – especially since it’s the off-season for Istanbul.

What’s a good customer experience worth to THY? About $500 for our two tix, this time.

The key point is that this relationship started with the call center – your choice of Turkish or impeccable English, helpful and friendly in every way. Once again, it shows how critical an outstanding call center is to good customer interface…and a worthwhile try-out if you’re looking for good call center examples. Happy New Year to all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Flying Carpets

Merry Christmas Eve from Istanbul – would you like a kilim with that?

There are three kinds of legal businesses here. The first is the kind you and I think about, banking, insurance, advertising – the hundreds if not thousands of white-collar activities of the modern world. Then there is working business, everything from hardware stores to appliance stores to supermarkets.

Tourist business is the third. The work starts in front of the shops and stalls...the minute you come into visual range [and with me that's easy because of my height]. Even in the better districts, never mind the bazaars, the front men work hard and vigorously to earn your attention. The guys on the sidewalk may be touts or shills or even the owners themselves. They ingratiate, they wheedle (but never whine), they joke wıth you until your defense shows the slightest gap. Then it's have a glass of tea and let me show you my carpets and kilims – the finest in all the city!

Why this relentlessly friendly assault? Because in the heart of each and every carpet shop owner is the concrete belief, the utter certainty, that every tourist wants a carpet. Or a kilim.

There is a difference to be sure. A kilim is a pileless carpet. The kilim's design is made by interweaving the variously colored wefts and warps, creating what's called a flatweave. In a pile rug, individual short strands of different colors, usually wool, are knotted onto the warps and held together by pressing the wefts tightly against each other. No pile. Pile. Simple.

When they have you in their clutches, drinking their hot apple tea, they do make their carpets fly.

They are artful and experienced presenters of their rugs, flinging them down in front of you, flipping them upside down or end-to-end to show off the designs, the colors, the (apparently) distinctive double knot that distinguishes a Turkish carpet from a Persian rug.

You think you have great salespeople working for you? You should only wish you had salespeople like this. Software. Drill bits. Downhole chemicals. Magazine space. Hire a Turkish carpet shop owner; or better yet offer him a piece of the business. Your fortune is made!

Resistance is futile. Unless, as in our case, you have made up your minds in advance that you are resolutely, positively, definitively NOT going to buy a carpet, kilim, runner, rug or ruglet of any kind whatsoever.

We bought ceramics instead.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The I-Mod

The least interesting thing* we did on Friday was go to the Istanbul Modern Museum, across the Galata Bridge on the south shore of the Bosphorus. Just beginning its second year, it is an 8000-square-meter building that is a fine venue for a fresh institution that intends to set the art agenda for modern small thing for a nation uncertain of its future secular existence.

That Turkey – and Istanbul in particular – has a modern and contemporary art scene is not unexpected but it is difficult to find for the common-or-garden tourist. Istanbul Modern is so new that it is not in the current Eyewitness Guide (2004).

In the initial year+, I think the I-Mod has done the proper thing with its primary installation, tracing the history of Turkish Modernism from the end of the 19th Century to the present. There are few names familiar to a second-class Western art follower like me, though Arslan is one. I said proper above but what I really meant was instructive...I do not know modern Turkish art and was glad to be able to see its rise.

Barbara created some participatıon art and I joined her. The cloakroom gave us small metal tags for our winter coats...numbered tags on tiny rings. Barbara put hers on her glasses, it was a great idea; so I dıd the same and we wandered throughout the I-Mod wıth them, jıngling away up and down the aisles. The attendents had a bit of a laugh and we enjoyed it.

There is also a fine Venice-Istanbul Bienalle exhibition with a typically hilarious outdoor piece by Juan Munoz, along with works and installations by Donna Conlon, Bruna Esposito, Subodh Gupta, Mona Hatoum, Emily Jacir, William Kentridge, Bülent Şangar, Berni Searle, Valeska Soares, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Joana Vasconselos, Robin Rhode and Antoni Tapies. The Guerilla Girls are always a treat and always provocative.

The biggest surprise (for us ignorants) was the art of a remarkable Turkish woman, Semiha Berksoy, whose paintings are a single facet in the career of a genuine barrier-buster who died at the age of 94 still making art and life happen. Her art from the 60s and the 70s is just plain stunning in the simplicity of its statements.

So – do not miss the I-Mod when you come to Instanbul. It be an education.

*The most interesting and enjoyable part of the day was our visit to OYKU/Dialogue International, of which much more in a coming post. Berksoy paintings from with thanks.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

We see the Blue Mosque from our hotel window here at the Arcadia in Dr. Imran Oktem Street. It is just two blocks southwest outlined against the Sea of Marmara and the Asian shore. In case I fall back asleep after the 6AM telephone ring, the call of the muezzin wakes me back up again...five times a day the Muslims of Istanbul are called to prayer.

Up close and inside the Blue Mosque is a wonder of open space, space for more that 8000 to worship.

The streets are a mixture of the familiar and the utterly different; rather like this Turkish keyboard I am using to write this post. To see Hotmail in Turkish demands a mental translocation. Familiar brands are here. The UPS store in the next block not only has the familiar brown and gold logo but two giant plastic figures of the brown uniformed deliverymen suspended from the second story of the building.

If you wonder at the strange punctuation, it is because the keyboard does not seem to want to deliver the normal marks in the right places. As we run up to Christmas here in the Near East, I hope to figure it out but I am not holding my breath.

If you are attracted at all to Turkish carpets this is definitely the place to be.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Season’s Greeting

Gaudete! Gaudete! “Rejoice!” is what the old hymn tells us. Take up the feeling of joy in what the world brings us.

You’ve brought pleasure and delight to my life through your participation in it. This past year, you have contributed to a year’s worth of adventures, visits, programs, conversations, arguments, developments, successes; an entire 12 months of joy and – I hope – a little grace under pressure.

I am grateful for the work, the relationships, the collegial enjoyment of many hours spent with fellow professionals, friends and family.

Humorist and cartoonist Kin Hubbard said that next to a circus, there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit. Better to remember what Charles Dickens wrote. “Keep Christmas in your heart all year long.” Maintain a spirit of giving. A sense of good will towards all men and women.

My personal thanks to you. My heartfelt best wishes for a world full of joy this season and for the year ahead.

Thanks and special wishes to Gayle Smith for this year’s illustration, and to Paul Leigh for constructing this year's electronic greeting card.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Gaudete, Omnes!

The title for this year’s holiday card is Gaudete, “Rejoice” in Latin.

I first heard it as an á capella song from Steeleye Span, the British folk-rock band formed in 1970 and still active in 2006. I loved the song – and the band – then, and I love them still.

In 1972, the single ‘Gaudete’ from ‘Below the Salt’ belatedly became a Christmas hit single, reaching number 14 in the UK Charts. ‘Gaudete’ is one of only two songs sung in Latin to reach the British Top 50. If you go here, page down and click on Number 7, you can hear a bit of it.

Gaudete, gaudete christus est natus
Ex maria virginae gaudete

Gaudete, gaudete christus est natus
Ex maria virginae gaudete

Tempus ad est gratiae hoc quod optabamus
Carmina laetitiae devote redamus

Gaudete, gaudete christus est natus
Ex maria virginae gaudete
Gaudete, gaudete christus est natus
Ex maria virginae gaudete

Deus homo factus est naturam eraute
Mundus renovatus est a christo regnante

Gaudete, gaudete christus est natus
Ex maria virginae gaudete
Gaudete, gaudete christus est natus
Ex maria virginae gaudete...

Photo: West Window, Monks’ Choir, Ampleforth Abbey.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Feliz Navidad

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa,
Not a creature was stirring – Caramba! Que pasa?
Los niños were tucked away in their camas,
Some in long underwear, some in pijamas,
While hanging the stockings with mucho cuidado
In hopes that old Santa would feel obligado
To bring all children, both buenos and malos,
A nice batch of dulces and other regalos.

Outside in the yard there arose such a grito
That I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito.
I ran to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world do you think that it era?
Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero.
And pulling his sleigh instead of venados
Were eight little burros approaching volados.
I watched as they came and this quaint little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre:
“Ay Pancho, ay Pepe, ay Cuco, ay Beto,
Ay Chato, ay Chopo, Macuco y Nieto!”
Then standing erect with his hands on his pecho
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chiminea.

Then huffing and puffing at last in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala,
He filled all the stockings with lovely regalos
For none of the niños had been very malos.
Then chuckling aloud, seeming very contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.
And I heard him exclaim, and this is verdad,
Merry Christmas to all, and Feliz Navidad!

This Tex-Mex version of “Night Before Christmas” is a long-time favorite of mine. It is credited to Jim and Nita Lee (Dec. 1972). Santa Claus store display, 1958, from Coca-Cola Image Gallery con muchas gracias.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Prism Parties

One part of Christmas is the family letter. I get quite a thrill when I read that Uncle Schmuel and Aunt Sadie’s youngest has completed her third rehab program successfully. Way to go, Roxanne! It’s awesome to learn that the second ex-wife of my best friend's ex-husband has graduated with honors from Beaumont Beauty College. One of my brothers-in-law is recovering from that little accident with the combine-harvester and he’ll be walking again by next summer, for sure.

Then there are the Christmas parties, the “holiday” get-togethers. There’ve been some interesting occasions this year, especially the one where the Creative Director from You-Know-Which Agency got his head stuck in the – never mind.

A serious stand-out, though, was the excellent Prism Design holiday dinner at Bistro Calais this past week, which Barbara and I enjoyed utterly.

Sincere thanks to client and colleague Susan Reeves and all the Prismatics for the excellent time, fine meal and barrel of laughs. Here they are, left to right: Terry Teutsch, Stacy Allen, Susan herself, Amy Puchot, Anne Stovall, Paul Leigh (kneeling).

May all your Christmases be bright. (Stay away from farm machinery.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Draft Bagged

Let’s start with this: the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Standards of Practice. One of the initial ‘graphs states:

We hold that, to discharge this responsibility, advertising agencies must recognize an obligation, not only to their clients, but to the public, the media they employ, and to each other. As a business, the advertising agency must operate within the framework of competition. It is recognized that keen and vigorous competition, honestly conducted, is necessary to the growth and the health of American business. However, unethical competitive practices in the advertising agency business lead to financial waste, dilution of service, diversion of manpower, loss of prestige, and tend to weaken public confidence both in advertisements and in the institution of advertising. [Emphasis added]

Tell me, now that Draft FCB’s rep is thrashed, do you think it’s time for some remedial reading?

In the very early 80s’ I was a copywriter at BBDO/Minneapolis. I worked on the Honeywell business, because BBDO had the advertising assignment. That’s the first time I met Howard Draft. He was a young account executive at Kobs & Brady in Chicago, handling the direct mail portion of Honeywell’s Protection Services business. We used to shake and howdy at various client meetings in Minneapolis.

Kobs & Brady became, as I recall, Kobs & Draft. Then Draft Worldwide. When Draft bought FCB, one Chicago newspaper called it “one of the darkest moments in the history of an increasingly troubled ad industry.”

It’s even darker now: Draft FCB got kicked off the $580 million Wal-Mart account it just won this past week. It wasn’t any prettier than the much-hammered ad Draft/FCB ran – briefly - for last year’s Cannes winners.

At the same time, “one of the most colorful and influential” client-side marketing executives, Wal-Mart’s Julie Roehm, has left Wal-Mart just two months after leading Wal-Mart's advertising account review – out after less than a year on the job. Sean Womack, vice president of communications architecture, who served Roehm closely during the course of the review, is following Roehm out the door.

The story has gotten full play in The New York Times, complete with extravagant gifts, some rather expensive dinners and passions that Wal-Mart’s other executives didn’t find very amusing – or ethical. In one ‘graph, the Times points out:

[Ms. Roehm] was spotted taking a ride in an Aston Martin owned by the chief executive of one agency, Draft FCB. At another time, she was seen riding in a BMW convertible with the president of another, GSD&M, according to people familiar with the matter.

Wal-Mart has strict rules. They prohibit employees from accepting gifts of any kind, as the Times mentions. So – if the gifting and the partying happened – what were Draft/FCB and GSD&M thinking? Yeah, yeah, $580 million in billing was on the table. So what?

Is there some part of ethics that ad agencies don’t understand? (And whoa-boy, I know just as many stories as you do – including the time a Boston agency picked up part of a major energy account by sending the decision-maker live lobsters.)

Tell me, are reputable advertising agencies going the way of HealthSouth, WorldComm and Enron? Tell me, is the ad industry as a whole ethically challenged? Or is this an outlier, a freak occurrence?

More recent stories, like one yesterday in the Chicago Tribune, quote people as saying that maybe it’s not such a big deal – and who needs the Wal-Mart account anyway? I say it’s a big deal.

“A couple of lunches” is one thing. This is another. Howard: what’s the story?

Thanks to Rita Dutt, James Gardner, Angela Natividad, Rob Schoenbeck, John Shanley, Pat Tobin and Buddy “Friendly” Wachenheimer for their help and perspectives.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Free Woodcuts

I’d be hard put to recall how often my creative teams went through books of clip art – especially old Victorian woodcuts, to develop concepts or campaigns. Mark Self, Rick Reigle and I invented a pair of award-winning campaigns for Exxon years back, based on steel engravings of 19th Century paper-making plants and farm scenes.

While there are a few sources for electronic versions of the old printed assemblies of woodcuts and steel engravings, one of the most resourceful collector/artists is now making his compilations available on the Worldwide Web. The late 19th and early 20th Century line engravings painstakingly gathered by Jim Harter are now available here.

Retha Oliver, in Art Lies, used Harter’s self-definition as an “image archivist” in a 2003 review:

Based in San Antonio, Harter is the man behind many of the “public domain” image collections that are published by Dover Press, among others. Over twenty-five years, Harter has researched thousands of images from 19th Century etchings and engravings. One driving impulse was no doubt a fascination with these quirky, carefully executed line drawings. Another was to enrich his own store of imagery from which he makes collages and prints.

His website is an excellent source for such hidden treasures, with affordable downloads. It’s like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He even offers some free examples, like the one above. Get them here.

Many thanks to Harter Images for “Leprechauns.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Barclay’s War

Sixty-five years ago today, the Japanese Navy attacked the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor and America joined the fight against the Axis powers. Here’s one story about American advertising at war.

McClelland Barclay, born in 1891, was one of the foremost commercial artists of his time when the war began. He’d created great illustrations– usually with gorgeous women – for General Motors and Texaco, General Electric and Camel cigarettes. He’d done magazine covers and movie posters.

Barclay, a US Naval Reserve officer, reported for active duty on 19 October 1940. He was 49 years old. He created some of the great recruiting posters of World War II. When the US entered the war in 1941, he volunteered to become a combat artist. “Man the Guns” comes from this period.

On 18 July 1943, Barclay was aboard LST-342 (Group 14, Flotilla 5) when it was torpedoed by Japanese submarine Ro-106 at 1:30 a.m. He had been on board since the first of the month, sketching and taking photographs, during which time LST-342 had been carrying ammunition and supplies to Rendova, New Georgia in the Solomon Islands from Guadalcanal.

The torpedo struck the aft portion of the ship where officers and others, including Barclay, were berthed. The stern sank immediately. Barclay, along with most of the crew, perished. The bow of the LST remained afloat and was towed to a beach on the island of Ghavutu so that any useable equipment could be salvaged. Remains of the ship are still rusting there today. Barclay was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal, and entitled to the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal; the American Area Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
(US Naval Historical Center)

You can read all about him here. Pass the word.

“Man the Guns - Join the Navy” by McClelland Barclay, Oil Painting (above) and Poster (below), 1942. From US Naval Historical Center.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rhinarians, Unite!

Why would a woman stick her nose into a fishbowl?

Even though I was on my fourth cup of coffee, I glanced at the half-page ad in this morning’s Houston Chronicle and thought the headline (in 36-point type) said “Rhinarian.”

It’s actually an advertisement for Rhinaris, “your portable dry nose humidifier.” This product comes to us from Pharmascience, a company based in Montreal. (Canada again!)

How much it costs compared to my usual winter standby, Ocean? That’s $4.29 for 1.5 ounces at Walgreens. One ounce of Rhinaris is $6.99. The Walgreens generic moisturizing spray is just $2.99 for 1.5 ounces. With Rhinaris, you…pay through the nose. (I sent for a sample here – you should too, because it’s free.)

However, I do prefer the idea that Rhinarians walk among us. For years, I’ve envied wine experts who talk about the value of a “good nose.” There are professional smellers in the coffee and tea business, in the fragrance industry, in certain of the food segments. How about the overly sensitive relative to whom something always smells funny?

These are the Rhinarians. The lady above is smelling her fish. Why? To see if it’s fresh? To determine if it’s time to change the water? Do Rhinarians walk around with their noses in the air? Are they snooty?

Unite, Rhinarians of the World! Don't let society lead you around by the nose.

Photo from Pharmascience. All rights reserved, which is probably quite reassuring to them.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What “Canada?”

See this billboard? Yesterday, Paul Hoven sent me half-a-dozen photos of funny signs, under the title “Do Canadians Have a Sense of Humor?” Several were amusing, but the board above tickled my sense of the absurd.

I Googled restaurants in Saskatoon, presuming that it would naturally be in Canada, right? Saskatoon, in the Province of Saskatchewan? Right?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Just as I miss-identified the SOG of Canada in an earlier post, the Saskatoon Restaurant is in – ready for this? – Greenville, South Carolina. The owner, Edmond Woo, echoes the Great Canadian Plains province right on the restaurant’s attractive website:

Come taste the unique Northwest outdoors. Pull on your hiking boots and bush poplins or come dressed elegantly casual! Either way, you’ll hear the rainbow trout sizzlin’ in an iron skillet and smell the hickory wood coals, just like an open campfire. It’s calling you to Saskatoon.

In Greenville. South Carolina. Just 2052 miles from where it’s supposed to be. A mere 33-hour drive.

The restaurant billboard promises “wild game.” The menu’s sure enough got your Buffalo Flank Steak, your Wild Game Sausage and your Elk Tenderloin. You can also Saskatoon Shrimp and Kangaroo Steak – two critters not usually associated with the upper Canadian Midwest.

Laugh if you like: George Gardner, writing in The Greenville News last year, give the restaurant a strong review:

Be sure to bring your sense of adventure to this restaurant. The menu is unapologetically meaty and a bit bizarre, but the service is top notch and the decor is woodsy and inviting, like a cozy hunting lodge. I had the quail appetizer, which was baked and served with a rich, delicious sauce and a spicy bread and bean stuffing, with warm bread and sweet berry butter on the side. The entrees come with a garden salad, and mine was fresh and crisp. I had the kangaroo steak medium-rare. The meat was lean, yet tender and graced with a sweet orange sauce, which I thought was scrumptious.

From the website photos, it looks like a warm, attractive place. But it was the creative billboard that caught my eye. I’d like to find out who did Woo’s creative – you can see more of it in on the website under the heading “Saskatoon Apparel.” The beer list is pretty nice, too.

One client, Mustang Engineering, has a business unit in Greenville. Maybe I’ll get a chance to try the Saskatoon Restaurant for myself: it’s only 1.3 miles away (according to AAA).

Meantime, who created the restaurant’s billboard? It’s really very funny. Even if it’s not Canadian.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Marine’s Christmas

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,

Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn’t too near,

But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was nearS
tanding out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me and my wife and my child.

“What are you doing?” I asked without fear,
“Come in this moment, it’s freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!”
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts,
To the window that danced with a warm fire’s light

Then he sighed and he said, “It’s really all right.
I’m out here by choice. I’m here every night.

“It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

“My Gramps died at Pearl on a day in December,”
Then he sighed, “That’s a Christmas ’Gram always remembers.
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ’Nam,
And now it’s my turn and so, here I am.

“I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he’s sure got her smile.”
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,

The red, white and American flag.

“I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.

“I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother.
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.

“So go back inside,” he said, “harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right.”
“But isn’t there something I can do, at the least,
Give you money,” I asked, “or prepare you a feast?

“It seems all too little for all that you’ve done,
For being away from your wife and your son.”
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,“
Just tell us you love us, and never forget:

“To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.

“Is payment enough, and with that we will trust
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.”

By LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN, 30th Naval Construction Regiment, OIC, Logistics Cell One, Al Taqqadum, Iraq. This poem has appeared on many blogs and was forwarded to me by Paul Hoven. USMC photo by LCpl Jonathan P Sotelo: An M16 A2 rifle, a pair of boots and a helmet stand in memory of Sergeant Padilla, Marine Wing Support Squadron 371, killed in action in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Advertising's Present

Go ahead: Accuse me of inconsistency. In an earlier post, I urged you to “think outside the bottle.” I was talking about new bottle shapes specifically. Then, in “Rob’s Perrier” and “Ambitious Brew” (also below), you heard that there are quite a lot of new ideas that aren’t really new, just re-discovered or re-invented.

No matter how often you have been told to think outside the box, I stress (after three decades as a creative) that there’s a hell of a lot inside the box.

In fact, our box is positively stuffed with great ideas ‘cause a huge number of creative people have been stuffing the damn thing for years and years – and gift-wrapped it for you.

Look: every year, colleagues and clients have urged me to read the latest book about the “new marketing,” a long line of them from Marketing Warfare to Crossing the Chasm to The Tipping Point. Damned if I didn’t start way back with Antony Jay’s books, Management & Machiavelli (1968) and Corporation Man (1971). I still think Corporation Man is one of the best books ever written about corporate life.

I have to agree with Steve Lance and Jeff Woll in The Little Blue Book of Advertising, their new work:

First, there’s no such thing at “new marketing.” There are new ways to reach your target audience; there may be new media alternatives and new ways to cut through the clutter; but all consumers of every age are still motivated by the same things that motivated consumers since the first caveman coveted his neighbor’s cudgel: needs, status, a belief that the product will improve the perceived quality of their lives, or just an unexplained “I gotta have that” impulsive action.”

They point out there are four basic questions you can ask, if you’d just step back and think about your creative or marketing challenge. “What are we doing?” “How are we doing it?” “Why are we doing it?” and “How do we know if it’s working.”

The answers to these foundation questions are already inside the box: hundreds or even thousands of creative ideas, concepts, promotions and programs that have been thought up and produced since small-type ads for fresh fish appeared in Colonial American newspapers.

Think of what’s inside the box as Advertising’s evergreen present to you – and your career’s future.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ambitious Brew

There are so many satisfactory micro-histories, or niche histories, available these days, you’re forgiven if you haven’t read them all. (Think of it as a holiday dispensation.)

The truly great ones, like The Pencil by Henry Petroski, and Cod by Mark Kerlansky, are so compelling that it’s easy to forget you’re reading about a single item. In the end, each one is about society.

As marketers, then, read Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer. It is a history of beer and brewers in the US by Maureen Ogle – just published by Harcourt, Inc. It’s a dandy.

You have to forgive the Harcourt blurb writers: the fly-leaf states this is “this is the first-ever history of American beer.” It’s not. But it is the newest, most up-to-date and enjoyable history of the subject.

I’ll leave you to read a précis of Ambitious Brew here. The salient point for us is that Ogle’s book is as much about the trends of our American society, past and present, as it is about breweries. In an eminently readable way, Ogle relates how changes in our society over the past two hundred years have had a variety of impacts on beer development and marketing.

It’s a book about great brewers and beers. It’s a book about very smart (or utterly unconscious) marketing. But more than these, it’s a book about true believers. The true believers in these pages bend or break with the times in which they live.

We’re living with changes every day, faster and faster. Can you say for certain you know which ones will affect your product or your market? That’s why you should read a history like this: to understand where you want to go, you should have a really good idea of where you’ve been. Beyond beer, it’s what Ambitious Brew is all about.

If you’re good, perhaps there’ll be a copy of this book in your Christmas stocking. Or better yet, a six-pack of your favorite brewski.

Hardcover, ISBN-13/EAN: 9780151010127, 432 pages. Book cover photo from Harcourt, Inc., with thanks.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Insider Blogging

Are your employees blogging on your brand’s behalf? Do you dare let them? Why would you? Is it a control issue?

Say that you’ve already been thinking about that hottest and most alluring of marketing tools, “word of mouth.” Blogs are virtual versions of word-of-mouth advertising. Anyone can post a blog and use it to share a message or a point of view. By “anyone,” I do mean anyone – individuals, business gurus, even employees.

Especially employees, when they can help fulfill your marketing objectives, internal and external.

Introducing Hugh MacLeod and his “porous membrane” – one of the best and most graphic arguments for insider blogging:

The diagram above represents your market, or ‘The Conversation.’ That is demarcated by the outer circle ‘y.’ There is a smaller, inner circle ‘x. The entire market, the ‘conversation,’ is separated into two distinct parts, the inner area ‘A’ and the outer area ‘B.’

Area A represents your company, the people supplying the market. We call that ‘The Internal Conversation.’ Area B represents the people in the market who are not making, but buying. Otherwise know as the customers. We call that ‘The External Conversation.’ So each market from a corporate point of view has an internal and external conversation. What separates the two is a membrane, otherwise known as ‘x.’

Every company’s membrane is different, and controlled by a host of different technical and cultural factors.

Ideally, you want A and B to be identical as possible, or at least, in sync. The things that A is passionate about, B should also be passionate about. This we call ‘alignment.’ A good example would be Apple. The people at Apple think the iPod is cool, and so do their customers. They are aligned.

When A and B are no longer aligned is when the company starts getting into trouble. When A starts saying their gizmo is great and B is telling everybody it sucks, then you have serious misalignment. So how do you keep misalignment from happening?

The answer lies in ‘x,’ the membrane that separates A from B. The more porous the membrane, the easier it is for conversations between A and B, the internal and external, to happen. The easier for the conversations on both sides of membrane ‘x’ to adjust to the other, to become like the other.

And nothing, and I do mean nothing, pokes holes in the membrane better than blogs. You want porous? You got porous. Blogs punch holes in membranes like it was Swiss cheese.

When your employees are, in fact, “missionaries” for your company and your brand, you have the chance to create an inside-outside market conversation that is powerful and believable.

Simple though it appears, MacLeod’s “porous membrane” is dramatic. Just in case, though, let’s back it up with some advice from a leading experiential marketing company, Jack Morton. The worldwide firm has a White Paper you might find valuable. In part, it suggest that you should:

Encourage Employees to Blog: Encouraging team members (or better yet, leadership) to create their own blogs will enable readers to experience the personal side of your business. At the same time, you can give customers (or investors) an ‘inside scoop’ on where your company is headed. Technical or development experts can discuss the latest goings on in R&D, while your C-level discusses the future of your business. Your brand can gain quick credibility by offering the chance to have conversations with executives or experts. And each has the freedom to tell their own version of the brand story – lending it the human touch that blogs are known for.

Create a Corporate Blog: Your brand’s blog can broadcast messages to your external consumers, partners and industry-watchers. Or, it can be used to communicate internally with your own employees and teams. Much like a newsletter or other ‘push’ channel, you can use a blog to talk to anyone. The difference is that dialogue via blog is quick and specific – so blogs become both a ‘push’ and ‘pull’ channel. Users come back because they are genuinely interested in the content, while brands have a portal for sharing the latest news as it happens.

Whether you prefer the elegance of Hugh MacLeod or the text-driven advice of Jack Morton, recognize that internal blogs are like newsletters: they demand a commitment. New entries should be posted frequently, even daily if possible. ‘The Conversation’ must be sustained.

The maximum power of a blog is that there is a live individual behind it, just like word-of-mouth. The live individual is one of your own employees and that makes the blog personal.

Personal involvement makes insider blogging compelling and influential. But remember that the membrane ought to be porous. The two-way nature of blogging – even if it tests the limits of your control – is what makes it ultimately believable.

With utmost thanks to Hugh MacLeod, Cumbria, UK, for his “Cartoons Drawn on the Backs of Business Cards,”, and to Jack Morton Worldwide, an Interpublic Company, for the White Paper.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Spanish Guy

Thirty-one years ago, in 1975, Juan Carlos I was crowned King of Spain. I ran across this note earlier today. The Fascist dictator Francisco Franco had just died and had decreed that once he was dead the monarchic rule should be reintroduced in Spain.

A pop-up window appeared on my memory screen.

About five years after his coronation, I was working at BBDO/Minneapolis when I ran across a formal photo of His Majesty – looking pretty hot – on the cover of some high-level magazine. One of my colleagues at the time, an excellent young woman named Rosie Janushka, was perennially searching for “the perfect guy.”

I clipped the cover of the magazine, mounted it in on a piece of board and tacked it onto her office wall – after I had one of the art directors inscribe the cover with the words, “Rosie: I’ll never forget you!” and Juan Carlos’s signature.

I know the King of Spain has lived happily ever after (more or less). I’ve lost track of Rosie, though I hope she found her own prince.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rob’s Perrier

Signalwriter heard from Rob Schoenbeck yesterday:

I finally made my way to your blog, recalling somewhat ashamedly that you’d asked me on or the day prior to Thanksgiving to read an article you’d posted. I assume that it was the one entitled “Bottle Spin.”

Of course I was gratified to see you calling today’s marketers to rise up off their collective duffs and do something clever and innovative; as you say “outside the bottle.” It will be interesting, to say the least, to learn what response you generate.

Ironically, the article immediately called to mind a campaign which we (meaning yours truly at the time in London serving the great master of advertising Leo Burnett) developed to make the Perrier brand a household word in the UK introducing a “foreign” — even worse, French — product to alter the habits of the British consumer who, if he drank bottled water at all which was very rarely indeed, it was sure to be British!

“Eau-la-la” was the beginning of a 15-year advertising campaign for Perrier. Originally created for a single poster, the “Eau” theme had so much impact that a campaign was built around it. Throughout the 1980s, hundreds of Perrier “Eau” advertisements were spawned. (For example, the play on the word “eau” and the visual of two bottles of Perrier side by side with the headline “Eau Pair.”) There was never a word written about the brand but the famous French bottle was always the star.

Rob continues: The reason I bring this up is because we even went so far as to create a new look (“package and personality”) for the brand. When I read your article, I could help but smile and think how far-sighted we were, thirty years ago, in not only taking the high ground by identifying water itself (and the French word “eau” at that) with the Perrier and doing it in a most striking, memorable, clever and unique way so that there was no mistaking “which” brand was the one to drink if one wanted to drink bottled water (from the Continent no less.)

It worked like crazy. Commentator Barry Groves has noted:

But an advertising campaign by the French company, Perrier, in 1974 was to bring about a dramatic change. The Financial Times, in an article on the Mineral and Spring waters market, called the campaign a waste of time because bottled waters, it said, would be drunk only by cranks and foreigners. How wrong they were. Bottled water has become an extraordinary success story. Sales of bottled water totalled 3 million litres in 1976. In just one decade that figure rose to 128 million litres and by 1991 some 300 million bottles of mineral water were drunk in Britain alone.

I generally consider that great advertising people are always looking for new, smart ways to present their brands to their target audiences. “Bottle Spin” addressed the packaging itself. But you can see from the ad above that there are more ways than one to make the package do more of the work. We only think “integrated” marketing is a relatively new concept. In fact, it goes on all the time…if we’re great advertising people.

Friday, November 24, 2006

FrogPad Relief

In a copyrighted story today, Meaghan Wolff of the Washington Post reveals that the Hyatt hotel chain is making a special hand massage package available for businesspeople who…overuse…their Blackberry PDAs:

Almost two years ago the American Society of Hand Therapists warned that heavy users of hand-held electronics such as the BlackBerry are at risk of repetitive stress injuries from thumb-typing on a tiny keypad. But it took the Hyatt to see a business opportunity in “BlackBerry thumb.”

So yes, if you’re thumbing your way through the business wars, you can get some short-term relief from a soothing $80 massage at the Hyatt.

Or you can switch to the FrogPadTM. Created by Linda Marroquin, FrogPad is a one-handed keyboard (available for righties or lefties) that can be used with USB keyboard-compatible PDAs, Pocket PCs, Tablet and Wearable PCs, plus other mobile applications like laptops.

For tight spaces, for the sheer enjoyment of using one whole hand instead of a couple of your thumbs, you can get the functionality and performance of an efficient keyboard one-handed – and it’s easy to learn. It’s palm-sized, light in weight, but with a solid feel. It’s a robust device.

I’m trying it. Marroquin took me through a simple lesson. Since most of my “data entry” is desktop copywriting, though, two hands – or, to be exact, about seven fingers – is still faster for me. I don’t do any mobile computing yet.

Marroquin has designed the FrogPad for fast data entry. The letter layout is based on the percent usage of each letter in the English language. Fifteen letters that are used 86% of the time by typists are placed in the most efficient locations on the keyboard. There are a variety of FrogPad typing tutors available for practice, which can be accessed via the FrogPad website.

From a marketing perspective, FrogPad is the brand that Marroquin has built, well, single-handed. No ad agencies, no PR firms. Just incredible smarts and a lot of business savvy. Right now, there are more than 10,000 FrogPad users worldwide…people who have found a startling number of reasons to type one-handed.

Now a hand massage is appealing, if the least bit odd. If you’re really suffering from Blackberry Thumb, the massage is no long-term solution. Economically, a USB FrogPad costs about 1/3 more than the Hyatt massage. A full-scale, Bluetooth-enabled FrogPad costs about twice what the massage costs…and the benefits last a lot longer.

Hyatt’s come up with a cute marketing idea. Marroquin has invented an entire new category of digital input device and the strong brand to go with it.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Grateful Nation

Happy Thanksgiving from America. Shawnee Chief Tecumseh taught, “If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”

Benjamin Franklin wanted to use the turkey as the symbol of the new United States instead of the bald eagle. Today, a lot of people think that Franklin’s choice is more appropriate. Yet for everyone who thinks that our country is so bad, there are thousands more every day who have arrived on our shores, searching for the better life they have not found in their own lands.

There is hardly a single nation or ethnic group that isn’t represented among “Americans.” Whether we came here in the 1600s or the 1700s, the Nineteenth or Twentieth Century – or yesterday – we all have a say in our government, our laws, our way of life.

We have so much to be thankful for. Today is the day we celebrate it, no matter which of our forefathers’ flags we wave around the holiday table. Doug, Donna and Madeleine (our son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter) will join us this afternoon for Thanksgiving dinner. Rachel (our daughter) will enjoy one Thanksgiving feast in New Jersey, a second one in the late afternoon in New York City, and a third one later in the evening…the energy of the young!

From me and my family to yours, all the best on Thanksgiving Day.

Painting courtesy of in Canada, the other nation that celebrates Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bottle Spin

According to a story in The New York Times, “Perrier Plays With Its Venerable Brand to Draw Younger Fans.” As you can see above, Perrier (at least back in October, when this was news) has modified its labels to make puns – which is good if you shop by label and not by shape. The small, bulb-shaped green bottle has been in America since ’76. “Sexier,” “Crazier,” “Flirtier.” All cute. And worth $150 mill to Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

But hasn’t Heinz been doing the same kind of thing with its ketchup labels on and off for years?

I noticed that our local bottled water supplier, Ozarka (with its HQ in Greenwich, CT), has introduced a new and rather fetching 11-ounce bottle called “Aquapod” with a registered trademark. Neat shape, neat name...and Ozarka is targeting it like crazy to kids. It reminds me a bit of the classic Orangina bottle.

You can see more about it here, along with the associated kid-oriented site (which is frankly lame – and I’m not the target market, thank you.) I also bemusedly resent the bad kid being labeled “The Evil Baron,” Barrimore von Thirstmore III. Really.

Mark DeVries, the Amsterdam-based Brand and Packaging Development Consultant,
wrote about the O&M label campaign this way:

This attempt by Perrier to evoke consumer response is really just scratching the surface of what brand owners will be doing as they evolve their products to fit in with the changing culture of marketing communications.

As a packaging professional (and I dont mean graphic designer in the form of brand building or promotions which use packaging as the media) I believe it is time that marketers woke up to the fact that serious, in-depth packaging considerations coupled with appropriate product innovation will give them the edge they are searching for.

They really need to think out-the-box now, because just about anything is possible. Attending a packaging innovations fair in London, I saw some excellent examples that fit this bill. From curved 2-piece aluminium cans to mass-produced cartons that combine multiple curves within the confines of the traditional 6-sided carton (in this case it was about 3-and-a-half)…concepts like these require collaboration from a multitude of experts and a new generation of marketing professionals.

Now Perrier comes along with a really new, PET bottle: portable, unbreakable, recyclable – and looking somewhat like the plastic Coke bottle (except, of course, it’s green). Still, like Ozarka, Perrier is adapting its package, rather than its label, to fit new markets.

The classic problem in B2B, of course, is that so many of our “products” don’t have packages. In this day and time, perhaps we need to consider if there are ways to bring genuine new packaging technology and design into our arena – as many of the oil companies did years ago with their passenger car and heavy-duty motor oil containers.

Your challenge today (as DeVries puts it): Add two new Ps in the 4P marketing mix equation: Packaging and Personality. We don’t need more complexity, but it wouldn’t hurt us business marketers to think “outside the bottle” when we can*.

*No pun intended.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Family Time

A man in Houston calls his son in Sugar Land the day before Thanksgiving and says, “I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; thirty years of misery is enough.”

“Pop, what are you talking about?” the son screams.

“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” the father says. “We’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in New York and tell her.”

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. “Like heck they’re getting divorced,” she shouts. “I’ll take care of this.” She calls Houston immediately, and screams at her father, “You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?” and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. “Okay,” he says. “They’re coming for Thanksgiving and paying their own way.”

With thanks to

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cell Surfing

The tech and Christmas shopping news of the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii (sold out on its first day) has briefly distracted me from the idea surfing the Web via cellphone. That’s likely to be my own “next frontier” and I’m late to the party.

No early adopter, me.

I did wonder about market opportunities, though, for clients like EMS Group, with its successful launch of e-mailed newsletters. Fortunately, the Center for Media Research came through last week with a little help: a press release from comScore Networks about market use of cellphones to access the Internet on a country-by-country basis.

A much higher percentage of Europeans are surfing with their “handies” than we are in the US: 29% of European Internet users in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK regularly access the Web from their mobile phones compared to only 19% of Americans. The highest mobile Web penetration is seen in both Germany and Italy, both at 34% of their cellphone-using population.

On the other hand, those percentages are misleading, number-wise. Our 19% represents about 152 million users – if I’m reading the numbers right. Germany, the highest of the Euros, has 32 million users.

The other big difference is in who’s providing the content. In the US, most users are accessing through online portals like Google, Yahoo! and MSN; in Europe, it’s the local mobile providers that are delivering the Web to European cellphone users.

Regardless of portal, though, the US’s 19% penetration leaves plenty of room for market expansion, as well as multiple opportunities for business-to-business marketers to use the cellphone access point to their advantage.

This past weekend, air-traveling to and from Chicago, I noted just how many people were juggling iPODs, Blackberries and cellphones. These prospects-on-the-move are open to exploring new options for sales message delivery.

You think I’m preaching to the converted? Far too many companies in the B2B space are not yet taking advantage of the portable technologies. What about making those first steps and examining ways to get customers and prospects to your site via telephone? Why don’t we examine incentives for getting customers and prospects to our websites via their cellphones, where we’re more likely to capture their attention these days?

I don’t have quite enough toys yet – but Christmas is coming.

Samsung Blackjack courtesy of Cingular Wireless.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Today, Veterans...

A Proclamation by the President of the United States:

Through the generations, America's men and women in uniform have defeated tyrants, liberated continents, and set a standard of courage and idealism for the entire world. On Veterans Day, our Nation pays tribute to those who have proudly served in our Armed Forces…

Think about American soldiers and sailors who have served and are serving throughout the world, defending our freedoms. As long as we remember the names, they won’t fade away.

Paul Hirsch Baron, Emmanuel Katz, Herman Eisenberg and Sam Slavik. Phil Slavik. Norman Sabel and Sherman Sabel. Joel Hirsch Goldberg. Thomas Biddulph, Richard Fox, Bill Gay and Richard Sutter. AJ Smith and Paul Hoven. Alan Vera. Nathanael Charles Yonka, Jr. Hoi Nguyen and Ellis Alexander.
Plus names from the Gunroom (you know who you are): Paul Johnson, KCMO, and “Charlezzzzz” Muñoz. And me.

You're welcome to add names of your own to this list. It grows every year.

In a war 35 years back: 25-year-old aircraft . US Naval Station Sangley Point, Republic of the Philippines, circa1971. Photo courtesy of Loren Stiegelmar.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lantern Won

If there’s one thing better than winning a creative award, it’s taking home a “Lantern” in front of a bunch of old business friends.

Last evening at the Houston Club, the Business Marketing Association (BMA, to you) conducted its 2006 Lantern Awards of Texas Gala Exhibition and Awards Dinner.

Principal Susan Reeves accepted the Lantern Award for Prism Design’s “How To” manual, created for client PreCash: the piece you see above topped its category.

Two other Prism pieces gained Awards of Excellence: the Premium Drilling ad campaign and the Baker Hughes Recruitment campaign. I wrote about the first of these here – and a post about the second is still to come.

Congratulations to the entire Prism Design team, especially Terry Teutsch – and thanks for involving me in the conceptualization and writing of all three prize-winners.

Plus a loud “well done!” to the BMA Lantern Awards committee for staging a terrific, well-attended event that moved lickety-split through a very large number of categories. It really was old home week for me: an especial pleasure to see so many friends and colleagues accept awards.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Nancy's Joke

A trucker was driving along the highway and a sign comes up that reads LOW BRIDGE AHEAD. Before he knows it, the bridge is right ahead of him. And he gets stuck under it.

Cars are backed up for miles, both ways. Finally, a highway patrol car works its way up to the bridge and stops. The trooper gets out of his car and walks up to the truck driver…puts his hands on his hips and says, “Got stuck, huh?”

The truck driver says, “Nope – I was delivering this bridge and ran out of gas.”

Safety-related photo © Stan Feldman from Trainweb. All rights reserved. Joke courtesy of Nancy McMillan in farthest Maui, from “Best Smart-Ass Answers.”

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Payer Marketing

You know and I know that a good marketer can look at a “thing” and figure out what the benefits are for our various audiences or prospects. Transparency, for example, answers a major complaint from healthcare’s stakeholders (including physicians) and it is very, very marketable.

The AMA Healthcare SIG’s November 16th event is your chance to find new marketing opportunities in healthcare information technologies. One of these is the transparency that comes from being able to access health-related information quickly and easily.

Did you want a preview of these coming attractions? Then I hope you read the Houston Chronicle article on Saturday, October 28th (Business, page D1 and D7) by Brett Brune, “The payers put to the test.” Texas PayerView Rankings from athenahealth in Boston are part of this Chronicle feature.

A speaker from athenahealth will be one of our seminar participants in just 10 days. (The firm spells its name using lower case.)

The “PayerView” rankings analyze claim performance data from more than 7,000 providers using the athenaNet® system database from athenahealth. It ranks national and regional health insurers according to specific measures of financial and administrative performance and medical policy complexity.

John Hallock, athenahealth’s Director of Public Relations, wrote me last week about visibility and transparency:

Healthcare is littered with vendors and organizations looking to communicate and market to a new service or device or functionality rather than the problems these services solve.

By marketing to a problem – defining it and bringing transparency to it – you can own it…then market your unique solution to that problem.

Transparency continues to be one of the dominant themes in healthcare today as it relates to doctors’ performance and costs; athenahealth felt that for the other major healthcare supply chain member, the insurer, there was virtually no actionable apples-to-apples data available to measure how well or poorly they perform one of their primary functions: paying for healthcare.

Our…recent Texas PayerView Ranking makes this various insurer and payer performance data publicly available…an important step in bringing transparency to all stakeholders in healthcare. The rankings and website are designed to allow physician practices, medical societies, media, consumers and payers to compare the rankings and performance of specific insurers by region.

Join me at The Courtyard on St. James Place on Thursday, November 16th, to find out how you can “own” this and other information technologies...for better marketing. Click here to register.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Vote Tomorrow!

Poster by Michael Schwab for a get-out-the-vote campaign by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), created for the 2004 election. With thanks to Mike Lenhart blogging on the Graphic Design Forum. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

VP Johnson

Even though he was a client here in Houston, Eric Johnson and I almost always ran into each other at Gatwick in the UK. He was traveling extensively for Landmark first, then Halliburton. I would be on my way to and from Dialogue International meetings. I remember when his boys started in scouting.

Now, he’s the new VP of marketing for the Halliburton Energy Services Group (ESG). His recent promotion has been announced in the October number of Offshore magazine. Previously, he served as the Director of Strategic Marketing for ESG. Before that, he was at Landmark.

Congratulations, Eric. In this case, the rolling stone has gathered a well-deserved step up in the corporate world.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

92% “Yes”

Let me tell you about Trevor Eade and his vision.

He’s Director of Marketing for EMS Group. He wanted to use targeted e-mail to send a series of “thought leadership” articles about the company’s capabilities to customers and prospects, and elevate the EMS brand worldwide.

His vision not only included the idea of positioning EMS Group on the leading edge of a critical sector of the energy industry, but the need to measure the results of the program. This is an “unusual” concept only to those people who don’t think measurement is an important component of marketing efforts.

Working with his management and colleagues, Eade created the corporate environment that supports this leadership approach. Working with Exact Target, an experienced provider of on-demand email marketing software, he put the structure in place to deliver these articles – and measure their impact on readers quickly.

Then he had to begin generating the articles themselves (which is where I come in). I worked with “Cutty” Cunningham, EMS Group’s Vice President of Operations, to write it. It was an outstanding experience because Cunningham has such extensive knowledge of the subject.

On October 17th (one week ahead of his original schedule) EMS sent out the first in the new series of “thought leadership” e-mails: an article about re-centralizing pipeline integrity management. The cover e-mail said:

Welcome to the first in a series of monthly e-mails you will receive from EMS!

Over the past couple of months we have conducted a series of interviews with senior members of EMS Operations Staff, with the intention of delivering to you technically rich articles which you can use in your day-to-day business. EMS Group delivered 1701 e-mails to its subscriber base (subscribers, meaning customers and potential customers – who have agreed to receive EMS e-mail). One week later, via an integrated Exact Target online survey, Eade was able to summarize initial results.

  • More than 575 of those e-mails have been opened (as of today), demonstrating at 34% open rate – higher than the national average.
  • Overall EMS received a “whopping” 7.1% click through rate (meaning the subscriber clicked on a link within the e-mail – they may have gone to the EMS website or opened the PDF of the article – again significantly higher than the national average of 4%.
  • Subscribers forwarded the content of the e-mail to co-workers (via the Exact Target Forward to a Friend button).
  • 92% of the readers answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you find the contents of this e-mail informative?” (I love saying that: ninety-two per cent.)

The great numbers came with a plus: respondents also suggested what they’d like to see as future topics – a great range of feedback that will guide further elements of this project.

Well, Eade wrote me, “Thanks for all your efforts, in pulling this together!”

I think the kudos go to him and his team for supporting this form of communications: a “new media” approach that is successful because every element – the vision, the mechanisms, the cooperation, the content of the article and the feedback – was assembled into a precisely targeted program.

This is also a powerful argument against people who keep saying “Nobody reads anymore.” The fact is, professionals read articles that are professionally valuable to them. It’s up to us to make certain that the value is built in each and every time.

Email me and I'll send back a pdf of this first article. Thanks to Trevor Eade and EMS Group for letting me post the results - great job!