Friday, January 18, 2008

The Golfweek, Kelly Tilghman kerfuffle

How did it get this far?

In case you're not famaliar with the situation, here's a recap. Kelly Tilghman is an on-air personality for The Golf Channel. During coverage of the PGA Tour's season-opening tournament, The Mercedez-Benz Championship, Kelly was discussing what the young players on tour need to do in order to compete with Tiger Woods. Her co-host, Nick Faldo joked that maybe they need to gang up on him. Kelly laughed and piled on by saying "lynch him in a back alley". And with that, her career changed forever.

Her remark was careless as the word "lynch" is forever linked to the hanging of slaves hundreds of years ago. Kelly made a mistake and used a poor choice of words. But in no way do I believe that her comments reflected racist tendencies burried within her.

The story was picked up by NY Newday and Al Sharpton called for Tilghman to be fired. He said that his National Action Network would boycott Golf Channel headquarters in Orlando unless action was taken. TGC caved and suspended Tilghman for 2 weeks. Tilghman apologized to TGC viewers and directly to Tiger Woods. Tiger forgave Kelly (he knows and likes her and doesn't believe she is a racist), realizing that she made a poor choice of words and the issue was just about over. Until Wednesday...

That's when Golfweek Magazine put the visual of a swinging noose on the cover of their magazine, inserting themselves in the middle of this issue. Why would they do this? As one reader noted, the visual is far more offensive than Kelly's comments. Golfweek's decision became the main topic of discussion at the industry trade show this week. Readers will be lost. Advertisers may be lost. Golfweek's reputation has taken a significant hit. And Dave Seanor is apparently going to be the fall guy. He was fired as editor of Golfweek on Thursday night. By going too far in reporting the news, Mr. Seanor became the news. Not a good thing, even in the publishing business. They say no publicity is bad publicity. I bet Golfweek would

I'm not trying to diminish the impact of racism in this country. But to me, Ms Tilghman didn't mean any harm by her comment. The fact that a media frenzy erupted is ridiculous. The desire to drive ratings and readers has tainted the way news is reported today. It's a shame.

Kelly, I support you.

Monday, January 7, 2008

American Airlines Customer Dis-Service

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

If you are a marketer, feel free to use this as a "What Not To Do" guide to the customer experience.

Today is the last day of a get-away to the Caribbean Island of Nevis. My wife and I are traveling with a group of about 95 people made up of co-workers (hers) and their significant others (that’s where I come in). We’ve been here since Wednesday and have had a spectacular time on this small island next to St. Kitts. Today we travel home. Ending a vacation is always a bummer. We decided to take the earliest flight possible in order to get home at a reasonable hour, settle back into reality, and relieve my sister-in-law who has been watching our two kids for the past 5 days.

Our American Airlines flight out of Nevis was scheduled for 6:55am. We were to connect thru San Juan in order to get back home to Boston. We needed to leave the hotel at 5am to get to the airport with adequate time. That put our wake-up call at 4am. Ouch.

We get to the Nevis airport at 5:30 am to find out that our flight was delayed until 9am. That’s a delay of over 2 hours. There was no plane there. I guess it didn’t come in the night before. So we needed to wait 3.5 hours for our plane to arrive and get turned around. Now, don’t you think that someone knew that the plane didn’t come in the night before? Could someone have alerted the passengers that there would be a significant delay? Two extra hours of sleep matters at 4am. But maybe I’m asking too much. If everything went smoothly from here on out, all is forgiven.

But the plane didn’t get in between 8:00 and 8:15 as expected. It arrived between 8:30 and 8:45 and by the time it got fueled, loaded with baggage and boarded, we didn’t take off until 9:30. San Juan is only a 1-hour flight from Nevis, but even so, catching an 11:00 connection would be tight. When we learned that we needed to collect our baggage and clear Customs before rechecking the same baggage on our connecting flight (same airline, mind you), it became clear that we weren’t making the connection.

The race was on to find another way to Boston. Good thing we chose the early flight out. It was still only 11am, there would be plenty of options, right?

The first thing we did was dial the 800 number for American Airlines customer dis-service. After navigating thru the menu designed to avoid all human interaction (I should have used the gethuman 500 database), we got an AA customer service rep named Diana on the line. She couldn’t find our reservations. After reciting various passenger numbers and record locators, Diana confirmed that we did in fact exist. (Thanks for confirming). Unfortunately, the 2pm flight to Boston was cancelled due to maintenance issues (don’t they schedule that ahead of time? I picture a mechanic picking up the phone and saying “Hey, I’ve got time for an oil change this afternoon. Cancel that flight and wheel the 757 over to the garage”). The last flight of the night, at 6:45pm, was full. She added that AA wouldn’t transfer us to another airline and if we chose that route, we’d need to buy the tickets ourselves. Diana did inform us that she could help us out with a flight on Tuesday, two days from now.

In her “I’m starting to get pissed” voice, my wife informed Diana that that didn’t really work for us. After being put on hold, Diana found a way! We’d need to fly to St Thomas USVI and catch a 4:20 flight from St Thomas to Boston. The fact that St. Thomas was back in the direction that we just came from was irrelevant.

Off to St. Thomas we went without incident…until we got there. That’s when we discovered that another couple that we were traveling with had been issued the exact same seats that we had. At this point we were a bit skeptical that any of us were actually getting on this flight. The airport at St. Thomas was a madhouse. Of course, there was no gate agent to help straighten this out. She (from here on, I’ll call her “Sunshine”) was dealing with an overbooked flight to Miami at an adjacent gate. Apparently, there were at least three cancelled AA flights to the mainland today and passengers everywhere were scrambling to be rebooked. When we approached Sunshine for help, we were dismissed as soon as she heard the word Boston. If it wasn’t Miami, Sunshine wasn’t dealing with it. Back to the unmanned Boston gate we went. A line of ticketed passengers without seat assignments quickly formed behind us. At this point people started getting testy. The short, sweaty lady behind us was on the verge of going postal.

Finally, someone came to the gate to help. It was Sunshine! How nice. Luckily, we were first in line and all four of us got on the flight. Five other passengers did not. My seat? 36F. The last row of the plane just before the lavatory. As soon as I sat down I was embraced with the pleasant aroma of urine mixed with that blue toilet liquid. Yum. The flight left 30 minutes late.

At this point, The flight crew informed us of all the things that we could buy onboard ranging from a $5 headset to a $3 package of cookies.

The moral of this story is that my American Airlines experience was terrible in three ways:
1. American simply did not have planes in the places they were supposed to
2. The Customer dis-service process was difficult and they acted like they were doing me a favor by routing me all over the Caribbean and getting me home 6 hours late
3. The gate agent (Sunshine) was rude and dismissive.

My flight ended with the standard hollow thank you of “We know that you have a choice in airline travel and we hope that you choose American Airlines in the future”. Fat Chance.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Will WGA Strike be the Knockout Blow to the TV Networks?

We’re in week 3 of the writers’ strike. The big news is that the two sides have agreed to return to the bargaining table this week to try and reach an agreement. As a consumer, you may not have felt an impact yet. It will still be a couple of weeks before you realize that your favorite shows are only airing repeats. Grey’s Anatomy has 2 episodes left to air and will make it to mid-December. Can’t wait for the return of 24? Sorry, that won’t be premiering in January as scheduled. If The Office is your favorite, you’re already done. No new episodes will be coming your way for a while. Like Lost? Who needs 16 – 20 episodes? They have eight in the can. After that … Hey, there’s always American Idol. God help us.

As a professional, if you haven’t felt the impact already you will soon, very soon. NBC doesn’t have a single spot for sale for the next four months. Once the repeats start, ratings will tank (further) and your clients’ schedule will start under delivering (more than it normally does). You’ll have no place to run your ADUs. The term “cash back” is going to apply to more than that credit card offer in your mailbox. If you sat out the upfront and were planning on getting what you need in scatter, you’re going to need to make other plans.

A brief recap in case you haven’t been paying attention: The writers want to get paid residuals whenever their content airs on DVD or online. The studios don’t want to pay them for these re-airs. It’s pretty much that simple. This video explains the writers’ position.

Granted, it’s from the writers’ perspective. But you know what? I’m buying. The studios are being greedy. And guess who has the most to lose? The TV networks. Ratings have been declining for quite some time and this will make it worse. The networks risk losing more of their audience to other forms of entertainment. Conventional wisdom says that it’s tougher to get a viewer back than it is to keep him. The networks can’t afford to be losing any more viewers these days. The writers should be in the driver’s seat. But how long can they hold out? It’s truly David vs. Goliath here.

But if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that TV is resilient. It’s less about the audience that is being delivered and more about supply and demand. En masse, advertisers haven’t abandoned ship yet. Sure, we grumble about price increases and audience decreases, but not many of us have backed that up with our clients’ pocketbooks.

Will this be the death blow for the TV Networks? Probably not. But it will surely exacerbate their problems. The studios need to realize this and pay the writers.

People are attracted to good, quality content whether it’s on the network, on-line, or in-book. When the writers come back and the content comes back, the viewers will come back. At least some of them will. Won't they?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Furniture and Baseball

Answer: A car. A House. Jewelery. Your Health. A Vacation. A cash payout for a hole-in-one.

Question: What are things that you can buy insurance for?

So, it stands to reason that you can buy insurance for furniture, right?

Those of you in the Boston area are familiar with Jordan's Furniture. For those of you elsewhere, here’s a quick primer on their recent promotion.

Back in March and April, during MLB Spring Training and Opening Day, Jordan's launched a promotion with the Boston Red Sox. If the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, any furniture purchase made between March 7th and April 16th would be free. They promoted it like mad. Ads were all over the local Boston media. Custom creative was developed. A formal partnership with the team was struck.

In Boston, the Red Sox are a cultural phenomenon, not just a baseball team. Local consumers, beyond just the die-hard fans, truly want the Red Sox to do well. Jordan's did a great job of associating themselves with the team in a meaningful way.

Too much of sports sponsorship these days is just slapping a logo here and there, creating a vignette, getting a bunch of tickets for corporate entertainment, and oh yeah – almost forgot the most important part – overpaying. What Jordan's did was fresh, authentic, and connected with people on an emotional level. In short, it was brilliant.

Right now, there’s a guy in an insurance office somewhere squirming in his chair. It’s almost time to pay the piper. The odds were pretty good that he’d never have to pay out. After all, there are 32 teams in MLB. Probably 8-10 of those teams have a legitimate shot at winning the World Series. So he figured, there would be only a 10% chance of ever having to pay out. As of this writing, (World Series starts tomorrow) it’s up to a 50% chance.

From a marketing perspective, this is a great example of customizing a marketing campaign to a particular market. This promotion simply wouldn’t work in most markets. The retailer built tremendous goodwill and positioned themselves as rooting for the same thing as their consumers. And consumers responded. Sales during the promotional time period were estimated at more than $20,000,000. One guy furnished his entire house at a cost of $40,000. Talk about having a rooting interest in the outcome of a sporting event!

P.S. While writing this, I just fielded a call from one of my Yankees freinds who told me he's now rooting for the Red Sox because his parents have a couch riding on it. This was unprompted - no lie.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What’s Your Privacy Worth?

Have you ever been tempted to sit through the time share sales pitch and take the 4-hour tour in order to get the “free” 3 day / 2 night Orlando vacation? How much are you willing to put up with to get something for nothing?

Do you use gmail? If you do, you may know that Google scans your inbox and delivers ads that are relevant to certain keywords in your email messages. Do you care? Are you okay with this in exchange for a free email account?

What about your phone conversations? Would you be okay with voice recognition software listening in on your phone conversations in order to serve you contextually relevant ads in exchange for free phone service? A company called Pudding Media is launching that very service. It was written up in the New York Times recently. It got me thinking about the price consumers are willing to pay to get what they want. What they want could be content such as TV programming, radio shows, music, web content or online video games. It could also be a free service such as an email account or phone service.

And what’s in it for the advertiser? Are these consumers as receptive as those who’ve paid for their content (think HBO, a magazine you may subscribe to, or Halo 3 for which you’ve just plunked down $50)? Or are these consumers just willing to put up the ad messages in order to get the free service. Obviously, consumers prefer ad free environments as evidenced buy the success of TiVo, Satellite Radio, etc).

My “retire early, make me a millionaire” idea is based on the premise that consumers will sacrifice a certain degree of privacy if there is a significant end benefit. Most people in the industry know that the way TV audiences are measured by Nielsen is dreadfully antiquated and project an unbelievably small sample size out to the general population. Yet, we live with it because it’s all that we’ve got and it is the accepted currency in the industry. Now, getting back to the part where I become a millionaire … would you care if your TV viewing behavior was tracked electronically through your cable box? What if your cable bill was reduced by $5 per month in exchange for this information? I don’t care who knows what I watch, I’d do it. And I bet most of you would too. In exchange, advertisers get reliable data from a large sample of consumers. Imagine the leap forward in local and national ratings data. Overnights would become actuals instantly. Minute by minute ratings you ask? No problem. Wonder if the “A” position is better than the “D” position? We’d have the answer. The benefit to advertisers would be endless. And while I’d get $5 off my cable bill each month, that wouldn’t really matter because I’d be a millionaire for coming up with the idea that put Nielsen out of business.

Now, if anybody has a thought on how to execute this, there may be $5 per month in it for you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Gearing up for the new Fall Season

The kids are back at the bus stop. There’s a slight chill in the night air. And if you look closely, you may be able to find a few leaves that have started to turn. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. Many people find this depressing. But it also marks the pending arrival of the new fall television season. The days of the Reality Show of the Week and Law & Order re-runs are coming to an end. Some of the nets are even starting to air last season’s final episodes to help get your head in the right place for this season’s twists and turns. Here are my picks and pans for the upcoming season:

Returning Shows I’m Most Looking Forward to Getting Back Into:
- Prison Break, FOX – What will happen now that Michael is stuck in that nasty prison in Panama?
- Criminal Minds, CBS – Will the shows’ high standard be maintained without Mandy Patinkin?
- Las Vegas, NBC – Watching Josh Duhamel is like looking in a mirror. :P

I wonder if these shows have Jumped the Shark:
- Nip Tuck, FX – Moving to Hollywood? Why the change of scenery? Plus, last year was the weakest yet.
- My Name is Earl, NBC – The buzz seems to have died. I just never hear anyone say “I Love That Show” anymore.
- Desperate Housewives, ABC – Is this fad over yet? I’m sure the ratings will still be decent, but it seems to have lost a bit.

New Shows I’ll sample:
- Cane, CBS – Starring Jimmy Smits … it must be good.
- Dirty, Sexy, Money, ABC – Don’t know if I’d put my clients there, but it looks entertaining
- Big Shots, ABC – Male version of desperate housewives. The backdrop is a Country Club so how bad could it be?

New shows that you couldn’t pay me to watch:
- Cavemen, ABC – A show based on an insurance company’s ad campaign. No Thanks.
- New Amsterdam, FOX – So there’s this guy who died 400 years ago. He’s now immortal because an Indian girl put a spell on him. He needs to find his one true love to break the curse. Oh, and he’s a cop in NY. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Fire up the TiVo!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Deloitte & Touche published a research study last week that essentially proved that “old media” (their words) still works. As with most research, you can punch holes in this study if you are so inclined, but that’s not really the point. The point is … why are we all so defensive? Traditional media folks are sometimes threatened (as evidenced by the fact that this study even exists) by the tsunami of new media options available to clients today. But it’s not all one sided. New media folks sometimes have a Napoleon complex and don’t trust that they’re getting their “fair share”. Can’t we all just get along?

There’s room for both. We’ve gotten into this mess because it’s basically a zero sum game. Clients’ budgets aren’t increasing (not much, anyway) and there are more options to consider than ever before. Also, there’s research out there that tells us that the channels that we’ve been using in the past aren’t as effective as they once were (declining ratings, circulation losses, etc). Yet media costs continue to rise. These factors make clients want to know what else is out there. They want to know if there’s a better way to reach, engage, and communicate with their current and potential consumers. It’s a natural question. Studies such as the D&T one referenced above make their authors or presenters come off as if they have their head firmly planted in the sand.

I don’t dispute their findings, just the way they are presented. Is traditional media still effective? Of course it is. Is it as effective as it was 20, 15, 10 or even 5 years ago? Probably not. Consumers have changed. The media landscape has changed. I don’t think that anybody would dispute those statements. But to see a study like this makes me think of the band playing on the deck of the Titanic. It doesn’t even acknowledge the elephant in the room.

On the other side of the coin, you have the aforementioned tsumani of new media options. How many of them scale? Are they an adequate replacement for the status quo at this moment in time? Some are, maybe. Many aren’t. Let’s take Second Life as an example. Over the past year, brands have been tripping over themselves to set up a presence in the popular virtual world. Many of those places are ghost towns with a quantity of visitors that you can count on one hand at any particular moment in time. But there are success stories as well. The American Cancer Society held a virtual Relay for Life in SL and raised over $150,000. That’s real money and an amazing success story. But how does it translate to marketing for big brands? That question is largely unanswered. But the only way to get an answer is to experiment. That’s why I don’t throw stones at any of the brands who took a shot in SL. At least they have learnings to act upon. Which is something that they wouldn’t have had if they just dusted off last year’s media plan.

There is no cookie cutter answer. Both camps have warts. Both can also generate positive results for clients. It doesn’t have to be one Vs the other. Now hold my hand and sing … “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony …”