Exploring the Decision Tree

Screen Shot 2012-07-03 at 7.16.34 PM
(image via Lifehacker)

Good article about beginner's luck

Particularly interested in this quote: "When you're sure something won't work, consider it anyway."

I agree 100%. People dismiss extreme options way (way way) too fast, which has the harmful impact of stifling creative problem solving. 

Because often times from absurd ideas come killer ideas.

When faced with a complex decision I always try to catalogue all possible paths - even the most obviously wrong.  Because by doing so I discipline myself into thinking the problem all the way through, from every angle.

Then I apply a more ruthless filter to determine the best paths to explore.

On Crowdsourcing

Some stream-of-consciousness thinking before the sun comes up today.

I haven't given all that much thought to crowdsourcing, which may be odd given my line of work.  

I haven't given all that much thought to Louis CK, which may be odd given my age and comedic sensibility.

Screen shot 2011-12-16 at 6.56.44 AMI was listening to Louis CK on Bill Simmons' most excellent podcast, and without meaning to they touched on an interesting point about the wisdom of the many versus the wisdom of the few.

As I understand it, Louis has a very successful show on FX.  What's interesting about it is that the network has zero control over it.  They wire him $200K per episode, and from that he creates the entire thing (including taking out his salary).  

This autonomy is very rare.  It's also a relatively paltry sum for an actor as successful as Louis.

But the show is hit, and growing an audience with every episode.

So why is it working?

Louis' position is this (paraphrasing):

The more people involved in making decisions (particularly creative ones) the more watered down an idea gets.  In essence, consensus-building breeds mediocrity.  

By the time Bob from legal, Mary from finance, John from ad sales and Lisa from PR have all given their input, the essence of the idea is lost.  And this is nothing against Bob, Mary, John and Lisa - I'm sure they are good at what they do.  But they are not comedians. 

So you've hired an incredibly successful creative (in this case Louis) for his talent but essentially said to him, "we only trust your sensibility to a certain point."  

The disconnect is that by the time Bob, Mary, John and Lisa have stamped the idea, it's not Louis' sensibility any more.  So why hire him in the first place?

Bringing it back to my world, I do have to wonder out loud: Is the wisdom of the crowd all that wise, or is the real value that it make us (me, you, brands, agencies) feel safer about any given decision simply because it's based on consensus?  And as a result, are we breeding mediocrity?  What constitutes authority on any given topic - deep knowledge, a proven track record and passion?  Or simply a point-of-view, no matter how uniformed or unformed, and an Internet connection?

I genuinely don't know.

But I think of some of the great creative and marketing talents of our time, and how they would view the wisdom of the crowd.  Three immediately come to mind.  Clive Davis - he didn't do any market research before signing a scrawny young singer who eventually became Whitney Houston.  Steve Jobs once famously said, "It's really hard to design products by focus groups.  A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."  And finally, Alex Bogusky (always a polarizing character) - Crispin is (in)famous for retaining creative control over their clients' work.  And love or hate the agency, you can't deny they've had a pretty killer run.

That's all for now.

Tim Tebow And The Downfall of Record Labels

I had a half-formed thought this morning that I've tried to spit out below in a stream of consciousness.  After reading it all the way through, I recognize it rambles.  But I kind of like it for some reason.

Tim Tebow.  Record Labels.

One is a God-fearing southpaw who can't hit the side of a barn on a 10 yard out pattern.  Yet all he's done is win at every level.

The other used to be THE central means by which we discovered music.  Despite years of domination in the larger machine known as the music industry, record companies are in ruins.

So what on earth do they have in common?

DogmaThe failure for their respective thought-leaders - football pundits and record executives - to acknowledge, embrace and explore paradigm shifts impacting their business.

I remember someone saying to me as a young buck at Sony Music in 1999 or 2000, around when Napster first hit the scene:  What incentive does a 50 year old, wealthy record executive have to change their entire business model at this point in their career?  None!

All these years later that's stuck with me.  It speaks to fear.  To motivation.  To ego.  To how and why people do or don't make decisions.  It was an industry fully committed to a model that we all see now was deeply flawed.  An industry run by legends like Tommy Mottola, Donnie Ienner and Clive Davis - guys with golden ears, but who ruled with an iron fist (no one dared question their decisions - they were scary dudes).

Their dogma - their refusal to see what was right in front of them - caused financial ruin, changed lives and has altered the music landscape forever.

Now, Tebow.  The guy is a phenomenon right now.  Blogs pay homage to him (kind of).  Non-sports fans know his name.  And pundits can't stop talking about him.  But I've noticed something odd.  Despite a 5-1 record as a starter - and his teammates rallying around him like I've never seen before - the "experts" can't accept his style of play (relentless running, little passing, ball control) as worthy of the great NFL.  They say it's a temporary thing - that opposing teams will eventually figure it out.  They say his success is less to do with talent than adrenaline.  They say he's doesn't have the right "tools" to be a big-time NFL quarterback.

The guy was a college football legend and has an 83% win rate at the pro level.  Tell me again what tools he doesn't have?

I say to all the Sunday morning studio crews: talk to Tommy Mottola about holding on to long-held beliefs out of fear, ego or total failure of imagination.

The NFL won't crumble like the record labels; but if Tebow pans out there will be a lot of pundit careers left in ruins.

Photo: Dogma by Antje Blumenstein.

NFL Labor Dispute - First of the Social Media Era

Cross posted from Ogilvy's Fresh Influence blog.

Disclaimer:  Due to several conflicts (including children, work, wife, The Office, Jersey Shore and sleep) I had to  schedule this post 12 hours in advance of it going live; meaning I might not have the latest information on the talks between the concerned parties.  However, that has no material impact on my main points.  Trust me, I’m a journalist.

With that out of the way …

By the time you read this the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) will most likely (see disclaimer; and even if there is a 24-hour extension of the CBA, as reported Thursday afternoon, this thing will eventually come to blows) have expired, leaving the two sides without a labor agreement and the 2011 football season - or at least part of it -  in serious jeopardy.

As a sports fan, I’m totally turned off.  As many people will tell you, this is billionaires fighting with millionaires over sums of money unfathomable to the vast majority of fans (Charlie Sheen excluded, of course #winning!).

As a marketer, and one who currently focuses on social media, I’m keen to keep a close eye on how the dispute plays out in public, particularly in social media.  This is the first pro-sports labor dispute of the social media era (the last being the National Hockey League during the 2004-5 season, when MySpace was hardly a hotbed of sports discussion and Facebook was just blooming as a place for Zuckerberg to exact revenge on a girl who slighted him - at least that’s how the movie goes).

It’s 2011 (you’re welcome for that nugget) and I can’t help but imagine the stream of opinions flowing effortlessly from the Twitter feeds of NFL players, owners, media and fans as the dispute moves into the grind-it-out-let’s-pretend-we’re-all-working-towards-the-same-goal-when-really-we’re-just-interested-in-protecting-no-actually-growing-our-pile-of-money phase.   In fact my crack research staff tells me that between February 15-28 there were 11,000 Tweets mentioning “NFL and lockout.”  Just since March 1 there have been the same amount.

The NFL is a public relations juggernaut, second only (in my opinion) to the NBA.  And it’s worth noting that basketball faces this very same situation next year; though as many sports writers have noted, the NBA actually needs a battle like this to realign a really broken compensation scheme; whereas football seems to be in pretty good shape.  In any case, I’m sure commissioner Stern is paying very close attention to the public sentiment as owners prep for battle with the NBA players union.  In fact I bet this post makes his morning clip pack (#DavidStern #Stern #DStern #NBA #TallAndRich #TheDecision #GoBulls).

But while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has proven to be a disciplined voice for the league, he can’t control what has already been, and will continue to be, said on the social web.

But he can influence it.

See what I did there?  Can’t control.  Can influence.

Below are a few tactics I would expect the league to employ, as I would any brand heading into a very public battle.  As a marketer or fan (or fanketer - helloooo Urban Dictionary), what have I missed?

Paid Search
Using Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool I took a look at the competition against the search term “NFL Lockout” and found it surprisingly low.  What if the NFL launched a SEM campaign against terms related to the lockout, driving people to either an FAQ on the NFL.com domain or even a Facebook page?  Seems simple enough, and moderately effective at delivering a message to people actively seeking out information.

Live Listening
I’d be shocked if the NFL doesn’t already have in place an incredibly robust real-time monitoring solution.  The challenges, I suspect, are twofold:  (1) How are they filtering the signal from the noise and (2) What are they doing with the intelligence gleaned from the monitoring.  Which leads me to my next point …

Response Protocol
All the listening in the world won’t do you much good if you aren’t analyzing, looking for opportunities and disciplined about how you do/don’t engage with supporters and detractors alike.  At Ogilvy we often develop bespoke response protocols based on the issue, the client, the nature of the discussion and other factors.  The NFL must be really clear and consistent in their response protocol about what they say, when they say it, to whom they speak and what tone they take.

Conversation Management
Whether it’s to the 2.6 million fans on their Facebook page or their 1.9 million Twitter followers, the league must carefully map out what they are going to say publicly on the matter, where they’re going to say it and how, if at all, they are going to react when publicly challenged (or lauded).  Effective conversation management, very much tied to the response protocol, is kind of the backbone of everything the league is going to do (on social media) during this time.  They must get this right.

Content Creation
You better believe the players are pumping out content to tell their side of the story.  Check out the video below from the NFLPA’s YouTube channel, which has garnered 152K views.

What’s troubling, from the league’s standpoint, is that a pretty sophisticated YouTube user (me - don’t laugh) can’t seem to find the NFL’s official YouTube page after about 30 seconds of searching.  And guess what - I give up.  So the message here is that not only do they have to consider a content creation strategy, but just as important a distribution and optimization one as well.  By the way, not just video but also photos, written content, etc. - anything that can be indexed by The Google and helps the league put forth their perspective.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl9BpUgYljQ]

This entire episode will be interesting to watch play out.  As a fan I truly hope they resolve it sooner than later so we can get on with a great 2011 season. 

Why Are We Doing Social Well?

A client recently asked me what factors I thought contributed to their success in social media.  The answers came to me immediately - it's a client I work closely with, care deeply about and have thought about a lot this year.

As I jotted down my response on my white board [aside: my common practice which might appear to be an unnecessary step to answering an email, but helps me think things out] I realized  these factors are common to every client I work with who has made progress in social media.

What am I missing?  Wold love to add to the list. 

Support from Leadership

We know innovation bubbles up from the bottom; culture cascades from the top.  Without a supportive leadership team, social initiatives will never find the funding and resources needed to have a demonstrable impact. 

What are you doing to secure that support from your leadership? 

Training is one way.  Not [necessarily] training on how to do social, but rather why [i.e. the business impact].

Benchmarking is another.  Show your leaders [not in a the sky is falling way] what the industry best-practices are and how your organization compares.

And finally, listening is so important.  Use the myriad free tools out there to monitor for your brand or issue. Package those mentions and analysis in an executive summary.  Show them the conversation is taking place, and suggest ways you can join it.

Demonstrated Appetite from the Foot Soldiers

If leaders enable, it's the foot soldiers who do [and often innovate].  Without an army of willing social media participants within an organization, it'll be all talk and no action.  And remember, your employees are your greatest advocates!

What can you do to facilitate this behavior?

Training is a no-brainer.  Show people the right way to do things.

Policy is another.  Make the organization's policy clear and concise.  Give people guardrails - they usually find it comforting.

Finally - and I realize this is tough - give your people some freedom to experiment.  Not everything they do in social should be super tight-in on your product, brand or cause.  The more comfortable people are, the more likely they are to do so, and effectively.

Passionate and Knowledgeable Customers

I don't care if your business is cleaning supplies or a professional association, you have to find those customers who are smart on your business, and passionate about what you do [I guess that's what we call a fan these days].  Without passionate and knowledgeable customers speaking on your behalf, you're just talking to yourself.

A Spirit of Cross-Functional Collaboration

Are the right people willing to take the right steps towards collaborating across functions [or geographies or business units]?  Have you formed your center of excellence?  Have you defined a common measurement model?  Have you even talked to each other?  Start.  Today.

Willingness to Take Counsel

I don't have all the answers.  Neither do you.  No one does.  But I can tell you that in every successful case I've seen in social [scaled cases], the client has collaborated with talented external partners.  That doesn't mean off-shoring your social media to an agency.  What it does mean is taking counsel from external partners who have been there before.

Lessons From The Threadless Crew @ PSFK Salon

FireShot capture #007 - 'Threadless catalog of tees classic t-shirts_ Unique, cool and funny tees_ Browsing graphic tees' - www_threadless_com_catalog_style,tees_group,classicA brief recap of the lessons imparted by the awesome crew from Threadless at yesterday's PSFK Salon in Chicago.  It's all so simple, yet so evasive to many businesses.

I was originally planning on commenting on each lesson, but they are so self-explanatory.

Lesson 1:  We do it with friends.

Lesson 2: Bring the fun. Fun = fearless.  And fearless = exploration.

Lesson 3: Honesty buys you goodwill.

Lesson 4: Act like a human, because you are.

[I tend not to wear T-shirts with images/logos/words, but if I did this would so be it].



A simple exchange today reminded me that dealing with people - personally and professionally - takes perspective.

I was stopped at a street corner next to a woman, both of us staring at a window cleaner suspended about 10 stories up.  We were both shaking our heads in disbelief.

Me:  Would you ever do that???

Her:  No.  I hate cleaning windows!!

Your Hours Of Operation Don't Make You World Class

At 10:55am this morning I found myself standing outside the Apple store in Chicago.  I was joined by about 30 other people, all of us waiting for the doors to open at 11am.  It was very cold.

A small group of people were angrily demanding that the woman inside the store "just open the doors already!"  I almost joined the angry mob, but then something stopped me.

The store opens at 11am.  Not 10:55am.  Not even 10:59am.  It says so on their web site and right there on the front door.  Why should they open the doors for us just because we arrived early?

Some of you will say, in this economy you should never leave customers standing outside your store.  Well I for one am getting really tired of the in this economy argument.

Honoring your published hours is not the problem, and it certainly won't put anyone out of business!

What will put you out of business these days - and probably always - is literally and figuratively opening late.  Or refusing to engage your customers in a dialog.  Or being so arrogant as to not feel the need to repeatedly demonstrate your value [not necessarily via lower prices].


World class brands don't need a global financial crisis to understand how to treat customers right.

World class brands have always known that respect, value and communication are true differentiators ... not hours of operation.

So next time some angry guy is pounding on the glass doors at 10:55am, don't kowtow to his demands.  But once he's inside, make sure to knock his socks off!


Today I heard someone at our agency say to a new client: "Thank you for trusting us with your business."  What an eloquent, elegant and appropriate turn-of-phrase.  I will use this for the rest of my career.


What Makes a Good Client

The Life is Marketing Blog has a post titled 'What Makes a Good Advertising Client.'  Some highlights ...

  1. Choose the right agency for you in the first place.
  2. Understand how agencies work.
  3. Agree on what you're trying to accomplish.
  4. Trust each other.
  5. Know your limitations.
  6. Understand advertising.
  7. Understand your product.  
  8. Respect time.
  9. Understand the money.
  10. If you treat your agency like clerks, you'll get the shelves restocked--and not much else.

It's a good list [read the full post here].  For me [and I have experience on both sides] it boils down to this ... If you are going to pay a lot of $ to engage an agency, then (1) Commit the proper resources to managing the agency (2) Commit to establishing an internal process for how to interface with the agency (3) Understand [and communicate internally] the agency's role.

Office_space [Photo has nothing to do with this post ... just came across it and it made me laugh.]

How the SAT Made Me Reconsider a Favorite Brand

"If you are over 30 and still citing your SAT score, you haven't accomplished enough in life yet."  So says Esquire Magazine in their May 2007 issue.

This blurb made me chuckle, and then reminded me of a recent story a friend told me ...

Jane [real name withheld] got a call from an in-house recruiter at a very well known Internet company [name withheld, but I can almost guarantee you will use their service today].  The nature of the position is irrelevant.  In the course of their conversation the recruiter informed Jane that should she make it to the next round of interviews, the company would require her MBA GPA [fair-enough], her GMAT scores [OK, a bit odd], her high school GPA [OK, very odd] and her SAT scores [downright bizarre].

"You should have asked the recruiter if he knew the SAT score for the Presidential candidate he's voting for in 2008." was my rather witty [if I do say so myself] response.

And when I really thought about it, a few questions popped into my head ... What does your SAT score say about your propensity to succeed?  Is asking someone's SAT score an inherently discriminatory question?  What would have been an acceptable score?  Why the heck do they care?  Aren't their so many other indicators of success?

I don't know ... something about the story obviously didn't sit well with me.

And why the heck am I telling this story on this blog [if you've made it this far no doubt you've already asked yourself that question several times]?  Because this one brand interaction [a secondhand one at that] made me so uneasy that it's had a negative impact on my perception of the brand.  And since Jane told me the story I've not only decreased my usage of this particular service, but have conveyed the story to several others.

It's not just above- and below-the-line communications that determine brand perception.  Every one of your employees is a representative of your brand.  I know it's not a terribly deep thought.  But I also know it's not something that is often stressed or considered in the course of our daily actions.


I think every company should employ someone whose job is to advocate on behalf of the company's customer/consumer.  Ombudsman isn't the right word, but it's in the spirit of what I'm suggesting.  [from Dictionary.com:  A person who investigates and attempts to resolve complaints and problems, as between employees and an employer or between students and a university.]

This person should report directly to the C-suite [or maybe the board of directors makes more sense, assuming they are a truly independent board].  This person should be under contract for a fixed period of time [to avoid de-sensitivity].  The contract should contain a clause protecting them from termination based on the vigor with which they advocate on behalf of the consumer.  This person should examine everything and everything from the customer/consumer point-of-view including [but not limited to]: product design, usability, marketing communications, customer care, etc.

The challenge is turning the recommendations into action.  It would take an organization of considerable humility, flexibility and foresight to put the proper processes in place to genuinely empower this individual.

Would love to hear about any companies that are already doing this.


I've always admired the ability to take complicated situations or challenges and boil them down to their essence.  Their core.  I find nothing more illuminating.  This is a skill I was taught in business school.  I'm pretty good at it, but I'm always working on developing this muscle.  This is probably why I'm a huge fan of a blog called Indexed.  Jessica Hagy's site is a treasure trove of insight, inspiration and humor.  Worth spending some time there.  The sample below is representative ...


Corporate Blogs

In the course of my career I've dabbled in the discipline of internal corporate communications.  My experience has been that within this discipline more emphasis is often placed on communicating the date/time of the annual toy-drive [worthy as it may be] rather than engaging employees in a meaningful conversation about the business.  Surely corporations [big and small] must realize that their employees are [or should be] their greatest advocates.  And advocacy starts with information.

It's with that opinion that I embrace the growing trend of internal corporate blogs -- blogs written by senior executives intended to bring the C-suite to the masses.  They are usually for internals only.  Encouraging.  But the practice is not without its pitfalls.  Here are six tips to those executives who've taken the plunge:

  1. Quantity counts:  Of course the quality of the communication is paramount, but there's also something to be said for frequent communication.  It shows commitment to the process.
  2. Don't forget to reply:  The medium is intended to be a two-way communication vehicle.  Use your blog to not only disseminate information, but also to engage those employees who care enough to comment on your posts.
  3. Don't vet your entries via legal or PR:  You are CEO for a reason.  You are smart.  You are qualified.  You are a strong-minded individual.  And you are politically-savvy.  Have faith in those qualities ... you know what you can and can't say.
  4. Write like you speak:  Be genuine.  Your blog should reflect your personal and management style. 
  5. Don't use it as a substitute for Management By Walking Around [MBWA]*:  Nothing can replace the human touch.
  6. Information - even that marked 'For internal distribution only' - will leak.

As I typed that list I realized that I learned many of those lessons many years ago during my time at Electric Artists.  I think I'll send this post to their CEO, Marc Schiller and goad him into weighing in on the topic on his blog [my guess is that he's got a strong opinion].

Thoughts appreciated.

Click here for the history of MBWA as told by Hewlett Packard.