Archive | April, 2009

Alsop’s Law Six: Compelling Vision (aka Pizza Surprise)

26 Apr

Most organizations spend precious time writing vision statements, but few hit the nail on the head. Ronald Alsop’s The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation explores the connection between compelling vision and reputation in Law Six.

A vision statement should be aspirational, with a five to ten-year horizon. It should evoke an image of what can or will be, as a result of the work of a corporation or entity. As Alsop describes, there is a certain amount of poetry involved in setting visions, but the words must be jargon-free and substantively embody your organizational goals.

Interestingly, Alsop cites Domino‘s as one of the vision statements that’s pithy and on-target:

To be the best pizza delivery company in the world.

images-1A recent Deloitte paper compliments Domino’s vision and even states that “everyone is expected to know exactly how their job fits in to the company’s mission.” By now, everyone knows that at least two of the company’s employees were either unaware or didn’t bother to buy into it.

Here‘s an ABC story about the incident that has raised new questions about how companies can preserve their reputations despite employee faux pas via social media.

Domino’s took quick and decisive action in this situation, and they are to be praised. The company invested in a “listening post” so they could pay attention to social media that could damage their corporate reputation. Once the problem was identified and isolated in terms of location, their reaction was immediate and left nothing to chance. They closed the location, had everything sanitized and let go the two employees in question. The Domino’s spokesperson appeared on YouTube and commented head-on that the situation ran so counter to the company’s standards that it was downright distasteful.

Pizza surprise, indeed.

Duke Ellington, My Dad and YouTube

23 Apr

images1My dad is 72 years old and full of life. He is a self-described “character” who enjoys hunting, relic collecting and sitting in his recliner drinking beer. He is a man’s man and often calls himself “The Old Ranger,” which I think of as his personal superhero signature. After all, he is my dad, and in only that way a daughter can look up to her father, I most certainly do.

Dad and I have had our challenges over the years. We are both “hard-headed” and can outdo one another in our stubbornness. We also are both somewhat intellectual and possibly passive-aggressive at times, preferring to hunker down and outlast the opponent with fortitude in situations of conflict, rather than waste energy and lose face in an all-out fight. We both appreciate a good sense of humor, as well as an entertaining story, true or not.

Recently I discovered something about my dad that I never knew: He likes to dance.

He and I were having a conversation about big band music—his favorites are Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Artie Shaw. He made a comment about “Cotton Club” being one of the best songs to dance to. What’s that? DANCE? My dad, with the big hands and construction worker build? Nahhhhh.

Much to my surprise, it’s true. We discovered together probably the only reason that he would EVER consider buying a computer: YouTube.

I told him that we could probably find some video of actual Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday performances, and we did. He was amazed. He then started calling out requests for particular bands, singers, songs and dates, and away we went, all the while with him declaring, “Well, I’ll be darned….”

We even found some footage of his favorite show to watch in the 1940s, “Captain Video.” This is hilarious…an amazingly low-tech variety of “special effects” strung together by an even less sophisticated plot. Their prop budget was $25/week. Now, spending limits like that force creativity.

Now back to the dancing. I could imagine it for my mom, but not for my dad. Why is it so surprising, as you get older, that you have MORE similarities than differences with your parents?

Alsop’s Law Five: Be a Model Citizen

23 Apr

img_0164Every day before my son goes to school, I tell him, “Be a model citizen today, okay?”

My son especially needs this because he will try to do what we call “the fancy stuff.” This means that, in order to impress his friends, he has the tendency to show off a little bit. This behavior may involve stretching the truth, lies of omission or temporarily ignoring the rules that apply to everyone else.

Just like my son, all of us have days when we are tempted to not be model citizens. Alsop’s point is that for companies, being a model citizen is not something to be done when the mood strikes. The behavior has got to be consistent and ongoing, and supportable with solid evidence.

Here’s a question to consider:

If a company gives money to a community, including support to charity, but decides to leave town and eliminate jobs after receiving significant tax incentives from area government, are they a model citizen?

Depends on whom you ask.

Do companies owe anything to their employees and area citizens? Or is it all about the bottom line?

I have been pondering the issue of corporate social responsibility lately. These are tough questions. Businesses are in business to make a profit. If they can no longer make a profit and must make decisions that negatively impact employees and area citizens, do those left in the wake have a right to complain?

My sense is that there’s a right way to handle tough decisions and a wrong way. Any reasonable person knows that business leaders are in positions of authority because at least once in a while they must make hard decisions. When tough decisions are communicated to stakeholders openly and honestly, people can be disappointed but having had some sense of the decision-making process, typically they will understand the outcome. They will believe that the company has strived to be a model citizen. Despite the outcome, the company made every effort to keep people informed and treat them with respect, retaining the company’s status as a model citizen. The company made no fancy moves and wasted no time in covering up the process behind a difficult choice.

On the other hand, if a company chooses to make every public relations move based upon the need to save face, without clearly explaining the underlying reasons for their decisions and not involving the stakeholders as active and thinking participants in the outcome, then people will have more questions than answers. People will not believe that the company is a model citizen.

This is the essence of Alsop’s Law Five.

Wild Ohio

10 Apr

Image provided by Columbus Underground.

I just chanced upon this post by a Columbus Underground blogger. Includes excellent information about Ohio springtime flora and fauna.

Highland County’s lovely woodlands are being reclaimed by Larry and Nancy Henry and Highlands Nature Sanctuary. My husband and I have visited their site several times and have found the area to be among the most beautiful in Ohio. We are also fans of Glen Helen and John Bryant Park in Green County, as well as Zaleski Park.

Do yourself a favor and get outside in Ohio this spring. It’s worth it.

Alsop’s Law Four: Live Your Values and Ethics

10 Apr

“Walk the talk.”

“Live your words.”

“Get real.”

The simplest and most straightforward thing to do in concept is not always easy in real life. Sometimes it seems best to save face in the short term, but if doing so covers up a truth destined to float to the surface over time, a short-sighted decision could ruin a reputation.

In Ronald Alsop’s The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation, Law 4 focuses on embodying corporate values and ethics. The three keywords of this chapter are: Reaffirm, Reinforce, Revise. Of most interest to me is Alsop’s discussion of a complex case study in ethics: Philip Morris.


Ever smelled a tobacco bloom? They are incredibly fragrant, especially at night. Try it sometime, but don't smoke it!

The Marlboro Man is an icon in the advertising world. My father-in-law recently gave me a copy of an old Esquire magazine from September 1970. Flipping through the pages, there are some vintage ads that give a good laugh: Dacron, ankle boots, elevators (the shoes) and belted sweaters for men were IN. Among the fashion floundering and scotch are a variety of cigarette ads, WITHOUT the health warnings we are so accustomed to seeing today.

By 1970, studies had clearly established a causal link between smoking and lung cancer. As early as 1930, German scientists in Cologne had discovered the link between smoking and health problems. More research began bubbling up, and by the 1950s the tobacco industry had initiated an active PR campaign to control their message, and filtered cigarettes also helped to lend a greater air of safety to the smoker. Causality had been confirmed by the U.S. Surgeon General’s release of a study in 1964 clarifying that smokers were 9 to 10 times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers. A Reader’s Digest story on the topic had further spread the results.

The irony of the Marlboro Man is that his brand promise is a living, breathing (raspily) lie. He evoked a sense of confidence, outdoorsy good looks and “cool appeal” that attracted a generation of smokers, yet in reality he led people into an addiction that has been called the toughest to kick, and in the process put them at risk for long-term health issues and untimely death. My favorite grandma was a case study. She started smoking at 15, in the 1930s, and died of complications from emphysema and congestive heart failure. I remember my brother and I cleaning the walls of her apartment after she moved out. They were thick with tar. Today, we understand the ramifications of cigarette tar and nicotine, in addition to the variety of harmful ingredients (some say up to 599, such as arsenic, formaldehyde and ammonia) that can be absorbed by tobacco during the cigarette production process.

Take a look at this evolution of warnings on cigarette packages as they evolved over the years:

1965 —- Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health

1970 —- Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health.

1984 —- All four below warnings required:

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health.

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight.

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide.

The warning levels, and their credibility (caution->warning–>surgeon general’s warning) were dialed up over time, and I imagine that there were various conversations involving lots of lobbyists doing battle over the final language. At the time my vintage issue of Esquire was published in the fall of 1970, all broadcast ads for cigarettes had been prohibited by the FTC, but the warnings had not yet been incorporated into print ads. An interesting twist was the permission of broadcast ads over the 1970-71 holiday season to protect advertising revenues.

When we look back at history, tobacco companies like Philip Morris were spending at least millions each year, over the course of at least thirty years, to keep intact the image of the Marlboro Man and other advertising icons, despite their growing awareness of the untruths behind his rugged exterior. Today, we can look backwards and criticize their decision-making, but let’s get underneath that ten-gallon hat and see the world from the Marlboro Man’s vantage point.

How does a company continue to profit from a product that puts lives at risk, directly and via secondhand smoke, not to mention the clear health hazards of other tobacco products?

I think it’s easy to do, and if in their shoes I contend that you or I would have made the same decisions, because most of the time companies make incremental decisions about strategy. Changing the status quo means changing the bottom line, in this case for the worse. Yes, the studies were coming out, one after the next, but what do you do when your company’s very livelihood is clearly at risk? Or, if you have some appreciation for tobacco farmers trying to make a living, it’s understandable to have some sense of protection over the status quo. When your product and everything about it is being proven a killer, you fight to stay alive. It’s a short-term decision-making process, continued over dozens of years, that made the tobacco companies look so bad.

The 2006 film Thank You for Smoking satirized big tobacco’s spin. In the movie, there’s a scene where the main character and big tobacco spokesperson, Nick Naylor, is giving his son advice about writing a school paper. The scene begins with the father figure asking the boy, “Are you familiar with the term ‘BS?'” At the end of the scene, the father says, “That’s the beauty of argument, because if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.” This is the essence of the tobacco industry’s values and ethics dilemma. They kept up the argument, over a period of time that made their reputation worsen.

Of course, the other big factor for Philip Morris was the very nature of their business. Over time, the phenomenon of advertising to build peer pressure FOR smoking was starting to work in the opposite direction. Anti-smoking campaigns became as effective as the smoking ad campaigns, and big-time ad companies like Ogilvy pulled away from any tobacco work. Nowadays it’s common knowledge that smoking kills, and all of us know smokers who have tried to quit but couldn’t.

Alsop’s Law 4 uses Johnson & Johnson as a model for values and ethics, highlighting their credo as an exemplar. Clearly, J&J picked a winner in terms of industry space from which to make a profit. The wholesomeness of their brand is evergreen. Today, Philip Morris has tranformed into a component of the diversified brand Altria, an effort seemingly prompted by the need to take shelter underneath a brand not tainted by the issues of the tobacco industry, although most of Altria’s business appears to come from tobacco sales. Their Code of Conduct governs employee activity and is a decent model for others, but it’s not clear that Philip Morris has become more respected by the public for its values and ethics.