Archive for the ‘poor leadership’ Category

Watching it burn

Some of us who have managed projects know a little bit about budgets. Simply put, a budget is a bucket of money set up to pay for all of the line items in a project – or a series of projects.

Typically, the budget is set based on little things like what the client (internal or external) is looking to accomplish, what the client is able to spend, and ROI: (Return On Investment) Do the project’s benefits outweigh its cost, etc.

If you’re thinking “wow, that sounds like it takes a lot of planning and strategery,” you’re right. It does. The one thing you want to ensure as a project manager is that the goals, tactics and budget are aligned before a project starts: If the project is going to cost more than the budget allows, something is going to have to be cut from the project. Simple, basic stuff. If you don’t do this, you might run out of money before the project ends, which isn’t good. Your options then are a) ask the client for more money, b) close the project before having delivered it 100%, or c) eat the added cost. None of these options are good.

It’s with this simple methodology that I look at our federal budget deficit. Is it more complex than a marketing campaign? Of course it is. Infinitely so. But the principle is the same: Figure out how much funding you need to operate your series of projects (social security, national defense, infrastructure, research, wars, etc.), make the necessary adjustments, and go forward with what you can afford.

… Except… that isn’t how everyone understands the fundamentals of running a business/country. The latest Budget Deficit figures look pretty impressive. From CNN.com:

The White House on Monday predicted a record deficit of $490 billion for the 2009 budget year, a senior government official told CNN.

The deficit would amount to roughly 3.5 percent of the nation’s $14 trillion economy.

The official pointed to a faltering economy and the bipartisan $170 billion stimulus package that passed earlier this year for the record deficit.

The fiscal year begins October 1, 2008.

The federal deficit is the difference between what the government spends and what it takes in from taxes and other revenue sources. The government must borrow money to make up the difference.

President Bush inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion when he took office in 2001 but has since posted a budget deficit every year.


Maybe I am reading this wrong, but if the FY’09 $490 BILLION deficit is indeed for the 2009 budget year, we’re talking about overspending $1,342,465,700 per day for 365 days in a row.

Wait… Let me get this straight. The US government is overspending (all up) at a rate of 1.3 BILLION dollars per day?

Tell me I’m not understanding this correctly. Please. Someone tell that figure needs to somehow be stretched out over the last 8 years or something… Pretty please? Tell me there is no way that the United States of America’s operating budget is so poorly managed that it bleeding $1.3B per day. Tell me I am wrong about this.  Tell me there is a plan to fix this. One that doesn’t involve a) just printing more money, or b) borrowing from foreign banks.

Maybe this kind of topic changes the conversation when it comes to what types of questions really need to be on people’s minds (and lips) when political candidates (from Presidential elections down to your municipal seats) run for office. Maybe the conversation should shift from soft broad-sweeping opinions about religion and security to cold hard facts and specific plans to fix what is broken. And by the way, this isn’t an indictment of either political party. Republicans and democrats together need to fix this – which is to say this isn’t just about this candidate or that one, but about us, American taxpayers and voters, who perhaps should refocus our attention when it comes to our definition of political leadership, and what our silver-haired years will be like, and the future our children will inherit.

Maybe there’s a branding lesson in there somewhere, both for world powers and the political candidates who aspire to help run them.

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Metallica is writing the book on how to sink an A-list brand (namely their own).
Step 1: Lose your relevance sometime in the mid 90’s and see sales dwindle over the next decade. Blame music downloads and the MP3 format for your market downturn – instead of accepting that you’ve lost touch with the times.
Step 2: Instead of adapting to a changing market and embracing new distribution channels (which worked well for thousands of bands, including the Greatful Dead) hire lawyers to try and fight the entire world. Hope that you can sue the world into not changing.
Step 3: When things don’t go your way, bitch and moan until you’ve repositioned yourself as the brand that constantly bitches and moans instead of making music… and has nothing to show for it.
Step 4: Make a point to put personal gain ahead of your fans, and scream it off every media rooftop. For years on end. Until even your peers think you’re out-of-touch morons. “We need to make more money!!! We’re rock stars!!! You people are stealing our product every time you listen to it!!! We will sue you for listening to our songs!!!!”
Step 5: Spend more time in court than in the studio or on tour.
Step 6: Run out of money and decide it’s time to get back to being a band since the fighting the world deposition at a time gig isn’t working out so well. Only it’s too late to get back to your roots because you stopped being artists and musicians long ago, and you suck now. You’re just too stupid to see it yet.
Step 7: This whole media2.0 thing sounds fly, so you invite bloggers to come listen to some of your studio sessions in the hopes that they will share their amazement at your crazy-cool talent. Surely, this will revive your career. Only you’re too old, the gig is up, and the bloggers aren’t going to lie about it.
Step 8: When your bonehead plan backfires and the bloggers’ reviews turn out to be pretty negative, threaten to sue them.
Step 9: Realize that what you need is good old PR and advertising. Upon getting a few quotes, start looking for promising lawsuits to file in order to finance your comeback.
Read the story here. It’s pretty funny… yet sad.
What a bunch of dopes. Just make good music for crying outloud!!!

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Ask any Army infantryman, Marine or even Naval aviator what they think of the Air Force, and they’re likely to scoff at the question. Some will be polite and try to spin something nice. Most will just tell you what they really think – which isn’t great.

And honestly, when this is the kind of decorum the Air Force breeds into its officers as they graduate from its “prestigious” academy, perhaps we can infer that its leadership issues start early.

Without getting too political here, it doesn’t help that the Commander-in-Chief doesn’t seem to know how to behave in public either. Especially while the US is at war.

Especially as US servicemen and women are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Especially as the Air Force is days away from firing its two most senior officers in a very public and embarrassing series of unacceptable scandals.

This is clearly not the kind of image the Air Force needs to be perpetuating right now.

I won’t dwell on the President’s bizarre behavior… but I can’t help but wonder about the kind of young officer who would find it acceptable to chest bump the Prez.

Seriously. Where are we? In a frat house? Earth to the bonehead in uniform acting like a complete jackass: You are bumping chest with the commander-in-chief. Get a friggin’ clue.

Why have uniforms at all if you’re going to act like a dumb college kid at the first opportunity to goof off? Why salute at all? Why have any sense of rules and procedures when you’re in the Air Force? After all, this is the era of “whatever,” right? None of that old, stiff military crap matters anymore, right? The uniform is just for show these days anyway, right? Something cool to wear to score girls on Friday nights?

Think again (from the Guardian):

The US air force’s two most senior officers were sacked yesterday after repeated blunders in nuclear weapons handling, including the mistaken shipment of detonators to Taiwan and the bungled transport of six deadly cruise missiles by unsuspecting pilots.

The air force chief of staff, General Michael Moseley, and civilian secretary Michael Wynne were asked to resign by senior Pentagon officials in advance of a report that is expected to pass embarrassing judgment on the nuclear errors.

The resignations had been expected amid simmering tension between the defence secretary, Robert Gates, and air force leaders. Gates has blasted the air force as not fully committed to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, urging it to send more of the unmanned planes known as Predators into the war.

“Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it’s been like pulling teeth,” Gates said in a speech this spring to the air force academy.

Yet the deciding factor in the military shakeup appears to be two nuclear slip-ups by the air force, which Moseley and Wynne have led since 2005. The air force admitted in March to sending Taiwan nuclear fuses that it believed were helicopter batteries, a gaffe that one senior defence official called “disconcerting”.

A bigger mistake came 10 months ago, when six nuclear missiles were flown from North Dakota to Louisiana without any of the air force officials on board knowing about their hazardous cargo. The incident was deemed so serious that President George Bush was immediately notified. The air force unit that flew the six missiles failed a safety inspection only last month, according to the Washington Post.

Moseley was also reprimanded by Pentagon auditors in April for pushing ethical boundaries in his friendship with two private contractors who won a $50m (£26m) contract in 2005 to produce flight shows for the air force.

The Pentagon inspector general found in April that the contract to promote the Thunderbirds aerial stunt team was tainted by improper influence and preferential treatment. No criminal conduct was found.

Moseley was not singled out for blame, but the investigation laid out a trail of communications from him and other air force leaders that eventually influenced the awarding of the contract. Included in that were friendly emails between Moseley and an executive in the company that won the bid.

“It is my sense that General Moseley’s command authority has been compromised,” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat on the Senate armed services committee, said at the time.

Replacements for the two leaders were not immediately announced. Forcing out both the uniformed and civilian chiefs of a military service is a rare move, but Gates sacked the army secretary last year amid a scandal over the mistreatment of injured soldiers at the Walter Reed hospital in Washington.

Bush was aware of the resignations but “played no role” in the process, according to the White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Having been a military officer, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the type of behavior that led to the Air Force’s troubling lack of professionalism over the last few years (and its dreadful reputation across the services) begins with the kind of senseless dumbassitudes displayed during this year’s commencement ceremonies: You cannot divorce bad command decisions from bad decisions. The “what the hell” attitude that allows a graduating cadet/officer to treat the President of the United States like a frat buddy is the same kind of attitude that leads officers to lose six nuclear warheads for a few hours, or to think it’s okay to sell out their office for financial gain.

Professionals take their jobs, responsibilities and behavior in public seriously. Unprofessional people don’t. And in the case of a military organization, lack of professionalism kills.

The Air Force Academy would have done better to train its graduating class to salute the President and not get dragged into his bizarre behavior. I am quite sure that servicemen and women operating in war zones would have respected them a whole lot more for it.

Instead, these graduating men and women in blue only perpetuated the decades-old anti-Air Force sentiment that leads to the reactions I have been hearing all week: “Yeah, well… that’s the Air Force for ya. What did you expect?”

I don’t know what I expected. Maybe some common sense. Maybe some decorum. I guess I was thinking about the wrong branches of the military.

But then again, maybe Monday, I’ll go bump bump chests with my CEO.

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Ah. Air travel. One of my favorite topics (usually filed under “broken system report”).

So… according to a recent study of air travel satisfaction, the US air travel infrastructure seems to be heading in the wrong direction. While technology, marketing and customer experience design are making giant forward leaps, the airline industry in the US seems to be taking giant steps backwards… or maybe not since a giant step backwards would actually mean comfortable seats, friendly staff, real onboard food/drink service, on-time arrivals, and no one getting bumped. Ever.

The reality, however, is pretty scary, as anyone who flies the friendly skies on a regular basis already knows. (Don’t even get me started about the steel cart of death.)

From MSN.com:

On-time arrivals dropped for the fifth straight year, with more than one-quarter
of all flights late, according to the survey. The rates of passengers bumped
from overbooked flights and bags lost, stolen or damaged also jumped in

Stolen bags. Hmmm. Yeah. I hope that Homeland Security and the TSA have a backup plan in case the whole baggage handlers as a first line of defense thing doesn’t work out.

Six airlines — Frontier, Northwest, SkyWest, Southwest, United and US
Airways — showed declines in every area in the survey, although Southwest still
had the best on-time arrival mark at 80.1 percent. The Dallas-based carrier also
had the lowest rate of consumer complaints, 0.26 per 100,000 passengers.

Still, the airline has not been immune from problems. It is fighting a
record $10.2 million fine from the Federal Aviation Administration for
continuing to fly dozens of Boeing 737s that hadn’t been inspected for cracks in
their fuselages.

American, Delta and United airlines recently canceled flights to
perform unscheduled inspections of certain aircraft, and US Airways found
problems on some Boeing 757s after a wing part on one of its planes fell off
during a flight.

Wonderful. In retrospect, maybe having to pay $7 for a ham-like-meat sandwich and being forced to deal with passive aggressive flight attendants with questionable hygiene are the least of my worries.

The Airline Quality Rating study, compiled annually since 1991, is based on
Transportation Department statistics for airlines that carry at least 1 percent
of the passengers who flew domestically last year. The research is sponsored by
the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and by Wichita
State University. The other airlines in the survey were AirTran, Alaska,
American Eagle, Atlantic Southeast, Continental, Jet Blue and Mesa.

Among the study’s conclusions:

– More than one-third of Atlantic Southeast Airlines flights were late, the worst on-time performance in 2007.

– The airlines also bumped passengers more often, at a rate of 4.5 per 10,000 passengers. JetBlue and AirTran were far ahead of their competitors in avoiding bumping passengers from flights, at 0.02 and 0.15 per 10,000 passengers, respectively.

– AirTran had the best baggage handling rate, at 4.06 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. American Eagle ranked last in baggage handling with 13.55 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.


Growing up in France in the 70’s and 80’s, I learned at a pretty early age to discern which European (and non-European) countries had the highest standards of living by experiencing their travel infrastructure – including airlines.

If we are to be a shining beacon to the world, we really can’t afford to allow the quality of our air travel to sink this low. We already don’t have much of a rail system, so it isn’t like we can fall back on Plan B. There are no bullet trains that can get us from Houston to Chicago, from DC to Miami, or from Atlanta to San Francisco.

Some airlines are managing to thrive in this dreadful state of disrepair, as they should. Shame on the airlines that can’t adjust to rising costs and aging aircraft. Yeah, sure, prices may need to go up a bit, but you can offset a 5-10% uplift in ticket prices by giving passengers something in return (and no, I don’t mean sky miles). It’s like everything else. When the conversation drifts to price, then you haven’t done a good job of selling value.

If you want to change the conversation and talk about something other than price, then you’d better have something great to talk about. How about this:

1. First, make sure you have the most impressive safety record in the industry, and TALK ABOUT IT. (If US Air’s wings lose parts during flight, you want to be on the total opposite end of that spectrum.)

2. Hire professional looking/acting staff. You’re in the airline industry, for crying outloud. Bring a little bit of glamour back to your brand experience and make your company’s name synonymous with that hint of luxury. I want to be greeted with smiles at the check-in, at the gate, and onboard the plane. I want to be treated like a valued guest, and not like another ass-in-seat hassle. I don’t want to be berrated by a power-tripping ogre struggling to deal with another 2-3 lousy years left until retirement. Give me smiles and professional looking people. You know, with uniforms that a) fit properly and b) get pressed every once in a while. Give me enthusiasm and manners. If hotels and most companies in the US can do it, surely airlines can as well.

3. In-flight service: Look it up. Hint: Charging $7-$10 for a POS vending machine sandwich is just dumb and beyond gauche. #1: You’re ripping off your own customers, and they will remember it. #2: Food of such insipid quality doesn’t belong on your flights. (Not unless you stow wooden crates and live poultry in the same hold as your passengers.) Treat your passengers well.

4. Scratch overbooking from your MO.

5. Invest in some toiletry kits. That way, when the baggage handlers at one of your twenty+ airports steal a passenger’s Vuitton suitcases, you’ll at least give your angry passenger a) Fresh breath, and b) the notion that while the airport may not care about them, you sure as hell do.

6. Buy aircraft with comfortable seats. (Before buying the damn things, get your senior execs to fly from coast to coast in one of them.)

7. Drop routes that don’t make sense. Better to be small and great than big and crappy.

8. Be insanely nice to your passengers when they exit the plane.

9. Toys or coloring books for kids. Yes, even in the era of Gameboys, iPods and PSPs, the ubiquitos free branded toy goes a long way.

10. I hate to sound like Papa Seth, but make te experience memorable (in a positive way). Just like The Standard Hotel makes a point to make every detail of the guest experience cool and story-worthy, an airline can (and should) as well. Redesign your uniforms. Redesign your aircraft interior. Redesign the entire experience of booking, checking-in, waiting at the gate, boarding the aircraft, flying, landing and exiting the terminal memorable. (It doesn’t need to eat into your profits either. A little bit of forethought doesn’t hurt.) In other words, get your heads out of the numbers for a bit and take a more holistic approach to managing your business/airline.

In other words, build some value.

Stop whining, stop complaining about the price of fuel and the pilots’ unions and overcrowding at most of our country’s airports, and do whatever you have to do to become the best damn airline in the US (and then the world).

If the issue is Wall Street, fire your board, appoint people to it who can put together a rejuvenation plan, and send them to speak to your investors with a kickass proposal they will rally behind. Make them understand that business-as-usual and damage-control won’t cut it in the long-term, and that you have a real plan to get back on track. Not just financially, but from a true market leadership standpoint.

Easier said than done? Sure. Of course. But that’s no reason not to try.

Just for sport, let’s have a show of hands: How many airlines are doing this right now?

1? 2? 3, maybe? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

For shame.

This is not a problem that can be fixed by cutting costs (the equivalent of ancient medicine’s practice of bleeding sick patients). This is a problem that must be fixed through cultural change from within the organization: Airlines that stand for something and deliver on the expectations of their most critical passengers will stand out and do extremely well. Those who are merely content to stay afloat, those who fear Wall Stree and fickle investors, those who have no plan to rebuild their airlines as opposed to slowly bleeding them to death or relying on government bailouts will continue down this ill-fated path.

When I bite into a stale $7 POS sandwich on a crowded flight with dirty floors, mean flight attendants and no chance of making my next connection, all I see is lousy leadership, and it sucks.

This really needs to be fixed.

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“When you actually ignore reality for years on end, payback’s a bitch, brother!”

– Bruce Sterling

Research shows that half of the agency/client relationships out there last less than two years. This is from a sample of about 140 companies with an annual marketing spend of at least $2 million, including Citibank, General Mills, IBM, GE, and ESPN.

After nearly 15 years in agencies, this percentage sounds about right. But where the research tries to determine why this is the case, I take issue with it.

The other big reason [for the short tenure] is likely the fact that agencies take their eye off the ball. When you examine the reasons why clients get rid of agencies, a lot of it has to do with weaknesses in strategic thinking, creative, and service. Too many agencies try and do too many things well. They are in the business for being great creative and strategic thinkers and do-ers…not to be a great lead generation/business making machine. Too many agencies take their eye off the ball soon after an account is won, only to look for the next new win. Staying more focused on existing clients and leaving the business of building business to experts is likely a more productive strategy, long-term.

A lead generation firm sponsored the research. This fact turns the above excerpt from a research insight into a thinly-veiled ad.

It’s Not You, It’s Me.

So who’s fault is it? Part of this churn is a natural cycle vs. it being someone’s fault. Marketers are restless creatives at heart. The shelf life for any type of creative work is getting as short as consumers’ shrinking attention span. And, while it’s expensive to select a new agency and get them ramped up on your business, doing an agency review is often seen as the best way to get new ideas. Even the research notes (depressingly) that “more than 40 percent said they ‘look forward to’ or ‘find it exciting’ to search for a new agency.”

But there are also external factors that impact the client/agency relationship. Many of these factors are out of the agency’s control, including industry economic climate, client contacts changing jobs, client politics and client chemistry. These are just a handful of items to deal with and we haven’t even discussed the work yet.

Since moving client side three years ago, one of the biggest benefits I’ve discovered is time. I’ve been able to prioritize and grow our marketing efforts strategically. With a few years of momentum, and plenty of results along the way, I’m looking forward to doing even more in 2008.

This may read all Pollyanna, but I think clients and agencies need to rethink ways to keep their relationship vital to realize this kind of return on investment. Yeah, who am I kidding. Anyone want to be a client/agency counselor? LOL, I can see the role playing session now.

Other likely culprits:

– Clients’ inability to work with their agencies as a true partner in developing marketing solutions, growing their brand, etc. This is RAMPANT across all industries. The fact of the matter is that most companies tend to a) not understand marketing, b) be afraid of creative, c) lack the insight and tools to adequately measure the value of great marketing/the opportunity cost of bad marketing, and d) promote douchebags with no concept of brand development to CMO positions – when they even bother to have a CMO position.

– Many agencies’ inability to see the client as anything other than a cash cow.

– A business-as-usual attitude towards “marketing”. This starts on the client’s side but eventually infects the account team on the agency side. (Usually characterized by a “job shop” attitude by the client towards the agency.)

– Fear. Fear of pissing off the client. Fear of taking a chance with the creative. Fear of making a statement. Fear of standing for something. Fear of standing out from the competition. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of looking like asses. Fear of trying something new. Fear of asking the right questions. Fear of letting customers voice their opinions. Fear of losing control of the brand. Fear of paving the way. Fear.

– Really, really, really REALLY lousy, clueless, lazy or otherwise dumb AE’s.

– Really, really, really REALLY lousy, clueless, lazy or otherwise dumb marketing managers/CMO’s on the client side.

– Risk-adverse decision-makers.

– Lack of focus on both sides. Client: “Hey, we need something awesome for this new (XYZ).” Agency: “Right. What do you have in mind?” Client:”Um… We don’t know. We’ll know it when we see it.”

– Complete, total and utter emphasis on overrated brain-rot like “messaging” or “brand consistency.”

– Overbearing reliance on 1980’s “channels” to reach the masses.

– The notion that “it’s worked great for us for the last fifty years. If it isn’t broken, why fix it?”

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.

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