July 2008

The Xobni product for MS Outlook

The Xobni product for MS Outlook

“You know my name
Look up the number.”
– The Beatles

Not that anyone should ever turn to me for tech advice instead of Walt Mossberg at The Wall St. Journal, but I just had to add a quick “personal thumbs up” for Mossberg’s recommendation of the Xobni product (see article here).  As Mossberg notes, Xobni (“Inbox” spelled backwards) bridges a number of MS Outlook’s gaps, especially related to how your contacts are organized and how you can search them.  I’ve used this product for about three months now and consider it an exceptionally useful and powerful tool to increase e-mail productivity.

Plus it has a really cool name.

“Don’t start that talking
I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I’m putting the world to right”

– Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Here we go again. A public agency sends an e-mail to 900-plus employees telling them not to talk. Not to Congress. Not to reporters. Not even to the Department’s own inspector general.

The message gets leaked to a reporter (big surprise there), and suddenly there are national news stories (here’s one from the San Francisco Examiner) excoriating agency management for a “bunker mentality” that aims to “chill the cubicles” and suppress information.

Under fire is the EPA whose chief of staff sent a June 16 e-mail instructing agency staff that “”If you are contacted directly by the IG’s office or GAO requesting information of any kind . . . please do not respond to questions or make any statements.” Instead, the message urged that all inquiries be forwarded to a designated agency representative.

Clearly, there can be benefit in managing information flow (and, therefore, information receipt). There is also benefit in helping ensure that individuals who are not familiar with the facts of a situations decline to speculate publicly. But sending an e-mail directing professionals – especially professionals who work in public service positions charged with protecting the environment – not to respond to any inquiries is just plain stu . . .

Well, let’s just say it demonstrates questionable judgment.

Were we at the beginning of the Net age, such a bone-headed (and clumsy) effort to control information flow to the media almost could be understood (“hey, who knew that this new-fangled electronic mail messages could be forwarded to somebody outside of our building?!”). But in 2008?? Geez, sending a message like that today is practically begging to have its contents and your name splashed is headlines from California to the New York Island (and all points in between, including blogs like this one).

Talk about a blinding glimpse of the obvious . . .

“I make my living off the evening news
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose
They love dirty laundry”
– Don Henley

We need dirty laundry

We need dirty laundry

This song popped into my head as I read this story from PRWeek about a “reputation management” program that was inadvertently e-mailed to a Greenwich Post reporter who filed a story about it.

A reputation management program? Just file that alongside the lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). Chilling, indeed.

Based on the article, it sounds as if the program, developed by John Adams Associates for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), is built on standard public relations principles in use for decades (including, for that matter, by many media organizations who today find themselves in the unenviable position of having to communicate how and why they must shrink their news holes, newsrooms and news people. According to published reports, the CLIA program (which was a proposal that had not yet been accepted) called for: “travel agents and other industry ‘ambassadors’ who would help with outreach to members of Congress and be trained to reach out to local media.”

Pretty radical stuff, eh? Not to denigrate the Adams plan (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have not read in its entirety) or anything, but this sounds like a fairly straightforward plan of action that draws on time-tested public relations practices college freshman can find in PR 101. Most often what makes the difference between the success or failure of a plan is in its execution (at which the Adams group excels).

Well, the story became “news” (and BGO uses that word loosely here) when supporters of a bill to tighten regulation and reporting requirements on the cruise line industry sought to build awareness of this “secret” plan via outreach to local media and the use of ambassadors – including bill sponsor Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who posted the plan on his Web site.

Hmmm . . .

Irony (like comedy and politics) is sometimes not a pretty sight.

For his part, Adams questioned the reporter’s “journalistic ethics” for reporting a story based on a document that he received accidentally. There’s certainly an argument to be made on both sides of that question, but the fact that seems overlooked here is whether what seems to be a standard public relations plan (developed by an excellent firm, I might add) to help an organization advocate its position on pending legislation is, in and of itself, newsworthy – especially when it arrived in a reporter’s hands purely by accident (so much for that legalese we call include on our messages: “If you have received this e-mail in error . . .”).

I think Mr. Henley may have said it best: “We all know that crap is king, Give us dirty laundry.”


“Well now see, C.C. Rider
Well, now see, see what you have done.”

– Ma Rainey

James Gregory, CEO, CoreBrand

James Gregory, CEO, CoreBrand

In a July 21, 2008 article in Advertising Age, branding guru James Gregory predicts that Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) will begin to inherit CEO slots with growing regularity. Gregory, CEO of CoreBrand, believes this trend will be fueled by the flawed accounting practice that ignored the impact of brands on corporate balance sheets and “held marketing communications in its grip of second-tier rank within the corporate hierarchy.”

There is no question that CMOs can and should sit in the big chairs. The short- and long-term value of managing the corporate brand as a strategic financial asset is, without question, a BGO. My quarrel is with Gregory limiting his crystal ball to Chief Marketing Officers. Chief Communications Officers (CCOs), who are schooled in managing a company’s overall reputation and internal/external relationships, deserve a mention here, as well.

In fact, one could argue today’s typical CCO is as or more qualified to lead the organization than virtually any other member of the C-suite. Check out this definition: “The CCO of a company is the corporate officer primarily responsible for managing the communications risks and opportunities of a business, both internally and externally. This executive is typically responsible for communications to a wide range of stakeholders, including but not limited to employees, shareholders, media, business influentials, the press, the community and the public.”

CCOs help their organizations manage the most daunting challenge of all: change. And they do that by learning to act as “boundary spanners,” professionals who can see the organization – the whole of the organization – as others do from inside and outside the company’s walls. They serve as early warning specialists who look past the trees and the forests to see the storm clouds on the horizon that could threaten a company’s ability to succeed. They counsel senior executives on how to create and strengthen relationships on both individual and enterprise-wide levels. By helping manage the corporate reputation (read: the sum of perceptions about the organization), CCOs help establish the favorable conditions in which powerful brands can thrive and confidence in the company grows.

Sounds like a pretty good training ground for future CEOs to me.

In “Leveraging the Corporate Brand,” Gregory accurately predicted the rise of the Chief Communications Officer position, which he writes now “inevitably gave way to the title Chief Marketing Officer.” Setting aside the question of that “inevitability” for the moment, here’s hoping Mr. Gregory returns to his roots and sees the CCO as worthy of not just riding on the corporate bus but driving it, too.

“Got to be good,
Don’t you understand?
Raise your hand,
Hey, hey, hey
Raise your hand,
Right here, right now, babe.”
– Bruce Springsteen (Floyd, Cropper, Isbel)
Armpit Advertising

As we’re already exposed to more than 3,000 messages a day everywhere from napkins and gas pumps to Segways and urinals (always a favorite . . .), perhaps this newest advertising tactic shouldn’t be such a surprise. But it is tasteless and, at least from BGO’s perspective, waaaaaay over the line.

What’s next — ads on jock straps and bras?

“My boy lollipop,
You made my heart go giddy up.
You are as sweet as candy;
You’re my sugar dandy.”
– Millie Small

Mmmmm.  Bacon on a stick!

Mmmmm. Bacon on a stick!

Oh my. While teaching my daughter about del.icio.us this evening, I happened to run across this site: www.lollyphile.com/index.php. Based out of San Francisco, these folks have taken two American food institutions — lollipops and bacon — and mixed them together to create a wondrous product for 2008: Maple Bacon Lollipops. With real bits of meat mixed in for texture (!). Tapping into our love of gag gifts and quirky desserts (not to mention our memories of how great the bacon tasted when it touched the maple syrup on our breakfast plates at the IHOP oh-so-many years ago . . .), this is a product ripe to take off. It’s perfect fodder for general media stories, blogs, tags (who wouldn’t love to put “bacon” and “candy” in the same search string?) and Food Channel addicts like me.

Further, this is smart marketing. Read the site copy and tell me you don’t want to send these guys some money, even if the thought of bacon bits on a stick nauseates you (hey, would make a great gift for that twit of a cubicle mate you have). If Lollyphile handles their promotion right, they have a great chance of having their pops park in the mouths of thousands around the globe.

Bacon and lollipops. Talk about obvious.

“Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities.”

– Paul Simon

To quote both The Chambers Brothers and Lewis Carroll’s Walrus, the time has come today to talk of many things. It’s time to jump with both feet — or more accurately, 10 fingers and a ThinkPad — into the blogosphere with a BGO, a “blinding glimpse of the obvious.”  This space will take a look now and again at some things around us that seem too darned obvious to point out.  And some others that aren’t quite as obvious but should be.  In short, this is a collection of music and musings, news and nuisances, politics and public relations, technology and Taylors — and more.

So it’s time to start — with apologies to Joey Ramone, “Hey, Ho — Let’s BGO!”