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Tag: PR

Rework by 37signals: Setting Conventional Wisdom Ablaze

16 employees in 8 different cities on 2 different continents serving more than 5 million customers, including some of the world’s biggest brands.  How do 37signals do it?

They’re eager to tell you.

Before I take on their book, I’ll give you a sense of the company, which exists almost completely online.  They design web-based software that helps you run your small group or business.  The table below, including the names and images of each offering, is as stylish and clear as the book.  This product/service line was developed for their own use; they run their company on their own applications.

37 signals, basecamp, campfire, highrise, backpack, software, online, SaaS

Back to “eager to tell you” … from the 37signals perspective, teaching is marketing.  That’s a perspective about which I want to learn more.  Of course, they’re eager to teach me.

In addition to countless interviews, speeches, and presentations – many of which are available online (here or here) – founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, along with several other members of the crew, put together a couple books.  I’ve read only one of them; this is my review.

Rework is their go at a “general business” book.  In it, 37signals explain how they do what they do – how they built and how they run their business.  I won’t belabor it in detail, since there are already several tons of love and press about this publication.

In short, they set ablaze conventional wisdom about how business “needs to” or “should” be done.  Instead, common sense is put on its proper pedestal …

  • Meetings waste time.
  • Interruptions slay productivity.
  • Resumes are ridiculous.
  • Press releases are spam.
  • More features do not a better product make.
  • And on …

Though the hardcover contains 270+ pages, the layout and style make for a very quick read and begs for a re-read.  There are loads of wonderful illustrations accompanying each “verse,” which vary in length from three or four paragraphs to a page or two.  Each verse is one of maybe a half dozen pieces that make up a chapter.

It makes sense that Seth Godin‘s endorsement stripes the top of the cover.  Rework is a collection of short essays as efficient as Godin’s blog posts.  An idea is introduced, supported by an example or two, then wrapped up.  The lessons are communicated so cleanly that they seem overwhelmingly obvious.  The writing is so straightforward and clear that these essays read in sequence as a series of punches.

As a sample, here’s the lead from the “Speed Changes Everything” verse from the “Damage Control” chapter:

‘Your call is very important to us.  We appreciate your patience.  The average hold time right now is sixteen minutes.’  Give me a fucking break.

As you might expect of a book that torches conventional wisdom about hiring, PR and marketing, growth, culture, management, venture capital and so much more, Rework is irreverent and refreshing.

Needless to say, I recommend the book highly – especially for those with an entrepreneurial bent.  Really, though, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the structure and running of an organization.  For no other reason, you should read it for the gentle but meaningful open-hand slap to the face it’ll give you about what’s happening in your day-to-day work life.

I may write a couple of follow-up posts about how the book functions as marketing and manifesto for the 37signals community and about the other companies 37signals name checks as illustrations of their points.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this interview of Jason Fried from O’Reilly Media:

Also, here’s a link to the 37signals “about us” page with company history, executive team profiles, statement of beliefs, and more.

BP’s Photoshopped Command Center: Why It Matters

So, BP gets called out for Photoshopping an image of their Command Center for use on their website.

Here’s a straight take from CBS News.

Here’s a more colorful approach from Treehugger.

Here are the before and after images (actually arranged as after and before):

British Petroleum, oil, Gulf, spill, disaster, PR, public relations, Photoshop, Adobe, manipulate, alter, image, photo

Before and After Photoshop: BP Command Center

I’ve seen two primary, polar reactions to this story:

  1. “It’s no surprise coming from those no-good, lying, reckless, corner-cutting, profit-hoarding goons!”
  2. “What’s the big deal?  They’ve obviously got bigger fish to fry!” (or fish to slick and suffocate, as it were)

I’ll take a minute to stand more toward the middle, but clearly on one side.

Altering an image is directly opposed to fundamental principles of management and public relations.  For the past 5 years, you couldn’t spend 5 minutes with any Harvard Business Review publication without feeling the movement toward transparency and authenticity.

Social media, in particular, has really brought these concepts in practice to the fore.  Fold in some Seth Godin-style storytelling-as-marketing and the picture is even more clear:  every individual and organization has the opportunity to tell the world who they are, what they’re about, where they’re from, why they’re here.  Beyond that, they can always share what they know, when they know it, directly with people who care.

If, however, these efforts are not received as honest and forthright from a good corporate citizen, this may be done for you (witness: BPGlobalPR on Twitter).  Regardless, companies of all sizes have embraced this opportunity and grown as a result.

As small an infraction as filling in a few Command Center monitors with some action shots may seem, it’s not honest.  When your every move is under the most extreme scrutiny you’ll ever enjoy, why doctor the images that are helping tell your story of response and recovery?  Apparently, trucking in workers for a Presidential photo op isn’t enough.

The BP spokesperson’s response to this story wasn’t awful: “Normally, we only use Photoshop for the typical purposes of color correction and cropping.”  Transparency, authenticity and honesty should be employed constantly, not “normally.”  Yes, it’s asking a lot, but truth is ultimately easier and best.

Among many the issues:

  • BP’s recent safety record is horrific compared to industry peers, so the talking point that the company has been “laser focused” on safety under Hayward is absolutely hollow.
  • Original estimates on the amount of oil pouring into the Gulf (5,000 revised to 50-100,000) now seem as ridiculous as the original cost estimates of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ($50-60,000,000,000 revised to $2-3,000,000,000,000).
  • BP has actively restricted access to images and information.
  • BP continues to buy pay-per-click campaigns (Google, Bing, Yahoo, YouTube) to try to steer searches to BP-produced information (to be fair, it’s a fine idea – I mention it because they took some heat for it).
  • BP withheld video of the leak for weeks, only released it through government mandate and continued to withhold HD video from scientists working on the problem.
  • Though off-point with regard to honesty, Hayward’s “I want my life back” and weekend of yachting earned charges of being aloof, insensitive and out of touch (um, 11 people lost their lives permanently in the initial explosion).  He even described the spill as “relatively tiny.”

The list goes on and the point remains: the PR response to the worst oil spill in U.S. history has been neither excellent nor honest.  The scope of this disaster is unprecedented.  It could have happened to any oil company working off shore.  Some PR blunders and gaffes can be reasonably expected.  Active obfuscation, however, is beyond “blunder.”

Bottom line: I find the Photoshopped image to be a micro-representation of an attitude, philosophy and practice completely opposed to the best path forward: transparency and authenticity.

Related Video

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has been very aggressive in covering this story.  A couple videos are linked in the body of this post and here’s a link to another specifically about transparency.  Plus, one embed:

BP CEO Tony Hayward fronts a friendly message with clean birds, clean beaches and colorfully suited workers (kin to the Intel Inside Pentium MMX dancers):

Thoughts?   Feel free to share them.

Experience is Not Expertise

I came across Albert Maruggi‘s “Marketing Edge” podcast a couple years back in the iTunes store.  Albert’s a smart and likable guy.  He used to be in television and now does social media and public relations consulting with Provident Partners in Minneapolis.

I probably would not be on Twitter if not for his advocacy.  Admittedly, I don’t use it to its full potential.  Regardless, I’ve learned a lot from his insights, observations and guests … which brings me to the topic.

Albert Maruggi of Provident Partners and the Marketing Edge

Last May, I listened to his interview with Dr Paul Schempp, a professor at the University of Georgia and president of Performance Matters.  The focus of Schempp’s life and work is understanding what it takes to be an expert performer.  Consistent with this theme, he consults many world-class athletes on expert performance routines.

Dr Paul Schempp of Performance Matters - Author, Scholar, Speaker, Coach

Schempp’s ideas have been condensed and clarified into 5 Steps to Expert, his fourth book.  Though I’ve not yet read the book (I’ve got so much reading to do), I’ve listened to Albert Maruggi’s interview with Schempp a few times.  I heard it again last night.

A stand-out takeaway: experience is not expertise.  This point is raised in Part 1 (link below) and illustrated by an example involving a student teacher who became teacher of the year in California a few years later.  It seems obvious, but the distinction seems lost on many people.  In my view, the concepts are related, but not in a causal way.

Just because someone’s been doing something a long time does not mean that he or she is getting any better at it.  Many people achieve level of competence that feels sufficient … they settle … they stagnate.  They’re competent performers, but they’re not on the road to expert status.

A smaller takeaway: the gentlemen briefly discussed point guard Terrell Brandon, a two-time NBA All-Star.  I don’t know why, exactly, but I really liked that guy.

Give the podcast a listen.  It’s a good conversation on a powerful topic.

Here’s Part 1 of the Paul Schempp interview on the Marketing Edge

Here’s Part 2 of the Paul Schempp interview on the Marketing Edge

Here are reader reviews of 5 Steps to Expert at

5 Steps to Expert by Dr Paul Schempp

The Reconstruction Begins: Tiger Woods & Nike

I’m as tired of the Tiger Woods story as you are.  Really.

However, I’ve seen a ton of nonsense about the first Tiger Woods ad to appear since the revelation of his extensive sexual indiscretions.

Two main categories of nonsense:

  • The ad is an expression of greed by Tiger Woods and Nike
  • The ad is a personal message from Tiger Woods himself

First: of course it’s greed!  The primary reason any athlete signs an endorsement deal and the primary reason any company extends one is, not surprisingly, profit motive on mutually acceptable terms.  The athlete provides associations the brand, product or company wants in order to increase sales.  The brand, product or company provides the athlete money in exchange.  It’s really that simple, so I won’t go any further with this ridiculously easy criticism of the ad and its existence.

Second: an agency (Wieden+Kenney) carefully created this message on behalf of Nike and Tiger Woods.  It’s not a personal message to you from Tiger Woods; do not accept it as such, narcissist.  It’s not a public acknowledgment of indiscretion by Tiger Woods – he’s provided one (sadly, by force).  It’s not a public apology by Tiger Woods – he’s already provided this, too.

So what is it?  It’s polarizing.  It’s talked-about.  It’s the beginning of the reconstruction of Tiger Woods’ image by a brand that stuck with him through the debacle.

Most of the negative remarks are the rightful result of Tiger-fatigue, so nonsense gets a pass.

Here’s the ad:

Here’s a transcription:  “Tiger … I am more prone to be inquisitive … to promote discussion.  I want to find out what your thinking was.  I want to find out what your feelings are.  And did you learn anything.”

Though it would have been the safest option, the absence of a Tiger Woods ad altogether during The Masters would have been quite conspicuous.

Since Nike decided instead to be present, their agency was presented a serious creative challenge.  Nike needs to turn back on as soon as possible the Tiger Woods cash machine they’ve built over the past decade or so.  The challenge: where and how does the reconstruction of the TW personal and brand images begin!?

A few thoughts about this execution:

  • Took the situation head on (did not gloss over it, ignore it or jump past it)
  • Visually simple and clean (no amazing shots, cheering crowds, triumphant victories)
  • Audibly simple and clean (no music, a couple bird chirps, dad’s voice)
  • Dad-as-conscience device works (no one wants to hear from Tiger or generic voiceguy)
  • Message is vague, curious and sensitive (no bold statements or declarations)
  • White logos over black vest and cap absolutely jump off (clearly present with being in your face)
  • All things considered, an above-average starting point (where would you have started!?)

I personally abhor Woods’ selfish and unfaithful behavior.  Though I know nothing about the science behind it, “sexual addiction” strikes me as a weak excuse for weak-minded, shameful behavior.  Climbing down off my moral high horse, as too few are wont to do, I accept this commercial message as the start of the reconstruction.

The commercial doesn’t “speak” to me.  It does not feel to me significant, impressive or provocative in any way.  It does feel a bit human, which is a good start.

Bottom line: Tiger Woods is a living case study that will eventually be published in formal marketing texts.  I don’t know how it will read or how I will feel about this commercial a year or two from now, but today it feels OK.  Nike’s got to fire back up that cash machine slowly and carefully.

Related: I’m quite curious about the original context of the recording, as Earl Woods passed away in 2006.

Also related: considering the financial stakes, “Brand Tiger Woods” moved far too slowly as the PR crisis rolled out and built up.  They had no control over public perception as more and more women emerged with allegations.  The online, print and television tabloids went burned wildly with the story.  To control the flames, it’s always best to be first and to be honest and to in times of crisis.

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