Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Blow, Winds!

“You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout!” Welcome to the first week of our hurricane season.

Dr Jim Siebert, Director of Meteorological Operations for Weather Insight, says there were 15 hurricanes last year (2005) compared to an annual average of five. Of our 2005 hurricanes, seven were considered “intense” versus the annual average of two-and-a-bit. He expects the current pattern to continue for several years.

(I got all this in a roundabout e-mail from Candace L Renaud, a principal of Renaud Sero Advisors, which specializes in commercial real estate services.)

Siebert also notes that this year weather conditions are prime for another record-breaking hurricane season. Weather Insights, which provides tailored weather services for the energy industry, places the probability for hurricane activity along the Gulf Coast this year at 47%. That’s a lot of risk.

So Renaud created some tips, things that an office tenant can do in advance to help minimize downtime and speed up payment of an insurance claim. Shortened for posting, the tips are:

1. Secure all critical documents, including your lease and insurance policies. Scanning these into a digital format and backing up the information offsite is a good way to insure all documents are safe. Also, securing all documents digitally may help employees working remotely to access critical files and continue working either from home or another city.

2. Secure records relating to tenant improvement expenses if your company contributed to those costs. This information will help expedite an insurance claim if necessary.

3. Make or update equipment and furniture lists. If possible, take digital photos. Secure them offsite.

4. Review lease provisions that relate to damage and destruction to the premises and make sure you follow those procedures if the premises are damaged. This is critical to insuring that rent is abated from the date of the destruction. Typically the tenant is responsible for notifying the landlord (usually in writing) of the damage.

5. If the building or premises is damaged to the extent that the space cannot be occupied, examine solutions for alternative office space.

6. Establish accounting procedures in advance for any possible storm damage. Also, establish procedures for employee payroll and operating capital during any possible downtime.

7. Make sure you have established an emergency communication plan for employees. Know who is evacuating, where and how they can be reached. It will also be helpful to have this information for vendors and sub-contractors.

You should know, I switched No. 6 and No. 7 in Renaud’s tip list because I want to emphasize how critical this disaster communication linkage is. You should know how to reach your people – and they should know how to reach you…in case this year's blows are as bad (or worse) than the last.

I bet the entire set of tips (rather than this shortened version) is yours for the asking if you e-mail Renaud Sero via its website. And thanks to Renaud herself for developing these tips.

Image provided by

Friday, May 26, 2006

Adapting Humanity

Same subject, different verse. DW Buffa, in one of his most recent books, has a character quote from “something Tolstoy wrote…written in 1910, the year Tolstoy died.”

Today, electricity, railroads, and telegraphs are corrupting the whole world. Everyone appropriates these things; they cannot avoid appropriating them, and everyone is suffering in the same manner, forced in the same degree to change their way of life. Everyone is being put in a situation in which it is necessary to betray what is most important in their lives, to betray an understanding of life itself...

What are machines supposed to manufacture? What are telegraphs supposed to transmit? What are schools, universities, and academics supposed to discuss? What kind of news is supposed to be conveyed by books and newspapers? What is supposed to be accomplished by millions of human beings who are drawn together and subjected to a higher power?

From what I’ve read, Leo Tolstoy (above, right) wrote I Cannot Be Silent! in 1908. Maybe this is the book to which Buffa is referring. I’ve never even heard of it. (But that’s why reading is such a hoot: I always learn something.)

Here’s the greatest moral authority in Russia, in that era, raging against technology and the fact that human beings embrace it with fervor. A hundred years ago. Just after Borden embraced change and condensed milk.

The morality of our adapting to tech has been debated and derided ad nauseam, whether it’s the medieval Church banning crossbows or middle-American communities banning pagers in their schools. Technology only changes morality if we let it. If we can cope with steam locomotives and telegraphs, if we can live through the era of portable TVs, we’ll get through the iPods and Blackberrys, too.

Adaptations shouldn’t condense our sense of the moral and the ethical, though. Right, Ken Lay?

Quotes from Trial by Fire, © DW Buffa, 2005. Tolstoy photo from

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Condensing Time

Last month (April 21), I blogged about the 24/7 lifestyle that technology has conferred on us. Roberta Lewis called from New Hampshire this AM, where she was visiting one of her clients. She had a quick job for me, had already hand-written a rough and wanted to fax it to me. I told her I didn’t have a fax machine. “Old technology,” I said, sidestepping the fact that I’ve intended to get one but haven’t. (I partially credit the fax machine with the downfall of the Soviet Union, BTW.)

It’s not old technology – but we keep moving faster and faster.

We also keep forgetting that the increasing velocity of life is old news. Thanks to a fine article in this morning’s Houston Chronicle, by Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky, I was reminded again.

She’s written about condensed milk and its inventor, Gail Borden. A great read with a lot of history to it. Borden (above, right) was one of those Promethean 19th Century gents who relished the advance of technology and calculated its effect on the daily lives of millions. In a ‘graph in the middle of her long article, Grodinsky quotes from a biography of Borden:

The world is changing in the direction of condensing…Time was when people…would spend hours at a meal. Napolelon never took over 20 minutes…I am through in 15.

Grodinsky’s article is one more reminder that there’s little that's new under the sun. That our lives are constantly accelerating. It didn’t start with the computer, the fax machine or the telephone. It’s been going on for 200-plus years: what the Industrial Revolution really means. It’s as well to say that technology condenses time the same way that Borden condensed milk.

It’s hard to be politically correct and blame McDonald’s for our fast food addiction when it’s been growing for a couple of centuries.

Photo from Gail Borden Public Library District, Elgin, IL. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Fizzy Room

Two people watch Abraham Lincoln give his brief address at Gettysburg. One thought it was the poorest, weakest thing he had ever heard. The other (Edward Everett) wrote the President, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Different people, different impressions.

So I can only report my impressions of the AMA Healthcare Special Interest Group’s “Service Line Marketing” event at the Texas Medical Center last week. No historic two-minute address here, but helpful insights and conclusions.

The photos don’t show it, but our two speakers played to a packed house. Gail McFaddin, RHD Memorial Medical Center’s Director of Business Development (top) and Andrea Patton of Iris Advertising (bottom) came from Dallas last Tuesday AM to present a comparison of service line marketing efforts from two Tenet hospitals, Houston Northwest Medical Center and RHD itself.

A crowd gives a room energy. So the Trevisio meeting room was fizzy and the speakers responded to it. They gave an honest presentation: two hospital promotions, two results…and little to show for them.

When you go to an event like this, you expect to hear success. That’s what every speaker wants to present, every client wants to show off. But Gail and Andrea stepped up and gave us the sadder facts of their case. Both promotions were based around an effort to reach men over 50 with a hospital-directed message about colorectal cancer – and they offered a free self-test kit as an incentive.

They went through the right steps: matching prospects at risk to the demographics of the hospitals’ respective service areas; creating a mixed-media campaign of postcard mailer and small ads; assembling a fulfillment package complete with a free EZ Detect Kit and a way to return the self-test results to the hospitals; and tracking the results.

The media were similar in both cities, with about the same amount of money spent on each promotion. But the Dallas campaign focused primarily on community prospects, while the Houston program split its fire among three targets: community, hospital employees, and patients in the hospital database.

In the end, Houston did better. Northwest Medical Center was able to measure its ROI: the promotion turned $14.60 in net revenue for every dollar spent on the promotion.

RHD was in the negative numbers – 52 cents in net revenue for each dollar spent…not so good. The speakers pointed to what they felt they’d done right – and what they’d do differently. But the presentation suggested that this colorectal cancer promotion didn’t play to the definition of service line marketing: a completely packaged approach to deploying and fielding a very specific service.

A service line reinforces branding – it firmly supports what your hospital or clinic is known for (or wants to be known for). It can increase volume, profitability and reimbursement. It can help maintain and even increase market share. It can improve customer service.

It’s easy to be on the outside looking in. But my takeaways from last Tuesday were two. They’ll both be familiar to you. First, the basic service line marketing idea is only sell one thing at a time. Second, sell the living daylights out of it.

Number one is hard enough…it’s tough to get any organization to focus, focus, focus. Yet we recognize immediately the cancer treatment focal point of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the pediatric specialization of Texas Childrens Hospital. Even in a general-services hospital, you can strongly promote a particular specialty, as Spring Branch did a few years ago with its wound care clinic.

Number two is harder. Put enough throw-weight behind a promotion – in dollars and dedication – to make certain that it penetrates your marketplace. Northwest Medical Center’s apparent success is pleasant to contemplate but the actual dollars involved were very low. The time the promotions spent attacking their markets was quite limited. Building a brand is challenging enough. Too little time and money spend on a promotion will result in failure.

So what do you give two marketing professionals who stand in front of their peers and present a case that didn’t win?

One hell of a round of applause for taking the rougher road. Thanks to Gail and Andrea for a fine learning experience.

Thanks to Karen Orso for the photographs.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Why Lawyers

Look: this wheel has come off. For every one of us creative and marketing people who’ve rassled with client lawyers over the wording of brochure sentences, or what can’t be shown in an ad, there’s a lesson here.

It’s a cheerless one. In the “The M-BlawG” section of the April 15 number of the AMA’s Marketing News, I noted that Reebok, the athletic shoe manufacturer, is recalling 300,000 lead-based charm bracelets after a four-year-old swallowed the charm. And died of complications from lead poisoning. You can read the whole story here.

Here’s where a knowledgeable, experienced lawyer comes in – not after a tragedy like this happens, but before it happens. According to the story in Marketing News:

Health officials indicated that the bracelet was 99% lead; a second bracelet was 68% lead. The safety limit in jewelry in the United States is 0.006%. The promotional item, which Reebok says was made in China, was engraved with the Canton, Mass.-based company’s logo and was given as a free gift with the purchase of children’s shoes since May 2004.

This isn’t a problem of copyright law – it’s a consumer safety issue. And someone at Reebok, somewhere, never thought to ask about the lead content of the charm bracelet. The US government identified the toxicity of lead more than 30 years ago. The US voluntary toy safety standard, ASTM F-963-03, limits soluble lead in toys (that is, lead that may migrate from the toy and be ingested by a child) to no more than 90 parts-per-million (ppm). But under federal law, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) enforces a limit for total lead content of 600 ppm – that’s the 0.006% number in the quote above.

That’s why we need to think of all the ramifications of our activities (I wonder if I would have thought of it?) …and why we need our clients’ lawyers. In my own experience, the very best client lawyers – and I have worked with lots of them –do three things:
  • Refrain from imposing their subjective opinions on your creative expressions
  • Advise you of the relative risks involved in specific cases, like product comparisons – and let you make the decisions
  • Inform you when you absolutely cannot say, picture, or do something that is, de jure, illegal.

In the Reebok case, the promotional item was illegal. Its composition was against the law in May 2004; it’s against the law now. True: hindsight is 20/20. Also true: a conscientious lawyer keeps you from making a deadly error before you make it. Before the wheels come off your promotion or your marketing activity.

I am sorry for the child that died from swallowing the charm, and sorry for his parents. Sorry for Reebok, whom I’m certain meant no harm. But this is one of those cases where I’m really sorry that an attorney familiar with CPSC law didn’t blow the whistle. That’s “why lawyers.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Man Law

After chatting about Mitchum’s new advertising campaign (see the post, April 24th), I’ve gotten some feedback about how blatant and even exploitive the campaign’s TV commercials are – maybe you’ve seen these clumsy items yourself.

Thanks to a note from Susan Reeves, watch how Miller Lite handles the same line of attack: a series of commercials called “Man Law” which you can see here. Neat ideas, handled in a self-mocking manner that’s got some genuine appeal. (I also protest that Burt Reynolds still looks like he hasn’t aged a day in the past 15 years. Unlikely he’s a Mitchum Man, since he turned 70 this year and is way outside Mitchum’s demographic.)

I don’t drink the stuff…but Miller’s advertising: always a good call.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Craft Beer

It is the sin of the world that there are just two brewpubs left in Houston (that I know about). ‘Cause this week, May 15-21, has been elected American Craft Beer Week by The Brewers Association: “A time for all legal-drinking-age Americans to explore and celebrate the flavorful beers produced by our small, traditional and independent brewers.”

In a city of four million-plus people, two’s hardly enough. So if you should happen to be in the West U area, stop by
Two Rows Restaurant & Brewery. Mucking about Bay Area Boulevard, way down south? Try BJ's Restaurant & Brewery.

The good news, of course, is that we still have St. Arnold’s, whose brews are available on tap or in bottles all over town. (Its rainbow-painted Bentley was in the Art Car Parade on Saturday.) Plus plenty of places where you can get a pull and a pint of all kinds of craft beers.

I’ve been seeing outdoor media around the city introducing Heineken Premium Light Beer – whatever next? If you are one of those people that drink “Lite” beer under the persistent delusion that these are real, treat yourself to the healthy effect of a craft-brewed ale or lager somewhere in the Bayou City this week.

Banging the barrel for my current favorites, purchase a few sample bottles from Stone Brewery, available at Spec’s. Its Arrogant Bastard and IPA are particularly tasty and filled with good things – you will enjoy them. (Actually, just reading the Arrogant Bastard back label will give you the courage to go on with your life…or the nerve.)

If you see me out this week in any of the pubs, I’ll stand you a pint.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Barbara's Escape

Most of you know by now that Barbara Nytes-Baron has left the building, work-wise. My spousal unit sent this e-mail to a number of friends and relations:

Well I certainly hope this includes everyone I need to inform. If you think I’ve missed someone please feel free to inform them that you heard from me that I am no longer at the Northwest Branch (of the Harris County, TX, library system).

I will have to say that my arthritic hip is no longer sore and believe it or not there are actually fewer frown lines! All in all a good decision. I’ll be loafing for a few months – doing all of the things that I couldn’t or didn’t get around to when I was working. Then I’ll regroup and move on.

Our daughter, Rachel Baron, exhibited mysterious foresight last weekend, before Barbara resigned the library. She gave her mom a Saint Barbara votive candle (with the traditional red wax, from the Reed Candle Company, San Antonio, TX). Curious parallel: in the Middle Ages, Barbara, one of the most popular saints, was kept imprisoned in a tower to “protect” her from the world.

Now Barbara has escaped from her tower. It’s kinda nice having her around during my workdays.
Happy Mother’s Day, Barbara, and much love. I couldn’t be happier for you.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Connie’s Joke

Fred Chung came to America and realized his dream. After just a few years, he had opened his own restaurant in a little shopping area in town. His place was popular, he made friends with the other retailers up and down the street, and he prospered. So he decided it was time to wed, and he sent to China for a bride in the traditional way.

A marriage was arranged. A lovely and traditional young woman arrived from Szechuan Province to be his wife and helpmeet. His happiness was complete.

Several years after he married, a long-time customer told him a shocking thing: his wife was having an affair with Chaim Goldstein, who owned the tailor and dry cleaning shop just three doors down the street.

Impossible! He couldn’t believe it. He wouldn’t believe it. He swore that he wouldn’t bring it up. But as soon as he arrived home that evening and saw her, he burst out: “Are you having an affair with Chaim Goldstein the Tailor?”

His wife looked him straight in the eye and said, “What are you, meshugee? What momzer told you that?”

Courtesy of Connie Flemming, Stonehenge Productions. Yiddish-impaired? Check here. A bi gezunt!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cahill Blogs

I haven’t spoken to Jim Cahill in a decade. Less than an hour after I posted my recollection about Emerson’s DeltaV process management brand (below), I got a great note from Jim. Today, he is Director of Marketing Communications for the Process Systems and Solutions business unit of Emerson Process Management.

Here’s what’s important to you: Jim started a blog about Emerson technology and solutions. Most of this story is his:

I believe there is a lot of knowledge that is trapped in e-mail inboxes of our experts, and this blog is the first step for us to make this expertise more visible and easier for people to find via search engines like Google.

Jim and Emerson are practicing what I’ve been preaching about the appropriate use of blogging for marketing. So here is the rest of Jim’s tale:

We started the weblog because we believed this would be the best way to showcase the expertise we have here at Emerson. My belief is that marketing “expertise” is very different from marketing products. It requires a more conversational tone; much like how you might assess the capabilities and competence of a roofer after a hailstorm (we’ve had quite a few of these recently!).

Blogs are a great medium for this. They also provide a means for two-way dialog with comments. Among our primary competitors we are the first to be blogging (much like DeltaV was the first of the new breed of digital automation systems).

Emerson Process Experts has been around for a little over two months. It has been discovered by a few of the trade press editors (Gary Mintchell, Walt Boyes) who also blog, and have pointed posts over my way. I've been actively promoting the blog to our global sales force and installed base customers for our systems and solutions customers, and subscribers to our email list. We definitely want to reach process manufacturing professionals, particularly automation engineers and their management.

We are up to around 7000 visitors a month (excluding internal and global Emerson folks). RSS subscriptions are much smaller – in the order around a 100.

Jim and his team have been working to promote the adoption of RSS with an RSS Starter Kit. He discusses some of the issues he thinks are holding RSS adoption back here. The famous PR blogger Steve Rubel even mentioned Emerson’s RSS Starter Kit in one of his posts.

Newsletters have their place in your marketing mix today. But they are awkward to produce – even “Emerson Process Experts” is labor-intensive. They are also a bit old-fashioned, especially if they reflect badly on a position you’ve taken as a “technology” company (whatever your industry).

Think about your external and internal audiences. Determine whether your audiences have access to computers and the Internet. If they don’t, stick with the printed newsletter.

But as Jim Cahill demonstrates, a righteous blog has the potential of replacing your newsletter and reaching out to customers, prospects and employees in ways you never imagined.

Read the blog. Be the blog.

Thanks and a tip of the Hatlo hat to Jim Cahill for all the details.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It’s Alive!

Ten years back, Honeywell was the market leader in process control systems. Today the leader is Emerson Process Management, thanks to its DeltaV control system.

I was pretty danged pleased to see Emerson at the Offshore Technology Conference (Booth 2775). Because I created the DeltaV brand name for what was then Fisher-Rosemount back at the end of ’95. I used a version of SEMANTIK*, my brand-creation methodology.

F-R has since been totally absorbed by Emerson. But DeltaV has gone on to fame and fortune. Readers of
Control Magazine voted the DeltaV system the industry's #1 process automation system for a fifth consecutive year.

This Emerson business unit was a client of The Edmondson Group in Austin. I worked with Roger Edmondson to create this “way cool” brand for the entire new system. Gayle Smith, Roger’s Chief Designer then and now, created the logo you see here – much the same over the past decade. So forgive a prideful moment.

What’s even cooler is that Emerson is, to this day, using much the same description of the brand that I invented for the system at the beginning of ’96:

The name DeltaV is derived from the engineering equation for acceleration: dv/dt, the change in velocity over the change in time. The DeltaV system makes planning, engineering, installing, commissioning, training, operating, and maintaining your process EASY, which accelerates your success in improving your plant performance.

Going into the original creative process, Todd Brace and Jim Cahill told us that the new system, whose working name was “Hawk,” was going to revolutionize the process control business. Thanks to Emerson’s technology and selling power – and a great brand name – they were absolutely right.

Oh yeah...the commercial. I almost forgot. Want to learn more about creating brands that last for decades? E-mail me and I’ll send you a copy of the SEMANTIK presentation.

*A Richard Laurence Baron trademark. All rights reserved. Logo courtesy of Emerson.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Something Fishy

One of the gifts we received for our 29th wedding anniversary was a visit from Rachel Baron (daughter) and Alison Bond (friend), all the way from New York City.

The previous weekend, they had been to the “historic” Shad Festival in Lambertville, NJ. This two-day get-together has been held annually since 1981 to herald the return of spawning shad up the Delaware River. This quote is part of the “romance” of the shad:

The abundance of shad in spring reminds us again how fortunate we are to have in our midst the largest free flowing river in the East, one that has eagerly responded to conservation and clean up efforts. Nowhere is this thanks better expressed than at the annual Shad Festival at Lambertville, where the tiny city’s commercial links with shad span more than a century. The Lewis family of Lambertville, whose island fishery dates to 1888, and who hold the only remaining commercial license to catch shad with nets, have been key participants since the festival’s inception 24 years ago.

So before Rachel and Alison visited Houston, they reveled in the Shad Festival and the area surrounding Lambertville. The accompanying photos are proof of their visit. (Rachel was at a loss to explain how she can to be inside something resembling a concrete outhouse. She swears she couldn’t remember – the shad stole her mind.) She does note, however, that in the entire Shad Festival complex, you could only get actual shad in two booths. The people were abundant but the shad were not.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Silver Winner

Want to know what wins great big creative awards in India? Flea Global, headed by one of my colleagues in India, Sunil Shibad, won a Silver Award for this commercial at Goa Fest.

“Car Park” was entered in a two-day awards festival, 28-29 April, in Goa. The Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), the collective body of the country’s leading advertising agencies, hosted the event…similar to the Cannes Film Festival.

The AAAI expected more than 3,000 entries from members as well as non-members. All the creative work entered for the show was on display and the TV spots that were submitted were fully screened. Goa Fest was big enough to make the Times of India.

You have to watch it for yourself – I won’t give it away. But to win an award in a contest this size is a wonder. It’s worth a click. Sunil and director/producer Vivek Kamat handled the project for McCann Erickson. Way to go!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Atypical Premium

Advertising that breaks pattern is going to stand out.

In some industries, there’s a common pattern in most ads. In the consulting segment, you’ll see ads that feature a carefully balanced group of people, standing or sitting seriously around a big conference table. Young people having fun, fun, fun: that’s either cell phones or MP3 players…sometimes both.

It’s called “the rig in the sunset” in the upstream oil and gas sector: a big, beautiful four-color photograph of a drilling rig or production platform at sunrise or sunset. A little (or a lot of) copy underneath it. The company logo is usually stashed at the bottom. Everybody has done it at one time or another. But the ads you remember are the ones that don’t have that assembly-line look.

For a brand new company, Premium Drilling, we broke the mold. That’s me and Prism Design. We looked at existing advertising for drilling companies and presented our client with several more-or-less utterly different options. I credit Premium Drilling with selecting the differentest of the lot.

This new company got itself a running start, with every new jack-up rig a-building in Singapore already booked. Its two ads were specifically designed to run as a pair, with an initial appearance in that epitome of an oilfield annual, the Mobile Rig Register.

So the headline play is purposeful and highlights a company that decided how it wanted to operate from its inception: not only new but smart with it.

Much more important is the ads’ design. Here’s a very graphic approach to telling two stories in a unified format. Against its Premium Blue background, “Smart Way” uses a star-configured constellation of bullet points to emphasize the building blocks of the new company’s organizing principles, architected against silhouettes of some of its employees.

“New Way” organizes different bullet points – about the rigs’ technical features – as contributing factors, with a silhouette of one drill rig as its center. The designer integrates headlines, visuals, copy, even participating organizations, into cohesive wholes which deliver a different look to a market niche that has way too many photos of drill rigs as its main ad visuals.

My appreciation to Premium Drilling for allowing us to work with it on its advertising. And to my long-time colleagues at Prism, my thanks for letting me help create these atypical and vivid corporate ads.

For the record: Susan Reeves, Creative Director; Terry Teutsch, Designer/Art Director; Richard Laurence Baron, Copywriter.