Thursday, May 31, 2007

Logo Conceited

Certainly you recognize the logo above. Its owner leaps right to the front of your mind, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Perhaps not.

You know I usually steer clear of overt criticism. On the other hand, of the dozens if not hundreds of logo marks for which I have been the Creative Director in the past 30 years, I don’t recall even recommending a candidate and a brand that’s been this…pretentious.

Maybe “arcane” is a kinder word. It’s a cuneiform inscription: the earliest-known written appearance of the word “freedom” (amagi), or “liberty.” That’s the gloss which many scholars have put upon it. It is taken from a clay tablet written about 2300 BC in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.

The glyph and the word Amagi also serves as the imprint for all Liberty Fund books: an imprint that brings the past 100 years' classics of liberal economic and political theory to life for today’s college students, according to the website. You can find works that aren’t considered classics. However, the Liberty Fund considers them important to understanding a society of free and responsible individuals.

I won’t cast tablets at the organization’s intention. Based in Indianapolis, The Liberty Fund is a privately held educational foundation founded in 1960 by Pierre F Goodrich. When he died, he left much of his fortune to encourage the study of the ideal of a free society. The foundation develops, supervises and finances activities “to foster thought and encourage discourse on enduring issues pertaining to liberty.”

Well and good. But somebody, perhaps Goodrich himself, came up with this cuneiform logo and name. It is more than a little obscure, an academic curiosity that doesn’t transmit anything to the viewer except, “What the heck is that?” So the website helpfully explains it. That’s a body blow for any logo mark.

Yes, I do understand: every logo has to start somewhere. And I haven’t walked a mile in the Amagi logo mark creator’s shoes, especially since the creator is 4,500 years deceased. Passed on. Joined the Choir Invisible back when Sumer ruled supreme in Mesopotamia.

How many people really know that the BMW mark is a spinning white propeller blade against a blue sky? It reflects the origins of BMW as a maker of military aircraft engines for the Germans during World War I – but it’s associated today with outstanding motor vehicles. How about the Nike “swoosh?” It represents the wing of the eponymous Greek goddess. It first appeared in 1971 and has been gradually simplified as its frame increased. “Run fast,” it says.

So I do come from the school that says a logo ought to tell a story, even if it takes a few years for it to catch on (if ever). Most logos never make it to the Big Show: a common, even universal understanding that a particular mark stands for a specific brand like P&G’s moon-and-stars. Coca-Cola’s script. Disney’s Magic Kingdom castle.

Advertising what your logo stands for is really quite an important step, telling its story and wrapping it around your own.

Amagi, however, may just contentedly sit there being obscure. To be fair, the Amagi imprint does come up in the first two Google listings. (Several other listings point out that amagi means “heavenly castle” in Japan, being both the name of a city and a World War II Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier of the Unryū class – never deployed.)

You have to be acquainted with the brand name Amagi before you can look it up. Correct?

I wouldn’t have know about amagi at all save for its particular mention in a superb new book by Susan Wise Bauer, The History of the Ancient World. It’s a fine, engaging history, let me tell you, with enough interleaved humor to help you realize this is one smart author with wide-ranging interests. I wouldn’t say 777 pages is a quick read although I’m already halfway through it. I recommend it strongly.

In addition to pointing out that the cuneiform marks were snapped up by the Liberty Fund, “simply proving that no good social reform goes unexploited,” (page 93), Bauer also remarks that the term amagi is arguably the first time the idea of “freedom” shows up in human written language. She notes (as does the Liberty Fund site) that amagi literally means “return to the mother.”

That is, the ruler of Lagash intended to return his kingdom to an earlier state, one that is more pure, “the state of justice intended by the gods.”

With this knowledge in mind, we could say that the Liberty Fund logo mark really means, “When you get tired of reading our books, go home to your momma.”

I am exaggerating for effect. Every company has the right to portray itself the way it likes. This cuneiform idea, however, is too precious. Maybe I just don’t have clients who are classically educated enough to appreciate the oddball nature of this brand name and logo mark. On the other hand, who knew what “Google” stood for when it was introduced?

Or maybe my clients recognize that we aren’t playing around outside the walls of academia. The Nike swoosh may have come from the Winged Victory of Samothrace, but it really means “I can beat you with one foot in a cast.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Elective Surgery?

Charles Halliman went searching for a definition of elective medical services – like surgery. He’s a good researcher: he’s written and spoken about Business Intelligence for the medical community for more than a decade.

He discovered the job wasn’t quite as straightforward as the Healthcare Special Interest Group (or I) imagined.

“My research,” he says, “focused on how experts described bariatric surgery (for example), with respect to the word ‘elective.’ I wanted to see how often the word ‘choice’ was used in conjunction with the surgery. I didn’t find the word ‘choice’ very often. I found the words ‘necessary’ and ‘urgent’ more often. And I felt that saying that a patient can make a ‘choice’ to have the surgery may be misleading since strict criteria are used to decide when to do the surgery.”

Elective medical procedures aren’t life-threatening. They’re not always considered cosmetic, either.

Instead, an elective medical procedure can improve a sufferer’s quality of life. Bariatric services are just one field of “elective” practice that leads to better life quality. So are certain gynecological services (like pelvic reconstruction) – an area I’ve never considered and shame on me.

You and I are going to find out more about how these quality-of-life options are marketed on Wednesday June 20, 2007.

A specializing physician (Dr. Ginger Cathey, MD, FACOG) and a pair of highly skilled marketing professionals (Mary Beth Robinson and Kimberly Taylor) will present “Marketing Elective Medical Services” at a special lunch-time event.

Elective medical procedures involve complex issues like patient need, motivation, and awareness, not to mention insurance and financial constraints. Marketing these so-called “electives” is sometimes very tricky. We’re not talking botox injections here.

We’ve been promised some case studies about marketing tactics plus the importance of physician communication to grow the practice.

So if you’re a marketer from any Houston-area healthcare organization, or you have healthcare-related clients for your advertising, PR or design practice, get the details and register on line here.

Your reminder’s right there on the clipboard. The place is the Hilton Houston Plaza, 6633 Travis Street in the Medical Center. (I’ll probably take the train.) The marketing event has been put together by the American Marketing Association chapter’s Healthcare SIG. We’ll start at 11.30AM on the dot.

You can choose to miss out on a presentation that may improve the quality of your skills. Or elect to come to the luncheon and learn something necessary, even urgent.

Tuesday thank-yours to Prism Design, Inc., Medical Journal Houston and XL Films for the extra support.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

At 3PM today, we’re asked to take a moment and reflect in silence on the men and women who gave their lives for our country in so many wars.

When the rain stops, I’ll put the family’s American Flag out. Go up to the corner store, where I’ll likely find a red paper poppy for sale. On Memorial Day in the United States, and Great Britain’s, Canada’s and Australia’s Remembrance Day, it used to be quite common to wear a paper or cloth poppy as a lapel pin.

Just as World War I ended, Moina Belle Michael thought to wear real red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving America during war. She got the idea from a poem she’d read, “In Flanders Field.” She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers. The money went to benefit servicemen in need.

A Frenchwoman, Madame E Guérin, was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Michael. When she returned to France, she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. The tradition spread to other countries.

In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the American Veterans of Foreign Wars for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later its
Buddy Poppy Program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

Michael was a countrywoman of mine, born near Good Hope, GA, in 1869. Her daddy was a veteran of the Civil War, serving with the Confederate States Army in some of the largest and most important actions of the war. She grew up with the effects of war on her own family, in her own backyard.

She attended Lucy Cobb Institute and the Georgia State Teachers College, both in Athens, and Columbia University. In later life she had become one of Georgia’s outstanding educators. She died on 10 May 1944.

On 9 November 1948, the US Post Office held first-day-of-issue ceremonies in Athens, Ga. for a 3¢ commemorative stamp honoring Michael. The stamp’s release came on the 30th anniversary of the day she conceived of the idea of selling poppies to help care for disabled soldiers and their families.

After his World War II service, my father-in-law Sam Slavik, USCG, became an active member of the VFW. (My daddy, Paul Hirsch Baron, USAAF, wasn’t such a joiner.) My mother-in-law, Rosemary Slavik, spent years in the VFW Ladies Auxiliary and she was still making red paper poppies for her post until she retired.

The 3¢ stamp is long gone but the paper poppies remain. It’s a remembrance that hardly costs more than a passing thought. It’s worth so much more.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Endearing Stakeholders

…Or a follow-up article about the “Stakeholder Rule.” I introduced it in the last post (below). You don’t have to peek ‘cause I’ll repeat it: A company’s position ought to take hold – and take place – in the minds of all its stakeholders. It’s an interactive approach to a brand. These days, every company should recognize that its branding is a two-way street; I used this in the earlier post in terms of employees particularly.

I thought several firms were doing a good job of involving their internal stakeholders (managers and employees). At the same time, I asked the members of my online discussion group to help identify other companies. Among the helpful answers was one from David B Wolfe, a long-time advertising pro who pointed me to his new book.

The book’s cover is pictured above, left: Firms of Endearment, published under the Wharton School imprint. When you go to the book’s website, you’ll see that Wolfe is one of the authors; Raj Sisodia and Jag Sheth make up the rest of the writing trio.

I’m not about to critique a book I haven’t read. But I have done two things: I read the Prologue and I read Chapter 1.

You can do these too – they’re good for your mind and they’re free. Form your own preliminary conclusion. (In fact, Wolfe has done an outstanding job of getting the book title onto the Web…you’ll find plenty of references and arguments via Google.)

What I like about what the story so far is that Wolfe and his co-authors have identified firms that have endeared themselves to their stakeholders. The authors have taken care to identify which groups make up the typical stakeholders of a given company.

The book names names: Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s, for example. It presents cases (insofar as I can tell at this point) about why these firms and their brands work better in the modern capitalist world than others. The “why” seems to be better stakeholder interaction. The basic premise is stated early: This is not a book about corporate social responsibility. It is about sound business management.

Some of the material does have a New Age tinge that would otherwise make me shy away. The book hasn’t won 100% ratings from critics, like a review by PR executive Stephen Newton here. Newton calls the book’s title “twee,” Brit-speak for “overly precious, affectedly dainty.”

Considering Wolfe’s background, though, there’s value in his experience alone.

If you think there’s any importance to my Stakeholder Rule, you ought to at least preview Wolfe’s book. His premise isn’t quite the same, but Firms of Endearment appears to have some well-researched material that I’m looking forward to digging into.

I ordered it from (so you can relax, David – this month’s rent is secure).

Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose by Rajendra S Sisodia, David B Wolfe and Jagdish N Sheth. Wharton School Publishing, 2007. “Stakeholder Rule” © Richard Laurence Baron. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Culture Club

Companies that try to change their business model, their brand’s approach to markets and their operations run into a similar and vexing problem – one I call the “culture club.”

Change will never occur if you can’t convince the stakeholders in your company’s culture that change is good. There may be every good reason – financial, operational, and even marketing – to change the direction of your company’s brand. But your managers and workers, some of whom may have been with the firm for many years, are the company’s culture. Without their consent, the culture won’t change: it’s like your employees hold a club over your head.

One intent behind my earlier post about Pitney Bowes was to begin a dialogue about changing the path – and the brand meaning – of a company as it moves forward. As many older firms do, Pitney Bowes wants to transform the way its customers, prospects and investors view the firm. I wonder, though, if phrases like “The mailstream is all around you—a global force synonymous with commerce” have been absorbed and agreed upon by the corporation’s 33,000+ employees.

If your employees don’t agreed with what you’re doing, they will occlude the fulfillment of your efforts to transform the company. Not only will they block the changes, they’ll become reactionary voices and undermine your work.

Joel Staff just stepped down as CEO of Reliant Energy. He’s become an expert in corporate turnarounds. (I knew him when he first became CEO of Baker Hughes; 10 years later, he led a management buyout of National Oilwell and turned that into a $16 billion company. He took over Reliant in August 2003. He in on record saying:

…at Reliant and National Oilwell there was a lot of the sense that the problem, the enemy, was within the company, so people didn’t demonstrate respect for each other…I think I gained a deeper understanding of how powerful people are when they get committed and own the vision.

How many companies do you know where “the people” are committed to the corporate vision and direction? Mustang Engineering has been a positive example in previous posts. My sense is that Caterpillar is another, although I could change my mind based on a current lawsuit.

Negative side? I suppose you could look at Enron before the crash – at least among its senior executives. They clubbed the brand (and an entire market sector) into a bloody mess. The victims of its top-down version of the culture club were its employees, its stockholders and even a whole industry.

I propose a rule: A company’s position ought to take hold – and take place – in the minds of all its stakeholders. I emphasize the word “all” because the internal stakeholders, the employees, are frequently ignored when it comes to fostering change – at least that’s my observation. I’ll call this the Stakeholder Rule (absent a better name).

When I present the Stakeholder Rule to clients I usually ask, “Is your company’s culture bottom-up or top-down?” It’s not a complex question. When I explain that I’m attempting to discover who owns the company’s culture, it is usually answered rather honestly. So I’ve been fortunate in my clients.

An honest answer is usually the starting point for one of two recommendations. No. 1, make certain that the transformations you want to affect are communicated to and involve the interactive participation of all your internal stakeholders. Or No. 2, conduct intensive internal research to discover the real answer. Once No. 2 is executed, it’s safe to proceed with No. 1.

Adopt the Stakeholder Rule and you can avoid the worst outbreaks of culture clubbing. Willing adoption of changes by your employees will give your transformative ideas a better chance to survive and thrive.

If you’re uncomfortable with the term “culture club,” maybe you’ve heard the expression, “tiger by the tail?” It’s one of several versions of a story about a young soldier who leaves his laager in the evening. His mates and officers hear a great thrashing about in the jungle outside the camp. Then comes the soldier’s voice, calling out for his officer: “Sir! Sir! I’ve caught a tiger by the tail!”

His captain shouts back, “Well done, Private Jones! Bring him into the camp.”

“I can’t, Sir. He won’t let me.” Different metaphor. Same idea.

Photo © Paha from “Stakeholder Rule” © Richard Laurence Baron. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Drugging Heavy

Want to cure your marthambles? Suffering from the strong fives and want to relieve your pain? You don’t have to call your doctor this instant. Start your exploration for the perfect drug in the pages of, oh, say, Cooking Light magazine.

Not news: advertising Rx drugs to consumers. Several years ago, a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) survey of 500 doctors found that Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertising was increasing patient awareness of diseases and improving interaction between patients and doctors. Despite this, and because they were concerned about the rising cost of health care, some Members of Congress began considering legislation to restrict or discourage DTC ads.

This past April, the Magazine Publishers Association’s vigorous defense of magazine publishers’ right to carry pharmaceutical advertising suffered a little setback. The US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee booted an MPA-sponsored amendment to a drug safety bill that would have lessened restrictions on DTC pharma advertising. The villain-in-chief is pictured here – bet you can’t guess who it is.

The vote against the pro-DTC amendment was 11-10. All Democrats opposed the amendment. All Republicans supported it. The association will carry on the fight: “MPA Continues Vigorous Defense of Drug Advertising as Committee Rejects DTC Amendment by 11-10 Vote.”

DTCA is illegal in many countries, like Australia. In the US, it’s alive and well and part of a public debate about the right-to-inform (which is also about the right to advertise.)

I strongly support the right to advertise. I do wonder, though, if prescription drug advertising is exploitive.

Twenty-plus years ago, a survey of 64 popular men’s magazines and 47 women’s magazines revealed that almost seven times as many drug advertisements were found in the women’s mags than in the men’s rags. These ads were for over-the-counter drugs, not prescription…this was before the FDA let the drug companies undertake DTC advertising. [Journal of Drug Education, 1986-00-00; authors: Vener, AM; Krupka, LR]. Today, DTC ads are common in all media.

So the recent issue of Cooking Light arrived: 258 pages including a foldout cover. I like the magazine, mostly. There are some good recipes, nice photos…nothing exactly fancy in the way of print ads, but interesting for trend watchers.

Among Cooking Light’s 258 pages, 124 (48%) are full-page ads or equivalent units. Of these, 20 ads are for prescription drugs. So about half the issue is advertising and 19% of that promotes drugs DTC.

[These drug ads must have accompanying pages of lice-type-size “Patient Information,” which I’ve included in the count.]

Here’s Sally Fields pitching Boniva®, just like on the television commercials. The headline is a quote but Fields’s name does not appear in the ad. Hmmm? Cure the shooting pain in your feet with Lyrica®. “Protect against the formation of clots” with Plavix®. You can do something about your bladder control problem if only you were taking Detrol® LA.

PremproTM is right for menopausal symptoms. An ad for RozeremTM says “your dreams miss you” – an unusual series if you’ve been following it. Nexium® can heal the damage caused by acid reflux disease. (Is there anybody in America who doesn’t recognize the purple capsules now?)

The symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may be relieved by Spiriva®. Or you could stop smoking, I suppose. A rather ghastly purple cousin of Taz, the Warner Bros. cartoon character, represents migraine headaches in the ad for Imitrex®. I wonder if the people at Warner see a resemblance.

One of a very long-running series is an ad for Vytorin®, which is [a] for treating cholesterol and [b] rather clever (if occasionally obscure). The proposition is clearly stated on its website. Merck and Schering-Plough have been remarkably consistent in the two years I’ve been tracking this campaign. There’ll be a post about this campaign soon.

Finally, an ad from GlaxoSmithKline is introducing a once-a-day form of its best-selling heart medicine, called Coreg CRTM. Fair is fair: I use Coreg and I read this ad front and back. I may go for the 30-day-free trial since I have to take a dose twice a day.

The Vytorin ad in one of several that make sense for Cooking Light’s direct audience – foodies. Several more are close while the one about foot pain is…a bit disconcerting.

All these Rx ads (I included the OTC products in the overall page count, not the 20 DTCs) appear in a magazine whose readership is 85.4% women. Will I find the same heavy concentration of DTC ads in Field & Stream or “the Magazine for Today’s Go-To Guy,” Popular Mechanics?

I’ll just have to go buy the pubs and find out…since I’m reading Cooking Light these days.

PS: Most trademark law says that a registered trademark should be used as an adjective rather than a noun. For example, Brand-Aid® Brand Adhesive Bandages. The drug companies and their ad agencies seem to have reached a gentlemen’s agreement not to do this. Otherwise, Sally Fields would be saying “Boniva Brand Ibandronate Sodium Tablets” in every commercial.

Note: all trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All rights are reserved. Get your own brand name. “Marthambles" and “Strong Fives" courtesy of Patrick O'Brian of blessed memory.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Berol Cranks

Nobody is marketing pencil sharpeners these days. They’re simply selling them. But a classic brand – a relic of the machine age – came right out of our back room this past weekend. The machine in question: a Berol® Giant® Apsco® pencil sharpener. (Why does the unit label read “Sanford” in the picture? See below.)

It’s not the Apsco Dexter Model B, mind you – that’s a much older item. Nor is it the kind with the see-through celluloid holder for pencil shavings and graphite dust (which I always thought wouldn’t last very long).

No, I think ours is the better-known AP806 – a model which is still in production under a different name: “Sanford Giant.”

These machines are no longer on the Berol website because the Berol brand is owned by Sanford, the world’s largest writing instrument manufacturer. Along with the Berol brand, Sanford also own Parker, Waterman, Rotring, PaperMate and Karisma, among others.

Talk about your long-term brand: what became the Eagle Pencil Company was originally founded in 1856 in Germany by Daniel Berolzheimer. The company opened a pencil shop on John Street in New York City and a manufacturing operation at Yonkers, NY. At this point (I think), the firm was called Berolzheimer, Illfelder & Co. Berolzheimer’s son Henry took over the business.

Five successful years later, Henry purchased the city's first iron-framed building. This factory, which produced pencils, pens, pen holders and erasers, took a whole city block covering East 13th and East 14th Streets. The company’s showroom was on Broadway.

In the custom of the day, sales agents were established in France, Germany, Russia, Austria, Norway and Cuba. To supply the wood slats, the company’s Cedar Mills were established in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. It’s now the California Cedar Products Company, CalCedar, which has a fine corporate history. Berol itself kept growing (and acquiring other pencil companies) for more than 100 years.

The Berol Corporation was formed in 1969, merging nine different office supply companies from North America and the UK.

In 1986, Empire bought Berol, creating an office supply superpower swimming in pencils. The new corporate entity was then called Empire-Berol. In 1995, the European part was acquired by Sanford Corporation in the UK. In the US, Sanford is part of Newell Rubbermaid. Confused yet? Don’t be: brands migrate even when the products remain the same for decades. Especially a device that keeps on working, year after year.

Our unit is a real machine – you can see as soon as you take it apart. On the faceplate, there’s a six-hole guide that accepts all popular pencil sizes. Inside (even after all this time), there is a shiny micromated cutterhead, “twin planetary cylindrical cutters with spiral cutting edges,” that would do a tool & die company proud.

The body is metal and the barrel is gray-painted plastic. It is about 4”x 4” including the crank. We’ve had it at least 30 years, maybe more; and it’s been attached to the bookshelf in the back room since 1984. (It’s pictured in a 1953 catalogue from the American Pencil Sharpener Company – APSCO – in Chicago, IL…obviously one of the companies that Berol swept up.)

The names have merged and separated and merged again: APSCO, Sanford, Eagle and Berol: still cranking after all these years.

But I’m here to tell you, the quality behind the original name has continued to deliver on its promise, quietly and modestly, for longer than I’ve been alive. Now that’s a brand!

Interested in pencils and their brands? Check when you have an opportunity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Troubled Waters

“Was it your basement that flooded?”

I’ve told a lot of people about the water that got into our home last Thursday evening. After expressing their concerns for our safety, it was the people north of the Line, Yankees, who invariably asked that question.

I gently told them that in Houston, most homes came without basements, us being built so low to the ground and all. Most folks found that idea more shocking than our flooded house. “No basement? Really?”

Okay: long story short. Two weeks ago, we had just finished with having the downstairs level of the house painted. (Great paint job, BTW.) Thanks to a heavy workload, it took us that long to get moved back into all our ground-floor rooms.

Thursday, 11 May, it rained so hard here that we had some water come into the home...just enough so that it’s going to be a real mess for another three or four weeks. The Servpro disaster recovery people arrived on Friday afternoon. Their packers came in on Saturday morning to remove stuff from the back room.

Then it was chainsaws and plaster dust everywhere. Enough dehumidifying horsepower to dry out a large stock pond. And boxes and boxes of stuff everywhere. Thank goodness for insurance, which we took out 20 months ago, between Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It’s the true National Flood Insurance item, separate from our homeowner’s policy. Just in case.

“The nighttime storms flooded some neighborhood streets and freeway feeder roads across the Houston area. More than five inches of rain fell Thursday night in the Southside Place subdivision, on Houston’s west side,” the Houston Chronicle reported. One TV station announced that nine inches fell in our area of Spring Branch in just about four hours.

Be reassured. (Heck, we’re reassured.) Our house does NOT look anything like the photo above. Still, we had our moments last Thursday evening and Friday morning.

We’re truly looking forward to hurricane season. Yes indeed. It starts in 16 days.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Insurance Morning

“Wait a minute,” I asked Gordon Gorrie during a telephone call. “What’s that phrase you just used?”

“Insurance Morning?” he replied. “Didn’t you have that here?”

Never heard it before. What’s it mean?

Growing up in Glasgow, Gordon could tell me. Glasgow was the industrial heart of Scotland and it boomed after World War II, with one of the largest concentrations of shipbuilding, heavy manufacturing and textiles in Europe (including Albion Motor Works, above left).

Friday was payday for all the factory workers – and they were paid in cash.

When they got home from work, the first person likely to knock on their doors was…the insurance agent. All over Scotland, the insurance agents would go round to all the Council houses and collect their policyholders’ premiums. Every Friday, a little bit of the worker’s pay packet went to pay for his life insurance.

“We had a kind of migration, where the original concept of a death benefit got wrapped up with the idea of a whole life savings scheme, where the individual was expected to invest a set amount each month throughout their working life. This was encouraged by the government, which saw advantages in people relying upon their own initiatives rather than falling back on State aid,” according to Michael Neale, an associate partner at Accenture in Scotland. (Count on an Accenture guy to make a fun story boring.)

Anyway, the insurance agents would work through every Friday afternoon and late into the evening, seeing their policyholders and getting their premiums. Every Friday morning, before they went off to collect premiums, golf courses throughout Scotland filled up.

Insurance Morning was when all the agents played golf.

Interior of the Albion Works in Scotstoun, 1955, Partick Camera Club, City of Glasgow, with thanks. And to Wood Group’s Gordon Gorrie for ensuring that a fine regional phrase isn’t lost to history.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pitney Bowes

In the year of the US postage stamp’s 160th anniversary, seems like a good time to talk about changing the course of a company.

America’s first official stamps were offered for sale on 1 July 1847, in 5¢ and 10¢ values. Seventy-plus years later, on 16 November 1920, the Pitney Bowes Model M postage meter became the first commercially used metering device in the world.

Walter Bowes merged his Universal Stamping Machine Company with Arthur Pitney’s American Postage Company the year before. The result was the Pitney Bowes Postage Meter Company. In 1920, there was the telephone, the telegraph (Internet One) and the US mail.

There was no such thing as the mailstream – a phrase Pitney Bowes is now counting on to position itself for the 21st Century.

The visual at the top of this post is from a new Pitney Bowes marketing campaign. In one ad, this communication satellite’s solar panel has a Pitney Bowes postage meter impression. It’s supposed to represent the company’s advanced address-level data technology, which lets businesses analyze data better, to target their market more effectively. (“Innovation” is a hot word for Wall Street analysts.)

In another corporate ad, a newborn baby’s wrist-bracelet bears the Pitney Bowes postage meter impression. Copy tells readers that Pitney Bowes solutions help health-care providers accurately deliver government-mandated patient communications. (More regulation means more paperwork and the healthcare market is booming…another sector stock analysts watch closely.)

Both versions direct readers to the company’s Mailstream landing page. The campaign was developed by
OgilvyOne Worldwide in New York. It is supposed to include print, out-of-home and online media; the new ads, intro’d last November, aren’t up on the agency’s site yet.

A company press release makes it all sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi: “The mailstream is all around you—a global force synonymous with commerce.”

Still, Young Skywalker, the neologistic mailstream is a pretty good way of getting the market to re-define the company’s business. Wall Street seems to value the idea, since the company’s stock has gone up about 20% in the past year.

One thing I noticed is that the mailstream concept is not quickly apparent on Pitney Bowes’s main site. At 87 years old, Pitney Bowes is “Engineering the flow of communication” as its trademarked website slogan says – but it also has a huge investment in all the technologies and the sales efforts that have gone before the mailstream concept was created. Once you finally get down to it, mailstream refers to the “software, hardware and services that help companies manage their flow of mail, documents and packages to improve communication.”

Pitney Bowes’s vice president and CMO, Arun Sinha, was quoted in a company news release this way: “Pitney Bowes introduced a new business category, mailstream, at the beginning of the year (2006), and it is now a $250 billion category. Our goal was to build awareness for the mailstream as a category.”

The company's “Innovations in the Mailstream” concept is one attempt to shift its $5.5-billion self out of the old business-machines-and-office-equipment profile into something grander…while taking its customers and its employees along with it.

I think the company’s going to have to push real hard and real long to make this mailstream thing happen: the burden of changing your company’s culture. It takes more than marketing communications to move the load.

I hope it works, though. With the price of a first-class US stamp going up to 41¢ next week, I say we need all the mailstreaming we can get.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Word: Nevelson

To the west, the Gaudalupe is flooding. In Houston, we’ve been driving under waterfalls all afternoon. So when Bill Large showed up the Mo for Martini Night, the total number of attendees was…two. He got hold of his see-through and handed me a stiff folder, asking, “Have you heard of this artist? She’s got an opening tonight at the McClain Gallery.”

Louise Nevelson. I was raised up on Nevelson, along with Barbara Hepworth, two of the iconic artists of the 60s and 70s. I “learned” her from Bob and Edith Fusillo…opening the folded invitation was like time travel.

You are cordially invited to the opening exhibition of Louise Nevelson, Sculpture and Collage. Bill was practicing finest kind word-of-mouth advertising. I hadn’t even known her work was coming here. We had two quick drinks and drove through the downpour to the gallery, about two miles west of Mo Mong.

In fact, the show is something of a last-minute arrangement, according to Leigh Manley at the gallery…after she darted me with a tranquilizer gun. The gallery tells it succinctly:

McClain Gallery is pleased to announce the first Louise Nevelson solo exhibition in Texas in more than 35 years. The exhibition centers around a selection of works from 1957 through 1979, and includes wooden box landscapes, wall reliefs, steel sculptures and framed collage drawings.

Apparently, her estate has been either closely held or in disarray for the past 20 years – she died in 1988. Suddenly, these pieces are here. In Houston. You can see works from her “Black” period as well as collages: my own personal way-back machine on a rainy Thursday afternoon. One of the real joys of moving to Houston in the early 80s was that Nevelson’s works were virtually public art. MFA Houston has a pair of them (“Mirror Image I” and “Mirror Image II”) that used to hang opposite each other in the original Caroline Law Building entryway. There was a giant Nevelson panel outside the Enron Building downtown for many years – I wonder what happened to it?

Look: this is a rare event. The McClain is at 2242 Richmond Avenue, just east of Kirby. The exhibition is there through 10 June.

For those of you in “Metropolis,” another retrospective of her work opens on Saturday, 5 June, at the New York Jewish Museum. It's raining Nevelsons...and they're terrific!

Go. See. Word!

Shown: “Silent Music II,” 1964, wood painted black with mirrors, 80 x 50 x 11.5 inches. Photo courtesy of the McClain Gallery – and thank you for the opportunity to see these works.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

“Attraction” Research

A study conducted by UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry has revealed that the kind of face a woman finds attractive on a man can differ depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle.

For example: If she is ovulating, she is attracted to men with rugged and masculine features. However, if she is menstruating, or menopausal, she tends to be more attracted to a man with duct tape over his mouth and a spear lodged in his chest while he is on fire.

No further studies are expected.

Beauty product marketers please note. Thanks to Nancy McMillan, who noticed the study while reading this month’s issue of American Journal of American Psychiatry or someplace like that. Picture: Munch und Warnemünde 1907-1908 with thanks.