Sunday, April 29, 2012

Strange couplings...

Is it just me or are there dozens of celebrity couplings, pairings of celebrities with brands, and other mash-ups which make one scratch their head?  Let's take a look, shall we?

- Female athletes and Kohls.  Whether it be Dana Torres, Mia Hamm or Lindsey Vonn, the use of athletes with this retail brand and "the sport of shopping" campaign is just plain awful.  It's a horrid use of these women, who have achieved so much, and downgrades their achievements by comparing what they do with shopping.  Ugh!

- Carrie Underwood and Steven Tyler.  When I saw this pairing advertising on Crossroads (Palladia), I thought "really--I've got to see this!"  And, you know what--it works.  Underwood has an inner wild-child which occasionally comes through (who can forget her nailing Guns N Roses' "Paradise City" in concert at Sprint Center a couple of years ago) and Tyler is her perfect mate for this musical mash-up--watching the Aerosmith front man on "Before He Cheats" was classic.

- Zoe Deschanel and Samuel L. Jackson with Apple.  It's not the use of Deschanel or Jackson which bugs me here--it's why a brand like Apple, who set the standard for product demonstration advertising, would choose to now enlist celebrity endorsers?  This campaign is very inconsistent with Apple's past, successful work.

- Kris Jenner and Zestra.  Zestra is billed as a product which offers women "better sex--effortlessly."  It's an arousal drug pitched by none other than Kris Jenner.  Yep, that Kris Jenner--she with the well-known daughters who have their own reality television series.

- Curtis Stone and Hy-Vee.  What's an upscale chef with an accent doing hawking Hy-Vee, a middle class grocery brand headquartered in Iowa?

- Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine.  This foursome squares off each week on The Voice and, somehow, it fits.  I doubt any of us would have suggested that grouping of music personalities but they do a better job with their respective roles than their rivals on American Idol.

What's your odd couple pairing?  Let me know your thoughts as the above list only scratches the surface of "huh?" moments in our tracking of pop culture.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Perfect games, high school proms and start-ups...

It's been an interesting week, campers.  The weather continues to flummox us all--90 degree temps here in the Heartland yet school cancellations in the Northeast, earlier this week, due to snow.  In political country, we've watched former Presidential hopeful John Edwards re-enter the news...and not in a good way.  And, the Kansas City Royals finally decided to win a game after going 0-fer on their recent, long home stand.

Let's catch up a bit, shall we?

- A 12-year old Seattle Little Leaguer recently achieved what no major league pitcher has ever accomplished--a perfect game where every batter faced was struck out.  Jacob Terao threw 54 strikes and 27 balls during the regulation six-inning game, striking out all 18 batters and leading his team to a 4-0 victory.  The Major League Baseball record for consecutive strikeouts is 10, set by Tom Seaver of the New York Mets in 1970.

- Hey burglars, if you want to know where Americans stash their loose cash, it's in the freezer.  A recent poll showed that 27% of those who keep sizable amounts of cash in their house hide it in the freezer.  The second favorite hiding place is under a mattress.

- Weston, FL has outlawed skating rinks, nightclubs and dance halls.  A rise in nightlife-related crime throughout South Florida prompted city officials to adopt the ban.  According to Eric Hersh, Weston's mayor, "We thought this would protect the city."

- It's the season for high school proms and, according to USA Today, the spring events just keep getting more and more expensive.  The average family of a teenager is expected to shell out $1,078 on prom this year compared to $807 last year.  What causes the expense?  Well, how about the dress, limo, flowers, hair stylist, tux, dinner out, etc., etc., etc.

- Looking for a music recommendation?  Check out Alabama Shakes' debut, Boys & Girls, and their "R&B style retro rock."

- In a first since 2008, more people are quitting their jobs than are being laid off by employers.  Fifty-one percent of job separations are due to workers quitting, according to the most recent government data.  (Source:

- And, finally, are you thinking of starting your own business?  According to, 31% of us say "sometimes, but it's scary;" 26% say "never;" 25% say "definitely one day;" and 18% say "already run one."  The poll also showed that 34% of new businesses survive more than a decade.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday morning coffee

Good Saturday morning, campers--let's throw it around a bit and also check in on what's going on in the ol' Cowtown, shall we?

- Perhaps it's a fitting testament to successful professional team ownership that the Kansas City Royals have now lost eight straight while their local colleague franchise, Sporting KC (Major League Soccer), goes for the team's eighth straight victory.  Sporting KC is the only locally owned franchise in Kansas City.

- This month's GQ magazine named Baldwin's Men Shop in Leawood (located next to North at 119th and Roe) as one of the 25 best mens stores in the country and the "best place to buy jeans, period."

- In the past seven months we've experienced the deaths of Steve Jobs, Don Cornelius and Dick Clark.  These three men had, arguably, the biggest impact on music of anyone over the past fifty years.  Jobs, of course, simplified the ability of consumers to download, save and organize digital music.  Cornelius created a venue for soul music, introducing African-American musicians to a wider audience and creating opportunities for talented dancers to gain exposure nationally.  Clark, "America's favorite teenager," helped to legitimize rock-and-roll and helped provide a forum for new music artists to have a national audience.  No one has had the influence of these three on modern music.

- In Germany, Monika Moser was recently reunited with her cat--16 years after it went missing.  A hiker found the cat as the feline had apparently been living in the woods the entire time.

- Kansas Citians, check out Genessee Royale, a small restaurant located in the West Bottoms.  The bistro, started by those who own Happy Gillis, serves breakfast and lunch.  It's cool to see the renewal and development taking place in this historic area of K.C.

- K.C. also has a second Swagger location.  The popular Wornall Road bar and restaurant, featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, has opened a second version in the old Margarita's space on Holmes Road, just north of Jack's Stack Barbecue.  Swagger has an extensive beer list with some 60+ brews.

- Speaking of brew, craft brewers sold 13% more beer last year while the top 10 major brewers continued to experience sales declines.  There are now over 2,000 crafter brewers in the U.S.  (Source:  The Daily)

- Movie rental recommendation of the week:  Collateral, a Michael Mann film from 2004, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.

- Until recently, it's been unseasonably warm this spring across seemingly the entire country.  In a Gallup poll, 52% of Americans say the effects of climate change are already apparent; 29% say the effects will start sometime in the future; and 15% say it's all a myth.

- And, finally, perhaps shopping in thrift stores does pay off.  In Ohio, a man bought a print of a crudely etched face for $14 in a local thrift shop.  The print turned out to be an original--signed by none other than Pablo Picasso.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Has Apple advertising lost its way?

The brand who resisted--no, seemingly detested--celebrity endorsements has suddenly unveiled advertising which uses Zoe Deschanel and Samuel Jackson in a new campaign.  Apple, who set the standard for consistent advertising which defined a brand, has succumbed to the all-too-common technique of using celebrity talent to sell product.  In this case, the two actors are seen using the Siri feature on the Apple iPhone 4S.

Now, I'm not arguing that Deschanel and/or Jackson aren't right for this brand.  What I am saying is that I find it puzzling that Apple has moved away from the simple, product demonstration spots which successfully positioned the iPod and the iPhone and which formed "the Apple look"--advertising which everyone knew was from Apple and work that other brands aspired to replicate.

Steve Jobs' famously said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Well, using celebrity talent may help prop up brands who need the borrowed equity but for Apple, it does not represent simplicity.  And, this acting talent is being used for a brand who seemingly doesn't need the help.

I'm disappointed that Apple moved in this direction.  The last thing I ever expected was for this brand to creep into the "me too" space.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The leadership journey

Look up "Leadership" on Amazon and you'll find 90,151 results for books, audio tapes and the like.  Type in that same word on Google and up pop 501 million entries.

Yes, "leadership" is a topic oft-discussed, analyzed and taught with some sort of Holy Grail fervor as we who lead and those who desire to lead try to find the answer for becoming the best leader possible.  The problem is, leadership is a very personal journey and one which requires constant refining.  It's a journey perhaps best described by a quote I came across, from Phil Johnson of PJA Advertising, who said, "Eventually, you learn about leadership as you thrash about in the reality of day-to-day life and encounter the unpredictable, the unexpected and the unpleasant.  I've blundered with the best of them.  I've stood on the sidelines with my hands in my pockets when I should have taken strong action.  I've jumped into the fray when I should have stayed out.  It takes experience and instinct to know what works."

Johnson's right--only through making mistakes and then adapting and refining can we, as leaders, become even better at this discipline.

I had the good fortune to speak about leadership this week at two different local universities.  Each class was filled with eager students anxious to learn more in their own quest for knowledge on this elusive topic.  All asked engaging and interesting questions.  Here is what I had to tell them.

1.  Hire good people and get out of the way.  There's a reason this tenet is number one--it's the most important.  Without good people, the best leader will still fail.  What do I look for in hiring the best people?  I want someone who is intelligent yet also has the street smarts to get things done.  Good judgment is critical as is an ability to anticipate--to be proactive.  Energy and passion are prerequisites for the successful team member.  And, balance in one's life is important for success.  Hiring good people means hiring those who are good team members and are also people you want to work with--but, not just like you.  As Larry Bossidy, CEO of Honeywell, said, "At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.

2.  Always be accessible.  The day your team quits coming to you is the day you've lost them.  Manage by walking around.  And, of supreme important, a leader must listen...I mean, really listen.  Only then can a leader teach.

3.  Avoid being a "pleaser."  We all know "the pleaser"--the person who will tell you what they know you want to hear.  Pleasers do not make strong leaders.  A leader will, inevitably, make a decision which will make someone angry.  Trying to get everyone to like you, as a leader, will result in mediocrity.  A good leader is willing to make the tough decisions, have the candid conversations, and be responsible to the welfare of the group/organization.

4.  Be comfortable with who you are.  Self-awareness, in a leader, is critical to success.  Know your strengths and your weaknesses; use tools like a Hogan Assessment or a 360 evaluation to assist you in finding your blind spots.  Don't change who you are--hone your skills, as a leader, to bring out your personal best.

5.  "It's amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit."  This personal favorite of John Wooden's quotes is exactly what it says--great things happen when no one team member is caught up in getting the credit.  And, as a leader, living by the meaning of this quote means that your team will trust you, knowing that you are not about grabbing credit for the team's successes.

6.  It's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.  I'm not suggesting that you do something wrong or against company policy.  The point here is that, as a leader, I want errors of commission versus errors of omission.  Move, do, act!

7.  Accountability--set clear expectations.  A leader must set clear expectations or else ambiguity will negatively affect a team's output.  My expectations?  Meet, and hopefully exceed, the agreed-upon objectives; meet your deadlines; and be on time.  (It's more important to meet a deadline with something 80% complete than to achieve 100% completion but deliver after an agreed-upon deadline.)

8.  Know the customer--and ensure that they are always the focus.  It's imperative that customer insight guides you, and your team's, focus.  Remember--the customer isn't always right...but they'd better be happy.

9.  The situation dictates which approach is best.  If Google has over 501 million entries on "leadership" and Amazon features 90,000 plus products on the topic, then that means there are plenty of suggested formulas for success out there.  Cherry-picking from those suggested formulas is fine--just make sure that you are not following a formulaic approach.  The situation will dictate which leadership approach you should employ.

10.  Have fun.  A team which isn't having fun in the workplace is a team which won't win.  Make sure your team laughs each day.  Push for their, and your, work-life balance.  And, let your team see your human side as a leader.

There--my ten key tenets of successful leadership...for me.  Remember, leadership is an individual journey and, along the way, you will undoubtedly build your own list of what's important.  My advice is to be a constant student of leadership, determining your own leadership philosophy and style, and then adapting...leading...adapting some more...and leading.

Good luck on your journey!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Got (fill in the blank)?

A week ago tonight, I trudged out of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, morose after my team--the Kansas Jayhawks--lost in the national title game to Kentucky.  And, it was raining thus making the prospect of a 20-block walk back to the hotel all that more depressing.

As we walked a block or so away from the dome, a street vendor hawked "Got Championships" t-shirts in honor of Kentucky's eighth NCAA basketball championship.  I had to chuckle as I thought of Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby, founding partners of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, and their collaboration so long ago on the line "Got Milk?" which is now the stuff of rogue merchandise being sold after college basketball's biggest event.

The "Got Milk?" campaign, for the California Milk Processor Board, was created in 1993.  The now lauded commercial "Aaron Burr" launched the campaign and the rest, as they say, is history--it's recognized as one of the most famous commodity brand campaigns in U.S. history.  The opening television spot featured a history buff who received a call to answer a radio station's $10,000 trivia question, "Who shot Alexander Hamilton in the famous duel?"  The commercial reveals that the man's apartment is a private museum to the duel, packed with artifacts and memorabilia.  Our history buff answers the question correctly but his words are unintelligible because his mouth is full of peanut butter.  Alas, he has no milk to wash it down.

That ad, later voted one of the ten best commercials of all time by USA Today, kicked off a campaign which is still going.  And, in the process, the campaign has woven its way into popular culture.  Who of us hasn't seen a product, of some kind, which has knocked off the words "Got Milk?" with some other "Got (fill in the blank)?"

To its credit, the California Milk Processor Board has avoided going after the copycats by realizing the mileage they are receiving from others who are using a knock-off of their campaign line.  However, in 2007, the Board did go after PETA for its use of the line in its anti-dairy campaign.  Since its beginnings in 1993, the campaign line is--unofficially--the most parodied ad slogan ever.

"Got Championships?"  No...but the Milk Board has got success due to this impressive, long-running work.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rainy Saturday afternoon...

What's going on, dear readers, on this rainy Saturday afternoon in April?  Let's throw it around a bit, shall we?

- Did you hear about the Lee's Summit, MO elementary school and its use of the University of Kansas fight song?  Trailridge Elementary, in this suburban Kansas City town, typically infuses its morning announcements, over the intercom, with songs or music which relate to current events, thus the use of "I'm a Jayhawk" in honor of the KU Mens basketball team, playing in the NCAA Tournament's Final Four.  Last week the school played a snippet of the Kansas fight song which caused several parents, and even a former state legislator, to complain.  Said Brian Yates, a former state representative and University of Missouri graduate, "As a parent of two and a taxpaying resident of the Lee's Summit R-7 School District, I am shocked and disappointed that there was an apparent attempt to indoctrinate Lee's Summit school children to be KU fans...Playing the KU fight song or any college fight song over the intercom in a publicly funded elementary school is unacceptable."  Really!?  Do you think Yates would have been this indignant if the song choice had been "On Wisconsin?"  (Source:

- Celebration Church in Georgetown, TX typically has an attendance of 6,000 at its Sunday service.  The church expects that number to swell tomorrow to 20,000 and no, it's not just because it's Easter--Jet's quarterback Tim Tebow is scheduled to give the Easter sermon tomorrow.

- Magic City, a Starz Channel original series, debuted last night.  The series is set in 1959 Miami Beach and my advice to you is to save your time and watch other period television shows instead--notably Mad Men on AMC.

- In the category of "I need to get this" is news that Chinatown has been re-released on Blu-ray.  This 1974 noir thriller stars Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.

- The Hunger Games opened as the third-biggest debut ever, the top opening for a non-sequel, and the best start ever for any movie outside of the summer movie season.

- The Kazakhstan national shooting team was serenaded at a medal ceremony in Kuwait with the national anthem--the wrong national anthem.  It seems organizers downloaded the wrong song by mistake and used the fake national anthem from the movie, Borat, which boasts that the nation has the region's "cleanest prostitutes."

- Katy Perry's pearly whites don't come by accident.  The singer has such a strong phobia about cavities that she brushes her teeth six times a day.  Perry carries up to 20 brand-new toothbrushes with her everywhere she goes and uses them constantly.

- Americans lost about $30 billion worth of cellphones last year.  On average, consumers lose their phones once per year.  (Source:  USA Today)

- And, finally, there is a new book out titled The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family.  Written by Liza Mundy, the author notes that women are poised to become the biggest breadwinners in most dual-income households and that nearly 40 percent of working wives already earn more than their husbands.  Single, childless women under 30 make more than their male counterparts in most U.S. cities.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

This "semi-retirement" thing...

It's been less than a month since I departed my corporate post of 21 plus years and entered the world of "semi-retirement," i.e., trying to determine the next gig in my professional life.

I only needed a couple of weeks to quickly realize the vast change taking place in my life.  To wit...

- Weekends are suddenly...weekends.  The biggest change in my life has been my mindset on Sunday evenings.  No longer do I dread Sunday evening knowing that my work week will begin anew in a few short hours.  No longer do I dread hearing the "pings" on my iPhone or iPad as e-mails enter from my work mates, all eager to get a jump on the Monday morning activities.  I actually now sit and watch the great programming on Sunday evening television versus being distracted by thoughts of the next day and work week.

- Speaking of e-mail, I would estimate that my e-mail volume has been cut by 85%-90% in this new world order of seeking employment.

- My timing is now dependent upon others.  Previously, my timetable typically was the one adhered to by most others.  Now, my timetable doesn't mean diddly.  That, my friends, is a hard, hard adjustment.

- For 30-ish years, I had a routine.  I went to bed at a certain time, awoke at a certain time, stopped at a certain coffee shop on the way to work, etc., etc.  Now, my routine is that I have none...I'm not a fan of no routine.

- And, finally, it's really, really interesting to see how people react when in my presence.  Former colleagues are curious about my situation and concerned about my well-being, but many don't quite know what to say, whether to talk about the place where I departed or discuss this odd spring weather.  As I've jokingly told a couple of folks, "Hey...I'm not dead."  That joke, thus far, has fallen flat with my intended audience.

Yes, this next phase of my career has been eye-opening on so many levels.  On one hand, it's been an incredibly humbling experience since I've heard from so many who have wished me well.  On the other, it's a totally different life phase and one for which I doubt anyone is fully prepared.

Stay tuned to this space as I recount what happens in the weeks to come as I continue my quest for the answer to "what's next?"