It’s too easy to overlook
NOW AND THEN in the wake of an utter communication fail, it’s not unusual for the alleged professional communicator to blame the public for “just not getting it.”
Er, um, no. It’s not the public’s fault.
I feel a case in point coming on.
Some years ago my home state of Utah unveiled a branding campaign. Well, they called it a branding campaign. It was a slogan.* Either way, nearly overnight it became the object of national ridicule.
The slogan? Brace yourself: “Utah! A pretty, great state.”
Wow! Just look at that comma! It changes the diminutive “pretty great” to the boastful “pretty and great.”
The Salt Lake Tribune’s legendary Pat Bagley honored the campaign with a cartoon. To see the whole thing, click here or on the image.
If you happened to miss that particular meaning-changing comma, don’t feel bad. Most people missed it. Hence the national ridicule.
Not surprisingly, the ad agency behind the slogan doubled down. “What’s wrong with everyone?” they lamented and, even now, continue lamenting. “Can’t they see there’s a comma?”
That’s getting it backward. The public has no obligation to ferret out your meaning. Sure, people may be illiterate, unobservant, or apathetic. But a professional communicator, a real one, anyway, anticipates that. Good advertising conveys a message that people paying not quite half-attention cannot miss, or at least cannot misconstrue. It must pass what I call the At-a-Glance Test.
If the public misses your point, don’t soliloquize about how dim the public is. Accept responsibility for not having put your meaning within easy reach.
*Having whined ad nauseam in this blog about mistaking slogans for brands, I’ll spare you this once. If you prefer not to be spared, click here.
My dislike for Trump knows no end,
but I’d have canned her, too.
Following the body of this post is a thought-provoking conversation my good friend Jeff Wagg and I had upon my linking this post to Facebook, shared here with his permission. Please check it out.
A photo of a bicycle-mounted Briskman flipping off Trump’s motorcade went viral, bringing her instant digital fame. (Pun intended.) Today, we learned that her employer, Akima LLC, has fired her for the offense. Social media outrage has erupted and is fast spreading. Many of the outrage brigade have published Akima’s contact information and urged readers to drown the company in protests by email, phone calls, and comments via Akima’s website.
Briskman’s one-finger salute, I empathize with Akima.
Every client helps cover overhead, salary, and benefits for every employee — even employees who don’t work directly on that account. Allowing an employee to publicly diss a client, besides being a show of ingratitude, puts all other employees at risk.
It so happens that the United States government is a major Akima client. If Akima wants to resign the account and support Briskman, fine, but that action would be arguably rash. For one thing, it would put many more employees out of work and possibly threaten Akima’s continued existence. For another, a company is not one officer or its CEO, and the United States is not Trump. I decline and resign bad cients, but I keep overall good ones, even should I disapprove of a CEO. Despite its many warts and its mindless, uninformed, petulant, tantrum-throwing, tangerine-dust-bunny-topped toddler of a CEO, I view the United States as an overall good company. I would not resign a government agency client simply because I disliked Trump.
As you may have inferred from my description of Trump, I have no government accounts. But if I had one, that description wouldn’t be there; and if Brickman worked for me, like Akima, I’d have canned her.
Moreover, while the idea of contractors resigning government accounts out of protest may sound like an in-your-face act of courage and defiance, it is in fact a scary proposition. Government provides you and me a host of services that a mass exodus of contractors would interrupt and possibly harm long-term, and perhaps result in the hiring of less competent contractors in their place.
So I suggest cutting poor Akima LLC a break. They are between the proverbial rock and hard place. As for Brickman, I’m not terribly worried about her fate. I predict she will have myriad attractive job offers before the week is through.
Shared here with his permission is a conversation my good friend Jeff Wagg and I had upon my linking this post to Facebook.
Jeff Wagg: How did people know who she was?
Steve Cuno: Beats me.
Jeff Wagg: So if only you knew, would you still can her? Because if so, you're claiming ownership over her speech, and I have a problem with that.
Steve Cuno: Private speech is another matter. I wouldn’t can an employee for dissing clients privately. I have done it myself.
Jeff Wagg: I think that's the crux of the issue. If the client sees the person as "employee of your company," you have a case. But if they don't, isn't the company just claiming ownership of an employee's speech, at all times?
Steve Cuno: I see your point. It would be one thing if she said it in a bar and it went viral. But here she was flipping off the CEO to his face (more or less). I see that as more serious.
Jeff Wagg: Given that it's not an actual company, and politics are involved, I'm more wiling to give leeway than you. He isn't only a client, he's her employee.
Steve Cuno: Jeff, even though my lede establishes the importance of thinking, how dare you make me think?
Jeff Wagg: You have made me think. I'm just getting even.
Steve Cuno: Technically the CEO of any company is the customers’ employee, that is, the customer pays the salary.
Jeff Wagg: This is rather different though. She has a say over whether he gets to keep his job or not.
Steve Cuno: I dunno if that matters. He’s still the client’s CEO. If one of my employees publicly flagged the CEO of a client’s parent company, government entity or not, I would at the least issue the employee a stern warning and send the client a written apology. But, curse you, I admit that summarily firing her might be over the top. I have always been wimpy about firing anyway. Kept quite a few longer than I should have.
Jeff Wagg: I admit I'm not operating with all the facts here. If she was publicly identifiable as an employee while she was doing that, that changes the dynamics for me.
Steve Cuno: Oh, there you go again. Quit being so darned fair.
The time my naive
pricing policy paid off
1. They find out how much is in your account.
2. That’s the price.
My introduction to the practice came when a client said he’d budgeted “up to ten thousand dollars.” I knew we could bring it in for less. So did my former partners, but they were not about to tell the client, much less let him keep the difference. I protested and, having fewer shares than they, lost. The price was ten thousand. One of many reasons they are former partners.
Having since been on my own for 23 years, I get to price creative services my way. I consider the project’s scope, the value I attach to my work, and the value the client attaches to having me do it. Admittedly fuzzy, but fairer than divining how much they have and taking it, earned or not. If I leave behind money I could have taken, not only is that okay, that’s the idea.
One time my policy paid off ...
A few weeks later, he was pitching a prospective client who happened to ask if he could trust that Cuno guy. “Let me tell you a story,” said the account executive. We won the client.
That was a welcome exception. In general, it has not been my experience that integrity pays in dollars and cents. To wit, I am not rich and my former partners are. But then, integrity motivated by hope of monetary reward isn’t really integrity.
Consequences of being a jerk
in the not-unlikely event of a power reversal
Not-so-good-people, that’s another story. Fortunately, they have been the exception in my career. For the most part I have worked with honorable people who number among my good friends. I can think of only a dozen who treated vendors and associates about as well as rattlesnakes treat field mice.
Indeed, one fellow was actually known in our shop, not fondly, as The Snake. We put up with him because he worked for an important client. Looking back, I think the nickname gave him too much credit. Literal snakes don’t dress up like harmless bunny rabbits in hopes you won’t know who’s swallowing you whole while you twitch in agony. Gotta respect that about literal snakes.
I don’t believe in karma, but it’s not hard to see why many do. Of the above-referenced dozen not-so-goods, eight later reappeared in my professional life after, inevitably, their employer caught up with and canned them. Some called wanting to know if I was hiring or knew someone who was; others were dumb enough to use me as a reference, leading their prospective employer to call.
In the first situation, I express sympathy and promise to keep an eye peeled. The sympathy is genuine; I don’t wish dire straits upon anyone, even people I don’t like. The promise to keep an eye peeled, however, is an outright lie, borne of the fact that I see no use in saying, “The last thing I’d do is recommend a dishonest, toxic personality the likes yours to an unsuspecting employer.” It would launch an argument I don’t need, and, trust me on this one, it would not bring the snake in question to take an honest look, much less resolve to change.
The second situation presents more of a dilemma. Again, even when it comes to people I dislike, I’m not interested in sabotaging anyone’s employment prospects; the dilemma comes from my conviction that employers deserve a fair warning. Ultimately, the conviction prevails. I level, and another snake loses another opportunity.
Don’t let me get away with painting too virtuous a self-portrait. I admit that the reversal of power gives me a bit of satisfaction. But karma shmarma. Anyone says there’s no such thing as a coincidence, I say balderdash. Coincidence isn’t just a thing. It’s a common thing.
Either way, it behooves everyone to beware the consequences of jerk-like behavior in the not-unlikely event of a power-reversal. Perhaps snakes who understood that would act less like snakes, assuming they can, which I doubt. Still, I think fear of payback is a not the best reason to be a decent person. A better reason is that being a decent person is the decent thing to do.
No, no, no.
Don’t send out unsolicited CDs.
TODAY’S MAIL brought a direct mail offer mail containing a hand-labeled CD. I threw it away without bothering to read the accompanying materials.
Here are three reasons never to send out unsolicited CDs:
- Ever heard of computer viruses? Only the minimally informed will take a chance on a disc from a stranger. There’s no telling where that thing has been.
- A good many recipients will not have a CD drive or player handy. Though not yet obsolete, they’re obsolescent.
- It takes precious time to insert a CD into a drive, wait for it to load, and navigate through it. Most people won’t bother. A few will set it aside for later, “later” meaning “they’ll rediscover it in a few days or weeks, wonder why they kept it, and toss it.”
I once lost a client to an agency whose first effort for them enclosed an unsolicited CD. The mailing went to established customers who trusted the sender, so virus fears weren’t necessarily a problem, but Items 2 and 3 above still applied. Worse, the agency had used a blob of glue to affix the CD to a card, and some customers ended up with said blob inside their CD drive. I am told they found it displeasing.
That may be how I learned the word schadenfreud. Oh, and guess who won back the account.
A sampling of egg gregarious slips
Now and then I overhear a delightfully mangled word or phrase, the sort of honest slip that happens to us all. When I hear one, I discreetly jot it down. Unless, of course, it’s uttered by a friend with whom I have a give-each-other-crap relationship, in which case there’s nothing discreet about it. Fair being fair, it goes both ways.
All overheard first-hand. Enjoy.
They were lightning years ahead
There’s a stint in his artery
I get the jest of what he said
He doesn’t understand the basic tenants of logic
Our government has been dreadlocked for years
You don’t take a gun to a butter knife fight
That’s food for fodder
I think she’s losing her baskets
It’s a mote point
It’s a mute point
That remains to be foreseen
We need to take care of that right out of the bat
We’ve been beating that with a dead horse
That’s a egg gregarious sin
We’ve made it innoculous
Let’s not get signtracked here
People were conjugating in the kitchen
I’m just trying to cut her a bone
They were lost in the shovel
He takes me for granite
Don’t give him a finger to blame
We’re jumping through miracles here
Let’s be sure our ducks are covered
Let me preference that remark
I hope no one minds if I tell an ethical joke
That’s a big load of crock
I don’t know what to contribute his attitude to
Let’s get together and shoot the fat
Dried in the wool
Under the 8 ball
When does your insurance collapse?
Other end of the specter
Let’s not bite our nose to spite our face
He has the right aurora about him
I’m really up a pickle
Let me misspell that notion right now
We don’t want people reading our dirty underwear
I’d run away from that with a 10 foot pole
It’s like peeing in a warm wind
We need to be sure our dots and i’s are crossed
I’ll rub my nose on that
That’s kind of a rub on their nose
That is the anchor that holds your planes in air
We don’t want a battle we can’t bite off
Canada has providences, not states
That’s older than hen’s teeth
It’s selling faster than candy on a baby’s butt
Watch out, she’ll rape you over the coals
Children are impressionistic
How to spend $500 more and feel
like you pulled a fast one
Here’s why I think so. Imagine the ad without the 75-inch TV. Five hundred bucks for going from a 55-inch to a 65-inch TV may seem like a lot. But with the 75-inch TV, you have a point of comparison: You can add ten inches to the diagonal measure of smallest screen for $500, which works out to $50 per inch, or you can add ten inches to the diagonal measure of the mid-size screen for $1370, which works out to a whopping $137 per inch. Suddenly, five hundred bucks for the 65-inch TV looks like a bargain. And who’s to say? Maybe it is. Either way, you can buy the mid-size screen and feel like you pulled a fast one.
I’m betting that the 75-inch option, besides selling a few 75-inch TVs, will motivate many people to trade up from the 55-inch to the 65-inch model. At least, that’s what one test of this scenario showed. You can read about it in Dan Ariely’s wonderful book Predictably Irrational.
I suspect the folks at Costco knew what they were doing. Before you accuse them of unfair manipulation, imagine again that they omitted the 75-inch option, resulting in more purchases of the 55-inch model. I bet you wouldn’t accuse them of unfairly manipulating people into spending less.
By providing a point of comparison, Costco dramatizes the value of trading up to the mid-size screen. It does not take control of your mind or actions. You remain in charge of your wallet and how you use it.