Celebrating an Offbeat World Cup

Celebrating an Offbeat World Cup

Charles Leonard is a Media Director in the Johannesburg office of Magna Carta, a four-time PR Agency of the Year in South Africa. Magna Carta is Ketchum’s exclusive affiliate partner in South Africa, providing the full spectrum of strategic communication services to blue-chip clients in private and public sectors.  If one of my heroes, reggae superstar Bob Marley, were still alive today, I bet I would’ve bumped into him in Johannesburg this week for the start of the FIFA World Cup. That Marley was a soccer fanatic is quite a well-known fact, and there are great photographs to prove it. His favourite team was Brazil’s Santos FC, and his favourite player was the legendary Pelé. Legend has it that Marley demanded that when he was on tour he have easy access to a football pitch. But what I didn’t know was that he was apparently buried with several items including his guitar (a Gibson Les Paul), a Bible, a ring and a soccer ball.

Continue Reading

Beware the Yeasayers

Beware the Yeasayers

In a recent Possibilities post called “Nobody Remembers the Naysayers,” my colleague Karen Strauss calls pessimism the kryptonite of innovation, and for good reason. Anyone aiming to invent the future gets nowhere by focusing on what can’t be done. Dream killers are easy targets. At some point we’ve all experienced the sting of their rejection — the coach who told us we weren’t fast enough, the teacher who said we’d never get it right, the boss who seemed to relish in our shortcomings. Our disdain for naysayers is real, and overcoming their rebuffs is a lifelong challenge. But there’s another powerful creation suppressant that’s less obvious but equally damaging to innovation and performance: the yeasayer.  Before we talk about how the yeasayer cripples the creative process and hinders achievement, let’s take a moment to define the term. Guaranteed, you’ve met yeasayers (aka “yes men/women”) before as they’re a common presence in most organizations. Picture the colleague who absolutely loves every single one of your ideas. All your cockamamie product development plans, your far-flung marketing strategies — they’re all “game changers.” Every single doodle or document you draw up is the best work you’ve done . . . well . . . since the last time you shared something with the yeasayer. Unfortunately, these performance sappers come in many forms, so it’s impossible to spot a yeasayer through visual cues alone. Title is an equally ineffective litmus test. Yeasayers often climb to the highest levels, despite their deceptively negative impact. The yeasayer’s charm is undeniable. Who doesn’t like an ego stroke from time to time? There’s nothing like a passionate endorsement from a respected colleague to build your confidence. Win the enthusiastic praise of a whole team of yeasayers and you’re unstoppable. You’re on top of the world! At least that’s what you believe until you share your idea with an authentic, independent thinker. Then you find yourself at a crossroads. If you’re not totally entranced by the yeasayer’s pandering, you could wake up and realize your big idea’s a dud. Or, you could stumble deeper down the rabbit hole and dismiss the voice of reason as just another naysayer! Oh, irony. Who cares anyway? Isn’t innovation all about perception? One person’s revolutionary is another’s banal. What if we called yeasayers “idea cheerleaders” instead? Would that make them less malignant (if not slightly more effeminate)? Here’s their essential danger no matter what name you choose: When everything’s “outstanding,” nothing stands out. The innovative stuff gets mixed up with the fluff, and you never know which ideas to run with and which to let lie. While yeasayers might be more pleasant passengers to have along for the ride, their potential to derail progress is just as high, or higher, than our old foes the naysayers. Karen effectively bashed naysayers in her post; I’m hanging yeasayers out to dry. Who’s left? If you’re truly seeking to create something new and with value, surround yourself with a cast of passionate and opinionated characters who are as willing to get on board with a great idea as they are to identify its shortcomings. They’re not the easiest to work with, and conflict among them is inevitable. But if you’re effective, you’ll cultivate the chaos and together make something truly great.

Continue Reading

Making Our Own History

Making Our Own History

Trevor Jones is a Media Director in the Johannesburg office of Magna Carta, a four-time PR Agency of the Year in South Africa. Magna Carta is Ketchum’s exclusive affiliate partner in South Africa, providing the full spectrum of strategic communication services to blue chip clients in private and public sectors. It always seems a bit grand and melodramatic to wonder out loud about “living through history”, mainly because usually you’ve no sure way of knowing whether a particular moment will one day come to be judged as historic.

Continue Reading

BP's Boss Learns the Hard Way That Language Matters

BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, was back in London at the weekend to face the British media as shocking images of the impact of the oil spill on wildlife continue to dominate the front pages of newspapers. With beaches blighted, fishermen losing their livelihoods and BP rapidly losing its reputation and value, the strategy of putting the CEO centre stage is clearly the right one. That said, Tony Hayward is fast learning about the risks of striking an inappropriate tone in public. Whilst he has rightly sought to directly engage with media with a series of broadcast and print interviews, he prompted new disbelief last week by telling Gulf coast residents on television: “I would like my life back”. This was clearly an unfortunate follow-up and somewhat negated his apology for the disaster which ran as follows:”The first thing to say is I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their (residents) lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” If ever there was an example of why it’s so important for executives to practice their key messages before they speak, then this must surely be it. Hayward is widely seen as a smart guy — but his words were quickly broadcast on America’s Today show before going viral on the Internet and filtering into the British press. And in this case, it’s not just his tone but his demeanour that’s causing comment. On British television news a few days ago, Hayward was shown on a Louisiana beach surveying machinery to help stem the oil flow. The BBC correspondent described him as “at times looking lost”. His personal response as a CEO was something picked up in Friday’s edition of the New York Times. Under huge pressure to stop the leak and keep his job, Hayward now needs to ensure he’s as careful in the attention he is paying to communications as he is to BP’s efforts to clean up the damage done by the oil spill itself. Let’s hope his trip back to London at the weekend enabled him to see his family – and gives him renewed energy to get on with the job.

Continue Reading

Coach Wooden

Coach Wooden

One of the early thrills of my career, more than 25 years ago, still ranks as one of the all-time highlights.

That was the day I got to work with the legendary Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden — without question, the greatest basketball coach ever. (There’s also a good argument to be made that Coach Wooden was the most successful coach of any sport in American history.)

As the most casual fan can tell you, Coach Wooden, who died Friday at 99, won an unprecedented 10 championships in 12 years for UCLA. Since his retirement in 1975, only two universities have even won consecutive titles, making it a virtual certainty this feat will never be duplicated.

As a graduate of crosstown archrival USC, I had never set foot in Pauley Pavilion — Coach Wooden’s stomping ground — until that day in April 1984 when the public relations agency I worked for assigned me to oversee a photo shoot featuring Coach Wooden himself.

The occasion was the McDonald’s High School All-American Basketball Game, a fundraiser for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities of Southern California. Although Coach Wooden had steadfastly stayed away from the game after his retirement, Wooden was by then a great grandfather and the local charity appealed to him. His beloved wife of 53 years, Nell, was battling cancer, and he did not like to leave her side, but he agreed to serve as the game’s spokesman.

As Media Day approached, our client, the Southern California Owner Operators Association and my agency, Bob Thomas & Associates, knew that having Wooden on board would ensure tremendous media attendance. But we all felt we still needed another news hook to elevate attention on a high school basketball game in Los Angeles, a city that was  — and still is — crazy about its two biggest sporting draws, the Dodgers and the Lakers.

We came up with what I believe to be the first slam dunk contest in the High School All-Star Game’s history. And it was a hit. 

The day’s only hitch — we neglected to mention the slam dunk contest to Coach Wooden. He hated showboating of any kind and did not hide his disdain of the slam dunk, calling it an unnecessary distraction from team play. 

The media in attendance of course pounced on this, and if Coach Wooden was annoyed that day, he didn’t show a hint of it. 

This past weekend, the many reverential stories about Coach Wooden I read all have two things in common — his peerless success on the basketball court and his stature as a gentleman off of it. Can I call it courtliness? 

That’s what it was to me, his gentlemanly manner — his courtliness — that I remember best from that morning at Pauley Pavilion. He smiled constantly, he gracefully and thoughtfully answered every media question, and patiently posed for every picture. 

When I nervously asked the great man to please pose with the High School All-American team and a photo prop — a basketball clipboard with the McDonald’s logo emblazoned across the top of it — Coach Wooden not only politely complied, he drew up an actual play.

It is today preserved in plastic wrap and safely locked away in my storage locker as one of my most prized possessions.

I saw that NFL superstar Peyton Manning counts among his prized possessions a copy of Coach Wooden’s infamous “Pyramid of Success.” The Pyramid is a chart Coach Wooden created that simply outlines his personal code for life. According to a piece in SI.com, “Industriousness and Enthusiasm were its cornerstones; Faith, Patience, Loyalty and Self-control were some of its building blocks. At the top of the pyramid was Competitive Greatness.”

Over the years, there have been countless quotes attributed to Coach Wooden, but in today’s era of hyperconnectedness, fleeting fame and the enduring value of authenticity, this is one of my favorites:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are. Your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Continue Reading

Out of Control

BP was on a good path lately. Under the strong leadership of Vivienne Cox, BP was turning the alternative energy business from a more “philanthropic” activity into a serious, expanded business unit for the BP group, with corporate investments of $8 billion. BP was indeed moving “beyond petroleum.” And the firm was gaining a good reputation as a large corporate player starting to listen more to a variety of stakeholders and starting to change the way of doing business. Some of the company’s business practices and cooperation activities with NGOs and local communities even found their way into the latest book from organizational learning guru Peter Senge, The Necessary Revolution, and were referenced as one of not too many examples of “How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world” – as the optimistic subtitle of the book runs.  This was before the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which started when an offshore oil rig exploded, caught fire and sank. With the oil spill getting out of control and with BP seeming not to be able to find a way of fixing the hole at the bottom of the ocean, and with massive criticism from every side and party, including strong pressure from the U.S. government (“a breakdown in responsibility”), BP, in the public eyes, is now falling back into old habits and old behaviors, which are heavily criticized  as dysfunctional behaviors and no longer acceptable for a 21st century organization. The truth is, of course, way more complex, and what really went out of control is still to be found out. But control, as Peter Senge wrote in the same book, “is a simple word with very different meanings. Machines are controlled by their operators, but living systems are different. No one is in charge of a forest. Living systems control themselves based on a web of relationships. . . . Building enterprises based on cultures of relationship – organizations that not only work like nature but are more harmonious with nature – may prove a defining feature of regenerative society.” What Senge has been relentlessly describing and exploring since his best-selling book, The Fifth Discipline, is the authentic organization of the future. An organization, described by the Arthur W. Page Society as the “The Authentic Enterprise” — an organization that has the ability to adapt to and thrive in a radically new economic and societal environment. And this new type of organization is one that is able to learn, and therefore able to change its behaviors and mindsets as a result of experience. An organization that is able to do what organization theorists Argyris and Schön call double-loop learning – learning that occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives. The current BP experience is not the only one for industrial or commercial organizations to test their capability for double-loop learning. What are the basic requirements that have to be in place, to allow learning and substantial change? Definitely an increased level of responsibility and willingness for being accountable across the whole organization; a solid grounding in a society based on a strong network of relationships and peer support; the capability to take advantage of the distributed intelligence in the organization; and, finally, the ability to comprehend and address the whole, understanding system dynamics and being oriented toward the long-term view. Companies that have created such an environment for learning always have an opportunity to change the game. “A positive self-reinforcing effect of just one firm in an industry can change the game for every one by demonstrating what is possible” (Senge). 

Continue Reading

9 Minus 11

9 Minus 11

I’ve lived in London long enough to wax, wane (and whinge) about the good old days. Case in point: the Routemaster. Elsewhere it’s known as a double-decker bus, but ask a Londoner about the post box red Routemaster and just watch him stiffen that jaw and blink away, instantly misty-eyed. Routemasters are off the road now — 50 years of service was deemed enough — and now that it’s been a couple of years since mandatory retirement, we’ve all forgotten how grubby, belching and smelly they actually were. What we remember was just how fantastic it was to hop on and off the back platform. Leaping off a moving bus made one feel like an action hero in a business suit . . . and giddy in the thought that this would never be tolerated by health and safety pinheads back in the US. In that first year, I used to take the #11 from the King’s Road in Chelsea to the office, near Liverpool Street station. The #11 is known by locals as The Tour bus, because its route follows some of London’s most famous landmarks — Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the Thames, and St. Paul’s among them. I always made a point of going for an upper deck seat — the ideal being the farthest forward, right hand side as it made for an elevated, unobstructed view. There was nothing better than that seat on a Friday night. But this was a Wednesday, in fact. It was an unusually hot day and I was annoyed the batteries had died in my Sony Discman (this was the pre-iPod era). We were stopped at a light in Chelsea and as I stowed that useless piece of you know what into my briefcase, I looked aimlessly out the window. My eyes eventually rested on the Bentley below, stopped at the light and facing the opposite direction. As the scene slowly slipped into focus, I was jolted into the startling realisation that I was making eye contact with the Queen. Yes, THE Queen. And get this — when she saw me do a double-take — my eyes doing that Homer Simpson popping out bit — she smiled. And then gave me a little wave. I swear. When I told the story in the office the next morning, I described her majesty’s light blue outfit in detail (light blue gloves, light blue hat),  but when I said she smiled — well, let’s just say there were skeptics.


But minutes later, the morning papers were delivered and there she was — on the front page of The Times from the Chelsea Flower Show and just as I saw her the day before — smiling and wearing light blue, including the little blue hat. Boris Johnson, our mayor, has promised an all-new Routemaster will carry passengers by 2011. Memories will take a little longer.  

Continue Reading

Brands Kick Off World Cup With Heavy Social Media Focus

Brands Kick Off World Cup With Heavy Social Media Focus

The 2010  FIFA World Cup is so close you can almost feel the excitement, passion, and drama that will come when the best in the world showcase football, or soccer for the sake of this post, at its finest! If you’re like me you’ve been living, eating, breathing, tweeting and posting anything World Cup related. For brands the mix of the world’s largest sporting event, the global connectivity of soccer fans and the explosion of social media makes for a perfect storm. This has not been lost on some of the biggest brands that are working hard to harness the powerful mix of soccer fans and social media. Let’s take a look at some.


Nike Shows Fans the Future


Unless you’ve been underground for the past week or so you’ve seen Nike’s Write the Future video on YouTube. The video has racked up over 11.5 million views, showcasing how content that’s relevant and creative can spread globally, even with some prominent branding from a major company. The star quotient of players like Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho only adds to its appeal. To its further credit Nike’s YouTube Channel’s unique design nicely incorporates Facebook and Twitter access, while capitalizing on Facebook’s Open Graph by housing an exclusive ten minutes of behind-the-scenes video on its page, which can be viewed if you “like” it.


ESPN and Fox Take the World Cup Mobile


For those times when you need your soccer fix on the run Fox and ESPN have got you covered. Fox and Audi have created a free app called Ticket to South Africa, to get you front and center for all the action. ESPN continues its positioning as the brand delivering all things sports related, this time with a microsite covering all things World Cup related in addition to their own app. Whatever soccer fans are looking for from, scores to venue info, they should be able to find it. Wikitude is diving into mobile augmented reality with their launch of the Wikitude World Cup contest that enables folks to create their own “Worlds” tied to the World Cup.


Budweiser Goes Big Brother


For those of you still looking for more examples take a look at the Bud House—you’re sure to get your fill of drama and tension reality television style as Budweiser takes a page from the show Big Brother. Put 32 contestants in a house in Cape Town for the length of the World Cup and let the games begin. Bud has really focused foremost on entertainment and lifestyle and done a good job integrating their social media strategy into their larger communications platform.


As I write there’s only 8 days, 1 hour, and 3 minutes till the games begin. Get ready for the ride!

Continue Reading

Courage

I have been lobbying for Ketchum to launch a blog and volunteered to oversee the Culture and Trends section. In a recent staff meeting, I discussed the need for all of us to have more courage to experiment and innovate and present clients with new ideas in unique ways. In my entire career as a brand marketing based professional, the best ideas have always come from trend-based thinking and finding ways to connect brands to the jet stream of culture. This section will be in constant beta, inviting employees from all facets of the agency to tap their networks for nuggets of inspiring information. Whether you find inspiration from trend sites (www.trendhunter.com and www.lsnglobal.com), meme sites (www.mashable.com and www.knowyourmeme.com), friends in social networks, or in your own corners of the Internet or real world, this is the place to shape them with colleagues, and beyond. Are you up for the challenge?

Continue Reading

Caps to Clicks

Caps to Clicks

Among the movie selections on my flight from London to Lima, Peru were Precious, The Blind Side and Up in the Air.

Not a bad way to describe the current state of the worldwide economy, it occurred to me.

Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly exciting and historic time to be in the public relations profession and that was the gist of my speech this morning to the International Public Relations Association’s World Congress. 

Continue Reading