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, “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.”

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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). 

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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.  

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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!

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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 ( and, meme sites ( and, 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?

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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. 

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Nobody Remembers the Naysayers

Remember when the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, refused to believe that the Dark Lord had returned to cut Harry Potter open, take his blood, mix it with the bones of his father, then burst forth in a blaze of fiery magic?

In a magical world of possibility, Fudge was blind to possibilities. He was a bureaucrat whose close-mindedness led to great losses against the Death Eaters, and you probably don’t remember him because he was a naysayer.

“Nobody remembers the naysayers,” said eternal optimist Bill Clinton in his speech to the graduating class of Yale College last week. “In the end, all that endures are the builders. And in the end, even the builders are forgotten and all that endures are the ripples of what they built.”

This blog is called Possibilities because I’ve seen too many great ideas not get built when probability gets in the way of possibility. “Unlikely to get past legal,” says the naysayer. Or, “Why waste time when odds for success are so low,” says another. “Too complicated,” they all snap.

Considering possibility means seeing potential, and seeing potential takes an open mind and a builder’s spirit. In my business where ideas are my capital, I come to work each day hoping to think up great ideas, but I’m also looking for the construction crews with the spirit and energy to help me build them. It certainly takes imagination, but it takes a good amount of toil too.

Just consider these nay-sayings that might have killed the possibility of great ideas had the tenacity of idea builders not prevailed:

This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication (Western Union memo, 1876)

We don’t like their sound (Decca Recording Company, in rejecting The Beatles, 1962)

There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home (Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977)

So join me in seeing possibilities. Be brave like Harry Potter, and like the gifted wizard apprentice, be remembered and endure.

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The Extra 26.2

The Extra 26.2

For 87 years, Ketchum has taken pride in always going the extra mile for our clients.

But 26.2?

Yes, that’s a full marathon. Sally Arnold’s snap decision to go for it – the entire distance – was actually made when all but one entrant had completed last Sunday’s London Marathon.

It was 9pm. It was raining. And she was wearing jeans. (She ditched her soggy ballet flats after Mile 5.)

The runner she was supporting still had more than 15 miles to go.

The series of events that led to this moment were set in motion months earlier when a small group of Ketchum Pleon London colleagues took on the challenge of supporting wounded war veteran Phil Packer.

The former Army Major, paralyzed from the waist down by a rocket attack in Iraq two years ago, was attempting to complete the London marathon, dedicating each mile to a different charity supporting disabled or deprived young people and injured service personnel.

With just one stop for physiotherapy, Packer crossed the finish line in 25 hours and 55 minutes to achieve his target of completing the 26.2 miles in under 26 hours for 26 charities.

The pro bono campaign sought to raise both money and awareness for all of the 26 charities. Due to the efforts of our colleagues in London – namely Suzanne Sinden, Avril Lee and Sally – both goals were achieved.

Wow, were they ever. During the pre-race build-up, double-decker buses and train stations were plastered in posters, the Tower of London blazed with a projection image that ran across the full face of the famous landmark; the story ran everywhere.

Throughout the run, a young support walker from one of 26 charities joined Packer for each one of the 26 miles. And, of course, they were joined by one member of KP London who found herself at Mile 11 on a wet Sunday night with the indefatigable Packer and didn’t want to be left behind.

“There was no way I was not going to see it through,” Sally told us all on Tuesday morning. “The crazy carnage of the photographers trying to get the first shot at the finish line, the media pushing for live interviews… Phil crossing it with those 26 kids around him and the emotion that was felt throughout the hundreds of people there… It’s something I was so proud to be a part of and will never forget.

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

As Phil himself put it: “It’s about what you can do – not can’t.”

For more information on Phil you can visit 

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Do You Hear Me?

Your customers are talking, Tweeting, texting and tubing (YouTubing, that is) and they have a lot to say. Do you, as a marketer, hear them? Do you care? What impact does that input have on your company? How are you changing how you do business as a result of listening to consumers? How do you let them know you’ve heard them? Have you joined the conversation? How do you measure that activity?

These are questions that consumers, especially female consumers, are asking of your business or brand. If you don’t hear them, then you are not listening well enough. There are more channels than ever before to listen to opinions, recommendations and dissatisfactions and those channels are available to you and to your consumers. Active and real-time listening is critical to succeed in marketing with women.

Date just released in the 2010 BlogHer Social Media Matters Study, sponsored by Ketchum, shows consumers are prepared to take action if companies do not listen to them. According to the research, consumers agree — the best way they can influence companies, the products they develop and how they market to consumers is by not buying products. Fully 62% of women and 54% of men are prepared to walk away if they don’t approve of how you do business.

I hope you hear your consumers loud and clear. 

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Does Social Media Matter?

Research, or any recent conversation with a marketer will tell you that social media is one of the marketing hottest topics. What’s working? What’s not? What’s the latest? How do I put it in context? That’s why Ketchum’s Brand Marketing Practice decided to sponsor BlogHer’s annual social media study, aptly named, the 2010 Social Media Matters Study.

Findings from the study will help marketers better understand where to focus online, especially when it comes to purchase recommendations. Key findings include:

Social media is growing with over three-quarters (77%) of adults 18+ online now participating weekly or more3 in 4 women online are active social media usersBlogs are second only to Internet search as the preferred media source for product purchasing information for BlogHer Network usersHalf of the total US online population and 81% of the BlogHer Network audience turn to blogs for advice and guidanceMen are just as active as women in social media, but they prefer different destinations (YouTube vs. Facebook or social gaming)

Does social media matter? Just if you want consumers to buy or recommend your product.

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