Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Sporting Scene, Volume II

In the course of a business day, I’m asked many questions. New business questions. Recruiting questions. Creative questions. Marketing and advertising questions. Sometimes it seems as if my entire day is spent answering questions — via email, IM, Skype, AIM, text, tweet  and believe it or not, the telephone.

Not all these questions are business questions — being known as a kind of “sports guy”, I’m often asked questions about sport. The Sporting Scene, Vol. II will examine some common and interesting sporting questions I’ve fielded in the past few weeks. Staying true to the mission of mikepalma.com, each answer will ultimately address the marketing and advertising ramifications for each topic question.

As a prelude, athletes are brands. Professional franchises (sports teams) are brands. The leagues– MLB, the NFL, the NBA, et al, are brands. Coaches are brands. Educational institutions have become brands, largely because of their athletic programs. The money involved is staggering. When a college basketball coach is the highest-paid state employee (not the highest paid university employee, but the best paid STATE employee), you know there’s a lot of money involved. That coach is Jim Calhoun and that state is Connecticut. He is probably not the only one.

Lots of questions, so let’s go:

1. Will Tiger Ever Win Again? Will Tiger Ever Win Another Major?

Ok, that’s two questions. But both run rampant in the Palma pipeline. And they both have a similar answer. In short, I think “yes” to both. But, neither is a lock. The game of golf is 90% mental. Winning a professional golf tournament requires a clear mind, supreme confidence, a killer instinct and the ability to stay in the present. No golfer, not even Tiger Woods, can overcome the loss of any one of these four critical winning attributes and win. This is not your local municipal qualifier we are talking about — this is the PGA Tour. Have you seen some of these young whippersnappers? Dustin Johnson? McIlroy? Watney? Ricky Barnes? These guys are really good. Not to mention the previous wave of young talent that has now hit its prime — Furyk, Cink, Harrington, Kuchar, et al..

“The field” has become so talented and equipment has become so technologically advanced that it’s nearly impossible to win a tour event without your “A” game. And to have an “A” game going — you need the four mental cornerstones — a clear mind, supreme confidence, a killer instinct and the ability to stay in the present. Doesn’t it seem as if Tiger has lost all four? It reminds me of David Duval. “Double D”, also a former #1 Player in the World — a guy who once shot 59, lost it the “other way” (he dropped out of sight to raise a family). But Duval’s fall from grace is instructive — once it goes, it may be gone for good. Can we imagine Duval ever winning again? How about a Major? THAT’S how fragile the golf swing is. I think Tiger wins again in two years. But, it’s NOT a lock. He can easily be the next David Duval.

Marketing Spin: Funny how Duval laid low, raised a family, got into health foods, lost weight, quit smoking. Nobody cared about his lifestyle. He stopped winning and consequently lost most of his endorsement deals. Nobody cared. But, Tiger’s saga — EVERYBODY cared about that. He flew in $15,000 per night hookers from Italy, had a harem of porn stars and seemingly had carnal knowledge of half of Orlando. Yet Nike stands behind him. Oh yeah, I know, he lost AT&T, and a few others. But the big one is Nike. Their golf brand IS Tiger Woods. They drop Tiger Woods and they might as well get out of golf. Heck, they have essentially lost Michael Jordan. They cannot withstand losing Woods too. Without Woods and Jordan, Nike might as well go back to being a running shoe company.

2. What Happened To the Red Sox?

The better question may be, What Happened to Baseball? Doesn’t it suck? The infrastructure. The imbalance of finance and power. The ballpark experience. The umpiring. The product itself.

Okay, back to the question. Boston had a rash of injuries to key players, yes. And not just 15-day DL stints — but broken bones and surgeries.But, injuries are a part of the game — even A LOT of injuries. No, the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of two starting pitchers — Josh Beckett and John Shellackey. Those guys have even an average year and there’s fall baseball in Beantown. The good news? Theo Epstein can begin rehearsing his set  for the Hot Stove, Cool Music fundraiser.

Marketing Spin: With their cable deal with NESN and the age-old curse twice-broken, guess what — Boston doesn’t NEED to win anymore. TV ratings are down, scalper’s ticket prices at Fenway are down and the Pink Hats have taken over. Look for the Sox to play it safe financially in this new decade and be content to be more of a “brand” than a team focused on winning.

The bigger concern is the game of baseball itself . The attrition and fallout from the Mitchell Report has finally caught up with the game. I can’t remember a season that was so uninteresting. The biggest story was an umpire’s call. Or Roger Clemens’ Federal Indictment. Or was it George Steinbrenner’s death? But, it was anything but a positive baseball story. The game will undoubtedly survive, but it needs some fixing. A good place to start would be to speed up the games by enforcing the rules. I never believed in a salary cap before, but it’s working for the NFL and the NBA. Baseball’s financial infrastructure isn’t — I mean we have a team going to the playoffs that can’t make payroll without Chapter 11 protection (Texas). The Dodgers are part of a divorce settlement. The Yankees… well, that’s all you really have to say … they have become synonymous with wretched excess, like Lehman Brothers and the rest of the Wall Street pigs. It’s almost embarrassing being a baseball fan these days. It hurts me to say that.

3. What Do You Think of LeBron’s Move to Miami?

Didn’t it seem as if LeBron James was trying to miss shots in the playoffs? Hey, he earned his right to free agency via the collective bargaining agreement. Free agency begins with the word “free” — he is free to do whatever he wants. What sucked was the nationally televised public humiliation of an entire city — the heart of rock and roll — Cleveland. Yes, James is ruthless. But I blame ESPN. How tasteless. Most surprisingly, LBJ didn’t take the NY money — that proved to me it wasn’t about the money (although $111 mil is not pro bono wages). This Heat team reminds me of the ’68 Lakers — the triumvirate of Wilt, West & Baylor, seemingly a dream team. Guess what? They lost. Why? The rules only allow one ball on the court. LeBron may well turn into this generation’s Chamberlain — the poster boy for losing.

Marketing Spin: Even if he wins, he loses. And if he loses, he’ll be branded a loser. A sure recipe for disaster. However, he will not suffer greatly in the world of endorsements. Yes, his image will take a hit. But, he hasn’t been busted for drugs. He hasn’t gambled on the game. He hasn’t contracted HIV. He hasn’t had affairs with multiple porn stars. Nope. He signed a free agent contract with the Miami Heat. I can’t see any sponsors outside of Cleveland, Ohio taking umbrage with that.

Next: The Ryder Cup and a Preview of the Harvard/Yale game.

Spider Monkey Syndrome: Reality or Myth?

Does It Affect Creative Agencies and Careers?

A friend recently suggested an intriguing blog topic: Spider Monkey Syndrome and How It Affects Creative Careers. At first, it sounded like an easy cautionary tale to tell: Greedy Stubborn Monkey Fixates on Sure Thing, Loses Sight of the Big Picture, Is Trapped With Hand in Banana Jar. Sounds like a lot of creative careers. Sounds like a lot of creative agencies. I was prepared to diagram a Risk/Reward Seesaw. It was going to be a really cool post.

There was just one small problem. In researching Spider Monkey Syndrome, there wasn’t a shred of evidence that even spider monkeys suffer from this malaise. I found several articles claiming that the syndrome exists — but they were all rather baseless theories; a bunch of stories relating to business, life and religion (the banana as “Satan’s Bait” was my favorite).

I found photographs in Google images of spider monkey “traps”, presumably shot in South America. They looked like the collaborative effort of Crocodile Dundee and McGyver. I even found a few cartoonish illustrations of monkeys with their hand in a bottle. But I couldn’t find a single documentation of a laboratory experiment or a scientific study — or even an actual picture of a spider monkey in a trap.

Now, it seems fairly obvious: if hunters in South America can trap spider monkeys with these Indiana Jones/McGyver gadgets (What are they doing hunting monkeys anyway? You can’t eat ’em and they make lousy taxidermy — or is this how zoos stock up on animals?) then this must be some kind of grand metaphor for the human race. And a small metaphor for creative agencies and careers. Right?

Unfortunately for this post, I must sadly theorize that this supposed “trapping” of spider monkeys — exploiting their stubborn ignorance, is a pure canard. An old wives’ tale. A very Rural Myth. Jungle boogie.

What may very well be real, however, is “the syndrome”.  I think we do all kinds of things and blame them on monkeys. If my desk is a laboratory, then there is evidence of the syndrome’s existence. It tragically afflicts creative agencies. It infects promising creative careers.

In 21 years of “research”, I’ve presented tens of thousands of creative opportunities to creative people. I would say that would be a valid and reliable sample size. A good percentage of these opportunities were rejected. And a surprising percentage of those rejections resulted in remorseful call backs and emails from candidates; some within weeks, and some after years.

“Why didn’t you make me consider that opportunity more seriously?”

“Why weren’t you more persistent, Palma?”

“… And now look at me. If only…”

Just this week, I found a guy on Facebook that I “discovered” in 1994. He was in NY then, and he’s in NY now. He is a monster talent. I tried to recruit him for Bogusky in Miami and Tausche in Atlanta. Both guys’ shops were poised to take off for growth and committed to attracting top rising talent. He passed on both, dismissing the opportunities as too risky. He was half-right. That’s about the national average. The first thing he wrote when we  reconnected on Facebook was a mention of the Crispin irony. I’m not a soothsayer, I’m a headhunter. But this much I know: Opportunity — true opportunity — only crosses your path a few times in life and only a precious few times in a career with a maximum shelf life of 30 years.

How many creative agencies have had their 15 minutes of fame? The Communication Arts Agency Profile story. The Creativity Magazine Listmaker. The Advertising Age Feature. The One Club Exhibit. Hey, guess what? Creative recognition is ephemeral. Where are those great shops now? Leonard/Monahan. Doyle Advertising & Design. Cole Henderson Drake. Riddell Advertisng. Huey/Paprocki. Casualties all. Victims of The Syndrome. Trapped by their own creative success. Eyes myopically fixated on the prize.

There is no pithy lesson here. Just a few observations from the Observatory.

Next: What Came First? Lou Gehrig Or Lou Gehrig’s Disease?

Fun…remember that?

Creative Musings, Part III

Okay, back to work everybody. Stop your bitching and moaning about the economy/the short summer/the war/etc. and get your pimply butt back in the saddle. No more summer Fridays. No more jaunts to The Hamptons/The Shore/The Lowcountry/The Highlands or The Cape. No more excuses. As Michael Jackson said, “This Is It” (be careful of what you name your next documentary). So what are you going to do about It? Here’s a list of a few things I’m doing to establish a more disciplined routine:

  • Get out of bed an hour earlier and walk around the block with a smile on my face and a grateful heart.
  • Avoid all distracting media in the morning — TV, Radio, iPods. Remain in monkish silence to prepare for the day.
  • Eat breakfast every day (preferably with a prospect or any business contact — there is no bad networking breakfast and there’s no substitute for personal interaction).
  • Read the The Wall Street Journal Marketplace and  The New York Times Business Section.
  • Hit the phone, email and Tweetdeck.
  • Write — write a lot: letters to prospects and influencers; proposals; presentation ideas; articles for blog; white papers.
  • The doom-and-gloomers are talking double-dip — I’m thinking a big 4th quarter comeback. But, I’m just an old basketball coach — that’s the way we think. Of all the things I learned from Jim Valvano, nothing was more valuable than this: Luck is when Preparation Meets Opportunity. We make our own luck. He said, “hard work does not guarantee success — but without it, you are guaranteed to fail.”

    I don’t have time to “opt in” to brands. Maybe late at night, I’ll go surfing for stuff. But, I don’t want to “join the club”, thanks anyway. I just want what I want. I don’t need to know what everyone else thinks — I don’t need validation for my choices. I don’t need to interact online with someone from Des Moines to know what I want. Sure, I guess agencies can twist the research into making a case for the “club-like” atmosphere brands are creating around themselves. But, while much of the consuming population are sheep — are they really spenders? It’s not how many people you have in your bar. Or how many are drinking; it’s who are those spending the most money. Those folks are not sheep. They don’t need another club to join.

    Still looking for good work — anywhere, any media. You see any? Maybe its a sign ‘o the times. I kind of like the interim campaign for Aflac. Truly integrated. Beautiful contemporary design. Great headline: “You Don’t Know Quack”. It’s amazing that so few of us really knew what Aflac did, and they spent all that money on media and celebrity spokesmen. As much as I like Yogi Berra, I grew tired of the old duck and the same spots running over and over:

    I’ve written a lot of songs lately. You think writing a radio spot is hard? Try writing a pop song without it sounding one bit banal or derivative.

    Has Alex Bogusky really left advertising?

    YouTube is great but sometimes just way too much information. I saw a clip of a very drunk Elvis Presley stumbling through the spoken monologue of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” during a Vegas performance. He turned it into a comedy routine, knowing how drunk he was — the audience laughed along. So sad.

    The City of New Orleans seems to be back. Bravo guys, particularly Robbie Vitrano at Trumpet. A true visionary.

    Why is membership in The One Club disturbingly low?

    What’s worse? The mediocre work, or having to sit through it again and again? Does media research actually confirm that the more we see a spot the more likely we are to “opt in”? It makes me want to opt out. I watched the PGA Championship recently on network television. One of the sponsors ran the same spot at least 10 times through the final round. By the 18th hole, I resented the brand. I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

    There are no new rules of engagement in business development. Just new ways of connecting.

    What’s the hot account review? Arby’s. This is an opportunity to turnaround an iconic brand. The new marketing team, headed by Steve Davis (Heineken, “It’s All About The Beer”, Dos Equis) is poised for a memorable campaign. They know what great work is. The right agency has a rare opportunity. Arby’s is the last dinosaur standing in the roast beef niche. Roy Rogers? Gone. Rax? Gone. Which begs the question — does America really want a roast beef sandwich out of a window? I think they do. Does America want to go bowling? I think so. We just need to be reminded about bowling, and how much fun it is. I love the Beef n’ Cheddar on the onion roll, the curly fries, the Jamocha Shakes, the Horsey Sauce. Now, that’s a club I’ll join — the Horsey Sauce Club.

    Aren’t you getting bored with Facebook? Your mother is on Facebook.

    What’s the hottest new Mobile platform:? Zoove (www.zoove.com). It will change the world for the better by making everything simpler.

    Okay, back to work. Time to hunker down.

    Thank You, Austin

    Historic Visit Commemorated

    It was just a brief two-day visit. Yet, it was so kind and thoughtful of the City of Austin to designate the little park where I smoked a Petit Corona following lunch last Thursday. I may be from New York, but there’s a lot of Cowboy in me, I’ll tell ya. Thanks to the gals at Allen’s Boots, you were so helpful and I appreciate your service. And thanks to the pianist in the Four Seasons Bar for playing all that Tom Waits. Finally, thanks to the Marshall at Barton Creek Golf Course for moving that slow group along in front of us. I will always have a soft spot for Austin, deep in the heart of Texas.