Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Proposing a New Ad Campaign for the U.S. Army: Highlighting Benefits of Service & Veterans' Contributions to Society

The U.S. Army spends roughly $200 million a year in advertising: The lucrative account is held by Interpublic Group of Companies' McCann Worldgroup, which has been the lead ad agency on the account since 2005. McCann introduced the successful "Army Strong" campaign in 2006, replacing the well-trod and indelible campaign, "Be All You Can Be."

As a U.S. Army Veteran, and based on 20+ years in marketing, communications and advertising, I'd like to offer some free advice for the personnel in the Army's Marketing and Research Group.

I propose a new campaign that represents the ideals upon which the United States Army was founded, that explains to the American public--specifically to the target audience the Army is trying to recruit--the long-term benefits and impacts of serving our country.

Almost every veteran you meet (Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard) has at least one story of how they've applied in their civilian life the professional, personal, leadership and ethical skills they developed in service to our country. These lessons extend from the classroom to the boardroom and beyond.

In fact, according to a Korn/Ferry International report, "Military Experience and CEOs: Is There a Link?":

1. Military officers are well-represented among the ranks of CEOs. Chief executives who served as officers constitute over 8 percent of all CEOs in the S&P 500, which is far above the average percentage of the entire U.S. male population who served in the military (3%).

2. CEOs with military experience have longer tenures as CEO than those without. The average tenure of a CEO with military experience is over seven years, while a CEO without military experience averaged under five.

3. CEOs with a military background are more likely to deliver strong performance. The Korn/Ferry study found that companies led by military veterans as CEOs delivered higher average returns than the S&P 500 index over one, three, five, and ten-year horizons.

The report emphasizes: "Without exception, the CEOs interviewed emphasize that the military offers an early opportunity to acquire hands-on leadership experience that cannot be found in the corporate world or at a similarly early stage in people’s careers."

The unique leadership training young Americans receive in the military is manifested not just in the Boardroom, but also every day. It's no exaggeration to suggest that the strongest case to serve in the U.S. Army for any period of time is found in today's headlines. Here's a sample of The Army Values in action:

Veterans at Home, on a Mission of Compassion

Vet Saves Woman's Life En Route to Be Honored For His Service

Army Vet Helps Develop Life-Saving Device for Treating Battlefield Wounds

Army Ranger Helps After Boston Marathon Bombings

And my favorite:

Former Army Officer Helped Victims

The Army's new ad flight, 'Defy Expectations,' "seeks to motivate prospects to take a deeper look into the Army," said James Ortiz, director of marketing, Army Marketing and Research Group. "By challenging current preconceived notions, we want prospects to pause, seek out our online platforms or an Army recruiter, and really consider the Army for what it is--a unique life-changing career and education opportunity and an incredible foundation for success today and tomorrow."

From personal experience--through developing emerging leaders in the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program at MIT, and from my decisive actions at the 2013 Boston Marathon--I know that the skills to which I was exposed, and which I developed, in the U.S. Army, helped to form the citizen I have become.

Ask other veterans and they'll say something similar. Even if they didn't remain in their respective military branch, the character, strength, fortitude, and commitment to contributing to our nation during their service remained--remains--within them.

The Army Marketing and Research Group is spending millions when the elegant solution may well be to convey a simple message: "You Might Not Stay in the Army, but the Army Stays in You."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Final Mariden Update

OK, friends, here is one final Mariden USA update. After this, I promise I will extricate my teeth from this tasty flesh and move on to other topics.

Recall from my previous post that my friend Mark Friese in the DC area had a similar encounter with the unscrupulous Mariden folks--he actually went on his trip to Spain but--like our experience--that wasn't the end of his troubles with Mariden. Here's Mark's tale of woe.

First I want to thank you. Your contacts helped me talk to many other people that have had to deal with the poor management of Mariden. I did strong arm them to get me tickets at the last second. I had to visit Augustine at his home and leave messages on Nina’s door. As with some others when we arrived in Spain no arrangements for hotels had been made. In fact the hotel they first sent me to had dealt with Mariden in the past but wanted nothing to do with them in the future. After calling our guide I was directed to another hotel that was supposed to be paid for. The reservations had been made but no payment sent to the travel guide. He said that he could not help me until Nina approved the expenditure. Nina had evidently made some kind of side deal with the rest of our group coming from a different location. They had to pay for travel because she did not have the money and she would cover the hotel, meals and excursions, unbelievable! They bailed at the last moment. I never found out what happened.

In my international email correspondence with Nina to get my hotels and guide paid for she told me she was mad at the other group for bailing on her and that she had to pay all kinds of penalty payments (THAT sounds familiar). Payment was finally made by Nina and our guide proceeded with our tour. Having just two clients rather that 13 it was abbreviated. He did not travel with us, go on tours or dinners with us (except once). I would imagine that he was expecting a big group and the equivalent big tip rate of 7 euros a day( 1,000 euros in total), instead he just had us.

I thought you would enjoy the story. Hopefully Mariden is done. There were murmurs from Augustine of bankruptcy. I know they are being sued in Virginia by the other families that we were originally suppose to travel with. I have been asked to testify. Because of you I had at least ten conversations with others that have been treated poorly by Mariden. Many are willing to write letters or perhaps testify. I applaud you for your persistence and continuing to get the word out to others. Many of these trips were paid for with hard earned sweat by the kids that were supposed to attend. The entire situation is just sad.

So you see, friends, online reviews work. Social media connects us in ways never before possible, and forces companies to be accountable to their customers. Those that aren't... perish. And that's for the better, for all consumers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mariden Update (or, The Power of Online Reviews... Proven Again!)

If you read my post from 5/1/12, you're familiar with my crusade to bring Mariden USA to justice (if you didn't, please read it--you'll be amazed and appalled).

Yes, I'm like a pitbull. I continue to fight Mariden because they destroy kids' dreams. I continue to fight Mariden because it proves a point--online reviews ARE powerful and DO make a difference. Plus, as I declared in a recent job interview: "I was in the Army. I don't quit, and I don't lose."

This latest update is more positive for the victims of unscrupulous travel operators like Mariden--and one which underscores the power of social media.

I was contacted recently by Mark, the father of a student who had invested in a Mariden trip to Spain--which Mariden canceled at the last minute (no surprise)--without communication to Mark or his family. Mark had read my review of Mariden on Yelp and reached out for some advice on how to proceed. Sadly, the saga he related wasn't surprising.

Thankfully, Mark is a tenacious fellow (takes one to know one). As he lives in the same city where our nemesis, Mariden, is based, and he wasn't getting any response from Mariden, Mark visited Augustine (the Mariden rep) at HOME!

Here's the scoop, as Mark relayed it to me via email:

"I met with Augustine today. I looked up his address and surprised him at home because no one will return my calls email, etc. The owner is Nina with her husband they both own 50% of Mariden and Mariden Canada. They are in the middle of a bad divorce. The woman named Dagmar is the sister of Nina. They have not filed Chapter 11 yet but are considering it. I will mention on a positive note that you were mentioned as someone that had substantially damaged their incoming business. I am suppose to hear tomorrow if the trip will happen. If not I have been referred to their attorney. Hopefully it will not come to that but we will see."

Naturally, I am helping Mark strengthen our legitimate campaign against Mariden International, by providing him not only my own correspondence, but that of others who were similarly exploited by Mariden.

The key line in Mark's synopsis is "I will mention on a positive note that you were mentioned as someone that had substantially damaged their incoming business."

Let this be a lesson to ALL businesses operating deceitfully: You WILL be discovered. Your deceit WILL be disclosed. Your business WILL suffer. Your only solution is to apologize, compensate the victims of your perfidy, and pledge henceforth to be transparent. Go on the attack and you'll be vilified. The world is a small place; people communicate.

If you've been a victim of unscrupulous business owners, share your story online. Share it widely. It DOES make a difference.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

JetBlue Succeeds in Social Media: A Case Study

There's a lot of clutter in the social media world, and--although "the experts" say consumers can pick and choose the feeds they want--it's increasingly confusing to sort through the social media static. But when a stream stands out, it's worth stating.

Such was my Twitter experience yesterday with JetBlue. Whoever's in charge of JetBlue's Twitter feed should be commended for their responsiveness and customer service... And other companies should learn a lesson from how JetBlue does it.

Our flight to Boston was delayed out of BWI; we finally landed about 90 minutes past our scheduled arrival time. In my rush to deplane, I left behind my Nook. I didn't realize I was reader-less until I was on the Silver Line into South Station.

I immediately called JetBlue; they gave me the number for the Lost and Found office at their Logan headquarters. I left a message with all the details. Standard approach.

Enter social media: At 10:24 PM yesterday night I tweeted, "Without my #Nook I am readerless! #JetBlue please find it and return it!(Lost tonight on flight 1326, BWI-BOS)". Less than 15 minutes later, at 10:37 PM, JetBlue Direct Messaged me: "@brm90 Please speak with the Baggage Services office in BOS before you leave the airport, or call the lost and found at 617-716-3549."

Of course, I'd already called and left a message. That's the "old media" approach.

As a "new media" pro, what matters to me is how quickly JetBlue responded to my plaintive cry, and how they provided clear, specific instructions in 133 characters. That's the takeaway for brands that seek to use Twitter to connect meaningfully with customers. JetBlue’s brand page on Twitter shows that they use Twitter as a customer service platform. Almost every tweet is an @ reply.

I did some further research and discovered that JetBlue has a dedicated person who continually interacts with social media, especially Twitter. With almost 2 million followers, that's a challenging job.

Here's the lesson for brands: If your brand is on Twitter for customer service, it’s important to be committed. According to JetBlue,

“Our goal would be to make ourselves available, help whenever possible, and to show that our brand is built by real people who care about our customers.”

JetBlue goes to where their customers are and they're helping customers resolve issues. They're not flogging their brand by routinely pushing press releases. On Twitter (I can't speak for their other social media platforms) JetBlue promotes their brand--and builds brand allegiance--by having great customer service.

JetBlue may not find my Nook, but they certainly found a follower.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Ongoing Lesson in Viral Social Media and Online Corporate Presence

Here's an update regarding my ongoing social media campaign to alert people about Mariden USA, the unscrupulous travel company with whom Heather, her students and I contracted to travel to Italy and Greece this past April.

There are larger lessons in this post about the power of viral social media and how responsible companies should respond to online feedback.

Early this morning I got an email from a teacher in Cecil County, MD, who received similar detestable customer service from Mariden USA. She saw my review on Yelp and contacted me to learn more details of our terrible experience. I eagerly shared the details, knowing that the more facts we share about Mariden USA's business practices, the more likely people will steer clear of contracting with them.

From a social media perspective, this information campaign is proving successful. People are getting valuable information, and sharing the facts has put Mariden USA on the defensive. But rather than react as a responsible would, or should, in this digital age, Mariden USA has resorted to the tired old strategy of maligning their accusers.

In terms of online corporate presence, Mariden USA has handled this as clumsily as it handled the planning and execution of our trip. Mariden USA has a Facebook page, but has disallowed comments. A company with nothing to hide freely invites comments.

On Mariden USA's website, all the testimonials are glowing. Yet a simple Google search reveals poor reviews (mine and others). This inconsistency merely underscores Mariden USA's duplicity.

Ask yourself: Does any company have 100% customer satisfaction? By seeking to hide or squelch truthful accounts of poor customer service, Mariden USA not only blinds itself to dissatisfied customers, but it also eliminates the opportunity to improve its customer service.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Customer Dis-Service & The Power of Social Media

Recently I went on a trip to Rome and Athens with my spouse, a Latin teacher at a public school in Massachusetts (yes, friends, they still teach Latin at some public schools). We were a group of 24 students and four chaperones. We booked and planned the travel through Mariden USA, a company that arranges such travel.

This blog post recounts our poor experience with Mariden USA and how I am using social media to ensure others in higher education do not have a similar experience. I wrote this post on behalf of my spouse, who as a teacher does not have the time to devote to this (fortunately I do, as one of my roles at MIT is to monitor and be engaged in social media).

First you'll read a edited review of the trip (from planning to execution) that I posted on Mariden USA's Facebook page. Then you'll check out a list of places where I posted the review (or a version of the review). If you're interested more in "the power of social media" aspect of this blog post, simply go to the Mariden USA Facebook page and you'll see their reaction to this account.

Particularly relevant to my social media mini-campaign is Mariden USA's protestation that we're "wasting energy writing bad reviews" about the company: When you get underwhelming (or in this case, bad) service, social media gives you a outlet to share that information with others.

* * *

Mariden USA was consistently and continually underhanded and duplicitous in the planning of our trip. Initially my spouse was told everything she wanted to hear, but, sadly for her students, the reality was far different than the false promises we heard from Mariden USA representatives.

FLIGHTS: My spouse selected Mariden USA because company representatives said they could get direct flights from Boston to Rome and returning from Athens to Boston. Many direct flights are available. Mariden USA representatives understood this was a priority of my students. Not only did we end up with layovers, but also these layovers unnecessarily prolonged the trip, eating away hours that could have been spent touring sites in Rome and Athens.

Mariden USA representatives also informed my spouse that our group would travel together: This, after all, is the definition of group travel. However, Mariden USA split up our group. My spouse was forced to involve an attorney in our perfectly justified efforts to compel Mariden USA to do what was right--that is, to amend the travel plans so that all her students traveled together.

In addition to denying her students the experience of traveling together in one group, Mariden USA denied compensation to the three travelers in the separate group. Reviewing the correspondence, it is obvious Mariden USA denied compensation because I engaged an attorney to convince them to honor their verbal commitment to her and our group.

LATE FEES and RECORD KEEPING: Where Mariden USA exhibited poor planning for our legitimate travel and itinerary requests, such disregard did not carry over to their relentless pursuit of so-called late fees from parents.

Ironically, Mariden USA was able to assess late fees to my participants, yet was not sufficiently organized to send invoices of fees due prior to sending notifications of late fees. This pursuit of late fees without sending invoices was a offensive attempt to wring more funds from parents. Mariden USA's consistently poor record keeping passed on a great deal of extra work and stress to my spouse, the customer.

DURING THE TRIP: Mariden USA's poor scheduling, abysmal planning, and lack of attention to detail repeatedly manifested itself while on our trip.

Although our guide in Rome, Alex, was truly exceptional, the fact remains that because someone in Mariden USA's office did not pre-plan and realize the Vatican would be closed on a Sunday (a fact generally clear to most of the world¹s population), we had to spend six extra hours on the bus because the scheduled trip to Pompeii was moved to Sunday from the more logical original plan of seeing it on the way to the ferry on Monday.

On Monday on the ferry from Bari, Italy, to Patras, Greece, we had to withdraw 598 Euro from our own savings to pay for the dinners and breakfasts for her students. These meals were clearly indicated as included in our overall bill, as contracted by Mariden USA. Although this blatant breach of contract was ameliorated several days later via Mariden International's reimbursement of these funds, our group should never have been put in this situation.

Also, while enduring a six-hour layover in Paris en route to Rome on 4/14, two flights left to Rome earlier than ours from our terminal alone. By our calculations, the flights and Pompeii trip inefficiencies wasted an entire day of touring.

The pity of these wasted hours is not the inconvenience but rather the disservice to the students whom Mariden USA purports to accommodate.

SUMMARY: The sole bright spots were the consummate professional tour guides we had both in Rome and Athens. They were professional, prepared, responsible, respectful and understanding. Not surprisingly, to our understanding, our guides were arranged by Mariden International, which apparently has higher customer service standards than Mariden USA. My spouse and I strongly advise her colleagues against traveling with Mariden USA.

* * *

Now, to the places where I posted this review (or a version of it)... in addition, of course, to the Better Business Bureau:

The point, friends, is that social media gives you the power to mount a one-person outreach campaign.

So the next time you get service you don't like, do something about it: Voice your complaint through social media.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Delta, Delta, Delta Needs Some Helpa, Helpa, Helpa: Code Share w/ Saudi Arabia Airlines is Indefensible

Delta Air Lines recently announced that Jews and Israelis (or passengers carrying any non-Islamic article of faith) will not be able to fly code-share flights from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia under the airline's new partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines that is set to begin in 2012.

The bone-headed move is generating a firestorm of negative PR for Delta (which will probably force the airline to rescind the policy) and a stream of correspondence to the U.S. State Department from concerned citizens--regardless of religious affiliation.

I am opposed to the U.S. entering an "open skies" agreement with Saudi Arabia so long as that government maintains its policy of not allowing entry into Saudi Arabia of any American citizen who is either:
1) of the Jewish faith; or
2) has an Israeli exit or entrance stamp in his/her passport.
Saudi Arabia currently maintains both of these patently discriminatory prohibitions.

If Saudi Arabia or some other country had a visa policy that prohibited the entry of, say, Black American citizens, the State Department would never countenance entering a "open skies" agreement with a country that maintained such a patently discriminatory policy. Indeed, I would think the U.S. Government would not even allow the airline of that country to operate at all the United States, much less to do so with all the advantages of a "open skies" agreement.

Perhaps certain people in the U.S. State Department who administer such affairs believe that Jewish American citizens can be treated differently and that discrimination against them by a country like Saudi Arabia is acceptable merely because it is part of the Saudi "visa policy."

The U.S. State Department must act immediately to insist that Saudi Arabia abandon its two discriminatory prohibitions as a condition of enjoying all the advantages of a "open skies" agreement with the U.S. Now that the dispute has become public, it is up to Secretary Hillary Clinton to take the lead on pressuring Saudi Arabia to reverse these offensive discriminatory prohibitions.

In a statement to Religion News Service on Thursday (June 23), Delta said it "does not discriminate, nor do we condone discrimination against any protected class of passenger in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender."

Cowering behind the statement that it is adhering to the visa policies of Saudi Arabia, Delta's stance is hypocritical, feckless and indefensible. With the airline now publicly accused of implementing a "no-Jew fly policy", it's only a matter of time until the U.S. public forces the airline to do what the U.S. State Department should have done as soon as it learned of the proposed Sky Team Alliance agreement.