Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy 60th, Elektra Records

Big thanks to WNYC-FM’s John Schaefer for interviewing Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra and Nonesuch Records, about Elektra’s 60th anniversary. As John noted, “Elektra's parent company, Warner Music Group, is mining a treasure trove of photographs, memorabilia, and documents in a vast archive.” Elektra’s artists created the soundtrack of many lives, not least mine: Bread, The Doors, Tracy Chapman, Bob Dylan (“Planet Waves,” his first #1 album), the three Toms – Paxton, Rush, Waits — Carly Simon, Hank Williams Jr., and on and on.

Riveting interview—I caught it on the car radio. Sat in my driveway to hear the end of it; didn’t want to miss 10 seconds. Check out Elektra’s site, too, which contains a one-hour video of Jac and Lenny Kaye (guitarist and label historian) chatting onstage at the 92nd Street Y.

Monday, November 15, 2010

“Mad Men” Memoir Meta Musings

It’s a meta, meta, meta, meta world. Roger Sterling, the character played by the wonderful John Slattery, was composing his memoirs on last season’s “Mad Men.” Like any good 1960s male boss, he even spoke them into a Dictaphone. This week the book debuts as Sterling’s Gold: Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Man. The supposed gold dishes up program snippets rather than “real” memoirs. Clever, yet is it a missed opportunity?

Two real mad men come to mind, game changers both. Robert C. Townsend, the Avis CEO, created a brilliant book in 1970 that’s still in print, Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits. Short chapters hammered home pithy advice to fellow execs: “Call yourself up,” he urged. “Pretend you’re a customer. You’ll run into some real horror shows.” Townsend died 12 years ago. It’s only gotten worse, Bob. David Ogilvy’s trilogy, launched in 1963 by Confessions of an Advertising Man, was another touchstone. Ogilvy founded the agency that gave us the Man in the Hathaway Shirt (with his eye patch) and Schweppervescence. He was pompous, precise, prescient.

Too bad it took pioneering ad woman Mary Wells Lawrence until 2003 to publish her memoirs. By then the ad agency world had lost its fizz. But in its heyday the industry was fun, fun, fun—or so agency veterans say—and I wish “Mad Men” radiated even one-tenth of that spirit. The theme song is gloomier than a dirge, and is that figure plummeting downward in free fall a metaphor for the industry itself?

Monday, November 8, 2010

"About Us" Evaluation: Million Dollar Round Table

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.

Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Million Dollar Round Table, founded in 1927, is an international network of leading insurance and investment professionals and advisors. It currently has over 31,500 members. Its “About Us” page is at


Accessibility: B

On the Million Dollar Round Table’s “About Us” page, the lower menu has a contact link for general information and a list of executives and titles. Since MDRT is a membership organization that doesn’t deal directly with the general public, this is adequate.

However, we’d like to see links for specific contacts after we read about them. For example: after the paragraph on the MDRT Foundation, give us the name and an email link for the person in charge.

Products/Services: C

We like the information in the first paragraph about the number of members and the worldwide scope of the association. The mission statement is rather vague: “To be a valued, member-driven, international network of leading insurance and investment financial services professionals/advisors who serve their clients by exemplary performance and the highest standards of ethics, knowledge, service and productivity.” If this page is meant to inform insurance customers and potential MDRT members (and it should be), then providing more details about what the MDRT does is essential. If the meetings and networking are the primary benefits of membership, why not organize them into a bulleted list, with a preliminary statement about the purpose of the meetings?

We are puzzled by the mention of a 9-point strategic plan. The link for it is only open to members; why even mention it here? Only the most important information should appear on any “About Us” page.

Personality: D

The opening paragraph of the page stresses how exclusive membership in the organization is. Why not tell us briefly how one becomes a member? Is the requirement still $1 million in sales, as it was in 1927 when the organization was founded? Is membership by application or by invitation? Here’s an opportunity to impress the general public with the quality of the membership.

Insurance salespeople, especially top producers, are usually superb communicators. Yet in the whole of this dense page, nothing “sells” us on MDRT. And we can’t find one specific person or organization to latch onto. We’d like to be impressed by the names and professional affiliations of some of the members -- the obvious ones would be those who have been leaders of MDRT. Also good would be a statement from a prominent member about how MDRT membership has benefited himself and others.


MDRT’s “About Us” page has 760 words of text, but it doesn’t give us a clear idea of exactly what the organization does and exactly who’s involved in it. Mere quantity can’t replace thinking about who your audience is and how best to convey your personality and products/services to them.

"About Us" Evaluation: Cablevision

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.

Today’s example was chosen because Cablevision was in the spotlight throughout its highly publicized two-week dispute with News Corp. this fall. uses Cablevision’s Optimum Voice and Optonline email services but otherwise has no ties to this company.

Cablevision (established in 1973), one of the nation’s largest providers of cable television and Internet, serves business and residential customers in the Metro New York area.


On Cablevision’s site, the page headed “Corporate Information / About Cablevision” is one of three pages: the second shows company leadership, the third recent press releases. We’re looking primarily at the “About Cablevision” page,

Products/Services: B

The “About Us” page prominently lists the many services that Cablevision provides: Optimum Voice, Optimum Online, Optimum Wi-Fi, and so on. We’d like to see a brief mention of what makes Cablevision’s services unique or superior. Better equipment? A wider range of services? Better prices? The “About Us” page should offer an overview of the compelling benefits that might entice a potential subscriber, providing an incentive to sign up immediately.

Accessibility: B

Cablevision’s Contact link is in small print at the foot of the page, and there are links in the sidebar for residential or commercial customers -- but we often focus so intently on the text that we ignore sidebars and footers. Within the text of the page, we’d like to see some encouragement to sign up immediately, and a link for finding out if Cablevision’s service is available in one’s area.

Personality: C-minus

The corporate “About Us” page mentions the company’s humble beginnings in Long Island, but overall it’s rather impersonal. The page could be dramatically improved by giving a couple more sentences about the history of the company. Cablevision’s founder is still the CEO. What does he say about the company’s mission and achievements? What led to the company’s tremendous growth? Why does it remain an industry leader? Has it won awards?


Given Cablevision’s high news profile, we’d also like to see a link to a page of news stories presenting the company’s perspective. Odds are that Googling the company will give us a very mixed view at best, particularly with a class action suit by subscribers now in progress. Instead, Cablevision’s current news release page has no postings at all past Sept. 15. During a time of crisis communications, “About Us” pages should provide frequent updates or at least a link to such information.

One more point: The “About Us” page currently ends on a low note, with a paragraph noting that Cablevision no longer owns Madison Square Garden. An invitation for potential residential or corporate customers to get more information would be a much more upbeat ending.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Fuel to Perform"

Gatorade's Evolution TV spot gets A++ for history. Whodathunkit? This ad snapped my head up during the World Series playoffs. Within two seconds it grabbed me with:
  • the upbeat song ("If You Want a Revolution")
  • the historical images (kudos for including women athletes)
  • and the short onscreen titles (starting with "They balled on peach baskets" and moving on to pithy phrases like "Fuel to perform" and "Protein to recover").

Then comes the main message. "In 2010 we're changing the game again," with G Series foil packs rather than wasteful and oversized plastic bottles. On my next hot-weather bike ride, which granted won't happen until 2011, I'll be more likely to consider buying this stuff at the lunch break. Oh, and kudos to Gatorade's agency for fearlessly creating a 60-second ad. Some of us still have long attention spans, especially when the ad is as entertaining as this one.