Tuesday, May 29, 2007

For the Wannabe Professional Athlete in All of Us

Book reviews tend to be pretty boring unless you are reading the Sunday New York Times or listening to Imus…er, uh… used to listen to Imus. Most of my reading these days consists of trade publications and business strategy books, so it is rare for me to find something I can pick up under the category of “pleasure reading”.

With limited entertainment value from my wife’s US Magazine and not caring what Sports Illustrated has to say about baseball, the long Memorial Day weekend afforded me an opportunity for some good, mindless reading when I devoured a surprisingly smart book by Paul Shirley, aptly named Can I Keep My Jersey? Paul, you see, is a contemporary of mine. The former 6-foot-10-inch Iowa State forward from Kansas was the token “tall white guy” who played a lot but was never the best player on his team. We had similar scouting reports next to our name (Stone – 6 feet 10 inches, F/C, block out!! Don’t give up any easy buckets. Shoots to 10’. Good teammate. Plays hard.). Shirley was a little better than me, which probably explains his conundrum coming out of college. His line of thinking was similar to mine, “Do I (Paul) start putting my mechanical engineering degree to work, go to business school or play pro hoops?” I chose a career. Paul chose basketball.

Paul does an excellent job describing the “other road” by sharing his experiences with imbecile teammates, crazy coaches and a smattering of breakthrough professional moments. He accurately describes the trek of playing professional basketball as a borderline professional basketball player. The book is about four years of his life as a basketball vagabond. Thank you, Paul, for showing me in a weekend what life could have looked like. I can now go to bed without the requisite what-ifs that all former college athletes go though. In fact, it is a relief for me. Paul did (and I suppose still does) have a helluva good time as he wades back and forth between the NBA good-life and the outposts of civilization of Central Russia, Eastern Europe and Yakima, Washington. He has likely made a little money. An undercurrent about Paul is what he cannot find anywhere he plays: happiness.

I like Paul Shirley. He has insight into someone grappling with a life of almost being an NBA player. As best I can tell, Paul is an atheist and a pessimist who is witty, clever, and obviously getting better at the game of basketball all the time. He seems genuinely miserable, using his writing skills to cope with a transient existence around the globe. Even his coveted 10-day NBA contracts are filled with angst and self-deprecation, waiting for the general manager of whatever team to fire him from his “services”. The book is funny, and I can totally relate to Paul’s life – a life that seems pretty accurate from my limited experience playing professionally.

If you are a 6-foot-10-inch white guy who has a few hours to kill while considering a career in basketball, I strongly recommend Paul’s book. If not for Paul, I might have future questions about how my life would have ended up. Did I pick the right school? Should I have pursued professional basketball? The answer for me—which Shirley helped bring closure—is a resounding “no”. The glamour, according to Paul, is overrated and shallow. If you have a few hours to kill, pick a copy up. It could change your life.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Sometimes I feel like I’m working myself to death, especially after a long week. The Japanese actually have a term for it, karoshi. As Memorial Day approaches, so does the vacation-planning season for the rest of the summer. Business Week had a very interesting article last week titled, “Do Us a Favor, Take a Vacation” (5/21/2007). As someone who leaves town often but rarely is “on vacation”, I was interested in what it had to say.

The gist of the article was that managers of businesses never really get away from the office due to the increased need to be tethered to the BlackBerry and the promise of 24/7 access to clients and employees. As the CEO of my business, I qualify for the “never turns his BlackBerry off” category. This point was illustrated during my “day off” this past Friday. During a quick trip out of town with friends, I checked my BlackBerry every ten minutes until 5:00 p.m., Friday afternoon. A little delusional? Perhaps.

I found Business Week’s tips helpful. They included “five tips on undoing the un-vacation.”

  1. Get over yourself. They will not need or miss you. (OUCH!)
  2. Go on a media fast. The news isn’t going anywhere.
  3. Pick an interesting place. Attraction neutralizes the work distraction.
  4. Set boundaries. If you must check in, do it once a day.
  5. Set an example. If you don’t vacation, neither will your employees.

The article goes on to say that it is actually unhealthly to not use your vacation days each year. As a small business, vacations can be tricky with people wearing multiple company hats. But we are constantly getting better about communicating internally, so deadlines are not missed, and people can be free to leave without worry about what happens back at the office.

Although the Japanese coined the term karoshi, it is Americans who are the biggest offenders. In our client cycle, we plan ahead, execute our game plan, and then report our results. We could take a tip from ourselves and do the same for our vacations.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Crusade Marketing as a Public Relations Strategy

Jeff Greene is a crusader for reforming healthcare. Not my words, but his. Spend five minutes with this former world-class hurdler and he’ll convince you, too. Jeff has invented, patented and now marketed a healthcare technology that is proven to lower an employer’s healthcare costs year after year. As a small business owner, I’ve watched our costs go up in double digits each of the past few years. Our workplace is young and healthy. The problem is America’s oft-abused healthcare system allows consumption without incentives or empowerment for people to stay away from the doctor’s office. Enter MedEncentive.

MedEncentive is an online pay-for-performance healthcare technology that pays cash incentives for patients and doctors to practice accepted best-in-class medical guidelines. Following an appointment with their physician, patients are prescribed a new kind of medicine to help them get better: information therapy, or Ix. Ix allows doctors to share accredited and customized information that informs patients how they can get better. Jeff has been pushing the benefits of MedEncentive for more than two years. Since Jeff’s innovative thinking is counter-culture to the current system, early adopters have been slow to step up, despite data supporting the fact that MedEncentive lowers costs. Enter crusade or cause marketing.

We have altered our public relations strategy with Jeff and MedEncentive. Through our partnership, we have done an exceptional job building community awareness of the product, securing C-Level and Federal Congressional introductions, making ourselves visible to national trades and healthcare foundations, as well as securing a bevy of media attention.

What’s missing? A tipping point of interest in how to change America’s rising cost of healthcare and where MedEncentive fits into this solution. Most think it cannot be done.

Jeff always has started his sales pitch with the assertion that America’s healthcare system is broken. He cites statistics. He apostatizes about how the problem is so big that no one person can fix it. He rails against bureaucrats in government who have no incentive to see the system change. Where we initially missed an opportunity was not capturing Jeff’s pitch, a cause marketing case study, to build MedEncentive’s business.

Jeff has been practicing cause marketing from the beginning. He explains the national problem and then provides his easy-to-implement solution. We believe the future messaging for MedEncentive moving forward surrounds Jeff’s great crusade or cause for healthcare reform in America. To be successful, causes and crusades must be universal and worthy of fighting for. The rising cost of healthcare certainly is worth the battle.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Measuring “Trust”

On a plane ride back to Oklahoma, I finally found the time to read Edelman’s 2007 Trust Barometer, a global study that has tracked the level of trust in government, NGO’s, business, and CEO’s over the past year (to name a few). The results, which have been tracked every year since 2001, were interesting.

Key findings include:

  • Other people’s CEOs are among the those with the lowest amount of trust (“your” CEO doesn’t fare much better)
  • Business in the U.S. is trusted more this year than before
  • Business is more trusted than the media or government in every area of the globe surveyed

Perhaps most interesting in Edelman’s study was that the highest source of trust comes from peers. Not coincidentally, Time Magazine selected “you” as the person of the year in 2006, and you” are regarded as more trustworthy than just about anybody. A conclusion that Edelman asserts, and I agree with, is the advent of new media and social networking tools have altered the traditional public relations paradigm and transitioned us into what Richard Edelman calls the “binary world”. Edelman, the founder of the world’s largest independently owned public relations firm, argues that:

“We no longer live in a binary world, in which people rely on either mainstream or new media. Stories move easily between online and mainstream media. News moves across borders through communities of interest with trust now bestowed on those who think like me and share my interests, not on those who share physical attributes like gender or ethnicity.”

The notion of trust is a powerful thing. If you trust someone, you have faith that the information they share is accurate and thus trustworthy. The study goes on to share some key insights into how to gain and communicate trust to key stakeholders. I found his horizontal and vertical communications axis to be the most interesting. The vertical axis represents the traditional models of communication (top down from CEO to employees, investors, clients, etc). The horizontal axis shows fluent flow of information from source to interest groups and back again through new media techniques. So, who is most credible among groups on the horizontal axis? The CEO? The corporate communications person? The celebrity pitchman? Nope. If you guessed “YOU”, you are correct.