An Open Letter to Neal Pollack

Dear Neal,

According to your twitter bio, you describe yourself as an author of eight books, a yoga instructor, a roller-derby announcer, a reluctant car journalist, and three-time Jeopardy! champion. If your opinion piece on Yahoo was a category on the game show, you could take “Things You Shouldn’t Put In Your Mouth” for $500.

You’ve painted quite a picture in Detroit, Neal. One that borders on “When the cats away, the mice will play” and “Let them eat cake”.  I think it’s fair to say, neither of those are accurate in any sense what-so-ever.

Sure, you make a few valid points. Yes the ELR is excessive at a price point we all shook our heads at but you know what? The plebeian alternative Volt is kind of a bad ass car. As is the 100 mpg Fusion Energi and the 30 mpg Grand Cherokee equipped with the EcoDiesel.

Or how about a truck that just shed 700 lbs. and introduced mainstream America to the concept of lightweighting? Or a midsize SUV with a 9 speed transmission that gets over 31 mpg? Or a 460 HP sportscar that still achieves 29 highway?

Nope, apparently those didn’t count. Instead it feels like you’re asking us to bow down to the stoic shrine of Japan. Hey you know what? I like the Accord! I think the Prius was a catalyst that forced us Americans to think about fuel economy differently, but these are the same companies that make 13 city / 17 highway Sequoias and 12 city / 18 highway Nissan Armadas. They aren’t indemnified from criticism.

That must be why I saw their engineers crawling all over the new F-150 with open mouths this afternoon at the NAIAS Industry Preview. Had you stuck around after Kia stopped handing out bacon popcorn and MINI closed down its smoothie bar, you would have seen some eye opening dexterity that would have put VIA Motors special guest and aerial artist Maria Luna to shame.  Furthermore, I don’t think they were using their measuring tape, graphic note pads and cameras for fun. But who knows, I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s in the realm of possibility that the one gent I saw sticking his full arm in the wheel well of a Chrysler 200 misplaced his iPhone and was simply looking everywhere to recover it.

Look, I know I’m a tad over-sensitive on the topic of grinding the Big 3’s noses into the ground. I lived it for a few years on the front lines you know. I guess I’m sorry an out of town journalist used a national platform in a way that shuns the hard work this industry has put forth since its darkest days a mere five years ago. Yes there’s an awful lot to lampoon, but nobody would have imagined the innovations we’ve seen coming out of Detroit like we have today.

I think that’s worth celebrating.


Craig Daitch

Join the conversation and follow me on twitter @craigdaitch

During an Economic Recovery, Brands Need to Teach their Employees to Look Beyond the Recession as a Rite of Passage

Going To War
“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

The recovery from 2008’s Great Recession has been a slow one, especially in Detroit where the nation has been reminded through films, television, books and news articles of its vulnerable state.

But there have been signs of life. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for the Detroit-Metropolitan Area stood at 1,862,000, up 19,800 or 1.1 percent over the year. Despite Detroit trailing the national job count by .6 percent, Detroit-Metropolitan area job growth continued the trend of over-the-year gains that began in May 2010.

Furthermore, the Automotive Industry seems to be clawing itself back to pre-2008 levels.  Bloomberg reported November U.S. auto sales have accelerated to the fastest pace in more than five years.

Additionally, via this year’s Recruiting Trends report, there has been a nearly 10% increase in the number of employers planning to hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree, with a strong demand for accounting, marketing, computer science, engineering, human resources and public relations.

Despite the advancements we’ve made in moving the economic chains, the foundational intangibles that breed a successful industry are on shaky ground and a new recession, a cultural recession may be upon us.

The Forgotten Man: Your Corporate Culture

Profitable brands continue to act as if they remain undercapitalized and overexposed in the post-recession world. While the financial analysts can appreciate conservative spending, it’s not the quota on office supplies that prove troublesome.

The 10-ton elephant in the room revolves around the danger of regressive corporate cultures. With an unprecedented 2.6 million jobs lost in 2008, the recession projected the feeling of television and Vietnam. The war being fought in one’s living room was being played in fluorescent lit, windowless conference rooms across America. For carmakers and their employees, the long-term impact was simply put, worse. Complete with compensation reductions that eliminated merit pay, bonuses and matching contributions for white-collar workers, little could be done to prevent thousands at a time from losing their jobs.

To those who survived the layoffs, a resolve was formed, and with it an attitude that was analogous to going to war. While in some cases that took the appearance of  “Per Angusta Ad Augusta”, the reality in some circles was more “Et tu, Brute?”

Fast-forward nearly six years and while most states still have a long ways to go before payrolls return to pre-recession levels (In November unemployment rates declined 7 percent), the trend is moving upwards and a new crop of talented employees eager to contribute are coming aboard, joining the battle worn existing staff.

With expectations running high, these new entries into established employers run the risk of being set up to fail, and they’re voicing their opinions in the process. For example, in March of 2013, a study conducted by Kelton titled “America’s Workforce:  A Revealing Account of What U.S. Employees Really Think About Today’s Workplace.” analyzed the responses of more than 1,000 U.S.-based employees, uncovering where employees would like to see change from the companies they work for and the leaders who manage them. Seven key themes surfaced in the survey including leadership competencies, manager/employee relationships, communication of strategy, change initiatives, teamwork and accountability, process improvements, and employee training.

The America’s Workforce study found:

  • Employee’s Feel Discouraged:  More than half (54%) of employees have felt frustrated about work.
  • Manager/Employee Relationships Need Improvement:  Only 38% strongly agree that their manager has established an effective working relationship with them.
  • People Don’t Understand Strategic Direction:  40% say they don’t get the company’s vision or have never seen it.
  • Innovation Is Being Stymied:  Nearly 67% of American workers can name at least one thing that would prevent them from taking any kind of risk at work.
  • Big Picture Contributions Missing:  Only 43% of workers say they feel accountable for the company’s revenue, profit, or growth.
  • Not Leading by Example:  Just 26% of workers strongly agree that managers embody the values they expect from their employees, only 39% say their manager understands his/her role at the company, and 40% strongly feel their managers understand their company’s strategy or goals.
  • Collaboration Across Teams Is Tough:  Just 27% strongly feel they can depend on outsiders to fulfill their duties when working with other groups.
  • Training Isn’t Relevant:  26% report they don’t have any training available to them right now, and the 62% that do have training available believe it is either somewhat or not at all applicable to their jobs.

Explaining Going To War

It’s evident that the Going To War mentality is a danger to retaining employees in an upswing market. I’ve described four main categories of Going To War and its corporate implications below.

Been To War

Referred to as a “Band of Brothers” who, in small circles, are allowed to unapologetically wreak havoc on incoming team members without ramification or remorse. Leadership often turns a blind eye to their antics because of the gratitude they have for remaining loyal during difficult economic times. For all intent and purpose, these are the problem children, the ones that drag culture, innovation and productivity into the ground.

Drafted To Fight

This is the group who may have joined directly out of college, fresh faced and willing to accept the status quo as normal behavior in a work environment. Nearly six years removed from the Great Recession, they’re now growing into positions of gained responsibilities, but have been taught less than ideal ways to grow a department without teamwork. They are trusted implicitly by those who have “Been to War” and can usurp the hierarchal nature of direct management based on the close relationships they’ve developed with managers of greater power and influence. While not malicious, their loyalty and behaviors are easily persuaded to non-ideal standards, stunting cultural growth.

Enlisted to Perform

They fell in love with the brand’s ideals and sacrificed (in some instances rational thinking) to join their company blindly. Those who enlisted may have been coming back into the workforce but for many, they left existing careers seeking to contribute to a larger cause. These are the change agents who romanticized industries such as automotive, hoping to be a factor in the Great American Turnaround story and with them brought new ideas to the table. Unfortunately in the environment they’ve joined, the stomach for innovation is minimal, with a risk adverse philosophy hanging over their heads. As their passions wane, they’ve come to accept that no form of change can match the lack of top-down leadership in governing the intangibles necessary to be successful and now seek new opportunities after short stays with their employers.

Post-War Participants

Post-War Participants simply have limited reference to 2008’s dire environment. They could be just graduating college, or coming from different industries that may have faired better than the one they’re joining. Their voice may be loud but it’s rarely heard. Having never been to war, their hierarchal place amongst their colleagues is in the periphery where it remains without consequence or care.

The Bottom Line

Having a job in today’s environment simply isn’t enough to retain your employees. For example, a recent Harris survey for the University of Phoenix found that 80% of workers in their 20s say they want to change careers, compared to 64% of 30-somethings and 54% in their 40s. Furthermore, a Gallup poll says 52% of full-time workers are disengaged, costing US companies from $450 billion to $550 billion every year.

Yet there are examples of companies today that have exemplified growth through a positive culture, specifically by engaging their employees.

Google is the poster child for one of the world’s best companies to work for. Sitting atop $48 billion in cash, Google can afford to offer the type of amazing benefits once enjoyed by other industries such as airlines and automotive.

It’s easy to concede that not every company is Google. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are low margin companies that thrive, such as Costco. A company that offers good compensation and benefits, Costco’s co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal  said in an interview with Motley Fool that “…culture is not the most important thing in the world. It’s the only thing.”

By taking their culture seriously and making it a top-down priority, Costco keeps low employee turnover by reinforcing their love for their employees, encouraging them to grow with the company. In an industry with no annuities – consumers can choose whether to shop with Costco, they have weathered the financial storm of six years ago and are thriving, proving their inventory turns over but not those who present it.

Conversely, in a negative environment, when new employees leave for greener pastures, the typical reaction is “He/She couldn’t cut it in our culture.”

But as proven, cultural recessions and the Going To War mentality are hitting companies where it hurts the most: their wallets.

Follow Craig on twitter at @craigdaitch

The embargo is dead and it should stay that way.


A company has a news announcement they want to make regarding a new product.  They brief the media with the understanding they agree to adhering to a certain day and time and in quid pro quo fashion, the media agree not to write anything before then.

For the uninformed, this is known as an embargo and for decades the media have respected this practice as status quo, mostly because it offers parity amongst journalists covering a single topic. There are no advantages of one outlet over another, and ultimately this leads to higher quality stories because of the company’s willingness to share the news ahead of a scheduled release date.

Yet in today’s world of Long Tail media, the idea of an embargo seems not only passé but also potentially damaging to brands that try to enforce them.

The Ubiquity of Information

Embargoes work when there’s a single source of data, namely the company enforcing the embargo that offers accurate information on the topic at hand. The Internet paradigm however has changed the course of accessibility to data.

News outlets are comfortable uncovering sources inaccessible ten years ago and the ways to confirm news without a company’s acknowledgement for accuracy is easily circumvented.

Take LinkedIn for example. In product development, where next generation projects are masked behind alphanumeric product codes, one simply has to search for the product or project code itself to uncover employees and suppliers who use it as part of their job title. Digging deeper, you could deduce certain projects based on the specific focus highlighted in a profile via job description.

Furthermore the rapid-fire velocity of social media can be filtered down to additional insights through Boolean keyword queries, taking a complex topic and reducing it to relevant snippets of data. In a field covered by journalists, it’s easy to identify what someone is working on through key phrases, or more importantly when they’re working on it through Foursquare check-ins to engineering buildings or offices, tweets that touch on certain information, even Instagram photos and Google Plus updates.

Sources affiliated but beyond the reach of a company can corroborate news without the company’s permission and thus begin the debate of embargo vs. gag rule.  If the media agree and respect an embargo because that’s’ the source of their information, then they should be held accountable if it’s broken. However, if the story is bigger than the embargo, and is considered too important to wait, then why should the media be punished for independent reporting?

Reaching an Inflection Point

And that is the point of inflection the world of journalism faces. News is now a commodity, and the distribution model leans heavily towards people as media. Thus, the ramifications are dire. Business consultant Terry Heaton touches on the topic in a blog post titled TV News in a Postmodern World: News as a Commodity, “In the world of media, products used to be divided into categories: newspapers, magazines, television, radio, etc, but the personal media revolution is eliminating the infrastructure and distribution mechanisms that make each of these unique. Not only is the digital generation taking advantage of this to create their own media companies, but the incumbent companies are using technology to transform themselves as well.”

This transformation comes at a cost, speed to market being one of them. Examples can be drawn from any industry – from entertainment and the latest movie to the newest smart device. Accuracy has been replaced with speculation where first to the fence is rewarded with engagement metrics (likes, shares, linkbacks) that drive revenue through unique visitors.

A comparable analogy would be the use of social media apps. A 2008 study conducted by Roger Margoulas and Ben Lorica at O’Reilly Research analyzed approximately 30,000 facebook apps. Usage was highly concentrated among the top few apps where the collective action of millions of Facebook users continue to churn the makeup of top apps: new applications join the winners and old winners die and are buried in the tail.

How is this relevant to journalism? There’s less loyalty to the messenger verses interest in the message today. Consumers are simply agnostic to the source, they just want to be stimulated. Speaking to a friend in the industry, when discussing the topic of breaking embargoes, they exclaimed, “The competition to appear relevant has [sic] gotten so out of whack. Not an excuse but odd decisions are getting made (as a result).”

Finding a Solution

In some instances, high traffic automotive and technology enthusiast sites such as Techcrunch and Jalopnik have enforced a “no embargo” rule on companies sharing information with them.  Larger media entitles such as the Wall Street Journal followed suit in 2009. By clearly stating they will not adhere to embargoes, the onus is on the companies who provide information to avoid sharing it for fear of it being released early.

The reality is, in some instances, embargoes are a necessary tactic to offering the very best, most accurate information to the media. So is there a happy medium between continuing the practice and abandoning it all together?

The short answer is yes but it comes at a cost. In order to govern an embargo, a company must be willing to cut its nose to spite its face. By clearly outlining not just the embargo but the consequences for knowingly breaking it, a company stands a chance of holding the media accountable for honoring information that is provided directly to them by the company itself.

This has been substantiated notably by Techcrunch founder Michael Arrington, who after acknowledging their defiance to the embargo process, proclaimed “…whoever broke (an embargo)…generally gets more eyeballs and attention than the others, so there are lots of incentives for mistakes. Particularly because no one ever punishes the offenders. “

Companies need to decide what’s important when it comes to their messaging. Over the next few years, platforms will continue to converge and competition will remain fierce for the attention of consumers. In a world of immediacy and instant rewards, being told to wait simply won’t cut it anymore.

Unapologism and the New Brand World


“iPhone 5C is beautifully, unapologetically plastic. Multiple parts have been reduced to a single polycarbonate component whose service is continuous and seamless.” – Jony Ivey, Apple

I’ve been obsessing over that quote since it entered into mainstream discussions amongst marketers, PR practitioners and consumers alike. Weeks later, during the debates between analysts as to whether the 5C is a failure (It’s far from being a flop.), a sliver of insight seems to have been lost on everyone: Apple’s ushering in what I’m deeming “The Age of Unapologism”.

Since Jony Ivey’s famous on-camera proclamation that plastic is sexy, there’s been a subtle paradigm shift in how brands are beginning to approach the positioning of their products to the public. After years of agency strategists encouraging brands to “co-create products with your greatest advocates” it seems as though brands are taking their power back without remorse. In a sense, I’ve relieved.

Like Social Media, This is Nothing New

Apple’s decision to take a stand with the 5C harkens back to marketing in the 90’s where brands would offer a market-led, superior value position to their customers. It’s hard to believe but one of the prime pillars of brand-to-consumer communication 20 years ago centered around quality, and with good reason. Quality is a “…concept laden with emotion, relating strongly to personal feelings of success, failure, self-esteem and meeting others expectations.”

When focusing on improving quality, such as in Ivey’s description of the 5C, it stimulates powerful positive feelings when it is associated with change, innovation, new possibilities, opportunity and break-through.

Admittedly, not every brand is Apple. But brands that have shied away in recent years from the very attributes they’ve built their reputations on, are hitting the reset button and embracing what they’re known best for.

Social Media forced brands to find their conscience. Unapologism will force brands to find their hearts.

The Controversy With Pixelated Pitchmen

If Bruce Lee were alive today, what would he command as a pitchman for top brands? For comparison sake,  Tiger Woods drove $78.1 million over the last year from prize money, endorsements, appearance fees and golf course design work.

Conversely, Oprah made $165 million dollars last year attributed to O: The Oprah Magazine, spin-off shows like The Dr. Oz Show and a radio deal with Sirius.

Lee was charismatic, drawing universal appeal across race, ethnicity and geography. Shrines built to his athleticism, it’s easy to imagine brands such as Nike making him the face of a “Just Do It” campaign. If I close my eyes, I could imagine the swoosh on the yellow jumpsuit, the voiceover with his famous quote “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

See, Bruce Lee was on brand. Drawing parallels to his personal mantra, “Just Do It” means don’t think, don’t ask, don’t talk about it, don’t regret it, just do it. The visual display of Lee’s 1″ punch at say 4700 frames per second, alongside this motto coincide with this notion. Lee could have been the ultimate Nike pitchman.

But what happens when you’re off brand? That’s the current controversy surrounding Johnnie Walker’s tribute to the greatest martial artist to ever live. Considered polemical by some, Lee comes to life, with a 3D image of his face superimposed upon another man, Hong Kong actor Danny Chan. The creative team worked diligently to recreate over 250 of his facial expressions.

The ad didn’t just require high precision – which it accomplished. it needed to be credible- which it also accomplished.

And maybe therein lies the issue. Johnnie Walker brought Bruce Lee back to life. The work so well done, it’s indistinguishable from the reality of the fact he hasn’t been alive for 40 years. For all intents and purposes, the advertisement should be a strong player in Cannes. So why are so many fans viscerally offended?

Because Bruce Lee didn’t drink alcohol.

Yet the brand found value in what Lee stood for.

Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon, hired as a consultant by the whiskey company,  has been vocal in defense of the likeness in the commercial, referring to it as a tribute. Additionally she mentioned to the South China Morning Post, that alcohol wasn’t shown in the 90 second ad and that her father “…did not have a problem with people who drink occasionally…He was never knocking drinks out of people’s hands if they were having an enjoyable time…”

Lee isn’t the first to be enshrined as a digital copy of one’s self. There was ConAgra’s attempts at resuscitating Orville Redenbacher, and Coachella bringing Tupac out on stage to perform with Snoop Dogg. Even Michael Jordan got to play one-on-one with himself during a Gatorade commercial.

However in those instances, belief wasn’t suspended, it was just on brief pause. Johnnie Walker, in my opinion, brought Lee back from the grave to help them sell whiskey. More so, they used his likeness to sell whiskey while speaking Mandarin – Lee’s native language was Cantonese.

Brands need to be reminded that the stewards of the brand can be as cherished by the public as the brand itself. Johnnie Walker uses Lee’s infamous “Longstreet” monologue as inspiration for its voiceover,  concluding as the digitized Lee stares intensely at the camera to “Be water, my friend”.

While the ad is based around these famous lines, using the theme of the power of water as a parallel for the glory and stature of the icon, it’s easy to see another link in a twist of unintended irony, between water and pixels.

Running water never grows stale. Let’s hope that the same can be said for the future of advertising.

NFC or Airdrop, I Don’t Care, Can We Just Pick A Standard?


I’m experiencing deja vu and it’s sort of freaking me out.

Natasha Lomas makes a good argument for why we should give Near Field Communication the ol’ Heisman. In a proclamation reminiscent of Steve Jobs refusing to allow flash to invade his mobile hardware, Apple has in so many words, eschewed any chance of NFC making its way into the next iteration of the iPhone family, instead being replaced with Airdrop.

Here’s the concern that’s brewing – and yes I’m totally self aware of my mobile pun…there is this mobile wallet utopia that has been percolating for more than a decade. That one day, we’ll leave our billfolds at home and embrace a single ubiquitous device – a device that can call friends, text acquaintances and take pictures in awkward places, all the while paying for drinks with friends during a mixtape jam session through said device!   

Look, it’s here. Well sort of. Cloud based payments have taken off. Startups like Square are being utilized everywhere. NFC is dragging its feet but still remains as a glimmer of hope in the eyes of its supporters.  Especially amongst the Europeans.

At the end of the day (and this is where my deja vu sequence comes in), we need to standardize mobile peer-to-peer, peer-to-cloud and peer-to-application gateways. I lived through the days of the text messaging’s alphabet soup of standards – GSM, TDMA, CDMA, TAP, SMPP, SMTP, XMPP, etc.

Nothing communicated and the result were phones that couldn’t text from one carrier to the other. Whether its RFID, NFC, Cloud, whatever – at some point the carriers and handset manufacturers can’t play gladiator and let the strongest standard survive, they need to stand up and throw their weight behind one, or else we all risk the chance of losing.

Now where’s my phone, I need to buy a Pepsi.


Google Glass & Facial Recognition: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Approximately two years ago I was walking through CTIA looking for something different. You see, I’ve attended CTIA every year since 2001 and for a while it seemed as though the exhibitors were all showing similar offerings.

But that all changed when I met Jason Mitura, Chief Product Officer of the company Viewdle. Viewdle you see, was using augmented reality and proprietary facial recognition software to append social media data through mobile cameras. Jason took me through a demonstration and my mind was blown. I figured that this was the future of pervasive media and the demise of privacy all in one product. Image

I left CTIA excited to continue the conversation with Jason but then one thing lead to another and a few months go by. Then *poof* they’re gone.

Out of business? Hardly.

Viewdle, was bought by Google. Maybe you’ve heard of them?

So fast forward to today, where Google Glass is now the topic of either admiration or disgust depending on which side of the fence you’re on. Amidst the controversy surrounding form, function and adoption – privacy has seemed to fall of the radar in terms of a point of discussion.

Well Google didn’t wait for the press to come knocking on their door, taking a very assertive stance yesterday through their blog on facial recognition:

When we started the Explorer Program nearly a year ago our goal was simple: we wanted to make people active participants in shaping the future of this technology ahead of a broader consumer launch.  We’ve been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass. As Google has said for several years, we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time.

I’ve been a proponent of Glass since I first heard it was coming to market. In its current construct I admittedly voiced skepticism – future applications however I can’t help but smile at what we’ll see developed. One thing is for certain however – Google has the technology to add a deeper layer of engagement that could change how we perceive PII but they have proven quite successfully that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.