If This Is Leadership, I’m Not Following
What do airlines, banks, newspapers, speakers bureaus, and publishers all have in common? (This is not a joke, but I wish it were.)
They run their businesses horribly and try to atone for it by gouging the customer, vender, or supplier.
Book publishing, with rare exception, has failed to appreciate, much less leverage, the advent of electronic media. So what do conventional publishers do? They demand that authors buy copies of their own books to reduce the cost of the press run. They refuse to promote books actively, demanding that the author do so. They invest money in promotion with authors who don’t need it (Tom Clancy, Danielle Steele) and don’t invest in new and promising works. They hire such young and inexperienced people to save a dollar, that one permissions editor once told me that she wouldn’t approve production until I had written permission submitted for quotes from Oscar Wilde. The question is no longer, “Where did you go to school?” but “Did you go to school and were you awake the entire time?”
Speakers bureaus, traditional “middlemen” dealing with other “middlemen” (meeting planners, trainers, human resource people) have traditionally received about 25 percent of speaking fees from the speaker, supposedly in return for marketing that speaker. Today, many have raised their rates to 30 percent while reducing their marketing and, instead, charging the speaker. Many bureaus now charge to “evaluate” demo videos, place people in prime spots in a catalog, include people in “showcases” (cattle calls), critique promotional material and so on. Excuse me, but aren’t you supposed to be marketing me for my 25 percent fee?
One bureau, the most unethical I’ve ever seen, actually tried to charge me 30 percent when I beat out a speaker they had nominated to speak at Toyota. I was in their catalog, but they promoted someone else, I still got the job, and they wanted a third of my earnings!
Airlines which have been led abominably and can’t seem to come up with effective labor relations, fuel management, intelligent route structures, efficient baggage handling, and so on, now charge customers for: pillows, food, a few inches of leg room, boarding sequence, the attention of a live agent, seat location, changing a reservation, and so on. One considered charging for lavatory use. Why not just fly us all at gunpoint? The “friendly skies” have become a bad neighborhood.
Banks are now charging some customers for deposits, and for simply holding their money. I have seven-figures invested in a bank where I also had some small accounts I had forgotten about. One would have disappeared in a year simply due to the monthly charges! The bank treats me as separate computer numbers, instead of a major, diversified customer. Your “personal banker” today has a hand in your pocket.
Newspapers plaster ads on the front page, often with stickers that obliterate a headline. Try to complain to the Wall Street Journal or New York Times about your subscription. You can’t talk to actual people, but an automated service will “credit you for one day” if your paper wasn’t delivered. Isn’t the point better, more reliable service and not a buck? Newspapers in many cities now charge for obituary notices. When I asked a local editor how he could countenance that, he said, “Oh, Alan, we all do it.” Oh, I guess I had missed that logic.
Why the rant? Because Pogo ought to be in charge here.
Entire industries often suffer from poor leadership, because the same crowd kicks around at the same levels (a guy who ran several airlines, Dick Wolf, including United and USAir, would paint all the planes as soon as the board confirmed him as CEO). The exceptions (Kelleher and Bethune in the airline business) are easy to note because they stand out in dull crowds.
It’s time to stop blaming and squeezing the client, the customer, the supplier, the talent. It’s time to look in the mirror. You might just see a reflection with nothing there.
© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.