How much sexual activity is appropriate at work?

These are strange and unsettling times. Since news first broke of Harvey Weinstein doing Harvey Weinsteinian things we have seen a daily parade of disgraced public figures who can’t seem to keep their privates private. Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose… The list, unfortunately goes on and on.

I’ve seen more #metoos than I can stomach. In this current climate Donald Trump would never have been elected president. The Billy Bush audio tape, and the way he bragged about treating women would have received a much different reception a year later, thanks to our new cultural enlightenment. We have experienced a national shift on sexual harassment and abuse. And it’s long overdue.

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Harvey Weinstein: Trendsetter

Sinking Lauer

Yesterday brought new news about Matt Lauer. At first when we heard that he had been fired from his job as anchor of NBC’s Today, many thought this was a rush to judgement. An overreaction. But as the day progressed we learned more and more about the behavior that led to Lauer’s firing. It was not good. And it was not a simple lapse in judgment. What we saw by the end of the day was a clear picture of who Matt Lauer really is when the camera is not rolling.

But what really struck me was the headline that accompanied the news of Matt Lauer’s firing. It said he was fired for ‘Inappropriate Sexual Activities In The Work Place’.  Which begs the question:

How much sexual activity is appropriate in the work place?

Are we really talking about a grey area here?  Is this a judgement call?  Is this a I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it thing?

The answer depends on what kind of work you do. If you work in the sex industry,  sexual activity at work is not only appropriate, it is necessary.  And if you like to mix your sexual activity with work, this is definitely the industry for you.

But if you work in ANY other industry there should be no sexual activity at work.

Does this sound way too extreme to you?  Or does it sound like I am declaring the obvious? The fact that people fall into such different camps on this subject is part of the problem. Perhaps you think we should allow a little leeway, because there could be legitimate attraction in the workplace.

I know something about that too.

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Louis C.K. thought that it was ok to pull out his little microphone as long as he asked permission first.

 

I met my wife at work.

My now-wife Dawn and I were both in our 20s and worked at a large advertising agency when we first met. This is the kind of setting that movies and tv shows use for steamy and/or tawdry workplace antics. And I can say with great confidence that I partook in none of that (did I really just use the word partook?).

I respected my workplace, and the woman I have now been married to for 15 years enough to not engage in any sexually laden language or sexual advances at work. Instead we spent time talking and getting to know each other. Like normal, well-balanced humans do. In fact, yesterday, when discussing this topic, my wife said:

Your activities were so appropriate I didn’t even know you liked me.

There had been no romantic or sexual activity. No innuendo. There was no groping or grabbing or exposing. Instead our G-rated work interactions included throwing a frisbee together at the company picnic. That really got the office buzzing.

Conclusion

Let’s eliminate sexual activity at work (except for sex industry workers). Everyone else keep your hands to yourself. Keep your clothes on, fully buttoned and zipped. Don’t rub, cup or squeeze anything.  Don’t whip anything out. Don’t ask for permission to fiddle with yourself. Don’t host or attend work meetings in a hotel room.

Guys, treat your female coworkers with the respect you would give your mother, sister, wife or daughter. Women, demand the same of your male coworkers. If you can’t control your sexual urges at work, get yourself some professional help. That is not normal. And today it will no longer be tolerated. Just ask Matt Lauer.

*If you would like to see what I write about when people are behaving at work please scroll down to see other posts. If you like what you read, consider subscribing. If you don’t like what you read, let’s just be friends.

**To see what my 12-year old daughter Ava and I wrote about Matt Lauer in our Daddy-Daughter blog, Dad Says Daughter Says, click here.

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The most important lessons I learned working with Dale Jr.

I have worked with a lot of well-known humans during my advertising career. Advertising and well-known humans, aka celebrities, are made for each other. That’s because there is a powerful affinity triangle that predicts that if you like a celebrity, and that celebrity likes a product or service, then the chances are good that you will like that product or service too. This is why so many of our moms bought us Skippy peanut butter.  #annettefunicello

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the most influential celebrities I have ever worked with. Dale and I worked together for several years on marketing efforts for  Nationwide Insurance, a major NASCAR sponsor.

Nationwide tested every commercial we ever created (and many that never saw the light of day). Time after time, and test after test, I was amazed at just how much influence Dale Jr. had on an audience’s interest in what Dale Jr. was selling. This was made even clearer when we tested the exact same scripts with and without Dale in them. Take my word for it, you don’t want to create a Dale Jr. spot without Dale Jr.

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Dale loved my FRUITCAKE shirt almost as much as I do.

Retirement 

This weekend Dale Jr. will run his final NASCAR race at Homestead. Then he will hang up  his fire suit and left-hand turns to begin what will surely be a successful broadcasting career. As his time inside the car comes to a conclusion, I find myself reflecting on what has made Junior such an influential spokesperson. Afterall, Nationwide, Chevy, Mountain Dew, Budweiser, Wrangler, Hellmann’s, The U.S. National Guard, TaxSlayer and others wouldn’t be climbing all over each other to work with him if he wasn’t a world-class selling machine.

3 Things That Make Dale Jr. Super Influential.

Here are the top 3 reasons Dale Jr. is a world-class celebrity endorser.

He is relatable. Perhaps the greatest thing about Dale Jr. is that total strangers feel as if they know him. People who have never met him feel like he is a friend, a neighbor, a cousin, nephew or uncle. As the son of another well-known celebrity driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR fans and followers have watched Junior grow up. They know his story. They know his successes and his hardships. And they feel as if Dale is just like them. Which is why he has been voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 14 years in a row.

He is authentic.  I have never worked with a celebrity that knows how to be themself better than Dale knows how to be Dale. After working with him the very first time it was crystal clear the he knows exactly who he is. He knows what does and doesn’t sound right coming from him. We rarely asked Dale to act. We wrote spots so that Dale could just be himself. We let him call an audible on set if he felt he would state a phrase differently than we wrote it in the script. Advertising audiences always have their BS meter on. They can sniff out a phony a Talladega lap away. But Dale’s authenticity assured there was no BS to detect. So racing fans bought into Dale big time.

He means what he says: Dale doesn’t really sell things as much as he shares what he actually believes. He really likes Chevy cars and trucks. He really wears Wrangler jeans and thinks they are real. And comfortable. And jeans. He really protects his businesses, his personal cars, his property, his family and dog with Nationwide Insurance. Which makes it really easy for him to earnestly endorse the merits of Nationwide Insurance.

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Director Adam Jones, Dale, Me, several shadows, and a woman fleeing the scene with her purse and a cool hat.

Dale’s Lasting Impressions On Me:

Dale is a good human being. And I’d be willing to bet that he would be happier to have people say that about him than almost anything else. As I reflect on all the work we did together there are a few profound points that stick out.

Photos:  Dale, like so many NASCAR drivers, recognized the value of a picture. He was gracious with all requests to have a photo taken with him by cast, crew, agencies, clients and fans. In fact, he seemed honored every time someone requested a photo with him. I always admired that.

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My team getting a great picture at the end of a great shoot day with Dale Jr. in Charlotte.

The Beard: We always liked to shoot Dale clean-shaven. For adverting purposes he looks better without a beard. But one year we knew going into the shoot that he had grown a Zac-Brownian beard. After a few lean years on the track he was driving like a superstar again. I have no doubt that he felt his beard was part of his positive change. When he arrived on set the day of the shoot he brought the beard with him. This created drama. He clearly wanted to keep the beard.

We, on the other hand, wanted to see his handsome face. After we sat down and discussed our perspective with him he said that if we really felt that strongly about the beard he would shave. Within 10 minutes he emerged from the motorhome, sans beard, ready to shoot. He never complained. He didn’t hold a grudge (at least not outwardly). He was the consummate professional. We had a great shoot and created two really great commercials. While we may have won the battle of the beard, Dale Jr. really won us over with the way he handled the situation.

The Church Sign: One day we were filming Dale driving his Chevy SUV on a country road. At one point we pulled into a church parking lot to regroup and prepare for the next shot. I remember Dale taking a picture of the inspirational message on the sign in front of the church. It reminded me that we all need to seek out the good, the inspirational and the reassuring, and put it in our pocket, or phone, so that we have it when we need it most.

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This was from the first time Dale and I worked together. One of my clients predicted that we would get along well, because I wasn’t ‘All Hollywood.’

Thank You Dale.

Thanks for all that you did to make each of our efforts together successful. Thanks for your patience. Thanks for delivering for us every time. Thanks for getting up earlier than you wanted to. And sticking around the set longer than you wanted to. Thanks for the great stories you shared during our interviews. Thanks for taking time for just one more picture. And thanks for sharing your friends and family with us too. We had a lot of fun working with you. I think I speak for everyone who worked with you at Engauge and Nationwide when I say thanks for being on our side.

What we can all learn from the Best Picture snafu at the Oscars.

When I woke up Monday morning my iPhone was practically on fire. It was glowing and crackling with texts, tweets and push notes. The world was dying to tell me about the disaster at the Oscars. The wrong movie had been announced as Best Picture. OMG!  Hollywood had been embarrassed on national TV! Those poor, wealthy celebrities…

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I couldn’t wait to see the clip. (You can see the whole thing by clicking here. You’re welcome.)

It did not disappoint. The seven minutes of crazy was even better than I could have imagined. It was a train wreck. I squirmed through Warren Beatty’s confusion. I cringed through Faye Dunaway’s quick scan of the card. I felt terrible for La La Land’s la-cast and la-crew celebrating, and thanking, and feeling honored, before having their pants pulled down on stage in front of the world.

I felt even worse for the Moonlighters, who couldn’t really celebrate. After all, they just lost. Now, they didn’t know if they were coming on stage just to have their pants pulled down, before being forced to hand their hand-me-down awards to Manchester By The Sea. I watched it all several times. I will remember those seven minutes of award show infamy longer than I will remember the movies.  

What we can learn.

However, it is important that we take away more from this than the uncomfortable entertainment. Following the debacle I heard many people exclaim, “Someone should get fired over that mistake!”  Let’s think bigger.

We now know that the presenter, Warren Beatty, was handed the wrong envelope by a Price Waterhouse Cooper accountant. PWC has done this for 83 years. Which means a new gremlin was introduced that exposed a flaw in their process. As the founder of the ad agency The Weaponry, I see Envelopegate as a welcomed reminder that we should all use our mistakes to help improve our processes. Not to punish the mistakers.

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In the book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (yes, I really read a book about checklists) Atul Gawande, a renowned surgeon, champions checklists as a way to ensure processes are implemented that help save lives in hospitals. He also cites checklists for having done more to prevent airplane crashes than any other innovation. If a checklist helps save lives in hospitals and on aircraft, certainly a checklist could be used to help save some unfortunate moments at The Weaponry and in Hollywood. And probably when you leave a restroom.

Simple Solution

A simple checklist used by the PWC accountants backstage, and the award presenters, would have prevented the mistake.

  1. Ask presenter what award they are announcing.
  2. Check run of show list to make sure the award they are scheduled to present matches answer.
  3. Read the award category written on announcement envelope aloud to make sure it matches before handing it to the presenter.
  4. Make presenter read the category on the announcement envelope aloud to make sure it matches before allowing them on stage.

Boom. Done. Bonnie and Clyde get away.

A Story

Once upon a time I was shooting a TV commercial in Indianapolis for Donatos pizza. When we arrived at the production company’s office for the wardrobe fitting, I was shocked to see the wrong actress there, trying on clothes. After a quick and panicked huddle we understood what had happened. It seemed that once the client signed off on our talent choices for the commercials, a message was relayed to the production house that we would be using all of our first choice talent. So the production company called, and hired, all the first choice talent. However, the first choices were not the same on both the agency’s list and the production company’s list. Yikes!

That afternoon, the production company made magic. They tracked down the actress who should have played the lead, and got her on a flight that night from Iowa City (which is where you go when you don’t think you got the lead in a pizza commercial) to Indianapolis. The next day we shot the commercial and it turned out great. More importantly, we improved our process. After that, my teams have always confirmed the talent choices by name, not first choice or backup.

What you can do now.

Today, I encourage you to watch the clip from the show again. Because it reminds us that mistakes happen. Mistakes are great at indicating flaws in our systems and processes. If we respond correctly, we come out stronger, with a better way of doing things and a lower chance of that same mistake happening again.

Through better processes we can save more lives, we can avoid plane crashes and we can prevent a lot of embarrassment. Getting angry doesn’t prevent a mistake from happening again. Getting better does. There is no need to fire anyone. I think we can all agree that the person responsible for the Best Picture goof will never, ever make that mistake again. Just as Steve Bartman will never again interfere with a fly ball.

If you have a process improvement story spurred by a mistake please share it in the comment section. You may help others avoid the same mistake. Or maybe you’ll just make us laugh. I’ll take either.

What Groundhog Day teaches us about making things up.

There are two types of holidays: meaningful and made up. The meaningful days include The 4th of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and religious holidays. Made up holidays include Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day and February 29th. It seems February needed a little spicing up. Since today is Groundhog Day, let’s take a moment to reflect on its significance.

Hmmm. Like a groundhog on a cloudy day, I see nothing when I reflect. Because there is nothing to reflect on. There is no meteorological reason to focus on groundhogs. Forget the meteors, there are no logical reasons to focus on groundhogs.  Yet we do.

I’m not writing to pooh-pooh Groundhog Day.  Quite the opposite. I think it stands as an amazing symbol of creativity, and possibility, and making something out of nothing. If a nation of over 300 million people can recognize this fabricated rodent day, you can bring your vision to life too.

MLK Jr. Day, Small Business Saturday and Earth Day are all holidays that were born during my lifetime-ish.  These are all great ideas, made real by someone’s vision, imagination and effort. I’m not saying you need to make up a new holiday, but you could.

The important thing to recognize is that if you want something to exist that currently does not, you can make it happen. If you have an idea that is useful or fun or important I strongly encourage you to write it down, sketch it out and give it as much detail as you can. Then work hard to bring it to life. It could be a product, business, charity, service or event. Heck, it could be a home, a support group, a marketing campaign or a better groundhog trap.  All ideas come to life through the same simple process.

This time last year my advertising agency, The Weaponry, only existed in my head. A year later it is as real as it gets. Like IRS-real. In fact, we have already worked with 11 clients in 6 states and 2 countries.  If I can do this, you can do it.

So what is your Groundhog Day? I know you have something in your head that you wish was real. From now on, when you hear or read Groundhog Day I want this invented holiday to make you think of the things you want to create. Let it inspire your ideas that could have a bigger impact on life than a rodent in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania or Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. You can do it. I believe it beyond a seeing-your-own-shadow of a doubt.

3 rules of marriage I should have told Brad and Angelina.

If you want to do something great, like create the perfect agency, it’s helpful to have a great partner on your side. Like my wife, Dawn. It doesn’t even matter which side of you they are on (just choose one and go with it). But finding a compatible partner for your life-business is really hard.

I reflected on this as I heard about the shocking break up of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Ok, so I wasn’t really shocked. While I am certainly not a pessimist, I am pretty good at spotting trends. And I know that if you are a famous person and you marry another famous person, you’re not likely to end up in the Marriage Hall of Fame.

Despite the fact that we once shopped at Famous Footwear, my wife and I are not famous. And while studying for our marriage (yes, we really studied) we learned some important facts. One was that 50% of marriages die before the people in them do.

Like most couples, Dawn and I celebrate the victories in our marriage. Like anniversaries. Next week we will have been married 14 years. And we celebrate the anniversary of our first kiss. Mostly because it was the day I stopped hopping like a frog.

But there is another thing we do in our marriage that most couples don’t do. We view other couples’ divorces as our wins. I realize this sounds bad. But if 50% of marriages fail, this is a game of survival. And while we are always saddened to hear of a friend, coworker or family member that got voted off Marriage Island, we’re thankful to still be playing the game.  When we hear of a couple splitting up, Dawn and I always high-five (seriously).  It’s as if we just scored a point in the Marriage Sand Volleyball league.  We knew someone was going to lose that point. And it wasn’t us.

There are lots of ways to help ensure your marriage is successful.  But if I was in charge of the Department of Homeland Matrimony, I would create 3 laws to improve the marriage success rate.

  1. No famous people marrying other famous people.
  2. No getting married before you are 30. We change too much during our 20’s and make too many dumb choices.
  3. Everyone must listen to the audio book, Marathon Marriage by David Moore. Dawn and I got this 4 CD series as an engagement gift from my Auntie, Jan Faust. It made us think about and discuss important issue before we signed the contract. It tried to scare us out of running the marathon. And it forced us to think about building a strong marriage that will last. And not just throwing a great party.

Brad and Angelina, if you are reading this, I’m sorry things didn’t work out. I’m sorry you and the six kids have to go through this tough time. I’m sorry it is being talked about in all of the media. But I’m thankful it is you, and not me.

Why there has never been a better time to wear white.

Welcome to After Labor Day! This, unfortunately, is the darkest time of the year. Because now we are supposed to put away our white clothing until Memorial Day. Or until Diddy invites us to a party. Whichever comes first. I have known about this rule since I was old enough to make my own fashion faux pas. But I didn’t understand the rule, until now.

After long minutes of research (hey, it’s the information age) I discovered the Labor-Day-White-Thing was basically a mean girl rule established by a small gaggle of old money biddies in the late 1800s. They decided that they would use the imaginary rule to identify and ostracize new money ladies who didn’t know the insider rules, and wore white on the wrong days. Yet over time everyone adopted this standard.

How lame is that?  

This isn’t a rule. It’s a joke. Or at best a standard we follow without reason. With this knowledge, how do you pick out your clothes tomorrow?

There are two ways to view these widely followed, but non-rule-rules.

  1. We can adhere to them, just like everyone in-the-know.
  2. We can see them as the gifts they are. And use them to help us stand out from the masses.

When I was in college I had a track teammate named Alex Mautz. Alex liked wearing shorts so much he decided not to pack them away after Labor Day, or Halloween or Thanksgiving. In fact, Alex wore shorts every day for an entire year. Which is no big deal if you live in Florida. Or Ecuador. But we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Where I experienced -26 Fahrenheit without windchill. Alex turned heads everywhere he went. Not only was he memorable, he provided total strangers with an instant conversation starter from November through April.

One of the most important things we do at The Perfect Agency Project is find ways to help people and organization stand out from the crowd. That’s how you build a memorable brand. And if you want to be noticed, cultural and category norms are a gift.

White wedding dresses don’t stand out. Red ones do. I have seen thousands of diamond engagement rings that all blend together. But my sister Heather’s stands out. Because it’s an emerald ring. Chick-fil-a is one of my favorite restaurants. But unlike most restaurants, it isn’t open on Sundays.  Yet Chick-fil-a is the first restaurant I think of every Sunday (can I get an Amen?).

If you, your brand or business want more attention, find a convention and start doing the unconventional. There are opportunities all around you. If you would like help finding your white clothes after Labor Day let me know. We could grab some caramels and talk.

3 things every business can learn from Super Bowl commercials.

The greatest sporting event in America is this Sunday. Maybe the greatest sporting event in the world. I know there are arguments that the FIFA World Cup is bigger than our football game. And that the Olympics have more flames, more luge and more cowbell. But neither of those is the Super Bowl. Our Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of all Super Bowls. Which I admit is a super dumb thing to say.

In 2015 more than 114 million Americans tuned in to the big game. And for good reason. Actually there are three good reasons to tune into this spectacle. First, for the football. The game is usually exciting. And this year we again have two great teams and a compelling matchup featuring Peyton “Old Man” Manning vs Cam “New Kid” Newton. (see what I did there?)

Second, the Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon. It’s what everyone in the office will be talking about around the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine on Monday morning. If your office still has a water cooler the talk probably won’t be about the Super Bowl. It will be about why you still don’t have a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.

And the third reason to watch is the commercials. The Super Bowl commercials are a fascinating study. Because we look forward to the commercials as much as we look forward to the game itself. Even though the commercials slow down the game and make the whole night last longer than a Wagner opera. But why?

The magic of the Super Bowl is that for at least one night a year we all recognize that the commercials themselves add value to our lives. They are entertaining. And on Sunday night, we as a nation will be in the mood to be entertained. The commercials are usually humorous. Some are big funny. Some are small funny. Some are produced like mini-blockbusters packed with action and drama. Some are touching and cute, usually with an animal tugging at your heartstrings. Which is particularly impressive when you consider that most cardiologists can’t even find your heartstrings.

As a whole the commercials are interesting and engaging. But even the lesser spots enable us to play commercial critic. And as we learned from American Idol, a few train wrecks amongst the stars makes for oddly enjoyable TV.

As you prepare for Super Sunday here are three things every business can learn from the Super Bowl commercials.

Meet people where they are.  As a business you need to put the audience you want to reach first. Understand their wants and needs. Understand their habits and how you can fit into them. If people want to party, like they do during the Super Bowl, party with them. If they want serious information to solve a serious problem, get serious with them. But don’t cross streams. Trust me on this one.

Offer a consistently enjoyable experience. A major reason we look forward to the Super Bowl commercials is that we enjoyed them last year. And the year before. And like Pavlov’s dogs, when we hear talk of the Super Bowl, we start salivating for Doritos, Budweiser and Coca-Cola commercials. So deliver a great experience every time. Because when you do, whether you’re a carpet cleaner, a dentist, a software company or a mortician, your customers will look forward to interacting with you again. Wait, scratch mortician.

Make great things.  Americans love greatness. We have a deep appreciation for things like a well crafted Super Bowl commercial, or say, a well written blog post. Great things get elevated in our culture.  Yeti coolers, iPhones and American Giant sweatshirts are all great products from great companies that generate a lot of love. In turn they help build great brands that command love, respect and a premium price. So focus your business efforts on making things great. And the profits will follow.

I hope you enjoy the game. I hope you enjoy the commercials.  And I hope you enjoy the conversations about the game and the commercials on Monday. But most of all I hope that by this time next year your business is competing in the Super Bowl of your industry. And that you have a long line of customers lining up outside your door.  Unless, of course, you’re a mortician.