We just f’d our brand

We just f’d our brand

This article first posted on LinkedIn 2/28/17

When’s the last time you screwed up in front of 33 million people? Pricewaterhousecoopers is the accounting firm, that, for 83 years has served the Academy (Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) unerringly. Then, in one awkwardly extended presentation, PWC’s accuracy and integrity were called into question with a mistaken reading at the very pinnacle of the show.

So what happens if you make a blunder that calls your entire business into question? Here are the first 3 steps to consider and commentary on the current Oscar debacle.

Step 1: Do you recognize that you’re IN A BRAND CRISIS? Sorry that you are, but good that you’re aware. Your first reactions are crucial. As I tell my children, “When you know that you just dug yourself a hole — stop digging.” In short, don’t make the situation worse.

PWC didn’t know until Ms. Dunaway read the wrong winner, because there were only two people on the planet that knew who the real winner was supposed to be — PWC Partners Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz. The Academy actually had a protocol to address just such a mistake, but it wasn’t followed. The confusion that extended for nearly two minutes, could have been knocked down to just a few seconds with the use of a “panic button” or call to the stage manager… Cullinan had handed the duplicate envelope for Best Actress to Warren Beatty, instead of for Best Picture.

Step 2: Step up and honor up. Admit your mistake (if you KNOW that it’s your mistake), but you may be able to use humor or initial sympathy to your advantage. Blaming others or offering speculation are not your friends. Your audience will eventually turn on you.

For the rest of the night, people assumed that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway has screwed everything up. Although Mr. Beatty seemed to know that something was amiss, he wasn’t courageous enough to simply ask for help. Ms. Dunaway was set up for failure by Beatty, by reading the first movie title she saw — they could have saved the night, but it’s not their fault. They did what they were asked to do, “just read the card.” Now the reputation of two Hollywood legends and the Academy itself, is forever tarnished.

The true blame lies squarely on the shoulders of PWC Partner Brian Cullinan who gave the wrong envelope to Mr. Beatty. Why didn’t PWC step up and try to mitigate that damage while the cameras were still rolling? Do you think a defamation lawsuit will be on it’s way? You can count on it. The only one who looked good in the mixup was La La Land Producer Jordan Horowitz who graciously, quickly and clearly corrected the error that had occurred. NOTE: His “brand” just rose a 1000{39d2d43da009d0c4a10d7085c374de39100bda20a3fdf9717a5356beaf449ffd}.

Step 3: Assess WHERE your public relations weakness lies. What part of your company is most at risk? With the general public? Your current clients? Or perhaps stockholders or vendors? You will need to address everyone effected, but start immediately with the greatest threat to your company. Understand that it’s your relationship that now is in question. Assume the worst and hope for the best… but get your side of the story (or apology) out there swiftly. Often, this is where having a Twitter presence is crucial — as your first responder insurance policy. With it, you can get in front of the story; not run over by a story waiting to be written by those who care nothing for your business or your clientele. Make sure you have a Twitter account and learn to use it. It might just save your business’ life.

PWC has tried to get in front of the story on Twitter, but their reaction has been tepid and slow. A lot of damage has already been done. Thankfully, for them, their trouble is not with the 33,000,000 viewers, but it is with their shareholders and more importantly, their current customers. The Oscar tabulation may be the most recognizable thing PWC does, but it is minor within the scope of their business. Understand that Pricewaterhousecoopers is a $36 billion firm, with over 220,000 employees worldwide and recognized as the most prestigious accounting firm in the world. It’s the 5th largest privately held company, too. That’s a huge plus, because no one gets to view a dramatically dropped stock price, but you can be sure that there are stakeholders in PWC who are mad as hell at Mr. Cullinan.

If you read through some of PWC’s tweets, you’ll see their apology. That’s good. But if you go back a couple of days, you’ll see images and video of all of the fun leading up to the Oscars. It leaves you feeling PWC is now hiding under a rock and makes their brand seem weak.

What would I advise? Get some video of all of the key PWC employees, especially Cullinan, to offer a real life accounting of what happened and how sincerely sorry they are for the gaff. Mea culpas work when they are sincere. People can spot a phony a mile away. Post a few video interviews of PWC clients (if you could get them) who could tell how they’ve benefitted by their relationship. It’s all part of a strategy that works to humanize an event gone wrong. Business leadership is most crucial when real leadership is called for. People will judge (and are judging now), “What kind of company is PWC?” Often, when a business follows these steps, they are strengthened, not weakened for the effort.

p.s. > If PWC can hold on to their Oscar gig for 2018, you can be sure that the host will crack jokes about it. Will PWC be prepared? By-the-way, who would you want writing the PWC zingers?

Mike Farley is the President of JSH&P, a small business branding firm located in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. He’s been a keynote speaker on branding, social media and marketing for small business. Learn more at JSH&P.com or at the JSH&P Facebook page.

#oscarsfail #pricewaterhousecoopers #fixyourfup

Wallah! The stop sign.

Wallah! The stop sign.


We work with small business owners for a reason.
This comedy sketch video isn’t that far off the mark of how life can be for the corporate designer.  At JSH&P. we love working with all of our clients, because we work with the decision makers.  They share their input, we offer up our best ideas on how to solve the challenge at hand.  In most cases, there’s a path that truly, makes the most sense, that everyone can be proud of.  In the end, however, it’s efficacy that counts. — Did what we do, work?  

How about designing a new stop sign?
What if the world didn’t already have a stop sign?  How might JSH&P go about designing it, for real?

A little history, first… Mr. William Eno had the concept for the stop sign back in 1911.  And the first black on white square sign was installed in Detroit back in 1915.  And it was the Mississippi Valley Association of State Highway Departments that put the shape into it, by determining that different levels of concern required different shapes. Back then, the sign was black on yellow. But it wasn’t until 1954 that the white on red sign was born when manufacturers could produce a red reflective material to get everyone’s attention.  Of course, today, red is widely regarded as a stopping color.

So, JSH&P, for starters, would want the relevant data and research… and all of the concerns, put out on the table, just like in the comedy sketch.  And, just like the designer, we’d probably figure out that we needed something universal to get everyone on the same page, very quickly, to produce the desired result — namely, to stop vehicles safely.  However, we might reflect on a key word in that last sentence… “universal”.

Almost every country uses an octagonal stop sign with their word for “stop” on it.  Maybe, like the biggest most universal brands in world (i.e. – Nike & Apple), we’d be interested to get rid of the typography.  Could a graphic mark alone, do the job, so that drivers from around the world could always recognize a stop sign, and, perhaps, save the good taxpayers a bit of money for creating something simpler to produce?

Here are our options (with two real life versions already being utilized):

A: Red octagon white X.  A strong choice, very distinctive. Our second choice.
B: Red hexagon white X. The angles/shapes created aren’t uniform. Feels off.
C: Red circle white line. Bold simplicity, but does it say anything?
D: Red circle white X. Exceedingly simple and bold.  We think this is the strongest sign.
E: Red circle white “X”. Doesn’t seem as strong as D and suggests the English letter “X”.
F: Blue circle red X. Used by a few Eastern European countries like Belarus and Lithuania. Not enough contrast.
G: Yellow circle black X. Yellow truly grabs your attention, but at night, will the negative space be less useful?
H: Red circle white diagonal. Looks like a suggestion instead of a statement.
I: Red circle white dash. Used in Russia. Simplest design, but a dash seems suggestive, as well.

Which would you choose?


Make “smalltime” look “bigtime”?

Make “smalltime” look “bigtime”?

When you run a design company, you like to brag about the big name clients that you’ve worked with.  You did check out some of the big hitters JSH&P has worked with, didn’t you?

It gives you gravitas. It makes you feel like a big shot.  It sometimes actually connects you with even more important work from even bigger clients who can pay you more.

Too bad that is seldom the case.

The work that you get will, indeed, come from referrals, but the marketing directors and creative directors at these larger firms often protect their key assets (that would be you), and aren’t likely to share their good fortune with their brethren.

However, all of us are “invited” to assist many local projects that could really benefit from a good designer’s attention, even though they may not have much of a budget.  It’s been my experience that getting involved with these local groups can only benefit you.  You should look at this work as your new business investment — one that you might actually a paycheck for helping — that, in itself is a win-win.

…but there’s more…

The folks that run the schools or the Little League or your church group are also connected to a whole bunch of other people.  People who have the authority to hire you, if only they knew how good you were — doctors and lawyers and business owners and marketing directors. Frankly, you’re unlikely to know these people in their “day jobs”.  To you, they’re just a soccer official, your church deacon or your child’s 5th grade teacher — when in “real life” — they’re a small business owner, the lead partner at a downtown law firm and the president of a area aquatics program (all true, btw, that hired me).

Do your best work for the little guys.  Pack 40 pounds of potatoes into a 20 pound sack.  You’ll find that your investment will pay off. Make them feel “bigtime” and you may just be able to move yourself up from “smalltime” to bigtime, too

HELPFUL TIP:  Make sure that you charge them for your work.  Send your bill, AND put the full total on your invoice, then discount whatever amount you think appropriate (the entire thing, if you like). In that way, they know what your work actually costs.  This will be helpful on the referral THEY make to their friends who will be next in line to hire you.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!


This year, when you give your gifts to the ones you love, make a concerted effort to improve their holiday experience by how you treat them.  Not just with authentically thoughtful gifts, but with your own wit and witticism, along with your good humor and pleasant demeanor.

I know, I know, “But you don’t know my Aunt Shirley” you protest.

Well, even Aunt Shirley deserves your best this year. So do make your best attempt to give her the holiday she was hoping for and not one filled with sarcasm, pettiness or emptiness.  There is so much in life that I am thankful for and this time of year is our responsibility to prove it… by doing the little things for others that this world is really all about.

p.s. > We thought giving Jenga this year will almost be a given, but to add the chess clock… brilliant!  {Just 99¢ more for the app}

The World’s Greatest Spokesperson?

The World’s Greatest Spokesperson?


If you haven’t seen this video… you must.

Zach Anner is a young man who has cerebral palsy, but that hardly defines him.  In this clip to help promote a new show called “Speechless”, Zach shares his thoughts on the condition and all of the things those of us not afflicted might want to think twice about.  He’s brilliant and incredibly funny.  Thinking that we need to cross paths. 🙂

Want to know more about CP?  Try here.

That’s one good looking brand.

That’s one good looking brand.

Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery Specialists

If you’re a designer, it’s not often that your clients pay more attention to aesthetics than you do.  For Drs. Ken Dembny and Larry Sterkin of CPSS in Wauwatosa and Mequon, it’s a way of life.  They’re two of the most accomplished cosmetic surgeons in Southeastern Wisconsin and their tastes come with high expectations.

Sometimes, unifying a brand needs a simple graphic tool — like a banner.

As you can see from the work, adding the transparent banner with logo, tagline, doctors and contact info makes for a great way to get a lot of information in a condensed space, while providing consistency across many marketing mediums.  It also compliments bold beautiful models that “steal the page” when it comes to key focal points in any particular marketing platform.

“We certainly weren’t afraid to sell ‘sexy’ in our marketing, but sometimes, you get a situation like we faced with Brookfield Square, ” states JSH&P Creative Director Mike Farley. “They banned one of our ads, saying that it was too racy.  The funny thing of it was, was that it was directly across from Victoria’s Secret!  We let the brand banner extend down a bit further to get it approved. Go figure.”

Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery Specialists is one of Milwaukee’s premier cosmetic surgery practices for men and women.  The reputations of both Dr. Ken Dembny and Dr. Larry Sterkin are exemplary, both of whom have been listed in Milwaukee Magazine as Top Docs multiple times.

How to Reach Your Fundraising Goal

How to Reach Your Fundraising Goal

(With a little help from Gene Simmons)

I’ve worked on dozens of fundraising campaigns, for various churches, non-profits and educational foundations. I’ve helped raise millions of dollars for causes that I thought worthy of the effort. Each one, reaching it’s targeted goal. These successes have taught me a lot about what motivates folks to contribute to your vision, both the fundraising team and to those that break out their checkbooks. The best, and most inspirational lesson in fundraising for me, came from the most unlikely person and place, and I thought I’d share his wisdom with you…

Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice

I rarely watched it (I presume with Trump’s Presidential campaign, that it’s in re-runs now), but I happened to stumble across the show a few years ago when Gene Simmons, the demonic rock star from the band KISS, was a contestant. True to the format of the show, the men were pitted against the women in a contest to promote something with one of the “stars” from the losing team getting fired at the end of the show. In this particular episode, Donald gave each team the task of simply selling hot dogs at Times Square (with a charitable organization getting the proceeds) — most revenue wins and the members of the team spared from being “fired!” The cameras capture all of the drama between cast members as they plan, prep, work and scheme the event, ensuring that we watch and boost the show’s ratings.

The women were lead by Omarosa, a take-charge gal who’s “famous for being famous”. The men were lead by C-list actor Stephen Baldwin — apparently Celebrity Apprentice has to dig pretty deep for its talent. I digress. Which celeb was on which team was not important, but the approach that each team took, turned out to be a great exercise in succeeding or failing at fundraising.

The ladies turned to an oldie, but goodie… “America, hot dogs and sex”. How could the quintessential American food, sold by attractive women go wrong? “Exposing more cleavage” seemed to be at the heart of their strategy. Be big. Be bold. Be fun. Be sexy. Who wouldn’t want to buy a hot dog from a voluptuous woman on a hot Summer day? It works. Kind of.

Meanwhile, the men were struggling to come up with an angle of their own. They even came up with a cool team name — Team Hydra — you know, the scary Greek mythological beast? Given enough time, they’d probably have made awesome t-shirts to wear to make themselves feel even more special. But that’s not especially a good plan for fundraising. It forgets what the purpose was in the first place. The purpose was NOT to sell the most hot dogs… but to make the most money. Period. That was the goal.

As they argued about what marketing message they needed to deliver to beat the girls, a booming voice yelled a choice curse word from an adjoining room in the hotel suite they were in, “Shut the f*** up!”

Gene Simmons had a plan… and a moment of clarity.

He got on the phone, called a few of his celebrity friends and asked them one very simple question, “Could you swing down to Times Square tomorrow and buy a hot dog for $10,000 for my charity?”

They said, yes.

While Omarosa and the female contestants sold individual hot dogs like, well, hot dogs, they raised about $10,000 at the end of the day. Pretty good. Team Hydra, on the other hand, took in over $50,000. You see, to successfully fundraise, you need to get big donors on board first. It’s that simple… and crucially important.

Gene Simmons: Rock star. Fundraising guru.

When you set out the thermometer that gets displayed on the street, you should have it over half-full to begin with (if not more), because you sought out your strongest contributors first; getting them to understand your mission. Once done, the final goal is almost assured because the little guys, like you and me, will contribute en masse because everyone wants to be part of a winning cause. By allowing everyone to see the apparent success of the cause at the start, the smaller contributors will be motivated to help you see the achievement toward your final goal.

Go Big on Old School

Go Big on Old School


Billion dollar international businesses are always looking for a great designer in Cedarburg, Wisconsin… aren’t they?

The age of the Internet is truly amazing.

However, for all of it’s marvels, this client from a few years ago was actually the product of “old school” contacts and referrals.   A good friend of mine, Michael Beightol from Coyote Marsh & Associates, contacted me about assisting him with a new opportunity.  Years before, we had done some work together on a European firm who wanted to make a splash in the American market.  Turns out, his brother (in Washington, DC) had connections to a firm with a similar situation.

Wallah!  Madrid meets Wisconsin.

The work we did, from website to marketing kit to trade advertising, still holds up pretty well today. That’s the hallmark of world-class design. It’s also the product of good relationships married to a good client.  Never forget to cultivate your personal relationships to build your business… even from unexpected sources!

Globalvia is a multi-national corporation based in Madrid, Spain that facilitates and builds some of the biggest infrastructure projects around the world, like bridges, tollways and light rail systems.

We’re everywhere…

We’re everywhere…

North Shore United Soccer Club

Mark Koenig, my upstairs business neighbor and all-around-good-guy, also happened to be one of the leaders of the Cedarburg Soccer Club.  A collection of 200 Cedarburg families whose kids played soccer.  Just like so many other youth sports organizations, it was local and competitive at introducing and developing kids to the sport of soccer.  But Mark was tired of getting their best kids “poached” from other area soccer programs.

He had an idea to make the club more than just Cedarburg.  Why not form something that could attract families and kids from all over the North Shore area?  And the happy by-product, would be more families, better coaches and more money for the organization to construct better facilities to promote soccer even further.

All they needed was an identity that could bring out their very best.  Suffice it to say, we accomplished that task and then some, as the myriad of mini-vans that sport an North Shore United window sticker can attest.

We set out to create an identity that was every bit as strong as any professional sports franchise.  North Shore United branding helps remind us that doing world-class work, even for small clients, can reap very satisfying returns.