Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week
Winner: Andy Rooney
Loser: HP (and the cult of the outside CEO Superstar)
This Sunday, Andy Rooney finally signed off, leaving CBS’s 60 Minutes after 33 years.
To endure in the ultra-competitive marketplace that is television is a genuine achievement, but to endure as Andy Rooney did from his intrepid World War II reportage through his career as a writer at the very beginning of television and into his ground-breaking news specials on civil rights… Well, that’s simply legendary and it is time to step back and honor a truly great brand.
Rooney would probably dislike the term brand when applied to him –in fact, he would probably devote one of his curmudgeonly 60 Minutes tele-essays just to demolish it… but try as he might, the term would still apply.
You see, this man, who was born in 1919, was, almost from the very beginning of his career, a distinct and consistent brand –hard-hitting reporter, brave, funny, curmudgeonly (as far as a 20-something can be), a talented scribe and recognizable.
Whether it was climbing aboard a B-17 to report the Americans first daylight bombing raid over Germany or covering the liberation of Paris and later the concentration camps, Rooney was always himself and it was that same brand who would later be arrested during a civil rights protest in 1940s –years before Rosa Park’s famous arrest.
But, folks, it is endurance as the crankiest man on television that is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the man.
After all, when he first started to deliver what he likes to refer to as his “essays” on 60 Minutes, he was just a fifty-nine year old veteran reporter filling in –but the segments instantly became popular and he stayed.
His last “essay” was his 1,097th.
This is the point: We, the audience, might think complacently that Rooney was just an old TV fixture who nobody could get rid of and that’s why he stayed around so long… well, that’s plain wrong.
Fact is, he brought in the ratings. You don’t get through such a long career being cranky and outspoken and not generate an outsized share of controversy –and Rooney sure did.
He was labeled a racist (despite that civil rights arrest long before the birth of most of his accusers and despite those special reports he did for CBS in the sixties and seventies). And he got in trouble for perceived anti-gay remarks 1990 (for which he later expressed remorse).
In fact, Rooney was suspended for those remarks, but the original suspension of three months was quickly cut back to one month when 60 Minutes’ ratings dropped by a full 20 percent in Rooney’s absence.
So he stuck around because he was never just an old cantankerous fixture on the TV scene, he was a constant contributor and adder of value –he brought those ratings in even as the media landscape grew ever more competitive.
One last critical part of his brand: Rooney didn’t see himself first and foremost as a TV guy, he saw himself as a writer. And it was as a writer for Arthur Godfrey and Garry Moore’s variety shows that he also built his skills and showed his talent.
And a writer he is. His writing has won him three Emmy awards and three Writers Guild awards. He has also written a regular column for Tribune Media Services for years and several books.
In fact, that might be the real secret.
Rooney always knew what he was and what people wanted –they wanted him behind that walnut desk (which he built himself by the way) delivering the words he had written, not someone else’s words like so many on TV, but his words.
So, hats off to Mr. Rooney… But don’t ask for his autograph –he’ll tell you to buzz off.
I might have been a little premature in praising HP a few weeks ago when they decided to kill their tablet.
Yes, decisive action is critical when communicating your brand in the marketplace, but as it turns out HP’s decision might actually have reflected internal chaos more than good brand stewardship.
Apparently, many resellers, those critical partners in the consumer goods supply chain, were taken by surprise and the company had to scramble to mend bridges.
And now the HP board has booted Leo Apotheker, its European superstar CEO, and appointed Meg Whitman, its American superstar CEO, to the role.
It’s no wonder that HP’s board has been labeled the worst corporate board in history. They hired Apotheker without first having him meet the full board and with the knowledge that his experience with consumer electronics was almost zero.
Now it’s Meg Whitman’s turn. Remember, Whitman was Ebay’s CEO and after that spent $100 million running for senator in California in a race that Jerry Brown eventually won.
Bottom line, will this dynamic woman be able to rescue the company?
I’m not so sure.
Fact is, there are plenty of examples of outsiders rescuing great companies. Lou Gerstner did it with IBM; Iacocca with Chrysler. But those men were the exception in their day, today the superstar CEO is the rule.
HP has had six CEOs since 1999. HP has simply not been looking inside its own ranks for a new leader.
But this is true around the world. According to The Economist, in the 1970s outsiders filled 15% of CEO vacancies. By the 2000s, that number had more than doubled.
Folks, there’s nothing wrong with finding the best CEO talent. As The Economist also points out Jack Welch, a GE outsider, boosted that companies market cap by 4,500%.
But there’s also nothing wrong with cultivating and promoting the best within the organization –especially if that organization has increasingly struggled to find its way as a brand.
We know what some of the HP brands are, but what is the HP brand itself?
Well, it’s old Silicon Valley, delivering corporate and consumer tech solutions and services. It is an innovator, but not a flashy one. It is a survivor and a thriver.
But here’s the problem, with each outsider superstar CEO, HP seems to stray farther and farther from these roots.
Gerstner was a tech outsider when he got to IBM, but that IBM really needed a culture shakeup and an outsider to revitalize its brand.
But HP might have had too many outsiders and, again, The Economist makes a great observation: the latest research shows that “the more dazzling the outside recruit, the worse he performs in his new role.”
Wow! This is something HP and other similarly situated companies really need to think about. Certainly after a string of outsiders, it probably makes a lot of sense to recruit from the inside and put someone in charge who knows the HP culture and can rebuild the brand from the inside.
It’s time that HP remembered what it’s brand was but it might just take an insider to help this happen.
And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.
TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY – Without brand consistency there can be no brand longevity.