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    Published on: April 30, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    When it comes to winning and losing, we want to win. Yet even the most successful enterprises have to grapple with the basic reality that at some point the game turns around, unless you are incredibly lucky, creative or good. Even if you are all three, at some point you are bound to lose.

    In Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery, making a middle-aged return as James Bond, is asked by the villain of the film (a tepid remake of Thunderball), "Do you lose as gracefully as you win?" And Connery replies, "I don't know. I've never lost." But only James Bond could make that statement...

    The business landscape is littered with stories of once dominant companies falling on hard times, but one recent story is interesting because it possesses so many of the qualities that frequently lead to losing. Plus, it happened so publicly.

    For more than 16 years, NBC television understood winning…at least when it came to early morning. Now the drama taking place around the one dominant "Today" show provides a very different lesson in how to lose that very same edge.

    If even you aren’t a follower of the titans of morning television, you probably have heard this story. "Today," hosted by Matt Lauer with, in succession, Katie Couric, Meredith Viera and Ann Curry, was the ratings champ in morning television every week from December 1995 until about one year ago, when ABC’s "Good Morning, America" ended the streak. (Obviously there are countless other morning shows, but none of them come close in viewership to "Today" and "GMA.")

    NBC’s success seemed built on the strength of a mix of news and entertainment that managed to appeal to an audience that varied from business people to stay-at-home parents to people working out in gyms. As detailed by New York Times reporter Brian Stelter in a recent article and a book studying the morning television wars, the secret sauce behind "Today" and its longtime dominance was the congeniality of the cast. Stelter described it as a happy family who smoothed over transitions such as the change in female hosts.

    That was until 2011 when Viera left the show and Curry took over. I’m not a viewer, but Stelter said it instantly became clear that Lauer and Curry didn’t click personally or professionally. Suddenly the ratings began to slip. With a stunning amount of palace intrigue Curry was targeted as the scapegoat, set up for replacement and left the show in a farewell of tears. The tears came on live television.

    Just like that, the streak ended and "GMA" took over the lead. As Stelter said, the comity that provided "Today" its incredible strength suddenly looked phony and media reports are replete these days with the damage to the show, the network and to Lauer himself.

    I heard an interview with Stelter where he described the two key business lessons he finds from the whole drama and they are worth considering.

    • First, "Today" forgot how to lose. In Stelter’s words, the show was so dominant that it became resistant to change. Parts of the show, including even specific camera angles, were used morning after morning, making the show seem comfortable, yes, but also old and stale. And once the show lost its top slot there seemed to be a lack of in house talent who knew how to fight back.

    • Second, "GMA" learned how to win. The second banana realized it couldn’t win by copying "Today," so instead the show looked for areas of difference. Once the audience gave "GMA" a try, Stelter said, they found it engaging and fun. So they stayed.

    Those lessons are pretty straightforward for any business and I’d add a third: "Today" may have forgotten that the customers really own the brand. In this case, the family feeling of the cast was critical. NBC was looking at hard numbers for a decision, but the viewers saw something else and didn’t like it.

    One last thought...

    I wonder how long either of these shows actually remains a powerhouse. There was a time when my wife would flip on one of the shows in the morning, but her breakfast routine is different now. Now she turns on her iPad and checks into her social networks - usually Facebook - to see what’s happening in her world. Very quickly she can check on any news from friends and family.

    In short, she’s tuned into "Good Morning, Janice." If there’s a big news event, the TV goes on. If not, it’s just the social network where there’s always some drama, intrigue and news…but it’s always involves the people she cares about most.

    Winning is always getting harder and harder.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Variety reports on a Bloomberg interview with Barry Diller, chairman of IAC, which currently owns what remains of Newsweek.

    As the story notes, "Newsweek was sold in 2010 by the Washington Post Co. to audio mogul Sidney Harman for $1 and assumption of its liabilities. Harman eventually merged it with the Daily Beast Co., owned by IAC. After his death, Harman’s family decided to end additional investment in the publication."

    Newsweek ceased publishing a print edition at the end of last year, and now is part of the Daily Beast website.

    In the interview, Diller says that he even has doubts about the new combined product, wishes he'd never acquired Newsweek, and thinks that "printing a magazine is a 'fools errand if that magazine is a news weekly'."

    I'm noting this interview not because I am surprised by Diller's comments - to be honest, I didn't like Newsweek very much in its final years as a print publication, don't much like it as an online product and, when I get its emails, rarely find something that I want to read or that surprises me. But I thought it as interesting because I saw the piece right after I read Michael's column, above, and saw his comment about "Good Morning, Janice."

    And I think that's the real point.

    Newsmagazines, by their very nature, serve as a place to bring together news and analysis of important stories ... but there is something about their structure and approach that makes them almost dated. People are performing many of the same tasks as those magazine editors long before they get those magazines, whether online or in print. And so Newsweek ends up seeming redundant.

    And so, magazines need to find new structures, new approaches, new relevance. If they don't, the owner will start saying things in public, like owning them is "a mistake."

    Comments like that, building on the way the business is evolving, are an Eye-Opener.

    And it isn't just the magazine business. (Hint, hint, hint...)
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    Safeway announced yesterday that when Steve Burd steps down as CEO on May 14, he will be succeeded by the company's president, Robert L. Edwards.

    Burd had announced his retirement in January, but while Edwards was seen by many as the likely heir, it took the company four months to confirm his ascendance.

    Edwards joined Safeway in 2004 as EVP/CFO, and became president about a year ago.
    KC's View:
    I never quite understood why what now looks to be a normal succession plan wasn't detailed when Burd's retirement was first announced. And the only negative I hear is the suggestion from some quarters that Edwards is more money guy than merchant, and Safeway needs a merchant at the helm.

    But today is a day to congratulate Edwards and wish him the best of luck.

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    eMarketer estimates that "96.6 million US adults will be digital coupon users by the end of this year, with the figure expected to top 100 million in 2014."

    And, the website projects that "the number of US adult smartphone users who also use mobile coupons will jump from 31 million at the end of 2012 to 40.8 million at the end of 2013 ... eMarketer estimates that nearly half of US adults who use digital coupons will use the mobile variety by the end of this year, with the number climbing to six in 10 by 2015."

    Here's the interesting thing about the way these stats add up:

    "A September 2012 Forbes Insights survey asked US consumers to identify activities that made them 'feel engaged with or invested in a brand.' The most popular answer, cited by 41% of respondents, was to 'sign up for special deals or email updates'." And, eMarketer reports, "Smartphone and tablet users said money-saving offers were the most important characteristics of apps, according to a December 2012 survey by Adobe Systems Inc."
    KC's View:
    The suggestion is that you've got more people than ever using smartphones, like using smartphones to access money-saving offers, and see such offers as helping them engage with brands. And so, even if the economy improves and people have more money to spend, the likelihood seems to be that they'll keep using digital coupons and other deals made available on their smartphones.

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    Got an email from an MNB reader who wrote:

    "Unfortunately there have been a lot of examples lately of companies whose upper management is disconnected from the front lines and doesn't adequately see the value add and innovation that these team members can bring.  I just wanted to share a small example of a company getting it right.

    "Below is an email we received from our co-CEO's at Whole Foods Market.  It shows a bit of the way our executives feel about our front line workers and I can guarantee you that this is not just lip service or a once a year thing.  Our leaders are demonstrating this all the time.  It's one of the many things that makes Whole Foods Market a great place to work."

    The letter reads, in part:

    "As we wrap up Team Member Appreciation Week, we wanted to say thank you once again for your hard work and dedication to Whole Foods Market ... Without your creativity, commitment and innovation, WFM would not be the success that it is today, and it certainly wouldn't be the tightknit family we're all so proud to be a part of.

    "In fact one of the themes this year was celebrating Team Member innovations throughout the company. So many of our best ideas come from Team Members, and last week we featured some great examples of that ... These bright ideas, as well as numerous others, have only helped us become better as a company, and it's because of your collective creativity and passion that they even come to fruition ... There are so many things to celebrate at Whole Foods Market that are because of you - our Team Members. You are the heart of this company, and we thank you."
    KC's View:
    Under normal circumstances, I might have been cynical enough to suggest that what companies need to do is appreciate their team members every week, not just one week a year. But the fact that this email was sent to me indicates that at least some of its employees - and I suspect a lot of them - feel that this is not temporary, nor illusory.

    People are better team members - whether you capitalize these words or not - if they feel appreciated and empowered.

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    In Cincinnati, the Business Courier reports on how Graeter's, the iconic Ohio-based ice cream manufacturer, has decided not to allow Walmart to sell its products at its more than four thousand US stores.

    "They're a fantastic retailer, they would be a great partner, and we would sell plenty of ice cream with Walmart," says CEO Rich Graeter. "But it doesn't align with our brand."

    Graeter's, which has long only been available in the midwest, has been expanding its production capabilities and extending its footprint throughout the country. But the company has been clear that it has only made changes that would not tamper with the quality of the product.

    "Everything we've done improves the quality of the product," says Graeter.

    But you won't be able to buy it at Walmart.
    KC's View:
    Once again, it is the Jurassic Park lesson. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should do something.

    Graeter's got it right.

    If they'd said yes to Walmart, it inevitably would have strained its production capacity. It would have driven prices down. It would have violated the central brand proposition - that this is something special, worth a little more money. And Walmart, which is only interested in its own core brand values, would inevitably would have hurt Graeter's. It would not have ended well for the brand. People would have made some money, but only in the short-term.

    Graeter's did not make the same kind of mistake that almost destroyed Krispy Kreme - expanding so fast and with so little concern for core brand values that the company ended up standing for almost nothing.

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    • The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that many Kroger customers are likely to see lower prices, as the company said "it is lowering prices on thousands of items in the 121 stores in its Mid-Atlantic Division, which includes locations in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and eastern Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky." The cuts include national and private brands.


    Reuters reports that "PayPal hit a new milestone on Tuesday in its quest to be accepted in millions of physical stores," saying that it has "signed contracts with 50 merchant acquirers, which will help extend PayPal's in-store payment service to more than two million outlets in the United States by the end of 2013 ... PayPal's expansion into physical stores gives the company access to a market that is roughly ten times the size of the online payments sector where it got its start over a decade ago."

    However, Walmart remains skeptical and has "so far resisted attempts" to get PayPal into its stores.

    "We do not see the value proposition for brick and mortar merchants to accept PayPal in-store as it is an aggregation of tender types already accepted in-store at a higher cost and complexity to the merchant," Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove wrote in a recent email to Reuters.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    • King Kullen Grocery Co. announced that Joseph Brown, co-president of the company's Wild By Nature markets, will add the roles of senior vice president/chief merchandising officer of King Kullen to his portfolio.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2013

    • Jason Collins, an active player in the National Basketball Association (NBA)who currently is a free agent, has become the first active male athlete in any of the national professional sports leagues - baseball, football, basketball and hockey - to publicly reveal that he is gay.

    The revelation came in a Sports Illustrated story. The reaction from within the sports world - with few exceptions - was proud, welcoming, even embracing. Suggesting the degree to which the world continues to change and how issues that might have been controversial and dividing just a few years ago now aren;t even issues at all.


    • The New York Jets said yesterday that it has cut second string quarterback Tim Tebow, who now will be free to find another football job.
    KC's View:
    I am a Jets fan, and I was never a Tebow fan. Nevertheless, I feel like the Jets did an abominable job in his case - trading for him, saying he would be the primary backup to Mark Sanchez, and then turning to the third string QB when Sanchez seemed unable to perform. They may have wrecked his career by hiring him and then refusing to use him, showing amazing disrespect for his talents as an athlete and a leader.

    I sort of find Tebow annoying, but I think he's handled the Jets situation with an abundance of class. I hope he gets a job somewhere, and that he gets the opportunity to show what he's made of. Because nobody deserves to be treated like he was.