Friday, February 26, 2010

The beleagured life of today's PR professional

We are at a stage at FirstRain now where we are starting to get more intense and more aggressive about our PR - that is the work we do to share our vision of the company, our strategic partnerships, our technology, and our product with the press and through social media. And I know we are not alone...

We met this morning to work through the next 30 days of PR (watch this space for pending announcements) and right after the meeting I was catching up on the day while slurping clam chowder and came across this hilarious video. Well, it's hilarious if you are one of the thousands of marketing and PR professionals trying to be heard in today's press world.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How United Airlines let me down - and dropped the ball on customer delight

I am a frequent flier... a very frequent flier and whenever possible I fly on United Airlines. I rack up the miles, I pay coach fare and I stay loyal to the airline hoping to upgrade on the longer flights.

But I saw the dark side of an airline that clearly still isn't profitable enough for their shareholders last week.

I have flown to the UK three times since Christmas to visit my mother who is grappling with an advanced cancer. On my most recent trip I had originally purchased a ticket non-stop San Francisco to London and back. But, once I was in the UK, I needed to change my return to go through New York for a meeting.

My original ticket was about $1000 - seemed like a fair price to me for a winter ticket. Imagine my horror when I called the United 1K desk and was told that to change my flight to come back through New York was an additional $3000 - for a coach ticket! But that was not what was so disappointing.

What frustrated me was the complete lack of help I got from the agent on the phone. Dismissal at my distress, no help trying to find an alternative. I pointed out that I could buy a whole new ticket one way home through New York for $1500 and she nastily said - well why don't you do that then! (which is what I did when I hung up - and just ripped up my return ticket) She felt disempowered because she told me several times that I should go on the web because the web would have "specials" that she could not see, and that it was not her problem that I was making a change once I was already traveling on the itinerary.

Customer delight comes from the culture of a company - and from the top down. It's not just about great product and good support systems, it's also about the attitude of every employee when they interface to the customer. It's a very different thing than customer satisfaction - it's about the feeling you have about a company - do you become a passionate advocate and a loyal user - do you LOVE the company vs. Satisfaction which is a passive feeling.

It would only take one look at my UAL record for any agent to see that I am a customer at least to try to help, and not a customer to piss off. After all Virgin Atlantic has flights on the routes I fly every week too...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gender bias is alive and well in Silicon Valley

I was very amused by a recent post on TechCrunch by Vivek Wadhwa:

Silicon Valley: You and Some of Your VC's have a Gender Problem.

It's a good read - and a less politically correct article than the one Vivek wrote in Business Week. Here are some stats from it:

An analysis of Dunn and Bradstreet data shows that of the 237,843 firms founded in 2004, only 19% had women as primary owners. And only 3% of tech firms and 1% of high-tech firms (as in Silicon Valley) were founded by women. Look at the executive teams of any of the Valley’s tech firms – minus a couple of exceptions like Padmasree Warrior of Cisco, you won’t find any women CTOs. Look at the management teams of companies like Apple – not even one woman. It’s the same with the VC firms – male dominated. You’ll find some CFOs and HR heads, but women VCs are a rare commodity in venture capital. And with the recent venture bloodbath, the proportion of women in the VC numbers is declining further. It’s no coincidence that only one of the 84 VCs on the 2009 TheFunded list of top VCs was a woman.

Since I've lived this for more than 20 years now I am a mine of funny stories about gender bias, and it's not a myth - it's real - but you have to stay amused or it would just be depressing.

For a while I thought the issue was over, or at least getting better, but a posting by Megan Berry on HuffPo - The Gender Battle's Not Over - confirms that even though she is only 22 she finds the dearth of women as prevalent as ever.

With the VC community it's all about natural bias and exposure. Silicon Valley is the land of the tech frat boys. Lots of nerdy men - some young - some not so young - fascinated with technology and admiring or dissing each other as they work on it. Because the majority of VCs are male they hang out with men all day. Women are an oddity. Many women of my generation have become tougher and more male in order to fit in - you only have to hear Carol Bartz drop an F-bomb on her earnings call to know that she learned to be tough and one of the guys very early on at Sun Microsystems.

My approach was just to work harder, be smarter, and be more ruthless than the guys around me. But even now when I have been successful as a female entrepreneur, backed by some of the best VCs in the valley, even I get stopped in my tracks sometimes.

Just one little example to wet your appetite: the VC who told me "we don't hire female CEOs because when we have to fire them they always sue for sexual harassment". It's true CEO turnover is high in small companies and as a CEO you have to be ready to be fired if you don't perform, but for a VC to not want to hire a female because he thinks he'd be sued if he fired her - yikes!

My response to that comment....."That's not my style. If I was the type to sue for sexual harassment I'd have done it a long time ago given what I've experienced".

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