Bimbo Banter

BIMBO Nominees for December 2009

  • Bimbo
  • December 1, 2009
  • by Spaeth Communications

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There are several very interesting case studies this month about how single incidents caught on video last forever and can cause great damage. We have two great quotes, one from Warren Buffett and the other from Texas State Rep. Helen Giddings. We have traditional BIMBOs from pay czar Ken Feinberg, CNBC reporter Charlie Gasparino and Jon Gosselin, who is becoming a repeat winner. Examples of “Wrong Things to Say” are provided this month by Rep. Alan Grayson, the Royal Bank of Scotland (whose employees want champagne breakfasts after a 50 billion pound bailout), and a comment from Swiss executive Jean-Claude Bivers on his new, risky communication strategy. Plus, we have video lessons from former Miss California, Carrie Prejean and a University of New Mexico ponytail-yanking soccer player. We have an example from St. Louis Post Dispatch reporter/blogger on Internet privacy (good), and an example from the federal advisory panel on mammograms (awful).


“It’s amazing what happens when hard work meets opportunity,” said Texas Rep. Helen Giddings to 1000 women during a keynote speech hosted by the Dallas Regional Women’s Chamber. (Rep. Giddings started as a secretary at Sears and credits wonderful mentors for her meteoric rise to success in the private and public sector. We applaud this energetic woman.)


“Profit is not satanic,” said Barclays’ Chief Executive John Varley. (Mr. Varley is joining a number of bankers who have more money than communications help or savvy. Josef Ackermann, CEO of Deutsche Bank in Germany, weighed in to claim banks have been misunderstood, with “Size is not necessarily evil.” Also, see the quote by Goldman Sachs CEO under the “Wrong Things to Say” category. The Varley exchange was driven by a call from the archbishop of Canterbury who called on bankers to “repent” and to acknowledge their role in the global financial crisis. Mr. Varley attempted to defend the banks’ role and compensation, noting that “talent is highly mobile.” HSBC chairman, Stephen K. Green, managed to show that he understood the level of anger among ordinary people and said that the banking industry, “owes the real world an apology [and] a commitment to learn the lessons.”)

The New York Times, “British Bankers Defend Compensation: Clergy Urges Repentance, but Waits in Vain for a Mea Culpa,” Nov. 7, 2009


“Mickey is never going to be evil or go around killing people,” said Warren Spector, creative director of Junction Point, a game developer charged with creating the first Mickey Mouse video game and updating Mickey’s squeaky clean image. (The article is an interesting discussion of the perils of changing an iconic image, even to try to capture a huge new audience. But the ‘evil/killing’ quote ended up dominating the reportage.)

The New York Times, “After Mickey’s Makeover, Less Mr. Nice Guy,” Nov. 5, 2009

Claiming there was “no vindictiveness in my decisions” and “there’s no revenge,” Obama pay-czar Kenneth Feinberg sliced 50 percent off the pay of top executives from Citigroup, AIG, Bank of America and others that took bailout money. (We’re conflicted on this. We are appalled at the tone deafness of bankers during the global economic crisis, and their insistence to have their huge compensation packages back. However, words like “vindictive” and “revenge” drove the stories, overshadowing the importance of the debate and the question of who should be making the decision. The government? Their track record is worse than Wall Street’s.), “Feinberg ‘Concerned’ Pay Cuts Could Drive Out Talent,” Nov. 12, 2009

“People think because I go on TV and scream a lot I don’t have half a brain in my head,” CNBC reporter Charlie Gasparino said in a Q&A about his new book, “The Sellout: How Three Decades of Wall Street Greed and Government Mismanagement Destroyed the Global Financial System.” (In a wide-ranging and worth reading Q&A, Gasparino has some important insights about how Wall Street has become insular and therefore subject to the risks of groupthink. It’s an important book and insight, but again, the sensational quote drove the reporting and became the headline.)

New York Magazine, “Gasparino: ‘People Think Because I go on TV and Scream a Lot I Don’t Have Half a Brain in My Head,” Nov. 3, 2009

“I’m not a fame seeker,” claims Jon Gosselin while seeking even more attention. (Finding a new place to make headlines at a Jewish Community Center, Gosselin professed surprise at the attention he gets. “Every day I look in the mirror and I wonder [why I’m famous]. I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I’m not a Nobel Peace Prize winner.” No, you’re just willing to misbehave and to talk incessantly in public and on TV. Apparently, Mr. Gosselin is now estranged from 22-year-old girlfriend—one of the public misbehavers – adding another BIMBO, “She is in no way a homewrecker.” And this is an example of how not to apologize. Gosselin burbled, “I want to apologize to her (Kate) for openly having relationships in the public eye,” as if having them privately would have been fine. Plus, the so-called “apology” is sandwiched in between the self-serving whining and protestations that he’s learning “to love himself.” Good. No one else will.), “Jon Gosselin Admits He Failed to Check His ‘Moral Compass’” Nov. 1, 2009

“I don’t see myself as being someone else’s political pawn,” said John Bradley, the hard-line prosecutor tapped by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to take over the commission investigating a high-profile arson incident for which Cameron Todd Willingham was executed. (Controversy raged around the execution because of the methods used to determine whether arson was involved in the fire, and Gov. Perry dismissed the previous commission just as it was about to hear evidence from leading experts. Besides being a classic BIMBO, the quote competed with other comments about the importance of impartiality. Note that it also became the headline.)
The Dallas Morning News, “Chief: I’m not ‘political pawn,’” Nov. 11, 2009


Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, gave a long interview to The New York Times to defend his bank’s role, or lack of role in his view, in the financial mess. He said that as a banker, he is just “doing God’s work.” (Can he be serious? Apparently with all their money, Goldman can’t buy itself a good communication strategy. The interview – a must read – drips with arrogance and sets a new record for being tone deaf. Plus, while holding up the Goldman Sachs Foundation as their public contribution, the Times reporter found that the Foundation has declined 20 percent since 1999, gives away the bare minimum of 5 percent, and in 2008 gave away only $22 million or about one-third of Mr. Blankfein’s salary. However, the foundation did have 200 pages of trades, all of which presumably made money for Goldman as the trader.)

The New York Times, “I’m doing ‘God’s Work.’ Meet Mr. Goldman Sachs,” Nov. 8, 2009

The New York Times, “Goldman Sachs’ Not-Very-Charitable Foundation,” Nov. 12, 2009

“Here I am the only member of Congress who actually worked as an economist, and this lobbyist, this K Street whore, is trying to teach me about economics,” said Rep. Alan Grayson, about Federal Reserve adviser Linda Robertson. (The Congressman is developing a reputation for speaking from the hip. Last month he said that Republicans want Americans who are sick to “die quickly,” and compared the health care system to a “holocaust.” This is also an example of a weak apology. His staff initially tried to claim he was referring to her professional career, and that a “whore” was defined by the dictionary as “a person having compromised principles for personal gain.”  Question: Where were the women’s groups on this? No statement of outrage? Don’t hold your breath.)

The New York Times Caucus Blog: “Fla. Lawmaker’s Latest Words Draw More Fire,” Oct. 27, 2009

The Royal Bank of Scotland, which got bailed out with about 50 billion pounds by the British taxpayers, has applied for a license to be able to provide “champagne breakfasts” and all-day drinking at company headquarters. Plus, the application envisions “anything similar to live music, recorded music or performances of dance to include (but not limited to) karaoke, DJs and cabaret-style performances.” (What can they be thinking? “Champagne breakfasts?” Did they not think this would make news and that the British public, who are not included in the champagne breakfasts, might hear it the wrong way? This, with the European bankers trying to justify their compensation and explain away their role in the economic debacle, really illustrates why the C-suite needs to consider communication a strategic tool.)

The London Telegraph, “RBS Headquarters to Host All-day Drinking Parties,” Nov. 12, 2009


“You only desire what you cannot get. People want exclusivity, so you must keep the customer hungry and frustrated,” advises Jean-Claude Biver, who turned around Swiss watchmaker Hublor and Swatch’s Omega, and is credited by many with reinvigorating the entire Swiss watch business. Biver turned unavailability into a blessing. (We’re not sure we would recommend this strategy for everyone, particularly as Mr. Biver describes it. The risk is that someone will find a way to make the customer happy. We rather like how the Economist headlined the article.)

The Economist, “Salesman of the Irrational,” Nov. 12, 2009


 “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting breast implants as a Christian,” said former Miss California Carrie Prejean. (She was getting her feelings “off her chest,” according to one columnist, as a sex video she made as a teenager surfaced. Besides the “Wrong Thing to Say,” this is another example of how video lives forever. She did offer an important admonition to young women, noting that she had “trusted” her teenage boyfriend who made the video, and that “nothing is private anymore.”)

US Weekly, “Carrie Prejean: Erotic Tape was ‘Biggest Mistake of My Life,’” Nov. 10. 2009

US Weekly, “Carrie Prejean: Not ‘Wrong’ to get Breast Implants as a Christian,” Nov. 16, 2009

University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert was caught on video yanking the ponytail of an opposing player. Lambert told reporters that she didn’t recognize herself, “I think the way the video came out, it made me look like a monster. That’s not the type of player I am. I’m not just out there trying to hurt players.” (She did a good job opening up with the media, and thus the public, and she was credible saying, “This is not me,”  but she shouldn’t have gone on to try to defend the level of physicality, almost violent hitting, that she says has become part of the game.  This is also an example of what to prepare for when things do go wrong. Bloggers published her parent’s home phone number and they were inundated by angry and threatening calls.  The blog postings about the incident are equally horrid and verbally violent.)

The New York Times, “That Soccer Play, in Context,” Nov. 18, 2009


Kurt Greenbaum, of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, found himself the center of a debate when he notified a school that someone had twice posted a vulgar comment on their “Talk of the Day” blog from the school’s IP address. The school tracked down the individual, and then fired them. That led to a spirited debate about whether Greenbaum overreacted, set a precedent, revealed confidential private information or positioned himself as some sort of arbiter. Our take is that he acted appropriately and the ongoing discussion is a very good example of civil discussion about the new channels of communication. (It’s also a reminder to be careful where you post a comment from, and that blogs are not as anonymous as one might think. Tip of the hat to Mr. Greenbaum.)

St. Louis Post Dispatch, “Follow up: The case of the vulgar comment and the school,” Nov. 18, 2009


A federal advisory panel dropped a bombshell about the frequency and efficacy of mammograms. They said that women shouldn’t begin regular screenings until 50, not 40, and from 50 to 70, they recommended every-other year screening rather than annual screenings. They also said women should not be encouraged to do regular breast examinations themselves. This is a case study on how not to announce a major decision, report or initiative. The announcement caused widespread confusion, which is ongoing, and aroused suspicion that this is a first step in rationing care according to a bureaucratic government standard. One quoted rationale was that the country did 2000 screenings to prevent one cancer death. That ignored the fact that we have many public policies were many participate for the good of few. Millions of children wear seat belts and are vaccinated, so that a few can be spared death. In addition, the announcement triggered a wave of articles and reports quoting doctors and physicians who disagreed or were confused all while the advisory panel had almost no one available to actually discuss the findings. Morale: Think through the impact, the channels and the needed spokespersons before hurling a recommendation of this magnitude.

The New York Times, “Responding to New Mammogram Guidelines,” Nov. 18, 2009


Another great quote came from legendary investor Warren Buffett while speaking at Columbia Business School. When a student asked, “What’s one thing that your MBA didn’t prepare you for when you got out into the real world,” part of Buffett’s answer was, “You could improve— many of you, and I certainly could have when I got out, just in terms of learning communication skills. You know, it’s not something that is taught. I actually went to a Dale Carnegie course later on in terms of public speaking. But if you improve your value 50 percent by having better communication skills, that’s another $500,000  in terms of capital value.” (Naturally, we couldn’t agree more.)

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