assignment desk
October 28, 2006, 7:58 pm
Filed under: candidates/campaigns/elections, handlers

God help me for quoting Peggy Noonan, but she’s right in an aside in “Is there Progress Through Loss” published in Opinion Journal today, 10/28:

(An unreported story this year is the lack of imagination, seriousness and respect in the work of political consultants on both sides. They have got to catch up with American brightness.)

The ultimate problem lies with the consultant business model: spread-too-thin firms who look for the shortest-distance-between-two-points solutions– solutions that lack depth and, if you will, soul.

Couple the poor executions with pounding them into people by over-running them (2000 points is a common buy level nowadays– 100 points meaning that the equivalent of 100% of the people in the market will view the ad once. So, the average person in a market will see the ad 20 times– kind of hard to take, if the ad has all the imagination of “Head on: apply directly to the forehead!”) and you have a real overdose problem.


love & haterade homage
October 28, 2006, 7:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

LOVING: crisp fall pre-election fall days, with enough sleep/time to enjoy them.
HATING: people who ask for professional advice by email and then never even acknowledge receiving the reply. What’s up with that?

(guide to life tip: thank people even if you don’t agree with them)

Guide to life: We are all prisoners of our experience
October 7, 2006, 2:28 am
Filed under: guide to life, Uncategorized

I am liking Peggy Noonan these days. And not just because she’s confirming one of my central principles of decisionmaking: we are all prisoners of our own experience. She illustrates this twice in one column (in today’s WSJ), two sides of the Bushies’ coin: they had no combat experience, but did have experience listening to State Dept. drones:

“…I have come to give greater credence to the importance, in the age of terror, among our leaders, of having served in the military. For you need personal experience that you absorbed deep down in your bones, or a kind of imaginative wisdom that tells you even though you were never there what war is like, what invasion is…”


“…Here I add something I have been thinking about the past year. It is about the young guys at the table in the Reagan era. The young, midlevel guys who came to Washington in the Reagan years were always at the table in the meeting with the career State Department guy. And the man from State, timid in all ways except bureaucratic warfare, was always going “Ooh, aah, you can’t do that, the Soviet Union is so big, Galbraith told us how strong their economy is, the Sandinistas have the passionate support of the people, there’s nothing we can do, stop with your evil empire and your Grenada invasion, it’s needlessly aggressive!” Those guys from State — they were almost always wrong. Their caution was timorousness, their prudence a way to evade responsibility. The young Reagan guys at the table grew up to be the heavyweights of the Bush era. They walked into the White House knowing who’d been wrong at the table 20 years before. And so when State and others came in and said, “The intelligence doesn’t support it, we see no WMDs,” the Bush men knew who not to believe.

History is human.”

Hades temperature: 32˚
October 2, 2006, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Chairman of GM, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal:

“I’d say the best thing the (U.S.) government can do is to raise the gas tax by 10 or 15 cents a year until it reaches European levels,” Mr. Lutz said, during an impromptu interview just before GM Europe’s media event last Thursday.

Something to look forward to…
September 30, 2006, 1:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

From a Rolling Stone interview of David Simon, auteur of The Wire:

What’s The Wire‘s fifth season going to be about?

For the last theme in the show, we want to address the mass media. We’re really going to examine the media culture and not in that stupid way where it’s just a hungry pack of hounds thrusting microphones, if you’ve ever been a reporter, you know it’s so much more subtle and nuanced than that. Sensationalism is not the problem. Attention Deficit Disorder might be. But everybody picks the low end of journalism as if that’s the problem, my fear is that there’s no high end anymore. There’s not a lot of huge intellects running media organizations and those that are, are preoccupied with shit that doesn’t matter.

What would Ann Do? Visualizing your market…
September 15, 2006, 6:53 pm
Filed under: candidates/campaigns/elections, marketing

Ann Taylor’s CEO is interviewed in today’s WSJ about how she differentiates between her flagship chain’s customers and the Ann Taylor Loft chain’s younger, “sportier” customers. It’s a useful read if you’re a candidate trying to differentiate between, say, soccer moms and “security” moms, or between NASCAR dads and cubicle dads.

These subtle differences add up to a market niche where a company can build a multi-million dollar business. But a candidate must do something harder: the candidate needs to be able to diferentiate between regular and “loft” customers at least as well as a clothing chain, and then also be able to unite those and all other constituencies to add up to a majority, and turn them out on election day.

But perhaps what’s most useful about this piece is how the CEO uses the differences between the customer bases to educate her staff— and a candidate has to do more educating of his/her troops than you’d imagine. Getting staff, contributors and surrogates on the same page during a campaign is an important, big challenge.

Here’s the interview.


Asking ‘What Would Ann Do?’
In Turning Around AnnTaylor,
CEO Kay Krill Got to Know
Her Customers, ‘Ann’ and ‘Loft’

September 15, 2006; Page B1

Eighteen months ago, AnnTaylor Stores Corp. faced a challenge that’s become increasingly common for retailers: how to revive a faded original brand without slowing the growth of an upstart division.

After a disastrous holiday season for the Ann Taylor brand in 2004, its turnaround was handed off to Kay Krill. Ms. Krill, who joined the company in 1994 as a vice president of merchandising, had presided over the success of Ann Taylor Loft, which started in 1995 with more-casual, less-expensive designs. She became president of the parent in November 2004, and was promoted to chief executive in October.
[Boss Talk]

The 51-year-old Ms. Krill had a history of predicting the tastes of working women. Before Ann Taylor, she worked in Macy’s management-training program, at women’s-clothing retailer Talbots Inc. and at suit-maker Hartmarx Corp.

A major step in differentiating the Ann Taylor and Loft brands involved carefully constructing, in words and images, the target customer for each division. (Ann Taylor is named not for a real person, but for a particular dress sold in its original store in 1954.) After so much research and debate, Ms. Krill envisions these composites so clearly that she often refers to them as people, “Ann” and “Loft.”

Ms. Krill has demonstrated that an old-line fashion brand can be revived without upsetting a newer counterpart. At AnnTaylor, second-quarter net income this year jumped more than 500%.

Ms. Krill discussed what she learned from her company’s turnaround, how she gauges customer opinion and what she thinks about when she decides what to wear each morning, during an interview at AnnTaylor’s new Times Square headquarters. Excerpts:

WSJ: What have you learned from Ann Taylor and Loft about how to ensure that a retailer’s divisions stay distinct?

Ms. Krill: The most important thing that we did was the branding work. In Ann Taylor, we focused on professional go-to-work and special occasions, because that was our heritage. We created branding books, and used imagery that we felt really was Ann, and started putting words to it. She’s “refined,” she’s “approachable,” she’s “sophisticated.” We showed her what “appropriate” looked like for each occasion. If she’s going to a client meeting, she wears a suit and a soft blouse.

At the same point in time, we decided that Loft really needed to take a more relaxed and casual stance. For Loft, she’s more “lighthearted,” she’s “active,” she’s “spirited.”

It was really important as a senior team that we all agree on the words, and you can imagine how long that took. There was a lot of conversation around who owned “friendly.” We put it with Loft.

WSJ: You talk a lot about the word “appropriate.” How do you define that term?

Ms. Krill: Well, she tells us what’s appropriate. At the end of last summer, we went across the country and visited Ann and Loft girls; we went into their homes, we videoed them, we went to the mall with them, we went in their closets.

Ann mentioned the word “appropriate” all the time. Her house is very appropriate: neutral colors, dark woods, sconces, a foyer. No plastic toys in the living room in Ann’s house. There were in Loft’s house. The Loft girl’s house was painted happy colors and the cooking channel’s on.

One thing that really resonated with me was asking, “How do you get dressed in the morning? What do you think about?” Ann said, “I look at who I’m going to meet with today, and then I decide what’s appropriate to wear.” The Loft girl is in the closet going, “What do I feel like wearing today?”

The differentiation has become so crystal-clear in all of our minds, from the research, from the branding work, from going shopping with her. I don’t have to referee anymore. I used to have to say, “No, guys, that’s more Loft-appropriate,” or, “That belongs in Ann.”

WSJ: How do you balance learning what customers want with leading them to new styles?

Ms. Krill: We have an external client panel for both brands. We’re using [the Ann Taylor panel of 3,000 customers] a lot, because I think one of the keys to Ann Taylor’s turnaround is tapping into our internal and external bases. We put the new marketing campaign online for the Ann Taylor panel to look at — this was the first time we had done this.

We absolutely still believe in the creative process. And we absolutely believe that we can have appropriate fashion in the store — it just might be tempered for what Ann would want. Skinny pants are a big deal this fall, and a lot of people are scared to death of them. We might not have the skinny, skinny pants that are hugging your legs, but we have a slim silhouette which is very appropriate, and she looks current and stylish.

WSJ: Some specialty retailers get their brands distinct, but then, as they try to boost sales, the divisions start converging again. How do you avoid those problems?

Ms. Krill: I oversee all aspects of building the lines, still. I meet with each division at the very beginning to look at the concepts and approve the colors and what the mix is going to be. I step back in when the line review is done. I’m the one who’s racing back and forth, and it’s really good for me, because one’s so fresh in my mind when I see the next one. I’m the one that has to make sure they’re distinct.

I would not want to see a hoodie sweatshirt in Ann Taylor. But a little hoodie top in Loft would be okay.

WSJ: If something in a line is not working, how soon do you know?

Ms. Krill: I would say we know within the first 10 days. If something isn’t selling, we’re taking 40% off right away, because you can’t afford to have anything sitting for long in this environment. We have such a lean inventory now, which is one of our major accomplishments.

WSJ: After starting from such a low point, how did you rebuild morale?

Ms. Krill: Success has a lot to do with it, doesn’t it?

Someone criticized me when we first did the Ann Taylor action plan, because there were 54 things that we needed to fix. We fixed every one of them. All 54 were important to me, because there were process, product, marketing issues — they affected everybody at the company.

Every win that we had, we were celebratory of that win. Even through times during the year when I might have been a little nervous, no one ever knew it. I stayed as upbeat and positive and enthusiastic as I could. If they saw that I was nervous, they would get nervous, and it might spiral out.

WSJ: You’ve solicited input from employees throughout this turnaround. How do you encourage people to say what they really think?

Ms. Krill: By first sitting back and listening, and then adding my two cents, and always appreciating what they have to say. I might not always go with it, but I think I’m very respectful. I’m definitely not an ivory-tower CEO. I am out and about, everywhere in this building.

As a leader, you really have to stay on top of the morale and what’s going on out there. You have to fly at 50,000 feet, but you also have to come down and mow the lawn every now and again.

WSJ: What fashion trends will be important this fall?

Ms. Krill: At Ann Taylor, the black and ivory and red collection. The ladylike suit is very important for Ann, and I think that’s going to be a home run. There’s a lot of interest in pants this season, be it the wide-leg pants to the crop pants to city shorts to slim pants. Platform shoes, stacked-heel boots, a lot of long layering for jewelry. Accessories are very important for both brands for the fall season.

In Loft, it’s more about fun fashion. They actually did some winter shorts, whereas Ann did not. Boots, leggings with long sweaters. They also have a whole new focus on denim. We have a lot of vests coming in. This whole military influence is important for Loft; that would never be in Ann Taylor.

WSJ: How do you get dressed in the morning?

Ms. Krill: I think I’m probably in the middle of Ann and Loft. I run through who I am seeing, but I also want to be me. I’ve gotten more relaxed, and maybe it’s because I’m a year into this. I wore a skirt and a top today instead of a suit.

The other thing that I’ve noticed lately is that I need to be very fashionable because of who I’m meeting with. You know, I’m 51 years old. I don’t want to look it! I want to look like I still know what’s going on, and I still want to be current and stylish — but “appropriate.”

Write to Amy Merrick at

Weirdest metaphor watch
September 14, 2006, 3:13 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

From 9/15’s NYT review of Meredith Viera’s first day on the Today Show:

NBC’s welcome was so giggly and joyous it was almost uncomfortable to watch; the staff of “Today” greeted its new co-anchor with the kind of relief and giddy happiness that enveloped Corazon Aquino after Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were ousted.

Yeah, I know when I think of giddiness, I think of a 20-year-old political event in a different hemisphere. This is the kind of clumsiness that just embarasses the Times. They should stick to what they do well. Pop culture ain’t it.