This starts off strangely … sure, the author is well-connected, but what does it say about you when your book starts with thirty-six blurbs from famous people (from Michael Eisner to Gloria Steinem to Queen Noor of Jordan) over 7 pages before even getting to the title page? That is either a particularly crude expression of braggadocio, or an extreme manifestation of self-doubt needing to be salved by Big Names saying nice things about you.
The litany of companies that Ms. Resnick has led is quite impressive, including Teleflora, the Franklin Mint, Fiji Water, and POM pomegranate products (the book largely hangs on that business, with the fruit being the “rubies” in the title). In each of these (and her experiences in the advertising business before) she faced different challenges, and came away with assorted life/business lessons. I assume the intended take-away would be these lessons, although they pretty much need to be extracted by the reader from the author's narrative about her life.
There are also some “colorful” aspects to the history presented here … including a brush with political notoriety when, while doing other work for the Vietnam anti-war movement, she allowed Daniel Ellsberg to use her agency's copier at odd hours … which ended up his copying the classified documents that later appeared as The Pentagon Papers. One would think “once bitten twice shy”, but she was later blindsided, in her role with POM, by the same types when PETA fixated on their business' use of animal testing (necessary for making the sorts of health claims for their pomegranate products they were).
The tone here is of somebody who is shocked that she, who has all these hard-left friends (many of whom show up in the front blurbs), would be subjected to this sort of treatment. It evidently left a mark, as they subsequently bent over backwards on almost every front to make Fiji water appear “earth friendly”, from doing rainforest conservation in the Fiji islands, to various approaches to make it look like they were creating a smaller “carbon footprint” than their competitors.The PETA campaign was loaded with falsehoods, whether intentionally or simply as a result on the group's lackadaisical research. But what PETA's attack inspired was far worse. Animal rights extremists, some with their faces covered to avoid identification, began protesting outside out house. It was unnerving to drive each day past a group of screaming protesters, who called us murderers and worse.
There are, however, several bits of business wisdom in here beyond the “personal story” of Ms. Resnick. The tale of each of the companies she's run is interesting in its own right, and general statements can be pulled out of the telling. Here's one that stood out for me:
Again, these sorts of “teaching moments”don't stand outside the main flow of the memoir … it would have been (in my opinion) more useful had she created a “take-aways” section at the end of each chapter (which generally go company-by-company through her career) for the “business lessons” learned. As noted previously, there are also a number of one-liners sprinkled through the book, which do present an encapsulated “point”:Successful advertising makes us register the moment and take notice. If you can generate a reaction in consumers, you've already achieved a major goal; you've become part of their life in that small but very critical moment. If you use that moment to land a solid message somewhere on the brain – a message grounded in your brand identity and value – then you've truly achieved a great deal.
That has a certain resonance for me, as I was involved in a friend's promotional project for Fiji water (I was a judge in a city-wide “scavenger hunt”), and I've been aware of many other events where they've been quite prominent in providing cases and cases of the water. Obviously, the things highlighted in the book are things that Resnick holds as true and applies in her business.You get a lot further in life by showing what you don't know and asking for help than you do pretending you know it all.
What good are advertising, marketing, and design if the product is junk?
If you want to make money on a product, you have to learn how to give it away.
Rubies in the Orchard is also strange in terms of illustration … it has a few, but they are oddly selected … one page is a mass of clippings from the author's involvement with Daniel Ellsberg, another is a “cheesecake” shot of her from a poster promoting her agency in 1970, thee are a couple of charts and diagrams, but, again these are few and far between, and seem to have been almost randomly added (from what one must assume to be a vast amount of possible illustrative material that they'd have on hand). In addition, there's a section of color photos which are pretty much all reproductions of ads, billboards, etc. from her various companies. One of these is to-the-point (illustrating the Jackie Kennedy necklace that they'd bought for $211,000.00 at auction, and ended up selling 26 million dollars worth of copies through the Franklin Mint), but even that could just as well have been handled by a B&W illustration in the book, and certainly nobody else would care if the pictures of the outdoor advertising was in glossy color!
This is an interesting book for what it is, but a bit of a disappointment in terms of what it seems to think it is. I guess the author hopes that the reader will be so wowed by the opinions of her blurb-writing friends that they'll not notice the weaknesses here. I suspect that Resnick had an idea about creating a popular business book, but ended up writing a memoir instead. There's certainly an attempt to keep the story line tied in with the pomegranate business, but that becomes tenuous when dealing with pretty much every other company in here. Again, it's generally an agreeable read, and it's a fascinating look at one person's life who has been extremely successful, but the focus shifts around and ends up as being not-quite-this and not-quite-that. A paperback edition appears to still be in print on this, but there are “like new” copies in the new/used channel going for as little as 1¢ (plus $3.99 shipping, of course). If this sounds like something you'd be interested in checking out (and I was looking for extra copies to give to a couple of friends), you might first want to check the Dollar Tree stores, as I got this there only a few weeks ago.