April 2nd, 2012


Fresh fruit for ...

This was another dollar store find. It's not necessarily the sort of thing that I'd go looking for, but it seemed interesting enough, and fit into the sort of book that I could feature over on The Job Stalker. Frankly, Lynda Resnick's Rubies in the Orchard: How to Uncover the Hidden Gems in Your Business isn't really about what's suggested by the sub-title (or by the cover splash saying it contains “Secrets to Marketing Just About Anything”), but is more like a “business autobiography”, walking the reader through her career. Now, her career has been rather remarkable, but this is more her life story than a “marketing treatise”, save for a couple of dozen adage-like statements set out in boxes through the book.

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 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.
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.

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:
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.
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”:
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.
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.

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.

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I may already be a wiener ...

Well ... lookie at what I have coming my way!

As those following along here know, my much-beloved Acer Aspire One ZG5 netbook died a couple of weeks back in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a book review over at the 24-hour Starbucks at North & Wells. I had often opined that the ZG5 was the best piece of technology I'd ever gotten, and it was pretty much the only thing I was able to write book reviews on (too many distractions at my desk ... a review that should take 1-2 hours might drag out to 4-5 hours!). Since it died, I've built up a back-log of 7 books awaiting review, not a pretty sight.

Of course, things had been not all roses with my old blue ZG5 ... at first there was the unfortunate "dropping" incident soon after getting the (bigger, much heavier) 9-cell battery pack. That created a situation where the system would boot up, load in windows, and be populating the desktop when POOF! it would be off. Oddly, I found that if I quickly opened up a text file on the desktop, the system would attempt to close that and finish loading everything else in and then work just fine. This work-around lasted for the better part of a year.

Then, last fall, when I was out in Salem, it had developed a strange random BSOD habit ... and became unusable for the duration of my trip. However, after getting back home, I found that going through a couple of safe-mode start-ups and a defrag or two got it back to the text-file state.

However, the most recent situation had it not being able to find the Hard Drive (although there were no messages along those lines), it would start to boot, go to the "closed unexpectedly" screen with the various boot options, but would do NOTHING no matter what was selected. I figured "third time's the charm" (in this case, the "hex"?) and started to look for a replacement.

There have been dozens of ZG5s on eBay over the past few weeks, and I've bid on a few, but they've always gone for more than I was interested in paying for them. In the course of looking at (and following) these auctions, I began to notice that there was a certain variability in the specs, especially in the HD, which ranged from an paltry 8gb solid state drive to an 80gb hard drive, to a 160gb hard drive ... and memory from a half to a full gig ... needless to say, I wanted the biggest on both of those. I'd been following units in my price range (I really wanted to spend under $100) for weeks, and checking every now and again to see if things had "slipped in" ... this was one of those, which hadn't been listed two days ago but was there today, so it might well have been "under the radar" of a lot of folks (which I anticipate it was, being it only had 4 bids on it when I got to it, as opposed to a dozen or more on units that had been listed for a long time). That's a pic from the eBay listing ...

Since I'd been out-bid several times previously, and had only seen one ZG5 end up going for under $100, I decided that I'd set a higher limit for myself (with shipping) and wait for the last moment to bid. I put in my bid with about 00:15 left on the clock, and nobody even countered, and I ended up getting it for a small fraction more than the hundred bucks I'd been hoping to pay. I later found that the unit had been listed as a "buy it now" with a price nearly fifty bucks more than I ended up paying for it ... so I'm anticipating that the seller isn't going to be a particularly happy camper. I just hope he lives up to his description of the unit ("mint condition") and doesn't do anything passive-aggressive in the shipping department!

Anyway, I, obviously, don't need to be spending this money right now, but not having a laptop/netbook was "seriously cramping my style" (and work habits), so I'm thrilled to have been able to replace the busted unit with a purportedly "mint" unit. I may still force myself to crank out a couple of book reviews from my desk (like the post from the wee small hours of this morning), but I'm looking forward to being able to take the new ZG5 out to a cafe and churn out reviews in full-concentration mode! Go me.

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