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10:02 AM

A War Time Christmas Memory

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A War Time Christmas Story

The Lobster is taking a detour going into the Christmas weekend. Today we stop and help me commemorate the 70th anniversary this Sunday of the death of my uncle in World War II. 

Over 400,000 Americans were killed during World War II. Each one of them is a story to tell. This is my uncle's story.

Sgt. Edward H. Bucceri was a member of the 351st Bomb Group stationed at RAF Polebrook, England in World War II.  The base was 80 miles north of London. Ed died long before I was born. We know little about the incident that took his life other than it was his eighth combat mission and it occured three days before Christmas.

What information we have is preserved in The Chronicle of the 351st Bomb Group, by Peter Harris and Ken Harbour, and is the basis of this post.

Sgt. Bucceri's plane, serial number 42-39778 , and known as "Lucky Ball," was part of the 511th Squadron on a 34-plane bombing run that took off on December 22, 1943 from its base in Polebrook, England on a daylight mission to bomb a steel mill in Osnabruck, Germany. In command of Lucky Ball was the pilot, Lt. Lewis Maginn of Rochester, New York. 

It was to be the plane's fifth and final mission.

The Final Mission

According to Lt. Maginn's recollection of the event, Lucky Ball was anything but lucky on that mission. It had just been overhauled, with two engines ripped out and replaced by rebuilt ones. Lt. Maginn recalls being uneasy with the fact that the plane was pressed into service without the rebuilt engines having logged some more running time following the overhaul.

In addition to having to make the run with untested engines, two of the regular crew could not go on the mission and were replaced in the ball turret and tail gun positions.

Early into the flight, the pilot realized something was wrong. Bomb Groups assigned to the position behind them were rapidly gaining on Lucky Ball. Lt. Maginn put the hammer down to "near full power" and still found himself falling behind his formation.

And then the oil pressure in the number four engine began to drop.

The pilot killed the four engine and, being close to the target, tried to make the run with three motors. Then the oil pressure on number three began dropping.

With two engines out on one side, and an impossible task to keep up, Lt. Maginn made the decision to break formation and turn back to base. The crew jettisoned its bomb load, ammo and equipment in hopes of lightening the load on the two remaining engines.

The End

The crew then mistook an American plane for an enemy fighter and dived into a cloud bank. But the maneuver cost the crew "precious altitude," according to Lt. Maginn. Then the oil pressure in number two began to drop. 

The crew began to take flak from German fighters, worsening their altitude situation. The pilot was forced to shut down number two, leaving Lucky Ball one engine.

The crew dumped all remaining equipment, guns and ammunition and began a desperate run over the North Sea to the English coast. Sgt. Palmer, the radio man, sent out the SOS. 

But there was no luck for Lucky Ball that night as it struggled westward into a gale headwind.

With the English coastline in plain view, the crew came to the realization they would never reach it. They prepared to ditch their craft into the chop of the North Sea. 

Cruising low above the waves, the pilot cut the last engine and tried to glide to a straight landing. The bomber hit the water at 85 miles per hour, breaking in half.

Lt. Maginn describes the intense cold of the North Sea in late December as "instantly numbing." The crash landing had jammed the cables on the life rafts, forcing the crew to "take to the water," their flotation devices their only hope for survival. 

Huddled together in the freezing water they watched Lucky Ball sink below the waves. The first big wave to break over them scattered them about the sea, each man to his own.

Sgt. Palmer assured Maginn that the rescue squadrons had a fix on their position. But it would be 45 more agonizing minutes before the first boat appeared. 

During that 45 minutes as the men drifted apart, Lt. Maginn later said, "the wind and bitter cold water took its toll rapidly." Five of the ten-man crew were rescued. 

Perishing that night were the navigator, Lt. James McMorrow of Akron, Ohio, Sgts. Albert Meyer of Roswell, New Mexico, Docile Nadeau of Fort Keat Mills, Maine, and Clarence Rowlinson of Des Moines, Iowa. Sgt. Meyer was the only one whose body was recovered.

Sgts. Nadeau and Rowlinson were the replacement ball turret and tail gunners fatefully assigned to the flight that night.

The fifth crew member killed was my uncle, Sgt. Edward H. Bucceri of Jersey City, New Jersey.

No memorial marks the spot where these men went to their final rest. There was no military funeral at a national cemetery, no 21-gun salute, no honor guard. No one made a movie about the Lucky Ball's last run, and no Grammy-winning folk singer penned a mournful song . The crew that perished that night were just five of the more than 400,000 Americans killed in action in that war. Today I remember one of them.

Rest in Peace,  Ed. Merry Christmas. And thank you.
The former site of RAF Polebrook in
Northampton Country, England as it looks today

Les Fleurs de la Mémoire

A post-script: Les Fleurs de la Mémoire (The Flowers of Remembrance) Society is a French service organization. Its members “adopt” the graves of fallen American service members who are buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy. 

The father of our French nephew has adopted two such graves. Each spring the Les Fleurs de la Mémoire members decorate the American graves with fresh flowers and loving care, offering thoughtful prayers for those Americans who gave the last full measure of devotion, as Lincoln said, to a cause of liberty shared by both peoples.

The media do a good job of ginning up political conflicts between France and the U.S.  Sometimes they go so far as to suggest that the French are ungrateful for the sacrifices made by Americans in France during the World Wars. But I can tell you that nothing can be further from the truth. Les Fleurs de la Mémoire shows the strong bond between the people of the two countries. 

As a relative of someone killed in the European theater and someone who preserves that bond, I say merci.
11:53 AM
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How Do I Know If This Is Going to Work?

 One of the most frequent questions we get from clients is how will they know if the money they spent on their ad buy or marketing plan was money well spent.

In other words, whether their campaign will goose revenues or whether it will end up like money down a black hole.

Since we’re in the full throes of the holiday shopping season it might be a good time to take a look at this question from a retailer perspective. For major retailers November and December sales can make or break them in a given year. For them advertising is a matter of life or death.

Kantar Media Ad Intelligence just released data on the Thanksgiving shopping weekend—including the all-important Black Friday.

Big box stores spend millions on Black Friday advertising.

Kantar and its research partner, location analytics specialist Placed, tracked the ad efficiency of major “category killing” retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes and Macy’s. This allowed them to evaluate the results of their November advertising leading up to Black Friday. The goal was to determine how efficient traditional “offline” advertising is in driving customers into bricks-and-mortar stores.

For the analysis, Kantar added up retailers' broadcast and cable TV bills for the period starting on the first Sunday of November and ending on the day before Thanksgiving.

Placed then used its opt-in smartphone software to track shoppers’ locations and the retail stores they visited from Thanksgiving Day through the following Sunday.

The results?

Wal-Mart, the New York Yankees of holiday advertising, outspent its competitors by a factor of 2X going into Black Friday. In return, it dominated its competitors in terms of store traffic.

If you took all of the people who visited any of the 50 leading retailers that weekend, more than a third of them visited a Wal-Mart. That was more traffic than any other retailer generated through its advertising.

Because of its turnstile domination relative to its ad spend Wal-Mart’s cost of customer acquisition was lower than that of competing stores in its market segment.

But it’s worth noting that prior to Thanksgiving weekend Wal-Mart still had a 30 percent share of store visitors. So for all of its ad-spend Wal-Mart’s lift, in terms of customers in the store, was four percent although the base of shoppers Black Friday weekend was much larger.

So the answer to the question about how to tell if your money is being well spent is to make sure your agency has an objective way to measure what it costs to acquire each customer. That’s the real metric of advertising efficiency.

 Of course, in a retail world getting customers through the door isn’t the same as getting them to buy. But it is the red zone where the marketing department and its ad agency hand off the ball to sales to drive it home.

If you’d like more information on this research click over to Kantar or the Centerfor Media Research.

Happy ad buying!
12:06 PM

So Many Goals; So Little Time

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The Annual Planning Meeting

The Lobster Shift enters the month of December today. And for organizational managers that means one thing: It’s the time to plan for next year.

I have planning sessions scheduled for two clients over the next two weeks. That amounts to approximately four days out of the next ten when I’ll be assaulted by every corporate buzz phrase in the business. Mission statements. Monetize. Roadmaps. By Wednesday the only roadmap I’ll be interested in is the one that can get me home quickly.

Don’t get the idea I’m anti-planning. Just the opposite. Chaddsford Planning Associates is all about planning. It’s just that so many organizations do it so poorly. Their business plans are either too vague to be of any real use or too inflexible to react to changes in their marketplace.

As the boxer Mike Tyson was famous for saying, everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.

So if you’re headed to the corporate planning retreat, the war room or the big conference room at the end of the hall, here are some tips from us to help you develop a “flexible focus” in your business planning.

Dial Back on Those Mission Statements

Probably the biggest piece of advice I can give is to avoid endless hours revising your mission statement. If you scroll down you’ll see our very first Lobster Shift post where we explain our contrarian approach to things. And we’re very contrarian on mission statements. 

We think organizations spend far too much time hammering out long, run-on sentences that are supposed to concisely describe their mission.

The problem—beside the grammar—is that once you get something that everyone can support it doesn’t really say anything. You waste precious planning time coming up with something that is 1) overly inclusive; 2) inoffensive; and 3) nothing anyone would really like if they had the honesty to admit it.

If you’re a company your mission is is pretty simple: to make money. The planning meeting should provide a strategy for doing that. Period. If you’re a non-profit or a government agency your mission is to deliver great service to whomever you serve. It’s not that hard, and you don’t need an MBA to figure it out.

I once had a CFO explain it to me. “We’re a small company,” he said. “We make a little money, we spend a little money. Hopefully we make more than we spend.” When we planned our session focused on that last sentence. And we always made money for our shareholders.

Avoid the Orators

Invariably there is one person in the planning meeting who loves the sound of his own voice. His mission at the meeting is to make you think that he's the smartest person invited to the meeting. My second piece of advice is to not invite him in the first place.

Folks like him usually have no operational or financial experience. All of their contributions are theoretical, with no thought as to how you would ever implement or pay for them. It is important to ensure that these actors don't play the lead and relegate everyone else to the chorus.

People like this will suck the oxygen right out of the room if you let them. Keep the discussion on a practical level and away from the bloviators.

Know Thyself

There is always a temptation in planning to bite off more than you can chew. By that I mean a temptation to “over goal.” Goals and objectives are mandatory planning outcomes. But your goals for the following year have to align with your resources. Don't set more goals than you have the resources to accomplish.

If you’re a non-profit running a string of health clinics don’t plan to open more clinics if you have operational problems in your existing clinics. A more realistic goal for the upcoming year is to set a timetable for resolving those operational issues, rather than replicating them in new facilities.

As Clint Eastwood’s rogue detective Harry Callahan observed in the movie Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

If Your Mother Says She Loves You…

There is an old Chicago newspaperman's saying that goes something like this: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. The point is to make sure you can verify everything in your story. It’s the same in planning.

One of the biggest problems in organizational planning is setting goals without a way to verify that the company or organization has reached those goals.

The way to avoid this problem is to make sure your objectives can be objectively verified. That means that the organization or whoever owns a particular objective, must exhibit some behavior that lets everyone know the objective has been accomplished.

Take our simple example at the beginning of this post: “Hopefully we make more than we spend.” A behavior objective for the company might have been to make more money than we spend.” Admittedly, this is an oversimplification. But at its most elementary level if we finish the fiscal year in the black, that's a behavior that let's us know we’ve accomplished our goal.

Always express the objective in the infinitive form of the verb: to save, to open, to develop, etc.

That’s about it. Keep your mission simple. Focus on the practical. Don't over goal. Verify. There are a lot of rules for successful planning. These are just four that have worked for us.

And know your limitations...

3:00 PM

Remembering JFK

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Today, November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy. Fifty years is a long time. This past week the airwaves have been flooded with remembrances of Pres. Kennedy and those tragic events in Dallas so many years ago.

CNN aired a nice piece this week, featuring the black-and-white coverage of 1963. In one 50-year old clip a newsman (they were mostly all men back then) looked into the camera and boldly predicted that years from now (1963) people would still remember where they were when they heard the shocking news of the assassination.

How prescient. I’ve seen several clips of now middle-age baby boomers talking about where they were when they heard of the President’s death. So here’s my story:

It was a day not unlike today is on the East Coast. Cloudy, but warm for late November. It was Friday, just as today is. I was sitting in my last class of the day at St. Paul School, the parochial school in the little town in which I grew up. The time on the clock was about 1:40 Eastern in the afternoon. The classroom door swung open and our principal swept in. The sisters of this particular religious order back then wore long flowing black habits that seemed to fly on the breeze when the good sisters walked with any great purpose.

The President has been shot in Dallas, she announced. Along with the governor of Texas. Then she began to lead the class in prayers. The President being Catholic, the staff and students had more than just a passing interest in the story. The teacher continued the prayers as Sister left to tell the next class.

We were dismissed shortly after 2:00. This was a different era. The town was small enough that most of us walked home from school. As I neared my house a schoolmate, Mike Shea—still remember his name—came running breathlessly up from behind.

“He’s dead,” he announced. “Kennedy’s dead.”

The first thing I did after entering the house was to flick on the television. And it stayed on for four straight days. Both of my parents worked so as they arrived they home they joined me in the living room. I remember being mesmerized by the coverage.

Even prior to the assassination I had been a little news junky. Probably why I ended up in a newsroom. I was aware that only three weeks before the president of the Republic of South Vietnam, Ngô Đình Diệm, had been assassinated, in a coup allegedly approved or tacitly agreed to by the American government.

That was of great interest to me since my older brother was in the second year of his four-year Marine Corps hitch, certainly ticketed to end up in Vietnam at some point.  I remember thinking, first Diem, then the President and the governor of Texas. Is this what a revolution is like?

We watched the coverage all day Saturday. And then Sunday.

I remember waking up Sunday morning and turning on the television. My father was with me. My mother told me to get ready to go to Sunday Mass. Out of the living room I heard my father shouting. I came running to see what happened. A gunman had just assassinated the alleged assassin live on national TV. And I had missed it.

Monday was like a grief-filled national holiday. Stores, schools and businesses were closed. We watched the funeral on television. I remember Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston presiding over the funeral Mass. I actually remember wondering for some reason what non-Catholics who were watching were thinking, listening to Cardinal Cushing intoning the Creed, the Eucharistic Prayer and the Preface in Latin. I remember the slow funeral procession.

Six days later we celebrated Thanksgiving. My parents asked me to say the blessing. I included a prayer for President Kennedy. I remember my parents thinking I was cute.

Mostly what I think of when I remember those four days wasn’t the actual events. Sister Alice sweeping into our classroom. The President’s young wife with his blood incongruously splattered over her pink outfit. Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald on national TV.

What I mostly remember was the feeling that that the big, wide world had suddenly intruded on the small world of a little kid. And the realization that there’d be no going back to the way it was.

I was Huck Finn on the raft and the Duke and the Dauphin had just come aboard. And they weren’t leaving any time soon.

A year later my brother was in Vietnam. And the images of that war morphed into the images of anti-war riots. And two more assassinations at home. And more riots. Two presidents in a row driven from office. And two more assassination attempts on the lives of U.S. presidents. And then 9-11, my children’s Kennedy assassination. And for their generation…there would also be no going back.
That’s what I remember today.
12:05 PM

Lemonade from Lemons

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Making Lemonade from Lemons

Forget about the cratered launch of ObamaCare. There is one sign of life still among the rubble. That sign of life is the free market.

There are any number of new companies that have sprung up to take advantage of gaps in the sprawling new law.

Extend Health, Inc. is a start-up that launched one of the first private insurance exchanges. Last year it was sold for nearly a half billion dollars.

How about Castlight Health? Their products put the transparency back into healthcare costs so consumers and employers can make more informed decisions about their costs and healthcare utilization.

And there’s Benefitter, Inc., whose software and support products help employers and their workers navigate the murky waters of Affordable Care Act regulations.

All of these entrepreneurs share one thing: They saw a big change coming and decided to manageit, rather than being managed by it.

At Chaddsford Planning Associates we’ve been part of a similar phenomenon. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it.” 

The cry against welfare reform, passed by Congress in 1996, was not unlike what we’ve seen with the Affordable Care Act. Each was a radical re-working of the social safety net.

I launched Chaddsford Planning the following year to take advantage of the fact that states, recipients and the private sector were facing a compliance issue with very little in the way of support.

Our first client was a trade association representing the food retailing industry. That was followed by another lobbying group representing the financial industry. Then came a major transaction processor. And a group of states. Then more states. And an equipment manufacturer. Then a company from France wanting to take advantage of its experience supplying product to that country’s social safety net. And then an Asian company wanting to sell to Hispanic Americans. And on and on.

The business environment changes all the time. If you’re a business you either take advantage of that, or be taken advantage of. That transaction processor? We helped develop two products that threw off $25 million in the first six months. The equipment manufacturer? A contract for 10,000 units within the first four months.

During the past 16 years we’ve helped more than 30 states plan for the adoption of electronic payment technology to replace their outdated paper benefit payment systems. All part of modernizing how we delivery social benefits. 

The next time change hits your business, tackle the problems it creates,  but don't stop there. Look for the opportunities that change can create for you.

As for the Affordable Care Act, who would have thought that a law, which at its core essentially converts one-sixth of the U.S. economy into a public utility, could rile up the animal instincts of the free market?

Welcome to America!
9:20 AM

Stubborn Little Things Called Facts

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Predicting Customer Behavior

I was watching a couple of talking heads hotly debate ObamaCare the other night on a news program. What struck me more than anything else was that neither speaker had much of a clue about healthcare, much of a command of the issues, or, frankly, much concern for the facts.

I know that facts can be stubborn things. And it can become pretty obvious that some people don’t like them because they interfere with one narrative or another.

Years ago, in my last stint in a newsroom, I was covering a pretty contentious issue. Seems the local power company wanted to divert water from a nearby river to its nuclear power plant about 20 miles away in order to provide water for the plant’s cooling towers. The plan would have allowed the utility to produce and sell more nuclear energy from the plant.

Supporters and opponents of the plan lined up along the usual fault line: on one side, college kids, liberals, greens, and suburbanites opposing the plan; on the other, businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, and lower-income people hoping for lower heating bills.

The plan’s opponents were able to get a referendum on the issue on the November ballot. The station’s GM asked me to conduct a survey of voters so we could predict whether the referendum would succeed or not. Most people thought the vote would support the water diversion plan.

With little more sophistication than pencil and some copy paper I conducted a survey from the newsroom. My numbers showed that the voters would kill the power plan by a pretty comfortable margin. We ran with the story.

Because of the predicted margin of victory for the plan’s opponents, we had other news organizations contact us. The survey had becomethe story.

Some reporters ran with the story: Local survey shows residents oppose power plan. But others walked away from it because it contradicted what had been their story line—that the opposition to the power plan was being fed largely by out-of-town celebrity protesters. And that was good enough for them.

By 8:00 on election night it wasn’t good enough. Voters approved the referendum that killed the water diversion project. Unstated anywhere outside the newsroom was the fact that the large percentage of voters turning thumbs down on the power plan closely matched the percentage of surveyed voters who said they would approve killing the project.

We went from a small, backwater broadcasting outlet to one that had outfoxed and outworked our city slicker cousins. It was a lesson I never forgot.

Today in business we use surveying to uncover the facts on which we base our conclusions for clients. For example, we survey retailers on their level of electronic payments sophistication in order to predict their ability and willingness to adopt new forms of electronic payments like electronic benefits for WIC, a government-sponsored nutrition program for young families.

We’ve also survey state agencies to determine what effect, if any, pending regulation will have on our customer’s clients. Those regulations could have severe adverse consequences for companies that supply those agencies with technology.

In all these cases, advance surveying yields tactical, actionable data that can be filtered, modeled, and hypothesized in order to predict behavior.

The next time you’re developing a business model regardless of what it is, consider surveying. Without it you’re an attack column without scouts.

Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of your target customers!