Friday, May 23, 2008

Memo to Mackey: Watch Out for the Joys of Blogging

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Markets, is back to blogging after months of staying away from the keyboard after it was revealed that he blogged under a pseudonym on everything from the way he looks to the value of Whole Foods stock and the quality of the company’s competitors.

In his first new entry, which includes an apology for putting a “negative spotlight” on his company, Mackey also states, “I’ve learned many things from these events. The primary lesson I’ve learned is that because of Whole Foods Market’s success, I have become a public figure. My personal and work lives are now closely connected—and impact one another. Anything I say or do is now at risk of showing up on the front page of a national daily newspaper and therefore, I need to be much more conscious about the implications of everything that I say or do in all situations …”

Perhaps I am being too harsh on him, but where had Mackey been the last few years? Did he not see the coverage of Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco? Or Ken Lay of Enron? Or that of Robert Nardelli when he was at The Home Depot? Even the straight-laced Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are subjects of personality profiles. Did it have to take Mackey’s public embarrassment to wake him up to the fact that we live in a celebrity society, and that the heads of major companies, particularly public companies, and even more so companies that are frequented by the rich and famous and those who aspire to be, are targets for paparazzi and would-be Pulitzer Prize reporters?

Business journalism no longer is confined to a few select media outlets. It has gone mainstream, partly because of the cult of personality that has engulfed journalism. Fox is launching a new business cable channel. Conde Nast launched Portfolio last year.

New concepts and ideas, case studies and thematic strategic stories abound in all media, as they do at Chain Store Age. But the stories that gain the most attention are those tied into people. Executive profiles fascinate readers. We do our fair share at Chain Store Age, though we admittedly are careful not to focus on peccadilloes or other potentially embarrassing traits or frailties. Not so the consumer business media. They are after headlines—big, bold, banner headlines. The juicier, the more salacious the incident, the better they like it. So if I were John Mackey, I’d keep my guard up. It’s okay to blog again. Just be careful because the media is watching and waiting for you to slip once again.

—Murray Forseter

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