1. Duet to Me One More Time
Once again we at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab feel compelled to let you in on one of corporate America's numerous ugly secrets: Press releases lie.
OK, they don't necessarily lie about what a company has achieved, or how much revenue it has garnered in the latest quarter. Heavens! Companies would never lie about that!
No, what they lie about,
as we have pointed out previously, is who says what. Any time an executive is quoted as saying something in a press release, you can assume he or she didn't actually say it. Instead, what likely happened is that someone in the company's public relations department wrote up a quote to be attributed to the executive, then got the boss to sign off on it. Maybe.
The latest evidence of this shocking trend is Tuesday's earnings release from Wall Street bastion
( MER), a document containing one of those boilerplate executive-suite comments on the numbers.
(With apologies to the memory of Woody Guthrie.)
And who makes this bland statement? Merrill's chairman? Merrill's president? Yes and yes. We read from the release: "'These results demonstrate our continued progress in improving profitability while enhancing our ability to serve clients, and maintaining profitable market share,' said Merrill Lynch chairman and chief executive officer David H. Komansky and Stan O'Neal, president and chief operating officer."
Well, that paints a pretty silly picture. Did they say this in unison? Did they alternate words? Did one go first, than the other one do the rerun? We called a Merrill spokesman to find out.
The Merrill flack confessed that "said" in this particular case doesn't exactly mean "said." Says the spokesman -- who, we promise, really did say this -- the printed statement with dual attribution is "their sentiment that they're reflecting. ... It's just to indicate they both agree with that statement."
Cool. As we famously said at the research lab in early 2000, "That much-vaunted
is just an accounting house of cards just waiting to collapse."
OK, we never actually "said" that. But we agree with the statement.
2. The Pen Is Mighty at Business Week
Attention, men! Remember how we told you that Enzyte, a miracle substance advertised on
promised to increase the size of your -- uh, how do we say this discreetly -- package, if you know what we mean?
Well, it's back.
Let's refresh your memory. Advertisements for Enzyte, an herbal supplement with Viagra-like advertising, popped up on
earlier this year -- that is, until the FDT Research Lab started asking pesky questions of the financial news channel.
Making You Feel Guilty ...
See, on its Web site, Enzyte's maker asserts that men who use Enzyte have increased the size of their -- we just have to come out and say this -- penis, on average, 24%. When we brought this scientifically dubious claim to
attention, they made the laudable decision to put science ahead of profits and drop the advertisements.
And that was the end of Enzyte in the financial press. We thought.
Until, that is, a research lab correspondent pointed out to us that the July 15 issue of
, published by
( MHP), contains a huge ad for Enzyte, "the effective, reliable way to natural male enhancement."
Wondering how effective and reliable Enzyte is, we called the magazine to learn about its standards for running an ad, and how Enzyte met them. "Every ad is reviewed on a situation-by-situation basis," says a spokeswoman. "This one fit with the criteria, and it's running."
All we can say is what the manufacturer says in tiny, tiny print at the bottom of a page. "Individual results may vary."
3. Theater of the Absurd
Sometimes when we show up at the lab in the morning, the oddest things have been slipped under our door.
Never Say Never
Take this photo. Please.
The Coudersport theater, of course, is located in the hometown of
, the cable operator that filed for bankruptcy protection following news of previously undisclosed liabilities and allegations of corporate malfeasance.
Return to Never Land
, of course, is
animated sequel, released earlier this year, to the classic
Hmmm. Makes you wonder whether Adelphia will be able to return to those magical days of yesteryear, back when the Rigas family that controlled the company dispensed jobs and goodwill throughout the land, and back when Adelphia appeared to be a solvent, ongoing concern.
Just clap your hands, kids, and maybe Adelphia will return to life!
4. Give Me Liberty and Give Me Death
This week's Britney Spears Award for Notable Contribution to the Decline of Western Civilization just has to go to
, operators of the Game Show Channel television network.
The companies win this distinguished honor for GSN's Monday announcement that it's ordering 40 episodes of a brand-new game show called
works, according to GSN: Two teams of two players are locked in separate study chambers for 24 hours. "They must resist the urge to sleep," says GSN (yeah, we know a network can't actually "say" anything) while studying a "huge array" of "random" study materials. "It can range from news magazines, books of riddles, instruction manuals for menial tasks, and lists of useless facts."
Sounds, fun, no? Where do we sign up?
It gets better. "The catch," says GSN, is that "in an attempt to drain as much energy as possible from the exhausted contestants ... the questions come in a rapid-fire style while the contestants are engaged in various physical stunts."
So let's get this straight. You deprive contestants of sleep. You force them to study meaningless texts. Then you torment them with physical tasks.
A GSN representative calls this "edgy." We call it torture.
Oh, maybe we're just being wet blankets. Why not withhold food and water from the contestants? What about giving them electric shocks in response to wrong answers? That would make
OK, we confess. We can't wait to see this thing, if for the only reason that it will make all those years we wasted watching
seem like a Shakespeare marathon by comparison.
5. Don't Get Cross Media Marketing With Me
Finally, in our continuing series about companies that head-fake small investors with good news, then hit them with the bad, we bring you
Cross Media Marketing
Why, only a month ago -- less than two weeks before the close of the second quarter and back when the stock was trading in the neighborhood of $10 -- the direct marketer of magazine subscriptions and other merchandise was saying everything was positively ducky with its business, despite some hassle from the Federal Trade Commission over certain alleged business practices.
In an interview transcript filed with the
Securities and Exchange Commission
, Cross Media CEO Ron Altbach said he knew of no negative corporate developments that could have explained a recent downdraft in the company's stock.
Was the company on track to hit its publicly stated targets of $210 million in revenue for 2002 and at least $1.25 in earnings per share? "Absolutely, we have been very accurate in being able to project our business," said Altbach.
Granted, Altbach added, "there might be some slight dip from the FTC in the second quarter in our sales," but the company was ready to make it up in the back half of the year. "We fully believe that we are going to deliver the numbers that we projected for the year," he said.
Fast-forward to last Friday morning, by which time Altbach's belief had evidently faltered. In an announcement that has lopped 58% off the company's share price in this past week, Cross Media now expects to have 2002 revenue of $175 million at best, and earnings of no more that 42 cents a share -- about one-third of June's forecast. The stock closed Thursday at $2.05.
"Management is clearly disappointed with our performance for the second quarter," Altbach said. Why, sure. But someone out there -- the research lab isn't quite sure who -- definitely wasn't surprised by the performance. Over the time period after the publication of Altbach's June interview, but before Cross Media's negative surprise, the company's shares sank from around $10 to $4.88.
Despair springs eternal.