Weekend Digest: The Peanuts Edition

by Larry Brannan ([email protected]) 43 views 

For our weekend business and political readers:

Yes, Charlie Brown and the gang will be starring in the first Peanuts feature film in more than three decades, and it’s all about trying to inject new life in the Peanuts brand, Forbes reports. Although the cartoon characters generate $80 million a year for parent company Iconix, its CEO Neil Cole (brother of fashion entrepreneur Kenneth Cole) calls that figure a “deep disappointment.”

Thanks to Cole, Peanuts is the largest part of Iconix’s business. Analysts estimate Iconix, a hodgepodge of 33 mostly fashion brands like Candie’s, London Fog and Joe Boxer, will earn $137 million on sales of $431 million in 2013, up from $99 million on $333 million in sales three years ago. But estimated revenue from Peanuts has been flat at about $80 million for the past two years. “We had a painful time reengineering the business,” Cole admits, sitting in a conference room, surrounded by foot-high Snoopy figurines and a portrait of the beagle.

So how did a mostly fashion company diversify and end up with an American icon brand created by Charles Shulz 63 years ago? What are currently Peanuts’ largest revenue producers (hint: Ever see a beagle on a blimp?) and could a new film about the beloved characters be a risky venture for Iconix?

Good questions, Charlie Brown, and it won’t cost you 5 cents for the answers. Just click here.

Probably the resounding answer would be yes, but is it possible in shaky economic times where employees in many cases are putting in longer hours rather than shorter ones? What if a shorter work week could prove to be more effective and efficient?

But now, economists are considering a perception of time that actually makes sense for a post-industrial clock. In a recent book published by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) called Time on Our Side, they examine why a 30-hour workweek would be a more rational, efficient, and sustainable approach to the modern, developed economy. Most importantly, they say it’s totally doable – and big companies could even play a key part.

The book includes contributions from 16 economists and thinkers discussing ways in which the current set-up drives carbon emissions, socio-economic and gender-based inequality, and stress.

Are you intrigued? Well don’t go rushing to set tee-times on Fridays, but “if other economies are just as successful as the American economy and have markedly shorter hours just look at Germany, for example – isn’t there an argument there that you could do things differently?”

Maybe so. Fast Company has all the details at this link.

It can be a complex, hard-driving quest with a goal to squash lesser-driven competitors. Sales we’re talking about here, or should we say the sales machine. But Harvard Business Review says that same approach that has “fixated on process discipline” needs to go.

For years, tuning this machine has been the primary means of boosting sales productivity. But recently sales has been caught off guard by a dramatic shift in customers’ buying behavior. Even as leadership has tightened compliance with the processes that have served so well, sales performance has grown increasingly erratic. Companies are reporting longer sales cycle times, lower conversion rates, less reliable forecasts, and compressed margins. The sales machine is stalling.

In our research at CEB, we have found that the very approaches that made the sales machine so effective now make selling harder. We have also identified the keys to winning in this new environment.

So what are those new keys and how was the research conducted to find them?  Go to this link for perhaps the best sales meeting of your career.

CNN Money says Internet startups like Snapchat, Pinterest and Nextdoor are all raising money before the ink is even dry on their last venture capital checks.

Pinterest last week announced that it had raised $225 million in new funding, just eight months after raising $200 million. Then came a $60 million raise by Nextdoor, which also had secured capital back in February. And then there is Snapchat, which is seeking new funds a scant four months after banking $60 million.

Besides the short lag-time, CNN Money says each of these deals have two things in common:

1. They all are being done at significantly higher valuations. Snapchat, for example, may go for upwards of $4 billion this time around, after being valued at $880 million back in June.

2. None of them actually need the money. Nextdoor founder Nirav Tolia, for example, said: “We had $30 million on the balance sheet and only were burning a million and a quarter million per month.”

So why is this happening and what does it mean?  Click here to find out.

His technology vision, says Bloomberg Businessweek.

In the 2008 election, President Obama’s advisers talked of their boss’s belief that it was time for an “iPod government.” Obama, a technology addict who tools around on his iPad before going to sleep and who fought the U.S. Secret Service bureaucracy for the right to carry a smartphone, would be the first president truly at home in the Digital Age. That put him, he thought, in a unique position to pull the federal government into the Digital Age, too.

Obamacare was supposed to be the model for a 21st century social program, not a replica of programs built in the 20th.

Now the president’s technology vision has been shattered by an inept website that “even Obama’s allies acknowledge that the healthcare.gov debacle could do damage beyond the health-care system.”

“This plays into the suspicion that resides in really all Americans that, outside of narrow functions they can see and appreciate like Social Security and national parks, the government just can’t get it done,” says Austan Goolsbee, who was Obama’s top economic adviser during the 2008 campaign.

So what is the real scope of the damage and is a rescue possible? Click on this link for full analysis.

New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie is up for re-election next Tuesday, but the Wall Street Journal reports that “he has made clear to donors, top supporters and the national GOP that he wants to do more than just notch a big re-election win Tuesday.”

He sees his campaign – and particularly his aggressive outreach to non-traditional GOP voters – as a national model for his party.

Racking up big margins among women and even winning outright among Hispanics, as polls suggest he may, would position him well in a 2016 Republican presidential field as the party continues to struggle elsewhere to widen its appeal.

But would the crossover work in other parts of the country and how might his non-traditional strategy play against other more traditional contenders? The Journal has the whole story from Christies’ campaign trail at this link.

The New York Times reports a powerful business lobby is “going all in” for a special Republican primary runoff for Congress in South Alabama.

In the first test of its post-government-shutdown effort to derail Tea Party candidates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put on a rally on Tuesday in the warehouse of an aluminum plant to show its support for Bradley Byrne, a lawyer and former Republican officeholder.

Companies as diverse as Caterpillar and AT&T have also sent in a last-minute flurry of donations. The goal, backers of Mr. Byrne said, is to elect not just a Republican, but the right kind of pro-business one.

Byrne is running against Tea Party-backed candidate and businessman, Dean Young.

Young seems only to be reveling in his opponent’s establishment, big-money support, repeatedly praising Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for leading the way to the government shutdown and saying that if he wins it will be in the face of “the entire Republican establishment.”

The Times says the outcome of the race is now at “even odds” with supporters of moderate Republican candidates wondering about voter turnout.

For complete analysis of this race plus a look at “a second test case already emerging is in Michigan,” go to this link.

We’re talking about Texas Senator Ted Cruz of course and The American asks, “Why does the Tea Party love Ted Cruz despite his decisive role in the recent partial government shutdown, which many consider a debacle for the GOP?”

Why aren’t Tea Partiers blaming Cruz for their drop in the polls, as mainstream Republicans are busily doing for their own decline in popularity? Had Cruz’s sacred mission succeeded, the Tea Party would have had valid reasons to celebrate Cruz’s victory, however politically costly it may have been to the Tea Party movement itself. But why celebrate abject political defeat in Congress, coupled with a severe hit in the polls? That simply doesn’t seem to make sense.

The American attempts to make sense of that question, and you can learn what it’s investigation shows by clicking this link.

It emerged from Japan and its artists work in the medium of wee characters to create, well Emoji. And now the first exhibition of Emoji works has been announced for a two-day run in New York from December 12-14.

The great emoji craze is understandable – in a complicated world, it can be hard to express what you really mean without tiny cartoons of guns, beer, aliens, flying stacks of money, Santa Claus, poop, syringes, fried chicken, flags, Easter Island heads, hatching chicks, puffer fish, tongues, muscles, top hats, and pairs of praying hands. Forced Meme Productions points out that emoji are just the latest iteration of a long line of pictographic communications, from cave paintings to hieroglyphics to religious and mythological symbols encoded in traditional painting and sculpture.

Are you a little confused about this new art form? Fast Company has details along with some examples that it says “not everyone is crazy about.”

As one concerned Business Day reporter wrote in her exploration of this newfangled teen fad, “People Don’t Use Words any More.”

You can read Fast Company’s words about the upcoming Emoji exhibit at this link.

“He created portraits of happiness that graced magazine covers around the country. But a new biography of Norman Rockwell suggests that the artist’s personal life was rocky, and sometimes a mess,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

The book, written by author Deborah Soloman, is called American Mirror, The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell.

For a video look of WSJ’s interview with Soloman, go to this link.