Dec 31, 2006

"Maybe you should seek therapy"

Move on with your life. I just don't understand why you are so obsessed with the place...

What some don't seem to understand is that this blog is my therapy. One may choose to participate in it or not.

Undoubtedly, those who feel that I'm unduly "obsessed" with this place so long after my departure have never been betrayed by someone they love. To put it metaphorically, think of it as coming home to your loving wife of many years to find her in bed with someone else. She professes that she's never truly loved you and that the life you've been leading is a lie.

After an experience like that one may find oneself dwelling on the past and trying to sort out truth from fiction. I find there are times when I knew that there was deception afoot but, as the song says, "I'd rather go on hearing your lies than to go on living without you." But other times I get angry about the betrayal. I think I have a right.

The online therapy will continue, no doubt, thought it is lessening. As news develops and certain dirty tricksters still play out, though, I plan to post about it.

One notes that the holidays are a time of reflection and redoubling of effort. Happy New Year, everyone.

Dec 28, 2006

We Save Lives Every Day...

When I was working hundred hour weeks and weekends I felt inspired. I felt like I was doing something important.

I didn't know any better.

Branching out into the real world of advertising agencies it's funny to me how much sweepstakes, games, loyalty programes, et. al. are treated out here. They're an afterthought. They're a good way to get some traffic due to the "sweeps whores" of MyInstantWin but those oh-so-valuable names and addresses that are collected are viewed as being completely unviable. Yes, even those from people who "opt-in" to promotions, electing to be marketed to. We get the data... and then we don't do anything with it. They are simply "Unqualified Leads" and tossed out with the refuse.

So, while I felt like I was answering a higher calling by giving my blood, sweat, and literal tears to Online Promotions, I wasn't doing anything earth-shattering or that needed to be treated like brain surgery. Just thinking about this on my week off from work and thinking about how it was of dire importance that I needed to work on Christmas last year when I was still at "The Prize". Ahhhh, sweet memories.

Dec 23, 2006

Who shot J.R.?

Been hearing some strange rumors about the old homestead lately. Talks about hygene at meetings aimed at stinky IDs? And then I read this today:

The author discusses his aggressive recruitment and, subsequently, that ePrize went incommunicado. He turned down a job in the interim only to get mixed messages about being hired versus there not being a Dallas production office entirely. Add to this the HR director at ePrize resigning and you've got a very troubled lad and a very perplexing situation.

HR director leaving? No Dallas office? What's happening over there? It's funny these days as I interview people and mention my background I get a lot of unsolicited criticism and concern about the old red, purple and green. Looks like I'm not the only one not getting any phone calls, letters, or emails returned when trying to get in touch with folks over at 404 East 10 Mile... unless the people I'm trying to contact have been fired. 'Tis the season!

Addendum: Word on the "ex-Prize grapevine" has a key Dallas player being benched recently. Seems that the extra-marital behavior of "Mister Odd" finally caught up with him.

Resolving Workplace Conflict: An Exercise

Got a great e-mail the other day from a former ePrizer who saved this document:

We are currently in a state of flux here at ePrize. The schism of the DT role into Technologists and HTML specialists has been a source for confusion, consternation, and concern.

The following is an example of dissent among the ranks. Please read through this carefully:

Is this your fabulous writing? “Functionality--Viral Error -- I am unable to refer friends, apparently. Being given a butt ugly page that has two headlines and two sets of body copy that says I'm missing either my friends name or friends email. That text is VERY awkward as it should be either "Friend's name / friend's email" if they've referred one friend or "Friends' name / friends' email" if they've screwed up more than one. We don't have the ability to check this so I would recommend rephrasing those headlines.”

Yes, that's mine. The Butt Ugly gave me away, I imagine.

I'm going to type this and not say it out loud for your benefit: Don't ever feed stuff like that to the PMs. Ever.

LOL! What part was objectionable? The functionality assessment or my concern about apostophes?

I hate to break it to you, but I'm not laughing about it. I'm sick of your charade. There's a fine line between constructive criticism and attacking someone's work. And you continually cross it and aren't taken to task for it. Don't ever do it again.

Woah, woah, woah. What's the criticism? I'm so not seeing what the problem was. No charade intended -- please explain your complaint to me as if I were completely in the dark -- because I am.

Well, I'll use the Sony promotion and this as my examples. The words you use are completely uncalled for. "butt ugly", "WTF," etc. You need to watch how you say thing, because they are easily misinterpreted and it's going to take you quite awhile to live down the Sony e-mail.

If you're going to harp on older mistakes that I felt have been rectified, we'll never get anywhere. Is there such a thing as Tabula Rasa to you? That "butt ugly" comment was aimed at the HS, not the Technologist.
As we both know, the HS is the person in charge of the "prettiness" of a promotion -- I am 99% sure that this page was not complete -- nor was the promotion -- when handed to me for review. That was a way to call big attention to it for the HS who worked on it next to get on it pronto. Not a personal attack on you. Or a professional attack on your work.

Whoever said everything was an attack on me?

You're acting that way. The "charade" statement. When I write to my team, I use very brusque language. I was unaware that the "butt ugly" thing would be assigned to you -- you need only worry about the functionality, I would think.

It's assigned as a technologist task in the breakdown.

And I'm responsible for that how? Again, sorry if I offended -- that comment was not intended for you but for whichever HS was assigned those changes -- even if it were me.

I'm sure that the PM assigned it to you due to the functionality issues, not breaking it into parts as it should have been. I'll be sure to phrase any functionality problems in a nicer tone.


  1. What is the nature of the conflict?
  2. Has this conflict been resolved?
  3. How could this conflict have been avoided?

There's no doubt in my mind that the "conversation" documented here is real. I'm just not sure that the questions that followed it are. It was presented to me as if it were a worksheet of the conversation with three follow-up questions. My comments are the ones here in italics. The rest came from the word doc I was sent. Sorry, tough to communicate this via the limited formatting.

Dec 6, 2006


La La La, I'm Not Listening! Something to remember if you ever go from being an ePrizer to an exPrizer -- your email will be filtered into your former coworkers' SPAM folder in Outlook, so good luck getting a message to anyone there.

While this is probably a precaution against people dropping inappropriate emails on anyone, it's quite a bite when you're writing to anyone in HR trying to get information on your benefits or any other loose ends that weren't tied up before your departure.

It's not you -- it's the filter. Just let your fingers do the walking.

Behind Closed Doors

I'm having a bit of a crisis of faith... My current employer recently hired one of my former ePrize colleagues. He's finally in a position that he wanted to be in at ePrize for years but never managed to get into.

I worked with this person for years. When he came in, he pretty much formed an entire department by himself. After that, he was put under someone from a completely different department with the typical excuse that he was a good "worker" but not a "leader". Despite this major slight, he kept on. After a while, he wanted to move to project management (why I'll never know).

At this time I was having one of those meetings I've written about before; a lunch with the leadership team. Upon hearing that this guy wanted to make a move from his department to project management one of the big wigs said (with surprising force), "He will NEVER be a project manager here." I never found out the reason for this reaction or prohibition.

Rather than being a PM, he was moved into another fledgeling department. "Either he makes it there or we let him go," came the word. Talk about setting someone up to fail! But, he didn't fail. Instead, he came in and rocked the house.

At another manager's lunch his new boss was beside himself, "I don't know what to do! He's been in my department for six months and he's already far more advanced than [the guy that had been there for over a year]!" As if tha was a problem? To him it was. Better to have two semi-compitent workers than a superstar and a guy with a "good heart" but not much of a head on his shoulders. The superstar might make him feel bad.

That was where it stood when I left there. And now he's at my new place of business, hired in as a PM. So, do I tell him why he was never given this chance before? Or do I just bite my tongue and keep the backstabbing and backroom politics to myself? Perhaps if I knew why there was such a negative reaction to the thought of him being a PM... It's not like it was such a position of prestige. After all, that was the place for cousins and babysitters of The Purple Gang for a while; and the perfect place to put someone if you want them to fail.

Time will tell if I hold my tongue or not, I suppose.

Dec 1, 2006

Just Because You're Paranoid...

A recent federal ruling changes and clarifies requirements for companies to produce their e-mails (and other electronic data). According to an Associated Press story by Chrisopher S. Rugaber, "The new rules, which took effect Friday, require U.S. companies to keep better track of their employees' e-mails, instant messages and other electronic documents in the event the companies are sued."

In this way, ePrize has really stayed ahead of the curve.

Of course, your Jabber conversations are open for reading, but how about your other IM programs? Yes, those too. Even when you're at home -- if you're connected to the VPN. reports: "If your company has you establish a VPN or Virtual Private Network connection to the corporate network in order to access your email, while you have that VPN connection established then it's quite possible that your IM conversation is hitting the corporate servers, and possibly being logged."

The site lists some good rules of thumb:
  • Use different IM accounts for your personal and business conversations. Keep the conversations to their appropriate topics - business or personal - and use only one at work, and the other at home. Don't mix.
  • In any case, but especially on your business account, don't say anything you wouldn't want your boss to read. Or his boss. Or the entire IT department.
  • Connect to your company's equipment from home only when you actually need it.
Keep it real.

Oct 29, 2006

Everybody takes a beating sometime.

You might think you know who we are, but we  know  who you are This is one of my favorite quotes from GOODFELLAS:

You might think you know who we are, but we know who you are.

Oct 27, 2006

...And Sometimes The Project Manages You

Doing something "differently" doesn't always translate to "better." However, it's remarkable to see how differently project management is done at other companies and where the boundaries of that position lay from one place to another.

Project Management at ePrize is a pretty tough yolk to bear. Among other responsibilities, PMs interact with clients, modify wireframes, write copy, deal with production resources (also known as SEs, IDs, MMSs, QA, etc -- some of whom can act like bratty children), oh, and manage projects.

A byproduct of this is the boilerplate / cookie-cutter nature of wireframes and copy decks. This used to frustrate me to no end, reviewing a promotion that should be strongly branded only to find that same tired old "We're Sorry! You forgot to enter the following fields:" language. It was only when dealing with clients or third party vendors that employed writers on projects that would strip out or modify the boilerplate enough to make the text relavant to the item being promoted.

Meanwhile, some of our clients would actualy pay attention to the site map that came along with their wireframes. Pity those poor fools. Sitemaps were an afterthought at best and rarely reflected the actual flow of pages in a promotion. In other companies, these sitemaps and wireframes might have gotten a little bit of attention from an internet architect.

Again, that's not to say that other companies that use dedicated writers and internet architects are necessarily better but it's just interesting to see how many roles the poor PMs at ePrize play. Couple this with the fact that these PMs are often straight out of college and given a terrible wage -- usually promotion from Associate PM to full PM doesn't include an increase in pay, only in title -- and it really becomes something else.

We Care A Lot

Get On The Bus With all of the predictions given to the media of humungous growth of the company, it's surprising (if not altogether puzzling) that ePrize would move their headquarters into a building that had such limited parking. Even with re-striping the main lot, the parking situation was ideal for the lean, mean company of early 2005 but abysmal for the behemoth of 2006.

Even in the summer of 2005 the situation was tight. I was recommended to Upper Management (I refuse to say "Leadership") that they park in the side lot over on 10 Mile and walk the extra few yards in order to show that they were giving the "primo" spots to the regular working stiffs. Wow, what solidarity! What example!

Eventually it was decided that off-site parking was needed. Inconvenient? You betcha. And as these winter months engulf us, I can remember the cold biting into me as I would stand waiting for the bus that would take me over to the Detroit Zoo (with the other animals) at the end of the day. Through the Michigan darkness I could still make out the empty parking spaces all around me in the main lot. Despite getting in later and leaving earlier than we poor saps who took the bus, that whole thing about Upper Management volunteering for slight inconvenience / self-sacrifice went out the window once the bus to the off-site lot started running. Wow, what solidarity! What example!

Not only did they park in the main lot, but — on those days that we might get out on time (to go home and work that night) — we got to take in the sight of a certain BMW conspicuously occupying a handicap spot as we stood in the cold and rain. This is the same spot that my pregnant coworkers were denied use of since they weren't "officially handicapped."

Rabbi Parking

Oct 24, 2006

What's In A Name?

A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, correct? While reminiscing with some fellow exprizers today, we got to talking about the poor Interface Developer group. Those guys went through quite a identity crisis over the years.

When I first started at ePrize, the group of four or five guys were just getting used to being called "Interface Developers". Some people were against this title change as it sounded too much like "In Your Face." Um, "Get A Grip."

Apparently, it was quite a struggle to come up with "Interface Developers." This was the final entry in an endless list of names.

Before they were "IDs", they were "HSs" -- Doesn't roll of the tongue, does it? That stood for "HTML Specialists". As far as I'm concerned, they could have just as easily had been called "Code monkeys" and had more respect. They were branded with that name in order to "keep them in their place." Before they were "HTML Specialists", they were more jacks of more trades. By "calling them out their name," they were being told to not do the things that they were capable of doing and leave this up to "the experts."

This controversial moniker replaced their original job title: Design Technologists. That was a pretty fair name. In their original role, the DTs (not to be confused with "delirium tremens") were partially responsible for look-and-feel and also for creating the back-end of promotions (created via a relatively simple fill-in-the-blanks interface).

Why didn't they go back to "DT" after their period of punishment as "HS" was over? You've got me. To make things even more confusing, they eventually split into "IDs" and "MMSs" -- MultiMedia Specialists. I suppose that "Flash monkeys" would have sounded too harsh.

Oct 22, 2006

One Big Happy Family

I recieved another email today with this attached to it. It's a very rough sketch detailing some of the relationships behind the scenes at ePrize. I won't swear to either it's validity or accuracy but it does explain a few "how did he get hired?" and "why is she still working here?" scenarios. Feel free to post any corrections or clarifications.


Muddah, Faddah kindly disregard this letter.

Nevermind Well, gosh, don't I have egg on my face? Here I was ragging on how ePrize is but I found out that it's all peaches and herb now. Via email I recieved a missive in which I was informed that ePrize is now a worker's Utopia.

Enough employees (and all qualified) for the workload, increased morale, locked down processes, rewarding folks for a job well done. It's practically the land of milk and honey!

Gosh, I'm sorry if I brought anyone down. I don't want to harsh your cool, man. I didn't realize that there had been such a radical shift in the last few weeks. Bravo! Enjoy the halcyon days!

Oct 21, 2006

Ours Is Not To Reason Why

As I mentioned in my last post, I often wonder why exactly I was dismissed from ePrize. The reason I was given during the dismissal process was, um, less than illuminating.

When I think about it, I often come back to a few things that may have contributed:
  1. My Wall Quote: See last post.

  2. My (Percieved) Antisemitism: One of my friends still insists that I was targetted as being a bad egg when I was joking around with the company's resident comedian, comparing Jedis with Jewish people due to the midichlorian versus bloodline connection. It's true that, for a comedian, this guy had no sense of humor. So maybe my joke offended. (No one ever bothered to find out my own background on this...)

  3. El Diablo Bobblehead
  4. My Private IMs: It was only a matter of hours after I confided in one of my oldest coworker pals that my recently-appointed supervisor was being more of a hindrance than a help to our department due to his substandard coding skills that I was shown the door. Could all those rumors about our Jabber convesersations being an open book to anyone who care to read them be true?

  5. My Oldest Coworker Pal: Maybe I had misjudged just how good a friend this guy was. After all, he was the hatchet man and had been the messenger when it came to my autumnal demotion.

  6. My Seeking of Greener Pastures: As Jabber was an open book, so were our emails. Any sending of resumes probably set off some klaxons. Likewise, my appearance on Monster and Career Builder undoubtedly popped up on the radar. It was akin to sin to even think of playing the field. As one guy who had his job offer rescinded was told after he asked for a day to think over the two offers on his plate, "ePrize doesn't play second fiddle to anyone."

  7. My Concern For Others: I was always the guy who asked "uncomfortable" questions at meetings in order to make sure that all of our bases were covered. I brought up risks and ran possible worst case scenarios just to ensure that we might avoid pitfalls. Thus, I was occasionally seen as not being a team player. This was most noticable when I queried about a person's stock options if they ever became an ex-employee. I asked this with a problem ex-employee who demanded an optional bonus after they were dismissed in mind. How ironic, then, that I would be the ex-employee...

  8. My "Fear of Change": I was the fly in the ointment; the monkey in the wrench. I was a friggin' boy scout at work -- loyal, trustworthy and true -- but I was constantly bumping heads with my immediate supervisor who saw me as some kind of naysayer. During my time there he promoted someone over me (who later crashed and burned), and hired two potential replacements (both who crashed and burned -- one of them before he was moved into my position, one after). Add to that my caution when it came to adopting asinine technology and I was on the minus side of the spreadsheet.

  9. My Suggested Goal For 2006: Each year we're asked to provide a goal for the company's "top eleven" list. For 2006, after not having had a raise in 18 months and knowing how little my team members and I were making, I requested that a survey be made of all local agencies and that our pay rate be adjusted according to industry standard.
Okay, that's it. Usually when it comes to performance there are things that come up on a review or that you get sat down and talked to privately about. I didn't have these discussions -- no clear cut "we have a problem with these two or three things" lists. I had one panicked talk after I asked about the stock options for ex-employee thing but that was before I started actively seeking new work. If anything, that conversation might have been a contributor to my need for a new employer (that and the "No Limits" campaign).

My dismissal came out of left field. With every employee that I had to let go, there were several discussions and, often, these were well-documented. When I had a problem with people, I didn't want any grey areas. I listed out examples of the behaviors I needed modified and provided examples of less-than-stellar performance. I also made sure to have weekly check-ins with folks. None of that happened with me.

In other words, it was an exceptional experience -- in many senses. At least I got a huge severance package for my many years of loyal service, right? Think again. I got no more than if I had been working there five weeks. And Unemployment? Yeah, they tried to fight it. Luckily, the State found in my favor -- perhaps for that aforementioned lack of any kind of paperwork or warning.

I was surprised that there wasn't a paper trail a mile long that I wasn't privy to, however, since I had been instructed to keep a diary of any "problem employees." If that diary happened to be, um, generated after the fact... them's the breaks.

Quote Unquote

When you read articles about ePrize you often come across passages describing the "inspirational quotes" that line the walls of the Pleasant Ridge location. From George S. Patton to Seth Godin to Abraham Lincoln with even ePrize luminaries like chief investor (and Rock Financial magnate) Dan Gilbert; the walls resemble a John Bartlett fever dream.

When you're a cog, you expect to get moved around a lot. The wheel keeps on turning so you keep on moving desks -- usually to a smaller and smaller location. Luckily, I never had to sit at a folding table, I managed to snag a desk each time in my dozen or so moves.

With my last move I had my workspace reduced be half. The, uh, "good part" of this is that I got to sit in a newly renovated portion of the factory. That meant all new quotes to stare at every day.

Out of breath from my trips up and down the back stairs to move my stuff -- half to my tiny desk, half out to my car -- I was just starting to unpack when the CEO wandered by and asked me something. It took me a while to figure out what he actually said but I thought he asked, "Any quotes today?"

"Yeah," I said, thinking of trying to pack up all of my things and fit them onto my new desk, "Here's my quote: 'It's like packing ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag.'"

What he had asked was my opinion on the quotes on the wall -- as if I had had time to read them. I often wonder if this was one of the moments that contributed to me being dismissed a few weeks later.

Hang In There In retrospect, the quotes weren't so bad as having those darned "Hang in there" kittens or those crappy Zig Ziglar-inspired (and Gary Busey-quoted) "TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More" / "FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real" posters.

I didn't know just how self-satisfied Upper Managment was with these quotes until I heard that there was actually talk of trying to get some of them into Bartlett's next edition.

Oct 18, 2006

Wherefore Art Thou, QA?

A former ePrizer sent me a link to a current Instant Win promotion for Harrahs. Wow. I'm curious what happened in the short amount of time since I'd been at ePrize when everything on the front end looked tight. In my earlier posting about ePrize reverting to "old school" table-based HTML. At least with that the front end looked okay, even if it wasn't optimal from a back end perspective.

This Harrahs promotion, though, whew! It stinks on ice. Take a look at the homepage.

Not only is there no font face specified in the CSS (desipite tons of span tags that refer to an undefined "textTimes13" class) but there are also these funky line breaks all over the place. Taking my font down from its "natural" setting on Firefox makes the text line up correctly but there are hard-coded <br /> tags all over the place. That's just the first page. Let's not even talk about the placeholder "Back" link on the error page that is referred to as a "Back Button" despite it not being a button. And then there are the monstrosities disguised as pop up windows for the FAQ and Rules pages...

I can only say that neither the Interface Developers (or whatever they're calling themselves these days) nor Quality Assurance caught this and raised a fuss. I remember hearing horror stories of how stringent QA could be and I just don't see the folks of old allowing such slop to get through to the public.

Oct 17, 2006

Beware the Ides of March

The Winner I wasn't invited to this reindeer game so forgive me if I get the details slightly incorrect.

One of the things that I found most distasteful at ePrize wasn't (insert roster of gripes here) but a little something I found out about much after the fact. Apparently during March Madness, there wasn't simply one bracket going around the office but two. One was the typical playoff flowchart of college basketball teams while the other was some kind of sexist configuration of "the hottest chick at ePrize."

Boys will be boys but you'd think that this idea would be poo-pooed if not outright squashed by anyone in Upper Management that got wind of it. You'd think that, but the truth was that at least one of them endorsed the idea via his participation. Knowing that he was being a very naughty boy for this behavior, he was able to deny culpability by engaging members of the IT department to submit his brackets for him. No sense in leaving a paper trail!

As I write about this, I feel my stomach turn yet again. Objectificaiton, humiliation, sexism, and harassment. These are the words that roll through my mind in time with my gut. I'm done. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Oct 16, 2006

Iron Sulfide

Do I think you're a fool if you still work at ePrize? No, not at all. This Blog is not meant to insult the finer folks trapped in the purple, red, and green prison in Pleasant Ridge. That'd be like making fun of the cons in Folsom Prison.

Sometimes you just need to shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Likewise, sometimes you just need to take a job that's going to pay you lower-than-industry-standard wages to perform an insane amount of work at a breakneck pace. Added benefits include giving up your tedious family and doffing your self worth.

ePrize is a terrific job for kids right out of college. They get a taste of the corporate world (disguised as a "we're just a big happy family" mom & pop shoppe) and get an addition to their nascent resume. They also get some war stories to tell around beers at the local brewpub and maybe enough scratch to get an apartment.

The biggest challenge that these young pups will face is finding the time to update that resume. Often job hunting can be a job in itself.

So, no, I don't think that you're a fool for sticking around. I realize you're busy. I only think that you might deluding yourself if you feel that you've got a career on your hands. It takes a very specific cut of person to fit into the tribe of "lifers" there. Even those folks can make the mistake of resting on their laurels for a moment and find themselves kicked to the curb without ceremony -- or a decent severance package.

Oct 14, 2006

Content To Be A Jerk

"...[W]hy are you obsessed with bashing the company? Was it because your attitude sucked while you were here and you [got] fired for it?"

I used to be a Kool-Aid addict. Not only did I drink it, but I'd put a few drops behind my ear each morning. I even sold it. I parroted the Company Line like it was gospel. Like Paul of Tarsus after his experience on the road to Damascus, I was a zealot.
  • "We only hire A players..."
  • "This isn't a nine to five job..."
  • "We value the ideas of every employee..."
  • "Someday a company's going to come along and put us out of business..."
  • "We want to get the right people on the bus..."
Jim Jones I preached the Company Line to employees old, new, and potential. I was the calm, little center of the world. The danger of such an ethusiastic Kool-Aid addict? I was so fervid in my dedication that I was a powderkeg of loyalty. My love was like oxygen.

All it took for to set it off was betrayal. When I found out that the Company Line about "hard work deserves rewards" was a fallacy I became disillusioned. My undying allegiance soured. Alas, alas, alas.

Thank goodness for dizgruntled who opened the floodgates, demonstrating that blogging is a terrific form of therapy. Likewise, it's validating to read about the experiences of others and find that we shared so many of the same traumatic episodes.

I guess it's difficult to not come across as bearing a "victim mentality" when you've been victimized. :)

Oct 12, 2006

You Shall Know Our Velocity

Even if you leave on good terms, don't worry. You'll soon be vilified by your former fellow employees. There were a million little things you did that were wrong, if not criminal. You may have been Employee Of The Year but you'll be remembered as being a surly prick. Scorn will be heaped upon you and you will be burned in effigy.

If you didn't leave on the best of terms, this will only be worse. Heaven forbid if you were terminated. You can count on lots of lies to be told about you: "We gave them plenty of warning and had spoken to them on numerous occasions."

That could be true. Or it could have been that it just came a time when upper management just decided, "This Friday we're going to let some people go. Let us know who you'd like to see go." I wish I was lying, but... (see comments)

Don't let this fear of being the brunt of aspersions or having your good character maligned keep you from doing what you may need to do. You can either take the abuse now or just be scapegoatted after you're nothing but a bad memory.

Idea Factory

When I first started at ePrize I thought that the coolest thing going on was the "Idea Meeting" that the ID team lead each week. It was a no holds barred gathering of people who were paid to be creative as well as Sales assistants, PMs, QA guys, and Sales people. Even the secretary would show up. Other than one blowhard IT guy, the eclectic (and ever shifting) group thought outside of the box (much like the ePrize logo).

The format of the meeting was simple. Each week various Sales people would come in with a handful of clients and they'd give a bit of background on who they are and what they wanted to accomplish. From there it became a freeform riff that dipped into the arsenal of already developed tools ("How about a scratch-n-win where we had...") as well as completely off the wall (and usually brilliant) ideas that would have pushed the envelope. As the head Sales guy always said, "The bigger the idea, the bigger the budget." We were encouraged to think big.

The coolest part of that meeting was the aftermath. Here we were throwing around ideas for a client one month and building our ideas the next. I got to see some of my ideas used in national campaigns! Moreover, it was a great team building exercise as our brainstorms were fueled by the energy and creativity of one another.

I wasn't paid to be creative. That wasn't in my job description. But here I could be as creative as I wanted. I even did some sketches! And I wasn't the only one spreading my wings. I mentioned the secretary being there -- she often came up with some of the best ideas!

Sadly, this revelry didn't last for long after I got to ePrize. This meeting was taken away from the ID team and given to a newly formed department -- Strategy.

"Department" is kind of a strong word for Strategy as it was one guy running it -- the COO's cousin. The weekly idea meetings carried on briefly and then suddenly stopped. After that there was the only occasional meeting, usually for a larger client. Gone was the big group brainstorm -- we were split into groups and cast into different areas of the building. And, after a few of these, the idea meeting stopped altogether.

By the time we moved from the Farmington Hills location to the Pleasant Ridge location the Strategy team had expanded (to at least two) and only grew after that. Oddly, the most Strategy people we got, the less we heard from them. We would get a random email newsletter that pretended it was sent on a regular basis. There were also some "Lunch And Learns" (another excuse to have to stay at the office for lunch) where participants were subjected to dull power point presentations of facts and figures that were seemingly related to our business model but never quite fit.

During my last few months at ePrize I can't recall seeing, much less interacting, with anyone from this mysterious department of misfits. I don't know where the ideas came from anymore but there seemed to be a dearth of them.

We've Got The Neutron Bomb

Admiral Akbar: It's A Trap! Just a word of warning to anyone that might be employed at ePrize... If your boss ever tells you that they've got a plan for you and your career path: run. Get that resume out and start pounding the pavement (I know, I know, it's hard when you're working 100 hours a week to find time to interview or even put a CV together).

"A Plan" can take shape in several ways:
  1. It's a carrot. If you do a good job with this, we'll create a new position for you or move you to the department you want.
  2. It's a set-up. We want to put you in a position where you're destined to fail so we can get rid of you.
  3. It's a bluff. We want to keep you around so we'll tell you that we've had you on a career path you weren't even aware of.

Oct 11, 2006


Despite the chanting (see "Beginning of the End" post), it looks like ePrize is, indeed, running in place. They're at the same place on the coveted Promo 100.

Out of curiosity, did Ray Clark send any smarmy notes when this announcement was made?

Chariots of Fire

In the pursuit of beating a metaphor horse while it's dead, I'm going back to the "running in place" idea.

The quote from Amanda Cooper's Entrepreneur Magazine article of November 2004 has been said ad nauseum in the hallowed halls of ePrize: "Some day, a company will come along and put us out of business, so it might as well be us."

Of course, some at ePrize are so full of themselves that they feel they are completely alone in their field; alone without competition. To that end they made up a fake company to motivate employees (as if the constant fear of firing and sweatshop mentality isn't enough).

Says CEO Josh Linkner in Leigh Buchanan's Inc magazine article of September 2006: I decided if a nemesis doesn't exist, let's create one. I made up a company called Slither. Slither is our head-to-head arch-evil enemy; its CEO is Gordon Gekko. They never have a down quarter. They have better clients and margins and employee retention than we do. They're more efficient and are growing faster.

Lame Wall Street reference aside (at least it wasn't Severus Snape), it wouldn't take a Slither to ePrize out of business -- that is, to shed the old skin of a promotions company (where "eSweeps are made Easy") where the latest innovation is a rehashed idea for the early days of the company (SweepsXpress) and branch out into new, cutting edge technologies.

In a company that touts ideas as being their most important asset, a sometimes a great notion gets tossed out on its ear in favor of sticking to the safer ground. Every time I see a commercial, promotional spot, print ad, or even supermarket standee that says "Enter for a chance to win... Text ______ to ______ and..." I think of one of the Project Managers at ePrize who tried to champion TXT/SMS/WAP as the next great frontier of interactive promotions.

He was poo-pooed for months. After he put together a terrific presentation of the presence of TXT in the U.S. (don't forget that TXT is far more popular in Europe where ePrize struggles to make a splash) and the potential of TXT in the industry... not a lot happened. There were and are a few odd promotions that tie into TXT but if there are more... I'm not seeing them.

Personally, I always felt that it was silly to outsource or utilize vendors for some of the simpler tasks that could be internalized. And, here again we could provide more services and more customized solutions to clients.

"The NEXTEL promotion generated over 2 million SMS messages generated in a 10-week period." Oddly, this fact was removed from "The ePrize Factor" page of
Who knows how many other ideas died on the vine or went unnoticed despite the alleged desire for feedback (see Project Gold Medal post). These are the ideas that could "put ePrize out of business." Undoubtedly, these are the kind of things that Slither can offer to its clients.

After the first press release from the fictional Slither company, there were reactions like: "Who are these guys? I checked out their website and couldn't find it.". What Linkner may not realize is that he did too good of a job selling Slither. The report I got from several employees (most of them ex-employees now) was that they started looking for Slither's website to see if they were hiring!

I'm surprised that there wasn't a fake website with a fake "employment" section in order to entrap disgruntled employees. Knowing that putting one's resume on is a "red flag" to an employee's loyalty, the lack of this refined shiftiness shocks me.

Project Ostrich

Of all the lunch meetings I had -- and these were anywhere between four and five a week -- one of the two that I actually looked forward to was the gathering of all the discipline leads. Once a month this would also include upper management. When upper management wasn't around the leads managed to hash out some differences and create processes that made work life a bit smoother. This was also the time to openly bitch and see if anyone else was having the same issues or problems.

It was theraputic and productive.

However, when upper management was in the room I was surprised that there wasn't a folding card table set up for the leads to sit at like Thanksgiving at Grandma's. "You team leads sit over at the Kids' Table."

When the grown ups were around the discussion became rather one sided. We were being told what to do, not asked. Odd things would come up, usually around the "dis-employment" of an employee.

In one meeting it was kind of halfheartedly tossed out that the company would be firing one of its PMs who "just wasn't working out."

Rather than placidly taking this comment in stride, there was a tension immediately introduced to the table. I was first to break the silence. "Wait... I thought we were moving him to another position rather than getting rid of them." (The whole "putting the right person in the right seat on 'The Bus' being a key idea to the person proposing the firing).

Another person spoke up, "Right, if we were firing him, why did I go to all the trouble to test out his skills for my department?"

A general murmer of discontent rounded the table. It was made more ironic that the person proposing this firing had just been chiding "the kids" for not being clear in their communication and here he was with a completely different message than any of us had gleaned in previous conversations -- and assignments.

Believe it or no, but we went around the table to get the general concensus of the group. "Did you think that we were firing him or moving him?" All but our intrepid upper management representative was under the (mistaken, of course) impression that we were moving this employee to another position in hopes that his skillset would mesh better and that he would be able to bloom in a new role.

This person moved to the new role and was summarily fired six months later -- no discussion that time.

These leads meetings eventually were kiboshed altogether. This happened after one lead -- who had been bucking to get into upper management -- decided to pick a fight during this meeting with the wrong person; me. He started ragging on my team and talking about how inefficient they were. Likewise, he wanted to offload some of his teams' responsibilities onto the shoulders of my team members. I wasn't having any of this. I kept asking that if job task X, Y, and Z were being done by my team, what the F would that leave his team to do?

Apparently, though this was a lively discussion, it wasn't deemed to be "productive" enough and, thus, five minutes after the end of this meeting a cancellation notice went out. We never had another leads meeting again.

Oh, and four months later this person that was bucking for an upper-management position got it. He demoted me and heaped those aforementioned tasks onto myself and my team.

Oct 10, 2006

Company by Max Barry

Company by Max Barry Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program [...] I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. -- Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) from The Matrix.

What if the creators of The Matrix had started their own company rather than designing the ultimate virtual reality? In Company, author Max Barry describes the too-typical American company, Zephyr. A holdings company with no clear purpose or source of profitability, Zephyr is a behemoth of mismanagement and corporate dogma. We witness the lunacy of Zephyr through the eyes of Jones (first names promote unnecessary fraternization), a new employee who dares to ask difficult questions such as, "What does Zephyr actually do?" The answer he gets most often is to not rock the boat.

Barry does a great job capturing the idiosyncratic quirks of all the expected archetypes, Catch-22 logic, and overused buzzwords (“You want me to de-prioritize my current reports until you advise of a status upgrade?”). In long screeds, Barry describes – among other things -- the psychology of upper-management, the self-loathing of employees, and the desire to outsource (“The truly flexible company [...] doesn't employ people at all. This is the siren song of outsourcing. The seductiveness of the signed contract. Just try out the words: no employees. Feels good, doesn't it? Let the workers suck up a little competitive pressure. Let them get a taste of the free market.”)

Highly recommended.

Oct 9, 2006

Not to sound like Mr. Pink...

I'm a consumer whore. I admit it. I'm a sucker for drive-through service and overly processed foodgoods. But there's got to be a place where I draw the line. I'm not sure how much the baristas at Star Bucks make but I just can't bring myself to tip them more than the change from my order, especially as the ones taking my drink order are usually surly.

But I just can't bring myself to tip when I use the drive thru at Star Bucks. I'm already paying upwards of six dollars (!) for a damn cup of coffee and a muffin. And they want a tip on top of that? Worse yet, I couldn't reach the tip jar unless I was Reed Richards.

"I don't tip because society says I have to. All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I'll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it's for the birds. As far as I'm concerned, they're just doing their job."

Oct 5, 2006

A Fun Game

Here's a fun game. How many employees in this picture from July 26, 2006 are still employed at ePrize?

Note the Kaizen poster in the background (back, left)


I've never one for stating the obvious. Moreover, I've never been one to write a report to state the obvious. But I've done it. Oh, yes, I've done it.

Before the well-publicized hiring frenzy at ePrize it was pulling teeth to get new bodies into the Production Department. There were arguments, there were justifications, there were pleads, and there were reports.

I was told by my boss that, according to one weekly report that our comptroller provided, my department should be running at 75% efficiency. As it was, the overworked and underpaid group was running at 110% on average. That means that more than every hour of their days were billable (lunch isn't billable, remember). So, I broke out my abacus to cypher the correct number of employees to put people down to 75%. I was so proud of myself, I even figured in vacation time for the current amount of employees plus the time allotted for any new folks (though piddly it be).

I gussied it up, threw in some charts, and all that jazz and presented it formally to my boss.

Again with the punchline: "We reconsidered that number last week. We actually think that people should be working at 85%."

Okay, so even at that amount, we need more employees. "Write it out and submit it. We'll think about it."

Oct 4, 2006


Two things always stuck in my craw when it came to data integration. Certainly there's always security concerns but why would I, as a user, want to put in my information when registering for a Yahoo or NWA promotion when they already have my info? If I have a Worldperks number, that means that NWA has my name, address, et cetera. At most they should want to ask me to opt-in for more information or reminder emails if the promotion has multiple chances to win. Alas, each time a user registers for an NWA promotion, they have to enter in all of that info time and time again.

The real shame, I suppose, is that we managed to get buy in from Yahoo that a user can enter in their Yahoo ID and, if it validates, their registration form will be pre-populated. None of that re-registering malarky. The sad part is that we invested so much time and money making this happen only to apparently never do another Yahoo promotion!

And, to go back to NWA, I found a lot of broken pages when doing research for my blog entry from the other night. Apparently, I missed NWA's "BIG 2-0" promotion. But the fine folks at FlyerTalk (great info for ways to score upgrades and mileage for NWA and other Frequent Flyer programs) definitely had some problems. For more info click here.

Project Gold Medal

It's funny to think that there's an intiative at ePrize to 'reduce the suckiness'. I was just thinking back to the times when upper management would occasionally ask for suggestions via email. During one of those times I was lucky enough to snag a copy of everyone's emails. I went through with a fistful of highlighters, picking out common threads and putting them in the same color.

There was one overwhelming suggestion -- Project Teams. That is, grab one PM, one SE, one IE, and maybe even one QA (a common designer would be used) and utilize these cross-discipline folks for a pre-determined set of clients. There were variations on this theme -- breaking the PM group into smaller, bite sized pieces and assigning a team of Production workers to them so they'd always know who was assigned to their projects and bruilding a rapor not only between PMs and Production but also between PMs and their clients. There had been a precident set with the Engagement Managers and clients so why not carry that mindset throughout the production cycle.

Page after page I saw this. My yellow highlighter was just about dry by the time I made it through the sixty-odd pages of ePrizer constructive criticism and outright bitching.

The funny part? While discussing the employee feedback with my boss I remarked, "Wow, I sure saw a lot of people wanting Project Teams!"

His response: "Really? I hadn't noticed that." Unfortunately, he wasn't joking around.

When something like Project Gold Medal comes about, then, it makes me wonder what's making it through the haze. When 80% of the company says basically the same thing and the message neither gets through nor gets adopted, will something like Project Gold Medal -- a "project" with the goal of company improvement -- be effective at all?

Project Gold Medal

Oct 2, 2006

Happy Yom Kippur!

I know that smart ePrizers will not be looking at this blog from work today as I'm sure that it's being monitored (like Monster, Career Builder, your jabber conversations, your email, et cetera) and I know that all folks working Production jobs are in today. Regardless, sometimes it's nice to work on Yom Kippur as there are a lot fewer requests and people to be in the way as 90% of the management team out of the office (OOTO) today. Try to enjoy it!

Oct 1, 2006

One step forward, two steps back, run in place.

I helped to implement quite a bit of change at ePrize, including pushing us from HTML 1.0 “table based” layouts to fully standards-compliant extensible HTML (XHTML) and Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) driven websites. This was done via consensus building (rather than mandate setting as done by the former “leader” of the team). We proved out that our web audience was finally to a point that would support this technology and showed that adopting it would save us a considerable amount of build time while making invariable client changes far easier and faster to do. In a business where every minute counts, any kind of time-saving is appreciated.

Before I was left ePrize, it looked as if my team were on their way out. In a bold move, one of my coworkers seized power of his group by promoting the idea that the entire company would move from HTML-based promotions to Flash-based promotions. This plan included an entirely new technology to build architecture for these promotions utilizing some “bleeding edge” uses for Flash, PERL, and XML. Luckily, he and his team had just the right guy to do this; one of those almost scary computer geniuses.

The irony here is that after my departure it was deemed necessary to utilize several outsourcers in an attempt to replace me. I’m not sure how many people it finally shook out to equal one of me but I do know that these folks were unable (or unwilling) to use the XHTML+CSS. Thus, they were allowed to take two steps back and go old school with HTML tables (or they’d overcode their XHTML+CSS leaving a mess of <div> tags peppering their work).

Exampls: * No "Enter for a chance to", just "Win".

Meanwhile, there were a handful of Flash-based promotions and the idea of this quickly went the way of the dinosaur. There just weren’t enough developers who could handle the new technology (and they eventually migrated to other companies). Eventually, this technology was hacked apart and put to nefarious ends by making a “one stop shop” application for sweepstakes. Some of the new folks working there don’t know that this is simply a resurrection of an older, contentious idea that lived a short life and died a painful, lingering death like a cancer victim.

They’re running in place while I’m the one fearing change.

Hand on a Hot Stove

If I could have snuck a peek at my personnel record from ePrize, I’m sure that everything could have been encapsulated with two simple words, “Fears Change.”

I had been at the company for years, seeing it grow from a typical “Internet Startup” to a booming ad agency. I had survived scads of firings and waves of hirings. Moreover, I had initiated countless programs, created processes, and actively participated in making the company a success. If I feared change, then I was at the wrong place. I would have been petrified by the daily growth and rapid transformation. So, where did I get the bad rep?

As far as I can glean, it all came from an exchange that occurred after I’d been at the company for about a year. There was an emerging discussion about redoing the company’s website. The site that online when I was interviewed was nearly enough to tell this company to shove off. It was a garish collection of concentric circles that looked decidedly broken in Netscape 4.x, my browser of choice in those days.

When it came time for the site’s refresh, one of the software engineers started rallying that the site should be redone in Dynamic HTML (DHTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Meanwhile, another coworker was running Flash up the flagpole to see if anyone would salute. It became my obligation to put things in perspective for everyone.
Problems with coding DHTML technologies WILL occur as long as each browser creates its own proprietary features and technology that is not supported by other browsers. A Web page may look great in one browser and horrible in another.
For our company website – the site that our potential customers were going to peruse – we should utilize the technology that we were using for all of our current sites and not rely on technology that either needed Third Party plug-ins or that were incompatible with half of the world’s web browsers. Yes, DHTML, CSS and Flash were cool, but they were impractical for our purposes at the time.

For the next few years my semi-annual reviews all said, “Unwilling to learn new technologies.” It didn’t matter that my boss didn’t even know what DHTML was or why I didn’t want to adopt it, he only saw me not jumping feet first into a new (albeit impractical) area. From then on, I was a marked man. Whenever I would bring up a point of caution I was viewed as being some stick in the mud who was throwing up roadblocks to progress (“You may not want to put your hand on the stove burner, it’s hot.”)

The Beginning of The End

When I got back from lunch there was a smoke machine by my desk. I practically tripped over the bulky wires from the makeshift sound system and had to dodge the seven stands that were draped in green butcher paper.

The office had been decorated the night before in our garish company colors; red, green, and purple. It was time for our annual roll-out of the new catch phrase. In late 2004 our space was transformed into something resembling a Chinese whorehouse with paper lanterns, dragons, streamers, and so many fortune cookies that we were snacking on them into June of the following year. That was “The Year of the Client,” the bastard child of Jack Mitchell’s Hug Your Customer and Kenneth Blanchard’s Raving Fans. In a nutshell, YOTC (or “yutz” as it was often called) gave a phrase to the “you’ll do it and you’ll like it” mentality of bending over for our clients. Late nights, weekends, whatever it took.

I didn’t have a clue as to the new theme. It probably related to our book club again. It seemed that whenever upper management read anything, they immediately bought into it. It was the “any kind of change is a good change” mentality that threw us into some pretty precarious spots, only saved by the figurative blood and literal sweat and tears of the peons that pulled us through those poor leadership choices. The rumour had been that our fall read, Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat was the clarion call of outsourcing, and judging from the rampant use of freelancers (esp. Romanians), there seemed to be a grain of truth to that proposition. But where would a smoke machine fit into all of that? Unless I was to take it that this would provide the smoke and that mirrors would be brought in later when the management team showed up.

The smoke machine belched out a putrid cloud while music bellowed from the sound system. Running into our midst, like a pack of wild idiots, came our entire management team. They were all dressed in black t-shirts, black pants, sunglasses, and purple capes. Like something out of an episode of “Batman” or my darkest nightmare, they all began posing and mock fighting for what seemed like forever.

The theme to 2006 was revealed. "No Limits." It was some kind of superhero theme with valuable corporate buzzwords associated with various caricatures of employees associated with ideals such as "Creativity" and "Kaizen". WTF is "Kaizen"? Good question.

Kaizen, it turns out, comes from Six Sigma (considered by some to be a "codification of mediocrity") that is defined as: Japanese term that means continuous improvement, taken from words 'Kai' means continuous and 'zen' means improvement. Some translate 'Kai' to mean change and 'zen' to mean good, or for the better.

After revealing the various "super heroes," our fearless leader went over the company's (rather, the leadership team's) eleven top ten goals for 2006. When one of them was moving from #3 on the "Promo 100" list to #1, the COO began chanting, "We're number one, we're number one! WE'RE NUMBER ONE!" People joined in... the room became filled with droning, almost desperate, cries of this mantra. I could only think of Homer Simpson when he chants, "U.S.A!" Eyes askew, Homer personifies mindless patriotism. "In your face!"

While they put on this display, I pulled up and began to search for new employment.

Everybody's Working On The Weekend

Some Project Managers at ePrize would fight long and hard to avoid having people come in and work on weekends but, eventually, the fight would be taken out of them. Defanged, they knew that this was an inevitability -- something as certain as the sun rising tomorrow.

Yesterday was my first Saturday that I worked in all of 2006. In 2005 as an ePrize employee, I worked 35 weekends; many of these holidays including Labor Day and Christmas. I also worked countless evenings. I'm not talking an hour here or there. I'm referring to full shifts plus some. A typical workday at ePrize for me started at 8AM, paused at 6PM, started again at 7PM and continued on until 12AM. There were occasional bathroom breaks along the way.

While some workers recieved "bonuses" (I use that term with trepidation) for working a weekend, they were pittances. The most ever paid out for a full weekend of work was $1,000 US but that was the exception (an employee was told that his raise was greater than Human Resources was told due to a math error and this was the "make up" for that) and not the $200 US rule (that's roughly $12.50/hr when ePrize charges clients quite a bit more for man hours). Each week, leaders of various groups would have to come to their people and truckle to their team, "Hey guys, we've got some weekend work coming up... any volunteers?"

The secret shame of ePrize came from the fact that if those employees didn't step up to the plate the work was invariably done by the team leader who, due to their "lavish" position (some of them made far less than their employees by $20K a year in some cases) wouldn't receive a red cent. That's right... since they were "leadership," they were denied the bonuses (albeit tiny) that their teammates earned. Same work. Same hours.

All right, I'll be fair. Sometimes it wasn't the same work. After a while ePrize moved skilled laborers out of leadership positions in various Production teams and replaced them with "bumbling boobies." This meant that any weekend work they did was invariably re-done -- or at least patched into a limping semblance of better work -- by their "underlings." It's always a challenge to keep your mouth shut when you know more than your boss; having to fix your bosses mistakes at all times makes that silence even more difficult to maintain.

Seth Godin Say Relax

I was reading Seth Godin's Small Is The New Big this week.

The author of several books that were highly influential to ePrize (Unleashing The IdeaVirus, Permission Marketing, Purple Cow, et cetera), Godin was a keynote speaker at the second ePrize "Summit" in Las Vegas, 2006. The whole permission maketing idea -- offering people a chance to win in order to gather handraisers (or opt-ins) is the crux of the ePrize business model.

The irony to this tale is that in Small Is The New Big, Godin write a condemnation of companies with the sweatshop mentality that ePrize exemplifies. In his "rift" titled "Relax," Godin decries companies that value long hours over time for one's family. He extolls the values of working "smarter, not harder" and how shallow those "war time" memories of all-nighters and emergency deadlines are in retrospect.

A buzz term that comes to mind is "managing expectations." There is little of that at ePrize. It's much more of a "promise the moon" mentality that keeps workers practically chained to their desk. The mantra there is, "This is not a nine to five job." At least there's truth in advertising here. When Godin describes those companies where employees jeopardize their health and marriages for the sake of work, he's talking about ePrize.

Let's hope that, like other books read and treated like the gospel by ePrize's upper management, that Seth Godin saying "Relax" might manage to sink in.

Sep 27, 2006

It's Just A Jump To The Left

It's tough to not keep up with a company when you made so many friends while working there and continue to speak to them. The lastest from the "Oh my god, you're not going to believe this" file is hearing about what could only be considered "Project Chameleon Pt Deux".

Project Chameleon was the brilliant idea to take two managers and have them switch spots in some kind of "your department is running okay while yours is fucked up so lets see if it's the manager or the department" experiment. Consider it "Project Freaky Friday" without the comedy or field hockey.

Despite the results of this, it's happening again but on a larger scale. Consider it "Project Rocky Horror" where gads of managers are taking a step to the right and taking over another department. Sales moves to Fulfillment, Fulfillment to Project Management, Strategy to Sales, and so on, and so on, and so on. Is this one of those classic "bus moves" of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus? Is it one of those pragmatic "anyone can do anyone else's job because we're so skilled and diverse"? Or is it a move of desperation; a band-aid for some broken departments?

Regardless, the shuffle (52 Pick-up?) means that that a lot of jokers (gotta keep the card metaphor) continue to rise to / stay at the top while some hard working people remain where they're at. This is nothing new, of course. There's a finite number of upper management positions and a finite number of family/friends to take these slots. The only "break" comes from unexpected firings. Though, from what I hear, at least one other member of the upper management team might be feeling the cold shoulder rather soon. A "discard" as it were. That will leave a spot open for another nanny, cousin, brother, et cetera to fill the role. So, if you're a hard worker that's in line for a potential promotion, well... don't hold you're breath.

And then a step to the right.

Aug 25, 2006

A Reading List

I know you don't have any time to spend with your friends, family, or loved ones and these will never be mandatory Book Club reading but maybe you can sneak a page in somewhere.

Aug 22, 2006

Mad Love to the Haters

OMG - there's negativity afoot. Why do you have to harsh my cool, man? Do you know why? Because there's been an elephant sitting in the corner of the room for years and someone finally had the guts to point it out. Another reason why? Because, believe it or not, the Haters used to all be Lovers. No, really! We chugged that Kool Aid like nobody's business -- like the five cent pops we had before our contract with Coca-Cola brought a booty of free drinks.

Why all the negativity? We were betrayed. We bought into a dream only to end up with a nightmare. The brass ring was tin; the golden dream nothing but pyrite (e-pyrite?). Why shouldn't ex-Prizers sound like victims when, after all, they were victimized? If you love your job that's great. I was there. I felt that love in spades. I lived and breathed it for years. Don't consider this an invitation to post your undying devotion to the cause here. That's what Why I Like ePrize is for. This is the other side of the coin -- providing a forum to rant and rave and shake your tiny fist at the sky to vent the anger that might still be eating your insides. Or, more healthily, to laugh at the ridiculousness.

Just Do It - LOL

LOL Cult.

It's a War... but the Generals Go Home Early

Today at work I was told that for the next four weeks my company (the company I work for -- I don't OWN it) will be going whole hog on a project for the next four weeks. The plan includes two weeks of 10 hour days and two weeks of 12 hours days. There's a weekend of work in there too.

Is this like my old place of employment all over again? No. It's not. This is one month with a launch date at the end -- a light at the end of the tunnel. Likewise, this will be the first weekend I'll have to work this year. A quick look at the scoreboard has one weekend so far in 2006 while I worked 35 weekends in 2005. And, in my position at my former employer, I was not 'entitled' to any kind of extra cash for that extra work. I didn't even get an extra vacation day for that.

Not only do we have a target launch date but the best part has to be that this will be a full office effort. This will be everyone pitching in. This won't be a scenario where management status precludes long hours. Everyone's pitching in.

There's really nothing quite so disheartening as your fearless leader cutting out as soon as the five o'clock whistle blows while you're just settling in to work into the wee hours. (And you KNOW that they're out for the night -- they're not going to be doing anything for the rest of the night except spend time with their family, mistress, or significant other). It's like, "Next time I see you, the work better be done! 'Night!" And, zoom, they're off...!

Yeah, I'm a bit unrealisitic. If management stuck around at my former company every time someone worked late... they'd just about never leave. Here's a quote for an email I got last week:

"[Blank] and I have both put in all-nighters over the past week [...] I have not been out of the office until after 9pm for the past 2 weeks." If only that were the exception. Alas, it's the rule. It's funny. I blanked out the names of the poor suffering employees. That's the only way to know who they are as their stories are so typical. They won't be recognized for going above and beyond. If anything, they'll be chastized for not giving their "all" on another project. You're only as good as your last promotion.

Something in the air...

There were a spate of marriages and pregnancies going on for a while. To this one of the Project Managers said offhandedly, "Man, I swear there's something being pumped into the air here."

Quickly, almost too quickly, a friend replied, "Yeah... it's called FEAR."

Don't confuse fanaticism with fear. While the Kool-Aid might have you thinking that there is no place better that you could ever go and that leaving would be folly... it's not. This blog isn't a wake up call. It's a place to vent. Your best friend coworker getting canned or you getting canned might serve to wake you up. But don't think that it's the end of the world. Maybe your coworker(s) are even moving on. This doesn't mean that they're betraying you. Learn a lessong. There is life outside the multicolor walls.

Aug 21, 2006

Damned if you do...

When dizgruntled was still posting like mad (see postings below) and had a boatload of comments on his blog, one of the biggest complaints was, "What did you do to make changes? You can't just bitch all the time!"

To that end, I dug out a document I wrote in 2005. The last date I saved it was 11/23/2005. I'm curious if any of these ideas were implemented. I'd include more but won't as they may infringe on intellectual property.
I also wrote various proposals on team restructuring and did some hardcore R&D and proposal writing on branching out the company into some new directions which I have since seen other companies take off with. Rather than seek out new forms of revenue, let's just beat the old horses until we have to send them to the glue factory.

Let it not be said that folks who are embittered former employees never tried to make suggestions or get things done. The "damned if you don't" answer to that is that any kind of bellyaching means portraying a "victim". Victimize this.

Those Are Some Big Britches

"Some day, a company will come along and put us out of business, so it might as well be us."

Projected 2004 sales: $15.5 million plus
A spirit of innovation and evolution is driving ePrize toward its next goal: $30 million in sales by 2007. But it's not all about the bottom line at this company. Top-notch customer service and quality employees are two principal areas that spark ePrize's engine.
From "Young Millionaires: Class of 2004", Entrepreneur magazine, by Amanda C. Kooser

The agency’s reputation [...] led it to estimated 2005 sales of more than $25.5 million, a 37-percent increase over 2004 sales.
From 2006 Fast 50, Fast Company, by Author Unknown

Company sales jumped from $18.6 million in 2004 to nearly $30 million [in 2005]... When I first interviewed Linkner 11 months ago, he said his long-term goal was $100 million in annual sales by 2008 or 2009. Now he says the goal is $150 million by 2009.
From Motivation comes from make-believe, The Detroit Free Press, by Tom Long

From $15.5 million in 2004 to $150 million in 2009. Those are some really big britches to fill - a tenfold increase. They're on the path to doing this, but at what cost to the people that work there - and what reward to the people that work there? The rewards for some are obvious while the "little people" will take some heavy lumps. Growth is great, but at what cost?

Thinking Outside of the Lunchbox

Just a few comments about the posting below on "Lunchbox".

First... Going out to lunch is something that everyone should be able to enjoy. Sure, there might be the occasional emergency that crops up that might make going out inconvenient. But the real inconvenience comes when you would have meetings scheduled at lunch time. Sure, you can bring your lunch (or have your "Lunchbox" order -- as long as Lunchbox arrived before the start of the meeting... otherwise you'd find it cold an hour later) but you're stuck in the building for that time.

Not a big woop, right? Well... It begins to be a drag when you look at your Outlook calendar only to find that you've got three to four (or more -- depending on Staff Call) lunch meetings scheduled not just this week but every week.

I was guilty of setting one of those up, but with the understanding that it would be lunch outside of the building and that it was far more team-building than despotic demagoguery. My mother used to yell at me, "Go outside and blow the stink off of you." She certainly knew how to paint a picture with words, didn't she?

There was a stench associated with the grunts after a while. We were in the office from dawn (literally) to dusk (or far after).

Don't forget, too, that not only is there Lunchbox but there's Dinnerbox as well. This meal of the day arrives at 7PM and it's shameful how many employees are around to "enjoy" this second meal of the day at their place of employment.

One more thing... the posts below talk quite a bit about working 70 hours a week. Trust me, that's a pretty light week as far as they go. I usually clocked in at 80 on a light week and usually averaged out more at 100. In 2005 alone, I worked 35 out of 52 weekends. That figure includes "holiday weekends" -- including Christmas and Yom Kippur. The only difference between a holiday and a "normal weekday" was the locale where you were sitting with your laptop computer. As I used to tell my wife, "I can either ignore you at home or ignore you while I'm at the office."

The Island of Misfit Toybox

I used to bitch and moan that Upper Managment never wanted to spend time/money on R&D for new products or improvements to the products we used daily.

I was half right.

Time and Money aplenty were spent on new products all the time -- once they were sold and we were under a complete and crazy time crunch. There's no time like making a brand new product when you're under the gun to get it out the door and improvements/user concerns be damned.

The best part about all of this time/money spending came when we were making products that could/should be re-used with ease but would never get sold a second time and, thus, sat on a virtual shelf gathering virtual dust.

And then there are products that were researched and developed only to never be used. For two years I heard that we'd be switching over to "all Flash promotions" and that HTML was an antiquated humbug. Well... I just clicked on a dozen random links only to not find neither an all-Flash promotion nor any Flash element in any page to which I went. "Wha-Happened?"

The other thing that I love is that the person who replaced me had these huge dreams of adding DHTML/JS (think Proto AJAX) items to the pages to add a lot more "zing" and "pop". I didn't see any of those either.

Aug 20, 2006

In With The New

Up until now, all of the afore-posted entries were from the blog formerly known as "All Thing ePrize". The author of that blog (known as dizgruntled) removed them for fear of recompense. Perhaps fools rush in where angels fear to tread and there is no greater fool than I. What dizgruntled said needed to be said -- and still needs to be read.

Aug 18, 2006

Wages Breakdown

So for all of you typing about wages...have you seen a breakdown? Here's one...

30k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 14.42/hour
30k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 11.53/hour
30k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 9.62/hour
30k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 8.24/hour

35k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 16.83/hour
35k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 13.46/hour
35k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 11.22/hour
35k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 9.62/hour

40k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 19.23/hour
40k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 15.38/hour
40k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 12.82/hour
40k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 10.99/hour

45k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 21.63/hour
45k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 17.31/hour
45k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 14.42/hour
45k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 12.36/hour

50k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 24.04/hour
50k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 19.23/hour
50k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 16.03/hour
50k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 13.74/hour

55k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 26.44/hour
55k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 21.16/hour
55k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 17.63/hour
55k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 15.11/hour

60k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 28.85/hour
60k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 23.08/hour
60k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 19.23/hour
60k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 16.48/hour

65k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 31.25/hour
65k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 25/hour
65k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 20.83/hour
65k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 17.86/hour

70k/year @ 40hr/week = $ 33.65/hour
70k/year @ 50hr/week = $ 26.92/hour
70k/year @ 60hr/week = $ 22.43/hour
70k/year @ 70hr/week = $ 19.23/hour

Your thoughts...are they positive?

I'm trying to spin things in a differnt direction, and ask others for their opinions.

Here's my thought...

ePrize is just a baby, in terms of years as a business. The growth that is happening for the company is causing a lot of this 'drama' and 'growing-pains'. Linkner conceived this 'baby' of his, and has taught the company how to crawl and walk. Just as the company has started to really 'run', I feel like some of the 'parenting' was over-looked. Linkner forgot to teach his 'baby' how to slow down and stop.

Now, understand, 'tone' can be read into anything written here. The above was not meant to sound mean spirited or harsh, just an analogy.

You see the same thing in little kids. They get running so fast, they actually have to run into something or someone to stop. They just keep picking up more and more speed, and haven't figured out how to slow down.

So then my thought leads to this.
*(I don't have the answers...what do y'all think)*
What is ePrize going to 'run into' to stop or slow down?
Do you think ePrize needs to stop or slow down?
Do you think the employees have the energy, drive and ability to keep running?
How does all the running affect turn-over rate?
Does 'the running' affect turn-over rate?
Do you think I'm way off base here?

Blog Audit

I wanted to state, for the record, this is not meant to add fuel to the 'fire' that is ePrize.

I wanted to vent about my experience as an employee of ePrize. Mostly because when I received my official offer letter, I researched the company online. At that time I only found the 'warm fuzzies' about the company. If I had the opportunity to read statements from both current and former employees about their ePrize experience (such as are written here). I may have saved not only myself, but ePrize a little heartache as well.

As it has come to my attention that the masses @ ePrize now know this blog exists (that took a long time - chuckle) I also realize the ePrize legal team may be thinking about legal concerns.

Please realize...

*This is a personal blog; opinions are my own and do not reflect ePrize's views or intentionally reveal proprietary information.*

I have posted my opinions. I am encouraging others, employees or otherwise to post as well.

Now carry on, more to come.

What? Who? Why? Who?

Everyone, from time to time makes mistakes. There is nothing unusual about that statement.

At ePrize (where there are many quotes on the walls) there is a quote similar to this:

*"Don't be afraid to make a mistake. But make sure you don't make the same mistake twice."*

Boy, the leadership at ePrize is all over that statement. Understandably the work that is done at ePrize is not easy. I'm not about to say it is. So, mistakes happen. A poor decision is made. A deadline missed. Poor execution. Ok, so we're all together now. Mistakes happen and we all want to learn from them. Cool. Moving on.

How quickly can one person feel humiliated?
How much effort does it take to steal another person's confidence?
Exactly how confrontational is TOO confrontational?

I found that anytime a mistake occurred a series of events happened.

  1. What happened?
  2. Who did you tell? (you better be sure someone in leadership knew about this)
  3. Why did this happen? (what did you do!!!)
  4. Who's fault is it? (I want names, and I plan on going to them next)
  5. Go tell all your co-workers what happened, so everyone can learn from it! (nevermind the tears)
  6. Now get back to work! Here are 2 new projects!

Ok, I can hear all the posts now. Let me explain.

I agree with learning from mistakes and sharing them with your co-workers. I do not agree with tearing down someone's confidence. I do not agree with making an 'example' out of people while tearing them down psychologically and emotionally.

I don't expect hugs and pats on the back with every step. In fact I don't want that at all. I don't false compliments from leadership. Give it to me cut and dry.

*This is what is wrong.
**This is how it should be fixed.
Tell me not to do it again.*

But to dwell on mistakes for weeks. Telling employees they are doing a poor job, and still giving them more work? For goodness sakes, if someone is doing a poor job either lighten their workload, so they can catch their breath, or remove them from the system. Don't weigh down your weaker employees with more work! Who is that good for? Not the clients, not the 'team' they are working with. (bring on the comments gang!)

Asking Why is a good tactic sometimes. But not when the 'other' projects you are working on will suffer because of all the added time you have to account for to justify yourself, explain and re-explain yourself, and continually cover your ass with email chains, and documentation.

Agency or Vendor?

One of the most unique things about ePrize is their 'Client List'. If you've ever been in the elevator in their Pleasant Ridge Office, you are sure to take note of the hundreds of clients displayed on the walls.

As an employee you are reminded of this 'client' list time and time again.

The thing is essentially, ePrize is a vendor. They specialize in promotions. Often times, ePrize doesn't even have contact with the corporation. In fact they are hired by the corporations Advertising Agency.

So, what if the agency has a bad experience? What is the review of the promotion is terrible, or late? The agency can then choose another VENDOR to work with.

Here's the problem. ePrize fails to recognize themselves as the vendor.

In short, ePrize is the agencies 'bitch'. ePrize *has to* come through. Yet, the mentality, is to push back on the 'client'. Development pushes back, Project Management pushes back, Account/Sales/Leadership FREAK OUT, and blame production.

It's my belief that if ePrize would recognize they are the VENDOR, not an agency with a long standing contract, they would begin to shift their business model. Coke, Disney, and a million other big name clients can choose to go somewhere else. And if they are disappointed, time and time again, they will.

ePrize is not the only company that produces online promotions. They are however, the only company creating buzz about themselves, creating Promotion Summit's to increase awareness of themselves.

What would the 'client's' think if they found this blog?

Do you think their opinions of the company would change? Perhaps not. (after all it's just a silly blog)

ePrize does have a lot of promise. They promise to increase sales. They promise to increase workload. They promise to find a better work/life balance. They promise more perks and bells and whistles for their employees. (yoga, dry cleaning, manicure anyone?)

They promise their clients the moon! And often deliver cheese.

Scale it back for a moment ePrize. Catch your breath! Let your employees get caught up. Let your sales team finesse the clients they have, and stop worrying about 'new' clients and new sales. Take the time to produce what is actually being sold. WELL THOUGHT OUT, EXCELLENT PRODUCTS with FLAWLESS FUNCTIONALITY.

Right now you are not 'creating relationships' with your clients. Your employees are over worked, underpaid and will not have the all their focus on creating a solid product.

Do the right thing.

Working on the night train

I think we have all used, or at the very least heard the expression, "the light at the end of the tunnel'. Unfortunately, the ePrize business model is built without that phrase in mind. In fact, when the phrase is used around the office it has been said, "There is no light at the end of the tunnel".

Well that's comforting.

In my experience, most employers do try to fill your plate with work. Which is not by any means a complaint. I should 'earn my keep'. So I would have expected to receive a 'fair' workload. Again, assumptions got the best of me. I was not filled with a 40 hour workload, I was filled with a workload worth well over 40 hours.

You must understand. ePrize, like many other web based businesses work off a rate card. What this means is every role at the company, be it a software engineer, flash programmer, designer, project manager, or another other role, has a predetermined number of hours it should take to finish each 'step' to creating their product. In the case of ePrize the product is an online promotion. A sweepstakes, Instant Win game, Loyalty program, etc. Here's my issue with the rate card at ePrize.

  1. The rate card is OLD and out of date.
  2. I never saw this 'rate card' and when I would ask to see it, I was told it was not my job to worry about it.
  3. What may take one employee 1 hour to do, may take a new-er employee 3 hours
  4. EVERY PROJECT IS DIFFERENT. The clients, the make-up of the 'team members' within ePrize, the timing.

There are too many variables to assume one rate card is acceptable for EVERY project.

By the time you have all your projects assigned to you...There is NO WAY to get all the work done in a 40 hours week. Yet, you are still expected to be 'accountable' and get your work done. Ming you, this is the work, I never agreed to in the first place. It was put on my plate, with shiny wrapping, with anote that said, look at this cool client! Aren't we so LUCKY to work on tis project. (PS - You're screwed)

So the light at the end of the tunnel? At ePrize there is no such thing. As soon as crappy project 1 is off your plate, you still have crappy projects 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,and 7 to worry about....Plus you are about to get assigned project #8. WATCH OUT...The shit truck just stopped at your desk.

/Oh, yeah, I'm going to need you to come in on Sunday, em kay?/

eU - PeeEwe!

It's very interesting. ePrize has put a lot of effort into their training program. It starts with this series of classes they call eU, or ePRize University. (Catch-y huh?) In this series of classes the leaders from all the different departments come and talk to you and the rest of the class about what there department does and why they are so important. Then at the end of these classes, they actually test you on the information.

Again, this all seems really great. But then you come out of eU. You may have a little additional training specific to the role you are in, but be prepared for the workload. They have lined up the trucks at your desk...Waiting for you to tack up that pretty little diploma from eU...You are officially fair game!

This will be a short post, because I don't think I have the energy to really go into great detail about how if you take a job at this company, you will be thrown to the wolves.

Then you need to watch your step. You can get fired. These people are not scared to be an 'at will' employer. They will say it's because of lack of skills, or you just weren't 'ePrize material'. But really they remove those who do not drink the Kool-aid regularly. They remove those who will not conform. They push out, or fire those who have an outside life. Those who are older, or aren't the right religion. Those who disapprove of being at ePrize more than they have time to be with their families, or have a social life.

Man that place burns me.