Nov 12

Yes, but…

Anyone who has studied improvisational comedy is familiar with the “Yes, And…” exercise. Quick plug: Every Peppercommer is familiar with Yes, And… as well as stand-up and all types of improv since we’ve been offering it as part of our training for the past decade

But, I digress.

The Yes, And… exercise forces participants to listen and improvise on the fly by hearing what’s just been said by a team partner, selecting one word and then continuing the conversation/skit by starting with, “Yes, and….”

I mention the exercise since the brand new Thanksgiving Day campaign from PETA elicited the exact opposite from me. I thought, “Yes, but…”

You can read the details for yourself in the link but, in short, PETA is asking everyone to “Be just like Trump for one day and pardon your Thanksgiving turkey.”

Obviously, the PETA marketers thought the Trump name would break through the clutter and get everyone’s attention. Yes, and….. it sure got mine (but, in the wrong way).

Which is why I’m responding by interjecting, “Yes, but why associate your brand with another brand that is the polar opposite of everything you stand for, beginning with Purpose?

Branding and engaging target audiences in authentic conversations is becoming increasingly more difficult and complex, but I think PETA is doing itself, its purpose and its many advocates a MAJOR disservice by leveraging an antithetical brand to promote their own cause.

I’m really interested in hearing what turkey and Trump lovers alike think of this ploy. So, please, put down your carving knives for one nanosecond and post a comment.

# # #

Nov 06

Do the ends always justify the means? Better ask Pam and Ed

A brand launch that could only occur in the era of Trump –

There’s fake news, misinformation and disinformation. And then there’s the completely fabricated story of Crowdsourcers Pam and Ed’s upcoming wedding on December 1st. I’ll let you read the entire chain of events in the Buzzfeed story below, but here’s the gist:

  • A few weeks ago, an apparently real couple named Pam and Ed posted a crowdsourcing request on Facebook pleading poverty and asking anyone and everyone to help make their wedding dreams come true. Well, guess what? They raised some $30,000 from unsuspecting, good natured fools.
  • Then Pam suddenly announced that, after much soul searching, the couple had decided to call off the wedding. BUT Pam said the happy couple would spend their newfound $30,000 to fund a spectacular, one-of-a-kind honeymoon. Boy, doesn’t Pam sound special? Oh, and btw, Pam indicated the couple would let everyone know when the wedding would be rescheduled so they could again help crowdfund it. Talk about hubris.
  • Needless to say, the entire online world went postal and Pam’s sob story/scam became the 14th most upvoted post of all time on r/ChoosingBeggars (Gee, what an honor). The top 13 must be very special.

Anyway, turns out the entire thing was a hoax perpetrated by a new website called Capturedit.com which describes itself as a “social media drama” site that is now searching for “Groomzilla” stories to dramatize.

So I ask you: In this era of incivility, quid pro quo’s and outright lies, where does a business/marketer draw the line? Ponder these questions:

  1. Is it fair to intentionally trick people to donate $30,000 for a fictitious wedding and then drive the crowd to a frenzy by suggesting the money wouldn’t be returned?
  2. Is that the way you would launch a business?
  3. Have things become so sleazy nowadays that this is considered brilliant marketing and not something that even P.T. Barnum would find nauseating?

I can’t say, but I sure would like to know where Pam and Ed are planning to go for their honeymoon. $30,000 can buy a whole lot of paradise. 😊

# # #

It Looks Like That Viral Story About A Bride Stealing $30,000 In Wedding Donations Was Just A Marketing Stunt

A single screengrab — and a lack of Facebook reactions — were the likely giveaways.

Last updated on November 6, 2019, at 9:48 a.m. ET

Posted on November 5, 2019, at 8:07 p.m. ET

Ljupco / Getty Images

A viral Facebook post allegedly written by a bride who canceled her $30,000 crowdfunded wedding and refused to return the money to her friends and family appears to have been fake and created as a marketing stunt to drive traffic to a new website focused on ~social media drama~.

On Monday, screenshots of the supposed Facebook post and the reactions from the bride’s family were uploaded to the subreddit r/ChoosingBeggars.

In the screenshots, a bride named “Pam” announced that she and her fiancé “Edward” were canceling their Dec. 1 wedding and not returning the $30,000 in donations they had received from their family and friends.

Reddit / joyeuxanniversaire1 / Via reddit.com

“Don’t worry, the money you’ve donated will not be spent in vain but rather used towards a honeymoon in the coming months,” Pam wrote. “After we regain financial stability and hold calm in our hearts after a honeymoon we will announce a new wedding date and re open our money fund for any further gifts. Weddings are expensive!”

Pam goes on to say that she’s updating the couple’s “gift fund registry on Amazon” for vacation gifts in case anyone wants to purchase anything for their upcoming trip, and reassures her Facebook friends that the new wedding — for which she is clearly expecting more financial contributions — is going to be “a HIT.”

In a follow-up comment, the original poster shared another screenshot that claimed to be reactions to the post from “Pam.” They’re about what you’d expect.

Reddit / joyeuxanniversaire1 / Via reddit.com

Although the names of the “commenters” are blurred out, they are identified by their relationship to the bride and groom for context — although not much context is needed, since everybody commenting is really angry.

The post blew up. It is currently the 14th most upvoted post of all time on r/ChoosingBeggars, where it was originally posted. The original poster’s comments have thousands of upvotes.

ADVERTISEMENT

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

The thread was written up by media outlets around the world.

Google News

People loved it.

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

Really loved it.

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

They demanded more content, more drama.

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

And the original poster promised to share an update with more comments from “Pam’s” family and friends.

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

Here’s where things start to get interesting.

Later on Monday, more screenshots of supposed comments from “Pam’s” post appeared — but not on Reddit.

The new images were uploaded to the website CapturedIt.club. The homepage banner promised that the site delivered “social media drama.” At the time the update went up, it was the only content on the website.

 Another interesting thing? The website was brand-new. It was created Monday, the same day that the Reddit post was made.

Domain Tools / screenshot

The update included eight new screenshots of the “thread” — these, however, were all stamped with a “capturedit.club” watermark. The originals didn’t have this.

It’s also written as if the author has no direct connection to “Pam” and her “family.”

“Immediately after the post’s popularity, the Redditor was bombarded with notifications, mostly from people dying to get an update, like this guy. We feel you, Mr. Soup-yCup!” the update read on the website, using this screenshot to show how people were hungry for more drama.

But this screenshot might’ve given away more than CapturedIt.club intended.

This is a screengrab of a private Reddit chat request that Soup-yCup sent to the redditor who posted the original screenshots about the alleged greedy bride. It’s something only the person who made the viral Reddit post would see.

In other words, someone behind this viral social media marketing website apparently has access to the Reddit account that posted the original thread.

Still, these new and watermarked “updates” from the Saga of Pam were shared to different platforms, including Twitter, where they have been retweeted thousands of times.

christ on a bike’s AUDACITY@wthDARIELLE

Anyway, I have a reminder set cuz the person who posted it is gonna update us with 5 pages worth of comments lmao

christ on a bike’s AUDACITY@wthDARIELLE

Updated comment section 1

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
844 people are talking about this

Highlights from the “updated” comment thread include alleged family members vowing to sue for the return of their money.

christ on a bike’s AUDACITY@wthDARIELLE

Updated comments 2: #3 is the brides explanation. She needs to get beat tf up on god

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
998 people are talking about this

“Pam” also has a nervous breakdown and claims to use money from the fund to pay for her emergency medical bills.

christ on a bike’s AUDACITY@wthDARIELLE

More to come

View image on Twitter
859 people are talking about this

These watermarked “updates” made their way back to Reddit, and people there began to get suspicious about whether the whole thing was true. One person noticed that there were no reactions, likes, or dislikes in any of the screenshots — which seemed a little weird, given the content.

Further, there are no GoFundMe pages featuring a “Pam” or “Edward” for the purposes of a wedding. And despite the fact that “Pam” referenced an Amazon wedding registry in her first post, no registry could be located for a Pam–Edward wedding on Dec. 1 or any other date.

Amazon

BuzzFeed News reached out for comment and clarification to the CapturedIt website’s submissions email Tuesday morning. Soon after the request was sent, the CapturedIt website was drastically updated with a sleeker look, revamped submissions page, and a new blog post soliciting “groomzilla” stories.

According to the submissions page, CapturedIt will only accept “verifiable and compelling drama from all social media websites,” and all screenshots sent in must be uncensored.

Also, apparently, there will be a podcast?

BuzzFeed News has identified the person behind this website and reached out via multiple channels.

UPDATE

Following the publication of this story, the Reddit account that made the original post was deleted and everything on the Captured It website was taken down — except the homepage, which now features a grinning emoji and the caption, “BEN HOBBS PRANKSTERS.”

Ben Hobbs is not the name of the individual BuzzFeed News identified as the person running capturedit.club.

Oct 30

When it comes to inane (and insane) line extensions, it sure seems like this company doesn’t know s*hit from Shinola

I’ve loved everything about Shinola (www.shinola.com) since they launched with a commitment to be of, by and for Detroit. The superb watchmaker has played a small, but highly visible, role in MoTown’s slow, but sure, revival. How’s that for a higher purpose? 

But, as is often the case with successful brands, Shinola is rapidly losing track of what prompted their early success and, veering badly off course to make long-time brand advocates such as me begin to scratch our wrists and heads.

Case in point, Shinola (whose quality of leather in products ranging from wallets and briefcases to wrist bands and all sorts of unique bling) is nonpareil, just introduced a real doozie of a new product.

Hold for it.

Now available just in time for the holiday shopping season? What else but a handsome, all-leather version of the popular board game Monopoly? I say again, a leather-bound version of Monopoly. Now who at Shinola was ingesting what type of edible when this was declared a great line extension?

It’s laugh out loud absurd. With a market correction looming large on the horizon who, but a few one-percenters and Oval Office occupants, would possibly plunk down hundreds and hundreds of dollars for something like this?

And trust me, the Monopoly board isn’t the first truly bizarre line extension from Shinola.

The entrepreneurial super nova is at the cusp of eroding their incredible brand loyalty with this sort of nonsense. Is it over confidence? Hubris? Are they channeling P.T. Barnum’s belief “…there’s a sucker born every minute?”

Regardless of their intent, misery loves company and lord knows Shinola wouldn’t be the first brand to lose its way.

Beginning with the ill/fated New Coke disaster of the early 1980’s, consider these ill-conceived brand extensions from the past:

1.) In an attempt to compete with Apple’s dominant iPod MP3 player, Microsoft released the Zune in 2006. As of November 15, 2015, Microsoft discontinued all streaming, downloading, and other music services for the Zune. In the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009, Microsoft recorded a 42% decline in revenue in its non-gaming devices segment — a decline largely attributable to the Zune’s poor performance. While the device might have been a reasonable choice for consumers, a number of reported bugs did not help sales. On December 31, 2008, most if not all 30GB Zunes stopped functioning simply because the underlying code had failed to account for the extra day in leap years.

 

2.) Zippo made a perfume in a bottle shaped like a giant lighter:

https://lipglossismylife.com/2012/04/11/zippo-the-original-fragrance-review/

And I would be less than transparent in not adding that  Peppercomm has made more than one ill-conceived brand extension in our 25-year history ranging from a dotcom that opened exactly when the tech bubble burst, a licensing firm intended to provide us with new points of entry into major brands that, well, never did. A sales offering that combined the best practices of media training to help sales forces “win” biz dev pitches (but didn’t). And then there were a few acquisitions that, well, let’s just say, those were our versions of the Shinola Monopoly board.

I’ve become very gun shy of line extensions and now make sure we carefully incubate a new service before bringing it to the market.

Our Peppercomm team’s outstanding Purpose Stress Test is a great example. I bet we “tested” our stress test with at least 10 Fortune 500 CCO’s before we were confident enough to believe we were adding a smart extension to our service offering.

Oh, and one other thing for those of you who have never heard the expression, “You don’t know sh*t from shinola.” It was a term popularized by G.I.’s in WW I and directed at, who else, but their commanding officers. 😎

So, caveat marketer and agency owner alike, the line extension you may be salivating to announce could very well be the first step in eroding customer loyalty in an era when loyalty rivals fresh water and honesty as our scarcest commodity.

           ###

Sep 30

Does the PR profession care about improving its leadership?

I’m not asking that question.

Truth be told, I’m asking it on behalf of Dr. Bruce Berger, professor emeritus, advertising & public relations at The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. And his question comes in the wake of Plank’s rather sad, and quite sobering, Report Card on PR Leaders.

Before I continue, please note that, of the more than 800 respondents surveyed, 35 percent were top leaders while the remaining 65 percent were personnel at one, two or three levels below the power brokers.

The report, co-sponsored by Heyman Associates, reveals a gap between leaders and their direct reports that makes The Grand Canyon seem like a pothole in comparison.

To wit:

– Leaders gave themselves a grade of A-minus in five fundamental areas of leadership: organizational culture, leadership performance, organizational trust, work engagement and job satisfaction.

– Direct reports, however, gave their leaders a highly mediocre grade of C-plus!

Holy chasm, Batman!

This is the third such study from Plank that reveals a disturbingly growing trend that has yet to be explored by our industry press or associations.  In fact, the gaps between how leadership and those that report to them have only expanded with each subsequent report.

Rather than hazard a guess as to the why, I went directly to the source, Dr. Berger. Here’s what he said:

“The size of the gap is striking and concerning. It suggests some real issues in organizations such as a continued lack of two-way communication, limited decision-making power, diversity concerns and, according to females in the survey, organizational cultures that are less supportive of them than men.”

Bill Heyman went on to say, “In some organizations, the culture itself may present barriers to significant change. Or perhaps some of those who have the power to effect change may be the problem. Other leaders may simply not want to let go of their decision-making power. Still other PR leaders might have egos that reduce the voices of others or resist a willingness to listen to them or effect personal changes.

“Or (and this is critical in this blogger’s mind) perhaps the profession itself doesn’t actually believe their leaders have such issues, or don’t want to believe it.”

Heyman’s comment stuck me as spot-on since we find ourselves in the midst of an absolute blizzard of self-aggrandizing awards nowadays.

Where does one start? “30 Under 30”? “40 under 40”?Purposeful Persons”? “50 Most Powerful”? “50 Most Influential”? “50 Most Omniscient”?

Or how about the sudden proliferation of halls of fame? It seems like there’s a new variation on the theme being announced by a media property nearly every week.

Mind the gap

So how can we laud our profession’s leaders on the one hand while The Plank Center Report continually reinforces that there’s something very rotten in Denmark?

Before I cease and desist, I must share one other troubling finding: nearly half of the respondents said they do not belong to a single professional association. Berger and Heyman believe the reasons why include “… a growing disenchantment with some of the big associations (more words and flash vs. substance) AND employers not paying for membership.”

That is a HUGE concern in my opinion.

How can tomorrow’s leaders expand their universe of knowledge in our profession if their interest in joining professional associations is either on the wane or prevented?

It would seem to me that, while the trade media continue to wax poetic about our amazing profession and hand out more awards than New Jersey State Troopers do speeding tickets, Rome is burning.

The big question is this: What will it take for our trade journalists and association presidents to take these findings seriously and start offering insights and education that will change the direction of a very dangerous course we are on?

Let’s put the self-congratulatory awards on temporary hold and figure out what’s broken before it’s too late.

                                        ###

Sep 13

Skip-Ads. Not Blogs

Few things (aside from the nightly news) are more annoying than having to deal with Skip-Ads on “must see” video links forwarded by friends or colleagues. 

I’ve got to believe marketers can find far more cost effective ways to:

A) Engage in an authentic conversation with key stakeholders

B) Not permanently enrage target audiences to the point where they won’t even consider buying a product or service because the damn YouTube ad is preventing them from seeing what they really want to see.

As you’ll read in this Marketing Land article (which, mercifully, contains no Skip-Ads) marketers are faced with two choices:

1.) Paying audiences to watch their bogus spots.

2.) Creating lavish, spellbinding serials that sell the product or service in question and entice viewers to actually look forward to the next thrilling episode.

Good luck with the latter strategy.

Personally, I’d reallocate the ridiculous amounts of creative and production costs necessary to churn out a memorable, snackable and watchable YouTube series and, instead, spend bucks on:

– Creating relevant and shareable social media content

– Developing way cool Apps

– Engaging with credible influencers (who seem to grow fewer as the days grow shorter)

– Investing in my integrated marketing channel of choice: public relations.

As far as Option One is concerned, marketers would have to put me on a serious retainer to get me NOT to press Skip-Ad (but, note to advertisers: I’m open to entertaining your best offer).

Until then, I shall continue to skip at will (and do so with equal parts relish and disgust).

And I sure hope you didn’t hit Skip-Blog right after reading my headline.

Sep 09

Purpose Goes Back to School

There’s been an overwhelming amount of coverage about the critical role of organizational purpose (especially in light of the recent Business Roundtable announcement. But how many high schools do you know who are in the midst of developing their reason for being?

Longtime Peppercomm Partner and New York General Manager Jackie Kolek has quite the tale to tell. Enjoy (and please share your thoughts, reactions, etc.)….

Last week I attended the annual back to school night at my kids’ high school. I typically skip the principal’s opening remarks, but since we have a new principal this year, I decided to check him out. I walked in expecting to hear the same spiel about academic excellence, building resiliency, helping our kids manage stress and what a wonderful school we have. What I wasn’t expecting was a 20-minute purpose workshop.

Taking over as principal of one of the top high schools in the state is no easy feat. Where does one go from there? Well, turns out that with our top SAT scores, high college acceptance rates and competitive athletic programs there was still one thing missing: a purpose.

Corporate purpose has been the buzzword of 2019, but I never thought about the need for a purpose at a public high school. In explaining how he is working with the teachers, staff, administrators and students at the school in creating their purpose, Principal Thomas walked the parents through an exercise to create our own purpose. He instructed us to ask ourselves five key questions:
1. Who are you?
2. What do you love to do?
3. Who do you do it for?
4. What do they want or need from you?
5. How are they changed or transformed by what you give them?

This is brilliant in its simplicity. Over the course of twenty minutes, he really got the whole audience thinking about why we show up every day. In my client work I often run into brands that are confusing their mission or values with their purpose. Purpose, our new principal explained, must be intentional and it must tap into your passion. It isn’t a tagline and it isn’t a goal for revenue or market share. Rather, its what moves us all forward and keeps us engaged and driven to succeed.

This month Peppercomm will mark its 25th anniversary. Due to a recent business transformation, we are in the unique position of having 25 years of experience and expertise, coupled with the hunger and drive of a start up with just one year under our belts. I’m looking forward to asking these five critical questions of myself and asking my colleagues to answer them as well.

###

Sep 04

What do 25 years of experience and 11 months of entrepreneurial zeal add up to? A new breed of agency

I’m beyond proud to announce that Peppercomm is marking the beginning of our 25th year in business. That’s no mean feat in any field, much less the roller coaster world of public relations. 

Rather than focus on those brutally difficult first few months in the Fall of 1995, I thought I’d instead salute three brave souls who had the gumption to retain an unknown start-up and entrust their blue-chip business with us (thereby providing the credibility so desperately important to any start-up).

So, here’s a special 25th anniversary shout out to:

  • Gary Sullivan, who at the time was chief communications office of Alexander & Alexander, a global business insurance company. Gary retained us to execute a national thought leadership campaign whose goal was to elevate the role of the risk manager within the C-Suite. The program was enormously successful and Gary took us with him when Aon acquired A&A and, later, when he joined SwissRe.
  • Valerie Di Maria, current owner of The 10 Company but, at the time, CCO of GE Capital. Valerie was looking for a creative way to re-position GE Financial (an amalgam of insurance companies the conglomerate had bought over the years) and position GEFA as THE go-to source for personal finance needs. Cutting to the chase, she invited us to compete against two global agencies for the business. We labored day-and-night to devise a breakthrough campaign that would create the GE Center for Financial Learning, a first-of-its-kind online learning center that appealed to all age groups and demographics. We won the business and maintained the relationship for over a decade.
  • Ben Case, dean of external affairs at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. I’d been fortunate to convince the Fuqua account to follow me as I jumped from one agency to another in the late 1980s and early ‘90s but I knew I’d have my hands full trying to convince Ben to assign the Top 10 B-School’s business to a start-up. We met at the Yale Club and agreed that Peppercomm would work pro bono for one month. If we proved we could still generate A-Level results, we’d continue as his AOR. If not, well you can guess what the outcome would have been. Needless to say we nailed it and eventually went on to win a Silver Anvil for the launch of Duke’s global MBA program.

Those three, blue-chip accounts transformed Peppercomm into a force to be reckoned with. And, I’m pleased to say that Gary, Valerie, Ben and I still stay in touch and are good friends.

Some 23 years later, Peppercomm underwent a seismic metamorphosis and was reborn as an entirely new breed of firm 11 months ago (Note: The firm is named in honor of my late black lab, Pepper. Hence the use of breed as a double entendre).

Today, I believe we own a positioning NO other firm in our field can match:

  • 25 years of deep category expertise
  • 11 months of an entrepreneurial drive and zeal that meets, if not exceeds, the energy and enthusiasm I experienced when I first launched my firm a quarter century ago.

And boy, oh boy, have we ever been on a roll. In just the past 90 days, we’ve begun work with the likes of trivago and Pirelli, extended our scope with BMW and engaged with two other major retailers while maintaining all of our existing blue chip clients (and being invited to pitch several other sizeable pieces of business).

I’d like to think the market is recognizing the uniqueness of the ‘new” Peppercomm. It sets us apart from every other firm and provides the two things that are front of mind for every client and prospect I’ve ever met: decades of expertise and the entrepreneurial passion that only a start-up can bring to the plate.

Today, I know that we are not only poised for limitless success, but are a far wiser and hungrier agency than the one that first entered the business world a quarter century ago.

###

Aug 30

Ding Dong: Purpose and Peril Calling

Today’s guest blog is authored by longtime Peppercomm partner, Margaret “Maggie” O’Neill. Please share your reactions on the social channel of your choice…

Just this week, the Washington Post (and others) reported on Ring’s nationwide partnership with 400 police departments as a part of their “new neighborhood watch” mission.  With this mission comes growing privacy and surveillance concerns that are certainly getting louder. 

So, where does the good outweigh the bad for Ring, and for other brands with such clearly defined purpose?

I remember when Ring launched at the Consumer Electronics Show. I was in a taxi and saw a media clip from Las Vegas TV talking about the new company and how they had outfitted a high-crime neighborhood in Las Vegas with new doorbells and had already made a reduction in crime leading into the show.  I thought it was brilliant.  An idea that serves the greater good and is able to make a splash at the biggest tech show, is marketing gold.

Since that January morning, Ring has become a household name, breaking ahead of the other ten doorbell/security companies that launched that year, and expanding its influence far beyond the technology it provides. Its Neighborhood Watch program allows Ring users to opt-in to sharing their camera footage with law enforcement partners.

And even with the privacy backlash, Ring is standing behind their commitment (one that is authentic to the brand and has been in place since its inception). Eric Kuhn, general manager of Neighbors, Ring’s companion app, was quoted in The Washington Post saying, “The mission has always been making the neighborhood safer. We’ve had a lot of success in terms of deterring and solving crimes that would otherwise not be solved as quickly.”

So, all good, right?  Apparently not.

Well, according to the article, “legal experts and privacy advocates have voiced alarm about the company’s eyes-everywhere ambitions and increasingly close relationship with police, saying the program could threaten civil liberties, turn residents into informants, and subject innocent people, including those who Ring users have flagged as ‘suspicious,’ to greater surveillance and potential risk.”

So somewhere between sparking paranoia and protecting neighborhoods lies the mission that Ring set out on when they started.  While the brand appears to have a large enough user base, brand loyalty and support from police to ride this out, scrutiny will only increase as the debate rages on.

As for me, I remain impressed with the first efforts in Las Vegas and with the brand’s continued focus beyond just their product. As long as Ring continues to walk the walk and remain consistent in their mission, they can weather this storm.  But in a world where brand loyalty changes quickly, they need to stay ahead of the privacy pundits and ensure their opt-in policies remain just that.

###

Aug 14

What sets us apart

Beginning about 12 years ago, I injected stand-up and improvisational comedy into the body of Peppercomm. The results were nothing short of game changing and played a critical role in our winning so many workplace culture awards. 

Fast forward to today and the new, red hot Peppercomm (see my recent Tweets about being named US AOR for three global brands) and comedy training for our team is something still very much a part of our DNA.

Last week, Sir Clayton of Fletcher (aka Clayton Fletcher), led a half-day stand-up session for 12 of our newer employees.

Clayton (@claytoncomic), Peppercomm’s chief comedy officer (Note: he is one of two chief comedy officers in the world. The other works at a nuclear power plant in Kazakstan), was kind enough to pen today’s guest blog which features one of last week’s stand-up training participants, Janine Savarese.

I think you’ll find their conversation interesting since it captures the why of why we did this for so many years in the past and why we will continue to do so for many years to come.

Comedy is one of Peppercomm’s key differentiators since oh-so-many agencies take themselves oh-so-seriously. Not us 😎

As Peppercomm’s Chief Comedy Officer, one of my responsibilities is teaching all Peppercommers how to do stand-up comedy. Seriously! After a recent comedy training session at Broadway Comedy Club, I spoke with Peppercomm’s new Senior Vice President, Janine Savarese, shortly after she made her “comedy debut” in front of her fellow Peppercomm employees.

CLAYTON: First off, congratulations on joining my favorite company this past January. How have your first seven months on the job been?

JANINE: Joining Peppercomm has been great! I’ve spent the majority of my career on the agency side of the business, and had my own consultancy before joining Peppercomm. I’ve been familiar with Peppercomm for a very long time and I’m excited to now be a part of such a creative and progressive firm. I feel very fortunate to have been able to join this talented team at a particularly exciting time for the company.

C: Now you’re a busy person, juggling a large roster of clients and managing countless other responsibilities. What was your reaction when you were told that you were coming here, to Broadway Comedy Club, for a class in stand-up comedy?

J: I thought I might be able to get out of it! I was terrified, honestly. When I was younger, I was never afraid of public speaking or performing. When you started talking about how it’s normal to get nervous when getting up in front of people, it hit home for me. In the last few years, I’ve noticed that I am so critical of myself now in these situations, especially when I am nervous and have seen that as a weakness in myself. One of the key lessons I learned through your session, is that being nervous conveys to the audience that I am emotionally invested in the presentation, and that causes them to care about me as a human being. Clearly, that’s a relationship I want to be able to build with anyone with whom I come into contact, so I’m now less critical of my nervousness and more accepting of it. And, a little less nervous too!

C: Well, the truth is you didn’t seem nervous at all, just fired up, excited and passionate about the story you were telling. Audiences want to see someone take a risk, and the longer you were on onstage, the more risks you took. I watched you become increasingly invested in your story about how your husband didn’t make the bed properly, and I couldn’t stop laughing! Do you think it will be easy to translate that fearlessness into your job?

J: Yes, I do. What was so rewarding about the process was learning about myself. It made me think differently about how I interact with others. Addressing my fear was exhilarating, but the real takeaway was rethinking how I connect with an audience, whether it’s one person or a hundred. At the end of the day, people care about the time they spend with others, and it’s reciprocal.

C: Absolutely! So many speakers forget that the audience isn’t rooting for failure. In the comedy club, everyone hopes I’m funny. Likewise, you’ve never gone to a business presentation in hopes that the speaker would make no sense and have no connection with the crowd. We all want the same thing, a real story that inspires us.

J: And another major takeaway was the importance of listening. Learning to pick up on cues, both verbal and nonverbal. Particularly in a new business pitch, feeling the sentiment in the room is so important, because if it’s not resonating you need to change course! I think too many times we forget that and just focus on all the points we want to make, or even our own nerves, rather than really listening and connecting with the other people in the room with us.

C: How was the comedy training session different than you thought it would be?

J: Well, first off, just walking into this place and feeling the creative energy here was unexpected. I thought we’d be in a conference room somewhere, fluorescent lights, and some guy would try to teach us all how to be funny. I’ve always thought you’re either funny or you’re not. But as I stood in the hallway on my conference call, I noticed all these creative types roaming the hallways, pictures of Rosie O’Donnell and Chris Rock on the wall, and I knew I was in for something different. Especially as a big fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I started to feel glad I didn’t actually manage to get out of it. As a group, we all got to know each other in a different way, and that was terrific. I was skeptical that I was going into a “drink the Kool-Aid” situation, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much value there was to it. The three hours flew by, as well!

C: Oh, good! Do you still think that a person is either funny or not?

J: I don’t think the goal was to teach people to be funny. Instead, we learned to think about how you are with different people, and how to use a natural sense of humor in a variety of situations. We learned to story-tell in a different way. We learned to use our powers of persuasion, how to communicate in a clear way, and the importance of having fun! I was also shocked at how funny some of our quieter, more introverted colleagues ended up being too.

C: Most of the hilarious professional comedians I know are introverts at heart. I think the public would be very surprised to meet some of the dynamic and charismatic performers they’ve seen here, after the show ends.

J: Well, that’s something too, isn’t it? Sometimes the best experiences in life are the most unexpected.

###

Aug 12

Unforgettable

Virginia Dandridge “Dandy” Stevenson departed this world one year ago today. She may be gone, but she is most assuredly not forgotten (at least by the employees at Peppercomm and just about anyone else who had the distinct pleasure of knowing this true force of nature). 

When I wrote last Summer’s homage to Dandy’s untimely passing, I had no real idea how much I would miss everything about her.  Let me go on the record by saying, I miss everything about her.

Dandy was the heart-and-soul of Peppercomm. And trust me when I say a little piece of Peppercomm died when Dandy did.

It’s difficult to describe how important she was to me, our clients, our employees and pretty much everyone in our greater ecosystem.

I first met Dandy when she worked for Bob Druckenmiller, the former CEO of Porter-Novelli. I’m guessing the year was 2000, the absolute peak of the insanity otherwise known as the dotcom era.

Having named my start-up Peppercomm in honor of my black Labrador retriever, I inadvertently positioned my embryonic firm as a dotcom specialist in publicizing start-ups who possessed endless amounts of cash (offset by a complete ignorance as to how to become profitable).

But that was their problem, not mine. At the absolute peak of the insanity, we assigned three, full-time employees who did nothing else but field and vet the 40 or so new business calls we received every single day. It was an other-worldly moment in time that, while it lasted, propelled Peppercomm from a tiny start-up to a formidable “Go-To” firm that was on every VC’s or dotcom’s shortlist.

But I digress.

Since we were an incredibly hot property, Peppercomm was courted by larger agencies who, lacking dotcom creds, were prepared to move heaven and earth to acquire us.

Acquisition offers came in at almost the same level of frequency as the unsolicited calls from nascent dotcoms.

I was simultaneously humbled and eager to capitalize on our unique position in the market.

As a result, I took meetings with everyone from Paul Hicks at Ogilvy and GCI’s Bob Feldman to Ketchum’s Ray Kotcher/Rob Flaherty and Porter’s Druckenmiller and David Copithorne.

Cutting to the chase, I absolutely adored Druck and Copithorne (whose firm had been recently acquired by PN).

I called Ray Kotcher and told him we were going with his Omnicom-owned competitor. Ray was Ray and gracefully bowed out.

And that’s when Dandy Stevenson entered stage left.

I had retained a great life coach/business consultant by the name of Richard Harte, Ph.D.

Dick’s job was to play “bad cop” as Druck, Copithorne and I discussed multiples, whether Peppercomm would retain its name (a very big deal, btw) and what role I would play after the earn-out (btw, this was very heady stuff for a guy who had launched his two-person firm only 60 months earlier and was now salivating at the prospect of becoming an overnight multimillionaire).

In the midst of the negotiations, Dandy and I connected. While her loyalties were with PN, she would often pull me aside to tell me exactly what I’d be dealing with in terms of reporting to Druck/Copithorne and Omnicom.

Thanks in large part to Dandy’s sharing what she probably shouldn’t have shared, I was ready to sign on the dotted line.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to a house in the Hamptons and my own private jet: the dotcom bubble burst.

Omnicom froze every transaction. Druck called me and said, “Hang in. We’ll get through this and consummate the deal.”

The bubble had burst, and the firms that had been in great demand yesterday (Niehaus/Ryan, Peppercommm, etc.) became toxic in a nanosecond.

Omnicom immediately withdrew their offer.

Meanwhile, we scrambled and did our very best to quickly reposition ourselves as a corporate/Btob/financial specialist. Talk about retrofitting on the fly!

And, hold for it: Druck called me to say that he and Copithorne were being let go by the sensitive souls at Omnicom.

He asked if I could hire his now erstwhile assistant, Dandy Stevenson.

Stunned, but intrigued nonetheless, I agreed to go to Druck’s hastily-arranged farewell party.  The only people I recognized were Druck and Dandy. He suggested the Danderoo and I convene a private convo.

We did. I was smitten and realized how much professionalism Dandy would bring to what was still, in effect, a start-up (that would be Peppercomm, btw).

I easily overcame the objections of some colleagues who thought Dandy’s best days were behind her and we made The Danderoo an offer.

The rest is (or was) history.

Although she’s been gone for a full year now, I know Dandy would be beyond proud of Peppercomm’s  achievements.

We’ve won eight mega accounts in the past 90 days, been named US AOR by such global brands as Pirelli and trivago, and are poised to replicate the same rapid, double digit growth that first attracted the likes of Ketchum, Ogilvy, Porter, Edelman and god knows how many others.

I wish my mom, dad, older brother and Dandy were still alive to see Peppercomm survive and, yes, thrive.

Knowing Dandy, she’d pop open one of her patented cans of Diet Coke and say, “I knew you’d win in the end.”

Missing you big time, Dandy (and so wishing you could see what we’ve accomplished since you left). But I know you know and that’s all that matters.

Note to Repman readers: Count on an annual Dandy Stevenson homage for the foreseeable future. Some may have moved on, but I will never forget her countless contributions.

 ###