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.

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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.

 ###

Jul 25

Jim Bouton and me

My childhood sports heroes were:

  • Joe Willie Namath
  • Walt “Clyde” Frazier
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Jim Bouton.

Yes, Jim Bouton.

He authored “Ball Four,” one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

Indeed, Bouton’s Ball Four was the first real “kiss-and-tell” sports book. It was an immediate best seller and was ranked third on Sports Illustrated’s top 100 sports books of all time. Indeed, when the New York Public Library celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1995, Ball Four was the ONLY sports book included among 159 titles in the library’s “books of the century” exhibit.

I inhaled Ball Four when it was published.

Bouton’s provocative prose tore away the patina of sainthood that had been bestowed on baseball players from day one (whenever that might have been).

To borrow Howard Cosell’s signature phrase of the era, Bouton told it like it was.

He reported on Mickey Mantle’s battles with alcoholism, called Carl Yastrzemski and Roger Maris loafers and said Whitey Ford routinely scuffed baseballs to make them move in unnatural and illegal ways.

The baseball establishment saw Ball Four as pure heresy and detested Bouton for what he’d done. He was forever branded as the Benedict Arnold of the National Pastime.

But Bouton didn’t care. He was hip, cool, intellectual and a counter-culture liberal who wasn’t afraid to advocate for Civil Rights, take a stand against the Vietnam War and provide his POV on the first signs of divisiveness in our country.

I could write a book about Bouton. Instead I decided to honor his passing on July 10th by remembering my day with him in 1985.

At that time, Bouton had exited baseball but reinvented himself as a successful entrepreneur.

Knowing that little kids idolized Big League ballplayers and mimicked their every action, Bouton developed Big League Chew.

BLC was an immediate hit with kids and parents alike. In essence, Bouton shred bubble gum into tiny strips that looked exactly like the chewing tobacco that was stuffed inside the cheek and gums of almost every player.

He also created MLB-quality baseball cards for kids that were included in Big League Chew packets. I had one made for my son right after he was born. It looked just like a real baseball card and, the flip side of Chris Cody’s BLC card, contained his vital stats (22 inches long. 18 pounds. Cried right handed. Projectile vomited out of the left said of his mouth, etc.). It became an immediate family keepsake.

Fast forwarding to my encounter with Bouton, he was searching for PR firms to publicize his runaway product and visited with us.

Meeting Bouton was beyond cool. I immediately cited mega sections of Ball Four to him, asked him to elaborate on the more salacious tales and generally sucked up big time to my idol.

Bouton told my boss he wouldn’t need to meet any other firms if I could be his day-to-day lead. Talk about a walk-off home run! I was in heaven.

We had Bouton’s account for about six months and generated some decent publicity, but Big League Chew turned out to be a one-hit wonder. Sales dwindled, Bouton ended our relationship and we both went our separate ways.

I still treasure my personally signed edition of Ball Four.

As you’ll see, he signed it “Smoke ‘em inside.” That’s the advice one of his managers had provided to Bouton on how best to pitch to Frank Robinson, a future Hall of Famer, who was absolutely tearing up American League pitching in his 1969 MVP season.

Bouton’s manager, Joe Schultz, said of Robinson: “You can’t pitch him low, Jim. He’ll crush anything high and if one of your patented knuckle balls doesn’t knuckle, he’ll hit it 600 feet to dead center. Hell, smoke ‘em inside!”

Hilarious advice if you follow the sport.

I adored everything about Jim Bouton and, in my own way, tried to emulate a few of his irreverent approaches whenever I wrote about a profession that sometimes takes it far too seriously (that would be PR, btw).

In fact, I thought of Bouton a few years ago when I was being introduced as a guest lecturer at BU’s superb school of public relations. The professor, a longtime friend (and role model), said to his students, “I asked quite a few people to best describe Steve Cody in one word. Almost all said “iconoclast.” I dug that (and I’d like to think Bouton would have been proud of me for earning that sobriquet).

R.I.P. Bulldog and smoke ‘em inside!

 

###

Jul 15

Untruths succeed better than truths

The words in the headline aren’t mine. They belong to the master showman, publicist and flim-flam artist of the 19th century: P.T. Barnum

I stumbled across Barnum’s highly relevant quote as I tore through a superb new book: Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous With American History.

Written through the eyes of author Yunte Huang, Inseparable not only tells the amazing tale of Cheng and Eng, but reads like a modern-day Asian American’s de Tocqueville-like tour of antebellum America.

First, some way-cool facts about the twins and their times:

  • Their early touring success in the 1830s enabled them to build a house near Mt. Airy, NC, where they not only married two local sisters, but went on to sire 10 children, two of whom fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
  • The twins saw themselves as the equals of the landed white gentry of the South and were alleged to have grossly abused the 30 or so enslaved people they owned.
  • Before Andrew Jackson sent the Cherokee Nation heading West on the horrific “Trail of Tears,” the tribe owned no fewer than 20,000 enslaved black people of their own!

Now back to P.T. Barnum.

The Bethel, Conn., native was a huckster from the very beginning.

Clerking at his father’s country store, Barnum instinctively realized he could con his customers. He came up with the idea of a lottery in which the highest prize would be $25. The minor prizes consisted solely of worthless glass and ware. The tickets sold like wildfire, and Barnum had found his passion in life: separating fools from their money.

Barnum quickly latched onto the notion of showcasing America’s curios, oddities and freaks (which sated Victorian-era America’s unquenched thirst for the salacious).

And so, he built The American Museum in New York which, in its day, was the equivalent of Disneyland. Americans from near and far saved their hard-earned money to observe:

  • Joice Heth, a toothless black woman publicized as being 161-years old and George Washington’s nurse (after she died, an autopsy revealed she was no older than 80 and had never been within 50 miles of Mt. Vernon). A classic Barnum scam.
  • General Tom Thumb, a 25-inch-tall teenager who weighed all of 15 pounds.
  • The twins (but accompanied by their perfectly “normal” grown children in order to subliminally titillate viewers to conjecture about Cheng and Eng’s sex life).

The twins became Barnum’s pièce de résistance and reinforced his instincts to continue to prey on his target audience’s willingness to be scammed by bogus attractions on the off chance they might occasionally view the real deal.

Now getting back to the untruth headline, allow me to share two other Barnum observations:

“When people expect to get something for nothing, they are sure to be cheated, and generally deserve to be.”

“Advertising is my monomania. When an advertisement first appears, a man does not see it; the second time he notices; the third time he reads it; the fourth or fifth he speaks to his wife about it; and the sixth or seventh he is ready to purchase.”

Advertising was Barnum’s version of misinformation and disinformation. Some of it was real, but most of it was smoke and mirrors.

And to tie this time travel blog back to the present, I submit a link to the Institute for Public Relations’ outstanding new study on disinformation, showing that both Democrats and Republicans view disinformation as a major problem in our culture – on par with gun violence and terrorism.

Afterword: It seems to this blogger that, as we approach the 2020 election cycle, one camp has its advertising message locked and loaded a la Barnum while the other flounders helplessly to construct a coherent, memorable narrative that will accomplish what Barnum did so many years ago.

The Democrats need a latter-day Barnum to manage their campaign. And regardless of the eventual rallying cry, the Dems could sure use the twins. They could run as vice presidents who simultaneously appeal to far-left progressive wing of the party who want free college for everyone, and the middle-of-the-road Joe Biden camp.😎

 

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Jul 09

The female professional network

Today’s guest blog is authored by Peppercomm’s amazingly amazing Courtney Tolbert. I do hope you will read it and share your thoughts on her POV…

Why would women need a separate professional networking platform? I imagine this is the number one criticism that Sophia Amoruso’s new “Girlboss” platform will receive. It’s a fair question. After all, women are free to use existing platforms like LinkedIn, why not just capitalize on the features and networking opportunities there? I would tackle this question with one of my own – why do minority or underrepresented groups tend to form their own advocacy groups? 

While college educated women are no longer the workplace minority in terms of numbers, a pay gap still exists, and they still fight corporate stereotypes that hold them back professionally (i.e. mothers can’t or won’t go back to work after giving birth). The answer to the aforementioned question would be: women need to connect and work together with other successful and capable women who understand why and where they are coming from professionally – and arguably more important, where they would like to go with their careers.

There are existing professional networking platforms that focus on women a little more such as Bumble Bizz; however, Girlboss seems more enticing to me because from the preliminary stages, it is interested in the longevity of one’s career. When signing up for the platform, users are prompted to answer three questions: “I’m good at ____,” “I’d like to learn ___,” and “I’d like to meet ___.” These are seemingly simple questions, but they get you thinking about where you are and where you want to go next, at least they did for me.

This post is not meant to serve as an ad for Girlboss, though I think the platform holds a lot of promise. It is meant to draw attention to the fact that while women have made amazing strides in the professional space, we are still not treated the same as our male counterparts. It is to highlight available tools and networks that women can take advantage of while we continue to strive for professional excellence and work smarter and harder. Girlbosses unite.

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