Jun 20

Anyone but Hillary” vs. ‘The Comb-over Kid

Love ‘em, hate ‘em or ignore them, Hillary Clinton and The Donald are reinventing every aspect of presidential campaigning.

To gain an expert insider’s perspective on what’s happening and why (and if the sheer madness of it all will end any time soon), we invited David Redlawsk, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, to join us for a two-part video discussion about “Decision: 2016” as some of the media like to refer to the upcoming presidential election.

Here’s part one of the video. Part two will run tomorrow. Please feel free to post comments or questions, and we’ll be sure to forward them to the good professor. Oh, and let’s make Peppercomm great again.

Jun 16

“Maybe I’m Amazed”

mcartneyAt this point in my career, I really shouldn’t be amazed by anything that happens in a new business presentation.

I really have seen it all, including:

  • Having to defend an award-winning piece of client business we’d held for five years, and then having their point person begin the pitch by saying, “Well, as we all know, most relationships, personal or professional, end after five years. So, I’d like to thank Peppercomm for their work.”
  •  A prospect disrupt our smoothly flowing presentation by barking out (with a thick German accent), “So, while my colleagues may have told you this assignment strictly focuses on North America, it’s critical our agency partner has feet on the ground in Northern and Western Europe. So, you will tell us about your capabilities in, say, Amsterdam, Brussels and the other Low Countries, ya?”
  • A multitasking senior prospect who, after ignoring our entire pitch, finally sat up, looked over to the director of PR, and asked, “What time does the next presentation begin?”

And, then, there was this recent beauty:

We were cruising through our program, and were receiving lots of smiles and positive nods from the assembled prospects.

The prospect told us they were in search of the ideal firm that understood their culture and their mission, and could deliver both national and regional social and traditional media results. Easy peasy. We nailed slide after slide.

Suddenly, a guy at the end of the table dramatically cleared his throat, and asked, “Who are your biggest clients?”

Our team leader indicated we’d soon be covering many of them in upcoming case studies. The guy shook his head, “Not what I’m interested in. Who are your biggest clients and can you, or can you not, introduce us to the heads of their foundations? We need to raise a whole lot of money and we need to get started now.”

I quickly stepped in, and said, “We represent a wide range of global brands, but most of the work is either branding, communications or crisis. We don’t do a lot of work with corporate foundations, but could certainly find out the proper contacts, and broker introductions.” His arched eyebrows and disgusted sneer, said it all.

I turned to the CMO and gave her a WTF look.

She responded by saying, “Everything you’ve presented here today is strategic, creative and spot-on in helping us generate the publicity needed to reach those foundation folks, so please continue.”

We did, but our pace and enthusiasm weren’t quite what they had been.

Nonetheless, when we finished, every one of the prospect’s employees gave us a hearty round of applause (a reaction even more rare  than finding a Manhattan street not blanketed by homeless people).

Anyway, we shook hands, went through the hail-thee-well routine and headed South to Manhattan. We knew we’d nailed the major assignment, but the fundraising guy worried me. If we were competing against a global agency representing thousands of brands (and probably a few foundations as well), we’d be toast, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

And, sure enough, that’s what happened.

As is almost always the case, we followed up with thank you notes, a few examples of fundraising programs we’d done in the past and communicated how excited we were at the thought of launching our themed program as soon as possible.

Two or three weeks later, they got in touch. They’d gone with another firm. “Why?” We asked. “The feeling was you were just too small.” Too small? We’re a $20 million agency with offices in New York, San Francisco and London and some 100 employees!

Too small? And, then it dawned on me. We didn’t possess enough contacts with the right people who controlled the big foundation gift-giving of Fortune 500 companies. The guy sitting at the end had axed us.

And, so while we were told we’d be judged by one set of core competencies we were, in fact, evaluated on a completely different criterion.

I can’t recall anything quite this egregious happening in the past, so maybe I can still be amazed. Amazed at the complete lack of transparency when a client asks an agency to set aside time and resources, concoct an extensive program to accomplish a clearly-stated goal and then find out, midway through the meeting that, well, maybe that wasn’t the program goal after all.

Maybe I’m amazed (Note to my millennial readers: “Maybe I’m amazed” is the title of a Paul McCartney tune).

Jun 14

Father and Son

Chris and Steve

I nearly died a week ago this past Sunday.

I was in the Kingdom of Jordan to help my son, Chris, settle into his five-week cultural immersion course at a university in Jordan’s capital, Amman.

Since we’re both avid climbers, we selected the most highly-rated guiding service in the country. We chose to climb on two successive days. The first day went swimmingly. We rock-climbed in a mostly shady area and wrapped up around 1pm. Oh, and we were guided by the owner of the climbing service.

The second day also happened to be Chris’s first day of school. As a result, I arranged to climb with two of the owner’s assistants (I’m still not sure why the owner didn’t guide me himself). Anyway, because we had a two-hour drive South to get to the mountain (and to beat the afternoon heat), the junior guides picked me up at 5 am.

Long story short, when we began climbing, I immediately realized the two 25-year-old guides were out of their depth. They struggled with just about everything a seasoned guide would know how to do in his sleep. They also made the mistake of packing only three liters of water.

But, all seemed well as we reached the top after six successive pitches. Ty and Mo, the guides, told me it would be a quick half-hour hike down the back of the mountain and we’d be back in the car and refreshing ourselves with water, bananas, etc.

That’s when the drama began. They couldn’t find the way down. Time and again, we tried different routes only to reach dead ends. Time was passing, the sun was getting hotter by the second and, without water, we were quickly weakening.

Ty made the choice to try and rappel us down a rugged, bush and tree-strewn section of the mountain. Mo went fist. I went second. As I neared the bottom of the first rappel, I spotted Mo under a tree. He’d passed out from sun stroke. I relayed the information to Ty, who was back at the top.

He immediately self-rappelled, assessed the other guide’s predicament and told me we’d have to go down a very rugged, 30 degree angled slope in order to get to the car and bring back food and water for Mo..

I tried to keep up with him, but dehydration was kicking in and my strength was ebbing. Ty knew I was holding him up, so he pointed at a small cave and said, “You stay in that cave. I’ll go ahead alone and get right back to you guys with water.”

So, I crawled into the cave and waited. And waited. After an hour, I began calling out for Ty. I heard his voice in the far distance, saying he’d be with me in 20 minutes or less.

Another hour passed. I realized something had happened to Ty, and he wouldn’t be coming back.

And, there I sat, alone in a dark cave, barely shielded from the relentless sun and the 130 degree heat.

I was barely conscious when I suddenly felt my mobile device buzz. It was my son. Somehow, some way, the local cell service extended all the way from Amman, where he was, to my little cave. His text read, “Hope your climb went well. See you for dinner.”

I quickly texted him my predicament. My phone buzzed again. Chris said he’d contact the owner of the climbing service immediately.

I knew that, regardless of what the owner could, or would do, I was really left with just two choices: slip into a permanent blackness from which there was no return or try my best to down climb the wickedly tough cliff. I chose the latter, thinking I didn’t want my body found in the cave and that I’d rather go down fighting.

What I didn’t know as I tripped, fell and stumbled from one bush or rock to another was that Chris had reached the owner who, in turn, had alerted the Royal Jordanian Army.

Meanwhile, I had been able to climb to within 200 or so feet of what appeared to be the pathway out. But, it wasn’t. It was just another vertical wall. I was done. I had no ropes. I’d been without water for at least six hours and, as I sat down, I once again began debating whether to lie there and die or somehow use all of my rock climbing skills to somehow descend the wall.

That’s when I heard the distant wailing of sirens. Help was on the way.

It took another hour for the soldiers to finally make their way to the base of my cliff. But, there was another problem. They didn’t know how to climb. So, there I was, only 200 feet away from survival, but still stuck in neutral.

Since my tongue had swelled and my breathing was really labored, I used physical gestures to indicate to the troops below I desperately needed water. Two or three of them scrambled as far up the wall as they could and got to within 100 feet or so of me. They then began lobbing liter bottles of water up to  me. Each fell short and exploded as it hit the road far below.

Then, unbelievably, one of the troops threw a Hail Mary pass (literally) and I was able to snag it. I inhaled the water and began to revive.

At almost the same time, one of the guiding services’ other guides finally arrived on the scene with rope and equipment. He was able to rappel me down to safety. The other two guides were rescued as well. Both had suffered severe heat strokes but, with some medical assistance, were quickly coming around.

As we drove back to Amman that night, I reflected on my 17-hour, near-death ordeal and realized that Chris had saved my life. If he hadn’t decided to check in with me at the precise moment he did, and if he hadn’t immediately contacted the guiding service when he did, you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now.

Jun 13

PR Week makes yet another major contribution to the industry’s body of knowledge

– Survey reveals PR’s elite would like to see themselves portrayed in a Hollywood biopic by George Clooney or Helen Mirren, respectively –

EdelmanPR Week, which seems to exponentially expand its number of award programs in direct proportion to the meaningless features it publishes, has really reached a new height (or depth) with their latest effort.
As you’ll read, the publication just surveyed their “Global Power Chiefs”, whoever they are, and asked members which Hollywood star they’d peeweemost like to see portray them in a Tinsel Town biopic. Scintillating stuff, no?
Before I share the findings, I’d first like to ask Steve Barrett & Co. how I might go about being added to their Global Weaklings Chiefs (GWC). Along with being the ONLY person to have been fired as a PR Week awards judge, I’d consider inclusion in the CWC as one of my greatest achievements.

But, I digress. Let’s get back to the breaking news.

When asked to pick the actor they’d most like to see portray them in a Hollywood “biopic”, powerful PR men chose George Clooney while their musclebound, distaff peers opted for Helen Mirren.

While no one from PR Week asked me (Note: The only time I EVER receive a call from PR Week is to confirm we’ve either won or lost a significant piece of business). It’s flattering to know their staff see me as one of our industry’s true thought leaders.

Anyway, had I been asked, I would have selected Pee-wee Herman to portray yours truly in a biopic that I’d title, “The PR Road Less Traveled.”

Pee-wee would be ideal because he doesn’t take the entertainment field quite as seriously as, say, a George Clooney or Helen Mirren do. While Pee-Wee and I respect the craft of our respective professions, we differ from our industry’s versions of George Clooney and Helen Mirren in two fundamental ways:

1.) We don’t take ourselves too seriously

2.) We don’t believe our organizations are playing seminal roles in ending world hunger or solving the sectarian violence that wreaks havoc in seemingly every corner of the globe.

Our irreverence has kept Pee-wee and me (a possible title for my soon-to-be-published kiss-and-tell book about PR, BTW) off the radar screens of The Hollywood Reporter and PR Week, respectively.

I can’t speak for the former, but I lament the latter’s focus on content that paints a picture of sunshine and roses that would make readers believe nothing bad ever happens in our world. PR Rosy Week might be a more apt title for the publication.

In closing, I’d like to turn the tables, and ask the PR Week editorial staff what luminary(ies) they’d like to see portray them in a Hollywood biopic. I’m betting they’d name actors and actresses who have portrayed superheroes on the Silver Screen who have taken down villains who dare speak out and criticize their content such as me.

But, I’d suggest instead characters ranging from Charlie Sheen to Lindsay Lohan.

(And, I should mention that unlike Pee-wee, I’ve yet to be arrested for indecent exposure but, hey, who knows what the future holds?)

Jun 09

Are There Atheists in the Foxholes?

Today’s guest post is by Rev. Paul Bruno, Pastor, Evangel Christian Church, Little Ferry, NJ and Executive Director, Meals with a Mission, Garfield, NJ.

Do you believe in God? Billions of people do. And, millions of people kill in the name of God. In fact, more and more people believe organized religion, and not money, is the root cause of all evil. Perhaps that’s one reason why atheism is growing so quickly. And yet, articles such as this one from The New York Times suggest renowned atheists like Christopher Hitchens are embracing religion in their final days!

So, what’s going on? I asked Rev. Paul Bruno, pastor of the Evangel Christian Church in Little Ferry, NJ, for his take.

foxSteve Cody recently came across The New York Times article Christopher Hitchens Was Shaky in His Atheism, New Book Suggests and posed this question to me about lifelong atheists who become believers as they face death. Is it true that there are no atheists in the fox hole?

With history having documented well-known conversions, the question then becomes twofold: why the late life or death bed changeover to faith and does a last-second conversion impact the image and reputation of a lifelong, high-profile atheist?

Both religious folk and atheists arrive at their belief or non-belief in God by collecting information and drawing on personal experiences. The chasm that divides the two may seem wide at times, but in reality, both groups grapple with the same issues: free will vs. predestination, the violent nature of the Old Testament culture vs. Christ’s teachings of grace in the New Testament and Heaven vs. Hell.

It is at this point where the sum of personal experiences and information gathered either draws people toward faith or turns them away. The Barna Group’s 2015 State of Atheism in America states that there were three primary components that lead to disbelief in God’s existence: the rejection of the Bible, a lack of trust in the local church and cultural reinforcements of a secular worldview. One wonders if those complicated issues lose significance in the face of one’s imminent mortality.

David Kinnaman, the president of The Barna Group, directed a study of the lifestyles and habits of atheist adults in America, and pointed out some of the implications of the research. “Neither the 20 million no-faith adults nor the 58 million active-faith Christians are as internally consistent as those who write and speak on behalf of their groups make them out to be. Proponents of secularism suggest that rejecting faith is a simple and intelligent response to what we know today. Yet, most of the Americans who overtly reject faith harbor doubts about whether they are correct in doing so.”

Christianity is often found to be a foundational and educational principle in the United States, many children growing up are directly exposed to its teachings and disciplines. Since research shows that the disengagement with those teachings often happens in the teen-college years, it stands to reason that the wrestling of faith vs. no-faith continues for the rest of most adult’s lives, leading to the death bed/conversion dilemma. Do those early teachings and experiences influence one’s end of life beliefs and decisions?

The end of life issue is both intense and complex in every instance with a lasting profound effect on each individual’s family and friends. Its complexity stems from the “unknown” factor of what happens next: afterlife or no afterlife? If its afterlife, then Heaven or Hell come into play and the life of the individual’s relationship and commitment to God. If no afterlife, then the finality is burial.

The atheist who embraces faith in his last moment is making his strongest statement of belief. Perhaps the significance and obsession with public image and reputation cease at death’s door and are finally of no consideration in the face of one’s final moment of transition. We finally believe what we believe, unfettered.


Jun 08

It’s the experience, stupid

rjI’ve just returned from a visit to the Kingdom of Jordan. My purpose for the trip was two-fold:

1.) To help my son, Chris, settle into his dormitory in Amman, where he’ll be studying Arabic and immersing himself in the local culture as he nears the end of achieving his Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies.

2.) To experience the Middle East for the very first time in my life (while sightseeing, inhaling the local cuisine and fitting in two days of mountain climbing, of course).

But, today’s blog isn’t about my amazing trip but, rather the superb experience provided by Royal Jordanian Airlines.

I’ve flown overseas on the national airlines of Singapore, the Netherlands, Russia, Portugal, France and Britain, to name a few.

But, none has surpassed the impeccable service of Royal Jordanian Airlines. I won’t bore you with the particulars, but suffice it to say the flight attendants treated each, and every, one of us as if we were the kings and queens of their country.

The capper for me, though, was this evaluation form they handed out and asked us to complete before they landed. They did so, they said, because their CEO insists on real-time authentic feedback.

Note, if you will, the envelope in which we inserted the evaluation forms. It’s addressed to the president & CEO of Royal Jordanian Airlines. The flight attendants told us the forms are delivered immediately to the president/CEO’s desk and, should he discover any comment that describes anything less than a five-star experience, he will write a personal letter of apology and guarantee a discount on any future RJ flights.

Compare, and contrast, that experience with anything you’ve encountered on a U.S. carrier. In my mind, this kind of superior service is another reason we’re continually falling behind other First World countries.

The PR trades, and their countless awards programs and hagiographic profiles of best-in-class Fortune 500 corporations and global agencies, have yet to wake-up to the reality that experience trumps PR each, and every, day of the week.

Audience experience is the REAL PR. What we do is tell the stories of the products, services and charitable works of the organizations we represent.

The best PR firms are the ones who recognize that a brand promise is worth less than a high school diploma if it doesn’t accurately reflect the end user experience.

In fact, I’d argue the previous paragraph should become our industry’s mission statement. Let’s stop with all of the self-congratulatory editorials and awards and focus, instead, on identifying gaps between what organizations promise and the actual end user experience.

By identifying gaps and recommending fixes, we’d find ourselves playing a much more strategic role at the C-Suite level.

As for Royal Jordanian Airlines, their passenger experience IS their PR. Would that our industry practitioners woke up to that reality.




Jun 01

Finns Fastidiously Fight Fatty Foods

fatburgerkingladyI can’t speak for you but, the last time I ate at a McDonald’s or Burger King (circa 1492), I felt like taking an immediate shower. Not only does the caloric-laden crap gum up one’s arteries, it also leaves a lasting, horrific smell on body and clothing alike.

Fear not, though, the always health-conscious Finns toiling away at Burger King locations there, have cooked up a solution: They’ve added a sauna to the fast food restaurant.

That’s right, Virginia, should you decide to visit the Arctic Circle anytime soon and chow down at a BK, you need not feel guilty. Simply down your Whopper and cheese, toss off your clothes and saunter into the nearby sauna. That’s right. A sauna.

I’m not sure how long it would take to sweat out the 5000-plus calories you’ve just ingested, but what better way to feel good about yourself after indulging a habit that you know is bad for your health?

Ya gotta believe arch-rival McDonald’s won’t take this novel marketing ploy sitting down. Look for Mickey D’s to add an icy lake and steam room to their Scandinavian sites. That said, I’m not sure kids would allowed in the steam room at the same time as Ronald. It would be creepy (if not illegal). And, who wants to see Ronald McDonald behind bars (except me)?

So, towels-off to the far-sighted Finnish fast food freaks who’ve ‘localized’ their offering by paying attention to their country’s health-conscious ways.

In fact, when one thinks of the localized variations on the theme, the possibilities are as limitless as the calories one can consume at any of the fast food joints. So, keep an eye open for a sweat lodge at a Native-American McDonald’s near you.

May 25

When big business gets in big trouble

018ee079986d2ad45017c527284740deWhat do the N.F.L. and Big Tobacco have in common? Not surprisingly both are immersed in yet another crisis.

Let’s kick-off with the National Football League which, when it comes to cover-ups, makes Richard M. Nixon seem like a second-string Pop Warner scrub (which is exactly what he was when he played for tiny Whittier College in California)..

The N.F.L.’s latest misdirection was to purposely influence research on brain research. It seems that, while the league agreed to set aside tens of millions of dollars to concussion research to be overseen by the National Institutes of Health, they later pulled one heck of a flea-flicker.

They purposely chose to award the grant to a Boston University professor by the name of Sr. Robert Stern. Stern, it seems, is firmly in the pocket of the NFL since he’s been discredited as a longtime denier of the effects of concussions in players. Numerous experts on the subject agree Stern is the absolute wrong guy for the position. But, hey, this is the NFL. Are you surprised?

But, wait for the snap, it gets even worse. As part of the 2012 settlement, The NFL also agreed to fund a proposed five-part research project. But, they decided to punt on the fifth section which proposed conducting research on current and retired players after the player retired but before he died.

All of which means that, as it now stands, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or, C.T.E.) can only be diagnosed posthumously. So, long-suffering players will have to wait until they pass away before NFL-funded research can confirm whether CTE killed them. I’m only surprised the NFL hasn’t already presented themselves with a humanitarian award for the work they’ve been forced to do so far.

Now, let’s quickly turn to Big Tobacco, which is being sued by the family of the late Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, who died of cancer in his right parotid salivary gland.

Big Tobacco, and in this case, Altria, is being sued for purposely directing a marketing campaign in the late 1980s that was purposely aimed at young black athletes, and intended to hook them on smokeless tobacco. In Gwynn’s case, Altria’s marketing strategy worked like a beautifully executed hit-and-run.

The world-class hitter was positively addicted to Skoal smokeless tobacco. According to the suit, Gwynn would dip as soon as he awoke and would sometimes fall asleep with the product in his right lip and cheek area. His consumption was equivalent to smoking four or five packs of cigarettes a day.

Gwynn tried to quit countless times, but good, old Altria would continue to generously ship him can after can of the killer smokeless tobacco. That’s one of those selfless plays that never show up in the scorecard.

Gwynn’s family isn’t seeking specified damages but, now that they understand how he was targeted and that (Altria knew) they had this highly carcinogenic product and were marketing it, the family want to hold the business accountable and let a jury make the proper decision.

I can’t speak for you, or your firm, but I’d refuse to represent either the NFL or Altria.

The former has a long, and sordid, history of covering up the concussion story. And, the Altria executives who purposely targeted Gwynn and other, unsuspecting African-American athletes in an attempt to get them hooked deserve a special place in hell.

After word: I once listened to a speech delivered by one of our industry’s legendary patriarchs who, when asked why his firm continued to represent Big Tobacco, responded by saying, “In a free society, every organization deserves PR representation.”

Maybe so. But, you won’t catch Peppercomm coming within 100 yards or 60 feet, six inches (the distance from the mound to home plate) of these heinous organizations. Both deserve whatever punishment the courts deem appropriate.

RepReaders please note: I’m taking a brief hiatus to rock climb and sight see in Jordan, but will return to the task at hand on D-Day.


May 24

The perfect wedding gift

Burger_1745885aWell, RepMan readers, June is only a few days away. And, aside from bee stings and longer days, the month of June is synonymous with weddings.

Yes, Virginia, June is packed tighter with weddings than a NJ Transit train during rush-hour.

Weddings are especially stressful on the parents but, especially so on the father of the bride.

In addition to escorting his lovely daughter down the aisle and shelling out God knows how much loot for the event, dad (and mom) are also expected to give the new couple a gift to help them get a fast start on their long journey together.

In my case and, I’m guessing in the case of most parents, that final gift involves a tidy sum of money.

But, that’s not the case with one clearly, well-heeled dad (who is also gifted incredible powers of observation).

As you’ll see, this guy has been watching the entire event like a hawk, especially the reception where he notices his daughter and newly-minted son-in-law have been dancing like it’s 1999, making the rounds of tables to receive hearty congratulations and hefty checks, and otherwise soaking in every moment of their special day.

But, dad knows they’ve missed something essential: a good meal.

So, in one of the most touching moments in TV commercial history since Mr. Clean appeared out of nowhere to mop-up a dirty, disgusting kitchen floor at the last possible second, dad saves the day.

What did Dad do? Give them one last humongous check that will pay their bills well through Trump’s second term? Two tickets to paradise? Job offers for each at his Wall Street investment banking firm?

No sir. Click this link to see what dad actually bought the kids.

That’s right, he got them double cheeseburgers and fries (set on a sterling silver set that I’m guessing dad instructed the driver to return afterwards).

Yes, he knew the kids had had no time to eat so, being the thoughtful human being he is, dad made sure the bride-and-groom had an opportunity to inhale some 2,500 calories each, and wash down the artery-clogging contents with Supersized Cokes. Yummy!

Happily, he can now rest easy. Dad’s job is done. He paid for the wedding, escorted his beloved his baby down the aisle and now played a small, but important, role in addicting the young couple to the world’s least healthy food.

Since weddings are rich in tradition, I have to believe that, some 25 years hence, the new groom will find himself in a similar predicament as his eldest daughter prepares for her first nuptial. But, happily, the precedent has already been set.

He’ll have double cheeseburgers, fries and Supersized Cokes set-up for a new, and unsuspecting, couple soon-to-become fast food junkies on their own.

Note: The only thing dad number one missed was having the limo driver dress as Ronald McDonald. Now, that would have been a wedding experience for the ages (however shortened those lifespans may be).

And a tip ‘0 RepMan’s short order cook cap to Tommy “Big Mac” Powers for this idea.