Feb 21

Dr. Richard Harte, PhD

dadDick Harte passed away this past weekend. He was Peppercomm’s first, and best, strategic consultant.

We hired Dr. Harte as soon as we began growing (note: I’d worked with Dick at a previous agency, and knew he would bring the rigor and process a small, insanely crazy start-up would need).

As it turns out, Dick began his long stint with us at exactly the same time first generation dotcoms discovered Peppercomm.

These nut jobs assumed that, because our firm’s name ended with the letters C, O and M, it meant we were technology PR experts who could generate the type of publicity that would enable these arrogant, egomaniacal 24-year-olds to go public and become overnight millionaires. (Note: We added a second M to our name when we added fully integrated marketing services).

In truth, we knew as much about technology PR as we did about the mating habits of squids, but we quickly hired people who did. And, boy did we grow!

Soon, the phones were ringing off the hook with dotcom types offering us $35,000, $50,000 or even $80,000 a month to handle their business. We had three full-time people whose sole responsibility was pre-qualifying the 50 or so new business calls we received each, and every, week.

To handle the deluge, we pretty much hired anyone who could walk and chew gum at the same time. O’Dwyer’s named us America’s fastest-growing PR firm two straight years. (Note: We grew top-line billings by 100 percent or more- each year).

But, we were also in desperate need of adult supervision, and Dr. Harte provided it in spades.

Among other things, he helped us figure out how to manage the deluge of new accounts (that included such now familiar names as United Messaging.com, Edgix.com and Hyperlinks.com.

Dr. Harte also helped us manage client expectations (each of whom demanded they be featured in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page right-hand column). And, he’s the one who first suggested we organize our agency into three divisions and install accountability.

Accountability

Accountability was Dick’s strength, and I can remember many a senior management meeting in which Dick would ask the lead executive why we were over servicing a particular client by a cool 125 percent. Dick would interrupt the individual’s stammering, half-assed response by saying, “You have 30 days to make it profitable, or else. Got it?”

Dick met weekly with Ed and me, and helped us separate the wheat from the chaff, be they client or employee.

He was also totally bizarre and unpredictable.

In our second year of business, the representative of a Fortune 500 manufacturer met with us and, in the midst of the discussion, asked Ed and me if we could place the company’s brand new product on the cover of Time magazine!

“Absolutely!” shouted Dr. Harte. That comment was immediately followed by an ungodly scream as Dick reacted to a swift kick in the shin from Ed. But, Dick turned out to be right, and we still represent that manufacturer today.

On another occasion, we invited The Good Doctor, as well as one of Ed’s Beltway insider buddies (“who knew ALL the key players on both sides of the aisle”) to a major pitch with the Society of Human Resource Management.

SHRM (or, shroom, as we preferred to call them) were prepared to pay big bucks to elevate the stature of the HR manager within the C-Suite. That journey eventually proved about as successful as King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail.

Anyway, the meeting started poorly and quickly went off the rails when Ed’s Beltway expert engaged in a screaming match with SHRM’s CEO. It was mean-spirited, angry and epithet-laced (Pre-millennials: Think, “The War of the Roses.”).

With the rest of us looking on in horrified shock, Dick stood up and shouted “Stop!” He then ordered prospect and agency personnel alike to step away from the table, take a deep breath, reach over, touch their toes and expel all of their hostile thoughts, feelings and actions. (T, F and A was another big Dick Harte expression).

It worked. An immediate calm came over the room and both sides completed the meeting in a more professional manner.

But, the damage had been done. SHRM chose the other finalist, we never again engaged the Beltway insider and HR remains the most vulnerable and least respected discipline in the C-Suite.

Tough love

Dick was all about “tough love” and “taking people out of their comfort zones.” And, boy did he ever. Our management off-sites resembled rematches of Ali-Frazier heavyweight title fights. Case in point: I’ll never forget Dick and our future agency president going toe-to-toe, screaming in each other’s face, “You’re full of shit!” To which the other would reply at the top of his lungs, “No. You’re the one who’s full of shit!” It was great entertainment.

Dick saw us through our first 10 years or so, stuck around long enough to co-author a McGraw-Hill business book, (What’s Keeping Your Customer’s Up at Night?,) I couldn’t even get my family to read and eventually retired to Boca Raton. Where else?

I’m devastated by Dick’s loss, but feel beyond blessed to have had him in my life. He was the big brother or Dutch Uncle every successful entrepreneur needs to prop him up when things look their bleakest or pats you on the back when you’re soaring, and whispers, “Don’t let the success go to your head.”

Richard Harte, Ph. D. was an American original the likes of whom I know I’ll never see again in my lifetime.

R.I.P., Dick and, if anyone ever asks you if you can guarantee the cover of Time Magazine, just say no. The shinbone you save in the afterlife may be your own.

Feb 15

@CHAOS

AAEAAQAAAAAAAARcAAAAJGJkOWM1M2I3LTFmYjMtNGEzZS1iZmJjLWE1MWYyNTRlMThmNwYesterday, I tweeted that, in the interests of full transparency, the 45th president’s Twitter handle should be changed to @chaos. I thought it more accurately reflected what we’ve been witnessing since January 20th.

But, I am the first to admit that a Twitter Handle naming expert I am not. Ah, but when it comes to pure chaos, I’d like to paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who, when asked to describe pornography famously replied that he could not, “…but I know it when I see it.” Amen, brother. And, I know chaos when I see it.

In fact, I witnessed it up close and personal when I worked at a white hot integrated marketing agency in the early 1990s that, before a peaceful transfer of power, had been beautifully managed, highly profitable and twice named Adweek’s Agency of the Year. Heady stuff, no?

But, then the new administration entered office with a self-appointed mandate to turn this magical, regional player into a global powerhouse. Yes, friends, our new CEO predated Sir Martin Sorrell, Larry Weber and Richard Edelman in believing size trumped quality.

This Harvard MBA-minted wunderkind was also intent on making our firm great again (even though we’d been in business for 40 years and the agency was already considered to be among the creme de la creme.)

Regardless, the reckless new CEO had a mandate (or so he thought) to grow at breakneck speed. So, he went on a dizzying acquisition spree that even Kellyanne Conway would have had had a hard time explaining (much less promoting). Why, for example, did we need offices in Norfolk or Michigan (especially since we had no automotive accounts at the time)?

And, since we already had a superb group of in-house creative directors and public affairs specialists, why did we need to acquire more firms whose top dogs got along about as well with the existing staff as Pro-lifer’s do with those who advocate on behalf of Pro-choice?

Ah, but I’m only beginning to tell this sorry, sordid tale of Chaos, Inc.

Just like a certain world figure fond of comb-overs, out new CEO placed senior executives in formal functions while simultaneously creating a shadow government. He even had his very own Steve Bannon, except he was a she.

The result was internecine warfare played out right in front of our clients’ eyes. Offices fought one another to lead an account (and hog all of the billings). Disciplines attacked one another with glee. And, as has always been the case, advertising treated PR as the Aleppo of “under-the-line” services.

Ah, but we NYC-based PR types were exempt from the ad guys and their wicked put-downs. That’s because, led by a whacky, but gifted, group that included Bill Southard, Annie Pechaver, David Mandell, Edward Aloysius Moed, Peter Palmer Brown, Jurgen Hess, Stanley Unlucky and this blogger, were kicking ass and taking names. In fact, we were growing PR billings at triple digit figures while our sister disciplines were slipping rapidly under a sea of red ink.

It actually got to the point that, at one memorable all-hands meeting in the Big Apple, the office president (who doubled as the distaff Steve Bannon), began by saying, “I’d Ike the entire PR department to stand-up. Now I’d like the rest of you to give them a standing ovation. Why? Because they’re carrying your sorry asses and enabling you to put food on the table, that’s why!” The woman did have a way with words.

Needless to say, this sort of rhetoric only made the other disciplines hate us that much more. At the same time, it emboldened a whacky, but immensely talented group led by Bill Southard, and featuring the likes of Annie Pechaver, Jeyran Ghara, Dave “Dark Star” Mandell, Edward Aloysius Moed and others, to absolutely run amok.

We came and went as we pleased, chose first-class travel and accommodations for client and new business meetings alike and adjourned every Friday afternoon at 1pm for libations at P.J. Charlton’s. We were the wolves of Hudson Street.

But, we could also see Imperial Rome was splintering faster than a closely-held secret in the West Wing. Soon, the original 11 offices had dwindled to five. The best creatives had packed up and left and, to add insult to injury, the entire management and staff of the recently acquired public affairs firm bolted en masse in the wee hours of a K Street morning.

Bill, Annie, Ed and I sat down to begin mapping out what we were already calling Southard, Cody (I was far more humble in those days). But, fate interceded when J. Walter Thompson made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I dragged Ed along with me. Bill teamed up with Annie and Jeyran to create Southard Communications which, to this day, remains one of the best PR firms specializing in toys (the children’s variety).

I adored my time at Chaos, Inc., and will never forget the food fights, the wholesale pilfering of the Tumi product room or our dispatching Efrem Luigi Epstein, dressed as a toy soldier, to board a shuttle flight and hand deliver our Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association plan (we’re still waiting to hear if we won).

As George Harrison wrote, “All things must pass,” and this once great agency was eventually laid to rest in the St. Marketing & Communications Cemetery about 17 years ago.

The lesson? Chaos isn’t sustainable.

It can be a blast, but it can also be exhausting and alienating. So, while I most definitely am NOT interested in receiving a 140-character from @potus calling me a washed-up blogger with a so-so firm, I do think he needs to pay heed quickly. Very quickly.

We used to joke that, at our old agency, the inmates were running the asylum. In retrospect, we desperately needed adult supervision in order to survive the chaos. And so does the Trump White House.

 

 

Feb 13

The right fight at the right time

donaldIt was a piece of cake (ethical or otherwise) for the president to savage Nordstrom’s on both his personal and POTUS Twitter channels.

It was also easy to turn loose S.S. (My pet name for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer) at a press conference and have berate the retailer (and the punch-drunk media) for bullying and betraying poor Ivanka.

And, sadly, it was predictable that the rocket scientist otherwise known Kellyanne Conway would be auditioning for her next gig as a QVC product shill when she endorsed Ivanka’s entire fashion line on the oh-so-friendly Fox & Friends.

The whole escapade was easy because, despite Nordstrom’s releasing Ivanka’s shocking 38 percent sales decline in the fourth quarter, the news came from a company that be could be positioned as THE retailer of the elite Left-Wing, effete, aristocratic Democrats as well as the Opposition Party (otherwise known as the  mainstream media). Nordstrom’s decision was politically/motivated. Case closed.

Ah, but what to do now that Sears and KMart have followed suit and also dropped Ivanka’s products, pointing to horrific sales performance as well?

For The Donald, that’s a horse of a different color since Sears and KMart are two iconic American brands absolutely adored by “the base.”

He, and his team, will have to think twice about calling Sears and KMart left-wing, politically/driven organizations with only two goals in mind: politicizing sales and hurting Ivanka’s feelings.

That’s because the message won’t fly in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania or the entire South because, well, those folks flock to these two, low-priced merchandisers who HAVEN’T overlooked their desperation.

These are heartland companies who hire American workers and sell low-cost items the base can afford to buy. Period.

And, if the base isn’t buying Ivanka’s stuff well, what’s a poor president to do? Defend his baby and risk offending the lower-to-middle class Sears/KMart shoppers who elected him, or let it go?

The answer is obvious: He’ll give both companies a free pass even though they did EXACTLY what the now reviled-Nordstrom’s did.

The last thing the beleaguered Trump needs right now is to inadvertently pick a fight with a person, place or thing the base absolutely adores.

Happily, he was so many other distractions ranging from North Korea’s launching a missile while POTUS dined with the Japanese prime minister to a top cabinet official cutting deals with Putin while Obama was still president.

And, then there’s the Wall that now will cost three times what Trump said it would cost, the decision to now delay making wholesale Obamacare changes for “another year or so” and those politically-motivated “so-called judges” who keep blocking his Muslim travel ban. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the round-up and deportation of 365 bad hombres this weekend.

So, while poor Ivanka’s fashion and home products lines seem to be folding faster than the Mets do during a stretch run for the pennant, it seems to this blogger that Sears and KMart won’t bear the brunt of any 140-character nuclear assaults from the West Wing anytime soon.

Sure, he has to defend his baby’s business interests (even though she’s supposedly divested herself of said interests in order to serve as one of his advisers), but even President Trump has to let this one slide.

But, that doesn’t mean he’ll forget, or forgive, Sears and KMart. Their day of reckoning will most assuredly come sometime down the road.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll make their employees build The Wall and have Sears and KMart pay for it.

Anything and everything is possible in this new world of alternative facts in which we live .

 

 

 

Feb 08

When Trump Nukes Your Brand

What’s a poor chief communications officer to do when the president of the United States launches a 140 character hydrogen bomb at you for dropping his daughter’s fashion line? That’s the dilemma facing Nordstrom’s CCO this afternoon in the aftermath of the high-end retailer’s saying bye-bye to the daughter-in-chief’s apparel.

Trump not only attacked Nordstrom on his own handle but used the Twitter handle of the Office of the President of the United States! Holy blurred lines, Batman! And, naturally, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was right there to not only back him up but also to lash out at Nordstrom’s for punishing poor Ivanka.

Nordstrom defended their actions by saying Ivanka’s stuff simply wasn’t selling. Others (the Alt Right, perhaps?) are suggesting the move was in retaliation for Trump’s recent Muslim travel ban.

Whatever the reason, Nordstrom finds itself right smack in the middle of a Category Five crisis. And, the question facing the CCO is this: Do you step up to the plate, defend your brand and provide further clarification (i.e. sales figures that prove the move was purely a business decision) or simply lay low, monitor the Web and see if Mr. President launches a second wave of nukes.

TrumpLand, and its myriad business and political entanglements are presenting communications challenges never before faced by the chief communications officer, chief marketing officer or whomever is in charge of an organizations external communications. And, there is no textbook or best practice for this dealing with type of mugging. Up until January 20th, we PR types have been able to respond in precise, measured ways by following procedures from countless ‘traditional’ crises such as the legendary gold standard itself: Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol crisis.

But there are no Harvard Business School case studies titled, “When the President bullies your brand.” And I’m not aware of any white papers issued by the Arthur W. Page Society titled, “Don’t mess with the President’s daughter.” Nor is PR Week’s cover screaming, “Incoming!”

CCOs are truly flying by the seat of their pants. I’ve spoken to 30 of them in recent weeks, and almost all fear the uncertainty of what lies ahead. While some define uncertainty as unstable global markets and others point to our offending allies while cozying up to our enemies, quite a few voiced concern about The Donald’s picking up his iPhone and banging out 140 characters that could level their corporation’s sales and reputation in a nanosecond.

Were I asked to provide counsel, I’d advise Nordstrom to stay the course, be on the alert for incoming missiles and fully armed with facts and figures to defend your actions. I’d also begin scenario planning everything from angry Ivanka fans ripping apart your retail stores to some complete whack job going after your CEO with an AR-15.

These are indeed the times that try men’s (and CCO’s) souls.

 

Feb 06

Has Trump made CCOs the new orange?

CAP JPGA recent survey by APCO Worldwide revealed that 89 percent of chief communications officers surveyed said they have direct access to the chief executive officer and 75 percent reported the CEO understands the value of their company’s reputation.

How nice. Ah, but check this out: Only 52 percent report directly to the CEO and just 26 percent said their opinions always matter when critical decisions are being made! Holy Throw Back Monday, Batman! Is this 2017 or 1917?

Ah, but there is a silver (or orange, if you prefer) lining to this otherwise bleak news.

And the orange lining is our man in the West Wing, Donald J. Trump.

I’m in the midst of conducting 30 in-depth interviews with global CCOs. My original working title for the white paper, which is being prepared exclusively for the IPR, (www.ipr.org) was “Digital, Data and Disruption.” I’ve now add a fourth D to my alliterative headline: The Donald.

Since January 20th, CCOs are telling me their CEOs are deathly afraid of being summoned to Washington, and bullied and berated before being issued an ultimatum: Keep American jobs right where they are, or else.

CEOs are even more frightened by the prospect of being personally singled out in one of Trump’s temper-tantrum Tweets. So, guess who they’re now turning to for counsel? That’s right. The good, old CCO.

And, that’s because the CCO alone commands the CEOs highest respect in times of crisis and, baby, are we ever living in times of crisis!

As a result, the CCO is being invited to join their CEOs for discussions with the new president. Sure, they may be relegated to the far side of the Potomac while Trump threatens to either impose higher corporate taxes on CEOs who won’t play ball with him or, worse, hints that he may lay-off Schwarzenegger for a day and instead insinuate the CEO is betraying the U.S. of A.

And, that’s when the CCO rises to the occasion and stands tall vis-a-vis her C-Suite colleagues.

Senior public relations strategists train their entire lives for moments of crisis (although I’ve yet to meet a single CCO who’s been taught best practices for dealing with a completely unpredictable president who may go off the rails at any second).

Regardless, the CCO is trained to calm down the CEO and soothe his battered ego. They come together as a team. And, together, they craft a carefully worded announcement highlighting key points stemming from their ‘productive’ meeting with President Trump. They pledge to work with Trump to address the issues and find a balanced win-win solution. And, then they scramble under their desks and hope he’ll re-direct his fire.

Sometimes the CorporateSpeak will placate Mr. Trump. At other times, especially after unpleasant phone calls with, say, the prime minister of Australia, the words may engender his full wrath. And, if the latter should occur, The Donald could very well shine the spotlight on the CEO and call him everything from a bad dude to a so-so CEO running a loser of an organization.

The CCOs with whom I’ve spoken now spend a good deal of time scenario planning for either defending nuclear attacks from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, countering completely fake news or both.

And, while they may be working 24×7 to wordsmith various responses, many CCOs are smiling inside. And, that’s because they’re meeting, face-to-face with the CEO and their marketing peers and handling such critical business decisions as whether to double down on the corporation’s promise to create and support open, diverse and inclusive workplaces or, instead, capitalize on the America First frenzy by citing their organization’s countless contributions to our country.

Needless to say, the CCOs ethical and moral compass is being tested in ways never thought imaginable only a few months ago. But, hey, look at the bright side: As long as Trump is ensconced in the Oval Office, the CCO really WILL enjoy a seat at the table.

Suddenly, CCO’s matter very, very much. One might even call them the new orange.

 

Feb 02

Never, fight on email ever!

Diana Soltmann, chairman of Flagship Consulting, a Peppercomm company HQ’d in jolly, old London, shares this provocative tale of two e-mails gone horribly wrong (a particularly timely subject considering the POTUS has no filter whatsoever when it comes to Tweeting horrific insults aimed at everyone from Democrats and the media (the true opposition party) or Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep. Enjoy!

How 11 words hit the top 1000 list of atrocities

fight“You are a despicable bottom feeding wretched disgrace of a person.” This was the email sent to a prospective bride by New York catering company Sweetery in November 2016. It hit all the headlines, and went viral on social media and then around the world several times. Google ‘Sweetery’ New York and guess what you find?

Desperate to salvage his shattered, reputation Co-founder and President of the Sweetery Grant Di Mille sent an email to prospective PR companies in which he wrote “Although our horrible mistake was highly egregious, it would be difficult to imagine that what we did would make most people’s top 1000 list of all-time atrocities, but somehow it seems as if it has.”

The worst mistake you can make is to think you are having a conversation when you email someone. You are not! In your head it sounds like one thing; on paper it is something entirely different. Emails can be painful, are always visible and can quickly go viral and once sent, can never be eradicated.
As the unfortunate Mr. Di Mille said “My Company very well might have signed a death warrant on our own business. It has created a firestorm of negative PR and social media that one might think would be reserved for the most heinous crimes against humanity.”

When Durham graduate Oliver Alcock decided to spend his last day at a leading accountancy firm writing an excoriating email about his boredom at work; never did he dream his exploits would propel him into the headlines. In his email he wrote “In hindsight scraping a B in GCSE maths and getting a Social Sciences 2:1 from Durham that consisted of £1.50 pints and fifa with some light work squashed in, possibly wasn’t the best prep for the ACA.” To add insult to injury, he wrote a list of things he did and did not do including verifying a breast cancer screening unit which earned him a damning headline from the FT ‘Moaning Millennials let down their generation’. Not surprisingly he was not invited to the accountancy firm’s summer ball!

However, all that pales into insignificance as the world enters its own media firestorm. As the new President of the United States issues more and more explosive statements from his Twitter account, holds hands with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, tells the Attorney General “You’re fired” and openly condones policies that people only whisper about a “bottom feeding wretched disgrace of a person” starts to become quite mild.

Nevertheless the mantra still is: if you want to negotiate, have a conflict, disagree do it face to face or on the phone or don’t do it at all. It could come back to haunt you for ever and ever.

Jan 30

The right message with the right tone at the right time

budCheck out Adweek’s fascinating “behind-the-scenes” look at the planning and execution of Budweiser’s upcoming Super Bowl ad (http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/how-budweiser-created-an-epic-immigrant-story-to-reclaim-the-super-bowl-spotlight/ ).

Now, I’m not a big fan of Super Bowl advertising because I think there are better, more laser-focused and cost effective ways to reach target audiences. And, according to the Adweek feature, Bud is counting on the campaign to help turn around the brand’s sagging market share.

I’m not qualified to comment on whether the ad will, or won’t, bend more elbows in Bud’s direction but, in light of this past weekend’s protests at airports nationwide, the spot’s timing couldn’t be better.

Bud’s Super Bowl campaign follows the trials and tribulations of Adolphus Busch as he leaves his native European roots to travel all the way to St. Louis in 1857. It’s a period piece with period costumes and trappings, but a message that packs what appears to be an unintended political wallop in post-Trump America of early 2017.

Immigrants such as Busch are the men and women who made America great. Assuming the current madness that includes building walls, picking fights with long-time allies, cozying up to arch enemies and profiling, detaining and returning of Muslims can be stopped and turned around, immigration will once again make America great.

Little did Adolphus Busch know that his 170-year-old story would be more relevant today that it was in 1753.

I’m not a fan of beer in general or Budweiser in particular, but I’m a big believer in inclusiveness and diversity. It’s the special DNA that’s made us the greatest democracy in the history of the world. So, while I honestly don’t care if the ad does, or doesn’t  help Bud, I salute them for sending the right message with the right tone at the right time.

Jan 23

These are the times that try marketers’ souls

Love the new president’s policies or hate them, many marketers are facing a conundrum: How to reconcile their future marketing campaigns with the stark reality of what we’re seeing unfold before our very eyes.

trump-nuts-hed-2017Does one bury one’s head in the sand and pretend it’s business as usual? Do pro-Trump brands aggressively underscore their ‘America First’ commitment to making products and hiring people? And, what about the countless purpose-driven organizations who have drawn a line in the sand, created a higher reason for their existence and support diversity and inclusiveness in everything they say and do?

AdWeek just ran a fascinating ad from a Lebanese nut-maker (no pun intended) that read, “The world’s gone nuts!” The CMO justified the bold message by saying that’s exactly how his target audience feels about Mr. Trump’s election. That makes sense to me since listening to, and engaging with, one’s audience is paramount to marketing success.

But what about here, in this incredibly divided country of ours? What’s a poor CMO to do?

Seeking advice, I turned to perhaps the finest journalist/influencer in the marketing world today: Stuart Elliott.

We’re Twitter buds, so I asked Stuart how American marketers will act, and react, in our new fake news, post truth Trumpland. His response: “Brands that have had pro-social campaigns in recent years are likely to run inclusive ads.”

That not only made perfect sense, it was also music to my ears.

As Thomas Paine might have written, “Now is not the time for sunshine marketers to turn a blind eye.”

I’d like to believe that, as Stuart suggested, purpose-driven, socially-conscious marketers WILL stick to their guns (Sorry. Poor word selection on my part).

Make no mistake that marketers whose campaigns anger Trump are very likely to engender the same kind of excoriation he’s meted out to the mainstream press, Alec Baldwin, Meryl Streep and so many others.

For conservative marketers who sell to the ‘base’, these are the best of times. But, for marketers who sell to all races, creeds and colors, it’s go time.

Do they fold up their moral and ethical tents and go home? Or, do they continue to follow their organization’s purpose and risk possible sanctions from the now “swampless” Beltway?

How marketers respond today will most certainly be remembered tomorrow.

 

 

 

Jan 17

The Apollo 17 Principle of Recruitment

Today’s Repman is penned by Peppercommer Carl Foster…

APOLLOI don’t know about your industry but the world of PR is hotting up, and I find myself interviewing an increasing number of candidates.

When I interview people, particularly junior level candidates, I look for something I call the Apollo 17 principle.

You might be familiar with the Apollo principle. It’s the premise that everyone in an organization can pull together toward a common goal. It’s based on the 1960’s anecdote in which John F Kennedy, while on a tour of Cape Canaveral, asked a janitor what he did. “I’m helping put a man on the moon, sir” was the reply.

The Apollo 17 principle is different. It’s about valuing skills that are either innate or have taken a long time to develop over easier to develop skills, like PR and marketing.

Following Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in 1969, NASA launched five more Apollo missions, each manned with highly trained astronauts – the objective being to study the lunar surface. That required the skills of a geologist, so the astronauts undertook geology classes.

But here’s the thing, NASA realized that instead of an astronaut trained in geology, what they actually needed was a geologist trained as an astronaut. It turned out to be easier to layer astronaut training over years of study in geology than train astronauts to sort the lunar wheat from the lunar chaff. Step forward Harrison Schmitt, who studied geology at CalTech and Harvard. Schmitt was the Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 17, and now, with the passing of Gene Cernan yesterday, he is now the last living person to have walked on the moon.

The result of putting a geologist on the moon was that the Apollo 17 crew returned more rock of more value to earth than any other lunar mission.

So if you’re thinking of applying to Peppercomm but don’t have a background in PR or marketing, don’t let that immediately dissuade you, especially for entry level positions.

The same principle applies to skills and traits rather than experience. I once interviewed a junior candidate with zero PR or marketing experience, but she had set up dance schools in Africa, interned at foreign embassies and generally had an all-around “can do” approach to life. Unfortunately, she didn’t join Peppercomm, but wherever she lands, the astronaut part of her career will be easy to learn. She has the geology part sorted.

Jan 13

It’s the sales call, stupid

goldA few years back, I had the rare opportunity to lunch with the legendary Harold Burson.

I put him on the spot and asked him to name the one strategy Burson took in the 1960s and ’70s to overtake Hill & Knowlton in the ’80s as the world’s largest PR firm.

He paused and then said, “That’s easy. We insisted every single account team accompany a client’s salesman on his calls. By listening first-hand to the client’s customer’s wants and needs we crafted precisely tailored campaigns that rang true with target audiences and ran rings around our competitors’ work.”

I followed up by asking if Burson continued to follow his strategy. He shook his head and said, “Nope. And, I have no idea why we don’t.”

I cite this conversation because Matthew Schwartz who, in my opinion, knows more about how PR works than the collective staffs of every trade publication’s editorial staff combined, just penned an article for CMO.com that illustrates exactly how far ahead Mr. Burson was in his thinking.

I’ll let you peruse the full text but, the bottom line is this: CMOs (and, one would assume CCOs) are just now waking up to the brilliance of tag-teaming client and prospect calls with sales AND marketing executives in attendance.

Schwartz spotlighted a company called Legrand North America, which sends sales and marketing executives on sales calls. They believe sales and marketing, in tandem, can better close the sale when push comes to shove.

“Wrong!” As a certain president-elect would say.

Marketing communications executives SHOULD attend as many sales pitches as possible. But, they shouldn’t be part of the pitch. They should bring their listening skills with them and home in on EXACTLY what’s keeping customers and prospects up at night. To quote a recurring character from Seinfeld, “That’s gold, Jerry. Gold.” Why? Because it assures the subsequent campaign will deliver.

Primary, qualitative research runs rings around the panacea of the day, Big Data, and its cousin, Data Analytics.

But, I’m not aware of a single integrated marketing firm that implements what the Burson of PR Past practiced. None.

We dabble at it. And, when we have, it’s produced immediate results. But, I blame myself for not insisting it be embedded into every single client assignment. And, I blame every CMO and CCO who relies solely on quantitative-heavy Big Data to shape their campaigns. We’re better than that.

Nothing replaces primary research. And, there’s no better way to invest in a client relationship than to INSIST the account team tag along on sales calls, listen carefully and shape the campaign accordingly.

Sadly, we’ve become enamored with data and analytics to tell us what to do.

I’m taking a guess here, but I’ll bet if Big Data had existed in the ’60s and ’70s, Mr. Burson would have taken it very seriously. But I’d also like to think he’d still insist his account team attend sales meetings and listen, first-hand, to exactly what the end user’s pain points were and how the client was best positioned to solve them.

Would that the greats of the past could opine on the ‘best practices’ of today. I’d be willing to bet the big names of the past would probably be the biggest opponents of the Big Data driven campaigns of today.