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.😎

 

###

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.

###

Jun 26

The United States of Amnesia*

It has been 30 years since Jimmy Breslin, the legendary New York newspaperman, simultaneously attacked Donald J. Trump’s demagoguery and the fawning media’s round-the-clock coverage of whatever outrageous thing he said or did (sound familiar?). 

In a Newsday column titled: “Violent Language, Between You and I”, Breslin savaged Trump for his bullying, racism, egomaniacal ways and, surprise, surprise, butchery, of the English language.

Breslin’s column ran right after Trump had paid for a full-page ad in all four of Gotham’s four major daily newspapers.

The advertisement was headlined: “Between You and I” and, as Breslin noted, “…practically called for the death of the black teenagers arrested for the rape and attack on the woman who later became known as ‘The Central Park Jogger.”

Breslin wrote of Trump’s ad: “As the young woman is not dead (indeed, she would live and miraculously testify in court about the mugging and rape) and those arrested for her attack do not as yet even have a trial date, much less guilt established, his (Trump’s) scream for vengeance could be considered premature by some.”

While excoriating Trump for his rush to judgment, Breslin provides equal time for the New York journalism community.  He asks why Trump “…became so immensely popular with the one group of people who are supposed to be the searchlights and loudspeakers that alert the public to the realities of such a person.”

He continues, “Even the most unhostile of eyes cannot say that his buildings are not ugly. Yet all news stories say ‘imaginative’ when common sense shouts ‘arrogance.’ Always, the television and newspapers talk of his financial brilliance, when anybody in the street knows that most of ‘Between You and I’ Trump’s profits came from crap games and slot machines in Atlantic City, the bulk of that, the slot machines, coming from old people who go down there with their Social Security checks.’”

Breslin presciently balances the chutzpah of Trump with the adulation of the media (a modern-day phenomenon that I believe anyone on either end of the political spectrum would agree is alive and well, if not thriving).

Breslin’s brilliance is on full display when he analyzed Trump’s Between You and I headline: “When the unwashed get to the word ‘between’ while speaking, the first thing their ear tells them is that ‘Between You and I’ is right because it has a tonier sound to it, almost regal they imagine, than (the grammatically correct) ‘between you and me.’ Therefore such people as Trump say, ‘Confidentially, between you and I.’”

I urge you to read more of Breslin’s take on the future president and the subservient media of the late 1980’s. There are many lessons to be learned for The Base and the current representatives of “fake news.”

                                  ###

* While I love the headline and think it fits this blog like a glove, I must give Gore Vidal credit for having coined it.

Jun 19

Acing the customer experience

My Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter connections know that, when it comes to customer experience, my twin bete noirs are United Airlines and New Jersey Transit, respectively. The former still has the unfriendliest skies in the nation and the latter is a daily excursion to hell and back. 

So it’s rare when I stumble across a truly superior customer experience. And, it’s rarer still when I give a shout out to an organization. But I’m doing so in this case because the institution in question scored a perfect 10 in every aspect of my customer experience. And that institution is (drum roll please) the Ace Shoreditch Hotel (www.acehotel.com).  They truly aced my stay in London last week.

Here’s why:

  • The front desk clerk greeted me by name as I strolled up to registration (I’m guessing the car service arranged for that? Or my London employees? The ghost of great customer experiences past?).
  • The room was reasonably priced, within a five-minute walk of our London office and chock full of every conceivable amenity one might desire in the middle of a jet-lagged night.
  • The overnight manager was an angel in disguise. I won’t bore you with the details, but I had to be at the Ace’s front door at 4:40am one morning to meet a car service that would whisk me away to the EuroStar and a trip to Paris. As I anxiously paced back-and-forth waiting for the tardy car and checking my watch, Sam, the night manager, walked right alongside me. He calmed me down, told me about shuttle flights from Heathrow, etc., that could still get me to my appointed rounds on time and, well, talked me off the ledge. Caring hotel employees can be an oxymoron nowadays. But not at the Ace Shoreditch. And definitely not Sam.
  • Last, and not least, the Ace was chock full of branded merchandise. I felt like a kid in a candy store (since I am absolutely obsessed with branded merchandise). Ask any client, prospect or trade group to which I belong for verification. I kill for SWAG.

So, if your travel plans should call for a jaunt across the pond and a visit to London Town in the near future, I cannot more highly recommend the Ace Shoreditch.

After Word: I will be sending hotel management a link to this blog and they bloody well better upgrade me to a luxury suite when I’m next in town. 😊

###

Jun 11

An angry mom takes aim at the NRA

Shannon Watts is my hero. 

As you’ll read in this riveting account of one week in her life, Shannon is putting everything on the line (including her life) to mobilize moms to stop gun violence. In fact, she has already succeeded in helping to pass gun safety legislation in 20 states.
Shannon is a Type-A mom with a cause. She’s authored a book called “Fight Like a Mother” and founded a non-profit called Moms Demand Action that has more followers than the NRA.

Watts began her one-woman crusade in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook mass school shooting in 2012.

Since then, she has been the Energizer Bunny of the anti-gun violence crusade (Note: Moms Demand Action isn’t anti-gun. It’s anti-gun violence).

Make no mistake that Shannon Watts knows she is putting her life at risk by taking on the more extreme elements of the NRA.

In fact, if you read her weekly diary, you’ll see that when she arrived in Rhode Island to participate in an advocacy day with Governor Gina Riamondo, Shannon was met at the gate by two security guards. As Watts noted, “Their job is to take me to the nearest hospital if anything should happen.”

Our country is a better, somewhat saner place thanks to a true take-no-prisoners, damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead hero like Shannon Watts. And it proves that one person can indeed make a difference.

I encourage moms (and dads) everywhere to join Ms. Watts in her crusade. The life you save may be your own child’s.

                                 ###

 

Jun 05

Still think global climate change is a Chinese hoax? Ask Mount Everest climbers their POV

As someone who dabbles in high-altitude mountain climbing, I’ve been closely following the horrific events on Mount Everest in the past month.

While most news coverage has focused on the lax standards that have allowed hundreds of climbers to be caught above the death zone in complete gridlock (and many die as a result), I stumbled across an equally disturbing trend of late.

Thanks to global climate change, warmer temperatures and melting ice, scores of long-dead bodies are suddenly emerging from their ice tombs on Everest.

In fact, it’s now a routine occurrence for guides and climbers alike to spot human bones poking up from the ground, smooth and ice encrusted.

As one guide told the New York Times, “Snow is melting and bodies are surfacing. Finding bones has become the new normal for us.”

The plethora of long-gone, perfectly preserved climbing corpses has caused something of an ethical dilemma for the climbing community.

Traditionally, people who perished on Everest had been left on the mountain in the exact position in which they expired. (Think the perfectly preserved Roman corpses of Pompeii.)

Now, though, with so many previously buried bodies popping up from the melting ice, the climbing community is faced with a conundrum: Do they leave hundreds and hundreds of corpses on the fabled mountain or ship the remains back to the victims’ families?

All of which brings us back to global climate change.

According to the New York Times, the snowline on Everest is higher than it was just a few years ago. Areas once coated in dense ice are now exposed. Climbers are trading ice aces for rock piton spikes that are hammered into cracks on the mountain’s walls. Trust me when I say that is absolutely mind boggling.

The Nepalese government already has its hands full with far too many inexperienced climbers attempting to summit the world’s tallest peak. Now they have to figure out what to do with the zombie-like remains of previously buried climbers.

For the Climate Denier in Chief, I’d say it’s high time to schedule a State Visit to Mount Everest. Assuming he can make it at least to base camp (which shouldn’t be a problem, given his self-proclaimed physical prowess and fitness), I think the president would get a whole new point of view, literally and otherwise, on global climate change. Let’s hope seeing is believing for Trump. Otherwise, melting ice won’t be the only condition that yields human bodies.

###

May 29

The client from hell

Every agency has had its fair share of truly horrific clients. 

You know the ones I mean: the screamers, gropers, the ones who keep losing the invoice that’s already 180-days old.

And then there are those who poach your talent but never ask permission or compensate you for the loss (despite contractural wording to the contrary).

My two favorites were a retail chain that told us they were reallocating our money to expand their internal IT infrastructure, and an industry group that replaced our budget to sponsor a rock group’s tour (FYI: Our program for the concert lovers has been named a finalist for three separate major awards).

But I digress.

I have to say that after reading John Carreyrou’s spellbinding book about Theranos and founder Elizabeth Holmes, “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-Up,” I am equal parts empathetic and appalled by the actions of the lead Theranos agencies: Chiat/Day and DKC, respectively.

The legendary Chiat/Day was contacted directly by Holmes because they had represented Steve Jobs and Apple (and to say that Holmes was positively obsessed with all things Jobs-related is to say that Donald Trump occasionally compliments dictators).

Holmes hired Chiat on the spot and did her very best to lure the legendary Lee Clow (the creative genius behind Apple’s iconic 1984 campaign) out of retirement). Clow wisely demurred, but Holmes nonetheless insisted on following the exact same schedule Jobs had put in place with her Chiat team up to, and including, weekly Wednesday afternoon meetings.

Holmes retained the public relations firm DKC just prior to the oft-delayed launch of the Theranos website (whose bold claims had to be constantly dialed back as the white-hot corporation’s lawyers came to realize the start-up’s promise to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier was a complete ruse).

Indeed it’s not a stretch to say that Holmes is easily the most diabolical and disingenuous liar this side of Jeff Skilling, Dennis Kozkowski and Bernie Madoff.

I’m not an ad agency expert, so I can’t address why so many super smart Chiat/Day account team members didn’t smell a rat sooner than they did. But I MUST address the behavior of DKC and their lead account manager, Matthew Traub, as described by WSJ reporter Carreyou in his spellbinding book.

DKC had been successful in pulling the wool over fawning reporters from such mainstream publications as Fortune, Forbes, CNBC and others. But the Carreyrou was a different breed entirely. Various Theranos insiders had confided in the investigative reporter, and he was asking questions that Holmes, her pit bull-like law firm and DKC assiduously avoided.

Traub asked Carryrou to submit a list of questions, which the latter did. Carryrou also asked for an in-person meeting with Holmes at their posh, Fort Knox-like Silicon Valley headquarters.

Traub said Elizabeth’s schedule wouldn’t permit an in-person meeting, and provided brief, legal-approved responses to Carryrou’s questions.

At the same time, DKC was perfectly content to keep disseminating feel good press releases about Theranos and arranging countless other interviews. But not with Carryrou. They knew that he knew what was going on, Carryou writes.

I urge any advertising or PR professional, academic or student to read the book for further details because the various documentaries omit the Theranos/agency relationships.

Afterword: I must admit to feeling some empathy for Traub and DKC because they (and every PR firm) depend upon clients to tell the truth. But after reading this book, I’m convinced there were countless warnings that DKC (and Chiat/Day, for that matter) should have spotted and resigned the business ASAP.

It’s easy to look the other way, especially when an incredibly well-funded start-up is tossing hundreds of thousands of dollars your way.

But when does an agency say, “Enough is enough?” Because DKC didn’t until it was too late, they now find themselves forever painted as having played a small, but critical, role in perpetrating a complete hoax.

Final question: How did the PR trades miss this one?

###