Sep 30

Dear Valued Vendor

RFaaPI’m pleased to say that as a proud member of the Arthur W. Page Society and a trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, I’m able to rub shoulders with the smartest, and most strategic, chief communications officers in the world.

These pioneers are not only elevating the awareness and credibility of communications among their C-suite peers, they’re also playing a collaborative role. They serve as the fulcrum for IT, human resources, general legal counsel, business development and customer service to share information and, critically, speak in one authentic, consistent and coherent voice.

Ah, but I must also tell you that these world-class CCOs are the exception, and not the rule. Two quick cases in point:

– Several executive recruiters have told me many, many CCOs do NOT connect with the CEO and other members of the C-suite. In fact, turnover at the CCO level is significant (and an ongoing source of serious revenue for the recruiters).

– A surprising percentage of senior PR executives at Fortune 1000 corporations do NOT report to the CEO and are NOT invited to hang out with other members of the C-Suite. Many report to marketing. Others call the human resource manager boss and then there are those unfortunate souls who work for the general legal counsel. Ugh.

Lest the editor of PR Week, or any other leading trade, doubt my words, I’d like to share a recent experience with a Fortune 50 client.

The senior PR guy decided to put the business up for bid. We’d been handling their various business units for years, were told the existing business was safe, but that they’d very much like us to pitch the global account as well.

We balked, citing our lack of “boots on the ground” in 57 different nations. The senior client assured us category expertise and NOT global reach would determine the winner. But, he did tell us our three competitors were, you guessed it, global firms.

We debated our go/no go decision and finally agreed to participate. There would be one presentation followed by a reverse auction (more on that to come).

Once we were in the meeting, the senior PR guy’s peers hammered the bejesus out of us for lacking, you guessed it, boots on the ground in 57 countries.

Afterwards, the senior PR guy told us not to worry. All of the competitors were being questioned about the same thing, he said. The real determinant would be industry knowledge and the reverse auction.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a reverse auction is a process led by procurement (AKA, the penny pinchers from hell). The procurement team establishes a micro site, posts what they feel is a fair, blended hourly rate, and then gives each agency 30 minutes to submit their bids (with the unstated message being “low cost provider wins”).

Well, a few days later, we received a note from the senior PR guy whose salutation began, “Dear Valued Vendor.” The letter informed us we’d lost the pitch for two reasons: price and, you guessed it, a lack of boots on the ground in 57 countries.

All of which told me this particular senior PR guy not only wasn’t a C-Suite player, he was being forced to play by the rules set by procurement. You call that strategic?

That’s why I continue to chuckle and shake my head at the content churned out by PR Week in particular. They’d have you assume ALL CCOs have won the battle, and DO call the shots when helping frame key strategic business decisions and hiring smart, qualified agency partners. As I noted earlier, many have neither responsibility.

Which is why, when I read Steve Barrett’s recent editorial in PR Week’s “Power 50″, I thought to myself, “These guys are either committed to telling only one side of the story or, god help all of us, they’re blissfully ignorant of what’s going down in the countless organizations in which PR is still very much seen as little more than a necessary overhead expense.”

I’d be interested in hearing the publication’s POV. If nothing else, it would be fascinating to learn if our trade journalists are even aware of the Dear Valued Vendor universe.



Sep 24

Crisis PR tips from Pope Francis

Today’s guest blog is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

popeWith Pope Francis’ historic trip to the U.S.well underway, let’s look at what PR pros can learn from the Holy Father about managing a reputational crisis. After all, it was just two-and-a-half short years ago that the Roman Catholic Church’s image was more holey than holy.

In 2013, Pope Benedict had just become the first pontiff in 400 years to resign, and the church was being rocked by allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Today, however, Pope Francis is a religious rock star and media darling. Here are a few PR crisis lessons we all can take from this fashionable friar.

Pick a cause célèbre: Pope Francis rails against climate change, and recently issued a papal encyclical on the environment and sustainable development. These are smart moves that resonate with younger Catholics and others. This Pope would not be out of place at a locavore green market in Williamsburg.

Take a cue from the cleric of climate and become a champion of a social issue. This will soften your image and show how much you care about your stakeholder’s concerns. Even better, it will distract your opponents from the issues that really matter. After all, Pope Francis doesn’t appear interested in changing the church’s hardline stance against contraception, gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose and women in the priesthood. But his efforts to save the polar bears are making headlines around the world.

Eat a slice of humble pie: Francis is known for eschewing traditional papal perks. He takes the bus and chooses not to live in the Papal Apartments. Instead, he hunkers down in a suite in a Vatican City guesthouse.

The lesson here for corporate execs rebuilding their image is to ditch the Maserati Ghibli. You don’t have to go so far as to take the bus to work – let’s not get ridiculous – but you’re going to need more plebian wheels. My choice is the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. The great thing about the Audi is that it’s a plug-in electric. When you drive to the office and hook up to the power grid, your angry employees and the camera crews stalking you will praise you as a dyed-in-the-organic-wool ecowarrior.

Fortunately, you don’t have to give up all the trappings of success. Pope Francis doesn’t. He charters airliners for his international trips – no commercial flights for this guy. Even better, he gets the media to pay for it all. That’s right. The hordes of journalists covering the Pope must pay full fare on these flights to subsidize the cost of the Pope and his entourage.

So the next time your PR team schedules a media breakfast, make sure you sell tickets to the hacks to recoup the costs of the bitter coffee and stale bran muffins. No group is hated more than the media, so your constituents are sure to love it.

Sep 22

Peppercomm’s 20 Biggest New Business Mistakes, Part II

Here’s a continuation of Peppercomm’s 20 biggest new business flubs in our 20 years of conducting business…

six-business-mistakes-we-made-at-our-agency11.) Due diligence. Once upon a time, logistics was a very big deal in the dotcom B2B space. And, thanks to some brick-and-mortar experience we’d previously amassed, we were beautifully positioned to land some big accounts. We hit pay dirt on day one. A dotcom called Right Freight called us up, and offered us the gig on the spot (that’s the way things worked back then). We naturally accepted. Then, literally, 24 hours later, we received a call from RF’s direct competitor offering us double the fee. Being the unscrupulous mercenaries we were at the time, we hopped into bed with the far larger competitor. I still remember my subsequent call with the RF CEO telling him we wouldn’t be working with him. It wasn’t pretty. Anyway, we did a great job for Brand X, and they were soon acquired. Now, fast forward a year or so. The dotcom bubble had yet to burst. A call came in from yet another logistics company. The CMO said he’d heard great things about us and asked for an immediate meeting. We hustled right over to their offices, sat down and, lo and behold, guess who strode in? The former CEO of Right Freight. My partner and I broke the world’s record for the 100-yeard dash as we dashed out of the toxic setting. Outcome: you guess. #CheckTheProspectWebsiteBeforeTheMeeting #CustersLastStand

12.) The front page of The Wall Street Journal: Our team was in the midst of a very positive meeting with a leading university’s representatives. They were candid with us, making a point of saying every other firm with whom they worked in the past had promised them coverage on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. But, they’d never, ever delivered. I assured them we never promised coverage, especially on the front page of the Journal, but we’d do our best. Then, in strode one of our senior players. I was in the process of bringing him up to speed, mentioned the Journal, and he said, “Oh, we can get you on the front page.” Outcome: We lost. #ListeningSkills #BraggadocioKills

13.) Beware the mole: We’ve had some truly disastrous experiences with moles (i.e. people within the prospect organization we were pitching who gave us the inside scoop on exactly what would win over the hearts and minds of the prospect). In one memorable case, we created a proposal that was both reviewed, and edited, by the mole before we presented it. At the conclusion, the decision maker stood up, jingled some loose coins, and said, “That was perhaps the most glib and superficial presentation I’ve ever heard.” On another occasion, I ran into the client-side decision-maker who had sat through one of our mole-guided presentations a year or so earlier. He pulled me aside and said, “You know, your pitch was so far off-base that it was almost laughable.” Outcomes in both cases: We lost. #WereNowAMoleFreeEnvironment #IfSomethingIsTooGoodToBeTrueItUsuallyIs

14.) Industry-experience not required: We were once invited to pitch a well-known beverage company whose CMO said he was desperately looking for fresh ideas from an industry outsider. He said he’d had enough of doing the same-old, same-old with the same old, same old PR firms that specialized in beverages. We were pumped. This was a big brand and winning it would put us in an entirely new category. Once we began our pitch, however, the prospect team started hammering us on our lack of beverage industry experience. The CMO was multitasking on his mobile device the entire time and conveniently averted any direct eye contact with me. We were ushered out of the room after about 90 minutes and told we’d hear from them shortly. We did. They said we lacked industry experience. Outcome: We lost. #ProspectsWillSayOneThingAndMeanAnother #FocusOnUrCoreCompetancies

15.) Pop some Dramamine: Long ago and far away, we were wrapping up a very successful new business pitch. At the conclusion, the lead prospect said he’d like to ask each team member what he, or she, liked most and least about working at Peppercomm. One by one, the team members nailed the answers (BTW, working with me was the universal answer to the one thing they liked least about working at Peppercomm). At long last, it was time for the most junior staffer to weigh-in. She said she loved the vibe at Peppercomm but, frankly, hated the daily, two-hour bus commute to-and-from work. She said she was prone to car sickness, and vomited each-and-every time. Outcome: We lost. #Upchucking #WhatAwayToLoseaPitch #WonderIfSheStillVomitsTwiceAday

16.) Don’t believe what you’re told: A global executive search firm invited us to pitch their U.S. business. The lead marketing executive assured us that a global presence was totally irrelevant to this particular assignment. We killed in the first meeting and were immediately invited back. The second meeting featured a few additional players. About midway through the presentation, one of them stopped us and said, in a thick German accent, “Ya. Ya. Ya. This is all good, but how do you help us in Stuttgart, Lisbon, Brussels and other key markets?” I responded by saying we were told this was strictly a U.S.-only assignment. The original contact said nothing. “No. No. No,” said the German, “We need boots on the ground. Period.” Outcome: We lost. #OneSometimesNeedsACrystalBall #ScaryHearingAgermanSayBootsOnTheGround

17.) You’re too smart: A major, Japanese-based oil company invited us to pitch their global employee communications work. We did our homework, walked across town to meet with their U.S.-based marketing chief and shared our plan. At the end, he sighed and said, “This is exactly what we need. But, frankly, it’s far too sophisticated for today. Maybe we could do it in 10 years but not now. Unfortunately, you’re too smart for us.” Outcome: We lost. #StartDumbingDownOurPresos #WhatsTheWorldComingTo

18.) The five-year itch: We had done an award-winning, kick-ass job for a large insurance company when, after five years, our lead contact called and said the new CEO wanted to test the waters and see what other firms had to offer. Fair enough. That said, our client assured us he had our back, and was not about to let any change take place. Fast-forward to the day of the pitch. Our lead client was sitting alongside the new CEO and began the meeting by saying, “Well, every relationship, whether it’s personal or professional, starts to get old and tired after five years. We love what you’ve done for us, but it’s time for a change.” Outcome: We lost. #Backstabbing #LotsOfDrinkingAfterwards

19.) A three-hour cruise: We had just met with a leading organization in the wonderful world of maritime insurance. The lead marketing executive loved us and, at the end of the meeting, told us we’d been hired. Just three hours later, he called and said, “Look, I’m sorry about this, but I didn’t check with our CFO to see I had a marketing budget. Turns out I don’t. So, unfortunately, you’re fired.” #DaveyJonesLocker #YaGottaBeKiddingMe

20.) Mind the initials. We were pitching an uber important new piece of business. When we arrived at the scene, both sides exchanged introductions. As it turned out, a key client decision maker went by the initials J.B. One of our crack team members, responded by saying, “Pleasure to meet you, B.J.” And, despite prods, written notes slid over to our clueless colleague and looks that would kill from our entire team, this guy kept on calling the prospect B.J. instead of J.B. Outcome: We won the business. #TalkAboutDodgingAbullet #TheresAwakwardAndThenTheresInjectingOralSexSlangIntoApitch

So, that’s it. I could have easily listed 50 more flubs, and probably will do so in the year 2045. So, stay tuned.

Do any of you agency types have your own war stories to share? I’d love to hear… but don’t expect me to ever respond.

Sep 21

TALK ABOUT TRANSPARENCY: Peppercomm’s 20 Biggest New Business Mistakes

Peppercomm marks its 20th anniversary this month.

And, in true Peppercomm fashion, we’re reflecting of late on the good, the bad and the ugly.

Kermit Schafer - Pardon My Blooper Vol 1 1954Unlike what most other firms (and a certain PR trade) would lead you to believe, we PR types do not toil in a Utopian world in which every CCO has a seat at the table and every PR firm is treated as a strategic partner. The truth is far different and in many cases, far darker (and far funnier) than you’ve been led to believe. Ah, but, that’s another blog for another day.

Since Peppercomm is always aiming for transparency, I’ve compiled 20 all-time new business SNAFUs encountered by my favorite firm. So, sit back, relax, pop open your beverage of choice and enjoy (Note: Since we have 20 barn burners to share, I’ve decided to divide the list into two parts). Here are the first 10:

1.) Flatulence: I was leading a team pitching a German trade association. They were about to launch their first series of conferences here in the U.S., and were pressing us hard for our experience in dealing with the top analyst firms of the day. I stepped in, re-assured the prospect we were on a first name basis with all of them, and were especially proud of our strong connections with Fartner. Our team broke out in a long-sustained burst of laughter. The prospect did not. Outcome: We didn’t win the business. #HeyWhatYaGonnaDo #BodilyEmission

2.) Playing politics: We once converted our fifth floor conference room into a genuine Italian pizzeria in order to impress visiting dignitaries. They were looking for just the right partner with whom to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We were sailing through the presentation when we came to our experience in managing promotional events. Our junior team member took the lead. He flashed a photograph of a baseball diamond on the screen to indicate we’d be taking the Turtles to all sorts of sporting events to increase awareness. Then he added, “Of course, we’d make sure to avoid any baseball games in which that guy is tossing out the first pitch.” That guy was President George W. Bush. The silence was deafening. Then one of the prospects chuckled, and they all began laughing. Outcome: We won the business. #StayApolitical #WsArmWasBetterThanHisMind

3.) Woopsie-Daisy: We were once invited to pitch one of the world’s largest consumer electronics firms. Our team shuffled into a massive conference room and, after exchanging bows and business cards, took our seats. One team member, however, missed her seat completely and fell flat on her back. The Japanese were horrified (as were we). Unfazed, if a little bruised, our executive raised herself up, straightened herself out and said, “So, how’s that for making a great, first impression?” Laughter permeated the room. Outcome: We won the business. #GraceUnderPressure #WorkOnUrBalanceKiddo

4.) Brain power: Wrapping up a pitch to a very high level strategy firm, we were asked what set our measurement program apart from those of our competitors. “That’s easy,” said our lead team member, “We take the grey matter out of PR measurement.” A stunned silence ensued. Outcome: We lost the pitch. #MasterTheEnglishLanguage #ThinkBeforeSpeaking

5.) Beat the clock: A Midwestern retail brokerage happily informed us we were one of two finalists to pitch their business. They invited us to meet their senior management team and present our program. The only caveat: These were busy executives, and we had exactly 60 minutes to review our ideas. Once in the conference room, our team lead took great pains to set the stage, share our insights and strategies and, then, just as we were about to list the various program elements, the lead prospect held up his hands and said, “Thanks Peppercomm. That’s your one-hour. We appreciate your traveling to meet us and will let you know our decision.” Naturally, our team protested, but the prospect held firm and said, “I made a point of telling you had only 60 minutes in which to present,” Outcome: we lost the pitch. #UneedATimekeeperInTheseMeetings #RehearseRehearseRehearse

6.) Coke vs. Pepsi: I have no idea how or why, but we were invited to pitch the leading manufacturer of specially-equipped vans for handicapped Americans. Since the prospect was located in GodKnowsWhere, South Dakota, we arranged a video conference involving both our New York and San Francisco office executives. The pitch got off to a slow start (perhaps, subconsciously, we were doing our best to match the speed of one of those specially-equipped vans). At one critical juncture of the pitch, we flashed a slide of the van, and said we’d take it on a road trip to key target markets (Think: Florida, Arizona and other states where the average age is 99-plus). In the midst of our meandering, a disembodied voice interrupted our flow: “You do know that’s a photograph of our number one competitor, correct?” Outcome: We lost. #SelfDestruct #SoEgregiousAMistakeThatWeStillLaughAboutItAllTheseYearsLater

7.) Coke vs. Pepsi: the Sequel: Despite a dearth of real technology experience at the time, we were invited to pitch the entire BtoB side of the Yahoo business. We were further thrilled to be told we’d made it to the finals and were invited to present at Yahoo’s campus-like HQ’s. Our team was absolutely crushing the presentation when we came to a juncture in which we once again addressed key target key market initiatives. One of our account supervisors flashed a slide and began listing the various cities we’d aim for. He was immediately interrupted by a prospect, who asked, “Please tell me you’re not using Google Maps to make your case.” There are mistakes and then there’s using Google Maps to illustrate a Yahoo PR strategy. Outcome: We actually won the business. #15MonthsOfFutureHellWithY #AcountSupInQuestionIsLongGone #

8.) How much is that allergy attack in the window? Our intrepid consumer team was once invited to PetSmart headquarters to pitch the entire account. We had a solid program, had rehearsed our presentation multiple times and felt confident as we entered the PetSmart building. Then, one of our lead executives began coughing. Her face became blotchy. She started gasping for air. Why? Because she was allergic to the flea powder on one of the dogs. The client was close to calling the EMTs, but our team member was out of there faster than you could say “911.”  We went on with the pitch but, let’s just say, it lacked a certain bite. Outcome: We lost. #BringUrMedsToAPitch #BeProspectSmart

9.) When do we start? A Cleveland-based law firm was absolutely infatuated with Peppercomm. They said they’d conducted extensive due diligence, and already knew we were the right firm. They asked us to stop what we were doing, assemble the account team and hop on a jet. We dropped everything and did so. It was love at first sight. But, there was one, small hitch. One of the senior law firm partners had been on the road that day. So, about a week later, we were once again asked to drop everything, hop on a plane and meet with said partner. It was love at first sight, part two. Post script: Those meetings occurred in 2006. We’re still waiting for a response to our many e-mails and voice mails asking, “What happened?” and “When do we start?” #TheresAFoolBornEveryMinute #LotsOfProspectsBurnAgenciesInExactlyThisWay #TheyJustWantedOurIdeas

10.) Beware the hired gun. A major trade association invited us to Washington, D.C. to pitch a joint PR/PA program. Then, like now, we really didn’t possess any chops in the public affairs arena. So, one of our top people enlisted his college buddy, a lobbyist, to join the pitch team. Everything was going smoothly until the association president listed her strategy for reaching Beltway decision makers. Our hired gun completely disagreed. The disagreement quickly escalated into an argument that, at its peak, featured the major arteries and veins in the association president’s neck bursting out of their seams. Outcome: we lost. #VetUrHiredGun #MakeSureAngerManagementIsntOneOfHisIssues

You loving this stuff? Check back tomorrow for installment two of Peppercomm’s 20 Biggest New Business Mistakes.

Sep 16

Cody admits Peppercomm ‘reconsidering’ Simpson partnership

– Worries about ‘MWW-like brain-drain’ –

New York, September 16, 2015 — Peppercomm co-founder and CEO, Steve Cody, admitted late yesterday that his firm is reconsidering the strategic alliance it recently struck with ex-NFL great and convicted felon, O. J. Simpson.

celezzbrieisCody admitted the soul-searching is a direct result of the executive-level exodus from MWW after the latter agency retained political naughty boy, Anthony Weiner, to provide crisis counseling to clients.

“While we’ve always prided ourselves on pushing boundaries and going where no agency has gone before, I must admit the MWW imbroglio has cast a chilling effect here at Peppercomm,” said Cody.

The executive was quick to point out, however, that the Juice has already performed admirably in his role as Peppercomm’s director of sports marketing & memorabilia. “The man’s got connections with people and, ah, organizations with whom we’ve never interacted. I have no doubt that, if given the chance, O.J. would fit Peppercomm like a glove,” Cody chuckled.

And, yet, Cody freely admits there have been grumblings within his agency’s rank-and-file. “Some feel the Simpson collaboration sends the wrong message to the marketplace. I’m not sure I agree but, if we do experience some high-level defections, I’m afraid I’ll have to place a call to The Juice’s jail cell and break the bad news.”

Cody indicated that, even if the firm should disengage with the former Heisman Trophy Winner and NFL legend, the firm is in “…serious discussions with a former U.S. president to head-up Peppercomm’s intern program. I can’t betray any confidences, but let’s just say this guy is synonymous with intern mentoring,” hinted Cody.

Peppercomm is a strategic communications and marketing firm that, by helping clients see around the corner and determine what’s next, pushes boundaries while mitigating risk (except its own).

Sep 15

If a white paper falls in a forest and no one is around to read it, does it make a difference?

economistPeppercomm recently partnered with The Economist Group for our second, in-depth examination of content creation and consumption in the B2B world. In this instance, we took a deep dive into generational similarities and differences.

Since I’m not particularly interested in similarities, I thought I’d share the disconnects.

But, first, let me tell you who we surveyed:

– 400 global B2B executives with up to 10 years of professional experience (i.e. Generation Next)
– 300 global B2B executives with more than 10 years of experience (i.e. veterans)

Our goal: To determine if there are generational differences that marketers need to factor in when it comes to their content creation and consumption.

We surveyed the two assemblages mentioned above across various geographic regions and industries. Here are the generational disconnects:

– There was a significant difference in importance placed on research reports and white papers. Sixty-five percent of the grizzled veterans rely on them, while a scant 30 percent of Generation Next executives pay attention to them. So, if 70 percent of your up-and-coming target audience is ignoring your research reports and white papers, methinks it’s time to re-assess one’s content creation.

– More and more Generation Next’ers prefer video content (21 percent) while an embarrassingly low percentage of veterans do (12 percent). The opposite holds true for infographics. We old-timers prefer them by a two-to-one ratio (24 percent to 12 percent). While the video percentages may seem small, Ted Birkhahn, president of Peppercomm and one of the survey’s co-creators, stressed that the importance of video to Generation Next executives will increase dramatically in the years to come. In fact, Generation Next executives are more than twice as likely to open videos compared to their more senior contemporaries.

– There’s a seismic shift underway in trust. Forty-one percent of veteran executives care about a company’s reputation while less than one-third of Generation Next’ers do (28 percent). The latter rely more on a colleague’s recommendation than they do on reputation indices, company self-promotion, etc. Clearly, credible word-of-mouth is becoming ever more important.

As I noted earlier, there are just as many similarities as disconnects between the two age groups, but these glaring gaps should be a wake-up call for ALL B2B marketers.

Listen to your two audiences, create tailored content and use the proper channels to reach each. Or, risk losing both to one of your more astute competitors.

Note: There will be a Twitter chat this Thursday, September 17th  at 1:00 pm EDT with the Economist Group; hashtag  #ContentSurvey.

Sep 10

“Chris Christie- climb that wall!”

What does a presidential candidate do when The Donald grabs every headline and Hill publicly steals every news cycle with yet another missing e-mail malapropism?

The answer: Make ridiculously absurd comments in the hope that one, or more, may actually see the light of day in some obscure media outlet.

Consider the recent antics of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who, next to William Howard Taft, may be America’s most plus-sized candidate in more than a century.

Dismissing his girth as a decided liability (i.e. Will this guy’s heart hold up during four stress-filled years in the Oval Office?), Candidate Christie just launched an assault on climbing walls. Yes, climbing walls.

The big fellow recently lambasted the University of New Hampshire for building a climbing wall for its students. “You have rocks. Right out there,” the sedentary one said. “What the hell do you need a rock climbing wall for? Tell the kids at UNH, ‘Go outside and climb those rocks!'” Sounds positively Reaganesque, doesn’t it?

But, big Chris wasn’t done climbing this highly-relevant voter issue. He went on to say there’s a rock climbing wall EPIDEMIC going on at college campuses. Who knew? I, for one, sure hope the CDC is monitoring these outbreaks. Who needs another Ebola crisis?

Christie verified his epidemic alert by pointing out that Notre Dame has two climbing walls, Princeton has one and even Iowa State University has built one. Why can’t those damn Iowa kids find themselves a healthy corn field and scale the stalks!

Indoor climbing gyms have become Christie’s strategy to re-direct the illegal immigrant conversation. Talk about being in-touch with voter issues!

Big Chris obviously knows how to navigate the shark-filled political waters of Trenton, but I’ll bet my last ice pick, he’s never attempted climbing New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch, AKA Frankenstein Cliffs, in January. If he had, he’d understand why climbing walls are an absolute necessity in northern climes.

Then, of course, there are the obvious fitness benefits that accrue to rock, ice and alpine climbers. Trust me; whether it’s indoor or outdoor, climbing is tough.

All of which makes Christie’s remarks so bizarre. He thinks colleges are spending too much money building climbing walls.

I’m guessing he feels the same way about indoor swimming pools for student athletes. After all, there are plenty of lakes and rivers in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Indiana and Iowa, and who wouldn’t want to practice the 100-yard breaststroke dodging ice floes on the Delaware River?

I applaud Governor Christie for re-directing the political conversation and identifying a whole new class of self-entitled individuals who are gaming the system. That said, I do advise Christie to experience a climbing wall before he identifies them as America’s latest, and perhaps, most insidious epidemic ever.

But, you won’t catch me belaying the big fellow. I doubt the NYJets starting offensive line would be able to get much light between the governor’s climbing shoes and the first foot hold on a climbing wall.

And a click of the carabiner to Adel Barr, the mayor of Handsomeville, for this idea.

Sep 08

“It was 20 years ago today…”


Eddd & Steve tif  (4)Peppercomm entered the PR world 20 years ago today.

It was a muggy mid-morning on September 5, 1995, that I rapped on the door of Ed’s squalid, one-bedroom apartment, sauntered inside, and said, “OK. Now what?”

To his credit, Ed suggested we divide and conquer (a phrase he continually uses to this day).

So, while Ed focused on setting up our first bank account, business line, fax machine and other sorts of operational and administrative necessities, I set meetings with the trade press, CEO’s of large PR firms and a few advertising folk I knew. My goal: To let the world know we existed, and ask that they forward any, and all, new business leads that didn’t make sense for them.

Ed and I also smiled-and/dialed every former client and prospect we knew, hoping against hope that the $12,500 loan I’d received from my mother-in-law and older brother would somehow see us through those first, dark days.

We had no formal business plan, but agreed to review our situation after six months and decide whether or not to continue. Happily, we began winning accounts within three months.

And, by pure happenstance, we decided to name the firm in honor of my black lab, Pepper. Then, along came the dot com boom and, with it, scores of VC-backed start-ups who assumed that, because of our name, we specialized in dot com PR. We didn’t, but we quickly hired people who did.

The ensuing two decades have been a wild, kaleidoscopic roller coaster ride replete with the highest highs and the lowest lows.

I can’t speak for Ed, but my main motivation for starting Peppercomm was very personal. I didn’t want to look back 20 years later, and wonder, “What if?”

Now, I look back and think, “Thank god I did what I did when I did it.


Aug 27

A very classy move

Secret Weapon Marketing Letter

It’s no secret that we live in a trash-talking, backstabbing, what’s in it for me society. From The Donald and Jerry Springer to the average NFL player and Hollywood starlet, the public discourse abounds in mudslinging, muckraking and meanness.

All of which makes a recent advertisement from an agency called Secret Weapon Marketing unique and laudable.

The ad is a variation on the legendary “Dear John” letter (Note to Millennials: Suggest you reference Wikipedia for a definition).

Entitled “Goodbye Jack,” the ad is an open letter from Secret Weapon’s CEO to his now former client of 20 years, Jack in the Box.

The text is brilliant. It not only points out the many successes of the relationship, but reminisces about extra special moments. It’s also refreshing in oh-so-many ways:

  • It demonstrates class at a moment in time when the average agency CEO would be bitching
  • It personalizes what was a purely business relationship (thereby shining the light on what must be a very special culture at Secret Weapon)
  • By listing the 20-year campaign’s multiple successes, the ad subtly, but credibly, alerts Jack in the Box competitors that Secret Weapon can, in fact, be their secret weapon for success

I applaud Rick Sittig, SW’s founder and creative director, for taking the high road (however diabolically clever the strategy may have been).

I also wonder if anyone from Jack in the Box will respond in kind by publicly thanking SW? Nah. That would be akin to Megyn Kelly running an ad in The Wall Street Journal thanking Trump for elevating her status from talking head to semi-serious reporter.

Aug 25

Hillary’s downward spiral


If I were a betting man, I’d guess the very same people who are advising New Jersey Transit are counseling Hillary Clinton as she continues to not only avoid discussing the 30,000 missing e-mails from her personal account, but makes light of the entire subject.

I can think of other high-profile types who either ignored a crisis, denied it ever happened or, like Hillary, made light of it (Think: Lance Armstrong, that Lululemon nut job of a CEO, Jeff Skilling, Barry Bonds, Dennis Kozlowski, etc.).

Hillary’s 30,000 missing e-mails are the modern day equivalent of Rosemary Woods and her “accidentally” erasing 18-plus minutes of President Nixon’s White House recordings (note to Millennials: Google “Watergate” for more details).

In my mind, Hillary’s already destroyed her chances of returning to the Oval Office.

Had she come clean on Day One, admitted the mistake, turned over the e-mails, etc., she’d still have a shot in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Alas, as is the case with NJT and their daily delays and cancellations, Hillary neither apologized nor provided an explanation. Instead, with her snide Snapchat quip, Hill reinforced a perception that, deep down, she carries a serious chip on her shoulder.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Secretary Clinton’s self-immolation is the frightening prospect of a Trump-Biden showdown in 2016. That’s when I start seriously considering Canadian citizenship.

Until then, keep on sending in the clowns.