Oct 24

Sports as a Part of our Society: Chat with Dr. Baseball (Part 1)

Nothing uplifts a town like their local sports team performing well on the field. We’re seeing that with MLB’s Houston Astros as they face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. How can this help the city heal after suffering a devastating hurricane this past summer? Dr. Wayne McDonnell, Academic Chair of Sports Management at NYU is back in the house and drops knowledge on how sports is woven into the fabric of our society, as well as how data is playing a much larger role in the game today.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our conversation!

Oct 23

Do you know the names of your industry’s founding fathers?

Could you imagine anyone who works in aviation not knowing the pioneering roles of Orville and Wilbur Wright? Same question holds true for the oil & gas sector. Could anyone not know the name and accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller?

But, when I’ve guest lectured at countless college and university PR classes over the years and asked about our field’s pioneers, the average student is hard pressed to name anyone aside from Edward Bernays.

That’s a shame since the invaluable contributions of pioneers ranging from Ivy Lee and Arthur W. Page to John W. Hill and Al Golin have gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated by the current and future generation of practitioners.

Happily, one of our founding fathers is very much alive and well and, at the robust age of 96, still shows up for work every day at his eponymous agency.

I’m speaking about Harold Burson, who has just published his autobiography: “The Business of Persuasion.”

Mr. Burson’s magnus opus is published by RosettaBooks. You can contact production@rosettabooks.com to order a copy(ies).

I’m not in the business of promoting books written by competitive agency owners, but The Business of Persuasion is not merely the tale of a true visionary, but an insider’s guidebook that comes replete with invaluable takeaways at the end of each chapter.

I intend to write two other blogs about the book this week. The first will summarize how the young Harold Burson created his own “brand” while still in high school and continually leap-frogged far older, more experienced professionals to achieve remarkable success at the tender age of 24.

The second blog will address the man’s vision and accomplishments over the decades, and explain in greater detail why PR Week described Harold Burson as, “….The 20th century’s most influential PR figure.”

Now that you know who he is, I urge you to buy the book and analyze Mr. Burson’s journey to greatness. I can’t think of a more relevant guide for Millennials and Generation Z types struggling to figure out how to differentiate themselves and create their own paths to success.

Oct 17

Rudderless in a perfect storm

Much has already been written about Harvey Weinstein’s decision to retain the service of Sitrick and Company, one of the best-known crisis firms in the country.

Most of the rhetoric has either excoriated Sitrick for defending such a heinous client who continues to see one starlet after another come forward with new accusations of rape. Others defend Sitrick arguing that, as is the case in our jurisprudence system, any defendant is innocent until proven guilty and deserving of counsel.

Few, if any, have weighed in on what I have to believe are the toxic effects of Sitrick’s decision on the average Sitrick employee.

It’s one thing to advocate on behalf of such controversial clients as Big Tobacco and quasi-dictatorships, but the Weinstein crisis strikes at the very root of our nation’s latest flashpoint: sexual harassment. I wonder how female employees of Sitrick explain to their family and friends how they can work for an organization that is defending such an alleged serial predator. That can’t be a fun discussion.

And while Sitrick has a long-standing record of defending controversial clients, this could prove to be their Waterloo. Just look at what happened to Bell Pottinger, a leading U.K. public relations consultancy. They found out the hard way that defending the wrong client at the wrong time can not only destroy employee morale, but actually put the firm out of business.

I believe Sitrick chose to defend Weinstein because the firm lacks a clear purpose (Note: a purpose may be defined as why an organization exists, why its employees show up to work every day and what higher purpose does the company serve). In other words, the firm is rudderless.

I recently co-authored a blog with Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society in which we said: “An overwhelming number of employed adults expect their organizations to speak up in times of crisis. But doing so should be guided by the corporate character (or purpose, if you will). A purpose should serve as a company’s ethical and moral company, and guide a CEO’s decisions and actions.”

Lacking purpose, Sitrick chose profits over people (and principles) and, I believe, will pay a very heavy price.

After word: I did some quick sleuthing to see if some of the best PR firms in the business do, in fact, have a clear purpose. They do. Two of the best came from:

  • Edelman: “….We drive powerful connections between companies and the greater good. In other words, we help marry profits and purpose…”
  • Weber-Shandwick: “….We’re energized by the ways our diverse global network of employees apply their passion and ideas in partnership with clients around the world to contribute to a brighter future.”

I’d like to believe that neither Richard Edelman nor Andy Polansky, CEOs of Edelman and Weber, respectively, would even entertain the notion of representing Harvey Weinstein since their purpose would guide them to do the exact opposite.

Oct 16

No More Cattle Calls Please!



Today’s Repman guest blog is authored by Deb Brown.

It appears that our industry is rapidly becoming a microcosm of society as a whole. In particular, I’m speaking about civility, or the lack thereof. Case in point: cattle calls.

When we receive a Request for Proposal from an organization, we always vet it, part of which includes how many agencies are in the mix. If the number is more than five, we usually bow out since the chance of winning the account starts to diminish. I’m always surprised when organizations reach out to many agencies. Not only is it unfair to the agencies to have a slim chance of winning, but it has to be tedious for the prospect to read through many proposals and/or sit through many presentations.

Sometimes, we cannot find out the number of agencies in advance. This happened recently when we were invited to participate in an RFP and had to attend an in-person session to ask questions. We found ourselves being one out of 15 agencies in the room. While the opportunity was a good one for us, putting hours of our time into the proposal with a slim chance of winning didn’t make sense.

Prospects should do their due diligence and choose no more than five agencies. Or, if they want to start with a larger pool, conduct a 30-minute call with each agency and then, based on the conversations, whittle it down to no more than five. It shows respect to the agencies and it makes it more manageable for the prospect. Having a “cattle call” frustrates agencies and, ironically, the agencies that may be best suited for the account may drop out.

A cattle call happens to be just one example of lack of respect for an agency’s time and hard work. Another is never responding to the agency after the agency submits a proposal. Four years ago, we submitted a very thoughtful and strategic proposal to a company looking for a communications partner. We are still waiting to hear. And, sadly, that company is not the only one that hasn’t responded over the years. A “Dear Agency” letter is another demonstration of lack of respect for an agency’s hard work. Personalizing a letter and providing feedback on why an agency wasn’t chosen would be very much appreciated.

These issues are very easy to fix, but sadly continue. Perhaps “business civility” should be taught in schools of communications and MBA programs. If future executives don’t learn the ropes there, where (and when) will they ever grasp the adverse impact on their own image and reputation if they continue to treat agencies like cattle?

Oct 10

Have lecture, will travel

I’ve had the unique privilege to address two classes of public relations students/executives in the past week. The initial victims attend George Washington University. The second group participates in a master’s program in communications management at the University of Toronto.

In each instance, I found the students/executives hungry for information about CEO advocacy in particular, and best practices for dealing with an unexpected attack from the West Wing.

Happily, and courtesy of The Institute for Public Relations and the Arthur W. Page Society, I was well-equipped to field each, and every question, and cite both proprietary primary research as well as highly relevant secondary research to support my arguments.

I suggested that public relations in general, and the CCO in particular, has never been better positioned to provide counsel to the CEO in the new normal of fake news, hate-mongering and personal attacks. Indeed. I firmly believe the CCO should be carefully advising her CEO in terms of when to advocate and how best to communicate it.  As my colleague, Roger Bolton, president of the Page Society mentioned in our recent PRSA-sponsored webinar, an organization should follow its corporate purpose, mission and values statement in positing  a POV on everything from Charlottesville and DACA to climate change and women’s rights. And the CCO should always be serving as his organization’s ethical and moral compass.

I recently interviewed Colleen Penhall of Lowes, who  provided a best practices roadmap for the path her organization took in determining a corporate purpose that has profoundly impacted every aspect of her organization and equipped the CEO with guidelines should he choose to speak out on an issue of the day. Other CCO’s who have yet to determine their organization’s purpose would be well-advised to follow Colleen’s lead.

CEO advocacy will only become more important in the days, weeks and months to come. The wisest orgazanitons are those who have already taken time to anticipate what cannot be anticipated, and created various responses that have been approved, in advance, by the entire C-Suite.

We live in interesting times. And, neither digital gurus nor advertising copywriters have a clue as to how best to navigate TrumpWorld. These are heady times for the public relations profession, and I’m more convinced than ever that we will rise in stature as employees and stakeholder audiences look for a CEO to provide a voice of reason in a time of turbulence.

Oct 04

The Power of Vulnerability

It’s always been my opinion the strongest leaders are the ones who aren’t afraid to display their emotions, vulnerability and humanity in times of stress. Vulnerability is, in fact, one of the key lessons we instill in our troops as they undergo stand-up comedy training (a de facto part of our management development for the past decade).

There are a few terrific examples of CEOs who “get it”, but I’ve rarely seen a late night talk show host display his emotions and vulnerability to the degree Jimmy Kimmel did in the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy.  Regardless of your political views, watch the entire segment.

The single best advice I could provide any CEO addressing stakeholders in a time of crisis is to emulate Kimmel’s authenticity. It’s riveting (and incredibly effective).

Sep 26

A company without a purpose

Lost amidst the usual hysteria surrounding Donald Trump’s Tweets, tirades and threats this past weekend was the woeful performance of Under Armour.

In a flip-flopping move reminiscent of 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry, Under Armour took two diametrically opposed POVs in the space of an hour.

The drama unfolded after the sports apparel brand decided to publicly support the NFL and NBA players who suddenly, and unexpectedly, were attacked by President Trump at the appropriately named Von Braun Center at the University of Alabama.

Under Armour stepped up and immediately expressed its commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and the right of all America citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights. Then, when conservative followers began savaging the statement on social channels everywhere, Under Armour stepped back. Holy two-step, Batman!

The brand wizards took down the original Tweet and subsequently added a line about respecting our flag in a new one.

That new Tweet incited a second wave of protesters who called Under Armour weak, wishy-washy and pandering.

And, what did the powers that be at Under Armour say as they were receiving incoming mortar from all sides? Nothing. Not a word. The silence was deafening,

Alas, this is not the first time Under Armour took a fire, aim, ready approach to their Trump-related statements.

In the afterglow of The Donald’s inauguration, the company issued a hagiographic salute to our new president without realizing their top celebrity endorsers were female, people of color or others who found Trump’s incendiary rhetoric abhorrent.

The brand once again had to back pedal and support their high profile athletes’ right to speak their minds.

Under Armour’s pathetic attempts at communications don’t merely signal a sophomoric approach to marketing communications. It tells me the company lacks a purpose.

And, if you think corporate purpose is just a warm and fuzzy HR thing, think again. A recent Harris survey shows an overwhelming number of employees surveyed not only expect their company to have a purpose; they expect their CEO to reaffirm that purpose whenever such flashpoint issues as DACA, Charlottesville, illegal immigration or a crazy attack on black athletes goes down.

Once a company’s executives and employees agree upon the purpose of the organization’s existence, it’s relatively easy to allow that purpose to serve as the North Star, guiding any and all future statements that reinforce the mission and values embedded in the corporate purpose.

The Arthur W. Page Society contains countless guidelines one can follow to create a meaningful purpose that not only helps crystallize statements in times of crisis but answers the why and how questions rumbling around in every American employee’s mind:

–  “Why do I go to work every day?”

–  “How is my company making the world a better place?”

A corporate purpose will also elicit an employee response along the lines of:

– “This is why my professional life fulfills me just as much as my personal one.”

Under Armour lacks a purpose. Or, if they do have one, it’s either beyond mundane or ignored.

I suggest Under Armour hire some real communications professionals who know how to create, embed and activate a purpose. If they don’t, they’ll continue to wreak havoc on their image, reputation and sales.

One more year of this and Under Armour will be underwater.

 

 

Sep 21

Humor flexes its muscles

I’ve just returned from The Arthur W. Page Society‘s superb annual conference in San Diego. And, while the conference theme was, “Search for community in a (dis) connected world,” there were a surprising number of speakers who addressed the power of humor in business.

Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines, said his use of humor, authenticity and doubling down on the airline’s “purpose” were key to his ability to weather the widespread outrage after the “incident” on flight 3411.

Rich Jernstedt, former CEO of GolinHarris (now Golin), erstwhile chair of the Council of PR Firms and current head of his own consulting firm, shared a priceless “Page Moment” that occurred long ago and far away, AND demonstrated the legendary Al Golin’s use of humor in an intense situation.

The Golin team had just entered the massive boardroom of a large prospect they were pitching. As everyone pulled up a chair, Mr. Golin flipped backwards and, chair and all, fell on the ground. Instantly, he said, “And, now, for my next act…”

There was no response from the stone-faced prospects (probably out of politeness—not just sure how to react) but, later, after Golin had been awarded the business, the client contact said Mr. Golin’s use of humor and ability to take the incident in stride was a decisive factor in their selection. While their non-verbals may have indicated otherwise, the prospect team was in search of an agency that could not only do the job but, critically be a FUN partner.

I experienced a similar occurrence when we pitched Yahoo’s business. Right smack in the middle of the presentation, we were explaining how we would roll out a local market campaign.  To illustrate it, one of our San Francisco employees selected a last-second slide to pinpoint the various markets we’d be targeting.

The lead prospect took one look at the slide and said, “You do know you’re using Google Earth in that slide, correct?”

I immediately spoke up and said, “John, we purposely inserted that slide to make sure you were paying attention.” The entire room broke out in a hearty laugh. My comment not only saved the day, but created an instant bond with the Yahooligans by sharing an “inside joke.” We were awarded the business a few days later.

Afterword: In his remarks at the Page conference, Rich shared research conducted by The Hay Group that showed “executives who were ranked as outstanding used humor twice as often as those ranked average.” The same survey showed that humor used skillfully:

  • Reduces hostility
  • Deflects criticism
  • Relieves tension (See: Al Golin/Steve Cody examples above)
  • Improves morale
  • Helps communicate difficult messages.

Embrace humor as part of your executive persona and you’ll find yourself laughing all the way to the bank.

Sep 12

The Babe Ruth of the Back Office

Some things bear repeating. This blog ran one year ago and is more appropriate than ever…

The Babe Ruth of the Back Office

leeWhat do Weber-Shandwick, F-H, Makovsky, M. Booth and, yes, Peppercomm, have in common?

They’re hugely successful strategic communications firms whose prowess is directly connected to the strength and performance of their back office functions.

Show me a PR firm with a weak CFO, office manager or personnel director, and I’ll show you an agency that isn’t winning new clients, growing profits or attracting and retaining great people.

 

Caste System

Alas, back office workers are often treated in much the same way as the Untouchables in India’s Caste System. They’re literally invisible, are rarely mentioned in internal memos and NEVER included in those already suspect best workplace tales that PR Week likes to spin.

But, that’s not the case at my firm.

If an office manager hall of fame were to be created, I’d make sure Peppercomm’s Lee Stechmann would be among the first class to be elected (He’s the Babe Ruth of the Back Office).

Making the case for Lee

To begin with, Lee is arguably our best writer. His daily, and weekly, updates are equal parts Dostoyevsky and Louis CK.

Case in point: Every Friday, Lee reminds employees on our two floors in the New York office to remove their food from the fridge, place empty plates in the dishwasher and dispose of any refuse in the general kitchen area.

On one particular Friday, he added a note to help those who might be in need of extra grease to clean their silverware. It read, “You’ll find Dawn underneath the fifth floor kitchen sink.”

Good lord! I was aghast and immediately responded with an agency- wide memo asking why Lee had put poor Dawn under the sink, and how long he intended to keep her there.

To his credit, Stechmann issued an immediate clarification that read like  a police bulletin and assured employees that Dawn was NOT an underachieving employee being punished for her transgressions but, rather, a dish washing detergent.

That said, Dawn’s plight is still considered an unsolved mystery at Peppercomm and the fifth floor sink is still roped off with yellow crime scene tape.

Above and beyond

But, it isn’t Lee’s flair with the pen that elevates him to Greek god status on the Mount Olympus of clean-up.

Rather, it’s his random acts of love and kindness that truly set the man apart. To wit:

Our building (like every Manhattan office) plays host to occasional visits from small, furry creatures. Rather than declare war on them, though, Lee extends an olive branch. Peppercomm’s Sarah Sanzari recalls spotting Lee on a Saturday morning carefully plucking tiny mice from the glue traps in which they’d been snared, cleaning them up, rehabilitating them, and freeing them outside the building. Holy Saint Francis of Assisi, Batman!

Adam Giambattista, another Peppercommer, says Lee never bothers to ask when he spies AG lugging two heavy boxes up the staircase connecting our fifth and sixth floors. He’ll simply grab one and carry it himself.

And, Nicole Newby says she’ll often discuss her love of cats with Lee, who provides shelter in his garage during the winter for homeless felines.  Now, you tell me: How many office managers in this world will shower cats and mice alike with equal amounts of affection?

Lee’s true piece d’resistance, though,  occurred about five years ago when one of his beloved little fellow’s passed away of natural causes (a fact later confirmed by a coroner’s report).

As you’ll see in the accompanying photograph, Lee built a tiny coffin for his deceased office mate and adorned it with laurel wreaths (or, reasonable facsimiles thereof).

In honor of our fallen comrpepper-mouse.ade (and Lee’s quick/thinking craftsmanship), we observed an agency-wide moment of silence before Stechmann tossed the carcass down the garbage chute.

Great people make for great workplaces. And, those great people aren’t limited to the ones with fancy titles and high-profile digital footprints. They include top professionals such as Lee Stechmann without whom, I think it’s safe to say, Peppercomm wouldn’t be Peppercomm.

And, what higher honor can a business bestow on a single individual than to annually name him their unofficial Most Valuable Player year-in and year-out? Lee is given that honor at every year’s offsite retreat (I don’t give him anything. I just tell Lee he’s our most important employee. Maybe I should give him something, huh?).

I also have no doubt that Lee’s quiet excellence has played a key part in our having won virtually every Fortune Magazine award for great cultures.

I’m sure Burson, Mitchell, Marina Maher and other top firms have their back office heroes but, trust me, none shine brighter than our very own Lee Stechmann.

Sep 11

It’s so nice to have The New York Times verify what I’ve been saying all along

As loyal Repman readers know all too well, I despise the unnecessary theatrics weather reporters employ to heighten the drama, pathos and, of course, ratings of any natural disaster ranging from blizzards and hurricanes to earthquakes and wildfires.

In the case of Hurricane Irma, I find it despicable for thesemeteorologists to prey on people’s fears by purposely standing in waist-deep water, finding the windiest spot on a beach or allowing themselves to be nearly blown off the roof of a high-rise apartment building.

It’s unprofessional and irresponsible. But, enough from me. Read what The New York Times has to say…

As Irma’s Winds Rise, So Does a Debate Over TV Storm Reporting
Television correspondents are standing out in the storm as Hurricane Irma lashes Florida. Is that necessary? Reporters say better them than you. Read the full story.