Mar 06

Do you finally understand Storytelling? Good. Forget it. It’s now all about Storymaking

storyThe lemmings otherwise known as public relations, advertising and marketing communications executives routinely jump from one buzzword or phrase to another every 18 months or so. Someone will coin a new phrase or service such as disruptor, data analytics, Big Data, behavioral science, digital-driven programs and, of course, Storytelling. And, within a week or so, every marketer in the known universe will be including the hot new word or phrase in every other sentence.

Storytelling was critical to every marketers’ earned, owned and paid media campaign, correct? It had to be because today’s consumer (whether she is a REIT manager or full-time mom) wants to engage with products or services that do the right thing, educate and entertain her and, most importantly, fit within her lifestyle. That objective was accomplished by crisp, clear and compelling storytelling. And, we were all Storytellers.

Not anymore.

Mastercard’s just changed the game. They’ve abandoned Storytelling and now focus on Storymaking.

Allow me to allow Mastercard’s CMO Raja Rajamannar to explain: “As recently as a few years ago, people sat in front of a TV, with the whole family gathered during prime time…Today, the world is very different. People still come together in the family room, but it’s a collection of individuals who are all in their own private worlds with their own connected devices.”

So, Mastercard has morphed from Storytelling to Storymaking. They now collaborate with consumers to slice and dice their legendary “Priceless” storytelling campaign to four categories:

  • Priceless Surprises, which gives cardholders unexpected experiences, such as meeting celebrities.
  • Priceless Cities, which curates one-of-a-kind experiences and exclusive promotions only available to Mastercard cardholders.
  • Priceless Causes, which generates donations to particular charities when consumers use their Mastercard.
  • Priceless Specials, which provides various offers and benefits.

The fundamental difference between Storytelling and Storymaking, says Rajamannar is this: “Consumers don’t want to hear brand stories; they want to be part of the story. We enable, create and curate experiences for consumers.” That change may seem subtle to some but it’s actually quite profound.

You can read more about Mastercard, Rajamannar and Storymaking here, but, as Sr. Maria Eucharia used to warn my fellow eighth graders at St. Francis Grammar School, “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Get a firm grasp of Storymaking ASAP and figure out how to use it to better connect with your target stakeholders. And, for god’s sake, begin including the word in your agency/internal corporate storytelling and explaining how it’s different and more relevant than yesterday’s buzzword.

Get used to Storymaking. It’s the new orange of marketing communications. That said, be prepared for it to be replaced by the next, new orange in 18 months or sooner.

 

Mar 03

A post-trust world makes for strange bedfellows

piedChris Piedmont, one of Peppercomm’s rising superstars, and Rachael Collins, a new associate from Australia, recently attended an Arthur W. Page Center dinner in which the subjects of fake news, life in a post truth world and why the media and PR worlds should unite to advocate for authenticity, transparency and fact-based storytelling were discussed. Here is their first-hand account…..

When’s the last time you can remember the media and PR industries uniting to advocate for a common cause? Hint: pigs flew, we still sent press releases by fax and Republicans and Democrats worked together.

At the recent Arthur W. Page Center Awards, emcee Bill Nielsen made a call to action for journalists, communicators and those in-between to unite in the name of integrity in public communication. With the advertising industry’s Ad Council in mind, he called for an alliance of the two camps in the communications industry to focus on educating the public about what really is a fact. Page Honoree and former executive vice president of public relations at AT&T Dick Martin also declared, “media literacy may be the social issue of our time; addressing it is in our society’s own interest.”

Martin is right. As communicators, we are society’s information gatekeepers and have a responsibility to uphold and defend the truth. It is up to us to honor the facts and ensure the public – our most important constituent – can make a determination based on the facts. If we arm the public with correct information, only then can the wheels of our democracy turn and our society function at its highest potential.

Media and PR have more in common than we often think, and it’s time to put our unique skill sets to work. Honoree Alan Murray, chief content officer at Time, Inc. and editor-in-chief of Fortune Magazine, reminded Page Center Awards attendees that both journalists and communications pros are “trading the same currency: facts.” We might each tell a different narrative based on the facts we have, but at the end of the day, the facts are still the facts.

Page Center advisory board member and former senior communications executive at ITT and FedEx, Tom Martin noted that journalists and PR pros “each have a job to do” presenting information to our audiences in “authentic and truthful ways.” He continued, “when both sides do their jobs well, an informed public is the ultimate beneficiary.”

With information accessible in the palm of our hands, and the news cycle moving from 24 hours to 24 seconds, we cannot sacrifice facts for speed. With continuing assaults on “fake news” and an increasingly skeptical public, it’s imperative that commitment to the truth remain. As another honoree Ann Barklew, founding general manager/senior partner of FleishmanHillard, said, “don’t look around, away, or beyond the facts; recognize them, nothing more or less.”

Journalists have already started to fight back against this assault on facts. Media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post have all adjusted marketing efforts to highlight their commitment to the truth. The New York Times Oscar ad is just one such high profile example. Now, PR must join the fold. Together, we must form – and implement – a strategy that benefits the Fourth Estate, PR and society as a whole.

Count us in. This initiative is too important to let the idea fizzle out – we must make it happen: journalists and communicators together. Pick up your pen and start writing. There is work to do.

Feb 28

The New York Crimes. Enemy of the people?

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Lester.

Most of us are well aware of the challenges facing print media companies in this digital age. Even the venerable New York Times has not been exempt from modern ailments, such as continued lowering of ad revenue and the dips in overall revenue. Originally the New York Daily Times, the ‘Gray Lady’ has been around since 1851 and racked up a record 119 Pulitzer Prizes. Having published daily on the web since 1996, the NYT did not develop a digital pay model until 2011.


Sunday evening the NYT aired a commercial for the first time. It was shown during the Oscars as part of their efforts to solidify and grow a subscription-first business model. So far, the model is working to the tune of 3 million paid subscribers and over a quarter of a million new digital subscribers.

Their new ad campaign is a timely, provocative dissertation on one of the most surprisingly controversial words in our language… truth. They state; “the truth has no alternative, the truth is hard, the truth is more important now than ever”. Very poignant and effective, given Trump’s distain for the efforts of the press to expose the non-stop flow of the Donald’s and this administration’s lies. Particularly so, given Trump’s targeted accusations toward the NYT as one of a group of enemies of the state.

This is certainly not the first attack on the NYT by a sitting president. President Richard Nixon took the NYT to court in 1972 following publication of the Pentagon Papers, a secretly “leaked” detailed account of the United States’ military often illegal involvement in the Vietnam War from as far back as the 40’s through the late 60’s. The state department’s Daniel Ellsberg chose the NYT’s Neil Sheehan to expose the papers to the public. Nixon blew a sweaty fuse and singled him out to his then national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, saying, “People have gotta’ be put to the torch for this sort of thing…” and “Let’s get the son-of-a-bitch in jail.” The federal court injunction was appealed by the NYT. As it was being pushed through the courts, the Washington Post was pulled into the case when it published its own versions of Ellsberg’s papers. The courts eventually deemed the case unconstitutional and we all know what next awaited Nixon’s fate.

As marketing professionals, we talk a lot about the import of brands having purpose. NYT founder, Henry Raymond had a very clear purpose with which he launched the very first issue:

“We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good — and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment and radical reform.”

The execution is brilliant in its simplicity. The white page and changing copy, designed to mimic the esthetic of the brand while considering the moving medium is particularly engaging to the brand’s core audience-  intelligent people who hunger for well written stories that are based on the truth and an examination of the facts. Backed by a month of broadcast, print, digital and social media, I believe this will be a very effective effort.

Our longest serving New York Senator, Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

I’ve believed in Patrick’s words my entire adult life. I hope we all find strength in the NYT ad because those words are, indeed, more important now than ever. The New York Times was founded with a purpose and I’m sure their audience will be very glad to see they are sticking to it after all these years.

 

 

Feb 27

When Father Time and The Bottom Line Come Calling

fathertimebluntI recently skipped through the superbly written Northeastern Alumni Magazine when an article stopped me dead in my tracks.

Headlined, “Never Too Late,” the feature focuses on a fascinating new study conducted by NU’s Albert-Laszlo Barabisi that proved dramatic success is just as likely to come at ANY stage of one’s life (as opposed to the conventional wisdom that points to wunderkinds like Mozart, Marie Curie and Einstein who achieved their greatest successes at an early age).

The analysis, which took a deep dive into the careers of 10,000 scientists, concluded that success is far more connected to persistence, luck and, in the case of scientists, an ability to continually publish fresh research throughout their lives.

That’s incredibly relevant to those of us who ply our trade in PR, corporate communications, marketing communications or whatever it is we’re calling what we do these days.  Here’s why:

Corporate America and global PR firms have consistently and consciously derailed the careers of thousands of CCOs, CMOs and, in the case of big agencies, EVPs who “have reached a certain age.”

These are the highly capable men and women who, because they command a large salary, were born before JFK was inaugurated and aren’t particularly savvy when it comes to the post truth, digitally-driven communications world in which we now exist, are considered expendable.

I know these men and women. I’ve met and spoken with hundreds of them in the past few years. And, with a few notable exceptions, none saw the handwriting on the wall OR began preparing for Phase Two of their careers.

Our conversations are almost always the same, and go something like this:

Me: “So sorry to have heard about the downsizing.”

Victim (and most do see themselves as victims): “I’m over it and, in fact, am super enthused to start chapter two!”

Me: “Great. What do you want to do?”

Victim: “Apply all of the creative experience that helped me win three Silver Anvils, two Sabers and 11 Bulldog Awards to the right organization.”

Me: “That’s truly impressive. But, I’m curious to know what you personally have been doing in the digital, data analytics and social spaces of late?”

Victim: “Oh, my team handles that stuff.”

Me: “OK. So, what do you do?”

Victim: “I manage and motivate people, and that’s exactly what I’d bring to Peppercomm if you bring me on board.”

And, that’s when I’m forced to tell the Flying Dutchman (or woman, as the case may be) that our senior ranks are all set and the skills we need range from project manager and digital designer to social behaviorist and research scientist.

The victim sighs, nods his head and says, “Yeah. That’s what everyone says.” I assure them that, should I hear of any opportunity that might arise, I’ll let them know ASAP. They nod their head, shake my hand and slink out of the office.

These late middle-aged communications zombies are indeed victims. They’re victims of mastering the politics of a large organization. They’re victims of having hitched their wagon to a rising superstar in the organization and going along for the ride. And, many are victims of having spent their fat pay checks in the belief nothing would ever change.

And, now they wear defeat on their faces and demonstrate it in their non-verbal gestures. It’s so sad to see so often.

But, as the Northeastern research indicates, it’s never too late to innovate, reimagine and recreate one’s self.

Alas, far too many of my corporate/big agency peers lack the entrepreneurial drive that constantly bombards my brain (and lots of other, far more talented entrepreneurs’ brains) with new ideas to disrupt, disintermediate and run rings around my larger competitors.

The single best piece of advice I can proffer to PR pros who are about to become men and women of a certain age is this: Get your hands on the Northeastern study and start figuring out Phase Two before your head of Human Resources asks you to step into her office.

I can’t think of a sadder ending to an otherwise successful career than settling down in a Del Boca Vista condo and spending day after day playing golf, attending matinees and consuming early bird special after early bird special.

Here’s hoping you beat Father Time and the bottom line before it’s too late.

 

 

 

Feb 21

Dr. Richard Harte, PhD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accountability

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

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

He was also totally bizarre and unpredictable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tough love

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 15

@CHAOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lesson? Chaos isn’t sustainable.

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

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

 

 

Feb 13

The right fight at the right time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Feb 08

When Trump Nukes Your Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Feb 06

Has Trump made CCOs the new orange?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Feb 02

Never, fight on email ever!

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

How 11 words hit the top 1000 list of atrocities

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

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

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

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

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

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