Dec 12

What were they thinking?

the-new-york-times-asked-readers-if-they-could-ki-2-2171-1445664152-6_dblbigMy good friend and Peppercomm’s Chief Comedy Officer, Clayton Fletcher, likes to joke that one person can ruin a name for everyone else.

“For example,” he says, “have you heard anyone naming their little girl Kaitlyn of late?” He continues by asking about the name Adolf. “Ever hear a worried mom asking if anyone had seen little Adolf? ‘He’s about six, has a little mustache and is pushy.'”

I cite these politically incorrect jokes because a name really can shape the image of a person or an organization.

That’s why I was stopped in my tracks (which happens daily on my NJTransit commute, BTW) when I stumbled across The Alt.

Serving Troy, Schenectady, Albany and Saratoga Springs, The Alt bills itself as “The capital region’s alternative news weekly.”

All of which would be fine if there wasn’t a certain, far right-wing extremist group known as the Alt-Right (See: Steve Bannon, fake news, etc.).

The Alt’s editor, David Howard King, says the publication, which just launched, intends to “…. differentiate ourselves by writing alternative journalism. Hard-hitting [poor word choice if I’ve ever seen it] stories that daily newspapers don’t have the resources to pick-up.”

And, get this, King says The Alt will “…always remain opposed to normalizing racism and hate speech.”

Wow. Then why choose the damn name in the first place?

I’m delighted to see the return of a FREE alternative print newsweekly in the wake of similar publications going belly-up in Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco.

But, considering the paper’s mainstream target audience, The Alt is knowingly, or unknowingly, alienating at least 50 percent of its readership from the get-go (See results of recent national election popular vote).

It not only boggles the mind but flies in the face of Clayton Fletcher’s astute observations of the impact one bad apple can have on the future of a name.

What’s next? A Democratic National Committee newsletter called “The Clan?”



Dec 08

Reebok’s “Perfect Never” Campaign Isn’t So Perfect

Today’s guest RepMan is by Peppercommer Nicole Newby. 

1111911thenandnow1Supermodels are synonymous with the fashion world’s vision of perfection. So I was a little surprised at the irony when Reebok recently appointed Gigi Hadid, one of today’s most recognizable models, as one of the faces of its Perfect Never campaign.

This is not a post about Gigi’s physical appearance or what she does outside of the spotlight to maintain that physique. In fact, since she became a face for the brand, I’ve been reading several articles about her athletic background and affinity for boxing. And I have to say, I’m impressed.

All of that aside, this is about brand image—both for Gigi and Reebok. At first glance, it seems like this is a very clever move from Gigi’s management team to make her more relatable and human. But that’s not what her career is based on. Her public image, which has tied her face to high-end names like Versace, Stuart Weitzman and Tom Ford, is built and relies on her having the perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect outfit, perfect figure…

Since Reebok rebranded a few years ago and through strategic partnerships with Spartan Race, UFC and CrossFit, the brand has built a strong foundation of supporters who embody a tough fitness mentality. A career supermodel is not someone with whom they would have a lot in common on the surface.

I understand Reebok’s intention. Gigi works hard behind the scenes, and she undoubtedly has her own insecurities and story to tell. But consumers today are smart and value brand authenticity. The comments on Reebok’s Facebook posts featuring Gigi give direct insight into the audience’s disappointment here. There is a fine line between a campaign that intrigues the audience to want to learn “why” and one that just doesn’t initially make sense at first glance.

Ronda Rousey was a previous icon for the campaign, aptly following her first-ever loss in the UFC fight that cost her the championship belt, shattered her perfect record and knocked her off her invincibility pedestal. She became more human, and Reebok’s campaign exonerated that. These ads exuded a raw intensity and authenticity that made them memorable—and consumers were able to relate and rally behind the message of “being perfect isn’t as powerful as being human.”

With some digging, consumers may learn that the message is still authentic with Gigi, but on the surface it looks like Reebok is just conforming to the same mold as every other fashion brand. And with a target audience of athletes who are vocal about embracing imperfections, this marketing decision isn’t a knockout.

Dec 07

Fighting fire with fire

Tired of receiving e-mail pitches from vendors whose services you neither want nor need? Tired of deleting said pitches only to receive the very same ones a day later?  Not to worry. We have a sure fire way of fighting fire with fire. Enjoy the e-mail exchange and try it on for size.

email-spam-860x450Hi Steven,

Sometimes there needs to be a method to the madness. Once noon hits, I imagine Peppercom employees take the cue to step out of the office or socialize for an hour.

XXX has the solution: delivered, healthy, and delicious meals either already stocked in your office fridge or ordered at the last minute. Not only will you maximize Peppercom employees’ time, but you will also keep your people healthy–saving you money on healthcare in the long-run.

A convenient, productive, and satisfying lunch no longer has to look like this:  

Let’s set up a call on tomorrow or Thursday to discuss specifically the type of resources Peppercom can save through working with XXX.


From: Steve Cody
Sent: Tuesday, December 6, 2016 6:45 PM
To: XXX>
Cc: Lee Stechmann <>
Subject: Re: no more pizza pockets

Kacie: I swear the guy in that photo looks just like my business partner. It’s beyond uncanny. As far as the chow is concerned, Lee Stechmann is Peppercomm’s (Two ms, BTW) answer to Rachel Ray. I must warn you, though, that pizza is a staple of our lunchtime menu and we really don’t buy into the whole wellness myth. Personally, I think it’s just another Chinese hoax.

Best, Steve 

Sorry, Kacie.  Having just wiped chocolate off my mouse (part of my “breakfast on the go” of 8 Chips Ahoy cookies) and looking forward to the juicy burger and greasy fries I’ll be having for lunch, I’m not going to be of much help. I AM into wellness, I just prefer watching other people pursue it.

Lee Stechmann | Office Manager

Hi guys!

First off, this is single-handedly the best email thread I’ve read since as far back as I can remember. It seems like you guys have great team chemistry, and that’s always great to see… especially when it’s revealed in a great email. This will be the highlight of my day for sure.

Hold on to your pizza… because now it’s my turn.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I love all things pizza and hamburgers. The Pizza Pouch has changed my life more than Sour Patch Xploderz, and that’s saying something. There’s just something about having a go-to slice on hand for whenever the moment is right (and that’s every moment). I say all this to let you know that I too enjoy the finer things in life. This is America, after all.

My email positions our food as a healthy alternative because that normally resignations with our current and future clients, but the truth is, it’s just great food. We’re not just offering vegetables and other stuff that our parents tried to feed us on an “airplane.” I’m talking about Smothered Pork Chops, French Dip Beef Sandwiches, Vietnamese Caramel Chicken, Mudslide Chocolate Cookies, and Marcona Almond and Caramel Brownies… plenty of chocolate to put on everyone’s mouse.

The whole purpose of XXX is that we deliver high-quality, chef-prepped food to cater to multiple preferences, so no one is stuck eating something they hate.

If you change your mind, just let me know. I’m happy to set up a meeting to discuss more about what we do, but no worries if not. I just figured I owed it to you guys to respond!Have a great day! -Lee, I hope you enjoy that burger for lunch!

From: Steve Cody <>
Date: December 7, 2016 at 3:06:07 PM EST
To: XXX>
Subject: Re: no more pizza pockets

Great response, XXX Well played on all fronts. Hopefully Lee and/or his mouse will be in touch to give you guys a try.

Best, Steve

PS: My business partner really does look like Stanley from The Office. Also, what are Sour Patch Xploderz? Sounds like something we’d be using to fight ISIS. 



Dec 06

The real deplorables

salsssdIt strikes me that one can find a group of deplorables (to quote from Hillary’s unfortunate remarks during the campaign) just about anywhere.

Many TSA agents fit the description. So too do the sweet, kind and speedy workers at EVERY division of motor vehicles known to mankind. And then there are the small town cops who pull you over for a red light violation. Those latter-day Gestapo wanna-bes would bomb the sh*t out of Syria if given half a chance.

But the ultimate deplorables are the men, women and robots who package everything from razor blades and steak knives to scissors and fruit salad.

These people no doubt take great pride in the quality of their work. I really don’t  know how the robots feel. Who would except for the robots themselves?

But, getting back to living, breathing packagers, I’ll bet it gets a tad tedious sealing, say, kale, eight hours a day, five days a week, year-after-year. One would think the mind would tend to wander from time to time.

Be that as it may, I’ve noticed a hate-filled, Alt Right movement among packagers who seem to take great delight in creating packages that are simply impossible to open.

Just yesterday, I employed every instrument in the office from a letter opener and scissors to a box cutter and screwdriver to pry open this seemingly benign fruit cup (see photo). No go. I was tempted to ask Lee Stechmann, our all-world office manager, to break out his 1970s-era, Dundler Mifflin certified paper cutter to slice the damn thing in half.

Instead, I eventually just tossed the fruit world’s answer to Superman’s Fortress of Steel into the garbage.

And I know for a fact there’s some guy silently chuckling in front of an assembly line in some Cedar Rapids manufacturing facility.

The truly bizarre thing about impossibly hard-to-open packaging is that there’s no image or reputation fallout whatsoever. Have you ever contemplated switching from, say, Gillette to Schick because the former’s packaging was sealed tighter than Fort Knox? Nope. And that’s probably because you know the damn Schick package is probably even harder to open.

So, I’d like to address a question to The Institute of Packaging Professionals and ask them a simple question: Why do you torment us?

I’d also like to address my friends at the Reputation Institute and ask them why bomb-proof packaging isn’t factored into the seven areas they examine to determine a global organization’s reputation.

I’ve sliced open many a fingertip and gouged my palm on more than one occasion trying to achieve the impossible. And, I know there must be millions of other Americans who’ve suffered the same plight.

In the meantime, if there are any packagers out there who, for reasons best known to them, subscribe to RepMan, I want you to know I know who are and I know what you’re doing.

And I will track down the right person at your trade association and threaten a grass roots program to stop your deplorable acts. Better yet, I’ll get my lobbyist buddies in DC (and I have quite a few) to introduce legislation to set a goal of replacing you with packaging-sensitive robots by 2025.

So stand down now before it’s too late. The job you save may be your own.



Nov 30

Dead Mayor Walking

deblasioI’ve always believed the best PR in the world cannot compensate for a flawed product, service, company or, in this case, politician.

In the latter case, I’m speaking of embattled New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who just made the most unusual and some say “unprecedented” decision to hire a Manhattan PR firm to provide counsel, pen press releases and, get this, craft commentary for city officials to use when defending Hizzoner’s controversial programs.

To further complicate this sordid tale, the PR firm in question, BerlinRosen, represents several other clients who conduct business with The Big Apple. Holy conflict, Batman.

When confronted by the ever tenacious Marcia Kramer of WCBS-TV the mayor was his usual haughty, dismissive self, poo-pooing Kramer’s suggestion he’d created a “shadow government” by hiring a whole new team of outside advisers when hundreds were already on the city’s payroll. The mayor sighed and said it “…was nothing unusual.” Yeah, right, and Donald Trump’s flag-burning Tweets are standard operating procedure for any president-elect.

There’s no doubt the de Blasio brand is in desperate shape. Since taking office, he has not only managed to antagonize virtually every key constituent audience, but has seemingly turned a blind eye to the city’s rapidly-deteriorating state.

Alas, neither BerlinRosen nor Edward Bernays himself can, or could, save de Blasio from losing his bid for re-election.

That’s because, despite what our hagiographic trade press may tell you to the contrary, the very best PR programs in the world can never compensate for a shoddy product or a horrible customer experience.

But, hey, maybe there’s a silver lining to this particularly grey cloud after all. Imagine the business they’d be able to attract if the PR firm in question can change its name to BerlinRosendeBlasio?  It does have a certain ring to it.



Nov 28

A tale of two gems

Lexus Dec to RememberIt strikes me that the two most heavily marketed words I hear after every Black Friday are:

– “Gems” (as in “The right gems tell her everything she needs to know”). Like what? That you’re now officially living below the poverty line?


–  Lexus (as in “Make this a December to remember”). No thank you.

And, so, I’ll ignore Lexus completely while turning my attention to two very different kind of gems: fascinating documentaries about two radically different men.

The first, called “David McCullough: Painting with Words,” is a 39-minute homage to my favorite biographer and historian, David McCullough.

I’ve read every one of his books, ranging from The Johnstown Flood and John Adams to The Great Bridge and, my personal favorite, Mornings on Horseback.

And, yet, having read millions of words written by the man, I knew next to nothing about him.

“McCullough”, like its subject, is no ordinary documentary. Sure, it chronicles his rise to fame and fortune but, more importantly, it explains exactly how he targets each new subject.

The researcher and author will spend countless hours reading personal notes and letters written to, and from, his subject and, in the process, get so close, that he considers them friends. He says that, based upon the minutiae he’s unearthed up to a certain point in, say, Truman’s life, he knows exactly what step the subject will take as an impending crisis thunders on the horizon. It’s fascinating stuff.

The other gem is, one might say, a horse of a different color. Called “Fall to Grace,” it picks up the life of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who dominated the tabloids after first, resigning in the wake of same sex harassment suits about to be filed by staffers and, secondly, enduring a brutally messy front-page divorce.

After those gut-wrenching ordeals, McGreevey completely disappeared from public sight. But, he never left The Garden State. Instead, he embraced his homosexuality, moved in with his decidedly upscale Wall Street partner and choose to pursue two distinctly different paths:

– Working in female correctional institutes and halfway houses in which he has helped countless junkies and criminals turn their lives around.

– Renouncing his Catholicism since it vilified love between two men, branding it as a mortal sin.

Instead, the erstwhile Democratic hotshot (and presidential hopeful) embraced the far more liberal Episcopalian faith. McGreevey became deeply religious, served mass every Sunday and even studied to become a priest (the Church powers-that-be rejected him, not knowing if he truly had a calling or was merely running away from his past).

Each gem is rich with insights into the images and reputations of the two men in question.

The first is nearing the end of an illustrious career (yet still plans to write 27 MORE books) while the other has found true, inner peace and is fully immersed in not only writing a completely different, and unexpected, second chapter in life, but embracing and accepting whatever benefits or sacrifices may lie ahead.

So, put down the check book long enough to hold off paying for a temporal gem and instead invest a few minutes in learning more about two, true gems of humanity who have lived far richer lives than many of us can ever hope to attain.



Nov 22

A Millennial’s Take On JFK’s Assassination

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Catharine Cody (pictured, middle, below.)

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 53 years ago today. Last week I had the opportunity to visit the scene of the crime and tour the fascinating Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
After the tour, my dad texted me asking “So, what’d you think?” I replied, “Seems like Oswald didn’t act alone.”

I’ll spare RepMan readers the 500+ word explanation that my dad came back with, shooting down my conspiracy theory (no pun intended.) But, as a true millennial who questions everything, I’m still not sold on the one gunman theory. Like the majority of my age group, I love a good cover-up story.

Let’s look at the facts surrounding the JFK assassination:

• The Warren Committee says that both JFK and Governor Connally were hit by a single bullet which “entered JFK’s upper back, exited his throat, and then struck Connally, breaking a rib and shattering his wrist, and finally coming to rest in his thigh.” Sceptics say the trajectory was fanciful and re-named it the ‘magic-bullet theory’. My dad says that the bullet trajectory made sense.

• When the president was hit by the bullet that killed him, the motorcade was passing a grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street. Newspaper photographs record that shortly after the shooting, police arrested three tramps found in a railroad car behind the knoll. And, there were footprints and cigarettes found on said knoll where witnesses claim they heard bullets come from. My dad says the arrest, footprints and cigarettes are just a coincidence.

• Jack Ruby killed Oswald while he was in police captivity, before he went to trial. Sceptics say he was killed so as not to reveal a larger plot to kill the president. My dad says Ruby was simply deranged and acted alone.

I’m not saying Oswald DIDN’T shoot JFK. I’m saying I don’t know that someone else didn’t ALSO shoot JFK. And, it’s hard to disprove a negative, so no one can actually say for sure that there wasn’t a second shooter.

What’s your opinion? Am I a gullible Millennial who will believe any conspiracy theory if it’s interesting enough? Or, is my dad right when accepting the government’s position that Oswald acted on his own?

Nov 21

A different kind of courage

Tcourageo paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, entrepreneurs aren’t like you and me. Well, actually, they are like me since I happen to be an entrepreneur.

But, the statement holds true regardless. I identify myself as an entrepreneur who also happens to ply his trade in the marketing communications field.

I do so because, in my mind, there are two types of successful marketing communications executives:

1.) The company woman who slowly, but surely, does everything right to consolidate her power base and plays her cards just right to end up as either the CEO of a global agency or CCO at a major organization.

2.) The entrepreneur who started with nothing, chased his dream, endured countless hardships along the way and eventually established a thriving business.

Each group demonstrated enormous courage as they rose to the apex of the industry. But, make no mistake: there are two very different definitions of courage when it comes to the successful global executive and the entrepreneur.

Having toiled at both Hill & Knowlton and J. Walter Thompson, I understand the zeitgeist of the global workplace culture.

Success requires a unique skill set that includes superb counseling, business development abilities, a solid ethical and moral compass, the guts needed to make tough, and sometimes, unpopular decisions AND, critically, the singular ability to navigate shark-infested waters.

While I admire those individuals, they possess no real understanding of the word courage.

Courage means walking away from the corporate world and setting up your own shop. It means lying awake nights knowing you, and you alone, are responsible for feeding a wife and two small children, paying the mortgages on two houses, the leases on two cars and the future college costs of said kids. It also means going hat in hand to friends and family to ask for start-up seed money (we kick started Peppercomm with a $12,500 loan from my older brother and mother-in-law).

Entrepreneurial courage also means occasionally digging into your own wallet to meet payroll (thanks to clients who express no remorse at stringing out their payments to 230 days or more).

Last, but not least, entrepreneurs must ride the roller coaster highs and lows that go along with being master of your own fate (and maintaining the same even keel whether you’ve just won or lost a $2mm account).

That’s why I chuckle whenever I see PR Week publish yet another one of their “Power Brokers” issues. Make no mistake these lists do indeed include the most powerful people in our business. But that power broker moniker is bestowed upon these individuals because they control massive budgets and/or run gargantuan organizations. Money = Power.

We do have a few powerful entrepreneurs who would qualify as power brokers in my mind (if not Steve Barrett’s). I’d include Jen Prosek, Tom Coyne and Lynn Casey on that list.

But, here’s the rub. You do NOT have to play the global power broker game if, like me, you despise the red tape, back-stabbing and arbitrary decision-making that goes along with it.

I’ve just finished reading Unemployable! by David Thomas Roberts. The book is specifically aimed at every single American worker who has had it up to here with playing all the games necessary to make PR Week’s Power Broker list.

It’s chock full of tips for everyone from eight to 81 who has ever aspired to be their own boss. I cannot recommend it more highly (except to Peppercomm employees who will be fired without cause if I catch them reading it).

Having the chutzpah to start ones own business isn’t for the faint of heart. As we know, 44 percent of all new businesses fail within three years.

But, if like 70 percent of your fellow Americans, you don’t like your job this book is your ticket to the promised land.

But, keep in mind the promised land could turn out to be colder than the dark side of the moon. There’s no guarantee of success but, as The Donald said when attempting to woo black audiences, “Hey, what have you got to lose?”



Nov 17

How strong is your front-line ambassador?

rosI never cease to be amazed at the mediocre (or worse) experiences I have when engaging with the receptionists of organizations of all shapes and sizes.

Those experiences tell me senior management either ignores or, worse, is ignorant of the critical role a receptionist can play in creating a positive first impression.

In some very subtle ways, your receptionist can make, or break, your organization.

We’re blessed to have an extraordinarily good receptionist by the name of Roslyn Sengo. Roslyn possesses the unique ability to effortlessly field incoming calls, forward important e-mails from potential clients and greet each, and every, visitor with the enthusiasm and respect they deserve.

In the interests of enlightening those of you who view a receptionist as a necessary overhead cost at best, I’ve asked Roslyn to share her advice on how she’s become a true asset to Peppercomm:

  • Having customer service experience is a plus. Everyone is a customer and I like to see how businesses present themselves in restaurants, retail stores, hotels etc. I take in all my experiences and use the best practices for myself at the front desk. Everyone just likes to be treated well.
  • Don’t take it personal. If people are moody, it really has nothing to do with you.
  • Be alert. Being alert is always a work in progress. Like life, you don’t know what will come at you. This also helped me to better prioritize myself and creates better flexibility overall.
  • Breathing and centering also helps me to keep balance when things are hectic.
  • Being optimistic is also a plus. I happen to be an optimist. When I do have my moody or down moments, just seeing different people often and talking to them changes my vibe and even cheers me up.

So, the next time you’re evaluating the overall experience your organization provides, DO NOT underestimate the role of the receptionist. He or she may be your least understood and most important asset in your arsenal.


Nov 14

Big data takes a big hit

33de2474704041f586f79cd1a0e01daaHillary is blaming James Comey. Others say blacks just didn’t turn out in the numbers expected. And, then there are those who are positively shocked by the percentage of Latinos who voted for Trump.

Alas, the above-mentions politicians, pundits and just plain, old folk like you and me missed the REAL culprit behind Clinton’s loss last week. It was Big Data and it little brother, Analytics.

As many of you know, Big Data and Analytics have become Hollywood A-Level superstars in the marketing communications/public affairs/lobbying and polling worlds. In fact, one might liken them to Brad and Angelina prior to that oh-so-messy break-up.

After all, it’s a given that EVERY great campaign MUST begin with a deep, quantitative dive into the target audience to determine exactly who they are, what they think, where they’re concentrated, when is the best time in which to engage them and, of course, how to create that oh-so-critical connection with them.

Then, Big Data passes the baton to Analytics, which proceeds to spew out all sorts of scientifically-based, nearly indecipherable charts and graphs that enable the strategic and creative types (that’s me, BTW) to create a campaign.

Ah, but Big Data and Analytics sustained one whale of a wake-up call on Election Day.

The “experts” who crunched all the data, created all the profiles and made all the predictions (some of which called for a Clinton landslide) were dead wrong.

Why? It’s actually intuitive but, in the mad rush towards digitizing everything in marketing, the Stronger Together team forgot to listen.

They also forgot to put themselves in the shoes of every conceivable voting bloc, and not just assume the very same majority that twice put Obama over the top would do the same for Hilz.

In short, they didn’t add a qualitative overlay to their Big Data findings.

Qualitative surveying enables one to ask the one question that always trips up Big Data: Why?

So, as Clinton’s ground game went knocking from door-to-door, urging Swing State voters to back Hilz, they just shrugged their shoulders and moved on as said door was slammed in their face by an uneducated and, most likely, unemployed rural worker who proudly proclaimed she or he would be voting for The Donald instead. Hilz people never bothered to ask why.

We INSIST on adding qualitative interviewing as well as what we call Audience Experience to any significant client project.

That’s because yours truly in particular has never been a big fan of relying solely on Big Data.

I like to ask the why question to target audiences. Why do, or don’t, you like my client’s product, service or organization? Really? Tell me more? And, why is that? And, so on and so forth (Note: Please do NOT confuse the above with focus groups, which are badly flawed since the alpha personality in the room ALWAYS dominates the conversation while the Beta types nod their heads in agreement).

We also assign teams who actually experience the client’s product, service or organizational experience first-hand from the outside-in.

We invariably find gaps between a client’s brand promise and what the target prospect actually experiences (Note: most gaps are subtle, but significant; others are wider than the Grand Canyon).

I’d like to believe the 2016 election will cause my peers to take pause and think twice about relying solely on Big Data and Analytics.

As we’ve seen, Big Data has an Achilles Heel: it doesn’t humanize the fact-gathering. Nor does it allow one to rely on one’s gut instincts, rather than highly complex charts and graphs.

For all his faults, Trump ignored Big Data and Analytics, went with his gut instincts and, like it or not, came out on top as our new president.

I’m not suggesting we stop investing in Big Data or Analytics, but I am strongly advising marketers to slow down and spend time listening to the human beings you’re trying to influence. You may be surprised at their answers to the question why. And, that answer just might prevent you from making the very same mistake as Team Clinton.

Oh, and BTW, I’m Steve Cody and I approved this blog.