Nov 10

You, too, can destroy a 16-year relationship in 16 days

How Crunch Gym joined NJ Transit and United Airlines in the RepMan Hall of Shame

I began my local, Manhattan gym membership in the year 2000. Remember 2000? Among other novelties, it featured the Y2K virus, hanging chads and civil discourse.

The gym relationship in question began on an auspicious note. After all, the facility:

– Was only two blocks away from my office
– Featured reasonable rates
– Provided working rest room and shower facilities.

crunch jpg
After a decade or so, I was informed that a new owner, Crunch, would be taking control of my gym. I was pleased. Crunch made a lot of upgrades, including:

– A bright, cheery workout space
– Walls that were actually painted
– Mirrors that weren’t cracked
– Updated exercise equipment.

I have to say it was beautiful thing.

Ah, but, sadly, while the aesthetics improved, the interpersonal communications took a nosedive. Let’s just say their likability numbers dropped precipitously.

In fact, it’s only taken me 16 days to decide to sever a 16-year relationship.

Here’s what happened. Last June, I ruptured my quadriceps tendon. Once I was able to shed the crutches, I began working out again, albeit with a physical therapist and licensed high intensity interval trainer. I wanted to both rehab the severed tendons and ligaments AND regain my previous fitness level.

All went well until I suggested the therapist join me at Crunch, hoping I could combine rehab and training.

No such luck. As we walked through the front doors, one would have thought the Hatfield’s had just inadvertently strolled into McCoy Country. I swiped my card as always, said I’d like to pay a guest fee for my friend, who would be buddy training with me (and helping with my rehab).

The latter comment immediately transformed the reception area into a Manhattan version of the O.K. Corral.

“Look, your ‘buddy’ can buddy train, but if we catch him doing any actual training, you’ll both be asked to leave,” snarled one attendant.

To which I calmly replied, “Look, I’ve been a member here for 16 years, just paid a $26 guest fee, intend to buddy-train and will only ask him to do a few exercises that are specifically designed to help rebuild my leg (I actually pulled down my brace to show him the stitches).

The attendants harrumphed and let us go upstairs. We worked out for a full 60 minutes but, again, we had that unnerving feeling of being watched the entire time. It was weird.

Same thing happened a second time. And then a third. Finally, when the attendant gave us the same threatening dress down, I said, “You know what? You can take your 16-year-long relationship and put it where the dumb bells don’t shine.”

We promptly walked out and I joined another gym.

Naturally, an oh-so-courteous Crunch customer service representative called me right away to find out what had happened, how things could be repaired and what it would take to reinstate my membership.

I told her I appreciated her courtesy, but the deed had been done.

I felt like a client when I said, “No, I’m sorry. There’s nothing you can do to change my mind.” Ah, to wield such power. I can see why some of you clients love being clients.

Anyway, I am now happily training and rehabbing at a new gym where the lights are bright, the equipment first-rate and most-importantly the customer service superior.

Whoever coined the phrase, “Customer service is the new PR” is spot-on. Would that Crunch would train their people to understand that most basic concept.

Nov 07

And they say I have a death wish

Just about every time I tell people I’ve:climbing

  • Summited Mt. Washington 15 times
  • Rock climbed in Scotland’s rugged Isle of Sky
  • Topped out South Dakota’s treacherous Devil’s Tower
  • Completed two of the fabled Seven Summits (Elbrus & Kilimanjaro)
  • Scaled many of Colorado’s 14ks
  • And taken everything the Andes, the Alps and the White Mountains can throw at a person,

I invariably hear the same response, “Do you have a death wish?”

Au contraire, mes amis.

Ice, rock and mountain climbing rejuvenate me physically, mentally and emotionally. They’re my drug of choice. But, according to a New York Times article, I’m a rank amateur. Extreme athletes, bored by the mundane accomplishment of running a mere 26.2 marathon, are testing themselves in truly remarkable, mind-boggling ways.

Consider the following:

Pete Kostelnick just completed the fastest run across the United States. He covered the 3,100 miles in 42 days, six hours and 30 minutes (I’ll bet that last half-hour was a killer). Kostelnick “paced” himself, logging a mere 40 miles in the morning, taking a lunch break to replenish the 13,000 calories he’d just burned, and then completing his day with an easy 30-mile trot.

If you think Kostelnick is alone in his love of extreme exercise, think again:

  • Jim Walmsley just logged the fastest rim-to-rim-to-rim trip around the Grand Canyon (it took him five hours and five minutes to complete the 42-mile circuit).
  • Karl Meltzer just completed the fastest traverse of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail. It only took him 45 days.

In fact, there are all sorts of new, maniacal challenges ranging from: A 135-mile run through Death Valley and up the face of Mt. Whitney in mid-July (I’d pack extra deodorant for that one). And get this. There’s even an endurance run that retraces the steps of the infamous Bataan Death March in the Philippines (Note to Millennials: You will not believe the story of the actual march).

Alas, high reward is often accompanied by its evil cousin, high risk:

  • A man recently died after running 40-miles through wind-driven snow in Patagonia.
  • A Canadian runner was struck by lightning in the midst of running a 100-mile race. But, he got up and finished third. What a bummer NOT to have won!
  • After being trapped under a boulder during a trail run, Dave Mackey had to amputate his leg to free himself (Now that’s what I call being caught between a rock and a hard place).

Anyway, you get the gist. There are uber athletes (I’d like to think I’m one) and then there are super human athletes (a la Pete Kostelnick).

I think it says a lot about a person’s image and reputation when she’s willing to break through barrier after barrier of pain to, say, summit Everest or swim the English Channel.

But, extreme athletes are a breed apart. Do they have a death wish, or what?


Nov 02

A sad day for pooches and re-positioning alike?

The Red Barron couldn’t shoot Snoopy down, but MetLife just did.  MetLife has abandoned Snoopy as their corporate icon.

snoopy monumentSnoopy WAS MetLife for some 30 years (that’s 210 in dog years, BTW) and, in my mind, set the brand apart from all of the other cold, impersonal personal insurance companies.

But, alas, a new sheriff (read: CMO) arrived in MetLife World and she see saw her first task to be burying the beagle. Esther Lee said research showed consumers believed Snoopy lacked key qualities such as leadership and responsibility. I beg to differ. Snoopster alone took it upon himself to battle the dreaded Red Baron in nonstop mano-a-canino aerial combat. That’s Congressional Medal of Honor-type leadership. And, Snoopster alone took the responsibility to maintain the appearances of his dog house. Show me another pooch who accepted such weighty (and odiferous) tasks.

But, MetLife’s game-changing CMO said the brand needed to abandon the dog, and embrace warmth and humor in its new efforts (excuse me, but aren’t dogs, warmth and humor interchangeable?). In fact, that thinking runs (trots?) backwards when one stops to think there isn’t a single TV spot, print ad or FB page that isn’t chock-full of lovable pooches.

As for embracing warmth and humor, that thinking is also a day late and a dollar short.

Every single one of MetLife’s competitors has been embracing both to humanize their brands for some time. One need only think of Geico, Allstate’s Mayhem and State Farm, to name a few.

And, here’s the final nail in Snoopy’s coffin: MetLife also unveiled a new corporate logo that it is not only bland as bleach water, but nearly identical to that of Emblen Health (insert pics).

Emblem Met life logosI’m a big believer in staying ahead of the curve and anticipating marketplace needs. But, I’m not a big believer in change for the sake of change. Sadly, far too many new CMOs take the latter course. And, whacking Snoopy sure seems to me to be the wrong choice at the wrong time.

But, hey, I adore dogs of all kinds, so what do I know?

Snoopy: R.I.P.




Oct 26

Have the clowns finally killed The Clown?

ronald-mcdonald-clown-hed-a-2016I’ve despised Ronald McDonald ever since the fast-food chain first introduced him in 1963 (the same year JFK was assassinated. Coincidence?).

At first, the clown merely scared me in a way that future CEOs would. There was just something about him that sent shivers up and down my spine.

Then, as I came of age, my still-forming marketing mind struggled to figure out the strategic connection between a fast food chain and the doppelgänger of Stephen King’s ‘It’.

Decade-after-decade, I cringed as I watched helplessly on the sidelines as Ronald lured low-income parents and their unsuspecting kids into SuperSized dens of food iniquity.

Well, guess what? There is a god after all.

McDonald’s just announced that, in the wake of the truly creepy clown attacks that are terrorizing the entire globe, McDonald’s will be LIMITING Ronald’s personal appearances. That’s the best news I’ve heard since the release of the Access: Hollywood audio tapes!

While I despise terrorism in every form (especially in the work force), I’m hoping against hope the worldwide clown attacks will finally force Mickey D’s marketing geniuses to wake-up and severe ties with the devious and deceptive Ronald.

If I were to hazard a guess, I’d wager that damn clown is single-handedly responsible for causing millions of Americans to jeopardize their health and well being while “innocently” enticing a whole new generation of kids to stuff their mouths full of empty calories. It’s not just unethical; it’s morally reprehensible.

So, here’s hoping the clowns have killed the clown. It’s time for a great American brand to step-up and select a corporate icon that sends a positive health and wellness message to a country in desperate need of one.

But, let’s face facts. Will McDonald’s ever drop Ronald? That’s like asking if the Jets will ever win another Super Bowl.


Oct 20

A salute to those who enable us to keep the lights on

Today has been declared “Get to know your customers day.”


I’m not sure who decides why each day has to have a particular theme, but so be it.

It goes without saying that customers are the lifeblood of any business and, as is the case in any relationship that matters, client relationships need to be nurtured, nourished and cherished.

We get to know our customers in three distinct ways:

1.) We take a deep dive into their business model and, in the instances where they’ll allow it, tag along on sales calls so we can hear, first-hand, what THEIR customers’ wants and needs are. It’s an extremely effective way of fine-tuning our communications programs.

2.) We put ourselves in our customer’s customers’ shoes and experience a client’s value proposition from the outside in. So, we examine each and every virtual and physical client ‘touchpoint’ and evaluate the experience. Our employees become the target audience and, more often than not, uncover one or more serious disconnects between what our client promises and the end user actually experiences.

3.) We meet on a regular basis with CCOs and CMOs from various industries and ask them what’s keeping them awake at night, how mobile is influencing their decision-making, etc. We then put these findings together in an anonymous white paper and share it with our customers, who are often too tied up in their own worlds to keep track of what their peers are doing.

It’s a three-step process that seems to work very well. It’s also been central to our maintaining so many client relationships for so many years.

So, tell me, how do you get to know your customers?



Oct 19

A book that informs and makes you laugh out loud? Say it ain’t so

51b1eALnuAL (2)Aside from every book written by Christopher Buckley, and Stanley Bing, I’m hard pressed to name another author who possesses the gift to inform and elicit an LOL at the same time.

My longtime buddy, Chris Atkins, has just penned such a book. It’s called, “An Honest Day’s Work: True Tales of a Life in PR“.

But, don’t be misled by the rather myopic title (Sorry, Chris, I couldn’t help myself).

This is a MUST read for anyone and everyone who hopes to understand the ever-changing media landscape and, critically, how we arrived at the sad, sorry state in which we find ourselves.

Atkins’ tome (that apostrophe was you, Chris), follows a 35-year-long career path that includes stints at some of the world’s most admired corporations and global agencies.

If technology hates you as much as it does me, you’ll immediately relate to young Chris’s struggles to bang out a press release on a 1981 Smith Corona typewriter missing the letter ‘e’.

Then, in the blink of an eye, you’ll be standing alongside him as he singlehandedly serves as lead FedEx spokesperson in the immediate aftermath of an overnight plane crash at Newark Airport. He handled no fewer than three live CNN interviews. Talk about intense.

Chris was also front-and-center as the housing bubble burst and found himself defending Standard & Poor’s ratings. Ditto with his various misadventures at PwC and their misbehaving partners.

The beauty of these insightful stories is the way Chris balances them with laugh out loud funny anecdotes about abusive clients, alcoholic co-workers and, yes, Mr. Trump, sleazy reporters.

This is a book that is wise and witty (and an uber easy read to boot). I’d suggest every PR academic make it required reading for their PR industry wannabes. I’d also recommend B-School professors and Harvard Law types do the same since, as Chris points out, corner office executives and legal eagles alike are pretty much clueless about the multiple aspects of modern public relations.

One final note: While it’s limited to a scant and frankly, disappointing, three pages, this blogger plays a cameo role in the very beginning of Honest day’s work. And, really, how could I not rave about any book that doesn’t shine the spotlight (however briefly) on me?



Oct 17

The power of self-deprecating humor

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersOne of the hallmarks of great business leaders (and presidents) has always been their ability to laugh at themselves (especially in times of crisis).

When it comes to politics in particular, self-deprecating humor has enabled many a commander-in-chief to project authenticity, humanity and likability (while helping to diffuse the crisis du jour).

My personal favorites include Lincoln, FDR, JFK, Reagan and, believe it or not, W.

Each had the ability to find the humor in a head-on assault from the competition and, in one, way, shape or form, pivot by poking fun at himself.

Reagan’s rebuke to skeptics who suggested he’d lost touch with reality during the 1984 debates may be my all-time favorite example:

Many political pundits believe that single, self-deprecating statement re-elected Reagan.

I raise the subject of self-deprecating humor for two reasons:

1.) Trump’s total lack of self-deprecating humor is one of his most serious character flaws. Instead of deflecting, and redirecting the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by laughing at his own flaws, The Donald goes postal (Note: I’m not suggesting he could, or should, make light of the sexual assault accusations, but there have been countless, previous missed opportunities he could have used humor as a weapon).

Most recent case in point: The Donald’s Sunday morning Tweet lambasting the laugh-out-loud funny Saturday Night parody of the most recent presidential debate. I thought it was balanced and poked fun at both candidates in hilarious ways. But, Trump disagreed, and missed a huge opportunity to share in the absurdity of it all. Instead, he lashed out at SNL and Alec Baldwin alike. Very bad move.

2.) I’ve based my entire career on self-deprecating humor and have used my “Expect Less” motto in both personal and professional settings. It enables me to inject humor in a presentation or performance by saying, “Hey, I warned you.”

While I’d never suggest I’m a great, or even decent leader, my self-deprecating humor has served me well over the years and, in fact, permeates our firm’s culture and has helped us win countless workplace awards (insert latest Fortune citation).’

Students of political history, communications or business in general should study a leader’s response to a crisis. His or her ability to show humanity, authenticity and, yes, self-deprecating humor separates the good from the great. Or, if you prefer, the least likable from the less-than-least likable.




Oct 14

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

rudyHave you noticed the increasingly bizarre role Former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, has been playing in the psychodrama otherwise known as the Trump campaign?

Forever linked to his masterly management of the Big Apple’s post-9/11 response, Rudy’s political aspirations for higher office have nonetheless been limited to a single issue: security/law & order.

And, make no mistake, Trump’s selection of Rudy to add credibility to the candidate’s anti-terrorism policies paid dividends throughout the primary process.

But, in recent weeks, as one Bill Cosby-type sexual allegation after another has sidelined, if not derailed, the Trump Express, Rudy has been wasting precious time defending Donald’s indefensible behavior. He’s gone off-message.

In fact, based upon his own personal track record, Giuliani brings about as much credibility to the predator discussion as Hugh Hefner would have as a character witness in the Gary Wendt/GE Capital divorce trial (Millennials: Please Google for additional information).

Rudy’s increasingly histrionic condemnations of the accusers and strident defense of Trump’s innocence are a colossal public relations blunder.

A solid campaign is driven by subject matter experts who can create awareness and establish credibility in multiple areas of interest to the target market with which a client wishes to engage.

It’s no longer enough for a global powerhouse to select a lead spokesperson to address macro issues. She MUST be surrounded, and supported, by other executives with expertise in everything from key vertical industries to the most arcane rule or regulation.

With Chris Christie now gridlocked by the latest Bridgegate developments, Giuliani stands alone as Trump’s lead proxy on an issue that could very well still make a dent in the undecided voter’s mind: terrorism.

And, yet, Rudy rants and raves about “false” molestation charges for 10 minutes before introducing Trump, who spends the next 45 minutes ranting and raving about the very same accusations.

When the post mortems are being held at Trump Tower on November 9th, rest assured that Rudy will take a bullet for straying off-message and missing opportunity after opportunity to drive home the ticket’s legitimate expertise on arguably THE most immediate issue of the day.

C’est la guerre.


Oct 11

Have we come a long way, baby?

1951 reduxI’m honored to be a board trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, a member of the Arthur W. Page nominating committee and one of the 12 original founders of the PR Council.

But, let’s face it folks, while PR has made enormous strides in the 65 years since this photograph was taken (note the arrow pointing to PR’s position in the agency presentation), FAR too many client organizations still see PR as a me-too, tactical bolt-on to their strategic marketing programs, an unwanted overhead expense and the very first area to downsize in recessionary times.

Comments welcomed…

Oct 04

It’s your reaction, stupid!

Today’s guest post is by  Nicole Newby and Samantha Bruno, Peppercomm’s Intern Committee Co-Coordinators.

twitter_battle_a_l (1)We all have horror stories about roommates, classmates, colleagues, the guy sitting next to us on the bus…the list goes on. But we never thought to vent our frustrations on Twitter. We aren’t Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. We prefer to address our quibbles in person. Jessica and Nikki, though, identified more with the latter.

Jessica and Nikki were roommates at Penn State who clearly did not pass any kind of compatibility test. Nikki took to Twitter first to air some of her grievances. Jessica later found the tweets and posted a few of her own, which escalated the roommate arguments to a global level, even inviting police involvement.

When Steve Cody asked if we would hire either of them as interns, our collective initial reaction was: “No way!” Simply put, we would never hire someone who blatantly can’t get along with other people for a position that relies so heavily on teamwork.

But upon further thinking, we took a step back. This situation is a microcosm for exactly what we do every day in the office—crisis management. Sure, none of our clients (at the moment) are in the hot seat for something as ridiculous as tweeting a screenshot of other tweets about their annoying coworker’s desk lamp or drug habits, but they are dealing with mistakes and facing public scrutiny for them. One of the most important points we always emphasize with clients in crisis situations really stood out to us while reading the article: You won’t be judged on the crisis. You will be judged by how you respond to it.

That means that right NOW is the critical moment for both Jessica and Nikki. Let’s take a quick look at how they’ve reacted so far:

  • Jessica: Adding fuel to the fire, she gives an interview to the Washington Post and allows them to use her last name.
  • Nikki: Recognizing the repercussions on her reputation, she refuses to continue engaging in the situation.

They have both acted on extreme ends of the spectrum, but has either issued an apology and taken responsibility for their actions?

The jury is still out on this one. We’re waiting to see how they work to rectify the situation to improve their personal brand. If either one can do this successfully, we would absolutely consider hiring her. There’s no better way to exemplify your value as a PR and communications professional than single-handedly managing a public crisis.

A side bar PSA to all the high school and college students out there before we sign off – As the power of social media grows, so does the breadth of available channels for individuals to communicate their every thought and movement.

We are not sure that young people fully understand the repercussions of that. Perspective employers, including us, utilize Google during the hiring process, so think twice before you air out all of your dirty laundry. While a post may seem to have a short lifespan and anonymity on social media, don’t fall asleep under a false sense of security. What you put out there, could come back to haunt you, jeopardizing future professional opportunities. That may not be your top priority in high school, but it should at least be on the list.  Trust us when we say, most of the time, we’d much rather just read about what you ate for dinner.