Aug 17

The not-so-wonderful world of Disney

One of the sidebar stories accompanying Actor Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic meltdown a fortnight agoMelgibson  was the news that The Walt Disney Studios would be distributing Gibson’s upcoming movie, "Apocalypto."

As might be expected, Disney’s tacit support of the Gibson film project did not sit well with the larger Jewish community. One member in particular, New York Lawyer Carl Schwartz, felt compelled to take keyboard in hand and dash out a note to Disney’s investor relations folks and express his feelings.

As a Disney shareholder and big fan of all things Disney, Schwartz clearly and calmly explained that, while he and his family had loyally patronized Disney’s multiple entertainment offerings over the years, he would pull his support if the conglomerate didn’t disassociate itself pronto from "Apocalypto."

Disney’s response was classic Corporate Speak. Heidi Trotta, whose e-mail contained no title or department, spoke on behalf of Disney. While she thanked Mr. Schwartz for his note and shared his "….concern about the tremendous dangers of hatred and prejudice and the need for greater understanding and tolerance among all people," she never addressed his request that Disney pull the plug on its support of Gibson. Instead, she "clarified" that Disney’s only involvement with the project is to "…handle distribution in the United States and Canada." Well, excuse me, but that’s one serious commitment. No Disney distribution support and, tell me if I’m wrong here, no Mel Gibson movie for anyone to see.

To his credit, Mr. Schwartz saw right through Disney’s Pinocchio-like lie and fired off a response. In it, he nails the larger issue on the head by saying, "…Disney’s participation in the release will signal a tolerance of anti-Semitism and, in my view, send a message about the triumph of corporate greed over what is right."

You can read the email correspondence here: Schwartz’s correspondence with Heidi Trotta from Disney

Not surprisingly, Heidi and her investor relations ilk never responded.

Ignoring complaints like the one by Mr. Shwartz won’t make the Apocalypto conundrum disappear for Disney. Nor will vaguely worded responses laden with platitudes about tolerance. It’s time for Disney to bite the bullet and walk away from the bucks it would have made from distributing Gibson’s flick.

So, what’s it going to be, Disney? Will you step up, do the right thing and come out shining like one of Snow White’s bright red apples, or end up looking more like the evil queen who poisoned the apples in the first place?

Aug 15

My dog, Pepper

My dog, Pepper, died last night. She’d lived a good, long life and, sadly, had to be euthanized because of advanced arthritis. As my son, Chris, and I said our final farewells to Pepper last night, I thought of all the funny, and not-so-funny, things Pepper did in her life.

To begin with, Pepper wasn’t the friendliest dog in the world. For example:

1.) At the very first agency pool party in 1996, some original Peppercommers decided to snap somePepper_2   photos by my pool. We were sporting our new Peppercom t-shirts and thought the timing was perfect for a photo op. Someone suggested we grab Pepper, put a shirt on her and include her in the pic. To say that Pepper was less than thrilled with the idea is an understatement. She snapped and snarled at anyone trying to put the shirt on. Finally, my partner held her while I slipped the shirt over Pepper’s neck. The framed photo now hangs on our firm’s back walls.

2.) Ed and Pam Moed paid us a visit one day to sit by our pool and reflect on the agency’s early successes. Our revelry was disrupted, however, by shrill screaming coming from the bushes. Pepper had found a nest of rabbits and was busy scooping them out, one-by-one, and tossing them into the back of her throat. It was a brutal scene reminiscent of something from Animal Planet’s Shark Attack Week. Pepper wiped out an entire family. Or, so we thought. The next day, I found a solitary bunny floating face down in our pool. The little guy had left a note saying he couldn’t go on without his family.

3.) Pepper loved to run away from our backyard. I cannot tell you how many times our neighbors would call with "Pepper sightings." And, my wife or I would have to pile in the car and retrieve the dog. And, sure enough, there would be Pepper, soaking wet and muddy from having dove into some unsuspecting neighbor’s pool.

4.) Speaking of pools, Pepper loved ours and used to dive in repeatedly, swimming the length and width time and again. One of the saddest things to see this past Summer was Pepper’s inability to even walk up the steps to get to the pool.

When I think about Pepper, I think about the many ways in which she unknowingly helped Peppercom. Clients, prospects and everyone else loved the fact that we named the agency after a dog. I cannot tell you how many times the agency name served as a key icebreaker in a critically important new business meeting. People just love dogs and immediately bond with other people who love dogs. If I ever write a "business tips" book, I’ll dedicate an entire chapter to the importance of dogs to new business.

Pepper wasn’t the greatest dog in the world. And, her personality prevented anyone from getting very close to her. But, she was a good, loyal companion and gave us nearly 14 years of fun. And, hey, how many dogs can say they’ve had one of the country’s top, midsized firms named after them? Rest in peace, Pepper. We’ll miss you.

Aug 14

Cody-Moed Public Relations was never in the cards

Thomas Vinciguerra wrote a fascinating column (subscription required) in yesterday’s NY Times "Week in Review" section that analyzes the importance of names in everything from books to movies to songs.

For example, F.Scott Fitzgerald originally wanted to name his book, "Trimalchio in West Egg." His publishers pushed back and asked for a different title. So, Fitzgerald suggested "The Great Gatsby." Margaret Mitchell played around with "Not in Our Stars," "Bugles Sang True" and "Tote the weary load" before settling on "Gone with the Wind." Mel Brooks was forced to change "Springtime for Hitler" to "The Producers." And, the Beatles classic "Yesterday" was originally titled "Scrambled Eggs."

This "What if" stuff really interests me and makes me think about the role a name plays in the ultimate success of a book, movie, song, person or, in my case, a firm.

Way back in September of 1995 when my partner and I started our firm in his one-bedroom apartment, we had quite an argument about what our company should be called. We were in total agreement that, in order to break out from the pack and differentiate ourselves from day one, we needed a different-sounding name. There would be no "Edelman," "Hill & Knowlton," or "Burson-Marsteller" for us.

In scanning the O’Dwyer’s Directory of the day, we saw that fully 90 percent of PR firms were named for the founders. So, we prepared lists of cool and different-sounding names, and eliminated them one by one.

Our two finalists were Pepper Communications (named after my dog, Pepper) and the Andover Group (the name of Ed’s apartment building). I was pushing for the former, while Ed and his wife, Pam, pushed very hard for the latter. I’m not sure exactly how we resolved things, but I won. We shortened the name to Peppercom and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if we’d gone with the Andover Group instead. Would we have grown so quickly and attracted all those dotcom clients in the late 1990? Would we have been able to re-position ourselves post dotcom crash and attracted blue-chip clients? Would we have been as innovative as we’ve been? I honestly don’t know.

What I do know though, is that we picked the right name. And it’s served us beautifully from an image and reputation standpoint for a decade. And I’m also pretty sure that neither Cody-Moed PR nor the Andover Group would have rivaled what Peppercom has become.

Aug 11

Could American Airlines’ timing be any worse?

So, as millions of travelers, including yours truly, were stuck dealing with the incredibly long lines and delays prompted by yesterday’s foiled terrorist attacks, here comes American Airlines with distribution of an e-mail reminding its customers not to miss out on their sweepstakes promotion!

Could the marketing folks at American be any more clueless or insensitive to world events and peoples’ fears? And, if it wasn’t bad enough, American Airlines was one of the three U.S. carriers targeted.

So, who’s to blame? Was it some unknowing and unsuspecting Summer intern, or someone higher up the marketing ranks? Actually, it doesn’t matter because the buck should stop with the individual who heads Americans’ global marketing.

If I were in his or her shoes, I’d recall that note, postpone the sweepstakes and issue an apology to everyone who was on the receiving end.

It was tough enough to stand on long lines and divest oneself of every possible toiletry item. It was quite another to read a stupid and ill-timed email. Wake up American.

Hat tip to Fran Bainbridge for sending the American email.

Aug 10

Cheer up interns of the world. There’s hope for a bright and successful future

Yesterday’s announcement by the National Football League that onetime League office intern Roger Goodell has been chosen as the new commissioner has to warm the hearts of long-suffering interns everywhere.

According to published reports, the then 24-year-old Goodell not only served as a League PR internGoodell_2  way back when, but actually chauffeured former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle through New Orleans during a Super Bowl. Clearly, the young guy demonstrated a positive, "can do" attitude and began to build a positive image and reputation for himself that resulted in his election to the sport’s top job.

Goodell’s major career coup should bring a smile to interns everywhere. Yes, Virginia, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for those individuals who are willing to suck it up, play by the rules and surprise and delight their bosses a la the young Goodell.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that we’ve had some great and not-so-great interns at our firm. On the positive side of the ledger, I’m pleased to report that no fewer than 10 former interns have risen through the ranks and are making significant contributions. So, in effect, nearly one-sixth of our total, current employee population is represented by one-time interns. If that isn’t a statement about the opportunities inherent in an internship, I don’t know what is.

At the same time, though, we’ve had some real losers. To wit:

1. the intern who, while engaged in a friendly game of pool at a long ago agency holiday party gave my partner, Ed, the finger not once, but twice.

2. the intern who, when asked by yours truly about the status of an important research project replied, "Sorry dude. Guess I flaked."

3. the intern who, after reporting for work her first day, never showed up for a second.

And so and so forth. The point is that image and reputation begin on day one of a person’s career. And, the "first day" is not the first day of full-time employment but, rather, the first day of an internship.

So, for all those interns out there who moan and groan about the hard work and low pay, take a look at Roger Goodell. There’s one man who made the most of his internship and is now laughing all the way to the bank.

Aug 09

It’s third-and-long for traditional advertising

Advocates of the 30-second TV commercial have to be scratching their heads after the release of a new McKinsey study showing that, by the year 2010, traditional TV advertising will only be one-third as effective as it was in 1990. Ouch! McKinsey bases its evaluation on a projected 23 percent decline in ads due to bored or irate consumers switching off their sets, a nine percent loss due to increased multitasking (I can relate to that) and a 37 percent decrease in message impact due to saturation.

McKinsey says real ad spending on TV commercials has increased in the last decade by 40 percent while viewership has decreased by 50 percent. As a result, Corporate America is paying more for less. Why? Because, at least for now, no one is going to get fired for suggesting TV commercials as part of a marketing program. But, the McKinsey study was sent to the firm’s Fortune 100 clients (and I’ll bet it’s being noticed by the C-suite).

Happily, the times they are a changing. As a result, we’re seeing more and more smart, savvy marketers de-coupling their old, antiquated traditional advertising spends and reallocating money towards PR, viral marketing and other forms of one-to-one communications.

And, if all this news wasn’t bad enough for traditional advertising purists to digest, the McKinsey study also points to an even scarier future: teenagers spend less than half as much time watching TV as typical adults do and 600 percent more time surfing the web. Someone on Madison Avenue better wake up and change the model pronto.

But wait, there’s more. A new book called "What sticks: why most advertising fails and how to guarantee yours succeeds" by Rex Briggs and Greg Stuart, a couple of research guys, says 37 percent of all advertising is wasted. The authors blame the failure on marketers, rather than ad agencies, and say there are ways to make traditional advertising more effective. The authors also say the biggest reason why traditional marketers still cling to traditional advertising is fear of failure and being fired. They say many marketers allocate wads of money to traditional advertising simply because their competitors do.

Is this any way to run a railroad? To borrow from a time worn football phrase, "It’s third-and-long" for the advertising industry. Will they wake up and embrace alternative marketing, or cling stubbornly to the "safer" traditional approaches? In my opinion, the latter strategy will end up with the industry being "sacked, and forced to punt" to more nimble, future-focused marketing disciplines.

Aug 08

Your call cannot be completed because the subscriber has been bombed or kidnapped

Talk about a sign of the times. Damien Cave’s article in today’s New York Times paints a brutally grim picture of life for the "cool kids" in Iraq.

According to Cave’s story, the "must-have" fashion accessory of the moment with Iraqi kids is a cell phone nicknamed the "Apache" after the U.S. military helicopter. Also high on the kids’ lists are Humvees and Nokia cell phones.

While the cell phones as fashion statements are interesting, what’s more telling are the text messages kids are sending to one another. According to Cave, the kids in Iraq text message one another all day long to commiserate about the bombings, kidnappings and incessant violence. One of the more popular messages, accompanied by the image of a skeleton, reads: "Your call cannot be completed because the subscriber has been bombed or kidnapped." Talk about gallows humor.

It seems to me that, no matter how hard they try, the U.S. Government can’t spin the real-world text messages of Iraqi kids, whose world has been turned upside down by death and destruction. And, it’s not just the kids who rely on cell phones. Iraqis of all ages use the cell phones to tell loved ones how they plan to get to and from work each day. While it may seem mundane to us, such a communiqué is critical, considering that taking the wrong turn could be the last move an Iraqi makes in this lifetime.

How interesting that, unlike here, where we see cell phones and text messaging as hip, cool ways in which to communicate, Iraqis see them as a mission critical staple of survival. So, while I use a cell phone to let my assistant know that, once again, my New Jersey Transit train is running late, 50-year-old Jabar Satar Salaum uses his cell phone to alert his wife where he is every few minutes on the commute home. He also uses it to find out if any routes may have been damaged by recent bombs or blocked by military checkpoints.

As you might expect, cell phones are in great demand in Iraq, and the number has increased from Celliraq_2 1.4 million users only two years ago to 7.1 million today. Sadly, though, the phones are being used to help Iraqis cope with a nightmare. As one Iraqi college student told Cave, "Its’ important. You have to have a cell phone. If I go to college, or anyplace really, my parents call me like 100 times to see if I’m safe."

While the young Iraqi’s quote makes for a great testimonial, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Nokia or Motorola using it in their commercials any time soon. This is one story that can’t and won’t be spun by either the public or private sectors.

Aug 07

The Internet is no excuse for poor manners

Can you believe a 120-person British company decided to terminate one of its employees by a text message? Blue Banana, a body-piercing and jewelry shop based in Cardiff, England, alerted 21-year-old Katy Tanner that she had been sacked via a text message while (or, shall I say whilst?) she was home sick with a migraine. The text message said simply: "We will not require your services anymore. Thank you for your time with us."

Nice. Very nice. Blue Banana Director Jon Taylor said the firm had tried to reach Ms. Tanner "…five or six times" before sending the text message. And, store Director Ian Besbie justified the inhumane corporate behavior because texting has become part of "…youth culture."

Messrs. Taylor and Besbie should be ashamed of their cowardly actions. Regardless of the role of text messaging in youth culture, human beings deserve the courtesy of an in-person explanation when they’re being terminated.

Sad to say, though, I’ll bet this "execution by technology" is not an isolated incident. In fact, we’ve been alerted twice in the past year that we’d not won new business pitches by impersonal "form letter" e-mails. In each case, the prospective client praised the time and effort we’d extended in pursuing their business. In each instance, the prospective client offered to make themselves available to provide in-depth feedback on why we hadn’t been selected. And, in each instance, we were unable to ever connect with the prospect to hear, first-hand, why we’d lost.

Bad manners reflect poorly on not only the individual, but the entire organization. And, if the latter gets a reputation for being cold and impersonal in the way in which it deals with employees, "vendors" and others, then it will find it more difficult to attract and retain the best people and the best customers. Because, in the final analysis, people want to work with people they like and respect. Use of text messaging and e-mail to communicate bad news is just plain bogus.

Aug 07

It’s time to escalate the battle of NASCAR Junction

Every time I watch ESPN’s SportsCenter they feel compelled to run coverage of the latest NASCAR race. Now, I know NASCAR is a huge social phenomenon south of the Mason-Dixon Line and that corporate marketers everywhere think it’s the next "cool" way to spend their money, but what’s with all the fights and temper tantrums that accompany every friggin’ NASCAR race?

It seems like every video clip of a checkered flag is also accompanied by the spectre of some pissedFight_2  off good ol’ boy driver punching out another one, or kicking the living bejesus out of the fender of a car that had cut him off during the race. What, exactly, do the driver hysterics add to the overall NASCAR experience? Are there not enough spectacular crashes and deaths to sate the average fan? Have the drivers decided amongst themselves to add an additional dimension to the so-called sport?

Rather than turn a blind eye to such nonsense, why doesn’t the NASCAR hierarchy, instead, embrace the drivers’ boorishness and leverage its intrinsic marketing potential?

I can just see The Home Depot, Valvoline, Tide Laundry Detergent or some other mega sponsor throwing millions of dollars into a "Friday night fights at the Talledega 500." Just imagine: after yet another incredibly boring race, NASCAR fans could stick around to watch various drivers lace on boxing gloves and step into an infield "ring" where they could take out any pent-up hostilities and follow the Marquis of Queensbury’s rules instead of their own. Each winner would be given additional "points" towards an eventual NASCAR championship.

But, why stop there? NASCAR could further flex its marketing muscle by embarking on a series of co-branded promotions with like-minded organizations. How about buddying up with Glock to provide drivers with 9mm semi-automatic weapons they could use on one another during the race? Or, how about Lowe’s stepping up and providing the drivers with nails and tacks that they could hurl onto the track whenever their road rage exceeds the speed limit?

There are just so many potential opportunities for NASCAR to really make the most of its "Battling Billy Bobs." And, speaking of bats, how about a co-brand with Hillerich & Bradsby, maker of the Louisville Slugger baseball bat? All I can say is, "gentlemen start your engines (and your swinging).

Aug 04

Madonna’s marketing machine marches on

Say what you will about Madonna, but the girl’s got game when it comes to smart, counter-intuitive marketing.

Today, the Vatican issued a strong statement denouncing Madonna’s current concert tour which, coincidentally, includes a date in Rome. Thanks to the Church’s castigation and the resulting worldwide coverage, Madonna’s bad girl antics received a beautiful shot of extra publicity and hype.

While I’m sure the Vatican spinmeisters believe their decision to condemn Madonna’s concerts was a sound one, all it really accomplished was to create additional buzz for the sensual siren. And, her decision to perform right in the Pope’s backyard is pure marketing genius. In fact, it reminds me of what Toyota has been doing to GM for the past few years.

First, Toyota began buying naming rights for sports stadiums (and, as GM liked to lament, "wrapping the American flag around themselves"). Then, they drove right over Chevy Truck’s market domination by holding one guerilla marketing event after another in such traditional GM strongholds as Texas. Finally, to add insult to injury, Toyota laid down the ultimate gauntlet by declaring they’d be the number one car seller in GM’s home state of Michigan.

I can tell you, first-hand, that the folks at GM were apoplectic about Toyota’s marketing prowess and, like the Vatican, made a bunch of statements and did a bunch of price-cutting promotions that did little more than further accentuate Toyota’s leadership role.

Nowadays, market share goes not only to the swift, but to the savvy as well. Madonna’s conquest of Rome and Toyota’s outflanking of GM on its home court, are just two examples.