Oct 31

I wonder if BP stands for ‘Better Pray’?

BP, the huge oil company that, until recently, had been the textbook example of ‘going green’ nowGs9483  finds itself in a stickier, slimier image and reputation morass than some of the muck it dredges up from the underworld.

Yesterday, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (now, there’s a name that tells you exactly what the organization’s charter is) announced that BP had "significant knowledge" years ago of the problems that caused the explosion at its Texas City, TX, refinery in 2005 that killed 15 workers.

That bombshell of a revelation comes on the heels of BP’s massive oil spill in Alaska and accusations that BP traders tried to corner the propane market in the U.S.

These revelations make me wonder, once again, how strategic a role corporate communications and marketing really play within some of the world’s largest organizations. After all, any senior communications executive worth his/her salt (or oil in this case) would have been warning management all along that it needed to walk the walk if it intended to paint itself "green."

And, yet, BP continues to run its print and broadcast advertisements extolling its many contributions to making our environment a little bit greener and a little bit friendlier. And, I’m sure they are doing any number of wonderful things. But, as my partner Edward Aloyisius Moed, likes to say: "Where there’s smoke, there’s fire."

Something’s rotten at BP that needs to be fixed ASAP. There have been too many environmental, ethical and management mistakes to warrant any continuation of their campaign. Instead, BP should launch an investigation, led by impartial, outside experts, to drill down deep into their operating philosophies and find out where the "leaks" are.

Until then, I’ll be laughing off their green initiative as yet another corporate example of "Do as I say, not as I do."

Oct 30

Could you imagine any corporation picking up an option on Messrs. Ebbers, Skilling or Scrushy?

Guess who’s testing the free agent market in Major League Baseball? None other than the ‘roidman himself, Barry Bonds, whose contract with the San Francisco Giants is expiring.

Now, I ask you, can you imagine any general manager touching this bad boy with a 10-foot-pole? Y74032kg Outside of the Bay Area, Bonds is rightly detested for his obvious ingesting and injecting of illegal substances to bulk up, bash baseballs and pocket big checks as a result. Adding insult to injury, Barry happens to be one of the nastiest human beings in the sport and is also one step ahead of an IRS investigation into possible tax evasion.

Just imagine a counterpart to Barry in Corporate America. It would be like Jeff Skilling somehow getting a stay on his 24-year sentence and suddenly entering the free market. Or Richard Scrushy, who was somehow found innocent in his HealthSouth trial, testing the waters with other companies. Or, Bernie Ebbers slipping off his chains and offering his services to the highest bidder. It boggles the mind.

From an image and reputation standpoint, Bonds is pure poison even to the most mercenary-minded general manager. He’s divisive in and out of the locker room and downright nasty to the sports media.

So, in my mind, Barry’s caught in a pickle. If the Giants don’t pick up his contract, enabling him to play another year in front of those adoring San Francisco fans (and what, I ask, are they thinking?) then his quest to break the all-time home run record will end. And, since Bonds’ records are totally bogus, it should be short-circuited.

Here’s one baseball fan hoping the game’s general managers do what’s right for baseball and let Barry pack up his bats, his pills, his needles and creams and head home. If records are to be broken, then they should be done so by guys who play by the rules.

Oct 27

Someone needs to send a wake-up call to The Today Show

So, I’m cruising through my treadmill run the other day while watching The Today Show. They were airing a segment on the benefits of CT scans for the early detection of lung cancer that was being discussed, debated and dissected by various medical experts. Good stuff to know for sure.

Then, as the segment ends, an announcer states: "The Today Show’s health segment is brought to539200d_1   you by Jimmy Dean Pork Sausages." Huh?

I nearly fell off the treadmill (and re-injured my oh-so-sore calf muscle in the process. But, that’s a different story). As I watched, I saw a commercial pop on the screen extolling the virtues of a hearty breakfast of pork sausages to start the day off on the right foot.

So I immediately wondered: why in God’s name would the producers of a health segment allow it to be sponsored by a heart-clogging, obesity-causing pork product? Now, don’t get me wrong. From a marketing and awareness standpoint, this is quite a coup for Jimmy Dean who, I’m sure, is producing some sort of low cal, low cholesterol version of their meat and want to re-position the product, but c’mon! The people at The Today Show should be ashamed of themselves for sending mixed, if not disingenuous, messages to their audiences. On one hand, they’re airing news and tips on how to stay healthy. On the other hand, they’re cashing checks from companies pushing products that, at the very least, don’t promote a healthy lifestyle.

It’s time someone placed a wake-up call to The Today Show and pointed out that this sort of Janus-faced programming undermines their image and reputation.

Oct 26

Desperate times call for desperate measures (sometimes)

In the wake of the housing downturn that has severely impacted their store sales, The Home Depot is pouring millions of dollars into dramatic line extensions. So, in addition to picking up some grout, two-by-fours and a brand new electric drill, shoppers can now browse for new washers and dryers, buy gasoline and sip on a caffe latte.

CEO Bob Nardelli’s move underscores the Catch-22 that virtually every chief executive of a publicly-508932 traded company finds him/herself in today: balancing the short-terms needs of the Street with doing the right thing for the long-term, best interests of the organization.

In my mind, Nardelli blinked. By diversifying in such a bizarre, generic way, The Home Depot runs the risk of alienating its core constituency. Think about it: The Home Depot appeals to the guy’s guy. The dude who loves nothing more than to putter around in the garage all weekend long, gets off on re-grouting the bathroom tiles and is only too happy to put in a new dropped ceiling in the basement (note: I am the antithesis of the home fix-it guy). So, when these guys saunter into the local Depot and start running into all sorts of non guy’s guy stuff, I think it’s going to be a real turn-off.

I know that when I look for a guy’s guy experience, I chill with some buds at an ESPN Zone where I kick back with some wings, burgers and brews (ok, some chicken sandwiches and chards). But, the point is, I don’t want to see upscale, stylish and trendy things and people when I go to an ESPN Zone. I want to hang with my fellow Mets and Jets fans and watch either, or both, teams blow a late-game lead.

So, Mr. Nardelli, I think your short-term line extensions may prop up sales for the time being but, when the housing market improves, I think you’ll find a significant percentage of your core constituency finding somewhere else to buy their hammer and nails.

Oct 25

Da comrades, you can ask me anything you want. But, nyet on my answering any but the easiest, least controversial ones

Proving that politicians are pretty much the same everywhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a multimedia "Town Hall" discussion with his constituents. Russian citizens were able to ask Putin any question under the sun. But, and here’s the big but, the Russian president’s palace guard carefully screened and selected the questions Putin answered.

So, while it seems like a giant stride in the right direction, Putin’s dialogue with the average1204593g  Russian citizen was tightly managed and scripted, just like in the ‘good old days.’ The toughest questions mysteriously disappeared (perhaps to a virtual Gulag?) and Vlad only responded to the easiest, most self-serving queries.

So, what else is new? We see Democrats and Republicans alike do much the same thing when they venture forth to deliver major policy speeches. The Dems seek the safe harbors of liberal think tanks and university settings while W., Cheney and Rummy speak at places like West Point where a favorable audience is a guarantee.

Corporate chieftains of publicly-traded companies are notorious for the same strategy and will routinely schedule their annual general meetings in obscure locations and at inconvenient times, just so they can minimize the number of dissident shareholders in attendance.

While Putin’s message management is disappointing (and, I’m sure, frustrating to the average Russian), it’s not unique. Sadly, in this case, Putin and his fellow public and private-sector peers are likely to ‘stay the course’ year in and year out. There’s no ‘timeline’ for message management withdrawal when politicians and executives continue to avoid open and honest discussions with their constituents.

Oct 24

A ‘day-in-the-life’ blog could make for a unique and fascinating marketing and recruiting tool

England’s National Trust recently declared Tuesday, October 17th as its "one day in history" day and invited Britons across the Realm to log onto History Matters.

Their assignment: to write a brief post reflecting the ways in which history affected them on that549403  particular day in British history. So, if they walked past a historic site and were so moved, they would record the experience. If they spotted a Royal personage or matinee idol, they could report on that encounter as well. As long as it had something to do with "history," all posts were welcomed.

The National Trust’s goal is to capture and preserve for posterity a perfectly normal "day-in-the-life" of their historic land. The exercise was inspired by a similar undertaking in 1937 (I wonder how many Brits used blackberries back then to record their experiences?). And, the blog posts will be permanently housed in the British Library.

I love all things historic and salute our Allies for this wickedly cool idea. But, it also got me thinking.

Organizations of all types are always trying to figure out new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition while attracting and retaining the very best talent.

Imagine how cool it would be to provide prospective clients and employees with an honest, unvarnished look at a "day-in-the-life" of the organization? (Obviously, it would have to be an unvarnished, unedited blog to have any credibility with readers).

A typical "day-in-the-life" blog from Peppercom might include posts by our Office Manager Lee Stechmann, warning the guys that they needed to take better care of the men’s room. It might also include a blog from Receptionist Kelly Walton, asking who had ordered the turkey and rye sandwich that had just been deposited on her desk. We’d also be likely to see a note from Debbie Spalding, our CFO, who would once again be warning employees they’d have no computer access if she didn’t receive their timesheets pronto. And, of course, there’d have to be a highly-spirited back-and-forth dialogue between my partner, Ed and I about the virtues of our respective alma maters.

I think a periodic day-in-the-life blog would be a smart and strategic addition to any organization’s website, marketing and human resources program. Now, watch me suggest it at the next management meeting and see it get shot down for some perfectly logical reason I’m not thinking of.

Oct 23

Students, listen up. Today’s lecture is: “Tomorrow’s journalists, publicists and ad execs should embrace digital media. But, look before you leap.”

Dawn M. Lauer (Peppercom’s resident expert on spirituality and a crack management supervisor to boot) accompanied me this past week to Northeastern University, where we helped launch the new School of Technological Entrepreneurship. While on campus, we also had the opportunity to lecture before a mixed group of about 50 students who were majoring in PR, Advertising, Journalism, Speech and Communications.

Our subject was the impact of Web 2.0 on the relationship between the media and PR (and between the media and the general public). We covered a wide variety of topics and subjects, including:

1) The fact that every single student, save one, had their own "page" on either MySpace or Facebook. Social networking sites are as ubiquitous among college kids today as bell bottoms, long hair and tie-dyed shirts were when I roamed the N.U. campus way back when. And, the implications to marketers large and small are tremendous.

2) The realization that, in a digital world, individual and institutional images and reputations can be blown to smithereens in a nanosecond. Examples we discussed ranged from the bloggers who "ousted" James Frey ("A Million Little Pieces") and Dan Rather (his ill-fated, poorly-researched 60 Minutes segment) to PR publicists who sent ill-advised, poorly thought-out pitches to influential bloggers and subsequently paid the price in career-wrecking, web-wide humiliation.

3) The ongoing love-hate relationship between the media and public relations. Professor Bill Kirtz, who taught my journalism class and continues to bring his incredible energy and enthusiasm to N.U. classes today, said he’s always felt there were "good" PR people and "good" journalists (and vice versa). Bill said he’s never understood why journalists looked down their respective noses at us PR folk. I’ve always felt it’s because journalists are loathe to admit they count on publicists for many of their story ideas/angles. While they willingly accept our ideas and notions, they’ll publicly deny our contributions and, adding insult to injury; oftentimes demean us as "the evil empire."

Regardless of how the media may feel about we PR types, Dawn and I told the students that the mainstream "Fourth Estate" continues to play a critical role in our world. And, even though traditional journalism has been hit upside the head by the rise of citizen journalists, message boards, social networking sites and other forms of digital communications, they still wield tremendous influence. Our message was not that digital will be the be-all and end-all of their future careers in advertising, journalism or PR but, rather, that they need to embrace and leverage each and every marketing/communications method and mode at their disposal.

We encouraged them to "dive into the digital communications pool" but, based upon the misadventures and mistakes of the Rathers, Freys and unsuspecting publicists, told the students to be sure they knew how to "swim" first.

We promised the students that today’s post would be devoted to the lecture. So, c’mon students, lay it on us: how did you like the lecture and what thoughts do you have about this particular blog? Remember, though, to think about what you write before you hit the "send" button. The reputation you save may be your own.

Oct 20

Carlos At The Bat

After the Mets’ devastating loss to the Cardinals last night, it seems fitting to end the week with an off-topic, game 7-inspired poem written by my friend and colleague, Darryl Salerno.

With apologies to Ernest L. Thayer…

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Metville nine that day,the score stood three to one, with one half inning to play. A straggling few got up to go in deep despair,the rest stayed and prayed that hope was still there.

They thought, "if only Carlos could but get a whack at that, we’d put up even money now, with Carlos at the bat." But Jose preceded Carlos, as did also Endy Chavez, and the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a pez.

So upon that stricken multitude, grim melancholy sat, for there seemed but little chance of Carlos getting to the bat. But Jose let drive a single, to the wonderment of all, and Endy, with the catch, tore the cover off the ball.

And when the dust had lifted, they felt no longer cursed, there was Jose safe at second and Endy on at first. But when Floyd could not make contact and Reyes lined to Jim, there was just one out to go and the Mets were on a limb. Up came Paul Lo Duca, who put the pitcher through the paces, he used his eye to draw a walk and loaded up the bases.

Then from fifty thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell, it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell. It pounded through on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,for Carlos, mighty Carlos, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Carlos’ manner as he stepped into his place, there was pride in Carlos’ bearing and a smile lit his face. And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat, no stranger in the crowd could doubt t’was Carlos at the bat.

Ten million eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt, five million tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt. Then, while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip, defiance flashed in Carlos’ eye, a sneer curled his lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air, and Carlos stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there. Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped — "That ain’t my style," said Carlos. "Strike one!" the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar, like the beating of the storm waves on a stern and distant shore. "Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand, and it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Carlos raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity, great Carlos’ visage shone, he stilled the rising tumult, he bade the game go on. He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew; but Carlos tipped it lightly, and the umpire said, "Strike two!"

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered "Fraud!" but one scornful look from Carlos and the audience was awed. They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain, and they knew that Carlos wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer has fled from Carlos’ lip, the teeth are clenched in hate. He pounds, with cruel violence,309d9ss  his bat upon the plate. And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go, and now the crowd is shattered by the lack of Carlos’ blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright, the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light. And, somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout, but there is no joy in Metville — mighty Carlos has struck out.

Oct 19

MakTalk / Repchatter Pt. 2 posted

Back in June, Ken Makovsky and I did a podcast on the subject of business blogging. For our second show in this series, we decided to get the perspective of someone who heads up a successful corporate blogging initiative. So, we looked no further than GM, which publishes several very well-known and respected blogs. Bill Betts, GM’s Communications Web Services Manager, spoke with us recently about the role of blogging at GM and what the corporate communications team is doing to make it a success.


Oct 19

What do Banana Republic, Intel and Coca-Cola all have in common?”

The answer is: they were among the very first big-time corporate marketers to advertise on blogs.

And, they’re doing so because advertisers know bloggers attract a very definite audience enabling them to truly pinpoint their marketing efforts. TechCrunch, the Silicon Valley tech-focused blog, is actually collecting some $60,000 per month in advertising dollars (it draws more than 1.5 mm readers on a regular basis).

Clearly, blogs are a viable business model if, and it’s a big if, they combine talent and content, while simultaneously being perceived as among the most influential "places" to break a story, introduce a new product or service, slam a competitor or do any number of other cool, juicy things.

So, while survey after survey may show that America’s corporations are slow to embrace blogging, individual bloggers who have figured out a way to set themselves apart are starting to rake in some serious bucks. And, there’s definitely a lot more gold in "….them thar hills." According to various sources, overall web advertising is expected to grow by 50 percent to $23.6 billion in 2010. And many analysts think bloggers will see a good slice of that moola.

So, attention digital advertisers: Repmanblog.com is now accepting offers. Imagine the added dimension Repman can add to your marketing efforts by connecting you to such upscale and influential prospective customers as "medical supply executive," "lunch boy" and "Uncle Utah." Talk about an offer you can’t refuse! Virtual operators are standing by now to take your order.