Jul 31

Oh, those first impressions…

No one would argue that first impressions are critical to an organization’s image, reputation and businessBattlebus_2
success. So, why do so many businesses still get it wrong?  I’m not sure I have the answer. But, my recent sojourn to Normandy and the U.K. provided loads of good and not-so-good examples of first impressions. To wit:

The good:

1.) My Battlebus tour driver in Normandy made an indelible first impression. Battlebus is one of many tours offered of the D-Day invasion beaches and landmarks. Like its competitors, Battlebus crams eight passengers into a tiny bus and takes you to and fro for eight long hours. Without a passionate and knowledgeable guide, however, the tour could easily become more like a Bataan Death March than a once-in-a-lifetime trek. Happily, our Battlebus guide, Julian, was simply superb. He not only knew his stuff. He took the time to get to know his eight fellow travelers. He probed to find out what we knew, wanted to know and wished we’d known. In addition to the ‘usual’ destinations, Julian made sure we went off the beaten track and crammed in as much fun stuff as possible. I couldn’t recommend him or his tour group more highly.

2.) In the midst of a strategic partnership meeting at Peppercom’s London office, Jacki Vause and I were interrupted in mid sentence by our guest. He wanted us to know how truly impressed he was with Michael Cowdroy, the staffer who’d greeted him at our front door. The guest went on at great length about the importance of first impressions to a service business like ours and commended Michael again and again (Well done, Michael!).

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Jul 30

Dark side of the moon

NASA’s recent image problems come as no surprise to me. After all, if you think about it, being an Astronaut_2 astronaut has to be one of the most stressful jobs known to man.

Not only is the training incredibly intense, but the shuttle has more safety issues than a Chinese pet food ingredients. In fact, if the FDA was in charge of the shuttle program, they’d have demanded a recall long ago.

So, the revelation that two astronauts were sky high on alcohol at lift-off time was no shock. According to reports I’ve read, the average NASA astronaut is supposed to wait a full 12 hours between ‘bottle to throttle.’ But, the anticipation of strapping oneself into a shuttle seat has to quicken the pulse a tad.

Don’t get me wrong. I have tremendous admiration for the skill and courage of the men and women who put their lives on the line to fly shuttle missions. But, there’s still something inherently wrong with the product. In fact, if I were a shuttle astronaut, I’d be augmenting the alcohol with Xanax, Valium and anything else handy.

Borrowing the title of Ralph Nader’s seminal book about the Chevy Corvair, I’d have to label ‘driving’ for NASA right now as being ‘Unsafe at any speed.’

Thanks to Brendan Mullin for the idea.

Jul 27

Dog day afternoon: London style

Norbert the dog is a full-fledged member of Peppercom’s UK office. In addition to sitting, sleeping, Norbet_2 playing with his various toys, wagging his tail and barking whenever someone rings the bell at the front gate, Norbert has one main job responsibility: chief morale officer (and, he’s the nicest and smartest CMO I’ve met in some time, btw).

Despite being a huge dog lover, I’m not a fan of bringing canines to the office. That’s because I remember working at a firm where the creative director’s two dogs literally ran amok every single day. They’d sprint up and down hallways, rip sandwiches out of people’s hands and, on at least one memorable occasion, defecated outside the conference room just before a new business pitch. Talk about a bad omen!

Norbert, on the other hand, is just a very cool pup. He knows his place and role, minds his owner, Jacki Vause’s commands and, in my opinion, adds a very real and positive intangible to the London office workplace culture.

All that said, there’s no way in hell we’ll get a puppy in the NY office. It’s really nice to visit a dog-friendly business, but I just can’t see our 55-plus person NY agency finding a dog as perfect as Norbert. And, besides, who needs excrement outside the conference room?

Jul 26

A day in the life

The following is a guest blog by Sophie Hanson, AE, Peppercom London

Hanging out in the poolside sauna yesterday I thought I definitely had the best deal from my job swap with the CEO of Peppercom, Steve Cody.

Last time I saw him he was holed up at my desk knee deep in news searches and press releases in his role as "Sophie, Account Executive for the day."

After some laps of the pool, sitting in the steam room I got to thinking about where you could go with the whole job swap premise. Imagine swapping with your client for the day and having them come into your office. As much as we try to make every client feel most important, the reality there’s a responsibility juggling act going on behind the scenes.

If you flip over from client side to agency side as I have, it’s an eye-opening switch. Working for a large media owner I had incredible expectations of what our agencies should be doing for us, whether PR, advertising or other marketing brethren. Demanding would be an understatement yet they always delivered with a smile. It could have been the steam making me light headed but I was suddenly hit by the realization that yes, I probably was the client from hell.

As a client I’m not sure one ever fully appreciates the art of account handling, but now I realize that the ability to remain positive, enthusiastic and "can-do" even when faced with the most demanding of clients is a skill that can be learned and improved on.

Making the switch to agency side is almost like learning a new language, we don’t just get hits, we "secure" coverage. I’m acutely aware of the need to reinforce pro-activity and have learnt to transfer my client side outlook to the other side. That said, the insight remains unbeatable.

So here’s the thing, I dare a client to spend even just a morning job swapping with an agency contact and prepare to be amazed at how much time we spend working on accounts, and the little things you don’t see us do that deliver such quality work. And similarly, if PROs spent a day in their clients’ office they would soon learn what makes them tick.

As for being CEO for the day, I was surprised that down time wasn’t nearly as relaxing as I imagined, as I constantly wondered how things were going back at the office. Having someone else come do your job is a reality check, it’s easy to get preoccupied with shuttling from one task to another and forget to take a step back to enjoy the fun and creative aspects of the job. Ultimately I learned that all you really need is a blackberry, a phone, self confidence, good team spirit and you can dive right into anything and achieve results from anywhere in the world.

Today I’m back to being Sophie, Account Executive, but as my last CEO task and in true Steve Cody style, I write this guest blog from the train en route to the office.

Jul 25

Some things are better left unsaid

I’m about to meet Peppercom UK’s crack Managing Director, Jacki Vause, for dinner at a place called the Rivington Grill.

To get me there, Jacki passed along a set of directions from the restaurant’s web site.

On the printed page are directions from two area hotels: mine and the self-proclaimed, five-star gem, the Great Eastern Hotel.

Here’s the lead sentence describing the establishment: ‘…..The sleek interior by Conran and Partners blends in seamlessly with the gorgeous period building, originally constructed as a lunatic asylum.’

How lovely! I can’t imagine anything better than spending the money charged by a five-star hotel, knowing that once upon a time, London’s wackiest characters were holed up in the very same place.

Pardon the pun, but what idiot edited this text?

Jul 24

You can use your American Express card everywhere (as long as you stay in America)

As an American Express Platinum Card member I’m told by the company’s propaganda that I’m entitled Amexbadto the uber level of card member perks. You name it and I get it. Or, so they say.

Alas, as I’ve found to my chagrin, no one accepts the AmEx card in Northern France.

‘Jamais,’ I was told by one waitress. ‘Mais no monsieur,’ sighed another.

Thankfully, I also pack a Visa card which, like its brand promise "is everywhere you want to be."

American Express may have a certain panache, but until they secure a beachhead in Normandy and elsewhere, I’ll pack extra credit card ammo.

Jul 23

Yes, Virginia, Some French still love Americans

While conventional wisdom holds that most Americans strongly dislike the French and vice versa, I’m Stmereeglisebobm_2 pleased to report that at least one part of Gaul still has a soft spot for Yanks.

I’m in the midst of a brief, but incredibly enjoyable, tour of Normandy with Repman, Jr., and his buddy, Chigas.

Today, we trekked along the D-Day beaches, visited the American military cemetery, stared up at St. Mere Eglise and experienced many other incredibly cool WW II venues.

The most moving, though, was an impressive memorial to two obscure US medics who, through their courage and expertise, treated some 80 wounded GIs and German combatants along with a little French boy who’d been shot by a Wermacht soldier.

Despite an annual average income of only 12,000 Euros, all 43 local villagers ponied up 1,000 Euros each to erect a permanent monument to the empathetic GIs right outside the church where they’d saved so many lives 63 years ago.

As our tour guide said, ‘This particular section of France remains incredibly grateful to Americans for liberating them way back when. Tell your countrymen they’ll be met with open arms if they visit Normandy.’ And, from what I’ve seen so far, he’s absolutely right.

Jul 20

Where does security end and image & reputation begin?

I detest business travel. There simply is no upside to it. In addition to the hassles, delays and indifferent service, there’s also the reality of substantially increased security.

With the latter, there’s a very fine line that exists between safety and sheer stupidity. Two recent cases in point illustrate the conundrum:

The first was recounted in a recent Joe Sharkey/New York Times column. It detailed a horrific story concerning a young mom and child traveling on a Continental Express flight. According to Sharkey, the traveler’s baby kept gurgling, ‘Bye-bye plane’ over and over as it taxied to the runway. This admonition upset the flight attendant so much that she insisted the mother ‘…..shut the kid up’ and feed it ‘…..Benadryl to knock it out.’ The mother refused, so the flight attendant told the captain she’d been threatened by the mom. Bye-bye mom. She and the kid were tossed off the plane.

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Jul 19

NFL needs to tackle the perps

The National Football League is guilty of multiple penalties for ignoring the long-term damage of concussions and overlooking the egregious behavior of star player Michael Vick.

The concussion saga is a sad one. It’s a story of denial as more and more allegations by former players Nm_vick_070717_ms_2 are added to autopsy findings and fresh research showing the cumulative damage caused by multiple concussions.

What is also coming to light is a longstanding tradition within the NFL in which players are expected to ‘shake-off’ the effects of a ‘dinger’ and return to the playing field ASAP. Many players say they have total memory losses of those games (and worse). In fact, more and more ex-players are reporting severe depression, a potpourri of physical disabilities and, in some, cases, are actually committing suicide. Yet, the NFL seems as slow to react as William ‘the refrigerator’ Perry once was to run across the goal line.

At the same time, NFL superstar Vick has finally been indicted for training pit bulls to fight in illegal gambling exhibitions at his palatial estate.

This sort of cruelty defies description. Yet, until a grand jury acted, Vick was footloose and fancy free to go about his pre-season duties as the star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.

There’s something rotten in virtually every segment of society: sports, business, government, entertainment and religion. What it all comes down to is a profound lack of accountability and the rise of a class of individuals who, like Michael Vick, believe the laws of society simply don’t apply to them. It’s time for the NFL and others to start making the perps pay.

Thanks to Repman Jr. for the idea.

Jul 17

But, what if I don’t enjoy your ringtone?

How many times have you called someone only to hear a recorded voice inviting you to ‘enjoy the music’ while waiting for the cell phone owner to actually answer?

I don’t know about you, but this really bugs me. Especially when I have to listen to a tune I don’t like, Flocellphone_3 don’t know or downright despise.

To wit:

– my wife forces callers to suffer through something called ‘Float on’ by Modest Mouse. It’s godawful.

– my daughter subjects people to ‘Soul meets body’ by Death Cab for Cutie (unintelligible lyrics, but one of the greatest band names ever)

– and, my daughter’s buddy, Lisa, hits you with the old Charlie Daniels song, ‘Devil went down to Georgia.’ I still don’t get the connection on that one.

Ringtones are audio spam. There’s no opting in on the part of the caller. Instead, we’re forced to listen to drivel selected by someone else. All of which reflects poorly on the call recipient’s image and reputation. So, while Whole Foods CEO John Mackey gets chewed up for posting ersatz comments on his blog and Miss New Jersey deals with blackmail threats caused by party pics posted on the web, the average cell phone owner gets away with aural murder.

I think it’s time for those of us who dislike ringtones to rise up, throw open those virtual windows and shout, ‘I’m mad as hell at having to listen to horrible ringtone music and not going to take it anymore!"

Tomorrow’s blog will list my guesses at what ringtones the famous (Donald Trump), infamous (Jack the Ripper) and pedestrian (med supply executive) might have used/are using. I’d appreciate additions to the list once it’s posted.

Thanks to Cat Cody for the idea.