Jan 30

Congratulations You’ve Graduated…Now What?

Guest post by Emily Randisi

As a senior at the College of Charleston I am months away from graduation. After a recent trip to New York City, I came home more confident and less worried about finding a job. Here’s why.

I got off my couch and went to New York City to go on informational interviews. If you aren’t familiar with the term informational interviews, you need to be. This is where college students meet with potential employers for the sole purpose of gathering information that will help both parties explore the possibility of a future business relationship. I can say from experience that if you prepare properly with great questions you will receive priceless career advice, make lasting impressions with industry professionals and come away with valuable contacts.

I know times are tough, and if your professors are anything like mine, they’re worried sick about you entering the job market at such an unpredictable time. They stress the importance of internships daily, and many have also recommended going to grad school in order to “wait out” the current economic downturn.

According to every communications professional I spoke with, this may not be the best suggestion. A better strategy, they said, is to focus on building your work experience post graduation via internships or, if you should be so lucky, a full-time position. Not only does this allow you to build your resume, but it also gives you time to discover and develop your career passions and goals. So save your pennies and swallow your pride. Take that unpaid internship or not-so-perfect entry level job right out of college. You will undoubtedly be better off in the long run if you do.
Another pre-graduation rumor going around is that employers are looking for high GPA’s and putting those resumes at the top of the stack. Not so according to those I spoke with in January. I was told this is mostly an irrelevant detail that is looked at solely to make sure you didn’t spend your undergraduate years in a coma. Employers are really looking for an error-free resume and a kick ass interview. And you can’t get interviews if you don’t have contacts.

Ninety percent of kicking butt in an interview is RESEARCH. You don’t have to know the company inside and out, but it is good to know what trends are affecting the company, what projects they are working on, or have worked on, and be ready to talk about them. Come in with a list of questions. This shows the interviewer a multitude of things, most of all that you are prepared and eager to learn.

The other 10 percent of the interview is confidence, which I have to say comes from repetition and an awesome outfit. Just a few more months and I’ll be practicing what I’m preaching. Until then, I have to pass media law. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Good luck seniors!

Jan 29

Hello, Is There Anybody In There?

General Motors recently announced it was cutting one of two shifts at its Lordstown, Ohio, plant, which produces small cars. Just a few months ago, the very same factory was running on three shifts plus overtime just to keep pace with the need.

What happened? Well, gas prices that had soared to more than $4 per gallon this pastGm_general_motors_logo
Summer are now back to around $2. And, the Big Three are back to making monster machines. And Americans are back to buying gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks.

Hello, is there anybody in there? Will we ever wake up and end our love affair with gas-guzzlers? Will Obama's car czar step in and finally put the brakes to this short-sighted mindset by manufacturer and consumer alike? Who knows?

One thing we do know, though, is that a day of reckoning will come. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But, soon, and for the rest of our lives (I've been waiting to use that line for three years now).

Ah, but the car companies need sales, lots of them and right away. And, we Americans live solely for the moment. And, so we buy big.

Dwindling oil supplies? Permanent dependence on foreign crude? Gas prices at $10 a gallon? Who cares? Keep building the wrong type of car, Detroit, and we'll keep buying it. Our kids will just have to deal with the consequences.

Jan 28

Could 58 Million Customers Be Wrong?

Bucking the downward trend we see, hear and read about with mind-numbing frequency, McDonald's Corporation announced Tuesday it will open 650 more outlets in 2009! The fast-food chain also reported it currently serves 58 million customers a day – that's two million more than in 2007.

A McDonald's spokesman attributed the countercyclical success to "…smartMcdonalds
strategies." I'd suggest it has more to do with horrific dietary habits and the need for "comfort food" in hard times.

It pains me to see a company that is capitalizing on the ills of society profit in such an obscene way. The big oil companies are the same way: raking in record profits (until lately) while depleting natural resources and wreaking havoc on the environment.

So, who's the real villain? The smart, strategic McDonald's marketer or the gluttonous consumer who continues to inhale Mickey D's calorie-laden, artery-clogging meals in record numbers?

I'm sure McDonald's feels they're merely serving a market need and would argue that consumers are responsible for their own health (in much the same way the NRA argues that guns don't kill people. People kill people.).

Still, there's something fundamentally wrong with a landscape that sports decades-old, family-owned businesses going belly up while yet another greasy fast food restaurant puts up its golden arches.

My mind (and stomach) tells me that 58 million people are wrong. Dead wrong.

Jan 27

The B in B-School Now Stands for “Battered”

I read yesterday's Financial Times' annual rankings of top business schools with unusual interest. Having represented the B-schools at Duke, UNC and UCLA, I know how important the rankings are. And, having spoken with several friends at top business schools, I knew some were feeling the impact of the recent economic downturn.

But, the FT section revealed a perfect storm in the once rarified world of theWharton-309x310
business schools. Many have lost 25 percent or more of their endowments, forestalling new building initiatives and program expansion. Prospective students, who had ridden out previous economic downturns by seeking the safety of a two-year graduate business degree, can no longer afford the high costs. And, with endowments dwindling, the B-schools simply can't afford to offer financial aid.

As is the case in other, hard hit sectors, the very best B-schools will most certainly improvise and, ultimately, emerge as stronger, more relevant institutions of higher learning. Others, though, will flunk out.

I've always been amused by the importance ascribed to the rankings by B-school administrators. Otherwise smart, sober and sophisticated businesspeople despair if the dear alma mater drops a rank or two in the FT, US News or BusinessWeek rankings. At the same time, students, faculty and administrators alike reenact New Year's Eve on campus should the school do well.

I remember listening to one endless debate among Ph.D's trying to decide whether it was prudent to merchandise the school's recent number three ranking in executive education. They'd not been in the top 20 the year before, so this was a big deal. Some argued for t-shirts, coffee mugs, advertisements, etc. Others, though, worried the school might drop in the subsequent rankings. "We'll look like fools then if we gloat now." The cooler heads prevailed and nothing was done.

I have to believe some of those very same administrators are now debating more weighty issues, such as, "How are we going to attract new students when they can't afford tuition and we can't afford financial aid?" It's a business conundrum only a top business school could truly appreciate.

Jan 26

Start the Conversation

If it wasn't for good friend and fellow PR pro Sydney Ayers, I'd still be unaware of the plight of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

Syd called me last October and asked if Peppercom would consider pro bono work for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Ad Council (which was developing an ad campaign for the group).IAVA

I paused for a nanosecond and then said, "Sure." It was one of my few smart decisions in recent months.

Working with Paul Rieckhoff and his staff at IAVA has been a real joy. I've learned so much about a subject of which I knew so little. And, my firm is charged up to step in and generate some meaningful publicity to help the vets.

The challenge? Letting returning veterans know that there's a support infrastructure here at home to help them with their post-traumatic stress disorder issues. Simultaneously, we'll be connecting with the families and friends of vets to educate them on the warning signs of PTSD. You can find information on each here and here.

Paul Rieckhoff has written a page-turner of a book about Iraq and the returning vets called Chasing Ghosts. There's also a riveting, award-winning documentary film on the subject called When I Came Home.

With all of America's current challenges, it's easy to overlook the plight of returning veterans. But, here's the deal: they volunteered their lives to protect us and now it's our turn to step up and return the favor. So, start the conversation. Do it by visiting one of the sites and seeing how you might be able to help. The vets aren't asking for a lot: just to know that PTSD isn't something to be ashamed of and that a network of trained mental health experts are available to help them deal with their issues.

It's a great cause and I know that Paul Rieckhoff and his IAVA troops would appreciate anything you or your organization could do. So, speak up. It's never too late to start the conversation with a returning vet.

Jan 23

It’s the Media, Stupid!

David Leonhardt's otherwise excellent column in the January 21st New York Times misses the mark in explaining why so many Americans are pessimistic about our short-term economic prospects.

Leonhardt does an exemplary job of comparing and contrasting today's travails with the last truly sizable recession in 1982. Despite the fact that the '82 downturn was more severe in almost every sense, Leonhardt reports that Americans were more bullish about an upturn than now.Recession

He explains the disconnect in two ways: the economic expansion that just ended a few months back wasn't nearly as strong as the one in the 1970s that preceded the last big recession. Second, people today seem to realize we haven't yet bottomed out and that the worst is yet to come.  

Here's the real reason everyone's so gloomy: it's the 24×7, non-stop negative stories from Leonhardt and his peers. It's the media, stupid! In my opinion, the media's a big reason why the downturn started in the first place and why we remain mired in despair.

I'm not suggesting they sugarcoat otherwise negative news. But the media's hyperbole, in combination with their round-the-clock need to feed the beast keeps Americans scared. It's the current day version of the 2002-'03 "heightened terrorist alerts." Remember how the initial ones just paralyzed people with fear? Leonhardt & Co. are doing the exact same thing today with their reportage. C'mon David. Cut us some slack and report something positive for once.

Jan 22

Finding the Right Mole

Erstwhile strategy consultant Richard Harte, Ph.D. was a strong proponent of finding and nurturing a "mole" within a prospective client organization. It was Dick's contention that a mole could perform two critical functions in a new business pitch: provide inside intelligence and advocate on our behalf.

Dick's advice was spot on and we often succeeded in identifying a mole and working with her/him in a win-win way to swing the deciding votes in our favor. Other times, though, the mole strategy has completely backfired on us.

Long ago and far away, we were invited to pitch a major consumer products company. The budget was huge and the competitive agency field comparatively small. The "mole" within the company had fallen in love with Peppercom from afar and promised to guide us through the multiple stage selection process. Talk about manna from heaven.

The mole reviewed our RFP, suggested edits and even came into our office to meet the pitch team in advance. She also gave us a download on the personalities we'd be meeting in the final presentation. What more could an agency ask for?

Presentation day came. The meeting went well, but there were some hiccups. The mole thought otherwise, pulled us into her office and exclaimed, "Hiring you is a no-brainer!" Awesome!

The next day, though, the mole called to say the firm that had pitched just before us had won the business. Say what? Wait, you told us we'd hit a home run and that hiring us was a no-brainer. How could you have said that if you'd sat through the competitor's pitch the day before? What changed?

Sadly, the mole couldn't or wouldn't shed additional light on the subject. And, we were left with the realization that our mole was either clueless, conniving, or some variation thereof. The lesson? Choose your moles wisely and filter their "inside information" through your own reality lens before proceeding.

Jan 21

Celebrating 30 Years of Incompetence

I spotted an ad for a Lionel train set as I was sitting on a stalled NJ Transit train the other day. The ad was pushing Lionel train sets at a 20 percent discount for NJ Transit passengers in honor of NJT's 30th anniversary. Holy cow, thought I,  NJT has been torturing passengers for three decades now? How 'bout that?

And then I thought: how 'bout this dubious co-branded partnership between Lionel and NJT?

Typically, we create win-win partnerships with non-competitive organizations that are at least the equal of, if not superior, to our clients in terms of image and reputation. I can't ever remember suggesting a partnership with such an obviously bogus brand as NJT.

What must the marketing geniuses at Lionel have been thinking at the time? "Guys, we have tons of these crummy steam train sets lying around and the boss wants them out of here pronto. I want ideas on how to offload them on an unsuspecting public that a) has no discretionary money whatsoever and b) would much rather buy video games for little Jimmy. Thoughts?Train

Yes, Phlegmstein? Create a partnership with the worst commuter train line in the Northeast? Burn through our few remaining marketing dollars to create in-train posters that will catch the eye of angry, stressed out commuters offering 20 percent discounts? Interesting. Go on. It's also New Jersey Transit's 30th anniversary? Wow, this is a perfect storm! Well done, Phlegmstein. Get chugging!"

Can you imagine any pissed off NJT passenger spying this ill-conceived, woefully executed poster campaign and thinking, "By golly, baby Abdul loves throwing rocks at trains as they speed by our trailer. Why not honor NJT's decades of service, purchase a train set for the lad and save some of my hard-earned dollars in the process?"

There are bad marketing ideas and then there are the Lionel Trains/NJ Transit partnerships that simply defy logic.

As for celebrating NJT's anniversary, I'd suggest instead a subtle, but compelling, update of the tagline I created a while back: "NJT: Just train bad for 30 years."

Jan 20

Honey, I’ve Been Giving it Some Thought and Have Decided to Put Our Marriage Up For Review

Imagine that your spouse of three years suddenly announces he's decided to "put the marriage up for review." He tells you that the relationship has been solid up until now, that you've performed above and beyond his expectations, but he'd still like to see "what else is out there."

You're flabbergasted. But, to his credit, he reads your non-verbals and tries to calm you down by adding, "Look, I've always thought it healthy to review my relationships every three years or so and, besides, the incumbent always has the advantage in these situations."

Hopefully, you've never encountered this scenario in your personal life. But, for agencies of all stripes, it's a way of life.

Usually, a review occurs after a new client management team moves into place. But, accounts can also go into review for no reason at all.

Every client has the prerogative to review his or her agency relationships. But, to do it "…every few years" is harmful to the momentum of the existing relationship. It's also a huge time suck and, even if the incumbent does somehow retain the account, things are never quite the same.

Agency reviews are like death and taxes. They're a certainty. And, as erstwhile NFL Coach Bum Phillips once said, "There are two types of coaches: dems that are fired and dems that are about to be fired." Ditto with agencies.

Oh, and just for the record, the incumbent never has the advantage in a review.

Jan 16

The Power of Co-Branding – in 30 Minutes or Less

Guest post by Sandy Pfaff

While it’s often fun to point out the mistakes of branding gone bad, when companies get it right, it’s cause for celebration.  Just in time for this year’s SuperBowl, I can now buy a Dominos pizza right from my TiVo.  Tivo_logo_man

Although this won’t do much to tame the obesity issues in this country, if done right, this is a brilliant marketing partnership.  And one can only imagine what’s next for so-called “T-commerce” opportunities.  Co-branding with Ticketmaster for sporting and entertainment events; collaboration with Fresh Direct or Safeway.com for grocery delivery.  Even better, how about a partnership with Ethan Allen to upgrade that couch? 

Launched in November, the promotion has just now made its way to my neck of the woods, or maybe being hungry made me see it for the first time.  While the introductory video and mini-advertisement could be better, that’s ok – I’m already hooked.   The convenience is pretty unbeatable, and in a perfect world we’d use that time saving 30-minute delivery window for other good things like spending quality time with our family and loved ones, going for a run to make room for that pizza, or paying bills on time.  Nah, let’s just watch more TV.  I’ll take a veggie – hold the onions.