May 29

Father Cutie’s cutie forces right decision

May 29 - Alberto Cutie This former alter boy is psyched to see Roman Catholic priest Alberto Cutie walk away from the absurdities of the Church's celibacy rule and, girlfriend in hand, move to the Episcopalian faith.

It's a big deal since Cutie is extremely high profile and known as Miami's 'Father Oprah.' He was beloved by parishioners, but caught making out in public with his girlfriend. And, that's a no-no for a Catholic priest. So, the Church gave him an ultimatum: ditch the woman or the faith.

Rather than walk away from his natural feelings and the love of his life, Father Cutie instead turned his back on celibacy and the Catholic Church. And, I say 'Bravo!'

Church leaders established celibacy in the Middle Ages to prevent married priests from passing down their accumulated wealth to the next generation. They wanted the money to stay right where it was: in the church coffers.

Celibacy is simply not a natural state of life. In my opinion, it's also the root cause of the Church's long-standing problems with pedophilia. Celibacy attracts men who want to be with other men and, sadly, with little boys as well.

As a current non-practicing Catholic, I applaud Father Cutie's move. I hope he and his cutie have a happy and healthy life ahead. As for the Church, this is yet another image and reputation setback for an institution that is badly out of sync with the realities of the modern world.

May 28

The six lies of Henry VIII

May 28 - the-tudors Catharine 'Goose' Cody and I have been captivated by the plot twists and turns of the second season of the Showtime series, 'The Tudors.' The Goose is quite the fan of all things 'Ennnery' and somehow manages to find a new book on the subject on an almost weekly basis.

That said, the show's historical inaccuracies are enough to make us want to behead our remote control (or at least banish a battery or two).

To begin with, there's Jonathan Rhys Myers, who plays Henry. He's a fine actor and, says Catharine who likes to use Elizabethian prose at every opportunity, 'quite fetching.' Now, that was fine when Rhys Myers was portraying the youthful, 'rock star' Henry who bounced from Catherine of Aragon to Anne Boleyn to Jane Seymour faster than one can say 'The Reformation.' But, we're deep into the saga now and, despite a nagging leg wound, the Rhys Myers' version of Henry Tudor still looks like an up-and-coming bantamweight boxer. As everyone with a wit of historical knowledge knows, though, the historical Henry aged rapidly and, by the time, he'd dumped Anne of Cleeves in favor of the young tart, Catherine Howard, looked more like a pale version of Notorious B.I.G. than Snoop Dog.

The other characters' physical appearance also strains credulity. The actress portraying the notoriously unattractive Anne of Cleeves is a real looker who, in fact, bears a passing resemblance to the young Ingrid Bergman (who stole the hearts of Bogie and about 40 million other red-blooded American men when the film debuted in 1942).

Every actor sports perfect, pearly white teeth, neatly coiffed hair and immaculate wardrobes. This at a time, mind you, when personal hygiene was virtually nonexistent. The average Tudor subject bathed once or twice annually. Oral hygiene was unknown. And pigs, cows, sheep and other animals wandered London's streets mixing their filth with the human refuse. In short, it wasn't pretty.

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May 27

Back to being a Brooks Bros. buyer

May 27 - brooks_brothers_ci I'm back. Not that the fine folks at Brooks Brothers were ever aware I was gone. But, I was. I disappeared for about two decades.

I began my business career with Brooks. I can still recall my first boss's advice to '…..ditch that tan polyester number and get thee to a Brooks store.' I followed his advice and, like every other male staffer at Hill & Knowlton in the late 1970s, proudly donned my conservative, conformist blue and gray Brooks' suits every single day.

But, times changed and so did I. I moved up the fashion ladder to trendier American brands. Then, sometime in the late 1980s, I discovered Armani, Gucci and Zegna. I saw Brooks as a snobby, stultifying vestige of the past, especially when the uber informal, go-go dotcom days dawned.

In the past few years, though, Brooks has re-surfaced on my fashion radar screen. I still buy Zegna suits and jackets, but now I go to Brooks exclusively for my sweaters and golf shirts. I love their amazing range of colors and, for some odd reason, really dig sporting their corporate logo (it's almost the anti-Polo which, to me, has become passé).

Don't ask me why, but Brooks is back and this buyer's buying. Life may or may not be a circle, but I've come full circle with a brand that is once again a must-buy.

May 26

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

Despite the best-intentioned efforts of our crack IT Manager Kel Q., Russian spammers continue to fool our Anti-Spam Filtering Service by constantly changing their point of origin.

Russian I'm routinely peppered with all sorts of Russian spam, which to the best of my limited Eastern European language skills, seems to be much the same as the crap I receive in English. Am I angry? Nyet. Am I interested in a ceasefire and possible rapprochement? Da.

Kel tells me that, even though he blocks these digital Russian ICBMs as soon as I forward them, some sort of nefarious Dr. Strangelove-like supercomputer immediately finds another way through our firewall.

So, in the tradition of Glasnost and Perestroika, I'd like to offer my Russian spammer friends some sort of SALT II-type arrangement: you stand down on the non-stop spam invasions and I'll find ways in which to highlight Messrs Putin, Gorbachev, Brenhzev and other legendary former and current Communists in my blogs. I'll bet there are plenty of positive image and reputation angles if one merely looks below the surface. For example:

- How about the impact on the image of shoes after Kruschev used his to pound a table at the U.N. and vow to bury capitalism?

- Or, how about one on Iceland's tourism trade in the immediate aftermath of the Reagan-Gorbachev tête-à-tête?

- What about one on Leon Trotsky? Was his assassination in Mexico City the precursor of that country's drug wars?

I'm open to a thaw in my virtual Cold War with Russian spammers. Comrades, let's tear down this virtual wall.

May 21

Because I said so, that’s why.

Guest Post by Maggie O’Neill

May 22 - mommy blogger Because I said so, that’s why. An iconic Mom-phrase that resonates with most of us but is taking on new meaning in the marketing world today.  The power of what Mom says – and even the word Mom itself – is quickly becoming the industry’s hottest new ticket, despite the fact that Moms have been around and influencing purchasing since the beginning of time. Eve…Apple?

From terms like Mamaste to Momosphere, the Power Moms, identified by Nielsen  as ages 25-54 with at least one child, have a voice that is $2 trillion dollars strong for US brands* and make up  20 percent of today’s  online population.  And the group itself is becoming more diverse year after year, demanding targeted marketing to their definition of “mom.”

With all this buzz and promise, a misstep or two by the marketing industry and we could be headed for a “mom-com” bust.  One mom told me that she complained about the benefits of a face care product online.  She got an email back and a Tweet apologizing that they fell short and that they were sending her a free sample of the exact same product.  Great opportunity, completely blown. 

Why?  The almost automated response and one way conversation from the company , plus the fact that they sent what the mom considered a bad product back to her, not only pushed her away, but you know she told a million people about it by now.  What should they have done?   The face care company had a perfect opportunity to engage this mom in a dialogue and find out what the issues were and if another product might make more sense for her.  Did her friends have similar issues?  Could they provide another recommendation, coupons to one of their other product lines for her family?  Simply asking what they could do rather than pushing back a bad solution would have helped them not only win back this mom, but remain a recommended brand to her network and influencers.

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May 20

Comedy as a competitive advantage

I once worked for a guy who liked to say, 'Business is just like war and every day is a new battle.' A little depressing to say the least, but not altogether untrue.

May 20 - jerry I often think of his quote as we, like every other business entity, struggle to figure out new and strategic revenue streams. Happily, and I do mean happily, we've stumbled across a real beaut of a new service offering.

We've added stand-up comedy training workshops to our existing Peppercom State management development offerings (and are about to offer a packaged version for clients and prospects). We work with Clayton Fletcher, my personal comedy coach, and typically hold 90 minute to three hour sessions. We've done them for every level of the organization. And, each session has been better than its predecessor.

We talk about the four different types of comedy, the importance of laughter to business and explain how comedy can be leveraged as a distinct competitive advantage (i.e. When all things are equal, prospective clients will choose the firm they liked the most). Each and every one of our employees 'performs' for three or four minutes (except for one employee, who ended up doing her own one-hour special).

Each and every session produces a 'star.' We always find someone who, unexpectedly, totally rocks the audience. That, in turn, helps management decide who might work well as part of an upcoming pitch team. The sessions are amazing bonding exercises. Everyone pulls for one another and laughs at one another's jokes. And, certain performances become instant agency lore (i.e. One person's fear of birds, another's kayaking adventures and a third's issues with restroom design).

Comedy is now a strategic weapon at Peppercom. Ad Age thought enough of it to assign a reporter to participate in one of our sessions and tell her tale. And, now we're about to offer a workshop for clients that will be led by Clayton and include all of the learnings and refinements we've added along the way (each presentation is videotaped, for example, and individual critiques provided after the fact).

As a performing comedian myself, I know how much comedy has helped me in business. At a time when every organization is looking to improve internal morale while sealing more external deals, comedy can play a decisive role in winning tomorrow's battle. It isn't right for every organization (especially those that manage by fear or take themselves too seriously). But, if the stars are properly aligned, comedy will make a major impact on your company's success.

May 19

The spokesperson from hell

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. has some kind of crisis on its hands. Seems a 'celebrity' spokesperson hired by the pharmaceutical maker to shill for its bipolar disorder medication, Abilify, not only stopped taking it, but now says the pill made him feel worse than anything else he's taken before or since. Ouch!

May 19 - Sum05_SOAndy Behrman, who suffers from bipolar disorder, underwent electric shock therapy and later wrote a book about his struggles, was paid a total of $400,000 over the course of a few years to say good things about Abilify. Problem is, he didn't like it, only took it for a few days and said it caused 'stiffness and agitation in his legs' and 'clouded his thinking.'

Bristol-Myers spokespeople said Berman never breathed a word about his issues with the drug while under contract. Behrman says otherwise. In addition to slamming Bristol-Myers, the spokesperson from hell also threw a PR agency media trainer named Elyse Margolis under the bus. He says she schooled him to reiterate in interviews that Abilify had no side effects; to say the drug had 'saved' him; and to avoid mentioning he was being paid by Bristol-Myers. If asked about the latter, he was to answer truthfully, say he couldn't disclose the amount and 'move on.'

This is one tough dilemma. What does an organization do when it has a rogue spokesperson on its hands? Behrman is no longer under contract and free to say anything he wants (which he's obviously doing in spades). For its part, Bristol-Myers is trotting out other, happier spokespeople to defend the drug, which rang up sales of $2.15 billion last year. The big pharma company can only hope The Wall Street Journal article doesn't spawn a feeding frenzy by a 24X7 news beast just spoiling for a new crisis.

We've never had to deal with a true spokesperson from hell. My partner, Ed, once worked with a software maker CEO who also happened to be a part-time cult leader. He claimed to elevate people and turn conference rooms gold. Happily, he only discussed software challenges in the interviews we arranged. Another media-trained client did a remarkable job in a Crain's Chicago Business interview. He kept to the script, nailed his points and happily escorted the reporter to the elevator. And, that's where everything went South. 'Great office space,' mused the reporter. 'Oh, we're moving next week,' responded the effusive client. 'In fact, we've signed a long-term lease for 20,000 square feet on Main Street.' Guess what angle the reporter chose to pursue?

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May 18

You are now entering a killing zone

May 18 - smoking I was in Atlantic City Friday night to see some boxing. I took my dad, my son and my brother, John. My dad was an amateur boxer in the 1940s. Rep, Jr., boxed in Vermont's Golden Gloves tournament. And John and me? Well, we follow the sport.

Fully expecting to be dismayed by the sleazy, tawdry surroundings that are synonymous with casinos and gambling, I was nonetheless taken aback by what I walked into at Harrah's. Smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Cigarette smokers were everywhere, forming a veritable cancer on the casino landscape, if you will.

John told me Atlantic City's casinos had lobbied the city government to rescind its smoke-free environment laws a few years back. The casinos were losing too much money, he said. So, the local pols caved, smoking was re-established and the gamblers returned.

But, what about unsuspecting visitors like me? Second-hand smoke has been proven to cause cancer. Why should non-smokers have to wade through the 'resort's' toxic haze and inhale the carcinogenic fumes en route to the boxing matches?

Atlantic City casinos should be forced to place a warning on each and every one of their billboards, advertisements and digital promotions. I suggest a surgeon general's type warning that advises tourists they'll not only be assaulted by bright lights, eardrum-smashing music and the sight of sad, broken-down people feeding quarters into slot machines, but also enough second-hand cigarette smoke to wipe out an entire army. 'You are now entering a killing zone' would also work nicely.

And how about a billboard on the way out of Atlantic City that reads, 'Thank you for losing your money, seeing our B-level stars and inhaling our second-hand smoke. We are not responsible for your future heart and lung disease. Drive safely.’

May 15

Talk about sending mixed signals

May 15 - cougar-199x300 It was only a matter of time before the sleazeballs responsible for reality TV programming stumbled upon the 'cougars' concept. For the uneducated, cougars are older women who date younger guys. Cougars are considered hip, cool and uber-hot.

At the same time they're celebrating the rise of the cougar, though, the reality TV programming sleazeballs continue to entrap older guys who hit on younger girls. Chris Hanson and Dateline NBC have been ensnaring middle-aged guys in search of younger 'dates' for years ('C'mon in. I'm just getting changed. There's some lemonade and cookies on the counter for you.').

Ok, I know there's a big difference between men who cruise underage chat rooms and arrange meetings with teens and older women who date younger guys. But, why ensnare and entrap one while empowering and enabling the other? Isn't there something disturbing about both?

And, why does society 'wink' when female teachers sleep with grammar or high school boys but show immediate disgust and contempt to male offenders caught doing the same heinous thing?

Middle-aged guys have been taking a beating at Hollywood's hands for years. We're always depicted as stumbling and bumbling, and in desperate need of the distaff side to save the day. That's B.S., and sends serious mixed signals to our kids in general, and little boys in particular.

Yes, Virginia, society says it's cool for older women to hit on younger men. We even give them cute, animal nicknames: cougars. Older guys who do the exact same thing get animal nicknames as well: pigs. And, trust me, that's one word you do not want to hear in the midst of a swine flu epidemic.

May 14

Living is easy with eyes closed

May 14 - RFP I've been racking what's left of my brain to find a suitable topic to match one of my favorite John Lennon lyrics: 'Living is easy with eyes closed.' Then, it struck me. The words are a perfect description of serial prospects.

Serial prospects are like serial killers. They stalk agencies, tempt them with some sort of offer (i.e. new business) and then leave them in tatters.

Three serial prospects upended our agency in the first quarter. All three asked for full-blown creative proposals, in-person presentations and meeting the specific account team with whom they'd work. All three have subsequently gone silent. Some claimed that key decision-makers were on vacation (Man, that's my kind of vacation). Others said they were still weighing their decision (How many months does it take to choose an agency?). Then, there was the one who simply didn't respond to our follow-up inquiries. Nice.

Living is easy with eyes closed, especially when one is in the power position. These are heady times for serial prospects. They can dangle RFPs, pick at many brains as they like, select the best ideas and then go away on an extended vacation.

Another Lennon lyric from 'Strawberry Fields' comes to mind when thinking of serial prospects: 'It's getting hard to be someone, but it all works out.' We agency types move on and, somehow, it does all work out. But, how do serial prospects live with themselves?

I hope for their sakes they hang onto their jobs. Because, if I happen to see one of their resumes float across my desk, I just may play the role of serial prospect employer. And, that would be a hard day's night for some unsuspecting serial prospect.