Dec 30

No fine wine is this

There are several films and plays that stand up amazingly well over time. ‘Harvey,’ ‘Fargo’ and ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ are three that, like fine wine, seem to stand the test of time. ‘Death of a Salesman’ is another period piece that has aged well. So, too is ‘On the Waterfront.’

December 30 - hairbwaycover But, ‘Hair’ doesn’t stand up. It fact, if one were to badly muck up metaphors, it’s completely bald from an entertainment and relevance standpoint.

In the interests of full transparency, I must say that I was too young to have been aware of the nanosecond in time that Hair purports to capture (circa 1967-’68, when the Vietnam War was at its height and draft dodgers were either fleeing to Canada or burning their draft cards). But, it really doesn’t matter. The song lyrics are indecipherable, the ‘plot’ incomprehensible and the end result as blah as a New Year’s morning’s hangover.

I’m all for revivals and I’m always game for a Eugene O’Neill or Rodgers & Hammerstein production. But, whoever decided that now was the time to cash in on aging baby boomers and their love of the Age of Aquarius must have been ingesting some of the LSD the cast members keep referring to. My advice is to avoid this play like Camus’ ‘Plague.’ And, if you should have a ticket to see Hair, burn it. Or, at the very least, take a day-trip to Montreal instead.

Dec 29

It’s Scotland, not Ireland, that needs a tourism campaign (or not)

Ireland has launched a new publicity campaign focusing on U.S. television, newspapers and the Internet. Ireland needs a new tourism campaign about as much as that drunk at the end of the bar needs another pint of Guinness. It’s Ireland’s Scottish sibling that is in need of publicity (or not).
December 29 - cuillin-mountains-scotland-backside

I’ve traveled throughout England, Ireland and Scotland, and the latter is far and away the most beautiful. In fact, there’s really no comparison whatsoever. Ireland’s Ring of Kerry is to Cleveland what Scotland’s Isle of Skye is to San Francisco. And, even that analogy doesn’t do the latter justice.

Scotland is an amazingly well-kept tourism secret. Aside from golfing and fly fishing, few Americans, if any, give the nation a second thought. And, according to my most excellent Scottish friend and guide, Peter Khambatta, that may be just as well. The last thing Scotland’s pristine lochs, mountains and landscapes needs is a horde or American tourists mucking up its finery. So, perhaps, it’s just as well that Ireland spends the money to attract Americans to an otherwise mediocre vacation experience while (whilst?) Scotland remains a decidedly under-the-radar and absolutely world-class destination.

Dec 23

The four things in life one can count on

There are four things in life one can count on:Comcastic_1ebd1

1.) Death
2.) Taxes
3.) Horrific service from NJ Transit (which is experiencing daylong, system-wide delays as we speak)
4.) Quarterly service disruptions from Comcast

The latter is a particular source of ongoing misery. For some reason, Comcast yanks the plug on my on-demand service every two months or so. And, every two months or so, I find myself stuck in their customer service voice mail hell (which, had it existed in Dante's time, would have been included in his 'Inferno').

On the other hand, Comcast has built a world-class social media response network designed to counteract its abysmal service side. So, here's a pre-holiday plea from a blogger in need. Comcast Social Media Guy: can you get involved and helped me get my on-demand service back ASAP? If you do, I promise to write a favorable follow-up blog as a kind of virtual stocking stuffer for you.

Dec 22

Bloggers of a certain age

December 22 - menofacertainage I'm starting to warm up to the new TNT series, 'Men of a Certain Age.' It stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher as three erstwhile college buddies who have stayed tight and are now helping one another navigate the murky waters of middle age.

Romano, who owns a party store, has lost a marriage because of a gambling addiction. Bakula, meanwhile, is an actor, who pays the bills as a temp working at an accounting firm and dates a 25-year-old woman. Braugher is an obese, diabetic who holds down a stressful job as a salesman at his father's car dealership.

The guys bond during a daily, two-mile hike in the hills. It's there that they discuss women, careers and failed ambitions. It's good stuff.

I like the gritty reality of the show. Middle age brings with it a stark reality that young people simply can't imagine. Parents die. Friends grow old. The eyes grow weak. The joints grow stiff. The reactions become noticeably slower. And, yet, the Mets and Jets still somehow keep losing (at least there are some constants).

Middle age is also an interesting battle ground for one's image and reputation. My friend, Maria, is appalled by people 'our age' who have 'given up' and refuse to exercise or party because '….they think they're too old for that.' She argues that, actuarially speaking, people of a certain age still have another 35 or 40 years ahead of us and should 'keep fighting the good fight.' I agree, Maria. Go get 'em.

While I fight my daily battle to keep things in place, I also look forward to learning new things and experiencing new experiences. Someone once said, 'youth is wasted on the young.' I don't necessarily agree. I don't think I would have enjoyed running Peppercom, performing stand-up comedy, climbing on ice, snow and rock, cycling, blogging or the myriad other things that fill my days and nights. The fact is I wouldn't have had the depth or breadth to do most of the things I've done in middle age.

December 22 - mountain
Many men of a certain age possess a world weariness to be sure. But, others exude the confidence and wisdom that only comes with experience. That's huge. And, that's why I really enjoy being a blogger of a certain age. Sure, I have my fill of bad days. Days when I feel like chucking it all and settling down on Scotland's Isle of Skye for perpetuity. But, then, some new challenge or opportunity presents itself and, boom, I'm off and running again (literally). The newest challenge: occasional guest blogger Rob Longert and I will be running the Central Park half-marathon in late January. Brrrr.

Middle age? Bring it on. This blogger of a certain age is ready for what's next.

Dec 21

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike

Guest Post By Matt Purdue, Peppercom

As the first 10 years of the 21st century draw to a close, one of the most successful social media tales of the decade is still peaking. It offers great lessons for anyone involved in this emerging communications space.

December 21 Eldon Nelson, 43, started his blog in 2005 as a way to share his tongue-in-cheek experiences riding his bike in an effort to lose weight. The Fat Cyclist became popular thanks to Nelson’s everyman approach to a subject to which many of us can relate. But, ironically, Nelson’s blog really took off after his wife was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Mixing equal parts humor, pathos and unabashed honesty, Nelson recounted his family’s long struggle with the disease in graphic detail.

After Nelson’s wife died in August 2009, traffic to his blog tripled.

Nelson has used the increasingly popularity of his blog to accomplish incredible good works. He helped form virtual teams of cyclists who raised more than $600,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. More recently, he inspired some 3,700 readers of his blog to donate more than $135,000 to LAF and World Bicycle Relief. The efforts earned Nelson a ride with Lance Armstrong and his new team.

Nelson’s formula presents a fantastic lesson for social media planners:
- Be honest…always
- Address subjects that people are passionate about
- Write with the everyday reader in mind
- Get your readers involved
- There are ways to measure success other than widgets sold

Happy holidays to Fatty and everyone out there.

Dec 17

Churn baby, churn

December 17 - trump-youre-fired Having been burned one too many times by one too many prospects/clients who hire us to just turn around and fire us, we've buttoned up our new business screening process. I won't bore you with the details, but it's based on Six Sigma and actually produces a score telling us whether to proceed with the search.

One of the key criteria is 'agency churn.' We ask the prospect how many agencies she's retained in the last three years. If the number exceeds two, we politely decline.

Clients who churn agencies are toxic, and we've had more than our share. For example:

- The technology company CEO who loved our big idea so much that he offered to buy it in the middle of the pitch. He changed his mind, hired us instead, spent a month having us create the infrastructure necessary to implement the idea, and then fired us. Sayonara, Sam.
- The I.T. company marketing executive who hired us in the morning and fired us in the afternoon after learning he didn't have the budget he thought he'd had. Although it happened nearly a decade ago, the account still holds the agency record for 'briefest relationship.'
- The Fortune 500 company PR director who said he was looking for a true strategic partner, turned us into order takers for 15 months and then fired us because 'we were great with ideas, but weak on execution.' It turned out we were his third agency in three years.

Back in the early 1990s, I worked for the now defunct Earle Palmer Brown. We were desperately seeking business at the time and accepted an invitation to pitch Weight Watchers, a company that put the 'C' in churn. We won the business and, sure enough, were fired six months later (that was a matter of making a pact with the devil. We knew WW had a terrible reputation).

Walking away from new business is always difficult, especially in this economy. But, one of our key New Year's resolutions is to make sure the prospect is buying what we're selling. And, if they're notorious for repeatedly blowing up agency relationships, we'll walk away.

One would hope the image and reputations of these churn and burn clients would go up in smoke, but somehow they survive and keep on baiting the latest, unsuspecting agency. I'd love to see the Council of PR Firms survey its membership and publish a top 10 list of the most egregious churners. Talk about providing a value add. Kathy/Matt: how about it?

Dec 16

Call me the (texting) tumbling dice

Aside from falling off the side of a mountain, drowning during a triathlon or simply slumping Padded_post over my desk after suffering a rogue heart attack, I think I know how I'll die. I'll be busy texting as I stride along one of Manhattan's side streets when, boom, I'll tumble head over heels into one of those sidewalk cellar doors that seem to always be in the fixed, upright and open position. That's where they'll find my body buried in produce, neck badly broken, hand still clutching the damn Blackberry.

I've already had a few close calls. That's why I'm thrilled to see there's a new iPhone application called Type n Walk. It was literally designed to save my life, since It provides a texting walker a view of what lies ahead.

Susan Dominus, a New York Times columnist, likens texting while walking to texting while driving. I disagree. It's one thing to be distracted while driving a 2,000 pound car at 65 mph. It's quite another to be walking slowly while texting. I'll admit the latter isn't smart or particularly healthy, but it's not necessarily jeopardizing other people's lives.

I can't wait to download the Type n Walk. I just hope it’s sensitive enough to pick up those damn, dark cellar doors. I'm worried they may one day become the iceberg to my RMS Titanic.

Dec 15

Tell your statistics to shut up!

In his seminal 1969 book about major league baseball, former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton wrote about his salary negotiation with Seattle Mariners' Manager Barney Schultz.

Bouton came fully armed for the meeting with reams of statistics showing how many games he'd saved, runners he'd stranded, etc. His goal was a modest salary increase for the upcoming season. Schultz, after reviewing Bouton's data, flung the pages back at the pitcher and yelled, 'Tell your statistics to shut up. No raise.'

December 15 - of white paper.11132009 I was reminded of the Bouton-Schultz saga as I powered through an otherwise extraordinarily superb research paper co-published by Advertising Age and JWT, and called. 'The rise of the real mom.'

It's a lengthy treatise that examines what today's mom really wants and needs, and updates the conventional wisdom that most women aspire to be 'super mom.’ According to the report, the real mom 'wants' four things:

1) To make every dollar count
2) To put her family first
3) Permission to be imperfect (Ladies: permission granted by RepMan, for what that's worth)
4) To be seen as more than just a mom

I was really soaking up the insights until I was stopped in my tracks by what I saw as both negative stereotyping and, frankly, a cheap shot taken at the expense of who else, but men.

In discussing parenting, the report says only men aged 30-44 prioritize parenting as much as women. It goes on to state that, when it comes to parenting, 'men peak at 30 to 44 and dramatically de-prioritize parenting as they age. For men, it's like, I've done my job, I've gone to the baseball games, I've paid for your college education; now you're on your own.' That quote came from Marian Muley, founder of the 85% Niche, a consulting firm dedicated to helping business grow market share among women across ethnic, racial and socioeconomic lines.

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Dec 14

All aboard for the pain train!

My daily commuting experience on NJ Transit is almost always marred by some sort of delay, over-crowded and under-heated cars and a cell phone user who insists on sharing his conversation with everyone.

December 14 - makeup The worst offenders, though, are the women who 'put on their face' right alongside me. As I'm reading a book or paper, or editing a bylined article, Jane Doe has her compact out and is carefully applying her lipstick, powdering her nose and fine-tuning the eyebrows. Recently, I sat across the aisle from a woman who was actually plucking out her gray hair and flicking the strands in the aisle.

I was simultaneously amused and appalled.

Leaving behind one's newspaper and empty coffee cup is one thing (and, in some ways, it's a silent 'up yours' to NJT for its horrific service). But, yanking out one's hair in public is way, way over the line.

Ah, but there's the rub. There is no line anymore. As the pillars of society implode so, too, do the rules for conduct and behavior. I think it's actually worsened in the wake of the recent economic downturn. I see and experience behavior that leaves me speechless.

I believe one should be prepared for work when one boards the 7:28. So, here's a note to Jane Doe: leave the damn cosmetic box at home. In fact, if you don't immediately cease and desist, I'm going to bring my shaving kit along and lather up as you're plucking. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Readers, please feel free to share any other particularly egregious behavior you’ve witnessed by others during the morning commute.

Dec 11

RepMan, Sr., vs. RepMan, Jr.: A microcosm of the great American debate 

December 11 Guest Post from Chris "RepMan, Jr." Cody

RepMan and I take pleasure in discussing geopolitical issues with each other. Though we agree on many issues, President Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan has led to the most profound disagreement we’ve had in recent memory. RepMan is staunchly against sending the troops while I am vociferously in favor of it. Though we have amicably agreed to disagree, our debate translates to the wider dispute throughout the nation.  Getting this decision right will directly impact the image and reputation of our country and our president.

RepMan, like many Americans, opposes Obama’s escalation of the war for several valid reasons.  First, he argues that if we couldn't win the war in eight years, why do we think we can now? Why continue to sacrifice young American lives? Second, RepMan points to the difficulty of sustaining attacks across the border into Pakistan. His third argument is that the liberal base will turn against Obama for escalating the war. Finally, perhaps the most convincing reason he cites is that the continuation of the war will drain more money from an already badly damaged American economy.

Rather than attempt to refute this logic, I believe one has to acknowledge it has a degree of validity. Yet when compared to the other end of the spectrum I am firmly in favor of the troop escalation. One must first recognize the war in Afghanistan is a war waged against both those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and their supporting ideology. The Bush administration, however, diverted the resources necessary to succeed away from Afghanistan and toward an irrational invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hence the reason we have not seen success in Afghanistan.  Now, with Iraq beginning to stabilize and a competent American leader finally at the helm, we have the chance to rethink and formulate an approach to successfully wage the war. A pull out would destabilize the region, sink the country into bloody civil war and embolden a highly dangerous Islamic terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans. 

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