Feb 26

Where are they now?

What do Efrem Luigi Epstein, Michael Zakkour and Sophie Hanson all have in common? They all worked at Peppercom. 

Linkedin Having read that companies such as IBM and Microsoft have not only built robust alumni networks, but also written millions of dollars of incremental business from loyal, former employees, I thought it was high time Peppercom reached out to the hundreds of people who have passed through our hallways over our 15-year run. So, drum roll please, welcome to the Peppercom alumni network

Having re-connected on Facebook with long-forgotten people from St. Francis Grammar School, Ridgefield Park High School and Northeastern University, I now look forward to chatting up the likes of Roger Dowling, Petey Harris and Ketley DeJesus. 

We're hoping to host monthly chats on our LinkedIn page, discuss topics of interest and just reminisce about those lazy, crazy, hazy days of yesteryear (and those clients from hell, the not-so-secret office liaisons and a softball team that ended up with a losing record regardless of who managed or played. Stein: you still rank as the all-time worst manager, though). 

So, that's it. If you're out there and want to re-connect, please do. And, if you're one of those former clients from hell, we'd love to hear from you as well, if only to tell you how we REALLY felt about working with you.

Feb 24

With Disney pulling the strings, ABC should stand for Always Be Cutting

My business partner recently wrote a glowing blog about his Disney experiences. There's no doubt Fct_a39e5ff862f9add that Disney does entertainment remarkably well. I'll bet Walt is smiling as he looks down from that Magic Kingdom in the sky.

That said, entertainment properties such as Disney have no real understanding of, or appreciation for, journalism. To them, it's an expense item. Period.

So, although it's sad to see, it comes as no surprise that Disney-owned ABC News is trimming 300 to 400 journalists from its staff. That's 25 percent of the total. ABC News president David Westin said "The time has come to rethink how we do what we are doing.” That's corporate speak for “I was just following orders.”

Journalism has really taken it on the chin in recent years. First, there were the acquisitions of ABC, NBC and others by media conglomerates. Then came the rise of the 500-plus cable channel universe. The real cataclysm, though, came with the social media explosion that gave rise to millions upon millions of citizen journalists. Choices were everywhere and everyone was calling herself a journalist. What was a poor news network to do?

ABC News never had a Walter Cronkite or Huntley/Brinkley. But, the network has produced some of the profession's best newscasters and journalists all the same.

The stripped-down remnants of the remaining operation prompt a Disney-like analogy in my mind: ABC News is Pinocchio to Disney's Geppetto. When business and entertainment types control the strings, objective news coverage suffers. And, we all pay the price for a society that continues to be dominated by sleazy tabloid 'news' as opposed to true journalism. Where are Woodward & Bernstein when we really need them?

Feb 24

Are You Smarter Than a 7th Grader?

Want to know the top technology trends for 2010 and beyond? Think you have your finger on what’s next for consumer electronics?  Is social networking as we know it on its way out? Marketers
today are struggling with these questions, but for true insider answers, we tried asking a 7th Grader. Jack DeFuria, 7th grader from Long Island, self-proclaimed techie and author of a recent article on tech trends (Smarter than a 7th Grader?)
sat down with the RepChatter gang to dish what’s hot and what’s not.

Listen as Jack schools Steve and Maggie (guest host) on what’s next when it comes to technology, what is keeping his generation entertained and insights from the next
generation of Steve Jobs’.


Feb 23

Is Toyota this decade’s Enron?

The latest terror suspect Najibullah Zazi, as well as the makers of Avandia and hot dogs have to be breathing a little easier this morning (well, at least the Avandia and hot dog makers are).

February 23 All three were caught in the crosshairs of breaking crises, but avoided being the lead item on nightly news and talk shows thanks to good, old Toyota.

Good and old are apt descriptors for the automaker. I say that because Toyota's management is practicing what was once considered smart management and crisis communications in the good, old days. Denial, obfuscation and evasiveness worked well in the dark, distant past. But that was then and this is now.

Silence seems to be the watchword of Toyota's communications strategy today. This, despite mounting evidence that their entire line of cars is stricken with a fatal flaw: an accelerator that doesn't have a fail safe mechanism.

As a result, politicians, consumer watchdog groups and investigative journalists alike are salivating like Pavlov's dog at the prospect of bringing down a big, bad business caught being a big, bad business. It's a Hollywood movie plot that screams out for the likes of Michael Douglas, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman in the lead roles.

And, it also goes to show that all the public relations and advertising in the world are meaningless if the product is rotten and the company's leaders are caught covering up the damage. All of which leads to my question of the day: Will Toyota be this decade's Enron?

Feb 22

Really Frustrating Process

February 22 - frustrated Most public relations firms hate the RFP process. In fact, most corporate PR executives with whom I've spoken aren't too fond of the process either.

Depending upon the organization (and, whether those lovely folks from procurement are involved), an RFP is an onerous undertaking. Beyond the basics, RFPs will ask everything from billings and profitability to hourly rates and the eye colors of the proposed account team.

RFPs are also cattle calls. It's rare that fewer than 10 firms are included in an initial search. Usually, the number is far larger, topping out at 100 for a recent Wikipedia clusterf**k.

That's why I'm amazed to see a series of non-stop spam RFPs from some outfit called AllPublicists. As you'll see from the e-mail, they indicate that, based upon our profile, we're being alerted to a new RFP on the AllPublicists.com web site. The budget is confidential. The retainer will be month-to-month and, if I want to know more, I have to pay $29.95 a month. Yeah, sure. AllPublicists probably has a bridge in Brooklyn they could make available for the right price as well.

I've told these guys to take me off their list. But, they haven't. So, I thought I'd go public with my request.

Note to AllPublicists: I hate RFPs. I'll respond to only those that are in our sweet spot, limited to a few other firms and come with a reasonable annual retainer. I would never, ever subscribe to an RFP web site. Nor would I waste my time searching the RFP section on the O'Dwyer's site that lists open competitions for, say, the $50k per annum North Dakota tourism account. RFP should stand for Really Frustrating Process. Few pay off. The vast majority are a total waste.

All publicists hate RFPs, AllPublicists. I'd suggest a different business model: maybe matching bridge sellers with potential buyers?

February 22

Feb 18

We Suck…but we’re working on it

Guest Post by Sam Gordon, Peppercom

February 18 - domino-pizzaLast month Domino’s Pizza started their Pizza Turnaround campaign, telling consumers that Domino’s has heard the complaints regarding their pizza and is responding. As I’m sure you’ve seen, Domino’s takes its campaign farther than simply advertising a new pizza. It displays real customers’ most negative tweets and comments with actual Domino’s chefs reacting to them.

I, for one, thought this was genius and audibly gave the ad a wow the first time I saw it. One of the rare times a company actually admits its mistakes (before a giant recall or government takeover) and makes a commitment to correct the course.

Knowing I had the money back guarantee in my back pocket if it was a train wreck, I picked up the phone and ordered two mediums for the first time in six years, i.e. college.

The result: eh.

Better? From what I recall of their pizza, yeah, it’s better – especially the crust. But I’m still not a fan of their pizza.

Here is what I am a fan of though: 

After my pizza experience, I took ten minutes and gave feedback on their corporate site. I received no immediate reply and thought I suppose those comments went into a database and will be ignored, or they’ll just cut me a check or perhaps they are planning to film a surprise visit to me with free pizza and use it for their next commercial?!

Actually, the last was not far off. A week later I received a phone call from the local Domino’s franchise owner. After apologizing for the delay, she offered me a full refund, but said that she would love the chance to change my mind by sending my entire office pizza that day for lunch. She was confident if I tried a few options that I would enjoy Domino’s Pizza.

Impressed with the personal touch, I was game to try and have my mind changed. She ended up sending my office five pizzas and happily accepted everyone’s feedback, the positive (there was more than I expected) and the negative.

To me, this is the impressive part of Domino’s campaign.

Not only is the company taking a chance and displaying some vulnerability (my ex girlfriend would be so proud), but they are backing up their marketing efforts with good old-fashioned customer service and moderately improved pizza.

This campaign made me wonder why more companies don’t take such bold measures as to admit there might, just might be something they can fix with their product (I’m looking at you AT&T Wireless Coverage, United Airlines and Star Wars Episodes I, II and III).

Sure, after our office pizza party I still really didn’t love Domino’s pizza, but here’s what happened when I told the franchise owner that. She offered to have me come into the store and taste all of the different options they have. She’s still confident I will find something I like – I’m going in this week.

I suppose the reason that more companies don’t take such bold measures is because they are unwilling to follow them up with bold actions. Bravo Domino’s for trying.

Feb 17

Smarter than a 7th Grader?

Guest Post by Maggie O'Neill

February 17 With the Consumer Electronics Show just behind us and the launch of the iPad fresh on our minds, many companies have put their reputation on the line for the newest technology product – whether a reality or just good old vaporware.  Hours and dollars were surely invested in consumer research to see what should be next and what will people flock to buy. But are we talking to the right people? 

The below article, which ran in a Long island school paper, The Green and Gold Gazette, was written by 7th grader Jack DeFuria prior to CES and last month’s iPad launch.  Bypassing all employment laws and assuming Jack can get someone to buy him the iPad, is this generation the voices marketers need to hear.

2010: The Year in the eyes of a Techie
by Jack DeFuria

2010 has been said to be the year of many things: a better economy, progress with American’s healthcare, possible peace between fighting nations, but my favorite a year for awesome tech. But in what ways will tech be changing in 2010? Let see:

1. Living in the cloud- 2010 is said to be the year in which more and more Americans move into the cloud. By the tech term “cloud”, I am referring to where web services save user data (photos, documents, videos, photos, music, etc.) virtually, online in a server. Many people are already using Cloud services through applications like Google Docs, a web-based word processor, lala.com, your online music library, Scripped, Google Docs for screenwriters. Apple, the maker of the Mac computer line and the forever-popular iPod, has recently acquired lala.com and is currently planning on releasing a version of web-based iTunes software.

2. Advanced Gaming – The “Wii” has been a large player in the video game market for the last few years because of its amazing wand-like-remote that made game players feel as though they were actually in the game. But in 2010, Microsoft, the maker of the “XBox” video game consoles and Sony, the maker of the “PlayStation” video game consoles, are prepared to fight back. Microsoft is currently preparing to release “Project Natal”, a motion-controlled camera that allows the game player to play the game as though they are in it without any remote control. It is also said that Sony will be releasing a new remote-control, similar to the Wii remote.

3. The new iPhone, that isn’t an iPhone- The iPhone has swept up the mobile market because of its genuine looks and feels as well as for its vast “App Store” which contains over 85,000 apps, as of September 2009. But, there have been some competitors, like the Blackberry Storm, the G1 and the Droid, but no one has came close to iPhone-like stardom. Apple has remained at the top of the top since its launch, but there looks like a close competitor in the future: the first ever Google phone. Although Google has provided the operating system for the G1, myTouch 3G and the Droid as well as partnered with the companies who bring these to the market, Google has never truthfully had their own phone. In the upcoming weeks, Google is said to announce their new device. Sources say that Google is in the process of “dogfood-ing” the product. “Dogfood-ing” is a term used when a company is letting their employees use a product, for usability testing, prior to its release.

4. Time for tablets- Tablet computing is a very popular idea around the tech community. Many companies have been racing to create the first and so far only one has an actual finished product. Fusion Garage, a computer company from Singapore, has created the first ever tablet computer, the JooJoo, which is expected to start shipping in 8 to 10 weeks. Tablet computers is basically a computer, with limited features and particularly based around the internet. Think of these tablets as a larger iPhone

These upcoming products seem to be great. Each of the products, in my opinion, will change the world of technology. Each of them are sure to be game-changing products. They are all set to be released some time in 2010, so look out for them in the near future.

Check back next week to hear our RepChatter podcast featuring Jack DeFuria. . .

Feb 12

Are you guys still in business?

February 12 - out-of-business Everyone's buzzing about Toyota's troubles. If I've read one image expert's opinion about what the Japanese carmaker needs to do, I've read a thousand.

Lost in all of the Toyota tumult, though, is Chrysler's total inability to capitalize on the opportunity.

Unlike Ford, who grew their January sales by 25 percent and GM, which moved the sales needle north to the tune of 14 percent, Chrysler's sales nosedived by eight percent. Why? According to a recent Ad Age article, the average consumer thinks Chrysler went out of business. Ouch! Selling cars in the Great Recession is tough enough without having to overcome the perception that you no longer exist.

I think I know how Chrysler executives must be feeling. The same thing happened to us (albeit, only for a day or two and within a decidedly smaller universe).

In the early days, Peppercom was known as Middleberg Light. Don Middleberg had built the top dotcom PR firm in the country and our nascent business was seen as a smaller, but rapidly-emerging competitor.

So, when the dotcom bubble burst and clients started falling faster than Autumn leaves in a windstorm, we took a major beating. At the peak of the downturn, we also suffered a very unfortunate service disruption. Our phone lines went down and our web site went black. We fixed the problem within 24 hours and didn't think too much about it. A day or so later, though, I received a few e-mails and calls from friends in the industry asking if we were still in business. Wow. Talk about a wake-up call!

I did exactly what Chrysler is attempting to do now. I over communicated. I made sure we announced promotions, new client wins (no matter how small or inconsequential) and re-marketed existing service offerings as 'new and improved,' I made it my business to make sure the PR universe knew Peppercom was alive and well.

Chrysler needs to continue shouting at the top of their lungs and from the highest mountains lest people continue thinking they're the 2010 version of the Edsel.

Typepad should do communicating as well. Typepad is the company that hosts my blog. They recently changed their model and it's badly impacted the Repman blog. Visitors aren't being permitted to post comments and I'm not being alerted to any comments that manage to appear. We've made countless inquiries to Typepad to get the damn thing fixed but, so far, we haven't heard a thing. Hey Typepad: are you guys still in business?

Feb 10

The Who should know when to say when

February 10 - who Did you catch the surviving members of The Who performing at the Super Bowl halftime show? It was grim.

Don't get me wrong. I admire the energy and passion Messrs Daltry and Townsend demonstrated in Miami. But, the ravages of time sure showed.

Daltry's voice was raspy and he didn't dare try his microphone acrobatics in front of millions of viewers (I could just see it coming down and plunking him on the noggin). Nor did we see Townsend do his patented slide along the stage on his knees or bash the bejesus out of his guitar when he finished his licks.

These elder versions of The Who just didn't have it in them. But, how many 65-year-olds would?

Which is why The Who should know when to say when. I liked what I saw. But, what I saw was a bit of a bus wreck.

But, who am I to say The Who are through? So, I thought I'd take a quick, but wide-ranging, demographic sounding to ask others what they thought of the dino rockers. Here's what I got:

– 21-year-old Catharine Cody: 'Well, we liked the graphics and recognized the songs, but wondered why someone younger and cooler like Lady Gaga wasn't performing.'
– 24-year-old Chris 'Repman, Jr,' Cody: 'The homies and I love classic rock and enjoyed The Who. Renny (his friend) especially enjoyed 'Teenage Wasteland.'
– A 20-something Peppercom employee: 'We hit the mute button and listened instead to music we like.'
– 30-something comedian Clayton Fletcher: 'I turned it off. That says it all.'
– A 50-something corporate communications chief: 'I was grossed out seeing Pete Townsend's navel poking out from his shirt.'
– 55-year-old Tommy Powers: 'Their performance reminded me of an over-the-hill Willie Mays stumbling in centerfield in the 1973 World Series. They were way off their game at the Super Bowl.'
– Septegenarian Richard Harte: 'I loved their energy and envied the amount of money they must have been paid.'

I'll go with the majority and stick with my original opinion: The Who need to know when to say when. And, I think the NFL needs to know when to say when, when it comes to trotting out washed up rockers. Rock and roll may never die, but the Super Bowl halftime viewership ratings surely will if the producers don't wise up and book younger performers with broader appeal.

I’d like to open it up to you. Who would you like to see perform next year?

Feb 09

The first line of defense in the image and reputation wars

February 9 Receptionists are more important than the Maginot Line and, hopefully, sturdier than the Siegfried Line. In my opinion, they're the first, and most important, line of defense in the image and reputation wars.

I've interacted with a few outstanding receptionists over the years who, thanks to their winning personalities and can-do attitudes, have made me feel better about the organization they represent.

For the most part, though, receptionists seem to be like interchangeable parts: they come and they go. They man the front desk well enough, but they don't register on either the visitor's positive or negative impression scales.

And, then there are the receptionists from hell. I've encountered three image-killers recently, including:

– The receptionist who must have just undergone a frontal lobotomy. The guy was totally devoid of personality, wouldn't make eye contact with me, kept talking to someone on the phone as I waited and then, after finally ending the call, looked up at me and said, 'Well?'

– The receptionist at a corporate image firm who looked like she'd just left the set of 'Friday the 13th: Part 47.' This woman's looks would stop traffic. Her skin was a ghostly white and her hair looked as if she'd just stuck her finger in an electrical socket. With the bride of Frankenstein greeting visitors, I could see why the organization needed a PR firm. And, if this is their idea of image, what sort of work must they create for clients?

– Not to be outdone by either the lobotomized lout or frightful femme fatale, a receptionist at a non-profit had an absolute field day with our name. After painstakingly writing down our names, she tapped on a microphone and announced over a loudspeaker: 'Mary, your guests from Leppercom are here!' Leppercom? I checked my peers' faces to see if any of us had suddenly contracted a severe case of adult onset acne.

Peppercom (not, Leppercom) has had its share of good, bad and ugly receptionists. Our best ever had to have been our very first: Debrah.

Ed and I bit the bullet about five months after starting our firm and invested in a receptionist/chief cook and bottle washer. And, we struck gold with Debrah. She was smart, organized, funny and possessed a wicked British accent. The latter made quite the impression. I remember one client calling me up and asking, 'Who's the woman with the British accent?' 'That's Debrah, our new receptionist,' I beamed. He sighed and said, 'My opinion of Ed and you just rose a few notches. You were always scrappy. Now, you have a touch of class as well.'

Whether it's the 56th Fighter Group Restaurant in Farmingdale, a widget warehouse in Waukegan or an image firm in SoHo, the receptionist is the first, and most important, line of defense in the relentless image wars. Knowing that, why are there still so many lobotomized beasts and so few classy Debrahs manning the front desks of corporate America? As for me, I'm still reeling from the Leppercom comment and have been regularly applying Clearasil just in case.