Mar 31

The trial of Ronald McDonald

March 31 A coalition of health care professionals, parents and corporate accountability advocates are calling for the retirement of fast-food icon, Ronald McDonald. The coalition, Corporate Accountability International, plans to hold ‘retirement parties’ for good ol’ Ronald at various McDonald’s restaurants and college campuses. They believe the clownish icon is a huge cause of our nation’s obesity problems. And, I agree. I think retiring Ronald is a cool idea. But, it doesn’t go far enough.

In my mind, Ronald McDonald is a cartoon criminal, responsible for causing much of America’s obesity problem (I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between the growth of the McDonald’s chain since the 1950s and America’s expanding waistline). In fact, I think Ronald McDonald should go on trial for his crimes against humanity.

I believe a smart district attorney could put together a fool-proof case for the jury’s consideration. And, here’s how I envision the cross examination:

D.A.: “Mr. McDonald, your corporation is serving billions of Big Macs daily. How many calories a day do you think that adds up to? Trillions? Zillions?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I don’t make the hamburgers, Mr. District Attorney. I just bring happiness to people’s lives.”

D.A.: “Nice. How many morbidly obese people do you think are happy, Mr. McDonald?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I see lots of happy, rolly polly people every day, Mr. District Attorney.”

D.A.: “I’ll bet you do. Your honor, if it pleases the court, I’d like to enter into evidence this MRI photograph of severe arterial blockage. It was taken of a lifelong devotee of McDonald’s hamburgers who recently died of a massive heart attack. Mr. McDonald: how does that make you feel?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. Hungry, Mr. District Attorney. Hungry. That picture looks like one of my super-sized Macs. Kids just love ‘em to death.”

D.A.: “You mean they love them until they’re killed by them, is that what you’re saying Mr. McDonald?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I’m just the Chief Happiness Officer of McDonald’s, Mr. District Attorney. You’d have to ask someone else about death. That’s a real downer.”

D.A.: “No further questions, your honor.”

Judge: “You’re free to step down, Mr. McDonald.”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. Thanks your honor. That was fun.”

Judge: “You may not think so when the jury returns a guilty verdict, Mr. McDonald.”

Mar 30

Spindustry Over-Spun?

Guest Post by Astrid Stanley

March 30 E! Entertainment seems to be on the fence regarding whether or not to expand its Kim Kardashian-produced reality show special, The Spindustry, into a regular TV series. A rep for Command PR, the firm featured in the show, recently offered this cagey comment to PRNewser concerning the show’s fate: "No news yet, but we will certainly keep you posted."

One would think the decision to continue this show would be a no-brainer for the suits in tinsel town, given that The Spindustry contains the trifecta for success on reality TV — a celebrity PR firm representing bold-faced clients in LA, NY, and Miami, a glamor profession with no shortage of high-drama situations, and the ubiquitous Ms. Kardashian, no stranger herself to the Red Carpet.

Perhaps the research folks at E! determined that television audiences have been overexposed ad nauseum to publicists behaving badly under the guise of turning their glitterati clients into the next big media brand, whether it’s fashion industry hell-raiser Kelly Cutrone, star of Bravo’s Kell on Earth, or Lizzie Grubman’s short-lived MTV show, PoweRGirls

One solution might be to offer the Jersey Shore kids an internship at Command PR for the summer, where they might act as “handlers” for tanned and juiced celeb wannabes, complete with booze-fueled press parties on the beach. On second thought, that wouldn’t work, because interns usually work for college credits or minimum wage. Snooki, The Situation, and J-Woww are too famous now to settle for such a plebian package. 

One can only hope that so-called reality shows such as these, which portray stereotypes of one specific sector of the PR profession, will fade into the sunset after their 15 minutes are milked. As a PR pro myself, I’ve had enough of trying to explain to people that I do more for a living than order hors d’oeuvres and check names off invitation lists. If everyone could do PR, everyone would.

Mar 29

A moment of silence please for the late Dr. Norman Cody

March 29 I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Norman Cody (Download LETTER FOR STEVE CODY). According to Thomas Brogger, the late Dr. Cody had no immediate kin but, happily, did leave behind a sizable fortune. And, lucky me, Mr. Brogger thinks I should inherit those funds. That said, though, the ever-so-kind Mr. Brogger needs help transporting those funds to a safe and stable environment, such as my bank account. All I need to do is provide 'Broggie' (my new nickname for Mr. Brogger) with credit card and account information.

Not so fast, Broggie. Before I provide my personal credit information, I'd like to know a little bit more about my namesake. Did Dr. Cody practice conventional medicine? Was he a dentist or, dare I suggest it, a chiropractor? Perhaps he wasn't a medical doctor at all, but one of those Ph.D. types like Richard Harte (erstwhile strategy consultant to Peppercom and creator of the infamous Harte Chart).

It's also possible that, like the character Billy Crystal played in a Mafia comedy spoof, Norman Cody may have been known simply as '….the f***ing doctor.'

I'm all about discovering my roots and re-connecting with relatives wherever they are and whatever religion they may practice (note to Ken Jacobs: you'll be pleased to know that I'm embracing my possible Jewish ancestry. Candle lighting is at 6:58pm tonight. Shavout Shalom).

As for Stormin' Norman Cody, I need to know more about my kin's image and reputation, Broggie. Any doctor worth his salt runs tests before proceeding. I'd like to think the late doctor would agree with me.

Mar 26

Kathleen was here until 8pm again

March 26 Karen Burns of U.S. News has been publishing a fascinating series of ‘seven things’ employees should never tell their bosses, and vice versa. I can really relate to the latter list since, well, I’m a boss (note to the FBI: I’m the usual kind. Not a crime boss).

Anyway, a couple of the no-no’s struck home both from a Peppercom and previous workplace/client perspective. To wit:

  • Number three: ‘I was here on Saturday. Where were you?’ In Peppercom’s youth, we employed a senior manager who was simultaneously a talkaholic and workaholic. Sadly, the former condition served as a catalyst for the latter. When Kathleen wasn’t on the phone all day long chit chatting to anyone and everyone, she’d be holding endless meetings that were notorious for endless tangents. As a result, she never really got down to doing any work until 5pm. And, that’s what caused the problem. Because Kathleen didn’t get her work completed until 8pm or so, her direct reports felt obligated to stick around as well. And, because her office was the last work space one passed before making it to the elevators, it was impossible to slip by unnoticed. Even I started treading lightly as I’d tip toe past her office at 5:30ish, knowing that I’d get a withering glance of disapproval from her. It got so bad that we had to stage an intervention. Our consultant at the time had to sit down with Kathleen, show her how inefficient her work style was and force her to change it so that she, and our employees, could leave at a decent hour.
  • Number five is also classic. ‘We’ve always done it this way’ has been the mantra of several former clients and employers alike. General Motors was famous for rejecting any idea that ‘wasn’t invented here.’ And, the Brouillard CEO I reported to reveled in the rigorous systems and processes he’d honed in the 1960s. He pooh-poohed virtually every new idea including, ‘That Internet thing David keeps pushing me to do. It’s just another hula-hoop,’ he’d say to me. ‘Shut it down.’ Needless to say, the CEO is long gone, David’s doing well and, unless I’m mistaken, the Internet is still around.

How about you? Do you have any particular favorites on this list you’d like to share? I’m all ears (which is one thing I always say to my employees).’

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea behind this post.

Mar 24

March Madness vs. The NBA Finals? Talk about a blowout

March 24 - MarchMadness Does March Madness just keep getting better every year, or what? And, does it become more universal every year, or what? When I attended college in the late Middle Ages, guys were into the NCAA basketball tournament. Period. Now, it seems women are even more engaged in ‘bracketology’ than the men. And, how cool is that? (unless you happen to be a certain Kansas alum/intern who told this blogger her Jayhawks would win the national championship. Ouch!).

I think March Madness has become an opiate for the masses because of the success of such mid-majors as Northern Iowa and St. Mary’s. In the old days, it seemed like UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Maryland, Duke and a few other schools had a lock on the brackets. Now, it’s a wide open, fast break that any school can win. Even the smartest Ivy Leaguer wouldn’t have predicted Cornell would be a Sweet 16 team.

I reiterate the obvious because I just saw a print ad entitled, ‘Coming soon. The most anticipated television event of the year. The culmination of a long, emotional journey. A win or go home contest. All played out in front of a record-breaking national audience. America, are you ready for….The NBA Play-offs on TNT.’ I’m not. I could care less.

Aside from fans in Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles and a few other markets, I think most sports fans find the NBA irrelevant. In my mind, it’s become the professional wrestling of big time sports. It’s all flash and razzle dazzle, featuring individual showmen trying to outduel one another (Gilbert Arenas pun intended). There’s no sense of teamwork or camaraderie in the NBA. The season is endless. And, the champion isn’t even crowned until mid-June.

That’s what makes the advertisement so irksome. I understand why the NBA is trying to leverage the national mania stirred up by March Madness. And, that’s fine. But, to run full-page ads suggesting the NBA Playoffs is the most anticipated television event of the year is ludicrous, if not borderline fraudulent.

My March Madness bracket may be worth a plug nickel at this point, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching each and every remaining NCAA game. As for the NBA finals? I think I’d rather watch grass grow.

Mar 23

A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon

March 23 Ever since writing the very first RepMan blog back in 2006, I’ve been trying to find a good fit for my favorite Pink Floyd lyric, ‘A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon.’

And, while I’ve never been quite understood the lyric’s context within ‘Comfortably Numb,’ I’ve always found it incredibly evocative (and, can actually visualize that ship sailing on the horizon trailing a plume of smoke in its wake).

So, here’s the link. I’m starting to see just the faintest hint of an economic turnaround. A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon, if you will. 

The initial harbinger was a robust two or three week’s worth of new accounts and new business prospects at my favorite PR firm. Yay!

The second was the hustle and bustle at the good old Lincroft Inn on an otherwise quiet weekday night. Virgil, the ever-affable bartender, confirmed that he, too, has been noticing a definite uptick in midweek elbow benders.

The big breakthrough, though, came today at Boom, my local Park Avenue fitness club. There, in the men’s locker room, I spied Q-Tips. This is a very big deal. Those damn Q-Tips have been noticeably absent since the market meltdown in mid-September of 2008.

Q-Tips are important to me. They form part of my daily hygiene program. And, based upon the brand’s longevity, I would suspect they play a role in many others’ wellness programs. In fact, in their heyday at the pre-market meltdown Boom, Q-Tips disappeared faster than one could say Bear Stearns. So, for me, a Q-Tips free locker room has been a depressing, if not unhealthy, thing.Curious about the big, and unexpected, Q-Tips comeback, I asked the guy at the front desk what was up. He shrugged his shoulders. The fitness trainers were equally clueless. The locker room attendant finally gave me the inside scoop. The Mt. Sinai Medical Center is apparently donating coffee cups filled with Q-Tips to all the fitness clubs in the area. Ah ha. Smart marketing, no?

So, while the Q-Tips may or may not be a distant ship’s smoke on the horizon, might they still be considered a harbinger of better times? Mt. Sinai clearly had the marketing money for the little white wonder sticks.

If not a harbinger of better times, maybe the prodigal Q-Tips at least signal the end of bad times. The latter thought enables me to inject one of my favorite Winston Churchill comments as well. Speaking about his country’s victory at El Alamein, Churchill said, ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. Though it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ Here’s hoping those Q-Tips mark the end of the beginning as well.

Mar 22

Why not go all the way and call the company ‘Gestapo’?

March 22 I’ll be the first to admit I’d been blissfully unaware of kgb.com’s existence until this year’s March Madness. That changed when, while watching Cornell dismantle Temple I experienced my very first kgb TV spot. I couldn’t figure out what they did, but that was beside the point. What got my immediate attention was the organization’s name: kgb.

I visited the company’s web site in hopes of determining who had founded the company and why, in god’s name, she or he had chosen the same three initials as the murderous Soviet secret police force. Alas, while I did learn that kgb was a leading text information source, I was unable to determine why someone would purposely chose a name associated with torture, assassination and any number of other heinous crimes.

It’s obvious that, despite the horrific name, the company has done well enough to afford a national TV campaign. But, at what cost? Would you want to run home and proudly announce, ‘Hey honey. Guess what? I’ve just landed a job with the KGB!’

And what about the business itself? Does it walk the walk in terms of living up to the original KGB brand promise? To wit,

- Are employees known as kgb agents?
- Are they message-trained to say, ‘We have ways of making you speak’?
- Do they round up competitors and ship them off to some far-away Gulag?
- Do poor performing kgb agents simply ‘disappear’?
- Does employee training include torture techniques?
- Has Joseph Stalin been named an honorary chairman in perpetuity?

Attracting and winning new customers is tough enough nowadays. Could you imagine having to explain why you represent a company whose name perpetuates one of the worst examples of totalitarian dictatorship in human history? Maybe it’s just me, but if I were going down the worst possible names road, I’d go for the jugular. Why settle for kgb when Gestapo.com is unclaimed? I checked. It’s available.

In fact, maybe one of kgb’s lesser-known competitors should rename itself Gestapo and wage a war to the death with kgb. They can even copy Nazi Germany’s blueprint and codename their campaign ‘Operation: Barbarosa’ just like Hitler did for his invasion of Soviet Russia in 1941.

As Lewis Carroll wrote, ‘It gets curioser and curioser.’

Mar 18

Ben Stiller’s nothing more than an American version of Hugh Grant

March 18 Have you seen all the hype surrounding Ben Stiller's latest movie, 'Greenberg'?  Mixed in with the usual 'mesmerizing' and 'stunning' accolades is this one: 'Ben Stiller like you've never seen him!'

As Catharine 'Goose' Cody likes to say, 'Puh-lese.'

Ben Stiller is a lightweight. He makes funny, mindless movies and, like his British doppelganger, Hugh Grant, acts exactly the same way in each and every role. If you've seen one Stiller flick, you've seen them all. To suggest otherwise is not only disingenuous, it's off-putting since it doesn't ring true.

Stiller and Grant are pale imitations of such contemporaries as Johnny Depp, Sean Penn and Leonardo DiCaprio. The latter can go deep and wide and, if necessary, excel in a lightweight role typically played by a Ben or Hugh.

All that said, I would have expressed the very same sentiments about Sandra Bullock prior to her Academy-award winning performance in 'The Blindside'. (And, aren't the tabloids just loving Ms. Bullock's being blindsided by her philandering hubby?).

But, back to the issue at hand. Shakespeare wrote, 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' And a Stiller flick is a Stiller flick is a Stiller flick. If you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. If I had the legal power, I'd issue a cease and desist to the 'Ben Stiller like you've never seen him' comments as well as any other wording that suggests this is anything but the same old, same old.

Mar 17

The Dante’s Inferno of holidays

March 17 I’ve heard New Year’s Eve referred to as ‘amateur hour’ since so many drink so much in so short a period of time. I agree. It’s an ideal night to hunker down and watch what’s left of Dick Clark countdown the final seconds of a dying year. The same can’t be said, though, for St. Patrick’s Day. It goes far beyond mere amateur hour status and deserves a much more exacting moniker. I suggest calling it the Dante’s Inferno of holidays.

What makes St. Patrick’s Day the Dante’s Inferno of holidays are the hooligan high school kids who hop onto various trains heading into the city and literally run amok. Already three sheets to the wind at 7:28am, the high schoolers careen up and down the narrow aisles, spill their bottles of Corona over otherwise placid commuters and engage in shoving and pushing matches that often escalate into replays of Ali-Frazier I.

Further exacerbating the horror show that is St. Patrick’s Day on NJT is the indifferent, standoffish attitudes of the train conductors. Rather than reign in the free-for-all, the conductors act as if it’s just another day. So, those of us who fork over $400 per month-plus for the rare privilege of riding the nation’s worst commuter railroad are like innocent bystanders watching a modern-day version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

All of which just underscores NJT’s horrific image and reputation. In fact, based upon my recent St. Patrick’s Day experience riding the train from hell, I’d like to suggest yet another update to my tagline for the Garden State’s transit service. Instead of: ‘Expect less,’ I’d like to update it to the more accurate, ‘Expect the worst.’ When it comes to the worst possible customer service experience imaginable, nobody beats NJT. Nobody. Not no how. Not no way.

Mar 16

The scent of a co-worker

March 16 The Early Show on CBS ran an interesting segment today entitled, 'The scent of a co-worker.' The spot revolved around new research showing that the scent one wears in the office can have a direct effect on co-workers. If they like what they inhale, they'll be happier and work harder. Conversely, if they don't dig your skin, they'll be grumpy and do less heavy lifting.

I must say that Ed's body odor, however pleasant, hasn't made me work any harder or smarter. That said, noxious odors have done a number on me and my co-workers over the years.

In the dotcom days, for example, we employed a guy I'll call Smith. Sure as rain, Smith would saunter to the men's room every morning with the sports section of the New York Post tucked neatly under his arm. When he returned to his cube 10 or 15 minutes later, the grapevine would send out an urgent S.O.S. that the men's room had been 'Smithed' and should be avoided for at least the next 30 minutes. Longtime female employees tell me the distaff side had it own Ms. Jones to our Mr. Smith. She'd likewise level the ladies room and render it inoperable for the short-term future.

I have a couple of other best in scents anecdotes that support the new research:

- I was enamored by Drakkar Noir in the mid 1980s and applied it liberally while employed by an international consulting firm. One day, I was in a meeting with our CEO (a former NFL lineman I often mention in my blogs). In the middle of the meeting, this terribly intimidating hulk of a guy stops the dialogue, scrunches up his face and says, 'Cody, what the hell kind of girlie perfume are you wearing?' I told him. He scrunched up his face even further and shouted, 'Dracula who? Jesus, wear Old Spice like real men.' I was humbled to say the least, and made a beeline to the nearest drugstore to pick up some of the low-end O.S.

- Quite a few years ago, I was leading an internal meeting when one of our female employees interrupted the conversation to say, 'Steve, you're wearing Axe!' I nodded and said, 'Yeah, my son, Chris, is home. I borrowed some of his and thought I'd give it a shot.' To which she replied, 'My husband wears it and it absolutely drives me wild!' Oh.

So, on top of everything else, we now have to factor odor into all of the other tangibles and intangibles that make up one's image and reputation. Which makes sense. Because, to this day, whenever I enter our fifth floor men's room, I hesitate for a split second, wondering if anyone has 'Smithed' it. And, if you were Smith, how'd you like that to be your legacy?