Aug 31

Try keeping them down on the farm after this

A recent Gallup survey finds most Americans think more highly of farmers than they do public Hollandtown -Holland-Farm -Corn-Harvest_00a relations people.

Now, I'm OK with a tinker, a tailor, a soldier or a spy finishing ahead of a PR executive in these annual rankings, but a farmer? Are you telling me Americans think more highly of someone who has just finished plowing the back 40 than a publicist who knows Hollywood's 40 hottest party spots? Say it ain't so.

The findings actually heartened a few AdWeek readers since advertising and PR rose a few points year-to-year. That's akin to a BP employee pumping his fist in the air because a few less Gulf pelicans died in August than July. C'mon.

I, for one, am a tad disappointed that Americans think more highly of Mr. Green Jeans than they do of Messrs. Burson, Golin and Edelman. How far has PR fallen if American Gothic trumps American Party Planner? (That would be a great name for a new, TV reality show.)

The Gallup findings are just the latest confirmation that our industry's image is being defined by Hollywood. For every 'seat at the table' earned, it seems to me the average American sees us wallowing ever further in the mud. Now, a certain licensing type who posts regularly on Repman, believes an industry's image and reputation really doesn't matter. I couldn't disagree more. Until, and unless, we do a better job of educating Americans about the serious, senior counseling being provided by top public relations officers, the more likely we are to be stuck recruiting talent from the bottom of the gene pool.

It's a serious problem that, for reasons known best to them, remains unaddressed by our various trade journals and industry associations. It's akin to fiddling while Rome burns. Or, in this case, reaping what Hollywood has sown.

Aug 30

Representing controversial clients is a slippery slope.

I’m a firm believer that, in the court of public opinion, a controversial client is innocent until Pat_robertson_devil_sign proven guilty. I also believe he or she deserves the very best representation possible. That said, some prospective clients are toxic and invite more trouble than they’re worth.

I’m reminded of the terrific image and reputation bashing inflicted on Hill & Knowlton in the early 1990s, when the firm decided to represent one highly controversial client after another. The carnage reached its apex (perhaps nadir is more appropriate) when Hill & Knowlton took on an image and awareness campaign for the government of Kuwait. Almost immediately afterwards, they were accused of ‘staging’ fake genocides to heighten worldwide distaste for Saddam Hussein’s Machiavellian machinations. It was an event that, whether true or not, inspired the Hollywood movie, ‘Wag the Dog’. H&K’s decision to represent a raft of highly controversial accounts precipitated a mass exodus of blue-chip clients (who didn’t want to be associated with a public relations firm that was caught in the crosshairs of negative news). The firm also lost top notch counselors, who disagreed with H&K’s stance on a moral and ethical basis.

As a proud alumnus of a kinder, gentler H&K, I’m pleased to see the firm has finally rebounded and reclaimed its rightful position as a top global player, but it took lots of blood, sweat and tears to execute the turnaround.

I mention all this because I see that 5W is representing Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law & Justice in its efforts to halt construction of the controversial Ground Zero mosque. As mentioned above, Mr. Robertson’s entity deserves the very best public relations support it can afford. But, at what cost to the firm? In its defense, 5W has never shied away from representing clients that most mainstream PR firms would avoid like the plague. But, does such representation jeopardize existing client relationships? Will it alienate employees who see the issue as a First Amendment right that has nothing whatsoever to do with public relations? Time will tell.

In our 15 years of business, we’ve tried to avoid highly controversial clients (falling prey only twice in my memory). Thankfully, neither relationship cost us clients or employees. In fact, with the latter, we were quite transparent and suggested that anyone with reservations could opt out of actual account work. Several took us up on the offer.

But, rather than place a firm in harm’s way, why choose to represent a potentially toxic client? The short-term gain in billings and notoriety will most certainly be offset by the long-term unease among clients and employees alike. As a former employer of mine liked to say, “It’s a classic lose-lose.”

Aug 27

Stealing My Heart

080402_i_left_my_heart-702731 The parallels between a love lost and a client lost can be strikingly similar. I was reminded of this  as I working out to the lyrics of an old Stones song called ‘Stealing My Heart.’ Some of the lines reminded me of the upcoming anniversary of our termination by what was, at the time, our second largest account. It had been a troubled, roller coaster-like relationship from day one (think Burton/Taylor, Brad/Jennifer or Tiger/Elin, if you prefer). It was also one of those relationships where, to paraphrase a Fleetwood Mac lyric, we were over our heads, but it sure felt nice.

Aside from money, prestige and the opportunity to play on a larger stage, I’m not sure why we engaged with this particular client. They’d had a history of churning agencies, were in the midst of a hostile takeover attempt and invited us into the pitch at the last second. But, the call of the siren was too strong and we succumbed, turning the agency upside down to develop smart creative, schedule the requisite rehearsals and prepare our various leave-behinds. The rehearsals were a disaster and I can distinctly remember Ed shaking his head the night before the presentation and predicting it would be a train wreck. But, aside from one member of our pitch team showing a competitor’s product in the midst of our presentation, the entire meeting was flawlessly executed.

Just like one does on a very special first date, we immediately felt the chemistry. There was love in the air. We knew we’d connected in a big way. And, sure enough, the call came asking for references (they were very concerned about a bait-and-switch since a large agency had just done that to them). Once we cleared the reference check, we were good to go and, just like that, we’d added $1 million to our billings (which is a big deal when your annual billings are $14 million).

And, as is the case with almost every relationship, the first few months were a love fest. We adored them. They thought we walked on water. The birds were chirping. And, the sun was shining. But, then came the storm clouds. The CMO who’d hired us left. A new global head of public relations was hired and refused to meet with us for months. And, a pit bull of a direct report was switched to our part of the business. His mission in life seemed to be to berate and belittle our team. If the first six months had resembled ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ the final six felt more like ‘Kramer v. Kramer’.

I was eventually summoned to the client’s Manhattan office and told he wanted “to dial down the relationship.” I need to try that line sometime. It’s so vague that I wasn’t 100 percent sure we were being fired. But, we were. And the million dollar sweetheart left just as quickly and unexpectedly as it had arrived.

Mick and Keith nailed the whole relationship thing when they wrote, “I thought you were dinner, but you were the shark.”  Man, this particular client was a Great White shark, and it left us bloodied and battered for quite some time.

Older, and hopefully a little wiser when it comes to mega accounts that suddenly want to start dating, I’d like to think we’d follow another bit of advice from ‘Stealing My Heart’: “When love’s on the menu, I don’t drink so deep.” Some more due diligence would have saved us a lot of pain and suffering.

Aug 26

The Main Event

BUSH-BOXING_s1-2741 Obama boxing1 Jim Lampley: ‘Good evening HBO fight fans and  welcome to what’s already being called the communications fight of the century, if not the millennium. We’re here at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas for the long-anticipated and completely over-hyped World Heavyweight Communications Championship bout between defending champion Barack ‘The One’ Obama and the challenger, former President George W. ‘The Decider’ Bush.

As fight fans know, this special, one-round bout is being co-sponsored by MSNBC and Fox News, and the outcome will be determined by three Supreme Court justices sitting here at ringside.

As always, I’m joined by longtime boxing analyst, Larry Merchant, as well as a very special guest, Former President William Jefferson Clinton. Larry, Mr. President, thanks for being here.’

Merchant: ‘Jim, I haven’t seen this sort of excitement since March 8, 1971, when Ali and Frazier squared off for the first of their three classic bouts. Whether this contest will live up to the drama of that one remains to be seen.’

Clinton: ‘That’s funny, Larry. This sort of frenzy reminds me of my impeachment trial way back when. It’s really got something for everyone.’

Lampley: ‘It sure does, Mr. President. To begin with, who would have guessed just 18 months ago that The Decider would be entering the ring against The One to determine which of the two men is the better communicator? But, since being elected, Obama has made every mistake in the communications handbook, so here we are.’

Merchant: ‘For W, it’s a rags-to-riches story worthy of Cinderella Man, Jim.’

Lampley: ‘It sure is. Because as even the least literate boxing and communications fan knows, W was routinely pilloried for his verbal flubs and guffaws, and ridiculed as perhaps the least literate president in American history.’

Clinton: ‘I’d like to think that William Henry Harrison said more substantive things in his brief one-month stint than W did in his eight years, Jim.’

Lampley: ‘Be that as it may, Mr. President. Obama’s flip-flopping miscues are making many right-wing pundits wax poetic about W’s sophomoric, yet direct, communications style. Some are even suggesting W is the better communicator of the two. Well, that will be decided in the ring in just a matter of seconds. So, let’s go up to Michael Buffer now for the official introductions…’

Buffer: ‘Good evening to the thousands of communications fight fans in attendance here and the millions watching on TV around the world and on The Armed Forces Network. Now, ladies and gentlemen let’s get ready to RUMBLLLLLE! First, the challenger, fighting out of the red corner and hailing from Crawford, Texas, via Kennebunkport, Maine. He tips the scale at a lean and mean 185 pounds, and is wearing all-white trunks with bald eagles on either side. Ladies and the gentlemen, the 43rd president of the United States, George W. ‘The Decider’ Bush! And, in the blue corner, wearing the requisite red, white and blue trunks, tipping the scales at a tight and taut 166 pounds, and coming to us from our nation’s capitol, via Chicago and Honolulu, the defending heavyweight communications champion of the world, President Barack ‘the One’ Obama!’

Lampley: The two men are coming to the center of the ring now for their instructions from referee Katie Couric. Say, is that yet another new hairdo on Katie, Mr. President?’

Clinton: ‘It was all mussed up the last time I saw it. Oops. Wait. Hold on, I did not have sex with that woman!’

Merchant: ‘Jim, both fighters are in amazing shape.’

Lampley: ‘Yup. W’s been doing extra mountain biking on his ranch, while the president’s been playing lots of pick-up round ball games on the White House basketball court. And, there’s the opening bell for this special, one-round fight.’

Merchant: ‘Obama’s off to a great start.’

Clinton: ‘No question. He’s very focused on change. That’s confusing W. And, he’s using that very same ‘change’ punch that floored Hillary on more than one occasion. He looks sharp. Hey, get a load of that blond in section C!’

Lampley: ‘Careful, Mr. President. Man, this place is lousy with Presidents. Wait, there’s been a palpable change. Just like that, Obama seems to be back pedaling?  He looks confused. Larry?’

Merchant: ‘Obama’s confused all right. He’s trying to say do everything at once. There’s his health care backhand. Easily deflected. And, there’s his education overhand. Air ball. And, he just missed badly with his so-called Wall Street wacker. And what’s going on with his Iraq drawdown and Afghani build-up? Nothing is working for the sitting President.’

Lampley: ‘Simultaneously, W continues to throw the same, direct, methodical punch time and again. That’s the punch that he affectionately nicknames his “Yer either fer me or agin me” left. It’s hitting its mark, to be sure.’

Merchant: ‘That last shot staggered Obama. Jim, he looks hurt!’

Lampley: ‘Down goes Obama! Down goes Obama! Down goes Obama!’

Clinton: ‘I feel his pain.’

Merchant: ‘Obama’s up, but he’s on Queer Street. Could be because he never really addressed the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” military conundrum. Either way, this sure won’t help his approval ratings.’

Lampley: “There’s the bell, which mercifully ends this round and this fight. The decision will go to the judges. But first, let’s turn to our two experts. Larry, Mr. President: ‘Did Obama’s early lead pile up enough points to offset that damaging knockdown by W?’’

Merchant: ‘The onus is always on the challenger to prove to the judges that he’s done enough to win. I don’t think W has done that.’

Clinton: ‘I need to meet someone, Jim. I’ll catch you boys later. Go Obama!’

Lampley: ‘Well, let’s find out. We go now to Michael Buffer in the ring for the official decision…’

Buffer: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a split decision. Judge Rosa Sotomayor scores the fight one to nothing for Obama. Judge Clarence Thomas scores the fight one to nothing for Bush. And, Chief Judge John Roberts scores the right one to nothing for the NEW heavyweight communications champion of the world, George W. Bush!!!!!’

Lampley: A shocking upset to be sure! Let’s go to Larry Merchant in the ring, who is with both fighters.’

Merchant: ‘Ok, Jim. First, President Obama. What went wrong? You were ahead early with your message of change. Then, all hell broke loose.’

Obama: ‘I went with change. But, then I changed change. Changing change changed my chances.’

Merchant: ‘I have no idea what you just said. But, good luck to you. Now to the victor. President Bush. How’d you do it?’

Bush: ‘Smoked him out, just like bin Laden!’

Merchant: ‘But, you never smoked out bin Laden.’

Bush: ‘Doesn’t matter. I’m the decider. Mission accomplished.’

Merchant: ‘Mr. President, would you consider giving President Obama a rematch?’

Bush: ‘Shucks no. I want to take on that feisty momma from Alaska. Now that would be a communications brawl. The English language won’t know what hit it.’

Lampley: ‘All right. There you have it. There you have it. A big George W. Bush upset. Clearly, The One wasn’t the one tonight. Bush now holds the heavyweight title for best Presidential communicator. Regardless of whether he entertains a rematch or takes on the woman who can see Russia from her front porch, be sure to join us next month for the world’s middleweight communications bout. It’ll feature Carly ‘The Confuser’ Fiorini and ‘Big Bad’ Meg Whitman (who’s been known to manhandle friend and foe alike). For Larry Merchant and the missing-in-action former President Bill Clinton, this is Jim Lampley.’

Aug 25

Could 60 million Americans be wrong?

Up-ie A brand new Pew Research Center survey shows that 21 percent of the American population doesn't use the Internet at all. That's  60 million people!

And, it's not just the old 'digital divide' that's causing folks not to tune out, turn off and power down. According to Pew, the 60 million plus, non-tech heads stay away because:
– They don't have a computer (OK, fine, a digital divide)
– It's too expensive (Fine. The damn divide again, but wait….)
– It's too difficult or frustrating
– They think it's a waste of time
– They don't have access (Fine. Divide.)
– They're too busy (That response fascinates me. The Web's a huge time saver for this blogger.)
– They don't need or want it (Put that in your social media pipe and smoke it)
– They're too old to learn (So much for these old dogs learning new tricks)
– They reported having a bad experience with Ed Moed's 'MeasuringUP' blog (Now, that makes sense).

Simultaneously, Pew reports the Internet's explosive growth has finally slowed. Sixty-six percent of respondents reported having a high-speed Internet connection at home which is up just marginally from the 63 percent saying the same thing last year.

So, here's my question: knowing that some 60 million Americans aren't using the Internet at all, why are we not seeing opinion pieces on the subject? PR Week, PR News, Holmes and the other industry trades are filled to the brim with the latest, greatest, social media case studies, features and announcements. And everyone's arguing about which marketing discipline deserves to lead the social media discourse. But, what about the huge market that doesn't want or need the Internet? Don't our journalists owe us thinking on the subject?

Lost in the social media land rush mentality is the reasoned approach a person such as our very own Sam Ford takes. He's never suggested the Internet is the ‘be-all end-all’ for each and every client. Instead, he urges they first LISTEN before acting. Listening would enable clients and agencies alike to uncover the 60 million non-Internet users who, I guarantee, are a core constituent audience for lots and lots of organizations. And, once one has listened, one can determine the best strategies with which to engage.

So, the next time you're in a new business pitch and the prospect asks about your firm's social media strategy, turn the tables and ask what her organization's plan is to reach the 60 million Americans who aren't using the web. Ask her if she's taken the time to listen to the non-Internet users. If nothing else, it will differentiate you from every other agency in the pitch who, I guarantee, will do nothing but wax poetic about their digital capabilities.

Aug 24

Shameless self-promotion at its best

As Lunchboy pointed out in a response to a recent Repman blog entitled ‘Crazy Bosses,’ I’m the first to admit that I’d fit neatly within the narcissist category. That’s one of five classifications of crazies bosses created by author Stanley Bing (the others being: disaster seeker, bully, wimp and paranoid, respectively).

So, it is with no redeeming value and no correlation to image or reputation whatsoever, that I now share a six-minute slideshow from my recent sojourn to St. Petersburg, Moscow and Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus. Note: Chris Repman, Jr., Cody is sporting a black beard and I’m the one climbing in a red parka with pain etched across his face.

I’ve discovered that climbing parallels stand-up comedy (my other hobby) in one important way: you meet people you’d never otherwise come into contact with in this workaday world of ours. The Mt. Elbrus team consisted of a urologist, an HR director who’d just swum the English Channel, a 60-year-old retired millionaire who runs marathons for kicks, an entrepreneur who’d just climbed Mt. Everest, a husband-and-wife team of software developers from Seattle, an Iraqi war veteran just back after four years in Baghdad, a former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and our guide, Vern, who has climbed the Seven Summits nine, count ‘em, nine times (that simultaneously makes him the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of mountaineering).

I’ve found that mountain climbing clears my mind better than any stint on a beach possibly could, because it involves some risk of danger and loads of concentration and forces out any and all extraneous thoughts (i.e. the prospect who doesn’t return your calls, the client who’s decided to put the account up for review or the trade editor who refuses to understand your POV on the inequality of industry awards’ competitions). Yes, Virginia, mountaineering does all that for me.

I’ve done Kilimanjaro and, now, Elbrus (even if an injury did force me to pull up 500 feet short of the summit). Chris and I are now contemplating Aconcagua in the early winter. Crazy? Perhaps. Rewarding? Definitely. Narcissistic? Hey, I warned you.

Aug 23

For every APCO, there always seems to be a Command PR

(Tip o' RepMan's rock climbing helmet to Julie Farin for this blog idea.)

Kathy Cripps, president of The Council of PR Firms, recently waxed poetic about APCO's Alg_spin_crowd high-profile role in H-P's dismissal of CEO Mark Hurd (a knee jerk reaction based on poor counseling in this blogger's opinion, BTW).

In her blog, Kathy opined that PR no longer needs to aspire to gain a seat at the C-suite table because we already have. I posted a response to the effect, “Well, maybe, some have. But, we still have a long, long way to go.”

PR IS making great strides and, regardless of APCO's questionable counseling, we ARE being invited to attend more and more strategic decision making pow-wows. But, virtually no one knows it.

Thanks to Hollywood, the average American still thinks PR consists of little more than celebrity party planning, intra-office 'Jersey Shore' type dramas and mindless, bubblegum-chewing girls manning the phones.

The latest travesty is being broadcast on E! and is called 'The Spin Crowd.' It follows the exploits of Command PR, its histrionic owner, Jonathan Cheban, and his manic staff. Cheban says his new show is different than its predecessors and depicts PR as: “We're not just sitting there, wearing all black and looking depressed,” he said. “We're a lot more exciting. We're out there working it. We go to the Hamptons. We're in Miami. We're in planes and yachts, and the girls always look gorgeous and fashionable.” Hmmm, that does sound much more like the PR that I know. Ed, for example, rarely wears black. And, the man is “always working it.” Ted, now that I think of it, always seems headed to the Hamptons to counsel some mysterious client. And, me, well I do my best to look gorgeous and fashionable each and every day.

I jest. But, shows like ‘The Spin Crowd’ do real damage to PR's image. This is purely anecdotal to be sure, but I guarantee the average college or university PR major is much more likely to watch ‘The Spin Crowd’ and be sucked in by the drama than they are to scan the pages of The Wall Street Journal and analyze the APCO/H-P story (which, BTW, contains enough accusations of sexual hijinks, financial malfeasances and other good “stuff and things” to grab the attention of even the most ADD-addled 21-year-old).

Our industry leaders can write all the self-congratulatory blogs they like. The fact is, though, that Americans understand LESS about public relations today than ever before. Oh, and by the way, shame on PR Week for naming Kelly Cutrone one of the 25 most influential people in PR. If you aren't part of the solution, PR Week staffers, you're part of the problem. Question: will we see Jonathan Cheban vying with Richard Edelman for the coveted top spot in your 2011 rankings?

Aug 20

Misspelling the word ‘Manhattan’ isn’t helpful to one’s job search

Having just finished a hilarious novel entitled, “The Pursuit of Other Interests”, my sensitivities Death-of-a-salesman-logo towards middle-aged, out-of-work job seekers is at an all-time high. The book, which profiles a 50-year-old advertising executive named Charlie, paints a bleak, if heartwarming, picture of the current landscape for middle-aged, unemployed white collar workers.

So, knowing how few employment opportunities exist as well as how thin the margin for error is, I was totally flabbergasted to receive the following note from a guy I’ll call Buck.

Dear Seekers of New Revenue:
I am currently seeking a full time, salary plus commission New Business Position in Manhatan. I would address these personally, but with over 2,300 names, I need to solve the challenge  quickly. I am the most dedicated, energetic, and knowledgable person in the Tri-State Area with respect to opening doors for corporate pitches.
I have been in the business for over 15 years and I work from 7 to 5 and can make at least 100 calls per day. I can very quickly develop a custom database for cold calls for your firm and set 2 pitch meetings per week.
Should my skill sets meet your requirements, I would love to speak furthur. Also, should you have a person or people in place to handle cold calling, I also work as a consultant on a per diem basis to upgrade their best practices.
Best Regards,
Buck McDesperate
(800) 555-1212

To begin with, it was e-mail addressed to Sally Kennedy of Cossette Communications in Canada. Sally: sorry to be reading your spam. Second, Buck lets it be known that he’s an accomplished business development dude looking for a full-time salary plus commission gig in Manhatan. Yes, that’s Manhattan minus one ‘t’. Ouch. Misspelling Manhattan in the opening sentence of one’s pitch letter doesn’t augur well.

But, it gets worse. Buck lets me (or, Sally to be precise) know that he has a Rolodex with 2,300 names on it and is the most dedicated, energetic and knowledgeable person in the Tri-state Area (I wonder if that includes Toronto where, I assume, Sally is headquartered?). Buck’s been in the business world for 15 years, works from 7am to 5pm daily (he later amends it to 6am to 5pm daily), makes at least 100 calls each and every day (and that has to start hurting the fingers after awhile) and can produce “…a minimum of 2 valid pitch meetings over week.” Talk about Always Be Closing. Wow.

But, here’s the rub. If Buck is really that good and can produce a minimum of two valid pitch meetings per week, why is he blasting unsolicited e-mails to me (via Sally, of course. Sorry Sally). The sad truth about Buck, and the hundreds of thousands of other Bucks out there, is that he’s desperate. He’s probably been out of work for at least a year and has no solid prospects whatsoever. So, driven to desperation, he creates a rambling, semi-lucid, almost laughable pitch that is chock full of typos, poor grammar and inconsistencies.

Buck is not unlike the fictional character Charlie in the aforementioned Jim Kokoris book. Whiling away his time in an outplacement firm’s offices, Charlie puts together a database of former co-workers, clients, prospects and friends and blasts out a periodic e-newsletter entitled, “The Charlie Update!” Its subtitle is “Charlie B. Out on the Street.” One by one, the people on his hit list asked to be removed from the unintentionally hilarious mailings as Charlie becomes increasingly desperate and despondent.

Buck and Charlie are part of what a recent New York Times article called the 99ers. If memory serves, there are some 1.4 million unemployed, middle-aged, white collar workers who have passed the 99-week mark and no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. That’s when, driven to the brink of despair, they hit the send button and distribute embarrassingly bad missives like the one from Buck. I feel for these people and I wish I could help. But, sadly, I don’t have an answer except to suggest a dictionary and Thesaurus.

Aug 19

The case of the missing luggage

I’m not sure if it was my Russian adventure, the impending 15th anniversary of Peppercom or Doc_suitcase some late Summer malaise, but I’ve been flooded recently by obscure memories (i.e. the crazy client who insisted we become 18 percent diverse or else, the ill-fated pool party, etc.).

My dusty synapses fired up once again the other day when I spied a PR news brief announcing that a certain luggage company had retained a new PR firm. You see, Ed and I knew this company once upon a time. We knew it very well.

Nearly two decades ago, we toiled for a now defunct, integrated marketing shop called Earle Palmer Brown. EPB was the antithesis of our other employer, Brouillard (i.e. if the latter resembled the Politburo, the former was more akin to what Ed’s charming and vivacious wife, Pamela, liked to call ‘Romper Room.’). The inmates ran the asylum at EPB. And, because, Ed, Bill Southard (our boss) and I were bringing in loads of new business, we were pretty much allowed to indulge any and all excesses.

All of which brings me back to the luggage company. At the time, they were a client on the advertising side of the office. In order to create ads for the client, our ad group needed to photograph the product. So, they grabbed an unused storage room and filled it with the latest, greatest stuff (note: the luggage was also loaned to art directors and photo editors of style magazines for use as props in their shoots).

One day, when the account manager was away on vacation, someone in the PR group secured a key to the product storage room. Needless to say, it emptied out faster than a disappointed group of Mets fans leaving CitiField. Everyone grabbed one, two or more items of their liking. It was positively Bacchanalian in its excess.

Now, fast forward to the following week when the vacationing account guy returned, unlocked the product loan door and went totally ballistic. He sent an agency-wide note letting everyone know about the theft, suggesting he knew exactly who had taken it (our rollicking PR group had built quite an image and reputation by then) and declared that no questions would be asked if the merchandise was promptly returned. Sad to say, it wasn’t. The account guy complained to senior management, who promptly told him to back off. He did a little dance with the client and told them uncooperative art directors and photo editors had refused to return the product loans. Amazingly, the room was quickly restocked and the office returned to its normal state of complete bedlam.

In retrospect, the case of the missing luggage is an interesting morality tale. It spotlights the reality that far too many management teams ‘overlook’ inappropriate behavior from solid performers. Just look at Wall Street or Enron or BP. Moral and ethical behavior routinely takes a back seat to profits (which is why we’re seeing such a plethora of crises). At EPB, the PR group were the high rollers, so no one was going to mess with us about a few missing garment bags.

I’d like to think that Ed and I took the best and worst of what we experienced at EPB and Brouillard, and created a happy medium at Peppercom. It also helps that we haven’t represented luggage manufacturers and been tempted to ‘borrow’ a sleek, black briefcase or two.

We’re older and wiser now (even if Ed hasn’t aged particularly well). And, I’d like to think we’d crack down hard and fast on any behavior remotely resembling the Romper Room days of EPB- which should be good news for any luggage manufacturers out there in search of PR agency support. Your bags are safe with us.

Aug 18

Steven Slater, The Reality Show

Today's guest post is by Julie Farin

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater has become the latest media magnet due to his dramatic  “take this job and shove it” exit from Flight 1052 at New York’s JFK airport last week, following Airplane-exit his public obscenity-filled rant involving a rude passenger who allegedly injured him while retrieving her carry-on baggage from the overhead bin (ignoring Slater’s instructions to remain seated).

Just 48 hours after this well-publicized incident, the social media was all a-Twitter and divided. There were those who called Slater a hero, a man who should have been applauded for fulfilling every disrespected working person’s fantasy.  Others thought him more of a zero, whose actions were reckless and dangerous.  JetBlue, on the other hand, suspended the 28-year airline veteran and two days later issued a light-hearted statement on their company blog basically announcing that they couldn’t comment on the situation due to the ongoing investigation.

I am surprised that JetBlue did not swiftly issue a statement apologizing for their employee’s rogue behavior (right or wrong, there were 100 witnesses who heard his eff-ing tirade over the PA system) while they collected all the facts.  This was the airline’s opportunity to reiterate how seriously they consider the safety of their passengers and their employees, instead of treating Slater’s public meltdown as somewhat of a joke, as the tone of their statement seemed to suggest. 

Clearly, this man was beyond stressed and frustrated by having to deal with the bad behavior of ill-mannered passengers day after day.  But, as they say, it comes with the territory of a job that deals with the public. Perhaps JetBlue should mandate stress-management seminars for flight attendants as part of its on-going training (if it hasn’t already).  For the record, I recently traveled on JetBlue round-trip from JFK to San Diego, and it was a wonderful experience.  In fact, I plan on flying JetBlue again next month.

Regardless, Mr. Slater has become an overnight celebrity with all the traditional and social media attention (buy your "Save Steven” t-shirts here!)    And it now seems that he has hit the publicity mother lode:  Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman has announced he is representing Slater, losing no time fielding offers for book deals, endorsements, and reality TV shows.

Hey, if the Jersey Shore cast’s antics can be celebrated on TV, why not a harried flight attendant? 

Julie Farin is a Public Relations professional based in New York with expertise in TV, entertainment, magazine publishing, and the media in general.  She is a news and information junkie, Godfather aficionado, and proud to admit that John Lennon is her favorite Beatle.