Oct 13

Will the Tea Party only last as long as, say, your average tea party?

We recently hosted a second Repchatter podcast with Andy Sullivan, one of the founding members of the white hot political movement known as the Tea Party. Andy’s also founded bluecollarcorner.com and 911 Hard Hat Pledge.

As you’ll hear, Ted ‘Ludacris’ Birkhahn and I pulled no punches in asking Andy about the Tea Party’s agenda. We addressed the subject of religious freedom in the Ground Zero mosque controversy as well as the questionable credentials of some of the Tea Party candidates running for office.

Andy handled everything in his typically graceful style. Love or hate the Tea Party movement, they’ve earned the right to be front and center (as opposed to far right) in any and all conversations about our country’s future course. That said, your guess is as good as mine as to whether they’ll grow stronger or simply fade away just like every other Third Party movement.

Click below to listen:

 

Oct 12

Christine O’Donnell is SO not me

I’ve never seen a crazier mix of ill-suited and ill-qualified candidates running for government than Christine-o-donnell-witchcraft the representatives of the class of 2010. We’re stuck with uncooperative Republicans, ossified Democrats and totally bizarre Tea Party candidates. And, the Queen of Hearts of Tea Party candidates (to mix a couple of Lewis Carroll metaphors) has to be Delaware’s Republican Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell.

I won’t waste any time repeating the litany of things she’s done wrong in the past, but I did want to share my POV on her latest campaign commercial.

I see the commercial as a text book example of what not to do. In one fell swoop, O.D. simultaneously sends the wrong message and alienates undecided.

Instead of deflecting (or better yet, ignoring) the videotaped comments she’d made a decade ago about dabbling in witchcraft, this Tea Party temptress instead tackles the issue head-on by announcing, “I am not a witch.”

Sadly, most voters (and, indeed, most Americans) have no institutional knowledge whatsoever. So, when I tell you O’Donnell’s comments evoked a Pavlovian response by echoing similar comments made by another politician 35 years ago, you’ll probably pause and mumble, “Say what?”

It’s true, though. In the midst of the Watergate controversy that would destroy his presidency and force him to resign, Richard Nixon appeared on national television and said, “I am not a crook.” As various journalism, political science and communications academics, pundits and PR types alike have since noted, “The message Nixon sent was not the message voters received.” Instead, by reinforcing the negative, Nixon instantly undermined his credibility. His ill-conceived comments alienated his core constituents, reinforced his opponents’ beliefs and, critically, planted a seed of doubt in the key, undecided voters’ minds.

O’Donnell has done the same thing with her terrible TV spot. First, she tells me she’s not a witch. Thanks for reminding me of that negative, Christine. Second, and even worse, she tells me, “I’m you.”

Here’s the problem with telling me “I’m you.” This clueless candidate doesn’t know who I am. Nor has she taken the time to get to know me. I can tell Ms. O’Donnell that she won’t find me practicing satanic worship in the middle of the woods at midnight. That’s not me. So there’s one immediate disconnect.
 
In addition to repeating Nixon’s mistake, O’Donnell is committing the same gaffe major advertisers such as Yahoo make when they place ads proclaiming, ‘It’s all about me.” Just like O’Donnell, Yahoo has absolutely no clue who I am. They’re blissfully ignorant of my likes, dislikes and hobbies. So, don’t insult my intelligence by telling me otherwise.

I believe that O’Donnell and her Tea Party cohorts are a one-time aberration, created by eight years of W’s rack and ruin followed two years of The One’s remote and inaccessible leadership. American voters are angry, so they’re listening to unqualified whack jobs like O’Donnell. I won’t conjecture on whether she’ll win or lose because, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. Washington is at a standstill, and more divisiveness will only increase the gridlock.

That said, there are two very important image and reputation lessons to be learned from O’Donnell:
    1.)  Never, ever, repeat a negative. O’Donnell shouldn’t begin her TV spots by reminding us she once practiced witchcraft.
    2.)  Never, ever, tell me you understand me, or are just like me, when you haven’t taken the time to get to know me first.

If the Tea Party is to have a lifespan longer than a May Fly, it needs to recruit candidates who understand fundamental communications strategies. And, speaking of flies, I wouldn’t trust Christine O’Donnell to manage a media training session with the fruit stand guy outside 470 Park Avenue South.

Tip o' RepMan's bike helmet to Catharine Cody for suggesting this post.

Oct 11

Prospecting 101

There are right ways and wrong ways to develop new business. Alaska-state-library-photograph-pca-44-3-15-sourdough-in-stream-panning-for-gold-skinner

The right way is to first conduct deep research on a prospect organization, arrive at some sort of possible 'white space' opportunity and then 'ask' the prospect's permission to discuss the findings.

The wrong way is to spam the prospect. One of our clients, who leads communications for a global brand, says she is literally being deluged by spam pitches from myriad public relations firms. They're arriving in ever-increasing numbers, are 'inside out' in their approach (i.e. “We're a great agency and you'd be smart to hire us.”) and are actually counter-productive since they damage the firm's image and reputation.

I have the great fortune to serve on several boards populated by some of the best and brightest corporate communications chiefs in the world. I would never, ever allow my firm to blindly spam these individuals. To do so would violate a business relationship and, even more importantly to me, a personal friendship. That said, I've been able to win new business with some of my board peers but only after a long period of building mutual trust.

So, here's a heads-up to all the new business people at all the PR firms in the world. Stop spamming prospects. Step back and be more thoughtful in your approach and suggest solutions instead of pitching your incredible capabilities. My client will tell you those unsolicited mailers are going straight in her trash can, as is any chance of being considered for future assignments.

Oct 07

“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”

Those are the words of legendary ad man, David Ogilvy, who added: "It follows that unless your Hobbes headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money." Ogilvy’s words were true when he wrote them in the 1960s and even more relevant today. The New York Times recently ran an article about the egregious misspellings and grammatical errors found on billboards, road signs and storefronts in the city’s five boroughs. Some of the examples were simultaneously hilarious and nauseating. And, as an avid reader of all things social media related, I’ve come across a staggering number of headlines that either offended my grammatical sensibilities or completely befuddled me.

The slow and painful demise of the well-written headline has many causes: there’s the overall dumbing down of society, the rise of the 140-character universe and just plain, old laziness. I think it’s a dead heat for worst offender, though: there’s the award-crazed advertising copywriter who produces headlines intended to stop a reader in her tracks but instead befuddles the bejesus out of anyone with half a brain. Then, there’s the average public relations executive who confuses press release writing with brochure copy. So, instead of a brief, pithy headline that draws a reader in, one is instead bombarded with superlatives, hyperbole and 25-word-long monstrosities. This seems to be especially true for new product releases which, if one were to believe the headline, will literally save the planet.

I’ve been reading a phenomenal book called ‘Your Attention Please.’ It was written in 2006 by Paul B. Brown and Alison Davis. It’s one of the best ‘how-to’ guides I’ve read for writing brief, effective copy in an information overload world. The authors suggest no headline should see the light of day unless it addresses the most important question of all, “What’s in it for me?” I couldn’t possibly improve upon that definition or Mr. Ogilvy’s emphasis on the importance of a headline.

The New York Post and Daily News notwithstanding, the art of headline writing is receding faster than the polar ice caps. It’s incumbent upon leaders in the public relations, digital and advertising worlds to do something about it now. Otherwise, smart and strategic clients will wake up one day, realize their print ads, digital banners and press releases aren’t generating awareness, credibility or, most important of all, qualified sales leads. So, the next time you’re crafting a product announcement for a first-of-its-kind, fastest, smallest and lightest ever widget created by man, ask yourself the question, “What’s in it for me?” think first about the end user of the product or service. Then think about yourself. Save on the words and you just might save an account (and your job).

Oct 06

“Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry.”

Nycc I thought this particular Black Sabbath lyric was especially appropriate in setting up my blog about Saturday night's Young Survival Coalition charity comedy event at The New York Comedy Club.
  
YSC needs all the help it can get. Its mission is simple, but stark: raise funds for, and provide support to, young women who are diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, though, YSC doesn't attract the buzz that larger, better-funded breast cancer organizations such as Susan G.  Komen Foundation enjoy. Ysc_logo

And, the charity ride is anything but charitable to the riders. We logged 230 miles in two-and-a half days, battled high winds, steep hills and precipitous descents. In fact, three riders fell and broke collar bones on the first day alone. That said, no matter how painful the experience, all one had to do for motivation was look ahead, behind or to the side and see a cancer survivor battling the very same elements. How could any of us give up when these survivors, who had already endured so much, were pushing their bodies to the max? We peddled on…
  
So, in addition to competing in YSC's Tour de Pink charity cycling event this past weekend, several other Peppercommers will be joining me for Saturday's fundraising comedy event.
  
Finally, in the spirit of social media, allow me to be totally transparent. Today's blog is nothing more than a bald-faced attempt to hype Saturday night's event, increase the gate (all proceeds go to YSC) and help the Coalition with its noble task.
  
Assuming you don't have prior plans, we'd love to see you.  (8pm, Saturday October 9th, The New York Comedy Club, 241 East 24th St.; reservations are advised: 212-696-5233.) And, even if you do have a conflict, click on the YSC link  (or on my personal YSL fundraising page) and send them a few bucks. It all helps. And, that's no joke.

Oct 04

Tour de Pink II: The Sequel

Peppercommers Matt Purdue, Trish Taylor and this blogger joined 200 other cyclists this past IMAG0066 weekend to battle flooded roads, steep hills and aching muscles to successfully complete the 230-mile Tour de Pink charity fundraising ride.

Click here to see a video of Matt being interviewed by FoxNews at the end of the ride in New York City.

Tour de Pink 2009 was an amazing experience for me- some of my readers may recall my "post ride" post from last year. This year was even more extraordinary

Created six years ago by Matt and a few other pioneering souls, the Tour's goal is to raise awareness of and monetary support for the Young Survival Coalition. This is an amazing group that, unlike Susan G. Komen and other high profile breast cancer charities, has had to depend on Matt and his circle of friends to make a difference. And, what a difference they've made. In just six years, Matt & Co. have elevated the tour from an initial event that raised just $30,000 to this year's Woodstock-like experience that has already put some $550,000 in the YSC coffers. The event’s lead sponsor, The Hershey Company (cultivated by Matt and his committee), also donated $300,000 and sent nearly 40 riders to the tour.

But, the event is about much more than the much-needed moola. It's an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual roller coaster that pushes riders to the max. In many ways, it reminds me of the demands of climbing Kilimanjaro, Elbrus or other 14,000-plus foot peaks. Cyclists, like climbers, bond immediately. We push each other through the pain. We urge each other to go just one more mile, or stagger in to just one more rest stop.

There's no hype, no false pretense and, above all, no mind games. When a rider says she has your back, she means it. When one rider falls (and, unfortunately, three cyclists suffered broken collar bones the first day), we all stop to provide whatever support we can.

You won't find that type of individual riding Matt Purdue's Tour de Pink. Many of Matt's riders begin the three days as complete strangers and end up BFFs. The exact same things holds true for climbing.

So, before ending, I wanted to send a few shoutouts:

– To all my friends, family and co-workers who contributed money. Thank you.
– To the Tour de Pink support staff who had PBJ sandwiches, bananas and Advil waiting at every rest stop.
– To the three riders who broke their collar bones on day one, but traveled with the group for the rest of the tour.
– To my most excellent assistant, Dandy Stevenson, who handled all of my personal logistics so that I could concentrate on the matter at hand
– To Matt Purdue, who lost his partner, Randi, to breast cancer this past February. This one was for you, Matt.

Although I've exceeded my $3,000 fundraising goal, I can accept donations on my fundraising page through December 31st. And, to further help Matt and YSC, we'll once again be hosting a charity comedy event this coming Saturday night, October 9th, at 8pm at the New York Comedy Club. I promise that, too, will be a special experience.

So, if the spirit so moves you, help Matt, Trish and me raise the awareness of the Young Survivors Coalition. And, if you think your legs, beck, back and lower extremities can take it, join us for next year's Tour de Pink. I've done it twice now and cannot wait for a threepeat.

If you do decide to join us, I guarantee it'll be one of the best experiences of your life.

Oct 01

Toys don’t contain calories. Or do they?

Guest Post by Maddy Gale, Peppercom

Happy meal This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is meeting to discuss an ordinance concerning toy giveaways in fast food meals marketed to children. The toys won’t be eliminated completely, but will be limited to children’s meals that fit into a set range of calories, fat, salt, and sugar decided on by the city.

Living in San Francisco, and watching a similar situation unfold concerning sugary drinks and city vending machines, I am not at all surprised by this news. But I am a bit torn.

I’m a good liberal arts college grad, having attended school in southern California where fruits and vegetables are bountiful year-round, and whose student body regularly spoke with school administration about where we sourced the food for our dining hall. Now that I live in San Francisco, I frequent the weekly farmers’ market clutching Michael Pollan’s newest sermon while stuffing my reusable bag full and discussing the biographies of my produce with the growers. I’m revolted by fast food chains and often find myself in conversation about the likes of McDonalds and Burger King and their ability to literally make a killing manufacturing highly processed, chemically flavored products and selling them as “food.” 

I seem like the type who would whole-heartedly support something that would upset and potentially damage the sales of fast food. But I’m not—at least not in this situation. Despite my desire to rally the type of enthusiasm I have for swiss chard and eggplants in the hearts and minds of all Americans, I do not think limiting the number of plastic toys that lay coated in French fry grease at the bottom of a child’s Happy Meal is the best way for city officials to encourage San Francisco’s youth to eat healthier.

Neither does Mayor Gavin Newsom who, according to his spokesman Tony Winnicker, believes dictating “what plastic toys can be put in a cardboard box is not the right way to achieve [getting kids to eat better].”

So who besides the Board of Supervisors thinks this ordinance will do any good? I can only guess the parents who are allowing their children to have the final say on what’s on their dinner plate—or tray in this instance. Perhaps these parents who are unwilling to withstand the tantrums and demands of their little cherubs every time they drive by a fast food chain are hoping that the city can suppress their kids’ desires by eliminating one part of the advertised meal. The part they can’t even eat. 

A child can’t make it to the drive-up window or down the street to sit inside the restaurant by themselves—a caregiver is the one taking them and asking if they want extra cheese on their burger. 

I appreciate what the Board of Supervisors is trying to do – encourage healthy living and keep health care costs in check. But this potential ordinance is just one of the many examples of children being victimized in the “obesity epidemic.” When is the country going to realize parents and caregivers are the ones who play the key role in supporting their growing kids – not the government?