Nov 30

The Hercules of Hackensack

Thomas Jefferson was wrong when he wrote, “All men are created equal.” They aren't. Some can Article-1241060-07C9E3B1000005DC-34_634x382 jump higher. Others can run faster. And, some simply don't feel the cold like mere mortals.

I was struck by the inequality among my fellow man at the New Jersey Transit train station the other day. While huddled inside a makeshift windbreak waiting for 'Old Unreliable', I spied a few fellow commuters strolling along the platform sans topcoats. I was appalled. The temperature was 24 degrees and the wind chill had to be in the teens. Yet, these machismo types padded along the platform as if it were a pleasant Spring day.

Women don't do this. They feel the cold like most men. So, how come there's a certain class of guys who disdain warmth? It has to go beyond mere testosterone. And, it has to be more than mere narcissism. These deep-freeze defying denizens of December MUST have other reasons for encouraging a cold blast of arctic air to shoot up their pant legs. Could it be:

- A missing brain synapse that doesn't registers sensitivity to heat or cold?
- A desperate need to attract attention (“Hey, check me out! Am I the Hercules of Hackensack? The Samson of South Amboy? The Paul Bunyan of New Brunswick? Man, am I rugged, or what?”).
- A weather version of the Dennis Kozlowski/Jeff Skilling/Elliot Spitzer attitude that says: “Hey, normal rules simply don't apply to me.”

Whatever the motivation of the sans topcoat troupe, I think it's an ill-advised, if subliminal, image move. Not only do these guys repel me, I think their Summer in Winter wardrobe merely reinforces society's perception of men as bumbling Neanderthals.

In fact, I'm surprised Hollywood screenwriters and TV commercial producers haven't seized on this obvious folly to once again remind viewers that men are the inferior gender.

Nov 29

A holding company by any other name would still be a holding company

I chuckle whenever I see, hear or read the latest double talk from one of the advertising world's Puppet2.s600x600 holding companies.

On the one hand, they try to convince anyone who will listen that size trumps all. They'll pontificate at length about the importance of breadth and depth, and the need for 35 offices around the world to service global clients.

But, because their traditional advertising models are relics of the past, they'll also try to convince you they're as lean and mean as any independent midsized firm in the world. Ha! Baloney.

Monday's advertising column in the New York Times is a classic example of holding company double talk. BBDO, one of the true monolithic, mega agencies of the advertising world, just created a small, 20 employee consulting unit called Batten & Company.

It's named after George Batten, one of the 'B's' in BBDO. BBDO said it chose Batten, as opposed to Barton, Durstine or Osborne (the other 'B,' 'D' and 'O' in BBDO, respectively) because Mr. Batten was more entrepreneurial. Double ha! As if a holding company (or a unit thereof) could ever be truly entrepreneurial.

The dirty little secret about holding companies (and their units) is that they serve two clients: the holding company and the client (and woebetide the holding company employee who doesn't recognize the holding company is the more important of those two clients).

Clients are billed twice. There's one invoice for the work provided and, as I can personally attest, a management fee that's added for the holding company in London, Paris or wherever.

When one serves in a senior management position at a holding company, one is consumed with meeting the financial and administrative needs of the holding company (and, oh yeah, also providing occasional counsel to the largest client).

Holding companies try to lure our people away by using lines such as this: “Hey kid. You've done well. But, now it's time to play in the big leagues.” Triple ha!

What they don't tell you about the big leagues is how totally devoid they are of true George Batten-like entrepreneurship. A BBDO may carve out a small, nimble, client-focused consultancy. But, trust me, that little consultancy has to play by the same rules, and tack-on the same overhead fees, as any other member of the holding company. It would be akin to the old Soviet Union spinning off a small republic, saying it had the same freedoms as any democracy, but still had to toe the line with the Kremlin.

I wish Batten & Company well. But, I also wish the holding companies would stop trying to be all things to all people. They should embrace their worldwide footprints and be done with it.

I'd like to think George Batten would agree that, suggesting a holding company's new unit will be as entrepreneurial as, say a certain blogger's PR firm, qualifies as false and misleading advertising.

Nov 24

Rifles? Check. Smartbombs? Check. PR? Um…

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

While we are safe at home with our families this weekend, trying to figure out how to fit a   Hires_080709-M-6668G-021b chicken, inside a duck inside a turkey, take a moment to think of our troops overseas on this Thanksgiving—and if you do no other work on this holiday, read this report. You’ll find it shocking from a PR perspective.

Clearly the war in Afghanistan has taken a terrible toll in blood and treasure. Earlier this year, the Afghan conflict became the longest war in American history. Now this new study is out providing a hint as to why this war may be so hard to win.

The International Council on Security and Development, a thinktank based in London, reports that in the Afghan provinces where fighting has been fiercest, 92 percent of 1,000 Afghan men surveyed know nothing of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington that precipitated the invasion. More than 70 percent of respondents “view foreigners as disrespectful of their religion and traditions,” and 40 percent believe that “foreigners are in Afghanistan to destroy the country, to occupy Afghanistan, or to destroy Islam.

The conclusion is obvious. "The lack of awareness of why we are there contributes to the high levels of negativity toward the NATO military operations and made the job of the Taliban easier," ICOS President Norine MacDonald told Reuters.

If you were called in to advise the Pentagon, what would you tell them? America’s armed forces have often made PR a part of the war-fighting effort. Certainly they’ve tried in Afghanistan, too. But, somehow, the message does not seem to be resonating with the Afghans.

If you could spend five minutes with these guys, how would you advise them to win hearts and minds in a country where 85 percent of citizens live by agriculture, and Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare are nowhere to be found?

Let’s hear from you.

Nov 23

There are no “do-overs” in sports, but in life there are

Today’s guest post is by Lunchboy, a former Peppercommer and lifetime Eagles fan. 

“Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices – just recognize them.”
-    Edward R. Murrow

M6a00d8342adfcf53ef01156f891b32970c-800wiichael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants on Sunday Night on NBC’s “Football Night in America.”  In doing so, the national discussion that is Vick continued to gain yardage in our collective water cooler chat. At last look, Google had more than 3.4 million listings for the Philly QB while Eli Manning had an average 1.5 million (see, he is just average). The Eagles also took control of the NFC East, but more on that later. 

Back in April 2007 you and I learned that Vick was implicated in an illegal interstate dog fighting ring that he bankrolled, operated on his property and took part in on fight days. The losing dogs were likely starved, raped, electrocuted, drowned or killed. I’m sure some went through it all.  Heinous crimes that you’d expect to see portrayed during parts of NBC’s “Law & Order,” not in real life by an NFL star who had a $130 million contract in his wallet.

He lost it all.  The contract with the Atlanta Falcons, numerous endorsement deals, homes, cars, etc. Everything. 

Playing defense, likely for the first time, he dealt with the court of law and public opinion, and ultimately his Leavenworth guards. For 19 months (of a 23 month sentence), he was living in an 8×10 cell.  When he was released in May of 2009 his debt to society had been paid, but he was some $20 million in debt to the Falcons, the IRS, some banks and anyone who had an opinion about what landed him in the pen. 

Except for the Eagles, every NFL team took a pass on Vick as he tried to regain employment in the industry he had once worked.  Granted, a Fortune 500 company wouldn’t ever hire a felon convicted of an accounting scandal or insider trading to its corporate finance team, but Vick never cheated his employer per se.  He only cheated off of the field during practice (by not going), film study (by sleeping), his nightlife activities (by going and not sleeping),  and ending the lives of dogs “employed” by Bad Newz Kennels.
 
Fast forward about 18 months and the man is again atop headlines.   Philadelphia, after trading Donovan McNabb away and welcoming in the Kevin Kolb era, is now starting Michael Vick thanks to injuries to Kolb’s head and psyche. Since becoming an NFL quarterback again, Vick has become a student of the game, a practice and weight room regular, a film study junkie.  There is now talk about the team being positioned to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. 

And, again, my city is divided -not over who makes the best cheesesteak- but whether or not Michael Vick deserves their support as he leads our beloved Eagles.  

Ultimately, we all have our own decision to make on this one. You could argue that he deserves the punishment that he inflicted on those poor dogs, or you could argue that our judicial system and due process ran its course and he deserves a second chance.  You could contend that there is good in his various appearances at schools when he speaks with children and young adults about dog fighting and how evil the culture is.  He’s Ron Mexico!  You could recall the gun shooting outside his 30th birthday party this past summer minutes after he left the club. Weeks ago he was captured hugging a coach in pure jubilation following a win against Eli’s brother Peyton. He scored six TDs against the Redskins!  I could go on and on…

Personally, I think Vick will always be guilty of his crimes, even as a free man.  Even without his prison jumpsuit on, he will always be looked at as a felon.  His children, his wife, every player on his team and those he faces, every coach, teacher, fan, grocery bagger, cabbie and waiter will always remember and think about what he did.  He’ll carry that as a life sentence with no chance for parole or peace of mind for a long, long time.   Honestly, that’s enough for me.   

Should he behave and continue to call all the right plays, there’s a new contract that will end his financial worries and there might even be future employment options with the NFL (an athlete/parolee ambassador?),  the US Department of Corrections (a living case study on rehabilitation?) or with the Humane Society (as an animal rights activist?). 

Before all of that happens, though, the Eagles play the Chicago Bears on Sunday.  And I’m rooting for Vick and the Eagles to win. 

Nov 22

Mick vs. Vick: When the very worst becomes the very best

Novick 6a00d8341c39e853ef01348470b581970cThe National Football League has a fascinating image and reputation  conundrum on its hands.    There's a very real possibility that ex-con, Michael Vick, the most villainous and vilified player in league history, will be named this season's most valuable player.

I thought it would be interesting to obtain a dog's POV (since Vick served 18 months in prison for betting on, and hosting dog fights at his palatial estate. Note: countless canines were tortured and killed by Vick and his posse). 

So, I turned to Mick Cody, an 8-year-old pit bull mix. An outspoken advocate of canine rights, Mick was literally panting at the opportunity to discuss Vick (if not disembowel him).

Rep: Thanks for finding time in your busy schedule, Mick.

Mick: No prob. I just finished a six-hour nap and, aside from needing to go bye-bye fairly soon, I've got a few minutes. Hey, how about a Beggin' Strip?

Rep: Sure. Here. Hey, nice catch. Great eye-jaw coordination. You're the Michael Vick of dogs.

Mick: Grrrrrrrr.

Rep: Sorry. So, what do you think about all the Vick buzz? He's an extraordinary athlete, no?

Mick: He's a murderer, pure and simple.

Rep: But, he paid his time in jail. Why not forgive and forget?

Mick: He was directly or indirectly responsible for the torture and deaths of hundreds of dogs. Considering the average pit lives for 12 human years, he should have been given a sentence of similar duration. And, he should NOT have been allowed to ever play football again! Woof!

Rep: Why not?

Mick: Because it sends the usual mixed signal you humans are so adept at. It's OK to decimate another species, spend a few months in prison and then return to a sport that pays you millions and millions of dollars annually. There’s something seriously wrong in that equation. You wouldn't ever let Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling run Fortune 500 businesses again, but you'll let a murderer play football again to sate Philly fans' insatiable need to win now. The Eagles should be ashamed of themselves. The team, not the birds. The birds are an impressive, if solitary lot. Another Beggin' Strip please.

Rep: OK. Wow, superb over-the-shoulder grab. Positively Vick-like.

Mick: Grrrrr.

Rep: Elaborate on the conditional love thing before you go bye-bye.

Mick: Sure. Eagles' fans are willing to conveniently forget all of Vick's horrible actions because he may be their ticket to The Super Bowl. That's conditional love. Me, I love you unconditionally whether you've forgotten to walk me or you've shown favoritism to my brother, Rooney. Not humans. You're the one who always quotes Paul McCartney when referencing past clients or flames: “Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.” Me, I'll love you until I fetch my last bone or lift my last leg. That's unconditional love.

Rep: Final question. I noticed you were giving some serious paw pumps during last night's game as the Eagles dumped the Giants. Weren't you sending a mixed signal?

Mick: You raised me to love the Jets and hate the Giants. What's an obedient pooch to do?

Rep: Seems like even canines can be conflicted.

Mick: Not at all. I sleep like a log. In fact, that fireplace looks pretty, darn inviting. Later, Rep.

Nov 19

You are what you watch. Except when you aren’t.

Dog watching television According to psychographic ad targeter Mindset Media, the television shows we watch provide a  unique insight into our personality and can help brands better target their marketing spend (insert link).

For example, modest people, says Mindset Media, are more likely to watch 'Deadliest Catch' while altruistic types, such as Ed Moed, dial up cooking shows like 'Rachel Ray.'

Hmmm. Color me skeptical about all this psychographic psychobabble.

In describing viewers of my favorite show, 'Mad Men', Mindset says it attracts creative types. (No duh. The show's about an ad agency.) But, the creative types who watch 'Mad Men' are also emotionally sensitive (Well, yes, that's me.) and intellectually curious types (Damn, right again.) who tend to be more often dreamers than realists. (Whoa. Back off, Mindset. That's not me!)

Mad Men watchers are also liberal (Gee, these guys are pretty good.) and prefer brands such as Blue Moon and American Express. (I order sauvignon blanc, but I do like a Blue Moon on occasion and carry an AmEx card.) Mindset says I wouldn't be as interested in Campbell's Soup or the Cadillac Escalade. (That's putting it mildly.)

Mindset analyzed viewers of other shows as well, including ‘The Office’ which, while it's gone steadily downhill, is still a favorite of mine. “Like Michael on the show,” says Mindset, “watchers of The Office think they are superior to others.” (Rubbish.) In fact, says Mindset, fans of ‘The Office’ believe they are extraordinary (Which I am.) and happily brag about their accomplishments. (I'm a shameless self promoter.) Viewers prefer Starbucks (Not me. The coffee's way too bitter.) and the BMW Series 3 (Now, this is scary. I own an M3.) They dislike McDonald's (The word 'loathe' would be more appropriate.) and the Lincoln Town Car. (I'll ride in one, but you'll never catch me behind the wheel.).

All in all, this psychobabble stuff IS pretty impressive. Their analysis of me based upon my viewing of ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Office’ is eerily accurate.

BTW, in case you watch ‘Glee’ (which I can't stomach), you're “in touch with your own feelings and may even feel happiness or sadness more intensely than others.” I'll bet you didn't know that, did you? You also drink Evian and drive a Volkswagen. You dislike Quaker cereals (What's your issue with Quaker cereals?) and the Chevy Silverado. (Does anyone like that car?) Oh, and as reluctant as I am to add this in, Mindset says ‘Glee’ viewers are closest to viewers of ‘Mad Men’ when it comes to being creative. Not true. We ‘Mad Men’ types rule.

So, what's your favorite TV show and what do you think it says about you? I'd go on, but I need to DVR 'Eastbound and Down.' I'll bet Mindset would have a field day with viewers of that show.

Nov 18

Jim Morrison’s still lighting fires after all these years

51035SWwRmL._SL500_AA300_ I was heartened to read that Governor Charlie Crist of Florida is pursuing a posthumous pardon  for two criminal convictions handed down to the legendary Jim Morrison of the Doors after some questionable stage behavior at a 1969 Miami concert. (Jim Morrison Is Candidate for Pardon in ’69 Arrest)

Having researched the court ruling, Crist says, “The more that I've read about the case and the more I get briefed on it, the more convinced I am that maybe an injustice has been done here.” How about that? We still have one politician who can read and who actually wants to do the right thing.

Naturally, though, right-wing, god-fearing conservatives, vehemently disagree with Crist. And the resulting debate has sparked a mini Florida firestorm that would no doubt amuse the man who sang, 'Light My Fire.'

Claude Kirk, Florida's governor at the time Morrison was convicted on misdemeanor charges of profanity and indecent exposure, was annoyed to be asked by the Times reporter about Governor Crist's efforts on Morrison's behalf. “There's a lot more important things to think about than that,” he sniffed. Well, yes, but if Richard M. Nixon can receive a full pardon for ordering and then covering up the Watergate break-in, why can't Jimbo catch a break?

Adding insult to injury, Florida's state attorney of Miami-Dade County, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, huffed: “It's not worth the time.” Nice. I'll bet Morrison wouldn't love her madly or two times, for that matter.

I see the Morrison conflagration as yet another example of our country's acute polarization. Bible-thumping Tea Party types view Morrison (and his liberal, left-leaning successors) as the epitome of evil. The latter, meanwhile, would like to right a past wrong and allow Morrison's name (if not his spirit) to rest in peace.

If former New York governor George Pataki could pardon Lenny Bruce and former Enron chairman Ken Lay's conviction can be annulled, why can't Florida do right by Morrison? As Jim sang, people are strange (and are becoming even stranger every day).

Although my vote doesn't count, here's hoping Crist can 'break on through' and get Morrison's minor offenses expunged after all these years. It would certainly give new meaning to one of my favorite Doors' songs: 'The End.'

Nov 16

Killing for a Living

How do you like global tobacco companies such as Philip Morris and British American Tobacco suing Third World governments and spending oodles of cash to lobby for smaller warning signs on their packaging? That's right, Big Tobacco is once again on the offensive to make sure it continues to maim and kill as many people as possible in the name of free enterprise. 

Cigarette I'm not surprised tobacco is targeting the Third World. That's where the growth and profits are (that said, though, an amazing 21 percent of Americans still smoke). But, to think that Philip Morris, for example, is actually suing the government of Uruguay for excessive tobacco regulations is beyond the pale. 

Could you imagine being head of marketing for one of these death merchants? Talk about making a pact with the devil. 

Peter Nixon of Philip Morris is one such merchant of death. He's quoted in the Times as saying his company '…agreed that smoking was harmful and supported reasonable regulations where none exist.' Gee, what a swell guy. 

Yes. Nixon agrees cigarette packaging should have some sort of warning (the smaller the better, I'm sure). But, he takes exception with the new, larger warnings being placed on cigarette boxes around the world. 'We thought 50 percent was reasonable,' he told the Times. 'Once you take it up to 80 percent, there's no space for trademarks to be shown. We thought that was going too far.' So, covering 80 percent of a cigarette box is going too far, but killing half a million people each and every year isn't? Methinks Mr. Nixon is smoking something other than cigarettes. 

More to the image and reputation point of this blog, though, how can someone, anyone, work for an organization that knowingly manufactures and sells a product that kills? How can PR and advertising agencies represent them? And, how can all of the above look at themselves in the mirror each and every morning?

Maybe the answer lies in another, smaller NY Times article from the November 2nd Health section. It reported that 'middle-aged smokers are far more likely than non-smokers to develop dementia later in life, and heavy smokers — those who go through more than two packs a day — are at more than double the risk.' I'll bet Mr. Nixon and his heavy smoking, middle- aged peers at Philip Morris, BAT and the other Big Tobacco players are just suffering from early onset dementia. They'd have to be certifiable to do killing for a living.

 

Nov 15

The Broken Business Bureau

Whenever Ed and I are approached by what Catharine ‘Goose” Cody would call a ‘sketchy’ new business prospect, we do one of two things: run a Dun & Bradstreet report on their financial stability and check their rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Well, after viewing an unbelievable ABC 20/20 expose on the scams being perpetrated by the Better Business Bureau, I think we’ll just stick with D&B in the future.

 

According to 20/20, the BBB routinely assigns a mediocre grade to an otherwise superb business (see examples of Wolfgang Puck and the Ritz Carlton on the video) in order to extort money from them. They’ll only agree to improve the ratings if a business agrees to pay a fee to become an official member of the BBB. Talk about a  shakedown.

 

There are some jaw-dropping examples of such small businesses as Liz’s Antique Hardware being told by a BBB telemarketer they’ll have a ‘C’ rating improved if they pay $400 to do so. Liz gives the BBB her credit card information and, voila, she gets an A rating.

 

It gets worse. To prove how disreputable the Better Business Bureau has become, some computer hackers recently paid hundreds of dollars to create accounts for a fictitious ‘skinhead’ organization as well as the notorious terrorist group, Hamas. Because they paid their up-front fees, though, both received A ratings from the BBB! I wonder what grade the BBB would assign to al Qaeda? With bin Laden’s deep pockets, I’d have to believe he’d cop an A +.

 

To add further insult to injury, the president of the BBB comes across very badly in his televised interview. He’s clearly been media trained, but only up to a point. While he admits fault, he doesn’t suggest any disciplinary action for the offending employees. Nor does he say he will fix whatever’s broken in the BBB system. Nor, does he assure it will never happen again. Comforting, no? If nothing else, the BBB should fire its PR firm.

 

Since it’s a non-profit organization, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says the Better Business Bureau may have broken several laws. Not only are they forcing businesses large and small to pay for membership (and assigning quality grades based upon payment), but BBB executives are pulling down some serious personal bank as well. The CEO of the Los Angeles office earns a cool $400k annually. That’s nice work if you can get it.

 

It’s no wonder we Americans are at sea. We simply can’t trust anyone anymore. Our political leaders lie to us. Our religious leaders can agree on only one thing: that theirs is the one true religion. And, our sports and entertainment heroes are a complete mess (i.e. Tiger, Lance, Lindsay and Mel, to name just a few). And, now, one of the last remaining bastions of objectivity, credibility and consumer protection, the Better Business Bureau, turns out to be a complete scam.

 

It’s enough to make a blogger head to the nearest pub and order up a couple of pale ales with a chaser.

Nov 12

Righting 89 wrongs

A few days ago, I got together with my brothers, uncle and aunt to hold a 90th birthday party for  HBirthday my dad (My dad is on the right).

It was a great night, replete with remembrances, surprises and the requisite number of hugs and kisses. My dad was tickled pink. He pulled me aside afterwards and said, "You did a nice job pulling this together. Did you know this was my very first birthday party?" I was stunned. I distinctly remembered giving him gifts over the years, but figured he must have been given a party by his parents at some point in his life. Not so.

In fact, a more in-depth discussion revealed that my dad was the only one of his five siblings to have not been given a birthday party in his youth. As the middle child, he'd been consistently overlooked by his parents. I felt really bad for him. But, the story got worse. When he was 12, my dad's parents 'forgot' to give him a Christmas present! He sat around the tree that long-ago Christmas morning and watched speechlessly as his brothers and sister unwrapped their presents and shrieked with joy. Can you imagine? I asked him why he hadn't spoken up. He said he was too embarrassed. Plus, as he put it: 'In those days, children were seen and not heard.'

I'm really glad my brothers, uncle and aunt had an opportunity to right 89 wrongs. As for my grandparents, shame on them.