Jan 31

Sippin on some Sizzurp

Until this past week, I thought I had nothing in common with Hip Hop musicians or their 'songs'. 36mafia6 But then, felled by an absolutely hellacious ear and throat infection, I began a regimen of antibiotics and cough syrup (and, fell head-over-heels in love with a Hip Hop drug of choice: codeine).

I've always heard the best high came in a dentist's chair, courtesy of sweet air. But, I'm here to tell you that codeine-laced cough syrup is 'A number 1, top of the heap.' It numbs while it cures (and wouldn't that serve as an ideal brand promise for the syrup's manufacturer?)

It turns out that Hip Hop artists have known about codeine's amazing high all along (Silly me. How could I have doubted these artists for one second?).

Rappers, particularly those in the Southwest, absolutely adore cough syrup. They'll mix it with Sprite, Mountain Dew or Jolly Ranchers, and chug or snort the mixture until they're higher than the proverbial kite. One Hip Hop group in particular, 36 Mafia, has written a song about the experience, called, 'Sippin' on Some Sizzurp'.

Rappers have other names for sizzurp, including: lean, barre, purple jelly and Texas Tea. I'd add 'mule kick', to the list, because that's what I felt like after I'd swallowed a mere teaspoon (as directed, of course).

Hip Hop Nation: all is forgiven. I get it. I get you, I get your music and I now get at least one of your drugs of choice.

In fact, come to think of it, I've actually embraced two popular phrases used in the demi-monde that is Hip-Hop: 'Child, please' and 'Sippin' on some sizzurp.' One can teach an old dog new tricks.

I'll bet if he were still alive, the late Rick James would have made one slight alteration to his now classic, one-liner on the Dave Chappelle Show. He's have inserted 'codeine' for 'cocaine.'

Tip o' the hat to Chris "RepMan, Jr." Cody for this idea.

Jan 28

Comedy, Internships, and PR

Today's guest post is by Peppercom intern Nick 'the Knife" Light.

Recently my boss, Steve “Repman” Cody, was generous enough to treat me and several of my young colleagues to a night of stand-up comedy. The comedian? None other than Steve Cody himself.

Steve Steve explained to me and my young colleagues that attending one of his stand-up gigs is “a rite of passage.” But, I was thinking that there could be a potential for this “passage” to be more like that of a kidney stone than the kind where a young man emerges a proven warrior (or any other similarly awesome passage). (Note: The drawing to the left is not Steve Cody. I imagine someone like this to be at an awesome rite of passage ceremony.)

Don’t get me wrong, contrary to what people say about Steve, he is actually a pretty nice guy. But, other than fun-yet-safe office humor, I had never heard Steve’s jokes, and had no idea if he would be funny. Would that have been a problem? Not really. The potential negative was simply the lack of a positive: if Steve proved himself under the stage lights, I would confer secret points upon him as a boss.

Here is the part of the post where I tell you that I am a newly-hired PR intern at Peppercom. Why does that matter? Although I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, the situation seemed to hold the potential for some kind of teacher-to-pupil imparting of lessons. You know how it works. If I study the comedy routine hard enough, I’ll see some stroke of genius either in the message or the act of the performance.

I’m not going to pretend to know more about PR than I do. I’ve learned a ton so far, the work is exciting, and I hope to continue to learn. But, I have no idea how Peppercom stacks up against others in PR with respect to our professional reputation, work environment, or…… ummmmmm…… remuneration.

I guess what I’m saying is that, right now, it’s good to see that one of the founding partners (of the company at which I landed an internship) sometimes gets on stage and tells jokes. In all seriousness, I think it bodes well for my future, as well as those of others here at Peppercom. If that’s the message Steve was trying to impart to us young minds, he succeeded.  I won’t hold it against him that I didn’t get some of his Jersey jokes. What can I say? Most New Yorkers don’t even think people actually live in the Adirondack Mountains, where I grew up.

Jan 26

Why not toss in a ’64 Chevy Impala as well?

I delete most spam. Some, though, are bizarre enough to warrant a response (i.e. The Nigerian lawyer who wanted to wire me $150mm immediately, but needed my account information first. I thanked him profusely for his generosity, but noted that I never accepted less than $151mm from strangers).

Your Plaque Preview Then, there are the spam e-mails that unintentionally tarnish the sender's image and provide fodder for Repman columns. I like those.

I recently received this notice from American Registry which, if nothing else, certainly sounded legitimate. The spam alerted me to the fact that, if I hurried, I could still order a drop dead gorgeous plaque recognizing my firm's excellence in sports and leisure in the year 2009!?!?!

To begin with, we do very little, if any, sports or leisure work. So, I seriously doubt we ever won an award for excellence in the category. But, why in god's name, would I order a two-year old plaque? To remind people of what once was? To be able to stop strangers in the street and, after asking for spare change, interject, “So, guess who just got an American Registry plaque for excellence in sports and leisure in 2009?'

But, why stop with selling two-year-old plaques? I think American Registry should go all the way with its retro offerings and include:

- an owner's certificate for a 1964 Chevy Impala. Who wouldn't pay top dollar for that?
- an authentic lock of Arthur 'Fonzie' Fonzarelli’s hair from a 1978 episode of 'Happy Days'
- a mint condition Pan Am flight bag circa 1985.

I'm trying to understand the motivation for the e-mail in the first place:

-Did someone in the American Registry warehouse do some winter cleaning and find the old Peppercom plaque lying in a corner? “Hey Jim, there are some really old plaques back here. The boss ain't gonna be happy.”

- Did someone at A.R. find an old softball tournament plaque, slap our name on it and try to re-sell it as an industry award? I'd give them an 'A' for creativity if that were the case.

- Or, do they practice a bizarro world version of just-in-time manufacturing in which it takes two full years between the time a plaque is made and finally reaches the market?

I'm just glad the company's name is American Registry and not American Dentistry. Imagine receiving an e-mail alerting you that, in 2009, you had advanced gum disease? If nothing else, it would give a whole new meaning to the word plaque.

Jan 25

Our New Yawk office? It’s just off Toidy-toid and Toid.

In this hyper-competitive job environment of ours, it seems that regional accents can limit one’s Dialect career aspirations.

I can’t say that I’ve ever refused to hire someone because of a thick accent, but I have taken it into consideration (especially when recruiting for a receptionist).

According to a recent BBC Radio segment, more and more ‘New Yawkers’ are turning to voice coaches to help them lose their Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island accents. Note: please don’t confuse my Jersey accent with that of a New Yawker. My pronunciation of the word ‘youse’, for example, is slightly, but perceptibly, different. And, as for Lawn Guylanders well, don’t get me started.

Voice coaches say New Yawkers want to lose their accents in order to sound more worldly, a key consideration in a global marketplace. But, as I said, unless the position is that of a receptionist, I don’t know that I’d care about a candidate’s accent. After all, we have several Southerners holding executive positions at Peppercom. Their continual use of y’all is accepted by one and y’all. And, our very own Carl ‘Union Jack’ Foster’s British accent is positively melodious. (What is it about a British accent? And, why does it always sound so damned sophisticated?)

I’d like to think that, with one exception, I’m accent agnostic; the exception being a particularly thick Boston one. It literally drove me wild my freshman year at Northeastern University, and still creates a Pavlovian response akin to someone scratching his nails on a chalkboard.

How about you? Does the New Yawk accent bother you? How about that flat Midwestern accent? A Southern drawl? More importantly, do you think it should be factored into a job evaluation? I’d be interested in hearing your views (as long as they’re not left on my voice mail in a thick, Boston accent).

Jan 24

What sets your organization apart?

Thumbnail Differentiating a public relations firm is no easy task since we all pretty much offer the same set of  services. Sure, the holding companies will play the size card and boutiques will tout their category expertise while we midsized firms will sell a ‘best of both worlds’ solution. Still, it’s tough not to be tossed in with the pack when a big search is underway.

That’s why our decision to embrace humor as a competitive advantage has been so important in making us a breed apart. Some competitors may be larger. Others may have deeper sector credentials. But, no one, and I mean no one, can stand-up to our team of professionally trained, stand-up comedians.

We embraced stand-up comedy as a key management training technique about three years ago. It’s done wonders for improving our people’s presentation skills and workplace morale. And, when a prospect asks what sets us apart, we always add the kicker: “You’ve undoubtedly met some fine firms in your search. But, we’re the only one who will make you laugh.” That’s critical, especially when a new business pitch is extremely close. Clients end up selecting firms with whom they’ve built rapport. And, ladies and gentlemen, guess what skill stand-up comedy training enhances? Rapport building.

MSNBC thought enough of our commitment to humor that they just devoted a five-minute segment to how Peppercom uses comedy as a business tool.

Besides the obvious, there are all sorts of intangible benefits to our comedy ethos. For one, it helps us self-select prospects and employees (i.e. ‘arrogant, pompous individuals need not apply’). For another, it helps us identify stars in the making.

There are more than 3,000 public relations firms in this country.  But, I’m not aware of any other one that would use the words ‘sense of humor’ in answering the critical prospective client and employee question: “What sets you apart?”

Jan 21

So, are you here for the Dowling wedding or the Harris funeral?

Corpse-bride-emily-victor--large-msg-114048085698-2

I've read about interesting line extensions in my time, but the Community Life Center (CLC) at the Washington Park East Cemetery in Indianapolis may take the cake (wedding cake, that is).

It seems that funeral parlors such as CLC, desperate for steadier income (c'mon, guys, can't you hurry up and die a little sooner?) are re-positioning themselves as, are you ready for this, event centers! Sure, death is an event, and a terminal one at that. But, places such as the Flanner & Buchanan Funeral Center now play host to weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties, holiday parties and proms (talk about “Mary Jane's Last Dance”!).

I guess one could call these line extensions creative, but I call them creepy. And, just imagine if simultaneous events are being held at a one of these community centers and the attendees become confused (this has a Adam Sandler/Ben Stiller comedy written all over it). I can just envision the mix-ups:

- '”Do you wanna dance? God, for someone so hot your hand is so cold.”
- “Kids, don't eat all the birthday cake. We'll need some for grandpa's wake across the hall.”
- “Do, you, Pamela MacFall, take the deceased to be your husband…”

This is a beautiful thing. And, it opens up so many new opportunities for Owen Wilson-type wedding crashers. Hell, a guy could crash seven distinct events in the same day and in the same venue. Now, that's what I call value add.

So, here's to the new world of community centers and their re-defining the entire concept of cradle to grave marketing. I, for one, am dying to visit one in the near future.

Tip o' Repman's bicycling helmet to Greg Schmalz for this suggestion.

Jan 20

What would Lincoln have done?

Believing that President Obama’s speech in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings was quite possibly his best moment to date, I decided to ask an historian-in-the-making how other past presidents might have handled the very same situation. The following guest blog is authored by Chris ‘Repman, Jr.’ Cody, who is pursuing his master’s degree in history at Northeastern University.

ObamaLincolnMatted The recent shootings in Arizona, and subsequent heated political discourse, have led me to reflect on how past presidents might have handled the same crisis.  Having taken a deep dive into each and every one of our 43 presidents, here’s how I think a few might have reacted (Rep, Sr. Note: Grover Cleveland held two, non-consecutive terms so, technically, Obama is 43 and ‘43’ was 42. That, in turn, would make ‘41’ 40, but something tells me this might be too complex an issue for the Bushes to figure out):

-Thomas Jefferson would have publicly denounced the shootings, but would have tempered his remarks based upon the violent world in which he lived (i.e. his vice-president, Aaron Burr, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel).

-Franklin Pierce would most likely have shrugged his shoulders and said absolutely nothing (as he did when outspoken Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner was beaten with a cane by a Southerner on the Senate floor in 1856).

-James Buchanan would have kept mum, taking no decisive action whatsoever. The only bachelor president was notorious for saying and doing absolutely nothing as our antebellum country was coming apart at the seams.

-Abraham Lincoln would have risen to the occasion and, undoubtedly, delivered a speech comparable to the Gettysburg Address in both its brevity and magnitude. 

-Teddy Roosevelt (despite being the benefactor of McKinley's assassination) would have denounced the Tucson shootings.  But, in doing so, he would have firmly reinforced the importance of the Second Amendment. Despite being our first, great environmentalist, T.R. was also an avid hunter, killing thousands of animals during his lifetime. There’d be no call for gun control from the man who spoke softly but carried a big stick.

Of these five examples, it seems clear that President Obama followed Lincoln's lead.  Obama's speech, and its conciliatory overtones, has been hailed by many as his greatest moment.  This may indeed be the case.  However, I think it's worth pointing out that the only truly unifying events in our nation’s long history have been outwardly-focused. Consider this:  The Mexican-American War united Southerners and Northerners alike in a military action that delayed the Civil War by a few decades.  Similarly, the Spanish-American War served as a catalyst in mending post-Civil War animosities by again bringing the North and South together in an outward-facing cause. 

Our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are anything but unifying.  So, do we need another Mexican-American War to end the fratricidal fighting in our country?  There certainly seems to be one brewing.  But the James K. Polk approach, in which we invaded Mexico while proclaiming "manifest destiny," would never work today.  Cross border, Pancho Villa-like incursions by the Mexican drug cartels are another story, though.  If such incidents were to occur in significant numbers, I could see our country becoming united again in the same way it was following 9/11.

One must accept that, from a historical standpoint, assassination is as American as baseball and apple pie. And, political discourse in a democracy will always be divisive (except during those rare moments of unity a la Pearl Harbor).  True unity will only occur when it is ignited by a perceived threat beyond our borders.  That doesn’t mean Obama has no influence to bring us together.  Indeed, there is a right and wrong way to lead.  I agree with Rep Sr. that Obama's post-Tucson remarks were the correct strategy for mitigating any further escalation of hate talk in America.

Jan 19

Latest H&K turmoil is sad to watch

As a proud Hill & Knowlton alumnus, it pains me to read the latest upheaval at the firm's upper ranks. (Founders Donald Knowlton and John W. Hill are pictured, below.) It seems that, since the late 1980s, H&K has been the industry lightning rod for turmoil, controversy and unrest.

Gallery It wasn’t always that way, though. I had the good fortune to land an H&K entry-level position in 1978. At that point in time, H&K was the gold standard of the profession. Sure, Burson was growing rapidly. But, Carl Byoir and Harshe-Rotman & Druck had already started to decline, and firms such as Porter, Ketchum and Golin were still in their nascent stages. H&K was unquestionably the “…shining city on the hill.”

It was a thrill to work there. In those days, giants walked Hill & Knowlton’s hallways.  We had former newspaper editors, syndicated columnists, press secretaries and industry insiders by the scores. H&K also had a curious new business policy. The firm refused to proactively pitch prospective clients, believing it to be demeaning. Instead, blue chip organizations approached Hill & Knowlton, hoping to be added to its uber-prestigious client list.

Our power brokers were the powerfirm’s upper ranks. It seems that, since the late brokers. Bob Gray, who ran H&K’s Washington, D.C. office, was the ultimate Beltway insider. If a client needed to influence Congressional votes, Gray made it happen. I had the pleasure to work alongside two of Gray’s subordinates, Sheila Tate and Colburn Aker, to support the American Trucking Association’s efforts to prevent new anti-trucking legislation in scores of states (note: Tate later became Nancy Reagan’s press secretary and founded Powell-Tate. Aker had his own influential lobbying firm for decades). I traveled to New Hampshire, Oregon and the state of Washington in 1980 to help the team ensure voters turned thumbs down on increased trucking taxes. It was an unparalleled experience for a green-as-grass, 24-year-old account executive.

H&K’s decline began in the late 1980s, when a senior management struggle resulted in the firm’s representing highly controversial clients such as The Church of Scientology, The U.S. Catholic Bishops and, most notoriously, the government of Kuwait. With the latter, H&K was accused of staging a genocide of Kuwaiti kids (an event that later inspired the Hollywood movie, “Wag the Dog”).

H&K seemed to have stabilized its image and reputation free-fall by the end of the 20th century. And, quite a few industry trades rightly lauded Paul Taaffe and Marylee Sachs for their fine work in righting the ship. Now, they’re gone with the wind and the firm, once again, seems to be in adrift. It’s really sad to say this but, once a firm sells to a larger holding company, all bets are off. Some survive. A few even thrive. But most, like H&K, begin a long, slow downward spiral.

Jan 18

All work and no play…

Today's guest post is by  Catharine “Goose" Cody.

I have the best mother ever.  I’ve always known that. But, a recent Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua just confirmed it. 

Me and mom In her piece, entitled: ‘Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior’,  Chua describes parenting customs that are inherent in the Chinese culture, but missing in most Western homes.  For example, Chua says she never allowed her children to attend a sleepover, have play dates, act in a school play, watch television or achieve any grade lower than an A. Talk about all work and no play making Jack a dull boy!

Chua insists these strict rules are the reason why her daughters are successful.  Had she not been such a stern taskmaster, Chua writes, her kids wouldn’t be performing at Carnegie Hall or consistently finishing first in their respective classes.

That may be true. But, in my opinion, the Chua children undoubtedly missed out on some of the best parts of childhood.

My brother, Chris and I, grew up in a fairly lenient household. Our parents encouraged, rather than forced, us to pursue our dreams.  We were permitted to sleep over at a friend’s house, perform in talent shows, and even, dare I say it, bring home grades of B, and lower! 

Chris and I are turned out to be pretty normal kids (at least in my mind). And, we did very well academically.  As far as how we’re doing professionally, I’ve just graduated from Monmouth University and am a full-time production assistant at MSNBC. Chris is pursuing his passion for history, and is in the midst of attaining a master’s degree at Northeastern University.

I’ll bet that, as they mature and reflect on their childhoods, Amy Chua’s kids will feel they missed out on, well, being kids.
I can tell you that performing in grammar school talent shows was probably one of the best experiences of my life. In fact, dancing to ‘No Limit’ provided a once-in-a-lifetime high I’ll never forget.  There I was, at the tender age of eight, dancing on stage in a glitter-and-rhinestone studded costume that most surely would have made Amy Chua cringe.

Chris and I were also pretty big partiers in high school.  We had curfews, but our parents didn’t flip if we came home a little late.  It’s not that they weren’t worried about our safety, they most certainly were. Instead, they trusted us to make our own decisions.  And, that was huge.

If our parents hadn’t let us date during high school, I shudder to think what would have happened when we reached college.  Many of my friends with strict, Chua-like parents, went berserk during their freshman years and, unfortunately, fell victim to alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases and other setbacks.

My dad writes a great deal about image and reputation in his blog. And, many of us buy into the notion that one of the reasons our country is falling behind is precisely because Asian moms such as Amy Chua are raising baby Einsteins. I think the issue is much more complex. And, while Amy’s kids might be ridiculously smart, are they happy?  Or, will they be happy in the future? Maybe. But, I don’t think so.

Too much of anything is a bad thing. My biggest fear for Amy Chua’s kids is that, one day many years from now, they’ll look back and ask the ‘What if’ question. What if I hadn’t done everything my mom insisted I do and, instead, did what I wanted to do? Chris Cody and I will never be asking ourselves that question. And, thanks for that, Mom.