Mar 31

Keep the cheater, not the loser

Today's guest post is by Emily Simmons, (pictured) Graduate Assistant for Student Media, Student Life Organization, College of Charleston.

EmilyRight about now former University of Tennessee Men’s Head Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl is probably regretting working without a contract for the 2010-2011 NCAA basketball season. Monday rumors were confirmed that Donald Trump’s famous words fell upon Pearl’s ears: “You’re Fired!”
In October, RepMan reported on Pearl’s September press conference, in which he announced committing NCAA recruitment violations, and apologized to the public. During the press conference UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton stated the University had imposed self-sanctions against Pearl and his staff, resulting in limited recruitment and coaching privileges, along with deduction in pay. Pearl sat on the sidelines of eight SEC games, likely spending much of that time saying his prayers that he was going to hold onto his job a little bit longer.

But during the infamous press conference, Hamilton and UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek confirmed that in light of Pearl’s confession, the University would stand behind its fearless leader. “We sat down at the very beginning and thought ‘what is our ultimate goal?’ We want Bruce Pearl to be our basketball coach; short of data showing we have to do differently, we’re going to go into this with him being our basketball coach,” Hamilton said during an interview with Knoxville station WBIR in October. Pearl’s firing came following a disgraceful 30-point loss to University of Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament; so was Hamilton saying the University would stand behind him if he was a cheater, but not if he was a cheater and a loser?

Pearl’s termination came as no surprise to the sports world, considering one week prior to the announcement Hamilton went on a local radio station claiming Pearl’s job was on the line. Two days following Hamilton’s slip of the tongue, UT found itself embarrassed and out of the tournament following Michigan’s landslide win against the Volunteers.  So what went wrong that caused this sudden shift in administrative support for Pearl? Was it the Michigan loss, rumored reports of additional NCAA violations, or had the University been planning this all along?

One month following the September press conference, Pearl’s contract was terminated, and administration announced the University was in the process of drafting a new contract for Pearl. Pearl’s former contract, according to ESPN Reporter Andy Katz, was said to be airtight. One clause protected Pearl from termination during an NCAA investigation, and only allowed action for removal to be taken following NCAA sanctions. Reports claim that Pearl continued contract negotiations over the following months, and never quite made it to signing the dotted line, a result of disagreements in the contract’s terms. But with Hamilton’s and Cheek’s public acknowledgment that his job was safe, there didn’t seem to be any threat to Pearl’s job, right? Well, as the old saying goes, “Put it in writing.”

It’s safe to say that the crux of this story has nothing to do with the NCAA violations themselves, but simply the PR mess UT has gotten itself into over the past two years. Administration announced prior to the “resignation” of former UT Head Football Coach Phillip Fulmer that his job, too, was on the line. Hamilton then hired Lane Kiffin, the first coach not from the SEC to lead the Volunteers into a losing season, who left less than one year into his contract. The Athletic Director then publicly acknowledged support of Pearl following accusations of NCAA violations, only to throw him under the bus two days prior to UT’s game in the NCAA Tournament, and then fire him with little to no explanation. In light of Hamilton’s inconsistent leadership, it’s likely that UT won’t be losing any recruits resulting from NCAA sanctions soon to be placed on the athletic program, but rather due to the lack of administrative support and transparency the University is portraying.

Saturday the University named Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin as UT Men’s Head Basketball Coach. While Martin begins to rebuild the basketball program’s image, it will be interesting to see how the University moves forward to repair its own image. One thing’s for certain: if they hire Pat Summitt to coach all sports and run the Athletic Department they’ll be making their first smart move in years.

Mar 30

The five most influential TV shows in Repman’s life

Since AdWeek just saw fit to name their 100 most influential TV shows in history, I thought I'd cull from their favorites to tell you the five programs that have had the greatest impact, positive, negative, or otherwise on me.

They are (in chronological order):

1) "Leave it to Beaver" (CBS and ABC. Original air date: October 4, 1957). Wally and the Beav ran for six or seven seasons, long enough for me to become positively addicted to the cool ways in which Beav always got in trouble, Wally always got the girls and evil Eddie Haskell cheated and scammed his way through Mayfield High. I also developed my first, serious crush on Beav's second grade teacher, Ms. Landers.

2.) "The Twilight Zone" (CBS. Original air date: October 2, 1959). Submitted for your approval, TTZ was unlike any other show on TV. It simultaneously scared, mystified and intrigued me. I still watch the re-runs. Favorite episode of all? 'Willoughby', which featured a harried, Ed Moed-type ad executive whose regular Metro North commuter train somehow becomes a time machine that enables him to escape to a fictional Victorian town named, you guessed it, Willoughby.

3.) "All in the Family" (CBS. Original air date: January 12, 1971). The first, real counter-culture sitcom, AITF featured the quintessential racist, Archie Bunker, his 'dingbat' wife, Edith, 'meathead' son-in-law Mike Stivic and Mike's wife/Archie's daughter, Gloria, whom Archie always called 'Little Girl.' (Note: That's what I've always called my Catharine. Talk about influence).

4.) "Seinfeld" (NBC. Original air date: May 31, 1990). Hands down, the most influential show in this blogger's life. I often find myself copying Jerry's mannerisms and speech, and constantly referring to previous episodes in my everyday business life. Just yesterday, for example, Peppercom's Teddy Birkhahn scared the bejesus out of me when he sidled up silently behind me. I stuck a tin of Altoids in his pocket to prevent any such future ambushes.

5.) "The Sopranos" (HBO. Original air date: May 31, 2000). Incredible show with an incredible cast. Mediocre final episode, but such is life. My world stopped every Sunday evening at 9pm when T, Carm, AJ, Meadow, et al, took center stage. Favorite episode: the botched murder of a Russian mobster in the New Jersey Pinelands.

Honorable mention: "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men." I adore both AMC series (note: neither made Ad Week's list).

So, how about you? What TV show(s) had the most influence on you and why? Inquiring bloggers want to know.

Posted in TV
Mar 29

Does music matter?

Polls Beethoven.That’s the question substitute host and Peppercommer Paul ‘Music Man’ Merchan debated along with  regular Repchatter co-host Brendan ‘Muggs’ Mullin and a cast of thousands. So, click below, download, tune in, turn on and drop out as you listen to our team of experts debate whether Lady Gaga is, in fact, the reason our world has gone positively insane.

Part 1

Part 2


Mar 28

Do as I say, not as I do

Despite the fact that Fortune 500 social media budgets are expanding at a faster rate than the  Chicharito-twitter   average American's waistline, only 15 of 143 chief marketing officers audited by Business Insider have active Twitter accounts. Even worse, less than 15 percent have NO social media footprint whatsoever. That means they don't blog, Tweet, or post comments on chat forums. Nothing. Nada. Which begs the question: exactly how ARE CMO's spending their days? Watching re-runs of “I love Lucy”?

This is both dismaying and alarming. How can a CMO sign off on a multi-million dollar social media campaign, yet have no first-hand knowledge of how the blogosphere works? Even worse, how can a CMO look his CEO in the eye and say, “Yes, Mr. Fatbottomblues, I believe we need to reallocate all of those monies to social media.”

This has all the earmarks of a classic Mike Wallace "60 Minutes" ambush interview. I can just picture Mike and his team sneaking up on an unsuspecting Fortune 500 chief marketing officer just as she pulls into her executive parking space…

Wallace: “Ms. Highfalutin? Hello, Mike Wallace with "60 Minutes." What? Of course, I'm still alive. Quick question: your firm spends $50 million in social media advertising and content, correct? So how come you yourself don't Tweet or blog or have any social footprint whatsoever?”

Highfalutin: “I have no comment.”

Wallace: “Oh, c'mon. How can you authorize millions of dollars of spending when you have no idea how the blogosphere works? Isn't that like telling a good friend to go sky diving even though you, yourself, have never done it? I wouldn't want you as a friend and I'll bet your CEO wouldn't want you as his CMO when we tell him you've never, ever tried to blog or Tweet.”

Highfalutin: “I've never recommended sky diving to anyone.”

Wallace: “Tell our audience of millions why you yourself don't have a social footprint, but feel confident spending tens of millions of your corporation's dollars doing just that? Ms. Highfalutin, why are you running away? Ms. Highfalutin, I'm going to Tweet about your cowardice!”

I think CMOs who have no social footprint are, in a way, cowards. How can they call themselves marketers when they have no first-hand knowledge of the fastest-growing medium in our business? eMarketer predicts U.S. marketers will spend more than $3 billion in social and digital programs in 2011, a figure they expect to increase by a further 27 percent in 2012.

And, yet CMOs stand pat. Here's why:

– They convince themselves they're too busy to find the time. Psychologists call that avoidance behavior.
– They say they don't understand the new technology. That's a cop out.
– They're afraid something they blog or Tweet might be politically incorrect and cost them their lucrative job. Now, that one I buy. Fear is a powerful motivator.

Whatever the reason for their lack of engagement, these Luddites of the corporate world need to get off the dime pronto. If I were the editor of Ad Age or Ad Week and aspired to become a latter-day Woodward or Bernstein, I'd assign a team of investigative reporters to dig into the Business Insider story. If true, it amounts to a scam, if not a scandal.

Mar 25

Five Things We Can Learn from Elizabeth Taylor

Today's guest post is by Julie Farin, (@JulieFarin)

4113269400_5b2c627867With the death of legendary actress and activist Elizabeth Taylor, so goes the end of an era – the  Golden Age of Hollywood – when a handful of studio moguls, like Louis B. Mayer, Darryl Zanuck, and Jack Warner controlled careers, when glamorous leading ladies, like the breathtakingly beautiful Liz, guaranteed big box office returns, and when celebrity media coverage dominated by Hedda, Louella, and Winchell, was carefully managed.

Dame Elizabeth Taylor packed a lot of living into her 79 years; way more than us mere mortals. Some might consider her life a cautionary tale filled with failed marriages and endless illnesses, topped with addictions to alcohol, pain medication, and food. But I believe that we can all take away some valuable life lessons from the Oscar-winning Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky.

•    Never underestimate the power and attention that comes with dazzling beauty – and knowing how to use it wisely. 

•    True friendship isn’t measured by how many “friends,” “likes” or “followers” you have, but
by being there for Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson during their time of need.

•    Ask for what you believe you’re worth. Taylor had no particular interest in starring in Cleopatra, so she flippantly told 20th Century Fox that she’d do it only if they paid her $1 million.  Her negotiating chutzpah made her the highest-paid actor in Hollywood and the first ever to earn a seven-figure salary for one film.

•    Getting back together with an ex- is seldom a good idea. Elizabeth Taylor was publicly condemned by the Vatican when news broke of her scandalous affair with Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome. Liz & Dick married in 1964 and divorced ten years later, only to remarry in 1975. However, the problems in their relationship still hadn’t been resolved, so they wound up divorcing a second time after less than a year.

•    Speak out against injustice and stand up for you believe in– even when it’s unpopular.  Nowadays, just about every celebrity is connected to a charity cause. Back in the mid-1980s, few in Hollywood wanted to be associated with the new health crisis– HIV and AIDS– which was labeled the “gay plague” at the time. But LA Liz went all the way to Washington, DC to petition Congress to fund research for cures and co-founded AmfAR.

Elizabeth Taylor was a one of a kind gem, and the world was much richer for having her in it for 79 years.  As her good friend Larry King said upon hearing of her death, “There’ll never be another like her.”

Mar 24

In a modern crisis, a full page print ad is as relevant as yesterday’s news

JournalNews_Ad_Japan_LetterRunning a full page print advertisement in The Wall Street Journal or New York Times used to be   part and parcel of any serious crisis response plan. The ad provided the chief executive officer of the company in crisis with an unfettered opportunity to tell his side of the story without any editorial interpretation from media, pundits or the average Joe.

But, those days are dead. They died when social media made each of us a citizen journalist. They died when CEOs such as Dennis Kozlowski, Jeff Skilling and Bernie Ebbers stole millions of dollars from their organizations. They died when once respected brands such as Johnson & Johnson, BP and Toyota were caught covering up their transgressions.

Nowadays, full-page print ads signed by the CEO of a company in crisis make me cringe. Take the one penned by J. Wayne Leonard, chairman and chief executive officer of Entergy Corporation (insert ad).

Petrified that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's call for a review of the Indian Point nuclear energy plant by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will result in its closing (and, possibly the closing of other Entergy-run nuke plants,) Leonard lists reason after reason why his Indian Point facility is safe.

Sorry, Mr. Leonard. But, I don't buy it. And, I doubt anyone else does either. That's because, like print advertising itself, Fortune 500 CEOs have little, if any, street cred.

Americans trust word of mouth. They trust family and friends. They trust influencers such as "Consumer Reports," J.D. Power & Associates and The Good Housekeeping Seal. But, they no longer believe the inside-out, top down 'C-suite speak' one finds in a paid print advertisement.

If I were advising Leonard, I'd suggest a much different approach. I'd begin by enlisting credible, third party ambassadors who do believe that next generation nuclear power plants are safe. This group could range from academics and authors to bloggers and informed individuals without a personal or political agenda (does such an animal still exist?). I'd provide these trusted sources with my facts and figures and encourage them to speak on my behalf (knowing that I couldn't control what they eventually write or say but understanding that's what makes their voice so much more compelling than mine).

I'd reach out to my employees and assure them they're not earning paychecks from an evil corporation that's building and maintaining death traps. I'd provide them with messages they, in turn, could share with their family and friends.

I'd also engage in face-to-face community relations in each and every market where my nuke plants are located. I'd hold town hall meetings and invite local leaders, activists, employees and the average Joe to attend and share their concerns.

There are probably other, even smarter strategies Leonard & Co., should employ. But, relying on a paid, full-page ad in the Times is not only old school crisis management, it's counter-productive. It's changed my mind from neutral to skeptical. And, that dear readers, is why smart public relations is the new king of the integrated marketing mix. When it comes to credibility, PR trumps advertising each and every time.

Mar 23

Boys Meet Girl

Today's guest post is by Frieda Smason, (pictured) a senior at Stern College – Yeshiva University.

Last week I learned about the effectiveness of humor in the workplace from Steve Cody,  Frieda11 professional comedian and “PR man” (a.k.a. co-founder of Peppercom) who came to speak to our class at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University. We participated in a series of exercises that are designed to help you loosen up in front of a crowd. Then, each person got up in front of the class and told a short story about something that really bugs them. The goal of the exercise was to make you realize how well humor and business complement each other when you harness humor properly.

I’ll tell you something not so funny – I work in an office where I am the only woman. That's right – every single person there is male aside from me. The implications of this are very serious: no skim milk in the fridge – ever! Everyone in the office is at least a foot taller than I am, so the paper towels in the kitchen are always just a little too high for me to reach. The announcement board has "funny" jokes about guy things like "The top ten reasons beer was created." And of course, the toilet seat is, without fail, always up.

Trust me; I didn't think any of these things were funny before Steve gave us the comedy workshop. Living in an apartment with female roommates, I'm used to having at least three people always say "God bless you" when they hear me sneeze and, of course, girls discussing  drama about boys all the time.

Now I work in the heart of the "boy drama," where I’ve learned that boys aren't that dramatic – at all. I'm slowly realizing that it’s the girls who make all of it up. Guys just like to sit at their computers and eat take-out. I tried to make small talk once at the water cooler by asking someone how their weekend was. His reply? "Bad."

The story I told in front of my class was about a prank one of my co-workers played on me. The short version is that he sent me an email from my boss's phone saying that I had violated company policy and I was going to be terminated if I didn't mend my behavior immediately. When it happened, it was terrifying, but after telling the story in front of the class I realized how funny it actually was.

It's crazy that telling a two-minute story in front of my peers seemed more daunting than handing over a business presentation to my boss, but now that it's over I know that I can do anything – aside from reaching the paper towels at work.

Mar 22

Let’s pick the one we dislike the least

Care-o-meter-1 Agency search consultant Robb High's behind-the-scenes video (insert link) tells a fascinating tale of how clients select their PR and advertising partners.

High claims to have watched more than 150 agency pitches (talk about brutal! That sounds worse than sitting through an entire cricket match). In those meetings, says High, client decision makers almost always chose the lesser of all evils when selecting a firm.

They begin the selection process by agreeing on which agency they absolutely, positively, couldn't stomach working with (why those firms were invited to pitch in the first place positively baffles this blogger). Next, clients will eliminate those firms that, for whatever reason, simply didn't resonate in their presentations.

When they finally do settle on a winner, says High, the client often doesn't 'love' the new agency partner at all. Rather, the decision makers have agreed on the one firm they dislike the least. Inspiring, no?

Factored into the decision-making is how the decision maker will look to the other decision makers in the room. Typically, he or she won't want to appear either too radical or too conservative. So, what ends up happening is 'more of the same.'

As the old saying goes, "No one ever got fired for hiring IBM". And, apparently the same holds true for hiring, say, Weber, Edelman, Y&R or Leo Burnett. They may not be the best agency for the job, but they've survived the elimination rounds. So, let's give them a call, pop open some champagne and celebrate!

High also confirms what I've known in my gut for years. The incumbent agency, if it decides to defend the business, is ALWAYS the first one voted off Survivor Island. He says he counsels incumbents to save their time and money and, instead, look for a competitor in the client's category to represent. Wise counsel indeed.

There's nothing radically new in what High says, but it is interesting. The fog of war (or new business) can blur one's sightline into exactly how a client selects a new firm. In many instances, it isn't what the agency says or does right but, rather what it doesn't say or do wrong. While that may seem like the wrong way to choose a strategic partner, one has to remember that client decision makers report to other, more senior client decision makers. And, if one is worried about one's job, it's easier (and safer) to use the process of elimination. No one was ever fired for hiring IBM. Or Burson, Golin, J. Walter Thompson or BBDO.

Mar 21

Social Media Quality Control

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Jason Green.

You are an established brand that is active in the social media space but are struggling to Think before you post constantly create fresh, original content. Now what? 

Companies, whether they know it or not, find themselves in a rat race to remain relevant as the next generation of consumers have a short attention span, are increasing fickle, and have a declining ability to comprehend content that is longer than 140 characters. Not to mention, they have numerous platforms to trash your brand indiscriminately. This has created a fertile environment for innovative and fresh thinking social media gurus to flourish. But, are brands risking their reputation by outsourcing their social media efforts without taking the proper precautions?  This recent article in the New York Times seems to indicate the answer is yes.

The Chrysler example illustrates the classic faux pas of an overeager agency employee operating off of the “Sarah Palin” model. Which is say what you want, when you want, how you want, and deal with the consequences later. A good idea in theory but not when put into practice. Turns out that the people of Detroit did not find the humor when their beloved Chrysler (@ChryslerAutos) tweeted “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive.” Instant online firestorm. Check. Agency fired. Check. Employee fired. Check. And just when the “imported from Detroit” campaign was taking off.

Another popular tactic that seems like a sure thing, given our country’s love affair with celebrities, is to give the celebrity of your choice free reign as a brand ambassador. OMG, did Taylor Swift just tweet about how much she loves Neutrogena’s exfoliating hand scrub?! A strategy that is easily facilitated by companies like that “helps brands connect with consumers via today’s most influential celebrities, athletes and artists on Facebook, Twitter and more.” The website boasts clients such as Toyota, Microsoft, American Airlines, NBC, and Sony.

Unfortunately for Aflac, they seem to have gone rogue by selecting insult comic Gilbert Gottfried (yes, Gilbert Gottfried) as a social media ambassador. A great decision up until the point that he began poking fun at, according to the New York Times, a market that accounts for 75 percent of Aflac’s revenue – Japan. Too soon? Yes, Gibert, too soon. Good thing Aflac has a crisis PR team on retainer!

So, how do you ensure that your brand is taking advantage of social media rather than eroding years of careful brand positioning with one tweet? Take a step back, a deep breath and implement a social media quality control system.

It is critical to develop a process and system for engagement on each social media platform. Spoiler alert: social media is not as free flowing and organic as it may appear. It is essential to spend time developing a well thought out news flow with conversation topics and approved messages. We can’t give away all of the secrets but here are a few questions to mull over:

•    Who will own and manage your brands social media strategy? Will it be in-house, an agency (is it the right agency?), or a combination of both?
•    How is your brand perceived in the market place and is there room to push the envelope? How edgy is too edgy?
•    Is any publicity good publicity?
•    Will a celebrity partnership enhance your social media strategy and how do you align your brand image with the correct spokesperson?
•    Do you want to participate in real-time conversations? If so, who is authorized to approve messages on the fly?

A brand is a terrible thing to waste, and one twitpic gone awry can sink your brand, cost your agency a client, or turn you into a 99er. So, think before you tweet.

Mar 18

Lobster ravioli from AMC Theaters, or Kevin Spacey from Netflix. And the winner is….

Today's guest post is by Michael Dresner, CEO of Brand Squared, a Division of Peppercom.

“Content Is King.”  – Sumner Redstone

American_Beauty_2082_MediumDesperately trying to read entertainment news that wasn’t about William and Kate, I found articles this week about a new Kevin Spacey television series called "House Of Cards," directed by David Fincher (Oscar-nominated director of last year’s marvelous The Social Network). The memorable point of most articles is that the series will be distributed exclusively through Netflix.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the Netflix distribution concept was AMC Movie Theaters’ 'Fork and Screen' concept- enthusiastically reviewed on Repman’s sibling blog Measuring Up.  The two strategies have a lot in common.

Both are in the business of feature film distribution.  Both are surrounded by traditional and digital competition.  Both have seen behemoths in their industry (Blockbuster) rapidly fade into irrelevance from behemoth status. And, both are creating innovative experiences that ideally keep consumers returning, paying premium fees, and recommending to others.

AMC Movie Theaters is offering lobster ravioli, loaded potato skins and pints of beer. The waiters bring food to your seats. Netflix– which could have developed an alliance with any restaurant or packaged food company in the U.S.– decided to place their bets instead on Kevin Spacey.
I am a movie fanatic.  I have been to going to movie theaters near and far for decades. Yet when

I think about the most satisfying film experiences, I never think of the food (though I frequently pay more for that than the ticket). I think about great scenes from movies like "The Usual Suspects."  "L.A. Confidential."  Glengarry Glen Ross."  "American Beauty." Great movies featuring Kevin Spacey.

 The fact is, I can get lobster ravioli and Sam Adams anywhere. But I can’t get "House Of Cards" unless I become a subscriber to Netflix. 

Netflix’ strategy seems new but it’s not. HBO figured out two decades ago that showing first-run movies alongside Showtime and Cinemax wasn’t a sustainable way to keep subscribers. HBO developed original programming, such as the phenomenal “Larry Sanders Show” in the early 1990s. It took a while for the channel to find its footing in this space. But once The Sopranos and The Wire hit our zeitgeist, HBO had leverage to increase their fees by 20%. And they did.

So why would AMC Movie Theaters focus on restaurant-style food– a product they will never master (apologies to Measuring Up – when they have the capability to invest in original content– product they have been presenting for years?  I’m not sure film lovers will go out of their way to find a theater with lobster ravioli. I know I would go out of my way if AMC had a lock on a movie made by Kevin Spacey and David Fincher (or, for people 30 years my junior, Justin Bieber).

AMC’s 'Fork and Screen' concept sounded interesting. But as a business decision I have to give it two thumbs down. They will never own a lock on dinner the way Netflix will with House Of Cards.

As a footnote, Sumner Redstone ran a regional movie theater chain for most of his career. He is now the Chairman of Viacom and CBS, two companies that peak and valley with ad sales but lives and die by original content.