May 13

Nicknames are being nixed

20110512125827070_0001aaaaaThe New York Times just ran a fascinating trend piece about the demise of nicknames in sports.  The reporter, John Branch, waxed poetic about the great nicknames of yesteryear, ranging from ‘the Bambino’ and ‘Dr. J’ to ‘Earl the Pearl’ and ‘Night Train’. 

Here's the rub, though. Nicknames aren't just disappearing in sports, they're vanishing in society at large.

To explain why, the Times cites sociologists and experts in onomastics (now, there's an obscure profession for you). The experts say we don't have ‘Choo-Choos’, ‘Mookies’ or ‘Whiteys’ anymore because there's an increasing lack of intimacy and connectedness in society. A Wayne State professor added “…a nickname, good or bad, meant we cared. You don't give someone about whom you are indifferent a nickname. The opposite of love is not hate. It's indifference.” Amen, brother.

I love nicknames and always will. And, I've been unknowingly bucking the nickname nixing trend from day one.  To wit:

- My son, Chris, is known as ‘Ali’ (a la Muhammad Ali, my all-time favorite boxer).
- My daughter, Catharine, is known as ‘the Goose’ (because one of her earliest expressions was “You silly goose.”)
- My older brother, Russ, is ‘Ra’ because that's how my younger brother John (‘J’) once pronounced his name.
- Chris calls me ‘sDot’ (he says it has something to do with my addiction to the BB. Addiction? What addiction?)
- Chris's significant other is universally known as ‘O.P.’ (her initials)
- My buddy, Tommy, is the Babe Ruth of nicknames. He's alternatively known as ‘Thos’, ‘TLP’, ‘El Hombre Blondo', ‘Le Poer’ and ‘Thom’ (the man may have an identity complex).

Many of Peppercom's key players sport nicknames as well. There's:

- Ted ‘Teddy Ballgame’ Birkhahn (because, like the original Teddy Ballgame, our Ted can do it all).
- Maggie ‘Maggs’ O'Neill.
- Nick ‘The Knife’ Light (one of the Goose's high school boyfriends was known as Nick the Knife, so poor Nick was handed the same sobriquet).
- Dandy Stevenson is ‘The Danderoo’ (that's what Howard Cosell always called Dandy Don Meredith).
- Ed is either ‘Eddie Moeddie’ or ‘Edward Moedward’ (depending on whether the social situation is casual or formal).
- And, then, there's our West Coast president Ann Barlow, who is known solely by her surname. (i.e. “What's Barlow been up to of late?”)

I could go on and on. But, I think the nickname thing is indicative of my personal POV and Peppercom's culture. I give nicknames to people I like and care about (or, absolutely detest. But, that's a different blog for a different day).

I think the Wayne State egghead nailed it when he said the opposite of love is indifference. One of the main reasons people hate their jobs is because of the impersonal nature of the workplace. Peppercom has many faults, but impersonal and indifferent it is not.

I dare any holding company executive to share just one nickname from his or her place of work. They can't. Because at the big firms, you're just a number. Trust me, there's no Ed 'The Glider' Charles or Walt 'Clyde' Frazier at Weber-Shandwick, Burson or Hill & Knowlton. Because, well, that would be a tad too personal.

How about your organization (or circle of friends)? Have any cool nicknames you'd care to share?

May 12

So, these two lawyers walk into a bar…

Aside from used car salesman or al Qaeda operative, I can't think of a single occupation with a worse image and reputation than lawyers. In fact, a recent survey of America's most trusted professions showed that lawyers finished just above used car salesmen and beneath politicians.

Lawyers also rival insurance agents as the people I try my best to avoid at cocktail receptions. The former try to sell you policies while the latter can't wait to cite some arcane precedent regardless of the subject. (“Interesting that you bring up long distance cycling as a hobby, Steve. In the case of Armstrong, et al, vs. Humanity, we argued that…”)

So, imagine my trepidation when I was recently invited by a top law firm to lead a 90-minute Humor in the Workplace seminar for their litigation and employment attorneys. Brother, that sounded like as much fun as hanging out with some TSA agents and discussing pat downs for an evening.

Well, guess what? I was wrong. The lawyers were warm, engaging and open to learning how and why humor could make them more effective. And, get this, some of them were actually FUNNY. Not Joe Pesci funny but funny enough.

I've had the good fortune to lead humor workshops for pharmaceutical executives, human resources directors, PR executives and, now, lawyers. And, I have to tell, lawyers would NOT be on the bottom of my list. In fact, the toughest crowd I've EVER had to work with was PR executives who were attending an industry conference. Not only were some openly disdainful, others were downright rude and multi-tasked on their BBs right in front of me. Boo, hiss, PR types.

So, here's a big shoutout for the legal profession. Sure, they still gouge society for each and every penny they possibly can. And, yes, they're the absolute lowest of the low. But, I'd be honored to sip some sauvignon blanc with any of the litigators I trained on Wednesday. Your witness.

May 11

Ten days to go!

Harold-campingAccording to Bible scholar and Family Radio personality Harold Camping, Judgement Day will occur  on May 21, 2011. (Note: Harold & Co. spell judgment with an “e” so RepMan is compelled to honor their mistake. But me wonders if their math is off too…?) That's right. We have 10 days until “The Rapture” begins. But, don't sweat it too much. May 21 may be Judgement Day but, says Camping, we have until October 21, 2011, before God actually destroys the entire earth. Whew. That was a little too close for comfort.

Camping bases his calculations solely on God's predetermined time line. That's the one that began when 'He' created the world in 11,013 B.C. and will come crashing down this coming October 21st (and, isn't it a real bummer that He couldn't wait until AFTER Halloween to end things? There's nothing merciful about this god).

As proof that the end is well nigh on hand, Camping cites such “biblical prophecies” come true as:

- the complete degradation of the Christian Church (I'll grant you that Catholics have, in fact, done a superb job of completely mucking things up, but who has any image issues with Methodists, Unitarians or other Christian sects?)
- the complete breakdown of society (I'll give Camping this one. 'Jersey Shore' was, in fact, the final sign that society had gone to hell in a handbasket)
- the rise of the national state of Israel in 1948 (OK. So?)
- the rise of Gay pride (this is starting to sound like the Bill O'Reilly Show).

Camping says Judgement Day will kick off with a catastrophic earthquake (Wait. Didn't that just happen in Japan?). Based upon the description Brother Camping provides though, this does sound like the mother of all earthquakes. It will “open every grave in the world and only true believers will rise to heaven.” Non-believers will chill with earthquake survivors and await the actual end of days on October 21. At least that still gives them a full summer's worth of tanning and jet-skiing. I take back my crack about His being unmerciful.

I must admit to being at a loss as to what to do in my final 10 days. Should I learn to play acoustic guitar? Nah, not enough time. Foreign language? Ditto. Ten days does not a language master make. Hey, I know, maybe I'll set my sights on stealing away a client from a large holding company. I guarantee there's a client out there right this second who's had it up to here with her account team's constant turnover, the agency's exorbitant billing and its minimal results. And, winning a $1 million account in the next 10 days would certainly qualify as my definition of rapture.

What about you? Suppose, just suppose, Brother Camping is right and Judgement Day WILL begin in less than two weeks. What would you want to accomplish between now and then? By the way, this whole end of days thing has to be a real impediment to funeral parlor recruiting. How do you attract the best and brightest to an industry whose end product will be jumping out of their respective caskets in a matter of hours? Talk about a dead end.

May 10

Simply the best

20110510102819960_0001mmm (2)I was rummaging through some old files the other day when I stumbled across Inside PR's 1996 Agency Report Card issue. Holy throwback, Batman! In it, I found the 'newcomers' section and an oh-so-sweet review of the embryonic Peppercom. (Click on the image to the left to read.)

In the text, Editor Paul Holmes described Ed and me as “industry veterans”. Good lord. If we were veterans then, what are we now? Industry elders? Paul was gracious in his comments, and mentioned that Peppercom “…had quickly established itself as a $1 million competitor in the toughest market in the world, thanks for the most part to the quality of its senior personnel— three of whom followed Cody and Moed from (the now defunct) Brouillard Communications.”

That's spot-on. We did, indeed, pirate away three co-workers from our erstwhile employer. To get two of them to join us, though, we had to first offer equity in our nascent firm. And, I still cringe when I think of what Brouillard's CFO, Irene Hanson, said to one of them, “But, Peter, don't you realize that three percent of nothing is nothing?” I wonder what Irene would estimate a three percent stake in Peppercom's projected 2011 billings of $15 million to be worth today?

I'm pleased to report that two of the three original employees, Peter and Karen, have gone on to enjoy very successful careers in public relations. Apparently joining Peppercom didn't prove too detrimental to their subsequent success.

Pasted alongside the Inside PR text is Peppercom's inaugural print ad (created by a certain blogger). What struck me about it, though, wasn't the headline or text but, rather, the contact information. Listed at the bottom is a notation that reads: “E-mail: peppercom1@aol.com.”Man, oh man, did that ever bring back a flood of first-year memories.

Ed and I had rented two offices and a desk from a small design firm. I distinctly remember anxiously awaiting our receptionist's arrival each morning so she could turn on our one computer and I could hear that AOL guy's voice proudly proclaim, “You've got mail!” Typically, the ENTIRE firm received a grand total of three e-mails overnight.

We asked the very same design firm to create a sign with double-sided tape that we could place on the front door whenever a client or prospect would visit. After a month or two, the badly-battered, fingerprint-besmirched board would fall off its moorings whenever the door slammed shut. I'm sure that impressed prospects.

I also recall scrambling to convert Ed's office into our agency's conference room before a presentation or meeting. One small client later sent us a termination letter that contained a P.S. "By the way, we know Ed's office is the conference room." Priceless.

In addition to the five original employees, Peppercom '96 also featured a crazy cast of support players, including a freelance publicist named Efrem Luigi Epstein. F fashioned himself something of a trivia wunderkind and routinely dazzled us with his knowledge of the useless and the arcane (to wit: one would provide F with his birthdate, say June 1, 1961, and F would immediately proclaim, “Let me see. Yup. That was a Tuesday!”).

Hoping to generate buzz for our newborn firm, we added a section to the web site to showcase our whiz kid's trivia talent and entitled it, 'Stump the F.' Our challenge? Ask the F any trivia question whatsoever. If he didn't respond with the correct answer within 24 hours, we'd provide a free Peppercom T-shirt. Needless to say, everyone and his brother ended up stumping the F and we very nearly lost our shirt giving away free T-shirts.

There's no question that very first year in business was simply the best in my life. I've never experienced, before or since, such a heady mix of newness, excitement and just plain, old fun. I'm sure there were heartaches along the way, but seeing the old Inside PR review and Peppercom ad put a very big smile on this industry elder's face.

 

 

May 09

A little something for the al Qaeda operative in all of us

Article-0-0BF14C4E00000578-929_634x387 A little less than a week after the death of Osama bin Laden, New York-based Kuma Games has  introduced an Internet-based game called ‘Episode 107: The Death of Osama bin Laden.’ That’s nice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the free enterprise system, being first to market and all that, but check out this feature: game players can not only pretend to be members of the elite Navy Seals Team 6 that took down bin Laden, they can also choose to defend bin Laden. Yes, that’s right. Little Johnny can don a virtual robe and turban, pick up his AK-47 replica and begin wasting some of the storming Navy Seals operatives. That’s just so wrong in so many ways that it defies logic.

If I had lost a loved one on 9/11, or in one of the two wars that followed on its heels, I’d be planning to launch a personal Jihad against these bozos. And, I wouldn’t build-in an option for players to defend Kuma Games either.

Can you imagine your 11-year-old son, double-clicking on episode 107 link and yelling, “Hey mom, I’ll be down for dinner in a half hour or so. My al Qaeda mates and I have to disrupt this Navy Seals operation. It’s imperative we get bin Laden and his family safely away.”

Episode 107 is billed as the latest in a franchise of video games that recreate military missions, including the capture of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. There’s no indication if the Kuma Klan also provided an option for game players to defend Hussein and secret him away to another, new hiding place. But, they probably did. Nor is there any indication whether Kuma has created similarly-themed video games that enable players to say, whisk Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun away from their Berlin bunker in early May of 1945, or find an escape route from Elba that would provide Napoleon one last shot at conquering Europe and killing millions.

I’m not a child psychologist, but enabling an impressionable youngster to defend bin Laden might tend to soften the youngster’s views towards the mass murderer, no? And, in my mind, that could lead to any number of unintended, and very serious, real world consequences.

So, let me borrow a page out of the Ronald Reagan speech book and demand of Mr. Kuma (or whatever nut job runs the company) to: Take down that game!

Tip o' RepMan's Green Beret to Catharine "Goose" Cody for the idea for this post.

May 06

The best teacher in history

Ask most successful people if a single teacher had had a profound effect on them and you'll undoubtedly receive a resounding "Yes!"

Fowler_boatIn my case, that teacher was William M. Fowler, Jr., Distinguished Professor of History, at  Northeastern University, (pictured left.)

Here's what made Fowler so instrumental in my future success:

1) He brought classroom lectures to life. Whether it was discussing the deadlocked 1876 presidential election between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes or the rise of Marat and Robespierre in revolutionary France, Fowler BECAME those protagonists. He literally took on their personas and acted as he believed they had in the heat of the moment. It was spellbinding to say the least.

2) He was entirely accessible and welcomed commentary. So, instead of waiting for questions at the end of a lecture, Fowler would pause, mid sentence, and say something like, "Mr. Cody, is there something about what Samuel Tilden just said that concerns you?"For a shy, introverted student who had never been encouraged to participate in classroom discussion in grammar or high school, Fowler's 'method' provided me with a safety net with which to begin voicing my views in public.

3.) He encouraged and rewarded creativity. For one final exam, he asked us to imagine three great figures from the Civil War getting together and discussing the political scene of the late 1970s. I had a blast creating a two-act play featuring dialogue from Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln positing their views of then President Jimmy Carter's response to the Iran Hostage Crisis. I was thrilled with the A-plus grade I received and still have the little blue exam book in my files.

Fowler's impact on me was enormous. I entered the workforce confident of my views and unafraid to speak up in a Hill & Knowlton conference room crowded with far older, much more seasoned PR professionals.

I don't know a better way to thank Professor Fowler than to dedicate this blog to him. Oh, and by the way, if you have a story about a teacher who made a huge difference in your life, please share it on the Repman blog. It's not a stretch to say that without Fowler, there'd be no Repman (which may, or may not, be a good thing).

May 05

Krispy Kreme is pleased to announce we’ll be awarding special prizes to any runners suffering strokes or heart attacks during today’s run

Polls_KrispyKremeCake2_1755_385816_answer_3_xlargeThere’s gross. There’s negligent. There’s just plain stupid. And, then there’s the Norcross High  School Relay for Life.

Intended to raise money for charity (which is always a good, wise and noble thing), this particular race is underwritten by Krispy Kreme doughnuts. And, if there’s one foodstuff that makes a Big Mac seem healthy in comparison, it has to be a Krispy Kreme doughnut. In fact, I have to believe the average KK doughnut packs more calories than an AK-47 does bullets. And, I can only imagine the immediate and profound damage inhaling one, if not six, of these caloric-laden mounds of mush must have on the cardiovascular system.

But, why should a runner’s health, nutrition and wellness concerns stop Norcross High School and Krispy Kreme from staging a race that requires competitors to eat a half dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts halfway through!  Are they serious? Never mind the long-term damage. Ever try running on a full stomach? It’s not fun. Ever see The Office episode in which Dwight and Michael conspire to ensure the latter wins the Dundler-Mifflin 5k race by having Michael load up on carbohydrates by consuming a plate of pasta just before race time? It wasn’t pretty.

Krispy Kreme’s race sponsorship deserves immediate enshrinement in the Repman Marketing Hall of Shame. It also belongs on Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks segment (if such a segment existed).

On the other hand, if Krispy Kreme can sponsor runs, why can’t Lucky Strike cigarettes sponsor long-distance cycling races? And, how about Absolut Vodka awarding cash prizes to mountaineers who can consume a fifth of vodka en route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro? The possibilities are endless.

So, how about it, Rep readers. Gimme some of your suggestions on corporate sponsorship ideas from hell. We did well with the recent soy industry re-positioning taglines. But, that was a walk in the park compared to this atrocity. So, let’s have at it. And, if possible, please consume six doughnuts before posting your ideas. Distended stomachs can produce a lot of hot air.

And  a big starter’s gun shoutout to Greg Schmalz for this post idea.

May 04

Was O.J. Simpson responsible for more than two murders?

Soap opera.Join Brendan ‘Muggs’ Mullin and yours truly as we interview Sam Earl Ford, co-editor of the book,  The Survival of the Soap Opera. Sam posits his views on why nearly all of TV’s great soap operas have gone belly up and, in the process, fingers the notorious O.J. Simpson as one of the main culprits. If so, I’ll never forgive the Juice for depriving me of seeing Greenlee, Binks and the other femme fatales from All My Children.

Click on the gray bar below here to listen to arguably the best Repchatter podcast since Dawn M. Lauer and Darryl Salerno debated the existence of god.


 

May 03

There’s no joy in Soyville

598tThe market for soy food and beverages dropped a whopping 16 percent in the last two years,  according to a report from market researcher, Mintel.

Soy watchers blame rising prices, new alternatives and the fickleness of health-conscious consumers. I'd add one other ingredient: taste. Yuck!

Having dabbled with such foodstuffs as soy milk and soy ice cream over the years, I can personally attest to being part of the 16 percent drop. You couldn't pay enough me to buy soy stuff.

The pocketbook's also playing a huge role in soy's demise. When times are good, consumers will pay extra for what they perceive to be a healthy alternative. They'll also buy ‘green' products because, well, who doesn't want to reach out and give Mother Earth a great, big hug?

But, when the Great Recession hit, yucky-tasting, high priced food began gathering dust on store shelves. Ditto with all those higher-priced green products. I've always believed that, whether it's a global multinational or a multi-tasking housewife, green is a nice-to-have, and not a must-have. And, when sacrifices have to be made, a nice-to-have is the first to go. (Note: That same Repman truism holds for PR in a down economy.)

So, what's a soy boy to do? Well, according to the Ad Age article, the industry's not doing much to rally the troops. First, they've been extremely slow to react to what Carlotta Mast of newhope360.com says has “…been a lot of innovation in the vegetarian and vegan markets.” Second, says Ad Age, the industry has had “…to deal with conflicting news reports about cancer.” Ouch. Smart, fleet-footed competitors, yucky taste, high prices AND a possibility of an increased risk of breast-cancer recurrence in survivors? Talk about the perfect storm.

Phil Lempert, who runs supermarketguru.com summed it up beautifully: “Gluten-free products are fueling their own growth through innovation. Soy got lazy.”

So, we've got a lazy, yucky-tasting, high-priced product linked to cancer whose competition is eating its lunch. Or, we've got what we in PR call an opportunity.

So, putting on my branding hat, let me take a stab at a few re-positioning campaign themes for the soy industry:

- 'Soy stinks. Life is short. Let's both move on.'
- 'Soy: We'll be back' (with the Governator as its new spokesman)
- 'Tastes bad. Costs more. There we've said it.' (This might be a nice co-branding opportunity with Big Tobacco, BTW).

I'd love to hear suggested campaign themes from Rep readers, especially Lunch Boy. Hey Lunch? Do you do soy?

May 02

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Or was it?

If two leading trade journals are any indication, the advertising industry is suffering from a Mood-swings1 severe case of manic depression.

On the one hand, there's The Delaney Report (TDR), which humbly bills itself as 'the international newsletter for marketing, advertising and media executives'. TDR just ran a lead story entitled, 'We'll Take It from Here.' The text provides a sobering report about inroads being made across the board by public relations. “No longer is it uncommon to have a PR agency compete for a client's services (PR, digital, advertising and direct) versus a traditional advertising agency.” TDR says, “PR is now in the sweet spot of a company's marketing plans.” Nice. Very nice.

Unfortunately, though, TDR then dives deep into PR's gains in social media and corroborates its thinking with observations from the heads of three PR holding companies: Harris Diamond of Weber, Gary Stockman of Porter and Ken Luce of H&K. Now, I could be wrong, but I'll bet an annual subscription to TDR (a damned pricey proposition, BTW), that none of these three, old white guys personally blogs, tweets, posts comments, podcasts or does anything else that would remotely resembles engaging in social media. Asking these three for their views on social media is akin to asking a couch potato what it's like to compete in a 230-mile cycling race. “Tough, dude. Very tough.” C'mon TDR, show some journalistic chops, dig a little deeper and interview PR executives who actually walk the talk.

And, now, for something completely different, take a gander at another ad industry trade: Michael Wolff's supercharged revamp of AdWeek, which calls itself 'The Voice of Media.' Methinks this particular voice suffers from laryngitis.

How else to explain its love fest with all things advertising? You'd never know traditional advertising is staggering like some drunken sailor on shore leave. Or, that other disciplines such as PR and interactive are stealing away market share faster than you can say land grab.

Instead, AdWeek's pages are an unapologetic homage to the 30-second TV spot (ugh) and mainstream TV advertising in general (Yuck. What's become of one-on-one marketing and engaging in a conversation with customers?). There are even photographic retrospectives of Doyle Dane Bernbach's and McCann-Erickson's offices from the halcyon days of the 1960s (should PR Week retaliate with a photo essay of, say, the Lobsenz-Stevens offices of the mid-1980s featuring an adolescent wunderkind named Edward Aloysius Moed?).

Like just about everything else, I suspect the truth about advertising's massive struggle to reinvent itself lies somewhere in-between TDR's doom-and-gloom report and AdWeek’s sunshine-and-roses tome.

I'd suggest readers view the two the way I do The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and Fox News and MSNBC, respectively (absorb the extreme POVS of each, realizing the truth lies somewhere in the midst of the murkiness).

In the meantime, though, a quick note to the big agency PR guys: I'm happy to issue an apology if you fellas actually do engage in social media.