Jun 30

RepMan Image of the Year Contest- Mid-Year report

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Carl Foster

Regular readers can’t have failed to notice the quality of the images that accompany RepMan’s blogs these days. I get at least a chuckle out of most, if not the kind of out loud laugh that makes me grateful my chair has a recline function.

Earlier this year I suggested to RepMan that it was a shame for this creativity to just fade into the ether and so we came up with the RepMan Image of the Year Award. For the past six months the team here at Peppercom has been nominating some of the best images that have accompanied RepMan’s posts. As we are now at the halfway point of the year, we thought we would show readers the nominations so far, as well as invite you all to nominate images for the remainder of the year.

So, without further ado, here are the nominations so far for 2011:

RepMan’s very own pup, Mick Cody, was the star of this post ‘Congressdog Mick Cody resigns after posting 'inappropriate' photo on RoversList; Apologizes for 'mistake' but says it will 'elevate' his image in long run.’ A suitably regretful looking Mick Cody was pictured.

Mick _________________________________________________________________________________

A post in February ('Your time is gonna come') about the breakup of the 31 year-old Carmichael Lynch/Harley-Davidson relationship featured this image:
Breakup _________________________________________________________________________________
A terminal case of the slows’ discussed the dawdling response to allegations of pedophilia of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was illustrated thusly:

Mick Cody features again in March in a blog about RepMan’s exercise regime, ('Hey Mick! Ready to do four miles?' Although a familiar pose, Mick’s thoughts are now captured.
  Mick talk

In April, RepMan regaled us with a story of a stroppy, demanding new business prospect, (Stealing my heart). I wonder if she really did look like the accompanying photo?
Phone bitch_________________________________________________________________________________

In ‘The death of the role model’ from April, RepMan laments Snoop Dogg’s celebrity endorsement of a new Alcopop.
  Snoop _________________________________________________________________________________

A couple of weeks after Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS the government said that porn was found in his hideout. RepMan’s blog ('Heaven couldn't wait') featured this image:
   Osama _________________________________________________________________________________

Continuing the bin Laden theme, ('We need the Navy Seals to take down bin Laden') in May RepMan compared Ronald McDonald to the late terrorist leader and was illustrated with this image:
Ronald _________________________________________________________________________________

Also in May, RepMan blogged about the seemingly miss-matched merger ('There's no such thing as a merger of equals') of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, both of which now call Tina Brown their Editor-in-Chief. The post was illustrated with this graphic:
Tina brown
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is where we stand at the halfway point of 2011. For the remainder of the year we would like to invite readers to nominate RepMan blogs with particularly impressive accompanying images (please nominate blogs in the comments field). We will post all the nominations at the end of the year and run a survey so readers can vote for their favorite. The winning image will win… erm, well, we’ll figure that out later. None of us here have made any plans beyond June 30th.

Jun 29

Golden Years

174857103v1_225x225_FrontI'm 57 today. That's old. It sounds old and it looks old. As a matter of fact, 57 only looks good on  the label of a Heinz's ketchup bottle.

Turning 57 is an actuarial wake-up call. There's no denying that, statistically speaking, I'm much closer to the end than the beginning. But, to add insult to injury, there are lots of other signs that Father Time is breathing down my neck. To wit:

– An attractive young lady in a bar smiles at me, walks up and whispers in my ear, 'Excuse me sir. But is anyone using that stool next to you? We'd like to borrow it." (Note: sir = elderly).
– A friend shows my photo to her friend who responds by saying, “My, he's rather distinguished looking, isn't he?” (Note: distinguished looking = dissipated. Sean Connery is distinguished looking. I do NOT want to be called distinguished looking.).
– An otherwise intelligent intern tells me she's never heard of a DeLorean or the 'Back to the Future' movies. (Note: it's no fun to be surrounded by a whole new generation of employees who are clueless about ANYTHING that occurred before 1990).

That carnage aside, I'm absolutely loving 57. In fact, I think I've crammed more living in the past five years than I had in the previous 52.

'They' say experience is one advantage that comes with aging. But, they rarely mention another less obvious, but more important, value-add: freedom.

I'm now totally free to take risks and try things that would have been unthinkable 10, 20 or even 30 years earlier. They include performing improvisation and stand-up comedy, as well as rock, ice and mountain climbing. Toss in some long-distance cycling, gyrotonic (www.bodyevolution.com) and devising brand new Peppercom service offerings and you'll have an inkling of just how free I feel at such an advanced age.

I've been blessed. But, I've also embraced risk.

In fact, I now understand what David Bowie meant when he sang in 'Golden Years': 'Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere.'

There are two ways to go through life: you take life or life takes you. You're either a driver who take risks and isn't afraid to fail or you're a passenger who blames others when your dreams don't come true.

Whether you're 27, 37, 47 or 57, do yourself a favor and get behind the wheel as soon as possible. You never know. It might just end up being a mint condition DeLorean and you might just end up having the time of your life.

Make the most of your golden years. They'll be over before you know it.

Jun 28

The Lindsay Lohan of PR

I'll bet that headline stopped you in your tracks. That was my intent. There is no Lindsay Lohan  Iht.bad headline.smallest of PR. Actually, there probably is, but let's not go there.

Instead, let's focus on what makes for a great headline. I think it's fertile ground for a PR and marketing-focused blog because, frankly, most PR professionals (and many PR bloggers) are god-awful headline writers.

The typical PR headline suffers from one of two maladies:

– It's mundane or obvious (i.e. “Why Media Relations Still Matters”. Ugh. Must we revisit that time worn subject one more time?)

– It's ponderous and/or unfathomable (i.e. “Farnsworth Industries, Inc.’s. new, state-of-the-art, first-of-its-kind QX-101 microprocessor chip is not only designed to interface with standard industry circuit boards but, at 0.002 milligrams, is the lightest ever made!” I'd rather shove a fork in my ear than read that press release).

I think the editors of the New York Post and Daily News are the true Michelangelos of headline writing. They've made it an art form. They not only capture the big news of the day in a word or two but, invariably do so as a double entendre. Case in point: the recent Long Island pharmacy slaying of four people by a whack job in search of Vicodin. The post headline? 'Pain Killers.' That's simply superb.

I have other, all-time favorite headlines from the Post and Daily News. I'll never forget the ones the dailies ran on the day after the New York Mets upset the Baltimore Orioles and won the 1969 World Series:

The Post: 'Amazing!' (The once hapless Mets had been nicknamed 'The Amazins' by Casey Stengel. And, their huge upset was nothing short of amazing. Zing. In one word, the editor simultaneously communicates the Mets victory, uses the team's nickname to announce it and underscores how incredible the whole thing was).

The Daily News: 'Bye-bye Birdies' (This was a rare triple entendre that told the reader who'd won, leveraged the aviary roots of the losing team's nickname AND riffed on a Tony-award winning play's name. Positively brilliant).

What about you? Do you have favorite headlines you'd like to share? Or, how about examples of all-time horror shows? (i.e. We once represented an education software company whose PR representative insisted on crafting a personnel announcement that made the new general manager sound like a combination of Buddha, Allah and Christ. It was so laughably bad that it negated any chance of actual coverage.)

So, bring it on. Send me a headline that will stop me in my tracks and immediately communicate the gist of the story to follow. Or, send me something that is an absolute steaming pile of sh*t. And, keep your hands off Lindsay Lohan. She's mine.

Jun 27

The United States of Krispy Kreme

I've yet to watch the 'United States of Tara' but gather that, like such predecessors as 'The three faces of Eve' and 'Sybil', the TV show's lead character suffers from multiple personality disorder.

According to a recently published report, it seems the doughnut-dispensing king of kings, Krispy Kreme, may be experiencing its own personality disorder.

Long known for its calorie-laden, artery-hardening breakfast fare, double K is now adding oatmeal, yogurt and fruit juice to its menu. Say what? They're also opting for specialty coffees, espressos and lattes. Really? A latte and doughnut? Talk about oil and water. That's positively schizophrenic. Kid with donuts

KK is obviously following the clowns at McDonald's, who've tried to re-position themselves as something other than the primary cause of America's obesity problems.

While not nearly as prolific or visible as the Mickey D's, Krispy Kreme has nonetheless played a nice, supporting role in fattening us up for the kill. In fact, those warm, sugary doughnuts are the dietary equivalent of an edible IED that will blow apart one's arteries faster than a Seal6 team can put a bullet in a terrorist's skull.

I think it's disingenuous, if not deceitful, to sell fast food junk at one end of the counter and healthy, nutritious alternatives on the other. It's also a real image and reputation challenge. I just can't envision Biff and Margot zipping their Jaguar past a Starbucks to, instead, drop in on a KK before heading to their tennis and pilates classes, respectively. It just doesn't compute.

Krispy Kreme has a winning, if tremendously unhealthy, formula. Why mess with success? Brands get into trouble when they begin confusing end users.

That said, I would enjoy seeing KK tackle its multiple personality disorder with a clever tagline. Maybe something along the lines of: 'We're healthy! No, we're not! Yes, we are! Stop saying that! I say we're healthy. And, I say doughnuts are unhealthy. Guys, guys: You two MUST stop arguing all the time. Hey, who asked for third party advice? So, like I was saying, we're unhealthy! No, we're not….'


Jun 24

There’s nothing sweet about this 16

A study commissioned by the PRSA revealed that only 16 percent of our nation's top MBA programs offer ANY sort of public relations course at all. The finding is both absurd and perfectly understandable.

It's absurd since the movers and shakers who create B-school curricula have yet to grasp the instantaneous impact a negative image and reputation can have on an organization. Have they been asleep at the wheel as leaders and their organizations have flamed out on nightly newscasts for the past 15 years or so? To bring them up to speed, I'd start my lecture with a case study of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky tale, mix in some Dennis Kozlowski and Jeff Skilling anecdotes and finish with a flourish that includes a cocktail of Tony Hayward, the Governator and Anthony Weiner.

PR Management of Corporate Reputation On the other hand, I completely understand why MBA programs WOULD overlook PR. Like everyone else, B-school types see PR as little more than celebrity party planning managed by gum-chewing, language-mangling morons, 'Um, like, I'm so hoping Jay-Z shows up at, like, our Lotus party tonight.'

Until, and unless, the various PR trade organizations band together to present a correct, and cohesive, portrait of PR's vital role in the success of any CEO or organization, MBA programs will continue to dismiss it as a soft skill unworthy of their attention. Oh, and until and unless, undergraduate PR academics FORCE their students to take an economics elective or two, executives will continue to believe we don't understand the business of their business.

The PRSA study paints a bleak picture of the future and should serve as a clarion call to all of us in positions of power to do something about it now (i.e. The Arthur W. Page Society has a special committee whose charge is to interact with B-schools. What's their plan of action in light of this disturbing report? The Council of PR Firms provides superb workshops that are often led by B-school professors. But, what's their strategy for inserting PR into an MBA student's coursework?).

Meanwhile, PR trade publications are positively glowing in their profiles of chief communications officers who've earned a seat at the table and are making decisions that have real, bottom-line impact. But, like our nation's politicians, I think the trade media are losing sight of the future by focusing on the here and now.

If we don't act to change the 16 percent factor now, I'm less than sanguine about PR's EVER gaining a permanent seat at the table.

So, who's up for creating a cross-organizational initiative to educate the educators? Someone needs to pay attention to PR's fate 25 years down the road. And, that someone should be you (and me).


Jun 23

I’d opt for a tombstone, a cadaver and an autographed photo of the Grim Reaper

The Department of Health and Human Services just released their final selection of nine new graphic warning labels for the top half of cigarette packages.  

Smoking_warning The images are fairly stark, and include photos of horribly damaged teeth and lungs and a man exhaling smoke through a tracheotomy opening in his neck. That can't be very pleasurable (nor, can it be much of a turn-on for his significant other).

Naturally, the four leading tobacco companies are up in arms, saying the new images will '…unfairly hurt their property and free-speech rights by obscuring their brand names in retail displays, demonizing the companies and stigmatizing smokers.' Yeah, back off! I'll bet good ol' Sarah Palin would agree, and cite this as yet another example of 'big government' trying to live our lives for us.

Who cares if smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death, killing 443,000 Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? And, so what if each and every day an estimated 4,000 youths try their first cigarette and 1,000 a day become regular smokers? Smoking's a sure-fire way to simultaneously limit overpopulation while preserving what's left of our nation's Social Security funds.

Besides, smokers say the new graphics won't change their minds. One 46-year-old pawnbroker shrugged when shown the new images and said, '(They're) telling me things we already know. I'll still be smoking.' Good for you, sir. See you at Forest Lawn in the not-too-distant future.

Another 28-year-old female smoker said, 'There are lots of other high risks out there, you know. Obesity is huge.' Ha. Nice pun. You go girl. Puff on.

Nearly 20 percent of all Americans smoke cigarettes, a figure that's held steady for the past seven years. I'd liken this group to America's permanent underclass, a number I've seen estimated at 30 million. Like the permanently poor, America's smokers simply can't, or won't, do anything to change their lives.

The real villains aren't the cigarette companies. The bad guys are the advertising and PR firms who willingly take the cigarette companies' hefty fees and keep on promoting what amounts to a world-class killing machine. If I were running the 4As or The Council of PR Firms, I'd insist that any member firm representing a cigarette maker have an asterisk next to its name. The asterisk would read: 'Playing our part in killing half a billion Americans annually.'

As for the visuals on the cigarette packs, why not go all the way? Slap on tombstones and cadavers. And, why not offer a limited edition of, say, Camel cigarettes that are personally signed by the Grim Reaper himself? Now, there's a keepsake any smoker would proudly frame and display over the mantel.


Jun 22

Why most advertising doesn’t work

In yesterday’s blog, I sang the praises of the greatest advertising man of his day, David Ogilvy. Unlike his peers, Mr. Ogilvy began his career as a salesman. And, he never lost sight of the fact that advertising exists for one, and only one, reason: to sell a client’s products and services. Were he alive today, I’d like to think Ogilvy would rail at the countless print and broadcast ads that do anything but sell.

Here’s a classic case-in-point. Do me a favor and double click on this TV spot and try to watch all 90 seconds.

In my opinion, the ad fails on all four counts of the Harvard Business Review’s classic criteria for the customer decision journey. They include:

1.)  Consideration. Within a nanosecond or two, the average viewer will either fast forward or channel surf to avoid seeing the remainder of the TV spot. Why? Because it looks like a trailer for yet another slasher/thriller/bloodlust teen flick.

2.)  Evaluation. One doesn’t even see the actual Dirt Devil product until the final seconds. How does one consider the effectiveness of the product? By its ability to suck the Linda Blair-type character up to the ceiling of the floor below? That ploy might be considered clever. But, clever doesn’t sell. Credibility does.

3.)  Evaluate. How can one possibly evaluate the Dirt Devil with its competitors when the ‘product claim’ is so utterly outrageous? Give me an infomercial that shows a vacuum cleaner picking up real-world dust and debris, and I’ll consider it for my next purchase.

4.)  Buy. Enjoy. Advocate. This one’s a non-starter. Will the TV spot inspire you to buy a Dirt Devil when you next visit a home appliance store? Not likely, unless you’re also in need of ridding your home of a poltergeist. Since the ad fails miserably, you’d neither buy, enjoy nor advocate on the appliance’s behalf.

Let me tell you why there are so many terrible print and broadcast advertisements today. It’s because most creative directors have lost sight of David Ogilvy’s original vision. Advertising is supposed to sell. Instead, creative directors see themselves as the next Steven Spielberg and are much more focused on winning a Gold Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival (which is happening as we speak) than in meeting the customer decision criteria. Spots like this win awards. And, they inflate the egos and elevate the salaries of the award-winning creative directors. But, they DO NOT sell product.

That’s why PR is winning the war for the consumer’s mindshare. We’d never insult the intelligence of a buyer with an ersatz riff on ‘the Exorcist’. Instead, we’d go to where consumers are discussing home appliances (be it online, offline, or both). We’d listen to their pain points as well as their wants and needs. We’d determine how best to engage in those conversations. And, then, and only then, would we posit value-added advice from the makers of Dirt Devil. Our intent would be to achieve all four of the Harvard Business Review’s criteria, but to do so in a thoughtful, respectful and credible way.

As Ogilvy once famously said, ‘The consumer is not a moron. She’s your wife. Don’t insult her.’ The Dirt Devil commercial is an insult to the intelligence of every home appliance buyer, whether they be male, female or somewhere in-between.


Jun 21

PR could use a man like David Ogilvy

The public relations industry has founding fathers (i.e. Bernays, Page and Lee). And, lord knows, we've had builders (i.e. Hill, Golin, Byoir and, of course, Burson). But, we've never had a true leader or statesman along the lines of advertising's legendary David Ogilvy.


Adweek recently honored the iconic adman, who would have turned 100 this past week. In addition to being a prolific writer (his 'confessions of an advertising man' remains a must read for ANY marcom wanna-be), Ogilvy rose from rags to riches and changed advertising in a profound and fundamental way.

As Michael Wolff's profile states, Ogilvy arrived on the advertising scene just after World War II. But, saying he arrived is like saying a tornado visited Kansas. Ogilvy roared into Manhattan with an entirely new POV, a brand new set of rules and an idea of what an adman should be (name any PR executive who has accomplished even one of the three). In fact, Wolff likened Ogilvy to being the Steve Jobs of advertising.

Some of Ogilvy's seminal thoughts included:

 - 'The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don't insult her intelligence.' (Note: The same holds true today, but for my gender. Just about every ad and commercial on TV insults the intelligence of men).

 - 'Bad advertising can unsell a product.' (Note: The folks at Comcast should take that piece of advice to heart before launching the next 'Comcastic' campaign).

– 'You cannot bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them in buying it.' (Note: the late Mr. Ogilvy would turn over in his grave if he read the headline of just about any press release announcing a new software product).

– 'Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, dissenters and rebels.' (Note: All three are an endangered species at holding company PR firms).

Ogilvy was also famous for calling the CEO of the holding company that eventually purchased his firm, '…an odious little shit.' Ah, such honesty.

The public relations industry finds itself in an enviable position today as social media continues to unwind traditional communications channels. As Ogilvy's advertising successors find their massive campaigns being slashed and burned PR, with its innate ability to 'understand the conversation', is in the perfect position to scoop up the billings.

But, make no mistake. We don't have anyone remotely close to a David Ogilvy to put it all in context and provide that rare mix of vision, rules and advocacy. I think there are two reasons why:

– CEOs of holding company PR firms are justifiably afraid to say anything that would undermine other marketing services within the conglomerate.

– CEOs of the large independent firms are too busy selling new business to step back and reflect on the larger meaning of it all.

Advertising was blessed to have had a David Ogilvy. He was in the right spot at the right time and elevated his profession to an art form. PR is at a similar crossroads. We have a rare opportunity to leapfrog the other professions and firmly establish ourselves as the 'go-to' medium in the second decade of the 21st century. All we're lacking is a gutsy, gifted visionary with a bully pulpit.

Maybe The Council of PR Firms should take a page out of the advertising playbook and place a help wanted ad. Here's my suggested copy.

'Wanted: A gifted leader with superb oral and written skills, an intrinsic understanding of the consumer mindset and a willingness to ruffle feathers as she/he elevates the PR profession in the process. Salary and perks negotiable.'


Jun 20

Are All Men Dogs?

6a00d8341c39e853ef015433238a99970cIt seems like just about every week now another powerful man is being brought down a mega sex scandal. From Elliott Spitzer and the ‘Governator’ to Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner, lots and lots of powerful men have been caught behaving badly. In fact, no less an influencer than The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has declared, ‘All men are dogs.” But, are they? Are these high-profile flameouts indicative of men as a whole or, instead, isolated incidents? Perhaps, most importantly, what effect is the salacious, 24×7 barrage of media coverage having on our nation’s young men and boys? Are they growing up guilty until proven innocent?

To address these incendiary questions, we invited three Peppercom women, who also happen to be moms, to posit their views. What follows is, I believe, one of the very best RepChatter podcasts in the medium’s sordid, six-year history. Click here to listen (and feel free to post a comment if you agree, disagree or have a completely different POV)…..


Jun 17

Sorry, Sam, but based upon your skill set, strengths and weaknesses, your new title will be ‘Connector.’

Let me begin by applauding GolinHarris's attempt to re-engineer its infrastructure and become  more client-centric . Anytime an aircraft-sized, holding company-owned firm does anything novel, it's nothing short of breathtaking. I can only imagine the red tape and approval process that such a Herculean effort required before ever seeing the light of day.

Slide1The sizzle in what is an otherwise purely cosmetic change is “…to transition employees from working as generalists to being designated as one of four types of specialists… strategists, creators, connectors and catalysts.” Titles such as VP, SVP and EVP are being abolished and replaced by titles like director and executive director. Be still, my heart.

New, and bizarre, titles are nothing new. Dotcom firms were notorious for them. We once worked for a dotcom called Bigfoot. The CEO called himself  Mr. Big and the head of PR chose the most unfortunate title of minister of propaganda. Ouch.

Years ago, most small and medium-sized firms tore down the walls and silos that GH is just now addressing. But, few if any, of us, chose such bizarre and silo-creating titles as 'connector.' In attempting to fix what's broken, GH will find itself with all sorts of new human resources challenges. To wit:

– Jenny, a high flying account supervisor, is suddenly stripped of her title and responsibilities and told she's now a connector. Talk about pigeon-holing a fast tracker. “Hey dad. Guess what? I'm a connector!”

– Stein, another rising star, sees himself as a creator but is tossed, instead, into the strategist bucket. Say sayonara to Stein.

– And, tell me what client would want a connector or catalyst as the lead on her team? If I'm paying serious, holding company-type retainer fees, I want nothing but strategists and creators on my team. The others be damned.

Last, but certainly not least, is the holding company billing model. Having worked at two holding companies, I can tell you that each and every office has a separate P&L, and will fight like sharks for a scrap of meat when it comes to divvying up the client dollars. I distinctly recall winning a large piece of P&G business back in the '80s while with Hill & Knowlton. As soon as we announced the win, a more powerful executive in a different office simply snatched it away. And, the client didn't care because, in those days, “no one ever got fired for hiring H&K.”  So, how does one organize the P&L here? Will strategists fight with connectors over who gets what share of the client budget? It hurts just to think about the complexities.

I wish GH well with its re-org. To CEO Fred Cook's credit, he called it “…the beginning of a journey.” I only wish Stuart Elliott (and more chief communications officers) knew two things about the seemingly seismic change:

– Smaller, more nimble firms have been doing this for years (but, because they aren't owned by a publicly-traded holding company, simply aren't Timesworthy)
– People don't want to be placed in artificial buckets with ersatz names. That connector title is a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

As for me, in addition to being co-founder and managing partner of Peppercom, I long ago added the title of 'fomenter-in-chief'. I see it as my job to keep pushing our firm to think fresh thoughts and try new approaches. But:

a) I'd never publicize it
b) I'd never try to convince the marketing world that my firm is dramatically different because we no longer have executives carrying the title of vice president.

And, now I have to run. My business partner, Ed, our invoicer-in-chief, needs to talk.

NOTE: PRWeek is conducting a poll regarding what readers think of this move by GH. To take the survey (or view the real-time results click on this link: