Aug 31

The Wild Bill Hickok of PR Firms

Lest you think otherwise, I'm about to whine about a high-class problem. Hlp_wb3

We've been on a real, new business run this year and our billings have increased by at least 20 percent. So, what's my issue? Just this: We have a real knack for winning clients who simply won't let us announce the business. I wouldn't mind if that were the case across the board, but I cringe each and every morning as I spy the PR industry trades announcing one new business win after another.

Our radio silence makes me think that others think that Peppercom's moribund. Please don't think that. We're vibrant and growing like a weed. We just happen to have worse luck than Wild Bill Hickok who, after drawing pairs of black aces and eights in a game of cards in a Deadwood, S.D., saloon, was shot to death by a jealous gunslinger. I feel just like Hickok. We draw a great hand and then, boom, we can't show it to the rest of the world.

There also seems to be a real double standard when it comes to announcing new business wins. I'll never forget our disappointment when, after nailing a $1 million win with Yahoo! a few years back, we were informed “…company policy forbade any new business announcements by vendors” (and, boy, do I ever despise the V word).

Sure enough, 15 months later, when a new top dog arrived at Y!, we were not only fired, but the news was spread near and far across the industry trades. I bit my tongue when a reporter asked me, “So, Yahoo! just announced they'd be replacing you as B2B AOR and Golin-Harris as B2C AOR. Any comment?” I had quite a few choice comments, especially one about their double standard on announcements. Instead, I took the high road and echoed G-H's CEO, Fred Cook, who said, “Clearly, it was time for a change for both parties.” I liked that. You go, Fred.

So, dear reader, do NOT read anything into the dearth of new business news from Peppercom (and other great firms who have been dealt the same dead man's hand). We're doing very, very well, thank you very much. We just happen to be doing very well with extremely introverted clients.

In the final analysis, I guess I'll take the billings and the opportunity to create award-winning campaigns over a headline in PRWeek anytime (especially when the client ends up breaking its own rules about announcements). Now, someone cut the cards. I'm feeling lucky.

Aug 30

Monday Morning Quarterback in the Wake of the Storm

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

This blog is, in some ways, a follow-up to Repman Steve Cody’s blog from August 25th.  In that    blog, Steve talked about how the media really hyped the earthquake we felt here in NYC.  Although the quake’s epicenter was in Virginia, you would have thought it had to be in midtown Manhattan by the way the media were reporting.Slide1

Now fast-forward to the news yesterday morning, in which the debate discussed was “Did the experts and media over-hype Irene?”  This blog from Washington Post blogger Jason Samenow captures both sides of the story.  

Some will argue that the news media truly over-hyped the approaching storm, especially here in the NYC area whereas others along the East Coast will disagree.  I believe a lot of the sentiment depends on where you’re standing (hopefully on dry ground).  My husband and I were evacuated during the storm since we live on the East River.  Manhattan pretty much got by without a scratch.  New York Harbor overflowed a bit, but otherwise windows stayed intact, electricity and cable stayed on, and for the most part, we were all fine.  But, it could have been much worse.  And, one point that was mentioned on the Today Show Monday morning was that while it’s easier today for meteorologists to accurately predict the path of a storm, the intensity is not always as accurate. 

Were my husband and I inconvenienced?  Of course.  Am I complaining?  No.  I’d much rather have the experts and elected officials tell us to get out of the path and find out it wasn’t as bad than to have the opposite happen.  I think much of the hype, so to speak, was because they were trying to tell us how deadly a Category 1 or even a Tropical Storm could be.  By the time Irene reached Connecticut and Vermont, it was a Tropical Storm.  Yet, by Monday morning, half the state of Connecticut was without power and Vermont suffered some significant damage. 
Jason Samenow has a poll on his blog and the majority, to date, believes the storm was hyped.  It wasn’t that long ago when we, as a country, condemned the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and the Federal government, including “Brownie,” for not doing a good enough job getting people out of the way in time. 

I think we’ve learned our lesson.  And, I would much rather have our local officials err on the side of caution.  The media had a different role to play in this scenario versus the earthquake.  The earthquake hit and was barely felt in most parts of the City.  Yet, they definitely hyped it after it happened.  No one knows how Mother Nature will ultimately react.  And, the media, in conjunction with our elected officials, did the right thing in warning of the approaching storm’s potential fury and trying to scare people enough so they would move.  The problem with the media’s image is that if something minor is talked about in the same breath as something major, people become skeptical and think of the boy who cried wolf.

I think New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said it best and was the most direct when he saw that people were still on the beach in Asbury Park Friday afternoon:  “Get the hell off the beaches.”

Aug 29

A fuzzy future at 40

Xlarge_2010-11-17_145448Ken Makovsky's superb 'If you've never failed, you've never lived' blog made me think of my own  fear of failure and the fear of failure I see in far too many Millennials today.

First, me. Back in 1995, after 15 months of pure hell serving as president of Brouillard Communications, a division of JWT that, mercifully, no longer exists, I was asked to leave. I was devastated. I had just turned 40, was married with two kids, carried two mortgages, leased two cars and provided for two dogs (one of whom happened to be named Pepper).

Despite my previous successes, I was lost at sea as to my next move. I couldn't contemplate another holding company experience and I feared going it alone. Enter Edward Aloysisus Moed from stage left. Equally disgusted by the politics, bureaucracy and parochial culture of the large agency world, Ed had left Brouillard a few weeks before me. He suggested we give it a go on our own. We did. And, I've never looked back.

But, I wouldn't be a success today if I hadn't failed so badly in the past.

Which is why Ken's blog is a MUST READ for those Millennials who have been raised to believe they'll always win. (Note: if you have a chance, also read Ron Alsop's most excellent book, “The Trophy Kids Grow Up”. It nails the sense of entitlement and fear of failure endemic in most Millennials).

I see the fear of failure in my own kids. They're both doing extraordinarily well, but they struggle with adversity. That's because, like most other Boomer parents, we coddled them and, as Alsop's book title suggests, gave them trophies even when they finished dead last.

Failure is important. It paves the way for success, especially for those who are resilient and have the wherewithal to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and say, “OK. I just failed. What did I learn to ensure that I won't fail again?”

Oh, and if you have a chance, doubleclick on the video embedded in Makovsky's blog. I think you'll be surprised to see how many famous people were complete failures before they finally figured out that failure was a pathway to success.

Aug 26

The Pol Pot of supersized portions

First it was Hosni Mubarak. Then, Muammar el-Qaddafi. Now comes news there's been a coup d'etat at Burger King as well, and the King has been banished.

The media cited words such as 'creepy' and 'disturbing' to explain the king's overthrow. I'd add “…horrific role model, guilty of encouraging millions to eat themselves to an early grave”.

Ronald_mcdonald_arrestedWith the king gone, I'm hoping that, like the Arab Spring, we'll now see an Obesity Fall. And Ronald McDonald should be the first to go.

The sadistic-looking clown is public enemy number one. He's the ultimate fast food despot who, in fact, has a far creepier and disturbing side than the late Burger King. Ronald, you see, was purposely created to be a junk food version of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. Kids loved Ronald and, boy, did Ronald love kids (mind you, I'm not suggesting pedophilia was a motivator. To the best of my knowledge, Ronald was never ordained).

Ronald McDonald ensnared generations of unwitting kids with his mini amusement park rides, Happy Meal treats and 'life is a blast' at Mickey D's marketing campaigns. The bastard is single-handedly responsible for countless cases of morbid obesity and their associated complications. He's the Pol Pot of supersized portions.

So, here's hoping that, with the king gone, we'll now see Ronald McDonald deposed. And, let's not stop there. The Obesity Fall should include Colonel Sanders, the Pillsbury Dough Boy (who should be chained to a treadmill until he losses those multiples layers of dough) and other icons of obesity.

The king is dead! Long live sensible eating!

Now, let's round up some mercenaries, a platoon or two of paramilitary types and order a NATO air strike on Oakbrook, Illinois (where Ronald and his family maintain their palatial estate).

Aug 25

We need a Fifth Estate

Sky-is-falling-2 This country sorely needs a Fifth Estate to police the Fourth. Whether it's new, sports,  entertainment or, as is the case this week, weather, the media beast increasingly opts for hyperbole and superlatives over objectivity and balance.

Take local New York media. Please. They're in seventh heaven at the moment; basking in the afterglow of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake and bracing for the approach of a category three hurricane.

Not content to report mere facts, local news and weather reporters have been routinely going for the jugular.

Consider this near verbatim conversation I watched live on one of the local channels:

Anchor: "To repeat, New York has just been hit by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake whose center was in Falls Church, Virginia. Ron Mieth is at the corner of 42nd and Third right now. Ron?”

Ron: "Thanks Tim. I'm with Rebecca LargeCalves, who has an amazing story to share. Rebecca, where were you when the quake hit?”
Rebecca: “Getting out of a cab.”
Ron: “Tell us what happened.”
Rebecca: “I got out of the cab”
Ron: “And…?”
Rebecca: “I felt something.”
Ron: “The quake.”
Rebecca: “Yes.”
Ron: “Were you scared?”
Rebecca: “No.”
Ron: “Did you think to yourself, uh oh, another 9/11?”
Rebecca: “No, but the cabbie said something like that.”
Ron: “There you have it, Tim. More than one New Yorker wondering if today's quake was the start of yet another 9/11 attack. Now back to you in the studio.”
Tim: “Wow. And, of course the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is just days away. Well, stay safe Ron.”

Then, this morning there was this irresponsible banter on a local good morning show:

Anchor: “Now here's meteorologist Hiawatha Habitat with news of what appears to be New York's second major wake-up call from Mother Nature in less than a week. Hiawatha?”
Hiawatha: “That's right, Walter. We have a category three hurricane that, if it stays on course, will slam into New York beaches sometime early Sunday morning.”
Anchor: “Good lord. Considering Manhattan is at sea level, are we looking at another potential Katrina situation here, Hiawatha?”
Hiawatha: “Walter, meteorologists are trained to never say never.”
Anchor: “Understood. City building officials have to be losing sleep worrying how well our earthquake-weakened structures will withstand this new threat. Thanks Hiawatha and please keep us posted on this developing mega threat!”

This sort of fear mongering drives ratings. And the corporations who own nearly all the major media outlets are driven by the bottom line. As a result, superlatives and hyperbole increasingly rule the airwaves.

We need a Fifth Estate to hold the Fourth one accountable. But, who does it and how? And, how do we avoid a State-controlled media if we do have another entity step in? I'd ask more unanswerable questions, but I think I just spied a tornado over Fort Lee bearing down on 470 Park Avenue South. I can't wait to hear the hype on this one!

Aug 24

The Browning Nagle of American Presidents

Bush-obamaI was recently musing about the seriously flawed presidency of Barack Obama. 

I remember voting for him with a vengeance after suffering through eight years of his predecessor's utter disregard for constitutional rights and common sense. But, since then, like many others who formed Obama's base, I've grown frustrated by his Kerry-like flip-flopping. 

Also being something of a sports junkie, I began thinking of athletes from football, baseball and yes, even golf (which is a game and not a sport, BTW) whose careers paralleled The One's. But, I didn't stop there. I also thought of jocks whose accomplishments (or, lack thereof) reminded me of Obama's predecessors: W and Slick Willy.

See what you think:

– Obama is the Browning Nagle of American presidents. For those of you who don't recall Nagel, the Jets drafted him from the University of Louisville and immediately anointed him as the 'the next Joe Namath'. Gifted with a canon for a throwing arm but hampered by a brick for a brain, Nagel quickly flamed out after a season or two, and was never heard from again.

In thinking about the past three years, I believe Obama's made nearly as many ‘on-field’ mistakes as Nagel. He's clearly a gifted intellectual, but lacks the spine to make the tough decisions needed of a leader in times of crisis. In my opinion, he'll have to stage a serious fourth quarter rally to win re-election and not end up like Nagel: a forgotten wanna-be.

– W is the Herb Score of American presidents. For those of you who don't recall Score, he entered Major League baseball with a 100 mph fastball and pinpoint control (insert Score's bio). He was literally unstoppable until struck by a line drive that knocked him unconscious and out of baseball for the rest of the season. When he returned, Score was never the same and disappeared from America's pastime within a few years.

Like Score, W enjoyed one of the great rookie seasons in recent memory and was positively Lincolnesque in his immediate post 9/11 statements. But, like Score's line drive to head, something unhinged W's thinking and he set upon an unprecedented course of rack and ruin (i.e. Missing the opportunity to nab bin Laden in the first few months after the Twin Towers attack, using a total lie to justify invading Iraq (WMDs), totally ignoring New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and, of course, de-regulating Wall Street and setting the stage for the 2008 crash that reverberates to this day). In fact, it's not a stretch to say that no single American president has done more to damage America's international image and reputation than W.

– Bill Clinton is the Tiger Woods of presidents. Since you all know Tiger, I won't recount his off-the-course hijinks. Nor will I call attention to Clinton's infamous “I did not have sex with that woman” statement. Clinton will be remembered as a gifted politician who accomplished tremendous things but whose image is permanently tarnished. The same holds true for Woods. He was a great golfer who allowed his personal putter to ruin his legacy.

So, there you have it. Do you agree with my comparisons? If not, to whom would you liken Obama, W and Slick Willy? I'd like to hear your thoughts. (Note: I'd suggest a follow-up blog offering jock analogies for H.W., Reagan and Carter but, alas, I fear my Millennial audience won't know who those presidents were.)"

Aug 23

Going on vacation? Listen to this podcast first.

Join Steve Repman Cody and his new host, Deb Brown, aka ‘The Kangoo Kid’ and Peppercom human resources manager, Elysa Torres, as they discuss the role of the vacation in the midst of a never-ending recession. You may want to think twice about those two weeks on the Cape. Click below to listen.


Aug 22

Keep Calm and Carry On…Tell that to the Olympic Sponsors

Today's guest post is by Courtney Chauvin Ellul, Director, Peppercom Europe.

Suppose your organization just spent $1mm to become a sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic  games? How would you feel after the rioting of the past two weeks?

London-riots-olympicsThat's the image and reputation dilemma facing Olympic organizers, sponsors and, of course, Britain's ruling class in the wake of last week's carnage. I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that London was, and remains, a very scary place.

Last Saturday, I got off the tube a few stops early after a gang of about eight young men started screaming, jumping on the seats and kicking the doors in. They might have just been ‘chavs’ (English hooligans) on their way to a football match, but I wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

The London riots have left us all looking over our shoulders and feeling downright angry. There was no economic, political, or Stanley Cup reason for last week’s horrific events; this reckless field trip was born out of greed for sneakers, branded sports apparel and flat screen TVs.

In addition to the disgusting behavior of the rioters, it was shocking to see how the police handled the situation. You almost felt bad for the officers as they stood on the sidelines helpless, with their shields out and batons neatly tucked away, while rioters burned and looted shops, businesses and homes in more than 20 areas across London.

In some communities, citizens took matters into their own hands. When the rioters came to attack shops in a Kurdish and Turkish community in Hackney, the owners were waiting for them with sticks and knives.

If the police weren’t equipped to handle the situation, then why wasn’t the Army called in? And where were the country’s leaders? 

Well, David Cameron, the prime minister, was in Tuscany on holiday and only returned to the UK on the third day of the riots. And when he did return, he came armed with a whopper of an idea: to outlaw social media, including shutting down Twitter, to stop the flow of communication between rioters. A bit like outlawing air, wouldn’t you say?  Of course, that never happened.

Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, was also slow to return from vacation and was criticized by angry locals in riot-torn areas for his tardy response to the attacks. And Theresa May, home secretary, continued to fuel the blame game by saying the police chiefs were at fault for causing most of the red tape that overburdens officers.

What message are we sending to the world, and to would-be terrorists, if we can’t protect the country from our own and we can’t agree on the underlying issues? With less than a year to go before London hosts the 2012 Olympics, the police and politicians need to gain some control to win back the public’s trust, and they need to do so pronto. 

Beyond the violence and leadership vacuum, London faces another challenge: how to quickly fix the reputational damage that's been done before it's too late (and sponsors begin pulling out).

Aug 19

We Have a Situation

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch recently said publicly that it would “offer substantial payment to MTV’s The Jersey Shore’s cast members to stop wearing the brand on air.” Apparently, Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino wore the trendy clothes on a recent episode and Abercrombie & Fitch stated that his “association with the brand could cause significant damage to our image.”

The_clothes_make_the__man_kleinWow.  I had to think about this for a minute.  So, the famed (or infamous) retailer, which has had its own image issues with sexually explicit ads (among other problems), and which sells primarily to 18-22 year-olds (probably the only audience for The Jersey Shore) really doesn’t want the Situation strutting about in its clothes?  Are they serious?  Or, is this a way to drum up a fake battle between The Jersey Shore cast members and the retailer for more publicity?

So, then I came across another story in which Chief Executive Mike Jeffries said of the actual situation, “We’re having a lot of fun with it.”  Actually, Jeffries brought up the situation on an analyst call, saying “Is no one going to ask about the Situation?”  I think the reason the analysts didn’t ask is because they didn’t give a damn.  But then one finally took the bait.

So, that’s the answer.  They’re not serious.  They’re looking for a marketing gimmick to sell more clothes, but it’s not smart.  Think about it.  They’re pulling free advertising from their own audience and how long do they think this situation will go on for?  A few hours?  Maybe a couple of days?  Then what?  They’re out-of-sight, out-of-mind with their key audience with regards to this particular show.  Plus, Abercrombie & Fitch sells a t-shirt called the “Fitchuation.”  Really?  Their stupid stunt is so transparent it doesn’t work.

On the WSJ blog, they have a quick poll.  Is the stunt brilliant or a bomb? Believe it or not, it was pretty much even, with only a slight majority saying brilliant.  Sigh.  Normally, I wouldn’t be surprised since our society is filled with too many people addicted to reality shows, each of which manages to outdo the other to see how low they can go.  But, I was surprised since it was the Wall Street Journal’s audience. 

Smart marketing and publicity help to elevate a company’s brand and grow its bottom line.  At first, I thought Abercrombie was having problems with sales.  But, earnings released on Aug. 17th said earnings are up 64 percent and sales have increased in the U.S. and internationally.  However, on the analyst call, Jeffries talked about “entering a period of greater uncertainty” and shares dropped 8 percent. Or maybe the investors didn’t think the Situation situation was smart enough to invest in.

So, what’s up with this short-lived gimmick?  Who knows?  Probably an inexperienced marketing team that’s looking for quick attention to the brand rather than a well-thought out strategy. 

Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  In this case, Abercrombie & Fitch certainly doesn’t make the Situation…anything.  And, now Abercrombie & Fitch make believe they want out.  The clothing retailer and the Situation deserve one another.  Abercrombie & Fitch shouldn’t pay the Situation and other cast members not to wear its clothes; instead, it should be a major sponsor of this tasteless show.

Aug 18

New study to study studies

Studyville, N.D., August 18, 2011 — The Center to Study Studies, headquartered here,  announced today it would begin publishing a quarterly study to study studies.Ludwig+Von+Drake+Von+Drake+nnnnn3“It makes a whole lot of sense,” said Dr. Sigmund Search, the center's executive director. “We're seeing more and more bizarre studies being published each and every day, so why not study the studies?”

Dr. Search says the center will specialize in tracking studies that publish completely opposite findings on the exact same subject. “I salivate like Pavlov's dog when I see one study that proves eating red meat clogs arteries while another one says it improves strength and endurance,” noted Search, who added: “Speaking of salivating, I recently saw studies on the subject from two, highly reputable institutions. One said too much salivating led to cavities. The other said it indicated superb oral health.”

Search said the Center's new, quarterly study is perfectly timed. “Americans are dazed and confused by everything they see, hear and read, so why not confirm it from a statistical standpoint?” he asked. Search added that surveys are “…the lifeblood of corporate America, PR firms and the media.”

“Let's call a spade a spade,” sniffed Search. “Surveys are the media's crystal meth. They're like crack heads who need pointless surveys each and every day to fill the 24×7 news beast. And, corporations love using surveys to prove their newest drug isn't quite as dangerous as it may seem. As for PR firms, show me one annual program that doesn't contain at least one survey? It's a great time to be a survey guy!”

The Center to Study Studies was founded in 2008 by Dr. Sigmund Search, who rose to fame by studying the effect of studies on laboratory rats. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Studies-R-Us, Inc., a Princeton, NJ-based conglomerate that studies the effect of studies on aliens, little people and members of the Tea Party.