Sep 30

Pope Victim XVI

Slide1bbbbPope Benedict XVI finally admitted that the Roman Catholic Church has a “questionable” reputation.

A questionable reputation, eh? Well, if that's the descriptor the pontiff thinks best applies to his misguided organization, then I'd say it works equally well for everyone and everything from Jack the Ripper and Enron to Bernie Madoff and The New York Mets.

Rather than stepping up, admitting fault, announcing widespread systemic changes and asking for forgiveness though, the pope instead blamed everyone else for the institution's tarnished image. In fact, he said the church's questionable reputation is a direct result of what he called 'uncommitted Christians'. Does that mean he's pointing the finger at Baptists, Protestants, Methodists and every other Christian sect as well as Catholics? Well, why the heck not? Misery loves company.

The Pope's bought into what I'd call the victim defense strategy. To wit:

- If a woman burns her hand as a result of spilling hot coffee on herself, it's not her fault, it's the restaurant's for not warning her that yes, indeed, coffee can be served hot and, if spilled on an exposed body part, it can cause pain. As a result, she's entitled to collect millions of dollars in damages.

- It's society's fault if a person chooses to pursue a life of crime, drugs and debauchery. Why? Because he wasn't given the same advantages his peers in more upscale neighborhoods. So don't blame him for last night's drive-by shooting. He should be given a suspended sentence at most.

- And, of course, it's not the Democrats fault that Obama hasn't really accomplished anything in three-plus years. And, it's not Sarah Palin's fault she completely rewrote the history of Paul Revere's ride (that was just 'gotcha' journalism at work).

We live in a world in which we buy into the notion that it's no one's fault for anything that goes wrong. We're all victims. And, it's always someone else's fault.

As a recovering Catholic and erstwhile altar boy, I'm ashamed of the way in which the Church has embraced victimization as its modus operandi. As the attached article notes, the Church blames 'societal changes during the 1960s and '70s' as the reason why so many priests went off the rails and gorged themselves on a bacchanalian feast of pedophilia. It wasn't the Church's fault. It wasn't the misguided concept of celibacy that attracted misfits and put them in direct, unsupervised contact with young boys. And, it wasn't the Church that shuffled these predators around from one parish to another and covered up their horrific deeds. It's really never been the Church's fault. It's always been someone else's.

And, so playing the victim card remains the Vatican's sole strategy. I guess it works with true believers. But, we uncommitted Christians don't buy it for a minute. The Church, and the Church alone, is responsible for the path of destruction its priests have sown.

I, for one, suggest a name change for the pontiff. He should call himself Pope Victim XVI. If he did, it would be the first truly honest and transparent thing he, and his Church, has done to date.

Sep 29

How NOT to secure a summer internship

Stupid_meter There are many smart and strategic ways to stand out from the competition, demonstrate knowledge of a prospective employer's business, impress the reader with one's command of the English language and secure a summer internship.

And, then there is this steaming pile that found its way to my in-box on Wednesday:

“Hey my name is Clueless McWhocares and I am from Long Island, NY. I'm going to be a senior at Pineapple State University in Pineapple Kansas where I also play football and major In Political Science and minor in communications. I'm desperately trying to get a jump on other students who are attempting to get internships for the summer, So that is why I am contacting you guys now. I am really interested in Public Relations and would like to know if you have any internships for the summer of 2012? “

College and university students as well as recent grads should study this e-mail as a worst case example.

Let me share with you just a few of its fundamental flaws:

- It begins with “Hey”. As my mom loved to say, “Hay is for horses”. If I don't know you and you're connecting with me for the first time, try a salutation along the lines of Dear Steve or Dear Mr. Cody.

- I counted at least four grammatical mistakes in the first two sentences. That's akin to a death sentence for any job seeker. Show me you don't care enough to check the spelling, punctuation and grammar in a cover note to me and I guarantee I won't let you within a football field's length of my clients.

- “That's why I'm contacting you guys now.” You guys? You guys may work in the huddle of this guy's college football team, but it's a critical fumble in a cover note. Again, lose the tone of familiarity and text abbreviations you use with your buds. I don't think our contacts at Fortune 500 corporations would appreciate their Peppercom account manager addressing them as “you guys” in monthly reports that they, in turn, forward to senior management.

- “That's why I'm interested in Public Relations.” What's why you're interested in public relations? The student hasn't told me anything about his experience, relevant internships or why he's gravitating towards public relations as opposed to, say, bricklaying.

- Last, but not least, there's no closing to the letter. No yours sincerely, Best wishes or even Regards. Nada. Just white space. That makes me feel special. Very special indeed. 

The final nail in this student's coffin is the impression that his note was one of hundreds blasted to PR firms across the country. I don't like spam from vendors, stockbrokers or measurement firms. And, I really don't like them from students.

So, study this missive from hell and learn from it. Tailor your cover notes, use formal business language that is grammatically correct and last, but not least, show me you've taken the time to study my organization. Otherwise, you WILL end up as a bricklayer, Wal-Mart greeter, McDonald's burger flipper or some other dead-end job. One thing you will NOT get is a summer internship at a top PR firm or corporation.

Sep 28

Why didn’t I think of that?

Personal-Powxxer-500x496 I thought I'd heard of every conceivable new business strategy.

I've read every one of Robb High's endlessly repetitive 'agency mistake' e-mails. I've listened to Brent Hodgins and his diabolically clever Mirren business development workshops. And, I've even learned a few tips of the trade from such notable strategy consultants as Richard Harte, Ph.D., and Darryl 'Big D' Salerno.

But, my new business thinking was just rocked by a voice mail from a commercial real estate agent. Yes, you heard me right, a commercial real estate agent.

The call came from a guy I'll call Tim. As is usually the case with unsolicited cold calls, Tim made his message sound urgent. And, he also used a soft, personal tone and an air of familiarity that made it seem as if we'd known each other since those halcyon days at St. Francis Grammar School.

Tim's message not only left my lower jaw hanging on the floor. It made me shake my head and think, 'Why didn't I think of that?'

It went something like this:

“Hey Steve. How have you been? It's Tim. Tim Tenacious with Fabulous Realtors. You know. The big commercial real estate brokers here in midtown. Anyway, listen, I'm a big fan and I know there are so many ways you can help Fabulous PR ourselves. So, here's what I need from you ASAP. Can you call me back and give me talking points I can use with my CEO to convince him to hire you as our PR firm? In the meantime, we can help you find some space that will perfectly meet your needs and we'll have a great quid pro quo going. So, ball's in your court, big guy. Give me some bullets I can work with. Oh, and I'll set a meeting through your assistant and we'll start finding you the kind of office space you deserve. Can't wait to catch up.”

Tim's twisted logic was both appalling and laugh out loud funny. I immediately shared it with my management team, suggesting we toss out all of our other business development strategies and, instead, borrow a page from The Book of Tim.

Could you imagine me calling, say, Jon Iwata of IBM (a dream client I'd love to work with, BTW) and leave him a Tim-type voice mail?

“Jon? Way, way too long buddy. Way too long. Listen. Do me a favor. Call or e-mail me some talking points ASAP about your new top-of-the-line laptop computers, OK? I want to put your sales messages on Deivis Baez's desk. He's our IT manager and he really should be working with you guys to upgrade everything. Across-the-board. Right now. You get me? In the meantime, though, put Peppercom on a monthly retainer so we can return the favor and make this a real quid pro quo. You'll get a big order for new software  and we'll help you PR IBM. Can't wait to hear back, Jon. Talk to me baby. I want to help you help yourself.”

I've heard of reverse psychology before, but Tim's new business strategy is a stupefying show stopper.

In fact, if I were Tim, I'd stop trying to sell commercial real estate and, instead, channel my genius towards strategy consulting. Trust me, Robb High, Brent Hodgins, Darryl Salerno and all the rest won't know what hit them. In fact, they'll probably end up hiring Tim to provide strategy consulting for their strategy consulting.

I'd go on, but I owe Tim some bullet points for his CEO.

Sep 27

Misery loves company

As loyal readers know, I've washed my hands of the New York Mets pending a change in   ownership. As a result, I no longer agonize over their pitiful plight.

Display_ibbbmageBut, having suffered through the epic collapses of 2007 and '08, I have a special empathy for fans of the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox. Both teams seem to be doing everything possible to blow their chances of earning a Wild Card spot in the upcoming post-season playoffs. The Bosox demise is especially dramatic considering they actually sat astride the top of the A.L. East on September 1st. But, hey, that's nothing compared to the all-time worst collapse in MLB perpetrated by the Omar Minaya-created, Willie Randolph-led Mets of a few years back.

It takes guts to root for teams that routinely disappoint their fans. In fact, I find rooting for the Yankees both easy and a major league cop out. The team has the largest payroll in baseball, routinely grabs the best available free agents and, as a result, is almost a shoe-in to win their division each and every season. Rooting for the Yankees is akin to cheering for Facebook, Google or Microsoft. Sure, they dominate the world, but what joy comes from witnessing the launch of yet another breakthrough product or service? Give me a rough-and-tumble rags-to-riches story any time.

In fact, I think the more aggressive and obnoxious Yankees fans should be hauled into a court of public opinion and handed one of two sentences:

- Those fans who have been arrogant, patronizing jerks, year-in and year-out for the past decade, should be sentenced to rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates. For those not familiar with that woeful franchise, the Pirates hold the all-time record for most consecutive losing seasons by any professional team in any sport (a season or two of that would teach humility to the most hateful Yankees fan).

- Those Yankees fans whose fathers and grandfathers were arrogant, obnoxious rooters and have, in turn, passed along their superiority complex to the next generation, should be forced to suffer a special sort of hell: rooting for the Chicago Cubs in perpetuity. Since the Cubs haven't won a World Series in 103 years and seem cursed to have at least another century of doom and gloom ahead, the sentence would oh-so-fitting. Just imagine a Yankees fan who's used to boasting about scores and scores of pennants and World Series titles being saddled, instead, with the curse of the goat and the very real prospect of never living to see the Cubs play in, much less, win a World Series. Seems to me that sentence would more than fit the crime.

And, so as I dream about bad things for the Yankees and their fans, I do want the Tomahawk types and Red Sox Nation to know they are not suffering in isolation. I feel your pain and, if it's any consolation, I've been where you are.

So, here's a suggestion we can all get behind: let's transfer all that negative energy and angst at your teams' collapse and transfer it, instead, to rooting for whatever team challenges the Bronx Bombers in post season. I can't speak for Braves and Red Sox fans, but the next best thing to watching the Mets win is seeing the Yankees lose.

Sep 26

There’s nothing gray about this name

Grey Healthy People is the horrendous name chosen for the new, combined healthcare unit of Grey Group, one of hundreds of agencies within WPP (insert link). 

Abc_blue_man_080731_mnThe global division will specialize in advertising for health-related products and services. But, let me ask you something, would you retain the services of a communications company that so badly bungles the naming of its own health care unit?

When I hear Grey Healthy People, I think of any number of things:

- happy-go-lucky octogenarians frolicking at a Del Boca Vista poolside.
- a group of people who, despite their sickly skin color, are somehow healthy.
- albino exercise and nutrition nuts who refuse to set foot outside.

This naming disaster wouldn't be so bad if Grey weren't an advertising agency that specializes in image and reputation. I mean, if it were Grey Healthy Squirrels, I'd nod my head and think, “I'm happy for you rodents. It's about time you started marketing yourselves.” Or, if it were Grey Healthy Bathtubs, I'd think, “Well, I'd probably still opt for the classic white model but, maybe, there's something special about this particular tub?”

But, Grey Healthy People? Good night nurse. This name is DOA which, as healthy and unhealthy people alike know, is a bad thing. A really, really bad thing.

Sep 23

RepMan Image of the Year Contest – Nudge Nudge

At the end of June we told readers about a contest we are running to identify the best RepMan blog image of the year. You can see the nominations for the first six months of 2011 here.

Since June more blogs have been nominated. However, not many of these nominations have come from outside of Peppercom Towers. If you would like to nominate a blog for its visual excellence just drop a note in the comments field or email RepMan.

To give you an idea of what we’re looking for, below are the five additional nominations we have received since June.

AMC’s new reality show ‘The Pitch’ failed to sign up any real life Don Drapers, which kind of makes it like 'The Apprentice' with no Donald Trump. This fantastic Mad Men inspired image summed up AMC’s predicament perfectly:
6a00d8341c39e853ef015390679df8970b-800wi______________________________________________
 
In August RepMan told us that 37.8 percent of the population of Evansville, Indiana is obese. This unfortunate ‘honor’ was illustrated by two ladies waiting for a McDonald’s to open. RepMan cannot verify that this is an Evansville branch of McDonald's, but that does stop us putting up a funny image (Note the time on the clock to the right):
6a00d8341c39e853ef0154346f395f970c-800wi ______________________________________________

In August RepMan countered a report from the York University School of Kinesiology & Health Science that said obese people who are otherwise healthy live just as long as their slim counterparts. Tell that to the skeleton in wife beater:
6a00d8341c39e853ef014e8ab8632b970d-800wi ______________________________________________

McDonalds makes another appearance following the toppling of the Burger King King. RepMan hoped that the reign of the “ultimate fast food despot” will come to an end soon. Here he is pictured on the way to The Hague:
6a00d8341c39e853ef015390eed21f970b-800wi ______________________________________________

In September RepMan broke away from fast food to look at the importance of customers in today's economy. In “It’s the customer, stupid!” RepMan urged marketers to look at things from their customers' perspective so this beautifully illustrated chain of events can stop happening:
6a00d8341c39e853ef014e8b8ca8a6970d-800wi______________________________________________
 
And that’s where we are in the RepMan image of the year award. Please feel free to enter into the fun and nominate your favorite image(s). Either nominate in the comments field or shoot RepMan an email. The top ten images will be shortlisted at the end of the year and readers will be invited to vote for their favorite. The names of the people who vote for the most popular image will be put into a hat and a winner drawn at random. Some sort of prize will be found for the winner from Peppercom's stationary closet (no, that's not where we keep the iPads).

Sep 22

The flotsam and jetsam of the blogosphere

Warning: Some readers, especially those who post or Tweet inspirational quotes, may be offended  by the following blog. Reader discretion is advised.

Idoms-793706I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with the countless inspirational quotes that clog up my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Here’s just a random sampling from the last hour:

-    ‘The ability to convert ideas to things is the secret to outward success.’
-    ‘The only validation a young company needs is customers.’ 
-    ‘Lead if you can! Follow if you must. But, don’t stand still.’

What, exactly, am I supposed to do with these inspirational quotes? They’re not actionable items. They don’t change the way I think or my day-to-day existence. More to the point, they only clutter an already cluttered blogosphere. If I want inspiration, I simply turn on the tube and find an ironman triathlon to watch.
The inspirational quote’s evil cousin is the daily horoscope. Here’s a few from this morning:
-    ‘Today is a good day for an Aries to invest wisely.’
-    ‘A Taurus should beware of making new acquaintances today.’
-    ‘Cancers take warning. All signs indicate to a possible loss of a close friend.’

Again, why should I care about someone else’s daily horoscope prediction when I don’t give a rat’s posterior for my own? Horoscope readings, like inspirational quotes, are the flotsam and jetsam of the blogosphere. They’re useless bits of debris floating by you on the vast ocean of life.

More to the point, people who continually post inspirational quotes as well as their daily horoscopes tell me something about themselves: namely, that they don’t have an original point of view so they co-opt someone else’s. A journalist would call that plagiarism. I call it spam. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to check my horoscope to see if it’s safe for me to go for a run.

Sep 21

Kiss-and-tell du jour

Edsellll One day it's Florence Henderson, discussing her new book and the time she contracted venereal disease from one-time New York Mayor John V. Lindsay. The next day it's Dyan Cannon, hyping her hard cover that details the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of Hollywood legend (and LSD-popping) Cary Grant.

It seems like decades-old revelations have become the currency of the day. And, the character assassinations that go hand-in-glove with these tomes from b-level celebrities go unanswered since the real stars are long gone. So, no one gets hurt right? Wrong, I think the Henderson and Cannon books undermine whatever positive reputation either still possess.

And, why do we now need to know that John Lindsay was a sleaze ball or that Cary grant was abusive? Both Henderson and Cannon justify their exposes as '…helpful lessons that can guide others in their relationships'. Please. These are simply vehicles for Henderson & Cannon to cash in on while they still can (and while we book-buying Boomers are still conscious).

Which leads me to part two of this blog: the target audience of these kiss-and-tell books of the recent past. I guarantee there isn't a single Millennial alive who could correctly identify John Vachel Lindsay (I recently surveyed our group of Millennials and only one could correctly identify Abe Beame as the mayor of New York when the city faced certain bankruptcy).

And, sad to say, I'll bet there are very few Millennials who recognize the stage name of Archibald MacLeish.

To prove my point, I queried 18 Millennials the other night asking if they could tell me about the Ford Edsel. Blank stares. No one knew if it was the name of a celebrity, a product or an early Rock band.

As 30-something plus readers know, the Ford Edsel was the single worst launch in the automobile industry's history. When I shared that information, I went on to tell the youngsters that, at least for my generation, the word Edsel was synonymous with failure. All I received in exchange were a few shoulder shrugs.

It was a bummer because, while I don't give a hoot about kiss-and-tell books, I do believe it's important to know what went before; especially for marketers. How else can future marketing and PR types avoid the mistakes made by Ford Motor Company, for example, if they're not even aware of the massive 1959 disaster that was the Edsel launch?

I'd continue to vent, but I need to send my book manuscript over to a couple of agents. It's all about the early days of Peppercom, and is entitled, 'Eddie and Me' (hey, I don't mind ripping off a best seller's title).

It all begins in Moed's tiny, squalid apartment and is chock full of sordid stories of abuse, betrayal and drug use. And, those are just tales about the security guard in Ed's apartment building! Wait until you read about the man himself. Wow.

Sep 20

PR’s version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

I thought today's decision by the military to finally lift the oft-vilified don't ask, don't tell policy  Mediocrity_web_laaaog5 provided an ideal hook with which to weigh in on a disturbing trend in PR; a different type of don't ask, don't tell policy, if you will. I refer to the astounding ability of proven failures to land one plum job after another.

PR's don't ask, don't tell policy is especially overt in large corporations and holding companies. Every week or so, I'll receive an e-mail from someone I know who was recently let go for doing a horrible job. But, his note is entitled, 'Great news!' or 'Movin' on up!' and it informs me that, despite having just been fired from his 37th straight CCO spot, he's just been named head of corporate communications for a global financial institution. Say what?!?!?

And, on the large PR agency front, one has only to double click on any PR daily's 'people on the move' section to see that John Smith has switched jobs once again. He's gone from Porter to Fleishman (or, was it H&K to MSL?). And, there's a note about Jane Doe, who has hopped around more often than the Easter Bunny. She's switching from Golin to Burson (or, is it Weber to Edelman?). They've both landed new gigs heading up a major health care or consumer products group, even though everyone in the know knows they went down in flames at their previous employer. And, they call this the big leagues? Ugh.

So, how do these empty suits survive?

I believe relentless downsizing is the culprit. There are far fewer human resource executives who are being burdened with wading through hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes. So, when a few finalists who possess 'deep sector expertise' and can walk and chew gum at the same time are brought in for interviews, the path of least resistance seems especially attractive.

Human resource managers don't ask John Smith why he's held 18 jobs in seven years. And, Mr. Smith sure as hell won't volunteer the information. So, after a perfunctory reference check (which is a joke since candidates ONLY provide the names of individuals who will provide glowing reports), the empty suit is named vice president of public relations for Massive Corporation, Inc., or EVP and director of WPP's global technology practice. And, once firmly entrenched, they'll spin wheels, achieve nothing, collect huge paychecks and be shown the door once again within 18 months. And, then, the cycle repeats. It's almost like an Animal Planet documentary about Yellowstone Park's ecosystem.

All this wouldn't matter if it wasn't happening everywhere in corporate America (note: I'll bet $100 that recently fired Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, arguably one of the worst CEOs in recent memory, lands a new, higher paying gig within six months). 

I believe pervasive downsizing has enabled otherwise mediocre executives to survive, if not, thrive. The real loser is the American economy. There are multiple reasons why we're rocketing along a highway whose upcoming exits are marked Second World and Third World status, but the Peter Principle is certainly one of them. 

Companies who adopt a don't ask, don't tell policy and enable mediocre, empty suits to continue filling plumb jobs aren't just hurting themselves. They're hurting everyone. And, by the way, this would make for a great investigative piece if a PR trade REALLY wanted to do some serious journalism.

Sep 19

(Keith can’t get no) satisfaction

KeithHaving just finishing reading Keith Richards' autobiography, I have no doubt that he, and not Mick  Jagger, deserves to be a Knight of the British Empire.

For Millennials who may not recognize the name, Keith Richards is lead guitarist, co-founder and, as the book reveals, almost always the number one idea man driving the 'world's greatest rock and roll band', The Rolling Stones.

Written in an e e cummings stream of consciousness style, Keith's book is called 'Life'. And, trust me, it's as jagged, ragged and engrossing as the Stones themselves.

'Life' is a treasure trove of fascinating facts, figures and background stories that told me many, many things I never knew about one of my favorite groups.

For example, do you know the answers to these questions:

- Linda Keith was Richards' first true love. She dumped him while he was touring in America to take up with Jimi Hendrix instead. What song did his subsequent heartache drive Keith to write?
- Who inspired Keith and Mick to write 'Jumpin Jack Flash'?
- What event that occurred right outside Keith's London flat produced 'Gimme Shelter'?
- Who were Keith and Mick mad at when they wrote 'Get Off of my Cloud'?
- What city's 1968 riots inspired Keith to compose 'Street Fighting Man'?
- Who was 'Sister Morphine'?
- Whose outrageous stage act and patronizing treatment of his band mates inspired Mick to follow suit (which, in turn, caused the media to incorrectly nickname the group 'Mick & the Boys')?
- Who was Keith thinking about when he wrote 'Wild Horses'?

As you might expect, the book also cites chapter and verse on Keith's never-ending battles with heroin, cocaine, the law, and legions of redneck hooligans who constantly tried picking fights with one of the world's best known rockers.

Life is also a raw, kiss-and-tell tome that simultaneously praises and buries Keith's alter ego, Sir Mick Jagger.

What finally comes through the purple haze (which, FYI, was the nickname for a high grade form of heroin) IS this: Keith is the heart and soul of the Stones. To wit:

- Keith's the guy who covered for Brian Jones for two years as the group's second guitarist descended into a world of madness and eventual suicide.
- Keith's the guy who kept the group together while Sir Mick went MIA for months at a time to chill with his latest lady friend and/or intimate circle of beautiful people.
- And, it was Keith's shoulder on which all those women whose hearts were broken by Sir Mick over the years cried their hearts out and asked, “What should I do?” As Keith tells you, he always responded by saying, “How the f*ck should I know? You're the one who's sleeping with him. Not me.”

With 'Life,' it seems Keith finally did what HE wanted to do. He wrote the best rock and roll book this blogger's ever read. I just hope it gives the guitarist some satisfaction after all these years. Because, if even half of 'Life' is accurate, Keith Richards was unquestionably the band's 'Beast of Burden' and he sure deserves a whole lot more recognition (and satisfaction).