Jan 31

Kangoo and me

Did you know that, when everything else is equal, employers will opt to hire slender, physically fit job prospects rather than their weight-challenged peers?

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I mention this because, knowing how mightily Americans are struggling with obesity (courtesy of McDonald's and the various school lunch programs that still offer pizza and other sources of empty calories), I wanted to share an absolute revelation. It's called kangoo, and it's changed my life for the better.

Like mountain climbing and stand-up comedy, though, I find it difficult to explain kangoo to someone who's never experienced it. But, I'll try.

One performs kangoo by donning a specially-manufactured pair of ski boots that are supported by an impact protection system featuring two arc-shaped shells held together by a tension spring. The result is a bouncing platform that reduces the normal, pounding impact of running by up to 80 percent depending on the exercise. And, because the boots balance themselves naturally, one is constantly using every core and leg muscle to constantly stabilize the body. As a result, the muscles work in total harmony with one another (confused and tired yet?).

My trainer, Mario Godiva Green (www.mariothetrainer.com), offers three different, high intensity/low impact varieties of kangoo:
 - dance classes (which, since I was born with two left feet, I avoid like the plague).
- running (which is more like flying since the boots make you feel so amazingly light)
- conditioning boot camps.
 I've been alternating the latter two for well over two months now and the results have nothing short of amazing.

I went into the first kangoo session with my usual, haughty air of condescension. After all, I'd summited countless mountains, completed scores of century cycling rides and run hundreds of 10ks and half marathons over the years, so how difficult could this strange sport be? Twenty minutes later, I knew two things:
- I'd badly underestimated Mario and his kangoo fitness workouts
- I was hooked faster than one can ingest a batch of crystal meth.

The beauty of kangoo, aside from the way it re-sculpts one's body and burns hundreds, if not thousands, of calories, is that it forces you to stay in the moment or, as Friday’s guest columnist, Ruth Fishel, would say: practice mindfulness. As is the case with comedy and climbing, it is impossible to think of anything else but kangoo as you practice kangoo (that's because every step is critical AND your body is fighting to maintain its equilibrium).
 
Mario tells me he's one of only five master trainers in the States who is fully certified to teach and train with kangoo. Here’s a recent ABC nightline segment that will do a much better job of showing you what I’ve been experiencing.

Kangoo was invented in Europe for sport injury rehabilitation. In fact, kangoo’s impact reduction enables people with injuries to heal faster and still exercise without reinjuring themselves or further exacerbating their injury. It’s also a cellular workout.  Every time one rebounds on the kangoo boots, it’s like 60 trillion cells doing a pushup! That’s a whole lot of tired cells. And, when the cells regenerate, they regenerate stronger than ever.  I believe that’s a win-win-win-win.  But, I‘m not positive.

The bottom line? I can assure you that kangoo will melt pounds off your frame faster than you can say sauna. And, you'll emerge from the session with a kangoo high that lasts for the entire day. Hey, maybe Demi Moore should consider it as a solution to her nitrous oxide addiction?

Jan 30

To be stuck inside of Brouillard with the Peppercom blues again

This post is dedicated to every Brouillard alumnus who suffers the same type of PTSD.

 

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Do you have a recurring nightmare? I do, and it's something special.

The plot's always the same, although the characters sometimes change. Here's the gist:

For god knows what reason, I've decided to sell my equity stake in Peppercom and return to my previous position as president of Brouillard Communications (a now defunct conflict brand within J. Walter Thompson which, in turn, is one of the 6,963 agencies owned by WPP Group).

Anyway, the nightmare begins with my sitting at a Brouillard conference table staring into the lifeless eyes of the bete noir of my professional career, Brouillard CEO James H. Foster.

As was the case 16 years ago, Foster is sitting with his arms crossed and a sadistic smirk on his face. Suddenly, he laughs out loud and sneers, “Irene (the equally sadistic CFO) and I knew you'd be back, Cody. You simply lack the intellectual rigor to run an agency.”

Foster was very big on the term intellectual rigor, and the lack thereof. He'd often tell me to fire someone simply because they lacked intellectual rigor. When I'd press him for details, he'd stop in his tracks and sigh, “The words speak for themselves.”

Back to the dream. Badly shaken, I quickly excuse myself from the conference room and ask my secretary (whose name escapes me) to get my erstwhile Peppercom business partner, Ed Moed, on the phone. I need to speak with Ed ASAP and beg him to take me back.

But, my secretary always returns with the same message: “Ed's assistant, someone named Dandy, keeps saying he's in a meeting and can't be disturbed.”

That's when I wake up in a cold sweat, look around and thank my lucky stars that the dream was just a dream.

So, I'd like to ask every armchair psychologist near and far to tell me what the nightmare means. I'd be especially interested in any interpretations that also include image and reputation angles. Here's mine:
The dream is my mind's way of telling me to never grow too content with the successes I've experienced at Peppercom.

Because, if I do, I just may end up in another thankless job at another nameless holding company subsidiary. And, if I did, I'd most certainly channel Bob Dylan and wail, “Oh momma, can this really be the end? To be stuck inside of Brouillard (or any of the scores of other large and impersonal agencies) with the Peppercom blues again.”

 

 

Jan 27

Serenity Now!

You don’t need me to remind you public relations is an extremely stressful field. But, hey, if I don’t, who will?  So, allow me to remind you of your stress before I provide a really cool solution to it.

Here are two recent facts:
1.)   PR was just named one of the 10 most stressful occupations in the world.

2.)   PR practitioners work in the second most caffeinated occupation.

Imagedds

And here, as promised, is your solution. It’s called mindfulness. And, it’s a time-tested, very cool way of reducing stress, improving the quality of your life and, get this, slowing down the aging process. Now, I may work in the smoke-and-mirrors business, but this isn’t snake oil. Rather, it’s the culmination of 33-years of research, study and practice by Ruth Fishel, (pictured,)the author of ‘WRINKLES DON’T HURT, the Joy of Aging Mindfully’ available at Amazon.

 

Sensing that Ruth had a novel remedy to a very real PR industry problem, I arranged an interview. And, what the 76-year-old author told me wasn’t just remarkable. It made total sense.

Mindfulness is a form of mediation that, Fishel says, can help any stressed out PR executive. And, it’s quicker, safer and more effective than a glass of chardonnay, tab of crystal meth or 20mg of Xanax.

It’s a two-part process that needs to be practiced before it can be mastered. It consists of:
   – Setting aside 20 minutes every morning to do nothing more than breathe in and out, and focus on the breathing. Thoughts, be they good, bad or otherwise should be placed in a parking lot as they occur. Twenty minutes of mindfulness, says Fishel, is equal to two hours of sleep. And, what PR executive wouldn’t kill for two more hours of Zzzs each night?
   – Exporting the practice breathing to the crisis of the moment. So, when a client calls to complain, a boss pops into the office with a last-minute project or a reporter slams down his phone in disgust, a mindfulness practitioner will immediately ease the stress by, drum roll please, slowly breathing in and out three times.

It’s that simple. But, it’s also that profound. Ruth says mindfulness enables us to uncover negative thoughts and fears, and recognize them for what they are (i.e. nothing more than the fear of fear itself, as FDR said). Fishel gave me a great example from her personal life. Immediately after authoring her first book, ‘The Journey Within,’ she was asked by her publisher to deliver a speech. Ruth refused because she was literally scared to death by the very thought of public speaking. But, her publisher went ahead and booked the address. Frightened but determined, Ruth focused on mindfulness practice each and every day leading up to the speech. She also added a personal affirmation: ‘I am a dynamite, fearless motivational speaker.’

Needless to say, she delivered a great speech and, today, can look back on countless such talks delivered to everyone from school children and recovering alcoholics to prison inmates and senior citizen groups.

And, speaking of senior citizens, Ruth firmly believes that mindfulness retards aging. In fact, she promises that every year spent practicing mindfulness on a daily basis will slow the aging process by a full year. She says mindfulness has been linked to becoming a better listener (since one stays in the moment instead of anticipating an upcoming call, meeting or deadline, or thinking about what you are going to say next). Ruth also says it’s been linked to having fewer operations over a lifetime, maintaining a good memory, strengthening one’s immune system and a small new study even reported mindfulness can lessen getting Alzheimer’s disease because it activates a certain section in the brain that sharpens the memory cells.

Mindfulness, says Fishel, is the single best way to stop worrying about the future (and growing old) while making the most of the moment at hand. In other words, it makes life richer and more rewarding.

It seems to me that people working in a stressed out, crisis-filled occupation such as ours should invest in themselves (and, in Ruth’s book) and begin practicing mindfulness. It sounds a whole lot better than the strategy employed by the Seinfeld character, Frank Costanza, who would throw up his arms, look skyward and scream, “Serenity now! Serenity now!”

You can learn more about Ruth and her other books at www.ruthfishel.com.

Jan 26

CNN: The Worldwide Leader in Pranks

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer and RepChatter co-host, Deb Brown.

Last week, I wrote about my disappointment with the CBS Morning Show. Basically, the show promotes that it has a new hard news format, but when I watched it for 30 minutes, it was anything but hard news. And, Repman, himself, mentioned that the History Channel and other brands are not delivering on their promises either.

So, let’s now switch channels to CNN. After all, CNN promises to be the “worldwide leader in news.” Well, except for maybe early in the morning. The brilliant management at CNN decided to try a new segment in which the anchors use their coveted rolodexes to unknowingly wake up famous people as part of their “Wake ‘Em Up” show who are usually asleep at 5am (or 2am if the poor soul lives on the West Coast). The lovely anchors decided to debut their new segment by waking up Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and told her to make sure she doesn’t say any F-bombs because the show is live. As if that wasn’t enough, they asked her if she still has haunting memories from her father’s assassination and reminded her that she was eight years old when he was killed. That’s nice to wake up to, isn’t it? Apparently, the executive producer of CNN must be sleeping during this segment since it continued past that debut call.

On a separate call, the anchors try to reach a celebrity but accidentally dial the wrong number. The person who answers speaks in Spanish and one of the anchors jokes “This is the FBI.” The horrified guy quickly hangs up. Nice. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still living in fear.

Now, when I turn to CNN, I expect to see the “worldwide leader in news.” Not a teenage prank show. And, to top it off, the anchors are upset that Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Channel, is making fun of them. Really? That’s what these anchors care about?

Is anyone at CNN awake to understand that you promise NEWS, not PRANKS? Talk about a disconnect between the experience CNN promises and what it actually delivers. This gap is so wide that even the great Evel Knievel wouldn’t try to jump it if he were alive today. At least he can rest in peace since the anchors can’t call him.

My favorite response from a reader to one of the websites that wrote about this debacle of a news program said “WTF is this show supposed to be about? Why not just air some old episodes of Punk’d?”

Jan 25

Announcing Peppercom’s Distrust Barometer

Enough already with The Edelman Trust Barometer!

While I have enormous respect for the amazing thought leadership the Edelman Trust Barometer generates I must say that, as is the case with most surveys, indices and rankings, it pretty much tells me what I already know. And, this year is no exception: the barometer reports confidence in CEOs is at an all-time low.  Yawn.
TrustfI think it’s time to unleash the bizarro world version of the Edelman Trust Barometer. I call it, drum roll please, the Peppercom Distrust Barometer. And, unlike the original, our barometer doesn’t focus on lack or trust but, rather, explores whether there is any living person who still engenders trust.

Here are our initial findings, sorted by category. Note: the results reflect a sampling of street vendors, homeless people and New Jersey Transit train conductors, who were surveyed during a rain storm earlier this week. Our single question was both pointed and provocative: Who do you trust (fill-in the category). Here are the results:

1.)    Entertainment: Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke. Betty White finished a distant third. Leo, Brangelina and the rest didn’t even register a blip.
2.)    Sports: All National Hockey League players. These toothless, facially scarred nabobs of the North easily outranked their higher paid, egomaniacal peers from the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. Note: Derek Jeter finished a surprising 10th after Tonya Harding and Barry Bonds. So much for the captain.
3.)    Politics: Any descendant of Theodore Roosevelt. Our respondents not only distrust ALL living politicians, they also suggested Peppercom rename its distrust survey in honor of Richard M. Nixon, the prototypical sleazy politician (note: our board of advisers is currently reviewing the suggestion).
4.)    CEOs: Again, respondents went the Grim Reaper route, naming Steve jobs as the most trusted CEO. The late, lamented Jobs was followed by Mother Theresa, who apparently held an honorific title with the Roman Catholic Church circa 1980. (Note: the Church itself didn’t fare as well. In fact, the last 31 popes finished at the bottom of the CEO list alongside Carol Bartz of Yahoo, Chainsaw Al Dunlap of Sunbeam infamy and, of course, Dennis Kozlowski and Ken Lay.
5.)    The media: Local traffic reporters such as Katie McGee of WCBS-TV in New York were listed as most trustworthy. Not surprisingly, meteorologists, Bill O’Reilly and Katie Couric finished dead last.

The Peppercom (nee Nixon) Distrust Barometer will be published annually, and is intended to shine the spotlight on those few individuals, living or dead, on whom we can still count.

 

Jan 24

Is your brand bi-polar?

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How many times have you been frustrated when a brand promises one thing in its messaging and then delivers a very different audience experience? My colleague, Deb Brown, recently opined on this very subject when she compared what the new CBS This Morning promised in its marketing and what she actually experienced as a viewer.

Deb’s blog inspired me to wax poetic on other brands that seem positively bi-polar when it comes to promising one experience and delivering a very different one.

Take The History Channel. Please.

I adored the original History Channel, but have absolutely no clue who they’ve become or what their brand stands for. And, judging by some cursory research on my part, neither do they. For example, The History Channel’s website is replete with historical tidbits and trivia, including This Day in History, a 150-year anniversary video about the Civil War and all sorts of other cool value adds for junkies such as me. But, The History Channel’s programing is laughably bizarre, and includes such low-end nonsense as Swamp People, Ax Men and Ancient Aliens. Do the folks in programming not speak to their peers in marketing? Or, do the latter simply not watch the network? Either way, it positively schizophrenic.

But, CBS and The History Channel aren’t alone. In fact, they have lots of company in the bi-polar branding world. Just consider these examples:
-    Starbucks lauds its commitment to being ethical and responsible in everything the corporation does. Yet, they just raised prices in Manhattan without any advance notice, causing a rash of negative reviews.
-    Continental Airlines heralded its United merger with the following headline: ‘It’s not who’s merging, but what’s about to emerge.’ As a longstanding Continental flier, I can assure you that what’s emerged is one hot mess of inefficiency.
-    McDonald’s new tagline is ‘I’m lovin’ it.’ But, based upon the fast food chain’s reprehensible role in fattening up Americans to die, the motto should be, ‘Killing you slowly, bite-by-bite.’
-    Carnival Cruise Lines trumpets their fun excursions and asks for passenger reviews on the website (but bars entry without a user ID and password). Nowhere is there any mention of the ghastly Costa Concordia capsizing that claimed so many lives. I’ve met a few CEOs who lived in a world of denial, but Carnival’s top dog deserves a special place in hell for not owning up to the disaster.
-    And, in the wonderful world of public relations, there’s my alma mater, H+K Strategies. About a month ago, the PR trades blasted breaking news bulletins announcing the legendary Hill & Knowlton’s name change to H+K Strategies (a non-news story if there ever was one). Then, just last week, H+K Strategies was sued by Weber for client and people theft, which is a very big deal indeed. But, when one travels to the H+K Strategies web site, there’s no mention whatsoever of the suit or H&K’s POV. Instead, the visitor is prompted to view a video of CEO Jack Martin, who pontificates about H+K Strategies being in the “wisdom business.” Well, some old wise man was clearly asleep at the wheel when he allowed the firm to re-brand only weeks before a major law suit was filed by a top competitor. There’s bi-polar and then there’s dysfunctional. I’d suggest H+K Strategies belongs in both buckets.

Enough with me and my views. What are your experiences with bi-polar brands? Send me some decent examples of corporations that promise one thing in their marketing and deliver something decidedly different in their audience experience, and I’ll mail you a way cool Peppercom water bottle as a way of saying thanks. (Note: winners of said bottle may find it to be anything but cool. Peppercom in no way, shape or form wants to fall prey to becoming a bi-polar brand.)

Jan 23

The Armani of PR

 

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Last week, I fancied myself the Curt Flood of PR; someone who was willing to take on the establishment and speak out against the injustice of our industry's awards program.

This week, I see myself as a top fashion designer. And, I'm delighted to say I'm not alone. In fact, my firm was just selected as the 2011 Best of Manhattan Award winner in the clothing category!

I can't tell you how thrilled I am. Ed and I have labored long and hard to make sure we carry the most stylish clothing at affordable prices in handsomely designed stores. In fact, the U.S. Commerce Association award is the culmination of a long and winding road, and I'd like to thank the judges (as well as all the little people who made this possible).

I'd also like to alert the judges to the fact that Peppercom is a strategic communications firm and NOT a clothing store. Sure, we'll occasionally run a going out of business sale and mark down all items by up to 75 percent, but that's it.

I jest of course. But, the Best of Manhattan Award notification is a genuine reputation blunder. If the U.S. Commerce Association can name Peppercom the Big Apple's best clothing store, they could just as easily pick Saks Fifth Avenue as the top funeral parlor.

To err is human. To forgive, divine. But, the business world is a stern taskmaster and this degree of sloppiness is both laughable and lamentable.

Even though I'll be thrilled to accept my much-deserved award in the most stylish tux imaginable, I would advise the U.S. Commerce Association to invest a few bucks in a new database management system. If they do so, I'll throw in a new suit for the CEO. It's the least the Armini of PR can do.

 

Jan 20

Will They Say Yes? Thinking about Engagement from the Audience’s POV

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Sam Ford.

Companies spend a lot of time thinking about how to engage their audiences when it comes to marketing.

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Traditionally, this conversation ends up focusing on having (or imagining) some sort of captive audience: the magazine or newspaper reader who can't help but look at an advertisement as they read the headlines; the TV viewer who sits through a commercial while waiting for their show to come back on; or the poor sap whose mailbox is sagging due to the loads of junk mail stuffed in each day.

Online, companies' first impulse has been to create branded spaces they own and then come up with ways to corral audiences into them: sending them along the paths we line out for them and poking and prodding them for quantitative data along the way. What better way to know if our marketing is working, after all, than to make everything easy for us to measure, no matter how onerous it is on the audience?

Sometimes, marketers do acknowledge that such approaches miss where audiences are actually already engaging, and where conversations are already happening. But in response, they often take the traditional PR route: creating lists of influencers–the few thought leaders in a given field who, they convince themselves, will bring a whole community along for the ride, if you can just get them on board.

All of these communications approaches have a vital flaw: they are about communicating at the customer, about owning the conversation, and–primarily–about fulfilling the company's marketing needs.

Now think about what might happen if we think about engagement instead from the audience's point of view.

This is the challenge we've given ourselves at Peppercom for more than a year now. As we think about our clients and potential clients, it has driven the strategies and approaches we recommend and has become one of our most effective means for problem-solving.

And, as we will officially announce next week, Audience Experience is now the newest service offering from Peppercom, where Peppercom— in collaboration with our partner and author of Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us, Emily Yellin— will work with companies to immerse them in their key audiences' perspectives.

This approach, and offering, is as straightforward as it sounds: we help communicators step outside their view from within a particular department in their company and instead think about their communication from the perspective of the audiences they seek to reach. It's a way of thinking built on a basic sense of empathy, but it's been as deceptive as it is simple. Unfortunately, this commonsense approach has not been all that common.

We can speak from experience that truly embracing and adopting this approach is a work in progress. It's a goal we strive for and a bar we have set to reach through our work every day. It requires constantly challenging ourselves to rethink and reconfigure how we think. But the potential benefits are incredible, in terms of creating and managing communication that resonates with, serves, and engages the audiences we seek to reach.

Engaging the audience means knowing them— not just as a stat in a survey, or as an aggregate customer profile, or as the member of a focus group, or as an impression— but knowing and seeing ourselves from their point of view. It means always thinking of audience members as actual people, considering what their wants and needs are, and thinking about how the company serves them, rather than just marketing at them.

Peppercom's prevailing philosophy moving forward is that intimately knowing, anticipating and answering the audience's wants and needs benefits our clients, their audiences, and us. And both we and our clients are finding new ways this approach helps us every time we take it. We also hope it is a way of thinking that marketing and corporate communications increasingly comes to realize they can't afford to ignore.

Jan 19

“Where’s the News?!”

 

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A week after its debut, I had the chance to catch the last half hour of the newly revamped morning show on CBS.  The new morning show with its former name, CBS This Morning, promised that it would be the anti-Today Show and anti-Good Morning America, bringing hard news back to the morning.  On CBS’s website, it boasts “The style, tone, and content of the morning program extends CBS News' commitment to original reporting and journalistic integrity.”  As a news junkie, I was excited to see the show’s new format…until I actually turned on the TV.  All three anchors — Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill – were interviewing actor Simon Baker.  It eerily looked more like an interrogation than an interview.  And, oh, yes, the interview was oozing with journalistic integrity when the anchors asked Mr. Baker if he’s a surfer because he grew up in Australia or because he lived in California for 10 years.  I was glued to the TV waiting for his answer.  And, to top it off, Mr. Baker is on CBS’s show “The Mentalist.”  Talk about promoting your own shows.   I have nothing against Mr. Baker or CBS-TV.  But, as a viewer, I was duped.  CBS promised hard news and then didn’t deliver.  The messages the network pushed out were very different from my disappointed experience.

 

At Peppercom, we always look through the lens of the end-user to determine if there is a gap between what an organization promises and what the audience experiences.  And, there was certainly a gap with CBS…a large one that I fell through as I fell for CBS’s message.  But, I decided to give it another shot.  Maybe the Mentalist needed some additional publicity.  Next up was a segment that ran the night before on another CBS show “60 Minutes.”  Really?  Is there no new news?  The segment, for the next several minutes, discussed – and argued – how to say the name of the country Qatar.  And, even when a citizen of Qatar told Mr. Simon that it’s pronounced “Cutter,” Mr. Simon said, “But my wife pronounces it Ka-tar.”  Forget hard news.  Does this even qualify for soft news?  I didn’t know if I was more upset about CBS This Morning not delivering on its promise or watching “60 Minutes” melt before my eyes.  

What networks and companies need to understand is that they can’t just promise that a show or product or service does something.  They have to deliver on that promise.   Audiences are not stupid.  We don’t just sit there and accept what you tell us.  We actually experience the show, the product or the service.  Regarding “CBS This Morning,” all I know is what I didn’t experience… the news.

Jan 18

The Curt Flood of PR?

 

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Baseball purists will remember Curt Flood. He was a superb centerfielder for the great St. Louis Cardinals teams of the 1960s. Grossly dissatisfied with the free agent clause in existence at the time (which forbade players from testing the open market to obtain the highest salary possible for their talents), Flood took Major League Baseball to court.

 Sadly, Flood lost his case, turned to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain and died penniless (although he did open the floodgates that resulted in today's players earning truly obscene salaries).

While I have no desire to end up like Curt Flood, I do believe PR needs someone with his guts to stand-up and challenge our industry's version of baseball's old free agent system.

I'm referring specifically to two long-standing sacred cows:

-  The don't ask/don't tell relationship between global brands and mega agencies in which the former turns a blind eye allowing the latter to represent multiple direct competitors (something they simply will not allow small and medium-sized firms to practice).

– The cozy relationship between mega agencies (and their mega advertising dollars and fees) and the industry media properties that host annual awards programs.

Since I addressed the first issue in yesterday's blog, I thought I'd turn my full attention to the second transgression.

Lest readers think my anti-awards blog is merely sour grapes, let me assure you otherwise. I'm a big believer in awards and am proud to say that Peppercom has many multiple agency of the year citations and yours truly was just named the PR News Blogger of the year.

But, and this is a BIG but, the awards' programs are unfairly structured to favor the large agencies. Why? Because there is no tiered pricing system.

That means a struggling mom-and-pop firm has to pony up the exact same entry fee as a well-heeled Ketchum, Edelman or Weber. As a result, each and every category is TOTALLY dominated by submissions from the big guys.

Having served as a judge for Holmes, PR News, the Silver Anvils, PR Week and others, I can tell you this is 100 percent accurate.

In fact, I reached my breaking point a few years back when, as a proud PR Week Awards judge, I was assigned the technology category to evaluate. I was horrified to see that, of the 70 or so submissions, more than half came from TWO large agencies. I immediately blogged about the gross inequity of the system (without naming any names) and was summarily fired as a judge (a distinction I'm proud of, and would like to see engraved on my tombstone).

My blog at the time also incited a heated back-and-forth with Paul Holmes, who scoffed at my uneven playing field hypothesis and assured readers that the best program always won. To which I responded then (and now) with a polite, but firm, 'bunk'!

Judges are senior executives who are extremely busy, tired and distracted when they sit down to review hundreds and hundreds of submissions. And, trust me, after reviewing the 31st submission from Porter Novelli in a given category, the typical judge sighs, throws up her hands and say, “OK, I'm beat. Let's give it to these guys and go have a drink.”

That last comment will elicit howls of protest from the establishment, but it's the god's honest truth. I've seen it happen countless times. And, here's the shame of it all: there's an easy fix. Institute tiered pricing a la The Council of PR Firms. If the tiny Acme PR firm is charged $895 per submission, raise the rate for midsized firms like mine to, say, $1,250. And, hike the entry fee for the Weber Shandwick's to a cool $2,500 per entry.

Sadly, that'll never happen because:

A) The big agencies (who also happen to be the big advertisers) will scream.
B) The media properties who depend on the awards' fees for revenue, would lose money.

I find it ironic that we pride ourselves on being the moral compass of business and industry, yet routinely turn a blind eye to what amounts to a PR version of the old baseball free agent system.

Maybe, just maybe, someone in a position of power is finally awakening to the gross inequities of the industry awards programs. The PRSA Big Apple awards, for example, just expanded its criteria to allow programs budgeted at $100k per annum and less to be entered. That's a start. But, it's the pricing that's at the core of this particular rotten apple. And, that's what needs to be changed and right away.

So, have it editors, reporters, publishers and big agency leaders. Convince me that tiered pricing isn't necessary and that Obscure, Tiny & Partners has the exact same odds of winning the 2012 best consumer product launch of the year as Porter Novelli. If my readers buy that, then I have some property in Las Vegas they may be interested in purchasing as well.