Mar 30

The greatest article ever written

RepMan will be vacationing and passing his baton to friends and colleagues, so stay tuned for some great guest posts next week.

 

One of our employees recently forwarded a piece from Accounting Today, calling it '….the greatest article ever written.'

Listening earMy curiosity being piqued, I read the story . Entitled, 'The Hunger Games of Accounting,' the article neatly tied the white hot movie of the same name with the latest news on mandatory audit firm rotation by public companies.

The author, Michael Cohen, began his tome in this manner: 'Like Katniss Everdeen, the young heroine of the hit movie The Hunger Games, auditing leaders are facing a test of survival.'

Cohen then proceeded to sprinkle the names and subplots of the movie throughout the rest of the piece (i.e. 'Like the Gamemakers,' and 'In Katniss's case, her hunting skills with the bow and arrow…' and 'Like the genetically altered mutations created by the leaders of Panem…', etc.).

Cohen's Accounting Today piece is a nice attempt at injecting creativity in an otherwise dull subject. But, it fails miserably at being the greatest article ever written. Here's why:

– While I don't have Accounting Today's rate card in front of me, I can assure you the average reader is a middle to senior-ranking accountant, risk manager or CFO. My guess is the reader's average age is 50, the gender is male and the hair (if any) is gray. I can also assure you 'he' didn't spend the past weekend in a movie theatre watching The Hunger Games.
– High school and college kids, as well as Millennials everywhere, constituted the core audience of The Hunger Games. And, except for those interested in learning more about, say, IFRS or FAS 159, none subscribe to Accounting Today.

Ergo, Cohen wrote the right piece for the wrong audience. And, in my book (or periodical), that's a cardinal sin.

Here's another example of writing for the wrong audience. It comes from health care publicist Debbie Hays who, despite my previous attempts to stop receiving her press releases, just sent me another one with this whopper of a headline:

'VasoStitch Access-and-Closure System for Non-surgical Deployment of Transcatheter Therapies has unique benefits.' I'll bet it does! In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this access-and-closure system for non-surgical deployment of transcatheter therapies turns out to be the iPod of the non-surgical heart diseases world. But, I wouldn't have a clue, since I have nothing whatsoever to do with medical instrumentation or health care.

And, that's why Debbie Hays and Michael Cohen would be an ideal match (maybe both are already registered on eHarmony?). Neither has taken the time to listen to her or his audience. Debbie chose obfuscation; Michael opted for cuteness. Both failed.

Do you agree? Or, as someone who loved, loved, loved The Hunger Games like our staffer did, do you think Cohen's story is the greatest article ever written?

I'll be listening (which is more than I can say for the journalist and publicist featured in today's blog).

Mar 29

Peppercom appoints Edelman Agency of Record

For Release (Note): Reporters, editors and producers, please hold for release until 12:01am, April 1, 2012

8df4a3breakingnewslogo285New York, April 1, 2012 – Peppercom today announced it has appointed Edelman as its public relations agency of record. Edelman succeeds an in-house team that has toiled effortlessly on Peppercom's behalf since the agency's inception in 1995.

In making the surprise announcement, Peppercom's co-founder and managing partner, Steve Cody, said the move isn't a reflection on his team's performance. “We recognized that, in the past 12 to 18 months, virtually every organization in the solar system has named Edelman its agency of record. So, why should we do otherwise?”

Cody also noted that it had been four or five days since Edelman had announced a new AOR win, and he was concerned industry observers might think the behemoth was in something of a slump. “Lord knows we wouldn't want that,” he mused.

A spokesperson at Edelman confirmed the news, and said the budget was “…in line with what you'd expect a midsized firm to spend.”

Cody said Edelman would be tasked with generating global publicity for Peppercom's 'Distrust Barometer', a superficial snapshot of what a few people strolling along Park Avenue South think.

“We ask folks to name the most distrustful people, places and things in the world,” noted Cody, who said the 2012 winners were former NY Congressman Anthony Weiner, the city of Abbottabad, Afghanistan, and the New Jersey Transit rail system, respectively.

The Peppercom Distrust Barometer's findings are timed to be announced in conjunction with the first home game of the New York Mets season. “If there's a more distrustful management or pack of players in any sport, I'd like to know about it,” sniffed Cody, who added he was a long-suffering Mets fan.

Cody said Edelman had been placed on an annual retainer with built-in incentive goals. “Hey, if Richard can get me one of those Harvard Club speaking gigs, I'll compensate his team accordingly.”

Edelman is the largest independent public relations firm in the history of man. Peppercom is a strategic communications firm, headquartered in New York with offices in San Francisco and London.

For more information, call Steve Cody at (212) 931-6100.

Mar 28

The very best PR programs money can buy

OccupyI'd like to congratulate Ketchum, Weber and Edelman for each receiving more than 20 Sabre nominations this year. They're superb agencies who do terrific work for some of the country's best organizations.

But, as is the case with ALL large agencies, Ketchum, Weber and Edelman have the financial wherewithal to positively flood these one-price-fits-all awards shows. As a result, the large agencies have an exponentially greater chance of having one of their entries selected as a finalist; they also tend to dominate entire categories. At the recent PR Week awards ceremony, for example, the finalists for one category read as follows:

- 'Ketchum, Fleishman, Ketchum, Fleishman and Ketchum. And, the winner is: Ketchum!'

That's not just embarrassing. It's wrong.

The powers-that-be insist an independent panel of judges assures only the best program wins in each category. And, they're right, to a degree. In reality, the judges are reviewing the best programs MONEY can buy.

The vast majority of the 3,000-plus public relations firms in the United States are small and midsized. Most have neither the time nor the financial wherewithal to submit entries that come with a hefty price tag of $900 per. Yet, many of these little guys are doing extraordinary work that deserves to be recognized.

Since PRWeek, The Holmes Report, PRNews, Bulldog Reporter and others depend on the awards programs for much-needed revenue, they refuse to even entertain the thought of a tiered pricing program that would enable more small and midsized firms to compete.

I also think the awards programs publish the total number of entries per firm so that we know how successful the big firms really are. It would be interesting to know if Weber's 20 finalists were among, say, 80, 120 or 200 in total submitted by the behemoth.

In its advertising, Ketchum proudly boasts it's won more than 100 Silver Anvils. That's amazing. But, 100 out of how many total entries? One thousand? Five thousand? Twenty thousand?

It's ironic that the very editors who advocate for transparency refuse to be more transparent about their own awards programs.

And, it's a sad fact that, due to high pricing and limitless big agency resources, the PR industry really isn't recognizing the very best programs of the year. They're merely recognizing the very best programs of the year that money can buy.

Mar 27

A new twist on bait-and-switch

JungleprI was fielding a new business call not too long ago when the prospect asked if we practiced bait-and-switch in our business development.

I laughed and said, 'Not only do we not practice it, we like to tell prospects in a presentation that, for better or worse, what they see is what they get.'

The prospect responded with silence. 'That's not exactly what I mean,' she replied. The prospect then proceeded to tell me of a terrible experience with a legendary, PR Week and Saber award-winning, charter Council of PR Firms member agency's recent deportment:

Apparently, the blue-chip firm had assembled an impressive pitch team, wooed the prospect and won the business. Ah ha, you're no doubt thinking, that’s when they pulled the classic, big agency bait-and-switch (and proceeded to staff the business with a coterie of 23-year-old junior account executives). But, like me, you'd be wrong.

The winning pitch team continued to work on the business but, said the prospect, they were next-to-impossible to reach by phone. Beyond frustration one day, she called the firm's main New York number only to be told none, repeat, not one of her account team worked at the agency! It turned out that, hard hit by the weak economy and the insatiable revenue demands of its holding company, the legendary PR firm had chosen to staff the account entirely with freelancers (but, conveniently chose NOT to inform the client. Holy unethical, Batman!).

I assured the prospect of two things:

- I'd never heard of such a thing, and pledged to never even contemplate pulling such a stunt

- I shared her disdain with the moral and ethical implications of such a sleazy maneuver.

Such moral lapses hurt the image and reputation of public relations. They're also the stuff that our trade press should be investigating and our industry organizations condemning. But, I guarantee you won't hear or read a peep or word, respectively.

Bait-and-switch will be around as long as holding company agencies continue to trot out former White House press secretaries, retired U.N. ambassadors and erstwhile corporate communication chiefs to dazzle a prospect in order to win a piece of business. The gray hairs will then quickly be replaced by low-paid, more affordable Millennials who proceed to learn the craft of PR at the client's expense). It's always happened and, sadly, always will (because, as P.T. Barnum famously said, 'There's a sucker born every minute.').

I do hope, though, that this new strain of bait-and-switch is an aberration and not something that will only further hamstring an industry fighting hard to earn a legitimate seat at the C-suite table.

Re-establishing the client's trust after a traditional bait-and-switch is one thing, but trying to separate one's firm from the ethical violation of a big guy's passing off freelancers as payrolled employee is quite another.

PR needs its own version of Upton Sinclair to expose, if not clean up, this mess. So, who's ready to write a sequel entitled, 'The Jungle: PR’s Sleazy Underbelly’?

Mar 26

What will your legacy be?

Ronald-mcdonald-big-macI was attending a PR industry event the other day when a low, but distinct, murmur distracted me from the remarks being made by the keynote speaker. I turned to a friend seated alongside me and whispered, “What’s going on?” He passed me his Blackberry and pointed to an e-mail that read, “Breaking news: McDonald’s CEO to retire!” I handed him back his BB, sighed and thought to myself, ‘This is what constitutes breaking news nowadays?’

Later that night, I happened to sit alongside a different friend who, when the subject of McDonald Corporation’s Jim Skinner’s unexpected retirement came up, waxed poetic about the man’s legacy. “Skinner will be remembered as one of America’s greatest CEO’s of his era,” my friend remarked. “Do you know that, during his tenure at McDonalds, the stock shares more than tripled! Only Apple has outperformed McDonald’s,” he crowed. I frowned, and sighed, “Well, personally, I think Skinner’s legacy will be more closely linked to Morgan Spurlock’s breakthrough documentary about McDonald’s entitled, ‘Super Size Me.'

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the riveting, if nauseating, film, ‘Super Size Me’ shone the spotlight on Mickey D’s sleazy and slippery methods of upselling patrons on supersized portions of everything from Coca-Cola and Big Macs to french fries and milk shakes. Spurlock’s flick depicted his decision to live on nothing but three supersized McDonald’s meals a day for one, 30-day period. The side effects were beyond belief.

Skinner may indeed be leaving behind an incredibly profitable McDonald’s, but at what price? I’d argue that his real legacy is this:

-    35.7 percent of America’s adult population and 16.9 percent of our children qualify as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
-    According to Dr. David Ludwig, director of the childhood obesity program at Children’s Hospital in Boston: “Children will be entering adulthood heavier than they’ve ever been in human history.” I’m not suggesting Skinner, or McDonald’s, are singlehandedly responsible for America’s obesity problem, but I would list them (and, their clown mascot, Ronald) as public enemy numbers one, two and three, respectively.

All that said, I do wish Mr. Skinner well in his retirement and hope that, despite ingesting all the horrific, calorie-laden food his restaurant chain churns out, he lives long enough to enjoy a Big Mac when he’s a centenarian.
Whether I die tomorrow or live to see 100 I’d rather not be remembered solely for my business C.V.
Rather, I’d like people to say, “Steve Cody? Yeah, we knew him. He was a guy who didn’t hesitate to help charities with their fundraising efforts, colleges & universities with their scholarships and people of all ages with their career aspirations.” Of course, they’d say that after first stating the obvious: “Cody? Sure, he and Moed were the guys who built Peppercom from a two-person start-up to a $20mm midsized gem of a business.

Mar 23

Priceless

Every now and then a homeless person will stop me for change and, as I'm fishing for a quarter, will ask the three best business decisions I've ever made. The first one is easy: starting my own firm. The second one is also a snap: naming my firm after my dog (I can't tell you how many times that's made a subtle, but meaningful, difference in new business presentations).

My third answer may seem a bit more obtuse, though: joining the PRSA's Counselor Academy and attending the annual Spring Conference.
CALOGOMy membership hasn't just provided a solid cost-benefit ratio. It's turned out to be priceless.

Here's why:

- When I attended my first Spring Conference in 1992, I'd just joined the now defunct Earle Palmer Brown and knew next to no one in the industry. I met top PR professionals at that first session who remain trusted confidants and good friends to this day. Talk about an annuity!
- At those early spring conferences, I listened intently as the more accomplished counselors let down their hair and explained exactly how they'd become successful and built great firms. Kathy Cripps will never know how important her Sciens presentation (circa 1997) was to Peppercom's eventual success.
- As I moved up the Academy's food chain, I ended up planning one of the Spring Conferences and was later named chairman. There's no doubt both experiences made me a better professional and person.

If you manage an agency, I urge you to consider attending the upcoming Spring conference. You'll meet, and engage with, the best and the brightest of today. You'll also interact with some of the smartest undergrads in the nation: students from The College of Charleston, who attend our annual event and cover it as reporters would. Oh, and you'll have a blast the entire time.

One final point: I'd estimate that, over the years, Peppercom has raked in more than $1 million in new business fees as a direct result of my PRSA Counselor's Academy membership. When you toss that cold, hard fact in alongside the warm and fuzzy ones, you come out with one word to describe the Counselor's Spring Conference: priceless!

Mar 22

The wrong guy

Lineup-big(2)Long ago and far away, Angela Cody picked the wrong guy. Sadly, she’s had to live with the consequences ever since.

Ladies: have you, too, picked the wrong guy? Are you strangely attracted to bad boy types who abuse you mentally, physically or psychologically? Well, chill, because:

  • You’re not alone
  • There’s a new, how-to book by Dawn Maslar  that provides sure-fire tips to help you stop picking losers (and ruining your image and reputation in the process).

Deb ‘Kangoo’ Brown and I recently sat down with the author to discuss the bad boy phenomenon, and why so many women are so attracted to so many malevolent men. It was a way cool discussion in which quite a few female (and male) Peppercommers participated as well.

So, sit back, download the podcast, fire up the iPod and find out how you, too, can stop picking the wrong guy. Now, if only there was a book about to avoid picking the wrong clients…


 

Mar 21

An agency- firing idea

Sox

While rummaging through my sock drawer the other day, I found myself unable to locate a clean, matched pair. I asked my wife if there might be any in the wash. She responded by telling me to check the mismatched sock pile in the laundry room.

The name triggered a Pavlovian response, and I was immediately transported back in time to a major new business pitch we were making.

We were up against some major players and challenged by the prospect to present “ideas that would get an agency fired.”  As you might expect, we soon found ourselves struggling to formulate three truly innovative (and agency firing worthy) suggestions.

En route to the pitch, I found myself with extra time to squeeze in a quick workout. After checking into an airport hotel for the night, I searched for my gym socks. Sure enough, one was M.I.A.

Its absence triggered an immediate thought for the upcoming pitch: where DOES a missing sock go? Why does it leave in the first place and what happens to it afterwards? Does it join a league of other missing socks or go it alone like a clothing world version of Robinson Crusoe?

I shared my idea for the missing sock theme with my teammates. Lacking a third idea and weary beyond words, they readily agreed to let me present it to the prospect later that day. I did. I actually brought my one, remaining white sock to the meeting and, at just the right moment, hurled it across the conference room table at the CMO.

Needless to say he was flummoxed. I then escalated his unease by asking, “So, Jeff, where did this poor white sock's mate go? Where do ALL missing socks go? Is there a sock heaven? We'd like to know. In fact, we think EVERY American housewife (their target audience) would like to know and we'd like to suggest a grass roots campaign to find America's missing socks.”

Jeff and his team loved the idea. We were hired on the spot. And, just as quickly, the missing sock idea went, well, missing. It remains M.I.A. to this day.

Most big ideas that win new accounts never see the light of day.  Why? There are a number of reasons:

- The prospect's only interested in seeing how creative the contenders can be
- The prospect's really not interested in pushing the envelope and risking failure
- The prospect doesn't have the budget needed to implement the truly big idea.

It can be frustrating to nail a really big concept, have the prospect buy it (and you) and later be told it won't be implemented. But, the subsequent fees can sure ease the pain.

How about you? Have you ever presented great ideas that, despite winning universal acclaim from the client, never saw the light of day? If so, spill the beans. My sock story needs company.

Mar 20

A cause greater than self

I’m in the midst of devouring the book ‘Game Change’. Written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, it provides a page-turning, behind-the-scenes look at the 2008 presidential campaign. It’s already spawned a must watch HBO movie of the same name that, I guarantee, will sweep next year’s Emmy Awards competition.

The_Leukemia__Lymphoma_Societyy.800w_600h

I mention ‘Game Change’ because I was struck by one passage that beautifully captures what I’m about to share with you.

In his desperate, come-from-behind scramble to galvanize a floundering campaign and counter the rock star madness surrounding Barack Obama, John McCain settled on ‘Country First’ as his slogan because, as advisers told anyone and everyone, it reflected the candidate’s belief that no issue was more important than putting America first. It was a cause greater than self.

I feel that way about The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man and Woman of the Year Campaign. That’s why I’ve just agreed to ‘run’ for the honor of being named Man of the Year. The title is bestowed on the person who receives the most votes (read: dollars) and is announced at a gala event in Manhattan on May 17th.

Trust me, I am NOT doing this for ego gratification. Some of you already know that I do quite a bit of fundraising on behalf of breast cancer awareness and autism research. And, lord knows, my blog, Peppercom’s publicity juggernaut, a weekly column in Inc. Magazine and other outlets have done a superb job of feeding my voracious, narcissistic appetite. No, folks, I’m doing this because, quite simply, it’s a cause greater than self.

Leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children and young adults under the age of 20. The monies raised by Man and Woman of the Year Candidates go directly to aid research, advocacy and, of course, patient care. I’m attaching a link to my website, and ask that you share it with your friends and family especially if you, or someone you know, has been touched by leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma.

I’d also be eternally grateful if you should decide to donate a dollar, or two, to my efforts. Because this truly transcends the PR story of the day. It’s a cause greater than self.

Mar 19

How would you repair Prisoner 05A4820’s reputation?

 

Greedy2

Guess what iconographic villain of greed and wretched excess may be seeing the light of day as soon as this August? None other than Prisoner 05A4820 himself! What's that, the number doesn’t ring a bell? Then, try this on for size: Dennis Kozlowski, or ‘Koz’ as his fellow inmates call him, may soon be reentering mainstream society.

 

Next to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling (a.k.a. the Hitler & Goebbels of corporate greed), Dennis Kozlowski was the poster child for living large and milking a company dry. To refresh your memory, Kozlowski was convicted in 2005 of grand larceny, conspiracy and fraud for, as The New York Times put it, ‘…essentially using Tyco as his own piggy bank, replete with outsized bonuses.’

Koz was the guy who reigned supreme from a palatial, 13-room palace at 980 Fifth Avenue that featured a $6,000 shower curtain, a $15,000 umbrella stand and the occasional Monet or Renoir painting. He’s also the dude who feted his wife to a truly bacchanalian, Roman orgy-type of birthday party on a Greek Island (all at company expense, thank you very much).

But, apparently, Prisoner 05A4820 has been a very good boy since being sentenced to a term of 8 1/3 to 25 years in an upstate New York prison. Reports indicate he’s even encouraged his fellow cons to pursue higher education (no doubt suggesting they pay special attention to boning up on financial irregularities, accounting fraud and tax loopholes).

Assuming this real life Gordon Gekko of greed does see the light of day, how would you help him rehabilitate his tattered image?

Would you suggest a Michael Milken-type strategy such as the one that saw the evil junk bond trader transform himself into an advocate for, and lead fundraiser of, prostate cancer awareness? Or, would you play to the rapacious robber’s strengths and align Koz’s past with the needs of today’s marketers? I’d go for the low-hanging fruit (grapes, or otherwise):

- Koz’s Cretan Cruises would take you to some of the most exclusive and erotic venues in the Greek Isles. These all-inclusive romps for the uber wealthy would feature all the wine, groping and gorging the masters and mistresses of the universes could possibly handle. And, naturally, monogrammed togas would be distributed to one and all.
- Carpe Diem with Koz would be a ‘holistic lifestyle ranch’ for the well-heeled morbidly obese. Catered exclusively by purveyors of empty calories and festooned with all the accoutrements necessary for the king and queen of couch potatoes to gorge themselves while remaining perfectly sedentary, Carpe Diem with Koz would even provide a money-back guarantee (‘The only thing you’ll take off after two weeks at Carpe Diem with Koz will be two years from your life expectancy!’).
- Rebel without a Koz would be the ultimate one percenter’s version of The Sharper Image. Want a $40,000 pair of boxer shorts for that very special occasion? Go to www.rebelwithoutakoz.com and you’ll find the only such selection in the universe. Need a platinum-encrusted vacuum cleaner for that one day each month the damn maid calls in sick? We’ve got some beauties beginning at $29,999.95. Or, maybe it’s time to forget about feeding the homeless and take care of number one for a change. If so, you’ll find real Nubian slaves available for hire on a daily, weekly or eternal basis (note: for that extra special touch, we’ll even handle castration. Imagine being the first one percenter to have your very own eunuch? Talk about keeping up with the Joneses. Let’s see Lloyd Blankfein top that!).

I cannot wait to see how Dennis Kozlowski comports himself when he does re-enter society. Oh, and by the way, Koz: I’m happy to flesh out any of these ideas and provide you with a full-blown business plan. But, I’ll need my own Repman-monogrammed toga in advance.