Oct 12

If it bleeds, it leads

And, here are today’s lead stories:

– In another sign of the horrific economy, some 25,000 Californians waited on line for hours to apply for only 2,000 part-time jobs at a local amusement park.

  • The average American’s food costs rose a staggering $126 from the same period last year.
  • And, in yet another sign of global climate change, the high temperature today will be a balmy 52 degrees!

Today’s headlines? Not quite. Those were the lead stories of January 29, 1976. And, they were read over the airwaves by this blogger.

At the time, I was an intrepid 21-year-old Northeastern co-op student. My job was to research, write and read five daily news, sports and weather reports (as well as to host one-hour monthly talk shows). My employer was WGCH Radio in Greenwich, Ct.

I recently stumbled across some of those original recordings (which made me feel a bit like Indiana Jones discovering the Temple of Doom).

You can listen to the above-mentioned newscast by clicking here:

Some say I sound SO much younger. Me? I don’t notice any difference at all.

Nor do I notice much of a difference in the news of the day.

I was taught by Bill Kirtz, my N.U. journalism professor that, if it bleeds, it leads.

Bad news sold then. And, it sells now.

Oh, and by the way, all of the horrible jobs news and cost-of-living increases I reported that day occurred during the term of Gerald R. Ford, a Republican. Bad times are apolitical.

Footnote: Northeastern also arranged co-op assignments for me at The New York Times and CBS Newsradio in Boston. In combination with WGCH, the three journalism gigs were the equivalent of two, full years of work experience. When I graduated, they’d helped me:

  • Beat competitors from Yale, Harvard and Stanford to land my first job at Hill & Knowlton.
  • Learn how to write clear, concise copy under deadline pressure.
  • Realize I didn’t want to pursue a career in journalism precisely because it’s all bad news all the time. As a result, journalism tends to attract jaded, cynical, world weary types. That wasn’t me.

So, the next time you sigh with disgust after hearing, reading or seeing the depressing news of the day, keep in mind it’s nothing new. If it bleeds, it leads.

Oct 11

Has anyone asked Big Bird, Elmo or Oscar the Grouch what they think

Ht_ernie_sesame_3_street_big_bird_nt_121004_sshIt seems like every politician, pundit and PBS advocate alike has weighed in on the Obama campaign's spoof of Mitt Romney's savage attack on Sesame Street's Big Bird.

The Team Obama TV spot has had no fewer than 60 separate airings on different networks around the country. And, PBS, the Switzerland of broadcasting, has asked that the partisan power punch be taken off the airwaves.

Aside from a rather innocuous SNL segment, no one has really stopped to ask Big Bird, Elmo or Oscar the Grouch their feelings about this tempest in a teapot. So Repman's crack editorial team stepped into the lurch and arranged for an exclusive interview with the trio at a local Manhattan bagel shop. (Note: Kermit the Frog was on assignment in the Middle East and Miss Piggy was competing to become a contestant on “The Biggest Loser.”

Repman: “So, Big Bird…”
Big Bird: "Call me BB. All my friends do.”
Repman: “Got it. So, BB, what's it feel like to be the center of a media frenzy?”
BB: “Initially, my feathers were a bit ruffled. But, now I'm liking it. I'm the Betty White of kids' programming. As George Burns once said after his late-in-life revival, I'm so old, I'm new.''
Repman: “Interesting. But, what if Romney is elected president and cuts PBS funding as he said he would?”
Elmo: “That's where I come in. Why do you think I'm always missing? I've been investing our earnings in off-shore accounts since Mitt's dad ran for President back in 1968. The three of us are worth more than Mickey, Minnie and Donald combined.”
Repman: “Wow. Talk about squirreling away one's money for a rainy day. By the way, you aren't a squirrel, are you Elmo? It's hard to tell.”
Oscar: “Are you questioning our lineage, Repman? If so, this interview is over!”
Rep: “Chill, Oscar. Chill. I thought you'd gotten over your anger issues?”
Oscar: “The prescription meds have worked wonders, but the side effects are a bitch. My legs won't stop twitching at night and I find myself with permanent dry throat. Can you get me another latte?”
Repman: “Sure. Miss? Final question for you, BB. How do you intend to capitalize on this unexpected publicity?”
BB: “They say every life has a second act, Rep, and this is mine. I'm already working on an autobiography entitled, Never Stop Growing, and the National Association of Tall People (NATP) has asked me to deliver the keynote at their annual Sky High Conference in January.”
Oscar: "Damnit, you forgot to tell him about the reality series!'
BB: “Oh yeah. We just began filming 'Flip Them the Bird.' Oscar, Elmo and I will be touring various bars in Seaside Heights, NJ, and, after doing our gym, tanning and laundry thing, will hit on atomic grenades before dumping them unceremoniously (or, giving them the bird, if you prefer). We think Elmo's going be the next Snooki.”
Repman: “Well, good luck with all that. So, how come Bert and Ernie haven't been part of this discussion?”
BB: “They've actually formed their own political party, begun a listening campaign for the 2016 election and are lining up big donors as we speak.”
Repman: “Wow! That's huge news. What are they calling their party?”
BB: “The BE Party. They're positioning themselves as the pro coffee, anti-Tea Party. Their tagline:  America needs the right kind of jolt!”
Repman: “I love it! Well, you heard it here first, folks. Not only are BB, Elmo and Oscar becoming reality TV stars, but Bert and Ernie have formed their own political party! And, it's all thanks to a few, poorly chosen words from Mitt Romney. Only in America, people. Only in America."

Oct 10

November 6th: Wake Up

Today's guest post is by Chris Piedmont, a Communications major at the College of Charleston, class of'14.

T7244November 6th. November 6th. November 6th. Turn on any television or radio station; pick up any newspaper and November 6th will, almost certainly, be the main topic of discussion (that is unless ANOTHER referee makes a bogus call). The message of the importance of November 6th (Election Day in case you hadn’t figured that out yet) surrounds us everywhere and I’m struck by the lack of involvement by my peers in the 18-24 demographic in this election cycle. This election will not only shape the direction this country takes in the next four years but will shape the direction we move for a generation. So, why won’t the youth around me wake up and see this?

At the College of Charleston, we recently held a large “Rock the Vote” voter registration drive sponsored by the Bully Pulpit Series and our Student Government Association. We had music, balloons, giveaways, and massive amounts of the obligatory college event staple: FREE PIZZA! The event was a huge success registering 121 new voters, confirming the registration of countless others, and most importantly sparked discussion among students about the decision they’ll make on November 6th.  After our event, South Carolina went live with online voter registration, and we were able to encourage more students to take advantage of the ease with which they can now register (with a South Carolina issued ID, of course). 

Half of the battle has been fought and more of my peers are registered to vote but will they actually go to the polls? The College, Bully Pulpit Series, Rock the Vote, and countless other organizations can provide students and members of our crucial youth voting block as much information as possible but, ultimately, it’s up to us. It’s up to us to march to the polls and make our voices heard. The decisions made over the next four years will affect our lives for years to come. Whether it’s reforms to social security, gay rights, or the survival of our favorite big, yellow bird from Sesame Street; we need to make sure our voices are heard. Too long we have been called a generation of apathy and too long have we lived up to that stereotype.  The time is now to change our image and reputation as the generation that doesn’t care. It’s our image, it’s our futures, and it’s our lives; now wake up and act like it! I’ll see you all on November 6th—at the polls.  

Oct 08

Just like being evicted from the Vatican

Cu02Having just toured the Little Big Horn battlefield in Garryowen, Montana, I have a newfound appreciation for what happened there and why.

I won't bore you with the battle particulars, but I found the larger picture painted by Patrick Hill, (native_1955@hotmail.com) our half Crow/half Pawnee tour guide, absolutely riveting.

Here's a concise summary:

Several years prior to the fateful events of June 25, 1876, gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As a result, there was a literal stampede of some 40,000 money-hungry whites anxious to stake a claim.

Sadly, though, the Black Hills were sacred to the Sioux Nation. And, they'd been promised to the Sioux in perpetuity by the U.S. government.

Since no one could stop America's westward movement, our government once again broke its word and the Sioux were forced to relocate to the Big Horn Mountains of Montana (where they'd later encounter the vainglorious Custer).

Our guide likened the Sioux being kicked out of the Black Hills as akin to:

– The Roman Catholics being kicked out of the Vatican City
– The Muslims being moved out of Mecca
– Or, the Jews being jerked out of Jerusalem.

So, when Custer, Reno and Benteen happened upon a massive village of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho camped along the Little Big Horn River one June day in 1876, it wasn't pretty. But, in retrospect, the slaughter and mutilation of the 7th Cavalry is quite understandable.

Patrick Hill's tales were amazing, and his perspective on man's age-old rationalization of religion as justification for his military or monetary designs certainly holds true today.

I honestly believe the best way to understand today's events is to gain a greater grasp of yesterday's.

Many of us grew up believing the lionized, sanitized version of Custer written by White America. As it turns out, the balanced account relayed by Patrick Hill is much more interesting (and understandable). Now, if only organized religion didn't keep rearing its ugly head.

Oct 05

Rule one: offend the locals

Today's guest post is by Will Brewster, a serious
player with Flagship, Peppercomm's sister consultancy in London. Will is here in the States and his post provides an interesting take on
another English PR firm's rather aggressive invasion of our shores…

Launching a British PR agency in New York with the claim that US PR is lazy and that the agency will retire the "shotgun" approach to PR here in the States, is certainly one way to announce yourself to the locals. It seems that my countrymen at Diffusion PR, that launched in the US this week, aren’t here to make friends, but rather, are on a mission (a seemingly aggressive one) to convince America that there is more to PR than a quest for column inches.

I don’t disagree with their diagnosis for good PR. Indeed, they describe their approach in much the same way as Peppercomm and its partner agency Flagship Consulting (my employer) in London would, citing a focus on audiences, and outputs that make people think and behave differently.  They believe PR is not about getting coverage that is a "mile wide but an inch deep".

Hear, hear and touché to all that. At Flagship we’ve been helping our clients for many years to, as we put it, create persuasive conversations that lead to identifiable and measureable behaviour change. Steve Cody has spoken at length on these pages and elsewhere  about how vital it is to truly understand audiences and how traditional PR is now only one of many channels to start meaningful conversations (note the term conversations again) with people.

Indeed, having spoken to my colleagues at Peppercomm, many here would agree that US PR can be lazy and one dimensional. It’s what Peppercomm has been offering an antidote to since its inception over 17 years ago. Others out there do the same and it’s hard to agree that American firms uniformly communicate badly with their potential audiences. Besides, there are many UK PR agencies who have been running on a pile it high sell it expensive model for years.

As an Englishman in New York myself, I just worry that Diffusion’s message comes across as arrogant and aggressive when history tells us that a think global, act local approach works best.  To come into the US market and claim, albeit implicitly, that the way all US PR agencies carry out their work is lazy and scattergun, is setting themselves up for a fall. Sure, they’ve hired in some US talent, but whether they meant to or not, they have come across as a smarty pants British agency that will teach these useless, brash Yanks how to communicate properly.  Other companies have tried and failed with this approach – Tesco with Fresh and Wild and Stagecoach with Coach USA, spring to mind. 

They’ve got the PR media’s attention with their proclamations and, no doubt, plenty of Manhattan agencies are sitting up and taking notice – indeed, I have to applaud a PR agency that actually says something eye catching and not anodyne. But, I wonder whether they might have been better off easing off on the national rhetoric as, once national pride is at stake, few defend their honour more vigourously than the Americans. I would have advised them to focus more on what they do, and rather less on the perceived failings of others.

I wish them well in their venture, but I’ll be keeping an eye on the proverbial pedestal as it’s shot at.

Oct 04

Obama violated stand-up comedy’s number one rule

Slide1.sssssJPGPundits, the press and even Joe Six-Pack himself all seem to agree on one thing today: Governor Mitt Romney cleaned President Obama's clock in last night's first debate.
As a result, say pundits, the press and even Joe Six-Pack, if the race wasn't a dead heat before, it sure is now.

I won't repeat what others have already said, but I will add my take as a trained, professional stand-up comedian who routinely rakes in as much as $30 or more per performance. Obama violated the number one rule of stand-up comedy performers in last night's debate: he didn't have fun.
I'm not suggesting he should have been wise-cracking or borrowing a page from the Steve Martin playbook and strutting around the University of Denver stage in a King Tut impersonation, but he didn't allow himself to be in the room or enjoy the moment (Indeed, he acted as if he was in the middle of a root canal procedure).

Being in the room and enjoying the moment enables one to better connect with the listener. And, trust me, audiences of all type, no matter how sophisticated or doltish, can read a presenter's non-verbals. They know if a performer, executive or president is in a good mood, feeling good about himself and in command of his material. Obama was none of those last night and, as a result, paid a heavy price.

I always dread the 30 seconds or so before I'm introduced to a packed house at the Broadway Comedy Club or, as is more often the case, about to perform in front of three, lost Belgian tourists sipping lager and sitting in the back row of The New York Comedy Club. But, as I've been trained by my professional comedy coach, Clayton Fletcher, I use those nerves to elevate my energy levels and feel really good about myself.  In fact, I've performed about 150 times now and, just before I reach the microphone, I repeat Clayton's advice to myself: “Steve, have fun.”

So, here's a note to the West Wing: hire Clayton Fletcher (www.claytonfletcher.com) before the second debate. The presidency you save may be your own.

Oct 03

A no win proposition

288908128_693504c77d_zAs I listened to the various political pundits size up Wednesday night's first presidential debate, it struck me that the presidential incumbent faces the same uphill battle as does an incumbent agency defending a piece of business (or, as I discovered on Monday, an industry awards champion competing for the same prize a second straight year).

Think about it. With few exceptions, the challenger has always smashed the incumbent in presidential debates:

– Carter outclassed Ford in 1976
– Reagan trounced Carter in 1980
– And, Clinton ran rings around H. W. in 1992

When the incumbents did win, I think it was more a case of the challenger having lost: Mondale couldn't compete with Ron's charisma, Dole was battling Clinton's impeccable economic record and poor John Kerry wasn't sure how many times he HAD changed his mind on key issues.

The bar is set extremely low for challengers. Take Sarah Palin, please.

In her now infamous 2008 debate with 'Senator O'Biden' (the Alaskan intellectual powerhouse couldn't remember Biden's surname, so her handlers suggested she instead call him Joe), Palin was considered the winner simply because she didn't make any completely idiotic remarks. And, BTW, what's become of the ice hockey mom? Talk about a disappearing act.

But, back to the debates. Obama has everything to lose and little to gain. Romney, on the hand, merely needs to speak in coherent sentences and not repeat one of his many malaprops in order to be seen as the victor. It's not fair, but that's how we Americans think.

It's the same with clients who put their account up for review after a long, and successful, run with the incumbent agency. Nine times out of 10, they do so for one of two reasons:

– Change for the sake of change
– The new sheriff wants her own agency; not her predecessor's.

And, statistics prove that nine times out of 10, an incumbent agency will lose in its defense of an account.

The same holds true for awards. As I sat at an industry event earlier this week, I realized I was defending champion in the blogger of the year category. I leaned over to my associate and whispered, “They'll have a revolt on their hands if they give the award to the same person two years in a row.” And, I was right.

Note: there are caveats to the awards incumbent rule. I've noticed one midsized agency, which purchases 10 or 11 tables at a certain awards event, routinely wins the top award. And, then there are the categories where, having flooded the submissions with so many entries, the defending winners (read: global agencies) dominate the numbers of finalists and win by default (i.e. “And, for best use of cell phones in a dead zone, the nominees are: Weber, Weber, Edelman, Weber and Edelman.”).

Like you, I'm really looking forward to the debates. But, as is the case with accounts in review and industry awards up for grabs, the odds are in the challenger's favor.

Oct 02

Let’s get together before we get much older

Today's post is dedicated to the memory of Gregory "Ze Rabbit" Alberque.

Nj-njrphs-letter-150A business conflict prevents me from attending this Saturday's 40th reunion of the Ridgefield Park High School class of 1972.

I'm bummed for a variety of reasons, some obvious, others rather obscure.

First, the obvious ones. I'd like to see:

– Who's gained the most weight?
– Who's been divorced and re-married the most times?
– What superstar from yesteryear has fallen on hard times?
– What Bill Gates-type nerd is now raking in millions?
– How many great-great-grandmothers will be in attendance? Note: I'm still recovering from the 25th reunion, at which more than one classmate proudly proclaimed being a grandmother (it struck me then, and now, that 37 sure seems awfully young to have a grandchild; at least in the Middle Atlantic states. I'm sure it's par for the course in rural areas).

And, then, there are the less obvious things I'll miss about missing the reunion. The Class of '72 has lost more than its share of graduates since that fateful June day way back when. In fact, drug and alcohol use and abuse seems to have claimed an alarming percentage of my peers.

I was most taken aback by the loss of Gregory Alberque, who died of a heroin overdose in 1980. Greg was a very smart, very cool guy who chose to call himself Ze Rabbit. Despite his obvious intelligence, however, Greg was always getting in trouble: first with the St. Francis Grammar School nuns, then with the RPHS faculty and, later, with the village police. Greg was, as they say, an accident waiting to happen.

When I think of Greg, I think of all the things he's missed since OD'ing at the age of 26:

– The fall of the Soviet Union
– The rise of the computer and social media
– ‘Seinfeld’, ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ (Greg would have loved Walter White)
– The 1986 Mets World's Championship
– The Disneyfication of Times Square (Greg would have hated that!)
– The never-ending cases of Catholic priest pedophilia (that wouldn't have surprised him at all)
– The complete transformation of his home town from one that was 100 percent white and blue collar to one that reflects the melting pot that is America (not sure how Greg would have dealt with that).
– 9/11
– Class polarization and the rise of two separate countries within one (aka Red and Blue States).

High school reunions are bittersweet events that mark the passage of time, the opportunity to see old friends and the time to reflect on the loss of others.

One final note about Greg Alberque: I believe this is at least the fourth RPHS reunion he's missed. When I see those horrific anti-smoking commercials on TV, I always think to myself: the Ad Council shouldn't scare people with cancer-riddled, terminal patients. Rather, they should play the Greg Alberque card, and ask smokers one simple question: What will you miss? I'd like to believe Greg would have made a different choice had he known how much he'd miss.

Oct 01

Peppercorn, 1995-2012 R.I.P.

Peppercorn died today of self-inflicted wounds. The name was 17-years-old and all too often used instead of Peppercom, the firm's correct name.

And, so, in tandem with a major re-branding and the launch of a desperately-needed new website, the Peppercorn name was laid to rest while Baby Peppercomm simultaneously entered the brave, new world sporting an extra letter M.

As a result, even the least educated vendor, prospective client or passer-by will be unable to bastardize the firm's name. Agency principals said adding the second M was akin to providing unlimited amounts of morphine to a patient battling chronic lower back pain for nearly two decades.

Baby Peppercomm is a fully integrated strategic communications and marketing firm. Indeed, the M actually stands for marketing which, thanks to the acquisition of an interactive design firm a few years back, is now part of the channel-neutral Peppercomm's service offerings. And, depending on their political beliefs, agency employees will be henceforth known as either Peppercommers or Peppercommies.

The firm's new tagline: 'Listen. Engage. Repeat.' underscores the 100-person staff's emphasis on always listening to a client's constituent audience(s) before engaging in communications of any kind. It's a subtle, but significant, differentiator that simply isn't reflected in the brand promise of any Peppercomm competitor. So there.

In addition to Peppercomm, the late Peppercorn is survived by three offices (New York, San Francisco and London) and multiple divisions/service offerings, including: H20 (creative services), Brand Squared Squared (licensing), Business Outcomes (the firm's proprietary measurement system affectionately known as B.O.), GreenPepper (self-explanatory), Comedy Experience (ditto), Audience Experience (in which the Commies experience a client's brand from the audience standpoint) and Peppercommotions (special events).

Agency principals ask that any donations made in the memory of Peppercorn be sent to the fruit stand vendor directly outside the firm's 470 Park Avenue South headquarters.