Dec 21

Happy Whatever Floats Your Boat

IndexIn recognition of Christmas, Hanukkah, Flag Day, Ramadan, Columbus Day, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Passover, Ash Wednesday and every other holiday, religious and non, that you may chose, or be forced, to celebrate, Repman is taking a break.  He'll be back in business on Thu Jan 4th.

And, in honor of all his devoted readers he has made a donation to The Human Fund.

Dec 20

The sounds of silence

Great comedians love silence. Great business executives fear it.

Texting-300x300A recent New York Times profile of comedian Maria Bamford proved my point about the former.

Ms. Bamford just produced a one-hour comedy show called ‘The Special Special Special!’ on For a full 60 minutes, Ms. Bamford did her bits for her mother and father alone as they sat on their family room couch. According to the Times review, while her material was hilarious, it was often met by deafening silence from Bamford’s either disapproving or clueless parents. But, that didn’t stop the comedian, who went through her paces and, indeed, seemed to gain energy from the silence.

That’s not unusual for comedians. I’ve learned to embrace silence on stage. I like to let the audience go completely silent after the slightest twitter or the longest, loudest laugh. I also acknowledge silence when my material isn’t connecting with the audience. In fact, I make light of it by saying, “Wow, I can just tell by those stone-cold sober stares and folded arms that you are having the time of your lives tonight.” That almost invariably breaks the tension and allows me to move forward with renewed confidence.

I now do the same thing in business meetings. Before studying comedy, I dreaded a pregnant pause or awkward silence from a prospective or current client or, worse, from an audience when I was delivering a speech or sitting on a panel. Now, though, I embrace it. I’ll often turn the obvious passivity to my advantage by saying, “I can tell by the massive amount of texting at the moment that you just loved what I had to say and are now sharing it with your colleagues. Thanks. That means a great deal to me.” Even the most jaded corporate denizen usually cracks a smile after that.

I’ll also use silence to my advantage in an important new business pitch (something I’d have never even considered in the past). Here’s a recent example:

We were in the midst of a positioning presentation, and were sharing the attributes and faults of the prospect. After reciting the list, I paused for silence and said, “I’d like you to study that chart carefully because it explains why we’ll be such great partners (pause). People would use your weaknesses to describe Peppercomm and we’d be the first to say we’d never measure up to any of your strengths.” (pause). I then smiled and said, “And, you know what they say about how opposites attract? We were meant for each other!” The momentary silence ended when the entire conference room erupted in laughter. Score one point for Peppercomm.

So, don’t be afraid of silence. Make it your friend. When used effectively, it can be your greatest ally in a critically important business meeting.

Dec 19

Make 2013 Your Year of Change

Today's guest post is by Ken Jacobs, principal, Jacobs Communications Consulting.

When Repman asked me to write a guest post on what I believe owners and leaders of communications agencies should do in 2013, based on what I heard from them in 2012, one thought came immediately to mind: Make 2013 Your Year of Change!

Our world is changing at warp speed, from how news, information, and entertainment are created and shared, to our country’s demographic make-up, to the globalization of pop culture and business. Yet a number of these leaders seem to think that they can succeed just by getting incrementally better at what they’re already doing.

I respectfully disagree. I think one of the most important things these leaders can do is embrace their role as their firm’s CCO: Chief Change Officer.

Here are five areas in which I believe leaders should embrace change:

1) Get A Personal Digital Presence: You’re leading an agency that delivers what I imagine is a considerable amount of digital/social work for clients. But you don’t have a personal digital presence? Can you credibly participate in a meeting on this topic with clients and prospects if you have no real digital footprint? Make 2013 the year you embrace digital for your own personal leadership brand. You don’t have to be an expert, but you should have a strategy and execute some basic steps.

2) Implement A System To Monitor Client Satisfaction: You lead a business that depends on client satisfaction, but you still don’t have a formal way to determine if clients are raving about your firm’s work and its level of client service, if they’d definitely recommend your agency, and if they feel consistently “surprised and delighted” by your staff? Change that pronto! And, if you learn from your formal process that clients aren’t absolutely thrilled, don’t delay. Jump in and make immediate changes to your team and/or its work. Now!

3) Do Something Different: You’re trying to differentiate your agency’s brand in a highly crowded field. Your offerings are first-rate, but do you provide anything that’s truly different from your competition? Change this in 2013: identify at least one major product or service that your clients and prospects need, not offered by your competition, and determine how you can offer it.

4) Improve Your Leadership Skills: Leadership isn’t about your title, salary or fancy office: it’s about turning around and seeing a truly inspired team who’d follow you off the proverbial cliff. If you’re not yet the leader you want to be, make this the year you commit to become a better, more trusted, magnetic one. This may be the most important change you make in 2013. 

5) Become Your Agency’s CCO: You can’t be the only one driving meaningful change at your firm. If you want an agency full of change agents, and I believe you should, you must embrace the role of Chief Change Officer. Consistently communicate the benefits of healthy change in your organization, and model the behavior you desire. Do so, and you’ll be leading a team of dedicated professionals who are comfortable taking educated risks, and who’ll help make 2013 your year of positive change. 

Dec 18

Newtown, Old Problem

Kids-shootingToday's guest post is by Peppercommer Mark Pepper.

When I was 11 years old, a teacher from Idaho came to our school on a teacher-exchange program. One of the very first things he was asked was whether he owned a gun.

No, not a gun; plenty of guns. He reeled off a veritable armoury of weapons he kept at his home.

Being a bit of a class clown, I asked him: “Are you expecting trouble?”

The class tittered. It wasn’t a subtle joke but the teacher didn’t get it. He looked puzzled. A bunch of eleven-year-olds got it, but he didn’t.

That was my first real insight into the mentality of gun ownership in the US. The right to bear arms is enshrined in your constitution, engrained in your history, imprinted in your minds. While not every US citizen might own or want a gun, the concept of gun ownership seems as accepted a part of US society as Thanksgiving.

And, on Friday, we saw yet another example of the catastrophic effects of that mentality.

There’s so much to say on this issue it’s practically impossible to say anything. But let me straight away sound a dour note and say that this will never change. Mass shootings in the US will continue because there are too many unstable people with too easy access to too many weapons.

For anything to even remotely begin to change there needs to be unified political will, and that does not exist. While every right-thinking person condemns the killing of innocents, every right-thinking gun-owner seems to think it’s not their problem. I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it, so leave my guns alone.

At the heart of the argument against gun control is the spurious notion that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Maybe, but people who don’t have guns cannot kill as many people so easily and in such a short period of time. Even the NRA can’t argue with that one.

Then again, there are estimated to be up to 3 million firearms legally held in the homes of Swiss citizens. That’s in a population of 6 million. From around age 20 to 30, Swiss men are required by law to undertake some form of militia training and to keep their firearm at home.

And yet gun crime is so low in Switzerland that no statistics are even kept.

So, having a lot of guns in society doesn’t necessarily equate with gun homicide.

It all depends who is in charge of those guns.

I saw a quote from a Newtown resident who expressed shock that such an atrocity could happen in his town because it was considered one of the very safest places in the US.

That might be a nice epithet on the Welcome board into town, but it means nothing. Where there are freely-available firearms and mentally unstable individuals, as in the case of Adam Lanza, no place on this earth is safe.

An opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, written by a professor, suggested the US could legislate against the possibility of unstable individuals committing mass murder by making sure they are never allowed to own a gun permit. For a professor, that seems a remarkably simplistic and ill-informed opinion. The first sign that a person is mentally unstable often only surfaces after they’ve shot themselves in the head following a mass murder. Many mass murderers have never officially entered the mental health system to be classified as a genuine risk to life. Adam Lanza lived with his gun-collecting mother. Would the professor’s proposed law ban relatives and friends and acquaintances of known nut-jobs from owning guns as well?

The only way to rectify the situation is to remove all guns from within their reach, and if that means everyone has to lose their guns, however innocently-held, then so be it.

But that doesn’t address the problem, either, because there are so many firearms currently in circulation in the US that no amount of lawmaking can ever now effectively remove them from society.

And, sadly, I suspect that whatever action the Obama administration does take will amount to very little more than “no amount” of lawmaking. A law banning automatic weapons passed in 1994 lapsed in 2004 and was not renewed. What happened? Did all the crazy people suddenly get well in 2004? Did their Prozac suddenly kick in?

No, the political will had also lapsed, because banning guns – certainly retroactively – is not only logistically impossible, it’s also a massive election-loser. More than that, it’s downright dangerous. People wear t-shirts that say “You can take my gun from me when you prise it from my cold, dead fingers”. If that were a joke it wouldn’t be very funny. But it’s not a joke, which makes it bloody terrifying.

Gun ownership in the UK effectively ceased after the Dunblane massacre in 1996 which saw 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton burst into a Scottish school and shoot dead 16 children and one adult. The government reaction was knee-jerk and uncompromising. Now, a person can only own a rifle (small-bore) or shotgun in the UK  if they can prove they need it for pest control on a farm or some such place. Even .22 sports pistols which initially escaped the 1996 ban were removed from circulation a year later.

The argument often trotted out, that now only the criminals have the guns and the average citizen is more vulnerable for not being able to defend himself, is deeply flawed: the UK has one of the lowest death rates from gun homicide in the world.

The furore in the press right now will fade away as it always does. Obama has said something must be done, but that was one day after his press secretary James Carney said now is not the time to start debating gun control.

Wrong, now is exactly the time.

Dec 17

They Say O.J. Did It; I Say It Was an Inside Job

SoapsToday's guest post is by Peppercommer Sam Ford*

Once upon a time, daytime network television in the U.S. was filled with serial dramas— the "soap operas," named so because they were originally solely sponsored by soap companies: the original branded content. Whereas once there were 15+ soap operas on U.S. network television, we are now down to 4 at the end of 2012. So what happened?

The industry's answer always has to do with external factors that were beyond their control. But, in addition to those external factors that couldn't be changed, I have my own list of reasons as to why the soap opera industry damaged itself— and they are lessons any brand should keep in mind.

If you ask soap opera executives what happened, you typically get one of three answers:

1.)    Women Went to Work. It's inevitable that society changed, and the viewing model of the soap opera changed with it. As women entered the workforce, the traditional model of attracting the housewife dwindled. In this line of reasoning, soap operas were simply victims of the times— a positive social movement that nevertheless destroyed an industry and its storytelling format.

2.)    The Proliferation of Choice. Cable television brought with it more channels than you could everimagine. Betamax, the VCR, the DVD player, and the DVR allow for time-shifting of content, so that no one is any longer beholden to what airs on the three networks and PBS when choosing what to watch during the afternoon hours.

And then, my personal favorite:

3.)    O.J. Simpson Did It. This one typically surprises people outside the soaps world. But, while O.J. wasn't convicted for the more heinous crimes he was charged with, a jury of soap opera industry veterans would certainly find him guilty of killing the soaps. The O.J. Simpson trial preempted soap operas in 1995 for many weeks, breaking the daily rhythm soap operas had established. No one knew for sure when the soaps were coming back on. And, when they did, their ratings went down significantly, never to rise back to pre-O.J. levels.

Those are all contributing factors, to be sure, but then there are the three reasons you don't hear soap opera executives talking about quite as much:

1.) Other Creators Started Doing It Better. Despite lower budgets and convoluted family trees, U.S. daytime dramas had one major difference from their primetime counter-parts for much of the last 60+ years of televised soaps—true seriality. Whereas each episode of a primetime show once had little connection to the next (so they could air in any order in syndication), soap opera episodes always flowed from one to the next. These days, however, many of the primetime dramas heralded as "quality television" have reached that status in part by marrying big budgets with a soap opera storytelling structure, with episodes that flow from one into the next which put focus on an ensemble cast of characters and the dynamics of that community, rather than just on moving the plot along.
2.) Short-Term Fixes Replaced Long-Term Strategy. When the soap opera industry started to realize that ratings were declining, the industry entered a 30+-year series of quick fixes that have done anything but. Introducing sci-fi elements. Increasing the sex factor. Appealing to college kids. Stealing soap stars from other shows. Creating gimmick storylines (from natural disasters to explosions to everything else you can imagine). Increasing the frequency of cataclysmic events and cliffhangers. You name it; soaps have tried it. But many of these strategies have been aimed at getting the ratings up ASAP, and too few involved network, producer, and advertisers coming together for a long-term strategy for rebuilding the brands of these iconic shows.

3.) Soaps Broke the Model that Differentiated Them. Worst of all, soaps started to get away from what made them different. The short-term fixes often involved trying to do things that soaps just can't do as well with their budgets. When soaps were at their height, they were aired live and looked more like plays: mostly taking place in characters' living rooms, kitchens, and work offices. As ratings started slipping, soaps started trying to appeal to the younger demographic in particular, breaking the very way soaps had long gained and maintained viewers— through a multigenerational fan base, with the shows having been passed down from grandparent to child to grandchild. When, in the 1980s, soaps decided to do all they could to keep the 18-34-year-old viewership from sliding, they began a process of running off older viewers, which eventually broke the model.
What is the lesson for brands? We can't change external factors that happens in the world around us, but we can change how we react to them. No brand can lose sight of what differentiates them, and every effort to hang on to the world just as it was will doom you in the world that has become. Time will tell whether the four soap operas that remain on the air will find a way not just to "hang on" but to thrive once again. But pay attention to, and learn the lessons from, what got this once vibrant American institution into its current state. Or else you'll end up an icon of a previous era as well.
For more on this subject, see The Survival of Soap Opera: Strategies for a New Media Era, a book I co-edited which features different takes on soaps' current state from academics, critics, fans, soap opera writers, and soap opera actor Tristan Rogers (of Robert Scorpio fame). Also, see Lynn Liccardo's new ebook, As the World Stopped Turning.
*Sam Ford is Peppercomm's Director of Digital Strategy and co-author of the forthcoming book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture.

Dec 14


619200820544PM_amnnnerican_fat_soldierI can see it now: a typically sadistic, rail thin master sergeant is jogging alongside his platoon of weight-challenged recruits, and leading them in their ritual chant…

Sergeant: "Who is obese?"
Grunts: "We are obese!"
Sergeant: "Who eats too much?"
Grunts: "We eat too much!"
Sergeant: "Who's gonna lose their job?"
Grunts: "We're gonna lose our jobs!"
Sergeant: "Sound off!"
Grunts: "Obese!"
Sergeant: "Sound off!"
Grunts: "Eat too much!"
Sergeant: "Sound off!"
Grunts: "Lose our jobs!"
Sergeant: "Sound off!"
Grunts: "Obese. Eat too much. Lose our Jobs. One. Two. Three. Four. One two. Three four!"

Why the Full Metal Jacket riff by Repman? Because Virginia, our Army's getting fat and lazy.

Between 1998 and 2010, the number of active-duty military personnel deemed overweight or obese TRIPLED, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. And, the Army's laser-focused on firing the fatties ASAP.

Now, it's one thing to be pushed into the aisle of a commercial jet liner by the 600-lb, Big Mac-chomping, unwashed behemoth in the middle seat. It's quite another to realize that our nation's security is in the catcher's mitt-sized hands of morbidly obese troops. That's what I call an image and reputation crisis second to none.

Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and the other terror cells can now kick back and catch-up on Homeland episodes after reading these facts. They no longer have to break our will with attacks on civilian populations; they just have to wait (weight?) until our troops contract the obesity-related diseases that plague Joe Six Pack in Milwaukee. At this rate, our army will be entirely walker and wheelchair-restricted within 25 years.

It's sad to think the bad guys might win because McDonald's, Burger King, Coke and all the other artery-clogging, gut-widening food purveyors have won over our hearts, minds and stomachs. If I were director of the FBI, I'd put a new terrorist at the top of our most wanted list: Ronald McDonald. And, I wouldn't want him dead or alive. I want that clown gone.


And a tip o' Rep's field cap to Greg Schmalz for suggesting this post.

Dec 13

E-Z Pass to Advertising Heaven

Casablanca-train-rain-smallAdvertising Age is reporting that Honda has placed its massive $700 million campaign up for review. That may not mean much to you, but it's a veritable tsunami for incumbent agency, RPA, of Santa Monica, which has had the account since 1986!

Putting RPA's justifiable sense of betrayal aside, Honda represents far and away the largest percentage of the agency's $122 million in revenues, says Ad Age. That's not good.

In fact, industry experts say RPA's chances of successfully defending the account are slimmer than New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's ever appearing on the cover of GQ.

Some pundits are already likening RPA to such now moribund shops as KPR and Griffin-Bacal, which went belly-up when their largest clients pulled the plug.

I feel RPA's pain. Peppercomm came precariously close to a Honda-like scenario on several occasions in our storybook, 17-year-long saga. At one point in our very early years, a professional services firm accounted for more than 40 percent of our billings! At another point, a Fortune 10 behemoth represented nearly half of our top line numbers. Yikes!

We survived the loss of each by rapidly building our client portfolio at the first signs of approaching storm clouds. Today, we're amazingly diverse from a client portfolio standpoint, with no single client representing more than 15-20 percent of our overall billings.

Owning one's own agency is a blast, but it's also a slippery slope that provides the highest highs and lowest lows. Winning a Honda is a rush that, unless you're an entrepreneur, you simply cannot appreciate. Simultaneously, watching the car company shift into overdrive and permanently peel out of the agency parking lot is indescribably devastating (picture Humphrey Bogart standing at that Paris train station in the pouring rain and crumbling up Ingrid Bergman's 'Dear Rick' letter).

I couldn't sleep if I were either Gerry Rubin or Larry Postaer (RPA's founders). I don't care how big the billings, or how prestigious the brand, putting too many eggs in one basket is like buying an E-Z Pass to advertising heaven.

Epilogue: As PR insiders know, we have our own version of RPA. This particular firm has relied on one behemoth client to drive its growth for three decades. The owners have grown deservedly rich and famous in the process. But, at what cost? To borrow a time-worn phrase, were I in their shoes, I'd worry that, every time the mega client sneezed, my agency would be diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. And, that's no way to live.

Dec 12

Finally, some good news!

6a00d8341c652b53ef017c31650e8a970b-800wiThere. Did I stop you in your tracks with that headline? Good.

Because, if you're like me, you're completely beaten down by the daily, 24×7, drum beat of doom-and-gloom news. I'm talking about real downers that range from the latest mass shooting in Portland and death of a Navy Seal in the Middle East to Lindsay Lohan's 19th arrest and our edging ever closer to that damned Fiscal Cliff.

So, stay with me here. I have some legitimate good news. I say again, good news.  

But when I say good, I'm not talking about the drivel propagated by bloggers who provide PR strategies for dealing with antagonistic reporters, engaging with audiences in social media or, my personal favorite, five sure fire media training tips to win that next big interview. Those tips and tidings have been around longer than Betty White (and, are bad news in a very real way). 

Nor am I speaking about the fawning cover story profiles of CCOs in a certain trade journal that paint each as a corporate mix of Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. That good news belongs in some separate, bizarro universe we've yet to discover.

No, dear reader, I speak of legitimately good news that, dare I say it, transcends the navel-gazing world of PR.  So, here goes:

Obesity rates among young people are FALLING in several major cities, including New York!.

Yes, Virginia it seems that, despite the alarming growth of such artery-clogging chains as FatBurger, McDonald's ongoing self-denial that they're part of the problem and not the solution and ever more bodies on a 747 that are wider than the wide-bodied plane itself, our kids are catching on to wellness! Yay! I say again, Yay!

Experts say the decline in childhood obesity rates is tiny, but real (and the first such drop in three, count 'em, three decades).

No one knows why childhood obesity rates are dropping, but someone, somewhere, is doing something right.  BTW, one more alarming stat before I revert to my 24×7 world of all doom, all the time: 17 percent of American children have a body mass index that qualifies them as obese. That rate has tripled since 1980 but, as reported, kids from Anchorage to Alpharetta are getting the message:   "Ronald McDonald is NOT your friend!"

I now return you to you regular cycle of negative news coverage, which is already in progress.

And a tip o' Repman's Santa cap to Ken Jacobs and Greg Schmalz for suggesting this post.

Dec 11

Uncle Ernie’s shin splints

Whitney-Port-Awkward-Family-Christbbbbbbbbbbbbmas-Photos-5“We can hardly believe that little Sydney is now 18-years-old and considering three different New England colleges that offer majors in oceanography! And, Great-Uncle Shlomo's knee and hip replacement have made him the family's answer to Benjamin Button. As for Henry and me, well, we just marked 31 blissful years of marriage on October 31st. And, might I add it was a real treat :-)”

Sound familiar? That's a sanitized version of countless unsolicited holiday family newsletters I'm bombarded with each, and every, year.

I must tell you that blasting your family news to a full database is akin to a boiler room stockbroker in Massapequa pestering that same database with insider information on a stock about to skyrocket to the heavens.

Holiday family missives are about as welcomed in my home as a scud missile in the streets of Tel Aviv.

I don't want to know that Missy bungee-jumped for the first time this past July. Nor, am I particularly saddened to read that Wolf, your ever loyal, 13-year-old Shepard had to be put down after a valiant struggle with hip dysplasia. It's a bummer but, c'mon, I wouldn't have been able to pick out Wolf in a line-up of Belgian or German shepherds.

I'm not a Scrooge. I'm a realist. I'm already overloaded with far too much junk mail, virtual or otherwise. And, I don't need any more.

In my opinion, it's family newsletters, and not the family canine, that need to be euthanized. Trust me when I say that, apart from a sister or brother, no one cares about your amazing two-week trip to Cabos and Rusty's humanitarian gesture to toss that 600-pound marlin back into the Baja's sparkling blue waters.

So, stop spamming me and everyone else on your list.

A final observation: Has anyone noticed that the very same people who push holiday newsletters your way also inundate you with unfunny jokes and sickeningly sweet YouTube videos of pooches cuddling with iguanas? Stop it. Just stop it.

Would that Santa was empowered to issue a cease-and-desist order to every well-meaning, but totally clueless, person about to summarize his, and his immediate family's, 2012 high and low lights.

Tell you what: if I'm interested, I'll let you know. Alternatively, offer me an opt-out box I can check on the bottom of the newsletter. Now, THAT would make 2013 a bright and happy new year for this blogger.

Dec 10

Will you pull a Streep when the time comes?

I recently suffered through a god-awful, on-demand movie called 'Hope Springs.' It starred Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. The flick was laughably bad, and took the word formulaic to a new, all-time low. But, the film also got me thinking about Ms. Streep. Why would one of the great actresses of her era appear in one horrific movie after another? Diane Keaton is another superb actress who has prostituted her craft by appearing in a rash of mindless B-movies.

Pulling a Streep isn’t limited to great actresses, mind you. I’d argue that Robert DeNiro has completely obliterated his legacy with a spate of rubbish that spans at least two decades. And, Dustin Hoffman isn’t far behind Bobby. Luckily, though, for each Streep and DeNiro, there’s a Dame Judi Dench or Al Pacino, who stays true to the art form that is acting.

My wife argues that legendary actors pull a Streep for one of two reasons:
-    There simply aren’t that many great roles available to actors and actresses ‘of a certain age’
-    They want to keep active with new, and fun, projects.

To which I politely respond, bunk! 

If Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty or Al Pacino wants a leading role in an upcoming flick, they’ll get one. Period. Ditto for a Barbra Streisand (ugh) or Sally Field. As for wanting to keep busy, these actors could easily hone their craft by playing regional theatre, say, in Waterville, Maine.

All of this is relevant to you, dear reader, because I’ve seen quite a few legendary PR demi-gods pulling a Streep. I’ve winced as some wizened wise men have droned on endlessly at industry conferences. And, I’ve watched as one in particular dozed off in the middle of a critical briefing from an A-level client to whom we were each providing counsel. I remember pulling our account manager aside afterwards, and asking him to let me know if I’m even coming close to approaching Streep-time.

I think great actors and actresses such as Keaton and Hoffman take ersatz roles for two reasons:
-    They need to believe they’re still relevant
-    They need to know that today’s audiences still love them.

While none of us will ever achieve the Olympian heights of a Meryl Streep or Robert DeNiro, we will reach a certain level of success. It’s critical that each, and every, one of us knows when to say when (and exit stage left in a graceful manner).

That’s why, after just being named Crain’s BEST Workplace in NYC, I’m thinking about offing myself. I don’t want anyone saying, ‘Man, that guy Steve Cody is sure pulling a Streep, isn’t he?”