Dec 07

Dream on

NyquilWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

That's the basic question we ask our firm on Dream Day, an annual retreat in which we gather at an undisclosed location (our way of paying homage to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who also chilled at an undisclosed location in the immediate aftermath of 9/11).

During D.D., we ask ourselves how we can become more strategic, creative and results-oriented for clients. We also dream about ways in which we can enhance our internal culture.

There are no parameters set on the dreaming. Each and every employee, from receptionist to partner, has the freedom to suggest any idea, no matter how big or outlandish.

I ripped off Dream Day from Google, which gives each employee an extra day off to dream about ways in which Google could improve. I liked the concept but knew that I, for one, wouldn't be dreaming about Peppercomm on my extra vacation day. So, for the past eight years or so, we've powered down our computers and powered up our creative juices and dreamed as a single unit.

The outcomes have been dramatic. Here are just a few Dream Day dreams that have come true:

– Hiring a full-time academic. Sam Ford joined us from M.I.T. a few years back and I'd liken his impact on Peppercomm's fortunes to RG III's on the Washington Redskins. Sam is that good (although he is fairly immobile outside the pocket).

– Creating an employee exchange program that has enabled our New York, San Francisco and London employees to enjoy three-month gigs in other offices. Next week, for example, we'll be biding adieu to London's Will Brewster and welcoming home New York's Jason Green.

– One year Ed nodded off after taking cold medicine and came up with the idea of a licensing division. At the time, we thought his brainstorm had been the by-product of a NyQuil overdose but lo and behold, today we have a thriving licensing division that is growing like a weed (and provides entry to brands we'd never be able to reach in traditional ways).

I have no idea what dreams might become reality after today's off-site. But, it's a beautiful way for the entire firm to take a time-out, dream about what could be and, most importantly, feel like they're part of shaping Peppercomm's future. As Larry David would say, 'It's a good thing. It's a good thing.'"

Dec 06

A First World Problem


Peppercomm has won its fair share of PR industry awards over the years, but nothing prepared me for the positive deluge of vendor inquiries that flooded my cell phone, office land line, e-mail in-box and, yes, Virginia, even my desk itself after we'd been named ‘Best Workplace in NYC’ by Crain's New York Business.

Many were from the usual suspects such as boiler room stockbrokers who wanted to share some secrets on a little-known, but positively, skyrocketing penny stock. And, of course, there were the oh-so-friendly, but gravely concerned, life insurance salesmen who worried that, as top kick at NYC's top business, I may find myself woefully unprepared financially IF the worst should happen.

There were also the restaurant venues, the limo services, the men's tailors, etc. But, there were also some genuinely funny, and unexpected pitches, including these:

1.) “Now that you're ‘A Number One and Top of the Heap’' shouldn't you be sharing that success with customers by sending them their own, personally engraved desktop model of The Empire State Building? Nothing else says you've made it in the Big Apple like our six-inch tall statuettes.”

2.) “When you're the premium company in NYC, your employees, customers and prospects expect you to ACT like a premium company. And, nothing says premium like personalized gifts from Tiffany's for one and all.” Yeah, right. And, nothing says overnight bankruptcy like, say, an order of 5,000 premium items from Tiffany's either.

3.) “Does your silverware and china tell visitors to Peppercomm that you're NYC's best workplace? If not, they should. It's time to say good-bye to plastic knives, forks and spoons and hello to the same china and silverware used in the boardrooms of Goldman Sachs, Exxon-Mobil and Johnson & Johnson, to name just a few." Ah, I don't think so. We'll stick with the plastic ones for now. Thank you very much.  

And, then there was my personal favorite: Cuban Pete's hand-rolled cigars:

“Dear Steve: Nothing says success like treating your V.I.P.s to a special celebratory party at which our specially-trained, cigar hand-rollers literally work their magic in front of your guests. Hand-rolled cigars have been synonymous with success for ages. And, it's time you (and your V.I.P. customers) entered that rarefied air.” I'd have chosen the adjective toxic, rather than rarefied, but declined nonetheless.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm flattered with the accolades. And, I'm thrilled that, unlike the best PR workplace competitions, we didn't have to beat, say, an Edelman or Burson. We had to outshine Microsoft and MetLife, among many others.

From a credibility standpoint, a Crain's award trumps one from my industry's trades in oh-so-many ways. (Note: it was also nice NOT to receive a call from a Crain's salesperson a few weeks prior to the event suggesting a print ad in the special awards luncheon program 'couldn't hurt our chances.').

Sure. Winning the top spot also brings out the crazies in record numbers. But, hey, as my friend and trainer, Mario Godiva ( likes to say after he's deluged with such pitches as the result of a New York Times profile or Steve Harvey segment, 'It's a First World problem.

Dec 04

Myopia is the real finding in Makovsky survey

RockyrunMy good friend and fellow, long-suffering Mets fan, Ken Makovsky, has just issued a fascinating survey that reveals CMOs and CCOs are battling for control of social media budgets within large organizations.

The survey says the two functions play nice when it comes to who owns something obvious such as corporate I.D. or branding, but tangle like cats and dogs when it comes to social media.

I'm not surprised there's a major battle brewing in the C-Suite. But, I AM puzzled why journalists and pundits alike don't opine on two equally important matches on the under card of the Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed main event:

– Thanks to social media, the lines separating the CCO/CMO functions are becoming increasingly blurred. Ergo, it won't be too much longer before a bottom-line obsessed CFO asks himself why his Fortune 500 corporation needs two, million dollar per year executives who do more or less the same thing.

– In their blood lust for control, most CCOs and CMOs don't realize that neither OWNS social media anymore. Their audience members do. Game. Set. Match. The first function to come to grips with the reality that top down, inside out social media simply doesn't work, will 'win' this turf war.

Effective social media today is a never-ending process of listening, engaging and repeating the exercise.

In the end, I honestly don't care if the CCO or CMO wins the title bout because, frankly, it'll be a pyrhic one at best. The sooner each function leaves the ivory tower and experiences their brand from the end user's standpoint, the sooner they'll realize how fruitless, and foolish, their turf wars really are. The consumer will determine how THEY control your social media messages, and not vice versa.

Dec 03

And, now, a few PR licks from The Who’s Pete Townshend

Historyrock37I've just finished devouring ‘Who I Am,’ the autobiography of Pete Townshend, legendary lyricist and lead guitarist of The Who.

I highly recommend Townshend's book to PR people for a number of reasons:

1.) It's a great example of authenticity trumping arrogance. Townshend's tome is as brutally frank about his own shortcomings as it is of his fellow bandmates. Sure, he'll talk about Keith Moon's self-abuse, but he's also quick to confess the lifelong impact a sexual predator's actions had on Pete himself.

PR lesson: self-deprecating leaders (and brands) are much more likable and believable.

2.) ‘Who I Am’ is unlike 'Life' by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, which is one long tirade aimed at 'Keef's' lifelong rival, Sir Mick Jagger. In his missive, Townshend portrays Roger Daltry, The Who's glamorous lead singer, in an objective, even-handed manner.

PR lesson: bashing the competition is a lose-lose proposition.

3.) Madonna, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber may have achieved superstar status, but they've cut-and-pasted their personas from those who came before.

The Who were true pioneers, who had few, if any, role models to show them the way. Sure, Sinatra, Elvis and The Beatles had arrived on the world stage first, but none had been truly outrageous sex, drug and rock-and-roll types. Indeed, The Who perceived the Beatles as little more than talented, pretty boys who did what they were told by manager Brian Epstein.

When it came to acting like wild and crazy guys, The Who had only The Stones to emulate. As a result, and in many instances, everything The Who did was a first-of-its-kind (for better or worse).

PR lesson: there are very few true originals in life, so counsel your CEO to keep his ego in check. He does NOT belong on Fortune's cover.

Beyond the image and reputation lessons, ‘Who I Am’ is chock full of fascinating back stories that explains Townshend's inspiration for writing everything from 'Can't Explain' and 'Baba O'Reilly' to 'Tommy' and 'Quadrophenia.'

There are also the jaw-dropping tales about the group's wide path of destruction and why The Who were permanently banned from The Holiday Inn (that's akin to my receiving a lifetime ban as a PR Week Award judge).

Were there ever a market for my autobiography, I would hope readers would see it as being authentic rather than arrogant. And, when the time came to discuss Ed Moed's role in my life and times, (Ed is Peppercomm's answer to Daltry and Jagger, BTW), I'd like to think my observations would be much more like Pete's than Keith's. But, then again, Who knows?