Mar 13

Mandy’s Branding Breakthrough

Mandy. jpgMandy Roth (pictured) is one of hundreds of thousands of college seniors scheduled to graduate this Spring. And, like her peers, Mandy faces a formidable task: finding a job.

But, that's not enough of a mountain for Mandy to climb. She also wants to work for the public relations firm of her dreams. (That would be Peppercomm, who else?)

So, Mandy set about setting herself apart from the hundreds and hundreds of applications we receive every year from upcoming graduates. And, to say she succeeded is akin to calling North Korea a rogue state. 

Here's why we'll be interviewing Mandy this Friday and, if her in-person skills match those of her strategic branding campaign, offering her a paid Summer internship:

1.) Mandy created her own website JUST for Peppercomm. See: On the site, she included her resume, a cover letter and our personal favorite: 'The 10 reasons why Mandy Roth would be Peppercomm's next top intern.'

Note: Mandy says she built the specially-tailored website because she'd LISTENED to Peppercomm's messages and wanted to ENGAGE in our conversations with a site that demonstrated her talent and creativity.  FYI, our firm's tagline is: 'Listen. Engage. Repeat.'

2) In her cover letter, Mandy detailed the journey she'd taken during her college years, how she'd discovered Peppercomm and why our culture is perfectly aligned with her personal and professional goals.

3) She cited two separate Peppercomm blogs as truly inspiring her subsequent actions. One was written by our resident male fashionista, Jason Green, and entitled, 'Don't be boring in life, don't be boring when applying' . The other one, happily, was one of mine, and entitled, 'Third party endorsement'.

4) Last, and definitely not least, Mandy's 10 reasons why Mandy Roth would be Peppercomm's next top intern was a show stopper (insert link). For the record, Mandy, you had me at 10 reasons. And, BTW, her number one reason (as well as the final sentence in her cover note) killed: 'I know I could be the salt in your Peppercomm.'

Whether you're 19 or 90, you MUST create, and continually refresh, your own, personal brand. Why? Two reasons:

– There are more people searching for fewer jobs than ever before.
– There has never been less corporate loyalty. I can personally attest to the fact that many clients will toss away their agencies of long-standing like yesterday's newspaper if it'll save their jobs. And, sadly, most businesses today place profits over people.

I don't know how Mandy's interviews will go on Friday. But, I can tell you this: regardless of whether she clicks with us, Mandy Roth has a bright future because, at a very early stage in her career, she's figured out how to breakthrough the clutter AND build her own brand in a cool, compelling way.

Mar 12

Two big thumbs up for the NFL’s Heads-Up program

Slide1There's no question the National Football League is facing a third-and-long when it comes to its image and reputation.

The sport's been plagued by countless player concussions and is facing a massive class-action lawsuit from former players seeking compensation for the long-term effects of head injuries sustained during their playing days. At the same time, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, there has been a slow, but steady, decline in the number of youth football players.

As a result, the NFL is huddling as we speak, and beginning to implement a far-ranging, multi-phased plan. The campaign has many goals. The one with the greatest, long-term implications, though, is called Heads-Up. Its overarching intent is to avoid alienating future generations of players whose parents simply won't let them play.

The best defense is a good offense
The NFL's Director of Public Relations, Paul Hicks, recently set aside time in his busy schedule to educate me on the league's many efforts, partnership with USA Football ( and the Heads-Up program.

Heads-Up was test piloted during the 2012 Fall football season, and will be rolled out nationally this coming Fall to 100 football programs in 50 states. Its core components include:

Coaching education.
– Concussion awareness.
– Equipment fitting.
– Heads-up tackling.

As I mentioned, the Heads-Up program is only one part of the NFL's efforts. They're also funding such research as:

– $30 million to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to support the most innovative and promising research on all types of brain injuries (AND, a commitment to fund $290 million in additional, independent research over the next decade).
– Investigating sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes; heat and hydration-related illness, chronic degenerative joint disease, etc.
– Countless collaborations with independent experts in a variety of medical fields.

The NFL is also discussing the possibility of placing fully-trained neurosurgeons on the sidelines of every game. That's key, because:

– NFL head coaches are trained to win, not to diagnose brain concussions.
– Team trainers are typically distracted by providing on-the-spot triage to other players who have sustained neck, shoulder or knee injuries.

One of my big aha moments came when Hicks mentioned the USA Football coaching education program.

Hicks said it’s difficult to say how many junior league and high school coaches have received training in such basic wellness needs as helmet construction, tackling techniques and hydration. That triggered memories of my maniacal high school coach, who pushed us mercilessly in the late Summer heat, refused to let us sip water and praised those players who returned to a scrimmage even though they were literally staggering from head injuries, dehydration or pulled hamstrings.

Repman research
Before penning this follow-up blog, I wanted to confirm Paul's suspicions that the NFL's efforts WERE making a difference and, despite the dire warnings made in a recent Advertising Age article, most Americans would still allow their kids to participate in an undeniably violent sport.

And so, I employed my various social media channels. I asked a sampling of 100 employees, friends and family members a simple, yes/no question:

"Would you let your kid play youth football?"

The answer surprised me (but not Paul, who says it mirrors national trends):
– 74 percent said yes.
– Only 26 percent replied in the negative.

Both of my kids grew up playing every sport BUT football, so I never had to cross that particular parental Rubicon. Were I to face it today, I would give my permission BUT, and it's a big but, ONLY if my kids' coaches had been fully educated and certified in the NFL's Heads-Up program. It definitely deserves two thumbs up (Note: As does the 'Don't hit the head. Don’t use the head.' partnership between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh's Medical Center. Check it out at

The two-minute drill
Despite all of their progress, the NFL STILL needs a come-from-behind victory to assure it remains America's favorite sport for a long, long time.

My fingers are crossed that Heads-up is the league's version of the New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, and can engineer a last-second win.

Having been briefed by Hicks, I'm confident the NFL can pull it off (and save my favorite sport). Now, if only they could help the Jets turn around their sorry franchise, all would be right with the world.

Mar 11

The Silent Manority

Mr-mom_designI find it curious that, once again, the plight of the average Joe has been completely overlooked in the media frenzy surrounding Sheryl Sandberg's book, 'Lean In' and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to end telecommuting.

Yes, Virginia, the hyperbole's been all about the dearth of female CEO among the ranks of the Fortune 500 big-wigs (the distaff side represents a scant four percent). Sandberg's divisive tome has been punctuated by countless sob stories about the 600 or so, displaced Yahoo telecommuters impacted by Mayer's let-them-eat-cake decision. The Y600 ALL seem to be either single moms or moms running households, raising two kids, working three jobs and living a hellish life overall.

But, what about men?

If the media deign to cover us at all, we're either portrayed as:

– Autocratic and out-of-touch (see: The College of Cardinals).
– Bumbling, fumbling fools who can't add numbers or change diapers (see: any current commercial).
– Or, need our smarter, female partners to come to our rescue and save the day (see: the plot of any TV sitcom).

But, don't just take my word for it.

Doug French and John Pacini feel the exact, same way. That's why they've launched the Dad 2.0 Summit. As they'll tell you, Messrs. French and Pacini were fed up with being hidden in the rear aisles of the wildly popular Mommy Blogger summits. They were fed up with major marketers either ignoring or dissing their gender.

In a recent New York Times article they listed just a few 'dumb male' campaigns by Madison Avenue, including:

– The Huggies commercial that showed a group of fathers and their babies, with a voice-over that said, “To prove Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: Dads, alone with their babies, in one house, for five days." Talk about a low blow. Literally.

– A P&G Tide detergent ad that showed a stay-at-home father folding laundry and referred to him a 'dad-mom'. Talk about emasculating.
– And, then of course, there was the Procter & Gamble TV spot that ran throughout the 2012 London Olympics called, “Thank you, mom” and saluted women for nurturing Olympic athletes. The campaign would lead viewers to believe the Olympians were the products of in vitro fertilization, immaculate conceptions, or both.

I realize women are relishing the spotlight at the moment. They're also hotly debating whether Sandberg and Mayer are right when they say women CAN have it all without sacrificing relationships and parenthood. I wouldn't know.

But, I would ask women marketeers to show they, are in fact, superior to we inferior males. Don't repeat our age-old mistake of patronizing and marginalizing the other sex. It's not only repellent. It'll cost you market share in a major way.

I think it's time to launch a counter-movement called The Silent Manority. Speaking for many of my brothers, I can tell you we're mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore. In fact, I think I'll even pen a new anthem for the cause: "We are men. Hear us roar, in numbers too big to ignore."

Mar 08

Thanks for your patience. We’re now boarding our kid-free zone.

Bratty kidI would gladly trade my kingdom for kid-free zones in restaurants, airplanes, trains and theaters. Nothing ruins my experience faster than a screaming baby, three-year-old kids running sprints up and down an aisle or, my personal bete noir, the airplane cutie who sits behind me and practices her punting technique on my lower back.

Mercifully, there actually ARE kid-free zones in a few enlightened venues. McDain's Restaurant in Monroeville, PA, banned children six and under in 2011 because “…parents weren't controlling (them).” And, a casual restaurant in Atlanta wrote a disclaimer on its menu urging parents to take their crying babies outside.

Sogno di Vino, an Italian restaurant in Poulsbo, WA., provides a $4 discount to any family with well-behaved kids. Why? Because, says owner Rob Scott, “Unruly kids can ruin the dining experience for others.” And, he added, “Sogno di Vino means 'to dream of wine', it doesn't mean Chuck E. Cheese.” I love this guy.

Meanwhile, 35,000 feet above terra firma, Malaysian Airlines has become the first major air carrier to provide kid-free zones. That's pure brilliance on the airline's part, and should be copied by ANY train, plane or bus that cares one iota about customer experience.

Make no mistake that a restaurant's or airline's image and reputation is intrinsically linked to an end user's actual experience. So, don't promise me I'll be flying the friendly skies when, in reality, the mom sitting next to me will be using her tray to change her baby's soiled diapers (true story).

I pine for the day when, as I await to be seated at a chic Manhattan restaurant, the maitre'd asks me, “Your usual table in our child-free area, Monsieur Cody?”

Or, and be still my heart, as I wait to board an already delayed United flight, I hear the gate attendant announce, “Thanks for your patience, folks. Maintenance says we're good to go. So, we're going to provide a courtesy pre-board to all of you with seats in our kids-free zone. You've suffered enough already.”

Mar 07

Does image matter in an image business?

The Center for Talent Innovation just surveyed 4,000 male and female executives, asking how the two genders react to workers who dress in a polished, professional manner as opposed to those who, say, look more like Johnny Depp after a weekend-long binge.

No work
The results are interesting, but not surprising:

– Both genders agree good grooming is a must.
– Both genders agree it's more important for a man to be tall and thin (which can't be good news for roly-poly, job-seeking little guys).
– Arrogance is seen as a bigger sin for women because it's 'associated with sexual impropriety' and suggests the executive 'has an inflated opinion of oneself.' Talk about a double standard.

Male and female executives alike agreed the biggest communications blunders were:

– Making racially-biased comments.
– Making off-color jokes (Note: I may have erred on that side on more than occasion).
– Someone who cries (Amen. Save it for the pillow when you get home).

The survey is especially timely since an entire new crop of college graduates is about to enter the workplace.

Over the years, I've had first-hand experience with good, bad and just, plain ugly Peppercomm wanna-bes. And, when I say good, bad and ugly, I'm addressing their personal grooming, not their attractiveness.

One day, our reception area became a positive beehive of activity for a few, brief moments. Why? Because a fairly attractive, but oh-so-scantily-clad young woman (think: Madonna, circa 1990) was waiting to be interviewed. Needless to say, the guys loved it. But, our female employees were appalled. So, guess who was thanked for coming in, but sent packing faster than one can say Material Girl?

On another occasion, a gum-chewing, torn jeans, mandals-wearing dude strolled in to interview for an account executive position. Since Peppercomm embraces a business casual dress code, we gave the guy an initial pass, and brought him in for interviews. But his aloof, arrogant attitude matched his fashion faux pas and he, too, was given the bum's rush.

Finally, a middle-aged, impeccably groomed business executive in a three-piece suit arrived to interview for a management supervisor spot. His attire told us immediately that he hadn't taken the time to conduct due diligence on our firm (i.e. our dress code). Since we are adamant about checking, in advance, to determine whether a client or prospect's dress code is business formal or casual, we almost always discount someone whose appearance reflects a laziness in his or her preparation. The Don Draper clone was also handed a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

While it may not be a complete show-stopper for job prospects, appearance, attitude and grooming are an intrinsic part of one's current and future success (and can spell the difference between success and failure).

Take the time to research an organization's dress code and culture BEFORE arriving for an interview, new business presentation or kick-off meeting with a new client.

Oh, and while there are exceptions to the rule, I'd advise you to also remove the nose ring and cover as many tats as possible before arriving at a prospective employer's office (unless, of course your tattoo displays Peppercomm's way cool new logo and tagline. That might generate an immediate offer AND a signing bonus).

Mar 06

Ex-Congressdog calls for stricter background checks on gun-toting canines

In the aftermath of three successive shooting of owners by their pet dogs, former U.S. Congressdog Mick Cody is barking long and loud for immediate, far stricter background checks on his breed.
PhotoThe shootings, many of which occurred in Florida, involved the use of such hand guns as 9-millimeter Glocks as well as shotguns and hunting rifles. In each instance, the accident was triggered by a pooch pawing at the weapon which, in turn, fired and nailed a master's unsuspecting arm, leg or butt.

“I don't expect gun-happy humans to change their foolish laws,” snapped Cody, nervously pawing a few, spent shell casings at a hastily-arranged press conference held in his family room. “But, I do expect better judgment from my species.”

Lobbying Congress
Cody suggested that Bideawee, the ASPCA and other leading canine trade groups band together in what the outspoken ex-politician called “one, large pack” and lobby Congress now, before it's too late.

“I don't want to wait until a rogue, AK-47 wielding Rottweiler trots into a dog park and proceeds to unload an entire magazine into members of both species. Dogs don't need a Sandy Hook in order to make some obvious changes,” he snarled, after downing yet another Beggin' Strip.

Education first
Cody suggested dogs undergo background checks at the same time they receive their first rabies shots as puppies. “We have to start the education process at a very young age,” he noted.

The pugnacious pit bull believes that, while hunters, Second Amendment activists and the oh-so-powerful NRA will prevent any significant change in homo sapien gun laws, the current Congress WILL agree to sweeping changes for his species.

“Look, I don't care if you're to the far right of Rush Limbaugh, no human wants to be caught in a shooting spree caused by a deranged Dalmatian!” chuckled Cody, grinning at his own words.

The controversial canine noted that dogs don't need guns. “Aside from a few French Poodles I once met in Manhattan, every dog I've sniffed can use their teeth and claws to ward off danger. We don't need semi-automatic weapons. Semi-automatic dispensing bags of Beggin' Strips, yes. M-16's no,” he concluded.

Repman readers will recall that Mick Cody first rose to prominence in the aftermath of the Michael Vick/pit bull hoopla. Riding a fast-rising tide of popularity, Cody ran for Congress, becoming the first canine to actually win a seat. Things quickly went South, though, when he was caught sexting topless photographs of himself to a feline campaign worker (an incident he continues to insist was little more than entrapment).

Cody concluded his announcement by lifting a hind leg on an A.P. reporter and stating that 435 other members of Congress can expect the same treatment if stricter gun controls for canines aren't enacted soon. “I'm literally full of piss and vinegar,” he snarled. “It's up to Boehner, Pelosi and their ilk to decide if they want their $1,500 Armani suits ruined in the exact same way.”

And, a long howl to Greg Schmalz for suggesting this topic.

Mar 05

RIP the Printed Word: 1450-2013

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

Screen shot 2010-11-28 at 2.42.01 PMAs the former editor of Worth Magazine and current editorial director of Peppercomm, Matt has a unique take on the pure chaos that is today’s media universe. It’s an environment dominated by countless channels from which to select to deliver one’s message, AND a media beast with a positively unquenchable thirst for content.

I have seen the death of print…and it ain’t pretty.

As a former journalist, I will admit to a shameful predilection: I still get the print edition of the Wall Street Journal delivered to my door every morning. Yes, I support the killing of trees…but I offset my arborcide by recycling most of the 300-odd Post-its I use every day. Yes, I condone the pouring of industrial ink into the water table…but I offset that crime by wearing my “No Fracking” t-shirt to work every Thursday.

However, I’m finally about ready to enter a rehab clinic and give up my lifelong hard-copy habit. Print is dead, and it’s about time I faced reality. What pushed me over the edge? As I much as I love the WSJ and its writers and editors, the Wednesday, February 27 edition has me listening to Mozart’s Requiem for print publishing.

I present as evidence the D section of that day’s newspaper. On page D5 is a six-column article about a shoe exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. The article points out that the “show contains 150 examples” of avant garde shoes, including Lady Gaga’s 12-inch Tatehana platforms(!). Alongside the article is a photo of ONE shoe. ONE! For God’s sake, Wall Street Journal, no one in their right mind wants to read 30 column-inches about a shoe exhibition. We want to SEE the shoe exhibition! Are you just completely out of touch with the way we consume information today, or was your server down the day FIT sent you their high-res images?

Now turn to page D6. There you’ll find a sports feature on, of all things, uphill skiing. The article is accompanied by two stunning photos of…well…people skiing uphill. For the record, the writer gathered one of the best quotes I’ve ever read in any sports story: “It’s kind of an intense mental colonic,” one uphill skier said. But this treatment just leaves me frozen. If this sport is so intense, I want to see it, I want to hear it, I want to feel it. I want helmet-cam video of a skier experience his “intense mental colonic,” with extreme grunting and groaning.

Granted, I did not check the WSJ’s website to see how they treated these stories in the digital medium. But that’s not the point. (In fact, if the WSJ has photos or video on its website, the editors should have noted this in the print edition…but they didn’t.) The point is that today’s information consumers need to be informed in ways that bring stories to life for them. It’s our job as arbiters of this information to decide what stories need to be told using the most appropriate media. In these two cases, the WSJ dropped the ball.

Transmedia storytelling looks at storytelling strategically, asking which types of media will make the most impact with the target audience(s). It eschews a one-size-fits-all approach, and breaks a story into “episodes” that can be communicated in various ways: via video, on Twitter, in inforgraphics…and even in print (sometimes). It’s a bit shocking that the WSJ missed this opportunity. As PR professionals, we certainly cannot.

Mar 04

Playing hurt

PJO019096-1_20121227Ed, Ted and I learned this past Friday of the loss of our friend, and long-time strategic business partner, Tucker Greco.

Tucker, and his firm, Greco Ethridge Group, were our go-to advertising partners during those crazy, hazy and anything-but-lazy dotcom days. We shared many, many accounts, won tons of new business together and embraced the very same work hard, play hard ethos.

Tuck was a big bear of a man, who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. But, that’s where any, and all, similarities with Jolly St. Nick ended. Tuck was brilliant, but blunt. And, as the saying goes, he didn’t suffer fools gladly. Despite that caveat, however, he adored Ed, Ted and me, and would literally take a bullet for Peppercomm.

Unlike Peppercomm, though, Tuck’s firm was solely dependent upon business-to-business dotcom clients for billings. So, when the technology sector crashed in 2000, and client after client went belly up so, too, did Greco Ethridge Group.

Tuck weathered the storm, and reinvented himself several times over the succeeding years. Ed and I would periodically call him, and invite Tuck to either join us in an integrated marketing new business pitch or subcontract some design and copy work to him. He was forever grateful and forever one ‘big account’ away from re-establishing himself as a top ad man.

Sadly, that one big account never materialized. Instead, Tuck contracted stomach cancer and, well, that was all she wrote.

When I think of Tucker, I think of the time we were sitting at LaGuardia Airport waiting to board a shuttle flight that would take us to D.C., and a meeting with a dotcom client we shared. I’d told him I’d had a lousy night’s sleep and felt like I was coming down with a cold. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind my bailing on the trip. If looks could kill, I wouldn’t be penning this blog.
Tuck sighed, and fixed me with a stare that would stop a clock. He said, "Steve, you’re getting on that plane with me, and we’re going to go have a helluva good meeting with the client. You’ve got to learn to play hurt."

I still think of those words every single time I contemplate pulling the plug on a client or new business meeting because I’m battling a cold or stomach virus. And, nine times out of 10, I’ll suck it up and attend the meeting knowing that Tuck’s damn words would haunt me for the rest of the day if I didn’t.

I hope that wherever Tuck is today, he’s not feeling any pain whatsoever.

We miss you, Tuck. And, we hope you’ll be playing healthy for eternity.

Mar 01

Attitude, Arrogance and A-Rod

Attitude, arrogance and A-Rod seem to go together like soup and sandwich or love and marriage.

Why do so many uber athletes like A-Rod, Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong not only cheat, but maintain an aloof, arrogant attitude that alienates millions while doing a major number on their image and reputation?

In our never-ending quest to seek answers to such weighty questions, we turned on our RepChatter microphones and invited Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr, a clinical associate professor at NYU’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management to show us the way.

Click on the link below to listen to one of the coolest podcasts we’ve recorded in a long, long time. And you MUST listen to Peppercommer Paul Merchan’s Rap introduction of the recording. Unlike A-Rod’s reputation, it’s priceless…..