May 30

An island in a sea of madness

Guess what cable network will be debuting such new shows as: 'Knitting Wars,' 'Bayou Eskimos,' 'The Dillionaire' and 'Married to a Mime'?

If you answered Insight and Arts, The Know Channel and Wonder Network, you'd be 100 percent correct (and part of an inside joke perpetrated by WNET, NYC's local PBS Channel).

Channel 13 has long stood for classic programming, ranging from ‘Masterpiece Theater’ and ‘The American Experience’ to ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Antiques Roadshow’.

Now, though, in a highly creative membership drive to attract 50,000 new viewers, WNET is finally taking off the gloves and smacking mainstream reality TV shows and networks such as The History Channel, A&E and TLC upside the head.

It's a brilliant, breakthrough campaign that features posters sprinkled throughout Manhattan.

The faux TV programs are pictured on the left side of the visual with words on the right that read, “The fact that you thought this was a real show says a lot about the state of TV.” Amen, brother. Amen.

Kellie Spector, senior director of communications and marketing at WNET, says the campaign's intent is to position the local PBS affiliate as, “an island in a sea of madness.”
And, that it is.

It's a sad commentary that reality TV shows have become the currency of the realm in modern broadcasting. And, each new reality show seems to go one step further into the abyss that is mindless prime-time programing.

At a recent meeting of television advertisers the broadcasting industry calls their “up-fronts,” comedian Jimmy Kimmel told a collective group of marketers, “Welcome to the up-fronts where the networks throw sh*t at the wall and see what sticks. Guess what? You're the wall.”

Thank god we DO have the island that is PBS. And, for the record, I cannot wait to see the premiere episode of Knitting Wars. Those darning needles look positively lethal and, I for one, am just spoiling to see some blood spilled.

May 29

Do you know how your company makes money?

004-1205110916-printing-moneyBeing a business leader is more important than being an employee communicator, according to a new research paper from the Institute for Public Relations.
Entitled, 'Best-In-Class Practices in Employee Communication: Through the Lens of 10 Global Leaders,' the paper features in-depth interviews with leaders of 10 top global corporations, and is now available free on the IPR website
"It's imperative that chief communications officers understand the business objectives of their organization," says Keith Burton, partner, Brunswick Group, and one of the paper's authors. "Otherwise, we'll never build credibility. While this seems fundamental, it's clear that as we talk to CCOs about the most important skills and competencies for the future, they ALL speak to being a business strategist."
Another of the paper's authors, Gary Grates, principal, W20 Group, added: "You have to know how your company makes money."
It seems to this me that understanding the business of an organization's business, being able to read a balance sheet and grasping the importance of a penny rise or fall in a company's stock remains the Achilles Heel of the PR industry. Whether it's employee communications, publicity or social media, far too few PR practitioners possess the business and financial acumen to truly command the respect of the CEO and CFO. And, therein lies the importance of this new work from IPR.
Other key findings of the IPR research include:
– The importance of listening, and establishing listening posts within a corporation. Burton says, 'The best-in-class companies have learned to focus on their audiences over the growing array of channels and vehicles available to them,' he said. Burton quoted the top employee communicator from FedEx, who told the IPR team, "It's not social media needs. It's not Facebook. It's not Twitter. It's not LinkedIn. It's the audience. What does the audience need to be effective? That's what we focus on."
– As for listening posts, Burton says great companies value feedback and view it as a gift, whether it's good or bad. They conduct regular engagement studies. They 'pulse' employees through focus groups, and challenge teams and online communities to test message platforms and programs. At J&J, for example, the men and women who live the values and beliefs enumerated in the company's historic credo are called 'Credo Champions' and tasked to listen, communicate and carry what they've learned back to their leaders.
The IPR paper also stresses "relentlessly reinforcing message platforms and the path forward through a dedicated content strategy and using measurement and key metrics to prove that employee communications programs are helping the workforce achieve key objectives."
In addition to FedEx and J&J, participating corporations included: Cargill, Chevron, GE, IBM, McDonald's, Navistar, Petrobras and Toyota.
Burton and Grates are part of the IPR's Commission on Organizational Communications, which authored the paper. Other members include: Bruce Berger, Ph.D., Professor of Public Relations and Advertising, University of Alabama, Peter Debreceny, Consultant, Gagen MacDonald and Frank Ovaitt, President and CEO, IPR. Execution of the research was led by Colleen Learch, Vice President, KRC Research.
The paper is the first of three major IPR initiatives in 2013 and '14. (Note: the qualitative results will be followed by a quantitative survey). The second project is entitled 'Building Organizational Clarity.' The final one will take a deep dive into the role of generational differences and how they affect engagement and employee communications.
I urge all Repman readers to review the report. In addition to providing a fascinating glimpse into the best employee communications practices of 10 global leaders, it also reinforces the fundamental challenge facing the entire industry: when (and how) will we become true business leaders?

May 28

Telling it like it is

41582_126079487427935_8349_nHow many CEOs would agree to a grilling at the hands of ‘CBS This Morning’ right after being hammered by Consumer Reports for providing the very worst customer service? Ben Baldanza of Spirit Airlines would. Check out this link.

I admire the way Baldanza handled every question, stayed on message and unapologetically boasted about his airline’s many accomplishments. Sure, the flying experience stinks, admitted Baldanza, but customers get where they want to go for less, do so safely and can spend the savings on more important things. Spirit Airlines’ shareholders also benefit financially.

How refreshing to see any CEO of any large company admit the truth! With Baldanza and Spirit Airlines, what you see is what you get. You also get what you pay for: a truly horrific experience the company actually reinforces in its advertising!

The world would be a better place if more business leaders followed Baldanza’s lead, and lived by the words of fabled ABC sportscaster, Howard Cosell, who said about his reporting, “I’m just telling it like it is.”

May 23

Politics does, indeed, make for strange bedfellows

MooseNo doubt encouraged by Republican Mark Sanford's Phoenix-like rise from the ashes in South Carolina, disgraced sexting politician, Anthony Weiner, just announced his run for the New York mayoral gig.

I think Weiner has a decent shot to win the Democratic nomination and go on to become New York's first sexting mayor (Note: Had the technology been available to him, I'm sure Jimmy Walker would have texted inappropriate photos of himself to adoring females in the Roaring '20s).

The re-emergence of Sanford and Weiner says a great deal about the image and reputation of politics and politicians (and our society at large).

Politics is no longer seen as a higher calling. It's no longer attracting the best and brightest. Instead, it's become a haven for the dysfunctional and misguided.

One need only look at the morass inside the Beltway to see that partisan, power politics have become the currency of the realm. And, egregious behavior no longer assures a misbehaving politician a one-way ticket to Palookaville. That's because Washington, D.C has become Palookaville.

It doesn't bode well for a country that's already falling behind China, India and other emerging nations to have so few, true leaders from which to choose.

I'm not sure when it happened, but the media's insatiable thirst for gossip, rumor and sleaze has certainly dissuaded many otherwise able individuals to take a pass on politics (think: Colin Powell). As a result, we're stuck with the likes of Sanford, Weiner, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, among others.

Sadly, I don't see the situation improving. In fact, we may soon be voting in a presidential race that pits Sanford and Lindsay Lohan against Weiner and Britney Spears. And, the scariest thing about my previous line is that it isn't too far-fetched.

May 22

The Clayton Cut-Off

People_who_say_Literally_Stand_Up_Comedy_A recent Leadership IQ webinar invite elicited a silent chuckle from this blogger.

I chuckled because the e-vite addressed the bane of all modern-day speakers: attracting the attention of an ADD, multi-tasking audience.

Judging by their note, Leadership IQ seems to have endless ways in which to improve content, foster an interactive dialogue and get Crackberry addicts to stop texting and start listening.

Trust me. None of those techniques work with hard-core multi-taskers. But, the Clayton Cut-Off does. I should know. I've seen Peppercomm's chief comedy officer (and the Jerry Lewis of Sweden), Clayton Fletcher ( demonstrate it to disrupt a disruptive audience.

Once, in the middle of his stand-up comedy act, Clayton paused and looked directly at a young woman in the front row who was busy banging out a text message. “Nice,” said Clayton, “Here I am pursuing my dream and you're going back-and-forth with Suzie on whether to have pizza or pick-up guys later tonight. Thank you for that.”

It was beautiful. The entire audience laughed. The texting terrorist ceased and desisted for the rest of Clayton's set. And, even better, no one else even glanced at his, or her, mobile device for fear of being publicly humiliated in the same way.

That particular line probably won't work in a serious business meeting, but I have adapted the Clayton Cut-Off in workplace settings. For example:

– One time I spied a prospect banging away on his iPhone as I walked his team through Peppercomm's 'big idea.' I knew I'd lost him, so I opted for the Cut-Off: “I can tell you really like this particular idea because I see you're e-mailing it to others in your company as we speak. I'm flattered,” I said, staring at the perpetrator. The room went silent. The prospect grinned, put the mobile device down and sat up straight.

– Another time, I noticed the CCO of a telecommunications company had been banging away on her Blackberrry throughout our presentation. Since she was the ultimate decision-maker, I knew we were dead. So, I summed up our 90-minute session by looking directly at her, and asking, “Ann, is there anything about Edelman, or our suite of services, we didn't cover that you'd like us to address today?” She didn't bat an eye, kept on typing and said, “Nope. I'm good.” C'est la vie.

Presenting in front of multi-tasking audience members is a real bummer for anyone in our field (or, any field for that matter). That's why I subscribe to the Clayton Fletcher method of re-gaining a group's attention.

I use humor to distract and disengage the guilty parties. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But, I can tell you one thing: aside from walking on water, there is NO silver bullet when it comes to disrupting a disruptive audience. So, why not have some fun and give the Clayton Cut-Off an audition?

So, do you have any great mult-tasking audience war stories you'd like to share? If so, send them my way. I can't promise I won't be texting someone on my BB when you do, but I'll do my best to stay focused and respond.

May 21

Passion vs. profits?

Hard-time-for-jean-valjeanLike many business leaders, I've always advised college and university students, protégés and the occasional street person to follow his or her passion in life.

Whether it's anthropology, aeronautics or astronomy, I've counseled young people to become experts in the area that most interests them, and then believe the salary and career path will follow suit.

Well, according to Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, I'm wrong.

In a recent article in The New York Times that was excerpted from Newport's book, ‘So Good They Can't Ignore You; Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love', he says you can still be happy even if you hate your work! Say what?

Newport contends “…the notion we all have a pre-existing passion waiting to be discovered applies to only a small group of people and puts a lot of pressure on the rest of us.”

As a result, says Newport, when the going gets tough, the majority of people have “an existential moment in which they ask: is this really what I'm meant to be doing?”

The academic believes this doubt, in turn, generates anxiety and chronic job-hopping.

Newport may be right about other professions, but not public relations. I don't think many PR people hate their craft. They may hate their employer, but PR is an art, not a science. It's not like accounting, the law or Wall Street. I've always believed that one either loves or hates PR from the get-go. It either becomes part of your DNA and, yes, your passion, or it doesn't.

That's why when young people do leave Peppercomm after a year or so, most opt for an entirely different profession (teaching is far, and away, number one).

I still believe young people should pursue their passions in life. And, I disagree with Professor Newport that if one applies oneself to one's job and becomes more proficient, a sense of fulfillment will accrue over time. Lots of people make lots of money on Wall Street, but I've yet to meet one who says he's developed a greater sense of fulfillment over the years. Wall Streeters work on Wall Street for one reason: to make big bucks. And, most hate their jobs.

As far as I'm concerned, the decision is easy: follow your passion and hope you make decent bucks down the road or settle for a job you hate and learn to like it as you get better at it. Since we have only one life to lead, I couldn't imagine following Dr. Newport's advice or working at a job I hate.

May 20

Angels in the Brand World?

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Maggie O'Neill.

Grand-central-haloAs a semi-lapsed Irish Catholic, my memories of halos are all stained glass windows and guardian angels. 

But today, it’s the brand halo that would-be, angelic marketers are chasing.  But can we create one, manage one or keep one -  that is the real question.  Or is someone else, i.e. the consumer, calling the shots?

So non-angelic halos are the rippling effect that one good, or bad, product, deed or development can have on an entire corporation.  Apple has a halo effect – think I love my iPad therefore I will get a Mac.  Samsung sells refrigerators because people love their cell phones.  A few good shows are driving Netflix buzz.  The preceding are examples of how halo effects of one product or service drives brand preference. 

And yes, there are fallen angels and broken halos.  Think recalls, environmental dumping, bad leadership.

So as a marketer what can you do?  Nurture the halo yes; create it no. 

Consumers make or break a corporation’s halo.  If they believe in a brand or product, their preference, loyalty and hard earned dollars feed into that brand’s corporate entity (something easy to ID nowadays with one Google search). 

But companies, if aware of the halo effect’s existence, can certainly nurture it.  And, if an organization thinks they can hide from it, they need to pull their head out of the sand, and fast. Some believe no one will ever know the company behind their brand, or care if they try to brush one little misstep under the rug.  Untrue.  Each, and every, move can polish or dull the halo.

Second, companies need to look beyond the bells and whistles that first made their consumer brand loyal, and talk to their audience about the benefits that matter most to them.  An oven isn’t just about cooking and a camera isn’t about the best zoom in the industry.  They’re about taking care of family and creating memories, respectively.

Finally, it’s about doing good.  Not just CSR type of good— which does help support both brand and corporate— but doing good as a company: treat employees well, provide unmatched customer service, embrace practices that think about a company’s impact on the world.  This is a lot to think about, but an every increasingly important element to the savvy consumer. In a recent white paper on this, we found that companies like Unilever have 10-year plans to achieve a sustainable halo effect.  

So as Sister Anne Marie always told me, if I was a good girl, nice to my classmates, and did what I was supposed to, I would be rewarded.  With the three nurturing thoughts above, and with a long-term vision and commitment to transparency and constancy, I guess that’s true for brands too. 


May 17

Does A+F deserve an A or an F?

Join Matt Conroy and Steve Cody as they debate the outcry over Abercrombie + Fitch's controversial sales policy. Watch as moderator Ted Birkhahn flails helplessly in an attempt to keep both combatants from engaging in fisticuffs in this latest installment of PepperView ("Where frank talk is never out of fashion."):

Oh, and feel free to post your comments in support of Steve's far more open-minded POV.

May 16

From here to eternity

WIMPY copyAccording to published reports in Ad Age, Procter & Gamble is now extending the time it takes to pay agencies.

Effective immediately, P&G will stretch payment terms to 75 days from the previous 45-day limit.

But, if you think waiting two-and-a-half months to be paid is brutal, check this out: Ad Age reports that Anheuser-Busch Inbev recently set its payment terms to 120 days AFTER it receives an invoice. So, if one were to bill A-B as the flowers are just beginning to blossom, it may not receive payment until the first frost occurs. Talk about a chilling effect!

Stretching out agency payment terms is a direct result of the rise in power and prestige of the procurement officer. Hired specifically to cut costs and improve profits, the average procurement officer sees no difference whatsoever between a strategic public relations firm and, say, a local Staples. He demands the lowest costs possible and strings along the payment to the most ridiculous lengths imaginable. And, his incentive program is based upon how hard he squeezes the company's suppliers. Nice way to make a living, no?

And, while PR trade publications have spotlighted 'enlightened' procurement officers who view their agencies as partners, the facts are very much the opposite. The P in procurement stands for pain, not partner.

We once represented a large company whose procurement officer insisted we front ALL of their out-of-pocket expenses for events. This was not a minimal request. At various points in time, we were on the hook for paying $100,000, or more, to secure venues, talent, street teams, etc. And, we weren't reimbursed until months afterwards. In effect, a $16 million agency was forced to be a Fortune 500 corporation's bank.

I'd like to see our industry trade groups and media do more than shine a spotlight on the small number of procurement officers who respect what we do and understand our need for prompt payment. I think it's high time a PR trade publish a story like the one in Ad Age that outs these penny-pinching penny pushers.

Make no mistake that, as they continue to wield more and more power and stretch out payments to an even more egregious period of time, procurement officers will begin to impact many firms' ability to attract and retain top talent (because a cash-strapped agency is a non-competitive one). And, our industry's journalists have a responsibility to cover the story.

May 15

Give me Samoa room!

IMG_1894I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy, but when someone else's lifestyle choice impacts my quality of life, I put virtual pen to paper and bang out a blog.

Take obesity. Please!

Were it within my power to do so, I'd award Samoa Air an automatic first-class upgrade for charging passengers for the combined weight of their bodies and baggage. Now, that's what I call accountability.

Having just shared puddle-jumpers to, and from, Rapid City, SD, I was genuinely bothered by:

– A 600-pound seat mate whose sheer bulk forced me to sit sideways for the two-hour flight (where my left shoulder was repeatedly scraped by the beverage cart)
– A very real fear that the number of grossly obese passengers might prevent the puddle-jumper from jumping the puddles along our route.

I'm not alone in my belief that airlines need to crack down on passengers whose eating habits have made them land-locked wide bodies.

According to a public opinion survey from YouGov, an Internet market research firm, four in 10 Americans say they wouldn't mind being weighed at airports. I'd put the scales right by the security areas ("Ma’am, you'll have to put down the double cheeseburger, fries and supersized Coke before stepping on the scales.").

I also believe airlines should enforce a second seat policy. If you can't squeeze your Big Mac-bloated frame into one seat, then buy a second one.

Last, but not least, why should the comfort (and safety) of slim, fit Americans be compromised by their bulky peers? That very same YouGuv survey I quoted earlier says 60 percent of Americans agree with me.

So, here's hoping other American airlines follow Samoa Air's flight pattern.

If our population won't take the personal responsibility to lead a more healthy lifestyle, maybe our airlines can hit them where it hurts most: that money belt attached to their 52-inch waistlines. Paying for an extra seat has to be cheaper than forking over the serious cash needed for gastric bypass or stomach band surgery.