May 14

The devil’s in the details

Devils towerIt occurred to me after my son and I summited The Devil's Tower in Wyoming this past Saturday that, strange as it seems, there are some striking similarities between climbing and public relations.

As our superb guide, Art Mooney tells us again and again, climbing is a puzzle.

It's an intricate physical, mental and emotional challenge that presents limitless obstacles and choices. Select the proper hand grip and foot hold and, voila, you'll ascend to the next level. Make the wrong move, though, or rely too much on power over precision, and you'll find yourself just as easily hurtling downwards.

PR is the same way. Whether it's a properly crafted pitch letter, a thoroughly researched proposal or a well-rehearsed presentation, the devil is, indeed, in the details.

I've been on the right and wrong side of detail-reading in climbing and business.

With the latter, I can remember missing some MAJOR details, such as:

– Projecting a Google Earth map to illustrate a special events tour to a group of arch-rival Yahoo executives. Happily, they laughed off the excruciatingly painful mistake and handed us their account.
– Projecting a visual in the middle of a new business presentation and being stopped in our tracks by the prospect's CMO, who asked: “You do know that's our competitor's product, correct?” That cost us the business.
– Butchering a prospect's name. Believe it or not, one of our partners mixed up a prospect's first and last names repeatedly during a new business pitch. So, client and agency members alike winced as Neil Norum became “Norm” for a full 90-minute pitch. Call him what you will, but call us deader than a door nail after that virtuoso performance.

On the plus side, I remember rolling out of bed the morning after PR Week had named us agency of the year.

We were staying at our corporate apartment and neither Ed nor I had any interest (much less strength) in rushing to a previously scheduled new business pitch with Donald Marron, the CEO of none other than Paine Webber!

But, being the new business troopers that we were, Ed and I threw on our wrinkled tuxedos from the previous night (neither of us had clean clothes) and showed up unwashed and 45 minutes late.

Marron's personal assistant was aghast at our appearance, but she nonetheless ushered us into his football-sized office. Marron took one look at us, smiled and said, “Rough night, eh boys?” We nodded our heads. “Sit down,” he said. “I need to figure out how to reach dotcom millionaires, and my gut tells me you're the ones to help me.” He hired us on the spot. Go figure.

I guess on that day, the detail was in sucking it up and attending a meeting we had no business whatsoever in winning.

Art Mooney will tell you there are some routes you have no business summiting but, by a combination of skill, chutzpah and taking the time to read the details, you end up on the top regardless. And, I can tell you the same holds true for PR.

May 13

Five Lessons from Dad

Today's guest post is by Peppercomm president, Ted Birkhahn.

Father-son-silhouette((Note from Rep: While I'm climbing in Wyoming, Peppercomm President and Partner Ted Birkhahn, has whipped up a very special guest blog. Enjoy. And, let Ted know what you think of his lessons.)

This month marks the 26th anniversary of my father’s death. He passed away suddenly and without warning from a brain aneurysm on a brilliantly beautiful Saturday morning. I was 12. My life would never be the same.

I didn’t get much time with my dad, but the time I did spend with him has paid off in spades. Here’s what I’ve taken from him and learned from the experience of losing him at such an early age.

1.)    Don’t sweat the small stuff: It’s easy in life and business to focus on the wrong things. We often obsess over issues and events that have very little impact on the big picture. Prioritizing where and what to stress over is critical. Stress on the things that matter, which is to say the things you have control over and that will have a significant impact on the desired outcome – whatever that may be.

2.)    Common sense: In the global information economy, common sense is the new currency. With a world where power and influence has shifted to the masses and the web has forever changed how we live and work, the missteps made by those who lack common sense are amplified. Conversely, those who apply smart street sense rooted in strong common sense will separate themselves from the pack. We recently had an employee resign and for no good reason burn multiple bridges; a short-sighted move that will no doubt come back to haunt this individual. An example of a lack of common sense failing for the entire world to see.

3.)    Laugh: Humor and the ability to see the lighter side of most circumstances will make you a nicer person. Your friends, family and co-workers will enjoy you more. There’s always a time and place to be serious but the ability to laugh or even smile will put others at ease and make you more endearing. This is true at home and in the workplace. Think about a boss that you’ve had that wouldn’t know humor if it landed in their lap. Now think of another boss who embraced humor in everything they did. With whom are you likely to be more loyal or use as a mentor?

4.)    Smell the roses: I rarely do this, but we really should stop and smell the roses more often. We don’t celebrate our accomplishments often enough. Too many of us go from one task, job and right of passage to another without reflection. What’s the point of succeeding if you don’t enjoy it along the way?

5.)    Family first: I save the most important lesson for last. Most of us want to succeed. We want to make money and earn recognition for the work we do. We crave getting that promotion and we want to achieve financial security that will allow us to ride off into the sunset. Heck, many just want to get rich. None of it — and I mean nothing – matters if you don’t put family first.  Having breakfast with your kids. Taking the day off to be with your significant other. Whatever your family situation is, investing in it will make you happier and more successful at work…and in life.

As my wife, kids and colleagues will attest, I don’t always practice what I preach, but I am trying. Twenty six years ago was a hellish day followed by lots of ups and downs. But the silver lining is that bad things can make you stronger.  And, perhaps, that is the most important lesson of all.

May 09

Who do you trust?

WhodoyoutrustA survey of 1,000 Americans asking them to name our country's 100 most trusted individuals revealed that Tim Tebow is more trusted than Anderson Cooper and Alex Trebek ranks higher than former president Jimmy Carter.

Yes, Virginia, Americans place more trust in a washed-up NFL quarterback and a game show host than they do in a respected journalist and former president and humanitarian, respectively. Now, that's scary.

But, wait. It gets better.

According to The Reader's Digest poll, Americans trust TV judges more than Supreme Court judges. So, yes, Judge Judy has more street cred than Chief Justice Roberts.

And Oprah isn't all that trustworthy after all. In fact, she finished a distant 59th, far behind such notably trustworthy folks as Eli and Peyton Manning, Dr. Oz and Muhammad Ali. I feel your pain, girl. I do!

In case you're interested, Tom Hanks is America's most trusted American.

In fact, the top four most trusted Americans are actors: Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. What does it say about our society when the people we trust most earn their living by pretending to be other people?

Not surprisingly, business executives polled poorly. Jeff Bezos of Amazon was the most trusted American businessman, finishing in the 78th spot just behind Ben Stiller. Having seen Starsky & Hutch, I can see why Stiller won.

As for organized religion, not a single Roman Catholic cardinal made the list. So much for the media frenzy surrounding Pope Benedict's successor.

I hate to say it, but the Reader's Digest survey is yet another indicator that the land of the free and the home of the brave is in steep decline.

If our president is ranked 65th (just behind comedian Adam Sandler) and Rachel Ray engenders more trust than Colin Powell, then we're in a world of hurt. Or, to put it more succinctly, a world of denial.

Americans believe most in those who can help them escape reality.

And a tip o’ Rep’s cap to Thomas J. Powers, Jr.* for suggesting this post.

* Thom is a Leukemia and Lymphoma
Society Man of the Year Candidate. Please support this charity and
"vote" for Thom by donating to the LLS: Click here.

May 08

Three shades of rude

I liked themnnnnnn
My perception of an organization is almost always formed by the experiences I've had with one of its representatives.

As a result, Comcast, New Jersey Transit and United Airlines reign unchallenged as my personal customer experience Axis of Evil.

Recently, though, I had separate experiences with three brands for whom I'd hitherto held in high regard.

In each case, a single representative's behavior resulted in changing my perceptions of the entire organization. Here's what happened:

1) A journalist at a top trade told my assistant he was flying to the States just to interview little, old me. I was flattered, and rearranged my schedule accordingly. The morning of the interview, though, he canceled. No explanation. No apology. Nothing.

2) The president of a local sports team set a meeting with me, asked me how to improve his team's horrific image, requested a proposal and then never, ever, returned my e-mails or calls.

3) The human resources director of a company that is synonymous with world class customer service invited me to a meeting in her Western headquarters. I flew out the night before, holed up in a hotel, hopped in a cab the next morning and strolled into the legendary reception area only to be told, “Sorry, Jane wasn't feeling well and went home. Would you like a tour?” That was it. No apology. No re-scheduled meeting. Just an out-of-pocket expense for $2,000, and two full days lost forever.

Rudeness seems to have become the currency of the realm nowadays. Sadly, though, the three individuals named above haven't figured out that they ARE the brand. And, thanks to them, whenever someone mentions the company names to me, I recoil in disgust.

How telling is it that businesses everywhere are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into improving customer experience without realizing some of their top executives are simultaneously undermining their image and reputation by simple rudeness?

May 07

When Listening to Your Audience Leads to Magic (Not Illusions)

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Colin Reynolds.

Robert-Houdin - Ethereal Suspension illusionA couple of weeks ago while strolling down 5th Avenue here in New York, I walked by something that immediately caught my eye and filled me with great joy. Something that even just a year ago I wouldn’t have believed: a promotional poster for a new season of Arrested Development.

There was Michael Bluth in all his glory. Reincarnate. Television’s Lazarus.

As one of the millions of fans that have continued to support the show despite its untimely demise after just three magnificent seasons, I’m thrilled by the news that this month will bring new life to the Bluth family. Just not life as we knew it.

The streaming media provider Netflix is responsible for resurrecting Arrested Development and in doing so, Netflix successfully resurrected its own brand. But it’s not just Netflix that saved the Bluths. Nor did the Bluths save Netflix. Not exactly anyway.

When unceremoniously cancelled by FOX in 2006, Arrested Development attained nearly instant cult-status and fostered a following of wide-eyed, digital-savvy supporters that salivated over any update.  This audience craved closure with a TV family it had grown to adore but whose cries for a fourth season fell on deaf network ears.
Now let’s jump forward a couple of years and into Netflix headquarters circa 2011. The company announced it would split into two groups and charge separately for streaming content and DVD rentals. They’d renege on that plan after just a few months due in large part to the subsequent customer revolt and dramatic stock plunge – and soon it had a subscription base that resembled the television ratings for professional bowling. By October 2012, the company was reporting a drastic drop of 88% in third quarter profits as well as significant subscriber loss and the brand was in desperate need of resuscitating.

So it bucked convention, listened to an audience screaming to be heard, and shifted its focus. This year, the company has completely reinvigorated its stock by launching all new original programming including hit shows like Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards and Eli Roth’s thriller Hemlock Grove – and most importantly, the much anticipated return of Arrested Development.  

In a recent PR Week article on Netflix’s remarkable turnaround, Jim Joseph, president of North America at Cohn & Wolfe was quoted as saying, “Netflix did something fundamental: they listened to people…They’re really paying attention to what consumers are asking for, and they’re giving it to them.”

If listening to your audience is so fundamental and can produce such sweeping results, why is it so seldom applied? What Netflix did shouldn’t be considered revolutionary or outside-of-the-box, but rather standard practice. Simple supply and demand. Common sense.

And yet, listening – as a way to actively pay attention as well as understand and engage with an audience – is still a rarity.

By focusing on and developing exceptional original programming, as well as bringing back a fan favorite, Netflix proved that it’s made tremendous strides in understanding and reacting to its audience. They’ve examined the ongoing conversation, not from a measurement or statistical standpoint, but rather contextually to garner perspective and react in a strategic manner and give its audience what it wants. And while ROIs are effective to capture a feel for the broader landscape, a company stays truly relevant by understanding the conversation, who’s saying what and why, and then adjusting to meet the needs of those consumers. Anyone watching Netflix should see that this strategy is paying off big time; the Netflix stock has nearly tripled and the service currently has more than 33 million users and more US subscribers than HBO. 

Netflix has kicked off 2013 in a dramatic fashion – and not just because of what happened on House of Cards. The company demonstrated that listening to its audience can have a monumental impact on the bottom line. And in doing so, they’ve made multitude of long-suffering TV fans rejoice as an added bonus.    

The Bluth’s have risen! They have risen indeed!  


May 06

The man men love to hate

Designall.dllThe April 22nd edition of Advertising Age published a fascinating segment entitled, ‘Pop Thermometer’ in which editors determined “What’s Hot and What’s Not this Spring.”

In addition to such categories as: Favorite Jennifer, Louisiana-set Reality Shows, Viral Animal Attraction and Comfy DRTV Product, 'Ad Age' spotlighted the Woman Women Love to Hate, and listed who was trending (Sheryl Sandberg), who was trailing (Anne Hathaway) and who was tired (Sarah Palin).

So, in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d take a stab at identifying the Man Men Love to Hate. 
Here goes:
1.) Trending: Justin Bieber. He’s our gender’s answer to Lindsay Lohan, and a worthy successor to Charlie Sheen.
2.) Trailing: Alex Rodriguez. This despicable excuse of a man is once again injured and, alas, out of the spotlight for the early part of the season. That said, look for a whole lot of hate when A-Rod finally does set foot again in Yankee Stadium.
3.)Tired: Lance Armstrong. We guys are so over this non-apologetic, smug, blood doping bully. 

Note: I’d also add two honorable mentions:

4.) President Barack Obama: Who is positively despised by any, and every, Red Stater.
5.) Congressional Republicans: Who voted against background checks on gun purchases, and are hated by any, and every, Blue Stater. As Adolphus Busch IV, heir to the Busch family brewing fortune said after resigning his membership in the National Rifle Association, ‘The NRA appears to have evolved into the lobby for gun and ammunition manufacturers rather than gun owners.’

So, how about you?

Do you agree with my Men Men Love to Hate list?

If not, who would you add or delete? Ladies: Feel free to weigh in as well. I promise not to hate anyone.

May 03

I Should Have Listened To You

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Jackie Kolek.

Listen-or-Ignore-Button-945x1024You’ve said that phrase a million times.  To your parents, teachers, boss, friends and spouse (well, maybe not that last one).  We all have those moments in our lives where we smack our own heads and say “ugh, I should have listened to you.”  In their new “It’s No Secret” ad campaign, JCPenney is smacking its collective heads and offering a public apology for alienating its core customer base and admitting that they just should have listened. 

The ad campaign came three weeks after CEO Ron Johnson was ousted after making dramatic changes (including shifting the name to JCP) and three days after the company relaunched their social media efforts under the hash tag #jcpListens.  While the advertising pundits debate whether or not this was the right move for the brand, audiences seem to be responding.  Recent comments on the Facebook page are generating thousands of likes and comments, mostly positive.  Time will tell if the campaign goes far enough and if they can really woo back their customers, but people are responding. 

While the apology is nice, the fact that JCPenney is actively listening to its customers is the big news here.  I don’t think that customers are responding positively to the apology, but rather people just like to be heard.  Sadly, JCP is just one in a long line of brands, from Netflix to Dominos that had to learn the hard way that they need to listen to their customers and meet them on their own terms.  In the case of JCPenney, Ron Johnson actually ignored two audiences – those that currently shopped at the store and the young, more modern audience he was trying to attract.  His coupon cuts and new styles alienated his core shoppers and he failed to realize that the group he was trying to attract would simply never consider shopping there.

Peppercomm worked for several years with a leading off-price retailer.  Their goal was not to increase the amount that people spent in their stores, but instead to get people who would never consider shopping there to come in.  In order to understand this mindset, we conducted an Audience Experience audit to experience the brand through the mind of this consumer.  Our big a-ha?  It was all about the hunt – finding that designer shoe or perfect picture.  Our strategy focused on the “Thrill of the Find” and centered around getting fashion bloggers to come in and experience the store.  No amount of messaging or advertising would work, they had to experience it for themselves.  The program was hugely successful and created hundreds of ambassadors who were spreading positive brand messages on our behalf.

While certainly not the first, I am sure JCPenney won’t be the last brand that makes a major misstep because they simply should have listened.  If there is one lesson brands should learn from this case study, it’s to listen first, last and always. 

May 01

A transmedia love story

My love affair with Zeno Radio had a rocky start.

As I reported in a recent blog, the advertising sales company tried convincing me to buy their services to reach immigrant groups in the U.S.

I responded by saying that, while we’re always interested in advertising to immigrants, we were solely focused on height-challenged ones. That didn’t sit well with Yossi, Zeno’s lead spammer. You can read our increasingly heated exchange here.

Quickly, though, Yossi and I declared a truce, and wished each other well.

And, that’s when this budding romance truly took root.

Unbeknownst to me, Yossi alerted Zeno Radio’s telemarketers in India about their spamming of Peppercomm. The ladies then created this amazing YouTube video in which they not only apologize, but profess their undying love of me.

I was smitten, dazzled (and head over heels in love with all things Zeno Radio).

So, I enlisted Peppercomm’s newly-minted Account Supervisor and rapper par excellence Paul Merchan to pay homage to Yossi & The Supremes. Click below to listen.

Talk about all’s well that ends well. I now adore Zeno Radio and, the next time someone stops me on the street and asks, “Hey, buddy, can you spare some change and recommend an advertising service that pinpoints immigrant group in America,” I’ll know exactly who to refer.