Jun 30

Play with fire

do_not_set_yourself_on_fireWhen prompted, I always tell people I’ve fathered three children: Chris, Catharine and Peppercomm.

And, even though Chris is 29, Cat’s 25 and the firm’s about to turn 19, I still obsess about the health and well-being of each.

I mention this because a group of former Peppercomm employees have decided to bully my third child on Instagram.  The abuse began shortly after we bid adieu to a few of them in the aftermath of losing Whirlpool in 2012.

As first, we let it go.

But, the mean-spirited, and unwarranted, comments continued unabated. And the haters always made sure to slam Peppercomm in the hashtags. For example, a recent wedding photograph posted on Instagram was accompanied by this comment: ‘We found love in a hopeless place. #Peppercousins.

That was the straw that broke this camel’s back. Or the match that ignited my inner fire, as the case may be.

I struck back and turned the abuser’s abusive words on her, posting: ‘We’re a far happier workplace after parting ways with some hopeless employees. #BurningBridges #HateIsaPoorCareerChoice #PRisASmallField. I think the last hash tag struck a nerve.

The antagonistic alumnus immediately applied privacy settings to her account. Ah, but unbeknownst to the poison pen poster, I have many, many sources and some haven’t been blocked by her. So, I will continue to be able to monitor, and protect, my baby from her onslaughts.

I need to coddle my third child because unsuspecting college students and professional colleagues may read the alum’s ill-advised and untrue rants, and believe them. And, that’s not good.

Oh, and by the way, this female Benedict Arnold is dead to me. I will NOT provide any sort of reference beyond confirming employment dates, salary and title. And, that, in turn, will tip off any future employer that the alumnus is toxic. Some may see my actions as a tad heavy-handed. They aren’t. In my mind they’re a best practice in Agency Reputation Management 101.

Plus, as Sir Mick Jagger wrote long ago, ‘Don’t play with me because you play with fire.’

Jun 27

I’m younger than that now

Steve Chris mt washington .As I mark yet another birthday this weekend, it occurs to me that I feel younger, healthier and oh-so-much smarter than I was at, say, age 40.

That’s because, in the past decade, I’ve climbed scores of mountains, done a Tyrolean Traverse, performed stand-up comedy, trained with a professional boxer and helped build a $17 million strategic communications firm.

I’ve authored some 2,000 Repman blogs, penned more than 100 Inc.com columns and published one book.

I’ve also embraced lifelong learning and, despite my natural ineptness with anything technological, I’m Tweeting, re-Tweeting and posting on all sorts of social media channels.

I’ve done my best to raise money for charities that mean a great deal to me, and the people who are important to me. For example, I’ve completed several 220-mile cycling jaunts to support the Young Survival Coalition and organized stand-up fundraisers for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Autism Speaks, respectively. And, I’m currently organizing another one on July 25th to support my friend and trainer, Mario Godiva.

I’ve also made tons of mistakes along the way and, no doubt, hurt my share of people in the process. But, hey, I’m as far from perfect as the planet Neptune is from the sun.

All in all, I must say that the Steve Cody of 2014 could run friggin’ rings around the SC of, say, 1994. And, that’s a very good thing that many of my peers cannot state (or even contemplate).

In fact, I think and act younger now than I did then. The word sophomoric comes to mind.

As a result, I’m actually looking forward to the ageing process. Barring the unforeseen, I fully expect to accomplish (and be able to report on) a whole new set of experiences when I next take pause to write a blog on my birthday.

To paraphrase SNL’s Garrett Morris circa 1978: ‘Life’s been berry, berry good to me.'”

Jun 26

Bite me.

WalekPeppercomm’s Dmitriy loselevich is a Liverpool fan and a staunch supporter of Uruguayan soccer star Luis Suarez, despite his Mike Tyson-like biting of opponents. Ioselevich says the public reaction simply isn’t fair. He believes the same holds true for A-Rod.

Do you agree or disagree? Let us know. Enjoy the read and don’t bite anyone at your next meeting….

Child-bitingLuis Suarez bit someone (again) and now faces a potential ban from this year’s World Cup, one that he likely deserves. Biting is no way to play soccer and there’s nothing admirable about sinking your teeth into another man’s flesh just to help your country win a game.

But let’s cool it with all the hateful comments about Suarez being a disgrace to professional soccer. There are far worse role models out there than the diminutive Uruguayan, who despite having made some poor choices in his life is still by all accounts a great teammate and a loving father and husband.

Yet, such is the life of a public figure. Professional athletes, celebrities and politicians are all constantly subjected to a level of public scrutiny so intense that every action—no matter how small or random—is analyzed and debated to death by the hungry mass media until the story swells completely out of proportion.

This is precisely what happened with Alex Rodriguez, who repeatedly faced such scrutiny for allegedly taking performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod was a popular target for vitriolic sports reporters, with pundits such as the New York Daily News’ Bill Madden calling him “the Whitey Bulger of baseball, the most wanted criminal in the game’s history.” (Mr. Madden must not be familiar with Whitey’s rap sheet). The reality is that the guy took some drugs so that he could be better at this job. How is that any different from young bankers taking Adderall to stay focused?

Meanwhile, some of the true villains of the sporting world get celebrated for their shameless displays of machismo.

Take for example NFL linebacker James Harrison, who has likely shortened the lifespans of dozens of football players because of his reckless hits. Or famed NHL enforcer Marty McSorley, who has earned an astounding 225 fighting majors by pummeling his opponents into a bloody pulp. Don’t even get me started on Ray Lewis.

Yes, these are contact sports and some mutually assured destruction is to be expected. But despicable human beings permeate every sport, and Suarez is simply not one of them.

There is no excuse for what Suarez did and he should probably seek psychological help for his momentary outbursts of aggression. But let’s stop treating him like he’s Charles Manson in a soccer uniform.

He’s not a dog that deserves to be put down. He’s a human being who made a mistake. He’ll suffer the consequences and then return to terrorizing goalkeepers—this time with his legs instead of his teeth. What more could we ask for?

Jun 25

What’s so funny about comedy training…

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Marian Daniells.

glad-share-sense-humor-friendship-ecard-someecardsAfter I applied to work at Peppercomm, I heard whisperings about the firm’s comedy training, and researched more before my interviews. Having grown up in community and school theater, I assumed that the lessons gleaned from comedy training would be presentation skills – the confidence to stand up in front of strangers, the ability to improvise, the mastery of taking on a different identity (like, say, acting like a manager in the hopes of securing a promotion).

Comedy is performance, and in many cases, those skills apply – but it’s more than just standing up on stage. Steve and other Peppercomm execs meet with clients, spend a few minutes talking about TOAST (an acronym spouting the keys to good comedy – unbeknownst to me, there’s more to the art than “stand up and be funny”), and encourage people to face their colleagues and tell true, funny stories about their lives. The skillset you glean from comedy – storytelling, honesty, building rapport and confidence – is more robust than simple presentation skills, and can surely be applied to business situations.

Two weeks after starting to work here, I had the unique honor of shadowing Steve and Chief Comedy Officer Clayton while they boasted of the benefits of comedy to a top financial company. What struck me most about the experience was that Steve and Clayton played supporting roles. Sure, they threw in a teaching moment here, a PG-13 quip there… but the real headliners were the participants themselves.

After the first few bold volunteers had fallen on the metaphorical sword and come out unscathed, others finally loosened up. Some improvised (“Um, I didn’t really prepare anything”), some read from a notebook, some fired up the metaphorical grill and roasted their colleagues (to roaring laughter). It’s not easy to make a bunch of left-brained, jet-lagged financial types open up. Apparently comedy does the trick.

I won’t spoil the show for those interested in the comedy experience program. But I thought I’d share some of my fly-on-the-wall insights:

  • Background and acronyms are important – to a point. But the real value comes from challenging colleagues to take the stage, and learning in a kinesthetic and supportive environment.
  • Self-deprecating humor works miracles, as does roasting colleagues. With coworkers, some subjects can be “sticky,” as one participant noted. But everyone can appreciate shared experiences, or knowledge gleaned from water cooler gossip.
  • For those who are nervous – breathe easy. I was shocked to find that nervousness actually came across as enthusiasm, and made performances better.
  • According to CCO Clayton, the chemical response that results from laughing is identical to that from eating chocolate or falling in love. So laughing together is one sure-fire way to solidify office relationships – you’re almost literally falling in love with your colleagues.
Jun 20

The check’s in the mail


It came as no surprise to this blogger that Mars Inc., recently joined the ranks of Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and Anheuser-Busch InBev by announcing they’d “seek” longer payment terms from suppliers.

I placed the word seek in quotes because the longer payment terms aren’t a request, they’re an ultimatum (as in: “Do you want to keep representing us? Then, you’ll wait to be paid. Period.”).

I’m not surprised that 120-days is now becoming the standard payment cycle among giant consumer brands. And, let’s be honest, it won’t be long before two things happen:

– Every brand follows suit.

– The payment cycle is extended by another 30 days.

Why? Because clients can do whatever they please. That’s why. And, rare indeed is the agency that will walk away from a million-dollar- plus client relationship.

But, as chilling as the parsimonious big brand decision is, it pales in contrast to what some smaller, lesser known clients will do to their agency partners.

We, for example, find ourselves in the midst of attempting to collect some $40,000 from a small client. They’ve agreed to comply with a payment plan that will see us receiving what’s owed us in $5,000 increments. Since our payments depend upon the client being paid by their derelict customers, we could be looking at the year 2020 before we’re made whole.

But, what options do we have? It would cost more in legal expenses to take the non-paying client to court. And such an action is a major distraction to our finance staff. So, we’re stuck.

We were also placed in a helpless position when our largest client of seven years decided that Peppercomm would front the out-of-pocket deposit costs for every one of their PR-related projects in advance. Nice, no? And, a la Mars, this household name would finally get around to reimbursing us about 180 days AFTER the event occurred. So, in effect, we became the client’s bank for about six months. I joked at the time that we should change our firm’s name to The Ed & Steve Savings & Loan Company.

So, despite everything the PR trades groups and industry media would have you believe, we agency types are still seen as vendors in the eyes of client purchasing managers. Sure, some chief communications officers offer us a seat at the oh-so-coveted C-suite table, but their boss cares far more about her profitability and stock price than she does the counsel of an external PR firm (Note: the exception to the previous statement occurs when the client organization finds itself in the midst of a high-profile crisis. Then, and only, then, will our bills be paid promptly, and with a ‘Thanks for being there for us’ cover note attached to the check).

That’s life in the agency world, people. It’s not pretty. And, judging by what I see and read, it’s not getting any better.

Decisions such as the one by Mars will do more than just hurt every roster agency’s cash flow, it might put more than one out of business.

But, hey, as some purchasing manager said long ago, ‘All’s fair in love, war and payment cycles.

This post is dedicated to the long-suffering, recent dad, Peppercommer Adam Giambattista.

Jun 20

Bad signal calling

whiteskinsAs RepMan readers and Peppercomm employees are well aware, I despise political correctness. That said, even I have my limits and a guy named Mark Stevens, just crossed exceeded them.

As you’ll read in his rather alarming CommPRO.Biz tirade, the author of ‘Your Marketing Sucks‘ and CEO of MSCO, argues that embattled Washington Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder, should launch an ‘offensive’ against all those PC types who are demanding he change his team’s nickname.

With all due respect to Mr. Stevens, your advice sucks. In fact, your offensive is offensive to anyone who understands crisis counseling.

Going on the offensive is the LAST thing the Washington Redskins need right now. The best advice would be to change the damn name and take a short-term hit in profits. But, if the team owner still refuses to budge, then he should keep his mouth shut.

Going on the offensive will only cause even MORE news cycles and bring down even more harsh statements and government penalties on the ‘Skins.

I’m amazed Snyder & Co. doesn’t GET it. Their team happens to be headquartered smack dab in middle of the Little Big Horn of politics: Washington, D.C. And, Mr. Snyder is the NFL’s answer to George Armstrong Custer. He’s outnumbered, outflanked and outsmarted.

But, even if he won’t do what’s right from a business standpoint, Snyder SHOULD do what’s right from an ethical and moral standpoint. To wit:

– How would white Anglo-Saxon Protestants feel if major league sports team nicknames ranged from the Whiteys and the Caucasians to the Honkies or Rednecks?

I’d cite other racial stereotype nicknames but believe discretion is the better part of blogging valor. You get my point.

But, Mark Stevens clearly doesn’t. His advice to go on the offensive stands alongside that of R.M.S. Titanic Captain John Smith’s decision to plow through the iceberg-strewn North Atlantic waters at full speed. It’s both reckless and just plain dumb.

I’d like to debate you, Mr. Stevens, and am prepared to lay down the gauntlet.

Mark: How about joining my co-host, Paul Merchan, and me, to debate the subject on an upcoming edition of RepTV (the highly acclaimed, if seldom viewed, video cousin of the RepMan blog)?

I’m hoping you’ll call an audible, and decide to go for it on fourth-and-one. We’ll toss around this political football on a field of your choice: my office, your domicile or a neutral setting.

And, just like my boyhood idol, Joe Willie Namath, I predict I will win our debate. In fact, I guarantee it.

Jun 19

The Barista Bubble

Today’s RepMan post is by WalekPeppercommer Dmitriy Ioselevich.


This “free college” announcement is undeniably a boon for Starbucks and Arizona State University in the PR department. But before we award Howard Schultz and Dr. Michael Crow the Nobel Prize, let’s talk about the real victims here—students.

First, three important facts:

  • To be eligible for the program, Starbucks employees must first earn 21 credits from ASU’s online program at an estimated cost of $10,000, which they would then reimburse a portion of. However, these online courses are of dubious value to begin with.
  • Second, Starbucks employees must also work at least 20 hours per week in addition to carrying a full course load, taking time away from extracurricular activities, which some would argue are the most important parts of college anyway.
  • Finally, Starbucks is now canning its previous tuition reimbursement program, which provided $1,000 in financial aid per year to employees studying at any college or university. Instead, ASU becomes the sole beneficiary of a horde of needy students.

It sounds like a decent tradeoff in theory, but what is the value of the education that students are getting? Sure, a few thousand Starbucks employees get to slap “college graduate” on their resumes, but will they acquire any other skills besides how to make a cappuccino? Or will Starbucks and ASU just pump out an army of highly-qualified baristas to compete in a job market already saturated with low-skill laborers?

To be fair, these types of corporate tuition programs used to be quite common before soaring costs made them financially unfeasible, so the Starbucks program is at least an improvement over the status quo (i.e. saddling students with over a trillion dollars in debt). But let’s not act like one coffee company is going to single-handedly upend the entire higher education system.

Shultz says we can’t “wait for Washington,” but the truth is that this is a Washington-sized problem. Helping a few thousand students earn a degree debt-free isn’t going to move the needle—it’s just going to push more students into online programs.

If Shultz really wants to elicit change, then he should shut down every Starbucks in the D.C. metro area until government and college leaders agree to cut costs and build a more equitable system. Until then we’ll just have to wait for the Barista Bubble to pop.

Jun 19

I’ll have a mocha frappucino and BA to go, please.

Today’s RepMan post comes from WalekPeppercommer Chris Gillick. His colleague Dmitriy Ioselevich will write a rebuttal tomorrow.

Mug_2012On Monday, Starbucks made a big splash when it announced the launch of its College Achievement Plan. Starting this fall, Starbucks employees will have the opportunity to complete their college degrees on the company’s dime.

So is this just a desperate PR stunt attempting to:

  1. Revive the public’s goodwill about the company?
  2. Raise awareness about generous employee benefits?
  3. Deflect attention that coffee prices are going through the roof?

The answer to all three questions from my outsider’s perspective is… Maybe.

But I see it as much more. I see Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz leveraging this program as a means to enter into the dicey public policy debate of college affordability and exponentially rising student debt. If I were Schultz, I would call my public affairs firm in Washington and work the back channels to get a Congressional hearing on the schedule ASAP.

Though many will disagree, this really is a win-win situation for all involved. Starbucks gets great publicity and ambitious employees get an opportunity that may otherwise not be available to them. It also benefits the American taxpayer. Starbucks shareholders are generously footing the bill so that taxpayers are partially relieved of the coming cascade of student loan defaults. Other companies would be wise to follow suit.

In closing, in the comedic spirit of the RepMan Blog, I’ll cite America’s favorite satirist publication, The Onion.

When asked about the program, one respondent interviewed by publication said: “It’s nice to know that when our civic institutions fail us, our mid-price coffee chains are there to step in.”


Jun 18

Feelin’ Stronger Every Day


Mario Godiva is my friend and trainer. Now, he’s also my business partner.

I’ve been training with Mario for about two years now. He’s introduced me to the wonderful world of rebounding shoes, in which I run, and occasionally train (Note: the boots reduce 80 percent of the weight from one’s knees and lower back).

Mario’s also managed my one-on-one training sessions for a good year-and-a-half. In these sessions, Mario’s pit bull-like barking makes a Marine Corps drill sergeant seem like a shrinking violet in comparison. He’s deservedly earned the nickname ‘Gitmo.’ In fact, I believe our government could break every remaining terrorist subject holed up in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after just one training session with Mario.

Mario’s also developed a nickname for me in these sessions. He calls me Gerber (as in the baby food company). I don’t think that warrants further explanation.

About a year ago, Mario decided the existing state-of-the-art rebounding boot was sadly lacking. So, he decided to become an entrepreneur. He designed his own, vastly improved boot. Mario’s design looks, and performs, like a Ferrari in comparison to the clunky, Toyota Corolla-like current industry standard.

He’d just begun raising money for his new venture when Mario was struck out of the blue like a Mike Tyson right hook: he contracted Stage III non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Undeterred, Mario began chemo treatments, has gone back to destroying private clients such as me (see photo of us after one such session) and is actively fundraising. I’ve invested, and now own a share of Mario (I think I have rights to his right calf).

In any event, he’s only looking to raise $25,000 from a small group of individuals in order to pay for the construction of a Plyo-Glide prototype. Once he has the prototype in hand (or foot, if you prefer) Mario can begin demonstrating the boot’s multiple uses and benefits (which are extraordinary, btw). The boots force you to be in balance the entire time you’re in them, thereby always engaging the core muscles. And, they burn twice the amount of calories in the same amount of time as, say, wearing sneakers would.

I believe in Mario. I believe his next generation rebounding boots will become the next, big fitness trend. And, the beautiful thing is that Mario Godiva is already a media darling. He’s been profiled on everything from “The Steve Harvey Show” to “ABC’s Nightline.” And, he’s an international fitness guru & star as well.

I believe Mario’s greatest ability isn’t his training knowledge or his vision in creating a truly breakthrough, next generation product. It’s his amazing resilience and passion.

I wish I could project one-tenth of what he exudes each, and every, day (this, despite being told by doctors he has a 50-50 chance of living). The uber cool thing is that the chemo treatments are working, and Mario’s feelin’ stronger every day (to borrow the title of one of my favorite songs from the rock group, Chicago).

If you’re curious about Mario, the new boot or possibly investing a modest amount of money, send him a note. He’s at mariogodiva@gmail.com. In the meantime, drop to the floor, and give me 100 push-ups on the BOSU. Now! C’mon, you bunch of Gerbers. You want a beach-ready body for the Fourth of July, or what?

Jun 17


PR leaders who constantly pontificate about our industry’s impact in making the world a better place must either be delusional, engaging in some serious navel-gazing, or both.


Here’s why:

– Check out today’s major headlines, and you’ll read such scary sentences as, ‘U.S. is exploring talks with Iran on crisis in Iraq,’ ‘Russia cuts off gas to Ukraine,’ and ‘Pakistan rolls out offensive.’

Notice any mention of PR?

At the same time, my colleague, Sam Ford, just joined with leaders of other top PR firms to stop our industry’s overt, and unseemly, ‘gaming’ of Wikipedia.

That’s right, we had to issue a manifesto of sorts to promise that our colleagues would stop the hot mess of lies they routinely dump on Wikipedia each, and every, day.

Despite both realities, the top industry society, Arthur W. Page, continues to issue one feel-good white paper after another extolling the great strides we’ve made in authenticity, transparency and digital conversations.

And, our trade journalists busy themselves with handing out awards for amazingly creative erectile dysfunction pills and traipse all over Monte Carlo shouting from the most lavish villa about PR’s increasing presence at the Cannes Lion Awards program. Seriously?

I realize our industry’s association leaders and journalists are paid to talk about us but, c’mon people, we’re not ending poverty and we’re not putting any sort of dent in feeding the hungry (although our cause-related work is certainly helping in both cases). And, lord knows, we’re totally irrelevant when it comes to the major stories of the day.

So, here’s a request to the serious leaders in my field (especially to those who take themselves far too seriously). Do me, and the industry a favor: dial it down a bit.

We’re PR people, not diplomats. We help organizations communicate with constituent audiences and, hopefully, make those constituents’ lives just a little bit better when the day is done.

But, seriously, let’s stop with the hype. It’s time our leadership pauses for a second in their self-congratulatory, inward-looking tomes and level-set the hype about public relations.

We still have a long way to go before the average world citizen even understands, much less appreciates, what we do. And, as for a Cannes Lion, I’d much rather see our greatest minds provide counsel to the man in the Oval Office. He’s at sea right now and, to mix metaphors, we’re fiddling while Rome burns.