Mar 26

Can an ad campaign restore a company’s reputation?

10302045_10203109744255987_1932378722688478557_n-neon-sw-signWould you use a major advertising campaign to restore confidence in your battered brand? I sure wouldn’t. Advertising is great for creating awareness, but not so adept at establishing credibility. After all, the advertiser has total control over what is said as well as when and where it appears, so authenticity can be a tad suspect. PR and social media, on the other hand, carry far more third party credibility, especially in times of crisis.

I ask these questions because SeaWorld just launched a major advertising campaign to try and restore its reputation some two years after a scathing documentary called “Blackfish” attacked the theme park chain for cruel and inhumane treatment of its prized attraction, killer whales.

It the ads, SeaWorld features an in-house veterinarian, Chris Dodd, who says, “I wouldn’t work here if I wasn’t able to give these whales the world class care they deserve. So, don’t believe what PETA and Blackfish are saying.” Sorry, Mr. Dodd, but those comments make me a tad suspicious since SeaWorld also happens to be your employer.

The SeaWorld campaign really misses the mark in terms of addressing the larger issue: should these amazing, wild creatures be penned up in man-made tanks and forced to perform like circus lions before an adoring crowd? I think not. But, if SeaWorld loses the whales, what will be left to attract tourists? And, therein lies the conundrum. SeaWorld’s stock has dipped 40 percent in the past two years and attendance to their 11 theme parks has decreased by four percent. Imagine what those numbers would be like if the whales were to be set free?

In one of the other SeaWorld ads, Chairman and Interim CEO David D’Alessandro says, “There’s been a lot of misinformation and even lies spread about SeaWorld. We want to provide the facts, so people can make up their own minds on this important issue.” Perhaps. But, I’d be much more comfortable if an independent, blue ribbon panel was releasing the facts and not the theme park itself.

I think SeaWorld is swimming upstream if they think the average American wants to see killer whales kept in captivity. I also appreciate the reality that SeaWorld is really stuck between a rock and a hard place (or whatever the nautical equivalent of that aphorism may be). Popular opinion will force them to set the whales free at some point, so why pay money to visit a killer whale-less SeaWorld?

But, that’s SeaWorld’s problem. In the meantime, I’ll just paraphrase Ronald Reagan and say, “Mr. D’Alessandro, tear down those whale tanks!”

Mar 20


images-59Why would three extraordinarily successful business executives go out of their way to purposely antagonize significant segments of their target audience?

I ask because all three were in the news this week, albeit for altogether different reasons.

Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana’s incendiary comments about IVF and gay parents  sparked a worldwide backlash that included the likes of Sir Elton John, Ricky Martin and Courtney Love. All three called for a D&G boycott and vowed never to wear the label again. That cannot be good for business.

Separately, Chick-fil-A’s CEO Dan Cathy announced plans to open the fast food chain’s largest free-standing store right in the heart of New York City, arguably America’s most liberal city.

In case you don’t know, Cathy is notorious for his very public comments supporting traditional marriage. As might be expected, Cathy’s statements provoked nationwide boycotts and protests from the gay, lesbian and transgender communities as well as liberals everywhere.

I’ll bet my last wishbone that his new Manhattan store will prompt a whole new round of demonstrations when it opens. It’s the fast food equivalent of Daniel entering the lion’s den.

All of which prompts one fundamental question: why? Why mix one’s personal views and morals with business? Why go out of one’s way to alienate thousands, if not millions, of potential customers? It makes no sense whatsoever.

In my opinion, a business executive should limit his or her views to family and friends. Period.

D&G and Chick-fil-A will obviously continue to survive, if not prosper, despite their owners’ explosive (and unnecessary) comments.

But, what if the owner of a smaller, less well-known business chooses to air her views about, say, right-to-life? Such comments could very well kill her business. And that would be so unfortunate and so unnecessary.

Mar 19

Have you had a crucible moment?

tug-of-war-125x125Don Spetner writes a consistently wise and insightful column for PR Week. In his most recent piece, Spetner shared his crucible career moment.

It occurred when he was being raked over the coals by a bullying, belligerent and bullheaded client. It got so bad that Spetner was seriously contemplating changing careers.

I’ll let you read the full story to find out how Spetner dealt with his crucible moment. But his words inspired me to write about mine.

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away I was an aspiring account executive for a number of PR firms. While I took to PR like a fish to water, I must admit there were aspects to the job I didn’t much care for (i.e. A.P. reporters who hung up on me in mid-sentence, clients who yelled and screamed at me in front of my boss or the shark-infested political waters of the large agency world).

As my disenchantment grew, my father-in-law happened to mention he was selling his restaurant, a legendary Manhattan steak house called Frankie & Johnnie’s. My wife, who also happened to be in PR (and truly loathed it) suggested we buy it. I was young and naïve, so I said, “Sure!”

Happily, my father-in-law flat out rejected our inquiries, saying, “I wouldn’t wish that lifestyle on anyone, much less family members.”

Duly chastened, we both went back to our day jobs. I figured I better concentrate on what I did best. And, sure enough, within a few months I began a true love affair with PR that continues to this day. As for my wife, she turned to personal training.

But, what if my father-in-law had yes that day? That’s easy. It would have been an unmitigated disaster. Neither my wife nor I knew beans about running a business, much less a famous steakhouse.

What about you? Have you had a crucible moment like Don and me? If so, please share. I’ll bet it’s as juicy as an F&J’s rib-eye.

Mar 17

Three management lessons from St. Patrick

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt O’Purdue. 

Ah, St. Patrick’s Day. Holidays here at RepMan invariably present a chance for some real clickbait to inflate our site traffic. Oops…I mean invariably present a chance to create some high-quality content to enhance our audience engagement.

So in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, without further ado we present three management lessons from the one and only Apostle of Ireland.

peewee2 (aaaaa1)Chase out the snakes:
St. Patrick is legendary for chasing the snakes out of Ireland. The lesson here for managers is to guard your company’s culture with a religious fervor. Corporate culture is what really enables you to differentiate yourself from your from your competitors; not your products and services. Those employees who don’t fit into your culture? Maybe they need to be chased out.

Probably the best example of this comes from second-generation Irish-American Anne Mulcahy. When she took over as CEO of Xerox, charged with turning around a failing company, she told 100 of her executives to get on board with the plan or leave. Ninety-eight elected to stay.

Learn the language: St. Patrick was actually born in Roman-occupied Britain. He got his first taste of Ireland only after he was kidnapped and sent to Ireland to tend sheep as a slave. While there, he picked up the local language and culture, which he used later in life on his return to Ireland to proselytize. The lesson here is to continually expand your knowledge of your employees and your clients. Can you talk their talk and walk their walk? If not, your most important messages for them are going to fall on deaf ears.

Keep it real: St. Patrick grew up in an aristocratic family and was later ordained a bishop. In Ireland, he broke bread with nobles and chieftains, legend has it. Yet he’s venerated today for his acts of service and his life of poverty. As a manager, you need to make it clear to your staff that you’re a leader, but you also need to show them that you will never forget where you came from. Make sure you get down in the trenches with them on a regular basis. Edit a press release, write a tweet. When was the last time you actually attended a weekly client conference call?

If you follow this simple advice, you’ll be that much closer to management sainthood.

Mar 12

Always stay in the moment

cookie-monster-wisdomTwitter CEO Dick Costolo has gone on record many times extolling the virtues of stand-up and improvisational comedy. He believes it’s improved his and his team’s business skills.

Needless to say, I agree.

Costolo says, “One of the things you’re always trying to make sure you really pay attention to in improv is staying in the moment and listening.” He adds, “That’s one of the things I tell my new managers.”

Amen. Staying in the moment and listening are fundamental to ANY business executive’s success in any business. But, being trained to take each to a higher level most assuredly provides a competitive advantage.

That’s why we’ve been providing stand-up, improvisation and listening workshops for our entire staff and many a client organization.

Staying in the moment and listening really pays off. For example, our team recently met with a very well-known new business prospect. We were asked to come prepared with the usual PowerPoint deck (i.e. who we are, what we provide, what sets us apart, relevant experience and, of course, a few creative ideas).

But, as soon as I summarized the first two slides, the four prospects began peppering us with one intense question after another. We bagged the presentation and, for the next 60 minutes, stayed in the moment and fully engaged with them. It was clear by their note-taking that they really liked what they heard. Finally, one of them said, “Oops, we’re almost done with our 90 minutes. Are there any slides you think we should still see?” There were a few, and they were well received.

But, we’d already won the day by applying our listening skills and staying in the moment. And, get this, ALL four prospect participants took the time to thank us for a great conversation. How often does that happen?

I’m always amazed at the negative reaction I receive when I tell people we train our entire staff in comedy AND partner with one of the world’s two chief comedy officers, Clayton Fletcher ( BTW, the other CCO works at a nuclear plant in Estonia.

Anyway, if you don’t believe me when I say comedy is a huge differentiator in business, take Costolo’s word for it. He’s built a slightly larger company than me and insists new employees study the craft. And that’s no joke.

And a tip’ o’ Rep’s cap to Peppercommer Matt Lester for suggesting this topic.

Mar 09

Apology or advertisement? One man’s P.O.V.

screen-shot-2014-11-27-at-3-20-22-pmPowerToFly President Katharine Zaleski’s self-confessional piece in Fortune has caused quite the stir among men and women alike. Titled, “I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with,” the article is a mea culpa for the author’s horrific treatment of working moms in the earlier part of her career. It’s also a redemption tale that shares Zaleski’s epiphany after becoming a mom herself. Last, but certainly not least, the final third of her column which, many believe, reads like a blatant advertisement for the author’s company has set off a firestorm of protest.

Before I weigh-in with my evaluation of the article, I want to go on record as saying I’ve never doubted the abilities, capabilities and commitment of the working moms at my firm. That’s because I’ve experienced them first-hand. Not only do our working moms balance their jobs and responsibilities flawlessly, many have risen to assume very senior positions. I believe that speaks for itself.

And, yet, I must admit a pocket of antediluvian thinking remains. Not too long ago, for example, a working mother at another firm told me she was leaving at 5:30 in order to arrive home in time to take her son to a doctor’s appointment. As she passed the office of a senior male executive, he asked: “Half day?” She was understandably upset since, in addition to taking her son to an appointment, she’d be editing three proposals that night. But, she let it pass.

While there are always exceptions to any rule, I believe working moms (and dads for that matter) should be afforded the same respect, pay and professional courtesy as their single peers. As for Zaleski’s column, it’s nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to suck in sympathetic readers and then hit them over the head with a hard sell. I’d call her devious and deceptive, but Zaleski’s motives are too obvious to even deserve those left-handed compliments.

Mar 03

PR’s death has been greatly exaggerated

its_aliveRobert Phillips, a former Edelman U.K. executive, has just published a book titled, “Trust Me, PR is Dead.”

I read a review of the book in O’Dwyers and must paraphrase Shakespeare by saying, “Methinks Phillips doth protest too much.”

As proof of his half-cocked logic, Phillips says PR is “undergoing disruption at the hands of the web and is seemingly unaware of its own death throes.”

If Phillips is speaking only of media-by-the-pound sweat shops, then I’d completely agree.

But, he’s delusional if he thinks the smartest and swiftest PR firms haven’t anticipated the web’s disruption and quickly adapted to provide a fully integrated, channel neutral mix of earned, owned and paid media.

Phillips further opines that, “PR survives only on the fringes of marketing communications.” To which I respond, balderdash.

PR, in fact, is thriving as the lead strategist in devising and implementing many clients’ fully integrated campaigns. And, it’s happening because PR is rightly perceived as being the best discipline when it comes to storytelling. We’ve been using storytelling techniques from day one to convince journalists our clients’ news and information would be of great interest to their readers, viewers and listeners.

We’re also rapidly replacing ad agencies and digital firms because the smartest and swiftest PR agencies have added our own strategic planning, creative, direct marketing and digital capabilities at a rapid pace.

Also, when it comes to good, old media relations, trust me, clients still crave it as a key component of any fully integrated campaign that engages audiences at each, and every touch point.

And, unless Phillips has relocated to a far distant solar system, a balanced, front page story in The Wall Street Journal or New York Times remains worth its weight in gold.

To paraphrase Mark Twain who, upon reading his obituary in a newspaper, wrote to said paper, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” The same holds true for this book.