Jul 28

Take us to the next level. But don’t do anything scary.

Twice recently prospects have challenged us to elevate their brand to a new level, but to do so without upsetting the apple cart.

chaaangeSo, in other words, they wanted to increase awareness, credibility and consideration but to do so without changing their basic positioning, messaging or tactics.

Talk about a fool’s errand.

We attempted to walk this tight wire all the while demonstrating our strategic thinking in the process. Bad move.

In both instances, the prospect called to tell me that, while we were clearly the more strategic and creative firm, they’d chosen a (ponderous, plodding) holding company instead. Why? Because the latter seemed better at the day-to-day blocking and tackling.

I responded by asking each prospect how they intended to achieve their business goals when it seemed like they’d be doing the same old thing albeit with a new agency. “Time will tell,” said one. “We’re just not ready yet to move the needle,” said the other.” So, why mislead the agencies in the first place?

Strategy consultant Robb High would place the blame on our shoulders.

In his highly informative “Agency Pitch Mistakes” e-mail series, High touches on any number of false assumptions firms make when pitching new accounts.

Our most recent experiences underscore High’s Agency Pitch Mistake #24: “Scaring the client with your great ideas.”

High says the prospect’s decision-making team almost always consists of several players. As a result, they seek a group consensus in making their decision. So, while they may ask for ideas that will take them to the next level, most feel threatened by truly strategic and creative ideas, and some even fear too much change might cost them their jobs.

So, what’s an agency team to do? I know what we’ll do. Since we’re not interested in representing clients who seek extra arms and legs to implement purely tactical programs, we’ll keep trying to push the envelope. And, if that means losing a chance to represent a brand that’s too timid to test new waters, so be it.

Life’s too short to be an order taker.


Jul 24


– Midsized Integrated Marketing Powerhouse Opens Fifth Office Inside Lovelock, NV, Correctional Institute –

New York, July 24, 2015 —- Peppercomm today announced that former NFL legend, Hollywood actor and convicted felon O.J. Simpson will be joining the midsized strategic communications firm’s senior management ranks. Specifically, Mr. Simpson will hold the title of director, sports marketing & memorabilia, and report to the agency’s co-founders Steve Cody and Edward Aloysius Moed.

aaaaaaaaCody said the Simpson announcement is a dream come true, “I’ve loved the Juice ever since his Heisman Trophy-winning days at USC. Like millions of other NFL fans, I marveled at his 2,003-yard season back in 1973 with the Buffalo Bills. And, I didn’t think he was half-bad in the ‘Naked Gun’ movie series either. There’s no doubt in my mind that O.J. will attract a new, and decidedly different, type of clientele to Peppercomm.”

Co-founder Ed Moed, added: “We’ve always prided ourselves on going where no agency has gone before (i.e. licensing), and believe O. J. will open doors that we’ve been unable to crack in 20 years of doing business.” Mr. Moed was quick to point out that his remarks did not indicate Simpson was planning an El Chapo-like escape from his confinement at the Lovelock, Nevada, Correctional Institute. “The Juice loves Lovelock, and vice versa,” added Moed.

Fifth Office

Cody said Mr. Simpson would remain behind bars but, in a true example of public/private partnership, would be housed in a special business office at Lovelock. “We’re in the midst of updating our various marketing materials to reflect the addition of this fifth, strategic office,” said Cody.

Mr. Simpson, who retains strong, if sleazy, ties with associates in the worlds of sports, Hollywood and memorabilia, is predicting at least $2 million in billings by December, 2015. “Look, whether it’s Quentin Tarantino, Pete Carroll or Bugsy “The Trophy Taker” Monaghan, I know the right people in the right places to bring in the right type of business. And, I’m equally adept at dumping business if it should prove to be just too hot to handle for Peppercomm’s tastes.”

Not a Rip-Off

Mr. Cody vociferously denied that Peppercomm’s hiring of Simpson was a mere copycat move in light of MWW’s announcement that they’d retained former NY Congressman, and sexting practitioner par excellence, Anthony Weiner.

“Weiner’s a white-collar, self-absorbed, ne’er do-well. The Juice, meanwhile, remains a role model to many millions of Americans who believe his arrest was little more than entrapment by a police force intent on avenging the Nicole Brown murders. Weiner turns people’s stomachs. O.J. runs through and over them,” concluded Cody.

Peppercomm is a strategic, integrated marketing agency, headquartered in New York, with offices in London, San Francisco, Boulder and, now, Lovelock. The firm has won countless industry awards, including top NYC workplace of 2012 by Crain’s New York Business. Cody believes that, based upon Mr. Simpson’s stellar behavior behind bars, the firm will soon cop the Crain’s Lovelock Business award for best workplace in the not-too-distant future. “Hey, if we don’t win it, O.J. will just steal it. That’s what I call a win-win.” summarized Moed.

And a big tip ‘othe blocking sled to Greg Schmalz for suggesting the hire.


Jul 22

Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s what happens to you in life.

I’m in the midst of tearing through, “JFK’s Last Hundred Days,” by Thurston Clarke.

jackie4n-1-webI know what you’re thinking, “How could there possibly be anything new to add to JFK’s life and times?”

Well, my fellow Americans, this new book contains a mother lode of new, eyewitness accounts and evaluations from those who moved in Kennedy’s professional, and personal, inner circles during the last two-and-a-half months of his life.

The book examines:

– Vietnam: Every insider was 100 percent convinced JFK hated our growing entanglement, and was poised to remove all 16,000 Americans advisers and troops after winning the 1964 election.

-Civil Rights: MLK’s historic March on Washington, highlighted by his “I have a dream” speech completely changed JFK’s views. He immediately introduced a sweeping Civil Rights bill that, had he lived, would never have been enacted into law. But, LBJ adroitly used our country’s national mourning after JFK’s death to steer it through Congress.

– Womanizing. I knew JFK had strayed, but I had no idea of the frequency or variety of his dalliances. To wit, he engaged in sexual relations with strippers, call girls, White House secretaries and Hollywood starlets alike. And, he did so virtually every day!

– His place in history. JFK made decisions based on two overarching guidelines:

1.) Was he doing what was in the best interests of his country?
2.) How would future historians evaluate his decision-making?

According to those who knew him best (and no one TRULY) knew the man, JFK was driven by ambition and not achievement. He not only aspired to be ranked alongside FDR and Lincoln. He wanted future historians to call him THE greatest U.S. president.

Many who witnessed those last 100 days believed JFK had elevated himself to a much higher level and, if given the chance to serve five more years, may very well have been ranked among our country’s greatest presidents.

Regardless of what might have been, I believe JFK’s greatest legacy was his pursuit of excellence. As he told Lem Billings, a close friend, “Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s what happens to you in life.”

And, that statement, my fellow Americans, is more important today than ever before.

Jul 20

False Expectations

3aI’m not a big believer in making promises I can’t keep. And, I deplore organizations such as United, Comcast and good, old New Jersey Transit who never deliver on their brand promises.

So, as one might expect, I nearly gagged when I received an unsolicited e-mail from an organization called Win Without Pitching. Talk about an oxymoron!

WWP is a British Columbia-based organization that delivers “helpful” tips for accomplishing what their name promises. They also offered training programs and four seminars in four countries.

I began in the PR business shortly after Gutenberg invented his highly-acclaimed printing press. And, if one recuses the ridiculous Dot Com days when agencies interviewed prospective clients, I’ve NEVER won without pitching.

Sure, there are the occasional situations in which we’re on a first name basis with a board member or CEO, but that’s not winning without pitching. It’s called being connected.

The rest of the time we, and every other agency under the sun, need to fill out an RFP, hope that we’re invited into the finals, make at least one, in-person presentation and then, almost always, wait for weeks or months to be told the decision.

So, as valuable as WWP’s tips, training and seminars may be, you’d be foolish to believe their brand promise.

If this blog had been authored by Charles Dickens, he’d headline it: False Expectations.

Jul 16

Recipe for disaster: Netflix, sexism and sports

How many bloggers do you know who would willingly publish a guest post from an employee of a competing agency? My guess would be zero. Not so with this living-on-the-edge blogger. Here’s a superb piece from ex-Peppercommer, and current RF Binder star, Nick Gilyard…

netflix_fail_twitterEver since I hit send on my first email pitch, I’ve dreaded ending up on bad pitch blog or being blasted by a journalist on social media.  (For you non-PR types, the latter happens quite often to unsuspecting PRs.) Which is why my heart sank when I saw the headline ‘Netflix PR Preps Men for ‘Day Without Sports’ With Boring Sexist Email’.

After reading the release I agreed wholeheartedly with the author of the article. “The release’s writing is clunky terrible and assumes we all live in a snow globe from the ’50s.” Here are a few tips to avoid an unfortunate trip back in time.

1. Avoid unnecessary gendered language – By using “sports enthusiasts” and “fans” the release’s first two sentences set an inclusive tone by avoiding gender pronouns. Sadly it was all downhill from there.  “Men be warned,” denies the existence of female sports fans and is immediately polarizing.

2. Steer clear of stereotypes – Unless you’re pitching a study on stereotypes, just don’t do it. Stereotypes are usually outdated, offensive and have the added bonus of making the user look unimaginative. As PR people, we are tasked with being thoughtful and creative. Sadly a list of Netflix movies loosely strung together with sexism is neither.

3. Research – It can save you a lot of time and in this case a lot of embarrassment. A quick Google search would have revealed that women are the NFLs most important demographic and account for a growing 45% of all viewership. Also (and this is my favorite point) THERE WAS A MAJOR LEAUGE SOCCER GAME on the alleged “Day Without Sports”. So yeah, Google.

How’d you feel about the Netflix pitch? Do you have your own pitch gone wrong story or tips on how to avoid this kind of mishap? Feel free to share.


Jul 14

The PATH to an Awful Day

Today’s post is by guest blogger Catharine Cody.

Normally I ignore my dad’s posts about NJ Transit delays, failures and false promises, too.  But recently, the PATH service between Hoboken and 33rd street has become so abysmal, that I felt the need to blog about it.


Let’s face it. No one LOVES to commute.  It’s just something we have to do every day if we want to get to work.  As a proud Hoboken resident, I often tell people how amazing my commute to work is.  On a normal day, it’s 30 minutes door-to-door!  While on the PATH train, I can usually find a nice, clean seat and relax in the air-conditioned car for 14 minutes.  14 minutes- no more and no less.  There is an adequate amount of space for the people who make this commute, and everyone is quite pleasant towards each other.

Over the past few months, however, PATH service has slipped.  In fact, the Port Authority reduced service during peak hours by 14%.  Meanwhile, ridership at the Hoboken PATH station has increased by 11% since 2012.  To sum up, we have more commuters and fewer trains.

After a quick search on PATH’s main website, one can’t find any information about the reduced service.   In fact, PATH doesn’t even have a tagline.  Before the service cuts, I would have suggested something along the lines of, “The Luxurious Way to Commute” or even “14 Minutes of Bliss Every Morning.”  Now I’d recommend their tagline be, “The PATH to an Awful Day.”

And, it really is the PATH to an awful day, because Hoboken-ers don’t want to be squeezed into a jam-packed car.  We live in Hoboken for a reason, so we don’t have to deal with the 6 train nightmare every day.  So, PATH officials, take heed.  Give us our DAMN trains back and we’ll be blissfully serene in the mornings.  If you keep this up, we’ll all be angry New Yorkers before long.

Jul 13


Ex-Congress Dog Vows to Tear Sealed Air Corp a New One


Lincroft, NJ, July 13, 2015 – – Former U.S. Congress Dog, Mick Cody, has joined the pack of howling canines who’ve expressed outrage at Sealed Air Corp’s recent decision to end production of the Bubble Wrap that pops.

The ex-politico, widely credited with raising the public’s consciousness in the aftermath of the Michael Vick/pit bull scandal, is barking mad about what he termed, @sealedair’s “species discrimination.”

Fresh from attacking an unsuspecting squirrel in his backyard, Cody snarled, “Everyone knows dogs of all sizes, breeds and gender absolutely adore ripping that damned Bubble Wrap to shreds. Denying us that privilege is akin to taking away mobile devices from Millennials.”


Mick, who has been called the Donald Trump of dogs, also announced a nationwide march of canines on Charlotte, NC, corporate headquarters of Sealed Air.

Calling his movement, “Crap on Charlotte,” Cody says some one million dogs will encircle Sealed Air’s headquarters on August 1st, and not disperse until each has left behind a very special deposit. “That’ll light a fire under their ass,” Cody growled.

The canine firebrand promises to lead such “Crap Crusades” until Sealed Air puts the pop back in their Bubble Wrap.

“This will be my last, and greatest, challenge,” observed the 12-year-old pooch, lifting a paw to wipe away a tear. “We shall overcome,” he vowed.

Cody remains the first dog to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. His tour of duty was cut short, however, when the canine was outed for texting topless, Anthony Weiner-like photographs to a feline admirer.

Mick still accuses the International Association for the Advancement of Cats (IAAC) of entrapment.

Jul 08

Does obnoxious sell?


fcd79a31f464e03790eb365e702b006dThe vast majority of radio and TV commercials are so bland that they never, ever connect with me. Then, there are the precious few that do strike a chord (Think: Allstate’s Mayhem character). A few other spots, though, are so brutally painful that I wonder how, in god’s name, they generate sales.

The first features Toyota’s dealership diva, Jan. As you may recall, Jan began her Toyota gig as a meek, mild receptionist at an undisclosed dealership who would politely answer one or two questions. (FYI: In the interests of transparency, my firm represents MINI).

Now, though, she’s metamorphosed into a primping and patronizing, song-and-dance solutions provider. I never thought an ad agency could conjure up a more obnoxious company spokeswoman than Progressive Insurance’s Flo but Toyota’s done just that with Jan.

I initially heard the world’s second most obnoxious ad on a local radio station. Listening to the Kars4Kids spot was akin to hearing someone scratch her fingernails on chalkboard (and, cause instant road rage in the process). The TV spot is even worse. How do these not-so-cute, not-so-talented kids actually inspire people to donate their cars? If anything, I could see the spot triggering a drive-by shooting (I jest).

And, yet, neither Jan nor the Kids would be airing if they weren’t driving bottom-line sales. So, I guess obnoxious does indeed sell.

What’s your POV? Do you have other spots that make you cringe? Please share (and, the more obnoxious, the better).

Jul 07

This town’s in tatters

honesaalesssTake a stroll around Manhattan on any given day and you’ll be startled by what you see: the greatest city in the world is falling apart. To wit:

– Tens of thousands of homeless people are either begging or sleeping on street corners in every neighborhood, not just the lesser affluent ones.

– In just the past five years, there’s been a whopping 52 percent increase in the number of people who stay in homeless centers.

– New homeless centers are being opened smack dab in the midst of established middle-class neighborhoods, causing residents to freak out and bolt.

– At the same time, median apartment rents have increased 75 percent since 2000 while median real incomes have dropped during that same period. That ugly scenario has created a perfect storm that’s literally left New Yorkers holding the bag, forced to pay staggering fees or leave.

– The number of murders in New York City has increased by 20 percent since the beginning of the year.

– The city’s police force and Mayor de Blasio like each other about as much as do Donald Trump and the country of Mexico. Mutual contempt might be the best phrase to describe their totally dysfunctional relationship.

And, last but not least, there’s the non-stop construction, aircraft-carrier sized trucks and endless pedestrian walkways that combine to bring traffic to a complete standstill on most weekdays.

It’s a pretty horrific scene that, sadly, seems to get worse with each passing day.

NYC will continue to deteriorate until its current image and reputation finally catches up with it, and negatively impacts city coffers.

We’ll have to wait until large companies decide to relocate, business conferences choose to hold their conventions in nicer, safer venues and the middle class, the back bone of any city, takes flight to the burbs. Then, and only then, will we begin to see improvements.

Manhattan’s sordid state reminds me of Mick Jagger’s long-ago ode to Abe Beam’s decaying New York City. Shattered is the perfect word to describe what’s happening today.

Jul 01

The San Andreas Fault of BtoB Marketing

imagesI’ve always been a staunch advocate of research that uncovers rich insights, confirms conventional wisdom or sheds new light on cutting-edge developments in our business.

Procter & Gamble’s IPR-award winning #LikeaGirl movement is a superb example of accomplishing all three objectives.

The organization’s goal was to empower girls through education during puberty, a time when their confidence is at its lowest. Their research identified “Like a Girl” as a phrase that caused real damage to young girls.

A subsequent video-driven campaign reached 76 million viewers from 150 countries and scored some 1,800 placements. More importantly, it inspired a new movement that changed the meaning of like a girl to “downright amazing.”

My firm achieved similar results when we tackled an altogether different challenge: content creation and curation.

While the words have become currency of the realm in PR circles, our first-hand observations revealed that many business-to-business marketers were struggling in their attempts to publish relevant content.

To prove our premise, we partnered with The Economist Group to field a survey in April of 2014 among 500 global business executives and 500 global marketers (note: This was a win-win partnership. No money exchanged hands).

The survey’s two-fold goal was to:

– Determine what content BtoB marketers WERE creating, and
– Pinpoint how executives evaluated the content being churned out.
– The results uncovered a yawning gap that could be likened to the San Andreas Fault of BtoB marketing.

To wit:

90 percent of marketers surveyed said they produced sales and marketing content intended to drive their organization’s bottom-line.

90 percent of global executives said they depended on corporate created and curated content to help inform their business decisions.

Talk about two ships passing in the night!

In order to share these dramatic findings quickly, and to the widest audience possible, we first created a compelling title for the research: “Missing the Mark: Global Content Survey of Brand Marketers and their BtoB Audiences.”

Next, we created a microsite that housed the findings, and an analysis by Economist and Peppercomm subject matter experts.

We then initiated a multi-pronged education campaign aimed directly at marketers (93 percent of whom said they intended to maintain or increase their spending on content).

In addition to disseminating the findings in a press release, we incorporated a full array of integrated marketing tactics to spread the gospel, including:

– Use of a PowerPoint presentation at various BtoB industry conferences and panel discussions.
– An Infographic highlighting key findings.
– Producing four separate videos, each of which focused on a different survey finding.
– Leveraging Twitter, LinkedIn, Peppercomm’s RepMan blog, The Economist Group’s blog and my weekly Inc.com column.
– Creating and placing Native Advertising via AdBlade.
– Co-hosting a Twitter Chat using the hashtag #ContentSurvey
– Both firms also baked the research into new business pitches, marketing collateral and speaking opportunities.

The results exceeded our wildest expectations. Our media efforts reached 15,920,925 highly targeted readers, viewers and listeners. The Twitter chat elicited 311 #ContentSurvey mentions. And, the advertising campaign resulted in 1,113 clicks to the microsite and 1,892,313 impressions.

The campaign also earned a PRSA Big Apple award in the integrated marketing category.

In fact, Missing the Mark was so well received that Peppercomm and The Economist Group are in the midst of conducting a follow-up survey of Millennial decision makers in order to compare, and contrast, findings from the original Boomer-dominated survey respondents.

Note: This column originally appeared on Monday June 30, 2015, on the Institute of PR blog.