Nov 30

Coke is it (when it comes to gaming the system)

drink-coke-get-fatLost amidst the 24X7 coverage of Isis threats on Brussels and Paris, Donald Trump’s ever-more embarrassing gaffes and the build up to the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was this PR gem from the Nov 25th edition of the New York Times: “Coca-Cola’s Top Scientist On Obesity is Departing.”

The headline doesn’t do justice to the story. It seems that Rhona S. Applebaum, the calorie-laden soft drink maker’s top scientist quit in the wake (fizz) of revelation that Coke was funding scientific research that played down the role of coke products in the spread of obesity!

Get this: Applebaum and Company created a non-profit group call the Global Balance Energy Network, a non-profit group that doubles as a research ruse to distract consumers from the soft drink’s heinous role in fattening up Americans. Coca-Cola invested $1.5 million in the GBEN to fund research that would “balance the debate” about soft drinks.

That’s like trying to balance the debate about global climate change, It’s here, people.

Anyway, Coke’s goal was focusing on promoting physical activity that said the GBEN “would fend off criticism about (Coke’s) product by shifting the blame for obesity to physical inactivity.”

Various emails obtained by the AP show that Muhtar Kent, Coke’s CEO wanted to enlist CBEN’s president, James O. Hill (who doubles as a University of Colorado obesity researcher) “to help shape media coverage of soft drinks.”

In other words, this whole sordid plot to pay researchers to point the finger at physical inactivity and away from soft drinks was driven by the CEO himself. Talk about unethical!

Were it not for the soft drink’s timing in the news cycle, we’d all be discussing CokeGate today.

Michael F. Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said it was concerning to see “how a major corporation is using a professor to propagate their views.” And Marion Nestle, a NYC professor and author of Soda Politics, said “The Global Energy Balance Network has been a public relations disaster for Coke.”

Here’s another PR disaster: I haven’t read a single word about this uber image and reputation scandal in any of our industry trades.

Maybe too much physical inactivity is the cause?

Nov 23

Has the word disruption been disrupted?


If I had a dollar for every dreamy-eyed entrepreneur who strolled into our office over the past decade and proudly claimed her new business model would prove to be a disruptive technology, I’d be worth more money than Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Don Middleberg combined.

Every Zuckerberg wannabe wants to believe his model’s speed in tandem with a back-end infrastructure and algorithm that would befuddle Plato, will totally upset the existing market and make him (and his sycophantic minions overnight millionaires).

Needless to say, the probability of these seismic disruptions coming to fruition is about as likely as the Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series.

But, here’s a cool development in the world of disruptive technology: the phrase itself is becoming passé. Disruptive technology has, well, been disrupted.

A just-released survey from IBM’s Institute for Business Value (or, IBM/IBV, if you prefer) says “Uberization” is the next, new thing keeping CEOs up at night.

Unlike disruption, which typically occurs within a static industry (Think: Amazon and Borders, or Peppercomm and Edelman), uberization occurs when competitors from OUTSIDE an industry invade the homeland to provide services in new and unique ways.

Fully 54 percent of the 2,500 CEOs surveyed said new, and unexpected, technology is coming from outside their industry. Linda Ban, Global C-Suite Program Director at IBM/IBV says this “….whole notion of being Uberized – where the competition is coming from a place we didn’t know about – means things are not necessarily industry-dependent anymore.” Holy ambush, Batman!

IBM’s identified a seismic sea change that, I’m not sure too many businesses grasp. Take the PR industries trade media. Please.

One recently ran a front page story entitled, “Is the agency model broken”? The traditional one most certainly is, and we’re being Uberized by players who were still in diapers when Billary ruled the Oval Office. But the smartest, and fleetest, of agencies are changing on the fly and will continue to thrive, despite the uberization threat from outside our industry.

But, here’s the rub. The traditional trade journal model is rife for uberization. All it will take is a couple of smart journalists, a visionary sales executive and a killer app to totally uberize PR journals.

When it occurs, and it will, we’ll be able to wave bye-bye to all of those costly and unnecessary awards programs. We’ll also say sayonara to content that focuses solely on the top 10 global agencies. And, we’ll be able to say hello to an uberized PR content model that is dramatically faster, far cheaper and more objective than the current crop of publications.

We’re I to team up with a Journo, sales whiz and technologist, and uberize our industry’s trades, I think I’d call my new app, PRbFree.

Uberization should be a wake-up call for companies in every business & industry. It’s not the disruptor within the industry you should fear most, it’s the one in the category you’d least expect to come in and eat your Thanksgiving turkey.

I’m taking these findings very seriously, and will never again dismiss the souvlaki guy on the corner as just another service provider. For all I know, he may be in the midst of cooking something up to Uberize the entire PR profession.

(A special note to Ted Birkhahn and his highly trumpeted Fortune/Integral survey which was among the first to quantify the fear disruption struck in the hearts of CEOs. R.I.P: Your survey’s just been uberized.)



Nov 20

Three Forgotten Principles of Great Content

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

contentI see too many company content hubs that rely on generic content.

Some of it is curated by third-party content providers, which leaves me scratching my head wondering how this content gets posted.

The other day I found a content hub hosted by a company targeting restaurant owners. But the hub was filled with generic small business “news articles” from the BBC, Business Insider and the like.

Remember, this is a company targeting restaurateurs, yet most of the content was very broad. For example, a retired army general offering leadership lessons.

Here at Peppercomm, we adhere to a few key principles when we create content for clients:

Be unique: Our recent Peppercomm-Economist Group content marketing study, Missing the Mark, shows that two-thirds of business executives prefer uniqueness and timeliness in the content they read. While the BBC is a great news organization, there’s nothing unique about reposting one of their old articles on your company’s content hub.

Be relevant: Executives don’t come to brands looking for news. Our survey shows that three-quarters of them seek out content to research a business idea. Unless your content is laser-focused on what’s keeping your customers awake at night, they’ll go elsewhere.

Be flexible: Executives want their content in different formats. For example, younger executives are more than twice as likely to open video content compared to veteran executives. If your content hub is filled with text articles, you’re turning off a large part of your audience.

The bottom line: Content that drives people to action takes strategic planning and carefully deployed resources. There are no shortcuts.

Nov 18

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there

The-Flying-Dutchman-vrs-The-Black-Pearl-pirates-of-the-caribbean-31292993-660-397I’ve recently interviewed a few individuals who’ve had no clue as to what they wanted to do, and where they wanted to go. One was 25 years of age. The other had to be pushing 60.

The Millennial had spent four years plying his trade in the sports broadcasting arena. He’d landed a few gigs in markets that would make Buffalo, Wyoming, seem like the big time, but had yet to even scratch the surface in terms of advancement.

Since his uncle was a good friend, I invited him to come in and talk.

Me: “So, what are you career goals?”
Ex-sportscaster: “To make a lot of money doing what I love.”
Me: “Which means you want to be the next Jack Buck or Cris Collinsworth?”
Ex-sportscaster: “Maybe but, at this point, I just want a good job.”
Me: “Doing what?”
Ex-sportscaster: “Dunno. Marketing, advertising, sports. Doesn’t matter.”

End of conversation.

I told the Millennial to take some time, narrow his focus and come back when he knew what he wanted to do with his life.

The second job seeker was a one-time power broker with a Fortune 500 company. She’d recently been downsized, and was looking to “…begin the next chapter of my life.”

Me: “Well, that’s pretty exciting. What do you see yourself doing?”
Ex Big Wig: “I’m pretty much open to anything.”
Me: “Well, I’d like to help. Are you interested in the corporate or agency side?”
Ex Big Wig: “Anything that would match my previous salary and compensation.”
Me: “OK. Well, what do you do best?”
Ex big wig: “Manage people.”

End of conversation.

I wished her well on chapter two, but suggested she first figure out what she actually wanted to do.

Today’s business world is absolutely brutal. It rewards the specialists, and ignores or discards the generalists.

In fact, one might liken the job seekers to the Flying Dutchmen of business who will forever wander the job market until they figure out who they are, what their area of specialization is and what they can bring to the plate (or shoreline, if you prefer).

Nov 16

The British take on American Politics

8_262015_b3-thom-political-r8201I don’t think anyone would disagree this year’s race for the presidency is far and away the most bizarre (and entertaining) in American history.

Recognizing a story angle when I see one, I decided to capitalize on my trip to London last week and ask my Flagship/Peppercomm colleagues their views on our lunacy. (A note of caution: Tea Party supporters may not want to read any further.)

Here is a summary of their answers to my questions:

1.) Who would you like to see become America’s next president?

– Hillary. She has the dignity, intelligence and b*lls to do what is right for the U. S. and the world.

– Amongst the current crop, I’d be forced to go with Hillary but she’s too entrenched, untrustworthy and Machiavellian. I’d rather see someone like Elon Musk, who has the get-up-and-go, the grand vision and motivating spark needed to succeed in the modern world. I’d pair him with Oprah Winfrey, a woman who possesses deep emotional intelligence.

-I’d either go with Hillary (the devil you know) or Bernie Sanders (just because he seems less like a politician and more of a genuine person). The only credible Republican candidate is Carly Fiorina, whose gotten her gains by being damn good at what she does without going bankrupt or being a raging bible-thumping fascist.

2.) What about Donald Trump? What does the average Brit think of him?

– Allowing this buffoon anywhere near a position of power in civil society should amount to a hate crime. He is the personification of everything negative the rest of the world views about America.

– As long as he never has any power or authority, we think he’s very funny.

– We think he is a strange, inappropriate and very, very rich man who may freaking win! That would be terrible on a global scale and an error of epic proportions. Or, as Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman: “Big mistake. Huge.”

3.) What about Obama? Has he helped or hurt America’s image globally?

– He’s the most globally-loved American president since JFK. His deficit lowering, health care loving, NRA-defying, Iraq war-ending legacy is seen as amazing by the rest of the world.
– I see the sniping about ObamaCare as carping from the wealthy and self-interested. He’s a spectacular symbol of a multi-racial tolerant society. The parents of black kids moving into self-awareness must now see that the sky’s the limit.

4.) Finally, are America’s best days behind her?

– Not at all. But things will have to get worse before they get better. Something will have to shake America to its very core in order to turn things around.

– America’s reluctant attitude to immigration is economic madness. The U.S. needs to attract more, younger and educated people in order to compete with China and India. Population MATTERS. Why on earth wouldn’t you want more eager and ambitious people to power your economy?

Note: The views expressed in this column reflect neither those of  RepMan nor Peppercomm.

Nov 12

These ideas are great! Why didn’t we see them before?

I had the distinct pleasure of spending three days with our UK colleagues in London at Flagship Consulting, a Peppercomm company. Today’s guest blog is penned by Mark Pinnes who, having worked on both the client and agency sides of the business, provides keen insights into handling the most difficult question an incumbent agency MUST answer in any review. – RepMan

How the Mini-Pitch can help you avoid the agency kiss of death.

58063110“This just a process we have to go through.” Your longstanding client calls to tell you the bad news, it’s a re-pitch. You love the client and now they have a new head honcho, so you don’t mind being asked to showcase your talent and refresh the account.

You mobilise the agency and generate a killer campaign that will see the account through the next two to five years. On pitch day it’s going wonderfully well – they’re nodding, smiling, laughing at all the right bits. And then the senior decision maker kills you, “These ideas are great! Why didn’t we see them before?”

It’s over. Pack up your bags and leave.

Firstly a confession, while I’m an agency guy now, I’ve been on both sides of this conversation. I was lucky to serve as the Head of Media relations for one of the UK’s top firms, and then oversaw about a dozen agencies for an international tech business. As a client I found myself uttering these killer words on more than one occasion, and it got me thinking – could it be my fault – as a client?

If the agency didn’t offer the right idea before, there really are only a few possible reasons;
– A lack of understanding of the brief or inadequate client feedback
– The agencies best thinkers are rolled out for pitches – which is a miss on their part
– Account drift (laziness)
– Budget

That is one responsibility each for the agency and client, and two shared. So yes, it was my fault.
I tried five or six approaches to solve the problem of ‘how to stimulate on-going world class ideas from the agency roster” over and above their high quality regular work. Here is the one that routinely produced the best results: the mini-pitch.

A few times a year, we would put aside a small amount of budget for planning, and a project fee – this was outside of the normal retainer, and used a different pool of agency hours – it wasn’t a huge amount, but it must be distinct. The symbolism is important, as is the sense of competition.

We issued a ‘new’ brief to a selection of agencies from across the roster and asked / funded them to invest time and effort into generating a plan that would work across all marketing disciplines. The best plan would ‘win’ the business – and these ideas would supercharge the retainer work across the marketing mix for all the agencies. The winning agency would operate as the hub for that piece of work- obviously gaining exposure for their agency, and serious kudos.

This methodology taps into the method and madness of agency life – new pitches are exciting; they stimulate cross agency thinking and generate the best ideas – and competition lies at its heart.
It took me a while to get here, as a client my pretty dogmatic opinion was that the agencies should always do this anyway; hell, we were paying them for ideas and execution. Once we adopted the new approach, the combined agency/client team generated much better results across all marketing channels.

Mini-pitches keep the account fresh and generate spikes of interest and engagement, before things get too late.

Nov 09

Now boarding, the so-called steerage class


I must begin by saying I despise almost every American air carrier, with United being far, and away, the worst.

But, just yesterday, I experienced a most horrific customer experience on a British Airways flight from Rome to Heathrow.

Truth be told, I had made my coach reservation at the last second but, based upon BA’s superb reputation, I was expecting a superior boarding experience a la Southwest or JetBlue in the States. Silly me.

To begin with, BA has more classes of membership than an oversubscribed class of Oxford freshman.

I stood in the boarding area as first, global class passengers were welcomed to find their seats. They were followed, in turn, by world class, continent class, St. John’s Wood class (which had to have been comprised of Sir Paul, Ringo and Klaus Voormann) and, then, blue or red class (I couldn’t detect based upon the accent).

That was followed by economy elite, economy and last, and certainly least, street urchins like me. I decided we should be called the steerage class, since that’s how the gate agents made us feel.

As expected, I was seated in the penultimate row, along with my fellow steerage passengers. (I must say the whole thing reminded me of the boarding process on RMS Titanic, with me in the role of Leo, of course).

But, wait love, it got even worse.

Conditioned as I am to grabbing the first available overhead space for my bag, I spotted an empty cubby hole above row 17. Immediately after inserting my bag into the tiny crevasse, I heard a stern voice from a BA flight attendant asking, “Sorry, sir, but is your seat in row 17?” I shook my head no, but added with a smile, “We Americans are trained to grab the first available overhead space when we board.”

Well, that comment sat about as well as a German V2 rocket falling on a helpless London circa 1944. The oh-so-sweet BA flight attendant snapped, “Well, that may be. But, we simply don’t put up with that sort of behavior here. Take your bag back to the row you’ve been assigned.”

I was both upset and non-plussed. What had become of British manners? Is this how Richard Branson built Virgin? I think not.

I know one should not judge an entire airline based upon a single, sullied experience. But, if last night’s rudeness is any indication, BA has moved to the bottom of the customer experience standings right alongside the rightly despised United Airlines.

BA did everything possible to make me feel like the steerage class passenger they’d singled out for boorish behavior from the very first touch point.

And, after tonight’s abomination, methinks the BA in British Airways should really stand for Boorish Attitude. It fits them tighter than an overhead bag being squeezed into the Row 17 overhead compartment.


Nov 05

When an ad campaign is forced to make an emergency landing

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Lester.

AirbnbOpen mouth. Wider, please. Now, insert feet. Yes, both of them. When brands act like knuckleheads, it’s not just the brand that loses, their trusting customers can lose by association.

This is especially true in the case of Airbnb in San Francisco. I’m guessing they thought they’d win a head-nod from Joe Public by complaining, like we all occasionally do, about having to pay back taxes. They did it quite publicly with a slew of outdoor ads in San Francisco with statements like, “Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later. Love, Airbnb”.

Gosh, isn’t that amazing, a 25 billion dollar corporation paid some taxes. So did I, but I didn’t spend a tidy sum to whine about it in public while telling the city what to do with their money. And $12 million doesn’t add up to the king’s fortune like it used to. Martha Kenney, an assistant professor at San Francisco State University, pointed out that once you do the math on the portion that would actually go to libraries, then factor in salaries, etc., they stay open maybe another minute. Another billboard suggested the taxman not spend the entire $12 million in one place. On the next billboard; but if they did, spend it on burritos. Yes, they suggested burritos.

This is snarky arrogance on a whole new level. Snarky will not build trust. And Airbnb relies on a whole lot of trust for their system to work. Trust on both sides, from the folks offering their precious homes to strangers and those strangers who are sleeping in an unknown bed.

Advertising has always been a great tool to start a dialogue. Smart marketers need to think the conversation all the way through before blundering onto the city landscape. In this case, the public responded, through various social media, swiftly and most decidedly. Airbnb lost control of the script and it didn’t end well. The posters and billboards are coming down along with some hard earned trust and respect. Sure, push boundaries. But you must always mitigate risk.

Airbnb’s tag line is, Belong Anywhere. This ad campaign did not belong anywhere and should not have left TBWA/Chiat/Day L.A., full stop.

Nov 03

Fire the Wall Street Journal!

youre fired.The Republican National Committee’s (RNC’s) decision to punish NBC for the “gotcha” questions posed by their CNBC correspondents in the last debate prompted a Pavlovian-like response from this blogger.

The incident occurred at the height of the Reagan Administration when we were collectively basking in being part of what Ron was accomplishing in that shining city on the hill (DC today is more like a trailer park sitting along a swamp-infested swamp).

I was representing a global consulting firm that, shockingly, was spending big bucks on a fully integrated campaign. And, I was orchestrating the entire effort, thank you very much.

In addition to running full page advertisements in Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, I spearheaded an aggressive media relations campaign that quickly bore fruit. Indeed, I scored a major coup by convincing a Journal reporter to write a feature about this virtually unknown consulting powerhouse.

I made sure the writer had access to senior management, clients, former clients and employees alike. The day before the piece was set to run, the Journal reporter called to thank me for opening so many doors, and tipped me off that the feature would appear on page one of the following day’s Journal. I was floating higher than a Kansas City Royals fan.

Around 6am the following morning, my phone rang: “You and your f*cking Journal article have ruined my company! Fire them immediately!” It was the CEO. And, to suggest he wasn’t anything but ripsh*t mad is like saying policemen everywhere loved Quentin Tarantino’s recent remarks.

Back to the story. I raced out to grab a copy, and read the front-page WSJ story. To borrow the tag line of a well-known, right wing network, I found the piece fair and balanced.

I immediately called the CEO back, and tried to explain that all good journalists write objective pieces and that the positive comments far outweighed the negative ones. I also added that news coverage on the Journal’s front page was far more effective than any amount of print advertising. “I don’t give a sh*t. Fire them! And, I should fire you while I’m at it,” he shouted as he slammed down that same poor, battered phone.

I did as I was told. I called the Journal space rep, and canceled our advertising contract. I also made a point of laying low for the next few weeks.

Then, I attended my first senior management meeting since the dreaded Journal piece had appeared and “destroyed” the consulting firm’s business. Midway through a discussion of sales leads, the CEO paused, looked at me and smiled, “Cody, that damn Journal piece has had the phone ringing off the hook. Every lead you’ve heard us discuss today is a direct result of it. Tell the *sholes they’re rehired,” he said. Then he added, “And wipe that sh*t-eating grin off your face before I smack it off!” He was a real sweetheart.

And, so calmer heads prevailed, we continued our integrated marketing campaign and the firm’s awareness, credibility and leads improved correspondingly.

All of which brings me back to the RNC’s knee-jerk reaction to punish NBC. Like the long-ago CEO’s consulting firm, the only people being punished by the Republicans are the Republicans themselves. As Harry Truman famously said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. It seems to me the RNC has sprinted out of the kitchen, and are busy setting up their own members-only tailgating party that will only serve food and drink that they approve of in advance.

It makes one wonder how the eventual Republican candidate would react if he/she thought Putin was nailing him/her with gotcha questions. I shudder to think of the consequences.