Mar 15

Good-Bye to You

I received my vaccine booster this past Saturday and, within 12 days, will be 99 and 44/100th percent immune from the ravages of COVID-19.😅

And while I’ve personally bid adieu to the scourge of our lifetime, I fear the ignorant, uniformed and belligerent will trigger a second wave of the deadly virus within the next 30 days (or sooner).

All one has to do is follow what’s happening in countries such as Brazil, Italy and France to see that the virus is absolutely delighted to perform an encore when safety precautions are ignored.

We can easily avoid what’s happening overseas but, as the ubiquitous Dr. Fauci warned Americans yesterday, we need to “mask-up” and continue to social distance. Good luck with that.

Thanks to our former president and his cultish followers, some 45 percent of Republicans say they will not wear masks.

To make matters worse, the “Immortals” (aka college kids on Spring Break) are partying hard sans masks and social distancing in what are obviously super spreader events.

Yesterday Fauci asked Trump to step up and ask The Base to wear masks.

That’s akin to asking New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to voluntarily step down in light of the ever-increasing number of sexual and workplace harassment suits he’s facing.

Neither Trump nor Cuomo will do the responsible thing.

So who will take the heat when, like Italy, Brazil and other parts of the world, we soon see wide swaths of Texas, Alabama and other bastions of The Base forced to shut down for a second time? The answer is obvious: Fox, et al, will concoct a number of ersatz reasons to blame Biden, the Democrats and the Left-Wing media.

I yearn for the day when I can say good-bye to COVID and ignorance alike but, alas, the latter’s become firmly ingrained (and enabled) by a Republican Party that has no moral compass whatsoever. And, like a rapidly spreading virus, it will only get worse.

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Feb 22

You can always tell how smart someone is by what they laugh at

I’d like to claim credit for those insightful words but they belong to Tina Fey. And they’re just one of countless astute observations made about the tremendous power of humor in business in a brand new book.

Fey, along with other comedians, as well as some of America’s best known CEOs and leadership gurus all contributed pithy comments to the book, “Humor, Seriously: Why Humor is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life.”

The authors are two Ph.D’s who teach a REQUIRED course about the importance of humor in the workplace at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

They’re doing so because, based on their extensive research as a behavioral scientist and leadership guru, respectively, the authors have proof positive that comedy not only differentiates an individual, it’s also a key attribute of the very best leaders of today and tomorrow.

I’ve known this stuff for years since, as a highly mediocre stand-up and improvisational comedian, I’ve seen laughter help me in business to build rapport, increase creativity and, yes, even help close deals.

It’s also why we’ve trained our employees in stand-up, tied it in to our charitable fundraising and, hold for shameless self-plug, provide comedy workshops for clients of all kinds.

In fact, self-deprecating humor has been proven to make ALL leaders who embrace it seem more empathetic, vulnerable and, get this, intelligent (I’m an obvious exception to that rule).

But don’t take my word for any of the above.

Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, the co-authors of Humor, Seriously say, “Humor charms and disarms (in a business setting). Even small gestures of levity are powerful in negotiations.” (note to self: Try your New Jersey Transit material the next time you negotiate with a procurement officer). “That’s in part because they (humorous words and phrases) spark human connection — and when we connect as people, we often get more of what we both want.”

I dare say we all want to spark more human connections as we battle our way through this horrible period in history.

But the words comedy, laughter and humor actually scare many uptight business executives who take themselves and their work far too seriously.

I can think of one head of internal communications at a global corporation who, in response to my suggesting we conduct comedy training for their fast trackers in order to combat anxiety, depression and poor morale, said, “I’m just too afraid that, in this cancel culture world of ours, someone will say something during the training that would trigger a lawsuit of some kind.”

Possibly, but not if the proper parameters are established in advance. When we comedy train everyone from rocket scientists and lawyers to bankers and oncologists, we take a deep dive into each organization’s culture to determine what is, and isn’t, appropriate before any training occurs. So, to borrow the vernacular du jour, we make the training a “safe place to be.”

The results can be game-changing, especially for Gen Z and Millennial employees who have either been sheltering alone in an 800-foot studio apartment or moved back into the same bedroom they had in high school (which HAS to be brutal).

I could go on, but must insert another pearl from the authors: “Research PROVES that humor can be one of the most powerful tools we have for accomplishing serious things. Humor makes us APPEAR more competent and confident, strengthens relationships, unlocks creativity and boosts our resiliency during difficult times.”

I will end with a most excellent application of humor that was used by President Obama during a State of the Union Address (btw, just try to imagine the off-the-charts anxiety you’d be feeling in the moments leading up to delivering a speech of that magnitude). Here’s what Obama said when explaining the need for heightened government efficiency:

“The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in saltwater. But the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in fresh water.” Obama took a long pause and then added: “I hear it gets even more complicated when they’re smoked.”

Republicans and Democrats alike laughed out loud (and when’s the last time that happened?).

 

 

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Feb 18

There’s nothing smart about this campaign

We live in a world of personalized, micro-target marketing that, thanks to artificial intelligence, has become equal parts amazing and appalling:

  • Amazing: Brand X knowing exactly what I buy and suddenly popping up on my IG feed with a way cool product I MUST purchase.
  • Appalling: God knows who else, besides Brand X, has my personal information and what they plan to do with it? 

I mention hyper targeting because I must admit to being left completely dumbfounded (a state of mind with which I’m very familiar, btw) by a new campaign from the fine folks at TD Ameritrade (TDA).

First, click on this link to see their TV spot.

Now riddle me this: To whom is TDA aiming its commercial?

It has to be Baby Boomers since, aside from Steve Carell’s horribly bad 2008 remake of “Get Smart”, absolutely no one under the age of 60 will possibly understand TDA’s lame attempt to leverage a TV show that ran from 1967-1970.

From Gen Z types to Younger Millennials and from older Millennials to Gen X’ers, no one will “get” the subtle comedy thread embedded in the pitch (especially TDA’s use of “Would you believe?” in the middle of the 30-second commercial). For the uniformed, Would you believe…. was Special Agent 86, Maxwell Smart’s, signature line.

Getting back to the introductory paragraph, how could marketers who are armed with mountains of data explaining exactly how to reach younger and middle-aged audiences choose, instead, to play a nostalgia card that no one in their target universe will get (as in Get Smart)?

In closing:

  • Would you believe smart investors will be befuddled by TDA’s tagline, “Where smart investors get smarter?
  • Would you believe egregious target marketing mistakes such as this happen all the time?
  • Channeling Maxwell Smart one last time, would you believe the TDA marketing types are anything BUT smart?

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Dec 20

How Bad Can it Be? BAD

I’ve always believed the very best publicity in the world won’t help if your product, service or organization provides a sub-par user experience.

As you’ll read in today’s guest blog, Peppercomm’s very own Jacko Kolek recently suffered through a text book example.

PLEASE share your customer experience(s) from hell tales. It sets the perfect tone for the holidays. 😎🚀

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I’m always up for a weekend getaway or a trip to the beach.  When booking a hotel, I religiously check the online reviews and as long as it’s clean and safe, its fine by me.  I never spend much time in a room anyway, so my mantra is “how bad can it be?”  Well, a recent stay at the Hotel Pennsylvania has made me rethink that motto. 

The online reviews of the Penn were fine. Nice staff, clean room and great location. Some recent reviewers even gave it five stars. Given it’s the holidays in NYC, the room was a pricey $500/night so it had to be decent, right? Wrong.

Let’s start with the check in, which was complete and utter chaos.  A line snaking around the lobby made security at JFK airport look like a walk in the park. The self-check-in kiosks didn’t work and there was no one around to ask questions or provide support.

Once we finally got our keys, things got worse.  The “Security Guard” was asleep at his post and the hallways were a disgrace.  Carpeting was worn and ripped, the walls were scuffed and paint was peeling from them.  The door to my room looked like it had been broken into and the handle was chipped and askew.  There is quaint old and there is gross old and this is just plain old gross.

And then the room.  Where do I start?  Dirty carpeting, stained and chipped furniture and smudges on the walls.  The towel bar was broken in the bathroom and there were no towels.  The bathroom floor was rusted and the shower was chipped and dented.  Oh, and the sheets were stained.

Where did these reviews come from?  They couldn’t possibly be from people who walked the halls of this hotel.  This experience has made me not only question my laissez faire approach to booking accommodations, but the value of online reviews.   Clearly in this case they were false and the owners of this fine establishment should be ashamed of themselves.  Sooner or late this will catch up with them.  Bottom line, you can fake an online review but you can’t fake an experience.

Have you had a hotel horror?  Share your stories with us.

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Sep 09

Purpose Goes Back to School

There’s been an overwhelming amount of coverage about the critical role of organizational purpose (especially in light of the recent Business Roundtable announcement. But how many high schools do you know who are in the midst of developing their reason for being?

Longtime Peppercomm Partner and New York General Manager Jackie Kolek has quite the tale to tell. Enjoy (and please share your thoughts, reactions, etc.)….

Last week I attended the annual back to school night at my kids’ high school. I typically skip the principal’s opening remarks, but since we have a new principal this year, I decided to check him out. I walked in expecting to hear the same spiel about academic excellence, building resiliency, helping our kids manage stress and what a wonderful school we have. What I wasn’t expecting was a 20-minute purpose workshop.

Taking over as principal of one of the top high schools in the state is no easy feat. Where does one go from there? Well, turns out that with our top SAT scores, high college acceptance rates and competitive athletic programs there was still one thing missing: a purpose.

Corporate purpose has been the buzzword of 2019, but I never thought about the need for a purpose at a public high school. In explaining how he is working with the teachers, staff, administrators and students at the school in creating their purpose, Principal Thomas walked the parents through an exercise to create our own purpose. He instructed us to ask ourselves five key questions:
1. Who are you?
2. What do you love to do?
3. Who do you do it for?
4. What do they want or need from you?
5. How are they changed or transformed by what you give them?

This is brilliant in its simplicity. Over the course of twenty minutes, he really got the whole audience thinking about why we show up every day. In my client work I often run into brands that are confusing their mission or values with their purpose. Purpose, our new principal explained, must be intentional and it must tap into your passion. It isn’t a tagline and it isn’t a goal for revenue or market share. Rather, its what moves us all forward and keeps us engaged and driven to succeed.

This month Peppercomm will mark its 25th anniversary. Due to a recent business transformation, we are in the unique position of having 25 years of experience and expertise, coupled with the hunger and drive of a start up with just one year under our belts. I’m looking forward to asking these five critical questions of myself and asking my colleagues to answer them as well.

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Aug 30

Ding Dong: Purpose and Peril Calling

Today’s guest blog is authored by longtime Peppercomm partner, Margaret “Maggie” O’Neill. Please share your reactions on the social channel of your choice…

Just this week, the Washington Post (and others) reported on Ring’s nationwide partnership with 400 police departments as a part of their “new neighborhood watch” mission.  With this mission comes growing privacy and surveillance concerns that are certainly getting louder. 

So, where does the good outweigh the bad for Ring, and for other brands with such clearly defined purpose?

I remember when Ring launched at the Consumer Electronics Show. I was in a taxi and saw a media clip from Las Vegas TV talking about the new company and how they had outfitted a high-crime neighborhood in Las Vegas with new doorbells and had already made a reduction in crime leading into the show.  I thought it was brilliant.  An idea that serves the greater good and is able to make a splash at the biggest tech show, is marketing gold.

Since that January morning, Ring has become a household name, breaking ahead of the other ten doorbell/security companies that launched that year, and expanding its influence far beyond the technology it provides. Its Neighborhood Watch program allows Ring users to opt-in to sharing their camera footage with law enforcement partners.

And even with the privacy backlash, Ring is standing behind their commitment (one that is authentic to the brand and has been in place since its inception). Eric Kuhn, general manager of Neighbors, Ring’s companion app, was quoted in The Washington Post saying, “The mission has always been making the neighborhood safer. We’ve had a lot of success in terms of deterring and solving crimes that would otherwise not be solved as quickly.”

So, all good, right?  Apparently not.

Well, according to the article, “legal experts and privacy advocates have voiced alarm about the company’s eyes-everywhere ambitions and increasingly close relationship with police, saying the program could threaten civil liberties, turn residents into informants, and subject innocent people, including those who Ring users have flagged as ‘suspicious,’ to greater surveillance and potential risk.”

So somewhere between sparking paranoia and protecting neighborhoods lies the mission that Ring set out on when they started.  While the brand appears to have a large enough user base, brand loyalty and support from police to ride this out, scrutiny will only increase as the debate rages on.

As for me, I remain impressed with the first efforts in Las Vegas and with the brand’s continued focus beyond just their product. As long as Ring continues to walk the walk and remain consistent in their mission, they can weather this storm.  But in a world where brand loyalty changes quickly, they need to stay ahead of the privacy pundits and ensure their opt-in policies remain just that.

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Aug 14

What sets us apart

Beginning about 12 years ago, I injected stand-up and improvisational comedy into the body of Peppercomm. The results were nothing short of game changing and played a critical role in our winning so many workplace culture awards. 

Fast forward to today and the new, red hot Peppercomm (see my recent Tweets about being named US AOR for three global brands) and comedy training for our team is something still very much a part of our DNA.

Last week, Sir Clayton of Fletcher (aka Clayton Fletcher), led a half-day stand-up session for 12 of our newer employees.

Clayton (@claytoncomic), Peppercomm’s chief comedy officer (Note: he is one of two chief comedy officers in the world. The other works at a nuclear power plant in Kazakstan), was kind enough to pen today’s guest blog which features one of last week’s stand-up training participants, Janine Savarese.

I think you’ll find their conversation interesting since it captures the why of why we did this for so many years in the past and why we will continue to do so for many years to come.

Comedy is one of Peppercomm’s key differentiators since oh-so-many agencies take themselves oh-so-seriously. Not us 😎

As Peppercomm’s Chief Comedy Officer, one of my responsibilities is teaching all Peppercommers how to do stand-up comedy. Seriously! After a recent comedy training session at Broadway Comedy Club, I spoke with Peppercomm’s new Senior Vice President, Janine Savarese, shortly after she made her “comedy debut” in front of her fellow Peppercomm employees.

CLAYTON: First off, congratulations on joining my favorite company this past January. How have your first seven months on the job been?

JANINE: Joining Peppercomm has been great! I’ve spent the majority of my career on the agency side of the business, and had my own consultancy before joining Peppercomm. I’ve been familiar with Peppercomm for a very long time and I’m excited to now be a part of such a creative and progressive firm. I feel very fortunate to have been able to join this talented team at a particularly exciting time for the company.

C: Now you’re a busy person, juggling a large roster of clients and managing countless other responsibilities. What was your reaction when you were told that you were coming here, to Broadway Comedy Club, for a class in stand-up comedy?

J: I thought I might be able to get out of it! I was terrified, honestly. When I was younger, I was never afraid of public speaking or performing. When you started talking about how it’s normal to get nervous when getting up in front of people, it hit home for me. In the last few years, I’ve noticed that I am so critical of myself now in these situations, especially when I am nervous and have seen that as a weakness in myself. One of the key lessons I learned through your session, is that being nervous conveys to the audience that I am emotionally invested in the presentation, and that causes them to care about me as a human being. Clearly, that’s a relationship I want to be able to build with anyone with whom I come into contact, so I’m now less critical of my nervousness and more accepting of it. And, a little less nervous too!

C: Well, the truth is you didn’t seem nervous at all, just fired up, excited and passionate about the story you were telling. Audiences want to see someone take a risk, and the longer you were on onstage, the more risks you took. I watched you become increasingly invested in your story about how your husband didn’t make the bed properly, and I couldn’t stop laughing! Do you think it will be easy to translate that fearlessness into your job?

J: Yes, I do. What was so rewarding about the process was learning about myself. It made me think differently about how I interact with others. Addressing my fear was exhilarating, but the real takeaway was rethinking how I connect with an audience, whether it’s one person or a hundred. At the end of the day, people care about the time they spend with others, and it’s reciprocal.

C: Absolutely! So many speakers forget that the audience isn’t rooting for failure. In the comedy club, everyone hopes I’m funny. Likewise, you’ve never gone to a business presentation in hopes that the speaker would make no sense and have no connection with the crowd. We all want the same thing, a real story that inspires us.

J: And another major takeaway was the importance of listening. Learning to pick up on cues, both verbal and nonverbal. Particularly in a new business pitch, feeling the sentiment in the room is so important, because if it’s not resonating you need to change course! I think too many times we forget that and just focus on all the points we want to make, or even our own nerves, rather than really listening and connecting with the other people in the room with us.

C: How was the comedy training session different than you thought it would be?

J: Well, first off, just walking into this place and feeling the creative energy here was unexpected. I thought we’d be in a conference room somewhere, fluorescent lights, and some guy would try to teach us all how to be funny. I’ve always thought you’re either funny or you’re not. But as I stood in the hallway on my conference call, I noticed all these creative types roaming the hallways, pictures of Rosie O’Donnell and Chris Rock on the wall, and I knew I was in for something different. Especially as a big fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I started to feel glad I didn’t actually manage to get out of it. As a group, we all got to know each other in a different way, and that was terrific. I was skeptical that I was going into a “drink the Kool-Aid” situation, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much value there was to it. The three hours flew by, as well!

C: Oh, good! Do you still think that a person is either funny or not?

J: I don’t think the goal was to teach people to be funny. Instead, we learned to think about how you are with different people, and how to use a natural sense of humor in a variety of situations. We learned to story-tell in a different way. We learned to use our powers of persuasion, how to communicate in a clear way, and the importance of having fun! I was also shocked at how funny some of our quieter, more introverted colleagues ended up being too.

C: Most of the hilarious professional comedians I know are introverts at heart. I think the public would be very surprised to meet some of the dynamic and charismatic performers they’ve seen here, after the show ends.

J: Well, that’s something too, isn’t it? Sometimes the best experiences in life are the most unexpected.

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Jul 09

The female professional network

Today’s guest blog is authored by Peppercomm’s amazingly amazing Courtney Tolbert. I do hope you will read it and share your thoughts on her POV…

Why would women need a separate professional networking platform? I imagine this is the number one criticism that Sophia Amoruso’s new “Girlboss” platform will receive. It’s a fair question. After all, women are free to use existing platforms like LinkedIn, why not just capitalize on the features and networking opportunities there? I would tackle this question with one of my own – why do minority or underrepresented groups tend to form their own advocacy groups? 

While college educated women are no longer the workplace minority in terms of numbers, a pay gap still exists, and they still fight corporate stereotypes that hold them back professionally (i.e. mothers can’t or won’t go back to work after giving birth). The answer to the aforementioned question would be: women need to connect and work together with other successful and capable women who understand why and where they are coming from professionally – and arguably more important, where they would like to go with their careers.

There are existing professional networking platforms that focus on women a little more such as Bumble Bizz; however, Girlboss seems more enticing to me because from the preliminary stages, it is interested in the longevity of one’s career. When signing up for the platform, users are prompted to answer three questions: “I’m good at ____,” “I’d like to learn ___,” and “I’d like to meet ___.” These are seemingly simple questions, but they get you thinking about where you are and where you want to go next, at least they did for me.

This post is not meant to serve as an ad for Girlboss, though I think the platform holds a lot of promise. It is meant to draw attention to the fact that while women have made amazing strides in the professional space, we are still not treated the same as our male counterparts. It is to highlight available tools and networks that women can take advantage of while we continue to strive for professional excellence and work smarter and harder. Girlbosses unite.

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Mar 06

Do you finally understand Storytelling? Good. Forget it. It’s now all about Storymaking

storyThe lemmings otherwise known as public relations, advertising and marketing communications executives routinely jump from one buzzword or phrase to another every 18 months or so. Someone will coin a new phrase or service such as disruptor, data analytics, Big Data, behavioral science, digital-driven programs and, of course, Storytelling. And, within a week or so, every marketer in the known universe will be including the hot new word or phrase in every other sentence.

Storytelling was critical to every marketers’ earned, owned and paid media campaign, correct? It had to be because today’s consumer (whether she is a REIT manager or full-time mom) wants to engage with products or services that do the right thing, educate and entertain her and, most importantly, fit within her lifestyle. That objective was accomplished by crisp, clear and compelling storytelling. And, we were all Storytellers.

Not anymore.

Mastercard’s just changed the game. They’ve abandoned Storytelling and now focus on Storymaking.

Allow me to allow Mastercard’s CMO Raja Rajamannar to explain: “As recently as a few years ago, people sat in front of a TV, with the whole family gathered during prime time…Today, the world is very different. People still come together in the family room, but it’s a collection of individuals who are all in their own private worlds with their own connected devices.”

So, Mastercard has morphed from Storytelling to Storymaking. They now collaborate with consumers to slice and dice their legendary “Priceless” storytelling campaign to four categories:

  • Priceless Surprises, which gives cardholders unexpected experiences, such as meeting celebrities.
  • Priceless Cities, which curates one-of-a-kind experiences and exclusive promotions only available to Mastercard cardholders.
  • Priceless Causes, which generates donations to particular charities when consumers use their Mastercard.
  • Priceless Specials, which provides various offers and benefits.

The fundamental difference between Storytelling and Storymaking, says Rajamannar is this: “Consumers don’t want to hear brand stories; they want to be part of the story. We enable, create and curate experiences for consumers.” That change may seem subtle to some but it’s actually quite profound.

You can read more about Mastercard, Rajamannar and Storymaking here, but, as Sr. Maria Eucharia used to warn my fellow eighth graders at St. Francis Grammar School, “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Get a firm grasp of Storymaking ASAP and figure out how to use it to better connect with your target stakeholders. And, for god’s sake, begin including the word in your agency/internal corporate storytelling and explaining how it’s different and more relevant than yesterday’s buzzword.

Get used to Storymaking. It’s the new orange of marketing communications. That said, be prepared for it to be replaced by the next, new orange in 18 months or sooner.