Sep 10

Brilliant marketing. Bad listening

I’ve been a fan of Shinola watches (www.shinola.com) since the iconic American brand first set up shop in Detroit (and played a key role in the city’s attempted comeback). 

Since then, I’ve purchased four Shinola watches but, like many Americans, have cut back on discretionary spending since the Coronavirus ushered in the new normal.

But that hasn’t stopped Shinola from continuing to bombard me with new offers for new and expensive watches.

But, I must say, their latest marketing effort is positively brilliant. It’s aimed squarely at the middle child in any given family (which tells me that Shinola has way too much personal data about me since I’m a middle child).

But I’m not buying the “Middle Child Detrola” for two reasons:

  • It’s way too pricey at $600.
  • It looks just like a $99 Swatch (and I’d have to be paid to wear any watch that ugly).

I understand Shinola’s desperation. And desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures. But listening before acting is more important than ever.

The marketing folks at Shinola (or their agency) need to do a far better job of listening to what their audience does and does not want and can and cannot afford.

The clock is ticking. And the brand Shinola saves may very well be their own.

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Sep 08

Review and Revert

Every now and then, the editors at Cody’s ConsultantSpeak Style Guide (not to be confused with the A.P. Style Guide, the Oxford English Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus) publish an updated Top 12 list of grossly abused and overused ConsultantSpeak words and phrases. 

For the uninitiated, ConsultantSpeak is the “inside baseball” jargon used by a large percentage of the professional working world.

I’m guessing it’s called ConsultantSpeak because, having represented a couple of The Big Four accounting firms and a host of strategy consultants, I was always hearing (and reading) new words and phrases that they, and they alone, understood (but were later adopted by the business community at large).

In any event, due to the Coronavirus, my editorial board has advised me to update my Top 12 list with three, new ConsultantSpeak words:

1.) Pivot: Every CEO, CMO or CCO is constantly peppering her or his commentary by declaring how critical it is to pivot the business and adapt to the New Normal.

2.) ReSet: See Pivot for explanation.

3.) Furlough: Many businesses had to announce they were being forced to furlough employees due to the pandemic’s impact on their bottom line. Sadly, and especially in the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors, the ConsultantSpeak word furlough has now been replaced by another F bomb: Fired.

But enough with the new additions.

Here’s the previous Top 12 list. See what you think. (Note: We follow the David Letterman approach of counting down from 12 to one):

12.) “There are no bad ideas”: Why does every brainstorm have to be prefaced with this introductory phrase? C’mon. There are LOTS of bad ideas. Why is it politically incorrect to say, “Wowza, Mike. You REALLY missed the mark with that thought! Ugh.”

11.) “Marinate”: We once employed an account supervisor who HAD to use the word marinate in every e-mail or phone call with clients or colleagues (“Let’s do this. We’ll marinate on the ideas and come back to you with a recommendation STAT!”).

10.) “Solutions provider”: Do you know of any white collar organization that doesn’t refer to itself as a solutions provider? Many of these very same companies also yearn to be a disruptor. Alas, few businesses have disrupted and problem solved at the same time. But there’s a pot of gold waiting for anyone who can.

9.) “Synthesize”: I can’t think of too many meetings I’ve attended in which someone didn’t suggest we synthesize our ideas before finalizing a program. Does synthesize mean prioritize? If so, why not say so?

8.) “Socialize”: Arguably my favorite ConsultantSpeak word, socialize simply means sharing ideas with teammates. So why not use the word sharing? The answer is obvious: Some consultant decided that synthesize sounded a whole lot more sophisticated (and, in consulting, the more sophisticated the word and phrase, the higher the fee).

7.) “Circle back”: “OK, well let us think through what you’ve told us and circle back with a recommended strategy.” Why do we have to circle back? Can’t we just come back (or go back, if you prefer)?

6.) Hard stop”: “Just a heads-up before we begin that I have a hard stop at 3pm.” Ok, well what time does your soft stop begin? Should we factor that into the conversation? And is a soft stop a two-minute warning for a hard stop?

5.) “Walk back”: “You’ll just have to tell the reporter we need to walk back that quote. It’s taken out of context.” You may disagree, but I believe the Trump Administration deserves full credit for popularizing the words walk back (as well as their ugly step sister, walking back).

4.) “Shifting sands”: You don’t hear this one very often, but it can be a killer when used properly. “Look we’re dealing with shifting sands and no one knows how this will turn out.” Not having grown up in the desert, I never knew sands shifted. But I immediately understood the meaning. And for the editors at Cody’s ConsultantSpeak Style guide, “That’s gold, Jerry. Gold.”

3.) Yada, yada”: Since we’re speaking of Seinfeld, I’ve often wondered if the Generation Z workforce knows why yada, yada, has replaced etc., etc., in most e-mails and text.” #ElaineBenes

2.) “Sunset”: This is a beautiful ConsultantSpeak word to let you know that an underperforming person, product or service is being shown the door (See: Furlough).

1.) “Review and revert”: Review and revert is the Babe Ruth of ConsultantSpeak. I didn’t invent it, but I fell like a ton of bricks for the phrase when a long forgotten BNY/Mellon client responded to my draft of a press release by telling me he’d review and revert. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.😎

So what say you? Do you agree with our editorial board’s Top 12 list? Would you suggest we drop some and add others?

If so, please socialize the blog, ask your friends to marinate on it before they synthesize their thinking and circle back to you with a response.

In other words, please review and revert.

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Sep 02

What Does Wellness Mean to You?

As the new ‘abnormal’ continues to dramatically change the way in which we think, act and feel, the subject of health and wellness is becoming ever more critical. But, as is true with so many other subjects, different people see and describe wellness in different ways.

To illustrate the point, Peppercomm’s Simran Kumar has penned this guest blog in which she asked a number of colleagues, friends and medical professionals how they describe wellness. I think you’ll find the responses insightful and interesting.

And please feel free to add your personal description of what wellness means to you in the comments section.

If you were to make a list of the buzzwords of 2020, it’s no doubt that wellness would be high on the list. In the recent weeks and months, I’ve seen more people talking about the idea of wellness than I have in a long time. 

Technically, wellness is defined as “the quality or state of being in good health.” However, I’m inclined to think wellness means something very different to each of us. On the heels of National Wellness Month, I decided to test out this theory and sat down with a few colleagues, clients, wellness industry leaders and my sister to ask what wellness means to them.

Find Your Balance

  • “Wellness to me is really bigger than what I normally hear people talk about it as.  Sometimes we use other terms – whole health, risk mitigation or employee wellbeing. “When we talk about wellness, it truly means that the person is healthy in all aspects, including physical, mental, and financial. I look at it as a three-legged stool – if one of those legs isn’t strong, the person will be off balance.Wellness or wellbeing is what keeps us in the game, what allows us to strive towards goals, and what makes our lives happier. It’s what we have to take care of before we can take care of everything else.”

– Beth Meyer Vice President, M&T Insurance Agency, Director of Group Benefits, New York

Take Ownership

  • “Wellness is so much more than fitness. Wellness is holistic, it’s everything from your mental and physical health, your relationships, your job, how you’re sleeping, your financial well-being, basically everything that factors into your life. It’s about having a really good balance that feels right for you and recognizing that you have the power to change your wellness by changing any of those factors.

– Samantha Scaffidi, Founder, Project Sweat and Jenna Arndt, Head Instructor, SWERVE

Listen to Your Body

  • “Wellness to me is whatever one needs to do to refill their tank in order to keep giving to others. Sometimes that means working out, sleeping in, spending time alone, watching TV, cooking a new meal, or socializing with friends. For me wellness changes day to day, but you just need to listen to your mind, psyche, and body to know what you need.

– Shivani Kumar, MD

 Know Yourself

  • “When someone asks you “if you feel well,” they’re really asking “do you feel like yourself. Wellness lends itself to an unrequited authenticity that can’t be replicated. It’s a healthy link between mind, body and soul. Wellness is finding a comfort and a confidence in who you are.”

– Bryce Michael Wood, Actor, Athlete, Activist & Creator of For Your Discomfort

  • Wellness prioritizes the fact that mental and physical health in work and life are intertwined. We all need to acknowledge that focused, actionable support for improving our mental and physical wellbeing during the workday is vital for us to be at our best.”

– Matt Purdue, Senior Vice President and Partner, Peppercomm

 Care For Your Physical, Mental and Emotional Needs

  • “Generally, I think wellness refers to doing the things one needs to do to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and mentally. The specifics may vary depending on what a person needs to feel good inside and out. Being in tune with oneself is imperative in figuring out what that might look like for any given person.”

– Neetu Sakkari, MD, Inpatient Attending Psychiatrist at Maimonides Medical Center

 As I expected, everyone’s idea of wellness differs. But in reflecting on the thoughts everyone shared, I also noticed a common thread: An important component of wellness is taking the time to listen to yourself and focus on what you need to do to take care of yourself at any given moment.

For me, sometimes that means taking time to sweat it out or taking a quiet evening to recharge. I also know that taking the time to care for your wellbeing is often easier said than done. As we’re supporting our clients, taking care of patients or being present for our families, it’s easy to forget to put our own wellness on our to-do lists. But, now more than ever, it’s critical we take care of ourselves.

So, in closing, I’ll leave you with the same question I asked at the beginning. What does wellness mean to you?

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Aug 04

It’s Finally Okay Not to Be Okay

Today’s guest blog is authored by Peppercomm’s Simran Kumar, who takes a sobering look at the realities of emotional health and well-being in the workplace. Please take a few minutes to review the cold, hard facts and, if needed, connect with one or more of the health & wellness experts she lists near the end of the article.

With stories about COVID-19, social justice issues, and the upcoming election continuing to fill the news cycle, it’s clear that there is a lot happening at once. It’s no surprise then, that Americans are feeling the impact on their mental health. 

A recent survey from Total Brain found that 83% of women and 36% of men have experienced an increase in depressive moods since February. Other studies have shown that COVID-19 has caused more stress than 9/11 and the Great Depression. Findings like these clearly show that the pandemic has significantly added to our country’s ongoing mental health crisis.

While it is often challenging to find a silver lining in times of stress and uncertainty, one could say that the current state of things has finally forced us to have open and honest conversations about the importance of mental health and encouraging people to seek the help they need. We have all heard the phrase ‘It’s okay not to be okay’, but for the first time, it feels like we can finally admit that we are not okay.

As many people are returning to their offices, what role do companies and HR leaders play to help them feel that they have the tools and resources they need to feel supported? A first step is establishing a culture where employees feel safe and comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace. Going further, many companies are starting to explore how they can offer more mental health resources through their benefits programs.

It’s not just companies that are thinking about how they offer more mental health resources. Many schools and universities, such as Harvard are also exploring ways to improve on campus resources for students. More than that, we are also seeing organizations like Daybreak Health and HIMS launching new online tools that make counselling more accessible and take the stigma away from seeking help.

With COVID cases continuing to rise across the South and West, there is a strong possibility that many businesses will remain closed through the rest of the year, if not longer. Tech companies like Google and Amazon, for example, have stated that employees can work from home through the rest of this year and into 2021. If that happens, it’s likely to put additional stress on the emotional health and well-being of thousands, if not millions of American workers. That said, right now really is the time to emphasize that it’s okay not to be okay.

Even though we may be taking care of our mental health, it’s still easy to feel overwhelmed during the day. So, here are two things you can do anytime, anywhere to help you when you feel overwhelmed.

  • Massachusetts based Clinical Social Worker Holly Boca tells clients to take 5 minutes and write down or think about a few things that bring them joy and then focus their attention on something from their list instead of the negative thoughts they feel to change their thought patterns when they feel anxious.
  • New York City based trainer Sam Scaffidi says that in addition to coaching her clients through fitness-based workouts, she encourages them to take a few minutes to focus on deep breathing and breathwork as it’s something they can do any time, even in the middle of the workday as studies have shown doing so can help calm stress or anxiety.

As someone who has always been passionate about mental health, it gives me hope that we are finally talking about it openly. With the current uncertainty continuing, what are some of the ways that you are dealing with not being okay?

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Jul 15

With all due respect

I have enormous respect for research. It’s fundamental to better understanding why things happen and where we, as a profession (and a society), are headed. 

In fact, it’s no stretch to report that Peppercomm has conducted more primary research since January than we had in the past two decades combined. Our latest report, done in partnership with The Institute for Public Relations was just released today.

Sometimes, though, I stumble across research that either tells me what I already knew, seems beyond obvious or both.

The most recent case in point is a study conducted by WeiWei Zang, associate professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside.

As you’ll see, Zang’s survey of some 800 Americans revealed that “…people who social distance may be more intelligent.” Ya think?

Zang says the findings “…support (the fact that) policymakers will need to consider individuals’ general cognitive abilities when promoting compliance behavior.” Zang added that “…people who comply with social distancing (and wear masks) have better working memory capacity which is an indicator of intelligence.”  I’d add that those of us who do wear masks and do practice social distance don’t have a death wish.

Adding insult to irony, Zang advises that future public campaigns need to be “….succinct, concise and brief.” I’d include the word consistent since some would say we’ve been receiving very mixed messages virtually every day since the pandemic first reared its ugly head.

I’m hoping Dr. Zang follows up this study with another one that asks 800 Americans if partying over a long holiday weekend at, say, Lake of the Ozarks (without wearing masks or social distancing) is a good or bad idea.

With all due respect, I can’t wait to see what those findings reveal.

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Jul 14

I’m looking forward to yet another scansorial adventure

Some busy executives sit in their Del Boca Vista time shares and read books on vacation. Others, especially this Summer, pick out a destination closer to home and hole up in a quaint bed & breakfast getaway.  

Not this blogger.

I’m once again headed to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a complete spiritual, mental and physical immersion in my scansorial avocation.

Scansorial? But, of course.

I chose to highlight scansorial for two reasons:

  1. I LOVE discovering new, or arcane words, and see it as a key part of continuous learning (which is, in turn, fundamental to success in life in general and PR in particular).
  2. The word fits me like a glove. Or a climbing harness. Or a carabiner. That’s because scansorial is an adjective associated with climbing that was first used in 1804.

Check out the definition and usage below (https://wordsmith.org/words/scansorial.html).

PLEASE be sure to also read the quote of the day at the very end. One wonders if Wole Soyinka had the Trump family in mind when he penned the words?

Last, but not least, please feel free to share examples of how YOU assure continuous learning is part of your daily ritual.

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scansorial

PRONUNCIATION:

(SKAN-sor-ee-uhl)

MEANING:

adjective: Related to climbing.

ETYMOLOGY:

From Latin scandere (to climb). Ultimately from the Indo-European root skand- (to leap or climb), which also gave us ascend, descend, condescend, transcend, echelon, scale, and scandent. Earliest documented use: 1804.

USAGE:

“After one heavy night’s drinking a student of one of the colleges had returned to find the gates of his college firmly closed against him. Undaunted, he proceeded to climb the towering, wrought-iron obstacle … The ascent went well and he even paused momentarily to celebrate his achievement sitting aside the summit of the college crest with its Latin motto which encouraged such metaphorical, if not literal, scansorial achievements.”
Hadyn J Adams; The Spinner of the Years; AuthorHouse; 2013.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:

The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny. -Wole Soyinka, playwright, poet, Nobel laureate (b. 13 Jul 1934)

Jun 26

How Are Communicators in Manufacturing Adapting to the New Normal?

While many PR firms have been battening down the hatches during these wild times, we have continued to reach out and conduct primary research that will benefit everyone in the field.

In today’s guest blog, Peppercomm’s Matt Purdue shares the findings of qualitative research we’ve just released that shares the thoughts, feelings and actions of CCO’s in the manufacturing sector. 

There are plenty of great take-aways and best practices to be gleaned. So glean away…

+++

In the John Lennon classic “Nobody Told Me,” the legendary singer/songwriter croons, “Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed.” The great Liverpudlian could have been talking about what’s happening in the U.S. manufacturing sector today, particularly when it comes to communications and employee engagement. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, many manufacturers have been deemed essential businesses. Even in regions that have gone into lockdown, these companies have continued operating their facilities. Across the U.S., millions of frontline production staff have been and are still working under strict health and safety protocols.

Meanwhile, many office staff, engineers and technicians have been forced to work remotely, trying to figure out new ways to collaborate. This complicated new normal has been particularly challenging for communications leaders – but also very rewarding. To take the pulse of how they’re working and reveal best practices, we at Peppercomm recently conducted in-depth interviews with 10 comms executives across a range of manufacturing companies.

Our findings are detailed in our new report, “Engineered Resilience: COVID Communications in the Manufacturing Sector.” As a whole, we found that these communications professionals and their teams are responding to these strange days with determination and innovation. We also shared some of the top insights in a recent article in IndustyWeek. Some highlights of our research:

Think global, act local: Every company we spoke with has formed a pandemic task force with leadership at corporate headquarters. They develop new policies, and then communicate with regional and local teams to execute them as they see fit. Communications leaders have created toolkits to be used at individual locations to produce everything from manager talking points to posted signs – and even translated into multiple languages as needed to ensure 100-percent awareness.

Driving the dialogue: The leaders we interviewed stressed that they have upped their game in terms of gauging employee sentiment and encouraging more two-way communication. They have increased the number of employee surveys and are performing short pulse checks every few weeks. They are also urging employees to provide feedback directly to managers and/or executives, either directly or anonymously.

Supporting the home front: For those employees stuck at home, comms professionals are leading with empathy and understanding. They are constantly communicating ways staff can remain productive and positive despite the challenge of dealing with childcare, elder care and other issues. They also are being very careful in their communications about what the return to office – or “reboarding” – will look like. No one is rushing their office staff to return, with safety as their top priority.

We at Peppercomm have also developed a new Reboarding Playbook to help guide communicators on the path of bringing employees back to their facilities. It’s available at no charge in an effort to share this critical information as widely as possible as the U.S. economy pushes toward recovery.

Jun 16

Tis always better to give than to receive

I’ve been purposely silent during these difficult times because, frankly, I didn’t feel I had anything constructive to add to what already’s been said. 

However, I’m very proud of our firm’s statement on BLM, the agency’s BLM-specific action steps we’ll be announcing this week as well as our decision yesterday to be one of the first 39 PR firms to pledge a firm commitment to the Diversity Action Alliance.

Peppercomm has really been stepping up big time in terms of sharing communications insights and research throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

Since March 15th, we’ve co-branded two extensive research reports with The Institute for Public Relations that surveyed some 750 senior communications professionals about their actions and reactions to the pandemic.

The first covered a wide range of subjects including trusted sources of news and information, the change in organizational tone and content as well as where senior communications executives were focusing their time and efforts.

The results of the first report triggered the second, which took a very deep dive into internal communications and employee engagement.

And we’re set to release a third report at the end of the month that asks CCOs and others what lessons they’ve learned to date as well as their thoughts about the second half of 2020.

Yesterday we released yet another brand new research report and bylined article. The subject: employee engagement in the manufacturing sector during the pandemic. Here’s the report and here’s the Industry Week article.

While all of this thought leadership most certainly heightens awareness of my favorite firm, it also shares best practices, hurdles and countless takeaways for the entire PR profession and, in the most recent examples above, the manufacturing sector as a whole.

In times like these, when most firms are battening down the hatches and absolutely surrounding their clients with love and affection (as are we, btw), it’s beyond cool to also look up, look ahead and share what we’ve learned with one and all.

As the late Denny Griswold, the legendary editor of PR News liked to say, I’m “….proud to serve PR.”

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May 27

Bang! Zoom! You’re Gone!

It’s been refreshing and, in many ways, enlightening, to see how transparent and empathetic most organizations have been when it comes to imparting bad news during the pandemic. 

That said, there are always exceptions to the rule and here is one of the most egregious of late:

WW (aka the business formerly known as Weight Watchers) chose a regularly scheduled Zoom meeting to downsize scores of employees real-time and right in front of each other. If a shock like that doesn’t cause one to go on a starvation diet, I’m not sure what will.

FYI, the original Weight Watchers was always notorious for being a shark-infested culture that doubled as a churn-and-burn serial client. I distinctly recall reading an Advertising Age article a decade or so back warning agencies to steer clear of all WW RFPs.

The name change to WW and Oprah Winfrey’s involvement clearly haven’t changed the soulless personality of an organization that clearly puts profits ahead of people (and chooses to ignore the profound mental, emotional and psychological trauma the Zoom firings must have caused).

So while many organizations are handling the new normal (and the unfortunate financial fallouts) beautifully, there will always be exceptions to the norm.

All of which beggars the question: How would you feel being terminated on Zoom right in front of your peers? Strikes me as the kind of torture that might have worked quite well back in the good, old waterboarding days of Gitmo.

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May 07

Why doesn’t our country have a Minister of Loneliness?

Wikipedia defines the word loneliness as, “..an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation. Loneliness is also described as “….social pain — a psychological mechanism which motivates individuals to seek social connections. It is often associated with an unwanted lack of connection and intimacy.” 

As our country continues to suffer through this godawful pandemic, loneliness has become a very real concern for businesses everywhere. It’s threatening productivity and has risen to the very top of the C-Suite’s list in terms of caring for the safety and wellbeing of employees. Back in early March, physical health and wellbeing were paramount. Now as our Groundhog Day-like existence continues with no real end in sight, we’re seeing a rash of suicides being reported every night on the evening news.

Mental and emotional health experts alike have stepped up, penned articles, made themselves available for counseling, pushed updated regulations and reimbursement for online sessions, and done everything in their power to provide assistance.

So, how is the Trump Administration helping?

They need look no further than across the pond to see how the United Kingdom is dealing with loneliness during the pandemic.

The Brits have created an amazing array of public and private sector organizations in tandem with the government to address the issue. The result is the Connected Coalition.

The U.K. even has a Minister of Loneliness (a position that was created a few years ago as it became painfully obvious that our 24X7, always-on, social-media driven world was creating huge and unexpected emotional side effects).

All of which begs the question: Why don’t we have a Minister of Loneliness?

If the Trump Administration is, in fact, concerned about the health and wellbeing of all Americans, one would think that would include the huge and growing problem of loneliness. Alas, it’s unclear whether this Administration is unaware of the profound mental distress permeating the country or simply choosing to ignore it.

It comes as no surprise that, in a just released PRovoke Covid-19 PR Industry Survey, the U.S. government received the LOWEST marks by survey respondents for “handling the COVID-19 crisis.”

These findings dovetail with the recently released IPR/Peppercomm survey of 403 senior communications executives who listed “government leaders” such as presidents and prime ministers as the second least trusted source of information. Only social media was less trusted.

It’s a disgrace that, with all of the money being dispersed and all of the divisive political one upsmanship we’re witnessing, someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hasn’t stepped up and suggested the creation of a cabinet-level position to deal with this rapidly growing problem.

Considering how he succeeded in bringing a lasting peace to the Middle East, Jared Kushner would be my candidate for the position. Once he’s done perfecting all the drive-through testing and PPE sourcing, of course. Plus, the guy always looks lonely.

Instead, this Administration will stand by while this overwhelming miasma drags millions of Americans into an abyss from which some may never escape.

Maybe our Administration should create a Minister of Indifference instead.

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