Dec 19

Romantic cereal?

vulgar-gaga-marry-the-night-cereal-500x334I’ll sometimes set out a suit, tie, shirt and shoes the night before a big new business presentation. And, I’ll most certainly pack my luggage the night before any sort of trip. But, I’ve never, ever set out my cereal for breakfast the night before I tuck in for bed.

I raise this seemingly absurd point because the fine folks at Kellogg’s and their agency partners, Leo Burnett, believe they can encourage consumers to eat more of their cereal by doing just that: leaving the box out the night before.

They’ve also decided to take a completely different strategic approach by running TV commericals at night and to romaticize Raisin Bran, Special K and Mini Wheats. Imagine that. The Burnett people went so far as to say, “We wanted to grab people by the lapels to get them to recognize that cereal is a beautiful thing, and that when it mixes with milk, something magical happens.” Really? What, exactly?

Sorry, but cereal is cereal is cereal. I, for one, see it as a food staple that is, hopefully, both tasty and somewhat nutritious. But:

– You’ll never get me to set it out the night before
– You’ll never, ever get me to associate it with beauty.

Sunsets are beautiful. Scanning the horion in all directions from a 14,000-ft mountain is beautiful. A box of Mini Wheats sitting astride my kitchen counter as the clock strikes midnight isn’t beautiful.

I’m sure this campaign is based on extensive research, and the insights gleaned from it. And, I’d love to know how many people Kellogg’s thinks will actually take the time to set out their cereal their cereal box the night before because it will make them feel more empowered to conquer the next day.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that empowerment is the brand promise (“A magic formula of protein that helps turn little boys into soccer players and moms into supermoms.”). And, the TV spots conclude with a voice-over proclaiming, “Tomorrow is yours to claim, set yourself with Kellogg’s tonight.” And the tagline is, “See you at breakfast.” Does anyone believe cereal alone can accomplish all those things?

Methinks this is one campaign that is all wet. Or should I say soggy?

Dec 18

The New York Times’ Lump of Coal

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

coal from the new york times.Like JFK, Martin and John Lennon, we can now pinpoint the exact time of the death of a great American institution: journalism.

The tragic moment was Nov. 22, 2014 – fittingly 51 years to the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. On 11/22/14, the New York Times, the Old Gray Lady, the bastion of American reporting, ran its usual column from its public editor, Margaret Sullivan. Her job is, essentially, to answer “questions or comments from readers and the public, principally about news and other coverage in The Times,” according to the paper’s website.

Her November 22 column focused on the fairness – or lack thereof – of the Times’ coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The specific topic, however, is beside the point. The death knell for journalism was sounded by the Times’ Joseph Kahn, lead editor for international news, when he was asked about how the paper determines how much coverage to allot to the conflict. He explained:

“We are following our best gut experience about what people are paying attention to. We cover things that are most relevant to our readers and to the international conversation.”

Can you spot the fatal flaw? It’s in the first line: “We follow our best gut experience about what people are paying attention to.”

Gut experience? The New York Times, arguably the most powerful news outlet in the U.S., goes on gut instinct when deciding what’s relevant to its readers. Shame on the Times. With all the money and influence at its disposal, does the Times rely on repeatable, quantifiable audience research when it comes to creating content? Apparently not. They use their collective gut.

I guess they’re too busy tooting their own horn by reporting on their own journalist, James Risen, and his refusal to reveal a source to the federal government. Yep, that must be taking up so much of their time that they don’t have a few hours to actually do reader research.

The good news for PR pros is that while old-line journalists like the Times’ Kahn continually drop the ball, we can pick up the content ball and run with it. That means using any number of cheap, reliable research methods – from Survey Monkey to actually picking up the phone and calling people – to gauge the desires and motivations of our target audiences. Hell, if we just avoid using our gut to make decisions, we’ll already be one step ahead of the NY Times when it comes to content.

Dec 16

Meet MiniRep

MINIREP1pgEvery once in a while RepMan is going to bang out a short and sweet post on a current and/or pressing issue.  Herewith be the first:

Camille’s Last Stand

Camille Cosby’s slamming the media coverage against her hubby violated two fundamental image and reputation principles:

1.)        Do not do anything to create a new news cycle in the midst of a major crisis.

2.)        Never pick a fight with the media.

If she had issued her statement when the crisis initially broke it would have been folded in alongside the main news story and, perhaps, afforded little more than sidebar status. Instead, it’s now front page news.

And chiding the media to “dig more deeply” is akin to tossing rocks at a hornet’s nest. The Fourth Estate is ever vigilant, and always on the prowl to investigate, and uncover, the latest salacious story. To egg them on in the manner Mrs. Cosby has, matches Custer’s decision to attack a Sioux Indian village along the Little Big Horn River. In both cases, the fights were picked against the wrong enemy and at the wrong time.

Dec 15

Are the bold really the meek?

lemmings-off-a-cliffStuart Elliott’s recent New York Times column on advertising certainly wasn’t a ringing endorsement for the field.

In it, Elliott discusses Madison Avenue’s sudden love affair with the word bold. He says it’s showing up everywhere and from all sorts of different marketers. In the automotive category, for instance, Toyota is launching its new Camry as, “The BOLD new Camry.” And, a Zales TV commercial suggests consumers “Declare their love boldly.” Not to be outdone, True Religion Jeans urge buyers to “Be so bold.” Elliott also lists about 10 other bold examples in his column.

I’m not surprised multiple advertisers are latching onto the same word to drive their strategy. I’ve seen countless original campaigns or strategies copied by other brands, and often in the same category.

Take the airline industry for example. Southwest Airlines pioneered the use of comedy in their various communications. The others followed. Case in point, the video depicting a SW flight attendant rapping out safety instructions was a social media phenomenon. So, naturally, it begat countless other funny safety instruction videos from the likes of Air New Zealand and good old Delta.

In other instances, multiple non-competing marketers will borrow a strategic idea (a la the use of the word bold) and make it their own. So, Flo the friendly Progressive Insurance salesperson inspired Toyota’s Jan, the witty, fun-loving receptionist who, in turn, gave rise to the slightly creepy Lily from AT&T, whose clairvoyant powers absolutely befuddle a male consumer.

A few closing thoughts:

  • Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but, when applied to advertising, it indicates a lack of original thinking.
  • And, getting back to Elliott’s bold marketers, wouldn’t you rather have your target audiences associating you with the word bold and sharing their relevant experiences with your brand on social channels before you start using the word to describe your product? That approach tells me those brands and their advertisers are thinking more about sales and less about making an emotional connection with their audiences. But, hey, what do I know? No one’s ever called me bold.
Dec 04

Sorry, but the survey is experiencing an indefinite delay

4331117971_93b6dabfb7How many companies do you know would conduct a customer satisfaction survey right smack in the midst of a serious product or service SNAFU?


– Microsoft survey female executives in the immediate aftermath of CEO Satya Nadella’s oh-so-insensitive remarks about women in the workplace?

– My all-time favorite fast food chain, McDonald’s, have asked parents their thoughts on the Hello Kitty whistles that were shown to be possible choking risks to their children?

- Takata, the Japanese automobile manufacturer whose air bags began deploying at will and injuring drivers, have asked customers, “So, how are those air bags treating you?

I ask these seemingly inane questions because I was recently handed a customer satisfaction survey by New Jersey Transit while I was stuck IN THE MIDST of a yet another unexpected and indefinite delay.

I kid you not. As we passengers sat stewing somewhere near the tourist attraction otherwise known as Rahway State Prison, an NJT employee dressed liked a Salvation Army refugee suddenly appeared. She strolled up and down the aisles distributing surveys while murmuring, “Fill them out and hand them in at Penn Station.” She simply oozed warmth and caring.

Needless to say, I was both appalled, and amused, at the mere prospect of NJT’s assessing customer satisfaction at the precise moment anger levels were soaring higher than the international space station.

My favorite question was a multiple-choice one, entitled:

“How likely are you to recommend this service to a friend or relative?”

After gagging, I responded by scribbling, “I wouldn’t recommend this service to my worst enemy.”

It seems to me the best time to field a customer satisfaction survey is either after you’ve solved a major problem or have instituted a program that consistently surprises and delights audiences. Brand haters will always exist, but a smartly timed survey should produce a more balanced response that will elicit real insights.

But, when you’re @newjerseytransit, and have little to no competition, you can pretty much field a survey after a trail derailment and still not worry about the results.

All of which has inspired me to suggest yet another tagline for my favorite rail system, “NJT: Pouring salt on the wound.”


Dec 02

Time Warner Cable…Enjoy Better…NOT!

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

bad-customer-serviceTime Warner Cable (TWC) does not understand the definition of customer service. And the company’s tagline “Enjoy Better” is anything but! Over the past few years, when our cable has gone out, days would go by with hundreds of people in my complex calling – including me – to ask when it will be fixed. We never receive a good answer. The first time we went without cable for four or five days, I called the CEO’s office and talked to his executive secretary, who was terrific, and got the cable back on – miraculously – within hours. The second time it happened, I didn’t wait for more than two days, and had to call her. But why should I have to call the CEO’s office to get our cable back on?!

There have been other issues throughout the years, but the one that really did me in and which showed that TWC has actually gotten worse, not better, over the years, is what happened to me recently. I wanted to pay our bill by credit card but I had a question about it. When I got a live representative on the phone, I was told it would be $5 extra to talk to a live person. Are you kidding? I’m supposed to pay you to make a payment if I talk to a live person? How much is it to talk to a dead person?

The woman finally waived the fee since I was aggravated. But, this raises a bigger issue. How does a company like TWC not understand customer service? In 2014, how does any company not understand that it’s all about the customer. In a flash, we can all go to social media and negatively impact your reputation. Just like I’m doing with this blog.

So, why am I still with Time Warner? I definitely want to switch to FiOS, but my husband really likes NY1, the 24-hour local cable TV station, and it’s only on TWC. That is the absolute only reason we still have Time Warner Cable.

But, that time is quickly running out. FiOS – can you start a local 24-hour news channel? Please???

Nov 25

Three Ways to Kickstart Your Content Marketing in 2015

BMWVintageMotorcycleToday’s guest RepMan is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

Content marketing is all the rage in our communications profession these days. After decades of putting our press releases on the “leading premier solution in the industry” and years writing Facebook posts and tweets, we’re finally starting to realize the most important driver in mass communications: the story.

So now that we are all on the same page, here are three ways to supercharge your content marketing and storytelling in 2015.

Make it someone’s job: I still see too many corporate mar/comm departments – and agencies, for that matter – with siloed job functions. One group does media relations, while another handles creative and yet another manages social media. While job specialization is still vital, putting up walls between content developers is the quickest way to kill your narrative. The smart way to avoid this pitfall is to make it someone’s job to oversee how the story is told across different platforms. This requires someone with good editorial skills, savvy project management abilities and the political wherewithal to bring together disparate groups that don’t always play well together in the sandbox. Here’s an interesting job listing for a content manager at chemical giant DuPont. While I like the job spec, I think they are making one huge mistake. This position requires a minimum of only five years’ experience. I find it hard to believe that someone with only five years’ experience is going to have the shrewd diplomatic talent to balance the competing interests of so many corporate stakeholders.

Think quality over quantity: Too often, communications professionals become trapped on the content development hamster wheel. “We need 25 tweets this week. We have to shoot at least two videos a day at our conference. We must blog five times a week to optimize SEO.” Sure, volume is important; you need to keep that steady stream of content flowing. But don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Always ask yourself what’s the most compelling, emotionally relevant story we can tell. Like the boy who cried wolf, if you are always shouting at your audiences (Do you really have to announce every new hire??), they’re less likely to listen when you do have something important to say. Do us all a favor: For one week, make quality your most important metric, not quantity. Here’s a great post from Dori Fern, who explains this much more eloquently that I can.

Keep it simple: With all the fantastic new content development tools at our disposal – from data visualization software to cheap DSLRs that shoot broadcast-quality video – it’s tempting to always push the technology and creative envelopes. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For example, someone please tell me what story this infographic on the potato lifecycle is trying to tell. Great stories simply told should be your goal. One excellent instance of this comes from New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s “Amazing Things” campaign. Just former patients in black-and-white videos telling their stories. I challenge you to watch three of these and not get emotional



Nov 20

What’s your advice?

newspaper-3Imagine that a small, but growing, manufacturing company run by a dynamic CEO has just hired you or your firm.

Now imagine they’ve set fairly aggressive media goals. They’d like to be seen not only in the industry trades, but in the most important national business media as well.

Last, but not least, you’re their very first PR firm.

Despite the odds, your team succeeds beyond your wildest dreams. Within a two-month time frame, they land major placements for the CEO with everyone from Fox Business News and CNBC to The Wall Street Journal and Inc. Magazine.

Now, imagine your shock when you receive a ‘Dear John’ letter from the head of communications letting you know he’ll be executing the 90-day termination clause in the contract, citing disappointing results.

After you drag you lower jaw off your desk, you fire back a missive, saying that you were more than proud of your team’s performance; indeed you are intent on submitting the campaign to every awards program under the sun.

When you do connect with the client, he reiterates his disappointment, adding that they’d expected PR to drive sales.

Ah ha. So, that was the disconnect. While we’d agreed on benchmarks for the campaign, we had no idea the client was counting on PR alone to drive sales. I tried explaining that PR is a superb vehicle for creating awareness, credibility and consideration, but closing sales was the client’s responsibility. Not ours.

I also asked our resident measurement expert, Nicole Moreo, senior manager, research and analytics, to weigh in. She said, “When measuring the success of a program, the goals need to be outlined from the beginning. There needs to be a combination of media and business goals in order to truly track success. The client needs to be willing to share internal KPI data so the PR team has the opportunity to make their goals meaningful to the client’s bottom line.” Amen. While we knew the media goals, we were left in the dark as to the business objectives (i.e. PR had to drive sales).

In any event, they went their way and we went ours. But, I learned three valuable lessons in the process:

– Be wary of working with any company that’s never worked with outside communications counsel. They’ll have no barometer with which to judge good, bad or otherwise.

– Be crystal clear about what PR, social media, content creation, etc., can and cannot do in terms of driving sales. In some instances, PR can, indeed, drive sales. In most instances, it’s one of many integrated marketing strategies a savvy client will use to drive qualified sales leads.

– And, finally, beauty IS indeed very much in the eye of the beholder. Where I saw Silver Anvil-worthy work, the client saw a lack of sales conversions.

How about you? Having read this scenario, would you add any other thoughts?

Nov 18

(Don’t) play like a Jet: Part II

B05P-PaCAAE5pJmHi there. Feeling rested up? Good. You’ll need it to stomach the final three PR faux pas committed by this year’s New York Jets. So, without further ado, here’s part two of Adam Giambattista, uber Jets fan and fellow Peppercommer’s list of image and reputation atrocities:

4.) Bring back the old Rex Ryan: The old Rex Ryan feared no man, made bold, brash predictions, trash talked opponents and gave one the impression that no one would ever stop him or his team. Sadly, since losing a boatload of weight (and games, BTW), the man’s become the meek and mild Rex. He doesn’t guarantee Super Bowl wins, doesn’t trash talk his nemesis, Bill  Belichick of the Patriots and no longer publicly fondles his wife’s feet (Google the latter comment if you don’t believe us).

No, Virginia, this Rex has been roped, tied and muzzled by his bosses, Woody Johnson and John Idzik, respectively. One prime example is Geno Smith. Yes, him again.

Adam’s inside sources tell him Rex had given up on Geno right after the first kick-off of the first game. Alas, Jets GM John Idzik would have none of it since he’d made Smith his second round choice and declared him “the future of the franchise.” Man, if any poorly worded statement ever deserved an immediate SEO and SEM campaign to move it down the search lists, it’s that one. Adam believes Idzik and Johnson are to blame for the dreary play of the franchise and if once again unchained, Rex would become a latter-day Hercules and lead the team back to the top. Color me skeptical on that comment.

5.) Typical Jets: Leave it to GangGreen to lose big all season long to other losing teams and then pull off a not-to-be-believed win over the mighty Steelers. Adam notes that, believing the Jets would be trounced by Pittsburgh, he would have bet every single penny in his son’s 529 college savings account and placed it on the Steelers winning going away. Instead, they broke every bettor’s heart from sea to shining sea. That’s oh-so typical of them.

In that contest, the Jets, say Adam, went back to the playing style that earned them back-to-back AFC championship game appearances. He witnessed retro Rex Ryan-type football the other day and thinks it’s a great step in the right direction (Blogger’s note: I do not concur. It’ll take decades to right this listing ship).

6.) (Don’t) play like a Jet: Adam implores anyone with the right contacts to get in touch with a Jets marketing executive ASAP and ask that the team’s slogan be changed forthwith. He believes, and I concur, that the Jets tagline: “Play like a Jet” rivals BP post Gulf Oil spill for the easiest moniker to knock.

Play like a Jet lost its relevance about four seasons ago. It used to mean playing tough, smash mouth football. But now, play like a Jet means:

–    Throwing an interception
–    Being the 12th most penalized team in the NFL
–    Dropping a guaranteed interception
–    Missing a team meeting in order to catch a flick
–    Possessing the worst passing offense in the league

Play like a Jet is perhaps the single biggest PR misfiring of the season. The words have become an albatross around the team’s neck and only underscore what once was and what most assuredly isn’t today.

So, what do you think of the Jets, Adam’s list of six major PR mistakes or life in general? We welcome any, and all, comments.

Oh, and remember, whether it’s the game of football or the game of life, (Don’t) Play Like a Jet.

Nov 14

(Don’t) play like a Jet

ny_cardinals-jets_01-480x300Despite their miraculous, jaw-dropping upset of Pittsburgh this past Sunday, the New York Jets remain a joke.

But, don’t try telling that to Head Coach Rex Ryan. He believes future opponents should fear his sad assemblage of talent. In fact, immediately after Sunday’s “big” win, Ryan said, “For people who count this team out, do so at your own peril.” That would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.

But, hold on Jets fans!

This two-part blog will NOT examine New York’s oh-so-many mistakes on the gridiron. Rather, we’ll be discussing off-the-field PR faux pas committed by the NFL’s version of “The gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”

In searching for the most egregious public relations SNAFU’S of the season I turned to Adam Giambattista, an uber Jets fan and fellow Peppercomm employee.

Adam provided me with six great examples. Here are the first three:

1.) Geno Smith. Actually not much more needs to be said than Geno Smith. The words have become synonymous with failure. But, Adam added this observation: “There seems to be no passion whatsoever when Geno sets foot on the field. After one especially atrocious loss, Smith came to life for the first time this season and ripped into booing fans by dropping the F-bomb. Adam noted that Smith is being paid $1.25 million per year to be one of only 32 NFL quarterbacks and should comport himself as a professional. True that.

2.) Michael Vick: he committed a most egregious faux pas after a 37-0 drubbing at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. Vick refused to share any blame for the debacle. Instead, he told reporters he hadn’t been prepared for the game and, to pour salt on the wound, said he hadn’t been paying ANY attention at all the previous five weeks. This is a veteran quarterback? Vick is earning four million dollars this season to, as he said, not pay attention. There ought to be a law.

3.) MovieGate: This one is priceless. The night before the Chargers contest, Geno Smith was a no-show for a critical pre-game strategy meeting. What was Geno’s excuse? He said he had been watching a movie because he’d mixed up the meeting and film times and, get this, his brain was still on East Coast time! One would think Geno’s handsome salary would afford him the opportunity to buy a watch.

But, wait, it gets better. When pressed by reporters to share the name of the film, Geno responded with a terse “No comment.” As Adam points out, he personally can easily name the last five movies he’s seen but Mr. Smith seems to have forgotten the one he’d viewed only 24 hours earlier. Attention Jets team trainers: That may be a symptom of early onset Alzheimer’s.

…..Feel free to call an audible and weigh-in on these three observations now. Or, if you prefer, wait until you read the complete set in the second installment.