Jan 17

The Apollo 17 Principle of Recruitment

Today’s Repman is penned by Peppercommer Carl Foster…

APOLLOI don’t know about your industry but the world of PR is hotting up, and I find myself interviewing an increasing number of candidates.

When I interview people, particularly junior level candidates, I look for something I call the Apollo 17 principle.

You might be familiar with the Apollo principle. It’s the premise that everyone in an organization can pull together toward a common goal. It’s based on the 1960’s anecdote in which John F Kennedy, while on a tour of Cape Canaveral, asked a janitor what he did. “I’m helping put a man on the moon, sir” was the reply.

The Apollo 17 principle is different. It’s about valuing skills that are either innate or have taken a long time to develop over easier to develop skills, like PR and marketing.

Following Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in 1969, NASA launched five more Apollo missions, each manned with highly trained astronauts – the objective being to study the lunar surface. That required the skills of a geologist, so the astronauts undertook geology classes.

But here’s the thing, NASA realized that instead of an astronaut trained in geology, what they actually needed was a geologist trained as an astronaut. It turned out to be easier to layer astronaut training over years of study in geology than train astronauts to sort the lunar wheat from the lunar chaff. Step forward Harrison Schmitt, who studied geology at CalTech and Harvard. Schmitt was the Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 17, and now, with the passing of Gene Cernan yesterday, he is now the last living person to have walked on the moon.

The result of putting a geologist on the moon was that the Apollo 17 crew returned more rock of more value to earth than any other lunar mission.

So if you’re thinking of applying to Peppercomm but don’t have a background in PR or marketing, don’t let that immediately dissuade you, especially for entry level positions.

The same principle applies to skills and traits rather than experience. I once interviewed a junior candidate with zero PR or marketing experience, but she had set up dance schools in Africa, interned at foreign embassies and generally had an all-around “can do” approach to life. Unfortunately, she didn’t join Peppercomm, but wherever she lands, the astronaut part of her career will be easy to learn. She has the geology part sorted.

Jan 13

It’s the sales call, stupid

goldA few years back, I had the rare opportunity to lunch with the legendary Harold Burson.

I put him on the spot and asked him to name the one strategy Burson took in the 1960s and ’70s to overtake Hill & Knowlton in the ’80s as the world’s largest PR firm.

He paused and then said, “That’s easy. We insisted every single account team accompany a client’s salesman on his calls. By listening first-hand to the client’s customer’s wants and needs we crafted precisely tailored campaigns that rang true with target audiences and ran rings around our competitors’ work.”

I followed up by asking if Burson continued to follow his strategy. He shook his head and said, “Nope. And, I have no idea why we don’t.”

I cite this conversation because Matthew Schwartz who, in my opinion, knows more about how PR works than the collective staffs of every trade publication’s editorial staff combined, just penned an article for CMO.com that illustrates exactly how far ahead Mr. Burson was in his thinking.

I’ll let you peruse the full text but, the bottom line is this: CMOs (and, one would assume CCOs) are just now waking up to the brilliance of tag-teaming client and prospect calls with sales AND marketing executives in attendance.

Schwartz spotlighted a company called Legrand North America, which sends sales and marketing executives on sales calls. They believe sales and marketing, in tandem, can better close the sale when push comes to shove.

“Wrong!” As a certain president-elect would say.

Marketing communications executives SHOULD attend as many sales pitches as possible. But, they shouldn’t be part of the pitch. They should bring their listening skills with them and home in on EXACTLY what’s keeping customers and prospects up at night. To quote a recurring character from Seinfeld, “That’s gold, Jerry. Gold.” Why? Because it assures the subsequent campaign will deliver.

Primary, qualitative research runs rings around the panacea of the day, Big Data, and its cousin, Data Analytics.

But, I’m not aware of a single integrated marketing firm that implements what the Burson of PR Past practiced. None.

We dabble at it. And, when we have, it’s produced immediate results. But, I blame myself for not insisting it be embedded into every single client assignment. And, I blame every CMO and CCO who relies solely on quantitative-heavy Big Data to shape their campaigns. We’re better than that.

Nothing replaces primary research. And, there’s no better way to invest in a client relationship than to INSIST the account team tag along on sales calls, listen carefully and shape the campaign accordingly.

Sadly, we’ve become enamored with data and analytics to tell us what to do.

I’m taking a guess here, but I’ll bet if Big Data had existed in the ’60s and ’70s, Mr. Burson would have taken it very seriously. But I’d also like to think he’d still insist his account team attend sales meetings and listen, first-hand, to exactly what the end user’s pain points were and how the client was best positioned to solve them.

Would that the greats of the past could opine on the ‘best practices’ of today. I’d be willing to bet the big names of the past would probably be the biggest opponents of the Big Data driven campaigns of today.



Jan 11

Analyze This

Guy-with-Antenna-on-Head-30t0fud1wcjfjrtrysmw3kMy firm’s in the midst of arguably the coolest proprietary research project in our 21 years of existence.

It involves more than 30 in-depth, qualitative interviews of Fortune 500 CCOs and CMOS. Note my use of the word qualitative.

While digging deep into such darlings of the marketing communications world as earned, owned and paid media along with, of course, digital and Big Data, robotics and A.I. we uncovered a rather interesting disconnect.

I’ve been surprised to hear how many CCOs and CMOS are not only totally overwhelmed by data but highly SKEPTICAL of the resulting analytical findings. As it turns out, they’re not alone.

A recent KPMG survey of the aforementioned cohort revealed that, while 50 percent use data and analytics tools to analyze existing customers, 48 percent to find new ones and 47 percent to develop new products, less than half “don’t TRUST that analytics is actually providing insights beneficial to ANY of these areas.” Talk about an indictment.

I heard this exact skepticism from the CCO of a global manufacturing company. She said she scrutinizes every morsel of analytical data, takes time to conduct her own qualitative research and then relies on her GUT instincts to determine the eventual marcom strategy.

We do the exact same thing for our clients because, frankly, Big Data, no matter how powerful, cannot possibly replace the gut instincts of a seasoned marketing communications professional who’s been through countless wars.

We’ve proved this time and again when, after analyzing the Big Data (and analytics) a client’s research firm has provided, put ourselves in the shoes of constituents and personally experience the brand. We’ve ALWAYS uncovered gaps Big Data missed.

So, I come here not to bury Big Data but, rather, to echo what the very best marketing and communications pros are telling me: Spend all the money you want collecting the data and analyzing it, but DO NOT move forward if the data tells you one thing while your gut says to take a different course of action.




Jan 05

My unrequited request

fingers.The news reports from the Consumer Electronics Show (otherwise known as “The Woodstock of the Nerds”) are chock full of articles about the impact of artificial intelligence on virtually every new product on display.

And yet Apple’s iPhone keypad remains frozen in the year 2012. It also remains at the top of my unrequited holiday wish list.

Please fix the damn thing. Or can some Zuckerberg wanna-be do so and steal the entire market? Please.

The iPhone keypad exists to exacerbate the angst in a world of uncertainty (great new tagline, BTW). It distorts, dismays or embarrasses the sender while totally confusing the reader.

Case in point: Not too long ago a pleased as punch client sent a highly complimentary e-mail to our entire team in which she praised their “sexual efforts.” Now, we pride ourselves on being a full service agency but that’s clearly above and beyond the call of duty.

Naturally, the client was mortified by her mistake and quickly apologized. But, the damage had been done. The Apple iPhone autocorrect had claimed yet another victim.

In fact, unless one is a president-elected gifted with unusually small fingers, typing a grammatically correct e-mail, Tweet or text is akin to stopping North Korea’s nuclear plans. Ain’t gonna happen.

To wit, I’ll write the next paragraph without checking autocorrect at all. Wish me luck:

“Vexbeen. Hear to be both a Jets and Mets fan. s a result, I’ve grown accustomed tonmisery and biting into false expectations. But I also think Mets and Heys fans are better equipped to face the uncertainties of life after January 20th because we’ve been tough to ecboect a bleak future.”

The preceding graph concerned the unexpected benefits of being a lifelong Mets and Jets fan in a Post Truth world.

So, how about it, Apple? Can you set aside a billion dollars or two to fix this horrific design? Ironic that the company that’s become synonymous with beautiful design turns out to be the ugly duckling of virtual communication.

Jan 04

Enter at your own risk

blue-states-vs-red-2012-electFamilyBreakFinder, a travel website, recently compiled the English-language tourism slogans of more than 150 countries (Man, it must have been an especially quiet day at FBF to find the time for that assignment). Click on this link to access the full report 

Anyway, there are some really clever and funny ones as well as those that do their best to make do with what they have. To wit:

– Nepal (home of the Himalayas) “Once is not enough”

– “Remarkable Rwanda” (I’m not sure I buy that one after seeing “Hotel Rwanda)

– Syria: “Always beautiful” (No comment necessary)

– Honduras: “Everything is here” (I wonder if their definition of everything is the same as mine? I’m guessing no)

– Denmark: “The happiest place on Earth” (Also the most boring. After touring Copenhagen, there’s not much to do except to count the days until you return)

– Cape Verde: “No stress” (Probably true, but I have to believe getting to such a remote locale is beyond stressful)

All of which leads me up to the person, government agency or tourism bureau responsible for updating the good, old U.S. of A’s tourism slogan.

How’d you like to be responsible for coining the new fake news, post truth, complete lack of civility, badly divided country’s welcoming tagline?

Here are a few thoughts (but, I’d welcome yours as well):

– “Red state. Blue state. You’ll enjoy your stay. As long as you pick the right state”

– “Where the cradle of democracy has tipped over”

– “Where one-way trips are the new normal”

– “Where yesterday trumps tomorrow” (my personal favorite)

– “We’ll decide if you’re welcome”

– “Just leave us the hell alone”

– “If you liked Russia, you’ll LOVE America”

I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled to see how the U. S. Travel & Tourism Board does alter its slogan after January 20th. It should be great. The best ever. Beautiful. Everyone loves us so why shouldn’t it be?



Jan 03

Hey kids, it’s still all about location, location, location.

Did you know the image of the American college town has been redefined from the bucolic New England village with tree-lined quads and ivy-covered neo-Gothic buildings to vibrant cities of “eds” and “meds?”

small schoolSo says Jeffrey J. Selingo, author of There Is Life After College.

Today, in every one of the 20 largest U.S. cities, a college, university or medical center is among the top 10 employers in town. You won’t find those sorts of stats at Colby, Ramapo or Oberlin.

That’s because cutting-edge colleges have re(de?)signed the urban education experience and are running rings around their smaller, rural peers.

A survey called the College Destinations Index ranks the top schools in four ways:

  • Impact of off-college student experience
  • Economic health of the surrounding community
  • Cultural advantages offered within walking distance of campus
  • Employment opportunities

Boston, San Jose, Boulder and Ithaca came out on top.

Colleges and universities in these four areas in particular (Shout out: Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, DC, scored equally well) have had the foresight to do two things:

  • They’ve fully integrated with the surrounding community (you won’t see Harvard or Yale-type brick walks separating, say, Drexel from its neighboring Philadelphia neighborhoods).
  • They’re located where the strategic jobs of the future will be in greatest demand.

Boston, for example, plays home to countless hospitals, medical device manufacturers, cyber security think tanks and advanced engineering companies (to name just a few). These fields are what Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun calls, “robot-proof professions” and areas where students with a passion for careers in such disciplines should be studying.

Across the country, USC is another world-class example of an urban school that’s connected with the surrounding community and now is a vibrant part of LaLa Land (as well as a great place to pursue a career in media, entertainment and the arts).

There are countless other examples, but the big message here is to think twice before enrolling in a small, isolated liberal arts school (a la Iona, Drew or Haverford). And think twice before declaring a major: incredibly, 65 percent of the jobs that will exist in 10 years have yet to be invented.

So, do your homework, identify your passion, match it with an urban university that will provide the richest cultural experience and maybe, just maybe, you’ll not only be able to pay off those dreaded college loans a whole lot sooner, you might actually one day earn more money than your parents.


Dec 23

Peppercomm leadership weighs in on what’s ahead in 2017 – Part 5

industrial pipes at factoryThe final installment of our predictions for what lies ahead ahead comes from Ann Barlow, who has been named “woman of the year” by PR News and “forever influential” on two separate occasions by the highly acclaimed San Francisco Business Times.

With creds like those, how could she possibly be wrong?

Here are Ann’s predictions for the industrial manufacturing field:

Digital transformation & internal communications

Manufacturers of all sizes are undergoing a digital transformation. The speed with which they need to create new products (i.e., electronics and defense frequently update products versus pipe valves or office furniture, which are on a slower cycle) in many ways will set the pace for how quickly adoption needs to happen. Regardless, nearly everyone we talk with in manufacturing talks about the greatest barrier to adoption is employee willingness to do so. The adoption rate is often complicated by multiple generations and cultures, all of which creates a tremendous need for effective employee engagement and connection. With all of the tools and channels available to communicators, we have a unique opportunity to drive change.

Marketing sophistication

Industrial marketers tell us that for the first time in 2016, they began to evolve from brochures and brochureware websites into building programs around customer experience. They are beginning to use

insights to develop strategies and messaging, and then testing the channels that will be most effective in reaching them.

But corporate brand still matters

Even as marketers implement more sophisticated approaches to drive sales, brand still matters. They need to tell a brand story in ways that will engage employees and prospective employees and shareholders, and in many cases customers as well, since many are finding opportunities to sell as a unified organization rather than individual companies. The latter is often the approach that industrials, frequently a mosaic of acquired companies, haven taken historically.

Mobile becomes more critical

For B2B industrial companies, adopting a mobile strategy is no longer a “nice-to-have” or I’ll “add-it-to-next-year’s-list” kind of initiative. According to Google, more searches are performed on mobile devices than desktop computers, which probably comes as no surprise if you’re reading this on a mobile now. B2B companies will need to smarten up their mobile marketing strategies tout suite to ensure users can access their content on their mobile devices and have a seamless – and meaningful – brand experience.  And, even more simply, remain relevant and competitive in the years ahead.

Integrated measurement

Show me the ROI! B2B companies will start to examine more closely what marketing programs are having a real bottom-line  impact and which ones need a lift. And instead of one-off measurement programs that look at, say, just media placement (quality and quantity, share of voice and tonality), they’ll start to measure, analyze and report on the full mix of integrated marketing activities including but not limited to: media and social, website, paid digital, internal communications and engagement, and CRM and direct marketing. A holistic measurement program that is defined and created at the beginning of an engagement – and reviewed at various intervals – is not just smart business, it’s essential business.

Leading into the July 4th weekend, this column will make a point of examining each, and every, prediction made this week to see if anyone got anything right.

Until then Repman, and the entire Repman production crew, wish you and yours a happy holiday season.

Dec 22

Peppercomm leadership weighs in on what’s ahead in 2017 – Part 4

digHaving already taken a look into the crystal ball in such fields as financial services, experiential and consumer, we next turn our attention to the white hot world of digital (which, as we know, means different things to different people). No matter how you define it, Peppercomm’s Digital Director, Mike Friedin has selected five trends to keep your eyes on…

  • Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will increasingly augment and extend every technology enabled service, thing or application. More businesses will place focus on creating systems that continuously learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously than execute against a set of predefined instructions.
  • Small data must be managed better. Big data gets the headlines, but small data runs the intricacies for many businesses, as we see an increase in Account Based Marketing and personalized experiences driving deeper engagement and customer loyalty.
  • Right time not real time. When and where in the customer journey will become more critical than fast data assembly, and delivering optimal messaging with customers and prospects on a one-to-one basis by automatically replacing entire sections of your messages based on each recipient’s unique behaviors, interests and needs.
  • Advances in Content Marketing sophistication, breaking through the noise with greater contextual targeting, personalization and marketing apps that drive interactive experiences with programmatic flow and logic, especially mobile in-app.
  • Blockchain and Distributed Ledgers continue to gain traction based on the promise to transform industry operating models. While the current hype is around the financial services industry, there are many possible applications including music distribution, identity verification, title registry and supply chain. 

We wrap up our weeklong series tomorrow with a glimpse into the industrial manufacturing sector by our own chief foreman, Ann Barlow.

Dec 21

Peppercomm leadership weighs in on what’s ahead in 2017 – Part 3

experienceSpecial events and conferences have morphed into a much larger service offering called “experiential.”

Melissa Vigue, our most experienced experiential expert, passes along her tips for what to look for in 2017.

  • Rise of brand moments vs. sponsorships. We are beginning to see brands move away from traditional sponsorship activation to create true brand experiences as either stand-alone events or major activations at or near existing events.
  • Increase in cause-related experiential. I don’t want to just go to something, I want my attendance to mean something. And for brands, it’s about going beyond the “donate a dollar at the register” and getting out into the community.
  • Further integration of physical and digital landscapes. Consumers want to be fully immersed in brand environments but it must also be personalized. So as predicted, the personalization trend continues – consumers increasingly want to direct their own experience within an environment. Gamification will play a big role here. Choose your own adventure, anyone?
  • The role of psychology. There is even more of a focus here.  While emotional connections and currency are important when creating experiences – doing something people really want to be a part of whether for a cause or because of the way it makes them feel – there is a movement toward cognitive fluency. What’s that? The idea that people tend to prefer things that they are familiar or comfortable with and are easy to understand. Imagine the impact if you can generate that mindset in a place where they can experience and maybe even purchase products.
  • Being live. While live streaming is not new, 2017 will be the year that its potential can be fully realized through the Facebook and Instagram Live platforms.  Beyond that, streaming is not just about sharing the experience beyond the event, but rather about engaging those onsite and creating an excellent experience for attendees and sponsors.

Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the mysterious and sometimes murky world of digital. Our skipper will be Mike Friedin, Peppercomm’s digital director. Remember it’ll be a BYO life preserver blog, so come prepared.

Dec 20

Peppercomm leadership weighs in on what’s ahead in 2017 – Part 2

consumerWelcome to today’s second demonstration of Peppercomm leadership’s superb prognostication skills.

Yesterday, you were treated to Jacko Kolek’s look into the financial services crystal ball.

Today will feature a rare doubleheader. In the home opener, Maggie O’Neill, our consumer group leader par excellence will provide her views for what’s just around the corner of the next shopping aisle.

The later blog, whose start time is 2:15 EST, will see Melissa. If you’re on the mound, serving up her 99 mph fastballs to readers hoping to know what’s next in the experiential ballpark.

Oddly, both have predicted Ed and I will be fired and replaced by new general managers by ground Hog Day. Time will tell.

And, now, hereeeeeeee’s Maggie.

  • Consumer trust in brands continues to decline while the consumer demand for 100% brand authenticity continues to rise. And, we are coming off a year of large established brands letting people down.  Brands need to find their unique authenticity and voice (think Shinola) and not just try to insert themselves in a place they don’t belong. And when it comes to trust – transparency, accessibly and responsibility are essential.
  • Consumer brands are picking sides in today’s Trump era.  The divided election and raised voices across the country has propelled many brands to cater towards or against the new president-elect in a much more obvious way than ever before.
  • Personalization remains king.  As we shift our marketing focus from Millennials to Gen Z, the need for brands to personalize the entire brand and product lifestyle experience will continue to grow.
  • Data and analytics are driving almost every decision and the budgets that go along with them more than ever before. An ever-more diversified consumer makes understanding your audience even more important.
  • The traditional path to purchase for most or all consumer goods does not exist anymore.  Traditional product manufacturers must look at the new journey, and learn how to reach customers at all points along it is critical.

Let us know if you agree, disagree or simply aren’t interested in Maggie’s thoughts.

Maggie will be replaced on the mound by our crack middle-reliever (and experiential expert) Melissa “Big Train” Vigue.