Oct 14

Content is the New Currency

Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm president, Ted Birkhahn.

file-60727374The content business is booming. As Kenny Bania from Seinfeld would say, “It’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

Any marketing and communications firm worth its salt is chasing a surge in interest and demand for content work. New and old players alike are trying to position themselves as content strategists and developers. Many firms are also specializing on content circulation – i.e. making sure your content gets seen, shared, etc.

But this isn’t your grandfather’s content business.

While content has always been central to what our industry does for clients, the game and its players are dramatically changing. Audiences are demanding better content from brands; content that truly makes an impact on the topics and issues that are most important to them. It’s no longer what the brand wants to talk about, it’s what the audience is interested in and where and how they are interested in consuming it. And many business executives are shunning promotional content altogether – i.e. content that sounds like marketing speak – and are begging companies not to waste their time with information that doesn’t advance the dialogue around important business issues.

To learn more about the burgeoning world of content, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and Peppercomm joined forces to conduct a survey of 500 global business executives and 500 marketers about their perceptions, habits and needs surrounding content. The overarching theme in the findings: business executives want no part of marketing content. Instead, they want content in multiple forms that add substance and value to problems their organizations are grappling with every day. They need content that enhances their company’s thinking on critical issues.

According to the survey results, executives are not getting what they need. The findings illustrate major disconnects between content marketers and the business audiences they are trying to reach and influence. A few highlights include:
•    75% of global business executives report that the primary purpose for seeking content is researching a business idea.
•    Only 16% said they use content to support a purchasing decision.
•    However, 75% of marketers said that mentions of their products or services are a frequent part of their content strategy.
•    Global business audiences judge content on its distinctiveness, while marketers judge success on sales. 67% of business executives said that content that contained timely or unique information had a meaningful impact on their perception of a brand and 71% report that one of the primary reasons content from companies turn them off is when it seems like a sales pitch. Meanwhile, 70% of brands said they measure the effectiveness of their content by the number of calls from customers and prospects and 93% say they tie their content directly to their products and services.

Content creation is hard work. Even bad content takes time to create, which amplifies the pain when companies consistently create marketing copy and still expect meaningful ROI from their efforts.

Companies often ask us for advice on how to improve their content marketing efforts. We always start with the same thought: put yourself in the audience shoes and ask yourself if the content will enhance or detract from your company’s image and reputation.

It is time for companies to think more like publishers. Anything less will leave their audiences unfulfilled.

Oct 09

A sticky situation?

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

hThere’s a lot of flap going around about the woman purported to be the inspiration for Aunt Jemima of pancake fame. Nancy Green, born a slave in Eastern Kentucky, ended up a free woman in Chicago, working for a prosperous man who suggested to the president of a milling company that Nancy represent the company’s pancake mix. That was 1893.

Fast forward to the 30s when one Anna Harrington was tapped to be the new face of Aunt Jemima.
And today, the heirs claim that neither was educated or savvy enough to have negotiated a contract assuring these women fair monetary compensation. But these fine relatives are stepping forward to make things right by demanding $2 million to make up for the last 121 years plus a percentage moving forward.

First, I wonder how they came at that two mil figure. Per pancake? Per serving? Is a serving one or two? What about batter that dripped on the floor? And what about the times it was used in other recipes such as a coating for fried fish? And does Ms. Green’s loving and sensitive heirs get more because their dearly departed relative was the first? Make my head sizzle on the griddle to figure this out.

I hope the judge tells these folks to take a reality bath and stop bothering the court. The very idea that someone would reach back in history and decide that their relative has been screwed out of money is ludicrous. And where have these heirs been? “Quaker Oats turned to Harrington’s youngest daughter, Olivia Hunter, in 1989, to update the look of Aunt Jemima, who no longer resembles a black servant with a red bandanna.” That was 25 years ago, and no law suit. Has Hunter been receiving residuals?

And who says these women didn’t have the capability to know the value of their time and image. I think it’s actually kind of insulting for these folks to assume they were so ignorant.

I believe these long-lost heirs are looking to make a fast buck and I hope this lawsuit gets tossed out faster than you can say “pass the syrup.”



Oct 07

Content is King

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Chris Gillick.

lebronHow much is it worth to see Lebron James play basketball twice a week on TV?

Yesterday, the NBA announced its most recent broadcast rights deal with Disney and Turner: a whopping 9 year contract for $24 BILLION through the 2024-25 season. This deal is further confirmation that broadcasters and advertisers are placing an ever-increasing premium on sports content. (Sorry Real Housewives.)  Since fans still watch sports programming almost exclusively live in an on-demand world, broadcasters are willing to pay ever bigger bucks to reach these captive audiences. Unless someone is a competing coach or scout, no one DVRs games.

The biggest buzzword in our business over the last year or two has been “content marketing.” If brands don’t create and share their content with the right audiences at the right times, they will fall behind their competition; Peppercomm continually stresses this to our clients. Sports is no exception, and leagues are hardly resting on their laurels of fan goodwill, offering more interactive content than ever before and more forms of delivery though online streaming and mobile channels. (The NBA deal addresses this change in viewer behavior in its new deal.)

Because content is now so widely available and assumed to be free, at what point are fans going to revolt at the higher cost of programming? This new NBA contract nearly triples the rates that Disney and Turner are currently paying to broadcast games, and that drastic increase will be in part borne by cable and satellite subscribers. This begs the question of how much longer fans are willing to put up with the higher costs of a cable package before feeling priced out of their favorite teams and leagues, if they haven’t been already.

But in the end, content is king, and ESPN and TNT are betting that consumers will continue to pay a ransom for it.



Oct 06

The ‘doctor’ pays a housecall

Wayne “Dr. Baseball” McDonnell, academic chair at NYU’s Tisch Center, is back in the house just in time for the playoffs with his take on all the hoopla surrounding Derek Jeter’s retirement and image. Join yours truly, and RepTV co-host Paul Merchan as we talk about Jeter, and MLB’s proposals to change its domestic violence policy and to shorten the game. And we may even have a World Series prediction to boot.

Oct 02

My brush with a Mad Man

HAMMssss pptxOnce a year, the powers that be in the ad world convene in New York for a series of events known as Advertising Week. Yesterday’s New York Times carried a feature detailing a panel chaired by Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP fame (infamy) and focused on content. The big debate was whether brands should create their own or sponsor content that’s created by media companies. I happen to believe in both as long as the source is fully transparent.

Sir Martin’s panel specifically, and Advertising Week in general, brought back fond memories of one of my finer moments.

Several years back, we had the opportunity to represent Yahoo! At the time, they were doing a lot less acquiring and, instead, marketing their existing assets.

They came to us to ask for ideas to break through at Advertising Week with some sort of guest speaker or panel a la Sir Martin’s.

While panels have their place, we thought there was an opportunity to capture the magic that was the first year of AMC’s Mad Men series. And, so, operating on nothing more than a wing and prayer, we approached Jon Hamm’s agent.  Keep in mind this was after the first breakthrough year of the hit series and, while Hamm was big, he was very much an emerging star.

So, lo and behold, Hamm agreed (at a fairly reasonable fee, to boot). Then came the interesting part. I was asked by the client to write Ham’s speech for Advertising Week. The goal was to tie the client’s new offerings with the retro world of advertising and have Hamm serve as the link.

Needless to say, I approached our first conversation with trepidation. We jumped on a conference call with Hamm in LA and yours truly in NYC. After a few, brief introductory remarks, Hamm said, “OK, what do you want me to say?” I walked him through the key points and, unlike his Don Draper character, Hamm was both affable and compliant. At the end, he said, “Great. I have no issues with that.” I was more than relieved.

I quickly banged out a 30-minute script that was edited by the client and forwarded to Hamm for his review.

Needless to say, Hamm’s appearance at the show was the talk of Advertising Week and, true to his word, he kept to the script. He may not have been addressing the future of branded content, but Hamm nonetheless generated as much ink for Yahoo! as Sir Martin did yesterday for his king-sized conglomerate.

Oct 01

Small Steps for Hedge Fund Reputation

Today’s guest post is by WalekPeppercommer, Tom Walek.

hedgeQuestion: How do you hide a business that controls more than $2 trillion dollars, employs tens of thousands of people, directly impact markets and businesses, and helps determine the financial well-being of millions of people from all walks of life?

Answer:  Call them hedge funds.

From secret and humble beginnings, hedge funds today have grown fantastically in size.  They are part of virtually every pension fund portfolio (Calpers notwithstanding), every Wall Street deal, every market headline and many business bankruptcy turnarounds.  Hedge funds are widely held to be “the smartest guys on the Street.”

Lagging that growth in size is the reputation of hedge funds.  Lacking legal leeway and business cultural desire to engage with the public or the press, hedge funds are defined by outliers and others in the form of insider trading scandals, big compensation, blowups, and finger-pointing about virtually every financial disaster – rightly or wrongly.  The resulting bad reputation is pervasive.

That’s starting to change.

Thanks to competitive pressures, enlightened regulations treating hedge funds as Registered Investment Advisors and new regulations like the one-year old JOBS Act, the mandated secrecy of the industry is being lifted.  In response, some surprising new levels of information, transparency, and first steps toward public engagement are starting to emerge from the hedge fund shadows.  Data points from a just-released Peppercomm study of the changing hedge funds communications landscape:
•    66% of 2014’s largest 292 hedge funds are on LinkedIn, and 10% are on Twitter. Of these, six hedge funds post on LinkedIn at least once a month and seven hedge funds Tweet at least 10 times a month.
•    Monthly hedge fund mentions on Twitter recently reached a high of 80,000 Tweets, and have not fallen below 40,000 in the last two years.
•    Among the largest 285 global hedge funds in 2013, 14% launched websites in 2014.
•    Among the 185 global hedge funds with $1 billion–$5 billion in assets, 23% had websites in 2013. By June of 2014, an additional 39 funds launched websites and 11 more moved from a closed site to a more open site.
•    Media mentions of hedge funds are projected to reach record levels above 100,000 in 2014, up nearly five-fold over the last decade.
•    Hedge funds are hiring internal communications executives to manage brand, visibility and reputation.

Hedge funds on social media, opening web sites, thinking about brand and reputation?  Yes, but tentative.

The engagement platforms are there.  The opportunities to be more transparent, demonstrate financial insight and engage in thought leadership are emerging.    What’s yet lacking is a clear desire to fully employ these platforms strategically.

Make no mistake, these steps toward more openness by hedge funds have motivations other than a desire to be better thought of in the neighborhood.   Repeatedly, figures show that big investors direct assets to better-known, well-trusted brand name hedge funds.  That’s a powerful push.

Reputation is built on a careful calculus of transparency, engagement and honesty.  That’s happening now as hedge funds open up, take a few steps in that direction.  It’s healthy and it’s good for the future of the industry. Let’s keep this moving.

Read the full whitepaper from Peppercomm, The JOBS Act at Year One: A Changing Hedge Fund Communications Landscape.

Sep 26

Let’s Raise a Paw to Budweiser

And, Catharine Cody steps into the lurch to provide today’s guest blog. It concerns a salivating new TV spot. See if you agree with her take…

47ece327-b1b6-45ba-b861-ed745986b2af_APJLbEoiD5kE-2x5HCW1TnFRntMO72o-wIeZ93XaVkiSy1nqjC5sK4UMlOpYpu8T0wkjXSvUI04-_2_0As my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers know, I’m a HUGE dog lover.  I have two pups at home that I absolutely adore (one of whom occasionally writes guest blogs for Repman, BTW). And, my family loves dogs so much that my dad even named his firm after our first dog, Pepper.

We’re not alone in our adoration of canines.  According to ABC News, 62 percent of U.S. households have a pet, 32% of which are dogs.  That’s why Budweiser’s latest ad surrounding Global Be(er) Responsible Day really hit home with me.

The Budweiser’s spot portrays a man hanging out with his best friend, an adorable golden retriever, before departing for the night.  The cute pup waits for a very, very long while for his friend to come home (which is what I imagine my dogs do whenever my Dad leaves for work).

At long last, the man arrives after a night of heavy drinking. At the bottom of the screen, a caption reads, “Next time you go out, be sure to make a plan to get home safely. Your friends are counting on you. Enjoy Budweiser responsibly.”

Budweiser REALLY nailed it with this commercial.  Not only are they speaking directly to their beer drinking audience but, critically, also to dog-lovers like me.  In the interests of full transparency, I’ve been known to down a brew or two when the mood strikes. At the moment, I enjoy Miller High Life, PBR and Budweiser.  But, this commercial made me admire Budweiser even MORE (and probably attracted prospective customers who also love their pups). In my opinion, that’s a best practice because it both increases existing customer loyalty while introducing the brand to potentially new consumer segments.

Needless to say, that sort of accomplishment is a very big deal to marketers everywhere.
So, with the weekend fast approaching, let’s raise a glass, and a paw, to this fabulous new campaign.

Sep 25

What’s your power pose?

van-damme-volvo-epic-splitThe NY Times just ran a fascinating article about Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy, whose TED conference video is the second most viewed of all time.

Cuddy, who is also a social psychologist, preaches about the importance of non-verbal communication in business settings.

In fact, her TED talk focused on various power poses all of us can use to differentiate ourselves and impress prospective clients, employers and that name-dropping, loud talker at a weekend cocktail reception. One pose is called the Wonder Woman and involves standing with your hands on hips and legs wide. I assume the WW costume is optional.

Cuddy says businesspeople need to make themselves ‘big’ in the two minutes before a meeting begins. Becoming big could mean everything from standing straighter, flexing one’s muscles or merely visualizing how effective you’ll be in the soon-to-occur meeting.

Cuddy has field tested her theories and found that thinking big and adopting a strong body posture will build courage, reduce anxiety and inspire leadership. In fact, lab participants who spent two minutes alone in a room doing high-power poses such as putting their feet on a desk increased testosterone levels by about 20 percent and lowered the stress hormone cortisol by about 25 percent. I think NFL players discovered power posing long ago.

Cuddy’s workshop was so effective with 1,500 Zappos employees that clusters of male and female employees later stood outside the auditorium where she spoke and either stretched out like starfish or struck the Wonder Woman pose. That must have been some off-site.

I’m a big believer in establishing a strong non-verbal presence in any sort of meeting. There’s no question it sends the right message at the right time to the right decision-makers. In fact, we incorporate some of Cuddy’s suggestions in our own comedy training workshops.

As Cuddy tells her audiences, striking the correct posture works. “Let your body tell you you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic and authentically yourself,” she said.

That sounds like great advice for any college student, mid-career veteran or recently retired Baby Boomer seeking to reinvent herself. As for me, I just struck a Wonder Woman pose on a New Jersey Transit train and noticed several fellow passengers moved out of my way.

So, what’s your power pose?

Sep 24

Did you, too, delete U2?

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Catharine Cody.

bonssoI hate to admit it, but I get the majority of my news from Facebook. Earlier this week while trolling through status updates, I saw one that really intrigued me: “Apparently U2 had their new album downloaded onto every iTunes account!”

Baffled, I quickly checked my own account and sure enough, there was the new album. I don’t like U2. You couldn’t even pay me to download their music. I guess that’s why they gave it to me for free.

But, I feel annoyed. Now when listening to my music on shuffle I hear songs I don’t want to! I have a prolific album, ranging from Les Miserables to The Beatles. And, having random U2 songs really grinds my gears. I know, first world problems…

Instead of forcing people to listen to their new album, U2 could have done so much else to connect with Millennials. Trust me, if I knew U2 donated the money spent on uploading music to my account to a charity I care about I may actually have listened to their songs! A CSR move like that would have helped to improve their image, especially with the Millennials who love to participate in charity events (think ALS ice bucket challenge, people.)

So tell me, did you see the U2 album pop up on your account? How do you feel about it? This millennial has deleted it.

Sep 23

Pain-based selling

o62ixcI’m pleased to report that Peppercomm won a new account last week as a direct result of pain-based selling.

What’s pain-based selling, you ask?

Well, PBS is an approach to business development that we brought to market in partnership with a sales training firm known as Harte Associates (and led by the lovely, and talented, Dr. Richard Harte).

Pain-based selling is both simple and subtle at the same time. Once one is engaged in a conversation with a prospect, probe for the following:

1.) Ask her the single biggest business issue keeping her up at night. In last week’s case, it was an unhappy relationship with the incumbent agency. The latter was missing deadlines and embarrassing the client in front of her direct reports.

2.) Once you’ve uncovered the pain, pour salt on the wound. I know that sounds like something an NFL player might do to a family member, but bear with me. In this instance, we asked the prospect what would happen if she didn’t find a quick solution to her pain points. The answer was direct and to the point: ‘My team and I could lose our jobs,’ she said.

3.) Ease the pain. We quickly reassured the CCO that we had faced many situations just like her’s. We presented two or three quick case studies that demonstrated a similar problem, our solution and the subsequent results. The prospect’s non-verbal responses were positive to say the least.

4.) Partnering. At this point, we’d completely improvised, uncovered the pain, made it worse and then provided a solution. So, we asked the critical question, ‘Assuming we can assemble a team with the experience to solve your challenges, would you be willing to partner with us?’ The answer was affirmative. We left with a purchase order and confirmation that, once again, pain-based selling can be a very smart approach to closing a deal.

McGraw-Hill thought enough of pain-based selling that they commissioned Dick Harte and me to write a book about it. The book’s now been translated into seven or eight languages and earned me upwards of $17.38. It also serves as a superb paperweight.

As for pain-based selling, try it. You’ll like it.