Nov 16

Ho. Ho. Whoa!

Some organizations throw lavish holiday parties to celebrate the season. Others set aside a full day to help a local charity.

And then there’s a Wisconsin company that is, hold for it, giving every employee a handgun for Christmas.

I do my best to stay apolitical in blogs, but there are so many reasons why CEO Ben Wolfgram (pretty cool name, no? Fits his gift-giving idea like a gun to a holster) really shouldn’t be adding to the proliferation of firearms AND tying it to the season of peace, joy and glad tidings to all.

Wolfgram, whose business, BenShot, sells beer mugs, wine glasses and shot glasses with BULLETS planted into their sides, says he had NO concerns about providing employees with firearms.

“We wanted to give something nice and memorable to our employees,” said Wolfgram (who could be Instagram’s evil twin for all we know). “There were two aspects for us. One was for employee safety, and the other was we wanted something that’s kind of fun and exciting.”

Fun and exciting, eh? I wonder how he’ll top this year’s employee gift when Christmas 2019 rolls around? How about:

– Sidewinder missiles

– Body armor

– Nuclear warheads?

My problem with giving guns to employees includes, but is not limited to:

– The very real possibility a disgruntled employee might use the weapon after receiving an unfavorable review, pay cut or termination.

– The very real possibility an employee brings the gun home, one of the kids stumble across it and, well, you know the rest.

– The very real possibility other pro-gun entrepreneurs will think a 9mm Glock is an awesome holiday present for their employees and play copy cat.

I respect the Second Amendment and certainly understand the passion hunters have for their “sport”, but gifting employees with handguns is akin to waving a red cape in front of a bull. It only takes one of those employees to go off the rails and create a very different type of news story for BenShot. And when that story runs the “shot” will truly hit the fan.

Nov 08

All Things Must Pass

I’ve always likened agencies to baseball managers and football coaches. We are hired to be fired.

Make no mistake. The termination clock starts ticking as soon as the letter of agreement is signed. The relationship may last a month, a year, a decade or, in the case of Ogilvy, 75 years. But it will end.

In Ogilvy’s case, the “Dear Agency” letter came from Ford when the latter decided it was time to seek a divorce from WPP (Ogilvy’s owner).

The reasons for the break-up included: “….Ford’s slumping sales, weak demand in Europe and trade tariffs with China.” Mix that toxic potion with the reality that “….clients are increasingly taking work in-house and using the giant online platforms of Google and Facebook” and you have the perfect storm for any freshly-minted CMO whose most logical first move would be to blame the incumbent agency and hire fresh thinking. It happens all the time.

Simultaneously, Ford is filling 100 new in-house global marketing positions (while Ogilvy probably laid off just as many employees who had worked on the account).

Expanding in-house marketing teams is a trend and Reuters says “….has stripped the big advertising groups of some of their income in recent years.” No question about it.

That’s why I’m so happy to be positioned as a mid-sized firm led by public relations but offering an array of strategic integrated services ranging from web design and employee engagement to societal crisis management and all forms of content creation.

The most vulnerable firms right now are in the digital and advertising spaces. That’s because those service offerings can easily be duplicated by an in-house team.

PR is a relationship-based business in which long-standing personal relationships with influencers, reporters, producers and editors are owned by individuals at the agencies. Those expansive and valuable relationships are difficult to replace.

Even if PR is slightly more strategic and less tactical than its sister disciplines, I know the clock is ticking with every single Peppercomm client (and we have terrific clients at the moment). I know the clock is ticking because I’ve experienced longstanding relationships end in a heartbeat due to:

  • A new CCO or CMO deciding they wanted their own team.
  • A major retailer deciding it made more sense to allocate the PR/social spend to upgrading their IT.
  • A clueless PR manager who believed that “….every relationship has a five-year window before things get old and tired.”

Having seen and experienced it all I totally empathize with the fine people at Ogilvy. And, I also know I need to double down on feeding the new business pipeline at my shop. What’s here today may be gone tomorrow. Or 75 years from tomorrow.

Nov 05

Ready for another walkout or two?

Get ready for another global organization to experience what went down at Google last week when employees around the world staged a walkout in protest of the company’s response to a widespread #MeToo scandal.

This time, though, I predict the spotlight will be on three of the world’s best known and most highly admired strategic management consulting firms: Booz-Allen, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group.

That’s because The Sunday New York Times chose to devote front page coverage to the trio’s extensive (and incredibly lucrative) contracts with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who was recently fired for his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Not only are the firms reaping ungodly amounts of money from the repressive Saudi regime but, critically, NONE withdrew from participating in last month’s Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh (at a time when virtually every other company, journalist and executive universally bailed in protest).

Making matters worse, the Big Three doubled down on their participation at the event:

  • McKinsey led panels on money and energy (One would think the Saudis don’t need much advice on either).
  • BCG focused on “unspecified intelligence” (Boy, does that ever sound shady).
  • Booz-Allen held meetings with representatives of Saudi’s army and navy to whom they provide counsel (I never knew white shoe consulting firms did Black Ops).

When pressed for comments, firm representatives either provided a weak, evasive response or no comment whatsoever. And therein lies the problem.

As was the case with Deloitte last month (see my blog), I don’t think the rank-and-file employees of these global powerhouses will “permit” their executives to keep padding their wallets with moola paid by sleazy, if not murderous, regimes. Employee activism has become a force to reckon with (and no longer ignored).

And if I were sitting in the corner office of Booz, BCG or McKinsey, I’d also worry about losing key clients whose corporate values and ethics won’t permit them to engage consultants with highly controversial contracts.

Now is the time for the Big Three to step up and speak out. They need to either terminate their contracts with the Saudi government or provide a very transparent reason why they will continue to bill, bill, bill.

It’s tough to walk away from billions of dollars, but more and more employees expect their organizations to possess a higher purpose and do their part to make the world a better place. They want to feel comfortable that their personal values are in alignment with their employers’ words and actions.

I hope all three consulting firms are taking this reputational crisis as seriously as they should. If they aren’t, watch for Google-like walkouts and Deloitte-like picketing.

Nov 02

Your Walkout is Coming

Today’s timely guest post is from Ann Barlow, the leader of our West Cost office and the current Board Chair for Watermark. 

Too many companies are caught by surprise when fed up people take action. It’s time for them to know where they’re vulnerable, where they need to do better, and step up.

Including Google.

In a year of so many #MeToo incidents laid bare, I wondered if I was becoming as numbed by reports of sexual harassment and discrimination as I am by the other outrageous behavior reported each day. So I was surprised, but also a little pleased when the New York Times piece and yesterday’s walkout by Google employees stirred up so much anger and frustration within me. Anger that company leaders over and over and over again look the other way when a rainmaker mistreats others. Frustration that even those companies that pledge to do better have so much trouble making real change happen.

But I also feel hope, because even beyond calling their leadership to account through yesterday’s walkout, the organizers put together a thoughtful, practical and actionable list of demands for change. The degree to which Google follows them will show just how serious it is about eradicating sexual discrimination, harassment and assault.  Nothing less will do.

As for other employers, no one should be foolish enough to assume that their environment is a place where women – and all employees — feel safe and equal because they espouse values, promote employee resource groups and win workplace awards. Unless employers dig in deep to truly listen to employees and understand their daily experiences, AND have the fortitude to toss out even the most powerful, their walkout is coming.

And it may not be just employees who walk away. People on both sides of ‘take a knee,’ gun control, transgender rights – and #MeToo – have shown a willingness to vote with their voices and their wallets.

What about your brand? Is your walkout coming?

 

Nov 02

Work Hard, Play Hard, Vote Hard

Today’s guest blog comes from our two U.S. office leads, Jackie Kolek of New York and Ann Barlow of San Francisco, ahead of next Tuesday’s election day. Go vote!

Peppercomm has always fostered a work hard, play hard culture.  We are constantly looking around the corner to see what’s next, creating new solutions and capabilities to prepare our clients for the new world of social activism and enabling them to address these challenges head-on and leverage the opportunities.

On November 6th we’ll temporarily put aside our relentless dedication to client service and put our employee’s civic duty at the top of our to-do lists.  While the past two years have delivered a seemingly never-ending cycle of negative news, personal attacks and arguing across party (and sometimes family and friend) lines, the upside has been the growing passion about, and attention to, the critical issues that matter to us as Americans and individuals. This Election Day we want to ensure our employees can exercise their right to have their voices heard and encourage them to do just that.  We’ve designated Election Day as a “Flex Day,” which means employees can work from anywhere, come in late, leave early, extend their lunch, or make any arrangement they need to make voting as easy as possible.  We’ve also marked it a “meeting-free day,” rescheduling all internal meetings to free up more time.  Since not all states make it as easy as it should be to vote, and we know some employees will face long lines or challenges voting by mail, it is our duty as an employer to help our team exercise their right to vote – regardless of the challenges.

In addition to ensuring our employees can vote, we want make sure we encourage them to vote and celebrate them for doing so.  We value diversity within our firm (our executive leadership team is 80 percent female) and believe that diversity can take place in many forms, including diversity of thought and values.  Therefore, we urge our employees to make their individual voices count on Election Day. We’re asking each of our team members to snap a selfie of themselves with their “I voted” sticker.  To celebrate these voices being heard, we’ll be hosting a free lunch for employees later in the week where employees will use their “I voted” sticker as their entry ticket (and in the spirit of inclusiveness, our non-US citizen employees get in for free).

Oct 22

The Last Laugh

One of the things that sets Peppercomm apart is our embedding stand-up and improvisational comedy training into our management development programs.

There isn’t another firm I know of that has embraced comedy to the extent we have.

The benefits have been enormous and range from improving employees’ presentation skills, to knocking down silos and bringing our people together in new and unique ways. Another benefit is having been named NYC’s top workplace by Crain’s New York Business.

We’ve also tied-in comedy to raise money for a whole host of charities over the years. And, in those fundraisers, the Peppercomm employees have performed five-minute sets at major NYC comedy clubs. How many professionals in our industry can add that accomplishment to their C.V.’s?

It’s a beautiful thing, especially when you can hold a charity comedy fundraiser in honor of a fallen comrade.

That’s exactly what we did last Thursday night.

As many of you know, Dandy Stevenson, my longtime executive assistant, lost her battle with lung cancer in August. See my tribute to Dandy here.

Her family asked that any donations in Dandy’s memory be made to the ASPCA.

So, what did we at Peppercomm do? We took it to the next level and staged a Dandy Stevenson Memorial Comedy Show, invited four or five ASPCA executives to perform with our troops AND ended up raising more than $1,500 in Dandy’s name. Oh, and btw, we had a blast doing it.

Before I continue, I’d appreciate any, and all, friends of Dandy who have not yet done so, to make a donation to the ASPCA in her name. Here’s the link.

If you’d like to get a sneak peek at what the experience was like, click on this link and check out our very own Deb Brown impersonating Donald Trump. It’s great. The greatest ever. Beyond great. And if you don’t like it, it’s not Deb’s fault. Blame the Democrats.

Other firms might remember a fallen comrade with a one-off luncheon or a cocktail reception. Not us. We do it the right way. We raise money for our late colleague’s favorite charity, enlist our own employees to perform stand-up and turn what could have been a wake into a laugh out loud tribute to a woman who laughed out loud more often and far louder than anyone I’ve ever known.

Dandy: We miss you and will never forget you. Hope you enjoyed watching the show from whatever celestial cloud you may be currently inhabiting.

Oct 11

Did you hear the one about the executive assistant we’ll never forget?

The Peppercomm team will be coming together next Thursday night to salute our late, great colleague, Dandy Stevenson. We’ll be holding one of our patented stand-up and improvisational comedy fundraisers in her name. All proceeds will be donated directly to the ASPCA (like me, Dandy had a soft spot for four-legged creatures).

This blogger will be serving as emcee, and seven or eight current and former Peppercommers will be performing seven to eight minute sets. We’ll also be joined by sereval professional comedians as well as Peppercomm’s Chief Comedy Officer Clayton Fletcher.

Having held countless fundraisers in the past I must tell you this one will be very special indeed. I hope you (and your BFFs) can be there to experience it with us.

For information, how to purchase tickets and to reserve your seat, visit the event page here.

Sep 25

Instagram? More like InstaSpam

I’m announcing my resignation as a member of the Instagram community. Note: My resignation has nothing to do with the shocking departure of Instagram Co-Founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom. But it’s effective immediately and, to paraphrase what corporations everywhere say when they’ve just dumped a top executive, I’m leaving to pursue other channels.

I’m stepping down because I am appalled at the vast spam wasteland that Instagram has become. I doubt I’m alone in making this observation, but I now spend more time deleting unsolicited ads on the platform than I do liking or commenting on member’s posts.

I realize Instagram needs to turn a profit, but the sudden tsunami of unsolicited ads is a complete turnoff. I realize the entire advertising universe is going through a very tough time (witness the huge turmoil at the major holding companies), but Instagram is making a huge mistake in terms of customer experience.

I loved Instagram because I saw it as the crossover star between Facebook (purely personally content) and LinkedIn (of, by and for professionals). But now it’s turned into a 24×7 deluge of product, service and company ads that I am neither interested in, and slow me down in searching what’s new with my connections – my ultimate attraction to the platform.

Job one for the new Instagram management team should be a deep dive into UX to ultimately figure out a better path to profitability. I can guarantee that if they don’t find a fix soon, many other loyalists will be leaving InstaSpam to pursue other channels.

Sep 17

Semper Paratus

My dad passed away Saturday morning just 41 days short of his 98th birthday. The number 41 is significant since that’s the year my dad raced to the nearest recruitment station to enlist in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

While he wanted to be shipped to the Pacific (to exact retribution) he was told, instead, the only immediate opening was with the U.S. Coast Guard.

He signed the papers and forever rued the fact that he wasn’t alongside his brother, George, fighting Nazi Germany or with his other brother, Chris, doing battle with the Japanese as a member of the fabled Merrill’s Marauders.

But, make no mistake. He served his country.

Pop-Pop, as he was known by family, friends and restaurant waitresses alike, lived a very, very full life. Indeed, his life spanned 17 separate presidential administrations.

He was not a superstar in business. Instead, he put in his time as a blue-collar worker raising three children in a decidedly blue collar town. But he, and my mom, scrimped and saved to assure all three of their children would be able to attend college.

Pop-Pop really didn’t come into his own until my son, Chris, and daughter, Catharine, were born.

Any shortcomings as a father were more than made up by his being a superb grandfather and, in the past year, the proud great grandfather to Adrian Joseph A.J. “The Juice” Cody who, ironically, marked his first birthday on the very same day Pop-Pop passed away.

I would be remiss in not singling out the remarkable relationship formed between Pop-Pop and Chris, my son, and his first, and only, grandson. They spoke every single day over the past few decades.

I’d like to end by explaining the headline: Semper Paratus. It’s The U.S. Coast Guard’s motto and, translated, means “Always Vigilant.”

Pop-Pop was always vigilant of the phenomenal family he had surrounding him and always insisted we spend as much time together as possible. We did so, right up until the moment he drew his final breath.

I’m still hard at work arranging for my mom’s and dad’s ashes to be interred at a Veterans Memorial Cemetery in NJ (replete with a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps).

If you should be so inclined, you can make a donation in his name, Arthur Cody, at the Coast Guard Foundation. The instructions are self-explanatory.

Semper Paratus, Pop-Pop.

Sep 10

“All Ashore That’s Going Ashore!” Especially Kids!

I like to foment unrest. It’s part of my DNA.

I’d rather be remembered for taking a stance on a subject than disappear alongside the vast majority of Americans who choose to go with the flow.

That’s why I’m devoting today’s column to Viking Cruise Line’s decision to ban ALL children from their highly-acclaimed river cruises.

Let me begin by stating that river cruises hold no allure for me. I’m not the type to sit around with well-heeled, aging Boomers and gape at a Gothic cathedral as the ship glides majestically by. Nor am I the type to go sightseeing (unless I can first include an intense two-hour workout).

The above notwithstanding, I salute Viking’s decision to prohibit kids from their uber high-end cruises.

I’ve always said I adore my kids, but I disdain other parents’ offspring 😎

My feelings are based on multiple, first-hand experiences, two of which include the so-called Magic Kingdom.

Speaking of DisneyWorld, hell can best be defined in two ways:

  • Taking a United Airlines flight to, or from, Orlando and being systematically kicked in the lower back by the tot seated directly behind me. To add insult to injury, I always seem to attract the terrible two-year-old sitting directly in front of me who has decided the best way to spend three hours is constantly popping up, turning around and shouting, “Boo!”
  • Standing in mile-long DisneyWorld lines surrounded by screaming kids and losing a pound of water weight every 15 minutes (thanks to Orlando’s horrific combination of excessive heat and humidity).

I don’t want other peoples’ kids ruining a vacation I’ve paid serious bank to enjoy.

In Viking’s case, I believe they did the right thing. They listened to the wants and needs of their constituent audience and acted accordingly (knowing full well there would be a backlash from parents everywhere).

The litmus test of today’s organization is its ability to anticipate audience needs while doubling down on its purpose. In Viking’s case, their value proposition is providing a serene sail down the Seine. Screaming tots shred that value prop to pieces.

Having posited the above, I will return to my twin pursuits of mountain climbing and stand-up comedy (both of which are blessedly kid-free zones).