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.

Sep 22

Rice was programmed to not be nice

Today’s guest blog comes from NFL sideline expert, Virginia Dandridge Stevenson, who provides a fresh take on the Ray Rice nightmare.

6884140094_f3442a01c2It’s now been revealed that the Raven’s powers-that-be knew about Rice’s giving his wife a sucker punch all along. His attorney even admitted that “it’s horrible.” But is it that surprising?

These football players are trained to come yea close to killing each other. They are, for the most part, big, brutish and mean. They growl, scream and grunt. They are paid millions upon millions to literally throw their weight around and incite near riot in the stands.

Most of them never went to college. They were primed at an early age, plucked from high school teams and told to fight like hell. These are not warrior poets. They are deep-pocketed, testosterone fueled bullies with a skewed sense of entitlement.

Of course the same could be said of a lot of the fans. Well, minus the money.

Point is, football is a violent sport and is more likely to attract players who like to slug things than those who, say like to spend the afternoon at the ol’ fishin’ hole. According to Benjamin Morris who researches and writes about sports for FiveThirtyEight, “…domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.”

And, every decision that has been made by the Raven’s and the NFL since the Rice incident has been made to protect the game, the fans and the money. My suspicion is that there are a lot of wife beaters, and beaten wives in the stands, as well. If they admit that what Ray Rice did is wrong, then they have to face their own situations. A 23 year-old Baltimore waitress recently said, “’I don’t agree with domestic violence, but she’s still with him, so obviously it wasn’t that big of a deal. Everyone should just drop it.”

We need to accept the fact that NFL players are 21st century gladiators fueled by the spectator’s cheers and checks.

Sep 18

College Coach or Corporate Flack? Who Comes Out Ahead In Resume Flap?

Today’s guest post is by WALEKPeppercommer Chris Gillick.

Fake-University-Diploma-Template-03Six months ago, I wrote in these pages about Manhattan College men’s basketball coach Steve Masiello’s resume scandal and loss of a job opportunity, giving advice on how all the parties involved should handle a crisis over the coach’s claiming to have a college degree when in fact he did not.

Masiello’s employer ended up exercising mercy, placing him on unpaid leave until he completed the requirements for his degree, as he was only a few credits short. Following crisis PR to a T, Manhattan announced this news an hour before the start of the Final Four, knowing full well that few would notice. Masiello was eventually reinstated in June.

But Corporate America is not nearly as forgiving as a small, Lasallian liberal arts college whose moments in the spotlight are limited. Earlier this week, David Tovar, a vice president of communications at Wal-Mart, resigned from the giant retailer under circumstances similar to Masiello’s.

There are several parallels here. Masiello and Tovar were rising stars about to move on up in their respective professions, Masiello moving to a bigger school for a lot more money, and Tovar being promoted to senior vice president. They had each attended college for four years, walked in their class’ graduation ceremony, but were a few credits short of a degree. Each moved onto their first jobs at 22 years old thinking all was well and paid their dues on the way up.

The main difference here is the aftermath.

No PR professional ever wants to be the topic of the news themselves, but like any well-trained in-house flack, Tovar spun things to his advantage. He owned up to the reality right away, claimed that all was transparent with Wal-Mart during the vetting process, that he left the company on good terms, and was excited about the next “new adventure” in his life. Given his background and experience with two controversial companies (Wal-Mart and Altria), he will likely have no problem landing a new gig or starting a new agency.

On the other hand, Masiello admits he has some rebuilding to do and is thankful and humbled that Manhattan took him back. In his “I’m out from hiding” interview following his reinstatement, the coach acknowledged that he got 242 congratulatory text messages the night after his team pushed Rick Pitino’s Louisville to the brink in the NCAA Tournament. But after the South Florida fiasco? “Let’s just say my phone’s not ringing as much right now.”


Sep 17

When to say when

pail110460Eli Manning of the New York Giants and David Wright of the New York Mets have many things in common:
– Each is captain of his respective team.
– Each enjoyed amazing success earlier in his career.
– Each is an All-American boy next door, feel good kind of guy.
– Each has fallen on hard times.
– Each is a spokesperson for multiple sponsors.
And, the last point is the one in question.

How long should a brand stick with a spokesperson who is no longer synonymous with excellence? When does a consumer ignore a product hawked by a has-been? In other words, when should a marketer say when?

David Wright is a mere shadow of his former self. And, Eli Manning is more inconsistent than President Obama’s foreign policy. Yet, both still seem to have more endorsements than the average prescription medication has side effects.

In Eli’s case, one sees him plugging Toyota SUV’s (and other marketers’ wares) every nanosecond on the nanosecond.

All of which would make me think long and hard about Eli’s future as a spokesperson were I calling the shots at Toyota. When does a nice guy who’s fallen on hard times need to be jettisoned? When does a player’s mediocrity transfer over to that of the product or service he endorses?

I admire loyalty as much as the next person, but I suggest any brand associated with Messrs. Wright and Manning place them on waivers.

All’s fair in love, war and marketing. And I, for one, think it’s high time advertisers cut the cord with these particular low-level performers.
What do you think?

Sep 15

Commercials That Connect with Millennials

The following guest blog comes from one of my two favorite Millennials in the world, Catharine Cody. Comments welcomed from Millennials and non-Millennials alike.

While relaxing on my couch this past weekend watching “Parks and Recreation”, a commercial for Miller light came on the tube. I usually just fast-forward my way through commercials but, for some reason, I let this one play. It immediately grabbed me and held me tight. And, I can honestly say, the Miller Light spot is now one of my favorite commercials – along with the ones from Mentos and State Farm.

The ad resonated with me because it made clear the brand understood Millennials in general, and me in particular.

It informed viewers that Miller was the very first beer company to offer light beer options. (Commercial from 1978 with George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin below.) Light beer, in turn, led to thinner men, which led to more relationships which, eventually, led to you and me (assuming you’re a Millennial like me).

The Miller commercial not only tugs at the heartstrings by reminding youngish beer-drinking consumers about their parents’ lives, it also speaks directly to us.  And, that’s what makes it so appealing. In fact, at the end of the spot, when a voiceover says, “…which led to you,” the actors look directly into the camera and, essentially, talk to us (and not at us).  And, trust me, Millennials are tired of being spoken at by marketers.

So, let’s lift a glass to Miller Light for truly understanding their customers’ hearts and minds. As a Millennial, I can tell you, we love retro commercials almost as much as we love a cool glass of beer.

Sep 15

Man up!

MMI was very pleased to read about the extensive male mentorship program Esquire magazine has just created in partnership with three agencies (link). Its mantra? To encourage more adult men to mentor boys and young men.

This may show a little gender bias on my part, but it’s nice to finally read a positive piece in the press of, by and for men.

I’m a big believer in mentorship (with no bias towards race, creed, culture or gender, btw). It really does make a difference in life. I, for example, would never have achieved whatever success I have without the mentorship of three gentlemen:

– Don Levin, my very first boss at Hill and Knowlton.

– Howard Geltzer, who really schooled me on media relations strategies (and the cold, hard realities of running one’s own firm)

– Mitch Kozikowski, who forced me to open my mind and accept a new force sweeping the country at the time known as the WorldWideWeb.

I, in turn, have mentored dozens of students over the years.

My proteges have come mainly from Northeastern University, my alma mater, and the College of Charleston, a great school I’ve helped advise over the years.

As is the case everywhere, some proteges were outstanding, some merely went through the motions and others qualified as just plain bogus.

Three young people in particular, though, really stood out:

– Chris Piedmont of the CofC, who is now a full-time employee at Peppercomm.

– Krystal Grube of N.U., who is chasing her dream at a Boston-based sports marketing firm.

– Nina Rose, another CofC grad, who is head of PR at a Charleston-based non-profit.

I cannot tell how proud I am of these three mentees. I also cannot tell you how satisfying it is to mentor a young, developing professional.

What surprises me most about mentorship, though, is the dearth of mentors among my peer group (hence the need for the Esquire program).

One exception to that rule is Peppercomm’s president, Ted Birkhahn. Ted’s been mentoring disadvantaged high schools kids from around the country through a program known as Youth About Business (www.youthaboutbusiness.org).

YAB connects successful business executives like Ted with 15 and 16-year-old over achievers. Sometimes the partnership is merely a mentorship. Other times, groups of YAB students are placed in week-long boot camps in which they learn to create, and present, a sophisticated business plan for a fictitious merger-and-acquisition. That’s pretty heady stuff for an adolescent.

So, here’s a shoutout to those executives who DO mentor as well as to Esquire for its novel program.

And, here’s a call to action to any business executive reading this blog. If you really want to make a difference in this world, forget about the bottom-line for just one minute and think about helping a young high school or college kid make his or her way through this crazy world of ours. If you do get involved, you’ll find it to be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.