May 02

Have you ever hired, or worked with, a Johnny Football?

preview.LCCDoi65LYQH8cgz_500Are you familiar with the sad plight of Johnny Football? Johnny Football was Johnny Manziel’s nickname when he burst upon the national sports scene as an all-world quarterback at Texas A&M.

Alas, Johnny Football couldn’t wait for the big bucks that went hand-in-glove with signing an NFL contract. So, Johnny quit after his sophomore year and entered the NFL draft.

I’ll let you read the poignant tale of how Johnny sat and sat, waiting on draft day for some team to claim him (while a heartless ESPN team trained its camera on him as he squirmed, fretted and suffered until the Cleveland Browns finally drafted him as the 23rd selection.

Johnny Football floundered in the NFL, throwing only two touchdown passes in two seasons He got cut and has not been picked up by anyone else.

Today, at the tender age of 23, Johnny Manziel is being called the Lindsay Lohan of football. He’s plagued with drug and alcohol addiction, and has had countless clashes with the law. His dad fears for poor Johnny’s very life.

I bring up this true downer of a story because, we too, have hired PR’s versions of Johnny Football. These were sure-fire, can’t miss superstars with superb credentials and impeccable references. And each one flamed out in very high-profile ways. Here are three, quick anonymous examples:

– A project manager who possessed the exact combination of skills needed to organize our multiple, fully integrated accounts. Sadly, Johnny Project pissed off everyone he worked with, excelled at backstabbing and actually told a client we weren’t qualified to handle a new assignment. He was escorted to the elevators within 30 days of joining us.

– A senior client-side executive who had managed countless CEOs, high-level crises and global thought leadership programs. We were positive Johnny Corporate would provide a critical, client-side perspective to everything we did. Sadly, Johnny Corporate also came equipped with a patronizing, “I know better than you” attitude and was pretty much ignored by our senior management team. Johnny Corporate beat us to the punch, and left before he could be cut.

– Last, but not least, was the sure-fire management supervisor who joined us from a global agency and had managed countless Fortune 500 accounts. But, sure enough, Johnny Big Agency was used to working in a hierarchal culture and, within the first week, was complaining that Peppercomm didn’t have its own research and measurement departments (which we now possess, thank you very much) and pretty much expected his underlings to do all of his work. Johnny BigAgency simply couldn’t cope in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial culture and quickly returned to the safety, and security, of an aircraft carrier-sized, multi-layered global firm.

Every agency has hired a Johnny Manziel, and survived to fight another day (or play another down, if you will). So, do me a favor and share your Johnny Football story. We all have one.

Apr 26

Former CongressDog Delighted with British Decision to Grant Workers Paid ‘Paw-ternity’ Leave

– Remains skeptical Americans will follow suit –

Lincroft, NJ, April 26, 2016 — Former U.S. CongressDog Mick Cody (pictured below)  today enthusiastically supported a new movement that grants British workers paid leave ranging from a few days to a few weeks to provide care for their new born puppies.

IMG_7329 (00000002)Called Paw-ternity care, the U. K. trend comes on the heels (paws?) of similar rulings that grant parents paid paternity leave to care for their newborns.

Cody, while seemingly ebullient about the Brits paying heed to their pups’ needs, was highly skeptical Americans would follow suit.

Yesterday’s thinking an obstacle

“Let’s call a spade a spade (and I’m not talking about that kind of spayed). There are still large pockets of Americans who allow hate and fear to drive their decision-making,” he snorted. “Threats are being made to close Muslim temples, overturn any, and all, progressive Supreme Court rulings of the past four decades and deport 11 million illegal Mexican immigrants. With that kind of 19th century thinking, what chance does paw-ternity care stand? Hell, even the illegal immigrants are held in higher esteem,”  howled Cody, who noted that 99 percent of all American dogs are naturalized canines.

“While I do think the paw-ternity trend will spread like ticks and fleas among the more progressive Western nations, I doubt I’ll live to see it become a reality on these shores,” he whined.

What Ifs

Cody believes that, had paw-ternity care existed when he was in his formative years, there would have been no limits to how high he might have risen: “If my dad had been around to provide public relations and public affairs counseling to me when I was first shaping my political views, I very well might be winding down my second term in the White House. Instead, without a strong male role model in my life, I committed a stupid mistake, and am living out my remaining days in a Michael Dukakis-like exile.”

Cody was, of course, referring to the Anthony Weiner-like sexting scandal that brought his burgeoning political career to an abrupt halt.

The disgraced politician, our nation’s first four-legged member of Congress, was forced to resign after sexting a topless photograph of himself to a feline.

Cody initially rose to national prominence after he organized, and led, a million dog march on Washington calling for the immediate end of dog-fighting. He was also arrested several times for lifting his leg on the gates surrounding then Atlanta Falcons superstar, Michael Vick’s, palatial estate (Note: Vick was found guilty of staging dogfights in his mansion, and served prison time for his offense).

Asked if thought any of the five Presidential candidates might endorse paw-ternity in their remaining stump speeches, Mick’s ears suddenly stood straight and his tail wagged. “Yes. Yes I do. The Bern would do it. Anyone who’s bat shit crazy enough to think we can afford free college tuition with a three trillion dollar budget deficit would go for paid paw-ternity leave.”

Cody concluded his last-second press conference by saluting the British nation for always being dog-friendly. “Ya gotta love any country whose national symbol is the bulldog. Compare that with the animal we chose: An arrogant, reclusive bird that is, in fact, a serial killer.”

Cody declined to comment on the recent Cruz-Kasich coupling aside from noting that dogs ran in packs and felt also-ran presidential contenders could benefit from pursuing the same strategy.

And a tip o’ the cap to Cat Cody for this idea.

Apr 25

Free Redskins Tickets!

Cyber securityAs RepMan readers may recall, I attended an amazing conference last week focused on cyber security, and hosted by the Cyber Security Institute at West Point.

The summit featured many leaders from the public and private sectors, government, academia and the military.

Since I discussed the macro goals of the gathering last week, I thought I’d share the single best anecdote of the 15-hour event.

Secretary of Homeland Safety, Jeh Johnson, delivered a keynote speech in which he re-emphasized a point made by earlier speakers. To wit, the sheer ignorance of most Americans to their vulnerability to cyber attacks.

To illustrate his point, Johnson shared a recent ploy the DHS used to wake-up his own employees.

His department created a fake e-mail address and inserted the words, ‘Win free Redskins tickets!’

The e-mail was then blasted to staff, instructing them to click on a link in the e-mail to claim their free passes. Employees that clicked through the link received a follow-up message to come to a room in the building to receive their tickets. “There they received a briefing on proper cybersecurity practices,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s message was clear. Cyber terrorists are hell-bent on gaining access to the most vital information they can use to damage, or even destroy, the U. S. And, they’re always looking to gain entry through the easiest port of entry: our personal e-mail accounts.

As I explained in last week’s blog, once inside your system, the bad guys can run amok and, if they’re lucky enough to strike gold, gain unfettered access to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, our energy grids and our super-secret national security systems.

One hacker used this route to reach the inner workings of Boeing’s infrastructure and very nearly commandeered a plane in mid-flight. All because some knucklehead clicked on a fake link.

Johnson stressed that the average American is our first line of defense. We need to wake up and be ever more vigilant to e-mail offers from complete strangers.

It’s no exaggeration to say any one of us could aid and abet a terrorist to wreak havoc on our way of living.

After word: I was pleased to see that President Obama has gone on the offensive and opened a new line of combat against the Islamic State, directing the military’s Cyber Command to mount computer-network attacks that are now being used alongside traditional weapons. I’ve always believed the best defense is a good offense.

#WhoWantsToWatchPerrennialLosers

 

Apr 22

Your thermostat could short circuit our entire nation

TerrorizingIf you own a smart device such as a home thermostat that can be regulated from a remote location thanks to the “Internet of Things”, then you could unwittingly be placing our entire nation’s safety at risk.

Here’s how. A cutting-edge cyber terrorist could hack into your smart thermostat and easily gain access to your personal information. He could then, in turn, follow that thread to your corporate information. And, if your corporation happens to have a supply chain (and how many don’t?), there’s a good chance the cyber terrorist could hack his way into a local utility and, by leveraging their access codes, disable our entire country’s energy grid.

The end result would be to bring America screeching to a complete halt. There’d be no planes flying overhead, no IT systems to keep Wall Street and Silicon Valley running and no means for me to stay current with HBO’s “Vinyl”.

This is clearly no laughing matter. Nor is it fantasy. It’s fact. And, according to one of the cyber security experts who spoke at the Joint Service Academy Cyber Security Summit, we can expect just such a catastrophic event to occur within the next five years, or sooner.

That’s why The Military Academy at West Point, along with all of the other major armed service branches, have been racing at breakneck speed to find a fix before the bad guys strike. But, this initiative goes far beyond the military, and involves the government, academia and leading members of the private sector.

West Point’s Army Cyber Security Institute is taking the lead in coordinating discussions, best practices and cooperation amongst the players responsible for assuring our nation’s cyber safety. The summit was one of their first, large-scale initiatives.

We heard disturbing lectures, anecdotes and predictions from the likes of Homeland Defense Secretary Jeh Johnson, Rick Ledgett, deputy director and senior civilian leader of the National Security Agency and General Raymond T. Odierno, U.S. Army (retired), who was the nation’s 38th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and currently serves as senior advisor to the chairman, CEO and operating committee at JP Morgan Chase.

Their message was sober, if not downright scary: While we have dozens of cyber experts currently protecting the U.S., the enemy has thousands of cyber criminals trying their very best each, and every, day to bring us down.

The Summit’s call to action was two-fold:

– Immediate and ongoing communication, and sharing of best practices, among all parties in all sectors (Note: Surprisingly, this is already happening among the big Wall Street players, who willingly allow “competitors” access to their firewalls to help the group as a whole detect and prevent intrusion.
– Nationwide recruiting of talented Millennials and Gen Zs, who grew up playing video games, have a natural affinity for the cyber world and could help us decrease the lopsided number advantage currently enjoyed by the enemy.

I’m proud to be assisting the Army Cyber Institute in helping to communicate what every leading Summit speaker said he believed is the single biggest threat facing America today. But, I’m an army of one, and they need so much more help.

So, think twice the next time you activate a smart device from a remote location. You may be providing access to that one cyber terrorist who could bring us all to our knees.

 

Apr 18

Same-day Brain Surgery

I visited my local neurologist last week to have him read a brain MRI. Not surprisingly, he said he could find absolutely nothing going on in my head. I told him people had been saying the exact same thing for years.

Today’s tale, though, occurred in the neurologist’s waiting room some 45 minutes before he’d tossed my X-Rays at me, chuckled and said, “Go home you rascal. You’re healthy as a horse.”

As I was biding my time in said waiting area (and, exactly what is a “bide” and who decided to associate it with the words “my time”?), I spotted a poster and framed article.

Both carried banner headlines: “Same-day Brain Surgery.”

More than a little intrigued, I scanned them for information. Then, being the impulsive guy I am, I acted on impulse. I sidled up to the reception area. A dour, doughty woman (DDW) looked up at me:

DDW: “How may I help you?
Me: “Tell me about the same-day brain surgery.”
DDW (now slightly animated): “Oh yes, Dr. Olson had invested in cutting-edge (ouch) equipment and can now have you in and out on the same day.”
Me: “I frequently have to check my iPhone for messages. Would that be an issue?”
DDW: “During the surgery it would, yes.”
Me: “I’m also a very busy guy. Could I get this to go?”
DDW: (No response).
Me: “I’m thinking I stop by before 9, pick up the scalpel, sutures, micro chain saw and, of course, a hand mirror so I can see what I’m doing. Then, I’d have everything back to you by 5pm.”
DDW: “No. There’s no brain surgery to go.”

I shrugged my shoulders and sat down. But, then, I thought, what a great line extension for a Burger King or McDonald’s. They partner with local brain surgeons who can perform this delicate operation and obtain his instruments.

Then, after one of their morbidly obese customers pulls up to the drive-by and orders her Double Whopper and fries, she can add, “Oh, can you toss in one of those same-day brain surgery kits, Sugar? The gals in my book club are just raving about it. Oh, and, just to be safe, supersize the micro saw. The gals always kid me about my having a big head and, well, you just can’t be too careful these days.”

Happily, I’m not in need of same-day brain surgery but, from a genetic standpoint, I know the time will probably come when I will be in need of same-day open heart surgery.

I just hope BK is ready when I am. In fact, what a great opportunity to widen their target audience. I can just imagine their tagline: “Killing the body. Saving the mind.”

Isn’t modern technology a wonderful thing?

Apr 15

Should the winners be unable to perform their duties…

blucherNot too long ago, we were one of four firms invited to pitch a global brand looking for help in the good, old U.S. of A.

But, we were wary of entering the fray after discovering the three other “midsized” firms were owned by global holding companies. That’s big (pun intended) since it enables them to confidently state they could seamlessly provide services in 31 countries, three protectorates and one undiscovered island.

We raised the issue. Not to worry, said the procurement officer, who added, “…this is strictly about your ability to heighten our brand awareness in the U.S.” Yeah, sure, and Trump University is more highly rated than Harvard and Yale combined.

But, since we’d come highly recommended by a former client who was serving as a search consultant for the process, we invested the usual, countless hours of brainstorming and absorbed significant out-of-pocket costs to give away our best ideas for free.

We ended up presenting to some 30 client-side decision-makers who not only represented various functions BUT various regions as well (Cue: anxiety attack).

When we’d finished presenting the majority of the program, Frau Blucher, sitting at the far end of the table, cleared her throat and asked, ‘Vat are your capabilities in the BeNeLux countries, ya?”

That’s when I knew our goose had been flayed, cooked and was being served without the usual trimmings. Our London colleague explained how we handled the historic Low Countries through our affiliate network, but the assembled client team yawned and immediately reached for their mobile devices.

After the meeting, the team began evaluating how we’d done. One gave us an A. Others scored our performance as an A-minus at worst. I told them it was a B-plus at best, citing a few other hiccups as well as the 800-pound gorilla otherwise known as global capabilities.

Sure enough, after telling us they’d be making an immediate decision, we waited three weeks for the perfunctory “Dear Agency” letter.

But, this was the truly weird part. After thanking us for our free ideas and spending our own dime to chase their business, the procurement officer added this line:

“Should we be unable to come to a financial agreement with the two finalists we have selected, we will be back in touch to discuss how we might work together.” Say what?

That’s like a guy dating three women on three successive weekends, picking the one he liked best and then texting the other two to say, “It was me. Not u. But, if Sharon sucks, I’ll be back in touch.”

After word: These are the types of horror stories you WOULD read about in the ad trades, but NEVER see covered in our beloved PR rags.

That’s because, as noted in previous blogs, the journos who cover our field are laser-focused on pleasing the large corporations and global agencies. To do otherwise would be to threaten an amazingly lucrative business model that sees the target audiences plunking down hundreds of thousands of dollars to reserve tables and place advertisements for the multiple awards programs naming them “best” this or “best that” of the year.

The PR industry needs a trade version of the Boston Globe Spotlight team that uncovered the Catholic Church scandal. But, why bite the hand that feeds you?

#LifeIsntFair

#NeitherIsBusiness

#Frau Blucher

 

 

Apr 11

Customer Delight: The Mayfly of Business

120206_cn-mayfly1_p465A former client CEO once told me she wanted her legacy to be, “The woman who delighted every customer.”

I thought that was a noble goal and really didn’t give it much more thought until I read this article by Joellyn Sargent.

Sargent argues that delight is a fleeting emotion (I’ll drink to that).

She says that focusing on customer delight is a bit like treating customers as if you’ll never see them again. You may delight them in a moment in time, but you overlook the importance of nurturing a long-term relationship.

Her examples ranged from deep discounts and constant coupons in retail which train buyers to go for the momentary high, but does nothing to indicate you’d like a long-term relationship with them. Groupon is a textbook example, where nearly 80 percent of coupon users are new customers, but only 20 percent come back, according to a Rice University study.

Sargent argues for an approach I’ve long championed:

– Build your organization around your client’s needs (and, in turn, their stakeholders’ needs),

– Make it easy for customers to do business with you, and

– Ensure that the experience is mutually rewarding.

In other words play the role of strategic partner rather than the one-hit wonder.

That’s especially true in public relations where so many “media-by-the-pound” shops still sell a one dimensional offering intended to delight the client with a major placement.

Sadly, major placements don’t occur every other week, so the client comes down from the fortnight-long high, demands more big hits and, when they don’t come, moves on.

As we’ve evolved to become a fully integrated communications firm, we’ve stayed focused on helping to solve the business issues that keep clients awake at night. That calls for possessing the intuition to anticipate what lies just ahead, and either pushing boundaries or mitigating risk (neither of which produce an ephemeral sensation of delight BTW).

I’m sad to report that the aforementioned CEO was asked to leave and now finds herself in a different position with a different organization. While I’m sure there were myriad factors that caused her downfall, it wasn’t until reading Sargent’s article that it dawned on me the CEO’s single-minded obsession to delight customers may very well have been her undoing.

 

 

Apr 05

The Resurrection

1864a7f2236f9f80d7bed6312bc70fb5I’m always fascinated to watch brands try to reinvent themselves in order to turn around sagging sales and respond to emerging market trends. Some succeed. Many don’t.

Past Blue Ribbon, a storied beer that was founded by Jacob Best, Sr., in 1844, is attempting to resurrect its once prolific profile as one of America’s top brews. (Note: Today, Pabst is a fifth place also-ran in the beer wars with 2.6 percent of the market).

To do so, Eugene Kashper, the new owner and a very successful Russian brewer, is attempting to strike the delicate balance that just about every organization in every sector is launching as we speak: How does one maintain a relationship with long-time, albeit aging, brand loyalists while attracting the white hot Millennial market that demands a personalized relationship with the products and services they choose?

Not surprisingly, Pabst is following the lead of many other brands trying to accomplish the same goal:

– Remind buyers and potential buyers of the company’s heritage. That establishes the brand as one that has weathered many storms over the centuries and will do so once again (Think: Those nauseating Dodge boys TV commercials).

– Show buyers and prospective buyers what they’re doing now to become more relevant and contribute to the greater good (The current Boeing TV spots are a prime example).

– Paint a vision for the future. No brand does a better job at numbers two and three than GE.

But, reincarnation can be a slippery slope that some brands will never climb.

Do the post-Gulf spill disaster commercials run by BP, that not only boast the Gulf waters and shores are cleaner than ever, but also praise the global organization for the massive work they’ve done to clean up their own mess, ring true? I don’t think so. Not for a minute. Sorry, BP. But all the advertising in the world won’t change your legacy of having been the perpetrator of the greatest environmental disaster in our nation’s history.

And, have you caught the new spots from SeaWorld? Miraculously, the benighted, far-sighted and animal-loving management has suddenly decided it will no longer breed killer whales or have them perform in aquatic shows at theme parks. Gee, I wonder what caused them to do a complete 180?

SeaWorld is the theme park version of BP. No matter what they say or do, they’ll be forever remembered as the guys who captured and, in some cases, abused killer whales and their offspring.

There will be no brand resurrection for either organization.

Getting back to Pabst Blue Ribbon, I must say I like their new strategy. In addition to opening microbreweries (a no-brainer if there ever was one), Pabst is looking to bring back many of the 77 brands and recipes they pioneered over a century-and-half of brewing. That’s smart, since it combines retro-chic with modern tastes. So, keep an eye open for everything from Colt .45 (ugh) to Olympia coming soon to a saloon near you.

Only time will tell if Pabst successfully straddles the Baby Boomer/Millennial taste divide, but this blogger for one is lifting his bottle of National Bohemian (another long-forgotten, but soon-to-be resurrected brand) hoping they succeed.

 

 

Apr 01

A brand new look at middle age

66c4b0661d15d8078fa6a96390c0e644Whether you’re 18 or 81, I recommend you read this recent column by David Brooks.

In it, Brooks synthesizes and analyzes a new book by Barbara Bradley Hagerty titled, “Life Reimagined.”

Hagerty says the cliché known as midlife crisis simply isn’t true. Rather, she cites brand new research that shows midlife is, in fact, a time when we pause or shift gears. And, she writes, the shift, “…can be exhilarating, rather than terrifying.”

Many people in their 40’s and 50’s turn midlife into a rebirth. (That said, I know  quite a few friends and acquaintances who have given up trying to learn new things or challenging themselves in any new way at all).

Getting back to the subject at hand, Hagerty’s research shows that, for many, midlife seems to be a rebirth. She calls it the second phase of decision-making. “Your identity has been formed; you know who you are; you’ve built up your resources; and now you have the chance to take the big chances precisely because your foundation is already secure.”

I’d cite my climbing, comedy and willingness to write a blog that isn’t afraid to take the PR establishment to task as three personal examples of what Hagerty believes.

In his column, Brooks also quotes the theologian Karl Barth, who wrote: “At middle age, the sowing is behind; now is the time to reap. The run has been taken; now is the time to leap.” He added: “The middle-aged person can see death in the distance, but moves with a ‘measured haste’ to get big new things done while there is still time.”

Brooks noted that, with increased longevity, middle age has been redefined and what was once seen as the beginning of the end can, in fact, be the end of the beginning.

So, with all due respect to the Millennials who think they’re immortal and will remain forever young, the facts are quite the opposite.

But, rather than fear “getting old”, Millennials should, in fact, look forward to a time when they can look back at what they have and haven’t accomplished, and plot a whole new course for the second act. I know I did just that. And, it’s been beyond rewarding.

I’d go on, but I feel like going for a ride in my fire engine red BMW M3.

 

 

Mar 25

NamaSTAY AWAY FROM MY STRESS RELIEVER

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Catharine Cody.

catAs Christians prepare to celebrate the holiest holiday of the year, I am preparing my body for a trip to St. Lucia with two of my best friends. How am I getting in swimsuit shape? Yoga. That’s why I was shocked to hear that one school in Georgia banned the word “Namaste.”

Parents in Georgia say that yoga is a religious practice, and if their kids can’t say the pledge of allegiance, they shouldn’t practice yoga.

Yoga is not a religious practice. It’s about channeling your breathing, energy and mind in order to destress the body from daily minutia of everyday problems.

I was hooked on yoga from my very first class. Yoga helps you focus on breathing, so you can train your mind to forget about your problems, and just simply be in the moment.

As a PR executive, I am constantly on.  I respond to emails starting at 7am and do not fully unplug until about 8pm. I am always worried about upcoming launches, new stories to pitch, how to reach reporters in new ways and staying on top of my email.

Once I discovered yoga, however, I learned that just through breathing and focusing on one task at a time, I could destress myself.

Sure, one of my instructors once told me to push my psychic energy to someone “who needed it.” But, the key thing here is, yoga does not push religion. You can use it as a part of your religious practice, but you can also use it as a way to calm your mind and body.  And, that’s why I practice it.

So, when Georgia banned the word “Namaste” from class, they essentially banned a technique to help kids naturally destress and decompress. In today’s 24/7 world where we’re constantly connected to some sort of device, it’s absolutely critical that we learn to unplug and just breathe.
Thank you for reading this blog, and may you all have a peaceful weekend. Namaste.