Sep 30

Upgrading can be downgrading

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

heavenI just received notice that shoes I ordered on-line last week have been shipped. For some time now, most major retailers with a strong on-line presence (that’s an oxymoron, name a major retailer that doesn’t have a strong on-line presence) have been sending email notices when items have shipped, along with a reliable expected delivery date and time. Even though I have a doorman, and don’t have to fret over packages swiped from a stoop, I very much appreciate this notice.

But today’s notice was different in that it included an option to upgrade my delivery. For an additional fee, I could have my shoes on Wednesday instead of Thursday. I chose the free (read: slow) shipping option when I ordered the shoes, cause I don’t really care if it takes two weeks, so I passed on this new service.

This got me thinking about how years ago the only upgrade consumers were offered were in regards to airline seats. In fact prior to the 1950’s it was a mere noun used mainly by engineers and people who forgot to engage their parking brakes.

But it was the airlines use of the word, to entice rag-tag economy passengers to sit with the fat-cats in First Class, that brought its now mainstream usage. Now, no matter what you do, you are offered the opportunity to upgrade, i.e. spend more money.

Reserve a hotel room, and at least twice, once when you receive confirmation and again at check-in, you are offered the opportunity to upgrade. Supersizing fast food meals is just an upgrade. Rent a car and be asked over and over if you want an upgrade. And of course millions of folks wait not-so-patiently for the day to arrive when they can upgrade their phone from the woefully outmoded device they now have to the iPhone X. I theorize that being asked if you want to donate to the United Fund when you check out at Duane Reade is just another chance to upgrade your purchase. Order an appetizer sized portion at a restaurant, and you are likely to be asked if you want to upgrade to an entrée size. Order 4X6” photos on-line and before you check-out, you’re given the option to upgrade to 5X7s.

What really grinds my gears (I love ‘Family Guy’) is that all these offers are presented as something extra the seller is doing for me, the consumer. When of course, it is just an opportunity for them to squeeze more money out of me. Maybe it’s two sides of the same coin, but I’d be less offended if they just came clean and made a straightforward option, minus the word upgrade.
The way they present in now is downgrading.

Sep 29

Dumb and Dumber

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

stupid-peopleA recent article in NY Magazine (The Everything Guide to the Urban Daredevil) is all about how to get a rush (and your fifteen minutes of fame) while possibly bring killed, arrested or just stuck in three feet of pigeon poo.

This chunk of social irresponsibility stems from the publicity those Germans who did the flag-swap on the Brooklyn Bridge received. Not content to leave well enough alone, the editors sought out home-grown morons who spend their free time climbing bridges, jumping off of buildings and breaking into abandoned mental hospitals (there is a certain symmetry to this one.)

Our police department is stretched to the limit. People are shot, raped and burgled. The UN, presidential visits and demonstrations suck enough life out of our officers without them having to save people who have little regard for their own safety, let alone others.

But the most shocking is their final list of buildings into which you should try to break. They call it “place hacking.” Not sure what the legal penalty is for place-hacking but I hope it falls under the same category as breaking and entering, which is exactly what it is. If you came home to find a stranger sitting in your living room would you tell the police your apartment had been “place hacked”. I think not.

Pulling illegal stunts isn’t cute or entertaining or responsible. It is immature, dangerous and negligent. And for a main-stream publication to run a feature encouraging, and even giving how-to lessons is irresponsible. Don’t we have enough craziness in this world without purposefully endangering society? And don’t tell me these are victimless crimes. Every time the police are called to the scene of a prank, they are taken away from being available for a real emergency.

Of course, every stunt that ends in a death reduces the world’s moron population so maybe this isn’t so bad after all.

May 20

Not so happy

140519-mcdonalds-happy-jms-2104_a3215da73bb1e4cd364ed5d51974a5a5Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

In their latest attempt to turn their sow’s ear of an eatery, (swimming in a pool of fat,) into a silk purse of fresh and healthy food, McDonald’s unveiled their new mascot. Its name is ‘Happy.’  But don’t be fooled by that cheerful name.

He looks like a big, fat front loading washing machine ready to gobble-up poor unsuspecting kids.

This red box with golden arch eye brows and serpent-like arms has terrorizing little Pierre in France since 2009, chomped his way thru Latin America and now has set his beady eyes on the US.
Social media sites are awash with criticism including reports of children having ‘Happy’ nightmares. As a brand ambassador touting McD’s healthy choices, such as subbing apple slices for fries, and milk for sodas, he is an epic fail.

Happy really is nothing more than a grown up Grimace, that original fast food mascot/monster first introduced by McD’s in the 60s. Happy doesn’t REALLY care what your kids eat- he only wants to get them in the door.  And he sure doesn’t care if he strikes fear into the hearts of our children.

It’s hard to imagine that a country as big as McDonaldLand cannot see that no matter what they do, they will not ever change the image on which they were founded. They created the fast food market, and their business model hasn’t changed. They can offer apples, carrots and skim milk till the cows come home, but folks do NOT go to their restaurants for healthy choices. Never have. Never will.

May 16

When Dealing with the Gender Pay Gap, Make it About the Gap Not the Gender

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Jackie Kolek.

Gender-Wage-Gap-2Since news broke earlier this week about Jill Abramson’s departure from The New York Times, there has been intense speculation about the reasons for her ousting.  Internal politics, management style or clashes over native advertising?  Maybe.  But the theory that is getting the most play and creating the most debate is whether she was fired for demanding that she be paid equal to the man she replaced.  According to the New Yorker,  Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and prior to that as managing editor were significantly less than those of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs.  The article states that she “confronted the top brass,” and in turn she labeled as “pushy” and subsequently fired.

The incident has rekindled the debate over equal pay for women and just how much women are underpaid in the same roles as men.  It’s estimated that women typically earn about 75% – 80% of what men do in the same jobs.  And while the debate rages on about how to end the pay gap forever, the key question in Jill Abramson’s case is what do you do when it happens to you?

Many years ago I was promoted to a director at Peppercomm and joined the firm’s management committee.  Serving on the committee meant I had access to all sorts of new information, from who was being promoted to who was being fired, raises and salaries.  Shortly after joining the committee our then CFO shared with the committee a list of all our employees and their salaries.  I was shocked to see that two men who were both a level below me were making significantly more money than I was.

I didn’t know whether to cry or scream.  Luckily I did neither.  I thought long and hard about what to do and how best to approach our managing partner about what I saw as a terrible wrong.  I created a list of points on why I should be better compensated – I had more responsibility, I was managing one of the agency’s largest clients, I was managing a group of people, I was leading large new business efforts.  Then I waited for the right moment. When my team won a prestigious industry award for best campaign I felt the timing was right.

I went into the managing partner’s office armed with my talking points and scared to death.  I laid out my argument. He looked at me and said “Yep, you’re right.  I’m sorry I didn’t catch this and we’ll rectify it right away.”  So what I saw as a potential gender gap was really an accounting oversight that was quickly and fairly corrected.

By no means am I suggesting that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist nor that we should ignore it.  But my experience illustrates that assuming it is a deliberate slight isn’t always correct either.  Chances are that if I went in and complained that a man shouldn’t be making more than me that they still would have given me a raise because Peppercomm is the type of company that simply tries to do the right thing.  However, I was glad that I focused on the value that I was bringing to the agency rather than gender inequality.

May 15

Rubbernecking delays

levsssssy jpgLike just about every executive of every advertising, digital and PR agency, small, medium or large, I stopped everything I was doing (which, if I recall, was nothing at all) to devour breaking news reports detailing the highly-hyped Omnicom-Publicis break-up. It was like a rubber-neck delay caused on I-95 after a truck jack-knifes. The entire marketing world came to a halt for a nanosecond or two.

I wasn’t at all surprised to read that the corporate coupling had nosedived faster than Governor Chris Christie’s ratings after BridgeGate because, in my mind, it was being created for all the wrong reasons. To wit:
1.)    Growth, for the sake of growth, is a very poor substitute for strategy (And, that’s said with all due respect to Richard Edelman’s stated goal of becoming PR’s first $1 billion PR Firm). Richard’s financial goal sure wouldn’t get me charged up and ready to stuff another $1 million account in the firm’s coffers. Nor would it answer the ‘why’ question. (i.e. Why does Edelman exist and why do I, as an Edelman employee, go to work each day? Surely, not to make Edelman the first $1 billion PR firm).
2.)    The merger was designed NOT to better serve clients but, rather, to enable the new entity to compete with Google and other tech/search companies in the rapidly-expanding, and highly lucrative, data gathering world (Think: NSA surveillance).
3.)    Clients of both organization saw, first-hand, what we in the independent agency world have known all along: global holding companies serve one master: the investment community. Sure, they do nice work, but clients’ needs come second and employees’ concerns run a distant third.
4.)    The larger the organization, the bigger the egos. This divorce came down to an ego clash over who would serve as the chief financial officer of the combined entity. That would be laugh out loud funny were it not so sad.

In the aftermath of the implosion, the top advertising trades are already wondering out loud if small is the new black. I’ve read countless pieces wondering if the Omnicom-Publicis divorce will be the straw that finally breaks the back of the symbiotic relationships between global brands and global holding companies. Thanks to the light that was shed on the conversation between Publicis and Omnicom, clients now know FOR sure that their business strategies aren’t what’s keeping the CEOs of holding companies up at night; it’s meeting the latter’s quarterly numbers.

True to course, though, the PR trades are reporting the dissolution with little more than already-stated facts. There’s been no analysis and no hypothesizing about the larger implications. And, that’s because the PR media are scared silly of the break-up because it threatens their business model which, stated briefly, might be best described as: ‘Content of, by and for global agencies and the mega brands they serve.”

Global agencies spend the most money in paid advertising. They also buy the most tables at the countless awards’ ceremonies and, oddly enough, they also happen to win the most awards at every single competition. Talk about a random coincidence.

There has never been a better time to be a smart, nimble independent agency that provides a whole host of integrated solutions. And, there’s never been a better time to put to bed for good all of those PR Week predictions that the future belongs to a few, large global holding companies (Remember the stories they ran after IBM consolidated all of its business with Ogilvy Advertising and a hastily-assembled consortium of Omnicom PR agencies)?

Small is the new black. And, I couldn’t be happier to capitalize on our many strategic advantages over the slow, lumbering aircraft carrier-sized holding companies who not only can’t figure out how to complete a merger, but publicly air their dirty laundry (the worst of which is admitting they place their own financial interests ahead of their clients’ needs).

May 13

Meet Ed Moed

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

pave a roadMost people know Edward A. Moed as the tough-as-nails, Tony Soprano-like co-founder of Peppercomm. And, he is all of that. But, as Repman managing editor, Dandy Stevenson, recently discovered, today’s Ed was shaped in no small measure by the many (many) jobs he held during his formative years. Read on for a fascinating glimpse into the youthful Ed (aka Repman’s Better Half).

Growing up, Ed’s dad owned a drug store, so he started young— stocking shelves, working the counter and making deliveries. Other positions on Ed’s real life resume would include pizza maker, law firm messenger, art gallery security guard and my personal favorite, The Guy Who Turns the Drew University Gymnasium Lights On in the Morning and Off at Night.

Entering college, family financial demands increased and Ed had to help with tuition payments. He held a dozen different jobs from waiting tables, to tending bar, to selling suits. He said he was “was promoted to bartender because I was such a lousy waiter.” That was more his forte, as you might imagine, and later he parlayed that experience into a job at a liquor store. For reasons that probably need no explanation, he didn’t excel as a haberdasher and when he started his stint at a Home Depot precursor, he “didn’t know a two-by-four from a tee-square.”

Ed said each in its own way, was an excellent experience “for a kid who knew nothing” and gave him an early respect for what it takes to earn a buck (or two.) Most jobs didn’t last more than a month because he was looking for the holy trinity of pre-college graduation jobs:  1) good money, 2) work he was good at, and 3) work he enjoyed (or at least didn’t hate.)

The summer before his sophomore year, he hit pay tar. (That’s pay dirt, only hot, stinky and sticky.) His friend Tony Cashman’s father got them both jobs tarring a section of I-95. “I never worked so hard in my life,” he said, but across that hot summer, the money and life-lessons rolled in.

Ed worked alongside “hard-up, burned-out laborers” who were as happy for the work as Ed was, but for vastly different reasons. The men were just glad to have steady work to pay bills and put food on the table. Ed was working so one day he could be interviewed by one of his 125+ employees at the successful strategic communications firm he co-founded and discuss how he spent one summer tarring I-95.

At one point Ed and Tony decided being flag boys, directing traffic around the work area, was far easier than slinging hot tar when you had a hangover which Ed and Tony did once in a while like every other day because they were college guys for heaven’s sake. All was jake until the morning Ed forgot his up-flag from his down-flag  and four cars collided. No one was hurt, except Ed. Tony’s father was head of the union, and let’s just say Ed saw a side of kindly Mr. Cashman that wasn’t so kindly.

But the highlight of that summer was when Ed, Tony and a few other wholesome guys drove to Myrtle Beach for some wholesome (and non) R&R. Ed said “no vacation could have meant more” because it was “financed wholly with money I earned myself.”

It was a long, hot summer, but not only did Ed earn a bundle of money, he picked up a bundle of life-lessons:

  1. Nothing beats money you earn yourself.  It’s one thing to have someone tell you money is hard earned, it’s another to do it yourself.  You get a sense of pride and ownership, not just of whatever your money bought but in the accomplishment and confidence of doing it yourself.
  2. Hard work is its own reward. Trite but true. Whether you are digging ditches or writing pitches, there is honor and satisfaction in doing a good job.
  3. Success brings responsibility. The directional flag mishap taught him that a job can frame someone else’s life. He said today, “I know individual’s and family’s livelihood are dependent upon my decisions, actions and performance.” A job is never just about yourself.
  4. A good education is paramount. Even though there are jokes about degrees being a dime a dozen these days, you want in that club. And you want to do the best you can, unless hot tar is your cup of tea.
  5. The sooner you learn to fail, and recover, the better. Ed was dismissed from some jobs because, like all teen-agers, he was immature and thought he knew more than he did. Dealing with failure, and recovering, is a big step towards self-reliance, which is a critical component of any responsible adult.

Ed’s three children have all the privileges in life he did not, but they will learn the lessons he did. When they reach college age, they will take out a loan for a portion of the tuition which will be their responsibility to re-pay.  If you grow up without failure, with someone always doing things for you, you cannot be self-confident; you have to know you can take care of yourself.  The road to success is paved with failure. And that journey for Ed started on I-95.



May 12

Is there a Dr. No in your workplace?

whistleblowerI’ll bet you don’t know who Roger Boisjoly is. I didn’t either until I read an excerpt of Megan McArdle’s new book, ‘The Up Side of Down.’

Boisjoly worked for a company called Morton-Thiokol. Does that name ring a bell? It should.

Morton-Thiokol was the engineering manufacturer that produced the rubber O-rings that sealed the joints in the solid booster rockets intended to propel the Space Shuttle Challenger into the stratosphere.

The night before NASA’s disastrous launch of the Challenger in 1986, Boisjoly pleaded with NASA technicians to delay the launch. He was worried the cold weather forecast for the following day would cause problems with the O-rings. George Hardy, NASA’s deputy director of science and engineering at the Marshall Space Flight Center, told Boisjoly and his team, “I am appalled by your recommendation.”

The next day, Hardy made sure the shuttle launched as scheduled. And, sure enough, the O-rings failed, seven astronauts died and America’s space program was derailed for years

McArdle is a big fan of what she calls having a Negative Nancy or a Dr. No within an organization.

In fact, she says every workplace should have someone with the cojones to say, “Stop! This is wrong.”

McArdle says the totally ersatz 60 Minutes/Lara Logan report on the purported eyewitness account of the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented from ever airing IF CBS had had a Negative Nancy in the office who could have questioned the veracity of the sole source.

I see myself as a glass half-full, positive type of guy. But, I’m not afraid to be a Dr. No who points out something that doesn’t seem right to me (either within a client organization, Peppercomm or society at large).

At the moment, I’m playing Negative Nancy with operational and people trends at my own firm that, frankly, I think are going in the wrong direction. Of course, I also happen to be a co-founder, so I don’t have to worry about what happens to most whistle-blowers (Aside from Ed, I don’t think anyone else at Peppercomm can ostracize or black list me).

It takes guts to be a Dr. No. It takes guts to speak up and say “Now, hold on there, professor,” when you see something that seems wrong from a business, moral or ethical sense. And, in many cases, if you do speak up, you’ll end up just like Roger Boisjoly — the answer to an obscure trivia question.

That said I’ll bet if he’s still alive, Mr. Boisjoly sleeps very soundly. He may have paid a heavy price from a career standpoint, but he did the right thing at the right moment in time. As for NASA’s George Hardy, well let’s just say I couldn’t live with myself after doing what he did.

To quote the signs I see posted all around Manhattan, “If you see something, say something.”

May 09

How to Stop the Scarlet Bleed

Today’s guest post is by JGAPeppercommer Samantha Bruno.

imagrutgersesAs a Rutgers’ graduate, and the daughter of a Rutgers’ graduate, I am incredibly proud to say I bleed Scarlet red. I became a brand ambassador for the university long before I ever entered PR professionally. I showed the school to prospective students and their families as an overnight and classroom campus host and was a university tour guide and new student orientation leader.  Receiving my diploma only increased my desire to show my Rutgers’ pride. I readily take advantage of any excuse to go back onto campus, including a recent invitation to film a video for their website on behalf of the career center.

All things considered, the past 13 months have been tumultuous for us Knights, to say the least. While making Melissa McCarthy’s hilarious SNL Skit possible, the handling of an abusive men’s basketball coach was extremely unfortunate, only fueled later by drama around the new Athletic Director. Recently, student protests around Condoleezza Rice’s commencement speech had me holding out hope that Rutgers might finally take their head out of the sand and handle a PR situation with finesse. I should have known to lower my expectations. With headlines like “Rutgers’ Ineptitude on Display Again,” Rutgers’ brand ambassadors, including both current and former students, can only do so much to represent the university in a positive light.

Condoleezza Rice declining the commencement speech gave Rutgers an opportunity to shine in the face of increased media attention. They failed. Sure, Rutgers will be remembered in this situation, but primarily for botching their handling of one of Rutgers most beloved figures, our #52. Having walked the same halls at the same time as Eric LeGrand, before his life changing injury while playing football for Rutgers, it’s disappointing.

Eric LeGrand has served as a beacon of hope in a dark moment for Rutgers. The show of support that came in the wake of his injury on campus was overwhelming. It didn’t matter if you knew him or not, everyone joined together in a show of solidarity. I remember getting emotional hearing that Coach Greg Schiano offered LeGrand a contract, however short lived, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was a family, no matter how extended we were.

It’s not important who asked who to speak at the commencement or who rescinded which offer, the perception is that the RU Screw is alive and well, and after all, isn’t perception all that really matters?

There are times when apologies are appropriate and this is one of them. Publicly apologize to Eric. Apologize to the student body. Apologize to the alumni. Don’t you want the 65,000 current students to serve as a walking advertisement for the State College of New Jersey? As for the alumni, there are approximately 450,000 of us spread out across the country and around the globe. That’s an awful lot of rumpled feathers. When I received the e-mail from President Robert Barchi announcing former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean as the new commencement speaker, I was dissatisfied that the letter didn’t address any of the issues and made only a general announcement. A little transparency could go a long way within the Knight community, but it doesn’t look like the money we paid to attend bought us that courtesy.

Call me naïve, but I am still holding out hope that RU pulls it together.  Scarlet pride runs deep and if they took responsibility for a few mistakes, they would have an army of Knights standing behind them. If I may quote our fight song, Rutgers, give us something to “swim upstream” over.