Aug 16

Don Draper rocks

Don Draper, the fictional lead character in AMC's breakout hit, 'Mad Men,' just did what every PR Mad-men-office and ad agency executive pines to do just once in a career. In a recent episode, he threw two executives from a prospective client out of his office. Draper did so because the Jantzen swimwear executives refused to see the strategic business sense in Don's suggested creative campaign. The fearful Jantzen guys, not wanting to upset their conservative target audience, were afraid of Draper's provocative ad and told him so (and what a brutal product placement for Jantzen, whose swim suits remain amazingly modest, BTW. I checked).

Draper stormed out of the conference room, thought about it for a second, and then stormed back in to tell the Luddites to immediately get out of his office. It was breathtaking to watch (and, might I add that this is stuff of which dreams are made).

I don't know how many times I've wanted to toss a rude, boorish or indifferent prospect out of our conference. You know the types:

– The self-absorbed prospects who bang away on their Blackberries while you pitch.
– The ones who are totally evasive about their budget (“Why don't you tell us what you think it will take?”). Prospects who don't know what their budget is shouldn't be seeking PR support
– The marketing executives who, after telling you category expertise isn't important, interrupt your presentation to ask, ”So, that's it? That's all the category experience you have?”

There are many, many more examples.

The beauty of Mad Men is its spot-on accuracy. In addition to dealing with maladroit prospects, Don's nascent firm also has to walk on egg shells for their biggest client, Lucky Strike cigarettes, which commands 71 percent of billings. The Lucky Strike client knows he can belittle and berate his agency, so he does.

The Lucky Strike guy reminds me of a huge client of ours from long ago and far away. This particular master of the universe boasted that he'd give us a $10 million budget with which to work. He also immediately applied the pressure, knowing he was indeed, for one brief, dark moment, our largest client. His particular mission in life was to force diversity on the profession. So, right after hiring us, he gave us an ultimatum. Prove that our staff was at least 18 percent minority-based, or risk losing his business within the year. (Note: that's one tough mandate in an industry that remains as lily white as ours).

Anyway, my business partner, Ed, rose to the occasion with some amazing legerdemain and convinced this bizarre client that Peppercom was, in fact, 18 percent diverse. (I think Ed counted left-handed employees and New Jersey residents as minorities).

Long story made short, the big shot client was fired less than a year after his hiring, and has bounced around from one job to the other since.

We're a bit older and wiser now, and make sure no one client dominates too large a percentage of our billings. That's somewhat easier when your firm is an established, 15-year-old midsized business. That isn't the case for Don Draper's upstart agency and it certainly wasn't the case in Peppercom's embryonic days.

While he may have many dark sides and hidden agendas, I love the way Don Draper manages new business prospects. As his partner, Roger Sterling, said in the same episode, “My father told me advertising would be a great business if it weren't for the clients.” I'd change that to read, 'PR would be a great business if it weren't for the abusive prospective clients.’

Jul 09

Tat’s all, folks!

Is it just me, or is there an ever-increasing percentage of people sporting tattoos? Is there also  
Bibby2
a  simultaneous increase in the percentage of available skin being devoted to tats? I sure think so.

I believe I reached the tat’s tipping point this past Sunday when I spied one on the calf muscle of my good friend and cycling partner, Greg Drury (publisher of The Holmes Report). Justifiably proud of having completed six triathlons, Greg’s right calf is now adorned with a bright red ‘tri’ logo. Man, I thought, if ‘they’ got Greg Drury to sport a tat, they’ve got everyone. Don’t ask me who they are, but they’ve won nonetheless.

I’m not a big fan of tats. I especially hate the over-the-top tats that seem to run amok on the torsos of NFL and NBA players. Some players have their kids’ names tattooed on their biceps. That’s cute. Others feature verses from the Bible (hoping, perhaps, that God will let them make that three-point shot at the buzzer?). And, some have those Japanese and Chinese letters on them. They look very cool, but what’s the point if no one understands what they say or mean?

If I were going to sacrifice my skin permanently, I think I’d charge money for it. In fact, if the price were right, I’d consider adorning my calves, biceps and triceps with any number of hip, but environmentally-sensitive, sponsor logos. I like Mammoth outdoor gear, so that would be one. I wear Saucony running shoes, so their logo would make the cut. And, I’d also want the world to know I’m a man of discerning tastes, so I’d go with a Zegna or Armani icon on, say, my wrist.

Tats are a personal image and reputation statement. But, I’m not sure exactly what statement is being made. Is a tattoo nothing more than a plaintiff cry for attention? Is it a must-have fashion accessory that, unlike a watch, can’t be taken off every night? Or, is it a peer pressure kind of thing? (i.e. “If Lindsay and Heather have tats on their shoulders, then I have to have one on mine. So there.”).

All this tat thinking has me thinking. If it were trendy at the time, would Lincoln have had a tat? My guess is he’d have gone with the opening line of the Gettysburg Address and put it on one of his biceps. The rail splitter had to have been cut. I’ll bet Napoleon would have had multiple tats. He did have a Napoleonic complex, after all. And, my guess is Winston Churchill would have had that big, fat cigar permanently tattooed on his neck.

If and when I do decide to follow Greg Drury’s lead and get a tattoo, I know what it will be and where it will go: it’ll be the Peppercom logo and it’ll be right smack on the small of my back. And, yes, it will be a plaintive cry for attention. Tat’s all, folks.

Jul 08

Motown’s macho man

Imagine picking up a newspaper or turning on the tube to learn your significant other has fallen
4fcaa6ba3e21 in love with someone else. Well, that's figuratively what happened to Greg Anderson, CEO of ad agency BBH, who read his agency had been fired by Cadillac in Advertising Age! No warning by the client. No note thanking the firm for its work. Nothing. Talk about being blindsided. To make matters worse, the exact same fate befell Susan Gianinno, CEO of Publicis, a month earlier.

Both had fallen victim to Motown's new macho man, Joel Ewanick, the VP of U.S. Advertising for General Motors. Ewanick has been in his job for exactly two months. In just 60 days, he's destroyed his own image, further tarnished GM's already tattered reputation and decimated two fine ad agencies. Now, there's something to tell the grandchildren one day (“Curl up on grandpa's lap and let me tell you about the time I whacked two hot shot ad agencies in less than 30 days. You kids will just love it!”).

Prior to GM, Ewanick had toiled for Nissan, Hyundai and a
yacht maker. Something tells his internal ethics compass went awry on board one
of those yachts.

Kudos to Ad Age for once again providing a valuable reader service by outing such horrific behavior. I wish our PR trades would follow suit. Trust me, Ewanick is not unique (and, try saying that three times fast).

If I were the Motown macho man's new agencies, though, I'd be sure the invoices were paid promptly. This guy put the 'v' in volatile.

We've been 'Ewanicked' a few times in our storied history, but it was never as sinister as this. We once pitched the division of a Fortune 500 company, for example, and were told a decision would be forthcoming shortly. Naturally, that was followed by complete radio silence. Then, sure enough, O'Dwyer's printed an article announcing the corporation's new agency of record. I was upset, so I e-mailed the prospect. He responded a few days later saying he thought he'd sent a letter to the losers. Nice. No apology. No explanation. Nothing. Just lots of wasted time and effort on our part and yet another misbehaving prospect not held accountable.

If there's a god (and one wonders nowadays), Ewanick will get his just desserts one day soon. Ideally, he'll wake up in his Grosse Point Farms estate, shuffle to the front door, pick up a copy of Automotive News and read the following, 'Ewanick Sacked. Smith to Head GM's Advertising.' I'll bet a lot of BBH and Publicis staffers would lift a glass of champagne to toast that decision.

Jul 07

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Two recent blogs on the subject of the ad industry awards event at Cannes both missed the
2010 Cannes Logo mark for different reasons.

The first, authored by Paul Taaffe, chairman and CEO of Hill and Knowlton (my alma mater) is a cautionary tale. In it, he laments the PR industry's poor showing in the recent competition. Taaffe worries that, if PR doesn't do a better job of putting our collective best foot forward, we'll lose future opportunities to the more creative and dramatic advertising types.
That's a flawed POV for a number of reasons. First, Paul forgets that ALL ad agency creative directors are frustrated Steven Spielberg wannabes. They create campaigns to win awards, not to sell products (which is one of the reasons why advertising finds itself in such a sorry state, BTW). Second, advertising has been operating in a 'video' medium for years so, naturally, their submissions would run rings around the typical three-ring binder we enter in a Silver Anvil competition. Third, who cares who wins the most awards? Clients want firms who can solve business problems, not win awards.

Paul Holmes weighed in on the Cannes competition as well but, predictably, had a different suggestion. Rather than sweat how many awards we don't win, Holmes suggests the PR industry needs yet another awards program (one that, presumably, would match the glitz and rock star quality of Cannes).

What we don't need right now is yet another awards program, especially when a double dip might be in the offing. Nor does PR need to prove itself the equal of advertising. We've already won that battle.

Instead, organizers of awards programs should focus on making them more equitable. Right now, every competition charges a fixed entry fee. That's wrong. It immediately skews the competition. It enables large agencies with big marketing budgets to submit scores and scores of entries. I recently judged a single category that contained 70 entries. No fewer than 20 were from Weber Shandwick. When I complained, I was asked to excuse myself from the judging.

Instead of fretting about besting our advertising brethren or convening yet another high-profile, high cost awards shindig we should, instead, be leveling the playing field. I'd like to see the two Pauls and their peers at the largest agencies and PR media properties put their heads together and figure out a tiered pricing solution for awards programs. Sure, Ketchum may not win another 117 Silver Anvils (which it proudly proclaims is more than any other PR firm in an ad), but wouldn't it be great to see lots more entries from small, emerging contenders?

It's high time our industry's power brokers paid attention to a real inequity. As Paul Holmes asks at the end of his blog, "If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Jun 11

There’s dumb, and then there’s GM’s decision to drop the nickname ‘Chevy’


June 11
Every
now and then a corporate marketing decision comes along that is so positively stupefying
that it stops me dead in my tracks. GM's decision to drop the word 'Chevy' in any
and all sales and marketing materials and replace it the more formal
'Chevrolet' is one of those landmark blunders. This is a
train wreck before it even happens. 
Late
Thursday, Chevy tried to clarify their marketing misstep with this video which,
sadly, only further confuses the matter.

Citing
the consistency that other leading brands such as Coke and Apple have employed
in their communications efforts, Alan Batey, GM's VP for Chevy's Sales and
Service and Jim Campbell, Chevy's VP of Marketing, say opting for Chevrolet
will make the brand name more recognizable with consumers. Yeah, sure. And, I
want a pound of whatever drug Messrs, Batey and Campbell are consuming. It has
to be totally mind-altering.

Chevy,
as the
Times article rightly points
out, is an American icon. It's right up there with baseball and apple pie.
People won't stop using it because the brand decided to formalize the name.
Talk about change for the sake of change.

If
Batey and Campbell had their way, FedEx would go back to being called Federal
Express, ARod would go back to being Alex Rodriguez and erstwhile Peppercommer
Stein would revert to Andrew Stein. And, trust me, the latter just isn't going
to happen.

Regardless
of the inanity of their move, the Batey/Campbell dynamic duo will now pour
millions of dollars into a re-branding and re-positioning effort. And, for
what? To get people to say Chevrolet instead of Chevy. That won't happen
either.

Corporate
America never ceases to amaze me. Just when it seems as if smart and
sophisticated marketing campaigns from the likes of OgilvyOne, Crispin and
others are starting to change the way we engage with consumers, something like
dropping the name Chevy comes along.

There's
dumb and dumber. But, this may be dumbest. Period.

May 26

When it comes to hard-hitting, investigative reporting, the ad trades have no peer


May 26
I
love reading Advertising Age and Adweek. They not only tell me the latest,
greatest thinking in the 'other' marketing disciplines, but they aren't afraid
take off the gloves and slam inappropriate behavior by client and agency alike.

The
current Ad Age provides a great example. In a front page article, Ad Age goes
behind the scenes to report on Chevy's reprehensible treatment of their
erstwhile agency of record Publicis. Readers learn about incoming CMO Joel
Ewanick's refusal to meet or even speak with the account managers from
Publicis. He didn't even return their repeated e-mails and voice mails.
Instead, he shifted the entire Chevy brand's $600 million account to his good
friend, Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein. That's the sort of atrocious
client-side behavior that deserves to be outed.

The
Chevy saga is one of many examples of the ad trades not being afraid to tackle
misbehaving clients. Earlier this year, Ad Age warned its agency readers of
'serial' clients such as 1-800-FLOWERS, Quiznos and BMW who chew up and spit
out agencies every few months.

The
PR trades are just the opposite. They'll whack agencies for underperforming or
not delivering on anticipated results but seldom, if ever, go after poor client
behavior. As an example, PR Week once gave us a 'thumbs down' because the
editor at the time said I hadn't been as vocal an advocate for independent
agencies as the publication's editorial staff had expected. So, they publicly
slammed my agency for an apparent personal shortcoming.

The
Holmes Report, Bulldog and others are quick to jump on agency account wins and
losses (and love to send an e-mail to the effect, 'Hey, we just heard ABC
Widgets is putting your account up for review. Any comment?'). But, their
heart-warming profiles of CMOs, VPs of corporate communications and PR
directors read like 'The Lives of the Saints.'

It's
high time PR industry trades began publishing in-depth, investigative pieces
like the Ad Age/Chevy piece. I'm not sure why there's such a reluctance to do
so, but it results in readers only getting half of what's really happening. So,
note to Steve, Paul and others: provide a real service to your agency readers
and let us know about the Joel Ewanek's and the 1-800-FLOWERS of PR. Trust me,
there are enough horror stories to fill multiple editions. 

May 18

“Hey, honey, forget that weekend in Cape Cod. Let’s take the kids to Alabama!”

I can’t imagine a better tourist destination right now than the pristine beaches of Alabama.
Oil-spill-beach420-420x0 Sure, downtown Baghdad has some great restaurants. And, there’s always the possibility of catching a glimpse of Osama bin Laden in Karachi, Pakistan, but why hassle with foreign intrigue when the Gulf Coast beckons? 

That’s why I’m supporting the Alabama Tourism Department’s brand new, $1.5MM marketing campaign to assure tourists the state’s beaches are clean and open.

I can just imagine the campaign slogans:

-    ‘That’s not oil, silly. Someone just spilled her bottle of sunscreen in the water’
-    ‘Just because our fish are floating face down doesn’t mean they aren’t happy’
-    ‘Alabama’s oil slick waters: the perfect antidote for your arthritic joints’

And, just imagine the added drama of, say, zig-zagging your jet ski in between large oil patches! I could even see ESPN2 covering it as a new type of extreme sport. “Ed, our next contestant is Bunny from La Grange, Illinois. She’ll be attempting to beat Sam from Bowling Green’s time of 2:23 to, and from, what’s left of that oil rig out there on the horizon. And, keep in mind, there must be thousands of dead fish and birds littering her way. This will be a real test indeed. And, the beach crowd is just loving it. Those who haven’t been overcome by the putrid smells are standing and chanting, ‘Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!’”

As for the overall campaign’s theme song? What else but Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water.’

The late P.T. Barnum was credited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But, I have to believe even the most intellectually challenged vacationer in America will be hard pressed to visit Alabama’s beaches in the next few weeks or so. That is, unless BP pulls a real marketing coup and offers to underwrite everyone’s vacation costs. “Hey, Honey, guess what? Those nice people at BP say they’ll pay us three dollars for every one we spend on vacation in Alabama. So what if we develop black lung disease? Think of what this will do for our retirement account.”

May 06

Traditional print advertising is nothing more than white noise


May 6  
As
I engaged in my daily mental exercise of flipping through the pages of
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, it occurred to
me that I never, ever stop to read the print ads. In fact, I ignore them
completely. They're physical versions of white noise.

Knowing
the average full-page ad in each paper runs about $100k per and that each
contains 40 or so full-page ads, I realized that marketers are probably burning
upwards of $4 million a day on this shotgun approach.

With
the exception of affinity publications (mine would include climbing, fitness,
running and outdoor trade press), I never read ads. And, I know I'm not alone.

Print
ads are increasingly irrelevant because we live in a society suffering from
what Richard Edelman calls 'trust deficit' (See Richard's interview with new
PR Week Editor-in-chief Steve Barrett at
www.prweek.com). Edelman's 100 percent
correct. Thanks to the shoddy behavior of such brands as BP, Tylenol (the
once-fabled gold standard), Toyota, Tiger, Goldman, the Catholic Church and
countless others, we simply don't trust what organizations tell us.

And,
that's why PR is so beautifully positioned to fill the trust gap. We're all
about engaging in conversations with trusted sources
such as reporters and
influential bloggers who vet our messages first before putting them in motion
.

But,
back to the utter irrelevance of mainstream print advertising. To test my
theory, I scanned the ponderous, premiere issue of
Bloomberg Business Week (now, there's a catchy name) and selected
three print ads at random. I wanted to see if they caught my attention,
communicated a clear and credible message and, critically, contained a call to
action. Here are the results:


May 6 - fish  
1)
Headline: 'Is your business in shape to compete'? Visual: a school of fish
aligned in what appears to be the outline of a shark. The advertiser? Accenture.
My reaction? Ugh. Talk about bad timing. Who wants to see a school of fish when
we know millions are dying in the Gulf of Mexico as we speak? Plus, the message
is mundane, trite and overused. I'd grade it F.

2)
Headline: 'NEC gives the Peninsula Shanghai what it needs – seamless service.'
The visual depicts a smiling Peninsula Hotel IT manager with some
happy-go-lucky bellhop in the background talking into his cell phone. My
reaction: I want a clean room, good service and palatable food from my hotel of
choice. But, since I'm not a hotel IT manager, I'm not interested in NEC's
message.
I'd grade this one a C+.

3)
'In my world, not connected means not in business.' This one's from Panasonic
and depicts a pretty angry-looking
businessman who, it would seem, can't get
his wireless connection. I sure hope he's not using Pa
nasonic's new Toughbook
computer. The problem with this ad is its total lack of credibility. I should
buy this Toughbook because Panasonic says so? Sorry. Not happening. I'd give
this print ad a
D.

I'm
sure the marketing powers-that-be justify shotgun advertising in an age of
one-to-one marketing by arguing that it only takes one or two sales to offset
the wasted spend. I disagree. And, I think you'll see less and less print
advertising as social media, mobile, digital and other means with which to put
one's messages in motion become more mainstream.

As
for me? I'm buying that new pair of Sauconys I just saw advertised in
Men's Fitness

Apr 19

The Final Frontier

Guest Post by Melissa Vigue, Peppercommotions

April 19 Last week I received an email from WSJON – the Wall Street Journal’s Office Network. The offer stated that I, on behalf of my clients, could reach thousands of young, affluent professionals in the one place we spend the most time – the office. 

The premise is this: Brands can engage potential consumers via “experiential marketing” (think samples and live demos) in hundreds of office complexes nationwide. Sounds great, right?  As someone who executes brand experiences and a real believer in forging a connection with consumers, my gut says, “Yes, another opportunity for our clients.” 

As a consumer and a commuter who is hawked everything from haircuts to handbags on her way to the office, I‘m not so sure. Hitting that lobby, waving to the doorman and racing to the elevator are a delicately choreographed dance and, frankly, one of the last places where I want to be solicited.

Do I have time, or more importantly the desire, to stop and try a sample or hear more about this great new {insert product here}? Keep in mind; this is coming from a New Yorker. For those who commute here, you know what I mean. Is this different outside of major cities? Would suburban corporate parks be more receptive? Maybe.

In my opinion, marketers can’t go wrong with food, beverages or technology and services (think dry cleaning delivery) that can make my life easier. The risk is putting a brand’s reputation on the line to engage consumers in a new way. If I am approached in such a way that leaves a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended), I am much more likely to talk, blog, or Facebook about that experience. 

Whatever your take on this new – or final – experiential frontier, it will be interesting to see how it plays out, both for marketers and consumers.

Apr 08

Could you imagine Edelman, Weber, Burson and others collaborating to make each other better?

April 8 I was fascinated to read about the Society of Digital Agencies in a recent Adweek. Founded by BBH, the ''society' is a collection of 30 worldwide 'competitors' who get together to talk about how they could collaborate and innovate together in an effort to not only reinvent the future but, as Edward Boches, chief creative officer of Mullen put it, 'blow up the now.'

Some of the proposed outcomes of this remarkable collaboration include:

– funding an organization the group called a cloud. Instead of working for one digital agency, a person would work for the cloud, take on assignments from the 30 agencies and capture collective best practices that would, in turn, be fed back to the group.
– adopt a start-up in exchange for equity so the group could agree on best practices for how digital can establish, launch and build a brand.
– there were lots of other ideas, but no other game-changers, according to Boches.

We helped create something similar to the society by partnering with like-minded midsized PR firms such as CRT/Tanaka, PSB and Dix & Eaton. We call it the Lumin Collaborative. It's been in place for five or so years and has evolved into an internal management development program in which we share best practices for everything from social media and crisis to sales and IR. I don't think it's revolutionized anyone's go-to-market strategy, but it has made us better firms.

A PR version of the Society of Digital Agencies is exactly what our industry needs right now. But, it will never happen because there's far too much internecine warfare with agencies poaching talent and clients from one another. The big PR firms in particular are so driven to generate profits for their holding company owners that the mere suggestion of collaborating with another competitor would likely make a WPP-owned CEO gag.

And, that's a shame. Because while the PR industry collectively fiddles, Rome burns. And, while Rome burns, the digital agencies are not only helping one another to extinguish the flames but also how to build something new and even better.

For all of his faults, Jack O'Dwyer has been spot-on about one observation: the PR industry lacks leadership. We don't have a BBH or Mullen who is willing to lead by example, call together our best minds and figure out, as Boches says, how to reinvent the future and blow up the now. Since our individual leaders won't do it, maybe The Council of PR Firms could step into the breach? Just a thought, Kathy.