Dec 19

Re-branding pure evil

I guess it's another sign of the bizarre times in which we live, but Al Qaeda just announced it's re-branding itself.

Slide1-1Trying to distance the heinous organization from its terrorism tag, Al Qaeda is now officially calling itself 'Ansar al-Sharia', which means Army of Islamic Law.

An organization official said the re-branding was necessary in order to attract more foreign fighters to the cause. An anonymous diplomat said the Al Qaeda name 'seems to have negative connotations and baggage'.

You think? That's like saying Hitler had some emotional issues.

I wonder if Ansar al-Sharia will also re-brand some of the Al Qaeda key words and tactics? Will:

– Jihad now be 'population redistribution'
– Suicide bombing now be 'a one-way ticket to 76 virgins'
– A roadside bombing now be called 'an infrastructure upgrade'

On a slightly lighter note (as the morning talk show buffoons like to say), Blackwater, the sleazy U.S. security firm to whom W, Cheney and Rummy handed over many Iraqi government tasks previously handled by Sadam Hussein's soldiers (and, then, went rogue, wiping out scores of innocent Iraqi civilians) announce its SECOND re-branding.

Initially, Blackwater had changed its name to Xe Services. Alas, though, their gung-ho, paramilitary culture was firmly entrenched. So, new management was put in place and a second name was announced: Academi. Are they now the 'institute of black ops'?

I'll be interested to see which re-branding proves more successful.

Being the altruistic blogger that I am, I'd like to help. In fact, I've devised taglines that, I believe, will speed the re-branding education process:

Ansar al-Sharia: 'Years of training for a moment of terror'

Academi: 'Kicking ass and taking names in puppet states'

I'd like to end by asking Repman readers to suggest their taglines for these two inherently evil organizations.

Many of you are PR and marketing specialists, so why not give it a shot?

I'll pick the funniest ones and, if you're in town the same day as one of my stand-up comedy performances, will give you two free tickets for a show.

Maybe we can even discuss a re-branding for Repman? FYI, I'd like something that is synonymous with pure fun.

And a tip o' Repman's climbing helmet to Tucker Greco for suggesting this post.

Nov 29

Defining the undefinable

My hat’s off to the Public Relations Society of America for attempting the Herculean task of  redefining the term public relations. Actually, the assignment is perhaps better suited for Sisyphus than his heavily-muscled peer.

Here’s why. No one, and I mean no one, can agree on a single definition for public relations (just like no one can provide a single way in which to measure PR. Ah, but that’s another blog for another day).Edd-1

The PRSA last attempted to define public relations in 1982. At that pre-Millennial point in time, the PRSA said ‘PR helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.’ That sounds more like a marriage counselor than a profession. But, Rosanna Fiske, president of the PRSA, along with her peers in 10, count ‘em 10, other PR trade groups, have banded together to crowdsource a new definition.

In fact, the PRSA has even created a special blog on its home page (www.prsa.org) and is inviting anyone and everyone to submit a definition. I’ve already done so. And, so should you. Why the heck not? Misery loves company.

I say misery because public relation is more fractured than the Balkan States (or the Beltway. Take your pick). There are so many ways to look at PR that one could liken it to the fog of war. To wit:
-    Is public relations media relations? The purists would certainly say so.
-    Is it helping an organization do well by doing good? The cause marketing types would nod in the affirmative.
-    Is it advocating on behalf of an organization, no matter how heinous the platform might be (think alcohol, tobacco and firearms here).
-    Is it insisting PR be the lead marketing discipline in any strategic marketing campaign because, well, we’ve always understood the conversation and advertising folks haven’t?
-    Is it being the conscience of the organization as the fine folks at the Arthur W. Page Society would argue?
-    Is it planning parties and attracting B-level celebrities to the hottest, new restaurant as most of the American population believes?
-    Or, is it keeping an organization’s name OUT of the media limelight when an especially egregious client calamity strikes (after all, as any crisis expert will tell you, success is measured in silence, not in column inches).

It’s a sticky wicket, as we Anglophiles are wont to say.

I’ve submitted my definition. But, I’m less than sanguine it will be one of the three finalists the groups will post on the PRSA website between December 6th and 15th. I mean, what are the odds? And, besides I’ve never won anything in my life. Speaking of which, what does the winner get? An all-expense weekend for two at the home of the late Edward Bernays? A life-sized replica of the Silver Anvil bearing the winner’s likeness? What size-obsessed, holding company agency CEO wouldn’t kill to have a six-foot anvil in his reception area?

So, do yourself, the industry and me a favor: submit your definition of PR. If you like, post it here first and I’ll react to it. Maybe I’ll even share my submission with you. In fact, I think I’ll create my own, alternative Repman’s Definition of PR Contest! The winner will receive a solid gold loving cup etched with a portrait of Peppercom co-founder and managing partner Edward A. Moed. Now, that’s what I’d want in my reception area.

Nov 14

Sandusky, Ohio’s PR challenge

1849658501pLet’s suppose for a moment that your name is Daniel J. Kaman. For the past seven years, you’ve been president of the city commission of Sandusky, Ohio. During that time, you’ve no doubt had to deal with all the things city commissions deal with: taxes, infrastructure, tourism and attracting business to the city. Then, in the waning months of your seven-year term, boom! The earth, the moon and the sky itself suddenly fall on your shoulders. Your city’s name is front and center, day-in and day-out, right smack in the middle of the year’s uber crisis: The Penn State University scandal.

Can you imagine a worse image and reputation challenge? How do you deal with the fact that your city’s name is now synonymous with one of the worst alleged pedophiles in American history? What do you do?

I’d suggest several options for Mr. Kaman and the city commission’s consideration:
-    Ignore the crisis completely. Your terms end on 12/31/11. Let the incoming commission deal with the image and reputation fallout.
-    Call together the best image and branding minds in the city, county and state and brainstorm new and different ways to position the city’s outbound marketing.
-    Change the city’s name. This is a big deal though since, in 2018, Sandusky, Ohio, will mark its 200th anniversary.

I’d opt for the third choice if I were in Mr. Kaman’s shoes. Like it or not, his city’s name creates insurmountable business challenges. To wit:
-    Can you imagine some Mid-West husband shouting upstairs to his wife, “Hey honey, let’s bring the kids to Sandusky this summer!” Just placing the words Sandusky and kids in the same sentence sends shivers up and down this blogger’s spine.
-    Or, how about a CFO and risk manager making this recommendation to their CEO: “Sir, we’ve conducted our due diligence and made our choice. We believe it’s in the best interests of Moed, Moed & Birkhahn to move our corporate offices to Sandusky, Ohio. Yes sir, we’re aware that Jerry Sandusky is the Jack the Ripper of modern times, but we believe the tax breaks and local community environment outweigh the fallout we’d receive from every one of our constituent audiences.”

The city has to change its name. But, they can do so in a smart and strategic way.

I’d counsel Commissioner Kaman to involve Sandusky’s citizens in the name change exercise. Create a microsite that is linked to the city’s website and invite local kids, parents and seniors to contribute names. Or, maybe Kamen is a revenue-driven guy and decides, instead, to approach a technology or Web 2.0 company and offer his city’s naming rights for, say $1 million? Maybe Sandusky, Ohio, becomes Godaddy.com, Ohio? I have to believe those Godaddy types would love this sort of negative buzz.

Whatever he does, I do hope Mr. Kaman does something. The name Sandusky will be forever linked in the minds of Americans to pedophilia, cover-up and disgrace. And, what city wants to have to deal with that albatross when trying to market itself?

Nov 10

Johnnie decides the budget

Queen_victoria_we_are_not_amused_poster-psss228460311490154127trma_400Remember Jimmie, the classic Seinfeld character who always referred to himself in the third person? Well, guess what? Jimmie rides again. Except, this time he's a motivational speaker named Johnnie and his RFP is absolutely, if unintentionally, hilarious.

After a brief overview from Johnnie describing who Johnnie is and why Johnnie deserves his own television show, the reader is positively bombarded with an avalanche of over-the-top testimonials, including:

– "Johnnie changed my life!"
– "Listening to Johnnie was one of the smartest moves in my life!"
– "Johnnie is the best!" The best, Jerry! (O.K. Repman took a little poetic license with that last line)

The funniest part of Johnnie's homage to Johnnie, though, is the budget section. Check this out:

The public relations budget for fiscal year 2012 will be structured at the discretion of Johnnie upon agency selection. The budget, while constrained by the laws of corporate economics, could quickly expand based on the rate of return on investment (ROI) and company growth. Johnnie is looking for guidance in setting an initial budget range based on the core activities required to execute the overall strategy laid out in the proposal. The successful bid will include a multitude of options that will allow Johnnie to select compensation that best fits Johnnie's partnership with the PR firm.

That's just beautiful! I can imagine Johnnie and his team reviewing the proposals as they come in:

– Johnnie thinks this one is weak.
– Johnnie thought Edelman would do a better job on their proposal. Johnnie's disappointed with Richard.
– Johnnie wonders if maybe Johnnie doesn't need a PR firm after all? Maybe Johnnie just pays a call on the television network executives himself? Nobody motivates people better than Johnnie!

A final thought on people who refer to themselves in the third person. I first became aware of this nauseating trait when Reggie Jackson reigned supreme with The New York Yankees (and humbly called himself “the straw that stirred the drink”). After a game, reporters would ask Jackson about his latest home run or confrontation with team manager, Billy Martin. Number 44 would always respond by saying, “Reggie knew he was going deep on that pitcher,” or “Reggie has no respect whatsoever for Billy.”

Repman never had any respect for Reggie Jackson. Likewise for Johnnie. In fact, Johnnie won't be receiving a response from Repman to his RFP. Repman doesn't like people who refer to themselves in the third person. Repman's angry at Johnnie!

Nov 08

The PR Lessons to be learned from Smokin’ Joe Frazier

Aa1f3_06I was saddened to read of the untimely passing of former heavyweight champion Smokin' Joe Frazier.
 
While I've always adored Frazier's uber nemesis, Muhammad Ali, I also respected Joe. But, while Joe was superbly matched with Ali in the ring, he was hopelessly outclassed by the Louisville Lip in the media world.

I believe there are several lessons every PR professional can learn from Smokin' Joe's mismanagement of the media:
 
1.) Create a positioning and three key message points and stick to them in each and every interview.
 
Ali constantly called himself The Greatest and said he was the “smartest, fastest and prettiest heavyweight champion of all time.” A top Edelman media trainer couldn't do better than that.
 
Joe, on the other hand, said he “…preferred to let his fists do the talking.”
 
Round one to Ali.
 
2.) Have a crisis plan in place. Ali constantly belittled Joe, calling him an Oreo cookie, gorilla and Uncle Tom among other things. Joe grimaced, but never responded in kind. Hence, the media and public tended to believe what The Greatest said.
 
Round two to Ali.
 
3.) Line up third party ambassadors. I was never quite sure if Howard Cosell made Muhammad Ali, or vice versa. In the final analysis, it doesn't matter because whenever Ali needed an erudite, verbose and outspoken supporter, Cosell had his back. Frazier, on the other hand, never developed a relationship with a reporter who could have advocated on Joe's behalf.
 
Round three to Ali.
 
4.) Make nice with the city fathers. Try touring Muhammad Ali's hometown of Louisville and not running into a reminder of The Greatest. Now, try doing the same thing in Joe's hometown of Philadelphia. There's no Joe Frazier Boulevard. No Joe Frazier Hall of Fame. Nothing. In fact, in what may be the ultimate insult, the only statue of a boxer in the City of Brotherly Love celebrates the fictitious Rocky Balboa.
 
Ali was a savvy marketer from the get go. As a result, Louisville is to Ali as Liverpool is to the Beatles. And, poor Joe is just another forgotten Philly boxer.
 
Round four to Ali.
 
4.) Take the high road. Most Americans don't know that Ali savaged Frazier outside the ring, calling him every negative name under the sun. As noted previously, Joe wouldn't (or didn't know how to) respond. But, when Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Smokin' Joe had a huge image and reputation opportunity. If he had swallowed his pride and reached out to a very ill Ali to say that all was forgiven and forgotten, Joe quite possibly could have re-shaped his legacy. Instead, he stewed in silence and refused to say or do anything.
 
Fifth and final round to the winner and STILL heavyweight PR champion of all time: Muhammad Ali!
 
Post script: I actually met Joe Frazier about 15 years ago. His band, Smokin' Joe and the Kittens were playing some dump off the strip in Atlantic City. I spotted him before the show and went right up to introduce myself. He couldn't have been nicer and answered every one of my questions, including those about:
 
1.) Ali: 'He was maybe the fifth or sixth hardest puncher I ever fought. Chuvalo. Foreman. Bonavena. Those guys were the real punchers."

2.) March 8, 1971: (the night he beat Ali to become heavyweight champion):  “They've taken everything else away, but no one can take that away from me.”
  
3.) His fabled left hook: “I had a good hook, but this was much bigger and tougher than my hook,” said Joe, pointing to his heart.
 
If only Joe had shared pearls like that in his prime, things might have turned out differently. Instead, I remember Smokin' Joe Frazier as a great heavyweight in the ring and a true P.R. flyweight outside it.

Oct 04

Prostate cancer needs a Susan G. Komen

Pink-pimp-3-20102One would have had to be color blind to miss the splashes of pink adorning every NFL player and stadium this past Sunday. The same goes for the bright pink worn by countless walkers, runners and cyclers participating in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month events. And, that is as it should be.

But, did you know that September was National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month? I sure didn't. And, I didn't see one NFL player or stadium sporting light blue, which is the initiative's official color. Nor did I see any walkers, runners or cyclists supporting the cause.

A quick check of Zero: The Project to End Prostate Cancer (insert link) revealed these sobering facts:
– One in eight American women is diagnosed with breast cancer. But, ONE IN SIX American men is diagnosed with prostate cancer.
– Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed disease among men and is the second leading cause of men's cancer.
– 240,000 men contract prostate cancer every year.
– Sixty percent of men who contract prostate cancer are African-Americans.

According to Zero, '…Significantly more federal dollars, more attention and more support are being afforded breast cancer.' They don't say why, but I can hazard a guess: the Susan G. Komen Foundation. It has to be one of the most powerful marketing and fundraising machines of our time. Sadly, though, there is no male version of Komen; no prominent, well-healed victim who can strike a chord and rally a cause.

I think the NFL has bowed to political correctness and wrapped itself in pink for two reasons:

– Perhaps one simply doesn't say no the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

– It's smart marketing. The NFL already has the full attention of every red-blooded American male. By embracing breast cancer, the NFL is doing some very smart target marketing towards women. It's a no brainer.

I should note that, unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball hasn't ignored prostate cancer. Indeed, MLB has declared Father's Day, June 18th, as prostate cancer awareness day.

So, why can't the NFL launch its season with a prostate cancer awareness month and adorn its players and stadiums with light blue wristbands, socks and bunting? There must be a reason. While it's probably not the case, perhaps the Komen folks demanded exclusivity with the NFL?

It's high time the NFL lend a helping hand to its core male audience. It's also clear that prostate cancer desperately needs its own Susan G. Komen to jump start a long overdue need.

 I'd love to help. I'm a big supporter of the Young Survival Coalition and would gladly lend my support to Zero or any other organization that, unlike the NFL, won't turn its back on half the American population. Besides, powder blue has always been my favorite color.

 

Sep 26

There’s nothing gray about this name

Grey Healthy People is the horrendous name chosen for the new, combined healthcare unit of Grey Group, one of hundreds of agencies within WPP (insert link). 

Abc_blue_man_080731_mnThe global division will specialize in advertising for health-related products and services. But, let me ask you something, would you retain the services of a communications company that so badly bungles the naming of its own health care unit?

When I hear Grey Healthy People, I think of any number of things:

– happy-go-lucky octogenarians frolicking at a Del Boca Vista poolside.
– a group of people who, despite their sickly skin color, are somehow healthy.
– albino exercise and nutrition nuts who refuse to set foot outside.

This naming disaster wouldn't be so bad if Grey weren't an advertising agency that specializes in image and reputation. I mean, if it were Grey Healthy Squirrels, I'd nod my head and think, “I'm happy for you rodents. It's about time you started marketing yourselves.” Or, if it were Grey Healthy Bathtubs, I'd think, “Well, I'd probably still opt for the classic white model but, maybe, there's something special about this particular tub?”

But, Grey Healthy People? Good night nurse. This name is DOA which, as healthy and unhealthy people alike know, is a bad thing. A really, really bad thing.

May 13

Nicknames are being nixed

20110512125827070_0001aaaaaThe New York Times just ran a fascinating trend piece about the demise of nicknames in sports.  The reporter, John Branch, waxed poetic about the great nicknames of yesteryear, ranging from ‘the Bambino’ and ‘Dr. J’ to ‘Earl the Pearl’ and ‘Night Train’. 

Here's the rub, though. Nicknames aren't just disappearing in sports, they're vanishing in society at large.

To explain why, the Times cites sociologists and experts in onomastics (now, there's an obscure profession for you). The experts say we don't have ‘Choo-Choos’, ‘Mookies’ or ‘Whiteys’ anymore because there's an increasing lack of intimacy and connectedness in society. A Wayne State professor added “…a nickname, good or bad, meant we cared. You don't give someone about whom you are indifferent a nickname. The opposite of love is not hate. It's indifference.” Amen, brother.

I love nicknames and always will. And, I've been unknowingly bucking the nickname nixing trend from day one.  To wit:

– My son, Chris, is known as ‘Ali’ (a la Muhammad Ali, my all-time favorite boxer).
– My daughter, Catharine, is known as ‘the Goose’ (because one of her earliest expressions was “You silly goose.”)
– My older brother, Russ, is ‘Ra’ because that's how my younger brother John (‘J’) once pronounced his name.
– Chris calls me ‘sDot’ (he says it has something to do with my addiction to the BB. Addiction? What addiction?)
– Chris's significant other is universally known as ‘O.P.’ (her initials)
– My buddy, Tommy, is the Babe Ruth of nicknames. He's alternatively known as ‘Thos’, ‘TLP’, ‘El Hombre Blondo', ‘Le Poer’ and ‘Thom’ (the man may have an identity complex).

Many of Peppercom's key players sport nicknames as well. There's:

– Ted ‘Teddy Ballgame’ Birkhahn (because, like the original Teddy Ballgame, our Ted can do it all).
– Maggie ‘Maggs’ O'Neill.
– Nick ‘The Knife’ Light (one of the Goose's high school boyfriends was known as Nick the Knife, so poor Nick was handed the same sobriquet).
– Dandy Stevenson is ‘The Danderoo’ (that's what Howard Cosell always called Dandy Don Meredith).
– Ed is either ‘Eddie Moeddie’ or ‘Edward Moedward’ (depending on whether the social situation is casual or formal).
– And, then, there's our West Coast president Ann Barlow, who is known solely by her surname. (i.e. “What's Barlow been up to of late?”)

I could go on and on. But, I think the nickname thing is indicative of my personal POV and Peppercom's culture. I give nicknames to people I like and care about (or, absolutely detest. But, that's a different blog for a different day).

I think the Wayne State egghead nailed it when he said the opposite of love is indifference. One of the main reasons people hate their jobs is because of the impersonal nature of the workplace. Peppercom has many faults, but impersonal and indifferent it is not.

I dare any holding company executive to share just one nickname from his or her place of work. They can't. Because at the big firms, you're just a number. Trust me, there's no Ed 'The Glider' Charles or Walt 'Clyde' Frazier at Weber-Shandwick, Burson or Hill & Knowlton. Because, well, that would be a tad too personal.

How about your organization (or circle of friends)? Have any cool nicknames you'd care to share?

May 05

Krispy Kreme is pleased to announce we’ll be awarding special prizes to any runners suffering strokes or heart attacks during today’s run

Polls_KrispyKremeCake2_1755_385816_answer_3_xlargeThere’s gross. There’s negligent. There’s just plain stupid. And, then there’s the Norcross High  School Relay for Life.

Intended to raise money for charity (which is always a good, wise and noble thing), this particular race is underwritten by Krispy Kreme doughnuts. And, if there’s one foodstuff that makes a Big Mac seem healthy in comparison, it has to be a Krispy Kreme doughnut. In fact, I have to believe the average KK doughnut packs more calories than an AK-47 does bullets. And, I can only imagine the immediate and profound damage inhaling one, if not six, of these caloric-laden mounds of mush must have on the cardiovascular system.

But, why should a runner’s health, nutrition and wellness concerns stop Norcross High School and Krispy Kreme from staging a race that requires competitors to eat a half dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts halfway through!  Are they serious? Never mind the long-term damage. Ever try running on a full stomach? It’s not fun. Ever see The Office episode in which Dwight and Michael conspire to ensure the latter wins the Dundler-Mifflin 5k race by having Michael load up on carbohydrates by consuming a plate of pasta just before race time? It wasn’t pretty.

Krispy Kreme’s race sponsorship deserves immediate enshrinement in the Repman Marketing Hall of Shame. It also belongs on Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks segment (if such a segment existed).

On the other hand, if Krispy Kreme can sponsor runs, why can’t Lucky Strike cigarettes sponsor long-distance cycling races? And, how about Absolut Vodka awarding cash prizes to mountaineers who can consume a fifth of vodka en route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro? The possibilities are endless.

So, how about it, Rep readers. Gimme some of your suggestions on corporate sponsorship ideas from hell. We did well with the recent soy industry re-positioning taglines. But, that was a walk in the park compared to this atrocity. So, let’s have at it. And, if possible, please consume six doughnuts before posting your ideas. Distended stomachs can produce a lot of hot air.

And  a big starter’s gun shoutout to Greg Schmalz for this post idea.

Apr 01

When the franchise account walks

Wave_goodbye_to_the_boss_button-p145449526970885710t5sj_400Burger King just fired Crispin Porter Bogusky as its advertising agency of record after a seven-year run. This is seismic news for a number of reasons:

– Within advertising circles, Crispin is arguably still the hottest thing since sliced bread and remains, to the best of my knowledge, the only ad agency to ever grace the cover of BusinessWeek.
– Along with its Mini Cooper work, CPB's edgy BK creative helped put it on the map and become the envy of agencies near and far.
– BK's $300 million budget loss will be a significant hit to Crispin's bottom line and slow down, if not halt entirely, its plans for a rapid global expansion.

Losing a franchise account is a big, big deal in the advertising and PR world. And, despite the best spin from agency management, it does a real number on internal troop morale. I know. I've been there.

I was at Hill & Knowlton in the 1980s when its franchise account walked. And, I was with Earle Palmer Brown in the early 1990s when the cornerstone client there said, 'Sayonara, Sam.'

We've been fortunate in our 15-plus years at Peppercom. We've never really had a franchise account that totally dominated our billings. We've had a few instances where a single client accounted for more than 30 percent of our fees, but we've always been fortunate to have three or four large accounts and multiple 'midsized' clients. That's enabled us to suffer a significant loss without having to take immediate, Draconian measures.

I can only think of only a few PR firms that have bona fide franchise accounts. Waggoner Edstrom is certainly one. It grew to become a huge, independent agency based upon its long-standing relationship with Microsoft. I've no idea how large a percentage Microsoft is to overall W-E billings, but a sudden departure would have to register a 9.0 on the Crispin/BK scale. Golin Harris is another PR agency with a franchise account: McDonald's. G-H has been Mickey D's AOR from day one. And, I couldn't imagine one without the other. But, then, who could have predicted BK's deep-frying of Crispin?

Collecting too many dollars from a single client is akin to making a pact with the devil. The client knows they wield enormous power over the agency, and the latter knows its fate could depend on the health and longevity of the current direct client contact (note: according to Ad Age, CPB's demise was caused by poor sales and constant senior management turnover at BK).

Crispin is a superb agency that will undoubtedly bounce back from losing this whopper of an account. But, just the same, it's a cautionary tale for any small, medium or large-sized firm in any professional services field: don't rely on one client to make your image and reputation and never put too many eggs in one basket.