Mar 05

Stand up for the brand of you

A couple of days ago someone asked me why I’d started my own business (along with Edward, of course). The answer was simple, I said. I didn’t want to look back on my life one day and ask myself, ‘What if’?

So, I did the entrepreneurial thing and it was good. But, I had had other aspirations that had gone unheeded. One was to perform stand-up comedy.

For one reason or another, I’d always found an excuse not to do it. Then, one day, I met a guy named Sandeep Manchanda at a CEO of the year dinner function. Sandeep turned out to be a Fortune 500 CIO and stand-up comedian. How bizarre, I thought.

Sandeep told me he’d trained at the Comedy Instiutute in New York and was now tying-in stand-up gigs with his business trips. How cool, I thought.

But, I filed it away with my other dreams and didn’t act upon it. Until last week, that is. That’s when I made my comedy debut at Stand-up New York and loved every second of it. And, they actually asked me to perform again, so I couldn’t have been that bad.

Now that I’ve performed stand-up comedy, I next want to take acting lessons and climb Vermont’s highest mountain with Chris "Repman, Jr." Cody.

Success in business is great (and is predicated upon teamwork). But, sometimes it’s important to focus on the ‘brand of you’ as well. It’s an amazing and rewarding experience to push oneself and do the things that, deep down, one’s always aspired to do. It also does wonders for the ego and ain’t bad for the image and reputation either.

So, if there’s a comedian, actor or mountain climber in you, give it a shot. After all, you don’t want to be sitting in a rocking chair many years from now wondering, ‘What if’?

Aug 29

Catholic nuns face the same image and reputation challenges as Cadillac, Buick and other ‘aging’ brands

Yesterday’s New York Times article (subscription required) by Charlie LeDuff focused on the image challenges faced by the Catholic Church in recruiting ‘next generation’ nuns. According to the article, there were 180,000 nuns in the United States in 1966 (when, btw, a young Repman was doing battle with a particularly nasty order of nuns as a student at St. Francis Grammar School).

Today, there are approximately 70,000 nuns in the U.S. But, and here’s the kicker: fewer than 6,000Gtep111s_1 are younger than 50.

Talk about a classic marketing challenge. Just like Cadillac and Buick, which are dealing with an aging population that is slowly dying out, the Catholic Church finds itself struggling to make the sisterhood attractive and relevant to young women.

According to LoDuff, multiple socioeconomic factors have precipitated the decline in nuns. First, there was the women’s movement. Then, there was the decision of the Second Vatican Council, which ruled that religious women were no more holy than lay women. So, in one bold stroke, the Church took away the motivation for young women around the world to enlist.

Having had first-hand experience with an order of nuns known as the Sisters of Charity, I have to admit to not shedding many tears over the Church’s plight. The sisters, who were anything but charitable, were a holy terror. They meted out serious corporal punishment, inflicted all sorts of mental anguish and seemed to take great delight in making kids cry. They’d do all this while citing passages from the Bible and Baltimore Catechism #2, and lecturing us on the need to live a Christian life. The nuns were a major reason why I turned away from the Church and still have issues with organized religion to this day.

My issues notwithstanding, can the Church turn things around and somehow make the sisterhood appeal to young girls? I doubt it. The Church is too much of an old boys’ network that has done little, if anything, to change the way it thinks or acts across the board. And, unless the powers that be re-classify the role and importance of nuns, why would a young woman want to dedicate her life to such a vocation? There are so many other, competing organizations that provide more visibility, rewards and satisfaction for young women, that I can see the day when nuns in the U.S. disappear completely. No matter what business you’re in, and the Catholic Church is a business, you must constantly reinvent yourself and be relevant…or be gone.

But, who knows? Maybe the Vatican has a master marketer lurking in the wings who can turn things around and, like what Led Zeppelin, Hip Hop and Tony Soprano did for Cadillac, breathe new life into an old brand. Now, that would truly be a miracle.

Aug 28

Detroit has to wait another 36 months

After much delay and consideration I went out and leased a new car yesterday. I say "delay" and "consideration" because I really was undecided which way to go. Over the years, I’ve leased a Jaguar, a Mercedes, an Acura Legend, and a Miata, among others.

In each instance, the car seemed to perfectly define a different stage in my life. The little, red Miata, for example, was probably the coolest car I’ve driven, and fit my early, midlife crisis to a "T." That said, it was also totally impractical in so many ways: it was a true nightmare on icy roads, looked more like a motorcycle than a car and made my heart skip a beat whenever I considered the odds of surviving any accident.

The Mercedes was my first "arrival" car. I say "arrival" because, in my mind, owning a Mercedes tells the world you’ve arrived. It makes a statement that says, "hey world, look at me. I’m doing pretty well." And, when I leased the Mercedes, I thought I had, in fact, arrived (now, a little older and, hopefully, a little wiser, I see "arrival" not as a destination but, instead, as an opportunity to hopefully give a little bit back). Anyway, the Mercedes turned out to be a total lemon, with one malfunction after another. I can still remember driving to the train station in the middle of winter with all four power windows stuck in the open position. So, where was Dr. Z when I needed him?

From the mediocre Mercedes, I moved on to an elegant Jaguar S-class sedan that featured a British racing car green exterior with tan, leather interior (btw, don’t you just love the sound of "British racing car green?"). This was a cool, sophisticated car reflecting hey, a cool, sophisticated guy, right? Well, I can dream…

So, my three years with the Jag came and went, and I turned the car in about two months ago. Since then, I’ve been in quandary. What do I do? Should I go with another Jag since I’d had such a positive experience? What about Lexus? We lease a Lexus SUV and love it for family needs. How about giving Mercedes another shot? What about Audi or BMW?

Then, it hit me. I wasn’t even thinking of GM, Ford or Chrysler. And, in fact, I never do. Despite years of marketing and billions of advertising dollars, "Detroit" has never put a "dent" in my thinking. In my mind, I equate American cars with everything I am not. I know that sounds terrible, and I hope Republicans don’t see those words as either unpatriotic or anti-war, but that’s just how I feel.

A man’s car projects his image. So, while some guys opt for the sleekest, fastest and hottest European sports cars, and others look to display their machismo with gas-guzzling Hummers, I want a slightly more understated machine. And, I’m open to Asian or European models. But, I would never, ever dream of going Detroit (and I simply can’t see that changing any time soon).

So, I put my money down on a silver BMW M3 convertible with red interior (I know, I know. I said I0632_n5im_737  wouldn’t get a sports car. But I was weak).

It’s probably more car than I need but, in the end, I’m really excited about it and am really looking forward to the next 36 months with my ultimate driving machine.

So, Detroit, how do we reconnect in late 2009? I really would like to factor you guys in my thinking the next time around. But until you can convince me that one of your cars will accurately reflect my image and reputation, I’m afraid I’ll continue playing hard to get.

Aug 14

Cody-Moed Public Relations was never in the cards

Thomas Vinciguerra wrote a fascinating column (subscription required) in yesterday’s NY Times "Week in Review" section that analyzes the importance of names in everything from books to movies to songs.

For example, F.Scott Fitzgerald originally wanted to name his book, "Trimalchio in West Egg." His publishers pushed back and asked for a different title. So, Fitzgerald suggested "The Great Gatsby." Margaret Mitchell played around with "Not in Our Stars," "Bugles Sang True" and "Tote the weary load" before settling on "Gone with the Wind." Mel Brooks was forced to change "Springtime for Hitler" to "The Producers." And, the Beatles classic "Yesterday" was originally titled "Scrambled Eggs."

This "What if" stuff really interests me and makes me think about the role a name plays in the ultimate success of a book, movie, song, person or, in my case, a firm.

Way back in September of 1995 when my partner and I started our firm in his one-bedroom apartment, we had quite an argument about what our company should be called. We were in total agreement that, in order to break out from the pack and differentiate ourselves from day one, we needed a different-sounding name. There would be no "Edelman," "Hill & Knowlton," or "Burson-Marsteller" for us.

In scanning the O’Dwyer’s Directory of the day, we saw that fully 90 percent of PR firms were named for the founders. So, we prepared lists of cool and different-sounding names, and eliminated them one by one.

Our two finalists were Pepper Communications (named after my dog, Pepper) and the Andover Group (the name of Ed’s apartment building). I was pushing for the former, while Ed and his wife, Pam, pushed very hard for the latter. I’m not sure exactly how we resolved things, but I won. We shortened the name to Peppercom and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if we’d gone with the Andover Group instead. Would we have grown so quickly and attracted all those dotcom clients in the late 1990? Would we have been able to re-position ourselves post dotcom crash and attracted blue-chip clients? Would we have been as innovative as we’ve been? I honestly don’t know.

What I do know though, is that we picked the right name. And it’s served us beautifully from an image and reputation standpoint for a decade. And I’m also pretty sure that neither Cody-Moed PR nor the Andover Group would have rivaled what Peppercom has become.

May 03

Dropping strong brand name could be a Cingular mistake

AT&T’s decision to drop the Cingular name and re-brand the wireless division as AT&T Wireless is a dicey proposition considering how much equity the hot company with the orange jack logo has built. That said, though, AT&T is probably making the right move in the long run.Cingular_1

We often work with clients who have multiple brand names serving clients in different segments or sectors of the marketplace. Oftentimes, the end result is confusion on the part of customers and the Street and, sometimes, internecine squabbling between the entities. Ideally, an organization should have a unique and overarching positioning that is based on today’s reality but allows room for aspirational growth. We worked with a German multinational, for example, that had purchased multiple, old-line U.S. companies. Besides the obvious internal frictions, the German corporation faced the daunting task of renaming the individual U.S. companies without losing the brand equity and comfort levels each had built over decades of serving the same customer base.

Our recommendation was to accomplish the re-branding over a lengthy transition, enabling the individual units to gradually wean their customers away from the "old" brand and towards the "new" one, all the time emphasizing the many positive benefits of the latter. And, that last element is the key missing link in AT&T’s situation. While I understand their goal of creating one brand, I don’t see what the customer benefit will be. Why should I give up my trusted relationship with Cingular Wireless to embrace one with a brand name that is, to put it mildly, damaged goods?

As they think through the re-branding process, AT&T marketing gurus should come up with a compelling brand promise for the new AT&T Wireless. If it’s nothing more than, "Hey, only the name has changed," then I’m afraid they might see their old customers dialing up a different service provider.