Jun 20

The Progress on Purpose

Arthur W. Page Member Marcia DiStaso recently authored a Page Turner blog that provides a deep dive into 70 organizations, revealing the progress they have, or haven’t, made in determining their Purpose, Corporate Character, Mission, Values, Principles and Beliefs.

I purposely provided that laundry list since, as DiStaso’s research pointed out, different organizations use any, or all, of the above terms to more or less describe the same thing. (Note: I found the very same lack of consensus when I recently interviewed 23 CCOs and CMOs on behalf of The Institute For Public Relations. If memory serves, not one respondent described digital in the same way.)

But, back to DiStaso’s work. She found that:

– 73 percent of respondents had examined or redefined their mission/vision/purpose in the past three years, and 43 percent had done so in the past year;

– 67 percent had examined or redefined their values/principles/beliefs in the past three years; and 36 percent has done so in the past year; and

– More than one-quarter indicated their organization needs to examine or redefine corporate character (which, in my opinion,  means they haven’t done a thing).

I found the report fascinating since we’re knee-deep in defining an updated Purpose that will align with our re-positioning and branding. While we’ll remain a public relations firm at heart we will, in fact, be digitally-driven. Indeed, we’ve hired scores of researchers, designers, digital strategists, data analytics specialists and an HVAC repairman named Harry. I’m still trying to figure out his role in the grand scheme of things.

For those organizations that have succeeded in defining their “new” corporate character, CEO buy-in was a MUST. So, too, were “getting the semantics right”; “ensuring buy-in at all levels”; “aligning with business strategy”; and “keeping it simple”. I’ve found the latter is usually a deal breaker whenever decisions are made by consensus.

A few other interesting tidbits:

– More B2C companies have a defined corporate character that do their B2B counterparts (I’m not sure if the first cohort did, or didn’t, include Uber. Regardless, the company needs yet another new Purpose).

– More non-US companies have a defined corporate character than those in the good, old U.S. of A. That was a bit of stunner for me.

– And larger organizations were far more likely to have a Purpose than small businesses. That seems obvious since the latter can’t invest the same level of time or resources to examine all of the elements that comprise corporate character.

One last point: ALL respondents from the consumer packaged goods and telecommunications industries had a defined Purpose.

Many in the technology, food & beverage, healthcare/pharmaceutical, financial services and energy fields were laggards, pure and simple. That’s puzzling, if not downright troubling.

It strikes me that, in an era marked by fake news, hate crimes, intense divisiveness and god knows what else, a carefully-defined corporate character has never been more important. It does far more than address why you exist and what higher purpose you serve; it provides something of a safe harbor for every organization’s constituent audience in the tsunami-like seas of 2017. And, lord knows, we need as many safe harbors as we can find.

Aug 27

Black October

Today's post is dedicated to Peppercom Co-founder, Edward "Aloysius" Moed.


Peppercom opened Suit_1920sfor business 17 years ago this Friday.
That's when two men, burnt out by the red tape and politics of big agency life
and chomping at the bit to capitalize on a bullish economy, gave the
entrepreneurial life a go.

And, Ed and Steve had a tough slog in the beginning.

The first month was dedicated to creating an
infrastructure, so they set up a checking account, had business cards printed
and did all the other things an embryonic, two-person business needs to do.

The duo's second month was spent on business development.
So, while Steve wined and dined former clients, prospects and the heads of
global agencies (asking the latter for any morsels too small for their
digestive tracts), Ed was smiling and dialing.

Between them, the co-founders set two new business
meetings each and every week of the second month. And, sure as the leaves fall
in an Autumn storm, every single prospect canceled at the 11th hour. Ed called
it Black October. Steve opted for Bleak October. Either way, it was one grim
month to be sure.

Then, in early November, their luck changed like the
seasons (this is starting to sound like a Sinatra song, isn't it?). It began
with a memorable lunch at The Yale Club. They were there with Ben Case, a former
client at Duke University. The entrepreneurs begged Ben to give them his
account. He played hard to get, saying they'd be so focused on building their
own business that they wouldn't pay attention to his. The trio agreed on a
compromise: three free trial months. If Peppercom delivered, Ben would put them
on retainer. They did. And, he did.

Being able to name drop Duke as an existing client worked
wonders with prospects. Soon, Ed and Steve landed two or three more accounts.
And, they never looked back.

Epilogue: I liken entrepreneurship to a roller coaster
ride. In fact, we're helping a client right now to build a new website aimed at
entrepreneurs. I suggested a roller coaster visual. They agreed, and will be
using it as one of their main visuals.

The roller coaster ride came to mind because there are
far more downs than ups in business, and resiliency is critical to an
entrepreneur's success. So is preparation.

That's why I advise any Mark Zuckerberg wanna-be to read
'The Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell. It describes the importance of first
logging 10,000 hours of practice before grabbing for the brass ring.

Mozart, the Beatles and Steve Jobs, among others, all put
in countless hours of blood, sweat and tears before they achieved their
success. Ed and I did the same at two prior agencies, where we amassed our
10,000 hours of practice.

As a result, we already knew who would do what and how
we'd differentiate ourselves on day one. It made all the difference in the
world. It also enabled us to survive Black October.

Feb 16

You da man!

Success

I had a fascinating conversation the other day with Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun and his senior communications strategists. We were discussing the subject of trust, the erosion of trust in virtually every segment of society, and the need for current and future generations to re-adjust their definitions of success as a result.

I volunteered that I’d noticed quite a few Millennial-focused surveys of late in which respondents seem to accept the very real possibility that, due to the economy, limited job options, staggering student loans and global competition, they may never attain their parents’ level of success. But, many seem undaunted and, in fact, point to new, and different, definitions of success, including: 

-      Achieving a work-life balance

-      Feeling fulfilled in one’s occupation

-      Believing one’s contributions are somehow making a difference for the better.

That’s very different from the definition of success when I grew up.

We were told one wasn’t successful unless one at least earned one’s age (i.e. $25,000 per annum if one were 25 years old, etc.). We were also led to believe that success meant getting married, fathering 2.4 kids, as well as owning a dog and a house with the requisite white picket fence (I scored with the wife and two kids, and now am pleased to say I report to two pooches: Mick and Rooney, respectively).

I also came of age in the Me Generation, monster-of-the-universe Gordon Gekko ‘Greed is Good’ Wall Street era. In fact, I distinctly remember a great example of success in the late 20th century. We were dining with my next door neighbor who, at the time, toiled at the now defunct Lehman Brothers. He was boasting about a huge raise and year-end bonus. Then, he glanced down at his PDA and shouted: ‘Look at this! ‘My boss just e-mailed saying, Jimmy, you da man!’ It was nauseating to say the least.

Well, with Wall Street, Main Street and just about every other street either stagnating or in full retreat, the You Da Man moments seem to be dwindling in an inverse ratio to our country’s budget deficit. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some incredibly successful executives rising through the ranks in the near and long-term future; it just means there will be fewer masters and mistresses of the universe.

So, knowing that, how have you personally re-defined success? I’m especially interested in hearing from my Millennial readers (as well as the Generation X and Baby Boomers who have been forced to re-set their expectations as a result of the New Normal). Success is still there for each and every one of us. It just may no longer look like a million dollar paycheck, a trophy wife, two kids, a dog, a house and a picket fence anymore.  

What will it look like to you, and what do you envision prompting a boss or peer to text a message saying, ‘You da man!'

 

Feb 08

Culture check

Happy days are here again. Or, so it would seem according to the latest jobs and unemployment news. The economy added nearly a quarter of a million new jobs and unemployment levels dipped to 8.3 percent.

I know lots of small and midsized PR firms are hiring, but I doubt the big guys are (as I noted in last week's blog).

We're looking to fill any number of slots in financial services, social media and general PR. But, as our culture has evolved, we're being extra careful to make sure we don't:

– Make an offer to the social media prima donna who, no matter how gifted, believes she is the only one who understands the medium and refuses to play nice with others.
– Hire that really nice guy who seems to be everyone's best friend, constantly pats you on the back, praises everyone and everything, but ends up contributing next to nothing to the work product.
– Employ an erstwhile holding company middle manager who, halfway through her first week, storms into our president's office and demands to know where the research department is located (er, ah, you are the research department).

I undertake my own culture check with prospective senior level hires. By the time they get to me (and are about to be interviewed by Ed), I know their work ethic and accomplishments have been fully vetted. So, rather than ask the asinine, 'Where do you see yourself in five years' or 'How would others describe your management style' questions I probe, instead, to see how seriously they take themselves.

Cultural-fit

We have a very informal culture that is driven by our insistence that every employee be trained in stand-up comedy. We don't do it to torture them but, rather, to help them improve their presentation and listening skills as well as enhance overall morale. And, it's worked so well that we now provide it as a service offering to clients.

But, back to my culture check. As I'm wrapping up my interview, I'll lean forward and suggest a few tips that will help the candidate with her upcoming interview with Ed. These include:

– Alerting the candidate that, since Ed has lost all of his hearing in his left ear, they'd be wise to sit on his right side and shout their questions and answers.
– Alerting the candidate that Ed worked his way through college as a professional foot model and, if it's summer and Ed's rocking a pair of mandals, they should be sure to compliment his shapely ankles.
– Alerting the candidate that Ed means it when he says he expects our senior executives to roll up their sleeves and do many of the same tasks performed by junior staff. I mention that Ed's incredible work ethic is a direct result of having labored as a coal miner in West Virginia for several years. That one almost always elicits the following response. 'Really? That is so inspirational.'

Anyway, the candidates are quickly told by Ed that they've been set up by me and shouldn't take anything I say seriously. We can often judge how well a candidate will fit in by their reaction to our playfulness. Most take it in stride. Some don't care for it. But, a few get a huge kick out of it and, if everything else is equal, the latter person will be offered the job.

So, what's your firm's culture check? How do you determine if a prospect will fit in? And, for those of you on the job search circuit as we speak, what sort of culture checks have you been subjected to? I'm always looking for fresh material.

Feb 06

Yeah, so, um, we’re gonna go ahead and spend your fee on cyber security instead

 

Office space

Remember Bill Lumbergh, the out-of-touch, acronym-spewing manager in the classic movie, Office Space? Brilliantly portrayed by Gary Cole, Lumbergh would either preface or respond to any positive suggestion by saying, ‘Yeah, um, so, we’re not going to do that.’ And, as every Repman reader knows, corporate America is chock full of Lumbergh-types, both male and female. And, they account for the massive inertia that hamstrings many of America’s best-known organizations.

 

We recently sustained a head-on collision with a Lumbergh who toiled in the middle management ranks of a client organization.

We’d been working with the client for some time and, if I do say so myself, producing Silver Anvil Award-winning work. But then, one day out of the clear blue, Lumbergh called our day-to-day account manager and said, ‘Yeah, so, um, we’re gonna go ahead and spend your fee on a cyber security upgrade instead.’ Say what? A cyber security upgrade instead of continuing a breakthrough image and awareness campaign? Talk about institutional creep.

We’ve fired, and been fired by, clients for myriad reasons over a 16-year period, but this was a first. I’ve met C-suite executives who don’t understand the strategic importance of public relations and chosen, instead to invest in a sales force expansion or build an in-house corporate communications function. But, I’ve never, ever, seen the plug pulled on communications and diverted to technology.

The decision was so unexpected and positively primordial in its thinking that even this garrulous blogger was left speechless for a time. But, I’ve rebounded and, instead, now see this as a cautionary tale for any Arthur W. Page, Council of PR Firms or PRSA Counselors Academy member who remains convinced that PR has earned a permanent ‘seat at the table’ and no longer need to justify our strategic role.

There are still plenty of Bill Lumbergh-types controlling the budgets of Fortune 500 corporations and ‘Yeah, so, um, if you think PR is bullet-proof then, so, um, yeah, we’re just gonna go ahead and spend those fees on a landscaping upgrade instead.’

 

Feb 03

Agencies look for rising stars, not waning ones

Repman

Advertising Age's cover story about 55-year-old creative director Dave Shea's trials and tribulations in finding full-time employment should be a cautionary tale to any reader of any age.

Shea was a successful copywriter and creative director at such blue-chip advertising agencies as the legendary Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, the equally legendary (and the original) Saatchi & Saatchi, Campbell-Mithun and, most recently, Geppetto, a small agency within the vast WPP network (where Ed and I once toiled).

Geppetto canned Shea (and refused to tell Ad Age why) about 15 months ago. He's been high and dry ever since.

Shea's epic odyssey to find full-time employment is a positively spell-binding story. According to Ad Age, no matter how hard he networked or how many cold calls he pursued, Shea simply couldn't get to first base. Every agency ignored him because, at the age of 55, Shea was untouchable. His gray hair was a red light.

Source after source told Ad Age that firms turned a blind eye to the eminently qualified Shea. One summed it up beautifully by saying, 'Agencies look for rising stars, not waning ones.' (Ouch. I hope you have a nice day as well).

The Ad Age article confirmed what I'd already suspected: advertising agencies are positively spellbound by the digital revolution, Mark Zuckerberg and the next, bright shiny object. As a result, they mistakenly believe Millennials are the ONLY ones who get the hottest trends, technologies and talk. As a result, experienced veterans like Shea have no chance whatsoever of landing a decent job.

The article was a show-stopper for me for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Ad agencies STILL don't get that social media, digital, Web 2.0, or whatever one chooses to call it, is nothing more than a communications channel. Guys: Hello! It's not about the technology. It's about the conversation and how best to engage in it. Happily, that's what PR firms do best. It's also why we're winning more and more of the client's overall marketing spend.
  • However gifted and uber cool they may be, Millennials lack the broad perspective and innate understanding that's fundamental to deciding what to say, when to say it and to whom. Sorry kids, but you don't get it. Not yet anyway.
  • Age discrimination is not limited to advertising agencies. There's no doubt in my mind that PR has just as many 55-year-old Dave Shea-types who have been shown the door by WPP, Interpublic, Omnicom or Publicis, and find themselves permanently unemployed. PR trade publications simply choose to ignore it:

Reporter: 'We really should do a Dave Shea-type story.'

Editor: 'Age discrimination in PR? No way, Jose.  So, how many new accounts did Edelman win this week?

Reporter: 'The usual. One every 13 seconds.'

Editor: 'Great. There's our headline!'

I count my blessings that, unlike Dave Shea, I decided to bid adieu to my holding company mother ship in 1995 and, along with Ed, build my own thing. If I hadn't, the odds are good I'd be just like Mr. Shea; mailing my resume, placing phone calls and sending e-mails to headhunters and holding company recruiters alike. And, there's no doubt I'd receive the same response as Shea: deafening silence.

A quick after word for my Millennial readers: you'll be dealing with your very own age-related issues faster than you can say Father Time. So, enjoy your time in the sun while you can.

As Sir Mick & The Boys once sang, 'Time waits for no one, and it won't wait for me.' Or, you either.

Dec 22

Is H&K’s re-brand more newsworthy than Al Qaeda’s?

BlogThere's something inherently wrong with an industry trade press that bombards readers with

breaking news bulletins to let us know Hill & Knowlton is now H+K Strategies, but chooses to ignore Al Qaeda's re-branding.

Call me crazy, but I think Al Qaeda's name change in an effort to distance itself from 9/11, bin Laden and other 'collateral brand damage' in order to attract a new generation of terrorists is just a tad more newsworthy than an ersatz cosmetic facelift by a Top 10 PR firm.

I'm not saying the PR trades are making a mountain out of a molehill with the latter and being completely irresponsible in overlooking one of the most fascinating image and reputation stories of the year with the former, but what the heck?

So, here's a quick note from a citizen journalist to our crack PR trade journalists: what defines news in your mind? And, why would you alert the world to a non-story while choosing to ignore a truly significant one? This inquiring mind would like to know.

Dec 13

Great pick-up lines

William-steig-hello-cutie-pie--ccccnew-yorker-cartoonJust the other day, we were wrapping up a new business presentation when the prospect looked me in the eyes and said, “So, tell me why we should hire your firm.”

Now, in the early days when Peppercom was chasing anything that wasn't nailed down, I might have responded with any one of the following retorts:

– “Well, I believe we've demonstrated the right mix of strategy, creativity, responsiveness and results needed to take you to the next level.”

or…

– “Well, I think we've shown a real passion for your business today and presented a team that has been through the wars together. I know we'd hit the ground running on day one.”

or…

– “Well, I don't think you'll find another firm with the depth of category expertise reflected by the team you're meeting with today. I'll bet that, collectively, we have more than 150 years of experience in helping brands looking to attract toe fungus sufferers.”

But, that was then and this is now.

The older I get, the more I've grasped the amazing similarities between courtship and new business development. And, that goes for both prospective and existing clients (I'll address the latter in a nanosecond).

So, getting back to the most recent prospect's query, I sighed and said, “I'm not sure you SHOULD hire us. Asking us a question like that after we've demonstrated our experience, thinking and passion tells me you're looking for a vendor and not a partner. If I'm wrong, we'd be delighted to continue the conversation.”

That line always stops a prospect in her tracks (by either pissing her off completely or impressing her in ways no other firm has). I've found it's also a great way to pre-qualify a prospect and see if they really ARE looking for a relationship as opposed to just another order-taker.

Getting back to using what I'd call a great pick-up line with clients, I've found over the years that clients HATE being fired. They hate hearing the 'It's not you, it's us' line and immediately promise to behave better, pay their bills faster and lighten up on the over-servicing demands.

In today's economy, it's a dicey proposition to suggest PR firms play hard to get with prospects and clients.

But, trust me, it works just as well in business as it does in dating.

'So, I have to tell you I love your eyes. Do you come here often?'

Dec 02

We just got religion

As a proud alumnus of Hill & Knowlton, I was interested (and then disheartened) to read of the firm’s name change. Effective immediately, Hill & Knowlton is now Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Wow! Talk about cataclysmic news. I’m not sure I’ll ever be quite the same. Adding the word strategies is, well, really strategic, but opting for a plus sign instead of an ampersand is, as my Japanese clients at Sony used to say, truly epoch-making.Hihihihi

Ken Luce, global COO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, said, “Clients have caught up to the fact that PR and marketing communications are strategic, and not just about press releases anymore.” The name change, says Luce, emphasizes the firm’s position in strategic communications and increased investment in digital and research. Oh.

This might have been a fairly significant announcement back in, say, 1998. But, to suddenly wake up and insert the word strategies in 2011 is akin to Rip Van Winkle’s snoozing for 20 years.

One of our clients pinpointed the name change problem. He said that, from a typical client's perspective, strategy is already assumed. If a big agency couldn't provide it, who in the world would be working with them in 2011?  He likened the announcement to H+K’s saying: "We just got religion!"

Strategic counseling is table stakes for any public relations firm today. To call attention to the fact that they’ve finally decided to alert the world to their strategic thinking tells me Hill+Knowlton Strategies hasn’t been doing much strategic thinking about its own brand.  But, that’s nothing new. I was at the firm when it underwent its very first name change in the early 1980s. That, too, was heralded with similar fanfare. And, the change was just as startling. The corporate color was switched from blue to brown and the word ‘and’ was replaced with the now equally defunct ampersand.

At this rate, I’m predicting in another 10 years or so, we’ll be reading about the firm’s next, big name change. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing (drum roll, please):

Hill-Knowlton 2.0 

And, the global COO at the time will be quoted as saying, “Clients have caught up to the fact that PR and marketing communications firms can now handle social media, and aren’t just about strategy anymore.”

Nov 21

Already over me

Business travelBreaking up with an airline is not unlike separating from a significant other. The same raw emotions, finger-pointing and angst come into play.

I first met the airline of my dreams, Continental, when they acquired my two former flames, Eastern and PeopleExpress. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of the hard-charging, Houston-based hussy, but I gave her a chance. I had to. Continental suddenly dominated Newark Airport.

And, sure enough, as the years unfolded, the newcomer found a way to fill the voids in my travel life. She rewarded my constant flying. She welcomed me to her presidents club. And, she not only gave me gold elite status but, on international business class flights, she went out of her way to make sure I was content. Yes, I actually used the word content in the same sentence as airline.

I distinctly recall one Continental attendant on a London flight asking me, 'Shall I address you as Steve, Steven, Mr. Cody or sir?' You had me at shall, miss.

Then, as is so often the case in relationships, my significant other found 'another.' In this case, the other man was United Airlines, a big, old-time, deep-pocketed blow hard from the Windy City.

Mr. United swept Ms. Continental off her feet and, just like available overhead luggage space, she was gone. So, too, was her personal service, tender loving care and the feeling that I was someone special.

I found myself mixed up in the midst of a messy merger. My elite status disappeared. My access to the presidents club went the way of all flesh and, instead of asking how I preferred to be addressed, I was told by a rude flight attendant to sit down, shut up and shut off my Blackberry.

All that abuse might have been palatable if the reservation experience hadn't also taken a nose dive. I suddenly found myself swiping my card at a Continental kiosk and being prompted to enter all sorts of alphanumeric codes that, despite my best efforts, often told me to go in search of a gate agent. And, once at the ticket counter of what used to be Continental, but is now Continental about to become United or, may in fact be United, I would be told by a lobotomized automaton, 'Sorry, there's no record here. If you want to fly to Boston, I suggest you buy a new ticket.'

This wasn't just a trial separation. It was a divorce, and a very nasty one at that. I went from adulation to resentment in the time it takes a flight attendant to say, 'The use of approved portable electronic devices is now permitted.'

I wouldn't mind the messy divorce if my former lover didn't go out of her way to ballyhoo her new beau's service and quality everywhere I looked.

The happy couple's tagline line boasted:

'It's not who's merging. It's what will emerge.' And, some of the newlyweds' brand promises included:

– 'Creating the right flight plan' and

– 'Place your expectations in the upright position'

Oh, the pain of it all.

I don't mind a woman (or an airline) dropping me like a hot potato. But, I do mind it when she (or they) pours salt in the wound.

Continental. United. United Continental. Or, whatever the heck you're calling yourself these days, I want you to know something: I am SO done with you.

I have no choice but to fly you (since you OWN Newark), but I will never, ever love you again.

As the Stones sang in Already over me, 'you're so cold. You're so cruel. I'm your man. Not your fool.' Well, guess what, Ms. Continental Airlines about to become Mrs. United Airlines? I'm already over you too.