Feb 15


Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer and RepChatter co-host, Deb Brown.

CFOs and a sense of humor? Seems like an oxymoron, right? Our CFO at Peppercom has a great sense of humor, but, in general, I don’t equate CFOs with a sense of humor. So, imagine how surprised – and pleased – I was to find out that 79 percent of 1400 CFOs surveyed said “an employee’s sense of humor is important for fitting into the company’s corporate culture.”

This is GREAT news because if CFOs can understand the importance of a sense of humor in the workplace, then, ideally, the rest of the C-suite should as well.

This is especially important because a company’s culture always starts from the top…whether it’s fun or fearful. For example, at Peppercom, we have a fun, collegial culture that incorporates comedy because the co-founders of Peppercom set that tone. A client we had in the past worked for a CEO who was the definition of hell. She set the tone of fear throughout the organization so that the only choice employees had was to flee. And, so they did, until she was finally given the boot by the board (since they were pretty much the only ones left).

However, when we’ve conducted Comedy Experience sessions, attendees have asked if they could influence and change the culture in a division if they don’t have influence over the entire company. The answer: absolutely. If you’re a manager, you have control over setting the tone of the work environment for your direct reports. And, a positive work environment in one division can start spreading to others. Employees will talk and that could, potentially, influence other managers.

It seems counter-intuitive for bean counters to appreciate a sense of humor. I would like to borrow Stephen Colbert’s “Tip of the Hat” and tip mine to the 79 percent of CFOs for acknowledging the importance of humor. Now, if we can only get the other 21 percent to at least smile.

What do you think your CFO and C-suite think of humor in the workplace? Were you surprised by this survey?

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.


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.

Sep 01

Tomorrow’s a latter-day

Book of Mormon 1 Having finally seen the runaway Broadway hit, ‘The Book of Mormon,’ I must say it lives up to the hype.

As someone who does not enjoy musicals at all, I absolutely loved this one. Between the sets, the cast and the music, I was completely mesmerized (as, apparently, are all Mormons who buy into the rather unusual tenets of the world’s fastest-growing religion).

I won’t dwell on the play’s content but, rather, the ‘measured’ response to its content by the Church of Latter-Day Saints. In the official reaction, a Church spokesman said, ‘Parody isn’t reality. The danger is not when people laugh, but when they take it seriously.’ Bravo, Mr. Mormon! Encore! Encore!

Compare the Mormon Church’s reaction to, say, that of the Islamic faith when a Dutch newspaper ran a cartoon poking fun at the Prophet Mohammad? Or, how about The Catholic League’s absurd overreaction to the Empire State Building’s decision not or light the building blue and white in honor of Mother Theresa’s birthday?

I believe organized religion is the root cause of all evil in our world. For centuries now, fundamentalist sects of Islam, Judaism, Catholicism and, of course, Evangelical Christianity have steamrolled countries and wiped out entire populations (solely in the name of their one, true religion).

The Mormon faith may take the cake for the weirdest set of beliefs ever, but I’m genuinely impressed with the way in which they’ve managed their image and reputation (in light of a highly critical parody).

The difference between the Mormon response and that of every other conceivable religion seems to come down to this: Mormons have a sense of humor. Find me one member of al Qaeda or Opus Dei who would do a 10-minute set at the New York Comedy Club. I’ll bet the Mormon spokesman quoted earlier would not only do a set but, indeed, probably be up to MCing an entire show.

I’d continue my silent applause for the Mormon faith, but I’m about to audition a roomful of women. For some, strange reason, I’m suddenly interested in the whole concept of plural wives.


May 12

So, these two lawyers walk into a bar…

Aside from used car salesman or al Qaeda operative, I can't think of a single occupation with a worse image and reputation than lawyers. In fact, a recent survey of America's most trusted professions showed that lawyers finished just above used car salesmen and beneath politicians.

Lawyers also rival insurance agents as the people I try my best to avoid at cocktail receptions. The former try to sell you policies while the latter can't wait to cite some arcane precedent regardless of the subject. (“Interesting that you bring up long distance cycling as a hobby, Steve. In the case of Armstrong, et al, vs. Humanity, we argued that…”)

So, imagine my trepidation when I was recently invited by a top law firm to lead a 90-minute Humor in the Workplace seminar for their litigation and employment attorneys. Brother, that sounded like as much fun as hanging out with some TSA agents and discussing pat downs for an evening.

Well, guess what? I was wrong. The lawyers were warm, engaging and open to learning how and why humor could make them more effective. And, get this, some of them were actually FUNNY. Not Joe Pesci funny but funny enough.

I've had the good fortune to lead humor workshops for pharmaceutical executives, human resources directors, PR executives and, now, lawyers. And, I have to tell, lawyers would NOT be on the bottom of my list. In fact, the toughest crowd I've EVER had to work with was PR executives who were attending an industry conference. Not only were some openly disdainful, others were downright rude and multi-tasked on their BBs right in front of me. Boo, hiss, PR types.

So, here's a big shoutout for the legal profession. Sure, they still gouge society for each and every penny they possibly can. And, yes, they're the absolute lowest of the low. But, I'd be honored to sip some sauvignon blanc with any of the litigators I trained on Wednesday. Your witness.

Apr 13

A blog about blogs

Remember the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer writes a coffee table book about coffee table books? Well, this is a blog about blogs.

Attack-of-the-blogI began blogging in 2006. Since then, Repman has been named best in industry, consistently ranked among the AdAge Power 100 and attracted hundreds of subscribers and thousands of pass-along readers. It's also landed me in a lot of hot water. One blog antagonized Jack O'Dwyer so much that he lambasted me on the cover of his trade publication for two straight weeks. Another, criticizing the inherent flaws in industry awards programs, earned me a lifetime ban as a PR Week Awards judge. (Note: I stand by my original POV's and find having been fired as a judge makes for a great cocktail party conversation starter.)

All that said, I still have no idea what makes my blog successful. Oh sure, I know it's important to keep the content short and sweet. It's also essential to generate new content daily. And, it's critical to provide readers with a unique perspective. I think it's also important to avoid the breaking news of the day and posit views on less well-known, but equally important, facets of reputation management. (I tend to take the road less traveled when it comes to blogging.)

When I say I have no idea what makes my blog successful, I'm referring to reader response. I've written some blogs that I thought were so edgy and, dare I say it, so insightful, that they'd generate a significant response. And, then, nothing would happen. Nada. Zilch. At other times, like last week, I'll pull together a hastily written blog about the five most influential TV shows in my life and, voila, the flood gates will open and I'll receive 45 or more comments (insert link).

I'm fortunate to have my blog featured on the front page of The Daily Dog and CommPro.biz. I share those home pages with 15 or 20 other top bloggers. And, I must say, I don't get why some of those blogs are successful either. Like the agencies and service shops they represent, the other blogs tend to be good, bad or just plain ugly. To wit:

– One blogger is an inveterate name dropper and loves to let you in on the latest world leader, Hollywood celebrity or media mogul with whom he's dined and opined. Big deal. I once sat alongside Robby Benson on a flight from West Palm Beach to Newark.
– Another blogger's essays are meticulously researched, beautifully crafted and invariably as dull as dishwater.
– Then there's the blog from hell, authored by an agency leader who clearly played hooky when basic English grammar was being taught. His tomes are endless rants, replete with every spelling and punctuation mistake possible.
– There are also the blogs written solely about media training or video communications. These are the one trick ponies of the PR blogosphere.

And, so I end where I began: clueless as to what constitutes a good blog and why some blogs I find self-serving and self-important routinely sweep the industry awards (could paid advertising have anything to do with it?). Oh well. I've also never figured out why 'little people' don't constitute a minority and never come up in conversations about the need for greater diversity in PR. But, that's a subject best left for another blog or the stage of the New York Comedy Club.

And a tip o' the hat to Mrs. RepMan (aka Angie Cody) for this idea.

Mar 23

Boys Meet Girl

Today's guest post is by Frieda Smason, (pictured) a senior at Stern College – Yeshiva University.

Last week I learned about the effectiveness of humor in the workplace from Steve Cody,  Frieda11 professional comedian and “PR man” (a.k.a. co-founder of Peppercom) who came to speak to our class at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University. We participated in a series of exercises that are designed to help you loosen up in front of a crowd. Then, each person got up in front of the class and told a short story about something that really bugs them. The goal of the exercise was to make you realize how well humor and business complement each other when you harness humor properly.

I’ll tell you something not so funny – I work in an office where I am the only woman. That's right – every single person there is male aside from me. The implications of this are very serious: no skim milk in the fridge – ever! Everyone in the office is at least a foot taller than I am, so the paper towels in the kitchen are always just a little too high for me to reach. The announcement board has "funny" jokes about guy things like "The top ten reasons beer was created." And of course, the toilet seat is, without fail, always up.

Trust me; I didn't think any of these things were funny before Steve gave us the comedy workshop. Living in an apartment with female roommates, I'm used to having at least three people always say "God bless you" when they hear me sneeze and, of course, girls discussing  drama about boys all the time.

Now I work in the heart of the "boy drama," where I’ve learned that boys aren't that dramatic – at all. I'm slowly realizing that it’s the girls who make all of it up. Guys just like to sit at their computers and eat take-out. I tried to make small talk once at the water cooler by asking someone how their weekend was. His reply? "Bad."

The story I told in front of my class was about a prank one of my co-workers played on me. The short version is that he sent me an email from my boss's phone saying that I had violated company policy and I was going to be terminated if I didn't mend my behavior immediately. When it happened, it was terrifying, but after telling the story in front of the class I realized how funny it actually was.

It's crazy that telling a two-minute story in front of my peers seemed more daunting than handing over a business presentation to my boss, but now that it's over I know that I can do anything – aside from reaching the paper towels at work.

Jan 28

Comedy, Internships, and PR

Today's guest post is by Peppercom intern Nick 'the Knife" Light.

Recently my boss, Steve “Repman” Cody, was generous enough to treat me and several of my young colleagues to a night of stand-up comedy. The comedian? None other than Steve Cody himself.

Steve Steve explained to me and my young colleagues that attending one of his stand-up gigs is “a rite of passage.” But, I was thinking that there could be a potential for this “passage” to be more like that of a kidney stone than the kind where a young man emerges a proven warrior (or any other similarly awesome passage). (Note: The drawing to the left is not Steve Cody. I imagine someone like this to be at an awesome rite of passage ceremony.)

Don’t get me wrong, contrary to what people say about Steve, he is actually a pretty nice guy. But, other than fun-yet-safe office humor, I had never heard Steve’s jokes, and had no idea if he would be funny. Would that have been a problem? Not really. The potential negative was simply the lack of a positive: if Steve proved himself under the stage lights, I would confer secret points upon him as a boss.

Here is the part of the post where I tell you that I am a newly-hired PR intern at Peppercom. Why does that matter? Although I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, the situation seemed to hold the potential for some kind of teacher-to-pupil imparting of lessons. You know how it works. If I study the comedy routine hard enough, I’ll see some stroke of genius either in the message or the act of the performance.

I’m not going to pretend to know more about PR than I do. I’ve learned a ton so far, the work is exciting, and I hope to continue to learn. But, I have no idea how Peppercom stacks up against others in PR with respect to our professional reputation, work environment, or…… ummmmmm…… remuneration.

I guess what I’m saying is that, right now, it’s good to see that one of the founding partners (of the company at which I landed an internship) sometimes gets on stage and tells jokes. In all seriousness, I think it bodes well for my future, as well as those of others here at Peppercom. If that’s the message Steve was trying to impart to us young minds, he succeeded.  I won’t hold it against him that I didn’t get some of his Jersey jokes. What can I say? Most New Yorkers don’t even think people actually live in the Adirondack Mountains, where I grew up.

Jan 24

What sets your organization apart?

Thumbnail Differentiating a public relations firm is no easy task since we all pretty much offer the same set of  services. Sure, the holding companies will play the size card and boutiques will tout their category expertise while we midsized firms will sell a ‘best of both worlds’ solution. Still, it’s tough not to be tossed in with the pack when a big search is underway.

That’s why our decision to embrace humor as a competitive advantage has been so important in making us a breed apart. Some competitors may be larger. Others may have deeper sector credentials. But, no one, and I mean no one, can stand-up to our team of professionally trained, stand-up comedians.

We embraced stand-up comedy as a key management training technique about three years ago. It’s done wonders for improving our people’s presentation skills and workplace morale. And, when a prospect asks what sets us apart, we always add the kicker: “You’ve undoubtedly met some fine firms in your search. But, we’re the only one who will make you laugh.” That’s critical, especially when a new business pitch is extremely close. Clients end up selecting firms with whom they’ve built rapport. And, ladies and gentlemen, guess what skill stand-up comedy training enhances? Rapport building.

MSNBC thought enough of our commitment to humor that they just devoted a five-minute segment to how Peppercom uses comedy as a business tool.

Besides the obvious, there are all sorts of intangible benefits to our comedy ethos. For one, it helps us self-select prospects and employees (i.e. ‘arrogant, pompous individuals need not apply’). For another, it helps us identify stars in the making.

There are more than 3,000 public relations firms in this country.  But, I’m not aware of any other one that would use the words ‘sense of humor’ in answering the critical prospective client and employee question: “What sets you apart?”

Jan 03

A different type of New Year’s resolution

DSCN5007 'Tis the season for resolutions, so I figured I'd share mine.

Unlike many, I have no need to quit smoking, lose weight or tackle new physical challenges. Ice climbing, long distance cycling and stand-up comedy fill those ‘voids’ very nicely, thank you.

My resolution is more of an emotional one. I resolve not to let professional and personal setbacks upset me to the degree they have in the past.

If a significant client cuts us loose, so be it. If a close friend decides to cut me off, c'est la vie. And, if the Mets continue to cut a wide swath through the N.L. East's cellar, that'll be ok, too.

I won't these other pet peeves bother me either:

– The Lexus 'December to Remember' TV commercials. Is there ANYTHING more obnoxious?
– PR awards' programs that allow large agencies to submit countless entries and dominate each and every category.
– Endless NJ Transit train delays.
– New Jersey's horrible image. The real armpit of the tri-state area is Wrong Island.
– Sarah Palin's nonsensical, moronic statements.
– Politicians who refuse to work with one another to solve our nation's ills.
– PR Week's hagiographic cover profiles of chief communications officers (the only thing missing are the halos).
– The latest transgression by a Catholic priest.
– Yet another heating or air conditioning glitch from the fine folks at 470 Park Avenue South.
– Unsolicited e-mails from new business rainmakers, database management experts and a certain Mr. Brown from Nigeria who needs my banking information in order to transfer some $7 million into my account.

So, bring on the New Year and its challenges. I pledge not to overreact to disloyal clients and friends or rude and uncommunicative NJ Transit train conductors.

If I should find myself slipping though, I know I need only schedule a few days of ice or rock climbing with Art Mooney (www.mooneymountainguides.com). It's the single best cure for what ails me and the best way for me to assure I deliver on my 2011 resolutions.

So, how about you? What are your 2011 resolutions?

Nov 11

The image sent is not necessarily the image received

I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a book that made me laugh out loud with each and every new page. Jon Stewart’s Earth: A Visitor’s guide to the Human Race is one of those rarities. Written by Stewart and his staff, the book is intended for aliens who discover our planet long after we’ve perished. It’s intended to explain to the aliens what they’ve stumbled across.

Sections include: explanations on how our society was structured, our major religions formed and our bizarre culture created. The latter is beautifully captured in what Stewart calls his FAQs, or Frequent Alien Questions. For example:

Alien question: "The Acme company appears to have made low-quality products. How did they stay in business?"

Stewart: "Free shipping to remote desert locations."

Alien question: "You had the word Trump on many of your buildings. What did that word mean?"

Stewart: "A Trump was a demon who sometimes appeared to us in quasi-human form in order to fire us from jobs we never wanted in the first place."

One of my favorite sections is entitled, ‘Corporate Identity.’ It reads: "The choice of a proper brand logo was as crucial to a corporation as a nation’s flag or a religion’s gold-thing-you-wear-on-a-chain. It had to be visually appealing, but it did not have to have anything to do with what your company did." In other words, the image being sent by countless corporations wasn’t necessarily the image received by end users.

Here are three classic examples Stewart cites:


What you’d expect them to sell: White babies.   

What they sold: Baby food.


Anheuser-Busch 'Here's to Beer' :  

What you’d expect them to sell: Eagle traps.   

What they sold: Urine-flavored beer.



What you’d expect them to sell: Three-field crop rotation.

What they sold: Your own money back to you.



Loving Stewart’s suggestions so much, I decided to submit my own: 


What you’d expect them to sell: Antebellum plantations.  

What they sold: Cholesterol-laden fried chicken.


  Alaska Airlines Logo

What you’d expect them to sell: Grumpy Eskimos.  

What they sold: Air travel to and from places that had no Eskimos.



What you’d expect them to sell: West Village bouncers.

What they sold: Floor cleaner that could probably double as rocket fuel if you Aliens ever find yourself in a pinch.

How about you Repman readers? Do you know any corporate logos that have absolutely nothing to do with explaining the type of product the company sells? I’m all ears (which, FYI to future alien readers, means "I’m welcoming readers to submit their ideas.")