Jul 12

Was Isaac H. Brown the George Washington of PR?

Depending upon who you ask, Edward Bernays or Ivy Lee is typically credited as having
11brown-cityroom-articleInline 'invented' modern public relations.

But, if one agrees that the average American believes PR is little more than party planning (and PR Week lends that ersatz supposition credibility by naming Kelly Cutrone to its list of PR's 25 most powerful people), then Isaac H. Brown should be seen as our industry's George Washington.

A fascinating New York Times article says the 339-pound Brown was the original Manhattan party planner. In fact, from 1845 until his death in 1880, Brown was the go-to guy for New York's monied class. He'd plan the most minute details of weddings, parties and must-attend events. A chronicler of the era lauded Brown's “…efficiency and authoritative manner.” I wonder if he screamed at his lackeys and played head games with them a la Ms. Cutrone?

Like Ms. Cutrone and her badly abused minions, Brown knew “…just the right merchants from whom tables, chairs and appropriate linen could be rented.” Man, would the housewives of New York and New Jersey not kill for a party planner like the I-Man?

If we are willing to abdicate the image and reputation of PR to party planners, why not go all the way and create an Isaac H. Brown Society (a la The Arthur Page Society, which honors the legacy of America's first corporate communications executive to serve as officer and member of the Board of a major public corporation.) The Brown Society should be highly selective in its membership criteria, choosing only those party planners who have rammed their Mercedes SUVs into Long Island restaurants, besmirched the image of public relations in a long-running television and movie series (think “Sex and the City”) or publicly berated underperforming employees a la Ms. Cutrone. I'd also limit membership to party planners of 25 years of age, or under (Ms. Cutrone and her ilk would be 'grandfathered' into the Society and be named permanent members of the executive committee). The female gender would constitute 90 percent of the Brown Society's membership. Poor behavior would be encouraged at the annual spring conference and backbiting encouraged throughout the year.

Based upon party planning's meteoric rise, I could see the Isaac H. Brown Society becoming our dominant industry organization. There really would be no need for Page, PRSA, the Counselors Academy or IAB since more and more high school and college students aspire to “…do, like, cool parties and like, um, check in celebrities at black tie events and, um, yeah, cool stuff like that. And, wear, like uber cool clothes and stuff.”

Wherever he is, I'll bet Isaac H. Brown is laughing a hearty, 339-lb belly laugh. Manhattan's original party planner was way, way, way head of his time. And, how sad is that for him, for today's party planners and, for the declining fortunes of PR's overall image and reputation?

Dec 08

Closing the gap between marketing and sales

Guest Post by Deborah Brown, Peppercom

December 8 - gap Years ago, I remember the marking manager of a client desperately ask, “Can Peppercom please help us? I don’t know how to get marketing and sales aligned. There’s virtually no communication and sales is off saying what they want to customers, while marketing is trying to instill consistency with our messages.  What do we do?” Several weeks later, with a sales consultant, Peppercom developed “Pain –Based Selling,” a program that aligns marketing and sales and closes the gap between what salespeople believe is keeping their customers up at night and what actually is. And, about a year later, co-founder Steve Cody co-authored a book on the topic entitled “What’s Keeping Your Customers Up At Night?”

Now, fast forward about seven years. And, guess what? Sadly, very little has changed. To be fair, there is some alignment in certain companies, but from my experience, it’s still very limited or – in other companies – doesn’t even exist. It seems absurd when the two disciplines can greatly benefit from one another. At Peppercom, we try to go on sales calls with clients so that we can understand how messages are resonating with key audiences and get feedback from customers and prospects. Even this is often challenging to schedule. Yet, when we do go on sales calls, we can immediately uncover important information that can further strengthen existing marketing and communications programs or give us ideas for future ones.

I’d like to pose this question to you:  Can your company survive if sales and marketing are on different teams? 

That’s the focus of a FREE webinar from Peppercom this Wednesday, December 9th , from 1pm-2pm EST.  “Coach Nick” Papadopoulos, Sky’s The Limit Corporation Founder and author of the sales book “Championship Selling,” Steve Cody, Co-Founder of strategic communications firm Peppercom, and Matt Schwartzberg, President of A-1 First Class Viking Moving & Storage will discuss this question and the formula for success in 2010. The panel will be moderated by Sam Ford, Peppercom’s Direct of Customer Insights and research affiliate with the Convergence Culture Consortium. The panel will discuss proven strategies for breaking down the walls, how to take advantage of the first signs of economic recovery, the difference alignment has made for A-1 First Class Viking Moving & Storage, and much more.

Please click here for more details.

It’s critical for marketing and sales to understand each others' role and value. Bridge the gap….before it’s so wide that your company falls through it into oblivion.

Jun 24

It’s time to stand-up for the power of comedy

Peppercommers Brendan Mullin and Doug Feingold made their stand-up comedy debuts this past Thursday night at the New York Comedy Club.

June 24 - Brendan Mullin

This alone would warrant a blog since it takes some serious intestinal fortitude to perform stand-up. But, in so doing, Brendan and Doug were also completing the third part of our most unique management training program.

You see, we include stand-up comedy training as part of our Peppercom State management development program. We contract with Clayton Fletcher, a professional comedian, and train each and every level of our organization.

In addition to learning the four distinct types of comedy, our employees are given tips on how to better project their voice, 'read' the non-verbals of an audience and grasp the nuances of pacing and timing. After each 'performs' five minutes of original material in front of their peers, our employees later sit down with our strategy consultant who reviews a videotape of their stand-up to point out areas of improvement.

Our various comedy workshops have been terrific for the individuals involved and absolutely awesome for overall team building and morale enhancement.

Brendan and Doug took the final steps last week by performing live in front of at least 80 people.

Other agencies may be a little stronger in speechwriting or CSR. And The Holmes Report may have named a larger firm for having the best workplace in the industry. But, no one, and I mean, no one, better understands the strategic, competitive advantages of comedy than little, old Peppercom.

Stand-up comedy training isn't right for every organization. In fact, I can think of a few PR firms whose owners would never, ever buy into anything so 'radical' as stand-up comedy training. But, it works for us. And, while The Holmes Report may ignore the trend, Ad Age certainly hasn't (Download AdAge Comedy Article). 

We live in an era in which nearly every kind of business finds itself unable to afford pay increases or bonuses. By partnering with a stand-up comedian like Clayton, however, we've paid a little, but gained a lot. It's high time other business leaders stand up and take note of comedy's strategic role in business.

Did you miss the live show? Download Brendan Mullin's Stand Up Video.

May 04

Pay per placement cheapens the public relations model

May 4 - News outlets Good friend and erstwhile client Julie Farin called my attention to a recent blog entry from a 'PR firm' called Ink, Inc. Pay per placement is a flawed way to measure and charge for public relations services. To begin with, they're not practicing public relations. They're doing media relations. Pure media by the pound. So, from that perspective the Ink, Inc. folks don't understand that comparing hourly and monthly billing rates with pay per placement is like comparing apples with oranges.

Ink, Inc. also claims that the standard billing model is a 'game' played by larger agencies. They say, and I quote, 'The game comes in the recording of the time actually spent doing client business, including writing timesheets, and is often the most creative thing one does weekly.' That's pure BS.

What the Ink, Inc. people don't, or won't, get is that public relations is far more than mere media placements. It includes everything from strategic positioning and crisis counseling to helping a client organization develop corporate social responsibility programs and effectively communicate in the new social media world. That sort of work demands high level counseling that should be tracked, and billed, on an hourly basis. To do otherwise is to cheapen and demean the work being done by top public relations professionals.

I'm a big believer in live and let live. If these guys want to charge a gullible client on a payment-by-placement basis, then I say go for it (but, what do you base your rates on? Corresponding advertising dollars? If so, that too, is ersatz). But, please, don't confuse prospective clients by suggesting larger and more respected firms are playing some sort of billing shell game. It's unfair and untrue.

Apr 21

This is wrong in so many ways

Can you believe US Airways Flight 1549 Co-pilot Jeff Skiles is being represented by a 15MIN speakers' bureau that is positioning him as a for-hire expert authority on training, teamwork and corporate culture?

It's unconscionable and yet another example of the shameless society in which we live.

Skiles deserves all the credit in the world for the heroic work he and good ol' Cap'n Sully did in landing the crippled airliner and achieving what New York Governor Patterson memorably coined as 'The miracle on the Hudson.' But, our hero quickly goes from mythological to moneygrubber status when he tries to cash in such a patently bogus way.

Leading Authorities, the bureau representing Skiles, is asking somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 to $20,000 for an hour-long speech from this overnight management guru. And, you know what? A few clueless organizations will pony up the money. Skiles will rake in an extra hundred grand or so for the next year or so (or until he becomes yesterday's news.) And, Leading Authorities will collect a handsome commission.

The whole tawdry tale cheapens what occurred on the Hudson that day and, in the final analysis, is really sad to see.

But, Jeff Skiles isn't to blame. We are. We've allowed our standards of basic human decency to sink in the same precipitous way US Airways 1549 sank beneath the Hudson that fateful day.

Call me old fashioned, but heroes of the past simply didn't capitalize on their 15 minutes of fame. In our reality TV show world of 2009, though, Jeff Skiles is just the latest in a long line of get rich quick schemers and dreamers that includes Joe the Plumber and every single contestant to ever appear on “American Idol.”

It's almost enough to make me want to take the train the next time I travel. Almost.

Oct 21

ConsultantSpeak is Oftentimes Doublespeak, or Worse

I often walk away from meetings with consultants shaking my head. “What did they just say?” I’ll ask myself. Other times, I’ll suddenly come to a dead stop on the stroll back to my office and realize that nothing of any import at all was discussed. That’s because many consultants, especially strategy consultants, speak a foreign language. It’s a highly complex language that rivals Japanese or Mandarin and comes replete with buzz words like synergy and symbiotic. ConsultantSpeak sounds cool, sleek and sophisticated. But, it’s almost always lacking in substance.

You know what’s even worse, though? When ConsultantSpeak words or phrases aren’t even used correctly. Take the phrase “quantum leap,” for example. Consultants adore it. They cherish it. And, they’ll almost always use it to tout a new product or “solution set” (more buzz words, by the way). “We perceive the new FD-3000 as taking a quantum leap over the competition,” they’ll beam. Well, guess what? According to basic science terms, a quantum leap is anything but. In fact, it rarely means a large change and can, in fact, be synonymous with little or no change whatsoever:

“In real physical systems a quantum leap is not necessarily a large change, and can in fact be very insignificant. A good example of this can be taken from the Bohr model of the hydrogen atom, where the observed energy shifts associated with shifts of different quantum states (quantum leaps) span a wide range from large to small (when compared to the energy required to completely free an electron). In the popular sense, the term is usually applied to mean a large or significant change, which is thus not strictly correct.”

So, the next time you’re wallowing in a conference room surrounded by consultants spouting words and phrases like epoch-making, change agent and shifting sands, listen up for the “Q” word and correct the speaker. It’ll rock their systematic synthesizing of the socialized status quo. More importantly, it’ll make you feel good.

Thanks to Darryl Salerno for the idea.