Jan 16

It’s a close shave

No matter how one analyzes Gillette’s controversial new campaign “Is this the best a man can get?” it’s fraught with uncertainties. And it most certainly has further divided an already divided country.

Truly the best a man can get?

First, though, a tip of the hat (or razor) to Gillette’s management for having the courage to double down on its purpose and values. But have they? Or is the campaign a mere ploy or stunt as some detractors claim whose only goal is to drive sales?

I think there are several factors to weigh when analyzing the Gillette campaign:

1) Is alienating a significant percentage of the male shaving market worth the risk of taking a stand and saying the right thing? We asked that very question of 50 CCOs and CMOs we interviewed in a joint research study with the Institute for Public Relations.

One CCO, who managed a global manufacturing company’s marketing spend, echoed the comments of most when he stated, “No matter what you say you WILL alienate a percentage of your stakeholders. I’d much prefer to go on record and double down on our purpose in the wake of a societal crisis than remain silent.”

2) Consistency: Nike’s outstanding campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick won countless awards and witnessed a serious uptick in sales. But, as bold as it was, Nike’s campaign was consistent with its track record (pun intended) of partnering with controversial, outspoken athletes. As a result, the campaign was authentic to the core. Gillette has no such track record and, as the WashPo article indicates, has long profiled macho men in previous campaigns. So, there’s no sense of continuity in my mind. The campaign was a complete 180 for the brand. I think that’s why, when the dust settles, Nike’s post-Kaepernick sales increase will far surpass that of Gillette’s.

3) There but for the grace of god go I. Suppose, just suppose, that Gillette management should be accused of a #MeToo scandal of their own?

That scenario played out in the months following BP’s launch of its “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, extolling their multiple contributions to the environment. Sure enough, a few months later, BP found itself at the epicenter of the Gulf oil spill disaster (and became the butt of endless late night talk show host jokes).

When they said, “think outside the barrel,” I don’t think they meant the Gulf Coast.

I do hope that, in Gillette’s case, HR has done its due diligence to ensure there aren’t any 15 or 20-year-old harassment claims against the current executive team. If such an event were to unfold, it would be beyond catastrophic and underscores the risks a brand takes when it creates it own societal crisis by taking a stand on a societal crisis.

We live in a brave new world littered with myriad societal minefields ranging from illegal immigration and mass school shootings to environmental roll-backs and, yes, #MeToo scandals.

Taking a stand in the immediate aftermath of a societal crisis is the right thing for a purpose-driven organization to do.

It remains to be seen if Gillette’s gamble to create a crisis within a crisis will play out the way they hope.



Aug 19

Baseball’s Whitey Bulger

I don’t think Alex Rodriguez should be allowed to play another game of professional baseball.

It’s one thing to cheat by taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then deny it for years. It’s quite another to pull a Whitey Bulger and ‘rat’ out fellow players, including a Yankees teammate.

A-Rod’s contemptible behavior does far more than further erode his already horrible image and reputation.  It smears that of the Yankees franchise itself. And, that’s what confuses me most about this dark chapter in baseball history.

The average sports organization takes great pains to distance itself from law-breaking players (witness The New England Patriots complete erasure of any sign that accused murderer, Aaron Hernandez, ever played for the team. The purge was positively Stalinesque in nature!).

And yet, here’s A-Rod, guilty as sin, contesting baseball’s suspension AND implicating his own pin-striped teammate, still batting clean-up for the Bronx Bombers? Shame on you, Yankee organization.  Shame on you.

Rogue players, entertainers, politicians and business executives need to go when they, themselves, become the story.

971384_602455496452940_1772305071_nTo wit:

– Charlie Sheen’s: ‘Winning’!”

– BP’s Andrew Heyward’s: ‘You know, I have a life, too,’

– New York’s sad sack mayoral candidate, Anthony Weiner’s: ‘There may have been three more women. I can’t recall.’

Some exit stage left. Some don’t. Others are forced off the stage.

A-Rod and the Yankees have done neither.

Instead, they’ve sent a very clear message: they intend to win this year’s American League Eastern Division title, regardless of the long-term damage done to the team’s image, reputation and relationship with the fan base.

And, that’s just wrong.

History is replete with examples of short-term short cuts that went horribly wrong:

– The use of brittle O-Rings that fractured in cold weather and doomed the crew of the space shuttle Challenger.

– Opting for cheaper rivets to hold together the iron plates of an unsinkable ship christened the R.M.S. Titanic.

– Allowing a rat named Bulger to continue killing Mafiosa kingpins and innocent bystanders alike as long as he continued providing information to the FBI.

The image and reputation of baseball’s most storied franchise is at a critical juncture: it’s two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The bases are loaded and the Yankees are trailing by a run.

Who will they send to the plate? I, for one, would rather see Casey strike out than the Roided Rat hit a walk-off, game-winning home run.

Sep 19

(Keith can’t get no) satisfaction

KeithHaving just finishing reading Keith Richards' autobiography, I have no doubt that he, and not Mick  Jagger, deserves to be a Knight of the British Empire.

For Millennials who may not recognize the name, Keith Richards is lead guitarist, co-founder and, as the book reveals, almost always the number one idea man driving the 'world's greatest rock and roll band', The Rolling Stones.

Written in an e e cummings stream of consciousness style, Keith's book is called 'Life'. And, trust me, it's as jagged, ragged and engrossing as the Stones themselves.

'Life' is a treasure trove of fascinating facts, figures and background stories that told me many, many things I never knew about one of my favorite groups.

For example, do you know the answers to these questions:

– Linda Keith was Richards' first true love. She dumped him while he was touring in America to take up with Jimi Hendrix instead. What song did his subsequent heartache drive Keith to write?
– Who inspired Keith and Mick to write 'Jumpin Jack Flash'?
– What event that occurred right outside Keith's London flat produced 'Gimme Shelter'?
– Who were Keith and Mick mad at when they wrote 'Get Off of my Cloud'?
– What city's 1968 riots inspired Keith to compose 'Street Fighting Man'?
– Who was 'Sister Morphine'?
– Whose outrageous stage act and patronizing treatment of his band mates inspired Mick to follow suit (which, in turn, caused the media to incorrectly nickname the group 'Mick & the Boys')?
– Who was Keith thinking about when he wrote 'Wild Horses'?

As you might expect, the book also cites chapter and verse on Keith's never-ending battles with heroin, cocaine, the law, and legions of redneck hooligans who constantly tried picking fights with one of the world's best known rockers.

Life is also a raw, kiss-and-tell tome that simultaneously praises and buries Keith's alter ego, Sir Mick Jagger.

What finally comes through the purple haze (which, FYI, was the nickname for a high grade form of heroin) IS this: Keith is the heart and soul of the Stones. To wit:

– Keith's the guy who covered for Brian Jones for two years as the group's second guitarist descended into a world of madness and eventual suicide.
– Keith's the guy who kept the group together while Sir Mick went MIA for months at a time to chill with his latest lady friend and/or intimate circle of beautiful people.
– And, it was Keith's shoulder on which all those women whose hearts were broken by Sir Mick over the years cried their hearts out and asked, “What should I do?” As Keith tells you, he always responded by saying, “How the f*ck should I know? You're the one who's sleeping with him. Not me.”

With 'Life,' it seems Keith finally did what HE wanted to do. He wrote the best rock and roll book this blogger's ever read. I just hope it gives the guitarist some satisfaction after all these years. Because, if even half of 'Life' is accurate, Keith Richards was unquestionably the band's 'Beast of Burden' and he sure deserves a whole lot more recognition (and satisfaction).

Aug 15

Would Gaga go to war?

I'm flying through “Our Mothers' War”, a brilliant examination of the roles of women on the home  front and abroad during World War II.
01-women-working-poster-us-wwiiWritten by former New York Times reporter (and Peppercom consultant) Emily Yellin, the book shines the spotlight on a completely overlooked aspect of the Second World War: what women did and how profoundly their actions changed society. It's also an inspirational read that examines an American society that was united as one in its fight against the Axis Powers (a far cry from today's pathetic, polarized, soon-to-be second-class successors).
The book is chock full of fun and little known facts, such as:
– Betty Crocker, the ultimate role model for American housewives in the 1930s and '40s, was a fictional character. Her surname came from a General Mills executive and another employee, who thought Betty was a bright, cheerful name. Most Americans never knew she was ersatz, though, and often wrote long and compassionate letters to Betty asking for advice. In 1943 a Fortune magazine poll named her the second most famous woman in America, after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

– Captain Ronald Reagan sent a photographer out to search war factories and plants in Southern California for attractive Rosie the Riveter types to feature in the war effort's propaganda program. At a parachute factory, the photographer stumbled across an 18-year-old housewife named Norma Jean Dougherty, who stopped him in his tracks. He asked, “Where the hell have you been hiding?” Norma Jean agreed to pose for a few photographs. Those, in turn, led to a few more. All of which led to her divorcing her husband, dying her hair blond and changing her name to Marilyn Monroe.

– While I knew all about Bob Hope and the countless shows he arranged for front line troops, I had no idea how many A-level Hollywood actresses did the same thing. Marlene Dietrich, a German born actress who was despised by Hitler and actually placed on his hit list, courageously followed Patton's army as it plowed through Europe. Carole Landis, Martha Raye. Mitzi Mayfair and Kay Francis, all A-level actresses and performers, toured North Africa and actually sang for the troops in a makeshift bunker as they were being blitzed by bombs from Nazi planes.
I was amazed not so much by the image and perception of women 60 years ago but, rather, by their willingness to roll up their sleeves and pitch in (especially the Hollywood stars). Betty Grable, Bette Davis, Clark Gable and Tyrone Power all did their bit. Carole Lombard died on plane flight back from selling war bonds. Jimmy Stewart served as an Air Force colonel and flew scores of bombing missions over Germany.
Can you picture Lady Gaga, Britney, Lindsey, Leo, Johnny, Brad or any of today's superstars not only putting themselves in harm's way but, like their predecessors, actually serving coffee and food to the troops (and cleaning their pots and pans afterwards)?  Unlike Carole Landis for example, those that have gone have not had to duck into bunkers to avoid bombing runs.
Yellin's book chronicles a major flash point in the evolving role of women in American society. And, as she points out December 7, 1941, was very likely the start of the feminist movement in America.
Our Mothers' War is a great read for women or men interested in history. But, it's an even better read for public relations and marketing executives who study image and perception. The greatest generation clearly earned its moniker. Today's sorry lot should be called the slacker generation.

Jun 28

The Lindsay Lohan of PR

I'll bet that headline stopped you in your tracks. That was my intent. There is no Lindsay Lohan  Iht.bad headline.smallest of PR. Actually, there probably is, but let's not go there.

Instead, let's focus on what makes for a great headline. I think it's fertile ground for a PR and marketing-focused blog because, frankly, most PR professionals (and many PR bloggers) are god-awful headline writers.

The typical PR headline suffers from one of two maladies:

– It's mundane or obvious (i.e. “Why Media Relations Still Matters”. Ugh. Must we revisit that time worn subject one more time?)

– It's ponderous and/or unfathomable (i.e. “Farnsworth Industries, Inc.’s. new, state-of-the-art, first-of-its-kind QX-101 microprocessor chip is not only designed to interface with standard industry circuit boards but, at 0.002 milligrams, is the lightest ever made!” I'd rather shove a fork in my ear than read that press release).

I think the editors of the New York Post and Daily News are the true Michelangelos of headline writing. They've made it an art form. They not only capture the big news of the day in a word or two but, invariably do so as a double entendre. Case in point: the recent Long Island pharmacy slaying of four people by a whack job in search of Vicodin. The post headline? 'Pain Killers.' That's simply superb.

I have other, all-time favorite headlines from the Post and Daily News. I'll never forget the ones the dailies ran on the day after the New York Mets upset the Baltimore Orioles and won the 1969 World Series:

The Post: 'Amazing!' (The once hapless Mets had been nicknamed 'The Amazins' by Casey Stengel. And, their huge upset was nothing short of amazing. Zing. In one word, the editor simultaneously communicates the Mets victory, uses the team's nickname to announce it and underscores how incredible the whole thing was).

The Daily News: 'Bye-bye Birdies' (This was a rare triple entendre that told the reader who'd won, leveraged the aviary roots of the losing team's nickname AND riffed on a Tony-award winning play's name. Positively brilliant).

What about you? Do you have favorite headlines you'd like to share? Or, how about examples of all-time horror shows? (i.e. We once represented an education software company whose PR representative insisted on crafting a personnel announcement that made the new general manager sound like a combination of Buddha, Allah and Christ. It was so laughably bad that it negated any chance of actual coverage.)

So, bring it on. Send me a headline that will stop me in my tracks and immediately communicate the gist of the story to follow. Or, send me something that is an absolute steaming pile of sh*t. And, keep your hands off Lindsay Lohan. She's mine.

Jun 14

Good-bye to you

Ever happen to hear an old song that not only evokes a frozen moment in time, but also perfectly expresses your current feelings about a person, place or thing? No? Well, I have.

It just happened this past Saturday as I was working out in the gym at our corporate apartment. Having forgotten my trusty iPod, I was forced to listen to the gym's music, which was blasting out a VH1 'Remembering the '80s' mix. That's when I heard Patty Smyth and Scandal belt out their memorable “Good-bye To You”.


Note: In addition to being head-over-heels in love with the then 25-year-old Smyth (not to be confused with the cadaverous Patti Smith), I always loved her independent, free-wheeling interpretation of the lyrics (and thought it perfectly captured my own wayward bachelor's POV on life and love at the time).

As I listened to it again for the first time in a quarter century, though, I realized the song also nailed my current feelings for the New York Mets. (I'm neither pleased nor embarrassed to say I've yet to watch a single half-inning of Mets baseball this entire season. They bore me.) And, that's what the song's lyrics capture:

These last few weeks (years)of holding on, the days are dull, the nights are long, guess it's better to say, good-bye to you

I've said good-bye to the Mets once before— right after they traded away Tom Seaver and before they began building the great '86 championship team.

I think it's ok to walk away from a person, place or thing if, like the Mets, they're causing too much psychic or physical damage. I've abandoned other 'things', including:

– All American-made cars
– Devil Dogs (after 30 years, I still consider myself a recovering Devil Dogaholic)
– The Roman Catholic faith
– TV sitcoms (minus 'Curb', 'Seinfeld' and 'The Office')
– TV reality shows (minus 'Mob Wives' 'I Shouldn't Be Alive' and 'Intervention')
– Attending any event in the Meadowlands (traffic, noise and hooliganism trump any upsides)
– Working for a holding company PR firm (life's far too short to have to deal with the internal politics, bureaucracy and shark-infested waters).

I may say hello to the Mets sometime in the future. I have before.

In fact, I imagine they'll one day reach out to me with an unexpected e-mail entitled, “Hi, do you remember me?” And, like a jilted lover, I'll respond tentatively with a, “Um, yes, I remember. You broke my heart.” And, the Mets will suggest getting together again over a drink. And, sucker that I am, I'll agree. And, then I'll be hooked.

But until then, I'll heed Patty Smyth's final lyrics and tell the Mets, “Good-bye baby. So long darling. Good-bye to you!”


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 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.

May 09

A little something for the al Qaeda operative in all of us

Article-0-0BF14C4E00000578-929_634x387 A little less than a week after the death of Osama bin Laden, New York-based Kuma Games has  introduced an Internet-based game called ‘Episode 107: The Death of Osama bin Laden.’ That’s nice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the free enterprise system, being first to market and all that, but check out this feature: game players can not only pretend to be members of the elite Navy Seals Team 6 that took down bin Laden, they can also choose to defend bin Laden. Yes, that’s right. Little Johnny can don a virtual robe and turban, pick up his AK-47 replica and begin wasting some of the storming Navy Seals operatives. That’s just so wrong in so many ways that it defies logic.

If I had lost a loved one on 9/11, or in one of the two wars that followed on its heels, I’d be planning to launch a personal Jihad against these bozos. And, I wouldn’t build-in an option for players to defend Kuma Games either.

Can you imagine your 11-year-old son, double-clicking on episode 107 link and yelling, “Hey mom, I’ll be down for dinner in a half hour or so. My al Qaeda mates and I have to disrupt this Navy Seals operation. It’s imperative we get bin Laden and his family safely away.”

Episode 107 is billed as the latest in a franchise of video games that recreate military missions, including the capture of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. There’s no indication if the Kuma Klan also provided an option for game players to defend Hussein and secret him away to another, new hiding place. But, they probably did. Nor is there any indication whether Kuma has created similarly-themed video games that enable players to say, whisk Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun away from their Berlin bunker in early May of 1945, or find an escape route from Elba that would provide Napoleon one last shot at conquering Europe and killing millions.

I’m not a child psychologist, but enabling an impressionable youngster to defend bin Laden might tend to soften the youngster’s views towards the mass murderer, no? And, in my mind, that could lead to any number of unintended, and very serious, real world consequences.

So, let me borrow a page out of the Ronald Reagan speech book and demand of Mr. Kuma (or whatever nut job runs the company) to: Take down that game!

Tip o' RepMan's Green Beret to Catharine "Goose" Cody for the idea for this post.

Apr 12

The five most influential composers/ musicians in Repman’s life

Since last week's blog about the five most influential TV shows in my life prompted such an  avalanche of comments (insert link), I thought I'd follow-up with the five most influential composers/musicians in my life.

Here, in chronological order, is my list:

Record_player 1.) Luigi Boccherini, Italian classical composer. His 'Minuet for String Quartet in E' was the theme song for, believe it or not, an Abbott & Costello movie called, 'The Time of Their Lives.' The captivating melody ushered a five-year-old RepToddler into the wonderful world of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and all things classical and operatic. FYI, I arranged for the Boccherini minuet to be played at my wedding. It had that kind of effect on me.

2.) The Beatles (naturally). Along with millions of other Americans, the nine-year-old RepBoy was completely mesmerized by the Fab Four's invasion of America in February, 1964. All-time favorite song? 'Polythene Pam'.

3.) Dave Brubeck. The 19-year-old RepYoungAdult was shooting pool with Northeastern University roommates Mike Murray and Dom Friscino when I first heard Brubeck's 'Take Five' and 'Blue Rondo a la Turk.' I was hooked. The tunes were my introduction to jazz. I now listen to WGBO-FM every morning, loving every nuance of Miles Davis, Mingus, Coltrane, Sinatra, et al.

4.) Harry Chapin. Like so many rock/folk stars, Chapin died at the height of his popularity. His signature song 'Taxi' is easily the most evocative tune from my RepYuppie days. I still think of a certain someone each and every time I hear it.
Now, that's what I call influential.

5.) Ziggy Marley. Chris 'Repman, Jr.' Cody first turned me on to the Marley clan in particular and reggae music in general. I now have 50 or more reggae albums on my iPod and always listen to the genre when I'm feeling down. Favorite Ziggy song? 'Looking'.

I believe the music one listens to and the programming one views helps mold the image we project to the world at large. To a degree, these five artists have helped shape who I am.

So, in that same vein, I'd love to know the most influential songs in your life (and why).