Aug 03

An Uncorporate Image

Guest post by Kendyl Wright – Fellow Peppercommer and "Uncorporate" Senior Account Executive


When I moved to NYC in 2006, I had big dreams and expectations of PR greatness. I took a job immediately with one of the world’s biggest PR firm and set out to succeed in the corporate world. Since this blog is about reputations, I will say that this firm had one of the best “corporate” reputations in the public relations industry.

The CEO was responsible for giving Coca-Cola the infamous classic tagline. I should have been in PR heaven. But as my resume will quickly tell you, I was not. I left after six months and moved to a midsize, privately owned firm. I was much happier and felt that this firm fit my work style so much better. But as young New Yorkers often do, I was lured back to a big firm almost 3 years later by the client list, the promise of more money and the appeal of running some of PR’s biggest launch events. About 2 weeks in, it clicked. I am UNCORPORATE. 

It would take me 2 more years, another job and a 5 month sabbatical to land at Peppercom. When my friend Rebecca asked to submit my resume, I hesitated. “I don’t want to work at a PR firm. I hate everything about them,” I told her time and time again. After a little convincing on her part, (and a lot on my parents’ part…where I had been “temporarily” crashing during my time off) I decided to take a job at Peppercom. 

We talk about image crises a lot in the PR world, but we rarely talk about the culture image of our own firms. Based on my experiences, and those of various friends and colleagues within the industry, corporate life inside the walls of most PR firms is less than encouraging.

In an industry centered around communication and creativity, there’s little brainstorming, less collaboration and not a whole lot of fun. I have friends that work at agencies big & small all over the country and they have countless horror stories of account management, career support and day-to-day lifestyle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’m just over PR. There’s nothing I like about going to work.” It makes me sad that our industry is so corporate and cold. Why is it that we consistently hear about the creative and inspiring cultures at ad agencies, but PR environments are structured more like banks and law firms?  

Two days after I started at Peppercom, the agency hosted our annual “Uncorporate Challenge,” a fun run followed by a happy hour. The slogan of this challenge is “Peppercom – Keeping it Uncorporate since 1995.” Over the next few weeks, those knots in my stomach about working for another PR firm started to subside – I knew I had found a home. And while the out of work activities we have here are definitely fun, it’s my day to day uncorporate experience that has helped me embrace PR again.

Over the past year, I have learned that just because you have the big client names doesn’t mean you have the best job. I’ve learned that working at a place that values the individual and encourages them to flourish as they are is a wonderful and amazing thing. I’ve learned what it means to have a team, in every sense of the word. What it’s like to collaborate and trust those team members and be proud of the work you accomplished together. There’s very little individual blame at Peppercom, and for an industry that seems to always pass the buck, that’s pretty incredible.

I’ve learned that there are managers who listen to you and encourage growth in the areas you are passionate about. I’ve learned that it is possible for the most senior people at a company to know your name and actually care about what happens to you as an individual. But most of all, I’ve learned what it’s like to love coming to work each day. I do better work, I’m a better person and most of all, I don’t miss “corporate” life at all. 

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 07

Things Anyone Teaching PR Should Know

Today's guest post is by Alicia Moore

The following guest blog was authored by Alicia Moore, a writer for I’d like to invite academics and students in particular to read Alicia’s Top 10 list and post your response. Note: I’ll provide extra credit for the best observations. Thanks.

With the evolution of technology, the press relations industry has changed significantly. However, the same basics still apply, meaning up and coming PR students must be taught these skills if they are to succeed as pros in their careers. The following is a collection of the ten golden rules of success anyone teaching PR should know.

1) Words wield power. Thus, it is important for anyone in PR to carefully choose their words, and only use powerful, relevant words to grab attention.

2)Target your pitches. It is equally critical to keep pitches short, or else you risk losing your reader's attention. Often, three concise sentences make more of an impact than a 400-word press release.

3)Utilize the tools of the new digital age. As Online Teaching Degree mentions, there are a number of helpful resources online for students and emerging professionals alike, and it is a mistake not to take advantage of them. Learn trending topics, and use Google Alerts to keep an eye on your name, your competition and new, hot issues.

4) Pitch and attend an interview for a client. Know the entire process, and hold your client's hand during the preparation for that arranged interview. Always be there for assistance, but know when to stop and listen.

5) Know how to stand up to reporters or clients firmly, but politely. Just like anybody else, reporters can be abrupt, testy or even completely rude.

6) Regularly generate valuable content. Learn to identify the lessons and trends that others can benefit from; this allows you to always be the best source of trustworthy and solid information.

7) Teach your own executives and clients on techniques to more effectively undergo interviews. This preparation allows them to feel better in front of a microphone or more comfortable on camera.

8) Make use of handheld cameras. Knowing how to record a breaking news story or a short interview is one thing, but the ability to grasp technology allows you to disseminate it to the great masses. Think about what kind of news breaks on Twitter, and strive to post the next lead you get on the site.

9) Skip the boring questions. Quality inspires quality, bad questions bring you bad information while good questions give you interesting and insightful information. Make sure the people you speak with are thinking, feeling and reacting to what you say.

10) Use links and keywords to give legs to your press releases. The world of PR requires doing your homework on what topics the public is interested in hearing or reading about. This critical information can either break or make your blog and website, and perhaps even your whole business.

Along with these teachings, make sure your students know the most important skill of all: Listen to a press conference, webinar, podcast or a speech. A good PR agent must be capable of pulling just three sound bits from a 30-minute rant or a 5-minute presentation. Not only does excelling in this area allow you to thrive when networking or speaking publicly, but being able to summarize a complex presentation with a single punchy quote is a priceless these days.


Jan 26

CNN: The Worldwide Leader in Pranks

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

Last week, I wrote about my disappointment with the CBS Morning Show. Basically, the show promotes that it has a new hard news format, but when I watched it for 30 minutes, it was anything but hard news. And, Repman, himself, mentioned that the History Channel and other brands are not delivering on their promises either.

So, let’s now switch channels to CNN. After all, CNN promises to be the “worldwide leader in news.” Well, except for maybe early in the morning. The brilliant management at CNN decided to try a new segment in which the anchors use their coveted rolodexes to unknowingly wake up famous people as part of their “Wake ‘Em Up” show who are usually asleep at 5am (or 2am if the poor soul lives on the West Coast). The lovely anchors decided to debut their new segment by waking up Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and told her to make sure she doesn’t say any F-bombs because the show is live. As if that wasn’t enough, they asked her if she still has haunting memories from her father’s assassination and reminded her that she was eight years old when he was killed. That’s nice to wake up to, isn’t it? Apparently, the executive producer of CNN must be sleeping during this segment since it continued past that debut call.

On a separate call, the anchors try to reach a celebrity but accidentally dial the wrong number. The person who answers speaks in Spanish and one of the anchors jokes “This is the FBI.” The horrified guy quickly hangs up. Nice. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still living in fear.

Now, when I turn to CNN, I expect to see the “worldwide leader in news.” Not a teenage prank show. And, to top it off, the anchors are upset that Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Channel, is making fun of them. Really? That’s what these anchors care about?

Is anyone at CNN awake to understand that you promise NEWS, not PRANKS? Talk about a disconnect between the experience CNN promises and what it actually delivers. This gap is so wide that even the great Evel Knievel wouldn’t try to jump it if he were alive today. At least he can rest in peace since the anchors can’t call him.

My favorite response from a reader to one of the websites that wrote about this debacle of a news program said “WTF is this show supposed to be about? Why not just air some old episodes of Punk’d?”

Jan 20

Will They Say Yes? Thinking about Engagement from the Audience’s POV

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Sam Ford.

Companies spend a lot of time thinking about how to engage their audiences when it comes to marketing.


Traditionally, this conversation ends up focusing on having (or imagining) some sort of captive audience: the magazine or newspaper reader who can't help but look at an advertisement as they read the headlines; the TV viewer who sits through a commercial while waiting for their show to come back on; or the poor sap whose mailbox is sagging due to the loads of junk mail stuffed in each day.

Online, companies' first impulse has been to create branded spaces they own and then come up with ways to corral audiences into them: sending them along the paths we line out for them and poking and prodding them for quantitative data along the way. What better way to know if our marketing is working, after all, than to make everything easy for us to measure, no matter how onerous it is on the audience?

Sometimes, marketers do acknowledge that such approaches miss where audiences are actually already engaging, and where conversations are already happening. But in response, they often take the traditional PR route: creating lists of influencers–the few thought leaders in a given field who, they convince themselves, will bring a whole community along for the ride, if you can just get them on board.

All of these communications approaches have a vital flaw: they are about communicating at the customer, about owning the conversation, and–primarily–about fulfilling the company's marketing needs.

Now think about what might happen if we think about engagement instead from the audience's point of view.

This is the challenge we've given ourselves at Peppercom for more than a year now. As we think about our clients and potential clients, it has driven the strategies and approaches we recommend and has become one of our most effective means for problem-solving.

And, as we will officially announce next week, Audience Experience is now the newest service offering from Peppercom, where Peppercom— in collaboration with our partner and author of Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us, Emily Yellin— will work with companies to immerse them in their key audiences' perspectives.

This approach, and offering, is as straightforward as it sounds: we help communicators step outside their view from within a particular department in their company and instead think about their communication from the perspective of the audiences they seek to reach. It's a way of thinking built on a basic sense of empathy, but it's been as deceptive as it is simple. Unfortunately, this commonsense approach has not been all that common.

We can speak from experience that truly embracing and adopting this approach is a work in progress. It's a goal we strive for and a bar we have set to reach through our work every day. It requires constantly challenging ourselves to rethink and reconfigure how we think. But the potential benefits are incredible, in terms of creating and managing communication that resonates with, serves, and engages the audiences we seek to reach.

Engaging the audience means knowing them— not just as a stat in a survey, or as an aggregate customer profile, or as the member of a focus group, or as an impression— but knowing and seeing ourselves from their point of view. It means always thinking of audience members as actual people, considering what their wants and needs are, and thinking about how the company serves them, rather than just marketing at them.

Peppercom's prevailing philosophy moving forward is that intimately knowing, anticipating and answering the audience's wants and needs benefits our clients, their audiences, and us. And both we and our clients are finding new ways this approach helps us every time we take it. We also hope it is a way of thinking that marketing and corporate communications increasingly comes to realize they can't afford to ignore.

Jan 19

“Where’s the News?!”



A week after its debut, I had the chance to catch the last half hour of the newly revamped morning show on CBS.  The new morning show with its former name, CBS This Morning, promised that it would be the anti-Today Show and anti-Good Morning America, bringing hard news back to the morning.  On CBS’s website, it boasts “The style, tone, and content of the morning program extends CBS News' commitment to original reporting and journalistic integrity.”  As a news junkie, I was excited to see the show’s new format…until I actually turned on the TV.  All three anchors — Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill – were interviewing actor Simon Baker.  It eerily looked more like an interrogation than an interview.  And, oh, yes, the interview was oozing with journalistic integrity when the anchors asked Mr. Baker if he’s a surfer because he grew up in Australia or because he lived in California for 10 years.  I was glued to the TV waiting for his answer.  And, to top it off, Mr. Baker is on CBS’s show “The Mentalist.”  Talk about promoting your own shows.   I have nothing against Mr. Baker or CBS-TV.  But, as a viewer, I was duped.  CBS promised hard news and then didn’t deliver.  The messages the network pushed out were very different from my disappointed experience.


At Peppercom, we always look through the lens of the end-user to determine if there is a gap between what an organization promises and what the audience experiences.  And, there was certainly a gap with CBS…a large one that I fell through as I fell for CBS’s message.  But, I decided to give it another shot.  Maybe the Mentalist needed some additional publicity.  Next up was a segment that ran the night before on another CBS show “60 Minutes.”  Really?  Is there no new news?  The segment, for the next several minutes, discussed – and argued – how to say the name of the country Qatar.  And, even when a citizen of Qatar told Mr. Simon that it’s pronounced “Cutter,” Mr. Simon said, “But my wife pronounces it Ka-tar.”  Forget hard news.  Does this even qualify for soft news?  I didn’t know if I was more upset about CBS This Morning not delivering on its promise or watching “60 Minutes” melt before my eyes.  

What networks and companies need to understand is that they can’t just promise that a show or product or service does something.  They have to deliver on that promise.   Audiences are not stupid.  We don’t just sit there and accept what you tell us.  We actually experience the show, the product or the service.  Regarding “CBS This Morning,” all I know is what I didn’t experience… the news.

Jan 13

When It’s Good to Be Less Popular

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Ann Barlow.

If you’re a cow or a heifer, a steer or a bull, you are quite a bit less popular with the American people than you were five years ago.  Same for pigs.  We don’t even feel the same way about chickens as we did in the first decade of the 21st century.  An animal could develop a complex.


But not in this case.  As New York Times magazine food columnist Mark Bittman writes in this week’s blog, Americans are eating less meat than we used to.  Down 12 percent in the past five years. 

There are plenty of posits on the reason behind the decline.  Rising food costs.  Less money in the checking account.  And the occasional common sense that we the people sometimes show.  We may actually be realizing that an 8-ounce portion of steak or pasta Bolognese, while delicious, just isn’t all that good for us.

Full disclosure:  I am not a vegetarian.  I do try to get my protein from sources like nuts, beans, eggs and cheese.  I do, however, tuck into some grilled chicken or sliced pork tenderloin at least a couple of times per week.  But I don’t feel the need to have meat every night the way I used to.

I know I’m healthier as a result, as are all of us who have changed our consumption habits for one reason or another.  And if the trend continues, animals won’t be the only ones breathing easier.  Less methane equals better air quality, too. 

Of course, industry associations are shall we say, having a cow?  Mad as a wet hen?  They aren’t as happy as a pig in you-know-what, that’s for sure.  I can understand that, since they represent people who pay them whose livelihoods could be threatened by such a trend.  But how often do you have eggs and bacon for breakfast.  It’s not like it’s the first time our eating habits have changed and it won’t be the last.   

So, Bessie, Wilbur.   Don’t take our staying away personally.  Sometimes it really is good to be less popular.


Jan 12

CES: Optimism Amidst the Chaos

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Maggie O'Neill.

What do Justin Timberlake, Snooki and 140,000 people have in common this week? Ces-2012They all descended on the Consumer Electronics Show for four days of technology’s best and its predictions for 2012.  As this is my 15th year here- give or take a year or two- I have to report that while it’s chaotic and loud as ever, it does have a slightly different feel to it. 

First, it feels like the year of the entrepreneur.  While players like LG, Samsung and Panasonic bicker in their football field sized booths over whose flat screen is larger and more 3D, the tech entrepreneur is quietly– and not so quietly- showcasing true innovations from robots to flying cars to medical monitoring apps.  And the attendees were taking notice.  

The second observation, despite the onslaught of celebrities, was the show reverted back to its core benefit– building relationships.  The show– as chaotic as it is- reminded me of the power and value of the face-to-face meeting.  Gone are the days of avatar presenters and back are the small couches and intimate meeting spaces.  It seemed that exhibitors are making an effort to talk with, listen to and build something with their customers.

From the perspective of an event marketer, this is a welcome approach.  Yes, the bells and whistles of an exciting and over-the-top product launch are all still there.  I mean Justin Timberlake at a Panasonic event, come on.  But the rumors of the demise of the face-to-face event, the virtual tradeshow- only predictions and all meetings online, seem to be premature.

All good news for business and for marketers, now if only my black jack dealer could get on board with this optimism.

Jan 11

Should national college football championship play another game?

Guest blog by Greg Schmalz, president, Schmalz Communications.

Deathbcs2So the question of whether Alabama deserved the right to play for college football’s national championship has been answered.

You’ll recall that Alabama lost to Louisiana State University, 9-6, on November 5, 2011. The Crimson Tide seemed to have the upper hand in that regular season game, but came up empty on four of six field goals attempts.  Yet, many thought they were the best team in the country and deserved a rematch with LSU.

One by one teams fell by the wayside.  Oregon, Stanford and then finally Oklahoma State.  LSU remained the only unbeaten team in major college football.

Well, Alabama got the rematch it wanted and the Crimson Tide went out Monday night and showed why they deserved to be in the BCS title game as they easily won, 21-0.

On one hand, you had a motivated team in Alabama. Heck, they lost the first game and wanted to redeem themselves.  Nobody likes to be a loser and they wanted to prove they were the better team.

On the other hand, how could LSU get motivated for such a game?  After all, the Bayou Bengals went into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama on its home field.  You mean, we have to do it again?

Yes, Alabama featured a smothering defense, holding LSU to just 92 yards in total offense and allowed the Tigers just once to cross midfield.

Playing 44 days after their last game was not conducive to being sharp, either.  Why the powers-to-be drag these games out is beyond me other than to maximize the income they can generate from television revenue.

And while Alabama can now claim to be No. 1, are they really?  What happened to the regular season game?  Doesn’t that mean anything?  So it’s one game apiece, should they play another one?

Is the current system acceptable?  Or should there be a more formal playoff such as Divisions II and III?  After all, Alabama becomes the first national champion since the BCS championship game was implemented not to have won its own conference.  The rematch really hasn't solved anything.

Jan 10

I’m so nice… as long as I’m getting paid for it

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Sara Whitman.

I am all for authenticity. In this business, you can’t put a high enough premium on straight talk, honesty and the real deal. Sometimes, though, you can be a little too open, thereby jeopardizing your reputation and the reputation of your company.

Designall.dllTake for example my return home last week from an international trip with my family. Like most Americans, I was dreading the airplane travel. It’s not a fear of flying or security lines or even traveling with my three kids (who were very well behaved for 12+ hours, for those of you think children are better off in isolation than in the main cabin).

Nope, for me, the constant delays, lack of reasoning and utter disregard for human beings on the plane kills me. This time, we were flying Continental. I’ve been impressed with the United merger so far. It hasn’t impacted me all that much beyond being able to consolidate my miles and a few gate changes. So when my family of five faced a flight delay on our last of a three-leg trip home, I was disappointed, but I know it’s not the airline.

We were delayed, not delayed, leaving right now, last call, and then sat on the tarmac before taking off 90 minutes later. Annoying. Still, it’s the reality of flying today. And it doesn’t change my opinion of Continental or any other airline for that matter.
Then the kicker. Our flight attendant gave us the option to either stay on the plane or to get off. Some passengers opted to stay and others tried to get off. That’s when she said, “Oh no. It’s either all of you or none of you. I’m not going to stand here and be nice to you if I’m not getting paid.”

What? Did I hear that right? You’re happy to be nice to us if we’re all trapped on the plane, but if anyone gets off the plane, you’re no longer paid and we have a fat chance of any common courtesy. Amazing. Authentic? Yes, though not in the way Continental would hope, I’m sure.
We all stayed. The attendant was very pleasant the rest of the trip. But there was no doubt every passenger on that flight knew her real deal.